Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Blog Watch: The Face in the Frost, Dishonest Fascists, Tulkinghorn, and the Death of Play

Appendix N (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs — “This is good stuff. The magic here is mysterious and dangerous. It’s creepy… and yet this hapless monk can’t seem to stop himself. He refuses to take the proper precautions and ends up in sort of a cross between The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and The Twilight Zone. But this is only the beginning.”

Appendix N (Tor.com) Advanced Readings in D&D: John Bellairs — “The magic is messy in this book. It often doesn’t work, or doesn’t work as intended, and even when it does work, it’s not the sort of magic that’s super-powerful wizard laser beams or massive fireballs. It’s cantrip-type stuff. Enchanted mirrors. Little magical trinkets. Making notes and drawings in books. Trying to find the card and the right word that makes the stone bridge go boom.”

Video Games (The Escapist) Shadow of Mordor: Storytelling in a Middle-earth Game — “Games that have fixed stories exhaustively told with lengthy cutscenes can have their charms, I suppose, but they’re over with when the script ends, and a story that is being crafted on the fly around me and my actions seems to get me invested much more efficiently with considerably less effort.”

Post-Apocalyptic (Dice, Doubloons and Random Musings) A Once-Green And Pleasant Land: A Bullet for Cromwell — “Without an overwhelming catastrophe like a nuclear exchange, the products of civilization continue to exist even though civilization itself has fallen apart, and are there to be scavenged and repurposed. That’s why everyone in The Road Warrior is wearing piecemeal armor made out of leather jackets, football pads, scrap metal, i.e., whatever they could scrounge up and put together. In fact, watching the film, apart from the centrality of vehicular combat, most of the fight scenes have a decidedly medieval vibe to them, as people fight with crossbows and melee weapons. Guns are now luxury weapons, highly-sought-after for their lethality but no longer really in production….”

Writing (Brad R. Torgersen) When is it okay to quit? — “But there ought to be a point of clarity. A realistic look in the mirror. A limit past which sanity tells you that you’re doing something self-destructive. That the void you’re trying to fill (with Passion A) is actually just a process of digging your hole deeper. When what you really need is to go discover Passion B (or C or D or E, ad infinitum) and allow those seed(s) to sprout, and blossom, in the soil of your soul.”

Hold on… The TRUTH didn’t matter? (Monster Hunter Nation) Fisking the Deseret News’ anti-CCW article — “It wasn’t just the USU police, but the FBI that specialize in internet crimes that said this threat was bunk. Hell, I’m not exactly a cybercrimes expert, but I read it and scoffed. It was written like it came from somebody whose knowledge of weapons and violence came from reading the newspaper (hint, actual gun experts don’t talk about their “semi-automatic” weapons). Not to mention they tracked it back to originating in Brazil, so he’d have to fly to another continent, catch another flight to Utah, and last time I looked the TSA frowns on pipe bombs in your carry-on luggage. So logistically after he comes to another hemisphere, he could try to illegally procure weapons as a non-resident or procure bomb materials on unfamiliar territory, without attracting attention, all while planning an attack on new ground in a very short period of time, and then pull it off in a place where the audience can shoot him.”

Appendix N (Black Gate) Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Doom that Came to Sarnath by H. P. Lovecraft — “The Doom That Came to Sarnath was the second volume of H. P. Lovecraft stories published under the BAF imprint. It served as a bridge between the Dunsanian fantasies of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and the Cthulhu Mythos related titles that followed. Many of the stories in this volume weren’t published until years after they were written or were published in amateur press publications of the day. These days, we’d call them fanzines. The contents include the aforementioned Dunsanian fantasies, some traditional horror stories, and some early Mythos tales. Also included are a few prose poems and one selection of Lovecraft’s verse.”

The Dragon (Black Gate) Art of the Genre: The Top 10 Dragon Magazine Covers of the 1970s & 80s — “Perhaps the most controversial cover ever used on Dragon Magazine, art director Roger Raupp had to go to great lengths to get this witch properly covered, and Editor Kim Mohan certainly took a good deal of blowback from it. Still, it is gorgeous, with the divine feminine raising itself up to the full moon in all its Wiccan glory. Artist David Martin only got two covers for Dragon, this one being his final, probably because Raupp didn’t want to deal with any more spankings from Mohan, but whatever the case, #114 still sticks out in most gamers minds as a triumphant divergence from the pure D&D fare most covers received.”

Video Games (The Escapist) Shadow of Mordor is Tawdry Tolkien Fanfiction  — “This is even more infantile when you realize that one of the themes of the books is that revenge — and the lust for it — is poisonous and destructive. In the original work, the forces of good win at the end because nobody had the heart to murder Gollum, even though they all knew he deserved it. The Hobbits were the key to victory not because they were fierce and cunning, but because they were guileless and gentle. Their innocence protected them from the allure of a ring that devoured normal guys just like Talion: Guys who want to solve the world’s problems by stabbing.”

