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Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games
Updated: 4 hours 19 min ago

Why Nobody Played CityTech

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 02:37

Okay, this is pretty simple.

It doesn’t matter if your a fast ‘mech or a slow ‘mech. If you are inside of a CityTech building-scape and you lose initiative, you get as much distance and as many buildings as possible between you and anyone that is liable to shoot at you.

So even fights that begin in good faith in a city will see the combatants leaving town fairly quickly in order to duke things out where there is a little more breathing room.

Jump capable ‘mechs could conceivably flee into the city if they cannot expect to stand toe to toe with their opponents outside of town. If the attackers lack mobility, then they will have to maybe enter the city from several directions… risking one-sided ambushes or being defeated piecemeal. Without some sort of scenario defined time limit or objective, the attacker will simply turn all the buildings into rubble.

CityTech does not include any scenario rules. Most people that manage to dip into this expansion at all will go back to playing vanilla BattleTech before they would have developed an engaging scenario with its new game elements.

So most people most of the time never bothered to do all that much with this set. Its prime feature is a game design puzzle– and not anything that readily makes BattleTech more fun.

It’s a turkey, y’all!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Battle Cry Isn’t Commands & Colors: Ancients

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:43

The more recent edition of Battle Cry tightens up the rules of the game by a fair amount compared to the original. I can’t say I care for the “big box of plastic” approach to the game, though. The block wargames look classy and consistently turn heads. The stickers on Battle Cry’s units will be falling apart on anyone’s game that sees any significant amount of play.

The game play is much more different from Commands & Colors: Ancients, which I have played a lot more of. In ancient warfare, generals lead from the front. In the civil war game, they… just don’t seem to do all that much. (Aside from a few odd cards, the only thing you can count on from them is their ability to ignore a retreat result. In a game where retreat results actually can help you!) Combine that with everyone having effective ranged attacks and nobody having an automatic “battle back” action, and yeah… this is a completely different game.

If you play this Civil War game in the same way as you would the the Ancients one… you will die ingloriously. Tournament grade play will feature units mostly hanging back in some kind of cover and taking mostly one die and two die pot shots at things. Charges tend to result in the slaughter of your own men, not anything remotely approaching glory.

It’s brutal.

There are only four unit types. There is less variety in the units. Formation and leadership have almost no impact on the tactics. And winning tactics are decidedly un-epic. Mostly… it just looks tacky.

If you only get one of these Richard Borg battle games… I have to recommend against your getting Battle Cry.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Mummy (1932) Is Awesome

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 12:52

If you haven’t seen the original Mummy film, you’re missing out.

  • It has a plot that could have come straight out of an A. Merritt story.
  • The opening vignette has a guy that goes insane Miskatonic University style.
  • Best of all, it features an actress that looks like she walked straight off of a Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover.

If you were thinking it would be about some dude in bandages wandering around killing people, you’ve got the wrong movie. The real thing embodies all of the elements that made the pulp masters of the twenties and thirties so appealing: Romance! Thrills! Wonder!

It’s epic. Recommended.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Brief Encounter with CityTech

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 02:48

It’s a harsh truth of gaming. Eighty percent of  gameplay from a particular line is going to be taken up with fraction of its supplements. With BattleTech, this means that most people are going to play just with the core set and the technical readouts. Practically speaking, CityTech and AeroTech are going to end up gathering dust alongside Truck Stop, Boat Wars, and the weirder Star Fleet Battles modules…!

So I count myself lucky to have gotten to play CityTech. But 100 ton ‘mechs are cool, so we played it with units that… well, that don’t really work well with the system.

Above you can see my opponent realizing that a ‘mech with lots of LRM’s is just not going to do well in this environment. Meanwhile, my ‘mech loaded with short range weapons had no way to take advantage of the initiative to place any reasonable shots at all.

The L3 building is extremely tall but can be turned to rubble with just three medium laser hits.

With slow assault ‘mechs without jump jets, it’s still a problem. Looks like a city battle just isn’t going to happen!

My opponent just can’t allow me to get in close, so he felt like he had to do everything he could to keep the distance up. Unfortunately for him, I could climb a hill to score a single large laser hit.

This shouldn’t been that great of a setback, but this is BattleTech. I rolled a 2 for hit location, scoring a critical on the center torso. This turned out to be an ammo explosion, ending the game rather earlier than expected.

Next: Probably something involving jump jets!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Assault ‘Mech Duel in the Crimson Desert

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 03:38

This game was nuts.

We took 100 ton ‘mechs because 100 ton ‘mechs are awesome. My opponent went with two PPCS, two large lasers, and plenty of heat sinks. I ran with two LRM-15’s, three large lasers, and one SRM-4.

I was able to leverage some sweet spots to get some easy hits with the missiles. My opponent wasn’t going to accept those odds forever, so he opted to close. He got lucky with a PPC shot that hit my head early on and I went through the game expecting him two roll those box cars on the location roll one more time.

The game was brutal, though. Whoever got initiative had to think carefully about what range to select. Even without us going into the sinkholes on the map and no water or tree hexes, position really counted for a lot. When I’d wore down my opponent’s right leg, I went in close and kicked it in order to open the way to victory. When I ended up with a similar Achilles heel, I backed off.

We both ended up with damaged leg actuators and destroyed heat sinks. An engine hit early in the game really cramped my style– and a gyro hit at the end could well have been the end of me. But then I scored two large laser hits in my last chance for a win. One took out my opponent’s right leg. The other hit his head. Adjudicating the fall, he went backwards… onto his head.

It was an epic victory in a game session that had kept us in suspense for a solid couple of hours. Though I took some fall damage that turn two due to my banged up gyro. Nevertheless, I was able to limp off the battlefield….

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the weird pen drawings on the map…. We picked these map sheets up as a surprise bonus with our 1986 AeroTech. The flip side has somebody’s hombrew work on them. Whoever they were, they were really into this. Though they didn’t do much with their CityTech set: the ‘mech counters had been punched, but never played with! Our game tonight was the first time these Rifleman and Archer figures ever saw the table…!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Real Life Travellers

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 04:16

I flew across the country today and experienced three random encounters:

  • Saw an older lady on the bus with this almost zen-like look of beaming contentment. I broke in remarking on how beautiful a day it was. (It was dark and rainy, natch.) This developed into a wide-ranging conversation covering what we especially liked about each of the Northwest, Alaska, and the South. We consoled each over on having to do without coleslaw and butterbeans. When she mentioned she was from Texas, I remarked that only people from the South really grasp how to have a talk. When we changed buses, I went out of my way to mention to her how much I’d enjoyed meeting her. (To not do so would have been tacky, of course.)
  • Guy next to me on the plane turns out to be a Microsoft developer. He tried to feel me out on how much I might despise the company when I said positive things about particular open source tools. I misread this, thinking he wouldn’t care for any flak on this point. But when I later mentioned which Microsoft products I currently get paid to use… he went cold on me. It’s like I suddenly became persona non grata to him. Later I noticed he was a musician and we had a fair discussion about jazz and so forth, but he never made eye contact or even any sort of facial expression. There is evidently a fair scene for that sort of thing in Seattle, but I could never get the emotional energy up to go check it out. The preponderance of people of his sort in the area would defeat the purpose of going out in the first place.
  • Getting closer to my old stomping grounds, I expected my luck to change. It didn’t. A thirty-something woman sits next to me and I give out the minimal amount of pleasantries, but she turns out to be a scientist. A physicist delving into materials science. She really wants to talk about that, so I ask her a few questions. At some point I remark that it really is unfortunate how physics turned out during the twentieth century. “The more strange and counter-intuitive results would seem to undercut the very philosophy and mindset that gave rise to science in the first place,” I said. “Honestly, the entire enterprise has been all downhill ever since Newton.” She looks back at me and says, “you mean you prefer science when it was white and male.” Needless to say, this was the worst repartee I’ve ever witnessed in my life. All you can really say in response to something like that is, “well I nevah!”

