Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Two Discussions About The Forgotten Realms

People often ask how I study, criticize, understand, and represent the Forgotten Realms, both positively and negatively. I'm writing up a series of blog posts about how to research the Realms effectively, and some of the unique quirks that go into it, but here are two conversations I had online today about how I see the Realms and how I work with it.

In all cases, I am Erika.

Researching The Hurdy-Gurdy

This first section is about researching whether hurdy-gurdys exist in the Forgotten Realms. Some gaps where unrelated conversation occured are removed.

[9:18 AM] Krisnan: Also, I am sad, looking at Aurora's Inventory List and seeing no Hurdy Gurdy
[9:18 AM] Krisnan: I may be a bit obsessed about that instrument
[9:24 AM] Erika: also the hurdy-gurdy is a good example of what you do to make things more FR
[9:24 AM] Erika: yes the hurdy-gurdy is cool
[9:24 AM] Erika: but since I have a list of FR instruments, I try to emphasize those instead
[9:25 AM] Erika: let's try a glaur, or a yarting, or a zulkoon
[9:25 AM] Erika: it's different and evokes the setting as a different world
[9:25 AM] Erika: I try to take every opportunity I can like that
[9:25 AM] Erika: I have all these details, and then I use them
[9:44 AM] Krisnan: I'm just a grumbly grognard because Hurdy-Gurdy was used in the Windwalker trilogy and I can't listen on youtube to imaginary instruments
[9:45 AM] Erika: wait the liriel baenre one?
[9:54 AM] Krisnan: Yep, that one
[9:54 AM] Krisnan: Well, those three
[9:59 AM] Erika: okay! we get to do step 2
[9:59 AM] Erika: after I play Vampire
[10:00 AM] Krisnan: Step 2?
[10:00 AM] Krisnan: looks around for hidden crossbowmen
11:29 AM] Erika: okay
[11:29 AM] Erika: so STEP 2 of Realms canon
[11:29 AM] Erika: here's the distinction
[11:29 AM] Erika: step 1 is "a thing Erika already remembers and knows is in the setting"
[11:29 AM] Erika: step 2 is "for whatever reason, a thing Erika doesn't know offhand or doesn't know at all"
[11:29 AM] Erika: so there's absolutely nothing wrong with bringing up a step 2 thing
[11:29 AM] Erika: it just means I need to do some checking
[11:30 AM] Erika: in this case you're saying hurdy-gurdys are in the Windwalker trilogy
[11:30 AM] Erika: I will go search that now
[11:32 AM] Erika: okay, so I actually have 4 references to a hurdy-gurdy
[11:32 AM] Krisnan: It's the part where the poor Sea Elf gets tricked
[11:32 AM] Erika: the ones in starlight and shadows are a hurdy-gurdy type device used for undersea signaling
[11:32 AM] Erika: but then I have one from Ascendancy of the Last and one from Soldiers of Ice describing it being used by gnomes
[11:33 AM] Erika: and this is important
[11:33 AM] Erika: because I don't just want to say it's a thing
[11:33 AM] Erika: I want to know where, when, and why it's a thing
[11:33 AM] Erika: okay, so now I have illuskan underwater signaling and gnomes using it
[11:33 AM] Erika: where do I go to check this?
[11:33 AM] Erika: gnomes are races of faerun, illuskan signaling might be wizards and rogues of the Realms?
[11:36 AM] Erika: so I open those
[11:36 AM] Erika: I also look at other sources that might be relevant
[11:36 AM] Erika: like oh yes, right, Demihumans of the Realms
[11:36 AM] Erika: and maybe there's a section on the underwater signaling in Skullport
[11:36 AM] Erika: and I sing a song by deepwater bay might have something, grab my copy of that from Steven
[11:38 AM] Erika: and I also run a general web search on the phrase "hurdy gurdy forgotten realms" to see what I find
[11:38 AM] Erika: and there's my answer
[11:38 AM] Erika: it was in Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue all along
[11:38 AM] Erika: where I thought it might be
[11:39 AM] Erika: page 149, DaRoni's Workshop
[11:40 AM] Erika: so that's our actual rules source
[11:40 AM] Erika: we can confirm that the hurdy-gurdy, under a different name, is in the Realms
[11:40 AM] Erika: (it's called the yeoman's fiddle instead)
[11:41 AM] Erika: now I have to connect the various references back to it
[11:41 AM] Erika: it's plausible for all the mentions to have connected back to this one source
[11:41 AM] Erika: two of them refer to gnomes, and the inventor in this case is a gnome himself
[11:42 AM] Erika: the ones in the North for sailors can also connect as an Aurora's product sale
[11:42 AM] Erika: further searching online turns up that Elaine Cunningham included the hurdy-gurdy because she was interested in them at the time
[11:42 AM] Erika: but it looks like the Realms-specific naming got missed in editing
[11:42 AM] Erika: so that's okay, it happens
[11:44 AM] Erika: so they exist, they're called yeoman's fiddles, they're expensive and prone to breaking, Aurora's sells them and gnomes and the scoundrels of the Sword Coast north use them
[11:44 AM] Erika: I don't really need to poke at a bunch of the other sources I opened up now, as I have most of it centrally locked down
[11:44 AM] Erika: but I need one more thing
[11:44 AM] Erika: the when
[11:44 AM] Erika: so for when
[11:45 AM] Erika: a central, helpful tool, is the Grand History of the Realms, a sourcebook that's literally just a giant timeline
[11:45 AM] Erika: and even then it's missing things, but it's a good place to start
[11:46 AM] Erika: Aurora's is 1992, so early 2e (I can place this more specifically, but I might not need to, with other pieces at the front and back ends)
[11:46 AM] Erika: When was Soldiers of Ice?
[11:47 AM] Erika: No timing in the book itself, but it's Harpers book 7, so similarly early
[11:47 AM] Erika: What was the book about? okay, volcanic eruption in northern Damara
[11:48 AM] Erika: let me check for that in the Grand History
[11:49 AM] Erika: okay, I'm not seeing that there
[11:49 AM] Erika: a  couple more cursory searches (gnolls, the main character's name) don't get me a result either
[11:49 AM] Erika: fine
[11:49 AM] Erika: I'm not done yet anyway
[11:50 AM] Erika: this is just getting harder
[11:50 AM] Erika: Next up I'm grabbing Hall of Heroes and Heroes' Lorebook, which have entries on various novel characters
[11:50 AM] Erika: I also want to grab Code of the Harpers
[11:51 AM] Erika: Bingo!
[11:51 AM] Erika: She's in the Heroes' Lorebook, which is a cinch to nail down timings from
[11:52 AM] Erika: And this also tells me something important
[11:53 AM] Erika: Soldiers of Ice took place on the Great Glacier not Damara, and Martine also has an entry in the Great Glacier supplement
[11:58 AM] Erika: okay so I had to do this the hard way again
[11:58 AM] Erika: because that dead ended
[11:58 AM] Erika: but that's fine
[11:58 AM] Erika: got a date
[11:59 AM] Erika: this is a timeline of all Realms fiction, and this gives me 1366 DR for Soldiers of Ice
[11:59 AM] Erika: on the other end I've got Lady Penitent Book 3
[11:59 AM] Krisnan: so, a bit after the Time of Troubles
[11:59 AM] Krisnan: 8 years
[12:03 PM] Erika: Right
[12:03 PM] Erika: but we're not done yet
[12:04 PM] Erika: Lady Penitent and in particular book 3 are easy to place
[12:04 PM] Erika: because it's basically reconfiguring the entire drow pantheon for 4e
[12:04 PM] Erika: (and also killing Qilue :frowning: )
[12:04 PM] Erika: that's 1375 DR
[12:04 PM] Erika: sorry, I got lost in reading the actual book for a bit
[12:04 PM] Erika: so at the very earliest the hurdy-gurdy was available in 1366 through to 1375
[12:04 PM] Krisnan: ... You know, every time you say "You're not done yet", running in the 90s starts playing in my head
[12:05 PM] Erika: want to check Tangled Webs to see if that's earlier (I don't think so)
[12:05 PM] Krisnan: Also, Jeeeeepers, you never realize HOW OFTEN there's a cataclysm in the realms
[12:05 PM] Erika: and Soldiers of Ice is 1993 publication
[12:05 PM] Krisnan: Especially after 1300
[12:05 PM] Erika: so I actually want to get the date for Aurora's
[12:05 PM] Erika: because that might be a bit earlier
[12:06 PM] Erika: (note: there's a general rule of thumb you can use to get these dates by using their real world publishing date, but it's better to be specific)
[12:06 PM] Erika: and I was right
[12:07 PM] Erika: Tangled Webs is 1361 DR (the timing on Starlight and Shadows is VERY WEIRD)
[12:07 PM] Erika: so, that puts us even farther back
[12:07 PM] Erika: 1992 is earlier than the revised campaign setting
[12:07 PM] Erika: so we're post-1358
[12:08 PM] Erika: what I want is one of the big campaign update books
[12:08 PM] Erika: what's the one for about then? the horde, maybe?
[12:09 PM] Erika: yep, Yamun Khahan died in 1991 printings
[12:09 PM] Erika: back to the grand history
[12:11 PM] Erika: unrelated okay apparently there's a lesbian parthenogenesis baby of Alustriel's running around, that makes sense
[12:12 PM] Erika: okay so I can basically narrow this down to a late 1360-early 1361 printing date for Aurora's
[12:12 PM] Erika: and this is important, because like some other Realms books, Aurora's is actually written as an in-game document
[12:13 PM] Erika: with the footnotes breaking the fourth wall to give you game stats
[12:13 PM] Erika: so I can say that the first introduction of the yeoman's fiddle was in that printing, and that it spread from there
[12:13 PM] Erika: great
[12:13 PM] Erika: that gives me the what, when, and where
[12:14 PM] Erika: if I was actually doing this for a purpose I could tie a knot up on things now
[12:14 PM] Erika: note that I can't go too far forward with this
[12:14 PM] Erika: as a general rule of thumb I can't assume anything pre-Spellplague actually exists afterwards
[12:15 PM] Erika: so I'll say the yeoman's fiddle is still in production until 1385, and then if 4e or 5e games want to pick it up from there with their post-apocalyptic storylines, they can
[12:15 PM] Erika: and that's how I place one thing in the Realms
[12:15 PM] Erika: that was step 2

