Monday, January 16, 2023

They Could Never Control The Game

I do and I don't know why the OGL thing made fans turn against corporate D&D in numbers big enough to cost them money.

On the one hand it makes the owners of Dungeons and Dragons look not just greedy, but clumsily so--on the other hand, so does nearly everything else they've ever done.

I mean, this is a company that could have--with the snap of a finger--vastly improved the community for everyone--including themselves and their most important employees--by pointing out all the worst actors online spread a right-wing conspiracy theory about Mike Mearls and didn't lift a finger, presumably because they were scared of Streisanding the situation in the press.

They'll take steps to protect their IP, but not their community, their employees, or their own reputation. Always and forever.

For example:

What have we here?

This gelatinous cube, this dragon? So precise, so assured, so elegant, so finicky, sensual yet controlled, one might even say... continental?

It's 1982.

You know who really wants to play D&D?

The French.

A woman named Mathilde Maraninchi--arguably the author of the first retroclone--says fuck it and makes French D&D:

...the rules are a simplification and mash-up of the various TSR versions of the rules by that time.

I'm told it's a little chaotic--but that was pretty normal back then--and hard to play--also pretty normal for a circa 1982 RPG--and the illustrations by Joël Bordier are kinky as fuck:
It is arguably not just the first French RPG but the first retroclone ever, and one of the earliest works by a female RPG author.

TSR killed it of course.

Thanks to French gamers Peggy and Arnaud for bringing this to my attention, here are some more details...

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

And some more here courtesy of Google Translate and French gameblogger Dvergguden.

Thanks to all of them for their help with this article!

Vive la resistance.

"Apparence d'un Rubik's cube"

Monday, November 14, 2022

This Is A Cursed Text

Years ago, they hired me to write the 5th edition of Vampire.

Then a bunch of people harassed the company and I got thrown off the game.

Due to these same peoples' continuing harassment, Vampire 5e died.

I took all the ideas I had when working on Vampire and said fuck it I'm making my own game. I hired a diverse crew of the cream of the OSR crop to help write it. People of different backgrounds from different countries straight queer cis trans but all people I knew had ideas that I'd liked over the years.

We wrote and drew our hearts out.

But it turned out that the woman I love--a victim of mentall illness--progressed to the point where she lost contact with reality, my actual life became a horror game, and my wife, the people who harassed me off Vampire, and most of the cream of the OSR crop I'd hired to make that new game got together and destroyed my life.

Throughout this, me and all the people on the game who actually had been around for the last ten years and seen what had gone down kept working on the game. We had to. 

I had said we were going to produce the greatest horror game in the history of RPGs.

The contributors who remained went through a lot during this time:

One got shot in the eye by the police. One tried to help form a health care worker's union and it didn't work but they wrote about it for the New York Times. One got nominated for a National Book Award. Others got divorced, engaged, got covid, lost pets, medically transitioned, dealt with addiction and dozens of other things people deal with. 

And throughout this the comments section for the Kickstarter was a nightmare: the harassment campaign had spread there, of course, the harassers got really mad when told that if they thought I'd done anything wrong they should say that under oath and help the "victims" they were alleging were out there somewhere, and they complained and complained that the game was late. The graphic designer just did what he was supposed to: he took the time he needed to make the game as good as he could.

They aren't complaining any more.

The Demon City backer PDF was released and now it's just:

"Beautiful book, can't wait for the physical copy."

"This game is incredible. Lots of good ideas and a game design masterclass. Wow! If anyone wants to sell a print pledge, I would like to buy it"

"Slayed it guys. Absolutely slayed it. This books is as much art as it is a game. FKING amazing."

"It's magnificent."

"Here is one for the haters: I backed and bought a lot of RPG stuff over the last couple of years. Today a lot of products are just given you some fancy looking bare bones or rushed and untested game material. Demon City took ages to complete but with over 400 pages a lot more stuff then hoped for. For me it was totally worth the time."

"This book looks absolutely... fabulous. That's what it is. Fabulous. Congrats, Demon City team!"

"Wow, this book looks incredible. It's been a long wait, but I've never seen a better-looking TTRPG book, period. Can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy and keep it out as a coffee table book. Just starting to dig in and I love the idea to use examples of play to demonstrate what each section of the rules is going to talk about. The quick guide for character creation will also be super useful to reference."

"You all utterly, utterly nailed it :-D I've been poring over it for a day or so now and there's so much good stuff. I like how initiative is done, it feels really novel. Killer art and design too."

"This looks amazing. Just taking in the artwork and the page design, it's incredible. Well worth the wait. Looking forward to diving in and getting a game going. Thank you all for what was unquestionably an enormous amount of work."

"omg its F****ing glorious"

I hated a lot about this process. 

What I maybe hate most of all is that this game is really, really, good and I hate that we had no choice but to make it really really good.

Fuck this.

Fuck this cursed book.

Fuck this community.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Dear Fiona Geist,

This is the fourth time I've tried to contact you about getting paid for your work on Demon City.

Our original deal was the standard one I did with contributors: you help write a section or edit some stuff and in exchange you get whatever you want, within reason--I could write, edit or draw something for you or just throw you some cash.

Before telling me what you wanted in return for the work you did, around Februrary 2019, you stopped answering messages or emails and wrote a public blog entry saying what you wanted as compensation was for me to publicly lie about a felony.

Since that's not just morally wrong and illegal but would also make it harder to bring my abusers to justice in order to prevent them from hurting more people, I can't pay you that way. 

I've tried contacting you privately, but no answer (last attempt was 3/3/2021). I think people should get paid for their work so I am making one last effort by posting this in public--since I know you read this blog.

So, email me at zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm.


Saturday, October 8, 2022

The Jeff to Patrick OSR Continuum

  • OSR stands for "Old School Renaissance"--a resurgence in interest in pre-90s RPGs that began around the time blogging became a thing online and influences products to this day by people who want to do something new and creative with RPGs but don't think D&D makes people into Nazis or want to hang out with people who do. A small community, perhaps, but one still capable of running a Kickstarter
  • While some products or creators or commenters that might be considered "OSR" existed before this, the most important person in the early OSR was Jeff Rients of the venerable Jeff's Gameblog. It goes all the way back to 2004. If you read it, you can see OSR ideas clarify themselves one by one in real time.
  • I--much influenced by Jeff--showed up gameblogging years later, in 2009.
  • Patrick Stuart--of the False Machine blog and Veins of the Earth etc.--showed up after me, saying explicitly that he was--in turn--much influenced by me, especially by Vornheim.
  • Since they were both really influential OSR creators with lots of ideas (and ones I liked and got along with), it always seemed odd to me that the two of them didn't talk much.

I have two points to make here:

1. I think of all OSR game products as existing on a continuum from Jeff-ish to Patrick-y.

2. By what is honestly coincidence, it could be fairly claimed that Jeff Rients created the OSR community and Patrick Stuart destroyed it.

The Continuum

The Jeff Rients' End

Jeff is an incredibly experienced DM (example) whose style reflects having run games for strangers and friends at home, in game stores, and at conventions for longer than many of us have been alive.

His blog, GM style, and game products reflect that experience: how to make sure people have fun.

On the other hand, his game products are few in number and relatively modest. His major thing out is Broodmother Sky Fortress, which is half awesome-adventure-with-tips-for-first-time-GMs and half best-of-Jeff's-Gameblog. The adventure's great but it's pretty short and compact.

Though both I and other people have spent lots of time asking Jeff to put out more product he hasn't--and he once told me his very Jeff reason for this: most of the dungeons he runs are composed a lot of old dungeons mashed together. It's the way he runs them that makes them work.

Jeff has lots of really good ideas for weird things to put in a game, but that's not the center of his aesthetic. The center is: make sure it's playable and fun.

I think a good example of the Jeff Rients aesthetic is the random hireling table in Broodmother Skyfortress: it's a d6 table.

Obviously, if this was a Zak table it would have 100 entries and if it only had 20 then I'd make some excuse like I was trying to fit it on the page with 9 other tables. And every entry would tell you like 4 things minimum about the hireling.

...but I also know what Jeff would say when you ask why it only has 6 entries (including pack-apes, which is cool): Jeff has run dungeons over and over and over and over and over and has found that 6 is enough--after that you get diminishing returns.

So that's Jeff's thing: doing a lot with a little to make sure you have fun.

The Patrick Stuart End

Patrick was not only capable of writing magnificent sentences, he really liked to show you that he was. When I created Maze of the Blue Medusa and wanted to save some time by not writing it all myself, I asked him to collaborate. He's good and has lots of esoteric ideas and the things he writes are brimming with exciting concepts.

On the other hand: 

He never rolls.

Last I knew: he lived alone in the middle of nowhere, UK, he's painfully isolated, his best friend is someone he's never met in real life, he's never had--as an adult--a regular RPG group he met with and doesn't even run his own stuff.

He once told me his favorite-ever session of D&D was one he played online. That's fucked up--and it shows in his work.

Patrick Stuart has not a clue how to make a functional game without help from a collaborator.

So that's Patrick's thing: Doing a whole lot with a lot but without a lot of clear ideas about how to make it fun.

Creating on the Continuum

Unsurprisingly, considering the timeline, I've generally tried to make things that are in the middle, or which have the strengths of both:

Esoteric and well-written enough to be interesting and new, but concise and considered enough to be playable. Whether I've succeeded isn't really the point--that's not up to me--it's just often a real thought I have in my head: "This needs more out-the-box playability--this needs a little more inspiring verbiage". 

That idea's in my head.

And It's Weird Because...

...the OSR kinda did begin and then end with these two guys.

Jeff showed up, wrote about playable things, handled shit right, and--to the degree he took responsibility for people or talked about other peoples' business--had a moral compass.

Patrick started out that way, but was fucking terrible at it because he had no real-life experience with real people. Around 2017 or 18 he started lashing out at basic 101-level rules of healthy human interaction like "Talk to people before assuming crazy shit about them" and "Don't lie".

Unfortunately a lot of creators followed his lead--the people he influenced took Patricks repudiation of things like facts and evidence as a cue that standards for how to treat each other were now lower--and they ran with it.

And now the OSR is not really a thing--creators and moneymaking entities are still here but the community is gone, because in a world run by Patrick rules, nobody is ever accountable for their actions and interacting with other creators is fucking dangerous.

The OSR reddit would, for example, rather just take down a critical post than figure out how to constructively criticize a game...

...considering one of the only things the OSR was ever good for was constructively criticizing games, this is pretty fucked up.

I hate it all and I want to die very badly.





Thursday, October 6, 2022

A Clue Sandbox

I put together a horror adventure for the Demon City backers and I'm making it available to y'all if you want it.

It's a "clue sandbox", meaning that there's some trouble and clues and people to ask about the trouble in every direction. There are dozens of NPCs fleshed out, along with their daily movements around the city and their (every-shifting) connection to The Horror. The idea being: the PCs can start anywhere and find their way (by hundreds of possible routes) into solving the murder--or becoming the next victim.

It's for Demon City, of course, but it's not a mechanics-heavy adventure so would be pretty easy to run in any horror system.

So far I haven't had any complaints from the backers, so...if you want one, email me: zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm. 20 Bucks.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Less Boring Gods Make Better Clerics

 There are the first 5 random gods I made using the new God Generator, now available in the Store.


Worshipped under various names in the Eastern half of the Cube, the Sister of Infinite Punishments is assigned the task of disciplining liars and oathbreakers. She is a patron to assassins, executioners, torturers and all who employ them in the name of justice.

The sacred frieze of ice sculptures  known as the Cold Jataka tells the tale of how she executed the Emperor who plucked out her left eye by infiltrating his palace with the aid of a magic cloak and hammering an icicle into his brain as he slept. In temples devoted to her in warmer climes, porcelain figures of the goddess with one artificial eye of pale sapphire and nipples of lapis lazulil hold wooden hammers, icicles carved of diamond or crysta, and cloaks of patterned silk.

She is said to devour any who do not worship her and her fearsome  devotees sacrifice night birds in her name. However, they must always be kind to children, as only an adult may break an oath.

Clerics doing her work in the world may choose Unseen Servant, Sleep. Cause Light Wounds, or a limited Detect Lie (only works on the last 10 minutes)  as a bonus spell at first level.


It is said that The Preposterous Grandparent sits on a black egg atop the highest peak in every mountain range in the Imperial Lands (no-one has ever climbed two disparate mountains simultaneously to check) and that anyone who can make the Grandparent laugh hard enough to fall off the egg will be granted the ability to raise one friend from the dead.

The Grandparent despises ogres, oni, and ogre-mages as they have no sense of humor and often insult the wood-spirits with whom he prefers to spend his time. The Grandparent battles these monsters with a pick-axe and will occasionally use his ability to possess worshippers to warn villagers if such a creature is nearby. In return, the Grandparent demands that these followers amuse him in various way ( they can only eat food if it is baked into pies and must spend at least one day a week intoxicated by mushrooms) as well as  sacrifices of mined gems. He has no time for anyone who does not appreciate him and his clerics cannot aid such infidels with their magic.

His followers may gain Charm Person, Command or Cure Light Wounds as bonus spell at first level.

Nyaa of the Two Temperaments

Sea Elves and Elves of the Drownesian Isles who wish to sail must seek the favor of Nyaa of the Two Temperaments, though she is deaf to all entreaty and will always do as she pleases. She is both toothsome and terrible, half-woman-half-scorpion, wreathed in a net that cannot hold her, with a toothed maw like a scar across her belly into which she feeds sailors who have drowned as she crawls the sea-floor, after stinging any who survive to death with her poison tail. All fish do her bidding and a cloud of scavenging flies follows her at all times. She carries a stoppered vial containing the tears of fisherman’s widows.

Clerics devoted to can gain Purify Food and Drink as a bonus spell or else gain the ability to become amphibious but in return they must never mention the sea without bowing in its direction, must always touch anything blue in sight (save the sky, a false god), must always cover their mouths with fabric marinated in salt water and, as befits a sailors’ god, can only travel, fight or work in heterogeneous groups (no two members may have both the same species and gender).

Strike Overlord

Typically depicted by the Elves of Broceliande as a displacing panther with a cestus in one forelimb, a decanter of wine in the other, and riding a living cloud (called Arhad-Riin) , this urbane god receives the prayers of those who would spite all quiet order and live instead by wit and steel. In the stories of the epic Threll Din Dydnyadd (usually translated in Broceliandaise as “Morally Complex But Largely Entertaining Exploits of a Feline Personage Who Insists On Being Called Strike Overlord”) this patron of both duellists and liars baffles the Goblin King, tricks the elder gods, drinks the Wine of Ceaseless Tumult, and defeats the first lion, tiger, lynx and leopard in single combat.

His clerics receive a boon of either a permanent +1 to hit with a melee weapon or Charm Person as a bonus spell, and in exchange the Lord of Duels asks that they wear a pattern of shifting stripes, offer kindness to children (who are too easy to fool or kill, and so represent no challenge), avoid music (bards suck), and dip all their food in the blood of a defeated foe before eating it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

A Fun Development

So there was this site called KiwiFarms.

I am not 100% sure how to describe it but it's easy to google everyone's takes. It seems to be mostly anonymous, like 4chan, so people just say bananas shit and troll and say things that basically aren't true.

The main thing, though, for me, is that a lot of people who harassed me were on there--and it recently got hacked and all their data was leaked. 

The second the news came out someone who was repeatedly--in real time online--harassing me, abruptly stopped.

So, basically:

If you know a game designer, or someone on twitter or on Reddit who has been claiming I did something wrong--check to see if they're still on the internet as this whole leak plays out.

If you think I did something wrong and you're reading this:

Ask that person again whether I did anything wrong and--if so--what exactly. There's a good chance they won't feel comfortable telling you any more.

For me, this is a huge break and improves my situation immensely. There was some vile right-wing shit on that site, and--as I hope you know by now--most of the people who signed on to my ex's attack weren't in earnest about it and often adopted fake personas in order to press their case.


Also: I am working on game stuff right now, so keep an eye out.