Sunday, January 29, 2017

GM Philosophy: Character Is King

I want to expand on a concept I’ve touched on before: namely, the idea that the “object” of a D&D game (or any PnP RPG) is to tell a compelling story.  Without rehashing too much of the “why” that is, I’ll just say that the fact that I can meet anyone from any walk of life, in any situation, and, if that person also has played D&D before, we will instantly start swapping cool stories about games we were in ... that’s the magic of D&D right there, in a nutshell.  The stories you forge when you roleplay are epic, magical, intense, and, amazingly, better than anything you’ve ever read, or seen, or heard.

The reason for this is simple: when a group of friends sits down at the table to play, we’re all bringing worlds of experience to bear on the problem of how to tell the greatest story imaginable.  Every fantasy book we’ve ever read, movie we’ve ever seen, videogame we’ve ever played—even pieces of art and songs slip in there.  Comic books, TV shows, fairy tales, YouTube videos ... all of it goes in the melting pot, and we all get to stand on the shoulders of giants and come up with something that is all of that and more: it is both derivative and original, it combines things that were never meant to be combined, and most of all it is intensely personal.  There is an inevitable us-ness that oozes out of our experiences and our dreams and our imaginations and indelibly stains the shared story that we create.  And that makes it something that you can never get anywhere else.  You may love the Lord of the Rings saga—no matter whether that means Peter Jackson’s 9-hour epic or the original half-million words of Tolkien—but you’d love it more if your best friend was Frodo, your cousin was Legolas, your coworkers were Merry and Pippin, and you were Aragorn.  By all the gods—old and new—you’d tell that story to anyone and everyone who would listen.  That would be legendary, by Crom.  That would be a holy grail, a dragon ball, a heron-marked blade, a glaive, a triforce.  That would be shiny.

So the principal idea of D&D, as far as I’m concerned, is that we’re all going to get together, and we’re going to tell a story.  And there is one simple rule for storytelling that I believe is paramount: character is king.  Not everyone agrees with me on this, but there are certainly plenty of famous authors (and even filmmakers) who concur.  We’ve all read books, or seen movies, or watched TV shows, where we just didn’t care about the characters.  No matter how interesting the plot may be, no matter how outrageous the situation or how detailed the setting, you’re never going to enjoy a story where you don’t give a crap if the characters live or die.  And, contrariwise, if you do care about the characters, then you’ll enjoy the story even if you could care less about the plot, or even the entire genre.  As a simple example, I don’t care for lawyers.  The whole premise of the courtroom drama I find overdone to the point of cliché, and it mostly bores me.  I never liked Perry Mason, I never liked Matlock, and I don’t watch Law & Order.*  I always thought A Few Good Men was overrated, and even the ultra-classic 12 Angry Men I could take or leave.  But I read John Grisham novels, and I watched every episode of The Good Wife.  Why?  Because the characters are interesting, and I care what happens to them.

So the number one thing we can do to make our D&D game the Most Interesting Story Ever Told is to start with interesting characters.  And the number thing we can do to make our characters interesting is to develop their backstory.  You need to think about where your character grew up, who their parents were, what are the things they do for fun.  You want to play a hulking barbarian, like Conan?  Great: why are they a hulking barbarian?  If you like Conan because of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, then you know that he was a hulking barbarian because of the years he spent pushing a giant wheel as a slave.  Which was after the whole having-his-entire-village-wiped-out-by-bad-guys thing and the whole having-his-parents-die-in-front-of-his-eyes-as-a-child thing.  This is a pretty great backstory,** and your character needs one just as good.  Or perhaps your character is a wizard, like Harry Potter, who has a pretty awesome backstory himself.  Or are you an archer, like Merida, an assassin, like Arya, or a kick-ass swordsman, like Cloud?  ‘Cause they all have pretty amazing backstories too.  You know why Merida uses a bow, you know why Arya worships the god of death, and you know why Cloud carries that big honkin’ sword.  Shouldn’t you know why your character is who they are?

And not only does a properly fleshed-out backstory make your character more real, and therefore more interesting, but you may find that it also throws off story hooks like fireworks throw off sparks.  I already told the story of my middle child’s first character, and how we came up with a moderately complex backstory in a pretty short amount of time.  I also noted that, since the backstory included a missing, possibly captured, former teacher, there was every chance that, at some point in our campaign, we’re going to find that guy.  As Chekhov’s Gun reminds us, such plot elements need to be paid off later in the story, otherwise they’re pointless.  Here’s another story from my time as GM where a player brought me a backstory that ended up heavily influencing the action of the campaign.

In between 2e and 3e D&D, I ran a game where we mostly used D&D rules, but I threw out all restrictions.  You could combine any class features you wanted, play any combination of race and class ... anything.  My brother said he wanted to play an elven paladin, which was something the 2e rules forbade.  I said, sure, that sounds awesome.  He said, my character’s goal will be to serve the elven king.  Whoa, I replied, that may be a problem, because there is no elven king in this world.  See, I had already developed a whole new world where I wanted to play with some of the stereotypes of the standard Tolkien-derived races, and I had worked out racial backstories and cultures for everyone, and the elves, it turns out, had given up having kings about 5,000 years ago, for complex reasons involving war and magical artifacts and evil archmages and whatnot.  It was sort of crucial to the whole campaign, in fact.  So I wasn’t too keen on having to rework all that just to suit my brother’s character concept.  So I explained all that to him.  Fine, he said: my character’s mission then is to find the long-lost elven king.  Or his descendants, or whatever.  That will be my quest.  I said, what if there just isn’t anything to find?  My brother assured me that his character wasn’t the sort of person to give up a quest just because it was hopeless.  Which I found sort of endearing.  So I made my brother (and his companions) journey to one of the Great Cities, so they could do research at the Great Library of Baqai, and then go on a quest to get something to appease the thriddles,*** who were the only ones capable of navigating the massive stacks of books in the Great Library, and they produced a complex report on the royal elven lineage, which led the party to a strange hermit who seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of lost knowledge, who told them to be in a certain place at a certain phase of the moon, where they ran into a young elven maiden and her bodyguard being chased by a horde of zombies, and then our overeager elven paladin decided that she was the last remaining carrier of the royal bloodline, and we ended up following her around for months ...

So you can see how one little piece of backstory from a single character helped shape the whole campaign, and gave us dozens of great stories to tell about our adventures.  I could tell you stories like this all day: it happens in nearly every campaign.

This underscores the importance of spending enough time to create a real, believable character, with a history, and desires, and goals.  It takes a little extra time, sure, but it’s worth it.  Your D&D character is a superhero, and every superhero has to have an origin story.  You don’t even have to write it down—that’s probably the best option, but you don’t want to think of it as a homework assignment either.  So, if writing is not your thing, just tell it to me.  Draw a picture.  Make a YouTube video.  Whatever.  If you need help coming up with ideas, just sit down and chat with me and we’ll come up with something together.  It will be a small investment of time and effort, granted.  (And it’s because of this extra time and effort that I’m asking of my players that I don’t kill characters.)  But your time and patience will be rewarded.  With an amazing story that you’ll want to tell all your friends about.  And it’ll be all the better because every character in it will be a real, interesting person ... and because one of those people is you.


* Well, except for Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but that’s mainly because they’re never actually in the courtroom in that one.  Also: Vincent D’Onofrio.  Everything is better with Vincent D’Onofrio.

** Even if it doesn’t appeal to fans of the original character as envisioned by creator Robert E. Howard.  (Who was once played by Vincent D’Onofrio.  See?  I told you everything was better with Vincent D’Onofrio.)

*** A thriddle is a race that I stole from the Skyrealms of Jorune RPG.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A sequence of happenstances which were less than fortunate

I was doing really well there for a while.  I even got ahead on the blog posts and was scheduling them in the future.  Just for a few weeks, but still.

This week, it has all fallen apart.  A number of issues over the past couple of weeks, mostly personal ones, have conspired to blow through my backlog of posts and put me back on my more typical, oh-shit-I-have-to-do-a-blog-post-today sort of a schedule.  I even had one started already for this week, but I’m seeing now that there’s really no way I’m going to finish it.  So I’ll work on it tomorrow, or the next day, and have it up for you next week instead.

Sorry for the delay.  But, as I’ve noted before, the Internet is a big place.  I’m sure you can find something else to amuse you.  (May I suggest Netflix’s new version of A Series of Unfortunate Events, perhaps?  It really is quite good.)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Paradoxically Sized World IV

"Darkness to the Light"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

Kicking off yet another volume of music both from and inspired by LittleBigPlanet, we have my middle child’s all-time favorite LBP song: “Race Against the Sunset,” by Lullatone.  It is truly an awesome tune, found right in the “Prologue” area of LBP3, and it always puts me in a Paradoxically Sized World sort of mood.  I’ve paired it here with a non-LBP track from Shugo Tokumaru, “Platform,” as sort of a mirror of the opening for Paradoxically Sized World III.1  Together they make about 3½ minutes of an excellent volume opener.

Also in the back for more category is one of my favorite electronica artists Ugress, who finally shows up with an actual tune used by the game: “Ghost Von Frost,” which was used in the PS Vita version.  Similarly, we saw Pantha du Prince last time, but this time we get to hear his tune which was actually used in the game, “Photon.”  Likewise Cinnamon Chasers, who give us “Luv Deluxe” (both tunes are from LBP3).  Contrariwise, last time we saw Tashaki Miyaki,2 it was their LBP-used music, whereas now we’re straying from that.  Strangely, it’s yet another late-fifties remake, this time “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” originally by the Everly Brothers.  Tashaki Miyaki give it their inimitable stamp, of course, which makes it fit in nicely here.

It also kicks off a little 3-song run of 50s/60s-inspired music, including “Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider Go!!!” from Trentemøller and “Bombora” by the Atlantics.  Trentemøller is yet another band I would have never heard of if not for LittleBigPlanet, although by this point we seen them on several other mixes.3  But this track from LBP2 was my official introduction to them, and I’m so glad I found them.  The Atlantics, on the other hand, are a 60s surf-rock band from Australia.  “Bombora” was a major surf-rock hit for them in 1963, although this is their 1999 remake, which I find to be a bit fuller and more echoey, which you really want in a surf-rock classic, in my opinion.  This version was also the one used by LBP, for its PSP version.

Speaking of runs, right in the middle of this volume there’s a pretty kick-ass run of worldmusic: from the Indian feel of Beth Quist’s “Om Asatoma Sad Gamaya” (which also provides the volume title), to the Caribbean vibe of Thievery Corporation, out to the Far East for a touch of Japan from KOAN Sound, then circling back to the Middle Eastern strains of Falik, another band I discovered via Magnatune.4  Nice little world tour, if I do say so myself.

Other tunes that actually come from the franchise include Gary Numan’s “Trois Gymnopedies,” a mellow, almost spooky, piece of new-wave electronica from before there really was electronica, which is used for the “Bear with Us” level in LBP3.  (Fun fact: although Numan’s version is from his 1980 album Telekon, the original Gymnopédies are 3 works by Erik Satie first published in 1888.  See also Wikipedia.)  Plus we also have “A Go Go” by Trüby Trio, which is one of those songs quite rightly dubbed an “earworm.”  It’s a catchy little piece of bossa-nova-inflected jazz from a German band who specialize in a style called “broken beat”.5  Another catchy little tune is from Combustible Edison, another of those bands we keep seeing turn up here despite the fact that they’ve never been officially used in an LBP game, more’s the pity.  “Alright, Already” is one of those tunes that just makes your head bop, whether you want it to or not, and keeps it under 3 minutes so as not to wear out its welcome.

As always, I’ve added a note for each track used in a LittleBigPlanet game: either 1, 2, 3, PSP, PSV, or Kart.  If a track doesn’t have a note, it isn’t from an LBP game (that I know of).

Paradoxically Sized World IV
[ Darkness to the Light ]

“Race Against the Sunset” by Lullatone, off Summer Songs [EP]

“Platform” by Shugo Tokumaru, off Port Entropy
“Trois Gymnopedies (first movement)” by Gary Numan, off Telekon 

“A Fifth of Beethoven” by The Walter Murphy Band [Single]

“Ghost Von Frost” by Ugress, off Collectronics 

“Om Asatoma Sad Gamaya” by Beth Quist, off Silver
“Mandala” by Thievery Corporation, off Radio Retaliation
“Introvert” by KOAN Sound, off The Adventures of Mr. Fox 

“Xanthanon” by Falik, off Streaks and Strokes 6
“Photon” by Pantha du Prince, off Elements of Light 

“Alright, Already” by Combustible Edison, off Schizophonic!
“Luv Deluxe” by Cinnamon Chasers, off A Million Miles from Home 

“All I Have to Do Is Dream” by Tashaki Miyaki, off Under Cover [Covers]
“Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider Go!!!” by Trentemøller, off Into the Great Wide Yonder 

“Bombora” by The Atlantics [Single]

“4 Ton Mantis” by Amon Tobin, off Supermodified
“A Go Go” by Trüby Trio [Single]

“Subterra” by Saru, off Downtempo Dojo
“Space Suit” by They Might Be Giants, off Apollo 18
Total:  19 tracks,  72:55

There are very few songs in the LBP franchise that I’ve heard before (which is one of the reasons I like to use it as a music discovery service as much as a videogame), and most of those I have heard, I haven’t heard the version that LBP uses.  One of the exceptions to that rule is “A Fifth of Beethoven,” by the Walter Murphy Band.  This was a #1 hit in 1976,7 and I’m just old enough to remember hearing it somewhat ubiquitously around that time.  Wikipedia describes it as a “disco instrumental” version of Beethoven’s famous symphony, but I never thought of it as disco.  It’s just pretty cool.  I was a bit surprised to hear it used in LBP (right in the first world of LBP2, “Da Vinci’s Hideout”), but now I have difficulty thinking of it in any other way.  This song is also noticeable for almost certainly being the first time I ever heard a vibraslap.8

And, while I’m not sure there’s anything truly unexpected here, I could point to our last 3 tracks, all from the closing tracks of the volume.  First we have “4 Ton Mantis” by Amon Tobin, a Brazilian sound designer who has never actually been featured in LBP, but probably should be.  This track of his is a little mechanical, a little insistent, and a little ambient all at once, and I think you’ll really dig it.  That leads us into “A Go Go,” and thence into “Subterra,” by Saru.  Saru, a.k.a. LA-based producer and DJ Steve Branson, is one of those bands that I no longer have any idea how I managed to stumble across, and he meets my critera for “really obscure artist,” but his album Downtempo Dojo is not to be missed.  And, to close us out, a snippet of a song from those masters of song snippets, They Might Be Giants.  I just felt like “Subterra” has such a strong sci-fi vibe, for some reason, that I couldn’t imagine anything other than TMBG’s “Space Suit” following it.9  Plus it makes an awsome way to close out the volume.

Next time, we’ll put on our black lipstick and silver jewelry and blend into the night.


1 Where, you may recall, I used a Tokumaru tune (“Rum Hee”) that was from the game (also from LBP3’s “Prologue,” coincidentally) paired with a Lullatone tune (“Hot Sand”) that wasn’t.
2 Meaning, last time we saw them on this mix, which was last volume.  We also saw them on Darkling Embrace I.
3 Specifically, Darkling Embrace I and Smokelit Flashback V.
4 “Another” being a word which here means “in addition to Beth Quist.”  See Rose-Coloured Brainpan for more info on Magnatune.
5 Which I have to confess I had never heard of before I started doing research for this blog post.
6 This album seems to have utterly disappeared from the Internet, for some bizarre reason.  The only link I could find to throw you was this one, which goes to a YouTube video of the whole album, which makes it somewhat difficult to extract just the song (although, if you want to try, it’s between roughly 52:08 and 58:03 in the “video”).  The only other place I know of that you can find this particular track is on SoundClick.
7 Just for a week.  But still.
8 Other notable songs to include the vibraslap are “No One in This World” by Kutiman, which we saw on Smokelit Flashback IV, and “Would?” by Alice in Chains, which will see on another mix in the fullness of time.
9 Although I wrestled with this decision, because “Space Suit” makes an excellent bridge, and I already had it slotted for another mix, which we shall also come to in the fullness of time.  But when something’s perfect, you roll with it.  So here it is.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

GM Philosophy: Death or Consequences

Historically, D&D has been both too indulgent and too heavy-handed in its approach to being wounded in combat.  On the one hand, magical healing is cheap and easy, and fixes everything.  There is very little that can happen to you in a typical D&D combat that can’t be fixed by the first-level healing abilities of a cleric, druid, or paladin (from 2e onwards), or even a bard (starting in 3e).  Sure, cure light wounds can’t fix being poisoned, or blinded, but, then again, how often do those things come up in combat?  There isn’t much restriction in saying that magical healing can’t regrow a lost limb if there’s no way to actually lose the limb in combat in the first place ... and there isn’t, in most editions of the game.  You can be at zero hit points—which is the fantasy RPG equivalent of flatlining—and receive magical healing, and not only are you magically alive again, but you immediately leap up and start hacking monsters like nothing ever happened.  No recovery period, no lingering weakness, just bam! you’re once again a killing machine at top efficiency.

On the other hand, if by some mischance you do manage to die, then you’re just boned.  Sure, there’s raise dead and similar spells to allow characters to ignore even the worst possible outcome of being wounded, but those are very high-level spells, with the net effect that, by the time you can cast them, you probably don’t need them any more.  Your biggest chance of dying is when you’re low-level, when neither you nor anyone in your party is even close to being able to cast raise dead (or resurrection, or restoration, or regeneration, or even reincarnation, which is about as lame a death-defying “R” spell as there is).  Of course, you could hire some high-level cleric to cast it for you, but that requires a lot of gold ... which, again, at low levels you’re unlikely to possess.  And, even if your party has the cash, they’ve still got to stop what they’re doing, perhaps right in the middle of fighting their way through the dungeon to the ultimate boss fight, battle their way back out to the surface (carrying your lifeless corpse), and then trek back to town, lay out a huge wad of gold pieces, and finally start all over again.  And historically it has been ridiculously easy to die in D&D: Gygaxian lore is full of stories of instant death for characters and potentially apocryphal quotes like “I can’t tell you how you died, because your next character might enter this room too.”

So, overall, traditional D&D has had no consequences for getting hurt, until you’re dead, at which point the consequences are overwhelming.  And recent editions haven’t improved the situation.  Oh, sure: they’ve attempted to address problem #2 by making it harder to die.  Nowadays, instead of being dead as soon as you get to 0 hit points, you’re only dying at that point (to steal a phrase, you’re only mostly dead), and, depending on which edition we’re talking about, it can be anywhere from trivial to convoluted to slip over to the other side.  But this doesn’t really address problem #2: it only postpones it.  It makes death a bit less likely, but it’s still exactly as much of a pain in the ass when it finally does happen.  And their solution to problem #1 is to put their fingers in their ears and repeat “there is no problem!” over and over until we almost believe it.

What it all comes down to is consequences.  If you play a roleplaying game where there is no possibility of dying, there is nothing at stake.  The risks are not real, and you have no motivation to play it smart, to avoid rushing into danger, to occasionally decide to back down and live to fight another day.  Because you know you’ll live today.  I had a game once where I (as the GM) described hordes of goblins guarding an objective, and my players said, “okay, we’ll just go in there and kill them all.”  Because they knew they could, and they knew it might take more rounds than the typical combat, but so what?  Eventually they would prevail, because the goblins couldn’t possibly kill them.  They’re goblins, after all.  What’s the worst they could do?  “They’d have to crit me just to hit me,” one of my mathier players pointed out.  “So one in 20 will do a little damage.  There’s, what? a hundred of them?  So about 5 of ’em will do a little damage.  I’ve got dozens of hit points and the cleric could heal me if I needed it, which I won’t.  In fact, let me save you a bit of trouble and I’ll work out exactly how many of them I can kill every round, so that way you’ll know exactly how many rounds before they’re all dead.”  Back of the envelope calculations does not an epic battle make, and I wasn’t even looking for an epic battle.  I just wanted them to solve a problem without slaughtering all the natives for once.

So there must be consequences.  Sometimes you’ll read articles on the Internet about how D&D was actually better when you could die at the drop of a hat.  These are good articles, by knowledgeable, erudite players.  But I think they miss the point.  What they’re really saying is that the game is no good if there aren’t consequences.  And I don’t disagree with that at all.

But is death the only possible consequence? the only consequence of consequence?  You see, there’s a pretty big problem with death: creating a new character is a huge investment of time and effort.  And I personally, as a GM, have already talked about why I play D&D and my philosophy that an RPG is a shared story, and, as in any story, character is king.  So I not only want my players to put the normal amount of effort into creating their characters—no shortcuts or pregens or any of that nonsense—I actually want them to put in extra effort.  I want rich, detailed characters that have extensive backstories.  If I then make it easy for those characers to get blasted into goo by the whim of the dice, what kind of an asshole does that make me?

So there has to be something better.  There have to be consequences, but death is too much.  So the pledge I make my players is, I will not kill your character, unless you agree to it.  We are after all telling a story, and sometimes the characters in a story die, and that’s right, and proper.  If you think your character should die to advance the story, or you just want to try a new character and want to have your existing character go out in a blaze of glory, I’m all for that.  We’ll give them an absolutely glorious death.  But, barring that, I promise you that I won’t kill your character.

But I also promise you that, if you are reckless, or careless, or sometimes just because the dice gods are cruel, there will be consequences.  Every time you hit 0 hit points, there will be a lasting repercussion, and it will not go away just because the party cleric tossed a few healing spells your way.  Maybe it will go away on its own (eventually), or maybe you can undergo a quest to get it sorted, or maybe you’ll just be stuck with it forever ... disabilities make for fantastic roleplaying opportunities, after all.  What sort of consequences are we talking about?  Oh, the possibilities are inifinite.  You could lose a finger.  Or a hand.  Or an arm.  Or a leg, or an eye, or a spleen.  You could be blinded, deafened, lamed, or paralyzed from the waist down.  You could be scarred or burned horribly and have your charisma impacted.  You could suffer a concussion and have your intelligence lowered.  You could go into a coma and wake up days, weeks, or months later ... possibly with a crippling new phobia.  You could be driven partially or completely insane in very creative ways.  You could stub your toe, or you could have to be carried around on a travois by your companions and fed soft foods through a straw.  Don’t ever imagine that there are not fates worse than death.  (For more great ideas on terrible things a GM can do to players, check out this article from Dice of Doom.)

Which is not to say that I want all my players to be living in constant fear.  But a little bit of fear is healthy.  When I tell you “there’s a hundred goblins surrounding the encampment; how will you get in?”, you do not want to tell me that you’re going to hack your way through.  Trust me: this does not end well for you.  And, hey: if you get your hand lopped off, you can always jam on a stylish hook.  Also, an eyepatch makes a lovely fashion accessory.  Or, hell: jam a magical gem into that empty eye socket and scare the living daylights out of any low-level foes you happen to meet.  The possibilities are endless.  So, to the question at hand, I say forget death: I choose consequences.

Insert evil laugh here.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Fresh Start

One year ago I told you to have a wonderful 2016.  However, you did not listen to me.  You had a crappy 2016: you let Prince die, and you let David Bowie die, and you let Leonard Cohen die, and you let George Michael die, and you let Carrie Fisher and her mother die, for crying out loud, and you tried to reroute an oil pipeline through sacred Native American lands, and you broke up a nearly-half-century-old agreement while simultaneously depriving the European Union of half its military, and you completely destroyed the third oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, and you let the police kill somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand people, and, worst of all, you elected a sleazy pussy-grabber with ties to white supremacy and the Russian oligarchy to the post which is still, for just a bit longer, considered to be the most powerful in the world.  So, fuck you guys.

I will not tell you to have a wonderful 2017.  I’m not sure 2017 is capable of being wondeful at this point.  I’ll just advise you to have a better 2017 than you did a 2016, because, if it gets any worse, I may have to just sit on the sofa and consume beer and Cheetos until the end finally comes for me.  Either that or I’m gonna hafta start researching how to create the virus which will start the zombie apocalypse, ’cause the point at which The Walking Dead starts looking better than the real world ... that’s some fucked up shit.

So try to calm down a bit for this year, wouldja?  Let’s all just chill out a bit and see if 2017 can be a bit more relaxing, a bit less fatal, and feature signficantly less misogyny and racism.  I’m setting my expectations fairly low here.  Please don’t disappoint me.