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Author Topic: How'd I wind up running Fantasy?  (Read 3359 times)
Bill
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« on: September 08, 2015, 05:17:30 PM »

So, we were playing an actual fantasy version of my MMO game (I converted the characters they were playing to an actual fantasy game) as, really, only Kim and I were interested in the MMO aspects of it.  Everyone was having a blast.

It did demonstrate something to Jerry that I failed to mention when I was trying to teach him how to run a GURPS game.  You don’t have to let someone take something that will break the game, or reduce the level of fun for the other players:

“Martin, your character can’t not believe in magic.  He doesn’t have to like it, but he knows it is real.”

“Monica, your character can’t be afraid of magic or non-humans.  You don’t have to like either of them, and you can be distrustful of them, but you can’t actively be afraid of them.”

The replies to both statements was “ah, okay.”

We have Martin running a human swordsman (either sword and board, or two swords).
Monica is running a human archer (as normal).
Keelia is running a Halfling thief (and the world’s strongest Halfling with a ST of 9).
Jerry is running a Gnomish clown—er—ice mage.
Kim is running a human fire mage.

So, question . . . is it a bad idea to give a Hobgoblin sealed, full-plate armor and a flamethrower?  The party rea-al-ly didn’t like that.  (Idea from DF: Loadouts)  Kim shouted “AWESOME!” every time the pyrogoblin did anything.  Even when it decided to parry Martin’s sword with the flamethrower projector.

As a funny aside, in the last combat (between the 5 party members and a pair of Bronze Spiders, from DFM 1), Keelia’s Halfling managed to “body surf” one of the spiders for almost the entire melee (only getting smashed into the ceiling once, learning that they can jump a redonkulous distance, before two of its legs got smashed by Martin).

For the entire fight, she kept saying “I think I want to pour some of this Alchemist’s Fire on the spider.”  Jerry, constantly, insisted that she just keep hitting it and trying to do damage.

Here’s the rub, using the scaling gear rules from Low Tech Companion 2 (which are much more friendly than the rules from DF), Keelia could only put out 1d6+1 in an attack against the spider’s DR of 6.  Even targeting chinks in armor, she was doing 1 point against a homogenous target, if she managed to hit.

The Alchemist’s Fire, on the other tendril, would do 1d burn to the spider, against 1/5th its armor, every turn.  Odds are not in the spider’s favor at this point.

So, when Jerry and Kim recover (they were both almost killed in the fight and were unconscious), Kim will ask Keelia why she was taking advice about fire from an ice mage.
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« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2015, 04:28:22 PM »

Don't take this the wrong way, Bill, but for a guy who claims to hate fantasy, it seems like there are strong fantasy elements in almost everything I've seen you run. ;]

I suspect that Keelia would probably enjoy the game more if we could get a crowbar and pry Jerry off her ass. It'd be one thing if he was a good backseat driver, but...
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« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2015, 10:11:09 AM »

Well, to be fair, it’s not the individual elements of fantasy that bother me.  It’s the generally mandatory Tolkien wrapper around fantasy.  Basically, I dislike how everyone has decided that his vision is fantasy is “the one, true way”:  It must be set in the European middle ages.  Elves must be archers.  Hobbits must be useful.  Technology must be bad and not used.  Hell, I’d rather play a Gorean fantasy game than a Tolkien fantasy game . . . and not just because I’m a pervert.
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« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2015, 04:12:34 PM »

But we've run fantasy games that break that mold in this group alone, and they get discussed all the time at the big forum...

ETA: With regard to GURPS DF specifically, Kromm has explicitly denied that Tolkien is the only, or even primary, influence, favoring Lieber, Howard, and Anderson's literature and Gary Gygax's sense of humor, if I remember correctly.

Also, regarding fantasy in general, you're completely discounting the massive popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire, which is seen by many as an adverse reaction to Tolkien, and which comes up a lot with regard to games at the big forum. It has no Hobbits, the closest thing to Elves don't use bows at all, technology is what it is and is the darling of one strong and socially-accepted faction, and the plotlines are very character-driven, despite the setting being unabashedly fantastical from the word go.
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« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2015, 04:08:53 PM »

I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't been active on the big boards in over a year.  I haven't seen any fantasy games suggested here that break the mold.  Not saying that they haven't, but I haven't seen them.

