Wednesday, 30 August 2017

[REVIEW] Deep Carbon Observatory

[REVIEW] Deep Carbon Observatory (2015)
by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess
Self-published

Deep, dark, carboniferous
Deep Carbon Observatory describes a journey through a land flooded and devastated by a natural and magical catastrophe, progressing from the human fallout in a coastal town and the surrounding countryside to the catastrophe site, then even stranger landscapes leading to a very old, very alien place revealed by the receding waters of a massive, ancient reservoir built by an extinct civilisation. Half Lovecraft, half Nausicaa and half Apocalypse Now, it delves into the heart of darkness, first within humans, then within increasingly more inhuman realms.

The module is a guaranteed campaign changer. The themes and revelations – which are very Lovecraftian without actually reusing Lovecraft’s stories or the Mythos – would upend any mediaeval fantasy campaign world, and aside from having severe consequences even beyond the cataclysmic destruction of the adventure area, put everything known about the setting in a new perspective. Suddenly, everything is different, and a lot of things you thought significant or personally important has been revealed to matter very little. Like Death Frost Doom, Deep Carbon Observatory would end as many campaigns as it would launch. Is this a bug or a feature? You will have to decide, and you’d better do it in advance. But if you go in, it will be memorable, although not necessarily in a way you’ll like.

Let’s make this abundantly clear: it is misery tourism pure and simple. Everything and everyone in the module is dead, dying, or at the very least going through a seriously bad phase. There is nothing the characters or the players can do to undo the catastrophe, very little to make the local situation measurably better, and absolutely categorically firmly nothing to alter whatever they discover about their world at the eponymous Observatory. Everything is relentlessly negative and depressive, sometimes to the extent it feels petty on the “unbelievably ancient man kept hideously alive by a dark device” level (or my personal favourite, “3d6 women lounge here, made of spikes”, which, to its credit, made me laugh). Sometimes it is funny in a wry way (“A Biopsy of the Tarresque [sic] – It didn’t go well”), but more often than not, it is just negative negative.

I don’t want to dwell too long on the ethics of fictional worlds, but there is something about this which bothers me on a personal level. It bothered me in the otherwise excellent Carcosa, and it bothers me in the premise and details of this module too. So many evils are visited on the hapless residents of this little corner of this fantasy world I don’t even know about that it somehow feels unjust. Of course, the existence of evil is the wellspring of adventure, but can you really make a difference at all? And are you in the wrong for exploiting their suffering for vicarious entertainment? Running the adventure, the players (and their characters) are faced with choices which test their morality to the limits. They can’t save and help everyone, and their actions are liable to result in even more evil than they started with – with inaction perhaps even worse. They will dirty their hands whether they become involved with the area’s kill-or-be-killed struggles, or leave it to burn and focus on their personal interests. Some will find that interesting. I’d probably just throw up my hands and find a good, stiff drink. This is personal, unenforced opinion: I don’t really want to play or run this adventure, but you might.

Then again...
(found on the Ten Foot Polemic blog)
Then again, this is also an imaginative, fantastic adventure, one of the best about going into a strange and forbidding place full of things which will eat your face. You get to feel properly out of your depth, and that’s a rare feeling in RPGs (again, Carcosa did it, although in a completely different way). It is a proper, epic journey “up the river” (you could also say up shit creek), encountering weirder and weirder things as you progress. From disaster-struck human lands, you venture into a forbidden place governed by the dead, insects and fish, the fungal and the mineral realm, and things beyond the ken of humanity. Things get less and less recognisable, and by the time you are at your destination, it is like that expedition into the heart of R’lyeh, with Great Cthulhu looming somewhere around the edges. There are odd technology-as-magic things to encounter; grandiose remains of destroyed or extinct cultures; and an underground storehouse of strange wonders that drives home how utterly alien this past is, and how little they had scratched the world’s surface. It is Lovecraft’s cosmic imagination without the overused and increasingly tiresome Cthulhu chic polluting the Internet, and that is a welcome sight.

This imagination is also in evidence in the individual pieces that make up the module. There is probably not one encounter, NPC or item that doesn’t have a twist of some kind. It is all new – some sort of D&D in new clothes, or perhaps D&D visited by Geoffrey McKinney’s vision of Gamma World (see the post at Sep 22, 2006 5:50 pm or this one on human insignificance). They are little vignettes, but they fit together into a coherent whole. There is an evident interest in geology and natural sciences; a rarity in adventure design, which is used to develop rather imaginative encounters. If you like geology and think that book on minerals would make for a good Monster Manual, this is your module. I loved the geo-samples room, which is ridiculous, bizarre, and hilariously funny.

