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.


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?


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.