Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Blog Watch: Changeling Earth, Pirates, Golems, and Reactionary Rage

Appendix N (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: Changeling Earth by Fred Saberhagen — ” Of course, as D&D evolved it became so much more conventional and self-referential that it is now hard to imagine this book having any impact at all on the game’s milieux. But when AD&D was just about the only game in town, Gary Gygax intentionally designed it with a wide open multiverse at the Dungeon Master’s disposal. Whether as a brief themed sublevel in a funhouse dungeon or as a fully realized parallel world, he intended referees to have the latitude to be as creative as they wished, even going so far as to encourage them to shift temporarily into other game systems!”

Appendix N (Tor.com) Advanced Readings in D&D: Fred Saberhagen — “And that’s the problem with Changeling Earth. Its background becomes its foreground and makes everything else—all the things that Saberhagen spends so many pages describing, at the human level—seem so trite. Maybe that’s the point. That humanity is insignificant compared to the forces it has unleashed upon itself. But really, my takeaway is that sentient godlike supercomputers and demonic nuclear bombs are way more interesting to read about than the little guys that run around the planet trying to pretend what they do matters in the larger scheme of things. So why did Gygax include it as the lone Saberhagen inclusion in Appendix N? Sorry, I’m too distracted by the explosive battle between Ardneh and Orcus to pay attention.”

Adventure Design (Semper Initiativus Unam) How Not to Write an Adventure  — “The main responsibility of the adventure is that it becomes plot when PCs are exposed to it. This requires it to have potential conflict, or the seeds of conflict, within it. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy; it’s just another way of saying there should be monsters and/or NPCs standing between the PCs and what they want. A dungeon will often do this literally, for instance by having the quintessential orc and pie. If the PCs decide they want pie, that instantly transforms into conflict between the PCs and the orc. Nothing fancy is required, and it can be as detailed or simple as the referee prefers.”

Realism (Just the Caffeine Talking) Work In Progress: Corsair (Part 2) — “I think the tension in pirate fiction derives from two facts: 1) People think pirates were cool and romantic, and 2) Pirates were a horrible bunch of amoral sociopaths. The modern pirates of Somalia are following exactly in the tradition of their Jolly Roger predecessors, except that they use motorboats and AK-47s instead of fast sloops and cutlasses. So unless one wants to create a work of fiction which realistically depicts a bunch of amoral sociopaths in action (and now I wish someone would hire Quentin Tarantino to make a pirate movie), you kind of have to soft-pedal the looting, raping, and murdering in favor of rope-swinging stunts and buried chests of gold.”

AD&D (The Hill Cantons) AD&D’s Apocalypse and Hereafter — “AD&D’s isn’t just a hard-fought world that merely experienced the fall of great empires centuries before, it’s one where humanity came close to the abyss in the recent past—and has stayed there. It’s on that stage of pure chaos that player-character, the rootless opportunists knocked out of the fabric of society, find themselves adventuring in.”

AD&D (The Escapist) How Did Golems Go From Jewish Mysticism to D&D Icons? — “Golems first appeared in games in 1975, when D&D’s first supplement Greyhawk included flesh, stone and iron golems. The creature’s appeal seems obvious, in retrospect, since golems allowed Gygax to include what are essentially killer robots in a fantasy setting. But more than introducing golems to games, D&D also changed them for a generation of role-players. Importing golems into a world where Judaism didn’t exist largely broke them with their religious overtones, allowing them to evolve into a different creature entirely. This began with separating golems into subtypes based on their material, an action that made their points of reference closer to science fiction than mysticism.”

Appendix N (Black Gate) The Fantasy Roots of Fan Fiction — “The father of the modern fantasy pastiche is L. Sprague de Camp, who made a multi-decade career reworking Robert E. Howard’s Conan. We know Howard spent four years writing Conan stories, from 1932 to 1936, producing roughly three book’s worth in the process. In the two decades de Camp spent writing Conan, he produced far more than Howard did: six full-length novels and a dozen collections, mostly in collaboration with other writers like Björn Nyberg and Lin Carter. When de Camp died, his brand of Conan story quickly fell out of favor, and his Conan pastiches are not highly regarded today — certainly not when compared with the brilliant work of Robert E. Howard, anyway. But there’s little disputing the fact that he kept the property alive for several decades, and without de Camp, it’s possible the name Conan (or even Robert E. Howard) wouldn’t be nearly as well known today.”

Game Design (Robert Fisher: Thinking out loud (3.0)) Thoughts while watching the conversation between John and Zak — “When I am attempting to design a conventional game, I am trying to make a closed system. When I am attempting to design a role-playing game, I am trying to leave things open for player creativity and referee rulings. So the difference between a conventional game and a role-playing game isn’t that the rules tell you to role-play but that the rules leave space for role-playing.”

AD&D (Black Gate) Art of the Genre: The Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings of All Time — “Maybe that is why it is so good, because there were no art directors heavily involved, and no corporate suits to edit what is and is not politically correct/economically viable in it. TSR’s ownership at the time was comprised of hardcore gamers, and thus they saw themselves in the painting and ‘went for it.’ In the end, there is little wonder that when TSR turned corporate, Trampier’s ‘stripped naked’ vision of the hobby was replaced with Easley’s more acceptable wizard and flying mini-demons, but in a way it just makes this cover all the more special.”

Campaign Design (Save Versus All Wands) Your Campaign Setting: Middle-Earth or Narnia? — “What works for successful fiction does not necessarily work for successful campaign design from the point of view of gaming, or more accurately, fun gaming. Plenty of referees and players have discovered (partly through purchasing Middle-Earth settings such as the 1980’s I.C.E effort) that Middle Earth is neat to have as a setting for a story but in the end is often pretty boring to play a fantasy adventure game in.”

Appendix N (Semper Initiativus Unam) The roots of the game — “Including elements from Lord of the Rings was decisively different from any other major elements of D&D. They were strategic, because — let me be blunt here — they were much more popular than fantasy of the type preferred by Gygax. LotR took fantasy out of the ‘pulp’ magazine and put it into the paperback book. D&D was released at a point in time when Tolkien became popular that the utterly hacklike Sword of Shannara was published just because it was like Lord of the Rings. This was clever marketing on Gygax’s part, as well; by injecting Tolkienesque elements in the game, he made it relatable to a much larger audience than the pulp fantasy connoisseur like himself. To go out on a limb, I don’t think D&D would’ve been nearly as successful if it weren’t so easy for an aficionado of The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings to slip into it with familiar assumptions.”

Gaming in the News (Daily Beast) Of Gamers, Gates, and Disco Demolition: The Roots of Reactionary Rage — “Just like, to delve into the weird side of geekdom for a moment, ‘legitimate’ debates about whether older or newer versions of the Dungeons & Dragons rules are better turn into an excuse for the Manly Men of Role-Playing Games (or, as we say in D&D jargon, ‘grognards’) to rear their ugly heads and rile up a mob against the ‘politically correct hipsters’ infesting their hobby.”

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