Fun City is the best Shadowrun actual play podcast on the Internet, and its two GMs, Mike Rugnetta and Taylor Moore, crafted a dimension-spanning arc with the most thought-provoking villain this show has featured yet.
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Lucas: Hi there. This episode comes with a big fat spoiler alert for Fun City and especially the Float City arc, whose ending we will be discussing in detail.
Lucas: Welcome back to Making a Monster: Game Master edition. Fun City is, I will argue, the best actual play Shadowrun podcast on the Internet. And during lockdown, the team transitioned to a super-future RPG called Stillfleet for an arc called Float City. And it is GM’dby two extremely talented, very lovely people. Mike Rugnetta and Taylor Moore. So guys, welcome to the show.
Mike Rugnetta: Hello.
Taylor Moore: hi, thank you so much for having us.
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Lucas: Mike Rugnetta is a writer host and theater artist. He was the creator, host, and writer of PBS Digital Studios’ multiple Webby-award-winning series Idea Channel, which is where I first heard from him. Uh, and has hosted and written digital video for Know Your Meme, Crash Course, and Mental Floss. He is an audio design professional and digital producer for influential companies too numerous to list and, I will add, an exemplar of thorough and ordered thought. Uh, your video about stuff on the camera lens showed via Baruch. Don’t laugh at me, Taylor, I’m a professional!
Taylor Moore: I’m laughing because I have to follow this! My introduction is going to be air now. Taylor Moore, a podcaster who lives in Brooklyn.
Mike Rugnetta: Oh, come on.
Lucas: we’ll cut to this. Taylor Moore is a writer, performer and producer. He has been seen on stage at Upright Citizens Brigade theater, writing, and hosting True TVs Sex Your Food; producing podcasts for Splitsider, including Rude Tales of Magic; editor-in-chiefing Fortunate Horse magazine, which is making the world weirder one subway car at a time; and creating the phrase “chill sitch”, for which he has won multiple no awards.
Mike Rugnetta: But many deserved ones.
Lucas: I will add, Mike, your video about stuff on the camera lens went through Baruch Spinoza and Richard Garrick, and argued that merely understanding something constitutes a form of belief regardless of its previously understood level of fiction or reality, which is the whole reason I felt it critically necessary to have a podcast that untangles the haphazard threads of stories that have been stolen for the consensus fantasy universe, which runs D and D.
And that has been up to now the stock in trade of what Making a Monster does. If you have a long running podcast that releases regularly, you are, to my mind, a professional DM, and professional DMS have a certain level of authority on how monsters are used and what they can do.So that’s what we’re trying to get at with this short mini series called Game Master Edition for the show. So I want to hear from you guys how Fun City came to be and what your hopes for the show were.
The very beginning of Fun City
Mike Rugnetta: So Taylor and I, met playing Shadowrun. It was the first, time that we like hung out was I was running a game with some of his coworkers when he was a Kickstarter. And we did that for a little while that game sort of petered out in the way that a lot of just games run by adults do. Um, but we, um, Taylor had approached me a bunch of times about like doing a podcast because Taylor worked at Kickstarter in the, I forget what your title was, you were like head of head of podcasting boy.
Taylor Moore: I started as the receptionist and then I became the head of podcasts and comedy.
Mike Rugnetta: So Taylor was like, we should do, like, you should do an actual play. Like you should do a show. Like, you know, it’d be good. There’s a lot of appetite for it. The space is really growing. And this was, I mean, this would have been what, three years ago, three and a half, maybe even four years ago.
Taylor Moore: yeah, I was, I was in, I like, I, I discovered, actual play podcasts and just became completely enamored of, of it. And it looked, it looked just like this wide open place that was just full of interesting stuff that could be done that not a lot of folks were doing. And I really, I had been, I had been wanting to do podcasts for forever before I was a Kickstarter.
I tried starting my own like comedy podcast network back when very few people knew what they were. Uh, and, and so I, and I was dying to get back back into the podcasting world and then I I’ve, I then, yeah. And then I discovered actual play and it was like, we gotta do this. Like I’ve, I’ve got, I’ve got to do it.
Uh, and I just so happened to know, um, someone who might have some requisite MC skills, uh, uh, some tabletop DM-ing, uh, toolkit and have had, had recently stopped making videos for PBS Idea Channel.
Mike Rugnetta: So, so Taylor and I talked about it a long time and like, we talked about it for a long time. And, um, at first I was like pretty resistant to it and it just, it took me a long, a long while to come up with the list of things that would, I think, make it make, make me not so nervous about it. And one of the big ones was, uh, I was like, Taylor, you gotta be in the show.
Taylor Moore: Yeah, the original pitch was that I was going to be in the cast and it was going to be Mike DM-ing.
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah. And so I was like, no, like we gotta like, let’s split it. And like, what are we going to do? Cause it can’t just be like, okay, we’ll do a Shadowrun show. That’s going to have a lot of its own challenges, uh, for reasons that we will maybe get into, uh, you know, as we chat down the road. Um, and so what are we going to do to the show, to like get people in, because saying shadow run is going to actually turn a lot of people away.
And so we talked a lot about what the kinda, um, for lack of a better word gimmicks would be. And one of the things that we settled on was, um, Taylor being many of the antagonists, um, that like Taylor would basically be, as we say it, the bad boys and I would be the main GM. And then once we had that, we were like, oh, okay.
That feels like a stat idea feels like a starting place for a show. And then we went out to actually now answer your question. Um, uh, like then we just basically started thinking about like, okay, like who, who is going to be in this? Uh, and I mean that, it took a while. Uh, I mean, we were talking about who we wanted to be in the show for like, I think like maybe maybe six months.
An Intellectually Diverse Cast
Taylor Moore: because what we didn’t want to do was, and I’m not saying this is bad. We didn’t want to be like, all right, let’s get a bunch of comedians in here, or let’s get a bunch of well-known tabletop people in here or any, like, we really wanted to get a mix of people.
And when we say mixed, we mean like an intellectual mix of like expertise and bias and stuff like that. A lot of times when we talked about like diversity in casting, what we’re talking about was like, what are these people into? What are their realms of expertise? Like, we don’t want everyone that has the same voice as every UCB improviser at the time, right, making the same jokes and references. We want people who can bring things to this, that we can’t ourselves. Uh, so we talked about like, who do we know that has this variety of input? And we settled on this “Gilligan’s Island” mix of comedians and PhDs and chefs and writers it’s. Yeah. Uh, you know, and these were all people that were just in our, in our networks that we wanted to do.
Mike Rugnetta: Uh, yeah, like I had met Jenn as a creator in residence at Kickstarter. Um, I knew Bijon from, uh, through the same friend that introduced me and Taylor years ago, uh, shout out to Nicole, patron saint of Fun City, um, uh, Shannon and Nick are in Taylor’s network from New York comedy world.
Taylor Moore: Yeah, but Shannon also was on the PhD track, you know, at the time. I knew Shannon because I had done one show of hers years ago called Drunk Science that she puts on here in Brooklyn. That’s a fantastic show. Uh, but it was like, oh, well, that’s a, that’s a bullseye. Uh, you know, and ever since I did her show, I was like, I really want to work with Shannon again one day.
Uh, and Nick Guercio too, is just one of the best improvisers in New York City
was that instill is just so, and one of the most charming people you can possibly ever hope to meet in life. And, and, you know, and I had just met Bijon out in Portland at XO XO, and I had
Mike Rugnetta: He’s a tech journalist at the time. I mean, yeah. like,
Taylor Moore: know, we had, we had all sort of run into these people and just, yeah, th this was our hot list.
Mike Rugnetta: And I think part of it also is like one of the other things that we talked about, we were coming up with the idea of the show is I really like a futuristic, sort of scifi things that do not hide that they are about now, uh, that like, it is very like on the sleeve that it’s like, we are like really it’s set in the future, but really this is right now.
And so we wanted to have a group of people who would be able to react And like Taylor said, like would have interesting things to think and say, about the current political climate, the current cultural climate, the current climate climate, uh, and so that was, that was a part, I think, also of like how we, how we talked about and reached out to the people that we did is like, you know, who is involved in what’s going on right now?
Lucas: yeah, Jenn de la Vega was one of those people that it was like, why in the world is she doing . . .?
Taylor Moore: Anyone who gets to know Jenn, everyone who meets her wants to work with her and be her best friend. Like she just has this force of like competence and imagination and charm. She really has that force where she enters a room and the chemistry of the room changes for the better. Not like me, you know.
Lucas: I’ll say that Mike is shaking his head, like, oh, you have no idea.
Mike Rugnetta: It really like, I’m shaking my head because I’m thinking, when we reached out to January, we’re like, “Hey, do you want to be in the show?” And she was like, “I don’t think I’m going to be good at this. I’ve never played it. I’ve never played a tabletop role-playing game before in my life.” And then she showed up and just crushes it left and right. It’s wild. She’s maybe the most natural, immediate role player that I’ve ever had at a table. It’s wild. I don’t know how she does it.
Lucas: I hope that I’m not harping on Jenn to the detriment of all of your other players who are in their own right. Exceptional. But I will say that, Jenn de la Vega could read the back of a cereal box in Merkis’ voice and I would listen for hours.
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah.
Why Fun City plays Shadowrun
Lucas: What made Shadowrun the game of choice for Fun City?
Taylor Moore: Mike Rugnetta did.
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah. I mean, I just, I, I like it, despite all of its, various flaws as a system and I think that it is a good setting in which, to talk about now and the world as it actually exists, which is, um, you know, something that I like to do.
There’s just, there’s a – again, a blessing and a curse – there’s so much material in Shadowrun to work with that it really, yeah, it really just lets you do a lot. Uh, and I think also part of me is like, was interested in the challenge. Like what do you, how do you turn this very complicated, huge system that has cannon that has decades and decades of lore that has like, legal decisions that are part of like how the game is written and how it works, you know, how do you turn that into like a compelling narrative show? I thought it would be like a fun, yeah, fun challenge and a good material to work with narratively and story-wise.
Taylor Moore: Yeah, I gotta back Mike up on, especially the setting, like, you know, people critique Shadowrun, and they ought to, but man that setting rules. It’s really fun to play in the Shadowrun world.
Mike Rugnetta: And I also, I think we joked and thought it would be funny. We were like, oh, and we’ll set it in New York. That’ll be funny. That’ll be good. But Shadowrun is one of a few systems where you could set a game in New York, like canonically, you know, Shadowrun exists or sorry, New York exists in Shadowrun.
Um, but I think that there is a, there’s like a shared amount of ownership over the setting that we all have around the table because it’s our city that we live in. And so that I think provides another way that like all of the gears sort of line up, we build that mind share around the table, like we’re in a place where even though it’s a hundred years in the future we live.
And so we get to share a lot of jokes and insights and stories about that, and both make inside jokes to our friends who also live in New York and I think like invite people who don’t live in New York to our New York, in a way, even though, uh, you know, it’s, uh, partially flooded and is literally run by the NYP D well, I guess that’s true, in our world.
Taylor Moore: yeah.
Lucas: is it fair to say that Shadowrun is a near future setting? I realized that you might be the one person who has like a distinct opinion on whether that’s true.
Mike Rugnetta: 6E just came out, uh, Shadowrun 6E came out and I think it takes place in like 2080, which like, I think that’s near future.
Taylor Moore: It’s one of those things where it’s a lot nearer future than when they originally wrote it.
Mike Rugnetta: yeah,
Taylor Moore: You know? I mean, they wrote Shadowrun before cell phones were really a thing. Or even, you know, like widely democratized personal computing was a real thing.
Uh, I mean, but that’s what this is. I don’t know if we should credit Shadowrun with that. I mean, this is, what’s so fun about cyberpunk as a genre and like the eighties. So it’s not like they alone were inventing this, but they saw, it’s like the gift to see 30 years in the future is not always the same value.
Like, you know what I mean? Like if you could see 30 years in the future in 1640, so what? It’s like, oh, a Tudor will be on the throne. But if you could see 30 years in the future in 1980, that’s a big, that’s a big deal. And so it feels like a much further future thing than it really is because I mean, everything we do in the show, like, you know, obviously there’s the fantasy element, which cross my fingers will happen today.
I want magic to be real, so bad. Uh, but the, all the, the science fiction stuff, I mean, that’s, that’s barely futuristic. I mean, it is barely in the future.
Mike Rugnetta: Taylor also gets to another thing that, is a benefit and one of the reasons we really like the system and the setting, of Shadowrun, which is, we are both big cyberpunk fans. I am a huge, like, I am a big cyberpunk nerd. I just, I really love the genre. I’m a big fan of sort of categorically, anything that fits into it.
Um, I just really love most of the genre markers. I also really, really, really love, noir. I have said, I think in other places that like really all I’m ever trying to do is, uh, Dashiell Hammett with paperwork and ubiquitous computing. Like that’s like every single thing is just, that’s the story I want to try to tell. And Shadowrun is a place that we can do that
Taylor Moore: Mike keeps trying to put like supercomputers in Franz Kafka’s The Castle.
Uh, I can’t tell you how many times during Float City, uh, spoiler alert for Float City arc, that we had like Mike wanted to put more bureaucracy in this story. And I was like “No Mike!” But we have to get to the fireworks factory at some point. Kafka, you know, you never get to the castles. If we don’t get to the castle, they’ll kill us!
Mike Rugnetta: And I’m like no, it’s a three hour conversation with the manager. That is the fireworks!
Taylor Moore: please put a spoiler alert for Franz Kafka’s The Castle.
Super-future science fiction might as well be fantasy
Lucas: Uh, Taylor, in that case, I really have to thank you for being on the show and reigning Mike in, because I wanted the fireworks factory. Part of the reason that I agree with you, Mike, that cyberpunk is fantastic, and part of the reason that I wanted a Shadowrun podcast as part of GM Edition, was that cyberpunk is, the future via the past.
Like you have to think like someone in the 1980s would think of the future and that’s a fantastic mental exercise. That breaks down a bit with something like Stillfleet. I mean it breaks down a lot. What is the difference between a near future and a super future genre? What did Float City give you that Fun City never could?
Taylor Moore: All right. Here’s the difference? You know what? Let’s give your listeners something to yell at us about, right? It’ll drive engagement. Uh, here’s the difference between science fiction and fantasy. obviously these things interconnect and overlap, but the essential element of science fiction is that there’s the question of, can we bootstrap ourselves out of the human condition? Whereas fantasy, fantasy storytelling is all about as a storyteller, you have to abstract the concept of power, and that’s the only way you can tell this story. And that’s where magic comes from as a literary device. So I think that a lot of times, even though Shadowrun has fantasy in it, our version of Shadowrun and the world we play in is very much a, an answer to the question of if technology got better with things still be bad? You know, like yes.
Mike Rugnetta: Yes.
Taylor Moore: And the answer, and we play in the world of yes, but how yes? That’s, that’s the, in what specific manner? But uh Float City, then you’re crossing the Clarke line. You’re going to a place where science fiction is so, like the science and technology is so alien and advanced that it is effectively magic. It is fantasy, right?
It is fantasy with a scifi skin on it, just like Star Wars or something else. And the difference is, is that we get to further abstract notions of power and all these society and obligation and, and, and, and all these things to more like fundamental forms that aren’t mediated by like the sigils and signs of like current contemporary life.
So we can have someone, like the Saffron Annax or The Co itself – and for listeners the Saffron Annax is a big powerful person who appears in the story. And The Co is this company that our player characters worked for, which is really like a satellite society of like colonial capitalists that’s meant to resemble the East India Tea Company during the American and Western European colonial age. So instead of talking about the East India Tea Company, we just have it be this, oh, it’s this, it’s this magical group of space pirates that live on a satellite, you know?
And so we, Look, here’s the real deal. The reason we went to Float City was cause we didn’t know how to record remotely and we didn’t want the main canon story to be infected with bad production. And we did the same thing on Rude Tales of Magic as well, one of my other podcasts, where we say, “well, this audio might suck, so let’s do a different story so that the main storyline is not infected with bad production.” what we found in storytelling was that Float City let us make much bigger, grander moves and statements and vibes than the real world quote, unquote, real world of Shadowrun would allow us to.
Stillfleet, Wythe Marschall’s super-future RPG
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah. So we went really, really huge, you know, like multiple planet and dimension spanning, in Float City. And like tons and tons of credit to Wythe Marschall, the writer and creator of the game, who’s like a close friend of mine and the reason we were able to play it, uh, before it’s even released. He was kind enough to like entrust us with his baby, uh, that like he’s been writing for 10 years
that I’ve been playing. like I’ve been playing versions of Stillfleet for 10, 15 years, like a long, long time. Lots and lots of credit for Wythe for being like, what does anything look like a hundred million years in the future? Well, you can’t possibly know, so let’s get weird.
Wythe, and Wythe just, I mean, uh Wythe is a very, very smart person. He got his PhD in, anthropology and, and future food studies. Uh, he studies the, the future of farming. He like just does all of this amazing, incredible work thinking about like, what is humanity going to eat a thousand years from now? And so that’s sort of like the kernel that Stillfleet is based on.
And that let us turn a lot of the things, a lot of the moves, the like metaphors that we try to get at in, in Shadowrun and in Fun City, it let us abstract them even further and get so much weirder with them. Almost turned them like into a Dali painting, uh, in a way, uh, like try to get like really like out there and even like romantic in a way that like, we don’t tend to do on Fun City because Fun City is about like, you know, you’re in the lower east side, it smells like piss. It’s a hundred years in the future, the lower east side still smells like piss.
Taylor Moore: yeah, much more operatic. Right. It’s it’s like, it’s like listening to like modern, like psycho drone or like Philip Glass stuff versus Float City, which is just like Italian opera.
And do you know the romantic composers and, and, you know yeah.
And because we knew it was a limited series, we knew we were going to get to end it soon. Whereas Fun City’s this ongoing thing, but when you get to end something, you get to make a lot bigger moves, right? Yeah. And that’s, and that has nothing to do with the world of the genre.
That’s just a fact of the limited resources of living in the real world.
How Shadowrun Defines “Monster”
Lucas: I have over the course of this podcast interviewed something like two dozen game designers and four actual play DMS. And uh, every single one of them has a slightly different definition of what the word monster is.
I want to know how Shadowrun and Stillfleet differ in their definitions of monster from D and D, which I can give you verbatim. and I want to know how you guys, as co GM’s of this podcast, use the words or define the words “monster”, “villain”, and “antagonist”.
Mike Rugnetta: Interesting.
Lucas: That’s like the heart and soul of what I’m trying to do with this episode. And I, they’re so interconnected it’s very difficult to do those in a particular order of questions. maybe it’d be best to start from the system and work out.
Mike Rugnetta: Wait, I want to know what is the D and D like verbatim definition of a monster?
Lucas: Oh yeah, it’s super easy. It’s on page four of the Monster Manual, if you have one and you want to look it up, it is “anything with a stat block”. Anything that your players might interact with is defined as monster.
Mike Rugnetta: So like an armored guard is a monster.
Lucas: A commoner? Monster.
Mike Rugnetta: Monster. Interesting. Taylor, do I have a lot of thoughts about this? I could, start. Yeah.
Taylor Moore: well, I, listen, I think it’s fantastic for what they’re doing, because they’re trying to make it easy on their copywriters to get clear rules
Lucas: right. D and D is by and large an Ikea manual. So it needs a way of saying this is an Allen key.
Taylor Moore: yeah, yeah, exactly. So the word “monster” is just going to be an Allen key. Love it. The philosophical implications?
Mike Rugnetta: Ooh, lots of them, a
Lucas: way better.
Mike Rugnetta: I just had a, a conversation. I run a, a five E game with some close friends of mine from college who haven’t ever played any tabletop role-playing before
Lucas: I love those people.
Mike Rugnetta: They asked me to run a game for them. And, oh my God, it’s so much fun. I would say that my concern about playing ” correctly” is low. Uh, like my, my, the amount of worry that I have, that I am doing things as prescribed by manuals is non-existent. And they know this and they know that they have selected into this, uh, game with this kind of, of, uh, DM,
Lucas: Establish ground rules and expectations. This is important.
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah. listen, if you make a good enough case, I’ll let you do anything. Um, and one of them had a question. They were like, is a Mind Flayer a creature?
Lucas: Hey there, it’s future Lucas just breaking in to remind you about Making a Monster’s listener rewards. You like monsters? Of course you do, that’s why you’re here. You want monsters you can use in your games? I got stat blocks, I got lore, I got tokens, I got mythic rewards from some of the best designers in tabletop gaming and I’m just giving them away. That’s right, just follow the link in the show notes and give me an email address and I’ll send you over a dozen bonus gifts from Making a Monster guests you can use in your tabletop game right out of the box. Don’t worry, I hate spam as much as you do. I will only email you when I have something you’ll love, and you can unsubscribe any time. So don’t wait, go to scintilla dot studio slash monster and tell me where to send these monstrous rewards. That’s scintilla dot studio, slash monster. Alright, back to the show.
Mike Rugnetta: They were like, is a Mind Flayer a creature? Uh, because one of their abilities was like, any creature XYZ. And I was like, I don’t know. Do you think a Mind Flayer is a creature? And one of the guys who I play with has a background in philosophy, he studied philosophy.
Lucas: Oh, no.
Mike Rugnetta: And so we got to have a conversation about whether or not the Mind Flayer is a creature. So we started with, okay, when I say creature, we’re like out, we’re walking in the woods and I say creature, what’s the set of things that comes to mind in that setting? We’re out in the city and we’re walking around and, and I point, and I say, “ah, a creature!” What do you think of? A rat, maybe? A racoon? You’re out in the world of the Forgotten Realms and you point and you say a creature, What’s the thing that comes to mind? Is the thing that comes to mind for those characters who inhabit that setting this being, which is known to have a culture, known to have a history, known to be not only smart but dangerously smart? Do you think that they would regard that being as a creature? And they answered “No.”.
