There are few things more entertaining in the world of politics than watching one of Australia’s main political parties airing its dirty laundry in public. This week we get to see this spectacle at its finest, as Australia’s foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, steps down from his position and challenges the Prime Minister (PM), Julia Gillard, for the leadership of the party. If he wins, of course, he will become Prime Minister. He was PM before, until 2010, when Julia Gillard overthrew him in a figurative night of the long knives. On that occasion he did not even take his position to a vote, so weak was his support, but this time around he is going to take it to a vote on Monday at 10am. That’s gripping viewing for those of us who enjoy our politics done dirty and Machiavellian, and this time, in the public eye. And nobody in Australian politics (or, probably, in the democratic world) does politics dirtier or slimier than this mob.

The vote in question is not a ballot of the people of Australia, or anything so silly. It’s a vote of the the representatives (MPs) who make up Gillard and Rudd’s party, the Australian Labor Party (ALP). For the benefit of my American reader(s), in the Westminster system that your benighted republic so sadly decided to dump, the PM is not elected by the people, but chosen from the parliament. When Australian politicians try to appeal to populism as part of this process – as Rudd is known to have done – they are referred to dismissively as “running a presidential-style campaign.” For people like Rudd and Gillard, the mere act of getting elected is something to sniff at – they are usually installed in safe seats and get an easy run into parliament. The hard work does not lie in convincing ordinary people that they might be good representatives, but in convincing their colleagues that they should be given high office. Usually this means being in parliament as a nobody for years, slowly building up the support of a faction within the ALP, and then climbing through ministries until finally you have the experience, the reputation, and most crucially the numbers to be able to backstab someone and take their job. That’s what we’ll see at its bloodiest best on Monday.

Usually all of this happens quietly behind closed doors, but for complex reasons that seem to have a lot to do with Rudd’s personality, this time it’s all being done in the open. If you believe the journalist who has done the most work on the matter, Rudd was dumped from PM in 2010 because he was losing control of the government and the policy-making process, alienating his colleagues and slowly destroying the ability of the higher offices to function. But publicly they didn’t want to smear him, so they didn’t mention any of this, although what really went on behind the scenes may have been summarized in this article from just before the coup. Because in Australian politics disunity is death, the plotters kept all the internal troubles quiet and claimed that Gillard toppled him in order to change policy direction. But by undermining the narrative of the government’s policy direction over the previous 3 years, this probably contributed to the ALP’s poor performance in the 2010 election, which saw them lose a lot of seats and forced into minority government with some independents and (shock!) the Greens. In fact it now appears that Rudd was already planning his vengeance, undermining that election campaign with leaks and “backgrounding” journalists. Since that election the media has run constant stories of leadership tension between Gillard and Rudd, who was given the position of Foreign Minister. It now appears tha a lot of that tension was being created by Rudd himself, and in recent days it reached such a peak that something had to be done. This time around, though, it looks like Gillard’s supporters intend to be frank about what happened then, and to poison the well so that nobody is willing to risk Rudd in the leadership position. They have been very publicly and aggressively bad-mouhting him, making sure that his reputation and legacy are in tatters and any election campaign featuring him as leader will be dominated by the opposition quoting his own party members’ poor assessment of his character.

Nobody does this stuff like the ALP, which is why it’s a joy to watch. Rudd’s knifing in 2010 was a shadowy business of meetings behind closed doors, over almost before we knew it had started. The last time a leadership struggle happened in a sitting ALP government was between the two greatest politicians the Westminster system has thrown up since the war: Hawke vs. Keating (whose colourful contribution to political life can be found here)[1]. But that was a tame affair compared to this, fought as it was on the basis of ability to win elections and policy vision – no one would ever claim that either of those men’s considerable personality flaws rendered them unfit to run a government. This time around, the government rests on a knife-edge of marginal seats in a coalition with free-willed independents and the battle is over personality, so whatever damage is done in this very public battle could well poison the chalice for the winner. They’re flinging so much poo that some of it is going to have to stick.

The battle is probably decided already, in reality, because it involves lining up the numbers for the caucus vote. ALP politicians don’t vote by conscience (this is explicitly banned when voting in the parliament!), they vote according to the dictates of whatever faction of the ALP they are a member of. The factions in turn are composed roughly along union lines, with different trade unions supporting different factions, and the key to success in the ALP is to get along well with your faction and to be able to negotiate deals between factions. Rudd, famously, eschewed this system in his run for PM, supposedly intending to “reform” the ALP’s systems. Gillard is a great negotiator and apparently has an inclusive style, so it’s likely that she’s been doing what all sensible ALP leaders do: keeping one eye on the opposition leader and the other eye firmly over her shoulder, on her factional “allies.” If the stories about Rudd are true, he will have alienated all the factions and will be left swinging in the breeze when it counts. Unless he has some very, very nasty tricks up his sleeve…

Many people say that this faction system is a bad idea and an undemocratic disaster, and Rudd was supposed to reform it to reduce its alleged bad properties, but I’m not convinced this is true. The ALP has been around for 100 years and the faction system has operated for at least 50 as far as I know, and in that time it has thrown up a great many highly talented politicians. Hawke, Keating, Whitlam and Chifley were all products of this faction system, as were some of the lesser, but still brilliant, members of the cabinets of yore. Any system that can produce the leadership team of Hawke and Keating, and keep them in office for 13 years, has to be doing something right. Recently the quality of the ALP reps has started to decline and there have been a few famous and regrettable mistakes in leadership (e.g. Mark Latham) but these mistakes and the thinning of talent I think might represent a much deeper problem with the ALP: its membership is declining rapidly, and its dependence on unions and an industrial working class base is no longer as relevant as it used to be, depriving it of the deep pool of talent it once had at its disposal.

It may or may not be bad for the party, but the faction system makes great theatre. This time around we are not just being shown a glimpse of the ALPs seedy inner nature, but may be offered the chance to look right into the depths of its soul. And I think that’s compelling viewing for anyone with an interest in how nasty politics can be. So grab the popcorn and gather round, kids, because the palace coup is underway …

fn1: I guess the third greatest is Thatcher, who probably should go at the top of the list for her singular achievements against the run of British expectations about class and gender, but she’s not as funny as Keating, not as educated as Hawke, and anyway she eats babies and her policies were crap in comparison to theirs.

Remember those crazy monk powers in AD&D First Edition? Especially the one where the monk could fall his level x 10 in feet without suffering damage, provided he or she was within arms reach of a wall? The Guardian has a story about a mountain climber who did exactly that, down a 1000 foot drop in Scotland.

And I scoffed, back in the day…

In my previous post about playing this game on Sunday, I mentioned that we used a type of module called “Scenario Craft,” in which every element of the module except a vague skeleton of the plot is random. This post gives a little more detail about the scenario craft process.

The book

The scenario craft book we used was called “Public Enemy” and can be viewed here (Japanese). I’m not sure what the background to this module is, but it contained some expansion information for the game, some new NPCs, and the website indicates it has information on the history and development of the False Hearts organisation, which is the evil underworld for crazy superheroes. I didn’t see much of the module book itself, since the GM was using it a lot. The book presents 4 types of adventure based around interaction with this organisation.

The basic idea

The basic idea of the Scenario Craft plan appears to be that the adventures are built collaboratively by the GM and players, through some outline decisions and choice of scenario that the players and GM decide on together, followed by a kind of collaborative decision-making process about some aspects of the PCs that are required to fit the adventure. After this, the players and the GM between them roll up all aspects of the main NPCs, including the bad guy, so we all know what we’re up against and its relationship to the party. The remainder of the adventure plays out through a semi-structured flow chart of action, and a lot of random events, clues and conflicts rolled up during the different stages of the adventure.

The scenario choices

The scenario choices are presented as a vague outline idea, and each scenario choice affects the structure of the action flow chart, the nature of the adversaries/NPCs, and the random tables on which the action is determined. We were presented with 4 possibilities, but I can’t remember the other 3. The one we chose was “Everyday life should be protected” (mamoru beki nichijou, 守るべき日常). The outline idea was that someone in the False Heart organisation was about to find a way to reveal the virus infecting our superheroes, and we need to find a way to stop it.

Scenario plots

Each scenario comes with its own plot, which is very broadly outlined. Here is ours:

The “cooperating NPC” approaches the PCs to tell them he thinks that his underling, the “Rival NPC,” has joined the False Hearts. Simultaneously, the “Heroine NPC” tells one of the players (with whom she has a close relationship) that she is worried about her friend, the “Rival NPC.” The PCs agree to find the “Rival NPC” and bring him back to UGN for questioning.

That’s it. These NPCs are worked into our characters’ lives through a very simple plot mechanism, the Lois (see later).

The action flow chart

Almost all of the adventuring is constrained to two pages of the book. The right-hand page contains necessary tables for randomly generating everything, and the left hand page contains some outline information and a flow chart which breaks the adventure down into 5 main scenes. The scenes are:

  • PC Opening, 4 separate subscenes in which each PC appears briefly to have their intro to the adventure explained
  • Grand Opening, in which the four PCs join together to determine their attitude to the adventure
  • Middle Phase, in which the majority of the adventure happens
  • Climax, in which the PCs get in a big fat fight
  • Flashback, in which the PCs attempt to return to normal life and shed the corruption of the adventure, get XPs, etc.

The main action happens in the middle phase, which is divided up into separate stages in the flow chart. These stages may or may not be sequential or conditional (I think in our case they were sequential). Our main stage within the Middle Phase was “Research Event,” in which we did investigative stuff which triggered encounters.

This action flow chart provides the GM with a structure around which to hang an actual adventure, just like in any normal module, but it really only provides an outline from which to hang all the random tables.The Middle Phase here is also set up to include a lot of random variation in how long and diverse it is, how many encounters there are, and what they are, through the use of a progress tracker.

The progress tracker

The progress tracker seems very similar to the method of Warhammer 3rd edition for resolving drawn-out challenged tasks. Basically, the GM sets a target number of “successes” for some investigative or challenged action occurring in the Middle Phase. Every day, the PCs set about resolving this action, using some kind of skill check (we used our social skill for information gathering). We have to accrue a certain number of successes before we can proceed to the next section, and can only get one each a day. Every day we adventure trying to gain these successes we incur a d10 of corruption points and a risk of a minor encounter, which we will win at the cost of further corruption points. Corruption points make us more powerful in battle but also drag us closer to becoming irredeemably infected (“germs”) and at risk of having to burn all our social contacts to drag ourselves back to reality, so rapid progress up the tracker is a good thing.

There is a separate progress tracker for “prize points,” which are bonusses gained from very high skill rolls. These prize points are rolled randomly on a table, and are essentially hints as to the nature of the problem we are trying to solve. More prize points makes it easier for us to find the correct solution and progress along the tracker to the next stage, i.e. ideally they will help us choose a way of solving the problem which gives bonusses to our rolls, increases our combined successes, and kicks us along the tracker. In fact, this didn’t happen in our game because our GM was a little weak in this regard, but the idea is solid I think. At the end, if you get to the end of the progress tracker, you learn the solution to the problem and go to the next stage (though I presume the GM can short circuit the tracker if the players solve the problem).

I like this because a) it gives an idea of how long the task takes to solve, and solving the task quickly is useful, b) the prize points thing can be used to give XP rewards – particularly if creative thinking gives players bonusses on their rolls and thus more prize points and c) if the PCs are having success in the tasks but the players just aren’t thinking the problem through, the GM has a trigger point at which to allow the skill rolls to determine the outcome, and stop the game getting bogged down because the players just can’t figure it out (or the GM can’t explain it).

Choosing the NPCs

We chose the NPCs by rolling, together, the details of their relationships to us, their appearance, name, their goals, and pretty much every other aspect of their personality except their stats and powers (which were either already chosen, or secretly rolled by the GM). There’s no reason these couldn’t be rolled too, I suppose. But then, would you even need a GM? We also had to choose a PC to be linked to the Heroine NPC and the Cooperative NPC, which was done semi-randomly (scissor-paper-stone). These relationships are a really important part of Double Cross 3, and being able to choose even relationships with NPCs and enemies is interesting too. Especially when you burn them for an extra 10 dice in your attack pool.

Random tables and the progress of the adventure

The random tables included information about where we went to do our research into what the Rival PC was up to. Every day we did research, we rolled up a possible encounter, so on the third day we stumbled into an area that had been “warded” by False Hearts agents, and on other days nothing happened. There were also random tables for where we finally confronted the boss guy, and I think our adversaries in non-boss encounters may have been randomly generated too. Also, the “prize points” were randomly generated, only we kept generating the same two prize points, until we reached the end of the progress track.

Reaching the end of the progress tracker showed up one of the big flaws of any kind of randomized adventure scheme, because our GM wasn’t up to the task of wrapping up all the random encounters into an information package from which we could extract the clues we needed, so he ended up just kind of … handing us the information we needed. This is a good aspect of the progress track if the failure to draw a conclusion is the players’ fault, since we incur a corruption cost but don’t fail the adventure; but if it’s the GM’s fault it leaves you feeling like you didn’t succeed in the adventure. I don’t think there’s a way around this aspect of randomized gaming, except to have adventures without a plot or a conclusion. The progress tracker at least gives the GM a trigger at which to get rid of the investigative phase of the adventure and get to the finish.


I like this schema for mostly-randomized adventures, and the layout of the module was such that it was very easy for the GM to run the whole game collaboratively with us without giving away any details early, or getting too confused. It was fun generating our own adventure as we went, but it was also frustrating when it wasn’t tied together properly and we just skipped from progress track to ending, a problem I’ve always had with adventures that aren’t fully prepared by the GM beforehand. in truth this can happen with traditional modules that have been badly designed, or with work that a GM does by him/herself. I think when a GM writes their own adventure they tend to go through a wider range of scenarios in their head, and know the plan better, so that they are more flexible at adapting to player stupidity/their own gaffes. GM-written adventures are hardly immune to the problem though.

In general the Double Cross stuff I’ve seen so far has been very well laid out and clear, and they’re fond of very easily understood flowcharts and diagrams. I think that this is a strength of this adventure setting too, and a lot of careful thought has gone into making these modules playable on the fly. Also, of course, they’re ideally suited to day-long conventions.

Over at tenletter, there are some example abilities for Fighters to take when they have leader training. This reminded me of some of the more fun feats that my players chose for their characters in the Compromise and Conceit campaign, and which I thought I would reproduce here. These feats are sometimes overpowered, either because they were given at first level or because I like people to have feats which add to the character, even if they’re nasty. Each feat described below also includes the name and “class” of the character who used it.

Powerful Voice (Anna Labrousse, enchantress)

Can be used 3 times / day, using a presence vs. will challenged skill check. The target suffers a suggestion-like effect for 1 round per point of failure (Max. duration=Anna’s level).

Infernal Tango (Lord Merton St. Helier, sybarite)

Lord Merton and Russell Ganymede, his batman, have an almost supernatural understanding of each others’ moves in combat. Whenever Merton is able to use his ranged weapon, he gains an attack of opportunity against a single target in melee combat with Russell Ganymede.

Infernal Synergy (Lord Merton St. Helier, sybarite; and Russell Ganymede, his faithful batman)

This feat must be taken by both Merton and Russell; it extends their innate understanding of each others’ combat style, and enables each of them to gain a +2 attack bonus when fighting attacking someone who is engaged in melee combat with their ally. This also applies to ranged attacks.

Horrid Death (Dave Black, King’s Torturer)

If Dave delivers a killing blow, he can choose to kill his opponent in such a horrid and gruesome fashion that all allies of the target who witness his/her/its death must immediately suffer a will vs. presence challenged skill attack. If they fail, they are shaken and suffer a -2 to all actions for 1 round per point of failure.

Torturer’s Tale (Dave Black, King’s Torturer)

Once per day, Dave can touch one target and, on a successful will vs. presence check, learn the truthful answer to 1 question.

Locking eyes with the Damned (Father David Cantrus, Jesuit)

Cantrus catches the eye of another spellcaster in order that both parties can appreciate the inevitable damnation of their souls, reflected in the eyes of another destined for the same flames. If Cantrus succeeds in a challenged will vs. will skill check, he and the target are unable to cast any magic until Cantrus deliberately breaks eye contact. The effect can work around corners/through walls if there is a mirror or other reflection by which they can be seen. The target takes 1 fatal wound every round that they fail a will vs. will challenged skill check, thus hastening their descent into hell. The target may yell for aid from fellows, but cannot cast spells or attack Cantrus, though they can attempt to move to escape Cantrus. Cantrus can move, but cannot attack or cast spells.

Because some of these feats were chosen at quite high level, I didn’t put any particular pre-requisites on them. Had I been writing them from the very first, I would obviously make some of them have attack bonus and feat pre-requisites. They were also intended, obviously, to personalise the PCs and make the player’s vision more personalised. In fact, some of these feats – particularly Locking Eyes with the Damned and Powerful Voice – were not used as much as expected. After Cantrus took Locking Eyes with the Damned, I chose battle with the final enemy to depend on it.
The remaining PC, Brian the Woodsman, didn’t have many specialist feats but he did have to regrow one of his arms, which was reformed in a dark ritual of faerie magic so that he had a massive, thick-thewed limb of wood and moss, wreathed in shadow. With this limb he could cast a spell, The Long Arm of the Lore, which I also describe here.

The Long Arm of the Lore

Range: Touch

DC: 25

Challenged: vs. Spellcraft

Effect: Brian’s shadow-wreathed arm grips the target and wraps them in a flickering halo of shadowy force drawn straight from the depths of the Faerie kingdom. For 1 rd + 1 rd per point of success, the targeted spell-user loses the ability to use their spellcraft skill in casting spells, but must instead rely on will.

As an example of this spell in action, Anna Labrousse finished the campaign with a spellcraft skill total of 21, and a will of 2. This significantly reduces her ability to successfully cast higher level spells. In future iterations of my system, it is likely that all secondary skills will be closer to primary skills, so an equivalent Anna Labrousse would have a will of about 10-12. This would still vastly reduce her power to cast more serious enchantments, like her infamous Grendel’s Demise. Sadly, the campaign finished before Brian got a good chance to use this spell.

You’ve done it! 120 years after the introduction of the Bismarck system, a mere 60 years after the foundation of the National Health Service, 40 years after you put a man on the moon, and a mere 35 years since Australia introduced Medibank, you finally have a system of universal health coverage. Welcome to civilisation[1]! Admittedly, a lot of people are claiming it’s barely a universal system at all, no-one actually understands it, and 14% of your population now think that Obama is the antichrist, but at least you’ve got your foot in the door.

Of course, some people seem to think that it’s a short and slippery slope from universal health care to armageddon, but 3 of the other nuclear-armed nations have it, and they seem to have avoided nuking each other yet. And on the bright side, public systems are much more likely to respond effectively to a massive public health disaster like armageddon than private ones are.

I’m not so sure that a cobbled-together mandate that no-one really understands is a better approach than to have just, say, imported one of those existing, functioning systems wholesale – or even, just to have set up a government insurer for the 40 million uninsured and watched the rest of the country come flocking to it – but from this point the debate changes, doesn’t it? It no longer becomes “should we/shouldn’t we,” but “how can we improve what we’ve got?” And from there the only way is up up up that slippery slope to socialism and death panels for everyone!

Well done, America! Next, illegal wars and oil dependence… surely they’ll be easy to fix now you’ve overcome this massive challenge?!??

Seriously, though. I get the impression that getting this through has been a lot of work and a serious challenge. The US health system as it stands is an astounding shambles, and without a public solution at some point was going to become an untenable mess. If this system works even half as well as the rest of the world’s public systems, then you’ll get

  • reduced infant mortality
  • reduced health care costs
  • better health care
  • better public and preventive health
  • more rational health decision-making, and more public say in how healthcare money is spent
  • 40 million more people (at least) getting access to healthcare
  • greater labour flexibility
  • more entrepeneurs
  • lower costs for business

which is maybe not good news for all those countries (like Japan and Germany) whose heavy and medium industry has been dining out on American businesses’ hidden healthcare costs, but it’s all round good news for Americans. Antichrist or not, that Obama chap is a miracle worker!

fn1: see how we spell that with an “s”, not a “z”? It’s a slippery slope from universal health systems to British English… even Sarah Palin knows that!

Schoolgirls in space...

Schoolgirls in space...

So we were all doing fine in the 2009 juncture, but we hadn’t found my Shrine’s God so we went to 2056 where the Architects Of the Flesh had taken It, and when we got there we met these flying apes and they helped us to find the secret research lab where my god was being held only we had help from the Dragons and while the apes were fighting the Flying Iron Men from the Buro I had to try and rescue my mummy who was trapped in a sarcophaga-[whatever] and like I said we had help from the Dragons but Kar Fai is old and Useless so mummy had to stay unconscious


only then we all had to go raid the flying ship-thingy, and Kitsune’s mummy was there but she was a hostage of the Architects of the Flesh and I disintegrated the bomb belt she was wearing because it didn’t suit her and I did it through my phone and then Kitsune and Grandma Noodles flew down to earth on a parachute of noodles and I rescued Echo who smells and has a robot arm and where has that ghost-girl gone? Doesn’t matter anyway because we all went back down to save my God from under the floor of the lab but Kar Fai and the Dragons had gone and taken the God with them AND my mummy even though she was brainwashed


so then anyway we chased them in a big tanky-thing but it was slow and Echo thinks she is so good at driving but she is completely like heta yo, so I jumped on my moped and I caught the Dragons in their car but they didn’t want to talk to me and my mummy was angry and then kitsune had to protect her mummy because my mummy tried to kill kitsune’s mummy and when she did kitsune had to defend her mummy but she must have cut her by mistake or something because when my mummy’s magic cleared and all the flashing dots were gone from my eyes Kitsune’s mummy was gone and there was a big soldier with a robot arm who Echo called omega and then we had a fight but I threw my moped at omega and he ran away but we couldn’t catch him


so then my mummy died and she didn’t even say thanks but she said something about 1868 and I thought she meant that new CK perfume I can’t afford but Grandma Noodles said that was her birthday – I mean like when she was born, not like the last time she was pretty and someone gave her a present on her birthday, which was probably 1898 – and Kitsune said we were both stupid and that was the Meiji restoration and I really don’t think you should speak to Grandma Noodles like that especially when she’s drunk but Kitsune’s a ninja so I suppose she’s okay


so anyway then we had an argument with Kar Fai and the Dragons and then these big monkeys arrived and they got angry with me too because they say an ape is different to a monkey and then they tried to tell me that whales are not fish and I was confused but I took a photo anyway and the Dragons told us that the Architects of the Flesh had this plan to take my shrine’s God and brainwash it and then they would go back in time to like 9 AD or something and bury my God somewhere so it would grow old and then when they dug it up in 2056 it would be 2000 years old and super powerful and really dirty, and then they would use it to take over the world in 2009 which I suppose they have to do because the food and fashion in 2056 is like completely saiyaku yo so I suppose they want to steal our cool


which they could like soooooooo do if they used my God’s power to take over the Feng Shui sites in 2009 like they own them all in 2056


but they could only brainwash my God because it was young because it was born in 1868 which is like…

so then we were all like let’s go back to 1868 when the God was born and convince the previous God to come with us to the future to fight the new god when it becomes the extra-old god. So we went back to 1868 and walked all the way across Hyogo in those funny wooden geta they had then and my feet hurt but we pretended to be travelling musicians and everything was all like tale of genji except for the steam trains  and it’s weird because when we went back to before I was born I wasn’t any thinner but I suppose that’s why they call it baby fat and so the God said like YEAH let’s go and kill the new god and then we went forward in time again and put our old God into a suit of Iron Armour like hagane renkinjitsu shi only bigger and I made sure I didn’t paint the little symbol in blood so it can’t be washed off with a water pistol why does no-one else ever think of these things but I suppose I didn’t try to resurrect my mummy either maybe I’m growing up


and in forward time which is like the future only you can’t do things there if they might stop what happened in the past which is called linear time we were all like, what are we gonna do and this big monkey called BattleChimp Potemkin said we should kill everything and Kitsune agreed (of course) and The Dragons said that they had heard that the Buro were planning on putting my Shrine’s new God that was now a super old god into a satellite called Sheba so that they could beam its Godlike powers through a space portal into the past and take over the world so we would have to stop it by going into space on a rocketship and taking the god out of the satellite and throwing it away like rubbish and it would burn up in space even though space is like really cold and then we could put our old god which is now the younger god but isn’t brainwashed into the satellite and beam its Godlike power down to earth and take over all the Feng Shui sites in 2056 and then we would be like the most powerful magicians on the planet and then we could find that omega guy and completely kill him


so Echo put pop-up pornographic virusses in all the world’s computers because she’s weird and then we went to Tunguska and stole a rubbish truck and drove it into a spacebase and I had to disintegrate some people that Kitsune and Grandma Noodles killed because she was drunk again and then we went downstairs into a like command centre thing and then Kitsune killed some other people who were in the way but it looked like  a kind of disco or a noh play or something only the actors don’t die in Noh plays at least that’s what mummy used to tell me when I was scared and then I disintegrated the wrong half of the door and all these guys got angry and tried to shoot us so Kitsune and Grandma Noodles killed them and then we talked to some other soldiers who were scared of us and one of them agreed to call his boss if I didn’t disintegrate his special treasures and then the boss came over but Grandma Noodles was still drunk so the boss died too and then Echo broke everything except the remote control rocket ship and we drove over there and hopped on


but there was this creature made of leaves that chased us and even though I poured a potion on the sand it still tried to kill us the stupid thing and Echo told us that its really bad if vines grow on a rocket just when it’s taking off ’cause it’s going really slowly and it can tip over and kill everyone like in a movie so Kitsune and I went onto the outside of the rocket ship and I had a rope and I disintegrated the vines and then the plant monster died and it was like surfing only really hot and kind of high up so I went back inside and Echo told me to make sure I locked the door properly because we were going into space and it’s really cold and now we’re on our way to the satellite and it’s boring…

Further to that last little critical warp-spasm, I just took the “what fantasy writer are you” quiz, and I’m Orson Scott Card – someone I’m pretty politically opposed to, I suspect. And my exact opposite is China Mieville. How timely! And how completely wrong…

I am reading The Watchmen, which was given to me by one of my players/DMs (we alternate) who, even though he works in IT, is so old-skool he doesn’t even have a blog. At least, not one he’s shown me. This isn’t the reason I can’t quite get into The Watchmen though. The reason is that it’s a bit… strange. It doesn’t quite hang together the way I would have expected from Alan Moore. It reads like an early work, where he was trying to fit his dark sensibilities into a classic genre. The whole thing is a bit ham-fisted, in my view.

I understand that this isn’t everyone’s view, and that everyone’s sense of what is ham-fisted and what isn’t (or  even which crude things are enjoyable) is a little different. This is why we have Grognards, and people who like theatre, and people who love 4e D&D. So it’s not as if my opinion is necessarily the only or the right opinion about the clumsiness of The Watchmen, but here goes…

It seems to me that it’s a clear attempt at a kind of meta-comic, where the comic as cultural icon has a self-conscious presence throughout the comment, and it tries in some sense to imagine a role for comics in society (shudder). Hence the inter-leaving of the Pirate comic books with the end-of-the-world motif, and the slightly outlandish heroes tracing their costume decisions back to ’50s comics. But I can’t see why, and it doesn’t seem to work. The interleaved Pirate story is just a clumsy attempt at the sort of inter-chapter stories of Steinbeck or Murakami, but it doesn’t mesh well and so it stands out on its own. The heroes in the story are just too ordinary, and their comic-inspired outfits just look stupid (as if they are trying to remind us that early comic books were bad). If you want to paint the role of comics in society you probably need to make them seem a little more… inspiring … than encouragement for a stream of b-grade heroes.

The thing that really jars though is Doc Manhattan. Here we have a completely normal bunch of guys who beat up criminals because they are tough from “working out” a lot, whose most special trait is maybe some armour in their costume; and then we have Mr. Space-and-time. It doesn’t work. I can’t see where it’s going because, for example, I just don’t see these guys as a threat. People rioted over these vigilantes in their costumes? Why did that kid scrawl “Who will watch the watchmen” on a wall when the watchmen consist of a bunch of guys in tight pants who “work out” a lot? They seem comical not sinister.

So I’m waiting to see where all this meta-comicery leads, but I think it will lead to a flop. I’ve been told  it takes a while to get into but I’m halfway through and still none of this stuff is coming together. Also the artwork is really ordinary, like any run-of-the-mill 50s comic with nothing special to recommend it. So I will try and finish it, but I’m unimpressed and I was kind of expecting something different, particularly from Alan Moore.

It will be interesting to see if my opinion changes by the end. If it does, I shall report back with an explanation…