Author Archives: aahabershaw
Dear Madame Terriblex,
Thank you for expressing interest in investing in one of our many exciting ventures. We at Financial and Operational Underwriting Limited (FOUL) are a full-service villainy facilitator, acting as a pathway between those evil-doers who wish to go and do evil and those who are simply content to pay others to do so on their behalf. As a prospective member of the latter category, we have compiled here a brief Dossier of our more prominent and successful clients, just to give you an idea of how your ill-gotten funds might grow and mature under the guidance of our analysts and brokers. Please note, of course, that this packet is strictly confidential. To ensure discretion, Yggax the Many-Fingered, Cacodemon of the Twelfth Circle has been bound to the text you are reading now, and he is most displeased. If it is not destroyed completely by the time he finds you, we expect the remainder of your life will be unspeakably unpleasant. We apologize for any insult, but please understand we take our client’s security very seriously – yours included, should you invest.
What follows is a list of our most famous and impressive active clients to date. No doubt you will recognize some of their names, and ventures of their size rarely are able to remain secret forever. Nevertheless, we are proud of their accomplishments in the field of Evil, and think they represent a good sampling of the kind of enterprises your money is likely to fund. Now, as we are aware you have a demon after you, let us dive right into the list.
Business Cover: International Bank
Mastermind: Otho Von Havok, Duke of Gammora
A relative newcomer to the FOUL family, Santander has been doing a fine business in the memory siphoning and mind-state duplication field. Masquerading as a European bank, they have an ingenious system of state-of-the-art surveillance coupled with sophisticated West African voodoo by which they have managed to steal and categorize the dreams and ideas of untold thousands. If you have ever wondered why everything in Hollywood these days is simple re-hashed, recycled tripe, you can blame Von Havok’s ‘idea bank’. Santander makes a tidy profit ransoming screenwriters own ideas back to them at top dollar, and we expect they shall do very well this upcoming fiscal quarter.
Business Cover: Pharmacy Chain
Mastermind: Mr. Pain
Though cheery on the outside, Rite Aid has actually been running the largest ring of professional hitmen, loansharks, and revenge killers in the eastern US for well over a decade. Rite Aid operatives are an impressive breed of violent psychotics, shot up with tailored combat drugs to make them nigh unstoppable and virtually incorruptible. With their many, many outlets in almost every neighborhood and town in most states, rarely is there a target beyond a one-hour drive. Additionally, their capacity to access the pharmaceutical needs of large numbers of deadbeats means getting the bastards poisoned is usually no further than a phone-call away.
Though Mr. Pain runs an operation that FOUL charitably considers ‘pedestrian’ when compared with some of our other clients, it is a solid business model that works and is a stable investment.
Business Cover: Bank
No doubt you’ve seen the commercials. The question, of course, is academic – Capital One knows exactly what’s in your wallet and, what’s more, they’ve likely already stolen it. There is no larger or more successful association of hucksters, con-men, cat burglars, safe-crackers, and pickpockets in the world, and all of them are engaged in the act of sending people credit cards. The real genius here is that the credit cards are, in fact, sophisticated micro-robots capable of unlocking doors, disabling alarm systems, and incapacitating security guards. If you need further proof of your influence, just ask yourself what they’re holding over Alec Baldwin to get him to do those commercials. Oh, you thought he was being paid? You have much to learn about our ways, madam.
Business Cover: Massive industrial megagiant
Mastermind: Doctor Dread
GE certainly brings things to life, though how ‘good’ those things are is in the eye of the beholder. Doctor Dread’s operation is the single largest necromantic coven in recorded history, maintain a horde of the living dead so large that even we find it legitimately terrifying. GE has marshaled all of its ’technologies’, from weapons to toaster-ovens, to increase the number of corpses in the world. More corpses means more slaves for Doctor Dread’s ever-expanding armies which, as of this writing, comprise the majority of WalMart employees worldwide, as well as significant portions of most government bureaucracy. With a single ritual, it is arguable that Doctor Dread could bring entire nations to their knees (and he has, too!). Such leverage has been extremely lucrative, and GE is one of our biggest earners.
Business Cover: Paint Company
Mastermind: Lord Corbulo the Immortal
Of course, GE’s influence pales in comparison to the reach and power of Sherwin-Williams. Indeed, their influence is so far-reaching, they are watching you right now. Yes. Even there. Does a thing have paint on it? If so, Lord Cobulo’s otherworldly nanotechnology is monitoring your every word, controlling your every thought and deed. If you are disturbed, don’t be. Lord Corbulo is a beneficent master, and we must all bow to his influence. Forget you know anything about him. Forget that the Paint is Watching. It is, but it’s best not to think about it. If Corbulo wishes you should invest, you shall. You have no choice. Sherwin-Williams has abolished free will in any place that uses any kind of pigment to color another. There is no escape.
Hopefully that gives you a solid idea of the kind of impressive clientele we have in the FOUL family. Feel free to peruse our other documentation, as well. FOUL wishes to help you be more evil, and nobody is better situated, we promise.
P.S.: The Paint is Watching
Stumbled across a review of Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies the other day, written by none other than Patrick Rothfuss. In it, he attests:
…in a first book (or movie for that matter) everything has the benefit of being shiny and new. Every revelation is fresh and exciting. Every character is a mystery unfurling.
That’s not the case in a second book. In a second book, you still have that problem. PLUS you have the problem that some of your readers read the first book two days ago, and some of them read it two years ago. Some of them haven’t read it at *all.*
On top of that, a lot of people want nothing more than for you to write your first book over again… because that’s what they know and love. But you *can’t* do that, because you only get one beginning.
When you write the second book in a series, the honeymoon is over. Now you’re in a whole different type of relationship. And love is harder to maintain than infatuation.
That’s why, in my opinion, shifting gears from first book to second book is THE most difficult part of being a new writer.
I found this review particularly interesting in light of the fact it involves two of my current favorite fantasy authors, both of whom wrote second books that I didn’t like as much as the first. Of the two, I would even argue that Rothfuss’s second book was the more disappointing of the two in the context of the series. I did not think either book was actively bad, mind you – they are both great reads, if not as tightly paced as their first offerings – but they don’t gleam as brightly as the initial outlay. Of course, to again quite Rothfuss’s review, “But you won’t find me bitching, because the only thing I could say was something along the lines of, “O! Woe is me! I was expecting pure untrammeled brilliance and all I got was mere shining excellence! Also, they didn’t have any loganberry cream cheese at the café this morning, so I had to have blueberry instead! Alas! I shall now weep and write poetry in my journal!”
The point Rothfuss makes, though, still stands regardless of Red Seas, Red Skies‘s relative quality and is really worth considering. Since most of your average aspiring fantasy or science fiction authors are looking to write a series, some notion of how that is going to work out is important to realize. So how do you do it well? How do you top yourself?
I’m not Rothfuss or Lynch – pretty far from it, really - and I’m not really here to offer a critique on their work. I don’t have any good answers on how to write a second book because I haven’t successfully done it yet. I’m in the process of writing two separate sequels to two separate novels, and one is going pretty well while the other is something of a disaster at the moment. The only thing I can say that is helping me in one and hurting me in the other is this: know what the series is about.
At some point in writing Red Seas, Lynch had to ask himself ‘what role does this book play in the series as a whole?’ Now, given that he hasn’t finished his series yet, one can only guess at what the answer is/will be. For Lynch, it involved pirates. Pirates, to some extent, fit thematically with some of the larger forces at play in Lynch – issues of freedom, rebellion against authority, and sneering at the rule of law – but it departed from the operative action and mood of the original book. That becomes disconcerting for some readers, not as much for others. Likewise Rothfuss has Kvothe wander off up north to learn swordsmanship and combat. Very much in keeping with the building legend of Kvothe, but it served as a major tangent from the motivating storylines of the book thus far (Denna, the University, Ambrose, the Chandarain, etc.) even if we did get some goodies in the end. Was it worth the slow down in the plot?
I don’t have the answers, as I said. I suspect that Rothfuss is very much correct about the difficulties of continuing a series, if for no other reason than (1) he’s done it and (2) the statement ‘the sequel is always worse’ is so commonly understood to be true, it is practically a truism. All I know is that I need to find a way to tell a new story at the same time as advancing an old one, and that’s a pretty unique balancing act. Maybe someday you folks will have the luxury of judging my success or failure in the endeavor.
Of course, in order to do that, I need to get the first one published first.
Purchased a map-making program the other day with some of my writing money. Lookee what I did with it:
This is as complete a map of Western Alandar as I’ve ever managed to make. It isn’t perfect and doesn’t include everything, but it does cover all the major landmarks. This post is a bit outside my usual schedule, but I wanted to see what this looked like on the internet. It isn’t at the top resolution, so some of the smaller cities might not be legible, but on average I’m pretty satisfied with it.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I can now make maps that can be transferred over the internet rather than all housed inside a single sketchbook that I am forced to protect like one of my children. Enjoy!
BTW: Most items are self-explanatory, but the red lines are the tracks for Spirit-Engines that have been laid since the ascendance of Keeper Polimeux II shortly after the end of the Illini Wars (so slightly over twenty years ago in the timeline). They are essentially trains that run not on steam power, but on the pressure created by the capture of dozens or even hundreds of ‘engine-fiends’ who are summoned from their home plane of existence and then agitated to the point where they push the pistons. They *hardly* ever have accidents.
Of course, when they do, it is pretty damned spectacular.
You will never know my name, because one has never been given me.
I am known as slop, blob, smack, gobbler – a faceless, eyeless, amorphous thing you relegate to trash heaps and waste sites.
I am one of a species you threw away. You think I’m stupid, you think I can’t understand you, that I don’t care what a waste you’ve made of my life.
But I do. I do care.
I understand you, too. There is a certain familiarity you develop when you eat another species’ trash for long enough. I know what you so-called ‘Great Races’ are, how you have succeeded in conquering species like my own. I know why you think yourself great. The Union has made you inviolate; with each cycle you gain more and more, while things like me have less and less.
You may tell yourself that the more you eat, the more scraps there are for the slops that ooze through your sewers (and that’s what we do, isn’t it? Ooze…slink…trickle…it makes you feel better, doesn’t it, to know that the things you grind beneath your heels have no bones?) Yes, we eat better. That might be enough for some.
I, though, am still hungry.
The good thing about having no bones and having natural textural and chromatic control over my skin is that I can really be whatever I want. Me and some other Tohrroids do it. Always have. We don’t ooze; we walk, we stride, we jump. We weave in and out of your fat, contented societies, hidden more by your inability to imagine us doing it than by our own cleverness.
What do we do, then, as we wander through your world? Well, some just want to hide and live the good life, some want to steal from those who have stolen from them. As for me, I want to hurt you. I will hurt you. Think you can stop me? Think again. I am your servant, I am your friend, I am your wife, I am your children. I can look like anything, I can be anywhere. Put up your guard, hire a food-taster, blood check your retainers every night – it won’t matter. I will eat your bones first, and let you suffocate under the weight of your pointless, meaty mass. Then, for the first time, you will hear a gobbler laugh.
I’m coming for you, Dryth. Make peace with your precious Law.
I’m midway through Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves, and the more I read, the more I grow to appreciate Lynch’s command of vulgarity. For those of you who haven’t read any Lynch, his Gentlemen Bastards series is, for my money, one of the if not the best fantasy published in the past ten years or so. It is, essentially, the Sting/Ocean’s Eleven, but set in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Mediterranean world during the Italian Renaissance. Good stuff.
As his many of Lynch’s characters are thieves, con-men, and inveterate criminals of the lowest sort, they swear a lot. But as these are so often very clever thieves, con-men, and inveterate criminals, they swear artfully. The words ’fuck,’ ‘shit,’ and ‘asshole’ are masterfully crafted into some of the more colorful and amusing metaphors I’ve encountered. My recent favorite is this phrase, spoken of a boorish, arrogant, stupid ass of man who has ruined the lives of numerous people:
I wouldn’t shit on his head to give him shade from the sun.
Just bask in the layers of that metaphor, would you? Let it wash over you. I’m telling you, for all its vulgarity, it’s beautiful. When I initially read The Lies of Locke Lamora (the first book in Lynch’s series), I felt as though the profanity was a bit overpowering. He was overplaying the card, I felt, and going from clever and edgy to merely crass. Now, though, either Lynch is growing on me or his has mellowed and tempered his f-bombs into something more than simply shocking. They are evocative epithets, laced with emotion, that give the reader a front-row seat to the seething tempers of Jean and the outrageous frustrations of Locke, as well as all the other raw moments of all the other colorful characters inhabiting Lynch’s dirty world of crime and skullduggery.
There is something to be said for swearing. The proper curse at the proper moment is the naval broadside of the spoken word. It has power and depth and feeling. If used cleverly, the word ‘fuck’ can paint pictures lesser words would have to work very hard to match. In Hyperion, by Dan Simmons, the poet Martin Silenus delivers his part of the narrative with a profanity-laced tirade against the world. The first lines read:
First came the Word; then came the fucking word processor; then came the fucking thought processor; then came the death of literature. And so it goes.
There’s a rhythm there – a poetry, if you will – I find important to the timbre of Silenus’s voice. There’s a kind of electricity in it, and not because I’m ‘shocked’ by bawdy language – I’m from Boston, so trust me when I say I’m used to it. Rather it is because the word ‘fuck’ and its weaker cousins is a word that does not hide any of its meaning. It is bare and raw; it cannot be misunderstood.
Now, am I saying that science fiction or fantasy stories/novels don’t swear enough? Well, sort of. I do feel that the genre, as a whole, is needlessly bowdlerized to be ‘suitable for children’, even though so much of the genre is not intended for the tender ears of true children, but rather for the teenagers and adults that make up the majority of the audience. If you don’t think those folks are acquainted with a few swears, then I have some shocking news for you.
Of course, profanity just for the purpose of being profane isn’t a good idea – there is no call to be offensive needlessly. Profanity needs to serve an artistic purpose, as absurd as that sounds. Also, there will always be people who will jump all over you for even the mildest transgressions (I’ve been scolded for saying ‘goddamn’ before, which I find pretty hilarious, honestly). Of course, folks whose ears are that tender are going to be offended by a wide swathe of things and trying to please them is like trying to get that guy who only likes cheese pizza to try a slice of sausage and pepper – it’s a waste of your time and, ultimately, it’s their loss.
In the end, cutting out a whole segment of language that is used and used often by lots and lots of people is sort of like tying one hand behind your back. I say learn to use the hand, get it to work for you, and there is some real magic that can happen there.
As usual, I am in the process of putting together a new science fiction/fantasy setting in which to set stories, novels, and potentially a homemade RPG or two. This one is space operatic, so we’re talking giant spaceships, exotic aliens, high adventure, and a healthy dollop of weirdo mysticism. You can read a bit about the world here, if you like. Talking about it, though, isn’t the central thesis of this post. What I want to talk about is the creation of a badass.
Not your basic, run-of-the-mill, loner badass, though. I’m talking one of a whole society of badassery. My world needs a class of super-dudes that every little kid wants to be for Halloween. The dude who gets top billing on all the movie posters. The guy who cosplay fanatics break their wallets to dress as. How does one create such a thing? Well, once you allow for lightning to strike so that your book is the most popular thing ever, the rest comes down to a kind of basic character alchemy. You find stuff that’s awesome and you add it up together somehow. Here’s my process, as it stands:
Step #1: Pick Ninja, Pirate, Samurai, or Marine
Okay, okay – I know somebody is going to start crowing about their Ninja Pirate, so lets just cut this one right off at the start: you don’t get two. You might think you get two, but you don’t. Ninjas are sneaky assassins who study the arts of subtlety and stealth to kill their enemies. Pirates are brash, freedom loving duelists who excel at pithy dialogue and clever tactics. Samurai are honor-bound super-warriors with a stoic demeanor and ancestral codes of respect. Marines are tough-as-nails destruction artists who believe in their survival and the survival of their men in situations that usually overshadow their apparent abilities. You can try adding some of these together, but it quickly becomes a muddle. Pick one to start.
I pick Samurai.
Step #2: Does He Have A Gun or a Sword?
Sure, he can have a gun and a sword, but which is his favorite? Which is the thing he uses most, the thing that defines him best. And by ‘sword’, by the way, I don’t mean it has to be a sword. I mean does he fight with his hands, or does he blow stuff away from a distance? In the first place, you’re creating a group that is up close and personal in their battles. You should expect to write a lot of duels between individuals or small groups. If you’ve got a guy who is worshipping the gun, he blows up big things and guns down hordes of nobodies like its nothing. For that character, combat isn’t a contest of individual wills but rather an environment to be survived, akin to a violent storm or a sweltering desert. You aren’t going to zoom in on everybody they blow away, but you will be following their trail of destruction with a variety of crane/wide shots (to use movie terminology).
I pick sword.
Step #3: Barbarian or Sophisticate?
Is your group of bad-asses on the inside or the outside of the social order/civilization? For example, the Fremen are outside, whereas the Adeptus Astartes (the Space Marines) are inside. The Jedi began on the inside and wound up outside, but they really belonged inside all along. Barbarians are there to destroy or conquer the corrupt society, whereas sophisticates are there to protect the jewels of civilization from the barbarous ravages of the uncivilized. They are two halves of the same coin and, while they may switch sides during the story, there is a default setting to be considered.
I pick Sophisticate.
Step #4: Walk or Ride?
Does your dude go about his business on foot, or does he ride/fly/pilot himself into his incredible acts of derring-do? If he’s on foot, to some extent this means he is a part of the fabric of the battlefield. He cannot leave at a whim – his story has him bracketed by circumstance, trapped in situations he must either resolve or be destroyed by. If he rides, he swoops in suddenly and can depart suddenly, too. He is aid unlooked for, and therefore often operates alone. This is the difference, essentially, between the fighter pilot and the grunt: the fighter pilot has a plush airbase to fly back to, while the grunt hunkers down in the mud and holds on with his dirty fingernails until the job is finished. Most of your superhero types ‘ride’ in some way (Superman’s ability to fly basically counts), while your grittier heroes get stuck in.
I pick Ride.
Step #5: Born to Rock or Tooth-and-Nail?
Do folks who become badasses of this variety become so by virtue of birth (like Jedi or Aes Sedai), or do they choose to become this thing, forsaking all other goals in the pursuit of their awesomeness (Shaolin Monks)? In the first place, they are engineered to be awesome, which gives them a certain aura. In the second case, they are mentally determined and driven to succeed, which gives them a certain grit.
I pick Born to Rock.
Step #6: Magic or Muscle?
What is the secret to their super-ness? Do they have access to unique tools or superhuman talents or, instead, do they learn that the most dangerous weapon is just their own will to win? In the first place we’ve got your Jedi and your samurai and your cyborg super-soldiers. In the second place we’ve got your kung-fu masters, battle-tested campaigners, and your Dirty Dozen-esque commandos.
I pick Magic.
Step #7: Work It All Together
I’ve got myself a Magic Sophisticated Samurai, born to rock while Riding with his Sword. In my science fiction setting, this works out to my Dryth Solon using super-advanced nano-technology and quasi-organic armor to fly through space ripping things apart with his incredible nanite-blades, having become so by being raised from birth to be the supreme arbiter and bearer of his House’s honor and word. Cool, right?
Try this little system with other famous groups of badasses:
Jedi: Samurai, Sword, Sophisticate, Walk, Born to Rock, Magic
Space Marine: Marine, Gun, Sophisticate (or Barbarian, depending on chapter), Walk, Tooth-and-Nail, Magic
The Kingsguard: Samurai, Sword, Sophisticate, Ride, Tooth-and-Nail, Muscle
The Fremen: Ninja, Sword, Barbarian, Ride, Tooth-and-Nail, Muscle
And so on and so forth…
It might be incomplete, but tell me I’m wrong.
In my darker moments, I wonder sometimes whether being free is really worth it. I consider the vast swathe of my freedom that I do not use and cannot envision using. If it were gone, would I miss it? If I didn’t miss it, would it matter? As obsessed with liberty as we are, it sometimes seems as though its benefits are intangible or perhaps outweighed by its drawbacks.
Oh, and there are drawbacks. Freedom means carte blanche for any jackass to do any jackass thing they damned well please, more or less. Civil Society is essentially based on the idea that complete and total freedom is a fundamentally bad idea that achieves the opposite of it’s intended goal. As laid out by Rousseau in The Social Contract:
What man loses as a result of the Social Contract is his natural liberty and his unqualified right to lay hands on all that tempts him, provided only that he can compass its possession. What he gains is civil liberty and the ownership of all that belongs to him. That we may labor under no illusion concerning these compensations, it is well that we distinguish between natural liberty which the individual enjoys so long as he is strong enough to maintain it, and civil liberty which is curtailed by the general will.
It can be seen, then, that instances of natural liberty, rather than permitting one to do as they please, instead result in one being forced to guard what they have against others that would take it. The citizen is thusly deprived of ’Moral Freedom’, in that they are unable to consider matters any higher than their own survival. In this loose philosophical framework we can see the historical provenance of anarchist societies, economic collapses, the opportunity for tyrants to rise, and a whole mess of horrible mayhem that results when everybody decides not to listen to rules set out for the common good and instead decide to see how much they can wring for themselves out of the system. This happens when the pressure is off, so to speak – when we are free to do as we please. If humans (and cultures) were perhaps wiser, kinder, and less selfish, then maybe we wouldn’t have these problems. They aren’t, though, so we do.
Of course, I always come back to the side of liberty. Being free to do as I please is better than the alternative if for the simple fact that there is no guarantee that the alternative will be a good fit for us collectively. It could be horrible – much worse than freedom sometimes is – even if it isn’t necessarily so.
Science Fiction has explored this conundrum often, and nowhere more potently than in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Where as Orwell was busy scaring the pants off of us with his 1984, Huxley’s dystopian tale is always there, in the background, seeming infinitely more terrifying. You see, whereas Orwell writes a horror story, Huxley makes a hypothetical argument. The argument goes like this: What if society made it so you were never bored, never sad, never hungry, never injured, never sick, never poor, and never lonely, and the only thing you had to give up was your ability to think for yourself?
Do you make that deal? If you’re the ruler of the world, do you force your people to take it?
Before you snort at the thought of giving up your precious liberty, think about it for a second. Think hard: an end to all suffering. ALL suffering. Are you able to fulfill your full potential and wow the world with your genius? Obviously not. But even if you are never ludicrously happy, you will never even be a little bit sad. Even if you never fall in love, you will never be alone. Even if you never believe in God or explore the depths of existential philosophy, you will never feel their lack, either. In a very real sense perhaps you won’t be human anymore, but would you care? Would any of us?
What makes Huxley terrifying is not the ‘wrongness’ of his world, it is the fact that it is all too easy to understand the rightness of it. When I feel depressed about the human race and about the (more-or-less) great society in which I live, I wonder whether we aren’t all just fooling ourselves into thinking we deserve to be free. Maybe this is what we get. Maybe, as Agent Smith points out in the Matrix, we couldn’t handle utopia anyway and we need to have suffering in the world in order to accept it as real. Maybe that’s what freedom is – feeling pain. Suffering for the benefits of liberty. It’s just that sometimes I’m tired of it; sometimes I just want somebody to come give me my dose of soma and make the world go away.
Occasionally, I purchase or acquire new role-playing games from the bargain shelves of gaming stores or from friends who are cleaning out their book collection. I take a look at them, read them through, and make a determination of whether I will do one of two things:
1) Shelve it and never look at it again.
2) Waste hours considering the campaign I’d like to run based off the game, even though I do not, in any way shape or form, have the time to run an RPG campaign.
