Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Annoying Plot Holes in Popular Works: Dune, part one

  A mock dialog to illustrate one of the [many] plot holes in Dune:

Piter: "But we have an agent within the Atreides household, one that will bring us victory!"

Feyd-Ruatha: "Indeed? Such an agent will surely be detected by the brilliant minds of House Atreides!"

Piter: "They shall ignore the agent - for it is Doctor Yueh!"

Feyd-Ruatha: "But he has Imperial Conditioning from the Suk School! The highest level of moral and psychological training and conditioning known to mankind! They are mentally, morally, and psychologically incapable of taking a human life, of betraying their employers in any way; in centuries of effort no one has EVER broken Imperial Conditioning! Even the Emperor himself trusts Suk doctors! If you have truly found a way to break this conditioning, why! it would shake the very foundations of psychology, medicine, and even politics!"

Piter: "Indeed, that is why we must carefully shift the blame for betrayal to another and then kill Dr. Yueh as soon as he is finished. If the Emperor were to know we had broken Imperial Conditioning he would destroy our entire House!"

Feyd-Ruatha: "But. I must know how you succeeded in breaking the unbreakable; how you thwarted training that 10 generations of effort found unthwartable; how you gained a tool that could be used to kill the Emperor himself. You must tell me!"

Piter: "I will tell you. We.... We.... We... threatened his wife! BWA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAAAA!"


Piter: "We, uh, threatened his wife."

Feyd-Ruatha: "OK. And...?"

Piter: "What do you mean, 'and'? We kidnapped his wife, roughed her up a bit, and threatened to kill her if he didn't do as we told him."

Feyd-Ruatha: "But, but, but - that's, like, Street Thug 205; 'to make a guy do what you want, threaten a loved one'. It is so common that it is a cliche. You're telling me that you broke the highest level of mental, emotional, ethical, and psychological conditioning known to Man by saying 'be a shame if something happened to your wife'?"

Piter: "But he really loves his wife! I mean, he'd be really sad if she were to die, so..."

Feyd-Ruatha: "Listen, you dime-store Eddorian, of course he loves his wife - people love their spouses, THAT'S WHY THEY GET MARRIED! Face it, this is obviously a ruse and Dr. Yueh is working with House Atreides."

Piter: "What?! No, I have carefully subverted Imp..."

Feyd-Ruatha: "Knock it off. There are well-documented cases in history of people with no conditioning other than a strong moral code allowing hostages, including their own loved ones, to be harmed rather than act in an immoral manner or betray their overlords. There is no way Imperial Conditioning would leave Suk doctors vulnerable to the favorite tactic of heavies in a two-reel Gene Autry serial, You're being played, you dope!"

Piter: But as a Mentat I have broken Imperial Cond..."

Feyd-Ruatha: "Zip it, pinhead, I gotta' warn my uncle."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Inspirations: The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

 Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

 For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

 And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

 And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

 And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
 And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Adding to Appendix N: C.J. Cherryh

  Top notch reviewer and all-around gamer Jeffro has been writing about the DMG's Appendix N for some time. Instead of reviewing works on Appendix N, I am going to  write about books I would add to Appendix N.
  I am starting with C.J. Cherryh.

  I first encountered Cherryh's works in 1981 when my father got me a copy of Downbelow Station, which I read twice in one month. Downbelow Station was the beginning of her Alliance-Union Universe books, a set of (technically) about 20 books with about half of those in the 'main storyline' of the Alliance and the Union conflicts. The series is interesting for the nature of hyperspace travel (the overwhelming majority of people need to be drugged to psychologically survive jump) and for her analysis of the interplay between different human cultures.

  My favorite series of hers is probably the Fortress Series, five books in a decidedly non-Tolkien fantasy world where magic is very, very different than you might think. The viewpoint character might be what is essentially and Elf summoned by a wizard to (once again!) overthrow all the nearby human kingdoms by himself. Or maybe he's just a guy with amnesia.  Or maybe he's something else.
  A nice, realistic look at what actual fantasy world diplomacy might look like combined with a fascinating concept of magic.

  Her first books form the Morgaine Cycle (which are technically in the Alliance-Union Universe) and the books are more fantasy than science fiction (there is no magic, but the 'lost' technology of the gates looks like magic and the worlds involve feudalism, knights, sword fights, etc.). The series is based upon the Gates - devices that allow travel between hundreds, maybe thousands, of worlds. They also permit time travel. At least one major civilization has accidentally wiped itself out by the incautious use of time travel.
  The Morgaine of the title is on a quest to destroy all the gates to prevent their misuse and the destruction of everything by time paradox.

  Cherryh has actually alien aliens, non-Tolkien fantasy, work based on Slavic folklore, SF westerns where the horses are psionic, and a lot more. Her work is a treasure trove of great ideas for gamers and a fun read on their own.

  So - I would add Cherryh to Appendix N

Friday, April 22, 2016

Rebuttal to an Article - Obstacles to Interstellar Empires

  Over at Mythcreants there is a post titled Five Obstacles to a Realistic Interstellar Empire. Bluntly, I think it is so far off track it is almost upsetting.
  That's my review. Thanks for coming!

  Oh, OK; I'll provide actual reasons.

  First Stated Obstacle: Administration would be unmanageable-
  The writer argues that because the EU takes forever to do simple things an interstellar emprie would be too difficult to rule.
  His Solution: Instantaneous communications and really centralized government. Maybe implants so debates are superfast.
  Why this is wrong: In Real Life the planet Earth has had a few empires that were larger than the EU and ran quite smoothly, thank you. The Spanish Empire controlled more than 1/8th of the world's land in the 16th Century and was much more efficient than the Black Legend would have you believe. The Achaemenid Empire covered 6% of the world and controlled an incredible 44% of the world's population in the 6th Century B.C! The Achaemenids lasted 220 years and their empire was son efficient and stable that their core concepts have been copied by other empires throughout history.
  All without instantaneous communications.
  The key is de-centralization. As a matter of fact, the entire point of the traditional monarchy/aristocracy system so familiar in Europe, Asia, etc. is that it is very good at generating efficient leadership hierarchies at the small, medium, large, and gigantic levels. Local issues are dealt with by local rulers (barons) and as issues become larger and more complicated higher levels of authority, many of which are also local!, kick in. There may even be a system, group, etc. to provide oversight.
  In a fair number of the largest pre-modern empires issues as serious as wars would be dealt with and settled before the central authority even knew that they had existed. And yet, from the Persians to the Mongols to the British, there was no real weakening of the ultimate authority of the central ruler.
  And the dire need for fast communications is also a little off. Look at the longest-surviving corporate (in the older meaning of the word, 'formal group activity') human endeavor - the Catholic Church. The Church uses a structure akin to the traditional feudal one (or vice-versa) and uses a concept called Subsidiarity to guide how things work: Subsidiarity boils down to 'make all decisions as far down the hierarchy and as locally as possible'. Regions of the Church cut of from Rome for years, even decades, not only survived but flourished during lack communications but had very little difficulty in submitting to Rome once contact was reestablished.
  These reasons are why so many Space Operas have barons and kings!

  Second Stated Obstacle: Accomodations Would Be Complicated-
  Having even humans from different levels of gravity would complicate things
  His Solution: Point this out and mention how you'd have to accommodate different people.
  Why it bugs me: Why mention something as an obstacle when it is not really an obstacle? I mean, sure - mention that you have to do it. Star Trek did it a few times. It was sometimes a plot point in Babylon Five. The Sector General short stories and novels are ALL ABOUT 'hey - aliens are different'. The number of science fiction stories that overcome this 'obstacle' by just mentioning that you must put a little effort into it are legion and, in the end, this is like claiming 'writing about America has an obstacle because some people need ramps for their canes.'

