Two Different Dystopias

There are two kinds of dystopia writing, the old kind that generally worked and the new kind that generally doesn’t. This is bad, because the new kind isn’t just a half-assed effort at what the old kind did well, it is in fact a new and different approach to writing dystopian fiction. It’s just that it’s also rubbish (the ones that get popular, anyway).

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Steam Library Roundup

I’ve committed to having one post every day this year and I don’t want to write another hex encounter today, so instead let’s pull some random games from the “Indie” category in my Steam library and give a brief review of them. I’m not going to promise in advance that all of the games in this category were correctly labeled. Quite a lot of them were sorted into here while sifting through a Humble Bundle trying to clean up my library.

Cave Story

Cave Story

The original indie game internet sensation. This thing went nuts as freeware originally, back in the ages when indie games didn’t really have a market at all. Either you were putting your game on store shelves, you gave it away for free, or people had to fucking mail you dollar bills to pay for it. I still remember AdventureQuest warning people that they couldn’t guarantee that the money for a paid account wouldn’t necessarily reach them if mailed, but online purchasing infrastructure was pretty primitive at the time, so people did it anyway.

Cave Story, though. Fun game, but the nostalgia buttons it’s hitting aren’t from my childhood, so it doesn’t hit me as hard as others. It’s a sidescrolling shooter with good weapon and enemy variety and so far as I can tell they’ve got the late 80s/early 90s Japanese game tone nailed. Even if that reproduction was imperfect (I don’t really know enough of the source material to say for sure), I liked what they ended up with. It’s cute and endearing and makes me want to continue shooting slime monsters to save the weird rabbit-dog people.

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Hoard of the Dragon Queen is Okay

I finished up running Hoard of the Dragon Queen about eight-ish months ago. I’m very much late to the “it was okay” party, but that’s sort of how I do, so let’s get rolling.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen has a very strong start and a pretty strong finish. The opening chapter is a raid on a farming town by the Dragon Cult, primary villains of the adventure path, including an actual goddamn adult blue dragon. The whole thing is a fighting retreat, trying to save people from the Cult and evacuate, rather than any hope of actually winning. This is a compelling intro that serves to make the antagonists threatening and intimidating without threatening to wipe the party.

It does, however, threaten to wipe the party on top of that. Level 1 characters will have a Hell of a time getting through all the content in Greenest. I think the idea might be that you’re supposed to skip some of it, but that seems like a waste. It’s not like I’m very likely to run this campaign again and need to reuse content. I’ve heard it advised that you can have characters come to Hoard of the Dragon Queen directly off of Lost Mines of Phandelver, and while level five is a bit much for Greenest in Flames, it would still probably go better than trying to run it as level one. Better to have your players feel like they’re more badass than any one thing the Dragon Cult has to throw at them except 1) for that dragon and 2) the Dragon Cult has lots of kobolds and action economy is a pretty decisive factor in 5e, as opposed to having them constantly dropping and getting back up and maybe some of them being killed outright at some point if they’re heroic enough to decide they don’t want to leave any of the villagers to their fate.

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Cthulhu Is Actually Quite Fragile

So there’s this idea that gets passed around a lot wherever Lovecraft fans lurk that Cthulhu is some kind of unstoppable mega-monster against whom all human weapons are useless, that he and his kind are so indescribably powerful, so beyond our ken, that they would hardly even notice us trying to kill them and would wipe out all human civilization just to get rid of the clutter.

Cthulhu lost a fight with a steam boat.

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Historical YouTube Channels

There are three different YouTube channels that I watch fairly regularly for their historical content (four if you count the Great War, which is much more narrowly focused than these other channels are), and sharing them here gives me an excuse not to write a proper blog post today.

Military History Visualized concentrates primarily on WW2, but also has plenty of videos on other subjects. His production values are very high (though not necessarily his production budget), which means his videos are easy to watch even for a long period of time. I soundly condemn his recent decision to have a face, but I love him anyway, especially for his videos on misconceptions propagated by movies and video games (whether in service of the medium or just due to laziness). He cites his sources and often quotes them directly, so he’s also the one whose accuracy I’m most confident in (unless you count the Great War, who I hold in similar esteem).

