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.

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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?

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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


 

16 comments:

  1. These look cool. Some of the art looks like AI art though, is it? That'd be a bummer, AI art is theft.

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    1. Spare me. I paid for those pictures. I fucking processed those pictures, which actually is a lot of work. AND I have no budget for other artwork (think about why that is). But other than calling a poor artist making due (me) a thief, it is a ludicrous statement to begin with. You did use technology to get this written and posted, right? That picture of yours wasn't hand drawn, I presume? You ever heard of Adobe? You know how many jobs digital printing killed? No? What Word did to writers?

      Believe me, I pay for "human" art when I can and this AI stuff is a pain in the ass most of the time. Other than that, I will use what is available and make no secret out of it. If that means, people like you won't support it, fine. Be like that. But that whole "AI art is theft" schtick is nothing but ideological phrase pushing with not one iota of thought put into it. Be better, man.

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    2. Oh, and how about Public Domain art? Is that theft, too, then? No one earned a buck! How about if I draw it myself? That theft, too? It just doesn't make any sense other than being insulting for the sole purpose of ... what? Guilt-tripping people into spending more money for "art"? Denigrating the work of others?

      And if that's your criterium, did you buy ORWELL, then? Over 43 illustrations by a human artist ... Add to that good writing and a great game for a fair price. No one cared.

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    3. Jens, I did not intend to offend. I like your blog and I wish you well.

      The datasets of images uses by AI art software now includes millions of images made by human artists who did not consent to have their work used in that way. Do you think that any art that anyone posts on the internet should be able to be stolen and used by others? I don't. That is what has happened, but dont take my word for it, the founder of Midjourney admitted it: https://petapixel.com/2022/12/21/midjourny-founder-admits-to-using-a-hundred-million-images-without-consent/
      I think that AI art can and should be made with public domain art and art from consenting artists. This technology is new and exciting and strange and creators and society at large are just beginning to understand its ramifications. It will have huge ramifications. What I wrote may have sounded flippant, but please consider the possibility that using this awesome technology without thinking through its ramifications is flippant.
      I am sympathetic to the experience of a small press publisher. I can understand how AI art might be an attractive option and can fill roles that public domain art and original art (both of which are obviously great) cannot but I think it is a mistake for creative communities and society as a whole to embrace this technology as it is today. Not all technology is the same.
      My hope is that artists will soon have the ability to opt out of the datasets used by AI art generators. Truthfully it's a faint hope. We may sooner resemble the scenario you sketch out in ORWELL. In the mean time I think these kinds of conversations are imoprtant.

      Again, I didnt mean to offend. Good luck.

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    4. Thanks for replying in detail. I'll always respond better to carefully worded arguments than I will to meaningless slogans. The manipulation technique behind this "AI art is theft" slogan is to create a reflexive response of shying away from it since it is associated with a crime ... I don't like shit like that, and I don't like the intentions behind it.

      As for that whole fake outcry about pictures being used "without consent" ... if those had been public digital displays of pictures, published to be seen by others, I can't for the life of me see a problem here. As an aside: you know how I communicate with the artists I do work with? I send them pictures for inspiration. Pictures I found online. But that's not even the point. With making the argument you make, you insinuade that there is a new technology that does something it shouldn't. This is wrong on many accounts: 1) it is not new technology but rather a step of maturation in a process going on for a long time now. It was years ago that the first AI images floated the internet. Back then it also became clear how it works: it is modeled after how WE learn, which is by example, or in other words, by looking at what others do. No one objected against it back then (DeepDream was 2015). And why should they? AI is not copying from others (unless you tell it to, which would go ho,e with the user, not with the tool), it is learning from others. What's more (and there's point 2), this technology is already used all over the place all the time with everyone consenting by accepting it. You know how many AI tools are processing pictures in mobiles all over the world now? Those Apps that make you look older would be one, another would be about making pictures of the moon with an ipad ... I could go on, but I'm sure you get my drift here. It is the same technology. You know where it learned to beautify and alter what we throw at it? By learning from pictures online, often made available by artists (valuable offers, too, I'm sure, since those usually are closer to the ideals we like to look at). Technology can always be an advantage others don't have. Is that always considered stealing? not all have access to the internet or books or medical care. Are we "stealing" from those people as well? We are definitely using the advantages here they don't have in an African township.

