Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Borgias: The Second Season

I enjoyed the first season so much that I quickly watched the other two seasons in a binge viewing over the last week. I'll try to refer to actual events in the second season to insure that I'm not drifting too far from topic.

The host of actors they've assembled continue to knock it out of the park. Jeremy Irons has a particular scene towards the end of season two that is powerful and some of the best acting I've seen. The use of the director in making a visual switch is also well done and pulls at the heart strings.

For those who've never seen it, all three seasons are on Netflix right now and are well worth viewing. I'll be discussion some specifics and how they may play out or be useful for your own role playing games below.

1. Hunting: When I first saw the anime Berserk, I enjoyed how one of the nobles tried to assassinate Griffith during the event. Later on in the series, something similar happens. However, hunting doesn't always have to lead to such attempts. Rather, in this season, while hunting a deer, the deer dashes through some ruins and leads the Pope to ancient murals and art that were abandoned.  While hunting and the characters are out, something can happen, it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing or a violent thing though. Try to mix up the happenings so that players will wonder what's going to happen as opposed to just getting their favorite damage dice ready.

2. Subterfuge: Lucretzia has a child with a stable boy due to the poor treatment she received at the hands of her husband. That stable boy comes to Rome. He is murdered by Juan, Lucretzia's brother. Now Juan tries to set up the whole thing as a suicide but doesn't know that the stable boy can't read or write. So the note itself turns out to be a telling clue. More important than that though, is how far others go to try and support the lie until she blatantly points out that it is a lie and that the suicide is murder. Suicide in such times, has a huge religious implication in the Church and by pointing out that it was no such suicide, Lucretzia is essentially saving the boy's soul. Holding on to information that others don't know provides a power that characters can keep in their back pocket until needed.

3. Deception: The use of deception comes through in a few manners this season. First, it's heavily implied if not outright said that the Pope sent the French King ahead towards Naples when the Pope knew that there was plague there. The French suffer heavily under the plague. When the King moves north and wants to take a little revenge, he finds Rome heavily fortified with Canon. What the King doesn't know though, is that those canon were all plaster casts and would have been useful in an actual battle, but because he doesn't know that, he decides that there would be too many loses if he attacked.

Secrets don't have to be on such a scale though. For example, Pope Alexander is wandering around one night and finds a young artists copying some of the work he found in the ruins. Turns out that artist isn't a young man, but a woman trying to make her way as a man because of the limits placed on women being apprentices during this time period.

Another example is when the Pope disguises himself as a pauper and explorers the poor quarters of the city. By doing so in disguise, he is able to see things in a manner that he would never have been allowed to while in his full regalia.

4. Limited Resources: Despite having the whole of Rome and more at his command, the Pope is constantly burning through funds. The reason why the deception of the plaster canons was needed in the first place, is that the Pope, after discovering the art in the ruins, held a great celebration which costs money. Money and resources, like bronze, that could then not be used to craft actual canon later on. When players are faced with different choices that have costs, try to insure that any direction they take is going to have potential lose on the other side later on down the road.

5. Mercenaries: There's an old saying, it takes a village. Sometimes it takes an army. Where can one find such an army? Or at least a small band of rogues? If you have a strong possibility of victory and there is wealth to be found, the manpower to attain those goals should be easily found. People are hungry for a better life. In older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, many played it as if it were assumed that they would be using hirelings and henchmen to take care of a variety of duties.

Here for example, Cesare uses the mercenaries and sneak attacks to cut off the scouting abilities of the French army. Because of the advantage in sneak attack and the smaller number of foes being fought, he's able to essentially win the battles before they start.

6. Natural Disasters: In a role playing game and a setting where the gods have walked the earth multiple times, like the Forgotten Realms, a natural disaster may be easier to swallow as just a natural disaster. Historically and in settings like Eberron where the gods don't necessarily take physical form, when terrible things happen, like a lightning bolt striking and destroying part of the church, well, that might cause some reflection to happen.

7. Rivalry: Cesare and his brother Juan have been shown to have intense feelings for one another. In both this and the previous season they have dueled and Juan has lost. Juan has also been shown to not be the military leader that Cesare is. What's worse is that Juan, due to a variety of issues, is seen here as slowly but surely losing his mind thanks to Opium and chronic pain. When he takes his issues perhaps a step too far, Cesare decides that only with Juan dead can the family, or at least his sister and her child, be safe.

The rivalry between the two is played off by their father as being necessary as having one son in the religion factor and the other in the military. Were the Pope a king, his eldest, Cesare would've been in the military, but being a religion man, the Pope wants his eldest to follow after him. A thing that his son doesn't appear to be too interested in.

When creating rivalries for the players, family is a great foil for doing so. In most cases, unless the two are outright enemies, one will have to cross a heavy line for the banter and 'fun' to move to the next stage of one of the characters having to die.

8. Cliff Hanger: The season ends with the pope being poisoned while his son is making a confession about killing his brother. What a way to end the season. It certainly would have made the audience hungry to come back to the show and see what happened next.  If you can end your session on a cliff hanger where the group is anxious and eager to get back to the game, it allows you to start the next session rolling with the players fully vested.

9. Holidays: The pope is one to not make small gestures. He has a holiday with a burning of a giant bull to bring 'joy' to Rome. In a time when there is no internet, when there is no television, when there is no raido, giving the people something to do not only breaks the monotony of life up, but provides the players something to do. In such a hectic and chaotic time, when the full city is in celebration, it could act as excellent cover for other activities to go on.

The Borgias, the Second Season is available to stream on Netflix or the blu ray is available from Amazon for $27.99.

For those who've seen the show, did you enjoy the way the various characters were portrayed? I like the whole 'bonfire of the vanities' for example and really enjoy the way the actor they got to play Machiavelli does his job. Good stuff there.