Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Elder Evils

I've always enjoyed the concept of the D&D book Elder Evils, even though it ended up being a little too surface for my tastes to actually be usable.  I didn't re-read it cover to cover; I skimmed around and read my favorite chapters.  The ones that especially stand out to me are as follows:
  • Atropus.  This undead god/planet/thing reminds me a lot of Eox, from Pathfinder's Distant Worlds.  The two are a match made in... well, deep in some horrible Lovecraftian vision of outer space, maybe.  Because both are relatively light on detail, combining the two of them is a no-brainer; if nothing else, it gives a few more places to explore.  I do think that undead in D&D are too varied and most of the variants have too many minor, and in fact even insignificant details to separate them, and many of them are only undead by fiat, since they clearly aren't the reanimated corpse or spirit of anything.
  • The Leviathan.  This makes me want to re-read Book of Fiends by Green Ronin, who had an archdevil named Leviathan, based on the Biblical figure of the same name.  The version used here is a bit more like the Midgard Serpent of Norse mythology.  Of course, either archetype is acceptable.  The actual scenario as spelled out here seems to be a bit too weak to really make good use of the archetype, in my opinion.  Then again, bizarre save the world plots are hard to pull off, even in a 1-20+ level D&D campaign. 
  • Sertrous. This obyrith lord in the shape of a serpent is an odd one.  Not that the concept isn't good; a serpent demon lord and his yuan-ti cultists rising and needing to be faced down; but some of the details just don't really add up.  To wit: the demon lord is dead, but not exactly.  However, there are stats for an aspect of Sertrous that are exactly like that of an obyrith lord from Fiendish Codex I.  It's in the exact same CR range (22) and has the exact same type of stats and special abilities.  It seems clear that we're supposed to assume that the Fiendish Codex stats aren't actually correct; rather, the "Demonomicon of Iggwilv" stats in the Dragon Magazine series are supposed to be correct, which are more in the upper 20s to lower 30s for CR.  Given that the only way I'd be interested in using these guys is in an E6 game, I think the lower versions are appropriate, and Sertrous should just be considered an obyrith lord, not some odd dead demon lord trying to be resurrected.
  • Zargon the Returner.  Another fiendish creature of some sort; hinted to be an ancient baatorian who kills gods and whatnot, the fact that the creature only has a CR of 16 seems... kinda odd.  Beside the backstory, the rest of this chapter is surprisingly light on detail and very cliche.  And given that the backstory is heavy on D&D specific esoterica... I'm nor sure how useful that one is either.
As I said; I'm not huge on "save the world from impending global apocalypse" scenarios, necessarily, but I am really big on campaigns that feature undead, fiends, or both—which really highlights my interest in the specific chapters that I most like.  I'm also not necessarily entirely sure what to do with powerful fiendish lords, princes or archfiends,  if they're not save the world requests, of course, so I've got some work to do to figure out how to think about how demonic plots and politics work with smaller potatoes.  One of my favorite ways to do so is to think about having the game actually set in the world of fiends in one way or another.  This is the approach I'm going to take with my FALLEN SONS campaign noodling... once I actually get around to doing it.  This ends up being an exotic intrigue and skulduggery campaign, though—with patrons who are powerful archfiends rather than human(oid) crime lords.

Whatever.  I don't have a problem with the so-called issue of humans in rubber suits.  It worked OK for Star Wars, and it works fine for D&D.  

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Fallen Sons

Time to sport a bit with another homebrew: this time, it's one I'll call FALLEN SONS.  I got the idea from my recent re-read of Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss and wondered to myself what a setting would look like that takes place in a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting where evil has won? What if, in fact, it was a fantasy Purgatory? Imagine the Worldwound from Pathfinder expanded to cover the entire world?  Thinking a bit more about books like Cthulhu's Reign (which I own, but haven't read yet) and this post on Goblin Punch, I decided that there was a real need for me to explore this theme, so I've created another tag—and I may yet create a Google Sites for the idea too, if I end up generating enough content, or feel like it would be worthwhile.  If the end result ends up feeling just a little bit like Dark Sun except with demons instead of dragons, that's more or less OK (to be fair; I don't know for sure what it will end up feeling like, because it's very early in the design process yet.)  Too bad I never got around to picking up Dark Legacies, because it looks like pretty much exactly what I'm heading towards... at least at a high concept level.  I don't have any details on it, of course, since I never bought either of the Dark Legacies books.

Let's establish a handful of baselines.  I'll be doing this as an m20 game, of course, with levels 1-10 only.  This releases me from needing to worry too much about rules, but also about crazy, high level threats.  Not that they won't exist, but merely that they aren't meant to be actively confronted, most likely.  m20 doesn't use CRs, but since I'll most likely adapt a lot of d20 creatures into my specific monster list for this setting, let's focus on about CR 15 as the highest level I'd worry about.

To make it just a bit different, this isn't a normal fantasy setting; I'm positing a world much like our own, with more or less the same technology and whatnot, which is suddenly invaded by demons.  The setting now is set many, many generations after the invasion, and the world (and the people left on it) have changed significantly from where they used to be.  I'll have a handful of fantasy races, but I doubt it will be elves and dwarves and hobbits and stuff like that; I think it'll be more like analogs of tieflings, dhampirs and people more like that.

I imagine a highly balkanized world, with lots of kingdoms ruled by demon lords.  I like the idea from the Demonimicon of Iggwilv series of articles that put demon lords at 30+ CR range, but realistically, I don't need anything that powerful.  Besides, I don't mind the concept of a Cthulhu-like paradigm where there are certain threats that you simply cannot, under no circumstance, expect to defeat in combat.  I expect some handful of refugee states, but mostly, people in the setting are on the run; not terribly unlike the humans in The Terminator except without the high tech.

Anyway, over the next little while, I'll start exploring more of this concept over time.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Am I more OSR than I thought?

The title is a little bit tongue in cheek; I know exactly how OSR I am, of course.  I, at one point quite a while ago, decided to "rebut" a lot of the "How to play OSR style" advice from Matt Finch associated with Sword & Wizardry because although he said some of the right things, he generally took it in directions that turned me off of the OSR rather than turned me on to it.  Read that earlier reubttal here.  However, Randall S Stukey (I'm using his spelling, including lack of period after S), the author of Microlite74 has a slightly different take on the same advice, and... well, I find myself quite more or less in agreement with most of what he says.

Microlite74 is, as you'd probably guess, part of the Microlite family of games (which I'm already adopting in a big way and have been pushing for years here as the preferred system for any of my settings).  His version of the basic chassis is specifically designed to be a conversion of OD&D into Microlite, so it's a hybrid, if you will, of OD&D (or Sword & Wizardry if you prefer) and Microlite, using mostly the rules from the latter to attempt to reach a result much more like the former in feel, if not necessarily in every detail.  Microlite74 comes in three varieties: Basic, Standard and Extended.  As you can imagine, they get progressively more "rules heavy"—although only relative to each other and other very rules-lite games.  The Basic Game is meant to be a conversion of Microlite into the LBB version of the game, while Standard is meant to incorporate a more robust, full OD&D game, with the supplements and whatnot added in.  Extended incorporates a bunch of house-rules of indeterminate provenance; some house rules of the author's, stuff from The Dragon and even third party publishers of the late 70s.  Although not meant to shade into 1e specifically, by the time you're using Extended, I feels much more like AD&D than using the Basic or Standard would.

I'm happy enough with a more traditional(ish) interpretation of m20 as a very stripped down d20 rather than a conversion to another version of D&D, but I did peruse the Microlite74 document for monsters, spells, and other material that I could potentially use.  What I either missed before, or cruised over without it making an impact on me, was that there's a section that mimics Matt Finch's advice.  And that I like it a lot better.