(And, I'm sorry, I'm sure the following statement is likely to hurt you G&A . . . knowing what a fan of the books you are.)

Also, when I look at ASoIaF, from the outsider perspective of someone who isn't a Fantasy fan . . . I see it not falling far from the Tolkien tree.  It's unabashedly European medieval, even though it's not set on Earth.  It's operating solely in the Fantasy comfort-zone.  Basically, it's not actually doing anything to distance itself from Tolkien.  The argument can be made that you'd have to read it to find out, but that is a poor argument: if I'm not interested in Tolkien Fantasy, why would I bother taking the risk to find out since it makes no effort to differentiate itself?  Why not just step away and go look for a Sci-fi book, instead?

(Because not a lot of sci-fi books have that much adult content, apparently.)

And, let’s be honest, if Gygax could have blown Tolkien, he would have. 

Leiber was basically aping Howard (who, really, was just combining Tolkien and Burroughs).  I always thought Leiber's stories were directly ported from Tolkien, but, as I got older, and learned more about him, I discovered I was wrong.  He took his inspiration from someone who was also inspired by Tolkien.  It’s difficult for me to believe that Howard didn’t draw inspiration from Tolkien as they were, technically, contemporaries, and it would be likely that he had read Tolkien’s works as Howard was known to write what people wanted to read.
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tshiggins
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« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2015, 06:55:39 AM »

This is an interesting conversation, so I'll ask a question or two.

Tolkien is a pivotal influence on fantasy, yes, but one reason for that is that his work draws so heavily on the myths and fairy tales that permeate northwestern European cultures. The ring-givers of Teutonic myths are an obvious influence, as are Celtic myths (Balor of the Evil Eye, the Sidhe as bad-ass elves, etc.) and the high adventure of the Finland's Kalevala and romance of La Morte d'Arthur.

As for Robert E. Howard, he kinda drew on the same sources, and (as with Tolkien) set his Hyborian Age before the last ice-age, but that's where the similarity ends. His world is much more brawny and less sophisticated, and it reminds me more of the throat-stomping that went on in the Iliad and the Cattle Raid of Culaigne, and even at the Battle of Thermopylae. It utterly lacks Tokein's more cultured and lyrical tone.

So, here's the question. Given that fantasy draws so much on Western mythologies, which also heavily influenced Tolkien and Howard and other fantasy authors, how do you get away from the notion that, "everything looks like Tolkien"? Do you use an entirely different mythological basis (The Celestial Bureaucracy of Chinese mythology is sorta interesting to read about, but how fun would it be to play in that? And Egyptian mythology mostly seems to be, "prepare for death," although China Mieville's notion of playing chabti who rebel against the pharoahs in the afterlife is sorta fun...)? Or do you simply avoid the use of elves, dwarves and hobbits, and call it good?

Alternatively, I suppose you could use American Indian or African myths and folkore, or something from one of the other cultures (Japanese springs to mind, and lots of anime has been translated and could serve as inspirational material). However, those can be so alien that they're hard for the players to wrap their minds around.

So, since you don't care for "Tolkien-ish" fantasy (and, I'm not saying that's bad, mind you), what fantasy do you like, instead?
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« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2015, 12:12:05 PM »

To me, Howard was just Tolkien mixed with Burroughs.  And knowing Howard's habit of reading what was popular, then writing in the vein, simply emphasizes it.  He's different, yes.  But, he's more just Tolkien with mud/shit on everything.

