Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Stolen Adventures

I have a confession to make.

Recently, in my online campaign, the party there was captured by bandits.  It's an occasional sort of event that happens to parties from time to time, and usually it plays like death.  The party gets angry, a few search for ways out of the mess, revenge is vowed and until the party actually frees themselves, it is boring as hell.

The context, or 'story' as some DMs call it, doesn't allow for much interaction.  The characterization of the bandits is usually wooden and horrifically cliched, making it impossible for the party to have any emotional response except resentment or embarrassment for having gotten themselves in this position.

Now, let me pause here and say that the famous Appendix N from the DMG is shit.  I don't mean that the actual content there is shit - though admittedly, some of it is - but that it is completely worthless for Dungeons and Dragons.  Everyone has read it.  Most of it is pulp fiction, with little or no literary characteristics, and while adventure rich the adventures themselves are for the most part as flat and staid as the above interaction of bandits.  Pulp fiction isn't meant to appeal to people with an education, it is meant to appeal to the necessarily ignorant - which Gygax and Arneson must have been, for just look at the shit they read.

(This is two posts now where I've crapped all over popular fanboy wank-text.  I am so having a good time!)

I think I was very lucky to have had parents who possessed a library of over 2,000 books, including a dozen different series including all the classical literature I could ever ask for.  But of course, a lot of it was completely out of my reach when I was only seven.  I was deep into atlases and geographical statistics at the time, but I didn't have the experiential context to manage a book like Robinson Crusoe, Moby Dick or even Call of the Wild.

Fortunately, my parents had seen to that too, and in the 1950s - before I was born - they had begun collecting a simplified form of those classics - namely, Classics Illustrated.

Now, I wouldn't suggest that the Classics Illustrated library - as comic books - is a stand-in for Appendix N.  I am suggesting that the length and breadth of deeper, well-written material kicks pulp fiction for six ... if you have the time, the patience and the wherewithal of mind to realize the possibilities offered - for staid and dull campaigns like the party being captured by bandits, among a thousand other possible adventures.

One of my favorite examples of the Illustrated library was one called The King of the Mountains (Le roi des montagnes), which is so wonderfully obscure now there isn't even a wikipedia entry for it.  That is, in English.  The French Wikisource has an entry.  The author was Edmond Francois Valentin About, who was extraordinarily popular in his day.

The story of the King of the Mountains is about an ordinary German botanist who, while collecting plants north of Athens in and about About's day, is kidnapped by a bandit chieftain in the mountains, who then insists that he must write a letter in order to obtain a ransom of 600 pounds.  The bandit, Hadji Stavros, is extraordinarily charismatic, strong-willed and temperamental, and enjoys the loyalty of a large number of men.  The bandit is also heavily involved in the business and maintenance of the countryside around Athens, even contributing some of his own money to the repair of roads (2,540 francs), as they had gotten so bad no one would travel them, "leaving us no one to rob."  The King has a daughter in school, upon whom he tries to impress virtue, and he loans his men occasionally to persons of his family to fight in war.
I stole all this for my campaign, and I'm confessing it now.  I am concerned with the party's perception of me now, since they seem to believe that I thought the whole thing up on my own.  However, as T.S. Eliot said, "Good writers borrow, great writers steal."  I needed something extraordinary for the adventure, something that climbed to a higher ideal, and Edmond About had conveniently supplied it for me.

Incidentally, when I grew older and obtained a copy of the original book - translated, I'm afraid, I don't read French - I discovered the plotline of the original book was very little like the Classics Illustrated comic.  This, naturally, was rather enjoyable, as it enabled me to read the book for the first time as a thing in which I did not know everything that was about to happen.  I would strongly recommend the book.

I would strongly recommend reading a lot of intelligent, complex, difficult, proven literature that's been created by dedicated authors these past 28 centuries of human development (and Gilgamesh too, if you must), instead of all the worthless crap that's been written since the 1940s.  If you did, you might begin to understand why I am so angry about the film that was described so nastily in the last post, and about the simple-minded fanboy culture that permeates the D&D world right now.

There is better than this.  Players deserve better than this.

If you are interested (and I have to laugh at how juvenile it is now), I did find a copy of the classic comic online.  You should be able to find a copy of the real book if you bother to search - and of a thousand other real books besides.

Toss Appendix N into the trash heap.


Anonymous said...

Think less? Just the opposite. It was a wonderful adventure made better in a way by understanding its source.

Butch said...

I wouldn't say we were angry, vengeful, or even bored. It was just obvious that we were in a no-win situation -- unbeatable opponents, followed by inescapable prison -- leaving us nothing to do but wait for the situation to resolve itself.

Hadji was an interesting NPC but I had assumed he was a historical figure. I didn't Google him before because I didn't want to spoil any surprises, but I see he was a real person as well.

Imon Fyre said...

In my mind, the lifting of this tale fit masterfully into your online campaign. I don't think anyone noticed. Had you not done it the way you did, integrating Maximillian into the group would have required some other scenario to be thought up.

I don't think D&D would be D&D without the taking inspiration/stealing of ideas from those stories that come before. Star Wars(I know you dislike it) was inspired by previous literary and cinematic works. Many fantasy environs(including D&D and its predecessors) are inspired by Lord of the Rings to some degree. Which would have been inspired by folk tales of some sort. The list goes on.

I say continue pillaging literary works for inspiration for your campaigns. Nobody says you have to be totally original all the time.

Lukas said...

I think the best part was that it was not out of place.

Alexis, to be honest, I just thought that that is one of the many things a retired adventurer might do, wouldn't you?

It does make me fear we will never have some bandits to beat some sense into however.

Alexis said...

Yes, but in case you missed it, pillage GOOD literary works. Not the same old tired crap.

Alexis said...

Don't worry about that Lukas, as regards the Western region adjoining the Don River Valley in modern East Ukraine-Transcaucasia:

The Don Cossacks

Andrej would know quite a lot about them.

Steve said...

The problem I see over and over, in RPGs, comics, TV, and computer games, is writers whose inspirational source material comes entirely from inside their own medium. If you want to write comics, then sure, read comics, but read something besides comics, too. Read some Shakespeare, Conrad, Miller, Heinlein, Mamet, Swift, Twain, Lawrence, Chekhov, Faulkner. Find a list of great authors and start devouring. Much of their stuff is free online, and the rest is in every library in the country. Ask any librarian and they'll come all over themselves putting together a reading list for you. If all you know is comics, or computer games, or packaged RPG adventures, you'll never produce a new or interesting comic, computer game, or RPG.