Wednesday 11 October 2017

Train of Thought #3: The Silmarillion - World's Most Boring Book? + Air Wargames (Blood Red Skies)

I dug out the Silmarillion the other day. Am I the only person who thinks it is utter crap?

The local LoTR fans don't like my suggestion that the LoTR movies improve a LOT on the books, removing useless waffle (Tom Bombadil fans, avert your eyes) the only mis-steps being the casting of the Elijah Wood (everything he did, but his weird staring and whiney-ness in paricular) and changing things so the magic ghost army of the dead kinda automatically win for good (in a Deus Ex Machina which renders the heroism of Gondor/Rohan meaningless and makes Aragorn's lucky shortcut the pivotal point of the movie).

I'm sure they would not enjoy the suggestion that the Silmarillion is basically a RPG sourcebook: albeit an incredibly dull one, with probably less literacy merit (and that's a low bar to jump step over). If I was to compare it to any RPG book I own, for reading interest, the Silmarillion would be to the bottom every time.  I know Tolkien's books are innovative, and inspired much fantasy work etc etc: but you could make similar "innovative" claims about a Model T Ford. And I have no desire to own one of those over a modern car.

The Silmarillion is basically an extra-boring RPG manual.  Sometimes I hide from my family, perched on the porcelain throne, and secretly read.  After a chapter of the Silmarillion, I was inspired to actually get out and help my kids with their baths and do some mowing: the book made the tasks seem exciting in comparison.

As a pretentious uni student, I remember "liking" Silmarillion but that must have been to impress nerdy friends, surely.  It's just a bunch of notes about a fantasy world edited together in a respectful homage cash grab by his estate. Unlike Hobbit which attempts to be a narrative, and the LoTR which has vestiges of a coherent story, Silmarillion is just Tolkien rambling on about his personal fairyland at tedious length. It should have remained unpublished notes.  Oh well, at least it isn't as pretentiously crap as The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

Agh, mentioning that book has triggered me even worse. *takes a deep breath* time to change topic methinks

Air Wargames

A while back, I did an article where I basically said all air wargames are rubbish and tend to have advanced little in mechanics and style since the 1970s.  I've played a lot of War Thunder lately, and a few things stand out to me: energy management (trading height for speed and vice versa) and positioning vis-a-vis your opponent (such as horizontal turns bleeding off speed/energy in return for a firing solution) as well as general positioning - the ability to spot/ambush enemies and to have the awareness (and ability) ability to break away from disadvantagous fights.  

Anyway, I was looking at the free rules for Warlord's upcoming "Blood Red Skies" (which sounds more nautical to me for some reason: perhaps a homage to Crimson Skies?) by Andy Chambers (who I am convinced is the only ex-GW designer with any creativity at all.)  And the rules focus a lot on "advantage" which resonates with my PC gaming experiences.

Gaining the Advantage
There's a few things in Blood Red Skies that interests me: the core mechanic revolves around "advantage" which is a kinda aggregate abstract of a planes altitude AND energy state.  Planes are either "advantaged"  "neutral" or "disadvantaged."  Having an advantage means you go first, and only planes less advantaged than yourself can be shot down.  Advantage can be traded down or "burned" to increase speed or execute sharp turns.  You may even take an action to try to outmaneuver a nearby opponent (reduce their advantage level).  "Advantage" not only determines IF you can be hit, but also the effect: if a plane is hit, it loses an advantage level, and if it is already disadvantaged, is is destroyed.

Oh, and once a side suffers enough hits ("boom tokens") + kills equal to their aircraft  they lose the game as they break off  and run for home (again, an interesting abstraction, this time of damage/morale).

I'm not claiming that Blood Red Skies is the "next big thing" but I do feel more innovation than most aerial wargames sets which are usually rehashes of old rules from Avalon Hill boardgames - probably the most innovative rules I've seen since the incoherent but interesting Bag the Hun

Anyway, bed time.  My body is reminding me I don't recover from sport like I did in the olden days. 


  1. I hated the Sil when I was younger,re-read it and loved every second of it.

    To be fair, it was never really meant to be published in the state it was in.

  2. Well, buddy, you maybe are the only person who thinks that the Silmarillion is utter crap, but then I remember that you also had some rather strange reasons why the Lord of the Rings is crap.

    Well, you don't argue over taste.

  3. LoTR isn't crap, but it is VERY overrated.

    Yes, it "founded" modern fantasy. But...

    1. Characters are about as deep as a cardboard cut out
    2. Plot is shallow
    3. Prose is somewhat meandering/clunky a times (flat, overly descriptive, and sometimes doesn't even pertain to the current story aka uneccessary)

    I don't think they are unreasonable or "strange reasons" nor overly subjective when judging a book. You could use them as common marking criteria for a school test.

    Tolkien may have been a revolutionary and the grandfather of fantasy, and a great world builder, but that doesn't mean he was a "good novellist." I love the LoTR world, but the book is painful to read.

    It's unfair to pick on it for being very old-fashioned in tone, but it is also something I would caution a friend about were they about to embark on reading it.

    4. Also (very subjective) not everyone likes endless descriptions of singing, walking, wandering and scenery. If you go in expecting a novel, not a travelogue/RPG world guide, it could be a bit disappointing.

  4. I was a smart kid and very committed to both wargames and fantasy fiction. Both could be extremely hard work, through impenetrable prose, but I could usually tolerate that.

    The Silmarillion was my breaking point, all the pain of waffle and funny names, with little storytelling as a payoff.

    Incidentally my other breaking point was air warfare. 15 minutes playtime to valuate 5 seconds of dogfight (and only in 2 and a half dimensions).
    It was something I really wanted to work, but was always disappointed.

    Then I saw Blood Red skies on Warlord's website.
    The rules looked innovative (I really liked advantage as a concept).

    I downloaded and played a few games.
    It moves really fast, and fighting is decisive.
    Is it the holy grail?
    Alas no, I consider the gameplay too easily "solved" after which all players follow the one true tactical doctrine.

    A great shame...
    I also wonder whether they really need so many aircraft in those kickstarter packs.

  5. I should add that the download is starter rules. I expect the full rules contain more depth.

  6. Did you find the "one true tactical doctrine" for Blood Red Skies?

    1. Wasn't that "exterminate all the enemy aces, then mop up their lesser players"? (or the other way round; wipe out lesser players, then gang up on their aces?)

      Like most games with a set and predictable sequence, it'd be easy enough to "game" the turn sequence once you found the "best" method.

  7. I love The Hobbit, like LoTR a lot, but never was able to make myself finish The Silmarillon. I like that Tolkien wrote real heroes. There are too many edgy, anti-heroes populating modern tales.

    Ever played Wings of War? I have played it a couple of times. It seems pretty good but never makes it to the top of my stack.