3D Printing and Games

I came across an interesting website today, Heroforge, which lets you design a miniature using a simple 3d interface, including equipping it, posing it, and creating facial expression. Try it out.

3D printing is going to revolutionize tabletop gaming.

  • The ability to create, pose, and then order a miniature in the material that you want is already impressive. Once 3D printers become more common as household items, printing your own miniatures at home for your games instead of ordering them becomes a game changer. 3D printing at current speeds is slow, but 90 minutes is even faster than same day shipping (and cheaper).
  • Customization is easier. In traditional miniatures design putting a new set of armour, a new pose, or a new weapon on the same miniature can require a new sculpt of the miniature or modifications that are beyond casual players. Using software people can get creative much more easily. Experts will be able to create even more complex modifications is less time with starting points that are closer to their final vision.
  • As the price on 3D printed figures and printers drops, it will be easier to field larger armies in miniatures games.
  • Rare component that exists as digital files do not necessarily have to go out of print. This means that less popular factions will not always get the shaft over the long term in wargames.
  • In tabletop RPGs that use miniatures it can be very hard to find a mini that looks like your character. Now you can design a model that looks how you want the character to look, print it, and update it as the character grows in power and changes equipment, style, and even attitude. As the tech improves so will the level of detail possible.
  • Even little quality of life improvements will make tabletop gaming better; how often have you lost a custom component or wanted another? Soon you might be able to buy a file and print it on your 3d printer with a relatively short delay.
  • On the production side it will reduce risk for certain types of gaming operations. Small, custom games become more viable if they are sold via digital license and the components are printed by the consumer.
  • The ability to print small, complex items will greatly enhance creative cosplay as well.

I am really excited by the possibilities that 3d printing will bring to gaming. For the first time I could see creating a Bloodlust boardgame that allow the players to creature their own custom gladiators after they get used to the basics of the game. With this new opportunity the outflow of creativity could be massive and the potential savings and accessibility could bring many new people to the table for game nights.

I look forward to meeting at the local gaming cafe and playing the newest games with those cool custom minis we just printed out, one day soon.


Turn Based Games

I distinctly remember when reviewers and biz-dev types declared that turn based games were dead. It was some time after the first XBOX (2001) was released, since I recall reading an article in a console magazine (lol) where a toque wearing, xtreme! t-shirt, attitude up front, “games journalist” was offended that a turn based game had appeared on his new age console.

Of course, large western game developers had started moving away from turn based games long before that. I remember how x-com apocalypse  (1997) included both turn based and real time combat modes, which were radically divergent to the point where it was desirable for me to fight certain foes and missions in one mode and switch to others when I wanted to use something else. XCOM, of course, was a banner bearer for turn based games and considered a hot IP at the time, worthy of rescue.

Why would a hot turn based IP be in need of rescue you might ask? Well marketers, producers, and bad game theorists decided at some point that the only reason they were making turn based games were purely technical. In this view they had overcome the limitation that turn based systems presented so why not discard them? After all, wasn’t real time strategy exclusively better?

Of course, turn based gaming has little to do with technical limitations and has enjoyed a great resurgence in both big studio and indie development. Civ games remained popular and are now a mainstay of steam, gog, and other PC platforms. Developers outside of North America never really turned up their nose at turn based games either, and I remember eagerly playing games like Disgaea to get my fix.

The return of XCOM (resurrected by Firaxis, who also make Civ) to wide critical acclaim finally put the issue to rest. Now, long after the technological hurdles have been overcome even the most obtuse biz-dev type can see that there is a market for turn based games.

