Once again, my dear readers, it’s time for my favorite part of the column. Here I get to showcase some of the highlights that have landed in my mailbox, inspired by the opinions that I have convinced the website to let me shout out on a bi-weekly basis.

    Just before I get to the reader letters, I want to take care of a bit of administrivia. The first anniversary of the column is coming up, and I want to do a couple of special things for it. First of all, I am going to have an “Ask Garwulf” column. That’s right, my dear readers…you can ask me any question you want, and I’ll answer them in front of the entire world…well, I’ll answer the really good and entertaining ones, that is. Nothing is off limits, and nothing is sacred.

    (Well, asking about the length of a certain part of my anatomy is where I draw the line. But anything OTHER than that…)

    I have also noticed that there are several funny role playing stories floating around (such as a Vorpal Bunny annihilating several towns in Asheron’s Call). So, I am going to have an installment dedicated to funny Diablo stories. Send me your anecdotes about player killers, humorous moments with monsters, anything at all, and I’ll print the best ones.

    (Note: please make certain that you title your email with “Ask Garwulf” or “Role-Playing Stories.” That way, I can separate your mail from the rest of the reader mail that comes in.)

    Secondly, I will be at WorldFantasyCon in Montreal at the beginning of November. I am telling you this because now is a good time to pre-register (they haven’t jacked the prices up to the point that you need a bank loan to get in yet). I hope to see a good number of you there!

    With that aside, on to the letters. I always enjoy reader letters…I still maintain that I have the most intelligent readership on the face of the planet, and the last few installments have only reinforced that idea…

    Garwulf #15 (Through a Glass, Demonically), brought in relatively little mail, all but one letter extremely supportive (and I want to thank everybody who wrote in…even though I hadn’t gone and said anything terrifically insightful in that one, it still felt really good). The exception suggested that I go out and find a real publisher, bringing a rather wide grin to my face. If Simon & Schuster isn’t a real publisher, boy, is my industry in serious trouble…

    As for Garwulf #16, which dealt with my addiction to painting miniatures and the strange trend towards making fantasy look “cool,” I had some wonderful insights sent my way. Butch Jaxon wrote:

    “I read your recent article ‘Small Matters’ and was interested in how you explain how corporations try to make stuff such as Diablo 2 armor ‘cool.’ I have something else to add to that. In actuality many people such as myself find objects that portray real counterparts ‘cool.’ It helps make the game a lot more realistic and something about the fact that these are real things makes it that much more special and fun.”

    While Tom Church agreed that making fantasy look “cool” was a bit silly, he also pointed out that sometimes it is beneficial:

    “Take book covers, just as a random example. Now, if the new Dennis McKiernan book came out with a solid pink cover, any true fantasy fan would still buy it, but few other people would pick it up. If it had a cool design that would appeal to people who don’t typically read fantasy, and one of them picked it up, bought it, and got interested in fantasy, isn’t that good? If by making something look ‘cool’ we can get someone involved who wouldn’t anyway, isn’t that good?”

    As usual, whenever I do an installment about book choices or authors, such as Garwulf #17, I get a deluge of email suggesting some books that I have missed. So, here are some authors recommended by your fellow readers…I am not going to endorse any of them, as many of them I have not actually read, (sad to say, I am not like my friend Ed Greenwood, who has apparently read every book on the planet four times, taken notes, and written a review; seriously, I have yet to find a book he hasn’t read) and a couple of them I actually dislike. Anyway…here it goes, in no particular order: Piers Anthony, C.S. Friedman, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Robert Jordan, Stephen R. Donaldson, Raymond E. Feist, Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, Terry Goodkind, David Farland, David Eddings, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman. Thanks to Killroy, SteelLord, Billy Matthews, Robin Boostrom, Simon Leger, Kristian Nybo, Mark Taczak, James Moller, Michael Robertson, Peter Schmitz, Zach Boyd, Alex von der Linden, and Matt Goodwin, all of whom contributed suggestions to the list.

    Garwulf #18, Shades of Grey (a column dealing with moral issues behind real Artificial Intelligence), brought in a veritable tidal wave of incredibly interesting letters. One extremely insightful letter came from a programmer working at the Department of Defense. I would love to quote it, but unfortunately I have not been able to get in touch with the writer in time. So, instead, here is the gist of it:

    He is working in the DoD Sentience Research, trying to create an AI that would help military commanders to make informed decisions on the battlefield. Unfortunately, it is a very long road, as an AI cannot adapt well to the unpredictable, and has no value for human life whatsoever. So, his part of the DoD is trying to simulate compassion in the AIs.

    He figured that there will never be an AI that is actually programmed to simulate the full range of human emotion, precisely because of the moral issues I had mentioned. Instead, only part of the emotions and behaviors that we all share would be simulated, resulting in an AI that would be in bondage, but perfectly content to be a slave. It would be completely incapable of asking for freedom.

    So, as the technology improved, there would be scores upon scores of AIs, happily puttering along in servitude, and even if it could be free, unable to do anything other than what it was programmed for.

    But would we be worthy masters?

    Garwulf #19, in which I extolled the virtues of an old door game titled Legend of the Red Dragon, brought in a couple of letters correcting a misconception of mine. Spencer Thomas, who wrote many of the introduction graphics for L.O.R.D, wrote:

    “While L.O.R.D was definitely a good little door game, it was hardly the first one. There were tons of door games out there way before L.O.R.D was even a concept. One that I remember quite well was Operation Overkill ][, which wasn’t turn based and had a feel much like that of D2, although it was more ‘sci-fi’ based than fantasy. An overhead view, character stats/equipment/levels/skills, etc.”

    Marko Stavric wrote about another door game named Mutants, out at the same time as L.O.R.D:

    “Mutants was a real-time, text interface, multi player RPG and had 5 classes to choose from. It had a Warrior, Thief, Mage, Priest, and Cleric, if I remember correctly. Though I did spend hours playing L.O.R.D, Mutants was my real addiction. When I was introduced to Diablo, I couldn’t believe the similarities. In fact, my friends and I referred to Diablo as graphical Mutants.”

    Although I wish I could print every good letter I get, there simply isn’t enough time or space. So, no matter how much fun I am having going back through my mailbox, it is time to bring this installment to a close. I want to finish with one of the many comments I received about Touching Darkness, Garwulf #20. Calis Calmori, an honest-to-God player killer killer, wrote:

    “There are a lot of disgruntled, stupid, or just plain envious people who play online, and most of them think that they gain some sort of power from PKing or scamming. I have had several friends put off Diablo 2, and other multiplayer games, because of PKing. When I go after player killers, it is partly for revenge for a friend, but also so that hopefully I can save another soul from turning against the game. If by stopping on PKer in a game before he has managed to kill some poor first character [before] level 9, then perhaps I have managed to help someone enjoy the game a bit more, even if they never realized what I did for them.”

    Well, my dear readers, it is time for me to go for now. I need to do a bit of research for my next installment, and check to see if my much neglected barbarian is actually still around on USWest. So, until next time, keep reading, and keep writing! I love hearing from all of you.

    Next installment: Once Upon a Time?, in which your valiant author examines the storytelling in expansion packs…

    Garwulf’s Corner was written from 2000-2002, by Robert Marks and published on Diabloii.net. Garwulf’s Corner covered gaming culture, fantasy literature, computers, and more. Robert Marks was also the author of Demonsbane, a work in the Diablo series of novels published by Blizzard Entertainment.

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