Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Buddy fantasy

One of the most enduring traditions of American cinema (although it also extends beyond this, of course) is the concept of a buddy movie.  Abbot & Costello were early practitioners.  Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made a lot of hay with the concept with their series of "Road to..." movies.  There's a lot of buddy movies of various types, and they usually have some common themes.  They tend to be about, well... buddies.  Good friends, who's loyalty and friendship with each other tend to transcend other relationships in general (although in the Hope/Crosby movies, there was always a rivalry between them for the affection of the leading lady, played by Dorothy Lamour.  Bing Crosby always won in the end and got the girl, but he and Hope remained best friends.)  Don't take the Wikipedia article on the concept too seriously; the notion of veiled homosexual inferences is more a case of much later appearing academics projecting onto the genre.

The buddy comedy declined later in the 20th century, but the buddy cop movie became incredibly productive, giving us (for example) the Lethal Weapon series, the 48 Hours series, the Bad Boys series, the Rush Hour series, the Beverly Hills Cop series, the Men in Black series, and Starsky & Hutch.  One could even make the case that the original buddy cops were Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.  From even just that list, you can see that it often crossed a number of barriers--MIB has a strong science fictional element to it, for example.  The "cops" aren't always cops; in fact, "buddy criminals" is an interesting twist on the concept as well.  The point of the buddy cop movie is that rather than being slapstick comedy, as many of the earlier buddy movies were, these were action movies, with comedy being more situational based on the contrast between the personalities and natures of the "buddies" in the storyline.  In fact, the Hope/Crosby movies usually had the characters as con artists of some type to begin with; maybe the buddy criminal movie is one of the original forms of the genre.

The reason I thought of this was that I've been reading Michael Sullivan's Theft of Swords which is, actually, a "buddy criminal" fantasy novel.  Two fantasy novels "omnibussed" together, to be precise, out of a series of six (three in the new printings.  If that makes any sense.)  Despite the fact that Hadrian Blackwater, highly capable mercenary and Royce Melborn, highly capable thief, are in fact criminals, they take the role of rather heroic (if somewhat sardonic) protagonists in the story.

I'm also reminded, reading this, of the Hawk & Fisher series.  Technically six books long (also "omnibussed" three at a time into two trade paperbacks) but including an ancillary sequel and prologue book that don't belong to the series proper, this is a husband and wife tough cop routine in a city that's a fantasy version of a "wretched hive of scum & villainy."  Having a husband and wife team is a bit unusual for a buddy movie, in which the platonic, same-sex friendship between the two protagonists is one of the defining features--although Hawk & Fisher might as well be asexual for the most part in terms of how their relationship is explored in the books.

Talking about Hawk & Fisher always reminds me of the venue where I first heard of them, drnuncheon's Freeport Story Hour thread on ENWorld (one of the few times I'll recommend this site; the Story Hour threads are--sometimes; when they're good anyway--pretty fun and the topic is one that can't exactly get mired down in silly arguing or pedantic nitpicking.)  Because he was running a game for two players--with a single character each--he decided to let them be members of the Freeport City Watch, consciously mimicking the Hawk & Fisher scenario.  In fact, with a small group, "buddy movies" tend to work well in a gaming environment, because most gamers play their characters completely asexually anyway.  I've actually had really good luck in my "Demons in the Mist" game with creating a buddy movie vibe.  It was a larger ensemble cast, as gaming groups tend to be, but two of the characters somehow managed to stick out and develop "leadership roles" who drove the game forward, while the rest of the group acted more passively and became--to some extent--their entourage.  Lash, the grumpy hobgoblin con artist, and Ricardo, the somewhat hapless would-be Don Juan, gradually filled in and embellished a back story of having been a long-running buddy team; two very different personalities who argued like an old married couple and frequently inadvertently caused each others' schemes to fail spectacularly, yet couldn't imagine somehow managing without the other.

Hawk & Fisher by Luis Royo
For me as the GM, I always thought it was a bit tricky running that and making sure that the other players had enough moments in the spotlight.  Lash and Ricardo's players were content entertaining each other (and everyone else) but it would have been easy to have made the game all about them while having everyone else kinda fall off to the side.  That would have been a mistake, I believe, and bad GMing--since the players of the other characters would most likely have found that situation not very fun had I indulged it.  But at the same time, their antics did a great job of propelling the game forward without much involvement on my end; a situation which as a GM, I greatly desire.  I've long thought that doing something similar to drnuncheon's Freeport game; a game that's designed to be kind of a buddy cop scenario from the get-go with a small group (of two, although you could probably make it work with a small ensemble of 2-4 as well) would be a lot of fun.  In fact, I'm tempted, if I get off my duff and start recruiting for my game, I might find that a smaller group would be nice (heck, I've had three people over the last year or so approach me on Obsidian Portal; if they're all still available, I'm ready to go now!)

This isn't, however, a theme that's easily explored in D&D, assuming that you accept the premise of D&D.  I'm not quite sure how going into dungeons with a crack team of experts to beat traps, fight monsters, and acquire treasure and experience is a "story" that can be told using anything like the buddy cop paradigm, which is primarily a description of the inter-character relationships between PCs.  The prevalence of the paradigm in cop stories means that heroic, or even semi-heroic type games can use it; although I've had great experience with the concept of heist or con-artist buddies over time as well.  This isn't so much a question of system; where D&D characters can absolutely be "buddies" in the buddy movie sense, but rather with the premise of the game.  Of course, not all D&D games follow the generic D&D premise anyway.  Certainly none that I've ever run have done so.

In fact, my long-stalled, frequently aborted and then restarted DARK•HERITAGE novel attempts use a scenario derived from the buddy movie paradigm--or at least some versions of it have done so.  I also have a male/female duo, but as a brother/sister team, their relationship is by default platonic and therefore much more buddy-cop-like than otherwise.

Although, granted, that was never meant to be a gaming theme regardless.

But it's not like Gygax didn't obviously quite enjoy the stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser--the original fantasy buddies.

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