The Last Word

Since apparently there are still people who visit this blog I felt it necessary to put something up here to the effect that I will not be returning to work on any of the content in this blog. For me a lot of this blog represents wasted time — things that never crystallized properly, perspectives never developed correctly, and projects that never came to fruition. For a long time I worked on tabletop RPG stuff almost purely because I didn’t feel like my ideas and true passions were wanted by anyone. I’ve found it’s quite the opposite — I’ve found a lot of things about myself, actually, that I’m more proud of than this particular blog.

This project no longer represents me, and what it represents to me is a lot of wasted time, that I wish I had spent writing other things instead. I have a new project if you came to this page specifically because you wanted to know about me and follow my projects. If this project in the specific is what attracted you, then you’ve found everything that exists or will exist in relation to it. I am not keen to answer emails about this and the comments section on this post is closed. I don’t want to talk about this place: it is now dead to me.

I do not delete this blog purely because I’ve not the inclination to even look at it, but since wordpress likes to keep reminding me of its existence, I am briefly here again. I’m not keen on fixing the broken links; I’m never going to edit the articles here; I’m never going to complete any work that was left behind. I no longer work in tabletop RPG related things — I don’t even play tabletop RPGs anymore.

So read The Solstice War and watch that space for any fiction that may perhaps someday continue to refine the themes present here (of that, I have no doubt). If you came for the games, though, then it’s game over, man. Hopefully you’ll understand and either move on with me, or move on past me.

Categories: Uncategorized

Communities And People In Conflict

Jokingly, a lot of people commonly reduce D&D to the phrase “kill people and take their stuff.” This has sort of become an expected description of the game — both from people who like it, and who dislike it. For a long time I myself uncritically accepted it. D&D worked best to me when there was less “fluff” in the way. Who cares about the social structure of the elves? And it’s true, D&D sort of works best this way. The game is at its smoothest and most efficient a vehicle to fight all sorts of different people and ultimately abscond with their goods, so you can fight the next batch. Consequences of these actions are best reduced to “which group of people is mad at you for what you did, and how will you defeat them and take their stuff?” You start with Kobolds, you work up to Orcs, then Trolls, then Giants, and you then leave your universe and fight the red people in the City of Brass in the Plane of Fire. This is kind of unsettling to me, and it has been for a long time. I just tried not to acknowledge it much. D&D as a whole just kinda screams at you to turn your brain off so you can enjoy it properly. But lets think.

D&D in essence is a game about working outside of community and dismantling it.

Not your community though, because your characters never really personally have a community. Your characters are always special outsiders who are wise in the ways of surviving the unending onslaught that constitutes existence in the world of D&D. You can fight off the wild-life, kill off the “bad races” and survive on your wits and strength in a way that 99% of the population cannot. You’re not “the peasants” and in fact association with the peasants is considered a very filthy theme in the minds of gamers — it is a sign of dullness and weakness when the glorious D&D character can only do something at an “average” level of proficiency (of course, the level of proficiency of an average person is wildly underestimated, such that “average” is actually “completely helpless and incapable” and “good” is “60% success rate”). Even in the old days when D&D characters died from the same amount of stab wounds as the peasantry (one or two) they were framed even more strongly as unfamiliar and asocial outsiders. D&D characters must always exist above the mean in some way. They’re like weird aliens.

So you don’t have a home, and if you do then you don’t really have any point of commonality with its people. You live in a different sphere from the rest of them, and you always will. And there are precious few people who share your lot — you can probably count them in one hand and indeed you will probably meet them and go adventuring, this being a requirement of the game. When you do, you will inevitably go around dismantling other communities. D&D doesn’t really have “good communities.” It’s at best got some benign monarchies and at worse it’s a lot of gleeful feudalism and fascism. I once told a friend that it was interesting how many third party products for D&D I saw that took it for granted that slavery just happened all over in D&D, and that furthermore it would be a moral dilemma for the characters whether to respect the law or free the slaves. D&D creates a lot of situations where the best answer is to burn the world and make a new one. And even when the community is benign you don’t really have mechanisms to leverage this. Maybe shop prices will be a little bit lenient. But since your characters are never borne out of a culture or community and are set apart by working outside it, there’s precious little gain from a “good community” in D&D. The game, as a whole, encourages characters to live outside community, to not think much of the people within community, and if community gets in their way, to destroy it.

And maybe those people were kinda shitty. Maybe the Orcs did do bad things and maybe to save one bad community you have to smash a worse community. But this is a conscious decision that could be changed — kobolds could eat way less babies and Orcs could enslave way less people (I’d like for it to be “none” on both accounts but I can’t always have my way I guess). The People vs People conflicts in D&D tend to look incredibly skeevy because the Orcs are a “race” upon whom you can make a blanket generalization that essentially advocates their elimination. Almost literally D&D can become a game about hunting people, whom you’ll refer to as “monsters,” like they were wolves who came in to eat your cattle. Better clear the mountainside because all wolves eat sheep; better destroy the Orc camp that just sprang up nearby because all Orcs murder humans.

D&D and its mechanisms choose, whether consciously or not, to promote these kinds of outcomes. Kill the bad guy is a simple motivation that can make for cathartic entertainment, but it becomes revolting when the Bad Guy is an entire race of people reducible down to the phrase “Always Chaotic Evil.” One of the chief ways that this is promoted is by oversimplification. Tabletop RPG writers struggle for clarity, simplicity and page space. It’s simpler to understand a phrase than it is to read about a culture. It’s easier to create that phrase than to flesh out that culture. And it’s even easier when the majority of your fanbase will scream about the fungibility of your page space if it’s not chock full of numbers they can add up to other numbers. “Orc Culture”? You could’ve written like 20 feats in this space! I know, because I was that guy. D&D helps us all become that guy. After all, you really have no mechanisms by which you can employ Orc Lore to do anything the game deems important. You could probably make something out of those 20 feats in the gameplay, even if it ultimately sucks.

This is why I think it’s important to work on culture and community as a basis for the human elements of a fantasy story or game. I think it’s okay to want to wargame, and I’m not against People vs. People conflicts in games. But I think they have to be much more thought out than they are right now. I’m really not okay anymore with games where the Orcs are just bad, because they’re bad. In Lord of the Rings there is at least a bit of a point to this — the orcs are people reduced to that level by a monstrous industrial movement that can literally make them out of dirt to perpetuate itself, so okay, whatever. In D&D Orcs are just Bad because their God is a Bad Guy who likes murder and hates the non-Orcs of the world and teaches his people that Might Makes Right. I don’t know why he isn’t also the god of most D&D characters, because they’re all very alike in a lot of ways.

People vs. People conflicts should, in my opinion, be either personal or petty. Not petty as in casual or thoughtless, but petty in the grand scheme of things, like a theft, or a disagreement. When someone hires assassins to get you, it should be personal. There should be motives. There should be names and histories. There should be commensurate consequences, for both sides. There should be something to think about. When large groups of people fight there should be more to it than nameless, faceless animosity. You can have a war, but put names and ideologies on both sides beyond memetic genocide. “Your God is a bad guy” can only get you so far in explaining why your whole history has been an exchange of depopulating events. Seriously think about (and think about it again, because your ideas might be offensive in a whole universe of ways that are not the focus of this post) what is happening and flesh things out. Fighting people should not function the same as hunting weird fantasy animals. When you’ve chosen to grant sentience to an adversary you should start thinking bigger.

People vs. People conflicts are a matter of context, and you have to provide the right cultural context for them. This does not just apply to the enemies. Characters should come from a culture. They should have a community. Community is not just a hindrance or a system of draconian laws that keep you from having fun. You’re writing fantasy, and D&D is a really goofy game that never correlated one to one with the time period people so fervently desire that it adhere to. You can think big here, and you can make cultures that they’ll want to participate in, protect, and share with others. However, and more importantly, this also requires you to make these things matter to the game. I can’t tell D&D how to do that, because it’s a massive undertaking that is currently, essentially failing in public to make much of a change or expansion. But other games and gamers can take it as a point of reference. Look at what D&D does about this — and don’t do that.

Categories: D&D 3.5, D&D 4e, Fluff/Inspiration, Legacy D&D, Meta, Other Hobby, Other Systems, RPG | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Kickstarters To Watch: Inverse World

Inverse World is a Dungeon World-based product featuring a unique new setting and many new playbooks. Inverse World has a few design tenets that separate it from common fantasy RPG tropes – for example, flight is not a feared, game-breaking ability, and there is no weird undertone of racial determinism like there is in a lot of other games, where your race will determine what roles you do well in. Instead, the races of Inverse World are all one people but with different appearances, but it doesn’t look as though it will play a role in mechanically pigeonholing you. While the Game was originally for Dungeon World, it’s now also offering a FATE system product that you can also pledge for, if you’re not interesting in Dungeon World.

There’s several levels of rewards you can go for. At the $10 level you get your pick of Dungeon World or Fate Inverse World PDFs, while at $15 level you get both at once. The $30 level is the first physical tier, though it also includes the PDFs. For $50 and $70 you get some physical goodies like post-cards, design commentary, thank-you notes and custom content for your own game. $100 gives you everything plus some artwork. A special $125 bundle intended for a group of four people comes with multiple copies of the game and some of the goodies, and baked-in international shipping, which is a good idea considering how much international shipping can be a bummer for both kickstarter backers and for the creators.

Inverse World is already funded, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ll get it – now it’s all about what you’ll get out of it. The Kickstarter has currently accrued $9000 worth of donations. A number of stretch goals have been reached, such as an additional post-card and new Adventure Locations for the game. The next Stretch Goal at the $10,000 level adds an Instant Islands guide for DMs to quickly create new, interesting places; a $13,000 stretch goal adds vehicles and mounts to the game. Both sound like great values that could vastly improve the play experience.

If you’re a fan of Dungeon World or FATE and want a unique and tasteful new take on fantasy, you’ll want to back this. Already even the smallest tier is looking like a great deal, so give it a look.

Categories: Campaigns, D&D 3.5, D&D 4e, Fluff/Inspiration, Kickstarter, Legacy D&D, News, Other Systems, Products, RPG | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Outdoourcing, Now On Sale!

I’ve started the process of writing expanded versions of the stories on my Literalchemy blog into ebooks. 

Outdoourcing is now up for sale in various venues!




The Ebook edition contains new scenes, expanded scenes, better editing and flow, and twice as many words as the original, all used to deliver more hyper-evolved jungle demon action, investment drama and good-natured hunting humor. Every purchase helps my ongoing endeavors, such as Literalchemy and this blog, which I hope to continue.

Next up, I plan to work on a completely original ebook-exclusive story called Gorgewings: A Consumerist Horror Story. It will feature the return of our favorite computer peripheral, the Kill-Slate 3G with KOS, aiding a brand new protagonist against a brand new foe in a brand new setting. Watch out for that too once it drops. I also hope to have a bunch of Ladybird stuff made into an ebook at some point, once I have few more stories (like Library completed, the one I’m planning after that, and the Ackley mini stories, as well as a few ebook exclusives). Look forward to that, as well!

Thanks for all your support so far!

Categories: In Real Life, Meta, News, Other Hobby, Products | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Belated 5th Anniversary, Spirits of Eden!

I know I haven’t been posting a whole lot here lately (or anywhere with great frequency, though I did write some prose yesterday) mostly because I haven’t been playing very many games (or looking at very many Kickstarters), but Spirits of Eden turned 5 years old on December 2012, and it skipped my mind completely. I’ve been having difficult times lately, with (several) failed job searches, the flu, money struggles, and other things. So it’s not a terribly happy anniversary, and there’s not much that I can do to celebrate. In fact it’s sort of gloomy, given how desolate the blog has been lately. I’m still posting from time to time but I don’t really have anything I can go to with regularity for the blog! Still, time marches on, and we’ve had good times and bad with this little place, so let’s hope the good times roll around again.

Categories: In Real Life, Meta, News | Tags: | 1 Comment

Kickstarter Red Alert: Channel A

I wrote about Channel A a while back, and I wanted to come back to that for a moment because they’ve got less than 48 hours to go to make around $900 in order to fund. Channel A is a card game about putting together a crazy  and funny concept for an anime and pitching it like it was a real thing. They are so close and it’s such a nice-looking game made by some great people that it’d be pretty disappointing if that didn’t manage to fund, so I wanted to put out the word on that again. Check out my old article if you want, and you can also check out Ewen Cluney’s tumblr where he’s posted a cool graphic made by Clay Gardner, the game’s graphic designer, with some Channel A card combinations based on Clay’s twitter friends (including me!). So check it out and see if it’s something you’d want to pitch in for, it’s got a small window left to get it over that last hurdle.

Categories: Anime, Fluff/Inspiration, News, Other Hobby, Other Systems, Products, RPG | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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