Friday, October 31, 2008

White and Nerdy

I forgot it was Halloween today. Didn't realize it until the roommates started getting in costume. They just walked out the door to go to a party.

Me? I'm formatting a 200 page pdf file I downloaded so I print it double-sided (I need to flip the pages manually) and eliminate all the art and borders and "graphic design" (so my printer ink doesn't die so quickly).

... and I think I'm going to have a better night doing this than going to a party.

(I don't drink and don't handle being around drunk people very well.)

I'm also glad I didn't finish that "Is D&D really a horror game?" post I started working on when I got home this afternoon... would have been too cheesy to put that up on Halloween. Fascinating to me that Grognardia hit on a couple of the points I had prepared... ah well. Maybe Tuesday or Wednesday for this one.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hook in Mouth


The recent review of the Creature Generator over at Dragonsfoot has become a battleground over... uh... Carcosa (note all the posts that the moderators have done... all of that had to do with Carcosa, not the Creature Generator). If you're fast you can see Kellri bringing up the Insect Shrine pre-order debacle (which is totally deserved, yes, even if I keep mentioning that they've all received the Creature Generator in the meantime [save one guy whose address changed and email bounces], everyone who's asked for a refund has gotten one, and I'm in constant contact with the current artist on the project and work is ongoing... I even brought it up a few days ago, I'm not pretending it doesn't exist or trying to make it go away... hell, it was part of the first post I made in this blog (still ranks as the third biggest mistake I've made in my life)... it's a stupid mistake I made, and one that even the best and brightest and more productive of us make (not to mention the most historied - can't find the Kuntz links from not so long ago)... but it's not being ignored... hell, even the Creature Generator was originally to be a couple-page section of Insect Shrine before it grew beyond that... but Insect Shrine is a huge deal to me and I want to make sure it doesn't fall victim to any other pitfalls that happen to projects of this type)... here's Kellri's quote (before it gets moderated into oblivion):

In this case, the author has a well-deserved reputation for taking people's money, not publishing the product, diverting attention to another dissimilar product, and taking the side of some of the most puerile, demeaning porn to ever call itself an rpg. Sure, I could take my dissent to his blog, but I don't much care what he thinks and I'm not trying to start a dialogue. I am trying to alert the others in the same community (under the same BIG TENT if you will) what an utter tool that guy is. He made his own reputation and well deserves to hang from that petard in public.

BTW, anybody notice the Christian Children's Fund refused a sizable donation from GenCon this year because of the source? When our communities' distinguishing trait is an inability to hold ourselves to any standard is it any wonder?

All this under a thread dealing with a review of the new version of the Creature Generator (which isn't out yet, which I'm not publishing or selling or handling in any way beyond supplying the text).

You can see some of the deleted bits from one of Kellri's original posts here where I respond to his questions in a manner I'm sure he didn't expect. Semaj had asked whether the Creature Generator had specific charts for all sorts of Carcosa-related shenanigans, trying to be cute... sad thing is, I was intending to do those charts, just for him, when I got home from class yesterday... but... everything had already been moderated away. But I have been made aware that the
City-State of the Invincible Overlord, from 1976, includes tables to determine things like a woman's bust size, passion, and how old she is... which gives possibilities for under-18 results. Not dissimilar to what Semaj was asking for in his now-deleted post. Even if we ignore explicit content in Barker's Book of Ebon Bindings, surely we're not going to say CSotIO is some sort of fringe product with little actual gaming applicability or that Bob Bledsoe isn't a name of great note? Are we?

But this is really weird. I mean, that Veteran of the Psychic Wars post I made a couple months back was inspired by Kellri's own story (quoted there) about D&D-related persecution. As of right now he's still the guy with the last comment on that post, and it's hardly a negative comment.

I've seen actual fucking book burnings that involved my own books. I've been suspended from school for D&D three times, grounded for weeks for D&D, slapped around by parents and teachers for D&D, and undergone one really hostile psych exam. Suffice to say, nearly ALL of those witch-hunt stories were MY stories.

To me, it's very odd that someone that said that not to long ago now says something like (referring to this):

BTW, anybody notice the Christian Children's Fund refused a sizable donation from GenCon this year because of the source? When our communities' distinguishing trait is an inability to hold ourselves to any standard is it any wonder?

What's the lesson here? That the suspensions, groundings, slappings, book burnings, and suspicions of mental illness (that last one has come up quite a bit lately, hasn't it?) were all justified? That the donation refusal was justified? What exactly is Kellri saying? "If you make products I approve of, then the backlash is absolutely terrible and unfounded, but if I don't approve, they were right!" is what it sounds like to me.

Kellri once tasted the (figurative, I hope) lash as a child. But as an adult, instead of remembering it for the injustice that it was, now he holds the whip. And appealing to the feelings of those that don't like our hobby and never will like our hobby as a reason for us to behave a certain way... that's exactly the cowardice I was talking about. Clue... many of us, or our friends, hid our gaming from parents or teachers or other authorities because they had erroneous ideas about what was dangerous and harmful to our young minds. Now... as adults and parents... think... learn... remember... are you inflicting the same harm now onto your kids?

I am trying to alert the others in the same community (under the same BIG TENT if you will) what an utter tool that guy is.

Right here is the problem with "scenes." Once it's established, you need to fit in with the pack, or you're out of the pack. Somewhere, somehow, the "traditional community" became a thing instead of a merely commonality of widely divergent people. Actually... on the web, I think the traditional community became a thing first, thanks to places like Dragonsfoot, and has experienced splintering from there... but in the past year or two, it seemed to coalesce again, in no small part to our interlinked little blogosphere satellite we've got going here, and the common cheerleading for the simulacra like OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord and so on, and then got a little tighter again as we weathered the release of 4e and the massive amounts of "This is now the one true way, get on board or get left behind" sentiment that comes along with a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

It is sad that some reactions - particularly Melan's review and its being most disappointingly parroted by the otherwise incomparable Grognardia - place the assumed reactions of others, and a fear of others' judgment, as more important than their own opinion. How many supporters have been silenced, or hedged their support and made sure to say the correct things, because of this? How many people now are going to keep quiet because they don't want their threads interrupted by off-topic discussion about how they refuse to condemn the work of certain others?

But I love swimming in this kind of shit. I live for it. Accusers and fingerpointing and fear. People declaring what should not be. This has woken up my brain and given me clarity and direction I haven't had in a couple years now. Maybe this is why Maliszewski gets hate mail concerning his children and I just get snide internet disgressions, despite his rather reasonable delivery and my mad waving of arms and frothing of mouth. I don't pretend to be a reasonable person. Geoffrey McKinney tells me that a number of people that bought Carcosa told him that they found out about it through my blog, which makes me think that my style of writing is accomplishing exactly what I intend it to do. Not be a clubhouse for people to feel great and fuzzy about their hobby, but as a rallying point and energizer. No rest. Action.

But I don't support Geoffrey and Carcosa because of any particular content or "edginess." I support him and it because they have supplied something new, while being firmly based in tradition and loyal to its inspirations, while being masterfully written and immaculately presented.

You see, in a perfect world the leading publications would be those that shake away the complacency of this scene, challenge the assumptions of the readers at every turn, and stay entirely away from "safe places." Then should come the specialized pieces that help recreate specific atmospheres or works of specific authors. Then at the bottom of the barrel should be the TSR clones (in both format and content). Meat-and-potatoes is fine for the game table. It works and is nothing to shy away from. My weekly games are meat-and-potatoes. But nobody should pay a penny for a commercial version of meat-and-potatoes.

People need to decide: Are they playing D&D because it works as a current, modern game? Or is it just nostalgia? I don't care about what games I played when I was 8, or 12, or 16. The game works for me now, at 33, in 2008. You want a time machine to feel the way you did 20 years ago? Fine. But stop polluting my scene with your unimaginative, generic, childish shit. I'm tired of it and I'm tired of you.

It is sad that publishers have been reduced to being "content providers" who need to shut up and pump out what their fans want. Who are not allowed to have an opinion (lest their customers *gasp* disagree and then boycott because the writer is Not Just Like Them) and not allowed to be truly creative. Today's role-player looks to the publisher to supply their creativity and then bitches and whines when it doesn't fit their own (silent) ideas. This "old-school" scene, it's not any different, although some would claim it's the antithesis of that environment. It's not... it's just at a (much) smaller scale. "Here are the tools! Create! Publish! Imagine the hell out of it! Fight on!" But you better be part of the clique, you'd better not rock the boat, and you'd better not deviate from what people remember from Back in the Day. And you'd also better not remember things that they didn't. They'll get you for that too.

This scene, like every other scene, is a joke and eats its own and not a free creative environment. Any individual worth the description will piss on the concept of "scene" from a great height and then proceed to create without care.

Some of the most lauded works to come out of the traditional scene (this notwithstanding) have been mere restatements of 25+ year old works that differ from the originals only because of legal requirements to do so.

What more than that needs to be said?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Reasonable Dedication to a Hobby II

I am naïve . I admit it. Remember this? "And it looks like there will be a second date," indeed.

Anyway, not one to be deterred by such setbacks, I've continued on my search for a Dolm woman to take to hex 2511...

... uh, I mean, continued on my search for pleasant company of the non-penised variety.

I should start a whole new blog for that, for sure. Some of these people are

Anyway, one found me via my OKCupid profile (warning: Sanity checks all around if you click that link) and we had our first date right around the time the Carcosa scandal was blowing up. So guess what was on my mind to talk about?

"I can't believe these people have a problem with some guy writing about ritual rape and murder in the context of demonic summoning! It boils my blood!" And we still managed a second date. And another. And things continue to go well.

(well, I'm jinxing it now by
telling people about it... but anyway...)

But with my Sunday gaming being the only real social activity I do besides tricking people into going out on dates with me, I tend to talk about it... a little bit.

Yeah, I'm one of
those guys. Really though... did you have any doubt?

So this girl seems to have no concept of the Role-Playing Game. Meaning that while I'm expressing my theories in brilliant and most eloquent ways, she's just hearing "blah blah blah blah blah blah blah."

That must change. But... what to do? Invite her to the game? Hell... that sounds like an awful idea. I mean, there's a reason the girls playing in my campaign haven't been dying to see me the other six days of the week, right?

