Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Borgias: The First Season


I've mentioned before that I'm often behind the times when it comes to various shows that might hold my interest. One of those is a Showtime Original called the Borgias. I've heard of the family before, notorious in some circles. One of the things I like about the site is that there are some interesting links to things of 'how life was like' on the site.

The Borgias has a lot going for it.. The costumes and set pieces are visually arresting. The characters have many flaws but many strengths for the viewer to root for. The period in history, the shows start at 1492, is one of turmoil for Italy. As a fan of the various mercenaries that make up a lot of Italy history, this is the point at which the idea of city state mercenaries starts to be overwhelmed by national level mercenaries. It is an era where gunpowder, especially the craft and creation and innovative uses of canons, becomes more common.

In this field, we are put firmly into the family if the Borgias.Jeremy Irons does a fantastic job of playing the head of the family, Rodrigo Borgia with a family that is strained at the best of time and threatens to unravel with the strains put upon it. The head of the family pushes forward for power but at times, does so out of devotion for the future of his family. At other times, for his own selfish fulfillment.

The backdrop allows for individuals of various power and position. For example, we Caterina Sforza who is a powerful warrior princess. It's been a while but I suspect that her character has been used for many a warrior woman archetype. We also have King Charles VIII of France whose claim on Naples puts him square against the Borgias. This doesn't count a certain philosopher who wrote many a book such as 'The Prince' or 'The Art of War'.

By using a family, the series is able to weave complex situation and historical events into a more familiar and watchable sequence. For any fan of city adventures, the Borgias is well worth a watch.

Below I'll be discussing some of the specific spoilers and themes of the show and how they might apply to role playing games.

1. Change: The whole of Italy is in the throes of change at the start of the show. The methodology of war is changing. Wars for example, are now making more use of canon. The King of France uses a cannonball with chains on it. When fired these chains whip through the air like chainsaws cutting people and horses in half with ease. Canons are being designed larger with more power and range. Add into all this a new Pope whose the leader of all Christian Hood and you can see that much is different than it was at the start.

When great social change comes, such as a Pope dying, or when innovation of new weapons need to be crafted, when possible, have the players be part of it.

2. Spies are everywhere: Any place there is an opportunity to be overhead or seen by those who should not see, spies could be there. Outside the bedrooms are waiting pages who are listening. By windows are those who should not be sitting.

3. Family complicates matters.

4. Elaborate Outfits: The church seems to have dozens of different outfits and dozens of different colors. For example, colors may vary on the position of the church member.

5. Battle: Fights may be common but not to the death. For example, a fight may be to the first blood, or to one is disarmed, or to one cries 'enough'. Fights may be until a deception is spotted.

6. Voting: When the new pope is in the process of being elected, votes may have to be cast over and over again. Contests may result in limited amounts of supplies and equipment given to those voting. To get information and communication out, people inside the voting may use birds to relay their messages and to get messages back in, may hide notes in foodstuffs prepared outside those walls.

To get the votes needed, there may be a variety of tools used. Bribes consisting of lands, money, ranks, titles, and of course, the Borgias favorites, murder and sexual favors.

7. Events: There are numerous events that take place in The Borgias. For example, the election of the Pope is cause for celebration which includes feasting, socialization, public appearances by those who might not normally do so, as well as the need to break out the fancy clothes. During some of these celebrations, a march across town may represent an opportunity to steal something, like a Pope's Crown, that is only brought out for these special occasions. An 'Ocean's Eleven' so to speak. A Tri-Crown studded with gold and gems worthy of any rogue worth the name.



8. Ethnic Tensions: The SPanish and Italians have issues. The Jews, Muslims and Christians have issues. There are tensions that go back hundreds if not thousands of years and break up from large generalities to specific tribe and family hatreds. In some things, there is no change.

9. Unique Positions: The Papal Army is small but effective. It allows for unique characters and abilities to be put into play that may not occur in other venues.

10. Faux Pas: Insults may require more than an apology. They may require the one doing the insulting to be humiliated or paid back with violence. If these humiliations are made public, they may become the source of nick names or other negative attributes given to a character so suffering from them.

11. Reversal: Tools may be used by more than one person. For example shortly after the new Pope's appointment, someone tries to poison him but the poison is turned against the one who tried to have the pope killed.

While I watched The Borgias on Netflix, I'm thinking of picking it up on bluray from Amazon. I see that it's $27.43 but know that they usually have some HBO/Showtime specials so may wait on that. In an interesting 'sale' twist, I see that the novel 1492 is on sale and what's when the series starts and for $3.99 I picked that up in kindle format.

For those who may own the blu ray or standard DVD edition, is there enough in terms of extras there to purchase it?

In terms of fantasy games, have you as a GM ever run a 'family' style game where characters played members of the same family or allies of that family?

The Borgias season one set the series off to a solid state and from what I've seen of season two, it continues on that path of awesome.