Sew You Want To Be A Hero Is Worse Than Stuff And Nonsense Except When It’s Better

Part 1: Threadbare Returns
Part 2: The Novelization Of A Dungeon Crawl Is Still Boring
Part 3: Halloween Wars
Part 4: Undead
Part 5: Spooktacular Free-For-All
Part 6: Dark Side
Part 7: Power Gaming
Part 8: It’s Not Ogre Yet
Part 9: Dark Side Boogaloo
Part 10: Magic Tea Party
Part 11: Threadbare Really Needs To Stop Trying To Criticize Racism
Part 12: The Final Battle Begins
Part 13: Finale

I can only assume that Threadbare author Andrew Seiple either isn’t hearing criticism of his attempts at anti-racist themes or else he just doesn’t care, but Very Special Chapters about racism have destroyed both of his books that I’ve read so far. The second book of the trilogy, Sew You Want To Be A Hero, was overall an improvement on the first, but the flaw that most crippled the first book has, if anything, gotten worse. Sew You Want To Be A Hero tends to focus more on fights with large parties which allows them to bounce back and forth between multiple perspectives based on whoever’s doing something interesting, and thus is far less prone to retreating into detached narration of the fight, which is good, because when Threadbare actually describes its fights, they tend to be really good.

This book is also far less enamored of the big reveal, especially as time goes on. What big reveal moments it does have tend to be resolved within a few pages rather than, as with Anise Layd’i’s identity in Stuff and Nonsense, the entire book, and by the end the book is relying much more on the question what’s going to happen next rather than what’s going on right now. People who’ve been reading these posts as they come out are probably getting sick of hearing that, but I’m gonna drop the one reference in here anyway, because it’s an important note to make for people who’re only reading the summaries.

And on top of that, the book has shaken off the aimlessness that was the original’s second biggest problem. Whereas Stuff and Nonsense was just a string of four-ish random side quests dumped onto an eleven year old girl and her favorite toy, Sew You Want To Be A Hero is about Threadbare finding Celia again (whose name is also Cecelia, now). Threadbare has Compulsive Hero Syndrome and is regularly distracted from his quest by people in need, but when he finishes saving his friend or the townsfolk or whatever he’s gone chasing after this time, he immediately reorients to his main goal of finding Celia, which gives all these episodic side quests a sense of narrative cohesion.

Part of the problem with Sew You Want To Be A Hero is that it’s developed one new flaw: Death has become completely meaningless. This wouldn’t actually be a problem if it’s something they’d figured out before anyone had died, or even if the people who had died in book one were treated evenly. Caradon is completely dead, beyond saving, but Zuula, who died at almost the same time (and didn’t she actually die before Caradon? I forget, but it was a question of minutes either way), is still around and can be preserved from death indefinitely by Threadbare’s necromancer powers. Caradon’s death is a big deal, but it’s the only death in the entire story that’s irreversible and you can feel the hand of the author demanding that Caradon and only Caradon stay dead. Having a “no one really dies unless there’s a TPK” mechanic is perfectly fine for a LitRPG setting, but having the climax of the first book revolve around “holy shit, people are actually dying” only to then pull back and say “ha ha, just kidding, nobody ever dies for real except when the plot demands it” is a pretty big problem.

Not as big as Threadbare’s persistent and consistently terrible anti-racist chapters, however. The internet is full of “keep your politics out of my media” types who are suspiciously only angry when left-wing politics form the thematic foundation of a work, so I want to be clear that the problem here is not that Threadbare wanted to have an arc about how racism is bad, the problem is that Threadbare botched that arc so horribly that it is actually super racist about it. The African American fishman in the Outsmouth arc is an obedient lackey to the evil racist Hatecraft for basically no reason at all, except that apparently when white guys start barking commands in an unknown language, African fish people are immediately compelled to obey. This is also the second non-white culture that has been depicted as fundamentally non-human, with the running total of actual human black people in the story still coming in at zero. In fairness, not every human character’s skin color is explicitly described so some of them could be black (or Arab or whatever), but Celia has frizzy red hair which makes her implicitly white which makes her relatives implicitly white, which covers Melos, Caradon, and Anise, by far the most prominent human (or ex-human) characters, and the others just don’t have skin color described at all.

I wouldn’t normally consider this a big enough problem to discuss in the summary, but like in Stuff and Nonsense, Threadbare has specifically drawn attention to how Racism Is Bad, which makes its failures in that department stick out like whoa. The story’s trying to win brownie points for being all woke and progressive and whatever, but it’s completely oblivious to how it is in fact being racist every time it brings up how opposed to racism it is.

