Some of you will get this. Some of you won’t. All of you will think I’ve finally gone completely around the bend.
You will be right.
Sure, I desperately want to see the Avengers. And Dark Knight. And Prometheus. But even more than those? This: The Amazing Spider-Man.
Yes, it’s an origin story again, and yes, it’d be nice if it weren’t. But A) it looks like a take on it we haven’t seen before, and B) far more important, it looks, from what we’ve seen, like a Spider-Man movie that gets the character completely right. (Something that, as much as I loved the Maguire/Raimi movies–and I really did love them, at least the first two–they never quite managed to accomplish.)
I don’t care if it’s an origin story. I don’t care if it’s “too soon” for a reboot. It’s freakin’ Spider-Man.
If remakes and reboots really are the way of the future in Hollywood, then I might as well jump on the bandwagon. So…
I am willing to write the basic story, script, and/or novelization for a remake of the movie Krull, for a very reasonable amount of money. You had a lot of financial success with Clash of the Titans, so this is a movie worth considering, and if you look at my writing history, I think you’ll find us a pretty good match.
I eagerly await the calls that I just know are going to start flooding in any minute now.
So, given the fact that it would require only a very primitive version of the virtual game table, and some pretty simple random generators…
Can we have an e-version of the old Dungeon! board game that we can play with anyone else, anywhere, who also has a connection? Please? That would be awesome on a level I can’t even describe.
How about it, guys?
Most of what I post on this blog consists of fairly light stuff. If that’s all you want, well, this ain’t the blog entry for you. Come back next time.
Today, Salon posted an article by Saladin Ahmed, author of Throne of the Crescent Moon. (Which, BTW, you should go out and buy right now. It’s fantastic.) In said article, Saladin raised the issue of race in the Game of Thrones HBO series. You can read it here.
A lot of the responses are just plain stupid. Accusing Saladin of reverse-racism (untrue if you bother to read the article), claiming he called GRR Martin a racist (untrue if you bother to read the article), or just spouting their own racist screeds. I’ve no intention of addressing any of that. It speaks for itself.
No, I’d rather address some of the responses that sound a lot more reasonable–and that the people who espouse them probably believe are more reasonable–but which are just as problematic.
First, a quick primer on, well, me. I’m a straight, white male in America. About 99.99% of the time, I will never have any idea what it’s like to truly experience discrimination. That’s simply the way it is.
I’m also Jewish. And for about a year and a half in middle school, a serious rash of antisemitism tore through the popular cliques and made my life, and the life of several others, pretty much miserable. I do not–let me say that again, I do not–claim that that’s the equivalent of the true persecution that others have experienced. I’m not claiming an equality of viewpoint. In fact, the whole point of this is that, despite some tiny shreds of a similar experience, I’m coming at this from a very different place than Saladin, or Nnedi Okorafor, or any of the others who have written about this recently.
So, back to my point…
Let me paraphrase two of the responses I’ve seen to Saladin’s article. First:
“I agree with you, but there’s no reason to be so defensive about it.”
Uh, what? If this was the only instance of something, then yeah, it might be advisable to let it go. But if it’s a pattern? If it’s endemic? Why the hell should people not be defensive about it? Why shouldn’t they speak up? It’s not like it’s changing on its own.
Try experiencing this sort of thing for years and not being a little offended by it–and reasonably so, I’d think.
But that’s not even the biggest deal. Here’s another response I’ve seen:
“”Why is it absolutely necessary that novels, films, and TV conform to the realities of real-world culture, society, and demographics? Isn’t the whole point of fiction to create realities that don’t conform?”
Wow. Where to start?
I’ll start with this: I firmly believe that the person who wrote the response that I’m paraphrasing meant no harm. But it’s a position that attempts to reason from a mistaken starting point.
First problem: Our own cultural reality isn’t remotely integrated or equal, for all that it’s supposed to be. So let’s not pretend that this is the reality from which speculative fiction should differ.
Second problem: It’s really damn easy to say “It’s just fiction, it’s supposed to be different, don’t take it so seriously” when you’re not the one being marginalized across the damn board. When you’re not the one being told, over and over again, “We’re not going to tell/read stories about you. You’ll have to settle for reading about the guy next to you.”
So, let’s look at those fantasy settings that supposedly combine humans of different ethnicities. Pick a fantasy series you like–any one–that includes both white/pseudo-European and non-white/non-pseudo-European characters.
Okay. In how many of them is the main character–or, if there’s a group of them, more than one of the main characters–of the latter variety?
(Some of you are already yelling out the names of series where that is the case. Well, yes. They exist; I’m not saying they don’t. But they’re rare as a bald wookiee.)
How many fantasies that aren’t set primarily or entirely in the Middle East (or a fantasy equivalent thereof) focus on an Arab as the main character? How many on a black character? A gay character? When they happen, odds are that’s the entire point of the book; it’s a gimmick (even if a well-meaning one) on which to base marketing.
Why can’t they just be there as more than a token?
Why does “It’s a fictional world, it doesn’t have to correspond to the real one” always leave out or marginalize the same people? Find me a fantasy–not a historical one, but one set in a secondary world other than Earth–in which the overwhelming majority of the characters are something other than white, with the white characters making only cameo appearances? Where’s the secondary-world fantasy that assumes everyone looks African, or Vietnamese, or Native American, or Indian?
If it’s not based on the real world, why is it the civilized peoples are clearly Western European knock-offs? Why do we assume that the default template is white/European until and unless there’s a story-based reason to do otherwise?
Again, sure, there are exceptions. Throne of the Crescent Moon, which I mentioned earlier, is set in a secondary world that’s obviously inspired by Arabia, but isn’t a direct port. But they’re far, far in the minority.
Some of you will cite sales. “Fantasies set in non-Western analogues don’t sell as well. Fantasies with black characters on the cover don’t sell as well. The publishers and filmmakers are just responding to the market.”
Do people really not see the problem with that?! Are people really going to excuse behavior that is at best insensitive, and at worst downright racist, by pointing to other insensitivity and/or racism?
And by the way… I’m as guilty of this as anyone. There are few non-white characters in my novels to date. And you know what? That bothers me. I apologize for it, and I’m working on fixing it.
That shouldn’t be viewed as “an agenda.” That shouldn’t be stamped “PC” and scoffed at. It should be viewed thus: Authors write about people, and hey, not all people look like me.
How about, instead of assuming that everyone who brings this topic up has an agenda, or getting defensive about how racist you’re not, stop to consider it from their side. Maybe they’re not calling you racist. Maybe they just feel like the genre they love as much as you do should love them as much as it loves you.
Think about it. And go buy Saladin’s book.
I want every class to have its own thing. If a paladin is just a mix between fighter and cleric, that’s multi-classing, not a separate class. It needs to do something neither fighter nor cleric can do. (Ditto any other”non-basic four” class; paladin’s just an example.)
I want things like mounts and familiars to be available from the get-go, and be meaningful choices. And I want funky options–like a paladin riding a ki-rin, or a wyvern, or a giant butterfly–to be feasible (perhaps with feats or special powers) if the DM wants to allow them.
I want weapon-and-shield to be a meaningful choice. There’s a reason it was so common historically. I don’t want it to be the “best” choice–no no-brainers–but right now, unless you’ve build your character heavily around the concept, it’s often inferior to heavy weapon or dual weapon.
I want different kinds of magic–arcane, divine, whatever–to feel different. Maybe one can do something the other can’t. Maybe one’s almost useless for offense, the other for support. I dunno. But I want there to be a marked and significant difference between what a wizard is doing vs. what a cleric is doing, and not just as relates to healing.
I want race to matter more than “+2 to this stat and darkvision.” It can be minor–probably should be minor–but to at least a small extent, I want a 9th-level elf fighter to be mechanically distinct from a 9th-level dwarf fighter, and not just by a few numerical differences.
If the game includes a prestige class-like concept, I want them to be truly focused, and never no-brainers. There should be solid reason to stick with fighter or wizard all the way through max level.
I want the basic math to make no assumptions about quantity of magic items. Balance a monster’s level/CR/whatever assuming a party with zero magic items (or at least combat-related ones). Then give guidelines for low-magic, average-magic, and high-magic campaigns, including rules for “If you’re playing X kind of campaign, increase the average level of the party’s opposition by Y.”
I want a return of the 2E guidelines for what equipment is available in different time periods/cultures.
I want there to be some classes that can be played as simply as “I roll to hit, what damage do I do?” without choosing powers or maneuvers. Not saying those classes can’t have such things as options, but there need to be some truly newbie-friendly options.
I want monsters to go the 1E/2E/4E route of being designed to purpose, rather than the 3E route of being built exactly like PCs.
I want the game to stop assuming X number of encounters in Y time period.
I want the drow to go back to being a mysterious, insular, vile, and non-PC-appropriate race, but I know that’s not gonna happen.
And I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch, but that’ll do for now.
Edit to Add: Yep, forgot one. I want warlocks to exist, I want them to have multiple “patron” possibilities, and I want said choices to have major impact on the character (and not just mechanical, either). If a warlock gets his power from a devil, that fact should come into play, and very differently than it would if he got his power from a lord of the fey.
You’ll note that this is not one of my “What I Want to See in D&D” posts. That’s because I don’t actually know if this is something I want to see. I’m theorizing and tossing out ideas to see what sticks.
As you know if you’ve paid even vague attention to the online portion of the RPG community for the past, oh, decade, one of the common issues of concern is the balance of power between spellcasters and non-spellcasters. I’ve talked about it a bit myself.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that spellcasters have–or at least potentially have–both the versatility in their magics and the power in their offensive spells to outshine any other character in the party.
Different editions have tried to address this in different ways. 1E and 2E had wizards advance more slowly than most other classes, but this is a fake fix. It staggers the progression, but it doesn’t ultimately change anything.
1E, 2E, and 3E also had various ways a spell could be disrupted. That’s reasonable in theory, but the problem is that it sucks, as a player, to have your entire turn basically wasted, or to have one of your limited spells per day lost without getting to cast it. It may be fair, but it can lead to long periods of sitting around bored in an encounter.
4E balanced by giving everyone, even the martial characters, powers of roughly equivalent strength. This was the perfect solution for a lot of people, but lots of others objected–usually based on one of two points:
A) They want realistic fighters, not wuxia/Hercules types, and a lot of the more potent abilities were pretty obviously magic of a different name.
B) A lot of people want the classes to play very differently from one another, and this similarity of structure led to a similarity of play.
The other method that all editions but 4E have used to one extent or another is limited resources. A wizard or other spellcaster only has X spells he can cast in a day. He might be able to deal out more damage at one time than the fighter, or accomplish more in one minute than the skill-monkey, but he can only do that a couple of times, so the numbers balance out over the course of play.
That’s a perfectly fine idea, except for one problem. It only works if your playstyle is similar or identical to the one around which the system is based. If you prefer one or two huge battles in a day, rather than a larger spread of smaller fights, it throws that balance out of whack. The wizard can go nuclear in every fight. Sure, occasionally it’ll come back to bite him, but for the most part, players get to know what sort of setups their DM prefers.
None of the solutions are anywhere near perfect, either. Drastically weaken and strip options from the spellcasters? You lose a lot of the feel that’s made them spellcasters over the last 38 years. You remove not only the favorite classes, but the favorite style of play, from a huge part of the audience.
Longer casting times? Easier disruption? Unreliable casting? All well and good, but again, we get back to the “standing around doing nothing worthwhile for multiple rounds” problem.
Raise the power of the non-spellcasting classes? Again, a lot of people dislike raising the martial abilities to the level of potent spells.
Can all of this be reconciled? Well, no, not perfectly. There’s no such thing as perfect balance, anyway. You could just say that “If you want mundane martial characters, don’t play past Level X, when they have to basically be supernatural to keep up,” but again, that’s not going to satisfy everyone.
So, finally, we get to my point. Chew on this and let me know what you think.
Say that wizards (and other spellcasters, but I’m going to use wizards as my example, because it’s a shorter word) have X number of spells per day, as they have in most prior editions. But they also have an array of much weaker magical abilities, what in 4E would be considered “at-will” powers.
Spells require a roll to cast. The difficulty of the roll depends on both the spell level and the caster level. The precise math doesn’t matter for this discussion; let’s just assume that the highest level spell a character can cast is always really hard, but they get easier as the spell levels get lower.
Here’s the thing. If the casting roll fails…
A) You do not lose the spell. You cannot cast it, but you can try again next round.
B) If the spell fails, you can immediately change your action to casting one of your at-will/mini-spell abilities instead. And those have no chance of failure.
What, exactly, does this accomplish? Well, it limits the amount of Ultimate Cosmic Power the wizard can toss out, not only by day (X spells/day), but also by individual encounter. In some encounters, the wizard will get really lucky and get off a whole bunch of mega-spells. In other encounters, he’ll get really unlucky, and not get off a one. Most of the time, it’ll be somewhere in the middle.
The reason this matters is that now, it doesn’t matter how many encounters a DM prefers to have in a given day; the wizard still cannot constantly outshine everyone else, but still has the opportunity to sometimes steal the spotlight–as all characters should have, on occasion.
It also, unlike prior “spell check” systems, doesn’t make the player sit around chewing his cud if the roll fails. He can still throw out a mini-power which isn’t going to alter the flow of the encounter, but is at least as useful as anyone else’s basic attack. He’s gotten to contribute something. And he hasn’t wasted that one cool mega-spell without getting to cast it; he just didn’t get it off this time.
(If you’re using an optional spell-point system, something like 3E psionics, this can still work. You simply don’t waste the points if the roll fails.)
Is it a flawless idea? No, of course not. Anything that adds extra rolls to combat needs to be carefully considered, given how easy it’s been in both the most recent editions to slow combat to a crawl. But I think–especially if the mini-spells all require a minimum of rolls, and the difficulty numbers are easily accessible–that it won’t add much, and the benefits might be worth it. It adds some additional decision-making time as well, due to “Oh, crap! The spell didn’t go off! What at-will power should I use?!” But that’s easily fixed by the old “If you don’t decide quickly, you’re delaying until you make up your mind” routine.
This could work with casting times of multiple rounds, instead of requiring a roll. But that means more bookkeeping–”Are we on round 4, or round 5?”–as well as removing some of the flexibility. (Under the roll system, if the spell doesn’t go off in round 3, you can decide if you want to try it again or use something else in round 4. With casting times, you’re either stuck to what you committed to, or you have to start over.)
So, there it is. Thoughts? Comments? Modifications? Gaping holes that I apparently missed?
Edit to add: Okay, my bad. I neglected to make one point clear.
This roll is just to see if the wizard can cast the spell. He still has to make whatever attack roll, or get past whatever saving throw, the spell normally requires. Same thing with the “mini-spell.” The fact that he can use it without a check doesn’t mean it automatically hits or anything.
Yes, that means that a wizard trying to cast a “real” spell (as opposed to an at-will/mini-spell) needs to make two rolls, not just one, where a fighter swinging a sword just makes one. But that’s the entire point. The idea is to make it so the wizard cannot always throw his best attacks, but can always try to do something. But the key word there is “try.”
So I’ll be 38 this coming Thursday. Which is odd, since I don’t feel like an adult, let alone someone on the cusp of middle-age, but there it is.
If you’re so inclined to do something for me on my birthday–and I stress, only if you’re so inclined–I’d like to ask a favor of you.
This Thursday, buy someone a book.
Doesn’t need to be one of mine (though of course, it’d be nice if some of them were. ) Just pick someone you care about–friend, relative, lover, whatever–and buy them a book (e- or print) you think they’d like. I’d love it if the various vendors and publishers could look back at March 22nd of this year and actually notice an unexplained bump (however minor) in their expected figures.
Again, only if you want to. And thanks.
Since I’ve been talking about magic a lot lately, let me continue to talk about magic.
One thing that’s long bothered me–and this is not edition-specific–is the fact that it’s almost always best for spellcasters to throw some of their most powerful magic early in any major battle. Call it “going nova,” call it “alpha strike,” call it whatever current meta-game term might be in vogue. Doesn’t matter. Fact is, sure, it’s often best, tactically, to open with the big guns–but I’d like to see things tweaked so that it’s not the best option quite so often.
I was thinking that an interesting way to accomplish that, and to give spellcasting players some more meaningful in-combat choices, would be for many spells–not all, not even most, but many–to have different riders depending on when they’re used. Here’s what I mean.
(For purposes of this exercise, assume that the next edition has something comparable to 4E’s “Bloodied” condition–that is, the creature is down half or more of its total hit points. Also, the following examples haven’t been worked out for balance or anything, so feel free to ignore the specific numbers. I’m just tossing them out there are theoretical examples.)
Disintegrate remains a single-target spell. It deals some ugly amount of damage, say 12d6. But, if the target is already bloodied, and if the spell deals damage equal to half or more of the creature’s remaining hit points, the creature turns to dust and dies instantly.
So, what’s the best use of the spell now? Break it out early, and do a chunk of damage? Or hold it in reserve, in hopes that later in the battle, it won’t only do a chunk of damage but might kill when it otherwise wouldn’t?
Fireball remains a broad area effect spell, and deals, say, 5d6. But, if the fireball actually kills one or more of its targets, those creatures burst into flame, dealing an extra 2d6 to all creatures adjacent to them.
So, it remains a no-brainer to start with if you’re dealing with a huge horde of really weak creatures, but that’s what it should be for. When it comes to stronger creatures, do you use the spell early, when they’re charging in and therefore grouped? Or do you wait until they’ve been weakened, so that the spell might kill and therefore do extra damage, at the risk of never catching as many of them together as you otherwise might?
Not only can tweaking spells like this present interesting tactical choices and cut down on “going nova,” but it can also be used to partially solve another problem people often have with spellcasters–namely, that they overshadow everyone else. This can be somewhat corrected by tweaking some of the spells so they work better in conjunction with other PCs. Again, for instance…
Finger of Death: This spell deals 10d6 damage to the target, any time the creature suffers an injury from any source, it takes an additional 1d6 damage. (Save ends, or for 1d6 rounds, or however the new edition measures variable duration.) If the target is already bloodied when the spell is cast, the damage dice (both initial and lingering) become d8s instead.
Again, use it early so you’re dealing a lot of damage up-front? Or save it, in hopes of squeezing more damage out of it, but perhaps have the spell active and helpful for less of the total combat?
Knock: For the next minute, all Thievery/Open Locks/whatever rolls to open the targeted door are at -10 DC.
So the wizard hasn’t suddenly stepped on the rogue’s toes. He’s just made the rogue’s job easier.
Again, this is all just me spitballing, and I’m not saying that any of these specific examples are necessarily the way to go. But they show off the kinds of tweaks that I think would make the spells and combats more interesting, and would cut down a little on the “overshadowing” problem.