Why so series? – Penny Dreadful

Yay, I’m not dead.

So, about that show I most recently watched.

Penny Dreadful is a good series.

To start, Penny Dreadful is grotesque, haunting and very slow-paced. If you’re looking for a fast-paced series with many twists and turns, you should back away.

Penny Dreadful chronicles the misadventures of Vanessa Ives and company, mostly made up of sad souls that find themselves on the wrong side of the supernatural and often fighting for their lives. The main story-lines revolve mostly around Miss Ives, but the rest of the cast are well fleshed-out.

The main cast of season one, with a notable exclusion. (From left, Ethan Chandler, Brona Croft, Victor Frankenstein, Vanessa Ives, Dorian Gray, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene)

Miss Vanessa Ives (brilliantly played by Eva Green, but we’ll get back to her) is a woman that is haunted by many demons, both personal and literal. She forms a team with an old friend of the family, and a rag-tag group of broken men as she seeks to save not only her father-figure’s real daughter and herself from unfathomable evils.

Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is a famous explorer, having mapped big parts of Africa and intends to return for more (especially to look for the elusive source of the Nile). He’s a close ally of Vannessa, as their families were very close, and acts as her father-figure. He searches for his lost daughter Mina, and is haunted by his dead son Peter, who he left in a shallow grave in Africa.

Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett) is an American gun-show performer and former soldier recruited to the not-quite-merry band by Ives. He initiates a relationship with Brona Croft  in his personal time and during “work hours”, he finds out about a world few know exist in the shadows. He also harbours quite the dark secret.

Brona Croft (played by Billie Piper) is a prostitute that enters a relationship with Ethan. She’s suffering from tuberculosis, and also crosses path with a certain local handsome lad.

Sembene (Danny Sapani) is a servant of Malcolm’s he acquired somehow in Africa. Sembene’s past is a mystery, but his loyalty to the cause is unquestionable.

Dorian Gray (yeah, him – played by Reeve Carney) is a beautiful young man, indulging in sensuality for the most-part of the show. Has his classic painting to keep him young.

Doctor Victor Frankenstein (yes, that one too – played here by Harry Treadwell) is a local arrogant doctor, obsessed with the pursuit of the essence of life. He wants to create an immortal being. He’s extremely socially inept and rather dismissive of the group’s intentions, but finds himself drawn to the action anyway. Now you can probably figure out the last cast member.

Frankenstein’s Monster (Rory Kinnear) is just that. He returns to haunt his creator and demands that Frankenstein creates a wife for him. He has some interesting interactions with the rest of the cast that are of stark contrast to his antagonistic relationship with Frankenstein.

The story these characters are drawn into is very good and simple. It’s a bit predictable at times, but it works well. It lacks direction for long stretches of each season, but I find it works for the show in general.

About the quality of the acting; Eva Green absolutely owns the screen as Vanessa Ives. If anybody doubts her capabilities as an actress, I really don’t know how. She gives you nearly every facet of Miss Ives, from happiness to absolute rock bottom. Her mannerisms, her voice, fucking everything. She’s the best actress on TV by far.

Also great is Harry Treadwell as Victor Frankenstein. His performance is absolutely stellar, and it makes it a treat to watch Frankenstein grow into a man on screen. I’ll be keeping an eye out for him in other projects.

pennydreadful-frank

One of my negatives is Dorian Gray. I’m not very fond of the show’s take on the character – Or the character in general. He’s just rather boring and has little impact. He does however improve in season two, and has probably the best side-story. Much better when he’s being played straight, instead of having him strut around and recite poems like a love-sick philosopher. It looks as if he’ll have a big part in season 3, where he might end up being the main villain.

pennydreadful-dorian

The villains are also rather uninteresting, even if the ones of the second season are far better. Still, the show plays it off well and instead puts more focus on how the “heroes” deal with the situations at hand.

Without spoiling much, the second season is a considerable improvement on the first one, with the stakes being raised and the characters being put in more interesting situations.

The series is gorgeous and the setting is very well presented.

The second season has a story arc about sexuality that was surprisingly effective, and proves that the Dorian Gray character can work with a bit of set-up and not just having him walk around being fabulous. Then it’s just thrown away rather abruptly, which made the whole thing feel like a waste.

The show is also very noir, in the way it treats it’s characters. They usually walk head-long into sadness or deny themselves happiness. Not a whole lot of sunshine and puppies around.

In closing, Penny Dreadful is an excellent ensemble drama with a variety of characters and personalities that usually work well together. It’s quite slow-paced, but is well-worth sticking with. Filled to the brim with spectacular performances – especially that of Green – it’s a constant treat to watch. Very highly recommended.

