Reindragoned – American Legends

Eragon was falsely advertised — okay, criticized — as a slavish hybrid of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, with dragon riders.  Obviously, this is the world’s greatest fantasy novel, despite what the critics say (originality is overrated, on account of there’s no such thing.)

But it was not to be.  Eragon was far more original than folk thought — it stole the forms of Tolkien, but none of the spirit.

So I resolved to fix this.  And that is my project for this month (and several future months, but July is devoted to it in particular).  I am going to rip off LotR and Star Wars.

So, I can’t make LotR and get the spirit of the thing exactly, and I will miss the spirit entirely if I just plop elves and dwarves into a renaissance festival.  (Ripping of Star Wars just means awesome special effects and lots of action.  Ripping off the good movies means listening to editorial advice).

LotR blossomed out of one of Tolkien’s largely unrealized dreams:  creating a mythos for the English.  A culture that coalesced as Christianity grew dominant, born of germanic tribes, tempered by celts, showered with roman ideas of structure, no existing mythos suited the English exactly.  The Norse and the Celtic came closest, but the Celts were scattered and the Norse too Sturm and Drang.

American culture — that is, my subculture.  White America, a culture forged out of many others, but primarily by English philosophers and Celtic malcontents, the America that revolted against George and spawned the Cowboys — has no pre-Christian myth suited to it either.  LotR won’t do for us.

I am incapable of succeeding where Tolkien failed, or even where he succeeded.  But if I am to slavishly copy LotR and succeed in capturing some of the spirit, I must pursue a similar course.

So, let’s take LotR.  It remixes some particularly English elements:

  • Norse concepts of noble sacrifice, of wild and potent nature and of wizened old wizards manipulating events.
  • Celtic concepts of the dangerous, secret, beautiful world of faerie.
  • The inherent dignity and worth of plain, humble country men minding their own business in the fields.
  • Arthurian ideas:  heroic knights adventuring in a world of monsters.

Mind you, setting ripoffs like D&D played up the Arthurian angle more than Tolkien ever did.  Still, the Rohirim and the Gondorians have a bit of the medieval court to them.

The legendary elements of American culture come largely from the colonization of America (and the revolution), the settler story, and the cowboy story.

My elements then:

  • A tough, resilient folk, slow to show their full fury, but dangerous when roused.
  • They came from a distant, highly refined civilization, which they fled because they love freedom, and it has gotten tyrannical.
  • They are further divided into two main subcultures — a unifying, more collectivist culture, and a more fiercely individualist culture.
  • A largely unexplored world.  They live on the edges and fringes of it.  They are largely cut off from the old empire and they don’t mind.  But representatives of the old empire still occasionally make the journey here.  (England for the colonials, New England for the Cowboys).
  • Native peoples who live in the unexplored wild, divided into roughly three categories:
    • The noble/wise savage, who understands the way of the wild, is sad by the ignorance of our civilization, and is willing to teach him.
    • The brutal/barbaric savage, who collects scalps, raids, wars, and wipes out whole towns if he can.
    • The civilization-minded savage who encountered our immigrant civilization and decided to take their culture and civilize it of their own accord.

We are dealing in legends and black-and-whites here, not realities.  Our faux-indians must be completely romanticized or demonized (and our faux-british completely demonized as well).  I intend to go in and add redemptive qualities even to my barbarians, as redemption of the lost is a big deal for me, but if I am to approach the quality of a tale with trolls and orcs, I must create beings that distill the best and worst of these elements.  Moreover, I must seek not the elements that historically existed, but the elements of the romances.

This adds some constraints under which my world-building must take place — for instance, the idea that the chief distinctive of humanity as a fantasy race is not that they are generalists rather than specialists (ala D&D) or else the mortal children of God (ala LotR), but rather that they are alien invaders; the cream of heroism from a falling and increasingly dark civilization.  In a sense, we are at once the elves and the orcs; only our orcs are more like the galactic empire’s storm-troopers.

Already, we’re off to a good start.  Humans can be divided into three categories:

  • Cowboy/Settlers
  • Townfolk
  • British Galactic Imperial Stormtroopers

And the native peoples into three:

  • Wise Mystics (D&D Elves)
  • Builders (Dwarves, except perhaps above ground).
  • Savage Barbarians (Warcraft Orcs)

(I chose Warcraft because there is already an inbuilt redemptive element).

