Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Revisions Part 1: The D&D RC was never complete or finished

WotC tries to be a moving target in a bullet storm right now. Whoever thought it was a great idea to ACT as if a document that needs recourse to legal advice can be open to public review just by calling it a "playtest" to associate it with some sort of development process in gaming, must think gamers are GULLIBLE enough to actually think they are involved that way and not just shut up. And if you did their survey and believe it'll have any value to WotC, then I have a bridge to sell you might be interested in. In other words: revision your work away from that bullshit. I'll do just that! 

Edit 28JAN23: I stand corrected, and I'm proud of all the fans standing up protecting D&D. Good show! The dragon is sleeping again ... I'll just say that we have no way of knowing if they actually looked at the surveys. It's actually still a bit ridiculous to assume they did, as what they are saying now is EXACTLY mirroring the original first response: the OGL 1.0a cannot go without lots of hurt for WotC. That has been clear from day 1. To claim now it's the survey from last week, well, it's disingenuous. Either way, it is the result that counts! Big Corp still sucks :)

I never used the OGL

I always found it suspect that something that isn't protected by law (like rules) needed a license to begin with. A lot of this is lawyer speak (think: smoke and mirrors) to widen the grey area for the corporation to act in, and that was pretty obvious from the beginning. If you make it your own, it is, by the same logic, your own and someone else may rewrite it and use it just the same. Them's the rules ...

Now, the main problem with Big Corp thinking in this very special situation is: they want to deviate from what they claim "stewardship" for (a term that only came up just now, and it is ludicrous to believe something like that might be compatible with a hyper-capitalist, neo liberal locust-think), well, they want to deviate just enough to act as if they are selling something new while keeping the old barred from any further use. The illusion of infinite growth colliding with the open source mindset ingrained deep into the original game and its first couple of iterations.

 

WotC be like ... [source]
We have seen over the years how they tried to mutilate the original game to get some resemblance of the D&D theme park they are trying to have you pay for ... forever and ever. This latest stunt is a reminder not only of the incompetent greed involved in this whole affair, but also of what your worth as a customer is with these guys. Shut up, do as your told and pay for it, too, while you are at it. It is not about "stewardship", it is about interacting commodities (and yes, we are also commodities in this regard ... for them, anyway).

So I avoided the waters those sharks frequented, and that included avoiding their OGL. What I did, however, was licensing Monkey Business with Labyrinth Lord, and they are licensed via OGL1.0a (as far as I know). So that's still protected under some legacy rulings. Or whatever ... Still, MB needs a revision anyways, and with be67 as far done as it is now, that revision will be a conversion to my own game.

About the RC being unfinished ...

We always said that the D&D Rules Cyclopedia is the most complete D&D book out there. That is still true, it is just a very low standard to have, because that book was only as complete as they could make it. It's open for debate if an "official" revision of what was offered back in the 90s would even be possible, so it is what it is, and it will most likely stay that way.

When I started compiling be67, the first thing I thought I would do was setting it up as a module to alter Labyrinth Lord, which is, of course, a CLONE of the Basic Expert rules and therefor in the same family of rules as the D&D RC. It didn't take long to realize that making be67 its own game was not only just a couple of steps more to take, but it might become necessary as well, because it was so very much its own thing (hence, a MUTANT rather than a CLONE).

Unconditional love? [source]
So I went for writing a complete game, which made it necessary to take a very hard look at the source material, if only to see what a "complete" version might entail. The first insight gained from that was a reminder of the damn scope of the RC. It is huge. Decades worth of playing it just once in its entirety.

The second insight was how much of a patchwork job it actually is: Weapon Mastery and Skill System are incomplete, lack proper editing and are definitely at best minimaly tested additions. It is full of little oddities that show what a hard job it must have been to compile all of that into one book. In the 90s, no less. Bits and pieces don't fit or are incomplete. Encounter matrix doesn't completely match the monster entries and while there is a lot of advice how to do a lot of what the book offers yourself, it left some huge parts unexplained (how to prepare proper dungeons, for instance).

What's more: once you take a REALLY close look, you'll find that it ALL connects just very loosely, as far as the numbers are concerned. Some of it is just copy/pasted and then expanded on without revision (or just checking if the math is right). How the original design connected is a black box, most of the time. The whole "race as class" discussion is a great indicator for that. Looking at the design it becomes obvious that there is a underlying logic to the classes offered in the book, with some of them offering some ideas where to go with that (druid and monk come to mind).

If you understand how that works, you can build every class you'd like, race is just a feature of that process. One more aspect to add. There is a chance for this to be so open, it'd allow complete customization of all aspects of the rules. It just was never done.

And fair enough, you don't have to look under the hood to play the game. But you have to when you are writing your own. Turns out, reconstructing that "black box" that is the original design will have you end up with something else entirely. And the deeper into the design the changes are, the bigger are the implications for how the game manifests on the surface. Especially if you gear it towards another setting, as be67 tries to do (Weird Sixties Grindhouse ftw, people!).

 

If I try to explain how monsters relate to challenge rating so a GM can potentially diy the shit out of it, I have to write that myself. If I want the GM to be able to build their own classes, I'll have to come up with something myself, because it doesn't exist in the original book. If I want to connect the numbers the game produces with how to structure adventures, or campaigns even, I have to do that from scratch, as the original book doesn't offer that ... And so on and so forth.

In that sense, the D&D RC is a very unfinished and incomplete book. Luckily so, because if they aren't able to connect all those dots, and a designer is to find their own solutions, there's no way they can claim it to be theirs, just for the tranparence of it all.

As a matter of fact, I'm not sure they are even able to entangle what has been the originl design and what has evolved because of fan or hobbyist initiative. The D&D RC, following that logic, was a very specific interpretation of one specific strain of the D&D family of games, already incorporating not original design, but concepts, insights and ideas established elsewhere (not only from the fan base, but also through many, many other successful rpgs out there).

An incomplete patch work that cannot be true to the original design due to being exposed to external and uncontrollable influences and bases its design on some unknown and obscure metric, barely makes a good argument for being protected by any means. In my opinion.

DIY, all the way ...

As things stand right now, it doesn't seem safe to associate with the D&D brand even superficially. Therefore, all publications I can manage to put out here in the next 5 months will deny all connection to the source other than it being inspiration. I'll be open about how it all connects, so it will be my very own take on some of the same principles established so many years ago. A retroclone mutant, if you will.

There is freedom in going it all the way all alone (and I might not be alone, actually). We'll see if I can claim be67 to be part of the OSR family or not. It's all still easily enough hacked and connected, but that's just something tainted now. What you guys do at your table is yours to decide, naturally, I just can't believe that it'll be open discourse from now on. At least it's not safe to assume so right now.

We'll see.

Right now, WotC tries to play it for time while funneling critique into non-existance, but the damage is done and gears started moving all over the place. Interesting times.

In closing I want to share a double page from be67 that took me a long time to complete, for the reasons I stated above. It might need more context, but I think the basic premise is easily enough grasped: it is a dynamic random encounter table that should help propelling the narrative in a way forward that supports the Grindhouse Feature the GM has prepared. Here we go:

Isn't she a beauty? Anyway. What I'm trying to say and show here is that be67 will not only be its own thing, it'll also be "complete" in a sense that there'll be no part of the rules that's not so throroughly and openly connected, that you'd have to guess why it is the way it is in its context. The above in part of a little machine that'll allow a GM to always keep the game within the parameters it establishes. with very little bookkeeping, I might add.

And that's that. If you've published something that may be construed to be close to what the Wizards do at that Coast, my advice would be to revise the hell out of it and build as much distance to those greedy fuckers as possible. I'll definitely do that.

And if you are in it for what I'm trying to do here, I hope you'll enjoy be67 as its own thing, just as much as you'd have while I could have associated it with the origins of the hobby. The hint needs to be enough.

Take care, friends and neighbors. Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 13, 2023

Lots of Ducks, no Row (and a Gallery of Dreams) ... not a rant

 Third Take: It'll be all right. The Wizards will get a bloody nose, hopefully painful enough that they see a need to get rid of some of their upper management ... That said, fuck them. Seems like it'll be a chance to free the core of our hobby a bit more and people actually seemed to come together, which is great. It'll also open the eyes of some new to the hobby, and they will look for alternatives. All the better. Feels like a net positive, so far. I'll leave the original second take up, altering it at places a bit. The short of it is, we here at Disoriented Ranger Publishing will get at least three brand new rpgs out there in the next couple of months. We'll be trucking on.

[Source]

Second Take: Happy New Year, friends and neighbors! Imagine the vilest rant written on the current "OGL" kerfuffle. All snappy and on point, making no prisoners, cutting prose ... all of that, cursing those damn wizards for generations. A rant so harsh, google crawlers would stop for a Milli-second to consider if corporate greed has finally gone too far. Imagine all that, imagine me scratching it now, sucking it all up with all its weapon-grade toxicity and spitting it out again to ... write this instead.

What a start, right?

So Hasbro tried to change the OGL to a shakedown scheme on a Friday the 13th ... The nerve on those fuckers is unbelievable. Gotta say, I was riled up for a second there. Then again, by now it is pretty clear that Big Corp likes to act all sociopath, the clear distinction to psychopath being that Big Corporations are a clear product of society. We let it happen. We created those monsters. Now we have to fight them. Same old ...

Look, if you know the blog, you know my stance on this. Original D&D is as close to being "cultural heritage" as we can get in western civilization, considering its societal impact. It was never a good match to corporate greed. They can just fuck off. And they will, eventually, when they fucked what is now a "brand" instead of a "common good" into the form they envision: a theme park with a money printing subscription scheme where you own nothing of the content or the rules and be happy about it.

Sounds familiar? It should. It's what they ALL try to make happen, for years now. Microsoft is doing it, Adobe is doing it, Big Pharma is doing it, Disney is doing it ... all the same, all over the place. Stream your movies, you don't have to own them. Read e-books, who needs physical copies?! And your games are digital already, you don't even need to install them anymore ...

It just costs you all the time. And they want to know EXACTLY what you are consuming. Because you could be a bad [consuming entity] and CHEAT those good hearted corporations of their money! So, no privacy. For sure. You have nothing to hide, right? So what's the problem?

[Source]
 

You know what? They also want to tell you what's best. They've done the work, for sure, so there's no reason for you to think on your own ... And on, and on, as if no one had ever thought about this in the last couple of decades. As if all those problems are new. They aren't, and the answers to what overreach and exploitation mean and where the limits SHOULD BE have been clear for some time now.

That said, Big Money does as Big Money does, people do as people do. Now we'll have a little drama, it'll happen something akin to a compromise and the next push is around the next corner. People don't learn, or they have learned already.

But where does it put you and me?

So many ducks ...

I have, over the years, written and published some things here and there. A great deal of all of that unpublished stuff is done to one degree or another. So instead of lamenting corporate greed, I should tell you a bit about what I've been working on. Maybe you see something you like or didn't know about (or maybe feel inclined now to check out?).

All of you should be aware of Monkey Business, the Labyrinth Lord adventure module I published years ago ... Overall positive reviews, lots of material to look at and use. No OGL, but agrees to the Labyrinth Lord license, which is connected. So I might have to put it down if I'm told to when I'm told to. Needs a rework anyways ... Until then, for sure a pdf worth purchasing!

The Pitch: The heroes in this huge procedural sandbox are confronted with sentient apes selling a powerful drug in the jungle. Five factions, random ruins and treasure and cannibals. Includes a beautifully hand-drawn dungeon map and enough material to run a massive and weird jungle campaign!

You all should have heard about ORWELL by now (a dystopian rpg with a satirical bend that tackles EXACTLY the contemporary bullshit we are getting the Hasbro treatment of right now ... just saying). I'm mighty proud of that game. You should buy it, play it, and tell your friends. Be the first to do so! Because so far, very few cared :)

The Pitch: The year is 2081, the United States of Europe (USE, for short) are ruled by one, corporate owned party called The Family. The Family measures of control include industrially produced children (already indoctrinated), declaring puberty as illegal and drone supported mind-reading cyborgs called "Bias Judges". It's basically "CyberPunk goes Peter Pan" with an anime twist or two ... Reads like a dystopian nightmare, plays like a grown up version of Paranoia, with just as much laughs.

I furthermore started publishing a collection of my favorite posts here, slightly edited, sorted by topics and with a nice layout. Third part has just hit digital shelves at drivethrurpg.

The Pitch: It is a small wonder that blogger still exists as an option. It is weakened and watered down, but still around. That those things can change within weeks is what the whole OGL affair proves easily right now. Hence the pdfs, hopefully with a PoD version soon, too. So this saves and conserves my efforts in the last 10 years.

three more to go in this regard, and good one, too!

I aim to publish at least 3 more games this year. One of them, be67, was written with OSR retroclone compatibility in mind. As a matter of fact, it was thought as a gimmick to be able to decosntruct the whole game towards BX. Can't do that anymore, so it will be rewritten and it'll be its own thing. Sucks, but can't be helped. in the end, however, I will have my own little OSR Mutant, with lots of possibilities to build on. For instance, Monkey Business 2.0 would be entirely be67, then!

The Pitch: be67 is a rpg set in the Weird Sixties and plays like a grindhouse feature. It's gonzo, it's brutal, it's funny ... and it features seven fine classes for the genre that all can go up to level 30, all with providing the tools for epic campaign arcs and fantastic adventures! All my future adventures will be based on this system.



The next one I'm working on is the editing and publishing the first DRP game that's not written by me, but by my good friend Mark van Vlack! The name is AMAZING ADVENTURES / INCREDULOUS EXPLOITS and it was conceived as result of the fun challenge (Mark put on himself) to write a fantasy rpg where EVERYTHING is random. Characters, Adventures, Monsters ... all of it, all analogue. And it worked like a charm. A couple of year later he made an updated version of the rules for games IN SPACE and just last year he finished drafting an omnibus of all of it: the RANDOMNOMICON. I love all of it, and asked him, if we could join forces and publish it via DRP. He agreed, I'm right now in the process of collecting artwork and editing that 500 pages beast and I promised him that he'll have something to show for Christmas 2023!

The Pitch: Fantastic for one shots, extremely flexible with its settings (Fantasy, SF, Science Fantasy ... all in between), with a huge array of tools to create everything from monsters to dungeons, villages and space ports (among other things ... this game is HUGE with tables of all kind). Rules for magic, for psychic abilities, for mutations, anything you could imagine, really. Literally decades worth of gaming material and highly customizable.

That third game I was hinting on will be a rules lite attempt. Something with fast rules and some odd design angles I'm exploring right now. I've talked about it before over the years, and the FINAL name of this project will be BRAWLERS. Dark fantasy with a steampunk twist (I call it DungeonPunk) in which a group of dubious characters go on heists for Petty Godlings. Robbing monsters for fun and profit. The game will use dice and cards, missions will be generated procedurally ... 

The Pitch: Live is cheap in the Victorian world of DungeonPunk. Corrupting humanity was easy enough, now the Monsters are in charge. Not that they changed that much, but they take what they want. And so should you, punk. The world lies in ruins and is yours to take. A club is cheap enough, take one and go for the dungeons. Killing is easy enough, you see that every day on the streets of the slums you call your home. Take your friends. Who else is going to cover your back? If the authorities are coming for you, let them feel your anger. If you're lucky, they'll fear you someday in the future. If you live that long. Now go and loot. Gold can buy you a new arm, a magical sword even or a shiny new armor, but eventually it will buy you freedom. And always remember: a Crowscare will stitch you together every time, but a Whisperer will make you better. 

For the rest, I'll just let pictures talk ...

A SF variant of Brawlers!

Long overdue ...

Maybe those compatibility claims end up changing ...

Let's leave it at that? There's still lots of work to do, and some things had to be put on hold (Robo-Hitler, for instance, has ways to go in areas out of my control). I'll work it all over the coming months and we will see what happens.

We are going to be all right ...

I am a small light in that circus. No reach or influence at all. Those Wizards won't bother, I'm sure. However, I depend, to a degree, on a somewhat functioning market around me so that I can at least present my wares to some potential customers. We saw that threatened in the last couple of days. Again, and this time with more gusto than usual. I will not forget this and it must have consequences. 

Anyway, I hope you guys will check out some of my entries and have fun doing so. There is more to come! Turns out, I take 3 to 5 years to finish a game. No scene seems to be that stable. All the time I take to establish myself in one takes away from what I should do, which is writing. So I won't bother taht much anymore. I will keep blogging, but I might have to find ways to monetize all of it (the blog will remain free, but it might get an option to give me some moneyz).

As I said, it'll be all right. The scene is already adjusting, and Hasbro likes money more than they do their politics. They will have to compromise, people will adapt and prepare, and some day, maybe, D&D will be free. I hope to live to see it.

And a final word about that game it is all done for: LOST SONGS OF THE NIBELUNGS ... It WILL happen, as soon as I have managed to take all the obstacles I think I need to take to make this the book I want it to be. I'll take that time.

That's it. That's my piece. Took me long enough. this year might see some more surprises here on the blog. Things are moving in the background :D Stay tuned, stay happy, stay healthy.

Love

JD


 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Don't ask me ...

I know. I haven't blogged in a while. It's been difficult. Among all things, I think I have said all I can say about the game without repeating myself a lot or stretching it. At least in this here medium. What's next is a number of publications where I get to explore all of this in depth and beyond. It's been long due, and it will happen eventually (I'll have some teasers at the end for those interested ...). Doing this for the time I'm doing this, I get asked shockingly often how to approach this hobby of ours. What's good, what's popping, where to start ... I always have a hard time answering this, so here's a post (yay!?).

To be honest, I am truly lost

I make a habit of visiting shops selling role-playing games and paraphernalia when I'm in a city big enough to actually accomodate something like that. Here in Germany it is a bit different than in the US as no one seems to bother and my impression is, those shops are disappearing more and more here.

A couple of years ago I started to get a strange feeling when I found one of those shops and looked for books to buy: nothing appealed to me at all. Same old, same old, all colorful, all with lots and lots of supplements ... all very much uninspired. The market is stretched so thin that only the blandest of corporate word sauce makes it into the shelves. No exotic little independant games, no old games, no character in the selection, for lack of a better word. 

Nothing is new anymore ... [Source]

It is all so bland, most of the time I have to go and spend my money elsewhere (usually I end up buying a d20 or something like that).

To the point: there was nothing to explore, nothing to discover. I had the direct contrast of this when visiting one of those shops in Hamburg. I had had high hopes there. Big shop in a big city ... and it left me underwhelmed. The staff was uninterested close to hostile and while it had lots of stuff to sell, it all was just kind of there. I bought a deck of playing cards I liked and left dissapointed.

However, just down the road it had a little comic shop, and I thought, while I'm already there, I could take a look. Smaller shop, so full of comics it left no room for natural light to come in. Good selection, too, as far as first impressions go. But what really really got me stoked was two very prominent and STACKED bins full of recommendations collected by the staff there.

Fringe shit throughout, stuff I've never seen or heard about, as well as some popular favorites. Sometimes with a couple of words why it's good, all of them good ways to engage with the clerk behind the counter and geek out. I left money in that shop. Too much, according to my wife, but it felt justified.

Very weird, very funny ... [Source]
Made me think, too.

It is not even that the comics themselves had been the best thing ever (although I did have fun with the lot of them), but among all the things sold in that shop, they'd been enthusiastic enough to share what they liked. I always thought it worthwhile asking the people knee deep in a topic what their preferences are. It's always interesting, if nothing else.

So you might think: but good Sir, isn't it just common sense to go and ask the people working in those places what's good and interesting? To which I'll say that I'm not only a somewhat peculiar person in those regards (as in: shy), I also know too much on the rpg topic already, so chances are that I will encounter opinions I will feel the urge to challenge (if you've read anything here, you know what I talk about). I am opinionated like that, so I don't engage easily.

