Wednesday, May 5, 2021

What Really Happened To Vampire 5e, Chapter Two: Video Games, Bailey Jay, Kenneth Hite, New Orleans, Stockholm

 20,000 Words Worth Of Text Messages


So it’s summer 2016 and Paradox has commissioned two World of Darkness mobile games. I get the Vampire one. It’s been explained to me as “Basically a Choose-Your-Own Adventure, you can figure out the rest”.


It also has to be a prelude which—for non-Vampire fans—means it’s about a new vampire discovering their powers and their curse. Other than that my remit is pretty open and they let me write whatever I want and they could fix the lore in post if I made mistakes they didn’t want to canonize into the new WoD.


Faced with the puzzle of making a mobile game, I get the great/terrible idea to make it work in text messages. My idea was: during your normal day, while you’re getting texts from real people and getting your Facebook notifications, you’re also getting alerts from people in the game. That way, toward the end, when these characters are threatened, it feels like people you really know are in trouble.


Part of the reason this is a terrible idea is my contract said 20,000 words. 20,000 words is fine if you’re writing a game book with complete sentences and lush descriptions of dwarf cities and d100 tables (comparison: Frostbitten & Mutilated is 30,000 ish) but 20,000 words of plausibly realistic text messages is a lot, especially when you’re trying to figure out how, for example, to do action scenes in text messages. So anyway, I’d given myself this horrible job, so in a search for material and trying to get the rhythm of actual text messages I turned to the text messages I was sending and getting in real life.




At the time, my closest friend who didn’t live in LA—and thus the friend I saw least and texted most—was trans porn actress Bailey Jay. Bailey was funny, good at texting, and liked horror movies...


...meaning she was both very much into-, and ripe for-, being turned into a character in a horror game. So with her blessing I went about making her a vampire.



Bailey was also really into giving her Uber drivers handjobs that summer, for some of that--Bailey Jay texting is only a slightly less censored version of Bailey Jay tweeting:



This wasn’t her doing an extended internet gag—sometimes porn stars really do act like porn stars. She’d flirt with them, then say “Hey, I have a dick” and they’d be surprised but then be like…That’s cool. And that was Bailey’s real life. In the game I basically just added in that if they were transphobic she’d drink their blood because, well, it’s a vampire game, someone has to die, why not transphobic people?


Sample dialogue with the Bailey character:


“What are you having for lunch?”

“Mall goths”


I named her Avery Ailes because it kinda sounded like Bailey but not so much I’d accidentally type “Bailey”. Other characters were made from whole cloth but most of the friendly characters were based on amalgams of my friends, including another trans woman, the actress Morgana Ignis, whom millions of Deviant Art goths may know as the voice of Sallie Mae in Helluva Boss.


——


So midsummer I thought what you’re supposed to think around this point I called up White Wolf and explained to them I had written myself into a place where there were important transgender characters in the game and could we hire someone trans on the project so that it’s not just white cis me benefitting from the story—I recommended up-and-coming horror comic artist Sarah Horrocks.


I was pleased and a little surprised to see they were all for it, so she came on as co-author. She was fine with the Bailey character and she went to work writing and drawing a vampire monkey into the plot.


By the end of the summer we had a story full of sex and death and lgbt representation and mechanics we hadn’t tested yet—all was as it should be in the World of Darkness.





New Orleans


White Wolf’s annual Grand Masquerade happened in New Orleans, around Halloween. Highlights include me not meeting Tim Bradstreet (despite trying), not LARPing (despite the Swedes trying to make me), and lots of fried chicken and plastic swords.


Around this time the head Swedes began to discuss the plans for the new tabletop edition: V5. They explicitly said what they had theretofore only implied: they wanted me to work on the new edition. In also-excellent news they wanted Kenneth Hite—fresh off doing The Dracula Dossier for his vampire-spy game Night’s Black Agents.

Kenneth was one of the first mainstream designers to notice my work, back when Vornheim came out—we liked each other. This was shaping up to be interesting.


Head Swede’s idea for this edition was: New New New. They loved the old Masquerade but wanted to completely modernize it, make it work for the new century: new team, new ideas—push everything as far as possible, the sky’s the limit on big ideas and  they’re LARPers and so they’d leave the tabletop details to us. Plus: Paradox is a video game company with video game money.



Stockholm


In winter we’re flown to Stockholm for a week of meetings about the direction of the new Vampire. The meetings take place in one of many very modern Nordic conference rooms at Paradox HQ with a wall-length white board on which, by the end of each day, was covered with a megadungeon of arrows connecting boxes like “Blood” and “Hunger” and “Cloves?”.


The American contingent is me, Kenneth Hite and New Art Director—remember I said I’d anonymize the innocent. At this point it’s being framed like we’ll be the main architects of the game and everyone else is just there to show us where the guardrails are (we can’t change “Toreador” to another name but we can give a dozen historical alternate names). Or else: they’ve already made several decisions about how to set up the sandbox and are now inviting us to play in it—either way, Ken, Art Director and I were given a lot of room.


The way it worked, by accident or design, was this:


Kenneth Hite had lots of ideas about tabletop game design and 100% up-front admitted he had no idea about visuals, Art Director was a woman who’d done a lot of impressive high-fashion shoots and music videos with fancy people and 100% admitted she had no idea about tabletop game design, and I was the guy who translated between them.


Art Director would say something like “Has there ever been a wedding in Vampire? I think that would be a great spread” (Because the art director is an art director). 


And I’d go “Oh yeah, you could have like two clans ally and it’s a threat to the others…” (Because I’m forever in the middle ages).


And Ken Hite would go “And that’s when the NSA finds them!” (Ken is always looking for ways to kill vampires).


Then Ken would talk to one of the Swedes about the possibility of pulpy space vampires and I’d talk to Art Director about actually having a party where everyone dressed like a real wedding, then photographing it, then doing paintings from the photos and using that to explain the metaplot. The team White Wolf had thrown together genuinely had chemistry—we played Maze of the Blue Medusa at Head Swede’s house, we went to the museum built to memorialize the Swedish ship that sunk as soon as it was launched—we had ideas, we had fun—things were alright.



Would This Version Have Actually Been Any Good?


Obviously just because we liked what we were doing doesn’t mean it would’ve worked out. All I can say is: this was what was intended at T-minus one year of the development cycle and it seemed to be working better than expected. Head Swede had this idea—the Camarilla half of Vampire: The Masquerade would look like Vogue, the Anarch half would look like a zine but both would have OSR-style info-design, Indie-inspired creativity, it would be grounded in the real world and it would have a team with a completely new take. That was what we were for, and they’d been planning it for nearly a year by that point.


As you know, that isn’t quite what happened. In the next chapter I’ll start to explain why.


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

What Really Happened To Vampire 5e, Chapter One: Olivia Hill



Note up top: A lot of people are asking about the case against Gen Con--the next step is we file a motion, then a notce within 30 days of that response, then it's in appellate court for a year, probably a year and a half. So: it'll be a loooong time before it's over.


Starting In The Middle

So this is the story of what happened on Vampire 5th edition behind the scenes. It'll be a series of posts, because it's complicated.

I'm going to screw up right from the start by putting two incidents from the middle of the story first, because they contain a moral of the story and I don't want that to get lost in all the details to come.

So:

  • First: sometime in the middle of all the trouble that Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition roll-out had, a bunch of Vampire fans did something that only haters had done before (or since): they organized. They put together and circulated a petition of support  (impressive and rare in the online RPG scene) that said that these haters were not making sense, that fans stood behind the designers, that this harassment would not be tolerated, that the new edition was exciting, all that good stuff. At least 2000 people signed it, which is far more than had liked, shared or encouraged the hatemob attacks on the game (600ish on the most popular hatepost I could find).
  • Second: sales of the game were...fine. There was no great wave of boycotting or backlash among actual consumers.

The net effect of these two facts on the parent company's upcoming decision to dump the game was: nothing. These things didn't help the game or the creators at all in any way, the game still got cut loose, people got fired, careers got torpedoed, etc.

The designers working on the project included Mark Rein-Hagen and Kenneth Hite, by no-means small fish as far as name-recognition goes. The designers who lead the charge to destroy the game--on the other hand--were folks who are visibly glowing on social media if they sell 500 copies of a game. I point this out just to establish that the power equation here isn't as simple as you might think: Mark Rein-Hagen and Kenneth Hite only have followers who buy things, whereas the haters have followers who do things. 

Are you sitting there thinking you're an anonymous disengaged nobody so what you do doesn't matter? Well, you're wrong--this story has names in it but is largely a story about what a bunch of anonymous people did. If name-recognition and a platform mattered, Mark Rein-Hagen and Kenneth Hite could've ended this in seconds--hell, Paradox--the video game company that owned White Wolf--could've ended it. But that's not how it works.

Going and buying a game and signing a petition full of positive platitudes are both things fans are comfortable doing.  Vampire fans did them and it didn't help at all. Haters are comfortable with doing way more: they name names, they go to the forums where narratives are being written and interrupt the story being told with their own story, they bring things up over and over and over, even when no-one asked, and most of all: they work together "When I do this, you do that" etc.. And normal people, even normal gamers if there is such a thing--people who just want to play a game--don't do any of that. They see drama and, at best, ignore it, or, worse, buy into the idea that all drama is equal and equally bad.

And remember the sales figures, games have gone on to be supported and become IP farms on far less--voting with your wallet alone doesn't work when the creators of what you're buying are told "You are risking trashing your Google results and professional reputation forever if you take on this new project" and the company itself doesn't want its reputation associated with that. Self-publishing doesn't solve this: The kinds of accusations made against Vampire authors don't just destroy someone's career or chance of being published but can (and in some cases has) harm literally every part of the lives of the people involved. If every time someone Googles you it says you committed crimes against humanity, it affects your entire life.

A petition or a statement from anyone which does not name the specific people responsible for the problems it is trying to overcome does nothing at all. 

If you ever want to hear any story about the RPG industry other than the one I'm about to tell: you, the fans, have to do something different than what you are doing now. You can easily fact-check haters without trolling, harassing or hurting anyone, but most of you can't do it while staying in your comfort zone. You have to be as persistent and dedicated to telling the truth and making things better as they are at lying and making things worse.

It's not that you're a terrible person if you don't--it just means the things you like aren't going to get made ever again.

Disclaimer 1


I am jumping the gun on this: I wanted to wait until later this year, when certain legal things would have had time to happen and I'd be able to provide even more evidence to back up what I'm saying. But Onyx Path authors Olivia Hill and Filamena Young being exposed as abusers (and not yet having suffered any real consequences I can see) has made it seem necessary that I do this early. If you still don't believe my story after reading all of it, come back around Christmas, see what I've got to say then, and feel free to rub my nose in this paragraph.



Disclaimer 2


It’s popular in these kinds of posts to disguise the writer’s intention under a layer of objective-sounding language—as if the author is just the Star Trek computer voice “The Alpha Quadrant is populated by a race of three-eyed tree bastards…” etc. I am not going to do that. This story is outright an attempt to persuade. Straight up. I am still under a non-disparagement clause with White Wolf (the company that makes Vampire: The Masquerade) and I plan to respect that, which is easy since this isn’t about them fucking up, this is about what some bad people did to White Wolf. When it matters, I have obscured the names of the innocent (and deadnames) but not the guilty.


I am also going to say something most reporters can't say: I am in the middle of suing people right now. If a single word of what I'm saying isn't accurate, I just volunteered, for free, to ruin my own case by writing this.



The Biggest Success In The History Of RPG Hatemobbing


It’s 2021, and there’s Critical Role and there’s Stranger Things and it’s been seven years since the 5th edition of D&D came out and, weirdly, no other RPG has managed to ride its coattails. There’s been no matching revival of Shadowrun, RIFTS, or Vampire, no new game or anything near close. 


There were two kinds of conventional wisdom on the 2018 5th edition of Vampire: one is that it committed a wide variety of terrible social justice crimes, the other—and the one, as far as I can see, that seems to have stuck around longer—is that it was solid in many ways, but it failed to generate any enthusiasm. It was...fine. It isn’t setting the world on fire, the company isn’t rushing to support, promote, or expand it. If you want to try playing Vampire again but with some tighter rules and the next generation of lore, well it’s there. People involved appear to have moved on to other things.


Did something happen? Yes.


This is the story of a group of bad internet people who, after many minor successes hurting innocent designers' careers, finally managed to take down a whole game. The biggest piece of RPG intellectual property of the 1990s was making a big push to get revived and got shot in the head, by people who are, by-and-large, now discredited and what’s more, had no idea they were even doing it.


And they and all their friends are still out there—and they keep doing the same stuff, and they will keep doing it to any game that isn’t too corporate to care or from a country so far away it hasn’t yet been swallowed by the toxic dynamics of the english-language RPG discourse.


This is the story of the biggest success in the history of online RPG hatemobbing. It's why, if nothing changes, games are basically fucked.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Alien, Predator, The Problem of Interesting Monsters

 Note: If you voted to hear the Vampire story, it's still coming in early May, don't worry.

-The Alien and The Predator are both interesting monsters.

-One reason Alien is a better movie than Predator is it found reasons for the cast to talk about the interesting monster and observe its behavior. After Cain dies, like 50% or more of the dialogue is in one way or another, finding out about the monster, explaining it ("using the air ducts", "Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.", "big as a man").

-What dialogue isn't about the monster is about The Company's plot ("crew expendable" etc.).

-Simple formula (Lovecraftian even)--create an interesting monster and then the story is mostly just explaining how it's interesting.

-Predator on the other hand: how do we know its an alien? First scene we see its space ship. How do we know it has only thermal vision? We see through its eyes.

-Showing not telling doesn't work here because it leaves the characters almost nothing else to talk about or do--except the same things they'd do in any other non-monster action movie: I'm worried about murdering! I'm not! How will we accomplish murdering? Yeah, they got betrayed by the CIA, but it's so not important to anything and Carl Weathers (the Ash figure, the betrayer) gets killed by the Predator, so that plot resolves itself without anyone having to confront him or make a decision about it or act or anything.

-A problem with all the later Predator and Alien movies: instead of interesting or difficult characters being dealt with by the other characters (as the crew deals with Ash in Alien) they just get killed by the monster. We realize, at some point in every later movie, that this is a slasher formula and none of the interpersonal plot gymnastics matter. Ripley matters, that's all, because Ripley will, in one way or another, survive.

-So what does matter (besides the quality of the kills)? We want to learn more about the creatures.

-This, I think, is what really disappointed everyone most about Prometheus--the whole beginning was a classic Hard SF set-up: we were going to Learn About The Universe and then as soon as we get to the big mystery (What the fuck was that thing in the...chair? in Alien?) it turns into a slasher movie. No, we are not going to learn anything else, the only question in a slasher movie is: how will they die? Not well, it turns out. Also he looks like the Michelin man but that's a whole other post.

-Anyway to retrieve the thread: Interesting monsters. The genius of the first Alien--and nearly all the best parts of all the later Alien and Predator movies--is it turns learning about the interesting monsters into the plot.

-The technique: rationing out the information on the interesting monster scene by scene, piece by piece, kill by kill.

-Failure means: wasting information, wasting kills, and, by extension, wasting characters. Letting the monster chew through the cast before the cast gets to chew on the monster.

-Again, Lovecraftian: the scenes in The Call of Cthulhu where we learn about Cthulhu are more interesting that what Cthulhu actually does at the end (with the Swede and the boat and all that).

-It's all a slow tease, a show whose content is slow revelation. It's why there's this curious deflating effect when you see a Wiki full of information on the creatures, like everything fun is mashed down into a statblock. The Predator tribe is called the Yautja? Did you know that? I didn't. Somehow I wish I still didn't? I want the mystery.

It's like looking at the lyrics to your favorite song all typed out. "Oooh, ye-ahh, baby" I mean yes that's the words but...it felt different in the song.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Note on The Vampire 5e Story

 In case you missed it, I asked readers to vote on whether they wanted to hear the whole story on Vampire 5e--I set the threshold at 100 votes and reached it, so I will be getting to work on that, collecting all the receipts etc.

My plan is to have it up in early May, just so you know.

Here's a foldy map I drew:

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Now It Can Be Told--If Any of You Care

So, two of the most aggressive harassers online--people responsible for more hate directed against me and the other D&DW/PS crew since 2011 than almost everyone else put together--got cancelled yesterday: Olivia Hill and her spouse, Filamena Young. 


Olivia's girlfriend claimed that she was abusive, lied all the time, and played victim constantly to escape responsibility for doing fucked up things.

  • If Olivia's girlfriend is telling the truth: this is exactly what I have said for years about them except when I said it I had proof. Olivia is an abuser and Filamena is, too.
  • If Olivia's girlfriend is lying: it means Olivia and Filamena want a benefit-of-the-doubt in this situation after demanding it not be extended to others. Which means they are abusers.

Anyway that means an even fifteen of the folks who were involved in the smear campaign against me have themselves been outed as abusive. I have a question for readers, right after the list...

1. Olivia Hill (former Vampire et al Onyx Path designer--girlfriend says she lied all the time, is abusive, and plays victim when she's caught, which is exactly what I've always said Olivia does)

2. Filamena Young (former Vampire et al Onyx Path designer--enabled Olivia's abuse)

3. Brandon Dixon (Swordsfall, called out on twitter as a creep by a fan)

4. Adam Koebel (Dungeon World/ Streamer, caught on tape being creepy)

5. PH Lee (Bliss Stage, Hot Guys Making Out, storygamer, cancelled for their edgy games--after making fake allegations about rape)

6. Ben Chong (various "games about relationships, storygamer--admitted to being a sexual abuser)

7. Sean Patrick Fannon (Savage Rifts--admitted to being a sexual harasser)

8. BlackHatMatt (RPGnet moderator--accused of rape)

9. Tyler Carpenter (Battletech, storygamer--admitted to sexual harassment)

10. The folks at Green Ronin (who either committed sexual misconduct or handled it poorly in the case of C.A. Suleiman)

11. Shoe Skogen (my ex's friend, outed as an alleged abuser after being made an OSR discord mod as a reward for harassing me)

12. Elizabeth Sampat (storygamer, ex-girlfriend and enabler of Gamergate-related sucide Alec Holowka)

13. Jared Cassady aka AuraTwilight aka Paimon Prowler (ran the OSR Discord, outed as an alleged abuser by fellow greaser furry hypnotism enthusiasts I am not making this up I swear)

14.  Oliver Darkshire (DMsguild author--pissed of fellow members of LGBTQIA+ community by publishing a D&D book about queer villains)

15. Luke Crane (Burning Wheel, Head of Community at Kickstarter, stepped down for helping Adam Koebel even after he got cancelled)


Olivia and Filamena finally being exposed for what they really are makes it safe(r) for me to tell a part of the RPG story that nobody really knows yet.

However, there's another problem and that's: it's possible nobody fucking cares. I got cancelled because people believed things without evidence from "people they trusted"--even when the "people they trusted" turn out to be liars and abusers, nobody seems to connect the dots.

So, I will only tell this story if there is unusual and atypical evidence that some of you out there actually care.

If I get 100 comments from a 100 distinct accounts (none of them banned) on this post, I will tell the whole story of what happened with Vampire 5e--why it turned out how it did, why it was treated by Paradox the way it was almost as soon as it came out, why the launch didn't come out as planned, what went on behind the scenes with me, Kenneth Hite, Martin Ericsson and everyone else and how many online jerks were actually involved. I have never told anyone this and only the people who worked on it know the whole truth. And I have the receipts.

Vote if you care.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

What Are You Playing?

 Simple questions, leave your answers in the comments

1) What tabletop RPG are you playing?

(We're playing D&D in Cube World, as usual)

2) What are the players up to?

(The girls just went into a shark god temple, got to the last room, decided "we're too low level for this" turned around and started a raid on a bandit camp in some ruins.)

Also, there's a new module up in The Store.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Wow. WOW.

Nobody wants this to be a Daily Gamer Drama Blog but jesus:

So it's Wednesday, and on Saturday I first posted about wow we had three people in the RPG world cancelled in the same week and surprise all of them were people who'd harassed me, and that I'd warned people about.

And I thought, well, that's enough of that, better post about hobgoblins or something before....oh fuck and here's another.

We can no longer do a D12 table, because that's 13:

1. Oliver Darkshire (DMsguild author--pissed of fellow members of LGBTQIA+ community by publishing a D&D book about queer villains)

2. Luke Crane (Burning Wheel, Head of Community at Kickstarter)

3. Brandon Dixon (Swordsfall)

4. Adam Koebel (Dungeon World/ Streamer)

5. PH Lee (Bliss Stage, Hot Guys Making Out, storygamer)

6. Ben Chong (various "games about relationships, storygamer)

7. Sean Patrick Fannon (Savage Rifts)

8. BlackHatMatt (RPGnet moderator)

9. Tyler Carpenter (Battletech, storygamer)

10. The folks at Green Ronin (who either committed sexual misconduct or handled it poorly)

11. Shoe Skogen (my ex's friend, outed as an alleged abuser after being made an OSR discord mod as a reward for harassing me)

12. Elizabeth Sampat (storygamer, ex-girlfriend and enabler of Gamergate-related sucide Alec Holowk

13. Jared Cassady aka AuraTwilight aka Paimon Prowler (runs the OSR Discord)

At the current rate of four per week, literally all of the people who attacked me will be cancelled by the end of 2021. I believe in you.

EDIT: April 6, less than a month later--Olivia Hill and Filamena Young have been cancelled.
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Monday, March 8, 2021

Still not seeing a pattern?

Reposted because the original was posted on a weekend and it's important:

So, AuraTwilight, aka Paimon Prowler has been accused of being an abuser and no longer runs the OSR Discord.

So, as I suggested we might a few days ago, we now have a D12 table:

1. Luke Crane (Burning Wheel, Head of Community at Kickstarter

2. Brandon Dixon (Swordsfall)

3. Adam Koebel (Dungeon World/ Streamer)

4. PH Lee (Bliss Stage, Hot Guys Making Out, storygamer)

5. Ben Chong (various "games about relationships, storygamer)

6. Sean Patrick Fannon (Savage Rifts)

7. BlackHatMatt (RPGnet moderator)

8. Tyler Carpenter (Battletech, storygamer)

9. The folks at Green Ronin (who either committed sexual misconduct or handled it poorly)

10. Shoe Skogen (my ex's friend, outed as an alleged abuser after being made an OSR discord mod as a reward for harassing me)

11. Elizabeth Sampat (storygamer, ex-girlfriend and enabler of Gamergate-related sucide Alec Holowk

12. Jared Cassady aka AuraTwilight aka Paimon Prowler (runs the OSR Discord)

And guess what Jared has in common with all these other disgraces to gaming?

I'm going to ask the same question I've asked for years: how many more of these people have to go down before what's going on here becomes clear?

If somebody doesn't like the Guy Who Asks Questions how hard is it to figure out they're hiding something?
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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Still not seeing the pattern?

So, AuraTwilight, aka Paimon Prowler has been accused of being an abuser and no longer runs the OSR Discord.

So, as I suggested we might three days ago, we now have a D12 table:

1. Luke Crane (Burning Wheel, Head of Community at Kickstarter

2. Brandon Dixon (Swordsfall)

3. Adam Koebel (Dungeon World/ Streamer)

4. PH Lee (Bliss Stage, Hot Guys Making Out, storygamer)

5. Ben Chong (various "games about relationships, storygamer)

6. Sean Patrick Fannon (Savage Rifts)

7. BlackHatMatt (RPGnet moderator)

8. Tyler Carpenter (Battletech, storygamer)

9. The folks at Green Ronin (who either committed sexual misconduct or handled it poorly)

10. Shoe Skogen (my ex's friend, outed as an alleged abuser after being made an OSR discord mod as a reward for harassing me)

11. Elizabeth Sampat (storygamer, ex-girlfriend and enabler of Gamergate-related sucide Alec Holowk

12. Jared Cassady aka AuraTwilight aka Paimon Prowler (runs the OSR Discord)

And guess what Jared has in common with all these other disgraces to gaming?

I'm going to ask the same question I've asked for years: how many more of these people have to go down before what's going on here becomes clear?

If somebody doesn't like the Guy Who Asks Questions how hard is it to figure out they're hiding something?
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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Pattern? Anyone?


So two more of the game designers who participated in the smear campaign about me got called out for being creeps since my last post. (I was wrong, I thought they would cancel Daniel Fox next.) Anyway, that brings the count to...

1. Luke Crane (Burning Wheel, Head of Community at Kickstarter

2. Brandon Dixon (Swordsfall)

3. Adam Koebel (Dungeon World/ Streamer)

4. PH Lee (Bliss Stage, Hot Guys Making Out, storygamer)

5. Ben Chong (various "games about relationships, storygamer)

6. Sean Patrick Fannon (Savage Rifts)

7. BlackHatMatt (RPGnet moderator)

8. Tyler Carpenter (Battletech, storygamer)

9. The folks at Green Ronin (who either committed sexual misconduct or handled it poorly)

10. Shoe Skogen (my ex's friend, outed as an alleged abuser after being made an OSR discord mod as a reward for harassing me)

11. Elizabeth Sampat (storygamer, ex-girlfriend and enabler of Gamergate-related sucide Alec Holowka


One more will make a D12 table.

So, leave a comment guessing which of my large-follower-count harassers will be next. My top contenders are:

    Daniel Fox (of Zweihander) likely for some insensitivity motivated by being a relentless marketing bro

    Rob Donoghue (of Evil Hat) likely for being the kind of person stupid enough to call a Jew a Nazi

    Olivia Hill (formerly of White Wolf and Onyx Path) likely related to Shoe Skogen accusing her of sexual harassment.

    Emmy Allen (aka Cavegirl, of Gardens of Ynn, likely for (this hasn't happened yet but it seems likely) not delivering on her Kickstarter, thus getting the people she's pissed off with her 4chan stuff to be brave enough to admit she lies all the time.

Oh thank you, voice of morality

Friday, February 26, 2021

Secret Wars Toys As A Parable of Design, Detail and Giving People What They Want

This is a design-is-not-engineering parable:

It should've worked perfectly.

Mattel--fresh off the success of He-Man--decided to make some superhero toys with Marvel. 

You know Marvel, right? The company that currently dominates the entire entertainment market with a gloved fist?

So they gathered ten-year old boys together in a focus group. They said to them "Listen, ten-year-old-boys, what is it that you desire?"

The ten year old boys spoke:

1-Weapons

2-Vehicles and bases

3-The word "secret"

4-The word "war"

That's what tested well.

So they went to Marvel Comics and said "Listen, Marvel, you make the comics, we'll make the toys. Just make sure it has that stuff." Thus was born a comic book called Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars, (over in the UK, a little earlier, the comic anthology 2000AD polled its readers about the themes they liked and they voted for "future war" and thus the comic Rogue Trooper was born). Marvel head Jim Shooter wrote a 12-issue battle royale in another dimension featuring all of the company's most popular heroes: the Avengers, the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Hulk, etc. Mattel made toys in the now-mandatory Star-Wars-like scale. Sales reps went to comic shops and toy stores and hyped them all up and down.

And...

...it didn't work. Well, the comic worked: the first issue sold 800,000 copies. Which is a lot. But the toys, they were not that popular. Again: they should've been. Marvel Comics at the literal height of their popularity with kids (they had recently turned down an offer to buy DC) plus toys, in the middle of The Original Toy Tie-In Decade. It didn't take.

First off you'll notice or remember--the toys sucked:

But it's important to remember what they sucked compared to--it was 1984--two of the most toyetic properties of the late 20th century had just arrived:



Marvel had vehicles! And weapons! And twenty years of good will! Plus a best-selling comic and yet the Marvel toy line wasn't a patch on these newcomers. Why?

Well Transformers and GI Joe had their own cartoons, but the toys were also cooler--and more detailed. And it's important to recognize what that detail meant. Marvel put very little effort into the design of the vehicles and weapons and stuff:                                              

...it's like a...War of the Worlds walker thing that two guys can sit in? With...rays? There is no love in that war walker. But maybe more important it doesn't mean anything. And here's what I mean by that:

Look at GI Joe and Transformers: Roadblock has a fully-automatic machine gun, because he's a big guy and the only one strong enough to carry it, Snake-Eyes has an uzi, because Snake-Eyes is the mysterious cool guy and uzis were cool back then, Soundwave turns into a tape-player and he has tiny other robots that come out of the tape-player, Megatron has a giant cannon on his arm because when he transforms hsi whole body into a gun it's the scope on the gun. And the robots turn into these mundane things because they're hiding on Earth in disguise. Every visual detail builds the world and also has a clue to the narrative (a narrative echoed in the cartoons, comics and the little data-files on the back of the toy box). That gun platform in Secret Wars? It just tells you they're in space. And would like to shoot you.

Of course Marvel had visual world-building: Captain America has that stars-and-stripes shield because he was created as a patriotic propaganda tool in WW2, the Hulk's pants are ripped because he transforms unwillingly from human into monster, etc. but the foundational mistake of Secret Wars--from a toy-selling perspective--was to have the story take place on another planet, light-years away from the world Marvel had already built. The characters were all Marvel, but the focus-grouped selling-point--those vehicles and weapons and bases--didn't have anything to do with the ongoing Marvel story that dozens of creators had already put decades of work into.

If the toys had come with the X-Mansion, Avengers Mansion, the Fantasticar, and Doom's Castle, the line might've done better, but I think the real nail in the coffin might've been the shields.

Every Marvel character came with a shield and this was a terrible idea. Somewhere a toy exec is going "But we're giving these kids more stuff? Who doesn't want more?". But, to a kid, nothing marks this toy line as some off-brand ignorable just-a-cut-above-Hulk-shampoo tat as these shields--they announce immediately that this toy line is detached from the story of Marvel. Why would the fucking Hulk have a shield? With his secret identity head on it? The shields don't even appear in the Secret Wars comic--but even if they did, they would just point to these toys being part of this inessential, skippable, temporary pocket-universe. The shields:

    -tell you nothing about the Marvel world and its story, and

    -tell you that the toy line is going to be characterized by stuff like this instead of things which do tell you the details of the world and its story

With GI Joe and Transformers you had to look at the toys because every inch of them told you something about the character. Where does Grimlock's T-rex head go when he transforms into a robot? Go to a friends' house and look at him. The Marvel toys tell you less than the art you've already seen.

Marvel trading-cards--something with way less genuine play value than these toys--did way better. Because they promised some contribution to the story--one series had each heroes win-loss percentage ont he back, f'rinstance.

The broader point is no ten-year-old boy is going to go "I want toys with distinctive details that feed my sense of exploring an alternate world as large and imperfectly-knowable as our own". They're going to go "I like detachable weapons" and end up with Iron Man holding a fucking lenticular shield with Tony Stark's head on it.

Most people who saw all these toys as a kid could probably tell you now that they weren't going to trip over themselves to get the Marvel toys (even if they couldn't tell you why)--but the toy execs couldn't. And this was even though the design principles they were using ("toy guns good") were solid. You can't really design from the outside-in. You have to have ideas about why what you want people to love should be lovable.

Moral of the story: beware of "design principles". Love what you're doing and build out from there.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Cesaire




A place of great waterfalls, green-blue jungle and wide, bloodstained savannah.



The Gods in Cesaire


All gods have visited Cesaire, but when they visit, they must walk on two legs. When in Cesaire the gods may only be the size of their worshippers. For this reason, many have died there. In death, they grow again, and mingle with the stone which makes up the Cube.


Currently the most widely-worshipped are:


  • Vorn, god of iron, rust and rain, who is known locally as Vorgun, and, when in Cesaire, is female.
  • The Leopard God.
  • Tiamat, The Glistening One.
  • Rangda, Queen of All Spiders.



Customs


Costume

As the gods walk among their worshippers, it is common for those on sacred business (the businesses of ritual, treasure-hunting, murder, great questing or war) to go about masked or in strange disguises, so that the gods may not know them. Conversely, sometimes costumes are worn to attract or enlist the aid of particular gods.


The Hour of Knives

Despite this, human lives may only be taken between the hours of 3 and 4 am, lest the dreaded Hybrid Curse of All Gods be summoned on the murderer. This prevents a great deal of open warfare.


Events and Calendar


Death’s Parade—Death, the Second God, visits Cesaire once per year, and takes a tour throughout the entire continent. His skull-face luridly painted, he walks in a tattered blue robe and carries a staff made from the bone of an unknown animal. The dead rise from their graves and follow, then follow. As the parade approaches their homes, the living paint their own faces white so as to be mistaken for the dead.


The Gleam Tide—Each summer, the tides bring in the cargo from sunken ships. Coastal villages and port cities open the Gleaming Season with a childrens’ festival dedicated luck and beach-scavenging.


Feast of All Heroes—Once per year, all civilized cities of Cesaire throw a feast, to which all the heroes who have rendered great service to the city-state or the nation are fed and feted.


Night of the Vampire—On the last day of the harvest, all cities and villages are visited by one vampire each. Lines of sacred salt are drawn around the perimeters of civilized areas, of every home, and around the cribs of all children. Bold boys and girls dare each other to challenge the vampire, though, tragically, more fail than succeed.


Days of Testing—Most human societies within Cesaire have Days of Testing, where those youths who wish to embark on dangerous life-paths are challenged. Those who succeed act as waitstaff at the Feast of All Heroes


  • The First Test of the Priest and Shaman: Typically involves taking something of value to a distant temple of the same faith.
  • The Second Test of the Priest and Shaman: Typically involves finding a god somewhere and asking them a question of importance to the local priesthood.
  • The First Test of All Thieves: Typically involves stealing something of great value from another nation.
  • The Second Test of All Thieves: Typically involves stealing something of great value from the gnolls, vervets or chameleon women.
  • The First Test of All Warriors: Typically involves hunting down an dangerous animal that has been plaguing the village or city.
  • The Second Test of All Warriors: Typically involves rescuing a prisoner of another faction.
  • The First Test of Wizards: Typically involves entering the Dream Jungle and surviving three sleep-cycles or a fixed number of hours of sleep (usually 24).
  • The Second Test of Wizards: Typically involves bringing back a rare item from the Dream Jungle or from a rival wizard.
  • The First Test of Warlords: Given to older warriors just before they are given troops to command, this test involves defeating defeating at least ten gnolls out on the open plains of The Place of Screaming with a force no larger than half their size.
  • The Second Test of Warlords: This test involves defeating at least ten chameleon women in the Dream Jungle with a force no larger than half their size.




Typical Adventures, Quests, and Assignments for Adventurers, Native and Local


  • Gnolls have enslaved an entire village and have them building a stronghold high in cliffs. Free the slaves and take vengeance.
  • A star has allegedly fallen deep within the Dream Jungle: investigate.
  • Find and defeat a platoon of enemies somewhere in the Dream Jungle during the Hour of Knives.
  • Enlist a distant group of rebels to aid a local faction against their enemies.
  • Find the leaders of an opposing faction and negotiate a temporary alliance with them against a horde of gnolls or foreigners.
  • Find an obscure god in the Dream Jungle and enlist their aid against another faction.
  • Something is making the animals around the Lake of Translucent Mist hostile—investigate.

*For foreigners only: A faction enlists you to pretend to make “first contact” with another faction, acting as merchants from another land. You will be asked to sabotage the target faction’s war efforts or liberate a prisoner or artifact.


Note on sourcing/appropriation/complaining etc:


You can have one of two opinions on African-inspired game stuff--


1-Nobody who isn't black or African should make it ever


2-Well, they can but only if they did their research.


On the first criteria, I obviously fail. On the second: if you insist I name-drop who I read and talked to before writing my game stuff I can, but it would be hard to name a hurdle I didn't jump. I am 100% sure I talked to more contemporary African artists than you think I did. And at least know where Cesaire got its name before asking.


This plus all the rest of a 17-page Cesaire module is available now in The Store for 20$ (25$ if you use Onlyfans).



Tuesday, February 2, 2021

To Shanna Malcolm (re: muppet tits)

I saw the news that you're going to be in a D&D show--congratulations! I hear there will be muppets.

I'm also scared for you because you're about to be extremely harassed a lot by assholes online. These are assholes I know. The reason is because you wanted your D&D muppet to have big tits:







So, first: I'm sorry. I tried for a long time to point out these folks were a problem, it didn't work. These folks aren't random 4chan trash--Orion Black is a former WOTC freelancer with one of the largest twitter followings because, in addition to participating in all the usual clout-building-via-harassment-exercises, they got hired by- and then yelled extensively at-, official D&D, Hans Cumming was a big deal in organizing RPG awards and has actual pull in the industry, etc. These people are actually taken seriously. 

Since I have extensive experience with running a D&D-themed show with women who wanted their characters to have big tits and then being attacked by them about it, here's what to expect:

1. You will be harassed. This goes without saying: you're a woman of color on the internet and you've made a choice about tits that a very nerdy group of mostly-men don't like. However, this harassment might be different than what you've experienced before...

2.  You will be erased. Michael Phillips up there is a good example--your decision about what to do with your character has been reduced to a "half-assed attempt to justify" something your Evil Corporate Overlords want to do. This is because it is morally inconvenient for this white nerd to acknowledge that marginalized people they allegedly want to defend don't care about all their dumb nerd shit.

3. Your friends and allies will be harassed. You'll notice some of them up there do acknowledge you exist. Some of the harassers will be self-aware enough to do that, which means they will default to simply pretending you don't exist and attacking the first not-obviously-marginalized people connected to you and pretending your muppets' tits was there idea. The puppeteer, the DM, but probably mostly the people at D&D.

Ah, it's starting already:



4. Your muppets tits will be considered an important datapoint. Since all indie RPG people are pathologically worried about what the Coca-Cola of the ttrpg industry is up to, your muppet's tits will be used to raise the stakes in any conversation about representation. Your muppet boobs will be used as evidence in arguments about D&D being bad that you will never see. 


5. Lots of these harassers' friends will be fine with your muppet's tits, but they'll stay quiet. Basically tabletop RPG people have to pretend that women don't have varied and nuanced ideas about how they want to be represented because sacred crackpot Ash Kreider says boob armor is bad and other people in the indie scene can't be seen to public disagree with them. The internet dynamics where the people with the most reasonable take participate least in the discussion unfortunately apply here as well. You will have customers, fans and supporters. They will not help you.

6. These raised stakes will result in a conversation, from which you will be excluded: This is the saddest, stupidest, and most self-defeating part. Your decisions will be fought over, but no-one will talk to you.

Since there is:

A) Tremendous subcultural pressure on respected RPG commentators to agree that boobs are bad or else be quiet and lose work, and

B) Tremendous subcultural pressure not to admit they're disagreeing with the black woman whose choice they are attacking, and

C) You're dealing with online nerds who conflicting needs to always complain and always avoid confrontation with whoever they're complaining about even when it's not someone from a marginalized group they want to speak for and over...

...there will be a raging discussion of the meaning of your muppet's tits and you will be ignored during it. The idea that you are a person who might have had reasons for your decision or might even have already thought about its socio-cultural implications and come to your own conclusions before they did will be ignored. The nerds casually assume they are smarter than you--so much smarter that it does not even occur to them to consult you when complaining about your decision.

The idea that you are even a human who can be consulted when discussing your decision will be quietly swept under the rug so that the idea that you should be consulted as part of any discussion about your decision isn't even on the table.

Despite the mob's insistence that "debate" is an icky masculine-coded strategy for discussing issues, the idea of employing some alternate soft-coded strategy like inviting you in to have a conversation about their ideas will not so much be dismissed as literally never considered. Repeat: It does not occur to them to treat you as a person.


Seriously--why would this white genius not simply talk to you if they had a problem with your decision?

Hopefully none of this will matter. With luck, your show will be popular enough that these nerds will see the fight they're picking isn't worth it and will just ignore you altogether and this can be treated as the unbelievably terrible internet trash that it is. If not, it will suck and you will continue to be discussed and ignored unless you eventually stop working on the show and start saying things the scoldy mob already agrees with.

Although you probably will never see this, I am genuinely sorry we haven't been able to fix this problem for creators down the line. I tried, but not hard enough. I hope your show does well.

-Z