Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Bratty Princess Syndrome

Because my wife really wanted to, I went with her to see the sequel to Mamma Mia last night.  She'd already seen it once with my daughter.  It's a testament to the phenomenal skill and talent of the foursome that their music is so charismatic.  There is hardly an ABBA song that I don't like (although I don't pretend to have listened to everything that they've ever recorded, of course) and the songwriting skill of the boys as well as the performance talent of the girls simply is hard to overstate.  ABBA was one of the most talented groups of an entire generation.  My wife and I have had lively debates about the merits of some of the individual songs (she's convinced that "Dancing Queen" is clearly their best number, while I think that "Take a Chance on Me" and even "Mamma Mia" itself are better.  By better, I mean more fun to listen to, of course—songs like "Fernando" or "One of Us" or some others show more musical complexity and maturity and are thus arguably "better" in an objective sense, although that doesn't make them any more fun or memorable to listen to, of course.  We've also had rather lively debates about how well the songs have penetrated the popular consciousness.  I tell you, I knew all but one of the songs in the first movie, but had only ever heard half of the songs in the second movie.  She doesn't believe that I haven't heard them before, especially "Andante, Andante" which she claims that I introduced to her.  Even though I've never heard it before.)

So making a musical using their songs wasn't a bad idea, by any means.  Although a handful of songs feel forced, most of them work pretty well given the story structure.  And the movies themselves are fairly charismatic and charming most of the time too.  I laughed.  I felt emotionally tugged.  I had a good time.

Which is why, of course, the Mamma Mia movies are so dangerous.  Because underneath that charming, likable surface is a grab bag of civilization destroying content.  All of the characters are broken and dysfunctional, engaging in behavior that is irresponsible, immature, depraved, debauched, frankly kind of retarded, and to make it all worse, the movie romanticizes exactly all of those things.  I've flippantly (although completely accurately) summarized the first movie by saying that it's the story of a washed up older ho and her bratty princess syndrome daughter jerking around a whole bunch of different men, who for reasons that are completely inexplicable to the audience, they put up with.  The story is awash with r-selected feminism (but I repeat myself) tropes, including the "empowered" women who, like I said, always come off more as bratty and bitchy than powerful.  As always, feminists covet the alleged social and political power that they think men have, but haven't the foggiest notion of the responsibility that that power entails, or where it comes from, or how to maintain it.  It's nothing more than the ability to indulge their narcissistic fantasies, which ultimately, this movie is.

The men are all inexplicably beta, and pine after women in a way that makes no sense, especially because these women make no effort to be attractive, really—in fact, they go quite a long way towards trying to make themselves off-putting and unlikable.  Everybody gives up their dreams to go chase after women that, in many cases, they haven't seen in years or even decades.  Somehow these men still cling to romantic notions after decades—which is clearly nothing more than projection on the part of the women writers (actually, I notice that out of three writing credits two of them are men.  Biologically, at least.)

Nobody should ever watch this film and feel that the characters are anything other than pitiable, broken people, engaging in ridiculous behavior.  As much as I thought the movie was kind of charming, I most certainly do not recommend it.  Do yourself a favor and just go buy ABBA's Gold and More Gold collections on Amazon and listen to them instead.

Now, a more interesting development, of course, was the announcement that Star Wars: The Clone Wars is going to be revived.  Lucasfilm made a major mistake when they cancelled it in the first place, and replaced it with the much less compelling Star Wars: Rebels.  And hey, it's a great idea to actually try and do something that the fans have been really wanting for a change, after the flaming bag of crap that was The Last Jedi.  Now, of course, it's hardly enough to stem the hemorrhaging of fans that Rian Johnson, Kathleen Kennedy and even Jar Jar Abrams have caused, but it's still an encouraging sign that at least someone with some pull at Lucasfilm isn't a total idiot.  I have no confidence that they won't screw it up, though.  In fact, the distribution is already causing me to roll my eyes; it's going to be the flagship content of the new Disney Streaming service that's supposed to launch at some point to compete head to head with Netflix and Amazon Prime.  Just what I wanted; to get a whole 'nother streaming service.  Just so I can watch Clone Wars and Marvel movies that I'll either buy on blu-ray or not worry about watching again anyway.  Sigh.

Meanwhile, Galaxy's Edge continues to go from strength to strength and Vox Day has already hinted at work to bring not only books and comics (which he's already done) but even visual content—movies and TV shows—that turn their backs on the traditional industry and ignore it entirely.  That can't come fast enough.

My son thinks that for sure it's going to tank.  After all, all of his half dozen or so friends that he talks to about it have no interest in Disney Streaming, and he's kind of a Debbie Downer anyway who always finds something negative to say about whatever is going on around him, so we don't take his prognostications of doom for every new venture all that seriously.

But I admit that I'm both wary and cynical about this venture myself.

That same son also swears that he's seen evidence that the old Teen Titans TV show is going to be revived too.  I haven't seen any evidence of this myself, but why not?  That's a relatively engaging show too, and one of the early ones that proved that even being targeted towards kids, it can gain a broader audience by simply being good material, good stories, engaging characters, etc.

It used to be for most of Western civilization that there wasn't really a difference between entertainment aimed at children and entertainment for others.  It's long past time that we get past that false dichotomy, which is another legacy of the nannying, totalitarian Puritans and their attempts to purge Western civilization of everything of any real virtue.  Let's just make good stuff that appeals to everyone.  If that means its animated because it's easier to do some thing in animation, that's fine.  I think in the era of mainstreamization of anime, whatever stigma there is attached to animation is long gone except for the relict Boomers still kicking around trying to tell everyone else what they should do.

Monday, July 30, 2018

(Belated) Friday Art Attack

I was out of state white water rafting last week, but here's a belated art attack, just for fun.  Then I've got some other stuff to talk about for a bit after I get unburied enough from stuff that piled up while I was gone to actually do so.

There is nothing more pulpish than European colonial powers in pith helmets fighting dinosaurs.

Don't remember where I got this, but it's a pretty cool picture.

Using actually lizareds and stuff on a green screen looks very unlike dinosaurs, but it's not uncool, by any means.

I think this might be a Hollow Earth illustration.

Another paper miniature ilo; labeled so it's clear.

Fan illustration of the warriors of Khand, a colorfully named country in Middle-earth to the southeast of Mordor.  Other than it had been there for a long time (mentioned briefly with both the Wainrider incursions and the War of the Rings thousands of years later) and that its inhabitants were called Variags, we don't actually know anything about it, but it's been interpreted as a pseudo-middle eastern nation.

Always room for more undead.

I do a lot of fantasy; time to make sure that I keep my space opera involved too.

I often avoid things that are so iconic (like dragons) to the fantasy genre, but I need to occasionally throw one out there.

More undead.
A witch from a Conan-themed game.

Zuggtmoy, again.

Very pulp.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday Art Attack

Although I've usually liked WAR's stuff, I'm not really a fan of the 4e iconics.  The Dragonborn race was an idea of... mixed merits, let's say.  It wasn't all bad, but I don't think it was great either, and I'm not sure how well it really went over.  Do they still have Dragonborn in 5e?  Or did they at launch, I mean?

I've always been a huge fan of early pre-age of sail shipping in fantasy.  The combination is sometimes "anachronistic" at least in terms of historical eras that it resembles, because I sometimes take a more Medieval approach to life on land and a later approach to shipping technology, but whatever.  It's fun.

The Darkness at Sethanon book cover; a great book by Raymond Feist.  Unfortunately, his whole series is now in "unedited" "director's cut" format, and the versions that I originally read aren't available anymore very easily (and sadly, my copies of all by the last of the first four Riftwar books inadvertently moved to Portland with my neighbor and got lost.)

I'm not quite sure what's going on here, but hey, it's cool, right?

4e concept art for the aboleth, which wasn't a major redesign visually from what it had been.  But, still, it's a bit more snaky and tentacly than it used to be.

A snake demon of some kind from Paizo.

Speaking of demons (and 4e) here's some fighting some characters.  I actually think that green guy is a PC, not a demon.  Sigh.

Some Eberron artwork; those big mural-style covers that they used to have during the 3.5 era.  Good stuff.  This is fighting some abominations underground, it looks like.

And here, some Paizo iconics fight a bulette.  One of my very early exposures to D&D was the Official AD&D Coloring Book, and those guys got attacked by a bulette on the second plate (or was it the third?) so they've always kind of stuck with me as an iconic weird thing.  I also used to have the weird little plastic toys that the bulette was supposedly based on, which came in a big back along with a rust monster, and a few other weirdos.

I had kind of forgotten the last few updates I did in this series to include a scenery picture.  I love Colorado in the fall.  From the Elk Mountains, not too far from Gunnison.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This is roleplaying...


I quote a portion of the article above:
1. DM describes.
2. Players decide what to do and describe their actions.
3. DM adjudicates their actions and describes the new situation. 
This is roleplaying. Anything which enhances this cycle is good. Anything which detracts from it is bad. 
You may accidentally obscure the issue. You may get caught up in great Internet wars (or arguments at the table) about the right dice, rules, classes, play styles, adventure design, and so forth. Just remember: all of that is secondary to the fundamental cycle of play. Get that right—practice until you get that right—and the other things almost don’t matter at all. 
This is the core of roleplaying. It is not an optional part. Do it well or do it badly (preferably the former), you and your players must do it or the game’s gonna suck. 
As a GM, you focus on describing the game world (not the mechanics, the situation and events in the game world), providing enough info that the players know what’s going on. Then let the players respond. If necessary, ask the players “What do you do?” to prod them along. 
As a player, you focus on listening to the description, deciding how to respond (as quickly as possible), and communicating your character’s actions to the GM. Again, not the mechanics. What your character does in the game world. Description, not dice. 
As a GM, you listen to the players describe their action, and adjudicate what happens as a result. Maybe you need to roll some dice, maybe the players do, but always remember that rolling dice is the option of last resort, only to be used when you have no other means of adjudicating their actions. Maybe the GM had players roll dice to adjudicate the situations above, maybe he didn’t. The important thing is he made a judgment, then described the new situation, and play continued. 
There’s a lot of other complications that come after you get the cycle right—rules heavy or light, skill or class based, miniatures or no, etc.—but all of that, ALL OF THAT, is secondary to understanding, practicing, and implementing the Describe->Decide & Describe->Adjudicate & Describe game cycle. 
This IS roleplaying. Nail this, and everything else will follow.
Arguably, that's something that was obscured as d20 games (and others) got lost eventually in mechanics.  4e and Co. were barely roleplaying games based on that criteria; this is a common complaint, and to some degree it's overwrought, but it was a miniatures combat game with the potential for some roleplaying elements, if you did them "offline".  Pathfinder amped up the problems with 3e, and I haven't ever even read or played or done much more than a very casual, quick flip-through of 5e.

But it's fair to say that in the roleplaying community there are plenty of people and plenty of games and designers that have either forgotten what roleplaying is, or have rejected that premise in favor of something else.

And that's fine, I suppose.  I try not to get hung up on labels and policing for wrongthink in the hobby, or whatever.  But it's important to note that there could be some major assumption disconnects if you are expecting roleplaying and getting something else.

When I say that I'm not old school, but I am old-fashioned in my tastes, this is exactly what I mean.  I don't like the specific old school games very much (like retroclones such as Swords & Wizardry, etc.) but I do want games where that core of roleplaying comes to the fore, unadulterated and uncompromised and not confused because of mechanics or any other issue. In my experience, it's hard and unnatural for most people to get to that core if the game is too prescriptive or detailed.  It's hard to get past the system if the system isn't designed specifically to fade into the background and just allow you to roleplay.  So my tastes have moved towards games that do exactly that; fade system into the background and focus on the roleplaying.

I admit that what is "lost" here is protection from bad experiences with players who aren't on the same page about how the game should be run; but ultimately, that's a suboptimal place to be if you're playing with players who aren't more or less on the same page anyway.  There's only so much of that that you can tolerate before it starts to break the game down and you'd rather just do something else with those people rather than try to play a game where you're not on the same page about what it's all about.  Much of the codification of 3e and Pathfinder in particular seem designed with this priority in mind; replicate the experience, protecting players from the vagaries of personal interpretation.  In theory, this was the priority of AD&D too, which is kind of ironic, given that hardly anyone I've ever talked to really ever played AD&D "as written" because doing so was so esoteric and Byzantine.

