Thuloid Speaks: Gaming and the Hyperreal, Part III – What Enchants Us

Greetings, O House! The mood is tired but celebratory, as young Elmer Bumbleforce Yog-Sothoth Bugenhagen Ookla the Mokk, Heir to House Thuloid has lately emerged from his watery den in Mrs. Thuloid (to her great relief), and begun his conquest of my abode. To date there are many fluids but little activity. Is such a one too young for gaming? If we speak of the miniature variety, undoubtedly, though it stands to reason that a nipple-themed mini game (Lactohammer?) might command his interest. As it is, he will have to settle for participating in his father’s digital Batman fantasies. My thoughts are neither deep nor voluminous these days, but I have a few, so let’s to it.

Batman and friends

The ongoing encounter with a person to whom literally everything is a new experience has led me to consider why it is that certain games are interesting to us and others are not. Warhammer Fantasy’s death and subsequent partial revivification Khal Drogo-style raises the same question: what about the old game captured my imagination, and what about the new game fails to? An answer like, “The new rules are bad,” won’t do. They may be bad, but I’ve enjoyed bad games before. No, they leave me cold, spark nothing in me. I am not drawn to this new world of Regalia as I was to the Old World. I’m not drawn to the fat, super-powered, altogether immortal-appearing proto-Marines. Nothing about it sings to me.

You and I, good gamers, can game absolutely anything, but we only game what draws us in. Games can be about war or farming or tax policy. If the game, rules, aesthetic and all, feeds our fantasies, then we might happily play. Most wargamers are people who have never seen war, and God willing never will. But no few have seen a bit of it, and still they game. Is this sick compulsion? Hardly. It’s fun. I could game a daily trip to the grocery store, were the rules creative enough. But the point is not representation–an accurate simulation of my shopping experience would not be worth gaming. Neither would a game that duplicated in detail the real experience of a soldier (how boring would that be?). Perhaps the hobby equivalent would be to build a perfect 1:1 model of one’s own home and office. I don’t want a second life exactly like my first–I want a taste of something different, even if it shares aspects of my own life.  Humming the Zelda overworld music as I go about mundane tasks only gets me so far. Games afford possibilities that I wouldn’t or can’t explore in daily life.

Our corner of the universe–miniatures– has not tended toward the odd or experimental in terms of the range of possible experiences. Genres of miniature games are quite narrow and well-defined compared to the wide-open spaces of RPGs. But it needn’t be so. Consider this oddity of an early-80s role-playing game: Alma Mater, the High School RPG. The perverse cover art by Erol Otus (surpassed only by the even more twisted and somewhat work-unsafe interior drawings by same) tells you all you need to know about this game. How is it as a set of rules? In all likelihood, clunky. Games published in 1982 frequently are, with a multitude of bizarre and detailed charts and tables (and don’t you worry about charts and tables–this one includes the price of various illegal drugs). But it does capture a certain moment, and offer an opportunity to take a common experience and transform it. The appeal is obvious: whatever the player did in school, they could do differently.

Someone should tell Milli (or is it Vanilli?) not to sell those pills to Michael Jackson. And how the hell did Erol Otus know MJ would look like that, way back in ’82?

The artwork used to illustrate a game is not incidental to its appeal. How many were drawn into Warhammer by John Blanche, our imaginations populated by his illustrations at least as much as by the actual game pieces? It’s remarkable how well, for a time, those miniatures and illustrations mirrored one another. The phenomenon of Warhammer grew out of that synergy as much as out of any rules innovation. I grew up with RPGs and came to miniatures late, so I knew Erol Otus long before I encountered Blanche. He was, of course, a major illustrator for early D&D– and if my imagination has an illustrator, it’s Otus. OtusHis best work reminds me just a bit of Thomas Hart Benton, except instead of scenes of American life, we have dungeon vignettes.

Thomas Hart Benton, Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire), 1948

I think the vignette, the moment, is exactly the right way to imagine a dungeon crawl. What is memorable from a gaming session is often not the triumph, but the moment of fear as an unexpected enemy steps from the shadows. The scene need not be epic, merely dangerous for the adventurers. It is best if they appear mortal, even a touch flimsy compared to their foes (Otus’ elongated figures encourage this). At least a touch of dungeon architecture is necessary to establish the setting and give it some weight.

We might draw a comparison to our miniatures. A good old-fashioned Chaos Warrior looks terrifying and invincible next to a Reikland Halberdier. Blocks of state troops suggest ranks of soldiers marching out to war against an opponent they perhaps cannot defeat–but this contrast is at the heart of Warhammer Fantasy. Similarly, the Imperium’s fabled Space Marines are all the more impressive if their resources are limited and their opponents truly overwhelming. Eight-foot godlings in ceramite may get some of your blood pounding, but I prefer them as men. I don’t think it’s unimportant that Age of Sigmar compromises all this by making immortals of the good guys, and illustrates the same with figures and art that suggest no weakness at all. The vulnerability of even heroic figures is important to maintaining our fantasy–else what is our entry point, our chance of identifying? Maybe it’s just a fellow entering his late 30s feeling mortality a little, but I have no use for games that render death trivial.

Terrain, too, makes an enormous difference. Done well, it suggests a real space, a field on which men fall and bleed. In smaller scale games, it becomes even more important to define the space well. Few details are necessary, but they can’t be altogether absent. Take the case of beer in the Benton painting–that’s an entry point, pulling you into the poker table and the whole scene. In the same way, a road, a farmhouse, perhaps a few gravestones help pull us into a tabletop world. I participated in Mantic’s Dungeon Saga kickstarter, and eagerly await my figures for that dungeon crawler. But it became almost a running joke during the campaign that announcements of character and monster models received muted reactions, while donations spiked with every mention of dungeon furniture. Players obsessed over doors of all things, and cheered about barrels, chests and shelves. These small objects, gestures toward ordinary life, turn a board into a proper dungeon. A bigger hero doesn’t capture my imagination as well as a simple bookcase, because the bookcase means this is all real.

dungeon furniture

What everyone signed up for.

These small things–the limitations of our heroes and the detritus of our dungeons–are gateways into new worlds. They are points of contact for us. Take them away, and why do we play at all?


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  • MerryVulture

    Well put. I would love to have some good dungeon and interior terrain for my various games. I feel kind of bad for not knowing who Erol Otus is, as his D&D art work are some of the iconic memories of my youth. That fits in with your post, though, in a way. The important thing for me wasn’t WHO did what, but how it made me feel at the time. My Goggles of Reminiscing (+5) have been used since before I should have had memories, but I still spend way to much time saying ” you remember that time Zvackek…” We play for fun. (Yes, I remembered) Sometimes we still play because it WAS fun, and we are just grasping at the wisps of the memories.

    • Porky_Poster

      Part of the Erol Otus magic I think is in the way the images work, that the whole is less than the mood it leaves, a sense of a strange space of distinct or unique phenomena. This may be clearest in the moody backdrops, way he draws fluids, and some of those weird monsters.

      “Sometimes we still play because it WAS fun, and we are just grasping at the wisps of the memories.”

      I think there’s a lot of truth in this. It may be the cause of some frustration too, and maybe some of the anger that gets unleashed online, as things change and the real world correspondences with the memories become further removed. It could be something like AoS, if it represents a larger severance, takes draws more ire for this reason.

      But if those memories are important, the best approach may be less to hang on to them than to make new. Not necessarily with the newer thing, but with something that can reflect the changed natures of the players themselves, bringing them fresh new challenges.

      • Porky_Poster

        Of the freelance illustrators working for smaller pen and paper publishers, Stephan Poag and Underworld Ink – Jason Sholtis and John Larry – often conjure up a similar tone to the Erol Otus black and whites:

        • Thuloid

          Great stuff. I REALLY like the Poag link.

        • When I think old school fantasy, I’m always taken back to Heavy Metal Magazine. Those were some great pioneers fighting to bring obscure and unknown fantastical worlds to something resembling mainstream storytelling.

          For a peak at what I’m talking about, highly recommend the documentary “In Search of Moebius.”

          • Porky_Poster

            Recommendation taken, and very gratefully. It’s tricky keeping track of the subtitles because there’s just so much to see.

    • Thuloid

      Surprisingly many RPG products are consciously reaching toward that early D&D aesthetic. It’s nostalgia, yes, but it’s also part of how fun works– something feels familiar and new at the same time. Dungeon terrain reminds me, and everyone else roughly my age, of all the hours spent with HeroQuest. But it also reminds me of my first D&D characters, of half-orcs in chainmail and the illustrations from the Player’s Handbook and DMG.

  • Thank you that was a great read.
    I wonder if you would be enchanted by the fat Sigmar cherub men if you were ten years old? Or maybe only if you were a ten-year-old today, rather than in the late 1980s? I mean, is AoS an awful aesthetic miscalculation, or simply an appropriate game for our time, and the mortal and vulnerable hero is a trope that doesn’t appeal so much these days?

    I don’t know. I read an anime producer once say that the reason Japanese heroes are nearly always children or female these days is that they have built-in vulnerabilities, so they are inherently more interesting than strong adult male heroes. GW’s world-builders don’t seem to have that sense at all. Don’t know where I’m going with that but it seems pertinent somehow.

    Oh, and my remembered D&D world will always be Larry Elmore’s.

    • Porky_Poster

      “I mean, is AoS an awful aesthetic miscalculation, or simply an appropriate game for our time …”

      It could even be a bit of both, an appropriate game that is still an aesthetic miscalculation, whether because less optimal decisions have been taken or because what makes it appropriate for the time is more or less inseparable from the miscalculation. Time should help us tell, but it may even be that the tropes of our time not only prevent a game like WFB and its peers emerging, but prevent them lasting, because the tropes don’t have the same power.

      • I think that’s very plausible, especially the second half of your paragraph. It’s probably a truism, but at this stage we might say that WFB is gone because it’s time has passed. If it hadn’t, it would still be here. Whether or not AoS will be as successful as WFB was in it’s day (monetarily or culturally) remains to be seen.

        • It’s entirely possible GW is looking much further down the road that we. If they can survive through a few cycles of hate and players dropping due to their armies being turned into jokes while GW begins focusing on new armies from built with balance in mind from the ground up, AoS could one day be regarded as a modern Rogue Trader – the start of something bigger.

          • Thuloid

            Players dropping is kind of irrelevant because ALL armies are jokes. I don’t even know what kind of a thing it is to build an army for this game, honestly. But perhaps all the new product will be balanced and awesome? Perhaps. I don’t think the underlying game is interesting enough for me to care, and the fluff is so stupid it makes me want to cry. So it’s simply a brand new game, and to this point I’ve heard good things about it only from 40k players who want to convert the models.

          • The point is – we’re no longer the target audience. We’re ingrained in the old setting, rules and aesthetic. The question is how will new players / kids take it.

