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Obsidian Portal asked an interesting question a few days ago: who would win, an ancient red dragon or the legendary Tarrasque? It points out some issues I’ve had (both thinking about and saying) for a while about D&D.
In a pure cage match, it’s hands-down the Tarrasque. It has amazing regeneration, is immune to fire, has mondo spell and damage resistance (36 and 15/Epic); as soon as it gets a hold of the dragon, that dragon will be mauled to death in a couple of rounds. If it went like standard D&D combat—run up to each other, stand relatively adjacent, and whale away with attacks—the dragon doesn’t have a chance. Its stats are nowhere near as good.
Of course, that also overlooks the dragon’s amazing tactical advantages, and is looking at this challenge from a really short-sighted angle. Because if played right, there’s no way the dragon can lose. First off, it has several amazing advantages that the Tarrasque can never overcome.
- Smarts. The average person’s intelligence is 10. If I remember my D&D stat examples, a really smart person (Einstein, Napoleon, etc.) would have around a 16-18. An ancient red dragon has an intelligence of 20 and a wisdom of 21. It exists on such a higher plane of thinking that it could do complex calculus and trig in its head, and could poke holes in Einsteinian physics. The Tarrasque is on par with a crow or a wolf. Both of those are cunning, but such animal cunning is limited against lateral thinking and tactical planning. The dragon is about on par with Rommel—tactically brilliant, yet prone to overconfidence and hubris.
- Flight. You know how players first beat the “unkillable” Tarrasque? They flew up where the damn thing couldn’t reach them and pelted it with powerful effects and abilities, dropping rocks on Big T and relying on that nat 20 critical hit on ranged weapons. A dragon gets flight as a natural ability: it can just fly up and drop spells and stuff on the Tarrasque. (You know the Tarrasque’s +43 to jump? Using RAW, that means it can jump 13 feet in the air if it Took 10 on the roll. You’ll be fine with the flying.)
- Spells and Abilities. Yes, the value of wall of fire or firebreath is pretty nil against something immune to everything. But that spellcasting means it can cast scrolls, and maybe even brush up on some spell choices of its own. Because of its…
- Hoard. The last few times I dealt with dragons were in Pathfinder, where I note they’ve tricked out dragons with cool magical artifacts. Take Legacy of Fire for example; the PCs had this dragon tailing them for most of the City of Brass sessions. Said dragon was printed with an insane amount of bling: rings of protection, belt of strength, amulet of natural armor. It had around 60k gp worth of items on, and had stats way better than it should have for CR 15—its AC was 36, meaning the PCs had to roll upwards of 15-17 to hit. That’s before getting to its stoneskin, periapt of wound closure, or ring of invisibility The point is, dragons have a hoard of stuff, and it’s always kind of confused me why the damn things don’t walk around wearing thousands of gold worth of stuff. They should, and it’s nice to find modules where they do.
Now, that’s not even looking at how the dragon could use its powerful abilities. But sit back, think about it. If you had those advantages, what would you do to kill the Tarrasque? I know what I’d do if I were the dragon in that situation.
- Go recruit an army to help deal with it. Those fifty billion kobolds might not do that much, but a nat 20 is still a hit, and it’ll give the Tarrasque something to focus on. An army of lizardfolk or dragonborn or something would be better. Maybe easily cowed orcs.
- Or bribe/intimidate some dragons which might also be affected by the Tarrasque, who have abilities it’s not immune to—Cold being the obvious one.
- Or summon a balor, bind it, and task it to get rid of the Tarrasque. How? I don’t care, that’s why I summoned you. Summon some more evil outsiders or something after I fly away.
- Better yet, Polymorph, go into town, and set some of those pesky humans after the damn thing. When they’re off defending their crops, I can polymorph back and raze their town for valuables.
- Go home, look through my stash, sigh at the thought of losing one of my wish scrolls, and chuck the Tarrasque somewhere else that way.
