Thursday, July 16, 2015

Time Travel Game Mechanics

I know what you're thinking. "Mary, you just wrote an incredibly long, introspective post about a 90s anime! Why are you posting again so soon?" Well, my answer is two words -- Night Shift.

Well, after thinking and reading a ton of history articles/books while passing the time during a slow shift, I sat down yesterday afternoon with the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide and wrote down some notes I thought I would share when/if I run this game. I got some good feedback after my last post, however, I find it is best for me to play in a system first before running it.
First off, to run this game, there would be a lot of pre-game work/planning. For one, I like to do my research. I understand this is just a silly table top and I obviously would take liberties for the sake of plot like any movie would do, but I like to be accurate/respectful as possible regarding my depiction of historical events. I do absorb historical trivia like a gelatinous cube absorbs adventurers but still.
Come here, working knowledge of medieval swordsmanship
Additionally, it would be up to the GM to create character sheets of the people of the past the PCs inhabit. I really like these types of mechanics as a GM because I just enjoy watching how resourceful my players can be. I like the randomness of it. Also, I want to put little surprises too, like you're in the body of a famous historical figure. It shouldn't be that much of a burden because I do get great joy in creating characters. I'm odd like that.
The more I think about this game idea, the more I am leaning towards the PCs being university students. And I'm sort of thinking about Geneva, Switzerland as the university's location but that is subject to change.Why this location? Well, I like the idea of university students because there is some maturity in the characters but also young enough in which they would make abundant mistakes. I chose Switzerland because it is an international city and wanted to open up the door more easily for not just Americans if my players wanted to.
Besides, I only spent one day here but I fell in love with Geneva
Anyways, I have begun to work on a hack for this game idea. I never ripped apart a system before -- a couple really -- and sewed it together to this Frankenstein monstrosity. Okay, I'm exaggerating slightly. The rules I'm using are still mostly Cortex. I am just tossing in some other ideas and taking out others. It has elements of both Dramatic and Action Cortex.
For one, I decided the base stats will be Values; Duty, Glory, Justice, Love, Power, and Truth. And like with Dramatic, each value has a statement assigned to it like Duty would be, "I will make sure my family is safe no matter what" or for Justice, "The rules are made to be broken."
Next, each character chooses three distinctions. This is not different from the other Cortex Plus systems. Additionally, characters will choose 1 or 2 Talents or Assets. This game is not magic heavy at all and as a result, I expect talents for the PCs would lean on the mundane side. One PC could have a talent called Gossip Queen which increases the trouble pool to find out one fact about a person. Things like that.
There will be a skill list which will either be just like the Classes skills I had for my last game or the PCs will have their own skill list made from college classes. Or I may just end up using a generic skill list.
I'm also taking Milestones from Marvel Heroic, although for the Past People Skins (PPS), they will take on a different form. Each PPS has an immediate goal. It can be something like "Take this message to George Washington" or something like, "Get that hug from Daddy." If the PCs accomplish the PPS's goal, they can take a skill, distinction, or talent from the PPS that can be carried over when the scenario is over.
 I plan on fiddling with stress levels a bit and may make my own system. 

Here is where I'm really playing with rules.
Using distinctions in the past:
When the PC would like to use their own distinctions in the past, they must always use a d4. If the PC succeeds, they may choose to step back a PPS distinction for the scene to step up the PC's own distinction to a d8. If the PC fails, that distinction is locked out to the PC for the rest of the scene.
 If the PC steps back all PPS distinctions, all abilities from the PPS is locked out until the PC goes to sleep. Essentially what happens is instead of sharing bodies, the PC and the past person completely switch bodies. The PC loses access to the past person's memories, abilities, and mannerisms. For instance, if the PC go to Ancient Rome and steps back all PPS's distinctions, the PC doesn't understand what anyone is saying and forgets proper etiquette when entering a temple of Jupiter. In the present, the PC's body is suddenly panicking and speaking only archaic Latin, confusing everyone.
And might go crazy and inflict mindless vandalism (see what I did thar?)
Using Talents in the past:
PCs can use their own talents, but must spend an additional plot point or step back a PPS's distinction for the scene. The idea here is, is you are basically two people but you are closer to the body you an inhabit. It is easier to access abilities that way.
Challenging Values:
Whenever the PC and PPS's values or goals are in conflict, the PC must roll against the PPS's value. If the PC loses, the PC is compelled to go through with the goal and takes a level in stress. If the PC succeeds, the PC's value dice for that value becomes dominant for the scene and must face the roleplaying consequences if there are any.
When it comes to rolling values, PCs roll whichever is higher or which ever value statement best fits the situation of what the PC is trying to do. For instance, Tiberius, the PPS for the PC Nikki has a Duty of d10 with the statement, "I will do what is best for Rome" while Nikki has a d8 Duty to "I will look out for the little guy." Nikki/Tiberius wants to intervene in a robbery that is taking place. Duty fits here best but Nikki's statement fits even better than Tiberius. After all, looking away for five minutes won't destroy Rome, however Nikki's insistence of helping the little guy is what is dominating her reasoning for intervening.
Conversely, let's say Tiberius is not an upstanding citizen and is just a careless merchant only caring for a quick buck and the poor unfortunate soul is being beaten/robbed because he owes a debt to Tiberius. His Duty statement is "I look out for number one". In that case, Nikki and Tiberius's values are at odds with each other and require an opposing roll.
Roll Fail: "Carry On"
This is all I have right now I am willing to share. I have begun brainstorming on some scenarios in my mind for whenever I run this game (who knows when this will be? I still want to run Avatar but the pull of this one is becoming stronger). If you know me, you may be able to guess at least one of the ideas. Two, if you're really good in your Mary trivia. 

I have the urge to watch Life of Brian for some reason now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

You Never Read the Same Story Twice -- How I Changed Since the First Time I Watched Fushigi Yuugi

When I particularly like a story, it is not unusual for me to revisit it again years later.  Some stories are just like old friends that you sometimes get a cup of coffee with when you're in town. You chat, you catch up, you reminisce. Then you part ways again, vowing to get together more often but that is really just a formality because you both know you probably won't. It is still nice to see them again, though, and you can gauge just how much they stayed the same and how much they have changed. And counter to that, you may even see how much you have changed too -- hopefully for the better. 
I hope there is hot cocoa
That is the benefit I get from rewatching an old movie or a beloved TV show or replaying a video game. Usually, while I may be familiar with plot points, I tend to get something completely different out of it since the last time I experienced it. Much like that old friend, I find I changed and see the world differently than how I once did. It is a great way to assess where I am in my personal growth. Characters I loved, I may find annoying or vise versa. Jokes I found funny aren't now but I picked up humor somewhere else. I noticed a theme I didn't notice before, etc.

Certain media, I practically make a ritual out of it. I watch Avatar: the Last Airbender at least once a year. I play Final Fantasy X every couple of years. Scrubs is another one I will watch again. There are others. Each time, I get something different out of the experience. I'll attach myself to a different character. I will notice a theme that speaks to issues I am trying to work out at that point in time and find comfort in it. I will experience nostalgia which will make me call an old friend I haven't spoken to in a while. Maybe call my parents for once. I find it cathartic.
For the record: Scrubs is probably my favorite sitcom. Although I find it gets sadder each time I watch it.
This brings me to my latest rewatching of an anime called Fushigi Yuugi, translated as the Mysterious Play. This 1990's anime is about a klutzy, gluttonous school girl named Miaka Yuuki who on a trip to the library picks up a mysterious book called the Universe of the Four Gods. The magical book drags her into the world within the pages in which she takes on the role of the Priestess of Suzaku -- a girl from another world who must gather the seven celestial warriors of Suzaku and summon the god who will grant her three wishes. At first, it seems like her wishes will come true -- literally. But then it turns out her best friend Yui Hongo also finds herself sucked into the book and becomes the Priestess of Seiryu, the god who presides over the country currently at war with Suzaku's country.

It is essentially a reverse harem anime.
Fushigi Yuugi has earned the distinction of being the first anime outside the American cut ones like Sailor Moon and Pokemon that I got heavily into. It pretty much sealed my status as an anime fan for several years after during my time in college. I took the show as Serious Business. I wrote fan fiction. I participated in the fandom. I just absolutely loved it. I watched it several times. I plastered my side of my dorm room with pictures from it. I used to heat up brown sugar pop tarts when I watched it to the point whenever I smell the sugary sweetness, I recall the FY opening or when I see the FY opening I associate it with that smell.

*CRASH* Soar High... Suzaku! Miracle La!
Then, when I began to watch other anime, I slowly became disallusioned with it. FY is anime trope heavy and I began to see how it wasn't that different from other anime. Fushigi Yuugi is unapologetically fan servicey and wish fulfillment which borders on meta -- after all Miaka's love Tamahome is just a character in a book. However, I honestly think that is the story's strength. It is just an action heavy, shojo story filled with love, adventure, and magic. As I wrote before -- there is nothing wrong with wish-fulfillment.

As I said -- fan servicey reverse harem anime. Choose one! Write self-insert fic. But I will judge you if you choose Chiriko in the lower left corner there.
Still, though, I began to see FY's flaws and sometimes problematic plot points and grew highly critical of it. Slowly, pictures of FY in my dorm room were replaced by Rurouni Kenshin and then Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist.
Kenshin may have shades of Walker, Texas Ranger but at least Kaoru is a real person. Also, RK is another I revisit often
Years later, when I was stationed in Germany, something sparked me to purchase the DVD box set of Fushigi Yuugi. I watched it and I actually enjoyed myself. Yes, there were still plot points that bothered me but overall, I enjoyed it again. I even found that there were certain aspects of the narrative that actually were quite brilliant. The idea that once the priestess makes her three wishes, the god consumes her is pretty cool -- as is the fact that the secret is kept from both Miaka and Yui throughout most the narrative. Nakago is a pretty complex villain. Maybe I was a little unfair to Tamahome as a character. And Miaka does eventually mature by the end of the anime. She also has control over her fate when it matters (as does Yui) which is a lot more than can be said of certain female heroines in other current nuggets of pop culture (I'm looking at you, Twilight).

That brings me to this recent rewatch. And I must say, I realized how much I have changed since age 18 when I first popped the fansubbed VHS into my VCR. How much I have grown. And I still maintain that while FY can be problematic (and in some cases it shows its age in that way), the overall plot, character building, and world building are quite amazing. Each of the four countries in the book have distinct cultures. And while the characters possess anime tropes, many of them are quite compelling -- particularly Nuriko, Suboshi, Amiboshi, and Nakago. Even minor characters interest me enough that I get asking questions.

Like the Genbu seishi guarding the Shinzaho. Why does Hikitsu wear an eye patch? Does he have an eye? Why is Tomite always smirking? Is he hiding porn in his quiver? Or is it just indigestion?
Firstly, I grew to appreciate the theme a lot more. A friend of mine in college once said he loved FY because it was about love -- specifically, what love is and what love isn't. Love isn't being the Nice Guy (tm!), expecting something in return. Love is wanting your beloved to be happy even if it means letting them go. And love is not necessarily romantic love as love between friends and comrades is also a strong force. When my friend made this argument, I was a highly cynical 19-20 year old who just liked FY's fights, story, art, and characters. I couldn't care less about the love dectagon. I believe I may have mocked him for his assessment. Love is dumb. Or love like that is dumb. It's sappy too. 

I realized watching it this time, he was right. FY is about the force of love and all the forms it takes -- and also how it is often used as a disguise by envy/jealousy, anger, and resentment. When you give into those emotions,  it can poison you. And once I realized it, I felt like I was watching an entirely different show.
For instance, I find it interesting how Amiboshi acts like Miaka's Calypso and offers her that temptation to run from her problems and live contently with him. I found many similarities to FY and the Odyssey.
Also, I kind of realized how much I grew by which characters I attached myself to. I tend to do that with every story I get myself into. There is always just one character I connect to/relate to.

 When I first got into FY, I was a huge Chichiri fangirl. I stupidly spent forty bucks in an auction for a Chichiri pencil board. Long story. Chichiri has the distinction in FY to be one of the few people who did not romantically fall in love with Miaka. He is a monk so is very nonsexual. When you learn his back story -- in which his involvement in a love triangle of his own caused the death of his bff -- it is no surprise he looked at the love decagon in front of him and said, "No Thanks." He's the voice of reason for the Suzaku Seishi and often provided counsel to everyone who needed advice. He also provided quite a bit of comic relief by acting like a mysterious trickster monk.
Also, there is something just relateable about a character who hides scars behind a smiling mask -- in this case quite literally
I saw myself as Chichiri. I kind of did keep off to the side -- or I felt I was anyway. Like I felt like I was involved but wasn't at the same time. I always tried to be that good listener and provide advice for my friends. And I thought myself pretty humorous. Don't get me wrong, I still like Chichiri now but I found not as much. I actually found he could be a dick sometimes. I also got additional insight this rewatch that his scar was due to the fact that in the past -- he was the Yui. That is why he pushes Miaka to "save her". I didn't make the connection before simply because I liked Chichiri so much and disliked Yui so much. Chichiri is probably the most mature of the Suzaku warriors -- but he is the most broken. And it is because he made the same mistakes Yui did -- by giving into resentment and jealousy.

In addition to Chichiri, I also favored Suboshi. To be fair, I do find Suboshi to be a very compellingly written character. If the Shakespeare quote "I am Fortune's Fool!" is written for anyone outside Romeo, it would be Suboshi. The poor kid did what he thought he had to do. I don't think he thought what he did was wrong -- just the justice he thought was due to him. And I thought it was so ironic that he killed small children to avenge his dead twin brother -- who is not dead after all. But also, I related to Suboshi's frustration and anger. I always felt like nothing ever worked out for me even when I thought I did everything right. More ironically still -- I really wasn't doing things as right as I thought it was back then.

When I rewatched FY when I was in Germany, I found myself connecting to the emperor Suzaku Celestial Warrior Hotohori. I think a lot of this had to do with the character arc Hotohori goes through. He has in his mind that the Priestess of Suzaku would save him from loneliness and love him. However, Miaka chooses Tamahome. He tries to get her attention -- does some admittedly nice guy tactics -- but then gets shot down by Miaka saying to him, "You can't order other people how to feel" which also works as a theme in FY. Then, Hotohori realizes that Miaka is right and now he has to do what is best for his country. He moves on and dives headlong into his emperor duties and marries and has a kid.

My connection to Hotohori is really simply because I was in the military at the time. Part of being a soldier is you have to put being a soldier first above your own happiness. Additionally, I did feel rather lonely at the time. His story still was interesting because Hotohori still had this idea of what will happen in which everything will just work out for him. He had a plan but it didn't work out like he hoped it would. In Germany, I had learned that lesson. You make plans but life happens and you are forced to abandon most of them. Optimistically, things kind of work out for him -- for a little while. Life goes on and if what you expected doesn't happen, it doesn't mean that you cannot find happiness in life's little surprises.
Also, Hotohori is gorgeous and so am I, bitches.
This time -- I found myself being drawn into Nuriko's character arc more than anything. Nuriko's character is the one that probably developed the most. He starts off as a catty, clever, cross-dressing courtesan.  Once he gets passed his own issues of jealousy (envy?) over Hotohori fawning over Miaka, Nuriko is an extremely good friend. He is almost always consistently there when people need help -- probably in part due to the fact he is incredibly nosy and often seen eavesdropping so is usually only a few steps behind anyway. But still, he's always there, even when he is not physically there.
Oh haaay
The episodes leading up to Nuriko's end, he realizes just how much he loved his fellow celestial warriors -- in particular Tamahome and Miaka. And while he didn't get the guy (or girl) in the end, he understood that love takes on different forms other than romantic. He could be Tamahome's big brother. He could be Miaka's best friend. He could be an outstanding friend to the rest of the Suzaku Shichiseishi. This type of love is not less. And it is his love for them that allowed him to move the obstacles that needed to be removed. Literally, actually.
"Don't Underestimate Me"
I guess that is where I am now in my life. It is very difficult to not think about romantic love when most of your friends are married and having kids. And the guys you meet are either taken or you see why they're single (like Nuriko, I'm very picky). But even if those things would be nice to have, I have incredible love for my friends. And that love is not lesser by any means. Love itself takes on many different forms. I'm not loveless. I am loved. And I love.

I came to realize I am no longer that bitter 19 year old who felt someone owed them a favor or saw all love as sappy because I didn't have the kind I expected. I'm surprisingly less cynical than I used to be -- cautiously optimistic fits me best. Being cynical really got me no where, just made me angry. I feel like I understand what love is a lot more than I used to and because of that, I respect it more. And because I respect it more, I allow myself to experience and distribute it more easily. Sadly, I had undergone this change because I had lost someone I wish I said, "I love you" much more than I did. Life is too short, really.

What this viewing of FY showed me is how much I have grown from a jaded, angsty teenager to a cautiously optimistic adult. I've come a long way. As always, there is a room for growth. No one is perfect. And relapses happen. I stand by that. I feel content by noticing this growth within myself and empowered to continue my life long project to constantly better myself.

FY itself is not as bad as I thought it was in my backlash phase. Don't get me wrong, Fushigi Yuugi's animation has aged terribly. Dear god, the Miaka/Tamahome back and forth is rage inducing sometimes. Why is there almost as much references to rape and attempted rape as there is in Game of Thrones?

Mitsukake... thank you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Historical Settings for Roleplaying Games -- AKA, Mary has another crazy idea

Several months ago, a couple friends of mine posted blog posts about historical settings in RPGs. It is a nice break from fantasy or sci-fi settings that often pepper the roleplaying sections in bookstores and gaming stores. Those types of games exist -- Deadlands, Call of Cthulhu (if you choose to run it in the 1920s), and White Wolf has a few historical settings. At my base as a nerd and a geek, I love history. I mean, my last three entries were about Revolutionary Spies. But even further, I find history always has a way of activating my imagination, allowing me to develop and come up with ideas. And the more I read, the more I find that real life is often stranger than fiction.

That is probably why I came up with this idea for a game setting (or story if this never materializes). It shares similarities to Sliders and Quantum Leap in some areas but considering I never saw Quantum Leap and while I was a huge fan of Sliders, I don't remember much of it, it will probably be somewhat different.

The best system for this game is Cortex-Plus.

The premise goes like this: either you will be high schoolers or university students and either like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (for the high schoolers variant) or someone just messed up in the lab, a device aiming at bending time or some such (or maybe not even that), breaks. It tears a hole in the fabric of time itself forcing the PCs back into time and into random bodies of people who occupy that time. However, this arrangement is not completely stable. Sometimes, they find themselves back in their own bodies -- either due to intense stress or they fall asleep or something like that. However, whatever happens to them in the past, effects their body in the present day. So you die in the past, you die in the present.

Each "time period" is a scenario. It could take a couple sessions to complete each scenario. Each time period has an aberration -- like somewhere the laws of physics don't apply. And each time period has an anomaly which takes the form of something that doesn't belong in said time period. An example would be a cellphone in 1692. What you have to do is bring the anomaly to seal up the aberration. Once that is complete, the rip is sealed in that time period and you are flung to the next one.

Obviously, it would be more complicated than that. Each time period brings its own conflicts into the mix. And then there is the fact you are sharing the body with someone else which brings its own complications. Your character's goal would be to find the anomaly but your body's goals would be much different.

How I picture it happening is it is like the two personalities are mixing together like two different liquids. Sometimes it mixes well, sometimes it is a little murky, and sometimes is oil and water.  Like if your present day PC has a distinction "Party all the time" and he is in the body of someone whose distinction is "For God and Country" those would probably be at odds with themselves. If the PC wanted to use one of those conflicting distinctions, it would be opposed rolls and the higher is the one that wins.

That is another aspect, I would bring into play. Your present PC would have three distinctions and the past body would have three distinctions. While in the past, you can use one of your present distinctions in the past. The only thing is you have to step back one of your past persona's distinctions for the scene. And in the present, the one you stepped back in the past is now dominant in the present. So using the PC who "Party all the Time" decided to step back "For God and Country" to party at the pub in 1776 would in 2015 decide to pass up the bong and do some reflecting instead.

The same would be true for skills you would use in the present and vise versa.

Anyways, I think it would be a fun game. And I would get to use all my history nerdiness and not be ashamed.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose -- Framing in Non-Fiction and the Power of Friendship (Happy 4th!)

I just finished reading Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose, the book Turn is roughly based on, and a couple days before the 4th of July seems like the best time to write about it. 
Every once in a while, I really get an itching to read a good non-fiction book. The only problem is it can be difficult to find an interestingly written one. Far too often non-fiction is written like a pile of facts and footnotes that the reader has to sift through, hindered by blocky words. Washington's Spies is not like that at all. Never once did I feel bored. Alexander Rose has such a way with words, I couldn't help but chuckle at his hidden jokes and his occasional snark.

Washington's Spies, like the TV show that took inspiration about it, is about the development of espionage techniques during the American Revolution including the development, success, and failures of the Culper Spy Ring. The amount of research that the author put into this is absolutely astounding -- after all, the subject matter he dealt with is by its very nature hidden. But you could tell how much Rose admired these early American spies and how much he wanted the world to know how their contributions to the formation of this country was irreplaceable and how at the time they went to their graves with little to no accolades. They almost didn't get their monetary expenses reimbursed (Oh George Washington -- you cheapskate).

Probably the strongest aspect of this book is Rose expertly created profiles on those involved in the Culper Spy Ring, the predecessors, and their enemies. By the time I finished the book, I felt like I knew these people intimately. And it wasn't because I watched Turn. For the record, Turn did change some personality aspects of some characters (Tallmadge wasn't as straight-laced as he is in Turn) and a few characters are a combination of two or more figures (Townsend was a combination of the real Townsend and Woodhull's brother-in-law Underhill; Hewlett is a combination of a loyalist who lived in Setucket and a weak-willed British officer named Joyce who was picked on by British, Loyalist, and Patriot alike because he made himself an easy target). But Rose had such a way of developing the figures involved, I got a little teary with the fate of Major John Andre for instance. And Major Benjamin Tallmadge -- what an upstanding American.

Also, Caleb Brewster -- who is like an Northeastern Huckleberry Finn and a PIRATE FIGHTER

Another aspect of this book made me realize what is important when writing non-fiction -- Framing. My favorite non-fiction author is Erik Larsen (which reminds me, I need to pick up the Lusitania) and part of the reason why I like him is he'll tell a story about a period of time and will find a historical figure or two to tell the story. In some cases, he'll use two figures who are seemingly unrelated but afterwards, you can practically picture them crossing each other in the street.

Alexander Rose does this with Washington's Spies. In fact, his frame lies in book-ends and his anchor is really Benjamin Tallmadge. His book starts with the unfortunate tale of Nathan Hale and ends (before an epilogue of what happened to everyone) with the fate of Major John Andre. And why this was so brilliant to me is Hale and Andre represented the ideals of the time; well-educated, idealistic, well-liked. In many ways, they represented the ideal of the side of the Atlantic they came from.

