Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Three Unforgivable Sins of the Grindhouse Edition

Things are in the home stretch. I've said much of this before, but I don't want anyone to be surprised by what I'm doing so I want to sum up again. Feel free to skip it if you've heard it already. Or, if you're a masochist, read on!

I've held back most of the Grindhouse Edition material that I expect to be controversial from blog previews. I believe that the early buyers should get to see some things that nobody has yet seen - and I don't want to sell the game on the grotesque. That's part of the package and I want people to be aware but it's not what I want to use to lure people in.

(and with the new webstore's PDF-downloading capacity, it will come instantly. When pre-orders go up, you'll need to wait for the books to come back from the printer before going in the mail but you'll get to see everything right away in electronic format)

The thing's going to have an 18+ warning on it and with it clearly being intended for adults, a lot of the problems disappear. Violence in a role-playing game is a given. Adults complaining about nudity in products for adults are silly. It's a fantasy and a horror game so bizarre and disturbing images are to be expected. So I feel comfortable with most of the stuff to be presented. A bit wicked, a bit naughty, but in the end it's all there to hopefully pass on the joy of vicarious wonder and fear.

And I don't think "vicarious" needs to mean half-assed or with a wink and a smile.

Think about A Nightmare on Elm Street. I was just 12 or 13 when I saw that movie. The scene where Tina is dragged up the walls and slashed to pieces is and was fucked up and it scared the shit out of me.

The scene where she later appears to Nancy in the school hallway in a bodybag? Literally nightmare fuel. But it not only scared the crap out of me, it had me waiting in real anticipation for the sequel because I wanted to feel that way again!

And then a little later came A Nightmare on Elm Street Part III. Even if it wasn't as hardcore a horror film, the building of the mythology was (remember, Freddy was conceived when a nun was locked in a mental asylum and gang-raped, grew up to become a child-killer and was murdered by Main Street USA parents in a vigilante lynching). Add the whole 80s D&D thing where the adults don't trust that the kids know the difference between fantasy and reality (there's even a role-playing game in the movie! Stupid wizard should know not to engage in melee combat!) and experimental drugs and combat happening in two realities at once (John Saxon & Craig Wasson vs stop-motion animation skeleton!) and Nancy falling through the chair was the most awesome thing since awesome was invented (little things count!).

But it had that suspense and the horror in the sense that things were going to hell and people were going to die in unexpected and creative ways... but it was an adventure!

"You stupid bitch! You're killing us!"

"Let's go kick the motherfucker's ass all over dreamland!"

My horror fandom goes deeper and nastier - there's the beautiful butchery found in Argento's work (not so much represented in the Grindhouse edition but there in bits and bobs - when I go Argento you'll know it), the horrid, savage barbarity of Fulci films (it's there), the underground feel of Herschell Gordon Lewis, the wet comedies of Peter Jackson (Bad Taste! Brain Damage!) and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead II, Drag Me to Hell), George Romero and the zombie apocalypse... and exploding head cinema!

It also goes more respectable - the Hammer movies that didn't have so much of the blood but had all the atmosphere and even a touch of class.

... you didn't think I was calling this the Grindhouse Edition because of the Tarentino/Rodriguez project, did you?

I also love heavy metal and its imagery and lyrics. I got into it seriously with the 90s death metal explosion - the lyrics of bands like Carcass and Deicide and Entombed and a hundred more a seared into my brain. Then there's the books and authors. Lovecraft, Barker, Howard, Leiber and the rest, presenting amoral stories depicting gruesome death and sketchy characters, often written by men with serious character flaws of their own.

I've previously told of the story of having the Monster Manual at age 9, scared to let my mother see the inside for fear that all the boobies would cause her to take it away from me. I was also scared to read it at night because of all the creepy undead, but was always poring over it by daylight.

What I release should reflect what I love. A celebration of the macabre that has enriched my imagination. But it should also address what I don't love and how that relates to what I do love.

I also remember the 80s witch hunts. So many people have problems with make-believe. How many horror movies have been censored to get an R rating? (or further, to PG-13, for marketing reasons)? How ridiculous is that? Especially the teenage chop-em-ups, written about and for teenagers. This continues to this day - take a search around the net for the Hatchet 2 fiasco. There's the PMRC for music, and BADD for our very own hobby. And it never ends - remember the Carcosa fiasco (It's fine that some didn't like it - it was the calls for McKinney's head that drove me to rage, but as these things often do, it caused me to inspect Carcosa more closely, and a few years later I'm going to invest 5 figures in releasing McKinney's books.)?

This isn't corporate lowest-common-denominator stuff, this gaming thing is my prime creative outlet. My work needs to make my stance on this shit clear, you know? The first time around, there was some of that - the cover was a statement to that effect, and some of the stuff inside as well. But that's old news now, and it needs to be reaffirmed. In the grand scheme of things, I know I live a small, unimportant life and when I die nobody's going to give a shit, except my wife if I'm lucky. That's the life I've chosen; if I wanted different, I'd live differently. So sometimes my ideals about bigger, important things are going to come out in the efforts I focus my life on, meaningless to the world at large they may be.

Thing is, I'm not expecting any problems anywhere but in the USA. Hell, in Finland last night there were three full-on horror movies on free TV on different channels beginning anywhere from 9pm to 10:35pm: Scream (what a messed up movie - show graphic murder with the blood and guts... but hide the nudity!), The Ring (US crap version), and My Best Friend's Wedding. And they were all uncut - every swear, every death, everything, all there. Hell, I saw Argento's Inferno for the first time on Finnish broadcast TV a few years back - uncut. My first visit to Finland was an eye-opener: An uncut prime-time showing of The Jackal, with tons of gunfire and death and I think Jack Black getting his arm blown off.

(I haven't been back in five years - is rampant even-worse-than-the-MPAA censorship still happening on US broadcast TV?)

(fun Finland fact: Little House on the Prairie DVDs carry an 18 rating here because the company that released them didn't want to pay the ratings board to rate them. Can you imagine IP holders of family entertainment in the US having so little respect for ratings that slapping an NC-17 on it is considered the easiest thing to do?)

So I will fly the flag proudly for both my Grindhouse Edition and the sources that influenced its final appearance and some of its content. This post up to this point is a celebration of great things, not an excuse for including unseemly elements.


There are three things within this edition which I don't think are covered by that background. And I think I need to let you know about them and offer my excuses.

The Grindhouse Edition is very, very white. On purpose, conscious decision. See, I decided to go for a north/west historical European flavor in the artwork, to the point of using Osprey Books illustrations as references for artists. There are exactly two illustrations with non-white ethnicities in them - the gaming group pic that was in the Deluxe Edition and a "The English meet American Natives" pic that will be in the campaign worldbuilding advice section in the Ref book. Remember that Iri-Khan is not really Asian, he just dresses that way.

It is precisely that wish for a historical feel that cemented the decision. The artwork has a lot of bad things happening to a lot of people. I wanted a late 1500s/early 1600s vibe off the thing. That era was vicious. Religious wars between western Europeans, the English thought the Scottish and Irish were different races, just general insanity all around my "target area." One of the pics is a very clear depiction of the kind of sectarian religious violence common in that era.

Say I decided to put some black characters in this mix - what would those illustrations involve if they remain consistent with the others? I'm not going there. Not here anyway, not unless there's greater commentary or context. The US slave trade started in this timeframe but no way was I going to put a slave train illustration or something near the "Slave" retainer entry. To use a black guy in another context without acknowledging any of that, well, then it would just be a "token" character, put in specifically to fill some sort of diversity quota and that's no good either.

In the end, I could have waived my hand and decided in a game that shows a dwarf, a halfling, and two pics with elves, there could have been a bit more non-white faces without the historical baggage attached to it. I just decided not to.

The Duel ends with a Dead Woman. Violence is everywhere in RPGs, and the Grindhouse Edition gets some of its horror by showing some of that violence in a more harsh light than lighter RPGs. I like having a lot of women in the pics as adventurers (ahistorical, but in the early part of this period women dominated the English throne, adventurers are outlaws anyway so what the hell, and Joan of Arc was old news by then, and ya know...). And in the illustrations for my game, adventuring is not a safe profession. So there are dead women here and there in the pics, and I don't consider that a bad or misogynistic thing. You play you pay.

But the duel, a pic in the Deluxe Edition expanded to a 7-piece sequence, ends the way it does because she's a woman, specifically because I was pissy about feminist blogs. I had already commissioned things like the Rules cover and a bunch of other stuff with strong adventuring women and I found myself worried that I didn't have an equal enough ratio of men-to-women adventurers or cocks-to-cunts (or pricks-to-pussies if you like softer language) and I caught myself doing it and got pissed and this is the result. That's not a good reason to do something like that, but it's the honest one. And thing is, the actual death-blow is not the brutal pic in the sequence - it's the guy tugging his sword back out of her head that struck me as just wrong. Amos nailed that one dead on.

Vince Locke. Known to me for his work for Cannibal Corpse... OK, let me show these to you so you get where I'm coming from. Click to enlarge.

This guy's work really left a mark on me, and I wanted that for my release. "Get me arrested" was what I told him when I hired him, but I sabotaged that by also insisting that the pic had to reflect a scene that could happen during a game. That greatly affected the composition, colors, everything. Instead of being a grand celebration with everything that could be absolutely wrong with an image, it was "reduced" to being a very grotesque depiction of dungeon delving gone horribly, horribly wrong. Which was not a mistake as I don't want it to look out of place with the rest of the art! Why this picture is completely out of line and purely the result of taking glee in the distress of others (in a real-life sense, not within the fiction) maybe won't be obvious until you look closer at it, but once seen, it can't be unseen.

So that's about all. I had a good excuse to get a bunch of horror pics together, so it wasn't a complete waste of time. :D

Oh, and for anyone who thinks this is a new thing for me:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Contest! Weird Magic Items!

Since the last contest was so awesome, and the printing of the Grindhouse Edition won't start March 1 (customers and I both save money on shipping - which is not an inconsiderable expense outside of Europe - if this and Vornheim go together), and I haven't hit my "giveaway quota," I think we can do another contest.

This time: MAGIC ITEMS!

Last time I ran into the triangular issue of Utility vs Creativity/Atmosphere vs Power in deciding the winner. This time, Creativity/Atmosphere will be more heavily weighted.

The Contest:

I need an original magic item to put in the Referee book as an example in the Grindhouse Edition. I want it to come from you!

  • The magic item you submit is your own original work that has not previously appeared in print or on the web.
  • By submitting, you give permission for me to use it in LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing and release it in an Open Game Content document.
  • Need to be 18+ years old to enter.
Submit your entry to

The winning item will be used in the box set, and its creator will get a complimentary copy of the Grindhouse box. All entries (that I don't think are utter crap, anyway) will be organized into a PDF to be freely distributed, with all items being Open Game Content.

If you do not include a real name to be credited I assume you are OK with not being individually credited - I'd really rather not list internet handles.

Submit your entry before Wednesday March 2 11:59pm Finnish time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And the Winner Is... (plus PDF link)

(by Daniel Smith)
Duration: 1 round per level
Range: Touch
The touched book animates, forming a mouth around the edge where the paper shows. You can ask the book one question per round, and if the information is inside it will answer. If anyone else approaches or asks questions the book snaps and growls that round instead of answering anything. Intelligent books may save to negate (as a Magic-User of a level equal to the author). Magical books don't impart their effect when they answer. The spell is a shortcut to actually reading a book, and it won't give more information than a careful reading would give.

Picking a winner really sucked. I had it narrowed down to 9 finalist spells which immediately stood out. But that was too much. I had to find some criteria to kick spells out. A couple really shouldn't have been first level, so that eliminated some. If it looked anything like another spell, it went. Recreated something another class does, gone. All awesome spells being dumped there. And I still had a handful. Do I go for something creepy that promotes the flavor of the game? Or do I go for something most likely to actually be chosen by a player? It's impossible - no matter what I chose there would be a better spell, if only the motivation behind the pick was slightly altered, left behind. But then that's the advantage of the PDF compilation of all the entries, right?

In the end, the spell chosen is not flashy or especially bizarre, but it is something actually useful in the kinds of adventures I run and write.

So, do I axe Magic Missile and add a second spell from the contest? :D

The PDF file is here.

np: Twisted Sister Stay Hungry
("In order to obtain maximum sensory enjoyment from the auditory representation contained herein, it is necessary to minimize load resistance through the potentiometer in ones preamplification section. In other words, PLAY IT LOUD, MUTHA!

The Spell Contest Entries!

It seems I miscounted earlier! Here are the entries! I hope to announce the winner and post the full PDF later today. No promises though, you know how I am with deadlines.

Accelerate Decay
Aelphabun’s Magic Orbs
Antagonistic Ball Sack
Arm of Zotz
Blood Luminescence
Bloody Red Box
Carfrith's Serious Illumination
Convert Currency
Detect Body Heat
Detect Portal
Face of Fear
Face of Lust
Fearful Glance
Finger of Flatulence
Flurry of Stones
Glorious Rendition
Gluttonous Eye
Green Mind
Howl of the Moon
Leinad Aeon's Burnt Potency
Magic Whip (or Leaber’s Utilitarian Lash)
Mnemonic Scroll
Monkey Scribe
(Most Inconspicuous) Patch of Extra-Dimensional Stowage
Mouth of Maggots
Precipitation Immunity
Prevent Falling Over
Restore Text
Rot, Spoil, and Curdle
Scalding Touch
Seal Tome
Shades of the Past
Shadow Bane
Siren's Call
Skeleton Key
Sleep Tight
Spell of Spawning
Stolen Sight
Summon 10’ Pole
Thread of Return
Visible Man
Voice Swap
Whispering Head, The
Witch’s Eye

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gardening Society Coupon Code Sent!

The coupon codes for Gardening Society members were sent out yesterday. If you did not receive it (check your spam folders!) please let me know.

38 Entrants, 50 Entries

I haven't looked at most of them yet, so when I wake up for real later today I have some reading to do.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Grindhouse Spell Contest - LAST DAY!

I will delete without reading all entries received after 11:59 Finnish time tonight (Sunday).

Over 30 people have entered, many submitting multiple spells. (insert cheesy slogan encouraging you to participate here)!!!!

The Contest:

I need an original first level Magic-User spell to put in the spell list of the Grindhouse Edition. I want it to come from you!

  • The spell you submit is your own original work that has not previously appeared in print or on the web.
  • You will not forget to include the Duration and Range along with the name and description.
  • By submitting, you give permission for me to use it in LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing and add it to the Open Game Content.
  • Need to be 18+ years old to enter.
Submit your entry to

The winning spell will be used in the box set, and its creator will get a complimentary copy of the Grindhouse box. All entries (that I don't think are utter crap, anyway) will be organized into a PDF to be freely distributed, with all spells being Open Game Content.

If you do not include a real name to be credited I assume you are OK with not being individually credited - I'd really rather not list internet handles.

Friday, February 18, 2011

New LotFP Webstore Up... Need Testers!

The new LotFP webstore is finally operational!

See it here.

However, it's only had a few people test it out so far, and I've known all of them, so I need a few more people to test it to make sure everything's hunky-dory.

So the first five people to be guinea pigs and buy from the store get a 20% discount if they use the coupon code BY-TOR.

After everything's sorted, I'll replace all the links for the old store with this one and get all the Gardening Society coupon codes out and be ready to load in the upcoming pre-order goodies.

New features of the store:

Print+PDF bundling, direct PDF sales, coupon codes, shipping weight tracking so you pay for the shipping on exactly what you order and where you live, and on the back end it keeps track of more accounting stuff like VATand other things that caused extra work for me with just the Paypal buttons.

So if you're missing any of the LotFP modules or haven't caught up on all the PDFs, now's a dandy time to take a look at them.

And let me know what's wrong with the darn thing!

State of the Industry! What to Do with PDFs?

Some rambling thoughts about some recent news...

Steve Jackson Games 2011 Stakeholders Report here
Posthuman Studios 2010 Year End Review

Eclipse Phase has done almost 6000 physical sales in a year and a half? And another 1400 in PDF?
Not a huge company but I think I would kill people if it would guarantee me those kinds of sales. Steve Jackson Games reports slow sales on its GURPS Low-Tech hardcover (was that its lone physical offering this year?) but good PDF sales on the title.

After the Adamant Entertainment move to "app pricing," people are taking for granted that that's the way to go for PDFs. However, several points about that. AE is a "digital entertainment company." They have some few things in print, but largely PDF is their business. Also, say that pricing scheme becomes standard across the industry. The pie will still be divided in favor of the bigger, more reputable publishers. I'd bet that there will be an influx of new customers, but where would they come from? People who used to buy print? Is there a certain point at which a low-priced PDF discourages people from buying the print version who would otherwise choose it?

That's my concern. I have no interest in being a PDF-only publisher. I don't buy them, I don't download them for free, I don't use them. I know this makes me a poor businessman, but my interest as a business is to first and foremost produce the things I want. That's what makes this a job worth doing despite the sub-Quickie Mart part-time cashier pay. Yes, I'll produce PDF versions of my releases because only an idiot doesn't - there's a demand for them. I'll do the best I can on them. But I think in terms of physical formats when planning releases and always will.

My own PDF sale came 5 months since my last physical release (the core box was out of stock at that point too) so I wasn't cannibalizing sales much. The box set was by far the biggest seller during that sale. Was the attention on the fact that "ohh! $1.34!" on its own, or the fact that it was almost 90% off the normal price? Why wouldn't Hammers of the God have done near as much sales, coming out at the same time and not as many people had it as the box?

Let's take a look at some examples:

Eclipse Phase book: $49.99
Eclipse Phase PDF: $15.00

ICONS book: $29.99
ICONS PDF: $1.99

GURPS Low Tech book: $29.99

GURPS Low Tech PDF: $19.99

HERO System 6th Edition Characters + Campaigns books: $69.99 (bundle deal)
HERO System 6th Edition Characters + Campaigns PDFs: $50.00

Deathwatch book: $59.95
Deathwatch PDF: $30.00

Dresden Files Your Story + Our World books: $89.98
Dresden Files Your Story + Our World PDFs: $45.00

Pathfinder book: $49.99

Pathfinder PDF: $9.99

Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper's Guide book: $29.99
Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper's Guide PDF: $31.99

Obviously mixed messages on this list, and there's no easy answer. We know the Eclipse Phase, GURPS Low Tech, and Dresden Files have done well (by the publisher's own standards) at those price points.
The Eclipse Phase PDF is released under a creative commons so it's not even piracy to download it free, yet people are paying for it in large amounts. The Castle Keeper's Guide PDF price has been mocked endlessly the last day or so, but it's currently at #3 on RPGNow so it's making them money.

I'm curious as to how the Deathwatch and HERO System PDFs are doing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

LotFP Shirt

A not-so-crazy idea I am pursuing.



The back design may be tweaked but that's the idea. White print on a black shirt. This should be manageable, whereas my idea for full-color shirts last year was way too expensive to pursue.

How it happens is still up in the air, but here is what I'm working to do right now:

When the Grindhouse Edition and Vornheim go to the printer and I announce pre-orders, the shirt will also go up for pre-order. Only those ordered, plus mine and Amos' and Laura's (artists get comps of course), will be made.

More news as I make it. :P

Monday, February 14, 2011

Crazy Ideas I Have

While editing a chart down from 30 to 20 entries, I got to thinking... These "community projects" rock but the participants don't get stuff out of it. d30 charts are cool but very few people have a d30.

So I had a flash of an idea. Not something I'm moving forward on, but just an idea.

A book of d30 charts.

128 page book. Table of contents and introduction 3 pages. So 125 one-page d30 charts (or some number of 2-page spread charts).

OSR group-think generated. You submit a table that's used, you get a physical copy of the book.

Here's the nutty part - I'd want to actually include a d30 in the book.

How to do this?

If it was just available through direct order, no problem. Throw a d30 into the envelope when packing the order. But I have a distribution network, and they're not going to deal with that. What to do?

Both things I could think of involve shrink wrap.

  1. Just shrink-wrap a d30 to the outside of the book. Downside: Piling the books up would be impossible so storage would be a total bitch. And if it's done, every damn d30 that ends up on a store shelf is going to be shoplifted about 30 seconds after being put there.
  2. Have a hole cut into the book itself so the d30 rests inside the book. It'll create a minor layout obstacle and turning individual pages with a hole in it might be a bit odd, but it'll solve a lot of the problems involved in the first step.

Yeah, happy morning to you too. :D

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Grindhouse Edition Giveaway Contest... I Need a First Level Spell!

The Contest:

I need an original first level Magic-User spell to put in the spell list of the Grindhouse Edition. I want it to come from you!

  • The spell you submit is your own original work that has not previously appeared in print or on the web.
  • You will not forget to include the Duration and Range along with the name and description.
  • By submitting, you give permission for me to use it in LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing and add it to the Open Game Content.
  • Need to be 18+ years old to enter.
Submit your entry to

The winning spell will be used in the box set, and its creator will get a complimentary copy of the Grindhouse box. All entries (that I don't think are utter crap, anyway) will be organized into a PDF to be freely distributed, with all spells being Open Game Content.

If you do not include a real name to be credited I assume you are OK with not being individually credited - I'd really rather not list internet handles.

Submit your entry before Sunday Feb 20 11:59pm Finnish time.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Three Castles Award Finalists

Announced here.

B/X Companion, Jonathan Becker
LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, James Raggi
Stonehell Dungeon, Michael Curtis
The Dungeon Alphabet, Michael Curtis
The Majestic Wilderlands, Robert Conley

The winner will be announced at the North Texas RPG Convention which takes place June 2 - 5 in Irving, Texas.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Truth Comes Out!

So I'm talking to my wife about my ideas for a layout with interesting things happening outside of the actual text.

She says, "It would only be worth it if the people notice it, but you're selling to the nerds of nerds so you'll be OK."

She hastens to add: "But I mean it in a positive manner. It was not my intention to be insulting."

So now you know what I have to deal with here at Chateau d'LotFP.

The Grindhouse Fighter Pic is BAD ASS

With all the art I'm posting, let's not forget the guy doing the lion's share of the interior work, Amos Orion Sterns. Here is his portrait for the Fighter class, and I think you'll agree that should someone make a Hall of Fame for RPG art, this needs to be considered:

I know I'm posting a lot of art... but there's a lot I'm not posting. The two interior Sheppard pieces, Locke's zombie attack, the two interior Rainville pieces, the Casperson stuff, the four Nicholson full-pagers (he did the art contest pieces)... plenty of visual surprises for people who buy the thing. :D

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Full Color Version

Just because I'm curious. What do you think? (clicky clicky for more detail, a necessity with Alfrey's work!)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Grindhouse Edition Tutorial Cover... COMPLETED!

A nightmare made real by Aeron Alfrey (click for more detail):

The pic was done first as the black and white piece above (which has me doing backflips with how awesome it is), and then color was added afterwards.

The result unfortunately wasn't as great. The awesome detail of the original is still there, but is camouflaged by the color. But it's amazing what you can do with digital art these days. Here's something we came up with to retain some color - and horror with the remaining color being blood and brains - without losing the awesome effect of the colorless version.

So I need to decide exactly how to present the piece, but... it's a damn awesome piece. :D

The Sexualized Male in Game Art (+ Females!)

Interesting conversation about "The Sexualized Male" happening about. Zak opened with the question "What constitutes a sexualized male character?" here.

Trollsmyth has in the past few days explored the topic more here and here.

This kind of thing is interesting and relevant to me because I commission a lot of art, and I want to make sure I'm doing the right things to get the intended responses from people and not fucking the whole thing up.

Early on in the art process for the Grindhouse Edition (five months ago, before the Sex Wars brouhaha), I commissioned a piece specifically to portray an explicitly sexualized male. I used the context that I usually see guys preening with favorable response - a concert. (this also satisfied my want for some "slice of life" art instead of wowawesomeRPGpopcornart, even in the more expensive color pieces)

Here's what came of it. I call this character Blackie Ritchmore. Art by Nicole Cardiff.

(the original idea would be for the ladies to be suspiciously young, but it's probably for the best that it didn't end up quite like that... I also like making characters and personalities up for pieces like this... note how he's grubby as hell but his boots are absolutely spotless)

The Grindhouse Edition also has full frontal nudity in a few pieces - male and female - but I really, really hope that half of them aren't considered in any way titillating by the reader and I hope people don't think I find such things arousing. But I know how these things go and I look forward to all the accusations that will come.

... and still waiting for the right project is an explicitly homoerotic male concept. It was going to be the cover of the now-scrapped monster book idea (my interpretation of the satyr) but I still may find a place for it yet. There is a bit of intentional homoeroticism (or at least my straight-male impression of it) that made it into the Grindhouse Edition (look at the grappling rules when it's out) but it's nowhere near as blatant as the monster book cover would have been. (not that my motives are pure... squicking out that middle-aged prude conservative grognard stereotype - you know, the ones that theoretically are the chainmail bikini audience to begin with... is the point of the exercise. I bet that will get complaints, but with little exception, I only use nudity and eroticism at all for horrific effect)

Of course I'm still a bit confused about the whole sexualization thing when it comes to portraying women. I can't divorce the "sexualized" definition that people use from things that appeal to me when it comes to these discussions.

See this?

It's an Elmore piece from the Companion set in 83/84. As a 10 year old or whatever, of all the various things in TSR art that could have given me those funny feelings, this was the one that I would stare at endlessly in that way. Not the AD&D succubus or the sylph or Aleena or whatever else people commonly bring up. (and in Elfquest, which I also read quite young, for all the sex and other things going on, it was Moonshade that to me was "the cute one")

(my wife bought the fake ears at Spiel and hasn't even taken them out of the damn package. Fuckin' hell, right?) (I just read this out loud to her and she's giving me very funny looks)

So one thing that confuses me a bit, because of my own preferences, is that when people complain about cheesecake art and talk about what they wish were depicted instead, their preferred depictions are more likely to make me look at the piece in the way that they complain that the cheesecake art is intended to be viewed.

For example, the box cover. Turning Luna into a topless snake demon to me killed any sexual appeal she has because it's a monstrous image, whereas the idea of putting Marjut into the Solomon Kane getup was a far more appealing idea for me than the miniskirt/mesh top combos she wears.

So am I good guy for not resorting to contextless cheesecake, whatever the reason behind it? Or am I bad guy for objectifying the Strong Female?

My head hurts...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Plans! Frustration as Ideas Come Faster than the Ability to Follow Through!

There's this feeling in the air that big things are going to happen. But not as many things as there could be.

Here's the to-do list:

  • Finish the layouts and proofing for the Grindhouse Edition.
  • Finish the formats, get all the final materials, and finish the layouts for Vornheim.

Those are happening pretty much at the same time.

Once those go to press, I'll set up the PDF versions so they'll be available to pre-orderers immediately, and then start the pre-orders and publicize that around the web. (I'm waiting to hear back from another printer about pricing for a "free gift" for those of you who pre-order both items)

I'll have a few weeks before they come back from the printer (offset press this time).

What has to be done during those weeks? Basic layouts have to be done for Isle of the Unknown and Carcosa so I have the page count. Then I need to make an appointment for the printer to get quotes for both those books in a variety of possible formats, as well as another project from another blogger I've got in the pipeline that I won't announce yet because I want to see if any of this is going to sell before I start publicly dragging them into my affairs. (and I have a few other submissions to review for possible release as well)

Once I know what format we'll have for McKinney's books, I can commission art.

Once the Grindhouse Edition and Vornheim come back from the printer, this place is going to be unlivable and I won't have time to do anything else but assemble boxes and pack them to ship. We have warehouse space arranged, but with 2000 boxes that need to be hand-assembled, those pictures I posted last summer are going to look like the epitome of tidiness compared to how full this place is going to be. This is going to take weeks to get them all put together and transported to the warehouse and frankly no writing is going to be done during that time - just packing, shipping, accounting, paperwork, and keeping track of the publicity as copies start to arrive on people's doorsteps. Somewhere in there I have to get the PDFs uploaded to the third-party vendors as well (and the Bits and Mortar people...)

I get excited about working with other people and there's something a little easier about looking at someone else's project and deciding what extravagances to bestow upon it. When I do that for one of my things, it feels self-indulgent. When I do it for someone else's work, it feels like I'm just doing what's best for the project.

The problem is that somewhere in there I want to write some new stuff too. And what I want to do accumulates as these other projects take time. What's on my project list?

  • Death Ferox Doom (you'll love this - it has to be delayed way further because the money for the "player handout" visual stuff - and the planned artist! - are going to be used for McKinney's books). But I'm just frothing at the mouth to present the newest expedition to learn about and combat the Duvan'Ku! The Dead Sign will be sighted again! It's been played, mapped, all it needs is the intelligible text written from the notes... although after the Grindhouse Edition, the OMG CANNIBAL ARTZ!!! won't be much of a headline-grabber...
  • A rework of my old Sanitarium adventure (the first adventure I ran when returning to D&D in 2006!) - I got a cool new idea for the whole thing after my last reading of Horror at Red Hook. It involves combining it with my mothballed "Return to the Old School" concept (involves a university, the working title was a *wink wink* double meaning) and time travel and extradimensional spaces. The original Sanitarium has maps and writeups of the basic space but that would only scratch the surface - the background and premise would need to be changed to reflect the change in concept.
  • The Tutorial cover pic is so awesome I want to do something with Iri-Khan... and Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy has given me some ideas too. (tie one or both of them in with the Sanitarium? And check out Argento's Inferno for different way to deal with occult books!)
  • The Guns & Renaissance & stuff supplement thingy I've been taking notes on while reading these dozens of history books I've accumulated lately. This one I think is the best for business to pursue...
  • The Eastern European Sandbox taking real life infamous historical figures and basing it all around the popular legends that surround them.
  • The "meta-module" which has no adventures in and of itself, but creates background situations (pestilence, drought/famine, invasion, etc) to lay over your own adventures and campaign.

And by the time I sit down and really start working on one of these, they'll be old ideas and I'll want to be chasing a more current muse. (you'll notice Insect Shrine isn't there - this will sound weird, but I think perhaps it's way too "classic D&D" for the direction I've been taking in both play and design. It was conceived as a "classic!" type thing in 2006 and didn't even represent how I was playing then...) I'm still open to submissions for people doing their stuff (more adventure material than setting material right now, thanks), but I certainly don't want to farm out any of my concepts to someone else to actually write.

But as self-employed friends keep telling me, it's much better to be too busy than not busy enough.

But whether it's these ideas or something else that ends up getting done, I can tell you that I'll be at this for as long as you guys let me. Lots of cool things on the way and in the works by a whole load of people - and publishers. It's a better time to be a gamer than it's been in decades, and the bettering isn't stopping here.

And after saying all that, I confess that I basically took the whole weekend off and did jack shit other than read. :D Back to the heavy work in the AM...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why Does Malcolm Sheppard Suck?

I haven't posted since Monday! Damn. Been busy with stuff. But I think I have time for a rant.

Malcolm Sheppard
Why do RPGs Suck? What a load of shit. I've read exactly two things by Sheppard (remember Why You Can't Have Nice Things?) and they both show his utter contempt for the traditional role-playing game, the people who play them, and the people who make them. How else do you explain his saying things like 'hexcrawls are a symptom of a writer's disdain for himself and his audience' and pushing the idea that clones are proof of creative failure without taking a closer look at what the "clone" movement has in turn enabled and grown in the player base.

He's got this notion that if you find something you like and you want to play in that sandbox and not take a great big bite of every new idea that comes along, you're irrelevant and indeed harmful to the hobby and industry. If you produce material for these satisfied people, you're creatively bankrupt. The ever-growing number of OSR players and publishers are pissing all over those notions from a great height.

At some point you just have to admit that the RPGPundit's "Swine" are not imaginary boogeymen. They do exist...

(oh shit, Pundit's already weighed in: "For him 'creative' means 'the brilliant and artistic splatbook auteur creates a work of his own genius that you proles will devour like the mindless unwashed that you are.'" *checks Sheppard's writing credits* Sounds about right.)

Steve Long The Licensing Trap This is a different sort of thing. Long is just wrong here. Not contemptuously so, but wrong.

Frankly, if a group wants to play in "a licensed setting," who gives a shit? A group having fun playing in someone else's world is just as entitled to that as playing in a setting made up by the GM.
There are pitfalls, as I talk about in the Ref book of my game, but it's not awful in concept.

"Let's play some Dr Who!" (for example) is not an idea that I would expect to be rare in gamers, you know? How is it bad business sense to take advantage of it? How is that being bankrupt of ideas? If a licensed game indeed enables play in that particular world, that's fucking awesome. Some people do want to get on with gaming and not customize all this shit endlessly themselves, strange as that sounds to some of us.

As I've said before, our job as publishers is not to amaze purchasers with how amazingly original and clever we are or to develop IP for other media. Our job is to produce gameable material for play.
That's it. Nothing else. All that other stuff we do along with that is for our own benefit and satisfaction and amusement, not the purchaser's.

Does it really make one shit's difference if a group wants to play in Golarion or Middle-Earth anyway? Or how about The World of Darkness vs the Dresden Files world? One of each pair is purpose-built by a RPG company, the other comes from novels. The decision to play in any of these worlds means a group is not using a "home-brew" world. So what's the difference on the publisher end? Prestige in the community? Getting patted on the back by other RPG designers? The hopes of a Hollywood deal?


(wait a minute, why does Sheppard think Golarion sucks? I haven't read a word of Golarion setting material, but an off-the-cuff guess is that it is a setting that provides opportunities to engage in the kind gaming that gamers like to do instead of presenting them with foreign concepts and ideas that don't do dick for encouraging or sustaining a real-life at-the-table game)

Frankly, playing in a "licensed" setting means the players might actually know what the fuck is going on once in awhile without all the info needing to be spoonfed to them by the GM. That may not be the creative option, but sometimes it's the better option.

Remember, it is not the publisher's job to be the creative one. It's the publisher's job to excite the imagination of the potential GM and inspire the creativity there. A hex crawl, for instance, demands that the GM create and improvise because there is no way in hell to make a comprehensive hex-crawl that gives all the answers and provides all the necessary information on a platter during play. A good module has a setting or situation with no scripted outcome; anything can happen and watching the players destroy the module's carefully prepared environment is the fun of it.

All the unique IP in the universe isn't going to help a game if the core of it doesn't contain gameable
stuff, and if there is gameable stuff then the IP attached to it is pretty much just window dressing - the stuff can be transferred to other "IP."

... why yes, I am releasing hex-crawls in the coming months and assuming that the company doesn't go ptbtbt I'll be chasing a license this summer (just because sometimes I want to call a spade a spade and stop euphemizing - I have no desire to make it appealing to the "property's" current fanbase). And I made by own simulacrum! And no official explicit company setting is even in the planning stages! It's strangely satisfying being everything Sheppard thinks is wrong with RPGs these days, considering that it looks like he's the embodiment of everything that kept me out of the game shop for well over a decade.

(Maria: "These people have fallen onto their own sword.")


(and while I'm ranting and my blood's pumping, something unrelated: I'm waiting on the final art pieces for the Tutorial and Rules books for the Grindhouse Edition. To save the artists themselves being associated with my RAARR RRAAARR!!!!, I'll say this here instead of when I post the pieces:

The gauntlet is thrown down. I dare anyone to produce better gaming art in 2011. Wizards of the Coast and Paizo and Fantasy Flight with your deep pockets and pick of whatever talent you want, my fellow OSR publishers with your unlimited well of ideas, all you storygamers with your edgy concepts all about making meaningful fiction happen in play... any of you. Match this. Try. Please.

You might think this is just empty hype. You might think "How good could a gaming illustration possibly be?" You might think I'm creating unrealistic expectations that this art can't possibly meet. You might even think I'm just full of shit. However, I have one advantage here that you don't: I've seen the art.

Trust me on this one. During the next week or so they'll get done and I'll show them to you and you'll see for yourself and you can join me in over here being in awe of these things.)