Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Traveller

Quantum Mortis: A Man Disrupted #1

So my publisher is breaking into comics and their first effort has just hit Amazon. Needless to say, comics pros have not exactly sent out a welcoming committee in response.

Most of the backlash has been over the artwork, which frankly doesn’t interest me all that much. Judging by how far and how fast Castalia House developed up until they put together the cover of my book, I think it’s safe to say… regardless of what you think, they will learn and they will get better.

My interest in the matter is the content of the stories, and I think judging from Vox Day’s and Steve Rzasa’s other efforts it’s clear that they bring something to the table that comics today doesn’t have.

Does that matter…? Well it depends on whether you walked away and what it was that caused you to do so when you did. My addiction to science fiction stalled when I realized that dry tales of engineering fantasy were not my cup of tea. Reading through the magazines of the nineties, I opted to leave it altogether because hipster English majors writing about gay alien sex was not what I was there for.

But hey, there was still comics, right? I couldn’t stand what had happened to the X-Men and their spinoffs not long after The Fall of the Mutants. John Byrne’s Next Men kept me coming back to the comic shop, though. I found the whole Image Comics thing to be absolutely demented. Infinite Crisis was the last time I really remember paying attention to anything in comics. The various reboots of Blue Beetle and The Spectre left me more more than a little cold. But Bat Woman’s introduction was flat out absurd. I was done.

So yeah, as someone now mostly outside of the comics scene, I’m glad someone’s making an effort to shake things up. Speaking as a gamer, though… it especially warms my heart that it ended up being a Traveller fan that headed the charge.

 

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BLOG WATCH: Dead-eyed Stares, Pre-Campbellian Gothic, Moral Complexity, and Patriarchal Constructs

Appendix N (Jon Del Arroz) In Praise Of Jeffro Johnson — “He showed me what science fiction and fantasy can be. Now you might think I’m overstating it, but it’s really incredible just how much the genre has transformed in the last three decades or so, and not for the better. I highly recommend searching his Castalia House posts at the very least and I also recommend every writer read Appendix N, his literary criticism of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s really brilliant and opened my eyes.”

Appendix N (Jon Mollison) On Jeffro’s Departure — “If you’ve ever enjoyed any of my stories, or any of my columns here or at the Castalia House blog, you have Jeffro to thank for it. His influence in my own work should be plain to all but the most casual reader. (For the record, Alex over at Cirsova comes in a close second, with a veritable army of other writers tied for a distant third.)”

D&D (Save Versus All Wands) “The fact that you can just randomly encounter a Longship filled with Vikings is pretty awesome.” — “Indeed, Vikings appeared multiple times in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons (which is why I chose them for Zylarthen) but then quickly fell out as the system and franchise took a more naturalistic turn. And it’s not all about Vikings. What I tried to do in The Campaign was to create a mechanism or give referees ideas and tables for creating a mechanism to design a vibrant and ‘real’ wilderness, if you will, teeming with whatever the referee thought would be fun and cool, as well as giving the players interesting challenges and problems.”

D&D (Elfmaids and Octopi) More human Than Human — “I’ve considered using a whole bunch of medieval races believed to exist by scholars from late roman times into the renaissance. Elves and dwarves are fine and all but these might ad some colour. Not really developed yet but I’m tempted to do most using my beastman class (which I use for orcs and barbarians too). The multi fingered men would be exception, I might use elves as a template instead as I like idea they are magical and skillful.”

Pulp Revolution (Cirsova) Hard Lessons Learned Slowly — “Action, Adventure, and Romance are stronger selling points than pulp, sci-fi and fantasy. I think that navel gazing explanations of throw-backs, periods, Campbellians, Futurians, the Pulp Rev, etc. will make eyes glaze over and should be avoided. I typically never take it that far, and even mentioning the pulps at all tends to evoke a dead-eyed stare from most folks.”

Anime (Jon Del Arroz) Can Gamma Male Protagonists Evoke Classical Pathos? — “Almost every anime show (especially those set in a high school environment, which is the majority of them), have male protagonists that are your classic gamma male archetype. They are socially awkward, especially around women. When encountered with women they go into a crazed frenzy, female worship, nosebleeds, slapstick failings. We’re supposed to root for them to get the girl in spite of their failures. And sometimes we do, but we can’t help but wince every time they enter the scene with their female counterparts, who are usually far more composed and cooler than they are.”

Traveller (Tales to Astound!) What “The Traveller” Adventure had to Say About Situation Throws — “That there are people on Traveller focused sites convinced I’m simply making up nonsense procedures (and there are a few) has always startled me. It seems so obvious once you look at the text of the three books holistically. The improvised adjudication of situation is part and parcel of the game culture of the mid-70s.”

Traveller (Tales to Astound!) Using Original TRAVELLER Out of the Box — Rick Stump’s The Clash of Stars — “One of the things I really liked about what he’s posted is his section on nobility. Keep in mind that if you look on line you’ll find lots of people dithering about the Social Status rules in Classic Traveller and saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, the rules don’t tell me what Social Status means!’ But Rick doesn’t do that. Instead, he looked at the rules, saw there was a thing called Social Status, and said, ‘Oh, there’s a thing called Social Status and I get to decide that that’s going to mean for my setting.'”

D&D (Save Versus All Wands) Demons in Early D&D, Part 1 — “I’m not claiming that there’s anything wrong with Gygax patching together his own novel cosmology out of many different sources, mashing them together and redefining some of the terms – after all, this is essentially what he did with the entire monster canon for D&D – only that it must have seemed a bit confusing to some at the time, especially since it came with little explanation. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons would of course fully flesh all of this out, but at this time, AD&D was still 1-3 years away.”

D&D (Save Versus All Wands) Demons in Early D&D, Part 2 — “Of course it would be easy to pull this ‘out of context’ to argue that AD&D was attempting to make occult practices attractive to children or whatever. In truth, I didn’t even remember the spell, and was only reminded of it when researching this post, even though, at the time, I played AD&D exclusively and thought of the Players Handbook as the defining D&D tome. I suspect I’m not alone in this. Among other things, Cacodemon was a high-level spell and I doubt that many campaigns got that far.”

Movies (Jon Mollison) Arrival – Part One — “Hawkeye plays one of America’s foremost theoretical physicists, and early on in the film he argues that math is a better first step toward civilization than language. I have no flag in either camp, but when he brought that up, I literally sat up straighter in my seat. I thought we were going to get a lot of talk about how math is the first language – the universal language. How it doesn’t matter if your language is Bantu or English or cro-magnon or Klingon. One is always singular. The sequence of primes never changes. The area of a square made from the hypoteneuse of a right triangle is always as big as the sum of squares made from the legs.”

The Hard Buds of SF (Kairos) Is Science Fiction Dead? — “What I do think has happened is that the gatekeepers who usurped the genre in the late 30s have tried to associate ‘science fiction’ with ‘anti-escapist hard SF’ in the public consciousness, and they’ve succeeded. This engineered souring of public opinion toward the broad term ‘science fiction’ has had a negative knock-on effect in other SF subgenres. Several best selling authors who write what would have been immediately recognizable as science fiction during the pulp era have told me that their attempts to publish stories billed as space operas have met with little success. That’s despite the fact that space opera is actually the most popular SF subgenre in the world if you count movies and games. It’s not that people stopped liking space opera, it’s that the gatekeepers memory-holed Doc Smith and Edgar Rice Burroughs, so people don’t know what ‘space opera’ means anymore.”

Meanwhile… (AIPT!) Interview: Legendary Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter on the current state of Marvel, creator incentives and more — “It takes forever to tell a story. What Stan [Lee] would put in six pages–it takes six months. So you look at the sales–Marvel comics are now $4 apiece, and they’re thrilled if the sales are over 30,000. When I was at Marvel, the whole world was different. We didn’t have a single title–we had 75 titles–we didn’t have a single one that sold below 100,000. We had the X-Men approaching three quarters of a million. And that’s not some special No. 1, or somebody dies, or changes costumes, or someone gets married–it was every time. A lot of it was single-copy readers. People weren’t running around buying cases of it because it had a foil-embossed cover. It was every issue.”

Game Design (Lewis Pulsipher) Simplifying a Game Design — “[Harmony is] important because games are not just collections of mechanics, not just data, not just metrics. Games make intellectual and emotional impressions on players, and lack of harmony is noticeable, sometimes clearly, sometimes in subtle ways.”

Appendix N (Mighty Thor Jrs) Guest Blog: Conan was dumb, and 4 other common misconceptions by David Thomas — “This one always proves to me who has read Conan and who hasn’t. Sure, Conan was written for the pulps, and the women do happen to find themselves in need of rescue often. However, there are plenty of strong female characters in the REH Conan tales. Bêlit does and takes whatever she wants. She runs a pirate ship full of men. Valeria says “Why won’t men let me live a man’s life?” She lives by the sword, and is the equal or better of any man. Even the woman who walks around naked for the entire story, Nafetari/Zabibi in the story Man-Eaters of Zamboula, is only playing Conan the entire story. Once again, I chalk it up to pastiche and bad sword and sorcery stories and films which have fixed this useless damsel image into everyone’s stereotype.”

Comics (RPGPundit) “Fat Black Lesbian” Was Everyone’s Favorite GI JOE Action Figure as a Kid, Right? — “Some people somehow suggested this was unfair. It isn’t. This isn’t some kind of censorship, or blacklisting, or a boycott. This is a product that was intentionally designed to make its original market despise it (because the writer felt that fans of GI JOE as a patriotic American military organization should be punished for their beliefs) failing to attract any alternative audience (because SJWs love to praise the takeover and ruination of comics by replacing characters with SJW tokens, but have no real intention to ever actually buy these new politically-proper comics), and thus ceasing to exist as a result of the gross incompetence and one could even say malevolent intent of its untalented politically-motivated creators.”

The War on Human Nature (Newsweek) MEN WITH MUSCLES AND MONEY ARE MORE ATTRACTIVE TO STRAIGHT WOMEN AND GAY MEN—SHOWING GENDER ROLES AREN’T PROGRESSING — “‘This celebration of masculine capital is achieved through humor and the knowing wink, but the outcome is a reaffirmation of men’s position in society,’ lead author Adrienne Evans from the Coventry University’s Centre for Postdigital Cultures said in a statement. The problem, according to Evans, is that ‘although it appears as though we have moved forward, our desires are still mostly about money and strength.'”

D&D (Playing At the World) D&D in the News (1977): You, Too, Can Be a Wizard — “The photographs accompanying the article show OD&D in full use: we see white box booklets on the table in the first picture, and in another, a copy of Gods, Demi-gods and Heroes is lain across a few pages of Eldritch Wizardry. The dice visible are Creative Publications polyhedra, except for the six siders, most of which are pipped dice. Kemp is careful to emphasize that ‘books and figures may be purchased locally,’ and she repeatedly mentions the Regimental Supply Room as the local dealer.”

D&D (Save Versus All Wands) Monsters as Player Characters – OD&D vs. AD&D — “Of course during this quasi-concession Gygax takes the opportunity to further put down players who might have such a desire – unless the goal is purely experimental, then they either have a will to dominate or are relatively stupid and inept. This might be characterized as one manifestation of what has been called High Gygaxian style. Here an air of wisdom is coupled with silly insults. That’s not a criticism (of the style). In fact it’s quite entertaining.”