          • Thuloid

            That’s quite true. Though I’m trying to look at this game with fresh eyes, and honestly, it’s just not one I’m interested in. Never would have been. I guess we’re all waiting to see who the audience turns out to be–as I mentioned above, Sandwyrm’s point about the disconnect between the model complexity and the rules complexity is an interesting one.

          • It is.. but I don’t think wargaming in general has the same entry age as card games. Really not sure when kids should / can start grasping it.

          • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

            I could imagine my ex girlfriends son liking AoS when he was about 11 or 12, bu I think even he would have had a hard time collecting something with no rules for composition. It surprises me that they didn’t go for a variation on KoW’s composition rules. Something like “For each hero taken you must take at least two troops units and can have a monster, artillery piece and special unit.”

            Then a collection can build up in a modular way, and games can simply be “3 hero games” or “5 hero games” or whatever.

            Thats how I’d have done it anyhow, but no one asks me nuffink…

      • Thuloid

        I honestly couldn’t say what tropes “work” right now. But maybe I don’t have to. Look at what games are actually growing, and there’s your answer.

        • I don’t know which games are growing. I know what I play, but that doesn’t seem representative. At my local stores it’s pretty much 40k, Magic and Infinity.

          • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

            locally to me its Warmachine, Bolt Action, Star Wars, 40K and various historicals in roughly that order.

    • Von
      • Very much so. I am not a huge Dr. Who fan so a lot of the specifics of that discussion were lost on me. But I am reading the Iliad right now, actually, and it did indeed strike me that the Trojans, the Greeks and the gods are all described sans moral judgment. Or maybe according to a morality I am not privy to. Certainly they are all kind of jerks, but the Greeks (Homer’s viewpoint characters) seem almost like the villains to me, if anyone is.

        Argh I have more to say about the line “we are all getting ready to become gods” but I have to go, sorry.

        • Thuloid

          Some are virtuous, some are not, but all are human. Achilles pouts, rages and then dies. Odysseus is driven by simple homesickness, missing his wife.

          Tolkien’s elves are an interesting test case to me. They can’t figure too strongly in Lord of the Rings–they’re simply too remote, inaccessible. On a short timeline, they’re hardly even characters. Something like humanity only begins to emerge in them when the grand sweep is taken into view– Feanor, Fingolfin and the like only work on a scale like the Silmarillion. But on that scale, however powerful they are, they’re essentially human.

          • Even the Olympians are human. It’s really interesting actually to read it as a grown up, rather than going on received folk knowledge. It feels to me as though the Olympian gods in Homer are like elves – they are ageless but they can be killed (like the Aesir I suppose).

            Diomedes wounds Aphrodite AND Ares, and the latter has to get Apollo to save his life with “healing drugs.” It’s almost… SF, as though the gods are just super-advanced people. They definitely fear harm, and seem to be afraid that spears can kill them, but also shocked that a mortal would dare to try. But the mortals for their part are absolutely terrified of the gods. Except bad-ass Diomedes…

            The exception is Zeus, who is so powerful that it’s unthinkable he could be harmed with conventional weapons.

            Years ago when Gary Gygax was still alive, he sometimes did Q&As on some forum I forget the name of. I asked him a question once and he answered 🙂

            Anyway someone else asked him why there were level limits on demi-human characters in the early editions of D&D and AD&D. His answer was very interesting. He said that they were aiming for a human-centric world where non-humans were supporting characters, and that while you could be a supporting character if you really wanted, it was assumed most players would want to be humans.

            Contrast that with today. Everyone wants to be the Half-Drow Half-Tiefling Dragon-blooded sorcerer because human fighters are “boring.” SinSynn (wherever he is) only ever plays aliens in any game, unless he has to be human like in Flames of War. And there are lots of people like him. When I was a boy my characters were always Elves or Dwarves. Now I’m always the DM, but if I did play I’d be human for sure.

            Edit: I feel like Homer intends the main hero of the Iliad to be Hector, and it’s a tragedy, which is interesting because he’s the Trojan hero. Maybe part of the Greeks’ warrior ethos, to show that a good person is consummate warrior, even if they are your enemy? The “villain” in terms of the character who seems most despised is the god Ares. Also a warrior, but one who simply loves killing.

          • Thuloid

            That’s part of the trick–how the hell does one role-play a race (or combination of races) one doesn’t even understand?

            I do love Homer. There is such a thing as divinity there, something altogether other and inaccessible, but it’s expressed only by degrees through essentially human actors.

          • I actually wrote about this on my never updated Roleplaying site regarding the roleplaying of following paths in Vampire.


          • That was a good read Dave.

          • Thanks. We rarely think of others perspectives – like really think about it. But “bad guys” rarely think they’re actually “bad” and live in contradictory ways because they must or it’s all they know. The first step to understanding is acknowledging that -anything- could be considered “normal.”

          • Von

            This is the key to the whole issue of alignment/morality in games (and in life) for me. Only a masochist wakes up in the morning and thinks “I am evil, I am bad, I am wrong”, burdened with a morality which condemns and punishes them. The rest of us believe we’re in the right.

          • Exactly!

          • …which takes us back to the hero discussion above. A traditional hero (or villain) is someone who believes they are right, just like everyone else. The difference is that they will take actions that normal people are afraid to take in order to further those beliefs.

          • Von

            I never knew you had an RP sideblog, Dave!

            The Paths have always been a bit awkward. They fascinate me, and in the hands of the right player they are fascinating exercises in characterisation, but many of them come across as excuses for a player’s actions rather than justifications for a character’s. It’s all too easy to get lazy and mechanistic about it and watch the morality simply evaporate. The trick is demonstration. Have some NPCs on Paths and show the difference in experiential terms…

          • And a tech one!
            I have so much rattling around in this brain and not nearly enough time 🙁

            That’s part of the reason I’ve thought on Paths and limited people taking them. Usually turns into a license to do whatever they want. Like going Chaotic / Neutral or Good in DnD and just being like, “Whatever – I do what I want!”

          • Do you mean nobility/virtue? I mean, arete? All of the human warriors have it in some way (except for the ones described as lower-class social climbers, who are stereotypes of ugliness and cowardice).

            But I think only Hector and perhaps Patroclus have actual nobility. They both fight for duty and the good of others, and are portrayed as not being too rash or loving fighting, although they (particularly Hector) are good at it. And they both die tragically.

            Or do you mean something else more mysterious?

          • Thuloid

            Something else, I think, though Plato would say they’re the same thing. But then, Plato had his own reading of Homer just like everyone else in the ancient world did. No, I’m really talking about the relation of the (still mostly human) gods to the human characters.

          • Von

            WFRP is, to the best of my knowledge, the only RPG that has ever sat down and considered the psychology of the non-human in any depth. There’s a wonderful (short, but wonderful) article in the first Apocrypha book about the collection of ‘insanities’ (from the human point of view) which make up the Elf, Dwarf or Halfling psyche, and how they come to be there.

            Vampire squints at it through the Paths of Morality but doesn’t always explain itself coherently – more interested in metaplot than personality play, that’s their trouble.

            To witness divinity behind the human actor seems essentially Platonic to me: the ideal that our minds can grasp in essence but not in detail, that exists only in examples and which we know to be broader and more complex than any one example can be. The gods exist only in simile.

          • Thuloid

            I sent James a short email on that subject (Plato & Homer) last night. Yes, it makes sense, because like everyone else in the Greek world, Plato would say that he got the idea from Homer. Homer was kind of the universal authority, and to an extent everything posed as (regardless of whether it really was) interpretation of Homer.

            That said, there are non-Platonic elements in Homer as well–an unimaginable power gestured at as one moves up the scale, and beyond that Fate itself, which is not like any of Plato’s forms.

          • Hmm, that sounds interesting. May have to look it up… because those societies would be very alien.

            Yeah, Vamp pretty much ends up leaving Path interpretation in the hands of the players and hope they “get it.”

          • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

            it is very interesting to read old stories with modern eyes. Norse Sagas for instance only give moral credits to a character for skill, bravery and upholding honour and tradition. When working on a retelling of Bosi and Herraud (a late saga) we had to leave out incidents where the central characters are pointlessly cruel or violent, otherwise a modern audience would have no sympathy for them and the story would fail as a piece of entertainment.

        • Von

          What always interested me most about that post of Miles’ is the idea that ‘villain’ is an essentially classist term. It feeds sideways into arguments about the conservatism, the High Toryism even, of fantasy, the obsession with high men, chosen ones and lost kings, the individualistic and larger than life hero. There are echoes of E. R. Eddison about it, whispers of Tolkien – who is the hero of The Lord of the Rings, and who merely the protagonist? – and for some reason, I find it deconstructed and skewered in ‘The World’s End’.

          If you’ve not seen it, SPOILER WARNING, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH, I’M NOT TELLING YOU AGAIN. I think that’s a film about heroism and power and establishing exactly who the villain is, in Miles’ sense of the word. The Network? Well, sure, they’re the ones making us all more powerful and more co-operative – more like gods, yet more like villeins in our sameness and service. The individualistic hero is aggravatingly working-class and snarled up in a world where he doesn’t fit, where the kind of virtues he exhibits have no meaning any more. Civilisation has to die, as a result of his actions, before he can feel at home in the ruins. And isn’t that the sort of thing the ‘villain’ usually does, even if it’s an individual gesture of the ‘heroic’ sort? That kind of larger-than-life heroism is something of the past: not viable here and now.

          When did we invent the term ‘anti-hero’, and what for? It seems like we needed a way to distinguish heroic deeds from ‘our’ morality, because we’ve crosswired ‘hero’ with ‘goodie’. And here’s a closing question, from the disconnected droolings of a brain that’s not been awake for 45 minutes yet: are there any villeins in Age of Sigmar?

          • I was just thinking about The World’s End this morning, and how amazing and huge and heroic it is. That, and the fact that you brought it up, means I think you’re definitely on to something.

            Surely anti-hero is a pretty recent term. I’m not going to go look it up. I’m going to test myself here and guess maybe early 20th century? And I’m pretty sure when it was first applied, it didn’t mean what it means now, i.e. Batman. It meant what you said: someone who does villainous things but is still the protagonist of a story, in the sense that it revolves around them. Darth Vader maybe?

            Nowadays it just seems to mean a rough-edged but basically good guy who’s not afraid to kill the baddies without remorse. Which is really interesting because that’s sort of just a pre-Christian hero, and also maybe has something to do with class?

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            As a new term anti-hero is difficult to pin down. My English Lit professor defined it as a protagonist who lacked the Aristotelian qualities of a hero.

            So, the likes of Hamlet and Oedipa Mass are anti-heroes. Not bad people, but weak and indecisive. Shakespeare’s Richard III is an unpleasant individual, but heroic in the poetic sense; thus not an anti-hero.

            In normal parlance ‘anti-hero’ is generally used to mean ‘protagonist who is a jerk’.

            Of course, there may also be differences in the understanding of the term between the USA and the Commonwealth

          • Von

            “…someone who lacked the Aristotelian qualities of a hero.”

            That’s a far more useful definition than the one with which we’re working with the majority of the time: “someone who occupies the ‘hero’ space in the narrative but who does things which are Bothersome to our delicate Sensibilities to some extent.” We come back to this idea of decoupling the ‘heroic’ from the ‘good’, don’t we?

          • Thuloid

            In some circles I mix in (and perhaps this is a US thing–I suspect so), there’s considerable pushback on the popular American way of referring to soldiers as heroes (admittedly something I find trite). Frequently this pushback is accompanied by critique of US foreign policy, as if that were the issue. Contrarian, I like to make the point that the bravery, determination and self-sacrifice are in themselves heroic qualities–whether they’re used to a good end is irrelevant. But then, by another common definition, a hero upholds a culture, to some extent represents it. This is only good to the extent that the culture is good, as it implies common flaws as well.

          • That’s interesting. Yes, personally I’d think that a soldier is the definitive hero in the real world, just as traditional heroes were warriors. To some extent the hero’s ideal qualities (courage and self-sacrifice) are also the ideal qualities of a soldier.

            The people you’re talking about are being confused by the idea of a good character upholding a “bad” culture, a discussion that goes back to at least Aristotle. Modern philosophers of character call it “the courageous nazi” problem. Thinkers just-post WWII were often unable to admit that German soldiers showed the same characteristics as allied ones with regard to courage and heroism, because their cause was wrong. So some of them argued that the courage shown by a soldier fighting for the nazis was not “real courage,” but something else masquerading as it. The Greeks would have thought that preposterous of course. But I think it’s a real problem for cultures where, as Von says, the good has been uncoupled from the heroic.

            Something else you might find interesting. the Australian media and people in general frequently style survivors of disasters or terrible accidents/illness as heroes. There are some people who dispute this, saying that soldiers, fire fighters etc. are the only ones who deserve that label, not someone who beat cancer, or was the only one to manage to crawl out of a collapsed building alive. We love stories of survival, and it seems as though toughness and grim endurance are major requirements of an Australian hero, e.g., Mad Max.

            As an outsider, it looks to me as though moral goodness is a major requirement for an American hero.

          • Thuloid

            Americans have the problem of correlating success and prowess with moral goodness–so America’s victorious soldiers are also, by default, moral exemplars. I’m from a military family, but this is clearly absurd. You even see it in sports–athletic outcomes are often attributed in to character rather than ability, or conversely, someone who has shown low character is assumed to be ripe for failure. And politicians (and their ideas) are right or wrong based on whether they won or lost the election. Don’t even get me started on the effect this has on popular Christianity.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            I’ve read the argument that this is due to a warped understanding of the protestant work ethic.

            Success is due to hard work (highly debatable) ad hard work is a sign of moral purity; ergo the successful are morally upstanding. It follows that those who fail are wanting in the eyes of the Lord.

          • Thuloid

            That’s roughly how I understand it. Though, if anything, the notion has intensified as America has moved away from its Puritan roots. By now it’s sort of a stage beyond what Weber was talking about, something that developed in America’s unique religious climate (and is now being exported in volume). It even exists in a markedly post-Christian form.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            A strict reading of the word ‘hero’ implies martial courage, and really nothing else. So, there is merit to apply it strictly of fighters.

            However, hero more generally means cultural exemplar. This is an idea both medieval and Christian. The heroes of the old religions were really not men that most people would want their neighbors emulating.

          • Thuloid

            No, I think you’re just picking up on a difference between a more formal literary sense and a lazy and somewhat imprecise one. By the common definition, Achilles is an anti-hero. By the literary sense, Holden Caulfield is. Not a lot they have in common.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            I tend to fall back on formal academic terminology.

            Issue really, is people conflating the notion of ‘hero’ with the concept of ‘good’. So, an anti-hero simply becomes a immoral hero. Rather than non-heroic.

            The problem is, if we use the popular definition of anti-hero, then what’s Hamlet? The whole tragedy steams from the fact that he is not a hero, and can’t take firm, decisive action.

            I don’t think I’d want to have Homer’s Achilles over for dinner, but no one can question that he is a hero.

            Of course, one of the hallmarks of the Western hero myth, be it (Cu Chulainn, Percival, Hercules, etc.) is that the hero himself is fatally flawed. In the age of ‘happily ever after’ he tend to miss that fact.

    • Thuloid

      I like Elmore too, but not in the same way. Many fond memories of reading Snarfquest out of the back of my older brother’s Dragon mags.

      I’m not even sure these work that well for a ten-year-old. Don’t kids have plenty of anxieties, and doesn’t the best children’s lit feed off of that? Sure did when I was a kid. A child’s life is surprisingly filled with danger, with a sense of their own limited power–in their own minds, it’s naturally dramatic. There is a role for the great hero, but there also must be a way in for the child.

      Did you happen to catch Sandwyrm’s AoS review? He made the interesting point that though the game is for 10 year olds, the models are way too difficult for kids that age. Simple mismanagement at GW was his diagnosis, and it seems right from my angle.

