Category Archives: Role-Playing Games

Bard with Bagpipes

For my Character of the Month, and for my submission to Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge on Instagram, I chose to do a bard: specifically, this old-school Grenadier “Bard with Bagpipes”, sculpted by the great Andrew Chernak as part of one of the original Grenadier AD&D boxed sets.

Sadly, I don’t own the boxed set; but I picked this guy up loose on eBay a few years ago, since he was, up until then, a bagpiper miniature I did not own.

This guy has some bizarre fashion sense: a conquistador helmet, billowed sleeves, hose, toe shoes and some weird diaper-thing. I decided anyone who would dress like that would be looking for attention, so I painted him up as a troubadour in garish colors. A friend pointed out that his highland bagpipes have the traditional three drones and that his hand positioning on the chanter is pretty good–two things that are often sculpted incorrectly on bagpiper miniatures. Chernak did it right!

Only four more character classes to go until the end of the year (did that fly by or is it just me?): Monk, Wizard, Warlock and Paladin.

Apologies to all who have noticed my conspicuous absence from this site and from the blogoshere this month. Some family health problems have occupied my every waking thought lately; and I am way behind on hobby stuff. Still hoping to get something done for Dave’s Summer of Scenery by the end of the month, although it won’t be the AMT Deep Space Nine model as I originally planned. That turned out to be a bigger project than I anticipated.

I hope to be back in full form soon.

Swiping a system

Those Dark Places is a game the evokes the theme and mood of great classic sci-fi/horror movies like Alien, Outland, Event Horizon and Saturn 3. It’s got a simple system and easy game mechanics that don’t get in the way of roleplaying in an atmosphere of isolation and horror. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Those Dark Places is one of the best games I’ve played in the last decade; and the best part is it’s all contained in this one little book.

Characters have four attributes, Strength, Agility, Charisma and Education, each with a unique value of 1-4. In addition, they have both a primary and secondary job aboard the ship; things like Security or Helm Officer or Engineer, etc. You use a single six-sided die to resolve everything in the game, and you usually roll one die, add your relevant attribute score and add a bonus from your job (2 for primary, 1 for secondary) if applicable. If the total equals 7 or more, you succeed. If it ties, it’s a partial success. If it’s less, you fail.

So, let’s say your character is the ship’s engineer and you want to cut open an airlock door from outside the ship. You would roll a single die, add your education score (let’s say your education is 3), and another +2 from your primary position as engineer. If the total is more than seven, you succeed.

Ranged combat is very much the same. Roll a die, add your Agility and any bonus from the Security position, if applicable. The target to beat is a 6 for short range, a 7 for medium and an 8 for long, with an additional +1 added if the target elects to dodge, losing his next action but making it harder to be hit.

Hand-to-hand combat is an opposed roll, meaning both you and your opponent roll a die, add your strength, plus any relevant bonus from the Security Officer position. Compare results and whoever has the highest wins, doing damage to his or her opponent. In the event of a tie, nothing happens (they just feint and jab, grapple or block…whatever).

Then there’s pressure, a measure of how much stress you can take under duress. You make a pressure roll any time the game master thinks it’s appropriate. Roll a die, add your pressure bonus (the sum of your Strength + Education scores). If it’s more than 10, you pass; anything less and you get to increase your Pressure Level by 1. The higher your Pressure Level, the more likely you are to crack under the stress and suffer an Episode; anything from fatigue, to freezing, to all-out panic. Returning to the example above, let’s say you’re the engineer and you don’t just want to cut through the airlock from outside, you NEED to because your spacesuit is compromised and you’re leaking air like a punctured balloon. Time is of the essence. Sounds like a good time for a pressure roll before you roll to see if you succeed in your task.

Like I said, I like this game a lot, and a big reason is the system mechanics. It’s quick, easy and fun. Just what I needed for my 1970’s street crime RPG: The Hub.

I’ve wanted to run a 1970’s crime game like this for a while, ever since I came across the RPG Dog Town, by Cold Blooded Games. From the official description: Dog Town is a realistic role playing game set in a New York City ghetto in the mid to late 1970’s, think of films like “Donnie Brasco”, “Goodfella’s”, “Shaft” and “Carlito’s Way” and you’ll get the picture. It’s about attitude and swaggering machismo, about being a “bad ass” like gangsters portrayed on the big screen. There are no heroes trying to save the world from evil forces, just at best anti-heroes trying to profit from it. In Dog Town it is the people that are the animals and your own dark destructive motives, which you have to be careful of. Life often is short and brutal starting and ending in the gutter. That’s just the way it is.

Dog Town is a true labor of love by the game’s creators. You can see in every page how much they respect the source material. The core rulebook and its various supplements are a treasure trove of information about this time period and subject matter. The artwork is awesome and the production value is high. It’s really exceptional.

It’s also free on DriveThru RPG. All of it. Lately, I have a hair across my ass about DTRPG, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to shop there. But like I said, it’s FREE, so DTRPG isn’t making money off them. Not that they’d want to anyway: this game definitely contains “potentially offensive content” and “acts of criminal perversion”, two things DTRPG says are against their selectively-enforced content rules. Better get over there now and grab it while you can, before someone gets offended and complains.

Unfortunately, Dog Town’s game mechanics are fucking incomprehensible to me, and I’m no dummy. They’re clunky, to say the least; and it requires a lot of math and chart referencing to resolve most actions. I’m not a fan of the rules; but once again, I can’t say enough good things about the setting and the work these guys put into it.

I knew I wanted to set my game in Boston, because it’s a city I’m familiar with and it has a long history of corruption and violence. I had several scenario ideas, I just needed a good game system. I briefly considered Fate, because I really like it; but Fate is definitely a “heroic” roleplaying game. Player characters have a high chance of success in almost everything they do, and they are able to perform feats and stunts that normal folks can’t. I don’t want that. I want gritty realism, not John Wick.

Those Dark Places has exactly what I need. Simple mechanics, deadly combat, fast resolution and the pressure mechanic all foster great roleplaying opportunities and fit exactly into the atmosphere I’m trying to create. Once I decided, it was easy to adapt.

Attributes remain the same. I just replaced the ship positions with criminal types; so instead of things like helm officer, engineer and medical officer, I have things like heavy, thief, grifter, etc. Each one of these gives primary and secondary bonuses as applicable. Pressure is the same; except you roll a pressure test for things like getting chased by the cops or getting threatened by a gang boss; or, you know, getting shot at. I went a step further and added some basic skills that give bonuses in specific circumstances, like “Manson Lamps”, which gives a +1 bonus to Charisma when trying to intimidate someone, or “Wicked Smart” which gives a +1 bonus to assess unfamiliar situations. Characters get to choose one skill.

I’m happy to say it has worked perfectly so far. My first playtest of the game was Sunday, and everyone seemed to have a good time. The players really embraced the setting and made some cool characters that would be at home in any 70’s crime movie. Combat worked exactly as I wanted and there weren’t any game-breaking flaws (yet). Both characters survived, too; which is always a plus!

I’m always looking for players; so if this setting intrigues you, let me know! Or check out all the other games I will get around to running eventually. You can find them here.

The Hub

Well, like many things this year, my plans for 2022 Gaming have largely failed so far. I haven’t run any of the stuff I said I was going to. There’s still time to run some of them (maybe); but I have decided I am definitely going to run a game of my own design next week, on Sunday, August 14th. I just need 3-5 players.

My game is called The Hub, and it is a street-crime roleplaying game set in the city of Boston, Massachusetts in the mid-1970’s. Boston in the 1970’s was a particularly deep cesspool of crime and corruption. The Winter Hill gang ran the underworld under Howie Winter, setting the stage for James “Whitey” Bulger to take over by the end of the decade and unleash hell on the streets of South Boston. The Boston Police, the FBI and the Department of Justice all shielded and protected Bulger, allowing him to benefit from his status as an informant while running a criminal empire of drugs, racketeering, extortion and murder.`

This is that city. Kinda. Rather, it’s a fictionalized Boston of the time. All the crime and corruption are there; but you won’t run into Whitey Bulger or any real-life people. What you will do is take on the role of a street-level criminal. If you like movies like Mean Streets, The Departed, Black Mass, Super Fly, Death Wish, Carlito’s Way and Taxi Driver; this could be right up your trash-strewn and rat-infested alley.

As far as content warnings go, take a look at that list of movies. That gives a pretty good idea what to expect in my game. There will be bad language. There will be drug use. There will be copious amounts of violence and gritty and realistic depictions of street life and organized crime. You will be playing a character who is not very nice, and you will be interacting with not-nice people.

What you won’t find are any racial slurs or depictions/descriptions of sexual violence. Everyone has a line, and that’s mine.

Combat will be realistic and dangerous, because when people get shot in real life, they tend to die. You won’t be able to go to sleep for 8 hours and wake up good as new. There are no saving throws here; and certainly no potions of healing. Your characters are not superheroes and there is the very real possibility of character death.

My goal with the game next week is to test out the system I’m using to see if it fits the theme. I assume the game will run about 3-4 hours or so, including character creation. (You can create your character in about 5 minutes.) It’s a straightforward scenario to see if I want to go further with it.

I said this on the gaming page, but it bears repeating here: Please note: I live in the Eastern United States, very close to Boston, where this game is set, which is the EST time zone. I don’t care where you live, but you need to keep that in mind as to when the games will be played. For example, California is 3 hours behind me, England is 5 hours ahead of me and Australia is 16!! So, if I start a four hour session on Sunday at noon my time, someone in California will start at 9 am; England at 5 pm, and most of Australia will be at 4 am on Monday! Once I have a group of players I will schedule a time that is best suited for the majority.

This game will be run on Discord, with a die-rolling app or site. It doesn’t require much.

I am also planning on running Slasher Flick on the 30th of October this year. I already have one player from Canada (assuming he’s still interested), but I’m always looking for more so drop me a line if interested in that or any of the other games I intended to run. Who knows? I might get to another one before the end of the year!

Fantastic Four Job Interview: The Crimson Hound

Mr. Fantastic (MF): Hello there! Welcome. Thanks for coming in.

Crimson Hound (CH): Thanks. Glad to be here. I…uh…thought there were four of you.

MF: The Invisible Woman isn’t here at the moment.

Human Torch (HT): Or…IS SHE??? Ha ha ha!!!

MF: So…Crimson Hound. We’re looking for a fourth member, someone who can fill in for Ben here when he takes one of his sabbaticals.

HT: Like when he gets all whiny and leaves the group to sulk.

Thing (T): Whatever. It ain’t easy bein’ me.

HT: Or when he needs to go “find himself” on some alien planet.

T: That happened once. Sue me.

HT: Or when he wants to follow his dream and be a professional wrestler…

CH: Ha! You guys are cute together.

T: Whaddya mean, “together”?

HT: Yeah, what’s that supposed to mean?

CH: I only thought…

T: Think again, bozo!

HT: Yeah, think again!

CH: Look, there’s nothing wrong with–

T: Shuddup and get yer feet off the table! Ain’t ya got no manners?

CH: Oh. Sure. Sorry.

MF: Let’s focus on what’s important: Ben’s replacement.

T: REPLACEMENT?!

MF: Usually, we ask She-Hulk to step in, but…

T: She got too big fer us.

HT: Stopped answering her phone when she got a TV show.

CH: Huh. Right.

MF: So, assuming we get this vampire business cured, when can you start?

CH: Cured? You can cure me?!

MF: Undoubtedly. I’m pretty sure I have already figured out how. I am embarassingly intelligent.

CH: But the vampire thing is what gives me my powers!

MF: Oh. I see. Well, we can’t have you feeding on people’s blood. I own the patents on several dozen formulae for synthetic plasma, both terran and non-terran. I’m sure we can find something suitable.

T: Welcome to the team!

HT: Don’t touch my stuff.

CH: Wow! Thanks! I really need this job…

MF: We’ll get your hiring bonus, health and dental package squared away and show you to your luxury penthouse quarters here in the Baxter Building. There’s just one more restriction.

CH:…what’s that?

MF: You cannot, under any circumstances, make any jokes, implications or double-entendres about my powers and how far I can stretch my…well, I’m sure you know. Understood?

CH: Wait…not ever?

MF: Never.

CH:

CH:

MF: Well?

CH: Nah. This isn’t gonna work. Thanks for your time.

Bruno still hasn’t posted any new Crimson Hound content. He deserves this.

Mistress of Darkness

Not to be confused with the Mistress of the Dark who recently made an appearance on Roger’s site, this is an old (1989) RAFM miniature that is no longer in production and doesn’t seem to be available anywhere anymore. She is my Character of the Month for Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge over on Instagram. I’m calling her a sorceress.

Here’s a secret: I didn’t paint this miniature: I REPAINTED her. Way back in 1990 or so, I painted her using those wonderful Testors enamels I still have nightmares about. She actually didn’t look too bad, all things considered.

I remembered to snap a picture of her before I repainted her; but not before I added her to this base.

As you can see, I went with a more “Egyptian” theme to her this time around as opposed to the Frazetta-style in which she’s so obviously sculpted. I was likely inspired by all the Egyptian goings-on in The Old Ways Podcast’s Masks of Nyarlathotep game.

Only five more character classes to go for the year: Bard, Monk, Wizard, Warlock and Paladin. Which one will be next?

Guess what? I know the answer to that.

Avengers Job Interview: The Crimson Hound

Captain America (CA): Welcome! Come in! Sit down.

Crimson Hound (CH): Thanks. How ya’ doin’?

Iron Man (IM): We ask the questions here.

CA: Don’t mind him. I understand you interviewed with the Justice League recently?

CH: Yeah. No luck. They’re a bunch of dicks. No offense.

CA: Uh huh. None taken. So, we’ve been looking at your resume…

CH: I’ve been uh…on vacation, recently.

IM: Hey! Aren’t you the guy who killed Santa Claus?

CH: Well, not “officially”…that guy was kind of a dick, though.

Thor (T): Remove thy feet from yon table.

CH: Sorry.

CA: Vacation, you say…well, that explains the empty space on the page here. No problem. I believe it’s important to refresh and recharge from time to time.

Hulk (H): STUPID FLAG-MAN LIES! FLAG MAN NEVER APPROVE VACATION FOR HULK EVEN WHEN HULK REQUEST TWO MONTHS AHEAD PER EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK!

CA: Says here you’re a vampire. Is that true?

CH: Well, yeah…kinda. Technically. I guess.

IM: You “guess”? You either drink blood or you don’t drink blood. Do you drink blood or not?

CH: Uh…yes…

T: Vile monster! Begone! Thou art a fiend from the very depths of Niflheim!

CH: I’m from Cleveland.

CA: Look, I’m sure you’re a great guy, but this maybe isn’t the best fit.

CH: Really? You’re turning me down? This is the same team that took Starfox? That guy’s a fucking HR nightmare! And Dr. Druid? I rate lower than Dr. Fucking Druid??!

CA: Now see here, buster…there’s no need for profanity…

T: Methinks he doth make a compelling argument, though…

H: DON’T LOOK AT HULK. HULK NOT INVOLVED WITH THAT DECISION. HULK LEFT TEAM WAY BEFORE DR. DRUID JOIN.

CA: Well, let’s just put it to a vote, then.

IM: I like this guy!

T: I say thee nay!

H: HULK NOT CARE. HULK ABSTAIN.

CA: Well, I vote no. Sorry. But thanks for coming by.

CH: Whatever. Assholes.

I have a lot of Heroclix, Bruno. I can do this for a very long time.

Not-Great RPG Adventures: Trail of the Loathsome Slime (Call of Cthulhu)

As many of you know, I am an avid roleplaying gamer; by which I mean I have played many, many roleplaying games over the last forty years of my life. When I run games, I tend to run my own adventures and campaigns rather than published modules and/or scenarios; but there are some notable exceptions, and I own many hundreds of published adventures for dozens of different game systems. While some are exceptional and fit to be run as-is or with little modifications (I’ll do posts about them, too), others are useful sources of ideas; providing inspiration for new scenarios. Failing that, one can often find characters, monsters, traps, story elements and the like to unabashedly steal for your own games.

Some, though, are just bad.

Please note that this isn’t meant to tear apart published adventures or shit on someone else’s work. Many of these adventures were written in the early years of rpgs, many were written by inexperienced writers, and some just haven’t aged well. Even the most poorly-written adventure might be salvageable; or at least may contain good elements that can be used elsewhere.

In this series of posts, I will focus on some of these bad adventures; providing a summary of the adventure as-written, why I think it sucks, and what I would do (or in some cases, have already done) to fix it. I will be highlighting adventures that have been published in hardcopy by a gaming company as opposed to the current trend of community-created content available in electronic PDF form; not because I have anything against that stuff, but because I don’t own as much of it. What you will find here mostly are classic adventures for a variety of game systems, most likely published during the 80’s, 90’s or the first ten years of the new millennium.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: I will be spoiling the shit out of these adventures, so don’t read my post if you’re going to play in one of them or want to read it yourself.

Let’s kick things off with a pretty bad adventure for one of my favorite games: Call of Cthulhu.

Trail of the Loathsome Slime (1985); by Marcus L. Rowland, published by Games Workshop

Synopsis: The year is 1983, and the investigators are contacted by “their good friend” and occultist, Walter Corey, who says he’s found something that will blow their minds; but of course won’t tell them what it is over the phone. The investigators show up at Corey’s house to find him murdered.

The previous year an ornithological expedition ship disappeared somewhere near the Falklands and it was assumed it was a casualty of the British-Argentinian Falklands conflict. Corey started dreaming about the ship and its crazed crew and published articles on his dreams. Then he bought a diary at an auction; a diary of a cultist who was executed back in 1927, who buried a chest on an island somewhere in the south Atlantic. Apparently, the mere purchasing of a diary is a newsworthy item, because news of the purchase appears in the papers and is seen by Arnold Rothman, the grandson of a fellow cult member from way back. Rothman had been serving aboard the missing ship for years, looking for that chest every chance he got. Last time, though, he broke his leg and couldn’t make the voyage where the ship was lost, so now he’s going to join another ship. He thinks that diary might hold the clues to finding the chest once and for all, so he broke into Corey’s house and killed him for it.

The investigators are supposed to discover Corey’s notes on the deciphered diary, drop everything and immediately book passage on a new ornithological survey ship to the Falklands. This new survey ship is a replacement for the old ship, because birders gotta bird. The PCs have to interview for the positions, either as scientists or crew, and there’s a decent chance they won’t be accepted. Oh yeah; this happens to be the same ship that Arnold Rothman is now serving on as second mate, too; although the investigators have no idea he’s the murderer of their “good friend”.

On the way down to the Falklands, there is an outbreak of ergot poisoning that drives most of the crew into a homicidal rage. The science team (presumably including most of the investigators) is unaffected, but they have to fend off seven crazed and murderous crew members. There are a couple of rifles and shotguns aboard, but not much else; and many of the crazed crew will try for those. Since this is for the original version of Call of Cthulhu, there’s a pretty good chance that some investigators will die before they reach the island. Whatever the case, Rothman isn’t affected either; and he runs the ship aground on Griffon Island, the site of the lost chest. Once there, the investigators and any surviving, non-crazy NPCs soon find that someone smashed the emergency radio and all their food supplies were stolen somewhere along the journey. The island is deathly quiet and mostly deserted. The reportedly huge penguin population has been decimated, and slime trails crisscross the island.

Seems like their “good friend” Corey wasn’t dreaming about the past…he was having visions of the future!

The investigators can go exploring, either on foot or using the ship’s unarmed helicopter; but it only has a range of 160 miles. (Griffon Island is 600 miles away from the nearest land, which is the Falkland Islands, so they can’t just fly away to safety.) They can also follow Rothman, who leaves the ship on his own to go looking for the chest. Either way, they soon discover a series of caverns beneath the island that were used by the former cultists. The chest is here; it contains a blasphemous mythos tome and a couple of magic swords, not the treasure Rothman was hoping for. The caverns are filled with loathsome slime (hence the name of the module), which is a by-product of the guardians of the chest: two shoggoths.

Yes, that’s correct. Two.

The investigators are now free to leave the island. assuming they can deal with a stove boat, a crazed second mate, a mostly-dead crew, no way to radio for help, a helicopter that won’t make the flight, no food and two–yes, two– shoggoths.

Commentary (why I think it’s bad): Ok, let’s start at the beginning. There’s no reason for their “good friend” Walter Corey to be in this adventure at all. He’s there to get killed and vaguely point the way to the island. That’s it. The big reveal that his dreams are precognitive and not dreams of the past doesn’t add anything to the story.

Second, the outbreak of ergot, at least as written, carries the very real possibility of a total party kill (TPK) outcome before they even reach the island. Since it’s Call of Cthulhu, most of the investigators are likely to be academic types with poor combat skills (if any); going up against manic crewmen with limited (or no) weapons is likely to result in multiple PC deaths.

Third: Speaking of the investigators, if, in keeping with early Call of Cthulhu, they are predominantly academics and “regular people”, they really have no opportunity to use their academic skills other than the beginning of the adventure to track down clues in Corey’s apartment and find out a bit about the cult. Once they’re on the boat, there’s not much to do except get killed by the crew, or get to the island and get eaten by the shoggoths.

Finally: TWO shoggoths?! It’s official: no one is supposed to survive this. It’s just not possible. There is very little on the boat or on the island that could even significantly harm a shoggoth, never mind kill it; and once again, there are TWO of the monsters on the island.

Sandy Petersen himself did a phenomenal YouTube video on why shoggoths are so dangerous. It’s well worth a watch. To summarize: they’re fast, massive, indescribably strong, almost indestructible and they’re as smart as the average human. They’re also very capable of one-shot killing any player character (or group of investigators) with ease. Some of them even know spells. In this adventure, there are a few drums of helicopter fuel that the investigators can use to make Molotovs (or detonate the drums). Those are probably their best bet, but hardly guaranteed to work. What guns they have are effectively useless, and the magic swords, while capable of causing damage, would require someone to get close enough to a shoggoth to hit it with a sword. (Good luck with that.) Unless the players are using established investigators with access to damaging spells, they might as well just let the shoggoth roll over them and get it over with.

How I’d fix it: There are some modification suggestions included at the end of the adventure. I’ll cover them at the end.

What would I do?

  1. I’d use pregenerated characters with relevant skills, or make sure my PCs had them if they were using their own investigators.
  2. Forget the whole Corey character. He’s a useless plot device. Why not just make the investigators start on the boat, perhaps on an unrelated expedition of their own? This means no auditioning for berths aboard the ship, which is a process they can fail, grinding the adventure to a halt before it starts. One of the NPC crew (Rothman) then steers the boat off-course in pursuit of his own treasure hunt; or perhaps the rest of the crew is in on it, too. They just needed a boat, and now they have one thanks to the academic expedition they signed on as crew. “Stay out of the way, eggheads; and you won’t get hurt.”
  3. If you want to keep the ergot poisoning (I wouldn’t, but YMMV), then give the PCs a fighting chance against the crew by giving them weapons; or at least an opportunity to reverse the effects of the poison. (Yes, I know real ergot poisoning has no antidote, but real ergot poisoning doesn’t happen overnight and turn you into a crazed murderer, either.) To continue the above example, maybe the PCs can try to regain control of the ship somehow, which may result in them running aground on the island; or maybe convince the crew they can help find the treasure; maybe by reading a manuscript or map in a language none of the crew can understand.
  4. Either use a different threat entirely or lose at least one of the shoggoths. One shoggoth is more than enough challenge for ANY group of investigators, never mind a group that has poor weapons and is probably already missing a few members because they fell victim to a homicidal boat crew. I can’t imagine any group of investigators in similar circumstances who could survive an encounter with two, so unless going for the almost-certain TPK is your intent, give your players a chance.

The suggestion given at the end of the adventure is to include a crashed Argentinian fighter jet that the investigators could conceivably repair and fly, or strip for missiles to combat the shoggoths. Dumb.

Another suggestion: in the event the party is exceptionally strong and has no problem defeating the shoggoths (!), have another outbreak of ergot on the return trip, assuming they can refloat the boat, or they get rescued somehow. This seems unfairly harsh in a series of unfairly harsh events. In other words, it doesn’t sound like much fun.

Trail of the Loathsome Slime isn’t a horrible adventure; it just needs a bit of streamlining and balance. It’s worth noting that this was published in the very early years of Call of Cthulhu; and would have been seen as something of a novelty as it was a modern adventure (for the time) and not set in the 1920’s. Making it a Pulp Cthulhu adventure would increase PC survivability (by a lot); it would also be interesting to update it to the modern 21st century.

What do you think?

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.