Episode 102: The Fantasy Gratification Thing

This month, Roger and Mike (with guest vocals by Bruce) consider the British style of role-playing (if any), and a year and more of remote gaming.

We mentioned Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, The Day After, Threads, Babylon 5’s Centauri, P. G. Wodehouse, A View from the Gallery, the RPGA, Lee Gold, Quatermass, Doctor Who, Moonraker, Roger’s review of the Twilight 2000 Survivor’s Guide to the United Kingdom, Michael’s rant on under-researched writing about the UK, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, George Marshall, Roll20, Inkscape, and the Peaky LARP-writing workshop.

We have a tip jar (please tell us how you’d like to be acknowledged on the show).

Music by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com.

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Surely, if an American has watched half an episode of Doctor Who and glanced at a few pages in a P.G. Wodehouse novel, they’ve picked up all the information about the UK they could ever possibly need to know. :wink:

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Well, they’d do a better job that way than at one greater remove, reading things written by Americans who had watched half an episode etc.

All right I got a bit ranty elsewhere about Blackout/All Clear which is set largely in WWII England and is just riddled with the sort of errors that someone who lived here wouldn’t even need to fact-check to realise were problems. But it won awards, it’s widely loved, so clearly for a lot of people this level of inaccuracy doesn’t matter – I wouldn’t recommend that any GM spend hours and days on research if their players are going to be happy with the basics.

The Traveller incongruity that always bugged me is that we know canonically what color the Imperial symbol is on the uniforms of each of the services (Scouts, Navy, Army, Marines), but it wasn’t until GURPS Traveller: Ground Forces in 2000 that we got any word on the color of any of the service uniforms. We still don’t know what color Navy and Scout uniforms are! And yet we have unit badges, we know what the medals look like . . . we even know the exact number, rank, and type of troops in an entire Army battallion.

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And Scouts don’t have rank. Except where it turns out they do. :slight_smile:

Well, yes, but they explain that one. We even know how they get pay raises without superiors. But we don’t know what color uniforms they wear!

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The only note on this that I remember was somewhere saying that the Imperial sunburst as a whole has no official colours because of the varied spectral ranges of beings inhabiting the Imperium – which smelled of retroactive justification, but I was never enough into the Traveller fandom to know what the big arguments were.

What I was thinking of was more like “in a typical system, how many system defence boats, patrol cruisers, etc., am I going to find? Controlled by the local polity or the Imperium? What can a local polity get away with before the Imperium intervenes, and what does it have to intervene with?”

(One of the things that first struck me about Flat Black is that it sets out to give the GM a toolkit for answering these questions.)

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“Whartson Hall is scattered from Devon to the Midlands…”

Yorkshire raises its eyebrows.

[ethnic slur]s begin at Watford. (Sorry!)

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Regarding Britishness in roleplaying, as a Yank I would opine that British published material seems to provide more of a social milieu and context for activity. American gaming is stereotypically in a frontier-style environment explicitly bereft of lawful authority, where the PCs do as they wilt. British settings provide a power structure that the PCs are working within, or swimming against.

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For Windows PDF readers, it’s worth giving your modern web browser a try. I think they all have built-in PDF support now, and they typically provide better security (sandboxing etc) than Acrobat.

Welcome, Dustin!

Yes, there’s definitely a correlation - to over-simplify, wild west versus King Arthur or Robin Hood. They’re all heroic fantasies, and they all happen away from civilisation, but I think there’s more of a shadow cast by civilisation: Arthur’s knights come back to Camelot, Robin Hood is dealing with the bad King’s men rather than some petty local boss.

Just poked some of the EABA PDFs at Linux web browsers: Firefox doesn’t do very well, but Chromium seems to manage the Javascript and forms at least mildly competently. Thanks!

This certainly extends to British myths and legends often involving groups of people - the Merry Men, the Knights of the Round Table - whereas the classic American legend, created very recently really, involves the resourceful loner, untethered, driven to do what is right purely because it is right (for a given conservative Christian definition of right, of course).

Perhaps the fact that the American West was essentially created in print influenced that, as loners are far easier to write about if you’re trying to sell short, attention-grabbing fiction.

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The tough guy who’s the only person with the talents/guts to do the thing that everybody secretly wants done is certainly more an American mythological figure than a British one. (See, well, Hollywood, and of course it’s a narrative that gets used by rabble-rousers of all stripes.) And I think there’s a lot of that in classic dungeon-bashing too: the townsfolk don’t want to be raided by orcs, but they can’t win by forming a militia: they need a shiny hero.

And – when I mentioned Liberty Valance I was also trying to remember another film, the title of which still escapes me. But what it comes down to is more or less the end of the gunfighter era, and everyone is being civilised, but there’s one more bad guy who can’t be dealt with except by being shot. So our hero turns himself into the sort of man who can shoot him, and does. But then nobody wants to know him, because he’s That Guy Who Shot Black Bart (or whoever), and thus a reminder of how thin civilisation is.

(Which leads to that fake Orwell quote about “rough men”, which not only doesn’t appear to be a thing he actually said, but these days seems to be used almost exclusively to justify the “good guys” perpetrating horrors of their own.)

That archetype’s not always limited to the Western, and not always conservative. Consider Huckleberry Finn, who ends up the novel named for him by planning to leave for the Territory before his aunt can “sivilize” him: he does attempt to intervene as a lone hero doing what’s right without regard for the law, but what he’s trying to do is see that his black friend doesn’t have to be a slave, and at the novel’s climactic moment he says that if saving his friend means going to hell then he’ll go to hell. And while a classic portrait of him shows him with a rifle, he relies much more on fast-talk and disguise than on violence (not always successfully!).

And while Twain wrote after the first Western dime novels had started appearing, the figure goes back (though I can see Twain wincing at the comparison) to James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo stories. TV Tropes claims that “He also instituted an American archetype, that of the misfit or outsider hero at odds with society” (though I’d want to do some research before I accepted him as its originator).

Not that British fiction, including popular fiction, lacks outsiders. But they often seem to rely on snark rather than guns. John Constantine, for a recent example, is capable of impressive magic, but he often relies more on conning people or bluffing them.

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Roger, are you thinking of Shane?

It’s apparently also attributed to Winston Churchill.

On the other hand, Orwell did say that “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf” (“Notes on Nationalism”). The phrasing is more abstract but the thought seems the same as that of the falsely attributed sentence.

I have heard it said that America heroes usually win because of being powerful, whereas British heroes usually win in spite of being weak. I’m not sure that I am convinced.

I think there’s something here about the shift from literature to cinema and maybe something about narratives by audiences and authors principally identifying with civilized lifestyles and audiences and authors principally identifying with frontier lifestyles.

Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest story is about the Op getting all the crooks to the point where they murder each other. I need to re-read it but I don’t recall the Op gunning folks down during the book.

Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing rely much more on getting the lone protagonist to the point where they get to gun down the crooks.

It’s not like that trickster aspect is absent from US fiction but when the chips are down and the trickster is backed into a corner it seems that the US narratives informing the rpg hobby involve the trickster winning by dropping the pretense of civilization and getting their hands dirty while the UK narratives informing the rpg hobby involve the trickster revealing that the trick goes to deeper levels of interpersonal authority or relationships than were understood to be present.

I’m not sure exactly where I’m going here but somewhere along the line US stories affecting the generations doing rpgs centered on the protagonist’s active involvement in the spectacle of the violence.

Maybe? I know that Ken and Robin mentioned it (some years back when I was still a regular listener).

Oh, sure. But that’s not the one people quote.

There may be a correlation, though it’s certainly not an absolute. Note how Die Hard almost immediately ended the “huge tough action hero who ignores pain and injury” genre in favour of the human suffering action hero who prevails in spite of pain and injury.

Some of that influence may have been mechanical: when you’re starting from wargames and thinking like a wargamer, violence is a thing for which you have existing game models.

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