Monday, February 29, 2016

Gwar, Towers Two and the Literal Death of the Author

So Lamentations of the Flame Princess just put out an adventure called Towers Two

…. and the big deal is it was written by the lead singer of Gwar--Oderus Urungus--born as-, and credited here as-, an earthling named Dave Brockie.

For those who don't know, Gwar was kind of to thrash what Dethklok is to modern extreme music. Grossout deathfuck novelty metal on steroids with inflatable dicks rolling around on stage and giant skulls squirting blood, Gwar was a big, loving, knowing parody that's lasted a surprisingly long time on the strength of ever-increasing budgets, total commitment to their bit and the fact that that stuff is pretty fun when you're drunk and waiting for the headliner to show up.

Needless to say, this is exactly the kind of thing that you could see appealing to LotFP's James Raggi, who has promoted the supplement not only the strength of Dave's name but on how it will freak people the fuck out.
Gwar being Gwar

But Will It?

There are, of course, in the online community surrounding games, people who live to be freaked out by games--especially ones released by LotFP. But the thing is they're very particular.

On paper, The Drama Club should have a field day with this adventure, burning it on the floor of the UN and scattering the ashes over the graves of those who died after accidentally hearing someone say they liked the original Captain Marvel costume better than the the new one.

The more obsessive members of the Drama Club refer frequently to the Death of the Author--an idea originally intended by Roland Barthes (in La mort de l'auteur)  to describe how an author's biography shouldn't (and in many cases can't) be used to limit the meanings a writer draws from a piece of fiction, but which Drama Club members exclusively use to mean a writer or speaker's intentions, background and ideas should be ignored when deciding whether something's racist or sexist or inspires people to kill puppies and that only the reaction of their favorite forum regulars matter in deciding this. They get around the fact that their theory means that Mein Kampf isn't racist until someone other than Hitler reads it by claiming that you're harassing them by pointing that out and then writing conspiracy theories about you on 4chan.

Further and more specifically, various Drama Club members have established that they believe all of the following things:

-the fact something is labelled as "for adults" doesn't mean the adult reader is the one at fault if they imitate it in real life,

- the fact that something is labelled as "fiction" doesn't mean the reader is the one at fault for imitating it in real life,

-the fact something is labelled as a "game" doesn't mean that the player is the one at fault for imitating it in real life,

-the fact something is labelled as "a joke" doesn't mean the audience is the one at fault if they imitate it in real life,


-the fact something is a tiny sliver of microculture that will never reach a mass audience doesn't mean the fan who dug it up is the one at fault if they imitate it in real life,

…so the fact Towers Two is all five of those things together shouldn't matter to them.

In real life, if the author is figuratively dead, a naked girl means the same thing no matter who decided she was naked, and if the author is figuratively alive, then it matters that no-one even vaguely aware of the reality around it would or should take anything in Towers seriously--least of all the people who wrote it. If you're triggered by anything at all you should stay away from this adventure, but, like Gwar itself, nothing in it reflects anything anyone actually believes or will encourage any reasonable person to become worse.

Real life, though, is not where the Drama Club lives. Bad things happen to people in Towers Two and Vincent Baker didn't write it, which is usually enough to establish for the Club that Towers Two is part of a culture of encouraging bad things to happen to people in real life and so it's everything that's wrong with gaming. Add on to that the fact it's written for an old-school system and the fact that that old school system is LotFP and the game community should be bracing for another boring inquisition, complete with libel campaigns, twitter harassment, angry editorials, grumpy drunks and failed game designers staging walk-outs, and Fred Hicks frantically retweeting it all like the pallbearer he is.
Gwar: Still Gwar

On The Other Hand...

...the Drama Club has always been incredibly squeamish about applying their ideas about games, comics and movies to music.

This is probably because any consistent application of their standards about who wears what in front of teenagers would require picking a fight with not only Gwar and Jello Biafra but Nikki Minaj and Beyoncé as well--which would reveal how miserably crabbed and out-of-touch their nerd standards are with those of anyone who ever had any fun.

So Towers Two will be--if nothing else--a fascinating test of the Drama Club's commitment to their bit. They've consistently rejected context and--out of context--Towers Two is the most offensive thing in RPGs this side of FATAL.

They now have a choice: ignore TT and abandon all their supposedly earnest dedication to supposedly checking the supposedly pernicious influence of games that have blood and boobs or launch their usual assault and decisively label themselves as the new PMRC.

Will they take what has been laid out so obviously as bait? Or will they pretend it never happened? My guess is the latter. It is the Year of the Monkey and we do as we please. It's also an election year--and many hypocrisies have been laid bare.

As For The Adventure Itself

Close friends of the late Dave play D&D regularly at my house, and so I've heard the legends about his game--the Gwar bus barreling across America with a hole cut in the floor of the bathroom so shit spilled directly onto the highway system while a Brockie increasingly more preoccupied with partying and groupies than D&D kept sending the rest of Gwar to ever more gruesome deaths, climaxing in sessions that took place entirely in Hell.

To put it simply--this isn't that. Or not mostly.

Brockie's original draft is included in an appendix so it can be compared to the final product as fleshed out by Jobe Bittman after Brockie's untimely demise.

Brockie's sections of this text reads like a nasty but utterly playable Old School renaissance adventure about PCs evading warring factions and weird monsters in the countryside with a few grotty touches ("a pitch-black mud-pit filled with feces-smeared spikes", a monster's mouth is "cunt-shaped", the pig-men are in all ways fucked) that could as easily be played for How To Be A God-style people-are-horrible early Warhammer medieval crapsackism as anything and if someone told you the guy from Gwar wrote it you'd be like "That's funny. I can see him being a D&D guy". The title "Towers Two" is neither an edgy reference to 9-11 nor a flatulent satire of The Two Towers. It's just a dungeon where some brothers live (one evil, one…also a problem) with orcs. (Or, as the revised and LotFP-ified text reads--with pig-men.) It's a slightly higher fantasy version of what you might see from Evan over at In Places Deep.

Meanwhile, the posthumous additions by RPG designer and rabid Gwar fan Jobe Bittman read like…something a rabid Gwar fan would write.

There's a very telling line in the credits:

Text © 2016 Dave Brockie except Deathfuck Magic, Death Phallus, Cunt Whip, Fuckblade, Baby Fax Machine, and The Chinstrap of Accommodation © 2016 Jobe Bittman

One gets the feeling Brockie agreed to write TT because he genuinely loved D&D--and Bittman agreed or was chosen to finish it because he genuinely loved Brockie.


"Huge Feral Pig rutting in back garden."


"Huge feral pig rutting in a back garden, its engorged cork-screwed manhood pulsing in the sun."

Brockie's TT is not so much obnoxious as pitiless: "Dying old woman in stinking-of-piss upstairs room. If comforted will BLESS party +1 to all TO HIT rolls for 3-6 game days. She will die anyway."

Bittman, on the other hand, apes Oderus Urungus style Gwarspeak: "A dying old woman in stinking-of-piss upstairs room. If comforted the woman blesses the party conferring +1 to attack rolls for 1d4 game days. She will die anyway. No treasure. Fuck you for asking."

I cast no aspersions on anyone involved. It's quite possible that, since Brockie's draft was partial (all the major characters and wilderness locations are detailed, but only half the dungeon) Brockie fully intended to Gwarify the final text. However, as it stands, the most aggressively repulsive material is Bittman's and the structure of the adventure overall is pretty much a standard sandbox + climactic dungeon.

The wilderness area consists of a bunch of environments with monsters--ship with a ghost captain on it, old farms with feral animals, a gross ex-cult leader ogre, etc…the towers themselves ramp up both the variety (more detail, more traps) and the Gwar.

Prose-wise, it reads like a lot of Old School bloggers, even when it's recommending railroading--

Any self-respecting referee should take steps, as unfair as they may be, to make sure this happens, and Lord Ragath returns from oblivion, however briefly, to voice his displeasure with the sorry state of the lovely kingdom he left to his worthless offspring. Preferably he should appear at a completely critical moment or even better after the party thinks they have beaten the whole module. Anything for a good game, that’s my favorite rule!

The best part, for my money, is the drawings--by Brockie himself and OSR up-and-comer Jeremy Duncan--which mix confident, chunky linework with a fascinatingly tasteless photoshop rainbow of bad-trip colors, landing somewhere between Russ Nicholson, Mad Magazine and a Juicy Fruit commercial.

It is somehow very fitting that this was one of Brockie's last projects--he died how he lived: paying weird homage to what he loved and getting talented freaks work making disgusting monsters.


Alex Mayo said...

I gotta say, I am pretty surprised at the lack of moral outrage about this thing in various corners of the internet that usually thrive on kvetching. Okay, maybe surprised is the wrong word. Bemused perhaps.

DungeonMapper said...

I subscribe to the whole hearted belief that without morals, one never has moral quandary. Warghoul which Dave, umm.. er..Oderus wrote is a true work or art, so this adventure should be steeped in satire as well as humor. And don't the always say fuck em' if they can't take a joke. I'm off to Garycon this week and weekend, I'm fitting on buying Jobe Bittman a beer and get him to sign some swag.

DungeonMapper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Efie said...

This reminds me of the overall fury surrounding "tournament of Rapists". I tried to explain to a female blogger that while TOR might be potentially offensive, I had actually seen worse on 90's death metal albums. That being said, was never into Gwar. Scumdogs of the Universe was alright though.

Zak Sabbath said...

This is different in every way--nobody ever argued there was anything good or fun in ToR and the controversy was specifically around whether a vendor should carry it.

Efie said...

I have seen both TT and TOR, and Towers Two is more extreme. Tournament of rapists while not well written had as a main sticking point the premise and name.Otherwise it was a list of creatures and tables with poorly drawn boobs.
I think the lack of notice given to towers two is unfortunate. We cant give TT a free pass just because of the celeb gamer aspect. Either they are both OK or neither are. Yet Towers Two is still on Onebookshelf. Even bad books deserve our defense. Towers Two seems to be created just to test the boundary, that was set by the denial of TOR. Whether you like it or not, this is the link.

Zak Sabbath said...

You've made a tremendous mistake while all books are entitled to protection under the First Amendment and other ethics which are in line with free-speech not all books need to be sold by all vendors. there for books which lack quality or even anyone reasonable who would argue for their quality such as TOR or FATE do not need to be sold by all vendors or even any vendors. Crap has a right to exist but all good people should refuse to sell it or give money to the people who produce it

Zak Sabbath said...

Also, from James Raggi, in response to this:
"Towers Two seems to be created just to test the boundary, that was set by the denial of TOR."

James says:
TT's text was completed in 2014 and the art was commissioned over a year ago so TOR had absolutely no influence over TT's creation.

Carcosa, Death Love Doom, and Fuck For Satan were boundary-testing LotFP releases, but again... released years ago so fuck-all to do with TOR.

(I can't figure out how to comment on Blogger for some reason, haven't for years, that's why I turn off comments when I do a post... I can't answer anything there.)

Revenant said...

Zak, sorry for the off-topic post, but: you wrote an article *somewhere* a while back about speaking with animals. I remember that mice thought everything was huge and rats thought they were part of an organized crime family. I can't find it anywhere and Google is failing to bring me joy. Am I crazy or is this a thing you wrote somewhere?

Zak Sabbath said...

yeah i think it had a lot about goats in it, use that as a key word in yr google search. it woulda been in 2015 im pretty sure

Menace 3 Society said...

Here's the thing about goats - no mention of rats or mice.

Charlie Bottoms said...

I actually found Barthes' Death of the Author quite meaningful, & useful as a critical tool; it's frustrating to hear that this crowd seems to be doing him such a disservice. Has anyone called them on it yet?

Zak Sabbath said...

Sure, but nobody with any clout within their cohort does--including people who should know better like Columbia's Jessica Hammer.
Any attempt to call the Drama Club on their shit is interpreted as harassment and if it's in a forum they control, they ban you and if it's outside of one they mount a campaign to smear you.

Efie said...

So how have things changed now that Alpoha Blue has been reported and suspended? Coming back to TOR, not standing up for it was a missed opprtunity to stand up for the Lowest Common denominator, to draw a line in the sand. And sometimes we have to decide on what side of the line we stand. I believe that bad material just will be ignored, but don't need anybody telling me whether I can purchase it or not. The OBS offensive content policy has got to go.

Zak Sabbath said...

Nothing has changed. OBS enacted the policy they said they had before.

You seem to have failed to respond to any of the points in my previous comment.

As for 'bad things being ignored' this is an obvious fallacy: people still buy FATE.