Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Lulu vs. DriveThru

So my Lulu.com copies of the Engines & Empires books arrived today, and now that I can see both books side-by-side, I can make a direct comparison.

The clear winner here is DriveThruRPG.

Just looking at the books, the cover art is kind of dull and washed out on the DriveThru covers; on the Lulu covers, conversely, the colors pop. And that's the only area where the quality of a Lulu printing surpasses a DriveThru printing. 

Lulu's binding is clearly cheaper. The interior printing is fine for the text in both books, but the illustrations on the Lulu printing don't look quite right: the grays and blacks are darker than they should be, leading to a loss of blending and transparency, and so the illustrations (and the highlighted table text) are harder to read than the DriveThru printing. The paper for the two printings is of comparable quality, but I find that I don't care for the textbook-like feel of Lulu's glossy 80# paper compared to the more tactile feel of DriveThru's 70# matte paper. 

So… yeah, I'm only going to sell my books on DriveThruRPG from now on. There's little point in selling on Lulu anyway, since DriveThru is where the gamers are. I would have kept on using Lulu if the books had been significantly higher in quality, but instead, they're just… meh. I'll probably use these Lulu printings as table-copies until they're old and beat-up, while my DriveThru printings can stay on my bookshelf and look nice.

Weird to think I've been using Lulu since, like, 2008, and now I'm just gonna… not. Oh well. Onward and upward…

Saturday, November 14, 2020


And they're oh-so-very-pretty:

Now that the proofs are here—and lookin' perfect—they should be live on DriveThru pretty soon!

One thing I've noticed is that the paper quality is definitely much nicer than the old Lulu books from the previous edition. But I've also got new Lulu books on the way, and they actually use heavier paper than these (80# instead of 70#), so we'll see what the difference is like in terms of both paper feel and book thickness once the Lulu proofs finally arrive. (And given that DriveThru mentions delays in their printing and shipping due to Covid-19, but Lulu doesn't, it's utterly surprising to me that the DriveThru books arrived first!)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Concerning the Fantastic

This post will perhaps be more germane to literature than to gaming, and it will be short (because I haven't the time write anything longer at the moment), but I feel that I have to get it out there. One my personal pet peeves is the misuse of genre labels, and of fantasy sub-genres in particular. I don't presume to speak with authority on sub-genres of science fiction because I'm admittedly not well-read when it comes to classic sci-fi. But I should hope that I know what I'm talking about by now when it comes to fantasy.

There are a number of sub-genres that tend to get mixed up or conflated, the term for one applied to another, and I find this bothersome. Of course the boundaries between genres are never clear-cut, and many stories mix and match genres or belong to multiple genres at once. But it's still helpful to have clear definitions.

I'll begin with the most badly-abused terms: high fantasy (which is not epic fantasy) and low fantasy (which is not sword & sorcery).

High Fantasy: Stories that take place in a fantasy world which is not Earth, also called an invented world or a secondary world. Notably, a pure high fantasy should have no connection to Earth (see portal fantasy) and neither should it be a period in Earth's past (mythic fantasy). That's the only criterion for making a story high fantasy: the setting is another world that isn't ours. Every Final Fantasy game and most D&D campaigns are high fantasy for this reason.

Low Fantasy: Stories that take place in our world (regardless of time period), where the fantastical element is an intrusion on otherwise mundane reality. A story about a child's toy coming to life, or a story about meeting a fairy or a wizard in what otherwise appears to be a real-world setting, is low fantasy. Children's stories and Hollywood movies lend themselves to this genre very well; tabletop games generally do not.

Mythic Fantasy: Now. admittedly. this term isn't in common currency, but I think it's a useful one nevertheless. Given the definitions of high fantasy and low fantasy presented above, are Middle-Earth and Conan's Hyborean Age high or low fantasy? Both explicitly take place not in some alternate universe, but on Earth. (Tolkien famously hated it when people suggested to him that Middle-Earth was "another world.") However, the magic in these stories isn't an intrusion on a mundane world—it's fundamental to the setting, a speculated mythic past when magic was more prevalent in our world than it is now. (Curiously, too, both settings are rather circumspect about whether the magic actually is magic at all—Tolkien's elves are perplexed by the term for what is, to them, a perfectly ordinary aspect of their very nature, and sorcerers in Conan stories have been known to imply that their "supernatural" knowledge is merely an advanced science.) I think it's a good idea to draw the distinction, and say that mythic fantasy is the term we should use for a story that takes place in a mythic or legendary past version of Earth. The Hobbit, Conan the Barbarian, and Xena: Warrior Princess would be prime examples of the genre.

Sword & Sorcery: This is where the genres start to overlap. The previous definitions concerned the setting; this one is about the narrative. Sword & sorcery stories are those in which the focus is on a single hero or band of heroes, and their concerns are personal rather than world-shaking. Such protagonists are nearly always warriors (Conan, Elric, etc.); they often have to deal with magic, magic-users, monsters, or other supernatural threats. But what's key here is that the heroes' goals are personal and often clearly achieved (or not) by the end of a single short, pulpy story. Nobody "saves the world"—the heroes aren't "chosen ones"—and their goals are hardly ever quests.

Epic Fantasy: This is the proper term for that generic sort of tale where a reluctant everyman—possibly a chosen one with a hidden royal heritage or a mysterious, prophesized destiny—gets dragged into an epic quest to save the world. Epic fantasy is all about mighty upper-class knights and kings and wizards (and maybe one protagonist farm-boy) striving to preserve the status quo from an external, world-level threat (the Dark Lord being a perennial favorite).

Heroic Fantasy: This term is less-than-useful, because it's just any fantasy with action, adventure, and a hero. High fantasy, sword & sorcery, and epic fantasy nearly always fall within the broad category of heroic fantasy; low fantasy may or may not, but usually doesn't.

Finally, honorable mention to two more related sub-genres that can overlap with any of the above.

Portal Fantasy: This is the term for tales of characters transported from our world into a fantasy world. Narnia and Oz are the classic examples, but there are countless others. Since the "other world" is by definition a secondary world, portal fantasy is almost always high fantasy as well, just by definition. But, for the love of Pete, don't go calling all portal fantasy "isekai." If you're not dealing with manga, anime, or characters who get transported into an RPG and remain aware of their own stats, isekai is emphatically not involved.

Urban Fantasy: This is the sub-genre that describes a version of our modern world, but where magic exists (either openly or hidden behind "the masquerade"). It is, in effect, mythic fantasy taking place in the present day, or low fantasy with the "fantasy" aspect dialed up to eleven. Harry Potter probably technically qualifies as this genre, although the more traditional example would be something like The Dresden Files.

So, there you have it. The major fantasy sub-genres. (I've probably forgotten or neglected a good many more, but these are the ones that concern me at the moment.) Use them, don't abuse them, mix and match to your heart's delight… just quit calling all sword & sorcery stories "low fantasy," or all epic quests to save the world "high fantasy," because that's annoying.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

At Long Last, Our National Nightmare is Over… But Not Really

The election of Joe Biden as the USA's 46th President is… not great, to put it simply. Biden could be described as a liberal, but he's certainly no leftist. It's well known that he's one of the architects of mass incarceration and the USA's misguided war on crime. In any other country, he'd be a conservative.

Biden's election does nothing to diminish the outsized power that conservatives hold in my country, or the undemocratic tyranny of the rural minority over the urban majority. It does nothing to address the alliance between quisling conservatives and open fascists. It does nothing to address systemic problems with government gridlock, disproportionate representation, gerrymandering, campaign finance, regulatory capture, income inequality, systemic racism, the existential threat of global warming, or any of a hundred other intractable problems facing my country that I have little hope of ever seeing resolved in my lifetime.

I don't foresee any meaningful change, because Biden, despite the fact that he belongs to that club of Washington insider good-ol'-boys, is nevertheless a Democrat, and Democrats have a problem. They still haven't quite caught on to the fact that Republicans since the Gingrich speakership haven't been playing by the same rules—or, really, any rules. The Democrats are still playing the appeasement game, while the Republicans engage in total war.

So… yeah, those nightmares all continue.

But today, at least, now that major press outlets have finally cowboyed up and called the election for Biden, we can say one thing. The annoying orange TV man, with his annoying face and his annoying voice, finally won't be on the TV screen anymore. The country will continue to go to pot, of course, but our lives will all be a little bit pleasanter as the inevitable happens, because the annoying TV man will no longer be there to inflict his criminal stupidity and incuriosity and mendacity upon the rest of us.

And as for the people who want Donald Trump on the TV screen (a man who, as self-described "news dude" Cody Johntson once pointed out with elegant simplicity, is "a crime man—who does crimes"), there's only so much one can say. If you wanted Trump on TV because you liked The Apprentice, it's a fair bet that your brain has been reduced to mush by social media and reality TV. If you wanted Trump on TV because you believe he is less annoying than Hillary Clinton would have been, it's a fair bet that your brain has been rotted away to offal by 24-hour news and talk radio. And if you wanted Trump on the TV because you thought that only he could save you, or because he tells it like it is, owns the libs, and just might lock her up or burn it all down, I'm afraid that the only diagnosis is fascism—and it remains to be seen whether individual cases are chronic or acute.

The remedy for the former two problems is clear: unplug. Read a book, take a walk, just peel your eyes away from the thrice-damned glowing screens, and close your ears to the cynical bellowings of the Limbaughs and the Hannities and the other conservative liars who are known not to buy a word of the nonsense that they preach and have only contempt for the stupidity of their followers. The remedy for the third problem, unfortunately, is denazification—to complete the failed project of Reconstruction that this country couldn't even stomach after the Civil War. Which is why it won't happen.

The fascists—in this country, they're not Nazis, they're neo-Confederates, and their stronghold is no longer the regional south but small towns and rural parts in every state—are still here. And thanks to the Senate, the Electoral College, and the House Apportionment Act of 1929, they don't need to outnumber decent folk to wield power, or to be wielded by the forces of capital and privilege in this country who gladly, gleefully play racists for rubes to protect their moneyed status quo.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Busy Week, But At Least There Will Be Books

Not much to add with respect to Lands of Älyewinn; I've had such a busy week that I haven't even made any more progress writing up dungeon level 1. We'll see how much I can accomplish come the weekend. 

More exciting, though, is that I was finally able to order proof copies of both the Engines & Empires Core Rules and World of Gaia campaign setting. I'll finally be able to make a proper comparison between Lulu and DriveThru, although I'm given to understand that DriveThru books are seriously delayed right now and could take as much as a month longer to print and ship than Lulu books are taking at the moment. 

Oh well. I'll just be happy to have up-to-date hard copies of my go-to game once again. After all, a core rulebook is a hard thing for a tabletop game-ref to live without for any significant length of time!