Before the Big Three (The Pulp Archivist) The Gothic Influences of C. L. Moore — “C. L. Moore had immersed herself in the classics from these men, and was familiar with the melancholy, mystery, individualism, and darkness that embodied their works and would soon be hallmarks of her own pre-Campbelline stories. And, as an avid Weird Tales reader, she would have also read reprinted works from Poe and Hawthorne in its page. In her Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry tales, Moore would become one of the last flowers of the Gothic tradition in science fiction, writing before Campbell’s twin revolutions in science fiction and fantasy removed these Romantic elements from American science fiction.”

Pulp Revolution (JimFear138) The PulpRev Sampler Review — “Into The Hands Of A Living God by Dominika Lein was another that threw me for a loop. It takes place in a fancy ballroom in space, with the humans in the room captivated by an alien creature. The story is told first-person, and our protagonist is infatuated with this creature as well, despite being no human. A man shows up to fight for her hand, but as the title says, what chance does he have against a living god?”

Appendix N (The Dark Herald) Imric the Elf Earl – “Tolkein’s elves were intrinsically good if ethereal. They were the Golden People. Not so much closer to God but closer to Man before his fall at Eden. They toiled not and lived lives of unearthly beauty. Anderson’s elves on the other hand are not nice at all. They not creations of God. They have no souls and hence are fundamentally incapable of love or morality. They are the anti-Tolkein. However, they are very much in keeping with the old stories of faerie. This soullessness is a central theme of this book. All of the faerie are soulless. Both the elves and their enemies the trolls. And all of faerie recoils before the encroaching power of the White Christ whose church will drive them to oblivion.”

Comics (Walter Simonson) Thor Volume One — “Perhaps the most powerful lesson I learned from those comics was that if you kept a straight face, you could do anything. The wildest stories were possible if you invited the readers to come along on the journey without breaking faith with them. No nudges in the ribs or sly winks to let them know that we were all in on the joke, that we were all too hip for our own good. The essence of a good story was to bind the reader with a spell broken only at that story’s conclusion, and perhaps, not even then.”

Old School Gaming (Metamorphosis Alpha) From the articles — “Once upon a time, when I was stocking up a mined city for a campaign, I added one enchained princess. My notes had one simple line: ‘Adventurers will fall in love with her; no saving roll….’ It so happened that a lone adventurer found her, rescued her, and they soon were married. But they did not live happily ever after. He and she went adventuring, ran into some nasty rogues, and she got her poor head sliced off by a rapier. That incident launched one of the most incredible– and spontaneous– quests that I have ever seen. He determined that he could not live without her, and set out to find a way to restore her to life. He plunged into the depths of the wilderness, he sought out every wise wizard and hirsute but mysterious hag, he tried everything. Eventually he succeeded.”

D&D (The Mixed GM) Short Stories, Novels, Old-School RPGs, & New-School RPGs — “Older games took it for granted that characters died often, either due to player stupidity or the occasional bad roll of the dice. The player would then roll up a new character and get back into the game. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Character background was less important, because spending a lot of time thinking up an epic story for a character who might die in the next 30 minutes is not a good use of time. The game itself, overcoming challenges in the game world was more important than an overarching story about defeating the world-ending evil bad guy.”

Appendix N (PulpRev.com) Robert E Howard — “Every story was like diving into a bottomless well and returning with armfuls of glittering gold and glimmering gems. Here were hard-hitting tales of passion and zest delivered in muscular prose. Here were restless men of action, pushing ever onwards to the next great adventure and conquest; and beautiful women who recognized and reveled in their femininity, dangerous and clever and charming and tough. Here were stories of mortal and moral peril, of blackest evil and foul monsters, of savage men who found glory and triumph in the dark corners of the world.”

Where Have All the Good Men Gone? (Tor.com) Women are the Champions of the Rebellion Now — “The Force Awakens and Rogue One transform the entire arc of the series, shifting from stories of young men acting more or less individually, to focus on women building resistances against unfair power structures, working together with people across class and species lines, welcoming new members, honoring each others’ work. Women have passed the spirit of the rebellion to each other, from Padme and Mon Mothma’s co-founding of the Rebellion, to Jyn Erso’s sacrifice, to Leia’s leadership, to Rey’s taking up the search for Luke. These stories may have happened a long time ago, but the future of Star Wars is female.”

RPGs (Dice and Discourse) Thoughts on “Old School” vs “Modern” RPG Design (Part 2) — “A video game only let you do what it was coded to allow. But an RPG let you do (or at least try) anything. In this way RPGs were always more ‘real’ to me. And I tried to have my PCs act in a way that I thought I would act if I were in this sort of fantastic world. So, I tried to avoid a fight instead of risking injury or death. To do otherwise would have been too… video game-y.”

Knights Revisited (Jon Mollison) The Unbearable Lightness of Empty Shells — “Despite centuries of Enlightenment scholarly effort (and especially the efforts of their modern heirs) to cast knights as eternal villains and base cutthroats, they remain the ultimate white hats of the pre-gunpowder days. Give them a strong arm, a deft tongue, and an unflinching disdain for evil, and people will bring a lot of the best kind of baggage along for the ride.”

Now Tell Us How You Really Feel (Walker’s Retreat) “The Last Jedi” is a Dumpster Fire- Don’t See It! — “This movie is a goddamn dumpster fire. It’s such a failure of fundamental elements of storytelling that anyone who has any acumen at storytelling cannot unsee how badly this film’s narrative is put together. This film violates every single piece of storytelling craft that there is, and as such it cannot help but to fail at its purported purpose.”

From the comments (Vox Popoli) It should be the last Jedi — “In the extended universe, Luke marries a 9/10 redhead, has kids, restarts and reforms the Jedi Order successfully, fights alongside his friends in cool battles, and becomes the most powerful Jedi Grandmaster who ever lived. In the Last Jedi, Luke thinks about murdering his young nephew, fails to build anything, abandons his friends, doesnt marry and dies a virgin in bitter isolation.”

From the Comments (Kairos) The Last Jedi Is a Con — “This movie is going to cause Rotten Tomatoes to turn off the audience score citing abuse from trolls.”

Bwa-ha-ha! (Twitter) Capsule Review — “The Last Jedi will not be for you if you like movies where characters grow, change, have conversations, develop relationships, or make choices for reasons outside of plot convenience. However there is a scene where Luke drinks green milk from an erotically moaning tit monster”

Remove not the ancient landmark… (Empire Must Fall) Narrative Warfare:The Last Jedi – Cultural Hijacking In Action — “Anciently, when a conqueror completes a conquest one of the things done do cement control and establish dominance is to change the mythology of the conquered nation. Their heroes get degraded, their deeds defiled, and the conqueror’s heroes supercede them in all ways- often with ease. To the generation surviving the conquest, this is insult added to injury, but left unchecked the generations that follow will accept this degenerate mythology as normal- and if the conqueror is wise, they leave an out for the subjects to go all the way and buy into their control. It’s the mythological equivalent of killing a man, taking his wife for oneself, and slaughtering his children by her before seeding your own to both remove loose ends and make her accept the conquest as inescapable.”

Unparalleled Hate (Rawle Nyanzi) A Tale of Two Reactions — “Consider this your evidence: if you portray whites in a good light, with functional families, healthy love lives, and caring families, SJWs consider the film racist and hateful. This is all it takes. The SJWs loved the recent Star Wars because it trashed the heroes of the original trilogy and reversed all of their accomplishments as rebel leaders — after all, Luke and Leia were white and thus inherently bad. Just like with the Hallmark Christmas movies, the SJWs consider the originals — and their fans — to be some racist and sexist embarrassment that should be pushed aside.”

Drown the Cat! (Of Wolves and Men) STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI AND WHY THE POD PEOPLE LOVED IT — “Your blue-pilled, Rick and Morty loving, coworker in the next cubicle is technically correct. Star Wars: The Last Jedi actually did something completely different. A HOLLYWOOD MOVIE DIRECTLY SHAT UPON THE JOSEPH CAMPBELL MONOMYTH. And when someone who watches a lot of movies (most of which have the same plot timing) they immediately notice that something is new and different even if they can’t quite put their finger on it. Of course attacking the monomyth is simply a prerequisite to shitting on and destroying the entire rest of the Star Wars mythos but that’s another topic entirely.”

The Ideological Conquest of Science Fiction Literature (Kairos) Neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire — “The Hard Buds of SF revel in the narrative that science fiction was the nichest of niche fandoms from its beginnings (by their reckoning) just before WWII until Star Wars came along and made sci-fi mainstream. They often rehash this story while wrinkling their noses at the unwashed masses that Star Wars brought into their intimate little club. But as Jeffro pointed out, the only Campbellian narrative that’s even more shopworn than the above declares that Star Wars is not science fiction at all, but dirty, elf-riddled fantasy. You can probably see what the Hard Buds missed in their haste to defend their ivory tower: either science fiction rode Star Wars’ coattails into the mainstream, or Star Wars isn’t science fiction, and therefore SF has never been anything more than a super niche fandom catering to a small clique of oddball hobbyists.”

The Peasants are Revolting (Vanity Fair) Just How Seriously Should We Take This Star Wars: The Last Jedi Backlash? — “Whether or not this claim is true (and there’s no way to verify it at the moment), that Facebook post reveals how easy it might be for a vocal minority to manipulate a metric such as this and create a false narrative. Yes, there is a ticked-off splinter of the Star Wars fandom angered by The Last Jedi. These MAGA–esque fanboys—the same that called Rey a ‘Mary Sue’ or lost their marbles over the 2016 all-female Ghostbusters reboot before it even hit theaters—have been spreading their overblown hatred all over social media. As you might imagine, those “fans”—who seem to take their cues from First Order supremacists Hux and Kylo rather than Resistance heroes Rey, Finn, and Poe—aren’t very comfortable with the film’s more progressive messages. Their hysteria-tinged reactions are best ignored.”

Don’t Read Anything After 1940 (Kairos) A Simple List — “The insidious attitude that not only are there no heroes; there’s no such thing as heroism is rampant in American pop culture. The point of fiction is escapism. If you won’t give the reader something to dream about and aspire to, GTFO.”

Words Have Meaning (Burroughs Bibliophiles) Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Development of Science Fiction — “Some hard-core fans of science fiction might deny that Burroughs’ adventure oriented stories had much to do with the development of the genre. One must admit, after all, that the science in Burroughs’ books is nearly always subordinate to the adventure itself. However, I do not balk at including Burroughs as one of the founding fathers. I’m fairly catholic in my attitude toward science fiction. If it takes place on another planet or is set in the future or has some interesting and scientific element in it, and especially if it’s called ‘science fiction,’ I accept it as science fiction. There’s good science fiction and bad, but I don’t exclude stories mostly on the basis of theme.”

Something Happened (Salon) What to say to your kids after “The Last Jedi” — “How is diversity — and the lack thereof — used to indicate the values of the opposing sides of the conflict in the Star Wars series? Why is it notable that the First Order has very little diversity, while the Republic has a lot of it? Did you notice the strong female characters in the movie? How has the world of Star Wars changed in this respect since the original trilogy (or even the prequels)?”

That’s the Ticket (Independent) Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been killed off by PC culture. No really, people actually think that — “Bad enough that it has a prominent black character in it, and the fact that The Last Jedi basically belongs to Rey, a woman. But now there’s a new cast member who’s a Vietnamese-American (Kelly Marie Tran who plays Rose Tico) too. Enough already! What happened to the good old days when it was about white blokes, the token woman donned a bikini to give us all a thrill and the token black guy didn’t appear until the second movie and knew his place by remaining in a minor role?”

When the Mystery Box Turns Out To Be Empty (Forbes) How ‘The Force Awakens’ Set Up ‘The Last Jedi’ For Disappointment — “Not all of the flaws in The Last Jedi can be written off as the fault of J.J. Abrams, but paving a glittering road to nowhere certainly didn’t help. And some of Johnson’s decisions were, admittedly, fairly creative. Luke Skywalker’s story, or at least aspects of it, made a lot of sense to me (others may strongly disagree). Rey’s reveal was clever, as it destroyed the hereditary nature of the Force, democratizing it for the future, so Disney can build a post-Skywalker universe.”

Were Intellectuals Always this Stupid? (Wired) ‘The Last Jedi’ Is the Most Intellectual ‘Star Wars’ Movie — “It has the most moral complexity of any of the movies, it has the most surprises of any of the movies, and is the most intellectual and self-aware, and gives you the most to think about afterward.”

#RazörWasRight (The Dark Herald) Star Wars Falls — “The third of the new Star Wars movies is performing as badly as a DC Comics movie. This is the beginning of the end for Kathleen Kennedy because I am now becoming positive that Solo: A Star Wars Film by Star Wars is going to be the first of the actual money losers.”

The Last Tomato (Forbes) Gargantuan $151M 2nd-Weekend Plunge For ‘The Last Jedi’ Is An Epic Hollywood Choke — “Countless former die-hard fans have publicly sworn off seeing any future Star Wars installments. And as the 52 percent (and still declining) Rotten Tomatoes audience rating has indicated, the general audience has responded by telling Disney and the filmmakers, ‘You have failed me for the last time.'”

Just Do What the Purple Haired Lady Says (The Verge) In The Last Jedi, being a space cowboy doesn’t fly anymore — “Responsibility is a core theme in the film, which we also see in Luke Skywalker’s arc and his admission to Rey about why Ben Solo turned to the dark side. It’s a big change for a franchise that has always been more interested in the hotshot antics of the ‘galaxy’s best pilot’ than the practical results of taking those sorts of absurd risks. It subverts Star Wars norm of rewarding impulsive decisions with accolades, and paves the way for a richer narrative that acknowledges the fact that sometimes, good guys can inadvertently do bad things with lasting consequences.”

Some of Them Want to Be Abused (Entertainment Weekly) The Last Jedi: A Force push against the backlash — “Overall, I was deeply moved by what Johnson did with Luke in this film. I haven’t been around nearly as long as Yoda’s 900 years, but in my own time I’ve picked up two pieces of wisdom: It’s easy to go wrong while trying to do the right thing — and the good guys don’t always win, but sometimes it’s enough to just keep being good. It’s a nice fantasy to imagine that once you grow up, once you become strong, you stay that way. But I appreciated that Johnson took our mutual childhood hero and made him an adult one, someone who traverses the line between right and wrong and wonders if he can still see it clearly.”

Blue Checkmark Dawn (Washington Post) How to help fix our terrible discussions of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ — “Regardless, something needs to be done if Rotten Tomatoes and the rest of these sites want us to take user ratings seriously. Otherwise, potential customers and cultural commentators alike will have little choice but to disregard customer scores such as the one given to ‘The Last Jedi.'”

What Canst Thou Say? (NPR) Latest ‘Star Wars’ Teaches The Value Of Failure — “Skywalker is a tortured soul, racked by remorse and a paralyzing sense of failure. He blames himself for failing to rescue Kylo Ren from the dark side. Yoda, always the mentor, senses all this: ‘The greatest teacher, failure is.’ To Skywalker’s astonishment, Yoda goes on to destroy all the sacred places in the island, including a holy tree and the sacred books of the Jedi, mocking Skywalker. (Or maybe Rey saved the books?) The Force is to be felt, not theorized about. You carry it inside, not in books or holy places. It is the energy in all things, alive and not, the pulse of existence. To know it you must experience it, not read about it.”

Not Nearly Woke Enough! (The Weekend Australian) It’s still a white, male dominated galaxy — “In reality, Disney reinforces male hegemony under the cloak of gender equality. Rey reverently caresses the sacred and ancient Jedi texts, oblivious of its misogynist tenets. They seemingly eschew anger, aggression and fear, holding that these are the pathway to the Dark Side. Instead the Jedi lauded stoicism, self-control, objective truths, and logic, but they are a ruse designed to control women. As feminist scholars have demonstrated, logic and objectivity are patriarchal constructs. How naive was The Guardian in declaring feminism and inclusivity were consistent with the ‘Jedi spirit’? As we now know, subjective experience, the display of emotion, and the acknowledgment of multiple truths are the gateway to knowledge. Rey does not recognise this, but foolishly acquiesces in the Jedi’s oppressive ideology.”

Most Marxist Star Wars EVAH (The Guardian) Anti-empire, pro-activist … The Last Jedi is as left wing as Jeremy Corbyn — “There’s a delicious irony to the fact that director Rian Johnson, funded by corporate behemoth Disney, has used this most capitalistic, money-grabbing of platforms to plant the seeds of anti-fascist, anti-capitalist egalitarianism in the minds of the world’s young. It’s not a subtle message, either. There’s a whole sequence set in an intergalactic casino where the only thing of any import we learn is about the evils of unfettered capitalism – only the wicked get rich, and it’s by selling arms to both sides.”

And You Should Feel Bad (Cinema Blend) One Line Carrie Fisher Obviously Wrote In Star Wars: The Last Jedi — “Another significant moment that Fisher wrote was her final scene with Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo. Holdo is staying behind on The Resistance’s main ship to cover their escape plan from The First Order. The two women begin to say ‘May the Force be with you’ at the same time, and Leia says (brilliantly), ‘You go, I’ve said it enough.’ It’s another example of classic Fisher, who definitely said it enough in her lifetime, and it takes on a bit of a sad feeling under a meta context.”

No Payoff (Forbes) Fandom Menace: Why You’re Still OK If You Dislike ‘The Last Jedi’ (And Why It Matters To Disney) — “Rian Johnson, in his script and his direction, constantly pulled the rug out from under the audience, setting up expectations through what he showed and told the audience on screen, and then revealing that everything you’d just seen was a lie the movie told you so that it could then ‘wow’ you with a dishonestly manufactured surprise. Luke’s bitter antipathy toward the rebellion; Kylo Ren’s on again, off again ‘good’ side; Luke’s being pummeled by megatons of artillery; the cave that had no possible exit until it suddenly did; Yoda torching the Jedi library, except not really. And on and on and on. All cheap parlor tricks, shameless and aggressive duping of the audience that breaks the cardinal rule of storytelling: don’t treat the audience like ignorant patsies.”

MicroGames (The Daily Illuminator) The Fantasy Trip Returns Home — “At the beginning of my career, long before GURPS, I created a roleplaying game called The Fantasy Trip. For decades, the rights have been held by Metagaming, a publisher which is no longer in operation. I’m very pleased to announce that I have regained the eight TFT releases that I wrote myself: Melee, Wizard, Death Test, Death Test 2, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, In the Labyrinth, and Tollenkar’s Lair.”

The Hard Buds of SF (The Verge) That bizarre milk scene from The Last Jedi has a basis in dairy science — “There’s a strange scene in The Last Jedi as Rey is following Luke Skywalker around his hermitage on the planet Ahch-To. Luke has apparently gotten into the habit of milking the planet’s local creatures — the remarkably relaxed thala-sirens that spend their time reclining against the rocks. He walks up to one of the creatures and squeezes green milk from its prominent udders. Then he drinks it, soaking his beard with the stuff.”

Anime (Castalia House) More Proof Hollywood Spits at Heroism And Adventure: Castlevania — “It begins with Lisa, a peasant girl trying to learn about medicine, waltzing straight into Dracula’s castle. When Dracula threatens her, she shows zero fear, and dresses down Dracula for not showing proper courtesy to a guest. Dracula is taken aback and proceeds to do everything she tells him to, like a properly repentant boy. Yep. Three minutes in, and the main, terrifying villain, lord of demons and monsters, has been emasculated and is being ordered around by an ordinary country girl. In exchange for this feminist bullshit, the mighty Dracula is robbed of all menace and mystery, vital characteristics of a villain.”

Gaming (Jon Mollison) Magic: The Smattering — “The CCG can die in a cold fire so far as I’m concerned. I’ve never forgiven it for stealing the limelight of tabletop gaming away from RPGs in the early 1990s. Which means that I’ve been following the Convergence of Magic: The Gathering with a morbidity similar to that which I feel watching Marvel Comics choke on their adherence to the Narrative.”

#PulpFail (Hunting Muses) SW8: the Last Jedi (SPOILER FREE) — “In this new film? 4 creatures are seen (I’m not counting the fish Luke kills to eat). The Porgs, land whales used for milking, giant horse-dogs, and crystal wolves. NONE of them threaten our heroes in any way, rather they are all friends and allies who want to help – domesticated. Once upon a time, Star Wars took place in a dangerous galaxy, one where our heroes (and villains) had to contend with threats beyond those of the empire. Now? Now the galaxy is safe. There is no danger to anyone except from evil people.”

State of the Art (The Nerdist) HOW THE LAST JEDI’S GROSS MILKING SCENE CAME TO BE — “Scanlan said that allowed two puppeteers to get inside the creature—one in the front and one above him. ‘One would operate the shoulders and the flippers at the top and the other person would operate the belly and the milking mechanism or the udder mechanism at the bottom.'”

There’s a message here! (Hunting  Muses) SW8: The Last Jedi (SPOILER review) — “Anakin saw himself destroying what he fought for. Luke saw himself becoming the very thing he fought. Rey… just sees herself. Infinite selves. Nothing else. She doesn’t see a dark Rey conquering the galaxy or standing beside Kylo Ren. Either Rey is so pure there is no darkness in her, or so dark there is no where left for her to fall. While she gets some decent enough action sequences, by movie’s end she’s made no real advancement as a character save for accepting that her parents were nobodies and all her friends are her true family – like pretty much every. other. film. from the last decade.”

Deep truths that most people won’t notice until the fifth viewing. Really makes you think! (Bitter Gertrude) THE LAST JEDI IS SUBVERSIVE AF, AND I AM HERE FOR IT — “When she falls for Finn, it’s not the usual trope of Hero Wins Sexy Woman, and was therefore criticized for being ‘shoehorned in.’ Rose wasn’t wearing a low-cut top; we never saw Finn ogling her; we never saw the camera linger over her ass. We were never given the signals ‘SEE HER AS A SEX OBJECT,’ so her love for Finn is ‘shoehorned in.’ But this is the stirrings of the new society. Any idiot can ogle a woman’s ass, but the man who automatically respects a woman’s expertise is well worth falling for.”

I’m Okay, You’re Okay (Polygon) Star Wars: The Last Jedi finally proves that the Jedi suck — “So what is the point of having a light and dark side if the Force is a part of all things? Why have a Jedi Order and a Sith if both can live together without any morality or arbitrary rules tearing them apart? Yoda understands this, which is why he tells Luke that it’s okay to be imperfect, to have some dark side tendencies.”

Traveller (Castalia House) REVIEW: Fate of the Kinunir by Robert E. Vardeman — “There just aren’t any advanced artificial intelligence systems in the game. Indeed, the original rules indicate that the computers on starships tend to be ungainly mainframes that have a set number of 8-track type program tapes that are constantly being switched out depending on the circumstances. And sure, most people ignore this obscure and dated aspect of the game. And yes, Signal GK did introduce sentient computer chip based life forms to the game. But even then, the advantages and abilities they conveyed when installed in a ship’s computer system were extremely modest.”

Traveller (Castalia House) REVIEW: Shadow of the Storm by Martin J. Dougherty — “The translation of The Lord of the Rings to the big screen is a prime example of what I mean. Oh sure, the director could handle a straight ahead rite of passage arc well enough: something like a young hobbit taking off for an adventure he isn’t quite ready for, but who then somehow finds his courage, defeats a foe, and returns home as a hero. The figure of Aragorn, however, is completely unfathomable to him. It’s as if the only way he could think of to portray him was to translate him into a carbon copy of Pippin. This of course reduces the travel worn, wordly-wise leader of men to a laughably adolescent level. It’s so bad, he even has to get a ‘step up’ sermon from his father-in-law-to-be before he could ‘find himself’ and choose to get on with what needed doing.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The Dying Earth by Jack Vance — “I rather liked this review, except for the part where it was called a review. The word review signifies a general outline of the stories, the genre and sketches of the plots, impressions the reviewer was left with by the stories, what he liked about them, and what he didn’t. This would be done primarily for the aide of readers who might want to read a series, but want to avoid sinking their time into reading something they’ll end up not enjoying. They turn to reviews to give them the gist of stories, to help them decide which ones to try, and which ones to avoid. In that regard, this ‘review’ fails remarkably (which, incidentally, is why I am remarking on it).”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson — “You know, I can’t help but feel like some of the strangeness of the scenarios in early D&D come from the conflict between the Tolkienian paradigm and what you’ve described in this book. The Caves of Chaos as a threat to the Borderlands makes sense if its inhabitants are aligned with chaos as creatures of Fey encroaching on the lands of good christian men. But if they are simply other races, representing no threat other than what a slightly less advanced culture on the borders of a more advanced culture tend to represent, the moral and existential threat is significantly negated.”

Traveller (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubb — “E. C. Tubb’s work played a key role in getting the Traveller role playing game off the ground, but like scaffolding that aids in the construction of a monument, it was no longer integral to the structure after the initial design work was completed. As is often the case with such games, the more offbeat and incomprehensible elements were quietly passed over and deemphasized over time. And yet a hard edge of the Dumarest series remains: fragments of a pulpy, uncaring universe populated with the desperate and the sadistic. Whenever players blow through a dozen worlds in half as many game sessions or get into trouble as a side effect to their living hand-to-mouth, they walk in the footsteps of the grandfather of all travelers: Earl Dumarest. It’s a great contrast to the squeaky clean future presented in Star Trek where people don’t even need money anymore. The problems in Traveller and Firefly always center on the human element and you can’t just ‘reverse the polarity’ and walk away from them. This aspect of the material is key to the enduring appeal of both.”

Traveller (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: Derai by E. C. Tubb — “Whoever published this knew what they were doing. At a hundred and fifty-three pages, it does not represent a terribly serious investment, but really… any science fiction novel with a sword wielding woman in unreasonable armor on the cover is worth a shot. Sure, the plot is formulaic, following much the same structure as a television mystery. And admittedly, the setting is almost painfully derivative of Dune which had come out three years beforehand. But the lead character cuts so compelling a figure that it really is no surprise to me that this series would continue on for a whopping thirty-three books in total.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson —  “There are few things more tedious than seeing 20th century perspectives inserted into quasi-11th century historical settings. It’s ignorant, incoherent, deceptive, often propagandistic, and intrinsically offensive to anyone with even a modicum of respect for history.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance — “These articles are mind-bogglingly great, by the way. I’m definitely checking on this blog every day.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs — “Y’know, I think that one of the many problems with our culture today is that the ‘Adventures For Boys’ genre/style of fiction is either dead or dormant. Unless you count the Harry Potter books, there really hasn’t been anything going on in this field of writing in my lifetime.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny — “Jack of Shadows is not a novel about a moral philosophy to drive your life by. It is about freedom of choice, the context it sits in and uncertainty. Morningstar is an ambiguous figure who may be a devil or an angel, and as Jack falls at the end, it’s impossible to say if he his actions have been for good or ill. If Zelazny had him die or survive, this would have told the reader not only what the answer was, but that such an answer was expectable. Keeping it uncertain is the point.”

Giants of the Imagination

If you take some time to read what the early rpg designers had read, you will see that they almost compulsively lifted material from pulp and new wave writers. The most surprising thing about this is the extent to which they passed over the grand masters of Campbellian science fiction. The authors that are synonymous with the field seemed to hold not one iota of attraction or influence to them. Mike Mearls thinks almost entirely in terms of television and movies. These things had a negligible impact on the first wave of rpg designers. For them it was short stories and novellas and short novels from dozens of authors that were primary. There was no “big three” for them: they read everything they could get their hands on.

Looking for Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke in your seventies rpgs…? You’re just not going to find them– not, at least, in the games that got a lot of play. Those guys might be synonymous with science fiction today, but they had very little impact on what actually drove peoples’ imaginations then. Compared to guys like Jack Vance, E. C. Tubb, and Jerry Pournelle they were insignificant.

Read them for yourself and you’ll see: the authors that inspired the rpg designers in the seventies don’t just provide an unparalleled entertainment value. They are also a perfect fit for tabletop gaming and will change the way they you view both science fiction and science fiction gaming.

For more on this, see my posts over at the Castalia House blog:

And as always, please support my researches in to rpg and sff history by purchasing your paperbacks through the Amazon links on the book images you see here.

Old School and New School: Where Do You Draw The Line?

Okay, several comments have come in more or less on the same theme here.

