Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Epic Ron Edwards Interview by Runeslinger

If you haven’t seen this, check it out.  It’s a massive amount of information on RPG design informed by illustrations of all kinds of actual play experience. Pure gold!

My Appendix N series comes up in the conversation at the end. I actually don’t think it’s the most interesting part, but it makes for a helluva bullet point. Yeah, my stuff is pretty much some personal notes of some kind of an weird gamer awakening. But the whole reason I’m writing is to help and/or inspire people to go kick open some doors. I never would have put it the way Ron Edwards does here, though. Sure sounds like something worth tackling!

Here’s the bit:

Ron Edwards: We’ve all become too ironic. We’ve all become too millennial if you will. Too mimetic. Too tropey oriented. And to recover– I mean you read Jeffro Johnson’s blog, as I recall?

Runeslinger: Yeah yeah.

Ron Edwards: And watching him go through his realizations as he reads those books. And finally realizes what he’s reading. That He’s not reading Appendix N. There is no Appendix N. There’s a thousand thousand books out there of that era. And this was an almost random sweep of just grabbing some titles that this particular fantasy reader happens to like. It’s not a sacred list. It’s not the creme de la creme. There’s some crap in there.

Runeslinger: It’s a particular flavor of crap.

Ron Edwards: There you go! And when he realized that… when Jeffro realized that his writing about these things changed.

Runeslinger: It did.

Ron Edwards: And he even said it flat out, I don’t think I can talk about fantasy with my most of my freinds anymore. If they don’t know this in this in this viceral fasion I don’t know what to tell them. I’m not even sure I want to know their opinions about anything! And it sounds so elitist in a lot of ways. But I do think there is this shift in perspective toward fantasy toward the experience of fantasy that it’s not bounded by genre conventions. That fantastic writing by definition can kick open any door it wants to. That when Jessica Amanda Simmonson wrote her fantasy, she was kicking open a variety of doors. When Moorcock wrote his, he was kicking down his. When Howard wrote his he was kicking open doors. They weren’t saying, “Fantasy is like x y z why I believe I shall write some.”

Let’s go kick open some doors!

Blog Watch: Missile Cruisers, Pageant Judges, Pacific Hunters, Pack Mules, Exhuming Forrest, and Algiers COIN

Star Trek (Future War Stories) FWS Ship of the Line: The Missile Cruiser — “For us Star Trek fans growing up in the 1980’s, there was two Starfleets. The one we saw in films and the television, and the other one in created by FASA. The FASA Starfleet was filled with warships of all classifications that we never saw on-screen, and this Starfleet was more constructed around a hostile galaxy. Some of the more offensive-minded warship including this alien designed missile cruiser, the Andor and the Thufir class Destroyer.”

D&D (Bat in the Attic) Awarding XP in Classic D&D and in 5th edition. — “However not awarding XP for Gold or Magic Item left a huge whole in what the players earned per session. I was and still am big on ‘roleplaying’ i.e. acting as if you are there as your character. So in place of Gold and Magic Item XP, I had a roleplaying award…. At first the factor was based on my judgment on how well the played ‘acted’ as his character. That didn’t work so well. I dislike having to play pageant judge week after week and players invariably protested low awards.”

Movies (New York Post) ‘Gone with the Wind’ should go the way of the Confederate flag — “But what does it say about us as a nation if we continue to embrace a movie that, in the final analysis, stands for many of the same things as the Confederate flag that flutters so dramatically over the dead and wounded soldiers at the Atlanta train station just before the ‘Gone With the Wind’ intermission?”

War Games (Quarter to Three) If you stare into the Andean Abyss — “That is Andean Abyss designer Volko Ruhnke on the left, presenting his game at a class on counterinsurgency at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. taught by Gen. Carlos Ospina Ovalle (far right), former commander of the Colombian Army during the time the game was set in. Gen. Ospina is one of the game’s event cards.”

War Games (Hot Air) America loses its mind: Apple pulls historical games featuring the Confederate flag from the app store — “I’m trying to pinpoint the exact moment when this Confederate flag frenzy went from being about making a gesture of goodwill and healing after the Charleston massacre to being a matter of mindless posturing designed to show you’re on the right side. If we hadn’t reached that point already, we have now.”

Appendix N (Asparagus Jumpsuit) Adding Resonance to RPGs — “I think this is why Appendix N still has so much power. You can point to that bibliography and say here, this is what this game is kind of-sort of about. If you don’t know what sort of character to play or what sort of adventure to run, read a book. If you want to get better at this, and have a deeper understanding of what this is about, read more books. That’s the most basic form of resonance.”

War Games (Apple Insider) Apple reinstates select games with Confederate flag art to iOS App Store — “When Ultimate General: Gettysburg was first taken down as part of a larger culling, Game-Labs refused Apple’s request to remove depictions of the Confederate flag, claiming such a change would be incongruent with the highly detailed and historically accurate Civil War engagement simulator.”

Science Fiction (Castalia House) The Pulp Swordsmen: Darak — “The form did exist through the 1940s evolving into a more hard boiled fiction in the hands of Leigh Brackett. Jack Vance created an excellent modernization with his Tschai sequence of novels in the late 1960s. Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries novels from the 1980s can be described as sword and planet fiction.”

Comics (Black Gate) Dear Prudentia: Red Sonja is Cooler Than You — “Because Red is cool. She really is. And you are too, honey. And, yes, I’m going to say it: so am I. We’re all different. So very different, but so very alike. It’s like… it’s like we’re actual people with thoughts and feelings all our own, not cheaply drawn caricatures to satisfy cheap, predictable plot lines.”

War Games (Inside GMT Games) Silent Victory: The Hunters goes to the Pacific — “All major fleet boats from World War II are modeled in the game. Additionally, unlike The Hunters, you can upgrade your deck gun as the war progresses (as was done historically) and add radars as well. Beginning in 1945, submarines may come equipped with Cutie defensive torpedoes and NAC defensive barrage jammers to help get out of those tough situations.”

History (NPR) Japanese World War II Battleship Musashi Found, Billionaire Paul Allen Says — “A statement on Allen’s website said he has been searching for the Musashi for more than eight years, ‘and its discovery will not only help fill in the narrative of WWII’s Pacific theater, but bring closure to the families of those lost.'”

RPGs (The Guardian) The joy of reading role-playing games — “Great RPG writers give players a sophisticated narrative framework, with which they too can be great storytellers.”

Don’t Feed the Trolls (Vanity Fair) Twitter Attacks Fifty Shades of Grey’s E.L. James Like It Is Paid Per Insult — “Despite the tumult of Twitter insults, James admirably answered questions for an hour as she had promised. She did not once respond to the haters with a playful, ‘Tell me what you really think, Twitter’ or ‘Hey, last time I checked, Fifty Shades of Grey was not required reading for every global citizen.’ At the end of her time, James bid adieu to the Internet.”

Game Design (Violent Resolution) You’ve got to move it move it — “As with everything in Fate Core, if it’s not an Aspect, Extra, or Stunt, it’s fluff. That’s not a slam, it’s a restatement of the Fate Fractal – you can treat anything in the game as if it were a character. If it’s important, a character might take the Aspect ‘Loaded like a Pack Mule,’ which would be invoked against any Overcome actions that involved physical stunting. On the other hand, the player of that character might be able to invoke that same Aspect to procure a needed piece of gear at just the right moment: ‘Oh, I just happened to have a spare set of surveying tools with me; after all, one doesn’t carry this much gear without a certain amount of preparedness and forethought!'”

Science Fiction (Cirsova) Short Reviews – Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal, Gary K Wolf — “Putting crime noir characters in the sort of pulpy setting from which great stuff like Futurama liberally borrows, Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal embodies so much of what makes science fiction fun. It’s subversive fun, and feels a bit naughty, because it knowingly disregards certain conventions and tropes of both ::finger quotes:: “serious” sci-fi and pulp crime thrillers while taking others and playing them to the hilt in a way that makes the mundane outlandish and the outlandish plausible. By making the crime noir thriller a sci-fi romp and the using sci-fi as a means to ramp up action, Wolf creates a stunning synthesis of the genres that spoofs both but makes a masterpiece to fit in either.”

History (examiner.com) Memphis mayor: Dig up dead Confederate general, wife — “These relics, these messages of this despicable period of this great nation, it’s time for those to be moved. I despise whatever the Confederacy stood for. This is not just an ordinary monument. This is a monument to a man who was the avowed founder of the organization that has as its purpose the intimidation, the oppression of black folks.”

War Games (GMT Games) Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 — “This latest installment in GMT’s popular COIN Series system is the first to be designed for two players. You must consider carefully just what you want to do, and how much of it, before the initiative will slip from your fingers. Also, a full solitaire system enables solo players to test their skill against a devious game-run enemy.”

Classic Film: The Long Goodbye (1973)

You know, at this point I’ll watch anything that has Leigh Brackett’s name on it. She hasn’t steered me wrong yet. Although you better be careful with this one. Unlike, say, Hatari!, Rio Bravo, and The Big Sleep, you probably won’t be watching this one with your wife and kids. But for gritty hard-boiled suspense, this is about the best value you’re liable to get for your entertainment dollar.

Just on the basis of the number of “I can’t believe I’m watching this” type moments, this movie is the best thing ever. I mean for goodness sake, there’s a scene in it where a crime boss has himself and all his goons get naked so that they can all be truthful with each other. And one of those goons is a very young and very strapping Arnold Schwarzenegger!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. There’s the goofy New Age women next door to Philip Marlowe that spend the bulk of the film topless. There’s the utterly useless cops that he insults and messes with at every opportunity. There’s the way the guy basically chain-smokes through the film. There’s the stuff that so marks this film as a product of its times that you can’t even discuss it for fear of offending someone. And I can’t get over it. Seriously, for a few bucks and an Amazon rental, you can get the most concentrated dose of vicarious free expression around. I can’t believe they got away with making this film!

My favorite thing about it is the fact that the tempo is nothing like what I expect from movies. It’s at the point now where you can practically set your watch by the plot points of the typical blockbuster movie. This one is nothing like that. It’s just this pulpy, frothy conglomerate of one weird scene after another, one astonishing character after another, one freaky revelation after another. I had no idea where it was going and repeatedly had to lift my jaw back into position. This movie doesn’t have a story arc. It has a roiling boil of awesome.

*** SPOILER WARNING ***

But that still leaves the question of how to end something like this. What kind of scene can possibly be used to put the final punctuation on something this insane? Well… if you are a regular follower of this blog, you already know the answer to that. And wow is it epic. This is how it’s done.

Highly recommended… to anyone that can handle it, anyway.

Hugo Update: Signed, Sealed, Delivered!

I got this in the mail the other day:

Classy stuff! I tell ya, as soon as I pulled that sucker out of the envelope, every thought about the kvetching and wrangling and squabbling from the past few months over this thing just completely dissipated right there.

And it’s funny because it reminds me of the time when I first turned the corner on this game blogging thing. See, I’m still kind of the new kind on the block in some sense. Never mind that I’ve got posts going back a decade. There were guys that came onto the scene years after me that didn’t just show me how it was done, they caused a sensation. And every week I’d sit down and do a post on the coolest thing I could come up with… and I was counting every link back, every comment, every page hit, sure. But it was the blog rolls that I especially watched. I thought I’d never catch my break, right? But I kept at it.

Then one day… it happened. I got blog-rolled by someone… and they weren’t someone that had, you know, five hundred links in their side bar. They had less than twenty choice blogs listed. And there was my blog right next to Grognardia and Jeff’s Gameblog. It was awesome. I’d made it! And I knew in that moment that years from that point, I would look back at that and tell people… “this is when everything started to fall in place for me; this was the time!”

Well the next day, I went back to that blog and my name was gone. (!!)

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t my big moment. Of course, with Grognardia dead since December 11, 2012, you don’t see it on blogrolls like it used to be. I guess taking my destined spot between the two greats probably isn’t in the cards for me. But you do what you can, right?

As far as milestones go though… here’s a few that I never even thought to look for:

Charles Akins included me in his list of top ten RPG blogs a few weeks back. Given that he pretty much reads all of them, that’s a pretty big deal if you ask me.

Meanwhile, Atoms & Arcana has this to say: “I’m a voracious reader. But a terrible book reviewer. For an example of a great book reviewer, I would point you to Jeffro at the Castalia House Blog.” I always got the feeling that I was losing people as soon as I switched gears from book talk to gaming talk, but this guy seems to dig my retrospectives just as reviews. Pretty neat!

But hey… maybe these guys represent two entirely different audiences that are distinct from the usual Hugo voter? Well, from that scene, there is jsl32 weighing in with this:

I’m not really sure what to say about this category except that it would be cool to have a mechanism for highlighting research and historical blogging like Jeffro’s over just having a blog about general SFF topics. Since pre-Sad Puppies, this was one of the dumping grounds for scummy career climbers, maybe with more eyes on it next year the mechanism will evolve naturally instead of being a list composed of whoever could get fifteen people to nominate them.

A force for good within my category? Well it depends on who you ask. Either way, though… I think I’ll frame my certificate, pop a beer, break out a vintage game, and kick back with another disintegrating paperback. However things shake out, there’s plenty here to celebrate!

The Jewel in the Skull Link Roundup

This one’s come into some fairly fierce criticism. I’m surprised at it, but I’ll take Hawkmoon over just about any of today’s fantasy door-stopper bloat fests. And as far as gaming inspirations go, it’s the lesser lights that are liable to give you the most mileage. The implied setting of D&D really isn’t anything like Middle Earth. And why are these weird groups of people pillaging ruins wherever they can find them…? Science fantasy provides a far better explanation for why this would be happening than a great many of the more familiar works of fantasy fiction.

So here’s my take on my first exposure to Michael Moorcock’s work:

RETROSPECTIVE: The Jewel in the Skull by Michael Moorcock

And here’s word from a range of other folks:

Grognardia — “The Tragic Millennium is one of those settings that, while far from ground-breaking, neveretheless achieves a certain power because of the way it appropriates familiar places and names to play with — and against — our expectations of them. The result is a world that’s at once recognizable and alien, which, to my mind, is exactly the right approach when dealing with swords-and-sorcery tales.”

Black Gate — “That’s a lot of prose in very little time. And that kind of ceaseless first-draft writing is almost inevitably not going to be elaborate, polished work. Reading the books, it seems as though Moorcock made up for that by freeing his imagination and following where it led — not in terms of plot or structure, but in terms of incidental detail, and of the colour of the decaying world through which Hawkmoon adventures. It also seems as though, in using the kind of intense schedule of early pulp writers, Moorcock rediscovered the virtues of good pulp writing: fast, direct, driving adventure, plot-oriented but lean, moving you relentlessly through the story.”

Tor.com — “I guess that might be part of why I like Hawkmoon more: the worldbuilding is more precise, and the villains are more of a problem. Conquering entire continents isn’t nearly as impressive as conquering this continent, where the story is actually happening.”

The Caffeinated Symposium — “The problems with the plot are not the actual contents but in how they are handled by Moorcock. Coupled with his lackluster prose (which I will address below), Moorcock’s storytelling is simply lacking. Other authors have written equally derivative works but did so with style and/or panache that Moorcock, as of 1967, did not seem to possess. Every opportunity he had to make the story more interesting he did not seize. As a result, the book reads like a dull attempt at parody. If parody it was, then Moorcock failed at this as well because there is no wit whatsoever in his writing. There are no moments where we realize that he’s presenting these events to us tongue-in-cheek. It simply plays out dully, uninspired.”

Steven Silver’s Reviews — “One of the strengths of the sword-and-sorcery novels Moorcock published in the 1960s, of which The Jewel in the Skull is an excellent example, is that he incorporated many ideas that just seemed really cool. The most obvious is the jewel in Hawkmoon’s forehead, but his vision of a masked-civilization spread throughout Europe is also of interest, as is the city of Hamadan and the strange post-apocalyptic creatures he briefly shows.”

Drunken Dragon Reviews — “I’m not going to say much about the imagination, because at the end of the day this is a pretty old book and the standards were different back then. It’s pretty much just a futuristic dystopia where the Earth’s somehow become a fantastical fuedal political set up with science becoming nigh on magical and all the familiar names reappear under bastardized circumstances [such as Great Britain being Granbretan.] Of course, this book ties heavily into Moorcock’s Eternal Champion mythos, and in a unique way; in this one we learn of the Runestaff, which it seems it essentially the elemental antithesis of the infamous Black Sword.”

SFFWorld — “The Jewel and the Skull was exactly what I was looking for: an exciting, whirlwind adventure where the hero’s heart sings as he charges into battle and nothing is more satisfying than the feel of his long sword cleaving his enemy in twain. I think it’s time I read some more Moorcock.”

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