Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Emergent Cannibalism and the Art of Milo De Fretwell

So last game just the blondes showed up--and it was a total party kill.
"Wait you all died?"
"Yes, we all died"

This time folks were more cautious, but it still got weird real fast...

It all started with some rules:

-I said roll 3d6 for ability scores instead of 5e's usual 4d6-pick-the-highest.

-I made a Witch class that gets d4 hp (details later)--like wizards do in my game. 3 people are playing it.
Connie drawing her witch

-Morgan rolled like a 5 or a 6 or something for Con. That's a -3 or -4 to everything to do with Constitution.

-So Morgan's witch--Sendrelle--is getting 1 hit point per level. No matter what.

-And since equipment is random, nobody bothered to buy any rations before going into the dungeon.

Then there was the dungeon itself:

-Maze of the Blue Medusa has hunger on the random encounter chart. If you get that result, you have to eat something in the next 10 minutes or you lose 2hp.

-There's a room where a corpse hangs. It is the corpse of the last person you killed. It explains to you what you could've done to avoid killing it.


The players see the corpse, then I roll this, I tell the players. Sendrelle the witch has 2 hit points. After a few minutes of floundering ("Wellllll thoroughly searching the room takes a Turn which is ten minutes so if you find nothing Sendrelle dies...") she gives up and runs back to the corpse room. Soon Sendrelle and everybody else is eating fresh Oku corpse.

Second level. 2 hit points. Still alive.

So that was fun.


The other thing that happened was later the party ran into "The Screaming Face of My Wife" by Milo De Fretwell--the painting that makes you moan and collapse weeping for 5 minutes if you fail your save. At exactly the same time, some stealthy Chameleon women began uncoiling in the next room.

Sendrelle hung back on account of having 2 hit points, and pretty much two rounds later everyone else in the room (party and chameleon-warriors) was either unconscious or weeping uncontrollably. She slipped in, cut some chamelon-throats and that was that.

This worked so well the party decided to sleep in the dungeon under the painting. So far the spellcasters have gotten through 1 of 8 hours needed sleep and 2 more groups of wandering monsters have fallen victim to the painting.

I love D&D. Have I mentioned that lately? I love D&D.

And now, a word from our sponsor:
7 Ennies, actually. 3 for this.

Monday, August 22, 2016

New I Hit It With My Axe + Some Pics

Episode 43:

L to R: Stacy Dellorfano of Contessa, Me w/Ennies, Trollsmyth

Drinking Kickstarter's beer after the Ennies
L to R: Ken Baumann (Satyr Press), Kenneth Hite, Me
Satyr Press intern Theo on the bottom 

Graham Linehan created the IT Crowd, Black Books and Father Ted. He's a fan.

Ennies, L to R: Some guy, Charlotte Stokely, Me, Stoya, Kiel Dungeons & Donuts Chenier

Carl with yet another infuriating homemade shirt
Stokely manning the Lamentations of the Flame Princess booth

This was just a really cool Warhammer 40k table i liked -- do yourself a favor and enlarge these

While we were at Gen Con, our cleric, Karolyn, was invited to the White House. There are Pokemon there.
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Post GenCon, me and Stoya went to Europe to make some pornography

St George about to kill Stoya in  Marshall Tito Square, Zagreb

Friday, August 19, 2016

Monte Cook and You

What Monte Did This Time

It turns out Chris Pramas of Green Ronin jerked around and misled folks running his GenCon Blue Rose games to the tune of hundreds of dollars. 1

It turns out Loren Coleman of Shadowrun scammed freelancers writing their material out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. 2

Are folks hopping mad about these things? No. These things only affect real people in a real way. What are people in game circles hopping mad about?

RPG celebrity Monte Cook put out a very expensive game. Nobody really knows what it's like and it's called Invisible Sun. Clearly he is a fierce villain and begetter of untold woe.

Standard Operating Procedure

The anger map follows a familiar pattern:

1) Anonymous folks who dredge the game internet looking for the holes in their soul notice a game announcement they don't like, put it on a forum, then trip over each other racing to see who can perform their cynicism about This Industry the hardest. 3

2) Trolls with grown-up identities use them (like, anonymous goon Guilty Spork talks to anonymous goon Evil Mastermind who then turns into responsible wannabe game writer Sean Dunstan so he can talk to genuine game industry guy Rob Donoghue on Google+) to move the outrage off the trollnet and into the light and then post the same takes for a more sincere but still unquestioning audience and then these people trip over each other, this time in a contest to perform pain instead of cynicism. 4

3) Supposed adults with jobs doing game stuff see gamers and wannabe-designers in pain and ask in public posts why oh why doesn't anyone Address These Problems Seriously? And they host hand-wringing conversations with the trolls and feelers awash in grievance and unchecked libel.

