Monday, April 30, 2018

Fetch Art

This the art for the Fetch.

Demon City Reference Pics (2)

Some Things To Know About Cops & Crime

For any game involving modern crime including the one I'm writing...

The best way to deal with the law is: wherever your personal knowledge of real life legal procedure ends, that’s where the horror begins (again). If you don’t know what happens after someone gets to Central Booking and don’t want to look it up then, of course, that’s when the corrupt police or cult-infested gang members show up. If you can’t figure out how a party’s trial would work and don’t want to read up on it, have a zombie eat their lawyer. 

Legal procedure in Demon City is conducted not under the sign of Justice (11) or even Judgement (20) but under the sign of the Hierophant (5), the figure of orthodoxy, changelessness, and the lies that feed illusions of continuity. Police think anything strange is drugs, juries resent being asked to care, and neither prosecutors nor defenders want to ruin their records taking cases they might lose.

That having been said, crime is pretty fun, so here are some things about it you can use, straight from our world:

Courts can take forever even to do simple things. If your PCs get arrested, they probably won’t be in court—or necessarily even in jail—the next day.

Estate sales are a bonanza for horror and crime scenarios—they’re full of things left behind by people who nothing left to hide any more.

It can be really hard to get good fingerprints or physical evidence even if the criminal doesn’t actively try to prevent it.

In the USA tracing a gun to its original purchaser is actually hard on purpose due to laws preventing not just name-searchable databases but even computers being involved in the process. All gun traces are done through a handful of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms employees in one office in West Virginia looking through boxes and microfilm and calling gun stores that may or may not still be in business. There’s a 65% chance they’ll find whoever bought your gun.

Faking your own death in 2017 costs about 5000$.

Switzerland is one of the first places they look for stolen money.

Police k-9 dogs work with basically one handler—they have a relationship that isn’t easily transferrable. Many police German shepherds worldwide were literally trained in Germany and take directions in German.

There is no rule in the US about how long you can be in Immigration Detention. You can be there for years.

Things that can be in a cop car: first aid kits, fire extinguishers, prisoner cage, laptop, small toolkit, flares, life buoys, barrier tapes, ED panels (Automated external defibrillator).

Running a license plate can go wrong—you often have to type it in manually.

Cities have different rank systems but usually captain’s higher than lieutenant which is higher than a sergeant which is higher than a random cop on the street.

Desperate people selling babies is weirdly common, even in the US in 2018. 

Big city police are often working multiple murders, 9-5pm or 8-4, it’s easy to just run out of time on one murder if another has better leads to follow up.

Even petty criminals who don’t know much about the internet do about a billion things on the dark web, like buy drugs.

Art theft and rare book theft often go wholly uninvestigated by police, even when the goods are relatively valuable—it’s a good way to bring in amateur sleuths like PCs.

The thing they use to collect evidence from sexual assault victims is called a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK kit). 

Forensic scientists boil bodies to get at the bones—they boil disconnected small pieces like fingertips in crockpots.

Decay of bodies:
-First: Rigor mortis
-Second: Bloating, which takes 3 days to weeks depending on climate and local flies and maggots
-Third: Organs liquify, releasing a black liquid called “purge fluid”
The corpse’s skin will turn dark at some point and the purge-fluid is so nutrient rich that plants will grow well where a body has died.

The private prison system and prison overflow has made prisons in the US a mess. Coed prisons are not unheard-of and there are many anomalies like Sistersville—a white-collar minimum-security prison that was also the last residential center for people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy), the prisoners mixed with the patients.

When police need translators, they may get them from any other unit or even from outside the police force. The person may not be a professional.

Other random police often have interviewed everybody they think is connected to a murder before homicide gets there.

Police on the scene can and regularly forget pretty much anything—they can miss used needles and bullet casings, they can even forget to seal off crime scenes.

In important investigations, the FBI and Homicide really can have turf wars—both sides want the information the other side has, but both sides often think the other guys will mess up the collar (or just steal credit) if they give them too much information.

Getting something special like a helicopter up or a scuba unit to look for evidence in the water is largely a matter of logistics and luck—sometimes people are available, sometimes they’re not.

Murder detectives can be promoted up to that position from any other unit.

Hardly anyone uses lockpicks—bump keys are far more common and faster.

Police try to interview the least important people first in order to build a background of minor details they can use to catch bigger fish when they’re lying.

City police departments can be organized in a million ways. Homicide Special, in Los Angeles, handles any murder deemed important (12-15 cases a year) and has no receptionist—so if you call them, you’re talking to a detective.

At least in LA, the binder containing all of a homicide case information is called “the murder book”.

Detectives come in different grades and different departments do it differently—in New York the entry is 3rd and the highest is 1st.

Organized criminals from Europe often get Mexican tourist visas then come into the US that way.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Minor Media Blitz

Most of the Demon City pictures are now up in a gallery in New York if you wanna see.

Also there is a nifty interview with me about all kindsa things up at 3 Toadstools.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Hungry Ghosts + Frostbitten & Mutilated Unboxing

click to enlarge

Some hungry ghosts are pathetic, some are scornful, all feel they are owed something—by their living descendants or by others who failed to acknowledge them properly in life.

Hungry Ghosts are ugly fiends and come creeping on their bellies, smiling, eating junk food and trash. They want to make the living join them in hell by committing suicide, and so do awful things. They will molest anyone until they cry.

Hell makes them so bad they can never be satisfied. They can be exorcised through complex chants in a chalked circle while burning special contracts that send them back to their homes.

Demon City Stats

Typical Hungry Ghost

Calm: 0
Agility: 2
Toughness: 4 (can only be hurt by cold things)
Perception: 2
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 1

Calm Check: 7
Cards: King/Queen of Cups (10)

Special abilities:

Ectoplasmic form: Hungry ghosts can touch their victims but neither their victims nor any other natural physical force can touch them. The only exception is ice and things chilled below freezing.

Climbing: All hungry ghosts can move across walls and ceilings at normal speed.

Infinite mutilation: If a hungry ghost slices or bites off a part of a creature, the victim will never bleed out—simply remain alive and maimed at 0 Toughness.

Devouring: A hungry ghost can chew through any substance as if it were meat.

Mutant physiognomy: Hungry ghosts come in many shapes—spheres with bloated faces, serpent-centaurs, bizarre concatenations of limbs and heads, massive eyes for heads on distended necks with teeth down either side. If a ghost has a strange shape, it may add some minor extra ability. They are never flying creatures, however.


Ice and things chilled below freezing can hurt a hungry ghost as can sorcery.

Hungry ghosts cannot kill a living being, only torment it until it wants to kill itself.

Hungry ghosts are greedy but cannot tell the difference between real and fake food or money.

Hungry ghosts are also confused by patterns, and patterned wallpaper or carpets will disorient them.
Donate to the Demon City patreon here
And now, a word from our sponsor:

The hardcopies of Frostbitten & Mutilated are showing up. They look so much better than I expected, like slim black bibles...

 Below are some photos from fans--thanks for putting them up...

If you have one, there's still time to enter the Bad Take Contest if you want.

If you don't, get on it before they are gone.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

April 5th Is International Review Something Day

Making stuff can be difficult in 2018. And in 2018, people have rarely been more hungry for good stuff.

Supporting creators is difficult, especially if you don't have any money--luckilty there's a way to do it for free.

Authors, readers: April 5th Is #InternationalReviewSomethingDay .

Take 15 minutes out today and review something you love, then tell the author you did it: they will appreciate it.

And share.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Demon City Update, Art Show, More Pictures

(also the gallery is ground-floor and fully disabled-accessible)

-I am currently making art for the game and will keep doing that and almost nothing else until mid-April because I have an art show in New York which will feature a lot of the Demon City art. About 90% of the "necessary" art is done and about 70% of the amount of art I expect to have in the final book (once the text is finalized I'll probably just keep drawing/painting and send the graphic designer more pictures until literally the last minute bc why not).

-The game is play-ready and all the "necessary" monsters, spells, equipment, advice, etc are written. It covers the bases.

-I am adding and altering things in the text as I go however, based on playtests, "things that would be nice", peoples' feedback on what makes horror GMing hard for them, etc I'd like to add some different xp-incentives by class/motive, some suggestions for subgenre-specific games (ie how to alter the rules for a hard-boiled horror game, for a more lovecrafty game, for a Japanese schoolkid horror, etc). Also smoothing out the writing and giving more examples, and GM tools.

-I also am wrangling many contributors for bonus content. They usually cough up their bits if I go "Ok, your deadline is in a week", but I'm not jerking the leash on the stragglers until necessary.

-The graphic designer has started laying out pages, but that part always takes a long time. He will probably kick in to high gear during the next phase in May.

-After that the publishing date will basically depend on how much the graphic designer gets paid. More crowdfunding=faster. We want to do a lot of things that are complex and nonstandard, like character-generation flowcharts and whatnot, to make it really user-friendly.

Donate to the Demon City patreon here

Monday, April 2, 2018

Barney Rosset, James Raggi, and Why You're Allowed To Call A Book Fish Fuckers

Here’s A List

William Burroughs, Kather Acker, Frantz Fanon, Edward Albee, DH Lawrence, Che Guevara, Antonin Artaud, Amiri Baraka, Simone De Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Bertolt Brecht, Charles Bukoski, Albert Camus, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jean Genet, Alan Ginsburg, Gunter Grass, Vaclav Havel, Henry Miller, Chester Himes, Eugene Ionesco, Jack Kerouac, Timothy Leary, Yukio Mishima, Josephine Miles, Vladimir Nabokov, Pablo Neruda, Frank O’Hara, Harold Pinter, Raymond Queneau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Susan Sontag, Terry Southern, Gary Snyder, Tom Stoppard, John Kennedy O’Toole, and Malcolm X.

There's something unusual about that list, and it’s not the fact it includes 5 Nobel prize winners--it’s that they all had the same publisher: Grove Press. And almost always because no-one else in America would publish them.

It wasn’t a big press and it was largely funded by pornography: an imprint called The Victorian Library which published books like Blind Lust, A Nymph In Paris, Ravished on the Railway, and a line of novels about spanking.

If you’re wondering when it became legal to put out an RPG book called Fish Fuckers or Fuck for Satan in the US, you’ll find out about the Lady Chatterly’s Lover case of 1959—and Grove Press’ head: Barney Rosset. 

Barney then eagerly again went to the mat for Naked Lunch in 1962 and then fought another court case for the right to publish Tropic of Cancer in 1964. 

That was the first year Grove was turning a profit—Rosset took over Grove in 1951.

He never had to go to trial for the pornography.


QUIZ (no fair googling)

Which of Grove’s books received the following response:

“Borrowed this from a friend after hearing the high praise, and the whole thing just seems to be a childish exercise in cramming as many instances of “fuck” into the text as possible.”

A) Lady Chatterly’s Lover in 1959

B) Naked Lunch in  in 1962

C) Tropic of Cancer in 1964

Keep reading for the answer.

The Word "Censorship" Usually Means You're Lying

When discussing art in 2018, the phrases “freedom of speech”, “censorship” and “once upon a time” all have something in common—usually they all tell you the person talking is about to say something full of shit. Pro- or con-.*

When it comes to “freedom of speech” or “censorship”, the “pro” person is usually about to make an argument falsely equating a private person not wanting to deal with or promote some speech with a government making a law against it.

The “con” person is usually about to make an argument falsely equating a creator or fan’s claim that a criticism is unfair, invalid or irresponsible with that creator or fan trying to claim that the criticism is-, or will lead to-, a law against it.

They’re both ignoring an issue nobody wants to talk about: 

Someone is upset about a work of art and they either should or shouldn’t be.

Discussing “censorship” is discussing the consequences of that upsetness, not the validity. We all agree on the consequences: “I don’t advocate Censorship. What I am saying is…”.

This is a middle-class confrontation-avoidance strategy. It sounds a lot less judgmental to go “This book has two gentlemen adopting a baby in it and if that offends you you’re free to not buy it” than to go “This book has two gentlemen adopting a baby in it and if that offends you, you are terrible and should change.”

The second thing is the true one, but it makes the fight more intense, so people have instead made an agreement: creators get to make whatever they want including pointlessly bigoted things, critics get to make any accusations they want about anything including paranoid, unsupported ones. 

That’s important because this compromise—the agreement to disagree about the speech or the art while agreeing it shouldn’t be Censored—means that we can endlessly postpone a more meaningful debate about what exactly the good things about art are supposed to be that supposedly make all this arguing worthwhile.

Without that discussion of the value of created things we get to pretend we agree with each other longer—which helps us build cars and snout-to-tail pig-cooking restaurants and massively multiplayer online RPGs together. 

It also helps everyone do their favorite thing which is to ignore capitalism: ignore how art and criticism function in the market. It ignores how successful art can encourage copies of itself until its ideas become unavoidable even if you did just "not buy it" and how public criticism literally has no purpose unless it influences companies and consumers to choose more of the art it likes and less of the art it doesn’t and so effectively throttle the undesirable art.

You don't publicly complain about a book without also hoping someone will do something in response. And the publicness makes that response possible.

There is, in effect, a cultural Cold War, where neither side defines its borders because the only thing they're both sure of is neither side wants the nuclear option. Lying, shifting borders and alliances, making locally convenient arguments--all the standard covert ops: sure. Standing up and going "Ok ends here, at this line, and you are standing on the other side of it" would be to invite people to vote or make laws and pass amendments and nobody's sure they want to go that far.

Back to Grove Press:

There is no major publisher that wouldn't recognize not just the value, but the primacy of the authors Grove published--yet there was no major publisher that would've taken the risks necessary to publish them.

In addition to literally millions of (1960’s) dollars of legal fees, 13 years is a long time to publish weird books without making any money. Effectively speaking, Barney Rosset had to buy America the right to freedom of speech. And, if you look at that list of authors and realize how very little 20th century literature would be left without them and remember nobody else at that time would have them, he basically bought the country’s right to have any halfway decent books at all.

Good Stuff Results In Moral Panics

It’s hard to think of any mass introduction of anything both good and new to the English-speaking world that isn’t accompanied by a moral panic: Ulysses went on trial for obscenity, metal, punk, hip-hop and even Prince and Madonna were targeted by moral guardians, the National Endowment for the Arts—that is: US government funding for art as a concept— basically no longer exists because of the culture wars of the 1990s, Donald Trump’s trying to blame video games for violence, Fredric Wertham gutted comics (especially horror) by using fraudulent evidence to bring in the comics code, and, of course that whole thing with D&D’s satanic panic. Get ready for one about anime when the Republicans find out what it is.

Because it’s so easy to look back and laugh (saying Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It promoted violence and Cyndi Lauper She Bop was sexfilth seems pretty quaint by today’s standards) it’s easy to overlook the very real damage that rhetorical and economic warfare against creators can and does do to real lives.

The PMRC’s “Parental Advisory” sticker on albums seems like a joke but it decided for a very long time who did and didn’t get into massive chains like Wal-Mart. While Madonna and Prince and Twisted Sister made it out of the PMRC-era ok, countless lesser-known and up-and-coming musicians had their careers completely derailed by the economics of the situation. We tend to think the fine artists associated with Congressional freak-outs walk away more famous—all press is good press, right?—but, for example, Ron Athey, an artist famous to me in art school for being accused of “spraying AIDS-infected blood on the audience” (he didn’t) basically couldn’t perform in the US for much of his career and has had a day job ever since.

As for Rosset and Grove Press: in ’68, someone threw a grenade through his window.

....and, of course, the FBI had a massive file on him

There Is A Price To Everything

No-one will ever throw a grenade through James Edward Raggi IV’s window—and there won’t be delicious anecdotes in The Atlantic by adoring literati when he dies. And nothing he published will upset the American public on a grand scale.

But there's nobody else really doing what Lamentations of the Flame Princess does: the mainstream publishers repeatedly and explicitly say they’re making what they think the market wants, most indies aren't paying people enough to attract real talent while simultaneously presenting them halfway decently, the other OSR publishers are putting out some good stuff but not with the same full-court press of writing, illustration, binding and experimental content. A few cool publishers following in his footsteps are just getting started—but they’re not full-time yet. Many major RPG freelancers go to James because their mainstream publishers either won't let them do what they want or they know they won't do it the way it needs to be done.

And James has—very voluntarily—taken up the role of being That Guy Who Publishes The Good, Scary Stuff in the 2018 RPG environment and that entails real risk and is a real pain in the ass for one man alone in Finland with a house full of boxes. He has chosen trouble. 

Peter Mayer, who ran Avon and Penguin: "Barney chose these battles, there was nothing inadvertent in what came down,"--just like James chose all his (his first 2 books besides his own were Carcosa and the one by the porn guy). They both picked stupid fights on purpose at great personal cost in the name of creepy quality to far less acclaim than they deserve while the rest of us just read Jean-Paul Sartre and Qelong and count our money.

LotFP is successful—but in projecting and promoting that success (partially to move units, but also to encourage other similar ventures)—we somewhat elide the shittiness that comes with it: retailers and other potential partners get skittish and sometimes just say no, in ways and for reasons James doesn’t much talk about. The legendary online dramafests against LotFP are the tip of a really gross behind-the-scenes iceberg you don't want to know the half of.

And why? Complaints. Internet complaints.

But, unlike Barney Gosset, James was not born rich. James was broke until Red & Pleasant Land in 2015--that is, until after the orgy of harassment from the supposedly-woke when I consulted on 5th edition D&D and after RPL won all those Ennies. The death threats, the rape threats, the smears, all that--James was full-time putting out the LotFP Grindhouse Edition and Vornheim and Carcosa and paying all that money to all those illustrators all through all of that for no better and often less than shitty-day-job reward for half a decade.

LotFP has been satirized as a grossout factory, but just like Barney and all this porn he published, James has never really been raked over the coals for Vaginas Are Magic or Fuck for Satan--nor have his many lowbrow competitors. What makes people mad isn't the vulgarity, it's the praise.

Remember the quiz?

“Borrowed this from a friend after hearing the high praise, and the whole thing just seems to be a childish exercise in cramming as many instances of “fuck” into the text as possible.”

Ok, trick question: this isn’t someone from 1962. Someone said that in the last year about Veins of the Earth.

And this wasn’t some nun or white nationalist who’d stumbled across a copy by accident in a hospital waiting-room, this is a supposedly woke gamer who thinks everyone should use the X-Card.

Why borrow all this trouble?

The simplest way to put it is: he enjoys and believes in things that lots of other people also believe in called horror, and metal, and gore. 

Because James believed that Carcosa was a plunge into an unexplained world of alien deep time.

Because he believed that Qelong was the kind of pessimistic historical hellscape nobody else would do justice to.

Because whatever value stomach-bursting, dead baby, body-horror offers to the people who go to horror movies and horror conventions and horror music is as applicable in his medium as in anyone else’s.

What value is that? Sarah Horrocks says it better than anyone else could.

But, also, without going in to too many details: James has been through some gruesome things. People very close to him have been through gruesomer things. When he sees a bloodless throat-cutting in a mainstream movie this strikes him as false and wrong and not how he wants to do it. 

The moral of this story and the moral of LotFP stories is: there is a price to things.

Why else?

Because, beyond horror, James believes in what his authors are doing as fun and good and original and better than everything else out there.

And it is not a coincidence that these are the most controversial ones. People don’t get to be good at their job by simply reimagining what others already have—and about half of what others already haven’t imagined yet is things where the first few steps are wrong, and the good stuff is past them, way down in the basement.

And he does this while hiring women, while hiring transfolk, while paying everyone well and on-time while being transparent and letting them see the math--while rival indie publishers are seemingly in a contest to how often they can embarrass themselves while keeping a fresh-faced clean-shaven woke image. I mean, it's a cliche but sometimes the good guy isn't the one waving his white hat around.

There's no other RPG publisher who has taken on as much risk on behalf of other people as LotFP.

Next time another publisher starts talking about diversity, innovation or fairness in games, ask them: How much have they risked in the name of these things? 

When Barney Rosset reached out to a founder at Random House during the first court case, he replied: 

I can’t think of any good reason for bringing out an unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover at this late date. In my opinion the book was always a very silly story, far below Lawrence’s usual standard, and seemingly deliberately pornographic .  .  .  . I can’t help feeling that anybody fighting to do a Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1954 is placing more than a little of his bet on getting some sensational publicity from the sale of a dirty book.

Fifteen years later, Jacob Epstein from Random House had this to say about Barney:

When the history of publishing is written, Barney will have a place in it. He's bright. He takes a lot of risks that look frivolous to many people, but there's a serious radical impulse behind them all. He's altered the climate of publishing to everybody's advantage.

That’s James right there. Only he’s doing it in a world nobody will ever care about that half consists of people who treat him like he's selling meth.

I think in the end though, listening to him talk, he doesn’t just like the stuff: he has an idea about role-playing games. They give you stats and tell you what you could buy and tell you where you should go and, if you’re smart, you don’t do it. You go somewhere else, you avoid the trap, you ransom the patron, you avoid the railroad: this is what James learned. This is another lesson of these games.

This is why he writes dungeons where doing the suggested thing always kills you. He’s offended by the vision of human beings as animals which do something just because it’s suggested: by an image or a word or an association or a tradition. He’s offended by the idea that we accept this impulse and cater to it. Let's leave an idea unaddressed because it might brush up against a suggestion.

James doesn’t want to train people to fuck fish or murder babies—he wants a world full of people who can read that kind of gibberish and all the gibberish that the world asks us to read everyday on Facebook that doesn’t even have the decency to label itself as “fiction” and walk away still being human, still being capable of weighing things with the salt they deserve, still being able to think for themselves. 

If pumping out the number of books he does a year, while rolling from con to con like a drunk circus bear on the advances and the royalty checks and the weird hype and no sleep finally kills him or burns him out, we’re gonna miss that guy soooo much and be amazed we didn’t realize what we had.

EDIT, JAN 17 2020:
I was right.

*Even the very word "speech" here is rhetorical sleight-of-hand--directing your attention to the brandished shiny ball while rustling around with something much larger under the table. "Speech" implies a statement--a position for-, or against-, something and we (tbh) evaluate our position based on whether we agree with the 'something;. "Freedom of Art" sounds shitty and pretentious but is a more complex idea, as everyone who ever seriously deals with art will tell you even the worst always ends up "saying" more than one thing, and keeps doing that--even after the artist dies. Reducing that reducing a creative work to "speech" allowed Grove's enemies to reduce something like Tropic of Cancer to a political position: The Beatnik Left, which is a lot easier to argue against.