- Lure it to an ocean or volcano or something, cast grease, and let it drown.
- If that’s too far away, knock it out and do whatever you want with it. If it’s unconscious, it’s considered willing for greater teleport, which a lot cheaper than a wish scroll. Drop it at the bottom of the ocean, so it drowns. Send it to Krynn or Faerun, just to be a dick. Bury it deep under a mountain and worry about it later—bonus if it’s a volcano, which will slow that regen down (25d6 lava damage per round equals to 60 average post-DR).
- Leave an open bag of holding at its feet, and telekinesis a portable hole into that. Let the gods sort ‘em out. If an ancient red dragon doesn’t have/can’t afford those, it’s not a real dragon (hoardless! hoardless!)
- It may have fire immunity, but last I checked, it wasn’t immune to the choking ash of having the countryside around it set alight. Just set fire to everything, dropping spells as available while flying outside of the Tarrasque’s reach, and let it choke to death.
- Hell, if I were the dragon and wanted to just go through bog-standard combat, I’d just circle-strafe Flyby Attacks using Greater Vital Strike (that’s 16d6+21 right there, crits on 19-20) until it was knocked out. On average, 16d6 deals 48 damage; plus 21 and minus the DR 15/Epic leaves you with 54 damage per round per average. Not including gear bonuses. When it’s unconscious, beat on it every few rounds while you prep to drop it into a live volcano to balance out the regen and let the two forces of nature fight it out.
The same things adventurers did in 3.0, really. But but, you say dragons aren’t as cool as people? It’s an ancient red dragon with stats statistically smarter than most people in the real world. Saying these are outside its scope or are impossible is downplaying just how powerful the dragons are. This is also based on my experiences with 3.x/Pathfinder; from what I can tell it’d be a slightly easier win for the Dragon in 4e.
For those of you saying “But the dragon had to fly away/couldn’t kill it in one round, that’s not winning!” Bullshit. If the Tarrasque ends up dead, the dragon has just won. Using its intelligence for long-term tactical planning and magical stash for an edge, to overcome a unique, legendary obstacle… that’s loving sensible, especially for a cold, cunning, logical dragon. It’s not a cheat, it’s using its Gygax-given abilities.
I feel kind of bad because I’m gaming the metagame here; many people who look at this see a clear victory for the Tarrasque, and the only way I can see that thing winning is if combat played out like the normal D&D slugfests.
So I was watching Saturday Night Live last night and started to really ponder the musical guest. It’s a repeat, of course, with the now-infamous Lana Del Rey videos which I’d somehow missed first-run. Kind of odd for me, since I watched the episode the first time around but missed the songs (also, Weekend Update), and watching SNL is how I keep up with the modern mainstream music scene (aside from listening to 89X). Not counting that British one consisting of a half-dozen teenage boys, the bands this year have been stellar. Maroon 5 and Coldplay rocked out, Florence and the Machine were killer, Karmin and Jack White put on great shows. Del Rey? Became the victim of intense internet mockery.
Let’s start with one of the two she performed on SNL in its original video format: “Blue Jeans.” Very mournful, sorrowful love song heavy on atmosphere; a lot of layered complexity in its performance, a very catchy set of hooks and visceral imagery. It’s really an amazing video in terms of visuals, too; and I say all that as someone who isn’t that into love songs, or modern pop music for that matter.
And here’s how she performed on SNL:
What the crap? That’s not even the same person. The sheer dynamism of the scripted video is gone, and while you can see snippets of real quality in her performance, it’s like she’s on a crazy highball of sedatives and Novocaine, plus more than a little stage-fright, and who knows, a friggin’ head cold or something. Not every artist is great at full-body performances, but she just stands there like a deer in the headlights; she’s awfully warble-y and changes pitch far too much; I know the SNL stage has intense pressure even for experienced bands, but she tanked out there.