My point is, however, the shop itself should offer a path of sorts, a map, if you will, for the interested customer to find and follow up on. It's what we book sellers in Germany call the "wallpaper": the books you put on display, being your preference, help a customer understanding you, which, in turn, offers opportunities for conversation. They show their hand so you can come and play. It helps getting over the insecurities, over that threshold of the unknown other.

In too deep

While it sucks to go into a shop knowing too much, it sure as hell gets really ugly when someone interested in the hobby asks you for advice (I know, it stands in direct contradiction to the above, but I already told you I'm peculiar ...). I could talk about the finer points of game design all day (and have put it to the test when talking to like minded people), but when confronted with an enthusiastic lack of knowledge, I'm at a loss fast. Again.

One could say that I'm so deep in that I don't see the forest because of all the trees, but that's not entirely true (although part of it). What's more problematic, however, is that our hobby relies too heavily on recruiting through self-professed gamemasters without offering the tools for it as well. And without the tools it needs, you'll more often than not end up with a personality cult of sorts.

Actually, "they" (big corp, naturally) fuel that idea of cult-like, personality driven recruitment through their media representations of the hobby, which are always never accurate, imo. And by design, too. Think about it: their policy is customer driven, they want to sell shit, so they can't tell customers that it needs a certain set of skills to do Gamemastering properly. Everyone needs to buy, so everyone needs to be welcome.

Which ironically leads to the impression that the circus clown bullshit that goes for role-playing in popular youtube shows is what the game is about. All need to be flamboyant improv actors in fancy costumes, everything needs to be snappy and immediate. Storytelling, yes, but you won't see Critical Role (or whatever) crunch and grind some high level AD&D combat over a couple of sessions ...

Anyway, I digress. I have made that point elsewhere somewhere already: the popular kids have discovered D&D now, so it's all about showing off and hierarchy and superficial (virtue) signalling. That's not me. As a matter of fact, I really don't care for that aspect of the hobby at all and there is a lingering fear that someone new to the hobby asking me about it just wants a road map to the circus. Because I'm one of those clowns. Right?

Then again, I do love the hobby and I do have opinions, so it might be ill advised to overcompensate and go all Joseph Campbell and game design approaches and history of the hobby or, in other words, avoid the all-out nerd-speak to proof the stereotype by being it. Ease them into it, then go full nerd.

[Source]
But how?

Again, I'm conflicted there, but usually I have to claim authority by telling what I've done so far in the hobby (the little I did is more than most did, relatively speaking) and somewhat where I stand. Or rather, what I think the hobby is about and what it takes. As described above, I'll show my hand. Usually people will realize then, sooner or later, if that means something to them or not. If it's interesting and something to explore further, or not at all what they wanted or expected.

So, at best those people get an individual take with a lecture and reading recommendations. Not very shiny at all, and most defintiely not the kind of glitter some people like to engage in, but honest to the point where someone REALLY interested might as well end up playing at my table, and with the proper attitude too. If it is that kind of contact, that is. If it's a "friend of a friend" asking, it gets difficult again.

How to approach our hobby (meaningfully)

Here's the original inspiration for this post. A colleague of my wife asked what she could give her boyfriend as a present that could be considered a nice entry into the hobby, because he has shown interest to get something started. The question was forwarded to me, and here we are. 

The first problem is, I don't know the person and I won't get a read on him as well, so this is totally into the blue. The second problem is, there is no solid recommendation for a role-playing book that checks all the boxes so well that it could be a cold, all-purpose sell for everyone.

Most indie publishers don't have the funds for proper artwork or any means to have a proper layout, so there will be no appeal as a present, regardless of the quality of the content. Or they are great coffee table fodder, but so fringe that they still won't work as a general entry to the hobby.  

What's more, there are so many serviceable (as in: will get you gaming with friends) role-playing games out there that are free in their digital version that it'd make no sense at all to actually buy one as a present unless it really checks all the boxes (which, again, to my knowledge doesn't exist).

The popular brands are out as well, since I don't subscribe to their business models and their approaches to game design in general. They might be shiny, but they are the poison apple.

[Source]

What's left? My answer was to have him learn about the origins of the hobby and make up his own opinion. The scholary approach, if you will. So I offered she should gift him either Empire of Imagination or Rise of the Dungeon Master, both readily available in Germany and with decent enough takes on how the hobby started (as an entry, of course). Names and dates and stories. With this, or so my thinking, someone really interested would have all they need to decide how to tackle this hobby.

Another recommendation was trying their hand at one of the numerous rpg-board game hybrids out there, since they capture the essence of "classic" play well enough without needing the commitment it takes to start and maintain a campaign (Legends of Andor and Mage Knight made the list there). You'll learn the tropes and it makes for a great big box under the tree.

A third option would be to make something like a Player Starter Kit with some nice dice, maybe a solid folder for character sheets (something made out of wood with a nice dragon up front, maybe?), a personalized leather bag to carry the dice ... stuff like that, stuff that'd be useful in every game.

All in all it's not a lot to go with, and only relates to playing role-playing games in the narrowest of senses. It doesn't help in establishing what one might like (or even just to get a sense of what it would actually be like to play), but it could help mapping the territory.

And that's that. While I'm at least somewhat relieved that something came to mind, it really helped more illustrating the shortcomings of getting people interested in this little hobby of ours beyond the original impulse. One could do worse than reading a reasonably well researched biography of Gary Gygax to get an idea what made that early D&D such a success, but it's still a bit of a stretch.

It's also all so fractured

There's another thing making it difficult to offer guidance for our hobby: by now it all seems to break down into smaller and smaller tribes all over the place. And the loudest ones aren't really good representatives of the hobby in general. The OSR? Done for. Or it's something else now that milks it for what it's worth. The "artpunk" discussion? Blech. Those trying too hard to be the opposite? Yawn. Official D&D? Excludingly diverse, all posture no substance. The next edge lord driving nother pig through the digital village? Pestiferous, at best.

Just the other day I saw a new book by Lamentations of the Flame Princess out in the wild. Hadn't heard a word about it. As always with LotFP, it was a solid presentation. A good looking book. And yet, I did not care to even just look inside. There is SO MUCH scorched earth and bad policy associated with the brand that I won't bother anymore.

There was a time when I'd recommend those books for all they did well when they did it. Today I'd hope people new to the hobby don't stumble across all the bullshit in that corner of the internet before seeing the more positive sides of the hobby first.

Add to that even more social media controversies and flame wars and scandals and cancellations all over the place, and what are you left with? A couple of quiet and well hidden forums trucking on (Basic Fantasy comes to mind, as do the guys that publish the Threshold zine). The rest, generally speaking, seems to be a very loud and toxic environment not worth pointing towards.

[Source]

So, don't ask me?

Maybe. It's that "get off of my lawn" kind of thinking that just comes from not having many options to begin with. It's also mixed with the feeling that my way of playing is already fringe in the greater hobby, so people might not find what they are looking for if their inspiration to look is derived from aspects of the hobby that follow very different rules and ideas. Doesn't mean I'm not willing. Doesn't mean those worlds don't intersect. But it makes it difficult to be an "embassador" of sorts for the hobby.

So I hope my recommendations fall on fertile ground and some people have some great gaming ahead. That'd be nice.

And to close on a more positive note: there is an "old school" shop of sorts in Ulm that I visit whenever I can. Lots and lots of fringe games and old games mixed in with board and card games and books and all kinds of fun stuff. It is all over the place, but in a good way. If you get lost in there, you will find treasures to bring home. At least I do everytime I get to spend some time in there.

You know, I do get to spend money for gaming material. I still collect, my taste in those things is just very, very fringe nowadays. Maybe I'll share my purchases this year in another post. I feel like giving the blog some more love the next couple of weeks. 

Either way, thank you for reading! How would you guys handle something like this? What would you consider a good rpg book for someone who never had any other exposure to the hobby? Is there such a thing? Should it exist?

[Source]
 
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Some teaser art for my upcoming BX retroclone mutant be67. It plays in the weird Sixties. We have a layout and the artwork is coming together as well (copyright is all mine):



Another project I'm working on for 2023:

There's more, but that's enough for today, I'd say :)


Friday, August 26, 2022

Tell them to show and not tell ... (a look inside the be67 GM chapter)

One of the most difficults tasks when writing a set of rules is to not necessarily to make those rules understood but more so to write the book in a way that allows the reader to produce as close as possible to the same experience as you make happen when you play the game you are writing. You need to get them into the same headspace, if you will, to share the same vision you have. One of the first rules in that regard (I think for writing in general, actually) is to assume they know nothing you know.

We need to be told that we should show and not tell ...

Readers might even know more or just "differently", but if they don't go along with what you are proposing (for whatever reason), they won't get it. And the worst case scenario for that would be that they'll have a bad experience when playing your game. So I'm extra meticulous about making myself as clear as possible.

Part of that exercise is to put the reader in a position to compare their own frame of reference to mine and find the overlap. To be totally fair, the ideal mix for a text like this is in huge part "telling" and in some parts "showing" (examples and all that), but to some degree it needs to be an exchange of references in order to build common ground.

Therefore, today I'll show you how I tell them what can be seen as inspiration to show the players the Weird Sixties instead of telling them ... This is part of the beginning of the Chapter about GMing be67:

SOURCES & INSPIRATIONS

The first part of this chapter seems a bit excessive at first glance, but we strongly believe that (1) many of the inspirations collected here are already known but so popular that it’s easy to lose out of sight how deeply rooted they are in the Sixties, that (2) it needs at least all of that to show how versatile popular culture had been almost 60 years ago and (3) that it is necessary to visualize that psychosphere where grindhouse publications would borrow their ideas from.

There’s furthermore a long upheld tradition in role-playing games to have something akin to what was called “Appendix: N” in AD&D 1e. It’s not as much “required reading” as it is a guide towards what informed the designers to do what they did. Some of the same is true here, of course, so the following is neither complete nor canon, but recommendations what could give a Gamemaster in be67 an edge or two.

What’s more, many of the titles collected below would find sequels and reboots and additions for decades to come, some inspired or initiated whole new genres or cultural shifts. What happened in the Sixties build the foundations for the main cultural identity of the 20th and early 21st centuries. That’s a lot.

What are the Sixties?

What follows is a somewhat romanticized and decidedly US-centric description of the Sixties. Other cultures definitely contributed to our idea of the Sixties in this context (Japan and the UK, mainly), and we will give some examples of that, but for length alone we have to cut corners here and give some pointers instead.

In short, the Sixties could be characterized (for the purpose of this game) as “psychedelic optimism”. It was happy and colorful and feminine, with a good dose of “weird” intruding popular culture in form of the freedom movement and some strong and distinct subcultures all across cultural niches in the US to boot. There was movement and palpable friction between poor and wealthy as well as traditional and more non-conventional values.

There also was Vietnam, but it wasn’t (yet) the war that would traumatize the US for decades to come. Careful observers would see first signs of that early on and the soldiers that came back had went through hell, obviously, but without an audience. And yes, people demonstrated against the war, but it was an ongoing process with the hallmarks of disaster only.

A huge part of the positive spin (or feel) the Sixties had was due to the introduction of several psychoactive drugs to the populace. The first drugs that come to mind in that regard are, of course, marijuana and LSD (or Acid) popular with artists and the counterculture (as well as some scientists). However, an impact just as big had the invention of Valium and derivatives in 1963. Popular- and counterculture had all been on very mellow drugs, and that, arguably, took the edge of the Sixties while making them more fun all around (again, for the purpose of this book … things, naturally, had been a little bit more complex than that).

There was some technological optimism as well, with lots of innovation and people with enough money to buy it. The Sixties saw an economic surge in the US, mostly due to government finishing what Kennedy had started. And while that would fall flat in the 70s, it certainly helped spending in the Sixties. In general we can assume that the average citizen in the 1960s had access to most of the accommodations we have today, minus computers and cell phones. Things like ATMs or hand-held calculators had been invented, but weren’t in heavy circulation at 1967. Maybe something you’d see an article in the newspapers about. Computers did exist, but only to the degree that people in general had been aware of them and it gave authors some strange ideas about the future. When in doubt, accept that a more “primitive” version of the tool in question might have been available.

Those are the basic tones of the game.

But what did that look like?

TV in the Sixties definitely had some highly recognizable staples. Here’s a great sample how weird it could actually get in mainstream TV:

  • The Addams Family
  • The Avengers
  • Batman
  • The Beverly Hillbillies
  • Bewitched
  • Get Smart
  • Gilligan’s Island
  • Hogan’s Heroes
  • I Dream Of Jeannie
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • The Munsters
  • My Favorite Martian
  • Rawhide
  • Star Trek
  • The Twilight Zone

Before we go into the grindhouse experience, we also should take a look into mainstream cinema. It featured some genuine classics. Let’s see what had hit cinemas that decade until 1967 alone:

  • A Fistful of Dollars
  • A Shot in the Dark
  • The Birds
  • Blow-Up
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • Carnival of Souls
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • For A Few Dollars More
  • The Godson
  • The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
  • The Great Escape
  • House of Usher
  • The Innocents
  • James Bond (Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice & Casino Royale)
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • Lolita
  • Mary Poppins
  • The Pink Panther
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Psycho
  • The Time Machine
  • The Wild Bunch

That’s only a small selection of popular movies with comedic, violent, horror or surreal elements and only in the first seven years of the Sixties (and mostly US). Great movies have been done before and after that and all over the world. For instance, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Night of the Living Dead and Easy Rider didn’t make the list because they had been released in 1968 and 1969 (but had been in production in 1967).

Movies, documentaries and TV shows from later decades but playing in the Sixties also offer great sources of inspiration. Here are some definite highlights (as far as the game is concerned):

  • American Graffiti (1973)
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
  • Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002)
  • The Doors (1991)
  • Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
  • Green Book (2018)
  • Inherent Vice (2014 for the movie, the book was 2009)
  • JFK (1991)
  • Mad Men (series, 2007-2015)
  • Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
  • Perfect World (1993)
  • The Rum Diary (2011)
  • Taking Woodstock (2009)
  • When You’re Strange (documentary, 2009)
  • Woodstock (documentary, 1970)

This is, again, just the tip of the iceberg and very mainstream, but for that reason easily accessible just the same.

The seedy underbelly of 60s cinema?

The one thing lacking in the Sixties was proper special effects. They did good with what they had. In some cases, anyway. But most of the time the results will fall under “acquired taste” today. Every one of the Science Fiction and Horror movies of the Sixties will make fantastic pitches for be67 adventures, however, so we encourage looking all of them up for inspiration (or even viewing, for that matter). That said, we will name a couple of favorites just to show a glimpse what’s there to discover and explore:

  • Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy
  • Billie the Kid v. Dracula
  • Black Sabbath
  • Blood Feast
  • Brides of Dracula
  • Dr. Who & the Daleks
  • Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
  • The Gorgon
  • Hillbillies in a Haunted House
  • Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter
  • The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
  • Matango (a.k.a. Attack of the Mushroom People)
  • Mothra vs. Godzilla
  • Onibaba

That’s just a small selection, already bordering hard into grindhouse-territory,

Also authors and books and music, oh my!

Many, many authors of weird tales still highly popular today had already successfully published books in the 1960s. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for instance, got published as a paperback only early in the Sixties and then became hugely popular in colleges (the famous “Gandalf for President” pins started then and there). It resonated very well with the Zeitgeist of the 60s. And of course the old and fantastic classics had also been around back then: H. G. Wells, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker …

Mix in Eastern influences feeding new impulses into the Western collective unconscious and some drugs and you end up with the Beatnik movement and all the blues and rock and folk music opening up to new psychedelic realms, all of that eventually amalgamating into the Summer of Love in 1967 and Woodstock 1969.

We can’t possibly map all of this here, but we will name a couple of our personal favorites to give an impression what we might refer to when GMing be67 (in the tradition of the famous Appendix N):

  • Isaac Asimov
  • Peter S. Beagle
  • William S. Borroughs
  • Charles Bukowski
  • Anthony Burgess
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Arthur C. Clarke
  • Philip K. Dick
  • E. R. Eddison
  • Philip José Farmer
  • Dashiell Hammett
  • Robert A. Heinlein
  • Frank Herbert
  • Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Mervyn Peake
  • Thomas Pynchon
  • Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • Roger Zelazny

All of the above contributed a lot to what was imaginable back then, which naturally also ended up one way or another on grindhouse movie theater screens (while being watered down immensely and somewhat more sleazy) .

As for music: using the soundtracks of all the collected entertainment above should give a GM more than enough material about what the Sixties sounded like. All the bands and artists performing at Woodstock are a good start, the Beatles should be in that mix, some country, some folk, but also classic music like Mozart or Bach and the like (see Apocalypse Now, 2001 or Clockwork Orange for ideas).

That said, even contemporary music can help a Gamemaster getting some inspiration … More on that in the next part.

Summoning the Weird Sixties!

We have used throughout this book quotes from movies that wouldn’t be considered original grindhouse features by any sane movie aficionado. Mostly, anyways. The material we quoted for inspiration is also pretty much mainstream popular throughout, although many of them wouldn’t exist without exploitation cinema. Why is that? The idea behind this was to give some pointers where one actually would find inspiration for grindhouse features and how common those tropes are now because of it. This is how it works:

Exploitation movies take what is popular and use it shamelessly, often towards the sensational and uncouth. It’s where the name came from, as a matter of fact. Aspiring GM of be67 should take this to heart and have some fun with doing the same.

Basically, every popular story idea, doesn’t matter what medium, can be made into a grindhouse feature just by mixing it relentlessly with other ideas and making it somewhat less reputable in the process but glorious because of it.

The gold standard that produces would nowadays be something akin to a Tarantino movie. A daunting proposition, one might say. As would be to assume that all D&D games are on par with Tolkien’s work. In both cases, however, players can have just as much fun as they’d have watching a Tarantino movie or reading Tolkien. The reason for this is that the rules will already get you half way there! So far we have provided:

  • Characters you would find in those movies,
  • with backstories that already sound like bad movie plots, and
  • an award system that motivates players to go all-in on the premises of their Characters (if they like xp), but furthermore
  • with a combat system as gory as it gets and
  • lots of other rules like Funk Rerolls and the Bubblegum Barometer to give the game that specific feel!

This chapter will add some more tools and insights to help Gamemasters of be67 with their games with The Rule of Cool, some basic structuring for adventures, what High Level Play will look like, how to work Skills as a GM, Environmental Effects, how to keep players happy with Special Loot, how to convert other gaming material, how to make Character Classes from scratch and how to handle Monsters. All of that and some more general advice should offer a Gamemaster more than enough material to prepare and run games set in the Weird Sixties for years. Future publications will add Adventure Modules, new Classes, different Settings and even more Tools to that.

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And that's the introduction for gamemasters to the game, giving you an impression what this book will read like and what scope it'll offer on it's, roughly, 140 pages A5. We here at Disoriented Ranger Publishing take our funny games serious like that ...

I'd be happy to hear thoughts on the above, of course. What baffled me most when I researched this was how much of the Sixties is still mulled over to this day, one way or another. So, was this helpful at all? Did it convey a frame to work with?

Anyway, back to work. I still have high hopes that be67 will see the light of day this year, at least in pdf form. There's other things in the works, and I'm currently a bit scattered. But it'll sort itself out, I'm sure of it. Until then, have some artwork for the book (still in the process of collecting those and experimenting with this on Midjourney ...):

Funky Vampire Queen?

 
Ghosttrain, New York, 1967 ...


Summer of Love ... but it's Zombies!

Still undecided about those colors ...