Friday, December 7, 2012

Civilization seems far, city dweller...

Robert Parker's Rogues and Reavers has a few excellent posts on civilization and the concept of "hardboiled fantasy." Since one of the key inspirations for Legacy of the Bieth is the spaghetti western, this is a topic of great interest to me.

Robert's posts start with examining some of the works in Appendix N of the 1e DMG, and some of the thoughts on game design that emerge. Check them out:
Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance - picaresques, plot hooks, and the necessity of mischief
The Snow Women by Fritz Leiber - hardboiled scenario design, and presenting a setting that can foster hardboiled fiction's themes of moral ambiguity
Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett - hardboiled settings' take on civilization, social class, and how to make that pop in play.

Robert's quite right to point out that Vance's work thrives on both whimsy and the ubiquity of swindles. (See also: Bob the Angry Flower on Vance). For Legacy of the Bieth, I don't want too much setting-loaded whimsy - after all, Roadside Picnic is another inspiration here! - but the ubiquity of swindles is definitely something to keep in mind. Everybody's got an angle that they're playing; this isn't evidence of any particular moral calumny, but just the way of the world.

In the book 10,000 Ways to Die (pdf link) Alex Cox takes a look at the spaghetti western, and divides the spaghetti western protagonists into (of course) the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. PCs will by and large fall into the categories of Good and Ugly here; the Bad represents the entrenched elements of society, which is at odds with the PC's role as a Free Agent (as per Robert's characterization in the Ginger Star essay). In discussing the Good, Cox notes:
Interviewed in a documentary about Eastwood, Leone said that what had attracted him about the actor (who he'd only seen in episodes of 'Rawhide,' speaking in a language Leone couldn't understand) was his indolencia. This easy idleness, often translated into laziness, was to become a regular heroic characteristic...The hero is never seen working hard at anything. He cannot slave like a peon or run a saloon, because regular work is one of society's demands - like ostensible submission to the law. 
This fits in excellently with the Free Agent PCs, who certainly can't fit into the straits or confines of society, because why the hell else would they be digging into tombs and running from horrible monsters? 

Robert brings up a point in The Snow Women essay regarding balance: 
"I suspect this is the "sweet spot" where D&D works best - the protagonists vary between wretchedly self-interested and morally decent, at times robbing tombs and at others saving villages. Presenting opportunities for both should be the goal of any campaign."
This melds interestingly with the distinction that Cox draws between the Good and the Ugly in spaghetti westerns: the Good is often the ice-cold revenger, remarkably adept with weapons but unable to relate to the people he interacts with, an elemental force of violence. In contrast, the Ugly is the human one of the trio, living life with gusto, comic, but with a sliver of decency hidden away. And ideally the PCs are balancing between these two extremes as well, it seems.

Cox notes that "even more than the Good man, the Ugly would in an American western have been a villain of major proportions - the bandit chief in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN for instance...Ortiz and Hugo in MINNESOTA CLAY and DJANGO are undoubtedly villains - they ambush, torture, and kill without compunction - but there is something attractive about them. Physically they are big and fat and jolly-looking. They deck themselves out in paramilitary the director [sic] of some banana republic. They laugh a lot, though what they laugh at is often questionable..."

Sounds like a few PCs I know.

Sorry if this all seems a bit disjointed. I'm still chewing over how to best express the disaffected feeling common to spaghetti westerns and Roadside Picnic into the atmosphere of my game, without having it be omnipresent message-y nonsense.


Powder of the Moon: a powdered compound with coarse bone dust mixed with several alchemical preparations. When the powder is sprinkled upon a corporeal undead being, it is treated as though a fifth-level cleric was attempting to turn the undead. If the turning attempt is successful, the undead retreats and seeks to lie down in its grave once more, for 1d6 hours. If the turning attempt fails, or the undead had no grave to begin with, then it is tormented by visions of a proper burial, and attacks with a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the kind words.

    Also, Tuco is one of my all-time favorite characters, and is certainly a major influence on Manzafrain.