Here are five reasons that I enjoy turn based games

  • Get Up And Go: true turn based games advance entirely at the player’s discretion. If something arises requiring your attention you don’t even need to pause the game to go away from the game. As someone whose game time is frequently interrupted by real life, and sudden inspirations, I can really appreciate this aspect. I also find that since I control game-flow that turn based games are easier to get back into after a pause. This dovetails nicely with my next point.
  • Controlled Pacing: In a good turn based game the designer will control the flow so that the player is presented with interesting choices each turn. This leads to a much more consistent level of play. In XCOM you know you that if you are in a mission there are aliens about and that you should be wary, moving in cover, looking for the foe, etc. Ideally a turn based game could skip all the boring parts, just getting to the meat of the game. The upcoming Duelyst game looks like a good example, concentrating on creating a great battle experience above all else.
  • Options: Turn based games revolve around choices. If all a unit can do is move and attack in one fashion then the game will be very dull indeed. Instead most games give players a variety of choices including different attack types, alternate fire modes, grenade types, and reaction fire in XCOM or a plethora of magical abilities and skills in fantasy games like FF Tactics (JP up!).
  • Control: Turn based games allow a player to control diverse multiple units with less time pressure than other systems. Achieving the same level of micro-management in other games is considered a skill.
  • Mental Challenge: The real reason to play turn based games on the computer is the same reason that chess, go, and similar games remain popular. They provide the player with a mental challenge in the same way that few other game types can. Without time pressure or twitch factor turn based games have to provide the player with interesting choices to entertain them. Considering these choices, with the added luxury of control of the time flow of the game allows the player to really stretch their mental muscles, if the game is any good. Consequently when I am playing a turn based game I find myself thinking about it when I am away from the playing field more often. This goes for board games, and tabletop RPGS/minis games as well.

When all you are left with is choices, better make them interesting!

World-Building: Culture Clash

Culture Clash.

Culture Clash: great fodder for stories of all sorts.

Culture is not static. While some groups might resist outside influences, becoming increasingly xenophobic, isolationist, or simply clinging to tradition as matter of course, living societies will adapt and change.

In the real world this is a controversial subject. Certain groups will constantly resist change, while others embrace what they see as positive change or simply ‘go with the the flow’. A large part of our political discourse in North America is based around the conflict between those who resist change and those who embrace it. An example of of this is the rhetoric over gay marriage in the US — some groups see it as an erosion of traditional values, while others see it as a great victory for freedom. In this case it is a clash between modern egalitarianism and traditional biblical values. In reality it is a clear cut case of equality, one of the founding principles of modern western democracy, and any possible legal issues are already covered under the basis of consent. This does not stop certain people from using gay marriage cynically to whip up support.

What is an annoying, grinding conflict in real life can be the basis of a fascinating fantasy tale. Removing the reader from their comfortable political positions and presenting them with a new culture clashes will engage their political mind without devolving into the ugly, frustrating talking points of the 24 hour news channels.

Fantasy worlds are often presented as relatively static, with cultures rarely switching sides. One needs only look at our own recent history to see how this is nonsensical. Germany and Japan, once dire foes of the western democratic are now staunch allies. Meanwhile the partnership between the philosophies of capitalism and democracy, once thought to be two sides of the same coin seem to be coming unglued as the equality gap widens and the middle class can no longer act as a referee between the lower class and the upper class. For a Fantasy world to maintain a status quo for decades or even centuries would be remarkable, and would also require some interesting world building to retain suspension of disbelief. This is especially true given the action and magic found in a typical fantasy epic.

Aside from the usual social tensions, wars, and shifting alliances Fantasy offers a chance to showcase true culture clash, such as when two cultures encounter each other for the first time. This sort of event has caused huge shifts in our world, with problems, and changes that can be felt to this day. It is great fodder for Fantasy novels, where the reader does not necessarily have the same emotional investment in the cultures portrayed.

Here are some of the conflicts that can arise when two cultures meet, and the changes that can result.

