July 17th, 2011


I Just Woke Up.

I've been thinking a bit about Classes. You know, the part that Race on your typical old school character sheet. Like a lot of New School gamers, I've never been a big fan of classes, in practice-- or well, that sounds more condemnatory than I mean it to. What I want to say is they just aren't for me. I think classes are fun to talk about, fun to goof around with, but when I sit down at the table to get my game on...well, I prefer a system without them, as I've said before. In the first Oubliette campaign-- there was a prototype game with kingtycoon, Isaac & Jeremy back in The Wasteland but for all intents & purposes I still call the game with martak, toughlad, Gerd & Bernie "Campaign One"-- I had classes. I ran it on the d20 system, since the Open Game License made that so appealing. As an aside-- I'd like to point out that the OGL was the sole reason I spent hundred & hundreds of dollars on Wizards of the Coasts. The current failure of a license, the GSL, is one of the many problems 4e has. Keep your secrets, WotC, but I'll keep my wallet closed.

Even when I used classes, I stripped them down to the most generic framework I could. Fighter prioritized your base attack bonus. Magic-User got you base caster level. Expert got you tons of skill points. Survivor had great saving throw bonuses & hit points. I fiddled around with a Magic Knight, that would balance attack bonuses & caster level, but I wasn't happy with it. Still, it was something. James played a Fighter/Expert/Survivor, Bernie played an Expert/Magic-User/Fighter, Gerd played a Magic-User/Expert & Mike played an Expert/Magic-User. Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition has gone the opposite direction, relying very heavily on class. Your class is the most important thing about your character in 4e, & they are very specialized. Heck, stuff like The Avenger can really only be played one way-- your stats are all laid out for you, your skills, your armor. At least you can pick what weapon you want to use. & that isn't bad! In Oubliette, I left that for Prestige Classes. You went from generic classes to the specialized prestige class, & nobody looked alike. Gerd's bookish witch was utterly different from Bernie's sex-magic martial artist even though their classes weren't that far apart, but when Gerd's character Emma became a Alchemical Thaumaturge & Bernie's character Atahwa became a Xitari, that was the end. & Mike's necromancer bard crimelord Balphus & James' giant blacksmith wrapped in iron Garrick, despite being radically different builds, both had things in common with their secret Trismegistus Conspirator class.

I don't have a point, other than last night as I was falling asleep I kept thinking about the Fighter, Mage, Thief division. It is a pretty strong framework for looking at the fantasy genre. Things that we think of as basic classes could easily be reduced to multi-classing; Ranger is just Fighter & Thief, Paladin is just Fighter & Mage, you know? It makes me think about other genres, other ways to play it out. Legend of the Five Rings has "Samurai, Shugenja & Courtier," which is pretty close to Fighter, Mage & Thief...but how many people really elect to play a Courtier? Is there a similar pattern we can find in the science-fiction? I don't know. Star Wars has...Jedi, Scoundrel & Aristocrat? & I guess Droid, though that is fine as an appendage. Scoundrel & Aristocrat need something to balance them, of course, & that something is "a spaceship." You get magic Force powers, you get The Millennium Falcon. Seems fair. That is fairly specific, though. Can you just replace "Magic" with "Science?" Fighter, Thief, Scientist? Oh I don't know. Leverage is a modern heist show, with the Mastermind, the Grifter, the Hitter, the Hacker & the Burglar...but you could think of all of those as sub-classes of the "Thief," really, given the tenor of the program.

This is just what I was mulling over as I fell asleep last night, along with "What DnD alignment are the Houses in A Song of Ice & Fire?" Or rather, in reverse-- I was matching a clan to each point on the alignment axis. I mean, the Lannister's are Lawful Evil, what with "A Lannister Always Pays His Debts" & all that rot. The Starks are Lawful Neutral? They are too austere & uncompromising to be Good. Is anybody Lawful Good? Maybe a bit player, like the Tullys, but Lawful Good is the hardest to pin down...unsurprisingly. The Greyjoys are Chaotic Evil, of course. They definitely are. The Baratheons-- Stannis excluded-- are Chaotic Neutral. Renly & Robert are proof enough of that. Chaotic Good? Targaryen! Or at least, Daenerys Targaryen is, & that is good enough for me. Neutral Evil is another easy one-- They Freys. Yup, definitely Neutral Evil. I said the Martells of Dorne are True Neutral, & the Tyrells were Neutral Good. That might be giving the Tyrell's too much of the benefit of the doubt; I certainly don't think they are toothless. So yeah, that is what keeps me up at night. Matching imaginary royals to imaginary systems of morality. Still, some are a good fit, I think, though a system of categorical self-interest might better summarize them. Of course, the George R. R. Martin formula is to press every character into a corner where they have to compromise their principles.
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Ours Is The Fury. (75)

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin.

The eggs hatched dragons,
but Eggs can hatch conquerors.
Winter is Coming.

