Total War Warhammer: Eye for an Eye Beastman campaign review

Beastman DLC

A fun DLC, if not exactly essential for every player.

I am a big fan of Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer. I make no secret of the fact that I feel it carries the banner of GW’s The Old World long after it was ruined in a bizarre business decision. You can read my fawning fanboy review of the base game here.

Call of the Beastmen is the first DLC for Total War: Warhammer. The Eye for an Eye campaign is the mini campaign included with the DLC, which also adds the beastmen as a playable faction to the all-important grand campaign.

The big sticking point for many players was the cost of the DLC at ~20$ and a few important units (Gorgon/Jaberslythe) that were not included. While I can understand that, I am happy with the DLC overall.

The Eye for an Eye campaign has the player take control of Beastlord Khazrak as he seeks revenge against Boris Todbringer for blinding him in one eye. It is one of the more pivotal rivalries in Beastman lore from the tabletop.

The campaign is fun, and does a good job of showcasing the unique mechanics available to the Beastmen. There were some epic battles and interesting choices for a medium length game and I got my money’s worth for sure. On the downside, it does not allow the player to control any leader other than Khazrak and does not quite have enough depth of factions to offer much replay value.

While the Eye for an Eye campaign does not quite knock it out of the park, the Beastman as a faction more than make up the difference. The units offer interesting variations in each crucial role, focusing on mobility, ambush, and charge mechanics. The minotaurs and centigors, in particular, were a joy to use in battle. The roster, despite criticisms, had decent depth.

I did like that Khazrak could get a chariot mount, but you need to focus quite a bit on any chariot to get the best out of it in TWW.

The main difference between the Beastmen and other factions is how they play out on the campaign map. Beastmen are a horde faction (no cities) that have a very unique set of stances. Their basic movement stance has a chance to trigger an ambush battle on the attack, while their encampment stance allows them to hide from all but the most astute of pursuers. They can also raid for money and bestial rage (Bestial rage is similar to the orc WAAAAAGH! mechanic in that it summons a supporting army if you collect enough). Their forest path movement stance works similar to the underways used by the Dwarves and Orcs, but allows access to different areas and map battles.

The stances make for a faction that can survive by guile deep in enemy territory. Where the other horde faction, Chaos, works as an unstoppable juggernaut led by the baddest of the bad the Beastmen are a defter instrument, able to attack in a variety of ways but lacking the same level of brute power. Like orcs, they are very reliant on support character for buffs to give them the edge in a stand up fight. Gorebulls in particular give some nice bonuses.

Ultimately what made the faction for me though is the moon phase mechanics. Every six turns or so the player must choose from four blessings of the Chaos Gods. Each blessing is a bonus combined with a hefty penalty. Depending on the phase of the moon, these can change the character of your horde for several turns. One allows massive casualty replacement, but at the cost of horde growth, for example. Choosing the right bonus can turn a terrible situation around. Choosing the wrong penalty can really screw you. Once I understood it, I really enjoyed it and began to plan my attacks around it. With a little refinement, mostly in making the penalties more consistent (some are easy to avoid), it could become one of the great thematic mechanics of the game.

Overall I would heartily recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the Beastmen. Eye for an Eye is good, but it is really a prelude to using them in the Grand Campaign.

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Game Review: X-Com 2, sequels, rebellions, the rule of cool, & verisimilitude (guest starring: BACON)

This week I actually found time to finish X-COM 2! I will scribble some thoughts here, which will serve as my review.

XCOM 2 header

But first. This week I came to a realization. Bacon is becoming ubiquitous. I see it as a donut garnish, marmalade, as burgers flavoured with three types of bacon with a bacon-maple sauce. As I stood in the supermarket staring at bacon flavoured breath-mints, I realized that this saturation level has made it less of a treat, less special, and somehow offensive. I still love bacon, but enough is enough.

X-COM 2 is the second installment of the modern reboot. It was released on Feb 4 and has already sold 750,000 copies on Steam alone. It departs from the familiar tropes of the older games and the first game of the reboot in that instead of encountering, then fighting an alien invasion, the aliens have already won and the player is leading the resistance. They do a decent job of connecting the story and update the game-play with some interesting elements. Overall I enjoyed the game, but I found that it did not correct all of the flaws of the previous version, nor do I think that all of the changes will appeal to fans of the first reboot. With that in mind I will start with the cons.