  • War: War is the most obvious conflict that can arise when cultures clash. It seems to be the default in fantasy, where cultures are often portrayed as mutually antagonistic and engaged in a struggle for dominance or even existence. Interestingly it is a characteristic often shared by both grimdark fantasy and pastoral feudal fantasies.
  • Trade: Trade relations are far more natural than war. However, they are harder to portray in an interesting fashion. Black markets, drug cartels, and slavers all have a place in fantasy cultural clashes, but even simpler forms of trade are worthy of consideration when building a fantasy world. After all the colonial system was based on an economic model that was considered sound at the time, and look at all of the conflicts it created.
  • Crisis of Faith: New cultures can bring new ideas, and new ideas can run counter to old traditions. One of the most interesting culture clashes occurs when the mere appearance of a culture undermines a long held belief, causing cultural upheaval. Isolated cultures suddenly become aware of a wider world. Ancient religions must compete against new gods and philosophies, feudal and tribal systems may have to justify themselves against more advanced methods of governance as people become more worldly.
  • Crisis of Advancement: The technological or magical advancements created when new cultures meet can really stir the pot. Firearms followed the European expansion, changing the very face of conflict all over the world. Imagine the disruption that could be caused one day by the arrival of a simple merchant bearing guns for sale. Imagine what could happen if something as powerful as magic or new forms of magic occur as a part of cultural exchange. People will seek to resist these advancements or take advantage of them, creating internal conflicts.
  • Crisis of Exploitation: Often the new opportunities afforded by this culture clash will cause a certain set of people to try to take as much advantage of the changing situation as possible. A merchant might try to maintain a monopoly on some new product at any cost. An iconoclast might use the disruption of an old belief to cast doubt on the whole structure of society. A warmonger might seek to tilt the balance of power by seeking new allies. A despot might use the fear of change to solidify his hold on power.
  • Crisis of Survival: What happens if one culture is so overwhelmingly powerful that it simply shatters or displaces the other culture? This has happened several times in our history, and while it is a sensitive topic, it is a story worth examining.

Culture clashes provide many opportunities for world builders and writers. The meeting of cultures invariably creates both conflict and opportunity, which makes for great story and great background for your world.

Weapons, Swords in the Middle Ages, and Oakeshott

I recently read an article about the dominance of the sword in the middle ages, or more precisely, that of the Oakeshott XIIIa type sword (this link describes the sword, it is not the article that annoyed me). The XIIIa is a ~37-40 inches long,  with a wide blade, a more rounded (spatulate) tip, and a 6-10 inch grip, and weighed 3–4 pounds (when plain). The offending article annoyed me for the following reasons:

  • It claimed that this sword was the dominant weapon of its time.
  • It claimed that this type of sword is under-represented in fantasy.
  • It ignored the fact that Oakeshott created his system to combat this kind of generalization.

First off, for those of you who have not heard of Oakeshott, he is a key figure in changing the way modern historians, hobbyists, and writers see swords (useful link, if you wish to get into it). Before Oakeshott, medieval swords were often seen as massively heavy, brutish weapons and Knights were seen as clumsy, if invulnerable warriors. TH Whyte’s Arthurian series has a bit of this. Oakeshott’s contribution was to catalog and categorize, and then to point out that from a data driven perspective that the sword changed greatly over the Dark Ages and the Medieval period, mirroring the constant changes in armour as well as local battlefield conditions. His conclusions were  that the idea that Western swords were clumsy weapons was not at all based in reality and that there was no such thing as a single dominant sword type. Just look at an abbreviated picture of the sword types he categorized.

Oakeshott Types.

Oakeshott Types.

Let us take a closer look at the XIIIa

an Oakeshott XIIIa from tinkerswords.com

an Oakeshott XIIIa from tinkerswords.com

Does this sword shape and size look underrepresented in fantasy fiction? NOPE. Moving on then.

Not only were there many types of sword, but knights used all kinds of weapons (and also crazy armour, too, but we won’t get into that). In fact some had squires to carry around extra lances and extra weapons for them. I am briefly going to go over some of the more common of these weapon types and why they saw use.

The Spear (and lance): The spear is by far the most under-represented weapon in modern fantasy. Don’t even get me started on this. Every Knight worth his salt would have at least a lance or some sort of spear to use from horseback, often with spares in case they broke on the charge. The Spear was likely the one weapon every knight would have at least one of on the battlefield, if only in lance form. It was also the most common footman’s weapon. Spears offered great penetrating power with the tremendous force concentrated on the smallest area. They also offered great reach which was imperative for both charging (hence the lance) and receiving a charge. I would place my bet on spears being the greatest casualty causing battlefield weapon of the middle ages (somewhat behind trampling and suffocation in actual casualties caused though), and possibly the the greatest casualty cause knightly weapon as well. Spears survived the middle ages and even outlived swords on the battlefield as the bayonet. The downside of a spear is that once an opponent is past a certain point, it becomes difficult to wield against them.

Spears and lances.

Spears and lances.

I’m going to stay away from polearms for now, although my favourite weapons are probably the swiss halberd and the bardiche.

The Flail: The Flail is a hard weapon to write about. We know it was difficult to use well, but it was not uncommon and had a brutal reputation. Jack White’s Uther is the only character I can think of in Fantasy that uses one of these. Too bad: they almost belong in a grimdark anti-hero’s grasp… We do know that flails were used to strike around shield edges and could work up quite a bit of force whirling around. Hard to describe them in a novel though…

A flail of the mace and chain/ball and chain variety.

A flail of the mace and chain/ball and chain variety.

The Warhammer: As plate armour became more common, knights needed better tools to break it open. The warhammer provided a handy set of tools to do just that. Bash the plates out of shape and finish with the spike if need be. Much like a sword, the warhammer could be used when a spear was no longer at optimal range,  bashing the brains out of footmen right through their helms and crushing other knights. The warhammer is another under-represented weapon, but maybe that is because in early editions of D&D it did crap damage 😉

I just like this one.

I just like this one.

The Mace: While the spear does not get its due as a knightly weapon, the mace is outright bloody ignored. I rarely see them in movies, despite the fact that they were so well loved that they appear throughout the period in a stunning number of forms. Flanged maces were created to puncture and crush armour, and ball maces were just nasty. Both existed as shorter footmans weapons that could be used very close up and longer horseman’s versions. Maces were often completely made of metal, and these were far more durable than swords. An added bonus of the mace as a knightly weapon is that it rarely got stuck in a wound. Ceremonial maces are still common in our Parliaments.

Flanged Mace

Flanged Mace

Ball mace, spiked.

Ball mace, spiked.

Axes: Axes were a more common weapon than many realize, able to work up tremendous cutting power. Axes were favoured for their ability to hack apart shields better than any weapon. They came in a very wide variety as well.

Even in this ridiculously brief and overly generalized discussion of medieval weaponry I think we can put the idea that any sword type dominated the middle ages to rest. Oakeshott created his categories so that people could discuss the incredibly wide variety of bladed weaponry that fell into and out of use throughout the middle ages. He did not create it for people to narrow it down into sword X is better than sword Y in internet fanboy arguments.  If there were a dominant family of swords this variety would not have existed, nor would maces, axes, spears, lances, and other weapons been nearly as common. Fantasy writers owe mr Oakeshott a debt of gratitude for showing us that the medieval sword, and indeed all medieval weapons and armour were more than just the clumsy implements those damned fencers told us they were 😉

Finally, let us not forget that Knights wielded a huge variety of weapons, and many of them had the money to afford a tool for every occasion.

Nomads 8

Link to Nomads 1, Link to Nomads 7

Captain Otumo buzzed insistently over coms, seeking communication. I had not turned off combat protocol yet, I was not yet ready to move on. First Leopard, Jessup, and now Nova and Quake. A kind of numbness was creeping over me, a profound apathy in the aftermath of battle. A nomad suit can regulate the wearers physical responses to battle, including the adrenaline crash and fatigue, but it is not designed to help cope with the mental shocks. Three Nomads had died today. Three people under my command.

“You coping Raven?” Triumph said, he was close enough to use vocals. He sounded tired.

“I’m still standing,” I said.

“I’ll handle burial detail,” said Triumph. “You don’t need this right now.”

“Its my fault,” I said, crumbling.

“Bugshit,” said Triumph. “You had no control over how Jessup went down; hell, that old bastard never listened to anyone even on the best of days. Quake and Nova were unlucky.”

“It was my bad call that put them in that position,” I said.

“Nobody expected a serious fight on this outing,” said Triumph. “Two directing intelligences is unheard of in an engagement of this size. I’ve never heard of one being used as bait. We will morn our fallen, as we must. We will learn from what went wrong, as we must. But don’t blame yourself: if you hadn’t stood up and pushed back on those bloody creepers when you did more of us would have died. That risk kept them off of us long enough to turn the tide.Think on that.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I’ll save the self pity and introspection for downtime.”

“Damn right, I’ll bring the whiskey,” said Triumph. “Now, I sent half the squad over to secure a landing area for the shuttles. Everyone else is clearing their way to that bunker. Sunspear swears the unknown director was bipedal, which could be interesting.  Otumo is raising hell on secondary channels, you will need to deal with him sooner rather than later.”

“Thanks,” I said. I’d seen the unidentified Scourge form through my seeker drone; Sunspear wasn’t wrong.

I switched coms to standard protocol as I moved through the ruins toward the bunker. I remained alert, there are always strays after and encounter with the scourge, but there were no nasty surprises waiting for me in the shadows this time. Otumo’s voice roared through my personal coms channel as soon as we connected.

“… highly irregular,” he spat, I could easily picture the man’s glower. “As captain I must be kept apprised of all developments regarding important cargo–“

“I just lost three Nomads down here,” I said. “The cargo really doesn’t interest me at the moment Captain.”

“Nomad Raven,” said Otumo. “A cryopod containing a human survivor from another part of the diaspora fleet is a find of tremendous importance. Casualties are well within acceptable limits for a find of this magnitude; I will make sure Fleet Command knows you were acting in that knowledge. You won’t suffer any repercussions.”

I was struck dumb for a moment. Otumo didn’t seem to care about the dead. He was focused on the damned cryopod. Objectively, he was right. A find like this could give us access to new ideas and technological advancements. It might even lead us to contact with another Fleet. I couldn’t even imagine what that would bring. It was a glorious find. Worst of all, however, was that he seemed to think that I was more worried about blame than I was about the deaths of my squad. He took my silence as an acquiescence to his continued speech.

“Bring the cryopod to the shuttle,” he said. “I’ve fitted it with stabilizers and a power field to make sure it does not take any further damage from transit. The dropship is for your squad. Understood?”

“Understood,” I said. I swore under my breath, the man did not show any concern for the ordeal we had just endured. I wonder if he even knew the names of the fallen. I put it out of my mind. Otumo’s lack of human emotion was nothing new.

The bunker was ankle deep in bug gore, which made me feel a little better. Some tribalistic part of me still revels in things like vengeance. Sphinx, Shrike, and Sunspear were in the process of cutting up and lifting a Wallbreaker corpse that had fallen on top of the cryopod. A quick scan told me that the pot was still intact.

“Any sign of your mystery bug?” I asked Sunspear.

“None,” she said. “But this pace is a mess.”

“We do have an intact carcass of one of the brutes, Raven,” said Sphinx eagerly. “Its like a mini Wallbreaker, but it projects a kind of radial shield that protects other scourge.”

“Like a bodyguard?” I asked.

“More or less,” said Shrike.

“Lovely,” I said. “Bloody scourge are learning new tricks.”

We cut the Wallbreaker into chunks. The thick carapace was nearly as tough as armour grade steel alloy. We were careful to keep an eye out while we did so. We’d all heard the old Nomad horror stories about living scourge popping out of dead ones. We worked in silence. Even Sphinx was subdued.

