Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting

I had an idea for a combat system while out for a jog. I've also been rereading Kill 6 Billion Demons. I sat down and barfed this out.


This is obviously unfinished and a first draft. There are no character creation rules, as such. You can test it out by giving everybody any 3 techniques they want and seeing what happens. 

I think there's something salvagable here. I'd love some feedback. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Bull in a Teahouse

I made up this little d66 table for a tiny project I'm making about kung fu.

If battle breaks out and you need to know quickly what sort of epic location you’re in, roll twice on this d66 table and combine the two entries.


  1. A colossal buddha-like statue of Prim Ysma, opener of doorways, meditating

  2. Thundering waterfall

  3. Garden pond covered by a blanket of lotuses 

  4. Many storied teahouse and brothel

  5. Guild-run opium house, choked with foul smokes

  6. Ruined temple, overrun with goki monkeys 


  1. Small shrine set near the skull Sivran, god of iron, tended by single saffron-robed monk

  2. Graveyard of swords, some sized for men and some sized for titans

  3. The Bank Unerring, where coins beyond count are stacked in lofty vaults

  4. The Shrine of the Chalice, where a blessed grail issues forth a fountain of blood into a sanguine pool

  5. The Eidelwood, a forest of white trees who were once men - they bleed and groan if cut

  6. A dumpling cart pulled by one of the Gentle Race


  1. The neon-bright Casino of Hanuman, the monkey-faced demigod of luck

  2. Underground gambling den

  3. The 11th Cesspool of the Lower Sewer of Hell

  4. The bone-white colossal throne of a forgotten and unnamed archangel

  5. Red-lacquered torii guarding a hot spring

  6. A crumbling staircase of 777,777 stairs, leading up into nothingness


  1. The Dreaming Pearl, the finest house of pleasure in the Red City

  2. Bamboo grove 

  3. Panopticon to the First King, lit by a thousand thousand butter candles

  4. Laundry-laden clothes lines between two tenements

  5. Public fountain tended by an un-dragon doing penitence; will stand in this manner for six-thousand more years

  6. The smoking chimneys of the furnaces of Koss the forge god


  1. Palatial river barge of Mun-et-Mun, the God-Eater

  2. Graveyard of angels, whose broken bodies of stone still seem in the midst of struggle

  3. Noodle District, home to a thousand ramen stands and carts

  4. The Hall of Mummified Bodhisattvas, who still sit among the incense smoke 

  5. The glass Triumphal Arch of the Universal Wars

  6. Tumbled-down lighthouse


  1. Terraced fields of rice patties 

  2. Two koi ponds shaped like yin and yang

  3. Bathhouse of the Red Devils

  4. Parade of the Paper Lanterns, signifying a minor god’s birthday

  5. Training yard littered with partially animate wooden training dummies

  6. Peach tree garden

I get I-1 and I-2. The combat stage is set in the middle of a thundering waterfall, under which the colossal statue of Prim Ysma sits meditating among the spray. Combatants climb her divine body of stone, leap across the pool fed by the waterfall, or stand on the pillar-like stones at the base of the falls as they battle.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Tolkien Would Have Hated the Lord of the Rings Movies

In June of 1958, Tolkien wrote a detailed response to a screenplay of a potential film treatment of The Lord of the Rings (Letter 210, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). He begins the letter by noting: "If Z[immerman] and/or others do so, they may be irritated or aggrieved by the tone of many of my criticisms. If so, I am sorry (though not surprised). But I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about. ..."

Tolkien proceeds to complete eviscerate the screenplay down to the most minute detail, objecting to literally any deviation from the text. Any amendment, contraction, exaggeration, or flourish was met with Tolkien's acerbic rejection. 

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • "I deeply regret this handling of the 'Treebeard' chapter, whether necessary or not. I have already suspected Z of not being interested in trees: unfortunate, since the story is so largely concerned with them."
  • "Why on earth should Z say that the hobbits 'were munching ridiculously long sandwiches'? Ridiculous indeed. I do not see how any author could be expected to be 'pleased' by such silly alterations. One hobbit was sleeping, the other smoking."
  • "The Balrog never speaks or makes any vocal sound at all. Above all he does not laugh or sneer. .... Z may think that he knows more about Balrogs than I do, but he cannot expect me to agree with him."

  • As you can see, Tolkien has strong opinions about even minor deviations from the text. Balrog laughing? I think not. Hobbits eating sandwiches instead of smoking? Ridiculous. 

    The Lord of the Rings Film Series, Newline Cinema, 2001-2003

    Consider, then, Jackson's treatment of the trilogy. 

    Film adaptations are notoriously bad, but Jackson's is generally well received. What makes a film adaptation "good" or "bad"? Enjoyment of a film is pretty subjective. But here--in this RPG blog that has nothing with film criticism at all--I would actually argue that Jackson's treatment of the trilogy is "bad," in so much as it unfortunately mishandles the core themes of heroism and virtue present in the novels. 

    Let's talk through the ways that the director adapts the text to film. Jackson's adaptation is done through addition, omission, translation and more unfortunately, subversion. 

    I'll talk through these techniques. 


    At times, a 1-to-1 rendition of a book into film would leave the audience confused or unsatisfied. Tolkien's text was notoriously scant on a lot of details later filled in by long talks with Gandalf (or the appendices, or by pouring over the letters of Tolkien). In these cases, Jackson has (usually wisely) added in connecting scenes to fill in the gaps. 

    Sometimes this is done successfully. When successful, the tone of the books is maintained, but additional context is added for the audience:
    • Galadriel's introduction gets a new audience up to speed, more or less, with the events of Isildur and Bilbo's adventure in only 8 minutes. 
    • The treason of Isengard is shown with a pretty cool wizard duel (my favorite "addition" in the films).
    • Various flashback scenes where Aragorn and Arwen make eyes at each other, and her whole backstory is explained. 
    When unsuccessful, scenes or story points are added that do not advance the story. For example:
    • The elves show up at the Battle of Helm's Deep. Why? The Rohirrim already have a narrative out (the huorns--the same as the books) and the elves pull their weight elsewhere in the movies. 
    • Aragorn crosses swords with a CGI army of the undead. Why? In the books, invoking himself as Isildur's heir is enough--and comes across all the stronger for it.


    The films are already long. If Jackson had included absolutely everything, they would have been unfit for a film treatment. 
    • Tom Bombadil, a puzzle piece that never quite fits, is removed from the story entirely. 
    • Various minor characters, like Fatty Bolger or Beregond or Imrahil, aren't mentioned. 
    • The Scouring of the Shire never happens. 
    This is usually where people tease me about being a stickler ("You're just sad because there's no Tom Bombadil"), but this is perhaps the most "pure" form of adaptation. I agree with almost all of Jackson's calls here. 


    Sometimes Jackson keeps a particular story beat in the film but translates the character or the circumstance. In general, this is done successfully. 
    • Arwen, not Glorfindel, rescues Frodo at the ford. This introduces her character before literally the last book, which is fine because you really never see Glorfindel again.
    • Elrond, instead of his sons, tells Aragorn that he must take the Paths of the Dead.


    Of all the techniques used to translate the trilogy into film, this is the one that proves to be most onerous. If Tolkien was nitpicky about small changes, these would have been intolerable. 

    Subversion is where a character says or does the literal opposite of what it is stated in the text. 
    • Movie Faramir: "The ring will go to Gondor."
    • Book Faramir: "But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory."

    • Movie Aragorn: *Aragorn just straight up kills the Mouth of Sauron*
    • Movie Mouth of Sauron: "I am a herald and ambassador, and may not be assailed!"
      Movie Aragorn: *Abides by this because that's what heroes do.* 

    • Movie Aragorn: "Do not let him speak! He will put a spell on us! Let us be quick"
    • Book Aragorn: "We may not shoot an old man so, at unawares and unchallenged, whatever fear or doubt be on us. Watch and wait!"
    You will see a trend here. There is a sense, I think, for American audiences that might makes right. The heroes are being heroic by taking bold action, drawing their swords, rushing in to fight the bad guys. But this is not the morality found inside the text. Quite the opposite. The heroes are heroes because they do not use their might. Almost every villain--Saruman, Wormtongue, Gollum--are offered a chance to go peacefully, or stay and put right what they've made wrong. They are villains because they refuse, but nobody compels them to do anything through force of arms.

    In conclusion: If Tolkien objected to Pippin and Merry eating sandwiches (something in line with their character), he would have objected more strongly to characters acting in a manner completely in opposition to their core values. The film has "no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about."