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Wednesday 31 December 2014

2014: Closing Time

What a fucking year.  Not in the sense of 'what a fucking terrible year it was', nor in the sense of 'man, what a fucking awesome year it was'.  No, neither of those, really.

2014, more than any year I can remember, was both.  It was fucking terrible and fucking awesome.  It seemed like a non-stop roller coaster; nothing that happened was just moderate.  Everything, for me personally, went either amazingly well beyond my expectations, or absolutely awfully.  I could often go hardly a day between moving from some really shitty thing happening to some absolutely spectacular thing happening.  It applied to my work, my family life, my hobbies, the Lodge, friends, finances, the whole shebang.

Looking back, though, I wouldn't pass up any of the good if it would mitigate the bad.  Hunter S. Thompson once said that on his tombstone they would carve "It never got fast enough for me".  I dig that.  Give me the extreme over the boring any day, as long as there's a way for me to make good out of bad. I'll spit out the lukewarm; the Chinese were wrong when they said living in interesting times was a curse.

And we live in maybe the most interesting times the human race has ever seen. We're on the brink of something.  Once upon a time, if people were asked to imagine how life would be like in a hundred years, they would have imagined it would be pretty similar to how it was in the present, and they would have been mostly right.  In the last couple of centuries, people who imagined how life would be like in the future were still imagining things very similar to their own world, and they started to be (increasingly) wrong.
Today, I don't think anyone can honestly hope to imagine with any degree of accuracy how things will be like in even a couple of decades, and I think that's amazing.  It's only going to get faster.

Bring it on, 2015. Whatever you have to offer will be gratefully received and properly directed, to the best of my efforts.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Tuesday 30 December 2014

EveryJoe Tuesday: New Year's Edition

This week, Urbanski asks whether 2015 will have us looking to the Stars, or turning back further toward the Cave?


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Monday 29 December 2014

"Ancient Buddhism": as Invented by Victorians and Ex-Hippies

Unless you are at least moderately involved in meditation, Buddhism, eastern spirituality or the new age, there's probably no chance you've heard that S.N. Goenka has died.  You won't even know who he is.
But there's a good chance he affected your life.  If you have ever "tried" meditation at all, and it wasn't some wacky new-age guided visualization, there's a fairly good chance that it was HIS meditation. If you were ever doing anything related to "mindfulness" whether in a meditation class, as physical therapy, reading a book or article about it, or in a business seminar; if you've ever done "vipassana" meditation at all, it was his vipassana.

And I just about literally mean HIS; in the sense of being invented by him, or rather by his teacher's teacher's teacher and almost single-handedly brought to the west by Goenka.  But this meditation was his and NOT, as you might have believed, invented by The Buddha Himself.  Rather, it was an invention by part of what was called the "Buddhist Modernist" movement in southeast Asia.

Westerners tend to be very naive about Buddhism.  Some of the more educated ones understand that there's more than one type of Buddhism and that these are fairly different; but even then there's this ridiculous assumption that somehow Buddhism doesn't have all the same kinds of problems that you see in western religions. They also assume that, unlike Christianity (which they are often quick to point out does not often seem to follow the original teachings of Jesus), somehow modern Buddhism is (with slight regional variations) the original and direct philosophy and practices of the Buddha that has (at the very least in terms of the central "point") remained pure and intact for 2500 years. The truth is that, as much as any other mainstream religion, 90% of Buddhism has nothing to do with its founder's intentions and everything to do with either serving to prop up local social paradigms (to give spiritual reinforcement to what a certain demographic thinks of as "good" or "how things ought to be") or just as often to serve as a tool for power-groups (priesthoods, governments, and sometimes businesses) to promote their particular agenda.

In the case of "Buddhist Modernism", it arose in the mid-1800s as an attempt to "reform" an Asian tradition that had fallen into profound decline, by infusing it with modern "rational" Western ideas in order to use it as a tool to resist imperialism and compete with Christian missionaries.  It is as much inspired by German Philosophy and wacky western Theosophists than by the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha).  Its not even that it was a "revision" of old meditation techniques. No, because by the 19th century when all this was happening (yes, vipassana meditation is only about 140 years old at best!) there had been no Southeast Asian monks practicing meditation for ages.  Buddhist Monks at that time didn't meditate; they made offerings, prayers, funerals, exorcisms, maintained temples, recited and repeated sutras, gave blessings to people, houses, cows, etc. and generally acted as Priests. So the "meditation" of the Buddha was unknown ,and Goenka's teacher's grand-teacher Ledi Sayadaw had to INVENT "Vipassana" by a combination of trying to engage in guesswork from the old Buddhist scriptures (which no where give clear instruction on just HOW to meditate) and pulling ideas out of his own ass.

The attempt to "restore" meditation to Southeast Asian Buddhism (and likewise, to "erase superstition" from Zen Buddhism in Japan, where the Japanese government literally ordered the Zen Schools to use German Philosophers as their inspiration!) was in order to make it seem less like the "heathen superstition" that the European powers were calling it, and more like a "modern", "rational", "philosophical" and dare I say even "Scientific" system of practice!

In other words, the Buddhism of S. N. Goenka was Victorian Buddhism; invented as an important counter-colonial tool by those Asian states that resisted European influence, they "modernized" their religion in just the same way that they sought to modernize their industry, army, or education system.  (note: this was not unique to Buddhism; something very similar happened with Hinduism in India for the very same reasons; and modern Hatha Yoga (what almost everyone thinks of as "yoga" today) has only existed within living human memory, as in: there are people alive today who are older than what most westerners think of as the "ancient traditional yoga" they do in their trendy studios or the local community hall)

None of this would be such a big deal, except that Goenka (along with a few other "Buddhist Modernist" fans of "rational" Buddhism) brought his techniques to the west, where in the 1960s it was widely embraced by the baby-boomer generation, and increasingly so in the 70s, 80s and 90s.   And it was from this basis, and (falsely) attributing this as the authentic real-deal "teachings of the Buddha" to give it authority, that they created the western Buddhist Consensus paradigm. 

The problem is: the Western Buddhist consensus sucks massive ass.  Partly because of the Victorian sentiments of the main sources of inspiration for that consensus (Reformed Zen and Rationalist Vipassana Theraveda); and of course partially because the Baby Boomers felt that the Universe itself revolved around their Asses and therefore whatever their "values" were must be those of the Buddha.

What we've ended up with, increasingly so over the last 30 years, is a Buddhism that is almost useless.  Its a Buddhism that doesn't talk about Enlightenment, or even Altered Consciousness. It only ever talks about "transformation" in the "self-help" sense of Pop Psychotherapy in terms of being emotionally stable or happy or more effective in business or better at relationships, and never in the sense of the transformation of consciousness into Enlightenment.  It has thrown out a lot of superstition that was probably not very useful, sure, but its also thrown out some of the most basic elements of what made Buddhism work as an initiatory and esoteric system: the authenticity of the Enlightenment experience, Guru-yoga, Devotion; it has even largely downplayed the importance of concentration-states practices (which are the flipside of vipassana's "insight" and utterly essential to actual spiritual progress beyond a certain point; without concentration practice you just end up a go-nowhere meditative midget running around in the same circles over and over again).  It has grotesquely twisted notions about the relationship between meditation and emotions; the Consensus has made it so that western Buddhists aren't supposed to "feel" anything too strongly; they're supposed to smile gently and talk about loving-kindness (never just LOVE, no; its always 'loving-kindness' which is a pathetic weasel-word) but in their eyes a successful Buddhist should never actually feel anything too strongly (that would be "overcoming attachment", if you're a Germano-Buddhist Rationalist philosopher, I guess; it has little to do with anything the Buddha was about).  This has coincidentally led to a lot of would-be Buddhists getting very troubled when they find that they still feel strong emotions in spite of all the (spinning in circles, mostly worthless) vipassana they're doing, and those who don't just quit in frustration often choose to resolve this little inconvenience by a combination of emotional repression and putting on a fake attitude (which in fact is just about the opposite of what one would think to be the point).

To the Consensus Buddhists, "Buddha-nature" means just a general state of do-nothing vaguely-pleasant "niceness"; a softly breathing gently-talking starry-eyed slow-moving human-pandabear that spouts meaningless platitudes and doesn't ever feel very much or do very much.  Its the opposite of the real concept of the Buddha: of the fully-realized human being.  Its so far from the fullness of humanity it isn't even funny.  Shit, its one "Om" away from a coma-victim.

And Goenka (again, along with a few other figures like Suzuki and Thich Naht Hanh) had a lot to do with this.  Almost all the major players in modern Western Consensus Buddhism: people like Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Lama Surya Das, and all the other aging-hippie luminaries, were taught meditation by these guys. They're the ones who've taken over and been allowed to define western concepts of Buddhism, and even of meditation itself, and to define what is proper 'spiritual' behaviour or values; which most often have NOTHING to do with Enlightenment or with Buddhist values, but are rather a rehash of Baby-Boomer values: tolerance, niceness, distrust of authority, rejection of ritual or tradition, egalitarianism to the extreme, social justice and causes, the idea that no one's personal delusions can be criticized, an anti-intellectual bent, a rejection of discussion and debate as "not nice" in favor of the ridiculous idea that all systems and all religions are not just inherently similar but also equally "valid", and the fundamental belief that spirituality is All-About-Me (with the concurrent definition of "spiritual work" as being "working on yourself", and usually borrowing more heavily from modern pop psychology dressed up in eastern drag rather than any authentic eastern (or western) esoteric sources). It is the post-hippie set of values (what Ken Wilber called the "Green Meme", as in "what you're allowed to and expected to believe in if you're a Spiritual Progressive of 20th Century North-america" (be it a progressive Christian, Unitarian Universalist, Pagan/Wiccan, general new age practitioner, or most strains of westernized versions of eastern religion).

Those teachers and schools that did not come from this background of "Buddhist Modernism + Hippie Green Meme" have for the most part been either extremely marginalized, or have been in some way or another brought (or more aptly "bought") into the fold.  The mainstream of Tibetan Buddhists, for example, have undergone a huge transformation from the 70s-era of intense Tantric teachers like Chogyam Trungpa, to a modern-day situation where they grossly downplay Tantric and other authentic practices in favor of selling classes and books that amount to westernized self-help guides full of empty platitudes about "the way to happiness" (usually involving "niceness") and Tibetan art-fairs, without any instruction of substance.  In the case of the Tibetans, this was done largely because it suits the Dalai Lama's political agenda vis-a-vis his public image to win points in his struggle to free Tibet, and because there were Tibetan hardliners that weren't very keen on teaching westerners serious stuff anyways, and because the guys that teach the most serious tantric stuff were not from the Gelug lineage the Dalai Lama belongs to and there's a lot of internal politics and very old rivalries affecting things behind the scenes.  And, frankly, because they realized there was WAY more money to be made, since there were WAY more westerners who wanted to pay for a Tibetan-themed new-age sideshow than there were westerners looking to do a lot of hard work in spiritual practice.

All this has had an effect beyond Buddhism's borders into all areas "alternative religion" in general.

There is, just now in the last decade, a counter-movement finally starting to emerge both within and without Buddhism, mostly spurred by the post-babyboomer generations that have come to feel that the vapid "niceness" of the Western Esoteric Consensus is shit.  They want something more profound than that, and are willing to break the back of the enormous Consensus-machine to get it, with just as much determination as the baby-boomers themselves once had to break free of the paradigm the generation before them had expected them to buy into.  It remains to be seen to what extent they might succeed.

Now, I'm not saying Goenka was a bad guy; or even that Buddhist Modernism was bad; or even that everything about the Baby-boomer Green Meme was bad.  Goenka introduced millions of people to meditation, however limited his system might have been, and however much it might have been further warped by the Hippie bullshit; there's still probably a tremendous amount of good that came of it (shit, his writings were among the very first things I ever read on the subject of meditation, for which I'm grateful).  Buddhist Modernism revived a dedication to meditation and stripped out a large amount (thousands of years worth) of superstitious and folkloric accumulated detritus from Asian Buddhism that had largely distorted it from the original purpose (though again, in turn it distorted it into a different direction).  The Baby-boomers freed western culture from a shitload of uptight repression and tradition and instilled many new values that no one could reasonably argue aren't incredibly worthwhile. 

Its just that, like anything else, in fact like the Buddha himself warned when he said (2500 years ago) that the authenticity of his teaching would last for about 500 years, and after that people should look elsewhere for Truth: the point gets distorted over time.  Paradigms tend to rot if left on top of the heap for too long.  And the sheer demographic push of the Baby-boomers has made their paradigm sit out in the sun for 20 years past its due-date. 

Goenka was an amazing man.  Few people make that much of an impact on the world, the kind of impact that can't be achieved by military or political or even economic power, but only by the power of ideas.  And he did it with a sincere effort to do good.  He was 90 years old when he died, and there's hardly a meditation practitioner alive, at least in the west, whom (whether they knew it or not) Goenka hadn't been influencing for their entire lives. But I kind of hope that with his passing, with the realization of his impermanence, we might finally get to see the impermanence of the notions that have come to be attached to the paradigm he helped greatly to impose on western alternative spirituality (and not just buddhism); and get some badly-needed reformation.  I sure as hell hope we won't have to wait another four decades until we've finally seen the last of the baby boomers' stranglehold on western Buddhism.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

(originally posted October 1st, 2013)

Sunday 28 December 2014

In Old-School, is Charisma a "dump stat"?

I mean obviously, in a "REAL" (all in capitals) Old-School game it wouldn't technically matter, because you roll 3d6 all in order with no switching around.  But assuming we stop the fantasy-fucking-vietnam dick-waving for a second, or even if we don't, the question still stands.

Should, for example, someone who rolls 3d6-in-order and ends up rolling an 18 in Charisma have cause to rejoice, or should he bemoan his bad luck that it wasn't in Dexterity or Constitution?

I think, for my part, that people who run the type of game where the CHA 18 guy has reason to feel upset for the CHA 18 itself (not, say, because he really would have liked the 18 in INT so he could be a better wizard, but because he feels the 18 is "wasted" in CHA) are objectively doing it wrong.

Let's start from this perspective: those are the six ability scores. Charisma is in there. We must assume it is equally important (not necessarily equally in all situations but equally overall) to every other ability score.

If you're running the type of game where CHA doesn't matter enough for it to matter as an ability score (compared to the others), why the fuck are you keeping it?

In fact, as in life, CHA is generally the most important stat for getting ahead. More than INT, more than WIS, definitely more than STR.  CON at least protects you from dying of an infection or something, so it gets an important plus there (you can't conquer the world with CHA if you're dead from massive infection).

But an old-school GM should be using CHA for all kinds of reaction-situations.  Leading retainers/henchmen obviously, but it should be the stat the GM looks at in any social situation to see whether people take you seriously or not.  Of course, other factors like social class can still matter a lot, but within your equal social strata, it is Charisma which will determine whether you do well: the pretty boy with the smile is more likely to get a second chance, or given the chance to talk first.   It should affect how you deal with supernatural creatures, for that matter, and not just with the old canard of attracting succubi.
It should make you the party leader (again, things like social status aside) whether the rest of the party wants that or not; other people will see you as the most important person of the party (again, within the boundaries of the credible; if you're a 2nd level thief and the party has a 19th level world-famous wizard; he'll probably be seen as the most important person of the party, but then you'll be seen as the adorable youngster of the group and quickly develop a huge fan following).

It is a sign of the failure of thinking of some GMs (propelled, I suspect in some cases, by a common Nerd-belief in 'personality not being so important', and the utter fallacy that intelligence 'should be' more important than how good at making an impression you are) that people would think of CHA as a dump stat in old-school play.  Of all the PC's ability scores, if he's only going to know one himself to keep in mind, that should be it. And it should be coming up as relevant in far more situations than almost anything else.  Even in the common dungeon crawl it should be important, and if you get out of the dungeon and into anywhere there's people who can be talked to or social situations of any kind, it should be paramount.

And note one more thing: it doesn't need any kind of idiotic 'social combat' mechanics. It may not even need to be rolled; though I think stuff like retainer loyalty checks (modified by CHA) or reaction rolls (again, modified by CHA) can be helpful guidelines for the GM as to how people or creatures react to a player's roleplay.  What Charisma should do is act as the lens through which the GM interprets the response to the Player's roleplay.  A stupid idea or a really bad judgement of character (trying to bribe a guy who is unimpeachably honest, for example) should still fail, whether you have CHA 3 or CHA 18 (and no roll should ever save you from that, which is why new-school 'social combat mechanics' are bullshit); but the guy with CHA 3 should be beaten and sent to prison, while the guy with CHA 18 should be sternly upbraided and given a chance to explain his reasons for doing something so awful.

In my games, particularly Dark Albion: The Rose War, the players have quickly come to know the value of Charisma.  And if you, oh theoretical OSR GM reading this diatribe, have been thinking of Cha as a dump stat until now, try to reconsider and understand just how great a gaming resource/element you're wasting by ignoring it.


Currently Smoking:  Castello 4k Canadian + Image Latakia

Saturday 27 December 2014

Is the OSR "hostile to self publishers?"

A few days ago, I reposted the review of John Berry's (very good) "Hulks & Horrors RPG".

Yesterday, I hear that Berry has announced his retirement from RPG writing.
(also, he's in Finland, apparently. What is it with non-Finnish-sounding RPG writing guys living in Finland??)

Among the reasons he cited for Quitting Forever was that "the OSR community had become increasingly hostile to self- and public-funded works like mine".

Do you think that's true?  Is the success of the OSR and the rise in fancy, more professional OSR products actually meaning that the very small-press guy (the guy without huge design skills, who can't make a slick product with awesome art) just isn't wanted anymore?

I'm not really convinced; I DO think that there's been a kind of rise in "standards" that I could see as being problematic for some publishers.  With people used to stuff like DCC's core book, or just about anything LotFP does, with insane production values, there can be a de-valuing of an otherwise excellent game with lesser quality production.  At the same time though, I think RIGHT NOW at least, the OSR is still quite happy to support someone who makes a good product even if its look is kind of simple.

But more importantly, I don't get why it matters.  To Berry, I mean.  Sure, I could get why it would be a reason not to be a FULL-TIME game designer (that's a crazy pipe dream, for the most part; though if you're lucky you can end up making game design an important PART of your income); but to quit writing RPGs forever?

Look, all I know is, if at this point no one wanted to buy what I was selling, if there was no viability to it, then I'd STILL be writing RPGs.  I'd still be trying to share it.  Hell, Dark Albion: The Rose War didn't find a publisher for like three years, until it did.   What did I do? I put part of it on theRPGsite for free.  I didn't just quit. And now, tons of people say they're interested in buying the much larger and expanded edition of this OSR setting book, which has got an awesome publisher in Dominique Crouzet.

But even if that hadn't happened, I would still keep doing my stuff.  Because it's in my blood.  I can't not do it.

I have trouble thinking the guy who wrote Hulks & Horrors doesn't feel that same way too.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Burlington's Lapis

Friday 26 December 2014

DCC Campaign Archive: "Kill it with Fire!"

In today's adventure the PCs learned that:

-You can't really take a year off if your Ice Dome has no power.

-Even once the power is back on, you can't really take a year off if the dome has no food.

-Elven Domes have a very sophisticated food-maker technology that, in essence, means Elves spend most of their lives eating their own shit.

-Apparently, that's ok because Elves poop rainbows... at least, according to the party's resident elves.

-You can use "Mending" to fix a processor unit, but you can't use it to just manifest the vital radioactive isotope that makes the unit process.

-Ultimately, you just can't take a year off.

-When trying to find a rare radioactive isotope, the first place the party can think of checking is the Tower of the Azure Order.

-As usual, whenever you visit the Azure Order, there's a crisis of epic proportions going on and they want to send you on a suicide quest.

-In this case, this quest involves assisting a succubus and a band of dwarves to rescue an azure wizard from the Dark Ones, whose 'brain eater' servants have kidnapped and taken to one of the outer modules of the (fallen) ancient Dwarven Machineholds. The urgency is because when the sky-rocks are aligned, the sacrifice of this particular young wizard will allow the Dark Ones to at long last extinguish the Last Sun.

-Dwarves come in packs of 12.  This particular band is led by Prince Snort, Son of Schwartz, who (like all dwarf bands ever) have as their goal to reclaim their lost homeland.

-The Azure Order does not usually team-up with a blonde bombshell Succubus named "Hot Gams", but stopping the Last Sun from being put out makes for strange bedfellows.

-Hot Gams will give you the time of your life, unfortunately it will also be the last time of your life; or as the tribal mutants like to put it, "Death by Snoo-Snoo".

-You have to go through all kinds of bullshit just to get to the Dwarven Machinehold.

-For starters, you have to go to a place called the Forest of Worms, which is not named after some german village. No, as expected, it's called that because it's a forest full of giant worms.

-When you get past the worm caves, then you have to go through the cave of webs.

-You'd expect the cave of webs to be filled with giant spiders, but it isn't.  Unfortunately, that's because it's only full of one Really Giant Spider that ate all the other spiders.

-The Dwarven response to a giant giant spider is "kill it with fire!"

-When choosing whether to go down through the "Cave of Plague Beasts" or near the "City of the Pale Elves", the latter sounds more palatable.

-Apparently, the pale elves are a race of evil Chaos-worshiping underground elves with incredibly pale skin and a seriously misogynistic culture.

-Pale elves use dart guns with a toxic ooze even medi-bots can't heal.

-The Dwarven response to pale elf guards is "kill them with fire!"

-Pale elves can end up being a problem that solves itself, if a pale elf wizard summons a terrible giant ice frog and then dies the very next round, leaving the frog to run amok amongst the remaining elves.

-When faced with a poison ooze a medibot can't heal, it's time to call on the Lord of All Flesh.

-If you have a dying team-mate, the Lord of All Flesh will lie to you about what you need to do to draw out the poison for comedic/erotic effect.

-People with a lot of secrets should probably be careful to know that Succubi read minds.  They should be particularly careful if they had specifically put on Bras of Femininity for no other reason than to avoid being seduced and killed by a succubus.

-if there's one thing a succubus can't stand, it's female impersonators who act like bimbos.

-The Dwarven Machinehold is a sophisticated labyrinthine complex of rooms, corridors and great halls; none of which the ancient Dwarves ever bothered to make a map about, because they all knew where everything was anyways and would almost never get visitors.

-There are two things you need to know about brain-eaters: the first is that they eat brains. The second is that the Dwarven response to them is "Kill it with fire!"

-In fact, the Dwarven response to just about any kind of hostile entity, small or large, is to loudly declare that said entity must be killed, ideally with fire.

-You actually also need to know one more thing about brain-eaters: they have a massive psychic blast attack that will routinely kill half the party every time it's used.

-The absurdity of there being any chance of a group of 12 dwarves managing to take back a lost Dwarven homeland after ten millennia of occupation by lovecraftian monstrosities only becomes slightly more absurd when there are but 6 Dwarves left.

-If by scrying and divination, the team's succubus finds out that the Dark Ones are to the South and East of here, everyone agrees the best plan of action is to go West, and North.

-A second encounter with a brain-eater will still kill half your party, even if you only had half a party left.

-one way to avoid potential blackmail scenarios from Psychic Succubi is if said succubi get their brain eaten in legitimate combat for the purpose of World-saving and Dwarven Repatriation.

-At this point even Prince Snort's two remaining dwarven subjects think it seems pretty unlikely that they'll be able to liberate a vast dwarf-hold from the Brain Eaters and Dark Ones who presently infest it.

-That doesn't stop his determination to do it, or die trying. Almost certainly the latter.

-The Brain Eaters apparently have no need of the old and spartan dwarf living-quarters, so they've allowed it to be overrun by Insect Men.

-Insect men are, fortunately, a lot easier to kill than Brain Eaters, so the party decides that this is a good place to hold up, with only 6 out of 16 members left alive.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti half-volcano + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Thursday 25 December 2014

My Christmas Day Off

So yesterday, as I'd described it beforehand in this week's EveryJoe article, I went up to the roof-patio of The Abbey and  the Wench and I saw a truly spectacular fireworks display, 360 degrees around us, as the entire city lit up in an orgy of blowing up bits of sky in honor of the festive season.

Today, we're going to go eat curry and watch the Doctor Who Christmas special.

Merry Christmas.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Image Perique

Wednesday 24 December 2014

RPGpundit Reviews: Hulks & Horrors (Basic Black Edition)

This is a review of the RPG "Hulks & Horrors", an OSR sci-fi RPG.   It is a review of the print "basic black edition", which comes as a roughly 150-page paperback with no art but jam-packed with information. Its very bare-bones in terms of presentation and layout.  One person who saw it (who shall remain nameless because she doesn't want to be quoted as being "mean") said on looking at it that she understands its "basic black" but it was the worst cover she'd ever seen. Seeing the cover, she said, wouldn't motivate her to take it off the shelf.  We agreed that the cover was an attempt at an homage at 80s video-games. 
The game is published by Bedroom Wall Press, written by John S. Berry III.

The King of Old School Sci-fi is Traveller.  The King of OSR sci-fi is Stars Without Number.  Can Hulks & Horrors compete with these two giants? Can it produce something either good enough and/or different enough to make it worthwhile?  That's what I've set to find out.

The premise starts out well enough; its also an interesting thought as to why we've been sending out signals and messages and looking all over the place for signs of intelligent life out there for nearly a century now and so far come up bust.  In the game's default setting concept, by the time humanity develops interstellar travel, they find that the galaxy had once had a vast interstellar civilization but that virtually all of the species of this once-vast stellar community (almost all intelligent species in the galaxy) were wiped out by a disaster that spread across the stars.  Only those few species who had been out on the primitive fringes (like our own), and who had still been too primitive to even be bothered with, managed to survive.  And now humans and a handful of other races have gotten to the point of moving out into the stars, only to find said stars filled with dead worlds, the ruins of civilizations wiped out, the dead hulks of starships floating in the depths, and occasional mutated horrors and monstrosities left behind in the post-apocalyptic aftermath.
Like I said, not a bad start.

Someone else who got a look at it pointed out that the author could really have used an editor; there's bad punctuation and long run-on sentences in the text, a severe abundance of improper use of commas, etc.  However, said person is a grammar expert; for me, I would say when I saw it myself that the book's text was not much worse than the average game book without the benefit of professional editing. Aside from the lack of art, I think that some of the layout was a bit clumsy, and some of the tables a bit difficult to read.  These, to me, are mostly nitpicks; but if appearance, grammar, run-on or otherwise problematic sentences, or the abuse of commas is the sort of thing that drives you nuts, you might have a bit of trouble with this work.

Now, let's get a look at the system: H&H is based on old-school D&D.  The game contains rules for playing only up to 6th level, though it isn't hard to extrapolate beyond that.  Most features of the rules will be very easily recognizable to players of D&D, and as a great deal of the default adventuring-model has to do with exploring ruins of dead civilizations, and ruined spaceships, the basic form of adventures are themselves set up to mimic D&D.  This is already a significant difference from Stars Without Number, where while the rules are D&D-based, the adventuring model is largely Traveller-based.  This difference might make H&H more appealing to some, or perhaps less to others.

Ability scores are generated on 3d6, in order. Attributes can be "checked" on a simple D20 roll-under basis. There are human classes, and racial classes. The human classes are Pilot, Scientist, Soldier, and Psyker.
The alien racial classes are quite interesting: you have a Hovering Squid (which The Wench found particularly appealing; having always wanted to play a squid-like creature in an RPG), a giant sentient Amoeba called an "Omega Reticulan", and a Bearman.

None of the classes are just straightforward translations from D&D (though I guess soldier and fighter are pretty close to each other) but each have the familiar niche protection. Pilots get to make special maneuvers, they're fairly good at ranged combat, they get a very slight bonus to INT checks with computers.  Scientist was a class I found kind of cheesy; they have a "multi-tool" that can perform specific programs, but only have limited charges.  They get more charges and can use more programs as they go up in level; meaning that Scientists can use "Science" the way magic-users use spells in D&D.  I don't really know if that was the best way to handle this class; it seems fairly arbitrary.

Soldiers get bonuses to hit and damage, to perception checks related to combat scenarios, and weapon proficiencies. And curiously, the Psyker, rather than being a magic-user equivalent, has straightforward "psi points".

Regarding the non-humans: the squids have multiple attacks, can't be surprised (they have multi-direcitonal awareness), can entangle opponents and sense non-organic life.  the Amoebas can use Science in the same way as a scientist, can pilot like a pilot, can carry heavy weapons, and have a type of exosuit that lets them survive in extreme environments.   And the Bearmen have some Psyker powers, gets barbarian (or should that be Barbearian? or Bearbarian?) rage, have natural weapons and AC bonus, and can detect un-natural creatures.

The list of both "science powers" and psychic powers are relatively small; there are 3 levels of science powers (again, in the same style as spells); each level has an average of a half-dozen powers.  Psychic powers have no levels, and there's a list of 13 of them to choose from.

There's a small but decent equipment list, of low and high tech weapons and armor; AC is descending in this game.  There are grenades, environmental protective devices (things like gas masks, climbing gear, parachutes, etc), power sources, drugs, computerized devices, general equipment, and a list of goods and services (for things like costs of meals, berths on ships, robot transport/carriers, hovercars, or hired henchmen/mercenaries).

Lest we think this game is for pure mindless dungeon-crawling (or starship-hulk-crawling, as the case may be), we get a few pages on rounding out your character; recommending that you choose a good name (with some guidelines on how to make alien names), detail your background, and choose languages (with a list of the standard languages available). This section does, however, have a little too much information about Female Bearman nipples. No, seriously; in the "appearance" section the author goes into great detail on alien race appearances, but this takes a definitively weird turn when he feels a need to mention the prominently protruding six nipples of the pregnant "female bearman" (note: "female bearman", not "bearwoman"; I suppose that's technically correct inasmuch as "bearman" could be correct in the first place, but it still sounds awkward).

There are a few important tweaks to the typical Old-school rules, variations from the D&D norm.  Saving throws are not handled in either the standard "save vs. paralysis" type of separate checks; nor in the form of reflex/will/fortitude 3e-style bonuses.  Instead, they are handled by standard roll-under attribute checks, for Dex, Con or Wisdom, essentially streamlining the ref/fort/will concept.

Also significant is that attack rolls are also roll-under; with characters scoring a hit if they roll less than the sum of the 5 + PC's attack bonus, plus opponent's AC, plus theoretical modifiers. A 20 is always a miss, and a 1 always a hit. 
There's nothing inherently wrong with this; but of course, this might not sit well with some D&D-fans; it feels counter-intuitive.  For whatever reason, celebrating a 1 and bemoaning a 20 does not seem as right as doing the opposite.

There's the standard list of how to handle conditions for different sorts of hazards, but adapted to a sci-fi setting: there's things like fires, falling, or disease, but also stuff like handling vacuum, gravity, weird atmospheres, etc.

There's some very complete, somewhat traveller-esque rules for creating starships and starship combat.  The starship-build rules are very step-by-step, which is of course immensely appealing to some, though I've never personally cared for that sort of thing myself.  Thankfully there's a small list of sample starships provided.

Next up you get a very detailed chapter on adventuring, starting with a setup for how to handle the bureaucracy of space exploration, and then a large section on generating star systems and planets, with plenty of random tables. The tables aren't exactly hard sci-fi, but they also aren't particularly wild and gonzo; just what you might term classic sci-fi.
The subsequent chapter details similar rules and random tables for creating both ruins on-planet and spaceship wrecks, to explore.  Both operate as substitute for dungeons.  Wrecked starships obviously function along similar lines to dungeons; as do some of the ruins (like the conveniently constructed "pod colonies"; one common type of ruin from a common interstellar civilization whose preferred style of architecture was towns of domed "pod" structures with interconnecting tunnels).  Aside from those there's also guidelines for space stations, underground bases, spaceship hulks, and urban ruins.  There's also additional material for generating hazards, loot, weapons, armour, other valuables, and technological wonders. 

The monsters chapter provides some basic guidelines on creating monstrous creatures, and some very good random tables for different types of locations. Then you get a list of about 40 pre-made monsters; and this is one of the treasures of the book; they have a great sci-fi aesthetic, clever names and descriptions, and I could see them being generally used in other OSR games besides this one.

The section on dungeon mastering, at the end, provides some guidelines for general management of the game. It includes some sound advice about how to handle the random tables for generating the various "dungeon-type" scenarios, a good reminder to GMs not to set out to be trying to impose a gm-run story on the game, and context for the game stating that it is solidly situated in the "soft sci-fi" end of the SF spectrum (and thus that there shouldn't be too much concern placed on technical or scientific accuracy. You also get guidelines on running NPCs and handling monsters, as well as the rules on how to give out experience points. Finally, some optional rules-modifications are provided, including alternate methods of generating ability scores, how to continue play past 6th level if you so choose, how to use stats above 20, an option to give extra hp to characters for a less-lethal game, and an optional "Redshirt" class (to be taken by PCs who were generated without ability scores that wouldn't meet any of the stat requirements for any of the classes: the Redshirt can advance as a red-shirt gaining a +1 to an ability score each level until such time as they qualify for the minimum required ability in a regular class, at which time they have the option to switch to that class).

The back pages have a character sheet, ship design sheet, sector design sheet, and star-system design sheet.

So what to conclude about Hulks & Horrors?  Its a very different game from Stars Without Number, to be sure (and I suspect, also will be different, though perhaps closer to, Machinations of the Space Princess, the other OSR sci-fi game I'll be reviewing shortly).  It certainly has a lot less Traveller in it.  In some ways, it sticks more closely to some of the strictures of the D&D-mechanic, occasionally to its detriment.  SWN is also better-produced.

But, that said, H&H does have a wealth of very interesting material that you could use in any OSR sci-fi game (or indeed, sci-fantasy, or any standard game that you wanted to add some sci-fi weirdness to).  I think its a bit of flawed gem: some very good material (the world generation and ruins/hulk generation stuff is very good and quite emulative to what the author set out to do), and then some stuff that isn't quite to my liking at least (scientists having 'vancian science spells' for example), and its all wrapped up in a package that would probably beg for a slightly more professional revised edition.

Pick it up if you're an OSR completeist, if you really want a sci-fi game that's a touch more gonzo than SWN (without going into the full-bore gonzo of Machinations of the Space Princess), or if you're looking for sci-fi material to cannibalize for your other OSR games.


Currently smoking: Castello 4k collection Canadian + Image Latakia

(originally posted September 28, 2013)

Tuesday 23 December 2014

EveryJoe Tuesday: Urbanski Saves Christmas

Yes, my article for EveryJoe this week is a Christmas article.

Who else but Nixon could go to China?

Who else but the RPGPundit could possibly cut through all the bullshit of the "war on Christmas" and bring everyone together under one common cause we can all agree on: blowing shit up!

Check it out please, and reshare it everywhere you want! Thanks.


Monday 22 December 2014

A Day to Remember, and Advice for WoTC's Success

So yesterday, I actually used the 5e DMG for the first time.

No, not to run 5e D&D.  I used it for my DCC game.  It was only a very short use, making reference to a couple of random tables, but it will no doubt be the first of many applications in that campaign and others.

So this was worth noting, I think, because it makes a point as to how WoTC should conduct itself from here on in.

I think, if they really want to do well within the RPG market, then part of the trick will be to keep making products that will work in this same way: books that have material that can be used even by people who will not be playing 5e.  The worst thing they can do is a bunch of 5e-specific "splatbooks" full of rules and powers and other stuff that would only be applicable to people actually playing 5e, and even then only to that subset that are constantly obsessed with getting new mechanical stuff.

The best thing they can do is adventures, settings, world-books, campaign sets, and material that supplements not the side of powering-up player characters but of giving the GM resources.  And present that material in such a way that is of course directly useful to the 5e DM, but also easily usable by people playing other games.  Like, oh say, Pathfinder.  Or DCC, or old-school editions, or GURPS Fantasy for that matter.

Make books everyone is going to want to cannibalize for their fantasy games regardless of what system they're using.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

Sunday 21 December 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

In this week's adventure, the penultimate one of this campaign, we moved up to the year 1947, and the PCs were coming to grips with the fact that the golden age of mystery men was effectively over.  Some PCs were making plans for the future that involved retiring as Mystery Men (or, at least in one case, going over to be the national hero of the future state of Israel).   But their adventures weren't quite over yet, as through a message from the now-hospitalized Starman, the PCs came to discover that an alien ship was on a collision-course with Earth.  It would land (or rather, crash-land) in a little town called Roswell.

The PCs went to investigate, and there they ran into these guys:

That's right, the Dominators! Evil alien overlords of half the known galaxy!

Naturally, the PCs killed them all right away.  That didn't actually solve much of anything, because as it happened this was an escape pod that had fled a massive space battle not far from our solar-system, and the PCs then found out that there was a massive heavily-armed stellar Warship full of a warrior-race known as the Khunds, who were coming to rescue their masters.

They ended up in Area 51, where they got a bit of help in figuring out alien tech from a brilliant young scientist, by the name of Professor Walter Haley:

He in turn was very impressed by the Mystery Men, and started to consider a change of career.  Not to one of wearing a domino-mask and fighting mobsters, mind you, but of exploration and adventure of a new sort, stepping forward to "Challenge" the "Unkown".  In many ways, marking the future kind of hero that would arise in the 1950s, in between the generations of super-heroes.


Currently Smoking: Castello Fiamma + Image Perique

Saturday 20 December 2014

RPGPundit (mini-)Reviews: D&D 5e Dungeon Master's Guide

This is a short review of the 5e DMG, which I received for having worked as a consultant on the D&D project.  As with the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual before it, I think I can give a fair perspective on the DMG in spite of having been involved in the creation of the 5th edition.

The 5e Dungeon Master's Guide is a very nice hardcover book with full color cover and interior illustrations.  Published by Wizards of the Coast, with a team of writers and designers.  The cover features a fearsome Archlich, a good villain for representing the duties of the DM (to provide challenges and world-details).

So as with the Monster Manual, one of the big questions I'd really like to address here is just how does this DMG stack up against the various previous ones?  Though really, there's only one worth comparing it to, the DMG to define all others: the original 1e AD&D DMG.

I would say, from my point of view, that while the 5e DMG still doesn't manage to out-do the original Gygax DMG, it comes closer than any of the other editions ever did.

So, I think that I might have to go into more detail about many of the various parts of the DMG and my opinions on those parts in other blog entries.  But for now, what I will say is that the reason I think this DMG in particular is so good is because it shares with the 5e monster manual the quality of being 'street legal'; the sections that are purely theoretical are overshadowed by the large amount of material that is user-friendly and instantly playable.

There's sections that are clearly made to serve novice DMs, and of course that's great and useful, because we hope that a lot of first-time DMs will be using this book.  But rather than linger on some kind of tutorial, it gets right into the action lof providing quick assistance to DMs (novice and experienced) with material they can use in a rapid and practical way. Random tables, always a favorite of mine, abound.  And in some extremely interesting manifestations never seen before in a DMG: event tables, random adventure generation tables, random villain tables, wilderness feature tables, random settlement tables; as well as a few that have been around before, like random NPC tables, dungeon generation tables or urban encounters.   You have all the sort of things you need if you want to run oldschool-style play.  The book drips with immediately usable material.

The book is also (wisely) set up in such a way that it is useful in many respects for any type of D&D-style game, not just 5e in particular.  While there's obviously a lot of stuff specific to 5e, rules (and optional rules), so much of the world-building material is usable for pretty well any edition of D&D (or Pathfinder, or non-D&D fantasy games for that matter).

The organization is fairly impeccable too, and we see some innovations in the book that really should have been set up this way all along.  For example, for the first time the planes (in their traditional D&D cosmology) are detailed IN the DMG, rather than in a planar book (though obviously some planar adventure series or setting book could be made to expand the material).  There's also a whole section of optional rules made to modify the game to fit the type of campaign you want; and these are done quite well.  In respect of utility and organization, there are moments where you can even dare to speak the heresy that the 5e DMG outdoes the AD&D equivalent.

But there are, of course, areas where it does not. This DMG is far from perfect (none was, mind you not even the 1e DMG).  There are things the Gygax DMG offers that the 5e DMG does not.  Actual random encounter tables by terrain (there is one, a 'sample' one, in the 5e DMG, but that's it), for example.  But probably the biggest flaw to my first view is in the way treasure is handled.  In the book, the treasure tables are completely geared to "challenge rating", the worst possible scenario. There's no consideration given to the type of monster, whether they're animals, intelligent, undead; in other words whether they would be naturally treasure-hording or not (or what types of treasures they'd have).  And of course it means that you remove the sandbox-element of having a low-level monster that just happens to have a priceless gem or powerful artifact, or a big-time foe with little more than a few coppers.

There's a lot more I could add, in either direction, but on the whole way more positive than negative.  I'll say that if you're old-school, in spite of the few hiccups, on the whole you'll be likely to find the DMG extremely satisfying.  If you're running something other than 5e, but still fantasy, you are likely to find this book useful even so.  And of course, if you are running 5e... this book is NOT indispensible.

That last bit is the stunning twist at the end. Something worth not forgetting.  This is the first time in the history of the D&D game where the DMG is strictly optional (as indeed, ALL 3 main books are). It represents a radical shift in conception, and I think it is likely that it informed the design of the book.  If anyone can just download the Basic PDF and play the official core (uncrippled, fully usable) D&D, then that means a couple of things: first that you have to make a DMG that does not have a format of "obligatory" material, of stuff that you have to know or use to even play.  Second, I think that a lot of the awesomeness of the 5e DMG is specifically BECAUSE of that; since it was not having to be about obligatory-rules, this edition of the DMG was 'freed' to be way more about inspiration.

Finally, that's the term: inspiration.  There have been 4 official D&D DMGs now (4e doesn't count, I declare Damnatio Memoria on the whole thing), plus several other DMG-like books for related games/editions.  Some have been good, some have been bad, some technically well-designed, some badly disordered, some have been boring, most have been 'usable' without doing anything really awesome.
But of all of these books, there are only two that I would immediately and unequivocably classify as "inspiring": the Gygax 1e DMG, and this book right here.

That just about says it all when it comes to whether you should get it.


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

Friday 19 December 2014

The RPGPundit Interviews: James Desborough

I've never done an interview, in all the years that I've been blogging. I've been given lots of interviews by others, but never really bothered to do one myself.  But I figured if anything would draw a lot of attention it would be if the RPGPundit (a fairly controversial figure in the RPG world, I'll admit) were to interview James Desborough, perhaps an even more controversial figure.

I wanted to have the chance to talk with James because he's a vexing figure for me.  It sometimes annoys me to find myself having to defend the guy.  I can't decide whether he simply doesn't realize what he's doing, the way he consistent courts controversy by opening his mouth and saying things the worst way possible about some of the worst things possible, or if he's doing it all on purpose because he revels in controversy.  Either way, it proves to be a challenge in the realm of "with friends like these.."; though I recognize the irony that for other, far more moderate figures in the RPG world, they might feel similarly about me.

So let's get started and see where this led us:

Q: Ok, first question: could you describe your game designer credentials to us in about a paragraph?

A: Well, let's see... I've been roleplaying since about the age of eight or nine and making up my own material for almost as long. I've written for Wizards of the Coast, Cubicle 7, Steve Jackson Games, Mongoose Publishing and a bunch of smaller companies like LPJ Design. I've written for or created a good number of systems from 3rd and 4th Edition D&D to FATE, from OSR to Indie and now I'm creative director at Chronicle City. I've been writing and designing professionally for about thirteen years now - starting with The Munchkin's Guide to Powergaming.

Q: You have something a reputation in certain circles for somehow exemplifying all that they think is wrong with the RPG hobby.  Do you have any response for that?

A: I think that's true of both of us for different reasons and I consider my most vocal critics, themselves, to exemplify a lot of what is wrong with the hobby. Plenty of blame to go around everyone with the important difference that I don't try to dictate what other people make or do or what - and how - they play. I think I'm just a convenient bugbear who made the mistake of answering back and explaining himself. High crimes indeed. It's getting to the point where nobody is safe from the kinds of criticism I've been in for. White Wolf - at one time considered painfully progressive and right-on have taken a beating and even beloved figures of the hobby aren't immune, as the fuss over Numenara shows. I think there's room for diverse opinions and games in the hobby and if you don't like what's available, add to what is, don't take away from what is.

I also think they're, largely, wrong about me.

Q: I think, however, that the people who think I exemplify everything wrong about the hobby have issues with my ideology (or with the aggressiveness of how I pursue my defense of regular RPGs).  I'm no stranger to being slandered by ridiculous claims about my games or beliefs, but I'm generally not painted as a pervert. 
Would you like to share about how you think they're wrong about you?  Just what did they get wrong?

A: Well, for starters I don't think there's anything wrong in being a 'pervert', as in enjoying sex, sexual themes, sexual humour, pretty girls (or boys) or any of the rest of it. The kind of people who criticise me will celebrate sex in some circumstances while decrying it in others. Which strikes me as a deep hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance. So, yes, I like boobies, if that makes me a pervert your bar is set ridiculously low. It's not like even the majority of my work is lashed to the mast of erotica, sex and so forth anyway.

There's also a certain amount of failure to parse satire and humour and to, apparently,  powerfully resent not getting the joke and to presume you're calling it a joke simply to escape righteous retribution. Which simply isn't true. The picture painted is of some aggressive pervert out to demean women - they even started spreading a rumour that I had, personally, raped someone this last round of vitriol. The truth is I like sex and sexual themes, I hope to tackle them with a more serious bent in the future rather than humour (humour is what makes it safe to most mid-upper tier companies). I support what I consider genuine equality, I support diversity, I agree we need more people in the hobby (though I disagree with their assessment) but I like what I like and that - by and large - is what I'm going to make.

So tough.

If people don't like what they see, I suggest they make the things they do want to see. I see you doing that and I see people like Machine Age doing that but a lot of people seem to prefer to tear down people who actually make things, rather than do it themselves. Given the low bar to entry when it comes to publishing now, the mind boggles.

Q: So playing devil's advocate, do you think there isn't anything different about your work that makes you a bigger target?

A: I think it's more to do with my attitude and opposition to censorship than with my work per se. After all, it was the blog post defending the use of rape (and other horrible circumstances) in fiction that set them off, rather than my actual work before that 'incident'. I think Raggi - of Lamentations of the Flame Princess - deliberately plays up to it and encourages it, more power to him for that. I just make what I make.

Q: Regarding "attitude", I agree that James Raggi does "play up to it" and encourage his critics; though he seems to do it in a pretty smart way, enraging his opponents while garnering support from the OSR base.  Now, continuing to play the part of the "tough interviewer", I've noted that your posts in places like Google+ seem to often be intentionally seeking out controversy as well, though I don't think in quite as focused a way as Raggi does. He makes a point of being controversial about his game, while you tend to be controversial in your posts in general. Do you really think this is helping things?

A: It finds me. I don't seek it out. I see something that I find interesting or annoying and I speak up about it.
I think it does help to have a (hopefully) intelligent, considered, countering voice.

Q:  I don't think that's true.  Just in the last few days on your G+ feed you posted: A link to an article defending Richard Dawkin's statement that "mild pedophilia" he experienced as a child "didn't do him any lasting harm"; a link to your blog defending DC's recent "draw Harley Quinn trying to kill herself" contest; a link to the "Social justice league" cartoon; another blog entry of yours where you defend the PAX/Penny Arcade guys from the recent pseudo-activist crusade against them; a critique of the "Atheism+" movement; a post where you call kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro's suicide "a tragedy"; a post where you say you're "encouraged" by the recent backlash against the "social justice extremists"; a poem making fun of the obese (with picture of a "jolly" looking obese black man); and a link to an atheism blog of yours where you decry having been banned from certain forums and defend the use of the term "fucking cunt".  I'm not specifically attacking or defending any of these particular examples (all from the last 12 days of your G+ feed, by the way, as of the time of this interview); but I think that its pretty obvious that in some way you are "seeking it out" by intentionally and regularly courting controversy, not just within the realm of RPGs but all but going out and looking for the most outrageous things you can possibly think of saying in order to piss people off.  Rebuttal?

A: This isn't provocation or deliberately seeking anything. I have been sensitised to the degree of outrage nonsense going on and I feel compelled to be a countering voice to it.
People post this stuff without thinking, investigating or even reading what is actually said. By retweeting etc they feel they're accomplishing something but, in reality, all they're doing - much of the time - is perpetuating an online lynching.
Dawkins' statement was - as is typical - taken out of context and stripped of the nuance and meaning of what he was saying. That blog speaks to that.
The Harley Quinn thing I felt, was something I might actually be listened to on, being a depressive with suicidal episodes. Again, that blog speaks to that.
I found the Social Justice league thing funny, so I shared it, much as one might a particularly amusing 'lolcat'.
I agree with Penny Arcade's attitude to a lot of the flak they've been getting and feel that, like Dawkins, they could say 'I like pie' and someone would find a way to fault them for it.
I think the death of anyone is a tragedy, I gave my reasons there as well for why I felt that way.
I do find the backlash encouraging because it suggests some sort of change is happening and a happy middle might eventually be found.
The poem doesn't so much make 'fun' of the fat as just present a comedy poem. I went out of my way to find an image to go with it that I felt wasn't shaming and just showed a big dude having a good time.
The Atheism post was about the 'Block Bot' rather than forums etc, and yes, I'm an advocate for 'strong' language as I am for all other language and forms of expression.

I am not 'seeking it out', but there is a neverending supply of stupid and - having been sensitised to it and its consequences I think dissenting voices have become more important.

The problems aren't limited to the RPG sphere. They appear in Atheism, hacker circles etc. If I were a more paranoid individual I'd think it was coordinated and targeted against vulnerable subcultures who are sensitive about their gender/racial/whatever makeup and easy marks.

So no. I'm not seeking it out. It finds me in the hobbies, interests and pastimes that I love and I want to defend them.

Not so different to you, but a different outlook perhaps.

Q: So you do agree that you go out of your way to post about this stuff, though? You "feel compelled".  I'm a guy who sometimes courts controversy too, of course; but I find our methods different.  I think I have some kind of sense of restraint on certain topics, and a more measured approach. In your case it looks like sometimes you don't have a sense of timing or consideration of how to score a win.  You're not fighting in a war; you're just lashing out.  Do you see how that can be a liability as you continue to be used as a negative example, granting ammunition to the very people you seek to oppose?

A: I don't know that I agree there. Timing perhaps, but then I think in today's world the earlier you get in the better. If you wait too long the lies have spread and the truth has zero chance of ever catching up.
Some of it's cathartic, sure. I lose my temper sometimes, yes. I'm only human.
I'd say generally speaking my concern is what's true and - perhaps naively - hope that truth can eventually carry the day over rhetoric.
I think the kind of people on the 'other' side (and honestly I agree with some of their social concerns, just not their reach, method or the extremism they go to) aren't going to slow down either way, so I might as well say my piece and have it out there.

Q:  Do you care, though? About stopping them? Or do you only care about saying what you want when you want?

A: The one necessitates the other.

Q:  Not necessarily.  There might be times when not shooting off the first stupid thing that comes to your head and thinking about what kind of message it projects to others could be useful.  For example, if someone else were to make an argument that Ariel Castro's suicide was "tragic", they might be vehicles for starting a discussion.  When you say it, you come off as a guy who's feeling sad for a guy who kidnapped three women and sexually tortured them for years and defending that guy, and maybe even what he did. I know you might think that's not fair, but its a simple reality of the effectiveness of your haters' campaign against you COUPLED with your own inability to stop saying things that give them ammunition.  Can you see how that's then a problem other people trying to oppose the same people you oppose, because they trot you out as a poster-child for "rape apologism"?

A:  Or not. I think the statements speak for themselves. The death of anyone I regard as a waste and a tragedy. In the case of Castro because he was getting off easy and denying us the capability to learn from what he had done to avoid it in the future. Which I made clear. That's far from defending the guy.

Haters are going to hate, as the saying goes. They'll find ammunition in anything. I think there's good to be had - in the face of that - in simply being honest and forthright.

People who bother to check, regretfully that's not as many as it could be, inevitably find out that the SJ mob are full of it.

Q:  I just want to clarify for readers that "SJ mob" means "Social Justice mob", as in "social justice crusaders", or what I call Pseudo-activists on this blog.  So do you feel like you want to try to disabuse readers of any of the possible claims the Pseudo-activists have made against you?  Do you believe that the portrayal of women being raped, abused or denigrated in an RPG product is always acceptable?  Or is there some situation in which it wouldn't be?
On a related note, I've received a review copy, but not yet given a serious look at (there's other games waiting on the queue ahead of it, and I have to play fair) of Machinations of the Space Princess, one of your latest works.  Is there anything in there that you think the Pseudoactivists can use (or already have!) to criticize you?

A: My argument is and always has been that creators should be free to create and to be subject to criticism, but not to censorship. The mob will argue that they're not censoring but given their focus on trying to deny people work, force self-censorship, boycott etc I think it's a valid criticism. Censorship is not limited to the public sphere (government) and in this interconnected age private censorship is far, far more of a concern. The trouble with trying to set any particular limit on when and where such material should or shouldn't be used or to say it should only be done 'well' is that these are wildly subjective and thus not a criteria we can reliably judge on.

As a rule of thumb I'd go with age appropriate, and appropriate to the material/project in question.

I don't think there's much in MotSP that the pseuds can use as ammunition, though I got a bit of nasty flak based on presumption and the fact I was working with the brilliant and lovely Satine on it. That said I'm sure someone will find something to object to, perhaps the crumbling empire of the implied setting - which is a feudalistic and totalitarian matriarchy. Perhaps some of the art they won't like. I don't know really, it's more of a toolkit RPG so there's not a lot for them to really get their teeth into. That said it's based on B-movie sci-fi and the Euro-American erotic-fantasy comics of the 70s and 80s (Metal Hurlant etc) so maybe they'll object on principle because I haven't gone out of my way to knock the 'rough edges' off the source material. I would think that's betraying the source though and it's something I wrinkle my nose at when other designers sanitise history or the sources they're drawing on.

Q:  Can you tell us more about who Satine is, for the readership? Did she do all your illustrations?

A: Satine Phoenix is an illustrator who worked on MotSP with me - and it still working with me (the stretch goals aren't all complete yet). She was on I Hit it With My Axe, D&D With Pornstars (she used to be one) and so on. Which is the salient point from the point of view of the critics I suppose. She's a brilliant artist with a unique style and a joy to work with. She has an enthusiasm for gaming, and life, that got me through some rough patches on the project. She's the kind of person we genuinely do need more of in the hobby.

Q:  So is Machinations your current project? What else are you doing?

A: Well I no longer work for myself, now that I'm part of Chronicle City so unfortunately I can't talk that much about what I'm doing. Part NDAs, part that we're having a policy of not announcing things until we're ready. Long lead times are frustrating for everybody and we don't want delayed pre-orders or frustration to set in. We have a variety of projects on the go and as part of third-party support I've been consulting with a few people and helping with their projects.

Machinations is complete, but for the time being I'll probably - in my spare time - tinker with some bits and pieces for that. I intend to keep Postmortem Studios going as a side project. My next release under that label is likely to be an adventure for MotSP.

Q:  How often do you actually game?

A: It varies wildly, but living out in the sticks my options are fairly limited. I have a weekend of gaming (Friday to Sunday) every month and a half or so and another weekend of gaming (Friday to Saturday) about once a month. Sporadic gaming in between and go to Indiecon every year.

I've found online gaming over hangouts, chatrooms etc to be problematic because of being in the UK timezone - less options - and because players treat online games as less of a big deal to not turn up to.

So I don't get to game as much as I'd like to, but when I do get to game I get a lot of time for it.
Q:  are there women in your gaming group?
A: One of them has morphed over time to become a 'guys night' with people escaping their various spouses etc. The other group does and con games typically do. Historically my groups have always had women in them and I was involved in WoD LARP for a long time, which was sometimes 50/50.
And, you know, I met my wife through gaming :)
I decided to leave the interview there as a good end note.  I came out of it with no more conclusions than when I started, but it was certainly an interesting experience.  Maybe it won't be the last interview the Pundit gives, who knows?
Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Poker + H&H Beverwyck

(originally posted September 13, 2013)

Thursday 18 December 2014

Famous Pipe Smokers

Today, since I've become a writer of more renown lately (thanks in part to the efforts of the Goons trying to attack my article, apparently unaware that the more commentary it gets the more prominent it becomes), I thought I'd share with you an entry today of a truly great pipe smoker, like me!

Yes, Ernest Hemmingway was a fairly decent pipe smoker!

Oh yeah, and I wish I could be one-tenth the writer he was.


Currently Smoking: Italian redbark + Image Latakia

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Go Give Blood! There may espresso in it for you!

Yeah, you'll forgive me if this blog entry is
a) short
b) a bit incoherent
c) a public service announcement.

I woke up very early today, you see, and just came back from giving blood.  You should do this too.  Whatever your country,  or whatever system you use, I bet they need people to go give blood.

I'm sure all of you have, at some point, probably even at least once today, asked yourselves "Gee, I wonder what it's like to donate blood in the nation of Uruguay"?
Well, wonder no more:

Here in Uruguay it amuses me, because like everything else, they do it a bit different in these parts.  Oh, you still do it in a hospital or clinic, but at least at the one I go to they have these insanely comfortable lazy-boy type recliners, a big TV, and coffee.
I was actually offered coffee when I just arrived, asking the nurse if the fact I'd slept less than 4 hours would invalidate me or make me still good to go.  She said "we'll take your blood pressure" (it turned out to be fine, my blood pressure is always fine, believe it or not), and "here, have some coffee".  I was a bit confused, first at there being coffee at the blood bank (cookies sure, juice, but here they had neither of those; apparently in Uruguay they have flavored mineral water, salted crackers, and coffee), and second being that I hadn't actually had any blood drawn yet.

"won't that screw up the blood donation? Aren't I supposed to be fasting for it?"

"Oh, you can have coffee!" she said, as if that was just obvious. Like as in, who in their right mind wouldn't have coffee in this situation?

And it was great coffee.  But to add to the irony and confusion, she asked me how much sugar I wanted.  Seriously?? She was holding like 5 packets, for one euro-style espresso!

It was at this point I was starting to wonder: was I in the right place at all?  Was this all some sort of terrible mistake?  Maybe there had been some confusion, and in my sleep-deprived daze I'd wandered into some kind of exclusive medical-practitioners' cafe/lounge where I was about to cause a small riot by attempting to give blood on what should in fact be their salad bar?

"Aren't you worried about the blood sugar or something? And... you're a nurse, shouldn't you be telling people to take less sugar in their coffee?"  It was easy for me to say, mind you, I only take a little sugar ever anyways.

And she was all like "Oh, it doesn't matter!".

So yeah, either there was some serious incompetence going on or I've been very seriously lied to by blood clinics of days gone by.

Anyways, the rest of the procedure was easy, fast, and might help save a life. And there was even more coffee, after the blood draw was over.   Really, I pity the poor bastard who gets my blood, it's more caffeine and nicotine than man! I just didn't expect such a significant part of the caffeine part of that equation to come from the blood-clinic itself.  But still, the clinic took it just the same and I trust it will go to good use.

So seriously, go be a fucking grownup.  Give blood.  Even if where you are you won't get the leather recliners and espresso.


Currently Smoking: Nothing yet, I was told to wait an hour.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Check out my new Gig!

So, the reason why there wasn't an 'uncracked monday' yesterday (or anymore) can now be revealed:  I've got a new writing job.

Over at, the politics and current-events sister site to The Escapist, I've been hired to be their newest political columnist, or maniac-at-large (every decent magazine needs one!), in a weekly column entitled "Riposte Modernism".  Unlike most of the other columnists there, who write about a specific subject area or theme, I've been given free reign to write about any freaking thing I want. Expect it to be interesting.

So please, check out my first article:  "Postmodernism is Now Killing Its Designers".

And please, feel free to share, repost, 'retweet', or whatever the kids are doing these days to spread the word!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti half-volcano + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Monday 15 December 2014

Is the Apocalypse Fast Approaching??

It just might be.  I'm pretty sure that one of the signs, recorded in ancient scrolls no doubt, is that an event would take place that the RPGPundit and Ron Edwards (founder of the Forge and inventor of bullshit RPG-theories like GNS) would agree upon.  I never believed it possible, but here we are.

Last week I reported to you all how OneBookShelf, the owners of both DrivethruRPG and RPGnow (which, put together into a single monopoly, are by far the largest and most important distributor of PDFs in the tabletop RPG hobby) have apparently caved to pressure of particular influence-groups and banned a product from their virtual shelves.

Over on G+, Ron Edwards had this to say about it:

"There is some bullshit here in the above posts: this constant talk of "well the Drivethrough RPG guy can stock what he wants." If that was all there was to it, then he ... uh, well, he did do that, in the first place. He did stock the game. So pulling it is a reversal. That's what matters.

I can see pulling it if the situation of the game itself changed or was revealed, like the author did something heinous or it turns out to cause cancer, or something. But nothing like that happened.

So we're either talking about someone who did X without really thinking about it, which means his policy or his mental situation at the moment was too foggy (possible but not edifying), or who did X on his own hook for his own reasons, and then it turns out someone else's reasons are stronger to him than his own are. All I see is a variant on the Reagan problem: he didn't mean it in the first place, which is kind of lame considering he's supposed to be running something; or he meant it, in which case caving and reversing it is sort of like not being the boss.

I don't see how the identity of the author, the content of the game, or any specifics of the alleged ethics/values disagreement are relevant. I don't see why they're brought up, why they matter, anything like that. Change all of this to opposite sides of the alleged controversy (Sweetness Smith publishes Story Game Love-Bunny, and Desborough complains to Drivethrough and it's pulled, I dunno). Change it to some completely different issue entirely. Doesn't matter.

Regarding the OBS lockdown on success, well, it seems the old days of Alliance have returned. The single thing I've championed all these years is creator ownership, and I don't mean ass about IP or legalities, I mean real ownership, the creator of the game is the boss of whatever business decisions happen with that game. This is all about why a vendor, a centralized buying-spot, distributorship, is always problematic. Maybe functional, maybe working OK for all parties for the moment, maybe not too bad ... but always, always prone to some kind of fucked-up breakdown because the creator of the game is no longer the boss. I always hated standard distributors and won't use them any more; the stores come direct to me now. I used IPR and Key20, and despite some good moments it always went south - sooner or later the other guy's policy is going to favor him and not you.

Is the Drivethrough guy in a Reagan situation? Yeah. And it renders all this business about "his decision" a complete waste of time. But my beef stands even if he did nothing of the kind. Drivethrough and anything like it is a bad thing in the first place. Desborough and every other author in there gave up his or her power in letting someone else call the shots about the availability of the game in the first place.

So it's the same shit, again. Truly own your work and that means owning its distribution too. If a distributor or equivalent doesn't work for you, meaning they do what you say when it comes to your game, then you just gave up your balls. This is what happens.

I don't think you have to hare off to a centralized chokepoint whose manager by definition does not put your priorities first, and call that the market, or the industry, or the place to be, or any of that. When you do, this is what happens. If collectively we publishers do have to (+Kasimir Urbanski 's point, if I'm reading right), then it's time to burn it down.

It's not a clash of values or subcultures or identities, all that is the piffle of the moment. This is about whether you truly own your fuckin' game."

Incredibly, I find myself in agreement with him.  Until now, the fact that OBS was the largest game in town (in essence, the only game in town, in the sense that if you're shut out of OBS, you stand to lose an enormous percentage of your PDF profitability) was not really a huge problem, because they seemed committed to being a neutral all-access content aggregator.

Now, with this decision, they can't claim that anymore.  And I think it is only a matter of time, having chosen to abandon their neutrality once, before they abandon it again, or are pressured/coerced into abandoning it now that a precedent for doing so has been set and can be used against them if they even try to claim neutrality in the future.

The next time, the pseudo-activist Swine who think of themselves as the natural rulers of the hobby (for its own good, they reason, as their self-styled 'socially conscious' illuminated state means they are obliged to decide for the vast 'unwashed masses' of regular gamers what the rest of us should even be allowed to see, lest our ignorant minds be tainted by material that they personally find offensive or people who they find 'controversial', the bulk of said controversy consisting of being people that ideologically oppose them and their claims), having had a taste of success, will move on to attack someone less marginalized, over objections that are less justifiable, and continue along this trend for as long as they can get away with it; ultimately just finding (and if unable to find it, just inventing it, because honesty means nothing to them) something/anything "offensive" about any RPG writer, publisher or game they don't like and demanding it be banned too.

The assholes who are claiming that this is all about the "free market" right of a business owner to "make his own decisions", in spite of making said claims in a totally mercenary and self-serving way and having never before expressed any similar concern or defense of the free-market system (only now it's suddenly become convenient to them to do so), in spite of the fact that had OBS ruled the other way they'd be shitting all over the idea of the free market and wistfully wishing for some way to take draconian and totalitarian control over the hobby, ultimately have a point of some kind.  This whole problem exists because they were able to pressure the one single quasi-monopoly of PDF-distribution in the RPG hobby into making a terrible call to censor a game these assholes don't like written by someone they don't like.  The choice to make that call is ultimately the choice of the business.
But here's the thing: the real capitalist system abhors monopoly.  In a real 'free market' there must be able competition.  This whole situation is ONLY a problem because while there were once two different PDF-aggregators there's now just one.  If, for example, DTRPG and RPGnow were still two different companies, the natural reaction to this situation would have been that those people unhappy with (say) DTRPG choosing to blacklist a product would have moved their business over to RPGnow.  The very existence of such competition would have caused OBS to think twice about such a boneheaded move in the first place; they only felt safe in censoring a product because they assume that as the only game in town, RPG publishers and RPG customers have no choice: they can either lump it and keep shopping and selling with OBS, or they can quit doing so and watch their business die or their buying options vanish.

So as insane as it seem to me to see myself typing these words, I have to say it.  The OBS situation is so fucked up that it has created the following impossible sentence: Ron Edwards is right.  This is absolutely a distribution problem at its core.

What I can hope, and what I can warn OBS, is that there's nothing inherent in their present situation to suggest that just because they've cornered most of the market now, they will automatically continue to do so in the future.  Keep catering to the whims of the Outrage Brigade, and it will be only a matter of time before someone else decides to put up a shop using your exact same business model, only without the censorship.  And the moment something viable like that emerges, the fact that you've created a situation where any publisher smaller than Evil Hat (and potentially even a few larger than Evil Hat) absolutely SHOULD feel worried about their financial security being in OBS' hands is a situation that will end up blowing up in your faces.  People will walk, as soon as there's a place where they can walk to in a financially viable way.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia