Friday, April 21, 2017

So This Art Collector Comes Over... Casa D&D With Porn Stars. He owns some of my stuff, he's been following my work for years.

He says he's bringing his kid, who's 10.

I'm like Do you want me to hide the pictures of naked women?

Nah, he says, He'll be fine.

During lunch at the restaurant that inspired Disneyland, I see why. This child has never seen anything but his phone.

Look: three floors! A giant artificial tree! Phone. A grand arte nouveau ballroom! Phone. A taxidermied bison! Phone. A Peacock! Phone.

He did look up for his chicken strips. Then he looked for an outlet.

I get it--I was a kid. There are games on that phone, and they looked fun.

So then we go back to the studio (this is what you get to call your apartment if you're an artist) and we're looking at paintings and talking and the kid is on his phone and the art collector's like "What are those books over there?"

Oh that's Maze of the Blue Medusa...

Art collector's like Whoa.

I explain how I made the original painting and then gave it to Patrick to decide what the little things in the rooms were and then we went back and rewrote it all to make it a playable dungeon and how it was on Vice's top books of the year and...

...and it becomes clear,  this art collector has rolled.

He's like to his son Hey, look at what this is...

And the kid is like, But Dad my phone.

And the collector's like But Son look D&D!

And they start asking D&D questions: Do I play every week? Who plays? What are the rules like? Do you have to be good at math?

And then I'm like...Hey, do you guys want to just play D&D right now?

So I ran a game of D&D for an art collector and his kid.

Collector got a pre-gen gladiator he named Cavity, the kid rolled up a fighter named YayDaddy! and was pretty excited to hear he could buy a wardog.

Kid completely forgot about his phone--he did ask if he could stick his finger into the dog's sphincter ("sphinx") so he could make him poo and throw it at the goblins, though. Real strategic thinker.

They almost died but had to go to a basketball game. Kid was like "So, do we get treasure?" and dad was like "Ok, so if you were us what would you have done different? Should we have un away from the goblins?"

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Oh The Early Days...

Broadly, two popular views attach to "The Early Days" of collective movements--games, musical fashions, art movements, stock-car racing, whatever: technological and cultural.

The popular technological point of view is nearly unanimous about The Early Days: they were a huge pain in the ass.

To get to the recording studio we used to have to walk three miles uphill in the snow both ways, we used to have to use saves vs death ray in order to decide if you touched the flytrap part of the plant, we tried to paint Jesus but didn't know perspective, before we played we used to have to wait for the internet to dial-up.

So much we know now was not known, so much was utterly avoidably inconvenient and often pointlessly unsafe. We are nearly always better off now.

The popular cultural view of movements is usually the opposite (sometimes, yes, because people who were there romanticize them and people who wish they could live to see new things be born--which is everyone--believe them). The popular idea is that movements explode creatively and then calcify over time.

While, yes, the Early Days were by definition embedded both in the past and actual human history and so therefore were more racist and sexist and homophobic than now, they were--leaving aside the things they shared with the entire rest of human activity in their era--a time which pointed to more freedom rather than less. Things In Those Early Days are regarded as wide-open, inspiring, full of potential and possibility.

Those Early Days at CBGBs when punk rock could be Tommy Ramone playing 16th notes on the drums as fast as was then thought possible or David Byrne just showing up and being weird in 4-4 time or Debbie Harry doing disco all wrong, Jackson Pollock spattering paint when it was new and dangerous and got him accused of being a communist, Buster Keaton making comedy when it could be all about his sad eyes.

The idea isn't that the content was necessarily better (Who would want punk rock without Leftover Crack? Nobody smart.) but that the vibe was, at least for those allowed in: cooperative yet also in exciting opposition to the old and oppressive, disruptive but creative, individualized but still collective, diverse and inspiring.
Looking back, there were several obvious technological problems with early games: having to look up to-hit bonuses on a chart was stupid and could be done with plusses, the saving throw business made no sense, etc. These made the games harder to play to no purpose.