But I've completely lost the interest in doing anything like that anymore.  Give me players that I enjoy playing the game with, not just hanging out with (although they better be that too if we're going to be successful) or don't give me any players at all.  I've got a lot of constraints on my free time, and suboptimal gaming just doesn't make the cut anymore.  If I can't have good gaming, I'll go do something else instead.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Foray to the Sandwich Islands

Well, I have not made any posts in two weeks; in fact, I've been very busy and distracted by a family vacation foray to the Sandwich Islands, which for reasons that I don't really agree with, we have stopped calling by our good old fashioned English name and now use the native label (even though natives are not the majority population there) of Hawaii for some time now.  There's a movement to actually change the name again, slightly (adding an apostraphe diacritic, basically—it is often written Hawai'i, even though the official name of the state is Hawaii.  It is often also pronounced as if the w were a v.  I'm not sure what's driving this; the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, I presume, but again, I don't understand why anyone else cares about it. I still kind of like the name Sandwich Islands, myself.

Anyway, as is usually the case when visiting the Sandwich Islands, the climate was pleasant, the beaches were pretty and fun to swim in, I got pretty tan (a bit red, even, which peeled and then turned to tan—the legacy of my very thin genetic lineage of non-British ancestry) and everything was expensive.  Surprisingly, I ate less seafood and a lot more hamburgers than I expected to.  Luckily, in spite of the fact that I ate a lot of calories (as is often typical when on vacation) I burned a fair bit too doing sea kayaking, swimming and body surfing, paddle-boarding, etc.which kept me from gaining any more weight than I already have, and I'm already (hopefully) on track to reduce that back again and actually lose some.

But what struck me much more this time than last time I was in the Sandwich Islands nine years ago is how much like a Third World country the place really is.  Much of this is based on the ethnicity of what you see walking around the street (although that can be misleading because so many tourists, many from Japan, which are on the Island during the summer); the population according to the census has a plurality: 38% of Asians, from many backgrounds (but especially Filipino and Japanese) only 24% American (i.e. "white"), 23% mixed race, and 9% native Hawaiian (although many of the mixed descent include native Hawaiian.)  In other words, it feels like a Third World country because you're walking around seeing very few Hajnal Line first worlder people.  Just walking around, you might be forgiven for thinking that you're in the Philippines rather than America.  (Remember when the Philippines were part of America?  Yeah, that was a long time ago...)

Another part of it is the poverty and poor infrastructure.  The roads and parking lots are inadequate, poorly designed, cramped, etc.  Housing is often old and rather squalid looking.  Income distribution and modern conveniences are often skewed and sketchy unless you're right in downtown Honolulu or the Waikiki beach area, or other "nicer" neighborhoods, like parts of the east side of the Island around Diamond and Koko Head, or Lanikai or Kailua, etc.  The western edge of the island is quite dry and fairly poor, on the other hand, and has a bad reputation as being unfriendly to non-natives, or at least non-locals.

And finally, is the behavior.  People joke about "island time" and the laid-back attitude, and things like, yeah, there are rules and laws and whatnot, but people don't really care about where you park, or how you drive, or whatever.  But this is all behavior that is common to the Third World, and uncommon in Hajnal Line core western civilization, and it stands in pretty stark contrast to what those of us from a western civilization background are actually used to.  Now, I'm not saying that it's necessarily good nor bad; it works for them, of course, and a lot of people of ours come to love that laid-back lifestyle, but it isn't First World behavior.  It's Third World behavior.  And the end result, if you have enough people who practice Third World behavior, is that your country is a Third World country.

It's interesting to see the evolution of much of California, for instance, from being the Golden State a couple of generations ago, to becoming a Third World country right before our eyes.  Although few "mainstream" sources care to document it, San Francisco, for instance, has a trash and human waste problem that is almost unbelievable to someone like me who hasn't been there in 25-30 years.  If I hadn't seen L.A. with my own eyes a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have believed how much that place has gone downhill; Anaheim itself is now a trashy neighborhood that you almost want to avoid.

Anyway, I'm back.  I have no idea what I'll be working on blog-wise for the time being.  I'm behind on all kinds of stuff (most especially, reading the Tyrus Rechs Galaxy's Edge book, which I'm disappointed that I couldn't seem to make any time for while on vacation.)  And then I'm off again for a few days next week to go white water rafting in West Virginia.