Hommlet: New Developments

   Village of Hommlet. CY 599, developers moved in and bought most of the land, building luxury mansions and two hotels. Then the Temple of Elemental Evil merged with a larger evil corporation, and after a few short years these new guys decided to outsource all the “eviling” in and around the Temple to India.

   Evil Hindu goddess Kali dispatched a whole lot of her eight armed minions to the Temple and the moathouse, but she didn’t want to go herself and manage operations; she subcontracted that gig to the Chinese demigod Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya.

    In hindsight, this move wasn’t smart, because many disgruntled Caucasian adventurers went away and never returned to Hommlet, seeking “whiter” dungeons south of the Kron Hills.



Batman V Superman: The Dark Knight Doesn't Return

   I have stated before that Hollywood is like a wood chipper – throw any source material in there, good or bad, and it’s instantly turned to crap. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, you’re up.

   Haven’t seen Batman V Superman yet, but I will. I just wanted to post something about it right away, and maybe I’ll write a second post on that same topic after I have actually seen the movie. For now, here are my preliminary impressions.

   They seem to have rubbed out my favorite character: Carrie. Why? It makes no sense. Look at all the Millennial stuff out there: The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Shannara Chronicles – new trend now is to have strong female heroines. You even have Cinderella in Space, a.k.a. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ve got nothing against Girl Power, but why scrap the one strong female character that’s already present in the source material? Carrie is right there, DC, she’s right under your nose!!!

   Good God almighty, this is painful.

   I loved Carrie since I first read that book. She is awesome, and the only “hopeful” character in an otherwise grim and depressed world. Come to think of it, The Dark Knight Returns is kind of her story. Parts 1 and 2 make up her origin story. In parts 3 and 4, you sometimes get the impression that Bruce keeps going simply because Carrie is looking up to him and he’s the only decent father figure she’s ever had in her life. And that’s beautiful.

   They’re deleting all that, and throwing Wonder Woman in the mix just to be able to check that “strong female” box.

   When there is no strong female character in the source material, they go ahead and invent one, like Tauriel in The Hobbit. And when there is a strong female character in the source material – well, they ignore it. What a damn shame.

   The second thing I love in The Dark Knight Returns is the passage of time, as Alan Moore put it in the Foreword. Ten years have gone by since Batman retired. Bruce is fifty-five. Jim Gordon is seventy. Alfred is eighty-something. Clark haven’t aged a bit, but he’s the only one.

   Having seen the trailers, I can say that the “passage of time” is not an element here. We are suddenly back in the heyday of superheroes: Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, in “the perpetual limbo of their mid-to-late twenties”, to quote Alan Moore again. In one of the trailers, Affleck says he is “old”, but he’s not fifty-five, no way. More like forty. And Alfred is certainly not eighty.

   The “big blue boy scout” ain’t big enough or blue enough for my taste. And where are Two-Face and the Joker? And what the hell is Zuckerberg doing in there?

   It is NOT really The Dark Knight Returns, anyway. I can see that now. They just borrowed the book’s main premise – two heroes squaring off against each other in quite a dramatic way – and threw out the rest. Superman might still intercept a nuclear missile, yes. Batman and Superman might fight for a while, sure. But they’ll become friends soon enough and unite their efforts to rid the world of a greater evil: Facebook.

   How come the source material never seems to be good enough for the big screen? Hollywood cut out the huge “alien” monster from The Watchmen. Hollywood replaced Galactus with a big black space-smudge in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. That is like those big studios saying to comic books in general, “You’re no good. You’re not screen-worthy. We will use you as raw material – but you need some fine-tuning.”

   Fuck the source material. That seems to be Hollywood’s Prime Directive these days.

   No Boy Wonder because it’s kinda gay. No Carrie alongside a hunk like Affleck, because that would be creepy. Let’s stick Wonder Woman in between Batman and Superman – between the bad boy and the clean-cut dude –, just like Bella, you know: will she choose Edward or Jacob? Mainstream. Recipes. They work.

   What do Katniss, Tris, Princess Amberle and the other “Millennial” heroines have in common? They’re all ass-kicking teenage girls. But now, you get a VINTAGE ass-kicking teenage girl from way back in ’86 – and you just pass on that?


   I’m still gonna do something I didn’t do for any of the Hobbit movies or the new Star Trek movies or Indy 4 or The Force Awakens – I’m going to actually walk into a theater and see Batman V Superman. Then (maybe) I’ll come back here and blog a bit more about all the hoohah, whether I liked or hated the film.


Arneson & Saint Paul (not the city)

   There is bad blood between Team Arneson and Team Gygax, that’s no secret. The sad thing is: it didn’t have to come to that. Not at all.

   You and I are partners and we write a game called Cobbles & Creeps – and we make a lot of dough. Then I go my separate way and write Advanced Cobbles & Creeps and keep making a lot of dough without you because, if you’ll understand, Advanced Cobbles & Creeps is “an entirely different product”, so I don’t need to share its profits with you, buddy.

   What does it mean?

   Anyone could start a company and call it “Advanced Apple” or “Advanced Google” and that would be legal.

   Absurd, right?

   Still, that’s what happened back in ’77. So yes, there is bad blood between Team Arneson and Team Gygax. But then again, Gygax lived by the sword and died by the sword: ten years after he’d screwed Dave Arneson, the Blume brothers and especially Lorraine Williams screwed him over and booted him out of his own company. You know what they say about karma––

   These two guys created Dungeons & Dragons together. Role-playing games wouldn’t exist without both of them. The analogy I’d like to make is this: Arneson is Jesus, and Gygax is Saint Paul. Bear with me here...

   Jesus didn’t write anything down. Jesus just spoke to the people – and he was good at it. He was spontaneous. After Jesus’ death, a man named Saul, who would later be known as Saint Paul, decided to jot down some things and “organize” the new faith. He worked tirelessly, he traveled a lot, and founded many early Christian churches. He gave that newborn religion a fighting chance against the Roman gods and against Zoroastrianism. Without his texts and his energy and his travels, who knows what would have become of the unofficial, unpopular, underground “sect” of Christ?

   It seems there’s always a Jesus and a Saint Paul. There was Tesla and there was Edison. There was Einstein and Oppenheimer. There was Wozniak and Jobs. There was Bob Hunter and Patrick Moore...

   One man is not enough to “give birth” to any grandiose thing. It takes two – sometimes even more – to do it.

   Dave was spontaneous. Gary was an organized writer and worker. Without Dave, Gary couldn’t have written Dungeons & Dragons, or any role-playing game for that matter. Without Gary, Dave’s clever invention couldn’t have made it out of his circle of friends. Both geniuses were needed to really accomplish what was accomplished.

   That unofficial / unpopular “sect” can be equated to Arneson’s original Blackmoor campaign. Publication of the OD&D White Box can be equated to Saint Paul’s Epistles. What came after can be equated to the four Gospels.

   But then the “Advanced” thing happened.

   It’s like if Saint Paul had somewhat managed to modify Christianity just enough to call it his own – and not have to pay Jesus any royalties. But royalties didn’t exist back then. And Jesus was already dead, anyway. And Jesus had no heirs or widow (sorry folks, it’s not The Da Vinci Code).

   Gary Gygax once said: “Dave Arneson was running a game up there, using my Chainmail rules, and I believe he called it Blackmoor.”

   Seriously, Gary?

   You “believe” he called it Blackmoor? You played that game yourself in November of 1972 when Arneson and Megarry drove down to Lake Geneva and showed you both their games – Blackmoor and Dungeon! It was your first RPG session ever. Your son Ernie was there with you, and both Rob and Terry Kuntz. Everybody saw how this new game was NOT Chainmail.

   It’s almost tragic – this great man trying to fool himself and everybody else, again and again, by changing the story. Such awkward denial, and for what? Is E. Gary Gygax less of a giant for not actually inventing RPGs?

   I hear that John Kentner’s documentary, Dragons in the Basement, is delayed still because of Gygax legal issues. We don’t get to hear what Dave Arneson and Professor Barker have to say about the origins of RPGs... because of legal issues?

   Kentner must obtain a permit in order to use the name “Gygax” in his film – but I’m also told that Mrs. Gygax was very pleased when she discovered she didn’t need any permit to erect a Gary Gygax monument in Lake Geneva. Isn’t that a little bit twisted, or is it just me?

   Solution #1. Every time Gygax appears on-screen, call him Mordenkainen. When someone else says his name out loud, bleep it over and put a little “Mordenkainen” sign on that person’s mouth. Even in the end credits, just put: Mordenkainen. Everybody will understand perfectly – and Mrs. Gygax doesn’t own the name Mordenkainen, does she?

   Solution #2. Cut Gygax out of the doc completely. Gamers of the world still want to hear what Professor Barker and the three Daves have to say. Gygax is not our only “founding father”. I’d rather see and hear Washington + Franklin + Adams + Madison, without Jefferson, than not see or hear any of them.

   Pick Solution #1, John. It’ll work. But I digress.

   If Jesus himself had written a Gospel, it would probably confuse today’s religious scholars just as much as The First Fantasy Campaign confuses most of today’s efficient / practical DMs. Dave Wesely said, “Arneson had favored a wide-open system that put a lot of burden on the ingenuity and style of the ref.” Strangely, that is also what Jesus had favored: he replaced all the complicated rules with one simple, overriding rule. But that proved, well, too simple. So Saint Paul stepped in shortly after Christ’s death and created a bunch of new, sharper rules.

   Role-playing games wouldn’t exist today without both Arneson and Gygax – just as Christianity wouldn’t exist as we know it without both Jesus and Saint Paul. Jesus alone is not enough.

   And by the way, I am not a religious nut. Again, this was just an analogy.