How To Criticize A Text, An Idea, And a Setting

This is a much larger discussion, in some places an argument, in some places an explanation of how dumbed-down introductory literary analysis applies to reading and criticizing the Forgotten Realms. If you have cultural studies training and think I'm glossing over something or ignoring an important nuance, I likely am, in order to make it more accessible.

[8:14 PM] skulldixon: Doesn't 5e basically ignore the spellplauge anyway
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): yeah
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): but you're still 120 years ahead on the timeline and that sucks all kinds of ass
[8:15 PM] skulldixon: I mean, the only thing I think they carried over was The Raven Queen
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): there's more
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): the changes to Thay, the politics of the Sword
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): Coast  etc
[8:16 PM] skulldixon: Well, I mean - I don't remember any of the new books covering Thay, but I don't read all the books either
[8:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): yeah
[8:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): there's a lot of changes they didn't roll back basically
[8:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): 5e is very far from the golden ages of the Realms
[8:18 PM] skulldixon: Maybe its because my game takes place out in and around the dalelands..
[8:20 PM] skulldixon: though RAW i think the only big change you would have to deal with would be the 9th level spell cap. Otherwise, you could play in an earlier era and be fine
[8:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'm not trying to be offensive but I think it's more that you don't know where to look; Shadowrun got run over like 3 times, there's been major changes to Cormyr and Sembia, etc
[8:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): Shadowdale
[8:20 PM] skulldixon: I'm sure. but since they haven't put any actaul books out about it all you have to look at is older material
[8:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): No, that's incorrect
[8:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): the changes to shadowdale are the Elminster Must Die trilogy
[8:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): The Sembia changes are in the SCAG and The Herald
[8:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): Cormyr is in a bunch of 4e magazine articles
[8:22 PM] skulldixon: I mean in the actual game books. I don't read the FR novels
[8:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): okay
[8:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): so
[8:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): you're missing out on a lot of details then, please understand that
[8:24 PM] skulldixon: Right, I was making the statement that WoTC seemed to, as far as the game books go, seem to be ignoring it and hoping no one would notice. They did a similar "Mistake" with Dragonalnce so I get it
[8:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): And that's incorrect.
[8:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): You have no idea about their editorial policy or product direction if you're dismissing part of the product line out of hand.
[8:25 PM] skulldixon: Maybe that is possible. or maybe you're giving them too much credit.
[8:27 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'm not going to argue about this with you. You are refusing to acknowledge part of the text and discourse, that's your choice, but it means your position on any critical issues regarding the Realms as a product is fallacious by nature.
[8:30 PM] skulldixon: Thats fine. I wasn't trying to argue. You obviously have a bigger stake in this than me since I don't really like the setting all that much. Granted, I only did research into the setting four years ago when prepping for my game. Most of the info/lore I found was - not consistent. But hey whatever
[8:37 PM] skulldixon: it would be helpful for all that to be in the... IDK .. the Game books since its the basic setting for the edition....
[8:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): It would be nice
[8:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): but they decided to only focus on the Sword Coast and the Western Heartlands
[5:42 AM] BaaL: Does anyone run FR by the book?

I always imagined it was a setting designed to be disassembled and put together into some even unholier abomination. With its themes all over the place you can practically reconfigure humpty dumpty into anything.
[5:44 AM] Krisnan: Well, I ran an adventure in FR as it detailed
[5:44 AM] Krisnan: With Zhentarim and Bane
[5:45 AM] Krisnan: It was pretty localised
[8:21 AM] Erika (She/Her): @BaaL I do! It’s great!
[8:44 AM] Krisnan: I kinda really want to be in Erika's game(s) to see how to do FR Right
[8:51 AM] Erika (She/Her): I have one observer for the OSE game already, I'm happy to take another
[8:53 AM] Krisnan: Well, the main issue is (as freaking always) - Schedule. I'm in GMT+1 zone - and in four days it will be the GMT+2 zone
[8:54 AM] Erika (She/Her): right
[8:54 AM] Erika (She/Her): but you can still see the Discord discussion, read recaps if you can't attend a session, ask questions about how or why I do certain things, and that sort of stuff
[8:54 AM] Erika (She/Her): up to you!
[9:04 AM] Krisnan: (Just had some tomato soup. Send me an invite and I'll have a look and say hello!)
[11:21 AM] Avalanche Surfer: If I have to read multiple novels, subscribe to your magazine, and buy your over priced supplements to get a complete picture of your setting, then fuck your setting
[11:42 AM] adempz: They haven’t kept Zariel’s history consistent in this edition alone. You literally can’t run the Realms as written with all the errors and contradictory material. My favorite is the Companion over Elturel. It was originally in another city, then, oops. Someone messed up, it didn’t get caught, and here we are.
[12:35 PM] Erika (She/Her): @Avalanche Surfer what's wrong with having a setting with that much detail? it might not be for you, but that doesn't mean it's wrong
[12:35 PM] skulldixon: @Avalanche Surfer Pretty much my thoughts. I'm finding the Runquest: Glorantha book refreshing in comparison because the book is full of setting.
[12:42 PM] Avalanche Surfer: @Erika (She/Her) I'm saying you should consolidate it.
[12:42 PM] Erika (She/Her): why?
[12:42 PM] Erika (She/Her): all the extra detail is half the fun!
[12:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): I was looking up hurdy gurdys for @Krisnan and found out that Alustriel had a parthenogenetic lesbian baby with a Rashemar witch as a form of diplomacy!
[12:44 PM] Avalanche Surfer: @Erika (She/Her) have all the detail you want but put it in one place
[12:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): that
[12:44 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): It's less fun if you're not allowed to talk about the setting because you haven't read the spinoff novels.
[12:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): that would be like a 200,000 page book
[12:45 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I hesitated to say that but I feel that's at the root of the current conversation? Let me know if I'm off.
[12:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): I don't know!
[12:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): but everyone should be able to talk about the setting, and I hope they do
[12:47 PM] Erika (She/Her): if you mean what I said to skulldixon last night, that was different
[12:48 PM] Erika (She/Her): he was trying to make an objective, critical argument about the current publishing and products
[12:48 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that requires knowledge of the actual sources to make an informed argument
[12:49 PM] Erika (She/Her): I only shut people down like that when they make uninformed or unsupported arguments that are supposed to be critical takes on the Realms
[12:49 PM] Erika (She/Her): and I always take the time to point out what they're missing
[12:49 PM] Erika (She/Her): discussing the setting, internal details, and 100% especially someone's own game or home game decisions are very different
[12:52 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): That wasn't 100% clear last night so thank you for elaborating on that distinction.

That said, I'm still not sure requiring a whole bunch of secondary reading for people to criticize the setting is realistic.
[12:53 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Like, I wouldn't wish reading everything Salvatore's pumped out on anyone
[12:53 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): And I think you can still have an idea of how the Realms is being treated by reading the core material
[12:54 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Anyway. I just piped up because it seemed like Avalanche Surfer's comment sprang from that context. I don't want to argue their argument for them
[1:03 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): (and I say all this as someone who did read the Salvatore books until... i think it was a spinoff involving the assassin rival dude and jarlaxle, when i realized the story was just spinning it's wheels, not going anywhere in particular. that's a lot to read.)
[1:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): that is a lot yeah
[1:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): Servant of the Shard or the Ghost King
[1:05 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): "Promise of the Witch King" was the one I stopped with I think
[1:05 PM] Erika (She/Her): oh, yep
[1:05 PM] Erika (She/Her): got my ones from when he sent them back up to the Cold Lands to fight Zhengyi again confused
[1:06 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I actually enjoyed the book itself, but the fatigue of keeping up with the series finally got to me
[1:07 PM] Erika (She/Her): the last Drizzt novel I really read was The Lone Drow
[1:11 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Yeah, that makes sense. Lone Drow was pretty bad- at least I vividly remember all the bits with Drizzt himself being unusually bad.
[1:12 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I finished that trilogy, read the Witch King, and decided I was done.
[1:13 PM] BaaL: I’ve only watched the Star Wars movies, my knowledge of the setting begins and ends there and I’ll critique those movies individually seperate from the comics and splatbooks.

I’ve only read Out of the Abyss and it’s fair to critique the setting based on what I know from that product, since it is a complete product, not a series.

With settings that are split up into many different products and series of products, each one stands on its own in terms of critique honestly.

Is it wrong of me to think of franchise settings in this way?
[1:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): the only reason I kept going through it all was because the Thousand Orcs trilogy is basically in quantum entanglement with one of my favourite setting sourcebooks, so I needed to know what happened
[1:14 PM] diregrizzlybear: what's this about The Companion origianlly being over another city?
[1:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): so @BaaL and @Pkdragon (she/her) you basically asked the exact same question about talking critically about products versus the setting, so I'll answer them together
[1:16 PM] Erika (She/Her): The Companion is originally over Elversult, not Elturel, for one thing
[1:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): this map shows both

[1:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): I think it might have been moved as part of the creation of Elturgard in 4e
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): yeah it is in Elturel in the 4e FRCG
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): ANYWAY
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): products versus the setting
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): so here's the thing
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): and disclaimer
[1:19 PM] Erika (She/Her): I have an English degree, so my take on this is very influenced by academia
[1:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): so in contemporary literature studies, we don't really talk about novels or poems or books as the unit of study any more - the word that gets used is "text", referring to a single unitary piece of writing
[1:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): @top cat (he/him/autist) I SEE THAT
[1:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): so a text can be a novel, it can be a gaming supplement, it can be a web article, it can be a social media post
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): now, one thing the Internet critics are very in love with
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): and are very wrong about
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): is Death of the Author
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): which is just old and bad and they keep using it wrong anyway
[1:21 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): Oh noes
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): Lindsay Ellis has a good video about how absurd the things internet people do with it are
[1:21 PM] Xenophon of Athens: That video is excellent
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): so as a formal guiding perspective for study, a text is not a dead single unit
[1:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): it is not a thing that exists in isolation
[1:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): it is not birthed fully formed from the brow of Writer-God without any influence
[1:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): a text is a unit of writing and creation and culture, and it is created in response to and as part of a larger discussion among people
[1:23 PM] Erika (She/Her): in simple terms, we call that discussion a discourse, and multiple discourses make up culture as a whole
[1:23 PM] Erika (She/Her): importantly, none of this is Big Meaningful Literature stuff
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): none of it only applies to Really Important Books You Should Read Aka The Classics
[1:24 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So death of the author is the lens of critique ignoring the author's intentions?
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): not even
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'm not even going to touch it
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): just saying it's wrong
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): and anything you have ever learned or tried to apply from the internet about death of the author is wrong
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is a core precept of the argument I'm about to make
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): and we can debate it later
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): but not as part of this, because then we'll get all sucked into that
[1:25 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): The reason I'm asking is because when I got an english minor, my english courses treated the lens of "author matters" vs "author doesn't matter, text stands on it's own" as two different but valid lenses of critiques
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): Okay yes
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): so you know part of the score then
[1:26 PM] Erika (She/Her): So if you're going to do a text-only viewing without discourse, it's still incorrect to say intention doesn't matter
[1:26 PM] Erika (She/Her): but you can only derive intention from textual readings, not outside sources
[1:26 PM] Erika (She/Her): and then you would know that you can contrast multiple techniques to make an argument
[1:27 PM] Erika (She/Her): whereas the internet generally says "uh death of the author so nothing matters except exactly what's there" and then does an incredibly shitty analysis and refuses to examine other approaches
[1:27 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): got it
[1:27 PM] Erika (She/Her): hence the Lindsay Ellis video, where she shows how absurd that is
[1:27 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I'm with you now :thumbsup:
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): you could probably get some fascinating readings of RPG books using a single-text approach like that
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): but that's a different project
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): and to your average layperson these days it's important to get across the idea that other books matter
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that CinemaSins or whoever is wrong
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): okay so
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): again
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): you can have a text a discourse and a culture about anything
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that's really cool
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): our blog posts are texts, our discussions are the discourse of the OSR
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): that's valid and important, and good
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): so when we talk about the Forgotten Realms, we think about it in the same way
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): we have individual texts, like novels and game supplements
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): and together they make up a discussion about the Realms
[1:30 PM] Erika (She/Her): so the important thing here is that every Realms supplement ever published is a response to other publications, and is part of a communication among the people who are talking about the Forgotten Realms
[1:31 PM] Erika (She/Her): And that they cannot be removed from that context of that discussion
[1:31 PM] Erika (She/Her): In the simplest, easiest terms, this is something like "Hey, your new Dragons of the Underdark book has to be in this year according to editorial"
[1:32 PM] Erika (She/Her): Sometimes it's something like "hey, we're covering Calimshan again, can we fix this continunity error from page 33 of Volo's Guide to Genies while we're at it?"
[1:32 PM] Erika (She/Her): those are examples from the production side, but they don't have to be from the production side either
[1:32 PM] Erika (She/Her): they can just be things like "hey all the fans keep writing in for more details on that drow character with the swords"
[1:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): now
[1:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is how a text (again, a novel or any other publication about the Realms) is situated in regards to the discourse and other texts
[1:34 PM] Erika (She/Her): so when I talk about a particular idea, I want to see where that idea started, what other discussions it's created to, and where it's going
[1:34 PM] Erika (She/Her): hey, where did this monster come from? when did they reprint it? what changed about it? any new details added?
[1:34 PM] Erika (She/Her): but that's an idea
[1:35 PM] Erika (She/Her): and I can still look at a text on its own and say hey, this particular text didn't represent this idea well
[1:35 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can read the text and make basic determinations about it: there's not a lot of detail, it was unclear, it was misspelled, the book contradicts itself
[1:36 PM] Erika (She/Her): and those are explicitly arguments and decisions about the text itself
[1:36 PM] Erika (She/Her): even as the text is part of this larger discussion and describing an idea that also exists in other parts of the discussion
[1:36 PM] Erika (She/Her): so I can make arguments about a particular text
[1:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): but they are always contextual, and limited
[1:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can say that Demons of the Forgotten Realms I was really bad at representing Eltab, but Demons of the Forgotten Realms II was better about him
[1:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): am I making sense so far?
[1:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): @Pkdragon (she/her) ? @BaaL ?
[1:38 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Yeah, I get you. I'm just waiting for the whole argument to respond. I think I agree with most of it.
[1:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): Okay
[1:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'
[1:39 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'm just making sure I'm making this accessible to people without close reading training or practice coding
[1:40 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): admittedly, I actually enjoy close reading
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): oh it's fantastic
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): but it's a big leap to explain to someone without the training
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): "you have this one sentence to write a five page essay about in an hour. GO"
[1:40 PM] BaaL: Texts = Falliable
Settings = Infalliable if any text covers the failure, otherwise falliable.

Am I reading it correctly? This is a bit above my weight class.
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): no
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is not about fallibility or any sort of truth
[1:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is saying that basically a book is composed of multiple ideas that are influenced by other books
[1:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that your book is influencing other books that come after it
[1:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): does that make more sense?
[1:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): (aside: sometimes I think that my english degree was all this really easy basic stuff that a child could understand and then you try to explain semiotics or something to someone and go okay this really is a mindfuck the first little while)
[1:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): also another aside but @retrograde tardigrade xenograft is going to want to read this discussion, I know it
[1:43 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): I was about to say "semiotics is easy" and then I realized that it has different interpretations in linguistics vs literature
[1:44 PM] BaaL: That there’s a chain of influences all the way back to Gilgamesh I understand. Nothing stands on its own.
[1:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): great, okay, we can work with that
[1:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): so let's put that aside and talk form for a brief second
[1:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): because it's also important
[1:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): no matter the ideas in a book, the quality in which they're represented is important. a good book has exciting, evocative language, has meaningful metaphors, and communicates its ideas well, right?
[1:46 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): sure
[1:46 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can say a book is good or not based off the quality of its writing, quality defined as communicating well, meaningfully, and impactfully
[1:47 PM] Erika (She/Her): because a great book can have great ideas, but it's dragged down to being a bad book if it's really boring or unclear
[1:47 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that's a quality of the book itself
[1:47 PM] Erika (She/Her): no matter how good the ideas I get are, no matter how clear a connection back to Gilgamesh I have, if I can't write it well, it's not going to be a good book
[1:48 PM] Erika (She/Her): so when I talk about how good or bad a book is, I'm talking about two things: a) the quality of the writing, and b) what it does with the ideas it has from culture
[1:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): and if I look at an individual book being good, we're talking about the quality of the writing, in addition to how good the ideas in it are
[1:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): the quality of the writing itself is a quality only about that book
[1:50 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): So the best kind of book has cool ideas that are communicated well?
[1:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): but the ideas are transformations or additions to stuff from other culture
[1:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): yes! absolutely. on a basic level, for sure, yes.
[1:52 PM] BaaL: Why does cultural influences make for a better text?

