I'm cooking oxtails tonight, which is groovy, but they take a while and I got a late start, so I'ma make a quick character while they get tender.
The Game: Cartel (Ashcan version)
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: I played it this past weekend at Breakout, and I'm pretty familiar with the PbtA system in general.
Books Required: Just the one.
Cartel, now Kickstarting and crushing it, as the kids say, is a Powered by the Apocalypse game of "Mexican Narcofiction."
This is a somewhat controversial decision - the author, Mark Diaz Truman, is of Mexican-American descent, but he's caught some flak for making this explicitly Mexican RPG about the drug cartels. And, like, fair enough - that's a controversial decision. Likewise, playing this game with a table full of white dudes (or at least, non-Mexican folks, which is what happened when I played at Breakout - several POC but no Hispanic or Latin folks, to my knowledge) runs afoul of questions of appropriately and sensitively portraying someone not of your own race. Put a different way, I have been playing horror games set in urban environments for a long, long time, and I've seen way too many folks put on a Speedy Gonzalez accent to play a Mexican "gangster" when they wouldn't ever dare try and speak AAVE to portray a black one. Also, there comes a question of glorification - when is it appropriate, if ever, to take a real situation in which people are suffering and dying and make entertainment of it?
I do not have answers to these questions. I am white as fuck, anyway, so I'm really not the one to be answering them anyway. I do have some experience with putting out difficult subject matter and saying "here, roleplay this," but who knows how successful that's been (and it's about very different topics anyway).
But my general opinion is that games like this have a place, and PbtA is a good place for them, because those games are explicitly about a conversation. This subject matter is hard, yes, but that's not a reason to avoid it. It just means that safety mechanics, and focusing in on what the game is really about (to wit: it's violent, but it's not about violence in the way that, say, D&D is) are important.
With all of that in mind, I should make a fucking character and stop jabbering. I downloaded the Quickstart to get the awesome artwork on the playbooks, and now I gotta pick one.
Hmm. I played El Cocinero at Breakout, and that was OK (really, there were some issues with that game, but I think it was mostly down to the environment and the nature of one-shots and players who aren't familiar with PbtA). I think this time I would like El Halcón.
El halcón (the hawk) is the errand runner and guy who does stuff out on the street. I think I want to play a character not unlike Henry Hill at the beginning of Goodfellas (I know, wrong organized crime group, but bear with me) - he fell into service at a young age and he's really not old enough to understand the weight of his actions. I'm gonna name him Toño.
For his look, I pick tired eyes and street clothes. He's got a destitute lifestyle (for now!).
For stats, I'll add my extra one to Hustle. That puts me over to llaves (keys). I'll take Ambition (I mark XP when I get someone to give me a job that was supposed to go to someone else) and Naiveté (I mark XP when I enter a dangerous situation unprepared).
I can't really do los enlaces because that would require a group, so I'll skip it.
Moves: I get Hermano (I lead my little gang) and then two more. I'll take Vendedor (I can mark stress to make someone pick a different option in making a deal if they pick one I don't like) and Matador (I can fill my stress track to kill a motherfucker). Clever readers will notice this gives me multiple ways to fill my stress track, which will reward the kind of roleplaying I enjoy (better to burn out than fade away!).
Tu Pandilla: I have three loyal buddies that came up with me on the streets. They're named Azul, Nacho, and Lola. Of those three: Nacho is always ready to cheer me up when shit goes down, Azul is a dick but I don't seem to be able to get rid of him, and Lola is always ready to kick ass when need be.
I get two features for mi pandilla. Oh, this is easy. We're down to fight and we're down to party. I can roll on Hustle to get lost in a substance or to rough someone up if we all do it together. Shit, yeah.
But then I get two vulnerabilities. Well, addiction, obviously. And then I think I'll take turf war. That sounds like it falls in line with Toño's general vibe.
OK, then. Toño is tall, slim, and dirty, but he hates being dirty. It's just that water is expensive and he had a lot of brothers and sisters, and he never got to wash up as much as he wanted. As soon as he makes it, man, he's getting a house in that new section of town they're building, and he's getting one big-ass shower put in.
And that'll do it!