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Ursula Vernon Explains It All

Well, not really. But she does, in her own gentle and indirect way, explain why "realistic" steampunk, which shows the horrors of Victorian life for the proletariat, isn't that common and is rarely popular when it does show its head. Basically, nobody wants to read it.

And I'm totally on board with that argument. People read fantasy (and let's face it, steampunk is fantasy) to explore and enjoy another world. People play fantasy RPGs to be heroes in their own fairy tales. Being a TB-stricken denizen of a city's slums is seldom heroic, being a farmer is not all that exciting, and usually if we see one of those people in a fantasy novel they're either supporting characters or they get ripped out of their unpleasant/boring lives and thrust into the plot, in which case they're no longer the people they were. So of course most of the protagonists in steampunk stories are aristocrats, Wrench Wenches, stodgy yet solid bourgeoisie, or plucky proletarians who are on the make/on the rise. You want to have heroes the reader can identify with, after all, and most readers aren't into reading about losers.

Which is why Chivalry and Sorcery never caught on. People didn't want to deal with the filthy, disease-ridden mess of the actual medieval period any more than they want to eat actual rats on a stick when they go to the RenFest. And the same is true of the Victorian Era.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
darksumomo
Nov. 8th, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
I never knew that about Chivalry and Sorcery. All I read and heard was that it had the most "realistic" magic (this from gamer who dabbled in the occult) and combat (again, from people in the SCA, who actually handled swords) systems of all tabletop role-playing games. That it was realistic in other aspects shouldn't surprise me, but I'd never heard about it until now, 30 years after the fact.

I suspect the people behind C&S had watched "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and took seriously the scene in which one peasant tells another "There's the king." "How can you tell he's the king?" "Because he's not covered in shit."
wombat_socho
Nov. 8th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)
Well, according to Wikipedia, the creators were annoyed at the lack of realism in D&D, so I'm thinking they had a better grounding in medieval history than Arneson & Gygax, who were basically miniatures gamers with some exposure to fantasy. I actually played C&S a couple of times, and it was SERIOUS BUSINESS. You could easily spend an afternoon on character creation alone, disease was an ever-present threat, and dragons didn't have to be Huge and Ancient in order to find you crunchy & good with ketchup. Orcs weren't swordfodder either.
darksumomo
Nov. 8th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
Well, that explains things. Then again, the members of Monty Python knew something about medieval history, too. They may have been comedians, but they did have Oxford and Cambridge educations--other than the American Terry Gilliam, who went to Occidental College.

As for elaborate character creation, if I wanted to play a game like that, I could play Traveller or one of the later editions of D&D. No wonder I never played C&S!
wombat_socho
Nov. 8th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)
Well...it's not like you were writing a short story; there were a lot of optional things that could be put in for additional color or left out to make gameplay go a little faster.
edminster
Nov. 21st, 2010 07:30 pm (UTC)
I'm technically part of a long-running C&S game being run by the guys in charge of American distribution, and I have to say it is A Bad Game not because of the diseases et al, but because it is terribly, terribly balanced.

For contrast look at Dark Heresy, a game where you are very lucky if your character escapes alive, and will always be hunted by something terrible. It's a fun game, because everyone is reasonably equal in their insignificance. C&S does not have that, and I ended up in a very passionate argument with one of the people DMing over dinner one time about it.

If you play your cards right, you can literally have a first-level magic user who can teleport to alpha centauri and back instantly with no ill effects. Maybe that's a consequence of their modern (past decade or two) changes to the game but the slow dawning realisation that if you don't powergame you get left in the dust is what led me to stop showing up to games.

Also I really need to check livejournal more often :/
wombat_socho
Nov. 21st, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, we would like continuing evidence that you haven't been stuffed into a brain-box by the Fungi from Yuggoth. :)

Wow. C&S characters didn't used to be anywhere near that powerful at first level. Things have clearly changed for the worse.
huladavid
Nov. 8th, 2010 08:49 pm (UTC)
"You want to have heroes the reader can identify with, after all, and most readers aren't into reading about losers.

You have made my head hurt what with the hysterical laughing and falling on the floor. (I may be taking your line the wrobng way, though.)

wombat_socho
Nov. 8th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC)
There may have been a better way to put that, but it's what came to mind at the time.
harvey_rrit
Nov. 8th, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC)
Naturally. People enjoy fiction because it's better than real life.

Of course, the reason it's better is because fiction is controlled by a writer, but all real life has is a Director.

Which is why there are so many explosions, no plot, and the star is the director's girlfriend's illegitimate sonD
wombat_socho
Nov. 8th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
And fiction (usually) comes out in a way the reader likes, which isn't always true of real life.
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