Mythos: The Alchemist

I’ve never read these very early stories before, my reading of Lovecraft having previously been limited to very famous stories like Call of Cthulhu and Shadow Over Innsmouth. As such, I can’t say for sure when Lovecraft is going to really arrive in proper Lovecraftian style, but I’m pretty confident that he’s going to need a few more years to cook from this 1908 story, written when he was 18 (Lovecraft had the decency to be born in the nice round numbered 1890, making it easy to determine his age as of the writing based on a story’s publication date).

According to Barnes and Nobles’ intro (no specific writer is named as near as I can tell), this story is Lovecraft trying his absolute hardest to be Edgar Allen Poe.

High up, crowning the grassy summit of a swelling mound whose sides are wooded near the base with the gnarled trees of the primeval forest, stands the old chateau of my ancestors.

You Remember Our House, Opulent And Imperial

I don’t even know how much I’m joking here. Red Hook Studio’s name is a slightly obscure Lovecraft reference, which means the parallel between the house described here and the one in Darkest Dungeon may be a fully intentional homage.

Continue reading “Mythos: The Alchemist”

Mythos: The Beast in the Cave

I really liked the note the previous post ended on, so I’m splitting this off into a second post for later in the same day. This is our examination of what Barnes and Noble considers to be Lovecraft’s first “real” story. There’s a few creative ideas with atrocious execution in the appendix at the back, like a story with grammar so poor it impairs readability but which contains a decent joke about some sailors finding a message in a bottle claiming to lead to buried treasure, which then turns out to be a prank. Neat and all, but not exactly a Lovecraft story, despite having been literally written by HP Lovecraft.

Fifteen-year old HP Lovecraft brings us the first “real” Lovecraft story, the Beast in the Cave, in which Lovecraft writes about being lost in a cave despite having never been in a cave in his life, having done considerable research on the subject in the library instead. I think this definitely qualifies the story as Lovecraftian.

The horrible conclusion which had been gradually obtruding itself upon my confused and reluctant mind was now an awful certainty.

Yup, definitely a Lovecraft story. This is the opening line, establishing that our protagonist was taking a tour in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, when he decided it would be fun to wander off from the group and go exploring alone. He is now completely lost and facing inevitable death, because of course he is.

Fifteen-year old Lovecraft, far from having not yet grown into his style, is so very Lovecraftian as to come across as parodic. He would evidently tone down the sesquepedelian loquaciousness later in life, and would become less enraptured with how horrifying his own stories were. He’s got that teenage affectation that using lots of really weird words must be how good writing works. Lines like this:

As I stood in the waning, unsteady light, I idly wondered over the exact circumstances of my coming end. I remembered the accounts which I had heard of the colony of consumptives, who, taking their residence in this gigantic grotto to find health from the apparently salubrious air of the underground world, with its steady, uniform temperature, pure air, and peaceful quiet, had found, instead, death in strange and ghastly form.

Would be out of place in a fan fiction only because there’s some actual interesting ideas underneath all the purple prose.

Our narrator is early on quite at peace with his imminent demise:

Hope had departed. Yet, indoctrinated as I was by a life of philosophical study, I derived no small measure of satisfaction from my unimpassioned demeanour; for although I had frequently read of the wild frenzies into which were thrown the victims of similar situations, I experienced none of these, but stood quiet as soon as I clearly realised the loss of my bearings.

However, after his torch dies and he is in total darkness, he has an encounter with some strange beast that, from its footfalls, seems to switch freely between quadrupedal and bipedal locomotion. Hearing it make a beeline for him, he gropes about for a weapon, finds some stray rocks, and tosses them at the approaching footfalls until one of them connects and the unknown creature falls. He then flees in a panic and finds the guide of the sightseeing group, who had come looking for him.

I ran to meet the flare, and before I could completely understand what had occurred, was lying upon the ground at the feet of the guide, embracing his boots, and gibbering, despite my boasted reserve, in a most meaningless and idiotic manner, pouring out my terrible story, and at the same time overwhelming my auditor with protestations of gratitude. At length I awoke to something like my normal consciousness.

