SF and Gaming Blog

Thoughts, reviews and opinion on the overlapping worlds of science fiction and gaming.

Batman vs. Superman is being panned by the critics, who make it sound like it’s the tipping point where big-budget superhero films fall out of critical and public favour. What’s its rock equivalent? Yes’ “Tales from Topographic Oceans” (Self-indulgent creative overreach), ELP’s “Love Beach” (Dying gasp of a spent creative force) or Metallica and Lou Reed’s “Lulu” (Ill-conceived collaboration done for largely cynical reasons)?  Over to you…

Posted on by Tim Hall | 4 Comments

Genre vs Gender

On his provocatively but accurately-named website, Zak Smith interviews Stacy Dellorfano on the subject of “Women in gaming”. This paragraph is the one that stands out.

When people push genres or sub-genres as the fix-it solution for gender inequality (or any other type of inequality), they might as well be pointing out there’s a ‘pink’ part of the toy store and a ‘blue’ part of the toy store, and if you want to attract women you need to make sure to have a lot of the ‘pink’ stuff. Girls play with Barbies, boys play with Matchbox cars. Girls get romances, boys get action films. Girls are ‘crafters’, boys are ‘makers’, and so on and so on. It’s insulting and inappropriate.

One thing Stacy Dellorfano stresses again and again is that only way for gaming to become diverse is to have more diverse creators making the sorts of games they want to play, rather than white male creators trying to second-guess or form focus groups. Or worse still, trying to police the content of other people’s games.

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Trump vs Hilary vs. Bernie in the US election makes the teapot storms and Drama in Geek Culture looks as ridiculous and petty is it is. What does it matter if some game or novel is “problematic” when the stakes in the American election are so high?

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Politics by AD&D Alignment

This is a rewrite of an old post from a couple of years ago that got accidentally deleted from the archives. The Internet Wayback Machine does not seem to have saved a copy, so this is a reconstruction of sorts.

Does the AD&D alignment system help explain present-day politics rather better than “Left” and “Right”?

For those of you not familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, the Alignment chart is a three-by-three grid giving nine possible values, which serve as a shorthand for a character’s moral and philosophical values. One axis is Law vs. Chaos, more or less as defined by Michael Moorcock in his Eternal Champion series. The other is Good vs. Evil, which ought to be self-explanatory.

Both old-fashioned social conservatism and old-fashioned socialism are probably Lawful Neutral. Both like to think of themselves as Lawful Good, so the two are opponents when the truth is that both have a lot in common. Both believe that social order and the solidarity of the community trumps the freedom of the individual, and take a paternalistic attitude towards those considered weaker than themselves.

Liberals are more Neutral Good in theory tending towards True Neutral in practice, believing that the greatest benefit for the greatest number comes from finding the right balance between individual freedom and collective welfare.

Libertarians are Chaotic Neutral. They believe individual freedom is everything, and the consequence of that are somebody else’s problem. The fundamental split in the Tory party is between the Chaotic Neutral libertarians and the Lawful Neutral social conservatives.

When it comes to Evil, I would have hesitated to use that word for any mainstream political ideology, at least in the west. Lawful Evil or any other flavour of Evil ought to belong to things like the Nazis or Islamic State. But then I look at the rise and rise of Donald Trump and wonder…

Posted in Games, Religion and Politics | Tagged | 1 Comment

You can’t have an entire party of Bards

Ester Segarra

Sometimes you see a band’s publicity photo, and your first reaction is “You can’t have an entire Dungeons and Dragons party made up of Bards. Although it has been pointed out that the guy with the staff might be a Druid.

The band is Wytch Hazel, their album (which is extremely good) is out in April, and there will be a review on this site shortly.

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The March of Technology

Goot post by Stephen Tall on why he has given up on Channel 4’s ‘Spin’. It’s because it seems to ignore the existence of the internet and social media, and that absence breaks suspension of disbelief in what is supposed to be a present-day drama.

* News breaks of French presidential hopeful Anne Visage’s affair with the recently blown-up former President. Her campaign manager is issued with the urgent warning… “this story will hit the news-stands in just a few hours’ time!”. Because, obviously, we’re all ignorant of what the newspapers are saying til we walk past les kiosques in the morning and Twitter stops at the white cliffs of Dover.

* A key witness — the one person who can testify to the motives of the President’s assassin — is being hunted by the French authorities desperate to ensure their state-sanctioned lie of terrorism isn’t challenged. Tensely, he hunkers down for a couple of days until a journalist with a TV camera can arrive and film his evidence. On tape. Seriously. No suggestion is made that he might tell his story using the smart-phone he’s carrying and post it to the Internet. Or even tweet his testimony.

If somebody had written that twenty years ago, not a word of it would have made any sense. We are indeed living in a science-fiction future, just not quite the science-fiction future we were promised.

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Emirikol the Chaotic

Emirikol the Chaotic This iconic image by the late Dave Trampier from the first edition A&D Players Handbook epitomises Dungeons and Dragons for me.

Here’s a figure on horseback firing Magic Mssile spells while a conviently heavily-armed warrior rushes out of a tavern to confront him.

It’s just like a scene from a western. Except it’s in medieval European dress.

Which, when you actually stop and think about the tropes, is what Dungeons and Dragons is all about.

 

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James Worrad and The Waste-Ground

James Worrad writes in general agreement with an earlier post by Mark E Lawrence on the politicisation of SF fandom.

For my own part, jumping on the right wing Sad puppies foam-fest is utterly, comprehensively unthinkable. Just no. Writing impassioned common-all-garden social justice speeches is a lot more attractive (I agree on the basic stuff after all. I consider myself left wing) and in my needier moments I’ve thought about doing so. But, ultimately, I feel it would be to betray the multicultural British city that raised me (Oddly, social justice terms and philosophies become more impractical the deeper into a multicultural provincial UK city you go, in the same manner you saw less and less jingoism and flag-waving the closer you got to the trenches in World War 1. People are too busy just getting on with things).

I have a lot of sympathy for this. I have noticed that his post coming under fire from some of the usual suspects on Twitter. which is predictable if depressing.  It gives the impression that the SF world is dominated by two rival cliques who wear rheir (American) politics on their sleeves, and those who aren’t willing to adopt the dogmas of either tribe are feeling  increasingly alienated. When you hear people implying that being a political moderate is a symptom of privilege…

Last year I bought some recently-released SF/F novels without waiting for them to come out in paperback, with a view of nominating one or more them for a Hugo award, as a supporting member. But I’m come to the conclusion that I’d probably be wasting my money. What’s the point of paying good money to nominate something you think is worthy, only to find its nomination was championed by the wrong people, and either the author will be forced to decline the nomination or be ostracised, or it will be voted down by massed no-awards.

I’m still an SF reader. But when it comes to fandom, it’s a case of not my circus, not my monkeys.

Posted in Religion and Politics, Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

So who played Dungeons and Dragons?

Interesting post on Crooked Timber about writers and D&D

David Mitchell said he always asks other writers whether they played Dungeons and Dragons as teenagers. He keeps a mental list of writers who did and who didn’t. He played D&D himself (surprise!) and feels a certain bond of with other writers who did.

Kazuo Ishiguro had never even heard of D&D. Not a surprise. He is the wrong generation. Too old. And also, he is that kind of very straight writer who conjures a pinch of the clothes peg when dabbling in ‘genre’.

I have wondered the same about musicians. There was an interview with the late great Ronnie James Dio when the interviewer noted the imagery of so much of his kyrics; “Holy Diver” could easily have been inspired by “A Paladin in Hell”. But Dio, like Kazuo Ishiguro, was a generation too old, and had never played the game.

The imagery from so much of world of power-metal suggests that the scene must be filled with past and present D&D players. The only surprise is that we have yet to see a song about gelatinous cubes. I am told that the infamous church-burning black metaller and convicted murderer Varg Vikernes has designed his own RPG, though gamers might not want to publicise that fact.

But what of the grassroots prog scene covered by this blog? Aside from Rob Ramsay of Tinyfish, who not only played D&D but still does, who else has played either D&D or another tabletop roleplaying game?  There are one or two names that come to mind immediately…

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7th Sea: Sailing the Topographic Ocean

7th SeaReb Donaghue has an interesting post about the 7th sea RPG, for which he’s enthusiastically backing the Kickstarter for a new edition. But this one’s not about the things he liked about the game and why he’s backing it. It’s a list of things that were very, very wrong with it, which he hopes they fix in the new edition.

It reads like a litany of everything that was wrong with the RPG industry in the 1990s.

First, the utterly goofy setting, which he rightly describes as “Europe for dumb Americans”. There’s the obvious one about the heavy emphasis on pirates, despite the fact the setting has no Atlantic trade and no Mediterranean, which means there is no reason why pirates should exist. Each nation is an analogue of an actual European nation described in such a clichéd and stereotyped way that even European straight while males start complaining about “Cultural Appropriation”. Donaghue rightly points out that it’s a good thing there was no fantasy Africa in the game; its potential awfulness is best not imagined.

Then there was the curse of 90s games, the metaplot, an abomination that always made game designers look like frustrated novelists rather than designers of games to be played. In 7th Sea’s case essential information about the setting was dribbled out across multiple supplements, with the occasional Big Reveal that was almost guaranteed to fatally undermine some people’s campaigns. Why did anyone ever think that sort of nonsense was a good idea?

Much as I’ve been critical of The Forge, 7th Sea represents precisely the sort of thing it was a reaction against.

Posted in Games | Tagged | 9 Comments