Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Random Thoughts: Outside the Rules Structure, an Eclectic Fiction Diet, Watershed Moments, Lenin, Artiness, and Chronicles of Riddick

Just speculating about what’s going on here, but… the thing about role playing games is… random stuff on your character sheet that everyone has forgotten about can very quickly become amusingly important. But the essence of play is the game master describing a situation and the players imagining it and then figuring out what their characters would do. And this often has nothing to do with the rules or the character sheets! The structure of the rules help point the entire group toward this particular engaging and fun thing… and yet, at the same time, the fun that is encountered often occurs outside the structure of the rules themselves.

This is a great pic, though. You can see the tracking of minutia, the way rpg’s make people explain stuff, and the way that imagination is the ultimate arbiter all at once. I haven’t seen anything from the award winning snarky pants gaming theorist types that makes me think they really get that this is what it’s all about.

Even the mediocrities on the Appendix N list can provide valuable insights. Jack of Shadows is a better distillation of the zeitgeist of the baby boomers’ children than even I’m Okay, You’re Okay. Changeling Earth is a direct consequence of a generation that had lost faith in science and was all to willing to create new gods for itself. Come to think of it… there is a disproportionate number of stinkers from the seventies in that list.

Why is it that Gygax had a diet of fiction that spanned more than half a century, but the designers that followed him and the younger generation of gamers that played his stuff did not for the most part? What kinds of things do we fail to see simply because we’ve never bothered to survey the past…? And what the heck happened during the seventies to turn everything upside down? Something happened. The fact of it doesn’t require a conspiracy theory to explain it, but it does make me wonder about what all’s gone on since.

Remember: people that haven’t read from the Appendix N list tend to assume that Gary Gygax was a weirdo for using the term “Fighting-Men” instead of something like “Warrior.” They will even go so far as to say that the reasons for his word choice there are unknowable. It’s a small thing, sure… but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. These people are not only ignorant, but they don’t even know they are ignorant. They are simply not equipped to make an intelligent critique of classic D&D, much less assess Gygax’s contribution to gaming.

That “Wisconsin Shoe Salesmen” precipitated a watershed moment in gaming history. His influence is not confined to tabletop games, but spills over into computer gaming and fantasy in general. While many tropes of classic D&D have by now become ubiquitous, the literature that inspired them has since dropped into obscurity. This is interesting and bears further investigation. Among other things, this provides a method for revisiting the axioms which we take for granted in both games and genre fiction. If you’re tired of your adventure scenarios being derivative of blockbuster movies, this can open up a smorgasbord of inspiration. And if you don’t already know who A. Merritt was… if you haven’t read Jack Vance or Robert E. Howard… you are in for quite a treat.

Netflix just blows my mind. First it was the episode of Midwives where the baby got saved because of the National Health Service had just passed. Then there was the BBC series about female WWII code breakers tracking down a necrophiliac rapist/serial killer against their husbands’ wishes. And now its a roaring twenties detective show where the simple Australian cab driver has to point out that Lenin legalized abortion in 1920. It’s almost like the entertainment is structured so that it reinforces somebody’s political narrative…. Agh. Fortunately, I have some books here where the authors don’t pull this kind of crap.

Somebody was complaining to me about not being about to get intoThe Dying Earth. “Well the prose must be at a higher level than what you’re used to,” I said a bit too gruffly, ignoring their protestations. I handed them The Face in the Frost and suggested that it might be more their speed.

The view on warrior women in history presented here has about as much credibility as Solar Freakin’ Roadways™.

The problem with “arty” is that is too often indicative of a particularly sanctimonious variation of contempt. Most people prefer an honest entertainer that stumbles into the sublime over a cookie cutter hipster that purports to foist it on them.

Riddick is an epic movie hero cut from the same cloth as John Carter, Dumarest, and Conan. The bad guys are wonderfully and irredeemably evil. You even see a cross-section of real world religions depicted sympathetically and (uselessly) in opposition to them– very rare. The “strong female character” is completely devoid of any romantic elements; despite many scenes of gratuitous baddassery on her part, she still needs to be rescued in the clutch. Her role is nevertheless identical to that of Danny Glover’s in the Lethal Weapon series: the “best bud.” Meanwhile on the other side we get a hard core Jezebel or Lady MacBeth type character. She is clearly the brains behind her husband’s ascent to influence and power. Finally… that world in the middle section: loved it. Not your standard “Class M” world from Star Trek. Not your George Lucas “pick a single Earth climate and roll.” Just a nice, believable and fun environment. Altogether, a very nice package of a film. This is about as “old school” of a blockbuster as you’re liable to see.

Photo used with permission.


8 responses to “Random Thoughts: Outside the Rules Structure, an Eclectic Fiction Diet, Watershed Moments, Lenin, Artiness, and Chronicles of Riddick

  1. Cirsova November 11, 2014 at 9:19 am

    While I thought Pitch Black was boring, I absolutely loved CoR, because it should’ve been obvious to anyone that it was just Vin Diesel as “Space Conan”.

  2. Evan Hughes November 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Anyone who does not love Vance’s language deserves to be drowned in dog vomit and have trees grown in their ears.

  3. Anzon November 11, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Apart from the occasional intrusion from someone’s social sciences curiculum (which either ease off as the series goes on, or I got used to), I quite enjoyed Miss Fisher

  4. Tim McDonald December 6, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Surely you are not calling Jack of Shadows a mediocre work? I read it in junior high and thought then and still think today it is one of Zelazny’s better juveniles!

  5. TWS December 6, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    You’re right. The world has become homogenized and Pasteurized for ‘our protection’ and taken much of the flavor out of it. Modern entertainment is all working from the same bland and flavorless strictly artificial play book. It’s like living on a diet of processed soy product and rice milk. It’s not good, wholesome, or natural.

    Gygax used to get testy when people say he copied Tolkien. He incorporated a whole lot more great stuff (as all good artists do) and amalgamated them into something glorious. RE Howard, Tolkien, Vance, Lovecraft, Myers, et. al. are easily seen in Gygax’s work but like you wrote reading the books on the appendix is an important step if you really want to understand these games. I’ve talked to modern designers who had never heard of most of the authors and read maybe one or two.

    I believe that the closer your world building is to our own real world the better the immersion. The more of the fiction you have read and absorbed the better you can flesh out and populate your own sub-creation.

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