I read the rest of the Song of Ice & Fire series in the last two months, sandwiched between the debut of the Game of Thrones television show & the release of this book. A heck of a roller coaster, as the books are a torrent of unceasing epic drama-- not melodrama but high drama none the less-- & that was paired with watching one of those true rarities: a cinematic adaptation that stays faithful to the text. & here is where we end up-- now I'm in the same boat as the rest of the GRRM fans, stuck waiting for the next one. I've got the "Dunk & Egg" short stories to read in the meantime, & the second season of Game of Thrones-- or whatever they end up calling it-- to look forward to next year, but I'm still ultimately in a holding pattern. John Scalzi had something to say about the flak Martin has gotten for "taking so long" to get out A Dance With Dragons-- which boils down to the fact writing that a thousand some odd pages (416,000 words) over the course of six years is a pretty respectable pace. Beside that math, of course, there is the fact that I'd rather have quality than quantity, rather have quality than celerity. I think the fear is there that George R. R. Martin might die without being finished-- a fear that found expression in the death of Robert Jordan-- especially as the commonly accepted wisdom is that GRRM's contract expressly forbids someone else from finishing them, if he does bite it. I say: bah. George R. R. Martin is in his early sixties; plenty of time for him to turn out the last two or three. & if he doesn't? A looming unfinished epic? Ha! That would be wonderful, fantastic. Think of how many saloon arguments & late night conversations that will start! Ultimately, the fact is that readers aren't entitled to anything. What was it Neil Gaiman said? "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch." Maybe not the way I would have phrased it-- "bitch" has a troubling history as a misogynist slur-- but there is it. I'm happy George R. R. Martin is writing, but he doesn't owe me anything. That being said-- I am already anxious for The Winds of Winter. Thinking about Westeros has been keeping me up at night, even!

About this one in particular? Well, lets just say that I tended to read it in bunches-- a chapter, then a break, then another chapter-- because George R. R. Martin has successful made me fear him. That is-- when there is dramatic tension in the novel, it is tense, because you know George R. R. Martin is not fooling around. He is playing for keeps. It doesn't matter how untouchable you might think your favorite character is-- I think we can all name two or three characters we think will make it to the end, if not beyond the end. As much as you might think someone is crucial to the overall arc...you might be wrong, & George R. R. Martin might just kill them. A rising star might just clatter to the ground, Icarus-like. An old stalwart might just wind up hung from the rafters. George R. R. Martin doesn't even care. He's got ice water in his veins, & the last tenth of the book was nerve wracking. It doesn't matter what you think should happen, because Martin defies narrative conventions. Oh, he'll tie up loose ends, but not in the way you think. Sure, Chekov's Gun will fire, but it might just be the protagonist committing suicide. All bets are off, & that really frees the text. I could say-- "if you've read the rest of the books, you know what you're getting into"-- & that would be true. This isn't a departure, by any means. Still, saying "more of the same" makes it sound like there is a same, a safe baseline. There isn't. There is tectonic upheaval. You can think "oh, something will interrupt this scene before it's conclusion," but you might be wrong. "There are some outcomes that are inevitable" is a thought that I doubt crosses any reader's mind, when it comes to A Dance With Dragons. One thing I thought was interesting-- Stannis' motto of "One Realm, One God, One King" seems to be a capitulation of my old clan's motto: "Ung Roy, Ung Foy, Ung Loy," which is roughly "One King, One Faith, One Law," or as I was always taught it "One God, One King, One Country." Just a funny little piece of ancient history.

Plot-wise, half of this book is parallel A Feast for Crows, but then it out-paces Feast & moves into new territory. I'm going to spill some theories out, here, so be forewarned that spoilers are to follow. First, I'm really surprised that Arya didn't leave the Black & White House in this book. I thought that was due, & I really don't have much idea where her story is going to go, actually-- is she meant to be someone's doom? Griff & Egg clearly have the right idea-- they were wise to take the Imp's advice-- but does that mean they are doomed? I'm not sure. They'll take Storm's End, at least, & I think ultimately ally with Daenerys. Aegon gives the Targaryen line some home-- if Daenerys is in fact infertile, putting her on the throne dooms Westeros to civil war when she dies...but if Aegon is a viable heir when it all shakes out, well, then we'll see. Victarion's horn will fall into Daenerys' hands, yes? Kind of has to-- & speaking of horns the broken horn Jon found with all the dragonglass is obviously the Horn of Winter. Jon? Alive, I figure-- I see him on dragonback, him & Dany & Egg. This wasn't a good book for Daenerys-- she made a lot of bad choices, & was in a bad stew to start with-- but I figure that sets her up for some blood & fire in the next one. Theon is still alive, Cersi is still alive-- somehow, for both of them, though at least Theon is well & truly wrecked. Asha is tricky; I can't see her ultimate fate. It is tricky business, this book. Tyrion is so close to joining up with Daenerys; if that happens, then watch out Westeros. & of course, the Others are coming. Jon was smart to pull all the living onto this side of the way; each mouth is one less zombie, after all. I figure it Jon is Ramsey's bane-- Battle of the Bastards, they'll call it. So yeah; no big theories, but plenty of little ones. The plot advances ever onward, & at least we know what Varys & Illyrio are playing at. & as a bonus-- this is my first Song of Ice & Fire hardcover, & I really like having both the North & the South on the same flyleaf.