Why Unrealistic Evil Archetypes are so Successful

August 05, 2016 — Richard Falken

There is a trend among fantasy fans regarding the demand for deep, developed, fleshed out villains in fantasy fiction. Nowadays, many readers want writers to create villains with realistic motivations, solid backgrounds that explain why they perform their evil deeds, and relatable traits. According to this takeview on the subject, characters that are evil just because are a sign of lazy storytelling, are boring and are unrealistic.

Many fantasy or mythological creatures are bad just because it is in their nature. Demons and gods of darkness are expected to be evil because they would not be good even if they were given the opportunity to be. A demon is not a member of an oppressed class, he didn't have a rough childhood, he was not recruited by a gang at a young age. He was born from the fabric of pure darkness and darkness is all that he is. However, the human worshippers of these black forces are a different matter. There must be a reason why the Mean Wizard of the Week turned to the Dark Side. He was not born from pure darkness, so he must have been a member of an oppressed class, or had a rough childhood, or was forced to survive in a gang infested town, right? If the writer is not able to explain to the audience why the Mean Wizard of the Week chose to be so, it must be because he didn't want to think about it, and hence he is a lazy author, isn't he?

The truth is obviously not so simple.

Fact is that villains that have no realistic or developed motivations at all are extremely popular in entertaining media, but it is hard to demonstrate that their motivations are lacking because their creators were lazy. When you define a complex Bad Guy of the Month for a story, you need to provide him with goals and motivations, and it is very easy to make a mistake and alienate your readers because of this. I suspect many authors consciously use simple villians because of this.

Take, for example, the generic Alien Invader. He is inhuman, he is covered in nasty fluids, makes weird sounds and is ugly. He kidnaps people and uses human beings to lay eggs in them. He acts like that because that is what nasty aliens are supposed to do. Readers will automatically understand that and accept it. The valiant heroes have enough of a justification for beating the life out of him, his family and his whole civilisation.

Now consider the second example. The Agorist Gunrunner. He was framed by a crime he didn't commit and lost his faith in law. His wife left him, and when he went out of jail there was no family waiting for him. He was never given a job. He then tried to open a gun factory, but he could not sell guns enough in the white market to sustain the business, so he started making hyper-technological weapons and selling them in the black market. He now sells weapons to radical constitutionalist militia groups, and exports weapons to countries were there are no gun licenses for civilians. It is clear that the heroes must destroy his business of weaponry... Our glorious Interpol heroes will take care of him!

What is the problem with the second example? Well, the problem is that the following readers now hate you for writing "such rubbish":

  • Left-wing Agorists and other market anarchists.
  • American right-wing constitutionalists.
  • Militia members of different ideological signs.
  • Gun manufacturers.

I highly dislike books in which I like the villain more than I do like the heroes... when you think the villain is right and the heroes are wrong, the book is upside down. The story turns around and is not about brave heroes chasing a dangerous evil mastermind. It is about a bunch of thugs that think they are right chasing a person you agree with. When the inevitable end happens and the thugs defeat this character you like and know to be in the right side, you feel cheated and think the book and its author are unfair and should burn in the Hell of Árelor.

The underlaying issue is that once you start giving evil characters complex goals, personalities and motivations, you have a chance of alienating your audience against you if they agree with the villain and not with the heroes. This does not happen with simplistic enemies like the Alien Invader. This alone is enough justification for opting for such Bad Guys in certain circumstances, even if you could come up with something more fleshed out.

My recommendation is to create villains that are evil just because they like being evil, but to give them distinct personalities and traits that are realistic and relatable. This allows to have the best of both worlds: an enemy that will be identified as such universally by every member of the audience, and a deep character to please the readers that don't want a cardboard villain.

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A Social Justice Warrior ate my Corebook - (or how to turn the fantasy fandom into a political battlefield)

July 01, 2016 — Richard Falken

Imagine for a minute that the National Rifle Association decided that "assault rifle" was too aggressive a name, and decided that absolutely nobody should use that denomination ever, for the sake of public relations. They come up with some euphemism, like "pacification device", and insist that everybody use that euphemism instead of the "wrong" naming. As usually happens with language designed by subcultures or small communities, that term ends up being used exclusively by the people within that community, and the rest of the world is largely unaware of this event.

Six months later, you buy some roleplaying game manual. Some extremely serious game about space marines exploring dungeons and blasting eight legged alien monsters away, for example. You start reading it and it looks like a fine system, but when you arrive to the section with the weapon charts, you scratch your head because there are lots of references to different versions of a weapon called "pacification device" and you don't know what that means. A few pages later, you find a sidebar in which it explains you what a pacification device is, and why it should never ever be called "assault rifle", and why your 2nd amendment rights are important.

At this point, you know that the RPG you just bought is including a political advertisement, that the publisher has taken sides, and whose side it has taken. The message the publisher is sending is: if you don't like assault rifles (pardon, pacification devices), we don't want you here.

The next afternoon, you browse the Web for downloadable material for the game because you want to run a session with your friends. You enter the forum of the publisher, and you notice there is a discussion going on. Somebody has started a thread, complaining because people are complaining because the book contains political propaganda. The thread quickly turns into a flamewar, with people defending 2nd amendment rights and the inclusion of the propaganda, people arguing that it is not propaganda, people claiming that they defend 2nd amendment rights but don't want propaganda in their games... The defendants of the propaganda say that the games should be inclusive and try to appeal to gun owners, and the detractors say that such opinion is non-sense, because gun owners are not prevented from enjoying the game at all if the propaganda is absent.

The moderators, appointed by the publisher for taking care of rule enforcement in the forum, arrive and try to clean the mess. What do they do? Do they close the thread, like every moderator does when a discussion is running amok? No. The moderators come and ban off the people who does not agree with the publisher's political stance.

At this point, you know that the publisher is not even trying to conceal their political agenda.

The sad part of the story? It is as real as it gets.

I recently purchased a thick RPG corebook from Onyx Path Publishing. It was a premium expensive book that was shipped via international premium mail. The book makes use of certain language forms which belong to gay, lesbian, transsexual and intersexual circles... much like our fictional pacification device belongs just to the NRA. It has some sidebar explaining those non-standard language terms and why it is important that they are used.

Some days later, I found a thread in Onyx Path's forums in which people was tearing each other apart because of the inclusion of such elements in the book. Some people defended that Onyx Path should be inclusive and attempt to appeal to members of the LGBTI community, and some others defended that political propaganda does not belong in such game. At some point it turned into a discussion about the nature of homosexuality and if it was normal or not. The Onyx Path forum moderators arrived at the scene and banned most of the people who disliked the propaganda, alleging hate speech rules.

The line that separates responsible free speech from harmful hate speech is thin and blurry at best, but to be honest, it felt a lot like a demonstration of power from moderation rather than a legit act of housekeeping. A legit act of housekeeping would have been to lock the thread because it was straying into dangerous territory, not to take sides.

Onyx Path Publishing is sending the following message: If you don't like the LGBTI movement in the way we do, we don't want you here.

I find it ironic that, in an attempt to make the game more socially inclusive, the publisher is kicking off people who disagrees with their views... which is, of course, actually the stance of a hypocrite.

Books are entertaining devices that are easy to subvert into political tools of indoctrination, and I am sad to say that certain RPG publishers are including lots of political content that is completely uncalled for in their games. It is ok to have mature games that deal with the problems of capitalism and socialism in mature and neutral ways. However, some authors of these games can go as far as to pass moral judgements on certain philosophers or ideologies, rendering the game not neutral anymore.

I think the authors have the right to write the game the way they want. However, once you stop being neutral and start kicking dissenting voices out of your social media, you'd better stop saying that none of the members of the company has a political agenda and that you want your games to be socially inclusive and for everybody. Because it is obviously false.

Advertisements don't belong to a book that is worth over a hundred USD plus shipping. I don't want advertisements in a premium product. I don't want to buy a special edition of a game and find advertisements from Burger King or Telepizza in it, nor advertisements of a political party, nor advertisements of a certain politicized way of talking and writing.

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July Updates

June 04, 2016 — Richard Falken

Hello, fans!

It is my pleasure to announce that Route 11 has scheduled the re-release of The Flaming Wrath of Árelor for this September. The reason for this move is that the book has turned into a complete failure in the English speaking market. We think this fact is completely unrelated to the quality of the book - which is highlighted by the few loyal fans I have - and is a marketing problem instead.

Sadly, after considering the number of visits to pages and forums in which The Flaming Wrath of Árelor is being talked about, it is obvious that it is not interesting to the readers. The percentage of visitors who leave comments in related forum threads is outstandingly lower than the percentage obtained by other books in the same environments. I brought this subject up with some people in the Internet and with the people at Route 11, and the consensus is that both the cover and the backcover text of the book are ill-conceived. People are discarding the book as a piece of cheap pulp hack 'n' slash because of presentation alone, which is extremely disappointing.

I hope that a new cover and a refreshing book description will help people take the novel for what it is instead of a Conan the Barbarian knock-off.

Failure is just a step towards success, and it should not be given more thought than it deserves. This being so, I also announce that I have started working on a third novel. This book will be independent from my first two books. This one will be a low fantasy story - low fantasy being a genre in which the action happens in a world where fantastic or supernatural events are uncommon or not expected to take place. As always, the novel will be written in Spanish and then translated if resources allow. There is no publishing deal for this book yet.

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Blasting Cruft Away!

April 19, 2016 — Richard Falken

Hello there!

Route 11 is getting ready for reorganizing the marketing of The Flaming Wrath or Árelor. This will include a new cover illustration that will be more related to the genre of the book.

Apparently, news regarding my software projects make this website unfriendly for fantasy fans, so I am doing away with them all. This means that products such as the Deduper File Deduplicator or services such as the OpenBSD man page database have no longer a place here.

Things that are being shutdown include:

  • The gopher site with all its services. The contents that are still worth it will be managed by the Crypto For Liberty association from now on.
    • The OpenBSD man page database.
    • The Deduper File Deduplicator.
  • Non-standard means of contact.
    • My OpenPGP key is over.
    • The Bitmessage address is over.
    • The i2p-bote address is over.

It is important to understand that I am not withdrawing my support from any of these tools. It is just that all the technocruft is a burden when it comes to talking about fantasy books.

Remember that you can still find me, read about me, follow my latest activities, discuss my articles and show your support at these more conventional places: