Monday, January 6, 2020

Zelazny Hypotheticals

I began role-playing in the early 80s, just like those Stranger Things kids. I’m probably more familiar with the RPGs of the 90s, for the few years I spent working in a comic book store. The most popular game of that era was not Dungeons & Dragons, but White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade and its associated spin-offs. Seen through the eyes of the adult, the entire setting is the very epitome of cringeworthy pretentiousness.

 And yet…I can’t bring myself to sneer at its horde of befanged arrested adolescent katana/trenchcoat murderhobos, because I really do think it came from a place of sincerity for its creators (at first, at least) and they built a unified mythology for the modern world.

 Each of the game lines came with a built-in expiration date, because each group of monster characters was fighting a losing battle against a greater evil, and one of the game designers came out and said something along the lines of, “You can’t say the world is ending for fifteen years and not deliver.”

And, yeah, on one level it was a way to sell more books, but there’s a certain satisfaction of ending a campaign in style. Werewolf: The Apocalypse did it best. I was never the biggest fan of the line. The veneer that the characters were anything other than meatgrinders with legs (the legs were also meatgrinders. With meatgrinders of their own. It was meatgrinders all the way down) seemed thinnest here, and the pretention at its zenith. You’re a bunch of genocidal furries, with more than a little bit of cultural appropriation thrown in for flavor. But there was something about the way its apocalypse scenario was written.

One chapter holds a particular wealth of possibilities, offering an explanation of why each of the game’s tribes of werewolves could be the baddies in the end. Something about that approach fascinated me, I think because the authors understood the nuances of how a characteristic that could be a virtue in moderation could become a vice in its extreme or if placed in a different context. Which brings me to the point of this post.

I do enjoy What If? speculation about works I enjoy. It’s part of the fun of being a fan! To that end I’m going to engage in a bit of speculation along these lines in a series of posts, asking in turn, “What if Benedict/Fiona/Corwin/Prince or Princess X had been the villain of the Corwin Chronicles?”

I’ll do my best to stick to a schedule, one post a week in the series on Monday evening, starting with “What if Random had been the villain of the Corwin Chronicles?”