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Discussing Sword & Sorcery and RPGs

Numidius

Explorer
Pacts & Blades. Pbta derivative, I guess. I remember it has an interesting way of advancement, either in pacts or blades.
I've heard some clunky mechanic to determine damage, though
 

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Numidius

Explorer
Absolutely.

I would love a game where your swing details make important mechanical sense.

Since this likely slows down combat you can afford to have fewer and smaller combats, to really put the emphasis on how close to death you really are. Maybe not transforming the experience from combat as sport to combat as war, but asking players to REALLY be discerning with the fights they pick.

However I haven't found any such games.

Mmhhh.... Important mechanical sense? I don't know...

The times in which descriptions of slashes/gunfight/whatever made really the difference between winning or losing, were when going freeform adjudication by the gm (me).

Runner up, Dungeon World, or similar game, because you need to know what actually happens in the fight to see if it triggers the rolls to hit and for damage.

In any iteration of d&d I tried (not many) the focus in combat was to count every little bonus/malus to meet the target number, which is fun btw, only not exactly my ideal of flashy fights with something at stake beyond mere victory.

In my current b/x d&d game I added some options to make actual descriptions more important:
Fluid initiative
Just exchanging damage with opponent if one doesn't bother to defend herself (ala Into the Odd rpg)
Standard attack rolls
Maneuvers in combat with extra die ( ala DCC rpg)
Stances
Freeform adjudication of weapons usage to have a particular advantage, or complication.

Where is this going? Since we have a Gm who can adjudicate, why not push her role to an extreme (freeform), while also fostering description by the Players...?
That is going to be fast and detailed as needed, and if/when disagreement arise, well, roll something.
 
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Numidius

Explorer
My approach to this has always been a little old fashioned I think. I just read a conan story and get an adventure idea from it. To me, rather than coming up with a list of things that need to be present, I just immerse myself in that kind of material, and draw on it for adventure and situation ideas.
So much this. Don't overthink it. I would look at an Elric's graphic novel to get some inspiration, for example, as I posted in the other thread.
 

Yora

Hero
So, the question everyone should have, but nobody seems to ask.
How do you make a S&S campaign spicy? S&S is not modest and composed. A big draw of the whole aesthetic is that it's naughty and getting a kick out of it. Chainmail bikinis and harlot tables are certainly not the way to go. But if not that, what is?
 


Yora

Hero
Not only, though it's certainly a major part. Sword & Sorcery tends to have a strong transgressive element, which contributes to its reputation of being trashy fantasy.
Saying "the PCs can be villains" is certainly true, but can that be more than regular juvenile murderhobos? What about PCs who aren't really bad? How can we make them break the rules and stick it to the man, and rebel against the restrictive norms of society?
 

pemerton

Legend
Not only, though it's certainly a major part. Sword & Sorcery tends to have a strong transgressive element, which contributes to its reputation of being trashy fantasy.
Saying "the PCs can be villains" is certainly true, but can that be more than regular juvenile murderhobos? What about PCs who aren't really bad? How can we make them break the rules and stick it to the man, and rebel against the restrictive norms of society?
Who is the we who is making them break the rules?

If you frame scenes in which transgression is an option; and you narrate consequences in a way that doesn't just hose the players for choosing transgression; then it will happen, or not, as the players think is appropriate for circumstances and their PCs.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Not only, though it's certainly a major part. Sword & Sorcery tends to have a strong transgressive element, which contributes to its reputation of being trashy fantasy.
Saying "the PCs can be villains" is certainly true, but can that be more than regular juvenile murderhobos? What about PCs who aren't really bad? How can we make them break the rules and stick it to the man, and rebel against the restrictive norms of society?
I don't think that its reputation is so much "transgressive“ as it is "juvenille," especially of the male power fantasy variety. Its reputation is more akin to Harlequin Romance Novels or, rather, "Harlequin Action Novels," but for boys.

I don't think it's a coincidence, FWIW, that the resurgent interest in S&S and hyper-masculine action heroes in the late '70s-'80s followed 2nd Wave Feminism.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
Sigh. Discussing S&S as if it's an intellectual feat to find flaws in it.

I like my S&S trashy and visceral and indefensible. I find it infinitely more rewarding and interesting to highlight what is good and attractive about the genre than poking holes in it. Are we fans of S&S or are we not?

Let's instead hold up the beefcake and cheesecake as something worthy, as something useful in order to create the atmosphere and imagery that is S&S! :)

If you don't care for inequality, and if you need equal opportunities for every concept of character - then just play in another genre. To me S&S is very much driven by testosterone, and trying to get rid of that is just throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Infinitely more constructive than easy sniping would be for y'all to tell us what aspects of S&S is it that you really do like!

Because if your list ends up containing lots of things S&S share with other fantasy genres, and perhaps very few of the things that are decidedly Swordy or Sorcerous, then I've got news for you: you're not really a fan of S&S, and you're mostly trying to make a round peg fit a square hole.

To me S&S most of all offers the promise of unpuritan role-playing. Only a puritan would confuse that for juvenile.

You play S&S when you need to cleanse your palate after too much of the Americanized fantasy that is D&D. A genre that is decidedly restricted and self-censored. If you can describe your S&S scenario on an American "family friendly" forum without getting censored or booted something is wrong! ;)

S&S needs to be the European arthouse movie you watch after watching too many Marvel superhero movies. Just look at the new(ish) Conan and John Carter movies to see what a dumpster fire of an idea it is to "clean up" S&S.

Have a nice day, everybody :)
 

pemerton

Legend
I like my S&S trashy and visceral and indefensible

<snip>

Infinitely more constructive than easy sniping would be for y'all to tell us what aspects of S&S is it that you really do like!

Because if your list ends up containing lots of things S&S share with other fantasy genres, and perhaps very few of the things that are decidedly Swordy or Sorcerous, then I've got news for you: you're not really a fan of S&S, and you're mostly trying to make a round peg fit a square hole.

To me S&S most of all offers the promise of unpuritan role-playing. Only a puritan would confuse that for juvenile.

<snip>

S&S needs to be the European arthouse movie you watch after watching too many Marvel superhero movies.
I thought I was following your rant until I got to that last bit I've quoted. I don't know what arthouse movies you're watching, but if I had to point to something trashy and indefensible I'd be pointing to a MCU film rather than an Almodovar film!

My conception of S&S is dominated by REH's Conan and Kull stories. It's about violently capable individuals making their way in a world with little or no inherent value. It has a modernist or even existential dimension: value is imposed on a situation by the person who takes control of it; and obligations are personal and passionate, not impersonal or duty-imposed traditions.

To that extent there's a resemblance to some European films, but not because of trashiness or indefensibility!
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I thought I was following your rant until I got to that last bit I've quoted. I don't know what arthouse movies you're watching, but if I had to point to something trashy and indefensible I'd be pointing to a MCU film rather than an Almodovar film!
Lol - no complaints there! ;)

However, for many (too many if you ask me) MCU represents an acceptable standard allowable in polite company, while old Italian giallo movies or maybe the recent Palme d'Or winner Titane, represents something literally unspeakable. Untouchable. Let's pretend it doesn't even exist. Approaching S&S from the pearl-clutching angle. (Double sigh)

I (obviously) haven't watched that particular movie (yet), but just from reading about it I am positive it represents what I was aiming for with my analogy. In other words, for me S&S includes - and worships - aspects your olde Forgotten Realmse never do. Even when written by and played by fully grown adults. Dismissing it as merely "juvenile" says more about the speaker than the source material.

Maybe I'm just reading from too many US pop-culture internet sites thou.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
If you don't care for inequality, and if you need equal opportunities for every concept of character - then just play in another genre. To me S&S is very much driven by testosterone, and trying to get rid of that is just throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Just to briefly key on this passage- if you are using the word testosterone to mean, well, a gestalt of action-oriented characters, I can understand that! On the other hand, if you are using it in the more specific definition, eh.

Look, I think that it would be a mistake to view the canonical characters in classic S&S as representing all that can be (Fafhrd, Grey Mouser, Conan, Elric)- simply because the vast majority of protagonists at the time were male.

I think that the image of the iconic posterior-kicking female character is firmly with us at this point, and we can easily see how it works. The dearth is just because there aren't really modern takes (and unfortunately, the Red Sonja movie was made in the '80s, so ...).

Arguably, the most recent Mad Max is just a genre-bending S&S, and Charlize Theron always kicks major posterior. See also, Atomic Blonde.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Just to briefly key on this passage- if you are using the word testosterone to mean, well, a gestalt of action-oriented characters, I can understand that! On the other hand, if you are using it in the more specific definition, eh.
I'm having a discussion on the topic of how to distinguish S%S from other ttrpg genres, as well as making an effort of steering discussion away from "what's wrong with S&S" into "what's right about S&S".

Does that help?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
See also, Atomic Blonde.
If we're talking Theron movies I personally think The Old Guard is much more S&S than Atomic Blonde.

You don't have to be male to act like you've gotten an overdose of testosterone. Yes, Mad Max is very S&S. But not all action is S&S.

Furiosa is an iconic S&S character. A (wo)man of few words, very quick to "unthinking" action, complete with "helpless" brides to protect, covered in sweat and oil, on an exceedingly simple quest with a rather non-complex solution ;)

I won't hold against her that she is far cleverer than the supposed protagonist of the movie :)
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm having a discussion on the topic of how to distinguish S%S from other ttrpg genres, as well as making an effort of steering discussion away from "what's wrong with S&S" into "what's right about S&S".

Does that help?

Kind of! I'd just note that, being a particularly big fan of S&S myself with a whole lot of posts devoted to the topic, I often find it more helpful to concentrate on some of the elements that are enjoyable, rather than a product of their time.

Put another way, if you start with the premise that S&S is only about unpuritan roleplaying (your words), it might seem that you're alienating a potentially large playing base.

I think S&S is for everyone!

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Aldarc

Legend
I'm having a discussion on the topic of how to distinguish S%S from other ttrpg genres, as well as making an effort of steering discussion away from "what's wrong with S&S" into "what's right about S&S".

Does that help?
I don't think that saying that the S&S genre's reputation is less "transgressive" and more "juvenille" is a matter of what's wrong/right about S&S as it is simply accurately assessing its wider cultural reception. S&S came out of the same pulp magazine stories that had the reputation for being "run-of-the-mill, low-quality literature." Of course many of the great authors and stories of science fiction and fantasy came out of these pulp magazines, but the broader cultural reputation for much of this pulp fiction was still regarded as fairly low brow entertainment since these were cheap magazines that were targeted towards young males. I don't think it's somehow puritanical to recognize the target audience for what it was or imagine that these stories were not somehow written, in part, with that target audience in mind.

That said, I do agree with the idea of focusing on S&S's positives.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Kind of! I'd just note that, being a particularly big fan of S&S myself with a whole lot of posts devoted to the topic, I often find it more helpful to concentrate on some of the elements that are enjoyable, rather than a product of their time.

Put another way, if you start with the premise that S&S is only about unpuritan roleplaying (your words), it might seem that you're alienating a potentially large playing base.
Put yet another way, how about you share the elements you enjoy, instead of just going back to that old chestnut of theorizing how various people can get alienated.

I'm not trying to be antagonistic; I'm just taking an opportunity to illustrate the point I made earlier.

Respectfully,
Zapp
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Put yet another way, how about you share the elements you enjoy, instead of just going back to that old chestnut of theorizing how various people can get alienated.

I'm not trying to be antagonistic; I'm just taking an opportunity to illustrate the point I made earlier.

Respectfully,
Zapp

In relation to my earlier posts:

1. S&S is gonzo. The Swords of Lankhmar, Elric.

2. S&S is gritty- civilization is usually corrupting and decaying. There are few, if any, rising powers- they are in decline.

3. Magic is dangerous, evil, or both. And if you have to depend on magic, it will get you in the end (ahem, Blackrazor).

4. S&S's morality can be ambiguous.

5. Cunning, wit, and strength carry the day.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
That said, I do agree with the idea of focusing on S&S's positives.
Thanks, but remember, my underlying impetus is to force us to confront the possibility it isn't S&S we really like.

Another way of saying this is that it can be easy to just crap all over what we don't like about S&S. But what is the alternative?

I have a hunch a lot of S&S' detractors can't define a genre that remains unmistakably S&S if they remove everything they profess to dislike.

But if they can't, isn't it better they realize it isn't S&S they like, and so go play in another genre?

Or at the very least admit to themselves they're not really into it for the constructive criticism. They just want to stop others from playing in a way they perceive as badwrongfun.

What I get frustrated by are people that simultaneously can't define the genre, can't explain what's left after everything bad has been cleaned out, yet give themselves permission to criticize what others like...

In short, no S&S probably can't be saved. Much better you move on and leave the wreck for us poor people that doesn't know better than to like objectively distasteful material...!

Saying I'm a S&S fan except... [insert pretty much everything that makes S&S recognizable and distinct here]... as if that's an useful take is what I see repeated over and over, and it is exhausting.

I offer a different take. Actually confessing S&S ---as it exists in the zeitgeist, not some theoretical ideal version--- has its allure seems to be an almost unique take around here... But how else did y'all become a fan of the genre!?!
 


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