Thursday, December 1, 2016

Relevant To Your Interests

We got in a game this weekend after a quiet stretch and it was awesome--I tried to upload a video of the players threatening to drag a bunch of cowering NPCs to hell and then having a lotta girltalk about consent that ended in an orgy but blogger is being a jerk so I'm going to transcribe it some time soon and get it so you can see it. There's also some big news that should (should) be announced in the next few months.
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This part of the year is often kinda quiet--people in LA get alotta work around Halloween and then family stuff takes over in November. I have been playing a lot though, in Satine Phoenix's new (official) Eberron show Maze Arcana (official WOTC chatter about it here)...
...so if you ever wonder what I'm like as a player there I am. There are a lot of guests but other regulars are Kyle Vogt who was (hilariously) in that movie The Room and cosplay/twitch goddess Milynn Sarley as a shifter who steals baby shoes and long-suffering GM Ruty Rutenberg.

Stuff to watch for:

-I play a fighter and don't use any feats or powers and do lots of stuff anyway.
-Also I play a changeling which in practice means I end up doing a lot of voices but like half of them are just that goblin voice I keep doing.
-I play a very private drinking game on my end of the table every time someone makes a stupid nerd pun.
-Milynn and Satine utterly refuse to do what the DM wants them to.

Also they made me sit next to the bard. Twice.

It streams live on Sunday mornings and then the episodes are archived on the weekdays after and a chunk of it goes to charity. Satine just now started a Patreon so she can add in more goodies and content. If you've been watching and want to contribute there you go. Do that. I spent enough time working on the first Hey Watch Us Play D&D show that I can tell you a bigger budget matters to the quality of what you get to see.
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And yeah my last entry was also telling you to spend money on D&D stuff and before that I was telling you to throw in for the Swords & wizardry Kickstarter and donate to get Contessa to GenCon (you should still do that) but hey it's the goddamn season for giving ok? So also:

This is massive news. I have never waited excitedly for an RPG product to come out ever. I just am not that kinda guy. But this--this I've been waiting for. I read and ran an early draft and it became major canon in my game because it involved a flying island crashing into a city--and it's a goddamn introductory module. It's fantastic, it's written in a breezy, eminently readable style by the smartest, funnest DM in all of gaming, it's several times longer than it was supposed to be and has crazy 4-color art and raises the module bar sooooo many notches and is exactly what the whole DIY D&D thing is supposed to be all about and I'm so happy I could kill all of you.
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OMG so many DIY D&D projects right? How to keep track? Well I'm having trouble, too--and there's a lotta good stuff out there.

So I'm announcing the DIY RPG One Stop Shop--a list (with links) to independent RPG products and other projects that want money for any reason. 

How do you get on this list? Simple: you leave a message here or on the G+ page referring to this entry with the name of the product/project and a link to it. There's going to be a fuckton of responses here and I'm going to be using stuff like Auto Text Alphabetizer to handle all of it so please do not provide any other information or salutations in your message besides the project name and the link, right after in the following format:



Vornheim: The Complete City Kit--https://www.lotfp.com/RPG/products/vornheim

(don't forget the dashes)

Here's an example of what not to do:

Hey Zak thanks for setting this up :) Mind if I plug my book?
Vornheim-- https://www.lotfp.com/RPG/products/vornheim 

If it's not in the right format I won't add it to the list because it'll be a giant giant pain in my ass. For now the list will just be a big page on this blog with links to where you can buy stuff but it seems likely that once the list is collated some intrepid soul might give it its own shiny webpage. I will add comments to products I'm familiar with.

Anything tabletop RPG-related that you pay money for and isn't by a big company is eligible, including old stuff. When in doubt, don't ask me if a thing is eligible just put the name and link.


Friday, November 25, 2016

DIY D&D Black Friday Shopping Guide

Hohoho! Holiday game shopping got you down, gamers? Just sit on jolly Santicore's lap and tell him who you're having trouble finding a present for...

Your DM who has all the stuff already

I bet they don't have everything from Hydra Collective yet! My favorite is Tree Maze of the Twisted Druid--a rekeyed dungeon from when the author was but a wee lad--but the stuff with Luka Rejec art is a close second. These are the kinds of adventures you can pull out, reskin to your heart's delight, and have ready to run in under an hour.