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Finale

Cecelia Quest 5

Cecelia enters the dungeon, stepping through the woods at the edge. She’s attacked by a massive raggedy man, but Threadbare’s LitRPG mechanics don’t care about size and level 7 is level 7, so Cecelia and what’s left of her crew – the necro-knight Graves and also Anise – tear through it with no difficulty. As they approach, she realizes a few things: One, the trees are all wrong, including the one Caradon notched to measure her height on her birthdays, which is a weird detail for him to forget. Two, like the raggedy man, the house is ridiculously massive. Kind of like it would seem from the perspective of someone about twelve inches tall.

She got to the top, and peered down the hallway. There, at the very end, was her grandfather’s room. Light spilled from under the door, and she could hear the old man humming, as he did when he sat up and worked before he went to bed every night. An old familiar melody, but she knew it for the ruse it was now. “He left you behind, didn’t he, Threadbare?” She said, looking instead to her own room, darkness beneath the crack under the door.

“Left you behind to stall me, while he escaped. Come on. It’s me, Cecelia, all gr-grown up now,” she said, tears spilling from her eyes. “Come… come out and we’ll talk about this. I’ll get you some paper to write on or s-s-something.” Oh, the tears came freely now, and she tugged off her helm, shook her head. Her hair bounced, short but frizzy as it had ever been.

I think I got that paragraph break right. It looks wrong as a single mega-graph, but there’s a page break right there so it’s hard to tell. In any case, Cecelia’s hair has been a recurring motif for the past couple of chapters. She decided she was going to get it cut short after she finished murdering a village because it had gotten in the way while she was stress vomiting over it (this scene wasn’t as noticeably botched as the time Celia stress vomited over a screaming eagle having tried to kill her, but it was unexceptional enough that I didn’t bother commenting on it). The idea of shaving her head out of some kind of guilt or something has since been referenced once or twice. There’s a joke in here somewhere about that one time she ran a gauntleted hand through her hair, but I can’t find it.

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Finale”

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: The Final Battle Begins

Cecelia Quest 3

The good news (besides Threadbare’s second interminable Very Special Chapter about racism) is that it does look like this book’s climax is actually going to be about Cecelia and Threadbare confronting one another as enemies rather than pulling a bait and switch where Cecelia and the stormtroopers show up just after Threadbare has left. The people of Outsmouth say they have nowhere else to go and don’t know how to live except by fishing, so they formally swear allegiance to Threadbare, Lord of Outsmouth, and get ready for a fight. Now Cecelia’s inbound with two hundred trash level stormtroopers and a couple of mid-level knights and casters. At the beginning of the chapter, she meets with Zuula’s daughter, and the dialogue dances around the fact that they both know Zuula but have opposite opinions on her without actually getting either of them to realize this:

“Well, nothing can make or break you like family. I should know that. I owe everything I am to my father, as well. Well, that and surviving the barn fire that was my mother. Fucking green bitch.” Mastoya barked laughter. “Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the rotten tree.”

“I’m sorry. The only half-orc woman I ever knew was a good mother”

“Would have been nice to have that kind of mom,” Mastoya said. “Ah well. The past is past. All right, Dame Ragandor, you’ll have your shot.”

This is another bomb under the table moment, where instead of making the reader wonder what’s going on right now, the book is making us wonder about what will happen next. Narrative law demands that eventually Mastoya will confront her family (unfortunately, I do not find it likely that this will result in her killing Zuula permanently), and here the narrative alludes to the question of which side Cecelia would take in such a confrontation.

After getting the small talk out of the way, they get to the point of the meeting: There’s an old one cult in Outsmouth, which means the whole town has to be completely torched. Cecelia is not a fan, but is convinced that there isn’t any other practical way to quash the cult and prevent them from ushering in the end of the world. Also, Cecelia still hates Anise Lay’di specifically for “wearing her mother’s face” even though, again, Cecelia never knew her mother, so why is this violation so personally compelling for her? Anise also gets on her soapbox about how daemon cults are okay but old ones are doubleplus ungood. I’ll leave out the second part, because it’s the first I’m interested in:

“Yes. Daemons just want to show people the folly of virtue and torment the weak until they either get stronger or perish so that they stop sucking down resources,” Anise said, matter-of-factly.

This is a pretty stock villainous philosophy, but it is a philosophy beyond “mwahaha, mine is an evil laugh,” so normally I’d approve of this sort of thing. For this story specifically, though, isn’t this basically just Zuula’s philosophy? Like, sure, there’s some minor differences – Zuula is explicitly indifferent, rather than opposed to, traditional virtues, and she advocates immediate murder of the weak rather than torment that may eventually result in murder of the weak – but its fundamental principles are identical. Is this intentional? Is Threadbare actually going somewhere with this? Or is this story so lacking in self-awareness that it can give a protagonist and an antagonist explicitly stated near-identical philosophies in the same book without even noticing? If it is intentional, they’d better wrap that up by the end of this book, because after Outsmouth, I doubt I’m ever reading Right To Arm Bears, even if the title is kinda funny.

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: The Final Battle Begins”

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Threadbare Really Needs To Stop Trying To Criticize Racism

At long last, my work on my Kickstarter is mostly complete. There’s still a bunch of data entry to do and I have to manage my freelancers, but while that can be time consuming, it doesn’t drain focus the way writing stat blocks or assembling maps does. That means that focus is freed up for reading books and then writing snarky blog posts about them, so Threadbare is back! When last we left our heroes, they were investigating a vaguely Lovecraftian cult that is super into having sex with sea food, something which our protagonists never fail to comment upon as weird and creepy, which leaves me wondering why the author felt the need to actually include it if he was going to put so much effort into distancing himself from it. It’s not like it’s a requirement of the genre or anything.

Chapter 11

Pastor Elpy Hatecraft lingered for a moment more, dwelling on the artifacts of an antediluvian nature retrieved from the very depths of what in aeons past had been a submarinic trench. The local peasantry had mistaken it for a mere lake, and more ignoramuses they, for it was clearly a hoary relic from a bygone age, when squamous tentacles reached forth deep from umbral places beneath the earth, to rend and manipulate the soil and the geography about them. Lake? Bah! The brobdingnagian body of water the quaint and curious locals referred to as Lake Marsh deserved a far more Sesquipedalian surname. He had a few in mind, but he’d been waiting until the engraver got back to him with quotes, for changing all the signposts.

This spoof of Lovecraft’s writing is pretty good, though. There’s some pretty archaic words in there, but the author actually knows how to use them, so it doesn’t come across as thesaurus abuse. Well, not as much, at least. The juxtaposition between the brooding cosmic horror and waiting on quotes from the engraver is funny, too.

Hatecraft is having his deep one lackey load up the boat with the treasury he’s amassed soaking the townspeople for all they’re worth.

“Load faster! Make haste!” He commanded the beast, and it muttered and grumbled, in its loathsome way. The barbels on its cheeks twitched in time with its irritable susurration, its very existence evidence of an uncaring cosmos full of helpless gods, a form that offended the reasonable man’s eye and raked at the very sanity of all logical onlookers.

Though, the effect was somewhat spoiled by its pants.

The brethren and sistren had put their foot down about that, they wanted YGlnargle’blah’s envoy to wear pants when he wasn’t engaging in blasphemous rites. Which was absurdity of the first order, but they HAD insisted, and so the herald of the octopodlian apocalypse, the evidence irrefutable of the truth of YGlnargle’blah, and the prominent celebrity in the rite of blasphemous conception now had to wear canvas shorts when he was off duty, as it were.

So Hatecraft is super racist against fish people, like how Lovecraft used his stories about fish people to express his racism for regular people. This is not a bad angle, but the details of the execution come across like a missed opportunity. If you’re going to make a character a direct critique of a real, actual person, you need to make sure that the character reasonably resembles them in more than just the specific aspects you want to critique. I brought up in the last post that having Hatecraft be an investigator rather than a cultist would be a better fit, and that is triply true if the character is meant to be a criticism of Lovecraft’s work and ideology.

Rather then a cultist exploiting the town (something Lovecraft never did), Hatecraft would be an investigator who just kind of assumes that the fish children are evil, the townsfolk who get it on with the fish man are deranged lunatics, and everything is being done according to the will of a hideous elder god, but then it turns out that no, the local townsfolk just find this fishman super charming, his betentacled sea god religion caught on because of his popularity, and that religion doesn’t have any norms against polyamory so he’s had kids with a bunch of women around town. You could still hit most of the same beats just by having the party encounter Hatecraft before the townspeople. Threadbare and company accidentally awaken an elder god early causing a revolt against the king’s garrison, the party goes to the church to investigate the “evil rites” and end up having a tea party with fish children, they go to the library to figure out what’s up. The cultists can still show up to take Annie Mata to meet their deep one herald of the abyss, and then the deep one just takes her on a candlelit dinner and tries to sweep her off her feet, and when asexual Threadbare running Annie Mata expresses no interest throughout, the deep one, understanding but dejected, goes home to listen to sad Taylor Swift music. And then Hatecraft’s investigations bring in the US military Darth Villainous’ stormtroopers.