Lindybeige is a controversial figure, but his main detractors are weeaboos, Wehrmaboos, and people who think being contrarion is a greater sign of intelligence than being right. I haven’t watched all of Lindybeige’s work or even most of it, so it’s possible he actually did make some serious blunders, but so far as I can tell the umbrage against Lindybeige mainly comes down to fanboys who dislike it when he makes a point against their favorite historical armies and people who are hopping on the bandwagon. His production values are just north of totally abysmal, which makes him an easy target even though his information is generally accurate. He’s not as good at citing sources and the like as Military History Visualized, and only tends to do so when a video is so overwhelmed with backlash that he feels the need to address it with a follow-up in which he pulls out some primary sources (almost invariably British) with which to smack his critics. Lindybeige is definitely sometimes misleading by omission, in that he is clearly a fanboy for his home country and will avoid making points against Britain if he can, and will always make points in favor of Britain, but he doesn’t spread misinformation that make his country seem more awesome than it is, he just likes to talk about the times when his country really was awesome and doesn’t so much tend to bring up the times when they got their tea-stained teeth pushed in.

Lindybeige occasionally makes videos about applying historical accuracy to RPGs and wargames, especially to fantasy settings. There’s no denying that he comes across like a smug asshole with no sense of drama in them, but ignore the tone and pay attention to the substance, because there’s some great worldbuilding advice there. It’s not like it’s thin on the ground, either. Lindybeige’s unscripted rambling certainly drives information density down, but it’s not that low.

Shadiversity is a pain to listen to. MatPat’s voice took some serious getting used to, but I can’t seem to get used to Shad at all. That’s kind of a testament to the quality of his content in and of itself, though, since I’ll sit down to listen to it anyway even though it makes my ears bleed. He likes to talk about how much he loves swords, but his best videos are the ones where he talks about castles. His series on whether [insert fictitious castle here] would be any good as an actual fortification is great for worldbuilding in much the same way as Lindybeige’s RPG-related content is, and likewise his videos on what kind of weapons would be best suited for [fantasy creature].

Honorable mention to Overly Sarcastic Productions, which has some of the best history videos I’ve ever seen and kind of deep sixed my own nascent plans to run a history YouTube series, since my concept was basically the same as their history summarized videos, except it turns out they beat me to the punch by like a year, and also while I might have been able to compete in terms of scripting and voice acting, I can’t draw for crap and I’m terrible at finding and editing together relevant pictures, so they have me thoroughly trumped on the visual end of things. As such, Blue’s historical videos sound like broken dreams and loneliness to me, but I really enjoy Red’s content and what videos of Blue’s I did watch I could appreciate the quality of despite my personal hangups.

Dungeon Radio

I like stumbling across good but obscure work, because then I can link to someone else’s stuff and call it a day. Today’s gift from serendipity is Dungeon Hacks, from Dungeon Keeper Radio. They also made a sequel, and I’m hoping they’ll make more. Each video takes a few minutes to talk about a few ways to make a dungeon more dangerous without just adding more or higher level monsters and traps, but rather using the monsters/traps the dungeon already has more effectively.

For example, Matt Colville recommends in his one-page dungeon video that you have a trap room and a creature encounter. That’s a good idea for your very first adventure, but as Dungeon Hacks point out, it’s more interesting (read: deadly) by having monsters take advantage of the trap to attack the heroes. A simple pit trap is only going to cause some minor damage by itself, but if you set it up to collapse only beneath the weight of someone who weighs over, eh, 200 pounds or so, that’s probably going to be someone wearing at least medium armor, which means one of the party’s meatshields is at the bottom of the pit and not on the front lines when your goblins spring their ambush. A particularly cunning example from the videos themselves is using skeletons to keep the party boxed into a room filling with poison gas.

Each of the two videos I linked above is full of ideas like this, a total of about twelve minutes of them. That doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not, but it’s dense with smart dungeon design, which means it doesn’t take long for you to listen to but will give you plenty to chew on in that short amount of time.