Another one of the brutes was huddled near the cryopod underneath. Tough as metal, it still had some life left in it as well cleared the debris despite being punctured by beamer fire. Shrike fragged it at point blank as it tried to get up, splashing bug goo everywhere just as the shuttle crew arrived. I struggled to keep myself from chuckling as the poor shuttle engineers were splattered with innards.

We loaded the cryopod onto a gravity effect vehicle. As we secured it with magnetic clamps, I heard Sunspear give an excited shout.

“Found it!”

Battle Tactics: Power Armour, Drones, and Techno-Feudalism.

Astrek Rhino from Firefall… I can only assume the head is holographic or protected by a forcefield 😉

A pair of my dear friends got me into a free to play game called Firefall last week. Although the computer I currently use is badly in need of an overhaul (which is incoming :D) it can smoothly play this free-to-play/open beta game on minimum settings. I enjoy the frantic pace, running around in cool power armour exploring and fighting off the enemies of humanity. The game is fun and you should check it out if you like that sort of thing, but more importantly it led me to this evenings topic: a discussion about battle tactics in Futuristic Fantasy.

Futuristic Fantasy is stuff like Star Wars, Warhammer 40k, and Starship Troopers. These worlds do not make a serious attempt to follow scientific rules or even extrapolate current trends or ideas. Instead they use technology as a part of the background setting for the story they want to tell, often in a fantastic fashion. Guns replace swords, power armour replaces plate mail, psionics/the Force replace magic, aliens replace orcs, and huge mutant beasts replace dragons. I love this kind of setting, since it often incorporates progressive ideas like spaceships, cities, and modern political ideas. Some fans of science fiction frown upon these sort of works, but genre purism is almost irrelevant to many readers these days.

In my other battle tactics posts I discuss how Fantasy elements could change classical and medieval battles. With Futuristic Fantasy I am not dealing with a historical set of tactics as a base, which makes it even more creative. As always the idea is not necessarily to be realistic, but rather to be internally consistent and entertaining. Without further ado, I’d like to offer some thoughts on common tropes in Futuristic Fantasy and how I think they could change combat.

Power Armour by DarkLostSoul86 from deviant art.

Power Armour: From Tony Stark to 40K, power armour is a suit of protective armour that gifts the user with greater physical prowess and often incorporates advanced weapons systems. Power armour can be a mechanized suit or a biological organism that the wearer puts on.  I limit power armour to roughly man sized suits, anything bigger might qualify as a mech.

  • Increased Protection: Just how good is your power armour at protecting the wearer? some suits might be more of an exo-skeleton that increases the wearers other attributes instead of offering protection against attacks, but most power armour is portrayed as being very resistant to whatever the conventional infantry weapons of the time are, similar to plate-mail in the middle ages, or an LGV these days. This level of protection makes the wearer a walking tank of sorts and elevates them above combatants who do not have access to power armour themselves.
  • Increased Mobility: Does the suit offer faster travel? Power armour frequently allows the user to move far more swiftly than a regular foot-soldier. Booster jets, limited flight, deployable wheels, sonic gliders, and so on. Mobility is of great importance in warfare, allowing the wearer to react to threats and opportunities more quickly. Mobility is also a form of defence: moving targets are harder to hit and keeping out of your enemy’s range/reach is quite effective. If your power armour incorporates boosters or gliding, it may allow for specialized air drops. Often forms of mobility allow for new forms of assault as well, a fully sealed suit allows for amphibious assaults for example.
  • Weaponry: Greater strength allows the wearer to carry more impressive weaponry, however some weapons might be mounted on the suit. An automated point defence system to shoot down incoming munitions or attack critters that get to close might be nice. Reinforced gauntlets for punching might make for some incredible power armour martial arts. Lots of options here.
    • Drones: I feel that advanced power armour should have some sort of drone assistance (see below)
  • Sensors: The value of onboard sensors and communication are often underestimated. If the wearer can sense the enemy better than they can sense him, then he has a tremendous advantage. The same goes for communication, targeting assistance computers and a host of other possibilities.
  • Rarity: How rare is it? If power armour is the norm and every soldier has a suit, it presents a very different setting than if it is a lost technology handed down from from generation to generation.
  • Counter-Tactics: Necessity is the mother of invention. Soldiers in World War II came up with a number of interesting ways to cripple and destroy enemy tanks with makeshift devices. If power armour is a factor in your battles then enemies will have to have some way of dealing with it. A massive metal suit invites all sorts of weaight based traps, such as a covered pit that a man can walk across but a suited solider cannot. Anti-armour weapons are another possibility as are devices that mess with sensors and programs.
  • Logistics: Remember to think about fuel, ammunition, and what happens when these things break down. Exotic fuels lead to unusual economies. Five hundred pounds of armour could be a terrible liability when it runs out of power,..