People attracted to Old School Renaissance games and DIY D&D tend to see these technological problems as fairly minor, easy to fix or ignore, and are more interested in the creative atmosphere of the Early Days--or rather what we hope it was like. What we want is not to be like Arneson but to be in Arneson's position: inventing.

People who broad-brush hate OSR tend to congregate on forums and in cliques dedicated to obsessing over specific technological solutions. If you don't trust your group to build a story where your flights of fancy are important you can hang out on RPGnet or Story-Games with people who will recommend Dungeon World, if you don't trust your group to be tactically detailed and realistic enough you can hang out on the Gaming Den where they recommend Pathfinder or 3.5, if you don't trust your group to do anything right you can hang out on Something Awful where they recommend 4e, if you don't trust anyone but Gary Gygax there are pre-OSR forums dedicated to True Oldness for that, too.

These technological solutions work for these people. The mistake haters make is they think the part of the Early Days the OSR is  most excited about is the technological side, that we talk about Old School because we're excited about waiting for the dial-up to work. (There are also, of course, those who claim an attachment to old games comes from people yearning for the social order of the 1970s, which is a bit like saying if you like Mughal miniature painting it's because you yearn for an Islamic monarchy--but the people who say that are psychopaths and unreachable.) No. We get it: Death Ray saves are a pain in the ass, ascending AC is easier for most people than descending AC.

The old Caves of Chaos is a shit module, but the enthusiasm about "Hmmm...people want a module--an adventure in a book?-- That's a new thing--what new thing might you be able to put in it? What might they want in there? What could we do?" drips off the page--and that mindset fuels newer takes like the better presentation in Stonehell and the broader canvas in Veins of the Earth and the genuinely useful beginner advice in Broodmother Sky Fortress.

The old RPG folks could've sat and technologically refined post-napoleonic wargames forever until they had the Perfect Military Simulation One and the Playable In An Evening One and the Good For Children Ages 10-14 One and instead they invented a whole new thing and a zoo of things to support the whole new thing, in the process creating-, but also discovering-, all new problems to solve. They solved them wrong sometimes but that's not important because we're here now.

The actual Renaissance outdid the Greeks and Romans by taking the old Greek and Romans' ambitions to describe the world seriously while not accepting their description. Does the sun go around the Earth or the other way around? What happens if we mix this with that? How do you make a drawn face look like a face?

What's exciting about the old games isn't the answers they came up with, it's the questions they were asking.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Acupressure Mountains of Yoon-Suin

Found an old acupressure diagram while cleaning up Fort D&D With Porn Stars--the names sound exactly like things on a hex map. If you can't do anything with "Crooked Marsh", "Sea of Blood" or "Ear Gate", I can't help you.

There's 80 of them on the diagram I found, I added 20 from a list of acupuncture points to make an even hundred so you can roll some random places.

1, Letting Go
2, Great Abyss
3, Fish Border 

4, Crooked Point
5, Outer Arm Bone
6, Welcoming Perfume
7, Four Whites
8, Facial Beauty
9, Jaw Chariot
10, Breast Window
11, Breast Root
12, Calf's Nose
13, Three Mile Point
14, Severe Mouth
15, Three Yin Crossing
16, Shady Side of the Mountain
17, Sea of Blood
18, Rushing Door
19, Abdominal sorrow
20, Spirit Gate
21, Heavenly Appearance
22, Listening Place
23, Eyes Bright
24, Drilling Bamboo
25, Penetrate Heaven
26, Heavenly Pillar
27, Lung Associated
28, Sea of Vitality
29, Sacral Points
30, Vital Diaphragm
31, Womb and Vitals
32, Joining the Valley
33, Commanding Activity
34, Commanding Middle
35, Supporting Mountain
36, High Mountains
37, Calm Sleep
38, Reaching Inside
39, Veering Passage
40, Bubbling Spring
41, Bigger Stream
42, Blazing Valley
43, Illuminated Sea
44, Nourishing valley
45, Elegant Mansion
46, Crooked Marsh
47, Intermediary
48, Inner Gate
49, Big Mound
50, Active Pond
51, Outer Gate
52, Shoulder Meeting Point
53, Heavenly Rejuvenation
54, Wind Screen 

55, Ear Gate
56, Gates of Consciousness
57, Shoulder Well
58, Middle of a  Person
59, Jumping Circle
60, Sunny Side of the Mountain
61, Wilderness Mount
62, Above tears 

63, Bigger Rushing
64, Crooked Spring
65, Gate Origin
66, Sea of Energy
67, Center of Power
68, Heaven Rushing Out
69, Sea of Tranquility
70, Wind Mansion
71, Posterior Summit
72, One Hundred Meeting Point
73, Anterior Summit
74, Third Eye Point
75, Ding Chuan
76, Grandfather Grandson
77, Heavenly Pond
78, Window of Heaven
79, Reunion of Hearing
80, Travel Between
81, Saliva Container
82, Lateral Spring
83, Jade Rotator
84, Violet Palace
85, Crooked Bone
86, Mutism Gate
87, Gate of the Ordering
88, Gnawed Channel
89, Mound of Ruins
90, Suspended Bell
91, Five Pivots
92, Brain Hollow
93, Window of the Eye
94, Head Governor of Tears
95, Crook of the Temple
96, Suspended Skull
97, Pupil Crevice
98, Dispersing Luo River
99, Palace of Toil
100, Abode of Consciousness of Potentials

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Our Barbarian is Pet of the Month

Charlotte Stokely was a wizard...

...but then The Black Metal Amazons of the Devoured Land cut her arms off.

Then she was a Sea Elf wizard...

...and Chameleon Women mutilated her with their machetes...

Then she was a Sea Elf druid...

...and a blob dissolved her and she rolled up a barbarian... she's Penthouse Pet of the Month for May 2017... good luck with that, Stokes.
This is actually true.

Click to enlarge and see how Penthouse thinks Stokes is "The Total Package" because she's funny, likes football, got a full scholarship to Florida U and "participates in a weekly Dungeons & Dragons campaign".

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Fudging Talk

This is basically how I'd write it in any core RPG book:

Have you been fudging?

I don't know whether you've been fudging AND you don't have to tell me. If you really don't know what it is, I'll tell you: it's when a die result tells you to do one thing in the game and instead you do a different thing.

Now it's traditional at this point to tell you either one of two things:

-Don't ever fudge in this house! We have provided you all the tools to have fun and you don't need to go having extracurricular deviant fun by messing with the rules we gave you. Follow the rules and you will receive the exact amount of fun that is your due and such due which is appropriate to your players.

-Hey, you fudged? That's, like, cool, little pal. If the story is going to come out better if you fudge, go ahead and do it. Fudge all over the table.

Like most traditional RPG advice, these are both terrible--ok, well not terrible but poorly thought out.

The first piece of advice is just straight-up inaccurate: there is literally no game in the history of RPGs which has not been profitably fudged by some group somewhere.

The second piece of advice is just lazy, and leaves the GM with questions: If the rules don't always apply, why are we following them ever? What's the point? Is there a downside?

Well, yes, there is a downside: if you fudge enough then they will realize that certain outcomes--like dying in an early scene if they're not cautious, or escaping enemies even though the plot seems to want you to be captured for a scene or two--are off the table. This means they don't have to try as hard or think as hard as they would if the odds of things happening were what they were used to from using the rules all day. It's like telling the players that they only have to try to make the best choices sometimes. And that makes for a less nerve-wracking--and therefore less exciting--game. There are people who like a game that doesn't make them worry all the time--nothing I have written is for them.

Well what's the good advice then?

First, some clarifications:

No RPG Book is Gospel

This ruleset is very likely not ideally suited to your group's ambitions, just as the items of my game group's wardrobe is very likely not suited to your group's various frames. These rules are a starting point for people who believe their ambitions for a game might be similar to ours--and any RPG author who claims different is stupid or lying to make money off you. Despise them.

This book isn't infallible, it's just the closest I could get to infallible for the version of the game I want to play. That means I might've made a mistake but--even more likely--I probably made a rule that works for the game I want to play but not quite for the game you want to play.

This is to be expected, as humans are different. If you're constantly finding RPG rulesets perfect for your ambitions you're probably a really boring person.

So point is: some rules might not work the way you need them to.

Fudging Isn't The Same As Making A New Rule

Fudging is different than making a new rule (or "Making a Ruling" as we sometimes say).

Making a ruling is: you see a rule is not working for how you want to run the game. You decide to change it, you tell everyone at the table you're changing it (if they are the kind of players who care). You make sure they're all ok with that (if not, don't change it. You need consensus.). You then make a new rule which is better for your group than the one I wrote and use that rule forever after or at least until it fails and you go through the process all over again.

Fudging is just ignoring a rule's demands on the spot, but re-using it after that.

Fudging Isn't the Same As Ignoring A Convenient Randomizer's Result

If there's a table for an NPC's name, and you roll on it and don't like the name you got and pick another--that's not fudging. The NPC name table isn't really a "rule" --it's a tool you use to help think up ideas. The players are not relying on that table to make their own decisions, they may not even know that table exists.

Fudging happens when the rules which determine the way the gameworld actually works are suspended after making a contribution.

(A lot of people ask about random encounters. The question is: is the random encounter table you're rolling on merely the most convenient one to hand--there to provide ideas--or was it specially designed to describe the actual ecology of the area? If, in the Abyss, it's established you have a 1% chance of encountering Demogorgon and the players are in the Abyss, then when you roll that result, Demogorgon better show up. Otherwise you're fudging. If you just used the Abyss table because the players wandered into a summoning circle and you didn't have that area prepared and needed an idea, that's not fudging that's deciding the randomizer you used gave you a result that doesn't interest you.)

So What's The Good Advice?

Treat fudging like declaring bankruptcy: try hard not to, but if you really feel have to, learn something so you don't have to do it ever again.

Fudging means that either:

A-You invoked a rule when it wasn't appropriate and realized too late
B-I wrote the rule wrong for that situation
C-You wrote the rule wrong for that situation

If, for example, you have someone roll on their maxxed-out Local Knowledge and it turns out they don't know what street they live on, that probably means A. You made a mistake--feel bad about yourself, fudge, move on, try to have more discretion in the future about when a task is hard enough to require a roll.

If you have an 8 year old PC from Siberia with 2 Knowledge and they roll high enough to instantly know how to field-strip a WW2 Mendoza 7 rifle and nobody at the table can think of a reason why that makes sense on the spot without feeling the whole game is implausible and so taking it less seriously then maybe my Firearms rule is not detailed enough for the game you want to play and you should change it for next time. (Personally I'd be like "Ok, Olav's grandfather owned a gun-shop and made him strip antique rifles on the cinder-block furniture in the basement and hit him on the head with a ruler if he did it wrong. Cool." but maybe your childhood was less depressing than mine.)

Either way: fudging should be as rare as you can possibly make it, but if it happens, treat it as an opportunity to fine-tune either the way you roll or the tools you use to roll with.
And now, a word from our sponsor (which will include a version of this in the GM section):
Punch, or at least irritate, Nazis.The Patreon for my game Demon City is here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


More weekend retroposting.

This is an earrrrly actual play from this blog: 

Mandy's sister wanted to learn to play, and she wanted to be a witch. I said alright, roll some dice.

Like most 1st level AD&D wizards, my girlfirend's sister's first character had way more gold pieces than she could spend.

You can't buy armor, you can't buy weapons, so...?

When I last faced a similar problem, I noticed that the cp-sp-gp-whatever conversion rates made it possible to buy a phenomenal amount of beer for, like, 10 gp. So I did. My character was so drunk I didn't name him--I figured he couldn't remember. We called him "The Wizard."

Sis, on the other hand, her eye gravitated toward the "livestock" section.

"I want six pigs--three full size and three piglets."

Hey, it's on the equipment list.

She commenced to name them. She also figured out how to talk to pigs somewhere along the line-I think I was using Fairy Tale Rules for magic-user languages. Wizards willing to forgo Orc or Dragon can talk Pig--why not? There's gotta be some compensation for having the balls to walk around with one hit point.


So it was one of those "You wake up and you don't know how you got here and you don't know where your stuff is" adventures. (Because I am of the Walter Hill* school of DMing.)

"Are my pigs here?"

"Not in this room."

My girlfriend and her sister are funny. Promise them gp, xp, magic items, present moral dilemmas and opportunites for character growth, this does not motivate them particularly--take away 75 gp worth of stuff they bought during character generation, however, and in every room it's like "Is my stuff here? Did that goblin have my stuff? I cut open the dragon's stomach with my bastard sword--is my stuff in there?".

Too many video games I think. Because, like, in video games, if you lose your stuff, this is the apocalypse.

So anyway, in this dungeon, if you got past the baby black dragon hiding in the halfling vampire queen's coffin, the treasure includes "any equipment lost by first person who asks if their stuff is there."

So Sis asks: "Is my stuff here?"

"Why yes it is."

"And all my pigs?"

"Well, one of them,"

"Which one?"

"I don't know, which one do you want it to be?" (Dig the thorough and meaningful integration of Cooperative Narrativist elements.)

"Charles." (or something)

"Ok, there's Charles, he is very pleased to see you. He bats his big piggy eyelashes. Squeee! Squeeeee!"


So there were some adventures, and then the party came to a dark stairwell. Who knows what lurks down there?

"Send the pig down," suggests one fo the boys.

"Ok, I send the pig down."

Now--the stairwell is full of undead birds.

Vultures with skull heads. They were inspired by things called "carrion" in Warhammer Fantasy, and there was a really nice one on the back cover of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #17 by Bryan Talbot. Too tired to google it.

So the predictable thing happened. I narrate thusly:

" Charles is borne pitilessly aloft by the unliving raptor he cries 'Oh, why have you betrayed me? I trusted youuuuu....'"

"Awww..." Horrible look on sis's face.

The party moves on, talks to a sphinx, finds out about stuff, etc. etc.


Play ends.

So then I try to sleep.

I have trouble sleeping.

I keep picturing that pig in those bony claws "Why have you betrayed meeeeee.....?"


Next game starts.

I say Hey everybody, Settle down kids, and I recap last game then I go:

"...aaaand, ok, everybody if you were here last time you get 308 x/.p., check to see if that levels you up and, also, I made a mistake last time, Sis's pig's last words were not actually 'Oh, why have you betrayed me? I trusted youuuuu....' they were actually "It's ok! I regret nothing! I had a lot of fun I wouldn't have otherwise had if I hadn't gone with you on your adventure! I've had a full life, thank you, goodbye!"

*Walter Hill:
"I very purposely--more and more so every time I do a script--give characters no back story. The way you find about these characters is by watching what they do, the way they react to stress, the way they react to situations and confrontations. In that way, character is revealed through drama rather than being explained through dialogue." --Walter Hill, quoted in David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" (New York: Alred A Knopf, 1994)

Saturday, April 8, 2017


After my last D&D game I vomited explosively for several hours. The snacks were poorly managed.

So, on this Retropost Saturday, I give you an old but necessary overview:

Let us not ignore the white elephant at the gaming table: snacks.

All Games Considered knows it.

The default is: many snacks. Excessive snacks. More snacks than can reasonably be eaten.

It's game day, your free time will be taken up by the game, no reason not to just spend the pregame hours at the 7-11.

Fresh mozzarella cheese. Mozzarella cheese is good and goes well with anything, but: you have to slice it and it's moist to the touch. If you're handling paper it gets the paper wet. Plus there never seems to be enough. The amount that would be enough to last the whole game is also too much cheese to eat all at once. Plus you'll want tomatoes--which have all the same problems all over again.

Although perhaps less "mature", a simple cheddar is versatile--and can be sliced thinner without losing coherency.

Salami is a delicious snack, but has the oiliness of mozzarella, and thus many of the same drawbacks. Ham will be eaten if it is there, but is preferred by few. Better to avoid snacking than to snack by necessity on undesirable meat. Sliced coins of deli sausage would appear to be optimal, if money is not a consideration.

Popcorn is excellent, but may encourage simulationism.

Chips: chips are fine and good. The only problem with chips is they cannot be combined into a multi-classed snack. They crumble and fail when stacked into a small sandwich with other foodstuffs. Better a cracker.

A cracker? What kind? The triscuit is undervalued, I find. As is the wheat thin. Less exciting than the Ruffle or tortilla chip--to be sure--yet infinitely more versatile.

The Ritz? Perhaps. A compromise between the baked saltiness of a chip and the stoic healthiness of the wheat thin. The Ritz is the half-elf of grain-based snacks.

The Cheeto is to be avoided at all costs: it is hollow, less tasty than true cheese, and stains exposed surfaces with despicable orange dust.

The Frito is by far a nobler snack, and surprisingly filling.

Gummi Bears are toothsome, do not crumble or quickly melt, and, when properly bitten across the lower extremities to create a smooth surface, can be placed on the tabletop and used as goblins or henchmen. And the related Gummi Worm is truly an imposing beast at 28 mm scale.

Some pine for immersive foods: trail mix, suckling pig on a spit, ratmeat and orcflesh. These people are hippies.

The cheap wafer is an intriguing snack--in strawberry or vanilla flavors. I would not disdain it.

A baguette--a fine long loaf of crusty bread. This is a superior snack! And the French, wisely, eat them with chocolate.

Chocolate should be present in some form, or female players may turn sour and cruel. M&M's, though initially tempting, are difficult to combine, and frequently scatter to the floor, like small dice.

Chips Ahoy or Oreos are good, but the urge to dunk them may be overwhelming, and this leads to twin evils: wet spots on the maps and open-topped glasses of drinks rather than bottles. Should you enlist them, guard your table well.

If, like, mine, your gaming table includes those professionally obliged to remain fit and healthy, you may provide Healthy Snacks. Of Healthy Snacks I know little, and will say less--only this: I have yet to find a healthy snack that is not either too tasteless or too small to distract the players from hunger.

On the other end, the temptations of both the donut and the pastry are well known, and deceptive. A man may eat a single donut, or a man may eat ninety donuts, but either way the donuts will not last throughout the session. Place not your faith in them. Also: donuts cause discord--for who gets the jelly? And who the creme?

Of utmost importance is the heartiness of the snack. If the snack be too hearty, then players may tire of it, and want to stop for a genuine meal. If the snack be not filling enough, players may get hungry, and want to stop for a genuine meal.

The integration of a true meal is the mark of an experienced DM. However, timing is key: a meal at the beginning and the players will be hungry by the end, a meal at the end and players will decide to end the game when they get hungry.

By far the best arrangement is a planned delivery of lunch or dinner in the middle of the session. A mysterious door, the precipice of a terrifying encounter, and then--Thai? Chinese? Pizza? A brief take-out menu interlude, and then back into the fray.

Pizza is traditional, and not unwise. Beware the complexities of half-pies, particularly when ordering by phone, however, and of the lactose intolerant.

The various deliverable foods of the Far East are likewise desirable--but soups at the gaming table are treacherous, and cold noodles are to be despised. Therefore, those who would eat noodles while gaming would do well to eat them fast. Also, gamers are a superstitious, cowardly lot--they may be unduly influenced by fortune cookies.

Deli sandwiches are simple, inexpensive, unsloppy, and can be eaten cold.

Of the dangers of mexican food, enough has been written.