Categories
Old school RPG community Tabletop RPGs

Judges Guild can fuck right off

The current owner of Judges Guild, Robert Bledsaw II, doubled — hell, quadrupled — down on his antisemitic and bigoted statements. Tenkar’s Tavern has Bledsaw II’s post, which . . . well let’s just say it starts off with “My family crest attests to 3 European Crusades, and I regard that as a calling” and gets worse from there.

Fuck Judges Guild.

When the news about Bledsaw II first broke, I pulled the affiliate links to Judges Guild products that I had here on Yore but left up the many posts I’d written about using their older books. I love a lot of their output from the 1970s and ’80s, and I had a running series here on Yore where I used their old books to roll up castles, ruins, etc. on the fly — they were some of my favorite things I’d written here.

But now, after this reprehensible doubling-down? I pulled every post about Judges Guild products here, deleted every reference to them I could find (except these call-out pieces), and updated Hexmancer to remove pointers to their books.

Their older books don’t necessarily have anything to do with Bledsaw II, but I’m not giving the company as it stands now any promotion or goodwill of any kind. I hope they get rinsed right out of the RPG industry, and perhaps that someone else buys up their old IP.

I don’t platform or promote Nazis, bigots, racists, homphobes, or other bad actors, and I don’t want to waste your time reading about their stuff, either. Fuck ’em.

Categories
Old school RPG community Tabletop RPGs

Bigotry from Judges Guild and the endless treadmill of bad actors in the old-school RPG hobby

As a longtime fan of Judges Guild’s output from the 1970s and early 1980s (as evidenced by a string of posts here on Yore; they turned out some wild, creative stuff back in the day), I was dismayed to learn that the current owner, Robert (Bob) Bledsaw II, posts racist, Nazi, and antisemitic bullshit on Facebook.

Bob Bledsaw II needs to unequivocally apologize, make amends, and step down from his position as owner of the company. The new owner needs to denounce his remarks and take steps to assure the TTRPG hobby that this is not what Judges Guild stands for or represents.

Fuck Bledsaw II, and fuck bigots.

I’ve pulled all of the affiliate links I had here on Yore to Judges Guild products. I haven’t deleted my posts — yet — because I see no evidence that the original owner of the company, Bob Bledsaw, was a shitheel. But Judges Guild will never get another dime of my money until they turn this asshole out.

Mr. Toad’s wild fucking ride

Separately, I have to say that this exhausting treadmill of so-frequently-OSR or OSR-adjacent racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry is a big part of why I’ve more or less stopped blogging.

I’ve gotten rid of my entire Lamentations of the Flame Pricess collection. Scrubbed anything I ever wrote about Zak Sabbath. Stopped buying Frog God stuff (and now, Judges Guild). Blocked a parade of toxic asshats on any site where they appear. Stopped identifying as part of the OSR, and then participating in the scene at all. Done blog housekeeping to convert that category and associated tags to the more generic “old school.” Nuked connections to folks who still follow or promote the bad actors in the hobby. It never fucking ends.

I recognize that I have a headache and haven’t slept well in like a week and I’m fucking ornery, but here it is: In the past two years or so, the time I’ve spent removing or otherwise dealing with content related to the worst people in the TTRPG hobby exceeds the amount of time I’ve spent pleasurably blogging about gaming.

And every fucking time there’s a new revelation, what do you know? It’s like 99% likely to be in the OSR or OSR-adjacent corner of the hobby.

I’m not saying that everyone in the OSR is a Nazi or everyone who likes OSR-style gaming or books is a Nazi . . . but there is literally no other corner of the TTRPG hobby I’m aware of where so many visibly toxic assholes and hatemongers congregate.

I will now take my salty ass back to Twitter, where this post originated.

Categories
Old school RPG community Tabletop RPGs

It’s not about separating the art from the artist: It’s time to stop tolerating bad actors in the RPG community

In the wake of yesterday’s accusations of harassment, abuse, and sexual assault made by Mandy Morbid and others against game designer Zak S, it’s time to stop separating the art from the artist. I believe and stand with Mandy, Jennifer, and Hannah.

Zak S has been a bad actor in the RPG community for too long. It’s time to refuse to publish or promote his work, or to engage with him in the RPG community — and to do the same with other bad actors in our hobby.

The art/artist argument

I’ve often found that argument, that one should separate creative works from their creators, to be compelling. I’ve made it myself, and in the past I’ve made it about Zak S. (More on that in a moment.) For example, I love H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, but the dude was a virulent racist. He’s been dead for over 80 years, and in my judgment enjoying his work while denouncing its problematic aspects is fine: He doesn’t profit from that.

I’ve struggled with how to apply that to living artists, though. Some calls have been easy: When Orson Scott Card began using his fame to promote bigotry towards LGBTQIA+ people, no amount of past enjoyment of Ender’s Game would convince me to spend money on or recommend his work again.

Others have been more difficult, and for too long Zak S was in that category. Based on interactions I had with him on G+, and on how I watched him interacting with others, it didn’t take me long to figure out that he was an asshole. But where Card is a clear bad actor, Zak S just seemed like an asshole — and liking an asshole’s work didn’t strike me as being problematic. I bought Zak’s books, and I linked to and promoted his work because I found his work interesting.

In the past couple years, I stopped doing that. I saw too much evidence that he was toxic, like RPGPundit, and stopped buying his books or promoting his work. I made sure to block him in every community where I spent time, and thought that ignoring him would be enough.

Ignoring bad actors isn’t enough

But out of sight, out of mind is not enough.

It’s not enough to separate the art from the artist. Like I said up top, it’s time to stop publishing and promoting work by bad actors in the RPG hobby, and to refuse to engage with them in our community.

I’m taking what The Gauntlet said about Zak S and the issue of support, both past and present, to heart:

If you have supported or defended Zak S in the past, you need to step up. The Ken Hites and White Wolfs and LotFPs of the world need to take this opportunity to disavow Zak S.

Zak S already hadn’t gotten my money or support for some time, but I went back through my posts here on Yore and removed all references or links to his work. I also logged back into Gnome Stew to edit or remove my past posts linking to Zak’s work, only to find that the Stew had already proactively removed them (thank you!). Were G+ not dying in six weeks, I’d scrub those posts as well.

As of this writing, the r/osr subreddit has roundly denounced Zak S and banned him from posting. Well-known folks in the OSR community have spoken out about him, including Patrick Stuart, scrap princess, and Rob Monroe. A flood of folks who supported a recent Zak S Kickstarter have asked for refunds, or for their names to be removed from the backer list. The RPGnet thread about the accusations is full of folks who are mad as hell.

Update Feb. 12: Ken Hite has denounced Zak and donated his payment for work on Demon City to charity, and OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG/RPGNow!) has posted an official response to the situation on their blog. This includes blocking future products featuring Zak S and donating the company’s share of revenue from existing titles to charity. (There’s a longer explanation for why existing titles remain.)

Don’t waste money on shitbags

There are many, many, many designers, authors, artists, and other creative folks producing awesome stuff who aren’t bad actors and aren’t toxic to the RPG community. Those are the folks we should be supporting.

Categories
Bleakstone Old school Tabletop RPGs

YoreWiki

I spent a good chunk of today installing, configuring, and populating YoreWiki.

For now, YoreWiki is my info dumping ground for Bleakstone and other fantasy hexcrawl material. I realized that my false starts and brainstorming files and “master” documents were scattered across multiple folders and Yore draft posts, which made it impossible to find anything and exerted a measure of anti-creativity inertia that I found troubling.

My hope is that YoreWiki will give me an outlet to organize, interrelate, and add to my content for Bleakstone — ideally without feeling like work.

It’s already given me a chance to unearth, organize (in some cases!), and share a ton of stuff I’ve already created that was just gathering virtual dust and of no use to anyone — myself included. Now those ideas have a home.

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

Coins & Scrolls on fast kingdom mapping

This method for quickly mapping fantasy kingdoms over on Coins & Scrolls is really neat.

Start with a blank map, just coastlines. Add dots for major settlements, and color the hexes around them to identify the “core regions” of different counties/duchies. Then roll dice to expand those counties, determine undeveloped regions, and create enclaves.

The end result looks dandy, but — perhaps more importantly — this mapping methods looks like a lot of fun and seems like it would produce a gameable map.

Categories
Old school RPG community Tabletop RPGs

Hate speech has no place in gaming: Stuart Robertson’s OSR logo

Stuart Robertson is right the fuck on the money with this one: As the creator of the most widely used OSR logo, he is legally withdrawing the right to use it on any works containing hate speech (as defined by Canadian law).

The thread on Google+ where he made this announcement is epic. If you have as many toxic right-wing assholes blocked as I do it will be a gap-filled but highly entertaining read. Anything that pisses off bigots is a good thing; that it’s a principled stand backed up by Stuart’s apparently infinite patience is all the more impressive.

Hate speech has no place in gaming.

Categories
Old school Story games Tabletop RPGs

Dead Friend and Two OSR Dungeon Crawls

I’ve added a couple new books to my list of my favorite free & PWYW RPG products on DriveThruRPG (covering about 3% of the 7,500+ products available) that are both so good that I want to talk about them here.

The first is Dead Friend: A Game of Necromancy, by Lucian Kahn, which is a two-player RPG — one of my favorite types of game.[1] One of you plays a necromancer; the other plays the necromancer’s dead friend. It reminds me of Murderous Ghosts (which I love), and I can’t wait to try it.

In it, you place a ritual symbol in the center of the table, surround it with a ring of salt, move coins around, hum, make strange utterances — and try to pursue wildly opposed goals — like “bring your dead friend back to life” for the necromancer, and “kill your friend” for the dead. It’s a polished and fantastic-looking little game, too.

The other is John Battle’s Two OSR Dungeon Crawls, which provides what it says on the tin. Bland title aside, these are both fascinating dungeons. It would benefit from some editing and a nicer layout, but the content is delightful — so delightful that I dropped it right into my “I’d love to run these modules anytime” folder.

My favorite of the two is The Globe, which involves an enchanted snow globe, a tooth-stealing lich, a host of mummies, a truly terrifying variant of mummy rot, and some deeply creepy moments. It also includes something I’m always excited to see in any dungeon crawl: potentially campaign-shaking consequences based on how the PCs handle it.

[1] When I first started gaming, one GM and one player was the only way I played for a couple of years. In retrospect I don’t know why I didn’t try to link up the separate friends I gamed with, but the intimacy and tone of two-player gaming is so fantastic that it just never occurred to me.

Categories
Old school Swords & Wizardry Tabletop RPGs

Comparing Swords & Wizardry Core vs. Complete

Reading Rappan Athuk renewed my interest in checking out Swords & Wizardry, and it also made me curious about the differences between S&W Core and S&W Complete.[1] I searched for a simple summary of those differences and kept seeing variations on this: “Core is the 3 LBBs + Supplement I (Greyhawk); Complete is 3 LBBs + the classes, spells, monsters, treasure, and some additional rules from all supplements to the LBBs.

I wanted something a bit more definitive, and when I glanced through both books the classes jumped out at me as the only substantial difference — so I decided to do a quick side-by-side analysis. I compared the latest printing of both books, the 4th printing of Core and the 3rd printing of Complete.

If you’re new to S&W, or want to compare versions on your own, the game is free and you can grab almost every printing here (with thanks to Smoldering Wizard for collecting those links).

