Monday, August 29, 2011

I Saw Underworld and I Went to the Zoo

I went to the zoo on Friday. Looking through the glass/plastic/whateveritwas door of the lion pen, I saw a female lion walking around with its cub. I waved at it. It got pissed, ran at me and jumped against the door. Being about six inches away from an angry lion was, ahhh, interesting. My immediate thought (after the reflex jump back) was "five hit dice is not enough." Oh crap, the weight tables in LotFP would have this at 4HD.

But... normal humans are d6hp, so less potential hit points than a 1HD monster. I am not a class-and-level individual nor a prime physical specimen, so I'm not even 6hp. Hell, the d6 normal human hit point range assumes a rougher, more physical life, so the average "works in an office and watches TV and gets physical exercise at the gym, not from life" is probably d4 hit points. So I'd likely be, what, 2? Maybe even 1 if my reaction to paper cuts are any indication.

In LotFP a 4HD monster hits an active unarmored man on an 8, and will take a 6hp man to 0hp or less half the time on a single hit. A maximum hp lion can take over five times the damage of a maximum hp normal man, and a maximum hit point lion can take over nine times the punishment of the average normal man.


Underworld was on TV last night. What a shitbag of a movie. There was not one single thing about that movie that allowed me to believe in it, not one single thing that I thought was cool or exciting, and I fear my IQ dropped a few notches after watching it (my wife liked whatsherface's boots, which is why it was on) and I don't have any more to spare. I want to punch the people who made this movie, but whoever wrote that dialogue deserve strangling.

Trying and failing for cool is much worse than keeping your head down and going about your business in a workmanlike manner (if you fail there, you're just bad, not fucking awful), which I much appreciated the previous day when I finally saw the first episode of The Walking Dead. It was absolutely nothing new. But it was good.

I've seen a billion zombie movies, and most of them suck. All sorts of gimmicks and trickery, both with the zombies ("These zombies jump like acrobats!") and "exciting" filmmaking techniques make most of them rather pointless and just fuckin' dumb.

But The Walking Dead keeps everything basic and simple. It's the same old Romero zombie (I hope the rest of the season doesn't fuck it up...), there were no "cool action shots" or jump scares or anything of the sort. In fact, the episode didn't seem to care about trying to scare the audience at all. Everything made sense and started from square one and slowly built the feeling of dread and menace, so when the shit does hit the fan it doesn't come off as cheap or as an artificial adrenaline rush, but rather something that was just as natural and logical in the setting as the guys talking about photo albums in the house.

The existence of zombies is enough on its own if you're not an idiot, you know?

While trying to mentally retreat from the awfulness that was Underworld, I couldn't help think about how it applies to D&D.

A million monsters. Standardized!

A million magic items. Standardized!

I don't understand how the world of Underworld is supposed to work outside the immediate situation of this vampire vs werewolf feud and every extra absurdity added just breaks the world even more.

I don't understand how the world of D&D is supposed to work outside the immediate situation on a bunch of adventurers exploring a megadungeon.

Much of what I've done with LotFP is an equal mix of "The basics of the system are sound, why mess with it?" and "The world can't make any sense if all this crap exists." This is not new information, but I'm becoming increasingly unwilling to tolerate standard D&D setting assumptions at all.

All the magic items and monsters and races seem more and more to me like acrobatic zombies and ultraviolet bullets - not in a "I prefer something different" sense, but in an absolute "This is crap" way. (or, "I prefer this and can't see why you prefer that at all.")

Perhaps I'm thinking about this way too much, but to me thinking about these things is the glue that holds a campaign together.

... and I think I now have an idea for a series of posts that don't have anything to do with flogging my stuff. (and there was much rejoicing)


  1. One problem I've had with all portrayals of vampire societies is that they gloss over the whole blood-drinking thing. How much blood does a vampire need to stay un-alive? Hunter-gatherer societies spend most of their time finding and saving food; aren't vampires essentially hunters without the gathering? And isn't *somebody* in the mortal world going to notice an uptick in missing persons, if not corpses with their throats torn out?

