Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Defiance: Shadowrun or d20 Modern?

Watched episode 1 of Defiance on The-Channel-Previously-Known-as-Sci-Fi.   I'm trying to decide if they were doing an alternate background for Shadowrun or d20 Modern.

It was pretty basic storytelling.  They really crammed too much into the 2 hours of the show.  I think they would have been better served making everything they put into the first episode into the first season.  This would have provided more depth to the town, the characters, and the personal relationships between the characters.  See the first season of Deadwood for a good example of how this is done.

By the way, it is fairly clear that Defiance borrows heavily from Deadwood.  (Plus some Shakespeare and some westerns/samurai stories: Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars/Last Man Standing - I'm looking at you.)  They need a better Al Swearengen as the one they have is kind of bland.  The riff on the drow and what a female led society that lets the men think they are in charge looks like is interesting, but I did not see enough to determine if it is a cultural trait or just that particular couple.

Also, I've driven through St. Louis, so I know what the terrain looks like.  It is a river plain adjacent to the Mississippi, not a valley surrounded by cliffs and hills.  They may try to hand wave this as part of the terraforming the aliens started (and might or might not have finished), but that seems unlikely.  Anything that would have raised those formations would have been enough to drop the arch entirely.  I'm striking this up to "filmed in Canada".

Those are my initial thoughts on the show.  I'm probably not going to watch any more episodes as it did not have that "must see what comes next" vibe.

To get back to my original question - I think the show models an alternate Shadowrun setting more than d20 Modern.  It looks like they are substituting high tech and psionics for magic, but it is hard to tell from the first episode (too much exposition, not enough doing).  The aliens are all here and have been for 33 years at the point the story picks up, which lines up with Shadowrun more than d20 Modern.  d20 Modern assumes more "fantasy races" are bleeding through from the shadow realm over time, whereas Shadowrun has the goblinization event and then it's done.

The technology is a post-apocalypse mix, so there is a mix of ultra-tech and low tech.  As with any post-apocalypse world, good alcohol is hard to find, but bullets are always available.  Most of the people in Defiance (the town) have pistols (if they are human) or energy blades and maybe energy rifles (for the non-humans).  The big horde o' bad guys at the end are all body armor and energy weapons like space orcs ought to be (no, they are not called orcs, but really, look at them).  This, to me, leans more towards Shadowrun's mixture of high tech and social regression rather than d20 Modern's more "world behind the world" vibe.

That's it for now.  I'm still recovering from a cold I came down with last Saturday, so my thoughts a bit more scattered.  Later!


  1. It is my understanding that SyFy is rolling out Defiance as both a series AND a MMORPG. There are a lot of things that they have to work on simultaneously that do not necessarily work together across the platforms, so it's an interesting experiment.

    BTW: Bear McCreary, the composer for Battlestar Galactica, Caprica and The Walking Dead is also the composer for Defiance.

    1. Yes, they do have a lot going on, which is part of the problem. They are in too much of a hurry and need to slow down the pacing a bit.

  2. You do realize the earth was terraformed right? The landscape isn't going to be the same as what you and I know today. Read this:

  3. I read the linked article. Terraforming normally does not involve geological uplifts, just changes to the atmosphere to make it more breathable for the terraformers and the introduction of new flora and fauna, but I'm willing to spot them that. However, having Old St. Louis buried (including the Mississippi River) AND having an uplift to create hills over a wide area forces a penalty flag on the play.

    If the terraforming event "paved over" Old St. Louis, where did the material come from? If there was an uplifting of the terrain, then everything underneath should also have been distorted, meaning Old St. Louis should be flattened and bent like the surface. Additionally, an uplifting event would have lifted the bed of the Mississippi and shifted the river's route away from the uplifted area - the river should NOT be running underground nearby.

    Now what might fit would be setting down a couple asteroids containing desirable minerals on top of St. Louis. And if the asteroids were dropped from a couple thousand feet up, you'd get shifting of the earth beneath to partially bury the asteroids. Then maybe some standard terraforming on top of that to transform a layer of stone into dirt and it might be buyable.

    ...but this would have buried the Arch along with everything else and still shifted the Mississippi River, not buried it.

    It's the trying to have it both ways and getting all hand-wavy about how it happened by invoking the word "terraforming" that bothers me. I would like to see a bit more actual science in the science fiction. Just say:

    "They dropped some asteroids on the area to eliminate the locals and provide resources they wanted and the Arch was luck to survive. Then they terraformed the asteroids to create a layer of dirt on top for plants to grow in."

    You can still do some of the "buried St. Louis" stuff, but not the buried Mississippi - that would have first formed a lake to the north and then eventually spilled around the new hills, shifting its banks around to the west from the looks of the map. This would raise the believability of the setting and lighten the burden of the suspension of disbelief.

  4. D'oh! Please excuse me for forgetting my manners. I should have said first:

    Thank you for reading and commenting. I know a certain (low) number of folks are reading this blog, but very few of them comment, so really: thank you.

    THEN I should have explained why I disagreed. And I may have gotten a bit wordy with that - downside of being a writer.

    1. It does explain everything in the first season. You are correct about the terraforming. The tech used to bury St. Loius was different in the fact that it was made to bury cities. Half the war was over the destruction of the old world and building a new one. One with out skyscrapers and side walks. I will say, it was a little hard for me to get into right off the back, but the further I got into season One I was fully addicted. It is a good SyFy. I can agree on it at times being a bit simple, with the cliche of hardened survivor/ never miss gunslinger with a miss matched crew that some how always help each other out. All in all, I loved the 3seasons I have seen. Plus the OMECs are worth getging to know.

  5. TerraMORPHING not terraFORMING...I know the words are used interchangeably but the technology is presumed to be far more advanced than ours and would include the basic molecular material for the binary transformation of the planet geologically along with the insertion of new lifeforms into the biosphere they created

    1. First, thank you for reading through the back catalog of posts! I hope you are enjoying the content.

      Second, that would have been a better solution if clearly stated. It's now been a while, so I no longer remember details, but I'd like to think I would have noticed if they had said terramorphing, but maybe I didn't. It also brings up the question of "If you have that level of technology, why do you live without it?" Is it a question of colonies not being able to sustain the homeworld's tech level? Because I would completely buy that if stated.

      I'd still like to know where the extra mass came from for all those hills and burying the Mississippi, which may be a bit nit-picky, but large-scale transformation of a location's geography is a pet peeve of mine. Why pick a location for your story and then film at a location that in no way matches it? Why not just pick a location with some actual hills and set the story there?