Professor Grim’s Ethical Reality Climax


It keeps coming up and I’m breaking one of my own manifesto items by addressing it again since, I suppose, technically, pressing ‘don’t have an agenda’ is an agenda.

Anyway, screw that.

To reiterate what I said before it’s not so much that having an agenda is wrong per se, rather that clubbing people over the head with it every step of the way is both boring and intrusive. Letting an agenda emerge through play, through setting, without necessarily spelling it out. That’s a much better way to go and that’s why I have so wholeheartedly approved of Farewell to Fear, despite it being associated with the kind of attitude I’m normally considered to be scathing of.

I draw a sharp delineation between fantasy and reality and I think that’s where the disconnect between me and so many of this ‘new wave’ of ethical designers comes in. We spent so long fighting the idea that RPGs had influence, that they could make you a Satanist or get you lost in steam tunnels that cottoning to the idea that they might make you sexist (or whatever) is anathema (as well as being wrong).

If we absorb the things we’re told, that gender, race etc don’t matter then you can’t help but be nonplussed that they seem to matter very much to the very people who are telling you that they don’t matter. The idea that we can draw new people into the hobby from under-represented sectors with a few bits of inclusive art is patronising and even insulting. It also creates a lot of pressure on creators to the point where they may end up making the ‘ethical’ choice over the best choice. The scare quotes are there around the word ethical because it rarely is anything at all to do with ethics.

One person I’ve discussed this with made the valid point that they spend all day every day dealing with racism/sexism etc and it was nice to have a break in a game that didn’t involve it. That’s a fair thing to say even if it severely limits the available conflicts in a game world and if it ignores the cathartic ability to do something about it in a game. Still, there’s another side to this, the ability to play in a world, enjoy fantasy art, act as someone different to yourself without internally checking every single action and word for potential offence and political orthodoxy.

If we want more people from different demography to be into games it’s going to take something more than a tip of the hat to minorities in the artwork or the end of the chainmail halter-top. Gaming by its very nature appeals to people who read, who have space, who have a certain grasp over school subjects, a degree of disposable income. The demographics of gaming as a hobby are much more to do with these socio-economic factors than what colour skin the Paladin on Page 34 has, or whether the Space Ranger in the Terra sourcebook is wearing an urban camo bikini.

One just needs to look at mass media to see that people overwhelmingly couldn’t give two tugs of a dead dog’s cock about the issues that fire up this ‘ethical gaming’ push, which means that the whole ‘popularise and spread the hobby’ line is a lie, a pious lie at best. That’s not what it’s about at all, it’s about creating the kind of games that this minority of players and creators believes in and wants. Indeed our preoccupation and self-flagellation over this issue is dreadfully middle-class, white guilt infused, itself alienating

That’s fine, that’s great, I’m  firm believer in making the games you want to see but dressing it up as some sort of moral superiority and promoting it by denigrating others is not only self-deluded, but unethical itself.

We make and share fantasy worlds, utopias, dystopias, sex and violence galore, moral quandries, immoral characters, good, evil and everything in between. We merely provide the tools to make these stories we have our visions and those who play them have their own, let ’em, the ethics are much more their concern than ours.

Images taken from Saint’s Row III, a prime example of how fun things can be if you just say ‘Ah, fuck it’.

Smörgåsblog – Little Topics Chosen by You

Gandalf’s D&D Alignment

Gandalf is clearly Chaotic Neutral. He tries not to intervene, he is a force for the status quo but he’s willing to break ‘the rules’ in order to protect that status quo. There’s a tension between order and disorder in the character that, I feel, is best represented in that way.

Good Times Get in the way of Good Times

Good times at the gaming table can, indeed, get in the way of good times. What makes a good game doesn’t necessarily make for a good evening and I think you have to be fluid. You have to be willing to give up a session – or change it – if people are in the wrong mood. If people are giggly and chatty, that isn’t the time for deep horror or serious political manouevering. If everyone’s stoned out of their fucking gourd (a far too frequent occurance) you may have to dumb things down, take things slow or simplify the rules. Same goes for drinking. Fun and enjoyment come in a massive number of different forms and as with everything else in GMing, it’s my belief that what makes a truly great GM in this, as in almost every other arena, is improvisation and flexibility.

Player Empowerment

I’m a big advocate of player empowerment. I think giving players the opportunity to shine and to bring their own ideas into games is a powerful tool that greatly enhances engagement and gives every some buy-in. The most basic versions of this are ‘stunts’ such as you find in Feng Shui or Exalted. Players get buy in because if they do a cool sounding move or something exciting, they get a bonus. FATE has a greater degree of buy in and other games go even further with buy-in mechanics, letting players dictate aspects of the game world. A good GM has a bit of this anyway. I think it REALLY starts with ‘What do you guys want in this game?’ and the mechanical tendency of modern indie games to provide buy-in is just a way of structuring what good GMs were doing anyway. Equally I can see the case to be made that the players can fuck things up by doing this. That not everyone is as creative or finds it as easy and that it can end up disempowering players who aren’t as able to buy into the concept or string words together. That can seem paradoxical, but it really, really can be a problem. Gentle nudging by the GM can help there.

First Game I Ever Played and What I Played

I started with Fighting Fantasy books and we used to read them to each other, one being the adventurer, one being the player. So my first proper RPG was the orange-spined make your own Fighting Fantasy adventures book with the (I believe) weretiger on the front. Do you count GMing as playing? I do. I started as I meant to go on so my first character was… god!

How Similar/Different People Make Characters

This is a topic that could fill books. Some people play the same sort of thing in every game, they have a broad category of character that they like – the bruiser, the charming rogue or whatever. What every character shares is a ‘hook’ of some kind. That can be a stereotype, an exceptional skill, a schtick but that’s what everyone needs, shorthand for a character. Everyone uses these hooks, big or small, complex or simple.

Ethics in the RPG Industry

Ethics? Well that’s a tricky one. Games aren’t real, so they can make an interesting playground for playing with ethics. The black and white, the four colour and the grey. That’s in play though. Ethics in publishing itself? Well, I tend to think the responsibility for misuse and misunderstanding lays on the person in receipt, more than the producer, at least where something doesn’t have the direct potential for direct harm. For me then, ethics in the RPG industry becomes more about ethics generally in business. Paying people on time and what the work is worth (or what you can afford), treating people right, being open about issues, all that sort of thing. There are companies that pay late, or not at all, and things being tight is no excuse to be a dick or to hide that sort of thing. The other way around, it can be hard to get writing or art on time and when things are that way around it’s just as important to be honest and communicative.

Orifice Jones – 70s Detective

Will have to wait… I have some thoughts on sexy adventures for SWING or a short story.

Fan Entitlement

Fan entitlement has been a big issue lately across lots of media. People complaining about George Lucas’ continued buggering about with Star Wars, the ending of Mass Effect and the lack of clear communication over D&D5e. I think there’s some differences between the relationship between creator and consumer when it comes to passive media and interactive media and, paradoxically, I think that’s why Lucas gets such stick. Normally when you present a film, or a book, or a comic the audience is passive, not involved in the process. Step into RPGs and computer games and you’re asking the audience to become a PART of the process, of the game, of the story and that gives them buy in and makes them feel like they have a say. To be honest, they do. Your relationship in interactive media, with your audience, is predicated upon them feeling like a part of what you do. With Lucas his material was so game-changing, so important to so many people they bought-in to that degree without it being interactive media, and in part because of the aggressive marketing and toys, you could LIVE Star Wars if you wanted to. Especially when it comes to RPGs, where you don’t have any real sort of hand on the tiller to determine the story this is even more true. People are going to do what they want with your material and they deserve to feel involved.

Why do Writers Give Shit Away? Is it Good or Bad?

Why do writers (and gamers) give shit away for free? Because we’re creatives. A creative is driven to create, we want an audience and that is more important to many, to make something and get it seen, than to make money. The unfortunate side to this is that a lot of stuff gets given away for free without any sort of quality control and can end up devaluing the whole enterprise. I wouldn’t tell people not to do it, but I think people should place at least some sort of minimum value for their work for the benefit of the creative community as a whole. Giving shit away for free is also a try at getting noticed, traditional modes of getting ‘found’ are vanishing and getting attention for your talent is a long, hard slog. This was the one thing gatekeepers like publishers actually did that was useful before and IMO creators need to come together more in mutually supporting communities to overcome this, become our own gatekeepers just as we have become our own marketers and points of sale.

RPGs of the Future – What Concepts/Topics/Rules?

I think we’ll continue to see the spread of lighter rules games but I’m a big advocate of the right rules for the right job. I believe rules matter and that doesn’t always mean rules light. That said, I think rules do need to be quick and intuitive to allow RPGs to be easily picked up and learned. Concepts… well, I think fantasy needs to make a decisive leap forward into the renaissance/industrial era, Iron Kingdoms – new edition – might do that. Just as written fantasy seems to have made this leap I think tabletop fantasy does. There are plenty of Steampunk themed games but no true STEAMPUNK games. We need a definitive Steampunk game that is purely Steampunk in the way that the breakout novel The Difference Engine was. I also think we need to return to SF, but in a more uplifting and optimistic way. We’re lacking a postmodern superheroic game, despite there having been an Authority RPG it didn’t really capture the feel of Ellis, Millar or Morrison, something more gutsy is needed.

60 Minute Primetime Slot on TV about Games – What do you do?

If I had the budget, time, money, opportunity to do a 60 minute programme about games this is what I would do, and this has been my idea for years. You split it in two, you have a game being played and a representation of that game. You intercut between the players playing and a full on, FX and all, representation of what they’re doing. Something LIKE this was done on Radio 4 in the UK all-too-many-years-ago and I would have loved to have seen it done on TV. I think this would be the best way of both explaining what it is that we do and making people understand what we see/feel/think when we play.

How is a Raven Like a Writing Desk

This was meant to be a question with no answer. That was rather the point of it. Carroll liked that sort of thing.

Getting Confused

Say that you ‘roleplay’ and people are as likely to think you play computer games or play at ‘naughty teacher and student’. I guess the computer one is understandable these days and the other one has the potential to get you laid so… no problem? The one I do worry about is the whole corporate roleplay thing. I think that may be behind the decline of gaming as corporate roleplay exercises are excrutiating and stupid and probably put people off the word for life. If corporate roleplay involved dressing in chainmail and attacking the accounts department it wouldn’t be so bad.

TobyArt3: Knights RELEASED!


Buy it HERE.

The pieces will also be released individually at $4 a pop, but buying the lot for $15 is a blummin’ bargain!

Use ’em in your personal or professional projects and do, please, let us know if you do!

Does Postmortem Spam You Enough?

I’m a touch curious chaps and chapettes. Being British and all, I find it very difficult to pimp my wares without getting horribly self-concious. So I’d love to know if you think I blither on about my stuff enough, or not. If you feel like being difficult and not fitting the poll, comment on this post.

Why did you write Colony: Moon?

I was born in 1975. I’m starting to finally feel like a grown-up, which must mean I’m old. We stopped going to the moon in 1972 but when I was growing up I was surrounded by books and pictures talking about all our accomplishments in space and it wasn’t really conceivable that we wouldn’t go back there. That was a slow dream to die and the books I read were optimistic, talking about a Moon base by the late 1980s or mid 1990s.

Now the US doesn’t even have the Space Shuttle any more and the only sign of any vision is coming from private companies and film makers, and that’s strange and a rather modest vision at that.

Projects like getting out into space are like ITER, or CERN, they really need to be international efforts due to the cost and expertise required. While there is money to be made – potentially – in space, it feels like we’re mortgaging our future to the profit motive, rather than the wonder, and necessity, of taking to the solar system and the stars.

I wanted to make a game about competing ideas, negotiation, the risks in being unfocussed and the strengths in working together. The game really relies on people taking on a ‘role’ and playing it through, making a mix of political and pragmatic decisions.

I think it could, easily, also form the background and basis for someone’s hard SF RPG and I hope it sells well so I can do some rules and add ons for colonising the rest of the solar system, and beyond.

Colony: Moon RELEASED

A cooperative (or competetive) story game about founding a Moon colony, making it succeed and opening up the way to the rest of the solar system.

Players take on the parts of ‘The Board’ and make decisions about the future of the colony, expending political capital and gaining prestige when their plans work.



This game will be available at Paizo, IPR and E23 shortly, if those are your preferred outlets.

Does he give you the ‘Hebrew-Jeebies’ RPGnet?

You may recall my friend Uri Kurlianchik from previous storm-in-a-teacup drama over the DNDkids articles and entanglements with transgender, possible-rapist ‘Kynn’.

Uri’s been the target of a lot of hysteria because he tends to talk about things as they actually are, rather than as they should be and because he has a wicked and nasty sense of humour with little or no respect for anyone who gets offended. This is a trait he shares with me and Frankie Boyle.

Recently, as is completely reasonable, Uri went on RPGnet to promote a book project he’s doing (feel free to follow the link and drop him some cash towards it). Of course, RPGnet being RPGnet and Uri being an Israeli anyone with any past experience of RPGnet’s white-knighting crusaders can tell what happened next.

So, Uri appears to have been banned, on a board that champions itself and its moderation as tolerant, progressive and anti-prejudice for… being a heeb.

That’s beyond irony.

My own brushes with RPGnet moderation have been legion in the past, culminating in a company account being accused of being a sockpuppet (it wasn’t) and I’ve attempted to pursue the issue of the totalitarian moderation and moderator abuse with every level of the company right up to its parent company, Skotos, who – as it turns out – ALSO have a shitty reputation and whose representative wouldn’t even take the time to listen to a complaint. I wish I’d kept the recording of our Skype conversation as it was rather enlightening as to the nature of the board, the company and the people running it.

Social Media may have eclipsed fora, but RPGnet should have been, should be, a place for open and heated discussion where people can disagree loudly and vociferously without the banhammer descending on the random whim of a particular arsehole.

I had determined to leave that wretched hive of scum and villainy alone and pay it no heed, but this latest nonsense is such a good illustration of everything that’s wrong with the place that it was impossible to pass up.

If you need me I’ll be shouting ‘I told you so’ over on that mountain top.

Progressive Gaming: R U DOIN IT WRONG?

There’s a fundamental problem in creating female-friendly, race-friendly, morally complex fantasy worlds that discard moral black and whites and treat everything with an even hand, in that they’re boring as fuck. I think this is a large part of the reason that Blue Rose didn’t really grab anyone, despite being a great implementation of d20 as a system.

There’s a paradox inherent in this viewpoint in that the people objecting to, say, objectification, racial stereotyping, oppression etc do actually have a very developed moral compass and a palpably strong sense of right and wrong. This gives them everything they need to make a real go of a genuinely progressive game about fighting these evils, in the context of the game.

Stories, games, thrive on conflict. If you remove all the things you don’t like in the real world – where you have little or no power to truly affect them in your lifetime – then you have nothing to fight against or contrast with in the game world, where you do have that power.

I am becoming obsessed with the idea of changing game worlds where players can make a genuine difference and improvement upon the world that they find themselves in. Underground was my ‘road to Damascus’ moment for this aspect of gaming, making a wider change in the gaming environment and I’ve flirted with the concept myself, indeed it’s the whole point of @ctiv8.

If you’re against sexism then surely it can be a great source of tension and accomplishment to fight it in the gameworld, to be an exemplar of the potential women have. If you’re against the idea of slavery or the evils it has done in the past, then fight against it in the game world.

There’s a huge amount of tension also to be had in ‘monsters we are lest monsters we become’. How far will you go to fight these things you hate? What lesser evils will you perform in order to make that change?

Two things crystalised these thoughts for me recently. I’ve been reading The Cold Commands (sequel to The Steel Remains) by Richard Morgan and I’ve been made aware of Farewell to Fear which is currently in Kickstarter mode.

Richard Morgan’s fantasy books are set in a nasty, dark, horrible world and the heroes are morally questionable, but it is a progressive book in that women play a leading role, the main character is gay and numerous other factors. In The Cold Commands the lead character, Ringil is fighting to eradicate slavery, and to that end slits the throats of helpless men and orders the vicious gang rape of a woman (a slaver) before killing her too.

These things make for interesting, complex (if not altogether sympathetic or comfortable) characters and stories.

For me, Farewell to Fear seems, from the description, to hit the right balance and the potential to tell the stories I would want to tell. The triumph of reason over emotion, of fact over superstition, of love over hate and peace over war – even if the route there is circuitous.

Fuck knows I don’t agree with the Machine Age people all the time but we seem to be able to disagree with mutual respect and understanding that often doesn’t surround these sorts of discussions simply because people don’t come to them in order to discuss. With this game though, I think they’ve got it and this is the kind of approach I’d like to see more of and to bring into my own games.

I’ve bumped ’em $10, and it would be more if I could afford it. You should do the same. Especially since they’re using the lovely and talented Jenna Fowler who also did some work for me (and hopefully will be again).

Camelot Cosmos: Bang for your Buck

Here’s a couple of photos so you can see the size of the books and get some idea what you’d be getting if you bought the hardcopy of the books.

What’re Da Roolz G? – A Designer Manifesto

There’s been a couple of these doing the rounds lately. Seems like it’s time to throw my particular peasant cap hat into the ring. Pay particular attention to point one as it applies to all the other ones.

1. Your Mileage May Vary.
2. Games Should be fun.
3. System Matters.
4. Plausible Worlds.
5. I’m NOT a Storyteller.
6. Agendas are boring.
7. I make what I love.
8. Once it’s Out, I don’t ‘Own’ it.
9. I’m NOT a professional.
10. Relationships are business.
11. I can be an arsehole, but you ARE a prick.
12. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

1. These are my rules. They’re not intended to be a guide for anybody else. You can go your own way. These are just the things that I think and some of the ideas that guide me in what I do.

2. This should go without saying. Of course, the problem with saying something that everyone can agree on is that what constitutes ‘fun’ you’ll never get people to agree on. Some people find huffing glue fun, some people enjoy inflating their genitals with saline. I can’t say I understand the appeal but hey, whatever floats their boat eh? I like science fiction, fantasy, horror, high adventure, narrative mechanics, sword and sorcery, blood and tits, history, politics, the clash of magic/faith and science and a while bunch of other stuff. I’m going to do things that I find fun, because that’s the best and only guide I have.

3. Sure, you CAN play Call of Cthulhu using Toon, but it’s not a great idea. In an ideal game the system and the setting form a closed loop. The rules support and embody the setting and the setting informs and helps define the rules. Form follows function, if you like.

4. Not realistic. Plausible. A certain degree of internal consistency is good and the world should hang together for at least a passing examination without any glaring ‘wtf’ moments.

5. Whether you’re writing or GMing a game this is an important one to learn. You’re not telling a story, you’re facilitating the creation of good stories. Don’t be a frustrated writer, work that out in WRITING. Be a fulfilled game creator.

6. Not to say you can’t put your politics and the things you care about into a game but if you’re forcing it down someone’s throat the whole fucking time you’re a bore. The only people who are going to really get into this game are people who are already part of the cause. So it’s pointless. Your audience are not puppies who need their noses rubbed in shit.

7. You don’t have to love it. I’m the first audience that needs to be pleased.

8. I’m making a game. Not writing a book. People will mangle, twist reinterpret, misinterpret, use, abuse and otherwise remake and remodel anything you do. That’s cool. Who cares?

9. People who describe themselves are ‘professional’ are almost always pricks. You can say it in a good way about someone else, but generally if you call yourself a professional or call someone else unprofessional, you’re a dick.

10. Treat people right and they’ll treat you right. Might take a while, but it does come back to you. Pay on time, pay early, sling people a couple of extra bucks, pay it forward.

11. Shamelessly stolen from Andrew Maxwell. Everyone and anyone can be an arsehole from time to time. Being an arsehole is something you do. But you ARE a prick. I can be an arsehole sometimes, but I can stop. YOU, oh critic/whiner/crusader, ARE a prick.

12. Or, to put it another way, ‘Honeybadger don’t care.’