Saturday, January 23, 2010

What is Appropriate for What Ages in RPGs? (Safe for 10 Year Olds, But Maybe Not for Work)

The version of the Monster Manual that I own (an orange spine), which includes this illustration of the sylph, says on the cover that it is for ages 10 and up. The versions of Deities and Demigods/Legends and Lore published around that same time have lots and lots of topless deity types... again, "for ages 10 and up."

This makes me wonder about the recommended ages that I'm going to list for the upcoming box set. That was 1983. This is 2010.

"For Adults Ages 13 and Up" That's what I planned to put on the back of the box, riffing off of the Holmes age recommendations (at least I'm not calling it an Adult Fantasy Role-Playing Game as the Holmes version did, haha!).

The front is going to have something that resembles the original Creature Generator cover, but done by an artist and not done as a photographic composite (as was the original plan). Monster woman with no reason to be wearing clothes, so she isn't. So that will be a big declaration that "This isn't for the little ones."

I started as a kid, but I really do believe that RPGs really aren't intended to be children's games. Also, whereas I'm 35 and have never had alcohol, and never even kissed a girl until I was 19, it's really not at all unusual for teenagers (and I am talking 13 year olds) to be drinking and screwing and smoking and snorting (not to mention their violent whoring video games and looking at or whatever the gross site is these days). Acting like people are so mentally fragile at that age that boobies in media will warp them is more than a little naive. This isn't a value judgment, it's reality.

Not to mention, even if they are complete angels, over in this country it's apparently not unusual for families to take sauna together. Butt-ass naked. When I was preparing for my first visit to this place, my ex had sent me a tourist brochure... that included a family - mother, father, son, daughter - naked together. My first thought was "oh god, this doesn't count as child porn, does it? This was sent to me in the mail!" Yes, I can be just as much an American prude as anyone.

There are not going to be any sexual situations depicted in the exterior or interior of the box. This is not going to be in any way a pervy woohoo! kind of release. Not a kiddie game, but not an Adult Game by any means. But some of the art specs I've handed along are of classic (or classic to me) scenes from literature that have characters "naked as the day," and I haven't given any special instructions on how to portray that. There's a good chance indeed, especially from an artist from this country, that nothing will be thought of delivering art that is literally balls-out.

The safe thing to do is not to do it. Swaths of cloth drawn to just happen to cover up this bit, a convenient tree branch to cover up that bit. But I figured if I'm already going to go ahead with an insane project that I'm willing to go into debt for (and the wife even had me sign a pre-nup so she doesn't get sucked in), if I'm really going to produce the product I want to see, I shouldn't hold back. If I'm going to risk it with a fancy presentation and expensive artists, I should at the very fucking least be able to hold it in my hands and say, "This is everything I imagined it would be." As if I'm pissing away that grand opportunity to be that mass market smash hit I would have been otherwise? Spare me.

When I went to Rome last year, and toured the sites and the museums, I notice that someone at some point had gone around to all of these marble statues and smashed their cocks off. Seriously. Nude male statues everywhere, thousands of years old and many in otherwise great condition, and the vast majority had vandalized genitals.

I am not going to wander through the streets and alleys of my game and be a cocksmasher.

I'm just going to have to trust that you'll all be adults about this. Adults, 13 and up.


  1. I don't think boobs are going to warp anyones brain. My son's been looking at mine every 3 hours since he was born and he still seems okay about it. Seriously though, as you say as long as it's not 'balls out' it's not going to cause offence. Female nudity in art and advertising is everywhere, especially if you have italian tv, oh and in the uk page three of the lower quality newspapers always has a fresh pair.

  2. Yeah, those boobs in the monster manual didn't warp me, not the succubus on all fours in the monster manual no-waaay. It's just a coincidence I got a newfound appreciation of Glasya (Princess of Hell) with the onset of puberty.

  3. If anyone should be so obtuse as to complain of depicted nudity (not even photography!) in your game, I'd simply supply him with the following address and suggest to him that he demand that the current resident cover-up all the depicted nudity in his haunts:

    His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
    00120 Via del Pellegrino
    Citta del Vaticano


  5. Interesting considerations.

    The no nudity thing is peculiarly strong American trait. Not enough museums, I suppose...

    Regarding the "balls out" bit:
    The Otherworld Bugbears seem to have gotten a few people flustered lately, but what does anyone else think?

    Is it "too real" or "suggestive" or "product suicide" to have genitals revealed on the gaming table?

  6. Great Minatures. I remember an advert in an old edition of White Dwarf for lizard men of all creatures (from Essex Minatures) with big dangly cocks.

  7. I'm glad your willing to put your self on the line to produce a product you're proud of.

    I wrote a follow up post on my own blog based on couple things you've said here; I hope you don't mind.