It often does, but it’s tangential, not an essential like quality A.
[1:53 PM] Erika (She/Her): because you cannot have ideas without influences from other culture at all. language and thinking just don't work that way. everything is in relation to each other.
[1:54 PM] BaaL: Okay that’s clever, I get it now.
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): okay cool!
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): so
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): here's the thing
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): if we look at books that are bad
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): either on account of bad writing or bad ideas
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): there are very much Bad Forgotten Realms books
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): there are novels that are so poorly written they hurt to read
[1:54 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): can confirm
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): there are sourcebooks that present ideas badly or unclearly
[1:55 PM] Erika (She/Her): and this is absolutely true
[1:55 PM] Erika (She/Her): and I can absolutely stand up and say that Netheril: Empire of Mages is shit and you should largely ignore it
[1:55 PM] Erika (She/Her): but I really need to know HOW I'm saying it's bad
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): did it take a giant shit on a bunch of ideas from other books (yes), is it boring and uninteresting because the writing is bad (also yes) okay so it's bad
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): but even though that book is bad
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): that doesn't necessarily make the ideas in it bad
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can still take the idea of the ancient empire of Netheril, which was introduced in books before it and comes up in books afterward
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): and say this idea is good
[1:57 PM] Erika (She/Her): I just have to keep in mind that that one book is really bad about it
[1:57 PM] Erika (She/Her): and therefore when I write my book about Netheril I have to respond to that other book and fix things or make it less shitty or rewrite things
[1:57 PM] Erika (She/Her): at the most basic of levels, this is what's called a retcon
[1:58 PM] Erika (She/Her): this other book got something wrong or bad, so I'm just going to replace it with better writing now when I do it
[1:58 PM] Erika (She/Her): Still with me @BaaL ?
[2:01 PM] BaaL: You say that the particular implementations of the settings do not matter as long as quality B foundations are strong, quality A can be improved in future implementations. Yes?

But quality B relies on communicating those ideas effectively. What happens when a setting like FR is juggling a huge amount of detail and shifting themes, muddying quality B by being unable to communicate it concisely?
[2:02 PM] Erika (She/Her): nope
[2:02 PM] Erika (She/Her): nowhere near that yet
[2:02 PM] diregrizzlybear: you cover the situation where a book is bad because it is poorly executed but the ideas might be good. is it the same when the the writing might be fine but the idea diverges from the discourse in an unpopular way? Thinking about Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand.
[2:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): all I'm saying is that I can say a FR book is bad because it has bad writing and also because it represents an idea in the setting badly, using the infamous box set about Netheril as an example
[2:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that I can then respond to something bad and make it better with better writing when I write my own book
[2:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): does that make sense?
[2:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): @diregrizzlybear I'll respond to you in a little bit
[2:12 PM] BaaL: It makes sense.

But assuming you’re not creating a canon product it ultimately does not matter if you can improve it, you’re still working off an imperfect copy cloned from a poorly communicated quality B. 

You can make B better and more concise, but that involves undoing the A flaws and plugging the unknowable B holes.

But the sold product does not change, it remains in it’s current flawed state for future buyers.
[2:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): okay
[2:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): you're getting ahead of me again
[2:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): I am nowhere near remotely done my actual argument
[2:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): I just need you to tell me if what I'm saying makes sense so far
[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): please don't go off on tangents or you're going to confuse yourself
[2:14 PM] BaaL:

[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): pretty much
[2:14 PM] BaaL: Yeah sure, go on! :slight_smile:
[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): So we've covered how you can criticize individual books
[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): But criticizing the actual ideas or the whole discussion (in this case, the entire setting) is harder
[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): Because an idea is not just limited to one book
[2:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): And therefore to study the idea, I need to look at how it's written about in multiple books, compare those books, and then make a decision about how good or bad it is
[2:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): Does that make sense?
[2:17 PM] BaaL: It makes sense.
[2:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): Okay!
[2:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): Now, the entire setting is made up of multiple ideas, lots and lots of them. Once I can criticize an individual idea, I can criticize multiple ideas; and once I have an understanding and an opinion on multiple ideas, I can criticize the overall setting. It's really unlikely that I can fully research and understand every idea in the setting, so I can make an argument about the setting on the basis of its ideas in two ways. One is preponderance (a LOT of the ideas in this setting is good, therefore the setting is good), the other is ratio (MOST of the ideas in this setting are bad, therefore the setting is bad.) Does this make sense? Can you see how I can assemble criticizing books into criticizing ideas into criticizing the setting as a whole?
[2:28 PM] BaaL: By having one bad representation of your setting you permanently damage the ability to communicate B qualities.

Adding errata or otherwise correcting works makes it increasingly difficult to accurately to portray your B qualities, as you are communicating the full ideas of that setting over a larger amount of text, the B qualities are communicated without brevity, information is duplicated and potentially contradictory which are only corrected later, decreasing reader comprehension and the completeness of the setting in return.

This strongly hints towards a less qualitative piece of fiction.
[2:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): no
[2:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): no
[2:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): again
[2:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): you are getting way ahead of me
[2:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): I am just saying that I can criticize individual books and how they represent ideas, I can criticize ideas by reading multiple representations of that idea, and I can criticize the setting by reading about a lot of its ideas.
[2:30 PM] Erika (She/Her): Does that make sense?
[2:32 PM] BaaL: Yup
[2:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): Okay great!
[2:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): So let's go back to one of your examples
[2:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): You mentioned Out of the Abyss, which is an adventure book for the Forgotten Realms
[2:34 PM] Erika (She/Her): What did you think of that book? Was it a good book? Was it written well? Were the ideas in it interesting?
[2:36 PM] BaaL: Interesting ideas, but it lacked essential details about the surface world to be able to run it. 

The setting as presented was incomplete.
[2:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): Awesome! That's a great criticism of the book, and I agree.
[2:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): Now, let's expand that into our larger criticisms. Can I make a statement about the larger Forgotten Realms setting from this one book? no, because I'm only looking at one book and that isn't a lot of the ideas in the setting.
[2:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): Can I make a statement about an idea that's in this book? No, I can only make a statement about how that idea is represented in this book.
[2:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): And Out of the Abyss has a fantastic example of that
[2:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): The climax is about the demon lord Zuggtmoy trying to marry the giant fungus Araumycos
[2:39 PM] Erika (She/Her): Both Zuggtmoy and Araumycos are ideas from other books; Zuggtmoy was introduced by Gary Gygax back in Temple of Elemental Evil, and Araumycos was first published by Eric Boyd in 1999's Drizzt Do'Urden's Guide to the Underdark.
[2:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): Zuggtmoy originally comes from Greyhawk, but Araumycos is all from the Forgotten Realms.
[2:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): So when I look at these ideas, I don't want to say they're both about the Forgotten Realms, because they're not. Zuggtmoy is from another setting, and Out of the Abyss' designers made the choice to introduce her to the Forgotten Realms in this book.
[2:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): When I look at other representations of these ideas, I can now make the criticism that the designers of Out of the Abyss were lazy and didn't research other parts of the Forgotten Realms.
[2:42 PM] Erika (She/Her): Why? Well, again, Zuggtmoy they introduced to the Realms outright in this adventure, and I don't know why they used her and not the pre-existing evil forces of decay, fungus and ooze in the Realms (Moander and Ghaunadaur.)
[2:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): By looking at ideas in other books, I can see that this is redundant and doesn't fit what already exists in the setting.
[2:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): The same goes for Araumycos. It's set up in other books as this unknowably old, hoary cyclopean horror, full of psionic abilities and holding uncountably ancient ruins in its grasp.
[2:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): In Out of the Abyss, Araumycos is reduced to being basically a husband to Zuggtmoy, with all its horror and wonder and mystery stripped away.
[2:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): So when I compare the various sources on Araumycos, I can say that it's a good idea, but that Out of the Abyss represented it badly.
[2:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can say that Zuggtmoy is redundant next to other Forgotten Realms ideas, and is an idea that doesn't add anything to the setting, so she didn't need to be included either.
[2:46 PM] Erika (She/Her): Combined with your other criticisms (that it's incomplete and missing essential details), I can make a good argument that Out of the Abyss is a bad book.
[2:46 PM] Erika (She/Her): Does this make sense?
[2:50 PM] BaaL: Now we have two seperate representations of Araumycos. 