Let me get more into the details a bit:
Heroic, not Superheroic: Old school play, especially at low to mid levels, is about fairly normal  people put in situations where they can be heroes, not about extraordinary people doing things that would make a four-color comic book superhero proud – and at first level yet. Just like in the real world, the more a character improves his abilities, the harder it is to improve them further, while new characters may advance rapidly, the higher their level the more effort and time (and XP) it takes to advance to the next level.
While this isn't really substantially different from what Finch said; it's better said, in my opinion.  It's not only more clear about what exactly it means, but it also doesn't use examples that kind of subvert its supposed intent.
Achievement, not Advancement. Many modern games are often all about what special feats, extra classes and special game mechanics the players wish to obtain for their characters as they increase in level. In old school games, a character’s abilities are generally predetermined by his character class, so old school games focus on the things that the characters wish to accomplish in the game world rather than on what game mechanics they want to acquire. Level advancement is often much slower than in modern fantasy RPGs which makes in campaign achievements even more important as a measure of character success.
And this adds a bit more to the concept.  I'm not sure that this is "old school" because it's not how I played it when old school wasn't old... but I certainly agree with the gist of this concept.  That said; it also has shades of "class as straight-jacket" which is, admittedly, an old-school concept, and one that I've very definitely eschewed.  While your abilities are certainly determined by your class (and race) they're also relatively modest in any game that I've kit-bashed out of m20, and therefore tend to be the opposite of a straight-jacket; anyone can do (or attempt to do) just about anything.  Members of certain classes will probably be more successful in the long run, though.  This also contradicts a point further down to some degree, but I'll save that until we get there...
No Skills: Unlike in most modern RPGs, there aren’t any skills in Microlite74 -- not even the streamlined four skills of Microlite20. Players are intended to have their characters act like adventurers. So don’t search your character sheet or the rules for the perfect solution in Microlite74. Instead, you just tell the GM what your character is trying to do. Note that you are assumed to be competent with all common activities associated with your class and background. If you need to keep a door open or shut, you might tell the GM your character is using a spike to keep the door open or closed. A ten foot pole is your friend for checking for traps. Searching a room means looking inand under objects, not rolling a skill check. While this may seem strange at first, you will quickly learn to appreciate the freedom it gives you. No longer are you limited to the skills and feats on your character sheet, you can try anything your character should be capable of trying. You might not succeed, but the rules generally will not stop you from trying.
I really don't understand the old school's almost allergic reaction to skills.  Skills are a useful tool.  While they're usually quick to point out that skills have been abused by some GMs to create a game that is nothing more than rules interacting with each other, that's no more true than any other aspect of the game.  Skills are merely a slightly different shade on abilities; they give you bonuses to attempt things.  Skills don't substitute for playing the game.  It's curious that nobody makes the same complaint—although it would be just as fair—about combat actions.

I think that the reason this is such a sore point to OSRians is subconsciously revealed in the examples that Finch (and Stukey) use; it's all about "pixel bitching" the dungeon.  Now, to be fair to Stukey, he specifically condemns pixel-bitching later on in his advice, but his example is still about searching a treasure chest for traps.  Blegh.  Boring.  I think that right there is my biggest fundamental disconnect with the OSR: the whole paradigm of playing in a dungeon and telling the bizarre (and tiresome, in my opinion) story of D&D.
Limited Magic Items: Modern fantasy RPGs often assume that magic items are easy to buy and/or to create. In most old school campaigns, magic items are relatively rare and hard to create. Only potions and scrolls are generally relatively easy to create or purchase. Other magic items are seldom found for sale (and are very high priced when they are found for sale) and are usually very expensive in money and time to try to create – often requiring rare ingredients that the characters must quest to find. Therefore characters are generally limited to the magic items they find in treasures or take from defeated enemies on adventures.
Keep in mind, that the particulars of my setting (and most other settings I'd care to dabble in) are such that magic is rare and scary—Cthulhu-esque, even.  But part of that is ingrained in me from the notion in older games (and most fantasy stories, for that matter) where magic is neither ubiquitous nor banal, and it's not supposed to be.  I do like one of the conceits of Eberron, though, that in a world that actually follows the D&D rules for magic, low level magic can be expected, to some degree, to mimic what technology has done in our world, though.  Things like magical streetlights, for example.  But that's a deliberately special case.
No Assumption of “Game Balance”: Old style game sessions aren’t about carefully balanced characters (who are all able to shine equally at all times) who only run into situations carefully designed by the GM to be beatable by the characters presently in the party and to provide treasure that fits their current level. Instead, part of player skill is learning to evaluate situations so situations well over the party’s current abilities or which will waste the party’s resources for little gain can be avoided. Don’t assume that you can beat every monster that you encounter, running away from monsters too tough to handle can mean the difference between character survival and character death. You can also get creative in how you defeat monsters. Perhaps those goblins you bypassed could be talked into (or tricked into) attacking that giant you know you can’t beat, perhaps killing it for you or at least softening it up so your party has a chance of defeating it and living to tell the tale. Also remember that treasure can be turned into XP, even if you can’t kill the monsters, perhaps you can still acquire some of their treasure. Part of the skill of playing “old school” style is coming up with creative solutions when a direct attack is likely to fail.
Here I certainly agree with the sentiment... but I'm not 100% sure that this is an old school paradigm or not.  Certainly old school games didn't have the tools to carefully balance your encounters—but one thing I've noticed frequently among OSRians is that they condense the entire RPG experience down to D&D—often down to 1e and other associated rule-sets vs. 3e and later.  3e's encounter balance rules are really an unusual rule that has very little precedent in the industry (not saying it leapt fully formed from the heads of Jonathan Tweet and Monte Cook like a modern day textual Athena, of course) so calling this an old-school vs. new school interpretation only makes sense in a very narrow context.  Outside of D&D specifically, there's very little that looks different than "old school", and "modern" is very specific to two (maybe three; I don't know 5e well enough to say) editions of D&D.
It’s Not All About Combat: Many modern fantasy RPGs have made combat the star of the system, combats in these systems are time-consuming and very crunchy with rules for everything. Microlite20 avoids this by having a fast-playing abstract combat system. Microlite74 takes this one step further, combat isn’t intended to be the main source of fun in the game. The game is as much about exploration and treasuring finding as it is about combat. Sure, you are going to have to fight things to explore and find treasure, but always remember that combat may not be the best or safest way to handle every situation. Think before you rush into combat. After all, it’s not the only way to earn a good pile of experience – and monsters don’t have to be killed to be defeated (and get XP for them).
Of course, this was true to a great degree for older games too; but the rules imbalance between combat vs. non-combat mechanics has gotten an order of magnitude more out of whack even since then.  Despite that, it's probably a poor straw man to suggest that new school games are all about combat.  That depends on the group more than the game, of course.  And even if you run published adventures, non-combat encounters and challenges are quite well represented.  In fact, you could fairly argue that newer games are considerably less combat oriented based on adventures published than site-based dungeon or hexcrawl games are.  A focus on combat is demonstrably old school.

He's completely right about the rules themselves, though, and the degree to which combat has become the centerpiece of the system.  Again; I don't know who he's kidding about "many modern fantasy RPGs" when clearly what he means is "3e D&D and it's derivatives and sequels."
Reality/Common Sense Trumps Rules: Old-school games use loose and simple rules that cover average cases and the GM and players are supposed to apply common sense and their knowledge of how reality works to cover the unusual and edge cases. “Reality/Common Sense” as interpreted by the GM always trumps the written rules if they conflict. For example, a character has a magic weapon and the rules for that weapon say it always causes its target to fall prone if hit. The character hits a gelatinous cube moving down the corridor toward them with the weapon. The rules say that the target should fall and be in a prone position. Reality, however, says otherwise. Gelatinous cubes don’t have a top and bottom (so prone penalties make no sense) and a 10 foot cube can’t fall when it is moving through a 10 foot corridor. In some modern games, the rules would be applied anyway and the cube would suffer the effects of falling prone no matter how little sense that makes. In an old school game, the GM ignores the rule because it makes no sense in the specific situation.
This is really more a question of good GMing vs. bad GMing.  I don't disagree with this at all, except to note that—as Matt Finch did in his "advice for would-be OSR GMs"—it's the conflation of "good" with "old school" and "bad" with "modern" that is a just-so story and simply not true. Of course the site-based combat focused old school paradigm is obvious in his examples.
Forget “Rules Mastery”: As some of the above differences have hinted, player skill in “old school” style games isn’t about mastering the game rules so you can solve any problem by knowing the right combination of rules from 20 different rule books. Microlite20 is designed to be rules light and Microlite74 tries to stress this even more by encouraging GMs to make rulings on the spot taking into account specific circumstances instead of trying to hunt up special cases in the SRD or a stack of optional rule books. This is faster and helps players immerse themselves in their character and the game world instead of in rule books. GM rulings will be based on specific circumstances and common sense, not just on the written rules and prior rulings. Just because it requires a certain roll to jump one 10 foot pit does not mean all 10 foot wide pits will require the same roll. After all, all sorts of variables can affect the roll (terrain, weather, lighting, pressure to jump quickly, etc.). Players need to remember that these rules are merely a tool for the GM. They are just guidelines for the GM, not something written in stone that the GM must obey. If something herein does not work right in your campaign (or the GM just does not like a rule), the GM is well within his right to change it. Microlite74 is not a game for rules lawyers or for those who believe that the game designer always knows what is best.
Rules Mastery is a function of how complex the rules are.  In order to accept this premise, you have to accept the absurd premise that 1e is not an old school game.  1e is an extraordinarily complex game.  It's also a poor game, with many holes, bizarre subsystems, and difficulty in even understanding, in many cases, exactly what the rules are that need to be applied (gasp! Burn the heretic! St. Gary wrote 1e!)  It also requires divorcing D&D from its history, in which the oldest of old school was more of a solo war game rather than a true RPG as the term was later understood following a bit of continued development, or the idea that tournament play is an old school paradigm.  Although I agree with this preference, it's really more to do with rules-lite vs. rules-heavy and is not something that is particularly associated with "old school."  Stukey in fact talks about both of these old school paradigms in gaming, yet somehow doesn't appear to suffer from cognitive dissonance; you can't have those paradigms without rules mastery.  I suspect he didn't play that way when old school was just "current school" (and to be fair, neither did I) but it's a mistake to assume that this is not an old school feature.
No Script Immunity: In most old school games, player characters do not have any form of script immunity. Player characters can die, lose equipment, suffer strange magical effects and other often unpleasant consequences if they are not careful or are just very unlucky. On the other hand, there are no rules limiting their success. If they take on an adult red dragon as first level characters and miraculously manage to win, there are no rules about level appropriate wealth or level appropriate magic items to interfere with their becoming rich and probably flush with magic items from the dragon’s hoard.
Ironically, it was the increased focus less on war-gaming and more on role-playing as old school started to evolve into what came next that led to the implicit assumption of script immunity in the first place.  Again; this is a play style preference that has more to do with who's playing the game than it does with what game you're playing, though.  I've been in old school games where script immunity was fairly obvious, and I've been in modern games where characters dropped like flies.  This is also another question that makes much more sense if you have a context where the entire industry is D&D and you don't actually know much of anything about other games and other styles out there, though.

