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Barsoom and Pulp Revolution on Inappropriate Characters

Sat, 05/12/2018 - 16:00

Inappropriate Characters is a new youtube series on tabletop games featuring some of the guys from the scene that are most likely to take flack from the culture police. Appendix N and the Pulp Revolution get mentioned in the inaugural segment during the Barsoom discussion– it’s at the 20 minute mark and runs for about ten minutes if you want to catch that. But hey… why not live large, put on a pot of coffee, and kick back with the whole thing? It’s a good show!

One of the points that come up is that Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom stories are the gold standard for science fantasy adventure within the PulpRev. That’s not quite how I’d put it.

Coming at this from a historical angle, if you do a survey of fantasy and science fiction from over the course of the 20th century, what you’re going to see just how tremendously influential Edgar Rice Burroughs was. It’s astonishing. There is a sixty year period where Edgar Rice Burroughs set the tone to such an extent, that he was basically the model for how fantasy and science fiction should be done. Look even at the second wave authors like Jack Vance, Leigh Brackett, Michael Moorcock, and many others– they all going their careers off the ground by emulating Burroughs.

In 1973 when Gary Gygax sat down to write the introduction to the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons, this is what he said:

These rules are strictly fantasy. Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find DUNGEONS and DRAGONS to their taste. But those whose imaginations know no bounds will find that these rules are the answer to their prayers.

It’s no accident that Burroughs is the first fantasy author to be mentioned there. It’s also no accident that you see Burrough’s mark on each of the most enduring comic book, tabletop gaming, and Hollywood blockbuster franchises.

The idea of the Pulp Revolution isn’t so much to– as the RPGPundit puts it– set up Burroughs as some kind of sacred cow. The point is to embrace the reality of what people genuinely find to be the most inspiring and thrilling from across science fiction and fantasy history. (Hint: it isn’t “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.) And the point is to extend the range of your creative palette by taking a look back at what actually worked back in those dark ages before 1980. There’s so much social and political pressure against doing just that, this has become a bizarrely subversive act.

But it’s also a lot of fun.

If you’d like an example of how this is all playing out, I would point you to Cirsova Magazine issue number five, which has a story by Schuyler Hernstrom that just picked up a Planetary Award. Check it out!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Capellan Confederation Reconnaissance in Force

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 03:37

This is the third game of a continuing campaign with the same “green” Capellan Confederation Lance. With a salvaged Archer replacing the old Javelin, they actually has some significant firepower now. They can actually handle a raid scenario– putting some “teeth” into their recon.

The situation I had in mind is that command needs to get to turn this unit into veterans quickly, they need them to accomplish an objective that is within their reach– but they can’t afford to risk losing their mechs. Strategically, this is part of an overload action– many feints and probes happening concurrently in order to push the defense to their limits.

Davion’s city defenders fields 4 foot/rifle infantry, 4 MG/mechanized, 4 Vedette tanks, and one Battlemaster. House Liao has a Vindicator, a Blackjack, a Clint, and an Archer. (I’ve got no Battletech counters, so I’m raiding Ogre again in order to make do.) Command wouldn’t know the exact strength of these forces when they send the lance out. The objective is to take out a couple of hardened reactors if possible. If they get both without losing any mechs, that is a phenominal victory. If they take out just one, that is a decisive victory. If they get none, draw out the enemy, and retain their mecha… even that is a marginal victory under the circumstances.

Now… this scenario was just made up out of thin air based on what the continuing characters had and what would fit in what what we’d done so far. I wanted to continue experimenting with what I consider to be the criminally underplayed conventional units of the BattleTech franchise. I have to say… when you combine these units with some reasonable morale/withdrawal rules based on the need for Mecha to not get arbitrarily expended, everything clicks. Infantry can be easily shot up, but they have to be dealt with before they can get close. Tanks can carry comparable firepower as a mech, but given the ease with which they can be disabled, people are going to tend to neutralize them before they target opposing mechs. Finally… if you irreplacable units are controlled by continuing characters… well, there’s all kinds of interesting situations you can throw at them and you won’t have to have half of them die in each game. The conventional forces produce decisive and dramatic action that is resolved quickly while the mecha jet around the board behaving like de facto chess queens. It’s orders of magnitudes more fun than the sort of straight up “company on company” battle royales that are the norm in the scenario booklets for the line.

In our game, the mecha crept to the forest edge and started unloading on a reactor at medium range. At the rate they were damaging it, the could expect to drop it within a few turns. The attackers didn’t bother targeting the defenders due to the extra protection they had from being able to take cover in buildings. On turn two the defenders opted to rush. The Capellan Clint got hit by two AC/5’s from the Vedettes and the PPC from the Battlemaster. It was enough to take out the Clint’s leg. He managed to stand up on turn two despite the need to roll 11+ to do it. (FASA BattleTech Master Rules has it as a +5 piloting roll that requires two MP’s; the guy got it on the third try.)

The Vedettes are not terribly fierce units. The lance commander panicked when they bore down on his newly acquired Archer. He pulled back with it instead of risking it, but regretted it when he realized just how well armored the thing was. The Clint started backing away one hex at a time. (He was limited to 1 MP a turn with the disabled leg, but I ruled he could still hobble along through the terrain.)

The Blackjack ended up doing quite a bit of damage to the encroaching motorized MG infantry. (Double damage in clear terrain is a nice, reasonable, and bloody rule.) A total of 35 points of damage was done to the one reactor. If the Archer had actually hit with his LRMs, it may well have been worth sticking around to burn it to the ground, but being only about 1/3rd of the way there, it was time to get out of Dodge.

The Clint had to jump in order to evade the Battlemaster and the infantry that were closing in on him. He fell a couple times making his way off the board, but was not in any real danger. The Vindicator and the Blackjack could easily jump through the woods, demonstrating the true utility of the light mechs. I believe the Davion defenders will be forced to reinforce this position if they want to keep these assets. If this light lance returns, it could easily finish the job they started here.

In Mechwarrior first edition, the characters get xp for each point of damage they do with more for criticals. The enemy forces also have an XP value equal to the tonnage of the mechs, half the tonnage of the vehicles, and ten tons for each infantry group. I split 25% of this between the continuing characters due to the marginal victory. (I would have given 100% if they had taken out the reactor and not lost any mechs… and 200% if they had managed to take out both reactors.)

The player characters all went up a level in gunnery. Finally! We can now play some more sensible scenarios where the they will have a much better chance of actually hitting stuff. (Although they could have spent XP to convert one the Archer’s attacks into a hit if they had spent some of his XP to do it now that I think of it… not that it would have made a difference)

Here’s the XP tallies:

Vindicator (6/4): 75 + 63 + 111 – 175 = 74

Clint (6/4): 92 + 93 – 175 = 10

Archer (6/4): 106 + 88 – 175 = 19

Blackjack (7/5): 61 + 112 – 125 = 48

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Capellan Confederation Ambush With Conventional Forces

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 04:17

Okay, this was a game I waited decades to play: BattleTech with mecha versus a infantry and tanks. Seriously, the xerox copy I ran off of the CityTech infantry record form has been sitting in the box for over twenty-five years!

Here’s how I set up the game. First I calculated the repair times for the surviving mechs from the last scenario. Then, as I would with D&D, I improvised a chart to account for the most reasonable outcomes:

1-2: The Vindicator which would take an hour an a half to repair is immediately sent out on a mission by itself without the rest of the group.

3-5: The Vindicator, the Clint, and the Blackjack are repaired and sent out on a mission together, but the Blackjack’s arm could not be reattached in time.

6: The full group is sent out, the Blackjack’s arm is repaired or retrofitted, and… the mech pilot that was in the destroyed Javelin is reassigned to a Locust.

The die roll came up as a two, confirming my original instincts for how to play the next game… but adding a sense of fairness and rightness that maybe wouldn’t have been there before. I still had this problem of the destroyed Javelin. I didn’t really want to let a Green mechwarrior with any  amount of experience go to waste. But I didn’t want to hand out “free” mechs either. So I ruled that for this game… if an enemy mech got dropped in such a way that it could be repaired, the Javelin guy would pick it up as his replacement mech.

I decided that a Davion Archer and Rifleman would be ambushed by four motorized MG infantry, 2 Patton tanks, and the “green” House Liao Vindicator. The Archer and Rifleman would come onto the board… and the House Liao units get hidden placement with a surprise round. I also ruled that Davion would have a morale of 9… minus the number of criticals they received. A number higher than that rolled after any turn they received a crit and they would turn tail and run.

Basically… a totally made up scenario with the objective of introducing infantry and vehicles while giving every conceivable break to the new guy just getting the hang of the game. (I could have maybe added one light mech to this group if I wanted it to be more even.)

The game played very fast– lest than three hours, easily. The Davion guys did not care about the green mechwarrior at all. They wanted to take out the much easier-to-mission-kill tanks first! Besides, the green guy just doesn’t hit often enough to be worth bothering with.

The infantry were interesting, more fun than I expected… and way too effective. I was running the game wrong, of course!

  • Mechs get a +3 bonus to to-hit with melee attacks against them.
  • Infantry take double damage if they are hit in a clear hex.
  • Mechs also have the option to move into the same hex as them… which would have the Archer the chance to take some better cover than I allowed him.

Everything played out perfectly for House Liao when the Archer took first a medium laser shot to the head followed by an AC-10 shot that blew it entirely off. The Javelin pilot will be coming back next game with an ARCHER! (And hoo-boy, does this change the overall complexion of the lance…!)

Here’s the current XP values as calculated by Mechwarrior first edition:

  • Blackjack (7/6) — 61
  • Clint (6/5) — 92
  • Javelin/Archer (6/5) — 106
  • Vindicator (6/5) — 75 + 63 = 138

The big break for this group comes when the 6/5 guys reach 175 XP… which is not that far away. (The Vindicator and Archer are liable to both get there next session.) The Blackjack was nearly useless in the first game, but if he can just hold on until he can reach 125 XP, he will be able to at least do something.

Anyway, that’s how the second installment went. Can’t what to see what happens to these guys next!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Capellan Confederation Light Lance versus Four Patton Tanks!

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 01:55

This game’s been a long time coming.

Ever since the release of CityTech, I have wanted to use the BattleTech vehicles rules. But Mecha are so danged fun in an of themselves, they dominate whenever anyone puts the game on the table. No one ever wants to play with the tanks! Sigh…. Ah, CityTech… another victim of the Pareto Principle!

I went all out for this one, too.

  • I used first edition Mechwarrior to create a lance. One of the more interesting rules here is that you can take a penalty on your ‘mech assignment roll in return for additional character points. This resulted in a set of Green mechwarriors with ‘mechs weighing in at 45, 45, 40, and 30 tons.
  • I used the awesome force faction tables from Combat Operations  to select ‘mechs that would have been available to the Capellan Confederation circa 3025: VND-1R Vindicator, BJ-1 Blackjack, CLNT-3T Clint, and JVN-10N Javelin. (I also used the Battle Value numbers in there to determine a fair situation that slightly favored my opponent.)
  • I used the old FASA Master Rules to create a scenario for these guys: a breakthrough situation where four Patton tanks are attempting to break through this recon lance across three map sheets. (There really is a nice selection of “stock” scenarios in there.)


The action was furious. Lots of hard decisions and tough lessons here!

  • The AC/20 looks fearsome, but the ‘mechs can really soak up a lot of punishment. So much so, they’re safer than you’d think.  The Clint lost a leg. The Blackjack lost an arm. The Javelin had an arm blown off and would have survived, but when its leg got blown off at the end, it fell down. As it clambered to its feet, it ended up taking one last AC/20 shot to the center torso.
  • The Javelin is an effective anti-tank unit due to the SRM-6’s. Every single hit against a tank has a chance of dropping its cruising speed, immobilizing it altogether, or eliminating it altogether via a critical hit. (The Javelin did just that with an impressive ten missile hit, scoring the first kill.)
  • The Pattons would have gotten more tanks off the board if they had focused entirely on running away. Those short ranged AC/20 shots were just too fun to pass up, though.
  • The Green 6/5 mechwarriors and tank gunners could not hit anything unless they were at short range. The 7/6 pilot in the Blackjack had a devil of a time hitting anything. (Can’t recommend handing such a character to anyone to play, though working him up to 4/5 would be quite an achievement.)

Game time ran into the four hour mark. The play was so immersive and the desire to know how the next turn would play out was so great, I didn’t notice that it was a bit long. And for a continuing role-playing game type situation like this, I have to say… going with ‘mechs versus tanks was perfect. There’s plenty of decisive action, but the players are relatively safe. Plus, you get to play with the “big boom” stuff.

The next scenario writes itself, of course. While the Clint and the Blackjack go back to the shop for repairs, the Vindicator will be tapped to lead a conventional force of tanks and infantry to raid a supply depot. The lance is shorthanded now, too…. The replacement ‘mech will be (rolls dice…) a 20 ton Locust, because shame on you for wasting such an awesome light ‘mech as the Javelin!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Why Contemporary Science Fiction and Fantasy is Godawful

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 12:39

Now, my favorite explanation for why it is that science fiction and fantasy went bad can be summed up into just one word: Commies.

It’s especially hilarious because… it actually no kidding totally for real happened. But don’t take my word for it. Heck, go read Mutation or Death yourself. Even better, go read the completely off the wall letters that got written in to Planet Stories back in the day… and then ponder the implications of how it was that the premises of those complaints would culminate directly into the original Star Trek television series. (Cue Twilight Zone music…!)

You can’t say this in mixed company, of course. And talking about this will persuade no one of any of it. It’s just too danged crazy for people to be able to admit.

I’ll tell you what works though. You can try it yourself and then let me know what happens. Fair warning… it takes a lot of time. And it helps a great deal if you can engage people off the internet and in meatspace.

Find someone that is into science fiction and fantasy and ask them who they like to read and what they like best. Listen to them. Then ask them what they least like about the big fantasy novels of our day. If they read a lot, they will have several examples of fantasy epics that failed to go anywhere or that otherwise insulted the readers with their patently unepic conclusions.

(Note: The problems of contemporary fantasy are immediately obvious, even to non-ideologues and non-connoisseurs. What isn’t obvious to most people is that things were ever substantially different.)

At this point you mention that they should really check out the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. Whatever it is that they like or dislike, one of these stories is going to be a perfect fit for this person. Recommend one… talk about how you were surprised at how good they were and how they weren’t what you expected they would be. And then shut up.

(Note 2: On the internet, the argument never stops. In real life… you have to downshift to have an impact.)

A couple weeks later they should have more to talk about. They will be blown away by somethings, left cold by others. Cut them some slack: these sorts of people are taking their first steps into a larger literary world. And holy cow. Think about it. Nothing in this fantasy addict’s life is pointing this person towards the work of Robert E. Howard except you. Which means that you got to be the one to introduce them to Howard. That’s just crazy awesome in and of itself.

I think that’s weird, really. To get to be that guy to someone in this way. But here’s the thing: if you can do it once with an author as significant as Howard, you can do it a half dozen times.

Because here’s you two weeks later: “Oh, you thought Howard was good? Well you’re gonna love C. L. Moore!” But they’re going to tell you they’ve never heard of C. L. Moore. This is where you look baffled. “You never heard of C. L. Moore? How can you not have heard of C. L. Moore?!” Tell them to go read “Shambleau”… and they will come back later to thank you for it.

Wait a couple of weeks and you can run the exact same gag again. “You never heard of Leigh Brackett? That’s insane! She wrote the scripts for The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, and [the first draft of] The Empire Strikes Back. How can you not have heard of Leigh Brackett?!” Tell them to go read The Sword of Rhiannon.

There are other authors and stories you can drop on them depending on how they handle this. Heck, no matter what thing in fantasy or science fiction that they like best… they have no idea who it was that pioneered its original tropes or just how danged good the old authors were and how well their works stand the test of time.

But these sorts of people… they see nothing amiss in any of this at this point. They have no idea what has transpired within the critical space and the overall commentariat over the past few decades. Right now you are just some guy that has some positively stellar book recommendations which no one else in their lives seems to know about. They can intuit that they are looking at the fantasy and science fiction canon for the first time. They can see the astonishing literary quality of the old stuff. They can see that contemporary authors do not fare well in comparison. This is all self-evident.

What they can’t see yet is that something happened. But these people are in a very precarious position here. What does it take to push them over the edge? Just mention that these books and authors are routinely excluded from top 100 book lists and accounts of science fiction and fantasy history. Even watershed books like A Princess of Mars. What happens next is surprising. They won’t believe you. You can gently reiterate that it’s the case… but they will push back on this. This just doesn’t make sense. As far as they’re concerned… this CANNOT BE.

Fortunately, cell phones are ubiquitous enough now that someone can bring up the NPR list. Watch them as they go book by book mocking the more ludicrous entries. If they slogged through Patrick Rothfuss’s stuff, I’m sure they’ll have some choice words when they get to that one. Then watch the reaction when they get to the end and it sinks in that there’s not one mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs anywhere.

That’s right. In a couple of months they’ve gone from never having heard of the classic authors to being outraged that nobody else has.

Ask them to explain justwhat the heck happened? Or more importantly…. what is still happening.

Ask them why this matters.

Ask them why something so seemingly insignificant and innocuous as adventure stories would be worth explicitly being erased from history and the collective conscious.

And listen to them.

The funny thing here is that any theory they might be inclined to offer up to explain all this is going to be anything but milder than what guys like me on the internet going to say at this point. Normal people are exasperated when they are confronted by this sort of thing, no different from how fans of the recent superhero movies react when told that you can’t get an Iron Man comic book right now starring insanely popular Tony Stark. Oh, it comes out in fits and starts. There’s all kinds of rationalizations that people will leap to before they finally give them up. But it all comes down to this: something happened to cause the science fiction and fantasy canon to just plain evaporate. A whole bunch of somethings, maybe. And there’s just no good justification for it.

Can you imagine large quantities of metal fans being unable to direct newcomers to the most significant reference points of their genre? I can’t. I can’t begin to imagine what sort of effort it would take to effect such a thing. But that’s exactly what’s happened in science fiction and fantasy.

Likewise, Jazz musicians don’t dismiss Louis Armstrong out of hand. Can you imagine trying to explain the origins and development of Bebop and The Cool while arbitrarily erasing every major jazz artist from before 1940? You can’t do it. But that’s exactly what happens when hack literary critics jump from the twin pillars of Verne and Wells and then directly on to the supposed “golden age” of exemplified by Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. There’s a decades-sized hole where the real golden age was!

Over at Quillette there is a story on the development of Creative Writing programs and degrees and workshops and so forth that I think sheds some light on how this transition seeped into and ultimately crippled the field of science fiction and fantasy. Check it out:

Creative Writing was a product of the ‘progressive’ educational movement in the late 1920s, which emphasised self-expression rather than tradition, formal discipline, or the mastery of a fixed body of knowledge or skills.

It’s weird to hear someone just come out and say it, but it’s a truism, really: progressives are necessarily in revolt against tradition. But this bit about self expression over discipline and mastery here… it’s happening in the twenties and not during the cultural revolution of the sixties. Note that pulp was protected from these people as being too low brow and too immediately accessible to large numbers of people that just want to read for fun. As such, authors could develop their skills and reference real myth, real history, real science, and real literature as much as they liked without being bothered by some dipstick that would push them to instead do some sort of hippy dippy deep dive into themselves.

Pulp writers were the beneficiaries of a legitimate culture with inconceivably vast assets. Contemporary writers are insular and inward-facing. How do you transition from one to the other…? Well, progressives can do a lot of damage just by sneering a lot and pretending to have their monocles pop off. But for this stuff to really metastatize, they needed to be able to propagate their methods within the higher education system:

Institutional writing programs spread slowly at first. In 1975, there were 52 Creative Writing programs in American universities.  But by 1984 there were 150 postgraduate degree programs (MA, MFA, or PhD) in the United States; by 2004, 350 (with a further 370 offering only undergraduate degrees in Creative Writing). As of 2010, there were as many as 1,269 degree-granting programs in America alone. This explosive growth has not necessarily encouraged a diverse literary output, as is obvious to anyone who attempts to read one of the annual Creative Writing anthologies (The Best American Short StoriesThe Best American PoetryThe Best American Essays, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, etc.) which collect typical, apparently exemplary, samples of what these programs produce. The fundamentally uniform quality of contemporary American literature as represented in these anthologies is startling.

Contrast the astonishing regional and stylistic and ideological diversity among the pulp authors with the stultifying homogeneity of stories following the ascendancy of Creative Writing Inc. It’s not normal. It’s not natural. It’s a disaster.

But note how the ax is laid to the root in this wasteland:

A competing (or complementary) influence is popular culture. Contemporary American literature recognises no established ‘canon’: the reader’s knowledge of Shakespeare and the Bible (for example) will not be taken for granted. On the other hand, readers are assumed to be intimately familiar with the same films, television programs, and pop songs as the writer.

The obliteration of canon goes far beyond the key reference points of fantasy and science fiction. It goes deeper… down to the level of broader Western canon. Ironically, pulp authors are necessarily and fundamentally more literate than anyone within the Creative Writing school.

In contemporary American literature, self-expression takes precedence over invention.  A writer’s thoughts, memories, and experience will form the main bank of material for poets, essayists, and fiction writers alike. Invented narratives and characters are associated with scripts for television and film; whereas short stories and novels must have a firm basis in historical research or recent journalism, or else must be rooted in personal experience.

And that is how we got “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love.” And why pulp writers from Burroughs to Brackett could so effortlessly invent, create, thrill, and induce wonder. This is where that smarmy, unctuous personal tone comes from… as opposed to the many and varied writing styles that are intended to actually be read by normal people. For fun.

The people that imbibe the stuff in these programs and workshops…? Everything they say is uniformly stupid and detached from reality. This is where the patronizing remarks about Lovecraft being a poor wordsmith hail from. This is where losers are taught to make insipid remarks about people having “workmanlike prose.” It’s all voiced by people that are merely dabbling in writing… and that have been programmed to neither be fluent in nor to recognize the canonical figures that wield a broad and ongoing influence over the field.

No wonder they can’t create. And no wonder the pulp era is the revelation that it is.

h/t to Nathan Housley for providing the link to this article over on Google+.

Also: you can buy my survey of some of the most influential books in fantasy and science fiction here.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Curveball Strategy in Space Empires Replicators

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 12:18

Okay, I’d played this once, opting to take Destroyers with Attack-2 Defense-2 and Move-2 with my Giant Race empire. Those were some awesome ships… basically cruisers that cost next to nothing. I didn’t like having to stick with just one sort of ship the whole game… and it turned out that the extra tech I bolted onto them was tremendously helpful to the Replicator empire.

So I tried again with an attempt at a solitaire game. I opted for Raiders and Merchant Ship Pipelines… but that turned out to be fairly ineffective against the Replicator fleets. I may have been doing something wrong, but with the rule benders that are granted to the solitaire Replicators, I don’t think I stood a chance.

Fortunately I got another chance to play. I did several things to improve my game:

  • I skipped buying terraforming technology, instead opting to sack deep space alien worlds only for the technology. (I didn’t realize previously that you didn’t have to colonize them to get the stuff!)
  • I built a complete Merchant Ship pipeline which resulted in 18 extra CP a turn thanks to my drawing the Traders empire advantage.
  • I sent my scouts to explore deep space rather than saving them back racking up maintenance costs..
  • I outfitted by flagship with exploration tech and found a space wreck and 10-point minerals… and an alien world right next to my empire.
  • I chose to build fighters and carriers instead of destroyers and raiders. The operated very poorly in their first few battles, basically getting mostly blown away while doing the bare minimum.
  • Because of that… I adjusted by buying up two more levels of fighter technology. Not only did my fighters attack at 7, but the also got a much needed point of defense… without giving research points to the Replicators.
  • When I sacked the alien world, I lucked out and drew afterburners which gave my fighters another +1 bonus to attack. Perfect!
  • I’d also persuaded my opponent to play on the “normal” 2-player map… which gave him a LOT less minerals and space wrecks to harvest. (It’s a default for the solitaire game… which surprised me because we always played with as much deep space as possible before!)
  • Also, the doomsday machine really seemed to go out of its way to make things difficult for the Replicator player. (It even killed the planet for me when the Replicator colonized the barren world in deep space!)
  • Finally, when the Replicator fleet starting sending attack fleets at me, I also purchased some mines. I was able to use the merchant pipelines to position them for maximize their effect. More fighters might have been just as effective or better, but it was danged fun to throw the second curve ball there… especially when mines took down an entire attack force. (Of course, those mines could not be used to attack… and a cunning opponent will tempt you to fight away from them. On the other hand, there’s a limit to the counter mix, so you have diversify at some point!)

Now that I’ve played this out, it’s clear how the curveball strategy can really work. The fighters are your teeth. (B7 and B8 for attack is just plain awesome, especially when combined with their probable numbers. (But note you have to have advanced technology at level two before you can unlock Fighter-4 to get that B8 with defense 2.) Mines can take out your opponent’s biggest and most dangerous ships for next to nothing, but are a bit of a waste against the small ones. (More fighters are going to be a better investment than too many mines. However… given that the Replicators get research points for fleet size… mines instead of fighters can be a better buy in some cases!) If you expect your opponent to use point-defense against your fighters, you can use Raiders to counter them. Finally, if your opponent is spending effort planning and building ways to counter all three of these technologies…

You’ve got so many options for what combination of units to get with this and how to position them… it’s just an all around blast to play. Of course, which exact strategy you go with is going to ultimately hinge on what empire advantages and alien technologies are in play. I’ll tell you, though… I was sore afraid when we got to turn ten and it turned out that my opponent had “Green Replicators” and wouldn’t be depleting his planets until turn 13!

Anyway, great game here… so much you can do with it!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Hit Piece Machine Goes Into High Gear

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 13:25

They really do give Wormtongue a run for his money.

Consider this bit from Vox: “The empathy that he displays for men and boys in his BBC interview and 12 Rules for Life is touching. The problem is that he can’t seem to extend it to anyone else.”

In Bizarro World, having any sympathy at all for fatherless boys is proof positive that  you ipso facto must somehow hate women. But given that Star Wars and comic books both being destroyed by far left losers, I have to say… it would take a seriously sorry individual to want to come in and take away bible commentaries filtered through a lens of Jungian psychology from little boys.

If you ever wondered why it is that we can’t have nice things… this is it!

Meanwhile, a writer at Mic has helpfully compiled a list of the dankest stuff they could get on the new Emmanuel Goldstein:

Since a notorious January interview with British broadcaster Cathy Newman, where he went toe-to-toe on the pay gap between men and women, there seems to be a new Peterson YouTube video or lecture every week putting him back in the public eye, and eliciting both mockery or increased devotion. There was the February interview with Vice where he said that women who wear makeup in the workplace are hypocrites for complaining about sexual harassment. And there was Monday’s Twitter meltdown, where he threatened to slap a writer who accused him of being a fascist. Then there’s his complaints that he can’t physically attack women in conversations the way he’s (apparently) socially permitted to with men. And let’s not forget his older videos where he discusses that certain Disney movies are neo-Marxist propaganda.

I guess it doesn’t matter that people can go see for themselves precisely what the Awful No Good Scary Man actually said in that Vice interview. And I guess it doesn’t matter that anyone that reads Pankaj Mishra’s piece on Jordan Peterson will come away wanting to slap that sanctimonious prick silly. What really does matter…? Oh yeah… this mindbendingly nice Canadian professor is supposed to be gnashing his teeth over the fact that he couldn’t ask Cathy Newmann to step outside… in an interview where she embarrassed herself so badly, she is now an internet meme synonymous with the vacuousness of the Left’s tedious rhetoric.

But let’s not forget… all of this is nothing compared to the man’s hate-filed comparison of Sleeping Beauty to Frozen. (I mean how dare he. HOW DARE HE!!!!)

Never mind the pay gap and the pronoun police. If you really want to rile these people up, just go leave a negative review up on Rotten Tomatoes. They can’t handle people criticizing their favorite films!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sturgeon’s Law, Battlestar Galactica, and Feet of Clay

Tue, 03/27/2018 - 12:58

Over at The Practical Conservative’s site, Jane Sand feverishly scrambles to prop up the embarrassingly stupid claim that is today known as Sturgeon’s Law:

As for your opinion regarding the stories of the 10’s through the 40’s being superior to those of the 70’s – well, that could be for an abundance of reasons. One might be that comparing the best of the harvest of 4 decades to the best of the harvest of ONE decade gives a slightly unfair advantage to the longer time period, with its benefit of longer evaluation and discussion in hindsight. Or, as you say, you might find the cultural difference of the Good Old Days to be more appealing to you than the latter ones.

According to Jeffro’s recent column, it’s because the writers of the later decades had the bad taste to DARE give the heros feet of clay. Apparently he prefers his heros to be flawless Marty Stus. He forgets what Oscar Wilde (a Dead White European Male writer par excellence, and a great fantasy writer to boot) said: “It is the feet of clay that make the gold of the image precious.”

First off, the quality of the average pulp story is quite surprising to most of us that end up going back to see for ourselves what things were actually like. I know people that only ever read, say, Robert Jordan’s Conan stories. When they go back and read Robert E. Howard they are astonished. I know people that are already hip to Lovecraft and Howard, but have never heard of Merritt. If you take Sturgeon’s Law for granted, there shouldn’t be too many more giants operating in the pulps this period… but Merritt is arguably superior to both. When you get done being blown away by C. L. Moore and Many Wade Wellman, it’s suddenly an open question as to how many superlative authors were actually frequenting the pages of the pulp magazines of the twenties and thirties..

And about this feet of clay thing…. I just watched a few episodes of the third season of the Battlestar Galactica reboot:

  • Admiral Adama is about to get an award from the president for saving humanity. But… it turns out that before the war… he violated the neutral zone treaty they had with the Cylons. The genocide of his people is actually his fault!
  • Cat is in the process of committing suicide by subjecting herself to too much radiation. There are plenty of pilots that could do the job and the fleet desperately needs pilots like her… but she is despairing because she lied about her identity to become a pilot. Worse… she was a criminal in the bad old days and she actually helped smuggle Cylons into key cities. The genocide of her people is actually her fault!
  • Helo is head over heels in love with a Cylon. When Adama concocts a means to put an end to this mortal threat to humanity, he sabotages it. The then puts the fate of humanity at stake in an insane plan to get his half-human half daughter back from the Cylons.
  • Apollo and Starbuck have the hots for each other. They are also married and cheating on their respective spouses. The writers then have Apollo’s wife rescue Starbuck from the Cylons.

This is not a matter of the writers giving each and every character feet of clay. These characters are head-to-toe iron mixed with miry clay. And there’s nothing DARING about any of it.

Where do you look if you’d like to have more of the gold, silver, and brass…? The answer right now is… in the crumbling pages of a battered old pulp magazine! (I recommend A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar as a prime example of everything contemporary authors are incapable of doing.)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Real Reason Why Luke Skywalker Was Cut Out of Force Awakens

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 13:01

So you remember sitting through The Force Awakens and you get to the end and there (finally) is Luke Skywalker… and he just turns around and says… nothing. (!?) It’s a completely weird scene to begin with, especially when you consider how much Luke Skywalker concept art was done for the movie.

Well, it turns out that J. J. Abrams originally pushed hard to have Luke Skywalker made into a first class element of the film… but they just couldn’t make it work. Here’s why:

“Early on I tried to write versions of the story where [Rey] is at home, her home is destroyed, and then she goes on the road and meets Luke. And then she goes and kicks the bad guy’s ass,” Arndt said. “It just never worked and I struggled with this. This was back in 2012.” Apparently the issue was Luke’s presence was always upstaging everyone in the script. “It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over,” Arndt continued. “Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh f–k, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.’”

Well, that can sure got kicked down the road. You can almost pity Rian Johnson for having to deal with it. And even his solution to this almost begins to make sense. If the real Luke Skywalker shows up at all, the new sub par characters are shown for what they are: empty imitations with a veneer of Star Warsy stuff slathered over them. So the new “Not Luke Skywalker” has to come out of nowhere, drinking milk hot out of the space cow and behaving completely out of character.

Pulpy, old school adventurers are so appealing and so engaging… they had to wreck a four billion dollar franchise rather than give people a glimpse of an actual hero. It’s not because they didn’t try, either. Their concepts of how myth and storytelling work are fundamentally incompatible with the film series they were tasked with building off of.

There’s no way that what they wanted to do could work. And they didn’t know it until it was too late!

(h/t Bradford Walker for this video The Decline of Star Wars Part One— the Luke bit cited above is mentioned at the nineteen minute mark.)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Buffalo Bill – Madame Mandelip Connection!

Sun, 03/25/2018 - 15:18

The word is in from the Appendix N Podcast. A. Merritt’s Burn Witch Burn might lose a few political correctness points due to its stereotypical Italian mobster and comic relief Irish Beat Cop. And yes, sensitive readers will experience a brief moment of triggering at the the mention of how women were put away for “hysteria” in the bad old days of prohibition. If you thought that there just wasn’t anything in here truly worth getting offended over, then think again. Because Burn Witch Burn is danker than you think!

Check this out from the podcast: One of the things that did stick out to me though is actually something that I still see today but was especially common as recently as the nineties is this idea of the gender non-conformist as a villain because here Madame Mandelip is like this big masculine woman with this hairy upper lip and these like big hands and like I think using this masculine woman as an equivalent to villainy is also kind of the same way that you see effeminate men and dandies as a way of standing for decadence and evil often times in Conan stories but even in like Disney cartoons….

Mind. Blown.

This one went right past me when I was reading. Sure, I was vaguely conscious of the “big hands” bit. Mainly, I was too horrified by the thought of a woman that ugly having the ability to appear unfathomably beautiful… and going around seducing unknowing men for her nefarious purposes. It’s fundamentally, rivetingly horrible in a way that very little of contemporary storytelling manages to attain.

One of the guys on the show unironically ponders what it is that people will look back and see that is so “problematic” about the stories of our day… as if we are all just going to continue to get more and more refined and more and more sensitive to an even more comprehensive list of horrible awful no good things over time. And of course, there’s no way to tell what the next big offensive thing will be. And that is true… in a sense.

This stuff is scary if you think about it, because the only sure thing in this is that we are all being extremely problematic even without meaning to and without knowing what it is that we’re doing that’s do awful! Imagine living like that. I mean really, honestly living like that. Being vaguely aware that everything you build is founded on the shifting sands of a fickle and opportunistic ideology. Not having any way to even conceive of being genuinely “okay”, but remaining in sort of a permanent defensive posture at all times because you know that you can fall afoul of the collective determination of whatever the next scandalously problematic thing is supposed to be.

The only way you would be able to cope with that would be to publicly and loudly join up in some sort of weird cultural police force, doing the public a service by alerting them to dangerous people and materials at all times. Stoking and feeding the general hysteria with nearly every social interaction in order to keep attention on people that are noticeably more problematic than you… but knowing that still in spite of all your efforts the mob can still come for you at any moment!

It can’t be healthy.

At any rate, yes… traditional notions of witches and witchcraft are “problematic” today. Most contemporary treatments of them are necessarily eager to invert, sacrifice, or dilute age old mythical elements in exchange for a very tenuous brand of virtue that has an explicit expiration date right on the package. I wouldn’t be surprised if the early twenty-first century fails to produce much in the way of timeless classics. The spirit of this age is opposed to such things on principle.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fletcher Vredenburgh on A. Merritt’s Burn Witch Burn

Sat, 03/24/2018 - 15:17

At last! Sword and sorcery junkie Fletcher Vredenburgh has finally relented and done a good turn to his own self by reading a masterwork by the great A. Merritt:

I read somewhere that Merritt wrote with “lush, florid prose,” but that wasn’t the case in Burn, Witch Burn. However he may have written his other books, that’s not the case here. He writes, yes, with occasional overwrought flourishes, but with precision. His prose rushes the reader along, winging him deeper and deeper into the story’s nightmarish events.

With the nighttime arrival of a patient who seems to be suffering from no known malady, accompanied by his mobster boss, Merritt kicks the book off at full speed. With each ensuing chapter, the tension builds and Lowell and his compatriots’ fear increases. Gradually, the action moves from crisp and clinical corridors of Lowell’s hospital to the druggy, psychedelic chamber of Madame Mandilip, highlighting the fight between reason and unreason. Slowly the curtain obscuring the villain is raised, until we see her in her full, dark horror. Merritt knew how to grab you by the lapels and keep shaking you with increasing ferocity to the very last page.

Read the whole thing!

Fletcher’s assessment is completely on point here. Merritt’s writing is among the best of the best… and yet much of the commentary on him seems carefully engineered to steer people away from the guy. As another example, that same source that Fletcher mentions there regarding Merritt’s supposedly “lush, florid prose” neglects entirely to mention that he was known as The Lord of Fantasy.

And while you can maybe wrap your head around the fact that some guy you never heard of held that distinction in the twenties and thirties, you may not be able to grasp just how long Merritt was able to hold on to that particular appellation. As Deuce Richardson points out:

…Merritt’s title of “Lord of Fantasy” went unquestioned here in the States from the 1920s until the 1960s. I’ve spoken with numerous pulp scholars and all agree that Merritt’s sobriquet went virtually unchallenged during that period. Donald Wollheim, the most important publisher/editor in the history of SFF, repeatedly called Merritt by that moniker for decades. Tolkien’s reign is only now reaching the longevity that Merritt’s enjoyed.

That’s right. A. Merritt was as central to the definition of fantasy before 1970 as Tolkien was after it. He’s that big.

If you haven’t read his works already, you really owe it to yourself to check him out.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Space Empires: Replicators is the Bee’s Knees

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 12:21

This expansion really make Space Empires 4X an order of magnitude more fun.

The super sized terrain tiles…? They’re just flat out gorgeous. And it’s so much easier to read the board. Also, the names of the planets remain visible for the duration of the entire game now. Heck, you’ll go explore deep space now just for the chance to place another one of these onto the game board…!

Now… about those replicators. This is the all-new all-different fifth-player faction, the Cylon/Borg/Terminator faction. I only have a passing familiarity with the rules for these, but I have to say… watching someone else run these things, their in-game behavior really is completely alien compared to the standard player factions.

They can explore their home space in half the time. They have this huge incentive to explore deep space, too. They don’t have much to think about everyone else is shopping for tech and ships. But during the movement and combat phases, they will spend a lot of effort battling against the unknown. They are denied the usual exploration tech, so it’s interesting to watch them get eaten alive by Danger!, Black Holes, and Doomsday Machines. The Minerals and Space Wrecks they collect are well worth the loss in scouts, though.

The big downside to them is that you’ve got all this crazy technology for the standard Empire factions… and then with the Replicators in play, they have this gigantic disincentive for using any of it!

It’s tough!

The game-play here feels more or less like the solitaire games from the original base set. You commit to a fairly narrow production strategy and then wait for the bad guys to come to you. The strategy notes do suggest throwing a series of technological curve balls to keep the Replicators off balance… which sounds more fun. I didn’t do that in my game, though, because I drew Giant Race for my empire advantage, which made Attack-2 Defense-2 Move-2 Destroyer stacks my preferred weapon. (Though springing for that extra move and defense maybe hurt me more than it helped when the toasters turned it into research points.)

The main thing that I’d do differently based on this first experience with the new faction is that I’d probably invest in more space exploration earlier than what I did. The Replicators look intimidating, but they do need to wait a while before they throw a punch. Exploring the edges of the board is tempting. Raids are (unfortunately) less tempting because you need a specially equipped transport to fully burn down a Replicator colony. On the other hand, beating up their ships before they can combine to become dangerous seems like a very good thing. So while you don’t have the option of doing something crazy that seriously dents their production, they does seem to be plenty of good reason to go fight them early on.

Given the number of things I’m puzzling over here, I have to say… the new faction is probably working exactly like it was intended to… and has fewer of the problems than I expected to see. So if you have an opponent that would rather play the robots than a “real” Space Empires empire, don’t fret. You’re still going to get to do each of the four X’s that make up the game.

Besides, turn ten where the Replicators start losing entire worlds due to pure exhaustion is right around the corner!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Everything Published After 1940 is Inauthentic

Thu, 03/22/2018 - 13:40

Everything published after 1940 is inauthentic. To explain why I’m going to introduce my own “three-legged stool” theory of successful literature.  The three legs are thrills, wonder, and romance.

Thrills, because no one wants to read a story where nothing exciting happens. Adventure, heh! Excitment, hrumph! A jedi maybe isn’t supposed to crave these things. But everyone else sure does!

Wonder, because no one would settle for a mere story when they could instead experience a legend. An epic, even. An encounter with something truly mythical! Underworlds, overworlds, gods, and heroes are fundamental to the human psyche. People crave encounters with the superlative and the transcendent.

And romance. Ah, romance! Because face it, there is only one thing that can truly motivate an adventurer to risk everything in a daring journey into the unknown. Sure, there are all kinds of other motivations out there you could think up. But this one trumps them all!

What happened in 1940?

In a word, modernism. A tepid materialist outlook that decreed that the transcendent was out of bounds. An unctuous, slinking cowardice that insinuated that all heroes have feet of clay. A smarmy, contemptuous pretentiousness that insisted that our concepts of good and evil were arbitrary social constructs.

These losers rolled into town and kicked away the old stool. They declared it juvenile. They sneered. They mocked. They made a lot of noise about their “literary qualia” and the supposed deficiencies of their predecessors. They beat their chests and gave each other awards. And then they went on a decades long crusade in order to ensure that people couldn’t even imagine what the old stuff was like. And they made a new stool: instead of thrills, wonder, and romance, they gave us lectures, “realism”, and a celebration every conceivable evolutionary dead end you could mention.

But on a fundamental level, that stuff really doesn’t speak to who we are. They thought they could take the reins of culture and write whatever they wanted on the supposed blank slates of our minds. Yet time and again in field after field we see the same pattern: the greater the success of these sorts of people, the more astonishing the ensuing market correction.

They told us we were on the wrong side of history. But all this time it’s been them that had this distinction. And watching this play out, it’s clear: those “childish” stories of the ancient Greeks that we’ve told and retold over the course of centuries…? They’re far more applicable to describing what is actually happening in the wide world than anything the Poindexters have managed to put forward.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ghost Panzer: Shooting While Moving Ain’t Happening

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 12:54

The big lesson of the Ghost Panzer tank combat scenario is that moving and shooting just isn’t going to happen. If you’re in one of those massively well-armored T34’s, then you’re going to fail your proficiency check on the turn you’re moving into position. So you wait. The next turn, you’d like to be able to hit a German tank so you stay still. Making you something of a sitting duck. Even then, due to the low-initiative nature of the Russian tank crews, you still have less than a 50/50 chance to take a shot– because the Germans are going to be on the move.

On the other hand, being a sitting duck is not such a bad deal when you’re a Russian. The solid front armor of the T34 tanks are pretty much better protection than anything else you can do. So you line up, hang back, and wait for the Germans to come to you. This is a simple scenario where the winner is the person that kills the most tanks– and the Russians win ties. So they can afford to let the Germans come to them.

The German Panzers are pretty awesome, though. They’re slow and lightly armored in comparison. But they shoot a lot. And critically, their crews have about a 50/50 chance of being able to take a shot while on the go. And the Panzer IV has a gun on it that very nearly ignores even the best armor.

Now… I’ve played this scenario by the numbers and I’ve played it with absolutely no idea about any sort of sane strategy. I have to say… it was fun trying to play this “wrong.” Tanks were scattered all over the board and facing every direction. Germans would position themselves just out of my firing arc so that I’d have to take a -1 to proficiency when I had to change facing. It was an absolute nightmare of carnage and destruction and not a great day for the motherland.

I’ve wanted a playable tank game for a long time. Certainly, whatever it is that miniatures players tend to do is way too complicated for my table. This is just right. In Ghost Panzer, a tank that is shot by another tank is either dead or (more rarely) probably dead. The tanks are described fully by weapon, armor, movement, and proficiency values– in such a way as to encourage players to rediscover their nation’s doctrine. And the only thing that is even close to being confusing in the rules is the terrain modifiers and line of sight stuff.

Especially with the new “Remastered” edition here, you’ve got a MicroGame level of rules density combined with the sort of game components people expect from a contemporary board game. Even better, you’ve got everything you need to blitz Russia!

If you are looking to branch out from euro games and role-playing games and into historical wargames, this is one that is liable to give you a great deal of bang for the buck. Like everything else Jim Krohn has designed, it’s engineered to give you a great deal of flavor and nuance from a relatively small number of “almost invisible in actual play” type rules. Check it out!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Magic of Western Fantasy

Tue, 03/20/2018 - 13:30

Over at Men of the West, Boethius has delivered a first rate piece about the foundations and devolution of the fantasy genre:

Old England folklore is a curious blend of pagan beliefs mixed with Roman civilized rituals that were baptized by Christianity to be something more than just pagan worship of the unknown and nature.

The fey played a large part of their fantastical world view. Elves, brownies, fairies, pixies, gnomes, sprites: Merry Old England was practically lousy with them.

The horns of the Elfking’s courts could be faintly heard in the dawning mists. Pleasures and powers beyond mortal ken danced just out of reach at times, but those that wandered into feyland had more than to worry about than just the obvious traps. It was an alien place fit for alien minds.

Elves had no souls, doomed to be shut out of the gates of Heaven forever. And any man, woman, or child that fell under their sway dealt with the damned and their corrupting influences. The mortal’s soul was on the line. The power of the fey could grant wishes unimaginable, held wealth untold, powers unexplainable, but it also could drag a man into Hell.

And yet, the horns blew softly, seductively, through every age where there were those that still could remember Merry Old England in her awful splendor. The Romantics made it part of their stock and trade, doing what they did best of blurring the sharp edges and casting much in a soft cloak of Nostalgia by making the good sweeter than it should be and darkness only one more shade.

Even Mole and Rat from Wind in the Willows would encounter a vestige of that time through Pan in Chapter 7, The Piper At the Gates of Dawn. Have a read, it’s not long.

The Elfking was no friend to humanity, and his kingdom was marshalled to confuse and tempt any mortal seeking something beyond the bounds of Christendom. Softly, softly the feykind would lead anyone foolish enough to his eternal doom.

However, Tolkien had seen something different. He had seen that Elvenkind, out of all the fey, had been transformed by the fierce light of Christianity.

Read the whole thing!

As great as Tolkien was, you end up losing a great deal when you arbitrarily treat him as the starting point of the fantasy genre. And face it, most people do. For the vast majority of readers and gamers, fantasy is defined by the transition from Tolkien to Terry Brooks and Stephen R. Donaldson to Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin.

Most people don’t realize that there were other approaches that managed to thrive right up through the seventies. They don’t know that when D&D was first coming together that it was Lord Dunsany that would have been considered to be the gold standard of the genre and that Tolkien was a late bloomer in comparison. They have no idea that fantasy had a surprisingly broad following during the 1920s and 30s, and that the genre’s exemplar, A. Merritt, was hailed as “The Lord of Fantasy”.

In the span of two generations, the fantasy canon was wiped away. The key reference points were first diluted and then erased. People that point out that this is so are greeted by a small chorus of people claiming that this is obvious. But there is a larger chorus of people that will deny it. And there are those that once persuaded that will insist that there’s nothing extraordinary about this at all. Times change. People change, they say. Cultures change, too.

And they die.

And there is a strange magic to it, I suppose. Something has happened. Go back and look again at those old stories of elves, brownies, fairies, pixies, gnomes, sprites… those tales you might have once dismissed as being childish and silly compared to the serious fantasy of today. The stuff that is so “realistic” it is as devoid of genuine heroism as it is of the concept unadulterated evil.

The folklore of Old England just got a little bit stranger. And weirder. And more wondrous.

It also got more relevant.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ghost Panzer: Running Across the Street Isn’t Trivial

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 12:43

I’ve played the quick infantry training scenario of Ghost Panzer several times now and I have to say… there is a lot here to like.

The Germans play completely different from the Russians due to their higher morale, better unit cohesion, and greater effectiveness when reacting or on the move. When filtered through the rules, the numbers on the counters really do capture the “flavor” of how each side behaves on the battlefield.

The system just plain works, too. You can keep an enemy unit pinned down with suppression fire, then send some other guys around their flank in order to move in and finish them off. When the target (almost assuredly) fails their morale check before the melee phase, they will more than likely simply evaporate.

Meanwhile, crossing a street is insanely dangerous. All units get a “free” chance to take opportunity fire. Even units that have already taken their turn and are marked “used” get a chance for opportunity fire against adjacent enemies. By spending a command point, your heavy weapons team can take a rule-bending long ranged “final opportunity fire.”

And under those circumstances those morale checks can be a killer. First, your guys might just stop moving altogether when they come under fire. Later on, they may decide to fall back in order to take cover.

This scenario is just a MicroGame-sized chunk of action… but everything here works. It’s very easy to teach. It’s easy to set up and takes place all on one map panel. My wargaming pals on the other side of the world have been recommending this one for years. Glad to finally know what all the buzz was about!

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fake Virtues are a Cover for Real Vices

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 00:35

Wizards of the Coast’s transphobic drow continue to be the gift that keeps on giving:


Thanks to Carl here for helpfully summarizing everything wrong with second edition D&D in one image.

(And come to think of it, this reminds me that Gygaxian Naturalism is probably more correctly termed Greenwoodian Naturalism.)

Oh, and if you haven’t seen it already, don’t miss E. Reagan Wright’s “So old and young, and so gay”. If you think he’s exaggerating about the Left there, then you’re more than likely out of the loop and misinformed.

Here’s a primer if you’re so inclined:

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

“The person responsible for making the things you really want to see is you.”

Sun, 03/18/2018 - 15:07

Here’s one of the luminaries of the OSR throwing down the gauntlet to a very familiar complaint:

Things that I believe that will make everybody hate me, part XVII:

1. The very purpose of identifying a “community” is to recognize some specific difference from the general population. The very definition of a “community” must exclude most people from it for it to even be a community.

2. If you think the OSR is too straight/white/male making too much straight/white/male stuff, well, even if that was 100% correct… where’s your supplement? Adventure? Version of The Rules?

Every one of us in the OSR had to decide that something that we wanted wasn’t being given to us, so we made it ourselves. And each of us continues to do our own thing. If you think that’s lacking in some way or another, that’s not our responsibility, it’s your opportunity.

The person responsible for making the things you really want to see is you. Embarrass us with your riches. We can’t stop you. In fact, we’re waiting for it. And you. Really. Step on up.

You know… if “step on up” is the answer when you’re sort of a niche of a niche in a scene that’s already a niche group… then how much more would it apply to a supposedly massive silent majority that’s perpetually put off by the social justice bias of Hollywood, publishing, and television?

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Internet Gold: Extreme Bro Feelz, Muppets’ Danny Boy, and Wonderbread He-Man

Sat, 03/17/2018 - 22:47

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Charles Bronson in… Top Lobster: The Movie!

Sat, 03/17/2018 - 14:01

Okay, this one is very much a product of its time. This has its down side:

  • The rural ex-army tough guy played by Charles Bronson hires “migrant” workers instead of the local “poor white trash” field hands that are willing to work for less than what the non-Americans will take.
  • The romantic interest played by Linda Cristal is a bossy, non-American, Union-organizing troublemaker… the antithesis of the sort of woman that a rural American decorated ex-military farmer/entrepreneur is liable to fall in with.
  • Bronson’s character is divorced and cynical. Cristal’s character is painfully crass in all matters pertaining to romance. This combination means there is basically no chemistry and lousy repartee.

So this is utterly shameless propaganda, right from the get go. No amount of scenes with beer, cigarettes, denim, and Ford pickups can paper over this fact. Though I have to say… if you could filter out the hard Left anti-American political message that frames everything, this picture of an America that ceased to exist decades ago is almost precisely like what I remember. At any rate, they have Linda Cristal make a bee line for the kitchen when she goes soft and decides to take up with Bronson’s tough guy that was trying to get rid of her.

The thing that is so appealing about this film is the unvarnished depiction of a no holds barred conflict between two alpha males that simply can’t imagine anyone else being more alpha than them:

Frank Renda: Hey, what’d they bust you for?
Mr. Majestyck: Assault with a shotgun.
Frank Renda: A shotgun? That’s attempted murder, man. They’re gonna jam you the same as me. I got an idea that might work. You don’t worry about it. I give you a phone number to call, we’ll be out of the country before morning.
Mr. Majestyck: I like my idea better.
Frank Renda: Now listen, you come with me… be worth plenty. Sound good?
Mr. Majestyck: You got it ass backwards. I ain’t coming with you, you’re coming with me.

Spoiler warning: Charles Bronson’s character of Mr. Majestyck seriously out-alpha’s the competition. And it is epic. (Also: the Ford pickup out-alpha’s the muscle cars.)

Watching it, one can’t help but think of the lobster conflicts Jordan Peterson describes in the first chapter of his book, Twelve Rules For Life. At dispute level one, outmatched lobsters will merely give up without a fight. At dispute level two, there is a contest of intimidation… with one side eventually losing his nerve. At level three, the lobsters wrestle until one is flipped over on his back. Combatants that insist on settling things lobster-to-lobster at this point are proceeding to dispute level four, where the chances of permanent, debilitating physical harm are likely for one or even both of the lobsters.

In Mr. Majestyck, Charles Bronson skates past the first three dispute levels in ten minutes… and then stays at level four for the duration of the film. After seeing a lot of terrible movies the past several years that were supposedly butchered in the hopes of doing better in the overseas market, it’s nice to see something that directly targets an American cultural touchstone. The way that this character picks out a very modest range to subsist in and then defends it far beyond what any rational person would do, up to and including standing up to the local tough guy, the cops, and the mob is fundamental to the mindset of the Scotch-Irish peoples of the southeastern parts of the United States.

In 1974 and for this particular audience, they didn’t need to kill the protagonist’s dog in order for people to understand what was happening and why.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs