Game art is normally pretty… conventional. Figures, in action, intending to draw the reader/viewer into the action and to place their own character/self into the action. It’s meant to excite and engage but it does tend to mean that however talented the artist, unless they have a particularly distinctive style it can all look much of a muchness.
I don’t think it has to be that way, necessarily. Photographic art has never really worked, even in LARP books it just ends up looking faintly ridiculous, though Bradstreet did well enough with augmented and altered photo-tracing. Science Fiction art went through a period of abstract and pop art covers from the 60s to the 80s and a few efforts in gaming seem to have worked. My own Agents of SWING consciously mimicked pop art on the cover and used silhouettes throughout the interior for most of the art – which went over well.
There have been less… successful experiments as well. Perhaps most memorable was the utter disaster of ‘Barbiepunk’ (Cyberpunk 3.0) which whatever its problems and successes in its text, nobody could take seriously because of the dolls used to illustrate it. Pretty cool in their own light, as objects, they just didn’t really work as illustrations and led to a great deal of mockery and scorn. I thought it was pretty brave, but being brave isn’t always enough and sometimes it is a horrible mistake. Like pushing any limit, sometimes there’s pushback and the gaming audience can be quite conservative in a lot of ways. It’s a shame, but it’s something we all have to deal with – it’s why we see so many different takes on the standard fantasy tropes, and why they continue to do OK to well, while other genres have a harder struggle.
Michael Manning art.
Working with the fetish artist Michael Manning on Gor has been a bit of an eye opener. The art is conventional in some ways, but the style and approach is something new and different. It has a very distinctive style and was a conscious decision to go for black and white as a stylistic choice, rather than simply by the necessity of budget and printing costs. Its striking, minimalist in some ways, fascinatingly detailed in others and it’s going to make the Gor RPG books into something truly unique.
This experience has me thinking of other possibilities, more experimental art, but it’s hard to gauge what people’s reaction might be, what the right projects to experiment with might be.
One artist I recently found is Selkirk, whose art is a kind of grotesque, muscle-bound, physical extremism, like Peter Chung (Aeon Flux) on steroids. Its fetishistic, though not one I happen to share, but also kinetic, exuberant, different. Its the sort of thing I’d love to use for a barbarian fantasy type project, but would people go for it? I don’t know. It’d be a hard thing to find out without taking a big risk – or doing a crowdfunder. Would the art still be as effective if it were tone down a little? It’s hard – again – to know. Crowdfunding would take some of the risk out of it, but a failed crowdfunder still takes time, effort and energy to run and promote.
Another possibility is to take a cue from those pop-art and abstract covers from 3/4 of the way through last century. What would people make of abstract, geometric or mathematical art in game books? What if one were to illustrate in an Islamic/Arabic, non representational style using tiles, patterns or representations like tangrams? Would people be forgiving of that? Would they accept such an artistic style choice?
Hexagonal tiles could be interesting, given the love of hex-maps in gaming circles. Would that work, to echo that pattern throughout a game book? What about illustrating with words rather than pictures? Box-out sections the size of art inserts, but words, descriptions of characters, places or things.
Interesting things to think about, lots of possibilities to weigh up.
FATE is a very adaptable and useful system but it does lack some aspects (ha, ha) that limit its usefulness in some regards. As a pick-up-and-play system it’s accessibility is worth a great deal but for more experienced players or those who enjoy a bit more system granularity or grittiness it has a few issues.
Here’s some idle thoughts on how to possibly address some of these issues.
In order to increase granularity in the system, it’s necessary to increase its ‘range’. As standard, FATE rolls four FATE dice (or 2d6 one taking away from the other) giving a range of +/-4 (or 5) from your starting point. Doubling this range simply means doubling the amount of dice rolled, eight FATE dice or, if you prefer 2d10 (one taking away from the other) giving a range of +/-8 (or 9).
Difficulty on The Ladder would range from +15 to -4.
Granular games tend to be aiming for a more ‘realistic’ or ‘simulationist’ approach and as such bonuses and rules for FATE points and Aspects should remain the same, rather than being doubled. As such, Refresh, number of Stunts and so forth should also remain the same.
Characters have the usual Aspects and Stunts. They get double the normal number of skill points (40) and if you use the pyramid it would break down like this.
One +8 Skill.
Two +6 Skills.
Three +4 Skills.
Four +2 Skills.
