What have we learned?

If you are reading this, I’m sure you know that there seems to have been yet another big brouhahhah afflicting the ‘osr‘ community, and, well, let’s not be proud, all of us have taken part. You know who you are.

History of the brouhahhah in a nutshell: Some people published new games with content that included less than savory elements. Other people said, “Those elements are less than savory!” Various levels of rhetoric were invoked by both sides (‘Grandpa fought Hitler to allow me to look at pictures of harpy boobs’ and ‘I don’t want your negativity flowing back on my positivity — it’s as bad as furry sex!’ being two of my personal favorites). For a recap and a nice dose of Schadenfreude, visit here and here (and be sure to read the comments— that’s where all the best stuff is).

My own feeling is that most pornography laws are stupid because they seek to define some material as ‘offensive’ and other material as ‘inoffensive‘ based entirely on context. Go to Italy and look at Michelangelo’s David and you see full on frontal male nudity and it’s art. Take a picture of yourself not wearing any pants and it probably isn’t. The difficulty that I have with this is that the promoters of ‘decency’ often rely on, “It’s indecent because I say it is,” to divide ‘porn’ from ‘art.’ Here in the US, most of our current obscenity laws date back to 1964 when, in defining obscenity, the best a Supreme Court Justice could say was, “…I know it when I see it…” That flimsy little bit of verbiage has been used to fine people, jail people and prevent books/films/stage plays/etc., from being seen or read by the audience. Just ask Jello Biafra about Penis Landscape.

Perhaps if Michelangelo had sculpted David with a hard-on we would feel differently about placing that statue in ‘art’ rather than porn;’ I don’t know. But I somehow suspect that because the statue of David is ‘old’ and ‘Italian’ and made of marble, the people who don’t like seeing penises in art can overlook it. But you can’t deny that David is sexy (although his package is too small for porn work… but, hey, I hear they make pills for that). If I had a bod that good, I’d quit this sad little life of mine and go off and do Axe commercials and schtup models and you would be reading about me on TMZ.

I think that people who want to prevent other people from possessing/looking at/buying bad, ugly, obscene or nasty work are wrong. But I don’t think it’s automatically wrong not to like something or find it distasteful. As I think I should be free to look at what I want, I think you should be free to not look. Throwing around accusations of ‘prude’ or ‘pervert’ are probably not going to help matters.

One of the arguments raised by the people who think some OSR projects have ‘gone too far’ in terms of depicting violence or sex or sexy violence is that the general public will think that this small number of niche products will represent RPGs and the people who enjoy them as a whole. I don’t think worrying about “what the rest of the public thinks” is at all helpful. In the 1980s, Pat Pulling and B.A.D.D. made the accusation that playing D&D would cause children to lose touch with reality, worship Satan, commit crimes, grow suicidal, etc. These accusations were not based on fact. They were just based on rhetoric. TSR caved to the demands from their largely Christian Conservative Evangelical critics by replacing words like ‘devil’ and ‘demons’ with “Tannarri” (sp?) and similar made up words. I think this was a mistake since by doing this, TSR helped make it appear as if the claims by Pulling and her friends had some merit. Even if pleading ‘guilty’ to spurious charges is the path of least resistance, there may be some bigger issues at stake. Of course, Pulling and her friends were on a witch hunt, so there was no talking sense to them. But still.

After the most recent argument reached an unsustainable peak, many began to conclude that “We are just a tiny number of people in an inbred community who even care about these things.” I think that’s right, but it is no reason not to think or talk about the hobby or publishing or whatever. I’m going to get pretty bored pretty quickly if all we talk about is our nifty new house rules for figuring out encumbrance. And, honestly, I’d rather have passionate arguments about obscenity or what should or should not be published than arguments about whether or not Paladins can kill baby kobolds.

My own feeling is that this hobby has always been about giving players a creative focus. Everyone I know who has ‘gotten into it’ has enjoyed making their own characters, making their own maps and adventures, inventing rules and scenarios, etc. I’ve been interested in the story of crazy creatives like Henry Darger (a hermit who created his own fictional world complete with transsexual little girls, murder, war, paintings and a hand written 15 thousand + page novel) and see making up D&D stuff as a just slightly more acceptable form of that kind of manic creativity. I see the OSR as an extension of a creative urge that many people share and a few of us have been lucky enough to find a creative focus for. Although I’m sure all of us would love to get rich at our OSR publishing projects, realistically we would be probably lucky to break even. We do it out of love of the doing. So what the ‘community’ may need or not need is of less interest to me than what the individuals creating stuff may find inspiring or motivating. And when critics of some of the ‘new wave’ of OSR products say, “But what will the rest of the public think of us?” I want to reply that I don’t care — since I sincerely hope I am not doing it for the ‘rest of the public.’ I hope I am doing it for me.

Edit: Spawn of Endra wrote the below in response to one of the posts in the center of the maelstrom. It is one of the best descriptions of my flawed psychological profile that I could hope for (no, I am not a furry, but I’ve given up on the idea of ever being an ‘average joe‘).
Quote follows:

I’m new to the idea that furries spoil the image of those involved with “legitimate cosplay“; don’t know much about either subculture. But this is the same argument that drag queens ruin the image of “legitimate” transsexuals that don’t want to be flamboyant, campy, and trashy, etc., they just want to be accepted as females. And that leather men in the gay pride parade ruin the image of all the conservative businessmen gays that don’t act out and vote Republican, or just want to get married like “normal” people do.
I am not normal. I don’t want to be. I think that in general most people think that RPG players are ‘queer’. In the broadest sense of that term I suspect this may be right (i.e., strange or odd) but also in the specific sense there are a lot of gamers that conceive of gender, sexuality, and worldview in non-normative terms in real life. Imagining yourself as someone else in front of a bunch of other people is, well, perverse. Pile on the baggage wherever one likes, but my feeling is that drawing certain lines to retain a modicum of respectability in front of an audience of “normal” people that already believes they are watching a freak show doesn’t get anyone anywhere.
And @Stuart: Thanks for that! Righteous.


Inside the Echochamber

Over on his blog, Mythmere announced that he added another version of ‘Swords & Wizardry’ to his Lulu shop which differs from the current version in only one way: This 4th edition S&W has the same font on the cover as previous editions… of course, 4th edition versions without the ‘retro’ font are also still availible.

He said that he did this in response to the emails he got from a number of people who all said they liked the older font better than the new one. That’s one of the advantages of print on demand like ‘Lulu.’ It probably wasn’t too hard for Mythmere to put the old font on the new book and now everyone can get exactly the font they want on the cover of their book.

One of the interesting things I once heard from a marketing executive was the idea that happy customers seldom communicate their happiness… and thus the unhappy customers can come to dominate the thinking of many organizational strategists. Sometimes, as in the case of Mythmere’s font options, it’s relatively easy to offer multiple solutions that will make everyone happy. Maybe it’s the sites I visit or the people I talk to, but I’ve been a bit surprised at the level of ‘negativity’ directed at the products being produced by the OSR in general (and the DCC RPG in particular lately). My hope is that the producers will not just listen to the negative criticism; hopefully they will also remain true to whatever idea drove them to create whatever it is that they are making in the first place rather than changing everything up in hopes of making some grouchy pants somewhere happy.

As one example, I’ve heard a lot of people bitching that Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord are ‘too much like old D&D.’ “We already have circa 1982 D&D,” these naysayers whine. “It’s just the same old game with a new cover and a few superficial changes. We can play the Moldvay version original… we don’t need a facsimile.” I guess that’s true… but even if Mythmere (or anyone else) never make a dime off of Swords & Wizardry, what if the process of putting it together was gratifying for him? What if that book gets people to pick up the dice and play? We probably don’t really need any RPGs… at least not the same way we need food, water and oxygen. I’ve had about enough of ‘uber-grognards’ carrying on like the existance of the ‘retro clones’ are somehow ‘bad’ for people who like playing games or ‘dillute’ the community. Prove that point or shut it.

It has also reached my ears that people are really bugged about the screwy dice in the new DCC RPG. What a silly arguement. Other people are bitching about the ‘tone’ of the book (too confrontational, assumes the reader has already played D&D, too elitist, too nihilist, etc.). I, for one, am glad to read an RPG book that reads like it was written by a person with some passion rather than a technical writer. They don’t like the ‘wizard patrons’ and moan about the ‘race as class’ thing. Others complain about the art (“too retro” or “not different enough” or “more cowbell”).

