Primary Sources

At about 0:40 into Episode 70 of the Gauntlet there’s this quote concerning The Black Hack:

it seems to have taken a few things from other games… I saw a little bit of D&D 5e in there, I thought there was a touch of Torchbearer and Dungeon World in there as well…

It’s a throwaway remark and as such not really fair to second-guess the thought process behind it. At face value it suggests that TBH is maybe derivative of Dungeon World and Torchbearer; it makes more sense that all three are derivative of the same perceived root (namely the cartoon image of zero-to-hero dungeon exploration that continues to dog the OSR). Besides, what kind of masochist would write a game that’s derivative of Torchbearer?

These assumptions are made because

  1. Oral tradition and playing the game is and always will be the primary way the game is communicated
  2. The idea of only oral tradition isn’t really challenged, thanks to cultural inertia and confirmation bias.

Some hobbies are actively hostile to anyone who deviates from oral tradition. Western Martial Arts had this problem in the early years where to prove yourself you needed a credible line of succession — anyone who claimed to learn their art from a treatise alone was at best a poor cousin to those who’d paid their dues doing 3-weapon sport fencing (or if they were lucky, some living tradition like singlestick or classical foil). And no, it wasn’t enough that you’d spent two decades doing Wing Chun and used that to inform your style of 19th century boxing — if the living line from master to student was broken, you had to start over.

Anyway, here is a review of Elizabeth Lovegrove’s Rise and Fall:

This is a game that taps into the zeitgeist by exploring dystopias and fallen societies.  It’s clear that the author did their research, and have built on the excellent work of past designers including Ben Robbins (Microscope, Kingdom), and Caroline Hobbs (Downfall). The game uses rather elegant tools of world-building to present a clear story with minimal systems.

Of course I have my own bias here, but I was still a bit surprised by this bit… because I’d been aware of Liz’s design process not only for Rise and Fall but the traditional (i.e. GM-led) games that preceded it, and also her primary sources (e.g. Children of Men, The Handmaid’s Tale). All of which are literary, none are games.

In fact, when we were at the Nine Worlds con I picked up a copy of Ben Robbins’ Kingdom and waved it under her nose saying “I think this is a lot like that idea you had for your dystopian game! We should play it for research!” We still haven’t played it.

(also I believe the PDF release of Downfall was 30th November 2015 to Kickstarter backers, while Seven Wonders was launched at Dragonmeet in December 2015)

Does this matter?

It’s definitely useful to have someone enthusiastically say “like X? Try Y!”. The benefits of comparing The Black Hack to Dungeon World are both games acting as gateway experiences for two overlapping cultures.

But only focusing inward is a pernicious habit, meaning your genre expectations are set by secondary rather than primary sources. Say you only assume D&D is only about violent dungeon exploration and then you create derivative works that reinforce that stereotype. This further influences the third generation, and so on.

Not that you should be blindly worshipping at the altar of Appendix N, either. Appendix N has become shorthand for a similarly reductive kind of “D&D experience” (which I have opinions about here) and pigeonholes the whole gamut of OSR titles — when titles such as Beyond the Wall are open about their literary roots, roots which lie outside Appendix N (though interestingly lie within the broader reading list recommended by Moldvay D&D).

The assumptions of derivation rather than common literary root will continue to be a hazard of those games on the fringe. Take Silent Legions — a game which I feel represents the peak of Sine Nomine’s offerings, and is a masterful deconstruction of different kinds of horror. Even though it offers much more than Call of Cthulhu, it will always stand in CoC’s shadow — mainly for the assumption that it’s nothing more than “the OSR does Cthulhu”.


Let’s do this:

fictoplasm itunes 2

Fictoplasm is a podcast about fiction and roleplaying games. Each episode we talk about a book we like, then we talk about the games we’d like to run based on the ideas in the book — maybe picking up the setting wholesale, maybe just cherry-picking tropes and world-building bits.

The first episode discusses Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Coming up is Garth Nix’ Sabriel, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, followed by some Le Guin, Moorcock, Zelazny, Christopher Priest, J. G. Ballard, Mary Gentle, Octavia Butler and more.

Baby wrangling means that our recording schedule will likely be erratic, and the first episodes will likely sound a bit ropey as we get the hang of room acoustics and Audacity. But, it’s a thing.

RSS feed:


RPGs: Surviving Loneliness

I Am Legend

The third act of the film I Am Legend is a crushing disappointment that betrays both the first two acts and the novel.

However the first 60 minutes still worth watching to see Will Smith as Robert Neville coping with a solitary life in post-apocalypse Manhattan. Aside from the spectacle of overgrown island with only the sounds of wildlife, it’s the way Neville establishes a daily routine and the mechanisms he uses to fight off boredom and loneliness that makes the film.

The Grace Period

First, I commend the reader to seek out Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It’s a great book that feels like an optimistic mirror image of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. More specifically chapter 6 contains one of the most succinct descriptions of everything we would lose in the apocalypse (in this case, a global pandemic):

No more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played under floodlights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more films, except rarely, except with a generator drowning out half the dialogue. No more concert stages lit by candy-coloured halogens. No more pharmaceuticals. No more flight.

Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge runs through various scenarios of all the things that can go wrong during and shortly after the apocalyptic event. Following the apocalypse there’s a “grace period” where humanity can subsist and scavenge on the remnants of the past civilisation (after which you need to think about making food, medicine, transportation and power).

The proposal for a “survivalist RPG” mostly considers the grace period, or early years after that when a lone survivor may have established their base and needs to provide themselves with sustainable food to survive.

Survivalist RPGs

A let’s call the “survivalist” genre a sub-genre of collapse/post apocalypse. It’s preoccupied with resource management, and the first priority of your survivor has to be food and shelter. After that you can argue about whether transportation, power, or weapons and defences are more important.

All of these are fairly easy to model in a game especially because the consequences of not having them are similarly easy to predict — you can measure how far you can travel, how many bullets you can spare, and how may hit points you can cross off before you succumb to thirst.

But I’m hard pressed to think of one RPG that adequately manages social and mental resources; a game that captures the loneliness of Robert Neville. This shouldn’t be surprising since RPGs are (mostly) about interaction between characters.

Here are some typical examples:

All Flesh Must Be Eaten

The framework in All Flesh Must Be Eaten might as well be GURPS — hardly surprising given that it’s built on the highly generic (though functional) Unisystem. There are nods to scarcity only in the ammo record forms — otherwise it’s preoccupied with the many different permutations of zombies, which it does very well.


This game does interesting things with traumatised characters — only characters with mental trauma can ignore the Call from the Sea of Leaves, so while these people are generally not accepted by the post-apocalyptic community, they’re vital to that community as the only ones who can shepherd “normal people” between settlements safely. Summerland’s Trauma’s are invoked voluntarily however; they’re not a resource to be managed, as the characters don’t degenerate any further.

Other Dust

Sine Nomine’s Other Dust is an OSR adventure game, and as such makes no real attempt to direct the character’s mental states. It does acknowledge the politics and tensions arising from scarcity, but manages this from a high-level view of factions (much like other Sine Nomine sandbox titles).

Apocalypse World

Actual mental degeneration isn’t baked into AW, beyond the Hard Moves the MC can inflict on the PCs. And Hard Moves represent short, sharp shocks rather than slow decline; the only lasting harm that can be inflicted is physical scarring. Apocalypse World’s characters are by default extremely self-reliant with a high self-esteem. Only the NPCs are influenced by wants.

Survival Modes

So, the existing canon of RPGs is (I think) generally thin on the ground for modelling the effects of limited human contact and dwindling resources. Here are some suggestions.

Unknown Armies — madness meters

For better or worse we do have mechanisms to model mental distress — the obvious one being Sanity mechanics. The most sophisticated, and probably very well suited to a post-apocalypse game, is Unknown Armies.

UA has five stress tracks:

  • Isolation — the most obviously useful in this instance
  • Helplessness — for the early-stage survivor, suddenly cut off from the resources and comforts of their previous life
  • Self — this is self-image and self-discovery. It points to a gradually changing character in the apocalyptic landscape, but could also be affected by past traumas (for example Robert Neville’s history with his wife)
  • Unnatural — supernatural and probably the least useful
  • Violence — will probably be relevant at some point.

The crucial point about UA is how these stresses are brought on — the PC is challenged with a stress at a particular level, and will either beat that stress or fail it. This means a post-apocalyptic scenario must have events that trigger stress checks.

The Black Hack — Usage Dice

The very pulpy Black Hack may not be an obvious candidate for survival horror, but on the other hand dungeoneering itself is a survival exercise.

 The Black Hack has already been, er, hacked into The Cthulhu Hack, and this points the way to using this system for deteriorating physical and mental condition by way of the Usage Die. Any physical or mental resource can be represented by a Usage Die. What matters is how the Usage Die roll is triggered (flashlight for clues, sanity for frightening experience, etc.).

Now, why not have a group owned Usage Die? You could use it to represent food, water, fuel, electricity, ammunition:

  • For fuel, decide how often you roll the Usage Die for your given vehicle (probably depends on how far you travel)
  • For food, when everyone eats, everyone rolls the Usage Die, and it gets knocked down for each mouthful. But here’s an idea — if a character rolls and gets a 1 or 2, they or another can voluntarily go hungry. Maybe that causes them to cross off Hit Points or drop a stat (Str or Con?).

You could also have a Loneliness Usage Die. When your character may feel isolated, roll the Usage Die and on a 1 or 2 they are overwhelmed with a feeling of loss, sorrow, and need for human contact of some kind. Extrapolate that further and you could have one die for each of the Unknown Armies madness meters above.

Beyond the Wall — making friends

Each Beyond the Wall character playbook includes an event where the chararacter forms a bond with the next person around the table. Consider a character generation round-table discussion:

  1. Describe the one thing the person on your right does that really irritates you.
  2. Tell us the thing the person on your left provides that you’ve come to rely on, and why.

That will give you a couple of talking points for each character. The GM can then use these for setting conditions when the characters are under stress — possibly forcing a roll of a Usage die.

Dream Askew — many GMs, one character

Finally, if you want a truly isolated RPG experience, and you can’t have more than one character — why not have one player playing their PC throughout, and the other players sharing the GM role? That’s not quite how Dream Askew does things, but if the other players only focus on the Situation Sheet (modified for a lonely experience) they can narrate, make moves, and push the protagonist in certain directions. If you were going to do that for I Am Legend you might have Situations including

  • Neville’s Dog
  • Ruined Manhattan
  • Vampire Society
  • Search for a Cure

The City Shared

Here is a collaborative World-Building mini-game thing I’m contributing to the #3nano16 hashtag. Suitable for one GM, a traditional gaming group of GM and players (writing assumes this arrangement), or as a GMless collaborative exercise.

You will need writing materials — I recommend index cards, and a large sheet of paper. I recommend a different colour card or ink for the nominal GM’s answers.

One: Survey Points

There are four Survey Points in the city:

  • Outside the City
  • The Boundary between Outside and Inside
  • The Inside (contains Districts and Locations)
  • The Heart at the (physical or spiritual) centre of the city

Get your big sheet of paper and draw this:

City Building

When you generate your index cards, put them in stacks in different parts of the city.

Two: The Outside

GM, answer these questions:

  • What does everyone think is Outside the City’s Boundary? e.g. other cities (allied or enemies), low-tech settlements, radioactive waste, a sworn enemy, predatory creatures, farmland, storms
  • What can you see from the Boundary looking Outside? e.g. miles of farmland, swamp, impenetrable fog, other cities in the distance, a starlit icy plain, a void. This assumes it’s permitted to look at the Outside from the Boundary.

Write these on index cards (of chosen GM colour) and put them Outside the city.

Three: View from the Outside

Each player, answer this question:

  • What feature of the City would an arriving traveller see from the Outside when looking upon the City? e.g. a large wall or gate, a jagged skyline, a large harbour, zeppelin moorings, parabolic reflectors on the top of buildings, guard towers with flower-shaped cannon facing outward or inward, crumbling walls almost overwhelmed by jungle vines

Go around the table more than once, if you like. Write these on index cards and put them Outside the city.

Four: the Boundary

GM, answer these questions:

  • What does the Boundary look like? e.g. a high wall, an area of no man’s land, a gate, outlying suburbs, shanty towns, abandoned buildings
  • Who is allowed to cross the Boundary? e.g. anyone with papers, a government sanctioned expedition force, a secret fraternity, no-one

Write these on index cards and put them at the Boundary.

Five: Interior Views

Take the cards each player generated in the View from the Outside, and pass them around. For each card, look at the detail and answer this question:

  • From this point in the City, what does my view look like? e.g. are you high up? Is the area industrial, commercial, military, political?

Write them on new index cards, and put them inside the city.

Six: Interior Details

Each player, answer this question:

  • What else can you see from the Boundary looking Inside? e.g. tall buildings, low buildings, horse-drawn carriages, gargoyles, manufacturing industry, food industry, art, police or military presence, propaganda, commerce, transport

Go around the table one to three times. Build on what has been previously revealed. Write them on new index cards, and put them inside the city.

Seven: the Heart

GM, answer these questions:

  • Who rules the City? e.g. a monarch, an autarch, a government, a council, a hidden force
  • What is the central feature that represents their strength? e.g. a tower, a church, a city hall, a palace, a fane

Write these on index cards, and put them in the Heart.

Eight: Balance

Players, each answer these questions:

  • What previous feature you uncovered is reflected in the Heart of the City? e.g. military, propaganda, transport, trade
  • What previous feature you uncovered is different or inverted in the Heart of the City? e.g. wealth, fashion, art, colours, size of buildings

Write these on new index cards, and put them in the Heart.

Nine: Next

Admire what you have done, and plan your game in your new City, or go and play something else, or have some gin.


Some “City Fiction”

  • Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle
  • The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  • Embassytown and The City and the City, both by China Mieville

Some nonfiction

  • The City Shaped and The City Assembled by Spiro Kostof
  • City by P. D. Smith

Designer Diary: Pitching Black Mantle

One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep my hand in writing something, anything. It helps, because for some reason I can have ideas and be really lazy about writing them down. I have bad habits.

Anyway, this is my game. It’s called Black Mantle.

Fluff, Colour, Tone, Setting, Yadda Yadda

This is a game about a dystopian City where Citizens are born into “Work Philes” or vocational tribes. That will be their life unless they can ascend the PRIV ladder and become higher-tier citizens. But while the propaganda is that anyone can achieve a higher tier through hard work, the economic realities work against anyone even trying to make it out of zero level.

The exception is for Mantle pilots who plug themselves into the Mantle exo-suits and venture outside the City, at the behest of one of the City’s Corporations. No-one knows what exists Outside, and pilots contracted to the Corps are forbidden from talking about their missions within The Interior. But if you have the neural aptitude to sync with a Mantle, the Corps will want you. These are the Player Characters. They are young and inexperienced, and the only thing they know about the Outside is rumour.

Mantle pilots are rewarded handsomely with PRIVs. Previous zero-level workers can suddenly find them ascending the citizenship tiers (levels 1 through 10) and mixing with higher level citizens, including the movers and shakers in the Corps and Government. They’ll be instant celebrities. The PRIV system also allows them to take their family with them to the upper tiers; some do, others leave their old Work Phile far behind.

  • What did you see Outside? Why does it Haunt you?
  • What did you take back from Outside? Why do the Corps want it?
  • Where is your family? Do you need them?
  • Where and what is the City?

Crunchy Bits

This is a consciously “heterogeneous” i.e. not unified design. It is also “asymmetric”. The Interior system which represents the characters as Citizens is fairly freeform and designed to cover the relationships between the characters. Not sure about this system; maybe borrowing something from Dramasystem.

The Exterior system is (at the moment) all OSR, with some tweaks (e.g. some of the Death Comes To Wyverley extra rules to change survival, and add scaling mechanics). Exterior missions should function very much like dungeon adventures including exploration, combat, and mission reward. Rewards specifically are experience points but these are an in-game property; do better in your mission and get PRIVs, rise up the ranks, and get access to better gear.

Other OSR-like bits include considering what is “player facing” such as charts and tables; and how to efficiently support the GM in managing factions and their motivations.

There is a feedback mechanism between the Exterior missions and the Interior setting, but I don’t feel confident in talking about that just yet. There’s also a collaborative element to starting the city, something that’s evolved since I thought of the “city accelerator” tool.

There should be a discussion about what happens when the meta-game Wall breaks down, and the Exterior OSR procedural-style games bleeds into the Interior drama-style game.

There will be Mecha and/or Werewolves. There will be Relationships. There may be Dice Clocks. TBD


Mainly influenced by two manga/anime which are surprisingly similar: Attack on Titan, and Knights of Sidonia. Both feature young protagonists with limited knowledge of the space outside the wall. In addition there are internal hierarchies and political struggles within the human community. Oh yeah, and giant robots / three-dimensional movement gear / titans.

Most important feature of these two series is their asymmetry. The protagonists work by a different set of rules inside and outside the “City”; this is particularly apparent in Knights of Sidonia where the interior scenes are all about exploring Sidonia and the relationships between Nagate, Izana and Yahuta, and these characters can be strong inside and weak outside, or vice-versa.

(it’s colour/fluff, but Izana’s non-binary gender also influcences gender in Black Mantle)

Mechanically influenced by Flatland Games’ Beyond the Wall. Various discussions of the transition between the interior (village) and exterior (beyond the wall) are elsewhere in my blog. Also influenced by various Sine Nomine OSR games.

Secondary influences:

  • consciously derivitive of YA dystopian fiction e.g. The Hunger Games and Divergent
  • but also inspired by much older YA (before YA was a thing) such as H.M. Hoover’s Children of Morrow
  • Christopher Priest’s Inverted World
  • China Mieville’s City and the City

The GM, and Secret Knowledge

I have strong views on settings, in that when I buy a game I don’t want to be spoon-fed someone else’s setting or worse, metaplot. One of the strengths of some OSR games is how they provide a framework for creation of the sandbox and the GM’s own setting, so I’m bearing this in mind.

Another issue is the Big Secret, which IIRC was a problem with the Engel RPG. It goes like this: there’s a big mystery to do with the world which the players are ignorant of, and which forms the central piece of interest in the GM’s section, and often the whole motivation for the core activity of the PCs. Once you know that, the central interest is lost. This is also a feature of some of the fiction above (notably the millenial YA genre) so while genre appropriate it limits the lifespan of the game.

This is a non-trivial problem to solve, and at this stage I don’t have a good answer. But something to be very mindful of. Having enjoyment as player limited by having previously GMed is something to avoid.

Other Systems

Other systems I considered:

  • FATE, no way. Sterile, unified, boring. I don’t get on with it
  • PbtA is a much stronger candidate, and the proposal above could almost be a hack of Night Witches (I guess; I don’t own it). However I know how much effort it is to design for that system, and it hasn’t clicked with me yet
  • I love WaRP / Over The Edge. This might not be the game, but it’s always in the back of my mind as an option

Last, I stand by my previous comments on heterogeneous design which have come from ideas on the internal/external game and internal relationships in Beyond the Wall, e.g. here

To be continued

7 Ages of Magic

Reworking a thing I did a couple of years ago. Originally it was inspired by The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions, but considering society as a vehicle for magic.

The seven ages are:

  1. Age of Reclusive Sorcerer
  2. Age of Itinerant Sorcerer
  3. Age of Folk Magic
  4. Age of Regulation
  5. Age of Revolution and Innovation
  6. Age of Incorporation and Ignorance
  7. Age of Mistrust and Decline

The graphic.

7 Magical Ages

1. Age of the Reclusive Sorcerer

Magic is feared/forbidden/evil. Magicians are separate from human civilisation. The Divine is separate from Earth. Humans pay dearly for venturing outside.

Thematic Elements: hidden horror, secrecy, things humanity was not meant to know

Games: Wraith, Kult, Call of Cthulhu

2. Age of the Itinerant Sorcerer

The magician walks into the Earth to connect with human communities, seeking disciples. Magicians as Gods/Divine Spark on Earth.

Thematic Elements: magicians as deities, ages of myth

Games: Exalted, Stormbringer, Barbarians of Lemuria, Everway

3. Age of Folk Magic

Human communities in balance between their civilisation and liminal elements of their community (fair folk, ghosts, myths). Wise women and cunning men.

Thematic elements: village magic, fairies and ghosts, walking legends, small communities

Games: Beyond the Wall, Runequest (Spirit Magic/Primitive cultures), Everway

4. Age of Regulation

Human civilisation realises a taxonomy of magical and Divine elements; seeks to categorise, gain control over. Humanity divided between minority of powerful sorcerers and majority of peons. Humans, not the Divine, decide who is worthy of Magic.

Thematic elements: secret societies, initiation rites, religion, vampires

Games: Ars Magica, Vampire, Runequest

5. Age of Revolution and Innovation

The human majority take back power from minority gatekeepers. Individuals find new ways to do magic outside prescribed methods. Freedom to conjure. 

Thematic Elements: personal empowerment, meritocracy, superheroes identified as ordinary humans

Games: Wild Talents, Unknown Armies, Mage, D&D, Ghostbusters, Spirit of the Century

6. Age of Incorporation and Ignorance

Magic becomes commodity, weaponised, mass manufactured, disposable

Thematic Elements: technology and science, greed, separation from the Divine, spiritual listlessness

Games: Cyberpunk, the Bret Easton Ellis RPG, Changeling

7. Age of Mistrust and Decline

Humanity mistrusts magic. Earth is purged of self-serving magic. Magicians withdraw wholly to the realm of the Divine.

Thematic Elements: the Apocalypse

Games: Apocalypse World, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Werewolf

Preface: Demons

A preface to something…

What are demons to your game world?

  1. Representatives of an absolute, objective evil (Hellblazer)
  2. Ancient races who walked the earth aeons ago (Buffy)
  3. Extra-planar beings separated from our world by a metaphysical barrier (Moorcock/Stormbringer)
  4. A breach in consensus reality (Sorcerer)
  5. A manifestation of personal power or psyche (also Sorcerer, early Stormbringer RPG)

That list moves from objective to subjective; in the middle point you get some kind of hand-waving “other dimensions, too numerous to count, fluid reality” explanation.

Consider two axes — on one you move between an objective and consensus reality to a subjective one, and on the other you move between summoning (and bargaining with) something other to conjuring something from the self. For example:


Until next time.


Idea: people mix up dystopian and post-apocalyptic genres for two reasons:

  1. the precedent for many dystopias is a collapse or near collapse and significant loss, and hierarchies are put in place to mitigate against a repeat event (erroneously, disingenuously, or earnestly). Terrible concessions are forced on a population, justified through fear of The Past.
  2. we wish the protagonists to survive on their own terms in both cases. Also, both concern the struggle to be human in a dehumanising environment.

Dystopia is about control, restriction of freedom, acceptance of hierarchy, acceptance of inequality, loopholes and technicalities, banal certainty of the future, the struggle to be human within a confining structure, and to escape society.

Post-apocalypse is about loss of control, loss of shelter, horrible uncertainty of the future, the struggle to form a society and be more human within it than the environment will allow you to be outside it.

Dystopia can naturally follow a post-apocalyptic scenario, where the fear of external threats is used as a justification for the awful things that the survivors must endure, things that become commonplace. Perhaps there is a period of brief optimism when society is reformed; positive vision is needed to survive, and the dystopia can only be realised after the walls of utopia have been rebuilt. The switch happens once the citizens are no longer able to see clear into the abyss of the violent outside, once they have erected walls and turned their attention inwards, only listening to their leaders reminding them how much worse it is out there, and not bothering to check for themselves.

Some might ask why I make a fuss. I think it’s helpful to keep in mind for games or fiction, because you need to know in which direction your protagonists are running. So my handy rule of thumb is:

  • if they’re running into the settlement, it’s Post Apocalypse.
  • if they’re running out of the settlement, it’s Dystopia.

Job done.

Nine Worlds 2015

Whew! Back from 9 Worlds, and it was much fun. I learned a lot about podcasts, listened to skeptics talk about fairies (Deborah Hyde), spent a lot of time on the history and academia track, listened to panels on death, gothic literature and a cage fight between SF and Fantasy, enjoyed the panel on diversity in LARP, and many other things.


This is Dr Simon Trafford who presented Why Sing Pop In Dead Languages and explained how Dead Can Dance has transformed Christian period songs into vaguely spiritual-sounding neoclassical gothic mush (yeah, but I like that stuff).


This is Jensen’s gin. I tried both their Bermondsey (London dry) and Old Tom (pre 1830’s style) gins, and both are really great.


more gin

Now I have to get something off my chest. Dystopian fiction featured heavily this year — from the Arcadia or Armageddon and I Predict A Riot panels to Vanessa Thompsett’s excellent Dystopian London In Fiction (which was absolutely spot on, discussing how Huxley, Orwell and Moore change the psychogeography of the London we know to create their dystopias). I say this:

Dystopia is not the same as post-Apocalypse.

The panelists repeatedly conflated these two terms, and although there is overlap they are not the same thing. Apocalypse is nearly always about scarcity and community. Dystopia is about social control, unfair living conditions, arbitrary laws and non-transparent hierarchy structures, etc.

Of course dystopia can arise in a post-apocalypse world (e.g. H. M. Hoover’s Children of Morrow). But it was a bit annoying to hear The Road being referred to with some regularity in the Utopia/Dystopia conversation.

Props to the awesome Geoff Ryman for (a) calling out the lack of utopian vision in modern fiction (and pointing out that ISIS is at least someone’s utopian vision) and (b) plugging Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland which is an example of a progressive yet utopian novel (when a lot of utopian concepts are regressive and pastoral — compare that to dystopias which are post-industrial and feature travel, advances in science, etc.).

For a proper post-apocalyptic vision I did enjoy Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge — so much I bought the book:


knowledge 2

Yes, it’s popular science but all good fun and very level headed — a laundry list of different things you would need to get society running again after a collapse, from food and water to fuel, transport, communication (the printing press!) and very interestingly time and place, i.e. how to make an accurate calendar for agriculture, and how to navigate to places. If you want a shortcut for game research, this is pretty good.

All in all another fine convention, thoroughly recommended.


going well