But... one of my players has a nice big stash of old Mentzer D&D stuff...
the Finnish translations. And that includes a well-worn (ahem) copy of the Basic set's Players Manual, which includes no less than two rather excellent tutorials. So I've borrowed that, and will be letting my penisless companion borrow it, and some dice, so she can go through the tutorials and have a bit of understanding about what a "Role-Playing Game" actually is.

I'll bet you 10€ that she'll just hear, "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah," after that anyway. ;)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Current Campaign Activities

For my weekly game, I have an old dwarven shrine to detail and flesh out and present on Sunday. Straightforward.

For the secondary campaign... with the OD&D rules hack... well... that's turned into a ridiculous project. Here's where I am with it:

Character creation and definition is done. Seven classes: Fighting Man, Magic-User, Cleric, Dwarf, Hobbit, Elf, and Gnome. 3d6, down the line, with original box ability score bonuses (ha!).

The demi-human classes have little bits to make them... different: The Dwarf is from Dragon #3, with my adding in that they can not use magic items at all, and I'm wondering whether I am going to make them completely immune to magic at all as well. This would mean healing spells and potions don't work either, so it's not just an easy choice to avoid fireballs. The Hobbit is basically the Thief class from Greyhawk with some flavor added. The Elf is the Druid class (so they get a different spell list than mages), with elfy flavor, with the added restriction that they absolutely may not touch iron or steel, and take damage if they do. The Gnome is the illusionist class, and able to cast spells if wearing magic armor.

Money will use a silver standard. Beginning money is 3d6x10 sp. But... the prices remain in gold pieces as they are. Beginning adventurers will be running around with spears and leather armor, hoping to win enough loot to buy such a grand weapon as a sword, and then the impossible dream of a horse and a suit of plate mail armor... All of the treasure tables have been shifted so what used to be sp are now cp, gp are now sp, pp are now gp, and the old electrum and copper columns went bye-bye. Gems and jewelry retain their gp value though.

XP will be awarded as the original box set states. It's a little bit more bookkeeping, but nothing too big. I like the idea that a 5th level guy can adventure with a 2nd level guy and the 5th level guy, even with an equal split of gross XP, nets far less than the 2nd level guy. This will be for monsters only though... gold will still be on a 1=1 basis to prevent "No, no, when we ran I only dropped the orc loot, not the minotaur loot!" arguments. OD&D experience point bonuses for prime requisites (gnome = CHA, hobbit = DEX, dwarf = CON, elf = SOL).

Combat will be the Man-to-Man system in Chainmail, initiative determined by weapon speeds and all. To handle combat with monsters, I'm adding a few armor types to the table and a few monster attack types, with easy conversion notes (1 - 3HD monsters with claw attacks use Claw 1, 4-7HD use Claw 2, 8+ use Claw 3, for example). I need to get away from the "Alternate Combat System" altogether with this campaign. All HD and damage dice are d6.

Most of the actual rules (not like OD&D gives many... :P) will come from Mentzer and Labyrinth Lord, depending on what I find easier.

The spell lists are directly from the AD&D Players Handbook (not enough choice and detail in the OD&D books), with lots of editing made (thank god for pdf cut and pasting). Gone are all mentions of segments and components and damage is all converted to d6s. Clerics have absolutely no direct offense spells now (and Blade Barrier becomes the Barrier spell from the Mentzer versions). I nearly just used the Mentzer version of the spells, but with a piss-poor Druid (Elf in my campaign) spell list and nothing for Illusionists (Gnomes), it would look crappy to take half the spells from one source and half from another. Oh, and everyone must keep spell books. Or "prayer books" in the cleric's case.

Magic items will be a mix of Mentzer (weapons and armor from the Expert and Companion rules, for sure!) and AD&D (miscellaneous items!), edited to conform to the above rules changes. All random tables changed to bell-curve probabilities so things like potions and scrolls will really show up a lot more.

Mentzer monsters for the most part (they seem easier to convert for my purposes, and boy do I love the Morale stat being right there), and then a modified version of my Creature Generator (to take into account the different way I'm handling monster attacks and armor in this campaign) for anything wild...

It's been a most edifying journey these past few weeks of flipping between AD&D and OD&D and Mentzer and Basic Fantasy RPG and OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord and Chainmail to put together my ultimate little D&D of my own. Comments and suggestions please.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oh Happy Day(s)!

Yesterday, the first Clark Ashton Smith volume published by Nightshade came in the mail. I read a few of the stories... I'd forgotten the passage I first read here, but man oh man does that hit hard.

Today's mail brought Carcosa (I just had a digital version previously) and A. Merritt's The Moon Pool.

Now to see which of the three will inform my gaming the most.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Striking a Nerve

Part of my investment in the whole Carcosa thing, besides my belief that imagination and expression of imagination should be absolute in its freedom, is that I have a couple of things in development that touch on similar sensitive areas. Remember my media influences, mind you... and... you know... fantasy gaming should be fantastic. Horror gaming should be horrific. And fantasy horror should be fantastically horrifying. :P

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill's Goblin Kitchen... drawn by Laura Jalo... (image photographed, not scanned).

Why? Because there's no reason to use goblin bad guys if human bandits work plot-wise just as well. Bandits wouldn't do this. Creatures that saw humans as just another natural resource would though. And that's a pretty good reason for going after them, yes? And who else is going to be laired in a giant mound originally consecrated to ancient bug gods?

Plus I have this Duvan'Ku thing that I add notes to every so often (a collection of spells, items, and adventures relating to an ancient kingdom of the damned). A couple of examples of what was in there before I ever knew Carcosa had graphic content:

Dangerous Toys
Level: 1st
This spell causes a minor demon to inhabit a very small inanimate object. The demon wakes up, animating the object, when it is touched by a child. At that point the object will attempt to slay any living thing it comes across. The object then has AC Unarmored, MV Human Average, HD 1, #AT 1, D d6.

Storm of Fertility
Level: 9th
This spell impregnates every female of the same race as the caster in a large area. Before casting the spell, the caster must trap an extra-planar being in a containment circle. Casting this spell kills this creature, and this being is the father of the children it spawns. The spell affects an area one mile in diameter for every hit die of the trapped creature, with each female getting a saving throw to avoid its effects. The children will look like the mother’s race, mature at the rate of the mother’s race, but have the temperament, alignment, and abilities of the father.

Book of Faust
By reading this book, a character may make a pact with a devil and increase one ability score to 18 in exchange for one service to be rendered one year from the time of the ability score gain. At the one year mark, an Arch-Devil will appear in person to take that person to hell, and the character can not be raised or resurrected, and a wish to bring the character back will result in a crippled stump of a body, no limbs, blind, and dumb, being spewed forth from the Arch-Devil that had required service.

Chalice of Great Health
If a good creature is ritually sacrificed and its blood immediately collected in this cup, the drinker will be cured of any curses and diseases, magical or mundane.

Gem of Lifeforce Sight
This gem acts as a gem of seeing, but when looking through the gem all living beings will be seen as slowly rotting and dying, and the viewer will be able to tell the how long the creature will naturally live. This insults the soul of the viewed, and any creature that will naturally die (of age or disease) within a month will rise as a wight or wraith to hunt the viewer. Anyone else viewed with the gem that dies within 24 hours will also rise as a wight or wraith and hunt the viewer, feeling the violation contributed to its death.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Cowardice of the Modern Grognard... or... Supplement V - Carcosa Reviewed

"The good record review describes what the record means, not what the record is." - METAL Diamonds and Rust (1999)

"Summon the Amphibious Ones: This eleven-hour ritual can be completed only on a fog-shrouded night. The sorcerer must obtain the root of potency found only in ruined apothecaries of the Snake-Men. The sacrifice is a virgin White girl eleven years old with long hair. The sorcerer, after partaking of the root, must engage in sexual congress with the sacrifice eleven times, afterwards strangling her with her own hair. As her life leaves her body, 10-100 of the Amphibious Ones will coalesce out of the mists." - Carcosa, page 31

Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa, audaciously labeled as Supplement V (and thus belonging directly to the 1974 version of D&D), has created a firestorm of controversy and moral grandstanding that has unfortunately overshadowed the content itself. This being the case, a thorough look at both the product, and the outrage, is warranted.

Carcosa exposes the failure of at least part of the "old school" community and why it is no different than the mainstream of gaming. Instead of being seen as a toolkit to use for ideas, as is the OD&D way, the book is being largely decried as morally bankrupt by people who, for the most part, have not seen it, and of those that have, are concentrating on minute details, or one bit out of many presented. Is the traditional (or "old school," or "grognard," or whatever) movement based on willful ignorance? Is it based on the inability to think through the unspoken meaning in source material? Is it based on the whitewashing of what existing game mechanics mean in game-world terms? Is it based on the rejection of verisimilitude in favor of mindless escapism and "adventure"? This sounds more like 4e than 0e to me.

Can it be that the traditional revival is not built on quality games, but rather the wish of its aging players to retain their childhoods? In addition to preserving the games they played, are they also wanting to preserve their juvenile sense of innocence and refuse to let their gaming tastes broaden with them? This whole thing really isn't about nostalgia after all... is it?

And the outrage... I expected it from the RPGsite, but I was rather disappointed to see if from Dragonsfoot. The amount of "this is sick!" "oh my god, awful!" "No right-thinking person would ever even conceive of something like this!" sentiments expressed is just... perplexing. As if real people were being victimized, or real people were being influenced to do anything untoward besides sit around and imagine very wild sci-fi/fantasy.

Worse than the morality police that take offense at fictional atrocities (which don't really happen) against people (that don't really exist) are those who seek to "protect" our hobby by trying to kill anything that might be noticed by outsiders. "The accusations will start again! It will be the Bad Times again!"


Those who seek to imprison our minds and define "good thoughts" and "bad thoughts" should be ignored in our daily lives, defied in our imaginations, and fiercely fought, in real life by real means, whenever they seek to limit us.

This fear of attention and censure and the horror at the idea that maybe, just maybe, we really are different because we pretend to be elves on the weekend, it needs to die. At once. Completely. Let your imagination go and damned be those that say no. We should welcome fights against imagination killers simply because it is the right thing to do. Those that stand up and dare to be targeted should be praised, not vilified.

But we, as a community, obviously haven't learned a thing from the controversies of the 1980s. Gamers of the 70s and 80s survived the persecution and ignorance and harassment only to grow up and become exactly what they once fought. Like the definition of becoming mature is being willing to embrace your parents' mistakes or something.

The problem with the 1980s attacks on D&D wasn't that they were wrong about the content - although the fact that they often were made it easy to totally dismiss them - it was the fact that the content of the game and the fictional environment of the game has absolutely no influence concerning the real-life mentality, ethics, or health of the person playing the game. People influence the game being played, not the other way around.

To be very clear: Nothing in Carcosa even suggests that anything within its pages is anything but pure fiction. The setting is an alien world, with aliens, and Cthulhu, and ray guns and tanks and people with transparent skin. It's all fiction.

And nothing in fiction can ever be as immoral or harmful as the real life censorship of ideas.

So then. Sword and sorcery, as a genre... what does it mean? Dungeons and Dragons and its mechanics and process of play... what do they mean? Are Carcosa's methods and details in line with either, both, or neither?

"A note about Sword & Sorcery gaming: The Swords & Sorcery genre of writing presented characters who were morally ambiguous, not fighting for the greater good, but scrabbling for power and money with only a few scruples. True, they usually had more scruples than the villains, but not by all that much... Swords & Wizardry is designed for the Swords & Sorcery genre, where the characters begin as a seedy band of tomb robbers and mercenaries. Along the way, these characters might become more respectable and morally conscientious as they gain wealth and lands . . . but they might not." - Swords & Wizardry introduction, by Matt Finch.

"The slaughter will continue until play improves." - Stuart "OSRIC" Marshall.

Then there are the jokes about not naming characters until third level since they often don't survive that long anyway. The comments about how D&D characters really aren't "heroes" as a default.

Really, what does that say about D&D?

What moral, civilized characters and plots do we get from Anderson (fornicating paladins, incestuous lovers, baby-napping, genocide, war brides, opposition to the White Christ), Howard ("Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is the wim of circumstance. And barbarism must ultimately triumph."), Vance (Cugel and the virgins, for just one example, the fate of Liane the Wayfarer for another, and many more charming tales), Lieber (Fafhrd is introduced by cheating on and abandoning his pregnant woman), Lovecraft (uncaring universe where mankind is but a speck and to have true knowledge of reality means to be a raving, violent lunatic)? These are core D&D sources.

And... for crying out loud. Carcosa. Robert W. Chambers. Hello? What were you expecting? Adventures in Fluffy Bunny Land?

In the D&D game itself, if we're going to ignore the precedent set by Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker's Book of Ebon Bindings (which Carcosa's author claims as his guidepost for what was or wasn't acceptable in his own work... how many are calling for the head of Barker, or at least demanding that gamers shun him?), let's see what wonderful things we can find there. Violence, death, and murder are a given. Stealing and thievery are right there in the rules as an activity of a core class. Mental domination and slavery are detailed as well (what exactly do you think is involved with a Charm Person spell?). Summoning extra-planar creatures is A-OK. Where do half-orcs come from? The assassin is right there as a playable class, and with that comes thorough discussions on the use of poison. Necromancy (every spell caster gets the ability to animate the dead!) is there. Evil exists as an objective, living force in D&D.

To those offended by Carcosa, how do you justify your involvement in a hobby that includes all of this, and draws from such depraved sources in the first place? Orc children are in the monster manual, but just because you abort them (sorry... "house ruling them out") so your players can more guiltlessly slaughter their entire race doesn't mean you're doing anything to eliminate moral issues from the game.

All Carcosa did was, in "modern cinematic" terms (gore hounds can go back to the 60s and 70s for prime splatter, so none of this blaming Hostel and Saw...), was show you what had previously been referred to but not revealed. What do you think was happening all the time in Melniboné? In Stygia? Hell, in the Temple of Elemental Evil? In Erelhei-Cinlu? Just because you try not to think about it doesn't mean somebody is mentally ill if they have.

Dungeons and Dragons, and everything done within the game, no matter how Lawful or Good the characters are, is ugly and brutish and repugnant when looked at through real-world morality. Deal with it or go do something else.

I like this. Carcosa presses contemporary buttons (without even intending to) involving violence, racism, rape, and children, and raises issues of "media responsibility." This is not a retro product. This is very modern and 100% confirmation that OD&D can be vital vibrant, and relevant here and now.

I think the real problem is not the descriptions of the rituals or any content whatsoever. The problem is an issue of character action in relation to player complicitness. And meaningful, intense play comes from engaging players. They must be taken out of their comfort zones and removed from autopilot D&D expectations. "Challenge the player" doesn't just mean logic puzzles and tactical difficulties. Morally uncomfortable situations excite the emotions, and for the quandary to be meaningful, the "wrong" (in real-word, or romantic, or heroic terms) choice must be a viable option. It must convey benefits equal to, or greater than, doing the obvious "right" thing. Heroism's first requirement is sacrifice, after all.

"Challenge the player" can confuse a player's involvement in who their character is both narratively and persona-wise. There should be no confusion - what players do in RPGs should never be confused with who they are or what they do in real life. Fiction. FICTION. FICTION.

And those modern hot-button issues... first is the fetishization of children. I'm not talking about the people who make sex objects out of children, but those who worry about it incessantly. Those who seek to protect children from every danger, real or imagined. Children are people, no more, no less. Short, ignorant people. They are not special. They are not different. My thoughts on this matter are completely described here and here (from 7:25). In game terms, the helpless and victimized are villagers just as well as children. No difference.

And sexual violence? Reactions are completely out of whack. That recent South Park episode, showing George Lucas and Steven Spielberg raping Indiana Jones in scenes taken from Hollywood rape scenes (The Accused, Deliverance, etc), caused a stir. Yes, sexual violence is serious. I've been in relationships with people who have been raped. But it is not a sacrosanct subject beyond comment, examination, and fictionalization. Especially from a game and genre that often features mass slaughter. And that video I posted last week... rape happens in-game... and... it's a laugh! (you did watch the video, right?)

(the perception of sexual violence - against women and children, anyway - as being worse than other violence, and often being seen as worse than death - says something interesting about our society, doesn't it?)

And it's just the magic-users (or "sorcerers") that have to deal with such unpleasantness. Players have come to feel entitled to play a magic-using class in D&D that is completely divorced from the conditions or consequence that have traditionally afflicted such characters in literature (Faust!) or history (witch hunts!) or in source fiction (Lovecraft, Howard, etc etc etc). Magic, by definition, is transgressive. That players have traditionally gotten to present themselves in D&D as Gandalfy or Merliny is irrelevant. Many things can be done with D&D, and aping the way it's always been done completely defeats the purpose of doing anything new. We do want new, right? Not just more of what's already there?

It's a minefield, but the truth is, the controversy comes from snippets of text taken out of their home environment. The people raging haven't read it. They've read a review.

So what is Carcosa?

It is a 96 page booklet for use with Dungeons and Dragons (the 1974 edition), formatted and published to appear as one of the original books. However, it dismantles and reconfigures the D&D rules for its own purposes. The "OD&D is a toolkit" philosophy has been used to great effect here. Only the core rules are necessary, as Supplements I - IV are not used here.

There are but two classes in Carcosa. Fighting Men (standard from D&D), and Sorcerers. Sorcerers are a new class which cast no spells (so the entire traditional D&D magic system does not exist in Carcosa), but rather perform rituals, which all involve summoning, controlling, or dispelling Great Powers, which are taken from the Cthulhu mold.

Immediately, on the page the sorcerers are introduced, the downsides to their magic is described. The rituals are quite unreliable, and performing the rituals ages the caster a random number of years. Doing these things harms the sorcerer.

Then described are the races of Carcosa, which are pretty much all men, but color coded 13 different ways, including with colors that don't exist in real life.

A two-page new psionics system is then described.

Then it really gets wild. New ways to throw and read dice are introduced. Hit points are rolled at the beginning of every combat, and it is randomly determined what die type is used every time! That's right, if you have six hit dice, you never know if you'll be using 4-sided, 12-sided, or whatever sided dice to determine your hit points. And the monsters use this same method as well. It looks to be close to impossible to determine who might win a combat... there are so many variables that won't be determined until that combat starts.

Damage in combat is similarly random. For every die of damage done, you roll every die type, with the 20-sided determining which of the other dice is to be actually used. The fundamentals of the game are being completely redone in Carcosa.

"The above system of rolling hit dice and damage dice gives an overall average of 4.5 hit points per die. The system allows for greater uncertainty in the game. Cthulhu has 57 hit dice. Perhaps the players will be lucky and Cthulhu will get mere 4-sided hit dice when they attack. Or perhaps the lowly peasants will get lucky and have 12-sided hit dice when the greedy player characters attempt to rob them of their few copper pieces. In short, many hit dice do not necessarily mean many hit points, and few hit dice do not necessarily mean few hit points. Characters can be hopeful even against monsters with high numbers of hit dice, and at the same time cautious about attacking even those with only 1 hit die. Only after combat ensues will anyone (either players or referee) know what sort of hit die everyone involved gets to roll for that combat.

The same idea holds for doing damage. From round to round one’s weapon will be doing different ranges of damage. On some rounds, he will be reading the 4-sided die. On other rounds, he will be reading the 8-sided die. Etc. The pitchfork held by that lowly peasant could do as little as 1 point of damage in a given round, or as much as 12 points of damage."

Then on page 14 begins the descriptions of the rituals. There are 96 of them, all formatted identically to the example at the head of this review, and it takes up about 19 pages. Here is another example:

Obstruction of the Suckered Abomination: In an exposed outcropping of rock in hex 1103 is a layer of white crystal. A handful of it must be powdered fine for use in this one-minute ritual which can succeed only when the sun is visible in the sky. The sorcerer must get close enough to the Suckered Abomination to throw the powdered crystal upon it, which will drive it back to its unknown lair.

As you can see, not all of the rituals involve human sacrifice, but most of them do. It is important to note that every single ritual, no exceptions, involves dealing with these Lovecraftian powers. You aren't slitting throats to cast Magic Missile and you're not being an evil bad guy for the purpose of Cure Light Wounds. It's all Deal-With-The-Devil stuff. Sorcerers are Bad News. Just like in the source fiction.

You can also note here that the components for the spells are very Carcosa-specific (we'll get to the hexes and the map in a moment). This system can't simply be lifted out of Carcosa into your own campaign without some work.

Page 34 brings us the monster list. This, too, is Carcosa specific... the standard D&D monsters do not appear (save for oozes and purple worms). Heading up this list are Cthulhu, Hastur, Azathoth, and Nyarlathotep, just to let you know what you're getting. The pantheon of Lovecraft and friends is here. The most numerous creatures in the world of Carcosa are the Spawn of Sub-Niggurat, with every stat randomly determined. I would have much preferred to see bell-curve tables here than straight rolls (2d10 instead of d20, for example) so some results would be rarer than others, but it creates quick stats and can be used for any OD&D game.

(my Creature Generator is better for this purpose though, so nyah!)

Then the magic items of Carcosa are described. Guess what? Throw out your existing magic item tables, because none of them exist. And in fact... no magic items exist at all. All of the "magic items" are technology left behind by space aliens! Seriously... the section is labeled "SPACE ALIEN TECHNOLOGY," and cannons and tanks and Microwave Radiation weapons are possibilities. There's also various types of lotus powder. And a list of 94 elements which each has a different effect (half damage, two times damage, etc) on one of the 13 different races available for play. There are Black Pudding projectile weapons!

Miscellaneous items fill out the "magic" items table, including battle armor, projector shields, and... the Random Robot Generator! Some weird "artifacts" fill out the section.

Next up is a page of possible mutations, and then... it goes to the hex map. "400 encounters on an outdoor hex map with an area of 34,880 square miles" is what's advertised, and that's what is here. I haven't seen the map myself (I have an electronic copy that was sent to me for review purposes; my physical copy is on its way across the ocean to me) but the encounters are quick and succinct. A few examples:
0113 On moonless nights a sourceless sound like the rattling of bones can be heard.

0210 Village of 180 Blue Men ruled by “the Omnipotent Blue Emperor”, a neutral 12th-level Lord

0507 A cliff runs for several hundred feet along the seashore. Twenty feet below the level of the water a large door has been built into the side of the cliff. Within is a chamber holding a submarine built by the Space Aliens, which can hold up to twelve men. It is relatively simple to operate

0915 Amongst the forest is a stand of several dozen trees that are warm and supple to the touch. They moan from small mouths and ooze deep purple ichor. A sorcerer who kisses these small mouths and drinks of the ichor will be thrown into an ecstasy lasting for 8-12 hours. He will come to himself with the knowledge of The Oozing Column ritual.

Yeah, that's how sorcerers learn their rituals... but yeah, 400 of those, detailed in the book, and we're done.

That's one wild ride. Cthulhu! Space aliens! Ancient Serpent Men! Sandbox Hex Map Encounters! Drugs! Robots! Color-Coded Human Races! Mutants! Dinosaurs! Species 23750! Psychic powers! Mummy brains!

And yeah... evil sorcery rituals. Kind of seems... mundane now, knowing what it's piled together with, doesn't it?

Carcosa is an amazing book in every way. It stays true to its source material, embodies the creative and daring spirit that makes this hobby possible at all, eschews artificial limits of commercialism and public opinion and expands what it can mean to play Dungeons and Dragons. No OGL or other license used.

"Imagine the hell out of it." A little slice of hell has been imagined. Happy now? But this imagination is both the entire value of the book and the obstacle for use. It parallels ideas found in Empire of the Petal Throne and the Arduin Grimoires, is a cross-genre mash of fantastically vibrant and completely crazy ideas, and it completely blows the doors off of the contemporary understanding of what D&D is. If this book does not excite your imagination, nothing will.

But... it's all quite campaign-specific. Each of the previous supplements was more modular, with each of the components able to be used or not as the referee wished. Didn't like (the original) psionics? Or hit locations? Or a class? Use it or don't. But Carcosa makes that difficult... the entire new magic system is tied into the monsters and the setting, and the monsters and items and such are of such a specific flavor that importing them into your game could be difficult. The psionic system here should be easily portable, in addition to the rather revolutionary handling of the dice, and various other matters... but there is a large amount of material that you simply will not be using (or using only with a lot of work) if you are not using the Carcosa setting. That, more than any "objectionable" content, may be what holds this back from reaching a lot of people.

So that's Carcosa.

Don't like it? Think it's in bad taste? Not useful?

Then do it better yourself. McKinney showed us his vision of D&D. Now show us your Supplement VI.

(and with that... LotFP: RPG blog will officially accept product for reviews. If you have a product of interest, and just reading this blog will tell you the scope of what "of interest" would mean, I'm interested. Everything submitted will be reviewed. As long as it's a print product. Email me for contact information.)

First Review for the new version of the Random Creature Generator!


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Open Gaming

I've got my regular game every Sunday... I've got eight players. We use the BFRPG rules.

You'd think that would be enough, right?

I'm currently working on (between my other projects like Insect Shrine (just got another art sketch last week, just a few more to go) and the Duvan'Ku thing (which is now destined to be seem as a Carcosa knockoff)) ... no life, no life, I have no life)) my own OD&D game - yes I've caught the bug - with an attempt to use Chainmail combat for it... the idea taken from Spellcraft and Swordplay.

Since the OD&D community had started online and I'd bought the rules on pdf, I'd considered OD&D incomplete and unplayable on its own... it left so many holes needing to be filled in, and I'd mentally substitute rules from other editions... so why not just use one of those other editions? Today, I'm thinking, "OD&D as the base, combat from Chainmail, and then any holes that need to be filled will be filled with info from BFRPG or Labyrinth Lord or Mentzer D&D or AD&D or whatever!" Work continues, I'll hopefully have that ready to go in a couple weeks.

But that's not really what I wanted to talk about today. I was going to talk about... Open Gaming.

No, not legalities or licensing or anything like that. I'm talking about hosting my game in a public place - like a shopping center food court or the like - on a regular schedule, and then advertising around that Whoever Shows Up Can Play. No regular roster of players and characters (aside from those that decide to show up every week!), people who pass by and intrigued can just join in (it's OD&D... roll 6 stats, pick a class... maybe get handed a standard "adventurer's kit" for equipment... readysetgo!), and here we are! It will be a megadungeon (set pieces and planned levels and rooms whenever I have the inspiration, randomly generated otherwise), and we can just make the game rule "Everyone out of the dungeon before we wrap up!" so there's no continuity issues session to session if all the players are different.

It's a terribly naïve notion, granted... Finland has its share of socially clueless putzes (worse than me, even!), this approach surely invites hecklers, etc. And there's the question if it'll draw anybody in the first place... but finding a place shouldn't be difficult, especially in a restaurant situation... (you mind if I take over that corner there for some hours every week? It'll draw people in... maybe... they'll buy food!) I already use a certain restaurant to meet potential new players and make characters, so this is just a next step.

Open Gaming. Game in a public place, throw up some advertisements in different places, and if you show up and express interest... you're playing.

What do you guys think?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

As a Progressive Traditionalist...

... I'm finally taking a good hard look at OD&D. And Chainmail.

I won't bog down my blog as the latest in a long line to flog this dead hog, but I will link all my latest think over here, and I ask you to take a look and offer suggestions so I can get all my thoughts in sync and make sure the project doesn't stink.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Handcuffed by the Fantastic - A Call to Prestidigitation!

Where are your spells?

Seriously, with all the work and adventures and settings and everything that's ever been made, you would think that a lot more people would be making new spells. Constantly. Always.

There is no limit. None! And... it's not being done.

Look at the spell research rules in both OD&D and AD&D. The published spells were just the beginning. Bloody hell, look at the spells that were added to AD&D from OD&D... half of them have people's names on them, because players made new spells. They showed us the way! And Unearthed Arcana... really... that spell section (largely a compilation of things that appeared in previous releases) might be the only truly useful section of the book.

So how many spells have your magic-users created in your games? Players, how many spells have you decided to make? The spells in the book were just supposed to be the beginning!

Eldritch Weirdness (I added all of these spells to my game immediately upon purchase!) got me thinking about this some months back. We should be flooded with supplements like this. More and nastier and weirder combat spells. Reams of spells completely useless for combat purposes but used to make a game world "more complete." General purpose stuff. Where is it?

It's easy to do! You don't even need to think of a spell first. Find a cool name first, and be influenced and inspired by that.

So I challenge you, referees, players, and fellow bloggers... Take an album, use all of the song titles as spell names (don't even pay attention to the lyrics if you so decide) and just sketch out spell effects (in OD&D terms if you'd like... looser descriptions) from that.

And for those that don't think Cool Names can result in Cool Spells all by themselves... I present to you Sodom's In the Sign of Evil... and some off the top of my head notes. Not sure on whether these spell levels are where they should be, and the descriptions are probably hole-filled, but what the hell. Yes, I know I'm cheating by using an EP... sue me. :P This will be pretty standard stuff... someone out there can get freaky with some prog or jazz or new age stuff here.

Outbreak of Evil
Level 4 Cleric
Casting this spell causes all normal men (unclassed individuals) and animals within 10' per level of the caster to turn wicked and begin to cause mischief at the least, or violence if they are able. They will generally give in to their darkest desires and move at once to satsify them. The spell lasts one turn per level of the caster, and the victims of the spell remain so bewitched even if moving outside the original area of effect. Saving throws are applicable for all affected.

Sepulchral Voice
Level 1 Magic-User
The caster may change the voice of any target into that of a dead person's voice. The magic-user must have personally heard the deceased person speak to use a particular voice. Spell lasts one turn per level, range touch, save is applicable if target is not a willing recipient.

Level 5 Cleric
This spell makes one target unable to receive holy favors. In game terms, no cleric spell with positive effects may benefit the target; no heal, remove disease, etc. The target gets a saving throw, and if this fails, the spell takes permanent effect until he takes some sort of lengthy Quest to reconnect himself to the gods.

Witching Metal
Level 2 Cleric
This spell charges a metal item (such as a weapon or armor) with the alignment of the caster, and any creature with a different alignment that is touching this item takes d6 damage every round. Range 3", saving throw applies, duration 1 round/level.

Burst Command Til War
Level 5 Magic-User
This spell is cast on any fragile container of liquid. Once cast, the liquid will be "charged" by any other spells cast on it within 5 rounds. When the caster throws the liquid at a group of foes (and it must be thrown within 5 rounds of casting or all "charges" are lost from the liquid), all within 30' must save versus dragon's breath or be affected by whatever spells were cast on the liquid (even, or especially, the spells were touch-range, and even if the spell normally has but one target). If those spells allow a saving throw, all targets are still entitled to it. No spell with helpful effects may be cast on the liquid.