Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Blog Watch: Pulp Fantasy’s Nabokov, Supplanting the Canon, Sword-and-Soul, and Radical Heterogeneity

Appendix N (Vice) Why I Still Love ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ in the Age of Video Games — “‘Weird’ was always key to D&D’s continuing survival. On paper, the game should look and feel no different than any of the mechanized orc-killing toys you can get for your PC, Playstation, or XBox, or like the special effects blockbusters we’re getting more and more now that Hollywood’s figured out how to make armor and tentacles look right on a screen—but it doesn’t. Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax and other architects of the early RPG scene had read Tolkien and Howard’s Conan books, but their fandom was crazy deep and genuinely literary, embracing the wisecracking and oddly adult sensibility of Fritz Leiber’s medieval noir, the anti-mythic experimentalism of Clark Ashton Smith, and the amoral freakshow wordplay of Jack Vance—pulp fantasy’s Nabokov, who inspired spell names like ‘Oitluke’s Freezing Sphere’ and ‘Leomund’s Lamentable Belabourment.'”

Appendix N (Black Gate) Discovering Robert E. Howard: Jeffrey Shanks on The Worldbuilding of REH — “When most people think of Howard’s world-building, the essay ‘The Hyborian Age’ is usually the first thing that comes to mind. This extensive fictional history of the setting of the Conan stories, written in early 1932, was never intended to be published — it was merely a background reference for Howard himself. And yet, the essay went through multiple drafts — clearly Howard put a lot of work into this essay to flesh out the world of Conan.”

Appendix N (Cirsova) Robert & the Reptoids (or The Conspiracy of Kull) — “Most people think of the Reptoids as a relatively recent tin-foil hat conspiracy associated with David Icke, but the modern origins of this 20th century myth go back at least a bit further than most realize to Robert E Howard’s first Kull story, The Shadow Kingdom.”

Appendix N (Black Gate) The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Ramblings on REH — “It’s almost unbelievable how many stories Howard had rejected and/or weren’t published until many years after his death.”

Books (Every Joe) Anne Rice: We Are Facing a New Era of Censorship, In The Name of Political Correctness — “I think we are facing a new era of censorship, in the name of political correctness. There are forces at work in the book world that want to control fiction writing in terms of who ‘has a right’ to write about what. Some even advocate the out and out censorship of older works using words we now deem wholly unacceptable. Some are critical of novels involving rape. Some argue that white novelists have no right to write about people of color; and Christians should not write novels involving Jews or topics involving Jews. I think all this is dangerous. I think we have to stand up for the freedom of fiction writers to write what they want to write, no matter how offensive it might be to some one else.”

Appendix N (Black Gate) The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 1963: A Retro-Review — “Notable letters include one from James Blish complaining about the term “Science Fantasy” (“… stands as a warning that the author reserves the right to get the facts all wrong”); and one from a reader complaining about Davidson’s editorial hand and declining to renew his subscription – who was the reader? One E. Gary Gygax!”

ACKS (The Rhetorical Gamer) ACKS on the Borderlands — “One thing I’ve been enjoying in this campaign so far (and had a similar experience in my last campaign) is the fun that comes from just trusting the process and letting it happen. Four sessions and we’ve had some crazy stuff happen. The party has had a couple of flyovers by a green dragon and a manticore. We’ve had several deaths and new characters introduced. And most of it is emergent play that I don’t have to feel solely responsible for creating on the fly. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy making stuff up but there is a kind of magic to incorporating the weirdness of rolling up a random wilderness encounter and realizing that you just rolled up a green dragon… for first level characters.”

Books (New Statesman) I read the 100 “best” fantasy and sci-fi novels – and they were shockingly offensive — “I can understand how many of the books on the list may have once been groundbreaking but that doesn’t mean that they are now the best examples of the genre. They have been supplanted, hundreds of times over, by other authors that took similar themes but made them better and more inclusive.”

Books (Black Gate) New Statesmen on the “Shockingly Offensive” 100 Best Fantasy and SF Novels — “I’m sure Ms. Lutgendorff’s comments will be hotly debated, but I think it’s foolish to ignore her gut reaction. Like it or not, the classics of an older generation are giving way to new novels, as they should. That’s what happens in a living genre.”

Books (Castalia House) Griots — “Charles Saunders’ introduction covers his discovery and love for the sword-and-sorcery genre and his creation of Imaro, the world of Nyumbani, and the beginning of what he called ‘sword-and-soul,’ and his finding of like-minded writers over time. Saunders describes sword-and-soul as ‘Fantasy fiction with an African connection in either the characters or the setting…or both. The setting can be the historical Africa of the world we know, or the Africa of an alternate world, dimension or universe.'”

D&D5e (Gaming Ballistic) Character Study – why focus on combat? — “With the change to 5e, I wasn’t sure what combat effective meant. I noted that certain classes (like rogues) seemed to be the real damage dealers, while fighters did low damage each turn, and just stood there taking it. Peter V. Dell’Orto had made the same observation. I think I’ve mostly shown that doesn’t have to be true, with the right focus, for fighters. But it took this exercise to figure it out for me.”

D&D (1d30) You don’t have time to build up to something great — “The next thing that happens needs to be the best thing you can think of. Don’t hold that idea back for use later in the dungeon, or in some other campaign. Trust me, you’ll have other ideas. Maybe better ones. What you can not afford is to have a mostly empty ground floor with some bandits who don’t know about the snake living in the corner.”

