2007-10-11 : Blood Meridian

Adam Thornton wrote me the other day. Quoth he:

It strikes me that Poison'd mechanics and general outlook + Dogs In The Vineyard setting and narrative style = Blood Meridian the RPG

I'm not at all sure what to think about this.

So naturally I had to look this book up.

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy. I bought it that day and I finished it a week later.

a) Adam's right. b) I have some thoughts about it, but they're tentative and not the sort I'd care to argue in support of. They're about aesthetics.

Particularly interesting to me is how Blood Meridian and Dogs in the Vineyard both treat the natural world. While absent literal demons (with maybe one exception), what Dogs in the Vineyard would call demons permeate Blood Meridian's natural landscape.

Anybody else read the book who wants to talk with me about it? Adam, are you reading this?

1. On 2007-10-11, Adam Thornton said:

Well, I am now.

Blood Meridian, if you're reading it from a DitV standpoint, is surely all about Demonic Escalation.  Except that it begins somewhere around Murder and rockets up into ever-escalating atrocities from there.

I have the feeling that had my usual group of gamers (I wrote on The Forge about their experience with KPfS) had stuck with DitV they would have ended up like Glanton's Raiders.  (I am in the sad situation that I am the GM, and I want to do narrative-heavy collaborative games; one of my players is outright allergic to storytelling games, and the rest basically prefer tactical combat to roleplaying-as-such.)

The aesthetic of Blood Meridian: blood, dust, merciless sun, reflexive brutality, wide skies.  DitV has the dust and merciless sun and skies, certainly, but whether or not the other two come in is up to the players.  That's why Poison'd is in that brew in my formulation, since without the blood and the brutality, Poison'd would be something else.



2. On 2007-10-13, Adam Thornton said:

What, nobody else wants to talk about this?  No one else has read Blood Meridian and thinks it's got certain commonalities with DitV?  Really?



3. On 2007-10-13, george oliver said:

I would talk about this all day, but it's been years since I read Blood Meridian and I'm one of those who owns DitV but have never played it. However the one thing I'm wondering is if DitV presupposes some amount of 'goodness' or an aspiration to 'the Good', whereas as I remember the novel as pretty much a slide into evil and despair.


4. On 2007-10-15, Vincent said:

Oh yeah, Dogs definitely has too much goodness in it. That's where Poison'd comes into the equation.

Thinking about this leads me here: how different, in fact, would Poison'd-adapted-to-Westerns be from Dust Devils? Would they be functionally similar? For sure you could do Unforgiven with both.


5. On 2007-10-16, Adam Thornton said:

I've never played Dust Devils—in fact, didn't know about it until just now, when I looked it up.  How does it play?  Does the stud poker work, or does it feel gimmicky?

Would it be any fun to play a game of Unforgiven or Blood Meridian?

I mean, sure, in some sense that's what D&D is, it's just that you call the Indians "orcs," but D&D doesn't focus on the blood quite so much, and of course it works really hard to make you not question whether your actions are actually pretty depraved.  How many times is it fun to do "maniac sniping from the clock tower" or "scalping the little chilluns" before the thrill of vicarious psychopathy wears off?

And I guess now we're back to KPfS, ain't we?



6. On 2007-10-16, Vincent said:

Of course it would be fun! But it wouldn't be fun because of the thrill of vicarious psychopahy. The thrill of vicarious psychopathy isn't what's fun about Unforgiven or Blood Meridian (or Poison'd) either.

I haven't played Dust Devils myself, but I have it on good authority that it's a very good game. I'm sure the stud poker resolution works great.

Kill puppies for satan is ... its own thing. Fun for the thrill of vicarious psychopathy, and then that goes away, and you're left with something good instead.


7. On 2007-10-16, Vincent said:

Fun! Fun. Fun's a bugaboo. Fun's a stick we use to beat on each other. "That wouldn't be fun for me." "Would it be, y'know, fun?" "That sounds like medicine, not fun."

I'm as guilty as anybody. "Of COURSE playing Unforgiven the RPG is fun," when of course it's not fun, same as the movie. It's something else good instead.


8. On 2007-10-17, Adam Thornton said:

I'm not sure.

I mean, if my gaming group played Blood Meridian: the RPG I know the post-game discussion would be something like:

(minor spoilers for the novel here...skip the rest of the post if you don't want 'em)

"Dude, and the time we went into that Mexican town?  And killed everyone, and then scalped them, and sold their scalps as Indian scalps?  That was cool."
"Yeah, but not as cool as the time we pushed all those mules carrying all that quicksilver off the cliff to see 'em splatter like red and silver water balloons."
"Oh yeah.  That was cool.  That rocked."

That's the thrill of vicarious psychopathy right there.  Maybe other people have thoughtful gaming groups.  I have scary vicious little toothy monsters who are the sorts who carry fine steel mesh into the dungeon with them so they can puree their enemies and then sieve their carcasses looking for the treasure they might have swallowed.

I guess the problem is that I don't know how to get my players to engage enough with their characters that they are willing to really seriously consider the question of "how far will you escalate this?" rather than just turn it all the way up to eleven all the damn time, but with a safe emotional distance between themselves and their characters.

The only time this has really worked well at all is when we played "Bacchanalia" and I have not been able to figure out why it worked or how to repeat it.

KPfS worked well for the gross-out factor and the lack of limits imposed (or, uh, discovered), but I'm left wondering how much of that was possible because my players didn't really have a lot invested in their characters.

Maybe fun is a stick we beat each other with, but, hey, I still have to make the six hours we spend playing RPGs on Saturday something that I and my my players would rather be doing that day than going to a movie, or playing Quiddler or Puerto Rico, or drinking and watching the Food Network.



9. On 2007-10-18, SDL said:

Adam, i'm sure you exaggerate, but still - scary!

I only have one player like that (or more accuratley, one player willing to play a character like that?) in my on-again-off-again Iron Heroes group... but it seems to be that it only takes one.

Case in point: So we're in the delve to capture this orc chieftain, so the mages can interrogate him, when we fight past a few orc warriors just to stumble into this big, hollowed out passage filled with a couple dozen goblins... unarmed goblins.
So i intimidate them, the greenskins go running for the darkest corners, and i suggest we head out the other door before they recover their courage... ...but as i'm heading for the door, my trouble player launches a sneak attack, one of the other players joins him and just like that we're in a fight with the goblins.

Except it wasn't a fight - it was a massacre.

I don't know what the GM intended, but after that session we started wondering whether goblins might just be nothing more than just baby orcs...

So - scary!


10. On 2007-10-18, Adam Thornton said:

OK, so, a digression from roleplaying here, but does anyone else know the song ".41 Thunderer"?  It's on Drum Hat Buddha by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer.  I think of it because:

"We rode out from Canaan in search of our fortune,
Or something worth dying for, beauty or evermore.
Over the blackwater flats with jackrabbits running
Under a sky burning brimstone and reckoning
Sweet for the hope of rain,
And the sand in your teeth grinding tiny white diamonds
To moments of loss that you cannot explain."

That seems to apply equally to Blood Meridian or the West that leads off Pynchon's Against the Day or Dogs in the Vineyard.



11. On 2007-10-18, Vincent said:

When I was writing the game I wore holes in that CD.

So I posted about the Columbine security videos yesterday and I've been thinking about this fun thing. Here's what I think: enjoying watching the Columbine security videos would be the thrill of vicarious psychopathy. Enjoying watching Unforgiven or The Devil's Rejects for instance is pretty different.

There are some obvious things: the Columbine security videos show real violence, not special effects; Unforgiven has, like, incidental music and reaction shots and so on to signal its unreality. Not only is it not real, it's unmistakably not real.

I think there's a less obvious thing, though, which is that the Columbine shooting is a crap story.


12. On 2007-10-20, Adam Thornton said:

Those two things aren't unrelated.

Most things—even awful, unforgettable, pivotal things—are crap stories.  That's why we have people who take chains of events-that-happened, and turn them into stories, and why we reward those people.

But then what do we do with Blood Meridian?  It's largely consistent with the historical record, insofar as there is a historical record (Chamberlain's Confession should be arriving here Real Soon Now).  But it's clearly been organized to be a story.  Is it a particularly good story?  Not, maybe, as story; certainly not as narrative.  As prose, it's astounding.

But how about as myth-creation, which is, I think, what it is?

Blood Meridian can certainly be read, anyway, as a deconstruction of How The West Was Won: by means of the spilled blood of lots and lots of people, some of them innocent.  It's an anodyne both to the Heroic Story Of Americans' Bringing Civilization To The Heathen In The West and to the story of the Heroic But Doomed Noble Savages^W Indigenous Peoples Fighting Valiantly Against The Bloodthirsty Colonialist Power.

Is it "real" or not?  Dunno.

Digression: "236-6132" is probably the saddest song I know.  Probably because it's dressed up as not-such-a-sad song.  Notice the conditions—especially as the song progresses—for the lover to come charging to the rescue.  "When Casey cracks the ball," indeed.


13. On 2007-10-28, Chris J said:

Is the judge demonic?
McCarthy insinuates it, but never shows anything explicitly supernatural. Gets close with that scene where he lifts up the meteorite anvil, but never leaves the realm of what is possible. Yet when you add up all that's said about the judge, the sum of his esoteric knowledges & capabilites challenge plausability and casts him closer to mythic. My favorite bit is when they ask him where he learned Dutch. "Said off a Dutchman".

His need to work through Glanton & his gang and especially his need to have everyone truly comitted to the depravity & violence paints him as a classic devil archetype. But "judge as devil" seems too pat, too easy, that his part in the story is more slippery than that.

So what is this guy?



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