Quick and dirty

Here’s the TL;DR version of what I found:

  • Complete includes more classes
  • Complete includes one additional race
  • Combat in Complete alternates sides for movement/missiles and then again for melee/spells, while in Core each side does everything before the other side goes
  • PCs die at -1 in Complete vs. -[level] in Core
  • Complete includes rules for siege, aerial, and ship combat
  • Core and Complete include the same monsters, spells, and treasure (except for Complete having druid spells)

The additional classes are by far the largest difference, followed by the variations in combat and dying and the special combat rules that appear in Complete.

Marginally less quick and dirty

Here’s a more detailed look at the differences I found when comparing the two versions. I didn’t do a deep dive and compare monster stats or spell descriptions because that wasn’t what I needed at the moment — I needed a snapshot to tell me which edition I would prefer.

Classes

  • Core includes cleric, fighter, magic-user, and (optional) thief
  • Complete adds assassin, druid, monk, paladin, and ranger

Races

  • Complete adds half-elves

Combat

  • The first three steps (surprise, declare spells, initiative) and final step (end of round) of combat are the same, but the default approach to the middle steps differs (see below)
  • In addition to offering Holmes as an alternative combat sequence (which both do), Complete also offers Core’s approach and a third variant
  • In the Special Situations section, Complete notes a house rule about critical hits and fumbles, and also clarifies spellcasting in melee with a note about wands and staves
  • Under Damage and Death, dying is different:
    • In Core, 0 HP means unconscious and bleeding out 1 HP/round, with death at -[level]
    • In Complete, 0 is unconscious, -1 is dead, and bleeding out is noted as a house rule

Combat steps

Here’s a breakdown of the first bullet, the middle steps of combat. In Core, the middle steps are:

  • Initiative winner does everything (move, missiles, melee, spells)
  • Then initiative loser does everything
  • Then folks with held initiative go

In Complete, the steps are:

  • Initiative winners move or fire missiles, then initiative loser moves or fires missiles
  • Initiative winner makes melee attacks and their spells go off, then initiative loser does the same
  • Held initiative doesn’t exist

High-Level Adventuring

  • Complete includes a few additional details about constructing castles.

Magic

  • Complete adds Gate as a level 7 cleric spell
  • Complete includes druid spells (since it includes the druid!)

Designing the Adventure

  • There’s an additional dungeon example in Complete

Special Combat Rules

  • Complete includes siege, aerial, and ship combat in the Special Combat section (both include mass combat)

Monsters

I looked at the monster lists by challenge level, and wherever they varied I confirmed that both books do in fact include those monsters. In Complete, the variations are:

  • Dragons don’t appear in the Monsters by Challenge Rating lists (they do in Core)
  • CL 1 adds the lethal variation of giant centipedes
  • CL 2 adds lethal giant centipedes
  • CL 5 adds giant leeches
  • CL 9 subtracts giant fish
  • CL 10 subtracts baalroch demon, which becomes CL 13 (although its description says 17)
  • CL 13 subtracts dragon turtles, which become CL 12
  • CL 14-16 adds dragon turtles

There are alphabetization errors in both versions’ monster lists, so my guess is that dragons were an unintentional omission from Complete’s lists. The leech, centipede, turtle, and fish look like cases of Complete correcting omissions from the lists in Core (since both books have those monsters, and their CLs are identical). I’m not sure what to make of the baalroch demon: He’s CL 10 in Core, and appears at CL 10 on the list; in Complete, he’s CL 17 and appears under CL 13.

Hack to taste

S&W is designed to be hacked to suit one’s personal preferences, and if I were to sit down and run an S&W game right now I’d probably grab Complete and just eliminate all classes except the original three (cleric, fighter, and magic-user).

Complete already uses my preferred approach to combat and dying, and given that the rest is functionally identical I’d rather have the small amount of extra material (castle stuff, aerial combat, etc.) just in case it came up. Both versions share Matt Finch‘s excellent writing, a conversational tone, clean layout, and clear rules, and of course you can just as easily drop the bits of Complete you like into Core (and so on).

