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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Charity for Nepal AND Arrows of Indra (and lots of other great OSR products)? You Don't Want To Miss This!

So as you may well have heard, Nepal was struck a few days ago by the worst earthquake in its recent history.  The devastation has been quite terrible.

Being somewhat partial to Nepal myself, when I was approached about including Arrows of Indra in a special OSR bundle of "asian-themed" RPG products, the proceeds of which would go to the CARE charity which is doing a great deal of emergency relief work over there, I was all for it.  Of course, the decision wasn't ultimately mine, as I'm not a self-publisher; but I knew that Brendan over at Bedrock Games would be on board.

And indeed he was.  So now, for just $15 you can get Arrows of Indra and a whole lot of other interesting OSR products, in a bundle for Nepal Relief.  This bundle includes Arrows of Indra, Kenneth Hite's awesome Qelong southeast-asia setting, the amazing Red Tide setting by Kevin Crawford, and several other products.  You'll be getting a whole bunch of the best OSR PDFs at a much cheaper price than usual. and 95% of the proceeds will go directly to charity (the other 5% being the maintenance fee).

So please go check it out, it's for a very good cause!

And don't delay: first, the people of Nepal need that help ASAP, and second, this amazing deal is only good till May 10th.


Currently Smoking:  Castello 4k Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Just What the Fuck is "Gonzo Gaming" Anyways?

This is a question that I think is worth providing an answer to, and someone recently asked it of me.

These days, it seems that Gonzo has come into its own in terms of popularity, to the point that some people are claiming "Gonzo" status for their RPG products when they're not.  Note, just having magic in your fantasy RPG doesn't make it "Gonzo"... it just makes it a fantasy RPG.

So what is Gonzo, then?

First, this is NOT Gonzo:

This is a farce that bowdlerizes Gonzo in the same way that Cthulhu Plushies are not "Lovecraftian Horror".
Gonzo is not meant to be cute, or safe, or "loveable" as such. The Muppet Gonzo was 'gonzo' for about two seconds in his earliest appearances before he (and all the other muppets) completely sold out to become totally sanitized safe sources of amusement and obsession for children and mental-children.

THIS is real Gonzo:

If you've never read this, which is quite possibly the greatest American novel of the 20th Century, you should go fucking read it, and then you won't really have to ask "what is Gonzo"?

(the movie isn't as good as the book, but it is still pretty good; so if you're too much of a lazy semi-illiterate dumbass to bother reading a book that you could get through in an afternoon, you could at least watch the movie)

So Gonzo in RPGs must be understood by its original definition:  as a weird kind of trans-realism (like 'magical realism' on drugs).  It is NOT just "make up whatever"; but rather it is a kind of hyperbole: the mundane exaggerated to a bizzarre extreme.  "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is a true story, it really happened; but the presentation of it is in such a way as events are exagerrated until they take on a surreal and magical quality. 
But it is not just mindless random weirdness; here things very explicitly are supposed to make internal sense, even if the end result is something very crazy.

How can I better explain this?

Ok, so "Lost" is 'bad gonzo', because even as it claims that it makes sense it actually had no larger plan, never did, and was smug about how 'surreal' it was for its own sake.  Any media where you just have weird shit happening just because is not Gonzo (if anything, its dadaism).  

On the other hand, "Adventure Time" is GREAT Gonzo, because it's really crazy, but it generally DOES make sense (you gradually find out or can read-into the story that underlines the reason the world in Adventure Time is what it is), while not being in any way smug about how awesome it is.  I know I earlier said Gonzo is not meant to be cute, and you could say parts of Adventure Time are in fact cute, but here cute takes a back seat to "weird" (real 'weird', not some Disney/Henson-media executive committee's idea of what they can tell children and imbeciles is 'weird'); and in spite of appearances "Adventure Time" is not really "safe"; it's a highly subversive show.  For starters, its notable in that basically all of its main characters are pretty much assholes (while clever in that it never just comes out and says that, even indirectly).

In RPG terms, the difference between a good and bad gonzo setting is that the bad one is pretty much a world that makes no sense, and the designer is almost proud for that fact. He may as well have (and indeed, may well have) just rolled totally random tables to get his world and made no effort to tie it together coherently (though sometimes alluding to some kind of Super-Secret Purpose he doesn't care to discuss).  He's often found frantically juggling a bunch of unrelated things in the air and shouting "look! look! it's gonzo!!", as though that is all it takes.

A good gonzo world can be totally weird and crazy and fucked up, but if pressed can actually can say "these fucked up things are the way they are because of a and b and c and d".  Yes, there are stylistic elements like the mixing of genres, strange anachronisms, allusions to drug culture, or the presentation of the mundane in some bizzare fashion, but the main thing that defines Gonzo is that sense of 'magical hyperbole'.   It is encapsulated in many ways by Hunter S. Thompson's famous quote: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro".

So this is gonzo in an RPG setting for sure:

Obviously I would say that my DCC campaign is gonzo.  But Arrows of Indra, which is epic and can be weird and has a lot of high-magic stuff and whatever, is not what I would call Gonzo. Awesome? Totally. But Gonzo? No.
Neither is Lords of Olympus, though with its multiversal quality and the way its magic works it could be pretty easy to make a LoO campaign that was gonzo.

This is probably just trying too hard:

This is probably the most Gonzo thing D&D ever did:

Whereas this is not Gonzo as much as it is slapstick:

It's important to get this: gonzo is funny but it isn't comedy.  The kind of 'nyuk nyuk'/we-realize-we're-in-a-comedy thing shown above does not fit into the conceptual seriousness of gonzo.   Fear and Loathing is a hilarious novel to read, but because you can't believe the insanity of the situations it's describing, not because the characters at any time take themselves or the situation they're in as anything less than Gravely Serious Business.

So, that's today's lesson.  Go read Fear & Loathing; and never will any novel about a reporter covering a Las Vegas motorcycle race do so much to change your perspective on how to run RPGs.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Rhodesian + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Pictures From Uruguay (Part 3)

What with having had my spot at everyjoe co-opted by a beer review this week, and with me being very late for a series of appointments (not least of which is to go to a friend's house to watch the last episode of Game of Thrones, which I missed while tripping on the Astral Plane on my walkabout), I am going to do another installment of the apparently-somewhat-popular "Pictures from Uruguay"!

As before, these are all of areas in my neighbourhood ("el Cordon").  I'll mention these ones I'm showing you right now were taken at the start of summer (so, September or October 2014); newer ones will follow as we catch up (and eventually, I imagine I'll be forced to go out and take shitloads of pictures just to keep up).  Anyways, right now it should already be cold, but we've been having the warmest autumn in recent memory (or really, the longest summer, because to a Canadian it pretty much feels like there's only two seasons here: Summer and Winter, with the latter being divided into a 'not really cold just wear a sweater' period that typically starts in mid-April and goes to mid-july, then a short 'it's fucking cold!' period from mid july to mid august, and then an 'it's not that cold anymore already?!' period from late august until mid-october).  Right now we should be wearing sweaters but it's really still t-shirt weather instead.

Anyways, here we go:

Here's an example of the gateways that are prominent all over the older parts of the city, and especially in the Cordon neighbourhood, in this case the photo being taken from the inside of the entryway; this entry way leads into the middle of the city block where there's a small private alley and usually very nice small houses.

Here's another basic street-shot, but it's interesting because it contrasts two very different architectural periods and styles, that are just lumped side-by-side right next to each other with nary a gap between.  The effect looks like a crazy patchwork quilt when applied to whole blocks and neighbourhoods and yet in spite of being a bit cacophonic is really beautiful just by being a feast for the eyes.  Definitely way better than the row-upon-row of prefab housing and mostly-identical mcmansions you see in way too many North American cities.

Here's the entrance to a typical cafe/bar in the neighbourhood; in this case the spectacular Las Flores, which makes some of the best Milanesa sandwiches ever.  They also have delicious empanadas and quite good (strong) coffee.
There's a bar/cafe (the two are interchangeable in this country) at least every couple of blocks in any residential neighbourhood and (like the British pub) these are often the hubs of local social life.  In Cordon, things are changing so that Las Flores represents an 'old guard' type of locale; right on its opposite corner from it there's a new "Uruguayan-German-Irish Fusion Pub", halfway down the block from it there's a new "artisanal empanaderie", two steps from there there's a brand new "rock and roll pub", and on the other corner there's a brand new "experimental uruguayan-tacos plus sandwiches from strange ingredients" restaurant (that last one is actually a lot better than it sounds, even though the Taco is NOT part of Uruguayan cuisine).  In the last two years the Cordon has just exploded with hipster popularity, but Las Flores is also still doing very well, on the force of both tradition and that you can buy an amazing huge (it takes up two separate buns to hold it all) milanesa (think weiner schnitzel) sandwich with all the trimmings for about $8.  A cortado (sort of like a macchiato) costs about $1.95.

Finally, this slightly-blurry photo comes from just a bit away from my neighbourhood, in the Centro (the "downtown" neighbourhood).  But I wanted to include it because it shows you the gallery-style thoroughfares that are very typical of that part of town, and the architecture.  Some of these galleries are covered, most are not.

Anyways, hope you liked this glimpse of a country you likely will never go to and might otherwise never see.  There'll be more in weeks to come.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Compact + Image Latakia

Monday, 27 April 2015

RPGPundit Reviews: The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence

This is a review of the OSR setting, "The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence", described as "an old school weird science-fantasy campaign setting and wilderness hex-crawl".  It is written by "Venger As'Nas Satanis", the OSR's resident Cthulhu-Worshiping Satanist Magician; you know, the type of guy I've written about in some of my "Real Magick in RPGs" blog series.  His continued existence is proof that he's either not a real magician, or Cthulhu is not a real being. Or maybe both.

Anyways, "Islands" is a 106 page softcover, published by "Kort'thalis Publishing" (Cthulhu sure does like his apostrophes!), with a full color cover of a needlessly-salacious pair of female buttocks looking over a nightmarish sort of landscape; the words "caution: mature content!" appear in bright red on the front cover, but somehow 'mature' is not the first word the image brings to mind.

  I should mention that in my experience Venger is definitely one of these guys (like James Desborough) who like to court controversy and outrage on purpose (could you really expect anything less from a guy who's no doubt chosen the last name "Satanis"? I assume that's not an old family name..); I know I'm sometimes included in that same list but in my case (as in some others) it's really that I just don't give a shit, as opposed to actively trying to find (sophomoric) ways to be 'edgy' about sex or violence with my RPGs in the hopes of getting negative attention.

None of that impresses me much, but I won't judge a book by its cover (in this case literally).  The interior art is certainly filled with relatively good-quality art, mostly of Lovecraftian monstrosities of different kinds, most of which manage to be impressive (a few even actually creepy) without being needlessly offensive; though I'll note that in the entire book out of the half-dozen or so images that have identifiable female figures in them, all but one are either naked or very scantily-clad (with a predominance of bare buttocks and thigh-high boots).  While none of the images are explicitly sexual several are being attacked by monsters while naked and/or bound.  I guess that's the author's interpretation of 'maturity'.  It's the kind of thing that would give Tracy Hurley conniption fits if she wasn't too busy being worried about how tight Aleena the Cleric's full-body chain mail looks.

(even the map has tentacles!)

But fine; let's accept that the art here is almost certainly an intentional ploy to get attention by causing outrage, and move on.  The question then is whether the content is any good?  Note: you'll need to read this whole review, to get the big picture, because it's complicated.

The book starts (after some in-game fiction that, like most in-game fiction, is forgettable) with a set of "optional rules for the GM".  The first few of these are not particularly good; in the sense that while nothing is terribly wrong with them they don't really fit (to me) the old-school model.  You get a system of task-resolution that the author admits is inspired by countless dice-pool mechanics (which are really, to me, outside the whole boundary-markers of what defines old-school), where you roll a number of D6 based on the perceived difficulty of the task and have to count any die that results in a 6.  Then you have an optional rule for giving players a +1 to their d20 rolls if they are suitably flowery in their description of their actions (an example: instead of saying "I put up my shield" they say "just before he shoots something from his luminous fingers I raise my shield for protection"; in other words, precisely the kind of needless wordiness without meaningful value that I don't particularly want to encourage).  Then there's a mechanic whereby if a player asks a question about whether there is something in the environment (example: "is there something down that well?") the GM should roll a flat 33% chance that there in fact is.  None of these are mechanics I would want to implement in an old-school game.
After some suggested porting-over of 3e D&D's "attack of opportunity" and "flanking" rules (again, no!), and a checklist for how to frame a one-shot adventure, you get the advice that every player should (when creating a character) tell the GM one thing about their character that is not written on the character sheet, which is not terrible but not exactly brilliant either.

It does start to get better after that, however. At this point we start getting into some of the mods that specifically apply to the "islands" setting.  For example, you have a "darker secrets" table, which PCs can roll at character creation that involves strange details like "you have a special fondness for spiders and spider-like beings", or "after losing your wife and children in a recent war you want nothing more than to see the world burn".  There's still a few problems with this table: it only has 20 options (which really isn't enough for an OSR-type game where presumably a lot of characters will end up being cycled through), and some of the selections are kind of questionable in various ways: from "you were the product of incest, so you are either physically sensitive or emotionally cruel" to "you were convicted of rape and successfully escaped from prison" to "you're extremely nearsighted and this can't be corrected by lenses or magic" (for some damn reason not explained in the entry).  There's a rule for randomly rolling a flashback scene for each character before start of play, which is better than a lot of the background-stuff just by virtue of at least being interactive; it's the sort of thing that works really well in Amber (minus the randomness, of course) but probably won't be to the liking of a lot of Old-school gamers (for their old-school games at least).   Again on a better note, there's a rule for how magic-use is affected by the immensely unstable influence of chaos on the Islands: anytime you cast a spell, you roll a D6.  On a 6, the spell is doubled in all effects; on a 1 the spell has a disastrous discharge (it either has the opposite of its stated effect, or it affects the caster instead of its target).  On a 3, a random magical effect happens, most of which effects are harmful to the caster but a couple are neutral or arguably useful.  It's also stated, on a slightly later optional rule, that wizards can choose, on rolling a 1, to become chaos-aligned instead of having a disaster happen; and subsequently start to become mutated (unfortunately, it doesn't provide a random mutation table, which is a pity).

(note: in spite of Cthulhu-worship, this has not happened to Venger in real life)

We're also told that the Islands are full of dimensional gateways all over the place, so there's a random table as to where a given gateway leads.  The selections are generally lovecraftian (a world of the Old Ones, the distant past or future, R'lyeh, the Dreamlands) but a couple are unusual (a world that looks like an Erol Otus painting, Earth in the present day).

After this we get a few other Islands-specific rules:  there are apparently corpses of ancient worms lying around the island (not sure how that's an "optional rule"; maybe we switched sections without the reader being told?), and there are deep horrific things under the earth (again, that's all we're told, no 'optional rules' in sight).  There's also an effect that happens when you travel in time called chronosis, which causes temporary disorientation and memory loss.  There's some optional rules for fighting modifications after his first injury and when he's at death's door, and some rules for regaining hit points after resting.

Then we get an optional Monk class. It isn't radically different from other monk classes out there but with less special powers (only the ability to captivate an audience, and a sort of psychic attack that can potentially be deadly - literally blowing up an opponent's brain- but has a high element of chance and a constitution drain).

After this we find out about how magic swords work differently on the islands: they cause critical hits on a 19-20 if wielded by fighters; the crit effects are rolled on a table. Also, all magic swords that spend enough time on the island become intelligent, with a table of random personalities for said swords, and a random table for a sword's origin.

Finally, there's a random permanent injury table, rolled any time a PC gets to below 0 hp but somehow survives.

(there's this thing too, which must have come through one of the Islands' dimensional-gateways from a RIFTS sourcebook, or something)

So the next section is called "Running Purple" and here we get a guide to the setting information.  It starts with one of those lengthy past-history timelines, dating back from "20000 years ago". Back then the islands were apparently only one landmass, but later broke up.  A snake-man empire rose up, who rode on the ancient wyrms. They ruled for 7500 years until a coalition of men, elves and dwarves drove them out using magic to kill the wyrms. Two thousand years later a powerful Azure Witch took power, but her rule was cut short by the rise of the Purple Putrescence (of the title), a horrible purple mist full of tentacles that even to this day floats over the islands that dissolves living creatures, causes mutations, and all other kinds of terrible things.

The islands were also infested with strange crystals some 3200 years ago; these crystals augment magic but make it more chaotic.  There's other stuff too: the "tentacles from the water", a great inexplicable super-computer created by an unknown race, and in the last ten years some distant lands have started using the islands as a penal exile colony.

The islands, we are told, have a mind of their own, and there's a "what do the Islands want" table to roll on.

We are told that the Islands are intended as a sandbox, but in case a GM wants some more structure we're also given a table of potential adventure seeds.
We also have a random table that PCs can roll to determine what their own connection to the Islands are, why they're there.
There's also a good old 'rumor table', complete with a T and F rating for whether the rumor is true or false.

You can also get into truly gonzo territory with the "what happened when you were sleeping" table, which can cause a number of inexplicable effects, like having a severed head appear on a PC's bedroll, having a PC lose his memories, or a henchman getting his brain sucked out by something in the night, or a magic-user losing 1d6 memorized spells while they slept.

These various tables, and sections with interspersed detail, are not really put in any kind of coherent order as far as I can tell.  Likewise, there are some of the sections in the previous chapter that I would have put in this one, and vice versa.  Maybe Venger is trying to evoke the scrambled style that some old-school books had.  Some people find that kind of thing quaint.  I'd rather it had been put in some kind of more coherent arrangement, myself.

(or maybe he spent too much time trying to do this?)

In regard to the economics of the Islands, we are told that gold pieces (or other forms of coin economy) are not really used here; instead, trade is mainly done in slaves (particularly human and elven women, which given the whole aesthetic of the setting comes as no surprise), in magic, and advanced technology, as well as shelter and information.

From there we switch to guidelines as to how to obtain a "sherpa", a local guide.  And then, we suddenly veer to hearing about how if you profane the name of the Dark Gods you get a -2 penalty to saving throws for the next day, and if you profane the name of an Old One in the presence of a lead cultist you will get shot by a destructive wave of purple energy falling from the sky.  Clerics, priests, and holy men do get a percentage chance of divine intervention, though.

There's also more details on the Purple Putrescence, which (when it shows up) can randomly attack people with a save-or-die type of situation.

There's some details on the dreamlands, and on randomly-occurring mutagenic rain which leaves behind a lethal purple mist in a way pretty much identical to the Putrescence itself.

The whole of the islands seem to be some kind of machine, too.  There's random illusion-hidden control panels that can do various effects, and there is a "mechanical and mystical under-system" that is found deep beneath the islands that keep everything running, as it were.

Alongside this, there's also the mysterious "Black Pylons": trapezoidal monoliths that act as gateways to other dimensions, space and time, but only if you have the right crystals to use them.
The crystals are one of the more interesting details of the setting: they're all over the islands, mostly underground, though obviously a lot of people have ones that were already taken from under the earth. They come in a variety of colors; several of these allow you to use the Pylons to travel through dimensions or space/time.  Many of them also grant you one or more powers if you carry them, but most of them also come at a serious cost (of temporary daily draining of an ability score). Sometimes, combining two or more crystals can have powerful or catastrophic effects.  So they're good items in the sense of being a mix of powerful and dangerous.

After this, we get details on the various factions found on the Island.  This include descriptions of the major ones that detail their leaderships, beliefs, numbers, behaviours, agenda, technology level, common trade currencies, and any special details.  There's also random tables that simulate developments that may have happened with a faction since the last time the PC party encountered them; and a table for determining events that happen (between or at the start of adventures, presumably) if the PCs stay around with a certain faction for a while.  Factions include the worshipers of the Purple Putrescence, the mysterious Overlords who operate the underground machine, the native monkey-men of the islands, the hapless followers of the god of light, the remnants of the once-great Snake Men empire, and the followers of a strange deity called Zygak-Xith

Then we get a wandering monster table, a one-number saving throw chart for monsters (that is, if you're using or want to use a system where all saves are based on a single base number, which is what's used in Swords & Wizardry, if I recall correctly, and Arrows of Indra, among others). There's a small outdoor-terrain trap table to finish off this section.

After this, we finally start to get to the section that details the islands themselves, arranged by hexes. There's a very short description of each of the three Islands: Korus is the biggest, with its prominent mountain range.  It has populations of Mi-Go, Snake men, a necromancer with something called "doom hawks", and various other unnatural creatures.  Kelis is a jungle-island that features the ruins of a previous civilization, and its main feature is something called the "Shattered Dome".  Kravian is the island that features Zygak-Xith and his worshipers.

I'm obviously not going to detail every single hex; I will say that the hex entries cover 51 pages of the book, so nearly half of the total content.  Almost all of them include small, medium or large-sized adventure/encounter hooks, with a wide diversity of subject matter. As much as I've been mocking the over-the-top 'heavy-metal turned-to-11' attitude of Venger's writing, and some of his other stylistic and structural foibles in the book, there's no question that the vast majority of the stuff he's got in the hex entries is spectacularly creative, playable, diverse, and interesting, if what you want is gory, sometimes sophomoric, occasionally sleazy, and highly weird gonzo-fantasy writing.  If you look at his hex-crawl section, he writes the way I imagine Geoffrey McKinney only wishes he could write.  That is to say, cleverly.

You won't find hex after hex of the same bullshit here, nor will it seem like he just randomly-generated the hex contents.  They're all weird, sometimes ridiculously so, and rarely make much if any sense, but each one was obviously given inspiration and not just dialed-in. No "you encounter 2d6 bone-men" here, no fifty-hexes full of different-colored statues or hybrid animals that seem taken from mixing two randomly-generated normal animals and rolling on a randomly-generated special-attack table.  This section was VASTLY better than I expected it to be based on the first forty pages of the book.

Discounting the Isle of Dread as vastly more vanilla than this product, when you look at the other important "lost island" or "weird world" products out in OSR-land, you have what?  Isle of the Unknown, Carcosa, maybe LotFP's Weird New World.. are there any important ones I missed? As a setting (again, if you can bear the level of almost comical "extremeness" of the book), the Islands of Purple Putrescence kicks the living shit out of all of these, BOTH in terms of creativity and in terms of the level of Gonzo the book has.

The book concludes with a few pages of new spells (over a dozen spells, all of spell levels 2-4, of a suitably weird or badass-destructive nature), and some very interesting magic items; the latter (there's 28 of them, if I counted right) are of the dark-wizardry and nasty-chaos-sword variety, some of which are for all intents and purposes cursed items.

So what to conclude about this book?  Well, it's clearly far from perfect; some of the style is grating to me personally.  And some of the organization is haphazard.  And given that I personal ADORE "gonzo" style play, there are parts of this book that feel like they're trying too hard, to be as "exxxtreme" as possible.
But ultimately none of this matters so much as all the good parts:  most of the tables, and even a lot of the optional rules, fit the setting well, and at least some of them could easily be shifted over to other settings in a similar genre.  The place where Islands really stands out is in the quality of the hexcrawl itself.
If you're looking for a weird-fantasy gonzo-sandbox with sci-fantasy, lots of lovecraftian overtones (does that make this Venger's equivalent of a really-Christian guy writing a Christian RPG?), and a "Heavy Metal" aesthetic, you pretty much have to get this book.  Even if you want any of those component parts for use in your own D&D or OSR game, you'll get a lot of great stuff here.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Shell Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Gone Astral-sailing

The RPGPundit will be on another plane of existence for the next three days. Presumably, I'll see you all Monday, on the other side.

RPGPundit Interviews: Alexander Macris

This is an interview I did with Alexander Macris, of Autarch games, mostly regarding his upcoming product "The Sinister Stone of Sakkara" (currently being crowdfunded).

I want to note, for the record, that I technically work for Alexander on a website he supervises under his day job with Defy Media.  However, I really don't think that affects the tone of my interview questions; still, full disclosure blah blah blah.  This interview has nothing to do with that job; I'm NOT being paid in any way to do this interview, nor promised anything for it.  Also, the interview was my idea, and not his.

So, let's get to it, shall we?

Pundit:  First, by way of introduction: you are technically my boss at Defy Media, but this is not an interview about that.  You do understand that I will not be treating you any differently than I would anyone else I interview, and may throw you some hardballs here as we go along, right? 

Macris: If you don’t call me swine at least once and follow it up with a fiery barrage of F-bombs I’ll be disappointed.

Pundit:  Let's be honest: you're here to sell something.  So, what is it, this new kickstarter project of yours?  And why should my audience pay attention?

Macris: In any case the Kickstarter is for a product called The Sinister Stone of Sakkara. It’s an introductory adventure for the Adventurer Conqueror King System. It’s the first adventure written specifically for ACKS, and the first set in the Auran Empire setting. I know some members of your audience are fans of ACKS (one called it his “Platonic ideal” of D&D!) so I’m sure it’s worth their attention. For those who don’t actively play ACKS, it’s a harder sell of course! I’d recommend this module to them for the following reasons:

First, if you like old school D&D type games in general, this is one of the most extensive and fleshed out starter adventures since the original Keep on the Borderlands. It has a full starting base (the fort of Türos Tem), a small wilderness sandbox, and a 100-room multi-faction dungeon to explore. Porting these to your favorite retro-clone is relatively trivial.

Second, the module is set in a Late Antiquity setting, an awesome time period of decadence, extravagance, and decline that deserves more attention and support. We offer a fully mapped and keyed fort, bathhouse, eatery, and more. One of my favorite features is the Extravagant Imperial Banquet table, which offers up such amusements as “appetizers of spiced honey-sweetened cheese, a main course of roast boar stuffed with blood sausage with a side of fried green beans in fish sauce, accompanied by Tirenean dry white wine mixed with honey, followed by a dessert of plum fruit tarts, to be enjoyed while the tragedy Ulkyreus in Winter is performed by a troupe of itinerant thespians.

Third, the dungeon itself is a splendid combination of a historically-minded ruin (loosely based on Sumerian architecture) with a gonzo Lovecraftian hellhole, tied together by a cool hook (the eponymous “Sinister Stone”). Matthew Skail, the dungeon designer, really instills a sense of cumulative horror as the creepy images and icons found in the upper level are revealed to be more than just artwork later on. Some of what’s in the lower level is horrific enough that Raggi would be proud. The Abominable Mutations table is one of my favorite bits:

"17. Viscous Bile: The character’s stomach acid becomes incredibly strong. He gains a +2 to saves versus ingested poisons. In addition, once per day, he can spit a glob of acidic vomit at a target up to 30’ away. If he hits the target (a normal ranged attack throw is required), the acid will inflict 2d6 damage, and all within 10’ must save versus Blast or take 1d3 splash damage. The acid will not affect metal or stone, but will dissolve through 1 inch of wood before exhausting itself. The character’s lips and teeth partially melt away each time he spits acid, resulting in a cumulative -1 to all reaction rolls (to a maximum penalty of -4)."

And of course, if you were interested in checking out ACKS, this module makes it really easy to do so. Though I had to laugh at this initial question because I’ve historically been awful at explaining ACKS. I think my first blog post on the game was about the mathematics of medieval agriculture and one of my friends commented “I’m not sure that’s the best way to market your game for mass appeal.” Hopefully I’ve gotten better since then.

Pundit:  I like the sound of 'gonzo lovecraftian horror' (and for that matter, decadent antiquity).  And I especially like random tables.  But of course, you know that, so you may just be trying to push all the right buttons. 
So the next two questions that would be of immediate relevance I think are: are we to assume this is easily usable for any OSR rules that aren't ACKS?  Or is there something that would prevent that?
And also, how much of the product is just adventure, and how much is other stuff (setting, rules, spells, items, random tables, monsters) that could be used by someone who had no interest to run the adventure as such?

Macris: There's no reason it couldn't be used for other OSR games. We're all building from the same chassis. Obviously the closer the game is to the chassis that ACKS started from (BX) the easier the conversion will be. I've converted to and from BFRP, BX/LL, BECMI/RC, LOTFP, OSRIC/1E, and 2E without problems, usually on the fly as I run.

One of the antagonists uses a class that is specific to ACKS, but we provide all the information about her class abilities in the module text, so you could just treat her as a special monster without issue. Some of the information in the module will not be useful to someone who isn't running ACKS, but almost by definition they won't care. E.g. if you aren't running ACKS you probably don't care that you won't get to use the ACKS demand modifiers for mercantile trade that we've provided!

Pundit: Tell us something else about Sinister Stone that has not yet been revealed anywhere.

Macris: One of the antagonists is a young dragon that has been twisted into a mottle-hided fetid-gas-breathing wyrm by the evil radiations of the sinister stone. He lives inside the ruins of a ziggurat where the Zaharans once sacrificed countless victims to fuel the artifact.

Pundit: Ok, that's certainly evocative.  Now tell us about one of the random tables that hasn't been mentioned yet. 

Macris: Have I mentioned the Abominable Mutations table to yet yet? That's one of my favorites. It reminds me of the awesome Games Workshop supplement Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness with its grotesque mutations for the champions of evil. Here are some sample entries:

Tentacles: The character sprouts a set of tentacles from somewhere on his body (usually his abdomen or chest, but the source could be anywhere the Judge desires). These tentacles are as strong as the character is, but lack the manual dexterity of hands and arms. The tentacles cannot wield weapons effectively, but they could hold a torch or other objects, or hold the character up while his arms remain free. In lieu of his normal attacks, the character can attack with his tentacles twice per round, inflicting 1d3-1 points of damage with each (plus his Strength modifier, if any). When the character reaches level 5, his tentacles become capable of harming creatures requiring magic to hit. The character suffers -2 to all reaction rolls due to his monstrous form.

Wings: The character sprouts a pair of bat or insect wings. While these do not allow actual flight, the wings do allow the character to make large leaps (as the jump spell) in places where his wings are free and he has enough room to maneuver. The character must be carrying 4 or fewer stones of encumbrance in order to benefit from the wings. Normal armor, if worn, is quite uncomfortable and prevents the wings from being used at all. Special armor allowing the wings to be used would cost at least twice normal price, assuming a blacksmith could even be convinced to work for a mutant.

Bubbling Skin: The character’s skin is constantly covered in hideous red boils and blisters. As a result of this deformity, the character suffers a -2 to all reaction rolls. However, when burned, the blisters burst and protect the character’s skin with a protective pus, giving him the equivalent of permanent fire resistance (+2 to saves versus fire and -1 damage per die).

Pundit:You're already funded, so now we're getting into stretch goals and special pledge levels.  You've already revealed the first two bonus goals; what kind of bonuses can you hint at? Hell, since I'm giving you this interview you're pretty guaranteed to hit bonus goal 1, so you may as well just reveal the third one!

Macris: It will either be a random table to assist the Judge in generating setting NPCs on the fly or a primer on the campaign setting. We're still gathering feedback from the playerbase.

Pundit: You planning any other limited backer levels?  I remember that when I consulted for Raiders of R'lyeh, a unique backer level (that I agreed on) was that for $2000 you'd get a bunch of stuff plus the RPGPundit would fly to where you live and run a game for you (of Raiders, or any of his games).  Do you go for those kinds of gimmicks?

Macris: Most of our past Kickstarters have included gimmicks like that. For ACKS, for instance, we had a reward level wherein a patron met up with me one-on-one, rolled up an epic hero, and adventured with the original Auran Empire campaign players. (That character later appeared in Domains at War, too). However, for The Sinister Stone of Sakkara, we've eschewed some of the more esoteric rewards. Autarch may have gained some respect for *finishing* Dwimmermount, but it didn't gain any kudos for its logistical prowess, and we want to keep things clean and simple this time around. I'd rather rebuild our reputation by delivering a timely Kickstarter than complicate matters in the hopes of extracting some more revenue.

Pundit: Since you brought Dwimmermount into evidence, as it were, I'll bring up something I was meaning to anyways in this interview.  I do think that most people feel like you, on the Autarch side of things, handled the fiasco that was Dwimmermount as well and as honorably as you could possibly manage given the shitty circumstances.  But there is an element of "reputation rebuilding" required here.  What do you think you can say to people to reassure them that this time things will be very different?

Macris: I felt that I had to address this directly in the Kickstarter itself, and I spent some time on that explanation, so I'm going to repeat it here. "Having learned from past experience, we are adopting a different approach for this Kickstarter:
1. The product has already been written. All of the text and maps for the adventure are finalized. As soon as we are funded, Conqueror-level backers and above will get the texts and maps so they can immediately begin enjoying the product.
2. Backer rewards have been streamlined into a small number of tiers with clear-cut rewards without a large number of special cases that can complicate and confuse our logistics.
3. Bonus goals have been carefully plotted out to be delivered within our overall framework without causing delay.
4. The Kickstarter as a whole is less ambitious in scope than the sprawling Dwimmermount mega-dungeon and entire rules sets of our two prior projects."

I suppose you could say that we studied what went wrong with Dwimmermount, and we made sure to control against those issues. That doesn't mean other issues can't arise and screw things up - as Von Moltke says, "no plan survives the first day of battle" - but they'll be new issues at least!

Pundit: Quite a few years back now, I had pitched you the idea of you publishing my Arrows of Indra game, which instead ended up being published by Bedrock Games, to good results.  The reason, ultimately, why you didn't take me up on that one was because you wanted me to make it for ACKS while I didn't want to go that route.   Do you now still feel that you will most likely only continue to make ACKS products, or do you now think you might someday publish some other kind of game or non-ACKS supplement?  

Macris: For the foreseeable future we intend to publish ACKS material. We have a large volume of material nearly written: Guns of War, our LotFP-compatible rules supplement for early modern mass combat; Lairs & Encounters, a Judge's supplement with dynamic lairs and advanced monster rules; Heroic Companion, a supplement to flavor ACKS for heroic fantasy; several modules; and of course one day the Auran Empire Campaign Setting.

If we do deliver something outside of ACKS, it will likely be to push something outside of RPGs - a miniature game, boxed boardgame, etc.

Pundit:  Going back to the Dwimmermount, I think that (aside from having trusted in the wrong person), one of the big issues in kickstarters in general is when people haven't finished the writing of the product before starting. I know that if I were ever to do a kickstarter, I would insist with any partner (because you know, I'd only be the writer, not the publisher) that the writing would need to be done before we start the crowdfunding.   Do you think this is always the right way to go?  

Macris: I agree with you. At this time I cannot even imagine launching a Kickstarter without having the book already written.

Pundit: What do you think the usual suspects will find to be offended about "sinister stone"?

Macris: I couldn't begin to guess.

Pundit: So when you say you couldn't begin to guess, do you mean that literally?  When you are working on game design, in both writing and art direction, do you in any way try to worry about whether something might conceivably be offensive to someone? Or would you say that, in this day and age, that's a completely wasted effort?

Macris: Yes, I mean that literally. I am always surprised when these sort of discussions crop up, even today in these outraged times. No, I don't worry about whether the material I'm working on could offend others. I'm certainly not trying to shock or offend (the way James Desborough does, sometimes, for instance); but neither am I trying not shock or offend.  I just think tastes vary. What offends me might delight you; what shocks you might bore me.  Some people will love ACKS, some people will hate it, and others won't even care enough to have an opinion at all. I'm thankful we live in a world where there are RPGs for every taste and palate, and opportunities for any RPG designer to release a game that will appeal to that taste, however niche it might be. It's a great, exciting time for creators and gamers.

Pundit: Ok, final question: what do you think the future looks like for the OSR?  Will more conventional rulesets and adventure modules be what moves it forward, or interesting and new rulesets and settings, or will it increasingly become about more radical "gonzo" or otherwise unconventional settings?  Is there room for anything else that will really surprise people in the future? WIll the OSR continue to grow, or is it at its peak now?

Macris: I think it will continue to grow, but the newer products will not be retro-clone rules sets.

The rise of the retro-clones was driven by several trends: (1) Dissatisfaction with contemporary games such as 4e D&D and (2) inability to commercially purchase the older rule sets. Most of the classic rules sets are now available either straight from the publisher or as retro-clones. And many people who were playing OSR games are now playing or talking about 5E. 5E seems to be, if not part of the OSR, at least compatible with it.

It seems apparent that 5E will not have as many adventures, splat books, and supplements produced by Wizards as its predecessors enjoyed. If so, then a broad, easily-accessible license for 5E could inspire a flourishing development community to create products that Wizards will not, and I'm sure many of those will be part of or rise from the OSR.

Meanwhile, the existing OSR games will be competing with 5E. Role-playing game systems compete not just by their mechanics but by their strength as networks - number of available players, number of available gamemasters, amount of supporting content for gamemasters. So the OSR games that flourish will be the ones that have existing bodies of players, GMs enthused about running the game, and a volume of support product to keep the game alive.

So these trends make me think we will see fewer new rules sets but lots more more adventures, maps, settings, and so on that are either part of the OSR or at least OSR-inspired.

So that's it; thanks to Alexander Macris.  Check out his kickstarter!


Currently Smoking: Winslow Crown Billiard + C&D's Crowley's Best

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

"Earth Day" And the Future or Doom of Humanity

It's Earth Day, everyone! The day where we get told about how awful technology, innovation, and our western civilization, and heck, humanity in general is!  Where we're going to be subject to long speeches about "Sustainability", meaning that we should all cut down on our carbon consumption, eat less meat, give up our cars, turn back the clocks, ration food and water, and wait it out in the Cave until the species dies out.

And live off Okra for as long as we can, until it stops growing.

Yeah, Interstellar.  Some people seem to think its an "environmentalist" movie.  It's not.  It's actually very specifically a movie about the MASSIVE FAIL of the modern Politicized-Environmentalist movement.  It is a movement that despises the very civilization that can provide solutions for the problems they claim to worry about, but they'd rather have the solution of forcing our civilization backward into a more primitive state and just use less. And if that means forcible rationing, or forcing people to be farmers, or five billion people needing to be 'gotten rid of' to make the Sustainability-Equation work, well, so be it. For "Mother Earth".

This image has been floating around all day in the G+:

To which I answer:  "This is the only home we have? Just You Fucking Wait."

I will not be scaremongered into giving up on humanity's future.  I know that innovation, that enterprise, that technology and science and the principles of western civilization are the potential ANSWER to those very real problems of environmental harm and resource-management.  We can NEVER "cut back" enough to make it work, and why the fuck would we?! So we as a species can farm in some pre-industrial hippie dystopia while we wait out the next meteor strike or super-volcano?

The SOLUTION?  GMO foods. Thorium Nuclear Reactors.  Yes, also vastly improved solar technology.  Helium 3 from the moon.  3-D printers.  AI.  Going into space and "Imperialist"-ing the living fuck out of it.
And shitloads of stuff no one has even thought of yet, but yes, thinking.  Actually bothering to look for innovative solutions rather than just wanting to use environmental dangers as an excuse to impose a Collectivist Autocracy and force everyone to become less, and humanity to stunt itself.

My two favorite quotes from that movie:
"It's like we've forgotten who we are. We're explorers, pioneers, not 'caretakers'".

""We used to look up and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry at our place in the dirt".

That's the future, for "Sustainability".  That's why I'm not interested.

Sorry, I'm not planning on sitting around worrying about my place in the dirt.  Humanity has places to go.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Quiete + Dunhill 965

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: College/Tumblr Leftists Edition

This week in my Everyjoe article, we look at the question of "just how important, or blown out of proportion, is the influence of the College-liberals and Tumblr-leftists and their censorious demands"?

My answer? The influence of these Collectivist censors on the next generation is a serious risk to free speech and personal freedom.

Find out why, and check out my list of 14+ insane things that College pseudo-activists have banned or tried to ban!

As always, comments are disabled here, so go comment over there!  It's easy and fun!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti volcano + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Monday, 20 April 2015

"Real Magick" in RPGs: Tools & Talismans

First, once again, our foundational rule as always: in real world occultism, it's EASY to find occult knowledge, it's HARD to find anyone who actually engages in practicing it, because 90% of the people in the scene are armchair-magicians or posers or frauds or dilettantes, anything but people who actually work at doing magick.

One way to tell a faker from someone (potentially) genuine is to look at the magical accoutrements they use.  Are they going around with a fancy-looking crystal-encrusted rune-marked perfectly-straight wand that may have been store-bought or ordered from Etsy?  They're 99% likely to be frauds (that last percentage point is just because there just may be some serious magician who has gotten to the level of occult talent that he doesn't have to give a fuck what he does, and also doesn't care about being mistaken for a poser).

(this one was being sold by a company called "The Unicorn Shoppe". I kid you not)

Are they using an wooden wand they clearly crafted themselves (or maybe even a metal wand they smelted themselves) with tremendous attention to qabbalistic correspondences? There's maybe only a 70% chance they're fakers.  Why so high still, you ask, given that clearly it's a case of someone doing something?

For a very good reason: collecting (or even making) the accoutrements of magick does not make you a magician.  There are lots of people who, in addition to collecting an enormous library of occult grimoires (the likes of which would have made John Dee piss his robe with envy), also collect or even carefully craft the magical tools, the wand, the lamp, the altar, paint a ritual room, carefully carve enochian tables using authentic medieval methods, commission gold-trimmed robes and the most expensive frankincense, and so on, but then don't actually do a damn thing with them all.   Sort of like the guy who collects hundreds of RPG books and owns 17 pounds of dice (and probably posts like crazy on internet forums), but never 'has the time' to actually play.

(here's a "did it all my fucking self and I'm probably too busy making wands to do any actual magick" wand)

Finally, if your possible magician's wand is just a stick, there's maybe a 90% chance of being a faker.  Or better put, this is the scenario where the person in question is either going to be a total faker/poser/newbie of no value (probably claiming they're a 'chaos magician'), or a really impressively competent magician.  The guys in the middle, the eager-beavers trying hard to figure out how to do all this stuff, will become obsessive about trying to get every last technical detail right, following Golden Dawn rules or following the precise (often ridiculously difficult) instructions found in medieval grimoires. This is important, for the discipline needed to learn. Thing is, when you get to the level of adept suddenly all those tools have been largely internalized, as have the correspondences. And at that point you can do magick equally well with the simplest of tools, or even whatever objects you have at hand.  Aleister Crowley famously once did a magical operation halfway up a mountain using the stuff from his climbing gear.

Which brings us to the use of magical talismans.  A talisman is a term for some kind of physical object that was used in a magical ritual to imbue it with some kind of particular 'magical link' to an archetypal force, to achieve a specific purpose.   This is used to create a more lasting effect or for purposes you know you're going to need over and over again.

For talismans, the rule is exactly the same as with all the other magical tools and equipment: if it's all fancy and clearly store-bought it's almost certainly useless. If it's meticulously made (usually, in the case of western magical talismans, at least, out of some type of metal) with carved hebrew characters or sigils, there's a (high) chance it's bullshit and a (small) chance it might be the work of some intermediate magician (and thus reflective of either a successful or unsuccessful operation).

(here's a fancy talisman, which means it probably does nothing)

What about the advanced ones?  Well, consider this: the most powerful of all the medieval grimoires (the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage) has a set of talismans in it (and guidelines for creating them or others of the same kind) that are so dangerous that they can only be used by Adepts.  These are the most powerful and effective talismans in western magick.  And what do they look like?

Like a slip of paper with a square full of letters on it.  Something that could be mistaken for a doodle, or an incoherent crossword.

The most advanced magicians usually make talismans that don't look like talismans at all.

They can only do this effectively, again, because as adepts they have completely internalized the power of Symbol.  The reason you need, when you're starting out, to follow the rules (and the reason why most rule-breaking 'chaos magicians' are kind of crappy in spite of tending to actually try to do magick more often than most other types of magicians) is because these outward objects end up acting as powerful symbolic aids in connecting your conscious mind to the True Will, and from there to those Archetypal Forces you're trying to work with.  This is another important rule of 'real magick': the more simple anything to do with magick is, the more advanced of a magician you have to be to do it right.  The most complex rituals, though technically difficult, are the ones you'll be most likely to succeed at if you're a hard-working beginner.  The "simplest" stuff (in terms of technical complexity) requires that you already have a strong background in the practice of daily preliminary disciplines and have internalized the symbols through a series of personal initiations and 'ordeals' (that is, shifts in your level of consciousness).  Trying to 'skip ahead' to the stuff that looks easier will usually just leave you in a dead end.

In a modern-occult RPG, you could have some rumor going around about some serious magician, said to own a talisman of an aspect of Jupiter that was revealed to him during astral working while he was working with a secret book (the "Second Book of Abramelin", which had been dictated to him by his Augoeides while working adept-level ritual).   This facet of Jupiter (who called himself Jupiter Celestion) governed work, discipline, labor, planning, enjoyment (in and of labor), and the creation of the material world (that last aspect would be particularly interesting, as it would permit the magician to manipulate the most basic level of material reality).  Celestion endowed this magician with a talisman that, when held and activated, would draw material wealth, never undeserved wealth but in the form of easy opportunities to labor at what one would most love doing.

Now, the PCs might wish to try to obtain this talisman, in essence cheating their way to magical power (that never ends well, mind you, but maybe they're stupid or something), so they try to find this guy's talisman.  They're looking for some kind of metal disk (tin, probably, since that's the qabalistic metal of Jupiter) with Jupiter-related symbols on it, or some other kind of fancy object. They fail to find it, maybe get caught.  Imagine their surprise when the magician chuckles at their naivete and reveals the reason they came up empty-handed: they were looking for some fancy piece of jewelry, but it turns out the Talisman of Jupiter Celestion is an 25 cent piece.


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

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Weekend Crash

I'm sorry this weekend is turning out to be a bust, but having gamed last night till very late, and feeling a bit under the weather today, I'm going to focus on writing up my article and maybe getting a bit further in the upcoming review of "The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence".  That should be a good one.

Meanwhile, if you want me to keep making my blog a bigger priority, and to encourage me to keep providing awesome detailed reviews, truth-telling diatribes, insane campaign reports, interesting mechanical discussions and material, and controversial stances on the RPG hobby, please consider sending me clicking on that Paypal button to the right over there, and sending me some cash!   Show me you appreciate what I do on here, and I'll want to do it more and bigger and better.

Thanks to those who have donated in the past!


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Image Perique

Saturday, 18 April 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: DMing Tip - Describe LESS

Here's a quick one I was thinking about. I've seen a lot of DMs put great effort into their descriptions. And there are certainly moments where that is appropriate. There are scads of books on good DMing all of which usually tell you to be really thorough in your descriptiveness, and how important it is to describe things in detail.


I am going to suggest that when it comes to descriptiveness, often less is more.

Here's why: RPGs are a shared experience, not a shared world.

To illustrate: In one of my campaigns, one of my players was running a character who was blonde. He saw him as blonde haired and blue eyed. At one point he mentioned this, after months of the game being run, and not one of the rest of us, myself (the GM included) had realized that. He had mentioned it originally upon character creation, but for some reason I, and everyone else in the group, had imagined him either brown haired or dark haired.

Meanwhile, he'd gone along merrily imagining himself blonde. And it did nothing to impede the running of the game.

The fact is, contrary to what the narrativist Swine out there might think, we are not playing in a common world. Its a shared experience to be sure, but to waste time in forcing the players to see everything the same will actually bog down the game and make it unpleasant.

One of your most powerful tools for making an RPG campaign enjoyable is the player's own individual imaginations. You might be able to imagine some pretty cool things, but usually nothing will be as cool TO THEM as the way THEY imagine things.

No matter how much effort you put into describing your sinister dark wizard, nothing will work better than, say, picking one cool detail ("a scar that runs down his face, right over a milky dead right eye"), and then leaving the rest intentionally vague. "You see the dark wizard Bargle, in black flowing robes with arcane symbols. A scar runs down his face, right over a milky dead right eye". 
That's it. That's all you need. The PCs will fill in all the gaps.

So when is great detail required? Only when a particular detail is important beyond a merely descriptive sense. When its actually important to the game, either in a tactical sense, or as a clue, or because its a critical macguffin for solving the crisis.

Otherwise, trust me, less is more. Harness the power of your player's own imagination.


(originally posted October 22 2005)

Friday, 17 April 2015

DCC Campaign Update: Orange Shaman Psychic-Hotline

In this week's DCC game, the PCs:

-were given the generous offer by the Azure Order that the next time there was a situation that required putting one's very life in peril for some minor good and no guarantee of material compensation, the PCs would be the first in line.

-chuckled at the irony that Rick/Rickandra would be buried as a woman, as 'she had always wanted'.

-were determined to actually go find Sezrekan, kick the living shit out of him, and take back the Sacred USB Cable.

-were a little disheartened to learn that Sezrekan's tower isn't even on this dimension.

-were further disheartened when they realized that in the world of the Last Sun, the Azure Order are pretty much as great as it gets in terms of good-aligned, powerful, and reliable allies. There literally doesn't seem to be anyone else available that fits all three categories.

-went to buy some blowguns, but not to hunt the deadly Spindly-Killerfish.

-bored Sandy the Bikini-Chainmail Barbarian enough that she decided to go off and get herself totally wasted-drunk and beat the crap out of a bunch of tough-guy mutants... or as she calls it, "a short vacation".

-were presented with one of those aforementioned generous-offers by the Azure Order. But, finding themselves short-staffed, decided they needed some cannon fodd--er, new recruits.  So they picked up a superannuated street-urchin who was set loose in the forest by slavers after he proved too ugly to be purchased, an Orange Mutant apprentice-shaman with psychic powers, and an assistant re-animator.  It wasn't quite clear just what a 're-animator' does but he came with a brain in a jar.

-were sent south, to discover the cause of increased aggression by the Purple Mutant Barbarians, and resolve the mystery of what appear to be unprovoked and vicious attacks on local mutants by strange twisted Treants.  When told they had to go south, several party members responded at once with the quip that "this party has been going south for quite some time now.."

-Were surprised to encounter a hideous creature in the forest, somewhat resembling a 'grey alien' only fairly obese and wearing an expensive yet slightly-skanky dress, and a little tiara.
-Were even more surprised when she introduced herself as Queen Priscilla, of the Grey Lands, and said she was looking for Bill the Elf.  They were surprised, I note, because none of the player characters presently alive and in attendance this session had actually been around back when Queen Priscilla last appeared.

-found that Queen Priscilla was highly disraught at the news that Bill the Elf died; then came back, then died again, and now appears to be indisposed.

-Discovered that Queen Priscilla had hoped that Bill the Elf would help her reconquer her kingdom, as she had apparently been overthrown and exiled from her home dimension by "some green asshole", who they deduced was in fact the Game-Controller of the Jade Dimension, that had managed to flee from the PCs in that other dimension just before the PCs totally ruined it.  Apparently, he managed to set himself up nicely in the Grey Dimension; not that it was hard, since apparently the entirety of Queen Priscilla's people were despertate to see her overthrown.

(to visualize Priscilla, imagine a cross between this:)

(and this:)

-decide to take Priscilla with them, in the hopes of restoring her to her birthright of tyranny over the grey people, so that in exchange she will provide them an inter-dimensional army to move against Sezrekan.

-start to think, after about 30 straight minutes of Priscilla talking nonstop about what a slag Tiffany is, and how Brad is totally into her and not Tiffany, but Tiffany lied about Priscilla having herpes so she could get him to sleep with her instead, because she's a total slut, that they've made a terrible, terrible mistake.

-decide it's time to use the Silence spell.  Which gives them about six melee rounds of peace and quiet, only to have Priscilla start all over again.  They then decide that it's time for Sandy to use her "silence spell", which involves Sandy using a club to beat Priscilla into unconsciousness.

-Spend much of the night by the campfire arguing, over the sound of Priscilla's loud snoring, about whether an inter-dimensional army would really be worth another 24 hours, much less possibly weeks, with Priscilla.  The Cleric Aq'basha, filled with thirst for vengeance against Sezrekan, believes it is.  The rest of the party thinks it isn't, except for the ex-street-waif that thinks he "might have a shot with" Priscilla, causing everyone to question his eyesight or his sanity.

-watch as the Psychic Orange Mutant Apprentice-Shaman claims to Sandy that he can effectively read fortunes with his divination bones.  Sandy decides to put it to the test by asking him to make a prediction; if he's right, she'll give him a shiny gold piece. If he's wrong, she'll break something in his body.

-Are all surprised at the Orange Mutant's luck (or perhaps real ability?) when he predicts rain and it does in fact start to drizzle a little the next day.

-Proceed to the south, killing a few hapless kobolds and making a point of keeping Priscilla sedated by periodic clubbings.

-watch as a still-skeptical Sandy challenges the Orange Mutant a second night, with the same 'wager'.  He "predicts" that the party will soon have a detour through some ruins.

-run into a group of Green Mutant Barbarian warriors, who are at war with the hyper-aggressive Purple Mutants.

-Have to do a bit of explaining at the presence of a (non-barbarian) purple mutant (Shul the rogue) among them.  But eventually convince the Green Mutants that they're here to deal with the Purple Mutants, and that they should be taken to the Green Mutant village.

-learn that the Purple Mutant Barbarians have always been assholes, but have become completely warlike after converting to the worship of something called the Necro-Treant.

-are amused as Shul the Rogue, realizing that he might run into some serious trouble in a village full of people who despise purple mutants, tries to use his 'disguise' skill and Queen Priscilla's makeup kit to hide his racial identity. Rather than ending up looking like a non-purple mutant, he manages to end up looking like something along the lines of a Purple Mutant Circus-Clown/Prostitute.

-meet the Green Mutant Chief, and try to convince him that all the other mutant tribes in the region must join forces against the Purple Mutants, the Necro-Treant, and his army of Zombie-Treants. The Orange Mutant Shaman decides to try his luck by suggesting they do the meeting in "the ruins", and turns out to have once again shown his amazing psychic-skills/luck by the response that indicates that there are indeed ruins (albeit "forbidden" ones) nearby.

-note that Sandy, immediately after paying the Orange Mutant yet another shiny gold piece, is especially interested in going to ruins that are "forbidden", since there's likely to be stuff to kill and/or loot there, and her urge to break people has not been fulfilled in quite some time.

-decide to head off to the ruins, leaving Priscilla behind at the Green Mutant village, in the spare time they have while they wait for the great council of mutant chiefs (that will take place in the "sacred grove").

-find that the forbidden ruins are full of deadly spindly-killerbeetles.

-force the creepy ex-street-waif to poke the beetle nest with his 10' pole until they all rush him.  Then wait until the orphan is dead before cutting the beetles to pieces.  Generally agree that having gotten rid of the pervy street-waif and having gained a six-pack of magic potions and 25000 platinum pieces was a very good trade-off.

-camp out near the ruins, where Sandy again engages in some prophecy fun-time with the Orange Shaman, having quickly turned from being an angry skeptic to a true-believer in the Shaman's Psychic-hotline skills.  He makes the unlikely prediction that Sandy (by far the best fighter of the party) will do poorly in battle and have her abilities fall into doubt.

-get attacked that night by a positively terrifying Zombie-Treant.

-get themselves into a tight spot when the rogues find their backstabs do nothing, the cleric fails his attempt at divine-aid, and Sandy, incredibly, keeps missing her attack rolls.

-start to wonder whether the Orange Shaman's predictions are a prophecy or a kind of curse; not that he will comment in mid-battle, as he's busy faking a heart-attack and playing dead in the desperate hope the Treant won't tear him to pieces.

-are only saved at the last minute by a hail-mary (pardon the pun) second Divine-Aid attempt on the part of the Cleric, where he manages to call down the lightning on the Zombie Treant.

-start to realize that to the cleric, his new big bag of platinum pieces are really little more than 'get-out-of-divine-disapproval' tokens.

-return to the Green Mutant Village only to find that it's been raided by the Purple Mutants, that two of the Chief's daughters have been kidnapped to be used as sacrifices to the Necro-Treant, and that Queen Priscilla has been taken as well.

-decide they'll have to try to rescue the Chief's daughters, even if that means they'll probably have to rescue Priscilla as well.

-want to go to the great gathering of the Chiefs first, and convince the Green Mutant Chief to come with them after all (he'd initially decided to forget the whole thing, after being told of something the Orange Mutant psychic had said in passing).

-Get to the Sacred Grove only to find that the chiefs of all the other mutant tribes have been slaughtered by a force of Purple Mutants and Zombie-Treants; one unit of which end up encountering the party and attacking.

-once again find themselves in a very tight spot; especially after the cowardly Green Mutant Chief runs away rather than fight it out.  But this time the Orange Mutant Shaman manages to distract the Treant by drinking a potion of animal control and summoning a large flock of woodpeckers to harass it.  Suddenly, the battle has become, for the zombie-treant, a scene out of a Hitchcock movie.

-Manage to destroy the Treant and kill most of the Purple Mutants (except a couple that they keep to interrogate with extreme prejudice), but are saddened by the tragic death by spear-blow of the Orange Mutant Psychic, just as the tide of battle was turning.

-can't help but note that the Psychic sure didn't see that one coming...


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Thursday, 16 April 2015

"RPG"net's Death-spiral: Now You Must be Literally Re-Educated in 3rd Wave Tumblr Feminism to Post (Plus: RPGnet Mods Sea-Lion a Sexual Assault Victim, in a thread against Sea-lioning)

It's been fun to watch, in the sense that disaster movies about sinking ships or that documentary about Scientology were fun to watch.   RPGnet has been hemorrhaging members for a long time, and in this past month it seems that the Modclique there has gotten nervous enough to start up a thread about "how do we make RPGnet better"?

But there's a problem.  They want to make things better without actually changing the fundamental situation.  Its like the Titanic crew looking for iceberg-avoiding advice, just as long as you don't suggest they actually change course, or even slow down.

In the thread, they ended up getting hordes of posts from the usual suspects, the fawning pseudo-activists admirers of the Modclique celebrities, that were praising how everything was just fine as it is.  Meanwhile, anyone who posted anything more radical than "we might want to change the colour scheme" was seen as a hostile force.  Anyone who suggested the REAL problem: that the fundamental culture of RPGnet is flawed and has been flawed for years, and that the Moderation policies and the very people chosen to moderate are to blame, were (predictably) banned for committing the stupidity of actually believing they meant what they said. Eventually, Cessna closed the thread.

More apt than the Titanic comparison is the comparison to getting involved in a failing business, which is what RPGnet is gradually becoming.  You actually see this in the gaming hobby with a lot of FLGSes: people who start a gaming store thinking they're going to somehow make serious bank while getting to shoot the shit about games with their buddies, open and close whenever they feel like, and get to bring in only the merchandise they like or only be inviting to the 'right people'.  Then they start to tank, and try to solve it by upping their credit card debt, bringing in more GURPS products, or whatever it is they were already doing, only moreso.  They double down.  And as things get worse, they often double-down again; and then they go broke.  All because while they say they want to save their business, what they really want is not to have a business, but their own little kingdom from their dreams; they're willing to do anything they need to that they actually want to do, rather than having to deviate from their personal fantasy.  They'd rather fail.

And that's exactly what happened here.  So after closing the "what can we do to make rpgnet better" thread, what did the Modclique do? They doubled down.

They opened a new thread, started by one mod (Darren) presenting an essay by another mod (Wyzard) where they make clear RPGnet's stance on feminism.  I quote:
"If you do not have a working knowledge of what derailing and sea-lioning is, if you don't know what privilege is, if you don't grasp how subaltern narratives are excluded from the discourse and the experiences of marginalized groups are made invisible, then I heartily encourage you to LOOK UP THOSE THINGS before you post in a thread about women or sexism or GBLT issues or racism or anything like that, because YOU ARE DRAMATICALLY INCREASING THE LIKELIHOOD THAT YOU WILL GET RED TEXT IF YOU WALK IN AND START TALKING WITHOUT A GROUNDING IN THE BASIC REALITIES OF THE SITUATION."

Is this really a suggestion?  Well, after 3 solid pages or so of almost constant "congratulations"/"I totally agree"/"the modclique is so awesome" posts by the usual suspects that you see in any 'trouble tickets' thread so as to make clear that they are accepting the officially mandated thought-control and that any dissent will be dogpiled on, we end up getting some people questioning whether the tone of this statement doesn't seem distasteful, like something out of totalitarian 're-education' thinking.  The response is "yes, what we want is literally to re-educate people".  Or to quote directly "yeah, a certain amount of feminism is mandatory".
This comes coupled with the plan that "We are literally going to have a Tangency thread where people can come to get educated on this stuff".

Of course, one particularly brave naive poster, thinking that this was an open discussion with an open spirit of debate, pointed out how this new doubling-down of board-culture explicitly means that RPGnet is no longer a generally-welcoming RPG-website, but rather ought to "openly proclaim that is a 3rd Wave Feminist / Social Justice Oriented RPG site, and establish it's demographics accordingly, instead of paying lip service to the idea that it's about open discussion so long as everyone is payed a measure of respect. Because lets be blunt here. Social Justice is pretty actively disrespectful to a whole lot of people that they feel are a problem".  Cue the absurdities of RPGnet admin Cessna (seeing visions of even more gamer bleeding away, and indeed several on that very thread voluntarily quit RPGnet over the manifesto) desperately trying to claim "no no!! this forum is still welcoming to EVERYBODY! Only that if people don't accept those ideas they won't be welcome to stay".  There's some flagrant Orwellian-doubletalk for you right there.

Oh, and the guy who posted the truth? He got threadbanned.  I'm surprised he didn't just get a general ban, as several others did in the first thread.

So tragedy has evolved into farce now.  Note that when I say "death spiral", I'm not suggesting that rpgnet is going to disappear tomorrow.  It will keep being a thing for a while, some sort of thing, maybe for quite a while.  But its relevance (or rather, it's reward-vs-risk ratio) has already vanished with designers:  in the "what can we do to make things better thread", many of the modclique and their bootlickers expressed shock and anger at Dan Davenport pointing out the factual truth that he has often had RPG-design celebrities turn him down when he was trying to get them  to do interviews on his (great) "#rpgnet-chat IRC channel in the (mistaken) assumption that it was connected to the RPGnet forum (it's not).  It's losing more and more of its regular-gamer audience at an ever faster pace too: the same modclique-and-lickspittles were equally bothered by the suggestion that people are now afraid to post actual-play accounts on the rpg forums for fear of using the wrong word by accident (from a constantly-changing list of words) and getting banned for it.

But they'll still have Tangency. Which is really what they are now.  That will be their rump: the hangout for barely-gaming, ex-gaming or non-gaming Tumblr-Feminists Fashionable-College-Progressives and Twitter Pseudo-activists to have their 'safe space' to create a reality-bubble around.  The only "Rpg" they'll really be involved with is the fantasy-world they've created in that forum where they're perfect and right and wonderful and everyone who disagrees with them even a little are just evil people who don't belong in the hobby (and if you don't like them, personally, or the asshole things they do, it must mean that you "hate" the causes or minorities they claim to represent).

One final sad irony to the Feminist-Re-education-Manifesto Thread: in the early part of the thread, people praise and defend the idea that any demand for 'proof' to back up pseudo-activist claims would be a clear case of "sea-lioning" (a supposed tactic of 'demanding proof' as a rhetorical-weapon of the patriarchy against minorities' personal-anecdotes, which should never actually be questioned or require proof, as a recent Rolling Stone article proved so well..).  Several of the Modclique jumped in about how totally AWFUL "sealioning" is and that it should never be permitted on rpgnet.

A few pages later, one poster responded to claims that everyone on RPGnet gets a fair shake by pointing out how not very long ago, he'd reported several people who were demeaning, downplaying and even attacking a post he made (in a Tangency thread about sexual assault) about his traumatic personal story of being a survivor of male-rape, and how he'd received a notice back from the moderator staff saying that "this mockery was regrettable, but a necessary price to pay to give women the tools they needed to mock and dismiss bad men", and how this directly proved that rpgnet is not a place where 'everyone is welcome' equally, but where they literally reserve special privileges for women that they don't for men; where if his name had been "Roberta" and not "robert" the people attacking his personal anecdote would have been banned, but because he's "robert" they're allowed to carry on with impunity.

The response from the moderators? In fact, from the two instigators of the "Feminist Re-Education" Policy?

Darren McClennan: "Can you please link to the thread where this happened?"

The Wyzard:  "Do you think it would be possible for you to track down some of the statements and stuff you are complaining of, put the links together, and either post them or send them to some member of the mod staff?"
(he also says that while he 'thinks' that this poster hasn't just "hallucinate" it, the mods have no memory or record of such an event)

That's right: THEY FUCKING SEA-LIONED HIM.  In that thread. After several pages of talking about how awful a tactic 'sea-lioning' is.  The mods, not just any mods but the ones who posted the manifesto which included sea-lioning in its list of crimes had the unmitigated hypocrisy to make the first two IMMEDIATE responses (within 15 minutes of his post and both mods' post being one minute after the other) to his story about having had his story of sexual assault minimized and mocked and having the mods tell him nothing would be done about it because of his gender be to demand that he prove it.

So there we are.  The band is playing with the water up to their knees, and plan to play on.

Meanwhile, theRPGsite is getting more new posters than ever.  We've banned less people in the last 9 years than tangency has in the last 9 weeks, you can call the mods wrong to their face (or goat-fuckers, if you really want) without fear of being punished for it, and most importantly, we overwhelmingly spend our time talking about RPGs.  All kinds: OSR stuff, sure, but also 5e D&D, Mutant: Year Zero, the 40K RPGs,  Star Wars d6, the WoD games, we even have a forum for Storygames.

Also, unlike RPGnet, we at theRPGsite don't discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender or gender identity.

So if RPGnet has disappointed you, please come check theRPGsite out!


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia