Friday, June 27, 2014

The Asparagus Factor

I know what I like, and I know what doesn't appeal to me.  On a good day, I understand the 'why' behind those things.

This might be a good day.

Over at Rotten Pulp, the learned Mr. Mack has posted about those adventures he calls Negadungeons; those encounters, typified by the much-vaunted "Raggian screwjob", which leave the delvers inevitably worse off, insane, accursed, and wondering why they ever set foot in this place (and sometimes crumples up the campaign world and tosses it in the bin as a by-product).  I have no issue saying that I do not typically like this kind of adventure - and this criticism applies to a number of Call of Cthulhu classics, I'm sorry to say - and do not typically use them except perhaps for occasional inspiration and cannibalization.

Mr. Mack thoughtfully explores the nature of the "negadungeon" - you should read his post if you haven't already - and explains that rather than being "hahaha screw you, players" exercises in GM onanism, the negadungeon is instead its own animal.  For whatever reason, reading that over tonight, the whole thing clicked.  These kinds of adventures are not adventures at all - in the literary sense - but an attempt to do a horror story in rpg form.  Yes, this should be obvious, as I mentioned Call of Cthulhu scenarios, but for some reason even though I've always understood the connection, it took tonight to have the epiphany that the reason I don't like many of these scenarios is because they're trying to be horror stories rather than adventure stories.

You'd think that would be self-evident.  It wasn't.  Perhaps you can see how, measuring these kinds of "adventures" against, y'know, actual adventure stories, they would not measure up in my mind.  I don't much care for horror stories or movies, either.  Is there something about that negative catharsis whatever-you-call-it (no doubt Professor Shear can supply a very fine Greek word) that just plain does not appeal to me?  That might be it.  I don't mind occasionally watching or reading something about a protagonist who descends into darkness and madness and bad choices and whatever; but it would rarely be my first choice for entertainment (for what it's worth, I'm working my way through Breaking Bad now, and enjoying it), and the chances of it becoming my favorite ahead of innumerable comedies and real adventure yarns is effectively nil.  There's a place within adventure, within fairy tales, within pulp, for the frightening, the uncanny, and the gross-out, but to me, their best position is within the framework of the adventure genre.  An ingredient rather than a meal.

So I get it now, even if I still don't like them.  Much in the same way I will not eat asparagus, yet can appreciate my wife's enjoyment of the fetid stalk, or coo appreciatively as the wizards on Chopped unveil a glorious bundle of white asparagus (which, one assumes, grants urine the aroma of fine Madagascar vanilla), I think I can appreciate the craft and cleverness in a "negadungeon" or horror scenario.  But they just don't do it for me, I guess.  Nothing wrong with that, although there may be some rabid dogs out there who would gladly foam at the thought of a plebian misunderstanding obvious genius; but let us not pay much attention to rabid dogs.

If, by the way, your mind went directly into the gutter with the above sentence about my wife enjoying a fetid stalk now and then, that's completely fine; I like double entendre, wordplay, and "naughtiness" of Benny Hill levels.  I just don't much like horror, it seems.

If a pull-quote is necessary, let it be "Raggi-style adventures make my whiz smell bad."  Jim would like that.