One thing I will say about such pronounced regional and cultural differences is that we really have not been well served by filtering the bulk of our culture through two or three urban centers. American science fiction and fantasy from before 1940 has a much greater range of tone, style, accent, and feel because of its greater amount of regional diversity. And the people that created it had much more in common with the sort of people I enjoy spending time with.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

So Say We All

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 04:29

First off, don’t teach your kids to play D&D.

But if you do… at least teach them to play correctly. And I mean every jot and tittle: d4 thieves, 3d6 in order, clerics with no spells at first level, player characters with a single hit point, magic-users with a single spell, elves that never make it to second level, morale checks, monster reactions, henchmen and hirelings. ALL OF IT! As Moldvay intended.

Demented genius E. Reagan Wright follows up his bombshell post with a tour de force of correct gamethink:

There are plenty of reasons to teach your kid D&D.  The table is a place where you can teach them about risk and reward.  You can let them roam freely in the game world in a way you can’t at a D&D convention (without fear of some creeper making passes at them).  You can even sprinkle a little cultural roots into their life by using folklore tales like Baba Yaga or Little People or Firbolgs or Odin into the game.  Logistical planning, knowing when to fight and when to run, learning how to save your GP for plate mail, all of these are skills that will serve them in good stead later in life.

But you can’t impart these valuable life lessons if you play D&D the way Kevin Makice suggests.  Play an OSR game, and play it straight, and you won’t have to fear your kids growing up to waste their life writing free D&D articles or joining some death cult like Antifa.  Metaphorically speaking, that vapid teen girl Mike Mearls will always be out there checking texts on quiet suburban roads, but at least your kids will have some thin veneer of protection between their mushy little heads and the hot, steamy blacktop.

That’s the way I roll, and my wives’ boyfriends’ kids are turning out pretty good.


I am reliably informed that 2018 is going to be just plain lit.

But this is only the beginning!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Truth about Nolan Bushnell and Atari

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 04:26

This is a must watch video about the latest travesty perpetuated by (wait for it…) games journalists.

Remarkable how short a time it took to go from the repudiation of the Antebellum South to basically the unpersoning of practically everyone that was an adult during the seventies. It’s impressive, and a natural corollary to the “don’t read anything before 1980” mentality that dates back to… oh… at least to 1974.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Kirkus Review on “Tharn, Dawn Warrior”

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 14:22

Via Spencer Hart, we have a rare look into how the fine folks at Kirkus Review react to classic red-blooded, all-American adventure fiction:

This is typical pulp magazine stuff in book form. It is a story of Cro-Magnon man, packed with violence, suspense, brutality, horror and incredible speed. It certainly keeps you reading. But plot, dialogue and characters show amazing disregard for even the little knowledge we have of prehistoric life. The author thinks nothing of introducing a sent of Roman palace and social life into the midst of this prehistoric jungle, or a twentieth century love motif like “”He could not help but compare that fine, healthy well-rounded figure with the pallid, artificial women of his acquaintance!”” But the major outrage of the book — and it is outrageous — is the positively lustful “”love interest””. If this is a book intended for young people, and the jacket suggests it is, then the numerous “”hot”” passages are utterly unsuitable. That is putting it mildly. This is certainly something new in juvenile writing and highly offensive. The author evidently thinks he is creating another Tarsan series, for he ends with a promise of more to come. I devoutly hope someone will stop him before an outraged public opinion steps in to bar the sale of such a book for the young.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Dumbest Generation

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 14:41

Watching the excitement surrounding Jordan Peterson’s common sense advice, I wonder sometimes how we could have gotten to this point.

Part of the answer to that is buried in the science fiction and fantasy paperbacks that were released in the sixties and seventies. But it’s also in the deep tracks that came out during the same period.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

White Feminist’s Burden

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 17:28

The indefatigable Jane Sand returns to contend with me over the literary merits of Ursula Le Guin’s Playboy appearance:

The character Alvaro is not just mentioned as dark-skinned and no other significant individual trait. He uses both his patrilineal and matrilineal family names to introduce himself, which shows the discerning reader that that old Spanish custom still exists in the far off future. He is bilingual, speaking English and ‘Argentinean,’ defined in the story as a future descendant of Spanish. Most importantly, his friend, Owen Pugh, the Welsh commander of the mission, has learned that language and speaks it with him at times for reasons of friendship, and later to speak confidentially to him without danger of eavesdropping from the third main character. This tells POC readers that not only is their darker skin acceptable in the future, their cultural differences are also appreciated and useful. This may not seem like much to you, but to POCs who have been discriminated against for those traits in the present, seeing people like themselves represented as equals in the far-off future by this author can mean a hell of a lot, especially seeing so few similar characters in the SF of the time.

Spoken like a person that has no experience whatsoever with non-white people in the real world. I mean it sounds all tender and sweet in theory, sure. But people tend not to be flattered when their bosses adopt the vernacular of their subordinates. Heck, people have to be so careful working with people from different cultures that corporate diversity training of today instructs people to not even ask other people where they are from.

Ursula Le Guin could be forgiven for not knowing anything about this. She hails from not just a time when America was much whiter. But she also comes from a region of that country that is notoriously white to this day. Truly, Portland is ground zero of Stuff White People Like. But her science fictional “It’s a Small World” moment is not near as effective when it’s placed side by side with her hatred for not just the millions of Irish people, but the billion Roman Catholics in the world.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Le Guin is one visionary that could stand to expand her horizons just a touch.

Meanwhile, Alexandru Constantin of Barbarian Book Club puts in his two cents on all this:

That has always been my question when seeing a bunch of middle-class white chubbsters patting each other’s backs over diversity. Who the [heck] are you writing for? Do you know any “diverse” people?

As a Romanian born immigrant, I don’t want or need somebody else to tell my story, my peoples story, or anything. I would be pissed if anybody turns my life experience into a fantasy tale.

Sort of like how China is not going to be one whit more interested in Star Wars just because some white feminist in America does them favor of incorporating a southeast Asian woman as protagonist. Kathleen Kennedy is nobody to them. Yet she acts like she’s some sort of plantation grandee doling out favors to the poor and benighted. Which is ridiculous when everyone from Bollywood to Hong Kong has their own means of culture production.

Normal people care nothing about this diversity stuff. What do they care about? Stuff that Ursula Le Guin despises and repudiates. Not the least of which would be heroism.

Watch the video below and see for yourself. People of all races, backgrounds, shapes, and sizes are outraged when the sort of “politics” Ursula Le Guin advocated for turns up in their epic fantasy. Really, it doesn’t matter if you do something “nice” for a supposedly helpless brown person if you’re simultaneously taking a great big dump on what it means to be human.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Appendix N Still Matters

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 04:32

Over at the premier fantasy blog of the internet, fellow pulp fantasy junkie and all around cool cat Fletcher Vredenburgh has made Appendix N a significant element of his manifesto:

I hadn’t really thought about Appendix N until James Maleszewski started blogging about it at his old and much-missed site, Grognardia. While he wasn’t a newcomer to the books on Gygax’s list, a lot of the people commenting were, and it was fun to read new takes on old works. They were totally sold on books which had either created the tropes that have come to dominate mass-market fantasy, or that were defiantly original, yet with roots proudly tracing back to the pulp tradition. It was the first intimation that so many of the books I grew up with were finding a new audience.

Later, Jeffro Johnson at Castalia House began a long series of posts examining the books and authors of Appendix N. The pieces were all collected and released as Appendix N: A Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a strongly opinioned and valuable take on a varied and idiosyncratic assortment of books. His commenters’ excitement over discovering a whole wealth of new-to-them fantasy writing definitely warmed this critic’s heart.

I’m not sure if Fletcher knows just how gracious he’s being here. For anyone that’s spent any amount of effort attempting to explain vintage role-playing games on a blog, being compared to James Maliszewski is about as good as it gets.

As to the books of Appendix N, according to Fletcher they are not just “a quirky list of fantasy and sci-fi books that inspired Gary Gygax”, but are also “worth reading because they are among the very best the genre has to offer.” He remarks on the contrast between how these books seemed to lapse into obscurity… but the people exposed to them today just can’t get over how good they are.

What’s up with that?

Well, Black Gate is far too reputable of a site to delve into to that particular question, but recent events make this far, far easier for people to wrap their heads around. Comics were infiltrated, subverted, and pushed to the very edge of destruction over the past decade or so. And Star Wars has been turned upside down and inside out very quickly just in the past few years by the same sort of people.

These are the same sort of people became responsible for both universities and journalism at some point. They wage a nonstop war on not just the past, but also anyone that dares to spoil their narrative. The ideological diversity and the freedom of expression that was taken for granted in the states before 1980 is offensive to them. But it goes further than that. These people use their influence to rewrite the literary canon however they please, reading people out for purely political reasons while inducting others for their utility in forwarding the aims of their cultural revolution.

And this stuff works, too. Accusing A. Merritt of having a Madonna-Whore complex, talking about how Lovecraft used the “N” word, and calling Robert E. Howard a mamma’s boy doesn’t do a whole lot to expand the reader base for their stories. And for anyone paying attention, there is a not-so-subtle cue in all that that you need to perform public self-flagellation rituals if your’re going to admit to liking such authors in mixed company.

It’s humiliating to even think about. Most people most of the time are going to steer clear of such unpleasantness.

But I see it happen all the time: people hear about these books, go read them for themselves, and then they are just plain blown away by them. It’s not just that they have been betrayed by the broader commentariat that they unconsciously depend on to keep them informed of such things. It’s that there are things packed into these stories that have very nearly been wiped out of the broader culture. And there’s something there that people desperately crave even though they can’t really imagine what could be there in the first place.

Wonder. Thrills. Romance. Heroism. Virtue.

We are hard wired for this. And we will have it.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Mythology for No One and a Future for Anybody But You

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 02:39

Ursula Le Guin didn’t want to hurt anyone. She just, as reader Michael points out, “an influential writer who created beloved works of fantasy and science fiction; who didn’t like Lovecraft’s work (and possibly the man himself); and was interested in a little representation in her stories.” Is that so wrong…?

Well to be sure, she was dead wrong about Lovecraft. He was a first rate writer who mentored a surprisingly large number of people that would go on to define fantasy, science fiction, and horror for a generation. He wrote pieces that could pass for work written by Lord Dunsany. If anything gave his homage away, it was not his command of the cadence and motifs of the King James bible. It’s the downright disturbing aspects of the payoff that remind the reader of just who it really is that’s penned the work.

Le Guin manages to be disturbing in an entirely different way, and her approach to representation is a central element to that. In her story “Nine Lives” for instance, you wouldn’t really know there was a non-white character in the story. She has to tell you he’s there with an explicit reference to his “Hershey-bar-colored face.” There’s a blandness about her non-white characters… as if their skin color is just painted on. I couldn’t tell you why that is, exactly. It’s self evident that people from different regions and different cultures vary from one another. And as it happens, Lovecraft was expert at conveying just this aspect of rural New England.

Who is she writing for exactly…? I can’t see it. Are there really non-white people out there that are honestly embracing her work, praising her, and thanking her profusely for creating visions of the future and mythologies of the past that include them…? I doubt it. Other nations seem to have a handle on providing that for themselves just fine. At any rate, the Irish aren’t sitting on the hands waiting for a Japanese person to finally tell their story.

And that’s the thing about authors who go ahead and accept their own people and work from that rather than things they know very little about. They provide a way for people in other places and times to encounter something very specific. Something almost alien. Something infused with a nuance that people elsewhere could only guess at.

From what I’ve read of her, Le Guin seems to be in revolt against that very thing. As if her most likely audience deserves neither a past nor a future. As if she herself were a product of a post-cultural society. I really can’t see the appeal of this. Maybe you do. Either way, her work cannot be considered to be part of the same literary canon as that of Lord Dunsany and H. P. Lovecraft.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

My Shirts Arrived!!!

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 00:47

I’m so stoked!