I, for one, hope that the writers of the DCC keep the screwy dice, the retro art and the tone. If Goodman follows all the advice he has been getting, I probably won’t be interested anymore. I like the game, funnel and all.


Cutting taxes on the Rich will not create Jobs

“Cutting taxes on the Rich will not create Jobs.”

The current economic voodoo requires we believe that if we cut taxes for the top 10% of earners, they will turn around and hire people to work for them. This is bullshit. Give a business owner more money in his pocket and he is unlikely to hire additional workers or buy more equipment unless there is a reason to increase output/capacity. The managers of Acme Widgets are always going to try to produce enough widgets to meet demand with the least number of workers possible. Adding capacity without demand will cause Acme to go broke.

The adherents of ‘supply side’ will argue that the owners of Acme might invest that extra million in a new business venture (perhaps starting Acme Services). They are unlikely to do so unless there is a market for whatever services Acme offers… and if the underemployed are not buying new widgets, they are unlikely to buy other items… so the smart bet is that Mr. Moneybags will put his money to work in the international money market. Unfortunately, if Mr. Moneybags increases his investment from 1 million to 2 million, it is unlikely that his bank will hire more tellers or security guards to work at the local branch. Increases in Mr. Moneybags’ portfolio will make his brokers and bankers happy, but will not require significant additional people working at the bank or brokerage. More money in the banks and in the market will only create jobs if there is something for all those employees to do.

One could also argue, I suppose, that Mr. Moneybags might spend his additional money on ostrich skin boots, gold plated toilets, ivory golf tees and similar trappings of wealth. And if you own a jewelry store on Rodeo Drive, perhaps the tax breaks are good for you. But luxury goods make a lousy basis for an economy simply because there is only a small number of people who can afford to buy such things.

The only way to create more jobs is to get the middle and lower classes spending again. This probably means things like raising the minimum wage and eliminating the Bush tax cuts would be a better strategy than the course of action chosen by both the Republicrats and Demmicans. The middle and lower classes (who make up more than 90% of the US population) tend to spend almost as much as they earn and will buy ice cream cones, cars, ipads, gasoline and similar items in greater numbers than the rich ever will, even though the rich may be willing to pay premium prices. Additional demand for all of these things will spur business growth and revenue for the state. Although under this scheme, the rich might have less money, they will actually be more inclined to increase the size of their pool of employees in the businesses they own because the demand will be there… and if the demand is there, the smart people will invest (and thus make more money for themselves). Money doesn’t cause business growth; demand does.


DCC RPG Character Generator!

My friend Jon C. sent me a link to an online app that will create 4 0 level DCC RPG characters with the click of a mouse! Clicck this link to try it out: http://www.jmarrdesign.com/dcc/

Thanks Jon! Also thanks to J. Marr who made the generator (he is a musician, animator, photographer, web designer… he seems to be able to do just about anything he sets his mind to…).

Also below is one of my illos from the DCC RPG. Bonus points to anyone who can figure out where you may have seen these guys before (the dude in the middle is not a good likeness, but the guys to the left and the right are pretty close… whereas the guy in the back guarding the door is probably a recent recruit who did not accompany them on a previous expedition…).


Illustration

I’ve been working on some illustrations for another project (a yet-to-be-published young adult novel among them). Here the protagonist of the novel has ducked into a niche that contains a statue to wait for a friend after having overheard an ominous conversation that foreshadows future conflict:


Black Death (2010) Movie Review

Black Death (2010) is a “historical” thriller set in Medieval England (14th century?) during the worst years of the black plague.

The Premise: A young monk named Osmund has fallen in love with a woman named Avril. A hard hearted and dogmatic knight named Ulrich (played by Sean Bean) arrives at the monastery and demands a guide to a remote village which is supposed to be mysteriously free of the plague. Heresey and witchcraft is suspected. Ulrich’s job is to investigate and execute any “necromancers” using any means he deems necessary. Since the swamp is in the same direction as the place where Osmund’s girlfriend is to be found, Osmund believes this is a sign from God that he ought to leave the monastery and go to be with her; he agrees to guide Ulrich and his mercenaries (complete with a wagon load of torture devices) to the swamp.

