Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Blog Watch: Kothar, Sadistic Pleasure, B2 Diplomacy, 8 Bit Box Art, and Cosplay as Economic Indicator

Appendix N (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: Kothar– Barbarian Swordsman by Gardner Fox — “I don’t mind Fox’s Kothar stories. They’re actually much closer to the typical fantasy role playing game scenario because of their simplicity. What bugs me is that the impression that most people have of Conan is that the stories must be every bit as trashy and formulaic as his imitations. That just isn’t the case. And yet, even though the action and the pacing seem to anticipate the sort of typical fare that would become ubiquitous in later role-playing and computer games, there are enough standard tropes missing here that it’s interesting to see how things play out without them. Like an odd reductio ad absurdum, Garder Fox’s small volume of tales demonstrate why Dungeons & Dragons had to meld so many disparate and contradictory themes together in order to get a coherent, playable game.”

Appendix N (Tor.com) Advanced Readings in D&D: Gardner Fox — “Kothar’s a self-proclaimed adventurer, and in the spirit of adventuring that would influence a role-playing game in which experience points are granted by the accumulation of gold, Kothar’s main motivation is to make money. He’s a sword for hire, and even when he takes on heroic tasks—like rescuing a young girl from a cult of weirdos—he only does it so that the girl’s father will give him a better price on some jewels Kothar’s trying to unload. That simple motivation makes the Kothar stories work pretty well, actually. It gives him a clear mission and a clear sense of purpose. And if he happens to do awesome stuff along the way, well that’s just part of being Kothar. But awesomeness is its own reward. And it doesn’t pay the bills. So the gold and jewels are really the reward that matters. Not that Kothar actually has any bills. But he does seem to love to travel. And to stay at fancy places filled with beautiful women. And that lifestyle ain’t cheap, friend.”

Appendix N (Tankards & Broadswords) Revisiting Kothar, Barbarian Swordsman — “It might not be the most eloquent prose, but it’s a good measure better than a lot of media tie-in fiction that gets published these days, and certainly not bad for a paperback fantasy novel that sold for 60 cents in 1969. And, hey, how many pulp fantasy paperbacks at that time had an introduction from a Ph.D. (I have no idea who Donald MacIvers is, but apparently he wrote an introduction to the first Kothar book) about the need for super-heroic literary characters in mid-twentieth century fiction, jiving off of the writings of one Albert Kremnitz, an early 19th century German philosopher?”

Appendix NOT (Roles, Rules, and Rolls) Cultural Literacy, Gamer Literacy — “Say what you will about the literary merits of the D&D canon (and the vaunted Appendix N is no Harold Bloom paradise either) — because it sticks so closely to actual gaming, a discussion of the approach of the GDQ series, versus Dragonlance, versus Forgotten Realms actually has more direct bearing on how a DM would run a campaign.”

Appendix NOT (Rpg Corner)  Thoughts on 5e…so far — “It’s no big secret that D&D long ago stopped referencing literature and mythology and instead became a self-referential genre unto itself. Some people are okay with this, others aren’t. I find it interesting from a cultural point of view, but it doesn’t bother me too much. Things that happen in D&D sessions and media derived from the game don’t really happen in any other medium, and in fact I believe that RPGs are at their best when they’re not trying to explicitly recreate the experience of reading a book or watching a movie or TV show.”

Appendix N (Just the Caffine Talking) It Gets Real — “Writers like Dunsany, Tolkein, Lieber, and Howard all had extremely well-realized characters and settings right from the start. I wonder if that’s one reason fantasy never quite had the ‘kid stuff’ stigma that bedeviled science fiction.”

Appendix N (Black Gate) Collecting Lovecraft, Part II — “Why do I collect vintage paperbacks? Because if you have the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft in a modern hardcover edition, you’re very likely to ignore the earlier editions… and in the process overlook a whole wealth of splendid fiction, art, and literary history.”

Culture (Daily Intelligencer) In Defense of Male Aggression: What Liberals Get Wrong About Football — “George Orwell, the old socialist, was well ahead of his time when he scribbled out an angry rant against the sporting ethic, which, he wrote, ‘is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ That is all more or less true. But shooting is precisely the problem with war. War minus the shooting is actually pretty great.”

GURPS (Gaming Ballistic) Deceptive Yak Shaving – Deceptive Attack Redux — “That ‘go to 16′ plan looks good (within 5% of the best choice, or itself the best choice) up to the point where my foe is sporting a defense roll of about 16 or more. Of course, that’s a shield, a retreat, and Dodge-11 (+2 shield and +3 retreating dodge) or Parry-13 (+3 for a medium shield and a +1 retreat). That’s Skill-20 for my foe, so he’s a real champ – Cadmus’ level.”

Role Playing Games (Semper Initiativus Unam) Diplomacy, D&D and Roleplaying — “When you consider that many of the pioneering roleplayers were Diplomacy players, their style of roleplaying becomes much clearer. As I said in my last post, negotiation is a key aspect of dungeoneering in early editions as written, but was all too often overlooked in favor of the expedient of simply fighting. The best evidence of this is B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Here is a scenario right out of the many Diplomacy variants: each humanoid group has its forces, every group can pretty easily kill the PCs, but with careful negotiation they can play one against the other.”

Role Playing Games (Sarah Darkmagic) How a picture of girls playing D&D went from cool to awesome — “For days I pored over each and every word in the article, until that weekend when my parents took me to the toy store so I could buy the Holmes Basic D&D set and the Monster Manual (plus a few dice).” — Geoffrey McKinney

Gamma World (Age of Ravens) History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part One: 1976-1984) — “From Gamma World I learned a classic trope of post-apocalypse games. Young tribal members have to go out into the wilderness to find something to save the village or carry out a rite of ascension. We’d end up doing that dozens of time. Gamma World presented a world of anachronisms, showing that any tale or trope could be rebuilt with a science-fantasy frame. It offer a more robust system of random mutation tables. Players could choose their type, but beyond that had to settle with their results- good and bad. It made rolling up characters a desperate and fun gamble. One awesome element, little used in modern games, was the random artifact interaction table. Players rolled on the flowchart to see if they could figure out how to use a device, break it, or set it off in their hands. It was a great system and one worth lifting for other games.”

GamerGate (According to Hoyt) It’s Time The Gloves Came Off— “For the last ten years or so, they’ve stepped up their game too. Say anything – anything – they disagree with and you’ll be slandered and attacked in ways that boggle the mind. It started in politics, but right now it is at every level they control or would like to control, including even sf fandom and (they wish) gaming journalism.”

Adventure Design (I’ll See It When I Believe It) Interesting and Useful Dungeon Descriptions — “Imagine a place so dangerous that the players can’t afford to be distracted by red herrings. Just by coming in here, they’ve accepted a level of risk that would drive most folks to terror, because death could be lurking around every corner. There might be great rewards, even potential allies, but there are also threats that they don’t stand a chance against, and they don’t know where those are. Everything the party does spends a precious resource – time, light, magic, their unbroken bodies, their sense of direction, or just their luck. Everything they use up might be needed later, every step forward invites an untimely death, or maybe a lingering one: the dungeon is only the halfway point of their foray!”

Star Wars (Searching For Magic) Retro-Speculative: D6 Star Wars, What Is It Good For? — “The game is beautiful in its simplicity. The majority of the rules are in the first 24 pages! The pulpy action this RPG emulates is the same pulpy action George Lucas was copying from the wild adventures of speculative fiction from the early 20th Century. With these things in mind it should hardly be a surprise that there is so little adjustment needed to bring the game full circle and use it to run a Sword and Sorcery game.”

Design Fail (The Escapist) Twilight Imperium’s Shocking Conclusion — “This game, I turtled and turtled hard, slowly placing my fleets in positions that would grant them the most flexible movement options as I acquired technology. One strategy I found the most helpful was to keep my fleet split up into pods of three or four, all turtled around the same planetary hex. It was this strategy that I built my ship producing space docks around. What this allowed me to do was soak an attack by Greg Tito’s Jol Nar and quickly respond with a counter attack from ships on multiple hexes, keeping my loses from an attack down to the absolute minimum while preserving a strong defensive strategy.”

Role Playing Games (Bat in the Attic) Why You Can’t Game the OSR — “The OSR is indeed mostly about classic DnD for the simple reason that classic DnD has the largest fan base of any old school. It dwarfs other old school games by at least an order of magnitude. The only way an old school movement can not be about classic DnD if it excludes it.”

SatyrGate (Hack & Slash) On Even More 5th Edition Monster Manual Comments — “My, how well dressed are you, you hedonistic reveling Satyr. You look like you’re going to a mid-level marketing seminar.”

GamerGate (Breitbart) How to Lose a Public Relations Battle on the Internet — “Just how stupid do Polygon and Kotaku think their readers are? Do they really believe that EA, Bungie, Capcom and the like don’t already know exactly what their customers are like? Do they think that their discredited and widely derided publications are going to change a single mind not already determined to hate gamers for the mere crime of being white men?”

GamerGate (Gawker) What Is Gamergate, and Why? An Explainer for Non-Geeks — “Projects like Anita Sarkeesian’s ‘Tropes vs. Women in Video Games’ inspire such vitriol precisely because they’ve pierced that bubble of privilege and started conversations that gamers can’t conveniently ignore. And that can be hard to accept, especially when you identify with a group that has traditionally been at the bottom of the (white, male) social pecking order.”

GamerGate (The Escapist) Greg Costikyan GamerGate Interview — “GamerGate is an attack on the weak by assholes, supposedly in defense of multi-billion dollar corporations who need no defending, and are likely embarrassed by this crap. It’s worse than that; it is one of the most repulsive excrescences of anonymous, bullying, Internet culture. These people seriously need to be taken behind the woodshed, spanked long and hard, and reminded of what it means to act like a civilized person. It is very easy to set up ‘an other,’ paint that other as somehow threatening and less than human, and get a clique of people worked up about the supposed iniquities of the other. And, apparently, get them to issue death and rape threats, make threatening phone calls, harass family and friends, hack accounts…”

Computing (The Verge) How Atari box art turned 8-bit games into virtual wonderlands — “For Basic Programming artist Rick Guidice had a particularly challenging task: to make learning to program seem exciting. To do so, he created a cover featuring two men working at huge consoles full of blinking lights. It makes programming look as intense and awesome as operating a spaceship. Those sci-fi influences shouldn’t be too surprising, though, as Guidice had spent time in the 1970s creating concept paintings for NASA, providing the world a glimpse of what the space colonies of the future might look like.”

Role Playing Games (Save Versus All Wands) What is the OSR? — “The Old School wants to kill you (often or at least sometimes). The Man wants to hold your hand through 29th level…. The Old School defines you by your actions. The Man defines you by your character sheet…. The Old School is sexy. The Man is a sex theorist…. The Old School embodies diversity. The Man preaches it.”

Economics (The Week) Why the rise of cosplay is a bad sign for the U.S. economy — “When you’re disillusioned with the reality of your early adult life, dressing up like Doctor Who starts looking better and better. It’s not to say that all or even most cosplay aficionados are struggling to find work. It’s only to say that any rise in people fleeing reality for fantasy suggests problems with our reality.”

Game Design (IGN) 5 Awesome Gifts Dungeons & Dragons Gave to Video Games — “A group of MIT students used Colossal Cave Adventure as the inspiration for another, more sophisticated text adventure game called Zork. The setting was classic D&D: a descent into a mysterious, ancient underground ruin complete with cryptic puzzles, swords, sorcery, monsters, and traps on a quest to become the ‘Dungeon Master.’ Zork’s design inspired a generation of adventure game designers to expand the limits of interactive storytelling, eventually birthing the graphical adventure games and cut scenes we take for granted today.”

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2 responses to “Blog Watch: Kothar, Sadistic Pleasure, B2 Diplomacy, 8 Bit Box Art, and Cosplay as Economic Indicator

  1. Jeff Eppenbach October 14, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    I have to ask: Where is the Traveller style map generator that made that map?

    • jeffro October 15, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      I believe the guy that made it used Adobe Illustrator to hack some old Gazetteer maps. The capital and city icons match those used in my Cook/Marsh Expert D&D rules.

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