  Third Stated Obstacle: Warfare Would Be Impractical-
  The author makes a few arguments against interstellar war: battles aren't very exciting; you can't take over a planet; there is no reason to fight interstellar wars because there will be plenty of resources.
  His Solution: Copy Iain Banks or have little to space in your space opera.
  Why this is wrong and it bugs me: First, a lot of war is fought at extreme ranges with targets represented as dots on a screen now. Battle robots have been in use since the Vietnam War!
  Yes, really. The Aegis System uses what are essentially defensive battle robots.
  Now, I don't know about you, but I have noticed a few conflicts over the past few decades even though a ton of combat is really remote and very abstract with things like cruise missiles, UAVs, etc.
  Note: The Russian flyovers of an American ship amused me, but the pearl-clutching over 'attack runs!' amused me more. The pilots were letting the ship see the planes weren't armed. In contemporary combat a plane attacking a ship wouldn't ever be in sight of the ship - they would fire ASMs for miles and miles away.
  So vast distances, robots in battles, dots on a screen - none of that even makes sense as an objection to war.

  As far as taking over a planet, that depends. The idea of militarily attacking a planet being impossible and someone exploiting that assumption is a huge plot point in the book Dorsai!, for example.
  As for how you could do it in at least on fictional setting with relatively low number of troops and without glassing cities, I wrote up a little something on that topic about, oh, 14 years ago. In the end it can take a lot fewer troops than you think to secure a nation and that would be true of a planet, too.
  For example, in 2003 the population of Iraq was about 23 million people and they had an army of about 375,000 troops. The nation was seized by about 380,000 troops in about 40 days. Not 'totally pacified', but 'the previous government and military were effectively removed and key positions were controlled by invaders'.
  Personally, I don't think the ability or of invaders to conquer a planet matters as much as the fact that if an outside for can project enough force to be capable of at least some orbital bombardment a planet can be no less than isolated and in effect blackmailed into surrender. In short, if you can annihilate entire cities at a time with rocks a planet is going to have to win or lose in orbit.

  As for the idea that abundant resources will mean the end of war?
  Wars are, yes, sometimes fought over resources. But more often they are not. Ideology, religion, self-determination, revenge, and other factors are causes for war. The Great Siege of Malta was not about resources; the Balkans Wars of the 1990's were about groups of killing killing and dying to become part of smaller, weaker, poorer nations. There are very literally hundreds of real life examples that show than many wars, especially high-intensity ones, are not about resources.

  Fourth Stated Obstacle: Trade Would Be Unnecessary-
  The writer states that the vast resources of space combined with the sheer costs of transport would render trade moot.
  His Solution: Rare materials and economies of scale.
  Why this bugs me: His 'obstacle' and his 'solution' are called 'contemporary economics'. The Silk Road was hideous expensive - yet it ran for 1,500+ years! Why? Rare materials.
  Right now the United States is in a manufacturing boom (yes, really) yet a majority of consumer goods are made in other locations and shipped large distances to be sold in the US. Why? Economies of scale.
  Anther factor he missed: art. Africa, Europe, South and Central America, Asia, and the Indian sub-continent have multiple film and music production centers, some of extremely high quality. Yet American movies and music are imported to these nations both draining cash from local economies and stunting local businesses. Why? Perceived artistic merit.
  To me this entry isn't about an obstacle it is just 'try to make your economics at least semi-realistic'.

  Fifth Stated Obstacle: Energy Production Would Outmode All Conflict-
  The writer essentially just repeats obstacles #3 and #4.
  His Solution: Don't do that.
  Why this bugs me: It is just a repeat of items #3 and #4.

  In fairness, I have been thinking about these topics for almost 40 years (since I picked up the Traveller LBBs just before I saw Star Wars) and writing about SF world building for longer.

  My science fiction worldbuilding aid Sea of Stars has been a Silver Pick on RPGNow since 2002 (hint, hint)!
  Why does it bug me, really?
  Simple - the author made a classic mistake of thinking he was discussing worldbuilding but actually just telling us his own assumptions and opinions. We all do it, but it needs pointing out.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

More On My Champions Game - the Haunted Cemetary

  I will be having another sit-down session in my Champions of Atlanta campaign soon. 90% of the game is PBeM. But I wanted to share the villains coming up because they are all song-based.

NOTE: Spoilers follow - no players read past here!

The Villains: Here is a list of the bad guys -
  The Children of the Sun: The mooks are all advance scouts from the Riders, the disembodied intelligences of a long-dead alien race that take over recently dead sentient bodies (i.e., Zombies From SPAAAAAAAACE!). Their living bodies were destroyed in a massive solar flare. They are based on this song.

There are 25 of these guys, all based on the Zombie entry from the Champions bestiary with a higher INT.

  The Old Man Down The Road: A powerful sorcerer that uses American hoodoo magic, He has been enslaved and forced to use his magic for the Big Bad. Skilled with divination, he also has a range of combat magic that can confuse and befuddle with one or two lethal spells. Based on this song.

  The Lonely Man: Apprentice to the Old Man Down the Road, the Lonely Man is another practitioner of hoodoo. He focuses on invisibility, illusions, and misdirection. He is based on this song.

Nemesis: An incredibly tough extra-dimensional being summoned by the Big Bad, the Nemesis appears to be an absence, a blackness, a hole in reality in the shape of a massive, tentacled, tiger-like beast. Fearsome in direct combat, Nemesis can also very literally eat your courage. It is based on this song.

Baron Cimetiere: A powerful Loa, Baron Cimetiere was summoned by the Big Bad to lead the Children of the Sun and remove certain obstacles. The Baron is, essentially, a super-strong, super-dextrous ninja who is also undead. If he bites you he can drain your lifeforce! Based on this song.

Locomotive Breath: The favorite henchman of the Big Bad, Locomotive Breath is Mean Ron, former King of the Evil Hobos, who can be read about in much more detail here. Based on this song.

  The Big Bad: I will not go into great detail about the villain behind all this who calls himself the Necromancer to hide his true identity (that is for a future post!). For now, just listen to the song he's based on.

  Anyone have more suggestions?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Unpopular Opinions: Film

Here are a few of my unpopular opinions about movies, in no particular order:

- While Citizen Kane is a top 500 film it certainly is not, and never was, the best film ever made.

- I think Hulk is not just a good, fun movie I think it is an important MCU film. Further, all of the people who complain "the giant, green man who throws tanks hundreds of yards? Yeah, well, he's the wrong tint of green" bug me a great deal.

- I like How The Grinch Stole Christmas and it is a favorite with all of the children I know (and I know a lot of children)

- When I watched 12 Angry Men in class at the age of 14 I realized that the defendant was certainly guilty and that Juror 8 had no real points. I was (and am still) shocked when people do not think the film is a cautionary tale about Juror 8 undermining justice.

( am sure I will post more in the future.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Villages, Families, and What Would They Look Like? A short entry.

  I have been playing in and creating faux Medieval European worlds for about 4 decades. I've aped more than just Europe, of course, but that is where I lean towards for reasons discussed at great length elsewhere in this blog.
  I also strive to make a world that makes sense, at least internally. My campaign map is small for a reason; Dwarves, Elves, and Gnomes have their racial abilities for reasons related to how they fight wars; Dwarves and Elves are allies despite tensions for reasons that explain the tensions, too. 
  So one of te things that has caught my eye for a long time is - village descriptions. As mentioned in the linked post on distances, above, I do tend to over-analyze sometimes, but it helps me keep everything straight in my head. I also mentioned how the Complete Book of Dwarves and Complete Book of Elves weirded me out with their statements 'elves average 2 kids' and 'dwarves average 3 kids with a 2:1 male:female ratio'. I explained in that post why those number flat-out make no sense. No modern society could survive birth numbers like that even without any form of war.

  In Real Life we can smooth out historical ups and downs to point out that women had, on average, 4-8 (call it 6)children and about 1 in 4 of them died before the age of 5. Of the rest about 10%-15% died before 16. Throwing a little bit of 'paladins and clerics can Cure Disease, etc.' in there and the average family is going to have 4 children survive until adulthood. Now, this does not lead to a lot of population growth because Real Life was lethal and a Fantasy RPG world is really lethal.

  In the modern Western world population is distributed like this;

  So if someone were to drive to a small subdivision of 200 people there would be about 50 households and roughly 25 of the people living there would be children under the age of 16.

  But the population of a faux medieval world should look something like this

  So when you ride into the typical village of about 200 people there would be about 30 households and roughly 65 of the people living there would be children under the age of 16. 

  So when you are designing and mapping villages, remember - fewer homes, a lot more kids!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Finding a Way for Familiars

[Another yet-to-be-edited entry]

 I have always had a fondness for familiars and homonculi. My characters have had a few of each with the homonculus Bentwing being a party favorite after he took down the Hobgoblin King. I have made a few items just for familiars and such.
  But, as I have mentioned before, in 1e/2e I have never seen very many players who can have a familiar actually gain one. The reasons are pretty evident; 3e tried hard to make familiars worth it, although I think they missed the mark a wee bit.

  In my Blackstone campaign two different characters researched 3rd level spells that were essentially 'get this special familiar' spells. Each also created their own special familiars: Elemental Spirits (2 HD elementals) and Arcane Servants (a Good Outer Planes version of a Brownie familiar). Each was on par with a brownie or quasit.
  I viewed this as more than acceptable for the following reasons

  1. The cost and time of spell research
  2. The cost and time of casting the spells
  3. The loss of a 3rd level spell slot (I enforce maximums of known spells per level)

  The player who made elemental spirits stands by his creation. The player that created arcane servants thinks he made a mistake. His argument is,
 "Familiars should really be about 'almost normal animals'. What we did was create almost-henchmen."
  Interesting point.
  No one seems to mind the 'special' familiars but many don't take the chance of 'only' getting a normal familiar.
  So, since I talk about the five roles a lot, what is the role of a familiar?
  Familiars cost a 1st level spell slot and some gold to acquire. If you get a 'normal' familiar you get improved senses and (on average) +3 hit points if the familiar is relatively close to the character. If the familiar is killed the character loses (on average) 6 hit points - permanently.
  The character can also 'converse' with the familiar and it can act as a spy, scout, and even guard (although it is noted it very rarely fights).

  This seems to put the familiar in the scouting and intelligence role within the party. Familiars are like thieves - they can get into odd places, observe, and report back. Surem they can't pick locks, but they can slip through cracks!
  So if a familiar is a scout that gives you better senses and bonus hit points, why don't more characters use them?

  My theory? Math.
  And fear.

  At first level getting a familiar is great; a beginning wizard has an average of 3 hit points (rounded up) and a familiar will likely double this, which is great. If you keep the critter out of combat so it doesn't die you get (for example) great hearing, a scout, double hit points, and only a small risk of losing 6 h.p. which will, of course, murderize you.

  But at 5th level the math is different. You have 13 h.p. (average, rounded up) so +3 is not a 100% increase anymore, it is a 23% increase. On the other hand, -6 h.p. (permanently) is the potential loss of 46% of your hit points. Ouch.
  Plus, if you are really interested in helping the thief with scouting at this level you could use Clairvoyance or Clairaudience and event Detect Evil or Detect Invisibility. The bonus h.p., boosted senses, and scouting are still nice, but not as nice.
  Plus, now the party is facing area effect attacks ranging from Fireball to gorgon's breath. The odds of the familiar getting dead increase as you level up and face tougher foes with more area effect and won't-miss attacks.
  I have indeed DM'ed a session where a mid-level magic-user and his weasel both made their saves vs. a Lightning Bolt such that the weasel died anyway and the combination of damage killed the mage who would have lived if he hadn't had a familiar.

