Boys Smell & Girls Have Kooties

Shirts Vs Skins

Yet more gender-wars have been erupting on the internet. Yesterday it was about ConTessa an online con intended to step aside from the gender wars and promote the positive contribution of women in gaming and general nerdery. Ostensibly a great idea. Ironically, and somewhat predictably, it immediately became a lightning-rod for the gender wars and this was in no small part due to the policies and self-described nature of the event in its rough-draft guidelines (it explicitly excluded men from aspects of the con EDIT: And still does in its second incarnation).

Today it’s the #1ReasonWhy hashtag on Twitter which is being used to try and describe the trials and tribulations, under-representation etc of women in the gaming (and more general nerdery) industry. Again, predictably, this fairly rapidly descended into man-bashing and this from people who claim to be anti-sexism.

In both cases the laudable and original aim of promoting female contributions and driving for egalitarianism has been undermined by its own proponents. In the case of LadyCon/ConTessa because of its policy that no men are to be involved in the organisational or presentational side of it. In the case of #1ReasonWhy it’s not only the parade of sexism but also the condemnation of anything men might happen to like as being badwrongfun.

This, needless to say, does not foster an atmosphere of tolerance or understanding and appears to those of us sensitised to unfairness and sexism to be deeply hypocritical.

Judge Judy and Executioner

The fact is that the world of the do-gooder is as riddled with presumption, prejudice and privilege as the injustices that they attack. The presumption, in these cases, that men go out of their way to exclude or dismiss women. The idea that the things that men like and want in their games or media are necessarily bad or necessarily exclude women from liking the same things.

Prejudice also exists in other arenas such as erotica, pornography and sex-work. Often from the very people who claim to be out to help. Today that was an Irish organisation’s ‘Man Up’ campaign on Twitter against domestic violence which failed to take into account that men can be victims too and that ‘man up’ means to endure in silence – not helpful.

Previously I’ve seen sex-workers vilified for enjoying their work and have seen them be confused with human trafficking issues. I acknowledge that my more libertine point of view may not fit everyone but I don’t see the harm so long as it’s all consensual and by choice. Same with people who make porn and who suffer a great deal from nasty commentary, lack of understanding and judgement from people who would consider themselves ‘progressive‘.

When you look at an entire industry and broad-brush paint the men in it as sexist, self-interested or conspiring (somehow) against women you are being as sexist as the very few men that would actually fit that description.

Part of the problem here is the presumption that everyone else is ‘like you’ and that things need to be homogenised and changed in order to fit you, or your group’s, desires. Homogeneity isn’t equality and I doubt you’d see people argue that Die Hard needs more time spent on romance or Pride and Prejudice needs more explosions. ‘Games should be for everyone‘ is a frankly facile and stupid thing to say. More ‘There should be games for everyone’ (and there are even if they don’t necessarily meet with massive commercial success).

This homogenisation would mean a loss of diversity, not a gain. Women cannot presume that men react to these games/comics etc the same way that they do or indeed even that other women necessarily react or think the same way they do. It’s much better to argue for addition than for change since change attacks and removes something that someone else loves. That’s going to lose good will and cost opportunities to make points and create change.

Accept Diversity

People like a lot of things. People like different things. That one person reacts to something negatively or perceives it as negative doesn’t mean that it is.

Some people like curry, some people like cucumber finger sandwiches. Some people like to ogle Lara Craft while they put her through a gymnastics routine (and some of those are women) others don’t.

It undermines your message of acceptance and diversity if you fail to accept and accommodate the needs and desires of others. It invites people to ignore your needs and desires in return.

To take an example from the feminist movement of a breakdown of this sort, some meetings and rallies have had a ‘Women born women’ policy. That is to say no m2f transsexuals permitted on the grounds that they’re ‘not real women’.

Now, this is objectively true at a chromosomal and morphological level AND most likely at an experiential level growing up pre-transition (life experience as a male is going to mean different perceptions and exposure to different experiences than growing up female). However, it seriously undermines any sort of egalitarian principle and plays into the same kind of prejudice that lead to two girls beating up a trans woman in a restaurant toilet. They regarded the situation as being that of a Peeping Tom and again, one can understand that POV even if one disagrees with the outcome.

Creating a women only space, implicitly or explicitly, is not going to foster communication. It’s going to be nothing more than a cheerleading exercise. It’s only going to attract the faithful (and Cockatoo Cichlids) and is going to turn a lot of people off who might have useful insights but just happen to have the wrong gender plumbing – and that’s what we’re trying to fight against, right?

ECHO, Echo, echo, echo…

A ‘safe space’, a cheerleader-only space, doesn’t foster communication or solutions to problems. It creates an echo chamber, a positive feedback loop. These kind of closed ‘yes men’ situations are found to lead to extremism. In a very real sense they make compromise and accommodation less likely, not more likely and create levels of alienation from the cause that can cost potential allies.

Dissent is Not Attack

A big part of the problem with these arguments is that any kind of dissent or disagreement is taken as an attack or an insult when this needn’t be the case. Ironically, the same people who are happy to ‘call people on their shit’ are profoundly unwilling to countenance any protest when they’re ‘called on THEIR shit’.

Robust and worthwhile ideas, theories, concepts are able to withstand criticism and they come out all the stronger for it. This is why Peer Review exists in science and why people work so hard to find problems with scientific theories. If it can resist being proven wrong, it’s a good theory. If people find valid criticisms of the way you’re conducting your social agenda, it might be worth taking a look.

Add, Don’t Take Away

So, is there a solution to all this? I think there is and that’s ‘Make Good Art‘. Add to what is here, don’t take away from it. The problem is not half naked women in games. There’s nothing actually, inherently wrong with catering to majority male sexuality (especially if you audience is predominantly male). The problem is the lack of other options.

Things are changing, additions are being made but this never seems to be enough and is rarely acknowledged. Dragon Age and Mass Effect get as much criticism as praise, despite making massive strides for gender equality in storylines and more grown-up and intricate storylines (if we pretend DA2 didn’t exist anyway).

There are games such as Borderlands and Lollipop Chainsaw that cock a wink at and make fun of the existing stereotypes and turn them on their head (seriously, is anyone in BL2 NOT gay/bi?)  but, again, get attacked.

Like I say, we need to add, not take away. Increase our game options and more people are happy, attack someone over something they love and try to take it away and you’ll see their heels get dug in.

For tabletop games the barrier to entry is practically non-existent these days. There’s no reason whatsoever you can’t add to the diversity and scope of RPGs or boardgames but there’s no need to start from a position of ‘man stuff is bad and wrong’. That’s about as mature as ‘girls have kooties’.

For computer games there’s a bit more of a barrier but looking at the #1reasonwhy tag there’s all these women with company start-up experience, design experience, software programming skills and so on so why aren’t they chasing down some venture capital, creating a start-up company or making more indie games? Where’s the Kickstarters for girl games rather than for films bashing boy games?

Can we honestly not accept that different people like different things (sometimes based on gender) and that this is OK and not fundamentally evil? Do we see equal complaint in areas where men are under-represented or sidelined? Where’s the campaign decrying the evil fact that online Bingo is exclusively marketed to women?

Be What You Want to See in the World

If you want to see a more tolerant and inclusive world it falls upon you to be that and most people, taken on good faith, are just out to create things that they love and enjoy themselves. They’re not out to hurt you or even to purposefully exclude you (unless they’re the Westboro Baptist Church). Men want more women to be into games. They want partners who understand their love of Zelda/Xmen/D&D very much.

If you want people to be accepting, you have to be accepting.

If you want gender not to matter, it has to not matter to you.

If you want to see games that emphasise X over Y or Z then you need to make it happen.

Re-Railing for Dummies

A lot of the time these kinds of debates get nowhere because each side is looking for something to justify ignoring the other side. Even legitimate questions or points are dismissed. In the arena of the gender wars Derailing for Dummies is a particular culprit, as is Feminism 101 and the horrendously sexist term ‘Mansplaining’. Armed camps is no way to proceed and like accusations of emotional argument, PMS or bitchiness these things are the WMD of discussion.

As such I propose an open invitation to a calm and open blog debate where no question or dissent is considered stupid or out of bounds and such dismissals are disallowed. One on one – to avoid dogpiling – and with a limit of one post per day or even week.

Without communication there can be no progress and as someone who is staunchly egalitarian and has become increasingly turned off to women’s complaints and concerns by the very people supposedly promoting them, the fact that we seem unable to have that communication pains me.

Topics to be covered might include:

  • Why the demographical bias is as it is.
  • What can usefully be done to change this.
  • Fostering productive communication.
  • Intergender Misunderstandings
  • Examples of good practice.

Just off the top of my head. My debate partner could choose several of their own and I’m sure any debate would throw up new items.


I have tried to keep this post as calm and explanatory as possible, as open as possible. Some will no doubt take it as yet another opportunity to misinterpret, misunderstand and/or give me a good kicking but I present it in good faith.

Machinations: Music & Games

I’m not a huge music guy most of the time. Sure, I’ve been to a few gigs and I often have music streaming or playing in the background but it’s not one of the things that fires me up. Art and reading – after gaming – those are my things.

Music does become more important when playing and when writing though. My regular group I play with in Reading hardly ever plays without music playing and something appropriate too. Lots of film soundtracks, game soundtracks, ambient music that builds mood without getting in the way. My other regular group, we do without music and that’s alright too. It has its own advantages – less distraction and more effectiveness of descriptions.

When I’m writing a game though, then music becomes more important. It’s part of the way I establish the right mood, get the inspirational juices flowing and help shape the ol’ noggin into working in the right aesthetic.

For ’45 I was listening to a lot of rockabilly, psychobilly and gothabilly music.

For Agents of SWING I made a playlist of all the top 10 singles (that weren’t crap) from 1960 to 1979 along with a few TV themes.

For Machinations I’ve been listening to the kind of metal and prog rock I haven’t listened to since I was a kid, along with concept albums across other genres and 70s and 80s film soundtracks.

It really does help.

Machinations: Rubberheads

I’m just over half-way through writing up the racial traits, which is one of the key aspects to  Machinations of the Space Princess and not something I’m sure has been done before. Going through the various species, culture and exotic traits available to potential characters, it’s pretty obvious that the potential for min-maxing is huge.

Is this a problem?

I don’t know that it is. While I expect the game to be reasonably deadly I think more competent characters will compensate a bit for that and be in keeping with the genre.

After all, when you look at science fiction of all sorts, the aliens aren’t so alien after all. they’re specialised and extended versions of us. The klingons in Star Trek are a warrior culture with redundant organs and great martial skill and they’re hardly the only ones. Aliens of all sorts in all kinds of fiction exemplify particular traits.

The traits in Machinations aren’t that major in effect, they’re more than cosmetic but they’re not earth-shaking. It’s more about a way of guiding how you play the characters and giving them colour and flavour that goes far beyond just picking a class and race.

If people want to min-max, more power to them. If that’s wrong, it’s a failure of the player, not the game and hey, who doesn’t want to be the best at what they do? Bub.

Machinations: Progress Update

Today was my first day of full work on Machinations, even though it ended up being a half-day due to con-plague that came back from the dead and attacked my GI tract with the force of a thousand Galfraxian Death-Bots. I still managed half a day which meant I got my notes ‘organised’* and broke ground on the introduction. A lot of that’s standard boiler-plate stuff. The OGL, who I am, what Postmortem is, who Satine is etc.

These kinds of introductions are pretty standard in most games but I made a few key decisions that will influence how the writing unfolds and the changes and choices I make along the way. I know some people are interested in the design process so I’m going to lay these out here for you.

Old School Vs Indie

Stupid dichotomy since the OSR movement is self-published and as indie as you get. However, much like 80s/90s music the term ‘Indie’ has taken on a specific meaning in games and tends to mean the more experimental and ‘out there’ concepts and systems. I am neither truly Indie nor am I a traditionalist. My gaming groups have always been total game-whores. We love ‘the new hotness’ and we’ll play anything. I like it like that and as a designer it means my inspirations are many and varied.

I like both.

I think this puts me in a good position to take the best out of both camps, the nostalgia and simplicity of the OSR with some of the narrative flavour, focus and themes to be found in the Indie game scene. I think – perhaps foolishly – that I can meld these together.

The Value of a Gaming Book

The value of a gaming book is, in my opinion, threefold.

  1. The book as an object.
  2. The book as something to read.
  3. The book as game.

The book as an object is going to have more of an eye for design and look than usual and hopefully this will make it a pleasurable object to own whether in physical or PDF form. In meatspace it should be a weighty, nice feeling book thanks to its form factor. It should feel like something solid and powerful – which is what I hope it will be. It will also be beautiful thanks to Satine’s amazing art and she is very invested in and keen on the project which – in my experience – usually means good things!

I will be writing the book in a conversational tone. I want it to be fun to read. I want to pack it with ideas. I want it to be a toolkit and an inspiration. Most of all though, I want you to enjoy reading it. Rules texts can be dry and boring and dull because they have to convey information. I want to – somehow – go beyond that and make it a pleasure to read. I want you to come back to it time and again to read, not just to reference. I promise not to bloat it out with bad fic though!

A gaming book also needs to be practical and to produce good games. It needs to be reasonably easily referenced. So there’ll be references neatly collected in the back and I may even produce character/GM booklets as I did for Agents of SWING. They don’t seem to sell that well but I like ’em, so ner!

Implicit Versus Explicit Setting

A game like D&D, at least in its initial books, has an implicit setting. That is to say nothing is particularly graven in stone, there are no maps, no definitive world facts. You do, however, get an idea for how things are from the monster entries, the magic spells, the art and so on.

Conversely, something like Eclipse Phase is sold as much on its setting as its system. The world is revealed as much through the books as it is through play, new secrets and areas uncovered. Not exactly White-Wolf era metaplot – which is perhaps the apotheosis of such an approach, but a lot of games hinge on their setting.

Machinations has a setting, broadly, loosely, defined in my head but other than a few broad strokes I don’t intend to spell it out in the book. Rather – like D&D – it will be implicit. It will be hinted and steered by the art, the writing, the aliens, the weapons etc. There will be base assumptions in the setting (sexy, sleazy, swords & sci-fi) and its inspirations will be clear to see but an explicit setting isn’t really on the cards.

I think that will free people to pick, choose and create with a freer hand, without feeling bound to canon.

The universe is a huge place and there’s room for billions of adventures without bumping into each other!

*If ‘all in one place can be called organised.

Machinations: We Made It!

Not the planet orbiting Procyon in Known Space (see, I know my stuff when it comes to SF) but rather our funding goal.

Those things which can be fulfilled immediately, will be over the course of the next week.

I will also bore you all with a constant string of updates and discussions.

A few people asked if they could top up their contributions after the end of the fundraiser. Well, you’re always welcome to send me money but it will not contribute towards the stretch goal.

Check your inboxes for updates and be sure to reply promptly!

Some Clarifications


If you opted for a hardcopy you’re guaranteed the B&W version and at the higher donation levels will almost certainly get the full colour version. I cannot absolutely guarantee anything because shipping and printing costs are pretty damn up and down and all over the place. You’ll get the best quality we can afford to send.

For the signed book level that is only signed by me. Shipping here, then to the states, then on to get all the signatures is going to be a huge pain in the arse and not economically viable. I COULD stick signed cover-sheets in there signed by both of us but then it wouldn’t be the actual book.

I do however promise to write something witty as well as my name.

Similarly the GM screen will be included at the levels where affordable.

GM Screen

This will be getting sorted out at the US side and those of you getting them (again, the higher the donation level the more likely this is to be possible) will have them signed by Satine. These are pretty light – in theory – so we should be able to send them relatively cheaply.


If you opted for a level that got the book in PDF format you’ll get everything that we produce for the game as this starting project as a PDF.

You can get your Fistful of Metal and your free Postmortem Studios PDFs immediately, but please wait to be contacted by email.


If you got a level that gets you drawn, gets you content addition or gets you art, you’ll be contacted individually to sort that out.



grim AT postmort DOT demon DOT co DOT uk



You can keep an eye on how things develop here and I’ll also somewhat regularly poke at the fundraiser page to ensure people are up to date.

Machinations: 24 Hours to save the Earth!

Machinations is on its last 24 hour push.

The following rewards are provisional, but we’ll do our damnedest.

I’m afraid I can’t say for certain at what levels these will be available to people who aided, but definitely at the signed book level and possibly at the ‘Tea, Earl Grey, Hot’ level. Otherwise they’ll simply be available for purchase but I’ll give backers dibs on getting them at ‘mates rates’.

$4,000: ‘Tarot’ Deck:

A deck of cards from ‘in universe’ used for sooth-seeing, truth-telling and channelling psi. Doubling up as an inspiration deck for Games Masters.

(Image taken from The Science Tarot, which is pretty fucking goddamn awesome in its own right and clearly everyone should have one)

$5,000: Engraved Dice:

Six-sided dice engraved with an MotSP image in place of he one or the six. Maybe both. We haven’t decided yet.

$6000: Concept Album

OK, so not actually an album, but rather a square-format book containing 10 introductory adventures and styled after a 1970s prog-rock concept album. If we exceed 6k I may even find someone to lay down a couple of tracks on mp3 to go with it.

This is the LAST CHANCE to get in on this so tweet, facebook, blog, accost  people in the street but most of all:


Machinations: Last Push

We added a $40 for JUST the book and nothing else, going into the last day of fundraising. I bet you can’t get us to $5,000 you useless bastards!


Indiecon: Rad, as always

Back from Indiecon and recovering from the inevitable con-crud that has targeted my throat and guts. The bastard.

I ran games of ImagiNation, Irrepressible, PROJECT, Machinations of the Space Princess, Blood! and Agents of SWING. Various of those adventures will be polished up and published as time allows.

ImagiNation went brilliantly, everything I hoped it would be. The mixture of whimsy and darkness, creativity, gallows humour and imagination. Especially the game with the ‘dutch invaders’ playing it. I also had at least five people come up to me during the convention and thank me for writing a game centred around depression and mental illness and to also thank me for being open about my issues. I had a bit of a wobble at the start of the con so that was a great boost for me and made me feel that I hadn’t been wasting my time.

Irrepressible also went very well. People ‘got it’ and understood and appreciated the mechanic and the way the game reflected karma, ‘right action’ and the virtues of the pilgrims. All that and it was still wonderful, irreverent fun.

Machinations is what you’re probably all most interested in. The game went great though it also helped to identify a few rules and bits and pieces that need to be changed. Overall though I seem to have been able to project the setting into people’s minds and help them have fun without Satine’s art. WITH Satine’s art the game should produce multiple nerdgasms at a distance of up to fifty feet! I should probably charge extra for that. One thing people definitely seem to want are props (dice/cards) and rules for ongoing campaigns, carving out their own empires and businesses in a savage universe.

Sales were shite at the con, unfortunately. It seems that the recession is finally biting into gamers and the traditionally resilient hobby business. That’s a worry but we can hope that things will start to pick up from here and that Dragonmeet will go better – sales wise.

Machinations: Approaching the Tannhauser Gate

We’re nearly there,  just $10 short of what we need to hit the 3k mark and unlock the GM screen.

(Un)fortunately I’m away at IndieCon which means I’ll be leaving things in Satine’s lovely and capable hands and won’t be back until the 12th. This means I’m missing a big chunk of the crucial last week of fundraising!

So, please FUND US and tell other people to FUND US and Tweet and FB and blog and whatever else you think you can do to get us MOAR!

There would be a 4k stretch goal, but with me away we haven’t had time to really discuss it. Mooted options were an engraved dice set and a game-world version of a Tarot deck. One or t’other or both may yet show up if people throw more money our way and we’ll see what’s what when I get home!

Pip pip

Give Rowena Your Money

Rowena does a lot of work for me and is well worth hiring for your projects or if you want a present for yourself or someone you love for Xmas by illustrating their character 🙂

Rowena says:

I am looking to take on commissions to create artwork for RPG characters. I am offering two styles of artwork, painterly or comic book style, and I can create art to fit any budget.

Here is an example of one I created for Eric F Johansson based on his Blood Magus and here’s what he had to say about it, which can be found on my testimonials page

“I would like to thank you so much for helping me get these pictures into a reality, couldn’t have asked for more. Both pictures are gorgeous, just keep staring at them, noticing new details all the time. My friends jaws will drop the floor tomorrow when the session starts. Will save this one for special surprise when the fighting starts in the session. My DM also complimented your talents and said if he was going to start as a regular player in a steady campaign he would want unique character art like this for his character as well. You are really talented and if I need more pictures later I know who to turn to, thank you again. Truly happy and pleased.”
December 2, 2011
Eric Johansson

If you would like a quote please send me an email to or via my contact page with a short description of your character, what size you would be looking for and if you would like it in colour or black and white.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Kindest regards,