Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Name Is God (I Hate You)

The real world has no genre. Stuff happens in whatever order for pinball reasons. Not so D&D.

I'm imagining a cleric or philosopher inside the game world who accurately discovers the broad metaphysical rules upon which events in their life (and the lives of their companions) are based. Not at the level of every digit of armor class, but the correct assumptions that would eventually lead those born after this little Leibniz to something like accurate-in-D&D science.

More difficult is figuring out the priority of these rules--which ones take precedence over others. I was myself surprised to find there was a priority and it was rigid.

When all gamed out, the philosopher's laws also function as a description of GMing style, and a guide to nervous players (I have no nervous players, but I can imagine them) about what to expect when they play.

I think it's probably a good idea for DMs to think about what their own world's rules would be from this POV, but I've been doing ok without it until last week so maybe not urgent?

Here they are:

1. Law of Negated Aesthetics--The Creator of All Things has certain images and events of which he does not approve and these can never occur. This is the only Law which overrides the Law of Consistency below--for example, no-one ever wears sandals, despite the fact the law of consistency suggests you might be able to make them, goblins may fill pig-carcasses with lighter-than-air gas and thereby float but there is no way to make a full-sized blimp for the creator does not approve of blimps (nor does he approve of, for another example, gunpowder--though sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter strangely usually do what they would otherwise outside a gunpowder-making context). It also overrides all other Laws. Note this Law is total--things can happen or can't. There is a never a situation (say, trying to jump a chasm and jumping a distance related to your strength) which can happen sometimes but other times is aesthetically negated. This and Law 7 are the most complex laws and detailing them completely would require knowledge of the tastes of the Creator to a level of detail perhaps even he is unaware of.

2. Law of Consistency--The rules by which the universe operates are consistent and do not change. This overrides the Law of Free Will and all other Laws below so, for instance, I cannot travel to a town that has been destroyed by a marauding skyfortress even if I choose to and want to on account of my free will.

3. Law of Free Will--I may do whatever I like within the bounds of my abilities. This overrides the Law of Plural Solutions and all other Laws below so, for instance: if I build a dungeon and lock my foe inside it, I can create a puzzle that can only be escaped with one key.

4. Law of Plural Solutions--Challenges will be solveable in more than one way. Also: the Creator is not omniscient and there may be solutions the Creator has not imagined. This overrides the Law of Challenge and all other Laws below so that if I imagine a solution to a challenge that the Creator has not imagined, the challenge may cease to be difficult.

5. Law of Challenge--Life will be characterized by difficult challenges in need of urgent solution. This Law overrides the Law of Variety and all other Laws below so that, for example, if fighting 5 goblins in a row (lack of variety) would present a challenge not provided by fighting 1, this event can occur.

6. Law of Variety--Situations and things encountered will tend to be various. This overrides the Law of Posited Aesthetics, so if I just saw a wolf running across the snow last week I am less likely to see one this week despite the creator's fondness for said wolves.

7. Law of Posited Aesthetics--The Creator Of All Things has certain images of which he is fond (wolves in snow, ruined towers, beautiful women, decapitation, etc). These things will tend to appear and the world is made entirely of things that resemble them unless it violates a higher law (it logically can and will never conflict with Law 1, however, as the Creator cannot simultaneously like and dislike the same image).

The laws (like most good science) predict answers to questions.

Let's say there's a beautiful desert and the wizard casts what's supposed to be a permanent frost spell on it. Will it stay there or will some agent remove the frost? Well: the only thing that supports the desert's existence is the Law of Posited Aesthetics (the creator likes the beautiful desert), which has less priority than the Law of Consistency, so the spell will work as normal, so long as the creator is cool with frost (ie not violating the Law of Negated Aesthetics)--and the creator is or it wouldn't have been possible to create frost in the first place.

Can I ride a rhino at first level? Well this would be cool (7th Law) but would remove a lot of challenges (3rd Law). Oh well.

The main problem for the philosopher is that Law # 1 covers so much unknown ground and is so powerful it can kibosh any other prediction. Though they can take comfort in knowing it does come into play relatively rarely.
Another thing the DM can do is run through the laws in reverse to write an adventure.

Posit a cool image (Crooked witch house)
Add variety (It's actually 10 variations on a kitchen inside)
Add challenge (The witch prepares contact poisons in the kitchens)
Make sure the challenges have multiple solutions (In addition to avoiding them, there are antidotes and recipes)
Make sure the players have choices they can make (Different kitchens are clearly laid out as containing more valuable recipes but also more dangerous poisons)
Make sure it all makes sense together (Check the area of the map that the witch house is in to make sure it makes sense as being there and either has plausible connections to what's around it or plausible reasons not to have them)
Make sure nothing gauche is implied (Maybe draw the witches so that nobody thinks they're wearing basic burlap or anything).

Monday, December 26, 2016

This Is Some Kind Of Milestone of Something

The mainstreaming of D&D continues: 5th edition is still selling like hotcakes, comedians-playing-D&D shows proliferate, properties like Skyrim and Game of Thrones and the Hobbit movies grab from it openly, and the boardgame explosion is dragging RPG properties behind.

On another front--I know DIY D&D was definitely making things weird and tryhard enough that it was possible to write the words She seems to be able to traverse any kind of theme and terrain and wield them together into an assemblage that dwells in the interstitial state between dreams and our darkest waking places, a kind of laughter derived from shock of the new. For fans of Lars von Trier, Anne Carson, Kobo Abe, and Amy Hempel in one part of an article while mentioning a Dungeons & Dragons book in another part of the same article.

I just didn't know the D&D in question would be ours.

Maze of the Blue Medusa made Vice's top 22 of 2016:

MotBM is a full-color dungeon game book designed to be played as a tabletop RPG. But, to me, it's a kind of encyclopedic novel you could spend forever just flipping open, staring, searching out the impossible combination to its labyrinthine lock.

Read the full piece here. EDIT: Somebody Reddited it here if you do Reddit.

Pretty neat--I always hoped people who knew fuck-all about the game would still be able to see the weird paraliterary part of our RPG books, it's cool to see my guess was right. Merry Christmas to us and hey buy one.


Thursday, December 22, 2016



Raise your hand if you considered these things as a teenager--and raise both if you came to some conclusion about them that you still hold:

-What are the differences between a terrorist and a postcolonial freedom fighter engaged in asymmetric warfare against an occupying power? Are there any? How do we decide which a person is?

-Are (relative) peace and order worth oppression? How much?

-Is it ok to enslave robots that have personalities and what looks to be free will?

-What's up with the Eichmann "banality of evil" thing? Can you be bad for just doing your job?

I bet there's a fuckton of hands up right now, and not even just from the kids who always sharked straight for the Isaac Asimov at book-fair time. These are commonplace moral questions of the kind everyone born in the mental atmosphere since mid last-century has had opportunity to think about--and they feature prominently in many entertainments that teenagers might watch (for example, the third one is in Blade Runner, the last is in fucking Clerks, and they all sound like questions that'd be asked in random Star Treks--especially if it was a Wesley episode.)