  I have seen some players get a familiar and once they reach 4th-5th level they leave the familiar at home. forsaking the senses and hit points (the familiar has to be close for those!) to avoid the chances of losing the familiar.
  Others I know wait, plan ahead, and make homonculi (I have done this) seeing them as tougher, more useful, and having much less of a penalty. I have seen other people come up with spells or rituals to ensure characters get a 'special' familiar. AD&D 2e had the Enhance Familiar spells that did just what it says on the tin to the point that a focused archmage could end up with a familiar that could, for example, Polymorph into a human, Dimension Door once a day, and have a 16 Wisdom and 17 Intelligence, along with a variety of other powers.

  Personally, I think a middle path would work fine. here are my thoughts on making 'normal' familiars end up with better math.

- The familiar gets +1 hit point for every level beyond first of its master. If the master is multi-classed, only from advancing as a magic user. The master still only gains the initial hit points of the familiar!
- Every 3rd level of its master (i.e., 4th, 7th, 10th, etc.) the familiar has its armor class improve by 1.
- If the familiar successfully saves vs. area effect spells they take no damage.
- Once its master reaches 4th level the familiar is immune to area effect spells.
- Once its master reaches 11th level the familiar is immune to level drain and death magic.

  So if you are 2nd level and get a black cat with 3 h.p. and an A.C. 7 the caster  gets +3 h.p. and the familiar immediately has 4 h.p. Once the caster reaches, say, 12th level the black cat has 14 h.p., takes no damage from Cone of Cold and similar spells, and has an A.C. 4 and is immune to level drain.
  Much more likely to survive, but not even close to being too tough, in my opinion.

  Your thoughts?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Here, Let Me Hand You This Torch"

  So I have been very busy trying to change careers and start a new role for my family.
  We have still been gaming, so I hope to catch up a few things.
  But last week something I have been looking forward to for a long time occurred.

  My oldest son hosted his first purely solo game with his friends where everyone there was a legal adult.
  He has run games before, of course - he has been for a decade or more. And he has done things for friends before, too.

  But seeing everyone there driving themselves, using their own money from their own jobs - that was much cooler than I thought it would be.
  I was busy working (and wasn't invited, anyway) but they all had a good time and will be meeting to play again very soon.

  Huh? Oh, AD&D 1e, of course!

Talking About the Punisher

[Warning! I haven't edited this puppy yet]

  I have never been one to shy away from controversy. And I have been gone a long time. COmbined, let's shake things up at talk about the Punisher.
  He's a popular topic right now; he is in the current season of Daredevil (which the family and I are watching weekly) and Joss Whedon said a few hilarious things about him, too.
Quick Aside: Garth Ennis is a hack and I don't read anything he writes anymore unless I must. Just FYI.
 To me the most interesting thing said about the Punisher was by one of the men who created the character, Gerry Conway, who said [paraphrased],
  'The Punisher is such a thin character on his own that he is a Rorschach test.'
  This feels true enough to stand.

  Since I love to redirect and to talk about myself, let's detour a little.
  I graduated high school early and enlisted in the army at 17. I was active duty for 8 years as a linguist, cryptographer, intelligence analyst, and electronic warfare specialist. I was tactical and out of Ft. Bragg. I was in Desert Shield/Desert Storm/Desert Sabre.
You did know the ground offensive was called Desert Sabre, didn't you?
  During combat operations my team was attached to the French 6th Light Armored, meaning we went to war with the French Foreign Legion. I came back with a handful of medals and seriously considered joining the FFL, but I had met this girl....

  Anyway, once upon a time after the war I encountered a man about my age that was shocked and horrified that I had been a soldier. When he found out I was in combat he was obviously Deeply Troubled. But the worst, for him, was to learn that I was proud of my actions. He declared that I was just a cold-blooded murderer because...

  Violence Is Never The Answer.

 So we had this conversation, a talk familiar with many of the vets out there, where I asked him what he would do if he saw a woman dragged into an alley. 'Call the cops', 'Yell at the guy, tell him the cops were coming', 'Call for help'. It always boiled down to either the police came and used violence or other bystanders came and used violence. But the speaker never used violence.

