Wednesday 28 March 2018

Everybody Loves Our Game: On the OSR "Scene"

I am just finishing off reading Everybody Loves Our Town, Mark Yarm's superlative oral history of grunge. It's a really entertaining book, phenomenally comprehensive and detailed, and compulsively readable even (I think) for people who aren't into that kind of music. It goes back right to the very early days, with the formation of the U-Men in 1981, and charts the emergence of a regional scene, its sudden blossoming in the early 90s, and its very rapid demise afterwards.

It's a huge nostalgia trip for anybody who grew up in the 80s and 90s, I think: while my home town can't exactly lay claim to being like Seattle circa 1991, I recognised a lot of the texture of the life that's portrayed in the recollections of the interviewees. So many of the elements of teenage life back then - forming bands, drinking and smoking pot and trying not to be discovered doing so, hanging out with friends just sort of wandering the streets or lurking in parks, listening to heavy metal on cassette tapes, going to all-age 'rock nights' and open mic nights at local venues (in our case, for some reason, the ballroom of a once-grand-but-now-faded large Edwardian hotel), wearing lots of denim - seems to have been a commonplace throughout the Western world (now much reduced). You could probably have grabbed the average 15 year old from Seattle and dumped him in Wallasey and vice versa and he would have fit it like a glove. We just had less heroin and guns.

What interests me most about the book is the social anthropology of "scenes". For a while, by all accounts, there was a Seattle grunge "scene". (One which became a monster, exploded, and then transformed into something self-referential, self-parodying, and destructive.) My home town had a "scene" when I was 14 or 15 - sets of familiar faces, names, people-who-knew-people, common cultural reference points, common slang terms, common hangouts. There are heavy metal scenes, Irish dancing scenes, horror fiction scenes, underground S&M scenes, communal sewing scenes, dining club scenes, single malt whisky scenes... Permanent or temporary conglomerations of people, habits, ideas, vernaculars, and interest surrounding a common geographical or cultural core.

For a long time now I've been dissatisfied with the use of the phrase "Old School Renaissance" or OSR. I prefer to think of us as a "scene". We are a DIY D&D (or, to widen it out, DIY RPG) scene. Maybe a collection of scenes: there is a DCC scene, a LotFP scene, a Black Hack scene, a true grognard scene, and so on and so forth.

The interesting thing about a scene is, while friendships might form within it, it's not really about being friends. Nor is it about pursuing a certain goal. In a music scene, for instance, there are rivalries and even mutual hatreds. Bands don't particularly pursue the wider goal of furthering the cause of other bands. Rather, a scene is something that simply forms by accident around a set of shared interests or behaviours, and as a consequence of the interactions of human beings who have those shared interests or behaviours - nothing more or nothing less. It's not formed by a group of friends getting together to share interests. It's formed by a group of people who share interests coming together as an inevitable consequence of those shared interests: teenagers who like rock music and drinking will find themselves forming a local scene without knowing it; people who like watching and making YouTube reviews of single malts (like yours truly) will find themselves forming an online scene of sorts - it just happens. The "OSR" is the same: people who like "old school" D&D and making RPG materials by themselves have ended up making a scene because that's how scenes happen. Nothing more or less.

Another interesting facet of scenes that bears emphasis is their definition of themselves as being unlike other scenes. The Seattle grunge scene defined itself as being against hair metal. Single malt whisky drinkers define themselves as being against chill-filtration, added colour, and no-age-statement whisky. The DIY D&D scene defined itself, very early on, as being against 4th edition. The rejection of orthodoxy is an important element in the formation of a scene.

Scenes can also end - or transmogrify into something else. The Seattle grunge scene didn't last long. The outlook for the single malt scene is much better. What about the DIY D&D scene? Things seem okay so far. We'll find out if it can last the distance.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

The Mediterranean and Cultural Coolness

Back in the mists of time, I wondered aloud on the blog why it is that you get lots of Japan-inspired RPG settings but not many Polish, Tongan, Turkish or Malagasy-inspired ones. (I was living in Japan at the time and observed that this was surprising because Japan "is on its knees in almost every sense, utterly lacking in self-confidence, and faced with a hopeless and near-apocalyptic future of population crash and economic catastrophe". Things have changed a bit now, and Japan is growing increasingly self-secure in cultural terms, I think, although you still do have to wonder who is going to be putting rice on the table in 50 years' time.)

The real oddity is the lack of Mediterranean-inspired settings. Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt loom relatively large in the minds of nerds. But when you think about how culturally important, historically significant, geographically varied, and magnificently interesting the countries of Southern Europe are, it's unusual that you don't find many RPG settings (or, for that matter, fantasy series) which are set in worlds inspired by the histories of Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Turkey, or for that matter Italy and Greece if you take them out of the ancient world.

Put it another way: I think I'm hardly going out on a limb if I suggest that RPG settings (at least in the English-speaking world) are preponderantly simulacra of either Northern Europe or Japan. After that you get Ancient Greece and Rome, and then I think pseudo-Middle Eastern settings a distant third. After that comes everybody else.

What are the reasons for this? I expect that it is partly because, although the Med is just round the corner from us Brits and we're hopping on planes to Rome, Corfu, the Costa del Sol, the Algarve and whatever at the drop of a hat, for Americans and Australians those places probably feel distant and exotic and not nearly as well known. (I was trying to count earlier on how many times I've traveled to Spain, Portugal, Italy, Israel, or France. It's more than a dozen, definitely.)

I expect also it is because the Mediterranean cultures feel (rightly or wrongly) 'civilized' in the popular imagination - places which respect learning, the arts, and cloak-and-dagger politicking. This is in contrast to Northern Europe, which feel like they are wild and lawless. You'd find dungeons full of dragons all over Scandinavia, Germany and the British Isles. You wouldn't find them in Sorrento - at least, not in a way that appeals to your average gamer.

I suppose, finally, you can also blame Tolkien and his imitators. Tolkien was all about "the North". That permeates his work. The fantasy genre in general, following in his footsteps, hasn't strayed convincingly or in great numbers from that path. Japan is an exception, because nerds love samurai and ninjas, and also anime and tentacle porn. And Westerners have been obsessed with Japanese culture since the impressionists at least, for complex reasons that I'm sure could fill 1000 blog posts. But not many countries can say that.

Friday 23 March 2018

The Phantom Force Awakens a Menace

I feel like I may have courted enough controversy for a while, but, goaded by a comment on a recent entry, I'm going to put myself out on a limb again. So here goes: in hindsight, I find myself appreciating George Lucas's efforts in The Phantom Menace a little bit more than I once did.

Now, hear me out. I'm not crazy. I recognise that as films, the prequels taken in toto are dreadful. Attack of the Clones may be a genuine contender for the worst film ever made. It's awful. It has no redeeming qualities at all. Revenge of the Sith is a little bit better, but not much. Nothing about it is good, but passages of it rise slightly above the level of shite. 

But, say what you want about The Phantom Menace: at least George tried to do something genuinely ambitious. The attempt to tell the story of Darth Vader by actually beginning with him as a "lovable" (I use that adjective advisedly) child is, when you think about it, a pretty bravura act that I don't think has a parallel in film history. Certainly not genre film history. The execution doesn't work. But by golly at least he won't die wondering about what would have happened if he'd made that film. You have to give him that.

This dawned on me shortly after watching The Force Awakens. I don't think history will look kindly on that film in particular or Disney's Star Wars efforts in general. For starters, I think we'll get into "diminishing returns" territory fairly quickly if they keep up the pace of a new Star Wars film of some kind every year or two. But more importantly, The Force Awakens was the opposite of ambitious: it was a safe bet, an underarm throw, an open goal. What could be easier to pull off than a remake of A New Hope given the vitriol that has been heaped on the Star Wars prequels and the incredible juggernaut of nostalgia that sits behind the "originals"?

George Lucas caught lightning in a bottle with A New Hope. He went chasing after it again, bottle in hand, in making The Phantom Menace. He came back not so much with lightning but with bird droppings. But as a human endeavour I appreciate the effort. He tried, didn't he? Goddamit - at least he did that.

Thursday 22 March 2018

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology is Indistinguishable from Magic

The interaction between magic and technology has interested me for a long time. But there are fine distinctions between different approaches to that interaction.

What I'm not particularly interested in are fictional universes in which magic takes on the functions of technology, as though "magic" is just another tool, like steam power or the dynamo, available for instrumental ends. Harry Potter is a bit like this: magic is almost just another form of energy transfer which can be used to, say, imbue a mop to make it clean the kitchen for you or transform a chair into a butler who now sets the table for dinner or whatever. Boring.

I'm also not very interested in fictional universes where magic can be explained through physics just like technology can. The best example of bad practice in this respect is, without question, midichlorians. How to make something mystical and awe-inspiring seem bland and uninteresting in 5 seconds: provide a pseudo-scientific explanation for it.

No. What I mean by the interaction of magic and technology is something akin to what I described in my last post: the deployment of technology to achieve a magical end, or vice versa. Recording a curse on a cassette tape and then putting the tape near the victim is a great example. Some others: translating spells into binary code to allow them to be read and processed by computer. Making voodoo dolls for technological objects (create a model of somebody's car and then puncture its wheels to stop the actual real-life vehicle from moving). Charm Person delivered via a snapchat message. Creating a doppelganger of somebody by downloading all the data Facebook holds on them.

Have there been any RPG settings which have mixed magic and technology in this way? The only examples I can think of that come even close are the different character classes in Unknown Armies (Pornomancers and Videomancers and all that), and maybe some of the ideas implicit in Mage: The Ascension?

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Curse You! Or, Putting "Spells and Magic" to Use

When I was in Kyrgyzstan, I'd sometimes come across reams of cassette tape, pulled out of the actual cassette, and hung on shrubbery by somebody's house or at a roadside or on a piece of waste ground. Spools of unnatural, metallic black string spread about in a vaguely menacing way, like the excretions of some predatory cybernetic insect that had just passed by.

I asked some friends about this, and they said that these things weren't usually there by accident. This was modern shamanism at work. If you've got an enemy, get a shaman to record a curse on a cassette recorder. Then unwind the tape and put it near your target's house and the curse will take effect.

I was fascinated by this concept and found the whole thing genuinely creepy - a 21st century Central Asian equivalent of the voodoo doll. There's something I find horribly compelling about the idea of one person taking the trouble to put all the spite and malice they hold against another person into a physical manifestation in that way. You don't just sit at home and stew about Ulan and how he stole your girlfriend/killed your brother/robbed you/eats with his mouth open/whatever it might be. No: you hate that fucker so much you're going to make your hatred take metaphysical effect. That takes some extra special meanness of spirit, doesn't it?

Curses in D&D are uninteresting. There are cursed items (a Sword -1 or whatever, or a ). There are creatures who attack with a curse, like, I suppose, lycanthropes. And there are the reversals of the Bless and Remove Curse spells, which basically inflict the target with annoying negative modifiers for a period of time.

This is a shame, because curses can spur interaction with the game world in a number of ways. First, if a PC is inflicted with a curse they may have to find a certain person to help cure it, or a certain item, and that could require travel and various adventures. Second, if the PCs want to inflict a curse on an enemy, they might have to, again, find help or a certain ingredient to put the curse into effecft. And third, if the PCs are inflicted with a curse but aren't sure by whom, they may want to investigate. Any of those scenarios are great grist for the adventure mill.

The old 2nd edition Spells & Magic supplement had a Random Insanity table that I'd like to crib for curses. It goes like this:

d100 Result
01-15 Delirium
16-20 Disorientation
21-24 Attraction
25-37 Phobia
38-40 Paranoia
41-46 Alienation
47-53 Amnesia
54-61 Hallucinatory insanity
62-64 Melancholia
65-69 Dementia praecox
70-74 Monomania
75-79 Mania
80-81 Manic-depressive
82-89 Hebephrenia
90-95 Catatonia
96-103 Delusional insanity
104-114 Schizophrenia
115-119 Homicidal mania
120-124 Psychic translocation
125+ Pursuit

("Pursuit" being literally pursuit by a demon or spirit or other-dimensional entity or whatever.)

With just a little bit of work, what you have there is a list of interesting curse types, and all you need then do is decide who gets to cast them, in what circumstances they can be cast, what's needed to give them effect, and what's needed to dispel the curse. Or you could do it randomly. Viz, something like this, but with more entries:

Curse must be uttered by…
Ingredient to give effect
Ingredient to dispel
Takes effect by
Young female dwarf
At a new moon
Severed human finger
Blue rose
Speaking the curse in the victim’s presence
Old deaf elf
At dawn
Poison arrow frog
Firebird’s feather
Having the victim read the curse from a scroll
Orc child born on a full moon
At winter solstice
Monkey paw
Dragon scale
Having the victim eat or drink something which the curse has been spoken over
Wizard’s widow
On a mountain top
Having the victim looking in a mirror the curse has been spoken over
Galeb Duhr
At dusk
Piece of meteorite
Having the victim spill blood with a knife the curse has been spoken over
Undead spirit
On a body of water
Peacock’s liver
Ice from a glacier
Automatically once uttered

Monday 19 March 2018

Would You Play D&D with Donald Trump?

[Addendum, 23rd July 2020: This post is possibly the most misunderstood entry in the history of my blog. I make no apology for it, because anyone with an ounce of sense will understand perfectly well what I was driving at when writing it, and those who intend to read it in bad faith will continue to do so irrespective of what I might say about it now. But I will add one small note of explanation. When I was a child, my best friend's mother had a copy of The Desiderata on the wall of her vestibule. I used to read it often. One of the lines in it is: "listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story". I took that seriously at the time, and still do. That is the essence of what this post is all about.]

So, apparently WotC are going to introduce sexfluidity in elves by releasing a supplement for you to buy. The main purpose of this entry isn't to speak to that, but if you will, please indulge me digressing for just a moment. It always amazes me how people who define themselves as "geeks", who also I think in general tend to define themselves as being roughly "on the left" so much as they think about those things at all, will so readily and uncritically take on the status of capitalist consumers. A sizeable portion, indeed, will even do this to the extent that they buy (no pun intended) into the notion that progressive values themselves can be happily and unproblematically commodified. Do you want to be progressive when it comes to matters of gender, sex, and sexuality? Great: now buy a product to confirm it to yourself and others. For US$50 no less.

What a strange world we live in. Let's make no bones about it: in D&D you can play a dwarf with three penises married to a genderfluid asexual baboon if you really want to. Your imagination has no limits. Why buy a book giving you permission to enact the values you supposedly hold dear, when you can just do it anyway?

But so much for that. Lately I've been good about using the blog for fewer rants. What I'm more concerned about is the reaction to this announcement. And no, by this I don't mean that I've seen hundreds of blog posts or forum comments or had any conversations in which people have been expressing their opposition to sexfluid elves (who were always pretty genderfluid at least anyway, weren't they? I mean, come on). No: the reactions I have seen can be categorised as follows.

  • Roughly 50% saying "So what?" (The correct reaction.)
  • Roughly 50% saying "I wouldn't game with anybody who would have a problem with this, and I'm glad WotC have done this because it means people who are on the Wrong Side of the Debate will be flushed out and I won't have to game with them as a consequence."

I don't believe that the latter 50% actually proportionately represent half of all gamers. I think they are a tiny minority. But they are becoming ever more vociferous. For these people, social interactions, particularly the games one plays, are not just part and parcel of being a human living in the world, but are vehicles for expression of political stances. For them, being on the Wrong Side of the Debate doesn't just make you misguided or even stupid. No: it makes you worthy of being only an outcast, a pariah, somebody with whom no interaction of any kind can be permitted, least of all pretending to be elves together (sexfluid or otherwise).

I hate that kind of thing. I think it is awful. I look back in my life and think of all the great friendships and conversations I've had with people who hold diametrically or at least very fundamentally different views to mine: Communists, atheists, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, born-again-Christians, Northern Irish republicans, Scottish Nationalists, UKIP voters, Manchester United supporters, Black Supremacists, White Supremacists, gun nuts, Daily Mail readers, Guardian readers, radical feminists, Australians, even fans of Doctor Who. In the abstract I might have thought, or still think, that the views of those people are wrong - in many cases even odious, dangerous and appalling. But almost invariably, when opinions are filtered through the good humour, self-deprecation, negotiation and common sense of face-to-face conversation, they are revealed to be absolutely no reason for anybody not to enjoy another person's company. 

My heart sinks that so many intelligent people are turning their back on the possibility that those who violently disagree can get along. Not to be melodramatic about it, but what future is there for our poor sad species if we get to the point where people are no longer even willing to put certain differences to one side for the sake of having a bit of fun? I mean, hop on a plane to Israel or Kashmir or Belfast and you'll find endless swathes of charitable organisations trying to get people who would willingly actually kill one another for being on the Wrong Side of the Debate to just get together and enjoy a meal or play football or music or whatever. They do this in the entirely creditable and sensible belief that having people set aside their differences to do fun things together might actually help find ways round problems. Meanwhile in nerd land people are busy sticking their fingers in their ears and proclaiming loudly how vehemently opposed they are to playing D&D with imaginary people who wouldn't be in favour of sexfluid elves.

When I write down the list of types of people who I would categorically rule out playing D&D with, it's really very tiny indeed: it's just people I personally don't get along with or people whose behaviour has been such in the past that I would have difficulty trusting them. In other words, people I consider to be dicks. If you are going to be a dick about your opinions, whatever they might be, then fine - that qualifies you as somebody who I probably wouldn't willingly associate with. But in life I tend to find that actually most people aren't actually dicks (except on the internet, that is) - even people whose views I would actively probably find repellent if written down.

Monday 12 March 2018

Caesar, Homer, Pytheas and Lugh

What if, when Julius Caesar first sailed across the Channel to carry out his first abortive foray into Kent, he had discovered that refugees and returnees from the Trojan War (Achaeans and Trojans alike) had got there first? And what if those larger-than-life heroes of Homeric myth had mingled with the figures of Celtic legend, the Fomorians, the Tuatha De Dannan, Math ap Mathonwy, the black dog and all the rest?

Fast forward a hundred or so years, and there would be a walled Roman settlement there on the Thanet coast. It would be a place to trade for tin, slaves, and other commodities, and also for magic and druidic mystery and wisdom. Inland, there would be hill forts and towns, some ruled by native Celts, others ruled by Achaean and Trojan demigods, living in an uneasy and chaotic network of alliances, rivalries, conflicts and betrayals. In the forests would be fey beings of Celtic myth, "fair folk", dragons and giants. And the glory-obsessed Achaean and Trojan sons would be forever straying into the fairy realm to try to win eternal fame for themselves.

That would be a good place to run a campaign of D&D.

Thursday 8 March 2018

RPG Books as Imagination Training

We are now in the Bronze Age of OSR blogs (the Golden Age being 2008-2009 and the Silver Age being around 2009-2012), and I think Joseph Manola's Against the Wicked City may be the best and most important blog started in this era. By which I mean he is consistently finding new and useful things to say at a point where most other blogs have grown jaundiced and tired.

A case in point is his most recent post, RPG Books as Fiction. Go and read it. It's long, but worth it.

Where I think Joseph is precisely on the money (the whole thing is on the money, but on this point it is especially so - if that isn't a tautology) is here:

"I suspect that what [most RPG books] primarily provide, which traditional adventure fiction does not, is a form of meta-fantasy: not a chance to imagine yourself as a fantasy hero, but a chance to imagine yourself as part of a group of RPG players who are, in turn, imagining themselves as fantasy heroes as they experience the material in the book. People read RPG rulebooks, and they imagine how much fun it would be to play a character with a certain set of abilities. They read monster books, and imagine how much fun it would be to encounter those monsters during an RPG session. They read setting books, and imagine how great it would be to participate in a campaign set in that world. They read adventure modules, and imagine how much fun those adventures would be to play in. Then they put them back on the shelf and do something else, instead."

This describes much of my teenage experience of reading RPG books to a 't'. Yes, my friends and I played a lot of games. But how much published material did we actually use for its intended purpose? I can remember a couple of sessions where we played some published Planescape adventures. But the vast bulk of my memories associated with RPG books was paging through them on long car journeys or while on holiday and just, well, imagining what it would be like to use them. "Wouldn't it be great to be in a session where we encountered a morkoth?" I would think as I browsed through the Monstrous Manual. "Wouldn't it be great to have a PC find the Hand of Vecna?" I would think as I read the section of the 2nd edition DMG on 'artifacts'. "Wouldn't it be great to run an all-druid campaign?" I would think as I flicked through the Complete Druid's Handbook. "I'd love to run a campaign set in the Philippines," I would think as I sat reading the Cyberpunk 2020 Pacific Rim Sourcebook. My experience of actual gaming was a pale shadow of the kind of things that my adolescent brain could come up with left to its own devices.

(Not incidentally, I had a similar relationship, thinking back, to Games Workshop books. My friends and I played a heck of a lot of Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, and Necromunda. But being impoverished 13 year olds, we could barely afford any models. We primarily resorted to using a huge mass of ancient lead figures bequeathed to one of us by an older brother or cousin, and we could only dream about the possibilities of actually being able to buy a Basilisk/Lehman Russ Battle Tank/Dark Angel Dreadnought/Orc Shaman Riding a Wyvern or whatever, while paging through 'Codex' books. With Games Workshop, though, the requirement to just sit around reading books and imagining was more or less a nakedly commercial phenomenon rather than anything else.)

It may seem that this makes buying and reading RPG books an extremely decadent and even perverse activity - like a kind of unexciting pornography in which you don't even get to imagine having sex with a beautiful woman but instead just imagine being a horrendous nerd. One view is that it's basically impossible to sink any lower in the hierarchy of cool than fantasizing about playing D&D; you're so tragic that you can't even find a few catpiss-stinking neckbeards to game with and have to simply wish that they existed.

That's one way of looking at it, but when I look back now I can't help but feel that I would have been wasting my time even more egregiously by, for example, playing video games or even reading bog-standard fantasy novels. It might be true that most RPG books aren't particularly well-written, and you couldn't class any of them as being 'literature' in any real sense. But their great virtue is their open-endedness. They don't pretend to be coherent narratives - except for the most railroady of published adventures. At their best, they are a kind of springboard for the imagination: 96 pages of ideas, some better than others, but all of them at least capable of being played around with and squeezed and squashed and stretched and turned upside-down and kicked about until they turn into something wonderful. I may never have got to play in a game in which a morkoth was involved, but I was able to imagine dozens of potential morkoth-scenarios.

In other words, that time spent just browsing RPG books and imagining never-to-be-realised possibilities was a kind of imagination boot-camp, imagination circuit-training, imagination bikram yoga. Since the imagination is a muscle, I think it came in more than handy. Still does, as a matter of fact: I don't think I'll ever run, say, The Veins of the Earth, A Red and Pleasant Land, Qelong etc. at the table, but the thing about the imagination is, there's never a bad time to tone it up a bit.

Saturday 3 March 2018

When is a Quantum Ogre a Quantum Ogre?

The answer: when it's really a quantum ogre.

2011. Halcyon days. Summers were warmer then, and chocolate was tastier. There wasn't so much rubbish on TV, and children were polite to their elders. You could get change out of a £5 when you ordered a pint, and Suzanna Reid was still on BBC Breakfast. We will not see times like those again.

The talk of the town back then was quantum ogres. Like paleontologists picking over the bones in a mound of Inner Mongolian dust, it is impossible for us in these much-diminished days to establish just how that discussion began and what colour feathers it had. (A post I wrote in September of that year may bear some important clues.) Suffice to say: in that era, a mighty beast stalked the earth, and its scientific name, "Palette Shifting", gives some indication as to its nature.

I return to the desert to conduct more field work on the topic with some trepidation. But I believe that I may be able to at least provide a footnote to our understanding of the quantum ogre's life-cycle and behaviour.

Let's put it this way: palette shifting, meaning the quasi-railroading practice of substituting one encounter or location for another, to make sure the PCs experience it come what may (or to make sure they avoid something dangerous), is dastardly, rotten behaviour that cannot be countenanced. But the quantum ogre is nothing to be afraid of; in fact, the quantum ogre is your friend. Most of the work of running an RPG is, when it boils down to it, quantum ogres. Quantum ogres are everywhere.

What is a random encounter table, but a list of quantum ogres? An encounter takes place: the dice dictate it. But until the random encounter table is consulted, nobody knows what the encounter is. Like Schrodinger's Cat, until the dice are rolled, the encounter is all the encounters on the random encounter table. It is quantum ogres all the way down.

But that's obvious. Let's think a little bit more: when it comes down to it, isn't most of what a DM does at the table a matter of quantum ogres? Almost all that a DM does is to react to what the PCs do. What does such-and-such an NPC say in reaction to what the PCs say to him? What does such-and-such a monster do when the PCs do such-and-such? What happens when the PCs try such-and-such on the trap? It almost always comes from the same place: you don't know the answer to any of those questions until forced to produce an answer. The DM's head is a Schrodinger's Box: the answers are in there, in a sense, but until there's a need for them, he typically doesn't know what they are.

In that sense, your brain is full of quantum ogres. More than that, it should be full of quantum ogres, because the alternative is preconceptions about what is going to happen in any given circumstance, which is the enemy of flexible and responsive DMing. Quantum ogres in this view are not palette shifts; they are palettes full of colours whose hue you can't see until they're on the canvas.

Friday 2 March 2018

Japanese Kids' Books

Children's books (I mean little kids' books, not YA fiction) are an often-untapped resource for inspiration. This is especially true of little kids' books from non-English speaking countries. I'm in the lucky position to have access to lots of Japanese kids' books, and thanks to that I've been introduced to the work of the inimitable Katayama Ken.

Here are some pieces from his 楽しい冬ごもり, a particular favourite:

See what I mean? It's like Van Gogh had a love child with Brian Jacques. I especially love the way the firelight in the second and third pictures imbues the scene: it may be the most effective painting of firelight I've ever seen.

Then there's Matsutani Miyoko, whose work is more like brass rubbings made by Monet:

Finally, there's Kimoto Momoko, whose works looks like Salvador Dali crossed with Dick King Smith:

Grainy internet pictures may not do them justice; I hope this isn't the case.