That’s not even the song that caused the furor, either; that’d be “Video Games,” her song that went viral and got Del Rey tons of attention. Again, here’s the original first, quite a haunting little ditty; another atmospheric, bleak love song that excels with aid from a really well-done video loaded with a fascinating hodge-podge of movie reels and clips.
And the live version:
Seriously, what the hell happened there? She doesn’t have a very dynamic presence in the original video, either, just standing there in the brief segments that aren’t old movie reels, but she has a better range and can stay in pitch. Live, she’s all over the map. And while “Blue Jeans” live had a few moments where she really shone, this one—which came first—was muddled and forgettable.
An example of the things you can do with computers these days? Does some producer with computers fix all her shitty tracks? Or was her live performance just on the wrong foot, an off day, a combination of various factors and pressures lined up against her?
I’ll never know. But damn. While her performances weren’t awful, they were pretty bad, and aren’t selling me on live concert tickets; if she sounds that shitty on SNL, she’d either sound that shitty live or sound like she’s lip-synching from a CD. As opposed to the directed videos, which are great advertising for her CDs (or, in my case, dropping some of her tracks into a Spotify playlist).
I think it’s interesting how conceptions on pop-culture phenomena change over a given time; positive and negative connotations switch places, and even the meaning of the name isn’t stable.
Take comic books, for example: for most of the 20th Century they were looked down upon as just-for-kids, childish funnies that grown adults had no reason to touch or come close to.
It took a generation growing up on comics to come up with the artistic visionaries who’d redefine comics as mature, adult, with deep themes and strong content: obvious names like Alan Moore and Frank Miller, for example. Gone were the days of four-color superheroes saving Hostess Pies from third-tier villains; suddenly in the late ’70s and ’80s, they had severe personal problems, battling drug and alcohol addictions, putting drug dealers and child abusers behind bars.
And it took a generation of readers growing up on the work of those luminaries to get to the point today, with many readers, bookstores, critics, etc. making off with the term “graphic novel” and applying it to “comic books” in order to construct a mature image, getting away from the kiddie comics of ages past. There’s a niggling remnant of the old stigma, but society as a whole doesn’t care so much anymore since the content has matured. And while not every one is Persepolis or Watchmen, the actual tone of most comics has moved on to straddle the line between child and adult.
On the other hand, we have pulps, the seedy dime-quarter-dollar magazines that entertained a generation. Back in the days before paperbacks even existed, in the age of war-rationing and the dominance of the fiction magazine, the pulps carried on the fine heritage of dime novels and penny-dreadfuls and other Victorian-age serials. Their name comes from the cheap wood-pulp used to make the paper, but has become latched on to the style and tone of their content: seedy, low-brow entertainment, the kind of “boobies and ‘splosions” media for non-literary-minded young guys.
Not that it was always thus, as many famous literary authors had their start in the oddest pulp places. But since lurid covers began to dominate during the pulps’ heyday—the late ’30s to the mid-’50s—and many involved “adult” themes (violence, sex, etc.), they gained the image of low-brow schlock, and there they remain. Pulps are seeing another resurgence, thanks to the power of the internet, lapsing copyrights and eager reprint houses, but they still have a negative connotation outside their niche interest base.
How about spaghetti westerns? The name itself is a negative connotation: what’s a bowl of spaghetti look like? A mess. An apt definition for Italian directors hiring American actors to film westerns in Spain. A good spaghetti western has a grittier, sometimes bleak outlook, with protagonists surviving massacres or attempted hangings (despite their innocence), dark anti-heroes riding lean horses in pursuit of their prey: gold, vengeance, death. It’s infusing more of the gritty noir anti-hero into a genre that’s already fueled by rough living, bleak landscapes, and casual death.
So the name itself was originally a deliberate criticism, but it was subverted by fans to become an accepted nom-de-plum. And while the genre had a brief life-span, roughly 1964 to the end of the 1970s, it’s had its impact on the western as a whole, breathing life back into the flagging genre. Interestingly, though spaghetti westerns have passed on, they’ve been replaced by another group of foreigners who’ve latched on to reinvent the mythos of the American Old West: see the ramen western subgenre. (Yes, this is really a thing.)