Taylor Moore: I want to fist fight everyone in this conversation.
Lucas: You broke the game!
Taylor Moore: Yes, it’s a creature! It’s a creature! It is obviously the rules have, they it’s like monster the rules of defining categories to help you understand what your abilities can do! God damn it!
Mike Rugnetta: I mean, that’s what I’m saying. Like, like if in a situation I’m like, listen, you get to do whatever you want. So if you have a question about whether or not something is a creature, let’s answer the question. If you tell me it’s a creature, like I’m not going to argue, but if you want to, if you want to, talk about it, we will talk about it.
I think yes, from that perspective, like, yeah, if you want to use an attack on something and yeah, use it, it’s fine. Go, go for it. like, break, break the game. We ignore so much about Shadowrun that you know, is very, very tightly controlled. The categories are extremely strict. Every single object has a toughness and strength rating. And there is a table in the book to tell you whether the door you’re in front of can survive the blast from the grenade that you’re holding. Like
Taylor Moore: oh, don’t, don’t get me started on grenade rules in Shadowrun. Uh, it’s uh, it’s a good example of why you shouldn’t write rules at all.
Monster, Villain, Antagonist
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah. So I think in the broad sense, monster, villain, antagonist, it’s whatever your party is currently rolling dice against. In the easy way. Sure. But I have strong feelings about like narratively,
Taylor Moore: There we go. No one listens for the easy way.
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah. Like outside of rolling dice, mechanics, stuff like that, how you decide for the sake of the rules, what the thing that you are interacting with is? How do you a player and how do the player characters appreciate the person or thing that is standing in front of them?
I think of monsters as things like in Float City, the Emissary. That to me is a monster. It doesn’t have a human shape. It is monstrous, uh, like in a sort of like Noel Carroll sense. It is a thing that is horrific. It causes terror. It is something that is, until you see it, somewhat beyond the ken of the human mind.
I think a villain is someone who is usually human, but it doesn’t have to be, but it is something that plots. A villain is at the top of a pyramid that your players work towards. They’re planning. They have ideas, they have preferences, and can make compromises. They can sacrifice they can yield ground in order to gain what they think will be an advantage later.
An antagonist is possibly literally anything, including the other player characters around the table.
And I think that we are always like every player, every character, every object, every NPC you’re dipping in and out of friendly antagonist, from antagonist to villain, back and forth, all the time. And I think like Taylor’s specific style of play is just like, it’s like watching a master at work, like watching, watching our players, players block your ears, become best friends with people who they really shouldn’t because, because, because Taylor is able to antagonize them and then be like, no, but we’re friends.
Like it’s really, I mean, it’s abusive, it’s an abusive relationship.
Taylor Moore: am taking advantage of their weaknesses, like their personal, cast members’ weaknesses and fears and insecurities. Absolutely. A hundred percent.
Mike Rugnetta: Some of those people it’s like unclear where the line is. Are they a friend? If not a friend, are they a useful relationship?
Taylor Moore: Mike, let me ask you a question. Gollum. Is Gollum a monster, an antagonist or a villain?
Mike Rugnetta: Oh,
Lucas: this I assume is the Lord of the Rings Gollum.
Taylor Moore: Yes. Not like a mutual friend. We have we
Lucas: perhaps the, the, giant thoughtless creature from Jewish folklore.
Taylor Moore: Ah, the golem, no, no, no of the Warsaw. no.
Lucas: I’ve heard them pronounced exactly the opposite way.
Taylor Moore: Oh really?
Lucas: I had to clarify,
Mike Rugnetta: I’m going to say antagonist. Because the, boundaries are, are messy, right? Yeah.
Taylor Moore: Yeah, the boundaries are messy, except for one. Antagonist is weirder. I think what Mike said about like the antagonist can even be like a, could be an institution or a structure or an idea. I think that that’s true. I don’t think the antagonist necessarily always has to be like, what did Campbell call out? Like the mirror self, the inverted protagonist, the shadow link. I think that the main distinction between a monster and a villain is a monster opposes the protagonist in the real, right? Like the monster, the monster can be a hurricane. The monster can be a canyon that is difficult to cross.
But whereas the villain opposes the protagonist within the symbolic order,
Mike Rugnetta: We’re about to get Lacanian everybody!
Taylor Moore: The villain, the villain has ideology, right? Like the villain believes things. So like
the villain can never lay a punch, can never oppose the protagonist in the real world, in the real world of violence and matter, and physical consequences.
Though, maybe this is a weakness of modern storytelling, including ours. One thing I hate is that in like a lot of these like super modern superhero movies, an ideological difference will be resolved with lasers
Mike Rugnetta: With flight again.
Taylor Moore: But I do believe that like, it is interesting to watch like heroes and villains kind of have the, uh, encompassing battle of do we resolve this within the symbolic order or in the real, usually through violence or through a privation of some necessary resource for the villain.
Mike Rugnetta: I want to offer, I think, an extension to this, which, I think might be interesting for us to think about in our own games. So like, I’m thinking about Cthulhu, an intelligent being, let’s say, something that we understand, even though we understand it to be weird and incomprehensible in some ways we like consider it as having an, uh, an interiority. The continuum where that interiority goes from, goes from a coherent ideology that like a human could possibly understand to just complete unknowability is the continuum on which something might also turn from villain to monster.
Taylor Moore: a hundred percent, a hundred percent like, ah, yeah. I mean, totally. I mean, that’s what makes kudu, that’s what makes the Lovecraftian mythos and cosmic horror maybe my favorite genre of anything. Um, so powerful is that cosmic horror was the first to be like, well, yes, lions are scary, but what if a lion so smart that it was as large and indifferent as the universe is to our, uh, you know, human endeavors that’s even scarier than a lion.
Mike Rugnetta: I think it’s like, I think it’s like, you know, like if, if, Uh for lack of a better phrase that I, I, I, you know, I can’t come up with on the spot. It’s like, if something has like eight dimensional ideology, even if, you know, somehow that there is a thinking and a, um, there’s a plan, there is a want, but if it’s just so removed from anything you could possibly understand it just transitions from villain to monster.
Taylor Moore: which I think is interesting because that suggests that. It is not really about the real versus the symbolic order that the bad guy is operating in. What it’s really about is is it within the symbolic order that the protagonist can access?
which is really about like our need to project, our values outwardly and really in perhaps we’re the bad guys, Mike,
Mike Rugnetta: thinking about it all the
Taylor Moore: humanity is the virus.
The Lovecraft Protocol
Lucas: I am going to break in you here because, uh, I do have to Institute what I call the Lovecraft protocol,
Taylor Moore: Oh
Mike Rugnetta: We have to do, we have to do a shot now.
Taylor Moore: do I have to have sex with a fish?
Lucas: no. I mean, you can, if you want, I guess I don’t know.
Taylor Moore: I’ve seen some hot fish
Lucas: Uh, Lovecraft comes up in, I would say one out of every three episodes I do. And when he does, there are some things we have to say, First of all, HP Lovecraft writer, commonly credited as the progenitor of the cosmic horror genre writing in the, uh, early 20th century, had as either his influences or became an influence for people who, espoused ideologies that were extremely thick into eugenics and racism and xenophobia. And, uh, by mentioning Lovecraft, we are not endorsing those philosophies,
Mike Rugnetta: Huge, huge, huge, big fat, bad racist. Yeah,
Taylor Moore: yeah, yeah. You know, it’s, I always think when we talk about the racism of low crap, how strange it is, because he was so seriously onto something with his conception of cosmic horror. The things that need to be true in order for cosmic horror to work as an aesthetic negate all of his social categories by which he has started his own private supremacy. I always found that really interesting with him that like, if you take cosmic horror at its roots, it is anti-racist in as much as it is anti-cultural, right? And yet there he was.
Lucas: Right. And this is why I have to do the Lovecraft protocol is because the genre he created and the genre markers that it has and the cultural expectations that have become attached to it are really interesting in their own right. And they have enabled some really fantastic storytelling and philosophical work and all of that I think is worth, what did Garrett call it? bringing into the stage of universal acceptance at least. So that’s the Lovecraft protocol.
Uh, now we’ve done that we can move on.
We were actually about to make a pretty interesting turn. We had talked about monster villain and antagonist as, uh, and
Taylor Moore: going to talk about what Lacan called the mirror stage.
Lucas: we could. Should we? we might.
Taylor Moore: well, that’s a, that’s a different.
Definitions of Hero
Lucas: uh, one of the things that has also come up as a part of this exploration is, uh, is the definition of hero. And whether that is by necessity tied to the definition of monster and or villain and or antagonist. In as much as systems give you a definition of monster, they also give you a definition of hero.
Does Shadowrun, and Stillfleet, give you a definition of hero or do you have to create one from the definitions that you have for monster, villain, and antagonist?
Taylor Moore: I don’t think they do. I know for a fact Stillfleet does not. And in fact, Stillfleet implicates your character immediately within character creation because you are ostensibly, you’re encouraged to be part of this big company of like far future space capitalists.
Mike Rugnetta: They’re like slavers. Like they
Taylor Moore: Yeah, they’re bad. Like by our moral standards, The Co, The Company, uh, is bad. I mean, obviously you can take a character and put them in that world and not have them work for The Co, but very much it’s encouraged. Like you start out this way. It’s a good hook for adventure stuff. D&D definitely doesn’t, right? And Shadowrun, Shadowrun very much encourages you to be a criminal. I mean, “shadowrun” is the, is the name of a certain kind of crime in the world. You’re going on a shadowrun and the criminals are called shadowrunners.
Mike Rugnetta: In a lot of Shadowrun games, you see the same attitude develop, which is I’m a player, character living in a dystopia. the corporations control everything. It’s very hard to get by. You have to do whatever you look out for number one. You do whatever you can to like, make sure that you survive by hook or by crook, or literally just, just by crook. So what you get is you get a lot of games that I have described as “Capitalism Made Me Do It: The Game”, and that people just wash their hands of any moral consideration because they have to do whatever they have to do to survive.
It doesn’t matter what it is that they’re doing. Like the world is bad. And so they have to be bad in the world because that’s the only way that you make it. Are those heroes? They are certainly protagonists. Maybe that is a distinction? Like, you know, I don’t know.
Um, God, it’s also so complicated because we have superheroes. So like superhero is like a very specific kind of thing, but most of them are just like libertarian fantasies. It’s like a libertarian wet dream, just like in, uh, in spandex. Are most superheroes, good people? No, I definitely not. Are they otherwise like heroes and heroic in that they are like doing good?
Taylor Moore: hero is what we call propaganda, right? I mean, there’s, you know, there’s protagonists. There is a figure in a story that you are supposed to watch go through the structure of the story. You know, this is the character that leaves their normal existence goes into a place that just so happens to resemble a lot of the internal conflicts maybe they were experiencing and then comes out both a master of the past self and the new self as crafted through the road of trials of the adventure. You know what I mean? Whoever goes in that circle, that’s the protagonist. They’re only a hero if they are the Gallant in a Goofus and Gallant propaganda dichotomy of what society is telling you, you should be.
And I will also say that, like, even though Dungeons and Dragons, doesn’t, outright say, you gotta be good, you gotta bad, whatever, but I will point out that like, and I don’t, I don’t want to be one of those people that’s like trying to cancel D and D because it’s a colonial product. I mean, obviously it is. Here we are, you know, everything we make is. But like, uh, it is funny to me that like the basic adventure in D and D you go into a dungeon or a tomb, take a treasurer out is like a fundamentally post-modern colonial way to see the world, but it is a capitalist realist thing like that is a, an object defined by culture is only as valuable as you can sell it in the marketplace. There is no inherent or sacred value to anything except your advancement within the market by however you arrange the cultural detritus that you received when you came into the world, that is fundamentally a capitalist realist ideology and very colonial. I mean, you know, people that wrote D and D are basing this on what’s the, uh, uh, oh, shame on me for not, uh, like they’re basing it on like the British fantasy adventure tradition, which absolutely came out of the British empire and their tomb robbing in Egypt and their rape of all these other colonized places.
Lucas: Right. gentlemen explorers of the 19th century.
Taylor Moore: Yeah. What was the, what was the John Carpenter of Mars writer?
Lucas: Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Taylor Moore: very much like, oh, we got people from quote unquote civilization going out into uncolonized lands and taking all the money from their graves.
D&D as a Libtertarian Fantasy
Mike Rugnetta: it’s that same libertarian fantasy. It’s the, like the, like the powerful individuals choosing to consort together to use the resources that they gather themselves in order to gain some security for themselves. You can very much play play a D and D game where you join a collective and like help, uh, you know, uh, engage in some mutual aid. I think it’s not often the case and it certainly is not encouraged by, uh, the writing in the book.
Taylor Moore: yeah, just like HP Lovecraft, like created this genre that supersedes and negates his own horrible political beliefs. Like the early days of tabletop role-playing games, even though those adventures and a lot of those ideas are like dripping with the sort of awful self-centeredness of their cultural origins, the tools that they created are just like are fantastic and are no way I think weighed down by any of that ideology. Even if you want to do like rules as written D and D game, you can, like, you can make anticapitalist, anti-colonial, um, uh, adventure and world and characters out of it, which is one thing I love about the tabletop role-playing
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah, I was going to say a lot. A lot of people are now too. It’s very
Lucas: I’ve talked to some of them within the last week.
Taylor Moore: one of my favorite actual place shows a campaign, uh, is, you know, explicitly anti-colonial and anti capitalism. So many are and shadow run definitely incur, you know, the way we play it. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say so much about that now.
Yeah. I’ll be quiet about how that relates to fund city. Cause I don’t want to, I don’t want any of the players to listen and get spoiled on what we’ve got
Lucas: I hope they will. want them to hear all the nice things I have to say about them.
Mike Rugnetta: I’m holding the 6E Shadowrun core rule book and I’m reading the introductory section, which is
Lucas: Oh, the miles of text.
Mike Rugnetta: “The life you have left.” Um, and it’s about sort of like what the world is like and why you might choose to not be a “normie” as it were. It is very much couched in the language of like, um, your hand feels forced. I mean, what else will you do in this world? You have so few choices. If you make the one big choice to play by the rules. And so why not not play by the rules.
Spoiling the Float City Arc
Lucas: I’m really glad that I talked to you guys last, cause I feel like we’ve, we’ve done what I’ve been trying to do in the last four interviews. But we’ve done it like all at once. Um, I will be putting a big fat spoiler alert at the beginning of this episode because I can’t do what I think I have to do with you guys without saying that, because I do, I want to talk about the Saffron Annax’s offer. For the people who may not have taken my advice and like immediately stopped what they are doing, listened to all of Float City and come back to this precise minute in the podcast, can you thumbnail for me what the Saffron Annax is?
Mike Rugnetta: The Saffron Annax is a canonical character in the world of Stillfleet. Wythe wrote him into the core rule book so when the game comes out and people are able to buy it, they will be able to open up the book and they will see like a description of who and what the Saffron Annax is. Our Saffron Annax is slightly different from that. A lot of what Wythe was writing was coming together as we were making our show. So there are sort of like parallel constitutions of Saffron Annaxes.
A lot of the big items are. The Saffron Annax is, a trade lord, like maybe a feudal king, maybe like a Jeff Bezos, someone who just is engaged in the trade of goods. He’s not a company, but he’s like a person who manages the flow of items across many locations. The two most closely tied locations to the Saffron Annax are two planets, Rigamont A and Rigamont B, otherwise known as The Twins. And they’re these two twin, planets with a moon between them that he keeps in balance, through his force of existence, through his sheer force of will. He provides them not only with atmosphere, but also with things. People live on these planets, they need food, they need shelter, they need clothing, et cetera, et cetera.
He is able to do this because he exists on multiple dimensions. When we see the Saffron Annaxin the world of our game, he kind of is like this, semi featureless slate or blue, gray, like man shape, like a peacock blue mannequin. But in reality, he is what in the game is described as an, extra dimensional entity. He exists across time and space in a way that is difficult for most other three-dimensional sapiens, as they’re described in the game to like comprehend or understand.
And he is also just exceptionally smart. Beyond being, powerful in the way that he can use time and space as a material, in a way that, us three-dimensional beings have a hard time understanding or, you know, being able to do,
Taylor Moore: Through the course of Float City, it is a classic like LA mid-century detective story. This guy hires him to go do a job. They get framed for murder. They thought that the guy that hired them is the guy that did it. And the guy that did it, obviously is the Saffron Annax, who was trying to use our player characters to start a war on a planet. He wanted to add this planet to his trade network, uh, and through a very complex series of events, this would tip the dominoes in his favor and that planets economy would fall under his territory.
The players discover this, and they begin to work their way up through the organization to get to the Saffron Annax. There was their immediate manager named Algar. Then there was his boss named H’rakt. And then above H’rakt was the Saffron Annax. And that these are the three people between the players and the top level of the conspiracy
Mike Rugnetta: I forget who wrote it, but this is based on someone wrote a scheme on how to design, um, conspiracies between villains, uh,in TT RPGs. And this was very much designed using that as an inspiration and it is called the Conspyramid. It’s a way of designing, not individual aggressors, but systemic aggressors in a tabletop role playing games. And I use it a lot.
Taylor Moore: This goes back to like some of the most fundamental storytelling stuff. Right. Mike and I wrote these three characters, to be like each one of them is going to have an attitude towards power. Algar is like this low level bureaucrat who just believes, like, I’m a good person. If I do my job, if I do what my boss says, I’m good. I’m just, he’s the, I’m just doing my job guy. H’rakt, guy above him, he’s where we started to like really crack into like the ideology of the layers of the ruling class. So Algar represents like the petite bourgeois.
And what I, when I say represent, I do not mean that Mike and I are just like writing out people we hate and then drawing lines character names and be like, this one represents this. It’s like, no, it’s like how do people relate to power structures that they’re in that have done bad Like, what do people say?
Mike Rugnetta: The thing that Taylor and I talk about a lot, when we’re writing villains is what does this kind of person want?
And then, and then we look at the other characterizations that we have for those characters already. Like we think it would be neat if they had these various sort of quirks and characteristics. So like, then you just figure out what kind of momentum you get building to arrive at a full character. It’s like, well, they look like this, they have this kind of like speech quirk, or they live in this weird place or they look like this. They really like this kind of thing. They are this kind of person.
That kind of person in this situation would want probably this kind of thing. And then when you smash that to those two things together, what kind of character do you get?
Taylor Moore: So H’rakt is like the middle guy. He’s kind of like a real zealot. Everything I’ve done is justified because we’re trying to help people,
Mike Rugnetta: he remembers when it was really bad and you weren’t there, so he’s going to actually, he’s here to save you from your own inaction. Like, you gotta make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. And like if, people need to get hurt in the process, then like people are going to get hurt anyways. They might as well be hurt, making sure that in the long run things are better.
Taylor Moore: Yeah. And I think that, like that is where most villain ideology stops in a lot of stories, right? If you watch, modern superhero movies, that’s the villain ideology, the villain ideology is I’m trying to help everyone. Right? The, in the Marvel movies, Loki and Thanos, are like, “I’m trying to actually help you. But I, and I know the best way, and I, all my things are justified because the way I’m built things is going to be better for you.” but that’s H’rakt, right? We wanted to push beyond that. And then beyond H’rakt is the Saffron Annax, finally the prime mover. The final episode is the conversation with the Saffron Annax and then it’s its consequences.
And I really, I cannot begin to tell you how fun, uh, recording this episode was because we built the Saffron Annax to be in one way, extremely simple and in another way, extremely complicated. I wanted to play the Saffron Annax completely honest. TheSaffron Annax in that last episode does not tell one lie to anybody. He is a top villain that is giving a completely faithful and non-manipulative accounting of his reasons and his actions and what his incentives are and why he’s doing what he’s doing.
And what he’s doing is this. He is trying to create a civilization-spanning economy under his guidance and in his control because he believes that it is beautiful because he wants it. It sounds easy, like to fight against that ideology, like, oh, you’re just manipulating me because you want it go to hell. But I wanted to have a conversation and offer a choice to the players because the choice is like, look under this thing that I think I want and is beautiful, everyone will be better off. H’rakt is correct when he says like, if, if the Saffron Annax has control of everything, everyone will be safer.
Cause in this world, there was a recent cataclysm, which Mike alluded to, that hurt a lot of people. And now things have been solved a little bit, but the cataclysm could happen again at any moment at any moment, the prime technology in this world that allows everyone to have economic opportunities could go away, and shutter all the worlds and close them off to each other. The Saffron Annax can stop that, and that will help everyone. Now, he’s not doing it for those reasons, but who cares? And so the Saffron Annax says “Come and work with me and you can help me achieve this vision, you’re very powerful. You’re very smart. You’re very resourceful. I can use you, and we can achieve this together. It will help everyone. I’m not doing it for that reason. I think, and looking at this in like a multidimensional way, this is extraordinarily beautiful. This is an aesthetic project.”
The Saffron Annax is built to force the listeners and the players to acknowledge this about themselves: that your own principles are also aesthetics. Because if you try to fight the Annax in a principled way, you are dooming billions of people to their death. By what principle possibly would that ethical action be allowed? In what possible way is that moral? You have to admit that if you’re going to stop this guy from saving all these people, you’re doing it because you just don’t think it’s nice. You don’t think it’s pretty, you don’t think it’s beautiful. And I wanted to force the listeners and the players to acknowledge that at the end of the day, there are no principles. All ethics are aesthetics. And the only way that those different aesthetics can interact is through the application of power in the real
Mike Rugnetta: The Annax as a character forces the listener and the players to take a position on, the proposal that H’rakt makes, which is, listen, are we going to start a war? Probably. will people die in that war? It’s pretty much guaranteed. Is that better or worse than not starting the war, not being able to put a bunch of planets into one trade network and then, broker this sort of like central planning thing that doesn’t, then depend upon technology that could turn off at any moment, thus stranding people for God knows how long, could be hundreds of years could be thousands?