Over at Dark Heritage, we have this nugget:

But this is nothing. The other day Jeffro made the argument that the Thief class was the end of old school—and in old school discussions, that’s hardly a unique position. While one can say that the way the Thief class was implemented may have had an unintended cascading effect that changed the tone of the game over time, that’s not really the issue. The Thief class was being extensively used (pre-publication) at the very first Gencon that post-dated the publication of D&D—mere months after it was published. Greyhawk, the supplement that included the thief officially, was in print a mere year after the first printing of D&D. To suggest or even imply that the only old school game predates the thief, as can reasonably be inferred from both Jeffro and Maliszewski’s posts (and many of the comments that follow) means that old school becomes a vanishingly small window of gaming, and begs the question; why not suggest that the publication of D&D in the first place was the end of old school! Gygax and Arneson really sold out when they printed the game up, man!

jddyalblog comments here saying that my whole “looking for it in the weeds” approach in this series of asking “is this very particular rule old school or not is probably a hopelessly quixotic endeavor.”

And over on Twitter, Lewis Pulsipher has this:

Finally, more than one person has struggled with the fact that “old school” means different things in different contexts. People which chips on their shoulders want to find a counterexample that cause my generalizations to fall apart. People that want me to be their cult leader want me to tell them that how they are playing right now is legitimately “old school” and totally not “new school.” And then there’s the people that are getting really nasty. But never mind them.

Lets just clear all this up right now.

Gaiseric over at Dark Heritage completely misread me. In fact, I’m not sure he even read me at all here. If anyone is going to conflate my position on anything with James Maliszewski… well that’s quite the compliment to me, but I don’t think that’s fair to him.

So no, the introduction of the Thief class is not where I draw the line. The cutoff being between TSR D&D and Wizards of the Coast D&D is going to be good enough for most people most of the time, but I have quite a few problems with post-Gygax AD&D. So I’m going to be drawing the line a little further back than most people.

Personally, I think that thinking of Old School and New School only in terms of D&D is a mistake. So lets look at a couple of other examples.

In Traveller, the introduction of the “Official Traveller Universe” a.k.a. The Third Imperium setting is where I draw the line. The style of Traveller campaign I’m most interested in exemplified by what Ken Pick called the Burgess Shale Period of the game.

In Car Wars, the relegation of the role-playing elements of the game over into the GURPS Autoduel line would be where I draw the line. The style of Car Wars campaign I’m most interested in is the original Amateur Night campaign that is outlined in the original pocket box or zip-loc baggie edition.

Of course Traveller’s breaking apart of the class system into a more generic approach that models the various career abilities through skills would generally be considered “new school” if you were looking at those types of game mechanics in a D&D-only context. And the typical combat-heavy Car Wars adventure is often going to have a linear format that is very similar to the typical 4th edition D&D game. That type of adventure design sets the ardent old school D&D fan’s teeth on edge!

The common denominator here is that the implied campaign and the implied setting of many vintage role-playing games is at odds with how the games were ultimately supported over time. The cognitive dissonance this creates was certainly confusing to me back when I was trying to figure out why the third edition Gamma World rules I had as a teenager looked like they were for an entirely different type of game than the module series that ended up coming out for it. I always thought that there was a similar gulf between the first edition Forgotten Realms material and the game system they were intended to be used with.

Now… maybe you aren’t interested in this aspect of role-playing and/or the history of game design. Maybe you don’t want to pick up a vintage game and then try to run it more or less as it was originally intended. And yep, even back in the day, everyone knew how to do it all better than even the designers. Good on them!

I am not outlining a game design methodology, though. And the design movement that these sorts of explorations tipped off already got off the ground years ago. Still, I gotta say… if you want to conflate this kind of investigation with an act of physical violence– or worse– ISIS and/or the Taliban… then I don’t know what to tell you. I mean I really don’t get that stuff.

But yeah, I use the terms “old school” and “new school” a little differently than most people. I even use them a little differently than the people that affiliate themselves with the OSR. Still, I don’t think this is near as complicated as most people want to make this out to be.

Is Rules Bloat Integral to the Rpg Hobby?

One point that Lewis Pulsipher brought up recently deserves a little more comment:

We may be forgetting a most practical matter here, that is, “money talks”. RPGs are in a sense prisoners of capitalism. Simple RPGs, ones that are intended to stay simple, don’t make much money. People buy the simple rules, and there aren’t additional rule supplements. Complex RPGs keep providing income by increasing complexity. So we’re more or less “doomed” to commercial complexity in RPGs. Old/New School doesn’t come into it.

Lew is of course speaking from the perspective of the Industry Insider. Though I guess I have to clarify what I mean by that now as that is a term that no longer means what it used to mean. Lew is… well… I guess you could say that he is an old school Industry Insider. By that I mean that he’s created a top 100 classic board game, written countless articles for gaming magazines, has material that is incorporated into the “official” first edition AD&D rules, and so on. Nowadays the term “Industry Insider” can refer to indie tabletop publishers, indie LARP designers, event organizers, activists, critics, academics, and community managers. But that’s not what I mean at all when I talk about Lew’s frame of reference.

(I can almost hear Gandalf now…. “What a lot of things you do use old school for!” Indeed we do. It’s quite handy. If I say to my friends, “Lew Pulsipher is old school, y’all” that’s a pretty high accolade. It conveys a certain amount of verve and accomplishment. It implies that you’re talking about someone that made the grade back when standards were higher.)

Now… I come at this at a necessarily different perspective. In fact… you could quite reasonably say that I am an Industry Outsider. Like I’ve said before, my hobby is not about making sure that anyone stays in business. It is the difference between these two ways of looking at things that is the root cause of why Dr. Pulsipher and I end up butting heads when we dig into these sorts of topics. (That time we argued over what the definition of an rpg was is a good example of that.)

Now I don’t like disagreeing with Lew and I try not to do it unless I’m sure I think I know what I’m talking about. But in this case, I think “Old/New School” really does come into this. And rpgs is far from the only scene where this sort of thing plays out like this.

So here’s one more example for you:

UNIX is old school.

Microsoft is new school.

It’s very nearly the same sort of issues involved in that particular culture split as what we’re talking about here.