Friday, November 28, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

no sooner... I post about not doing it again...I did.
Okay, that's IT. No more.

I'm steering away from forums now where all this gets heated. There's just no point. It's not like anyone's going to listen anyhow. I just need to extricate myself from one blog now and I'm done.

Edit: Allright. I'm out. No more of that.

I'm not doing this anymore...

So I posted this reply to a blog post...
"It's an understatement to say that Gary Gygax was disingenuous in acknowledging the debt Dungeons & Dragons owed to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth tales."

This I think, by itself makes any deconstruction of intent of flavor or ethos impossible. Even if some sources may have been in-mind at some points in the creation of D&D, others were in-mind at others. That doesn't make one "The core ethos" of D&D any more than the other. They were a factor...included...that is all. It has no bearing at all on "how D&D is/ was to be played.

There is NO "as intended" on style of play as it was left for the DM and players to decide. People stating that D&D was intended to be played a certain way is all opinion.

"It's all too easy to forget that D&D is a game and its early design was shaped by the demands of regular play rather than by some abstract theory."

Completely accurate IMO.

"regarding The Hobbit, IIRC Bilbo gets browbeaten into adventuring by Gandalf and pricked into it by foolish pride: he's a classic reluctant hero, like Luke Skywalker, for instance, which places him ina very long literary tradition but makes him fundamentally different from almost any PC."

That's a huge assumption on PC motivation from a limited point of view. Not everyone plays or has played PCs that are Conan-style mercenaries.

I think Gary Gygax fought against Tolkien as an influence publicly because his ideas were hardly original. He used the ideas and resources of others and cobbled them together in to a game...and when questioned about the obvious tolkien-esque similarities, he distanced himself from it as much as possible.

I'm not saying EGG was a bad person, not at all.

The history of D&D is full of debates on who created what, who was the influence and who gets credit (and who gets screwed over credit) and I think THAT is a more telling view of what the influences were.

Yes, EGG loved a lot of Pulp Fantasy. I believe those made their way in to D&D. Clearly so. Tolkien did as well. Clearly. As far as an "intent" on play, or "intent" on what D&D was supposed to be like, played like and "felt" like...we are left with a bunch of biased personal opinions from our own preferences and points of view...and the often contradictory statements of EGG, who regularly changed his mind.

We end up left with a game system that tells us to do what we want, how we want to. PC motivations are up to the PCs. The rest is a matter of conjecture. Likely will be forever.

Now, in retrospect, I shouldn't have bothered.
Here's one of my biggest failings:
I see something IMO wrong. In this case opinions disguised as "fact". I just HAVE to try and say something. Like that while what they are saying is nice and all...but ultimately it's opinion. It's their point of view. Not the only POV, and as such, no more valid or invalid than anyone else's.

Why do I do it? Because it's arrogance on their behalf and it does an injustice to the silent others who believe otherwise.

Why do I do it? Because of my own arrogance in trying to show a different POV to opinionated people, hoping they see that their own opinion is just that...opinion.

I'm just as guilty as the next guy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I may have figured out a part of it...

The whole grognardia thing that is.
Extremism. Same as in politics or religion or really anything else. Folks seem to pick a view, a perspective and dive in behind in 110%, adopting that point of view, that set of rose-colored glasses and forsake all others.

What can be done about it?
Nothing. First off, I'm not one to try and change anyone.
In order to change someone that would mean that I'm somehow better or right...and they are somehow wrong or worse.
Now wouldn't that be arrogant?

Besides, it's not like extremists will listen to anyone outside their sect anyhow.

This seems to apply to gamers, politicians, republicans, democrats, every "clique" in humanity I expect.

I wonder how many folks DON'T fall in to this catagory. How many folks avoid getting sucked in to one point of view? How many folks take the time to stop and actually take a look (as much as one can) from someone else's rose-colored glasses, and actually, really...HONESTLY consider other POVs before diving back to their own?

There's just so many arrogant people out there. I can be arrogant as well, have no doubt. I do try to mitigate that. It's just that of all the people out there, there are so many static opinions. From people I have known and admired. Respected even. But I find over time that their opinionated commentary is so...static. They don't even consider other perspectives. Maybe it's because they have become a lightning rod of similarly-minded folks who have propped up that POV. My respect and admiration dwindles for these people.

What do I admire? Adaptability, people that stand behind their opinions BUT also keep an eye/ ear/ heart open for other opinions so when something better comes along, they can adapt.

At what point does our opinion become "truth"?
Do we tell the lie enough times that we start to really believe it?
Do we really fall prey to our own cult of personality?
How do we avoid that?

For my part, I constantly remind myself that I am just one man...and I'm no better and no worse than anyone else. We're all equally worthy/ worthless.

Sure...sometimes I DO consider myself enlightened...and then I smack myself up-side the head with the possibility that one of these extremists or one of these single POV people may be absolutely correct and I have hedged my bets for nothing.

What does that make me?

I don't know. I think I'd rather live with being that than an arrogant asshole riding roughshod over other people and their beliefs and opinions.

And it begins...

We have our first snow that actually "stuck". We got about two inches. It's beautiful and crisp, and the neighbor's wood stove provides a nice campfire aroma. Mmmmm. Winter has come.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Labels, Factions and Grognardia.

One of the things that's been on my mind lately is the way we label things and a need for people to identify themselves with a label.

For example, there is the whole argument over what certain RPGs are for. What their purpose is, what is at their core. Depending on the label you wear, your view will be different...or will it?

Some of the hard-core Grognards recently are saying flat out that D&D is strictly a game of "Killing monsters and taking their stuff". The irony here is that for years theorists in the Indie Gaming "new school" line of thought have said the exact same thing. Ironic because the Grognardia "sect" has fought long and hard against theories and classifications from the "New School" folks...yet come up with the same view of their holy grail.

Now for my part, I've always held the view that these labels become a straight jacket, limiting a game to one view of how it is played...and from these perspectives these limitations and assertions become "TRUTH". My own belief is that these perspectives are just that...the perspectives of those people, from that fraction of the player base...not the whole.

I object to the very notion of "one true faith" when it comes to ...anything. Having "one true way" leaves no room for anyone else or anyone else's views, beliefs or practices.

In respect to RPGs, it means that game X is about Y and only Y...not anything else. The rules say so and there is nothing outside the rules.

In respect to D&D that means D&D is only about dungeon crawls, killing monsters and taking their loot. That-Is-All. That is D&D. Nothing else is. The way others play isn't D&D. THIS WAY IS THE ONE TRUE WAY.

Fuck that.

D&D, like any other RPG is what you make it. It's about imagination and going where you want and doing what you want. Ultimately it's about what the players want and where the players want to go...not a straight jacket.

I think part of this is due to the labels of groups of people.
I think Grognards are like Goths and Emo kids. They WANT to be Grognards. They want to identify with that and make an effort to become a sort of paragon of Grognardia by narrowing their view to the extreme. Like being a supergoth.

What is this accomplishing?
It reinforces an external stereotype. They do it voluntarily.
It's like geeks who go overboard trying to be the epitome of geekdom, or gamers trying to be the epitome of gamer.

I think it's a lack of identity.
Somehow here in the 20th and 21st Century we have a need to put ourselves in some sort of category in order to have an identity. We have few other ways to identify ourselves, so we shoehorn ourselves in to a label, a category, a perspective, and willingly slide in behind that pair of "rose-colored glasses".

In doing so, we reject the perspectives and realities of those outside our sect, subclass, category.

"I'm a grognard and grognards believe change and new visions of old things is BAD!"
People try so hard to conform in one way or another to a certain view, to a certain ideal. People want to FIT somewhere, and in doing so, blind themselves to the fact that that there are innumerable categories, views and perspectives. Innumerable pairs of "rose-colored glasses" to wear.

I think it's the ultimate failing of humanity that we seem to have this hard-wired need to categorize things as superior and inferior.

I understand the need for categories: it's a matter of defining things, placing them in relation to other things. It's how we store knowledge and memories. Everything is relational. My memories of how something works is based upon my perceptions of witnessing it or perceptions of learning it in relation to other knowledge/ memories. Memories are tied to other memories in a sort of almost web or matrix.

So I get the categories-thing.

What I don't get is the need to identify one's self with one or another of them.
I know why some people do, but it's not necessary. We don't have to be like that.

Why is it so hard for people to accept a more open view?
Why is it so hard for people to just be themselves, accept other views and perspectives as just as valid?
Why is it always coming down to "I'm right" and "You're wrong". Ultimately that is another version of "I'm better than you". It's arrogance and one of the things that has held humanity back from evolving.

We can be better than this.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where do I start?

Figure Drawing, Where I start.

*Note: Some excerpts are from here:
Some of this I use, some not: your mileage may vary.

Overall the article was...a start, but there are better ones available: is a very good one.

When I started out, The book How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way was a bible. Since then I've drifted away from that thinking. It's not a bible, but it does have a lot of good information to pass on.

Draw the Frame. This is the basic framework of your character. Draw the general lines for where arms/legs will go, as well as their positioning. Draw the circle for the head first, a line for the spine, a line for the shoulders (a little below the head so there's a neck.), a line across for the hips, and lines for the arms/legs. It may be easier to draw circles for joints (shoulders, knees, elbows), so you can proportion the lower leg to upper leg, and lower arm to upper arm. Essentially, a stick figure. This step is to block out the proportions and figure out what your character is doing; Standing? Sitting? A heroic pose?

  • Things to note!

    • Top of head to hips should be a little less than 1/2 the total height, hips to tips of toes being the rest.
    • The humerous (upper arm) extends from the shoulder point to the bottom of the floating ribs. The forearm should be approx the same length
    • Measurement from elbow to fingertips should be approx the same as hip to knee.
    • The tips of your character's fingers should come to about the middle of their thighs when held loosely at the sides.
    • Something seem strange about your stick figure? Don't ignore it; fix it. Do lots of stick figures and choose the one that best fits the illustration...don't just do one and call it good (unless of course you're just that good).
    • Draw the figure without clothing first. Once the shape of the figure is defined, you can add clothing on top.
    • Demihumans will have different proportions...sort this out now, at this stage.
Flesh out your stick figure. Add weight and depth to the various parts of your stick figure.

*Note: This is a dwarf, demihuman character, not human, so proportions are set for THAT.

  • Head: Indicate which way it's facing with a line, and then add the chin and cheekbones.
  • Chest/Torso: Block it in with a circles, ovals, blocks, whatever works for you.
  • Hips: Can be indicated with a sphere/circle
  • Limbs: Can be blocked in with ovals or cylinders, with circles/spheres for the joints.
  • Hands and Feet: Can be left simple for now, though you might want to indicate their positions.
*ULTIMATELY IMPORTANT NOTE: There is no substitute for studying actual life, anatomy, figures. Use references, don't be afraid of them, or be too arrogant to use them.

Try this search for more ideas:
Don't hesitate to print out and keep photo/ images as references handy.

Refine your figure. Still don't worry about details for now, but clean up your lines, make sure the outlines are heavier, and generally just make the figure clearer. A good eraser can come in handy here.

*Note: in this instance I went over this with a sharpie so I could transfer the image fresh to a new page. This was a choice, not a necessity.

Start adding detail. Start drawing in the clothes, making sure they fit the form of your character. Draw the hands and feet, and fill in the facial details - eyes, nose, mouth, hair, etc.

*Note: This was transferred by lightboard to a fresh page and details added on top of it. I do this sometimes just so I have a nice clean page/ image to work with. Again, a choice, not dogma.

Clean up and ready for inking. Erase any stray lines, and make sure you know which ones you want to keep. This is where the transferred image comes in really handy. Keep a good eraser close by.

*Note: until this point I have been working with a non-photo blue pencil.

*Note: now I have changed over to a HB Mechanical pencil: every stroke, every line is prepped for inking. When I ink, it will almost be exactly the same as this image. Essentially...I'm pre-inking. This is something *I* do.

By this point in the project, your hands and eyes have an intimate knowledge of the image. Your hands have gone over the same lines several times and the muscle memories are full-swing. This is important for when you start inking: a very detail-oriented precision process and steady hands are an absolute must. By doing what I've done here, I've trained my hands to be able to hit every mark, stick to every line without missing or getting sloppy.


Artistic Pearls of Wisdom

I'm going to start posting a series of "pearls of wisdom" as far as what I've learned so far, and share resources I've found along the way.

I might as well do it here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Release!

The full Gods of the Shroud eBook is now available. It makes a pretty good companion to the Death-Mother (which also has some very cool art by your friendly neighborhood tracer/ art-guy, the Illustrious Jeff Preston)

Support your local starving artist!
$5.99 for a good cause!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On art and passion...

Todd Lockwood posts this on his FAQ and it's pretty good. Not just for artists per se, but for any creatives. I have some friends who are considering being illustrators, but are waffling on the idea. I've spoken with them and highly recommended this perspective. I'm really posting this for them first and foremost, but really any creatives on my FL (and elsewhere) can learn something here.

I have excerpted this in it's entirety with no personal emphasis anywhere to retain the message in its original context. Basically, Todd tells it better than I could anyhow.


Original post is here on Todd's website:

Q: Should I become an artist? > top <

That’s not a question I ever asked myself. I always knew I was going to be an artist. But Michael Whelan studied medicine before realizing his true calling.

Art is a passion, or it will kill you. Your love of art will have to sustain you during the lean times. That said, once you have paid your dues and built a following, it can be very rewarding personally, and possibly financially.

Does the phrase “starving artist” ring a bell?

A career in art is, I suspect, much like a career in any of the other arts. A certain tiny number will achieve fame and fortune, another few will achieve fame, but little fortune, others will find good jobs, if only somewhat satisfying, and very many will toil in obscurity until they give up or find something better.

I don’t mean that to be discouraging, but if you’re lazy, don’t be an artist. If you want to spend your weekends lounging around the pool, doing nothing, don’t be an artist. if you expect to graduate from college, land a terrific job and start kicking asses, don’t be an artist.

However, if you love to create things, if your primary means of entertainment for yourself was drawing pictures and/or story telling (D&D, making your own comics, writing short stories… anything that fired your imagination) then you may have what it takes. In fact, if you have all those qualities and don’t pursue art, you may spend the rest of your life wondering whether you had the chops, if you had missed your calling.

Talent is only part of the equation. There are many artists more talented than I who have failed and disappeared. I work my ass off. I go to conventions, I network with other artists and enjoy the company of people around the industry. I spend a lot of time in research (which I find enjoyable), put a lot of thought into every painting, and am always seeking to improve my craft. It’s a matter of desire. After 15 years in advertising, I HAD TO DO THIS. I started attending conventions in hopes of landing more enjoyable work, or I was going to hang up my brushes and get a real estate license. Art was and is my lifeblood. Creating is what I do. If you are the same way, then challenge yourself and study art. If you are just a guy who draws occasionally and thinks that art might be a good way to make some money, you’re on the wrong track.

Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow your bliss, and doors will open where you did not know there were doors”. It’s true, it worked for me. You need to ask yourself what you enjoy most. What gives you the greatest pleasure? What do you do when you have leisure time and want to entertain yourself? That’s where your greatest level of satisfaction in a career will be found. You will excel when you love your work. If art fires your imagination and inspires you, then follow that bliss.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

D&D 4E Worldseed

Check it out: For those of you who haven't seen this yet, take a browse over here:

Regarding Carcosa...

Recently James Malizewski posted a very thoughtful review of Supplement V: CARCOSA-a book of rules options for the original fantasy role-playing game published in 1974.

James and I alternating agree and disagree on matters old school, but for my own part I'd like to make a few notes on Carcosa of my own.

1. I agree that Carcosa, as it is a self-proclaimed Supplement V is an odd fit. It does some mixing and matching that in some places works, and others doesn't. It is extremely decorative in the descriptions of Sorcerers and their powers and the actions taken to use said powers...all of which can be most certainly categorized as most heinously evil...the alignment system isn't used.


2. Then there is whether Supplement V should be a Supplement due to content of the book: rules vs setting fluff. I don't think that makes a difference really. There's no magical line that says "beyond here it's not a supplement" nor is there a magical formula for creating a supplement: x amount can be for fluff, Y can be for rules...but don't go beyond that.

3. Take in to account the changes to the rules of OD&D vs Carcosa. There are actual replacements instead of additions. Hrm. I'm okay with that. It seems in tune with the flavor of OD&D to mix and match to suit personal tastes. OD&D was made to be easily adjusted to fit...and Carcosa does that. I think it could have been presented better, like "optional rules" but really...the whole thing IS "optional" already.

4. Space Aliens? Honestly...I don't think it's a dealbreaker. It's a deep underlying secret of the world that most folks don't know. It's an interesting plot hook. There's nothing that says D&D must equal Hyperborea, or Aeryth or Toril, or Krynn, or anything else. It's a basic rules system, and while E.G.G may have been a fan of some of the pulp fantasy novels, he himself made this to be a game that we make our own...not just necessarily be pulp fantasy (and honestly, alien seeding of a fantasy world is just as pulpy as anything else.) I think some folks have a very narrow view of what they consider pulp fantasy or appropriate to pulp fantasy gaming.

5. My main issue with Carcosa isn't the introduction of optional rules (though many folks see this as the beginning of the dreaded rules creep that has driven D&D from it's roots) but with a few of the mish-mashes of creatures, and the overwhelming gratuity of detail in the ritual sorcery.

Honestly, if the sorcerer class was created and the bare basics of the rituals were all there was, sans the shopping list of details (come on, we're supposed to be making stuff up anyhow, we really don't need the gory details of who, what, where, when and how.). Yes, I like the idea of ritual sorcery and that it is heinously evil...even that is tied to lovecraftian elder gods. I'm cool with that. The shopping list is overkill.

A parallel to this IMO would being making rules for combat, and adding a shopping list of things to do before armoring up: Locate your armor. Put on your plate legs first, but after the gambeson (roll on this chart for failure options). Locate your body armor. Put it on (roll on the chart). Now your arms (roll) and gorget. Find your gloves, put them on, now helm. NOW put on the gloves/ gauntlets. Go ahead and grab sword and shield and roll for initiative.

It's just too much. Too much detail to be hunting down the right sacrifices, too much in the way of rules for stuff that is ultimately slowing down the game...for something that really makes no different.'s something that can be easily glazed over and doesn't need rules ( but it's tied in to the whole sorcerer class which is kind of a big part of the point of the setting.)

The Graphics:
Part of the argument is that NPCs and PCs are simply game pieces. They mean nothing. It's all simply a glorified game of Chutes and Ladders.

I'm not one to be all in to delving too deeply in to characters as far as their psyche or anything, but in an RPG, a game where you play a role, and where the goal is an immersive experience, and we're supposed to act out and think in terms of character...some things are considered tasteful, some are okay for color or scene dressing...some things are gory spatter-fests for the sake of sating some weird desire for gory details.

I am totally cool with pressing those boundaries with the right people and to try and seek answers to deep questions or delve in to serious issues. That's fine.

Bloody human sacrifices, in painstaking detail? Okay, that's a bit much.
Alignment isn't even in the picture, so somehow there's no moral judgment involved here at somehow it's all okay.


Fuck no.

Drifting off to Pulp Fantasy:
Some folks have this mindset that pulp fantasy gaming is about being somewhere on the alignment scale from neutral to evil. I don't agree. I think that while many of the pulp fantasy novels had characters that did some morally questionable things, for the most part, they eeked it over the line to be heroes of one sort of another. Aragorn-like? No...but not evil either. The point of the game, with it's alignment system is that PCs (and NPCs) can be whatever you want along that scale(otherwise what is the point of the scale).

Solomon Kane is a wholly good guy (bad mo-fo who edges close to that line, but damn if he's not a good guy). Conan, dude, often driven by rage, but he does a lot of good and rarely is "evil". Maybe self-interested...but he does fight for the good guys against the heinously evil guys.

Good doesn't mean retarded. It can mean bad-ass too. but so many folks look at D&D and Pulp Fantasy as a largely neutral to evil enterprise. Carcosa takes that to a whole new level with a PC class that is IMO wholly evil, yet has no alignment to differentiate it from anyone else...which I think make it "all okay" to be not only evil...but one damn malignant sicko.

In a boardgame where they are simply just pieces on a board, I'd still think it was gratuitously graphic. For an RPG, a game of's far FAR overboard.

Overall, I think Carcosa is all tight as Supplement V. A bit presumptive, but really, meh. Who cares. There's no enough IMO to separate it from anything else of the sort, it may as well be Supplement V.

The material as far as setting, rules, monsters, aliens, it works. It's a stretch but look at a lot of pulp fantasy.

One thing I can't condone rules-wise is the divorce of alignment from the heinously evil Sorcerer class. Doing so ...I've covered it already. Nuff said.

The graphic nature of the details regarding ritual sorcery: way, WAY over the top. (although the Expurgated Edition is likely totally A-OK).

If I were to do it differently, my way: I wouldn't change a lot. I'd take the Expurgated Version, throttle back the space aliens and robots a bit, keep alignment in, and make the rules an optional addition on not a replacement. That's about it. (Okay, some of the monsters are a bit weird, I dig the lovecraftian theme that was going there but it drifted a bit off course. My opinion of course. YMMV).

The Grades:
Still, the Expurgated Version is okay as-is and isn't IMO a dealbreaker (closest thing to the dealbreaker would be the alignment issue). I'd give it *** out of ***** (like it).

The original full gory details version: DEALBREAKER! * out of ***** (didn't like it).

Thank You:
I appreciate James' review. Thoughtful as ever. (Well...saying that the UA just sucked bugged me, but it's his opinion, his blog). I also appreciate Geoffrey McKinney's rebuttal which also was respectful.

For more information please see:

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Thirteen preliminary sketches completed yesterday, submitted this morning. Good tight sketches, good penciling...not just sloppy thumbnail sketches. I'm kinda proud, that was a lot to get done.

While working I had the following on in the background:

Shaun of the Dead
Hot Fuzz
I am Legend

Friday, November 7, 2008

Working through the weekend...

Lost a couple days this weeks to politics, so I'm a couple days behind. Consequently I'm working through the weekend to make up my time.

Thus far the schedule of background entertainment is as follows:
Shaun of the Dead (done)
Hot Fuzz (watching now)
Galaxy Quest
Blade: Trinity

Beyond that I'm not certain.

Five sketches down, 15 to go!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A long way to go.

While Mr. Obama won the election, nothing is going to change overnight. Even when he's in office it'll take some time to see any results at all. Some seats are going to change. Some of the small shifts of power will allow some small changes to start happening, but it's not like the president has some magic switch to change the way things are.

In some states there was a fight regarding Gay Marriages. I think the poignant illuminator in these has been videos showing laws regarding marriages between interracial couples...just exchange the "interracial" parts to "same-gender" and you get a glimpse of what's wrong there. Thing is, it's 2008, almost 2009 and only NOW is a black man getting to the white house. Almost 45 years after the MLK/ Civil Rights movement. 45 YEARS. Changing things for everyone to be considered equal is going to take some time.

What is bothering me the most is reports from across the US of people being called out to as "nigger lover" or the hatred of people so focused on their ownership of guns. Like the Big Black Man is going to come by and take his guns away.

My favourite tongue-in-cheek response today:

A group of Black Panthers have arrived at my door and taken my infant son away to raise him as a Muslim Socialist Gay Communist. Just like I was told would happen!
(Also, they've raised my taxes so much that I've had to go back to exotic dancing to support myself, Castro has called to inform me that I'll be slaving on a Cuban sugar farm for three months out of the year, and I'm legally required to set any Bible I see on fire, and I've adopted the American flag as toilet paper, again as the law requires).

I have a lot of respect for Sen McCain's speech last night. It was very respectful and classy. This is the McCain I remember from a few years ago...before he sold his soul for the nomination. I was proud of him. It's too bad his constituents were boooing at the time.

Why is it Obama and the Dems cheered for McCain and yet McCain acted honorably and his constituents act like children? I don't get that.

It's been a long time coming. I'm glad the race is over, but man...we have a long road ahead.

Fare thee well Michael Creighton.

Embedded media and text snagged from the blog of Aaron Pena.

'Lo, there do I see my father.
'Lo, there do I see My mother, and my sisters, and my brothers.
'Lo, there do I see The line of my people...
Back to the beginning.
'Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place among them.
In the halls of Valhalla...
Where the brave...
May live...

Them Dern Democrats!

"I'm just worried about legislation that'll take away my blasters. My BlasTech DL-44, my E-11 blaster rifle, and I KNOW my BlasTech DLT-19 is in danger of collection by the new regime! Next thing you know they'll start taking away lightsabers and vibroweapons. Mark my words!"
Cletis (R) Dantooine

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Old School Game Theory V2

IN consideration of the previous thread where we had some good conversations on what is considered old school or not I'm developing V2 of the Theory here which should help clarify things.

Old School Game Theory: A theory that explains the how and why of game design for games written today to adhere to the flavor of games such as OD&D (and others). It also is used in retrospect to explain game design of similar games (OD&D AD&D 1E, etc) prior to the shift of primary direction from hobby game to money-making corporate policy.

Old School Game Style: A style of play. Has absolutely nothing to do with game system or design. Can be used with any game. Essentially playing an RPG in a manner where GM Fiat and Roleplaying can trump system/ mechanics. Playing loosely, where rules are more of a "guideline". Metagame thinking is by definition discouraged. Player knowledge and character knowledge are separate. This works with some games better than others. Some games encourage this style of play. Some discourage this style of play.

Pulp Fantasy: Books, novels, stories such as Conan, Fafnir, books by John Norman, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and many others. These books have a certain style and flavor to them that is unique. Gritty pseudo-heroes, and moral ambiguity is common. Stories often deal in shades of grey and are rarely clear cut as far as good and evil goes.

Pulp Fantasy Gaming: Roleplaying in a game that allows for an encourages settings and characters similar in flavor to pulp fantasy. Often having circumstances in game where the players/ characters have to deal with questionable issues and there is no moral compass in-system to enforce four-color play: It's okay to be morally ambiguous or altruistic as YOU CHOOSE...not as the game system/ mechanics/ setting tells you. Some game systems encourage this more than others.

Rules as Written: The game rules are the whole of the law. If it's not in the rules, it doesn't exist. Absolutely strict interpretation of the rules exactly as written. Black and white. Largely Objective.

Rules as Intended: The game rules are a guideline in order to maintain some sense of order and structure on a simulation. Subject to interpretation. Completely grey. Largely Subjective.

Game Theory:
What comprises the Old School Game Theory?
What I posit here is that for games to be designed using the Old School Game Theory certain things are primary considerations. Others are not.

Primary Considerations in Design:
1. Overall simplicity.
a. The main reason for this is that metagame thinking and inclusion of player knowledge is counter to what the game is trying to achieve. The goal is for Character Immersion: thinking in character and playing in character. This is how players seek to resolve conflicts in-game.
b. Fewer rules mean less system aspects for the player to dwell upon when playing the RPG. This way the Player is free to focus on Roleplaying and staying in-character.

2. GM Fiat is axiomatic.
a. The GM is the final arbiter of all decisions in-game. This includes trumping system/ mechanics if desired.
b. The GM is trusted and relied upon to do what they can to enhance the enjoyment of the players (and themselves), within or without the rules. A higher degree of GM skills are encouraged (opposed to other system which allow for lazy GMing).

3. It is preferable to keep rules fairly loose so that GMs can develop their own rulings than to develop a rule for everything: More Rules(from the developer) Does Not Equal Better.
a. See #1.
b. Being able to create ad hoc and homebrew solutions on the fly are explicitly preferable to creation of more rules by the developer.
c. Rules as Intended is preferable to Rules as Written.

4. Quality product from the perspective of the hobbyist gamer.
a. Good production values. Quality art. Clear concise rules are good.
b. A good product can have good art and layout.
c. Some people will prefer a certain style in art and layout that is similar to the original era products.

Secondary Considerations in Design:
Creating rules or addenda in order to sell more books.
Creating rules or addenda to cover all aspects of life. There's no need to cover everything, let RP handle most of it.

More rules to cover everything means that everything comes down essentially a die roll instead of handled via Roleplay.

More rules does not equal better.

The more rules you write and incorporate, the ammunition some players have to fight the GM: rules lawyering.

When the cornerstone of the game design is GM Fiat, you don't want to undermine that...leave most of the determinations vague/ ambiguous and up to the GM to resolve on his/ her own.

In order to keep from having an antagonistic relationship between GM and Players, keep most of the tools in the GMs hands.


Games built according to the Old School Game Theory-Swords and Wizardry, OSRIC, OD&D, AD&D 1E, AD&D 2E (until the flood of additional books/ rules started coming out). Stormbringer/ CoC/ Pendragon (Chaosium BRP systems) and several others.

Games NOT Built according to the Old School Game Theory- D&D 3E, D&D 3.5, D&D 4E, Dogs in the Vineyard, Sorcerer, My Life with Master, Primetime Adventures, etc. (There are several)

The difference?
Largely many games are built to create a perfect simulation of real life (or even a fantasy life). Rules for everything. Rolemaster and the Hero System are good examples of these. Several games are designed to be more of a contest between GM and Player (Agon) or balanced to the point where the GM is essentially another player (DitV).

There is nothing wrong with this. A lot of folks like games designed this way.

The goal of the Old School Game Theory is to have a plan when designing games that are made to emulate where roleplay gaming started in the first place.

If you are making something, like a game for instance, it's good to have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish so you can meet your design goals without wandering off target.

That is where the Old School Game Theory comes in. It's a blueprint for designing games like OD&D, S&W and OSRIC (and others). It gives (hopefully) a clear demarcation between Old School Game Design and the point where the design drifts away from its roots.

For example the Original Dungeons and Dragons game I'd say was designed according to the Old School Game Theory...even though it didn't exist in it's current form except maybe as an afterthought or vague concept.

Every edition of the game though drifted further and further from the original concept. Further from its roots. Now with D&D4E it doesn't even remotely resemble where it started.

Where did that drift start?
Ultimately it's conjecture and we can argue all day about it, but IMO it was the shift from a bunch of hobbyists making a game and improving becoming a money-making company and a need to make more rules, to fill more books and sell volumes of additional stuff.

This is explicitly factored in to the Old School Game Theory. That's the line in the sand.

Improvement is a good thing. Clarity of rules and a product pleasing to the eye is a good thing. Cranking out more stuff to make more money as a primary consideration is where the line is crossed and IMO a game is no longer adhering to the Old School Game Theory. At that point the game becomes something else.

Game Play Styles:
The Old School Game Theory does encourage the Old School Style of play...but it's not necissarily the only way. Style of play is unique to every group. Some folks have played D&D to the letter, RAW, since the very beginning and that is expected to happen at some tables with games designed according to the Old School Game Theory forever. Same is true the other way around: Old School Gaming Style is played by people everywhere with games not explicitly designed for it. Age doesn't matter, experience doesn't matter. Game styles are a personal choice.

While the Old School Game Theory encourages a certain style of play, it's not a shackle. There is no corner on that market.

Same is absolutely true with a nod towards Pulpyness or Not. While the Old School Game Theory encourages pulpy themed play, it's not exclusive at all.

I hope that this V2 of the Old School Game Theory clarifies things. I apologise for my long-windedness. I appreciate the discussions we had in the previous thread regarding the Game Theory. My hope is that this draws some nice neat lines around it, keeps it clear without me rambling entirely too much. Previously I covered too much without really defining anything and it all got muddled up. Hopefully this clears that up.

*Please reserve discussion regarding The Old School Play Style, Pulp Fantasy, Pulp Fantasy Gaming, RAW/ RAI for another thread.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reputation maintained!

I was able to get everything done on the previous deadline. It was a very near thing though.

The request came in and it was a last minute fill-in bit. I didn't have any direction at first so I started cranking out sketches, turned them in, and then not having any response, moved forward with the images.

As usual I worked on the most difficult one first and after 16 hours of struggling to get the image just right...found out that they didn't need that one, they already had an image for that subject.


So that time lost forever I flew forward and nailed down the other two images as well as last minute revisions. In the end I was victorious: the images turned out to their satisfaction and within the deadline.

Lessons learned:
Be extra careful when operating on last minute filler art.
Get an approved list of images before moving forward...not just "go ahead and do up some art that will work for it."
Regardless of the deadline, don't move forward on an image until it is approved by the editor.