Petty Gods 2015

Petty Gods is finally available! A free pdf is here and you can buy a print copy at cost from LuLu here.

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:evil snake cult 72dpi

Balloon Animals

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.

Who is Ellsworth Toohey?

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.

Indie-a-go-go for LOTFP and Barrowmaze 2!

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:

Better roll up another cleric!

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 blame Zhu

I heard about “Your blog is an Eighties Zine” from Zhu: 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.”):

Who needs more stuff?

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.

Stonehell: First Impressions

OK, I know it’s already been out forever but I finally got around to ordering Stonehell Dungeon by Michael Curtis after having read about his campaigns on his blogs (one blog is Torch, Pole and Rope; the other is Rotted Moon). 134 pages for $13.00 seems like a bargain to me.

I’ve only read the first couple of pages and skimmed through the rest, but so far am very happy about my purchase and feel inspired to hopefully get off my butt and do something with Khunmar once I get some of my other backlog of projects squared away.

Likes: Brief entries for room descriptions, lots of options, map on one page and key on the facing page to prevent lots of flipping of pages during play. Lots of charts for random stuff and suggestions on how to make Stonehell your own.

Dislikes: Almost no art (sad face) but I suppose that makes the compact layout possible. Not all of the info for a given location is in one place (i.e.: the description of an area on the surface near the entrance is partially in the introduction to that ‘level’ in one place and partially in the key. I guess that’s needed to keep the key compact enough to fit on one page but I’d be worried that I would forget something important if I was referencing only the key.

This is apparently just the first volume; more levels are to come!

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.