Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Sunday Slush Pile 19.2.17

The Sunday Slush Pile is a roundup of things I’ve listened to, read, watched, scoured the globe for, met eyes with across a crowded room or glimpsed in a darkened alleyway – those things that I think are eminently D&Dable. I’ll share this potent ideas soup with the rest of you every Sunday to give you ideas for settings, encounters and characters. 

Dune (1985)
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It's some weird synthesis of acid-trip and utter kitsch, but the kaleidoscopic disaster that unfolds  is weirdly watchable. I've read Dune (1965), and was therefore in the privileged position of translating to my fellow viewers - like a time traveller to an archaeologist - the narrative behind all the spectacle. 
In terms of inspiration this is hearty stuff: David Lynch's aesthetic direction manages to combine a BDSM riff on Nostromo for the Harkonnens with Kaiser Wilhelm meets Flash Gordon for the Padishah Emperor. Its all so rich in implied meanings and bizarre power relationships and a kitchen-sink approach that it is valuable brain-food for any setting. I think the central take-home is that despite the innate silliness of sandworms and spice and space-travel the narrative is po-faced with the power-relationships and character dynamics that stem from it. Be thus in your RPG settings. 

There's also some brilliant (if melodramatic) villainy in the character of Baron Harkonnen. He combines a repulsive, vengeful, grasping body horror with sexual perversion and body horror. If your RPG villains are anything like the Baron, your players will know to hate them. 


Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947 by Christopher Clark. 
This is not an easy read. The tangled history of the Prussian Reich has no room for coffee table books, and almost everyone is called Frederick or William or occasionally, for novelty, Frederick-William.  It tells the story in rough chronological order of Prussia from a backwater Kingdom on the periphery of Europe to the villainy of the Nazi empire. Having loved Christopher Clark's Sleepwalkers, I'm glad he's maintained the humanising microscopic interludes to the vast and soaring epic that is a historical narrative. The cast - which includes luminaries like Frederick the Great and Bismarck alongside some fascinating twenty-page digressions on the politics of grumpy Calvinists at the University of Heidelberg - is rich in human drama interposed with the innate stiffness of the average Prussian.

From a D&D perspective, it is again rich in mind-food for villainy. Clark's descriptions of the Freikorp's hyper-masculine and deliberate cult-like fetishisation of violence is Lawful Evil as fuck. The toxic ideology that willingly embraces devotion to a state or a throne - even an empty one - over all considerations of morality would be a perfect match for an RPG villain. 
Somewhere in the Freikorps is a  Paladin of Vengeance itching to get out. This captures smart, psychopathic, amoral evil like nothing else. 


A Gladiatorial Arena where Humans fought Dinosaurs and Giants.
Creationists, eh? 

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