So, here's the question. Given that fantasy draws so much on Western mythologies, which also heavily influenced Tolkien and Howard and other fantasy authors, how do you get away from the notion that, "everything looks like Tolkien"? Do you use an entirely different mythological basis (The Celestial Bureaucracy of Chinese mythology is sorta interesting to read about, but how fun would it be to play in that? And Egyptian mythology mostly seems to be, "prepare for death," although China Mieville's notion of playing chabti who rebel against the pharoahs in the afterlife is sorta fun...)?
This, in a nutshell.  I try to avoid European trappings.  I've never, actually done anything with the Egyptians . . . mostly because I haven't studied them as in-depth as the east Asian mythologies as much.  Most Fantasy is simply medieval Europe (regardless of the names of the countries) with magic added on artificially.  Lets be honest--a world with actual magic is not going to look like medieval Europe.  Unless the people with magic are successfully dominant, you'll see a technological renaissance very quickly as the flat-scans try to match power with the muti . . . er . . . mages.

Basically, I try to think outside the box.  However, as we'll discuss later, deviation is detrimental for most gamers.

Or do you simply avoid the use of elves, dwarves and hobbits, and call it good?
Would that it were that simple.  The biggest problem I run into is that if you deviate more than a little bit, it throws people out of their comfort zone and they're unable to play the game.  As you point out in your next statement.

Alternatively, I suppose you could use American Indian or African myths and folkore, or something from one of the other cultures (Japanese springs to mind, and lots of anime has been translated and could serve as inspirational material). However, those can be so alien that they're hard for the players to wrap their minds around.
Again, haven't studied Native American mythologies very much (though I could easily read all of my sister's books on Native American Medicine and tribal cultures), but I do have a lot of Japanese to go off of. 

When you say "Fantasy" the vast majority of gamers get the same images in their head.  Which is not something that happens when you say "Sci-Fi."  Sci-Fi has to be defined further, but Fantasy doesn't unless you're not playing Tolkien-esque/D&D/WoW Fantasy as that's the presumed and expected standard.  And, as you point out, and we know, if you deviate too far from the center, players lose their ability to understand what's happening.  If you try to explain the concept they get very stand-offish because "you're doing it wrong."  Most gamers don't like it when people mess with their comfort zones--and Fantasy is the big one.

So, since you don't care for "Tolkien-ish" fantasy (and, I'm not saying that's bad, mind you), what fantasy do you like, instead?
Honestly, the more Japanese-styled ideas.  Final Fantasy (specifically, VII, VIII, IX, X, XII and XIII) have that soft mix of fantasy and technology that seems to be more natural than the hardened "technology past TL2/3 doesn't exist" that many fantasy people demand.  I've considered grabbing Iron Kingdoms, though it's European, it's vastly divergent from anything we've experienced before, and there is a crap-ton of steampunk elements.

I guess, the easiest way to explain it is that Fantasy, for me, is "been there, done that, burned all the acquired t-shirts for warmth--still burning" and no one ever tries to diverge.
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« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2015, 04:46:52 PM »

Hey, I completely understand. I ran fantasy for 25-30 years, before I finally reached the same stage of, "been there, done that, don't wanna do it, again." That's one reason I went with wainscot magic for the current campaign, and it includes considerably more American Indian stuff than the group has seen, thus far.

(That's gone slow, admittedly. The nunnupi are, basically, slightly more feral versions of European fairies with a North American fauna twist, so they're not that alien. The tsiants were blunderbuss-wielding ogres -- again, not too alien. However, neither really reflects much in the way of the world-views held by the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere, so they've been pretty easy to deal with, conceptually. That will change, once the PCs learn more about magic and spirits.)

Honestly, I think I would've liked to run a science fiction campaign, but that can be really tough for n00bs to wrap their minds around -- especially if one goes "hard sci-fi" and wants to incorporate transhumanist elements into it (and I'd do both). Post-holocaust survival is just too grim, for most people, and we have several members of the group who run action-adventure games (which can be fun in Savage Worlds, too).

Wainscot fantasy is different enough for me to come up with unique scenarios, which helps the group tell stories that are varied enough that I can find them interesting (unlike traditional fantasy). Also, because we have such a rich selection from which to choose (everything from "Vaginal Fantasy" such as Laurell K. Hamilton or Anne Rice, to Buffy, to Supernatural, to Harry Potter, to Harry Dresden), it's fairly accessible for just about everybody.

Alternatively, horror is a choice -- but it's not my choice. I don't mind weirding out the players, or putting the PCs through a meat-grinder every now and then, but in the end I want the torture to have limits and I want victory to be possible. Both of those violate the tropes of the horror genre, which is why I don't particularly care to play it, and don't have the mind to set up a good horror campaign.
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« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2015, 06:05:02 PM »

I never found Wainscot Fantasy all that interesting.  Not that I have anything against it (or lump it in with Tolkien), it just always seemed slow and soft-focused.  I wouldn’t be turned off of playing it, but, I’d be apprehensive.  (I’m sure, not being a Harry Potter fan, also doesn’t help.)

Sci-fi isn’t that difficult for a lot of b00bs . . . er n00bs (fingers on wrong keys, thought original typo was funny—kept it).  But, you have to give them something to base their expectations off of:  “It’s like Firefly,” or one of a thousand other settings.  However, if you want to do Hard Science with Transhumanism then you’re looking for advanced players with a well-rounded knowledge base.  They also require a willingness to play in that setting (Kim despises Hard Science games).  Then there was this time, with some poor guy who desperately wanted to play Transhuman Space and we broke him.

Well, Brian broke him.  We just helped.  Kim got to sit around and do nothing because he was the ship’s AI and they turned him off for most of the game.

Kim would agree with you about horror: It’s no fun if you can’t win.  I, for one, am of the opinion “I don’t have to defeat Cthulhu, but, there needs to be a way for me to have some sort of victory.  Delay him long enough to make him another generation’s problem or something.”

That’s actually something I really liked about CthulhuTech.  There was a solution.  It was a long, hard, nearly impossible task, but, should humanity make it through the darkness, they would emerge as an Elder Race and no longer be prey for the other Elder Races.  It wasn’t likely that the PCs would survive to see that day, but, they had a goal they were working for.  And, for me, that’s enough.

I’m totally okay with dark and gritty, so long as I know there’s a chance I can survive.
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« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2015, 03:56:44 AM »

If your main beef is that you want your fantasy with an Asian skin on it, Lex ran an Asian-themed fantasy game just a year or two ago. I played the Tanuki with ball-strikers if you missed it. Also, like half of ASoIaF takes place on an Asian-themed continent (though more Middle East and India type Asian than East Asian in the parts we've seen so far, with a side of Mongol horde).

There's nothing inherently slow or soft-focused about Wainscot Fantasy, IMHO. You could run an Action! campaign in a Wainscot setting, and the one Tom is currently running has had a pretty good balance of investigation, setting-building, and violence so far.

On a related topic, I wouldn't qualify Anita Blake as a Wainscot setting. The public knows about vampires and weres, they have civil rights, and Anita is, legally-speaking, a really successful mass-murderering vigilante.

To me the principle difference between the two gentlemen with R. R. For middle initials is that Martin's characters drive the plot while Tolkien's react to it, and he doesn't shy away from moral ambiguity. The existential conflict in Song could be Good vs Evil, Evil vs Evil, Good vs Good, or Cthulhu vs Nyarlathotep for all we know, and it serves as a backdrop to the grand and petty squabbles and schemes of the characters. Also, no elves, dwarves, or hobbits, and lots of awesome graphic violence. The sex actually isn't as explicit as HBO naturally likes it to be in the books, and when it is it's actually kind of hilariously childish in its word choices more than erotic most of the time. I kinda wonder about his wife sometimes.
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« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2015, 05:37:55 PM »

I had to do a bit more research on Wainscot Fantasy (in general).  Until then, I really only thought about Harry Potter being Wainscot.  Not being a Potter fan, I was usually “meh” on the topic.  But, looking into it a bit more, I see that they categorize Highlander as Wainscot.

Um, okay.  So, I was wrong.

As a Wild Cards fan, I’m familiar with G.R.R.Martin being more character driven than J.R.R.Trollkin.  But, it’s not just about the characters.  They don’t exist in a void and Medieval Europe has been done to death.  I’m looking for something dynamic and outside the box.  I am much more interested in character interaction than the world, but if the world isn’t interesting, I’m not interested really.  I want to know that there is a world to explore as opposed to a generic Medieval European vibe going on.

And I call BS on not having elves: I was looking into ASoIaF and they have “the people of the woods” or some such which Martin said something to the effect of “they’re not elves!” which to me means “they are elves, I’ve just filed the serial numbers off and am trying to pass them off as not-elves.”  I mean, come on, arrogant, forest-dwelling, secretive folk?  If that’s not the Trollkin definition of elves . . ..

Also, on the topic of ASoIaF, just having some Asian/Middle Eastern aspects isn’t pertinent.  It really does its best to attract the nominal fantasy audience.  It’s not reaching out for the Sci-Fi audience.  It’s not trying to attract readers from outside its comfort zone.  I will accept, and believe you, when you say it’s not Tolkien-esque fantasy.  It does, however, specifically play to that audience.  Most people who are familiar with Tolkien will be understanding and comfortable with its tropes.  It wouldn’t be a culture-shock, only a brief period of confusion as they come to terms with the new paradigm of the story.  Maybe there could be some shock from the sex, but, if it’s as comical as you say, probably not. 

It’s not like reading the works of Clarke and then moving to Ellison.  Ka-boom!

(As an aside, I just asked my co-workers and one of them knew who Clarke, Ellison, Howard or Martin were.  All the others, even the ones who watched Game of Thrones said they didn’t recognize them.  This then led to a long discussion of literature.  Mike, the one who knew the authors, has read the first book of ASoIaF and actually said that he didn’t see much difference between it and Tolkien’s work as it pertains to a generic fantasy setting.  He did, however, agree that it was entirely character driven, and, of a generally higher-quality than Tolkien.)
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« Reply #11 on: September 23, 2015, 06:58:42 PM »

The reclusive sylvan race in ASoIaF are way more based on fairies than Tolkienesque elves, though I will concede that all three would make a decent subject for a Venn diagram.

The rest comes down to matters of taste, IMHO. Is a European medieval skin popular in fantasy? Sure. Does all fantasy outside of anime fit that mold? I don't think so.
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« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2015, 08:00:47 PM »

The reclusive sylvan race in ASoIaF are way more based on fairies than Tolkienesque elves.
However, it has become a Tolkien-esque Elf trope.  Mythologically speaking, elves are fairies.  It’s not much of a stretch to compare the two races and realize that GRRMartin was just trying to not use elves but he still wanted them in his book—much like the Darrians in Traveller.

The rest comes down to matters of taste, IMHO. Is a European medieval skin popular in fantasy? Sure. Does all fantasy outside of anime fit that mold? I don't think so.
You are, generally, correct.  But, non-anime fantasy (read: Western Fantasy), does not deviate much. 

Fantasy is Apple: you have to really go out of your way to find something significantly different from every other one, and it will probably void your warranty.

Sci-Fi is the PC: no two are alike and you just have to try it all until you find what you like; if you don’t like it, you keep looking—as long as you’re not an idiot, your warranty is fine.

If you go into a book store and pick up five, random, Fantasy novels, they’ll all probably share many of the same tropes in precisely the same way.  If you do the same with Sci-Fi, you’ll likely get five, completely different stories on a variety of topics, and a variety of settings.  Some will share tropes, others won’t.  Some might even make up entirely new tropes.

I’m not saying that can’t happen with Fantasy, just that, in my experience, it doesn’t.
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« Reply #13 on: September 23, 2015, 08:08:34 PM »

If I may modify your metaphor, IMHO fantasy is apples. Each is more like every other apple than any other fruit, but there is tremendous variation in flavor, texture, and utilities between varieties.
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« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2015, 08:30:22 PM »

I accept that.  I had actually thought about that after I posted, but couldn't form it coherently.

However, if you don't like red delicious apples, you're going to be disinclined to sample other apples as you already know you don't like some of them.  Because, at the end of the day, they're all still apples.
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