Each of these should have its own race or kingdom or something along those lines.  Once again:  not trying to be subtle or realistic.  Subtlety and realism are completely counter to what I am doing.

The other constraint I’m using is that I’m merging my various fantasy worlds, to save work.  One of them is constrained thus:  No traditional fantasy races (elves, dwarves, etc).  I make an exception and include humans because one must have a race that is human enough for the reader to sympathize with.  My original idea was a race that was simply more humanlike than the others, but too far away and it doesn’t work, and too close and you might as well use humans.

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Neutrality is not an option.

Nintendo made a virtual people simulation game-toy-thingy.

In the simulation, sometimes two people get married.

But not if they are the same sex.

Explaining the brouhaha that resulted, Christian Nutt (?) said:

Things came to their inevitable head this week when Nintendo released an incredibly tone deaf statement to the Associated Press: “Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of ‘Tomodachi Life.’ The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. We hope that all of our fans will see that ‘Tomodachi Life’ was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game, and that we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.

The problem is that this option does not exist. As Patrick Klepek put it, “I hope Nintendo knows that excluding gay relationships is, in fact, a form of social commentary. It’s inherently political.”

Emphasis mine.

Not trying to provide commentary?  This option does not exist.  It’s inherently political to not include highly controversial sexual politics in a children’s game.  It’s rated E for Everyone, so, it’s (among other things) a children’s game.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have been served notice.  If you refuse to make a statement on something, this is inherently political.  If you go to the restaurant and order a burger without endorsing the gay agenda, this is inherently political.  One thing, and one thing alone will give you one moment of peace from the tittering gaggle of ironically self-righteous impuritans:  enthusiastic endorsement of their constantly shifting and contradictory ‘morality’ even as they shove you under a bus.

And they will shove you under a bus.  Progressives eat their own.

They have declared war.  Everyone not for them, and many people who are for them, are hereby to be considered against them.  If you are truly neutral on any point in the current progressive catechism, you are a racist, sexist, homophobe.  They can and will apply this label even to a black lesbian if, for instance, she decides to remain celibate because her inclinations are against her religion.

They will not see the irony.

 

Lads and lasses, the impuritans have declared everyone the bad guys.

 

 

A new contest for fantasy short stories, the Baen Fantasy Awards

So, a ton of blogs and reblogs in one day. If you write fantasy, you should enter this.

Monster Hunter Nation

They just put up information about the new Baen Fantasy Awards.

This is a short story contest. All of the details are at this link: http://www.baen.com/baenfantasyaward.asp

I am one of the judges. No. Don’t try to suck up. I won’t see any of the writer’s names. 🙂

What we want to see: Adventure fantasy with heroes you want to root for. Warriors either modern or medieval, who solve problems with their wits or with their sword–and we have nothing against dragons, elves, dwarves, castles under siege, urban fantasy, damsels in distress, or damsels who can’t be bothered to be distressed.

What we don’t want to see: Political drama with no action, angst-ridden teens pining over vampire lovers, religious allegory, novel segments, your gaming adventure transcript, anything set in any universe not your own, “it was all a dream” endings, or screenplays.

The winners will be honored at GenCon.

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An Aspect of World Building

Amusingly, Bruce’s main blog has an element of correspondence to my side blog, and his side blog to my main blog. Here’s a good thumb of rules for generating settings and characters.

Lagrandil

Hello Gentle Readers!

I have finally gotten around to writing my second essay for lagrandil.com, a piece about using aspects for world-building and characterization.  I started this as a quick response to a question on LinkedIn, and it has grown into something long enough, and perhaps useful enough, that it is worth sharing.

Aspect-driven world building depends on a combination of characteristic phrases and Jungian archetypical criticism to develop a resonant and consistent ensemble of concepts, locations, and characters to support a dynamic story.

I do not know if other authors put the stories together in the same way that I do, but none of the concepts are entirely my own.  The concept of Aspects comes from the Fate role-playing system designed by Rob Donaghue and Fred Hicks.  When I apply it to stories I use Jungian archetypes that I learned in college under Dr. Carol Ann Russell of Bemidji…

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Addendum to Fate Diceless:

To introduce more variations in skill ‘checks’, there are two extra rules:

1) Differing Invoke Values.  An Aspect is not worth a flat +2.  Instead it is worth +1 if the Aspect technically applies but is kinda dodgy (basically, your free generic +1 without taking up your free generic +1), +3 if it is perfect for the situation, and +2 if it fits.

E.g.

Dave the Pyromancer is preparing to toss an amazing fireball.  So he focuses his will for a Focused Will aspect.  When the time comes to launch his fireball, he gets +2 from Focused Will.  Or, if Binky the Clown tries to invade Dave’s mind, he can use Focused will for a +2 on his defense.

If, instead, Dave the Pyromancer spends his preparation stage conforming his spirit to the element of flame, for Soul of Fire, that will give him a +3 because it is perfect for fireball tossing.  However, against Binky’s attack, I wouldn’t even let him use the aspect.  If Dave is really creative and says “I repel Binky’s psychic assault by burning him with my Soul of Fire, forcing him to withdraw,” I will grant that this technically works, but is somewhat tenuous, and give him the +1.

2) Trading Actions for Bonuses.  In combat, you may check off a point of Action Stress to give yourself a bonus.  The lowest box (since it can be used for everything) gives you +3.  The highest box (since it is only useful for one approach) gives you a +1.  All others give you a +2.

E.g.

She-Hulk decides to do a fastball special with Spiderman.  She spends her turn hurling Spidey at distant foes, a Forceful approach, giving him a Hurtling Hero boost for his attack.  This brings his agility based combat up to a base of Superb for his immediate attack, as he tends to hit with a Quick approach.

The thugs decide they would rather not be hit, but even if their defensive approach is their highest, Spidey beats them by two.  So they check off their top action to dodge, and their bottom action for +3, and narrowly escape Spider-smackage at the low, low cost of two actions.

 

Thus, with these two rules, the success or failure of a given action may often be as mysterious as a roll of the dice.

Fate Diceless is not necessarily less complicated.  It is, however, quicker and less complicated to play, as the GM manages most of this behind his screen.  And I think, for him, it is no more complicated than Fate Core.

Fate Reactive Diceless

A build I’m considering, potentially to be playtested on road trips where dice would be awkward.

Reactive:

An additional stress track, called Action, is added to your character sheet.  Whenever you take any action aside from blocking an attack in combat, you must check off one of the boxes on this track.

The highest box you can check off corresponds to the skill used.  The length is equivalent to normal.  So, if you are running a basic 2 stress game, you have four stress boxes.  If you have Fight at Good or Great, you can use up to your fourth box for an attack.  If you have it at Fair or Average, you can use up to your third stress box.  If you don’t have the skill, you can only use your bottom two.

At the start of combat, the person with the highest initiative gets first choice.  This doesn’t mean they go first unless they want to.  Rather, they choose who goes first.

When it is your turn, and you have completed your turn, you choose who goes next from the list of characters who have not had a turn this round including the other team.  Careful — you don’t always want your whole team to go before the bad guys:  whoever moves last gets to choose who goes first next round.  If the badguys go last, you might have to suffer two rounds worth of abuse before you can hit back!

On your turn, you can take any number of actions, provided you have an available stress box.  So, you could go four times in a row.

On a turn not your own, if you are in a position to defend against an opponent’s action, you may also take an action simultaneously, rather than defending (or as a defense, if you are dodging).  Of course, you have to check off one of your action stress boxes to do this.  So when your turn comes up, you must decide how much stress you intend to devote to actions, and how much you intend to save for defenses and simultaneous actions.

Your Action Stress clears when your turn comes up again.

Finally, you may take as a stunt the ability to perform a specific action once per round for free.  E.G. “Free Dodge — once per round, you maydodge an attack without taking Action Stress”.

Diceless:

Diceless is exactly what it sounds like.  The dice never come out.  Your character is assumed to perform every skill as if they rolled a zero.  This makes setting up aspects, Fate Points, and free invokes extra-especially important, as when your turn comes around, you are going to want the ability to boost your skill if needed.

The GM keeps the stats of the players and NPCs to himself, but is obligated to warn the player if their chosen action will result in straight-up obliteration.  E.g. “As you run to the edge of the cliff, you skid to a halt.  You know there’s no way you’re going to jump it.  Would you like to try something else?”

