Petty Gods is a book of made-up religions, deities and stuff for fantasy RPGs. Need details on a a god of wine vats, the patron of haberdashers or the priesthood of left handed blue-eyed ox cart drivers? Petty Gods has you covered! I contributed a few bits of artwork inluding these naked cultists up to no good:
I’m listening, right now, to a radio story about some guy who makes balloon animals for a living. I think most of his money comes from writing books and making instructional videos that teach other people how to make balloon animals rather than getting paid for making the balloon animals themselves. In his heart of hearts, he really wishes he could make a go of it as a musician playing classical guitar… but, somehow, the balloon animals he started off making ‘just to get by’ while he worked on his real ‘art’ (music) became his full time job and the music is what he now what he looks forward to once he gets done selling his balloon animal videos.
While listening to the balloon animal artist complain about how his former artist and musician friends started treating him as a ‘sell out’ once his balloon animals led to his being able to afford a car, a house, a wife, a family, etc., was both comical and sad, I thought about other small ponds. It seems the smaller the pond, the more bitterly the few fish fight over being the master of it.
The bit done by David Sedaris about life as a performance artist that follows it is also well worth a listen.
On an only tangentially related issue, the reviewer Holland Carter, in writing about the death of the famous artist Mike Kelley, that Kelley was, “…one of the most influential American artists of the past quarter century and a pungent commentator on American class, popular culture and youthful rebellion.” I underlined the word ‘pungent’ because I think it’s just hilarious.
The title of this post is a reference to a (probably) well meaning but ultimately doomed thread on DF in which the original poster, who goes by the name “Thorkhammer,” asked, “Are blogs bad for the hobby?” and invoked the image of Ellsworth Toohey, an awful-awful-awful person from Ayn Rand’s book, “The Fountainhead.” Mentioning Ayn Rand probably doomed the discussion to begin with.
I was given a copy of ‘The Fountainhead’ as a young man by a well meaning person who probably didn’t really understand me very well. Ellsworth Tooey was a character from Rand’s book, and, like many Rand villains, he was a sneering, bullying, uncreative parasite who worked as a critic and spent his time trying to destroy ‘men of vison’ like architect Howard Roark (the novel’s hero). Rand’s argument was that men like Toohey added nothing to society and were threatened by the obvious genius of people like Roark. In case you didn’t get the point, Rand made all of her heros masculine, sexy, handsome and tall and all of her villains were ugly or physically flawed in some way. But I’m going to try to resist giving in to the temptation to fire off the obvious potshots at Ayn Rand.
I think the link that Thorkhammer was trying to make (and I’m just guessing here, since he was pretty cagey about exactly what ‘blogging’ was ‘bad for the hobby’ by refusing to provide specific examples) was that perhaps getting raked over the coals by Ellsworth Tooheys (or critics) is
a) Bad for the ‘hobby’, and,
b) A sign that the critics themselves are, like Ellsworth Toohey, threatened by the creativity (or at least productivity or even ambitions) of others.
I’d like to try to address these separately.
A) Bad for the Hobby: I reject the notion that there is some collective ‘hobby’ which can be measured as rising and falling like the values of shares on the New York Stock Exchange. I used to believe in a certain warm-fuzzy collective of like minded people who had interests in common and would naturally want to help and support one another through some sort of shared interests; I think that really isn’t the case. I won’t bother to try to count the numbers, but a very non-scientific survey (i.e.: me looking at stuff and talking to people) seems to indicate that there are a lot of people who are at one extreme or the other (i.e.: some people are exited or positive of every project, others are negative no matter what) and a lot of people somewhere in between. ANd an even larger number either has no idea what the ‘OSR’ is or does not give a fuck. And every faction has their own issue — some people seem really pissed off that other people would presume to get paid for their work (a proposition that I find silly since, as far as I know, almost everyone posting in these online communities has ponied over cash to TSR for books at one point or another — by all means, don’t buy it if you don’t want it, but as another consumer in a consumerist society, claiming that ‘money’ is ruining the hobby because other people are buying books you aren’t interested in is fucking stupid). With other writers on blogs and forums, it just seems personal. I don’t know what James Masliewski could have possibly done to make some of the people who are constantly ripping on him anonymously hate him so — possibly at some point or another he corrected their pronunciation of ‘Erelhei Cinlu’ in an online chat session and they swore, at that point, that they would dedicate their lives to getting revenge. Still other people are on some ‘decency’ kick and still haven’t forgiven Geoffrey McKinney for publishing a blasphemous book like Carcosa because it included something like 7 or 8 ‘disturbing’ sentences in book written for a game that usually involves lots and lots of violence, naked succubus pictures, pople getting beheaded by vorpral swords, being eaten by demons, people getting burned alive by fireballs or disolved by acidic dragon spit, etc. Yes, by all means, take the high road.
My argument is that NOTHING can be bad for the collective hobby because there is no collective hobby. We don’t share values or identity… we just have some of the same books on our book shelves. We might think we share a certain sensibility by virtue of liking older editions or ‘old school style’ or whatever, but once people start gathering in the different forums or blogs to discuss this ‘hobby,’ the knives come out and the factions emerge.