And so it’s easy to be like, no, like w what? War bad! War is bad! Don’t kill people for like the promise later of maybe things will be good, except then you go and talk to the Annax and he’s like, listen, not only like I got it, like not only will things be good, like it’s gonna be beautiful. Like, yeah, some people will die. Not only will it be good, it’s gonna look dope as hell. I mean, you will never be able to see it, but it’s gonna look- just trust me. Just imagine something that looks really good. Yes. People
will die, but imagine something that’s going to look really good. And then it forces you to think like, wait, what?
Taylor Moore: Yeah. The world has nothing to offer this guy. He’s essentially a Demi God. so why, why? Why conflict at all? Why do anything? You don’t need anything! You don’t even get any food. You don’t need water. You’re safe. You’re fine. You’re powerful. What are you need nothing. It’s beautiful. You know?
And like, and I think that this gets at so many things. Number one, why does the ruling class hold onto power in our society? They don’t need it. They’re already rich. They’re fine. Jeff Bezos could quit, never work a day in his life. Never exert any control over another human being as long as he lives. And he will be great. There’s no reason to maintain that level of power unless you just want to, you just think it’s cool.
So how do you deal with someone like that when it’s not, Hey, listen, I know we all want the same thing here. I’m sure we can work it out. You know? you don’t thing at all. Not at all. You don’t, they want one thing you want another, and there is no electoral process or disagreement, or there is no mediation between the two. It is going to be which one of you can get rid of the other first.
And that the end that I really feel, I, me personally, Taylor, not just in storytelling, but in the world, that is fundamentally the question that our society is facing right now is like, we have got to acknowledge that at some level, and it’s always kind of like this, it’s them or us. And I wanted the Saffron Annax to like enact that choice onto the players, forcing them to realize, that was also the choice all along.
I don’t know if it worked because then you have this thing of like the structure of narrative and the nature of genre encourages the players to just be like, obviously we’re right and you’re wrong. You’re the bad guy. Just like a character has plot armor, sometimes a character has a big plot target on their
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah. You, you push against the, the expectation and the momentum of narrative and especially the momentum of tabletop role-playing, which is like, you’re standing in the room with the big, bad guy. Like, this is the big, bad man who wanted to do a bad thing, who framed you. Like kill him. You have to, you, you, everybody rolls initiative, you take turns and you fight.
And then you get this interesting thing of like you, do you kill him? You perhaps leave open the threat of another Tacheon quake down the road. Uh, you have killed someone who everybody knows can create a connection between economic partners that doesn’t rely on pre-existing technology. You’ve also literally destabilized two planets that are now breaking apart in the midst of space and all of the people and all of the people who live on them are, are going to die there
Taylor Moore: very, very cruel of us to do that players. Thematically it works because like, you just don’t live in a world where you get to make big moves like this and it doesn’t affect a lot of people.
Mike Rugnetta: I cannot help, but wonder the ways in which it would be equally interesting if they had said like, okay, like, yeah, we’ll work with you. Like then what happens? Does the the Saffron Annax and I was like, no, just kidding.
And then he’s, and then he’s chosen to get into a fight that he could potentially lose. And so like, what is the sort of like background there? Like, is that hubris? Or do they say like, you know what? No, just in general, no,
Taylor Moore: Yeah. Which is what they went with, I think. Yeah. Just like, nah, not vibe in it.
Mike Rugnetta: yeah. Or like, we’re not going to take your deal, we’re also not going to try to stop you. Like, this is just like, sort of choosing a kind of middle path of like, you know what, uh, as Remy would say I’m tired.
So yeah, I think, I think that like the players, the players, the idea was to give the players a, um, like a complicated choice and to put that complicated choice up against the narrative momentum of a tabletop role-playing story and to see,
you know, whichever way they went, uh, whether or not it was like, yes, we’ll work with, you know, and you have to die or no.
And also we’re just going to leave like you, do you, do, you were going to just go do us to, to figure out yeah.
Like what, what are the repercussions of that? Um, you know, I can speculate endlessly about the other two options and what may have come to pass, but, uh, you know, that’s, that’s basically fan fiction at this point.
Um, and you know, I think the, the one that we got was, yeah. it was interesting. Um, I, you know, I really liked the ending of the show. I think the players did a really, really good
job, both on the macro level of like what the story needed in both, in like individually what their characters wanted and needed to do.
Um, I think it turned out really well. I think they made some great, they made big swings. They make great choices.
Lucas: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Uh, as much as I loved Merkis and connected with him immediately, uh, I, I, I looked at the way Remy went out and I thought it was always going to be this way. Um, it couldn’t have been.
Mike Rugnetta: Yeah,
Taylor Moore: Before the recording, like we had discussed, like, here’s what these characters want. Here’s what they care for. Like, here’s, you know, here’s their vibe, here’s their ideology. But then in the, in the actual episode, that’s entirely improvised. didn’t write out a single line of dialogue or anything.
Lucas: That’s hugely impressive. At the risk of bringing religion into the conversation, um, there, there was a portion of what he said that to some definitions of the term sounded like paradise. Uh, Um, I’m not, I’m not exactly sure what I want to do with that, but I do, I do want to say that for people who didn’t read it that way, like the idea of, uh, So I think the idea was that if you, if you work for me, I can promise you a lifetime of fulfilling work toward a worthwhile goal. And for some value, for some definitions of paradise that’s heaven, um, was that part of the plan, uh, is that something you’re comfortable with? Uh, and it like, does that add something to that? That that is, that is useful or worthwhile
Taylor Moore: Well, yeah. I mean,
Mike Rugnetta: I think when we talked about it, we talked about it in very like, dialectical materialism terms, and like the jokes that we made in the fun chatty afterwards were all about central planning and about like, to what degree is this a version of, of like some sort of weird author authoritarian leftism, in fact, does this resemble fascism, does this resemble, communism or socialism? and those were the terms that we’ve talked about it so far. I think I had not considered, the sort of spiritual implications beyond the idea of like the Annaxis so powerful he is effectively a god. And he’s like inviting you into his house in
Lucas: I mean, there are Deva in his house.
Mike Rugnetta: Yes. They are religious devotees. Yeah.
Taylor Moore: So this is you’ve hit upon the one part where I think that like the theme sort of falls apart because there is a fundamental difference between what happened with the Saffron Annax and what we in the real world have to deal with.
Right? As the person who wrote a lot of the Saffron Annax and played it, I can tell you with a hundred percent authority he was telling the truth. And that, that is what was going to happen. That is why he was doing it. And it would have, it would have worked. Okay. The problem is, is that we in our lives and all the listeners experiencing this, we are all the players don’t know. And the players did not. The players had been lied to before, by him and the other members of the conspiracy and the players don’t know if that’s true.
When the neo-liberals and the techno utopians tell us, if you just let our institutions grow and encompass everything of your life, it will be better. We don’t know if they’re telling the truth or not. Right? So we can’t make that. I believe in my position as the person who knows the Saffron Annax was telling the truth, what the players did is horrible. Like they hurt so many people, for what? Their completely ungrounded principle that there just shouldn’t be a person in charge? Well, that’s insane! killing billions of people, just so you can feel good about something you made up that everyone else didn’t agree to? That’s wild!
You know, but from our perspective of human beings perspective, we’re being given the Saffron Annax’s deal from the ruling tech class and we have no reason to believe that they’re telling the truth. And so that’s a major disconnect that we can’t really solve for. Like the listener doesn’t know. Only I know for a that it’s actually a pretty good deal and that what happened is a terrible
Mike Rugnetta: Well, yeah. Yeah. Well, and it’s like, and you do the calculation of like the steep costs on either side. Like it’s really, it’s like a very it’s – is there gonna be a rule for this too? It’s kind of like a complicated trolley problem really.
Taylor Moore: It’s not complicated at all.
Lucas: no, there’s no Trolley Problem protocol.
Mike Rugnetta: yeah,
Taylor Moore: the simplest trolley problem ever, but from the players, it’s difficult. But you know, it’s like, uh, I don’t know who said it at some enlightenment person was like, or maybe it was back to the Greeks. Oh, the best government would be the enlightened despot. The ideal government is like the single person in charge who makes all the right decisions, which doesn’t exist in the real world, but we kind of created one in, in fiction, which is very unfair. So
Mike Rugnetta: this is
Taylor Moore: know, it’s very unfair, it’s like Escher drawing, these impossible shapes, like look at it. Yeah. It looks cool.
Mike Rugnetta: walk. What do you walk? Go. You walk up that staircase. Why don’t you go ahead and have a, have a little stroll around this building that I drew?
Taylor Moore: Yeah. So putting like a real world ethical like argument, like on this fictional thing is dangerous because it’s like trying to build one of those infinite staircases. We lied to you. We lied. That’s a trick you can do in audio does not apply to real-world objects.
Mike Rugnetta: I think we do this a lot in shatter on two, which is just like, there’s no good choice. There’s no good ch there’s every choice you have is kind of bad, cause uh, world bad. It like just, it? Bad. Like the circumstances have been allowed to get to this point where you want to act appropriately, you want to act morally or ethically, you want to judge, you want to be in possession of information that then informs your actions so that after you take those actions, you feel good about the actions that you’ve made? Whoops. Turns out you can’t.
Taylor Moore: But I think like the, like
Mike Rugnetta: It doesn’t really matter.
Taylor Moore: the trick, yeah.
The trick of storytelling no one cares about the architect and the computers in the matrix. just want to watch Trinity and ma matrix man kiss. that’s all we want. You
Mike Rugnetta: That’s why, that’s why, I watched the matrix, for the smooching.
Taylor Moore: well you, like it is! It is why
Lucas: is. We want the young hot people to get together,
Taylor Moore: Yeah. We don’t give it like our emotional cores that keeps us like the thing that puts you on the edge of the seat isn’t the philosophical is that puts you on the edge of the seat is like, Oh my God is Merkis going to be okay? Like, oh, she doesn’t care about having a boyfriend anymore, she just wants to help her friends! We watched a group of people, become friends and like, that’s, that’s what actually makes the juices flow along your spinal column. More than like, you know, our fancy stand in
Mike Rugnetta: Uh, what, what kind of fascism is this fascist?
Taylor Moore: Yeah,
Lucas: that’s what gets Mike interested, I don’t know. I’ll tell you, it’s like a vote of confidence in the, in the piece of art that you’ve created. Yes, absolutely. What happened to Merkis was the reason that I had to like, stop what I was doing for a good couple hours and process the end of this story. I think that the, the questions that we’re having are the reason that I’m still thinking about it now. So I think you’ve, you’ve been able to do both, which is fantastic and the way that you’ve been able to do it in this medium is so critically important at this point in history.
I’ll also tell you that, uh, maybe it was because of the presence of the Deva, uh, and it was certainly due to my own background and the, like the things that I brought to this story I read, um, I read the saffron on anox as a metaphor for the divine, and that wasn’t the only reason most of it was down to your performance Taylor, that I fully believed him.
My reading of the situation was that he was going to fully do this. And so it was weird to me that the, the players made the choices that they did. And I, I think we’ve explored that. I just like, I wanted you to have that as creators. Like, this is how it hit me.
Taylor Moore: Thank you, sir. And that wasn’t an accident. I mean, we are well aware of like, we’re not the first people to live in this world where the ruling class is trying to convince us to just let them be God, you know? I mean, that’s a tale as old as time when, when you get power imbalances through human history, but no, I mean, that’s, it’s all, it’s all wrapped up in the same stuff. Yeah.
Lucas: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to chat with you guys about the thing that you’ve made. Cause I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a very, very long time.
Mike Rugnetta: Thanks for having us. We get to do this very rarely, usually it’s like me and Taylor in his kitchen being like, oh, and then, and then this guy, you know, and like, oh, what if they want this?
Taylor Moore: yeah. Let’s what kind of cool gun can they, like, we don’t sit debating Sarte. Like we like, oh, what if a gun was big?
Mike Rugnetta: Um, and so, uh, yeah, it’s nice. It’s nice to have someone ask like good, questions, uh, to, you know, help us sort of refine some of these things.
Lucas: If that’s all I can add to the world, then, uh, that I will have done something worthwhile.
Closing GM Edition
If you are still here. Thank you for listening to this. The final episode of making a monster game master edition. I want to thank all six GM’s who made this mini series possible?
Nikki Yeager, Dan Locke, Andrew Coons, Cassieroll, Taylor Moore and Mike Rugnetta.
Taylor Moore: If you’ve listened to this conversation and it hasn’t been spoiled for you, uh, listen, go listen to Float City, go listen to Fun City. they’re both great. If you want something with an end, go for Float City. If you want to join with us on this big journey, um, of the cyber punk, uh, New York, 2101 or 21, what is it, Mike?
Mike Rugnetta: We haven’t made the official transition yet, but it will be 2102 in the second season. Quote, unquote.
Taylor Moore: then listen to fun city and, you know, Fortunate Horse. We make other shows as well. Uh, if you want some like, uh, like comedy first, uh, wild and crazy fantasy world building, you got to listen to Rude Tales of Magic. And we just launched a new show about an intrepid group of explorers, having episodic missions on a spaceship to other planets as if they are going through some sort of trek amongst the stars. And it’s called “Oh These, Those Stars of Space. oh, I’m taylor.biz on Twitter.
Mike Rugnetta: You can find a Fun City pretty much anywhere that you listen to podcasts. You can also find us on at funcity.ventures in your browser and at fun city ventures on Twitter and Instagram. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram and Twitch at Mike Rugnetta. Um, I also make, uh, some YouTube videos every once in a while.
Uh, do youtube.com forward slash Mike Rugnetta um, and, um, what else do I do? Uh, that’s let’s, let’s leave it there.
Lucas: If you like what you’ve heard on making a monster and you want to support the show, please share it with the people you play games with.
Your recommendation proves this show is worth the time and attention and will help you both get more out of your monsters and the games you play. If you want to go a little deeper and learn more about what I’m doing, you can sign up for the shows, email lists. If you want to go a little deeper and learn more about what I’m doing, you can sign up for the shows, email list when you do you’ll get free extras from my guests, like 5E stat blocks, virtual tabletop, tokens, and discounts on best-selling D and D products. There’s more than a dozen of them now and more on the way.
And if you really like what I’m doing, and you want to support it, you can sign up for the shows, Patrion there’s exclusive content, including Taylor’s insights on the past and future of actual play podcasts, bonus episodes and a discord community. Just waiting to hear your perspective on monsters in TTR RPGs, just visit patrion.com/scintilla studio.
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