The new and improved defender of RPGs!

Friday, 31 October 2014

Screw "Appendix N"!

Today's blog rant starts out inspired by something that would make a great Uncracked Monday entrance.  OSR luminary and Escapist dude Alexander Macris did a Ted-talk, a really great one, on the subject of how our intellectual diet has been steadily declining in quality over the decades.

Well worth watching.

But the thing is, someone on G+ responded to this video by suggesting that people should read all the books listed in Appendix N.  For those not in the know, "Appendix N" is an appendix found in 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, which lists some 'recommended reading'.  Essentially, Gary Gygax's inspiration list.

Appendix N was largely ignored for decades, perhaps too ignored I'll admit.  But it was never  meant to be more than a list of stuff that Gygax liked that he thought would inspire people for running D&D with.  But in the last few years I've seen it get shifted by some people in the OSR from its almost-forgotten obscurity into being seen as a kind of rosetta-stone of the endless idiotic quest to find the "UR-D&D". 

I've seen some OSR-ites on blogs and forums treat it as some kind of secret code that will reveal the One True Old School style, and the way some of these people treat it is as though Saint Gygax had carefully and with a profound view to the Immense Significance of his work and it's consequence on all future generations taken an almost Biblical level of attention to just what would be on that list.  I've seen people suggest that if you haven't read the books in Appendix N you can't possibly run Old-school D&D right, and I've seen people put immense value on books that don't really deserve it just because it's on that list, and ignore other books (or reject their value for D&D play) just because they're not on Gary's Sacred List.  It's an attitude that pisses me off to no end because it expresses what I see as some of the worst mentality of some corners of the OSR, the ones obsessed with finding that "pure" and "true" D&D (with an attitude more reminiscent of a protestant-reformation than of a 'renaissance', which implies the creation of something new rather than an obsession with eliminating anything that isn't the Oldest Purest Form).

I've long felt annoyance at the Extreme-Fundamentalist Wing of old-school gamers thinking that Gary Gygax's cleverness at writing D&D means he's the Absolute Divine Authority on ALL THINGS, and that Appendix N is therefore the definitive Holy List of The Greatest Books of All Time, and the only thing worth reading; or that everything on it is a masterpiece, and not just a mix of classics, mediocrity, and drivel that a moderately-educated insurance salesman from Wisconsin happened to like.  There's stuff he included in Appendix N that, far from being "forgotten classics", have been forgotten for good reasons.  There's other stuff that was written in that same period (the 1940s-1970s) that are not on Appendix N that are just as good fantasy or sci-fi, but just happened to be stuff that Gary Gygax either hadn't read or hadn't personally liked enough to include.

More importantly, in the larger context of Mr. Macris' talk, the suggestion that reading Appendix N will make you smarter, or is a high-quality 'intellectual diet', seems pretty silly to me.  It might be a slightly better diet than modern fantasy or sci-fi, but not even all that much. I've seen quite a few people over the years, making fun of their dad reading Michael Crichton novels or their grandad reading Zane Grey, while they bragged about how much more sophisticated they were for reading Robert E. Howard. I've seen some people do the same, making fun of Twilight books while bragging about having read every single Star Trek novel.  Way too many geeks have a GROSSLY overinflated notion of how superior their pop-literature is compared to other pop-lit. I'll admit that it's a pet peeve of mine, this idea some Nerds have that they're much smarter than the 'mundanes' just because they've read some sci-fi, while not realizing just how absurdly and spectacularly uneducated they actually are. They're confusing their taste in popular literature for some kind of superiority, assuming that fantasy as a genre is inherently 'smarter' than popular romances, or westerns, or spy thrillers, when in fact it isn't.

If the idea of the "read Appendix N" argument is to say "sci-fi/fantasy of the 40s-70s is much more profound than modern scifi/fantasy", then you kind of miss the point that it's still grade-school crap compared to things you could be reading.  Why not forget about "lizard men of the lost world" or whatever, and read Farewell to Arms?  Shakespeare? Thus Spake Zarathustra? The Romance of the Three Kingdoms? The Theogony? The I Ching? Gargantua and Pantagruel? Any number of modern non-fiction books on history, anthropology, science, politics, economics, religion, philosophy, art, etc.?

Only a geek could possibly make the claim that you're SMARTER for reading Early Star Trek novels instead of Later Star Trek Novels.  It once again proves my statement that most geeks are not more intelligent than the average person, they just think they are, and for absurd reasons. 
As much as I like Lankhmar (to give just one example), and agree that the stories set there are a better quality of fiction than, say, the latest drivel in the Forgotten Realms novel-churning machine, there's still only a comparatively small gap between the former and the latter in relation to the gap between either of those and Paradise Lost, or The Conference of the Birds, or the works of Plato.

And I don't suggest that people shouldn't enjoy fantasy/sci-fi fiction, particularly the classics in that field (though again, not all of the Appendix N material can really be seen as "classics"; some of it was quite bad from what I recall, but just happened to be stuff Gary Gygax liked; who, let us remember, was a salesman, and not an Intellectual Genius We Must All Emulate).  I'm just saying that I find it hilarious when nerds who've read 100 Star Wars novels think that makes them smarter or better educated than housewives who've read 100 Harlequin romances, or teenage girls who've read 100 books about teenage vampires forced to participate in post-apocalyptic contests.  And it is only slightly less absurd when a nerd who's read some Heinlein novels - but never any of the classics of English or world literature, much less philosophy, history, world religion, or the like - thinks that having read Starship Troopers makes them intellectual giants worthy of mocking the Star-Trek fans and Harlequin Romance readers alike.

Note that this has nothing to do with the 'Tedtalk' itself.   Macris, in his talk, doesn't suggest people read Conan, he suggests they read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.


Finally, let's forget for a moment the larger question of 'intellectual diet', and look at the question of "inspiration for running RPGs", or designing RPGs for that matter. If that's the goal, then sure, fine, take a look at the novels in Appendix N; but I would argue that stopping there is not going to get you all that far, for the reasons aforementioned above. I can assure you that people like Heinlein, Zelazny, Leiber, Moorcock, and to say nothing of Tolkien, did not spend all their time reading fantasy and sci-fi.  It's fine to be inspired by the better quality of scifi/fantasy work; but why not be inspired by what inspired the authors of this work?  Heinlein and Zelazny were both notably well versed in world philosophy and eastern mysticism.  Moorcock is extensively read in western mythology and esoterica (as are some of the great modern fantasy writers like Alan Moore or Grant Morrison).  Tolkien was an expert on Norse and Anglo-saxon myth and religion.  Even the old Wisconsin Insurance Salesman studied anthropology and was notoriously interested in medieval history, christian theology, and a variety of other subjects that transcended pop literature.  To say nothing of the likes of Professor Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker and his studies of Indian mythology, history and linguistics; or Erick Wujcik's extensive knowledge of the Chinese and Japanese literary and religious classics (with whom I will eternally regret not having had more conversations about than I did).

Trading up Star Trek novels for Appendix N is, undoubtedly, a step up; but it's a TINY step up.  It's like trading in a McDonald's diet for a Subway diet.  I'm not one of these snobs who will turn his nose on a Quarter Pounder or a Subway Melt, but let's not make the mistake of thinking either are high-cuisine. And if you want to run a truly great game, or write one, I'd strongly suggest you get inspired by the stuff that inspired the writers you already love.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Dunhill Classic Series Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

Thursday, 30 October 2014

DCC Campaign Update: What Happens in The Dragon Mountains...




In this adventure the PCs managed:

-to have both the Azure Order and Sezrekan very interested in discovering what has (perhaps mortally) wounded Tiamat, and left her followers driven mad.

-to spend a couple of hours dicking each other around because the Sezrekan dude doesn't want to tell what he knows to the Azure Order dude, and vice versa.

-to discover that you can get your leather armor dyed in exchange for a reading from the Dwarven Book of Complaints.  As long as it's dyed yellow.  And you probably don't want to know how it's dyed yellow.

-to decide that they will go to Arkhome to seek out Bob Shoggoth and learn more about what has mortally wounded Tiamat, to the satisfaction of almost no one (except the Elf).

-to find Arkhome even more of a shit-hole than the last time they left it.

-to teleport to a level that was supposed to be abandoned (in the old days) but now (in the newer, shittier Arkhome) is the swamp-temple of the Frog Daemon. 

-to get there right in the middle of a ritual of human sacrifice.

-to bravely fight off the cultists, and then fight their way all the way up to the boundary line between the warring gangs of the Frog Cultists and the Halconlords.

-to identify themselves to the Halconlord guards as the party of Bill the Elf, one of the brave heroes who a year-and-a-half ago saved Arkhome from the Eye Tyrants.

-to discover they did so only to have the Halconlords remember how two years ago Bill the Elf was one of those who intruded in their secret base, stole their hostages, and ruined their plans to end the gang war and take the whole city.  Also, how a year-and-a-half ago Bill the Elf's party were the ones who killed The Thrush, second-in-command of the Halconlords.

-to have to bravely flee the Halconlords to the relative safety of the Frog Cultist levels.

-to end up in a frantic running fight (one that almost kills half the party) all the way down the cultist levels of the Snail Tower, out into the canyon-bottom level of Arkhome (formerly known as the Barrens, but now known as, they discover, the Cannibal Vine Swamp), and just barely make it to the Cathedral Tower.

-to end up the prisoners of the Snake Witch, whose gang has returned from being almost wiped-out to taking terrible revenge on Queen Booboo and her halflings, retaking the Cathedral and slaughtering every last halfling in Snake Witch territory.

-to find that the Snake Witch, having Tiamat as her patron, has also gone mad.

-to drive Bill the Elf to the point that he couldn't take it any longer, and returned to his former wacky-weed-using ways, to reach Bob Shoggoth.

-to discover, through Bob (or a drug-filled haze resembling Bob), that it is something called the "Egg Beyond" that has entered this world, and struck down Tiamat, and that it threatens to crack open the entire world. That it ate the stars of the universe a million years ago and now hungers to finally devour the Last Sun in this, the one world the Ancient Ones preserved.

-to express a determination to do whatever they can to stop this Egg Beyond, and the end of all life outside the dark eternal Void outside the universe.

-to feel dismay at Bob Shoggoth not liking their chances.

-to contact Sezerkan, only to have the latter decide he's sick of the PC's lollygagging around Arkhome and teleport the whole party to the Dragon Mountains, near (but not too near) the lair of Tiamat, Queen/King of Dragons, now dying.

-to have Bill the Elf continue to keep secrets from the party, much to their confusion.

-to have the other Elf (Rick, sometimes known as Rickandra for purely mercenary reasons) decide in that confusion to contact his new patron, the Lord of All Flesh.

-to realize the depths of slimy perviness of the Lord of All Flesh, as if the name alone was not hint enough.

-to make a really bad deal with the Lord of All Flesh.

-to have the entire party (minus their guide Frenchie the Gold Mutant, the only character who saved his Will roll) black out to discover the next day that they'd had some kind of demented orgy they thankfully have no recollection of.

-to agree that what happens in the Dragon Mountains, stays in the Dragon Mountains.

-to discover that Frenchie is nowhere to be found, having apparently fled in terror and/or disgust.

-to press on toward Tiamat's lair, only to discover a band of 12 dwarves on a quest to slay the dragon and take its treasure to fund the recovery of their lost homeland; led by none other than Prince Bongo, son of Bong (who was slain when he attempted the same quest a generation ago, as was his father before him, and his grandfather and great-grandfather before him).

-to find these dwarves seriously equipped, with their chain mail and traditional Battle Axes, as well as their traditional Monofilament Whips, Missile Launchers, land mines, Magnetic Grenades, and Blaster Rifles.

-to encounter a Mountain Giant in the middle of the night, maddened and mutated by some thing from beyond, powerful enough to barely be scratched by a land mine, and to snap a Red Mutant Caveman-Psychic's leg like it was a twig.

-to fortunately manage to scare off the Mountain Giant with traditional elven magic, and to save the Red Mutant Psychic Caveman with traditional dwarven medibots and nanostims.

-to reach the Great Dragon Mountain, and thus the gateway to Tiamat's Lair, and a confrontation to come with the Egg Beyond.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Dunhill Classic Series Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: The Inn of Lost Heroes


This is a review of the adventure module “The Inn of Lost Heroes”, published by Small Niche Games, written by Peter Spahn.  It is marketed as an adventure for 3-5 characters of levels 3-5 on the cover (though the introduction says 4-6 characters instead).  Its presented as an adventure for Labyrinth Lord, but of course we know that means its very easily usable in almost any OSR game. This adventure is about 30 pages long, with a handful of appropriate artwork throughout; nothing spectacular, but nothing amiss either.



I’ve reviewed many of Spahn’s adventures at this point, and they are always pleasant surprises very far afield from the typical OSR-dungeon-crawl.  Spahn’s adventures always have plots, chronological timelines, and a wealth of NPCs and background, all without falling too far off from the old-school aesthetic.  The Inn of Lost Heroes stays true to this mold, and tries to add a new twist: an OSR horror story.  To make this work, though, I find that the module relies on a somewhat more heavy-handed tactic than usual for his adventures.

As usual with adventures, I am wary not to reveal too many details in order not to spoil the fun for potential players.  What I have chosen to tell about this adventure is that it is based on a cursed/haunted Inn, and can thus be very easily introduced to most any campaign.  Part of the horror of the Inn is that it is a kind of trap for those who enter, moving the hapless travelers into a demi-plane full of silent-hill style creepiness. In order to escape, the PCs must solve the mystery of what terrible event occurred at the Inn in the first place, who is responsible for its curse, and go through a series of very difficult trials to break the curse.

When I talk about “heavy-handedness”, I’m referring to various elements of the adventure that are made to limit the PC’s abilities and to ratchet up the pressure.  But I should note that strictly speaking, the adventure is not a railroad; it is even possible to avoid being trapped in the Inn based on PC choices, though if you do that, in essence the adventure is over.

Once the PCs are trapped in the Inn, the rest of the adventure is very much a micro-sandbox; there’s no particular order in which PCs must act, investigate, or interact with the Inn.  What happens from there is entirely in the hands of the PCs. There are a series of setpiece encounters in this stage of the adventure, which depend on what rooms the PCs investigate, and a number of random encounters that are generated by a table.  Its quite well designed in that sense.

On the other hand, the adventure is set up so that no level-appropriate magic or items can allow premature escape from the Inn’s curse.   And the adventure is set up, as far as I can see, to seriously tax the PCs’ resources, unless they’re really quick to figure things out and act. What’s more, the “solution” to the curse depends on a number of individual challenges, each of which is better suited to one character class over the others, but that solution also results in a curse that affects said character from that moment until the end of the adventure.

The culmination of the adventure involves confronting a truly fearsome enemy (for that level), and then the PCs are faced with an easy way out versus a much more challenging (and seemingly fatal) one that is nonetheless the “right thing to do”.

I could see some players, while not being railroaded, nevertheless feeling somewhat forced by the moral implications of certain choices.

On the whole, like all of Spahn’s adventures I’ve reviewed thus far, this is a very worthwhile adventure.  In spite of some potential problems and the challenges that could be faced by certain groups, the overall plot and ambiance of the adventure is fantastic.  If you think that the theme of this adventure is the sort of thing you or your player group would enjoy, then it would certainly be recommended.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Gigi Bent Billiard + Dunhill 965

(originally posted July 6, 2013; on the old blog)

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Why I'd Give a Crap About Being Inclusive

Some people have responded to my blog entry yesterday, or other comments where I've spoken up in support of inclusive language in D&D, with a bit of befuddlement as to why I'd bother.  Why open up a 'can of worms'?  

Obviously, the fact that the Pseudo-Activists have tried to unfairly portray me as homophobic or transphobic factors into the reason to make unequivocal statements to the contrary. But that's only a reason to be more vocal about my actual convictions, not the reason for the convictions themselves.

The real reason I care about this (in spite of being neither transgender nor LGBT) is the SAME reason I care about most of the other issues I bring up: I have a profound aversion to people who think they know "what's best" for other people. Whether that's because they took a Cultural Studies class in a Liberal Arts College, or because they think that God happens to have the exact same prejudices they have is pretty much irrelevant to me.

I have these convictions precisely because I am a dedicated individualist, and despise the idea of collective groups trying to control other people's lives, or try to impose their ideas of how they think other people should or shouldn't be, think, or act. It seems crazy to me to think that anyone could claim they believe in the rights of the individual while thinking that they should get to impose their own ideas of what others should do with their identities.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

Monday, 27 October 2014

UnCracked Monday: Stop Thinking of the Children Edition

Today, it's somewhat of an old article, but since it's recently been brought to the attention of theRPGsite through a stupid thread I won't bother linking to, I'm going to share the interview Mike Mearls had with The Mary Sue a few months back, on the subject of gender diversity and sexuality in the new edition of D&D.

I'll note (for the record again, as there are always people willing to try to lie about my opinions on this) that I wholeheartedly support what Mike is saying in this interview.  I'll venture to say that so do the vast majority of D&D fans.  The Outrage Brigade wants to paint regular roleplaying as a toxic culture of misogyny and homophobia/transphobia because it serves their agenda, but that's certainly not been my experience of the vast majority of people who play D&D.  The ones who are raising up an idiotic stink about this (as a couple of people did on theRPGsite) are a small minority, a marginal group (I at least haven't heard of a single person of influence in D&D fandom or the OSR or whatever who have taken the side of "we don't approve of the inclusive language in D&D") whose opinion is being resoundingly rejected by most regular gamers (as indeed it was in theRPGsite).

In particular, the idea that gender diversity or a recognition of the full spectrum of sexual orientation is somehow not appropriate for D&D because it's a "family game" is stupid. The "it will harm the impressionable children" thing is bullshit.



First, there are children who are transgender, and gay. While not necessarily having the words for it at certain ages (in part because the idiotic notions of society hides those words from them from ill-thought notions like the ones some have shown in this thread) all the evidence suggests that these orientations or gender identities are present in childhood, they don't magically spring up sometime post-adolescence.  And kids that are "heteronormative" or "cisgendered" aren't going to suddenly not be that way because of two lines in a D&D rulebook.

Second, most kids are already becoming aware of this in this present time; if you're a parent, 'not talking about it' is neither going to make things go away nor prevent your kids from hearing about it from other sources.  Trying to hide it is not just stupid, it's rapidly becoming futile. And in fact, I would go further and call it malicious;  no kid who isn't transgender is suddenly going to want to become transgender because of a line in an RPG (an argument as stupid as the ones used in the 1980s about D&D and violence or D&D and "satan-worship"), but some kids who are gay, or transgender, just might find some kind of reassurance in a game where they see these things addressed positively. 

Finally, for the most part, "the children" are not the ones who give a shit. In my DCC campaign, it's the 10-year old player who's playing a gender-fluid character; and he has no problem with it at all. I have no idea if there's some OOC motivation for it, or if he's just totally comfortable with roleplaying it because he doesn't see it as any kind of big deal; but frankly, either way I think that's awesome.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Solitario Horn + Gawith's Navy Flake

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

WWII is over. The boys are coming home. But the world still isn't exactly normal; Europe has been completely devastated, and most of it is still occupied, either by American troops (which will eventually leave) or by the Red Army (which, everyone is starting to clearly realize, will not).  Old enemies who had become allies of convenience will once again become enemies.  And people will be taking advantage of the chaos of post-war Europe to engage in acts of revenge, or of opportunism.

And very suddenly, in the U.S., everyone wants to be normal, and live normal lives.  Even super-heroes.  While being given the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Flash saves the day by defeating the slow-moving villain known as The Turtle:






And, right after that, he announced his retirement from super-heroics.  The world, it seems, was just moving too fast these days even for the Fastest Man Alive.

Meanwhile, the Mystery Men were recruited by Zatarra the magician to fight one of their own: the wizard Sargon, who had put together a team of occultists seeking to immanetize the blooming of the New Aeon by stealing the true copy of the grimoire known as the Clavicula Solomonis from the Black Library of Forbidden Books in the Vatican.
Among his crew were such occult luminaries as the German adept Frater Saturnus, the Italian alchemist Julius Evola, American Techno-magician Jack Parsons, the aging French mystic gentleman-thief known as Fantomas, and Hawkman, chosen Champion of Horus.
To provide backup, they'd hired the ex-german mercenaries of the ruthless and brilliant Otto Skorezny, who managed to go toe-to-toe with the Archangel and Lady Lightning.  He would get away, only to later be captured while trying to make his way to Spain (though history suggests that he will later escape facing trial for his crimes and go on to a long career as a soldier-of-fortune).

In the end, the wizards failed in their attempt to steal the mighty book of magic, but the PCs were left wondering just which side was really the one worth fighting for, if indeed there was a side worth fighting for at all. And unbeknownst to all, the vatican was left infiltrated by Vandal Savage, who no doubt has long-term plans for the Black Library.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + Image Latakia

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Would M.A.R. Barker Have Loved Arrows of Indra, Even as the Fanboys Who Govern Tekumel Today Snub the OSR?

According to someone who actually played with him, yes.

In a blog entry from a couple of days ago, in the comments section, one of the good Professor's players had a few choice words to say about Arrows of Indra:

"AoI may be the best set of rules for Tekumel, as I think it may be the best yet reflection of how Phil actually played in his game sessions... :)"

He also agreed with my general position about what's wrong with Tekumel, the fault of every fan-driven 'revival' of Tekumel (and there sure have been a lot of these) after the original, gonzo and fairly cool Empire of the Petal Throne. 



The latter bears little resemblance to how any of its successors look, wherein they replaced a focus on adventuring with a focus on obsessive-compulsive attention to the minute details of Tekumel's language and culture, with pseudo-anthropology and pseudo-linguistics (things, I'll note, that help make a game cooler in VERY SMALL DOSES) being overloaded to the point of becoming an entry-barrier to any new potential fans.

The same blog comment from an actual player at Barker's table pointed out:

"The multitude of published Tekumel RPGs, with the probable exception of EPT itself, do not give anybody a good basic introduction to Tekumel - and they certainly do not reflect the Professor's own style of play."

Naturally, AoI does have a certain resemblance to the Tekumel setting, because Barker borrowed a lot of stuff from Epic India, the same source I used for AoI. However, I tried as much as humanly possible to make AoI totally accessible to a standard D&D-fan who has no prior knowledge of indian myth, culture, anthropology, or linguistics, and who doesn't want to bother with those things and just have a cool place to adventure in. That was the goal.

Unfortunately, it's not a goal that the people managing Tekumel have shared, not for years.
I just found out that someone has recently published yet another Tekumel RPG, and (insanely) the new edition is not going to be OSR, which one would think of as a colossal mis-step if it wasn't for the fact that it's likely pre-meditated. For all their talk, most Tekumel fans WANT their setting to be obscure and under-appreciated, so that:
a) they can complain about that
b) they can feel like part of a special exclusive club of the people who 'get it'
c) they can feel superior

It's fucking sad. There was nothing to prevent a reintroduction of an adventure-focused, weird-science-fantasy focused Tekumel with rules compatible to the most popular RPG in history.  With the huge popularity of the OSR, this was the moment to do it.  Shit, they could even have used Arrows of Indra s their model, since everything about AoI's rules are free for use.  

The fact that they didn't even bother pretty much proves that the Tekumel hardcore have no interest in appealing to a wider audience.
 

I'll end by noting that I'm sure Barker himself was an amazing dude, given the scope of what he created. I'm sure he and I could have had a lot of things to talk about.  It's a pity that his intricate and interesting setting, inspired by the very same cultural and mythological sources that inspired me to write Arrows of Indra, are being left to languish in the hands of a tiny group with no interest in, and active interests working against, bringing that work to the widest possible audience.

P.S.: A promotional note: Because of RPGNow's "Halloween Sale", you can now get Arrows of Indra on PDF for only $3.34!

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

Friday, 24 October 2014

Arrows of Indra: Understanding Clan



We’ve talked here before about Caste, and people make a big deal about it, but in a way, in the game, I think that Clan may be at least as important, and maybe more difficult to get one’s head around.

The Clan is not just your “family”, you can have people from the same Clan as yours who live in entirely different kingdoms and may even have less in common with you in terms of bloodline than your next door neighbour (who is nonetheless from a different clan).  Its also not quite a tribe either.  In european terms, the closest comparisons may be to the Scottish Clans, or, even more so, to the Polish herbu of the aristocracy, where polish nobles with different last names and from different regions nevertheless shared the same heraldic shield (rather than the more typical european system where every noble family had its own shield).
In Arrows of Indra, Clan affects a great deal of the background elements of your character.  The clan served as a kind of social network and welfare system, it handled many (though not all) of the things that we’re used to government handling.  Local disputes, marriage, trade, and many other everyday affairs.  If you wanted to get married, you needed the approval of your clan chief (and your potential spouses’, of course) and often these chiefs would actually handle everything for you (up to and including picking your bride/husband). If you were traveling and wanted a place to stay, the clan would provide it. Need a loan? Your clan was good for that too, only make sure you paid, because they could also sell you into slavery!
They could also expel you; and being clanless is a bad thing because it means basically that you are outside of society; it may not be quite as bad as being casteless (though the two often go hand in hand) but it makes for huge dishonor and a complete inability to participate in some of the most basic aspects of Bharata society.

In an AoI campaign, the GM can decide whether to pick his player’s clan or to let them pick one; its recommended that clan be chosen only after background skills are determined, since some clans tend to be tied to certain specific professions.  After that, the GM needs to figure out just how he wants to go about using Clans.  He has a few options:

1. He could just ignore the whole thing.  Make clan unimportant; if all you want to do with AoI is wilderness and dungeon crawling, then you don’t need to worry too much about clan politics and you probably don’t want to busy your players with clan affairs.

2. He could take an intermediate position; and decide that in his version of Jagat, clan matters, just not a lot. The clan can help the PCs, provide support, places to stay, loans, etc. but it doesn’t get to run their lives. PCs can choose to help their clan or interact with it a lot, or very little, to their tastes, without major consequences.

3. The most accurate position, from the historical point of view: Clan is hugely important in your game.  Here, the PCs would need to understand that they are bound to obey the elders of their clan. If the PCs want to go out and adventure, they’ll need to have the blessings of their clan. If the clan wants them to do something, they need to go do it. And if the PCs start to become well known as heroic adventurers, the local clan heads will probably want to use that fame for their advantage; possibly, if they have any sense in their heads, trying to offer the PC more influence in the clan, maybe even by marriage (dare I say cousin-marriage to the clan-chief’s daughter?) or other situations of responsibility that the PC might not actually want (but will then have to figure out how to wriggle out of without offending their clan head).

In other words, if you want it to, the clan system can offer an astounding wealth of RP opportunities. And if you don’t want it, then by all means just gloss it over. Its your game.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

(originally posted July 5, 2013; on the old blog)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Hard-Hitting Interview

Today we suspend the normal programming so that we may instead direct you to the Dyvers RPG Blog, where you will find the author of said blog interviewing no less a figure than myself!

And let me tell you, the guy does not pull punches with his questions.

So go see it!



RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Mastro de Paja Bent Apple + Burlington's Lapis

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

DCC Campaign Update: Bad Choices Edition



In this past adventure, the PCs unexpectedly encountered:

-a highly successful Phylactery Spell, only to have the elf who cast it left wondering where to safely put his new-made soul-crystal.

-the first of a series of bad choices, the elf handing over his phylactery to his ultra-powerful ultra-selfish archmage patron. 

-in the second in a series of bad choices, the other elf faking his way into the Azure Order.

-the order sending its newly-made member off to investigate reports of woodland animals acting in strange and violent ways, driving out the local mutant communities.

-An encounter with a frantic Brown Mutant, the last of his tribe not to have fled or died at the hands of the Crazy Forest Druid's army of woodland mammals, plus one duck.

-After brief initial skepticism, confirmation of the woodland terror when the party is set upon by a highly organized guerrilla assault from vicious Electro-Squirrels, even as the party's horses go out of control... well, their riders' control, at least.

-the frightening possibility of being total-party-killed by a bunch of squirrels.

-the one PC who fled the scene ending up facing a beret-wearing Revolutionary Bear.

-said PC fortunately remembering the old adage about playing dead when confronted with a bear.

-said PC unfortunately committing the third bad choice of the night, choosing to forget the prior adage to try to use Chill Touch, to little effect... other than being beaten unconscious by the guerrilla bear.

-the fortunate survival of the rest of the party, meanwhile, thanks to the timely application of the Pythian Sword's Sonic Blast.

-the group's luck running out when the party suffers a surprise attack from Ninja Badgers.

-in the fourth of a series of bad choices, the elf taking up the Pythian sword from the slain human wizard, the ultra intelligent mind-controlling sword that he already knew despised rogue Daemons and chaos wizards.

-said sword then manipulating the elf, through a freely-taken magical oath (in what constitutes bad choice of the night number 5) to try to go find and kill the elf's patron, a rogue daemon chaos wizard... the very same one that has the elf's soul in a gem.

-a planewalk to said patron's personal domain, in what might almost certainly have been a very fatal bad choice, were it not that the luckiest fumble of all time freed the elf just long enough for his Patron not to have to destroy him utterly.

-the patron granting forgiveness, in the most asshole-ish way possible, through a binding geas on his elf-servant, sending him on what may well be a suicide mission. 

-in relation to the same, the shocking news that the Daemon Mistress of All Dragons, Tiamat, is apparently mortally wounded in her own lair, assaulted by some powerful and terrible entity from the void beyond the limits of the universe.

-the geas mission, to be resolved as soon as possible (which is to say, after the Crazy Druid and his revolutionary army of Anarcho-Syndicalist Woodland Animals are defeated), consisting in destroying whatever attacked Tiamat... and then also destroying Tiamat.

-meanwhile, the other elf, now a prisoner (with a few others) of the Crazy Druid, finding that the Druid is controlling the woodland creatures through a strange and terrible mammal-controlling gem that he has had bio-implanted right into his chest. 

-noting that the duck, however, is not controlled (not being a mammal).  He is out to start a humanoid-animal apocalyptic war for his own sinister purposes.

-in the sixth really bad decision of the night, the prisoner-elf deciding to use his time to make a bond with a totally random patron.

-getting the Lord of All Flesh as said Patron, partly due to his membership in the azure order; which, it should be remembered, was done only as an opportunistic act of fraud.

-the rescue mission conducted by the Azure Order, where perhaps for the first time the PCs see what the Azure wizards are really capable of, with just a dozen of them taking on an entire army of vicious wolf shock troops, badger ninjas, beaver engineers, electro-squirrels, guerilla bears, and, of course, the Evil Duck.

-an epic escape from woodland custody, where salvation comes only when the Azure wizard Leandra (with the help of her sorcery, and her laser sword) takes down the Crazy Druid and shatters his hold over the forest animals.

-the apparently resolution of this week's crisis, with no one still alive having been left without at least some regrets.

-a shocking and terrifying denouement, after everyone thought all the horror was over, of a vicious night assault from the Evil Duck, who had survived his Druid ally's death and came after the PCs in a mission of vengeance.

-the conclusion that Ducks are the total assholes of the animal world.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Stanwell deluxe + Image Perique

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: The God-Seed Awakens



This is a review of the DCC adventure module "The God-Seed Awakens", which is described as a "pulp adventure for the DCC RPG".  It's written by Paul Wolfe, and published by Mystic Bull Games. It is described as an adventure for 4-6 players of 3rd level, although I think with a bit of tweaking it can be used for a level range a bit further down or a bit further up from that.

The book itself is a softcover, with a very impressive colour cover of a suitably pulp-fantasy image; of what looks like an act of human sacrifice of sorts, some robed figures leading a woman to the edge of a precipice with a massive alien dragon-like creature apparently set to devour her. 



The interior has various pieces of impressive black and white art, mostly of the unusual creatures found in this module.  The book is about 50 pages long, if you count a couple of pages of ads at the back.

So the basic idea of this adventure is that a type of 'living seed' from beyond our dimension has begun to infiltrate this plane; it is part of a trans-dimensional world-tree, but rather than some benignant Yggdrasil or something, this tree is more like a weed that ultimately destroys any reality it gets its roots into. Meanwhile a pair of incredibly powerful beings from a previous world ruined by the god-seed had been brought along to this reality, originally subjugated to the purposes of the god-seed, but they managed to escape their captivity and now, though horribly altered by their experiences and potentially dangerous themselves, seek to destroy their former captor.

All of this is happening in an underworld area, and the adventure presumes that the PCs will head into those caves to investigate; some rumor tables are provided in an appendix to provide potential plot-hooks for the PCs to go.

As is my usual policy in these matters, I'm not going to go around giving away specific details, for the sake of "spoilers".  Instead, I'll try in very broad terms to talk about the good and bad points of god-seed as a module.

First, as a general preface it should be said that, in my opinion, this dungeon-adventure is quite weird.  If it was for any game other than DCC I'd say its Extremely Weird, maybe Too Weird, but DCC is (in my opinion) pretty much MADE for "weird".  And this adventure delivers in that sense.

One byproduct of this weirdness is that the author introduces a very significant number of creatures and entities, all of which are not really immediately relateable to standard fantasy elements, and all of which have fairly unusual names ("Shaloth", "Achari", the Tokar, Akavala, etc.).

In terms of good, I'd say that God-seed is incredibly original; I don't think I've seen an adventure quite like it, and if your players are getting a big bored of fighting orcs, this is certainly going to give them a view of a whole different set of fauna and challenges.

I should also note that this is the kind of adventure that will be HIGHLY lethal to a party that just charges forward and seeks out indiscriminate combat.  It's definitely set up to work for groups that focus on caution.

On the whole, I'd say this is an extremely creative module.  It won't suit every campaign, that's for sure. But if you're running a suitably gonzo DCC game, it'll be worthwhile for you to check out God-seed.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Monday, 20 October 2014

Uncracked Monday: Back in Town Edition

So Buenos Aires was a remarkable trip.  I love it every time I go there, but right now, if you're a tourist with US dollars it's freaking paradise.  I've come home with shitloads of new clothes (right now, for example, you can get designer shirts from as low as about $15, with Dior shirts costing under $30).  A tailored suit can be had for less than $250.  Electrical appliances that cost $80 in always-expensive Uruguay I saw on sale for about $20 there.  Fantastic three course gourmet dinners can be had for about $15.  And of course, I brought back shitloads of tobacco.

All of this is due to the economically ruinous attempts of the bumbling Argentine government to artificially control their currency (to maintain their illusion that the government still has things under control); where the official exchange rate is $8 pesos to the dollar, but the "blue" dollar on the black market (though its not much of a 'black' market, you can get money changed at any news kiosk at this point!), is at $14.50 pesos per dollar.

Anyways, if you have a chance to go to Argentina, you should do it now. I literally got four times my trip price back in savings from purchases there.

Meanwhile, for today's uncracked Monday link, let's look at an interesting article about futurism, what has been lost in terms of civilizational confidence in the future, and differing views of how to restore that confidence.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + H&H's Beverwyck

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Buenos Aires is Lovely in the Spring

And,thanks to the terrible economic policies of the Argentine government, ridiculously cheap for foreigners.

I will be back on Monday.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Thursday, 16 October 2014

And Now: Lords of Olympus October Sale, Too! (New Art-focused Preview)

So, if it wasn't enough to get Arrows of Indra for a low, low price (on PDF),  now it turns out you can also get Lords of Olympus at a big sale price, from Amazon.

And note that this is not just any Lords of Olympus,  it is the deluxe FULL COLOR edition of Lords of Olympus.  This is by far (through no fault of mine, but rather thanks to Precis Intermedia) the PRETTIEST RPG I've ever had a hand in making, and I think I include 5e in that list.
Lords of Olympus Color Edition is so amazingly pretty that people who bought the black & white edition and later saw the color version went out and once again bought an otherwise identical book, just because the color edition is so much nicer.

Here's some samples, though really, the images on a computer just don't compare to the production quality on paper:





















And right now, you can get it for $37, with FREE shipping. That's a huge discount!

So yeah, make October the month you stock up on RPGPundit products!


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker ~ H&H's Beverwyck

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update



In the last adventure, the war ended in Japan as well, but not before the PCs desperately tried to intervene to get the Japanese mystery man Kung to try to convince the Japanese Emperor to give up the fight.

 

They succeeded in turning him, but Kung failed in his mission, and the rest is atomic-bomb history.

Meanwhile, the PCs also heard of how the very first US soldier in Berlin was also the last US soldier to die in Europe during wartime. He died saving a child from a landmine, and those who knew him might say it'd be almost impossible to imagine Sgt. Frank Rock in a world at peace.





RPGPundit

Currently Smoking:  Mastro de Paja bent apple + Gawith's Squadron Leader

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Arrows of Indra October Sale!

Today, while we all still ponder over the mystery and wonder of that maximum authority of all RPG thought known as "Trevor", I wanted to point out to everyone that Arrows of Indra, the awesome old-school RPG of Epic Indian Fantasy, is going to be on sale until the end of October.

Check out the preview video:




Yes, you can now and for a limited time only purchase the Arrows of Indra PDF for only $4.99!  I'm sure that wherever he may be, Trevor would approve.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Oversize + H&H's Beverwyck

Monday, 13 October 2014

Cracked Monday: Free Consultant Advice (Recommended by Trevor!)

Today, a bit of free advice to all of you from a highly-successful RPG Consultant:  if you want to do a kickstarter for your game or game-related product, look at these guys, and then avoid doing almost everything they did.   They are a case-study in how to get it wrong.

There is of course the missing part there, which involves how they engaged in a (now-mostly-deleted) idiotic verbal-fistfight with a known OSR blogger who did a certainly-not-favorable but entirely-accurate review of their project.   So we have to add that to the mix: engaging in a hysterical attack on a professional blogger/reviewer.

The travel mugs? Bad idea.
The excessively grandiose plans? Bad idea.
The whole thing is an example of people who could desperately  have used a good RPG Consultant (my fees are very reasonable, you know).

But the funniest part to me, the part I can't stop cracking up about, is this quote:
"The most addicting and exciting adventure played in the last decade" ...Trevor S.

Who the fuck is Trevor?! This is hilarious! "Recommended by Trevor" should totally become a thing now.
For fuck's sake, they apparently had gotten Ernie Gygax on board in some capacity (though after these guy's fight with Tenkar, Ernie's handler Benoist came out to say that Ernie no longer supports them).
But at one time, he did. And while in my opinion Ernie Gygax is as significant as in RPGs or worth listening to as, say, Lisa-Marie Presley is in music, at the very least the dude has fucking (secondhand) name recognition borrowed from his dad! 
But NO, they looked at the options and said "well, we could put some blurb of recommendation from someone with 'Gygax' as a last name... or we could go with TREVOR!"
And so they went.

Dude, Trevor.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Stanwell Compact + Image Latakia

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Albion: Eulogy for a Bastard



Sean the Cymri Bastard died as he expected; murdered by one of his own party mates.  And what a magnificent bastard he was; betrayer of kings and kingmakers, scoundrel, insufferable, devious.  He had come from nothing to become one of the most powerful underworld figures in Albion. Betrayed his party at least twice, his king no less, murdered his own lord. Never met a back he didn’t like to stab.   Did the right thing, inasmuch as he recognized it best for his own profit and survival.

It makes so much sense that he’d end up being mauled to death by a Cursed Enlarged Scots-man polymorphed into a bear.  I’ll miss the crazy fucker. I’m astounded he lasted as long as he did.

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Winslow Crown Cutty + Image Latakia

(June 30, 2013; on the old blog)

PS: Albion will be coming out as a very complete fantasy/historical setting for any OSR system, early next year.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

RPGPundit Interviews: Joseph Bloch

Q: Who the fuck are you?? And what have you done?!

A: My name is Joseph Bloch, aka the Greyhawk Grognard. I've maintained the Greyhawk Grognard blog for longer than 4th Edition was around, commenting on various games, with a focus on the World of Greyhawk, but occasional forays into wargames, miniatures, and other RPGs. I had an article about the World of Greyhawk published in Dragon magazine back in the day, "See the Pomarj - And Die!"

I'm the president of BRW Games and author of Adventures Dark and Deep, a game that takes the AD&D 1st edition rules and applies the various changes and additions that Gary Gygax had planned to introduce before his ouster from TSR in 1985. I'm also the author of several supplements for the game.

I'm also the author of Castle of the Mad Archmage, which is a 13 level megadungeon homage to the original Castle Greyhawk. It was originally released as a series of free pdfs, but is now available for sale as a three book set.

I'm an atheist, Transhumanist, Libertarian, father, and husband.





Q: I like your dig at 4e.  What do you feel about 5e, though?


A: I am on the 5th Edition bandwagon. I was very impressed with the first open playtest package, and the final product has lived up to my expectations. I'm especially fond of the advantage mechanic, which enormously simplifies all of the stacking pluses and minuses of earlier editions, and the options for customization such as backgrounds and martial archetypes. Is it perfect? No, no game is, even the version I grew up with, 1st Edition. But it's a hell of a lot of fun to play, and it's easy to play, which is another plus. I find as I grow older I have less patience for learning huge complex games. This hits my sweet spot perfectly.

I'm also planning on publishing material for 5th edition, assuming the licensing terms that they've hinted are coming make it practical and/or possible.
 
 
 
Q: Were you on the 5e bandwagon before it came out? Or if I were to research your statements prior the D&D-basic release, would I end up finding that, like a significant chunk of the OSR, you were highly skeptical and maybe suggesting I was a sell-out for trying to work with WoTC and telling people how awesome the game was going to be from an old-school perspective?

A: Well, I've been covering the news of 5th Edition on my blog since there was news to cover, so at they very least you'd find that I was supportive in the sense of getting the word out. But I'll let my own words speak for themselves:

"On the whole, I'm not disappointed. It's certainly not the train-wreck that 4E was, from my point of view. I'll look forward to actually taking it for a spin at the table to get a better feel for the thing." (May 24, 2012) - http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com/2012/05/executive-summary-top-level-first.html

"But what I liked most of all was the feel of the game. Perhaps it was the scenario, which was a conversion of one of the recognized classics of the early 1980's, written by Gygax himself. Perhaps it was the group, which was used to old school gaming, coming out of Adventures Dark and Deep, Labyrinth Lord, etc. But my impression of the rules was that they actively contributed to that feel, and I am very much looking forward to another playtest, and seeing the next iteration of the DnD Next rules." (June 9, 2012) - http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com/2012/06/i-play-dnd-next.html

Naturally, there are always going to be a few things that anyone doesn't like about a game, and there were some things I didn't cotton to (like the concept of XP budgets), but I would describe my reaction as enthusiastic, initially "cautiously optimistic," and steadily becoming less cautious and more optimistic as the playtest continued. And now that the books have finally landed, that cautious optimism has shown itself to have been warranted.
 
 
 

Q: Tell me about these plans for 5e publishing! How far along are you at actually being able to get it to happen? What exactly does 'hinting' mean? I assume nothing is signed, so are you in serious negotiations or is it just something someone said in a random email to you?   If you get a license just what would you publish? Greyhawk?

A: Well, Wizards themselves have announced that *some* sort of license is on the horizon (http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/gazing-crystal-ball), to be announced this Fall. So just based on that, I think a 5th Edition version of Castle of the Mad Archmage is a given, assuming the license that they eventually announce allows for it. I've got some other, more conventional, adventures in the planning stages as well, contingent on the final form of that license. As for anything else, we'll all have to wait and see what other goodies Wizards' includes in the license. Greyhawk? It would be a dream come true. But Mike Mearls did say "...we want to empower D&D fans to create their own material and make their mark on the many, exciting worlds of D&D..." So I remain "cautiously optimistic," to coin a phrase.
 


Q: so you haven't actually spoken to anyone at Wizards about it?

A: I am under an NDA, and unfortunately cannot comment further on the subject.
 
 
 

Q: As a Greyhawk guy, how well do you think 5e matches up with Greyhawk?

I think one of the brilliant things about the Greyhawk setting is that it matches up so well, not with so many different RPG rules, but with so many different forms of gaming.

A game like Chivalry and Sorcery, which emphasizes the mechanics of a Medieval society, would work wonderfully with Greyhawk, which is similarly based. I've seen people running Runequest in Greyhawk, and Tunnels & Trolls, Savage Worlds, and others. It works with 5E because it works with almost anything, which I think is one of the great aspects of the setting. Some settings, like Dark Sun or Dragonlance, I think would be harder to work into another RPG system, because they were specifically created as D&D campaign worlds. Greyhawk really predates D&D, and that gives it a plasticity that other settings lack. I would point out that the Forgotten Realms also predates D&D, and similarly I think could support a bunch of different RPG systems very easily.

But in Greyhawk's case I think the matching up goes further. Way back when, it had its roots in a miniatures wargame campaign. We see some of the earliest echoes of the C&CS map in Greyhawk, and I think that informed Gygax's creation. In those early Dragon magazine articles, when he would describe some of the prominent PCs, he didn't give stats of the characters - he listed how many troops of each type those PCs had in their service. That's a mindset that still carries through today, and I think Greyhawk would do wonderfully as a platform for miniatures wargames (maybe using the new/revived Battlesystem rules that Wizards' have told us are coming), as well as more conventional board games or even hex-and-counter wargames. 

TSR tried that with the Dragonlance module DL11 "Dragons of Glory", but it flopped because it was really aimed at the wrong audience. The Dragonlance people were interested in the story of the characters in the novels; the march of armies was just something happening in the background. The boxed set "Greyhawk Wars" suffered from a completely different problem. It was just a bad game, and not much fun to play, and the components were way behind the state of board game technology even for 1991. 

I think there's a lot of untapped potential for board games, miniatures, and even wargames set in Greyhawk. Just look at the success of games like "Lords of Waterdeep". It's actually a good, fun game to play, and has solid components. Why isn't there a "Lords of Greyhawk"?


Q: It has been my experience, however, that certain D&D settings (or settings in general) seem to run better with a particular system. Usually, it's the system that they were created under, but not always.  For example, I'm probably close to as fanatical about Mystara as you are about Greyhawk, and to me, while you could run Mystara with just about any D&D-set, the BECMI/RC D&D rules seem to just be perfect for it, because the setting itself seems to take some of the quirks of that particular rule-set as a given in the world (as part of the "physics", or "history", etc. of the world). Do you think, then, that there's a specific edition of D&D (or OSR-ruleset) that is just as ideal for Greyhawk?

A: Well, there are three well-defined time periods in Greyhawk, each of which has a very distinctive "feel." Not coincidentally, I think that each is better suited to a different version of the D&D rules. The Gold Box era (CY 579) I identify with 1st Edition, as I think it's more "exploration-friendly" and the rules emphasize traditional adventuring. The From the Ashes era (CY 585) I identify with 2nd Edition, with lots of intrigue, a darker feel, and opportunities for some of those more RP-heavy kits to shine. And the The Adventure Begins/Living Greyhawk era (CY 591) I identify with 3rd Edition, which brings it back to more of a balance, with a sort of "rebuilding after a bad time" feel.
 
 
 
 

Q: Still on the subject of Greyhawk, what is your opinion of the From the Ashes box set?  I had owned both box sets (the original one and From The Ashes), and I have to admit that FTA resonated with me much more, but generally a lot of Greyhawk fans seem to hate it.

A: It doesn't bother me that much. I know it made a lot of changes to the setting very rapidly, and changed the feel to something very dark with doom on the horizon, but there were periods of European history that saw relatively big changes just as rapidly, and I don't particularly mind the darker tone, as long as the pendulum swings back the other way, as it does six years later (in game time).




Q: In many ways, I found From the Ashes to be very interesting because it wasn't an "absolutely everything has gone to shit" scenario; nor was it an "everything is about to go to shit" scenario.  What it felt like to me was sort of like a fantasy version of the inter-war years.  A world war happened, entire empires vanished, there were huge political upheavals, and nothing was truly resolved (though some people might think it was), instead the whole scenario was set up to repeat itself again in a couple of decades. And I get that metaplot can often be a bad thing, or bring bad things, but I think it's also a problem when nothing ever evolves; I mean, either you shouldn't have any metaplot at all, period, or if you do, you have to actually stick to your guns and do things.
I think in many ways Greyhawk almost handled this better than the FR did, where you saw stuff that just felt ridiculous, and where you had the Zhentarim start out as a big bad menace and eventually turn into a fucking joke because the metaplot had to be done in such a way that they could neither be wiped out nor could they ever gain any ground.
Thoughts?



A: I know a lot of people have a knee-jerk antipathy to advancing the timeline, and I can understand it. There's certainly something to be said for describing a setting at a given point in time, and letting the DM shape the way history goes from there. I'd say the vast majority of RPG settings take that course; in fact some settings, like H├órn, make that a selling point. I can understand that attitude, absolutely. 

I can see the benefit to having a broad sweep of history happening in the background, though. The PCs don't necessarily have to be part of the events, but to have these wars, and the rise and fall of nations, and changes to what the PCs might have thought of as fundamental aspects of the setting (for example, the collapse of the Great Kingdom in Greyhawk), I think gives a certain verisimilitude to it. Could an individual DM come up with something similar in scope for his own campaign? Absolutely. But for DMs who might not have the time or inclination to do so, I like the option of using the "big events" as a backdrop. And, of course, nothing says that the DM can't just ignore everything that happens after the Gold Box era and just go his own way. That's the beauty of this type of game; nobody can force you to run your game any way that doesn't meet your wishes. 

I'm not quite as versed with the Realms as I am with Greyhawk (obviously), but it does seem to me that it's been the premier setting for so long that there's a real need to totally reinvent it at regular intervals, in order to entice players into buying new products. The 4th Edition Realms was a very, very different place than either the Grey Box or 3E eras, and you'd be hard pressed to use any of the adventures or sourcebooks, or even follow the novels, unless you had totally bought into the changes. That wasn't nearly as prevalent with Greyhawk. Some of the "sourcebook" type books, like Marklands or Iuz the Evil, won't make a lot of sense unless you're using the canonical timeline, but things like the City of Greyhawk boxed set can be used with just a little judicious tinkering if your campaign doesn't have the Greyhawk Wars. To me, it doesn't feel like nearly as much of a treadmill.

One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Ed Greenwood (from a time before the Forgotten Realms became a published TSR setting):

"Another mechanism for keeping  things under control is the “Godswar.” This concept is also a good justification to cover the changeover of a campaign from D&D rules to AD&D rules—and will also justify any other divine revisions the DM feels necessary, once." (Ed Greenwood, Dragon Magazine #54, p. 7; emphasis added)




 
Q: Ok, let's change the subject. You described yourself as "libertarian", would it be fair you fall somewhere on the "conservative" side of the conservative-liberal spectrum of U.S. politics?
If so, do you feel that RPGs as a hobby tends to have more conservatives, or more liberals?

A: That's a very interesting question. I tend to personally identify myself as more on the conservative side of libertarianism, but on an issue-by-issue basis, I really do split the baby. I want lower taxes and less government regulation, I support gun rights, I think free markets are the best way to achieve material prosperity, I think affirmative action is precisely the wrong way to address historical racial injustices, I want to end government subsidies to particular industries (and unions), and the current system of welfare and other entitlements leads to a culture of dependence that will demand an ever-greater share of the resources that the producers in society produce. The United States used to have an enormous safety net of religious and other private charities; they've withered on the vine because government has taken over those functions. I'd like to see that reversed. 

On the other hand, I'm in favor of people being able to use whatever drugs they want (as long as they don't expect society to pay to clean up their mess), to modify their bodies in any way they want, have abortions for whatever reason they want, I want to see the government out of the business of monitoring ordinary individuals' emails and locations, I want to end government subsidies to particular industries (see how that fits into both sides of the question?), I support embryonic stem cell research, I support euthanasia, I want to see our restrictive immigration laws opened significantly (which is not the same as open borders; just have a way for folks to emigrate without waiting for 111 years before their application is approved), I want to see religion out, not of the public sphere, but of the public purse and off public property, and I support not only same-sex marriage but polyamorous marriage (but I myself am not a fan by any means; just because I choose not to partake in a thing is no reason others should be prevented from doing so).

So yeah, I'm sort of hard to nail down on the conservative-liberal spectrum. I generally come down on the side of "let me do what I want to do, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, and as long as I'm not expecting anybody else to pay for the consequences of my choices." But even then I'm not a complete libertarian ideologue; I favor government money for basic science research and space development. The cancellation of the Large Hadron Supercollider in 1993 was a travesty, in my opinion. Basic science is one of the places where government research investment actually makes sense. It yields tangible results, but nothing that private industry can invest in, because there's no guarantee of marketable results. And as far as space exploration goes, humanity as a species has two options. Expand to other planets or become extinct on this one, eventually. I vote for the former option.

Culturally, I find the left wing to be much less easy to tolerate than the right wing. Outright displays of patriotism for the United States don't bother me one whit; utter disdain for patriotism, especially attempts to undercut support for the troops when they are deployed in war, does bother me. Overt displays of support for totalitarian and authoritarian ideologies like socialism and communism bother me, especially from people who obviously have no idea that that's what they're actually advocating (usually 30-somethings for whom the USSR is something in history books). Funny how Nazi Germany continues to be reviled through history, but the USSR gets a pass, despite the fact that more people were killed under its rule than under Hitler's.

America really is a great country, even if it has its flaws. I don't think it's a bad thing to concentrate on the things that make us great once in a while. Some people seem to want to do nothing but harp on the bad things. When it comes to news sources I'm all over the map. I watch Fox and CNN; I read Al Jazeera, Al-Monitor, and the Jerusalem Post; Drudge is my browser's home page, but I've got RealClearWorld as my first link in my news folder, and Politico right beneath it. I try not to only get news from one end of the spectrum. Maybe that's one reason I'm okay with crossing traditional ideological lines in my effort to come down on the side of individual liberty wherever possible.





 Q: Ok, so let's consider RPGs themselves in this context.  Do you think that RPGs (not the people who play them, but the games themselves, the way RPGs work and are played) are better described as a "conservative" phenomenon, or a "liberal/progressive" phenomenon?


A: An interesting question. On the face of it, RPGs, like any game, are apolitical. But when one considers the dictionary definitions of conservative and liberal, one could say that RPGs are on the "liberal" end of the spectrum, as they are more flexible, do not depend on immutable rules, and in general lend themselves to individual interpretation. More traditional board games, on the other hand, might fall into the "conservative" end of the spectrum, as they generally have specific rules that must be followed, and the permitted actions within them do not exceed those rules. 

Of course, there could be (and doubtless are) exceptions on both sides, but that'd be my gun-to-the-head answer.
 
 
 
 
Q: What do you think of games that are written with a clearly political slant?  And for that matter, what would you consider a "political slant" in a game?

A: Fortunately I can't think of any games I've played off the top of my head that were directly political. And by that I would mean games that want to convey a political message either by the setting or the mechanics themselves (for instance, something where the players were all immigrant farm laborers by day who fight racist Tea Party activists by night), unless it's something that's obviously tongue-in-cheek. I'm sure there are games like that out there, but I've not encountered them myself.
 
 
 
 
Q: Have you had any experience with the people many call "social justice warriors", that I call Pseudo-Activists?

A: When the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual was released, there was a bit of a furor because the rules include gender-based caps on character ability scores, just like the original 1st Edition rules (which are the basis of the ADD rules) did. That was not popular with a small handful of folks. No amount of discussion around the fact that a) such limits are based in reality when it comes to humans, and b) if you're not talking about humans, you're complaining about arbitrary fantasy rules anyway which are subjective by definition, and c) anyone can ignore or change a rule if they choose; would dissuade them from their insistence that RPGs should reflect their ideal of what society should look like. 

I should point out that, after several revisions to that book, gender-based stat limitations are still there, and GMs are still free to ignore them if they choose. It's no skin off my apple. 






Q: This leads me to think about one of the problems I sometimes have with the OSR.  I would say the OSR is not politically conservative, but it is essentially a 'conservative' movement within gaming. And while there's nothing wrong with that, the approaches people have had to the OSR has kind of reflected the two different kinds of Conservatism that can happen in politics and elsewhere too.
You have the one group that nostalgize and idealize the past and want to "go back to" (actually invent) that past, and are mainly concerned about ideas of "Purity" or of "tradition", where things should be 'taken back' to some kind of an Ur-state, of 'how things were at the beginning' (which, note, is almost NEVER how they actually were, but just how some modern person has decided to claim they were), and where the mere value of something having been there in the past makes it good (or inversely, adding in anything that wasn't explicitly there in the past is very very bad).  And then on the other hand you have the other kind of conservatism: one that believes in having rules, order structures and limits; but so that this gives a framework to BUILD on and move FORWARD with, to encourage innovation and creativity within these boundaries that provide a structure for productivity. 
I've seen with the OSR the "clonemaniacs" who seek to make the pure "Ur-D&D" and engage in talmudic debate over rules minutiae and historical trivia of the Highly Mythologized ancient days of D&D's birth, and who flatly reject anything that can't be brought back to that; and on the other hand, I've also seen what we could call the Innovative Wing of the OSR, whose goal isn't to find the single, true Ur-D&D (or Ur-experience of playing it "the right way" or "how it was originally meant to be played", or similar bullshit), but rather to use the structure of old-school mechanics to challenge ourselves to create new and innovative games that not only did not exist in the Mythical Golden Age, but would never have exists, and yet at the same time COULD have, because they have no elements that are outside the landmarks of old-school design.
I know which side I'm on in that divide; but which side are you on? In many ways ADD is an attempt of sorts (a very weird one) to make an "Ur-D&D". On the other hand, it's actually tremendously innovative.  You tried in promoting ADD to invoke "The Spirit of Gygax" (a classic osr-fundamentalist move), and to suggest "this is what He would have done, had He not been struck down by the Evil One", etc etc., And yet your game itself introduces totally new stuff that cannot be directly traced to some part of the Old School Talmud.  So are you engaged in a post-clonemania new attempt to find the Ur-D&D (as all the clones are done new, the next step would be to try to imagine a "Pure" D&D from total invention)? Or is it really the nail in the coffin of all that nonsense, and the ultimate triumph of the Innovative Wing, suggesting that the true and greatest D&D will not be found in poring over Gary Gygax's old shopping lists, but in the process of continuing to create new old-school product?

A: Well, I'm not sure I totally buy into the characterization you provide (although there's definitely at least some truth to it), and I can of course only speak for my own motives and processes when it comes to how Adventures Dark and Deep was created, and my plans going forward.

In the case of Adventures Dark and Deep, it was very much a research project into the minutiae of Gygax's original intention for the next iteration of AD&D. Even the elements that most people view as "innovative" ultimately had their genesis either in Gygax's public statements or published works. There's actually very little of me in there, and that was entirely by design. It'd be a very lengthy list indeed to provide trace-backs of every element in Adventures Dark and Deep, but they're there, in various forms. Of course, there was some interpretation required by definition, as Gygax hadn't actually made the game, but it was as close as I could come to realizing his intention, based on the sources that are available. The inspiration for most of the "new" stuff you mention in Adventures Dark and Deep could be completely footnoted back to a Gygaxian source, and someday I might undertake to do an annotated edition, or at the very least continue my "Designer's Notes" posts on the BRW Games website. 

That said, that approach is not something I view as axiomatic, nor do I think it's necessarily as endemic within the OSR as you imply. Certainly there are some people who want nothing more than a more-or-less faithful restatement and reorganization of the rules in the LBBs or B/X or Holmes rules, and if they're happy with that, more power to them. Although I have to wonder if the world needs yet another complete restatement of the B/X rules "with this one really neat idea I had!". I think the OSR would be much better served if we had a lot more supplements, and fewer "whole new games". I, of course, split the difference and published both; my "A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore" book is Adventures Dark and Deep for people who are already playing some other game, and just want to use the new classes, spells, combat system, or other elements. 

But in my own case, I chose that approach simply and only for the reason that it was most appropriate for that particular project. I've got one or two other projects in the wings, including something I call "Adventures Great and Glorious" (which I've discussed on my Greyhawk Grognard blog from time to time), that will unarguably be firmly within the OSR camp, but which takes off in new directions that not only expands what's possible in an "OSR Game" mechanically, but in terms of its very form as well, well beyond even what is currently termed "domain game" play. There's another with the working title "Sail the Solar Winds" (taken from the title of a play-by-mail game I designed and ran in the 1980's), which as the title might imply is a more space-opera type game. I'm very excited about the prospects, but there's unfortunately no time-frame for either right now. Too many pots a-boiling, and too little time to stir them all.

So to answer the actual question, I would place myself within the "Innovative Wing" (if the OSR can actually be reduced to the dichotomy you posit), but I am firmly able and willing to delve into "deep research" when such is more appropriate for a specific project. I am neither slavishly atavistic nor an advocate of "new and different" for the sake of being "new and different". Or, if you prefer, I could be part of the "OSR Fundamentalist" movement, but not afraid to step out of some arbitrarily-defined boundary and experiment with new concepts and mechanics. I defy easy labels in so many areas, it's no surprise to me that I don't seem to fit into a convenient label in this realm, either. Heck, my embrace of 5th Edition should be ample demonstration of that. My toolbox is rather large, and I will use whatever tool is most appropriate for the project at hand.
 
 
 
 
 Q: I suspect that part of the problem the Pseudo-activists have with RPGs, more specifically with traditional fantasy, and most especially with D&D is that they feel it reflects a conservative mindset they despise. They see it as a game where people enact power fantasies of defending the status-quo through violence, with very traditional defense of things like aristocracy (or more accurately, a lack of criticism of the same) and where (to their minds) the 'monsters' of the game are supposedly analogies for other cultures and races, to be brutally repressed and murdered by the PCs as representative of the "white patriarchy". Do you have any response to that mentality?


A: I think those sorts of tortured interpretations are patently absurd. They are born of the sort of "Marxist literary criticism" classes that abound in the West among that certain crowd that laments the fact that the Soviet Union lost the Cold War. They aren't criticisms of the game itself, of course, but merely form a subset of a broader criticism of Western culture in general, where anything white is evil, anything male (or, more precisely, masculine) is evil, and anything that smacks of wanting to be wealthy is evil. Invariably, of course, these critics are themselves white, male (usually self-consciously not masculine), and aren't averse to being wealthy themselves, so there's a great deal of self-loathing involved, as well. 

Such criticisms of traditional fantasy (and its derivatives such as fantasy RPGs) are not intended as actual literary criticism; they are intended as shaming mechanisms designed to influence behavior. Whereas the tropes of traditional fantasy have their roots in the collective Western cultural psyche; to undermine Tolkien is to undermine Beowulf and the West in general. And that's ultimately the real goal of such criticism, even if its proponents have forgotten (or, worse, never realized) it. The Soviet Union may lie on the ash heap of history, but its "useful idiots" drone on.
 
 
Q: I think that you raise a good point. The "useful idiots" may despise D&D (and fantasy, and RPGs in general) for perceived failings of systemic symbolic oppression or whatever.  But in fact, this doesn't stand up to scrutiny; as I once mentioned on my blog, if you look at, the core "message" of D&D isn't of Agents of the Patriarchy oppressing stand-ins for minorities; the core "message" is of a group of individuals who are usually of mixed races, classes (both in the "Career" sense of PC-class, and in the social sense of everything from Knights/Lords to peasants, rogues, or outcastes), genders, sometimes religions, and backgrounds in general coming together and co-operating; and very often cooperating to try to protect the weak (villagers, innocents, etc.) from the strong that would try to act violently (monsters, selfish evil wizards, etc.).  It is in fact in that sense a highly progressive message.
But where, to the real movers and shakers of the anti-D&D movement, there is a real point as to D&D (and RPGs in general) being "conservative" is that the fundamental message of D&D is also one of Good Vs. Evil, of fighting for what you feel is right, of the difference a single person can make in world, of the value of defending civilization from barbarism, of the need to sometimes stand up to evil with force, and the idea that an individual who may start from almost nothing (or even 0-level!) can (with a mix of industry, wit, and luck) end up gaining fame and fortune through their own efforts.   These are all values and ideas that this group of people despise and want to snuff out, in favor of a world-view where there is no such thing as true or false, where all evils are relative and the lack of absolutes prevents anyone from being able to effectively question (much less stand up to) anything they don't is right (because it's all just "relative" opinion, equally valid as a question of taste or tradition), where standing up for anything requires the consensus of a collective and is always illegitimate if done by an individual, where a single person must never be seen to be able to do anything other than be a victim of their circumstances (requiring dependency on collectives to support and protect them), and where civilization is an evil that needs to be completely torn down so we can create a whole "new world" under the guidance of enlightened despots trained in correct ideology to govern us for our own sake (as we are neither capable of nor to be trusted with making decisions for ourselves).
But in RPGs, its a tricky thing to make a game that would espouse those kinds of ideas and still be appealing to anyone; RPGs kind of prove the lie of that kind of thinking, and how ugly and grey and meager that intellectual worldview really is.   The only way to deal with that is to try to 'deconstruct' RPGs as they are until they cease to exist and replace them with entirely new mechanical structures that require a conscious collective effort to "tell a story", and that need to be limited in scope and frame (micro-games) to express specific and usually un-inspiring themes that refuse to be "grand" in any way.  Small games, meant not to be played as sweeping campaigns, meant to be controlled strictly by the designer in terms of what they can do so that the message they promote can likewise be controlled, often about human struggle or misery with no satisfying resolution permitted, where the point is to create a "narrative" to "address a theme" but almost never to demonstrate the potential of any kind of objective good to triumph over objective evil (at best the result must be morally "grey", at worst there is no good resolution at all).  
Would you not agree that this is, intentionally or unintentionally, the raison d'etre of most if not all of the Storygame movement?   And if so, isn't it basically an exercise in cultural maoism, to utterly tear down an existing structure so that it can be remade on ideological grounds, and could thus be understood as in no honest way part of "our" hobby, but an attempt to replace the existing hobby with a totally new pass-time that is more ideologically/philosophically attuned to that relativist/collectivist agenda?

A: Unfortunately my experience with, and exposure to, the "Storygame movement" is sparse at best, as I move in different circles. I'm not qualified to answer the question one way or the other.
 
 
 
Q: You're either very fortunate, or being very diplomatic. So, last question: If you could change one thing in the RPG hobby or industry, what would it be?

A: That the big game companies stop seeing the game market as a zero-sum game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-sum_game). 

There was a time when Dragon magazine published articles relating to non-TSR games like Starship Troopers, and when White Dwarf was mostly D&D content. Wizards of the Coast of course famously allowed other companies to publish for D&D 3.x with the Open Game License, and some other companies have picked up the idea, but there's still seemingly a mindset among the big players in the industry that they need to create walls and crocodile-filled moats around their precious player base, and should do everything in their power to prevent even a single dollar from one of "their" customers going to another company. 

Now, obviously, you want to sell your own product, and I'm not advocating any sort of egalitarian love fest or anything. But if the big players would understand, and act on the fact, that there aren't "D&D Players" or "Pathfinder Players" or "Warhammer Players" or whatever, but there are in fact just "gamers", and by increasing the number of gamers overall, everyone wins, the hobby/industry would be in a much better place. If they didn't think that they needed to co-opt a player from some other game, rather than focusing on making themselves useful to players of *all* games, they'd all do better.

Let me give you a fer'instance.

Imagine that Dragon (in whatever form it ends up coming back) starts publishing Warhammer articles, or even *gasp* Pathfinder articles. Or maybe every once in a while posts something about Flames of War. Or the new GMT hex-and-counter wargame. Or a variant for some new Eurogame. And if White Dwarf started doing the same. And Strategy and Tactics. It wouldn't have to be a majority of the content by any stretch, just an occasional article here and there. You'd have die-hard D&D fans maybe buying White Dwarf. And Warhammer fans buying Dragon. And Pathfinder fans buying S&T. 

And who does that help? Everyone. And who does it hurt? No one. 

A man can dream.
 
 
 
RPGPundit: That makes sense; as a lot of regular gamers play all kinds of games, and playing one doesn't imply dumping another. In my own experiences, I think gamers like to at least try all kinds of things, and see stuff from all over the spectrum.
Anyways, thank you for the interview!
 
 
Bloch:  Thanks for giving me the opportunity.
 
 
 
RPGPundit
 
Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H's Beverwyck