Just arrived in the mail today are two t-shirts commemorating the greatest debate since Lincoln and Douglas cut loose on each other.

And yeah, this is all part of a broader trend. I quit buying comics ten years ago. I quit going to the movies a couple years back after I’d cut back to going once a year or so for a long time before that. I turned off Netflix.

And now… I look at the Star Wars and Marvel Comics t-shirts in my closet and I think… why should I give people that hate me free advertising by gracing my striking pectoral muscles with their iconography?

Sorry, I just can’t get excited about that anymore for some reason. Time to put out a different signal!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Ugliness of Ursula Le Guin

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 06:54

Reader Jane Sand can’t believe I didn’t care for Ursula Le Guin’s story that appeared in Playboy:

Really, WHY are you flipping through this story with your fingers covering your eyes, peeking through only long enough to find a paragraph that offends you, instead of reading the story straight through and giving it your positive or negative review as a whole, like an ordinary reviewer would? Are you prudishly frightened that a story published in Playboy might offend your delicate sensibilities? Or maybe what you’re REALLY frightened of is that if you read the story, you might *gasp* LIKE it, or at least find some virtue in it that you would hate to publicly admit? Think it over, dude.

I don’t think this is fair at all.

Of course I read the story before commenting on it. And no, I really did not like it. This really shouldn’t be that hard to believe.


  1. Ursula Le Guin had no interest in writing for men at all.
  2. She was concerned less with quality writing and more with the sex of the person that wrote it.
  3. She explicitly tore down the exemplars of the fantasy and science fiction canon.

Judging from the comments on Twitter in the week following her death, it appears that her fan base is more excited by her antisocial behavior and her overall destructive impact on the field of science fiction and fantasy than anything she wrote.

But if you’d like one more reason why I have no use for her, consider this passage from her story, “Nine Lives”:

“Do you come from Ireland, Owen?”

“Nobody comes from Ireland, Zayin.”

“There are lots of Irish-Americans.”

“To be sure, but no more Irish. A couple of thousand in all the island, the last I knew. They didn’t go in for birth control, you know, so the food ran out. By the Third Famine there were no Irish left at all but the priesthood, and they all celibate, or nearly all.”

Zayin and Kaph smiled stiffly. They had no experience of either bigotry or irony.

This is not the first time I’ve come across a science fiction story from this period that depicts Christians as being responsible for the apocalypse or some such. But it really is impressive how crass Le Guin manages to be here.

Really, it’s just plain ugly.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Still the Most Interesting Thing on the Internet

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 15:03

This is prime entertainment, y’all.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Appendix N and Pulp Revolution Hits and Misses

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 13:47

Over the past three years, I made a great many bets. Some turned out to be on the money. Others turned out to be swallowed up by trends I couldn’t even imagine.

Before Appendix N, pulp was synonymous with awful writing and was generally considered to not be a topic worth delving into. Today? Pulp methods are not just back in style, but they are considered to be pretty much an essential survival mechanism for anyone that seriously wants to make it as a writer. To be fair, though, of all the things I intended to be bring attention to… Pulp Speed was not one them! (As far as I know, Nathan Housley is responsible for introducing that particular nugget into the discussion.) Being more focused on the critical space than the rat race, I was much more inclined to dismiss the concept altogether, as I did when I encountered the fact that Roger Zelazny wrote Jack of Shadows in a single draft.

From a critical standpoint, I championed short stories at a time when the word on the street was that short fiction is a colossal waste of time. Surveying the 20th century, short fiction was the undeniably where the most ground was broken, the most influence was made, and the most action was. In many cases, the original short form works are better than the later fix-ups that replaced them. The Moon Pool is a canonical example of that. But I would even point to The Eyes of the Overlord as being noticeably stronger and effective when compared to its followup Cugel’s Saga, which reads much more like a bland contemporary overlong novel than its predecessor.

