Goblin Slayer and the PulpRev

With the first series of Goblin Slayer wrapping up, I wanted to touch on the show that’s been not only one of the number one animes in North America but has also been rather popular among the PulpRev crowd.

I enjoyed Goblin Slayer, but when all was said and done, it occurred to me that not only was it not a great anime, it was not even a particularly good anime—what gave it the illusion of greatness was that it met all of the meager expectations it set, delivering in heaping doses what little it promised. It set a low bar and clears it with ease. You want to watch a show where a guy kills goblins? This is it, chief. The utter lack of pretension is far more delicious than the “fake depth” many shows try to coast on before crashing in a mess at the end. Goblin Slayer needs no apologia, and there are no great divides in the fandom over thema, symbolism, and other minutia.

goblin slayer

Is Goblin Slayer pulpy? The only reason I ask is that it’s pretty well loved by the PulpRev crowd. And thinking about it, not only is it not particularly pulpy or Appendix N-style fantasy, it’s Pink Slime fantasy to a degree even worse than Record of Lodoss War; it’s pure, in a vacuum, D&D fan-fic.

What separates it Lodoss, however, and many other pink slime fantasies is that the D&D it draws from (if indeed it is drawing from D&D; evidence abounds) is of the older, classic variety, in which the purpose of “adventurers” is to kill monsters, because monsters represent an existential threat to mankind and because they have treasure. Goblin Slayer lacks the pretense of the game in which great and powerful forces are at work and the heroes must act because the fate of the world is at stake and the party represents the champions of all humanity and all that is good.* There are no destined saviors, chosen ones, lost princelings, who are going to stop the Dark Lord. That none of the characters in Goblin Slayer even have names beyond what they do or have accomplished or what their profession is almost serves to lampshade this lack of “special” and “important” fantasy heroes in its narrative. In D&D terms, these are characters who lasted a couple adventures and gained reputations around the table, rather than being wadded up and thrown in the trash because they died—this in contrast to the contemporary trend in D&D to craft intricate backstories for the very-special-snowflake characters who are destined for great things and will almost certainly having nothing too bad happen to them because the player might throw a hissy-fit.

The first episode of Goblin Slayer, which created quite a stir for its brutality and graphic nature**, mainly served to illustrate that the kind of game that inspired Goblin Slayer*** is the kind in which level one characters die in the dungeon and you have to roll up new ones. There’s no point in bringing your very special bisexual tiefling princess with daddy issues who is the most beloved of her tribe to the goblin cave, because the goblin and his spear that will kill her don’t give a shit about your character’s backstory.

I think that, even though Goblin Slayer is shallow and derivative fantasy to the extreme, this is the reason why it resonated so well with the PulpRev crowd, a group that grew largely from the OSR and which preferred the more brutal old school style of Dungeons & Dragons to the modern narrative-driven style of play that’s come to dominate tabletop gaming.

*: This is going on to some extent in the background; the setting is the aftermath of an earlier such conflict—but the climactic battle is not to save the world or even a town, but rather the farm where the girl who likes the Goblin Slayer lives.

**: Yo, the way everyone was talking about that first episode, I was expecting Mezzo Forte levels of gratuitous…

***:Look at all the goddamn dice rolling and talk of gods rolling dice and try to convince yourself it’s anything but TTRPG inspired.

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Lodoss, the Accursed Pink Slime

I wanted to respond to a comment over at the Castalia House blog in regards to Appendix E, 5e’s answer to/updated Appendix N.  At one point, I’d had something typed up over there, but the comment was eaten because I wasn’t logged in.  Rather than try to retype it, I decided to rethink it and take an opportunity to talk about Record of Lodoss War.

“I’d argue that Appendix E, along with the other 5e appendices, has more to do with filling the pipeline with more fantasy product. Mechanically, World of Warcraft has a more visible influence on the game design than most of the Appendix E additions. But the fantasy genre has reached a point where it is flooded by authors who recycle campaigns and characters into novels, to various degrees of success. Appendix E is designed to fan the world building bug as Ahmed, Lynch, Rothfuss, and Sanderson earn their places via their settings and not by their contributions to fantasy gaming tropes. (The first three are rather generic in character and ‘class’, while Sanderson’s magic systems are so strange that no correspondence to D&D caster classes is possible.) By promoting world building, Appendix E hopes to inspire the Next Great Fantasy Saga, or at least the next Lodoss War or Slayers.”

The invocation of Lodoss War really touched a nerve for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Lodoss Wars, and I think it’s a thing of beauty, but not because it’s a good show or tells a good story.  Lodoss Wars is perhaps one of THE most Pink Slime of Pink Slime fantasy stories, such that when I’d seen it, I began pondering and crafting all sorts of theories about Occidentalism.

You see, Record of Lodoss War is what you get when you try to craft a western style fantasy adventure when late 80s Dungeons & Dragons is your primary exposure to western style fantasy.  Based on a group of Japanese D&D players’ session logs, Lodoss emerged from a culture where the western fantasy canon we take for granted is, if not completely absent, simply not a shaping force.  The result is stark and strange and perhaps gives us a look at what the game looks like from the outside looking in devoid of the context of classic SFF.

Lodoss 1

Record of Lodoss War tells the story of a Fighter, a Wizard, a Thief, a Cleric, a Dwarf and an Elf fighting goblins and orcs, an evil king, his evil fighter, the evil fighter’s evil elf girlfriend, an evil wizard with an army of dragons, and the lich whose spirit is in a piece of jewelry orchestrated the whole thing.  Some of the cheese is almost terribad!  For instance, whatever the elf casts her spells on seemed to always make their saving throws.  I just felt awful for her!  Not to mention, I think she might’ve been slow or something.

 

Lodoss Wars tries so hard to be grim-dark before grim-dark was an in thing.  Episodes begin with the haunting phrase “Lodoss… the accursed continent…”  But for all of the beautiful artwork (and Lodoss IS gorgeous) and impressive set pieces, it comes across as just feeling so incredibly empty. Interestingly, the advertisements for Lodoss used its D&Dness as a selling point (‘for people who like Dungeons & Dragons’ or somesuch).

Appendix E should be trying to inspire DMs to create games worth playing, but WotC showed their hand by including all of their branded D&D fiction.  I’m surprised they didn’t include the Magic: the Gathering books, as well.  Appendix E feels less to me about offering inspiration and more for ensuring a branded D&D experience.  Because of the nature of the game, everyone will bring to the table their ideas and play styles and DMing styles; but if D&D is trying to inspire the “Next Great Fantasy Saga”, Record of Lodoss War shows us the sort of cold sterile high fantasy that can result from D&D in vacuum.

I do think I should make a note about Slayers, as it was brought up in the comment as well.  Slayers may be the other side of the Lodoss coin, but I don’t know if that does it justice.  Slayers is very self-aware and lampshades a lot of the cheesiest D&D fantasy tropes; of note, in nearly every season, the big twist reveal is that the main characters’ murder-hoboing has played right into the hands of whatever the big bad was scheming, and, in the end, it is somehow always Lina Inverse’s fault.  You get Lodoss when you’re trying incredibly hard to capture not actual western fantasy but D&D; you get Slayers when you take the sort of fantasy you get from D&D and mock the hell out of it.

I’m seriously not trying to take the piss out of Lodoss; it’s one of the most beloved fantasy franchises in the east, and has a number of redeeming qualities (namely art and music), but if you watched the first episode above and are familiar with the classic fantasy canon, you’ll totally get what I’m talking about.

Later today, I have something of a guest post from one of the guys at my table.