Friday, December 31, 2010

Art Direction, Art Coding

I wake up to find that there's been another round of The Gender Art Wars on the blogs. Awesome!

(I mean that. Awesome! This is the strength of the "blogosphere" I think - roundtable discussions, or arguments, about the issues of the day.)

To catch you up to speed:

Trollsmyth started this new round.
Zak, Oddysey, Greg and Joe chimed in as well.

I must address some of Zak's comments.

Zak makes a point a few times that both makes total 100% sense, and no sense at all (focusing on the issue of art direction in general rather than the specific issue of "marketing to x"):
"Tell [artists] to do whatever they want and pray that one day one of them likes whatever it is that women want--it's the only way to get something with ambisexual appeal AND quality "

"For me, I feel they should be considered part of the content. That way nobody 'from marketing' gets to tell the artist what should be in them and the pictures are more likely to come out unique and personal. Telling Ian Miller or Frank Frazetta or Erol Otus or Trampier to draw a convincing heroic female instead of whatever they were gonna draw is a recipe for disaster and wasted talent."

"When imagery is art-directed and focus-grouped, as it is with the covers of magazines and corporate products--it ALWAYS sucks and ALWAYS appeals not just 'to men' or 'to women' but 'to idiots'"
Now Zak's an artist, and his attitude is understandable. I've been smart enough with Zak to stand back and say "Do whatever you want" for the interior Vornheim artwork and foolish enough to make suggestions for what should be on the cover.

But I'm the publisher. And art director (and mailroom clerk and secretary and sales manager and marketing/PR guy...). I'm still in the middle of art madness for the second printing of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing. I can't draw or paint for shit. So I hire artists.

"Here, do what you want!" doesn't work if I'm paying for it. The art budget has exploded to ridiculous enough heights without paying for a bunch of pieces that I absolutely can't use. There isn't an artist alive whose every work I believe in. I'd go so far as to say there isn't an artist alive who has a majority of work I believe in. I pick artists (and pay them!) based on my confidence in their being able to bend their talent to my vision, not how awesome it would be to give them an opportunity to expand their portfolio how they see fit.

Is it rude to say that? But it's the truth. The artists are there to enhance the writing, not the other way around.

... and I want a product that's going to blow people away and place for industry awards (go for the gold or stay home!). I have specific ideas for many of the pieces. I know what I want, and even pieces where I don't know exactly what I want I know what the overall game needs to look like, so I'm directing the shit out of this artwork. Even to the point of doing my own sketches and telling artists "Do this, without the sucking." Taking photos and saying "put these people in x setting."

Combine that level of interference and direction with the fact that a couple of the artists I know for a fact are not enjoying some of the pieces they work on and you may think there's a problem. I'm an asshole with some of the detail I am asking for. I can see how Zak is exactly right in saying I should leave these people alone to get a better final result.

But... I don't enjoy many of the more tedious aspects of putting together a project and being a publisher either. If you take shortcuts and don't plow through the unpleasant bits with due care, it shows in the end. I'll go so far to say that it's blindingly obvious to anyone looking afterward when someone has ducked the unpleasant bits during the process. Cut corners look like cut corners and no matter what justifications we give for cutting those corners, they show. Customers may be gracious enough to forgive them, but they notice. They shouldn't have to forgive a damn thing.

At this pro-am level, "I don't wanna" just doesn't cut it. Not for me, not for the people working on the project.

There's this goal, this promised land of perfection, and it's on top of the mountain. It doesn't matter how fucking awful it is to get there. Nothing else matters. Just get there! And once you're there, everything you had to do to get there is worth it.

Yeah, just about everyone involved is underpaid for such a project, but everyone else gets paid before I do, if I ever get paid at all. At least I have the moral middle ground of knowing that I'm not taking advantage of the talent while raking in the bucks - they're getting what they asked for. And in exchange, I'm damn well going to get what I ask for.

... but Zak knows all this, and I bet he's smiling with the satisfaction that he doesn't have to put up with any of this shit to make a living from art. :)

And if anyone has any advice of how to commission art to where I get what I want and the artists have all the freedom they want at the same time, I'm all ears. Please.

As to the greater point of "coding" a game's artwork to appeal to a particular group of people:


Forget appeal - I'm making a lot of art choices designed to repulse... which, lucky for me, has an appeal all its own. I may be a bit odd, or I may not be. But I'm not entirely alone in my tastes.

The message in the art is not "Look who you get to be, all these strong images for you to identify with! Isn't that awesome!" It's "You're in for some shit now, you poor dumb dead bastard*!"

The LotFP box cover (that banner art up top of this very blog!), by the way, is not any sort of "gender coding." The elements:

  • I wanted people that I know to be in the art.
  • A human-animal hybrid would be pretty gross and repulsive, right?
  • Redheads rock.
  • The human should be clothed to reflect the not-as-medieval assumed setting of the game.

That some freak would think of the snake demon as "sexualized" or look at the Flame Princess as an "empowering character" didn't concern me when inventing the piece - although I knew it was coming. The four points combined with my need for things to make sense in context is what drove the cover. A monster living in the north woods wouldn't be wearing clothes or have weapons (and TITS on the COVER has a message of its own - "not compromising to chase shelf space"); a woman traveling through the same would be appropriately clothed and equipped (a hat and pack were originally envisioned laying in the snow - the hat had to have been blown off because I wasn't going to obscure that hair - but they were deemed to clutter the piece... so they are off to the right just beyond the border of the pic), it makes sense and I know the story behind the pic.

Why women in the first place? Well the Flame Princess can't be a man, she can't be the monster, and the monster was originally intended to reprise the first Creature Generator cover with the same person as the monster.

The LotFP artwork is coded to appeal to me. Just me. If my maleness, my whiteness, my American-in-Finlandness, my wears-fluffy-green-Cthulhu-slippersness, my listens-to-metalness, my loves-Italian-foodness, my needs-glassesness, my grumpiness**, or any other thing about me strongly influences the artwork that appears in my work, then I proudly fly all those flags. If I have to choose between what pleases me and what pleases the market, the market loses. And I will live with the consequences of that just fine.

PS. Maria wants to say, "A bunch of gamer men talking how to market to women is futile. The first mistake that is made is to clump all women into some unified group, which they are not. Purely gender does not make anybody like or dislike something. You are looking at a more diverse group than just mere sexual orientation."

PPS. Maria on The Depiction of Women in Gaming article: "She can not extend her comments beyond herself."

But what the hell does Maria know? She's the sort of woman who would marry me.

* Planet Algol really rocks, doesn't it?
** wife suggested that one

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Want to Be Earl Root

I've mentioned a time or twelve that I used to (and will again... someday!) do a heavy metal zine. It was, especially in the early days, rather rough-edged and immature (really!). I blew my 20s doing that, funneling literally tens of thousands of dollars into something that had no chance of paying off. It was a period of unbelievable writing productivity to the point where I wonder if I've suffered brain damage along the way since today I can't manage a quarter of the writing output I managed 1998 - 2003 or so while still working a full-time job.

Still the most-viewed post on this blog is I Hate Fun. This was not originally about RPGs, but was to be the introduction to the never-finished Winter 2007-8 issue of the LotFP music mag. That never got done because the many hundreds of euros needed to print the project were used for other things as I was getting divorced and now on my own in this weird country I'd decided to live in. Scary times. Of course the particulars of the second half of the piece was changed before being posted on this blog months later, as it originally complained about how people approached listening to music. That sort of sky-cursing is something I never do seem to grow tired of.

I've fallen out of contact with the vast majority of people that I knew from back in the zine days. Not all, though. Some of my key collaborators these days were gained back from my zine days (the Noble Knight connection, Luna started reading me when she was still a teenager and she's still hip-deep in the metal madness a decade on, Matt Johnsen helps out tremendously, etc), and without that zine I don't meet my ex and come to Finland.

Anyway, when I'd first composed I Hate Fun in its original (and untitled) form, I'd sent it to a few people to check it for obvious stupidity. One of the people that responded was Earl Root. I hadn't even sent it to him, but someone that I had sent it to decided he might want to read it. Root was one of these rabid metal supporters up his way in Minnesota. He had a radio show, a record store, a record label, played in bands, the whole thing, into his 40s. We'd never had direct contact or a conversation that I recall before I received his email concerning the proto-I Hate Fun.

This is the email I received back from Earl Root on Tuesday, October 2, 2007 (paragraph breaks added by me):

John [Prassas] forwarded me your intro. I have been a huge fan of your mag and banter for years. I agree with you many times on your ideas and also how you conduct biz and such...I have great respect for you also...for you have done what many cannot and that is do what you do out of passion. I have lived my whole life this way and did what I wanted to do and hoped for enough monetary gain to just pay the bills and allow me more time to play my instruments and write and do those things I actually enjoy.

Don't get me wrong...I do like the work I do but is still work. All can grind on you from time to time but the enjoyment I get when I hook someone up with their long lost fave record or help turn a deserving kid onto a new band or help a band get a gig or all comes around....and goes and goes.

As I get older, I realize I am still as angry as I was in my youth but my approach to its resolution or how I process and resolve it within myself has changed. Again...I agree with you that change is inevitable but not always good. I still say to this day that two of the biggest downfalls in the music of today are the pod guitar processor and pro-tools. Back in the day real men were engineers and had to work and get very creative to get the sounds they heard in their head and were looking to reproduce. A musician had to have his shit together and ready for the task in one or two takes or the hallway was full of the 'next' guy to do this session. Cut and paste and tone control and pitch mods can make even the most mediocre player sound like a guitar hero and the availability of cheap gear that actually sounds 'good enough' is everywhere.

I grew up without the internet, without Guitar Center, without video games, without cell phones and I am a better person for it. I worked my ass off for my first real guitar (a 1970 Les Paul Deluxe) took me 10 months to pay it off and I still have that guitar today. I loved it and cherished it and played it all the time. Nowadays...a kid can afford a knock off and a sound alike amp and it is more a toy that will go out of vogue with them sooner than later.

Look...I could rant all day about this....but I will try and get to my point. After careful reading of your intro....I believe you have hit the nail on its head squarely. Many of the topics and ideas you have stated here in have been topics of discussion in the van or on my radio show or even after band practice. Many of them are problems that we as a band have talked about and worked at to resolve on our own and together. Many are problems we have to address as to what is going to be our next move and what are the pros and cons of such action or lack there of...etc...etc. (IE: OK...the kids are out their and they might like to hear our do we get at them if they don't communicate or go to a show or even have one friend who confides in them).

I had a friend of mine tell me just last week that he is gonna retire at 40 and has a home in blah blah nowhere and all that. I am happy for him but he seemed unhappy for me....for he said I 'could' have had the same thing a hundred fold and that I was smarter than him and other such nonsense. I told him if those things were important to me than pursuing them would have been a priority but the words 'would' 'could' and 'should' need not be in the language because they really mean nothing. We talked to great length about this and went our ways but I believe he walked away with the idea that he achieved success in his right and I have also achieved mine in my right...and I am still achieving it. Yes...I am going on tour in my 40s with a heavy metal band....just like I did for almost a decade when I was in my 20s. Not because I think I am gonna be a rock star.....(well...I guess I sorta am again)...and not because I want to relive something I did in my youth and have a mid-life crisis...nothing like that. I am doing it because I want to and I can. I love the band I am in...I love the music....I love performing it and people are entertained watching us o it. I see nothing wrong with any of that and I am looking forward to doing it as often as I can. Period. for your intro.....I can nit pick it and have scrutinized it but I can't find anything wrong with it....right on brother....when you finish it...please send it to me so I can forward it to some people I know who need to read it....I promise I will forward their replies to you if you so desire...and keep up the outstanding work.

On May 23, 2008 Earl Root died at age 46 due to complications from Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma that he'd been fighting for ten years. He continued to play guitar with the band Aesma Daeva throughout his chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell treatments. In 2007 with bladder cancer and a kidney stent Earl completed a three week U.S. and Canadian tour with Aesma Daeva (supporting Therion).

This email has been sitting in my email in-box ever since. For more than three years, every time I've looked at my email, Root's words have been right there. This morning I've been in an aggressive "clear out that in-box!" mode, and I got stuck trying to figure out what to do with this one. Keeping an email for three years sounds a bit obsessive, but I think I'm going to leave it right where it is.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Black Death - A Film Review

Questions of Creative Freedom

Hmmm. It's a difficult subject, creative freedom. Too much? Not enough? Read Zak's post about Why Caverns of Thracia is the Best Published Dungeon and Shouldn't Be, as well as Aeons & Augauries' Breaking the Mold. Recent rumblings have been about here and there.

Truth is, I really don't like bold experimentation. To me, originality is a completely different thing than creativity, with creativity and the imagination that drives it better served personalizing and creating variations on familiar, favored themes.

Which might be rather obvious, especially in light of the fact that I've spent the past four months refinangling the thing I spent the previous six months putting together. But the creative impulse is still there, the drive to just drive people nuts with things they've never seen before - the need to impress - but it's equally tied to the fact that I'm really not all that interested in entirely new things.

I'd be more than happy to watch 34348923789473 zombie movies in the Romero vein as long as they kept to consistent "rules." I'd rather see a greater world of such a thing than zombie movies with "original ideas" that "break the rules." I think there are an infinite number of good stories to be told within that universe without needing any more "originality."

The idea of continuity and canon are, to me, the only justification to continue reading the same comic character for decades on end. The fact that they goof around with retcons and reverse deaths and all that is why I really don't read comics although I have an almost desperate need to - and so only get the 20+ old reprint editions.

I like heavy metal of only certain types - identifiable by the fact that they are all rather similar. Yet bands are also infinitely unique, even when purposefully aping another band's sound. I can go on and on about the subtle differences that make one album great and another suck even though one could swear there's no appreciable difference. I could discuss Black Sabbath vs Lord Vicar vs Candlemass (especially From the 13th Sun) all night, and would rather find another twenty bands of that pedigree and explore their nuances than catch on to some new thing and have an entire musical genealogy to explore from scratch.

And so it goes with my role-playing. I still have a creative urge, but really my creative urge involves taking bits of this and bolting them on to strips of that. Showing you what "red" and "green" look like through my eyes, which I hope is just a bit different than what "red" and "green" look like through your eyes, or what they looked like through the eyes of people 20 or 30 or even 40 years ago. But content to work with "red" and "green" without worrying at all about "yellow" or "white."

I realize that the most important thing about RPGs is their stimulation of the imagination; that is the only thing they are good for. What is "good writing" or an "imaginative idea" can utterly fail where a bog-standard idea sloppily presented could result in a superior gaming experience. As a writer it's a maddening thing, realizing that Keep on the Borderlands is a much better adventure in practice than any of the UK-written D&D modules, even though I find the UK series to be "better" in every way that I would count in how they are crafted.

So while I'm sitting here in my attempt to take something that most of you thought was pretty good and make it perfect, these things weigh heavy, especially as I work over those sample monsters, sample magic items, and the new intro adventure for the new box. Trying to inject the proper atmosphere, trying to really unlock the mind and get into the thinking of "no limits" without injecting the whimsy I often indulge in (the giant at the bottom of the pit from Death Frost Doom in the first printing, the entirety of Green Devil Face #1, my film review from earlier today) and trusting that I can make something that's both imaginative and serious. Show you a thing or two you've never seen before while making sure it also feels familiar enough to be immediately useful.

There's still that cleanup work for the new box, plus I have four projects worth of manuscripts from three authors that are more or less complete that I haven't really looked at yet. 2011 is going to be a busy year.

I'll leave you with another art preview, received literally while I was writing this blog post. It's for the new intro adventure A Stranger Storm (which I ran as an in-store game for some very freaked-out players), and just to get you worried that much more I will tell you that the adventure does not assume what side the PCs will be on in this struggle because events will conspire to make it a rather difficult choice. Nobody in this picture is evil or insane or doing an inarguably wrong thing. In this adventure, the stakes are high, the decisions difficult, and the opposition weak. It's time to get Weird. Thank Amos Orion Sterns for this one:

OK. Holiday over. Navel-gazing over. See you soon.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Writing Voice

Just so that last image isn't the first thing people see on the blog... (seriously though... what the hell was that movie?)

So I got a good pile of books for Christmas, some by a number of people that have made a lot of media appearances.

While reading these books, it was very easy to imagine the authors themselves speaking the words that I'm reading. Inflection, emphasis, everything, it was very easy.

A question to those that have both heard me speak and have read my less technical work (think the Ref book in the box)... do you find it easy to imagine me saying the words that you're reading? Or do I have to rewrite the whole damn thing? :P

... also got a new sound card AND new speakers for the computer. Can you say BASS? Why are sound systems all so concerned with bass? New stereo for the car, new normal stereo, new computer speakers, it's always the same thing... I have to kill the bass or else all the music and all the other stuff I listen to on the radio is all messed up. Coast to Coast AM sounds ridiculous when Ian Punnett sounds like Barry White...

Solomon Kane: A Film Review

Pillars Under Water

Two hours since I left behind the green New England shore
Narrow-minded people of my kin were all left behind
Mighty thunder took over my ship, she could take no more
Distant shadow in the pouring rain, then lightning made me blind

Sudden glance at the Monolith locked my soul in Hell
Godly finger pointing to the sky, crowned by dark seaweed
Constructed by some hidden race before Babylon fell
Rising higher in the changing tides, an ancient evil seed

Pillars under water in blue light
Sailing forward through the silent sea
Mutilated feet dance in the night
Children of Dagon are breaking free

All this fear is far too much for me, madness eats my mind
Find my peace in underwater death, drown myself to sea
Even if I swim as fast as I can I’m not hard to find
I can feel them coming for me, in vain I try to flee

Taken back by this twisted hand I fall into nightmare
Serpent tongue, bloody boiling sea, red horror has begun
She rides with the ocean beast, blue fire in her hair
Secret veils around the open gate hide the rising sun

Pillars under water in blue light
Sailing forward through the silent sea
Mutilated feet dance in the night
Children of Dagon are breaking free

Friday, December 24, 2010

Another Art Preview from the Grindhouse Edition

If this one doesn't impress you, then I got nuthin'. Seriously, click on the pic and look at the detail.

(detail of a piece by Aeron Alfrey)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beware the Frisky Medusa

She cares not if you only want to please her.

(background detail of a piece by Cynthia Sheppard)

(yeah, there's a reason why you have to click through that disclaimer thing now...)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Content Ratings on RPGs?

I got back more roughs and finished pieces today of some of the "feature" (read: sure to offend) artwork pieces, and am commissioning a couple more last fill-in pieces now that I've done some late layout adjustments. This is taking forever, but man oh man this layout is looking good. I've learned a thing or two these past few months of screwing around with the layout program.

Coincidentally, there is a thread about whether RPGs should carry content ratings here. It quickly degenerated once the specifics of the mentioned passage became known, but the issue of ratings was interesting to me. I will be putting a "16+" graphic on the back of the upcoming box, because some of the illustrations inside are pretty gruesome and people should know that it's not for the kiddies.

What do you think about content ratings for RPGs?

So yeah, three work things running around needing attention NOW - final revisions and layouts for the box set, taking that good long hard critical look at the Vornheim manuscript, and getting the new webstore up and running. All three go slow.

Oh, I joined Bits & Mortars. The plan is to support all currently in-print releases with this after the first of the year. I'll push and promote this more leading up to the release of the Grindhouse Edition.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thank You, Somebody!

Just received Best of White Dwarf: Articles and Best of White Dwarf: Scenarios (both from 1980) in the mail today.

... only I didn't order them. And I found no note or card inside the package. It came from the UK, although the company name on the return address doesn't show up in Google or Ebay (but the shipping label has a Paypal logo on it...).

(yes, I get free stuff and turn into a fourth-class Sherlock Holmes with it... I'd never look a gift horse in the mouth but apparently I'd give it a rectal exam)

A pleasant surprise. Thanks, whoever sent this. :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Grappling Rules Suck - Playtest These!

I understand why grappling rules are complicated. A successful grapple can take someone out of the game much too easily.

But honestly, I'm looking at the LotFP grappling rules and they suck. There's too much of them for a game that abstracts so much else (including yearly finance for crying out loud!).

I think I've come up with something better. But I don't think I'm going to run any games before this all goes to press. So take a look at this, tell me if it sucks worse than what's there, and then use it if you can and report back.


A character may attempt to wrestle another to either immobilize or take something out of the opponent's hands.

The attacker must have both hands free. The defender, if he is armed and has not yet acted during the round, may immediately make an attack against the aggressor before the wrestling is resolved.

Wrestling is resolved with a contested roll. Both parties roll d20 and apply both their melee Attack Bonus and Strength modifier. Ties are decided by Dexterity modifier, or a die roll if both are still tied. The winner decides whether the loser is immobilized, if he will attempt to disarm the loser of the contest, or if he releases the loser.

An immobilized opponent may take no action other than attempting to escape on his next action. Resolve this with another wrestling roll. Any character immobilized in three successive wrestling contests is considered pinned and helpless - no further attempts to escape may be made.

If disarmament is attempted (and this includes snatching any held object, not just taking away weapons), the defender must make a save vs. paralyzation to keep hold of the object.

While wrestling, attacks are made against all involved as if they were surprised.

If there are multiple opponents attempting to wrestle a single defender, all attackers add their wrestling rolls together and then compare the total against the defender.

Creatures whose physiology or special abilities suggest grappling (tentacles, adhesive, multiple limbs) gain a further +1 bonus to its wrestling roll per hit die.

Frivolous Blog Stats!

Apparently Blogger has had all sorts of tracking stats available since May, and I'm only now realizing it thanks to some other bloggers talking about it. Keep in mind these lists only count from May 2010.

Top 10 Pageviews by Country
10. Sweden 1,398
9. France 1,681
8. Austria 1,816
7. Spain 1,872
6. Australia 6,435
5. Germany 7,322
4. Finland 14,925
3. Canada 15,193
2. UK 15,415
1. USA 109,164

Top 10 Referring Sites
10. TV 974
9. Bat in the Attic 1,069
8. Blogger 1,090
7. 1,203
6. Greyhawk Grognard 1,326
5. 1,706
4. Jeff's Gameblog 2,100
3. Playing D&D With Porn Stars 3,458
2. Grognardia 6,349
1. 12,160

... and...

Top 10 Posts by Pageview
10. LotFP to Release Geoffrey McKinney's Isle of the Unknown and Carcosa (Oct 17, 2010) 1,036
9. Watch Me Kill My Customer Base Right Now (Aug 25, 2010) 1,037
8. Are YOU Part of the Old-School Renaissance? (Jul 8, 2010) 1,041
7. I Don't Get It (Jul 9, 2010) 1,169
6. LotFP to release Zak Sabbath's Vornheim City Kit (Oct 19, 2010) 1,390
5. The OSR is Better Than TSR (Jul 6, 2010) 1,394
4. No Gods, No Masters (Jul 13, 2010) 1,476
3. Now Taking Orders for LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing (Jul 15, 2010) 1,631
2. Proud to Commit Commercial Suicide (Nov 29, 2010) 1,799
1. I Hate Fun (Jun 12, 2008) 3,352

Friday, December 17, 2010

LotFP's Ultra-Concise Guide to Universal Awesome Adventure Construction

Step 1

Come up with a location that's interesting on its own without any players getting involved with it.


Come up with a situation that's interesting on its own and can resolve on its own without any players getting involved in it.

Step 2

Introduce PCs to the location/situation.

Step 3

Step back and see what happens without having an investment in any particular outcome.

Frankenstein Created Woman

I've been getting through the Hammer DVD box I got in the spring little by little, and this was today's movie.

Honestly most of these Hammer movies are brilliant in atmosphere but fall down in key parts, and nobody seems to know how to end these movies (for example, Quatermass and the Pit was excellent and then had a big WTF ending)...

But Frankenstein Created Woman rocked. The second half is a bit of a letdown from the first half, but oh lord that first half really ratchets up the tension and tragedy. Peter Cushing really brings a dignity to these things they might not otherwise have, but that's news to no one.

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is still my favorite Hammer movie, but this is now in firm second place, I think.

And aside from the police officer uniforms, this is actually how I envision my game world. And Frankenstein is a Magic-User.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

And Here We Go!

I think it's time to talk more about the artwork for the upcoming Grindhouse Edition. This is largely a retread of that big post a couple weeks back, except talking about specific pieces rather than in concept. If being vague caused such a fuss...

Most of the art won't be objectionable. I'd say the vast majority of art is simply going to be judged on it's execution, how evocative it is rather than how provocative it is. But there are a few other pics that I'm guessing will cause a fuss because they hit on hot-button issues: Sex, Drugs, Rock'n'Roll, Religion, and Violence.

Sex? The core idea of that piece is a frisky medusa. Luna went above and beyond the call of duty with the reference photos here. I've shown a prelim version of the art to a few people, and the reaction has been "HAHAHA!" but apparently I only know sick, sick people. But even they haven't seen what's being done with the statues. The hot debate will be whether this portrays necrophilia or simply masturbation. You're going to need brain bleach. This one's wicked with a wink and a smile, but it's also quite explicit. Cynthia Sheppard is handling this one.

Drugs? I already established that magic-users enter a dream-state when learning spells, so shoot up to reveal the cosmic truth! Russ Nicholson handled the junkie wizard in superb detail.

Rock'n'Roll? Yeah, rock'n'roll. "Why would rock'n'roll be objectionable?" you ask. Because that's what rock'n'roll is. Rock'n'Roll is rebellion. If it doesn't get the old farts (that's us, if you follow OSR stereotypes) up in arms, it's shitty Rock'n'Roll. It gets your kids dressing and behaving in ways that horrify you and it's the soundtrack to their sexual awakening. To facilitate this thrust of real rock, I made this piece my attempt to present some beefcake, with the bard Blackie Ritchmore in concert still getting the ladies gooey even at his advanced age (Sam Elliot and Sean Connery the templates). It features the gnarliest lute ever. In comparison to the rest of the pieces mentioned here, it's nothing that will even be noticed, but on its own I bet people would think it's pretty crass. Nicole Cardiff handled this one.

Religion? I predict some people are very much not going to like Amos Orion Sterns' new portrait for the cleric class. I'd describe it as a mix between 1640s England and 1990s Norway.

Violence? Well there are a couple of pieces that fit the bill because there is so much to do to the human body. Nobody is going to care about the soldiers having their faces chopped or their heads split in various pieces. The Tell Tale Heart piece isn't going to piss anyone off no matter the condition of the old man's body. I don't expect the full version of Flame Princess vs Slime Monster to cause outrage. Maybe it'll cause some vomiting if I'm lucky but I don't see it as being out of line. Haven't seen Sterns' pieces with the sword fight yet.

Vince Locke's zombie attack? Whole 'nother kettle of fish. This is the one that triggered that post from the other week and the one thing I expect to cause real problems. There's the line of good taste, and (as I was told) I not only cross it, I "waive at it cheekily as I gallop past." Because I think the line is in the wrong place entirely, if you compare how tame most RPG art is next to what is regularly depicted in other media (album covers, comic books, film, not to mention what's described in novels...).

There were implied story considerations for the piece, and this has nothing to do about who's more sympathetic - that was a long tangent I went on that didn't even apply to what I plan to present. The concept: "Zombies rise, hapless adventurers torn apart." The questions involved: Would it have more impact with two men? Two women? One man and one woman? And who gets to be the unlucky one who goes squish?

Now if zombies are coming from below, that's the lower body that's getting the attention, you're going to rip apart someone's lower body, that means the whole lower body. Zombies aren't going to skip certain areas for the sake of the viewer's propriety. So what to do?

While ghouls ripping off a man's ghoulies and going nom nom nom is grotesque, it is also old hat. I've seen so many damn movies where that happens, you know? It was truly shocking just the first time. And leaving behind the fact that they're genitals, visually the idea is not interesting. It's an external appendage, so it's no different on a nuts(heh)-and-bolts level than pulling off fingers. And "eat my balls" is good for a comedic retort, not the basis for affecting artwork.

But on a purely anatomical level, a woman provides a far more interesting visual spectacle when deciding that things are going to get messy. What's inside has to come out. I've only seen this sort of thing in two places - Eddie Campbell's work in the From Hell graphic novel, and Vince Locke's work for Cannibal Corpse.

I had to go with Locke on this, and I don't know that I would have attempted to get the piece done if he wasn't available. Locke, in addition to changing some of my ideas of what art was allowed to be when I saw those Cannibal Corpse covers as a teenager, has worked for Wizards of the Coast. For White Wolf. He did the art for A History of Violence, which went on to be adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film. If you're going to do something, you do it right, and nobody has both the history with this sort of art combined with the professional qualifications that Vince Locke has. I expect something quite special.

I can tell you it won't be any worse than this or this or this - album covers, the first two of which I have witnessed on display racks of US mall and big-box stores. For a band so underground and perverted they were featured in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The piece Locke is doing for me will be in an adventuring context instead of just random shocksplatter. If you can look at those pictures without losing your mind, then we are fine.

Yes, it is repulsive, it will drive away those looking for "family entertainment." People are already making games fully suited to those tastes so I needn't bother. Remember the idea that RPGs originally promised in the 70s? Or how we thought of them whenever we discovered them? "There are no limits. You can do anything you can imagine." Why would players buy into this idea if I don't believe it?

It's ball-out maximum overdrive with the art. We've got new-school properly educated digital artists. We've got the pen and ink artist who does flyers for local metal shows and shirts and even some album art. We've got an artist with legit old-school history and credentials. We've got one of the beloved new old-school artists. We've got a handful that are going to be beloved new old-school artists. And yeah, we've got the guy that can link 80s indie horror comics and the Oscars.

You probably won't leave it out on the coffee table but you'll show to certain people with that mischief in your eyes. "I can't believe somebody actually did that!" will be the refrain uttered in hushed tones. Hopefully with a "That's so cool!" following soon after. You won't break out this box to game with your kids, but you have friends that aren't kids and some of them will appreciate options that don't presume them to be fragile.

Yeah, I'm a bit nervous about the whole thing... but if I'm not nervous about what people will think, then it's not done yet. It's not good enough. Safe is boring and in role-playing, being boring is worse than being bad.

I want to blow your mind.

But some of you don't care about the art and presentation (or for my particular vision for it), or already have a box and you have no intention of buying it again. That's fine, and I will accommodate you. The updated free artless PDF will be made available when this goes to press (probably a little later than planned due to art delays, but ah well). For those of you who already have the game, the rules tweaks - the biggest change is the "skill system" being cut down to 10 skills - will fit on two large-fonted pages which will also be available as a free PDF. Your current copy of LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is not at all invalidated by this new printing. It's the same game.

And after that, it's Zak's book , with art by Zak, and how much more impressive are you going to get in a game book than that? And art ideas and format plans are gelling fast for Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown. Death Ferox Doom's presentation will be visually focused with over fifty pictorial handouts for players. And there are other projects I have lined up that I don't want to mention yet because it'll be embarrassing enough if this all crashes and burns without leaving half a dozen projects announced and abandoned - but I'll tell you my plans involve some of your favorite bloggers and preliminary agreements have been reached.

I want more stuff from Our People that is daring and different to escape the internet and the format and distribution limitations of POD. Stuff that is useful right now as real gaming material, and will also function in the future as worthy monuments to what we spent so much of our time and creativity on. I want to get some RPG veterans with no previous connection to "our stuff" involved. I want to bring new and unknown talent to the table. And I want my stuff out, too! I can do all of that, one step at a time, with your support.

Flame away.

Monday, December 13, 2010


The number of PDFs bought during my big sale. Yeah, better than expected. I thought I was going to pop 100 sales for the week.

But in pure numbers this sale sold more than the previous four months combined. Which, for such a discount, is to be expected I suppose if there's interest.

But for the total dollars to double the previous two combined months? For this one week of $1.34 PDFs to outrank every complete month of PDF sales I've ever had save one?


Death Frost Doom is now an Electrum selling product, which puts it in the top 2.5% selling products over the history of RPGNow.


Thank you!

Every time I do something lately the outcome seems to be better than expected, which makes me feel good about all the upcoming projects. But it's not just me - the release over the weekend of the new Swords & Wizardry editions blew out their servers and they badly underestimated demand. Labyrinth Lord is going into yet another printing soon.

Our "niche of a niche" experienced explosive growth this year. None of us are large businesses in this hobby, but we're all successful, all surprised at how successful we are, and we're still growing.

I'm happy that I'm part of it, and I'm happy that we've all been able to do it.

If there was any doubt at the beginning of 2010 whether a company focusing on OSR products can work, if there was any doubt whether the interest in "Old School" could sustain a number of games with the same inspiration financially, I think there's none now.

Upwards and onwards. May we find our success - in sales and product quality - and our player bases grow even more in 2011.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Satyriasis is not a suitable theme for a Weird Tales Story."

That from Farnsworth Wright's rejection letter to Clark Ashton Smith concerning The Disinterment of Venus.

One thing to remember when it comes to Weird Tales and the Weird Tale is not only what was in the magazine, but what was not because it was rejected... At the Mountains of Madness and Shadows over Innsmouth among the rejections.

$1.34 PDF Sale Ends TODAY

Midnight Finnish time, 5pm Eastern, 2pm Pacific.

Buy them here!

It's the last sale until next year's first snow, so act fast.

Thanks to The Underdark Gazette for reminding me... I thought the 12th was tomorrow. Crazy days. *sigh*

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Stranger Storm

Finally finished writing up the new introductory adventure that will be in the Grindhouse Edition box.

There are two likely combats, maybe half a dozen possible combats in all, none of which should be particularly challenging. It will be quite possible to be fully engaged in the adventure without rolling to hit once. Not likely, but perfectly possible.

No dungeon.

No traps. Not a single one.

No monsters that you'd recognize as such.

No magic to be found in any location, or able to be used by any NPC.

Guaranteed to create inter-party conflict, guaranteed to drive players crazy (no sanity checks for characters are necessary if the people at the table are freaking out for real!). Playtested. :D

Guaranteed to force choices that some would say should not even be in RPGs. Illustrated.

Cheesy yet appropriate tagline: Trust no one. Not even yourself.

Warning issued. Now to type the damn thing up.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Fall of Cthulhu

(Alternate Post Title: I WANT YOU (to not suck))

To expand on
this... (at least this should piss off an entirely different class of people than last week's pissy rant)

One of the books I got for my birthday was ST Joshi's The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (in glorious hardcover!). I'm about halfway through, and my oh my is Joshi a raging asshole (I also own his God's Defenders: What They Believe and Why They Are Wrong so this is not new information to me). Needless to say, I'm loving it. His assholio status is based on a consistent viewpoint rather than just temper tantrums or random antagonism.

It's reminding me of some of the problems I've had with pitches that people have been submitting to me in hopes of getting published. They see the "Weird Fantasy," they see me talk about Lovecraft and Weird Tales, and suddenly I have outlines in my email that look like Keep on the Dreamlands and Descent into the Depths of R'lyeh.

Wait, those might actually be cool if done right. If being a rather tall order and might still being applicable.

No, what I'm getting are a lot of adventure pitches that claim to be Lovecraft-inspired but seemingly differ from standard D&D adventures only because the monster names are taken from Lovecraft rather than TSR, and the dungeon walls seem more out of Aliens (not what these people were intending, I'm sure) than just being worked stone.

It's nice that you've read all the cool books, really it is, a pastiche isn't an automatic dealbreaker given that RPG stuff is about characters doing stuff and not just the quality of the background and trappings, and nods to past work certainly aren't out of line in this neighborhood of the hobby, but something that shows that maybe you have an idea or two of your own would rock.

And for fuck's sake, if you want to pitch me a Derlethian take on the mythos, then say so; telling me you have this homage to Lovecraft you've like to pitch and then sending me something full of Derleth does not give me one iota of confidence that you have any idea what you're talking about.

I think this is one reason why I like Carcosa. It uses the Lovecraft monsters , but what seals the deal to make it horrible is not that it names Cthulhu, but that the monsters are associated with dare I say unspeakable acts. It gives these horrors actual horror rather than being a cool geeky reference that everyone can play with and pretend that it's scary on some hipster meta-level.

But even that reduces the equation to "Shock me with Cthulhu to make me happy," and that's not exactly right either. There's more going on with Carcosa than evil sorcerous rituals that gets the atmosphere right. Remove those, remove the ray guns and the mythos and all the other really strange things, just peel everything back to a short pitch and Carcosa still packs its punch:

"Humans are created as lab rats for the purpose of magical experimentation... now the creators are gone, the humans are free, and that freedom is used to continue these cruel experiments on each other in a farcical imitation of their absent masters for they know no other way."

That's my interpretation of what the whole thing is about. I'm sure I'll be corrected shortly if it's inaccurate.

I'd love to release some horror material (maybe even Lovecraftian) written by other people, but to actually use the names Cthulhu, Necronomicon, etc, frankly sounds the CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! warning beacon for me because they so often are used as crutches and shortcuts to signify "horror should be here!" and spare the writer the effort of actually creating any horror.

How about some stuff that's actually horrible? And intelligently so?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Independence Day/Birthday/Wedding Anniversary PDF Sale: All PDFs 1 Euro!

... because I can copy ideas from successful businesses with the best of them!

Today is Finland's Independence Day. Tomorrow is my 36th birthday. Wednesday is my first wedding anniversary. Sounds like I should celebrate!

As I write this, the euro is worth $1.34... so all LotFP PDFs though RPGNow are going to be $1.34 this week!

LotFP RPGNow Storefront Here!

There just might be a Grindhouse Edition box for one randomly selected customer... provided you are not hiding your email address from me on that site (I have to be able to contact you after all). Those permissions are customizable by publisher so you can turn it on for me and not for the whole site, and of course turn it back off afterwards.

Sale ends 11:59PM Finnish time on the 12th.

I'd also like to announce that when the new LotFP Webstore becomes operational, hopefully around the New Year, not only will I be offering PDFs direct, but I will also be offering free PDF bundling with LotFP books and boxes sold.

Followup on Last Week's Art Talk

Several blogs took my post to task.

Here are the links to a couple of those blog, with my responses to them in their comments.

Go Make Me a Sandwich.


And as always, Your Dungeon Is Suck. How funny is it that people keep telling me that they think I'm behind that blog as a vehicle for self promotion? also has quite a thread on it.

You know what really surprised me? I thought by talking about the Grindhouse edition coming out with all the new artists I was putting the nail in the coffin of the Deluxe edition - I'd purposefully been delaying talk of the new stuff until after Dragonmeet to give current vendors time to sell through the current version. Well... LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is once again in Noble Knight's Top 5 (or was when I checked yesterday), and one of the Finnish vendors carrying the game sold more in the past week than they have the entire time it's been out.

There's a lesson there that for dignity's sake I need to ignore...

Happy Independence Day everyone!

Art Contest Results

... and the results:

1 Vote
A hapless specialist hangs upside down in a pit, being held by his companions, a burly warrior type and mage (who is mostly trying to hold him steady). The Specialist is attempting to pick the lock on a door inside the pit. Sharp and obviously noxious looking spikes are visible below in the pit. (Malakor)

1 Vote
A devious looking thief-type character caught up in some sort of vines growing out of a chalice she picked up off an altar while a pair of warriors are battling ghoul/wight type undead, completely oblivious to the plight of their companion(who was probably trying to steal the chalice for herself). The Undead fighting with the warriors are dressed up in togas. (2eDM)

1 Vote
Grizzled fighting man setting back down in a tavern for a drink after slaying the patrons in a bloody battle. (ghostofmarx)

1 Vote
Our heroine (the Flame Princess) has kicked open the door of a cabin in the snowy wilderness. Through the open doorway we see mounted on one wall the heads of a dwarf, elf, halfling, and two humans (one male, one female. Lunging forward, hand drawn back to deliver a wicked back-handed blow to the Princess, is her quarry—a fell beast twice her height that looks remarkably like a ten-point buck, save for it standing upright and the diabolical cast in its eyes, the snarl on its black lips, and the row of impressive fangs protruding from its mouth, dripping venomous saliva.

Closer inspection of the scene reveals a small humanoid—a gnome—turning on a spit in the fireplace, and resting on a table, awaiting mounting on the wall, the armored head of knight and the horned-helmed head of a barbarian. Resting beneath a ‘chair’ comprised of human hair is a throw rug of human skin, with patches of hair and bone interspersed in an intricate design. (uwarr)

3 Votes
Group of people huddling in the corner of some dark cave from what seems to be nothing. torches laying around them burnt out, caltrops on the ground with spears and or other polearms pointed outwards. (xxkillervk)

4 Votes
Something twitchy, hooked and ugly being extracted with forceps from open wound of an injured adventurer. His adventuring companions watch mortified as does the physician who is pulling it out. (jonas)

10 Votes
In one of the lower corners there are some people, presumably PC's , perched behind a rock/peeping over a corner of a corridor. We only see their backs. They are looking into a room/cave lit with torches. In the middle of it there is a group of cultists in robes, each with a meter long candle, chanting. They are circling an ornamented hole in the floor of the chamber, over which a tied naked woman hangs suspend from the ceiling. She is terrified, she screams as the cultist begin to lower her into the darkness and a slimy tentacle reaches out of the chasm and ties around her legs. (squidman)

21 Votes and Your Winner
So, a peaceful, even pastoral scene, perhaps of a few Amish-looking farmers talking to an adventurer or two, or just among themselves. But one little bit of the uncanny peeks through -- a tree in the background is actually a camouflaged troll, a demonic face stares out from an upper story window, or better yet a barn door is slightly ajar in the background, and you can see a few sides of beef hanging, and among them a side of a butchered human. So the idea is a few farmers talking amiably to a couple of adventurers. They can't see, but the viewer can, that among the butchered animals hanging in the barn is a human corpse. (mikemonaco)


All I have to say is YES! The winner was my choice as well, as it captures the entire vibe I'm going for in the game and says it better than just about anything I've commissioned myself so far. So there's a box winner there.

I'll also be using the physician extraction pic too. That too expresses the right atmosphere, and reminds me of one of the scariest movies I saw as a child. Remember that Martin Sheen movie The Believers? That scene where a woman's boil bursts on her face and SPIDERS COME CRAWLING OUT OF HER FACE? Yeah, that horrified me. This reminds me of that very much. Must use. So there's a box discount there.

Thanks for participating, everyone!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Art Contest Phase 2: VOTE!

The entries are in!

The list will follow (unfortunately the text of some of the entries won't fit into actual Polling software spaces). Here are the rules:

  • Your response should be just the single number representing your favored piece. Please put any commentary in the original contest post.
  • One vote per person.
  • You can't vote for yourself, but if you get all your friends to vote, that's OK by me.
  • When I wake up Monday morning, voting ends and the winning entry will be announced. Ties will be decided by the artist.

I don't expect voter participation to be particularly heavy (though I'm quite happy to be surprised), so your vote will count.

The finalists:

Something twitchy, hooked and ugly being extracted with forceps from open wound of an injured adventurer. His adventuring companions watch mortified as does the physician who is pulling it out. (jonas)

The aftermath of a battle, as a PC is severing a finger from a dead opponent to claim a ring it was wearing, while his companions keep an eye open for more trouble. (Cole)

So, a peaceful, even pastoral scene, perhaps of a few Amish-looking farmers talking to an adventurer or two, or just among themselves. But one little bit of the uncanny peeks through -- a tree in the background is actually a camouflaged troll, a demonic face stares out from an upper story window, or better yet a barn door is slightly ajar in the background, and you can see a few sides of beef hanging, and among them a side of a butchered human. So the idea is a few farmers talking amiably to a couple of adventurers. They can't see, but the viewer can, that among the butchered animals hanging in the barn is a human corpse. (mikemonaco)

Group of people huddling in the corner of some dark cave from what seems to be nothing. torches laying around them burnt out, caltrops on the ground with spears and or other polearms pointed outwards. (xxkillervk)

A hapless specialist hangs upside down in a pit, being held by his companions, a burly warrior type and mage (who is mostly trying to hold him steady). The Specialist is attempting to pick the lock on a door inside the pit. Sharp and obviously noxious looking spikes are visible below in the pit. (Malakor)

A devious looking thief-type character caught up in some sort of vines growing out of a chalice she picked up off an altar while a pair of warriors are battling ghoul/wight type undead, completely oblivious to the plight of their companion(who was probably trying to steal the chalice for herself). The Undead fighting with the warriors are dressed up in togas. (2eDM)

A small group of adventurers come across the corpse of a missing companion, the body obviously drained of all life and blood. Numbed by this horrific discovery, they are unaware of the large vampiric entity looming over them in the darkness... (toddroe)

We are looking over the shoulder of some sort of undead-a ghoul, a mummy, some kind of intelligent corpse-who is looking in an open window. The corpse has several rats sitting on his head and hanging on his back, and one is whispering in his ear. Through the window we see a father and daughter sitting at a table (playing, eating, reading, whatever), oblivious to what is watching them. Behind them another window is partially open, and a second corpse is crawling in over the sill, with lots of rats waterfalling over the sill as well. (Cthulhu's Librarian)

In one of the lower corners there are some people, presumably PC's , perched behind a rock/peeping over a corner of a corridor. We only see their backs. They are looking into a room/cave lit with torches. In the middle of it there is a group of cultists in robes, each with a meter long candle, chanting. They are circling an ornamented hole in the floor of the chamber, over which a tied naked woman hangs suspend from the ceiling. She is terrified, she screams as the cultist begin to lower her into the darkness and a slimy tentacle reaches out of the chasm and ties around her legs. (squidman)

Grizzled fighting man setting back down in a tavern for a drink after slaying the patrons in a bloody battle. (ghostofmarx)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Art Contest! Win LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition!

Fourth Grindhouse Edition Giveaway (of at least five!):

There is still art that needs to be completed, and layouts aren't even done on the Ref book so there are a few pages that haven't even been commissioned yet.

I want you to come up with what the art will be on one of those pages.

Here's how it will work. Leave a comment to this post describing a scene or situation you would like to see as artwork. The art will be full page and black and white. One entry per person.

When I wake up Saturday morning, I will look through the responses and choose the 10 most interesting ideas and make a poll post with those ten choices (write-ins will also be allowed in case you think I'm way off the mark in my 10 selections). The poll will close at the time I wake up Monday morning.

If YOUR suggestion is chosen as the winner, that will be forwarded to the artist and will appear in the product, and you will get a free copy of the box.

If you aren't the winner and I use your suggestion anyway in addition to the winner's idea, you'll get 20% off the box - your entry here gives permission to use your idea - utterly generic ideas given just to get a discount ("people fighting!") will be laughed at.

So tell me what you want to see.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Want to Win Copies of the Upcoming Grindhouse Edition?

It's probably not out for a couple months, give or take, but I thought I'd announce this "contest" now.

I'm going to give away 3 copies of the new box when it's out.

One random follower of this blog (down in the Disciples of the Church of LotFP section on the left sidebar) will win a box.

One random Liker of the LotFP: RPG Facebook page (not my personal page) will win a box.

I will pick a random Twitter follower to win a box.

Yes, it is possible to win 3 boxes.

Here's how it will work: The day that all of the completed box materials are back from the printer, and there will be no way to predict when that will be until it shows up on the doorstep, I will randomly select one person from each of those categories. I will contact them (make sure your Blogger profile has some sort of contact info!) and they will have 24 hours to get back to me with their mailing info, or else I will select someone else if there has been no response. And then I'll mail out the boxes. And that will be that.

Yes, this is a ploy to get my "social networking" numbers up. Whether it is a cheap plot or not is for you to decide.

Follow now and follow often. :D