Category Archives: Role-Playing Games

DriveThru RPG and the Death of Creativity; or Why Censorship is Bad

This is a long one. As such, I don’t expect it will get read by anyone born this millennium; so for those of short attention span: TLDR: I hate double standards.

Although I can’t believe anyone who reads this blog wouldn’t know this already, DriveThruRPG is one of several sites (through the parent company of OneBookShelf, Inc., or OBS) that make up a huge archive of downloadable and print-on-demand RPGs, miniature games and game aids. In addition to hosting the DM’s Guild (for all things Dungeons & Dragons) the Storyteller Vault (for all World of Darkness stuff), and Wargames Vault (for miniature wargames), DriveThruRPG allows anyone to create, market, publish and sell their own games, and/or in many cases (such as through the Miskatonic Repository) create content for established games, subject to licensing restrictions. Many, many independent creators use DTRPG to market and sell their work, and many of the most creative people in the industry rely on it to make a living. I shop there quite often.

Without question, OBS has a monopoly on electronic RPG sales and distribution. This makes them extremely powerful. Last week, DriveThruRPG has released some new product standards and publisher conduct requirements, and boy, do they suck. These new standards and practices will severely curtail creativity and will almost certainly result in many creators having their content edited, restricted or outright de-platformed based upon vague requirements put in place specifically to limit the use of the site by creators DTRPG doesn’t like. Take a look:

Neither your Work, description, nor any promotional material, including blog posts or press releases, may contain racist, homophobic, discriminatory, or other repugnant views; overt political agendas or views; depictions or descriptions of criminal violence against children; rape or other acts of criminal perversion; or other obscene material without the express written permission of OneBookShelf.

You may be thinking: sounds good! I dislike all those things! They have no place in our hobby! Right? Sure, on the surface. But think about it. Those are some pretty fucking vague product standards. What are “other repugnant views?” What is “other obscene material?” What is the definition of obscene and/or repugnant, and most of all, who decides what meets this criteria?

What if I want to make a US Civil War RPG, or even an adventure for any game that is set during the Civil War? How do I avoid “overt political agendas or views” in that work? How about racism? What about if I set it during the civil rights era? Or the Crusades? I would think racism would be a topic that would figure prominently in those settings. Can my pulp adventure have a Nazi villain? If a gay NPC gets murdered in my Call of Cthulhu investigation, is that homophobic? What about if a kid gets bullied in one of my games? Is that criminal violence against children? Apparently, I need written permission from OBS to even consider including any of these if I hope to sell on their site (which, again, is the only game in town); and I can’t even talk about it on MY OWN FUCKING BLOG.

It gets better:

Hostile Marketing: Our policy regarding potentially offensive content (see Product Standards Guidelines) reported by customers is to deactivate such titles while they are being reviewed. Publishers who deliberately court controversy by making public declarations or accusations of censorship resulting from this process in order to draw attention to their products will be considered to use hostile marketing. 

Publishers who direct or support public accusations of impropriety or censorship toward OneBookShelf when their controversial titles are rejected or removed from our marketplace will also be considered to use hostile marketing. 

This behavior will not be tolerated. We have adopted a strict one-warning policy for those who engage in hostile marketing: The first incident will prompt a warning, and after a second incident, their accounts will be removed from our site permanently and immediately.

In other words, if DTRPG pulls your stuff for review after “reports by customers”, you can’t complain about it publicly. If DTRPG bans your stuff, you can’t tell anyone about it or bitch that it’s unfair, because doing so might draw increased interest to your product, and DTRPG doesn’t want that because they think it’s bad and they don’t want you to sell it. If you think DTRPG’s policies about censorship and their arbitrary enforcement and definition of same are unfair, shut the fuck up and take it; because if you talk about it on DTRPG or anywhere else, like on your personal blog, YouTube channel or Facebook page, they’ll warn you once and then you’re out on your ass. You are officially de-platformed.

Let’s apply an example with DTRPG’s new guidelines in mind. DTRPG makes mention of “potentially offensive content reported by customers”. Let’s say I write an adventure that someone doesn’t like because it contains something they find offensive. Or, better yet: let’s say I write an adventure, and someone who doesn’t like ME (hard to believe, right?) for whatever reason (maybe I fucked their mom) finds out about it. They complain to DTRPG and say my adventure contains “repugnant views”; so DTRPG pulls my adventure for review.

Here’s what happens next: While DTRPG is reviewing my product for undefined “repugnant views”, it’s not available on the site, and it’s not getting sold. If this is in the first week of release, this probably has a catastrophic effect on my profits (most products on DTRPG sell most during their first week of release, when they’re still considered “new”), regardless of whether or not DTRPG eventually decides that it contains “repugnant views” or not. So, that sourcebook or adventure or game I spent the last 6 months or two years or decade writing might turn into wasted time and no money.

DTRPG supposedly reviews it. I have looked, but I can’t find anything anywhere about how long this takes or whether they even have to look it over in a timely manner; so I guess it takes as long as it takes. In the meantime, I can’t complain publicly about how my product was pulled or publicly question why it was pulled. I can’t protest that I’m being targeted or that DTRPG is censoring my content. I can’t even use the fact that it was pulled or rejected as a mark of infamy (i.e. “Banned from DTRPG!”; bad publicity is still publicity) to drive sales elsewhere (even if I’m selling it ON MY OWN SITE). I have to shut the fuck up and take it, or risk being de-platformed forever from the only real market in town.

Quick reminder: this decision is based on feedback as “reported by customers.” Well, let’s imagine for a moment that people are assholes, and that they do asshole things like abuse social media to review-bomb a product and/or service because they dislike the person who owns it or who is responsible for its creation. Never heard of this? Go visit Yelp and take a look around for a few minutes. I’ll wait.

These policies were allegedly created in response to a creator named Venger Satanis, who apparently espouses some right-wing stuff in his work (like anti-abortion views) and supposedly often complains about DTRPG censorship as a way to promote his material (or as DTRPG calls it, engages in “hostile marketing”). Despite him having some degree of fame in the hobby community (certainly more than what little fame I have), I am not familiar with Venger Satanis, nor do I give the smallest shit about his viewpoint on anything; but the brass at OBS seems to lean pretty far left, and thus these “anti-repugnant” policies have supposedly been enacted due, at least in part, to his purported chicanery.

Regardless, this is censorship, plain and simple; and whether Venger Satanis is guilty of what they claim or not, it affects more than just him. It affects every creator (though not equally, see below); but it’s aimed squarely at “problem” creators (like Venger Satanis) and people who write what they want, who don’t feel like they need to hold your hand if you’re an adult and who defend the right of others to do the same; guys like James Edward Raggi IV (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) and “Grim Jim” Desborough (PostMortem Studios), to name but two. Both of these guys recently and immediately took a public stand against these policies, both have a lot to lose by doing so (since criticizing DTRPG publicly is now against the rules), and both have my support and admiration (whatever that’s worth) for standing up and saying that this is bullshit, even at the risk of being excluded entirely from the DTRPG market.

Book-banning and limiting free speech has traditionally been the domain of right-wing, often evangelical assholes (at least for most of my life), but the pendulum has well and truly swung. How about that double standard? Here’s an example that’s getting a lot of traction at the moment. Thirsty Sword Lesbians is a newish game published by Evil Hat Games (creators of Blades in the Dark) about thirsty sword lesbians; and they unequivocally and unapologetically state in their book that there is no such thing as an apolitical game. I certainly agree. All games push an agenda to some extent. It sure seems like the folks at Black Hat are promoting overt political views through this game, and not the conservative, evangelical kind. But it seems they don’t have anything to fear from OBS. No one is censoring Thirsty Sword Lesbians. Why the fuck not? OBS’s new standards state clearly that any work must be free from overt political beliefs or views, and this game isn’t hiding its agenda at all. What would they say if OBS told them they COULDN’T sell Thirsty Sword Lesbians on DTRPG? I’m betting they wouldn’t be happy, and they’d likely rail against the censorship. Guess some overt political views are ok, though. Since OBS’s policy is so fucking vague, make sure to ask their permission first to make sure you hold the right ones.

Evil Hat Games goes on to say that if you don’t like their politics, don’t buy their games. Once again, I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. This is exactly how I would handle material made by creators who espouse beliefs I find repugnant, or people I can’t abide. I won’t support them by turning my money into their money. But I am not in favor of censoring them–that’s someone else deciding for me.

To be clear, I’m not calling for anyone to censor Thirsty Sword Lesbians. This is not an indictment or criticism of that particular game (I’ve never played it, so how can I criticize it?) or its creators, or their agenda. I won’t buy that game (or games like Monster Hearts, Tales of Equestria or Mouse Guard) because I have zero interest in playing it; not because I disagree with Evil Hat’s political views. I have nothing against lesbians, be they of the thirsty sword variety or otherwise, but neither am I interested in roleplaying a swashbuckling lesbian. I don’t disagree with Evil Hat’s political views, I disagree with OBS’s selective enforcement of their own rules to promote a one-sided agenda and exclude creators who may not agree with it.

I am all for the creation and development of independent and small press games. I think it’s a good thing that diversity, inclusion and BiPOC and LGBTQ issues (and players) are enjoying more and better representation in our shared hobby. It’s long overdue; and I should know, because I’m fucking old; but even if I disagreed with the political views of the game’s creators (which, one again, I don’t), it doesn’t mean I think the game should be censored. Who the fuck am I to say that?

Here’s what I think should be censored: anything defined as illegal; and anything that spreads misinformation that is a clear danger to society, like saying that bleach injections are a good way to fight COVID and not an absolutely certain way to kill yourself. That’s clear. That’s not vague or arbitrary. That consideration should go both ways; but that overt double standard is there, and it is hypocritical, as all double standards are. (Certain people have been trying to run Lamentations of the Flame Princess out of business for years, using actual hostile marketing, not that bullshit DTRPG defines as hostile marketing; but that’s another story that you can look up, if you want.)

Like I said, I don’t know Venger Satanis or his work; but if he’s really that far to the right in his views I likely have nothing in common with him other than the fact that we both play games. Just because I’m liberal-minded doesn’t mean I think only those of like mind should have the right to publish creative works that must reflect similar views; and just because DTRPG seems to lean the same way I do doesn’t make what they’re doing right. Censorship is the death of creativity, and arbitrary censorship is the nail in the coffin; which is something I said in a recent YouTube comment and something I firmly believe.

Would saying these things get me banned over at DTRPG? Maybe so, because someone will be offended that, although I’m supportive of “their” cause, I’m not supportive enough. Yeah, I consider myself pretty liberal; but there are fucking limits. Just because all orcs are evil in my D&D game doesn’t mean I’m a racist. That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. Why? Because, at the risk of offending orcs everywhere, orcs don’t actually exist. I don’t equate fictional monsters with real-life racial groups, because THAT would be racist. Just because I would rather play Lamentations of the Flame Princess than Monster Hearts doesn’t make me anti-queer; it means I like OSR games and don’t particularly like Powered by the Apocalypse games; and that I’d rather play a gritty character like Solomon Kane than play an angst-ridden, sexually-conflicted teenager who has no control over who or what turns him on (and no, that’s not an ignorant stereotype of queer people, that’s an actual fucking game mechanic in Monster Hearts). Just because I don’t find men (other than Roger) sexually attractive does not make me homophobic, it makes me (mostly) heterosexual.

I lean pretty far to the left, sure; but everything is so polarized nowadays, you are the enemy unless you are completely on-board with someone’s viewpoint, regardless of any other common ground you may share. Example: after I posted this, a hobbyist whose work I (still) greatly admire sent me an immediate email in response. He said if I actually believe that stuff really happened as it was shown on TV, he couldn’t help me. He also said that because of my views he would never visit my blog again, despite, up until then, finding my blog entertaining and enjoying my work.

Naturally, I was devastated and cried for weeks. (Not really.) In truth, I got annoyed (it doesn’t take much) and thought: go fuck yourself, you pompous, patronizing asshole. I never asked for your help. Yes, I believe it really happened as it was shown on TV, because I have eyes. A year and a half later we’re finally having hearings about it and it was way worse than most people thought. Of course, you likely watch nothing but Fox News; so you probably don’t even know there are hearings going on. Pay attention instead to the slow death of sports due to transgender athletes and rail against the injustice of it all, because that’s the really important stuff. (And yes, because someone out there will be offended because they think that I think that transgender athletes are more important than the death of Democracy, that last sentence was fucking sarcasm.)

Sorry. Got off on a bit of a tangent there. That’s been simmering for a while. Of course, that guy doesn’t come here anymore, so he won’t see it. (Right.)

Anyway…folks may say that DTRPG is not a guaranteed free-speech forum, it’s a private company, and they can do whatever they want. They’re right. Just like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby can (and do) support anti-LGBTQ legislation, as is their right. If you don’t like their politics (I sure don’t), don’t give them your money. There are other places to buy a fucking chicken sandwich and a box of crayons. In this case, though, OBS is pretty much the only game in town if you want electronic distribution for your gaming product, or if you want to buy digital RPG content. There’s no significant competitor, and they are a site whose entire business model is based upon soliciting the creativity of gamers and game designers. Now they’re saying “feel free to create, but only create what we’re ok with. We won’t concretely define what that is, so ask us first to make sure it’s ok. Make sure you don’t offend us, and God forbid you complain about us anywhere.”

They can do that, because they’re a private company. But they’re also pretty much a monopoly. They ARE the market for electronic and community-created gaming content. If you want to sell your stuff successfully, you’re gonna have to deal with them, and kiss the fucking ring.

That’s kind of bullshit.

UPDATE: So, it’s already starting. Miguel Ribeiro, a talented game creator and reviewer from Portugal and co-host of The Red Room YouTube channel has had one of his products removed from DTRPG already, because it received ONE complaint “from a customer”. Someone doesn’t like the title and/or content of his game; but they had to really go looking for it to find it in the first place, as it’s labeled as adult content already. More likely, they don’t like Miguel, as he’s a pretty opinionated guy who…surprise!…doesn’t tow the line.

He has posted this video about the DTRPG situation, and he’s effectively breaking their rules by talking about it at all. Nonetheless, he has my wholehearted support for doing so. Fair warning: Miguel may be a gifted and prolific game designer; but he needs to reign it in as a broadcaster. He has the SUPREMELY ANNOYING habit of interrupting and talking over his co-host all the time. Don’t let his message get lost.

Half-Elf Ranger

For my Character of the Month and for Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge on Instagram, I decided to do this half-elven ranger, sculpted by Dennis Mize for the Ral Partha AD&D Adventurers collection back in 1989.

Another old-school, metal miniature from yesteryear that’s been sitting in my pile of shame without a drop of paint on him since the day he was purchased.

I’m really happy with the way he came out, and I’m glad I chose yellow as the prominent color. I hate painting yellow, but for some reason I thought it would look good.

True to form, I waited until the last possible day to finish him up, but that still counts!

This month has been fun. Make sure to stop by Carrion Crow’s Buffet for the Forgotten Heroes blogroll and check out everyone’s fantastic submissions. Next month here at Dead Dick’s Tavern starts with a major gripe session, followed by more pop culture miniatures, another character of the month, and…oh, yeah…a little thing called the Season of Scenery, hosted by Mr. Star Wars himself: Dave Stone! This year, I have decided to merge both the Season of Scenery challenge and my own Year of Pop Culture and work on something that will satisfy both.

Character Studies: Rhin Valim (Star Trek Adventures) Part 2

The backstory for Lieutenant Junior Grade Rhin Valim, Starfleet Security Division can be found here. What follows is an explanation of his Attributes and Disciplines, his Talents, Values and Focuses: all the things that come into play quite a lot in Star Trek Adventures. Rather than get into the nitty-gritty of how these things work mechanically, I’ll just give a broad description of each and how it relates to his character; in other words, why I chose them and why I think they makes sense for this character.

Attributes and Disciplines

Attributes have a score range of 7-12, while Disciplines have a range of 1-5. Rhin Valim’s highest Attribute is Fitness at 12 (he’s in spectacular shape), and his highest Discipline is Security at 5 (not surprising, he’s been fighting all his life). His second highest Attribute is Daring at 11 (He’s used to taking risks) and his next highest Discipline is Engineering at 3 (he’s more than competent). His remaining Attributes (Control, Insight, Presence and Reason) and Disciplines (Command, Conn, Science and Medicine) are fairly average.

Attributes and Disciplines are used in combination with each other to attempt tasks. Rhin is a very physical character with a good knowledge of both combat and engineering.

Focuses

These are the things Rhin is really good at: his particular set of skills, if you like. He has a better chance of succeeding at these tasks and of achieving better results than most people. Rhin’s focuses are: Small Unit Tactics, Infiltration, Espionage, Hand to Hand Combat, Hand Phasers and Hazard Awareness. All of these focuses fit a character who grew to adulthood in the Bajoran resistance and spent most of his life waging guerilla warfare.

Talents

These are traits that give Rhin bonuses in certain situations. Once again, these are primarily a result of his work in the Bajoran resistance.

Constantly Watching: Rhin is very good at seeing threats. He’s pretty tough to ambush or blindside.

Pack Tactics: Rhin knows how to pile on when he needs to. Other characters benefit more than they normally would if Rhin assists them during combat.

Crisis Management: He can give commands in combat situations, even if he isn’t in command. This isn’t “official” command status; it’s just that he is the kind of guy who people listen to when things go south.

Fire at Will: Usually, it’s difficult to fire with accuracy the more times you shoot, but Rhin doesn’t suffer from that. Rhin is used to laying down fire.

Values

Finally, these are the things that Rhin thinks are important: his ideals and aspirations. In game terms, you can invoke (or challenge) a value in order to gain big bonuses; so when your values come into play, it’s a big deal.

For example: one of Captain Kirk’s values is “I don’t believe in a no-win situation.” People familiar with Kirk would agree he’s not the kind of guy who gives up, even in the face of overwhelming odds. When faced with a seemingly no-win situation, Kirk’s player could invoke this value to get a big bonus on his intended action. It also tells us a bit about Captain Kirk, so anyone could use this value to guide their roleplay of the character.

Rhin Valim’s values are:

Resistance Fighter: The Bajoran resistance was hardly a well-equipped force. Rhin is used to making do with whatever is available, working with what you have, not with what you wish you had. It’s great to have the right tool for the job, but sometimes you need to use a rock because you don’t have a hammer. Starfleet has all the hammers anyone could ever need. Rhin’s still not used to that.

“Put faith in yourself. It’s the only thing worth believing in.” Rhin doesn’t put faith in a higher power or the promises of politicians, because he’s seen what those amount to: nothing. If you don’t do it yourself, it won’t get done. Don’t trust anyone or anything to act in your best interests. Only you can do that.

“No one gets left behind.” This one is pretty self-explanatory. Rhin will go out of his way and risk life and limb for his fellow soldiers, even if he doesn’t particularly like them. As much as possible, the wounded get evacuated, bodies get recovered and identified, and most of all, prisoners get rescued. Otherwise, what are you really fighting for?

“Improvise. Overcome. Adapt. Or die.” Again, pretty self-explanatory. Don’t stick to a plan if it isn’t working. There’s nothing noble about getting killed because you were too stupid to zig when someone commanded you to zag. This value is probably why Rhin hasn’t advanced much in rank; he’s not afraid to buck the chain of command if it means saving lives, including his own.

As stated above, you can also challenge a value if it’s dramatically appropriate, and if successful, you can get big results just as if you had invoked it. For example, let’s say Rhin was in a situation where he was faced with trusting someone he didn’t know. Normally, because of his “put faith in yourself” value, he wouldn’t be able to do that easily, and he’d have to fend for himself. But what if I challenge it instead of invoking it? Rhin takes the chance and gets the bonus, but then I would have to cross out that value and choose a new one. People change.

Sadly, I never got to play this character. Maybe one day I will. I think he could be interesting, as he clearly lacks the mindset for Starfleet; but could be an asset to the right crew. He’s a lot like Major Kira Nerys at the beginning of Deep Space Nine, only Kira had her faith in the Prophets to guide her decisions. Rhin doesn’t. It would be fun to see how he reacts to serving alongside someone similar.

Character Studies: Rhin Valim (Star Trek Adventures) Part 1

This is a character I created for an online game of Star Trek Adventures. The game never ended up happening; but I thought I’d share him here anyway. In this first post, I’ll detail the character’s back story. In the next post, I’ll discuss a bit about his Atributes, Disciplines, Talents, Values and Focuses; all of which play an important part in Star Trek Adventures.

Rhin Valim

Rhin Valim was born to artisan parents in Kendra Province on Bajor. His mother was a potter, his father a landscape architect. Perhaps Rhin Valim could have been talented in one or the other, but he never got the chance. When he was four, the Cardassians came to Bajor. Once your planet is occupied and your family is sent to a labor camp, pottery and flowers seem a lot less important.

Unlike most Bajorans, Rhin Valim is not a man of faith. He believes the Prophets, if they even exist, stopped caring about Bajor long ago. For his part, Rhin stopped caring about the Prophets when he was ten. By then, he was an orphan; and not a single prayer or appeal to the Prophets had ever done him or anyone else he knew any good. Now that their supposed “Emissary” is a Starfleet Commander in charge of a former Cardassian labor camp/mining station, he can’t understand why no other Bajorans can see the absurdity of their entire religion. The Prophets never did a damn thing for Bajor, certainly not in recent history.

Who actually did something for Bajor? He did. Rhin Valim, and those like him in the Bajoran Resistance. The Resistance is who liberated Bajor, one dead Cardassian at a time; not the Vedeks, or the Kai, or the Prophets. At least some of the Vedeks were Resistance fighters. The Prophets were nowhere to be found.

Once the Cardassians withdrew, Rhin was dismayed to see the various factions of the provisional government quickly degenerate into a disorganized mess, praising the Prophets for their liberation while securing their own power bases. If it weren’t for the Federation, the Cardassians never would have left; and Rhin would still be avenging every Bajoran who was beaten, abused, murdered or worked to death in a filthy camp by a Cardassian overseer. Rhin long ago lost count of how many Cardassians he has personally killed.

It’s a large number, and he doesn’t regret a single one.

Like all Bajorans who weren’t collaborators, Rhin is grateful for the Federation’s help in ending the occupation. But he knows the Federation had a vested interest in keeping the Cardassians off of Bajor; and since the discovery of the wormhole, that determination seems to have increased. Rhin Valim joined Starfleet because he couldn’t stomach working for the Bajoran Provisional Government, not out of love for Starfleet. For now, Starfleet’s interests align with his; but he is no career soldier. He has no interest in rising through the ranks, and little use for exploration and discovery when his home world is still very much under Cardassian threat.

Because of the skills he learned in the D’arana Resistance Cell, Rhin Valim was best suited to Security Division. Rhin already knew how to fire a phaser and check an ID; and he knew how to hit someone and make it hurt. His instructors at the Academy were impressed.

Unbeknownst to them, though, he also knew how to defeat security systems, jury-rig explosives, extract information from those unwilling to impart it, plan and execute an ambush so that not a single target got out alive, blend into the surrounding terrain and/or population to escape detection, sabotage a power generator, blackmail an asset, infiltrate a high-security outpost, and silently and effectively murder a Cardassian Gul in his bed while his wife slept peacefully beside him.

Skills not taught at Starfleet Academy, but learned at great cost in the Bajoran Resistance.

Rhin Valim is a quiet man with few friends, not because he is difficult to get along with; but because he is extremely focused on survival, even now. He knows how quickly things can change for the worse. Although not obvious, he constantly scans his environment for threats and takes the measure of his companions early and often, taking nothing for granted, not even food and basic necessities, things that should not be a concern for a member of Starfleet. At Lieutenant Jr. Grade, he is a low-ranking officer; but despite this he likely has a better understanding of the capabilities of the individuals on his team than they have of themselves. Rhin’s opinions on the Prophets of Bajor are not popular among his own people and he does not go out of his way to share them; but neither does he wear the traditional earring symbolic of the Bajoran faith. Likewise, despite the inclusivity that Starfleet tries to instill in its recruits, Rhin Valim hates Cardassians. All Cardassians, without exception.

He tries to keep that to himself, too.

Adventuring Cleric

For my Character of the Month, I decided to do a cleric. This is an old TSR miniature from the “Heroes” set, released in 1983.

I have made my derision plain regarding this era of D&D miniatures. There’s very little to like. Most of the TSR miniatures look stupid; scale is an afterthought; and they are made of a strange metal that does its damndest to repel paint. In short, they suck.

The Heroes set is the best of the TSR D&D boxed sets, though. Most of the miniatures in the set manage to not look completely like ass. I actually like this cleric, which is why I chose to paint him.

I’m not at all sure what that thing he’s holding is supposed to be, so I painted it like a candle or a lamp. Could be a weird holy symbol…who knows?

Back, foul thing!

Anyway, that’s for Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge over on Instagram. My next post will be the rest of my Monster May(hem) efforts, as well as a round up of everyone else who contributed!

Character Studies: Milton Blish (Call of Cthulhu Modern)

Over my roughly 40 years of roleplaying, I have made a fair few characters for many different RPGs. Some I played for a long time, others maybe only one game; some achieved greatness, others didn’t survive long enough to reach second level. I’ve decided to share some of them with you, so every once in a while, I’ll post one of my characters from one of my roleplaying games from years past. (And yes, I complained making up backstories for my Character of the Month challenge was too time-consuming. I know.)

I’ll start with one of my most recent characters, Milton Blish; a character I created for a friend’s Call of Cthulhu Modern game. Although Milton survived his first outing against the Horrors of the Cosmos, I won’t be playing him again. My Keeper wanted to turn him into part of a ghost hunter team with their own TV show. I’m not having it, and neither is Milton.

Milton Blish

Milton embodies the most negative stereotypes of Gen Z. He’s selfish, lazy and generally socially awkward. He spends most of his time in front of a screen; whether it’s his phone or laptop. He has almost no ambition and assumes the world is terrible, so there’s nothing he can really do about it except exist in it until he dies. If stereotypes were true, then Milton would assume (like many of his generation) that the world owes him a living and that he’s entitled to a safe space and participation trophy for everything; but Milton’s parents never gave a shit about him at all, and he never got even the slightest bit of recognition or praise from anyone in his life.

He works in a dingy store that still (in 2022!) inexplicably sells pornographic magazines and videos. MIlton has little interest in porn himself and despises the customers, partly because they’re too stupid to understand they can get all the porn they could ever want on the Internet for free; and partly because he has to endure their questions about porn and requests for whatever their particular kinks are. To top it off, the store is one of the only places in the state that still has spank booths (they’re grandfathered in), where customers can pay to watch porn on the premises. It’s Milton’s job to clean them out and make sure no one uses them for prostitution, which of course they do; otherwise Milton would probably be out of a job and the patrons would just jerk off at whatever squalid hovel they call home. 

Milton firmly believes the government is watching everything we do. He jailbreaks all his cell phones and owns two laptops that he has built himself; one of which is air-gapped. He tries to pay cash for almost everything, including rent, and pays his utility bills (under an alias, of course) at the corner convenience store. He spends most of his evenings at home. When he does go out it usually for necessities only. HIs apartment is pretty sparse with almost no furniture beyond a huge couch that doubles as his bed and a kitchen table he uses as a workbench and writing area. HIs trash is often overflowing and his bathroom is best left to the imagination. He eats a lot of junk food and takeout, and the results of this diet are obvious. He’s a big guy, but he’s not in anything like good shape. Still, his large physical presence has served him well in ejecting lingerers from the booths.

Milton is really smart. Smarter than you, that’s for sure. Although he won’t say so (why state the obvious?) this attitude comes through fairly strongly in most social interactions. It’s no surprise that Milton has few friends. Well, none, really.

Last Wednesday was a slow night. Maybe it was the snow: six inches on the ground and a foot and a half more forecast before Thursday evening. Milton barely looked up from his laptop at the tinkling of the door bell; but the blast of cold air got his attention. It was Amber, one of the girls he regularly had to eject from the booths for plying her trade, or for falling asleep back there. She looked like shit, was hardly dressed for the weather and was obviously dopesick; in other words, nothing new for Amber. She was leaning heavily on a shapeless man in a huge overcoat, who half-dragged her towards the entrance to the booths.

She pulled away long enough to fish a ten-dollar bill out of her bra and put it on the counter. “Don’t be a dick about it, porn guy,” she said.

Milton looked down at the Hamilton, the back up at Amber. He looked over her shoulder at the man, but he was already entering the darkened back rooms where the booths were located. Milton slid the ten off the counter and pocketed it. He didn’t bother giving her a code to activate the video screens in the back, since she wasn’t there to watch porn. “Make it quick,” he said. She flipped him the bird on her way to the booths.

Milton went back to his surfing. Five minutes later, he heard something.

Milton had worked in the porn store long enough to be able to block out the usual sounds coming from the back area, some from the movies, some from the patrons. This wasn’t that. It sounded like a drain backing up; a sick, wet gurgling sound. But the only drain in the store was in the bathroom sink, and that was behind him. It wasn’t coming from there.

Milton stood up and grabbed the cut-down baseball bat from behind the counter. As he warily approached the entrance to the booths, the sound got louder; the strange squelching now punctuated with sharp, cracking sounds, like someone stomping on bubble wrap. He stepped over the threshold to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness and looked down the corridor to where he could see the industrial switch that would illuminate the entire booths area in an instant. He started towards it, hitting the bat against the wall a few times. “Time’s up, Amber,” he said loudly.

That’s when the smell hit him. Something like burnt circuitry mixed with soiled diapers. It was revolting. The sounds got louder and somehow wetter. Milton felt ice down his back as he stared into the darkness at the line of doors on either side, wondering which of the booths was occupied and knowing he would have to walk between them all to reach the light switch.

“Milton,” Amber’s weak voice came from somewhere in the dark, pleading. “Help me.” The gurgling sounds continued, louder now. Wet sounds. Eating sounds.

Milton turned and bolted out of the shop and into the blizzard. He didn’t bother to get his laptop or his coat and didn’t stop running until he got to his apartment two blocks away. He collapsed on his couch, chest heaving and throat on fire from his mad flight through the darkened, snowy streets.

When the panic finally subsided, Milton knew he was right to run.

Amber never called him Milton.

Arianna Moonshadow, Enchantress

For Fembruary, and also for my Character of the Month, I chose to paint a Sandra Garrity classic from Ral Partha: Arianna Moonshadow, Enchantress.

I decided to paint her as a druid instead, She’s got a belt made out of animal teeth, so why not?

I have had this miniature since she was released (sometime in the early 90’s would be my guess). She been unpainted all this time, so I’m making good on my plan to use Tom’s challenge as an excuse to paint some old-school miniatures. Plus, I love me some Sandra Garrity!

It’s been a hellish month at work and I’ve just kicked off a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign; so I haven’t had much time to do very much hobby-wise. But expect a flurry of posts soon as I endeavor to catch up!

Achtung! Barsoom

I can’t resist a huge sale. Modiphius’s US store had a sale at the end of last month; and there were some ri-fucking-diculous deals to be had. Here’s what $70.00 US got me:

The John Carter of Mars RPG Slipcase set: contains both the Core Rulebook and the Phantoms of Mars Campaign Guide: $21.00. Regularly $105.00!

The John Carter of Mars Narrator’s Toolkit and GM Screen: $7.00. Regularly $35.00!

The John Carter of Mars Player’s Guide: $6.00. Regularly $28.00!

In addition, I picked up the Helium Dice Set and the Landscape Location Deck. Usually, I’m not a fan of special dice and/or add-ons like this deck, neither of which you need to play. But, at $4.00 and $5.00 respectively (regularly $17.00 and $21.00), I figured what the hell.

While I was at it, I picked up some Achtung! Cthulhu fiction for $3.00; and EIGHT Deep One metal miniatures for the low, low price of $6.00!!!! (Regularly $14.00 and $28.00!)

That’s a total of $52.00, regularly $238.00! That’s 78% off the total! Makes the $18.00 shipping charge seem pretty worth it, considering I ALSO get the digital PDFs of everything (except the dice and the miniatures, obviously)!

Of course, like most of the games I buy nowadays, I doubt I’ll ever play this. The Achtung! Cthulhu fiction will definitely get read, and I will certainly paint the miniatures; but I don’t have high hopes for playing a John Carter game. Most of my friends aren’t familiar with the characters and setting, and those that are familiar are not particularly interested. Still, I’m a huge Burroughs fan, and, like most Modiphius stuff, these books are simply gorgeous. They are laid out in landscape orientation, and the artwork is some truly stunning stuff.

Time for a visit to Barsoom…even if it’s just to find out what Carrion Crow‘s been up to on his periodic jaunts to Mars. I have a feeling this is going to make me want to dust off my copy of A Princess of Mars

Lord Gunthar uth Wistan

I’m getting a slow start on 2022, mainly because my painting desk is in complete disarray as I look for a better way to organize the paint racks of doom. Still, I’ve managed to paint a couple of miniatures this year so far, one of which is my Character of the Month for Tom’s (@the_goodground) painting challenge over on Instagram. If you recall, Tom came up with the completely original idea of painting one miniature each month of an official Dungeons & Dragons character class from the 5E Player’s Handbook. Well, who am I to turn down that kind of challenge? It’s pure genius!

Of course, anyone taking part might be tempted to write a complete backstory for the miniatures they paint in a challenge like this, but not me. I’m content with simply painting my miniature and showing it off, thank you very much. Who has time for back stories? That way lies madness.

I decided Tom’s unique painting challenge is a good excuse to paint up some old, classic lead; something I have long chastised myself that I do not do enough of. So, I’m starting things off with a classic Ral Partha miniature from their AD&D Dragonlance line: 11-073, Lord Gunthar uth Wistan, Knight of the Rose and Grandmaster of the Knights of Solamnia. (Sadly, I don’t know who sculpted this miniature.) Both of those honorifics are simply fancy titles for what Lord Gunthar is, at heart: a human fighter.

That’s Lord Gunthar on top of the dragon, there; in pretty much the only picture I’ve ever seen of him. This was from the 1985 Dragonlance calendar and was painted by the great Larry Elmore. Lord Gunthar is a guy in plate armor with a huge mustache. He isn’t described much differently in the books, and he isn’t a primary character. (On a side note, although I love Larry Elmore as much as any kid who grew up in the 1980’s playing Dungeons & Dragons does; I’m not wild about the dragon in this picture. I think he looks kind of insectoid.)

Anyway, the picture doesn’t really help much, since most of Lord Gunthar’s body and his rear are not depicted. The miniature doesn’t include the dragon, either; so he’s far less impressive than he is in the painting; and it’s not exactly faithful to the image (although it’s close). So, I had to wing it a bit.

Here he is: The Grand Master of the Knights of Solamnia: Lord Gunthar uth Wistan, who should be about a 15th level fighter or so. If you want to read his backstory (but why would you?), you can read the original Dragonlance Chronicles. Or, skip that and find the abbreviated version here.

The miniature is fine, I guess; but the Knights of Solamnia are renowned for having highly stylized and ornamental armor. Lord Gunthar’s armor is kind of plain. Even his scabbard is unadorned. Not really living up to the whole Grand Master of Knights look.

I think I will enjoy this challenge a lot this year. I had fun painting this classic miniature and I’m looking forward to doing more.

Games (other) people play

I want to play games. These games, to show but a few:

As you can see, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of new RPG stuff, through both purchases and gifts, during this interminable pandemic. That’s some of it, up there. I acquired it with the intent (always the intent) that I would eventually play and/or run these games; and in some cases, I have managed to do that. But not enough.

The problem is that I listen to too many gaming podcasts. I watch too many YouTube videos. All this new stuff sounds awesome, and I want to try everything. When you add the fact that Modiphius and Free League have acquired the licenses to some of the best licensed properties out there (Star Trek, Alien, Dune, Conan, Blade Runner,) and that their stuff is both gorgeous to look at and fun to play, you can actually watch and see what little willpower I possess fading away. I cannot resist the pull. I wants it, my precious.

It’s a lot of stuff, and it would be nice to use it rather than just look at it. When you pile it all up like that, it’s a bit sobering, because my regular gaming group (the guys I’ve played with for decades) don’t want to play most of these at all. For one reason or another, my group can’t agree on shit lately. It’s fucking aggravating.

One great thing about remote gaming is that it’s remote (duh). I have been fortunate enough to play some short games over the course of this pandemic with some really cool people from different parts of America and Canada that I would likely never have met in person (and probably never will). Some of them play-tested my own Call of Cthulhu project (still working on that, BTW); and some have gamed with me outside of that. I had fun each time, and I’d like to think they did too. They keep inviting me back, so I must be doing something right…

If you check out THIS PAGE RIGHT HERE, you will see my plans for running some classic games over the course of this year. I’m looking for new players, so if you’re interested in playing then let me know. You never know what could come of it!

Finally, if you are running any of the games shown in the picture above and are looking for a player, I’m your man; and I already have the rulebook.