Saturday, March 25, 2017

Read Outside The Brand!

Over at Rawle Nyazi's blog he had a good post on why Game Masters should be, and need to be, well-read. That post followed on from a post at the Castalia House blog on how short fiction can completely eliminate the need for supplementary materials in a tabletop RPG.

This harmonizes with my insistence that all you'll want from the publisher is a ruleset, and quite frankly you don't need to buy that either anymore- you have since the year 2000 (and you can find other free option, similar to and divergent from the d20 System baseline). That assumes that you want to bother with someone's else design at all, and I don't as often as not anymore.

So, what should you--as a fan, as a gamer, whatever--do to Git Gud at this thing you love? Well, I've been harping on it over this week: READ! Read the sources the creators draw from. Read the philosophers they rest their assumptions upon. Read the histories, biographies, mythologies that they're taking from. Read widely, read deeply, read for comprehension- not speed. Oh, and a note: there are different modes of reading for different purposes, so learn and master them.

Think this isn't relevant to Your Thing? Remember what I said yesterday about Thrawn being Sun Tuz? That's proof of relevance; once you've read The Art of War a few times and know about the Warring States period in China's history you can see where Thrawn's coming from in his approach because you read that in Sun Tzu. (You can add Clauswitz and Machiavelli to that category of reading.)

Remember my complaints about the Monomyth being all over Hollywood? Well, Joseph Campbell didn't operate in a vacuum; reading, at the least, The Hero With a Thousand Faces will get you into a place in your brainmeats that will (a) ruin your ability to read/watch crap and (b) appreciate the brilliant stuff even more when you encounter it.

Love your mecha? Go read Starship Troopers. Like that? Go read the Lensman books; that's where Powered Armor (and mecha) come from. Ditto your Jedi, Green Lantern Corps, and similar Supercop organizations in popular fiction. Adore the fleet battles of Legend of the Galactic Heroes? Go read the accounts of ancient warfare through to the Napoleonic era, which is where a lot of the memetic references come from- not so much with actual naval history (though that's worth reading in its own right). Fascinated with the Autocracy-v-Democracy theme? Oh man, there's a whole world of philosophy and theology to follow there; that's worth a post to itself, and there are entire blogs devoted to it.

Do you see where I'm coming from yet? Do you see how, and why, reading/watching/playing more than Your Favorite SF/F Brand can only make your enjoyment of it better? Well, how about making you better able to participate in the world at-large, and at higher levels of complexity and sophistication, than otherwise is the case- things that can make your working life better, in many cases.

Read, dammit! So much of what I'm talking about is in the library, or published for free as public domain books, that you can do this for nothing more than the cost of the time required to get a library card or have an e-reader handy. It's nothing but good for you, and the more you do it the more fun it becomes.

Friday, March 24, 2017

My Life in Fandom: In Praise of Thrawn

Star Wars has some truly awesome villains. Everyone knowns about Darth Sideous, a.k.a. Emperor Palpatine. Everyone knows about Darth Vader. Thanks to The Clone Wars we've rehabilitated General Greivous, Darth Maul, and Count Dooku into villains fans and creators can respect in narrative terms. However, it took this closing season of Rebels to bring back the best post-Original Trilogy villain: Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Until Thrawn came about, the fans saw Force-users as being so innately superior that you had to be one to effectively beat one, making the Expanded Universe post-Jedi (1983) until Attack of the Clones(2002) or Revenge of the Sith(2005) not take mundane villains seriously, no matter how hard EU creators tried at times. West End's RPG, as it was the basis for the EU past 1987, reinforced this view: if you don't get them when weak, you'll never get them outside of deus ex machina sorts of events.

Thrawn was the first crack in that wall of fan-generated dogma. The means by which he achieved his victories over the heroes--the disciplined study and analysis of the targets of his operations, coupled with an iron will focused on the objective with flexibility in the immediate situation to take advantage of developments--was nothing more than Sun Tzu put into Star Wars, and that is why it worked.