To keep things simple:

Skills follow the Approach System from Fate Accelerated.

There are six approaches.  You get one at Good, two at Fair, and two at Average.  The remaining approach is Mediocre.

The approaches are:

  • Careful
  • Clever
  • Flashy
  • Forceful
  • Quick
  • Sneaky

Careful is used for stuff based on perception and attention to detail.  Lining up an arrow.  Noticing a ninja.  Constructing a bomb.

Clever is used for things that require fast thinking, tons of knowledge, or juggling multiple variables mentally.

Flashy is attention-getting stuff.  Inspiring speeches.  Embarrassing someone.  Magical fireworks.

Forceful is the unsubtle stuff.  Wrestling a bear.  Staring down a thug.  Casting a tough spell.

Quick is the dexterity-based stuff.  Dodging attacks.  Getting in the first punch.  Disarming a bomb with 5 seconds left.

Sneaky is about deceit, misdirection, or stealth.  Talking your way out of getting arrested.  Hiding.  Feinting in a sword fight.

The difference between skills and approaches is fairly obvious, and there’s a lot of overlap.  A swordsman might try a quick attack or a forceful attack.

Moreover, stunts apply as if the full skill list were in order: it applies to a specific action, not an approach, so it may work for multiple approaches depending on the situation.

Your mental and physical stress tracks, thus, also go all the way to four, but you can only take stress up to the level corresponding to how you defend (e.g. if you’ve got Forceful at Good, you can take up to four stress if you just endure the hit, but if you want to dodge it, you can only take 3).

The point is the GM can fit everyone on a couple of sheets, including the badguys.  Why?

Getting to the Point

FRD is about story-telling with a strong strategic undercurrent.  In the end, everything should come down to a description:  you describe how you do something, the GM looks at your approach rankings and tells you the results.

Boycott

So far as I understand, certain men have contributed to the active political purging of the SFWA, and I have decided to not buy their novels nor read them.  Moreover, I recommend everyone on the side of goodness and light do this, (though I do encourage you to examine the facts yourself rather than harm someone’s career on the basis of my fallible understanding.)  Though I initially named them, I have redacted their names from this post.

Why?  Should we not rise above the petty, passive-aggressive tactics of our ideological enemies and accept their work based on its value alone.  I think Bruce would say so, and many on my side will say so as well.

I disagree in a manner of speaking.  There is no crime, no offense against freedom of speech, if you intentionally marginalize the speech of those who are trying to marginalize you.  I recommend that those on the side of goodness and light not subsidize this evil, but I will neither demand nor legislate this.

I am playing a multiple-round, multiple opponent game of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma goes as follows:  two men are prisoners.  If they both remain loyal to one-another, they receive two points.  If one agrees to rat the other out, the stool pigeon is awarded five points, and the other nothing.  If they both narc on one-another, each receives one point.

In single round, single opponent, the optimal strategy is to narc.  At best, you get the big prize.  At worse, you prevent the other guy from getting ahead.

But in multiple-round, multiple-opponent, the optimal strategy is tough-but-fair.  You always start with loyalty.  If your opponent narcs on you, forever after, you narc on that opponent.

Providing multiple players adopt this strategy, those that do will outscore the narcs.

Thus, if a liberal author keeps their politics out of their professional interactions, and their books are good, I will gladly return the courtesy.  But whoever plays by a lower set of rules has set the rules by which I will deal with them.  And if they further escalate, I shall escalate faster, provided doing so does not involve immoral actions.

But is this Christian?

Love your neighbor as yourself, after all, turn the other cheek, do unto others, and all that.

Well… you have more than one neighbor, don’t you?

Provided this is a purely personal matter — you are the only one harmed — turning the other cheek is the correct response.  But if this involves more people, you must consider all of your neighbors as a whole, and choose the action that benefits them all, or at least most of them.

It is worth nothing at the moment, as I am not qualified for membership in the SFWA, (though I intend to make a good go of it), but for the record, I will not join, nor will I support it in any way.  Moreover, I will not purchase nor read nor recommend the works of those involved in the purging, and I will recommend that those who prefer freedom to bondage do likewise.