The Biblyon Broadsheet

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Illustrious Valley, Highland
Thursday, December 13, 1984
Jerry Stratton, Editor
DriveThruRPG: satire not appropriate for current events?—Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Steve Wieck of OneBookShelf.com (the parent of DriveThruRPG) wrote this to publishers, as part of a longer message informing them of their action removing the Gamergate card game from their site:

The title in question is a card game whose theme is the Gamergate issue. The game attempted to present the issue in a satirical manner.

Normally satirical works would be welcome on our marketplaces. However, we feel that there are situations where satire is inappropriate. For example, we do not think that a game released today that satirizes police killings of minorities in the USA would be appropriate. Regardless of how one feels about an issue like that, we feel that it is too current, too emotionally charged on both sides, and too related to real-world violence or death to make it an appropriate matter for satire.

Similarly, no matter how one feels about Gamergate, it is likewise too current, too emotionally fraught, and too related to violence to be an appropriate subject for satire. Additionally, we considered that the violent element of the Gamergate issue has a basis in misogyny. For these reasons, we felt that this card game title was not welcome for sale on our site.

It’s pretty offensive to minorities to compare the actual deaths and real oppression of police killings, and to women to compare the violence that women still face today, with the first-world problems of modern game designers, but I’ll let someone else handle that. Nor is it surprising that this justification is honored more in the breach than as a regular rule (see, for example, the Prison B*tch card game, Schoolyard Bullies, and The Edgy Designer, which appears to take only the anti-gamergate side1).

The big issue, as a person who writes satire, is what the hell does DriveThruRPG think satire is for if not for current, emotionally-charged issues? Is satire only appropriate for old and bland issues?

Would DriveThruRPG caution Saturday Night Live to ignore current events and examine only issues long past and which everyone already agrees on? That they should ignore modern-day Republicans and Democrats and focus on, say, the Salem witch trials and Tammany Hall? Perhaps not even Tammany Hall; there’s apparently still disagreement on the issue, and certainly the Salem witch trials involved far too much real-world violence and death.

Would they charge The Onion and its focus on current events with inappropriately subjecting real-world violence and death to satire?

Gamergate spreads to tabletop gaming?—Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Old School publishers on DriveThruRPG

How many of these will survive if Hasbro decides they don’t want to be sold next to old-school games?

Gamer gate has spread to tabletop gaming, sort of. DriveThruRPG has taken down a satirical card game based on Gamergate after a public complaint by Evil Hat Productions.

I like Evil Hat. I own Don’t Rest Your Head, it’s brilliant. I don’t use DriveThruRPG much (the last thing I remember buying from them is the Haiti Relief bundle), but they have the right to sell or not sell whatever they want.

But I also write satire, and I write OSR games. It’s always disappointing when a company decides that satire is beyond the pale. DriveThruRPG has no problem selling controversial or adult material: it includes, in its listings, Fuck For Satan (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), The Sex Presidents (Mongoose), and the Book of Erotic Fantasy (White Wolf).

For that matter, Evil Hat has no problem being sold next to such game titles. One would expect a game company called Evil Hat to be liberal about their shelfmates rather than prudish, as they are in the case of the Gamergate card game, so one can hope that this is a momentary aberration on Evil Hat’s evil part.

But there are other publishers with more family-friendly lines. Will DriveThruRPG follow through on their precedent if Wizards of the Coast decides they don’t want to be sold next to Satanic Sex books? DriveThruRPG carries a whole bunch of Wizards of the Coast games. They’re likely to be more affected by a WotC threat than an Evil Hat threat.

And what if Wizards or their owner, Hasbro, decides to return to their TSR-era stance on third-party products? If Wizards were to say that they don’t want to be sold next to OSR materials, would DriveThruRPG decide they don’t need to be selling Autarch, BRW Games, Goodman Games, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or Troll Lord Games?

I was originally going to wait until they responded before writing this post. On December 6 I sent a message through their contact us form:

Please don’t get into the habit of censoring your games because of relatively innocuous political content. That’s a long hard road, as simple searches on your site for games about “sex”, “witches”, and “satan” will attest.

I received an immediate automated response,

Your request (#12652) has been received, and is being reviewed by our support staff.

We will be in contact with you soon.

Thank you for your business.

Algernon Blackwood’s The Empty House—Monday, November 24th, 2014
Algernon Blackwood

Looks like he also inspired the Crypt-Keeper.

An elderly researcher sends a telegram to a potential psychic to investigate an evil house, now empty and unsaleable. I had thought that the basic plot line began with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but the similarities to Algernon Blackwood’s 1906 The Empty House were obvious from the first paragraph, when he starts describing how some houses, like people, can be evil.

Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil.

Of course, in his older style Blackwood goes on for a page and a half to describe what Jackson managed brilliantly in a single paragraph. The opening of The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best hooks ever, despite breaking rules about agency and obscurity.1

The Empty House is a short story, very short, really just a haunted house described by the two witnesses. Whether or not either of the witnesses are psychic doesn’t figure in beyond as a speculation as to being why the effects of the house are so physical around them. Nor is the idea of psychic research expanded upon beyond being the impetus for the aunt wanting to enter the house with her nephew. But if you’re interested in the development of the Jacksonian haunted house, you’ll want to read Blackwood’s story.

I found it in Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood, which I recommend if you enjoy older horror, such as Lovecraft’s. Blackwood was an influence on Lovecraft as well as presumably on Jackson. Also among these stories are his John Silence character, a psychic detective who, with a bit of tweaking, could be a model for a haunted adventurer.

The stories are presented chronologically as written, according to the introduction2, and so the writing style improves as you move through the collection. If you aren’t interested in old stories for their own sake, you might start with The Wendigo or especially The Other Wing, which is where they really begin to turn eerie.

Mayfair Games remembered—Saturday, October 18th, 2014
photo for Mayfair Games remembered

A neon sign of +2 against nostalgia

I was recently in Richmond, Virginia, and, wandering up Cary Street looking for record stores and bookstores, ran across a game store called One Eyed Jacques. They are mostly board games and card games, but apparently at one time they specialized in RPGs. I’m guessing this from the non-lit Mayfair Games neon light in their display window.1

I have a few Mayfair game books from back in the day, and picked up a few more during my eBay spree several years ago. I played in one of their Role-Aids adventures, about a Clockwork Mage, back in college. It was a wacky adventure involving magical clockwork androids and the missing wizard who created them.

They made their own games, too, however, and were especially known for their Chill horror role-playing game and for the DC Heroes superhero role-playing game licensed from DC. DC Heroes was a bit of mathematical genius, where all numbers were interchangeable and within any scale +1 meant twice as big, bad, or whatever. This allowed relatively similar numbers to model everyone from Superman to Robin.

But it also meant the numbers across measurements could be compared: a 7 strength could throw a 5 truck for a distance of 2. A 5 speed would take 2 units of time to go a distance of 3, and so forth. It was an impressive mechanic.

New, improved Helter Skelter!—Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Helter Skelter is now in the new format. It has a nice new PDF with a table of contents. The resources file remains the same, but is more prominently linked on the adventure’s web pages.

For our group, Helter Skelter was a turning point in the sandbox. The characters had consulted an oracle—an ancient bean-si—in the mountains and decided to go to the first city. They didn’t yet know what it meant, but the oracle told them to consult Red Jack. Red Jack led them to The Road.

On their way to the Road, they went through the Song of Tranquility adventure from Fight On! #7. Song of Tranquility’s working title was Skeleton Crew. I wrote it because I realized that Expedition to the Barrier Peaks had the wrong feel for what they were doing. I’d still love to run Expedition at some point. I’ve never done that adventure, either as player or DM.

The Road led them to The City. That adventure will come next, I think. But probably after I redo the Encounter Guide and Arcane Lore.

The really cool part of this adventure turned out to be the matchbooks, which are meant to be introduced during an earlier adventure to draw the characters into the right doors. The newspaper wasn’t too bad either: it really does look real. Helter Skelter contains the coolest ephemera of any of my adventures, I think.

New, improved House of Lisport!—Saturday, September 6th, 2014

I just uploaded the new version of The House of Lisport. The accompanying PDF now has a table of contents as well as some links between content. And of course is in the new 9x7 format. Maps are integrated into the text; they continue to be in Inkscape for wide editability.

The House of Lisport is the second “new” adventure, after Lost Castle of the Astronomers, and the first that I wrote specifically for this group. It’s an idea, however, that I had bouncing around since seeing The Ghost of Mistmoor in Dungeon #35 back in 1992. Mistmoor purported to be a haunted house, something I’ve always had a soft spot for, in the gothic tradition; the actual implementation was a bit on the silly side, however, including a pair of thieves using a portable hole as a toilet trap. Even in Monty Haul campaigns, a portable hole was a big deal. The amount of treasure the hole could potentially bring in by risking losing it was dwarfed by how much the hole itself was worth.

I was even willing to put up with that, however, and saved this adventure for years in the hopes of someday running it. When it came time to actually run the thing, however, on reading through it I realized it was somewhat of a railroad: players needed to do and know exactly the right thing in order to complete the adventure, and there wasn’t any adventure if they didn’t complete it.

So I went back to basics and built The House from the ground up, so to speak. First, I wanted to use a real English mansion, so I went online to find the maps for one, ending up with Montacute House, simplified it, and went on to fill it up with all the clichés of years of Poe, Scooby Doo, and other haunted houses. Even the title is a steal from The House of Usher.

I also tied it heavily into the history of the area; more than any other adventure, it uses the past of Highland to explain why things happened the way they did. I even modified it a bit: the whole idea that there are abandoned towns up and down Fawn River comes from this adventure.

And the fact that it’s near Fork meant fleshing out that city, as well, turning it into Highland’s own stripped down Las Vegas—something which led directly into Helter Skelter, the next adventure in the series.

Dwimmermount is here!—Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

I just received the Dwimmermount Map Book and Labyrinth Lord-compatible hardcover today. I’d almost forgotten about the Kickstarter—I joined in early April 2012—but it looks like it was worth the wait. The hardcover is 399 pages, so I haven’t had a chance to do more than glance through it, but it looks damn cool so far. The back cover has a price on it indicating the hardcover is likely to retail for $40 once it comes out publicly. If so, it’s a steal. This thing has everything: fungal groves, crystal caves, anvils of fire, and of course, brain demons!

The appendix of new magic items and monsters covers pages 317 to 373. That’s a lot of cool shit.

Update September 6: I just received the Dwimmermount Illustration Book yesterday. It’s also cool. The map book is $20 and the illustrations are $10; technically, that brings the total cost to $70. However, the additional books are not necessary. And the main book itself provides so much adventure, that you’ll have plenty of time to decide if the additional expense of the extra books are worth it for your group.

New, improved Vale of the Azure Sun!—Monday, September 1st, 2014
Vale of the Azure Sun

Fields of blue by hills of stone,
Sky bright green on a sparkling dome.
Clouds of wispy yellow foam,
In the Vale of the Azure Sun.

I just uploaded the new version of The Vale of the Azure Sun. The accompanying PDF now has a table of contents as well as some links between content. And of course is in the new 9x7 format. Maps are integrated into the text, and, most importantly, maps are now in Inkscape SVG format instead of AppleWorks. This is the last of the AppleWorks map sets. The later adventures, even though they use the old Word format, at least have Inkscape and Scribus resource files. Because of that, both Helter Skelter and House of Lisport should be easier to get into the new Nisus format.

The Valley of the Blue Sun/Vale of the Azure Sun is one of my very earliest adventures. I wrote it back when I played the 1981 Purple Box version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. That box came with Module B2, The Keep on the Borderlands. It’s hard to imagine a better adventure to train new dungeon masters on. I was especially fascinated by the Mad Hermit domiciled in a “huge hollow oak”. I decided that the hermit was the guardian of a wild and crazy—and dangerous—world. Back then it was, literally, an underground valley, tricked out with strange plants but not an actual other world. The dragon at the center of the caverns was a huge creature who really had no way of getting in or out of his lair.

Basic D&D

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

This may have been my first adventure, and throughout my limited Basic/Expert tenure, I continually revisited it, because it was part of the Keep.

When I was looking for a change of pace after Lost Castle of the Astronomers and Haunted Illustrious Castle, I remembered the old valley, pulled out my ancient tractor feed notes, and decided that it fit Gods & Monsters even better than it fit D&D. Dragons are more subtle, and I’d already been thinking about sorcerous pocket worlds because of Merle Davenport’s Magic Garden and Grant Morrison’s Danny the Street.

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