Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Blog Watch: Defanged Vampires, Intel, Fighting Men, White Male Power Fantasies, and Holmesian Role-Playing

Horror (The Escapist) How Society Defanged The Vampire — “Vampires are religious monsters, sharing more in common with demons than ghosts or mummies. After all, you fight them off with exorcism tools like crucifixes and holy water. And not only are they tempters, their bite doesn’t just make you join them, it condemns your immortal soul. This religious aspect cannot be overstated. In most classical conceptions of the creature the real horror in the vampire’s bite came not from death, but damnation. Vampires preyed on their victims’ souls as much as their bodies, enlisting them unwillingly in Satan’s army. Vampire victims lose both body and soul in a coerced conversion experience. While this likely spoke of societal fears in Eastern Europe — where people feared conquest and conversion by Turkish invaders – it keyed into a fear of hell that doesn’t exist in the modern world.”

Science (John C. Wright’s  Journal) Pluto is a Planet Again! — “I, for one, rejoice that Planet X is once again a planet! I welcome our new Mi-Go overlords, I applaud the hideous and unspeakable Fungi from Yoggoth, cheer the colony of semifourthdimensional yet cowardly organisms from Palain VII while they are busily dextropobopping, acclaim the forward military base of the hivequeen creatures we call ‘Wormfaces,’ and greet the resting place of Kzanol the Slaver, who will arise an obliterate the Earth!”

Game Design (Pulsipher Game Design) Really Small Games (Card Version) — “A major difference between what card games and board games naturally do is access to information.  Card games naturally hide information, where board games naturally reveal information. If there’s little hidden information, people try to figure out an optimal move, resulting sometimes in analysis paralysis….”

Appendix N (Dave Rollins) Still searching… And the Mash-Up! — “Mixing together two intellectual properties has a lot of advantages when it comes to creating a setting for play. It wipes the slate clean as far as what the players know about the world. If you’ve only read three Conan short stories and want to use it in a game because it’s so cool and one of your players has read every Conan story ever written by all of the authors that took up the character after Howard and has maps of Hyborian world on the wall, you might run into some issues with the player knowing more about the world than you do. The easiest way to fix that is to add more cool things! So you like the theme of the value of the barbarian over civilization that runs through the Conan stories, but you also enjoy the fatalism of Vance’s Dying Earth? Perfect! Smash them together and make something new and even more fun to play in. Instead of the world being new, it’s impossibly ancient and more decadent than even the most noble Hyborians could have dreamed. Still, such a place always has its frontiers and wild places. Untamed lands will still produce men and women like Conan.”

GamerGate (Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery) BOOM! Goes The Dynamite — “Intel. They make north of $50 billion a year. Their chips are inside most PC’s. Hell, their chips are inside every single Apple. They are the big dog of the computer industry. And they pulled their adds from Gamasutra, because of #GamerGate.”

Appendix N (Save Versus All Wands) OSR Art Friday: Cover of DragonQuest — “Before I sidetracked everything by first talking about clothing, I wanted to make a second point that the Eldritch Wizardry cover represented the lost pulpy element of old school art. Practically every literary source listed by Gary Gygax in his famous Appendix N, had one or more pulpy covers attached to it, either in the magazines of the 30’s and 40’s or the mass-market paperbacks of the 50’s, 60’s and later. One can say that some of it was sexist, borderline pornographic or just plain stupid or bad. But there was also a huge amount of good in it, and Its studied abandonment by the current market leading roleplaying game is a net loss.”

Appendix N (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt — “There is a lot of material here that can provide useful insights into the intent of the early adventure designs. This is certainly a solid premise for how to handle the mysterious domed city on the seventh level of J. Eric Holmes’s megadungeon. More subtle is how Merritt can alternate between both scientific and religious explanations about what is going on while he combines science fiction gadgets with traditional mythical creatures in a sprawling underworld. If you’ve ever wondered why early D&D materials are bursting with the sort of chutzpah that would allow designers to randomly insert an honest-to-goodness leprechaun of all things in the middle of something like this, it might be because guys like Abraham Merritt paved the way for them.”

Appendix N ( Advanced Readings in D&D: A. Merritt — “Moon Pool is just as misogynist and racist as almost all the other sci-fi romances of the first half of the 20th century, sure. And that’s the problem. That I can just wave my hand and say, ‘well, it’s just like everything else’ and kind of ignore those problems because they are endemic to the genre at that time in history. But, at the same time, I don’t know that we can do much more than point it out and say, ‘that’s wrong.’ Well, I suppose we could do more, but I don’t think this is the forum for it. Part of me thinks that we should just provide a blanket statement that addresses the fact that most of these books in Appendix N are problematic in their portrayals of race and gender and act as white male power fantasies more often than not, but by offering such a statement, the implication is that, ‘yeah, yeah, we know this stuff’s corrupt at a moral level, at its depictions of actual humans, but we’re going to mostly ignore that because, hey, rayguns and underground cities and monsters!'”

Appendix N (Jon Peterson) The First Female Gamers — “Famously, the class that would later be called a ‘Fighter’ was originally a ‘Fighting-man,’ a term that appeared in much fantasy fiction, applied to characters like John Carter and Conan.”

Appendix N (Don’t Split the Party) Sideline: Appendix N and Me — “My earliest reads associated with D&D were the tales of Charlemagne’s Paladins, and Three Hearts and Three Lions, and the High Crusade, and the Outlaw of Torn, and similar works. And I loved the Dying Earth stuff – I read the Night Land when I was 10 and followed it up with the Time Machine, Vance, and re-reading the Zothique stories, all of which had a huge impact on my creation of Seaward, my AD&D 1e campaign, just a year later. Looking back, Norton’s Witchworld books, especially the first few in the High Hallack series, were a pretty strong influence, too.”

Appendix N (The SF Site) The SF Site Featured Review: The Moon Pool — “Are characters like the scientist-skeptic, the hulking blonde Norse berserker, the slightly fey heroic Irishman, and the nefarious double-crossing Russian (German in the pulp magazine version) clichéd? Completely. Are plot devices like lost races, male characters enraptured by incredibly beautiful virginally pure or malevolently evil priestesses (or possibly both combined), alien super-science, and vampiric transdimensional life-forms as ancient as the hills? Absolutely. Except that Merritt, along with perhaps Haggard and Burroughs, created these clichés, and these clichés sold — something that Merritt would have been acutely aware of as a newspaper man. Besides which, Merritt’s breadth of imagination and sense and ability to depict completely alien surroundings and atmospheres far outweigh the aspects of his work which tie it to his time.”

Appendix N (Grognardia) Pulp Fantasy Library: The Moon Pool — “Being Merritt’s first novel, it’s also a lot less polished than his later works. Yet, it somehow manages to overcome its structural and stylistic weaknesses and command my attention. Part of it might be the way that the story takes lost world tropes a step further by introducing a level of ‘cosmic horror’ that you don’t find in say, Arthur Conan Doyle. This is clearly what Lovecraft saw in the story. There’s also the fact that The Moon Pool includes if not the first, then one of the earliest examples of the classic pulp adventuring team made up of a rogues gallery of guys with different backgrounds and skills united in a common cause to save the world.”

Appendix N (Skulls in the Stars) A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool — “Merritt is certainly great stuff — he has a subtle command of an unique type of strangeness which no one else has been able to parallel.  You are absolutely right in considering his original Moon Pool novelette — as published in the All-Story for June 22, 1918 — his best work.  The sequel — The Conquest of the Moon Pool — was relatively commonplace and tainted with the atmosphere of cheap popular fiction.  It is a major crime that many of the best touches were taken out of the novelette when it was fused with its sequel to form the ultimate book version.” — H. P. Lovecraft

Appendix N (Grognardia) Forgotten Father — “Whereas Lovecraft can be crudely called a ‘horror’ writer and Howard a ‘fantasy’ one, Merritt defies such facile classification. More often than not, his stories feature recognizably “pulp” heroes — men of action and intelligence equally adept at problem-solving and fisticuffs — but Merritt’s style is ornate, even florid, marshaling a veritable army of adjectives, adverbs, and archaisms to describe scenes of remarkable power.”

D&D (Semper Initiativus Unam) What are D&D and the OSR? – A Couple of Reactions — “In fact, I would submit that this makes D&D a really good roleplaying game. Roleplaying is not just play-acting your character; it’s negotiation as part of a strategy for surviving in a ridiculously lethal dungeon and getting out with treasure. By the book, in Holmes D&D, roleplaying is a required part of the game and, in fact, is a really good strategy. If you keep negotiating there is a 50/50 chance that you will get a positive result. The worst thing that can happen is that you’re forced to fight.”

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5 responses to “Blog Watch: Defanged Vampires, Intel, Fighting Men, White Male Power Fantasies, and Holmesian Role-Playing

  1. Alex October 7, 2014 at 8:26 am

    That Medium article was great. Even though I’ve met quite a few women who are into board-games, I’ve yet to meet any who do not retch and cringe at the idea of moving “fiddly little pieces” on a “great big map”. Apparently, this “has always been”.

    My girlfriend is frustrated and baffled that after some 4 weeks, my dad and I are still just barely half-way through a game of 1776. “Well, the british had taken control of all of new England, and if my dad had taken Charleston and Savannah, I would’ve probably just given up, but I finally got my French reinforcements and was able to open up Boston and Newhaven, and…” ::eye rolls::

    • jeffro October 7, 2014 at 8:31 am

      Revolution, Ingenious, Citadels, Pandemic, and The Stars Are Right have all been hits with the women that have passed through my life in the past decade or so. Wargames? Not so much….

      • Alex October 7, 2014 at 8:42 am

        This is totally a place where pop-science has failed me! With all the stupid research in games and gaming and gender studies, there’s no scientific justification for why my old SPI & Avalan Hill games get crapped on. I’m left with sociological bs, like ‘war is a man-thing, and all these pieces represent men, where is the equal representation in this strategic simulation?’ as the only explanation I can think of.

        [Jeffro: These pieces over here represent the women back home, stoically struggling against The Problem With No Name.]

  2. Cambias October 7, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Jeffro, I just want to give you a little undiluted praise. Your ‘blog is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, and the links you provide are all fascinating. Keep up the great work.

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