Saturday, June 30, 2018

Playing The Game Wrong: Inspiration

Continuing in the vein of bitching about D&D because it's been on my mind a lot lately, recently I found out about the FERAL rpg. This one's in development, but it looks really cool for what's there in the playtest. From what I've been told it's basically a mashup of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ttrpg from the 80s (now known as After The Bomb because licensing is a beyotch) and D&D 5e.

You can probably see where this is going.

So in an effort to understand FERAL I had to, out of necessity, get ahold of the 5e Player's Guide, which I did. The things I put up with, I tell ya. I figure the best way to understand character creation so I can explain it to other people is to go ahead and make a bunch of characters. This I did, and I found out some incredibly head-scratchy and disturbing things about the design of 5e that, coming as I am off of about a year of OSR and B/X high, made me very confused. And given that this blog is my place to bitch about things that annoy me, that's what I'm gonna do!

The first of these things that viscerally repelled me on a spiritual level, like a Catholic watching a streetwalker do unspeakable things with a Eucharist wafer, was this little thing called Inspiration. What is Inspiration, you ask? Well, I'm glad you did because now I get to show you this abomination from the 5e guide so you can feel my pain right along with me because misery loves company.

Now I shouldn't have to explain why this is bad and wrong but I'm gonna anyway. This must be something they took from 4e or created specifically for 5e or dredged up from the pits of girl D&D hell specifically to torment people like me who are used to rolling with the punches in our tabletop games. As I explained in my last post the dice in a tabletop game that uses them (diceless systems exist, they're just not all that common in my experience), the dice are meant to represent and embody the "luck" component of any encounter.

For example, B/X D&D has three major mechanics governing encounters which are The Alignment System, The Monster Reaction Table, and the Retainer Reaction Table. If you wish to truly give yourself up to the whim of the Gods of Random Chance as Gygax intended, you let the dice do the talking at the tabletop. You choose your Alignment in character creation or roll a d3 (there's only Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic, and none of those are inherently evil or good), and that's supposed to govern how your character reacts to stimuli in the world.

So a Chaotic character might stick with the party for a while, but if an encounter goes badly they might just run off out the back with as much loot as they can carry while the rest of the group dies horribly to unknowingly facilitate them saving their own skin. 

The monster reaction table is meant to decide how monsters in the dungeon react to the players showing up and wrecking face. It ranges from "Instant Attack" to "Enthusiastic Friendship", and is rolled on a 2d6. There's more chance the monsters will actually talk to the characters to find out what they're doing down here, because almost everything except for dumb animals in the dungeons are chaotic and they'll betray their masters in a heartbeat for a shiny new dime and a glass of soda.

If the dice are on your side, that is. 

The retainer reaction table is much like the monster reaction table, only it's meant to govern how well or badly hirelings take to your offer of shinies and dangerous adventure. It's also a 2d6, and ranges from "Offer refused and every other potential retainer is adjusted by -1" to "Offer accepted and they get +1 to morale". Once again, letting the dice decide things like this is a big part of the fun of the game, because thanks to the luck and chance components you never really know what's gonna happen.

So the reason I explained all that crap to you is this: You're supposed to rely on the dice. They are your guides through the valley of the shadow of death, your saviors in time of trouble. They're also the sadistic little bastards that just let you get eaten by a wolf even though you're wearing full plate armor. Even when my misguided self was playing 3.5 back in high school (don't be too harsh, it was the only ttrpg I knew existed and quite literally the only game in town), half the fun of the game was rolling those knucklebones and seeing what came up. 

This applies even more when we're talking about the things that this 5e mechanic of Inspiration governs: Attacks, Saving Throws, and Ability Checks. These are the meat and potatoes of a D&D campaign, it's what you'll probably spend the most time rolling over, and as I said half the fun is seeing what happens when you roll those dice and dealing with the consequences, good or bad.

For those unfamiliar, attacks are pretty self explanatory, but saving throws are when something really bad happens to you and you need to see if it affected you or not. This can be getting hit by poison, a spell, a magic wand, or even dragon's breath. You have a chance to roll to escape it, and getting to re-roll that is just playing like a sissy.

There's no other way to put it. This is straight bitch-made, right here. 

In the older versions of the game you dealt with what the dice gave you. Like I said in my last post, character death is supposed to be a thing, and while you have a chance to survive this stuff, you have a chance to not survive it as well. The tension and suspense of rolling the dice and seeing what happens is a fundamental part of the game. 

Ability checks are less deadly (usually) but still pretty important. Less so in B/X unless you're a thief, but any character can try to do a thing and roll to see if they're successful. Trying to climb a wall, jump a cavern, do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight, all of them can be tied to an ability the character has and can be checked against a roll on a d20 (or various other dice, depending). 

The way Inspiration seems to work from that small explanation (the only one in the rulebook, by the by, but maybe the DMG has other info on it, I haven't cracked that tome of horrors yet), is basically if the player is a good role-player, or comes up with a clever solution to a problem, or does a good in a fight, they gain a point of inspiration to be used to re-roll a dice throw that came up in the negative for them. This is, primarily it seems, meant to encourage the narrative play that people like Pundy, Bradford, and myself have been shouting into the desert about lately.

And I took a bit of heat from Misha Burnett over that last post because I am contending that there is a right and wrong way to play D&D, so I should say this right here: Having a narrative in your D&D game is not an inherently bad thing. There's a narrative in The Temple of Elemental Evil, for god's sake (the module I'm currently running). Granted, it's mostly about getting into the Temple and cracking The Skulls of Elemental Evil, but there are extensive parts of that module dealing with Hommlet and Nulb and the various people in them. Every named NPC has a backstory, and can be called upon to influence the game in various ways to the aid or detriment of the players. 

So I'm not saying having narrative is bad, and I'm not saying role-playing is bad. Could've fooled you, right? What I'm saying is that letting those take over the game to the exclusion of all else is bad and Not Fun™. Trust me, I've been there. I actually prefer a little role-playing in my games. It leads to interesting and fun moments that get laughs and groans from everybody at the table and adds to the overall fun of the game. What's bad is letting the role-play and the Way The DM Thinks The Story Is Supposed To Go™ take over.

I should also mention there are plenty of narrative games out there I have no issue with. They're purely meant to facilitate role-playing, and good for them. No, serious as a heart attack, good for them. Different strokes for different folks, I'm a libertarian at heart, and I'm not going to show up at your table and tell you to your face that you're playing the game wrong. If I'm a player I'll probably just quietly see myself out, if I'm not involved well then I'm just glad you're having a good time because it doesn't effect me at all how you play your D&D sessions.

However I am entitled to my opinion, and my opinion is that there is a right and wrong way to play the game, and inspiration is most definitely wrong. If you missed your roll trying to attack the Big Bad Evil Guy, sack up and deal with it and pray to the Dice Gods for a more favorable roll next time. Likewise for saving throws and ability checks. Failure is part of the game, and indeed without it the fun, in my opinion, doesn't exist. 

Don't get me wrong, I like to get absolutely fucking shitfaced hammered and play a first-person shooter on easy mode and just godhand every single measly motherfucker with the bad luck to be in my crosshairs just like any red blooded American. But unless I'm so drunk I literally can't see straight, there's no challenge in that, and the challenge is where the fun of games like FPS's and ttrpg's lies. That knowledge that the next encounter could be the last is what makes the game exciting and memorable. 

The narrative-above-all-else style of gaming that mechanics like Inspiration encourage is just an inferior style of game. If that's your thing, then go for it and good luck, but you're essentially cheating the dice just like if you loaded them. You're stacking the odds in your favor so that fewer bad things have the chance to happen to you.

That last part is in italics for a reason. It's not that those bad things will absolutely happen if you don't use an Inspiration-style mechanic in your game, it's that they have a chance of happening, just like you have a chance to fudge that second roll. But what a mechanic like Inspiration does is effectively put the player characters one or two steps closer to being invincible, and as One Punch Man has shown us, winning every encounter with little to no challenge is just plain boring.

What a mechanic like Inspiration says to me is that the players are too sissified to be able to deal with the consequences of their own dice rolls without getting to shout, "Do over!" like a child on the playground who missed the pitch in a stickball game. It's a fundamental disrespect to the people who are playing the game, along with the DM. Kids in the 80's loved and reveled in games like B/X where you dealt with your dice rolls like a man and came back swinging next round. Kids in the 2000's dealt with it too, although 3.5 was already sliding down the winding slope that led to this game basically spitting in your face like this. 

A friend of mine on twitter (I believe it was J.D. Alden, but I apologize if I'm misremembering) also foresaw that this could start actual no-shit fights at the tabletop and ruin gaming sessions. Now I don't know how true that is, I've never heard stories about that happening, but I could see it happening. Some player who's really up in themselves about the role-playing thinks they're entitled to a point of inspiration because they're playing a chaotic evil tiefling and they just act like an absolute cock to everyone. But, like I said, I've never heard of this happening, I just admit that it's a possibility.

But anyway, I think I've come to why this is bothering me enough to write this long-ass screed about it. This is insulting to everyone who picks this book up expecting a good game. They're effectively saying that you can't handle what children four+ decades ago could. I, for one, don't put up with that kind of crap from anybody, let alone a WOTC drone who insults potential customers on social media. 

So really the choice comes down to this: Are you going to play a game that spits in your face and treats you like an infant, while at the same time playing the game wrong considering what type of game it actually is?

Or are you going to see the light and come over to the Proper Way To Play™?

If you enjoyed this post, you can find more like it on my website or my steemit page. I also have free action and adventure short fiction available from my Original Fiction page, as well as in the anthology Darkest of Dreams from DimensionBucket Media. Feel free to check out my weekly podcast too, as well as audiobooks I've produced, and if you feel so inclined you can throw me a tip at Ko-fi.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

D&D Is Not Final Fantasy: Let Characters Die

Final Fantasy IX, otherwise known as The Best One™

So Pundy (or The RPGPundit, as he's commonly known) has a new video about player backstories, and I gotta say I agree with him wholeheartedly. Hat tip to Bradford C. Walker for posting it on his blog and then further posting that to twitter so I could see it while I was making my coffee today. Go subscribe to both of these gentlemen and pop their blogs into your rss feed. 

Now I'm not going to belabor the points made by Bradford & Pundy, but I am going to add onto them here. There's something that's implicit in all this talk of player backstories and why they're bullshit that's being left unsaid, I think. And I dunno if those two just overlooked it or if they were purposefully leaving it unsaid, but as we all know I'm a little thick and sometimes I need to spell things out for myself. Maybe someone else will get the benefit of my anti-wisdom. 

Anyway. The real reason your players don't need backstories are because they should be allowed to die. None of the other stuff really matters as long as the players and the DM understand that:

A: This is a game and
B: Player character death is apart of it

So far as I'm concerned after that understanding has been reached the players can do whatever the blue fuck they want with their characters, because they're their characters not mine. Give that guy a backstory if you want, I'll even make minor concessions in the game world over it. Like in my current game (Temple of Elemental Evil run through B/X rules) one of my players is a cleric, and he went and did a ton of research about the Temple of Saint Cuthbert, made up a whole other branch, and decided that his character was a part of it and their job was to kick evil square in the dick.

And I don't mind that. It's actually been kind of funny. But the main thing is that he has the understanding that, unless he plays smart (which he does), every single time they go into the Temple could be the last time his character does anything. This is an understanding that every DM should have with all of their players.

Players like to do dumb shit occasionally. Sometimes that dumb shit comes with serious fucking consequences. The DM shouldn't be afraid to let the players suffer those consequences.

Because Bradford's right when he says:

the revealed pattern of behavior is that backstories are used to shoehorn narrative trope bullshit into what is not a medium of narrative storytelling, but rather a medium of liminal wargaming.

That's what D&D is. It's a wargame on a very small scale, meant to represent and put the players into a fictional world that reacts to their decisions via the avatars of the characters they play. D&D has its roots in wargaming, quite literally, & it's a lot more fun when that is kept in mind by the players and the DM. I can promise you that.

I've brought this up before but my last Pathfinder game before I started DM'ing myself was narrative bs. I put very little effort into my character's backstory. He was evil, a cleric, probably an orphan, and a tiefling because I was being an edgelord. I wanted to be able to just fuck with people as hard as I could and there's few better ways to do that than by actually playing a fucking monster. However, there was no risk to that game, and I got bored quick and stopped taking it seriously after about six or eight sessions. 

Every character had a backstory, we had entire sessions that were literally nothing but roleplay when I was looking to get into the dungeon, kick people in the balls, take they stuff, and get back out alive. The only "real" fight we had was all a dream so the DM could test how we would do (at level 8 or so) against the enemies he'd homebrewed, and we got fucking wiped. 

I think my guy might've survived because I banished one of the engines of death back to its native plane. That was the most fun session that entire game, and once I realized that I just couldn't go back to narrative bullshit anymore. I got a taste of a real fight, I watched my friends' characters die, and I almost ate it myself, and after feeling that tiny, diluted hit of what D&D was supposed to be, I just couldn't do "girl D&D" anymore. 

D&D is based in wargaming, and it shows in the language we use in the hobby itself. The reason a string of adventures is called a "campaign" is because it's based on the military campaigns that tabletop wargaming recreates. Much like the influence of Appendix N and the pulps, that's something they'll never scrub out of the hobby no matter how hard they try. Like H.P. Lovecraft's writing, its power is beyond their ability to deface. 

But what happens in a military campaign?

People fucking die. It's a necessary consequence of the very act of campaigning. When you have supposedly slightly extraordinary people (you're not peasants, but you're not great heroes of legend either) going into an incredibly dangerous situation almost literally every single day of their lives, the likelihood that something will kill them is increased exponentially. This is why dungeons are full of monsters, traps, evil humans, portals to other dimensions, and all kinds of other shit. The point of the dungeon is to kill the players, and the point of the players is to navigate it without dying. 

So what does Final Fantasy have to do with this?


In a video game like Final Fantasy, you have the One True Party™. These are a group of people whose stories the dev team has chosen to tell, like Cloud, Barrett, and Tifa in 7 or Zidane & Co. in 9. They have their ups and downs, and apart from a scripted loss here and there they literally beat the dogshit out of everybody they encounter. Oh, you can run into shit that's too heavy for you, but if your party gets wiped in the process it's game over and you have to go back to your last save point and click through all that dialogue again.

In D&D there is no One True Party™. The characters are expendable and can easily (or should be able to be easily) replaced. For example, another personal anecdote because I'm sure y'all aren't tired of those yet.

In the Temple of Elemental Evil our Dwarf who'd somehow survived like 16 sessions and had been there since the beginning (he was about lvl 5 or so) had acquired a lightning spear. This thing was basically a magical weapon of mass destruction. It did 1d6+20 damage in a 150 foot radius. Barring incredibly high HD creatures (like over 4 or 5 or so) it'll kill just about anything it hits, if it hits them. Well they come up on some Elementals in the Temple, as you do, and he throws the spear.

He misses. The elementals start stomping towards them, right over where the spear had landed. So I figure I'll have him roll to see if one of these giant mounds of dirt and boulders steps on it and breaks it, unleashing the magical energy within. Because I'm a dick like that. 

He rolls his d6 and it comes up on 1. Well slap my ass and call me Sally, B/X is a roll-under system and low rolls means the thing happens. The elemental stepped on the spear, broke it, lightning went everywhere, and it fried that dwarf like bacon. Dead character, no more dwarf. The other characters proceeded to slit his throat and use his blood to banish the other elementals that were still coming towards them.

Hey, he didn't need the blood anymore. Far as I'm concerned that's efficient use of resources at hand. Player's fine, he rolled up a thief and he's back in the game next session. It sucks, but that's the way the dice rolled. Never trust a computerized random number generator. 

This, incidentally, is why you hear me talk so much unrepentant shit about 5e's character creation system. It's horrible because it's too involved. There was no way the guy would've been able to have a character built by the end of the session like that (we were pretty close to heading back to town anyway) if we'd been playing 5e. Simple rule sets encourage this kind of frivolity with character's lives that's really at the heart of the way D&D is supposed to be played. 

The party characters are just people, they're not special, they don't have any great destiny ahead of them, and their backstory doesn't matter. What matters is the emergent story that comes from them interacting with the virtual world they're placed in and how it reacts to them. These characters have to forge their destiny, not have it spelled out for them in a nice, safe garden path they can traipse down at leisure with no worries about big mean monsters coming to ruin their dainty little fingernails they just had manicured. 

The characters are supposed to be people like Northwest Smith, Conan, Adam Reith, Cugel the Clever, and Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser. Slightly extraordinary men in extraordinary situations that built their own destinies from square one. There were multiple times in all their stories that they almost died, and would have were it not for their luck, fighting prowess, and brains. So it is with player characters in D&D.

If they live, it was because the player fought smart, played it safe, used every advantage they had, and had luck on their side represented by the dice. If they died, it was because they didn't. Plain and simple. This isn't Final Fantasy, it's tabletop rpg's. They're two completely different mediums, and one is about storytelling while the other is about kicking monsters in the dick and taking they stuff. 

Failed novelists have no place at the table in D&D. Go write your book if you're so enthusiastic about it you'll try to railroad the players (or the rest of the players and DM) into going along with your supposed destiny. It's really easy to do. Pop open an OpenOffice text document and start typing. But when you come to the tabletop, you're supposed to be there to game, not tell a story. 

Unless you're playing something like Hillfolk, I suppose, but we're talking about D&D and games like it. Which, once again, is fundamentally what these ttrpg's are. They're games. Even in the One True Party™ Land of Final Fantasy, failure is part of the game. You can run into that one thing that's too strong for you, or just fuck up planning for a fight, or screw up on your strategy for a certain boss and just get your ass completely wiped the fuck out. 

The difference is in D&D character death is supposed to be permanent. So my advice, to build off what Bradford and Pundy are talking about, is firstly to DM's: Don't be afraid to kill off your players' characters when they do something stupid and the dice don't come up in their favor. And then to Players: Don't sweat a character dying, because it's really not that big of a deal anyway. If you had a destiny planned out for them, that wasn't really their destiny. Their destiny was actually to get squished by an Elemental. 

If you inject some actual stakes back into your game, such as players getting pasted by big mean monsters, it'll be a much more fun experience for everyone involved. Even the guys whose characters die. If that wasn't the case then our thief player who died in session one wouldn't have rolled up another and come back next week. Our current female fighter would've quit after session 2 when her elf got her throat torn out by a wolf.

Dangerous liberty is far more fun than comfortable security, especially at the tabletop. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

PulpRev: The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good

So Ben Cheah, Castalia House author and Warboss of Steempulp, recently made a post comparing pulp greats like Robert Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs to modern Japanese light novels, and you should absolutely go read it. He brings up a lot of good points, including the difference between showing and telling, and does a good job comparing light novels to some of the pulps we are all familiar with by now, or should be familiar with by now. He also gave my podcast a shoutout, so I'm obligated to return the favor. 

Not that I wouldn't, given what he said in his post lighting my brain on fire like it did.

The post has a multitude of good points, but there's something I'd like to hone in on and elucidate for a bit. This part:

The best I can say about trash light novels is that they are adequate. Like the pulps of days gone past, they are cheap, widely available, published quickly, cheerfully ignore genre conventions, and are written at an acceptable standard for their target market.

In this is a lesson for PulpRev: you don't need to produce perfect stories from the get-go; you just need to write stories that will interest your audience. And do so quickly.

With that said, PulpRev cannot settle for mere mediocrity. Churning out garbage is all part of the learning process, but if we keep improving our standards we're bound to git gud. However, if we just rest on our laurels and content ourselves with churning out low-quality trash forever, we're not doing ourselves any favours.

 The point I want to focus on is " don't need to produce perfect stories from the get-go..." 

This might be a bit contentious, but I'd say that you don't need to produce perfect stories at all. Allow me to explain.

No story is perfect. Period, the end. This is something you need to accept if you want to be a writer. Every single story ever written has flaws. Nothing is perfect. 

Even going back and reading the pulp grandmasters that we so presumptuously sit at the knee of, we can see multiple problems that it turns out aren't really problems at all. Don't misunderstand me, these errors (in a perfect world) shouldn't have made it into these stories. They should've been caught and either edited around or written out. However, these stories are still good.

This is what I mean by the title. It's an old saying that, "The perfect is the enemy of the good," but here I want to make it clear what that actually means.

Are the Conan stories perfect? No, they are not. And this is coming from someone who idolizes Howard and strives to learn everything I can possibly glean from every single story of his I read. There are echoes (words repeated too often), he has a tendency to gloss over descriptions, and he sometimes builds up a conflict only to have it end with no great resolution that pays off on the build up.

Robert E. Howard was not a perfect writer. If he was he wouldn't have gotten so many rejection slips from magazines he sent his stories to. I think I'm bleeding as I type this, but I shall soldier on.

Any craft that you can name requires practice. You can go to grandmasters of literally anything, and if they don't tell you that there's still more they can learn, they're bullshitting you. Blacksmithing, poetry, food preparation, writing, all of it. There is always more to learn.

And this is where "the perfect" being the enemy of "the good" comes into play. 

I used to work in a pizza shop. If we'd spent every moment agonizing over whether every single pizza was "perfect" we'd never have gotten any other work done, let alone actually made any pizza. Sometimes this led to fucked up pizzas, but more often than not they were "good enough."

This is something I think the PulpRev needs to grasp hold of as we've moved beyond just talking about how great the old pulps are and onto actually creating our own material. Nothing, and I need to stress this, nothing that you create will ever be perfect.

For a recent example from my own catalog, the story appearing in Cirsova #8, Slavers of Venus. When I sent that off I was absolutely certain it was the best story it could possibly be. When Alexander wrote me back to accept the story he said it was just what he was looking for.

But, when I go back and re-read it...

I don't precisely weep bitter tears, but by god there are a lot of things in that story that I'd change from a technical standpoint if I could. Turns of phrase, repeated words, lines of dialogue, all kinds of changes I'd make to that story if I had the power.

But the great thing is I don't need to.

That story was "good enough."

Ride with me before you assume I'm so far up my own asshole I can't see daylight anymore.

When I sent that in, I'd gone over it with what I thought was a fine-toothed comb. I was certain I'd corrected everything that could possibly be corrected barring a total rewrite. It was as good as it would get, so far as I was concerned. 

And when Alexander got it (I don't presume to speak for the man, I have too much respect for him, but I'm going to intuit his thought process if I may), he read it and thought something along the lines of, "This isn't another loincloth-clad barbarian sword and sorcery story! This is honest-to-god sword & planet fiction! He went over it before he sent it in, I'll just touch up the obvious typos and print that shit!"

And you know what? If Alexander liked it enough to print it, it's damn sure good enough for me. Would I change stuff in it? Abso-fucking-lutely. No question. Am I disappointed that it ran that way in Cirsova Magazine? Abso-fucking-lutely not. In no wise. My story got featured in my favorite magazine, and I couldn't be prouder of that fact if you paid me. 

This is what I mean by the perfect being the enemy of the good. You think I get someone to proof those stories I post on Steemit? No way in hell, beta readers are expensive. I write the stories and I post them. If they're not good enough, someone'll let me know. This happened with Fire On The Bayou, and hasn't happened since. But the overall point is, as unvetted as those stories are, I still post them. I still put them out there.

Because I think they're "good enough."

If you attempt to make your stories perfect, they will never, and I mean never be good enough to print in your eyes. You will forever be focusing on some bit of minutia that isn't quite up to your standards. Rewrites and editing will be a process that goes on forever, and then when (if) you finally get the story up to snuff, you'll go back and read it six months on and think, "God dammit. I did it again. I flubbed that little thing. I could've done that differently. I could've phrased that better. God damn me to hell for being a shit writer."

Because of thoughts like this, so many stories never get published. Uncountable reams of fiction moldering in someone's basement or attic have never seen the light of day because it wasn't "perfect" when it never needed to be. 

Your story doesn't have to be perfect.

And focusing on making your story perfect is not focusing on making it good enough to print. If I'd been focused on making Slavers of Venus perfect I'd have never sent it off to Alexander and never gotten it in Cirsova. Trying to make your story perfect traps your writing in editing hell from which it may never recover. 

Yes, your story may have spelling or grammar errors. Yes, it may have echoed words. Yes, it may have clumsy phrasing. But at a certain point it's as good as it's going to get, and you have to do something with it. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should never seek to improve. We should always be looking to the great ones who came before and paved this road to learn better paving techniques. We should constantly be evaluating what we read and integrating the effective and evocative language they use into our own writing.

I am in no way saying that we, as writers, should rest on our laurels and be okay with turning out crap fiction like the shit that wins the Hugos nowadays. If you've done that you're well and truly stagnant and you deserve to be destroyed.

But accepting that nothing will ever be perfect is an important step on the road to becoming a professional writer. You can edit, and edit, and edit, but at a certain point the work is "good enough" and you can send it in for publication or publish it yourself. Coming to grips with the moment where you've gotten a work as good as you can possibly get it is vital, because otherwise nobody would ever publish anything.

Robert Howard sent in manuscripts to all kinds of publications that rejected him and sent his stories back. He thought they were "good enough" and got shot down. He had work to do. In this we can take a lesson.

We all have work to do. Some of us more than others. But if you don't fuck up and bloody your nose, you'll never learn. Without rejection notices, authors who are serious about publishing their fiction cannot grow. We need to each develop our own technique for writing and make ourselves the best writers we can possibly be. 

But there comes a point where good enough is good enough, and trying to make your story perfect will just ruin it as well as your chances of acceptance. Either through missing deadlines or sheer indecision itself. And I'll leave you with this last little bit of encouragement.

If I can get published, so can you.

You just need to realize when a story is good enough, and let go of trying to make it perfect. Because the perfect is the enemy of the good, and if you strive for perfection you will never be good enough. And if you're never good enough you'll never go anywhere. 

So get good enough. Attempt to perfect your style and writing, but realize where the line is between pedantic editing and simply being good enough to print. 

I should mention this screed doesn't mean "Turn in garbage to magazines you want to be printed in." Refine your craft. Practice. Get better. Git gud. Eventually writing you thought to be utter trash will be looked at by people who sign paychecks with a discerning eye as more than good enough to grace the pages of their publications.

Don't try to be perfect.

Try to be good enough.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Commies, Commies, Everywhere, And How To Fix The Problem!

One of the blackest pills I've had to swallow the past couple of years is that the United States well and truly lost the Cold War. The Cold War was a war, not of traditional arms and armies, but of ideologies, and infecting other countries with those ideologies. The U.S.S.R. might be gone, but their influence remains and by god is it being felt in the U.S. right now. You may think I'm being hyperbolic, or bullshitting you outright, but I can assure you that I'm not.

All you have to do is look around you and barely scratch the surface. By this time we all know that "social justice" ideology is built on a marxist/communistic framework. That's the entire root of the ideology, and that's not a mistake, it's by design. So isn't it very interesting that when we look into the people who have been ruining science fiction and fantasy literature since the 40's, we find that they all nowadays follow the social justice ideology? And that back in the 40's they were open and avowed communists? Don't believe me? Regular readers of this blog should be familiar with this video by Dan Wolfgang and QuQu, but it's worth bringing up again. Just give this a watch. I know, it's long, but it's incredibly well researched, and all the research is linked in the description if you don't believe what the fuzzy shapeshifter is telling you. Go ahead, I'll be here when you get done.

So, now that you've watched that, and are probably sufficiently angry like I was my first time seeing it, let me explain how total the destruction has been. 

You've probably heard about what's been going on with Larry Correia the past few years, how his reputation has been unfairly tarnished because he noticed that the Hugo Awards were more a social club jerking each other off than an actual awards show giving prizes away for good writing (my words not his), as well as his recent banning from Origins, a convention. You've probably also heard about John Ringo being banned from ConCarolinas, and their subsequent retraction and apology. 

Apart from outlets like Baen Books, Castalia House, and various small house publishers or independent authors, you can very easily be blacklisted for stepping outside of the ideological narrative. Just a little will do the trick. This has led to a steady decrease in the amount of decent fiction being published in the US. As we in the Pulp Revolution are wont to say, don't read anything after 1980. I qualify that with an, "Up until about 2015, then you have to dig to find the good stuff." There are a few exceptions to this rule, but being exceptions they are just that, few.

Science fiction has been pushed into the ever-harder, with stories that have to be "about" something instead of just being a fun story. The story has to "mean" something beyond simple entertainment. You can hardly pick up a scifi book that was written from about 1960 onwards without the author trying to preach some damn message at you, whereas you go back a scant few decades before and read A Princess of Mars and it's just a rip-roaring good time cover to cover. 

Fantasy, on the other hand, has become almost nothing but bad Tolkien pastiches. The books get longer and longer, and the series go on for interminable amounts of books, and there's so much filler you could choke a horse with what could be edited out of these books. Instead of bright, fun, original stories about heroes and villains and love and magic and sword fights, we get dreary narratives that seem obsessed with how much rape they can put on the page, or with having every single character being an irredeemable asshole who never does anything worthy of the title "hero." In a land where short, punchy, fun stories once ruled, now sits a bloated, misanthropic, cloned king, laying waste to the genre.

And now we turn to Hollywood, and I have another video for you. This one by the foul-mouthed firebrand (I'm one to talk, right?) Razorfist. In it he demonstrates that Hollywood always had a problem with communism. Just watch, and learn how everything that you were told about McCarthy and his supposed "witch hunt" was a lie. Blogger won't let me embed the video for some reason, so I'll link it here.

Hollywood Was Always Red: A Rant by Razorfist

Interesting stuff, isn't it?

And then you look at comics, where if you don't toe the social justice (ie communist) line you'll have a very difficult time getting published by the big two, DC and Marvel. Their comics have gotten worse and worse as the years go on. The art is intentionally ugly, the dialogue is horribly written screeds on identity politics, and there are barely any fun stories to be had. Great characters we all loved have been debased and thrown down, dashed before our eyes by the people they were entrusted to. 

So why has this happened?

Well, it's a bit involved, but stick with me here. There's another video you should watch, but I can sum up the relevant parts here. It's an interview with ex-KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov. I know it's long, but it's worth a watch, and it's terrifying stuff. Basically what the Soviets at the time did was, via the Communist Party, infect all areas of American culture with small pockets of people designed to train others in the techniques that Yuri talks about.

This, in essence, allowed the ideals these operatives spread to become self-perpetuating, independent of instruction from the home base. They're completely self-sufficient, and require no leader as there will always be some poor, brainwashed fool ready to take up the fight should they get in a position to be able to do so. No union required, just a position of power in an important company or industry.

This happened in scifi/fantasy publishing with people like Campbell and Damon Knight, it happened in academia, it happened in Hollywood as Razorfist described, and now it's become apparent that it's happening in comic books, and it's been going on in games journalism for a decade or so now, and they're trying to get it happening in video game development companies themselves with some success it must be said. It also happened in government, but I'm talking about the undermining of American culture, here.

So, what this has led to is the demoralization campaign that Yuri talks about. And once again, I need to stress that there is no conspiracy, not anymore, at least. Not that I've been able to find. These people are all independent actors marching in lockstep because they've all been trained to believe the same things, and thus perpetuate their ideology independent of any string-pulling. 

But the demoralization campaign has been in full swing since at least the 40's. And these people believe they're doing a good thing! That's the most insane part. The destruction of culture, of values, of everything and everyone that does not toe the line, is a fundamental good, even if that means that people will have to die. This is something I've seen communists joke about quite frequently. It's funny to them, and they hope for the days when they'll be put in charge of the gulags, not knowing that useful idiots like themselves will be the first up against the wall when the revolution comes, if it ever does.

But back to demoralization. The goal here is to beat the average person down until they conform to these people's ideology. They lord their supposed power over you, "knowing" that they're nigh untouchable and able to destroy at their leisure and replace what they've destroyed with that which preaches what they agree with and serves their religion. That's the overall goal, and what's incredibly sad is that they've almost succeeded. You see, the people that fight back against this kind of thing aren't the forces of the homeland standing up against invaders, despite how things looked in Gamergate. They're the resistance. Let me make this abundantly clear.

The communists have almost won.

They are able to destroy the lives of people who aren't already set up, simply for political disagreements, and they try to destroy the lives of those who are set up. Look at what's happening to Correia, a wildly popular SFF author with millions of readers around the world. Or, for another example, Pewdiepie. How many hit pieces have the mainstream meteor put out about him in the past few years? Quite a few, with people being paid to dig through hundreds of hours of videos on his youtube channel just to find five seconds of him making an off-color joke, or speaking without thinking, so that they can try to destroy his reputation. 

People like you or I are even more at risk, because we simply don't have the reach to defend ourselves properly, or ignore such attacks. It would be nice if some of the set up people like Pewdiepie or Correia would take these people to task in defamation, slander, and libel lawsuits and make them pay for their lies, but I understand that not everyone is ready to go to legal war over something that will barely effect them. 

But the power they have to do this to less powerful individuals cannot be ignored, and what's more we cannot ignore the power they have to destroy beloved franchises and industries. Look at Marvel. Comics shops are closing down because nobody wants to buy the schlock they're trying to push. The comics industry, so far as cape comics and lots of brick and mortar stores, is dying because of these people. Video games are much the same, with devs being able to avoid it with breakout hits like Kingdom Come: Deliverance gaining massive support because, apart from being a damn fine game (I'm told by almost literally everyone I know who's played it), the dev told these people to go fuck themselves and that he wouldn't play their games.

I'll return to this in a bit, because I wouldn't leave you to swallow this black pill without a chaser of hope to wash it down, but for now I want to turn to a piece by Bradford Walker, entitled Narrative Warfare: Replacing Culture Is An Act Of Conquest. Read the whole thing, including the twitter thread he links. Once again, I'll be here when you get back.

Now I think Bradford is right, here, and this ties back once again into the people fighting against this incredibly virulent strain of communism being the resistance. What they're doing now, tearing down characters like Captain America and replacing characters like Iron Man, trying to force video game developers to bend the knee like with Warhorse Studios, destroying franchises like Star Wars with inferior films that couldn't understand the underlying mentality of the original films if they tried, and attempting to unperson authors like Larry Correia and John Ringo, is meant as cultural replacement.

They are trying to replace our culture with theirs, and it's as simple as that. They are in positions of power, and believe themselves unassailable, therefore they can do what they like and force everyone to go along with it. These are the actions of people who believe they have conquered and are now in the subjugation process. However, unfortunately for them and fortunately for us, they've tipped their hand far too soon.

They're not quite as unassailable as they like to believe, and here we come to the hope chaser for the bitter pills I've been shoving down your throat this entire post. 

Not for lack of trying, America is still at heart a capitalist society. Our economy functions on the dollars of the people, and businesses and indeed entire industries live or die by what the consumer chooses to pay for. Now these people believe they should be able to force you to pay for what they're peddling, but they're not at that level of control yet, and thanks to the cultural awakening to the war that's been going on since the late 30's (we're pretty slow on the uptake, apparently) they'll likely never get that control. 

You see, the wonderful thing about culture is that you can make more of it. In traditional warfare, if the enemy takes a beachhead, you must push them out and recapture that beachhead. However, in a cultural war, if the enemy takes a beachhead, you can simply move slightly to the right and make a new beachhead, then jealously guard it against intrusion. And thanks to market innovation like Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace and a thousand others nobody could've ever seen coming, we can do this quite easily.

If, for example, Star Wars is a cultural beachhead, and what was once a fun time for all has been turned into a political messaging platform, you can simply move slightly to the right, fork the idea at its base and create something new. This was done by Galaxy's Edge authors Jason Anspach and Nick Cole, and from what I understand they're jealously guarding their treasure, and that's good, because from what I've read of it it's very precious indeed. 

They've taken the cultural beachhead of Marvel superhero comics? No worries, we have imports from Japan like My Hero Academia, and independent comic creators here in America and abroad like Diversity & Comics' Jawbreakers: Lost Souls and Ethan Van Sciver's Cyberfrog: Bloodhoney. They've taken the basic concept of the superhero and done their own thing with it in no way affiliated with Marvel and DC, and as such we don't need Marvel and DC anymore, just like we don't need Star Wars anymore.

Science fiction and fantasy literature is conquered for the most part, however the big five are failing (slowly but surely) along with their lackeys in the chain bookstores, and online venues and ebooks are filling the hole. This allows movements like The Superversives and PulpRev and a thousand others to move in and begin creating stories that people actually want to read, then sell them to those people.

Your power to stop these people is in your wallet, and your voice. Now, more than ever, you have a voice with not only small time creators like myself, but with multinational corporations like, oh, ABC for their cancellation of Roseanne. You have a voice with the companies that support these corporations by advertising with them. You have a voice in what you pay for, and it is more than possible to starve the beasts. 

There's a reason I don't buy Marvel and DC comics anymore. I buy used comics, or I buy indie comics, or from a smaller company like Alterna that actually gives a shit about the product they put out, or I just go buy manga. I don't buy current Star Wars books, comics, or movies, I read Galaxy's Edge. I don't watch western cartoons anymore, I watch anime. I don't read books from big publishers anymore (unless I get them used), I support indie authors and get better stories from complete unknowns than I would signing up and paying $40 to get a Hugo packet any given year in the past 30. 

Oh, don't imagine it's so easy. I've been doing it for three or four years now, and I can tell you with authority that giving up these things that you've loved for so long is difficult. It was hard for me to not care about the new Marvel series on Netflix, because I love characters like The Punisher, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil, and it sounded great that they would finally be getting the live action treatment they deserved. But is it really? Is it really what they deserve? Think about it and let me know, because I think we both know the answer to that question.

Giving up Star Wars is hard as well, and I'm happy to say that you don't have to give it up completely. The old movies still exist, as well as the vastly expansive EU, much of which you can still get hold of. The Brian Daley and A.C. Crispin Han Solo books still exist, as do the Dark Forces games and K.O.T.O.R. and all the rest. Retreat into the good ol' days of Star Wars is possible, but you should also look ahead to the replacement in things like Galaxy's Edge, and not get hung up when you hear about how a new movie fucks up the canon or unnecessarily injects present-day politics into what should be an outlandish, larger than life space opera. 

The road to giving up on these things is hard, but if you want to make a cultural impact against these people that are actively trying to ruin everything you love and slapping you in the face while doing it, it's something we all have to learn how to do. We also, as Jon Del Arroz says in his recent Federalist piece, It's Time To Fight Until The Left Follows The Rules They Enforce On The Right, have to start taking metaphorical scalps.

Roseanne Barr makes a supposedly racist joke on twitter at 3am while on ambien, and her show is almost immediately destroyed completely and she will be blacklisted from Hollywood for the foreseeable future. Samantha Bee, on television at prime time, in front of god and everybody, calls the daughter of the President a "feckless cunt," and not only does she still have a job, lefties are rubbing that fact in our faces. It's time to contact Sam B's network advertisers and let them know that we find this behavior reprehensible, and attempt to get her show pulled. I'm not a fan of these tactics, but this is the world we live in, and these are the rules of engagement. As I said on twitter, you can either win, or you can pretend to cleave to your dignity and "principles" while being ground underfoot and out of memory.

These are our tools. Creation of new culture, not giving money to people that hate you, and fighting back when we are attacked. These people are not in control yet, and it is very possible to take the culture back from them. This is not a complete guide, but it's a good starting place, so go forth and fight back. The internet gives you greater ability to do so than humans have ever had in the entire history of our species. It's an amazing tool. Start using it.

Not only this, but we also have plenty of examples, not just in the videos linked above, but in recent years, of the converged propaganda pieces being abject failures in the market. Look at the 65% drop off in the ticket sales of Solo: A Star Wars Story in a week. Look at video games like Sunset, which critics praised and gamers despised so badly that the game failed so hard the studio went bankrupt. There are many more examples, but what this means is that the crap that they make does not sell, it is not popular, and the majority of people are just waiting for something like Galaxy's Edge or Kingdom Come: Deliverance to come out of right field swinging like a madman. You could be the one to make it, and you'll never know if you don't try. 

I'll be real with all of you, I don't know if a win is possible. I don't know if we actually can take our culture back from these cackling misanthropic liars and craven cowards pretending to be brave warriors. They might have gotten close enough to a total victory that all we'll do by fighting back is bring about mutually assured destruction, because this fight isn't only on a cultural level, but a political one, too.

But, what I can tell you is that we can damn sure go down swinging. And, to me, that sounds a hell of a lot better than laying down and taking it like a kicked dog. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Planetary: Earth Anthology Is Available!

Fam, when it rains, it pours, I gotta tell ya. I swear I didn't plan it like this, to be publishing stories on my own in serials on steemit, and to have Cirsova #8 come out this week, and then further to have the Planetary: Earth anthology come out, but here we are and hopefully the avalanche won't be stopping any time soon!

But yes! The Planetary: Earth anthology from Superversive Press is available today in kindle and paperback! From the Amazon page:

18 tales of explorers, lost worlds, strange and wondrous creatures, gods & goddesses of old, miraculous inventions, aliens, bots and post humans, brought together in this anthology of discovery and daring.
Come explore the legends and chronicles of planet Earth and the space beyond in the fourth volume in the Planetary series.

My story for this one is a good ol' lost world style story, with explorers, dinosaurs, guns, high speed chases, danger, alien creatures, and some old fashioned two-fisted action! But if that don't whet your whistle then maybe one of the other 18 stories will!

Here's the link! Go nuts! And be sure to leave a review after you finish and let us know what you think! Or drop me a line on twitter, gab, minds, tumblr, or here on the blog if you just wanna let me know what you thought of my story!

I'd also like to thank Jon Del Arroz for giving it a beta-read for me and letting me know what he thought. Y'all should go check out his website, and buy one of his books while you're there on Amazon like For Steam & Country, The Gravity of the Game, or The Stars Entwined! I know it'd make his day and mine!

Death Flowers - Part 2 on Steemit!

Wounded, Zyrkana retreats to the house of the one who summoned her to recover. But just who was that alluring warrior?

The JimFear138 Podcast Ep.90 ft. Rawle Nyanzi

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the podcast! This time I talk with Rawle Nyanzi about a blog post our mutual friend JD Cowan made (linked below) about genre, and over the course of the show we get into that, anime, My Hero Academia, storytelling, American history, and all kinds of other topics! There was a bit of a technical issue near the end, where the skype call dropped. Because of this OBS reduced Rawle's volume, but the final few minutes are still audible, just not optimal. I'll keep an eye out for that should it happen again. Hope y'all enjoy!

MP3 download of this episode:

Rawle's Links:



Sword & Flower

At The Earth's Core Review:

Relevant Links:

The Death of the Genre Wars by JD Cowan:

Correia On The Classics by Larry Correia:

Black Pulp

Cirsova #8

Planetary: Earth

Social Media Dump:


Maker Support:













Opening Music:
Honey Bee by Kevin Macleod:
Honey Bee Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Closing Music:
Crunk Knight by Kevin Macleod:
Crunk Knight Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License