This feels like the Lovecraft concept of horror in prototype: A certain and well-understood death at the hands of starvation doesn’t faze our protagonist, but one encounter with an unknown horror and he is reduced to literal gibbering. He recovers his senses pretty quickly, but still, he falls to his knees in gratitude upon rescue despite apparently having no fear of death in general.

With better access to light, the protagonist returns to the site of the confrontation to examine the creature he felled, and we get our twist ending.

Then fear left, and wonder, awe, compassion, and reverence succeeded in its place, for the sounds uttered by the stricken figure that lay stretched out on the limestone had told us the awesome truth. The creature I had killed, the strange beast of the unfathomed cave was, or had at one time been, a MAN!!!

That very fifteen-year old emphasis on the reveal is from the original.

I’m using the “Mythos” tag as a means of getting not only Lovecraft, but also August Derleth’s work in the immediate aftermath, sources of inspiration like Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow which were written before the Mythos, and much later modern addendums like FFG’s Arkham Files games (especially the Arkham Horror LCG, which is writing new stories in the same setting rather than being a vague remix of existing Lovecraft stories as most Arkham Files games have been) and the Lovecraftian Stephen King novels. By that categorization, the Beast in the Cave arguably doesn’t count. It’s definitely got Lovecraft’s style, but it’s not any kind of Mythos story. Someone just got lost in Mammoth Cave, survived off of rats and cave fish for however many years until their body was grotesquely adapted to their new environs, and then got killed by a panicked spelunker. No eldritch horror involved.

It’s in the Barnes and Noble collection, though, so I read it and now I’m writing a blog post about it.

Mythos: Let’s Get The Conversation About Madness Out Of The Way

I still intend to review Leaves of the World Tree, probably intermingling stories from that collection with stories from this one. But I really need to concentrate on reviewing whatever will get me posting again, and that means some kind of proper investigation where even if an individual work is bad, it’s part of an overall picture which is important even if I don’t particularly enjoy and do not recommend many or any of its component parts, and that means we’re going to start chipping away at the complete works of HP Lovecraft. I got one of those Barnes and Noble classics that contained, so far as I can tell, everything Lovecraft ever published and some things he didn’t, and I’m going to be going through that, hopefully alternating with Leaves.

I inaugurated a discussion about Conan with a post about how, although racist, the Conan stories were considerably less racist than Nazis would lead you to believe, because Nazis try to reframe practically everything that isn’t explicitly progressive as being secretly pro-Nazi. The most stand-out example of this is Nazi reinterpretations of the mildly anti-racist Lord of the Rings as secretly being pro-eugenics, despite Tolkien having explicitly gone on record to tell the actual Nazi Party to get bent.

In context of HP Lovecraft, though, although certain specific stories aren’t about race even though people think they are (Lovecraft had a lot of phobias), Lovecraft personally was barely less racist than actual Nazis. Now, he was less racist than actual Nazis, and it is still important to maintain perspective that, for example, Lovecraft was the kind of fellow who would marry a Jew because “she’s one of the good ones” rather than calling for total extermination. But for the most part, even if specific accusations of racism turn out to be sensationalism, Lovecraft is pretty much exactly as racist as you’ve been led to believe. Like, he once wrote a story where the real horror was that someone who is like one-sixteenth black was successfully passing as white. Not that there was some kind of fish-monster whose lineage was a metaphor for race-mixing, but that the big reveal is literally that the villain had a black great-grandparent.

