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Episode 31: Love, Gerald Ford

March 22nd, 2013 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut, we consider the soul of the orc. How do you present this classic fantasy trope without letting in the toxin of real world racism?

History Hut returns to crime in Chicago for a consideration of its gangland, then and now.

In Ask Ken and Robin, Robin is asked to further expound on a Thing He Always Says, the nature of the iconic character.

Finally we activate Ken’s Time Machine in a chrono-traveling effort to prevent the pardon of Richard M. Nixon.

Update: We’ve re-uploaded the file. Apologies to those inconvenienced by the earlier file error.

13 Responses to “Episode 31: Love, Gerald Ford”

  1. John F Rauchert says:

    Speaking of Aryan Elves.

    A DM friend of mine had Treaty Orcs inhabiting marginal lands at the outskirts of his fantasy city.

    They were quite often the subject of abuse by “The Sons of the Silver Star”, a society of Elves who held to the superiority of the Elven race over the degenerate Orcs (and Humans and Dwarves and …).

  2. Michael Cule says:

    Actually you know, I think I rather do want the teenaged munchkins to have a conversation about whether it’s right to kill orc babies. I’d rather they have the conversation than go off and kill the orc babies without thinking about it. (And if they decide to go and do it anyway then I can stop gaming with them so win-win!)

    And I think that though species-ism is a different thing than racism unless the other species thinks of me as a food-source (and that is something in their genetic not their cultural makeup) the ethical equation here is pretty similar.

    I’m not entirely convinced (to put it mildly) that the end of the Cold War is dependent on Reagan being elected. The gradual collapse of the Soviet Bloc had been coming for an age, the result of the containment strategy that all American governments had been pursuing since the late 40s. Though Reagan made a lot of dramatic gestures on the world stage prior to the coming of perestroika and glasnost and all that, I’m not sure any of them had any provable effect. The one world leader whose removal from the scene might put the great upheaval in doubt was John Paul II.

    Reagan does deserve credit for the way the disarmament came down: the charming old ham had a well recorded part in persuading both the US Military and the Soviets to take the initial step towards trust. I’m not sure a ‘liberal’ could have had the same authority over the former especially.

    And on the other tentacle one could observe the disastrous effects of the advice given by the right-wing ideologues of the Reagan administration to the Russians about how to convert to a market economy. Perhaps Time Incorporated could give Ken the task of arranging a one-term Reagan administration? I’m not sure how the timing would work out…

    • Michael Cule says:

      And let me add that Robin’s discussion of the difference between iconic heroes and dramatic heroes perfectly explains the dire failure of the GREEN LANTERN movie. “We can’t really have a main character who has no sense of fear! That would be boring! Let’s make him more human!” Tcha!

  3. Chris Carroll says:

    Great podcast! I’d like to hear Ken’s take on making Operation Eagle Claw (the Iranian rescue mission) a success for the mysterious masters of Time Inc.

  4. John McMullen says:

    I enjoyed the discussion of the iconic character vs. the dramatic character. I’m about halfway through listening to Robert McKee’s Story at the same time (I’m taking it slowly, because I have to keep waking myself up).

    The idea that characters can only be healed instead of facing an interesting dilemma (as Hamlet does, for instance) is a commonplace one, and I wonder if it’s not an outgrowth of the exhortation (so often given) to make a character deal with something he has trouble dealing with. It’s an easy answer: “Oh, rather than have an adult discussion about responsibility to a woman, let’s make him a man-child/let’s create an actual set of choices rather than just make him unable to deal with it/let’s make him have to walk seventy-five miles but he has no legs!” (As a person who has belatedly realized he actually has a couple of disabilities–yeah, it took me a while, so you know they weren’t seriously affecting my life–this seems rather demeaning to me.)

    I wonder if the iconic vs. dramatic issue is part of why we had the James Bond reboot (calling back to your earlier discussion of Skyfall). Having him grow into the role means that every film has a dramatic arc as Bond Learns Something (which makes it sound like an after-school special)–until of course he has grown into the part, whereupon Cubby Broccoli’s grandchildren can reboot the series again.

  5. Conrad Kinch says:

    Interesting episode chaps – well done.

    I particularly liked Robins piece about the iconic versus the dramatic hero, fascinating stuff.

    I’ve only ever run one D&D campaign and that was a mixture of the three musketeers and Ravenloft. The players didn’t kill the goblin kids on the grounds that they were musketeers and men of God and that it would be the act beneath contempt.

    Then they bought a haunted vineyard and I changed school.

    Could Ken take his time machine and prevent the bloody shambles that was the 1916 Rising in Dublin? Thereby preventing the War of Independence and allowing Home Rule to be achieved by peaceful means?

    Alcohol could be provided on site.

    • Tim Ellis says:

      I think the trick is not necessarily to prevent the Easter Rising, rather (as often seems to be the case) preventing the Heavy-handed British response from driving the Neutrals into the rebel camp…

      • Michael Cule says:

        Making the British not be heavy-handed in response to what was in their view treason during wartime might be beyond the means even of Time Inc. Might be easier to get the Irish Question answered before the whole mess of 14-18 began. An Ireland that was already a Dominion on its way to full independence would probably have sent as many volunteers to the Western Front as served in the real world.

  6. Tim Daly says:

    Great episode. Your discussion of hero types reminded me of what I thought was the most significant (but overlooked) change to the Jackson Lord of the Rings movies. Aragorn in Tolkien is certainly an iconic hero. He never has any doubt that he’s going to Gondor to kick butt and become king. Jackson had to follow the recent Hollywood tradition of making him a reluctant hero who learns how to become king. Tolkien’s Aragorn would have thought Jackson’s Aragorn a whiney weakling to be sure.

  7. LJS says:

    Is not the race of creatures one can kill on sight necessary to a game in which one gets better by killing LOTs of things (and taking their stuff)? I recall a commentary by one of the Stargate Atlantis writers about how hard it was to come up with a recurring foe that was dangerous enough to be a threat but dumb enough to be defeated week after week. And that seems to be the Orc’s purpose — to be the default bad guy slain because someone needs to level up this session.

    For a gaming hut — what if RPGs didn’t grow out of wargaming. What if something narrative-oriented like Gumshoe or FATE had come first?

  8. Cambias says:

    Which is really more repellent, morally: killing stereotypical orcs who are just a “bad guy” race, or killing orcs who are developed as nuanced individual characters?

    And which is worse: having characters playing out fantasy adventures of killing nonhuman “bad guy” species like Orcs, or playing out adventures in which they fight and kill other humans (of whatever color)?

    Frankly, I think roleplaying gamers assume they are vastly more significant and influential than they are. Whether or not a pack of pasty teenagers run a game about slaughtering Orcs will have little effect on real-world racial interactions.

  9. Judd M. Goswick says:

    Like that podcast, guys, but would love to see the focus move back to gaming more than the Crosstalk-like political discussion to which it is veering. It is particularly galling considering the feeling I get while listening that all “bad” gaming behavior seems to be blamed on those rascally Republicans… Racism isn’t a matter of political parties – it is a social issue. The best and brightest of both the Left and the Right would agree it has no place in modern life.

    That being said, I have always made my “orcs”, which are almost never actually orcs, by taking a nationality or faction that it is always easy to engage in battle with. Like the Nazis in WWII or, to avoid the racial tie-in, the Russians during the Cold War they are the enemy because of what they believe and do than of what their ethnic composition is composed.

    Most fantastic fiction mixes thew two concepts (the Green and Red Martians in Barsoom, for example) in a manner that is confusing to a reader who is looking to evaluate the political fairness of a narrative (and who wouldn’t be when reading for escapist pleasure). I do agree that the creators of these works, and anyone doing some world-building, should be careful to keep in mind the veracity of the situation they are generating, subject to any supernatural or fantastic elements present.

    Creating a world free from the mistakes of the past is allowable, but maybe not as engaging as presenting them and dealing with them as a theme in play, if desired. Some groups may want to avoid such themes because they aren’t fun for them. For example, the discussion of these ideas in the introductory material in Spirit of the Century has several methods for dealing with those problematic issues from the Pulp Era.

    I remember playing a Southron in a LotR game and the GM making the racism of the Northerners so ridiculous, I hated playing the character. I wanted to be the fish out of water guy with interesting culture clashes and the GM wanted me to be the Arabic Mr. Tibbs, it seemed.

    Sorry so long…

    tl:dr – More Gaming, less Left/Right and American/Everyone Else debate, Race and Enemies a complex issue and sometimes not fun to play about.

  10. Lisa Padol says:

    I don’t generally play in games with orcs, but I do play a lot of Lovecraftian RPGs. For me, then, the equivalent to the Orc Question is usually the Deep Ones Question.

    After all, the Deep Ones Want Our Women and all that, and Everyone Knows that Deep One-Human hybrids will become full Deep Ones, regardless of their desires in the matter. A lot of scenarios look at this situation, and, while I think the authors do not blind themselves to the racism of the mythos, if one takes it as a starting point, can one have good Deep Ones? Or is that the same kind of abomination that Ken considers the Good Vampire of Night’s Black Agents to be? To what degree does one have to consider the question of the Evil Race in these two games / genres?

    Also, I highly recommend Andy Duncan’s short story, “Senator Bilbo”.

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