Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Of Halflings and Dreadlocks

I’m going to go behind the publisher screen for a while here. Normally I don’t much discuss my ideas behind why I do what I do for Expeditious Retreat Press, but I suspect that there are people who would like to know a bit about what I do and for what reasons. I believe that I am a leading publisher in the OSR and I think I may the least-outspoken of us all.

So two days ago I was editing an Advanced Adventure called Stonepick Crossing. It’s a 1-3rd leveler that takes place in a thorp called Stonepick Crossing. It takes place in a human settlement that is atop and within a 500 year-old dam built by dwarves. The dwarves have moved on. It was submitted to us under the name “Eltoran’s Crossing” but I changed that to Stonepick. The dwarf that had the dam built was named Eltoran Stonepick, so I think my name change is totally acceptable to authorial intent. I think the word “Stonepick” has a more accessible and visceral impact than “Eltoran.”

Authorial intent is something I value highly. Each of the Advanced Adventures is the work of a single author (beside the few I have personally co-wrote). Each is a reflection of what the author believes as First Edition Gaming. I value the opinions of those who write for us and believe that the primary goal of a good editor for the AA line is the one that mucks about with the manuscript the least when dealing with authors who have been playing this game as long as we have. Put simply, if the manuscript is something I have to muck about with significantly, I usually pass on it. This is not always true, of course (The Frozen Wave Satsuma is very different than what was originally submitted), but I think the exception only proves the rule.

Anyway, back to Stonepick Crossing. One of the halflings in the town was described as unique and with dreadlocks. I excised that out and replaced it with “Milo is a unique halfling with long hair dyed various colors.” Why?

First, why did the author want dreadlocks? I believe it’s because author wanted a unique character and wanted the hair to broadcast that uniqueness visually. A halfling with dreadlocks is certainly unique. I think that multi-colored hair is equally unique, so I feel I honored the authorial intent here.

Now, why the change? Because dreadlocks have a meaning which I don’t think the author intended when viewed from the history of the Advanced Adventures line. The line has traditionally been “vanilla” fantasy. I *love* vanilla fantasy. Vanilla is easy to add to anyone’s game. It’s easy to customize. It is, IMO, the best tool for a GM to have when crafting his game.

Dreadlocks are not vanilla. In the real world, dreadlocks are indicative of particular culture, or group of cultures. A character with dreadlocks means to me the same thing that a character with a top knot or a long mandarin hair braid, or a tonsure means. I wouldn’t want someone to have a tonsure that wasn’t associated with religion in some way, or have someone have a top knot that wasn’t from an “exotic” culture. Although dreadlocks are now very common throughout many different non-historical cultures, the Advanced Adventures line postulates a pretend world more in tune with the middle ages than the modern. It’s a world that is more about the historical than the modern.

But in the end, this change is utterly immaterial. The adventure reads the same, the game plays the same. What has changed is that the character of Milo the unique halfling is now demonstrating his uniqueness without any other potential message beyond being an individualistic sort. It’s a matter of line control, direction, and artistic view - something that individual authors have no real reason to care about.

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