Thursday, April 30, 2009

Questions From Me, The Publisher, To You, The Potential Customer

The next month or three will be very busy, as I hope to have no less than four adventure modules out during that time. Two at the very least.

But I need some input. I don't know which game I should use to release these things, or whether I should use one at all. And for these things to be successful, they need to be convenient to use for you.

(Insect Shrine will be OSRIC since that's what I advertised all that time ago.)

So tell me...

Would you be more likely to buy a module that was "branded" and statted for one of the specific clones (Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, etc)?

Would you be less likely to buy a module that was specifically branded for a clone you're not using?

Would you be less likely to purchase an adventure that was not specifically for any of the clones, with general statting (for example: "In this room are six zombies," with no additional stats or notes, with unique or unusual creatures being listed along the lines of, "... armor class equal to chain plus shield...") that you would need to "convert" no matter which version you're playing?

(one thing I will not do is dual/triple/whatever stat blocks for the different games as it takes too much space and looks very unattractive on the page...)

What other thoughts and concerns do you, the buying public, have along these lines that I should be aware of?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"There are a lot of really crazy people in this hobby."

That's a James Maliszewski quote.

The comments to his post here also indicate that there are a lot of fruitcakes in this hobby.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Green Devil Face: Reviewed!

Here! Thanks Melan!

Green Devil Face Orders Update

All orders received since the last update went to the post office this morning.

The total sold is now 22 for #1 and 25 for #2.

Copies have already been received in North America as of yesterday, so if you were one of the first-day orderers, be on the lookout!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Death Frost Doom Artwork... and more!

New module is coming along splendidly. It's a combination of two adventures I've run before. Today is taken up with a TARGA call and making a One Page Dungeon entry (which, again, has seen actual play).

Here is the artwork that will be used for the cover (the cemetary) and one interior piece (one more to go), both by Laura Jalo:

The plan is when it is completed to send a sample copy off to a few online vendors and see if they'll be interested in picking it up. If so, it'll be a bit more expensive to cover the profit margins for me and them but hopefully it'll result in more total copies sold. If not, it'll be cheaper but just sold by me so likely far less sold.

Either way, Insect Shrine people will be able to get it direct from me for the cost of shipping + Paypal fee, and any profits from the thing go towards Insect Shrine costs (art costs mainly, these pieces here are a lot cheaper than the Insect Shrine pieces because they are done on A4 instead of A3 paper, meaning a lot less detail and time needed).

Friday, April 24, 2009

D&D is a Horror Game

Undead, curses, ancient tombs, forgotten civilizations, demons, devils, fell magic, bizarre monsters that turn you to stone or paralyze you or spirit you off for a year or kill you just by viewing them, etc.

Sudden death potentially behind every door.

Of course the players don't get scared, but if they don't get worried for their characters, I'm thinking that's a classic and true case of a referee not doing it right.

I consider most of the classic fantasy, and certainly the pulpy stuff, to effectively be horror as well. Or at least it would be if you remove the plot immunity of the protagonists. Lord of the Rings becomes quite the macabre tale if the Riders catch Frodo before he leaves the shire. Or the hobbits don't trust Aragorn at the Prancing Pony and are murdered in their sleep. Or if the Watcher eats Frodo before the door of Moria. Or if the Balrog snuffs everyone out. (or if Gollum just murders Bilbo on contact several years earlier...) Or... Or... Or...

Never mind The Frost Giant's Daughter if Conan had been any less a swordsman. Black Colossus? Iron Shadows in the Moon? Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser could have easily ended up as bloody stains on walls in Jewels in the Forest, Goodwin and O'Keefe and the rest might not have been as cordially received in Muria.

But if you're playing the scenario out without any prodding or predestined conclusion or narrative immunity, as if it's really happening, all of these things would be very possible outcomes to the situations encountered. In a game, you don't know whether you're playing the daring rogue in an adventure story who snatches riches from the jaws of death, or a victim destined to rot unburied in a morbid tale of greed gone bad and evil powers run amok.

nd even when the situation isn't horrific, it's tragic. King Arthur, Elric of Melniboné, Skafloc...

Every character who goes on any adventure worthy of the name risks an end such as Liane the Wayfarer suffered. Every treasure-seeking expedition risks the fate of Satampra Zeiros and Tirouv Ompallios.

I remember this when creating my adventures, my situations, my encounters. Exploration is one classic part of the game, but the discovery of the Dark and the Deadly is invariably the outcome of this exploration.

Adventurers in role-playing games aren't special because they are gifted, they are special because they are fools who have no regard for their own lives - else they'd do something far more sensible with their lives.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Putting Together Green Devil Face

As of 10:20pm (about 31 hours after they've gone on sale), I have sold 15 copies of Green Devil Face #1 and 18 copies of Green Devil Face #2. There are 5 contributor copies that need to go out as well. All of those are in envelopes and will be mailed first thing in the morning.

But how do we get from concept to mailing?

Step 1: Writing
The contributors and I first must write our material. Here is a close-up of the monitor at Command Center Theta, featuring one of my contributions to Green Devil Face #2, written in Microsoft Word. It must be said that the writing is the most important part of the whole thing, but it's also the easiest. It's all work from here.

Since I don't have pictures to show you, I'll just say Proofreading is step 1A and layout is step 1B. I hand the manuscript off to Maria to look over for any errors. I do all my layouts in Word, which gives a less than pro, but more than satisfactory result. I wouldn't do fancy layouts even if I had the expertise, and the even spacing of words across a line has never seemed a big deal to me... then again, I've been used to reading oddly laid-out music zines for years. I do have InDesign, but hell if I know how it works.

Step 2: The PDF
This is an easy step. I convert my finished Word file to a PDF. I have an ancient version of Adobe (6.something, I think) but it works decently. I use this to print out my booklets.

Step 3: The Printing
I have a piece of crap inkjet printer, which as I've learned over the past two days is completely inadequate for my current needs. My miscalculation on the per-page cost of printing is why I need to scoot up the price tonight. I went through 4 cartridges to get the orders ready. But even if it was cheap and efficient, it's slow. Printing out the 38 booklets, that's 540 A4 sides, effectively took all day (especially since I had to manually turn the pages over to do double-sided printing). I swear that thing only prints 2, maybe 3 pages a minute.

I've gone to an office supply store and talked to a salesman and figured out I need a nice cozy laser printer. 92€ plus 60€ for the cartridge, and it claims that it will print 2500 sheets on one cartridge at a speed of 18 pages a minute. I've currently got some limited edition CDs that I never listen to and have only kept because they're limited edition (like a frickin Rhapsody CD with pop-up monsters in the packaging) that are going up for auction in hopes of raising 150€ quickly.

Once I fix my printer issues, this entire process will be much more pleasant. And a lot faster. And much, much cheaper.

Step 4: Binding
While in Stockholm last month, we found this long stapler for 11€. We'd seen prices approaching 100€ for them here in Finland (which makes no sense at all), so we snatched it up. It works great, and is the single most important thing that allows me to make booklets at home.

Step 5: Trimming
When you fold a pile of paper, the outside edge is uneven. We're using a rotary cutter, which used to be used for Maria's sewing projects, to even out the edges. I also priced proper paper cutters (and at one point bought a cheapy crap-o doesn't-work one), but they approach 200€. Way later for that, as this works just fine.

Step 6: Crushing
OK, not crushing. But to make sure these things lay flat, we put them under the Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language for awhile. This picture is lame since I only thought to document the process when we had a final few left to make for the current orders. You should have seen the stack under there early in the day!

I keep alternating between saying "I" and "we." I do have to say that Maria is a saint. She was all excited watching me beam over the orders coming in steadily yesterday, and watching me freak out as I discovered the flaws in my plans today and offering to help out with many things.

Step 7: Stuffing the Envelope
This one also has a number of sub-steps that I don't have pictures of. When each order comes in, I enter it into my accounting database, and then I address the envelope by hand. I actually don't mind putting your addresses on these envelopes (although I'm sure the postal workers who have to decipher my handwriting wish I'd print the labels). It's putting my return address on all the envelopes that wears me down. At least I don't live in Britain. Have you seen what those addresses look like?

The final step, here at home anyway, is to lick the envelope. I went for the cheapest bulk envelopes I could find, and they are the old fashioned kind requiring some slobber to fasten. Yes, that's right, you get a free DNA sample with every purchase!

And tomorrow morning, mailing.

Now I know that it sounds like I'm complaining a lot, but I'm only really cranky about the printer. I really like this entire process. It probably would be saner to take it down to the local print shop to do, but I did that for Fantasy Fucking Vietnam, and it sold less than 10 copies. Can you say, "Bad marketing," boys and girls? Sure you can.

But I expect GDF has had its biggest single day, maybe if somebody gives it a glowing review I'll have another bump. And of course when future issues are released, that'll trigger some back issue sales as well. (...but I'll have a faster and cheaper and better printer by then... right, bidders?) But no crazy days like today outside of release days. I expect a long tail for these things, but I'm just a lunatic with a blog so only a clever few are going to pounce on the announcement immediately. No reason to have a big box full of stuff in the closet, especially when I'm not yet sure anybody gives a shit. If there's a steady string of releases that have sufficient interest, I'll start having the local Multiprint do all the printing work for me. (I can imagine selling a hundred or two of a release someday, but not enough to warrant a "real" print run, so yeah, Multiprint...)

But GDF is a community project and while I'll adjust prices accordingly to keep myself from losing money, I'm happy to do all this work at no real profit. However, I do have two smaller modules (Death Frost Doom, and, tentatively, For the Glory of St. McIver) I want to have out before a month goes by, both to be released using the method desribed in this blog. You'll forgive me if I want to make a few coins off of those (including that margin I talked about earlier that would make it possible for online vendors to pick it up), both for the effort put into them and for the gaming utility I fully intend them to provide, as well as to raise funds to get Insect Shrine paid off and out the door as well. Once those two modules are out and I have a little catalog to my name, I'll get set up at a pdf vendor or two and give that its proper attention.

I believe in print. Let's see where this goes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Green Devil Face Issues 1 and 2 Now Available!

Buy them here.

Reviewed here and here and here!

Green Devil Face #1

Green Devil Face #1 is a funhouse dungeon adventure by James Edward Raggi IV featuring over 50 detailed areas to be used as-is, or custom-fitted for your traditional fantasy game.

The dungeon itself is a collection of deadly traps, wild encounters, and unlikely situations, roughly themed to be poking fun at the traditional gaming scene. In this adventure, players can:

See a microscopic basilisk
Help a stoneworker understand carpentry
Explore the Hall of Many Pains
Meet Arne and learn about his son
Travel through time to the Vietnam War
Discover secrets of the Mad Mage!
... and much more...

Green Devil Face #1 was originally released as Fantasy Fucking Vietnam. It has a different layout, a new cover, and a new introduction, but the adventure itself is unchanged.

Originally written as a 0e adventure, Green Devil Face #1 is immediately compatible with all 0e, 1e, and Basic games and their clones.

28 pages.
3,00€, including postage.

Green Devil Face #2

Green Devil Face goes Community! A variety of traps, challenges, and tests of bravery from a number of authors come together between two perilous covers! Included in this issue:

The Eyes of Parsifur and Dunsane by Kent
Doppelganger Trap Room by Akseli Envall
Mummy Tar Trap Room of Death by Akseli Envall
Temple of Water by Akseli Envall
The Pylis Prison by J. Brian "Trollsmyth" Murphy
The Gem in the Skull by James Edward Raggi IV
The Hallway That Does Not Exist by James Edward Raggi IV
The Lever by James Edward Raggi IV
The Lumberjack is Not OK by James Edward Raggi IV
The Incredible Pedestal by Jeff Rients
Yet Another Stupid Giant Chessboard by Jeff Rients
Hungry Little Mammon by Wayne S. Rossi

Although intended for oe, 1e, and Basic games and their clones, Green Devil Face #2 is largely stat-free and thus easily used with any fantasy RPG.

24 pages.
3,00€, including postage.

Green Devil Face: What It Is and How You Can Contribute!

The Green Devil Face is a classic fantasy RPG trap. It’s obvious and out in the open, so no rolls need to be made to find it. It’s obviously odd, so players will spend time thinking (and arguing!) about what to do about it. And when some poor sucker sticks his head inside, it’s no one’s fault but his own, his fate decided entirely by his own decision, without being able to blame bad luck or a crappy roll.

I’ve pasted a copy of the original Green Devil Face illustration to the front of my referee binder (which contains the inspirational and rules material I use when preparing adventures) to always remind myself that the best traps are left out in the open, daring the characters to come play with them.

Green Devil Face, the zine, is a community project. It is intended to provide traditional fantasy RPG referees with game material that can be inserted as-is into their games. Detail is encouraged to give the reader the exact sense of how the author would play the trap out in-game, and of course the referee reading it is free to use that or substitute his own ideas as appropriate.

If you have a particularly original or clever trap, room, item, or tricky situation that you’ve used in one of your games and that you would like to share, submit it for publication in a future issue of Green Devil Face. We can’t pay anything, but you keep the rights to your work, and you get to see your name in print. All contributors get a copy of the final finished printed product.

GDF is also in need of an original logo, plus it would be nice to feature original artwork in future issues, so budding artists out there are encouraged to submit material as well.

A new issues will be released whenever 28 pages of content are filled, so submit now, and submit often!

Copies of Green Devil Face may be purchased here. Submissions and inquiries should be sent to lotfp (at) lotfp (dot) com.

A Quick Note While the Pleasure Slave is Proofreading


So close yet so far, and a perfect example of the little bubble we have thinking that information is so easy to come by. Hell, due to the guy's low post count the original poster could be a subtle troll.

I have a half-written post basically saying that there are wrong ways to play (in response to this - the lack of a One True Way doesn't equal a lack of many Really Damn False Ways) but decided I needed to be productive lately (Green Devil Face and then hopefully within two weeks a small module). I think creating a shopping list of qualities/stereotypes to authenticate an "old school 2e" experience is an express train to Not Getting It-ville.

I was going to say, "I think games worth playing are not bound to their release dates, and playing games for nostalgia purposes rather than just playing the game is just weird," but that's redundant redundant for anyone that's read this blog for 5 minutes, isn't it?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Green Devil Face: Another Update!

GDF#1 (FFV repackaged) is complete and I have the first copy in my hands.

All of the text for GDF#2 is formatted and ready, but several of the rooms are so detailed as to what's in them and exactly where that they really need maps/graphics, so I'll do that tomorrow morning/afternoon (or however long it takes), and then it's ready to go.

These zines will be literally hand-assembled, and I'm excited about the upcoming roll-out. I've done a preliminary guesstimate of how much I'll be charging, and the 28 page (plus cover) zine comes out to 2,46€ (about $3.20), including worldwide postage. First thing in the morning I'll be off to the office supply store to get exact cost figures but I don't imagine the final cost being very far off from that.

Two problems I'm worried about:

At these prices, they can't be sold anywhere else, as there's no markup. I'd like to approach a couple of vendors, but if I'm selling them at just a hair over cost (25 cents a copy "profit," basically a buffer against a sudden spike in envelope prices or something), there's no profit to be had for them. If I put the final "retail" price a couple euros up to allow this, then I'll be profiting off of others' work and I want this to be a growing community project. But I think it's a weakness to just have this available here (and in several pdf outlets, once I get that figured out), the same as I think Fight On! and Knockspell are very limited if they are just available on Lulu.

My non-GDF projects will indeed include a proper margin to allow me to approach vendors. With GDF being established as a baseline "This is what prices look like when the idea is not to make money," I just have a feeling that trying to put a euro in my pocket for a sale of other projects is going to look bad somehow, especially when I have original art costs (GDF right now just has public domain art, although for future issues I hope to have volunteer art submissions) to factor in as well.

(later edit: And if I do make a "wholesale rate" so vendors can re-sell it, I can't undercut them with my direct sales... so the "retail price" necessary to try to distribute it a little wider means direct sales will give all that markup to me... and at that point I'll feel like I'm overcharging. agh, what to do what to do...)

Ah well. The second problem will play out as it will, as I will not try to profit off of Green Devil Face, and I will indeed try to earn pocket change off of other projects I put out. But the first problem is something I really am concerned about, because it's not about appearances or money, but about availability and exposure beyond those already looking for it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I've Been Called Out!


I'm awful at concise writing. And promotion.

Anyone want to help me out? What would a good ad blurb or tagline for the blog be?

(I guess GDF and a couple other things will be ready to be promo'd next time, but I have nothing to sell at this very moment. :P)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Online Game, Anyone?

It seems the Olden Domain campaign has stalled, so I'm wondering if there would be any takers if I wanted to run a game (probably using Labyrinth Lord) online?

I have no idea about technical issues at this point, but the thought was to use Skype and a private chatroom that's got a dice roller. Surely that wouldn't be difficult to set up, right?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Green Devil Face Update

It's rolling along. The covers both both issues and layouts for #1 is done, and I still have a few things to clarify with people for #2, and I'll be sending that stuff out tomorrow. Cross fingers, but I plan on having these things out before Monday!

Doomsday Scenario

This is role-playing, so forgive me if I engage in a bit of fanciful imagination here...

Fight On! (and its ancillary gimmick products designed to influence the results) won the March Lulu author contest, with Swords & Wizardry offerings landing in the top ten as well.

Today is the "download the stuff you already bought - today only!" day at RPGNow and DrivethruRPG. The blogs move quickly but I don't think we need to remind people too strongly about the PDF misjudgment.

Wizards thinks PDF piracy is a threat to their business. Why wouldn't it think the same of the "Old School Renaissance," which is now bigger than God and stock car racing (on Lulu, anyway)? A commenter over on Grognardia got me thinking when he said, "Its not like they can come in and shut down the blogs and other old school community!"

Can't they? Imagine, if you will, if Wizards decided that previous-edition adherents are making them lose business (well... we are), that they are attracting too much attention and could siphon off even more of their customer base, and that it was time to do something about it. Is this realistic? Probably just as realistic as the last adventure I ran, but there were fatalities there as well...

The first strike is the Wizards legal department, or better yet Hasbro's, contacting Google and naming a number of blogs on their Blogger network that are flagrantly and egregiously posting copyrighted content. Technically, we have, all of us, haven't we? Book covers, at least. Would Google examine the blogs first or take them down immediately? What about Lulu? Who would they side with if Wizards came calling with the claim that a great number of books are misusing their OGL and violating their copyrights and trademarks?

The second strike would be sending cease and desist letters to all publishers and online hosts that post content for older edition games. Whether you've just published one thing or a line of supplements, whether you're a real business or just a guy selling stuff out of his bedroom, whether you deal in print or simply host downloads and/or a message board, would you risk Wizards following through on their legal threat?

The third strike would be to actually make an example out of someone. Lawsuits don't have to have any merit to be filed, and I'm thinking that disagreements about the interpretation of the OGL might not even be something that could be seen as meritless. Legal fees add up quick, even if you are completely in the clear. Could you afford it? And how are a judge or jury going to decide on the case. Do you trust them to make a correct judgment on such a thing? Depending on your location and local laws, you might not be the example, but then again Wizards could pick and choose who would be their example. Local, hobbyist publisher with a family (is your wife going to support you in fighting this for your little vanity press project?)... boom!

Now this wouldn't make old edition play, or materials (not even on the net), go away. That's not the idea. But I daresay it would make larger concentrations of online activity, and commercial efforts, go away and make sure it's not so visible to the more casual RPG fan. It could be taken out of the public eye.

Open Game Table to go into Retail Distribution

Details here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill Artwork

All of the artwork is in. It'll still be a little bit (smart enough to not give any definite timeframe these days) before the module comes out because I have to raise the money to pay the artists (I was smart enough to make the agreement to pay upon publication) and get the darn thing printed up (no cheapiecrap printing for this!). The money for the pre-orders that were taken some time back went into replacing my computer when the old one died (seemed to be a legitimate expense, seeing as without a computer nothing would have ever happened with the project anyway).

So I'm one step closer to changing Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill from the shameful monkey eating my legs to the awesome gaming experience at your table.

Here are thumbnails of all the art pieces:

By Laura Jalo:

By Dan Berger:

By Diana Davidsson:

If You're Going to Announce a Contest...

... get the prizes right. It's The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role Playing Games and their Modern Simulacra. :P

And I will have Green Devil Face on the brain all day today.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

RPGs are Best Packaged as Books and Role-Playing Is Best Inspired By Reading

The action, the intrigue, the everything of role-playing happens in one's mind. The abstraction of rolling dice to represent something happening in a shared imagined reality, the scribbling of a series of lines on graph paper to represent a location in which the PCs are exploring, speaking in funny voices, the naming of people that don't exist and aren't even present in the shared imagined reality...

The compilation of all of these disparate and nonsensical parts are assembled and turned into a cohesive thing by the imagination. And it's the same thing with books. Words and words that represent people that don't exist, places that don't exist, actions that never have and never will happen... assembled into a you-are-there history that's entirely made up.

The process of playing a role-playing game is the same process as reading a story. In a game, the false reality is created through negotiation and mutual agreement of factors that are imposed on that reality (the rules). In a book, this is all simply dictated by the author. The interactivity of the RPG offsets (and causes) the fact that a written story is going to be compositionally different than whatever happens in a gaming "story." Six on one hand, half a dozen on the other, and attempts to close that divide are doomed due to the inherent differences in the forms. The adventures of Dorf the midget warrior won't be as exciting as those of Conan to an outside observer, not by a long shot, and the end result won't resemble a good piece of fiction if written out in that form, but you did it, and you did it in a situation where there were an infinite amount of possible outcomes; you didn't just get told about it or follow along.

It's the same process. Words of a nonexistent, and in many ways nonsensical nature being accepted as happening within the mind's eye.

That part is clear to me. The following is a little less explored, but I figure I'll work it out easier with some comments...

Adding more sensory elements deactivates the imagination more and more. Radio plays pace you with indifference, whereas even a storyteller talking to you face-to-face will himself choose what is important even if he is using techniques to draw you further in and know when to draw something out or storm forward in the narrative. TV and movies give you everything - what the hero looks like, what the dragon looks like and how it moves, what the castle looks like, exactly how the one character's face twitches as he speaks... it's still a story and it can be enjoyed (and my sizable DVD collection will prove I don't say that condescendingly), but it activates the mind much less than does a written, or even spoken, story.

Enter gaming. Every visual element that is added disengages the imagination in some small way. What used to be abstracted and imagined is now detailed and quantified. Books often have maps and illustrations, as a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. So too do RPGs often have artwork to illustrate difficult-to-describe elements, such as a map or handouts and the like.

But when do such props stop enhancing and enabling the imagination and begin to replace it? Worse yet, when do such props and methods actively interfere with the imagination? I put forward that games which include minis (or any positional or literally representational markers) as part of the rules of the game are fundamentally and objectively lesser and less imaginative forms of role-playing. I believe the same of any game with a strong visual element (I can't think of any examples with audio elements offhand). They may still be enjoyable, but it is differently enjoyable the same way that movies are enjoyable differently than books.

(I do want to mention those TSR modules with the illustrations to show players - Tomb of Horrors, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, do fall under this criticism, although I will also say that only a very few, and only one comes immediately to mind, of the included illustrations are necessary at all.)

This applies to MMORPG and 'virtual tabletops' as well. This does not include all of internet gaming, as play-by-post (even if it is slow to a game-killing degree in my estimation)/IM/Skype/etc gaming retains the core values of role-playing. It's the graphical representations and the standardization inherent in computer gaming presentations that kills the essence of role-playing. Again, not to say that they are unenjoyable, but it is unfortunate that they have been given the same "role-playing" label that Dungeons & Dragons and Runequest and Traveller use because they are not the same things.

The actions, the interactions, are less important to defining a role-playing game than the fact that it takes place in your mind. Whether our hobby, the traditional role-playing game hobby, is erroneously named, or whether its offshoots are wrongly labeled is unimportant (although I vote for them... RPGs didn't keep the 'wargame' label after all, even though that's where they came from), but the confusion causes more problems than it solves by enabling fan cross-pollinization.

I also believe that licensed properties, even those that exist purely in literal form, inherently create a conceptual limitation of imagination based on being attached to a particular already-extant idea. This holds to various degrees. I played a lot of TSR's Marvel Superheroes as a teenager, but never once used any actual Marvel characters nor set my games in the Marvel Universe, and I believe that my games benefited from those decisions. Call of Cthulhu masterfully overcomes its licensensical limitations by taking from an entire genre's literary inspiration (and publishing that inspiration, something TSR and D&D never did for fantasy) and not just Lovecraft's. But generally taking on the weight and canon of a licensed property heavily corrupts gameplay using that game, and always does if set in the actual setting that the game is supposed to be presenting.

Hell, one could say the same, and for the same reasons, for any setting of sufficient detail and have a valid argument, and certainly any with metaplot would provide an inescapable argument as the game designer is taking 'what happens' away from the game table altogether. Planescape and Ravenloft and Dark Sun were further liabilities of AD&D 2e, not its redeeming factors (due to excessive setting detail, not initial concepts, a problem that also infected the Realms).

It's the pastiche of particular literary influences in combination with an implied, rather than described, setting which unlocks the greater potential for a game. A series of works that are at the same time complimentary and similar, but also contradictory and inconsistent for one another, makes for a wonderful game as the individual group must make their own basic setting decisions.

Of course this all speaks to my bias of what a good role-playing game is and what it is not. Dungeons and Dragons was my introduction to role-playing and is my current game of choice. I do not favor the minimalism or free-form/freewheeling qualities to the degree favored by the OD&D crowd, while the detail and thoroughness of AD&D as a rules set isn't quite to my favor either. B/X and BECMI are more to my exact tastes and my ideal balance between freedom (fast-resolving, non thematically-restrictive rules) and structure (rules robust enough to provide a strict framework in which the actions can be quickly resolved). The difference is indeed one of taste, not a fundamental assertion of which is a better, or more authentic, role-playing game.

As long as the action takes place in the mind (and each player takes on the role of an individual character), it really doesn't matter what the theme of the game is. Vampire (excusing any metaplot), which I'd never touch for more personal reasons having nothing to do with gaming or its focus, has a tradition of literature and has even less props used during gameplay than D&D often does. The full breadth of the options of the Tri-Tac combat system are just ridiculous, but as much as they try to describe total realism, the games using Tri-Tac's system are certainly role-playing games in the full sense of the term. Then there are so-called indie games as Sorcerer, Dogs in the Vineyard, and the like (but certainly not everything under the indie or story games umbrella!) which I think are no different than other role-playing games (their creators' intentions notwithstanding), at least no more different than, say, OD&D versus the Marvel Superheroes game.

People talk about how society is moving on and people don't have time anymore and TV and internet and movies are what it's all about and books are just old-fashioned and... ahhh, bullshit. Most people just don't read for fun and they never have. But there are always a few that do, and of those, some read fantastic fiction, and it is these people that should be found, recruited/marketed to (whichever way you want to put it) and brought into gaming. Trying to lure people in using the more popular (and explicit) examples of video games and movies seems to me to be a non-starter, and a recipe to always moving towards more rigidly defined abilities (feats!) or more concretely defined environments (assumed and required miniature usage or virtual applications to replace a gaming surface), and overall less imaginative gaming with less inherent possibilities. I will also go so far as to say that using production values to attract people to the game, rather than to illustrate facets of the game, will also create problems for those new players in being acclimated to the role-playing hobby as a theater for the mind.

Role-playing as a hobby is what it is, and all the new concepts and presentations in the world cannot change the fundamental aspect of having the action unfold strictly in the imaginations of the participants. We're constantly told how rough it is for the RPG market. We need to realize that while many may play in a casual manner, the number of people who care to buy and organize and run these games will always be limited. Our hobby, and our industry, can indeed be large, but it will never (again) be mass-market. And I believe that any effort to change the hobby to enable mass market participation should be avoided. Welcome those that are interested, but do not bend for those that are not.

If what the hobby is becomes obsolete to the point where it can no longer survive, then I wish it a dignified death.

But for all the changes in culture and society, I do believe that telling stories, and reading stories, will endure, whether on paper or on screens, and therefore traditional role-playing games, with codified parameters to resolve actions (rules!) and an abstract presentation that happens solely in the imagination, will endure as well.

Vin Diesel on Jimmy Kimmel Tells Us Something Vital About Gaming

There have been a few of these videos going around, as D&D gets brought up a lot during the current publicity tour. It's not important that Vin Diesel plays D&D (although it is fun watching him light up in a bashful manner talking about his characters on television, both in the US and UK!).

For our purposes, listen to why Jimmy Kimmel says he didn't stick with D&D (at about the 4:15 mark). I think that's
very important, and my players could tell you they don't lack for such things when playing at my place.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Despise Softball Interviews That Are More Like Press Releases

Like this one with WotC President Greg Leeds.

While I wouldn't expect "professional journalism" from this sort of interview (nor from one I would conduct), I would expect the amateur qualities to be in the form of attempting to reach too far (and I'm not talking about being rude) rather than being so hands-off. This should have been a spoken interview to allow follow-up questioning, and not an email interview.

One thing I like to do as an interviewer is load the question with a point of view, sometimes intentionally doing so with a point of view that I suspect (or outright know) the interviewee does not agree with. What this does is force the interviewee to not only state their answer, but explain it.

Questions I would have asked that occurred to me as I read the interview (and thus would have occurred to me as I was conducting a real-time interview):

How often do you play D&D? When was the first time you played? (if the answer is "I don't" or that he only began once he started working for WotC, then: "I am not a businessman, so I don't understand. Your bursiness lives or dies on satisfying your customers, correct? As President of the company, you must make decisions which impact the creative decisions for the final products in a major way. How do you determine which decisions to make if you are not one of the 'lifestyle gamers' your company says it serves better than anyone?" If he is a longtime gamer, get him to chat about his favorite gaming memories and how he thinks the new edition enhances what he liked 'back in the day.' Make it a fluffy question since it's neither here nor there.)

Can you clarify what you mean by "hobby industry"? Do you see RPGs, business-wise, to be the same thing as card games? Collectible card games? Board games? Video games? Model airplanes?

"The truth is that the world is changing quickly" - isn't this the same problem the music industry started tackling nine years ago? WotC's actions make it appear that they came to realize this problem just now as PHB2 was released. Why is this current problem somehow proof that pdf sales contribute to piracy when production masters of the PHB1 were released ahead of publication?

If the 10:! ratio for illegitimate:legitimate pdfs is so concerning, why force something closer to infinity:0? Why would you suspend pdf sales before having an alternative in place? Are fans and observers supposed to believe this is a thought-out business strategy and not simple panic?

You've said that the books are selling well, going through multiple printings, even with these concerns about piracy. But... if the Players Handbook is in its fourth printing and it was leaked on the net before anyone could get it legitimately, and already the PHB2 is in its second printing even with these piracy concerns... why is piracy a concern at all if the books seem to be selling A-OK anyway?

Which does Wizards of the Coast consider more important for the long-term success of Dungeons and Dragons - book sales or DDI subscriptions? (and don't let him dodge... let him explain as much as possible, but have him come down on one side or the other)

I assume those questions were sent to Mr. Leeds some days ago, but if the timing allowed it I would have asked for his comments on Ryan Dancey's statements here.

Not that it has anything to do with the pdf issue, but I'd want to find a way to ask: "It seems to me that by releasing a full set of new books labeled "core" every year, you would intimidate the first time, new gamer from experimenting with D&D. It's one thing to have a "core" PH, MM, DMG, but isn't it a bit much for a new gamer to see that there are 6 "core" books necessary to play (and next year 9, and so on) at $35 each?

PS: Book Club

... after her reaction to Leiber's writing, I showed Cerebus #186 (the female void/male light issue) to Maria at bedtime last night (I have all 16 'phonebooks').

hehe. That was nonstop entertainment when she got done with that!

Friday, April 10, 2009

More from the Book Club

The girlfriend is reading Swords and Deviltry. She's read a good deal of fantasy but never the good stuff. (OK, OK, I've never read most of the stuff she's read, and it's not Pern or Lackey stuff she's been into, but she hasn't read the classics!)

She's almost to the end, and her main remarks so far are that tone of the writing is very biased in favor of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser even when they are doing the exact same things, or worse, than the "bad guys," and that all the women are wicked and awful and she guesses the writer has never had a normal relationship with any woman. The... amorality of it all seems jarring to her. (I told her just you wait, and I can't wait to get Elric and Cugel and Conan and... and... and... in front of her eyeballs...)

A CL Moore collection of Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith stories arrived yesterday as well. Did I mention finally getting a copy of The Worm Ouroboros last week?

If I only had time to read all this stuff... projects in the works to be finished first (Green Devil Face, Adventure to Hopefully beAnnounced Soon...)!

A Request and a Frustrated ARGH

The ARGH first.

Why do I get myself involved in threads like this? I take my metal damn seriously, and watching people celebrate the most brain dead cliches of the genre (and brain deadedness itself) just drives me up a wall. I just need to avoid any reference to metal in RPG terms for my own sanity.

Then, the request. Hits to this blog have gone up up up over the past week or so for whatever reason, and I've been getting some mysterious friends requests on Facebook from people I've never heard of. I suspect the two are related. I don't mind if a fellow RPGer wants to be on my Facebook list, but please leave a note explaining who you are and why you're sending the request.

I'm Not One...

... for sappy remembrances and fancy tributes and things. Not usually, anyway.

But this is good.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Plausible Absurdity

The term “Gygaxian Naturalism” has been thrown around the online community serving traditional gaming. “The intention behind Gygaxian Naturalism is to paint a picture of a ‘real’ world, which is to say, a world that exists for reasons other than purely gaming ones,” writes James Maliszewski in his Grognardia blog. This allows players to make logical assumptions about how the fantastic elements in a game would behave based on real-world knowledge, grounding the game and establishing a reality out of something that is otherwise pure whimsy.

I believe that plausible absurdity can go hand-in-hand with this concept. My idea of plausible absurdity is that taking a real world idea, concept, or thing, and introducing it in a slightly inappropriate way brands certain things in the players’ minds. Mostly I use plausible absurdity when naming NPCs and towns. Whether it’s naming retainer retinues “John, Paul, George, and Ringo” or “Keith and Mick” as I have in the past, or using names like “Sweting Snoddy” in an adventure I've written, it’s a way of making sure players remember these characters as more than, “that guy,” or, “the blacksmith.” Sweting is a real old English first name, and Snoddy is a real English last name. So it’s plausible to have it here, grounding the whole thing in some sort of reality, but the absurdity of those names together will not soon leave your players’ minds.

This is not done for cheap yuks or to make a farce of the adventure or these characters (OK, the girlfriend and I had a laugh here when piecing together ‘Ryryd Rhydderch’ from real Welsh names), but to avoid both the anonymity of “John the farmer and Robert the smith” and the banality of goofy fictional names like Eladorion or Syfy for the commoners that inhabit the world around the player characters. A touch of reality, a touch of unreality, and what at first glance seems jarring and inappropriate actually becomes a tool for recognition and immersion as players will remember and use these names.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The (Greater Part of the) Puzzle is Compleat!

de Camp and Pratt's Harold Shea stories finally came in the mail today. I've been after this book for nearly a year, but the usual Finnish outlets that deal with import books just wouldn't cooperate.

And I still have that Merritt book sitting here I haven't gotten to yet.

ahh, books!

Hämeen linna April 7, 2009

This one was built in the late 13th century, and was in continuous use for nearly 700 years as it served as a prison as late as 1953. These days it's a museum (and other parts of the larger complex now serve as a prison museum and artillery museum, neither of which I visited). This makes it a bit crappy as a 'cool medieval castle' because it's got signs, lights, and all that modern junk. They're actually renovating it to try to make it look like an old castle again, but it's so hopelessly not. But in some ways, Häme Castle was more inspiring as far as some game ideas than Raseborg Castle.

First, a shot of the water in Hämeenlinna (the town) outside the castle.

Here is a scale model of the castle, displayed within the museum:

The outside of the place:

Inside the courtyard:

Now to the inside... I couldn't resist taking a photo of this:

This is the shitter. It's basically a hole that empties out into the moat.

The big problem with taking pictures (and there are many I considered too boring to transfer from the camera) is deciding whether or not to use the flash. These rooms all had electric lights (as you can see on the right), but not using the flash made things dark. In this case, the effect was cool:

At other points it was just too dark. But using the flash often made things too bright. This next room was originally accessible only through this hatch in the ceiling (we'd entered through a later-installed door). The idea was that theft was more difficult if someone couldn't just walk in and out of the room.

All of the castle stairs (not counting the modern additions) were very steep and very narrow. Even with the flash you see how dark it is below.

The next two pictures show the effects of 700 years of remodeling. I got ideas to enrich the background of a few dungeons I have in mind, which will either confuse or help the players better understand some clues.

A trap door! Couldn't resist.

I bet you thought for all these years that the number keys on maps were for referee reference. No! The rooms really have numbered labels!

My lovely assistant Maria shows us how tiny the passages are. She's maybe 5'7" and her head is touching the ceiling. That passage isn't 3' wide. Maybe this 1 square = 10' standard is BS. :P

This passage had no light of its own, but there was a lamp next to me where I took the photo. This looked like one of the many dead ends in the castle. It wasn't until actually walking down to the end that you could see that it turns to the left. The flash on this one betrays that a bit, but I'm telling you, in person, you couldn't just look down the passage and see the turn. The fact that the passages were so narrow probably helped that effect, but I'm rethinking allowing my players to look down passages at intersections and see turns even if they are within the range of torchlight.

That's Maria helping out again. The 50 cent piece is roughly the size of a US quarter, and those 17th century coins are significantly larger. I'd guess earlier coins were larger. 10 per pound looks slightly less ludicrous.

There were many more rooms, but they were either too full of modern stuff, or uniformly just empty rocky rooms with no really cool angles (and the ones that did had too many modern railings and such that just killed the effect). Even the chapel and other come-and-sit-down rooms had modern chairs. They have some work to do to make this a real medieval castle museum.

We did pick up a book about castles around the Baltic Sea... so there might be more of these little photojournals to come in the months ahead. We'll be hitting Turku and the castle there in May, as soon as we come back from Rome (which may allow for some relevant photography of its own!).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

You Know Who I Feel Sorry For?

WotC's creative people.

First they make games that are perfectly playable, just tastelessly and terribly misnamed, so as to create animosity and division where there need be none (if 4e was instead called MagicSword, The RPG of Fantasy Adventure! there would be exactly 4.6% of the present amount of spewed bile over the whole thing).

Then they see see WotC's great shining gift to the gaming world, the OGL, knifed in the back and replaced by some addled doppelganger called the GSL that's still trying to present itself as awesome and open.

I'm guessing it wasn't the RPG designers' idea to announce all these digital tools originally sold to the public as the way to revolutionize tabletop gaming that never did seem to materialize.

And now pulling the pdfs for sale with no warning? Using the piracy excuse for pulling OD&D, Holmes, Mentzer, 1e, and 2e, which are not legitimately available in any other format which would benefit WotC? When the new edition was leaked from production masters before release? They could have blamed it on their new Internet Sales Policy and commitment to brick-and-mortar stores (see their press release here) and had players scratching their heads saying, "Wow, that seems like a bad move," instead of the current "What fucking assholes!" sentiment. But they're clueless.

They might post all their "legacy D&D" items for free download from their own site tomorrow, and they will still come off like clueless morons for not being able to communicate or coordinate their efforts.

The creative people may be well-meaning and sincere in their love for gaming and feel absolutely blessed to get a regular paycheck with corporate benefits just from designing games (although we'll never know how many ideas were theirs and not under the command of some clueless fuck executive saying, perhaps, "My boy likes dragons. Put in a dragon man that he can play."), but they work for dicks that don't care about gamers as anything other than a continuing revenue stream. Full stop, right there. They don't care.

(Do "lifestyle gamers" really just simply follow the latest cool thing? I think not. Does WotC attempt to deliver anything but? I think not.)

I see that there's something of a pattern where former WotC employees form their own companies or join other companies, and have at least modest success actually giving (modern) gamers what they want without bending over backwards to fuck their customers.