Friday, March 28, 2014

R.I.P. D.A.T.


Seriously, universe? First Brockie and now Trampier?
David Trampier, 59, died at 10:58 a.m. Monday, March 24, 2014, in Helia Healthcare.
His art for the AD&D Player's Handbook was all the inspiration I ever needed to be a gamer. That shit was evocative. I mean look at that:

Kill the thing and take its stuff! Woot!

I think this ad from Wizards of the Coast pretty much says it all:

After all this time, I sure as hell do. I'm pretty sure that you do too.

Goodbye Dave. I wish we'd gotten to know you better.

Things That Don't Inspire Me

I've written quite a few things in the past in which I explored those things that inspire me and, by extension, my gaming aesthetics. Today I'd like to talk about some things that, for whatever reason, I either don't "get," or which somehow just didn't take.

I suppose that, by now, you probably have seen this:

If I gotta work with this poorly animated actress, 
then gimme a fucking pizza already.

Largely, the comments I've seen have been skeptical about the probable quality of this rehashing (again) of an old and supposedly beloved intellectual property. Honestly, I don't give two shits about TMNT. Never have. Something about those fucking turtles always rubbed me the wrong way. In the cartoon, they just cam across as skate-bro/jock douchebags. Master Splinter? Been done, and done better. I ignored the stupid turtles and watched USA Networks Kung Fu Theatre, instead. Oh, and fuck G.I. Joe, too. If he doesn't have a submarine and kung fu grip, then I don't care.

"But Edgar," you might argue, "the TMNT comic was awesome. All that pop culture bullshit just ruined something great. You really got to look at the source material." Well... that brings me to another thing I just don't really care much about: Comics. 

Yes, I've read comics. Yes, I even own a few (Sandman, lots of R. Crumb, some Freak Brothers, that sort of thing). I've just never gotten into them to the extent some of you probably have. The reason is simple: I want to spend my money on books with words. Lots and lots of words. I read a lot, and I read quickly. Spending money on comics is, for me, a lot like spending money on a cheap pair of shoes. They don't last, so what's the point? But the art! Yes, the art. Cool enough. I'm glad it's inspiring to people, but I can find plenty of art I like, and not have to sacrifice my budget for the books with which I am filling my house (much to the dismay of my spouse).

That brings me to the last thing I just don't get and probably never will: Dr. Who. I know a lot of people who love that shit. I like those people, and generally they have decent taste (as far as I can tell), but that show is not, to put it in the proper vernacular, my particular cup of tea. Bad special effects, even now. Sometimes I can see past that, but not in this case. I completely fail to suspend disbelief enough even to watch more than an episode. I've tried. My daughter loves that show. I've even watched shows with bad special effects (and some bad acting) that I've absolutely loved (e.g., original Star Trek, Babylon 5). I guess it's like this. Those things were bad, but played seriously. Dr. Who just comes across as sort of jokey, and I'm just not getting the joke.

So... I guess this is what getting old is like. Now get the hell off my lawn, you kids!

I'm in the process of getting the final versions of the surveys for my gaming research approved by my institution's review board for human subjects research. I'm hoping approval will come today or maybe next week. As soon as it does, I'm ready to launch. Watch this space for more info. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ascension of a Metal God

A new Metal God has joined the Great Pantheon. 

Oderus Urungus has left Earth to make the journey to Planet Ore, and join the other Metal Gods. In honor of his ascension, my players will have a very special encounter, this Thursday. 

RIP, Dave Brockie.

I'm sure he had no idea how apropos this recording would be, but there it is.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Killing (Patent) Trolls

So, I was listening to +Fear the Boot's last podcast (#333, which is half of THAT number, so half METAL!), and the guys sent out a call about a patent case currently in federal court. Adam Carolla and a few other folks are being sued for patent infringement by a patent troll. If you don't know what a patent troll is, here's what they seem to do:

  1. Look at the world and see if anyone is doing something cool. 
  2. Figure out something about that thing for which you can apply for a patent.
  3. Sue!
  4. Hope they decide to settle the case with you instead of pursuing an expensive legal defense.
  5. Profit!

Patent trolls pretend to be businesses, but their only product is litigation. So, fuck those guys. And, now, it's become personal. Apparently, a patent troll is trying to patent the very process of podcasting. If they succeed, they OWN the process and have set a legal precedent. If that case is not overturned... goodbye, podcasting. Goodbye, Spellburn. Goodbye, Roll for Initiative. Goodbye, Save or Die! Goodbye, THACO's Hammer. Goodbye, Your Book is Why Daddy Drinks. Goodbye all the indy podcasts you know and love.

Well, that's some bullshit right there, don't you think? So what can be done. As it happens, +Adam Carolla has set up a legal defense fund, so he can fight the lawsuit. I've made a donation, and refused to take any physical product as my "reward," to ensure that all the money I sent will go toward the defense efforts.

Please join me in this effort, if you can, and as you are able. If you're going to do it, do it now. Don't delay, or you'll probably forget. Go HERE, and contribute to the warchest. It'll only take a couple of minutes. Those bastards need to be taken down, and you can help.

The Future's So Dark I Gotta Wear... Whatever the Opposite of Shades Is

Sorry for the light posting, lately. Work's been kicking my ass, and weekends have consisted of things like taxes and grading. I would be remiss, however, if I didn't draw attention to this.

They really did it. There's a Dark Dungeons movie coming out this summer. Dark Dungeons, as in Marcie, and Black Leaf, and the infamous Dark Dungeons Chick Tract. This cannot be anything but amazing. Also, apparently, Jack Chick himself greenlit the project. Well, Jack, you asked for it... and it looks amazing.

Coming Soon! (but not to a theatre near anyone)

Friday, March 14, 2014

My Research on Gaming

Hello, readers! About a year or so ago, I mentioned that I might be doing some research related to table top RPG gaming (and gamers). In this follow-up post, I have a bit of good news, and a request. First the news.

As some of you may know, I am a college professor by trade. Recently, I made a decision to pursue gaming and simulation as one of my research areas. Prior to beginning my research, I was required to go through an institutional review board (IRB) for research on human subjects. Basically, I had to tell the IRB what I proposed to do, to whom I proposed to do it, and how I would go about doing so. There also was the requirement that I have a plan for gaining consent from the people participating in my research, and a plan for storing securely the data resulting from the research. At long last, that process is complete, and my project has been approved. That's where you come in. You have the opportunity to be "human subjects."

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting a series of surveys about gaming, on this site. I also will post them on the Google+ community. I hope to gather information about you, what you play, how you play it, how you interact with other gamers in the various communities of which you are part, and what you get out of the experiences you have (and have had) through gaming.  I'm interested in learning a bit more about the people who form the OSR community (however you choose to define that term) about their gaming activities and the context(s) of those activities, and am particularly interested in learning about how social mediation plays a part in your gaming experiences. This particular conjunction of old-school gaming and new media is a peculiar thing. It both fascinates me, as a cultural phenomenon, and has been the source of many new and wonderful friendships. I'd like to learn more about other folks' experiences in that regard, as well.

In order to gather that information, I have constructed a long list of questions. Because it's so long, I've decided to break the questions down into several surveys, so you don't have to spend a couple hours at a time answering my incessant questions. They will be broken down by themes, as much as they can be. Not all of them deal with the OSR community or with online gaming. Some will explore your aesthetic preferences for games and game art, your gaming biographies, and other such things. The goal is to get the best and most accurate picture of my research participants as is possible.

The goal of this research is publication of articles (and maybe a book) about what we do and how we do it. The information you provide will be anonymous, unless you wish to be identified. I wanted to include that option for those whose existence as public figures is an important part of  their professional lives, and who might benefit from having their names included in this research. Again, this is completely optional, and the "default" mode will be to protect your identities by keeping you anonymous.

Please take part in my research, if you can. Also, when you see I've posted a new survey, help me spread the word to as many potential "research subjects" as possible by sharing my Google+ survey requests with people in your circles. I would very much appreciate it, personally, and your help in this regard will enhance the quality of the information I get.

Thanks for reading, and watch this space for updates.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shameless Promotion

One last time with feeling. The DCC RPG World Tour Kickstarter has made its funding goal, but is still shy of the Wizard Van level of awesomeness.

Think about it, man... Wizard Van. WIZARD VAN!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Confessions of a Metal God

Yeah, so that "Metal Gods" thing... +Doug Kovacs asked us a reasonable question, recently:

I saw The Sword last night at the double door. Do you metal gods ever actually go to see live music anymore? or is all just talk.

My inner professor will attempt to ignore the punctuation of that sentence, because I have some restraint. But he raises a valid point. How fucking "metal" can you be if you don't at least go see a show every once in a while? The answer... well, the answer may disturb you a bit. You see, I have a confession to make. I'm not very metal at all. Sure I like (some) metal music, but my home is old school punk rock. I love the metal aesthetic, but I find people who take metal really seriously, well, kind of tedious, just like punks who are TOTALLY STRAIGHT EDGE. Part of my idiom involves not taking myself too damned seriously. Life is short. I don't need to become a fucking caricature.

Here's the thing though: I really love metal that goes that extra mile, that makes itself a caricature, but in fun ways. Like Sleep doing an hour-plus long song:

This is a master class in HEAVY

Like Rob Halford wearing a leather cape:

This guy would make a way better king than Charles.

Like this trailer for the Brutal Legend video game (which wasn't that great, but had a great concept):

You don't have to like Jack Black to like this.

Like fucking GWAR!

Silly fucking shit. I love it.

NOT like those dickheads who are so fucking metal they burn down churches or beat people up. When you become a bully, it's not metal. When you punch down instead of punching up, it's not metal. Like punk, metal is about making do with what you have and having fun doing it, having a group of friends to do that with, and having fun despite The Man's attempts to control you, and to keep you from having that fun. That's my version at least. That, I can support. That, I like. 

Me, though, I'm a peculiar creature. Metal is never enough. For, at the heart of my crusty exterior, there is a  heart of bubblegum. There is a joy to be expressed. There is the blessed release of singing along with something silly and Charlie Brown dancing my ass off (if only in my mind): 

Schroeder, killing it. Again.

It's a weird combination of things that makes up the soundtrack of my life, and helps me get through the day with a smile on my face. It keeps me from nuttin' up and losing my shit on some jackass who really, really needs it. No, really, I have songs constantly in my head. You may be talking to me, and I look happy. But I'm not just listening to you. I'm listening to the soundtrack.

This one's in there, right now, and it's sustaining me:

The McDonald brothers have been doing it since 1979. They still put on a dynamite show.

That's another thing about the Metal Gods aesthetic that I'm going for when I write and run game sessions: All of this is in there, and every part of it contributes to the greater whole. And that shit is dark, and it's pretentious, and it's heavy, and it's also fun and silly as hell. It's about pushing all of the buttons at once, just to see what happens.

I started with the bubblegum of the Monkees:

And I don't care if they did their own songs.

I have journeyed to High on Fire:

Thor is not the god of thunder. Matt Pike is.

And when I die, I want Dax Riggs to be there, to send me on my way:

Seriously, this dude is The Shit.

And I am fucking free, man. I am free. That that's heavy. What do I mean by "heavy," Matt Pike?

Check out "Such Hawks, Such Hounds" for context

Damn straight, Matt. I am a fucking warlord, man, a silly warlord, and I will beat you to death with an hammer made black metal while adorning myself with monkey testicles. 

Oh, wait. That's Vane Barbute's job. Well, anyway, I'll figure out something.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ode to an Urchin

When I started gaming with the Metal Gods crew, about a year and a half ago almost, we ended up with a lot of zero-level urchins in our party. Most of them died (of course), but for some reason I was taken with the idea of this band of urchins, with the thought that I could write a story worth telling and have those children of the streets tell it for me, with me the instrument of their speech. I didn't think it through this rationally, of course, but on some level it was always happening.

The next adventure I wrote (Mysterious Crypt of the Serpent God) involved human sacrifices. The blood of a whole village's children had been used by serpentmen to fuel their terrible machines. In a later revision, I changed that horrible aspect of the adventure: The corpses of the dead ones piled head-high, their hearts ripped whole from their chests, and the blood... the rivers of blood... flowing down the drain in the altar, and overflowing onto the floor when the drain wasn't enough to contain the flow. They hadn't gotten to all of them, though. Just in case more zeroes were needed, I had stashed eight extra zero-level urchins in a holding cage, nearby the altar.

The situation was done just that way, because it is the very heart of horror, for me. It is the sickness of the world. It is the stealthy sound in the black of night. It is the creepy bastard with the leering eyes, who smiles brightly at the little kids, with dead, dead eyes, and a burning, sickly hunger in his heart. It is the lamentations of every mother who has lost a child. It is the screams of the dying, too small and weak to fight back against those who would harm them. It is the most horrible thing I can imagine, there on the page of that adventure, as a device to show my players that there is something worth fighting for, something besides glory, or treasure, or a righteous kill. There are some things in the world that need killing, because failing to kill them is to excuse depravity and, thus, to perpetuate it. The serpent men weren't bad enough on their own. Monsters, yes, but not monstrous. The deaths of a generation of children, though, that made them truly monstrous. Dirty trick? Yes. Manipulative? Yes. Did they die for their sins? Oh, hell yes, they did.

Later, that adventure done, I turned to new things. Again, there were the urchins. In this case, it was the Streetkids of Ur-Hadad adventure I wrote and later published in the recent Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad 'zine (On sale now, by the way, for any price you name). In that situation, all the PCs are zero-level urchins, trying to make a name for themselves by impressing the Divine Order of the Purple Tentacle, the mercenary band at the center of the Metal Gods campaign--Think The Black Company, but with more silliness and a bad drug habit. These are kids who want a better life, and who look up to the Divine Order for what they've done, certainly. They also see them as a way out. A way to escape a short and brutal life on the streets. A way to avoid the compromises and outright surrenders that are forced upon the powerless. A gang so powerful, and so formidable, that no one will ever be able to do that to them again.

We all like our stories about heroes from humble beginnings, who make their own way in an uncaring world, who rise to unlikely triumphs. Sometimes they're kids to begin with, and sometimes they're just guys (or women), you know. But it's the kids' stories that I find the most fascinating and compelling. Mind you, nothing terrible happened in my past to spur me this way. Sure it wasn't idyllic, and, yeah, I had to deal with some bullshit at times, but I wasn't one of those kids. I knew a few who were, though, friends and acquaintances. Maybe that's where it comes from. I honestly don't know why, but there you go. If there is a heart to the stories I want to tell, it's the kid from the streets who wants a better life, and who is willing to risk everything. For that kid, "everything" is him- or herself, because there's nothing else. No possessions. No family. Just a few friends, maybe. Death is only a release from the bondage of a hard life, at a young age. I'm not trying to provoke depression among my readers, mind you, just trying to establish the frame of reference.

Here's an interesting and compelling (to me) model of the classic Thieves' Guild, one I've encountered in something I'm reading (the Night Angel trilogy). I that book, the way it works is that street kids pretty much form around gangs led by older kids. To remain in good standing, and not be beaten or killed, they must come up with a weekly take. Maybe it's just a few coppers. They have to get them, no matter what. Nobody cares about excuses. If you don't get them, you get beaten, maybe killed. Eventually, if you survive, you get older: "littles" become "bigs," and when you get big enough, if you're hard enough, maybe you rise to lead your gang. When you get a bit older, maybe you can save enough of the take (what you don't have to funnel upward into the Thieves' Guild, that you're able to buy in. You secure a place in the Guild by buying a stake in it, and becoming a real member, if only on a probationary status. However, what this means is that the Thieve's Guild is built on the backs of the streetkids. The live (sometimes), suffer (always), and die (usually) to fill the coffers of the Guild. It's only a few coppers at a time, but there's thousands of them. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Most die. All will contribute before they do. Pretty soon, you're talking about real money. It's the most brutal form of multi-level marketing, Amway with a hard heart and a truncheon, and no labor laws.

This is one of the most depressing versions of the Thieves' Guild I've seen, but it's also the one that seems the most real to me. This is what happens, isn't it? When there is no boundary to our brutality, when there is no check on our greed, when we make disposable the lives of the least of us, we get this game. To be clear, I'm not talking about the "sanctity of life" like some anti-abortion zealot. I'm talking about the already-born, not fetishizing fetuses as if they matter more than kids who actually have been born. That's enough about that, though.

This has been a bit rambling, I know, but there's something important about it, to me, at the heart of this discussion. In my fantasy campaign world life is cheap, and it is especially cheap when you're young and poor. Every wealthy boss stands astride a million corpses. The boss didn't even have to kill them. The boss just had to extract the wealth they generated. There's nothing more efficient for doing that than a Guild. Poverty provides the engine. The system breeds itself, perpetuates itself, and eats itself. And copper, silver, gold, and power all flow up to the top. Maybe fantasy is realer than I thought.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Dagger: Some variants

Daggers are, in my opinion, pretty much the least sexy of the basic fantasy weapons. Okay, sure, there's the club, but that one at least has the longest history of usage. It's traditional. It has gravitas. The dagger, well, it's just a knife with pretensions. It's a wizard's weapon in D&D, but often plays second fiddle to the staff. In DCC, the dagger gets a bit more love, as it increases its damage for the thief's backstab ability. That's a nice little update, and makes it a weapon worth using, at least by that class and in that game. That said, why else would you use one? To pick your teeth and clean your fingernails?

When it comes to plain old damage-dealing ability, and you're not a thief, the dagger lags well behind most weapons, making it a second or third option, at best. Even when you have a magical dagger of some kind, unless it's especially powerful or has additional abilities (e.g., intelligence, poison, etc.), it's still not quite the "persuader" that a good long sword is. As a missile weapon, it's perhaps a bit better, but lacks the range of many others doing the same damage (e.g., a sling). So, again, the dagger is... a laggard.

Still, though, I like daggers, and I think they are underused. Here are a few ways to make this basic armament more consequential for your DCC game (or other game, of course).

Idea 1: The Law of the Land

Make it impossible for your characters to wear armor and carry larger weapons when in civilized places. Really, what kind of city guard allows random strangers of great power and ability to walk around fully armed and armored, and doesn't do something to nerf their ability to cause mayhem? Try this: Most towns, and especially larger cities, may frown on people who carry anything beyond a dagger. They are suspicious of armored folk, and may call out the guard to ensure they don't cause trouble. Guardsmen may not be high HD foes, but a whole bunch of them with crossbows and polearms, especially if supported by a wizard, can wreak havoc on the average adventuring party. So, when you go into the city, you need to have a good dagger, or maybe a few of them.

Idea 2: Elf Killer

This suggestion come from Zehra the Archer, a little-known thief of Ur-Hadad.
A good dagger is your friend, sure, but nothing beats a rusty dagger when you go up against an elf. Those pointy-eared cookie makers go down quick when you put a little rust into that blue blood of theirs. Acts just like poison, it does. It's painful, too, so it makes for a fine threat when you need information and the mark won't give it to you.
Sound advice, surely, from one with experience.

Alternately, one could simply use another type of poison against another type of foe. Frankly, thieves don't seem to do nearly enough of that, and I for one would like to see more of it. The Poisoned Dagger is a trope for a reason, people. Use it.

Idea 3: Weird Magic

With the right enchantment, a dagger can do marvelous things. Still, magic is always a forked path, and with each benefit there should be at least one danger. Here are a few suggestions for magical daggers:

Ability Drain

Instead of (and/or in addition to) simply doing damage, a dagger might drain a particular attribute, just like spellburn. Maybe it takes a little bit of Stamina, or even Intelligence. How much? That depends on the dagger. What happens to that drained ability? Ideally, it should accrue to the wielder, adding (temporarily) to that person's score in the same attribute. Also, because this is such a useful ability, what are the drawbacks? I think this sort of thing sounds pretty addictive, don't you? Maybe the dagger has to be wielded frequently against someone other than the owner, or the owner gets a point of that ability drained permanently.


There is a spirit of some kind in the dagger. Maybe it's happy to be there, and maybe it wants to be released. It can provide knowledge of things beyond the ken of the owner, but demands something in return. Maybe it can be a patron, but only while in the possession of the person who wishes to secure such patronage. This would make it something worth stealing, of course. Maybe it's malevolent: It pretends to be helpful, but ultimately seeks to destroy its user. In such a case, it might already belong to a more powerful being that seeks to corrupt others and enslave them to its will.

One-trick Pony

The dagger has a magical property, but its magic is very, very specific. It could be very powerful and very useful in the right circumstances, but more or less ordinary in others. However, it is still a magical weapon, and can be used to harm creatures when a magical weapon is required to do so.

Example: The dagger can detect the presence of undead creatures within 50 feet. It may also be a beacon for such creatures.

Another example: The dagger has a jewel or sigil in its hilt which can be detached from it. It can then be used to track that item, no matter where it might go. It may also work in the opposite direction, so a foe who detected the "tracker" could use it to home in on the person who is tracking him or her.

So, there you go. Daggers may not be the best weapon in the armory, but circumstances, poison, and magical properties can make them a bit more exciting. Plus, they're stabby little guys you can use to make your enemies bleed, and that's always nice. They also are easy to conceal, and generally are socially acceptable to carry, even in the presence of royalty.

So, what are you waiting for? Buy one now! Buy two and give one as a gift (blade first or hilt first, depending on your preferences)!

Some offers may not apply for some characters. Daggers are not legal in some territories or city-states. Individual results may vary. Manufacturer not responsible for misuse of daggers for non-stabby purposes. Use at your own risk.