That said, many of the tropes assigned to Lovecraft as core to the experience by his modern fandom are drastically exaggerated, in some cases to the point of being almost completely baseless. I’ve actually talked about this before, but only as a quick post articulating a pet peeve, so for purposes of proper analysis, I want to draw attention to three things commonly believed about the Mythos that are pretty much completely wrong:

-As the linked article suggests, Mythos monsters are not generally all that durable. Although Lovecraft’s protagonists frequently find themselves physically outmatched, this is because they are aging antiquarians, amateur home renovators, and underpaid clerks. Most Mythos creatures succumb just fine to a blast of dynamite or a shotgun scatter, Lovecraft’s protagonists just don’t have dynamite and shotguns. FFG’s Arkham Files games have a radically different tone from Lovecraft’s because they tend to star investigators who are actively confronting the Mythos and have made some effort to prepare themselves for that confrontation, but they’re not inaccurate to the general level of threat posed by the Mythos. People complain about how players in the Call of Cthulhu RPG rarely act in accordance with Mythos lore as though it were a fault in the adventures that GMs are running, and while I’m certain there are some GMs out there running dungeon crawls with a Mythos coat of paint on, Old Man Henderson is actually a perfectly reasonable protagonist for a story that’s about confronting the Mythos rather than being ambushed by it.

-People generally don’t go insane from contact with the Mythos. This has happened to  couple of Lovecraft’s protagonists, but nowhere near the majority, and that’s counting people who were institutionalized as insane for reporting the perfectly real Mythos encounters they’d had. When they do, it’s usually because they share a certain neurosis with their author, and we shouldn’t expect people with ordinary mental resilience to be so horrified. It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that all Lovecraft stories are about the same sheltered white guy going for a walk and being horrified to realize that a black person has moved into his neighborhood, but the basic sentiment is accurate: Many of the things that Lovecraft felt were so terrible that the human mind was better off not knowing they were real are things that many readers of this blog already believe are true and haven’t taken any particular SAN damage from. There’s nothing special about humanity, and our existence is actually quite small and insignificant next to the vastness of the universe, and it’s not currently clear whether we’ll ever expand past the tiny speck we’re currently locked on. Comforting? No. Madness-inducing? Also no. Some people do get really worked up about this kind of thing and are only able to function by ignoring it, but other people feel a brief moment of disappointment and then get on with their lives.

-The Mythos doesn’t always win. This is actually a common problem in any form of media: People are so used to seeing incessant victory that they treat any context in which the good guys even occasionally lose as one in which things are completely hopeless. A 50/50 win:loss ratio is treated as an inevitable death spiral rather than a closely matched battle, and 70/30 tends to be treated like a single slip could spell doom for our team, despite the fact that 70/30 win:loss ratio actually suggests that we’re winning handily and would have to bungle multiple encounters to lose the initiative. Lovecraft’s protagonists don’t have a 100% victory rate, and to a certain kind of grimderpy fan, that automatically means they must have a 0% victory rate. In the actual works by Lovecraft, you win some and you lose some.

With almost everything weird and different, the things which set a piece of media apart get exaggerated to the point of self-parody by fans, and sometimes, in the modern era, by creators who can react to fan communities in real time. So when we’re reading HP Lovecraft, we’re going to take a step back from the hype and bear in mind that, although Cthulhu lies dreaming beneath the ocean, the deep ones lurk in the waters of Innsmouth, and an invisible abomination the size of a barn lives in Dunwich, all three of those things were shot in the face until they died.

Writing Mediocre Books Is Hard

As the title says, writing mediocre books is hard. Not in the sense that writing books is so difficult that even writing a mediocre one is hard. I mean in the sense that my own stringently advocated strategy of favoring quantity over quality is actually more difficult than fussing with a book until every single chapter is individually an effective advert for my writing. For me, at least. I assume the guy writing Dungeon Born doesn’t have this problem.

I have two different books now that are struggling with middle chapters, and I recently read both of them and compared them not to the best moments of my own work, but to the best moments of other books I have read. Obviously, if we use all books I have read as a measuring stick, the problem only gets worse. But using individual other books I have read, it suddenly becomes clear that I am worried about nothing. The worst parts of my book are only slightly worse than the best parts of Awaken Online. They’re better than the best parts of Shipwrecks Above and, by extension, Succubus. The worst parts of my books are definitely better than the worst parts of perfectly successful books like Threadbare, and are no worse than the bog quest from Way of the Shaman. The worst parts of my book are about on par with the opening pages of Scourge of the Betrayer, and those actually are adverts for the author’s writing.

Why am I so worried about retaining readers when I’m already some nine chapters in? No one’s going to read a book that far and put it down because of one dud chapter. I know the chapter after is better, and while the one in the middle could definitely be improved, the amount of time I’ve sunk into improving it is  way past the point of diminishing returns. I’m clearly at the point here where I should just let some of the middle chapters be kind of lame and move on to finishing the actual story so I can get the good parts of the book out the door.

The State of the Blog

So, what’s up with the blog? It’s had real spotty updating lately.

Partly, the problem here is that I am very tired. My Kickstarter ventures simply aren’t working, and I’m trying to figure out what to do next. Various video and novel projects are getting poked at, and I’m constantly haunted by the fear that whatever I pick next will also be a total flop, and I will spend another 6-12 months of my life chasing something that ultimately won’t work. It’s really hard to do something when it feels like it will ultimately amount to nothing.

But there’s another problem: I’ve largely lost interest in the easiest source of content for this blog, the chapter-by-chapter book reviews. I’ve lost interest because I’m no longer using it as a means to improve myself as a writer. Rather than investigating a specific genre and getting some blog posts out of the process, the focus is now exclusively on writing blog posts. When reviewing LitRPG and Conan, I was invested in the research, in sating my curiosity as to what the fundamental tropes of LitRPG and the overall shape of the Conan story was, respectively. When reviewing these Humble Bundle books, there’s no greater thread through the stories I’m pursuing. Having discovered that Scourge of the Betrayer kind of sucks, it’s not clear what value there is in pursuing it further. There’s no investigation to complete, here.

Someone did send me a free .pdf copy of their collection of fantasy short stories, which was neat. It’s probably not the kind of thing that’s going to happen again, but having received the .pdf, I am going to at least take a stab at reviewing it. After that, I’m going to figure out a research project of some kind to pursue, rather than aimlessly reading whatever comes to hand, because the aimless thing just hasn’t worked at all. If nothing else comes to mind, I can just go back to Conan. Plenty water left in that well.

Majesty 1 vs. Majesty 2

Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim is one of my favorite video games. Years after the release of its northern expansion, it had a sequel, Majesty 2, produced by a different studio. The fandom did not like it very much. They claimed it had lost all the charm of the original. The specific complaints were both dumb and over-exaggerated (“they cut gnomes!” So what? They may have been a fun idea, but mechanically they were a trap option useful only in bizarre edge cases), but the general criticism is valid: Majesty 2 has shifted focus considerably from the original, and is more about irritating micromanagement of your heroes than it is about managing your economy.

In the original Majesty, you could build an unlimited number of marketplaces and trading posts, with the only restriction being that their costs rose sharply for each additional one constructed. In many quests, the ultimate goal is to survive long enough to get three marketplaces to level 3, at which point you are bringing in such a ludicrous amount of gold that your economy can power through virtually any opposition.

In Majesty 2, you are limited to a single marketplace and can only build trading posts on pre-designated spots. There’s a hard limit on how powerful your economy can grow, and it’s much more important to have huge hero hordes early on, so rather than balancing early defense and the foundations of an economy as in Majesty 1, in Majesty 2 you really just need to make sure you set aside enough gold for your marketplace from your starting pile while all the rest goes towards hero guilds. Once you’ve got your marketplace up and running, that income is mostly going to be recycled into more hero guilds and resurrecting dead heroes from graveyards.