One is good and one is bad. 

The bad implementation affects the overall quality B of the setting negatively. As they both now exist in paralell.
[2:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): correct!
[2:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): and the important thing though
[2:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): is one of scope
[2:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): that I always have to consider how many different books I'm getting information from
[2:51 PM] Erika (She/Her): and realize that I can criticize only one book or the representation of something in that book if I have that one book
[2:51 PM] Erika (She/Her): that I can criticize ideas if I have more books
[2:51 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that I can criticize the entire setting if I have a lot or most of the books
[2:52 PM] Erika (She/Her): so my argument about something, to be a good argument, is always limited by how many books I've read
[2:52 PM] Erika (She/Her): does that make sense?
[3:03 PM] BaaL: Yes, I’m on board now.

You can judge a setting more accurately based on the amount of information you have about it.

However the more information that is required to portray those ideas speaks negatively about both quality A and B.

At some point, the inability to accurately portray the setting stops being the fault of the reader and falls on the worldbuilders for creating an incomprehensible setting, at some point knowing the information necessary to fully critique it becomes impossible to the human mind. I don’t think FR is quite on the level of being incomprehensible, but it’s pretty steadily on the ”this system is too complicated to no longer be the fault of the reader for not being able to understand it.”
Even WotC had trouble communicating enough useable setting information in the many hundred pages of Out of the Abyss, I can’t blame a hobbyist DM for failing either.
[3:04 PM] Erika (She/Her): Absolutely agreed.
[3:04 PM] Erika (She/Her): It is a major problem that the Realms is now big enough that it can't be represented well in an introductory product
[3:05 PM] Erika (She/Her): I think you need at least two rulebooks, one for players and one for the GM
[3:05 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Yeah, this is getting to where I have a problem. At a certain point it just isn't realistic to require people to read everything they need to critique it
[3:05 PM] BaaL: So whilst FR is so complicated its content cannot be critiqued in a sense, you can still critique how it’s unable to portray those ideas.
[3:05 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): and I don't like the idea of big settings being essentially immune to criticism. Like, for example, Marvel.
[3:05 PM] Erika (She/Her): But again
[3:06 PM] Erika (She/Her): you can criticize an idea by looking at everything about that idea
[3:06 PM] Erika (She/Her): so I don't have to read everything about the Realms to say "wow this racist portrayal of Chult is really shitty" to give an an example of good criticism about 5e
[3:06 PM] Erika (She/Her): I just have to read the other stuff on Chult
[3:07 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): That certainly is more manageable
[3:07 PM] Erika (She/Her): Yep
[3:07 PM] Erika (She/Her): So this kind of brings us back to skulldixon's argument from last night
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): I think Marvel is a little different from FR because it's not much of a stretch to say that the MCU is supposed to stand on its own.
[3:08 PM] Erika (She/Her): it's not feasible to make an argument to say "hey the Realms suck or this particular version sucks" without doing a lot of reading
[3:08 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): But like, if I want to criticize Marvel Comics for being a complete mess, I don't think it should be necessary to read everything involved with it
[3:08 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I'm not talking the MCU, lol
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): lmao
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): whoops
[3:08 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I'm talking the mess that is comic book continuity
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): yes, and I totally agree with you as someone who tried to get into it
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): it is a mess
[3:09 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I don't have to read even 10% of the stuff they put out to know there are some serious problems
[3:09 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Because that 10% is so hard to read
[3:09 PM] Erika (She/Her): but you can easily make an argument that a particular subset or idea or thing is bad
[3:09 PM] Erika (She/Her): @Pkdragon (she/her) so you said you did an english minor. did they ever talk about doing coding, a literature survey, or a literature review?
[3:10 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Right! But if you can easily make an argument that enough subsets are bad, at certain point I think you can argue that the whole thing at the very least has some issues without reading all the comics

I'm afraid we didn't. Not that I remember.
[3:10 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): fwiw, I've done a science literature review but that'
[3:10 PM] Erika (She/Her): @Pkdragon (she/her) that's the preponderance argument I mentioned. you don't have to read it all, just a lot
[3:11 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Close reading and lenses of criticism was what we talked about, and the rest was mostly just reading books and writing essays about them >_>
[3:11 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): how much is a lot?
[3:11 PM] Erika (She/Her): a literature review is the same thing in cultural studies as it is in science, basically
[3:11 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): Oh cool!
[3:11 PM] Erika (She/Her): so by doing a consistent concerted reading of multiple texts and synthesizing them you can make a statement about the whole
[3:12 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): Yeah, I helped compile one on Spina Bifida over the summer
[3:12 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): it was hard :frowning:
[3:12 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So before we get in two deep I want to bring up a couple of points 

- I think part of the problem last night may have been that the conversation was about "5E", and that might mean something different to two different people
[3:12 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): when I see 5E, I think the game books, and that's it.
[3:12 PM] Erika (She/Her): coding is basically doing a shitload of close readings for ONE SPECIFIC THING in a bunch of different sources and quantitatively examining the times it comes up
[3:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): and then a survey is reading a selected subset of texts about a thing as an introduction, so you can learn what other texts you need to read to get an idea of the whole
[3:13 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So I feel like there might have been an understanding that people were talking about one very specific set of Realms content, but both people weren't on the  same page as to what that set of content was, which caused the problem with scope.
[3:14 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): (i hope that makes sense)
[3:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): also pkdragon
[3:14 PM] diregrizzlybear: a lot of people, like Jojiro mentioned, see 5e as also the paratext like all the broken promises about what it is supposed to be
[3:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is not gonna make any sense other than to you
[3:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): but you can actually use deconstruction (aka death of the author on steroids) to do a larger argumentative analysis
[3:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): you just have a text of EVERYTHING
[3:15 PM] diregrizzlybear: and we clearly all have to deal with the community developed understanding about how games work and how WotC writed modules
[3:15 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Hmm.
[3:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): and look at all texts as one unitary item comparing them internally as language
[3:15 PM] BaaL: Fun discussion, learned something even! But I’m gonna head off and play some half-life.

