So, I have an Adventure Published and in Print

Just not how I thought it would be.

I know that Revelry at Pickett’s Castle is under Creative Commons license, so I have no problem with this in practice, though I’d really have liked to have been notified about it.  I’d have even probably promoted it enthusiastically.  Those who are mad aren’t mad because it’s out, but because it was kind of sprung on them.  While I do believe that it’s not being done for-profit, I’d rather it be Alex himself rather than a 3rd party or that there had been more discussion and openness about the intention for a 3rd party print edition beforehand.  Now, if people REALLY want to, I guess entrants could say that turn about’s fair play and publish their own competing editions, so that every entrant is basically a referrer-affiliate who gets paid for the copies purchased that they themselves put out, but that would be madness.

Like I said, it’s like those scam poetry contents where a company accepts every submission and then goes back and sells coffee table collections back to the people who wrote the poems so they could see them in print.  I know, from an intellectual perspective, that this is far less egregious and malign, but, from an emotional perspective, I can see why a lot of people are really miffed about this.

A Post About a Terrible Book that Sarah Darkmagic is Reading and How it Was a Total Pick-me-up for Me

I don’t normally read Sarah Darkmagic’s blog, not because it’s not a good blog, but because almost all of the posts are hella depressing and focus almost exclusively on what’s wrong in gaming rather than what’s good in gaming. Y’know, like if every post I wrote was like the one that briefly put me at odds with the BFRPG community… Color me cynically privileged, but it’s exhausting to care that hard all the time!

But I actually found myself reading one of her recent posts, and one of the things she highlighted was an exchange in a book that she was reading:

Why did you kiss me?”

She started to answer, but R’s expression turned dark and he continued, “What did you hope to gain from it?”

D fell back another step, but then came forward aggressively, dropping her blade and putting her hands on her hips. She stood barely inches from R staring at him coldly.

“You cannot be mad at me!” R insisted.

“You have shown me– you have taught me! You have taken me to those noblemen’s grand parties and shown me how to use your charms to mainpula–”

D’s hand came up faster than R could react and slapped him hard across the face.

She huffed and swung around to run away, but R caught her by the shoulder and tugged her back around, throwing himself at her. And when they crashed together, he hugged her tightly. He saw the moisture in her pretty brown eyes, and kissed her.

She twisted to get away. She pulled her mouth back. But R pressed in harder and rejoined the kiss and D’s tension gradually melted away, and then she was kissing him as passionately or more.

“Do you doubt me?” she asked, and she twisted suddenly, dropping them both to the floor, her atop him.

“Have you never kissed any of them? Isn’t that part of the game you play?” R asked.

She did not mention the name of the author, and obscured the work by not naming the characters involved, but mentioned that he/she was a popular author, also wrote young adult fantasy, and, in above passage, was contributing to the Rape Culture. She complained about how she had to force herself to finish it for reasons that she only vaguely alluded to.  I think that she missed a wonderful opportunity to name and shame. I mean, I wanna know who this dude is. No, not because it contributes to Rape Culture or offends my sensibilities, but because of how freaking bad it is! Oh, my god! This is what I have to compete against as an aspiring fantasy writer? Color me optimistic! I now feel like the stuff I’ve been churning out isn’t half bad, so maybe I have a chance!

I would like to know who this author is so I can avoid him/her like the plague, but thank you, Sarah Darkmagic, for showing me just how low the bar is really set for Popular Fantasy. Considering that the only ‘fantasy’ book I’ve read recently has been by Umberto Eco, I thought I was fucked, cuz that guy is amazing and I could probably NEVER be that good. But this

He felt the fool for ever doubting this amazing halfling lass. She was playing no game for him; her feelings were honest.

made me feel really good about myself as a writer in that even the stuff I wrote in high school was not that awful. Maybe there’s hope for me yet!


Turns out it’s by R.A. Salvatore!  Really!?!  BWAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

A New Take on an Old Classic: Isle of Dread

(Originally this was going to be up at Dice Monkey, but Mark has taken the month off, and I felt that this post tied into yesterday’s far too well to not get it up as a followup. It’s a few weeks old, so I don’t delve as deeply into Savage vs. Civilized themes as I might have if I’d written it today, but we can leave all of that for the comments section, yes?)

There are few modules out there more highly regarded than Isle of Dread. Heroes from the mainland sail in search of treasure and monster and the chance to open a new trade route to lands unknown.

The fighter comes as conquistador, the cleric as missionary, the thief as treasure hunter, the mage as researcher, the elf as… well, an elf. The heroes of the Setting Formerly Known as The Known World may have all sorts of motivations and goals as they invade and explore this alien wilderness.

But what about natives? Typical runs of the Isle of Dread treat the natives in a handful of ways: they are the hired manpower of the explorers. They act as guides before the jungle gets too thick and dangerous. And, in dire situations, once the supply of mooks back on the ships get exhausted, may be used in the pool of bodies to reroll dead characters from. I’ve read of some parties that explored the Isle of Dread and by the end of the campaign, maybe one of the original party was left, leading a band of characters rolled up from natives because everyone else was dead. But what is the motivation for that? And why continue once the last of the original heroes has been killed? That pretty much spells the end of the exploratory expedition.

So, here’s my idea for a new take on Isle of Dread. Now, I’m sure this has been done before lots of times, just it doesn’t get blogged about a lot.

All player characters are drawn from the natives. Classes are restricted to those available in the villages, namely fighter and cleric. I know that multi-classing is a no-no in b/x, but I think I might allow it for magic users; I’ll go into that later.

Rather than run it at “Expert” levels, all characters start at level 1. The scene is set by the arrival of mysterious strangers on the island. They come bringing all sorts of wonders and treasures. All of these new arrivals will be low to mid level except for their leader, who should be level 5-8, perhaps depending upon his or her class.

The first major variable in this campaign will be the expedition leader’s class. This will shape some of his goals and attitudes regarding the isle of dread. A fighter will likely be more interested in exploration, treasure, or colonization, a cleric in prosyletizing and establishing missions, a thief in getting as much loot as possible with less interest in long-term position, and magic user probably in studying the lost civilization. These are just some ideas: these expedition leaders can have any number of motivations, all of which will shape the direction of the campaign.

As the mysterious strangers appear in the village, they ask for the help of villagers. They’re looking for volunteers, but are willing to hire people on.

As a native of the Isle of Dread, your equipment may be limited by your culture and your resources. This means you’re primarily going to be restricted to very light or no armor and the wooden and leather shields of your people. At some point, you may grow used to the foreign weapons and armor of these strange newcomers, but for some time would suffer severe disadvantages until you became accustomed to them. Being a native warrior might even be treated as a separate class as a traditional fighter, complete with weapon and armor restrictions, though using fighter’s level tables. Native weapons would include spears, both thrown and melee, bows, and other weapons described in the module as being used by the islanders.

Native clerics would likely be more like witch doctors than the traditional healer/tank. They would only wear the armor and equipment of their culture. They also might often clash with any clerics who have arrived on their shores. There is any number or reasons why a native acolyte would go adventuring, though. Collecting items for medicine bags, observing the ways of the newcomers, proving ones’ worth to the gods through a rite of passage into the heart of the island, so on and so forth.

I’m also inclined to include magic users, but in a very different way, more akin to something from AD&D than B/X. If there is a magic user among the foreign explorers, particularly if the leader is a magic user, that magic user might be willing to do some teaching were his life saved by a heroic native with a propensity for learning. First, you might want to decide whether or not the inhabitants of the Isle of Dread are literate. I’m assuming they’re not. A native interested in becoming a magic user would need to be taught how to read and write. This may be accomplished by a series of intelligence checks over time. Once the individual learns to read, he or she may also be taught “read magic”. A native cleric or fighter who is taught magic in this way drops their old class (though they keep their saves and to hit, at least until the new magic user class advancement catches up) and begins to advance as though they were a level 1 magic user. A cleric who becomes a magic user in this way is considered to have abandoned the old ways, and may be shunned by other native clerics. He or she will also lose any cleric abilities.

Here’s a thought: to abrogate the need for spellbooks, natives magic users begin to tatoo their spells all over their bodies, and possibly the bodies of their fellows!

You can’t work a campaign by simply having the natives tag along with the explorers. At some point, the leader isn’t going to be there, and the natives may be on their own deep in the jungles of the Isle. But finding motivation for natives to go exploring their own island shouldn’t be hard. It will depend on the motives of the explorers, which will be up to you as the DM, but the Isle of Dread is written to have endless possibilities.

A Bizarre Essay in Which I Relate Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to the Keep on the Borderlands

Well, i didn’t think I’d get a gaming related post out of de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, but maybe I did after all. I’m only half-way through, intending to begin Vol.II sometime soon, and I’ll admit the reading is laborious as a)it is the first English translation which is both archaic and free-wheeling with some of de Tocqueville’s actual intent, b) the edition I have is riddled with typos; apparently no copy editor felt it worth reading the whole book because they anticipated how few would take the time to read it cover to cover (the quantity and blatantness of the typos seem to pick up midway through and get progressively worse up to the end), and c) I have a new baby kitten who demands a lot of attention.

I have a lot of more useful and productive thoughts that have been inspired by the work, such as my ideas on how a standardization of the teaching of US history nationwide in public schools has undermined the sovereignty of the individual republics by denying their citizens a national identity beyond the Federal government over the course of the last century (damn you and your ilk, Dewey, all playing the long game against the American people!), but that’s not why you clicked on this post on a tabletop gaming blog.

I’ve blogged a bit on Keep on the Borderlands and the nature of each ‘side’ in the standoff. As has been pointed out, the Caves of Chaos are not actually defensible and constitue soft targets, as opposed to the Keep, a bastion of civilization that, barring catastrophy, will stand on the forefront of borders until pioneers have fully displaced the native humanoids by means of settlement, agriculture and urbanization, pushing back the borders until the Keep is a relic of a bygone era of expansion.

Yes, I’m comparing the plight of the greenskins in the Caves of Chaos to that of the Native Americans in early 19th century North America. The Indians are depicted by de Tocqueville as a noble and savage people whose virtues and vices rend them incapable of withstanding the encroachment of the Anglo-American. They are “savage” in that they have not adopted the principal trappings of civilization: settlement*, agriculture, and manufacturing. The natives were “Noble” in that they prized their freedom and independence above all things, but also, as a hunter/warrior people, looked down on efforts to ‘settle down’ and engage in the arduous work of agriculture. Indeed, the agriculture of groups who chose to settle down was beset not only by the derision of their fellows but by the lack of experience, which hampered their ability to compete with the Anglo-Americans.

As pioneers pressed westward into the American Wilds, game would flee before them. The sounds of agriculture and husbandry was said to have driven game unknown even to the pioneers far beyond hills and rivers, thus, tribes were puzzled at the situation that had driven away their livelihoods even before they came into contact with the cause of their woes. Once the land had been rendered destitute, the natives would be faced with the lose-lose proposition: stay on the land of their fathers which could no longer support them, or sell and move west with the game in the vain hope that the white man would cease his indefatigable drive toward the western seas.

Now, back to fantasy land: typically green-skin demihumans are hunters. Except in settings where your typical fantasy tropes are inverted, demihumans live in isolated tribes, rarely do they live in permanent settlements, they do not engage in agricultural pursuits, nor do they engage in any sort of manufacturing. They often have to trade for what they themselves cannot make, and that which they cannot trade for, they steal.

Now, the civilized race of Men build their cities and extend their municipalities, farmlands and hunting grounds into the wilds that are inhabited by these less civilized peoples. By doing so, they make it increasingly difficult for the demi-humans to provide subsistence for themselves by their traditional means. While the goblins could theoretically attempt to settle down and take up farming, they are disadvantaged by not having a long history of agricultural knowledge upon which they can build. They would work harder, work for less and be shamed by the derisions of their hunters and warriors. For these reasons, when Humans and Demi-humans come into contact with one another, they are destined for conflict. The Human sees the lands inhabitted by the Demi-Humans as ill-used: they do not build towns on it, they do not till it, they do not use it for manufacturing. The land is worth more in terms of real output and productivity to the civilized race than the savage. The encroachment of Human civilization exacerbates the wants and needs of demi-humans, who come to desire manufactured goods but have little means of acquiring them, less so because of the decrease in local game. The demi-humans then have no recourse but to wage war on the encroaching civilization or flee deeper into the wilds.

Games and settings may introduce ideas and concepts such as evil gods as an primemover of conflicts between monstrous demi-humans and humans, but even in the absence of such devices, the two cultures would inevitably clash until the primitive culture is destroyed by the heroic force of pioneers determined to seize all that providence has laid before them or the savage culture adopts enough of a degree of civilization that it can maintain itself and retain a claim to land on slightly more equal footing as their oppressor.

Consider the Borderlands scenario. What would it take for the peoples of the Caves to reach a sort of parity with the Keep? They would need a Keep of their own in order to stake claim to the land and protect those who would work the soil there. The Keep exists to protect the farmers who are pressing eastward, who would make better use (i.e. more productive and profitable use) of the land by establishing farms, towns and manufacturing, than the demi-humans who merely ‘reside’ in the caves, hunt and forage for food.

If the demi-humans somehow miraculously seized the Keep, they would take something from it: the advantages presented of civilization to the savage. It would afford them the opportunity to make use of the land better, incorporate some semblance of the culture and social structure which they have overtaken, in the way that eastern European barbarian tribes began to adopt the trappings of the Romans which they overran. When the opposite happens, however, and civilization defeats savagery, the civilized men take little to nothing from the Savage and the savage is wiped from the face of the earth. If the Caves of Chaos were conquered, what would be the benefit of the Humans? They would merely plunder and reclaim what was there of value (much of which was likely acquired from civilization through trade or plunder), return it to their economy, and leave the caves abandoned as municipalities sprung up in the Keep’s vicinity.

By their nature, the forces of the Cave stand no chance, however, against the encroachment of Man, Civilization and the forces of the Keep, comprised of adventurous individuals who are determined to press into the wilds in the name of that civilization and personal wealth and glory. The Caves embody the Lost Cause of the savage peoples, too proud to turn their swords to plowshares and too stubborn to continue giving up ground to the neighboring civilization. As they make their last stand, they face the inevitable fate of destruction from this earth just as those proud nomads of North America did so long ago.

*:There were exceptions to this, including much older and more advanced Mississippian culture, but the Indians displaced by settlers were primarily nomadic peoples who followed the game in the wilds. The Cherokee fared slightly better than other tribes because they had taken up some of the arts of civilization, but it ultimately did not avail them because their settled culture was still in its infancy up against over two millenia of British civilization.

Man, so I have this really bad idea

I found a website where you can get really crappy stock art for your latest BDSMVWMAGEF (Bondage Domination Sadism Masochism Vampire Werewolf Mummy Angel Goddess Elf Fairy) epic for pretty cheap (as low as $69!) with some small level of customization.  Sometimes I find myself having a hard time seeing things through from beginning to end, especially in the long form (the last works of fiction I had published were the flash fictions included with the Black Hole and Dracula albums I put out).

Anyway, I figure some small degree of commitment financially might induce me to finish some things.  As a creative writing exercise, one could buy one of these masterpieces of curvaceous clip-art and write a short novella or some such inspired by the image (rather than the traditional self-publishing route of writing a story and finding some piece of cover art that has next to nothing to do with your story) and get those published instead.