4) Nothing changes at all in any way. Even a little. Ever.

What Is Monte Thinking?

Familiar events bring on familiar cries: What is Monte Cook thinking? Why doesn't he see the problems? Why is he so out of touch?

I'm going to educatedly guess what Monte is thinking, because Monte will never tell you, nor will co-designer Bruce Cordell--Monte Cook Games' third pillar, Shanna Germain, might tell you a little bit, but only obliquely. They are professionals.

Let me stress I have no inside knowledge, this is just based on my experience with them and every other person at every other game company who seems to drift ever aloof from the concerns of the outraged. WOTC, Kenneth Hite, Goodman Games, everybody.

Monte and co are thinking: Yes, angry internet, we are out of touch. With you. We are only ever punished for being in touch with you. We decided to be in touch with some whole other bunch of people who aren't you.

Aside from customers, MCG is in touch with the people who actually want the problems they are complaining about to get fixed.

What does that kind of person look like?

-When they see a problem in a Monte Cook Game their first response is to contact Monte Cook Games about it. 
This is, like, instead of forcing this company of three people to sift through Google alerts and carefully pick through hate-threads in order to find substantive complaints in between doing all their real other jobs.

-They answer questions and counter-issues that MCG might have about their complaint.
Generally people do things because they thought it was a good idea to do them. In order to make your complaint meaningful and effect genuine change, you have to address these reasons, not pretend only your priorities exist. The thing to not do is vent your feelz but then immediately shut down the discussion when asked any reasonable question about the relationship of those feelz to actionable reality. 5

-They notice when the problem gets solved.
After the worst parts of the RPG internet called MCG's Shanna Germain sexist for putting a space succubus in Numenera but before the current uproar about a pricey cube, the worst parts were complaining about the treatment of Native American themes in MCG's The Strange. MCG reacted by putting some amazing Native freelancers on the project--Anthony Pastores and Alina Pete. In short, MCG were a model of doing what you're supposed to do in response to outcry.
This meant nothing to the people complaining.
The same folks who were so angry at the misrepresentation of fictional Native peoples (and who participated in every other uproar about MCG) completely failed to notice the tremendously talented actual Native people who just got some work out of the mess. Even if you think MCG's response was too little too late, anyone genuinely worried about the condition of actual people of Native American descent in the hobby would have good reason to shine a spotlight on Anthony and Alina even if they didn't bother to mention MCG while doing it.

-They don't lie about the problem.
Nobody cares what you think if your "concerns" are openly clownshoes--like if you're asserting MCG is demanding players coerce their GMs into playing this game, there's nothing anyone could ever do to address your issue because you made it up.

...and note none of these things is about tone--you can swear and scream and use exclamation marks and be angry all you like and you're still well within bounds of acceptable discourse. This isn't tone-policing your complaint, it's about the content of it: Lying isn't a tone issue.

The People Complaining Know They're Complaining For No Reason

The outrage alarm is not being raised to warn people about MCG (none of their behavior is secret), the alarm is not being raised as a cautionary example to other publishers (nobody else but MCG has plans to make a fabulously expensive game, and very few even could), the alarm is not being raised to explain a hidden flaw in Invisible Sun to fellow gamers (it's immediately obvious that this game is expensive and the game's contents are unknown--these are not secrets), this isn't a cop recorded shooting a child (where the mere existence of the problem suggests the person who can solve the problem will act in bad faith when contacted).

In short, there are as yet no utilitarian reasons that any complaint about Invisible Sun should primarily be addressed to anyone other than the people making Invisible Sun.  Yet still folks are doing it.

Why? In the words of Rebecca West: They want to be right rather than to do right.

There is no sense in which these kinds of complaints can honestly wear the guise of activism--an activist, above all, wants problems to go away, and these complainers have deliberately cultivated a system of complaint which makes addressing the complaint impossible. The difference between critique and whining is critique is directed at actual change.

Meanwhile, much like any other halfway-sane company of its size, the 3 people called Monte Cook Games will restrict its worries to people who actually treat them like human beings you can email, rather than distant constellations you shake your fists at.

1 One GM, Kiel Chenier, is selling the adventure he ran in order to recoup costs he was told the Blue Rose people were paying for--get one here.

2 C- digs in deep on the Shadowrun scam here.

3 For example:

"RPG Despot Monte Cook is telling players to force their GMs to run his new game!"
4 For example:

"Want to play D&D with us?"
"I can't, ever. I saw that there's a Kickstarter for another game, and it's....expensive." 

5 For example.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Take the Rubies from the Demon's Eyes

Gen Con is, of course, massive--a brief Disneyland of gaming and of gamers.

However, if you ignore miniatures, boardgames, scenery shops, card game tournaments,"My other shirt is chainmail" merchshops and then run around just looking at and talking to people putting out tabletop RPGs, going to their parties and events, asking about their jobs, a strange thing quickly becomes clear:

While there is a pecking order in the industry, and there are people with and without power, and there are winners and losers, the actual aristocracy of the RPG industry (in addition to being demographically exactly what you'd expect) is:

-Relatively powerless
-Not particularly internally cohesive

To take the Ennies as an example: Neither D&D nor Pathfinder got the most Ennies. Ken Hite and his co-writer Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan won for Dracula Dossier--a sourcebook for a relatively unpopular game with by no means lavish production values or pictures. Why did it win? It's a smart concept, well-written, by a respected author. Next most Ennies was a tie between Robin Laws (for Greatest Hit Feng Shui getting a new edition) and us (with first-time publisher Satyr Press). Even the most bald-faced marketing-vulnerable fan vote award during a dramatic surge in D&D's popularity as a product recognizes that the mainstream is kinda meh. And the mainstream can't do anything about it.

Other indicators:

-There was not a single RPG bigwig I talked to who hadn't heard of Stacy's female-run auxiliary subCon, Contessa.

-Nobody this year has put out more extensively illustrated color RPGs than LotFP and Satyr.

-People working for the "larger" indies still had to reach out to people they barely knew to work their GenCon tables.

-Nobody with their name on anything is more than a degree of Kevin Bacon from anybody else.

-Freelancers working for major publishers kept saying they wished they could do the kind of stuff we do.

-Everything seriously competing with Maze had crews 3-4 times the size working on it.

-LotFP and Satyr are paying out-of-pocket and profiting off larger, more impressive products than shit more established companies have to run Kickstarters to put out.

-Magpie Games pissed off half the Indie establishment just before the con (including folks at the company that put out award-magnet Feng Shui) and still turned a tidy profit.

-I ran an ad hoc 9-person game of D&D for hours in a bar with the entirety of White Wolf's GenCon presence in attendance and happily rolling.

The bar for entry is as low as it's been since the wargame days, and DIY RPG output has never been better. In the past, I've pointed out that by DIYing it you can make more money than pretty much any RPG freelancer, right now I'm going to go farther:

If the DIY RPG scene wants to, in less than 5 years it can run this town.

Just by hanging out and talking games and not putting up with the usual bullshit, we have accidentally created a monster. We've always known we can out-write, out-design, and out-draw the mainstream, but what I'm telling you is folks like Stacy D and Kiel C and Raggi and Ken at Satyr are proving we can out-organize them and out-market them, too, and this pond is small enough that that's about all that matters. All the boxes are ticked.

The mainstream, with these full-timers whose lives depend on the next RPG paycheck, has dwindled down to such a consistent lowest-common-denominator aesthetic just to pay the bills it's getting sick of itself. Years chasing some elusive imaginary middlebrow customer have taken their toll on them. Yeah, they have licenses. And in 2016 that gets you fuck-all.

We can do this. There are three hurdles:

-You need to clear time on your calendar to make your thing.
-You need to coordinate with folks you probably already know or are 1 degree of Bacon away from to get the thing out there. Make sure it is written, illustrated and produced as well as can possibly be done. Do not half-ass any of those three elements.
-We all need to work together to recognize who is doing good work and cross-promote. Pool resources and exchange audiences.

Goodman Games, Mythmere, Hydra Collective, Lamentations, Gygax Magazine, Sine Nomine, people putting out indie products like Yoon-Suin, everybody: there is simply more substance and better, fresher, more excited personnel there than anywhere else.  The mainstream does not have the talent or the energy to get in your way.

D&D with Porn Stars will be throwing a party next Gen Con. It'll be big and it'll be loud and it'll be a year in the making and the paint will peel from the walls. If you can read this, you are invited. If you're going to put out a game thing, you're gonna show up and you're gonna help us. You have a year to plan.

The Bastille waits, and the guards are drunk.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dear Mandy We Won Some Ennies

Stokely and Stoya say hi

11:10 AM Fri Aug 6

Dear Mandy,

Before I say anything else, I promised James I'd say this:

Maze of the Blue Medusa Just Won 3 Ennies & Is At Booth 3002. They'll be gone before Christmas so get two, actually. Ok...

Anyway, except for the noise of this keyboard, it's very quiet in room 387. There is some very light snoring coming from the bed, I can't tell if it's Stoya or Stokely.