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Threadbare Really Needs To Stop Trying To Criticize Racism”

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Magical Tea Party

Chapter 9

The chapter opens with Threadbare’s party trying to figure out how to get into a village as an animator show. Because…apparently they can’t just walk in and be like “‘sup, we’re golems?” My guess is that wandering golems are usually monsters, so the village would react with hostility, but the book doesn’t actually say. In any case, Threadbare’s got a lesser golem carved into the rough shape of a human and wearing gloves and hood and so forth so that “she” will look passably like the animator leading the show.

While he’s trying to get the voice right, we get this bit:

“You’ve got decent volume, just… I don’t know, work on the voice a bit. Remember how Celia was. Only older.”

“Like Zuula,” the plush orc grinned.

“Sweet Nebs no, don’t try to talk like Zuula.[“]

Is the book actually noticing that its accents are annoying? That’s the least of the problems with Zuula as a character, but still.

Also, isn’t that Garon talking? The lack of dialogue tags (there’s more dialogue after my cut, but no tag) makes it hard to tell, but from earlier context it seems like this is supposed to be Garon and Zuula talking. It’s definitely not Threadbare or Dark Threadbare, and it doesn’t sound like Madeleine’s accent. So why is he calling Zuula by her first name?

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Magical Tea Party”

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Dark Side Boogaloo

Cecelia Quest 2

That’s right, after a two-chapter interlude, we’re back to the Dark Side with our favorite Sith apprentice in all of whereverstan.

Cecelia was far, far from Reason, and she hated it.

She had her plate mail, at least,

Look, I don’t mind “chain mail” to refer to what was historically called maille, because the fact is that we’re in the modern era, most people don’t know the word maille (the WordPress spellcheck doesn’t even recognize it, although the WordPress spellcheck also doesn’t recognize “WordPress”), and if you say “chain mail” everyone knows what you’re talking about.

I refuse to make that exception for “plate mail.” Yes, everyone knows what you’re talking about in common use, but it actually makes it significantly harder to explain the word maille to people who are getting slightly deeper into pop history. It’s still not especially difficult by itself, but it does take noticeably more time, and that’s time you could’ve used explaining how Richard the Lionheart’s actual real biography is basically an action movie. It’s pretty straightforward to explain to people “in the actual middle ages this was just called ‘maille,’ but these days we call it ‘chain mail’ or even ‘chain armor’ to avoid confusion with postal services,” and that much harder to say “oh, and also maille refers exclusively to chain mail, and referring to other armors like ‘plate’ as mail was just a mistake from the 70s that caught on.’ These kinds of clarifying preambles force historians to choose between being accurate and being accessible, if you have enough of them they can seriously hurt you in one direction or the other, and history is riddled with enough of them already that every new piece of straw on this camel’s back counts. “Plate armor” is a perfectly good term that doesn’t make ‘maille’ any harder to explain to people.

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Dark Side Boogaloo”

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: It’s Not Ogre Yet

Chapter 7

Our new puppet party is playing grindluck to get their stats up and maybe not get ambushed by random encounters every twelve seconds, while also talking over the situation. They are discussing this book’s favorite subject: Something ~*~mysterious~*~.

[“]So,” [Garon] said, changing the subject, “Have you thought it over?”

“Whee!” Missus Fluffbear said, as she rolled over a few times, and Mopsy let her come to a rest before licking her fur. “What? Oh, that. Yes I have.”

It’s not like I’ve accidentally skipped some context or anything. There’s just no indication of what it is she’s supposed to be thinking over. Threadbare spins its wheels for another paragraph or two before shedding some light:

“I’ll do it. It’s not like I have to choose those jobs right away.” Threadbare nodded approvingly. “It’s only three classes, anyway. That will leave you two more to play around with if you do have to take those jobs.”

But, y’know, not that much light. There’s some kind of class combo that Dark Threadbare is aiming to pull off, but we have no idea what. It’s only after a montage scene (there’s a literal montage mechanic that allows Threadbare to teach Fluffbear stuff over the course of 12 hours that blur past in what seems like seconds) that we find out exactly what they’re referring to:

The newly made doll haunters had had a long conversation with the two greater golems, about how their continued lives were literally dependent upon someone having the necromancer/golemist combo, who was sympathetic to them. Therefore, since Missus Fluffbear had already chosen to be a necromancer, she’d agreed to get the unlocks for animator, enchanter, and golemist. Though they weren’t exactly directions she thought she wanted to go in, she didn’t want to risk her friends dying and having no bodies to return to.

In fairness, this isn’t the very first time this was brought up, since the idea of Threadbare being the only one who can rez them was mentioned earlier, but it was still pointlessly vague considering that they end up explaining exactly what they mean in a few paragraphs anyway.

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: It’s Not Ogre Yet”

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Power Gaming

Chapter 6

The party is sifting through the ruins of the toy shop, and the conversation drifts towards Dark Threadbare’s time with the raccants.

“Yes. They gave me to their children to play with, at first. They played rough! It was very dangerous. But when they saw I could move things and carry things they took me from the children and made me work for them. Then I got attacked by those big hatted cloud things one time and beat them up with my spade. That’s when their Chief, the great Hoomin decided I should be in his dungeon. Then you saved me from that. And then some of them were dead out front and I don’t know why.”

So Dark Threadbare was endangered by the raccants, then enslaved by them, and finally abducted – to the point where she refers to Threadbare as unambiguously having “saved [her] from that.” This does not sound like a fun time.

Threadbare twitched. Zuula’s words rang through his mind. Friends don’t lie to friends, mostly. He pondered it for a second, and decided that it would be bad to lie, here. “They were dead because I killed them.[“]

Okay, if this was going to be a character moment, then probably Zuula shouldn’t have reminded us of her total amorality in the same breath she provided what’s meant to be this scene’s moral guidance. This is the kind of minor nitpick that I probably wouldn’t notice if it weren’t reminding me of how atrocious Zuula is, though. Like, if she had a coherent philosophy in which she actually considers some things to be dishonest or dishonorable, then it’d make sense that she’s the one propping up the virtue of honesty. But she was totally on board with using deception to kill her enemies – to the point that the orc culture she draws her “wisdom” from has actual sayings and traditions about it. You could have a culture where “friends don’t lie to friends” is the moral and lying to enemies is fine, but Zuula has already explicitly disclaimed the idea that she attacks enemies because of their actual wrongdoing, and is instead motivated solely by taking what she wants from anyone too weak to stop her. The only definition of “friendship” here appears to be “people you don’t particularly want to hurt,” which means this “moral” is “only lie to people you want to lie to.”

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Power Gaming”

Writing Dark Stories

Terrible Writing Advice has a video about writing grimdark stories. As the name implies, it is a sarcastic lampooning of bad trends in fiction, especially written fiction. I link to it because it’s a pretty good summary of the problems that exist with how people talk about dark stories. It’s short on solutions, though, aside from the occasional “multiply this advice by negative one” bits.

I think perhaps the most important thing about writing a dark story, though, is to have some kind of actually dark theme that you’re building to, and that lacking this theme is why most of these “then the puppy died” stories don’t work. The substance of a dark story is to explore a depressing aspect of the human condition. Dead puppies is just style – copy the style without the substance and people will notice the writer’s a poseur.

It’s not hard to think of dark themes that could support a dark story. Here’s a freebie: Most people adhere to a set of morals because society punishes deviation from them, and would abandon those morals in the heartbeat it takes to come up with a dumb excuse if doing so ever became the easy path. Here’s another: Powerful societies concentrate resources in one place, which leads both to scientific and philosophical progress and to terrible abuse of those in the outgroup of that society, and thus human progress is eternally locked to human suffering not because one is a product of the other, but because they’re both side effects of the same process. Here’s a third: Nepotistic favoritism is a natural result of the principles of loyalty and friendship that we consider praiseworthy in every other context, and the lack of which most people would consider a warning flag for an untrustworthy leader – despite also considering the inevitable results of their presence to be corrupt.

These are depressing themes. If you write a book about how nepotism is the inevitable result of giving power to someone who believes in sticking with their friends, you will write a dark book that makes people feel the way early seasons of House of Cards did. Probably not as much unless you’re really good at writing, but same basic concept and being unfavorably compared to the first few seasons of House of Cards is praising with faint damnation. If you write a book full of dead puppies, then your writing is just dull. Happy Halloween.

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Dark Side

Cecelia’s Quest 1

And now for something completely different.

Cecelia is Celia. Threadbare has had some obvious twists – Anise being Amelia was the one that was really easy to guess and also really wanted me to be surprised by it anyway – but I’m pretty confident that “Cecelia = Celia” is too obvious even for this story to think it’s a “reveal.” Like, King Melos is her father, and hopefully this book doesn’t hold its audience’s intelligence in such contempt that it thinks adding one extra syllable to a name is enough to get readers thinking “I guess he must have a different child that we don’t know about.”

So, Cecelia’s sparring with some knight. She’s got a bunch of skills at levels like 57 and 48, which makes her significantly stronger than Threadbare, who’s still muscling through the 20s even on his best skills.

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Dark Side”