10 August 2018

The Sea Hawk (1940) Reviewed

Original Review

It is the dawn of the golden age of piracy, when Spain was claiming dominion over the oceans and plundering the wealth of the New World — and England was plundering Spanish treasure ships. The Sea Hawk served a dual purpose in 1940 as both a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure starring the most popular swashbuckler of his time, Errol Flynn (as privateer Geoffrey Thorpe), and as a thoughtful allegory of the most pressing concern of the time, England's resistance to Germany's ambitions of global domination. As a testament to how seriously it was taken, thespian Flora Robson was enlisted to play the part of Queen Elizabeth and reportedly inspired Flynn to unprecedented heights of professional behavior out of his admiration for her (Robson).

The Sea Hawk was a considerable improvement over its nautical forebearer, Captain Blood. The sea battles were more convincing (and made at far greater expense), the plot was more cohesive, the performances had more solidity, and the fight choreography was much more carefully planned. The climactic duel between Errol Flynn's Captain Thorpe and Henry Daniell's Lord Wolfingham (although a stunt double stood in for Daniell) remains a fine example of swordplay in the genre.

It has been claimed that The Sea Hawk was the logical next step in the path that began with Captain Blood and was followed by The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in terms of what the public wanted and what the studio had readily available in sets and costumes, but it is more than that. There is far greater unity in the quality of the script, acting, and directing than in its predecessors. Whether it is the result of a convergence of talent tempered by experience, or the greater devotion that was dedicated to the project by virtue of its message, The Sea Hawk is one of the best adventure films of its kind.

Writing: Good
Directing: Great
Acting: Great
Cinematography: Great
Stunts: Good
Swordplay: Great
Panache: Great

Overall Rating: Great
Swashbuckling Rank: Great

[Originally posted in Cuparius.com on 14 April 2010.]

Extended Review

The music of The Sea Hawk was composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and it plays as important a part in the film as the cinematography in conveying the scope and spirit of the story. It is bold without being overbearing, heartfelt without being sentimental, and ultimately patriotic without being nationalistic. It is fittingly iconic of the genre, and as I listen to it, I think hear its influence in some of the best adventure films that followed it decades later.

Written by: Howard Koch and Seton I. Miller
Based on the Novel by: Rafael Sabatini
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Performed by: Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Flora Robson, Alan Hale, Donald Crisp, Henry Daniell, et al.

30 June 2016

All for Me Binary Dice

Inspired by the simple odds-and-evens dice pool system of All for Me Grog (usable with any kind of die or coin), I decided to make the system even quicker by purchasing some six-sided binary dice. Faster than tossing coins or separating dice into evens and odds, all you do with binary dice is count those that show 1 instead of 0. There is no quicker dice pool system in the Seven Seas. Arr!

[All for Me Grog is a piratey role-playing game by Ryan Shelton available in PDF and print.]

30 April 2016

Captain Blood (1935) Reviewed

Original Review

The first of the great swashbuckling films of the sound era, Captain Blood (1935) provided the first major roles for its two stars, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It contains all the right ingredients in mostly the right proportions: gallantry, piracy, duels, sea battles, politics, and romance. Nothing about the film is perfect: the accents are of mixed authenticity, the quality of the acting is variable, and the fight choreography wavers between natural and wooden, but the film's totality outshines its components. Greater swashbuckling films would follow, but Captain Blood carved a wider path for them.

Writing: Good
Directing: Good
Acting: Fair/Good
Cinematography: Good
Stunts: Good
Swordplay: Good
Panache: Good

Overall Rating: Good
Swashbuckling Rank: Good

[Originally posted in Cuparius.com on 27 March 2010.]

Extended Review

Captain Blood, directed by Michael Curtiz and adapted from the novel by Rafael Sabatini, is the story of one Dr. Peter Blood (played by Errol Flynn), an Irish physician in England who is charged with treason for administering medical aid to a rebel. Reviews, in my view, are not the place for spoilers, but suffice it to say that one thing leads to another and the good doctor becomes the eponymous Captain Blood, scourge of the Caribbean.

This is a movie that I appreciate more with each viewing. It's a solid pirate movie that served as the opening salvo of Flynn's career as the quintessential swashbuckler of the talkies. Most Hollywood adaptations of novels are as faithful as their depictions of history, and adaptations of historical novels are doubly damned, but the Hollywood swashbuckling film, judged as a unique genre in its own right, has had an enormous and continuing impact on filmmaking and popular culture. Captain Blood can rightly claim a share of the credit.

Written by: Casey Robinson
Based on the Novel by: Rafael Sabatini
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Performed by: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Haviland, Basil Rathbone, et al.

27 March 2016

Death and Dismemberment in All for Me Grog

Combat in All for Me Grog is largely free-form as befits a cinematic swashbuckling game, but it is missing two ingredients that are fundamental to pirate fiction: the dangers of loss of limb and loss of life. The risk of either makes for high stakes and high adventure, so I've worked up some simple house rules to cover both.

First: Death. The rules do not state the circumstances under which a character expires, so the house rule is this:

A character starts with 9 points of Salt. A character's Salt is only reduced by physical harm. A player may never roll more dice in a Bloode action than his or her character's current Salt. Death occurs when a character's Salt is reduced to 0.

A character also starts with 9 points of Influence. A player may never roll more dice in a Skull or Grog action than his or her character's current Influence. A character's Influence is only reduced by mental or emotional harm. Despondency (or insanity) occurs when a character's Influence is reduced to 0.

Healing occurs as per the published rules, but Bloode wounds only restore Salt; Skull or Grog wounds only restore Influence.

Second: Dismemberment. Complicated rules are contrary to the spirit of All for Me Grog, so this is my solution:

A character may avoid the loss of Salt from an injury by taking loss of limb (or another body part) instead. If the Salt loss to be avoided is only 1 point, the character may lose a finger or ear if the player so chooses. If the Salt loss to be avoided is greater than 1 point, the character may lose an arm, leg, hand, foot, or eye as determined by the player.

Loss of a body part will affect a character in logical ways and may result in penalty dice for actions affected by the disability. It may also result in monetary compensation for pirates injured in the line of duty.

This option is subject to GM approval. Circumstances may restrict a player's options for loss of limb (or body part) or not allow for it at all.

[All for Me Grog is a piratey role-playing game by Ryan Shelton available in PDF and print.]

24 March 2016

On Choosing a Captain

Some role-playing games, due to their nature, impose a chain of command on the players. Military games and pirate games are among these. Sometimes, however, the selection of a leader presents certain difficulties. Perhaps more than one player covets the position. Perhaps none of the players crave the responsibility or are uncomfortable expressing such a desire. For those role-playing games lacking guidance on the question of assigning formal leaders, here are a few system neutral ideas (with an emphasis on the piratical).


Ordinarily, pirates elected a captain democratically — One crewman: one vote. This can make for an entertaining game itself as players strive to win votes or conspire with others to force the job on an unwilling mate. This could be conducted by having the players verbally declare their choice in order around the table. Or the referee could count to 3 upon which all players point to their captain of choice simultaneously. Or there could be a secret ballot. Any of these methods will create drama or hilarity (or both).

Let Fate Decide

For groups where either nobody wants the position or everyone wants it, the selection of captain can be left to chance. The simplest (and probably the most historically accurate) method of choosing one person at random to do a deed is by shuffling a deck of cards and having each player draw one. Whoever draws the highest ranked card becomes captain. Drawing straws is another popular method, but cards might be more readily accessible to a seaman. Yet another method is to have each player roll a die and whoever rolls highest becomes captain (with those who tie re-rolling). Personally, I think drawing cards is the most interesting of the random methods.

Rite of Combat

When all else fails, command belongs to the victorious. If one player steps up to assume the captaincy and another challenges the claim, then the outcome is determined by combat. Amongst some crews, formal duelling is the preferred method, whether by sword or pistol. Wrestling or fisticuffs are the preference of some and have the benefit of keeping both parties alive. Then there are those who choose savage violence by the most expedient means and give no quarter. Needless to say, this method is the most adversarial and least conducive to cooperative gaming, but, as they say, pirates will be pirates...

01 January 2016

Theorizing the Nature of Swashbuckling in 2016

Theoretical Swashbuckling has been adrift on a calm sea with nary a breeze for lo these many months, but I think I spy in the Year of Our Lord Twenty-Hundred and Sixteen, a strong wind a blowin' to fill her sails. High adventure and rich spoils lie yonder!

Specifically, I have a number of things planned for 2016 of interest to swashbucklers. There will be more duels, there will be session reports of at least one role-playing game (All For Me Grog to be precise), and I will start posting reviews of swashbuckling movies (older reviews from Cuparius.com as well as new reviews). Reviews of other swashbuckling role-playing games in my collection may also appear, possibly as two-part articles. The first part would be an overview of the rules and character creation process; the second part would be an assessment of the game as it is actually played. The latter is a challenge, as I need to work near miracles just to schedule gaming sessions with my friends, but it is a goal of mine to play each of these games at least once and share my findings.

A Happy New Year to every last one of ye!

And do be gamin'.

19 October 2015

Duel: Captain Blood vs. Levasseur

Sometimes the best way to learn a new role-playing game is to create some characters and engage them in a conflict of some sort. One way to learn a role-playing game that emulates a literary genre is to adapt some characters from the literary source and play a scene from it. With this in mind, I have decided to start a series I call "Duel" in which I take two characters from a swashbuckling film or novel, translate them into game terms, and present them as adversaries.