It turns out that the people that are really doing well with fantasy and science fiction writing are putting out large numbers of novels as part of an interminable series. Edgar Rice Burroughs is the exemplar people are recapitulating, not H. P. Lovecraft. Which irks me a little. I really liked the variety that was to be had in the standalone stories that made up the bulk of what came out in the pulp era. But mass matters. Authors like A. Merrit and Leigh Brackett are less well known today in part because they never took a character like Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan and did them to death.

On the other hand, there are a great many short fiction magazines and anthologies coming out the past year or so that make explicit moves toward the old ways. I have no idea how things are shaking out there, it’s a veritable deluge. My opinion is that it’s absolutely integral to the health of the broader fantasy and science fiction scene. But I don’t see the big dog types ever getting behind this.

Which not coincidentally leads me to my next point. The big disappointment for me is that individual author mailing lists have turned out to be far more important than a strong social media presence– and yeah, I bet BIG on the latter. The increase in shadow-banning and censorship by big tech puts a hard limit on what can be done on the web, yes. But more than that… what effort I put into bringing attention to new writers this past year mostly only contributed in mistraining their Amazon algorithm and locking them into a ghetto of wrong-thinker types.

It’s a bitter pill. I think it changes everything, too. But the big dogs did not climb to where they are by ignoring unpleasant truths. I really have no idea what the implications of this are for the various literary movements that coalesced in the past couple years here. It’s danged hard listening to this. On the other hand, the thesis of my book is being born out. The people that are killing it on Amazon have far more in common with Robert E. Howard than they do Philip K. Dick.

Or Ursula Le Guin for that matter.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Critical Hit: Appendix N in Audiobook Format

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 01:23

Judging by this review of the audiobook, all is proceeding as I have foreseen:

Fantastic. I’m a fantasy and science fiction fan and grew up playing AD&D in the 80’s (and still play). I never payed any attention to Appendix N (except, perhaps, to see if any of my favorites were on it). This book goes through the books that Gygax liked and found useful in his gaming and meta-gaming (Appendix N), explains what in the books shows up in AD&D (and related games, like Gamma World), and how the concepts can be used to improve our own gaming sessions. Along with that, you get the author’s own thoughts on the quality of the books and the changes in fantasy/scifi and gaming since that work and Appendix N came out. I listened to the audio book and it was like chilling out with an old friend who had the same tastes in gaming and books and the same thoughts about how many of the changes in both have been lamentable. I’ve recommended it to my gaming/sci-fi/fantasy friends. Plus, I’ve already started in on the reading list Johnson helped me create and have thought of ways I’m going to bring some of the concepts into current and future campaigns.

Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic!

The type of writing I was doing there is of course a distillation of what you’d find in the tabletop roleplaying game blog scene. Comparable books in the marketplace with similar subject matter were nothing like what I ended up delivering!

But the audience is there. And something happens when these people get the message: This book changes what people read. It changes how they game. And more than that, it gets so many gears turning and so many ideas reacting and interacting… people come away with an irrepressible desire to go create something.

It’s just plain awesome.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

That Time Ursula Le Guin Was in Playboy

Sat, 02/03/2018 - 15:11

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And so it is that the women you’d least like to see in the centerfold of a girlie magazine often turn out to have the greatest amount of bile and resentment.

That’s perhaps the most ironic thing about Ursula Le Guin’s “Nine Lives”, which really was published in Playboy magazine: the contrast it provides when set against the inherent appeal of the young, the voluptuous, and the fertile:

He had to stand up then wearing only the shorts he slept in, and he felt like a plucked rooster, all white scrawn and pimples. He had seldom envied Martin’s compact brownness so much. The United Kingdom had come through the Great Famines well, losing less than half its population: a record achieved by rigorous food control. Black marketeers and hoarders had been executed. Crumbs had been shared. Where in richer lands most had died and a few had thriven, in Britain fewer died and none throve. They all got lean. Their sons were lean, their grandsons lean, small, brittle-boned, easily infected. When civilization became a matter of standing in lines, the British had kept queue, and so had replaced the survival of the fittest with the survival of the fair-minded. Owen Pugh was a scrawny little man.

There it is. An unattractive woman fantasizes about a future in which all the unattainable good looking men have simply ceased to exist. And to make it work, she’s willing to go so far as to repudiate Darwin in order to sustain that state of affairs.