Thrawn showed YOU, the reader, how to beat Force-wielders without being one yourself.

There is nothing Thrawn did that you couldn't apply to your life, here and now. You can study your opponents. You can analysis their culture. You can assess their psychology accordingly, and use that intelligence to inform your strategy against them. Gamers, we already have a term for this: meta-gaming, also known as "playing the player". Vox Day does this daily, to hilarious effect, which he recounts often.

That's why Thrawn is both awesome and inspiring; he shows you what any common man can do if they are willing to apply their intellect properly towards the achievement of their goals, and he demonstrates that he's created a system by which he can--and does--readily and repeatedly turn every encounter to his advantage, meaning that regardless of the immediate outcome he learns some vital piece of information that he then turns to his advantage going forward. He cuts losses swiftly, salvages failures before they're complete, and keeps cool in the face of adversity. He's the respectable adversary that Vader and Palpatine are not.

So, I do hope that Thrawn's canonical return endures past the end of this season of Rebels. The franchise needs him, badly.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Star Wars and the Return of the Pulp Tradition

Star Wars is now the great juggernaut of Science Fiction. Its presence, influence, and reach surpass all other contenders- yes, even over Star Trek. It's been like that for decades now, and the overall business that George Lucas built up and sold off a few years ago prove that fact conclusively. There are consequences to this multi-generational phenomenon, above and beyond the Oroborus behavior of fans not going outside the brand and thus becoming increasingly illiterate as to what historical and cultural developments informed the creation of the property.

We are now at the point where this illiteracy reaches the premiere products of the franchise. Both The Force Awakens and Rogue One (and the Han Solo film appears to be) were tone-deaf retreads that didn't pick up, or feel at all like the original films, until the third act- and then, if not for fan-service that sentiment wouldn't exist either. As seems to be the case, and has been for some time, the claim of these films being "official fan-fic" is accurate, apt, and devastating in its truth.

Because those now creating for the franchise, with a few exceptions, lack Lucas' education on mythology and background in pulp fiction we're in the copy-of-a-copy problem of continued degradation from the original due to a Cargo Cult mentality. This is not a corporate directive; this is the result of fans growing up, joining the business, and ascending up the ranks to where they are now at the helm- but they don't comprehend why they're doing what they're doing or how it works, for all their experience in dealing with it.

For now, the top-tier offerings will still meet business expectations; the folks doing the selling do know what they're doing, how it works, and why it works even if those making the stuff to be sold are lacking in those respects. That won't continue for long, and we're already seeing signs of this in reports over the intended story for the stand-alone Young Solo film. Rather than despair, or freak out, or whatever most fans will likely do I know what should be done- what some of you are already doing.

You're making better Star Wars than the Mouse is, because you're already going back to the same roots that Lucas did and making it your own as he did, and thus reviving what formerly was the norm in Science Fiction: adventures of a Romantic flair, filled with action, heroism, exoticism, and all of the other elements that audiences now reflexively go to Star Wars to get from their Science Fiction. (This is what drove the change in Star Trek in recent films away from being the pre-eminent "Men With Screwdrivers" form of Science Fiction; Paramount wanted that Star Wars audience.)

If there is an irony to be found in this situation, it is in the trends seen in the narratives of the active show (Rebels) and the primary film trilogy; both of them have themes of returning to the source of their cultures to find strength in the face of a powerful--but increasingly soullesst--threat. By reconnection to those roots, and the truth of existence therein, the smaller and materially-weaker upstarts can and will defeat the threat because they beat them at the Moral Level of War first and foremost. Again, those who deny you your culture and history dream of your extinction.

Like we're doing now, with the Pulp Revolution and the Superversive Movement and so on. Today Tor, tomorrow the Mouse, and onward to the return of our culture to Civilization- and the annihilation of Boskone.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My Life in Fandom: The Forgotten Realms and the Wider Culture

That's the killshot in a thread regarding this post at the Cirvosa blog today.

The Forgotten Realms is the current dominant brand in tabletop fantasy gaming, and it's been a part of the Dungeons & Dragons property since the late 1980s. (That's right, it's been around long enough to run for the U.S. Senate.) In addition to becoming the basic bitch Vanilla Fantasy setting for tabletop RPGs, it's gone on to greatly influence fantasy RPGs in videogames and became a significant influence in fantasy genre fiction. In all cases, the pull of this influence has not been to the benefit of any of these categories and often becomes a serious cancer to it.

But, it is NOT the fault of the Realms themselves. It is NOT the fault of TSR or Wizards of the Coast. It certain is NOT the fault of Ed Greenwood (the creator, whose specific home games are VERY different from what's published). No, the reason the Realms are what they are is--once again--the fault of the fandom. And, once again, for the same reasons I laid out yesterday using Star Wars as an example.

Be it the original boxed set for 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the amazing works put out for the 3rd edition, or even the videogames using the Realms as a licensed property, there is no deficit of detail and richness there for the taking. Thay's mageocracy is a wonderful tribute to Howard's Stygia. Cormyr is a delightful fusion of French and English history, with Vangerdehast doing a wizardly Walsingham impression. You can find a fantasy Venice well before Scott Lynch ever wrote his first novel, and so on- and these allusions, following Howard's method for his Hyboria, are deliberate due to the Realms being on an alternate Earth.

And the fans did not give two shits about ANY of it. The cultural and historical sub-literacy and illiteracy is NOT new, nor even recent. That shit is as old as when the first cohort of high school and junior high kids, who had sweet fuck-all for any wargaming experience, showed up to play that D&D game that the college kids were so hyped about. The players didn't care. The DMs didn't care. Why? Because none of that information ever crossed into the stuff they cared about: the core of the game, killing monsters and getting loot.

(We see this now with prominent streamers for Diablo 3 or World of Warcraft who don't know--and don't care to know--a damned thing about the lore. They care only about the gameplay, and dismiss the rest as irrelevant fluff.)

They have this attitude for a handful of reasons, none of which are the creators' or publishers' faults.

  • The influences are not brick-to-the-face obvious, so they're missed.
  • The DMs don't see any reason to make the players deal with them because they're not hard-coded into the rules, so they don't.
  • The players don't have to deal with them, so they dismiss it as irrelevant.
  • The exceptions who try get shat upon; players get booted for wasting time, and DMs get abandoned by players similarly.
  • The obsession over what's cool and powerful--the same that keeps Darth Vader popular, despite the known consequences--drives things like Elf worship, consequence-free magic, a complete disregard of religion and culture, and other things that are so long known as issues that there's a long-running parody of them going on.

Since the first days of D&D, coinciding with the 1980 mark where the SocJus Death Cult seized control over traditional SF/F, we've had gamers take up the pen and become authors. "Pink Slime", "Vanilla Fantasy", etc. all come out of this development and it got institutionalized when TSR opened its book division and began publishing Realms novels. Now it wasn't just the strange artifacts of those early gamers-turned-authors, but increasingly the dragon ate its own tail as more and more readers only read the branded stuff and eschewed the source material. That's the point when trends already in progress accelerated and achieved the form we criticize today as being derivative to the point of being boring and useless.

It's already sufficiently bad that any well-done derivation from this norm is sufficient to break an author out and set him up for big success, even in the deteriorating world of traditional SF/F publishing. Elves, elves, and more elves- especially in the works that are more romance than SF/F despite being labeled the latter. Vampires, werewolves, and similar archetypes are similarly debased and degraded into such Mysterious Sexy Alpha Male uses for such ends- taken out of context for use by people who don't care, or want to, about the cultural context they come from (and belong to).

They write these stories of elves being cool while killing orcs because that's all they got from their gaming experiences, and that sort of thinking comes to filter out everything similar that they enjoy. It's about doing cool things and wielding cool powers, and nothing at all of substance or consequence other than gaining or losing power- even the simple Spider-Man lesson of "With great power comes great responsibility." gets ignored because they have the power to do so effectively; at extremes, it's even the avoidance of challenge until it can be overcome with brute force. There's some serious rabbit-thinking going on here.

The people administering the Realms as a property are similarly rabbit-like in their psychology, and have been since TSR bought the thing from Greenwood, so it's no surprise to me that they can't properly address this known issue with their brand identity. The people running the RPG side of Wizards of the Coast are rabbits, so they can't hack the issue either. No, this has to be done by we in the fandom, and Cirvosa's call to just improve your skills at filing off the fucking serial numbers is a Big Deal. That has to go further, and that means making culture matter directly; subtly is lost here, routinely. Not just in the games and stories we create, but also in revealing--and celebrating--the influences we take in when making our creations and enjoying them.(Again, I cannot overstate the value of the entire Appendix N blog and book in making this happen.)

Real people do NOT act outside of a cultural context. Neither do believable fictional ones. Make culture matter again, and you will make fandom great again.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My Life in Fandom: If You Love It, Learn Why They Made It

I'm still checking out all sorts of Star Wars fan videos, and soon I'll post some channels at YouTube I think are good for folks looking for the gems, but today it's something else.

This isn't just a thing with Star Wars fandom. It's a thing with fandom in general, and that's the tendency to not see where the creators of whatever the thing is take their inspirations- sometimes including when said creators are on the record as to where they got the ideas that they used as ingredients in their creation process.

Last weekend, Star Wars: Rebels aired an episode that resolves the conflict between Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi left over from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This had significant hype build-up by the fan community, and I could tell by the reactions of some that they do NOT know or appreciate where George Lucas and his successors got their inspiration. That final duel was a reference to (and invocation of) Akira Kurosawa's samurai films, in particular the speed of the sword duels, and anyone that's paid attention to George Lucas as a filmmaker and storyteller knows of his love for that brilliant man and his incredible work. (Go watch The Hidden Fortress.) Furthermore, anyone who knows showrunner David Filoni knows that he's a faithful successor to Lucas (and so knows Lucas' inspirations) and deliberately follows the aesthetic of Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for Rebels as a tell of how he's approaching those inspirations.

All that? Over a lot of foolish fans' heads. They expected a pair of old men to bounce around like Yoda did in Attack of the Clones and not be slower and more static like Dooku was. They wanted a long fight, lasting for a full segment, and not the blink-and-you-miss-it affair it was. They didn't know, and they didn't want to know; they had expectations out of line with what the creators wanted, and got disappointed when they didn't get those expectations fulfilled.

When Revenge of the Sith happened, fans and wankers calling themselves "critics" alike failed to see the allusion to Weimar Germany morphing into the Third Reich when Palpatine pulled off Order 66 and declared the Galactic Empire. The degree of cultural and historical illiteracy to NOT see that allusion required revealed how degraded, in 2005, the education of far too many had already become. It hasn't gotten better in the past 12 years.

The ignorance we see in tabletop RPGs is just as bad, mirrored exactly in SF/F publishing, so much so that Jeffro Johnson's Appendix N sparked a revolution in the latter and reignited the passions of the former's Old-School Renaissance. Knowing where the people who made the thing you love came from in creating it has value, especially if you--in turn--are creating new things because of this thing that you love driving you to do so.

This is why history matters: knowing the past enters you into the Grand Conversation of Generations. From this process, we create and sustain our culture. Our culture remains healthy, vital, and energetic when each succeeding generation takes its place in the forum and begins to contribute to the conversation. Those who deny your culture seek your extermination.

You can only benefit from learning the hows and whys driving the creators creating the things you love. Do so.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Tabletop RPG Designer Went Full Retard

First, my thanks to the Pundit for responding aptly.

Second: For all you folks who don't pay much attention to the tabletop RPG world, this here is evidence that yes most of the folks making the big games (and the people in many smaller companies that feed of the scraps from the big games, almost all of whom worked on the big games or knew the creators) are SocJus Death Cultists. Pramas thought this was funny, witty, and a devastating rebuke of the God-Emperor. Well...

You're damn right it's retarded. This is going Full Retard. And we all know what to say to that:

And yes, this man's politics most definitely informs his decisions on what to publish, and what to put into what he publishes. If you want the most stupid example, I direct you to The RPG Pundit and his resounding denunciation of Blue Rose, the RPG that makes "romantic fantasy" out to be a degenerate faux-feudal Socialist Dystopia and you play the enforcers of the State. It really is Paranoia with a palette swap played straight (and less party-driven backstabbing) and more going outside.

Yes, this is the issue with Tor in a different--related--arena. The man (and his wife, and his peers) have no problem corrupting escapist entertainment with their politics- and watch the reactions, wherein he defends this as alternately (a) not a problem because it's all political and (b) not a thing because this isn't an issue. (Yep, contradictory defenses; SJWs Always Go Full Retard.)

Good thing that no one needs what he publishes, eh? Fortunately for us, hobbyists in tabletop RPGs can (and should) homebrew ALL the things, so fuck this cunt and his SocJus Death Cult fellow travelers. They're the cancer killing tabletop RPGs, and that's as much due to their inability to adapt to the new reality as it is due to ideological compulsion to corrupt and adulterate what (as with SF/F publishing) is rightly an apolitical entertainment business and hobby.

I'm with Bre Faucheux on this sort of thing. I'm tired of giving money to people who hate me and mine so much that they put that hatred before their obligation to provide value to the customer, especially when they are so fungible as to be replaced with what I can make up on my own- and often of equal or superior quality (as is the case with tabletop RPGs as a whole). Here's her take on this sort of thing:

There's no other way to put it: if you've drunk so much of the SocJus Death Cult Kool-Aid that you do this shit, then you're a Fake Gamer and you don't belong here. GET. THE. FUCK. OUT!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Recommendation: The Syrian Girl

Syrian Girl provides a critical perspective on all matters of interest anent and regarding the Middle East with an emphasis on Syria (as the name would imply) that the mainstream media refuse to address or even entertain. The American and Western mainstream fake news media through its alt-Left, anti-Trump, bumper sticker, playbook, echo chamber repeater (versus reporter) media repeat the mynah bird tropes and memes as ordered and directed.

It is critical and necessary to understand the world from every possible vantage and connection. It’s that simple.

"Syria is geographically and politically in the middle of the Middle East." — Bashar al-Assad

I've long followed this brilliant woman, finding her first when I was in graduate school several years ago in the course of doing research on my Master's degree, as she came to the notice of James Corbett of the Corbett Report. While I haven't seen or heard much from her recently, that doesn't mean nothing's going on; this appearance shows that she's still paying attention.

She's important because she brings the perspective of people from Syria, about Syria, and has personal and familial ties to sources that allow her to effectively gainsay the lying, hoaxing Establishment media of the globalist traitors to the West with regard to Syria and its immediate surroundings. It was from her that I first heard the truth that most "Syrian" refugees aren't Syrian at all, and from her that I first heard that the "rebels" were CIA-backed proxies and catspaws aimed at Russia (following Obama's policies). It was her that first showed me just how blatant the MSM's Narrative Warfare in Syria was, exposing the fraud of the gas attacks.

She's worth having in your media feed, folks, and she's operating as a one-man band. Even if you don't agree, listen to her; this is a woman worthy of your respect because she earns it. She does better journalism than most "journalists", and she does it on her own with a fraction of the Establishment frauds' resources.