Economy is less important, but unit management takes up the extra slack (once you get out of the interminable tutorial phase where you can build so few buildings that the game is largely spent staring at a screen waiting for your heroes to get on with it – the original Majesty had this same problem in its early levels). In the original Majesty, a single copy of each guild was more than sufficient to tame the wilderness, but in Majesty 2 even simple quests will demand 2 or 3 warriors’ guilds. Not only do you need to build more guilds, you also need to use the attack, explore, and welcome new additions of defend and fear flags to direct hero movement considerably more. Rangers will make some limited explorations of their own initiative, but explore flags are necessary to get them to locate dungeons for your warriors to raid. The game is less about setting up a town, bringing in some heroes, and letting them do their thing, with quest rewards being used only sporadically to prioritize their attention, and more about using reward flags to direct your heroes towards each and every goal you need accomplished like a less responsive version of StarCraft. The hands-off hero control is Majesty’s whole thing, that’s what makes you feel like you’re running the town in a fantasy RPG rather than playing some WarCraft knock-off fantasy RTS.

The game also leans a bit too heavily on the satire. The heroes, royal adviser, and other good guys come across less like genuine heroes who have some funny human foibles and more like selfish (albeit charming) cowards who pretend at heroism. It’s a not-bad imitation of the original game’s style, but it leans too heavily on the things that made Majesty stand out from the stock medieval fantasy setting, which led to it drowning out some of the important qualities of the stock medieval fantasy setting that the satirical elements relied on to function. Majesty 1 was charming because it was simultaneously very aware that they were the umpteenth video game to use this setting but nevertheless playing it mostly straight. Majesty 2 treats its setting a bit too much like a joke, though thankfully not to an extreme. It never gets hard to take the setting seriously at all, but it does frequently feel like your accomplishments are being trivialized a bit when the adviser implies that the heroic deeds you’re accomplishing are so much propaganda papered over a naked power grab.

Majesty 2 might not compare favorably to its predecessor, but it is ultimately still a fun game. Once I’ve finished playing all the content in Majesty 1, I can either play plot-free random maps forever, replay the exact same content over and over again, or I can play Majesty 2, and of those options, playing Majesty 2 is easily the most appealing.

Mythic, Legendary, Romantic, Satirical

Fun fact: Literature has power tiers. Not in the sense that we can meaningfully figure out whether Achilles would beat Lancelot in a fight, because the power tiers are very broad and those two both occupy the same tier, and within-tier comparisons are basically meaningless as there’s too little consistency between and often even within stories as to what characters can and cannot accomplish. Authors and audiences simply do not have the exhaustive knowledge of scientific reality to be able to accurately describe whether a character is ten or one hundred times stronger, faster, etc. etc. than a regular human being, and thus two demonstrations of strength by the same character in the same story that are meant to be similarly taxing will indicate vast differences in actual strength. To authors and audiences, casually punching a regular squishy human hard enough that they explode into giblets and then later lifting a dump truck overhead only with great effort seem like perfectly reasonable limits, but have you actually done the math on whether or not that makes any sense at all? I haven’t.

But there are four broadly distinct literary power tiers, because they operate on levels of power scaling that human minds can intuit. Those tiers are, as you likely guessed from the post title, mythic, legendary, romantic, and satirical. Loosely, the stories of gods, heroes, exceptional people, and people who kind of suck.

The defining trait of mythic storytelling is that it explains how something in the world came to be, and its protagonists are therefore naturally of world-shaping power. Even when they behave like petty warlords (like Olympians) or even like lazy stoners (many trickster spirit stories are like this), they do things like shape all the world’s snakes or raise mountains from the earth or whatever. Like, spiders used to be swole but one day the spider god Anansi played a trick that backfired and got stretched in all directions and now spiders have skinny legs. This story is downright slice-of-life, but it also made all spiders everywhere have skinny legs, which makes it mythic. Tales of Olympians tend to be pretty much the same as tales of Greek heroes, except that Olympic stories usually end up with a new island being formed, or an old one being submerged, or mountains being punched flat, or whatever.

The defining trait of a legendary story is that the protagonists have capabilities that are clearly superhuman. These are super hero stories. Achilles is flat-out invincible, Lancelot defeats dozens of other knights in combat, Cuchulain defeated an army single-handed, that kind of thing. The heroes of a legendary story are very blatantly superhuman, but not to the point where they reshape the landscape. Legendary heroes are often part of founding myths for cities, but they do not spawn forests or oceans or whatever.

There’s some edge cases, like, Heracles once redirected a river to flood out some crazy huge stables he was supposed to clean and doing it the regular way was for chumps. It’s questionable what tier Heracles exists on, but it’s notable that he was considered overpowered even compared to other Greek heroes. Lots of versions of Jason and the Argonauts like to make the Argonauts a who’s who of Greek heroes, but then have to contrive some reason why Heracles doesn’t solve everything by being way more powerful than everyone else. The best part is that the contrivance is that they forgot him on an island while he was taking a nap and just didn’t go back for him.

In a romantic story, the protagonist is super cool but not superhuman. You could see someone like that actually existing. These stories start getting more common in the Enlightenment era, when we start noticing some definitive upward limits on human ability. Absent some good records and the scientific method, it’s reasonable to believe that, seeing as how some people are considerably stronger than others, it is therefore possible for very rare individuals to be considerably stronger than that and can therefore throw pickup trucks around.

Most of the stories written by famous dead people in the Victorian era are romantic. A Tale of Two Cities is about a hard-drinking cynic trading places with a noble idealist who looks pretty similar to him so that said idealist can escape the French Revolution, which is something anyone could do but which most people wouldn’t. His only superpower is that he happens to look kind of like another guy. Sherlock Holmes is just a really good detective, though the sheer breadth of his knowledge is potentially superhuman in the sense of “how does one person find the time to learn all this stuff,” that’s another “have you done the math” question, and Holmes’ powers in any one field are accomplished but not unprecedented. Les Miserables is about Jean Valjean, who is mega-strong and (after some brief prologue establishes his motivation) very moral, but not superhumanly so. Well, maybe superhumanly so, because I haven’t done the math on how hard it is to climb the walls of Paris bare-handed in the 1830s, but not so superhumanly so that it’s immediately obvious. In any case, Valjean’s incredible strength isn’t even his defining attribute and gets used to solve problems, like, three times in the entire table-busting novel. The modern genre of romance is descended from stories in the romantic tradition like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, which suffer tremendously from having not even one magic cloak that allows its wearer to transform into a bird.

Finally, the satirical story is about people who would easily avoid or solve their problems if they weren’t kind of dumb. You can actually make satires that aren’t like this at all, and there are stories like this that aren’t satires. I wish I could remember who introduced me to this classification scheme so I could direct your scorn towards them for having such a dumb name for the last category, and I am slightly worried that I’m just misremembering it. Anyway, in this context we’re talking about things like A Comedy of Errors, where the plot is driven partly by an extremely specific string of coincidences but also by the incapability of the protagonists to sit down and have a clarifying conversation with each other.

I think it’s interesting that science has killed the myth but reinvigorated the legend. Early on in the enlightenment, legendary storytelling began to die out in favor of the romantic style, but as we moved on to the industrial era, and especially into the 20th century, things got steadily more legendary again. Fantasy storytelling took off, unironically telling the same legendary stories of heroes and monsters even in an era where it was perfectly well understood that such things were definitely ahistorical, and science fiction stories used lasers and spaceships to bestow upon its protagonists the super powers that were once the domain of divine gifts (whether metaphorical gifts from descent or literal gifts in the form of magic items). Science fiction myths aren’t unheard of, there are stories about alien cultures whose technology is so advanced they may as well be gods going around creating planets and such, but they’re comparatively rare (in relative terms – the rate at which we create fiction has so exploded that our least common stories are more frequent in absolute terms than the most popular stories of previous ages).

On the other hand, as our terraforming tech advances, previously mythic feats are getting pushed into the realm of lower and lower tiers. A story about terraforming Mars is probably a legendary story about heroes with access to fantastic technology, but whose abilities are by no means godlike compared to our own, and the construction of an artificial island in the South China Sea could be a perfectly grounded bit of military fiction firmly in the romantic tier. The way things are going, someday we’ll have stories about a pair of lazy stoners who make new planets for fun, you know, like unemployed slackers are prone to, and get in over their heads when they accidentally recycle what looked like an unimportant moon but was actually a vital observation post in a century-spanning scientific experiment by a galaxy-wide super-intelligence. Hijinks ensue when the super-intelligence mistakes our bumbling protagonists for saboteurs!

Everyone Dies In Boy Meets World

Boy Meets World has a surprisingly high implicit body count. For whatever reason, a character’s final appearance of a season has a fairly strong tendency to include them being in mortal peril, whether comic or dramatic, and then the character doesn’t always return for the next season.

Example: Stuart Minkus is the nerdy kid in season 1. In the final episode, an over-the-credits scene sees Cory and Shawn harnessing their latent psychic powers to blink him out of existence. It’s clearly meant to be a non-canon credits gag, but Minkus is totally absent starting season 2, so apparently our heroes legit killed a guy with their mind powers.

Example 2: Mr. Turner is in a motorcycle wreck during a very special episode towards the end of season 4. We last see him badly injured in a hospital bed, giving Shawn’s hand a weak but reassuring squeeze. This is meant to indicate that he’s gonna be okay, except that when I say “we last see him” I don’t mean “for the episode” or even “for the season,” I mean for the entire rest of the series. And there’s a whole other season that takes place in high school, so it’s not just that the cast left him behind but in good health when they graduated. Dude is gone.

I’m kind of lying, though, because the show’s writers seem to have noticed the problem in a late season 5 episode where Minkus does reappear, claiming to have been in an off-camera “other part of the school” for the past four years, and calls out to an off-camera Mr. Turner. Mr. Turner doesn’t respond, partly because actor Anthony Tyler Quinn wasn’t actually on set and partly because he died a year ago and Minkus is having a psychotic breakdown after being trapped in a psychic mirror dimension for four years by Cory and Shawn’s powers.

A similar author saving throw was made to save the most prominent of the not one, not two, but three siblings mysteriously erased from existence after season 1. Cory’s younger sister, the only one of the three to be Cory’s sibling, specifically, and the only one to appear in more than one episode is also the only one to be returned to existence after a season 2 obliteration. She came back under a new actor in season 3, so we can be reasonably confident she isn’t dead, but probably shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the Matthews family’s daughter was replaced by an only moderately convincing changeling, something that might seem farfetched until you remember that Cory and Shawn once vaporized someone with psychic powers on camera and also that the sibling in question’s name is Morgan, as in “le Fey.” The possibility implied by canon is that season 1 Morgan and season 3 Morgan are the same person, but that she was grounded for an entire year so thoroughly that she did not once see Cory during that time, which is probably darker than the changeling theory, all things considered.

Draft RPG Characters

In any game where you assemble a build from lots of options, the meta-game eventually gets stale as a handful of particularly useful spells get settled on. A pretty consistent way to break this up is with the draft (or some other method of cutting down the options available, like Magic: the Gathering’s ever churning Modern format or randomized Sealed Deck format).

What if you did a draft with a party of RPG characters? Everyone would have to have access to the same pool of features, which means you’d have to have a game altered or built from the ground up to handle it, but as a very simple proof of concept, imagine a game of 5e in which everyone must play a wizard, we assume that all of you learn spells from each other, but when you prepare spells on a long rest, you have to draft your spells. No party member can prepare the same spell as any other party member, so if Alice took fireball, you have to take something else.

One problem here is a lack of any competitive element. The critical thing with a draft is that Alice takes fireball not just because it’s good for her build, but because it’s also good for yours, and she wants to deny it to you. I don’t know how to introduce that competitive element that really makes the draft pop, and without it, I think it might be better to go with sealed deck. Instead of everyone learning spells from each other, no one can learn spells from each other, and all spells are sold as sealed booster packs. A fireball has a certain chance of dropping from each pack, and if you don’t get it, you’ll have to make do with something else.

I haven’t really put a whole lot of meat on this idea’s bones, but I think it could help break up the monotony you get after a couple of campaigns into 5e when everyone starts settling on optimal builds.