D&D (Goblin Punch) Keep Dungeon Threats Threatening — “If I put a pit trap in the dungeon, I want it to be threatening. I don’t want to have to metagame my players, thinking about what immunities they have. Then I have to build an encounter around that, just to challenge them.”

D&D (Known World, Old World) America and D&D — “Something twigged in my brain on these trips, as this wasn’t a medieval England of innumerable villages, each a day’s walk from the other, a landscape tamed and human-ized, however ancient. This is a landscape of awe-inspiring scale, and to a European, strangeness. A landscape of isolated settlements, both those of Native Americans and European Pioneers. A land of radical heterogeneity – of religion and ethnicity, as well as environment and economy – with adventurers building quasi-states in the borderlands. I imagined the amount of planning and calculated risk taking required to explore this new world. Wilderness expeditions, full of strange landscapes, a hostile environment, and encounters with peoples and animals that could roll either way, depending on their Reaction.”

D&D (Kill it with Fire!) 1d12 things that could happen when a god dies — “The things that the god was in charge of stop working properly. Sure this seems great when you kill the god in charge of death, at first…”

D&D (Don’t Split the Party) Law, Chaos, the UK, America, Teutonic Knights, Orcs, and Just What the Heck is Going On With 9th Level Fighters?! — “Despite the desire of contemporary people to think of the faerie/sidhe as fun-loving hippies in folklore they’re are much, much more like the Weeping Angels – inhuman, utterly other creatures that if you were lucky will only cast you decades through time away from all you know and love.”

D&D (World Builder Blog) Introducing Adults to D&D — “I recently played one of the most fun sessions of Dungeons and Dragons in my tabletop gaming history. It was with adult coworkers aged 25 – 35 who were almost entirely new to the game. After me the player with the most amount of tabletop role-playing game experience had last picked up dice and a character sheet when he was 14. It was everyone else’s first time.”

Books (Black Gate) Science Fiction Classics #10 Now on Sale — “The most recent issue, Science Fiction Classics #10, reproduces one of the rarest early pulps, and certainly the rarest issue of Amazing — the very first Amazing Stories Annual, from 1927. It includes the complete Barsoom novel The Master Mind of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a short story by A. Hyatt Verrill, as well as five reprints — two classics from A. Merritt, including the long novella ‘The Face in the Abyss’ and ‘The People of the Pit,’ and tales by Austin Hall, Jacque Morgan, and H. G. Wells. It also contains interior artwork by Frank R. Paul, Gambee, and others.”

Books (Black Gate) Vintage Treasures: Flamesong by M.A.R. Barker — “Barker followed The Man of Gold a year later with an even more ambitious sequel, Flamesong. Flamesong was highly acclaimed… but only by those few who read it. It’s a tough find today; unlike the first book, which was reprinted by DAW, had a British edition, and is currently in print in both trade paperback and digital formats, Flamesong vanished shortly after it appeared. It has never been reprinted, and is highly sought today by Tékumel fans.”

Appendix N (Blackfive) The 2015 Hugo Awards: Some Thoughts — “What can you say about meeting classic Science Fiction writers from the Golden (and other) age(s)?  About meeting and talking with Gordon Dickson, who’s Dorsai series spoke to me and made me think and explore?  About meeting and talking with the wonderful de Camps, Fred Pohl, the delightful Pournelle’s, Fred Saberhagen, Harry Turtledove, Jack Williamson, the Zahn’s, the Niven’s, A.E. van Vogt, and others?”

D&D (Blessing of the Dice Gods) Let’s Talk About Campaign Settings II: Second Edition Settings Analysis — “I want to start out our trip by taking a detailed look at the poster children of published campaign settings: the 2E boxed sets, and the worlds they detailed. You’ll notice as we go that I do not much talk about Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or Dragonlance. It’s not that they aren’t lovely settings, and as +Charles Akins  pointed out to me on Google+, they are far and away the most popular settings in D&D history, what with their novels and game tie ins and representation in later editions and so forth. So why no love from me in this post?”

Appendix N (DM David) Once subversive, the Arduin Grimoire’s influence reaches today’s games — “As D&D’s audience exploded, in the days before Appendix N, most new players’ experience with fantasy started with Tolkien and ended with a few imitators. The sort of science-fantasy found in say, Jack Vance, seemed wrong.”

D&D (Cave of the Dice Chucker) Rogue Rant: Suck it! — “While there’s no reason that you can’t count on a well appellated thief to climb walls, decrypt codes, or defuse bombs for the good of the party, all you can expect from your rogue is that s/he’s going to give you lip if you ask him or her to do something:”

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5 responses to “Blog Watch: Pulp Fantasy’s Nabokov, Supplanting the Canon, Sword-and-Soul, and Radical Heterogeneity

  1. BobtheCertifiedIdiot August 28, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Yeah, I think they got that one right. Original D&D, played properly, is the story of America and the story of Humanity.

    Dungeons and Dragons is forty years, two generations, closer to America being less settled. Gygax and the others may have been informed by oral history dating back over seventy years. Plus the actual studying of history. They may have also taken the western genre for granted.

    The northern colonies tended towards religious fanatics, craftsmen, merchants, and fishermen. The southern colonies had more criminals, soldiers, and fortune seekers.

    Clearing the land to make it fit for civilization, filibusters, and range wars. As the comments point out, rail roads also have a great deal of potential.

  2. Pingback: Weekend Haul & Other Stuff | Cirsova

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