Finally,
Not Mentioned does not mean Prohibited: Many people seem to read RPG rules and come away with the idea that anything not specifically mentioned in the rules as allowed is prohibited. While this really doesn’t make much sense given that no set of rules could ever cover everything that characters might attempt to do in an adventure, it seems to be a very common way to view RPG rules. In an old school game like Microlite74, this is specifically not true: the millions of possible activities not mentioned in the rules are not prohibited, they are up to the GM to allow or disallow based on his knowledge of how reality works and how his specific campaign world differs from reality. Unless the rules specifically prohibit some action, players should ask their GM instead of simply assuming it is prohibited because the rules do not mention it.
I've never played in a game, except with really bad GMs, who ever thought that not mentioned meant prohibited.  It has nothing to do with old school vs. modern.  Also; and ironically again, the notion of not being able to do something that wasn't specifically clarified that you could do?  I first saw that with rogue abilities prior to the release of AD&D.  What he calls a "modern" problem is one that I see as firmly rooted in old school games.  Also: and again, ironically, "modern" games have developed a robust tool whereby this problem is specifically side-stepped, allowing any character to attempt any action: the skill system.  Which Stukey explicitly rejects, and in fact believes, as per above, to be the cause of limitations and prohibitions on what a player character can do.

While Stukey's analysis is easier to read than Finch's, it's mostly for two reasons: 1) it's much less smug and pretentious, and 2) I'm on the same page about what my preferences require of a system.  Ultimately, though, he makes the same mistakes: 1) conflating "good" with "old school" even if there's no good reason to do so, and 2) conflating "rules lite" with "old school" even though there are very good reasons not to.

Anyway, there's a fair bit more, but I've quoted and analyzed enough; I'll give it a rest.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Druids in Dark•Heritage

I've been pretty up-front about some of my pseudo-borrowings that I've adapted into my setting.  One such is the notion of a very wild, dangerous and frightening approach to nature, as opposed to the hippy silliness that pervades many fantasy campaigns.  This may seem odd coming from a guy like me, where one of my main hobbies is wilderness backpacking, and I absolutely love spending time deep in the remote Rockies.  Then again, I've been exposed to dreadfully frightening inclement weather—heat in the desert in the summer of West Texas and southern Utah.  Hailstorms when there's no shelter to be had above 10,000 feet in the mountains.  The need to come down off of ridges and peaks as storms roll-through because lightning strikes are suddenly no longer sufficiently statistically anomalous to take that chance.  I've hung bear bags to make sure that they don't disturb my campsite at night.  I've hiked for miles wondering if my next water source was going to be there, or usable, when I got there.  I've even limped back to my parked car, defeated, exhausted and frustrated in my designs before, due to minor injury, exhaustion, weather, or just plain "I'm done."

So yeah; I've seen transcendent beauty, marveled at nearly park-like peacefulness, and lounged for hours in perfect bliss staring at a beautiful lake, meadow, or shore.  But I also know the implacable, irresistible danger of the wilderness... I've had just tiny tastes of it, but it's enough that I can imagine our continent before it was tamed and settled by Man, before the greatest extent of the Pleistocene megafauna went extinct.  And that's what I want my wilderness to represent.  The fear of wild places that inspired fairy tales in our ancestors, like Hansel & Gretel, and which were reflected quite well by a very astute Tolkien in his descriptions of the Wilderland; especially Mirkwood—which was an Anglicization by William Morris and Tolkien (possibly independently) of a variety of folkoric sources: Myrkviðr, Kolmården and even the Schwarzwald itself.  Along with that is the folkloric belief in the woodwose, or wild man.  The Dark Forest inhabited by savage, hairy feral near-humans has been hypothesized by some, at least, to be an ancient racial memory of anthropophagic Neanderthals.  Nice idea.  Great story potential in that.

Even before I'd heard of the Neanderthal Predation Theory, I'd been attracted to wild man archetypes and rules for such.  I'd early made the easy choice to adopt shifters from Eberron into my setting, and I later adopted Neanderthals from Frostburn in as well (back when my setting was more overtly d20.)  These Neanderthals weren't the predatory primate version of them, but the more mainstream very human-like interpretation.  But I gradually started getting a darker and darker vibe towards this whole idea.  Incorporating a lot of the vibe of the Tharn and other worshipers of the Devourer Wurm from Iron Kingdoms, and a lot of stuff from the Beastmen army of Warhammer, I ended up with woses, and thurses, rather than shifters and beastmen, but the concepts are similar.  The woses are more likely to be hospitable, at least among some populations, but I wouldn't ever count on it for others.  They are still a major problem in the Shifting Forest, at least.

But what I really want to add is the notion of incredibly hostile human peoples living among them; maybe even ruling them, as druids.  I don't imagine druids as being the pseudo-hippy new age clap-trap variety of druid.  I imagine druids as being almost feral creatures who run naked through the woods, kill (and eat) trespassers with their bare hands and teeth. run in packs not unlike wolves (and occasionally gather for various reasons, not unlike grizzlies at a salmon run) who are so completely and thoroughly hostile to any form of civilization that they make the massacre of the XVII, XVIII and XIX legions look like a friendly rebuke.

The druids may (as in the Circle Orboros faction of Hordes) recruit monstrous wildlife of the primal wilderness to serve them in times of need, as well as chthonic spirits made flesh.  They also handle extremely powerful (albeit often subtle) earth magic, all of which tends to be great and terrible; more akin to the tornado, flash flood, or forest fire than the more pin-point, localized magic of sorcerers and witches.  Remember; this is dark fantasy, and my interpretation of dark fantasy is somewhat like classic fantasy that features the tone (and plots and many of the conventions) of a classic horror story.  What you would get if Dracula, The Wolfman, or Woman in Black were set in Middle-earth, so to speak.  So if you make your druids more like Beorn than like R. A. Salvatore's Mielikki worshipping neo-fantasy-hippies, and then make him even darker and scarier, you'd be on the right track.  It's maybe more a combination of Pan's Labyrinth + The Wolfman + a bunch of feral people stories.

I would use the "expansion rules" for m20 (the ones called Microlite20 Expert Rules) with the Druid class; but I wouldn't allow players to use it.  Druids, by definition are fey-touched, or wild-touched—insane, in other words—and serve only as militantly hostile and bizarre, scary opposition.