Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's Talk About the Artists

Lost in yesterday's hullabaloo was the artist announcement. Here's the list again, with links to their galleries. I know this includes some artists you guys really like and some artists you haven't heard of.

Check out their work, and then talk about them!

Rowena Aitken
Aeron Alfrey
Tomas Arfert
Dan Berger
Nicole Cardiff
Christina Casperson
Ernie Chan
Dean Clayton
Diana Davidsson
Jacqui Davis
Rick Hershey
Laura Jalo
Vince Locke
Peter Mullen
Russ Nicholson
Jason Rainville
Cynthia Sheppard
Amos Orion Sterns

Monday, November 29, 2010

Proud to Commit Commercial Suicide

(and I don't even like Nailbomb...)

So I've been organizing the second printing of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, including tightening a few things up rules-wise that people have commented on (sheesh people, if you all played like me it would be just fine :P), a new layout, as well as organizing additional art.

Additional art. That drives me nuts.

Let me tell you a story about the first printing. I may have already told it, but you'll suffer through hearing it again. There was supposed to be a RE Howard homage series of pics. Frost Giant's Daughter, Worms of the Earth, and Ollam Onga from the unfinished story that became Horror from the Red Tower in Savage Sword. The Frost Giant's Daughter is supposed to be naked. Ollam Onga is supposed to be naked as well. No nudity in the crucifixion scene from Worms though. Anyway, some of the art in that first printing doesn't appear as I intended it. Because I was under the gun with a firm deadline, I had commissioned a ton of art before practically anything had been written yet, and surprise surprise in layout things didn't fall neatly into place. None of the Howard scenes really got included the way they were supposed to.

But there is a naked lady in there, suddenly with no context. At the time of layout I was aware that this was not necessarily a good thing. I hate cheesecake art that comes across as being out of context. And the way the layout was going, Ollam Onga's swingin' doodaddle wasn't making it in the final product. To solve this imbalance, I was actually putting together an art montage, punk rock album style, to include in all the little art bits that got chopped by layout.
And then I realized I was spending several hours on this for the sole purpose of having a cock in the game as a balance against showing a snatch.

I stopped immediately as it was quite obviously stupid and ridiculous, and just had to suffer that there was an out of context nude woman in there.

So now I'm dealing with some new art. Some of this new art is here because I'm doing a more spacious layout with a bigger font (to respond to readability, which in terms of RPGs is also usability, criticism) and also because I feel that every new release, even if a new printing of a previous work, should be the best product I can produce. And my concern, I fear, is on all the wrong things. Because I see things like this and this. And I worry about it. I have women in my game's art, and my ideas for the game art this time around isn't pretty.

Not every piece of gaming art on Earth is a political statement, and certainly not all gaming art is intended to be illustrative of how people should see their characters. The art in the LotFP game is meant to get across the atmosphere of the assumed setting, not inform players that their halflings will have a huge dinger and that their fighters should collect trophies from the bodies of their foes.

So here I am counting instances of "female in power, female not in power, female scantily clad, female not scantily clad..." in the art that I'm commissioning because I feel I have to be aware of such things because people are watching and there's always talk of such things. And then I realize it's ridiculous. So I stop. And I think about a few things.

I'd say a damn large proportion of fantasy artists making a living from their work do a lot of "cheesecake" style artwork. I certainly saw a lot of that at Spiel with Elmore and Monte Moore's booths.
And it's quite obvious they use models as references. And I know a decent amount of women that do modeling, including nude modeling and fetish modeling (and full-on porn, in some cases). They like doing it. So models that like modeling model for artists who like to draw them, to be viewed by people who enjoy viewing them, and somewhere along the line this becomes a bad thing for women everywhere.