  Now, the idea of wanting other people to do hard things is OK. My kids change the litter box and mow the lawn for reasons beyond 'it builds character'. The problem is when you pretend those things don't need doing or, worse, convince yourself those things are Bad, or, worst of all, firmly believe that doing them is Beneath You.

  Back to comic books.

  Marvel introduced the Punisher in 1974. Now, for you kids out there that need to GET OFFA' MY LAWN! you might not know that 1974 was a really, really bad time to live in an American metropolis. New York City was so beset by violent crime the police officers union was warning tourists to stay away and the nickname 'Fear City' was being used. Detroit's Devil's Night mass arson/riots tradition was well underway. The Zodiac Killer had just sent another letter after being uncaught (and he never was); in the Northwest and Utah young women were vanishing at the rate of 1 per month as the as-yet-unknown Ted Bundy was on his killing spree; the BTK Killer had just begun; The Zebra Murders are ongoing; the domestic terrorist group the Weathermen were still very fresh in NYC's memories, as are several other active domestic terror groups; the previous decade had seen massive riots in cities across America, including multiple days of riots in NYC just the year before.
  The Vietnam War was ongoing.
  The Knapp Commission had revealed massive levels of corruption in the NYC police department ranging from taking bribes from tow-truck operators to issue tickets up to working for the mob as enforcers. The same story was being found true in Chicago, Los Angeles, etc., etc.

  In short, there was a very unpopular war going on; infrastructure was falling apart; wages were flat while unemployment and inflation were rising; violent crime, riots, and, serial killers, and terrorists made the streets and homes unsafe; and the police were either corrupt or scattered and unfunded.

  The collapse of American cities into violence and fear was widespread enough to be a key element of a Bond villain in 1973, much like how Russian mobsters were big decades later.

  Media had already been responding before this; While the wide acceptance of war movies, often based on WWII but going beyond, meant that audiences were more used to a high body count than you might think, films from Enter the Dragon to Shaft opened up audiences to the idea of a contemporary, sophisticated, non-soldier hero who kills to pursue justice. Films like Billy Jack, Coffy, and even Magnum Force were portraying vigilantes who killed their targets, usually in a positive role (although Magnum Force opposed this view). The seminal movie Death Wish came out shortly after the Punisher appeared, again showing lethal vigilantes in a positive, if nuanced, light.
  And here comes Frank Castle.

  And he wasn't alone, not really. If I could travel back in time to my parent's garage in 1981 in the back left, next to my dad's Swing and Jazz records were cases of - war comics. Hundreds of issues of titles like Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Fightin' Army, Our Army At War, Our Fighting Forces, and more. I also had Weird Western Tales, Billy the Kid, Creepy, Eerie, House of Secrets, House of Mystery, Ghostly Tales, Tomb of Dracula, Scream, and more.

  So when the Punisher showed up the movie theaters and comic books racks were awash with violence, death, automatic weapons, and vigilantes who killed their targets. you could barely throw a rock without hitting somebody shooting somebody else for vengeance.

  So why does the Punisher stick out so much?
  I have a theory.
  [Yeah, you're shocked, I can tell. "Rick? With a theory?!"]

  Let's start with the most obvious - the Punisher hangs out with Spiderman. Not to get into a long rant about the Comics Code Authority, but what we would now call 'mainstream comics' had pretty much been stuck with the CCA for a long time by that point and the idea of a character in a superhero comic who killed people and WASN'T a villain surprised some people (which I will talk about more, later).
  Another thing was the same sort of concern that led to the CCA in the first place - the fear that looking at X makes people X. We've all heard it before -
  "Penny dreadfuls will make kids violent"
  "Pulps will make kids violent"
  "Crime radio programs will make kids violent"
  "Movies about mobsters will make kids violent"
  "Violent TV shows will make kids violent"
  "Violent video games will make kids violent"
  Well, back in the 1940's the whole "violent comic books will make kids violent" card had been played very, very hard and a lot of people believed it. Some people seem to still believe it.

  But one interesting thing I have noticed about people who complain about the Punisher is their resemblance to certain science fiction and fantasy fans; just like a surprising amount of SF/Fantasy fans don't know anything about the major works pre 1970 or so, a huge number of people I encounter that claim to be 'comic book nerds' don't know much, if anything, about War, Romance, Horror, or Weird comics from the 1950's - 1970's.
  Now, this is fine - I know people that only like Star Wars (the original) and don't read or watch anything else and, yes, they are 'legit nerds'. But I have a hard time with such people telling me
"The Punisher is bad because there is no place for heroes that kill in comic books."
  Tell that to Sgt. Rock, the crew of the Haunted Tank, or the Unknown Soldier! If you think all comics, ever, were always and always will be Silver Age Batman to Richie Rich then I really have no idea what to tell you except - Nick Fury.
  There are plenty of examples from other companies, but Nick Fury is also a Marvel property. Nick, formerly Sgt. Fury of the Howling Commandos, famously heads SHIELD.
  And he kills more people than James Bond. Indeed, so many members of Hydra were killed in the comic pages that there was a spoof years later (by Marvel!) that showed the after life had a separate entrance for a miles-long queue of Hydra agents.
  So Marvel had a hero in the same universe as Spidey dropping bodies every issue eleven years before the premiere of the Punisher.
  Yet I don't hear people calling Nick Fury a 'psychopath' or saying his fans are 'fascists'. Do you?

  So what do I think is going on? Why does the Punisher harsh the mellow of certain sorts so much?
  Simple - he breaks their daydreams.

  Let's be honest - probably more than most other media, four-color superhero comics are about wish fulfillment. Sure, sure, so is radio, and pulps, and so on, but the four-colors really snuggle up to wish fulfillment and give it a big ol' hug. No matter how grim 'n gritty the Dark Age got Superman still sold well. People look tot he superhero genre for a bit f wish fulfillment more than they tend to do in other media, in my opinion.
  There has always been violence in comics, even if it was just a thrown brick. Superhero comics are full of violence.
  Fatalities are obviously acceptable in comics. War and Horror comics were full of death, often gruesome death. And Nick Fury sure as heck killed a lot of people before returning to his helicarrier to talk to Iron man and Captain America.  So why is the Punisher disliked so?

  Well, what is the wish fulfillment of being, oh, the Flash? You can do things other people can't do and you use those abilities to make things better, right? Superman has been making money since 1938 because people don't just wish they could fly, they wish they could fly and make the world better. That is pretty cool.

  The Punisher actually does fit in there. He is better than other people at what he does. He is smart, tough, skilled. He likes children, puppies, and apple pie. He is loyal to his friends. He risks his life every day because he wants to make the world a better place.
  But he does it by killing criminals.
  Just like Nick Fury.
  But where Nick, the Unknown Solider, even the Agents of SHIELD are all soldiers, or spies, or cops, Frank Castle is an ex-soldier. He is a vigilante. Is he dealing with threats the police aren't equipped to handle, just like Spiderman? Sure. Is he taking up the slack left by corrupt cops, corrupt judges, and corrupt politicians, just like Batman? Yes, he is. Is his solution the sort that prevents too many recurring villains, like Nick Fury. Yup.

  I believe the problem of the Punisher is - some people think that violence is beneath them; that the ultimate responsibility of getting things done belongs to someone else. They always want to be Batman and never think about the guards at Arkham.

  Don't mistake me - I like Batman never killing; I think Superman vs the Elite made great points. I mean, my favorite superhero is Fawcett's Captain Marvel!
  But that doesn't mean there is no room for the Punisher. And it doesn't mean the Punisher can't say important things. And it very frankly doesn't mean other superheroes would automatically hate him.
  Oh - and liking the Punisher doesn't make you a Fascist.

  One of these days I will review the movies.

Back At It

  Hello, folks!
  After a long break Don't Split the Party is back.
  Next is a play report from an Oriental Adventures arc, a discussion of familiars, and analysis of a few books.
  In the meantime - sorry I didn't call.