[3:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): cool, have a good time
[3:16 PM] BaaL: Thanks for the indepth explainations
[3:16 PM] Erika (She/Her): you're welcome
[3:16 PM] Erika (She/Her): just gonna copy all this into a blog post so I don't forget it all
[3:16 PM] Erika (She/Her): now that I've got it down somewhere I can just point people to it
[3:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): since rarely do I do the actual text/discourse/culture explanation about the Realms itself
[3:17 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Yeah I want to pretend that made sense but I'll admit I didn't actually learn much with that english minor haha
[3:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): so if nothing else but the text matters
[3:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can just put all the texts together
[3:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): and compare the texts directly through close reading
[3:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): and make value judgments from that
[3:18 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Ah, yes
[3:19 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So, just to make sure I understand you correctly
[3:19 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): these are the methods you'd use to build up to a setting critique without reading everything involved?
[3:19 PM] Erika (She/Her): yes!
[3:19 PM] Erika (She/Her): And one thing that's worth noting
[3:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): is that of course you can do this with a one-book (not text) setting
[3:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): in that case you just have one book, and maybe some ancillary texts like social media posts or interviews to compare with
[3:20 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So I really do think scope is important, and that limiting scope makes all this much easier but we don't really think to do it
[3:21 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Which is why I brought up the definition of 5E earlier
[3:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): it's that very pointed critical thinking you don't learn how to do outside of academic university
[3:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): so it can be very frustrating and inaccessible to people without that training

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Grim's Knights: Session 1

(AKA :owl: :bear: :coat:)

I started an Old Gray Box Forgotten Realms game using Old School Essentials (with the Advanced Genre Rules and some house rules) to game a bit with online friends that I wouldn't have the opportunity to play with otherwise on my week off from my Pathfinder 2e game. After a couple weeks of excited discussion, we sat down to our first session last night!

My players will read these posts, so I won't be revealing campaign secrets; but my session writeups are good places to note stuff I referenced, problems I ran into, and rulings I made. Think of this as being more stream of consciousness, showing how the sausage is made as a recap. My players chose to start with the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, so I'm running FRC1 converted as necessary for both system and being a bit earlier in the timeline as our first adventure.

In Attendance:
-Grim Illance, human knight 1
-Randal Buckman, human thief 1 (player is
-Josiah Illance, human magic-user 1 (player is
-Respen Eveningfall, elven fighter 1/magic-user 1

So I hadn't really had much of an opportunity to prepare. I've been sick with the flu the past week; I was helping the players create characters and get some details set up. My actual session prep (as opposed to brainstorming and daydreaming) consisted of quickly printing and flipping through FRC1, which lead to some issues as you'll see below!

We slowrolled the introduction, which was fine with me. I had about four or five paragraphs of narrative text in my head (think read-aloud narration), which I didn't want to recite all at once. I can get my players going with little description and I wasn't going to dwell on any particular thing, I just had a lot of little things going on to introduce! When Grim said he wanted to start looking for possible henchmen, I was happy to jump right in. I had totally messed up henchmen versus hirelings in my last OSR game (Advanced Labyrinth Lord) so this was one point where I knew I just wanted to play the OSE rules completely straight. Okay, you find hirelings in an inn.

Eveningstar (and the Haunted Halls) are renowned as proving grounds for adventurers, and we're starting right at the beginning of adventuring season, so it makes sense that there's unattached henchmen around looking for work. It won't be hard to find them. But what inn? FRC1's town listing is sketchy, grab Volo's Guide to Cormyr. Flip through that, okay the Lonesome Tankard fits. While I'm here, what are the PCs paying for rooms? Volo's doesn't have prices, it uses a relative pricing system; so this place costs 2 out of 5 coins. On what scale? Ummmm...2e book, 2e PHB? Okay, that looks to have a close scale. 3 gp for a week, extend that to 3 gp for a tenday.[1] Good. You're all paid up, you'll need to come back with 3 gp each for your next tenday's stay from today's adventure. Let the PCs know.

Back to henchmen! Hey those cool new OSE generators that Gavin just released have hirelings, grab that and punch in some quick numbers - 2 henchmen, I can work with this. Names, I need something a bit more diverse than the usual Chondathan list (FRCS/5e PHB), grab the giant spreadsheet of Ed Greenwood names and pull from that. One's Elryn, one is Kaie. Describe the Lonesome Tankard, describe the hirelings. The PCs approach Kaie first (she's wearing leather armor and has a battleaxe, she's awesome!) and Grim starts negotiating. He's got a great Charisma, he's a human knight, lots of things in his favour. Kaie is level 0, so she's easy to convince. 1 gp a day and a half-share per the text (again, really just want to do this right by the book), and Grim happily signs her along - oh, wait, he doesn't actually have 1 gp to give her. He's a noble, but he's starting off penniless! Josiah his brother squeezes in and signs her underneath him, nails the hiring role, gets his first henchman. Okay, Grim's learned his lesson, and he borrows a GP[2] from Josiah to pick up the other henchman. Elryn is also eager to find himself in the Haunted Halls, and he signs on for the same amount. Add some flourishes to the henchmen stat blocks [3], pass those over to the players to play.

Respen's player arrives now, move ahead to adventure! after we all introduce ourselves. The PCs head out of Eveningstar toward the Haunted Halls along a trail, and come to their first site: the burnt cabin of the dead village witch, Old Meg. Old Meg died awhile back, and her cabin burnt years later; it's now just rumoured as a haunted site by the locals. Well, the PCs won't let the burnt lie, and Randal does poke around in the flagstones. Now, I'm used to running Pathfinder/3.5 or similar where I'd call for a Perception check, but we agreed in our table rules beforehand to follow description and personal action first. The book says her treasures are hidden under the flagstones, and it would probably be dickish to ask which flagstones in particular, and how, so I say he pulls one up and finds it. Inside is one hell of a haul for the first adventuring site: about 15 gp in coins, but more importantly, her old spellbook! Josiah and Respen get very excited at their good luck, and we have a quick discussion about read magic being necessary to read anyone else's spellbook.[4] Randal debates palming the coins, and the party quickly steps out of character to have a discussion about table rules for distributing loot, with the thief opting to play it straight. I make a mistake here, and describe a manifestation of winking feminine eyes in the bushes looking at Josiah. (This gets retconned later after Josiah's player points out my bad assumption.)

Now the PCs head further up the trail towards adventure, and I magnify my first mistake with another big one. The local countryside map in FRC1 is not good, and it tripped me up twice this session. Some of the adventure sites (including the Haunted Halls) are off the border, with arrows pointing out towards them. A lot of those sites are on the same trail as the Haunted Halls, including a ruined fortification called the Killing Keep. Nice name, but without it being on the map, it's easy to get their order along the trail mixed up (this information is in two places in FRC1, there's a lot of similar but not quite the same sites, it's not well organized.) So I do! I describe the Killing Keep first and tell the PCs the rumours have told them to go past the Keep to the actual Haunted Halls, but the PCs fixate on the gaping broken portcullis and worn-down curtain wall in front of them. I can't blame them, that is adventure; but I'm not prepared for that site at all, they're starting to argue, and it's not where they promised the retainers they would be. Flip through the pages again - okay, I've got this mixed up, the Halls come first. Admit my mistake, move them to the real Halls.

So FRC1 is written notionally for 2e AD&D. It's very early 2e AD&D, it still uses a lot of 1e trade dress and ideas, and is definitely old-school, but it is supposed to be 2e. Think of it as the introductory adventure for the early 2e FR, and you've got an idea of where it's at. It's evocative and interesting - and also definitely deadly. The PCs are now at the Haunted Halls, and see two openings in the cliff face of the gorge before them. Check out both openings? Okay, the south is musky and dirty, with broken bones on the floor and loud thumping noises. To the north is a pair of closed wooden doors, graffiti on the walls all around them. That graffiti includes some weird painted mark (a harp-like shape with two diagonal lines running instead of the strings) and a note saying "THE SWORDS OF EVENINGSTAR CLEANSED THIS PLACE!" The Swords of Eveningstar (now known as the Knights of Myth Drannor) are the famous adventuring party Grim's Knights are following the legacy of, and I included this graffiti as an obvious hook to get them excited for that legacy. It works, and Randal checks the door for traps and doesn't find any. Respen works up a marching order, Josiah starts his map of the Haunted Halls, and Grim starts carving his own graffiti into the frame.

Remember what I just said about FRC1 being an introductory module for new players? Remember how I said it's 2e AD&D but still pretty old-school? Ed Greenwood was not fucking around with it. An owlbear comes out of the southern opening, barreling towards the PCs from behind! It's looking for blood, and it is going to fight to the death. That's right, your new first-level PCs and new players get a 5+2 HD monster with no possible morale failure as their very first taste of combat. I wonder how many poor bright-eyed virgins lost their innocence on this thing's claws? (Ed even mentions this was his long-running introductory dungeon for teaching kids D&D!)

Now, here's where some learning comes in. A good rule of thumb for OSR monsters is not to name them, but to describe them, which I do. It's an owlbear, it's pretty iconic, so the players recognize it immediately - except for one thing. I describe it as bipedal, and that throws them for a loop. To them, owlbears are quadrupeds! And for a bear hybrid creature, you can really take it either way. When I think of owlbears, I think of this art:

So I think bipedal. We talk it through and agree on it moving like a bear; generally on all fours, but rearing up on two to fight. This isn't a problem, but it is really cool, and one of the things I appreciate about mixing different influences in the OSR, that people have different readings and we can sort this out. (As opposed to running Pathfinder, where there is definitely one canonical answer and no room for doubt.) Now I have a better idea of owlbears for the future!

Having set up a marching order saves them from getting ambushed; the middle two ranks are looking out from the northern opening, and see the owlbear approaching with blood in its eyes. There's been some talk on the OSR discord recently about the difference in power levels and monsters between B/X and AD&D, so I'm cognizant of that. I don't want to use the owlbear stats directly from FRC1, I grab the ones from OSE instead, and a quick HP roll means that the owlbear has 26 instead of 38 hp (that's a big difference for 1st level characters punching way above their weight!) Roll for initiative. OSE Advanced Genre rules basically assume you're using individual initiative, so we are; a bit more complicated but also more interesting. I don't think I played it right; weapon speed and phases should probably interact with the individual initiative system a bit, and I missed that. But it worked okay!

The owlbear is some 80 feet away, so people get an opportunity to open up on it with ranged weapons and spread out a bit. Arrows land, magic missiles go thump, the owlbear is getting softened up pretty well. But Kaie doesn't have a missile weapon, and she's a bloodthirsty acolyte of Tempus. She screams a battle cry and rushes forward. [5] The owlbear meets her and slices her right open. She yells out a final blessing to Tempus[6] and perishes instantly. (We had a short discussion as to whether retainers were entitled to the extra death protections PCs have, and decided that 0-level ones are not.) Rest in peace, Kaie of Tempus, 0-level human retainer. Grim is the only one remaining with any real armor on, and he's hesitating between running and getting into melee. Not very knightly of him, but his brother Josiah with similar dreams of knighthood does find his own heroism. Josiah has no spells left, no armor, but he does have a ranseur that he is unproficient with, and he rushes into melee with the owlbear, swinging wildly - too wildly to any effect. I make sure to check with Josiah's player, pointing out that bracing the ranseur against the owlbear would be much more effective, but he's dead-set on doing the right thing "in character motivation." Pshaw.

This does get Grim a little kick in the ass, and Grim rushes closer! But he can't make it that round, so he instead tries to throw his sword at the owlbear - and hits Josiah in the back of the head instead, giving him a concussion! (He actually hit Josiah determined randomly, dealt enough damage to take Josiah to 0 hp, and our dying rules say he was weakened with a -4 penalty to everything until he gets some healing.) This is not going well! Respen has also rushed into melee - since he was spellcasting he wasn't wearing any armor, but his fighter levels do give him sword specialization, and he does carve chunks out of the owlbear. A few lucky rolls (the dice were not in the owlbear's favour) and the owlbear only lightly claws Respen before the elf guts the beast. Somehow, thankfully, the entire party survived without any major casualties.

People reorganize themselves and I take a couple minutes to think through how the retainers react to this. Kaie was a bloodthirsty fanatic of Tempus (had she survived she would have been a cleric), so dying in battle was honestly a good thing for her. I decide that applying a penalty for retainer death would be inappropriate, but Elryn is overwhelmed by seeing violence and adventuring death for the first time. He's on his hands and knees gagging, and I make Grim roll a loyalty check for him. Grim succeeds, and at Grim's urging, Elryn wipes his mouth on the back of his sleeve, stares into the shiny lion for his day's work, and insists he's good to go on.[7]

[1] Quick FR calendar rundown: 12 months, each 30 days; each month is divided into 3 tendays of ten days each. No names for days in the tenday (just the fifth day this tenday, or the 12th day of the month). Four extra holidays that don't belong to any month, also a leap day every four years. This exactly matches Earth, and that's intentional.
[2]In our country of Cormyr, this is a lion. (I was calling it a dragon, but that's my mistake; dragons are your Waterdhavian gold pieces.)
[3]Using two-axis alignment; they need human ethnicities (I assumed Chondathan, but I really should have rolled per Races of Faerun); and then also deities as appropriate. Kaie is a 0-level henchman with 2 hp, a battle axe, and leather armour. She's totally a follower of Tempus!
I think I'm fine with players playing their henchmen; I'll let them know if something is really out of character, but it makes my end easier with less to keep organized.
[4]Way later in 3e we get a "mastering spellbook" check from Spellcraft in Magic of Faerun that allows you to prepare out of someone else's spellbook, but I don't think that fits very well here. Read magic to read someone else's spellbook, percentage chance from Advanced Genre to see if you comprehend it, scribe it into your own book so you can memorize it for daily preparation.
[5]OSE's combat rules have a charge option in the Advanced Genre rules that gives you an attack bonus for an AC penalty, but no actual ability to move more than your regular speed in a turn, even if that's all you're doing. This was really tripping people up in this fight; I'm not sure if I played it wrong or if this is something I should house rule. It feels weird that you can't move longer if that's the only thing you are doing.
[6]I should have looked the wording for this kind of thing up in Elminster's Forgotten Realms but I was kind of tired of checking books with my fingers in like five different places already.
[7]I'm torn on whether making 0-level retainers check for "adventuring fortitude" after their first blood is a good idea or not. It fits the Realms well, it's supported by the loyalty check test in OSE, but I can see it being frustrating that you'd maybe lose a retainer for doing nothing wrong off a check in a successful scenario!