Here's a fun story: Luna (snake demon model for the LotFP box cover) was very very enthusiastic about her appearance on the box cover. Months ago I was talking with Luna about the possibility of bringing LotFP to GenCon (or DragonCon, or Origins, or to some noteworthy US convention). She volunteers to show up in a snake outfit and walk around topless to recreate her role on the cover, and is disappointed when told that probably wouldn't be allowed. Obviously I'm hanging out with evil self-oppressing women or something, else I can't make heads or tails out of some of the complaints of online gender-in-gaming philosophers.

You can talk about booth babes and cheesecake art and whatever you want to point to in order to make your point about how horribly out of touch gaming art and marketing is as far as pushing women away, but you're missing something that can be summed up in one easy catchphrase.

Beauty is Power.

Do you know any models? Strippers? Porn stars? You think any of them don't want to be picked for the next job? What about the everyday female? How many women do you know that are OK with being ugly? Women want to be attractive and be seen as attractive. Hell, so do men! And not only to men and women want to look beautiful, they want to look at beautiful things.

... how this relates to fantasy art, and fantasy game art, should be rather obvious. People who create (or direct) fantasy art have the power to use not only their sense of beauty and power, but their imagination about what beauty and power can be, in producing images. Duh. So if the result is a generously endowed warrior woman in unrealistically scanty clothing or a loinclothed bodybuilder barbarian tearing into a horde of faceless warriors (I consider them the same thing in many ways), this is as much a personal expression of taste as "I like strawberry jelly." Criticism of it on a political level is absolutely ridiculous.

And what about the rescuing the fair maiden in danger stereotype that gets people pissy? Why is it pervasive?

Because it draws a real response from people. Why it does, and whether that is good or bad, is irrelevant at the level of a role-playing game publisher. The concern instead is this: You think about what you want the art to say, and then you say it. There might be specific points of screwing around with expectations but by and large if you want to get an idea across you need to do it in a way that people will instinctively understand. This isn't high art.

As far as the "caged woman" thing goes, I see it this way: People want to feel like a good guy. Maybe even a hero. What do heroes do? They save people. Innocent people, in particular. From bad guys, if we're talking an adventure context. So if there's some victimwoman being held captive by villaindude in some piece of art, what is the message?

  • That woman is weak! or
  • That guy's an asshole!

Hint: It's the second one.

So if you want to show a villain and make sure that it's known that you're showing a villain, you show that villain doing villainous deeds. Showing a pretty lady in peril may be cliche conceptually, but the effectiveness of art can be the execution. Demanding every piece of art be conceptually original is absurd.

Why, do you ask, can't the implied story be that some weak, unappealing man has been imprisoned and needs saving?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail demonstrated that quite admirably. Yes, one can craft a believable and moving scenario where a man needs rescuing, but in a piece of art, especially a piece of art that is illustrating a broad idea and atmosphere in a rulebook and not illustrating a specific situation in an adventure, it has to be recognizable and self contained in the image itself.

Women are just better at some things than men and being a sympathetic victim is one of them. Yes, it can be taken too far when it becomes overdone, a shortcut rather than shorthand. The history of fantasy art may weigh heavily on the expectations of every new thing to come along, but to deny someone their own expression of a well-worn idea is pretty crap. Are you going to tell me you don't have a different reaction to the idea of witnessing two guys in a bar fight, versus a guy and a girl having a drunken brawl?

I don't think women would be more empowered by having violence against them be seen in an equal light as violence against men, and attempting to do so will draw fire anyway. I imagine, in my little strawman-building brain, that the same people who would complain about Helpless Women in Danger would be the same to complain about Adventuring Women Who Are the Equal of Men being shown to meet the same fate the men do in equal and equally brutal measure.

(as an aside, my game doesn't say one single word about this within its text and I consciously avoid using the word heroes, but Weird Fantasy Role-Playing works perfectly well for those wanting to play heroes. The implied setting and all the advice given is dark. Even a candle is easily seen in pitch darkness, and so it should be easy for the heroic-minded to work within a world without heroes. Yet people, from what I've seen, want their characters to match the darkness of the implied setting. Sink to the level of their surroundings. No skin off my back, not going to discourage it, but it's so damn easy to rise above. Do people, role-players even, who are supposed to be exercising imagination readily, really need to be told?)

Can you believe I've spent time worrying about appeasing those that won't give two shits about my game no matter what I do? And the only woman in peril pic I can think of offhand that will be appearing is some old woman who's being rescued by a woman... yet I worry. How silly is it to worry about the "politics" of a scene I think of because of how people react to that concept within other contexts? Worrying about whether the man or the woman should win that one sword fight (Rules p45 drawing is being extended to a 6 pic sequence) not on the basis of how I want it to add to the atmosphere of my work, but whether or not people will accuse me of being a misogynist or because of the risk that my game will get some bad reputation based on it? It's madness.

But no matter the context, if it just has the appearance of these "bad things in gaming art," somebody's going to get pissy about it and with me being a businessprick I do worry about how my releases are seen by the gaming public.

So let me declare right now that the woman in the sword fight is going to get stabbed right through the goddamn face and their will be a followup picture of the man stepping on her head to help dislodge the sword from her skull. The more brutal and disgusting it is the happier I'll be. I believe it gives the sequence more (negative) emotional power and also that having commissioned that I can stop worrying about this whole issue. OK, yeah, I'll be one of the "bad guys," that's settled, go away or publicize my work with your complaints. Don't complain to me that a piece of art that's supposed to make you feel uncomfortable actually makes you feel uncomfortable. While my world view certainly influences what I publish, what I publish isn't a simple reflection of my world view so stop pretending that it is. There's fantasy and there's reality and part of the point of fantasy is the imagining and exploring of things that one would never even want to exist in real life.

I'm not in the wish-fulfillment business. Plenty of others working that angle out there. Find them if that's what you're looking for.

The art in the game has a goal. I'll let you figure which of the following two possible goals I have in mind for the art:

  • Showing the world just how conscientious and sensitive and aware of important social issues I am, or
  • Instilling in my mostly-adult audience the same discomfort and anxiety that the Monster Manual caused me when I was 9 - 10

Hint: It's the second option.

Why would I want to do that? Because my game is supposed to be weird horror wearing a good old traditional fantasy gaming disguise. It's supposed to be scary. But you know what? It's 2010 and maybe Lovecraft and Smith and Poe and whoever else freaked people out back in the day, but I certainly don't find them disturbing or truly scary. I never did. Of all the reasons why I read that sort of thing, because it actually frightens or disturbs me isn't among them. Which is why I'm attempting to go for the feel and atmosphere of these writers, give the tip of the hat to their inspirations, instead of using their actual material. This isn't the OSR version of CoC D20 or even intended to be "D&D Cthulhu" and that's not what I mean when I say I consciously take on a Lovecraftian influence.

So having established what I want people to feel just by looking at the books in order to influence their impression of the game, I need to think about what would cause such anxiety. I have to think of what works for a modern 2010s reader and filter that through the proper in-game lens. I mentioned not too long ago that I was instructing artists to do something to get me arrested, and I was not kidding or exaggerating. I've hired an artist whose artwork has been banned all over the damned world (and it will involve women because I've got women lining up to be used as reference models for this artist).
I mean what is the point of holding back? This hobby is based on unleashing imagination, right? So I need to open my head up and show it to you. What, I need to worry about losing access to Wal-Mart shelves or something? Hell, I've already dropped any previous plans of going to GenCon because their list of product standards (section K here) is almost a checklist of what's appearing in upcoming LotFP products. I want a game that as a physical thing projects the feeling that a character in the game might feel. A product made in good taste isn't going to do that.

What the hell business do I have peddling good taste in the first place? What do I know about that sort of thing? Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm going to present "Penthouse: The RPG" or anything (although wait til you see the new piece Luna modeled for...). It's not going to be "kill all the women just cause it's edgy, huurr hurrr!" Context and the correct atmosphere are important to me. But I'm not holding back within the confines of the project. Ollam Onga's going to have his dick because it says right there in the book that the dude's naked. Some artists (not all of them, this isn't going to be a total torture gallery or anything of the sort!) are going to deliver something disturbing - and if they don't I'll send it back and tell them to fix it. For instance, there was an early version of that one new Sheppard piece that I posted a bit of that my wife found to be quite gross, but it didn't move me at all... so back it went for some grossing up. Wait til you see the end result. (that's sort of how I decided on the creature design for the cover of the Tutorial book - I chose the idea that bothered my wife)

(another by the way: Why are so many artists so shy about showing the red stuff? "More blood!" is not an instruction I should have to repeat multiple times about the same piece... look at this forty second Youtube clip. It's a pro wrestling spot where Eddy Guerrero cuts himself just a tad too deep with a tiny sliver of a razor blade. And it gushes. When I commission a violent piece I have more than a tiny sliver of a razor blade in mind, you know? I suspect other publishers are worried about such things are often request artists to tone things down... reminds me of how Peter "Brain Dead" Jackson had the uruk-hai dismembered onscreen with not a drop of blood for Fellowship of the Ring... weak!)

I reject things in other media that obviously "cut away" or tone down what they do when that hides the harsh reality of what they do, so I need to make sure that what I present to the world has the same qualities that I look for in art and storytelling. For this project, just showing the in-game reality of what half the abstract mechanics represent is enough to accomplish my goal. What exactly do you think it looks like from a character point of view when you bring someone to zero hit points with a friggin mace, anyway? Hell, what do you think Charm Person would really be most used for? (hint: I don't think it's mesmerizing your enemy to be a guide or help beat up your other enemies)

And none of this matters, really. That's the maddening thing! Anything "shocking" now will in a few years be considered tame. Remember that all those classic Hammer movies got hit with the big X rating when they first came out. Remember the absolute outrage over Mortal Kombat in the 90s, especially when the home versions came out? Or the controversies surrounding the very existence of Dungeons and Dragons in the early 80s? Today's outrage is tomorrow's example of quaint overreaction. So I consider it shameful that I even worry about any of this, but worry about it I do, and my way of dealing with it is to push back hard.

I announce that the second printing of LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, which should go to press after the start of the new year, will be known as the "Grindhouse Edition." If you at all intend to play the game with polite company, or if you are polite company, I suggest you get yourself a Deluxe Edition copy still available from some vendors before they're all gone.

LotFP Grindhouse Edition

The Boxed Set will Include:
Tutorial Book (96 pages, will include the Recommended Reading material)
Rules/Magic Book (168 pages)
Referee Book (96 pages, will include some new material including requested sample monsters and magic items as well as a new short introductory adventure The Changelings)
(these will be perfect-bound softcovers)
Character Sheets

(artists with new pieces in the Grindhouse Edition in bold, new color piece with an asterisk)
Rowena Aitken*
Aeron Alfrey
Tomas Arfert
Dan Berger
Nicole Cardiff*
Christina Casperson
Ernie Chan
Dean Clayton
Diana Davidsson
Jacqui Davis
Rick Hershey*
Laura Jalo
Vince Locke*
Peter Mullen*
Russ Nicholson
Jason Rainville*
Cynthia Sheppard*
Amos Orion Sterns

Print Run: 2000 Copies

Death is coming.

(OK, so I haven't gotten a good tagline going. "Playtime is Over" was another one I was thinking of just because we're talking about a game and so that would be amusing but then I remember that people still think that I really do hate fun so if I have to deal with morons who take every word literally then I'd rather those people think that I'm trying to kill them.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Whew. Visiting Bristol, Bath, Weston-Super-Mare, Cardiff, and London... now home.