(Where are the poindexters intent on playing the game when you need them?!)

The way she tells it, Communism over and above both human nature and the laws of nature is the inevitable outcome. But the communist propaganda of old at least took the time to paint the exemplars of the party as being healthy, strong, beautiful, and awash with plenty. Le Guin can’t be bothered to lie about the track record of the ideology she serves. She and her ilk are committed to a different method of forwarding her aims: that of destroying our capacity to even imagine wonder, heroism, truth, and beauty.

I suppose you can demonstrate a certain amount of technical proficiency in advancing such a ludicrous agenda. But the results cannot be good. They cannot thrill or inspire. And they cannot under any circumstances be considered to be a first class element of the science fiction and fantasy canon.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ursula Le Guin Did Not Write Fantasy

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 04:09

Maybe you read Earthsea and couldn’t quite put your finger on just why it was so underwhelming, so flat. I know that happened to me!

Ursula Le Guin explains that this was entirely by design:

But there are no wars in Earthsea. No soldiers, no armies, no battles. None of the militarism that came from the Arthurian saga and other sources and that by now, under the influence of fantasy war games, has become almost obligatory.

I didn’t and don’t think this way; my mind doesn’t work in terms of war. My imagination refuses to limit all the elements that make an adventure story and make it exciting—danger, risk, challenge, courage—to battlefields. A hero whose heroism consists of killing people is uninteresting to me, And I detest the hormonal war orgies of our visual media, the mechanical slaughter of endless battalions of black-clad, yellow-toothed, red-eyed demons.

War as a moral metaphor is limited, limiting, and dangerous. By reducing the choices of action to “a war against” whatever-it-is, you divide the world into Me or Us (good) and Them or It (bad) and reduce the ethical complexity and moral richness of our life to Yes/No, On/Off. This is puerile, misleading, and degrading. In stories, it evades any solution but violence and offers the reader mere infantile reassurance. All too often the heroes of such fantasies behave exactly as the villains do, acting with mindless violence, but the hero is on the “right” side and therefore will win. Right makes might.

Or does might make right?

Now, once and for all this settles the fact that Le Guin’s exclusion from Appendix N in the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was entirely appropriate and natural. D&D sprang directly from the miniatures gaming of Chainmail and the early Braunteins. A fantasy series predicated on the arbitrary elimination of war and borders and nations is simply not going to offer a great deal to a game system that took for granted that players would progress to the point where they would establish kingdoms and wield armies in addition to henchmen and magical artifacts.

Not that subversion is foreign to the literary inspirations of the D&D game system. Michael Moorcock produced the anti-Conan, a demon worshiping drug addict albino hemophiliac by the name of Elric– whose series attempted to demonstrate even such an unlikely and unlikable anti-hero could nevertheless attain the same sort of heroic stature as Roland. That even a terribly flawed and untrustworthy agent of chaos could nevertheless find himself fighting for good and even the very cohesion of reality is certainly something D&D players find themselves recapitulating regardless of whether they’ve read Stealer of Souls! Its hardwired into the DNA of the game.

But Le Guin doesn’t just repudiate the epic battles of Barsoom, Cad Camlan, and the Pelennor Fields. She also dispenses with the tension between good and evil, law and chaos that makes them necessary, inevitable, and meaningful. And mark this well: she did not produce a different take on heroism. She didn’t offer a new and improved approach to heroism. She hated heroism pure and simple.

And she hated fantasy. Her work was something else entirely, though it was packaged into the same sort of dime store paperbacks as A. Merritt and Robert E. Howard stories were peddled in. It looked like fantasy novels, sure. But it was just another delivery mechanism for the exact same message baked into everything from John Lennon’s Imagine to The Fifth Dimension’s Age of Aquarius. That’s tacky, not timeless.

She didn’t write about human beings at all. She wrote about a people with nervous systems that are less developed than those found in lobsters. There’s nothing fantastic or mythical about that. Indeed, the correct term for it would be nonsense.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs