Thursday 31 December 2020

Of Sparse and Dying Earths

There is a spectrum of sparseness for fantasy and SF worlds. 

On the left hand side is 'For a Breath I Tarry', the Zelazny short story in which an entire planet is populated by two robots. On the right hand side are the high fantasy worlds of D&D and modern commercial fantasy fiction, which are crowded and thronging with life. Some other examples off the top of my head, going roughly from left to right: Viriconium, Hyborian earth, Urth, Bas-Lag, Mystara.

An observation: as the genre has matured, its settings seem to have tended more towards the dense than the sparse. The big commercial fantasy worlds nowadays are often filled with peoples, cultures, complex societies and economies. (Think A Song of Ice and Fire - there is a lot going on in that world, isn't there? An awful lot of Sers and Houses and people being murdered in novel ways or shagging their sisters.) Those of long ago seem comparatively empty. (At times you almost feel as though Tolkien knows the names of literally everybody living in Middle Earth.) Is this perhaps to do with the influence of D&D and other fantasy RPGs, and the explosion of interest in world-building and monster creation which followed? Indeed, is there a 'structural bias' in D&D towards the dense setting, because of the assumption that there is a large pool of low-level murder hoboes roaming the land, and an infrastructure to support them? 

Another: not wanting to start a politics flame war, but is there a tendency for conservative writers to more readily embrace the sparse setting? A sparse setting is one which is in decline (Middle Earth, Lyonesse), or dying (Urth); a dense one is developing, optimistic, fresh. A sparse setting is one which a rugged individual can make his (or her) own; a dense one is one which leads more naturally to stories of intrigue, politicking, sociality. I've often thought that Jack Vance's old school libertarianism manifested itself most strongly in the geography of his settings, which are big, open, and often so empty of people that there is almost nothing to constrain the ambition or freedom of his heroes. 

A third: this may seem a banal point, but dense settings naturally lend themselves to nerdish pursuits and 'geeking out', because there is just so much more stuff to learn about, to memorise, to know. Middle Earth is perhaps an exception here, because its history is so detailed (and also because after the Peter Jackson films there was an explosion of spin-offs), but generally speaking older, sparser settings are easily summarised and understood, and neither require nor inspire much in the way of homework. 

I feel the attractions of both types of setting. I love the sheer exuberance of a Mystara or a Bas-Lag. But I feel the pull of the near-empty sword and sorcery world, in which every single NPC is larger than life, special, rare, dangerous. One does not need to restrict oneself to beer or wine for all eternity. 

Wednesday 30 December 2020

The Best of 2020

Ok, let's do this. 

Best Blog: The age of the dinosaurs has ended, and the blogosphere is now roamed only by furtive ancestral mammals and scraggy feathered things that will one day approximate birds. Still, Age of Dusk promises the dawn of a new age of mighty beasts whose size may one day rival the titans of yore. This year was a good one for him.

Best Review: The aforementioned's review of Veins of the Earth, which manages to be both readable, detailed, fair, and constructive in critique. (Part I is here; there are two others.)

Best Blog Entry by Somebody Else: It might actually be this, although making it a recent one feels like cheating.

Best Entry of Mine: I have to be honest: this was not a vintage year for my blog. Looking back at the entries I wrote this year, I have the feeling that I was phoning it in half of the time. I'm sorry for that. I quite like this entry though, and this one.

Best RPG Product: The only game product I think I bought and actually read and used in 2020 was Ryuutama, so it wins by default, even though I found it disappointing.

Best SF, Fantasy or Horror Book Read: Jack Vance's The Palace of Love. I read all of the Demon Princes series this year; I liked this one best. Here is my Goodreads review (add me if you like):

There is something profound at work in this book, which like all of Vance's fiction is a deliciously sweet slice of pulp that hints at something much deeper. A meditation on love, identity, sex, power, insecurity, vanity, monomania, and meaning? It's all of those things, and the fact that you can never quite see the results of that meditation - just glimpse them from behind an opaque glass screen, like Falusche's face itself - makes them all the more important. (*What*, though, to those who have read the book, is the meaning of the druids and their tree?)
Best SF, Fantasy or Horror Viewing: Does 'The Inner Light' count? 

Best Gaming Experience: Without doubt it has to be my 'Riding A Giant Tadpole Over a Massive Waterfall and Falling Into a Plunge Pool Full of Giant Pikes' mini-game which I created for Ryuutama (I will put up the rules for this onto the blog one day). Sometimes something you create for next week's session really just pays off. 

Best Cancellation: It has to be the Adam Koebel thing, which even I heard about. I am not a fan of the concept of cancellation, but there is just something too precious about a self-righteous proponent of 'safety tools' in games live-streaming a session in which one of the PCs is sexually assaulted and the entire group quits in disgust. To quote GK Chesterton's introduction to Aesop's Fables: "[S]uperiority is always insolent...pride goes before a fall...and [there] is such a thing as being too clever by half. You will not find any other legend but this written upon the rocks of any hand of man. There is every type and time of fable: but there is only one moral to the fable; because there is only one moral to everything."

Tuesday 29 December 2020

The Allure of the Apocalypse

I've just finished a bit of light Christmas reading - John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939. Despite the intimidating title, it turns out to be an amusing, sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny read, but also rather blithe and superficial. Carey's thesis is simply stated. It is that the modernists (DH Lawrence, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Wyndham Lewis, Jean Rhys, EM Forster, etc.), were almost all dreadful snobs who often entertained fantasies of genocide perpetrated against 'the masses' - and that Hitler's own such fantasies stemmed from a similar kind of snobbery. And, naturally, Nietzsche was to blame. The book is mostly a gleeful collection of quotes cherry-picked for evidence in support of this (deliberately) provocative idea. 

The book is vicious and lacking in generosity. Yes, undoubtedly many of the people Carey skewers were elitists and said silly things in the course of their lives (who hasn't?). But as this goes on, chapter after chapter, one increasingly begins to feel some sympathy for those, like Wells, Lawrence, or Eliot, who worried about the ecological devastation that would follow from overpopulation and economic development, and the corrosive effects of mass consumerism on the culture. Those worries were often expressed in sweeping and over-exaggerated (not to mention ridiculous and sometimes disgusting) ways, but it is hardly absurd to have had them at all. Moreover, I think there is something entirely normal, maybe even natural, about entertaining fantasies of being able to escape from 'the mass' and have the world to oneself. Who hasn't, at times, thought fleetingly about how great it would be if there were no, or very few, other people in the world? (Except perhaps a few attractive and promiscuous specimens of the sex of your choice.) Who hasn't occasionally in an idle moment been struck that it would be wondrous if one could experience, if only for an afternoon, a world after people?

There is nothing wrong with that thought - it doesn't make you an incipient Nazi or psychopath. It is the inevitable, occasional flight of fancy of an individual member of a social species living in conditions of hypersociality in which it can be difficult to feel as though one is important and distinct, combined with an undoubted yearning which each of us feels - some more than others - for connection with a natural world from which we are increasingly alienated. 

An apocalypse would be dreadful. But there are moments when it has its allure. I was struck by this thought earlier today while walking with a friend and fellow blogger on a local tidal island. Windswept, desolate, silent of traffic noise, it was easy to imagine the feeling of being alone in such a place in the aftermath of a war or plague. Just you and the grass, the beach, the sea, the golden sunlight streaming through the clouds onto the hills in the distance - and a few cormorants, oystercatchers and a stray heron minding their own business nearby. Bliss. No, I wouldn't like to live on Gamma World. But it might be nice to visit for a day.

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Pathfinder and the Appeal of Crunch

In the comments on this post, Patrick Stuart asks:

Do you think Pathfinder is finally uncool enough that we can adopt it and do the pretentious version?
This was in a response to the suggestion that Pathfinder is struggling, 5th edition D&D having basically eaten its breakfast. 

I have no idea whether this is true or not. What I do know is that Pathfinder's 2nd edition, despite billing itself as being "easier to learn and faster to play", comes in a core rule book 640 pages long, so it really wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't exactly selling like hot cakes. Was this game ever going to appeal beyond the niche of disgruntled players of 3rd edition D&D still upset about 4th edition? It was, in essence, their OSR, so would one really expect it to be much more than a tiny corner of the market once Wizards of the Coast got its act together?

With all of that said, I do occasionally find myself vulnerable to the siren song of playing complicated and crunchy games. I think this is the wargamer in me. A detailed combat system like Cyberpunk 2020's makes tactics really matter in a way that in a faster and looser game they simply can't, and there is a lot of enjoyment to be squeezed out of even very simple fights when what happens is messy and difficult to resolve. You don't get many of those combat encounters you get in D&D (which are a feature of every campaign I've ever been involved in, as a player or DM) when it's late in the session or everybody is keen to move on from the fight and everything just descends into "Ok, I roll to hit...and miss...the orc rolls to hit...he hits...take 2hp I roll to hit..." When combat rules are gritty and complicated, that often serves in itself to make combat feel like it has high stakes. 

At the same time, though, the beauty of crunch is that it provides mechanical variety. In the end, there isn't really a great deal of difference between creatures in an OSR variant of D&D except at the aesthetic level. An orc is basically the same as a hobgoblin, an elf, a dwarf, a bandit, etc. There are, of course, ways to make them interesting, and we've been talking about that for well over a decade now in this neck of the woods. But the fact of the matter is, when monsters have lots of stats and abilities - when, in short, a game is crunchy - then the differences between them are readily apparent, and matter. This has its advantages. It elevates the stakes again; these hobgoblins may look like orcs, but they are not the same, and the differences might surprise you. 

I don't have the time or inclination to sit down and read a 640 page long RPG rule book and properly digest it. But if I did, I have a feeling I might in the end enjoy it. 

The Romance of Central Asia

When I was 18, I spent a summer in Kyrgyzstan working as a volunteer with street orphans. This sparked a romantic flame in my heart for Central Asia which, although dimmed by time, has never been extinguished. 

For a person from a small, wet, green and crowded island on the edge of a continent, there is something unspeakably exotic about the Eurasian landmass to begin with - the empty vastness of it is about as distant from one's geographical experience as it is possible to get without going under the sea, or to the South Pole. Everything about Britain is modest. Our highest mountains are really just big hills. Our biggest lakes are mere ponds. Our mightiest rivers would barely register as minor tributaries of an Amazon or a Mississippi or a Volga or a Nile. Our summers are not hot. Our winters are mild. 

Central Asia is the opposite. Never mind the scale of the mountains, the hugeness of the steppes, the lakes (Baikal, Balkash, Caspian) which dwarf entire countries. The sky itself is bigger there: a great blue gulf that hangs above you, distant and endless and coldly beautiful, under which your affairs can only feel as though they have the most trivial significance if any at all. It's no wonder the steppe peoples of long ago - and today, indeed - made it into their god. How could one not, when it is so manifestly and ineluctably there wherever you go? 

Finding oneself unmoored in this colossal ocean of land, one has the sense of entire societies, peoples, civilizations (Tocharia, Dayuan, Kwarezm, Massagetae, Alans, Xiongnu...) becoming lost in its emptiness, like flotsam borne away on the surface of the sea - slowly but inexorably growing ever distant from each other and all around them as the decades, centuries, millennia unfold. A feeling that human history is nothing more than the comings and goings of items borne on tidal currents washing from East to West and back again, a process with neither beginning nor end nor meaning in between. Scythians, Greeks, Sogdians, Mongols, Turks; there and back again, and the earth enduring under their hooves. This is the truth of it everywhere, of course, but it is only on the galling scale of the Eurasian landmass that one cannot escape it by losing oneself in the crowd, as we in Western Europe do.

This map above all excites me. The Eastern hemisphere in 200 AD. Who needs a fantasy setting when this lies before you? 

But these images manage to do it too:

Thursday 17 December 2020

The State of OSR Adjacency

I am very positive and hopeful about the future of the OSR and those, like me, who are "adjacent" to it. (I hate the word "adjacent", by the way. Partly because of the daft way it's used, but mostly because of how it looks on the page. It's aesthetically nasty. "Eels" is another one, when the initial E is capitalised. It just looks wrong. But anyway.) It is true that blogs are not what they were and there is much less dialogue taking place between the big ones. And G+ has gone. But this is all to the good. For me, the disappearance of "community" and all the crap that went with it is a mercy. (Possibly it exists on Discord, but I never go there and am not really sure what it is.) We can now concentrate on playing and making things for games, and abandon gossip, drama, and social signalling. 

The OSR has won its war. D&D is now free from the clutches of any one company, 'gatekeeper' or owner and is, instead, a freely available and universal pastime like chess, knitting or squash. (Melan has already pointed this out.) This is no mean achievement. No, it doesn't matter a jot in the grand scheme of things. But it is a significant psychic victory in humanity's endless war against the forces of overbearing technocratic order and control. D&D is for anyone who wants it. It has become part of our common heritage.

The beauty of this is that, ironically (because undoubtedly the OSR is partly a market phenomenon and indeed in a sense created a market where there was none before), it means that D&D has become a space unmediated by the market. You don't need to buy anything to do it now. You never did, of course, not really, but now one can say it with a bit more conviction. It is something we can simply share in as human beings. On the level. Together. Me and you and whoever wants to join in. This is a good thing. Just as good is that if one wants to try to make a living at it one can do that too: that it allows one to take advantage of the very humane and beautiful impulse that underpins markets and ultimately capitalism - to trade a thing of value for something one values in return, and thus to make both parties better off from the exchange. That the OSR is both not about money but also about money at the same time is part of what will make it last.

Monday 14 December 2020

Playing Games for Fun is OK: An Argument

[Caveat: I am not sure I agree with my own argument in this post. I wrote it rather rapidly during my lunch break, and, reading back over it, I think there is a possibility that it is wrong and/or unfair. I put it on the blog unedited in the spirit of starting a debate, and nothing more than that.]

I came across two blog posts on Ethics in Strategy Gaming (here and here). The summary: one can experience moral qualms about playing games like Panzer General and Colonization, which cast the player in the role of a willing participant in acts of genocide, enslavement, crimes against humanity and the like. Which, in other words, make being a real-world baddy fun. No clear solution is presented to that predicament. (And it is a predicament. My rule in Colonization was always to avoid war with the natives, precisely becasuse I always felt squeamish about it.) But, and this is the key line:

Although the “just a game” defense may seem a tempting get-out-of-jail-free card in the context of a Panzer General or a Colonization, one should think long and hard before one plays it. For to do so is to infantilize the entire medium — to place it into some other, fundamentally different category from books and movies and other forms of media that are allowed a place at the table where serious cultural dialog takes place.

In other words, quoting somebody called Gilbert L. Brahms: 'If a computer game should truly aspire to become a work of art, it must fulfill both the recreative and the didactive functions inherent in all serious aesthetic productions: it must present horrible conflicts with all of their nasty details.' Games like Colonization and Panzer General, that is, are doing computer games a disservice, because they whitewash horrible crimes in the name of entertainment. 

Let's set aside the idea that art should have a didactive function (spoiler alert for that debate: didactic art is almost always bad art). Let's also set aside the claim that one can't learn skills from playing a computer game (problem solving, mental dexterity, etc.), thus fulfilling a 'didactive function' of a kind. Let's instead focus on the, to my eye, tendentious implicit claim that there is something bad about games being in a different category to books and movies and other forms of media that are 'allowed a place at the table where serious cultural dialog takes place'.

When people make statements like that, I always think it reveals a deep sense of insecurity about one's own likes and dislikes. I read books. I watch films. I play games. I also go to art galleries and watch and play sport. I like doing these things for different reasons; they scratch different itches. Why does it matter that some of them are 'allowed a place at the table where serious cultural dialog takes place', and some are not? Why does it matter that Colonization is not a topic for conversation at an upper-middle-class dinner party, but the latest novel by Zadie Smith is?

Perhaps this is a judgmental and doctrinaire thing to say, but in my view, games by definition are first and foremost about having fun testing oneself, either against a human or an artificial opponent. If you want more than that, you should be reading a book or watching a film instead. Beating up on Colonization or Panzer General for failing to 'aspire to become a work of art' is to commit a category error, just as would be complaining that a game of Sunday league football at the local playing fields doesn't aspire to having 'didactive functions'. (Although try running around in the mud and rain at 11am with a hangover for 90 minutes while dodging two-footed challenges from overweight men in knock-off Liverpool kits that are two sizes too small and tell me that it doesn't have its didactic qualities.) Art is one thing. Games are something else. If you want a game to do more than that, maybe you shouldn't be playing it. Maybe you should read something difficult or listen to some Shostakovich. 

This will sound harsh, probably elitist, probably arrogant. But maybe the problem isn't the infantilisation of the medium. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the infantile pleasures of playing a game for nothing more than the fun of it. Maybe the problem is just that you're not doing enough grown-up things to leaven the bread in your life and provide a counterbalance. 

Friday 11 December 2020

Behind Gently Smiling Jaws Triptych - On Imaginary Worlds

I receive, daily, hundreds of emails clamouring for more news about Behind Gently Smiling Jaws.* 

The project has evolved. This is because I have come to a conclusion about imaginary worlds: you can make people care a great deal about what happens in an imaginary world (like Middle Earth), but you can't make people care a great deal about imaginary worlds within imaginary worlds (like, say, what happens in a series of fantasy novels written in-universe by Frodo Baggins). You might enjoy reading about them, but only in a slightly arch, academic kind of way. There is one too many levels of remove. What happens within the dream-world of a crocodile which itself inhabits an imaginary world has a similar kind of feeling to me. It is an intriguing concept but hard to get interested in as a place to run games.

The only solution is to imagine the pre- and post-apocalypse that occurs when what is inside the crocodile's head gets out into the real world

This means a three-volume set:

  • The pre-apocalypse. Beings from the crocodile's mind are manifesting themselves in the real world - or are they? The PCs belong to, or are introduced to, a hidden underworld of investigators, scholars, conspiracy theorists and paranomal enthusiasts trying to find out The Truth.
  • The post-apocalypse. Flocks of billions of man-sized birds darkening the skies. Goetic demons stalking abandoned shopping malls. Armies of early hominids marching across the land in the furtherance of a holy crusade they are incapable of understanding. Ghosts of dinosaurs hunting in the ruins of deserted cities. Frog-men worshipping Chinese dragons in mountain temples. You get the drift. 
  • The new reality which is ushered in. The Naacals have brought the Unremembered City back into the physical realm, and have begun to use it to colonise the stars. 

So, basically, something a bit like Call of Cthulhu, something a bit like Gamma World, and something a bit like Traveller, all in one slipcase. 

*This sentence may not be entirely accurate.

Monday 7 December 2020

Gaps in the Market

 An incomplete list of things somebody (not me) should make:

  1. A grown-up fantasy wimmelbook (think Where's Wally? but hugely detailed battle scenes, crowd scenes in bizarre cities, elaborate buildings thronging with strange inhabitants, etc.). 
  2. An OSR pseudo-Shadowrun but using Labyrinth Lord or your OSR ruleset of choice. D&D somehow doesn't quite work with a modern setting (as anybody who has played d20 Modern will attest), but  I am imagining something less like Shadowrun's mashup of fantasy with cyberpunk, and something more like D&D races and magic and monsters suddenly appear in the real world, tomorrow - so why not try to make that with D&D-based rules?
  3. A series of detective novels (more along the puzzle-solving lines of Poirot, Brother Cadfael or Father Brown than the "let's get depressed about how terrible the human race is" lines of Wallander or Rebus) set in a D&D world, where the mysteries revolve around the cunning deployment of D&D spells, monsters, and so on (The Strange Case of the One-Eyed Vrock and the Misdirected Prismatic Spray, anyone?).
  4. D&D: Total War or something like it.
  5. A huge book filled with hundreds of maps of imaginary places. No introductory text. No fluff. Just maps and place names. I would buy it. 

Wednesday 2 December 2020

How Tough is a First Level Fighter?

It is, my friends, time to return to this most ancient of chestnuts. Is a 1st level fighter a blithering mook, at the start of his adventuring life, or an already-established, decently competent soldier? 

In one sense, of course, the question is moot, because the answer is entirely relative. A 1st level fighter is as tough as a 1 HD monster (say, an orc). How tough is an orc? However tough you want it to be. It could be along the lines of a Warhammer goblin, or along the lines of a Warhammer black orc; it's really up to you. And this is partly to the good, because it's one of the things that makes D&D so gloriously flexible. Your game can be at the starting power level of The Hobbit or at the starting power level of The Malazan Book of the Fallen in your imagination, but whichever it is, it will begin at the same level, with the same rules. It's just in how you imagine what 1 HD, and therefore 1st level, represents. 

Take the following scene, from Mythago Wood. Which do you think is the 1st level character here - the narrator, or the man who defeats him?

And then all around us the woodland burst into brilliant fire, the trunks catching, the branches, the leaves, so that the garden, was surrounded by a great, roaring wall of flame. Two dark human shapes came bursting through that fire, light glinting on metal armour and the short-bladed weapons held in their hands. For a moment they hesitated, staring at us; one had the golden mask of a hawk, its eyes mere slits, the ears rising like short horns from the crown. The other wore a dull leather helmet, the cheek straps broad. The hawk laughed loudly.  
‘Oh God no ... !’ I cried, but Guiwenneth screamed at me, ‘Arm yourself!’ as she raced past me to where her own weapons were lodged against the back wall of the house.  
I followed her, grabbing up my flintspear and the sword that Magidion had presented to me. And we turned, backs to the wall, and watched the gruesome band of armoured men who emerged, dark silhouettes, through the burning forest, and spread out around the garden.  
The two warriors suddenly ran at us, one at Guiwenneth, one at me. It was the hawk who chose me.  
He came at me so fast that I hardly had time to raise and thrust my spear at him; the events happened in a blur of burnished metal, dark hair, and sweaty flesh, as he deflected my blow with his small round shield, then clubbed me heavily on the side of the head with the blunt pommel of his sword. I staggered to my knees, then struggled to rise, but the shield was struck against my head and the ground hit my face, hard and dry. The next I knew he had tied my arms behind my back, worked my spear under my armpits, and trussed me like a turkeycock.

There is no right answer to that question, of course: it just depends how you frame your campaign.  

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Vignettes About Adventure

Self-direction may be recognised not only to be useful, to be a source of considerable happiness, and to make life more interesting and entertaining for everybody, but to be also an important virtue. And where personal autonomy is thus given a place in a moral practice, conduct will be recognised to have an excellence simply in respect of its authenticity and perhaps to be, in part, justifiable in these terms. - M. Oakeshott, On Human Conduct

Generally the risks were taken, for, on the whole, it is better to be a little over-bold than a little over-cautious, while always there was a something inside urging you to do it just because there was a certain risk, and you hardly liked not to do it. It is so easy to be afraid of being afraid! - A. Cherry-Garard, The Worst Journey in the World

It displayed itself in the persons of younger sons making their own way in a world which had little place for them, of foot-loose adventurers who left the land to take to trade, of town-dwellers who had emancipated themselves from the communal ties of the countryside, of vagabond scholars, in the speculative audacities of Abelard, in venturesome heresy, in the lives of intrepid boys and men who left home to seek their fortunes each intent upon living a life for a 'man like me', and in the relationships of men and women. It was reflected in the Latin and vernacular poetry of that memorable spring-time of the European spirit, in the singers and the songs of the Provencal idiom and in the admired characters of the men and women celebrated in the Chansons de geste: the proud and reckless autonomia of Roland which makes Roncevalles a memorable event in the history of European moral imagination, and the note of his horn an imperishable utterance, echoing down the centuries. And it was expressed in the morality of the Christian Knight (Parzival or Gawain) whose calling it was not to win victories, but to show triuwe, fidelity, in every human situation. - M. Oakeshott, On Human Conduct

“I cant back up and start over. But I dont see the point in slobberin over it. And I cant see where it would make me feel better to be able to point a finger at somebody else… How I was is how I am and all I know to do is stick. I don’t believe in signing on just till it quits suitin you.” - John Grady, from C. McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

But with the throttle screwed on, there is only the barest margin, and no room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right... and that's when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see at a hundred; the tears blow back so fast that they vaporize before they get to your ears. The only sounds are the wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers. You watch the white line and try to lean with it... howling through a turn to the right, then to the left, and down the long hill to Pacifica... letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge... The Edge... There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others- the living- are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. - Hunter S. Thompson, Hell's Angels

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” - JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. - A. Cherry-Garard, The Worst Journey in the World

But they floated on a rising tide; it was a moment when this disposition burned with a 'hard gem-like flame' and it received its classic expression in the Essais of Montaigne and (more formally) in Charron's De la sagesse: a reading of the human condition in which a man's life is understood as an adventure in personal self-enactment. Here there was no promise of salvation for the race or prevision that it would late or soon be gathered into one fold, no anticipation of a near or distant reassemblage of a 'truth' fragmented at the creation of the world or expectation that if the human race were to go on researching long enough it would discover 'the truth', and no prospect of a redemption in a technological break-through providing a more complete satisfaction of contingent wants; there was only a prompting not to be dismayed at our own imperfections and a recognition that 'it is something almost divine for a man to know how to belong to himself' and to live by that understanding. - M. Oakeshott, On Human Conduct

The point, one begins to see, was not merely to survive; it was to come through intact, true to one’s most decent self — in short, to survive as English gentlemen. - A. Cherry-Garard, The Worst Journey in the World

I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, “Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.” - Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods