An international network of researchers into all aspects of role-playing games
David Millians, Editor
Paideia School, 1509 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30307 USA
LETTER FROM THE CHAIR
Our guest this month for our virtual panels was Mark Diaz-Truman, the co-founder of Magpie Games, which produces amazing role-playing games like the ENnie Award-winning Urban Shadows and the revolutionary Bluebeard’s Bride. He’s worked on million-dollar Kickstarters like 7th Sea: Second Edition. Mark helped found the Indie Game Developers Network in 2011, an international volunteer trade organization that supports indie game developers making, publishing, and promoting games. He’s also a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School who community organizes on the nights and weekends.
Mark shared more info about Magpie Games’ current and future plans (hint: it involves fulfilling Kickstarter obligations for a major multimedia license). You can watch the recording on our YouTube channel.
Our membership tends to go on vacation in July and August, so we’re taking a break next month and resuming in September. Our next guest is Christopher Winnan, author of Board Games in Education. We look forward to speaking with him.
I paused my weekly online game for several weeks because of all the real-life adventures we’re having—I’ve camped three weekends in the summer, a new record for me. I hope you get some time to have some adventures, be it in-person or online, and stay healthy doing it. We’ll see you in September!
Sherlock Holmes and Butler Parker: Two TV Shows from Germany as Patterns for Detective RPGs
By Carsten Obst
Meanwhile we learned to protect us against the Corona-virus, but we must still be cautious. Unfortunately the precautions against infections affect our hobby, too. When we come together medical protective masks are now standard equipment alongside dices and character sheets. Some RPG-groups only meet online, using the possibilities of the internet.
But the time, which we spent in quarantine, offered us also the opportunity to develop or to find new ideas for RPG-adventures and -campaigns. In this article I will present two results of my reflections and searches, while I had to stay at home.
The regular readers of the NEWSLETTER know my annual reports about the German game-fair SPIEL, which I published until the Corona-pandemic. So you surely remember also my reviews of the German detective-RPG “Private Eye”, which is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle´s novels and stories about Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective in London.
Many movie- and TV-adaptations of Holmes´ cases exist. The first I, which I watched, was the German edition of the series “Sherlock Holmes”, produced by the BBC in 1968. Exactly it was the second and final season with Peter Cushing – known to “Star Wars”-fans as Grand Moff Tarkin – as Holmes and Nigel Stock as his friend Dr. Watson.
Another TV-adaption, also with the title “Sherlock Holmes”, which was broadcasted by the German WDR in 1967 and 1968, is widely unknown today. That is very unfortunate, because this classic detective-series was an excellent implementation of Doyle´s stories. Therefore a detailed look at this adaption shall be done here.
In this series Sherlock Holmes was portrayed by Erich Schellow and Dr. Watson by Paul Edwin Roth. Hans Schellbach played Inspector Lestrade, while Manja Kafka took on the role of Mrs. Hudson and Hans Cossy that of Mycroft Holmes. The success of a movie- or TV-adaptation depends widely on its cast, and so a closer look at Schellow and Roth follows.
Erich Schellow (born 1915, died 1995) was a well-known theatre actor, who got the renowned Berlin Art Prize several times for his achievements. He only played few roles in movies and TV, but also worked as a voice actor including for Peter Cushing (see above). Schellow´s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is therefore an interesting part of his career.
Paul Edwin Roth´s (born 1918, died 1985) career also began in the theatre, before he took on roles in movies and TV. He appeared in numerous German and international productions including many crime-films and -shows. As a voice actor he synchronized Peter Cushing, too, but also Jean Gabin, James Garner, Henry Fonda and John Wayne.
The WDR´s series used for the scripts written for the first season of the BBC´s adaption, which was broadcasted in 1965 with Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock Holmes. They had been translated into German, but legal reasons prevented a dubbing. So the WDR produced an own series. All of the recordings including the outdoor scenes were made in the studio. For technical reasons this was quite common in TV-productions during the Sixties.
