Activ8 – Story Seeds

Current events can make good fodder for games, you just need to add a little spice – and perhaps not even that. @ctiv8, now in its second edition, is a game of mine that concerns itself with direct action relating to current events. It’s about making the world a better place, our world, in a real and meaningful way.

The new edition updates with a bunch of new material and ideas, updated from the intervening years that had made the old @ctiv8 a little dated. It also now uses the FATE system – though a little grittier than standard fate.

You can get it HERE.

Inspiration wise…

Immigrant Deaths
Illegal immigrants are taking huge risks and being put in jeopardy by the gangs that bring them into the country. If they are so determined to get into the UK (or any other country) they shouldn’t have to die doing so. Things should be safer and they should be protected from the criminal gangs. An @ctiv8 team made up of former customs and immigration officers, former smugglers, lorry drivers and skilled immigrants could find ways to help people into the country safely, and undermine the criminal gangs taking liberties with peoples’ lives. Though they’re likely to take violent exception to this.

Torture
Revelations about CIA torture and the complicity of other intelligence services has surfaced. An @ctiv8 agent might gain access to a version of the report that has not been redacted and which names names. Nuremberg established that those following orders bear responsibility if those orders are immoral or illegal but these torturers will never be punished or see prison – unless someone outside the government does it. @ctiv8 agents with intelligence backgrounds, ‘enhanced interrogation’ experience or whom have been victims of torture may pursue these lines of enquiry with extreme prejudice. If these men and women can be found and punished, perhaps others will think twice about following these kinds of orders.

Porn Law Protests
People in positions of power are notoriously kinky, especially Conservative politicians. Then there’s the fact that many of those who are the most outspoken against ‘perversion’ are normally rebelling against a part of themselves. It would be a terrible shame if some people began looking into MPs backgrounds, browser histories, affairs and proclivities and found anything useful for blackmail or for discrediting them, wouldn’t it?

#Gamergate the Card Game Update

propaganda-IIProfessional

I still have no word on exactly what is going on with the withdrawal of the game from sale at DriveThruRPG. They’re not strangers to controversial products (one of them a personal attack on me) and hosting, or selling, them and the parent company ‘OneBookShelf’ was founded by former White Wolf people who had plenty of encounters with censors and the ‘moral majority’ in their time. It seems, then, to be an odd position for them to be in.

Complaints about various products have been made before, not just mine, but it has been left to the market and the review system to deal with it. The question must then be asked ‘what’s different this time?’

There’s a few of answers to that, some of which I have alluded to in previous commentary.

Firstly there’s the fact that the whole debate has become much more heated. Not taking a side is now taken as being in opposition to whatever the righteous cause of the moment is and that carries more cost than it used to.

Secondly the lunatics are now running the asylum, much more so in tabletop gaming than in even computer gaming. For all the complaining done about humour that ‘punches down’, the supposedly dis-empowered are now very much the ones wielding power.

Lastly, this time we have a company abusing their position and market share to bully and prosecute their agenda.

Solis

Hanrahan

Both these gentlemen work for Evil Hat and the obvious implicit threat is that they would remove their products, impacting the reputation and profitability of OneBookShelf far more than I could. This is not only unethical, but possibly illegal under competition/antitrust law. Fred Hicks, also of the company, has issued a rather mealy mouthed retraction, misusing (ironically) many words but let’s take him at his word. If Evil Hat is not threatening such action then there is now no justification for removing the product and hopefully we’ll see it back up soon (early next week). I call this a retraction because I do not think it is a remotely unjustifiable deduction from those tweets and other information to see that this was strongarming, even if Hicks himself was not involved.

The game has been submitted to other sites but because its the weekend I am unlikely to hear anything any time soon about those either, as both sites have product review processes before they approve something for sale. We’ll see what happens there.

I am, admittedly, a free-speech radical. I think even things deemed ‘hate speech’ should be allowed as, in my opinion, this merely exposes bad ideas to scrutiny and ridicule. To me at least, silencing is never a good idea no matter what we’re talking about. Pragmatically though I meet people half way and am willing to understand when we’re talking about genuine hate speech, exhortations to violence and so on.

It remains hard, however, to see what any possible objection to the Gamergate card game could be. It’s a – somewhat vicious – satire on the whole situation but it is not in any way illegal, obscene or otherwise something that should trigger anyone’s ire. The sole reason for anyone’s objection seems to be that it is connected to Gamergate and that because people have misconceptions about that movement.

Some have, apparently, decided to characterise it as a hate group and have – on that basis – decided to believe their own press and to act as though it is the KKK or something (a comparison that has been made with all earnestness). This is ridiculous, it’s genuinely a consumer revolt against corruption in games media, censorship and politicisation.

The irony of company strongarming to censor a product relating to a consumer revolt on these issues is obvious.

The implications for any small or micro-publisher of these events are worrying too. Why should anyone else, let alone another company that is your rival, get to decide what is and is not acceptable? If this card game now, how can we be secure that other ‘controversial’ material will not suffer the same fate in the future?

Support and purchase links at the bottom of this post.

Philosophical

Like it or not we are in the midst of a culture war. The hard won liberalisation of media and personal action and accountability won over the last sixty odd years – at great cost – are under severe attack. What’s bewildering is that these freedoms are under attack from people who consider themselves to be liberal and progressive.

There is nothing progressive about censorship.

There is nothing progressive about interfering in people’s consensual sexual freedom.

There is nothing progressive about inciting and sustaining moral panic and emotional thinking over reason to prosecute personal agendas.

America is – somewhat – insulated from governmental censorship by its first amendment, but other countries are not so lucky and American activists find other ways to silence things they don’t like.

In the UK for example we have rarely seen such a huge roll-back of sexual and personal liberty. The most recent ban on the production of certain pornography, for example, is just part of a much more general thrust of censorious culture. For all that these bans have been decried as anti-woman (they include a ban on depicting a squirting female orgasm for example) much of the new attitude stems from modern feminism, in particular anti-porn campaigner Gail Dines and groups like No More Page 3 or Bin the Lad’s Mags.

That these groups’ efforts are in perfect alignment with the moralising conservatism of the ruling Tory party seems to give them little or no pause, as does the thought that they are now working side-by-side with people they used to fight, people who wanted to ban ‘homosexual propaganda’.

This is why I have regarded these conflicts as so important, why I have involved myself so deeply. Liberty and freedom are important to me, especially freedom of expression. The ability to make art, to present ideas, is a fundamental human right as enshrined in places as wide and varied as the US constitution and the UN and EU charters.

Strangely, standing up for free expression, rationalism, skepticism and other values very dear to me I have been repeatedly accused of being conservative, reactionary, homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, misogynistic and heaven knows what else, all of which couldn’t be further from the truth.

This is, perhaps, what makes this… neo-puritanical  movement so dangerous. They are willing to betray their own – claimed – left and liberal values, on little to no basis, to silence not only their genuine opposition but also those who disagree with HOW they go about their goals rather than what those goals actually are.

This isn’t a left/right cultural or political conflict, it’s an authoritarian versus libertarian one and one where liberal – in its other meaning – redefinition of terms is used to justify the most terrible actions and to cover up their hypocrisy. ‘It’s OK when we do it’.

My ideals give us a world in which all people are free to express their ideas, whether I agree with them or not. Their ideals give us a grey world of homogeneous, ‘safe’ ideas that exclude a diversity of thought, ideals and even fiction. I still think a stand needs to be taken against this, long enough and articulate enough that the baseless accusations of misogyny, racism etc – so long used as gags to silence opposition on other bases – lose their sting.

One of the biggest problems that I think we have now is private censorship. A topic I’ve talked about a great deal and one which the kinds of people mentioned above seem to excuse – so long as it aligns with their view.

Censorship is not limited to governmental action and free expression is an ideal and a principle, not just a matter of the law.

We live in an era now in which a very few companies have a de facto monopoly over aspects of our lives. If you’re an author and Amazon won’t carry you, you’re in serious trouble. If you need to take online payments and Paypal won’t do it, again, you’re in serious trouble.

These things can and do happen. Amazon will hide erotica and self-published material or make it so you have to be very specific in your searches to find something. Credit card companies will gouge anyone selling adult products or materials under the pretence of risk. Paypal has tried to do similar in the past, refusing services.

When a company is in such a position – and in the tiny niche of gaming OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG and RPGNOW) holds the same place – they have a degree of responsibility to safeguard the rights of creators and consumers.

Is that far fetched?

I don’t know that it is. The state already intervenes to defend the rights of minorities. A company cannot refuse service to someone because of their sexuality for example, or their race – and quite right too. Given that precedent is it not reasonable to ask that companies in such a dominant position are required to safeguard basic and fundamental human rights, within reason and so long as it does not create undue problems for them to do so?

Why should Paypal, for example, be able to refuse financial services to legal businesses performing legal work? Why should Amazon be free to censor and delist ebooks, whose cost is negligable to them to host?

Why should Youtube not allow the sharing of consensual, legal adult material? Provided it exist behind suitable filtering and protection.

Good questions to ask in my opinion and ones that will be more and more important in the future.

Personal

Despite still believing very much in the Gamergate battle and the longer culture war that I’ve been a part of for about four years, the sheer cost (personal, professional and in terms of health) is just getting to be too much.

I am heartily sick of being accused of every horrible thing under the sun, especially when they go against my core beliefs and my sense of self. I fight so hard because it is hard for me to leave something unjust unchallenged. If I do something I suffer at the hands of bastards and the inevitable flak fighting draws, if I don’t fight I am betraying my core nature and allowing something horrible to go unchallenged.

If it’s a choice between doing something good and feeling horrible and not doing anything and feeling horrible, the grim calculus (pun intended) should seem obvious.

However, that calculus is changing in part for health reasons, in part because of rather unfair pressure from some dear friends, in part for financial and other reasons. This still pains my idealistic heart and seems like poor reasons not to continue making sacrifices and doing the right thing but I’m fairly backed into a corner right now, and I’m not Captain America.

How would you feel if you were passionate about freedom, for everyone? If you believed strongly in progressive and inclusive ideas – but also artistic freedom? If day after day you saw other creative people seeming to buy into a censorious and controlling agenda because it was easier for them than to rock the boat?

How would you feel if people were determined to trash your reputation by calling you homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, conservative, things the complete opposite of what you are? How would you feel if people began to believe those lies about you? How would you feel if you were constantly questioning yourself already?

The answer is, not good, and after a while it doesn’t matter that you’re right or that these people are wrong, it’s what people believe – and that so rarely marries up to what’s true, which is frustrating as hell for a rationalist and skeptic, believe me.

So, against my will, I’m going to have to withdraw from the fight, not that I want to and not that it will be at all easy. I’m well aware that’s admitting defeat and that’s like swallowing a shot glass of broken glass shards to me. I’ve been let down a great deal in life by many people I have taken as moral exemplars and to fall short in a similar fashion is devastating. I was always determined not to make the same mistakes – an impossible standard for any human being.

Growing up nerdy, geeky, cerebral, introspective is tough. There are few male-identity tags available to anyone in my generation and its worse for the generations following. Some of the few male-identity aspects available to us are duty, honour, sacrifice and endurance and these aren’t always the best paths to what’s good for you as an individual. They open you up to exploitation, attack and self neglect.

Aid & Comfort

If you want to support me there’s a variety of ways you can do so.

In regard to this issue you can email OneBookShelf and express your concerns (do so politely).

You can buy my stuff from RPGNOW, Lulu or TheGamecrafter - there’s free stuff there too. Feel free to leave a review.

As is now traditional, as a victim of harassment and hatred I am obligated to mention my Patreon.

If you want the PDF copy of the Gamergate Card Game, you can still, for now, get it here.

If you want to know what I actually think about anything, rather than relying on what people tell you I think, you’re welcome to ASK and you’ll get an honest answer.

The big thing I really want people to support at the moment is my memorial art scholarship for fantasy and SF art students. If you can donate art to be sold to support the scholarship or can give money, please do!

Premortem Studios 2014

snow_serahThere goes 2013, that was an odd one, like being stuck between dimensions.

I started working for Chronicle City around the end of the first quarter (though it was announced earlier) but have spent a big chunk of the last year wrapping up Postmortem Studios stuff (some of which remains still to do!) and doing work for Chronicle City, much of which hasn’t come to fruition yet. That’s made for a very strange time in limbo between one thing and another.

Things can take a long time to get moving when you shift jobs but hopefully some of the bits and bobs I’ve been working on will get to the front of the queue in relatively short order.

A large part of the year has been taken up with preparing the ground, advising third parties and taking preparatory notes from a huge series of books for a game based upon them. That’s almost done which means I’ll be able to leap feet-first into new, bigger projects relatively soon.

This blog then, aside from the very occasional release, I can use to do the various side things, musing and fan projects that keep me (relatively) sane.

This year I’ll also be at GenCon in the US, which is frankly terrifying as I don’t like travel and the Americas are where the haters live.

We’ll see how it goes though…

Don’t forget the Darkzel Scholarship is open until the end of this month, so let art students anywhere and everywhere know about it.

Want me to blog about something or write something particular for one of our games? Leave a comment with as many suggestions as you want.

Chronicle City Appointment: This Time in Video

Joining Chronicle City Full Time

chronicle_city_final1-300x88

Gman

While you’re all temporarily paying attention to me please go and support the Kickstarter for Red Phone Box, a story cycle to which I’m a contributor and also includes Warren Ellis.

Chronicle City Expands
Chronicle City is expanding its operations with the hiring-on of James ‘Grim’ Desborough as the Creative Director of the company alongside its founder, Angus Abranson.

James will have particular focus on developing new intellectual properties for the company, overseeing product line development and moving forward with licensed properties as the company matures and develops.

“I am excited – and nervous – to be working for Chronicle City. I have known Angus a great many years and have worked for and with him in various guises in the past. I believe Chronicle City has the potential to become a driving force in modern role-playing and I relish the opportunity to work in other arenas such as card and board game development. I particularly hope to bring some innovation and attention to licensed properties and hope that I can bring some of my particular style and thought to everything that we do.” – James said.

James is an Origins Award winning writer and has worked for Wizards of the Coast, Steve Jackson Games, Cubicle 7 Entertainment and many others. He has been freelancing since the 1990s and has worked full-time with his own indie company, Postmortem Studios, since 2004.

Chronicle City has a lot of plans this year, both with the expansion of our third party publishing programme as well as with licensing and in-house design of our own settings and game lines. Appointing James as Creative Director will give our own properties, and the licenses we’re working, on a dedicated overseer who can work day-to-day with our design teams and developers. James is the first fulltime appointment to the company and we have a few more team members to be announced in the coming weeks. 2013 is going to be a very interesting year for the company and I’m glad James has been able to join us for the journeys ahead.” – added Angus.

Chronicle City is a new British based games publisher set up by multi-award winning publisher Angus Abranson (ex-Cubicle 7; Leisure Games). Chronicle City are working with a number of companies and designers to publish their games, as well as designing their own role-playing, card and board games.

You can find out more information about Chronicle City, and their games, at:

Webstore: http://shop.chroniclecity.co.uk/
Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/chroniclecity
Twitter: @Chronicle_City
Email: info@chroniclecity.com

If you want to contact James (Grim) directly with questions please contact via twitter – @grimachu – or via email to grim AT postmort DOT demon DOT co DOT uk

***

I’ve been itching to make this announcement for some time but legal and financial details take ages to sort out. This has also been part of the reason I’ve been less manically and publicly busy for some time – despite working away on Machinations of the Space Princess.

Postmortem Studios will continue, albeit  much slower and much more self-indulgent in terms of pace and content. Machinations will be finished and I’ll be taking other outstanding projects with me to Chronicle City where they can get a much greater amount of exposure and a wider audience.

January next year would be Postmortem Studios’ 10th anniversary but running your own company, however small, is exhausting. Especially when it’s just you. I have become increasingly frustrated by the level of quality and the amount of output I’ve been capable of doing as a one-man show and yes, my depression has been a factor in this. Working with others – while being higher stakes – should be much better for my mental health and take a great deal of pressure off me.

Working with Chronicle City will give me an opportunity to reach a wider audience, to develop new, exciting and quality RPGs and other games to the hobby, to travel and to pay back a hobby and a number of fellow freelancers and co-workers who have been very good to me since I first cracked open a Fighting Fantasy book in the 1980s. Special thanks are also due to my wife and my anonymous patron, both of whom have been unflinching in their support of me.

I also hope to be able to devote a little more time to my fiction writing, perhaps tying in with some of our products.

I’ve always been an idea person and I hope that as Creative Director I’ll be able to bring that capability – interesting, deep and innovative ideas – to everything that we do.

Machinations of the Space Princess Supporters
Work for Chronicle City is going to take up an increasing amount of my time which ma delay completion on the project. I was going to be aiming for May at latest before but this shift in roles and responsibilities may delay that by up to another three months. I hope you’ll be understanding, happy for me and will consider that – on the plus side – it gives Satine more time to work on the art.

Huzzah!

A Postmortem Update

I have been very busy, beavering away on my novel, which is almost complete and should be finished by the end of next week. This has taken time away from games writing quite a bit and as I’ve been busy two weekends in a row and have had a bit of a bout of depression things haven’t been proceeding entirely according to plan. Please bear with me!

I’ll be posting some more ImagiNation previews, everything is now done save for a few pieces of art so, fingers crossed, ImagiNation should be out by the end of the month. This will be released FREE on PDF and AT COST via Print on Demand. I’d like to get as much press as possible for this game – since it deals with depression and is intended as an aid/boost to fellow sufferers as well as a game. If you’d like to help me out with that, please get in touch.

I’ve received proofs of all the board/card games I have made – apart from Lady Bexington’s Home for Wayward Zombies on The Game Crafter (links in the side) and I have to say I am very, very pleased with the quality and results. I can’t recommend purchasing outside the US unless you’re willing to spend over the odds but if you are a US customer and want a shiny, awesome copy of Steamed, Final Straw or Cthentacle then go buy! If there’s enough interest there I’ll work on more board and card games.

When the novel is finished, because ImagiNation has been slightly delayed, I will put together the generic version of The Description System (that powers both Neverwhere and ImagiNation) and get that out ASAP.

The last bit of news is that myself and Satine Phoenix will be going ahead with Machinations of the Space Princess but as a FULL game, derived from the Lamentations rules set and aimed at providing fast, furious, simple, Sci-Fantasy adventuring weirdness in a Metal Hurlant style. Sexy, Sleazy, Swords & Sci-Fi. You can get some ideas on where my thinking for the game is going by looking at the Maksa-Jazra blog posts here (though those are more fantasy than SF). This will be an IndieGoGo fundraiser aiming for $1,000 to go to Satine for art. We’re still working out the details but look for a proper announcement sometime next week. Excess money will go to stretch goals, more art and some money going to me for the time it will take to write. It’ll be a ‘whatever amount is raised’ fundraiser.

After that, it’ll be on to a second novel and I hope you’ll all be as supportive of that endeavour as you have been of my games writing!

If you want to check out my already published short stories, you can get them at Amazon or Smashwords (just search for my name on the Nook, iBook etc stores).

What Next For Mr Grim?

I have, now, effectively cleared my desk of RPG work, something I was hoping to do two months ago but between health and internet drama issues that didn’t happen.

There’s been one casualty, the Gilder project, though I would like to get back to that at some point.

I’m winding down my role-playing output to concentrate, for a while, on my writing instead. I want to get an actual novel (or two) done and out there and to see if I can build a successful writing career in the same manner I’ve built a reasonably successful RPG publishing venture. I hope I can take a few of you over with me.

What does this mean for Postmortem Studios?

Not a huge amount in the immediate future, there’s a bunch of projects winding down but they’re things I’ve farmed out to other people or things that have been on the cards for a while.

In the pipeline for future release are:

  • Cthentacle: Spankham Asylum
  • ImagiNation
  • PROJECT
  • NEFARIOUS
  • Agents of SWING: Section Books

Other than that I have no concrete RPG plans or freelancing and my involvement in the above will be (limited to) layout, editing and art direction.

This has been the plan for a while now, since January in fact, but I’d be lying if I said recent events hadn’t also taken their toll on my enthusiasm and my desire to provide material for an apparently ungrateful and hyper-critical audience. I also acknowledge a real need for me to work at a more relaxed and less pressurised pace on things that enthuse me in that moment. I’m also awaiting some results on a mass of blood tests that may try and tackle my exhaustion issues that are ongoing, even if my depression is considerably better.

I’ll be taking the next couple of weeks semi-off, other than working on a Legacy of Frankenstein short story and finishing off primary writing on my pulp story collection. I need a rest, I’ll be getting my blood test results and I’ll be taking  the first part of my driving test soon, which I need to bone up on.

Don’t worry, I’m not giving up on gaming. It’s in my blood, it’s what I love and I’ll continue to pump blogs and short mini projects out as well as still attending at least two conventions a year. Maybe I’ll even use some of this reduced hecticity to run more games over Google Hangouts. Who knows?

If you want to follow and support my writing career, the blog for that is Tales of Grim.

While I have your attention:

  1. I’m always looking for fans and volunteers to run my games at cons around the world since I can’t get to many. If you want the opportunity to do that, let me know.
  2. I’m happy to sell stock of my books direct to gaming stores. If this might interest your store let me know.
  3. I’m trying to get more comfortable with ‘putting myself out there’ more. So if you’d like me to appear on a podcast, hangout, internet radio show, guest blog or whatever, please do get in touch. I have opinions on most things and will try to be interesting/funny/controversial (delete where applicable).
  4. If you have any questions or requests about any of our games please leave them in the comments and I’ll get to them as soon as I can.

Thanks all for your recent support and appreciation, wish me luck as I shift gears!