Having now spent quite a bit of time with different versions of S&W, I’ve found that I love the clarity and spark of the presentation in the 3rd printing of Complete — the 2017 version helmed by Stacy Dellorfano, with layout by Leigh Tuckman. Given that it was only a buck during the KS and the every other printing is available for free in PDF, I hope this one will eventually be available for free as well.

[1] S&W WhiteBox is a different animal from both Core and Complete in ways that are much easier to evaluate (all weapons do d6 damage, most monsters have one attack, flatter power curve, etc.), and in any case Rappan Athuk is written for S&W Complete; the easiest course being to run it with Complete, that’s what I wanted to look at.

Categories
Old school Swords & Wizardry Tabletop RPGs

The Frog God Swords & Wizardry Superbundle

While prowling around for a deal on Tome of Horrors Complete I stumbled across this PDF bundle on the Frog God website — the aptly named Superbundle for Swords & Wizardry. It’s broken into 3 tiers: $5, $13, and $25.

I love monster books, and in addition to ToHC this bundle includes two others that were also on my wishlist. Sticking to just the monster books, Tome of Horrors Complete ($25 tier) is normally a $30 PDF, Monstrosities ($13 tier) is normally $15, and Tome of Horrors 4 ($5 tier) is normally $25 — so that’s $70 of monstery goodness for $25.

And that’s not even taking into account the other stuff I’m also curious to check out, like the Borderland Provinces (all 4 included) and Hex Crawl Chronicles books (all 7 included), or the stuff that’s completely new to me. This bundle made my day — maybe it will make yours, too.

Here’s the breakdown:

$5 tier:

  • Quests of Doom 1
  • The Borderlands Provinces
  • Tome of Horrors 4
  • The Mother of All Encounter Tables
  • Rogues of Remballo
  • Adventures in the Borderlands

$13 tier (includes lower tier):

  • Monstrosities
  • Quests of Doom 3
  • The Borderland Provinces Gazetteer
  • The Borderland Provinces Players Guide
  • The Borderland Provinces Journey Generator
  • Strange Bedfellows

$25 tier (includes both lower tiers):

  • Digital Maps
  • Hex Crawl Chronicles 1-7
  • Chuck’s Dragons
  • Swords and Wizardry Card Decks
  • Tome of Horrors Complete
Categories
D&D OD&D Tabletop RPGs

Agreement, rough edges, and combat as sport vs. war

This post is a round-up of three things that crossed my path and grabbed my attention, all RPG-related.

Gygax on agreement

I found this fascinating 1975 Gary Gygax quote over on The Acaeum:

Dave and I disagree on how to handle any number of things, and both of our campaigns differ from the “rules” found in DandD. If the time ever comes when all aspects of fantasy are covered and the vast majority of its players agree on how the game should be played, DandD will have become staid and boring indeed. Sorry, but I don’t believe that there is anything desirable in having various campaigns playing similarly to one another. DandD is supposed to offer a challenge to the imagination and to do so in many ways. Perhaps the most important is in regard to what the probabilities of a given situation are. If players know what all of the monster parameters are, what can be expected in a given situation, exactly what will happen to them if they perform thus and so, most of the charm of the game is gone. Frankly, the reason I enjoy playing in Dave Arneson’s campaign is that I do not know his treatments of monsters and suchlike, so I must keep thinking and reasoning in order to “survive”. Now, for example, if I made a proclamation from on high which suited Mr. Johnstone, it would certainly be quite unacceptable to hundreds or even thousands of other players. My answer is, and has always been, if you don’t like the way I do it, change the bloody rules to suit yourself and your players. DandD enthusiasts are far too individualistic and imaginative a bunch to be in agreement, and I certainly refuse to play god for them — except as a referee in my own campaign where they jolly well better toe the mark.

Looking at the last 40-plus years, at all of what’s come after that quote D&D-wise, this quote is mindblowing. So many things that have become commonplace assumptions in many RPGs are gleefully and confidently disregarded in this paragraph. I love it.

1975 was still salad days for D&D — the era of OD&D, and of this quote (also Gygax) from the afterword to The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures (emphasis mine):

We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you?

I love that ethos as a GM and as a player. It’s directly at odds with the existence of supplements (and many other aspects of the RPG industry, including some of the books I publish) and other books I enjoy, though, so I’m also always torn about how it applies in practical terms. But as a foundation and a navigational aid, it’s one of the principles I like most about old-school RPGs and gaming in general.

Maliszewski on rough edges

I’ve spent quite a bit of time mulling over this excellent GROGNARDIA post. Back when I first read it, it didn’t sound like what I wanted out of gaming. Nowadays, I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want every session of my D&D campaign to come with guaranteed fun. That may seem odd, but it’s not. Most of us, I think, if we’re honest, understand that we like rough edges — we need rough edges. Something that’s too smooth, too formulaic, especially in the pursuit of entertainment, will wind up producing its antithesis.“

Looking back on my best gaming experiences, they often had rough edges — and maybe those were integral to making the overall experience richer. To get the alchemy that makes gaming so exciting, you have to accept that sometimes lead just stays lead, and not everything has to be perfect.

Combat as sport vs. combat as war

I remember seeing this thread about combat in different editions of D&D going around (and around) a while back and never clicking on it. But a year or so ago, when I finally read it, it changed my understanding of D&D. It articulates things I’d previously thought about in a nebulous way, but could never have put into words this clearly.

Here’s a few excerpts from the original post by Daztur:

Without quite realizing it, people are having the exact same debate that constantly flares up on MMORPG blogs about PvP: should combat resemble sport (as in World of Tanks PvP or arena combat in any game) or should it resemble war (as in Eve PvP or open world combat in any game). […]

I think that these same differences hold true in D&D, let me give you an example of a specific situation to illustrate the differences: the PCs want to kill some giant bees and take their honey because magic bee honey is worth a lot of money. Different groups approach the problem in different ways.

Combat as Sport: the PCs approach the bees and engage them in combat using the terrain to their advantage, using their abilities intelligently and having good teamwork. The fighter chooses the right position to be able to cleave into the bees while staying outside the radius of the wizard’s area effect spell, the cleric keeps the wizard from going down to bee venom and the rogue sneaks up and kills the bee queen. These good tactics lead to the PCs prevailing against the bees and getting the honey. The DM congratulates them on a well-fought fight.

Combat as War: the PCs approach the bees but there’s BEES EVERYWHERE! GIANT BEES! With nasty poison saves! The PCs run for their lives since they don’t stand a chance against the bees in a fair fight. But the bees are too fast! So the party Wizard uses magic to set part of the forest on fire in order to provide enough smoke (bees hate smoke, right?) to cover their escape. Then the PCs regroup and swear bloody vengeance against the damn bees. They think about just burning everything as usual, but decide that that might destroy the value of the honey. So they make a plan: the bulk of the party will hide out in trees at the edge of the bee’s territory and set up piles of oil soaked brush to light if the bees some after them and some buckets of mud. Meanwhile, the party monk will put on a couple layers of clothing, go to the owl bear den and throw rocks at it until it chases him. He’ll then run, owl bear chasing him, back to where the party is waiting where they’ll dump fresh mud on him (thick mud on thick clothes keeps bees off, right?) and the cleric will cast an anti-poison spell on him. As soon as the owl bear engages the bees (bears love honey right?) the monk will run like hell out of the area. Hopefully the owl bear and the bees will kill each other or the owl bear will flee and lead the bees away from their nest, leaving the PCs able to easily mop up any remaining bees, take the honey and get the hell out of there. They declare that nothing could possibly go wrong as the DM grins ghoulishly.

So much of what I enjoy about older editions of D&D and dislike about 3.x and 4e, and what I enjoy about sandboxes, is neatly encapsulated in the sport vs. war analogy. I’ve returned to it many times over the past few months, and I wanted to make sure it was archived here on Yore for future reference.