When I was a kid, I always wanted a dog that’d act like the ones you see on TV, the Old Yeller or Lassie style of canine companion—a dog that would sleep at the foot of your bed, snuggled up to you, with all the loyalty and security of having some large, tamed canid just a scratch away.
Of course, now that I have one, I see all the downsides: dogs hog the center of the bed since they’re not stupid enough to want to fall off, prevent you from getting your fair share of sheets by trapping them with their body, tend to wake you up whenever they’re walking around trying to get down, and god help you if they blow a fart. On the flipside, I’m not so sure they’re pleased when you roll over onto them in the middle of the night, so I guess it balances out. (See, this totally would have worked when I was kid-sized.)
Anyways, what this reminds me of is a local news special I saw a few months ago, probably while I was waiting for SNL to come on. They had a good ten-minute section about the dangers of having pets in the bed with children, including a laundry list of maladies: fleas, ticks, toxoplasmosis, salmonella, trichinosis, worms, cat scratch fever, lyme disease, rabies, scabies, shingles, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, mad cow disease, feline AIDS, cancer, even death.
(Dead serious on that last one; that was the final point on their list, with some chocolate lab puppy beaming up at the camera and panting. At this point I’m pretty sure they’re just adding and even death to every special they do, to drum up attention.)
I mean, seriously? Most of these are dead-on-obvious maladies that the layman can diagnose, and if your pet is sick, or has parasites, you’re a moron if you knowingly put a sick pet near your kids. If your dog has been rolling around in dead fish and raw sewage, give it a bath before letting it rest for long uninterrupted hours next to Junior. If your cat has worms, probably not the best idea to let it sleep on your infant’s face. (Besides, the TV people told me cats are dirty, dirty thieves and steal an infant’s breath.) And salmonella, really? Who the hell let their kid sleep with a turtle?
I’m not sure what’s worse: that this just reinforces my opinion that local news is sophomoric and uninformative shit, or the terrifying realization that there are people out there who need to be told “if your dog is covered in poop, wash it before it sleeps within reach of your child.”
Needless to say, I’m done with the 30 Days of TV thing. While it did get me posting again, and regularly, I swamped myself with vacations and trips and guests and etc., so keeping up a regular daily post count was a pain in the ass. Hence the various missed days. And even though I skipped an entire week and a couple of outliers, it still ended up being a little too much to do in the middle. Thus, in the end, I’m pretty pleased with the 30 Days meme, even though I wouldn’t do another daily meme thing again in the foreseeable future.
I ended up goofing on Day 21; I’d originally figured to put Burn Notice there, if it won the fight with Firefly, to add some more non-Galactica variety. But when it came to posting I forgot, and was trying to catch up on lost days, and combined it with Galactica. There’s a bit of similarity between Burn Notice and Firefly, in that the Mal/Inara and Michael/Fiona relationships are oddly rocky, but between the two of them, I’d probably still go with the former because it’s far more unique as an anti-relationship.
In other news, I spun off another blog to cover all my book/pulp news/reviews, to keep this one more focused on gaming, technology, and more mainstream nerd stuff. The hope is to keep some regularity in my Logic posts, and do the rest when I get around to it. I thought about pulling all my Hard Case and Planet Stories posts into the new blog, but am far too lazy.
Needless to say, some more gaming-related stuff starts later next week… the finale for my Legacy of Fire game, some 3.5 to Pathfinder conversions, and some about GMing I’ve been thinking on 1.) since Alex said his “the hardest part about GMing is the voices” bit, and 2.) some bottled up crap from running Legacy and hearing about my friends’ Runelords game.
I debated about switching themes again when I saw the Matala release, but I’m tired of switching every couple of weeks, and I like the one I’ve got now. (Whatever the hell it’s called.) I’ll probably ride it out until WordPress.com finally adds Notepad Chaos to its ranks. (Love that theme.)
Somewhat of a tie in to the last post (overly technical analysis of firearms ballistics against fantasy/SF tropes), I noticed a list on Cracked deconstructing action movie injuries. You can’t swing a dead cat without coming up with most of these in a given action movie: knocking people out with blows to the head, people being blasted forward by explosions, getting hit with knockout gas/tranqulizer darts, losing limbs, etc. While they might look good on film—Again. Entertainment. Cinematic.—most of them are deadly in real life.
Take a knock-out blow to the head: that’s called a concussion, the technical term for a bruise on the brain. A concussion with a duration measured in minutes rather than seconds usually results in drastic changes, either temperamental or physical (and sometimes both). Don’t forget those stories about the autopsies of dead boxers who took one too many to the head, where their brain matters oozes out like toothpaste after the pathologist makes a cranial incision. Blacking out for any length of time is a great reason to visit the emergency room, and perhaps even get an MRI just to make sure there’s no real damage.
Of course, all of this is overlooking the basic tenants of action movies… you know the tropes. Where the hero stands in a rain of ordinance without being scratched, or only receives minor flesh wounds. Characters who aren’t scared by blood, death, or otherwise remain emotionally unaffected from things which trigger adrenaline rushes in normal people. And heroes with uncanny accuracy, while the vast armies of hired goons have notably bad marksmanship.
After all, there is a reason we have fiction: things work much better than in real life.
I really need to get around to reviewing FATE one of these days, because it’s a damn fine system which needs as much publicity as possible. In fact, I like it enough that I’ll skip over reviewing the system’s big game lines, Spirit of the Century, Starblazer Adventures, and the Dresden Files RPG, just so I can go over the upcoming releases.
Or, How I Learned to Make Stupid Decisions Regarding Magic Repacks and Came Out Ahead (Kind Of).
I’ve always been fascinated by the use of slang language in books, film, and gaming. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find resources for these. For example:
1736 Canting Dictionary: Since 1st Edition, rogues (“thieves”) have had access to a special language called Thieves’ Cant. In case you were unaware, it’s the slang used by various brigands and hustlers of Elizabethan England, and shows up in such things as Jacobean Plays and various “rogue literature.” Here’s the website to translate the slang into ‘contemporary’ English, which happens to be from 1736. What can I say, I always wanted to run a game heavily using Book of Roguish Luck.
The Vulgar Tongue: For something slightly more recent, this is the copy of a British dictionary of underworld slang. More in-depth than the earlier Cant dictionary, and still very British, but still pretty interesting.
18th and 19th Century Thieves Cant: Here’s some more underworld jargon for the age of empire. Honestly, though, it just compiles the previous two into a more categorized database, with a few other additions.
Twists, Slug, and Roscoes: As you may have noticed, I’m big into pulp fiction. Not detective/crime fiction specifically, but it is the most prominent pulp fiction genre alive today. It has its own dictionary of slang terms and jargon going far beyond gun molls and house dicks, and while it’s not quite as dense or obtuse as Thieves’ Cant, it’s still pretty foreign. Here’s a dictionary to keep your head afloat while reading a lot of Hammett and Chandler, or to spice up your own noir adventure.
Guide to Jazz Era Slang: More slang from the ’20s and ’30s, era of prohibition, speakeasies, the lost generation, and (obviously) Jazz.
Gangster Slang: Much as it sounds, a big list of slang from the thugs and mugs.
Cyberslang: Slang used in Cyberpunk, dating from the 1980s and ’90s; given that cyberpunk itself relies heavily on the same tropes and themes as pulp noir, it makes sense that the underworld of the technological future has its own built-in lingo.
Shadowrun & Cyberpunk Slang Glossary: A MS Word .doc with more info than the last link, 14 pages in length. It’s pretty much the non-plus ultra of running/reading/writing in cyberpunk terms. It’s also on scribd if you don’t want to download anything.