New Review, Hugo Packets, and Tarzan Stuff

Jon Mollison of Seagull Rising has a new review up of Cirsova #5. You can read it here.

I’ve made a lot of people writing reviews, in part because it’s one of the easiest ways to promote and support us, but that’s not the only reason. Reviews let us know what works and what doesn’t. One advantage of our double issue was it let us throw a lot against the wall to see what would stick and what didn’t. In some cases, it was seen as one of our weaker issues because it was much less focused that our others, but some folks seemed to enjoy it ‘with the exception of a few stinkers’.

While I enjoyed all of the stories (else I wouldn’t have bought them), that sort of feedback lets us know what you, the readers, are enjoying and what you’re not. So, to help us maintain and improve the quality of the magazine, be sure to leave your feedback!

Hugo Voting Packets are finally available. With only two months to go before voting is final, I don’t have a lot of expectation that readers will make it that far into their packets if they’ve waited this long to start, but it will be what it will be.

Also, I have not forgotten about my need to write a review of Frayed Knights! I really loved it, so I really ought to hunker down and get the write up on that done. I’ve just been so ADD and OCD these last two months, I’ve been a complete mess (can autism have flare-ups?)

I finished Tarzan at the Earth’s Core last night, and I’d stand by my previous question:

If Edgar Rice Burroughs can tell a bad story but still make it balls-out awesome, is it still a bad story?!

TatEC spends so much time on its journey towards the otherwise unimportant reason for throwing Tarzan into Pellucidar that when it finally gets there, there’s very little book left and the story kind of peters out. Except the reason that it peters out is perfectly believable and doesn’t detract much from the story: once Tarzan, Jason, and Tarzan’s rifle squadron of African tribesmen are finally reunited with the airship and its crew, there’s not a lot that primitive pirate port is going to do except answer the ultimatum that they’ll bomb the city into oblivion by turning Emperor David I over to his friends. Plus, Jana snaps out of her Tsundere fugue and declares her love for Jason, so we get the important ending we’re all waiting for.

With our G3 game taking a short hiatus, I may take an opportunity to flesh out my WW-2 rules-lite and run a Pellucidar mini campaign.

As I wrap, I’ll leave you with this one great exchange that perfectly illustrates the sort of tough pulp dames Burroughs wrote as well as his sense of humor:

“We will accompany you, then,” said Thoar [Jana’s brother], and then his brow clouded as some thought seemed suddenly to seize upon his mind. He looked for a moment at Jason, and then he turned to Jana. “I had almost forgotten,” he said. “Before we can go with these people as friends, I must know if this man offered you any injury or harm while you were with him. If he did, I must kill him.”

Jana did not look at Jason as she replied. “You need not kill him,” she said. “Had that been necessary The Red Flower of Zoram would have done it herself.”

“Very well,” said Thoar, “I am glad because he is my friend. Now we may all go together.”

Half-Review of Tarzan at the Earth’s Core

I’m only halfway through Tarzan at the Earth’s Core so this will only be a half-review, but I still wanted to talk about it.

The story itself is a bit of an aimless mess that’s only held together by Burroughs’ ability to make every scene and tableau he’s writing completely awesome.

The setup and megaplot is just an excuse to have Tarzan in an exotic dinosaur filled jungle: One of the characters from the Pellucidar series is in trouble and has radioed a distress call. A wealthy American is determined to investigate the hollow earth, which, if filled with jungles, means that Tarzan is the ideal person to track down and bring along. After lengthy preparations and a healthy dose of German engineering, they go off together to the north pole in a giant airship and find the entrance to Pellucidar and get hopeless lost in the jungles within, because this is, after all, a Tarzan novel.

-Tarzan goes to check out the jungle and gets lost because you can’t navigate the hollow earth using normal means (sunrise/sunset & the stars)

-The guys who go out to look for Tarzan get lost and attacked by savage animals.

-The rich American finds the airship again and goes out in his plane to try to find either Tarzan or the search party; except that since this is a Tarzan novel, his airplane is attacked by a pteranodon and he crashes in the jungle. But he does find a cute jungle girl!

So, a few things I’d like to note:

-Burroughs goes to great lengths to try to make Pellucidar’s alien aspects relevant to the story and how the characters are able to function in the hollow earth. The perpetual sun is disorienting, and even Tarzan has a hard time dealing with both perpetual noon and a lack of horizons (the landscape gently curves upward in all directions).

-The airship’s cook could easily be written off as a racist caricatures, but I think it’s interesting that the African tribesmen that Tarzan brings with him (in Africa, Tarzan has a game range and is on friendly terms with both the men and animals on it) all speak perfect, if simple, English, while the black cook from the American south is the one with the thick vernacular accent. This is likely intentional, in the way that Twain’s attempt to faithfully recreate several Missouri, Arkansas, southern Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi accents was intentional.

-In a lot of ways, the roles of Jana and Jason are a mirror of Tarzan and Jane’s, the savage girl met by the civilized man, except Jana’s a bit more likable than Jane and the pair are a bit more on equal footing – while Jana knows and understands Pellucidar and can survive there on her own, Jason is capable and a crack shot with his gun, which certainly evens the odds in many cases. In another way in which this subverts the criticisms of the colonialist nature of pulp, it’s Jana who teaches Jason her language so they can communicate rather than the other way around. It is pretty implicitly an interracial coupling (the people in Pellucidar strike me as Amerind inspired), and it’s Jason who’s made to look like a heel for even letting that cause doubt to creep into his mind.

-One of the most important aspects of Lord of the Rings in context of Appendix N is that it’s one of the few works on the list that features an adventuring “party”, but it’s certainly not the only. For a stretch, here, Tarzan, Tar-gash (a talking ape from a Pellucidarian tribe slightly more advanced than the one which raised Tarzan), and Thoar (a Pellucidarian tribesman who, as coincidence would have it, is Jana’s brother) adventure in the jungles together, hunting, fighting, and searching for the airship.

-Back to Jana. Jana is great example of how to do a female character in a pulpy adventure romance. She’s brave and confident and capable – when we’re introduced to her, she’s holding her own fairly well, considering that she’s been outrunning four plainsmen who are trying to capture her – so much so that they’re begging their leader to give up; she’s just not worth the trouble she’s been giving them! She’s feminine, but not totally demure, accepts the man’s help when it’s needed and given, but able to show that she’s willing to walk if he’s gonna take her for granted.

BlueBook192910

Depicted: Tarzan and his party lose initiative to the wild Chocobo.

Saving Throws, Pulp Heroes and D&D

Every once in awhile, you’ll hear the complaint that lower level D&D characters don’t feel like the heroic characters from pulp adventures on account of how fragile they are. The low HP means that a couple of good hits will kill those lower level characters, whether in fights or to traps or even something as ignominious as falling down a flight of stairs.

One of my counters to this is that most pulp heroes would be at the lower end of mid-level, contra to what is suggested in many of those old articles where Gary and friends would stat up Cugel or Eric John Stark as being well into double digits with massive pools of HP to prevent low-level PCs from being able to meet and kill these characters just because they were there and they could (though I’m sure they did).

Another bug-bear of oldschool games is the saving throw, particularly in save or die situations. Why should a character with all of that HP be insta-killed?! It’s just not fair! A character who can take 8 full-on sword wounds shouldn’t be able to die just because he was bitten by a snake or had a rock fall on his head!  Besides, that’s entirely unpulpy, right?!

Well, take this from Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, at a point in his career where he’s probably level 27 and has a gorillion hit points:

Tarzan remained very quiet. He did not wish to frighten it away for he realized that one of them must be the prey of the carnivore sneaking upon them, but if he expected the thag to be frightened he soon realized his error in judgment for, uttering low grumblings, the great bull pawed the earth with a front foot, and then, lowering his massive horns, gored it angrily, and the ape-man knew that he was working his short temper up to charging pitch; nor did it seem that this was to take long for already he was advancing menacingly to the accompaniment of thunderous bellowing. His tail was up and his head down as he broke into the trot that precluded the charge.

The ape-man realized that if he was ever struck by those massive horns or that heavy head, his skull would be crushed like an eggshell.

The dizzy spinning that had been caused by the first stretching of the rawhide to his weight had lessened to a gentle turning motion; so that sometimes he faced the thag and sometimes in the opposite direction. The utter helplessness of his position galled the ape-man and gave him more concern than any consideration of impending death. From childhood he had walked hand in hand with the Grim Reaper and he had looked upon death in so many forms that it held no terror for him. He knew that it was the final experience of all created things, that it must as inevitably come to him as to others and while he loved life and did not wish to die, its mere approach induced within him no futile hysteria. But to die without a chance to fight for life was not such an end as Tarzan of the Apes would have chosen. And now, as his body slowly revolved and his eyes were turned away from the charging thag, his heart sank at the thought that he was not even to be vouchsafed the meager satisfaction of meeting death face to face.

Tarzan, with all of his HP was forced to make save-vs-death against some kind of charging inner-earth dire oryx. His saving throw numbers are probably really low at this point, and he probably could’ve made it with anything but a nat 1, but it was still going to be a case of instant-death regardless of how many hit points he has.

This ties back into the game theory that HP doesn’t represent actual wounds but exhaustion and the character’s ability to fight on under pressure in extreme circumstance. Of course, you also might say that it would not be very pulpy to fail your saving throw and be instantly killed, but D&D is a game, and without a genuine sense of risk, your game can end up in a boring slump where everyone knows that everyone is going to live no matter what, so why bother faking the suspense? And in those cases where your life is on the line AND YOU MAKE IT, how much more awesome is it? It makes those times when you could’ve lost your character but didn’t all the more special.