Sunday, June 26, 2011

There's Dungeons Down Under Stole My Morning, or Lessons for/from Bloggers Part 1

Dammit, if you're promising a three part series, and part two comes pretty much exactly a day after part one, you need to have part three ready around that same time on the following day!

It's just about 4pm here and I'm wearing out this refresh button. Get with it!

Friday, June 24, 2011

I'm Going to Make Lovecraft to You

You want another small-form modules?

Fine.

While everyone else is doing their parts with the big projects, I've been sketching.

The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time.

Notes are done, I just need to make a map and I'm ready to play. (and then I need to write it)

Start with the ideas that Lovecraft is known for, remove the names and actual things associated with Lovecraft and just rebuild up from the basic concepts. No Cthulhu, no Necronomicon, no Arkham. Sorta like if some fuckin' moron were to make a game that might remind one of D&D in some ways but they left out dragons, orcs, and +1 swords.

If your players aren't so scared that they're shitting their balls, it means they've already died.

(OK, not really, but I come up with some weird taglines I can never use, and what else is a blog for?)

I couldn't answer my wife's "Why would anyone go on this adventure?" question with a carrot, so I answered it with a stick.

For character levels 0 - .

Fun for all ages, in case you were wondering.

An adventure in Weird Fantasy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kiss of the Frog God Out Now in Print and PDF!

Postmortem Studios stepped up and released the first third-party adventure for LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing.

The PDF is available from RPGNow here.

A print version from Lulu is available here.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Carcosa Update!

Looks like this is going to be the next thing to the printer as it's in layout right now.

The art isn't finished but we're going to do the layout and then have the art made for the layout instead of doing the ton of art and then figuring out where it goes. I'll post some art samples soon as things get finalized... we're going for a 3 color interior so some of the art might not just be black and white line art as originally planned. Each of the hexes will have an extra feature in it (we're incorporating Chris Robert's Strange Sights of the Doomed World Carcosa into the work, and most of those are longer than the original hex features), we've added encounter tables, Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer will be part of the book, there's an extra little bit about life on Carcosa, the terrain maps will be in full color, and we could have up to 40 total pages of art in this thing (each piece approved by McKinney). Total page count is going to be somewhere between 200 and 400 pages depending on how it's laid out.

There will be no pre-orders. Due to the nature of the cover art being dependent on the physical material to look impressive and not the art itself, plus the fact that I'd like to be sure I get the shipping weight right, this won't go on sale until it comes back from the printer.

There will be full color cloth maps made of for Carcosa, but they're a bit too expensive to manufacture to just give away as freebies. I'll figure this out.

Not sure if I'm doing Carcosa shirts, but if so I'll just order a bunch and then sell them instead of doing shirt pre-orders..

What I'm stumped about at the moment is how to structure the giveaways for Carcosa. I always like to do giveaway contests leading up to a release. What would be appropriate for Carcosa?

And for those that missed it the first time around, here's the tryout piece that got Rich Longmore the Carcosa art job:


Because Nobody Reads This Blog on Saturdays Anyway


Friday, June 17, 2011

Changing the Subject

This is one of those blogging PSAs from your Uncle Jim.

I see some people around the 'net complaining about echo chambers and being sick of certain subjects.

Guess what? You don't have to deal with it. You can change the dialogue and make everyone talk about what you want to talk about! It's a simple two step process.

First, ignore the things that annoy you. Stop reading the posts, the comments, and for crying out loud stop bitching. By complaining about it, you give it more power. You're another voice in the chorus.

Secondly, write about something that does interest you. Write in a way that generates interest in the subject and encourages discussion and debate. Write about a subject robust enough to carry several points of view on the matter.

Congratulations! You've successfully changed the subject and people are talking about something that interests you!

If you do that regularly, you're going to find yourself with a following and soon enough you're creating the trends that someone else is getting tired of hearing about.

It's all about building the environment you want to be in and taking the opportunity to share that ideal and build a community around it. You can't rightfully complain about being stuck with the options other people give to you if you're not bothering to do anything yourself.

Show the world how it should be done.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Weird Fantasy Atmosphere

If you're not reading this thread full of Weird Fantasy settings, you're missing out.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Grindhouse

I've heard rumors of a specious schismatic somewhere out on the fringes of the internet with concerns about the content of my Grindhouse Edition box.

To clarify:

The
only responsibility I have with my releases is to honestly communicate their content so you can make an informed buying decision. I don't think anyone can argue that I wasn't forthcoming about the Grindhouse box before its release.

If it has the explicit content warning on it, then I mean it and I'm pulling no punches - beware.

If it does not have the explicit content warning on it, that's not a trick either. It'll be fine for general audiences.

Read reviews. Be informed about what you're spending your money on. That's your responsibility.

And now, story time!

***

I read Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space again yesterday, to get myself in the right mindset for some writing in that mode.

Now I don't know how you guys visualize the things you're reading, and I don't know how Die Farbe showed details BECAUSE IT WAS FUCKING SOLD OUT WHEN I WANTED TO SEE IT AT THE LAST NIGHT VISIONS EVEN THOUGH IT WAS A 3AM SHOWING SON OF A BITCH, but when I read the story I get some horrific images in my brain. Read this passage, where Ammi Pierce discovers and disposes of Mrs Gardner (is she even given a name? I can't remember it and a quick scan didn't help...):

There are things which cannot be mentioned, and what is done in common humanity is sometimes cruelly judged by the law. I gathered that no moving thing was left in that attic room, and that to leave anything capable of motion there would have been a deed so monstrous as to damn any accountable being to eternal torment. Anyone but a stolid farmer would have fainted or gone mad, but Ammi walked conscious through that low doorway and locked the accursed secret behind him.

It's a common lie that we tell ourselves that things we imagine are worse than the things we are shown. What did Mrs. Gardner look like at this point? Lovecraft doesn't directly say (although leaves hints throughout the story) here, and he also gives the "There is no need to speak too exactly of what they found," line when the bodies of the Gardner children are found in the well.

My mind goes into full-on overdrive when reading passages like these, and the autopsy piece from At the Mountains of Madness, or the descriptions of Pickman's paintings, or The Thing on the Doorstep. I see absolutely disgusting things whether or not its spelled out on the page, because that's what is actually being talked about.

Lovecraft's descriptions here are not likely to offend anyone, no matter how vivid their imagination. But an effective visual depiction of all of them likely would. So which then is really more effective at truly unnerving the audience?

I think the "it's more effective to not show everything and leave it up to the imagination of the reader/viewer" idea is bullshit as a blanket statement. It's truthy but not true. It's a valid stylistic choice but it's touted as some sort of universal truth. Is it a defense mechanism for those who don't actually fill in the blanks with their imagination when confronted with less graphic descriptions? Is it a lie told by those ashamed or disturbed that they can do so? An excuse by creators to act like that they're making a choice instead of being censored by an editor or studio or network?

I suspect a lot of that talk is really a handy excuse to work around shitty movie special effects. It really is better to hide the monster than to reveal it and and oh boy it's a man in a crappy rubber suit, you know? (I wish filmmakers today would have this attitude with their substandard CGI creations...)

Sometimes less is more. But sometimes, more is more.

***

Red Dragon was on Finnish prime time broadcast television Monday night, unedited. That girl putting her hand in the corpse's blown-out head was one of those sublime images that makes me all eeewwwwwww even though I'd seen the movie before some years back. It's a gross-out moment that even the worst of the worst in cinema can only hope to match, not better.

But that's Finland, you'll say, as if people here are Martians with their strange and different way of life. (OK, yeah, they eat creamed poo as an Easter treat and like to get naked a lot in groups for non-sexual purposes, but still...)

US prime time broadcast TV crime shows like CSI and House show a ton of gore. Severed heads, massive blood loss, an eye blowing out of its socket, or this one time on NCIS with this disemboweled guy in the elevator and his intestines and everything were all over the floor and...

You don't have to cite Saw or the like as something exposing what your insides might look like to the general populace.

It's all out there.

***

People have been bringing up Cannibal Corpse comparisons. It's totally fair since I hired Vince Locke to do the zombie attack because of his work with Cannibal Corpse and how it blew my mind when I was 17-18. It's being related in some quarters to the bad old days of the D&D witch-hunts.

Cannibal Corpse had their moment in the light as well. They had a cameo in Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (and Jim Carrey appearing on Arsenio talking about his love of death metal was pretty funny) and then a few years later were brought up by Bob Dole's presidential campaign as being a negative influence on youth or some such rubbish. Chris Barnes was on some news show getting questioned by a clueless reporter.

The reaction in the metal scene? Howls of laughter. Or worry that oh god the posers were going to think it's cool and they'll ruin everything - we were sick enough of people confusing "our" stuff with crap like Korn.

Nobody was concerned on any sort of moral level, or freaked about what would happen to us if people knew that we enjoyed that sort of thing. Then again, we were all glad the days of Poison and Motley Crue and Quiet Riot were over, even (especially?) if that meant metal was nowhere near the charts. Remember, metal was DEAD during this time in the eyes of the general public, and while it was frustrating in terms of product availability (mail order or nothing) and tour frequency, people carried on doing whatever they wanted to do because the commercial success was a possible byproduct of the process, not the goal. More creative experimentation happened in those dead 90s because neither the artists nor their financiers had to worry about ruining their Top 10 chances.

Challenging and upsetting common sensibilities is kind of metal's raison d'ĂȘtre, you know?

Look, if you don't like it, fine. Fair enough. I knew that I was not doing something to fit every taste. I appreciate the publicity you give me when you express your distaste, and you're welcome for the traffic and attention that talking about it gives to you.

If you don't like it because you assume people you don't know might think badly about the things you do just because this different other thing exists, then you are an idiot with brains made of shit. Get some goddamn confidence to make your own decisions and live your life without worrying about the approval of strangers.

***

Remember all that whinging I was doing about the violence against women in the art?

Due to recent discussions, I did some counting.

There are four women in the whole of the game who die, are in the process of dying, or have just died in the art. All adventuring types, no innocent victim types. By comparison, there are four dead men in the Rules book by page 9.

(this doesn't count the zombiethings at the front of the Tutorial or end of the Referee book since those are more monster types - you don't count the existing zombies in a horror movie as "victims" - nor the corpse at the feet of Ollam Onga because I tried to crop that out as much as I could because it was godawful in quality compared to the rest of the piece, so you can argue 5 or 7 depending on how tough you want to be with the qualifications. But if you want to count those, then you have to count the 100+ dead men in the halfling picture, and the proportions get even more lopsided)

Complaining about violence in the art? Valid. Complaining about violence against women in the art? No basis at all.

In fact, I dare you to look at my game and find any indication anywhere that women are portrayed in any way inferior than men or treated more cruelly than men. (Quick, call the Sandwich lady! Actually, if this link draws you here, I'll send you a copy of the game and you can crucify me or not or just throw the thing away without comment if you wish) There are protagonist women all over this thing. There is some cheesecake, but it's not incidental costuming, it's the whole point of the pieces where it appears, and there is just as much beefcake to match. Violence against women? There's some, but that's only because I'm putting the women in as equals, and it would be fucking lame to then decide they can't be touched.

So where does this anti-woman impression come from?

Some is my fault, as I blogged about it because I was so concerned that I was being unbalanced in my artwork. Which turns out to be a total joke, because there would have to be TONS more dead adventuring women in the art to even approach balance.

Something Awful's feature had 3 of the 4 images, which I'm sure creates a lopsided impression for those that haven't seen the whole thing.

I'm sure there are those that think violence against women is inherently worse than violence against men, even given equal contexts, but I say no way. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

But I think the women's deaths stick out in people's minds for a more important reason: Each of those pieces was carefully plotted and designed. There's a story behind each and every one of them. And that gives those illustrations far greater weight, even if the story is not known, than a lot of the other ones which may be just "Hey, this is a cool idea!"

Alice's death is the least brutal, because of the rather cartoon "electrified skeleton" effect (my idea, not the artist's). But she's in the intro as a character, and a lot of people remember Aleena's death back in the day and make some easy comparisons. It's not just some woman getting zapped, it's your adventuring companion!

Then there's the duel. It's a 7 image sequence, the only one of its type in the game so it stands out. (the header images are a different sort of thing...)

I don't think those are at all out of line. Now we get into more complicated things.

The Flame Princess getting melted by the slime served two purposes. One, I wanted to get across that the game is supposed to be deadly. What better way to emphasize that than killing the game's titular character? It also gets across the horror of oozes, slimes, jellies, etc. In traditional game play, they attack, and often just do some damage to a PC (even as it melts their equipment). I wanted something to show just what it would mean to get brought down to 0hp by one of these nasty, horrific things. Two birds, one stone.

The zombie attack? Originally this was going to be much more over the top than it was. Remember the "get me arrested" thing? There were ideas thrown around where that victim was going to be gangbanged by zombies and all sorts of awful crap, just to be obnoxious.

You know why that didn't happen? Because it wouldn't have made any sense. Sure, the mental impression of "What would it be like to have a rotting maggoty zombie dick thrusting into your mouth?" would have been suitably gross, but I can't imagine zombies really giving a shit about sexual urges. It'd be a complete joke. (it hadn't yet been decided whether the victim was to be a man or a woman at that stage, FYI)

But there had to be something a bit more or there's no point hiring Vince Locke, so the genital ripping thing came up. And at this point assigning male and female in the pic had to be done. Originally it was going to be two women adventurers, because women adventurers are cool. There was then some debate over whether it would be gnarlier to rip a cock off or do this vagina thing. In the end, I decided that a man watching his pregnant adventuring companion lover getting ripped apart because of something he did (taking the staff) was the most tragic thing we could do with the basic setup. And so it was done.

I guess I should talk about the fertility goddess pic here, even though there's no violence towards women depicted. (true story - my ex said it reminded her of her own experience giving birth... sounds like justification to throw a LOL in here)

Amos turned in a racy sketch, and I balked at it because I didn't think it really fit where it was to go. We had a conversation and he talked about doing some of the weirder stuff (I guess maybe he was seeing the fun the other artists were having while I was giving him straight-laced assignments, and he wanted in?). Well I wanted to control that sort of thing and save it for specific pieces instead of having it all over the game. And so this one was the over-the-top taking-the-piss ridiculous wink-wink pic in the game and Amos got to have his fun.

NAKED WOMEN performing HUMAN SACRIFICE while a CREATURE pops out of a GIANT VAGINA and DEMONIC NURSING is happening! And some INVISIBLE DUDE is stealing NIPPLE GEMS off the GIANT TITTY STATUE!

If you take that seriously, I suggest suicide.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Projecting

As in, "doing projects."

Ready for a good long rambling read? I know you are!

Here's where things are right now:

Exquisite Corpses
Several things are still up in the air about the presentation. Ball's in Poag's court here; it's his byline and so his pride and reputation. We don't proceed until he's happy with what we're doing.

Carcosa
We're going with someone else to do layout. I'm waiting for a quote back from the printer about another option that will affect the page design, and once I get that we'll move forward. We need a basic layout before giving instructions on most of the art (for Grindhouse I ended up with piles of unused art because of plans changing between original commissioning and the project going to press, and I would like to not repeat that), so we've still got time to go here. Maps are 95% done though (100% done if we don't end up fine-tuning any more).

Isle of the Unknown
New art deadline is August 1. This has a clearer art direction. "Each monster gets a pic, each of the mages gets a full page pic." Most of the mage pics are done... maybe I should pop up a preview or two soon. And when all that's done, we'll bend the layout to fit this scheme.

All these things prove that I should never estimate release dates, not even as open as giving a season. Things get done when they get done, and rushing for some artificially set deadline just compromises the quality of the release. Sure we could have rushed Carcosa for Ropecon and GenCon, for instance, but it's going to be a whole lot better because we decided not to.

I Dunno What It Is Yet
The first third-party publication for LotFP: RPG might be released as early as next week. I have literally no idea what it is yet, what it's about, what the tone will be, or what. Watch this space!

Something Else in the Works
Fellow bloggers are working on a project to be released by LotFP. I'm told to expect one of these projects in the fall.

Then there are my projects.

Death Ferox Doom
Writing is pretty much done, but the artist I'm going to use here has Carcosa to do, and Carcosa is the priority between the two. (also, commissioning art for 348923742 projects at once is a good way to run out of cash to do anything at all) People are going to be in shock and awe at this one. It's going to push buttons, but that's just the cannibal gimmick - the actual adventure is breathtaking. But I may be biased.

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill
I still knock it around a bit, but it was fundamentally designed as a D&D-style module, what with the goblins and the standard menagerie hanging about. The Insect Shrine itself is pure weirdness and can pretty much stand as written, but all that other stuff would have to be redone to fit with my current preferences and thinking.

1 and 20 Combat Result Card Deck (not the real title)
Roll a 1 or a 20 in combat? Draw a card! I don't want to call them "critical hits" or "fumbles" since my idea is to have results that are often disassociated with the actual combat action taken. A "20" doesn't necessarily mean a more spectacular hit with these cards, but a boon in general. Here are examples of the design ideas I'm working with:

Sample 1 draw: "Your fellow PCs may take some, all, or none of the XP you earn this session for themselves, to be divided as they wish"

Sample 20 draw: "Your attack actually misses and your foe gets an immediate free attack against you, but you gain +1 Wisdom from the experience"

The idea is to have as little of the boring "max damage!" or "2x damage!" or "arm injury!" results as possible.

Basically every combat turns into a potential campaign twister and source of amusement beyond who lost how many hit points.

Transylvania 1600 (not the real title)
I don't expect to start play on it until the fall, so this is a longterm project. I've got a load of history books on the way for research to get it right. The Ottoman Empire books have already arrived.

The idea is it'll be a sandbox full of neat stuff, with several larger events which move according to a timeline. Some will roll along regardless of what the PCs do, some the PCs can influence.

I'd originally thought I was going to make some BS Countess Bathory vs Count Dracula nonsense, but then my preliminary research found the Bathory name all over the list of Transylvanian rulers. Now one of the ideas is still going to be full of Countess Bathory vs Count Dracula nonsense, but it won't be BS.

(I'll also move the work I did on that 'Tuberculoids' idea into this sandbox. Styria, Transylvania, what the hell's the difference, never been to either place and it'll all be crap to people from either area anyway!)

Referee Screen
The cards I know I could publish with durable high quality cards and pro packaging and be competitive with Paizo's pricing for such card decks. I'm still waiting for the screen quote, so this may still be pie in the sky at the print runs that are realistic for me. I can't do something like Death Watch's screen, and thin screens like the old AD&D screen or Mutants & Masterminds screen is below my physical quality standards.

But what I am looking at is a 30cm x 84cm screen, divided up into four panels, on laminated, die-cut board. Getting a good price on high quality artwork is going to be a killer for that size, not to mention figuring out a composition that both gets across all the themes of the game I want to emphasize and doesn't look an incoherent mess will me challenging.

You'd be able to use whiteboard markers on this and wipe it off with dry cloth, so although it would be a bit awkward writing on a standing screen, customized or blank areas are possible. Hmm, if the basic screen is affordable, maybe I should ask about an option that'll have a panel or two flat on the table for the Ref side...

Ref Screen Extras
It's customary to include some extra bits with a screen. I have four ideas for 16 page booklets. I think I could reasonably get two in one screen. But which two?

The Gun Rules (not the real title)
This is definitely would be going in. 16 pages on guns and cannons circa 1600. Maybe a mass combat system and a retooling of the maritime exploration rules, depending on what fits.

The Book of Witchcraft (not the real title)
Rules for bringing the Malleus Malificarum into game terms. As I move more to a "Weird Earth" interest (against my own Ref book advice... typical), things like this interest me. What if all that stuff was real? This book would present an entirely new system of magic to work alongside the standard system, and give an explanation of how Christianity and Satanism are altogether separate and distinct from the current LotFP magic and alignment systems (add in the good/evil axis, or make a new Holy/Unholy axis? "My Character is Chaotic Holy!" "Yeah? Mine is Neutral Unholy!"). But witchcraft would not use memorized spell slots, and any character class (or 0-level commoner) could use it... if they are willing to pay the price.

Approaching the subject will be tricky as it deals with a lot of real world religions that real world people practice. But witchcraft as witches today practice is not the witchcraft of the Malleus Malificarum which completely changes the dynamic. The actual historic text is also horribly misogynistic. "All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable" and all that.

But working with anything historical, from the Inquisition to this sort of vigilante witch-hunting, from slavery to colonialism in Africa, Asia, or the Americas, is going to necessitate dealing with horrific things. And Weird Fantasy Role-Playing has that flavor. And I have no dog in this fight. I'm not a witch, I'm not a Christian, and no have interest in one looking better or worse than the other. Fact is Christians were fucking assholes to each other and to other religions in this time period, and if witches were as described in the MM, they'd hardly be sympathetic figures themselves. So...

Anyway, Luna (model for the snake demon up on the banner here as well as the frisky medusa in the Grindhouse box) is on board to be the insatiable witch in a series of photos to use as art. It's easy to keep photos in-period when you're not wearing any clothes, right? And we have to figure out where to find a goat's head, maybe a slaughterhouse or something. We'll see if this works out and looks good.

This is a fascinating subject and I want to do it, but I think it would be easier to get it into 16 pages and call it done than to do a 64 or 96 page supplement, which would be a major project.

A couple of short adventure ideas as well for inclusion in the screen.

The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time
In colonial New England, settlers want to move into this idyllic valley. Hell, even the Indians don't live there, so there's not even any conflict to be had. Just one problem... there's this weird rock there. It creeps people out. You're brave and adventurous explorers, take care of that for us?

The stone is of course the titular monolith, which indeed is from beyond space and time. Approaching the thing is difficult because of these distortions, and looking upon it is its own problems because sight is how its creators transmit information. You can leave it but it won't leave you no matter how far you run. And its guardian does not exist, so you can't stop it. But you do exist, so it can stop you.

I described all the ideas for all the grief this thing will cause PCs and players, and my wife asked, "What's in it for them then?" Don't know yet. See, the rewards and treasures are not the interesting parts of an adventure. Rewards are a consolation prize. "Here, this wasn't a waste of your time and complete masochistic enterprise!" The challenge of an adventure is everything interesting about an adventure, so that's all I've come up with so far.

The Thing In The Barn
Some wizard wants you to get some fragments off a meteor that fell off in the countryside near some village.

Of course things are a bit more complicated once you get there.

(it's interesting, I promise, but telling why would give the game away!)

About these 16 Pagers

I am hesitant to release modules in the format of Death Frost Doom, Grinding Gear, and Hammer of the Gods anymore. Grindhouse has outsold Grinding Gear and Hammers, to give you an idea. Whether they don't sell as much because they're "just adventures," or whether people really do prefer to pay for a more deluxe format than a saddle-stitched short booklet, I don't know. Or maybe a new release of this type would do quite well because my profile in the RPG community has climbed up a notch since the last one.

(this is a worthwhile topic for someone to explore: Do people who spend money on RPG products tend to prefer the things they buy to be a bigger and more impressive rather than cheaper and simpler formats?)

When it comes to actual costs involved, a 64 or even 96 page perfect bound book (like the Grindhouse Tutorial or Referee book) with a color cover is no more expensive to print than Death Frost Doom at a certain print run, which has not a drop of color anywhere in it. That's mindblowing and gamechanging.

So throwing out this Monolith idea as its own product makes me worried that it would just die on its own as a product. As a value-added bit to a bigger product like a screen? Might be seen and used more.

But would a 64 or 96 page adventure priced the same as the smaller booklet adventures (or nearly so, would need a bit more art than the smaller adventures) sell any better? (assuming equal quality, which is a wild card in all this)

It'll be interesting to find out.

A note about layouts and page counts and stuff.

Paper is cheap. You know those complaints about the headers in the Grindhouse Edition? The Tutorial and Referee books would have cost more to print at 64 pages than at their current 96. So if Carcosa's (or any of them) layout ideas means it's 32, 64, 96, however many pages more than if we slammed everything in, that increases the cost of the book a lot less than you think. (there might be other considerations that do increase the cost, such as a bigger book being more expensive to ship, but the actual number of pages in the book is not the price driver)

In particular, I want to mention that while Zak's example in Vornheim is truly excellent and will influence some decisions, we won't be aping it. Every project is different and has different needs. Sometimes you want to slam everything in there in as tight a space as possible. Sometimes you want to make something look like stereotypically so-called good design.

Nobody but Zak has Zak's instincts anyway, so a WWZD? mindset will only end in tears anyway.

This is the priority list for LotFP releases:

  1. Content. Without good content, presentation doesn't mean shit.
  2. Useability. RPGs are reference books, so the layout needs to serve the book's ease of use at the table.
  3. Looking good. After the first two items are taken care of, then we push the thing right to the moon and make the book a must-have by making it a thing of utter beauty (as determined by what the project is, not an objective standard that every project will conform to).

That's the theory anyway. Whether it actually works out that way is for you guys to decide.

So work continues. Eventually something will get done and then I'll be all like "IZ HEER, GIMME YOUR MONEEZ!" and you'll be all "HERE IZ OUR MONEEZ!" and I'll be all like "COOLZ, I CAN HAS MONEYZ TO FINANCE THE NEXT PROJECT NAO!!!!!"

Gamer's Haven Podcast Interviews Me and Zak!

This was actually posted over the weekend, so I'm slack-ass with the announcement, but you can listen to it now! Here!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cards as Randomizers

I had a meeting with the Tactics people over in Pori yesterday.

Had a tour of their factory, too. (4th largest manufacturer of board games in the country; they make millions of copies of hundreds of different games every year, I was told).

I was there to discuss options and the feasibility of a LotFP screen, but they also manufacture playing cards and I've been tooling around with ideas for card stuff for OSR games.

The issue is matching the right types of randomizer with the results they give.

Need a number? Roll a die, read the die.

Have random results with each result being a very short snippet of info? Roll the die, reference the die's result on a chart.

But what if there's a large number of randomized results, each with a considerable amount of information (enough to spread it over more than one page spread), or a number of randomized items that must be referenced together?

Cards!

Cards are their own randomizer as well as able to contain the result.

Critical hit and fumble tables are an excellent example of something that should be on cards (imagine my chagrin when I discovered Paizo already does this... argh!). Roll a 1 or 20? Don't roll another die and then consult a chart, just draw a card and read it.

A monster generator with multiple card decks instead of pages and pages of charts is another. Get all the info you need instead of needing to write anything down or flip a single page.

A random dungeon generator - hell, for a solo game - could also work better this way.

The issue is simply what the fastest and easiest tools to do the job might be at the table.

Something to think about when coming up with game aids...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I'm Back - Service Resumes As Normal

399 emails in the inbox. whew. Most of those message board and blog comment reply notifications, but still.

I'll get to all the emails by tomorrow night I think.

Orders will resume mailing on Monday, so go buy those newly stocked XRP titles! :D

Feel free to continue your debates here and elsewhere, no reason to stop because it's the weekend. :D

Actual news:

This week there will likely be a change to how the store handles orders to France. There seems to be a problem with orders going there getting lost in the mail, and I know I'm not the one screwing up so many orders to one particular country. I'll need to consult with my post office this week. Might require French orders to get order tracking (which will cost a bit more) or, worst case scenario, I just discontinue taking orders from France. Yes, that many orders are getting lost and I'm bleeding money because of it. I'll make a post dedicated to the subject when I know more.


Friday, June 10, 2011

RPG.net vs Grindhouse, RPGPundit vs Vornheim

It's been an active day aside from the Nihilism discussion going on one post down.

There's an RPG.net thread going on now about LotFP. "Am I being unduly critical, or is this as big a turd as it appears to be?" Read that here.

RPG Pundit has reviewed Vornheim. "about half the book is awesome, and the other half is, at risk of repeating myself, gimmicky." Read that here. Can't wait to see what he thinks of Grindhouse...

We've gotten to the end of my crash course on layout and design. We've looked over a whole bunch of games, both "professional" and "indie" and discussed their visual qualities ("that's effective, that sucks, that's effective, that sucks..."), and talked a lot about how to approach Carcosa. I've also got some typographical textbooks on the way via Amazon to follow up. Between these and all my history books I've recently purchased to research my own next project (not publishing project, but play project with the intention of being published down the line), those Amazon people must think I'm a real nerd.

I'll be home and reading my email again tomorrow.

LotFP 'Nihilist'?

Over in the comments of Grognardia's post about the DCC game (here), there were several bits from THOMAS:

I read the back cover and hated the rejection of the concept of "hero" ala LotFP. It deliberately discourages the ideas of nobility, self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, honor, etc. Better to be non-committal philosophically, and let DMs create the tone they want. Game designers are trying to give their games a nihilistic bent, which I think is a mistake.

Sure, not purely for nihilism's sake, but the section on alignment demonstrates that good/evil are merely ideas or opinions. This makes all ethical ideals baseless, including valuing life and respecting others. The cosmology chosen in the alignment section leads to nihilism, which leads to the mercenary spirit, contra honor, nobility, heroism. Honor and nobility become opinions without base, no more intrinsically good than dishonor and evil. That cosmology stinks, and it is too bad that it is accepted by default.

I think this game, and LotFP, are both trying to make their games more unambiguously conformed to the nihilistic sorts of literary inspirations (e.g. Lovecraft). In other words, they are "purging" so to speak other works from Appendix N (Tolkien). AD&D was less committed to this nihilism than these two newer games.

So... is this true?

I declare that LotFP is non-committal philosophically, but it's not the Ref's job to create the tone they want - it should be the players'.

Look at A Stranger Storm, the intro adventure found in the Grindhouse Edition.

You can argue that saving nuns and children is the true goal of the adventure. If they're smart and/or heroic, the PCs can save a lot of innocent lives.

But if they're greedy and/or stupid, they can end up slaughtering innocent people (including babies) and each other for the sake of treasure.

And it's all up to the PCs. The adventure presents some situations and then lets the players decide what kind of game they're playing. I guess you can say it requires the players to decide what kind of game they're playing.

Is it nihilistic to allow them that choice?

Look at No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides. Nothing requires the PCs to get involved in the murder mystery beyond their own sense of justice. They can ignore it entirely with no bother. But that first portion of the adventure is all about seeing justice done and saving innocent lives.

The second part of the adventure (admittedly the weakest) is also about saving the innocent - but the opportunity is there to ignore the situation or even to be greedy and uncaring about life.

It's a choice that can be freely made with no enforced mechanical consequences. It's not a rigged game, it is a true choice to be decided entirely as one wishes.

(the third part's stance is a lot more open, depending on what the Ref decides happens as a result of trying to put O'Shaunnessy's spirit to rest, but I don't think requiring the PCs to choose between XP/wealth and Doing the Right Thing creates nihilism... to me, being good is entirely about sacrificing personal gain in lieu of more important things. The adventure asks "What's more important to you, game points or your sense of justice?" If it's always like that, there's an argument that it's nihilistic, but this is 1/3rd of an adventure where the other 2/3rds reward having that sense of justice)

Then there's this:

"Sure, not purely for nihilism's sake, but the section on alignment demonstrates that good/evil are merely ideas or opinions. This makes all ethical ideals baseless, including valuing life and respecting others."

I believe that good and evil really are merely ideas and opinions in real life. I don't believe in the supernatural or the divine in real life, and I do believe we're just animals whose brains and bodies and ability to organize work at a higher level than everything else on this planet.

This rather does make all ethical ideas baseless (we entirely made them up in order for society to function) but not necessarily foolish (each idea should be evaluated individually, but on the whole what's considered "good" and "ethical" are things that make our lives better by allowing us to trust our fellow man and therefore escape the constant paranoid survival mode of most animals).

I think the concept of "good" is much more powerful having been made up than if "good" really was defined for us and enforced from on high.

But it is undeniable that people we are supposed to trust (clergy, our elected representatives) can and do perform horrible acts, sometimes on their own in secret, sometimes openly as part of their jobs.

LotFP doesn't require you to put that sort of thing in your game. All your priests of the Happy Good Deity could indeed be Happy Good People and the game runs just fine as written.

But I think a game that enforces such things through establishing an objective good and evil in mechanical terms is childish and naive. It shuts down options. It dictates a two-dimensional world regardless of the wishes of its participants. What sort of thing is that to impose on a game design level?

... and by the by, Lovecraft isn't even as nihilistic as people like to think. One of my favorite Lovecraft stories is The Shunned House, which is all about combating a force hostile to mankind and winning. Though it pains ST Joshi and his ilk, The Dunwich Horror is a major Lovecraft work, I'd estimate top 5 in overall popularity and influence. That again is all about combating a force hostile to mankind and winning.

(the other four: Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness, Shadow Over Innsmouth, Whisperer in Darkness)

That the universe is vast and humanity is unimportant in the grand scheme? Completely irrelevant to your life and mine in the real world. We can make our lives and the lives of others happier and better through our deeds if we so choose.

That the LotFP game's "cosmology" has nothing to do with good or evil? Completely irrelevant to your players's choice whether or not to play a character as a hero or an enormous cocksmock or whether the Referee creates no-win situations for that character.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Best Death Frost Doom Play Report in Awhile!

Read it here.

"Death Frost Doom is basically the most powerful module I've ever played or ran."

Rock on!

DCC Comments

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.

Had a chance to look at it since nobody else where I'm staying sleeps as little as I do.

Let's Be Honest Here: I'm not in the market for a new game. My interest here is seeing A- what I'm up against and how to approach differentiating my thing from Goodman's thing, and B- where it succeeds where I might not have so I know what I shouldn't be emphasizing and what I need to learn from it.

Let's Be Honest Here II: Alchemical Boogaloo: This game is going to be bigger than any of the OSR games as far as sales and market presence. The game doesn't fall on its ass. On first reading it seems to hit the mark it's going for and Goodman's promoting it right so far and the company's got a decent presence to begin with so upward and onward in that respect. I know I'm going to put in a healthy order for the game in my webstore.

The Snap Judgments:

I get a Hackmaster vibe from the whole thing. "This one goes up to 11" and the hard-coding of certain styles of fun into the rules. More charts, more tables, more emphasizing old schooliness as a gimmick instead of a byproduct of other priorities.

I don't see a lot of "I shoulda done that!" in there. My game's necessary reference material goes on the character sheet and the back cover of an A5 book so there's not a lot of page flipping during play. I can't even think of what real rules to put on a screen. DCC's design priorities are in direct opposition.

(an already oft-remarked upon thing related to this: I went for simplicity, so race as class makes sense. DCC goes for detail and fiddliness, so race as class really doesn't make sense. Why streamline there of all places?)


"DCC RPG, an OGL system that cross-breeds Appendix N with a streamlined version of 3E." I don't read this and feel like I'm looking at stuff inspired by Howard or Tolkien or Lovecraft or Vance or de Camp/Pratt the rest of them, or looking at a set of rules that encourage gaming that feels like those authors (ok, maybe de Camp/Pratt). This feels like a love letter to a couple old games, not to the authors or works of Appendix N. Or having all that much to do with 3e, for that matter.

(OD&D did capture the vibe of classic fantasy literature in ways that were sabotaged by Supplement I and were completely non-existent in D&D releases by the time Holmes and AD&D came around, but that's a blog post for another time)

As far as art, lots of good ideas (the fallen giant in particular is good), but ultimately Mullen's the one that stands out as really moving me here in execution. I'd kill the D&D re-dos and the rather obvious Warhammer mutant before the final version though. (oh, and my "in bed with the medusa" pic? Simply better.)

OK, time to do more necessary stuff. No access to my email from here though so if you've sent me something, you need to wait until the weekend for me to see it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Nuts

It only took a few minutes into layout training to be humbled, haha. "Oh god, what crap have I done?" But one can't learn and get better if one can't acknowledge one's own shortcomings and talk about oneself using the word "one" a lot.

Interesting looking at various RPG books throughout history and seeing different styles and influences and theories as to why they looked as they do and how they are "proper" or not.

So yeah, this is already a worthwhile trip, and after three days of this hopefully I'll have the tools to make the next releases be noticeably better looking than the previous ones.

Now we're taking a break to play Space Hulk.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Interview and Grindhouse Review over at Suvudu

Read it here!

XRP Titles Added to LotFP Webstore

Eight Expeditious Retreat Press titles arrived today and have been added to the webstore.

A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, A Magical Society: Silk Road (both excellent world building tools), plus 6 OSRIC adventures: The Conqueror Worm, The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor, The Verdant Vault of Malakum, Stonesky Delve, Under Shattered Mountain, and The Frozen Wave of Satsuma.

(no, I won't be able to ship them until Monday, but no better time than the present to call dibs, right?)

Webstore is here!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Out of the Office June 7 - 10

I'll be out of town Tuesday through Friday, so no posting, no access to email, nothing! Enjoy your break from me.

This means that after my post office trip Monday 3pm Finnish time, I can't ship any orders until the following Monday, so if you want to order something, I'd do it before 3pm tomorrow or it'll be a little extra wait. (or you can order from one of the fine vendors listed over there on the left)

And it's official: Twitter = blargh. I dropped a pretty significant discount code there yesterday (limit 3 uses), and no buyers, no retweets, just one guy saying he can't really use it because he's already got everything he wants. Go dig and take me to the cleaners.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Internet, Social Media, and What the Hell is All This For?

So what do I have under the LotFP banner?

There's this here blog. There's the LotFP: RPG Facebook page. There's my Twitter. I've got the LotFP website, plus there's the LotFP message board.

That's a lot of social networking interconnectivity mumbo jumble blargle gargle, and I feel I'm not using it all very effectively. And I can't just declare what's effective, because really, it's all about you guys and whether you actually giving a flying fornication.

Basically, I want to know how to organize my information so that people can easily find it if they care.

I thought this discussion might be valuable to have in public because a lot of you out there are publishing stuff and frankly aren't doing any better managing your stuff. :P Maybe if someone who knows what the hell they're doing has sensible things to say, we can all benefit.

So I'll throw out how I see each of these things, and you tell me whether I've got my head up my ass.

The LotFP Site: The store is connected through there, and I need the store, but I kind of feel that the rest of the site is rather unnecessary. The news section in particular is a problem. It's a pain in the butt to update TWO regular news feeds with paragraph-plus length, the blog gets far more hits, but fixing it so the site news page just reposted the blog won't work either since I do frivolous and non-news stuff here.

LotFP Message Board: It allows LotFP topics to be started and maintained by not-me people in a place where people would expect to talk about LotFP topics. I think that's useful. (I do try to stay out of "this is what I'm doing/houserules" conversations if I can because my point of view is already out there enough, and who needs my Hammer of Officialness chiming in on their own campaign setting idea?)

LotFP: RPG Facebook Page: You might have noticed that I'm not linking every review or discussion concerning LotFP here on the blog anymore. I'm putting them all on the Facebook page. It feels like just a lot of unnecessary posting noise to have them here, I think they'll get lost in the wind if I put them on Twitter, I don't update the main site's product page with reviews anymore because there's no indication anyone ever looks at those pages - and it's an awkward format for things like WrathofZombie's and the Alexandrian's multi-part Vornheim posts. But I don't know that the Facebook page is the best place to put the reviews, since their main value is convincing on-the-fencers, and why would on-the-fencers be going to my Facebook page?

Twitter: Fuck if I know what to do with it. Random flashes of "insight"? zzzz. I don't think I'm biologically capable of condensing an idea into 140 characters. Maybe I should get a smartphone and let everyone know when I'm in the bathroom, or at the post office, or having a wank. Seriously though, I think its main value is being subscribed to the Twitter feeds of important/interesting people who actually know how to use it. Maybe I'll do "flash discounts" a couple times to see if anyone actually looks at the darn thing.

This Blog: This gets the eyeballs, but I don't want to just flood the thing with repetition (Look, a Review! Another Review! Oh hey, guess what? ANOTHER REVIEW!), and while it's tempting to use the thing for pure advertisement (the subject line gets into a lot of blogrolls...), obviously that's unavoidable sometimes. Obviously the blog is the best place when I've got a good lengthy frothy rant, but of the things I want and need to communicate, what belongs here? I already think the sidebars have more ornaments than Christmas trees...

My personal Facebook page: I don't know why you guys want to friend me there. I mostly make fart jokes, complain about my dog's balls and his propensity for resting them on my feet and pillows, and other such nonsense. Any gaming items I put there is because I want my non-gamer friends to see them. :P

So what the hell do I do with all this?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

LotFP Featured on Something Awful's WTF D&D!?

I just got the Google Alert. Haven't looked yet.

The link is here. Let's see how they slaughter me together, shall we?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Webstore Back Up!

Right here.

Be sure to let me know if there's any funny business going on when trying to place an order (I'm most concerned about having accidentally eradicated some country or another from all the shipping zones so someone from that country can't select a shipping method)...

Further notes... I'll be out of town Tuesday - Saturday next week (layout/graphic design classes!), so any orders placed after my post office run on Monday won't be shipped until the following Monday.

Same deal Monday and Tuesday the following week (13th-14th) as I'm going to visit a board game manufacturer to discuss options on a possible upcoming project and combining that with an overnight getaway with the martyr wife.

And then at the end of the month (29th-30th) we'll be out of town for some medieval fair my wife wants to go to.

(at the end of July I'll be closing down the store during Ropecon to be able to keep the stock straight with all the other-publisher stuff I'll be carrying, and in August we're doing the cabin getaway for a week plus the Jalometalli weekend in Oulu...)

Yeah, lots of away-time in the months to come but that's small-press-operating-out-of-the-living-room reality for you. You could always just buy a shit-ton more stuff if you really want me to have an office and staff. :)