In 2016, these questions (and things like "is reality real or am I a brain in a jar?", "is gay stuff ok?", "is there a god?" etc) are teenagery questions. This is not to say these questions aren't important: they need answers and very often adult action or legislation hinges on some of the answers and often adults give the wrong answers--but generally they only become difficult in non-fictional contexts when specific realworld identifiable personal interests are stake (like: "Spreading feminism is good, but invading countries is bad--do these priorities conflict in Afghanistan?""I just dropped a lotttt of acid--how much of reality can I epistemologically verify right now on this roof?").

The bullet-pointed questions, outside specific real-world iterations, are so basic they shouldn't make adults think. An adult thinking about these things would be like a teenager thinking about how to get socks on.


...yet somehow we still see the myth that Thought Provoking And Grown Up media "explore" these kinds of questions (to some undefined degree of exploredness) in their made-up worlds.

A typical example of the abuse of these terms appears, with some Rogue One spoilers, here.

The concepts of "grown-up" vs "adolescent" art--and related dichotomies like "mere entertainment" vs "makes you think" and "shallow" and "deep"--are as leaned-upon as they are vaguely-defined. "Thought-provoking" is usually used by critics to describe a work's attempt to communicate to other people the critic conceives of as less intelligent than the author that they should think about some things the critic already has long ago made their mind up about. The reader of such criticism often gets the feeling the critic wishes the world would catch up to the artwork--but what's noble in that sentiment is buried under the self-deception of pretending the art is doing work that it isn't.

This is why RPGs like Dogs In the Vineyard are alleged (by fans, not always the authors) to be more grown-up or thoughtful than D&D even though questions like "Is being a religious fascist ok?" and "Is cheating on your wife in the wild west ok?" are not actually remotely grown-up moral questions. Are there adults who would play Night Witches who were sexist before and decided not to be after?

Not only does the description of an artwork as "thought-provoking" etc often not actually involve the thing having provoked the speaker to have new useful thoughts, it's an expression of basically the opposite: the work, if anything, entrenches the critic further in their pre-existing beliefs.

Fascination Creates Content

Does that mean creating truly thought-provoking art is impossible? No. Or, at least it's no harder than making good art.

Here's a fact: how much artworks can say is largely an issue of how many questions you ask them.

There are people who read about King Arthur as a child or see a film of Hamlet as a teen and enjoy them, maybe think a little, maybe get a little, then move on. Then there are people who keep asking these artworks things their whole lives--and keep getting useful answers. TH White asks the King Arthur story some childlike questions in Sword And The Stone (People get turned into animals? What would it be like to be turned into a bird?) and some very grown-up ones in later books (What would it be like to actually be the Lancelot described in the poems--a man who combines total nobility, immense capacity for violence and sexual dishonesty? Is that even a real personality?).

I'm going to go ahead and say there's no evidence this interrogatibility isn't true about any stupid thing you like. Because the mere fact that an art object fascinates you when others superficially similar do not tells you that it is hooking into something in your unique psychology. If you like the old Power Puff Girls but not the new Power Puff Girls and you think about Power Puff Girls every day even as a grown up than Power Puff Girls is talking to you, telling you about sensibilities, sensitivities, subliminal appeals that no other tool could articulate to you.

The amount of content a work of art has for any given audience member is always at least as large as the degree to which that audience member is fascinated with it. The fan who claims Ulysses has all the answers to the universe in it is right--but so is the fan who claims Ulysses 31 does. The main reason there are less of the second guy is because Ulysses was trying to do that. But a thing's desire that we should be fascinated is never necessary or sufficient to make it so.

This is because anyone's fascination is an index of mysteries unsolved to their unique human psychology. There is no such thing as empty appeal or "mere entertainment"--this is just a device critics use to hold their enjoyment at arm's length to avoid asking themselves why something in them they can't account for still wants to see lasers and swords move in this way rather than that way.

Calling lasers and swords (and mean girls and make-up and prom) or anything else that is entertaining you, an adult, "adolescent" is cheap--because if, as an adult, you keep asking lasers and swords grown-up questions, you will keep getting grown-up answers. I asked rocket cats questions once.

Everything Can Be Adult

I read TH White's Once & Future King as a kid and didn't really get a lot of the stuff about the adults. I read it--and enjoyed it--as just descriptions of some people. What I didn't have is the recognitions--Oh, that feeling. Oh, that kind of guy, that kind of girl. 

This, rather than any attempt in fiction to focus attention on ethical dilemmas, is probably the most exclusively adult kind of art-moment: seeing things and having them remind you of things and times gone away. This is why, stereotypically, the older people are the more likely they are to cry--everything reminds them of something.

White's book has:

-kid+adolescent+grown-up content (pretending to be a bird, knights fighting)
-adolescent+grown-up content (the jokes and subtle inversions in the dialogue)
-grown-up-only content (the wistful, compromised emotional politics in the court).

I'd hesitate to be so vague as to call that content deep. Like "problematic", it's a word people use when they're afraid being pinned down to specifics would embarrass them. I'd say simply that part of White spoke to experiences I had because I'm an adult, with no value judgment beyond saying certain parts of the Big Lebowski speak to experiences I've had because I'm a nihilist porn actor who lives in Los Angeles.

Some Things Are Only Adult

After Rogue One (which ruled, btw), I saw an unimpeachably grown-up movie about people in the real world where everyone was going to a funeral and an old song started to play and it felt distant and melancholy. I was reminded of things I'd been through and the song kept playing in my head for hours. I definitely was provoked to think--about people and about time.

The film was the kind that tried to build itself largely out of grown-up-only content. You can do that: you can make good things for grown-ups that kids can't get anything out of (and people should, and they are not discussed enough in places like D&D blogs) but you can't do the opposite unless you get down to the level of like Barney and Sesame Street. As soon as you get up to 6 or 7 years old--say Spongebob or Duck Tales--you're back to things some adult somewhere can productively obsess about ("Scrooge McDuck As Avatar of the Imperial-Heroic" etc).

Finding Meaning In Art Is Like Finding Geology In the Ground

I don't think you can be provoked to think by design. I think you can be persuaded to think, but only using the same tools with which you can be persuaded to play at all: by finding something so beautiful and fascinating and fun that you choose, in quiet moments, to think about the thing rather than be separated from it. If you wake up thinking about Overwatch and you go to sleep thinking about Overwatch then eventually, if you're a thinker, you will start thinking about Overwatch.

Finding meaning in any art is like finding geology in any ground--you dig, you'll get it. Fictions don't explore issues--people explore fictions and then find issues there. When you invest hard enough you get an inevitability: the evidence left when complete, complicated humans contrive to find new ways to speak to as-yet-untapped parts of other complete, complicated humans.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Stay In Your Lane

I assume readers know evolution is not a conspiracy. You start out with a small tree shrew and—through nothing other than the pressure to survive in various environments—you end up with a giraffe whose neck gets ever longer and a panda whose color gets ever starker and who becomes increasingly intolerant of anything but bamboo.

Complex environments create specialists, and the longer these environments are stable, the more stereotyped the specialists are pressured to become. That’s why Bertrand Russell was able to write:
The reign of Augustus was a period of happiness for the Roman Empire…Augustus, for the sake of stability, set to work, somewhat insincerely, to restore ancient piety, and was therefore necessarily rather hostile to free inquiry. The Roman world began to become stereotyped, and the process continued under later emperors.

…so when I say “capitalism wants” I am no more talking about a conspiracy than when I use the shorthand “evolution wants”.

All kinds of people are born—always—but the pressure to survive while being that kind of person (plus the lessons their parents impress on them because they themselves had had to survive while being whatever kind of people they were) push people in each field toward personality types that can survive in their environment.

Considering, for instance, the world is going to keep producing artists, what kind of shape does early 21st-century capitalism want them in?

It needs them to go to school, for two reasons:

-the examples of earlier artists are always available (and often in the public domain), so in order to make anything broadly competitive saleable to a public whose main reliable taste is for technical expertise a decent chunk of them must have access to the means of acquiring it

-as we now expect technology will advance continuously, we like our artists to be conversant with it, as marrying the artist to new technology produces novelty—the other thing the public reliably likes—plus enables our artists to be able to talk to our advertisers, with whom they exist in a symbiotic relationship.

Capitalism wants artists’ talents and ideas because they can be used to sell things, capitalism wants artists to have a liberal education so they can steal ideas from all the world's culture. Capitalism would like to meet artists at parties—where the artist can simultaneously entertain the capitalist and can be introduced to patrons in an informal setting outside the recorded and legalized confines of the application process (where there are difficult questions concerning how many people of what kind you're taking applications from)--so it wants artists to throw parties, or at least go to them, and so be at least social enough to handle that. What it doesn’t want is artists who have money (artists are creative, so if you give them money they won’t necessarily invest in things and hire people to make more money, they might just spend it on firecrackers and beanbag chairs) or power (artists are nearly by definition people with unpredictable and radical ideas, and capitalism wants stable or at least controllable governance) or who are taken seriously outside the world of entertainment (unpredictable ideas plus the ability to communicate=trouble).

And, lo-and-behold, what kind of personality types do we get? “Artists are crazy,” “Artists are flakes,” “Guitarists are drug addicts,” “He’s a genius behind the piano but in real life he was a disaster”, etc. etc. Lovable but "unstable". You'd never vote for an artist.

Are these myths promoted to keep them in their place? Or descriptions of the personality-types that the institutions and conditions most favorable to survival produce? If, like lawyers, artists had art firms come around their studios around graduation time and offer them jobs they could keep for life we might well have a very different stereotype of them. Or maybe not. Whether chicken or egg isn’t actually important to my point, the point is however artists got there, capitalism has exactly no incentive to change their position. They have them right where they want them: always unstable, always vulnerable, always available.
The etymology of the word “nerd” goes back to 1950.

This makes perfect sense: a great war had just been decided through the use of weapons that had been unimagined (and in some cases had been unimaginable) during the war just before it. We were buying cars, we were about to have a space race. We did not know what the future would bring, but we knew we needed minders of machines and the mechanized bureaucratic instruments they enable. We put money into manufacturing these people on an industrial scale.

Just as The Art Student (nipple ring, blue hair, Starbucks job, campus-rock music taste, earnest and pointless politics, flake spirituality) is something that capitalism has done to its artists and the Jock (etymology: 1963) is something capitalism has done to its athletes and physically capable people, “nerd” is something that capitalism has done to its intellectuals.

“Intellectual” has two common definitions—the first is the kind of person you hear getting interviewed on NPR about a Big Idea, the second, used by people like Marx, is any kind of economic actor who gets paid to do brainstuff rather than hard labor, like a plumbing engineer. The point of "Nerd" is to keep these two kinds of intellectuals separate, because together they are fucking dangerous. When Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing Black Panther comics and demanding reparations after documenting decades of housing discrimination?--capitalism does not want that shit.

You, reading this, may very well work only with your brain for a living. You're probably too smart to go around calling yourself an intellectual--you know you'd get punched. But you call yourself a nerd? That's fine. That's adorable. Let me buy you a drink.

That's because the word ‘nerd’ and all the ideas around it are epiphenomena of anti-intellectualism. Troll culture is what you get when Nerd is shorn of any trace of intellectualism, and is, like all bullying, ultimately about enforcing existing social roles: If, in the middle of a discussion of a supremely nerdy subject, you bring up a creative imperative, you’re Pretentious, if you out-nerd the nerd you’re Aspie, if you display any awareness of the wider world, you’re reminded you’re just a nerd discussing a nerd thing in a nerd place. Be a middlebrow minder of machines, be quiet and uncharismatic and if you have to dream, dream only unreachably escapist and irrelevant dreams and if you have to fight, fight only with other nerds about those dreams and with no-one by your side. If 'Nerd' is the defanged intellectual, "troll" is the intellectual as collaborator, as kapo. And, like the kapo, they are betraying the only culture that could ever value their real assets.

Back in the day, under a different kind of ruling class than we have now, the kings and emperors knew that if they could just keep the smart people arguing which each other about whether Christ had one soul or three, they wouldn’t have much to worry about. That's why, when a smart person invented monks, they decided to keep them around--and make sure they kept wearing burlap sacks and having shitty haircuts. When the monks started growing pea plants and getting ideas about genetics and fucking nuns it was time to dream up new roles for them. Feudalism needed scholars, but not thinkers.

Capitalism needs smart and well-educated specialists who know how to teach machines to do new tricks. What it doesn’t need is more guys in the office charming or aggressive or relatable enough to compete for their management jobs. It doesn’t need to meet them at parties (they can just apply, it’s more efficient), it doesn’t need them to reproduce (their skills are considered transferrable through formal education rather than culture and parenting), it doesn’t want them rich or brave (a nerd who doesn’t need a new job after the one they’re quitting can do things to your machines that destroy you forever), it doesn’t need them broadly culturally educated (just make the fucking printer work, ok?).

For an example of how this works in practice, Wesley Yang does a good job here of describing what it's like for many high-achieving tiger-parented Asian-americans who feel like all their education has done is polish them into ideal cogs for managerial types to install and ignore: "An icon of so much that the culture pretends to honor but that it in fact patronizes and exploits. Not just people 'who are good at math' and play the violin, but a mass of stifled, repressed, abused, conformist quasi-robots who simply do not matter, socially or culturally.".

Nerds (or, rather: the intellectuals that late-stage-postindustrial capitalism would like to turn into mere “nerds”), like art students, aren’t actually that stupid. Anyone with a brain can do more (probably needs to do more) with it than crunch numbers and make bad jokes. And the nerds created, despite the wider economy’s—at best—apathy and—at worst—hostility to the idea, a culture. Gary Gygax going from adjusting insurance to working with Dave Arneson to invent a game about elves fighting demons is just about as pure an example of that culture as we get. The game drew on a knowledge of a rich literature that had developed completely independently of the mainstream of American literary culture; a culture that had vociferously argued, not coincidentally, the year before about whether to give Gravity’s Rainbow—an undeniably literary literary novel that only a Naval engineer with stacks of pulp novels in his garage could’ve produced—a Nobel prize. Both Gygax and Pynchon (born a year apart) were part of the first generation old enough to be called "nerds" as teenagers, had gotten nerd jobs to survive about as soon as they could and--about 20 years later, managed to make things that built on the would-be disposable culture they loved and the technocratic esoteric they'd been stuffed full of.

