Sunday, January 12, 2020

Space Cowboys

So, thinking more about a space opera game and what I'd want out of it…
The other night I found myself watching the superior Coen Bros. version of True Grit. Then, this afternoon I watched The Proposition.
All this put me in a Western state of mind.
One (obvious) thing that struck me is how both these movies remind me of Keep On The Borderlands. The idea of a place on the edge of civilization, a frontier, and the dangerous lands beyond. The dangerous land full of outlaws and natives and deadly beasts.
Again, obvious stuff.
Both these movies also got me thinking on the nature of 'civilization'… how it is formed and maintained by the same violence and cruelty it claims to have squashed. The characters in these movies do not wear black or white hats… they're all shades of gray.
There are no Dukes swaggering around… Rooster Cogburn is hardly different from the men he is hired to track down. Cogburn's background is established as having been a bandit, a Confederate raider, a (failed) restaurateur and a bank robber.
The lawmen in The Proposition are also dark fellows. Cruel, ignorant and possessing no better moral compass than the men they're hunting. One Englishman sees no issue with having a simple-minded boy publicly beaten to death without a trial… more as an example of his own power than any legitimate 'justice'.
Anyway, all this just reminds me that that civilization has never meant freedom from cruelty. Order is always maintained on direct or implied threat of violence.

Now, the elements of Westerns I enjoy generally have little or no attachment to actual history. It doesn't matter to me if the stories depict actual events. Given that, there are a lot of non-Western films that fill the same boots. Just about anything taking place in a frontier is going to work on a similar level for me.
In terms of space opera, this reiterates the close match that was flagged by shows like Firefly, Outland and chunks of Star Wars.
Again, obvious stuff. But it moves me along the path of discerning themes I'd want to focus on. More about the friction between the established order and the folks who resist it.
The original Rogue Trader game had gobs of this sort of thing. It initially lacked the presence of Chaos and instead had various beasts, alien monsters, rebellious soldiers and wild frontier planets cut off by fickle warp storms.
Then The Lost And The Damned came out and Chaos became the big bad of 40K. Not that I don't enjoy the Chaos forces (especially their subtler aspects depicted in those early books)… but its a strong flavor that quickly overshadowed all those quainter opponents to Imperial control.
Doing away with Chaos, or even just toning it down considerably, might be a first step toward getting myself back to a 40K setting I can have my way with. Let there be Chaos gods and cultists… but lessen their numbers and force to play a stealthier game ala early Warhammer Fantasy.
Laserburn echoes a lot of early 40K elements… but, again, lacks Chaos. The closest thing is the Red Redemption, only for being a faction of human opponents.
Either way, I think turning the volume down on Chaos will let me explore more of the stuff I was rambling on about Westerns… making it less white hat/black hat and more about the forces of Imperial 'civilization' vs. the forces resisting it. That might move it all closer towards Star Wars and its rebellion… but that's fine. I just bought a copy of the anniversary edition of the D6 WEG Star Wars books, to milk for inspiration and such.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting thoughts. And bery much in keeping with what I see for my own version of 40k more Spaghetti Western (and more Dune) and less Moorcock! It’s not that I don’t like Moorcock (or the GW Chaos books in general) — I adore both. But they do railroad wargaming into certain stereotypes which I don’t like.

    My 40k is Mad Max IV, is Escape from New York...maybe even Blade Runner. There are dangers and there are a lot of rhem and the „good“ guys are also at best dark grey. But they are 1. not aware of any supernatural conflict in the background and 2. much more blurred. Neither one is that absolute like modern Chaos and Space Marines.