Drones and AIAn area that I feel most action-based Futuristic fantasy games and writers are deficient in is automation. Drones are a good example of this. Every time I see or read a book about war in the future that does not have drones of some sort in it, I feel compelled to ask, why not? The ability to send out a little remote controlled or automated drone to spy or snipe at ones enemies removes risk and provides a definite advantage.

  • Combat Drones: Combat drones are a reality now. They allow for action against enemies at a remote distance. Less risk to the drone pilot and well as the bonus of creation a craft that does not need to have a cockpit. Entire battles where all the combatants are drones (either remote or AI controlled) might make for very interesting reading, not to mention the extremely sensitive discussion about using robotic craft to attack civilians.
  • Personal Drones: Foot-soldiers with locally controlled drone assistants could be another way to envision the future of warfare, Imagine a power-armoured space knight with a squad of drone assistants providing her with intelligence, targeting, fire support, and so on.

Techno-Feudalism: Techno-Feudalism is a futuristic setting where high technology is in the hands of a select few. Perhaps the setting has undergone a period of regression, and elements have been lost or perhaps the highest tier of technology is too expensive to see mass use or simple kept in the hands of the elite. Technology is power, after all. In a techno-feudal setting power-armoured knights might dominate the battlefield against lesser foes or fight valiantly against foes that would easily overwhelm conventional troops. Techno-Feudalism also offers the writer an excuse to leave out technology that would change the story in ways that he or she does not like, don’t want to explain why your “future” setting doesn’t have drones or AI? — they were lost in the great crash…

Techno-feudalism offers another combination with a common fantasy idea, that idea lost greatness that seems to pervade many fantasy settings. The age of wonders and such. It is an interesting setting idea and one I will post about in greater detail later on.

Brotherhood of Steel Power Armour from Fallout, a little gritter…

Modern Fantasy: Speculation without Obsolescence

One of the great difficulties of Science-Fiction is that technology is advancing at an accelerated pace, and often in unexpected directions. World-building technologies that might seem cool and edgy a decade or two ago seem almost charmingly anachronistic now in many cases. Take the Decker in Cyberpunk literature as an example. The idea of the Decker, a kind of covert action hacker, is so brilliant and on the bleeding edge in a world where Anonymous is a real entity that it blows my mind. The core of thought behind the Decker is even more potent in modern day, years after it was first conceived. Unfortunately the technology behind the Decker, the Cyberdeck, seems so dated now that it obscures, rather than, enhances the concept. This sort of conundrum has become a bit of a problem with any Science Fiction that deals directly with technology and does not want to seem dated within a few years.

A cool Steampunk drone from Echofour studios

Spook Country, by William Gibson is an even more direct example. Spook Country, the middle book of the awesome Blue Ant trilogy is a direct discussion of the current state of the security and surveillance industry in the post 9/11 world. Now that the whole NSA thing is on the verge of being dragged into the light, it is an immensely relevant book that everyone should read. The problem is that it was written in 2007 and the Technology has moved on. The deep ideas and philosophical discussion of Spook Country is held back, just a little, by the degrees of deviation in gadgets and technology that populate the book. I find it oddly frustrating, but that might be because I did not dive into the the Blue Ant trilogy until 2012.

Fantasy used to be out in the cold on speculation about the nature of technology and objects. Readers were interested in swords and magic, and generally not happy to see even relatively solid technologies like guns show up in their pastoral worlds. Now that Fantasy has grown and diverged sub-genres like Steampunk and flintlock can deal with technology in a recognizable form  and actually offer cogent commentary on the gadgets that change our lives with less chance of Obsolescence. I don’t want to read a fictional treatise on how cell-phone culture  changes people’s lives featuring clunky 1980s cell tech, especially if it is supposed to be bleeding edge, on the other hand if you dressed that up in Steampunk genre fiction I would be very interested.

Here are a few examples of current hot-topics in current technology and how Fantasy could be used to comment on them.

Attack Drones: Drones allow us to kill at a vast distance, almost disconnecting the person who chooses to destroy from the action itself. Drone attacks are just as brutal from the target’s perspective, but can be very sanitary from the attackers perspective. Drones are fairly apolitical, we know we don’t like them, we also know that they are a reality of certain types of war now.

  • Steampunk: In a Steampunk setting you could fairly easily come up with an analogy to a drone. Steampunk often has a fair bit of Victoriana woven in, which makes it a great forum for discussing imperialism and war. This seems like a fairly easy conversion. Unleash your steam powered magically controlled drones and explore the idea.
  • Traditional Fantasy: A golem has some of the functions of a drone. It can certainly kill without exposing the user to danger. To make it an obvious analogy for a Drone might be difficult, but sometimes challenging the reader works well.

NSA Surveillance: The NSA Surveillance scandal is a juicy topic. It has broad societal implications. It involves a system that is unwieldy and most definitely out of control that is based off an ideology that is fundamentally flawed, but very compelling. Unlike Drones the surveillance state is fairly political; people really don’t like being watched constantly and the potential for abuse is such that it will inevitably come crashing down.

  • Traditional Fantasy: Magic gives an easy out for something like NSA surveillance technology. We are unsure exactly how much we are being watched, and it feeds our sense of Paranoia. Magic really works well with this you could have spells that allow agents of the powers that be to listen in on keywords. In fact this is already a common theme in Fantasy literature and even in mythology where saying certain words immediately attracts baleful attention. The Chandrian in the Name of the Wind, or even the Devil in some legends are attracted by mention of their name. In fact the whole idea of an afterlife where you are judged by your deeds speaks to the idea of surveillance. Perhaps that is why some people are so accepting of it.
  • Lord of the Rings: The Eye of Sauron is an interesting metaphor for surveillance. Think of Frodo and Sam creeping through Mordor, trying to hide from the eye.

Climate-Change: Climate Change is something most people agree is happening, but aside from adding to our misery the actual outcome is unpredictable and has a way of making fools out of those who try to portray it. This makes speculative fiction about real climate change fairly difficult. It is also a very political topic and one that almost everyone has strong opinions on.

  • Steampunk: Steampunk offers many direct analogies to climate change. Coal is a very dirty material, especially in its early forms. Really all it takes to deal with issues of climate-change in Steampunk is a willingness to take the political flak that comes with the territory. The sub-genre almost demands dirty, gritty industry and polluted canals, why not throw in some more modern climate change?
  • Oilpunk?: Warmachine flirts with the idea of a steampunk World War One, why not go a little further and create Fantasy in the automotive age? I suspect this will develop soon, once the style is settled. Hot War the RPG may come close.
  • Traditional Fantasy: Magic itself could me a metaphor for climate change. Perhaps magic is a naturally occurring resource, either physical or ephemeral, and over-using it or depleting it has real work consequences. The Dark Sun setting for 2nd Edition D&D had a type of magic that allowed the wielder to destroy the world around them to draw on additional power, which led to the world being turned into a bit of a wasteland.