For the first installment, I will be using two characters from the 1935 film Captain Blood (directed by Michael Curtiz and based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini). This film is notable for showcasing one of the first great fencing scenes in the history of swashbuckling film. It was performed by Errol Flynn (as Captain Blood) and Basil Rathbone (as Levasseur), who were both superior swordsmen as well as actors.

The duel occurs on a beach. Honor and innocent lives are at stake. Blood and Levasseur have had an uneasy alliance as the two most renowned pirate captains in the Caribbean, but they are allies no longer and only one will leave the beach alive.

The following character interpretations were created using the rules of All for Me Grog, the pirate role-playing game by Ryan Shelton (available in PDF and print).

Dr. Peter Blood a.k.a. Captain Blood
Bloode: 3
Skull: 4
Grog: 2
Salt: 9
Captain: 4
Doctor: 3
Swordsman: 5
Pistoleer: 3
Doctor's Bag: 2
Splendid Hat: 1
An Irish doctor with past experience as a mercenary, he was wrongfully accused of treason and sent to Jamaica to be sold into slavery. After escaping, he embarked on a new career as a pirate.
(Portrayed in the movie Captain Blood by Errol Flynn.)

Bloode: 3
Skull: 2
Grog: 4
Salt: 9
Captain: 4
Swordsman: 4
Pistoleer: 3
Pirate: 3
Rake: 1
Unknown: 3
A proud French buccaneer and captain of his own pirate ship, he was formerly an ally of Captain Blood.
(Portrayed in the movie Captain Blood by Basil Rathbone.)

17 October 2015

Vocations of a Piratical Nature

This is an expanded list of sample vocations for the swashbuckling role-playing game, All for Me Grog (also suitable for Fudge, Risus, D6, and many other games). Use it as a random generator, a list from which to choose, or a combination of both. Different vocations or entirely new ones may be substituted for any result.

Vocational Categories

Roll 1d6

1. Nautical Vocations 1
2. Nautical Vocations 2
3. Questionable Vocations
4. Combat Vocations
5. Miscellaneous Vocations 1
6. Miscellaneous Vocations 2

Nautical Vocations 1

Roll 1d12

1. Captain
2. Master
3. Boatswain
4. Gunner
5. Quartermaster
6. Carpenter
7. Mate
8. Doctor
9. Purser
10. Able Seaman
11. Able Seaman or Ordinary Seaman
12. Able Seaman or Landsman

Nautical Vocations 2

Roll 1d12

1. Cartographer
2. Cook
3. Cooper
4. Diver
5. Fisherman
6. Hunter
7. Navigator
8. Netmaker
9. Ropemaker
10. Sailmaker
11. Shipwright
12. Signaler

Questionable Vocations

Roll 1d12

1. Burglar
2. Drinker
3. Filcher
4. Forger
5. Gambler
6. Grifter
7. Pickpocket
8. Pirate
9. Privateer
10. Rake
11. Smuggler
12. Spy

Combat Vocations

Roll 1d12

1. Axe Wielder/Thrower
2. Brawler
3. Brute
4. Grenadier
5. Harpooner
6. Knife Wielder/Thrower
7. Musketeer
8. Pikeman
9. Pistoleer
10. Pugilist
11. Swordsman
12. Wrestler

Miscellaneous Vocations 1

Roll 1d12

1. Acrobat
2. Artist
3. Baker
4. Brewer
5. Butcher
6. Carver
7. Clergyman
8. Diplomat
9. Farmer
10. Innkeeper
11. Juggler
12. Lawyer

Miscellaneous Vocations 2

Roll 1d12

1. Merchant
2. Musician
3. Naturalist
4. Nobleman
5. Potter
6. Scholar
7. Shopkeeper
8. Singer
9. Smith
10. Storyteller
11. Tailor
12. Vintner

[All for Me Grog is a piratey role-playing game by Ryan Shelton available in PDF and print.]

[Edit: "Criminal Vocations" was renamed "Questionable Vocations."]

12 October 2015

All for Me Grog and Grog for All

Any whisper on the wind of a piratical role-playing game always piques my interest, and when word of such a scheme reached me from the shores of The Savage Afterworld, I knew it bore further inspection. The game in question is All for Me Grog by Ryan Shelton, available at RPGNow in PDF, print, and PDF/print formats for a very low price (with the PDF currently at $3.00 and the PDF/print combination at a mere $5.00). Having purchased and read the PDF (and awaiting the arrival of the softcover), I can confirm that the rules look promising and I am eagerly anticipating the chance to test its seaworthiness. I'll belay a review of my own until then, but in the meantime, I direct you to Shiver Me Timbers! A Review of "All for Me Grog" Cinematic Pirate RPG by renowned sea dog Tim Snider.