  8. A guidebook I was reading when in Luxor (Egypt) mentioned Middle Kingdom baboon statues where the erect penises had been smashed off by, quote, "prudish Frenchmen", unquote. I didn't think such a thing had ever existed.

    Ironically the missing bits on these statues drew more attention to themselves then they would if they hadn't been emasculated!

  9. I say it's time to take the human body back from the conservatives!

  10. Is it some requirement that you have an age range printed on your box? Doesn't it really depend on the person [child]? Hell I know an 8 year old who is far more mature than many teenagers I know.

    I'd just put "For Adults of all ages." and be done with it.

  11. Forgive me for being a bit of a party pooper, but I would strongly recommend keeping it clean. You're in business. Your distribution channels are digital (PDF) or through the mail (Box/Hardcopy).

    Aside from the occasional zealotry of law enforcement, the definition of things like child pornography can vary from state to state. Be paranoid about it, even if it means being a cocksmasher.

    At the very least, do some research or communicate with other independent publishers to gather more info. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a prude, but these are different times...

    I just feel that things are tightening here, and I'm waiting for WotC to play dirty with the growing independent RPG publishers...

    ...only the paranoid survive.

  12. The United States has gotten a lot more prudish since the 70's, unfortunately.

  13. I have to (respectfully, though it may start to sound otherwise) disagree with @Mad Brew. The only limits within which you should stay are those of your own vision, and your attitude should be that anyone who doesn't like it can go fuck themselves. This is the artistically integral (integrous? whatever the adjective of integrity is) thing to do, the ethical thing to do, and probably even the smarter business decision--as I highly doubt that there are all that many people deeply offended by such things who would be likely to buy your products in the first place, whereas if you were to begin to second-guess yourself by trying to conform to the mass-market's expectations, you would no doubt lose some small bit of ineffable Ragginess, and your work would be the poorer for it. I'm not suggesting that you go out of your way to include anything anyone might consider offensive for the sake of giving offense; I'm suggesting that you shouldn't give any thought to it one way or the other. Show parts, don't show parts, it doesn't matter as long as it's what _you_ think is correct for the product. To your own self be true, full stop.

    Recently you asked your readers to list their favorites of your 'blog postings, and the one I chose contained this paragraph: "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." Please don't take this in any of the many wrong ways, but were you to begin censoring yourself in the manner under discussion, I would be just a little disappointed in you. But then your original post would seem to make clear that you're not going to do so (you're just being your usual thoughtful, as in pensive, self), so I guess it's a moot point.

    Finally, to return once again to @Mad Brew's posted comment: yes, sometimes only the paranoid survive--but in those cases, the survival is never worth the paranoia.

  14. Oh, and if it matters, I'm writing from the States.

  15. Oops, I meant @sorcerersofdoom, not @Mad Brew. This is why I should never let myself comment: I invariably stick my foot in my mouth even when it's a keyboard.

    My apologies to the both of you for not doing you the courtesy of keeping your identities straight.

    Is there a way to edit these comments after posting them, rather than continually posting more? I'll shut up now.

  16. @sleepy: With all due respect, I really think at this stage of the game, it would pay to be cautious. This is a niche of a niche of a niche, so I don't think hiding a nipple or two is compromising artistic integrity if the core product (the writing) is intact. If a bit of conservatism enables more young people to get the level of quality that so far has been shown, that's a good thing.

    I remember the whole 'D&D is Satanic' phase... it wasn't worth it and genuinely hurt the game.

    It's just my opinion, but I think Old School Gaming has successfully made a jump (Internet/PDF/Quality) out of traditional publishing, which is a tremendous advantage that could really be exploited for reaching very tech savvy younger generations.

    Again, just my own opinion, but I really would rather have kids connect a digital PDF with this blog and look up H.P.Lovecraft, etc. and have them explore some of the inspirations behind what they enjoy without having their PDF download get flagged by some 'parental control'.

    For what it's worth, most artists across different time periods dealt with (or worked around) censorship of all kinds, often with dire consequences hanging over them.

  17. wow, the return of joesky..oh sorry, got distracted, uh screw the censors and would be censors i say! i for one was happy as could be at 13 that the Type V demons et al existed (albeit fictionally) and was portrayed as one might expect. the 1e MM lamia, on the other hand, seemed lacking...something. anyhow, just proceed as you see fit, even if things go tits up you're not in the land of the Puritans, right?

  18. >>I remember the whole 'D&D is Satanic' phase... it wasn't worth it and genuinely hurt the game.

    The type of people who were responsible for the Satanic Panic can go fuck themselves and I hope every single last thing I do and every last thing I enjoy in life does nothing but irritate them and make them think the world is a terrible, terrible place. They are liars and charlatans and I do not make any consideration on their behalf.

    That type should be confronted and fought, not shied away from. If I thought my work had any chance of causing problems for them and having Pat Robertson going on the 700 Club and condemning me, then I'd make my product so fucking foul it would make Urotsukidoji look like the Getalong Gang, and then give interviews claiming that all my work is for the benefit of satanic pedophile terrorist socialists, just to mess with them.

    This isn't a rant against all religious types (Obviously! BHP is publishing S&W Whitebox after all), but just that inbred, shitsucking subset of them that wield their religion like a weapon and make life miserable for everyone (including, I am sure, themselves).

    This conversation is not about them.

  19. fuck it. 13 & up sounds good. it's only the D&D is satanic types that you'd potentially have problems w/ and if your attitude is fuck it, then well... fuck it!

  20. A bit calmer now.

    My dilemma is this:

    The way I plan it, I will be limiting my commercial appeal. Some people won't want boobies and the Bloofer Lady leading kids into a graveyard. Enough that it matters for the niche market I'm in? Will this have a "cool" factor that brings sales that overcome those I lose? I don't know.

    As I spend more time and effort on the project, and allocate more resources towards the project (committed art budget is over 1000€ already), I realize that the entire project is absolutely insane. At its most conservative, it is still crazy.

    But my entire life has basically been insane and unreal since the decision to move to Finland, so I might have lost perspective on exactly how crazy things are sometimes.

    But... there is a good chance this whole thing falls flat saleswise in the end no matter what I do. I think I can count on a couple hundred to go out the door, sure. Hopefully. That'll keep the whole thing from being a catastrophe for me, but it won't make it profitable. And this is a lot of work to just break even with, if I'm that lucky.

    If I make decisions to substantially limit the commercial possibilities, then I'm kind of an idiot, because I am a businessman over here. I have these impossible Finnish tax forms on the table right now to prove it.

    But if the whole thing rolls over and dies upon release, how stupid and awful am I going to feel if I neutered my concept for commercial considerations that didn't come through?

  21. @JimLotFP:

    "The way I plan it, I will be limiting my commercial appeal. Some people won't want boobies and the Bloofer Lady leading kids into a graveyard."

    I reiterate, the people you're talking about are probably _already_ lost to you based on past work; there is no need to worry about _future_ decisions alienating them.

    "If I make decisions to substantially limit the commercial possibilities, then I'm kind of an idiot."

    No, you're not, because _any_ decisions you make (not just you, anyone) will limit the commercial possibilities. Remember the Aesop bit about the father and son who ended up carrying their ass, rather than the other way round? Don't try to please everyone; try to please yourself.

  22. @sorcerersofdoom:

    I may not have expressed myself well. If it turns out I did, I apologize to everyone for typing up another much-too-long comment unnecessarily.
    Even before reading your second comment, I suspected that most of the arguments in your first were true. But that truth doesn't lead me to the same conclusions to which it leads you. First, in reference to your statement "I don't think hiding a nipple or two is compromising artistic integrity if the core product (the writing) is intact": I agree with you as to the relative importance of the visual art and the text, and I didn't mean to imply that hiding anything at all would compromise artistic integrity. Rather, I meant that hiding something _for the reason of playing it safe_ would compromise it. It's not the action, but the motivation.
    I agree with your analysis, but disagree that it would be better to have people able to experience the product "unflagged." The reason I disagree is difficult to state clearly and risks putting words in Mr. Raggi's mouth, but here goes. I'm less concerned with people being led to pulp source material (which would be great) than with their getting to enjoy Mr. Raggi's stuff itself. And yes, if it gets flagged as unsuitable, they won't get to enjoy his material, but if he changes it _for the purpose of keeping it unflagged_, then they _still_ wouldn't get to enjoy his material, because the result wouldn't be _his_ material, it would be some other guy's.
    Obviously this is only my opinion (therefore worth no more than yours, and not worth nearly as much as JER's own opinion) but while I do think that Mr. Raggi's design and writing are excellent, I feel that the worth of his material also comes from a je ne sais quoi stemming from his personality and attitude. Of course, my perception of his personality and attitude might be totally false. Nevertheless, if Mr. Kuntz or Mr. Gygax (or Mr. Rients or Mr. Maliszewski, to keep it in this generation of the family) had written _Death Frost Doom_, it may well have been as good a product, but it would not have been the same product. It would not have had the same _feel_. I'm all but certain that we can all agree on that.
    So here's where we may disagree, where I may be misrepresenting JER, and where I think I wasn't clear. I'm not saying that the "feel" is due to any possibly offensive content in Mr. Raggi's work or in pictures he commissions, but that the "feel" is due to his (at least in my ill-considered and possibly wrong opinion) not caring whether he offended anyone, or at least being willing to offend if necessary. I'm worried that if he decides to change a possibly unimportant thing, something we can put a finger on (like covering a nipple, to use your example), that he would in the process change something important that we _can't_ put a finger on, because he would have changed himself a little bit. (Again, I'm talking like I know the guy, which is ridiculous.) My point is this: it's irrelevant whether any of this stuff is offensive, right or wrong, or anything else; it's irrelevant whether it's a good idea from a practical standpoint to cater to the people Mr. Raggi rightly says should "go fuck themselves"; what matters is that if it is his gut feeling that he shouldn't cater to them, then he shouldn't second-guess himself. Doing other than what he believes in would throw him off his game, I think. (contd)

  23. (continuing)
    You rightly point out that "artists across different time periods dealt with (or worked around) censorship of all kinds." But each artist who did that did it in a slightly different way, and all of the very little I know of Mr. Raggi, through having read some of what he has written, suggests to me that his way would not be to flat-out give in to it. His comment timestamped 10:06 regarding Pat Robertson et al. only reinforces this in my mind. In my previous comment, I merely wished to encourage him to "deal with it" in what I suspected is his way, or even better in whatever his way actually may be. Because we all need encouragement occasionally.

  24. Sorry I opened a can of worms. I thought the topic was age-related sales, and apparently it's become a 'free speech' angry schoolyard.

    Mr. Raggi, there are a lot of Old School players who are introducing their kids to these games, and it would be a shame to not be a part of that. That's all.

    Just wanted to clarify that. I withdraw now. I meant no offense.

  25. Sorry if I went RAR, but I consider the Satanic Panic thing to be a completely different issue than age-appropriateness.

  26. James, don't know if this is a concern, but boobies on the cover will be unappreciated by US game stores if you intend to distribute.

  27. I know, and it's one of the things I'm weighing. I'm hoping I can still get into the internet shops anyway with an uncensored version.

    Two versions of the cover are being made - one with some hair covering the "offensive" bits.

    One idea is to have the first run be with the original idea, and then if there is demand for a wider release, then use the covered art.

    Or if I get cold feet, it's ready right there.

  28. "with some hair covering the 'offensive' bits"

    What you mean a retro muff? That really is old-school.

  29. James, I'd look into buying some stickers. Print ALL the boxes with the nudity. Some vendors might refuse to stock something with nudity on hte cover. For them, simply place the sticker over the breasts.

    Make sure the stick is both A) strong and B) non-damaging to the cover when EVERY SINGLE PERSON who buys it takes the sticker off.

  30. James, boobies on the cover of your box set will not be a problem for stores that carry any books by White Wolf in the US.

    A large percentage of WW books have boobies plastered all over them and just about every gaming store has them out and in the open!

    There should be more penis in FRGs fyi


  31. you might need some perspective. have you looked at the market you are trying to penetrate? Who are your intended customers? who are potential customers? look at similar products. what actually sells vs. what you want to make. there will probably be compromises, or perhaps the need to find something beyond compromise which could produce an even better work then you originally intended.

  32. I'm still wondering why you need to declare an age...

  33. As was pointed out above, there are a number of people introducing their kids to role-playing. I want to make it explicit that not only isn't this aimed at or intended for the smaller ones, but that I, as publisher, am fully aware of that fact.

  34. i suggest the Carcosa route
    two versions of the artwork and text

    one with 'chainmai bikinis' and
    obscure text and
    a version for those 18 years and older

    SINCE, you are going thru so much effort to create this project,
    it makes sense to invest an extra 10% more time to produce a family friendly version

  35. Ignore the American moralistic morons and do your thing. I think Ron Edwards was onto something with his piece in Fight On! magazine. Censorship is spreading like wildfire and the OSR is not immune, far from it. Just look on the web forums out there with censoring filters slapped on.

    If Carcosa taught us anything, it is that gamers are just as close minded as anybody else.

    If you want to be commercially successful you wouldn't want to do anything less than full colour hardcover with splatbooks supporting it anyway.

    Go wild and be true to yourself, whatever you decide.

  36. If you're creating your work to please yourself and don't care about money, put whatever you want on the cover.

    If you're creating your work to sell copies and get people to buy it, think as a marketer and put what will sell your product on the cover.

    Many parents will view tits on the cover as a red flag. They will confiscate their kids' books or refuse to buy them as presents.

    Stores won't display your product.

    Many players of any age will be ashamed of being seen with your book in public.

    If you need boobage, put it inside the covers. If you want to reinforce a sexual stereotype that RPGs are for nerdboys, put the boobage on the cover.

    Cover art isn't fine art. It's commercial art with one purpose: to capture graphically what your product is about. Its purpose is to sell copies, plain and simple. If you're feeling torn right now about what to do, that's a pretty good indication that you're doubting what you want to do.

    Do a little research on nudity and advertising. Less is tantalizing and gets interest, while all-out satisfies the interest right then and there: No need to buy the product or even crack open the book.