Thursday 23 February 2023

Generate Your Own Module/Pulp Novel Title

In my weekly game session last week I observed that 'Revenge of the Centaur Queen' (a phrase which came up in the course of events) would be a great title for a pulp novel or AD&D module. 

Sometimes a title is evocative enough in itself to be suitable inspiration for an entire creation. I bet anybody reading this blog could have a decent stab at Revenge of the Centaur Queen. It almost writes itself.

Without further ado, then, I present you with the Generate Your Own Module/Pulp Novel Title table:




of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 






of the 



My first five, with elevator-pitches:

The Wrath of the Ghost Knight (a Lord Soth-type figure has laid waste to a hex-mapped region and the PCs adventure amidst the ruins; the ghost knight appears at random locations and times)

The Death of the Yellow Mage (the titular archmage has died and word has got out that all the treasures in his tower are ripe for the taking)

The Lust of the Whispering Mage (the PCs visit a Palace of Love-style 'paradise' which is not all that it appears, searching for lost relatives/friends)

The Tower of the Pale Beast (the title is itself an elevator pitch for this one)

The Sorrow of the Two-Headed Demiurge (the two-headed demiurge makes both wonderful and horrible, benevolent and hateful, beneficial and dangerous creations depending on which head is in charge at any given moment; they populate his palace in rival groups and he weeps over their mutual antipathy)

Now you try.

Monday 20 February 2023

Against TV

In a recent and now lost-forever interview with Dan, I was asked how it was that I manage to juggle having a 'proper job', a young family, reading lots of books, writing this blog, and producing RPG materials. Any answer would make me sound big-headed (as does me bringing it up now...), and I can't now recall what I actually said in response. The truth of the matter is that I actually feel spectacularly unproductive and constantly beat myself up about that. But I suppose that, in the round, objectively I probably do more with my time than the average person.

90% of the reason for this is that I don't really watch TV (including streaming televisual stuff online). It's not true that I watch no TV, but I more or less religiously limit it to around 20 minutes a day - just long enough to wach half an episode of NextGen or a full episode of Frasier or Seinfeld, or a whisky review, or something. Mindless unwinding does have its uses, and I recognise that, but 20 minutes is more than enough time spent indulging. 

Part of the reason why I don't watch TV is that I find most of it mind-numbingly stupid and crude, even the supposedly 'intelligent' stuff, and can't figure out why people who I know to be intelligent don't also notice this. Part of the reason is that there just isn't really much out there that particular interests me - I tend to find TV drama pretty cringeworthy, especially when it's in the fantasy/SF genre, and modern comedy is almost universally dreadful. But most of the reason is that I think TV is actually a rather poisonous influence on the modern world, that modern online streaming services have put that poisonous influence on steroids, and that I feel guilty for watching it in the same way that I would feel guilty for using social media - an equally baleful force in our lives.

Why, though, is TV so bad?

The first reason is probably the one which has the greatest chance of finding broad acceptance. It is that, even if TV isn't actively bad for you, every minute you spend watching it is a minute you're not spending actively doing something that would improve your life (studying Spanish, learning to play guitar, talking to your family members, knitting, practicing drawing, doing yoga, cooking a delicious and healthy meal, trying to get your head around Hegel, etc., etc.). TV watching is almost entirely dead time: the mental equivalent of just sitting on your sofa eating white bread and margarine. Sure, you can kid yourself that by watching documentaries or decent drama that you are learning things and developing yourself - pull the other one. One day you will get to the end of your life and look back and ask yourself if you have any regrets, and while I have no idea what the answer to your specific version of that question will be, I guarantee you it will not be 'I should have spent more time watching TV.'

The second reason is that TV is a literalising medium: it makes you stupider. Compare the experience, phenomenologically speaking, of watching TV versus reading a book. TV presents us with images and speech. Because it can't present us with internal monologue or indeed tell us anything about the thoughts, experiences, and knowledge of the people it depicts, it is required to make those things explicit in the form of actions and dialogue. As a consequence, it is almost as though it were designed to destroy our capacity to develop a fully-fledged theory of mind - with the final result being an approach to other human beings which understands them as the kind of crude, stick-figure representations which we are used to seeing on our screens. You may dispute this, or ask me to cite evidence; I can only respond - isn't the evidence all around us in our political and cultural landscape? People often fault social media for the awful goodies vs baddies tribalism that is increasingly dominant across the developed world; I think increased TV watching, especially thanks to the advent of streaming services that allow one to watch 'good' TV (I use the term loosely) 24/7 is just as much to blame.

The third reason is that excessive TV watching develops a habit of passivity. How many times have you said to yourself, over the course of your life, 'What shall I do now? I suppose I'll see what's on TV.' Next time you think that, pause for a moment and reflect. Why was that your first response? Because you default to TV watching when bored. Your initiative has been dulled. You have got out of the habit of actively engaging with the world and with people around you. You prefer the path of least resistance. TV watching has trained you to think like that. Make working out, or going for a walk, or baking, or reading a book, or learning a skill your default option instead.

The fourth reason is that the overwhelming aesthetic of the TV screen is fundamentally pornographic. Now, let's hold our horses for a moment. I don't mean that TV is necessarily hypersexualised or that there is too much sex - implicit and explicit - on TV and in our media landscape in general. (Though I do think those things too.) What I mean is that TV, as a visual medium, tends to be dominated by a style, a way of looking at the world, that is best summarised by the phrase, 'Phwoar, look at that.' Phwoar, look at her. Phwoar, look at him. Phwoar, look at that view. Phwoar, look at those colours. Phwoar, look at that cheetah. Phwoar, look at that explosion. Phwoar, look at that car. Phwoar, look at that slo-mo replay. Phwoar, look at that gunfight. And so on and so on. It is pornographic in the sense that it replicates the relationship between the viewer of pornography and the pornographic image: one is reduced to an empty vessel through which the image communicates itself directly the one's lizard brain. This is basically dehumanising. It bypasses the part of us that is above the animals, going in fact straight underneath. This may not always be so terrible, in the same way that sometimes eating chocolate cake isn't always so terrible. But it is terrible in large doses.

Our societies are increasingly secularised. Many of us are convinced that you have only one life and that's that - there is no afterlife. And yet more than ever before we fritter away our lives simply observing, and not, for the most part, even observing things that are real. Rather, we spend hours a day essentially just observing the fantasies of others. This is deeply strange and sad. Stop it.

Tuesday 14 February 2023

Kickstarter/Publishing Lessons Learned


I am by no means the most prolific of one-man-band RPG publishers, but I have now run two successful Kickstarters and published, er, 4 or 5 things. This at least qualifies me to, if not give authoritative advice, at least rant semi-coherently in an extemporaneous way about the do's and don'ts of the matter. Perhaps some people will find it useful to do so.

  • Pricing. I err on the side of value for money, but I wonder if I am excessively Thomist about this. In the Hall of the Third Blue Wizard is around 200 pages of content for £15 in print; Yoon-Suin 2nd edition will be 400 pages of content for £30 in hardback; The Peridot's first issue is 80 pages long and £6 in POD. But nobody ever, ever, ever, comments favourably on this approach. Meanwhile, people seem to amass vast sums in Kickstarter backing for (to me) absurdly slim volumes at very high prices (e.g. £28, not including shipping, for a 48 page 'book', which I saw recently). It is useless to complain, so I do not do so - I merely offer the observation to people thinking about pricing a product.
  • Doing the packaging/shipping oneself. It is best not to if you have anything else going on in your life, like a real job and/or a family. It is feasible to do it, but comes associated with all kinds of unexpected ball-aches and hidden costs (like the printer delivering all the books to the wrong address, etc.). Best avoided if you value your sanity.
  • Doing 'pledge management' oneself. This is much more doable. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing Kickstarter launchers they need pledge managers (or marketers for that matter). There has evolved a very complicated ecology of companies who are basically parasitic on the existence of Kickstarter; I am sceptical that many of them actually add value, though of course I could be proved wrong.
  • People will come out of the woodwork to give unsolicited 'recommendations' about how to do things; ignore them. (I'm aware of the irony of giving this advice in this form.) If they were such geniuses they would be doing it themselves.
  • Stretch goals are fine, but probably best limited to one achievable and relatively cheap thing. My stretch goal for IHOTB was an adventure I had already 80% written; my stretch goal for Yoon-Suin 2 was a piece of art by somebody I know is reliable and good and quoted a good fee. That's enough. If the core of what you are offering is good enough, have faith that it is.
  • Kickstarter's main benefit may be in advertising/promotion. A Kickstarter campaign provides you with what is essentially free advertising (well, almost free - you pay them 5%) for a month. This gets your product out there as very few other things can. Matters might be different if you have 10,000 followers on Twitter or whatever already, but almost no indie RPG publishing one-man-band has that, and the days when one could simply post something on G+ and receive endless reshares are sadly long gone.
  • Human nature being what it is, people like shiny, good-looking things. There is a monkey- or magpie-like acquisitive element of our nature that leads us to gather prettiness to our bosoms, no matter how superficial that prettiness really is. Have at the very least a nice, blingy cover. I learned this with the first Yoon-Suin. Yes, people liked the content, but only after being snared by Matt Adams' art. 
  • If you can write AND draw/paint then it is like having a license to print money, and if you can only do one of those things, it is might be worth practising really hard on the other so you can maximise your talent stack. Then again, what would David Ricardo say? I haven't made up my mind.
  • Drive Thru RPG is a terrible blight on all of our lives, and takes a really almost criminal cut of royalties, but in the end it is the only game in town when it comes to the PDF market, because that is where all 90% of your prospective customers are making their purchases. It is important to use it, because you will get 'window shoppers'. 
  • I could probably make a living doing this if I quit my day job and did two successful Kickstarters along the lines of Yoon-Suin 2nd edition every year. Make of that what you will.

Friday 10 February 2023

A Mere 20 Hours Remain: Yoon-Suin 2nd Edition Kickstarter

The Kickstarter for Yoon-Suin 2nd Edition will soon be at an end. Back it now or forever* hold your peace!

Also, for your amusement, I did a trawl through the archives and uncovered some of my old doodles, drawn when I was just beginning to think about the setting circa 2009. I have a vague memory of sitting  alone in my old apartment in Yokohama on a day off while my then-fiance was at work and for some reason being imbued with the need to, well, draw pictures of weird things. I was no artist then and nor am I today, but I suppose I was really bored.

*Well, until it's out in print/PDF when you'll probably be able to buy it, but only more expensively than original backers...

Wednesday 8 February 2023

On Good and Evil, Law and Chaos, Limits and the Unlimited

I have recently been reading Terry Eagleton's On Evil, a slightly madcap but always entertaining tour d'horizon of the way the subject of metaphysical evil has been dealt with in literature across time. 

Amongst quite a lot of rambling and digression, Eagleton identifies something which I think is of great significance for contemporary society but also, more importantly, for D&D alignments. This is that evil metaphysically speaking expresses itself as simultaneously a rejection of being itself (and hence of the limitations that necessarily accompany being itself) and an ambition to transcend the finite, the temporal, the physical, and indeed the real, and become therefore an infinite expression of 'pure will'. This is as true of the school shooter who expresses his malice towards the very concept of being by targeting children; to the serial killer who transforms human lives into mere objects of his will; to the pedophile who asserts his desires despite and in a sense even because of the way they transgress society's most fundamental limits; and to Nazism and Communism and their absolute refusal to tolerate the fundamental facts of human biological, communal and spiritual life as barriers to the realisation of their utopian dreams. Evil is in fact almost synonymous with what Kojeve saw as the end point of History as such - the 'universal and homogenous state' in which there are no distinctions or classes of persons and no limits placed on individual will (because everybody's individual desires are known in advance and realised). 

It follows that 'good' is an embracement of being itself - an acceptance and love for the finite, the temporal, the physical and the real - and hence a respect for limitations on the expressions of one's 'pure will' (indeed, a desire to submit and sublimate one's will to 'the greater good'). Good in a sense inheres in a reconciliation of one's will with the fact that there are not only other human beings with wills (and characters) of their own, but also with the fact that there is such a thing as natural right and things that are objectively better and worse than each other for human flourishing in the round and this is discoverable by reason.

This, interestingly (to my eye, anyway) chimes to a certain extent with what we also think of as the dichotomy between chaos and law, which I have written about before, where chaos represents the dissolution of human nature as such and law represents the essential characteristic and requirement for a distinctive human nature to exist in the first place. Chaos/evil despises being but particularly the notion of 'human beings' as a distinct and special category; law/good is the opposite. 

Nobody should interpret this as having anything to say about politics, I don't think, not least because nobody ever describes themselves as being 'evil' and even the most evil people - Lenin*, Stalin, Hitler - present themselves (and presumably think of themselves) as doing things that in the long run are objectively 'good'. But I do think it has something interesting to say about metaphysics, and especially the metaphysics of D&D. We talk a lot about the alignment system and its apparent inadequacies and incoherences. Perhaps there is something to it after all, and particularly across the dimension of law/chaos, where chaos is understood to be in some way anti-being, and especially anti-human being, and law as both affirmative of being and essential for human-being.

*Gorky descibed Lenin as being animated by love for humanity but that he percieved it through a 'cloud of hatred', which I think strikes at something important.

[I am currently running a Kickstarter for the 2nd edition of Yoon-Suin, the renowned campaign toolbox for fantasy games. You can back it here.]

A Dungeon Based on an Album: Romantic Warrior

Is it possible to make a dungeon (or setting) based on an album, with each level corresponding to a track and vice versa?

Almost certainly - in fact you could probably do it with every single Iron Maiden album just for starters. But my first attempt, if I ever do it, will be based on the classic 1976 album Romantic Warrior, by Return to Forever. 

Romantic Warrior was probably the pinnacle of popularity for Return to Forever - which isn't saying all that much - and therefore you stand a fighting chance of possibly having heard it, but if you haven't, the best way to describe it is that it's as though a very low-budget late 70s/early 80s exploitation fantasy or SF film was being made, perhaps somewhere like Italy or Sweden with faded ex-Hollywood has-beens and B-listers, and the director was inexplicably able to hire some of the greatest, most virtuoso musicians then living to play on the soundtrack. 

Or, alternatively, you can just listen to it through the marvels of the internet and see what I mean:

It's difficult to put into words how much I love Romantic Warrior, not necessarily because of the music itself (which, while I do really like, I think at times is a little too showy even taking into account Al Di Meola is playing on it) but just because of the intense atmosphere it creates. How does one describe that atmosphere? Really you need some visuals; it's kind of like the distilled essence of all this:

Tell me you don't feel it too.

The dungeon almost writes itself, of course, from the titles of the tracks alone. The whole is set in a complex of palaces with extensive, lush gardens surrounding them, perhaps in an improbably inhospitable spot in a hidden mountain valley, and the levels are:

1. Medieval Overture, featuring a pastiche of medieval bestiary monsters.

2. Sorceress, a tower where the eponymous sexy sorceress holds sway.

3. The Romantic Warrior, a fortress ruled by a chivalric knight with a hypertrophied sense of glory and honour, served by minions and stalked by the foes his imagination has conjured. 

4. Majestic Dance, a series of vast ballrooms where decadent mask-wearing dilettantes prance and pose.

5. The Magician, 'nuff said - an arch-wizard's lair, filled with his slaves and constructs. 

6. The Duel of the Jester and Tyrant Parts I & II, two linked levels devastated by the struggle between the two demigods of chaos and order. 

Now all I need is to find an artist to illustrate it for me. Perhaps Larry Elmore is available.

[I am currently running a Kickstarter for the 2nd edition of Yoon-Suin, the renowned campaign toolbox for fantasy games. You can back it here.]

Tuesday 7 February 2023

Interview with Patrick Stuart on Yoon-Suin

 I was interviewed again, and it was good.

Subjects include Yoon-Suin, scientologist-inflected jazz fusion, 70s/80s SF, hating on Hollywood, monetizing D&D, the Spear of Eternity, and more.

Monday 6 February 2023

Poetic Dungeon and Hex Keying

For a long time now I've wanted to write up a pseudo-Japanese dungeon or hexmap (maybe in a setting like this one) in which each entry in the key consists of a single haiku (5-7-5 syllables) or stanza of an extended renga (5-7-5-7-7 syllables) - not excluding stats. So a typical entry for a dungeon chamber might read something like:

Here eight red oni

Cluster around a dead troll

Skinning it with knives

Red oni: HD 2, AC 5, #ATT 1, DMG By weapon +2, Move 120, ML 9, TT S, U, V

And a typical hex entry might read something like:

A gold dragon's lair

Is found here in a dark cave

Atop a sheer cliff

Within is a captive girl

The local daimyo's daughter

An entire book written in this form would have a rhythmic and mesmerising quality to read, and keeping to a fairly strict poetic structure of this kind would be a way of benefiting from the creativity of constraint. One wouldn't have to use Japanese poetry as the model, of course - think of a pseudo-European version written all in the form of sonnets, or rondels, or Beowulf-style alliterative verse, or alcaic stanzas, or even clerihews; or a pseudo-Middle Eastern one all in ghazals, or whatever. 

[I am currently running a Kickstarter for the 2nd edition of Yoon-Suin, the renowned campaign toolbox for fantasy games. You can back it here.]

Saturday 4 February 2023

An Interview Featuring ME Talking Yoon-Suin: A Vehicle For Fate


Long, long ago there was a podcast called A Gaming Podcast About Nothing, which for a brief period rivalled Joe Rogan in terms of audience numbers, reach and influence. Since 2016 it has lain in abeyance. But BEHOLD! It has been reborn in video format, much as a long-dormant volcano, in rousing itself from slumber, spews not only magma and toxic gases into the atmosphere, but also GROWS. You can watch it above. In it, I talk about Yoon-Suin, Cohen brothers films, DMing philosophy, give Kickstarter advice,  moan about the Royal Mail, and much, much more.

(And if you want to hear old episodes of A Gaming Podcast About Nothing or 'AGPAN' as it was affectionately known by the 3 people who actually listened to it, they should all still be available to download.)

[I am currently running a Kickstarter for the 2nd edition of Yoon-Suin, the renowned campaign toolbox for fantasy games. You can back it here.]

Thursday 2 February 2023

The Most Human Type of Game: Negotiating the Winning Conditions

Tabletop RPGs are an interesting example of that fairly small subset of games: ones in which the players negotiate the winning conditions with each other through play.

I don't know if you've had this kind of experience, but the purest enjoyment I have ever had when playing a game of any kind is that which I used to get when playing knockabout games of football with my friends at the local playing fields after school or on weekends. Football has rules (they are actually conventionally called laws) and among them are those concerning the length of a match and how it is won, the size of the pitch, and so on. But we never abided by them. We played almost entirely in freeform - all we needed were two nominal goals ('jumpers for goalposts') - and we often didn't keep score. There were no throw-ins, no fouls, no penalties, no offsides, no real dimensions even to the pitch (we often continued the action behind the goal, like in ice hockey, with the ball remaining in play). Very often we played a game which we always called 'cuppy' (it goes by different names in different regions of the country, apparently), in which there was only one goal and one goalkeeper and the outfield players all competed against one another or in teams of 2 or 3 to try to get the ball and score. These matches could go on for hours, until somebody would stick up their hand and call out 'passing and shooting!' or 'heads and volleys!' and we'd switch to a different variant.

The salient feature of these games were that, when they started, nobody would ever specify how they would end. We'd just play. And play. And play. And eventually get bored - at which point somebody would say 'Next goal wins', and everybody else would nod their assent and that would be that; the next team or player to score would win. Or somebody would say 'Let's just do a penalty shoot-out.' Or 'Let's just take shots at the crossbar.' Or, sometimes, 'Let's just go home.' The winning conditions of the game worked themselves out as the game itself was being played - through a curious collective decision-making process that was never explicit and yet almost always reflective of the consent of everybody participating.

I can think of only a few equivalent examples of this phenomenon - long games of Monopoly or Risk resulting in deadlock, perhaps, but those are a little different in that the winning conditions were clear from the outset but simply took too long to realise, resulting in consensual cancellation between the players. Or childhood games, where the action would flow from hide-and-seek to cops-and-robbers to chariot-races to whatever else without there ever being a clear resolution to any of them. 

At any rate, table top RPG campaigns also usually have this quality, too - a defined start but no clear end, and in which the decisions as to what is the winning or ending point develops organically through the process of playing itself. Indeed, if one were being pretentious, one might say that an RPG campaign is something like a process of becoming, in which the very activity of playing the game is a way of working out how it comes to an end - such that it is only at the end that one can look back and understand what the game was about. Was it about this character getting to level 20? That character ending up being King of Saxinraxinland? These characters slaying the gold dragon under the mountain? None of that was ordained in advance; it happened as a result of choices (and dice rolls) and their consequences that took place within the game itself. Or maybe it is revealed that there was no natural conclusion, and that the whole thing was merely a bunch of stuff that happened. In a sense, you play to find out.

There is something deeply human in this, I think - the idea that, with one's friends, and some vague rules or principles, one comes through a long process of decision-making to an emergent conclusion about what you all have really been doing all this time. There's no way a computer can replicate this. I think it's something that really only we can do, and hence to be celebrated.

[I am currently running a Kickstarter for the 2nd edition of Yoon-Suin, the renowned campaign toolbox for fantasy games. You can back it here.]