Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

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Sumiron
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Sumiron » Sun Apr 08, 2018 6:29 pm

Swords and Sorcery always dependent on fantasy,
they are kinda mix of historic genre and fantasy
little fantasy makes it better :D , :D

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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Batgirl III » Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:16 pm

Sumiron wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 6:29 pm
Swords and Sorcery always dependent on fantasy,
they are kinda mix of historic genre and fantasy
little fantasy makes it better :D , :D
That's because "swords and sorcery" without a fantasy element belongs to a different genre: "historical fiction." :D
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by L-Space » Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:35 pm

Chris Brady wrote:
Sat Apr 07, 2018 8:29 am
For those who have small groups, I can recommend Scarlet Heroes by Sine Nomine. I like the way it does combat.
Thanks for the suggestions, I'll have to check those out.
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Epic Rant Mode: Engaged!

Post by Batgirl III » Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:38 pm

Any roleplaying campaign will have a style or “flavor.” This may shift from scenario to scenario – one may be tragic, another comic, another melodramatic, and so on – but it’s usually wise to aim for some consistency, if only so players can create appropriate characters. For example, noble swordsmen and combat mages work well in high fantasy tales of spectacular battles and epic quests, but may be out of place in subtle stories of political intrigue and moral ambiguity, while self-indulgent rogues and whimsically absent-minded scholars, totally appropriate for comic low-fantasy games, may not look quite right in dark, horrific scenarios.

Low Fantasy
Low Fantasy setting are usually Earth-itself or an Earth-like world where magic is fairly well understood and doesn’t seem to have affected the landscape too much. By default, magic is rare and limited to exceptional individuals. For most people living in the world, the routine concerns of life are much like those of our own world: getting a job, making friends, paying taxes. If people have occasional dealings with magicians or goblins, that makes life more varied, but they don’t see it as truly strange. Likewise for them, adventuring may be a risky career which promises high returns, or an uncomfortable necessity when faced with a war or a monster.

Low Fantasy PCs can have low starting levels and limited access to magic items (which they may still understand and use to full effect). However, it’s also possible to have competent, wealthy, or high-status heroes in such tales, so higher starting levels may be reasonable. It’s not powerful characters as such who break the low fantasy mold, it’s weird ones. A martial artist monk wandering the Earth is a reasonable character for a game about a village which is suffering from troll attacks and an inept local Sheriff; but in a game of social intrigue set in the king's court, he’s just going to confuse the issue. If players want to run a wide range of strange characters, it’s better to opt for sword and sorcery.

Sword-and-Sorcery
The classic “sword-and-sorcery” tales put the swords in the hands of the heroes, who are often barbarian warriors, while keeping magic mysterious and rather sinister – mostly a tool for villains. More sophisticated treatments allow some sorcery on the heroic side, while still keeping it weird and a little bit dubious. The emphasis on action means that PC wizards should wield a few quick, effective offensive and defensive spells, lest they fall to the charge of some pesky barbarian foe. Alternatively, they can be good with a blade, keeping subtle magics as their ace in the hole.

Sword and sorcery is an excellent fit for roleplaying games, IMHO, as it usually means that most of the land remains unexplored, even though much of it is under cultivation the areas more than a day's ride from any town or hamlet is pretty much unmapped; There are always some deep forests full of shadows and the strange exotics lands just off the map; Barbarian swordsmen in "swords and sorcery" tales need civilizations to visit and plunder, and they need decadent empires in foreign lands across the water to conquer in the late stages of their career. The attitude is almost more important than the geography.

Dark Fantasy
“Dark fantasy” is primarily a matter of mood. Magic in this style is especially mysterious and shadowy. It might be limited to NPCs, or PCs might have a few spells as defenses against supernatural evil. Alternately, they might learn magic “to fight fire with fire,” at perpetual risk to their souls.

Dark fantasy makes for fun campaigns, but setting them up requires a degree of judgment. The PCs should start at modest power levels, though not so lowly that they become victims for the first monster or black magician they meet. Nor so high that a single monster or lone sorcerer poses no threat either. Their access to magic may be subject to GM veto. It’s probably important that they have quick wits, and the wisdom to know when to duck or run. Dark fantasy punishes stubborn heroism, though it rewards strong will combined with sensible judgment.

Mixed Styles
It’s perfectly possible for a campaign to mix and match styles, especially between scenarios. For example, a low fantasy saga might include horrific, downbeat incidents that take it into the realm of dark fantasy, while lighter moments in a sword and sorcery campaign can tip over into comedy. It’s even possible for, say, a high fantasy game to feature moments of low fantasy, when the magic in use is limited and “homely” and the issues at stake are more personal, permitting some low-key character development. This is fine; it gives the game a sense of “light and shade” instead of a flat single-note style.

It’s also entirely possible for a campaign to gradually change from style to style as it goes along. If both the GM and all the players understand that this is what’s happening and agree to the change, this can be a good way to avoid boredom and burnout. My personal D&D campaign world, which I've running off and on for decades will try to sit somewhere between "sword and sorcery" and "dark fantasy." What follows is a brief overview of the term and how its conceits underpin the game. I do modify the tone from adventure to adventure, campaign to campaign, emphasizing some aspects while downplaying others, but this is what the original idea behind the setting was.

Here's how I explain it to new players:

No Unicorns and Rainbows
There are some fantasy settings in which elves ride unicorns, knights take to the air on pegasi, and wise kings with good hearts do what’s best for their people all the time. My campaign world is not one of them. Mine is a setting in which elves are dying and pissed off about it, wizards are feared and mistrusted, and every village has a few dark secrets. The the great evil that may destroy all of the world is the direct result of human hubris, not the master plan of some cartoon mad overlord. And evil, since it comes from the hearts of men (and elves and dwarves), can be checked but never defeated forever.

Life Isn’t Fair
My campign world is rife with injustice, and your friend today may betray you for a gold coin tomorrow. The PCs must make their own way in the world and watch their backs. They will typically start as nobodies; aspiring adventures with little to their names. They may find trustworthy patrons, but they cannot rely on others to make things right. That is their task, should they choose to take it up. You and your fellow players should be aware though that characters can and will die in any campaign I run. The PCs may be thrust into situations that are not tailored for their abilities. They may sometimes be outmatched and have to choose discretion over valor. They should not assume that the universe is going to take care of them. They must do it themselves.

Actions Have Consequences
My D&D campaigns try to be full of choices, some big and some small. Choices, particularly moral choices, matter. And when there doesn’t seem to be a good option that’s when choices matter the most. PCs have free will, but they must be ready to deal with the consequences of their actions. Happy endings are rare. Today’s victory may sow the seeds of tomorrow’s crisis.

Sometimes Evil Wears a Smile
The monsters in the dungeon are an obvious threat but they are not the only evil at work in my world. Scheming civic leaders, corrupt merchants, and cunning bandits can be threats every bit as dangerous as any orc. And sometimes the well-dressed people who speak the fairest words are the worst villains of all. Lust, greed, and covetousness drive many to dark deeds, and violence is an all too common tool in even the most civilized of lands.

Raising the Banner of Hope
The world seems beset with darkness and decay, but despite it all there is hope in the world. There are some good folk, people who care about something other than their own needs and wants. The Player Characters can be heroes and their rise to such stature is what a dark fantasy campaign is all about. At key points in history such champions have raised the banner of hope and driven off the darkness, at least for a time. That is the assumed role of the Player Characters in my campaigns.

Suggested Works
The following books, films, and television series are good examples of the "sword and sorcery" meets "dark fantasy” tone intended for my games:

Novels: A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin; The Iron Throne by Simon Hawke; Ill Met in Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber; Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton; and the Brother Cadefael Mysteries series.
Video Games: The Dragon Age franchise; Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Skyrim; Thief the Dark Age; and the Diablo franchise.
Film: The Lion in Winter, Ladyhawk, Kenneth Brannagh's Henry V, Braveheart, Rob Roy, The 13th Warrior, Kingdom of Heaven, and even Conan the Barbarian.
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Woodclaw » Thu Apr 19, 2018 11:00 am

I just finished re-reading a few notes I made for my D&D games and I realized one critical elements of sword and sorcery: the limited interactions between gods and mortals. It's an established -- and often abused -- element in many classic D&D settings that the gods are real, often physical, beings that the main character might even interact with directly. In many sword & sorcery settings this is not the case. While one of the foundation of the genre, Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, went in the opposite direction, the bulk of the works in this particular genre tend not to feature gods as "real" beings, at least not explicitly.

Just like magic the gods are often mysterious and unknowable. The powers of their acolytes might be magical in nature, but they're often just incredibly clever individuals that prey upon the superstitious and the ignorant (Nabondius the Red Priest from Howard's Rogues in the House is a fine example). Whenever a god appear the reader/viewer often is left with many doubts about its true nature. For example, in The Tower of the Elephant Yag-kosha is an alien of immense god-like power, but still a creature of flesh and blood; the thing from The God in the Bowl could be anything really; but then we have Atali and her kind from The Frost-Giant's Daughter, which seem to imply a supernatural descent.

In general even those works that imply the physical existence of gods (like Lieber's Under the Thumbs of the Gods) always keep the focus on the mortals, often humans, and the present. Even the most powerful deities doesn't seem to the able to act freely upon the world and can only nudge and push their pawns toward a desidered outcome ... except for the gods of Lankhmar, but those are actually a bunch of Lichs armed with staves of withering :P
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Batgirl III » Thu Apr 19, 2018 4:47 pm

Here’s another aspect of gods in these settings, that I think the default D&D role of Clerics has obscured: The gods may or may not be real, but people still believe in them. Completely.

Conan never meets Krom on his mountain top and the Four Winds never let Subotai cast Cure Light Wounds. But both men believe, strongly and deeply, in their faiths.
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Woodclaw » Thu Apr 19, 2018 10:00 pm

Batgirl III wrote:
Thu Apr 19, 2018 4:47 pm
Here’s another aspect of gods in these settings, that I think the default D&D role of Clerics has obscured: The gods may or may not be real, but people still believe in them. Completely.

Conan never meets Krom on his mountain top and the Four Winds never let Subotai cast Cure Light Wounds. But both men believe, strongly and deeply, in their faiths.
Speaking strictly in D&D terms the setting that got it right was Eberron, where the faith of cleric allowed him to cast spells, not special dispensation from the higher-ups.
To be honest I always had a massive bone to pick with the general design of the clerics: since gods are real clerics seem often to be "passive". Fighters, wizard and thieves (just to consider the classic archetypes) all train hard to get their abilities, but clerics ... sometimes it feels like that one day a god woke up and decided that a random guy should have powers and be his/hers appointed representative. The fact that gods are real and sometimes physical pretty much remove the need of believing.
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Batgirl III » Thu Apr 19, 2018 10:18 pm

This seems to have been something that got added to the game in the Lorraine Williams era of TSR. Williams was reportedly very hostile to "Anti-Christian" and "Overtly Catholic" elements of the hobby -- renaming devils to Baatezu, among other things, bing one of the more infamous parts of this -- and I suspect this is why a lot of the Paladins' and Clerics' direct thematic inspiration, the crusading militaris ordinis and holy wars of the European Middle Ages, were dropped from the game. By the time WotC took over the game, the new designers were writing for a young and more PC audience.
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Ares » Fri Apr 20, 2018 4:25 am

Batgirl III wrote:
Thu Apr 19, 2018 10:18 pm
This seems to have been something that got added to the game in the Lorraine Williams era of TSR. Williams was reportedly very hostile to "Anti-Christian" and "Overtly Catholic" elements of the hobby -- renaming devils to Baatezu, among other things, bing one of the more infamous parts of this -- and I suspect this is why a lot of the Paladins' and Clerics' direct thematic inspiration, the crusading militaris ordinis and holy wars of the European Middle Ages, were dropped from the game. By the time WotC took over the game, the new designers were writing for a young and more PC audience.
I've probably gone on this rant before, but I've got a Love/Hate relationship with the Lorraine Williams era of TSR. On the one hand, the woman was an absolute tyrant who despite being an allegedly successful businesswoman, basically killed TSR with her business practices. She refused to let the game designers actually playtest their games ("I'm not paying you to play games on company time"), requiring the guys to do playtesting on their own time. She forced the team to pump out book after book of so many different D&D franchises that fans couldn't hope to buy them all, so they wound up focusing on just one franchise, which ironically caused D&D to be in competition WITH ITSELF, and ate into their profits. And speaking of profits, Williams forced TSR to produce Buck Rogers material because she personally owned the Buck Rogers license, meaning most of the profits went directly into her pocket and not the company. She was literally toxic to the company, and it's no wonder they never recovered.

And yet, during her time we probably had my favorite era of TSR in terms of what the company was putting out. While I think D&D 5th is overall my favorite version of the system, that 4th edition was a fine system (just not for D&D), and I liked a lot of what 3rd edition did in terms of character creation, that era of Advanced D&D was my favorite in terms of setting material. Mystara. Forgotten Realms. Ravenloft. Spelljammer. Dark Sun. Planescape. We got some really fun, really amazing settings that added to the flavor of D&D and showed what you could with the game. Ever since 3rd edition, D&D has focused more on the rules than their worlds, and I'm hoping we'll eventually see the return of those fleshed out campaign settings.

Regarding how faith works in D&D, it's sort of to be expected when you try to ham-fisted combine the kind of gods you'd find on Mt. Olympus with the clerics and paladins taken from Abrahamic religions. There really was no component of "faith" with the Olympian gods, and being a priest really was more like being a ritual spellcaster. You performed the sacrifice to your god, you said a prayer to them, and the god would frequently do what you asked for. There was no more real faith involved than popping some coins in a soda machine to get the drink you wanted. Whereas the Abrahamic religions often had components such as the faith of the wielder being important, in some cases God working through the person in question only so much as their faith allowed.

My own personal take on Faith in most of my games is that Faith is like a muscle: just having it isn't enough. You've got to strengthen it, and then also know how to use it to really make it effective. At the same time, someone with Faith needs something of a divine origin for that faith to give them actual supernatural abilities. Having Faith in the Sky Being Blue is not going to give you 3rd level Cleric spells. I actually find that Warcraft of all places handled this pretty well with the Holy Light, a positive, benevolent and 100% purely good force who can empower you, but your faith, your purity of intent and spirit, is what determines how powerful you are.

In my own settings with a clearly divine source, I often go with a similar route to Warcraft, along with the Dresden Files. God made a stable universe for humanity to exist, and chooses not to interfere directly with mundane life because to do so would interfere with Free Will. However, people who have real Faith basically forge a stronger spiritual connection to God, and can allow God's grace into themselves in direct proportion to how strong said Faith is. If they know how to use said Faith, then the can channel that power in ways that God permits. It's akin to how Divine Inspiration works in CJ Carrella's Witchcraft / All Flesh Must Be Eaten / Armageddon games.

In D&D, since there isn't really a single Creator / Divine Source, I'd go more along the lines that what people are really worshiping are the forces of Good and Evil. Their Faith in the power of Good or Evil allows them to channel those energies to heal or harm and perform what amount to minor miracles. The gods of D&D basically gain power if they align themselves to either the forces of Good or Evil, and can basically act as a kind of waypoint for people to more easily access those forces. While Good and Evil are primal forces, a god can make those forces more easily understood with teachings, doctrines, structure and the like.

In essence, a god lets people channel the energies of Good or Evil through them, which makes the gods more powerful and grants the people praying abilities that are "flavored" by the gods own essence. They have some generic abilities associated with Good or Evil, but if they channel their power through a Storm God, they can use their prayers to affect the weather. But how much power they can use is dependent on their own faith.

Going this route, I'd actually not allow any Lawful Neutral, True Neutral and Chaotic Neutral gods to exist in a D&D Pantheon. Those alignments better suit primal nature spirits and the like who, at best, can be appeased with sacrifice, and don't grant power directly.

Going this route, I'd also have Paladins be separate from Clerics in that Paladins basically draw their power from the force of Good directly, rather than through the worship of a god.While gods of Good are still good beings, they do have their own agendas, biases and the like, and might prioritize things differently. A Paladin simply serves the forces of Good itself, and while it takes a much stronger faith and purity of purpose to gain those abilities, doing so makes Paladins in true heroes with incredible abilities. Thus Paladins are much rarer than Clerics, and in some ways less versatile, but they're often more powerful, more nobler, and purer.

At least that's how I tend to run things.

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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Woodclaw » Fri Apr 20, 2018 4:25 pm

Ares wrote:
Fri Apr 20, 2018 4:25 am
I've probably gone on this rant before, but I've got a Love/Hate relationship with the Lorraine Williams era of TSR. On the one hand, the woman was an absolute tyrant who despite being an allegedly successful businesswoman, basically killed TSR with her business practices. She refused to let the game designers actually playtest their games ("I'm not paying you to play games on company time"), requiring the guys to do playtesting on their own time. She forced the team to pump out book after book of so many different D&D franchises that fans couldn't hope to buy them all, so they wound up focusing on just one franchise, which ironically caused D&D to be in competition WITH ITSELF, and ate into their profits. And speaking of profits, Williams forced TSR to produce Buck Rogers material because she personally owned the Buck Rogers license, meaning most of the profits went directly into her pocket and not the company. She was literally toxic to the company, and it's no wonder they never recovered.

And yet, during her time we probably had my favorite era of TSR in terms of what the company was putting out. While I think D&D 5th is overall my favorite version of the system, that 4th edition was a fine system (just not for D&D), and I liked a lot of what 3rd edition did in terms of character creation, that era of Advanced D&D was my favorite in terms of setting material. Mystara. Forgotten Realms. Ravenloft. Spelljammer. Dark Sun. Planescape. We got some really fun, really amazing settings that added to the flavor of D&D and showed what you could with the game. Ever since 3rd edition, D&D has focused more on the rules than their worlds, and I'm hoping we'll eventually see the return of those fleshed out campaign settings.
From what I've heard and a few inside rumors there are plans, but not in the classic format. From the D&D Surveys it seem that complete settings score pretty low in many people's list of priorities for an RPG. As a result the development team is focusing on adventures that seem to work much better. Personally I would to see more moduels built like Curse of Strahd, which is both a campaign-long adventure and a setting at the same time.
Ares wrote:
Fri Apr 20, 2018 4:25 am
My own personal take on Faith in most of my games is that Faith is like a muscle: just having it isn't enough. You've got to strengthen it, and then also know how to use it to really make it effective. At the same time, someone with Faith needs something of a divine origin for that faith to give them actual supernatural abilities. Having Faith in the Sky Being Blue is not going to give you 3rd level Cleric spells. I actually find that Warcraft of all places handled this pretty well with the Holy Light, a positive, benevolent and 100% purely good force who can empower you, but your faith, your purity of intent and spirit, is what determines how powerful you are.

I use a similar approach. My personal assumption is that a cleric is special, he or she is a character that pushes the bonduaries of faith a tad beyond most people, making him/her able to properly channel divine power. In my games most of the clergy don't have any special power or magic, most are just ordinary people (usually a bit more cultured than most) that perform religious services, but that's it. Your run of the mill shaman or priest knows of the gods, but doesn't draw any power from them. Clerics (and Druids) are the heavyweights of faith, they have a will, a faith so powerful that they can somehow reach beyond the mortal realm. For an historical equivalent, they're like the Oracle of Delphi.
Ares wrote:
Fri Apr 20, 2018 4:25 am
Going this route, I'd also have Paladins be separate from Clerics in that Paladins basically draw their power from the force of Good directly, rather than through the worship of a god.While gods of Good are still good beings, they do have their own agendas, biases and the like, and might prioritize things differently. A Paladin simply serves the forces of Good itself, and while it takes a much stronger faith and purity of purpose to gain those abilities, doing so makes Paladins in true heroes with incredible abilities. Thus Paladins are much rarer than Clerics, and in some ways less versatile, but they're often more powerful, more nobler, and purer.
For Paladins I prefer to go on a tangent and handle them in a different way. As you said the defining trait of Paladins is often the conviction, the purity of purpose. Combine it with the fact that some of their powers are more "personal" than those of a Cleric and ... well, I think that an argument can be make that a Paladin doesn't draw power from the god, but rather from their conviction.



Now, we should really stop from derailing this thread.
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Ares » Fri Apr 20, 2018 4:49 pm

Hey, as thread starter I'm the one who has final say when the derailment goes too far. :D As it stands, the debate is semi-relevenat in talking about how faith works in fantasy settings, including S&S, and different methods of implementing it. It's all good and I'll let you know when we've gone too far. ;)

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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Batgirl III » Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:17 pm

I usually like my campaign settings to feature a bit of ambiguity regarding the gods and the source of divine magic. With theological debates, schisms, and the occasional heresy thrown in to mix things up.

So the Kingdom of Northland’s official Church of Thor says that Thor grants his clerics spells because of blah-blah-blah and that He empowers His paladins because of yadda-yadda. But those fools down in the Principality of Southlake think that Thor grants His clerics and paladins their abilities because of blah-blah-blah! The fools! Ahh, well, I guess they’re an alright lot for the most part... But it’s silly religious nonsense like this that caused our Kingdom and their Principality to split up a century ago.

But those evil bastards over in the Empire of Westhill? Those infidels don’t even think Thor is real! They say that some dæmon named “Zeus” lives on a cloud and throws lightning bolts at people who displease it. Personally, I think we went too soft on them in the last crusade.
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Ares » Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:26 pm

Absolutely. Just because I know how the metaphysics of my settings work doesn't mean the people living in said settings do. :D

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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Batgirl III » Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:52 pm

Ares wrote:
Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:26 pm
Absolutely. Just because I know how the metaphysics of my settings work doesn't mean the people living in said settings do. :D
Even better: I don’t have to bother to figure out the metaphysics in the first place!
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Re: Swords and Sorcery: Defining the genre

Post by Ares » Fri Apr 20, 2018 6:16 pm

Batgirl III wrote:
Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:52 pm
Ares wrote:
Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:26 pm
Absolutely. Just because I know how the metaphysics of my settings work doesn't mean the people living in said settings do. :D
Even better: I don’t have to bother to figure out the metaphysics in the first place!
After reading series like Fullmetal Alchemist and The Dresden Files, I have to admit to preferring to have have all of the rules for how metaphysics work all mapped out beforehand. It creates a nice sense of internal logic that I find most fiction fans appreciate. As one of my friends once put it, "We don't want plausible nearly as much as we want consistent". If you make sure things work the way they're suppose to, not only do you create a bit of verisimilitude, but when those rules get broken, rather than feeling like a "Silver Age-y out the ass power pull", it becomes a plot point that fans can notice and can have some payoff.

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