Abraham Lincoln

Episode 64: The Gypsy was Doing Us a Solid

November 8th, 2013 | Robin

Ken has returned from the Chicago Film Festival to regale the Cinema Hut with demonic pacts, ghost possession, a Kurdish western, and an unusually sympathetic take on the new Dario Argento flick.

As prompted by George Pletz, Ask Ken and Robin considers the picaresque and floats various techniques for strictly episodic RPGing.

In the Genre Hut we mull the highly problematic footprint Fu Manchu has planted in pop culture.

Finally, we rev up Ken’s Time Machine, sending our chrono-hero to whichever sack of Rome he chooses to prevent.

Our anchor sponsor this episode is Engine Publishing and their system-neutral GM resource, Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management. Get $5 off in the Engine Publishing store using code KARTAS20, good through November 2013!

23 Responses to “Episode 64: The Gypsy was Doing Us a Solid”

  1. Randall Porter says:

    Dude I needed my Rob Ford fix and Robin your bogarting the Rob Ford goodness. Don’t be a downer dude!

    • John Stewart says:

      Give it time. I think that it would be best for the story to play itself out more before Robin gives it another go, and right now, it’s moving really quickly.

  2. John Willson says:

    (reading Night’s Black Agents)
    Wow, wish I’d read this before running Trail Of Cthulhu; a conspyramid would have really helped to keep my Mythos conspiracy straight in my mind!

  3. Cambias says:

    I don’t know that Fu Manchu really has much of a presence in modern pop culture. The only people who do recognize the name are fans of old movies or pulp fiction. The trope that all bad guys must be Ronny Cox (or some equivalent Rich White Guy) is so ingrained now that even when the ostensible villain is an exotic, like The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, or the Generic Swarthy Terrorists in Iron Man 1, they inevitably turn out to be pawns of a Rich White Guy in a suit.

    Which raises the question: is it more racist to have an “Oriental” mastermind like Fu Manchu as the main antagonist, or to deny agency to anyone but Rich White Guys?

  4. Tom says:

    “Which raises the question: is it more racist to have an “Oriental” mastermind like Fu Manchu as the main antagonist, or to deny agency to anyone but Rich White Guys?”

    Well… either or both, depending.
    The Fu Manchu stories aren’t racist because Fu Manchu is Chinese and the villain. After all, Chinese bad guys exist in real life – e.g. Mao Zedong, Zhang Yongming, Andy Lau when he decided to take up acting.

    The awful racism comes in at the point where it’s established that Fu Manchu’s villainy is because he is Chinese.

    The first book, at least (I haven’t read any of the others), is somewhat hazy on whether or not all Chinese people are in on Fu Manchu’s plan to enslave the world. It is, however, consistent on two points: if they knew about the plan, they would be all for it, and the only reason they’re not all like Fu Manchu is that they lack his ability and intellect to bring their black-hearted desires to pass.

    (Rather than go on about it, here’s a short review I wrote of the 1st novel: )

  5. Philippe Marcil says:

    I am asking Ken and Robin:

    How to use a in media res for a session or a campaign?

    I know you talked about it before, including the latest episode, but you have never delve deeply into it.

    Thank you,


  6. Itamar says:

    Two questions for K&R:

    1 – Would you mind listing your wonderful podcast on RPG If you’re too busy, would you mind if someone does it for you?

    2- Due to time and familial constraints, I find myself running a weekly online game made up of two-hour sessions. What are your recommendations for running online campaigns well? How about two-hour sessions? And how about the gargle-blasting combo of the two?

    Many thanks

  7. Mike says:

    I’m not sure that the first Fu Manchu novel is really the best one to judge the series by as the formula shifted once Rohmer realized that Fu Manchu was the attraction. Personally, I’d recommend the Mask of Fu Manchu as possibly the strongest of the lot.

    That said, I do think there are two things to consider when looking at salvaging Fu Manchu.

    1) He and his daughter are the only characters with any real agency in the entire series. Moreover, Rohmer consistently plays up the character’s genius and sense of honor. He’s a despicable stereotype, but Sax does seem to consider him a better person than some of his own (mainly clueless) protragonists.

    2) A number of Fu’s schemes seem to basically be: 1) cause an anti-colonial revolt across the globe, and 2) take ruthless control of the former European colonies. From a modern standpoint, the anti-colonialist portion of Fu’s standard schemes seems a lot more laudible than the status quo Sir Denis protects.

    Finally, I’d suggest that Warren Ellis’ Planetary shows a fine attempt at a rehabiliated Fu Manchu in the form his Hark character. For that matter, DC’s Ra’s Al Ghul seems to me to be a similar, if less post-modern attempt at the same thing.

  8. Joshua Weiss says:

    I doubt this question will make it out of the queue in time for the school trip in two weeks, but as a topic for the Food Hut: Japanese food generally means sushi, Italian seems to equate with pasta, Mexican food is tortilla-and-chili based concoctions. What, then, is Canadian food? 26 Japanese high school students and two teachers (one of whom is me) would love to know.

    • Robin says:

      Canadian food is sushi, pasta, tortilla-ahd-chili based concoctions… and Ethiopian injera, falafel from the Middle East, bibimbap from Korea etc. etc.

      • Joshua Weiss says:

        So, there’s really nothing you could call “Canadian food?” Eleanor Roosevelt served hot dogs as the quintessential Amrican food. Is there nothing like that?

  9. Scott Haring says:

    I have a question for “Ask Ken and Robin” — Your love for and devotion to horror is without peer; as such, what do you think of the cable series “American Horror Story?”

  10. Marcus Good says:

    My question for Ken and Robin:

    How do you encourage diversity amongst your fellow gamers? I ask in that in my small group of D&D gamers (4 in total), of which I and one other member are alternating DMs on two campaigns, there is one person who is always the thief/rogue. Another person often takes the controller role. How do I get them to consider other options, to allow other players their chance at being the stabby guy, or the fireball slinger?

    Thanking you in advance..

  11. Hank Harwell says:

    For some time I’ve been thinking about the idea that if Fantomas is the essential French supervillain, Dr. Mabuse is the German supervillain and Fu Manchu is the British supervillain, who would the American supervillain be?

    And along those same lines, what are your thoughts about the NBC series THE BLACKLIST? How does this stack up against other classic stories told from the villain’s POV?

  12. Cowboy Wally says:

    Thanks for another great episode, including the hot tip on the Mask of Fu Manchu movie! This is worth setting your tivo for or renting it from Amazon instant ($1.99). It clocks in at a trim and ready 68 minutes. NO time is wasted in this film. Every scene and second either drives the plot forward or has something ridiculously awesome going on. I understand that the subject of the segment was not how phenomenal this movie was, but I certainly hope your listeners find the movie and watch it. Karloff portrays Fu Manchu as the magnificent, total bastard he was. Karen Morley is a great heroine and stunning. Ken was right to point out that Nayland Smith and pals are as hyper-stereotyped English heroes as Fu Manchu is as a Chinese villain, but not nearly as interesting, although as resolute in their path as Fu Manchu is in his.

    Myrna Loy takes second to no one in this movie, and is smokin’ hot to boot, to the point where one considers whether or not the tortures endured by Charles Starrett’s character (Terry) might be a price worth paying if Loy is at the end.

    Your mini-description of the movie at the beginning of the segment was enough to make me stop listening and watch the movie. I was glad I did so, as it gave more context to the discussion when I returned to it AND allowed me to see all the thrills and shocks (no pun intended) for myself.

    I note with interest that the Yellow Peril racism in the movie is so profound, that the Chinese government took time from fighting the Japanese in Manchuria to protest it. Caution is warranted when seeing the movie.

  13. Jeromy French says:

    Of course, I now had to just download a Sax Rohmer novel of Fu Manchu to read having never read them before.

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