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The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings.
-Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges
When famas go on a trip, when they pass the night in a city, their procedure is the following: one fama goes to the hotel and prudently checks the prices, the quality of the sheets, and the color of the carpets. The second repairs to the commissariat of police and there fills out a record of the real and transferable property of all three of them, as well as an inventory of the contents of their valises. The third fama goes to the hospital and copies the lists of the doctors on emergency and their specialties.
After attending to these affairs diligently, the travelers join each other in the central plaza of the city, exchange observations, and go to a café to take an apéritif. But before they drink, they join hands and do a dance in a circle. This dance is known as “The Gayety of the Famas.”
When cronopios go on a trip, they find that all the hotels are filled up, the trains have already left, it is raining buckets and taxis don’t want to pick them up, either that or they charge them exorbitant prices. The cronopios are not disheartened because they believe firmly that these things happen to everyone...
-Cronopios Y Famas, Julio Cortazar, tr. Paul Blackburn
The Merchant is a blue skinned man sitting on a blue-green rug next to some cards, a small chest, a bag, and a knife. He is wearing a mask covering his face and a blue cloak. He acts friendly towards the player and talks to them while they view and purchase his wares.
-Slay the Spire Wiki
There is a specific genre--or maybe just category--of fantasy I'm going to call "Bottle Fantasy". The simplest way to describe Bottle Fantasy is literally no-one has a normal life.
Let me be precise, though:
While most imaginative fiction (from the Godfather to Lord of the Rings) simply tells a story which focuses on something more exciting than human life as we know it, Bottle Fantasy takes place in a whole universe with no clear place recognizable human life as we know it. In a Bottle Fantasy, nobody gets born, then lives a whole life that looks (at least from the outside, regardless of the physical laws involved) like one that would happen in the real world, and then dies in a real-world way.
This isn't the same as just an imaginary world or universe--Middle Earth, it is strongly implied, either is the past of our world or one a lot like it, which means it both has people living normal lives in it and that it might one day mellow out and look like our world. Star Trek makes a place for our lives: in the past, Star Wars posits itself in the past--and far away. Moreover, all these fictional worlds at least want us to believe they have basically recognizable economies, human biologies (decapitation kills humans), etc.
Aside from the absence of Christianity, vanilla D&D could plausibly take place in the world that a very superstitious peasant suspects is just outside his door.
To simplify, hopefully: in most fantasy, there are dragons but the average peasant hasn't seen one. In Bottle Fantasy, there aren't average peasants and there never have been. All people eat starlight instead of meat, or there may be no people, only spheres, or all people are just stacks of owls in costumes.
Bottle Fantasy is in a bottle--while things may be analogous to our world, there is no in-world connection to our normal world.
Pac-Man, as presented in the original video game, is technically a Bottle Fantasy: there are no people, only Pac-Man, ghosts, dots and fruit. In Borges' Library of Babel there is literally no world except the library full of hexagons.
The world Julio Cortaza describes above in Cronopios Y Famas might be a Bottle Fantasy--there are doctors and taxis, but it's suggested that all people in the world of the book are Cronopios, Famas or Esperanzas--creatures who all act in a stylized way. It is unclear whether the doctors and taxi drivers are people who act in a normal way other than giving trips to Cronopios et al.
Like most genre categories, there's a spectrum. With "Total Bottle Fantasy" (world unconnected to our own operating on rules all its own) to "Almost Bottle Fantasy", some examples:
Some general characteristics of Bottle Fantasies in different media:
In sculpture, they talk about additive and subtractive sculpture--in additive sculpture you pile up material (say: clay, or legos) until it looks like the thing, in subtractive sculpture you carve away (stone, or the like). In fiction, we can talk about reality like a material: there are media where you start with a real thing, like actors on a stage, and alter them to seem like characters in your story, and there are media where you start with nothing--an empty canvas or page--and add things.
The pattern here is: if working a medium starts with reality and then alters it in order to produce its basic material, then Bottle Fantasy is unusual, if working in a medium starts with nothing and getting something to resemble reality is itself a complex act of craft, Bottle Fantasy is more common, since a fantastic world is often easier to produce than a real one. Bottle Fantasy is easy in painting (look: a world consisting of a circle and nothing else) and hard in theater (every actor needs to be disguised as not-an-actor, the stage might have to be rigged with wires and mirrors to present alternate physics).
Oddly, this puts tabletop RPGs on the "start with reality, then alter it" side of the equation.
Bottle Fantasy in RPG or live-action film are, thus, very ambitious projects. Building a world that functions for hours without any parts that default to the real world (or at least some shared conception of it) is a bit like trying to build a car that works without gas or electricity or even steam.
Bottle Fantasies are, almost axiomatically, imaginative but inaccessible. And the more imaginative they are, the less accessible they become.
Probably the ur-example in tabletop is Empire of the Petal Throne / Tekumel --while there are farmers in Tekumel, they're from no extant culture (when it is earthlike, Tekumel itself mixes South Asian and Mesoamerican influence, so you can't rely on one or the other the way you can assume anything left undescribed in Middle Earth is just "as you guess England circa 1200 would be") and the layers of ritual and invented religion intentionally insert themselves between players and their assumptions. Even Tekumel has a "visitation" narrative built in--players in the original game are supposed to be untutred foreigners. It might not be technically Bottle Fantasy as I've defined it, but it's close and presents the problems and opportunities of the genre.
Bottle Fantasy in RPGs is kind of great, in that it appeals to the game-masterish desire to invent everything from the ground up--"All arrows are petrified snakes here because there's no wood!" and it's kind of horrible in that it forces you to invent everything from the ground up--"Uh, if there's no wood, is there wine? What's it aged in? Wait, if there's no wood, are there vines?" etc.
I'm going to use an example, which is almost always a bad idea.
I'm going to use an example because it shows the extent of the problem, it shows that the problem still happens now today, and it shows that I haven't exaggerated or distorted the problem. If you have a blog you know what happens if you use an example: people comment on the example, not the point. You go "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a community affected by global climate change" and someone will comment "My cat's breath smells like cat food". Try not to be distracted from the point by the example.
So, This Happened
A relatively successful independent game designer (not I nor anyone I have much history with) wrote a short, satirical tale.
In his tale, he described a hypothetical indie designer writing a game that (depending on how you interpret the tale) is either very niche or very bad. The imaginary designer complains--to comic effect for the hundreds of people who shared the tale--that D&D is making their niche or bad game harder to sell. The Take is a joke at the imaginary niche or bad designer's expense. That's it.
Now, there are lots of things to say about the story here:
So, I just finished up that series on what happened behind the scenes on Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition. Your response has been good.
I'm planning on doing a series on the whole saga with Mike Mearls, creative head of Dungeons and Dragons, going in to the conspiracy theories there about when I consulted on D&D 5e, the lawsuits, etc. with receipts. It, unsurprisingly, features a lot of the same characters...last time I asked folks who were genuinely interested to leave a comment. I'm going to ask a little more this time, as this story is going to require more work from me.
"Shut Up And Take The Pain"
So we talked about the hatemob calling trans creators' work transphobic, and calling Jews Nazis, and siccing dictators on game designers but this chapter contains the worst part. I'm tempted to skip straight to it, but first I want to spend some time with the other people who worked on the game.
So you know what I think and you saw some of what Kenneth Hite had to deal with because of Evil Hat hatemobbing on Vampire--but what about everybody else? While it started with me, Ken and The Art Director, by the end I'd been gone for over a year and there was a whole team of socialist Swedes and other RPG creatives working on the new edition.
Privately they all said a lot about being angry at the mob, but people also talked about depression, mental breakdowns, and destroyed careers. I'm going to stick to quoting the less personal stuff, so none of them get in trouble.
This is during the second wave, when Dog With Dice wrote the Jews-Are-Nazis article:
Someone else, much later, after the damage had been done...
In a world that made any sense, what happened to Vampire should have been a Pizzagate-style cautionary tale about the danger of believing conspiracy theories. And it should've been that immediately. Because--as-noted way at the beginning--sales were ok and more people signed a petition supporting the game than spread the conspiracy theories.
While a diplomatically-worded petition leaving the names of all the bad actors out couldn't save Vampire, the sentiment that spawned it should have at least been enough to prevent the situation generally in RPGs getting worse later--everyone looks at the steaming crater full of troll-takes where once there was a city and goes "Oh wow, what a mess, let's all agree not to do that again"--but it wasn't. By way of explanation, I'm going to zoom in on one example:
Meet Chris Handley, Chris has had a World of Darkness podcast for over ten years, Chris has written World of Darkness stuff for Storytellers Vault, and Chris was also someone who read this blog and liked my work. Years ago he said he wanted to be my friend on social media, so I added him.
One day, before all this, Chris and another WoD fan were talking in a thread casually about having a beer with Olivia Hill. I did literally the only thing any responsible adult seeing this could've done: I warned them and anyone reading the thread that Olivia Hill was a certifiable harasser and to watch the fuck out. Like: where Olivia lived, you could legitimately be arrested for doing the shit Olivia did to her colleagues. I didn't call Chris or Chris' friend names, I didn't act like they should've known already, I didn't say a word in anger. I just told them what I knew because obviously it's not ok to normalize the presence of someone known to be that dishonest and dangerous.
At the time, Handley thought this was just gosh darn rude and so...joined the hatemob. So far, so normal: you tell someone their trollfriend is a troll, they disagree and start smearing you, too. That's a normal day on the internet, but what happened next is what makes this a story:
So years later, after all the things I discuss in this series happened to Chris' beloved Vampire, Chris--being a relatively typical World of Darkness fan--is up in arms, Chris is completely pissed, Chris signs the petition supporting White Wolf, Chris has a phone conversation with the White Wolf guys in May 2017, Chris writes me to say...
And you would now expect this series of emails to end with "Thank you so much for trying to warn us--years before this happened to Vampire--about Olivia Hill because nobody else did. I am so sorry I didn't listen and I'm sorry I gave you any shit about it."
But it doesn't. Chris was actually writing to say he was still mad that I warned him and his friend about Olivia Hill. Here they were trying to talk about drinking beer with the delightful proven hatefactory Olivia Hill and here I had to go and say something unpleasant.
Remember the snakes have legs video?
This is how it ends:
The reason nobody took what happened to Vampire to heart in later years is that instead of doing anything about the harassers, people attacked anyone trying to warn them.
And it's somehow worse if you have receipts? In the middle of this, Patrick Stuart, my co-author on Maze of the Blue Medusa, had a mental breakdown and joined the hatemob. He wrote in his hatepost that while, yes, while Olivia Hill had done fucked up things, the fact I had pointed it out and collected evidence to prove what Hill was doing, in the form of her dozens of public posts, was insane and "creepy".
I want to write the next sentence nine-hundred times in letters of fire 300 feet high:
I don't know what kind of world anyone lives in where a creator can just make up a lie that a colleague threatened their children and that's not a Jesus shit, full-court press, all-hands on-deck, holy-fuck, mother-of-all-that-is-holy-and-unholy 100% epic emergency where that creator is recognized as a massive threat to anything they touch that you need to do something about asap. Chris knew Olivia was lying, Patrick knew Olivia was lying. And somehow their reaction was Zak, why are you telling people?
Let's leave out all the things I've reported and only talk about complaints other people have about her: Olivia's been thrown off twitter for harassment, Kickstarter backers on several projects have said Olivia ripped them off, she was thrown off RPGnet for doxxing, behind-the-scenes every full-time developer I've met calls her a piece of shit, Shoe Skogen says she sexually harassed her, and her girlfriend/employee Francita said she was an abuser. What does Olivia Hill have to do for it to be ok to call her out? Dynamite the Eiffel Tower? Hijack a schoolbus and eat the kids? Shoot your mom down in a public street and drop her corpse in lime?
And then on top of that: all the other stuff Olivia did. And then all the stuff Ettin did. And all the people from all the other forums and game companies. The most sympathetic and well-informed people decided it was not only better for them to do nothing, but that it was also bad to do something.
Paradox basically closed White Wolf down.
Robin Laws, probably the most respected voice in the game industry, has kept right on podcasting regularly with his friend Kenneth Hite--and still has publicly said nothing.
The Vampire team, despite being privately pissed-off and supportive of each other, has said nothing.
Olivia Hill smeared more people and grew her Twitter following to over 10k until her girlfriend called her out for abuse, at which point a few RPG people complained and then, well, nothing. She's suffered no consequences. She also said her "views have changed" since she first began her harassment campign.
Ettin kept on and smeared more people until I sued him.
Rob Donoghue at Evil Hat has seen zero consequences.
Crystal Frasier has seen less than zero consquences. WOTC hired her on the new Ravenloft.
And pretty much everyone else has either kept quiet, joined the hatemob or themselves been cancelled. A few have freaked out at their own behavior and left the game scene.
Literally no-one now publicly defends any of the accusations made against the game in any detail.
|I designed this and wish I hadn't|
You might have heard I was involved in a secret email conspiracy with Mike Mearls, longtime creative head of Dungeons & Dragons. You might've heard I sued him. You might've heard a lot of not-terribly-informed things spread by a lot of people already featured in the story you just read.
Next up, if anyone reading genuinely cares, I will tell the whole story, soup-to-nuts, with receipts, about what happened with Mike Mearls. I'll get you the details
tomorrow (EDIT: Within the week. I'm travelling.).
*Ooh, edit: Earlier I wrote she got permanently banned and made a new account, but I just realized (9:43pm Pacific 18 May) it's possible that Olivia changed her @ name on twitter to the new one, then some troll took her old @ name and got themself banned, thus resulting in her old twitter name having a ban notice due to no fault of her own. I have no way of knowing which, so I am defaulting to caution. She may be simply a lying abuser and not a lying abuser who has been permabanned from twitter.
Snakes Have Legs
Maybe you've seen this video. If you haven't and can't be bothered to click "play": A snake confronts a guy who is telling people snakes have legs. The snake doesn't have legs. The snake asks about the source:
It's 2018 and Vampire: The Masquerade, 5th edition--produced by White Wolf games, a division of Swedish video game company Paradox Interactive--is trucking on after weathering a variety of internet hoaxes, including:
Surely. SURELY. The RPG community will not fall for a third conspiracy theory from exactly the same guys who spread these? And, surely, surely, it wouldn't be a conspiracy theory about the same target? And surely, surely surely, if it did, then after what happened to Rob Donoghue at Evil Hat, at least no reputable company would join in?
Here we go.
So, again, I'm long gone by this point--I didn't write a word of the new Vampire tabletop game.
On November 8th, just a few months after "Jews are Nazis..." some snakes-have-legs-thinking-idiots retweeted yet another Ettin hate-take three-hundred and eighty-nine-times.
Once again, a guy who:
...was believed and shared and treated like something other than The Daily Testicle. This guy:
And, again, exactly like the incident five months before, actual adults with jobs in the mainstream RPG industry inexplicably helped him.
Cam Banks, formerly of Atlas Games and Margaret Weis productions, author of Marvel Heroic RPG, chipped in the day after Ettin started the ball rolling:now freelancing for WOTC):last chapter with Rob Donoghue, these are people who could have easily dealt with any perceived problems with their colleagues' work in a non-viral-hate way.
"Moral Masturbation at Somebody Else's Expense"
So that's how, but doesn't cover the why. Part of it is, as-discussed earlier, the hatemob had been obsessively looking for imaginary flaws in this game ever since White Wolf put out a video game with my name on it.
But as for why they're a hatemob in the first place, Crystal Frasier herself helpfully explained in a thread just this year:
So in the US, every Thanksgiving on Twitter, we're all reminded that when we go, on our holiday, to our turkey table, we must confront our racist uncle. We are encouraged to squint over the peas from the far end of the table, and call out his Trumpy, overtanned ass.
You've heard this one?
In the story, it's not the whole family who is racist--it's just this one uncle. But the rest of the family doesn't bring it up. The idea is: we all have convictions and know the right thing to do, but acting on it is a whole other thing.
Seldom discussed is why the job of calling out the Uncle falls only to the activist or the terrible teenager: it's because there are other motivations in the world besides doing the right thing--other loyalties.
Your progressive mom does not call out the racist uncle because he saved her from drowning in that lake when she was 12 and he was 14.
Your liberal dad does not call out the racist uncle because he owns a three-quarter share in their grocery store.
Your aunt does not call out the racist uncle because she hates arguments.
Your cousins don't call out the uncle because they're angling for the inheritance.
In the RPG community, Thanksgiving is GenCon, and the most consistent core of the family are those designers and publishers who've been coming back year after year after year for decades. They know central Indianapolis' bars and steak houses, they know whose table is usually where on the floor, they have lost dice beneath hotel couches in every state of the union. They are familiar names, people like Mike Mearls, Monte Cook and his handful of designers at MCG, Chris Pramas and Nicole Lindroos and Steve Kenson at Green Ronin, Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue at Evil Hat, Robin Laws and his Pelgrane folks, and Kenneth Hite--who wins an Ennie every year for best podcast (at minimum) along with Laws and is seen posing centerfold-style above with several other family members at the Ennies in the picture above--there are a few others.
Unlike many younger designers, these people are definitely not going anywhere. They made some choices a long time ago: they are sticking with this career forever.
They have a family-like relationship, and "family" does not mean "They all like each other" family means "Every one of them has a little bit of a relationship to every other one of them whether they want to or not." Family means: they're in a boat, the kind that can be rocked.
The major Thanksgiving Uncles here are Rob Donoghue and Fred Hicks at Evil Hat. The folks discussed in previous chapters--Olivia Hill, the Something Awful /tg goons and the RPGnetters who copy them--are their Donald Trump. They may not agree with everything Mr Trump does, but they donate to the cause and support him when it counts.
Most of these other designers and publishers, for the most part, want nothing to do with bottom-scraping trolls--often for the very selfish reason that they themselves have been targeted by RPGnet and company's omnidirectional rage at anyone with enough name recognition to score lolpoints off of.
But Evil Hat keeps inviting them over.
Anyone with a hate take (other than "Why does Evil Hat pay such low rates? And where are the people of color in your organization?") they invite them in. Evil Hat literally recruited off of Something Awful. Like someone who worked at Evil Hat literally waded on the /tg forum and said that if anyone wanted to get started in the RPGs they should totally contact them.
Rob Donoghue, the more-talkative face of Evil Hat, deals with questions about why Evil Hat does this exactly how a racist uncle responds to you asking about that whole Build A Wall thing. "Well, you know, it's to get a reaction, I just think..." Any words he can hang on to in order to maintain a facade of respectful distance from the hate he's signed on to.
So...the family doesn't talk about it. They read threads, they know gossip, they have people they don't respect, but they still have to drink together, eat together, be on panels together, have turkey together, get medals together. It's undiscussed.
The Dog and the Dice
So, if you remember back to Chapter Three, Olivia Hill, the hatemob had heard I was working at White Wolf on account of the Vampire video game I'd done with Sarah Horrocks. I'd been thrown off Vampire's 5th edition, but they had no idea--three more chapters to go and nothing in the story from here forward is about me--but they don't know that., which meant in their mind the game was still Tainted By Zakness.
This meant that when Vampire 5e was announced, the hatemob spent the next year raking over press releases, interviews, beta rules, and any other shred of Vampire news looking for excuses to attack it.
Remember: I was long gone. I didn't write a word of the new tabletop game.
People who still hung out on RPGnet--many of whom had no idea I'd ever been involved (or even who I was) followed the loudest and squeakiest wheels--Olivia Hill, Paul "Ettin" Matijevic, etc.--who had an axe to grind. Vampire 5e had to be problematic. Somehow. They were like those Japanese soldiers on the island of Lubang who kept fighting because they didn't know the war was over--except they were on the winning side.
|This means Fred read my blog, which is something his people call "stalking"|
So if you've been reading along, you know that most of the problems Vampire: The Masquerade 5e faced began with a small group of haters, most prominently former World of Darkness author Olvia Hill. She's responded to this unfinished series on her Twitter account, which, despite her being outed as an alleged abuser by her girlfriend, people still apparently follow:
|If being angry that porn stars do their job isn't being a prude literally what is?|