D&D, like Gravity’s Rainbow, was an assertion that the nerd had something to teach the art student—and a hint that maybe they both could push past roles that they were being asked to fill and just be smart people.

This is a terrible revelation—because it suggests maybe if you stop accepting You’re just a…(whatever) you might suddenly have responsibilities. You might be capable of things you’ve been neglecting. You might be expected to compete on a wider field than just how fast you can get that Naruto reference in or cite the figure that backs up the opinion everyone you know already has. You might’ve been slacking off all this time.

It is ok to be awkward or afraid or unable to relate to people outside the narrow world of your hobbies and tastes—but it isn’t ok to fail to recognize those things as limitations—and ones that the world outside you has encouraged and will continue to encourage. This was not done to protect you from the world--it was done to protect the world from you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

It's Possible To Suck At D&D

Perhaps because it involves so many nerds, the RPG community has a much tougher time than the sports community accepting really that sometimes people just suck and redesigning the game won't fix that. 

Now--I've rarely seen a group with a decent interpersonal dynamic have a player who just sucked--even people who are dull shine up over time when surrounded by people of good will. Whether this is because interesting, smart people self-select or because an environment of cool, friendly people stimulates people to be better (or both) would be pure speculation on my part.

But there are lots of groups that aren't functional. Let's handle their FAQs. 

My friends won't role-play their characters and I need them to!!!

Then they are, at best, people you don't get on with and--at worst--super boring. Leave them and play with other people.

I like the other players but they won't do what I want to do!

Become more charismatic. Or if you can't: realize you never will and accept your limitations and relax a little because apparently you're stuck with them?

They won't read the book!

So? Reading the book is not and never should be essential. They have lives. That is good and probably makes them more interesting than you--a person who is complaining to internet strangers about your players' problems instead of talking to them. Maybe you're the boring one? Not everybody needs to read the book.

But maybe if I played a different game that supported role-playing?

If you need a game that gives you mechanical cookies to have a personality you are a boring person. You should become more interesting before you play any more games.

I dunno D&D seems to work against role-playing--in order to have a character whose personality reflects me I need to make choices that make the character suboptimal?

Then make the character suboptimal. I always do.

But if I play a suboptimal character, I'll die!

You should be able to run the table with a 2hp thief having never read the rules. If you can't then either:
-You are not good at imagining things and solving problems and need to become smarter. Because the game should be testing your ability to imagine things and solve problems.
-Your DM is not running the game in such a way that problem-solving imagination is rewarded in consistent and transparent ways and they suck at DMing and need to become smarter.
-Despite being so into playing your character you're willing to play a suboptimal build, your performance of that character isn't charming enough for the clever problem-solving characters to take pains to keep you around. Improve.

But there are games where I don't have to be smart or interesting!

Yes. And you can choose to play them--and find enough dumb, boring people to play with you (please don't inflict yourself on cool people)--then you can play them instead of becoming better as a person.

Are you saying everyone who plays games which don't require problem-solving and which have tools to help you roleplay more are only played by boring, stupid people?

No, I'm saying if, as an adult, you need them: you're a boring, stupid person.

That's very judgmental.

Yes. It's 2016: it should be painfully obvious that some people suck and that diagnosing that is an important life skill.

Ok, so everyone I play with is terrible? What do I do?

This is not a problem any game design can fix. You need to go meet new people.

Monday, December 12, 2016

d100 Brutalizer

These 2 tables are attached to no specific critical hit mechanic--many of the crit charts that already exist are very good and I presume if you want to play a game where combat takes a roll or two longer you can go do it. They're fun.

These are for any game, including standard D&D and D&Dlike play: roll to hit, roll damage, eventually someone dies. The purpose of the tables is purely verbal: all GMs fall into the trap of describing the same injuries over and over (I know I'm always describing axes going into shoulderblades) and this is meant to lay out the possibilities a little better in the moment. This does not evenly distribute injuries--a body part appears as many times as it has interesting synonyms.

I don't even recommend you roll on them--just keep them handy to look at and let the options seep in while you play. When people die or take massive injuries, pick a kind of trauma and a body part and make a really metal sentence out of it--occasionally throwing in "You pulverize his sternum with your morningstar and cave in his breastbone" instead of "...aaand that one's dead" can work wonders.

Ideally, also, this should be a Vornheim-style split-column table, with the numbers on the left and both columns printed next to each other so you can roll once and read across or mix and match. But I don't know how to get blogger to do that.

Injury description

(Slashing injuries)
1 Split
2 Slice
3 Divide
4 Cut
5 Cleave
6 Lacerate
7 Carve
8 Chop
9 Bisect
10 Slash
11 Sever
12 Rend
13 Rip
14 Open up
15 Shear
16 Lop off
17 Dice
18 Mutilate
19 Remove
20 Take off
21 Sunder
22 Hack
23 Eviscerate

(Blunt weapon injuries)
24 Grind
25 Mash
26 Smash
27 Bash
28 Mangle
29 Bludgeon
30 Smack
31 Whack
32 Crack
33 Pound
34 Break
35 Shatter
36 Fracture
37 Pulverize
38 Flatten
39 Batter
40 Traumatize
41 Macerate
42 Tenderize
43 Pulp
44 Cave in
45 Burst
46 Crush

(Piercing weapon injuries)
47 Stab
48 Lance
49 Jab
50 Thrust through
51 Perforate
52 Butcher
53 Punch through
54 Run through
55 Impale
56 Skewer
57 Pierce
58 Poke
59 Penetrate
60 Puncture

(Flame injuries)
61 Boil
62 Char
63 Scorch
64 Set alight
65 Toast
66 Barbecue
67 Broil
68 Cremate
69 Roast
70 Cook
71 Burn
72 Incinerate
73 Singe
74 Melt

(Bite injuries)
75 Masticate
76 Eat
77 Gnaw
78 Devour
79 Gnash
80 Bite
81 Swallow
82 Chew

(General destruction)
83 Ruin
84 Ravage
85 Eradicate
86 Wreck
87 Liquidate
88 Trash
89 Collapse
90 Liquify
91 Undo
92 Demolish
93 Devastate
94 Obliterate
95 Deconstruct
96 Cave In
97 Annihilate
98 Destroy
99 Dismantle
00 End

Body part description

1 Teeth
 2 Eye
 3 Intestine
 4 Spleen
 5 Innards
 6 Thorax
 7 Thoracic vertebrae
 8 Spinal vertebrae
 9 Skull
 10 Zygomatic arch
 11Temporal lobe
 12 Brain
 13 Rib cage
 14 Scapula
 15 Bowels
 16 Tongue
 17 Spine
 18 Spinal cord
 19 Skin
 20 Scalp
 21 Stomach
 22 Chest
 23 Torso
 24 Fingers
 25 Thumb
 26 Coccyx
 27 Gut
 28 Sternum
 29 Breastbone
 30 Ribs
 31 1st rib, 2nd rib etc
 32 Liver
 33 Neck
 34 Kidney
 35 Clavicle
 36 Pancreas
 37 Intestines
 38 Lung
 39 Heart
 40 Ear
 41 Braincase
 42 Thigh
 43 Bicep
 44 Deltoid muscle
 45 Ankle
 46 Nose
 47 Aorta
 48 Pelvis
 49 Crotch
 50 Hipbones
 51 Jawbone
 52 Hand
 53 Carpal bones
 54 Foot
 55 Leg
 56 Lips
 57 Arm
 58 Wrist
 59 Metacarpals
60 Mouth
61 Face
62 Groin
63 Forehead
64 Forearm
65 Toes
66 Claw
67 Tail(bone)
68 Wing
69 Shoulder
70 Entrails
71 Jaw
72 Entire body
73 Cheek
74 Base of the skull
75 Elbow
76 Knee
77 Kneecap
78 Upper arm
79 Voicebox
80 Achilles tendon
81 Haunch
82 Backbone
83 Head
84 Limbs
85 Paw
86 Abdomen
87 Vertebrae
88 Solar plexus
89 Belly
90 Between the eyes
91 Hip
92 Breast
93 Ass
94 Throat
95 Collarbone
96 Trunk
97 Trachea
98 Jugular
99 Adam’s apple
00 Cranium

Friday, December 9, 2016

The One Thing Everybody Playing Should Do

Broad "Listen Up Everybody!" advice on GMing often boils down to a list of things that'd be great if you had infinite time or a list of things that would be really dead-on if you were a totally different person.

Broad advice on playing often has the same problems plus it's for players so nobody reads it.

It's hard to give advice that applies to all the different problems people can have, but there is one thing that I think applies across the board to players and GMs in pretty much all RPGs and all playstyles and all personality types and that even experienced players and GMs can always push themselves to do better in every game (myself 100% included): support the reality of the other peoples' inventions.

What that means is: when someone (within whatever parameters the game says is legit) establishes they're doing something or something is there or something is like that--constantly casually acknowledge it in how you talk. It's basically a lot like the old improv rule: "Say 'Yes, and...'" but it doesn't ask for as much. You don't have to top them or even build on it--just mention what's there, whatever it is.

If the GM incidentally says the room is lit by magical fuchsia flames--say how weird everyone looks in the pink light. Mention looking down at the veins in your palms to see how they look. Or ask if it gives your pink warpig a stealth bonus. Not necessarily to get a bonus or find anything, just to say "Hey, that little detail--I heard that".

The druid says she has a scarf made from an ermine that (she hastily adds) died of natural causes, have your thief make a point of being like "How's that sound, dead ferret?" before nailing down the heist plans.

Do it in little ways: if you're playing in a pick-up or con game, try to use the other characters' names. Try to remember what they are good at and ask them to help. "Can you hold them off with your pike, Arnie?"

The only consistent difference between hanging with your buds and playing one of these games--the only reason we chose to do the second thing instead of just the first--is whatever it is we get out of a shared imaginative space. Simply reminding them "Oh you imagined that? I am now imagining it too" deepens what we get out of that, no matter which direction we then want to use that space to go.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Non-magic Ranger for 5e

Who decided rangers would be magical? Probably it's Gary's fault somehow but whatever...

This is for my hacked version of 5e--like the paladin I made (Knight of Tittivila) it's a non spell-casting ranger and is a bit less powerful overall than the 5e default--but also more straightforward and with less mechanical fiddly bits.

Hit die: d10
Saves: Strength, Dexterity
Skills: Pick 3--Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth, Survival(/Tracking)

Level 1
-Favored Enemy: Learn their language (Int check if it's a strange dialect), Advantage on checks, +2 to hit and damage. Categories: Local creatures (incl animals and folkloric creatures), aberrations & elementals, reptiles, fey, giants, plants, undead, any 2 races of humanoids
-Favored terrain: Advantage on info and tracking checks. Pick: Arctic, coast, desert, forest, underdark, mountain, swamp
-Prof bonus +2
-Pick one fighting style:
   +2 to hit with bows (archery)
   +1 to AC
    Add ability mod to damage on second hit while using 2 weapons
-Animal companion: You get to pick one animal of 2 HD local to where you are when you level up or to your native environment, it behaves as if Charmed and gains d4 hp per level and is your friend. If it dies you may replace it but you can only have one at a time.
-Prof bonus +2
-Advantage to tracking rolls made in any environment
-Automatically succeed on any history, nature, lore etc check about any specific species or place previously observed (once per creature/place). Keep track.
-Prof bonus +2
-Add 2 ability score points anywhere
-Any environment you've spent 4 consecutive game sessions in counts as a Favored Terrain
-Prof bonus +2

-If the player playing the ranger maps a wilderness area, then, the second time the ranger PC passes through that area (provided at least an hour or one pitched combat has passed--to cleanse the ranger's mind of initial impressions), the ranger PC will automatically notice any concealed or hidden features in that area, and also any changes since last time. A mappy ranger will also notice any differences between a players' map drawn by someone else and the actual landscape and can find food or fresh water in any mapped wilderness terrain within an hour.
-If a ranger spends 15 minutes preparing camouflage, s/he can be unseen in any wilderness environment if not moving and gains advantage to stealth while moving.
-Prof bonus +3

-Extra atk per round.
-Choose a second favored terrain.
-Prof bonus +3

-Know a single sentence in any language from the area you come from on a successful Int check
-Given an hour and a successful Nature check you can locate berries, fungus, spider glands etc capable of restoring d4 hp to an injured creature. This stuff has to be fresh and goes bad after PC's level # of hours.
-Prof bonus +3
-Add two ability score points anywhere
-Given an hour and a successful Nature check you can locate lichens, molds, scorpion sacs etc capable of causing Confusion to a creature that ingests it (ie can't be stabbed in)--it doesn't take effect until the target fails a save (DC is ranger's nature check) and lasts until the target makes another save. The stuff has to be fresh and can't be used after PC's level # of hours.
-Prof bonus +3

-You may calm any animal or animal-minded creature with a successful Animal Handling check.
-Outdoor difficult terrain (unless magical) does not slow you.
-When outdoors, your passive and active perception allows you to notice features that would usually only be findable on a careful search.
-Prof bonus +4

-On a successful Survival check you can leave no trail and go undetected without magic.
-Growl can cause save vs Fear ( DC: 8+prof mod+Wis mod.) in animals of 5hd or less.
-Prof bonus +4

-You cannot be surprised in your preferred terrain.
-Choose a second favored enemy from any form of creature you have met in the campaign.
-Prof bonus +4

-If you spend at least 3 rounds setting up an ambush, everyone in your party gets an extra non-attack, non-spell action during the surprise round.
-Prof bonus +4

-After a round of study where you take no action, you can trip or disarm any foe on your next successful attack.
-If you roll maximum damage with any weapon, the blow lands exactly where you want.
-Prof bonus +5

-Add 2 more ability score points anywhere
-Prof bonus +5

-You may make any animal-intelligence creature you encounter of your level HD or less your companion (as level 2 otherwise). Mutant lion, dinosaur, whatever. You can only have one companion at a time, though.
-Prof bonus +5

-You cannot be surprised outdoors.
-You cannot be tracked outdoors.
-Prof bonus +5

-Add 2 ability score points
-Prof bonus +6

-You speak the language of any animal on a successful Nature check.
-Prof bonus +6

-Add 2 ability score points anywhere.
-Prof bonus +6

-Double damage against your favored enemies.
-Prof bonus +6

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Players Are Funny And Horrible

Last session was pretty funny an iphone video is worth 1000 half-remembered lines of transcribed dialogue, so here we go.


We’re playing Maze of the Blue Medusa and the players have found an exit leading out of the Maze to an island. To quote the book:

The islanders believe this dungeon is their spirit world. A strange impossible land of powerful and capricious beings who must be placated with regular offerings of useful things.  Kept in eternal equipoise by the scheming of cunning priestesses.   

They think anyone who comes out of the dungeon (including adventurers) is divine and live in constant fear of being favored by one of these capricious goddesses and dragged into “the underworld” so they wear masks painted with the features of ugly women and claim to have nothing of value. (I love that bit, it was Patrick's idea.)

So the party comes out and demand a place to sleep. The villagers hastily begin to assemble a sleeping area near the entrance to the dungeon. “No,” says the witch “We want to sleep in the village, not near where all the monsters come out”.

“Oh, great ones you don’t want to sleep in our village—it is very ugly. Perhaps…the ampitheatre near the extinct volcano?”


Once that’s settled:

-Grog the human fighter immediately goes to sleep
-The girls have to decide what to do with their elven prisoner
-The Chameleon Woman paladin still pines after the half-dragon Lady Crucem Capelli who they met in Room 2
Lady Crucem Capelli, in blue, above--stealer of hearts
This resolves in a scene that should probably have a content warning because the girls introduce some…themes concerning how best to utilize their prisoner of which the DM most definitely does not approve.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Relevant To Your Interests

We got in a game this weekend after a quiet stretch and it was awesome--I tried to upload a video of the players threatening to drag a bunch of cowering NPCs to hell and then having a lotta girltalk about consent that ended in an orgy but blogger is being a jerk so I'm going to transcribe it some time soon and get it so you can see it. There's also some big news that should (should) be announced in the next few months.
This part of the year is often kinda quiet--people in LA get alotta work around Halloween and then family stuff takes over in November. I have been playing a lot though, in Satine Phoenix's new (official) Eberron show Maze Arcana (official WOTC chatter about it here)... if you ever wonder what I'm like as a player there I am. There are a lot of guests but other regulars are Kyle Vogt who was (hilariously) in that movie The Room and cosplay/twitch goddess Milynn Sarley as a shifter who steals baby shoes and long-suffering GM Ruty Rutenberg.

Stuff to watch for:

-I play a fighter and don't use any feats or powers and do lots of stuff anyway.
-Also I play a changeling which in practice means I end up doing a lot of voices but like half of them are just that goblin voice I keep doing.
-I play a very private drinking game on my end of the table every time someone makes a stupid nerd pun.
-Milynn and Satine utterly refuse to do what the DM wants them to.

Also they made me sit next to the bard. Twice.

It streams live on Sunday mornings and then the episodes are archived on the weekdays after and a chunk of it goes to charity. Satine just now started a Patreon so she can add in more goodies and content. If you've been watching and want to contribute there you go. Do that. I spent enough time working on the first Hey Watch Us Play D&D show that I can tell you a bigger budget matters to the quality of what you get to see.
And yeah my last entry was also telling you to spend money on D&D stuff and before that I was telling you to throw in for the Swords & wizardry Kickstarter and donate to get Contessa to GenCon (you should still do that) but hey it's the goddamn season for giving ok? So also:

This is massive news. I have never waited excitedly for an RPG product to come out ever. I just am not that kinda guy. But this--this I've been waiting for. I read and ran an early draft and it became major canon in my game because it involved a flying island crashing into a city--and it's a goddamn introductory module. It's fantastic, it's written in a breezy, eminently readable style by the smartest, funnest DM in all of gaming, it's several times longer than it was supposed to be and has crazy 4-color art and raises the module bar sooooo many notches and is exactly what the whole DIY D&D thing is supposed to be all about and I'm so happy I could kill all of you.
OMG so many DIY D&D projects right? How to keep track? Well I'm having trouble, too--and there's a lotta good stuff out there.

So I'm announcing the DIY RPG One Stop Shop--a list (with links) to independent RPG products and other projects that want money for any reason. 

How do you get on this list? Simple: you leave a message here or on the G+ page referring to this entry with the name of the product/project and a link to it. There's going to be a fuckton of responses here and I'm going to be using stuff like Auto Text Alphabetizer to handle all of it so please do not provide any other information or salutations in your message besides the project name and the link, right after in the following format:

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit--

(don't forget the dashes)

Here's an example of what not to do:

Hey Zak thanks for setting this up :) Mind if I plug my book?

If it's not in the right format I won't add it to the list because it'll be a giant giant pain in my ass. For now the list will just be a big page on this blog with links to where you can buy stuff but it seems likely that once the list is collated some intrepid soul might give it its own shiny webpage. I will add comments to products I'm familiar with.

Anything tabletop RPG-related that you pay money for and isn't by a big company is eligible, including old stuff. When in doubt, don't ask me if a thing is eligible just put the name and link.

Friday, November 25, 2016

DIY D&D Black Friday Shopping Guide

Hohoho! Holiday game shopping got you down, gamers? Just sit on jolly Santicore's lap and tell him who you're having trouble finding a present for...

Your DM who has all the stuff already

I bet they don't have everything from Hydra Collective yet! My favorite is Tree Maze of the Twisted Druid--a rekeyed dungeon from when the author was but a wee lad--but the stuff with Luka Rejec art is a close second. These are the kinds of adventures you can pull out, reskin to your heart's delight, and have ready to run in under an hour.

Irritating children

You know how much kids love postmodern postcolonial weird fantasy author China Mieville and also me? Get them The Worst Breakfast. It's written by me and him and drawn by me and is about the most important meal of the day. Recently named one of Kirkus Review's top picture books of 2016.

A needle-eating dog with one ear and steel fangs

They need Hubris! A meatgrinder gonzo hatefuck murdering setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics. It's the new hot thing!

Fred Hicks' mom

I read on a 4chan thread about her that she's a huge fan of the new Kingdom Death kickstarter, it's expensive but goddamn those miniatures are something else.

Your player who keeps falling asleep because you are a terrible DM

Keep sleepy's head in the game with a Maze of the Blue Medusa pillow here! Shipping is free from this site today only.

A guy you only know from cons who smells bad

Encourage long and contemplative showers with an intricate Zak Smith shower curtain! Same site: shipping still free today.

Someone completely fucked up

Keep them clinging to vague tokens sprinkled along the thin edge of their ability to interact with fellow humans with dazzling and enigmatic Scrap Princess merch

The Community

Give back to the hobby you love by helping to send Contessa to GenCon this year.

Monday, November 21, 2016

How To Detox Your Community

If you've paid any attention to recent indie-RPG Kickstarters, you'll notice a lot of acrimony and accusations surrounding them. You'll also notice none of them are associated with the DIY D&D community we got here--even though our scene is producing more projects than ever before from a more diverse and controversial group of creators than ever before. LOTFP put out a promo image featuring the decapitated heads of both the president-elect and his opponent and nobody has screamed for his blood or launched a boycott--Stacy and her all-girl crew have run a successful Swords & Wizardry kickstarter and the antifeminist peanut gallery has managed to accomplish exactly fuck-all in the way of stopping them or causing meaningful problems. (ps Support the Get ConTessa To GenCon fund.)

Basically, in the last few years we've managed to run a pretty clean ship--people like and help each other, and when they don't, the conflict doesn't burn down the things we've already built or prevent people from coming and building more good things. For the benefit of anybody else in RPGs, in games, or anywhere else, I want to talk about how we got there.


The word is much abused, but it means something. Toxic waste isn't just bad, it's bad in a way that spreads. "Toxic" implies infectious, dangerous to more than just itself and its immediate victim. If your community is big and attractive enough, nothing in the world can stop someone bad from showing up sooner or later, but there are lots of ways to stop their badness from becoming toxic and affecting other people.

Defining Harassment

One painfully obvious step to avoiding toxicity that nobody ever takes is clearly defining harassment and then applying that definition to everyone equally. No moderators, no arbiters, no excuses, just: make your policy clear. And amend it if you have to.

The most important parts are not that every community defines harassment the same way as every other community (not even all the US states manage to do that) but that:

A) There is a definition
B) Its terms are not ambiguous
C) It applies across the board to everyone in the community--every behavior which matches it is called harassment and no behavior which doesn't is.

I put my suggestions for a definition of harassment in the comments below the blog entry, because they're an aside from the main point.

Kinds of Communities

There are basically four kinds of communities, defined by how they deal with bad actors. One is good, two are bad, one is ok sometimes for some things. We'll start with the ok sometimes one:

1. See No Evil Hear No Evil: No Accusations, No Investigations, No Accountability

This is the kind of community that most businesses aspire to be and that many mainstream game spaces effectively are. The D&D forum Enworld runs like this for the most part, as does (to the chagrin of many), the mainstream comic book industry. Their watchwords are things like leave the war outside, no drama, no politics, "just play games" etc.

The idea here is basically: never talk about anything important--or outside the (strictly-defined) business of the community. The advantage of these communities is they can get a lot of collaboration and work done--they build wikis and make How To vids, they spread technical and reference information, they offer places to discuss the best approaches to practical problems, they allow people to hone their craft regardless of ideology. They work fine so long as everyone involved is a good person though they tend to be kind of dull.

The real disadvantage is that they are completely vulnerable to abusers and can do nothing about them. If a company, for instance, is accused of failing to pay a freelancer or publishing something racist and then the company itself claims they did pay them or they aren't racist then the community basically has no tools to deal with that besides deciding the whole thing is "drama" and ignoring it.

The freelancer who didn't get paid or the community that suffered through a bunch of racism or the company that got unfairly accused of a thing it didn't do is still stuck with a real problem the community didn't address. They get to sit there and watch money go into the pockets of people who are dickheads at best and possibly criminals and there's no way to stop it. Nobody of a remotely activist bent is going to be happy with that and the neutrality of the people who run these spaces in the face of even the most blatant injustice can be repulsively smug. Tone-policing is normal here: suspicion doesn't fall on the side at fault but on the side that talks most about the problem.

Now on to the good kind of community:

2. Good Community: Accusations Lead To Investigation And Accountability 

This is not a drama-free zone--both activism and practical work can happen here. People are free to address injustices that go well beyond "They forgot to include a Con stat for the pig-man on page 16".

You can say someone didn't pay you, you can say someone sexually harassed you, you can say that a game is racist, you can say someone eats other gamers and hides their corpses in bespoke Dukes of Hazzard lunchboxes. But you or (if you claim to be too traumatized to discuss it) your friends and allies have to actually answer questions, provide details and give evidence of the abuse--and address counterarguments, apparent incongruities, suspicious circumstances, even questions you think might be asked just to waste your time. You don't have to argue with trolls, but if you're dismissing someone as a troll, you have to clearly state why--and apply that definition of "troll" across the board. You don't have to answer every person, but you do have to answer every question. And the people who asked have to acknowledge they heard your answers, not just run away.

If you're not involved you have to either go "I don't know and I don't have enough information to make a decision"(and then say or do nothing and admit you don't care enough about whatever principle is involved to find out) or, if you want to claim to care, find out everything both sides have to say about any point or detail that helps you make your decision--every piece of evidence or reasoning both the accuser and accused have to offer has to be on the table and anyone who is making a decision must be able and willing to speak to all of it when asked and must be, basically relentlessly, hopelessly overinformed. Everyone needs to be able to talk to at least one person who has access to all the arguments and counterarguments on both sides.

Sometimes the truth may be literally unknowable--but if you're going to pretend you care, if it's technically knowable (especially if it's all googlable), you need to know it. If you're taking someone's word, it has to be because you have no choice--and if you're basing your decision on trusting them, you have to say that "I didn't look into because I trust Dave. Why do I trust Dave? Well...".

And once everyone looks at the evidence they make--collectively or individually--decisions about how to enforce accountability on either the accused (if they did it) or the accuser (if it was a false accusation). If somebody is a dick or a liar then people decide they won't talk to them or buy their stuff. If it's something the person can reasonably apologize for, they ask for that apology and for a change in behavior and people do something about it if they don't get it.

Even without explicit rules, this works. One reason we've been so productive in recent years is people who do bad things get called out, the reasons they got called out get discussed, the people doing the calling are available, and once someone is called out they know it will matter and all of this is considered normal. It's a golden age of games right now for a reason.

There are two downsides:

-It's a fucking exhausting pain in the ass. Especially as a community grows, paying attention to accusations and who made them and what they were about isn't easy or fun and a lot of people vote to keep a See No Evil Hear No Evil model or, more commonly, no matter how much they get out of having a community and the resources it provides they will deny being part of a community or having any responsibility for keeping it going. There isn't much you can do about a person who takes a penny but won't leave a penny, but that's life.

-The bad people don't go away, they just form an anti-community. Places like the Gaming Den are full of people who lie so much nobody else could tolerate them. The good news is these places never really get anything done other than harassment--their toxic members prey on each other and cause too much noise for any productive signal to get through. Which is a good transition to talking about the two bad kinds of communities:

3. Troll Playgrounds: Accusations Good, Investigation Meh, Accountability Never

This is the classic troll forum. 4chan, Gaming Den, theRPGsite at its worst, abusive Twitter communities work like this. Everyone is free to accuse anyone of anything, investigating the accusation is considered kind of gauche because even assuming the person did something there will be no consequences. Complaining about someone being a dick is cool but doing anything about it is strictly squaresville.

Because they don't have lives offline, active participants in such communities consider the conversation, including accusations, basically recreational rather than functional. Jean-Paul Sartre described them long ago:

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.

Obviously this sucks and everyone involved is thinking pretty short-term if they're thinking at all. Moreover, unlike See No Evil Hear No Evil, just basic functional conversations can't get very far because members are free to attack each other constantly and anyone wanting a real resource has to wade through mountains of that to get to anything useful.

4. Green Hell: Accusations Good, Investigation Bad, Accountability Never

This is the disaster you get when a community tries to combine the heady brew of activist morality with the thin white gruel of middle-class pop mental-health discourse. Public accusations are encouraged (all activism, by definition, requires at least implying someone somewhere did something wrong) but then are treated as a cry for help from a victim, never as something which might possibly impact the target unfairly (and rarely imagined to hit anything so concrete as their wallet, feelings are all that matter here). Above all, discussing the accusation in any way other than total approval is discouraged, especially if the accusation can be framed as forwarding an activist goal. The accuser is comforted and the accused is dismissed while everyone talks a lot about how responsible and empathetic they're being by doing that. Diya lays it out:

This kind of thing is so dysfunctional when both accuser and accused are in the community that these communities tend to rip themselves apart quickly ("circular firing squad"--this is why Gaming As Women disintegrated and The Forge turned into Story Games and then Story Games turned into a diaspora of connected angry cells on Google+) or else settle into a norm where only those outside the community can be safely attacked (omnidirectional firing squad, like RPGnet).

In sharp contrast to the Troll Playground, the Green Hell is characterized by an obsession with moral problems--but only in inverse proportion to their ability to do anything about them. If a member of a Green Hell baldly and publicly announced an intention to shoot a stewardess with a .45 and feed her corpse to a three-legged mule, they'd immediately have a long and fruitful discussion of global warming.

A lot of schrodinger's seriousness obtains here--on the one hand accusations are theoretically important and serious enough to result in boycotts or the accused or accusers losing work, on the other hand attempts to focus the community's attention on the details of what happened to establish guilt and innocence are met with:

"I'm tired of talking about this"
"I'm closing the thread since I can't monitor it"
"There's a variety of opinions here and they're all valid so..."
"I can't untangle this and we'll never agree so..."
"This is not the place to go down the rabbit hole of who did what..."
"This isn't a trial" (despite the fact someone is effectively going to be fined for what people think happened) well as enthusiastic support for abstract platitudes about civility that dance around the issue of whether a human being did a bad thing to another human being and what will be done about that problem that we have here today with these people.

A hallmark of these communities is pinning responsibility for good behavior on vaguely defined terms (Imzy, a well-intentioned new community that I hope won't turn into a Green Hell defines harassment as "behavior directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose" while not defining what purposes are legitimate or including, for example, behavior that tries to inflict emotional distress but doesn't succeed because the target is used to harassment) that do the work of announcing principledness without clearly saying what the principles are.

A lot of people would argue that this analysis excludes power dynamics: an unfair accusation from a powerless person is not the same as an unfair accusation from a powerful one. But this ignores the fact that the point of an accusation is always to be heard and spread and if it's true it always should be spread.  Claiming false accusations from theoretically less-powerful actors somehow don't count is saying there is no point in making them and your community is already broken and doing things wrong because it always ignores them.

Green Hell spaces can be the most toxic (in terms of causing damage that spills out) not because the people involved have the worst intentions (they're not a Troll Playground, for instance) but because they combine constant insistence that conflicts over things like abuse are important with an ethic that demands no-one do the work to figure out exactly what abuses happened and who is responsible. This is a formula for constant chaos--everything is serious and nothing is resolvable.


Obviously few communities have formal constitutions or charters--and some don't even recognize themselves as communities. But groups of people who regularly talk start to get norms and cultures, and the better the culture, the better the work and the lives of everyone participating in that work are. There's lots of proof of this, but it's negative, it's stuff that doesn't happen. Although the problems in communities tend to come up most when bad things do happen and people go "What went wrong?" If you have any responsibility, a better way to think about fixing toxicity is: next time you see somebody put out something and it's smooth sailing and nothing goes wrong, ask them how that happened.

We have given you a republic--if you can keep it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

And the Award For Worst Voice In Gaming Goes To...

We already have enough stupid conservatives in games.

Do whatever you can to make sure we don't make one president.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The First D&D Hack Was By A Woman Named Cookie

Clicking enlarges it
The DIY D&D community spends a lot of time hacking D&D. One might well ask how this all started--who was the first person to both love this game and be disappointed in it? And what were they disappointed with? What did they add?

You might be forgiven for assuming the dissatisfaction came a month or two after the publication of the original D&D books, in some fanzine or other, or--more likely--at one of the tables of one of the first DMs to play. But no--Gary's published vision of D&D was actually hacked the moment it was published:

On page 27 of the first D&D book's first volume there appears an illustration of two creatures--"Beautiful Witch" (left) and "Amazon" (right)--drawn by one Cookie Corey.

They, are, true to that volume's subtitle ("Men & Magic") not described anywhere in the text. The image therefore represents not only the first work done by a woman in RPGs and the first female characters published in an RPG but also the first hack of an RPG. And a pretty good hack, too
And now a word from our sponsor:
Jack Chick is dead, but his children are alive. Irritate them by supporting the S&W Kickstarter!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It's a goddamn golden age of games

Ok, so everybody knows our cup runneth over and everybody has more good advice, cool games and random tables than they know what to do with. Some highlights lately:

Scrap Princess on G+
Dope Scrap merch on her RedBubble store

If someone were to ask me which person on the internet is most likely to post a thing and that thing is a thing I have to read right away, it's Scrap Princess. Gladiator insects, Shin Godzilla toys, magical girls gone wrong, Planescape done sideways--and maybe maybe doing Secret Santicore again this year? Scrap's feed is the feed to end all feeds.

Blood In The Chocolate

Kiel Chenier's had a weird year--he got stiffed by the Blue Rose people after running their game for them at Gen Con (as part of their ongoing "talk a big game about LGBT diversity but treat actual LGBT folk like rat snot" program) and yelled at by a crazy homophobic person for saying the Pulse shooting wasn't about their dumb game blog. But he's managed to come out of it with an adventure about murder and candy that's getting the Deeeluxe LotFP treatment.

Maze Arcana

Do you like Eberron? Do you like watching people play D&D for hours on youtube? Do you like the guy who directed Metallocalypse? Well then have I got a show for you: D&Dw/PS's very own repeatedly-dying-elf Satine Phoenix has put together an actual-play Twitch show called Maze Arcana where you can see all that. The stream is live on Sundays and then I think the plan is to cut it up into smaller chunks throughout the week. Sometimes I'm on it, too and they let me play a changeling so i do a lot of voices at least when I remember to because like actually they film pretty early sunday morning so like yeah anyway....

Stacy Dellorfano's all-female team on Swords & Wizardry--
by the pre-eminent Gennifer Bone

It's nice there are retroclones of old versions of D&D so it's easier for new players to figure out the rules, it's nice they're getting reprinted so people can get their hands on them and it's nice that Frog God Games took a cool step by having Head Witch of Contessa, Stacy Dellorfano, be in charge of assembling the team.

Now I know what you're thinking at this point--Zak, these things are all great, but they're all spearheaded by people who are lesbian or bi or gay or trans or Of Color or more than one of those things--have the straight white cismen of DIY D&D been tapped dry? Fear not: Matthew Shmeer wants your help on a crowsourced hexcrawl, James Mal has a new OSR sci-fi zine and Jason Sholtis of Dungeon Dozen--the world's most useful blog--has a new underworld kickstarter and it looks awesome and I think they're all straight boring white guys like me.
Also not D&D-related but definitely With Porn Stars related--if you live in California you'll probably be asked to vote on something called Prop 60 in November and will have seen some scary billboards about it. I wrote a long article about how incredibly dangerous and fucked it is, complete with a deep dive into the specifics of the text of the actual law which reads like it was written by drunk children. So, y'know, if you like reading my takes on mainstream RPG modules, more of the same...