Author Topic: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy  (Read 15852 times)

Ron Edwards

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[D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« on: October 11, 2014, 11:26:52 PM »
As he mysteriously does sometimes, James started emailing me about the discussion in [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action. With his permission I'm putting our exchange here and hoping others will join in.

JAMES
Hey Ron, I didn't want to clutter up your 4e Play thread with semantic hair-splitting.  All I meant was

1.  At some point in traditional D&D prep, the DM "stocks" the dungeon, in the sense that she decides what's in each room (along with any related decisions about NPC agency etc etc)

2.  In a game like 4e, the local environment matters a lot to make fights dynamic and interesting.

3.  Players can totally improvise/suggest/capitalize/collaborate on the "room" as suggested by the DM.  "Yo, what if we knocked this water wheel loose?" "Uh, I guess you're fighting on top of a rolling water wheel?" "Coooooool!"

4.  But I think a lot of this happens at the stocking stage.  As part of your Situation/NPC agency prep, You've got smart but frail Kobolds trying to capture a Umber Hulk infected with Xorn-rabies.  So this room is, like, filled with sand to a depth of 6 inches (critters with Xorn-rabies finding sand distasteful, naturally!) as a safe-room etc etc.  I.e., the DM's job in creating latent situations includes thinking of some fun environments in which clever (or foolish) players can engage with.  ("Maybe there's treasure under this sand, let's haul it away - OH SHIT an umber hulk busted through the floor!")

All of this is true of ALL editions of D&D, but I think the skirmish war game aspect of 4e really cries out for it. Like good comic book fights, fights in 4e really deserve to be crazy.

And in your prep thread, you vent some spleen on Baldur's Gate.  Did you mean the Nentir Vale mini-setting in the 4e DMG? [Here James is referring to [D&D 4E] Psychedelic ectoplasmic barbaric 4E from last November. -RE]

ME
Not much to say about the water-wheel issue. I'm not arguing with your stocking point, and believe me, I was stocking dungeons when Dragon Magazine was in single digits, or almost. I'm saying that stocking without set-piece planning is a very fine thing, and yields awesome set-piece play more consistently than plan-for-it stocking does.

Regarding Baldur's Gate, I need more context. In many ways I'm talking about "fantasy" as codified by the Forgotten Realms, long before the product Baldur's Gate. That might have confused some people, because I know nothing about and have nothing to say about the video game.

It's the genre and its tropes, which aren't "Tolkienesque" or "old school" or anything except its own distilled and homogenized self. I regard that version of fantasy much like ... like I regard this kind of meat.

JAMES
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I'm saying that stocking without set-piece planning is a very fine thing, and yields awesome set-piece play more consistently than plan-for-it stocking does.

That sounds like an empirical claim I'll have to test in the name of Dungeon Science, mister!

Re: pink slime fantasy, it's funny: I would no more read a Forgotten Realms novel than I would eat a cow pie, but "vanilla" / pink slime fantasy has been such a D&D staple that I barely notice gaming in it, and it takes mental effort to escape.

(The OSR by and large has been disappointing here; I think even Lamentations is a relatively minor tweak in setting terms.)

This may be, ah, a generational thing.  Do you remember the old Trollbabe "Daydreamer Fantasy" thread on the Forge?  That was my realization that there was this historical stratum of weird-ass trippy fantasy stuff in the late 60's/early 70's that got ruthlessly extirpated from fantasy publishing/movies/TV/comics by the mid-80's - which by coincidence is also when the Mentzer BECMI set brought a huge number of kids into fantasy gaming using a medieval pseudo-Tolkien pink slime type of setting. 

I'm very envious that you got to experience that stuff.  I only know it from The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and Henson's aesthetic, Bakshi's Wizards, and a panel or two of Ploog's art from Weirdworld.

That's kind of what I find admirable about your project: trying to weird-up a game that's been very . . . Imaginatively constipated lo these many years.

I am - against my better judgment - strongly tempted to follow suit.  My only concern is that all the wacky fun shit, like the under dark and the planes, would work better at higher tiers.

ME
That was a very emotionally-helpful email. I confess I am grading into "why do I bother" regarding role-playing, at the moment.

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I'm saying that stocking without set-piece planning is a very fine thing, and yields awesome set-piece play more consistently than plan-for-it stocking does.

That sounds like an empirical claim I'll have to test in the name of Dungeon Science, mister!

As long as you get that I'm not talking about NOT stocking! Stock like crazy, the point is not to prepare literal set-piece fights in your mind as much. I mean, some, sure. But emphasize stuff and "what's there," in near-insane profusion, not "OK, this is where they fight on the rope bridge."

I am really happy with the term "pink slime fantasy."

It is DEFINITELY a generational thing. I really bugged out from D&D from about 1982 through 2000. I didn't read any of the source material, I didn't follow any of the fandom, I didn't buy any products.

So to me, "githyanki" is an entry in the Fiend Folio, and that is it, stop, do not pass Go.

More generally, I see not only the Fiend Folio, but the entire library of D&D at any point, as fan-fic written by fellow fans. I can't even grasp the perspective of someone who sees it as a representative or even centerpiece of what fantasy IS.

Me: "This is a cow. You kill it, then cut it up this way, and cook the meat ..."

Someone like [insert name of your choice here]: "What? That is so crazy! How can you do that, it's fascinating. You are really deconstructing meat!"

Me: "Um, no, actually, I'm talking about meat, or thought I was. What have you been eating?"

[inserted name]: "This! Real meat, the way meat was delivered unto us! You know - original meat! Old school meat!"

(I stare in wide-eyed shock)

I am pretty much in despair about it.

Jim understands his own take on the matter, which is that he was brought up in a culture which hated fantasy and scary-stuff, so he was (i) bitter and fucked-up, and (ii) learned everything he knows about it from Mentzer and equally-forbidden music. He's writing from a perfectly honest platform. I think he's still a bit "off" in phrases like "D&D is great, you can do anything with it," and so on, but he's not outright insane, or claiming to represent something bigger.

I also think a lot of the Lamentations stuff written by others is TERRIBLE. Most of it is straight-up Call of Cthulhu scenario writing.

JAMES
Couple of small points:

* pink slime or not, people can distinguish between McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King, etc. if they eat it often enough.  Similarly, I can distinguish between Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Mystara, and Eberron.  I realize this is  like prefering Fritos to Doritos when I shouldn't be eating either, but that's pop culture for you.

* granted that it's pink slime fantasy, some presentations are more game-able than others. The 1987 Forgotten Realms grey box, and the Nentir Vale strictly as it appears in the 4e DMG, are not trying to be original at all, but viewed strictly as a framework for play, they're a lot more empowering than some of the rigidly canonical stuff in between - including later Realms nonsense.  (For the same reasons you advise a "sketchy" setting in Sorcerer & Sword.)

