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:


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.


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 ...