Red in Beak and Claw

So, that IndieGoGo campaign is still running. Well, crawling, more like. Anyway, still ongoing. Red in Beak and Claw, the “Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds” adventure, will be released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess if it meets the $6,000 funding goal. At this point, I thought it might be useful to reflect on how the hell does one utilize The Birds in the context of a fantasy adventure role-playing game. The film is not noted for its dashing feats of derring-do and epic heroism. It’s not, in a word, D&D. It’s a bit more LotFP, but still not there.

Indeed, I’ve never even seen an adventure based on The Birds for any game, which strikes me as odd since it’s such a well-known film and reimagining movies and novels as RPG adventures is a time-honoured tradition of the hobby. I own something like three or four takes on Heart of Darkness alone and my Living Greyhawk adventure Bright Sun, Black Lion owes a heavy debt to Smokin’ Aces.

Incidentally, Wuthering Heights would make a totally awesome game. (Anyone ever tells you it’s a love story, don’t date them. It’s not. So very, very much not.)

Anyway, the thing about The Birds is that the main characters in it are victims. They don’t have a whole lot of agency in the story regarding the bird attacks. They can run, they can hide, and they can escape. It makes for classic cinema and it can also make for a very good roleplaying session. However, that roleplaying game is Call of Cthulhu. In D&D fantasy, even one as horror-oriented as Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the PCs need something to do beyond survival. That’s what they’re trying to do anyway, all the time. Besides, problem-solving and doing stupid things like running towards the blood-curdling scream are core assumptions of the game. So, the PCs need something to do beyond running away.

Not that they won’t be doing a lot of that, too. At least the smart ones. Fighting a flock of a thousand murderous seagulls is a losing proposition. Granted, if you do wear a suit of full plate armour, you’ll be more or less invulnerable but even then you can’t actually fight and win. It’s perhaps better to visualize the bird attacks as a sort of natural disaster rather than an enemy in this respect. However, unlike a natural disaster, in Red in Beak and Claw, the player characters do have the chance of stopping it.

Before the characters can stop it, though, they must first figure out what is happening, why it is happening, and how it can be stopped. There are clues in the village of Graypiers, and a quick, smart and capable party of adventurers can figure it out before it’s too late. There are people who know parts of the story and if someone were to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, the whole ugly picture would be clear. I hope the picture will be interesting enough. I am deliberately steering away from the whole “secret sins of the village elders” thing here. As a bonus, a wizard did not do it!

Of course, this requires the people in the know to be alive to tell the party, and even if the characters themselves are bold adventurers decked out in full plate, impervious to the beaks of anything smaller than a roc, the rest of the villagers won’t be. The clock is ticking, the schedule is tight, and people are dying.

Next week, I will describe the system used to adjudicate the bird attacks as well as the village of Graypiers, which may be a deeply strange place but hopefully, one worth saving.

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Review: The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo of Enlightenment +2

So. There’s a novella called The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo of Enlightenment +2, written by Carlton Mellick III and published by Eraserhead Press. I borrowed it from James Raggi. This is important to note. I did not pay money for this. This was not, you understand, due to any kind of misapprehension that it might be actually good, but because of my curiosity about a gaming novel that’s not a campaign setting tie-in and I thought it might be funny. I suppose I should have a disclaimer here about how the following post may offend some people, but if you didn’t get that from the title already, I’m not sure I can help you.

I am told that the novel’s genre is called “bizarro fiction”, which, as far as I can tell, is a Robert Rankin-esque ploy to get a section of the bookstore all to themselves. Since a reviewer should be aware of the cultural context of a work, I looked it up on Wikipedia. The article reads like an ad for Eraserhead Press, but the relevant bit is that bizarro fiction “strives not only to be strange, but fascinating, thought-provoking, and, above all, fun to read.”

Well.

The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo of Enlightenment +2 is the story of a pair of hapless adventurers, the halfling fighter Polo and the elf cleric/fighter/ranger/wizard Delvok, who come to realize they are player characters in a roleplaying game. Moreover, their players are morons and their DM acts out his juvenile sexual fantasies (mostly having to do with large-breasted nymphomaniac elves) in the game. The way they come to realize this is by being raped with the eponymous dildo.

For what it’s worth, the author basically apologizes for the stupidity of the book in the preface. The book is wholly aware of how stupid it is.

Now, stupid and immature don’t automatically mean bad, right? South Park is funny. Oglaf is hilarious. A capable writer can work wonders with material like this, and the idea of PCs gaining awareness of living in a game is interesting.

Carlton Mellick III, I’m afraid, is not that writer. It’s not funny. It’s just dicks and tits and rape over and over again, badly-written porn interspersed with badly-drawn porn. The result neither titillates nor amuses.

The main problem is the artlessness of the prose. Combat scenes read like a dishwasher manual. A comic writer’s toolbox contains things like similes, euphemisms, zeugmas and hyperbole. Mellick’s can be barely said to contain vocabulary, let alone a punchline. There is no wit. Here’s an excerpt to illustrate, when they cast detect invisibility:

She reads the incantation on the scroll and the spell goes into effect. Slowly, seven figures come into view as their invisibility becomes detected. We point our weapons at them, prepared for battle.

When the figures become clear, we fall back. The figures are seven elderly men. All of them are masturbating furiously, staring at Loxi’s nude breasts.

“What the fuck?” Loxi says.

The men don’t realize we can see them. They just continue masturbating and licking their lips.

“Have these guys been following us around this whole time?” Juzii asks. “Watching us while invisible?”

“They saw when we had sex?” I ask, meaning when I had sex with Loxi and Juzii, not with Itaa.

That is how the entire book is written. There’s an idea of a joke that is then presented in this matter-of-fact, simple style that evokes a 12-year-old’s school essay for third-year English as a Second Language. It could be done on purpose, of course, to reflect that Polo isn’t very clever and neither are the gamers governing his world, but then, what’s the point? What would be the purpose of writing a pastiche of a bad D&D fanfic? The nostalgia explanation does not fly since even the players do not seem to be having much fun. (And for what it’s worth, I find the depiction of D&D at the age of 14 quite foreign, apart from this one girl whose characters were a succession of Sharessan clerics.) You could go all Brecht and claim deliberate Verfremdungseffekt, except that while the I was very effectively distanced from the work, it serves no purpose. There’s nothing there.

The game being played is a pathetic and distasteful affair, but its depiction, in serving no purpose other than to depict it, fails to distance itself and becomes an equally pathetic and distasteful affair. It is a work of banal drivel that seems to think sex and rape and bodily functions are a functional substitute for humour and does not even get inventive in its perversion. Seriously, with over three decades of D&D at his disposal, some of it rather suspect to begin with, the most creative the author gets is a crossdressing gnoll. Had John Wilmot and Marquis de Sade lived to read The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo of Enlightenment +2, they would have died of embarrassment. Having unimaginative and mediocre narrators is no excuse for having an unimaginative and mediocre narrative.

In summary, The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo of Enlightenment +2 wastes its own potential. The jokes fall flat, the prose is dead, and the most bizarre thing about the work is its lack of imagination. Its few good ideas are suffocated by the inanity of the whole. The writing of this review has entertained me far more than reading the book itself, which is a mistake I recommend nobody else repeat.

Red in Beak and Claw at the LotFP Grand Adventure Campaign!

It has begun! Possibly the craziest thing I’ve seen James do yet (and I’ve known him for some years), the July Grand Adventure Campaign gathers together 19 adventure writers from diverse backgrounds to write modules for Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing. I am one of them, and if the $6,000 funding goal is met, my adventure Red in Beak and Claw shall be unleashed upon the world, and with art by Jason Rainville!

Red in Beak and Claw, as you can probably figure out from the blurb, is informed by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. I, for one, have never seen an adventure module inspired by the film, but in case someone’s already done it, I’ll have to do it better. There may also be some Children of the Corn in there somewhere.

The campaign itself is megalomaniacal in its scale. There is a terrible beauty to the sheer size and variety of its contributors. There are indie game designers, a Nordic larpwright, a rock star, bloggers, OSR writers, veterans of D&Ds classic and modern alike. It is a testament to the lightness and flexibility of oldDungeons & Dragons that game designers from such diverse backgrounds can pick up the ruleset with little prior experience and feel comfortable working with it.

Apart from me, there are three other Finns in the lineup: first of all, there’s Ville Vuorela of Burger Games, for whom I translated Stalker. The art for The Dreaming Plague will incidentally be done by Juha Makkonen, I who I worked with on Roolipelikirja. Then there’s Mike Pohjola, Emmy Award -winning author, larpwright, game designer and I can’t even remember what else, with his adventure I Hate Myself for What I Must Do. This is also the man who wrote a roleplaying game using fortune cookies instead of dice, and I advise you to expect the unexpected. Last but not least, there’s Juhani Seppälä, of the blog Blowing Smoke, with his module Normal for Norfolk, that started out as a campaign he ran for James that James has been pestering him to write up ever since.

This is also my chance to get that Richard Pett adventure I was so cruelly denied last time around. Get to it, people. Just… fund me first, okay? At the moment, to my great perturbation, I seem to be in the lead, too…