Stress (Physical and Mental) starts at 4 with the usual number of consequences, though their value is doubled.
Each two points in Will of Physique adds one point of Stress to its appropriate Stress track, at 10 an additional Mild Consequence is added.
Shifts & Style Succeeding with style (five or more shifts) has all the usual benefits, but additionally can be used to smack enemies with temporary negative aspects or to do two points of damage (filling in the next lowest available stress box, if there is one, next highest otherwise).
Weapons & Gear Typical weapons range from 1-8, which allows for a greater range of effect. Where, for example, in normal FATE a dagger and a shortsword might both be rated at 2, with the extended range you can split this between 3 for the dagger and four for the shortsword. Since weapon Aspects aren’t as powerful, they should also be more standard and should get a free activation each combat scene, perhaps on index cards with little tick-boxes marked on them.
The controversial computer game Hatred was put up on Steam for Greenlight, gathered some thirteen thousand positive votes, into the top ten projects up there, then was unceremoniously pulled as ‘something we wouldn’t sell’. Then, to everyone’s surprise – given the fervid atmosphere around media of all sorts at the moment and the viciousness with which it is being fought – it was put back up. This was apparently due to the intervention of Gabe Newell himself.
So, what’s going on?
Panic, mostly it seems, followed by calmer heads and a rare showing of actual principles.
Steam is in a powerful position, dominating digital sales. Newell has talked about not wishing to become a bottleneck – though that ship has sailed in regard to adult games. That is, however, exactly the position Steam is in and creators are hostage to Steam’s good will. As has been said previously when a project was pulled from steam – albeit for different reasons – if you’re not on there your capability to make money is crippled.
This, then, is a rare and encouraging victory for free expression, going against the grain of recent developments and this weirdly conservative culture that seems to have sprung up amongst millennials.
What is Hatred then, exactly? It appears to be – and we don’t know all that much really at this point – a game where you step into the boots of a misanthropic spree killer and set out to kill as many people as possible. Distasteful to many, I should think, offensive to others, but why would that be sufficient reason to censor something by itself?
I don’t think that it is.
I think that in order to justify controlling or eliminating something you have to prove that it does harm. Not that it offends people, not that it blasphemes or violates the precepts of some ideology, not that it upsets or triggers someone, but actual, real harm. After all, consumption of media is optional and contrary to what some people believe, the overwhelming majority of people are perfectly capable of telling the difference between reality and fantasy.
Hatred is the apotheosis of the shooter, stripped of the paper thin justifications and plots, devoid of zombies, robots or aliens. As such, I think it’s something that needs to exist. What is it? What will people’s experience of it be? Why would anyone enjoy such a thing?
Catharsis, I think, will be a large part of it. Who hasn’t been stuck in traffic at some point in their lives and thumbed imaginary buttons to unleash a hail of machine-gun fire to clear the way? How popular are survival fantasies, zombie movies, transgressive comics like Crossed? Why? Hatred flips the ‘othering’ and makes the protagonist the ‘other’, the madman, the alien – at least in his mentality.
Fun, sounds terrible, how could one have fun slaughtering hundreds of people? ‘Fun’ is a variable term though. We ride rollercoasters for fun, by experiencing fright and exhilaration. We watch horror films for fun, by experiencing disgust, fright, terror. Through games, books, films, comics and any other media you can think of we experience emotions, ideas and points of view – but at arm’s length, a safe distance.
Games have become one of the most dominant art forms over the last forty years, truly leaping to the fore in the nineties, but despite being interactive and immersive there is no sign that they have had any causal effect on violent behaviour. In fact, violent crime of all kinds has dropped steeply over that period. Correlation is not causation, but after many, many studies failing to establish any causal link – despite great pressure to get that very result. If there were any link this is not what we would expect to see.
Might some people be affected by media? Yes, but these are people who already have issues. There’s been some evidence to suggest that a release can also be healthy, even for these people, a valve through which they can safely bleed off the pressure from their inner demons.
What’s an acceptable level of risk though?
In the UK, around 9,000 people die of alcohol related illness or misadventure each year.
Videogames, or media of any sort, have been directly linked to… barely any deaths over any number of years you care to mention – with the exception of explicit ideological or religious texts. Things we wouldn’t countenance banning.
That sort of puts the whole thing into perspective, doesn’t it?
“In time we hate that which we often fear.”
― William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra
The Ars Goetia is the summoning and binding of spirits, demons, to the service of the ritual magician, granting them powers and gifts beyond the ken of mortal men. Derived from the Lesser Key of Solomon the Ars Goetia describes the arts to summon and bind the seventy-two demons bound by that ancient sorcerer.
Beware though, for the slightest mistake in the process and you may be cursed, harmed, bound to the demon’s service yourself or dragged – screaming – down to hell.
This kind of magick and its practitioner, the Ritual Magician, may be more thematically suited than conventional ‘D&D’ style magic for a pseudo-medieval or renaissance era game.
The book includes…
The Ritual Magician – A new character class.
A brief lesson on ‘Olde English’ typography.
The summoning and binding process.
A d666 table for the consequences of crossing a demon.
The 72 demons of the Lesser Key of Solomon divided by rank, with the powers they can confer.
Sigils and insane illustrations from the Goetia and Dictionairre Infernale.
Compatible with OSR games, most especially Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
General skills are fine too, but some people prefer a bit more granularity, to be able to be really good at one thing and to suck at another, to specialise to better describe their characters or to round them out. An alternative to the simplistic, binary yes/no, skill is to provide points to spread between the different skills as the player sees fit.
Another option – given the hugely broad nature of the skills in 5e at present – is to allow for specialisations. These would be narrower ‘sub skills’ that you could take more than once, giving an extra +2 boost to the skill score only in that specialised sub area.
EG: Haluk of the Mountain Tribe doesn’t want to pump a lot of points into general Athletics, but it doesn’t make sense for a mountain tribesman not to be able to climb. So he puts the minimum of one point in, but makes it a specialisation. So he has Athletics (Climb Only) 3.
EG: Frater Dominus doesn’t care about heathen religions other than his own order’s opposite, evil, number. So he has Religion (Order of Light) 6, Religion (Order of Darkness) 6, despite only putting four points into each.
Consider also allowing Intelligence and Wisdom bonuses – and penalties – to affect the skill point pool, for a more skill-oriented game that encourages specialisations.
Barbarian: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level). Bard: Skill points 10, +5 each proficiency increase (or 1/1/1/2/1/1/1/2 etc). Cleric: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level). Druid: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level). Fighter: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level). Monk: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level). Paladin: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level). Ranger: Skill points 10, +5 each proficiency increase (or 1/1/1/2/1/1/1/2 etc). Rogue: Skill points 12, +6 each proficiency increase (or 1/2/1/2/1/2 etc). Sorcerer: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level). Warlock: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level). Wizard: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).
Standard D&D is not especially brutal, once you get past your first few levels. Hit Points are an abstraction that can drive more ‘simulationist’ players to distraction.
A first level Barbarian in standard rules starts with around 12+ hit points. There is not a single weapon that can possibly kill them in a single blow. This is great for heroics, but again – less good for grim and gritty settings and rules. The answer isn’t, necessarily, to reduce hit-points because this sort of range is about right, the answer may be to increase the potential, possible damage that a weapon might do – outside of the context of criticals.
Attacks would do a multiplier of themselves for damage, so a dagger would do 1 (1), 2 (4), 3 (9), 4 (16) damage with bonuses added onto the total at the end.
Multiple dice would roll individually. So a 2d6 maul rolling 3 & 4 on its two dice would do 9+16 = 25 damage, with armour being applied to each dice and the bonus to damage from strength etc being applied at the end – if any damage at all gets through.
To offset the deadliness and to further make the combat classes more effective, it’s necessary to alter the relationship with armour.
As well as making one harder to hit – deflecting attacks – armour now also reduces damage by the amount it increases AC over 10. Padded armour reduces damage by 1, while platemail reduces it by 8. Shields continue to boost AC as normal.
Inspiration points can also be used to completely evade an attack and take no damage.
Criticals are just automatic hits with no additional damage.
Tiny Creatures increase their AC by +2.
Small Creatures increase their AC by +1
Medium Creatures have no modifier.
Large Creatures reduce damage done to them by 1.
Huge Creatures reduce damage done to them by 2.
Gargantuan Creatures reduce damage done to them by 4.
Creatures with armour (over AC10) reduce damage by the amount it is over 10.
A barbarian stikes a Fomorian with his Battleaxe, he rolls a 5, for 25 damage, +2 for his strength for a total of 27.
A Fomorian is a huge creature, reducing that damage by 2 to 25 and has natural armour 14, reducing it by another 4 to 23, he’s down to 126 hit points.
Our level 8 Barbarian meanwhile has 103 hit points and hide armour, for 2 points of protection.
He gets hit for 3d8+6 (Greatclub)
70 hit points. Leaving him with 33.
He probably shouldn’t mess with giant monsters by himself.
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.
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.
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?
We really need something like these guys, or the CARPGA of yore.
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 (Hardcopy of GG card game included) from RPGNOW, Lulu or – there’s free stuff there too. Feel free to leave a review.
TheGamecrafter has hardcopies of Gamergate The Card Game and others by me.
As is now traditional, for 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 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! Also, if you’re a budding fantasy or SF artist in College/University or high school, please enter!
I’ve heard some, unconfirmed, reports of harassment/doxxing of OBS employees. While this is almost certainly, yet again, the actions of 3rd party trolls stirring up trouble on the off-chance anyone IS harassing them on my behalf, please don’t. Thank you.
My fellow gamers,
As you are probably now aware, OneBookShelf (which runs RPGNOW and the Drivethru* series of sites for digital and PoD delivery) have elected to ban my title ‘Gamergate the Card Game’ from their store. Their letter is attached below this statement, for ease of access for those who want to peruse it.
This is a disappointing turn of events. OBS has previously been an open house, with little or no interference in the operations of those who use their digital distribution. To see them take a censorious stance in this way simply shows how serious these problems and pressures have become for creative people in this – and many other industries.
The question one has to ask then, given the ban, is why this product? Why out of many products that various people or groups might consider questionable was this one banned? It contains no violence, no sex, while it alludes to people nobody is mentioned directly. It is not graphic. It does not encourage hate speech, discrimination or anything else of that ilk. So why?
There are titles depicting sex, prosecuting personal attacks against people, treating modern and ongoing wars as fodder for game scenarios. There are erotica books, there are adult comics. There are, or have been, titles that include many ‘horrible’ things – and quite right too. They should be there, they should be hosted, and they should be available to those who want them.
So why this one and why set a terrible precedent of censorship on a previously free and open platform? Despite their statement I don’t believe we have had a good answer.
While I am a free speech radical I don’t expect everyone to necessarily agree with my position that anything legal should be allowed. Still, the comparison with Ferguson, made more than once in this situation, is ridiculous hyperbole and demeaning to the institutional problems around policing in the US.
Gamergate is nothing like that issue.
Gamergate is, indeed, a current and emotionally fraught issue. This is all the more reason to have a bit of a laugh about the whole thing, in my humble opinion. Humour is cathartic and the situation would benefit from everyone taking themselves a little less seriously, which is why I took aim at both sides and exaggerated things to the point of ludicrousness in the game. Current affairs are always good fodder for satire, just ask The Daily Show or The Colbert Report (just don’t mention #CancelColbert).
Gamergate is not related to violence. Why anyone would say that, other than because they are woefully misinformed, I cannot say.
Gamergate does not have its basis is misogyny or bigotry, a great many women and minorities have spoken up in support of it and the issues it raises via #NotYourShield. Again, this would appear to be misinformation.
These smears are popular narratives about this consumer revolt, but that doesn’t make them true. Silencing alternative viewpoints, and thereby furthering these hateful smears and attempts to discredit a much needed consumer revolt is part of the problem.
While I have had to step back from the Gamergate community, I found it welcoming, caring, supportive and enthusiastic while I was involved. It gave me a great deal of hope for the future of free expression in geek media.
The truly concerning part here, for me, is the pressure coming from other publishers and from ‘brigading’ by activists. As much as it might be claimed this was not considered it should never have happened and it will have had an effect. As a creator myself it would never even occur to me to try and control the content someone else put into distribution, unless they were violating intellectual property, stealing art, breaking the law (and perhaps not then) or reselling someone else’s product; nor would I ever consider wielding threats (now confirmed by the OBS statement) to try and force someone’s hand.
Creative people cheering on, even demanding, censorship is simply mind boggling.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall, of Voltaire.
I welcome OBS’ stated commitment to free speech and I hope they live up to it, from now on.
There are a couple of related points I should like to address.
I have had to disconnect from Gamergate, not because I wanted to but because the pressures on me; personal, professional and health-wise had been becoming too great. I still believe in its causes of ethical journalism, freedom from censorship and freedom from overt politicisation of reviews (especially given the current power of Metacritic over video games).
I would encourage anyone and everyone to do their own research, perhaps starting at gamergate.me and to make up their own minds once they have all the facts.
There is always a lot of talk about ‘free expression’ and ‘censorship’ when things like this happen, especially around the interface between the free expression of the creator and the freedom of businesses to decline to provide services to those creators – or customers.
This is a minefield but it’s one we are increasingly going to have to deal with and to debate in a mature and productive fashion.
The narrow definition of censorship as some little man in a government building with a rubber-stamp loaded with red ink is simply not applicable any more. The main arms of communication in our wired-up world are privately owned and operated and there are dangerous ‘choke points’ that seriously threaten free expression (Amazon, PayPal, Banks, CC processors, in niche markets even companies like OBS).
Censorship doesn’t only come from government. The ACLU defines it thus:
“Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.”
The increasing pressure on both government and private groups to censor, typically prosecuted by small by committed groups of activists, is a threat to the liberties of every consumer and producer and it seems like we need to bolster the right to free expression, perhaps in law in a similar way to how we act as a guarantor to the rights of minority groups.
Net Neutrality is part of this, activist censorship another, government another and we now face serious threats to internet anonymity in the name of fighting trolls and abusers but at serious risk of placing people with good and genuine reasons for staying anonymous in peril.
Thank you for your attention.
Lastly, I don’t think people appreciate the level of threat that robots represent. I’m doing my part, are you?
We elected to ban a title from our marketplaces. Of the tens of thousands of titles that we carry, and after operating for 13 years, we have never before banned a title (other than for legal reasons). I hope those numbers make it clear this is not an action we have undertaken lightly, nor is it one we will undertake frequently, if ever again. Nonetheless, as this is the first time we’ve decided to ban a title, I thought a letter of explanation was in order.
The title in question is a card game whose theme is the Gamergate issue. The game attempted to present the issue in a satirical manner.
Normally, satirical works would be welcome on our marketplaces. However, we feel that there are situations where satire is inappropriate. For example, we do not think that a game released today that satirizes police killings of minorities in the USA would be appropriate. Regardless of how one feels about an issue like that, we feel that it is too current, too emotionally charged on both sides, and too related to real-world violence or death to make it an appropriate matter for satire.
Similarly, no matter how one feels about Gamergate, it is likewise too current, too emotionally frought, and too related to violence to be an appropriate subject for satire. Additionally, we considered that the violent element of the Gamergate issue has a basis in misogyny. For these reasons, we felt that this card game title was not welcome for sale on our site.
Note too that this is a card game, not a roleplaying game. Some may feel that if we were to ban an RPG from our marketplaces, that action would levy a significant economic penalty on that title since we have a long reach in the overall RPG market. This is not true of card games, where OneBookShelf is currently a tiny corner of the card game market. Our not carrying a card game should have minimal impact on that card game’s economic viability.
While we also considered the customer complaints on both sides of this issue (we are a business, after all, and we cannot ignore customer complaints and survive), these were not a major factor in our decision. Not surprisingly, given the gaming fanbase, many of the complaints we received were intelligently written and provided us with additional, thoughtful perspectives on the issue. Unfortunately, most customers were not in a position to review the content of the title itself and were therefore forced to be “judging a book by its cover” only.
Some publishers also complained about this title, and a few publishers let us know they would not be interested in continuing to work with us if we carried it on our store. We will not allow any publisher to dictate content policy onto any other publisher, explicitly or implicitly. If any publisher ever decides to discontinue business with us because our content policy errs to the side of being too open, rather than restrictive, then we will respect their decision to leave our marketplaces and wish them well. To be clear, no publishers’ comments had any bearing on our decision to discontinue selling this title.
Having now banned a title for the first time, we asked ourselves if we needed to establish any explicit policy for banning of future titles for reasons other than legality or production quality. Given that this is the first time such a thing has happened in 13 years, and given the difficulty of defining policies of this nature, we elected not to invest the time in creating a policy that would probably end up a poor guideline anyway. Our time is better spent getting back to retailing your titles to fans.
We carry a lot of titles on our marketplaces that some or all of the members of the OneBookShelf staff find morally distasteful (and we’re generally a pretty open-minded lot), but we find anything that smacks of censorship even more distasteful. We will continue to have a content policy that is more open than will give many of our publishers and customers comfort.