* some of the 2e era settings - Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Planescape - are quite original, but are mostly buried under tons of irrelevant detail or badly implemented rules.

* regarding the 1e Fiend Folio specifically, an occasional topic in the OSR is "what if you use it as your only monster book" which in my view is actually a significant step away from pink slime, regardless of how reverentially one regards the Githyanki.  There is some weird shit in that book.  (Historically, most of the low-level monsters in D&D are pink slime stuff: goblins, ogres, orcs, etc., and if all you do is play low-level games you'll get the impression that pink slime is the default.)

ME: A FEW FOLLOW-UPS AND CLARIFIERS(this is for purposes of this thread)
1. I don't include Lamentations of the Flame Princess in the pink slime fantasy category.
2. I sometimes speculate that Dark Sun, especially, was designed as its own game or at least was a heavily table-drifted game developed in play, but got snapped up and eaten by Orthodox TSR.
3. I think the Fiend Folio reflects whatever was going on in various Brits' tables during the pre-pink slime phase of D&D.
4. In fact, I think the pink slime idea really doesn't characterize D&D at all, textually or in practice, prior to the Forgotten Realms (1987 if we're talking about game products) and Dragonlance (1984), and maybe an underlying scenario-publishing culture that supported them.

edited to fix a quote format - RE
« Last Edit: January 09, 2015, 07:48:51 PM by Ron Edwards »

James_Nostack

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2014, 03:04:31 AM »
A TON OF LINKS AS DISCLAIMERS
So, I think it might be worthwhile to clarify between "vanilla" and "pink slime" fantasy, because I may have missed a nuance in Ron's terms.  But first I wanna clarify one or two things:

1.  I've played a shit-ton of 0e and BX over the past 6 years, and consider myself an OSR guy and a Forge guy, which I see as totally complementary styles of game play.  Fuck identity politics.

2.  When I say that the OSR has disappointed me, I'm speaking of myself personally, and regarding largely blog posts, rather than many of the actually published house-rules and adventures.  My knowledge of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, for example, is limited to general summaries of the setting, which feels like a somewhat tweaked vanilla setting.  (Whether vanilla = pink slime is a different question, one I think I was too hasty to judge.)  And I'll be delighted to admit if I've got this wrong: lots of people dig LotFP; there must be something to it besides some clever mechanics.

3.  In particular, there are some genuinely wonderful OSR weird fantasy projects out there, things I would desperately love to play with because they're so unique and interesting:

* Deep Carbon Observatory.  Holy shit, this thing is the real motherfucking deal.  Every single page of this thing drips with bleak weirdness, and the dungeon itself is . . . damn, I am not ashamed to say it is a work of strange, unearthly genius.  (Only gripe: as a GM, I'd be dying to tell the players what the hell they're truly interacting with, but you'd need a super-expert genius character to figure this stuff out if you cared about in-character knowledge.)

* Thulian Echoes.  This one, I'm recommending just from the concept alone: I've skimmed the contents, but really what I admire here is the adventure structure itself.  Your players run Party A through the dungeon, and Party A almost certainly dies.  The same players then run Party B, using Party A's experiences as clues--but a lot has changed during the centuries in between, due to Party A upsetting the status quo.  I'm super curious to see how this one works out at the table, but on a read-through I like the implementation.

* "I'll See It When I Believe It" Adventures.  Gorgeous art, stat-less, beautiful graphic design, but the content is often very strange or evocative.  This is the exact opposite of phoning it in.  The Cage of Serimet and Tannoch Rest of Kings in particular look like great germs for Sorcerer & Sword games.

* The Dungeon Dozen.  Random d12 Table as RPG haiku.  Sooooooo good.  The blog is good too: both funny and horrific.  I'd be ashamed to say that I can't come up with ideas half this good, but you probably can't either.

And of course The One Page Dungeon Contest, which may be one of the very best things to have hit the hobby in 30-odd years.  Particular favorites:
* Laboratory of the Mad Asmodean Techno-Mage
* Den of Villainy
* Meckwick's Revenge
* Devil Gut Rock (I have the original art, framed)
* Deep in the Purple Worm
* The Faerie Market
* The Iron Cloud
* Down Among the Dead Men

Anyway: lots of groovy weird stuff in the OSR; it just gets lost sometimes in the stuff that looks like everything else.

SO WHAT'S WITH VANILLA VS. PINK SLIME?
Ron in his initial email clearly has a thing about the Forgotten Realms and "homogenized" fantasy, which I took as a reference to what a lot of gamers sometimes call "vanilla" fantasy.  To me, "vanilla" is your standard pseudo-medieval kingdom stuff, with a splash of Elves and Dwarves and Orcs, and some gods of various flavors, and maybe some wizards.  It's all through Mentzer's BECMI, which has Elmore & Easley illustrations of medieval warriors, your standard sword & plate armor equipment list, the Cleric class which IMO works best in some type of vanilla game, etc. etc.

Good vanilla is good, man.  The Hobbit, The Broken Sword, large chunks of Vance's Lyonesse trilogy... Delicious vanilla!  (A clue you might be eating vanilla: somebody's thought long and hard about the names for proper nouns.)

Oh man, but there is also stuff that seemingly only exists because it exists in D&D therefore it must exist here.  I cannot really fault TSR for publishing Forgotten Realms as a game setting specifically designed to render explicit the setting implied by the game: it seems fairly sensible from a business standpoint. 

But I don't get why we needed Greyhawk and the Known World and Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms and (much later) Eberron and the Nentir Vale.  At some point we get an omphalos.  And I think that's what Ron's talking about, when he alludes to "pink slime."

D.I.Y. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
0e--published in 1974--has many, many flaws, but one of its greatest charms is its eclecticism.  Gygax, Arneson, & Co. were very obviously fans just jamming anything and everything into their strange little skirmish war-game.  I really hope somewhere in 1976 there was an adventuring party consisting of a Spider-Man (level 3, "sad sack"), a 6 Million Dollar Man with $5.16 in change, and Mork from Ork, and a Fighter named Rocky. 

For my money, the very best recreation of this atmosphere is Encounter Critical (play the video game too!), but there's a nice little PDF floating around about the implied setting of 0e D&D, particularly as applied to the Wilderness Survival Map and the wandering monster tables of the era.

In our New York Red Box crew, my man Tavis ran a suitably odd 0e game for quite a while.  Tavis clearly loved all the pulp fantasy and Weird Science stuff that influenced the original designers, and so naturally at one point we hired an army of Frankensteins to conquer a city built around a space-ship, which was used as a picnic/make-out spot for Were-Tiger teenagers, setting course for a Necromancer's cloud castle patrolled by his robotic Liger Droid (one of the sixteen fabled golems of Panthera hybrids). 

In the OSR, this stuff is sometimes called "gonzo."  I love playing it, but my own mental design space is too uptight to GM it.  Here is a fun Youtube Video though. 

WHAT HAPPENED TO THIS STUFF?
That's what really bugs me.  This kind of weird fantasy / gonzo / non-vanilla stuff was largely edited out of American media during the 1980s, which is when I was growing up.  I've only managed to deduce its existence by tracking down weird movies, out of print books, and wondering where guys like Vaughn Bode, Bakshi, and Henson came from. 

In one of his 4e threads, Ron laments that 4e produces this super-car of skirmish war games, and then WOTC links it up to "pink slime" type settings rather than teaching people how to create their own weird-ass Daydreamer Fantasy worlds.  (Whether such worlds are suited to intense skirmish war games is a different question.)

My own limited experience in this area has been to strictly limit my toolbox, selecting only the stuff that I find most colorful.  I'd write more but I'm very tired and I never came to any definite conclusions.

[edited to fix italics formatting - RE]



« Last Edit: October 13, 2014, 07:57:06 AM by Ron Edwards »

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2014, 10:19:54 PM »
I want to stress that you brought up the term "vanilla fantasy," not me. I can just see it now, "Ron says vanilla fantasy is pink slime ..."

I do think the vanilla fantasy category is damned questionable. Vance groups up squarely with Clark Ashton Smith and Fritz Leiber, what I think of as the political-intellectual wing of the Burroughs tradition; Tolkien groups up with C. S. Lewis and E. R. R. Eddison, with George MacDonald in the background. Am I supposed to throw all this together, add Moorcock and LeGuin, and call it a group?

Well, fuck it, I won't quibble. I completely agree with you, James, that most or all of that literature is good, and that's really the point here. Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles for example - amazing. I'm saying, whatever you thought I was saying about vanilla fantasy as you call it in literature, I wasn't.

Your analysis of what I did in fact mean is correct. My criticism is strictly and only of the material that was invented either in the context of role-playing or so near as to make no difference, then switfly 'ported into gaming. The pure-fiction wing would be mid-80s stuff like Raymond Feist, David Eddings, Dennis McKiernan (oh my God hock a loogey now), and even ... look, people, I know you won't like this ... Stephen Brust. Some of them tried to be good, like Will Shetterly, and were occasionally successful, like one book by P. C. Hodgell, but most of this stuff stunk on ice.

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In one of his 4e threads, Ron laments that 4e produces this super-car of skirmish war games, and then WOTC links it up to "pink slime" type settings rather than teaching people how to create their own weird-ass Daydreamer Fantasy worlds.  (Whether such worlds are suited to intense skirmish war games is a different question.)

Um ... almost. I'm saying that the skirmish approach to playing D&D was invented very much in the seething, kaleidoscopic excitement of daydreamer fantasy, or as it really should be known, psychedelic retro-pulp. People weren't trying to do this, it was already what they were doing. I also think, as you probably know, that all kinds of role-playing was going on more tacitly at the time, including raw-ass Narrativism as a CA and techniques that people wrongly associate with the Forge. S/Lay w/Me is designed directly out of what people actually did by correspondence back then.

This is like when people ask why Glorantha is so weird. The real question is why their default concept of fantasy is such a crashing bore. I am not referring to your dubious "vanilla fantasy" literature category when I say that. I am strictly referring to the pink slime.

It makes me sad to read your puzzlement about the wild-and-whacked fantasy of the 70s which was as I keep trying to say, not a target market and not a mainstream genre but a whole underground culture. It speaks to me of the death of underground comix, the destruction of the counter-culture, the historical papering-over of exactly who revived Howard and Tolkien in the late 60s, and why. It has everything to do with the sandblasting of "ronprogrock" into tame-ass categories that pretends only 20 bands ever existed in five easily-recognizable genres. It has everything to do with how this can somehow be dismissed as offensive. It has everything to do with why people know who this idiot is and not who this bona fide fantasy hero is. It has everything to do with the cultural-political abomination that is the G.I. Joe cartoon compared to Bill Mulden's anti-war, dissenting original cartoons.

Wow, I am getting really mad about this, aren't I?

James_Nostack

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2014, 01:32:38 AM »
I want to stress that you brought up the term "vanilla fantasy," not me. I can just see it now, "Ron says vanilla fantasy is pink slime ..."

This one time, your hand never touched the shit-stirring spoon; this one's all me. 

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My criticism is strictly and only of the material that was invented either in the context of role-playing or so near as to make no difference, then switfly 'ported into gaming.

I'm wondering about how big that category is, and how it operates.  Let me think out loud: 

As a worked example: after a couple hints in earlier modules, the Drow show up big-time in D3 Vault of the Drow in 1981--building off European folklore about "svartalfar," BDSM, maybe a dash of Lovecraft, and some really unfortunate art direction. 

TSR publishes The Crystal Shard, co-starring Drizzt, in 1988.  By the early 1990's, Drizzt is as over-exposed as Wolverine.  Meanwhile, because the gaming-inspired fiction is selling so well, it encourages more Drow in the game itself, and many many kids create Drizzt rip-offs. 

Although Drow mania eventually recedes like Bart Simpson T-shirts and Steve Urkel, it remains a steady presence in the hobby even 20 years after hitting the NYT best-seller lists: the Drow play an important part in the canonical D&D 4e setting, and Drow cosplay remains a weird, controversial thing.

Drizzt may be the purest example.  But let's say you're doing some (conventional) D&D campaign prep, and you're thinking about monsters in your world, and races, and magic items and stuff.  And you say, "Hey, why do I need ___________?  What's cool about them?"  And if the answer is, "Because D&D, that's why!" it may be pink slime stuff.

I'll freely admit that part of me loves that stuff!  I am genuinely regretful that, in 30 years of history with this silly game, I've never encountered (a) a mind-flayer, (b) a beholder, or even (c) a real dragon.  I genuinely admire clever use of D&D-isms: I've heard about an adventure where two kings are each commanded by their own intelligent genocidal swords, and the only hope is to capture a Rust Monster to eliminate the swords and bring peace to the kingdoms.  That's great.  It's like when a James Bond movie manages to conform to the formula in a clever way ("what if the henchman's signature weapon is a Bond Car?").

THE SLIME OOZES FROM MY PORES
In 2008, about a month after Gygax kicked the bucket, I put together a BX campaign.  I was in law school, working part-time, hunting for a job, and taking care of a sick family member, and I really didn't want to create anything.  I wanted to grab some ingredients from the pantry, slap 'em together real quick, and serve it right away.  It ain't especially pretty, but it worked until I got tired of DM'ing.

Some thoughts about this as a design choice:
* It was easy as hell.

* Personally I hate rambly setting bullshit.  If I'm a player, give me a cool, grabby situation, and I don't care what you decided to name your Not-Elves.  Let's just call the fuckers Elves and get on with it.  No one has time to read your setting orientation crap.  (Actually some people love setting orientation crap; I'm just being a grouch.)  So I decided to sketch a quick situation, and not fret about the details.

* Vanilla fantasy has many charms, but the basic idea is familiar to almost everyone.  Dragons, castles, swords, magic spells, the Fair Folk, all that stuff.  Gotcha.  Even people totally brand-new to fantasy role-playing, are sufficiently familiar with the material to improvise, problem-solve, and generally engage with the game.  I'm not saying they can't engage with weirder stuff, just that it's not quite as easy.

* Similarly, pink slime fantasy is a touchstone for D&D players.  It's comfort food.

Now, here is the weird part: the system I was using, BX D&D, not the least bit fan-boy in its design, and in fact the rules are stripped of anything that could be seen as "uniquely" D&D like the Mind Flayer or the Apparatus of Kwalish or whatever.  It's not pink slime, or at least, it wasn't in 1980.  But by self-consciously creating "comfort food" D&D, I deliberately ceded all choices about the incidental color of my setting to D&D.  Why castles, swords, Elves, dungeons, and dragons?  Because Dungeons & Dragons, that's why!

In other words: although there wasn't a single thing in the rule set that could qualify as pink slime, I was using vanilla fantasy tropes as pink slime: "It's here because we're playing D&D, and D&D involves the laughably incompetent Thief, the floating disk spell, and Halflings."

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This is like when people ask why Glorantha is so weird. The real question is why their default concept of fantasy is such a crashing bore. I am not referring to your dubious "vanilla fantasy" literature category when I say that. I am strictly referring to the pink slime.

To be pessimistic, it's possible that for a generation of us, the two may be hard to separate, at least after the mid-80's.

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It makes me sad to read your puzzlement about the wild-and-whacked fantasy of the 70s which was as I keep trying to say, not a target market and not a mainstream genre but a whole underground culture. . . . Wow, I am getting really mad about this, aren't I?

It's a sad thing.  I feel like I'm at Chaco Canyon, looking at the ruins as the sun goes down, thinking, "People used to love each other, and hate each other, and live their lives in this place, and we'll never quite understand it.  Who were the Van-Painters??"
[edited to fix link format - RE]

 
« Last Edit: October 14, 2014, 08:20:41 AM by Ron Edwards »

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2014, 11:17:20 PM »
Ah-ha, I see something.

To me, mind flayers, rust monsters, halflings, those whacked random-ass dungeons, even the outrageously non-Tolkien orcs, and even the (cough, spider boobies) Drow are not pink slime. Put yourself in 1979, pretend that you're in Naked Went the Gamer - and those are meat. Just plain meat, "hey, I grabbed it from this book," or "I brainstormed it for shits and giggles," and then it went into the publication, as opposed to 1,000 other things that could have. It wasn't setting. It wasn't genre. It was stuff that bubbled up and showed up in play and got written down. And that is all! Just plain meat, but real meat.

Pink slime is pure early 80's forward, and not totally smooth-and-slimy yet until maybe '85, '86, I think. That's when precisely your description applies:

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Oh man, but there is also stuff that seemingly only exists because it exists in D&D therefore it must exist here.  I cannot really fault TSR for publishing Forgotten Realms as a game setting specifically designed to render explicit the setting implied by the game: it seems fairly sensible from a business standpoint.

But I don't get why we needed Greyhawk and the Known World and Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms and (much later) Eberron and the Nentir Vale.  At some point we get an omphalos.  And I think that's what Ron's talking about, when he alludes to "pink slime."

I'll go one further and say the settings aren't the unit of interest, but rather each nifty little bit, whether ripped-off or original doesn't matter, or some combo of them which itself is nifty.

That's why I keep groaning at the OSR - not so much any individual game - far from it, I quite like most of the games - but rather at this insane nonsense that emanates out of the blog and G+ comments like a fetid wave. "How does Lamentations of the Flame Princess play like?" "Oh, it's another OSR game, and they're all pretty much the same, so you're good." Or even worse, "Old School goes from white-box to the release of Second Edition." Oh my aching head.

And I'm seeing it a bit here with your confusion of the items, like mind flayers, with pink slime, which is to say, the reduction of all those items into a slurry which mixes too many of them together and loses the power of each, and just as you describe, calls the ooze itself the medium, the genuine thing - even essential to the act of playing this game.

That's why I think my minotaurs, githyanki, wildens, shardminds, and shifters, and my ardents, battleminds, monks, and psions (plus barbarians, rangers shamans, seekers, and wardens) fucking rock. I'm plucking them up as chunks of meat right from the cow, not letting them get ground up and nitrated and slurried into pink slime.

Would it make more sense for me to say that I don't regard the Monster Manual as a setting book?

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* Vanilla fantasy has many charms, but the basic idea is familiar to almost everyone.  Dragons, castles, swords, magic spells, the Fair Folk, all that stuff.  Gotcha.  Even people totally brand-new to fantasy role-playing, are sufficiently familiar with the material to improvise, problem-solve, and generally engage with the game.  I'm not saying they can't engage with weirder stuff, just that it's not quite as easy.

* Similarly, pink slime fantasy is a touchstone for D&D players.  It's comfort food.

There you go again. Vanilla fantasy as you use the term isn't pink slime. It has nothing to do with pink slime. It, or rather they, are just as much meat as the weirdest most acid-trippy Richard Corben Michael Moorcock Moebius stuff.

Pink slime fantasy has all sorts of elements from both vanilla (wincing at this term's over-simplicity, still) and so-called gonzo, better called psychedelic retro-pulp. It does the same thing to both sets, turning them into blah-ish quite questionable goo, whose only virtues are that it doesn't quite poison us and reminds us rather effectively (but only reminds us) of meat.

I think that's a serious point that's gumming up your analysis. There's a lot to work out here, and I know you acknowledged that it's just a first pass so far. I venture to say that you're moving into territory I tried to open up in [ur-D&D] What are we playing here exactly?, not very successfully, which is now better-conceived and currently serving as the conclusion of my essay in development, Finding D&D.

Best, Ron

James_Nostack

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #5 on: October 15, 2014, 02:19:25 PM »
This is a very interesting and challenging discussion.  I'm not sure I would say I'm "confused," exactly: more like, there are several issues which interrelate in subtle ways. 

Ron, I think what you're objecting to is a mish-mash pointless lowest-common-denominator type of setting, published and re-published, that draws its raison d'etre from some business model ("our new edition introduced dragon-people, quick, you gotta throw in some dragon-people into the novels, and the Setting Guide") rather than a creator's genuine interest in the material.

And FWIW I think I'm bitching about the lack of interest/individuality, the failure to make an effort.  Thus, creating bad vanilla fantasy in 2014 is as much a crime as creating pink slime.

Where we overlap, I think, is recognizing that it's the Dungeon Master's job to either create things from her own imagination, or else to act as an editor/curator of things she's passionate about, rather than recycling the same old stuff just 'cuz it's there.

Does that sound about right to you, Ron?  If I'm off track, can you pick a concrete example of how this homogenization / slurry bugs you?




Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2014, 09:16:34 PM »
It's definitely a dissection process of where our minds are interacting.

1. You may be introducing a dichotomy between fiction vs. game material, a distinction that's too blurry in the discussion as I see it. Or rather, it's a time-sensitive thing. I definitely see a big gap between the two in 1979, but by 1989, not so much. A couple of early artifacts aside (Tekumel novels, Wargamers' World), these ten years saw a very smooth filling-in of the gap from both directions. I'm not saying that all such was pink slime, but this is the bog in which pink slime was born.

Halfway through this process, at about 1985, standing in the bookstore, I would have pointed out a sharp difference between the pink slime novels like the Belgariad and the various struggling vestiges of real fantasy and SF, like Salmonson's books and the row of Ellison titles still being printed and present on the shelf. Granted, some of the plain old fiction, not game-related or partaking of the pink slime content, was also quite bad - hello, Xanth, I'm talking to you. But I'm saying the distinction between the pink slime stuff and the "real" stuff, in which I suppose I must take the bad with the good for these purposes, was immediately obvious.

If we're talking about something like the Belgariad or the Iron Tower trilogy (you know when you throw up and you have some in your mouth you have to spit out, and it's chunky? that is the Iron Tower trilogy), then it's pink slime, not vanilla fantasy. I vilify it to this day not merely for its shittiness but for its utter intellectual vacuity, relying strictly and only on gaming tie-in and therefore on geek collectivism for its appeal.

Oh man, what am I thinking! A key publication here must be The Sword of Shannara and its wretched offspring. I was still in high school for that, or maybe younger. This is interesting because it's not a game-related book at all, merely rotten rip-off fantasy fiction. A good indicator that pink slime is its own thing, you can't merely point at bad elfy fantasy published for the grossest of profiteering impulses (see Gordon? some intention for you) and say "pink sliiiiiime!"

Not much later, though, maybe even as early as 1989, if there was an elf, or a plucky young hopeful fellow, or a map with Tim Kirk style geography all over it, then it was pink slime. I'm talking about books in which the wandering monster or the saving throw or the rolled critical hit were described in all but literal gaming mechanics. What was it ... one of the later Feist books, in which "Jimmy the thief" is described as having "agility and dexterity at the peak of human potential ..."

Is all game-derived, gaming-centric fiction pink slime? Honesty compels me to say not, but I confess, no really good example springs to mind. I remember what seemed like hundreds of novels associated with AD&D2 ... I certainly haven't read them, maybe not even a single one, so who am I to say.

I'm also saying that right at this point, the literary pretensions of gaming material became equally nauseating and basically identical, because it's the same phenomenon.

2. I think your continued use of "setting" is distracting from the point at hand. I'm not really talking about setting, but about game material of any "size" that has fictional weight. Whether that's some kind of intrinsic quality or some function of how the readership receives it, I have no idea and don't really care.

James_Nostack

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2014, 01:02:17 PM »
You may be introducing a dichotomy between fiction vs. game material, a distinction that's too blurry in the discussion as I see it. . . . I'm talking about books in which the wandering monster or the saving throw or the rolled critical hit were described in all but literal gaming mechanics. . . .the literary pretensions of gaming material became equally nauseating and basically identical, because it's the same phenomenon

This is a fascinating topic, but one which is difficult for me to participate in.  First, because I'm not sure I have the vocabulary to hash this stuff out properly, and I'm not sure I can communicate my ideas clearly to myself, let alone anyone else.  Second, I was born in '76, and so virtually all of my experience with fantasy novels post-dates the Slime Convergence.  I can infer that there must have been a time prior to The Sword of Shanarra and the Dragonlance books, but aside from scattered experiences in elementary school I have no memories of it.

Maybe instead of talking about Grand Theories and Abstractions, it would be helpful to look at specific cases?

So to my understanding, pace Howard, Lieber, Vance, and Moorcock, the big bad 800 pound gorilla of fantasy publishing as it affected gaming is J.R.R. Tolkien.  As literature, The Hobbit is a roaringly good book, and The Lord of the Rings is much better than it should be.  Tolkien publishes The Hobbit in like '38, and The Lord of the Rings in three hardback volumes in the mid-50's, and a few nerdy reviewers say good things about the books, but they don't seem to have set the world on fire.

By the mid-to-late 60's, The Lord of the Rings shows up in paperback in the American market, and Baby Boomer college kids latch onto them, in part because they see Tolkien as aligned against the  deplorable vices of the Industrial Revolution.  If you're kid in the middle of the Twentieth Century, growing up in the Midwest from a mid-sized farm town, you've got some inchoate Christian upbringing, you've left home for the first time to associate with many strange beings, and now you're suddenly beginning to question "Progress" (science = money = government = military = self-satisfaction), then an affordably priced edition of The Lord of the Rings arrives at just the right time in your life.

Now, you've got a fantasy book that's hugely popular among young people; some geeky/nerdy/obsessive types are gonna read it too.  And for them, whatever Tolkien's political message, he also offered an obsessively detailed world to memorize, daydream about, and imaginatively inhabit.  Even after the tide of the Counter-Culture begins to ebb, Tolkien's paracosm still had no trouble finding admirers among nerds, who were stuck watching syndicated Star Trek and Doctor Who repeats.

Some of these dudes lived in Wisconsin and were big into historical war games, and one of them gets the bright idea to implement rules for fighting the Battle of the Five Armies or whatever using their home-brew game system; this gets further refined to a skirmish-level game in which each player controls one combatant; this gets drifted to where, in addition to fighting, someone's talking in a funny accent or negotiating with a prince instead of fighting him.  Throw in a bunch of other references to 1970's fantasy culture, and you've got Dungeons & Dragons in 1974.  Later in life, Gygax denied that Tolkien had any influence on the game's development, but that may have been a legal position: early on, they had to remove "Hobbit" and "Balrog" from the text when Tolkien's estate threatened to litigate.  (I'm not sure how "Orc" slipped through.) 

The original Dungeons & Dragons texts aren't easy to understand, and a lot of it has to be transmitted orally.  It becomes a fad like disco, CB radio, and the Muppets.  TSR becomes increasingly ambitious in terms of its product line and licensing deals, even as other companies' games begin imitating or critiquing D&D itself.

Back to books: you're a publisher or aspiring author.  You've got a market here: a bunch of fantasy nuts who have been so starved of content that they're literally rolling their own, making up these elaborate worlds.  You've also got Tolkien as proof of concept: if you can write the perfect book for these people, it'll be an evergreen best seller, ideally three years in a row (because God forbid you write just one novel). 

Boom!  The Sword of Shanarra, The Wheel of Time, The Riftwar Cycle, and all the rest.  Here, authors are shaping non-game material into D&D-like "stuff," effectively novelizing a campaign that doesn't exist.  These books sell pretty well, enough to spawn many other imitators.

Double boom!  TSR decides that they need their own line of fantasy novels, and so - possibly after a couple sessions of D&D, I'm a little unclear on how much actual gaming informed the story - we end up with the Dragonlance Trilogy.  Which sells out the wazoo.

So by the late 1980's, when I was old enough to start buying newly published fantasy books instead of checking older ones out of the library, Walden and B. Dalton and Encore Books were chock full of D&D-clone novels: either novels explicitly licensed by D&D's brands, or allegedly independent novels that hew so closely to the D&D tropes that there's little daylight to be seen.

All of this is, basically, capitalism squeezing every last ounce of originality out of a fad, and wouldn't be very remarkable, except that the fad seems to have persisted for twenty-five years.  There are now at least 150 Dragonlance novels.  (I have an otherwise-sane friend who collects them.)  There are probably a comparable number of Forgotten Realms novels.  I have no idea if fantasy fiction more generally has recovered from this infection, but it was pretty far gone by the late 1990's.

The fundamental problem here is a readership that doesn't care very much about the quality of a story, or the telling of the story, so long as the story involves pointy-ear Elves of innumerable variety, grouchy mountain-dwelling Dwarves, mean ol' roaring Dragons, and a dashing hero with a magical phallic symbol.  This indiscriminate demand attracts publishers eager to churn out anything so long as it satisfies the checklist.  One of those publishers is TSR/Wizards of the Coast (or its licensed affiliate in the publishing world), and WOTC thus can sell gaming stuff to fans of its novels, and novels to fans of its games.  But the winning formula is to have something that kind-of sort-of looks like Middle Earth if you have bad eyesight and no taste.

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2014, 10:37:44 AM »
Here's my narrative, which differs from yours a little, but is offered in the interest of the continued intersection of thoughts.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings first show up in the U.S. in the 1960s in what amounts to a bootleg edition, or at the least, unauthorized, in what context I don't really know. (This is about my current understanding; I'm not doing any research as I type this, although the answer is probably right there on Wikipedia.) What I do know is that it got picked up by the counter-culture and the anti-war movement(s) for a couple of reasons. One was as you describe, basically anti-establishment, although with different flavors including anti-pollution/industrialization and anti-modernity (soft Luddism, romantic about Indians). In this, people found all the stuff about camping and backpacking very powerful, much more so than modern readers, I think. The other was more radical: the hobbits were decent guys fightin' against a very horrible Dark Lord, and at the time, this resonated way more regarding Johnson and Nixon than it did about Hitler, and the hobbits smoked pot. (insert 1000 sputtering denials which are completely irrelevant no matter how accurate; this is almost 50 years ago) [interestingly, the next edition published in the U.S. was authorized, had Tolkien's famous photo on the back, and featured an introduction with some asshole's very indignant denials that the hippies had any claim to Middle Earth]

This doesn't precede the Howard revival, it's simultaneous. Nor was that out of nowhere; Lin Carter had been writing fantasy series all through the 60s, for example, although to limited audiences. Still, Conan arrives in bookstores like a juggernaut, in his decamp/Carter revisionist form, pretty much right out of the fanzine called Amra. Some of this is British, with Panther Paperbacks, and mainly Lancer doing everything, Leiber included, and then picked up – and therefore present everywhere in the U.S. – by Sphere. Anderson's fantasy stuff, and later LeGuin's, and tons more – and joined very quickly by Moorcock. By 1970, sword-and-sorcery is dominating the bookshelves and "fantasy" becomes a new term. Brak, the Gor books, Carter's Gondwane, re-issued covers of Barsoom, Vance's series (and beginning his "bigger book" phase) ... and a lot of softer SF/fantasy gets covers that are suspiciously sword-and-sorcery ish, like those dishrags by Anne McCaffrey.

I'm saying it's not really right to think of Tolkien as a blockbuster isolated from these. The really aggressive counter-cultural, outright psychedelic content – which also dovetailed with the new releases of Lovecraft – was not considered alternative to Tolkien, but right in there with it. I mean, hobbits smoked pot, right? Cue the early Deep Purple (named after a brand of LSD) producing albums about bards and hobbits, and there you go. Frazetta doing Molly Hatchett covers a few years later (1978) merely closed the existing circle, as did the outright bad fictionalization of the character on them.

(Side note: I knew something was up when I was first impressed by the Frazetta art all over the walls of my girlfriend's bedroom, then shocked that she had no idea who Frazetta or Conan was. For my part, I said, "Who's Molly?" This was 1981.)

I'm not disagreeing with you much here, but I stress that the world-building nutsiness and gaming tie-in is also instantaneous, not after any counter-cultural or pop-cultural ebbing. Glorantha and Tekumel date back to 1970 or so, when Moorcock wasn't even done with Elric yet, and Zelazny had barely begun Amber stories. I think world-building preceded the gaming although it was immediately attractive to gamers.

I haven't finished my essay Finding D&D yet, but it updates my old "Hard Look" essay and emphasizes its point even more, that Gygax & Co. invented very little if anything, and should be recognized as a publishing innovation rather than a hobby/creative one. I'm not arguing against your characterization of the origin of the hobby, but I think what you describe was way more widespread and way more advanced in its process – we don't need to find a magic table in Lake Geneva where it "happened." I don't see the other games of the 70s as imitators at all, so much as actually doing it when the disjointed texts and scattered official practices of D&D frankly did not. Unlike T&T, playing D&D worked when real people made it happen on their own, usually by ignoring those texts and practices.

D&D's fad status was especially minimal and sad, and probably wouldn't be remembered by anyone except gamers, if it weren't for BADD (contrary to the claim that BADD killed it). Although it and role-playing as such gained immense traction in the underground culture I describe in "Naked," and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an early teen from 1978 who hadn't seen or tried it, it penetrated into the mainstream only once, in Waldenbooks in 1979, and then vanished like … like a thing that vanishes. (/Buffy)

I'm saying that gaming was not yet a major player, although it was definitely there in a strange way. Maybe it's very picky of me to focus on these 4-10 years so much, but it may have been a seminal period for what we're discussing which needs some special analysis. I therefore see two trajectories:

1. Big-deal book publishing, which is not based on gaming at all but is of course being read by gamers. These guys are going for bulk by name, not by multiple authors. This had already started in SF, inventing the artificial triumvirate of Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein in the 60s, and had become groovy with Dune - so now it was time for more Big Names who could reliably pump out sequels. There was a huge push in all book publishing to promote genre as series. Remember, originally, Xanth was just a novel - then it got pushed to be a trilogy, and then pushed to be a limitless series. So was Another Fine Myth, same thing. Thomas Covenant, same thing. Black Company, same thing; Cook told me that himself. Zelazny wrote the Amber books contractby contract; don't give me any crap about "epic visions." This is all executive driven. (some editorial desks held out against this tide, notably Bantum Spectra Editions) (I'll also give Gene Wolfe credit for a genuine epic vision in the Book of the New Sun)

Same thing in movies; the Planet of the Apes movie-a-year event seems quaint now, but Jaws was actually not the first sweep-the-nation blockbuster - the Apes franchise was, and the film studios' heads had all just died, and the times like Fox, Paramount, and Warner had all just been bought by oil companies. Remember that neither The Godfather nor Star Wars nor Alien had begun as a series, but they became series through forced sequels.

2. RPG game-company publishing moves into fiction production, beginning with Gord the Rogue, I guess. I remember distinctly that although it was in bookstores, it was NOT in the fantasy section, but rather in the gaming section, which would also be the case with Dragonlance initially. You didn't buy games in those stores, much - only TSR adventure modules, and the AD&D core books were impossible to find after their initial release (always a thing with D&D ...). Remember, RPGs weren't really books yet, physically speaking, not even the "big" ones. They were still stapled pamphlets and even the few softcovers had an amateur, garage look, until almost the end of the 80s. So this was all about the fiction and it was pretty much TSR alone. In the early 80s, TSR was currently in a messy state, trading off image-control in Dragon Magazine with debt (I don't think those hardbacks ever made them a dime; maybe the first Monster Manual) and with trying to live up to its own hype as a national fad, when it couldn't even hold its own in the hobby. I think this push into fiction publishing was a TSR executive edition that was about ready to cut-and-run regarding this whole dice-hobby bullshit.

I don't think these two trajectories converged evenly. I think the mainstream book industry (which was now becoming a wing of the movie-promo industry) expanded outward to grab whatever it could, and the little gaming fiction blip was merely absorbed along with  million other things. Dragonlance is probably the transitional product in many ways, content as well as production value.

For a look at the book-publishing POV, the dates matter a lot. Lord Foul's Bane was published in 1977, Thieves' World in 1978, David Feist's Magician in 1982, Stephen Brust's Jhereg in 1983; you can see a rather incredible sequence of "thought" in how game-parameters transform into fantasy-as-genre, from world-building in the first, minimal but real gaming-sensibility in the second, and gaming as founding-assumption in the last two. You're off-base with Wheel of Time - that didn't start until 1990 and back in 1980, there was nothing like that at all.

Dragonlance is first published in 1984. You're right that by the late 80s, and Forgotten Realms starts 1987, this has become the new standard for the early-teen target market, in both content and in gaming tie-in.

Again, I'm not merely picking apart details. I think there's a process here that should be understood step by step, not squeezed into an easy phrase and tossed down a memory hole.

I also think that there's a monkey in the mix which no one cared about, which was real role-playing conducted by real people - the effort which became nearly invisible under the crush of the new RPG distributorship and the presence of several fortunes whose owners seemed willing to squander them, creating a fake "industry dominance." Pink slime fantasy may or may not be a causal agent in all of this, and much as I'd like to blame it for [insert: anything!], that's probably not fair - it's probably an emergent thing which then fed back onto the circumstances of its making. You can't blame a thing for becoming the new normal. However, it's pink slime's very normality that needs to be criticized.

Frank T

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2014, 12:52:45 PM »
Ah guys, you are making my head hurt. To my poor tired mind it seems rather easily summarized. Commercial conservatism, mainstream, pop culture, self-referentiality, it's a common pattern. I mean, look at mainstream porn today. You seen one, you seen 'em all, and boy are they all bad. I sure hope that the audience is not as uninventive as the material suggests. But on the other hand, I'm not a big fan of posing as the bad taste police, that's just elitism. Show them the juicy stuff, sure. But where's the point in chiding them for getting off on the pink... slimy... stuff? Er, talking about genre fantasy now, of course.

I was about 11 or 12 I think when I got the first Dragonlance novel, and I'm still best known on the internet by my nickname "Lord Verminaard". I hold a certain nostalgia for it even now, as I had no reference when I read it and therefore, no reason to doubt its originality, and at any rate I was hooked. My first ever gaming group also played AD&D set on Krynn. Of course, I am still eternally grateful to our cleaning lady, bless her good soul, who saw I was reading fantasy and so, without having a clue about the genre, grabbed a "nice price" paperback from the bargain bin that looked like fantasy to give to me for my birthday. Which turned out to be a collection of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane stories.

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #10 on: October 26, 2014, 04:10:04 PM »
Hi Frank,

I love you and all ... but I think that is a superficial way to dismiss a topic, as if we were talking about erosion or some other one-way ecological process. And even if some such process were occurring, (i) we don't understand it, and I really do think we do not; and (ii) it's still worth examining why it occurred in a particular place and time. I think the transformation of counterculture and underground material into extremely bland and apparently persistently bland forms during the 1980s - and apparently very fast - is a big deal.

I'm not targeting you with the following comment, but since this topic gives me the opportunity to blow off steam, I am getting pretty tired of the double claim of "well, what can you do, the natural outcome of market and society is sludgy mediocre crap, Sturgeon's Law, blah blah," and "the market will bring the best of the best to the front and to the top, so this very popular and visible thing must be so excellent." Sometimes in the very same sentence!

You may not have seen one of the small points I made in one of the music threads, but it's historically a big deal. Until about 1972, political groups in the U.S. communicated and organized their activities through small-press, underground magazines and newspapers. There were literally hundreds of titles, some lasting only a few months and others very long-running, and with all sorts of petty rivalries and bitter disagreements among the various producers of these publications. But one thing was constant: they were funded by advertising revenue for musical performances. That's why a concert and a social protest were often the same things, and why so many of the bands were founded in the context of a dissenting social scene or political organization, and why so much of the music is so politically charged.**

However, at about 1972, the Nixon administration made some kind of deal with the record companies - it may have involved the Federal Communications Commission too, although that entity isn't supposed to be involved with print publications. The deal basically threatened any music production label with a complete shut-out from mainstream radio presence if they used these underground publications for advertising. With their revenue cut off, almost all those publications ceased to exist over the next three or four years - gutting the capacity of political groups to organize events. And, incidentally, actively de-politicizing popular music to a degree which the Brezhnev or Honecker administrations could never possibly have done in their respective countries.

Such things are not like erosion, due to basic physics and thousands of tiny repetitve events which merely accumulate and produce occasional tipping-points for large visible effects. Nor am I talking about some stupid Hollywood conspiracy notion either. I'm talking about society and politics and pop culture in a way which scholars tend to avoid doing.*

Quote
I mean, look at mainstream porn today. You seen one, you seen 'em all, and boy are they all bad. I sure hope that the audience is not as uninventive as the material suggests. But on the other hand, I'm not a big fan of posing as the bad taste police, that's just elitism. Show them the juicy stuff, sure. But where's the point in chiding them for getting off on the pink... slimy... stuff? Er, talking about genre fantasy now, of course.

I think you're supporting my point rather than refuting it. Up until 1980, porn had all sorts of kinks and byways, but the basic porn is pretty much about ordinary people fucking. People with hair and love-handles and awkward moments. They might be pretending to like it, but at least they're pretending, and it's credible in a certain amount of cases that they're enjoying it.

What processes, economics, marketing decisions, and laws contributed to the change? I think it's a cop-out to wave one's hand and say, "oh, this always happens." No, it doesn't. It did change in this particular way and in this particular time, and I might add, pre-internet, for a lot of things - especially things which had eluded mainstream societal control and were active venues for dissenting views and life-styles. What made that change?

Of all the various civil rights efforts during the 1970s in the U.S., the biggest failures include drug legalization (or at least a real review of existing policy), prison reform, and and sex work reform. Why? I reject all vague crap like "the mood of the country changed," and similar talk. I want to examine the concrete, contingent, historical specificity.

Your anecdote about readings also supports my point. What would happen if you hadn't encountered the Kane book? Dragonlance - as James pointed out to me in another email - was "chunky" slime, maybe not even slime at the very first, and it was possible to work outwards from it to find real meat.

Best, Ron

* Fuckin' deconstructionist blitherers + fuckin' evil-mystic economics propagandists = a very wicked brew, arguably the destruction of organized intellectual life across the academic spectrum.

** The interplay among these things is subtle. People today like to cite Pete Townshend threatening Abbie Hoffman with bodily harm for interrupting The Who's set during the Woodstock concert, as an example that the music was "never political," but that means ignoring the entire remainder of the concert, not to mention the majority of The Who's actual music and Townshend's own activism.

Frank T

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #11 on: October 27, 2014, 07:30:14 AM »
Hi Ron,

I am aware the porn example supports your point, honey, that's why I put it there. I agree with your assessment, though I'm having a hard time following all the fine ramifications of your discussion. Maybe that's because I'm already a cynic or maybe you have to be American to care enough to go down to this level of detail. Of course, our pop-culture over here is an imitation of American pop-culture to a very large degree, and of course we suffer from the stupidity of it as you do. Have you ever seen the movie Van Hellsing, starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale? You should hear me rant about it when I'm in full nerd rage mode.

Now, it wasn't very constructive of me to jump in there and say "jeez guys, stop being so complicated about it", I dunno, I care about the subject and wanted to say something and it was the first that came to mind. I'm all for lamenting the decline of political awareness and all that, it's not the 70s anymore and in some ways that is very sad. But I'm going to break a lance for the consumers, even *swallow* those who thought Van Hellsing was a good movie, and who thought that Elric was boring. Even those who thought… who thought… who thought Episode I was a good movie. There. I said it. This whole "they don't even know what a cow is" stuff, that is the elitism that doesn't sit well with me. Not to rekindle That Awful Debate, but I feel it's stepping close, isn't it?

Peace & Love,
Frank

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #12 on: October 27, 2014, 07:50:38 AM »
Hallo Liebchen,

Regarding the elitism, I'll mention that until the mid-80s, and I will even go further and say until the mid-90s for gaming of any kind, none of the hobby and pop culture activities we're talking about were cool. I suggest that even comics didn't get that status until the mid-80s, and movies with this sort of thing in them, not until the mid-90s or even 2000. (all dates are for the U.S.)

I'm not counting underground-cool, but a more subtle concept. The German kuhl captures it better than the English word, precisely due to the tension between conformity and dissent which takes on such striking form there - and as you know (I'm only saying this because others are reading this), I don't mean conformity to local Germanic conservatism, I mean to the American "way of life" as a pure package of activities, commerce, values, and appearances.

But all of that is not to disagree with you. There's another corner here, which is plain enjoyment, and also validity relative to one's own experiences. Jim Raggi explained very clearly how given his upbringing and location, the very fantasy which we are criticizing here became his own vehicle for dissent. Granted, this is also a matter of personal intensity and commitment to making something rather than consuming it. He did not merely slurp the pink slime, he ... my analogy is working too well ... fermented it with the harshest possible heavy metal, and therefore we are not really talking about pink slime at all once we look at his actual gaming (and later publication). But my point stands: if it's good for you, then who's to say it's bad at some abstract level, when the badness can't be identified concretely.

Your porn analogy is working again.

Frank T

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #13 on: October 27, 2014, 10:52:29 AM »
Oh yeah, we're in metaphor heaven. You know, I can cook a pretty decent rump steak, both with a frying pan and with a charcoal grill. I can also tell you when the thing they serve you as a rump steak is not, in actuality, a rump steak. Still, I'll enjoy a quarterpounder from time to time.

But leaving that aside. The guy who loved Van Helsing and didn't like Elric and thought Episode I  "wasn't that bad" was a real example. He also reads Goethe, and Tolstoi, and Mann. Studied literature and philosophy for a while. Is a socialist. He knows about history, and politics, and all. I've also played some of my greatest role-playing sessions to date with him.

Frank T

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Re: [D&D 4E sort of] Stocking dungeons and pink slime fantasy
« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2014, 11:28:09 AM »
Or take Dirk Ackermann, whom you have met. He is a fantastic TRoS GM, I played a session with him that went straight under my skin, one of the most mature, emotionally and morally challenging games I've ever been in. He also used to think Raymond Feist was excellent. Raymond E. Feist, if you can believe it.

Obviously I could continue the list endlessly. (I won't.)