The six episodes can be viewed on YouTube (where else?) using the following links:
- 1st Episode – “Das gefleckte Band” („The Adventure of the Speckled Band”) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVtRtokUI8A&list=PLqNZ6dvo6A7PB9RJZd9KW1zcfg-7s6rij&index=1
- 2nd Episode – “Sechsmal Napoleon” (“The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrjZrJHN8FM&list=PLqNZ6dvo6A7PB9RJZd9KW1zcfg-7s6rij&index=2
- 3rd Episode – “Die Liga der Rothaarigen” (“The Red-Headed League”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJiptfsoh1k&list=PLqNZ6dvo6A7PB9RJZd9KW1zcfg-7s6rij&index=3
- 4th Episode – “Die Bruce-Partington-Pläne” (“The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington-Plans”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qttT_gWTX2s&list=PLqNZ6dvo6A7PB9RJZd9KW1zcfg-7s6rij&index=4
- 5th Episode – “Das Beryll-Diadem” (“The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5Ftbh2UPX4&list=PLqNZ6dvo6A7PB9RJZd9KW1zcfg-7s6rij&index=5
- 6th Episode – “Das Haus bei den Blutbuchen” (“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMMaq3LdYS4&list=PLqNZ6dvo6A7PB9RJZd9KW1zcfg-7s6rij&index=6
The series shows the Victorian era as it was imagined in the Sixties. Good manners, politeness and correct behaviour are basic social virtues. The men follow (or should follow) the gentleman´s code of honour, while patriotism and self-control – the famous “stiff upper lip” – combined with a dry sense of humour are important character traits. Women can show their feelings – in a moderate way, of course.
For RPGs like “Private Eye” or “Cthulhu by Gaslight”, which use the Victorian age as background, it is not important to what extent the British society actually followed these ideals. If the GM and the players prefer a social setting like that described in the TV-show, then they are free to use it.
Contrary to the widespread view, that women in the Victorian society were totally dependent from the men, they are not helpless victims in the WDR´s series. So Violet Hunter, played by Katinka Hoffman, is portrayed as an independent, strong and intelligent personality, whose cleverness is even recognized by Holmes – an excellent role-model for a female PC.
While in the movie- and TV-adaptions Dr. Watson is often a confused side-kick, the series portrays him as an independent character, who acts also as an archivist for Holmes. When his friend needs some information, he quickly gets them from his files. Holmes and Watson are here a perfectly coordinated team, that even teases each other in a friendly way.
The original plot of the stories was expanded with some witty ideas. So in the fourth episode Holmes and Watson recreate the last subway ride of the murdered Arthur Cadogan West using a toy train for children. This causes the amused Mrs. Hudson to comment about the proverbial “child in the man”.
Another witty idea can be found in the sixth episode. The original story mentions Holmes´ interest in the strong-willed Miss Hunter. In the TV-adaption he asks her for a private talk after solving the case. While travelling back to London Watson wants to known, what his friend discussed with his client. Holmes answers, that he asked Miss Hunter just a question, which she answered positively. Thinking that he proposed to her Watson congratulates him. But soon he is disappointed, when Holmes shows him Miss Hunter´s cropped braid of hair, which she agreed to give him as a memento for his collection …
The portrayals of Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes in the series also deserve attention. Lestrade lacks Holmes´ genius, but he is dedicated, dutiful and assertive. He knows that a cooperation with the detective can only be beneficial for the police. Interestingly this matches Lestrade´s description in “Private Eye”. In this RPG he has a very average intelligence, but also the valuable ability to delegate the right task to the right man.
Mycroft Holmes is a genius like his brother, but his character is multi-layered. Under great stress – like the disappearance of the Bruce Partington-plans – he tends to become bad tempered, forgetting even the social conventions of the Victorian age. As a result Watson prescribes him a sedative – but Mycroft does not take the prescription with him.
All in all the TV-show is of great interest for fans of detective-RPGs, either as entertainment or as a pattern for adventures in the age of Queen Victoria. The portrayals of the characters can be used as models for PCs and NPCs, especially for female ones. In the late 19th century the career options for women were legally and socially restricted, but Violet Hunter is a role-model for a determined woman, who searches her own path in life. From our modern perspective some contents of the series are clichéd, but clichés can be fun in RPGs.
Another German TV-show, which offers good ideas for detective-RPGs, is “Butler Parker”. It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3kQ2egPKMzS3TFcz8Jx-CQ/videos. The twenty-six episodes are in this channels´s “Videos”-section. Its search function is helpful to locate them.
“Butler Parker” is based on a series of pulp novels with the same title, which were written by Günter Dönges (born 1923, died 2001). Originally a journalist he specialized as an author in adventure and humorous stories. In 1954 Dönges wrote the first story about Joshua Parker, the resourceful British butler. First individual stories were published, but from 1972 to 1992 an own series about this unlikely hero was available.
Joshua Parker is not just a butler, but also a gifted amateur detective, who uses intelligence and lots of gadgets to solve crimes. His equipment includes a steel-lined bowler hat, a multi-purpose umbrella, that also shoots darts, and a specially converted taxi from London, which would surely earn the respect of Q, the technical expert of the British intelligence service.
Initially Parker was the butler of Mike Rander, a tough American lawyer. When Rander returns to the United States he enters the service of Lady Agatha Simpson, an enthusiastic amateur detective. The series is humorous, parodying clichés of the classic crime genre as well as national stereotypes. Altogether 605 stories about Butler Parker were published.
Based on these novels the German TV-station ARD produced a show with twenty-six episodes, which retained the humorous tone. Broadcasted in 1972 and 1973 it was very successful, and so it was shown again several times.
Joshua Parker was played by Dirk Dautzenberg (born 1921, died 2009), who was a true all-rounder as actor, radio play speaker and theatre director. Dautzenberg embodied the typical British butler in appearance and behaviour, but always with a fine sense of humour: always diligent and discreet, but also resolute and assertive.
The actor, voice actor and radio play speaker Eckart Dux (born 1926) played Mike Rander. At the beginning of his career Dux was often casted as a youthful hero, but he developed into a renowned character actor. This made him the right choice for Parker´s employer, whom he played also with tongue-in-cheek humour.
Parker and Rander were alternately assisted by the secretaries Vivi Carlson from Denmark and Miss Jenny. Carlson was played by Angelika Knöferle (born 1947), a ballet dancer, singer, musician and actress. Under her stage name Stella Mooney she also appeared in musicals. Gabrela Dohm (born 1943) played Miss Jenny. Initially she was a theatre actress, before she appeared in movies and numerous TV- productions. Both embodied modern young women of the early Seventies: intelligent, self-confident and independent.
Their main opponents are Mr. Cleveland and Mr. Longness, two gangsters from the USA. Cleveland was played by Carl Schell (born 1927, died 2019), who worked as an actor, director, producer and author. The actor and voice actor Edgar Hoppe (born 1937) took on the role of Longness. He often appeared in crime movies and shows. In the series “Großstadtrevier” (“Big City Precinct”), which is successfully running since 1984, he played for seventeen years the kind-hearted police officer Dietmar Steiner.
Parker and Rander solve crimes throughout Europe, because Rander´s work as a lawyer takes him to many countries. Sometimes they are asked for help, but often they get caught up in a case by accident. Murder, extortion, white slavery, smuggling and the illegal diamond trade are some crimes, which they investigate.
Soon the audience learns, that Parker and Rander had once testified in the United States against the boss of a crime syndicate, sending him to prison for a long time. So Cleveland and Longness, who are members of the syndicate, were ordered to assassinate them. During their travels Parker and Rander constantly encounter the would-be-killers.
So Parker and Rander, supported by Miss Carlson or Miss Jenny, must also foil the assassination attempts of Cleveland and Longness. For that the resourceful butler uses clever tactics and sophisticated defensive methods. Parker´s technical gadgets like the umbrella, the taxi and a modern surveillance equipment play an important role.
The series ends in a happy way. Rander returns to the USA, when the syndicate is no longer a threat. On the plane he meets Cleveland, who wants to start a new life. Miss Carlson goes back to Denmark. Parker retires to start his own butler academy. Among his first students is Longness, who has learned to respect his opponent. Now he wants to become a butler.
The series can be a pattern for a detective campaign, that includes humour and elements of parody. It is possible to take over the complete setting with the protagonists as PCs, who experience new adventures. But then the GM must consider, that Parker is a very resourceful character. Therefore the butler may be suited used as a NPC.
Alternatively the protagonists would remain NPCs under the GM´s control. Then the players can be friends and business partners of the protagonists or private detectives, police officers and lawyers. Their own enquiries or a criminal threat result soon in an encounter with Parker and Rander, who investigate the same case.
Due to the political and social changes in Western Europe during the early Seventies this time would be an interesting campaign background. But with some appropriate changes the plot can also be transferred to other eras. The late 19th century is just as suitable as our modern world. Parker´s taxi becomes an armoured horse carriage with secret compartments in the Victorian era, while today it would be a car with an environmentally friendly hybrid motor.
Two episodes shall demonstrate the possibilities of the TV-show. In the second episode entitled “Besuch in Scotland” (“Visit in Scotland”) Rander and Parker travel to Donnovan Castle in the Scottish highlands. Like every good castle on the British Isles you find there a ghost: the hangman of Donnovan Castle.
Three centuries ago a nobleman invited a girl against her will for an intimate weekend, whereupon she committed suicide. Sentenced to death for this crime he was executed by Dan Bannister, a local miller, who had also the position of the county´s hangman. The nobleman´s father cursed Bannister, who has been haunting the castle as a ghost ever since.
Now the ghost shall have attacked Sir James Donovan, the current lord of the castle, who is at odds with his brother Arthur. So Sir James asks Rander to investigate. The case gets complicated by the fact, that the housekeeper and her son are descendants of Dan Bannister. The sudden arrival of Cleveland and Longness is another problem, which Parker must solve.
The episode can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyHc7BLycPU. Its plot lives from the stereotypical flair of an old castle with secret passages, which is haunted by a ghost. Imagine a castle gate in a dark night with a knight armour as a decoration. You knock against the gate – and suddenly the knight lifts his arm, opens it and walks away …
In the twelfth episode with the title “Der Spezialist” (“The Specialist”) the syndicate is dissatisfied with the constant failures of Cleveland and Longness. So they send an elite hitman to Europe, the best specialist for this work in the United States. Confident he wants to do the job at once, because he has another appointment in Chicago three days later.
Cleleveland and Longness are unhappy about the specialist´s arrogance, especially because he does not listen to their warnings about the butler´s resourcefulness. Parker has already noticed the hitman´s arrival and begins to foil his new opponent´s plans. Soon the specialist learns the hard way, that you should never underestimate a British butler …
The video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDj-YGkKicU&t=743s. Its plot lives from the amusing clash of a British butler and the stereotypical hitman.
In 2008 the company Studio Hamburg Enterprises released the TV-show “Butler Parker” on DVD (ASIN: B001C9Z3MI). “Sherlock Holmes” followed in 2012 (ASIN: B008FXXKZQ). Unfortunately both are meanwhile sold out. They can still be ordered at various internet-shops, but unused DVDs are expensive.
“Sherlock Holmes” and “Butler Parker” are two real jewels among the German TV-shows of the Sixties and Seventies. Both offer us interesting patterns for our hobby, when we are interested in detective-RPGs. And we should look for more jewels like these, be it TV-shows, books, comics or radio plays. Let us look for them!
FROM DAVID MILLIANS
Carter, Chase (2022 Jul 1) Kickstarter brings Zine Quest back to February for 2023’s fifth annual undie TRPG events. https://www.dicebreaker.com/companies/kickstarter/news/zine-quest-2023-dates-kickstarter. Experimenting with other months confused and frustrated creators, so it’s back to February.
Carter, Chase (2022 Jul 7) D&D book maker Apotheosis to wind down, will not offer refunds, following allegations against founder. https://www.dicebreaker.com/companies/apotheosis-studios/news/apotheosis-jamison-stone-statement. Questions about Jamison Stone’s professional and personal behavior. More here.
Chinn, Christopher (2022 Jul 5) 5 Games to Learn From. https://bankuei.wordpress.com/2022/07/05/5-games-to-learn-from. Teaching and presenting games and about games.
Cullen, Maddie (2022 Jul 13) 10 wholesome RPGs for chill roleplaying with friends. https://www.dicebreaker.com/categories/roleplaying-game/best-games/best-wholesome-rpgs-chill-roleplaying. Lighthearted play from Cozy Town to Magical Kitties Save the Day.
darjr (2022 Jul 6) TSR D&D sales numbers compiled by Benjamin Riggs. https://www.enworld.org/threads/tsr-d-d-sales-numbers-compiled-by-benjamin-riggs.689704. Data from 1979-1990 from forthcoming book. More excerpts.
The Economist (2022 Jul 7) China’s Communist Party cracks down on larping. https://www.economist.com/china/2022/07/07/chinas-communist-party-cracks-down-on-larping. Totalitarian disapproval of imagination.
Ennies (2022 Jul 8) Nominees and Judge’s Spotlight Announcement. https://ennie-awards.com/2022-nominations. Acclaimed RPG work for 2022.
Jarvis, Matt (2022 Jul 20) D&D-inspired movie Mazes & Monsters is getting a HD re-release for its 40th anniversary – here’s an exclusive first look. https://www.dicebreaker.com/categories/roleplaying-game/news/mazes-and-moonsters-hd-re-release-exclusive-artwork-reveal. It sounds like the extras have lots of added context and commentary.
Lazrow, Paul (2022 Feb 1) The Best Ultimate Guide to Running Dungeons and Dragons Games for Kids. https://www.adventuringportal.com/post/the-best-ultimate-guide-to-running-dungeons-and-dragons-games-for-kids. Solid suggestions for successful game sessions.
Meehan, Alex (2022 Jul 13) Play as Stranger Things characters in Dungeons & Dragons with free supplement. https://www.dicebreaker.com/games/dungeons-and-dragons-5e/news/strange-things-supplement-dnd-5e. More media crossover whimsy.
Rancic, Michael (2022 Jul 28) Rolling Together: Indie RPG creators joining forces to change the industry for good. https://www.dicebreaker.com/categories/roleplaying-game/feature/indie-rpg-creators-joining-forces-co-ops. Analysis of industry trends and methods at Far Horizons Co-op and Chapbook Co-op.
FROM MIKE TRESCA
Tresca, Mike (2022 Jul 4) Publisher vs. Algorithm. https://www.enworld.org/threads/publisher-vs-algorithm.689614. Navigating the challenges of online publishing.
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