Irritating children

You know how much kids love postmodern postcolonial weird fantasy author China Mieville and also me? Get them The Worst Breakfast. It's written by me and him and drawn by me and is about the most important meal of the day. Recently named one of Kirkus Review's top picture books of 2016.

A needle-eating dog with one ear and steel fangs

They need Hubris! A meatgrinder gonzo hatefuck murdering setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics. It's the new hot thing!



Fred Hicks' mom

I read on a 4chan thread about her that she's a huge fan of the new Kingdom Death kickstarter, it's expensive but goddamn those miniatures are something else.


Your player who keeps falling asleep because you are a terrible DM

Keep sleepy's head in the game with a Maze of the Blue Medusa pillow here! Shipping is free from this site today only.


A guy you only know from cons who smells bad

Encourage long and contemplative showers with an intricate Zak Smith shower curtain! Same site: shipping still free today.




Someone completely fucked up


Keep them clinging to vague tokens sprinkled along the thin edge of their ability to interact with fellow humans with dazzling and enigmatic Scrap Princess merch

The Community

Give back to the hobby you love by helping to send Contessa to GenCon this year.
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Monday, November 21, 2016

How To Detox Your Community

If you've paid any attention to recent indie-RPG Kickstarters, you'll notice a lot of acrimony and accusations surrounding them. You'll also notice none of them are associated with the DIY D&D community we got here--even though our scene is producing more projects than ever before from a more diverse and controversial group of creators than ever before. LOTFP put out a promo image featuring the decapitated heads of both the president-elect and his opponent and nobody has screamed for his blood or launched a boycott--Stacy and her all-girl crew have run a successful Swords & Wizardry kickstarter and the antifeminist peanut gallery has managed to accomplish exactly fuck-all in the way of stopping them or causing meaningful problems. (ps Support the Get ConTessa To GenCon fund.)

Basically, in the last few years we've managed to run a pretty clean ship--people like and help each other, and when they don't, the conflict doesn't burn down the things we've already built or prevent people from coming and building more good things. For the benefit of anybody else in RPGs, in games, or anywhere else, I want to talk about how we got there.


"Toxic"

The word is much abused, but it means something. Toxic waste isn't just bad, it's bad in a way that spreads. "Toxic" implies infectious, dangerous to more than just itself and its immediate victim. If your community is big and attractive enough, nothing in the world can stop someone bad from showing up sooner or later, but there are lots of ways to stop their badness from becoming toxic and affecting other people.


Defining Harassment

One painfully obvious step to avoiding toxicity that nobody ever takes is clearly defining harassment and then applying that definition to everyone equally. No moderators, no arbiters, no excuses, just: make your policy clear. And amend it if you have to.

The most important parts are not that every community defines harassment the same way as every other community (not even all the US states manage to do that) but that:

A) There is a definition
B) Its terms are not ambiguous
C) It applies across the board to everyone in the community--every behavior which matches it is called harassment and no behavior which doesn't is.

I put my suggestions for a definition of harassment in the comments below the blog entry, because they're an aside from the main point.


Kinds of Communities

There are basically four kinds of communities, defined by how they deal with bad actors. One is good, two are bad, one is ok sometimes for some things. We'll start with the ok sometimes one:


1. See No Evil Hear No Evil: No Accusations, No Investigations, No Accountability

This is the kind of community that most businesses aspire to be and that many mainstream game spaces effectively are. The D&D forum Enworld runs like this for the most part, as does (to the chagrin of many), the mainstream comic book industry. Their watchwords are things like leave the war outside, no drama, no politics, "just play games" etc.

The idea here is basically: never talk about anything important--or outside the (strictly-defined) business of the community. The advantage of these communities is they can get a lot of collaboration and work done--they build wikis and make How To vids, they spread technical and reference information, they offer places to discuss the best approaches to practical problems, they allow people to hone their craft regardless of ideology. They work fine so long as everyone involved is a good person though they tend to be kind of dull.

The real disadvantage is that they are completely vulnerable to abusers and can do nothing about them. If a company, for instance, is accused of failing to pay a freelancer or publishing something racist and then the company itself claims they did pay them or they aren't racist then the community basically has no tools to deal with that besides deciding the whole thing is "drama" and ignoring it.

The freelancer who didn't get paid or the community that suffered through a bunch of racism or the company that got unfairly accused of a thing it didn't do is still stuck with a real problem the community didn't address. They get to sit there and watch money go into the pockets of people who are dickheads at best and possibly criminals and there's no way to stop it. Nobody of a remotely activist bent is going to be happy with that and the neutrality of the people who run these spaces in the face of even the most blatant injustice can be repulsively smug. Tone-policing is normal here: suspicion doesn't fall on the side at fault but on the side that talks most about the problem.

Now on to the good kind of community:


2. Good Community: Accusations Lead To Investigation And Accountability 

This is not a drama-free zone--both activism and practical work can happen here. People are free to address injustices that go well beyond "They forgot to include a Con stat for the pig-man on page 16".

You can say someone didn't pay you, you can say someone sexually harassed you, you can say that a game is racist, you can say someone eats other gamers and hides their corpses in bespoke Dukes of Hazzard lunchboxes. But you or (if you claim to be too traumatized to discuss it) your friends and allies have to actually answer questions, provide details and give evidence of the abuse--and address counterarguments, apparent incongruities, suspicious circumstances, even questions you think might be asked just to waste your time. You don't have to argue with trolls, but if you're dismissing someone as a troll, you have to clearly state why--and apply that definition of "troll" across the board. You don't have to answer every person, but you do have to answer every question. And the people who asked have to acknowledge they heard your answers, not just run away.

If you're not involved you have to either go "I don't know and I don't have enough information to make a decision"(and then say or do nothing and admit you don't care enough about whatever principle is involved to find out) or, if you want to claim to care, find out everything both sides have to say about any point or detail that helps you make your decision--every piece of evidence or reasoning both the accuser and accused have to offer has to be on the table and anyone who is making a decision must be able and willing to speak to all of it when asked and must be, basically relentlessly, hopelessly overinformed. Everyone needs to be able to talk to at least one person who has access to all the arguments and counterarguments on both sides.

Sometimes the truth may be literally unknowable--but if you're going to pretend you care, if it's technically knowable (especially if it's all googlable), you need to know it. If you're taking someone's word, it has to be because you have no choice--and if you're basing your decision on trusting them, you have to say that "I didn't look into because I trust Dave. Why do I trust Dave? Well...".

And once everyone looks at the evidence they make--collectively or individually--decisions about how to enforce accountability on either the accused (if they did it) or the accuser (if it was a false accusation). If somebody is a dick or a liar then people decide they won't talk to them or buy their stuff. If it's something the person can reasonably apologize for, they ask for that apology and for a change in behavior and people do something about it if they don't get it.

Even without explicit rules, this works. One reason we've been so productive in recent years is people who do bad things get called out, the reasons they got called out get discussed, the people doing the calling are available, and once someone is called out they know it will matter and all of this is considered normal. It's a golden age of games right now for a reason.

There are two downsides:

-It's a fucking exhausting pain in the ass. Especially as a community grows, paying attention to accusations and who made them and what they were about isn't easy or fun and a lot of people vote to keep a See No Evil Hear No Evil model or, more commonly, no matter how much they get out of having a community and the resources it provides they will deny being part of a community or having any responsibility for keeping it going. There isn't much you can do about a person who takes a penny but won't leave a penny, but that's life.

-The bad people don't go away, they just form an anti-community. Places like the Gaming Den are full of people who lie so much nobody else could tolerate them. The good news is these places never really get anything done other than harassment--their toxic members prey on each other and cause too much noise for any productive signal to get through. Which is a good transition to talking about the two bad kinds of communities:


3. Troll Playgrounds: Accusations Good, Investigation Meh, Accountability Never

This is the classic troll forum. 4chan, Gaming Den, theRPGsite at its worst, abusive Twitter communities work like this. Everyone is free to accuse anyone of anything, investigating the accusation is considered kind of gauche because even assuming the person did something there will be no consequences. Complaining about someone being a dick is cool but doing anything about it is strictly squaresville.

Because they don't have lives offline, active participants in such communities consider the conversation, including accusations, basically recreational rather than functional. Jean-Paul Sartre described them long ago:

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.

Obviously this sucks and everyone involved is thinking pretty short-term if they're thinking at all. Moreover, unlike See No Evil Hear No Evil, just basic functional conversations can't get very far because members are free to attack each other constantly and anyone wanting a real resource has to wade through mountains of that to get to anything useful.


4. Green Hell: Accusations Good, Investigation Bad, Accountability Never

This is the disaster you get when a community tries to combine the heady brew of activist morality with the thin white gruel of middle-class pop mental-health discourse. Public accusations are encouraged (all activism, by definition, requires at least implying someone somewhere did something wrong) but then are treated as a cry for help from a victim, never as something which might possibly impact the target unfairly (and rarely imagined to hit anything so concrete as their wallet, feelings are all that matter here). Above all, discussing the accusation in any way other than total approval is discouraged, especially if the accusation can be framed as forwarding an activist goal. The accuser is comforted and the accused is dismissed while everyone talks a lot about how responsible and empathetic they're being by doing that.

This kind of thing is so dysfunctional when both accuser and accused are in the community that these communities tend to rip themselves apart quickly ("circular firing squad"--this is why Gaming As Women disintegrated and The Forge turned into Story Games and then Story Games turned into a diaspora of connected angry cells on Google+) or else settle into a norm where only those outside the community can be safely attacked (omnidirectional firing squad, like RPGnet).

In sharp contrast to the Troll Playground, the Green Hell is characterized by an obsession with moral problems--but only in inverse proportion to their ability to do anything them. If a member of a Green Hell baldly and publicly announced an intention to shoot a stewardess with a .45 and feed her corpse to a three-legged mule, they'd immediately have a long and fruitful discussion of global warming.

A lot of schrodinger's seriousness obtains here--on the one hand accusations are theoretically important and serious enough to result in boycotts or the accused or accusers losing work, on the other hand attempts to focus the community's attention on the details of what happened to establish guilt and innocence are met with:

"I'm tired of talking about this"
"I'm closing the thread since I can't monitor it"
"There's a variety of opinions here and they're all valid so..."
"I can't untangle this and we'll never agree so..."
"This is not the place to go down the rabbit hole of who did what..."
"This isn't a trial" (despite the fact someone is effectively going to be fined for what people think happened)

...as well as enthusiastic support for abstract platitudes about civility that dance around the issue of whether a human being did a bad thing to another human being and what will be done about that problem that we have here today with these people.

A hallmark of these communities is pinning responsibility for good behavior on vaguely defined terms (Imzy, a well-intentioned new community that I hope won't turn into a Green Hell defines harassment as "behavior directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose" while not defining what purposes are legitimate or including, for example, behavior that tries to inflict emotional distress but doesn't succeed because the target is used to harassment) that do the work of announcing principledness without clearly saying what the principles are.

A lot of people would argue that this analysis excludes power dynamics: an unfair accusation from a powerless person is not the same as an unfair accusation from a powerful one. But this ignores the fact that the point of an accusation is always to be heard and spread and if it's true it always should be spread.  Claiming false accusations from theoretically less-powerful actors somehow don't count is saying there is no point in making them and your community is already broken and doing things wrong because it always ignores them.

Green Hell spaces can be the most toxic (in terms of causing damage that spills out) not because the people involved have the worst intentions (they're not a Troll Playground, for instance) but because they combine constant insistence that conflicts over things like abuse are important with an ethic that demands no-one do the work to figure out exactly what abuses happened and who is responsible. This is a formula for constant chaos--everything is serious and nothing is resolvable.

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Obviously few communities have formal constitutions or charters--and some don't even recognize themselves as communities. But groups of people who regularly talk start to get norms and cultures, and the better the culture, the better the work and the lives of everyone participating in that work are. There's lots of proof of this, but it's negative, it's stuff that doesn't happen. Although the problems in communities tend to come up most when bad things do happen and people go "What went wrong?" If you have any responsibility, a better way to think about fixing toxicity is: next time you see somebody put out something and it's smooth sailing and nothing goes wrong, ask them how that happened.

We have given you a republic--if you can keep it.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

And the Award For Worst Voice In Gaming Goes To...


We already have enough stupid conservatives in games.

Do whatever you can to make sure we don't make one president.
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Monday, October 24, 2016

The First D&D Hack Was By A Woman Named Cookie

Clicking enlarges it
In the DIY D&D community spends a lot of time hacking D&D. One might well ask how this all started--who was the first person to both love this game and be disappointed in it? And what were they disappointed with? What did they add?

You might be forgiven for assuming the dissatisfaction came a month or two after the publication of the original D&D books, in some fanzine or other, or--more likely--at one of the tables of one of the first DMs to play. But no--Gary's published vision of D&D was actually hacked the moment it was published:

On page 27 of the first D&D book's first volume there appears an illustration of two creatures--"Beautiful Witch" (left) and "Amazon" (right)--drawn by one Cookie Corey.

They, are, true to that volume's subtitle ("Men & Magic") not described anywhere in the text. The image therefore represents not only the first work done by a woman in RPGs and the first female characters published in an RPG but also the first hack of an RPG. And a pretty good hack, too
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And now a word from our sponsor:
Jack Chick is dead, but his children are alive. Irritate them by supporting the S&W Kickstarter!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It's a goddamn golden age of games

Ok, so everybody knows our cup runneth over and everybody has more good advice, cool games and random tables than they know what to do with. Some highlights lately:

Scrap Princess on G+
Dope Scrap merch on her RedBubble store

If someone were to ask me which person on the internet is most likely to post a thing and that thing is a thing I have to read right away, it's Scrap Princess. Gladiator insects, Shin Godzilla toys, magical girls gone wrong, Planescape done sideways--and maybe maybe doing Secret Santicore again this year? Scrap's feed is the feed to end all feeds.

Blood In The Chocolate

Kiel Chenier's had a weird year--he got stiffed by the Blue Rose people after running their game for them at Gen Con (as part of their ongoing "talk a big game about LGBT diversity but treat actual LGBT folk like rat snot" program) and yelled at by a crazy homophobic person for saying the Pulse shooting wasn't about their dumb game blog. But he's managed to come out of it with an adventure about murder and candy that's getting the Deeeluxe LotFP treatment.

Maze Arcana

Do you like Eberron? Do you like watching people play D&D for hours on youtube? Do you like the guy who directed Metallocalypse? Well then have I got a show for you: D&Dw/PS's very own repeatedly-dying-elf Satine Phoenix has put together an actual-play Twitch show called Maze Arcana where you can see all that. The stream is live on Sundays and then I think the plan is to cut it up into smaller chunks throughout the week. Sometimes I'm on it, too and they let me play a changeling so i do a lot of voices at least when I remember to because like actually they film pretty early sunday morning so like yeah anyway....


Stacy Dellorfano's all-female team on Swords & Wizardry--
by the pre-eminent Gennifer Bone

It's nice there are retroclones of old versions of D&D so it's easier for new players to figure out the rules, it's nice they're getting reprinted so people can get their hands on them and it's nice that Frog God Games took a cool step by having Head Witch of Contessa, Stacy Dellorfano, be in charge of assembling the team.

Now I know what you're thinking at this point--Zak, these things are all great, but they're all spearheaded by people who are lesbian or bi or gay or trans or Of Color or more than one of those things--have the straight white cismen of DIY D&D been tapped dry? Fear not: Matthew Shmeer wants your help on a crowsourced hexcrawl, James Mal has a new OSR sci-fi zine and Jason Sholtis of Dungeon Dozen--the world's most useful blog--has a new underworld kickstarter and it looks awesome and I think they're all straight boring white guys like me.
Also not D&D-related but definitely With Porn Stars related--if you live in California you'll probably be asked to vote on something called Prop 60 in November and will have seen some scary billboards about it. I wrote a long article about how incredibly dangerous and fucked it is, complete with a deep dive into the specifics of the text of the actual law which reads like it was written by drunk children. So, y'know, if you like reading my takes on mainstream RPG modules, more of the same...