Back in March I made a trip out to the Left Coast, to visit some friends out in California that I usually only get to see at hectic gaming conventions when none of us really have the time to hangout. It just so happened that, while I was out there, one of the big California-based comic conventions, Anaheim's WonderCon, was going on. It was great fun, because I was able to meet a lot of comic creators who don't normally make it to the conventions that are in my part of the country. One of the creators that I met was the artist and writer Ming Doyle. She has done a lot of awesome comics from Constantine to Mara to the Vertigo Comics book The Kitchen.
Stay along, I promise that this is going to get to gaming.
One of the things that I picked up from Doyle was the trade collection of The Kitchen. This Vertigo Comics book was written by Ollie Masters, with art by Doyle and covers by Becky Cloonan (among others). It is about a group of Irish women in 1970s Hell's Kitchen who take over the business of their husbands while they are in jail. That business just happens to include extortion and rackets. It is a really great crime comic with well written characters who have an interesting and intriguing story arc over the course of the mini-series.
The 1970s in general, and New York City in particular, make a great time for crime stories. There was so much social and societal upheaval coming out of the 60s that the time period is a fertile one for stories like these.
We're almost at the gaming stuff. I promise.
This brings us, in a roundabout way, to talking about Sarah Richardson's game from Magpie Games, the Powered By The Apocalypse Velvet Glove. Velvet Glove is a game about girl gangs in the 1970s, and while not directly connected to The Kitchen, they share enough points of commonality to sort of tie them together.
If you aren't familiar, Apocalypse World is a game by Vincent Baker that is designed around a narrative approach to role-playing, where character-driven choices during play are incentivized by the rules of the game. You are encouraged to make hard choices for your characters, and do things that might not necessarily be good for them in the short or long term. This is a gross over-simplification of the Apocalypse World rules, and intentionally so, because it would honestly require its own in-depth look, and this (unfortunately) isn't the place for that. The rules from Apocalypse World are also used as the basis for games like Worlds in Peril, Monsterhearts and the Magpie Games game Urban Shadows. Among many others.
Now, Velvet Glove isn't a crime story game, per se, but that can be one of the bad choices that your characters can make in the game. Currently, the game is available in a "notebook edition," which is basically a digital ashcan version of the game. It is stand alone, but it isn't a "complete" game. Yes, you have everything that you need to play, but there aren't a lot of the details that would expand the game available yet. The PDF has a cover and 46 pages of game to it.
The layout of the game is fun. It was designed to look like a high school girl's notebook, complete with doodles. It is simple, and to the point, which works well for the tone of the game.
In Velvet Glove you play teenage girls, but this is a game that is intended for the grown-ups. There is profanity in the game text, and the game encourages the hard choices of your characters go beyond the "PG-13" rating of a lot of RPG campaigns. This is obviously not going to be for everyone, but it can be good to have some variety in your gaming.
Your characters form a girl gang in the intercity of a vaguely defined mid-sized city. The game suggests a city about the size of St. Louis, but not as big as the archetypal urban centers of the era: New York or Los Angeles. The characters aren't rich, and they don't live in the suburbs. This is why they get involved with gangs, to get a life and money that they wouldn't normally be able to have access to because of how they were born.
This is a style of role-playing that appeals to me, as a gamer. Even though it might not look like it from the outside (I've never really been a player or GM who likes using voices or other things to differentiate my characters), what I really enjoy about role-playing games is being able to get into other worlds, and other lives, that aren't mine. It isn't about escape for me, it is about the exploration of things that are different that can drive me as a role-player. I don't have to have fantasy elements, or super-powers in my games, but I need characters that have an inner world and are part of an outer world that is robust and full of choices. I am the same way in my fiction consumption. Having characters with personalities and choices are going to engage me before anything else.
I will be eager to see how Richardson expands this game into the "full" version, promised to be released next year. The playbooks (probably the closest equivalent to people who aren't familiar with Apocalypse World games would be to compare them to character classes) have interesting options that are appropriate to the world of the game. The Stoner playbook could have stepped right out of the frames of the movie Dazed and Confused. If I played a character using that playbook, there would be a really good chance that my character would see some influence from the character that Milla Jovovich played in that movie.
To tie it back around to my talking about The Kitchen at the beginning of this piece, you could easily use the playbooks for The Maniac and The Valkyrie to portray the teen re-imaginings of characters from that story. That comic could be the inspiration for a girl gang who gets into some of the heavier crime, while building themselves as important people in the city.
There are a lot of stories that you can explore using Velvet Glove. Don't limit yourself and let your characters chisel out their niche in their world. It is a hard world, but for the people who are willing to take risks and make the hard choices the rewards are as large as the risks. I don't think that you will be disappointed with Velvet Glove.