AD&D (Don’t Split the Party) When the Wise Man Points at the Moon the Fool Looks at the Wise Man’s Finger — “Do you know what this means?! This means every wizard that knows both Clairvoyance and Teleport is effectively a one-man space program with access to FTL travel! If you have Teleport without Error or similar in your campaign it means there isn’t even that much risk involved!”

D&D (B/X Black Razor) Hating on Lizards — “Actually, in reading a few articles on-line about where these critters came from (many derived from Gygax’s mind…at least their abilities, if not their names and images)…I see I’m waaay off base in my assumptions. Many times, Gygax was just “stretching things” to make them fit the needs of his campaign. Many images of iconic monsters (like kobolds and pig-faced orcs) simply come from the artist’s rendering (and we’ve been using those images, incorporating them into the stats and background color ever since). Well, at least that’s better than simply making monsters to fill a niche created by a class ability.”

Bitte, Bitte (Washington Post) Inside Gamergate’s (successful) attack on the media — “‘If you’re concerned with ethics in games journalism, the best thing you can do is contribute to an atmosphere where journalists are not afraid to speak their mind,’ said Ian Miles Cheong, the editor-in-chief of Gameranx. ‘When you target a writer’s livelihood because you disagree with their opinion, you’re enabling the hostile atmosphere that leads to silence and dishonesty.'”

The End of Gawker (Gawker) How We Got Rolled by the Dishonest Fascists of Gamergate — “Mercedes-Benz—listed on the site as a former partner, and therefore a target—briefly paused its ads on a network that serves ads to Gawker. I’ve been told that we’ve lost thousands of dollars already, and could potentially lose thousands more, if not millions. Consequently, the editorial director of Gawker Media, Joel Johnson, took to the front page of Gawker to clarify that Sam Biddle does not want to bully anyone, and that Gawker Media as a company and institution is not pro-bullying.”

Appendix N (2 Warps to Neptune) ‘The Lovecraftian Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons’ from The Dragon #12 — “The column was penned by two genre legends: Rob Kuntz, co-author of Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes and the first edition Deities & Demigods (1980), and J. Eric Holmes, author of the first D&D Basic Set (1977). H.P. Lovecraft was, of course, listed as an ‘immediate influence’ upon AD&D in Gygax’s famous Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979). Despite having little to do with the heroic fantasy genre as we know it, Lovecraft’s oeuvre is consistently identified with it, and has been just as influential on the development of fantasy role-playing as Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft’s long-distance friend.”

The Original Old School (Charles Dickens) Bleak House — “The old gentleman is rusty to look at, but is reputed to have made good thrift out of aristocratic marriage settlements and aristocratic wills, and to be very rich. He is surrounded by a mysterious halo of family confidences, of which he is known to be the silent depository. There are noble mausoleums rooted for centuries in retired glades of parks among the growing timber and the fern, which perhaps hold fewer noble secrets than walk abroad among men, shut up in the breast of Mr. Tulkinghorn. He is of what is called the old school — a phrase generally meaning any school that seems never to have been young — and wears knee-breeches tied with ribbons, and gaiters or stockings. One peculiarity of his black clothes and of his black stockings, be they silk or worsted, is that they never shine. Mute, close, irresponsive to any glancing light, his dress is like himself. He never converses when not professionaly consulted. He is found sometimes, speechless but quite at home, at corners of dinner-tables in great country houses and near doors of drawing-rooms, concerning which the fashionable intelligence is eloquent, where everybody knows him and where half the Peerage stops to say ‘How do you do, Mr. Tulkinghorn?’ He receives these salutations with gravity and buries them along with the rest of his knowledge.”

D&D (I’ll See It When I Believe It) Reverse Level Benefits for AD&D — “When a magic-user finds and learns a new spell, they earn the spell’s level squared x1,500xp (e.g. finding and learning a 2nd level spell earns 6,000xp, a 5th level spell earns 37,500xp).”

History (Edith Hamilton) An Excerpt From “The Greek Way” — “Wretched people, toiling people, do not play. Nothing like the Greek games is conceivable in Egypt or Mesopotamia. The life of the Egyptian lies spread out in the mural paintings down to the minutest detail. If fun and sport had played any real part they would be there in some form for us to see. But the Egyptian did not play. ‘Solon, Solon, you Greeks are all children,’ said the Egyptian priest to the great Athenia. At any rate, children or not, they enjoyed themselves. They had physical vigor and high spirits and, too, for fun. The witness of the games is conclusive. And when Greece died and her reading of the great enigma was buried with her statues, play, too, died out of the world. The brutal, bloody Roman games had nothing to do with the spirit of play. They were fathered by the Orient, not by Greece. Play died when Greece died and many and many a century passed before it was resurrected.”

The End of Gamasutra (Youtube) Leigh Alexander, Writer – XOXO Festival (2014) — “In general my approach often puts me at extreme odds with the typical gamer fan type of reader for various reasons. I’m a polarizing figure, but I’m thriving even still– despite the fact that I’ve deliberately alienated the traditional audience, somehow I still have a career; that gives me a lot of hope.”

The Horror… The Horror (Hack & Slash) On What to Do With a Dragon Corpse — “By the time I actually got to act, I had already lost nearly 100 hit points. The dragon took flight, and breathed on as many targets as he could. At this point, only being the barbarian and the 1/2 orc monk. I did 56 points of damage. You’d think this would be deadly to a 1st level monk and a 3rd level barbarian. They both save. 28 hit points leaves the barbarian with 10, and the monk, being a half-orc, is not killed outright, so remains standing with 1 hit point.”

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8 responses to “Blog Watch: The Face in the Frost, Dishonest Fascists, Tulkinghorn, and the Death of Play

  1. Cirsova October 28, 2014 at 9:27 am

    I’m reminded of all the times I’ve read that, despite being a thoroughly fleshed out setting, it’s impossible to set adventures in Middle Earth. Except for during the big canon events, there’s really not much going on or much to do except for explore second age ruins and bask with oohs and aahs in the splendour of the elder days. There’s just too much splendour, necessary respect and gravitas to middle earth to really enjoy much of a romp through it.

    • jeffro October 28, 2014 at 9:33 am

      I’ve read session reports of a darn good Moria campaign… but yeah, it does seem to be a consensus that Narnia is the better model for game worlds. (I still wouldn’t mind having a complete sett of I.C.E. products, though!!)

      • Cirsova October 28, 2014 at 9:37 am

        That makes sense, because it’s one of the few viable “dungeons” in the setting. And yeah, I’ve got a rolemaster Arnor 2nd Age supplement that’s great fun reading if nothing else. But I was just thinking, what would be the “perfect” Middle Earth video game that “respected” the setting?

        The Middle Earth Navel Gazing Regret Simulator – a scale 3D rendered topographical 1st person experience of middle earth. Trek through endless wilderness with no in-game auto-map (comes instead with various ‘feelie’ Tolkien maps) in search of ruins and splendour as music from the films plays quietly in the background. Speak with elves who regret never having seen the light of the trees as they journey into the west! Feel sorrow at the decline of the cursed race of dwarves, forsaken children of Aule! Occasionally be harangued by wolves and orcs who disapprove of your sightseeing! When you have seen your fill, travel to the Grey Havens where Cirdan takes all who have wearied of Middle Earth into the Undying Lands!

        [Jeffro: Not nice, my precious. Not nice at all!]

      • Cirsova October 28, 2014 at 9:53 am

        (it could be called “Gone Home (to Valinor)”)

    • earlburt October 28, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      “There’s just too much splendour, necessary respect and gravitas to middle earth to really enjoy much of a romp through it.”

      That’s exactly it. Concise and perfect one-liner that explains why adventures in my gameworld have never worked the way I wanted in my head.

      I always wind up running a game that’s, you known, fun… and it’s never been the grand, wondrous thing I’d hoped for. It’s kind of freeing to start to let go of the ideal and commit to what’s fun.

      • Cirsova October 28, 2014 at 2:13 pm

        All that said, Yahtzee’s review (on the same site, no less!) actually makes me think that maybe it is possible!

        Ultimately, around the table, you’re never going to maintain the degree of seriousness of some literary fantasy tome. Nothing is going to make a goblin digging through stirge crap for treasure not a laugh-riot around the table. It’s easier to have fun and have funny situations (like an orc with a russian accent negotiating over the price of his dancing bear’s services) than it is to force that reverential somber mood of dwarves singing about their lost homeland. It’s great when you can create those somber and touching moments, but you can’t force them, and a for whatever reason, Middle Earth with all its grandeur seems to be a setting that people feel the need to force it. The shear fact that most of the characters in Tolkien are larger than life and devoid of normal petty humor that we lesser mortals enjoy may be at the heart of it. Elrond’s not going to tell a dirty joke, even if given the most perfect setup, because if he did, it would ruin the mood. But you’ve probably already lost the mood if the setup was there, AND you lost the perfect opportunity for prominent NPC to tell a great dirty joke and make him more real to the players.

  2. TWS December 6, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    I ran a long campaign decades ago set in Middle Earth. I just stayed away from the events of the Ring. ‘Shadows of Mordor’ is really awful it ruins ME it completely hates the Tolkien mythos and inserts horrific cut scenes that play like ‘Mortal Combat’. If you want to play a lightweight but true to the mythos (well truer than the movies anyway) is Lord of the Rings: The War in the North. That game respects the mythos, themes and setting as well as anything I’ve found. It plays like an improved DA: Origins with spoken cut scenes dialogue and with wholesome plotting. The character creation is strictly limited as are options but otherwise it is a superior product.

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