B) The Critics are all Ellsworth Tooheys: I don’t know why other people write ‘reviews’ or critiques or why they post in blogs or forums. I suspect some of them are just excited about it and want to talk about it with like minded enthusiasts. I used to think I could write reviews of books or movies and that other people would actually find them ‘helpful.’ If I could write why I did or didn’t like something, people could examine my reasons, and, if they agreed, either pass on something that they thought they would not enjoy or pick up something the might have otherwise missed. And maybe some people do that — I don’t know. But at this point, I think a large number of people who read reviews simply want to see their own opinion reflected back at them. So if you hated ‘Death Frost Doom’ or you have a chip on your shoulder about James Raggi or LotFP, anyone who says they like it will automatically be labeled a ‘sycophant’ or moron or worse (if anyone cares, I have never read ‘Death Frost Doom’ and thus have no opinion). And, vice versa, if someone gives a positive review to something the reader liked, the reader will think the reviewer is a clever chap because he thinks just like the reader does.
I don’t tend to write much about gaming products anymore other than to engage in the occassional bit of self promotion (“I just had illustrations published in this…”). I don’t tend to think that the world is interested in my opinion. I like to write observations on different themes or tropes in popular culture, folklore and art these days, which occsionally touches on some gaming topics… and if that gives someone else some ‘inspiration,’ well, then it wasn’t all wasted effort… but mostly I write these things (including this blog entry) because I enjoy to write these things. Writing about apocalypses or last week’s gaming session or the mole people or whatever other subject I am going on about just amuses me. If someone else gets some value out of it, great, but I am not holding my breath.
I was going to write a post about the current fascination with Kickstarters but now I start wondering if arguing about Kickstarters is the new, “Can Paladins kill baby kobolds and get away with it?” question… in short, it becomes a question in which a lot of people have strong convictions but I start to doubt whether the question itself (are Kickstarters good/not goof for “the hobby?”) matters.
THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT I APPROVE OF PEOPLE USING A SERVICE LIKE KICKSARTER TO RIP OTHER PEOPLE OFF ANY MORE THAN I APPROVE OF ANY OTHER CON. But a con perpetrated through the mail does not mean that ‘the post office is evil;’ similarly, the fact that Kickstarter could be used to bilk people doesn’t mean that we should automatically be afraid of it.
I don’t know if Kickstarters and similar ‘crowd funding’ strategies are here to stay or not. I’ve kicked in at pretty low levels on a couple of them, mostly because I liked the ideas and thought the people proposing these projects could pull them off. If I don’t get what I was promised (or I get much less than I was promised), I guess I’ll feel disappointed… but I remember feeling pretty disappointed back in the day when I waited and waited and waited for TSR to publish ‘Temple of Elemental Evil’ and they just didn’t but somehow managed to find the time to grind out woodburning sets, trapper-keepers, Saturday Morning cartoons and needlepoint kits. I didn’t have to wait for the internet to be invented to feel disappointed by the way in which I fit into (or failed to fit into) a game company’s market strategy. I find myself thinking that amateurs with Kickstarter backers are going to have to try pretty hard to do worse.
The complaint that I hear echoing around the blogosphere, however, is that these ‘kickstarters’ are going to be ‘bad’ for gaming. I just don’t buy it. First of all, I don’t know what ‘gaming’ is since it seems to cover everything from Magic the Gathering to Napoleonics. Somewhere in that broad spectrum are people like me who like playing older versions of D&D — and I don’t feel much in common with the card games people or the Princess Leia in a metal bikini impersonators. I’m not against them; I’m just not a part of them. So, if your basic proposition is that “kickstarters are going to disappoint people and drive them from the hobby,” first you are going to have prove that people will leave the hobby. I don’t think that will happen because:
a) I don’t think Kickstarters will disappoint enough people to form some sort of ‘critical mass’ of disappointment that will make people leave “the hobby” (whatever the hobby is).
b) I don’t believe that all of the people who are involved in this hobby in all these different ways have such a shallow level of personal investment that not getting value for the $25.00 or $1,000.00 or whatever is going to drive them from the hobby. There are people out there who name their kids “Han” and “Leia,” do you think getting rooked by a Kickstarter is going to make them say, “Fuck it” and go scrape all the Trekkie and Doctor Who stickers off their Subaru and never go to GenCon again?
c) Who has been robbed via kickstarter? I know some projects are late and some kickstarters are not communicating with their backers as much as a very vocal group would like, but the level of noise from some people makes me feel like this is something on the scale of a Bernie Madoff con. Dear internet: late does not equal fraud. KIckstarter is not a “pre-order.” If you have actually been robbed via kickstarter (i.e.: you know that you will never get what you were promised), please post below… share details. I wanna know about it.
Some kickstarters will be in trouble because the people running them are incompetent, some will fail for lack of effort or because of dishonesty… and some will be everything that the originator promised but the backers will still be dissapointed because the backers didn’t bother to read what they were agreeing to before slapping their money down.
One suspicion I have is that the signal to noise ration has spiked because the obsessive compulsives who simply must have one of everything D&D in shrink wrap in their closet are suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer number of things coming out via Kickstarter and feel like if they don’t kick in on every project, they risk having a collection that is incomplete… yet if they do kick in on every single project, the ‘completeness’ of their collection is reliant on the good will and work ethic of strangers. Because the O.C. Collector can’t risk an incomplete collection, he has to gamble on the honesty/work ethic of strangers — no fair! Collecting is all about control and this makes me feel out of control! It’s like the wailing and gnashing of teeth we heard when Goodman printed up only 300 of some ‘special edition’ adventure for sale at one convention, sold first come first served, and, to add insult to injury, he didn’t limit “one to a customer” so people who came by later in the day were S.O.L.. For months after that event, some of these obsessive types were cursing Goodman like he had killed their dog simply because he published something and they didn’t get a copy.
Crossposted from my wordpress blog…I’m still catching up with all sorts of stuff, so pardon me is you have heard this already: Barrowmaze 2 is availible for crowdsource funding via Indie-a-go-go (click here for more info). Since I’m doing some of the artworks for it, you know it will be smashing! Contribute and maybe I or another artist will illustrate a monster YOU design for the Barrowmaze 2!
Here is one of the images I did for Barrowmaze 2:
Also, Jim Raggi IV, metalman of Finland, is also doing an indie-a-go-go for a new hard cover edition of LOTFP the Role Playing Game… and, if enough money flows it way into his coffers, different artists and writers will write custom adventures for YOU… and I’m on that list so send in your cash and see what I kick out! This fantastic art (not by me, obviously, but by Jason Rainville) shows what happens in LOTFP-land when Miss d’Artagnan gets all “Apocalypse Now.”
“The horror… the horror…”
I heard about “Your blog is an Eighties Zine” from Zhu: http://realmofzhu.blogspot.com who had heard about it from someone else. The idea is simple: Make the cover of an ’80s’ style zine, such as you would have put together yourself and xeroxed for distribution, but name it after your blog and put the titles of your last 5 posts on your cover. In the 80s I made some ‘zines’ and flyers and stickers for a band I was in at the copy shop, but I never made a ‘gaming’ zine. If I had, it might have looked something like this:
The stuff I made in the 80s for music looked something like this (that’s the cover of a record the band made, but I did the art, and, if I remember right, the typography. Don’t blame me for the name; I wanted to name the band, “Meat Glue.”):
My S.O. and I have been discussing getting another freezer for food storage — we are putting away vegetables from the garden for winter consumption. I have a spot for the new freezer chest in our ‘junk room’ but she will have to clear out a shelf of her books to make room for it. This, coupled with a few other home improvement projects that usually start with me trying to clear out the space in which the project takes place, makes me realize how much crap we own. It is a fucking nightmare.
I don’t think I’m a hoarder. I’m just often too lazy to make a decision about whether or not I ‘need’ something anymore — so I stuff it in a closet or stick it on a shelf and forget about it.
Inevitably, this leads to thoughts of, “If, by my own admission, I have too much stuff, why would I want to make more stuff?” And when I say “make more stuff,” I am thinking about making all of the books, drawings, paintings, etc., that I find myself involved in either as the primary creator or as a contributor. Variations on the theme of, “We already have more games/adventures/source materials/etc., than anyone can possibly use, so there is no point in making more,” seems to roll through the blog community or OSR discussion with the same regularity as the tide. And many who voice this criticism often share a single point: Who needs a clone when we still have the original?
Limited storage space aside, I think many people like making stuff. Not everyone has the same degree of creative drive and ambition; a few people might love a certain edition of a rulebook and want to make a few small changes, or rewrite things that they felt could have been more clearly stated. Everyone seems to be using computers and the internet to do this, so print-on-demand and .pdf have made publishing easy and cheap. Editing a text document on a computer and saving the changes is easy. Back when Gary Gygax was putting together Original D&D boxed sets in his basement, everything had to be typed up on a typewriter, then pasted out by hand, taken to the printers, folded, bound, etc. Expensive and time consuming. If you found a typo on page 4 sometime late in the game, more than likely you just said, “Fuck it — the readers will be houseruling the shit out of this anyway...” rather than redoing it.
I enjoy the creative enterprise (both on my own and in collaboration). Since most of the OSR producers are doing this for the joy of it, they don’t really need to spend all of their time worrying about, “What will the overwhelming number of consumers buy in order to make my OSR publishing venture as profitable as possible?” I suspect if OSR producers were really out to chase the dollar, they wouldn’t be in the OSR game anyway — more money is to be made creating the next ‘Angry Birds’ app or selling groups of ‘Potemkin’ followers on Twitter. When I look at many of the more ‘mainstream’ products on the game store shelves from the bigger companies like WOTC, I don’t feel tempted. I put a little bit of money in my pocket creating illustrations for a small number of publishers who are willing to pay me for my work, but it isn’t enough to live on… I have to do a lot of other things to make ends (barely) meet.