Short Reviews – In Rubble, Pleading, Michael Bishop

In Rubble, Pleading by Michael Bishop appears in the February 1974 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Michael Bishop’s In Rubble, Pleading was one of those odd stories that likes to sneak its way into Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction which is not particularly fantastical or really science fiction, or even speculative, beyond the speculation of the character within. This piece has a bit of horror and southern gothic going on with it, but didn’t scratch the itch I’ve had lately. It wasn’t a bad story, so I won’t hold that against it.

Folks are in a barbershop right after one of a series of deadly tornadoes, talking about the weather. One guy recounts a particularly gruesome anecdote about a boy he found with a board sticking through his torso and how there was nothing that could be done but wait for the kid to succumb to his injuries. The boy in the barbershop thinks to himself that maybe a conscious force is directing the tornadoes.

I… I’m sorry, I couldn’t make that sound interesting. I guess it really wasn’t. It’s the sort of thing you might read in one of those collections of “REALTRUELIFESCARYSTORIES!” or some other book dressed up as campfire ghost stories that aren’t really ghost stories, and it would feel at home there. But at least it wasn’t a 61 page Jewish Mother joke or a Joanna Russ screed about white privilege!

If you go into a story like this with ghost-story/true-horror expectations, you’ll find that it’s a pretty decent well-told examples of the genre. Just maybe don’t read it coming down from the high of finishing one of Leigh Brackett’s Mars novel.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

I’m not sure if I can say “I love Dungeon Crawl Classics” because I only got a tiny taste of mechanics; for all I know, once we get into the weeds of level 1, I might hate it. But the funnel. Oh, lordy, the funnel! I could run the meat grinder a hundred times, because it’s so much fun! It really forced me out of my comfort zone of what I’m used to playing and made me love my lousy-statted characters.

My ostler, the only character without stats in the negative, ended up dying, but that’s okay, because he was kind of boring in his averageness. I’ll miss Robin the Miller, with his 1lb sack of flour, brawn over brains problem solving skills and hard drinking bluster. He might’ve been a decent fighter or even a mage; hopefully the snake cultists will be mercifully quick when they sacrifice him. In the end it was Elyse the cutpurse (two negative stats and no positives) who made it out of the dungeon: as an ugly girl who likes ugly things, Elyse befriended some feverlings in the cultists’ menagerie; when the fighting broke out, she snagged keys off the captain, set them free and ran out through the sewers with a gaggle of blood-weeping antlered bird-things.

I probably play female characters 70/30 in video game rpgs (in no small part because ES games start female characters with higher MU-related stats, which are harder to raise than physical stats), but I’ve never played as a female character around the gaming table, so this should be interesting. And hey, no one made any jokes about how her starting item was a small chest! Interestingly enough, we started with 5 male characters and 4 female characters between the three of us, and we left the dungeon with an all female party.

Level 0 DCC feels like one of those few times that one “wins” in a tabletop RPG. Everyone who gets out with one character alive “wins”; if someone gets out with more than one character, I don’t know, they superwin? Like I said, I could play the funnel over and over again.

In other news, I may have been hasty when I pooh-poohed Dragons of Glory simply for being a Dragonlance product*. It’s actually the one product out of the whole lot of them that I might end up playing. Turns out Dragons of Glory isn’t a D&D module but a stand-alone hex & chit wargame that purports to recreate the War of the Lance. It doesn’t use Mentzer or Battle System; it’s actually it’s own game with fairly standard wargame rules with odds charts and column modifiers; the only thing that really makes it stand out is that it uses a d10 instead a d6 to roll on the combat results table. I might actually be able to convince my dad to play this one with me.

As cool as the the Greyhawk folio is, I have no idea what I’ll ever do with it besides maybe frame those giant hex-maps of Oerth.

*My dirty secret is that I LOVED the Dragonlance books as a wee-lad.  It may have been pink slime fantasy, but from ages 10-12, I devoured them.

Civil War pt5

I’ve just had too damn much content this week to talk about the Civil War game I’m in the middle of. Won’t be a problem next week, as my Dad & I didn’t have a chance to play, but I will have some extra time to consider my strategies.

Not much is happening in the far west; the Texas and New Mexico militias have gone home and can never come back (SPs can only be placed on victory point cities, of which there are none that far west), but we’ve both got 1 Injun point each, with two Texas forts burned down and two New Mexico forts burned down. If we get any more really long turns, my Mexican banditos might ineffectually ride around central New Mexico firing guns in the air and letting everyone know they’re coming, but my most productive strategy in that theatre will be to call up some Texas Rangers and make sure as many Injun tribes are on my side as I can.

The TransMississippi isn’t quite to Kirby Smithdom yet, but it’s looking like a real possibility if things aren’t shorn up quick in Mississippi. I’m suffering in this theatre from a lack of generalship; there’s no one with enough stars to form the Army of the West, so my main hope is that I keep my dad busy enough in Tennessee and Maryland that Arkansas won’t seem worth it.

Things are interesting in the West: AS Johnston had been holding his own fairly well against Grant and Lyon along the Cumberland, but I desperately needed army-level flexibility and leadership to keep things that way. So Stone-wall Jackson took the paperwork and the command staff of the Army of Mississippi up to Memphis by rail and left a fairly sizable force behind in the Swamp Fortress outside of New Orleans. Unfortunately, the Army of the Cumberland managed to amass enough forces by sea in New Orleans and gather enough ironclads to shell the place to pieces. Now maybe a thousand starving guys in the swamp are all that stand between the Union Marine invasion force and Vicksburg. My only consolation is that I’ve been able to do the rope-a-dope on the Army of the Tennessee; my dad made the mistake of splitting the army, leaving a fairly strong force behind with Lyon north of the Cumberland, so he could try to earn some promotions for his top leaders with probing attacks. His problem was that I’d dug in so deep around Nashville and had such great leaders that any attack was bound to end up in my favor. By pouring everything I had into pursuing and pummeling Grant, I was able to drive him halfway back to Cairo and nearly crush the Army of the Tennessee. I’d worn it down to a 6, which forced my dad to mobilize damn near every Yankee west of the Shenandoah to try to bolster the force back up. Once Stonewall Jackson can take control of the garrisons left along the river near Nashville to keep central Tennessee safe, Johnston won’t have to worry about his supply line, either. Everything’ll be hunky dory until Johnston finds himself between the Army of the Tennessee near Cairo and the Army of the Cumberland coming up through Memphis.

I finally decided it was time to force some distractions in the East, having put down the worst of the raiders in North Carolina. I’m still in trouble because the Union has free range of the coasts, but if I can bog my dad down around the Potomac, his command points will be too tied up in dealing with Jo Johnston and his outriders to continue an invasion of the Carolinas by sea. Johnston’s ventured around the Potomac into Pennsylvania and sent off a small command to take Harrisburg as bait. If McDowell tries to do anything about regiments that were sent to take Harrisburg, even though those forces will be completely overrun, he’ll leave a path wide open for Johnston to march straight from Chambersburg into Washington DC. As long as I can force McDowell to run around chasing brigadier generals around Pennsylvania, I’ll be in good shape.

We’ve been at this for about for just shy of a month now, and are at the half-way point for the game.  I’m really hoping that my Dad will win one, since, not counting the few games of Ogre we played, our latest streak has been 3-0 for me, but the opportunity to march into DC with the Army of Northern Virginia is just too much to pass up.

Anyway, tonight I play Dungeon Crawl Classics for the first time! My friend who is running his wild and woolly urban dungeon crawl has opted to use a different system so he doesn’t have to offer an apologia to new players re:LotFP’s art.

Short Reviews will resume next week.

A Very Long and Rambling Post About Morrowind, the Elder Scrolls and Maybe a Little Jack Vance

I’m a huge fan of the Elder Scrolls games and have talked about them at length both here and on the comments over at Rumors of War when discussing things ranging from quest design to how to handle factions. I haven’t talked about them as much lately, because I felt like I’ve said most of what I’d have to say and I don’t want to retread too often. I also hadn’t been playing them much recently, so I haven’t had any real useful epiphanies about the Elder Scrolls to comment on. Until now…

I got into the Elder Scrolls through Oblivion. I played it on a friend’s box back in 2006 for a little bit. It was one of the most amazing and beautiful games I’d ever seen (c’mon, guys, it was 2006!); I had to get it! Well, I got it and I sunk more hours than I can comprehend. I’ve probably lost literal months of my life to this and other Elder Scrolls games. Eventually I played all 4 of the core Elder Scrolls games, and I could understand fans of Morrowind’s major issues with Oblivion.

Both Arena and Daggerfall are very much genre games. Arena was a straight-forward affair in which one collected MacGuffins from impressive locations to kill an evil wizard. In some ways, Daggerfall might be considered one of the watersheds of Post-genre fantasy, because it was one of the first games to really begin the shift toward the Orcs as noble savage paradigm that has become so commonplace and it did a lot with its in-game books, but other than that it was still very bog-standard fantasy with all of the typical factions of thieves, fighters, mages, assassins guilds and temples and such. There was a bit of strange that was creeping in by way of the cosmology introduced in Daggerfall and the short fiction included in-game, but for all intents and purposes, it was western style fantasy adventure. Oblivion is also a fairly straight-forward affair of western style castles, knights and heroes; the loudest complaints one heard about Oblivion were the sparseness of locations, the lack of extensive dialogue that was present in Morrowind, and the relatively normal and generic fantasy feel of Oblivion compared to Morrowind.

And yes, I’ve always agreed since I’ve had the chance to play it that Morrowind is one of the best fantasy settings of damn near any game ever made, but I may finally be able to articulate why it stands out the way it does and why Elder Scrolls fans have so much praise for it.

I’ve come back to Morrowind once again, this time because of the Vance I’ve been reading. I’ve yet to get my hands on much of Vance’s fantasy works, but I’ve now read several books in his Gaean Reach setting. They seem to straddle the line of science-fantasy, sometimes leaning a bit towards the fantasy and sometimes leaning away. For instance, the Gray Prince had some magical elements while The Dogtown Tourist Agency did not, though they take place in the same megasetting. Whether there is mystical and magical present or not, Vance’s worlds are all strange and alien places where one can have an exciting adventure through the unfamiliar. For instance, Miro Hetzel, the Galactic Effectuator, has a hard-nosed detective adventure on a desert world whose native populace is a barbarian race of lizard men who reproduce by fighting wars and laying eggs in the dead bodies. The story, outside investment & cheap labor paid for unethically, possibly illegally, being used to undercut manufacturing competitors, is mundane but the setting is uncanny.

Out of all of the Elder Scrolls games, Morrowind is the only one that feels very pre-genre. It could be set on a moon of Alpha Centauri for how bizarre it is. Reading the Gray Prince, The Dragon Masters and Galactic Effectuator had me thinking “My God, the Elder Scrolls could easily be set in the Gaean Reach post collapse!” Especially compared to the games that came before and after it, Morrowind’s elves are strange and incredibly alien, not to mention the Khajiit and Argonians… these races all feel like they’re straight out of sci-fi pulps! I’ve already talked about how the Dunmer Ashlanders of Morrowind bear a striking resemblance to the Uldras in the Gray Prince. And I’ll always think of Anne McCaffrey’s cat people of Doona with their rolling R’s when I hear a Khajiit mumbling about yummy drugs and friendship.

Morrowind is a world of towering mushroom trees, giant insect egg mines, multi-thousand year old fortresses inhabited by squatting wizards and devil worshiping cults, spells and scrolls named after the wizards who wrote them, magic users experimenting with new spells with fatal results, ancient magics beyond the comprehension of even the most powerful contemporary wizards, and cities made from the dead husks of extinct giant desert crabs. And this world is full of petty rivalries, slave trades, smugglers, mundane organized crime, blue collar workers, desert nomads, librarians, farmers, potters, peddlars and petty thieves. It’s wild and crazy anything goes heroic fantasy pulp! And to just make things a little bit meta, there are heroic fantasy pulp stories to be found and read IN GAME. A few in game books are simple flavor and not much to talk about, but some of the multi-part novellas, such as A Dance in Fire (15,487 words), the Wolf Queen (11,944 words), The Real Barenziah(18,188/22,534 words), 2920: The Last Year of the First Era (20,779 words), or even the much shorter Bone (3,158 words) are worthy as stand-alone entries in the genre. They inform and are informed by the game’s strange world which was first informed by influence of several pulp heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery writers; there’s very little of the Tolkienesque tradition found here, and even less of the Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms post-genre influence on the setting.

So it is quite understandable that fans who were awed by the wild and pulpy world of Morrowind would be disappointed by relatively bland world of Oblivion, especially for those who HAD read the various in game books that described the Imperial province as a terrifying jungle filled with Burroughsian white apes. To make matters worse, while fighting relatively mundane enemies in a fairly samey fantasy setting, we get things like the in-game sequel to A Dance In Fire, The Argonian Account (7,039 words), which tells tales of mysterious and festering swamps where inhabitants travel around via the slow-working digestive tracks of fast-burrowing swamp worms… REALLY WEIRD STUFF! And you find yourself wondering “Why am I riding a horse from one generic copy-paste castle ruin or limestone cave to the next when before I was poking around weird haunted steam-punk dwarven ruins and ancient alien elf-fortresses from the 1st Age?” Locations that were referred to and relevant to the in-game fiction often appeared nowhere in game, with two whole cities missing, but that could be more easily overlooked had the game’s tone continued to reflect that which was established by the prior game and the game’s on in-world accounts of itself. The world in the books about the game’s world made you wish that you were playing there instead, even though the world in the books was supposedly the game’s world.

Okay, maybe I wasn’t able to articulate my thesis as well and concisely as I’d hoped to, but I made a try of it, by golly!

Anyway, I said I was going to criticize Morrowind as well as praise it, and I still intend to do so.

Awesome setting aside, Morrowind suffers from a major problem in the form of a lack of urgency, largely due to its game world’s static nature. The Camonna Tong is ALWAYS in the middle of some scheme whose trigger is never pulled, the Great Houses are always just on the verge of some big conflict, the Thieves Guild and Fighters Guild are always on the brink of a big intrigue, and nothing ever happens until the player actively engages those factions’ story-lines. Which isn’t a HUGE problem in itself, but it becomes an issue when nothing happens AFTER the player has engaged those story-lines. Dagoth Ur is scheming and his sleepers are hanging around, but they don’t DO anything, and Dagoth Ur is literally waiting for the play to come visit and kill him. Morrowind lacks a dynamic world, and therefore the player has no impetus to do more than dick around at leisure. This is slightly different from Daggerfall which would have certain quests running in the background, and all known quests, once engaged, became time sensitive. But that Telvanni spy that Ranis Athrys wants you to out is going to be there hanging around not doing anything until you out him, and if you never out him, it’s not like he actually does anything.

Recently Dither of Rumors of War came up with a simple classification system for plots:

Event: Urgent and Important
Quest: Important but Not Urgent
Affair: Urgent but Not Important
Rumor: Neither Urgent nor Important

To be truly engaging, a game world needs to have all of these types of plots. Morrowind’s biggest issue is that it lacks Events, and the Affair types are Rumor’s in disguise, because any sense of urgency is artificial. Telling the lady with Corprus disease to leave Vivec or catching the murderers who have killed the pilgrims and Ordinators in Vivec may seem urgent – you may even be told that dealing with it is urgent -, but you’re left entirely to your own schedule to handle them with no alteration of outcome if you delay or expedite accomplishing them. The effects of lacking Events and Affairs in Morrowind are exacerbated by the fact that you have an in-game calendar, a day and night system, and a track of how many in-game days have passed. The calendar was used to more effect in Daggerfall, wherein holidays and demon summoning days fell on specific dates that had in-game effects, and, as mentioned before, all quests were on time-tables ranging from around a week to a month. As far as I know, Morrowind is the ONLY core Elder Scrolls game in which the day and night system have only cosmetic effects on gameplay (with, perhaps, the exception of the sneak skill).

Oblivion really does not handle this much better, though if anything, certain bugs that lead to non-flagged NPCs accidentally killing themselves or something do give certain things a sense of urgency. For example, getting enough money to buy the best house in the game before the guy you buy it from falls off the castle bridge and dies. But one of the jokes I read once was that never starting the main quest was the responsible thing to, because, with the exception of Kvatch, Oblivion gates won’t start opening up until you’ve given the Amulet of Kings to Joffre.

Daggerfall managed to convey urgency at times, particularly in certain stages of the game, because quests would run in the background that would send assassins and monsters after you until you finished or began certain quests, though these were infrequent. With Morrowind, they were virtually non-existent. The adventure hook to entice the player to explore the Tribunal content aimed to create this effect – an assassin from the Dark Brotherhood would interrupt your sleep and try to kill you – but ultimately fails because the moment you mention the attempt on your life to anyone with that as a topic, you’ll never be attacked by them again. On one hand, if the attacks were pressed until you actually dealt with the quest line and confront Helseth’s Lieutenant about it, there would be a greater sense of urgency. On the other hand, I could see how it would be damn annoying to have to go and briefly interact with high-level expansion content at low levels just to stop getting attacked every couple of days.

Without that sense of urgency and change, however, Vvardenfell begins to feel dead, especially after months of in-game playing to the point at which you’re the head of multiple guilds and are the elf-pope. Around that point, you kill the god Vivec and stuff him in a soul gem because why not? No one is going to notice or care. And then you start killing everyone because no one can stop you and you’ve finished most of the interesting quests anyway. Then you realize, walking around an empty Balmora, that nothing really feels that different.

For your game world to feel dynamic and real (tabletop or otherwise), you need to have things going on, stuff that can be potentially missed by your players. I tend to use what I call quantum content; things stay in stasis until players have interacted with them. Once they’ve seen something, it’s set in motion and they need to either deal with it to resolve it or somehow it’ll resolve itself. You can’t put everything in real-time, because then you’ll have to keep track of everything doing stuff and killing each other in a dungeon that your player may never even explore. But once your players know a princess is being held somewhere, they’d better get off their ass to save her, because one way or another, she won’t be there to save for long.

Doing It Wrong When It’s Right There In the Book pt 2: Magic in B/X

magic doing it wrong

We’re all familiar with how magic in Dungeons & Dragons works, right? You have your daily spell slots with the spells you memorized from your book, you gain new spells by finding scrolls and enemy wizards’ spell books and adding them to your own. Your library of spells may exceed the number of spells you can cast in a single day, but the point is collecting them like Pokemon: find ’em out in the wild or steal them from rivals. Only you’d be wrong. That’s not how magic works in B/X AT ALL.

I’ll make no bones about the fact that I house rule magic, though my house rule is to basically use the Holmes Basic rules or at least what I understand them to be from my extensive following of Zenopus Archives. I like the flavor of it: giant books and magic users with a fist-full of scrolls plunging the depths to find new scrolls and steal spell-books to write new spells into their own (which are hopefully not stolen while they’re off adventuring). I go with the whole 100gp x spell level scrolls as part of resource management that jibes with some of Holmes’ own articles and, of course, the gaming supplements I use that were created by Zenopus Archives, and in every game I’ve run, it’s worked. Besides, isn’t that the whole spirit of Vancian magic, Dying Earth and all that stuff?

Still, I managed to be surprised and taken aback when I actually READ THE RULES.

Moldvay only talks very briefly about spell books:

Each magic-user and elf has a spell book for the spells that he or she has learned. A first level character will only have one spell (a first level spell) in the spell book. A second level character will have two spells (both first level) in the spell book; a third level character will have three spells (two first level spells and one second level spell) in the spell book.

The mechanics of spell books are left mostly to assumption in Moldvay*. Cook, on the other hand, writes extensively on them, codifying rules pertaining to spell books and how they work in basic. More importantly, Expert explicitly states how Magic Users learn new spells and how many spells they can have in their spell book:

Magic-users and elves must be taught their new spells. Most player character magic-users and elves are assumed to be members of the local Magic-Users Guild or apprenticed to a higher level NPC.  When player characters gain a level of experience, they will return to their masters and be out of play for one “game-week” while they are learning their new spells. Either the player or the DM may choose any new spells. Magic-users and elves are limited to the number of spells they may know, and their books will contain spells equal to the number and level of spells the caster can use in a single day (thus, the books of a 4th level elf will contain two first and two second level spells).

(Emphasis mine)

This one paragraph at the beginning of Part 3: Spells radically affects the implied setting of B/X, moving it away from the Vancian implied setting (if not the system) as it’s usually understood. In two sentences, Magic Users go from scroungers of lost arcana to part of what will eventually morph into the magitek society settings of continuous light street lamps and tinker gnomes. Magic users would always need to find higher level characters to teach them new magic. Even more significantly, Magic Users cannot add spells they find to their spell book, whether in the form of scrolls or rivals’ spell books!

My first thought was that maybe I’d been doing the Holmes stuff wrong, too. I mean, for the most part, I’d just been taking Zenopus Archives’ word for a lot of stuff, since I don’t actually HAVE a full copy of Holmes basic. Yet when I turned to what I DID have, a facsimile pdf of the Tower of Zenopus, it was immediately apparent that B/X’s magic rules do NOT jibe with Holmes’, as is illustrated by the fact that the 4th level evil magic user has six known spells** he can cast in addition to his scroll. Rather than make the primitivist assumption that characters above 3rd level in Holmes are unknowably powerful, I’ll venture to say the spell books of Magic Users in Holmes are not limited by level.

So what does this mean for B/X Magic Users? Unless a Magic User can apprentice under someone, he cannot learn new spells when he levels up. He also cannot learn spells by saving scrolls or stealing spell books, because he cannot write them into his own spell book. But here’s a real kicker… Remember Read Magic, that spell that no one wants at 1st level because it doesn’t really do anything or you give it to all MUs and Elves in addition to their one first level spell? Suddenly, it becomes a big deal, and here’s why. Look at the text for Read Magic:

By casting this spell, magical words or runes on an item or scroll may be read. Without this spell unfamiliar magic cannot be read or understood, even by a magic-user. However, once a scroll or runes are looked at with a read magic spell, the magic-user becomes able to understand and read that item later without the spell. A magic-user’s or elf’s spell book is written so that only the owner may read them without using this spell.

Without this spell, Magic Users will NEVER have access to scrolls. A low level Magic User who can ONLY ever know one or two 1st level spells, because the caster can only have spells in his spell book “equal to the number and level of spells the caster can use in a single day”, has to make a major decision: Do I want to sacrifice a sure-thing spell for the day like sleep or do I want to never be able to use any scrolls I find until I get another 1st level spell slot? Suddenly, Read Magic is HUGE, especially if you’re only going to be allowed 2 or 3 level 1 spells EVER.

I’m not certain how stolen spell books work, whether they’re treated like scrolls or if they can be used as a new and separate spell book. It depends on whether Cook means “know” as in memorized or as in available to memorize when he refers to the limits on spells per level. A Magic User may not be able to add that wizard’s spells to his spell book or ever learn them unless he levels up and a slot becomes available. Then the primary benefit would be that the Magic User might not need training under a master or a guild to learn one of those new spells, provided it was a) in the book he stole and b) could be fit into the new spell slot the MU acquired when leveling.

The inflexibility of magic in this case is dire; you won’t want to risk getting a bad spell because you can’t just say “Well, Locate Object is lame, it’s a good thing I have two or three other first level spells to choose from for today.” Nope, that’s it.

Cook also offers us rules for scroll creation where Moldvay did not***. Expert contains a simple system for creating one-shot/charged magic items at a cost of 500GP x spell level per charge. Included in this are scrolls, which makes scrolls much more expensive in B/X than in Holmes. Additionally, because of the flat cost of item creation, it would be more awesome to make, I dunno, a tie-rack of Magic Missile than a scroll.

*:One difference which I was already aware of was that rules for memorization are different, something which Holmes himself wrote about; B/X magic users can quickly relearn spells after a nights rest, whereas Holmes magic users, unless aided by scrolls (their ‘dungeon book’) would need to spend full days at study relearning with their spell book. Restrictions on taking one’s spell book into the dungeon are not mentioned, so that would eliminate the need for a separate dungeon book.

**:This raises more questions for me; are there bonus spells in Holmes, does this guy just get a boss-bonus, is he expected not to live long enough to cast all of these, does he not have the less useful Read Magic memorized, and, since that still gives him 5 spells, which other spell does he not have memorized? He does, however, explicitly have two books of spells (one for each level).

***:Scrolls are only mentioned in Moldvay as a treasure type with descriptions on how the DM can come up with them, but without any rules for writing scrolls.

Best Long Form Dramatic Performance: Some (almost) Final Thoughts on the Hugos

All the True FansTM have been called to put their foot down and stop the Puppies. Sigh…

This is probably the last time I’m going to be writing about the Hugos until after they’re announced. Honestly, the best way to have stopped the Puppies was to let the works stand on their own merit or lack thereof and quietly vote against them, even if it meant No Awarding everything. Instead, the crazed hyperbolic name calling led to thousands who had no dog in the fight (wakka wakka) getting involved, getting loud, and getting belligerent to match belligerence. I know, because I was one. You didn’t want me involved? You shouldn’t have called people racist homophobic neo-nazis who wanted to kick all the women and colored folk out of Sci-fi when that was clearly not the case. You didn’t want the Puppies getting any awards? Discuss the merits, not the slate, and when stuff sucks and No Award wins the day, THEN go back and say “Well, things weren’t so hot that year, and here’s why.”

I’ve done a lousy job as a New Hugo Voter. I only made it completely through one prose category, short fiction, and for the most part was fairly unimpressed. I didn’t get through Novelettes, because one was awful and another I just couldn’t get into; I won’t vote in that category because even though I’d hope that the awful story didn’t get an award, I’m not going to nuke a category where I haven’t read everything. Between all of the blog posts about how bad The Goblin Emperor was and the three pages of Ancillary whatever I read before I said “Nope”, I gave up on the Novel category in favor of reading old sci-fi books at my leisure. Most of the art was meh, Rat Queens ought to have been more of a controversy than the Puppies, and I’m tempted to give the zombie comics guy a Hugo for being the most nonchalant dude to ever have the privilege of being blase about such a prestigious award. Black Gate deserves the fan-zine award so I voted for them even though they don’t want me to. I’m not going to put this on the slates, because the worst things I read were not on the slates, but I was unimpressed enough by what I read overall to say “Guys, I’m unimpressed.” And if folks hadn’t called these people every name in the book, I would have still been unimpressed, but I would not think that the detractors are a bunch of shitheads. There may have been some bad stories, but there were a lot of bad people.*

So why am I actually writing this post? Because I finished another Hugo Category over the weekend so finally have something else I can vote on in good conscience. Movies.

This year’s movie category is nothing short of amazing, and I’ll admit, I am having a hard time ranking these films. With the exception of Captain America 2: Electric Boogaloo, I loved all of these films. I would love nothing more than for every year for 15 or so movies as good as those nominated (even CapAmerica) to come out so I could wallow in sci-fi goodness. As such, it’s hard to decide which movie to award, because, in my mind, that would be to reward a certain type and approach to science fiction, when really I just want to shout “give me more of all of these things!”

Until this weekend, I’d say things were pretty neck & neck between Interstellar and Guardians of the Galaxy; though Guardians of the Galaxy is the sort of thing I’d probably want to watch over and over, it lost a bit of points for being a branded bit of franchise entertainment as opposed to Interstellar’s unique and independent vision. If Guardians of the Galaxy had not been a building block in a multi-billion dollar media and merchandising web based on a comic book, it would be a clear 1st place winner, because I love crazy wacky pulp sci-fi and planet romance. But Interstellar was just so goddamn thought-provoking and beautiful, like a 2001 or, hell, a Forbidden Planet, but without being a preachy and taxing slog like a Neill Blomkamp flick. I’d like to see more films like it, and while I’m afraid I’d get more of the latter than the former if directors try to emulate Nolan’s piece, I’m still wanting to go with Interstellar.

But then I saw Edge of Tomorrow; it’s based on a book, which has a comic based on it as well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that there’s an anime out or in the works based on All You Need is Kill, but I’d still say that this sort of film represents a much bigger gamble than a piece of the Disney-Marvel cash-cow, and it’s the sort of gamble I’d like to see studios take. This movie was just so damn good, and so much fun to watch. I mean, sure, it can be boiled down to “Groundhog Day with aliens, power armor, guns and explosions”, but really isn’t that enough? Tom Cruise is back with a vengeance and Emily Blunt is a badass who I’d look out for if all the rest of her films didn’t appear to be the complete opposite movie-going experience as this. Though I’m sure if she showed up in it with a 4-foot sword wearing powered battle armor, The Jane Austen Book Club could potentially be my new favorite movie of all time.

I enjoyed the Lego movie a lot, but even moreso than Guardians of the Galaxy, I feel hesitant to reward something that so obviously exists largely to cash in on valuable media properties, such as Warner Bros. stock of DC characters. It could’ve easily been terrible, and walked a razor’s edge a lot of the time; as good as it was, it’s not the sort of thing I’d like to see more of, particularly because it could easily descend into the sort of shameless cashing in that we tend to expect from this kind of picture.

As it stands, I may end up flipping a coin to see which movie I put at #1 in Best Long Form Dramatic Presentation, because I really can’t make up my mind between Interstellar and Edge of Tomorrow.
Coming soon, I talk Vance, nail down exactly what it is that sets Morrowind apart, why I keep coming back to it, and criticize its failings in light of an adventure paradigm that Dither has been working on. After that, Part 2 of Doing it Wrong, in which I talk some about Magic, Spells, Scrolls and Spellbooks in B/X and try to decide whether we’re all doing it wrong or if B/X was doing it wrong. Then, Civil War: Can Albert Sidney Johnston crush Grant in the forests of Tennessee before the Army of the Cumberland sails up the Mississippi to take Vicksburg? What is General Hardee doing in Harrisburg and what is McDowell going to do about it that won’t leave the road to Washington and Baltimore open? Why can’t Lee get the hell out of the Carolina swamps and go someplace useful? These questions and more will be answered!  Where am I going to find the time to talk about Andrew J. Offutt!?  Probably not this week!

*At least Thomas Heuvelt didn’t tell me I was gonna have to answer to Jesus for my lies.