      • Porky_Poster

        I read that and it’s made into the Wild Bore that may or may not be along one day. It’s very odd, and maybe even a major error.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      GW’s world builders are clearly stuck in the mode of adolescent wish-fulfillment. Certainly I’ve seen plenty of strong adult males vulnerable and terrified, in fact, I’ve been there myself. But, it is harder to convey. However, in the bleakness of GW’s universe, everyone is vulnerable.

      I don’t understand what the kids today like. I’m locked out and not up to speed.

      • I don’t know either. None of us here seem to. Are we old greybeards with model railway sets? Is that what we are?

        My son is three and a half, I guess I’ll know what kids are in to soon enough. Right now he spends half his time pretending to be Princess Elsa from Frozen and the other half shooting me with a “kill-gun.”

        • Cedric Ballbusch

          The world is changing fast. Expecting those who were not always-already in the present mood, you can’t help but be left behind.

          To tangent on Frozen. I didn’t even understand the movie. The message is ‘relax and be yourself’ except for the fact that ‘relaxing and being yourself’ is what caused all the problems in the first place. So, there is no moral, we’ve learned nothing, and the guys who wanted to burn the witch were rational and correct.

          I can’t even follow modern media. That’s when you know you’re out of touch.

          • Thuloid

            Was watching a sitcom with the wife last night. Episode included cameos from a string of celebrities, most of whom were barely introduced as if we all knew who they were (and the jokes depended on it). I had heard of exactly one of them, though couldn’t have identified him or anything about him apart from the name.

          • I will confess to being a bit perplexed by the success of Frozen too but my objection isn’t as well reasoned as yours I just don’t think it was that great its certainly no lion king and I’m no snob some of my favourite movies of the last 15 years have been kids flicks finding Nimo, toy story, how to train your dragon but I didn’t think Frozen was even remotely in their class

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            From a purely artist standpoint I agree. If I were to take your average social studies undergraduate, lock him in a cage, feed him nothing but pickled herring, and jab at him with a stick until he wrote a fairy tale, Frozen–or something like it–would be the result

            The story doesn’t go anywhere. Of course, that is sort of a ‘thing’ in modern writing.

          • Thuloid

            Nice animation, that’s about it. I sort of enjoyed the Norwegianness of it.

          • Not sure where to reply about Frozen, I’ll put it here but this is for Cedric and DC too.

            I think you guys might have stopped paying attention early or something. Or you haven’t watched it ten times like I have 😀

            The message isn’t “be yourself” it’s “use your talents to take care of the ones you love, not make yourself happy.” Elsa runs off to be a lone ice sorceress so she can do what she wants, but society (and especially her sister Anna) follows her, and she is drawn back. Then there is a confrontation and the thing that saves Anna’s life is her own act of “true love” – self sacrifice. Then everyone lives happily ever after with sweet ice powers being used to make an unseasonal skating rink.

            So the arc of Elsa’s character is that no princess is an island, and talents can be used for good or ill. Anna’s character arc is that she learns that she has magic too, which comes from her love and courage. Awww. It’s a very… Christian story I think. As I understand it.

            It also, and this is why feminists seem to like it, subverts some traditional princess tropes. The handsome prince can’t be trusted; neither of the princesses are ultimately saved by a man – only by their own talent/love for each other.

            It’s funny though, and relevant to the rest of what we’re talking about here – as an adult man, I think Anna seems to be the hero – the most admirable character in her courage and humanity. But my son, and every other little boy or girl I’ve seen, immediately thinks Elsa is the hero and wants to have sweet ice powers 😀

          • Thuloid

            I’ll grant the point about Anna and how things actually resolve.

            But it’s Elsa’s big song that gets on my nerves. There’s nothing admirable about it–it’s pure narcissism, but it’s what every little girl in the world sings endlessly to herself.

          • Yeah. It’s all about the narcissism these days, that seems pretty well-known to everyone.

            And I still can’t see how Elsa is the hero. She’s at the mercy of events and her own powers for the whole story. Anna is the only one with real agency IMO.

          • My judgement of it wasn’t in any way based on my interpretation of its message I just didn’t think it was as good as a lot of the Disney pixar dreamworks animated kiddy thingmebob have been. cause some have bee truly great Toy Story was a complete game changer to the industry and quality in kids entertainment has been on a mostly upward trajectory ever since I did not think Frozen was terrible just a bit forgettable more a sharks tale than a finding nimo

          • Yeah… I realised that after I’d already posted my comment…

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            I’d buy that interpretation if she hadn’t killed her sister using her talents for playful or ‘good’ purposes. After all. the is the original sin that starts everything going south.

          • The thing I hate most in modern writing is people writing in present tense. It’s bullshit. All narratives are told, therefore by definition they happened in the past, even if it was only a split-second before. It just doesn’t tally with the way story-telling works.

            Comment edited because I said something unprofessional.

          • I dunno… If I were reading a book about, say, being gay for my living billionaire jet plane.. I might want to read it in the present tense to really feel like it was happening…

            “When Alex boards a red-eye flight from New York to Los Angeles, he expects nothing more than another boring business trip. Little does Alex know that the plane itself will soon lead him on a life changing journey of erotic, gay passion.

            After learning about the plane’s side business as a blackjack card counter, Alex agrees to meet the billionaire aircraft at his luxurious Beverly Hills mansion. But when things start to heat up by the pool, Alex is taught a lesson in more than just counting cards. ”


          • Thuloid

            Chuck Tingle must be some kind of beautiful genius.

          • Thuloid

            Exactly my read on it. Never mind all the giant plot holes (did she just sit alone in a room for ten years? Where did she shit?), “I’m going to be me, even if it means thousands die” is a really horrible message. And if she doesn’t care about other people, why is she dressing herself up?

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            Exactly. The message is ‘be yourself’ but being herself is what killed her sister and started the whole mess off.

            So, don’t be yourself until you hit puberty, then it’s cool? Really they set up a story where the only resulting lesson can be about self-denial and discipline and switched to a very modern ‘be yourself’ message that made no sense in context.

            You know you’re in trouble when the villains’ evil scheme (marry the younger sister, kill the queen, and seize power) is the only rational course of action. Or revolt, hang the lot, and establish a republic.

          • Porky_Poster

            I’m not sure there’s a remit here at the House to widen, but this kind of wider pop cultural review and analysis or straight-up takedown could make for a very natural extension of talking about things like AoS.

        • Von

          If we’re old greybeards with model railway sets we all owe Stelek an apology. He called it. The Truth, as always, Hurts.

          • He did? Good on him.

            I mean, I’ve always kind of suspected it, but it’s not something you really want to consider.

  • Heir to Thuloid is incredibly cute which I suppose is a great survival strategy when your that small but that cat is definitely up to something I’d watch your back.

    I think we definitely need more nipple themed games I might have to do a kickstarter I reckon the rules will be fairly irrelevant this game will sell on. The aesthetics 😉

    • Thuloid

      The cat is always up to something. Though he’s not very sneaky, just aggressive. Two days ago, in the same situation, he decided he wanted to be where the baby was so sat on him. He’s also twice the size of my son.

      The decline of nipple-themed gaming is one of the tragedies of the last 20 years.

      • I’ve got two cats but mine are far too stupid to be up to much there scared of bin liner bags and utterly perplexed by net curtains

  • “The vulnerability of even heroic figures is important to maintaining our fantasy–else what is our entry point, our chance of identifying? Maybe it’s just a fellow entering his late 30s feeling mortality a little, but I have no use for games that render death trivial.”

    Precisely why I stopped playing Marines. I derived greater enjoyment from playing an uphill battle. When guardsmen succeed, due to the efforts of Generic Sgt. X, it makes for an incredible story, whereas you expect the godlings with two hearts to smash face, and are disappointed when they get blasted off the table before they are able to impose their will on someone else….

    Anyways. An aside. Great post, and congrats on the proto-human 😀

    • Thuloid

      Yup, guardsmen have always been my 40k favorites as well. Or rather, Space Army. 😉


  • Cedric Ballbusch

    I was bored, so I decided to make a game to simulate the life of a soldier:

    TABLE 1 (1d100)

    1-99: You spend the day bored out of your mind
    00: Something happens roll on Table 2

    TABLE 2 (1d8)

    1: Spend 1d6 days moving around just to end up back where you started
    2: Get a sunburn
    3: You’re bitten by a hideous toothy…something. Roll on Subtable A

    SUBTABLE A (1d4)
    1: Bat
    2: Snake
    3: Hamster/vole/rat
    4: NCO

    4: You meet a friendly female civilian. She doesn’t have access to
    make-up, razors,running water, or dental care. Roll on Subtable B


    1: No really big on chicks I can smell before I can see…
    2-10: This is the best day of my life!

    5: A screw up in logistics creates a nightmare for the XO. On a 1-5
    this is funny because he’s a jerk. On a 6 you are the XO
    6: You a catch a tropical disease
    7: Great news! You’re wife writes to tell you she’s pregnant.
    You’ve been overseas for a year…
    8: A patrol manages to get into a firefight! You don’t see any action, but surely
    something will happen soon…

    Hours on fun right there.

    • Thuloid

      This is a game the world needs.

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        I miss the endless tables in the 1st Edition DMG

    • holy balls

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        Yeah, I should’ve added a chance of getting a nasty rash

    • Roll a natural 12 on 2 d6 get posted to Belize take all negative results on above tables and apply twice, god that place is a shithole worse 10 months of my life

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        When I roll out “40 miles a day on beans and hay: Second Edition” (MSRP 89.99) I’ll include tables for “much worse duty” “punishment assignments” “foot disorders” “Yelled at by the Old Man” “sent as an ‘adviser’ to ‘assist’ ‘allies’ in ‘peacekeeping'” “shipped off to a hellhole” and “venting your frustrations on enlisted men”

        • Well it has been twenty years since I visited and it’s possible the private sector might have better accommodation than than the British Army and recreation facilities may have extended beyond Roses tea house and Brothel (a free dose of the clap with every visit and that’s just if you had the tea Hepetitis is extra).

          We got sent to malasia for a months jungle training first and Malasia is a beautiful country all jungle living is hard but Belize is a completely different kettle of fish with Rain Forest density is important and Belize is incredibly dense even following animal trails you get ripped to shreds by thorns the mozzies are the size Small birds and every little cut becomes infected with in hours the ground is uniformly a thick primordial sludge making even the shortest patrol unbelievably taxing and we all there because Belize was a colony still at war with Guatemala all because we didn’t build a road we supposed too although the only shooting was done by poachers.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            Sounds a lot like Louisiana…

            Reminds me, I should add a ‘why does it burn when I pee?’ table. Sound edition’s gunna need a hardback, time to jack up the price.

          • Remember to release a new box set of minis (maybe guard duty private roll a six and get caught sleeping by the RSM end up sweeping puddles off the parade ground whilst its raining) and boost the power levels to errrrmm encourage sales 🙂

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            Also going to switch base size from time to time (every 9 months) you have to throw out miniatures with non-conforming bases.

          • Well we have the beginning of solid business model. I think you should put out a monthly publication to run along side your game and begin by doing a lot of usefully articles and maybe even discuss other games and system then (and heres the really clever bit) you then slowly once people are used to paying for it change it into a glossy brochure for your own products then you get your advertising and marketing costs paid for by your own customer’s genius really

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            Brilliant! Why did no one think of this before?

          • Porky_Poster

            As overall nutrition in the wider civilisation rises, or falls, you’d also be able to move up or down scales, exerting a mild pressure on the players to keep replacing their minis with whatever the current true-scale is.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            I like it

    • Porky_Poster

      There really might be something in this. Maybe it’s worth pottering away at, while you’re still in and it’s all so close up. If we are in the early days of the post-D&D ‘pen and paper’ tech, and we really we might be, this could one day have its space, and maybe a big one.

      • Porky_Poster

        You might find an interesting waymarker in LasFodder:

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        Sort of reminds of of the old career tables you’d roll on in Traveler where you’d establish all the stuff that could happen to your character before he entered play. You’d pick up friends, enemies, equipment, and I think could die, all before the game started.

        • Von

          The bullshit munching “let’s have a load of interesting things happen outside of Actual Play” process, you mean?

          I’ve always detested that sort of thing in RPGs. I mean, look at that list of things you’ve listed there. That’s… what you do in an RPG. Why is it happening before you’ve started to actually play the RPG? At the risk of sounding all SinSynn about this, iz stoopid. Iz verra stoopid.

          • Porky_Poster

            Not necessarily if that stuff helps set the scene, or provides a framework or guide for subsequent play, or represents the duller stuff that gets you to the point that the interesting stuff can start. It’s like, maybe, Han Solo when Luke and friends first rock up. We don’t need to know what came before, because we’re interested in his role in the current narrative twine of the rebellion.

          • Von

            Right. That’s fine, Porky, but go back to what’s actually being described by that automated process:

            “You’d pick up friends, enemies, equipment, and I think could die…”

            That’s Interesting Stuff. We’re not talking about something simple like the “roll on this d100 chart to see what you did before your first adventure”, we’re talking automating your first adventure and the process of making friends and enemies and getting your first loot.

            That seems maddeningly unhelpful to me.

          • Porky_Poster

            I’m not saying it can’t be done differently, only that this approach also has it’s place, and does seem popular, for getting to a moment in the collective lifetimes of the group of characters that promise still more adventure.

            Maybe the picking up of friends, enemies, equipment and near-mortal injuries doesn’t always happen in a way that’s very gameworthy, or quickly gameable.

            There’s an argument here for including with the tables an alternative process that relies on group interaction, maybe with everyone else playing the foils to the given character at the key moments in the backstory. There are potential oddities in that though – maybe someone then needs to play a piece of industrial machinery that nearly mangles the character, or the shift manager.

            But it’s time too. Is the session about being foils to one character, or whatever the process involves, or telling today’s story at this fulcral point in the set of lives?

          • Von

            “Maybe the picking up of friends, enemies, equipment and near-mortal injuries doesn’t always happen in a way that’s very gameworthy, or quickly gameable.”

            To me that is equal to saying “maybe your group is boring and your gamesmaster incompetent. Get new friends.” I might make an exception for ‘equipment’ because we don’t really need to roleplay out every last trip to the shops. The other things, though, are the stuff of which the RPG is made: the exciting things. If they aren’t gameworthy there is something wrong with your game.

            “There’s an argument here for including with the tables an alternative process that relies on group interaction…”

            That is better. It engages the group. It is an experienced story rather than a related backstory; it is made, rather than told.

            “Is the session about being foils to one character, or whatever the process involves, or telling today’s story at this fulcral point in the set of lives?”

            Depends on the game, as ever. A storytelling game of personal horror might be served by the kind of development that comes when each player takes a turn in the spotlight and everyone else plays foils for half an hour. In an old-school game of perilous adventure that is a bug, not a feature, since today is all and fulcral points are artifice.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            Everyone comes from somewhere. I’ve always seen the game itself as the story of a group. Each individual has had his own life up to the moment he because part of that group.

            Establishing back-story is important, and there is something to be said for doing at least parts of it randomly.

          • Von

            Right, but again – look at the words you actually typed to describe what Traveller automates, and tell me honestly that all that stuff wouldn’t be more interesting if we got to do it together.

            I am a great believer in generating backstory as and when needed and doing so in the most cursory manner possible. I don’t have time to frame and present detailed examples right now but if it helps, I’ll do so on my own blog at the weekend.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            You have a good point.

            Traveler presupposes that your character was once a normal, functional member of society. So, the random table track his career prior to becoming the disreputable adventurer that begins play. Even then it is largely mechanical ‘you were conscripted into the infantry, gain skill X, Y, Z’

            In that context I think it works. Might it be more fun to play that out. Perhaps. But, someone’s adult life up to beginning play might span years.

          • Von

            Which doesn’t mean it demands years of play in real time.

            If we must have generated backstory of the “you were conscripted into the military” variety then I think WFRP (roll up a random career that’ll assign you skills and potential stat increases) or D&D.5 (pick a background that’ll… do pretty much the same thing IIRC) do it fine. I object to Fun Gameable Stuff being shoved off into the generation process, that’s all. The bit where you stop being a Ratcatcher and start being an adventurer and find your first sword is Fun Gameable Stuff. The bit where you’re just being a Ratcatcher is arguably less so.

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