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From behind the GM Screen: Getting to know your friends again

RPG terms for the unknowing:
RPG: Role-playing game
GM: Game master (basically <the narrator>, the gm’s job is to keep track of the rules, explain the surroundings and events and play the side-characters)
PC: Player character (the players are the main characters of whatever story you’re telling)
OP: Over-powered (a rule of action or whatever that’s too strong to make much sense, and can end up breaking a game)

So, I’ve been running a campaign of Noir, a Swedish RPG for a couple of months now. I think we just passed 25 sessions, but I kinda lost count a ways back. Noir is just that, a Noir game. It’s set in a city where the state is everything and decides the fate of all. A world were most people can’t stand living and just blow their heads off. Most of the common man works in the gigantic factory districts or scrape by doing other jobs. Obviously there are detectives, crooked alcoholic cops and femme fatales. There just wouldn’t be a Noir setting without them. It’s got a nice, dark setting that’s great for character development and generally torturing your PCs. (Noir is a Swedish RPG and you can check for more info here: http://www.noir.nu/ Sorry to the non-Swedes, it’s only available in Swedish and the developers seem done with the product, so I doubt they’ll ever release a translate version.)

In Noir there’s a thing called “The Defilement”. It’s basically magic that used the caster’s life force. It’s extremely rare to be a Defiler, but some exist. The users suffer severe emotional traumas the more they use it, and I like fucking with my players, so of course I decided to center the campaign on characters that are Defiler and are trying to get rid of their affliction. So in general it’s a mix between investigation and action, finding the dudes that can help them figure out what to do, and drop-kicking evil in the face.

During the campaign, I’ve noticed that my players have a larger fancy for the action, and as such I’ve leaned towards more evil-punching than I had planned, and made the story into more of an epic struggle. Plans have rarely been made, and it generally goes like this when a plan is suggested.

  1. Look over the gathered information.
  2. Think up a basic plan, such as flanking or feigned charges.
  3. Disregard plan – kick down the door.

As a GM that doesn’t shy away from harming the PCs, I don’t complain much about it and reap the following results. I think there’s been 3 PC deaths thus far, and many occasions where players got just short of bleeding out. So it’s obviously ot the most lethal campaign ever, but I’ve been holding back a bit.

With just a few sessions to go, I decided to have a more social game, because I had to write an essay during the week and couldn’t be arsed to write up a slew of dudes to feed to the power-gaming PCs.

I thought the game went so-so. A common problem for GMs: Getting players to bite the plot hook. Mine just weren’t going for it, initially, so I kind of had to force interaction with NPCs to give them story information. It worked, and the show was on the road again. A thing I’ve noticed during the campaign is that The Defilement is ridiculously OP. It’s basically everything two of my players ever do. One of them has a Defilement that lets him become practically invisible, and the other one has one that lets him dominate NPCs (read: mind-control). Basically, The Defilement is the central game mechanic in this stage of the campaign. Which is fine, since this is just a thing I did to play-test The Defilement. Instead of talking to NPCs, they usually capture them, kill them or dominate them. That’s a problem, because The Defilement becomes a crutch to lean on instead of role playing.

Anyway, the players end up at a sort of gala for the famous aristocrats they have a problem with and infiltrate (of course, by dominating a nobleman to gain entry) and find information from an earlier antagonist. As trigger-happy as these guys are, I’m surprised they didn’t just pop him instantly. They find out that one of the party guests is an opponent of the real bad guys and they find him. Guess what: They fucking dominate him as well. Well, whoop-de-do, several hours of coming up with the character and dialogue go out the window and mind-control gets one more point.

Anyway, the session ends in bloodshed, as the old antagonist decides to fuck the place up (which was mostly me being an arse-hole, but whatever.

Anyway, what surprised me, was that after the session one of the players hit me up on Skype and thanked me for “a very good session”.

“A good session?” I thought to myself. I though it was a cluster-fuck of me fumbling over myself to throw the story at my players without them biting and making contrived plans, but I’ll take the compliment. Apparently at least he thought it was a nice change of pace to have a slow, talky session instead of shooting the place up all the time.

I’ll tell you this: If you think you know your friends exactly, think again, mate. Throw them into an RPG and be shocked at what they’ll do. I’ll get a post up on the amazing game The Quiet Year, by Joe Mcdaldno, soon. That game will have your head spinning at what your fellow players do.

PS: Funny thing, the players lack of planning bit them in the arse again as two PCs bit it in the last session. Going into a random boss battle before the Big God Damn Boss Battle cost them dearly, as one character got killed by a grenade, and one was mortally wounded when the boss battle arrived. Hopefully this’ll lead to some better planning in the future, but who knows? All I know is I’ll still get some sadistic pleasure when I snuff their three-step plan.