    (As an aside, someone took the assumptions of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series and worked out how many vampires the town of Sunnydale could sustain. The answer: about 18 for a population of about 35000 humans, with some simplifying assumptions. Here's the paper: And remember, Sunnydale is in some ways a satire of towns in monster movies: the local government actively conceals the existence of vampires and demons, and nobody seems the least bit curious about the town's high death rate.)

    In movies, books, and games, nobody questions how human-eating monsters find enough prey to sustain more than a few small tribal groups. Nobody questions how a world can stay in the Dung Ages when priests can actually heal the sick, wizards can conjure up mindless servants, and Holy Avengers are common enough to have a market price. Nobody wonders what ecological niche accommodates a floating beach ball with a dozen different magical eye-beams, how giant fire-breathing flying lizards stave off starvation, or who left all these gold coins in abandoned tombs for hundreds or thousands of years when marble facing from pyramids and stones from abandoned castles disappear as soon as nobody's watching.

    So yes, a few columns on ridiculous RPG assumptions and how to fix them would be very welcome.

  2. Two corrections:

    1. Sunnydale's stated human population is 38 500. The article derived an equilibrium population of 36 346.

    2. The pyramids had limestone facing, not marble.

    Time for caffeine.

  3. I agree for the most part,

    About Underworld, most definitely. Crappy movie based on a dull premise, wrung out as a franchise to appeal to a market demographic somewhere between 'Wannabe goth enthusiasts' and 'people who claim to like horror movies but don't'. It is what it is, which is stupid, but it could be a lot worse.

    About D&D, that I do agree with, but my agreement waivers when I think of my 'players'.

    The typical presentation of a D&D medieval fantasy world where monsters run amuck and only adventuring heroes can stop them is a perfectly cliched premise. The world outside of the heroes' adventures really doesn't exist. It isn't fleshed out or really logical. It exists solely for the player's benefit and experience.

    If it were up to me, I'd shape a more realized fantasy world, where the usual trappings of the cliched D&D are turned on their head; where the world is as frighteningly monstrous as it is terrifyingly beautiful. This would be a world not rich in story or history, but simply with NPCs and vague, ominous threats.

    Let the players chart their own path, and sandpaper their own balls with tension and anticipation of any/all looming evils.

    Unfortunately, the D&D I play is for strangers who come to a game store every week, expecting a fight with 'insert stock monster here' to earn 'insert amount of experience points here'. While its true that many of them would enjoy something new, and crave innovation, others would balk at such ideas because, to them, "That's not D&D!"

    Quelle dommage.

    read mah blog here

    Also, watch the curious/attractive people I play D&D with here

  4. I used to agonize over ecological plausability, and monster food resources, and magic healthcare issues, and how a 2nd level spell like continual light could change the face of human civilization... but then I realized that none of it ever mattered to my players, they were just happy to have some interesting shit to explore and find and do battle with.

    I guess theres some balance to be struck between satisfying my personal feelings about how a universe should work and wearing myself out on details that nobody else will ever notice lol

  5. My players do care about how much a continual light spell costs.

    Because with the standard osr understandings that I use in my campaign, the characters are in constant need of great deals of money to attain their goals. Training your level is expensive, as is better equipment (even excepting that there isn't a magic market besides what the temple priests can cast and what the one alchemist in the major metropolis can make in a week). The best way for them to make money is adventuring but it is risky as hell.

    Given those assumptions, as soon as the cleric that continual light spell, she'll be asking if she can go into the street lighting business. And she has.

    The alternative to having a world that makes sense is to arbitrarily limit the player's choices. That I don't want to do. Instead, I'd rather have PC freedom. Yes, I know that I'm trying to construct a world in such a way that it effectively does restrict PC choices. But by having a world that makes sense, you can still have player freedom for a large number of activities both adventuring and nonadventuring.

    word verification: fiblet. Manipulation of world assumptions to rationalize a mode of play (a little fib) within verisimilitude.

  6. Anyone who plays a "standard" game of D&D isn't playing D&D. There's no such beastie.

    The games are as individual as the people playing them. That's what gave D&D such appeal, and also why the business end has such a difficult time with harnessing that fact. That's why they'll be herding the masses, slaughterhouse style by giving their own stone commandments on how the game is to be played.

    Players hate to be bored. At least imaginative ones.

  7. If you can get a Chinese bootleg of Underworld that has English subtitles, it becomes a lot more entertaining.