It's muggy in Indianapolis, a lot things are painted either beige or cream. Otherwise it could be anywhere.

I was at a party last night with the Playing At The World guy and of course he read that Robin Laws book about the history of the Gen Con. I asked him if anything had ever happened at the convention and he corkscrewed up his face thinking and then said "Well, Magic The Gathering was announced here".

I mention this for the following reason: I've seen men decide to spend their lives driving around the country freezing insects, I have seen men claim in all seriousness that a stick figure is ableist, I have seen them say the most stressful part of Dungeons & Dragons is picking a name,  I've seen the news basically ignore a mad throat-cutter in Japan taking out 19 people last week, I've seen a married, mentally ill, asexual mom get paid to write about sex for years. Some of these people are here. Some of them in an official capacity where they might have access to box cutters. So it doesn't seem completely out of the realm of 2016 America that I will be murdered at Gen Con. We are in the nerdiest place in the world (check attendance figures: maybe in history) and people care about very strange things, and there are no metal detectors. But it seems unlikely. Gen Con is not, as a rule, rich with incident--it would be wildly out of character. Plus the girls' cameraphones are--through some witchery I cannot as yet penetrate--always charged. So worry less. I'll probably survive, and after that eight days in the Balkans making some kind of pornography.

Everyone has been very kind. Within 15 minutes of appearing at my first con, 3 fans came up, one of whom said I got him his first girlfriend. I'd taken out the title page to his Maze and written "Glad I could get you laid, thanks for..." when he told me it unfortunately hadn't gotten that far yet. There are virgins here. It's kind of like AVN that way. He, at least, was very young. The only scary thing about cons is when you see in someone's face that this is all they have. I always think the best people who work in fantasy--the Jack Vances, the Dave Arnesons, the Jean-Luc Godards, the Scrap Princesses--they show how this can be an organic part of something else.

The only clear imperative in Indianapolis is to find a decent bar, preferably one with brass fittings and pickle chips and one of those bartenders who doesn't know anything about games but asks questions anyway. I don't really know what their specialty is in Indianapolis besides beef--I'm unconsciously imagining it's apples because of the name but that's stupid. It's nice once in a while though to go into a situation not really wanting anything.

Whenever I leave town, Anne starts to get maternal -- she's already checked that I had enough toilet paper for the two days I'll be back before I head out to Croatia, and made sure that I had condoms. She spent the last hour of the trip sewing up holes in these jeans. You will be pleased to know  downtown Los Angeles has become yet more Blade Runner in your absence--Spring street now has a wonderful blue neon sign: just numbers. Hannah is playing a chameleon woman Paladin--her third character in four sessions, Morgan has a witch with one hit point per level forever at least until her Constitution goes up.

Connie played a sea elf wizard and took off just before I did, leaving behind the Visible Woman and a copy of the Canticle for Liebowitz. Stacy is doing the lord's work at Contessa, had to get up fuck-all early. She was nominated for the Diana Jones and, like Vornheim, didn't get it--a guy at dinner said "Hey, I lost the Diana Jones to Wil Wheaton".

We've had some interesting Lyft drivers--the first one was a championship bicycle racer who'd been chased by a fox. I think the other three were religious, I forgot walking around Indiana with an upside-down cross on your shirt is kind of a thing. Stokes is good at distracting people, though--she's been an invaluable asset. It's funny seeing her next to people dressed as Harley Quinn. Stoya's shy with strangers but super into obscure RPG trivia.

The Ennies round up: Feng Shui and Kenneth Hite won almost everything that we didn't. Nobody shitty won anything. Overwhelmingly glasses guys, Shanna Germain and like 3-4 other women won stuff, Mark Diaz Truman was the only not-white person, so far as I know. Stoya got bored with the lack of diversity and told Stokes to fingerbang her, but Stokes just played with her nipples.

I thanked Anton, Patrick, and Satan. If I'd had more time up there I would've thanked you--a lot of this stuff is just about keeping you entertained. Please get well soon.

But anyway no assassins, and it's been 16 hours and still no Internet lynchmobs. It's probably not completely over (we'll see around the announcement of The Big Thing this fall) but the goblins seem demoralized even if they'll never give up attacking us completely. The facts are on our side but you never talk and I make a terrible victim.

Hunter S Thompson said "You'll be flogged for being right and flogged for being wrong and it hurts both ways but it doesn't hurt as much when you're right"--so they'll always hurt more than we do. They'll always be good at performing pain because theirs will always be accompanied by the creeping suspicion that they're just being idiots.

In the end the basic rule serves better than most more detailed instructions: whatever they tell you to do, don't do it.

I love you. We won. Again.