Cons: What I did not like, or thought needed improving.

  • The Scamper System (major): The scamper system where when an enemy or group of enemies sees the player and gets a free action to seek cover is back from X-COM: Enemy Unknown. This is, by far, the weakest mechanic in the new series: it leads to a style of play where the best tactic is always to advance slowly so as to only activate one enemy pod at a time, kill it, rinse and repeat. Enemies in the first few versions of X-COM seemed to activate in a more organic fashion, open to a variety of tactics. In X-COM 2 they patch the holes in the scamper system by adding timers to many missions, forcing the player to move at a faster pace (this is mostly illusory, I rarely ever triggered more than one pod, save through my own stupidity) and reinforcements which drop enemies in the midst of the players with a turn of warning. They also allows players to scout with a concealment/stealth mechanic. While these patches do make the scamper system more interesting, it is still polishing a turd. I feel that the game would be better served by removing it entirely because the right thing to do is always to move forward as cautiously as you can, given mission parameters.
    • I contend that the scamper system could be used for rooms in a dungeon game, but for triggering larger encounters instead of single pods.
  • The Resistance & Verisimilitude (minor): In X-COM 2 the players are guerrilla fighters waging a shadow war against a victorious enemy, at least on paper. In reality the game does not really play like that, save for a few conceits and mission types. There is very little defense, stealth, and scavenging and far too much insurgency and attack. In the end the way the game plays is very much at odds with the idea of a beleaguered resistance. Weapons and armour are a good example, with the player able to research and manufacture their own superior weapons over time. The idea guerrilla force with the ability to manufacture experimental high tech weapons… just breaks verisimilitude. I would have preferred a more low tech response like customizing old tech and salvaging higher tech weapons directly from fallen aliens. Examples like this are why it does not feel like a resistance and steps on verisimilitude.
    • Guerrilla factions spend a lot of time fighting for hearts and minds. This is obvious from modern warfare as well as successful guerrilla insurgencies in the past. This is not well represented in the game. People just kind of rise up at the appropriate moment. It was a waste of the advent speaker character, as well — why make the guy if I can’t counter his propaganda.
    • Guerrilla resistances spread slowly from specific locations, relying on local relationships. The resistance in X-COM 2 is nomadic and wants to spread as quickly as possible for income and bonuses.
    • Smallest insurgency ever.
  • Small Squads (Minor): I may be in the minority here, but with 5 basic classes with 2 specialties each and many different enemy types I felt that squads of 4-6 were just too damn small. I would prefer to see bigger player squads and bigger enemy pods, just to make use of more of the options available.

Pros: What I loved

  • Variety of enemies (Major): The variety of enemies in X-COM 2 is perfect. Enemies are divided into two types: Advent forces which are the augmented humans and robots who are the face of the alien invasion trying to pass as the future of humanity and the aliens themselves. The advent forces are the baseline grunts and elites specialists who stay similar throughout the game and lend the enemy a kind of uniform feel. Their look and their totalitarian feel lend the game a gravitas far beyond what I was expecting. The aliens themselves are all unique, special snowflakes with powers and abilities that make fighting each one different. Together these two forces give the game both a shifting variety of enemies without losing the sense that you are fighting a single, monumental force. Even the look and feel of each enemy type was above my expectations. Loved the enemies in this game.
  • Turn Based Combat (Major): I love turn based combat. The Combat is X-COM 2 is fundamentally sound, with all of the basics from the first and a few nice improvements like concealment and better sets of character abilities. As long as you do not mind RNG and cover and flank firefights you should enjoy it. That said, the tactical depth is stunted a fair bit by the scamper system.
  • Better Research Trees (Major): setting aside the idea that an insurgency has a better research and manufacturing arm than the people they are fighting, the research trees are the best I have ever seen. Scientists and engineers are greatly desire and the end-game tech opens up a large number of tactical possibilities (some of which are arguably overwhelming powerful like mimic beacons and mines, but that’s what higher difficulties are for). It was nice to see some serious variety in armour types and equipment load-outs in the end-game, even if some options are very much superior on paper and small squads limited experimenting.
  • Hacking and Drones (Minor): The hacking system is interesting and I am pleased to see a nod to futuristic tactics with drones being used for healing, buffing, ranged hacking, and even some nasty attacks.
  • Character Variety (Minor): Crazy amount of customization options for your characters. I also enjoyed the ability of each character to learn a single random ability from another class tree as they advanced. These two things combined to give my squad lots of personality, although I tended toward uniforms.
  • Story (Trivial): Although verisimilitude does take some hits in that the campaign does not feel like a resistance insurgency, the story for X-COM 2 is better than any of the previous iterations. I enjoyed the characters despite the occasional repetitiveness of the dialogue.

Bonus Commentary: The Rule of Cool versus Verisimilitude & Unique Identity

Remember when I mentioned Bacon at the beginning of this wall of text? This is why.

Gunslingers and Ninjas with big swords are cool. I am not sure, however, that adding them to the X-COM universe is a great idea. The idea of the rule of cool is that people are more willing to accept offences against verisimilitude if they are really fun or just plain awesome. Think of it like bacon. If people put bits of chicken on your maple donut it would leave you wondering, but if they put bacon on it you will accept that because bacon is awesome (obviously not everyone loves bacon, but you get the idea). So when X-COM 2 gives their rangers kick ass fusion swords and their snipers awesome plasma revolvers that make them (deadly) space gunslingers it is definitely cool, even if the idea of bringing a sword to a gun fight is kind of stupid when you analyze it (a fusion bayonet/knife would be better).

But while I thought it was cool initially, I felt that something was lost in the way that X-COM 2 gave in to the rule of cool. Honestly if you put ninjas and gunslingers (and vikings, and zombies, and jedi etc) in every game they not only cease to be special, but they have a real chance of overpowering the already established aesthetic elements that made your world-building unique and interesting. X-COM was always had kind of a 80s military movie meets 90s x-files feel to it and this got lost when sword-wielding ninja rangers and I-can-fire-faster-than-an-automatic-weapon gunslingers get thrown into the mix. They may be cool, but for me they detract from the already established feel of X-COM.

Simply put: sometimes subtle, original flavours are better off without your favourite garnish. Would you ruin a perfectly good french vanilla ice cream by loading it with bacon? It might be tasty, but the bacon overpowers the vanilla. Really at that point, maybe you should just admit that you just want to eat more bacon and go cook yourself some goddamned bacon instead of inventing new ways of injecting it into everything.

In all seriousness, I do think that including all of the cool stuff in every game has started to make many games feel very samey and detracts from the unique charms of many properties. (And this from a guy who writes about magical superhero gladiators wielding rune weapons and fighting every monster under the sun.)

Trump, Demagogues, Populists, and Fantasy Fiction

Demagogue 

:  a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power

:  a leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times (from Merriam-Webster)

If you follow american politics, even a little, then you are aware that Donald Trump is RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT. Depending on your political inclinations you either find this awesome, scary, funny, or some combinations of similar emotions; I suspect there are very few people who have a neutral opinion of Mr. Trump.

The American pundit class, a huge group of people who churn out endless articles, opinion pieces, and TV shows that try to influence the world’s most powerful democracy have a love-hate relationship with Donald Trump. They love him because he is easy to write about and draws a large audience. They hate him because they have very little power over him.

Trump is one of the great Demagogues of capitalism. He may seem crass and tasteless, brash and ignorant, but to many he is a prophet of the real gods of our times: money. power, and fame. He has a large body of work advising people on how they can be like him (SUCCESSFUL!), and while his guidance might be dubious, it is something he has consistently pushed for the better part of three decades (Art of the Deal came out in 1987) and he has staked out that territory very loudly. The Trump name is synonymous with glitz, gold, and the gaudiest branding in the world.

What does Trump have to do with Fantasy Fiction you ask?

Well for one, heraldry might not be as gaudy as huge, golden “TRUMP” letters on the side of a building but it serves a very similar purpose from a times when literacy was very low. The trappings of the trump empire are very similar to the luxuries sought after by the nobility of old; we’ve just traded in the castles for magnificent glass towers and the garden for the gold green and country club. The gold, the glitz, and the heraldry are still there.

One large difference between Trump and a medieval nobleman, however, is that Trump not only puts his name on everything so that people recognize that it is his and he has power, but also because he wishes to reside in the public consciousness. Trump is very concerned with what the working and middle classes think of him, not because he is afraid of a peasant revolt like a wary noble, but because he understands the power of opinion in a democratic society. In fact, as a master of branding, Trump definitely understands that opinion can outweigh the truth.

Trump is a Demagogue. He would call himself a populist, a man of the people, and in some ways he is. He certainly seems to spend a lot of his time trying to tell people how to be successful. It is quite possible he genuinely believes that he is helping people and not just pretending to care in order to cash in on his brand and make more money. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he actually wants to help people be rich and successful like him. Does that make him a populist? yes, however, even genuine concern about the people does not stop him from being a Demagogue.

Demagogy relies on abusing information in order to provoke an emotional reaction and circumvent rational debate. It is very similar to branding in many ways. Here are a few examples of Trump using false factoids to stir up the people he is currently selling to (the Republican base), just from this past week.

  • There are 93 million unemployed people in America. (The population of the US is 321 million, and that includes people who aren’t looking for work.)
  • The US is the most highly taxed nation in the civilized world. (What?)
  • There are 32 million illegal immigrants in the US. (WTF? 1 in every 10 people in the US is an illegal O.o)

These claims are easily verifiable as not true. But the people Trump is aiming his comments at are willing to take these comments on faith. They fear illegal immigration and everyone hates taxes and is terrified of unemployment. Trump confidently exclaims that he has THE BEST SOLUTIONS and moves on. When someone tries to poke a hole in his plans or call his ideas into question he insults them and moves on. The modern pundit class uses these same techniques, so they know what he is doing, but their business model isn’t based on the truth or good journalism so they don’t really have an easy counter for Trump. Trump appeals to the same visceral emotions that they have been using to sell their work for years. Cynical and well-informed people can see right through the man, but they aren’t his target audience and he knows it. And this brings me back to Fantasy Fiction.

Modern fantasy often scoffs at brash, larger than life villains as much as it does with heroes. And yet in Trump we have someone who often seems like a caricature of a man mining a deep vein of resentment and anger in order to gain power. A villain like Sauron suddenly seems less unrealistic when you compare him to The Donald. Its not like Trump is going to try to take over Middle-Earth any time soon (can you imagine what he would do to The Shire? even Saruman would blanch) but it is easy to see how one can appeal to fear and hatred to gain a fervent following. History can teach us how such a movement can spiral out of control, as well. Trump is just abusing people’s prejudices for his own ends, but he serves as a reminder that sometimes the simplest type pf villainy can be compelling in both real life and fiction. Racism and fear-mongering may be cliché, but they sell baby, boy do they sell!

The Shadow Wolf Saga: Blade Breaker 1.55

HARRROOOO!

I just watched the most depressing episode of the Daily Show I have ever seen (where he says why he is leaving & the lie off). Time to chase it all away with some Shadow Wolf.

Want to read it from the start? follow this link.

Want to catch up on last week’s post? try this link.

Need a guide? I can link you to one.

Sildus let his hand fall. Nothing happened. Well. more accurately, I was not pierced by a dozen arrows from his compatriots as the assassin expected. The forest was alive with sound, wisps of cloud caressed the moon, and the leaves rustled. Somewhere close a wolf howled.

“By all means, try again,” I told him. “Maybe if you hold your hand higher.”

All colour had left Sildus’s face. His eyes were as round as a frightened colt’s. He had gone from a position of power, from hunter to hunted, in a single heartbeat. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. Then I remembered Sapphire’s brutalized corpse, Bjorn’s mutilation, and Madame Glorianna’s admission. I wondered how many of the people he killed wore that same look before they tasted the kiss of his blade.

“You know, if you had not chased me down, I would not have acted against you,” I said. “I did not want to believe the letter. Perhaps it is simply ego: I wanted to be right about you, or at least feel justified in believing you. Or maybe I just wanted to think that the person who I shared danger with, drank with, and tasted glory with was a good man, in his own way. You disappoint me, Sildus.”

“What have you done with my men?” asked Sildus.

“Me?” I said. “Nothing. There is a reason my clan is called the Shadow Wolves.”

“What happens now?” asked Sildus, coiling like a Viper.

“You can run, and take your chances with what is out there in the darkness,” I said, meeting his gaze. “Or you can stay here and fight me. I give you my word if you kill me in battle here that you will walk away from–“

His knife, silver in the moonlight, punctuated my sentence. Even though I was expecting it, it still caught me off guard. I flinched and the knife bounced off my vambrace. The assassins of Myrrhn are taught to take advantage of speed in combat. I felt another impact against the thick mail on my ribs, then Sildus was away into the night.

I made no effort to follow. Somewhere nearby there was a sound that was very much like the cry of a wolf.

I walked slowly back to my fire on the hill. Halfway there I spotted a body. One of Sildus’s men. The big apprentice who had tried to kill me. His crossbow lay at his side. The back of his neck was a mess of blood. I shook my head and kept walking.

I was disappointed in Sildus. I wanted him to fight me. It was irrational and stupid, but it would have been a satisfying end to the affair. I would never know if he felt that I was lying about allowing him to leave or if he knew that I would destroy him in a fair fight.

I reached my camp and sat down at the fire. Dinner greeted me; a nicely roasted coney.

The howling continued while I ate. I was on my third bite when it reached a crescendo and I heard the screams of a man. As I finished my last bite a wolf with fur like a starless night walked into the firelight. Although shaped like a noble wolf it was the size of a draught horse. It paused and looked at me before dropping the assassins limp, bloody corpse onto the ground. I gazed into its great golden eyes and bowed my head. When I raised it, the wolf was gone.

black-wolf-1600x1200

 

Zombies in Fantasy

Zombies are the bacon of genre fiction.

Knights vs Zombies. Lazy Zombies…

While I was attending a short panel on Dark Fantasy at Gencon this year, the subject of Zombies came up.  The undead, including zombies, have long been a staple of Fantasy fiction; with the popularity of zombies showing little signs of abating I expect to see them in more works.

In my two Bloodlust books Zombies (called the stitched), are frequent fodder for the arena. They have several advantage in this regard: they are relatively cheap, especially since the rest of the industry is great at providing corpses (I just wrote that O.o); they are versatile, providing different levels of challenge with artifice/magic add-ons and different bits; and they are easy to control through necromantic magic. I also hint that zombies have their own fans, which is a bit of a shout out to the various zombie walks that I’ve seen. I even discuss the idea of Zombie labour, something I may explore further in future bookss.

Honestly I’m not sure why Zombies are so popular. I don’t really consider myself a huge zombie fan (I don’t have a zombie apocalypse plan, for example), and yet I will watch almost any Zombie movie that comes out without hesitation.  Zombies are an extremely versatile story ingredient, a term that I do not use lightly. If you think of a story like a good sandwich (don’t ask me why), the zombie can

  • Bread: The zombie apocalypse makes for a great background for almost any tale. Want to tell an epic war story? Have your kingdom invaded by huge hordes of zombies! Want to tell a claustrophobic tale of the breakdown of social norms in a crisis situation? how about people trapped in an inn surrounded by zombies? You can tell a story about the folly of delving too deep into dark lore with the tale of the necromancer who unleashes the zombie plague or you can write an ultra heroic tale of saving the world from the undead menace.
  • Meat: While zombies are often a key ingredient in world-building, they can also fill a more direct role in the story. The trauma of seeing loved one return to life as a zombie is perhaps the best example of zombies providing a lovely dramatic moment.
  • Garnish: Zombies are great for action scenes. They are messy, they are mindlessly violent, and no one really feels any sympathy for them. Zombie based action allows us to indulge our lower impulses in a guilt free fashion. 
  • Condiment: Zombies can be added to just about any already existing story. I’m not only thinking Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, here. You could use zombies to spice up your wilderness survival tale or add an interesting twist to your detective story.

In Fantasy worlds zombies can provide the same sort of spice that they do to horror and post-apocalyptic settings, however there are several additional factors to consider.

  • Lack of Guns: One of the major advantages that people have over zombies in more modern settings are guns. Few versions of zombies are able to use weapons, let alone guns. Guns gives survivors a definite advantage over the undead, at least until they run out of ammunition. In most fantasy settings guns are out of the question. Without modern weaponry things look even more grim in a standard zombie apocalypse situation.
  • Lack of People: On the other hand in a primarily rural world, a zombie plague can be less frightening. In most zombie fiction those bitten by a zombie become a zombie, this is frightening in an urban sprawl where one comes into contact with thousands of strangers daily and human contact is unavoidable and intrusive. It is an entirely different kind of story in a medieval rural setting where strangers are instantly noteworthy and your nearest neighbors live miles away.
  • Castles: Industrial warfare made castles obsolete, but they would actually be quite effective against most forms of zombies. Stone walls can withstand any attempt at damage and zombies would have difficulty scaling them, especially with a good moat. Castles that are designed to withstand long sieges would thus provide a formidable bulwark against the undead menace. Feudal societies were structured around such buildings, with hundreds in Europe alone. This would perhaps be the great equalizer for for the guns.
  • Formation Based Warfare: Strength based warfare is a staple of pre-modern times. A disciplined army could hold of many times their own number with a strong formation. Perhaps this could be translated into a method of fighting zombies in a fantasy world. Hey I’d watch The 300 with zombies…
  • Zombie monsters: Of course in a fantasy world there are a whole host of extra creatures that could be infected. Your castle wall might work well against human zombies, but what about zombie giants?
  • Magic of Mass Destruction: Spell-casters could be a potent force against a horde of zombies. A fireball could kill some undead, especially if it thrown from the safety of a castle wall where burning zombies can’t reach you. Holy magic would no doubt prove even more effective in some stories with mighty Paladins driving back the dead with strength of faith. Magic weapons enchanted against the dead would also be of tremendous value.
  • Necromancy: Naturally the number one question about a setting with magic and zombies in it, is the role of necromancy. A horde of Zombies is scary enough. A horde of Zombies under the control of an evil necromancer is capable of overcoming obstacles that require some cunning. An army that is absolutely obedient and does not need food is an excellent asset. Of course the necromancer becomes the personality behind the zombies, which humanizes them somewhat. Breaking the necromancer’s control would be an excellent story goal.

Zombies work as well for fantasy as they do in most other genres. The key difference is to understand how the differences in world-building and magic will change the nature of everyone’s favourite menace….

Teaser Tuesday

This will be the last teaser Tuesday for a while (maybe), since Bloodlust: Will to Power should be available in eBook format very soon. Here is a look at the cover, about 80% finished.

cover2_proof

Here is my current text for the marketing blurb on amazon.

THE GRAND CHAMPIONSHIPS APPROACH: WHO WILL THE ULTIMATE PRIZE?

In the Domains of The Chosen, Magic is Power.

As the best Gladiators in the Domains strive to earn their place, with spell and blade, in the greatest tournament of their time, the prize: a place among The Chosen: immortal rulers of the Domains, Gavin, a defender few people think has a shot at the big-time, heads to the Free Leagues, hoping to win fame and status, while seeking to find the path that is right for him. Joining forces with old friends, he soon becomes embroiled in a personal quest for vengeance that will take him to the brutal, bloody heart of the Great Games where he must face his nemesis: Valaran diVolcanus. The implications of that match shake the very foundations of the Great Games, carrying all the way to the Grand Championships, where Sadira, the famed Gladiatrix and Gavin’s soul mate, seeks to make her mark.

Follow the tale of the two Gladiators and their friends, which concludes the first story arc of the “Domains of the Chosen” series.

About Bloodlust and the Domains of the Chosen Series:

Both “Bloodlust: Will to Power” (Book II) and “Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale” (Book I) are about magic-wielding Gladiators fighting great contests in order to win their freedom. The books are set in a fantasy world, which like our own, is beset with love, jealousy, power plays and politics. Each character must choose which direction his life will take, always with far reaching consequences. — Of course, you can feel free to ignore all of that and sit back and enjoy a rousing tale of Gladiators fighting monsters and facing off against their rivals!

The novels are heavily-action oriented; each chapter being structured around an arena match in Gavin’s career.

The two “Bloodlust” novels are the first arc of a larger series of books about the Domains of the Chosen. The next book, “Warbound: The Shieldmaiden’s March” follows the tale of new Chosen and a Lost Legion outside the borders of the Domains, inspired by Xenophon’s Anabasis and other tales.

I am a proudly independent, self-published author.

I am excited and nervous. So many things can go wrong when uploading and converting files, but I am almost ready to launch this beast and then play some of those games I am grabbing off the steam summer sale (which coincides with my birthday this year :D).

Bacon for everyone, I’ll post here and on my facebook page when it gets through the submission process.

Bacon, Genre Mashups, and Valentine’s Day

Today the unthinkable happened: I ate something that tasted like Bacon and I hated it. I have long maintained that the kingly flavour of crispy bacon can improve any culinary creation. Maple glazed Bacon. Bacon sprinkles on ice cream. Bacon wrapped shrimp. Bacon wrapped bacon. And so on. Fortunately I am not wealthy enough to fully satisfy my appetite for the mightiest of porkmeats or I would likely have suffered some kind of bacon induced fatality (the tastiest form of death!).

But today I had my comeuppance in the form of a Bacon flavoured mint.

The bacon flavoured mint is an abomination, something dredged up from the twisted mind of a mad scientist who is overly fond of barbeque and pork based chemical engineering. Upon popping the tiny mint, I was greeted by a surprising burst of pure bacony flavour equal to a decently cooked slice of piggy’s finest. After a mere heartbeat this essence quickly changed, leaving an aftertaste that made me feel like I’d chugged a can of week-old bacon grease. Then the mint kicked in. Apparently bacon and mint are not friends. No sir, they do not mix well. It was absolutely terrible… I no longer have absolute faith in Bacon: may pork have mercy on my belly.

Now, what does this have to do with anything that isn’t silly or bacon-related?

The core lesson of my ill-fated encounter with bacon-mints is that just because I really, really like something does not mean that it has a place in everything I do. This is certainly true of writing.

Genre Mashups are big deal in gaming right now, and have started to have influence into writing as well. The basic idea of a genre mashup in gaming is to take a whole bunch of elements from different games, throw them together, shake until blended and then play. Kingdom hearts combines Disney with Final Fantasy and other Square Enix properties to create an epic adventure that is part anime and part classic Disney and somehow entirely original. The Shadowrun RPG blends a cyberpunk dystopia with the sudden return of magic including a large percentage of the world population mutating into Tolkien style fantasy races. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a book that mixes Jane Austen’s period classic with flesh eating undead.

Of course, for every good mashup, there are many failures or flawed works. I remember my own attempt to mix cool Space Marine style power armour and a pure fantasy world. The characters were cool, but the world ultimately lacked any real details that would explain the presence of powered armour. I mean if the people of that world can create that kind of awesome technology, which is beyond our present grasp, then why wouldn’t they have cars and the flu vaccine. If the armour was a rare lost artifact of a bygone age, and thus powerful and rare, why was it in the hands of a group of people who were, at best, adventurers: that kind of power makes kingdoms, if not empires. I didn’t think it through, and the setting fell apart in a hail of rune enhanced autocannon ammunition (poor kobolds).

Yet for all the challenges, the allure remains strong. Perhaps my favourite mashup is the Dresden Files which mixes pulp detective fiction with every single cool magical fantasy trope that Jim Butcher can think of. The Genius of the Dresden files is that mr Butcher somehow manages to make room for all of these in his world without it seeming crowded or silly. That’s quite an achievement when one of the books involves four different types of werewolves (I’m not talking sub-types like clans here, but full-on origins) and another has a character riding a T-rex. Then again the author did write another series that blended Pokemen with a lost Roman legion, and somehow made that work too. I think what Mr Butcher does is integrate each element of cool carefully, and fully consider the implications to his world. In addition each element is usually directly involved in the plot, which makes it seem less like window dressing.

Steampunk is an example of a whole genre that works well with Mashups. Mad clockwork technology and ancient mysticism work very well in an early industrial age setting, partly because they had some real world believers at those times.

So let’s say I love zombies, but I also love Hellenistic epics. I can’t just throw zombies into the Trojan war and call it a setting, I have to consider how the blend of these two elements is going to work. What would the introduction of Zombies do to the Trojan war? A bad mashup would just follow the outline of the Iliad thow in some undead and call it a day. If the Zombies were infectious, they could quickly overwhelm the Greeks who have no walls to protect them. Some of the Greeks could escape to their ships. Achilles, would of course be immune to Zombie bites unless they got him on the heel. The Zombies would indiscriminately attack both sides, and the survivors would either escape across the sea or take shelter in Troy. Then there’s the divine angle. The Gods took a great interest in the Trojan war, and Zombies would definitely mean that one of them was meddling, answering that question could lead to a great plot point…

Then again, just because I think zombies are cool, doesn’t mean I should try to put them in everything.

As an aside, I was walking home from the dayjob at 11 PM this evening and noticed a whole group of people dressed up for Valentines day. I saw a guy dressed as a teddy bear escorting a pack of young ladies in full costume. Is this a thing now? If so, I approve!