Saturday, March 8, 2014

Borgia: Faith and Fear



After watching the Showtime series, Borgias, Netflix decided, hey, you know, since you enjoyed that, you'll probably enjoy . I was like what is this? Another series on the infamous Italian family? And yup, it is.

Commonly referred to as Borgia, Faith and Fear for the subtitle of the first season, this is another show that looks at the infamous family of fifteenth century Italy. There are currently two seasons on Netflix, each season being twelve episodes long with a third one coming soon.

I'd try to do a breakdown on the differences between the two but to be honest, I think this guy over here does a fantastic job: http://www.exurbe.com/?p=2176 , a specific post on a blog that has a lot of other cool stuff over here: http://www.exurbe.com/.

In short, the Faith and Fear series starts earlier in the time frame, it goes into more detail and dove tails more events, it has more character growth and more vile things happening not just to the 'villains' or opposition of the period, but to the heroes as well. Cesare here is far more confused, far more looking for himself, then he ever was in the Showtime version. The Pope here is far more flawed , far more flawed, far more seeking of redemption at times, then Jeremy Irons.

Both are enjoyable but I'll be honest, I'm looking forward to the next season of Borgia: Faith and Fear hitting Netflix.

Below I'll be discussing some potential bits that would be useful for various role playing games:

1. Life: Often players need to eliminate a threat. They need to find a way to remove an obstacle. But what if, what if they need to keep something alive instead. When Faith and Fear starts, the old pope is dying but that Pope's bastard son has changed the will. Some are not pleased with this so special doctors and medicines are brought in to prolong the Pope's life and have the problems of that changed will undone. Changing the nature of what it means to succeed can provide different challenges for the players. In a fantasy game like Dungeons and Dragons, this can be a relatively simple thing if the players are high enough level with spells like Cure Disease and Remove Curse so keep those elements in mind when designing the issues.

2. Shifting Alliances: The Pope has many enemies. There are even some who seek to have him removed through military means. When these methods fail though, they don't necessarily 'come around', as they are always still in opposition, but they recognize the political landscape for what it is and work within it. This is perhaps even more dangerous for the Pope in that the old saying, "Keep your enemies closer" means that well, your enemies are closer.

3. Politics: Lucretzia's wedding is prevented from being consummated by the Pope. This allows the pope the easy annulment of the wedding if he decides that he can marry his daughter off to a better match. This political gambit is easier to believe than tales of impotency that were used as grounds in the Showtime although turns out that happens here as well.

4. The French Disease: Syphilis! There are historical debates about the so called French Disease. Apparently there are those who think it  came from North America and those who think it was present all the time in Europe. As player characters in advance science fiction settings, and high fantasy settings tend to wander all over creation, to different planets, different times, different planes, the players may carry disease with them when they return. Or when interacting with people who have been to those places, may encounter the disease first.

5. Historical Uncertainty: In both series, Juan dies. Both have the deed happen differently. When looking at things that happened in the past, keep your options open. Unless the players specifically need to know exactly what happened and have the means to do so, such as with time travel or viewing it directly with magic or technology, having the past events be more fluid allows you to change or customize things later on. The end result doesn't change though, but the viewing of it, the happening of it, do.

6. Public Executions: So you've committed a crime. No big deal right? No so quick here. One man is put on the wheel and his bones and body broken with a hammer. Others are spread eagled upside down and sawed in half. Others hung and burned. Public execution is a  common thing here and its for the masses. Its the public entertainment of the day and the warning of what happens to those who cross the people in power.

7. The Papal States: Too often history, indeed, most subject matter, tries to simplify things to make them easier to digest, to give the reader/viewer/observer some method of starting to gather information about the subject in question. For example, when thinking of Italy, do you think of it as a single country or do you break it up into the various factions and city states? Within those city states, do you further break those down into cities with individual governors and fortifications that provide security to those around them? The Papal States are an excellent example of a miniature country within Italy surrounded by various City States and stronger countries, like France that allow the information to flow out in parcel form. Here is independent city state, here is unrepentant Il Tiger, etc... When setting up the locations in your campaign world, while the whole of it might not need to be presented to the players in one bite, having the ability to expand beyond the starting point is important.

8. Random Death: People die all the time and sometimes die of the weirdest things. For example, imagine being a captain of the guard and having a lightning bolt strike a cross atop a building that causes the cross to fall down and crush you. Imagine eating some bad fish at dinner and falling dead not long after that.  Without access to modern medicine, or it's magical equal, death can occur from any number of things ranging from small cuts that lead to infection, to STDs that without cure, grow progressively worse and worse.

9. Action and Reaction: In the later part of the series, as Cesare is walking through Rome, he encounters a blind man. The man relates that he was blinded in a brawl by a great warrior. Cesare asks if the blind man hates that warrior, who it turns out was Cesare himself, and the man replies that no, it was his own act of aggression that lead to him being blinded. When characters take action, there will be reactions to those. Some of those will be in support, some indifferent, some in direct opposition. When you know who the players are, the actions of the characters become easier to see how they ripple and effect others.

10. Introductions: Long before we see Caterina Sforza, the fierce warrior woman, various characters mention her prowess. This feats of impressive ability from third party allow the viewer to get an idea of the nature of Caterina. This is similar to how various shows or novels or comics will bring in a new villain and the first thing they have that villain do is demonstrate how powerful they are by destroying someone else. Having the players learn about some new menace through word of mouth is an effective way of providing information and allows the Game Master to put false information and rumor out as well as actual information and detail out.

Borgia: Faith and Fear, brings a lot to the table that the Showtime series didn't get to and I'm looking forward to the third season when it hits Netflix.