Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

New Schuyler Hernstrom Vignette: “Varal”

This might have gotten past you, but last week Scott Cole dropped a little Schuyler Hernstrom into his Wargame Wednesday post. Check it out!

Upon of throne of broken tombstones he sat brooding. Arrayed before him were his courtiers. They perched atop moss covered markers, wings folded against bodies covered with a layer of silken fur. Their red eyes looked here and there, while their ears twitched in the cool air, always listening.

He on the throne unfolded his wings and sat back. He pondered there, pointed chin rested on clawed hand. His own name came slow to his mind, always difficult to remember after waking….


His fanged mouth spoke the name aloud, softly. He was Varal. He was a duke of the realm. He had once lorded over other lands. But now he ruled a place of graves and damp earth. The silks and brocade that once clothed him were now reduced to rotted rags. How had this happened? He could not recall. When the memory seemed close the owl would hoot, the rat would skitter, the toad would croak, and the images would slip from his mind.

There had been a woman. A dark haired beauty, forbidden to him for reasons he could not recall. The ache of her absence had driven him to dark deeds. Again the memories fled his clouded mind. Shadows of the past whispered meaningless words. The place where poetry had once lived in his noble mind was filled with an overpowering hunger. It was his curse.

Night was as day. Death was as life.

A flap of wing and rush of air and he sat atop a noble’s tomb green with mold.

His slanted nostrils supped the air and his eyes glowed with feral joy.

A living thing walked at the edge of his realm.

His courtiers took flight as Valar stood to his full height, feeling the moonlight against his body, a cruel parody of man and animal. Graceful and strong, yet woeful to the eye.

The Duke of the Cemetery took flight on leathery wings, following the scent of warm blood.


The Dragon Awards are Teh Stupid

Well, that was fun while it lasted! Here is the latest scuttlebutt from the people behind the Dragon Awards:

Alison Littlewood, the author of The Hidden People, was nominated for a Dragon Award, which asks ordinary fans what they like to watch, read, and play. It’s a fan’s choice award, plain and simple. And it ought to be a good thing.

Though she clearly has a fan base of her own, Ms. Littlewood’s book was also included on a “slate” proposed by an individual/group she didn’t want to be associated with. She worried that she couldn’t trust the nomination was fairly won. And so, she asked if her book could be pulled from the ballot.

It put us in a jam. We have strong faith in the integrity of the Dragon Awards ballot because it was created by fans, the everyday people who actually read the books and nominate them. In seven categories for literature, there were 53 different novels that represented the broad spectrum of fandom and there was something for everybody. It made an excellent reading list for fans everywhere.

So we told her no.

And then, over the last couple of days, we got an earful from our fans and others. The issue also caused a second author to ask us to remove her book from the ballot as well. We’ve reconsidered and changed our mind. This is what’s happening next.

Anybody that has ever run a lot of old school D&D should immediately be able to see why this was a boneheaded move. Make a call like this in the heat of the game and all of a sudden you find out that the players have a reason why everything in the game could maybe be ruled differently. It’s way easier to just let the game be what it is and then leave it to the players to figure out how to deal with that.

But you do see the kicker there, don’t you? If you give this request your blessing, then you have basically agreed that Allison Littlewood was put on the ballot unfairly.

Gosh, if that’s the case… then maybe there are other people on the ballot that ought not to be there. Hell, you maybe even gave out awards last year to people that didn’t come by them honestly!

Seriously, did anyone running this thing give any thought to the implications of what they were doing here?

This is asinine.

Random Thoughts: Stingy With the Linkage, Pulp’s Non-Disappearance, and Google’s Monetization of Sex Differences

This came up again today, so let me point out what is happening with the difference between game blogging culture and “real writer” culture. Game bloggers are all amateurs that publish things on the side for fun. If they see something awesome, they throw a blog post up about it, talk about why it’s awesome, what their experience is, and then maybe add something to it… and that will often have a direct application to an rpg session. I call that “continuing the conversation.” Meanwhile in the “real writer” set, getting people to do that is like pulling teeth. They can certainly see the value of a Larry Correia book bomb action. I’d like to say that they don’t do anything unless it has a direct, noticeable impact on sales… but they are generally crap at marketing themselves, so it’s not just that. Now, there are exceptions to that… but the ones that come to mind have surprisingly popular blogs or podcasts. I’ve seen people blame this on age, but that’s not the only driving factor here.

Would you like to increase the quality and volume of discussion on a particular topic on the internet?

Well hey, I’ll tell you what to do. Find the people that are active in it, comment on their posts, follow them on social media, signal boost their stuff frequently, buy their stuff, and then leave reviews on their Amazon product pages. One person doing that can create a scene. Ten people doing that can create a movement.

Everything you read today is saturated with nihilism and hopelessness. There’s a reason for that. Garbage storytelling is engineered specifically de-moralize us, to make you feel like nothing you do matters. But I’ll tell you a secret: None of it is true. In fact the opposite is true. Everything you do matters. And a large number of small acts whose only purpose is to energize and raise the morale of people that you admire and that you want to see succeed?

That is a very potent force that should not be underestimated.

I recently pointed out that if you didn’t get to the point where you wanted to walk out of SF&F in the past 40 years… then you’re not normal. Because most people walked when it stopped serving its intended purpose.

Legendary game designer Lewis Pulsipher responded with this:

“Intended purpose”? Whose intention was that? The “good ol stuff” didn’t disappear, it was just much less noticeable even as some people kept writing it.

I have to beg to differ there.

Writers were driven out of the marketplace for ideological reasons. Walk into a Barnes & Noble and it just feels stale. It’s very easy to go in and out without seeing anything of interest. That’s a policy. A brief survey of contemporary film will yield a checklist of things that are simply not done anymore. That checklist “don’ts” is basically a list of requirements when you look at what was typical in the pre-1940s pulps. And the items on the list are what the audience of that incredibly competitive and wide-open marketplace showed up for. Shut them down and they walk. Fiction became post-Christian in the 40s. Publishing became saturated with women and leftists in the 80s. And in this century, it became just another component of the narrative machine.

People are sick to the back teeth with this stuff. It’s past time for a revolution.

A Julia Galef has written a short piece in response to the now-infamous Google Memo. She states that the claim that there are differences between the sexes “seems plausibly true. ” But “not obviously true.”

Now I see that she is going out of her way to be evenhanded and rational here. And yes, it’s quite a contrast to the hysterics of the blue haired androgynous types on Twitter. But think about what kind of deliberate brain damage it would take to make someone pretend that we just might get half a shred of a hint of a notion of what the truth on this is if only we could maybe get some really smart people to look into this and maybe publish a few studies on the topic.

Yes, there a genuine reason why men typically have more of an interest in computer programming than women. The same is true of auto mechanics, historical miniatures wargaming, and football. This is not rocket science. In fact, you have to deny the sum total of biology and observed reality in order to pretend like this is at all hard to articulate, comprehend, and/or demonstrate. The idea that the sexes are functionally interchangeable is ludicrous. It’s a point of dogma, not a scientifically provable claim. Yes, talking about this openly is against peoples’ religion, but that is not normal. Not in any culture that intends to perpetuate itself.

You know this is the case. Everyone behaves as if there are significant, demonstrable differences between the overall interests of the sexes every single day. Here’s just one example of a company who’s business depends on hard, repeatable facts on this area:

Who Created the Pulp Revolution?

Declan Finn claimed today that I “more or less created the Pulp Revolution with Appendix N.” And I tell you, my first impulse was to argue back a little. Of course, I didn’t chew Alex Kimball out when he called Appendix N the book that launched a movement. And yeah… when I was trying to get the introduction to the thing just right, I did go and have twelve people attempt to explain why it was that the book had done what it did.

But there are many significant actors involved here, all of whom worked together to make the Pulp Revolution happen:

  • There is Larry Correia, who not only ignored what his writing teachers told him… but who also pulled off one of the greatest pranks in science fiction history. He got a lot of people talking about something that wasn’t immediately obvious.
  • There is Edgar Rice Burroughs, who single-handedly set the tone for fantasy, science fiction, pulp, comic books, role-playing games, and Star Wars.
  • There is Gary Gygax, who created a time capsule that preserved that vision in the face of an industry and gatekeeping establishment that was hellbent on seeing it extinguished.
  • There are game bloggers like Ron Edwards, James Maliszewski, and Jeff Rients who brought this to the attention of fans of role-playing games.
  • There is John C. Wright, who never got the memo that Appendix N style fantasy was out of style.
  • There is Alex Kimball, who offered to pay semi-pro rates for people that wanted to bring back more of it to the short fiction scene.
  • There is Daddy Warpig, who observed that something was happening and called it what it was before anyone could grasp its significance.
  • There is Dan Wolfgang and QuQu, who reported on what was happening with first class coverage.

That’s quite a list!

But I tell you. As crazy and strange and hilarious as the story of how the Pulp Revolution came to be is, I’m happy to say that it pales in comparison to the works that are coming out under its banner. Novels like Jon Mollison’s Sudden Rescue. John C. Wright’s Swan Knight’s Son. And Ben Wheeler’s In the Seraglio of the Sheik of Mars. And while commentators like me have had a field day the past few years here, I have to say… at the end of the day it’s the authors that really create the Pulp Revolution. And I’m really glad that they do.

So many people had just walked away from science fiction and fantasy over the past few decades. So many people had thought that no one would write stories like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber did again. Even five years ago that was unimaginable. And now… against all odds, against all hope… there’s something for those people to come back to.

It’s awesome. It really is.

So kick back. Pop some popcorn. Queue up that audio book. Fire up the Kindle. And crack open that case bound omnibus. This party is just getting started!

The OSR’s Fourth Wave: Cirsova, Dungeon Grappling, and Appendix N!

Venger Satanis recently suggested that the OSR has a fourth wave and sketched out what he thought set it apart from the earlier phases within the scene:

4th wave OSR incorporates the spirit, tone, objectives, aesthetics, play-style, rules philosophy, mechanical principles, and hobbyist attitude from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s into RPG material that does it’s own thing.  Many consider these products neo-OSR, OSRish, OSR adjacent, or quasi-OSR because they’ve taken the next logical, evolutionary step away from original D&D, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, Gamma World, Ghostbusters, Toon, Vampire: the Masquerade, etc.

I think he’s right that this did in fact happen.

Dungeon Grappling is of course a fusion of the best ideas of the old school D&D scene mixed together with one of the most innovative designers to come out of the GURPS side of the hobby. Cirsova takes the “git it done”, “do it yourself” approach to ‘zines that fueled magazines like Fight On! and applies it to an effort to create a science fiction and fantasy magazine that is more in line with the sort of thing that inspired fantasy role-playing in the first place. My own Appendix N takes the sort of gaming commentary that typified the second wave of the OSR (and which was subsequently repudiated by third wavers), gives it a first class treatment, and then takes outside of the OSR scene and into an entirely new audience.

That’s just the stuff that I have on hand here, but there is of course more on the way. The Mixed GM’s Demons In Space fuses a popular video game franchise with a reskin of a very familiar game. And Autarch’s Heroic Fantasy & Barbarian Conquerors supplements promise to take some of the discoveries of the pulp revival and consciously apply them to one of the best retroclones on the market. (Adventure Conqueror King System, natch!)

The OSR didn’t simply declare victory and call it day when 5th edition back away from some of the more mind-splitting elements of 4th edition. A new wave of designers came along that took what the OSR had proven to work, returned to the roots of the hobby, and then went forward with their own way of doing things.

And it’s just getting started!