The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: Space Opera Edition

It’s Space Opera Week. While a lot of people who love this style of story are content to read or watch them, a significant number of us want to make our own. There’s plenty of writing-specific advice around, so I’ll focus on those of us who want to game them instead.

So, you want a Superversive Space Opera? Where do you start? Well, if you’re not doing GURPS Lensman, you still want to have that book (or the novels it’s about) handy. That example will be the model you’ll find easiest to adapt for gaming purposes.

Your players play characters who champion their cultural traditions and institutions. This means you’re some sort of Galactic Patrol, formally or otherwise, because the standard gameplay scenario involves dealing with predatory actors seeking to undermine your people. As active agents, you have reason to seek out such trouble and put a stop to it.

Your players play pro-active characters. Be it by acting on orders from another, or one of the players coming to the table with a plan, a Superversive Space Opera relies on the characters being the ones driving the game and that means acting according during play. This is not a place for passive or reactive people; that’s for other media.

Your game has a solid moral core to it. Just like playing Pendragon Superversive Space Opera requires that the players engage with a solid moral foundation. This is best made explicit to the players at the beginning (again, like Pendragon) so you can have everyone on the same page and not waste time doing that after you’re underway.

Do that, and you’re golden. Now you see why I recommended having those Lensman books handy. These elements are not only present, but front-and-center where they can’t be ignored, which is what you want when you’re looking for a model to adapt to your game at your table. There’s plenty of others out there, so pick what you want to use and commit to it. The fun you have will depend on the work you put in, so have at it.

The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: Why Is It So Rare?

There aren’t many tabletop RPGs, or supplements thereof, that are clearly or explicitly Superversive. However, many such games (and the official settings sold so eagerly for them) contain that potential. The publishers explicitly sell their games, and those settings, with a slant of “Be the good guys against the bad guys!” Yet it is increasingly rare for actual Superversive play to occur, something that’s been a known issue in gaming forums and sites for over 20 years.

Well, there IS an explanation. Dragon Award winner Brian Niemeier made a post his blog today regarding this sort of discussion as it applies to the Big Two of the American comics world, D.C. and Marvel. As those two big giants routinely miss the point, so do their fellow travelers in the tabletop gaming world. As I know first-hand that SJWs in comics, gaming, film, television, and SF/F publishing all network via the convention scene it’s not hard at all to see how this moral malaise spread to all of these cultural subsectors.

(Brian’s post contains the over-arching conversational thread, and I encourage you to read it before you come back here, because I’m explicitly building upon that thread as it relates to Superversive RPGs.)

There are two key observations to be had here. The first is by Jeffro Johnson (said here):

If you want people to employ traditional virtues in service of civilization, they first have to be able to imagine them. Heroism and romance were suppressed specifically to make it easier to destroy a people. The poindexters hold loyalty in contempt and sneer at sacrifice. They think goodness is for chumps. And they have held the reigns of culture for decades.

By the time that Dungeons & Dragons exploded into the mainstream around 1980 (there’s that timestamp again), this degree of cultural subversion had already occurred. If not for the brief turnaround in the zeitgeist by films like the original Star Wars through to the mid-’80s (e.g. Flash Gordon, Krull, Raiders of the Lost Ark) the degeneracy would have concluded well before the turn of the century. Instead, one last generation had the opportunity to have the Superversive shown to them in their early years.

In short, without examples of the Superversive to fire our imaginations, many of us will never even think to play that out in our fantasy adventures when we play tabletop RPGs no matter how well either the rules or the settling allow for it– and that, right there, is a major factor for why explicitly Superversive tabletop RPGs such as Pendragon remain niche games in a niche hobby.

Following that aforementioned thread, this observer nailed why the very publishers that comprise the thought-leaders in tabletop RPGs constantly undermine the Superversive potential of their own creations:

But they can’t imagine that. Reason number two is because of their self-imposed lifting of hypocrisy as the “ultimate” sin. It is better to not have a code at all than to have one and fail to live up to it. This is reflected in the method by which they try and tear down icons – hell, they even said it in Spider-Man 1 (Toby MacGuire), “the thing people like best is to see a hero fall.” (Paraphrased). They cannot fathom that the (a) the purpose of a code, even an unreachable one, is to set a goal for all people to strive to achieve, and (b) that you can’t live up to it all the time is because we are flawed, fallen, and human. However, (c) that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying.

I’ve seen this first-hand. They can’t conceive of it at all. The non-stop mockery of virtue, of the pursuit of a moral or ethical standard, and the misunderstanding (often willfully so) of what “hypocrisy” means all contribute to this subversion of the ostensible claim to “heroic adventure” (which they also misunderstand).

You see this in the long-form when the rules for games in strongly moral settings, such as Star Wars, keep getting watered down to allow for that demoralization to feed upon itself at the table. You see this in the creep of their Pink Slime amorality into their rules and settings, and the pushing of clearly subversive messages (i.e. yet more virtue-signalling) into every part of their business output- product and service alike.

While there are some people left in tabletop gaming who haven’t been fully converged, most long ago bent the knee and drank the demon’s blood- they are part of the cult, and they hate you. This is why the Superversive is rare in tabletop RPGs: they hate it. Don’t give them your money, or your children.

Just as readers closed their wallets and walked away from The Big Two in comics, and do so to the Big 5 in SF/F, this is necessary in tabletop gaming. Close the wallets, and walk away from Omelas- it’s YOUR child they forsake.

(And yes, this is much the case for videogames as well.)

The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: GURPS Lensman

There was a time when Steve Jackson Games made a lot of supplements for the GURPS line that served to adapt influential or popular SF/F books into something viable for use as a tabletop RPG setting. While the choices were necessarily constrained by both internal budgets and licensor friendliness, we got a few gems here and there- and none coruscate more brilliantly than Gurps Lensman.

For people who were not around when the Lensman series was in its heyday, or missed the reprints, you would not believe how far into the Memory Hole this series went until recently. When this book got published in 1994, there was at least one whole generation (if not two) that never heard of these books or knew of what great influence they had on SF in books, comics, film, and television world-wide. I was one of that many, and I could not find a copy of any of them in any local store for love or money. This was a close as I got.

And with this supplement, I had everything I need to fully engage with a Lensman’s perspective- to see it all the way someone granted the power of the Lens (and the duties that come with it) does, to do all that they do, and to risk all that they risk in defense of something figurative and literally bigger than themselves. This isn’t just partaking in the things that build, sustain, and invigorate a culture into a civilization; this is being one of the very pillars of Civilization, a load-bearing pillar upon which the fates of billions–even trillions–rests. Far beyond being a Knight in King Arthur’s court, this is what being a Jedi should be (but isn’t).

Despite the issues that every GURPS edition has with high-powered milieu, this supplement does do the setting justice. Sure, you can play something other than a Lensman, but that’s not why you have this supplement: you’re there for being Civilization’s greatest agent, advocate, and champion. It’s no different than not playing a Knight in Pendragon. Even if you don’t care for GURPS, what’s here will be transferable to the ruleset of your choice; the technology notes are often in real-world (Imperial) units or otherwise giving real-world referents so you can easily make this work for you at your table.

If the Amazon link above doesn’t have what you’re willing to pay, go try directly from Steve Jackson Games; they may have it in PDF at a price you’re willing to accept. Either way, if you’re into tabletop RPGs and seek out ways to play Superversive games, you’re a zwilnik to not have GURPS Lensman in your library.

The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: King Arthur’s Pendragon

While we talk often of finding the Superversive in books, comics, film, and television it’s no less important to find it in gaming. One of the first tabletop RPGs that explicitly explored the Superversive perspective is Pendragon, where the point of the game is to play out King Arthur’s England from the beginning of the myth to its tragic end.

The reason I mark this out as Superversive is that everything about the game emphasizes the fundamental elements upon which Western Civilization rest, especially if you choose to do the default and play a Christian Knight. The game, as a primary mark of distinction, has mechanics by which your character (assumed to be a Knight, and few other options are ever offered, depending upon edition) will act upon the personality traits that mark him as a faithful Christian, a heroic Knight, and so on (or not). Adherence to the norms of the era are rewarded, and the modernist approach will just end badly.

This is why I’m bringing the game to your attention: tabletop RPGs are very good at getting players to see things from a perspective other than one’s own, provided that the Game Master (if not the game) requires them to do so- and this game does. You have to live with the consequences There is no easy healing here, and injuries matter accordingly, so courage has real weight when pressed by the villain of an adventure. How your Knight lives carries forth even after his death, as you then move to play his Squire or his son, with inheritances adjusted accordingly; the sins of the father do weigh upon the son. This reliably affects a player’s attitude towards the game.

As this game builds upon the great mound of myth and literature regarding the Matter of Britain, it is not wise to mistake this as just a Dungeons & Dragons derivative. Its design explicitly encourages players to engage with the Superversive position, either in support or not, and therefore makes it easier to comprehend the idea thereafter if you make use of that opportunity (and there are plenty of them to be had).

While never as popular as the aforementioned king of tabletop RPGs, it’s enjoyed a loyal following all this time much like another literature-derived game: Call of Cthulhu, and if you are all interested in satisfying the demand for the Superversive in gaming then studying this classic will serve you well. (It’s also a fun time in its own right, because who doesn’t want to be a literal Knight in Shining Armor?)

Superversive Music: Eye of the Storm

Link

One of the more interesting bands out there, The Cruxshadows is part Goth, and part Catholic. One might go so far as to say that they are Superversive by nature. Take for example, their song, “Eye of the Storm.” Honestly, look at the lyrics (below the video) and tell me that some verses don’t look like articles from the website.

Images from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core.

The trials you now are facing,
They are not greater than your will,
For there is nothing under Heaven,
You cannot overcome.
See the door that lies before you,
And know – this too shall pass.
The confrontation of your fears,
In strength drawn from the past.

Where the silent voices whisper,
‘Find the course that is your own,
And however great the obstacle,
You will never be alone. ‘
For I have watched the path of Angels,
And I have heard the Heavens roar.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm.

In fragments of an instant,
The chaos has returned,
And all that was left to sentiment,
Beneath the banner burned.
And as that voice was slow receded,
Into echoes, memory,
My doubts were re-ignited,
And fear awakened from it’s sleep.

I believe in what I fight for,
And I have paid for it with pain.
I am here because my contributions,
May help turn this fate away.
And all who stood by and did nothing,
Who are they to criticize?
The sacrifices of others-
Our blood has bought their lives…

This is the moment of truth,
At the point of no return.
Place faith in your convictions,
As boundaries start to blur.

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord.
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm…

The pages of our history,
Are written by the hand,
With eyes and ears and prejudice,
Too far removed to understand.
And so the heroes of the ages
Are stripped of honesty and love.
To make them seem less noble,
And hide what we can become.

This is the moment of truth,
At the point of no return.
Place faith in your convictions,
As the boundaries start to blur.

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn
There is strife within the tempest,
And there is calm in the eye of the storm…

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn
There is strife within the tempest,
And calm in the eye of the storm…

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord.
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn.
There is strife within the tempest,
And there is calm in the eye of the storm…

If you find the courage within you,
To face the path ahead,
It matters not the outcome,
If what you will gain instead,
Is a heart deepened in the knowing,
That experience carves the soul,
And the very thing that empties you,
Shall surely make you whole.

Where the silent voices whisper,
‘Find the course that is your own,
And however great the obstacle,
You will never be alone. ‘
For I have watched the path of Angels,
And I have heard the Heavens roar.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm.

 

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Pokemon, Go!

poka - pokemon_go_logo

At Boy Scout camp, we had no reception. To use the Internet, we had to go to a narrow span of space inside the staff lounge and stand on one foot while leaning to the north, which was the only place the WIFI worked. I did this once a day to check my email, and, occasionally, I looked at a newsfeed to see if the outer world was still there. It was here, while balanced precariously in a northerly direction, that I saw the headline:

Pokemon Go More Popular Than Porn.

This was my introduction to Pokemon Go.

At first, I confused this with Pokemon Sun and Moon, the new DS game my kids have been waiting for. It took a little while before I realized that this was, actually, something new. Very new.

This was like nothing that had ever been done before.

poka-ash

Ash Ketchum gets off to a rocky start

but almost two decades later, he’s still going strong!

A bit of history:

My first encounter with Pokemon was, well, probably before you heard of  it.

Back in the late 90s, I wrote for a briefly-existent magazine called Animefantastique. It was put out by the folks that publish Cimemafantastique magazine. They wanted to cover anime for the American audience, but maybe they started too soon, as it was not yet as big as it would be a few years later. So the magazine did not last long. My last article for them did not even get published.

My last article was on this new-fangled thing called Pokemon.

Poka - pika

A scene from the very episode my sister-in-law translated for me

So early in the Pokemon phenomena was this that, in order to review the TV show, I had to get my Japanese sister-in-law to translate an episode. It had not yet been released in English. This was before the release of the first movie, which came out in 1999, I believe.

Poka - Pokemon_the_First_Movie

This movie introduced Mewtwo.

Mew is cuter.

As part of my article, I interviewed the head of 4Kids Entertainment, the company that was bringing Pokemon to American. In the conversation, I asked him if he thought that Pokemon might make a big splash and be popular for a year or two. He told me that a year or two was nothing. Shows like Power Rangers and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles had maintained their popularity for four or five years. 4Kids had high hopes.

Turns out, they were right! More right than any of us could have foreseen!

(Including them. Apparently, in 2005, 4Kids did not renew their contract to be the American distributor of Pokemon. Maybe they thought the fad was over. Poor guys.)

Then, when my eldest son was three, his godfather lent him 72 episodes of Pokemon. Almost the first two seasons, I think.

It was love at first view!

poka friends

Love at first sight–unlike Ash and Pikachu,

who did not get along at first.

I remember the day I heard pitiful wailing coming from downstairs. I ran down. My three-year-old was in tears. Rushing to his side, I could find no injury. Eventually, the mainly-pre-lingual boy (he learned to talk quite late) was able to communicate to me:

Butterfree had gone away.

Poka caterpie

Caterpie!  

Ash’s first catch.

In the TV show Pokemon, ten-year-old Ash Ketchum’s first Pokemon catch, after he and Pikachu set out on their Poka-journey, was a Caterpie. Caterpie evolved into Metapod, who has the ultimate technique of harden, as in hardening its cocoon-like outer shell.

poka-metapod

“Harden, Metapod! Harden!”

Metapod then evolved into Butterfree, a cool butterfly pokamon who could do actually effective attacks, like put people to sleep. Eventually, however, the day came when Butterfree was mature enough that it was its time to go off with a flock of other Butterfrees, to do whatever Butterfrees do that lead to little Caterpies.

So Ash had to let his very first catch go.

poka - butterfree

And my three-year-old son cried.

It was the first time he had ever been upset by something that was not a concrete problem. I was impressed that he was able to comprehend the sadness of the scene enough to be upset by it. It showed he was growing up.

What followed was a childhood steeped in Pokemon.

poka riolu

According to some…this is the best Pokemon of all

My sons watched the show. They hummed the song. They played the card game.   (I won’t even tell you how much I spent on cards one summer. Or about the time that the neighbor’s kid tricked my four year old out of the most expensive card we owned. I stormed right over there and got it back.) They played with toys (many of which they inherited from their cousins, so they were straight from Japan.)

Poka toys

Not our house…but it could be.

Eventually, they even played the video game.

orvillesbirthday 313

Iced poka ice cream cake.

We even had Pokemon birthday parties. In the Pokemon TV world, kids leave on their poka-journeys at ten. So both of the talking boys got a Pokemon party for their tenth birthday. I planned Orville’s for a whole year, buying cute plushy pokamon dolls, so that every kid got to unwrap one from pokaball colored paper and take it home. I even made a pokaball ice cream cake.

orvillesbirthday 135

Holding a pokaball — maybe not my best picture.

By Juss’s tenth birthday, I had even found plastic clear and red spheres, that looked like pokaballs to put the plushies into. We went out hiking through the local forests, pretending to spot pokemon, and running off to catch them.

You could say that we played Pokemon Go before it was cool

orvillesbirthday 209

Catching Pokemon before it was cool.

Note the riolu in hand.

They lived and breathed Pokemon.

It changed our life.

Orville even invented his own world (Eddaria) with his own version of Pokemon (W-Beasts, short for War Beasts), which he still works on, even today.

Orville 9th birthday

Young magician and his assistant, Turtwig

So, when I read that they had come up with a way to make it so that kids could go outside and catch Pokemon on their own, by combining a video game with GPS geocaching, I thought:

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Then, the stories started pouring in.

First the horror stories: Two people walked off a cliff and were badly injured trying to catch a Pokemon. Someone got pulled over by the cops for speeding—trying to catch the Pokemon you could only catch at 88 miles per hour. People walking into traffic without paying attention.

But then came the good stories.

People getting out of the house. People going to seminaries and churches. One seminary had a Pokemon Go event and reported six conversions.

Bestselling author John Ringo wrote a very touching piece about the way that getting out and hunting Pokemon changed his health and his life.

There are even dog shelters that that will let your walk their dogs while you play (so you don’t look too stupid out there on your own. Helps the dogs, too.)

But the people who are the happiest are young men, a bit like my sons, who grew up with Pokemon, watching it, playing the card game or the video game—watching someone else journeying around to capture pokamon.

And now, they can do it themselves.

The joy on the faces of young men in their twenties who I have spoken to about this game…I’ve almost never seen anything like it.

And to hear modern young geeks talking about the hours spent hiking or the distant they have biked.

poka exercise

Exercising geeks. Almost a miracle, in and of itself.

The first thing my kids discussed when they heard about the game was how long you could keep it interesting. Pokemon Go has about 150 pokamon, but currently there are something like 721 pokemon in the game/TV background.

That promises a lot of later releases.

“And then they could introduce breeding,” said my younger son, who has spent serious amounts of time trying to breed Pokemon on his DS to get just the one he wanted.

Being able to both walk out and catch pokamon…and get new varieties by breeding the ones you catch with people you meet on the street…that has potential.

And then, there is Team Rocket. Who would not want virtual spies stealign their hard-won Pokemon. Not to mention that Giovanni could easily use Pokemon Go to carry out his plan of world domination!

poka - israeli

Pokamon are everywhere. The president of Isreal had to call for security when this member of Team Rocket showed up in his office.

Giovanni even cries out “Go! Go!” in his theme song. Clearly he forsaw Pokemon Go over a decade ago!

Giovanni

Giovanni of Team Rocket.  

His theme song is one of my favorite songs. Cool lyrics:

“I was born to rule the world.

“There’ll be world domination, complete obliteration

“of all who now defy me!

“It will all be mine, power so divine

I will tell the sun to shine

On only me!”

Oddly, my kids are not interested in Pokemon Go. Probably because they don’t have smart phones. But I suspect it is just a matter of time. Sooner or later, someone in the house will get a hold of the game, and a new chapter of Pokmeon adventures will enter our lives.

f0b259392d0a6c2bcdec64afdfb036bd.jppokag

Gotta Catch Them All!

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Tombs and Terrors Online Game to Win Free Books!

A unique online event is going to be held this Friday, an old-school dnd dungeon crawl with genuine ebooks and paperbacks as the random treasures. Among the treasures will be two ebook copies of Beyond the Mist, two of Nobility Among Us, and two of Selected Verse – Heroes and Wonders (If it’s not on sale by the time the game starts, these will be eARC’s of that collection). The event is sponsored by Nick Cole’s excellent Cyberpunk Novel Ctrl-Alt-Revolt!, so there will be in-game bonuses for people who have bought and/or reviewed that book. Don’t ask me how the game will work, I’m not running it, just contributing to the pot of prizes together with a lot of fine writers, and that pot is still growing. Take a look for yourself over here:

http://www.oldschooldnd.com/tombs-and-terrors/Tomb-of-Terros-Wide