Tuesday, April 04, 2017

What NOT to do in a game of adventure

Sigh.  I'm almost tempted to redo the look and feel of the blog given that AD ASTRA has completely taken over from DARK•HERITAGE lately.  I won't really (because eventually the worm will turn again), but I feel a little bad sometimes.  Or, at least I won't redo it in a space opera theme.  DARK•HERITAGE had a big announced change—but I've done very little to advance that new change since I announced it and tinkered with a few high level details.  Rather, I've spent much more of my time working on two other projects. FANTASY HACK, which is an expansion of the original m20 DARK•HERITAGE rules to enable a more specifically D&D-like feel is one.  You could say that DARK•HERITAGE is a subset of FANTASY HACK if you like.  Really the only difference between them is that DARK•HERITAGE (or at least the prior version of DARK•HERITAGE; the current one is TBD, I suppose) doesn't use all of the races and monsters of FANTASY HACK.  This obscures the fact that DARK•HERITAGE came first, but let's not split hairs, shall we?  And FANTASY HACK doesn't have an assumed setting really—although the Timischburg sample setting, is an element of DARK•HERITAGE that was modified to fit CULT OF UNDEATH and then brought wholesale into the FANTASY HACK appendices.  Somewhat ironically, I'm not actually sure if Timischburg has a place in the Mk. V of DARK•HERITAGE or not, or if it's better seen as simply a different setting altogether now.  Either way, the FANTASY HACK project is mostly done, the CULT OF UNDEATH project which fore-shadowed it could use some more work, but hasn't been touched in a long time and is more or less fine as it is.  And DARK•HERITAGE needs more work to develop its Mk. V iteration, but I haven't done it yet this year.  It'll come, eventually.

The project that has occupied much more of my head-space lately is AD ASTRA.  I might have to add a bit more to the expression, since "Ad astra" is a relatively well-known Latin phrase and motto—I learned it for the first time from the lyrics of the old Enya song "Afer Ventus" although I was obviously a little late to the party there.  But in the meantime, AD ASTRA works just fine.  I wish I had actually studied Latin.  Sigh.  Not that it's not too late to do so, but I've got a lot on my plate right now.  AD ASTRA, if you look back at all of the posts I've made with that tag, was originally inspired more by the Starjammers and the Guardians of the Galaxy movie than by anything else, but for a long time, that was merely a high concept that got no traction.  It didn't really pick up until I decided to use it to transform my STAR WARS REMIXED into something that was like #StarWarsNotStarWars—claiming the Star Wars-like elements as scènes à faire which is fair (especially given that George Lucas himself did basically the same thing with his John Carter slash Flash Gordon slash Lensmen slash Dune setting and The Hidden Fortress adapted plot.)  This #StarWarsNotStarWars (I'm borrowing the hashtag from Nick Cole and Jason Anspach, but I don't mean to steal it, just relate my own work to it as a similar kind of thing) is another idea that I've had kicking around for a long time that I hadn't really thought of doing anything specific with until recently.

Dennis McKiernan is an inspiration here.  Not because I'm really even all that familiar with his work, but because I'm intrigued by what he did. After a rather serious accident while riding his motorcycle and being hit by a car that had wandered into the wrong lane left him in traction and later a hip cast that led to months of essential immobility, McKiernan kept himself occupied by writing a fan fiction sequel to Lord of the Rings.  Doubleday showed some interest in publishing it, but the Tolkien Estate put the kibosh on the project.  McKiernan then "filed the serial numbers off" of his characters and setting, and wrote up a "prequel" to set the stage for his work.  This "prequel" is very openly imitative of The Lord of the Rings.  This is to be expected given that what he really wanted to write were, of course, sequels to Lord of the Rings.  For a while in the mid-80s, the prequel, The Iron Tower trilogy (sadly, it was also published in a trilogy format that heightened its resemblance to Lord of the Rings even more) was kind of popular.  I don't know if the subsequent work was or not—I only read the Iron Tower itself and found it at the time just laughably imitative.  Only later did I get the full story on how and why it was so imitative, which actually piqued my interest in what he had written other than the Iron Tower.

I do think that it was a mistake to write the Iron Tower Trilogy, actually.  Filing the serial numbers off and then going your own way was the right move.  Setting it up with a trilogy that is so openly a copy of a well-known work made him a bit of a laughing-stock among people who never really got what he was doing.  If he'd just started in media res with the sequel and added whatever expository details were necessary to keep the reader from getting lost, that would have been a better way to go.

So... that's what not to do, I guess.  When I started writing this post, I was going to talk about something else.  I've watched a few episodes of The Clone Wars season 2 recently, and I've also been watching Youtube videos of The Old Republic stories (the dialogue sections, at least, which tell the story—the action and travel scenes are largely snipped out).  It's interesting to me that season 2 is the one where they overtly said, "Let's see what kinds of stories we can stick into space."  There's a zombie story ("Legacy of Terror"), there's infantry war stories ("The Landing at Point Rain"), there's murder mysteries ("Senate Murder"), there's a classic WW2 submarine story ("Cat and Mouse") there's a remake of The Seven Samurai ("Bounty Hunters") there's Godzilla in space ("The Zillo Beast", "The Zillo Beast Strikes Back"), etc.  Watching the agent storyline from The Old Republic also highlights that you can even do James Bond in Star Wars.  In fact, that's one of the greatest strengths of Star Wars as a setting; you can do anything in it.  There are even train robbery heists, and other stories of the Old West that are adapted to the setting in some other episodes—it's such a malleable setting that pretty much any kind of adventure story can be told therein.

But Season 2 also highlights one of the really, really irksome elements of Star Wars sometimes, in particular because four episodes in a row feature it as a major element.  Pacifist, r-strategy "hoping that conflict will go away because I don't like it" stories are just really, really dumb.  This is especially true in a setting of pulpish adventure stories that are supposedly about heroes, not cowards and not morons.  There is no way at all that you can write a convincing story in which Duchess Satine's pacifism is a "strength" in the face of Death Watch and Separatist aggression as anything but nonsense.  In the very next episode, Padme leads the charge to block a bill funding the creation of more clones, because "more troops don't win wars, diplomacy does."  Uh... what?  There are echoes of this all through the series here and there, although rarely so overt as in these four episodes.  Even Mace Dindu in "The Zillo Beast" suddenly gets on a moral high horse when the dugs want to kill the Zillo beast to protect their planet and their civilization—"you can't do that, it's a unique creature!"

A big part of the problem with this kind of thinking is that you'll usually find that without much exception, not only is the idea too stupid to be taken seriously, but that the characters who profess it are so insufferable, arrogant, smug, self-righteous, irritating and unlikable that they almost succeed in completely sinking the work in which they appear.  Now; I know that appeasement is a real thing (although Neville Chamberlain gets a bad rap—FDR was the real appeaser.  And Stalin, not Hitler, was the even worse evil dictator that he appeased.  Also; read the cucks at NRO or any other liberal talking about Islam) as is r-strategist thinking.  But unless the point is to show how idiotically wrong that point of view is and have those that profess it get very satisfying comeuppance for their stupidity, avoid it like the plague.  And even then, don't do very much of that.  And then, if they do get their comeuppance, don't treat it like the audience is supposed to be sad and see it as a tragedy, as they did with Satine and Padme.

To me, this is the biggest disconnect I have with some of the Clone Wars material—it just fails magnificently because an r-strategist trying to write exciting K-strategist fiction is way too out of her depth.  (Normally, I despise the SJW attempt to use pronouns other than masculine for generic, because in proper English grammar, the masculine pronouns are also the generic pronouns.  So, if I used feminine pronouns there, it was on purpose.)  The Old Republic is even worse with SJWisms—the "evil" Dark Side choices are just being an annoying dick, not evil.  Half the quests are insanely stupid: "if you find my dead husband's heirloom on his body while you're out there in the jungle a few hundred yards away from the city gate, bring it back because I'm sad" and crap like that.

And that's what you should avoid like the plague in your pulpy adventure story.  If you don't understand heroism, or good and evil, then you aren't in a position to write it.

As a curious aside, I never noticed before, but in the Mandalore episodes, they make reference to another planet in the Mandalore sphere of influence called Kalevala, supposed homeworld of Satine and place where one of the other Mandalorian senator, Tal Merrik, was from.  This explains things somewhat—the Mandalorians are space Finns!

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