Hale's connection to the colonies was undeniable -- tracing his family to one of the first reverends in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Andre was a well-bred, dilettante. Both of them were idealistic -- Hale believing in the cause of independence. Andre believing in the arts. And yet it was the ugliness of the war that fundamentally ended their short lives. We always look at the American War of Independence as a war of ideals which kind of places it on this pedestal. But under the surface, it was ugly and violent and chaotic and ripped apart those who took up the bayonet to fight for their ideals. Like any war really.

Tallmadge looking into the future of ... Merica!

Tallmadge had a connection to both of them and is the figure we follow the most throughout the book. He is tossed into the world of espionage not long after the execution of Nathan Hale who was his "constant friend". Tallmadge would reference him a lot. And it is not too much a stretch that the fate of his best friend lied heavily on his mind when he designed the Culper Ring. And additionally, Tallmadge escorted the captured Andre to Washington in Teppan and he noted how much Andre did remind him of Hale. When it came time for Andre's execution, Tallmadge had to leave the field because he cried.   
Even in captivity, Andre drew himself as a gentleman
As I mentioned before in another post, the legend of Nathan Hale is a curious one. Rose spends the first 50 pages or so talking about Hale. He had to because it really described what was really messy about espionage before the formation of the Culper Ring. Hale is presented as a gentleman who always arrived a little too late. His unit kept on missing major battles and would arrive just after fighting concluded. And even in love, he was always just a little too late. The first time he proposed to the love of his life, she was engaged to another man. Then when her husband died, he tried again and the two would have wed after Nathan finished his tour of duty -- which he never did. Even as he was just about to be hung on the gallows, the fire which caused a huge amount of chaos in New York City -- an opportunity to escape -- just began.

Yet we remember him. He was the answer to a question on a quiz in school yet his career as a patriot was marked by failure. I remember I had a teacher who said he was a martyr. And he was a rallying point for people to sign up to the cause. But after reading this book, I am not sure I agree with that interpretation. Hale was hung as a spy. Hale was a gentleman, a Yale Graduate, and those types of people just did not engage in espionage. Rose hammers home the idea that the thought of someone disguising themselves as someone else or develop cover stories (stuff the Culper Ring did) was just not something gentlemen did. They would be military scouts and diplomats  but what Hale did and what the Culper Ring did was the actions of criminals and even if they stole info for your side, people would look on those individuals with disgust. The proper execution method for an officer, which Hale was, was death by firing squad. Being hung is what was reserved for thieves, murderers, and spies. A cynical person would say Hale's death was used as propaganda and maybe that was so to a degree (maybe people would deny Hale was a spy?) .

But after reading this book, I have a more optimistic interpretation. We remember Nathan Hale because his Yale friends made sure we remember him and made sure he wasn't just another 21 year old officer who met a tragic end like hundreds of others. The quote attributed to what Hale said on the gallows can be traced to a newspaper article that had connections to one of his friends. And what he said was a saying from Cato who Hale was known to quote. Hale's friends wanted people to know that Hale not only sacrificed his life but his honor as a gentleman to help the patriot cause even if he was a failure. We should all be so lucky to have friends who love us as much as Hale's friends did. 

And that is the overall theme of Washington's Spies. Rose ends his book by an anecdote of 80 year old Tallmadge reaming up a pair of Revolutionary War veterans who asked Congress for more accolades (money) for their work when Tallmadge knew they thieved and did not conduct themselves like gentlemen. Tallmadge alludes to but never mentions those who did much work for the cause and received no recognition for their efforts -- probably meaning the Culper Ring. And brought it home with that Major John Andre died with much more honor than how those veterans lived their lives.

Anyways, I really liked this book. I only barely touched on my favorite parts of it. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys well-written non-fiction.