Dragonmeet was cool. Met and bugged several people within the industry, including but not limited to Angus Abranson, Gregor Hutton, Chris Pramas, and Operation: Kenneth Hite had a successful Phase 1. Ask me in April or so if there will be a Phase 2 or 3. Was interviewed for I think Yog Radio. Met a lot of fans and hopefully new fans, and met a literally card-carrying member of the Gardening Society. (speaking of which, one of the members has created a Facebook page exclusively for the Gardening Society...)

Best thing about England? BOOKSTORES WITH OODLES OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE BOOKS! Ordering things online is OK if it's the only option but going to an actual store and buying things is better. The comment was made to me that I should look around to decide what I want in the physical bookstore and then buy it cheaper online... I don't consider that being a "smart consumer," I consider that being a skinflint prick., but I'm told I have archaic manners in such areas. Anyway, this is what I bought in England:

Conquistadors by Michael Wood
The English Civil War: A People's History by Diane Purkiss
Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War by Peter H. Wilson
God's Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland by Micheál Ó Siochrú
Inquisition: The Reign of Fear by Toby Green
The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics
Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490 - 1700 by Diarmaid MacCulloch
Renaissance Florence on Five Florins a Day by Charles Fitzroy
Vlad the Impaler: Son of the Devil, Hero of the People by Gavin Baddeley and Paul Woods
A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy by Malcolm Gaskill

What else?


Oh, am I yelling? :D I did have a couple left from Dragonmeet but I came home and within the 300 or so emails I've accumulated over the week (about 35 real, the rest are Viagra spam) lo and behold... taken!

(Well, OK, I've got *my* personal play/convention display copy that I'll sell you for 500€)

Details about the next printing tomorrow.

Now to see if the VCR correctly recorded those two programs I wanted to see from last week...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Off to Dragonmeet!

I'm off to England Sunday morning Helsinki time, so this is the last you'll see of me for a week.

Once again I travel and will be cut off from the world!

I have a table at Dragonmeet in London on the 27th, so stop on by.

You'll see a couple blog posts while I'm gone... don't panic, it's not a ghost, they're pre-loaded.

And with that... toooodles!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Didn't Want To But I Can't Resist

I wanted to wait until I got back from England before showing anything, but... whew. This is a detail of an unfinished piece of art from Cynthia Sheppard. In proper monster movie tradition I've been referring to this as "The Flame Princess versus the Slime Monster."

Those of you stopping by at Dragonmeet will see another new piece of art as I've had a couple of new banners made to hang up behind the table.

I apologize to the Gardening Society members for making them wait but the mailouts will happen tomorrow. My wife is going to be doing the writing on the certificates (she's got actual penmanship) and she's been super-busy lately.

The new LotFP webstore has been commissioned.

I leave on Sunday for my English vacation (my wife has ordered NO WORK while there... not bloody likely!) and I'll have a table at Dragonmeet on the 27th (see?). I won't have net access while there, but don't worry. I've got a few of blog posts pre-loaded for the 25th (musing), 28th (promotion) and 29th (my promised rant which will surely leave you disappointed what with all this advance hype).

Busy busy busy lately.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What Else is Out There?

In the back of the Referee book of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, there is a list of other OSR type publishers and recommendations.

This section will have to be updated (the Swords & Wizardry situation has changed as well as a couple of other things).

Who should I include there that's not there now?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Damned d12

I want to give the d12 some function in the game. It can't be too important a function as to really screw around with the basics, but it needs something to do.

I have some ideas, but chances are I'd do better to steal one of yours instead. So give me ideas to steal.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Won't Be Able to Afford Her For Much Longer...

LotFP cover artist Cynthia Sheppard is one of Illuxcon's Artist Guests.

Check out who she's got for company here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Proposed Changes to the "Common Activities" Section of LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing

One of my goals with the skill system for Weird Fantasy Role-Playing was to get all of the "common activities" of the old games which have associated mechanics and get them together without really creating a proper skill system.

After reviewing some customer comments, I realize that keeping just about all the abilities and skills from the classic games is maybe a bit too faithful for a subsystem that changes a bunch of percentile skills to d6 skills.

I think it might be a good idea to do some changing around for the second printing in order to clean it up and clarify it a bit. Let me know what you think of each of the following possible adjustments:

  • Eliminating all the subskills. Do halflings really need separate "Stealth Indoors" and "Stealth Outdoors" markers? Just give them some plain stealth! Why would an elf find secrets doors better but not generally search better? etc
  • Eliminate "Detect New Construction" and "Detect Shifting Passages" since they're very limited and create a new skill in their place called "Underground Expertise" that could be used for such general engineering topics. By the same token, changing Foraging & Hunting to Outdoor Expertise as it basically was covering outdoor survival anyway and this changes a specific activity to a more general thing.
  • Eliminate Find Traps and have that function fall under the general Search. Why should the finding of traps be something different than the finding of other secret or hidden things? Extra emphasis that this isn't a generic spot check, that a player must be specific about what his character is searching and that this represents a thorough search and in-game time is always spent doing it, would be part of this.

Finding some better names to represent the skills than "Underground -" and "Outdoor Expertise" would be great too. :P

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The Edition Wars are real.

Not in a "internet fanboys push their method of organized make-believe as better than other fanboys' method of organized make-believe."

Not even in a "micropublisher decides to focus on one version of a game and damn the rest straight to hell as far as the publisher is concerned" kind of way.

But in a "Real business make real business decisions based on these things."

For all the talk of death and doom in the RPG industry, money does move around in amounts substantial to any small business. The bigger OSR publishers push tens of thousands of dollars around annually. Each. And we are small potatoes in this biz. As you move up the ladder, the dollar amounts get much bigger. And not-so-small businesses pay attention to that. And that's the kind of way Edition Wars exist in substantial form, just back-door enough to smack you in the ass when you least expect it.

Standing up and being noticed and recognized as an existing and vibrant thing matters.

Wow... Thanks!

First Snow Day Sale 2010 was a huge success!

I'll be shipping out this monster pile of boxes tomorrow.

Thanks to you guys from the US, Australia, Finland, Germany, Spain, France, Sweden, and the UK!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

LotFP First Snow Sale

It's a-snowin' and a-stickin' here in Helsinki, so it's time for the annual First Snow Sale!

Sale item: LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Deluxe Edition.

Check the sidebar to the left for ordering. Yes, those are up to 50% discounts. Going almost down to cost here.

European orders will be shipped priority, non-European orders select the shipping method.

For 24 hours only.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Not Dead

Not dreaming, either. :P

Been busy, dealing with getting the materials together for the Pembrooktonshire Gardening Society mailouts (31 members who will hopefully be well amused by what they receive), dealing with the early 2011 releases, etc.

Funny that I thought I'd have a few more things out in 2010, but I needed to react to things that were happening instead of ignoring them in favor of established plans. Even with basically the releases clustered in July I still made a nice profit for the year. That's all being funneled into the 2011 releases, and the past little while I've been dealing with artists, layouts, printers, and generally preparing for the new year.

Zak is talking about the Vornheim book today, and he mentioned this:

Finished almost all the pictures and maps for the city kit, just gotta do the big city map that we're planning to print on the inside of the dustcover. We're (hopefully) doing all kinds of cute format things with this book to maximize the bang for your buck.

I'm using a printer that's been in business since 1890, and when I asked about having a double-sided dust jacket they looked at me like I was from Mars. Awesome. My intention as a publisher for this book is that it be impressive in content and impressive as an object, and things are developing well.

I'll be at Dragonmeet in a few weeks, and I hope to meet some of you.

And then after Dragonmeet I start scuttling all my potential plans with a big old school LotFP blog rant that's been building for awhile... but it's tied to product announcements that I'm not ready to talk about in public quite yet. Call it marketing through incitement if you'd like. I prefer to call it channeling my anger. :D