Eventually they arrive at the remote village where everything is not what it seems and horrible events unfold. Spoiler: Oswald is reunited with his love, but the reunion is not a happy one. The movie starts off bleak and ends bleaker.

The film is of modest budget (by current Hollywood standards) but the film makers do a lot with what they have. It looks like most or all of the film was shot on locations in Germany using period structures instead of building sets (and, other than one scene in which I noticed a decidedly non-period glass window in the background, this gives the film a gritty feel you probably couldn’t get from picture perfect sets). The color is intentionally desaturated and the air filled with smoke and haze while wretched looking peasants and hard looking mercenaries slop through the mud. There are no big-budget special effects and the fight scenes in the film are brutal rather than heroic. The music is spare and the dialogue terse.

The film is a thriller and seeks to set up the viewer’s expectations only to knock them down. At first the viewer thinks that Ulrich and his inquisitors must be the villains, but by the end you are not so sure. It might be ‘Name of the Rose’ meets ‘Apocalypse Now’ with a cupful of ‘The Stepford Wives’ in terms of story. Well worth a watch.


Skill Checks: DCC gets it right

Feeling a little wonky today, so laying low and resting. But this paragraph from page 53 of the DCC RPG gets it exactly right and “fixes” one of the things that drove me nuts in all of my time playing D&D 3e with all of the skill check rolls:

Skill checks are designed for use when a system of abstract rules is necessary to adjudicate a situation. Only make a skill check when practical descriptions by the players will not suffice.

The rules go on to give an example of players entering a room where a door is hidden by clay tablets against the wall. The book suggests that if the players say they remove or look behind the clay tablets, they find the hidden door without having to roll a dice.

Resolving actions ‘just through talking’ was a big part of my introduction to roleplaying games (first using the Holmes set in 1978) and was a big part of the ‘role’ in ‘roleplaying’ in those early days… and that was how we liked it. Talking like a pirate or saying, “My character wouldn’t do X because of some pre-determined personality trait” was NOT a part of my early role playing experience — even though that seems to be how many people define ‘roleplaying.’ My definition of ‘old school roleplaying’ was mentally inserting yourself into the situation that the DM described and attempting to reason out a good course of action using your own noodle and the information at hand. Confronted with a room full of tablets, instead of just saying ‘I search’ and rolling the dice, one could attempt to read any inscriptions on the tablets, move the tablets to look under or behind them, etc. If a treasure was hidden under the bed, you would find it if you thought to say, “I look under the bed” instead of rolling a 12 or better on a dice.


Palin says "Fuck U" to the Press, DCC RPG thoughts

I started this post with a thing about Sarah Palin not because I have anything important or intelligent to say, but only because I am trying to maintain my cred as a left leaning liberal retard who hates the party of tea. But Alaska’s decision to release emails requested by the press under FOIA from Palin’s brief time as Govenor in the form of documents printed on paper in boxes instead of just transferring them electronically is a pretty blatant FUCK YOU to the press and FOIA. Printing out emails? Who does that? Way to go, Alaska. You have put the ‘goober’ back into ‘gubernatorial.’

Interestingly, it took Alaska longer to comply with the FOIA request than Palin spent in office.

At least there were no crotch pictures.

In other news, have only just gotten started reading the DCC RPG (I’ve spent more time reading about other people reading the DCC RPG than I have spent reading the DCC RPG, which seems as stupid as distributing emails by printing them out and packing them in boxes instead of just, you know, keeping electronic communication electronic instead of punishing all those trees because of an incovenient FOIA request). One of the things I have been reading in a few of the other views on the DCC RPG is things that people don’t like because they are different from ‘regular’ D&D. I hope those ‘differences’ make it through beta and after the test period we get a game that might be even more different than D&D.


Goodman Games DCC Role Playing Game: First Look


I read a bit of Goodman Game’s The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Beta Test Version last night and really like what I have read so far; I hope I get to play this game. People are blogging about it all over the place; I figure I better get my comments in.

Almost everyone raves about the art, which is gratifying since I did some of it. And, for a free ‘Beta’ set of rules, the production values are very nice (although there are a few bits of art that look somewhat ‘shoehorned in;’ I suspect this will be improved in the next version). As one of the artists working on the project, I can say that there is more art on the way (I just got another art request from Goodman), so if you like the art, there is more to come.

The ‘Beta’ rules are simplified and the introduction admits that they are incomplete and there may be a few references to information that does not appear in the book; the Beta book allows players to play from levels 1 to 5… the full rules (coming in November) will bring this up to level 10 with a lot more content and options (and presumed improvements since players will offer input after test driving the rules).

The introduction makes clear that Goodman took the ‘suggested reading’ from Appendix N in the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (Howard, Leiber, Poul Anderson, etc.,) and tried to use that as the source material — the game intends to encourage a ‘sword & sorcery’ rather than a ‘high fantasy’ style of play. A lot of people are comparing it to Hackmaster (in spirit); a comparison I think is apt after reading the humorous ‘oath’ that players are expected to swear on page 4.

The game mechanics are loosely based on the d20 mechanics from Wizards of the Coast… with rolling a d20 to hit a ‘target number’ and similar stuff. I haven’t delved too deeply into that yet, though. DCC also uses unusual dice from Zocchi/Gamescience like the d3, the d5, d16, etc. I guess I’ll have to buy a set of those. Some people seem to be really unhappy about the funky dice, but when I first saw them the d20, d12, d8, etc., all seemed pretty strange to me, so that does not bother me.

One of the ways in which DCC differes from most (if not all) of the current crop of offerings in Fantasy RPGs is that everyone starts as a level 0 nonentity — cobbler, blacksmith apprentice, beggar, etc. The book suggests that each player roll up 3 initial 0 level characters (completely at random — no ‘custom build the guy you want’ here) who will be armed with randomly determined improvised weapons like garden tools or clubs and then the first adventure will ‘thin the ranks.’ Characters that survive long enough to get 100 XP get to be level 1 and can choose a profession like ‘fighter’ or ‘magic user’ or ‘cleric’ or ‘thief.’ Thus 5 players will start with 15 level 0 characters who will have improvised weapons and no armor… and then these guys will get fed into the meat grinder and the 1/3rd that survive will become level 1. There have been some complaints about this approach, but I actually find it refreshing. One of the trends that became evident in d20 3e era D&D is that character generation became the most important part of the game — the rules were so geared to offering players choices and options and rules for tricking out your PC that I think the most interesting part of the game (to me, anyway), i.e.: as a player interacting with the environment and each other, took second fiddle. Too many players had their eye on ‘what skill points should I take next in order to qualify for prestige class X, Y or Z in 3 levels’ to concentrate on the here and now. Since player characters were so time consuming to make, the ‘deadliness’ of d20 games seems to have been dialed back. The DCC RPG is based on the assumption that player characters will become more interesting to the players if they survive… and from what I have read so far, survival is not guaranteed.

DCC RPG also brings back ‘race as class,’ i.e.: instead of being a dwarf fighter or an elf cleric, your class is ‘dwarf’ or ‘elf.’ Some people don’t like this. That’s the D&D that I started with, though, and I like it.

(the image at above right is by Erol Otus, and originally appeared on the cover of Goodman’s DCC #0, “Legends are Made, not Born.”)


Obligatory Dungeon Crawl Classics post

OK, if you didn’t download Goodman Game’s “Dungeon Crawl Classics Beta Rules” yet, then shame on you. Someone told me it was free only today (June 8, 2011), but it does not say anything about that on the Goodman site so who knows.

I haven’t read it yet, but I’ll give you 2 reasons why this book rocks so hard:

1) Peter
2) Mullen

This guy’s work just blows me away… he has taken the ‘old school’ look and done something very dynamic and whimsical with it. But there is a lot of great artwork in the book — including Jeff Jeff Easley, Jason Edwards, Tom Galambos, Friedrich Haas, Jim Holloway, Doug Kovacs, Diesel Laforce, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Jesse Mohn, Erol Otus, Jim Roslof, Chad Sergesketter, Chuck Whelon, and Mike Wilson (shameless self promotion: and even some by me)! It occured to me as I ‘flipped’ through the PDF earlier that the Roslof work may well be Jim’s last since he died so recently… R.I.P., Jim, you will be missed.

Anyway, here is one of the Mullen pics: