Monday, October 24, 2016

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

Clicking enlarges it
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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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...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bake The Squares And Scatter The Candy

So I was a judge on the awards jury at the Indiecade festival this year, which was neat. Although I've had stuff there in the past, and they do technically recognize all kinds of games, it's mostly a video game thing, so there weren't any tabletop RPG things nominated for an award this year.

There were, however, some games nominated that were RPG-relevant: I wanna talk about Jenn Sandercock's Order of the Oven Mitt.

The main gimmick is it's an edible boardgame. So far so good--I have always wanted to make an edible dungeon where you get to eat any giant gummi worms you kill--but it stacks more layers on from there.

At the bottom, there's a chess variant--4 players play knights, starting in the corners of a 5x5 board with occupying "NPC" pieces in each square. They're on teams of 2 players each. Each time you take a square, you get to slide the entire horizontal row or vertical column all the way right, left, up, or down to fill the space you created. This includes sliding anybody else's knight who happens to be hanging out on the same register. This in itself is already pretty cool as chess variants go--you're changing the board each turn.

On top of that--the host (probably the same parent who baked the board and pieces for the 10-year old chess club kids this game is optimized for) has scattered a series of special squares, each containing a different kind of candy.

On top of that, each time you take a piece with candy you of course get to eat it however each kind of candy has a specific ritual attached to it. So, like, with the gummi bear you have to eat the head first and with another one you have to jump three times, and one you have to like apologize to the candy or something and another you have to reveal something embarrassing, etc. Your teammate gets to eat a clone candy of the same type and also performs the ritual.
So that's the game. One thing I love about it is that it immediately gets your mind going toward variants. Can we do it with square-cut pizza? Can the rituals feed back into the board set-up? Can...

Now one thing that puzzled us a little at first was the win conditions: the rules say that it ends when all the candy is gone and nobody wins and you should cooperate. But then why are there teams? And what's my motive for thinking about how to shift the board if i can't win? Why not shift it arbitrarily?

But then, oh, duh, right--the reward is the candy.  Specifically two things about it: there's only one square per kind of candy and if you score one then your teammate gets to eat that same candy. (This may have taken us a minute to figure out because the build we were shipped to judge had--through no fault of Jenn's--really stale gingerbread squares, so eating the candy was kind of excruciating but the candy at the actual fest was way better.)

So the idea is: Kandy Korn kid's team tries to manipulate the board so she gets Kandy Korn, marshmallow kid's team tries to manipulate it so he gets a marshmallow, then they both struggle over the right to eat the Junior Mint etc. So there's no winning but there are rewards and goals, and the rewards and goals are scattered across the board by a game master at the beginning and sometimes these are shared and sometimes not, and some of them (licorice) don't even register as goals to anyone but are still there and the rituals of seeing other players get the candy they want are funny even if you're not eating it and the attempts of different people to get what they want changes the world beneath each player.

Which is kind of exactly how sandbox D&D should work.
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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thought Eater: The Final Round

We're down to the final round of the Thought Eater DIY D&D Essay Contest.

The winners, the last two contestants who will go on to the final round are:

The author of D&D is Anti-Medieval and the author of Shadowrun: No Escape.

Let me remind you these two souls not only wrote those, but have been whittled away in a grueling elimination tournament round by round for over a year. So congrats to everyone who got this far.

Now for the final challenge: Compose an essay on an RPG-related topic of your choice--as before, the key is it must contain at least one original idea. You have one month to email me your essays.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

30 Months in a Megadungeon

This is the diary I kept when we played Frog God's Rappan Athuk. Kirin of Old School Hack ran it. I think I ended up at 4th level by the end? Maybe 5th? Maybe 6th--I had Fireball, which I had to buy off somebody. We didn't come anywhere near finishing the dungeon. Elves level slow in Labyrinth Lord. I started with a thief named Devildog Slaughterfist...

Jan 25, 2013

Dear Diary: Went in with one hit point, left with one hit point, 250 gp, a magic arrow, a serrated gnoll sword and one leg.

Feb 1, 2013

Dear diary,
Lost a mule, dwarf lost a foot, told some bandits I was an insurance adjuster, killed a metal snake with glue and lard. Not dead yet.

Feb 8, 2013

Dear Diary,
Suspicious looks from the man who works at the general store. We keep leaving with fresh mules and lubricant and keep coming back with money.

Feb 21, 2013

Dear Diary,
Weaponized another mule. Killed some gnolls with it. Heavy night of drinking--the cleric almost married the barmaid, I leveled up and Borin invested in a hog farm. He's taken to naming the mules numerically.

Feb 28, 2013

Dear Diary,
I found you on the corpse of a one-legged thief. The last entry reads "The dwarf says it just looks like a regular stone gargoyle, I'm gonna check it out".

So I got a new PC--an elf named Gorgut the Weasel

Mar 8, 2013

Dear Diary,
First day at work. Met a fighter--he died, met a druid--she died. Knocked over some skeletons, burned some gnolls and poisoned a bear. Unseen Servant is a hell of a spell.

Mar 14, 2013

Dear Diary,
Though I am now known to the gnoll tribe as Gorgut The Pyromancer, linguistic confusion and overindulgence in the humans' spiritdrink has resulted in my tattoo reading "Gorgut the Pie Romancer".

Mar 28, 2013

Dear Diary,
Decided to give the dwarf the magic sword we used to save him from the crypt shadow. Turned out to be the right move since hours later I got drunk and thieves took everything I had on me.

Apr 4, 2013

Dear Diary,
Found enough treasure to buy back all the stuff I lost but, due to bandits, our wizard no longer has a penis.

May 17, 2013

Dear Diary,
Finally got to the part of the dungeon where there's puzzles and teleporters, just like in the trailers. Still fighting zombies, though. Boris died in a pit trap. 

Jun 14, 2013

Dear Diary,
Convinced a goblin he was a wizard by using Unseen Servant today. Beginning to suspect the whole country is just built on top of mazes full of monsters that have treasure hoards. Weird.

Jun 20, 2013

Dear Diary,
Weaponized Mending today. So all y'alls can suck it.

Jul 11, 2013

Dear Diary,
Got chased by a giant flaming snake.
Also: found that ratfucker who stole all my stuff, fed him to leeches.

Jul 25, 2013

Dear Diary.,
So there was this snake, ok?....

Sep 12, 2013

Dear Diary,
Kiddie slope dungeon done. Gross oil monsters routed. Fight the real Rappan Athuk next week.

Sep 19, 2013

Dear Diary,
Bought Find Familiar off someone, then rolled an Imp.
Not sure what this says about me.

Sep 27, 2013

Dear Diary,
Things to do:
1) Check that place where the key was to see if it reappeared there.
2) Do not give Stokely The Mighty vodka 
3) Dig grave for J the Elf
4) Ask why we didn't get any xp for those black stones

Oct 11, 2013

Dear Diary,
Being an elf sucks. I've been here since forever and I'm only 3rd level and Stokely the mighty showed up 2 sessions ago and she's already caught up to me. Fuck fighters and their dumb xp chart. If anybody needs me I'll be in the corner eating mutton I found in the dark using ESP that I had my imp familiar kill for me and my unseen servant sautee.

Oct 25, 2013

Dear Diary,
Got drunk and fought a giant crab.

Feb 14, 2014

Dear Diary, This thief is really really a thief.

Feb 21, 2014

Dear Diary,
Freed a lunatic and a giant spiky iron ball, turned a ghast into green slime, nobody's died in weeks. Very worried.

Feb 27, 2014

Dear Diary,
They killed my imp. Finally found a spellbook with Magic Missile though.

Mar 27, 2014

Dear Diary,
Lost a wizard, gained a fortress. We called it Fort Helgar.

Apr 11, 2014

Dear Diary,
Stokely was all "Can I collect like random healing herbs?" and I was all Jeez can we go already . But then I almost died from mold and was like Hey cool, healing herbs . Also we stole a giant evil blue diamond and this happened.

Apr 24, 2014

Dear Diary,
After surviving gargoyles, demons, ogres, trolls, and two crotch wounds, Fizzbutt the Wizard was felled by a goblin. With an arrow.
He was hardcore. We'll miss him.

May 2, 2014

Dear Diary,
The sympathy I was due for losing my hand to a bugbear and being unable to adventure for 2d4 weeks was overshadowed by the dwarf's player having to go to the hospital after subluxing her spine while vomiting sweet potato chunks.
She's fine now. I, on the other hand, have no other hand.

May 8, 2014

Dear Diary,
Wandering around the sword coast trying to get randomly attacked isn't as good a way to get treasure as I'd hoped. Killed a giant frog though.

Jun 26, 2014

Dear Diary,
Trying to grow grapes but it requires killing golems with lard first. Stokes lost a spider.

Sep 20, 2014

Dear Diary,
Learned today that "half-elf" has another, grislier, definition.

Oct 24, 2014

Dear Diary,
Met a talking eye today and lied to it about breeding spiders so it made us fight a demon. Then we killed the demon. Come back and try to lie to it again tomorrow.

Oct 30, 2014

Dear Diary,
Resurrected the human fez-wearing eunuch wizard a second time. Beginning to suspect Death doesn't want him around.

Dec 5, 2014

Dear diary,
My sister survived, her boyfriend didn't and the other elf got turned into a wight. Also I think we found some pearls or something. It was a day.

Dec 11, 2014

Dear Diary,
Fooled an ettin with an ersatz cow. Slew it thereafter

May 29, 2015

Dear diary,
Today I found out that Houston didn't die and that the monks worship a frog

Jun 12, 2015

Dear Diary,

3 owlbears in one round. This 'fireball' spell has legs.
Now Kirin's on to running Brain Damage so I don't know if we'll ever get back in there.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Solidly Platonic

So modrons are the little geometric monsters from the Plane of Order Gary Gygax dreamed up while he was drunk staring at dice, and which I think first appeared in the AD&D Monster Manual 2.
Tony DiTerlizzi and Monte Cook later steampunked them out (before steampunk was even a thing) for Planescape and made them playable characters, but the core of their deal remained: they were creatures of ultimate order, hierarchical, and lawful.

So, I was thinking about how this could be turned into something that actually affects how you use them in play, rather than just being like another jerk that hits you for d8+2 only this time the DM does a robot voice. And I figure: Modrons know the rules. They have System Mastery.

Like Plato or those guys who used to write in to Dragon that castles wouldn't exist in a world with the AD&D spell list: they believe all that currently is is the one and only possible consequence of the principles by which the world operates. And they believe they know those principles. Like if you know the principles of the universe you should know how many feathers a chicken has--the world's not that complicated and Heisenbergian uncertainty doesn't exist.

Practically speaking, this means: they know how many hit points they have, how many you have, how many Cone of Cold does, how many xp they are worth. They'll say stuff like "Humans: if you slay me, you will advance 27/100ths of the way toward reaching another tier of skill but if you allow me to show you where the Jewel of Epoch lies, you will advance 7/20ths toward reaching another tier of skill and be less injured should you face the Epsilon Beast, which, if successfully slain will bring you 63/100ths of the way toward reaching your next tier of skill".

Their only problem is they only know the system. Anything that would require a DM call they just can't do. If you jump on top of one of their heads and they have to try to hit you with one of their dumb spears without hitting themselves they're just like fuck doesn't compute. If they're running down a hill from an erupting volcano on their clanky legs and you're like "Dude just roll it's a volcano and you're a sphere" they'll be like "Cannot! Maximum move speed is 10 feet per second". Until WOTC publishes it, they can't do it--if you thumb wrestle them, they'll always lose--and, in a deep irony, they can't play chess.*

Also some of them look like the bad geometry angel from Evangelion.

*Wait I guess they could play if you literally walked through each second of the game but they couldn't abstract a game of chess to some kind of int/perception roll or whatever and do it because that'd be a GM call.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Sailing on the Sea of Night

Though its atmosphere is round, the Earth is a cube.

It floats half-submerged, in the Sea of Night and spins slowly--one rotation every 24 hours.

It is said that if you can reach an edge of the cube at dusk with a ship, you can slide off the cube and onto the Sea of Night, at which point you can sail (beneath an ever-present but increasingly distant sun) out to distant positions (discoverable by certain charts, said to be deep in the vaults of Gaxen Kane, whose founders stole the sickle moon to use as a boat) where one can dive for stars--or else continue to sail to the great and palisaded islands where dwell the gods of all present things.

The elder gods (such as the great and tentacled She Who Sleeps And Her Dream Is The Sea) came to us via a process nearly opposite. Since (as anyone in a dungeon might tell you) all things seek the center of the cube via the process called gravity, they swam from the stars, up through the Sea of Night, into the oceans of the cube where they were bound by the magic of the First Reptile Empire.

It is not known how the stars maintain positions so distant from the Cube, at least not by humans. Anaximenes claims they are distant discs, hewn from gold.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Some Player Fucking Skill Right There

Arella's playing a Red & Pleasant Landified version of Curse of Strahd I guess? Anyway, they want to make the Heart Queen eat some garlic by hiding it in a mirror cake. And yes, a mirror cake is a real thing:
Arella actually walks us through the process of getting and mixing every single part of this murdercake:

Where do you get hartshorn from? Deer antler, and evidently a little goes a long way. I scour over Victor (mage/necromancer), Hellsing (cleric), and my own (bard) spell lists - nobody uses antler as a component, so nobody would have any. Shit. Then it hits me - GELATIN. Gelatin is perfect for this, especially since I’m aiming for a pound cake. The topping for this mirror surface needs gelatin anyway. ………. oh…….. but there’s….. only one place to get gelatin here.

Prianna’s eyes shift over to the human corpses, she cringes, then she goes for it. At this point they’re pretty unrecognizable as HUMANS, but the thought is still there. She’s had to handle animal bones before, she works primarily with monster meat, animal meat, etc from freshly killed creatures. Using her knives she’d be able to separate muscle and “meat” from bone with some work - she wouldn’t ask the others to help her with this gruesome task, she wouldn’t want this experience burned into their minds. Bones would get tossed into boiling water in large pots, as many as she could have on at once to severely cut down on cooking time. Usually this process takes many hours, but multiple sources have told me that if you boil small batches simultaneously, it’ll cut it down to where I need it to be.
The kitchen smells awful at this point. Prianna pulls out any warm smelling spices from the spice cabinet and tosses them on some heat with some water to fill the air. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, those are staples, easy to find in any kitchen even if it’s been severely depleted. Everything smells like a slightly sour Christmas, but she’s not gagging anymore.

Brown film coming to the top of the pots have to be skimmed off regularly, and once no film is left they’re set to boil for awhile - at the same time as the milk is being prepared to cut down on time here. Bones get removed from the pot and tossed aside. The liquid is strained through multiple layers of fabric, fat on the surface of the liquid remaining gets skimmed, and the liquid is boiled down further, a few times over, until it’s reduced to 1/16th it’s volume. We now have gelatin.

The recipe also requires cutting yourself and cone-of-cold

This is my favorite actual-play report written by any player ever. Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Temple of Elemental Bickering

Elementals are boring. A clear framing of the problem and some good solutions for the basics of the problem are here on Chris Hogan's blog, but the underlying problem--which generates the others--is they lack personality.

To take a 3000-foot view, there's just too many conflicting conceptual demands on them--on the one hand, earth air fire and water are supposed to be interesting because together compose everything. On the other hand, the metaphysics of D&D (and Shadowrun and RuneQuest and Elric and RIFTs and other games that use them...) have other Primary Forces with way more personality like war gods and Tiamat and Cthulhu. The dullness of their powers and appearance and behavior comes out of the fact they don't really have a thing.

Taking a tip, like yesterday, from a dead Milesian philosopher--this time Anaximander, here's one: the elements are always fighting each other. Every time you summon an elemental, things go out of whack.  They live on their planes, but they have reluctantly agreed to let ours be neutral ground with no one element predominating. Magically bringing a sentient quantity of any element onto our plane fucks that up.

You summon a fire elemental, things go ok for 2-3 rounds, then the earth begins to rebel, the water and air, too. You can make a table for each element, like tremors start, the moisture in your body begins to increase and slow you down, the wind picks up or it gets hard to breathe.

Any elemental monster on our plane will eventually attract three counterparts to tear it apart. Water weirds bring xorns and dust devils and firesnakes.

Rather than being personified like scheming gods, the elemental consciousness is chemical--they just seek a balance. It may be too much of a stretch to imagine them as complex villains while keeping to their extraordinarily simple (and thus easy to grasp) themes, but making them always and inexorably react to each other at least means each one implies something else--and that's a big step toward making them move from just a ball of numbers wizards whip out once in a while to adventure fuel.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Hylopsychism of Elves

Like Thales, the first philosopher, Elves believe that everything has a soul. Obviously because that's how you do magic: be like "Hey fire, do this" in fire language for example. Elves see wood sprites at family reunions. They think trees have a soul and snow leopards have a soul and a harp has a soul. And a brain, too.

This does not in any way mean they won't chop a tree's innards out and disembowel a leopard and make a harp out of their respective guts and pluck on it all day, on a couch which also has a soul--and ideas and hopes and dreams. If it did, they just be faeries. True fey fucking respect the sentience of all things and that there is no hierarchy among them. Elves are half-fallen already, toward humanness. They like complicated artificial music made of vibrating string and they're not going to let the fact a tree likes spreading and growing toward the sky get in the way of it.

Metaphysical faith--like all ideas requiring morality and power to work in concert--implies both profound contradiction and a willingness to ignore it. Your average elf will totally stick his or her foot in a shoe while totally believing the shoe has thoughts and desires the same way most of us have decided we simply couldn't function if we continuously contemplated the totality of the plight of the chicken we eat or the homeless human we walk past on our way to get it.

The usual fantasy trope is that the evil elves are a distortion--that elfness is natural and noble, and that some drop of venom must have found its way into the formula to create the cruel ones. But in actuality the elf is already poisoned: it isn't faerie. The elf is organized, technologized, militarized, civilized, and it draws psychological comfort from imaginary lines between its consciousness and that of things that don't move on their own.

If, given this will to invent and cultivate and build, anything about elves can still be called natural the most natural tendency is the slaveholder's hauteur of the classically evil elf: they've decided their kind is so magnificent it deserves to enslave horses, swords, socks, bread, tables, castles and wine (or at least accepted themselves as so weak they couldn't possibly stop themselves) why not enslave dwarves, humans, halfings, too? The deeply chauvinist code of the traditional Gygaxian Drow is the most logical consequence of the basic elvish assumptions: Everything has a soul, some souls are more important than others. At least if you're us, which we are. If you're already using a fork, you might as well use a halfling skull as a bowl--anything less is fooling yourself.

Although there may well be more good than wicked elves, the truth is this goodness has no consistent philosophical underpinning. If they're perfectly honest with themselves, good elves respect the rights of dwarves and people because they have more in common with them than they do with candles and crossbows--and because these creatures fight back harder when you try to press them into service. And, even then, the elves see in the shorter-lived species' unwillingness to grasp that even the kettles they callously broil each night have rich inner lives as a provincial and self-serving creed that nevertheless manages to feel like a bumpkin satire of their own convenient and inconsistent morality.

This is why good elves always seem so anxious around other humanoids--why Elrond and Legolas and Galadriel and the rest always come across as if they're speaking to a good friend's poorly-behaved children. "I want to correct you but who the fuck am I?" Their reticence is not the reticence of the wise to interfere with another's path, it's the reticence of the sinner to judge sin. The role of moral force does not come easily to one who knows every cup of moon-ripened wine is an extinction yet equally knows she will never not drink.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Counter-Text

So: Counter-texts.

A counter-text is a description of a way to read an existing work so that it has more--or at least other--ideas in it. For gaming, the counter-text should ideally be a short high-concept thing that readily and quickly presents an alternate interpretation of many elements of the original text. It is neither a reskin nor a rewrite nor a list of small changes--it's a clear set of ideas that immediately opens up a pandora's box of reskins, rewrites and small changes.

Here's a simple one: Stonehell dungeon has no floors. That's five words but it does a pretty good job of making the dungeon more interesting:
Not only does, for example, Room 8 immediately become a lot spookier and more tactically complicated--the cadavers must be hanging from the ceiling on hooks--it goes a long way toward explaining why Stonehell is full of different monsters so close to each other--they have a rough time getting around.

A more complex example is Ken Hite's recent Dracula module--which posits that the Impaler is still around and that the novel Dracula is an expurgated version of an after-action report about the British secret service trying to recruit a vampire as an agent.

Usually, the ideal game counter-text is somewhere between the two of those examples: simple enough to offer an obvious transformation of any boring, annoying, or underdeveloped part of the original text but complex enough to generate a variety of different ideas.

Sometimes one text can be the counter-text to another... Keep on the Borderlands is well-designed but pretty dull in terms of color and wonder at least until you get past the tribes of humanoids crowded together. However if you mash it up it with the colorful but poorly-designed Seclusium of Orphone...

Ok, so Caves of Chaos is still a bunch of goblins and hobgoblins and gnolls hanging out in a bunch of rooms--but the rooms are a decayed wizard's tower, with lots of tricks, traps, oddities and experiments still intact. The inhabitants are probably still busy poking and prodding them to see what they can take advantage of. That explains why there's an owlbear (a wizard did it) and a medusa (consort?) and why the evil priests are digging deep into the caves in search of secrets. It gives you an excuse to put more interesting things in each room pretty much randomly, and explains why some of it might not have been looted yet. It also explains why these different competitive humanoid tribes are here--they all came to pick it over once word got out the wizard was gone.

It also makes the Keep (where the humans dwell) itself more interesting--all those NPC guys aren't just in a castle, they're occupying another decrepit wizard tower so the goblins and jerks don't take it over...

Or: Carcosa is just a hex map of post-war Eberron. Instantly all those random robots are left-over warforged, the rainbow-colored men can be the Eberron races, the sci-fi weapons are just magitech.

The potential importance of counter-texts in games stems from a few basic facts about games as they stand in 2016:

-There are a great number of RPG texts
-They are often easily available and in many cases their major outlines are well-known to many GMs and sometimes players
-This familiarity is helpful in creating the kinds of shared imaginative spaces helpful in tabletop
-The texts are, by-and-large, fairly detailed and internally consistent
-This detail and internal consistency is useful and time-consuming to reproduce
-The texts mostly suck short, the hobby of gaming comes bundled with a lot of terrible but helpfully familiar software. By injecting the right counter-text, the inherited junk ceases to be junk and becomes a genuine asset.

I'd like to think counter-texts could get more ambitious than anything I've discussed here. Maybe there's a killer idea that can make Undermountain or Castle Greyhawk worth playing, or even turn whole useless games and systems into something worth sinking your teeth into.