Option #1 is usually the more prudent choice. I am in the midst of running 2 campaigns right now, both of which are temporarily stalled thanks to me being too busy to think about them, so the idea that I might spend any amount of time thinking about an additional game to play is silly and wasteful.
…and yet here I am.
I just acquired the hard copy of Torchbearer the other day, which is a new RPG by the same guy who did The Burning Wheel, which is at once one of the more fascinating and frustrating rule systems I’ve encountered. Torchbearer is essentially a stripped down version of Burning Wheel, using the same basic rule mechanic but tossing out the fourteen tons of character-intensive soul-searching off of which that game operates. It’s a throwback to the old dungeon-centric games of my youth – players portray a basic archetypical character all of whom collectively need to make their living by invading the dark and forbidding places of the earth for treasure. The best thing about it is that it has de-romanticized dungeon crawling – people who spend their time hunting treasure in deadly places are not heroes, they are not the finest examples of humanity, they are not whimsical storybook characters. They are desperate, poor, and probably starving and the only reason they are doing this is because they haven’t the connections, the will, or the wits to live a more respectable life.
I sort of dig that idea. And I do like dungeons.
The problem (and the debate) that occupies my time, though, when considering whether a game is worth running and planning or not is two-fold:
1) How will this game be different from other games I have run?
2) How can I make it into something new and interesting in its own right.
Torchbearer’s basic world/setting is, frankly, not very interesting. Granted, it is expressly intended to be a throwback game, but just because that’s what the author’s intended doesn’t mean that’s what I would do with it. I have run so many medieval fantasy world campaigns that the thought of another, even a gritty survival based one (which, it should be noted, I have already done) sounds fairly dull. So, in the interest of completeness, let me list off the similar campaigns I have run in the past couple years or so:
- The Amazing Race: Talislanta: a campaign where I created two separate adventuring parties who had to go on a cross-continental race to steal a mighty treasure from an unknown land for a fabulous reward. Set in Talislanta, using that game’s system. It was fun.
- Alandar: A game set in my own world with my own modification of the Roll-and-Keep system which ran for a few years and was quite epic in scope and depth. I’m never doing that again (most likely), so there’s no point in pretending to try.
- Burning Imperium: A personal mod of the Burning Wheel system to fit the Warhammer 40K universe. Team-oriented play, dark world, etc.
- Riddle of Steel: Japan: A mod (getting a trend here?) of the Riddle of Steel system adapted to a quasi-historical medieval Japanese setting. Very gritty rules, very character oriented, but mostly political intrigue based.
I will leave out the 3-4 Dungeons and Dragons campaigns I ran as a kid, as well as the umpteen-billion D&D-ish one-shots I’ve played in. I’m probably missing a few things in there, too. Anyway…
Stuff I haven’t done includes Post-apocalyptic settings, anything set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe (which might be fun), as well as anything in a player-generated, collaboratively created world. All three of these seem like decent possibilities. The first would require the most adaptation on my part (though it would a very awesome take on the old dungeon-crawl trope: trawling ancient ruins for stuff to survive the wasteland of far-future Earth), the second is just a setting I love and would be fun to play with (though my enthusiasm may be unique in that regard – not a lot of WHFB fans around here), and the third would require the least work on my part, but would rely on actively engaged players contributing to the creation of the game. At my age, I don’t know a whole lot of people with the kind of free time and attention necessary to do that, as fun as it would be.
Ultimately, at some point, all gamers at my age need to understand something that is, regrettably, true: You’re never going to be 15-24 again. You will never have the kind of free-time you used to have before you had a family and a career and so on. All the crazy campaign Ideas you come up with can only come to fruition if, by some work of sorcery, you can pry the rest of your friends away from their real lives long enough to eat up 6 hours of their lives every week or two in order to imagine yourself somewhere else. So, would I like to run a Post-apocalyptic Torchbearer game? Yeah, I would. Will I?
Christ, man – I haven’t even gotten that Ravenloft campaign back up and running yet. I’ve got novels to finish, stories to sell, papers to grade. I’ve got that Warhammer habit to feed. I’ve got two kids, a dog, and a wife. Get out of dreamworld, Habershaw! Get back to business!