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    5. 2/2 This "AI art is theft" is years behind the curve. It all has already been discussed and processed (and accepted) as part of where the journey is headed. It is, on the face of it, in my opinion, an unreasonable take. So the reason for it needs to be somewhere else, I'm afraid.

      And yes, there is the third dimension to this: the answers to the questions who benefits from a slogan like that and why. And I gotta say, talking as a small publisher, it ain't me. As a matter of fact, it feels like yet another attempt at gatekeeping to me. Because it is not like you can immediately use what the machine gives you, and it is never exactly what you imagined. Plus, it is very, very, limited in what it can do right now. If you can make this work, it is great. But in almost all cases it isn't more than an inspiration or a base to build on. So it cannot be about the immediate benefit of getting artwork done for a book, because that isn't happening. And those using it right now as intended ARE the small publishers who see a slim chance to have theirs look at least a bit more like the competition, so it can't be them saying it. The obvious choice would be the artists, of course, but even that doesn't have legs. The artists I talked about it with more or less agree that it is a help, if nothing else, as it fuel their output tremendously. Think about it: if you know your way around pictures, this tool would be a gift, especially considering how cheap it is right now! I have been told that it is definitely something already happening ... As with everything, it is healthier to see the benefits of a situation instead of something destructive.

      Anyway. Who do you think benefits from this slogan, now? Only those in direct competition with the technology, not even the artists (they've always been fucked with), but those earning money with AI tech like that. Any if you think it would be beyond them to sabotage a little start up like Midjourney with a media propaganda campaign like that, think again. It is happening all the time. Welcome to the 21st century, and all that. It is so common now to rile up the masses as the extended arm of some marketing scheme, it is appalling.

      Oh, and I am against abuses of those technologies just as you are. People making quick bucks with AI generated portfolios, or using those pictures without altering them or copying styles of artists to earn a quick buck ... this can be, and will be abused. But attacking small publishers for using it instead of art they couldn't have paid for to begin for, seems like a distraction for me. And harmful, at that.

      I hope you can see merit in my argument. Sorry for being long winded about it. (it ought to be a post, too)

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    6. A short addendum: the only one losing when technology like that gets cheap and fast and easily available is those holding economic power, that is: the big corporations. It happens all the time. When blogging became big, they took care that there was a threshold installed (I had reach, I have non now ... I'm sure you experienced the same). It stands to reason that we see the very same dynamic here, since this would be such a great benefit to an artist, that they could make it big easily with it and fast. Think about independent comics or computer games, all low budget, but tech like this is leveling the playing field. I don't believe for a second that this is theft. Saying so is gatekeeping (or, what's even worse, doing the gatekeeping for others who do NOT have your best interest at heart). I pay for that service, I hold the digital rights to all the pictures, and I'm doing nothing wrong ...

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    7. Ok, here is a facet to this debate that we appear to agree on: you characterize copying an artists style as abuse and you are against that. Me too! What does that mean though? Is it unethical to use an artists name in a prompt to an AI art generator?

      Here is my answer to that last question: yes, it is unethical to use an artists name in a prompt to an AI art generator if that (living) artist does not consent to the use of their work in that way. It is perfectly ethical though, if the artist consents. I'm not a lawyer (not remotely) but my understanding is that just because an image is on the internet it is not fair game for commercial use by anyone. For example people have found their photos (which had been posted online) in advertising, used without their permission. They have sued for copyright violation and won. Feeding an image to an AI art generator qualifies as commercial use in my mind, in a way that sending images to an artist for inspiration does not.

      Imagine that you are a visual artist, not a publisher and a visual artist but just a visual artist. You have worked and worked, made a name for yourself and found some success. Then this technology comes along and you find out that your name is a very popular prompt and that weird copies of your art are all over the internet now. You might not be happy about that right? Actually you dont have to imagine it, you can read about how that exact thing happened to Greg Rutkowski:
      https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/09/16/1059598/this-artist-is-dominating-ai-generated-art-and-hes-not-happy-about-it/
      This is cutting edge technology. Its impacts on society are just beginning. Dalle2, stable diffusion and midjourney all came out last year. You seem to have faith that the creators of these technologies would do nothing wrong. I dont have that faith. In this case they have overstepped. I think it is a bit like Napster, remember them? They came up with this cool file sharing technology and it was rapidly embraced, changed the map of the music industry overnight and decimated CD sales. Then Metallica sued and shut it down. I dont know if there are any visual artists with the clout of Metallica and it sucks that artist will have to go to court to protect their livelihoods, but that is where I see this heading. I for one hope the artists win.

      Once more, I am not against this technology. AI is behind some really cool advances in engineering and medicine for instance. And I think its possibilities for art and design are tremendous as well. I just dont want human creativity to be buried in the rubble of the early 21st century.

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  2. Crikey, this is moving faster than I thought:
    https://www.theverge.com/2023/1/16/23557098/generative-ai-art-copyright-legal-lawsuit-stable-diffusion-midjourney-deviantart

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    1. It is a good example of what I mean. They are, for sure, very precise in the language they use: they say that the infringement here is that the pictures are used to teach the machine, which then produces pictures en masse that "infringe" on the artists, since its all based on their art and used without their "consent". The second example, about the machine learning from code it found on the internet to learn coding, without the "consent" of the programmers. By that logic, AI cannot be allowed to look at houses to learn how to build houses, because architects will lose their jobs ... See what I mean? This already is ridiculous! They even state, that DeviantArt is publishing its own AI. It is a competing business flexing, nothing more!

      Please read the article you linked carefully: nothing is "stolen", but what they claim, is, that the machine looking (!) at those pictures to learn how to draw somehow needed "consent". Nothing I saw AI produce, reproduced something it saw 100 %, and I'll argue again that that's not at all how even the process works. You give it a prompt, the AI pitches pictures based on its references. It abstracts from them. Now you could say, but it used the work by others as references, and yes, as do we when we draw, when we write, when we build houses ... It is the same process. Now you say, but they use the technology for monetary gain! Yes, it is true, and I'm not a capitalist but damn, everybody does. And they make it a good deal, too, so everyone benefits. Those people going to court? Doing it for monetary gain, not for art.

      And Napster is a strange example. We have the same discussion with ebooks right now: do you own the ebook you bought? And does that mean you can give it away when you've read it? It is so obvious with a printed book and even DVDs and blue rays, but as soon as it is digital, it needs to earn every time it is touched. So Napster made an important case and got the capitalist response: it got killed.

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  3. We might not agree on this, that's ok. Good conversation. Thanks for facilitating. We can agree that wotc sucks and weird old and weird new games are fun!

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    1. Fair enough. Thanks for the exchange! And we can agree on those two for sure :)

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    1. It is a beautiful game, for sure! Took Mark 6 years and 3 versions to get to this 550 pages behemoth, but it is so much fun. If you are interested in keeping an eye on it, you could join the Amazing Adventures Incredible Exploits discord:

      https://discord.gg/ej8HeEm3

      It's the author's discord and full with nice people (I think there's also a beta floating around, if you want to take a peak).

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  5. Definitely love to see a beta, I have bern looking at random gaming stuff a lot recently.

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    1. Then definitely check out the discord! If there isn't already an older edition floating around, we definitely plan to put something like that there for the discord crowd soon. Mark also offers one shots every now and then ... Well, just check out if it works for you :)

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