Deep Carbon Observatory is also fairly interactive (with slight problems): you can experiment with things, learn a little bit about them, and taken together, they work well as an adventure (which not all visionary products do). Although the nature of the upriver journey makes the affair mostly linear, there are enough decision points and dynamic elements (like a rival band of adventurers/assassins, and a “what happens if the PCs do nothing” section) to allow for variation and player engagement (although the decisions don’t truly make much of a difference in the long term). And of course, the Observatory is a very interesting dungeon on its own, presented from a cross-section cutout perspective, and describing 44 rooms filled with wondrous, sometimes incredibly dangerous junk (it is the rare example of the cabinet contents dungeon which actually works). Together with the 40 overland encounter areas, you have a lot of things to play with.

The text is mostly very well written. It never over-elaborates on superfluous details, and often manages to capture the gist of things with excellently chosen phrases. A formerly flooded valley, now revealed by the breakage of a monumental dam, has a floor like “one blue-grey bacterial mat”, or “rough-textured semi-flesh”. The spike women, actually a group of salt dryads have “hearts of black diamond”, “set within the chest like jewels”. The module crams a generous amount of material into a 86-page digest-sized booklet, sometimes communicating its ideas through terse descriptions, sometimes the implications which may develop from the encounter, and the occasional random table (these are uniformly excellent). The sketchlike art by Scrap Princess is a good accompaniment to the text. It works as illustration, and it works as something evoking a certain mood. It is good art in much the same way Erol Otus is good art.

I like the way the adventure is presented. Although it practically invites endless blather about which-ancient-civilisation-did-what-and-why, it doesn’t beat around the bush, and doesn’t even have the obligatory wasted pages on the “adventure background” (something dreadful has happened, now do something about it) or the “adventure hooks” (something dreadful has happened, now do something about it) – it starts in medias res, and proceeds with the action until it is over. Everything is in the context of an adventure, and almost everything gets as much detail as it needs to make sense of it. For dealing in such esoteric subjects, Deep Carbon Observatory is surprisingly straightforward, and its brevity makes it very GM-friendly.

It doesn’t always work. Beyond the misery tourism aspect, I have the suspicion a lot of the content and the tangents will never see the light of actual play; not in a campaign, and certainly not in a one-shot, where a lot of the module will amount to a weird inscrutable dungeon with weird inscrutable treasure. It is a classic, although not severe example of “hidden depth”. Hidden depth is not entirely wasted content, since it informs the GM’s perspective, and makes for something which exists and operates by its own logic, but probably cannot be fully comprehended by the players. But in the observatory proper, there is sometimes too much of it.

And that’s Deep Carbon Observatory. You can probably run a very good, very miserable, very odd adventure with it if your players are into that sort of thing, or at the very least, you can annoy them with random interjections of “But is it art?

No playtesters were listed for this adventure.


Rating: **** / *****

37 comments:

  1. Nice review I liked DCO as well for many of the same reasons, but found the 'misery tourism' a nice break from the way more heroic adventures often treat moral decisions. To me DCO says "The world is full of terrible things, done by terrible people or just contingency - what will your characters do?"

    In DCO you can't stop everything bad, not really, and there is rarely a benefit to saving anyone - but it's doable. Being good and kind hearted is thankless and ultimately somewhat futile, but its about maintaining one's own humanity (just like real life).

    I compare this to the element in Dragonlance that made me the most queasy - the forced "goodness" of the plotted adventure that also casually and aggressively killed NPCs to avoid distraction from the plot. At one point the party comes across a wounded farmer in DL2 and he provides a plot coupon before dying - the author uses time to specifically say that the guy can't be saved, no matter what. Healing potions, clerical miracles - whatever sacrifices the PCs might make to save an unimportant NPC aren't allowed - because the scene works more efficiently without the distraction of a living 0-level survivor.

    To me that sort of oblivious black/white morality is far more offensive then DCO's fatalism which allows efforts to save people - PCs could do a lot of things. Seizing the pirate ship and using it to ferry refugees from the disaster zone immediately comes to mind. Yes at that point there are also negative consequences - but there's nothing to eliminate the possibility of player character sacrifice and altruism - it's just that flood victims have little an adventurer might want.

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    1. I think we are mostly in agreement - I was expressing a personal preference when discussing this aspect of the module, and that shouldn't dissuade anyone from running or playing it.

      Still, I think there is more to it than personal taste. In practice, most people are not prepared to deal with similar moral problems within the context of RPGs, either because they lack the maturity to handle them properly, or they lack the will to engage with a genuinely bleak subject matter on the level it deserves.

      In our home games, the players can handle corrupt, violent and morally complex worlds just fine, but I'm not sure we'd do so well with something genuinely harrowing. I am not categorically against the subject matter, but tend to be more careful about it than we used to.

      I share your suspicions about Dragonlance's morality (which extends to a whole lot of post-cleanup TSR products). I instinctively identified it as fake when encountering it in my teens, and have found it distasteful ever since.

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  2. The fourth largest city in my country is underwater (there's your "flood"), and even while it is ongoing, a radical domestic terror supporter is trying to surreptitiously divert relief funds into her own political agenda, looters are disguising themselves as Coast Guard, other looters are firing on civilian rescue patrols, a major chemical plant blew up there and the owners, fire department and government said "It's going to blow up and there's no way we can stop it." An unqualified huckster now runs the most powerful government in the world, Kim Jong-il is preparing to play Russian Roulette with ICBMs, and those who know what to pay attention to are aware that there's about to be a major global financial disaster.

    Fuck this moral relativistic bullshit being plopped down into RPGs. I game so I don't have to deal with the fucking shit the actual real world takes on humanity daily. I can't say enough bad things about garbage like DCO and not slip over into an inchoate frothing rage, other than I wish shit like this didn't exist in my hobby at all ever and I wish the authors had taken up needlepoint or candlemaking or some such other thing instead. The things I have written might be *bland* but what would you rather eat: mayonnaise and baloney sandwiches or shit with glass shards in it on cardboard.

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    1. Yes, Delver, but how do you really feel? .)

      WRT DCO, it is a lot of things but not morally relativistic. It portrays a situation where (in my view, which doesn't seem to meet the author's) good is set up for failure, save for a few possible victories along the way. Par for course in tragedies, but not sure it makes for good gaming. Based on the things you like, I would not recommend this module to you.

      Know any people writing more heroic and less outlandish stuff lately? Let's ditch the baloney and settle for a good, honest backyard burger. (I really need to write that blog post about why "good vanilla" has to make a comeback.)

      (And funny you would mention a financial disaster. I am convinced it is coming; add together a tech bust, the facade economy in China and Europe, and whatever Goldman Sachs and the rest are up to, and there you have it. Please let me be wrong.)

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    2. Lately? No. But I also don't know of anyone making solid rock-blues albums. Doesn't mean I won't put Physical Graffiti on while drawing maps, though. (So to that end, going back to G/D/Q or the A series etc. for a while is *never* bad, is what I mean). I'm doing some stuff but 1, it's not ready yet; 2, it's not to everyone's tastes (I think you've seen the stuff I do, but I can honestly not recall if you have ever done reviews of it) and 3, I don't want to come over as that self aggrandizing. The KnKA crowd always puts out solid stuff just on the off chance you haven't played Pod Caverns etc.

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    3. I know them, but didn't review them because I have been focusing on recent stuff. I also avoided Pod-Caverns (which I own, have run, and like very much) because it is almost a modern classic in this small segment of the hobby - it needs no introduction.

      Looking at this year's batch of reviews, the two modules I'd unreservedly recommend to people who like the classics are The Tomb of the Sea Kings, and Secrets of the Wyrwoode. Both are K&K-affiliated projects, meaning I may actually be barking up the wrong tree.

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    4. Yes but you were supposed to once upon a time when they were new! HA!

      (Seriously even if you reviewed them "aside" and told me privately what you liked/disliked, it would be appreciated as I value your reviews.)

      TotSK and SotW are supposed to be quite good. I should have a look at them.

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  3. How feasible would it be to subvert this adventure to turn it into something actually heroic - like, say, by using higher-than-recommended-level characters who actually have the resources available to make a meaningful difference? Who aren't just powerless, passive shlubs observing the horror around them? This adventure as you (and others) have described it sounds like total juvenile-angst misery-tourism bullshit, but I'm wondering if someone so inclined could turn it on its head into something heroic despite its author's intentions.

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    1. GDQ-level characters, maybe. But I think it should be pretty clear from this review (and others) what this module tries to do, and why it won't appeal to a lot of people.

      I wouldn't characterise DCO as juvenile. Raggi's modules, absolutely. Venger Satanis, I can tell that by the ridiculous name. DCO, only rarely, and I'm pretty sure deliberately.

      Third, I sincerely believe the responsibility to write adventures with a more heroic tone and less outlandish style rests with the people who would like more adventures in that mould. Know any people like that?

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    2. Juvenile wasn't the right word. What I meant was more sophomoric or pretentious, as in an unwarranted affect of depth or seriousness. I was like that when I was younger (I think most smart kids are) but I eventually got over it, and realize how ridiculous and insufferable it was, and therefore have very little tolerance for it, especially from fellow adults.

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  4. I don't understand why RPGs stopped attracting your average, normal, garden-variety neighbor next door to participate when they could be spending their limited recreational time through this variety of escapism.

    To me this sort of thing is akin to the hot pepper enthusiasts, where within their clique it is nothing but a race to see how many scorching scovilles can be crammed into a plate of food. That few people outside the pepper-worshiping clique would find it palatable is not a concern.

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    1. I'm sure there have always been people with exotic tastes (and as EPT, Arduin and a few more games attest, they have been around since the beginning), but the Internet has allowed them to organise in ways which didn't exist before. In 1980-something, someone who liked EPT mostly had a choice between joining a regular AD&D game and not gaming, while today, they have the option to find like-minded EPT enthusiasts in their area, launch online games, or at least join a community where they can commiserate over the lack of good EPT games in their neighbourhood.

      This is also the reason many of us can play and discuss old-school games instead of RPGA-flavoured 5e (or in my case, 3.0 or worse, M.A.G.U.S).

      Then there is also the issue that the people who should be responsible for developing average, normal, garden-variety game materials have been asleep at the wheel lately, while people who like the exotic stuff have been enthusiastic, productive, and well organised. The Scoville-snorting communists are winning because they put up an effort.

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    2. Completely agree with the last bit. The contest goes to those who play.

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    3. Melan: "This is also the reason many of us can play and discuss old-school games instead of RPGA-flavoured 5e (or in my case, 3.0 or worse, M.A.G.U.S)."

      M.A.G.U.S. review when? [/troublemaker]

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    4. Soon!

      But M.A.G.U.S., as we all know, comes after Combat and Magic.

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    5. But it won the Award of the Association of English Dungeon Masters!...

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  5. The whole river part did nothing for me, so I ditched it. The observatory itself was a blast and I liked it very much. Also, the players loved it. Nota Bene: We played it in our RIFTS campaign. So all the wild concepts that Patrick is throwing out there do not overpower the setting that the RIFTS Megaverse is. In fact, DCO is a very good fit for RIFTS, especially because it struggles with infinities and deep time and thereby allow to show the vastness that is the Palladium Megaverse.
    My only gripe with DCO is that sometimes his geology is overstepping the bounds of reason: a geological stratum made up from Vampire ashes implies such a large number of Vampires beyond any belief. Patrick is a language artist, not a numbers man, I got the feeling. Some Fermi estimation in the XKCD-style would have been in order.

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    1. Now that's something I approve of. Good job.

      I loved the strata of vampire ashes, swords, etc. That's imagery straight out of Moorcock's best work.

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  6. "it is misery tourism pure and simple"

    "It bothered me in the otherwise excellent Carcosa, and it bothers me in the premise and details of this module too. So many evils are visited on the hapless residents of this little corner of this fantasy world I don’t even know about that it somehow feels unjust. Of course, the existence of evil is the wellspring of adventure, but can you really make a difference at all?"

    ==

    As a review this is virtue signalling prudishness. If anything there is an unwelcome abundance of teen friendly, cartoon evil in D&D modules that comes across as childlike and Victorian. There is more evil in the gentle weird fiction of MR James, Blackwood and Machen than most of the osr. Don't use the word Evil if you merely mean Naughty Outlaw or 'has teeth' or 'moving statue'.

    The dullness in your approach to reviewing is that you can't treat modules like Carcosa and DCO, which are well written in a style appropriate to their theme, fantastic evil and disaster, as deservingly occupying or trying to describe a nook in the D&D atmosphere. You have to treat them as if every module must strive for a bland, generic, vanilla, child friendly moral tone. Particularly when writers, like Geoffrey and Patrick, are using language more effectively than anyone else in the osr they should be judged for their intent and effect, and not how they accord with the bog-standard.

    'misery tourism' - that is a lazy cliche and I detect in your case resentment if not a sort of moral frigidity which is as common as it is ridiculous in the D&D community.

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    1. Correction: it is not virtue signalling, but something I genuinely believe. I will accept prudishness as a compliment.

      Interesting, though, that just like the one I wrote about Carcosa, this is the review nobody liked - not its fans and not its enemies. I will accept that as a compliment, too. Thanks, folks.

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    2. If something ugly and/or vile is in an artists work, I always ask myself: "why did he put it in there?" For Street rap music, it is very clear: it's descriptive not normative. Thereby a mirror of society. Thereby generally justified.

      But in a D&D fictional work, the freedom given to the author let's you wonder much more whether the artists describes evil because he has seen and lived through it or because he fancies & fantasizes about it.

      For Patrick I have my own answer (I am a big fan!), but asking the question is neither dull nor useless.

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    3. Is the author of an heroic fantasy novel a hero? Is he somehow admirable because he 'fantasizes about it'?

      Moralizing about fiction and art is something people who want to tell you how great they are do. It is obvious they want to talk about themselves, particularly their virtue, and not the work.

      The valid approach to expressing a reaction to art is aesthetic. Presenting an evil woeful world is a difficult challenge for a writer. You need a solid grasp on language to sustain tone and need to be perceptive to describe convincing characters for the environment.

      An acceptable negative reaction to such work is 'I don't want to go there' but not 'I don't want to go there because ... [self-serving sunday school and pop-psychology moralizing]' .

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    4. mmm...I do not think you really grasp the European experience that is informing my viewpoint. You seem to be fighting your US-based culture war, which neither I, nor Melan, are a part of. I appreciate your intention of trying to root out phillistines who, in their okie-yokel way, reject anything non-bowlderized and thereby lose out on a big chunk of western culture and art. ANd that you reject self-proclaimed liberals who are basically coastal-yokels and just as limited in their understanding. In short: your kneejerk is uncalled for, our argument is different. Misery tourism is not always deep just because it annoys the people you do not like.

      Aesthetics are always morals, btw. At least according to my boys Kant and Schiller. Just so that you know: I do think Patrick and Zak describe a world of shit, but never do they force upon you to act like shit. Their despair and misery, especially with Patrick's work is always leaving the option on the side of the players what they do in face of misery around them. That is markedly different from a lot of the "death-metal-evul-will-win-muharhar"-darkness that some other LotFP products field. Anyhow, I looked around YDIS and KnK yesterday and THEIR kneejerk reaction to "darkness" is probably what you see in my or Melan's views. They are different, though.

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    5. Kent: Once again, I posted my personal, unenforced opinion about the module, described where my issues lay, and why that may or may not be relevant for you, the Other Reader. The review then goes on to discuss the aesthetics and craft of the module, noting its imagination, interactivity and mostly game-friendly focus, while criticising its problems with hidden depth. I am sure it gives a fair and sufficiently complete picture to let you, the Other Reader form a picture about it, and decide whether it is or isn't for you. Looking at the replies above yours, the review works. The rest is fighting against strawmen you erected yourself.

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    6. Settembrini, fair enough except for 'Aesthetics are always morals' but I don't want to go into that here.

      Melan, I was responding to other chap.

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  7. Well I'd argue that Carcosa is excellent. It feels like the brainchild of a lobotomized Sade and a narrow-minded 14-year old overflowing with hormones. It has its moments of visionary scenes, but mostly it's just downright dull ("30 Orange Men in a castle" and such). The cosmic dangers and the arbitrary nature of the blasphemous magic system are so exaggerated that it teeters over from being frightening to just comical. You have a ridicilously slight chance of summoning some unspeakable horror (which will probably devour you if you succeed) if you commit a string of terrible deeds, just for the sake of being oh-so-nasty. Has anyone tried using the setting exactly as it's written? And who's the juvenile here, really?

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  8. I have made a claim that language, control of language, is the most important means or the most imposing implement when trying to capture a fantasy environment. However, I find Game of Thrones unreadable junk in book form but compelling in TV form with no improvement in language but exceptional production and captivating performances from the actors.

    So maybe language is not the be all and end all. GRR Martin deserves credit as the originator of an excellent TV show, huge credit, even if the source material is rubbish. There is so much brilliant fantasy fiction out there, Gene Wolfe, Hodgson, Leiber, which is ignored by HBO, but perhaps hollywood producers know better.

    My point is that I hold firmly to the notion that language is the most important ingredient in fantasy creation, but I am puzzled by how convincing GoT is on TV.

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    1. I have to say it left me completely cold. Not even any antipathy - just the inability to draw and sustain my interest.

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    2. Yep, Im reviewing the 1st/2nd seasons and my opinion is lurching all over the place day by day depending on what mood I am in with a large dose of wishful thinking and benefit of the doubt going on. However good/ok the tv show is I am still puzzled by how much better it is than the execrable books.

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  9. GoT as a TV show is like a Dan Brown novel, or a bag of Chips: while you are at it, you want more, you do not stop, but when its done, it's just done and you move on. YMMV, of course.

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    1. Fast food is about right, tasty snacks with random sauce after a night out.

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    2. Interesting. This is also an accurate description of the countless swashbuckler films which populated TV in the 1980s; mostly good while they lasted, mostly not very memorable once they ended. If you watch a lot of them, you tend to notice the actors (look! It's Jean-Paul Belmondo!) more than the actual plots. The latter tend to be sufficiently interchangeable to take a character or plotline from one and drop it into another without anyone noticing. Then on the top you have Rinaldo Rinaldini der Räuberhauptmann, the best collection of adventure film clichés collected in one package.

      I suspect GoT fills the same general niche in the popular imagination, except for the modern fascination with dirt, porn, and torture (and its various combinations). It is historical fantasy instead of fantastic history because western culture has been conclusively severed from its historical traditions, and so on and so forth.

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    3. My interest in swashbuckling hasn't ventured beyond the Richard Lester Three & Four Musketeers movies, but I do really like those.

      "dirt, porn, and torture"

      Soft porn on TV seems a complete waste of time and money with so much porn readily available. This seems to be injected because it hasn't been done before and they can now get away with it and because it makes female characters more interesting in a world in which they would not be dramatically interesting at all.

      I could have done without the torture scenes in which are unearned by the scriptwriters, and while they can be shocking on a first viewing (will they - won't they) are cartoonish the second time around. I think there is a place for the depiction of torture in a history or narrative which focuses heavily on war, cruelty and violence, but it should be sparingly used if it is to have an effect, there should be an important plot/character need for it and it may be more powerful to suggest it than show it.

      I like the dirty fighters with their dirty faces, armour, words and outlook. That might be the core surviving achievement of the show that dirty fighters were presented in style.

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  10. All I know is that Settembrini, who is a snob with reservations about the mediocre Game of Thrones, has contempt for the Mentzer Basic D&D. This I know through a sententious compound of judgment, astrology and and odorous conflagration of unholy desert powders.

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  11. Carrying on the GoT commentary, it is a very topsy turvy affair with fluctuating directors. So you could condense GoT relying on specific directors/writers except for information which has been farmed out in intervening episodes. Weak episodes may have excellent performances from key actors or 6 minutes.

    I am beginning to think that the attractiveness of GoT lies in the high quality acting, and equally the seductive CGI landscapes and middle ages architecture. And not the plot. The acting will last. The CGI and the plot will not.

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    1. Collectively written works always have that problem unless a creator with a strong hand can keep both the writers and the producers committed to his vision. That doesn't happen often (the new Twin Peaks was an extreme outlier), and you end up with series which are all over the place.

      WRT the CGI landscapes, what I have seen is fairly good, without the uncanny valley of bad CGI, and using the locations effectively. However, it is still just fantastic realism, without any real otherworldly quality. Of course, that realism is precisely what GoT is going for, but that's part of the reason it doesn't interest me.

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  12. Im an old Twin Peaks fan, just season 1, but was disappointed with the latest offering, some excellent high points but too much inevitable dull for-TV padding. The BBC had it right, 6 episodes per season, no fat.

    I use this tool often for TV shows, and I noticed that the same director has 3 of the top 4 GoT episodes, notably with very good battle scenes.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944947/eprate

    ==otherworldly quality
    What films if any have successfully captured this for you? Isn't it a shame that At the Mountains of Madness hasn't been made into a movie yet. Off the top of my head, 2001 (with thanks to Ligeti), Whistle and I'll Come to you - 1968 J. Miller, Stalker 1979. Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot is one of the few horror films I like. I think the vampires are as impressive as Ive seen and the house is horrific.

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