what the hell is wrong with me?

My fannish obsession with the comedic jpeg stylings of Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins has been a defining factor of my life, from adolescence through adulthood. I have read Penny Arcade almost every week for the last thirteen years of my life–one of the only weeks I missed was the week in 2012 when I was in the hospital, recovering from having the lowest part of my small intestine cut out and the remaining end of my small intestine stapled back onto my colon–and more often than not, upon reading them, I have LOLed.

I have LOLed mightily.

I have never met Mike. I have never met Jerry. But I have been listening to their podcasts and watching their shows so long I feel like I know them. I have been listening to them joke and bullshit about games for so long that I almost have the illusory feeling that they’re old friends.

So why do I feel a mortal terror that spending this GenCon literally across the aisle from Gabe at the Lone Shark Games booth means that I will manage to either faint dead away, vomit on him, accidentally give great offense, or somehow pull off all three at one time?

I live in almost mortal terror of encountering people whose work I love, cherish, and respect because I am overwhelmingly convinced they will immediately think I am an asshole, before or after I literally or figuratively shit my pants. My anti-anxiety meds aren’t cutting it. Why should anyone be afraid of meeting people they like who make stuff that they LOVE? Is there are a name for this?

There Are Bad Things And Then There Are Bad Things

A few minutes ago, I was having a discussion on the Shadowrun freelancer group’s secret internal e-mail. In the course of firing off a grumpy e-mail, I accidentally wrote a mini-essay that I was quite proud of and decided to publish here. While it began as a conversation “inside the secret circle”, nothing I have to say here violates my NDA by even the broadest definition.

***

Anyway, to provide context for this mini-essay, I was talking about the character Haze in Shadowrun, a character whose existence predates me working on Shadowrun but who I wrote up in Street Legends. The TL;DR of my comment can be summed up in Haze’s little section here where this trope is invoked and I argue that trope involves a certain degree of hypocrisy (we’re completely inured to murder, but rape is so bad many people screech that it can’t even BE IN FICTION).

In return, I was linked to a four year old Jimquisition video. The TL;DR of the video is that rape is a “special” evil that is always worse than any other atrocity a character could commit in fiction. Then around seven minutes he takes a shit on the entire medium of videogames by suggesting it’s not mature enough to handle rape. Thanks Jim, way to advance the cause of vidya as a legitimate art form you fat sanctimonious bastard.

I was also linked to where this trope (my least favorite trope for reasons I get into below) is cross referenced with Shadowrun.

Anyway, here’s the essay!

***

Jim Sterling says some over-the-top, just wrong-on-the-face-of-it things like “Rape is not privy to the same moral respect [as murder]”. What??? Maybe in the most barbarous parts of the Middle East under Sharia Law this might hold true, but certainly not in the vast majority of the English speaking world. In Western civilization, rape is and long has been considered the most morally reprehensible act a person could commit. As a matter of fact, even other criminals hold in special contempt, because it gives them someone they can feel better than (see below).

If a player at my table was playing a PC that was a rapist or god-forbid trying to commit rape in game, I would be extremely uncomfortable with that and shut it down. Because it might well make other players uncomfortable, and even worse, I would be strongly suspicious that it was intended to make other players uncomfortable. But to acknowledge that rape happens in the world of Shadowrun is nothing short of necessary for the same reason that it’s necessary to acknowledge that racism and drug addiction and genocide exist in Shadowrun.

The statement some troper made that “Haze is canonically a serial rapist” is not one that I think I would ultimately agree with. I would say that Haze is a real piece of shit, someone who frequently uses seduction and mind-influencing spells and has a sketchy and worrisome (at best) respect for consent.

Jim Sterling says that rape is “not a gray area” but in a universe where we have Control Thoughts and Control Emotions that becomes much less true: unlike actual rape, you can totally cast those spells on someone who would might have consented anyway. And the area can get even more gray than that. What if a character casts Increase Charisma and that magical boost enables them to seduce someone they otherwise wouldn’t be able to? Is that definitely rape? Is it definitely not rape? Or does it just fall into a gray area that is “kind of rapey”?

But more profoundly, I have some profound issues with the idea of “darkness induced audience apathy” in general. To be blunt, I think that if the preponderance of bad people and dark deeds in a work of fiction you were otherwise invested in makes you disengage from that fiction, then you should probably stop consuming adult fiction and go back to nursery school. By that same logic, you should have given up on the real world a long time ago: it is far more full of senseless tragedy and awfulness than Warhammer 40k to the tenth power.

Of course, I am also deeply invested in creating and promoting games and fictional settings that are dark, dark, dark.

Transmissions From The End – #001

So, this is going to be more upbeat than the last thing I blogged, which is a very low bar.

I’ve decided that every Thursday or every other Thursday (not sure which I’ll be able to manage) I’m going to check in on-the-regs with an update on the affairs of the folks here at End Transmission Games and the status of the various products that we’re working on. Why Thursday? Well it’s the only day of the week named for the Norse God of muthafuggin Thunder, Thor (trivia: he was totally a thing before Chris Hemsworth played him on TV). And that’s good enough for me.

So here it is:

TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE END – #001

Right now, I’m the line developer of no less than three game lines: SPLINTER, DicePunk (which includes both Phantasm(2010) and Psionics), and The Singularity System. The workload this entails probably deserves a blog post of its own, but this isn’t that blog post. It’s the short version. That’s a crazy amount of work, and being the line dev of one game is probably enough to drive a normal man crazy, but I’m crazy to begin with, and this is what I love, so down for it.

GenCon

This year, we’re an Event Partner of GenCon 2016! Yes, seriously. Like at the same tier as ACD Distribution or Fantasy Flight Games (holy shnikees!). We’ve finally made it into the Dealer’s Hall (Booth #2853) and we’re running a staggering 64 hours of the aforementioned games at the con. I know that’s a pittance compared to what Catalyst Game Labs or D&D is running, but for us, it’s a TON.

Big shout out to the BAMFs at Kelly’s Heroes who’ll be running twenty hours of those games for us. But that leaves us with 44 hours of games to run between myself and Mikaela and the inner circle we’re bringing along, and we need to spend a lot of our time at the booth. If you’re coming to GenCon and you’d like to help out, please sign up to become a StormWatch Warden here! We’re offering exclusive free swag, badge comps, and more depending on how many hours you can run.

SPLINTER

Mikaela did the legwork of mailing out the books from the SPLINTER Kickstarter a couple weeks ago, so those should be arriving in the hands of our awesome backers soon. The dice gnomes at Chessex are currently manufacturing our custom SPLINTER dice too, and we’re still waiting on those (not a lot of backers are getting custom dice, just the highest tiers, but they’ll be on sale at GenCon).

In other SPLINTER News, the SPLINTER Living Campaign, Glory & Gore (website still to come), is launching at GenCon. We’ve got six instances of it running at GenCon this year and most of them still have some tickets left. The first three adventures in Glory & Gore were written by Richard Kelly and will eventually be available as a stand-alone published adventure (working title: Return To The Dread Abyss of the Digitarchs). You can bring your own Player/Avatars or pick PreGens, either way you level up as you progress through the adventures. This is part of what we’re looking for GMs for, so see the Stormwatch Warden application form above.

DicePunk

The Pleasantville Project is the first Psionics adventure, and the first installment in the Eternal Storm Campaign. It’s written by Richard Kelly, so I don’t feel like I’m bragging when I say it’s awesome. If enough people buy it, we WILL publish more adventures continuing the campaign, so check it out!

This convention season, our demo for DicePunk is Psionic Phantasms, a crossover between Psionics and Phantasm(2010) that I’m very excited about.

I’m also working on a new DicePunk adventure (it’s a canon event in the Psionics universe, but the PCs don’t need to be Espers) that will be published at some point, maybe alter this year. The plan is for it to include conversions for running it in other popular systems like FATE and Savage Worlds. It’s called Escape From Cleveland, and I’ll tease more about it in future installments of Transmissions From The End.

Singularity System

Good and bad news on this front. Bad news first. In the past, I think I had teased Module 04: Infowar, the hacking sourcebook, for a GenCon release. Unfortunately, at this point, I think the release of a physical book by GenCon is pretty much ruled out at this point. A rash of personal (mental) health programs has really slowed me down on writing this one. A PDF release by GenCon is more of a possibility, because we won’t have to wait for it to come back from the printers, but I’m not promising that either.

The good news is that our September, 2015 Singularity System release Epic Space Battles was nominated for a Best Free Product ENnie award this year! You can vote for it here! And you should, apparently today is the last day to vote (already!?) so VOTE FOR IT!!!!!! Ahem. I mean…cool, practiced indifference. This marks our tiny little concern’s second Ennie nomination, which is awesome. And an actual win would be awesome beyond words.

To celebrate this free product’s surprising popularity (which is news to me!), I am considering using some of the four instances we have of The Singularity System running at this year at GenCon as “Epic Space Battle” tournaments instead of the same old sampling of Singularity System demos that we’ve been running since 2014. I’ll reveal more about that in the future.

Wrapping Up

That’s all I’ve got for right now. See you next Thorsday or the Thorsday after that for the next installment of Transmissions From The End.

The End of Everything

I am a 30 year old man and this is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to type. In some ways, I should probably count myself fortunate for that. But I do not feel fortunate. And this is not an upbeat post.

Ten years and nine months ago, I was a Sophomore in college at SUNY Purchase. I started a science fiction boffer combat LARP called Systems Malfunction. I probably asked around fifteen or twenty friends and acquaintances (many of which I knew from another LARP I was playing) to come. Ten or twelve did. So began the game, the running and authoring of which would be a huge part of my life–at times even the larger part of my life–for the next decade.

Through the time I graduated college, Systems Malfunction was, to me, a wild success. As I’ve written in the past, we played six hours a night, one or two nights a week, every week for six consecutive collegiate semesters. In so doing, we played through a story that was astonishingly epic in scope (about a thousand hours of gameplay, give or take), a story that became hugely important to everyone involved (the game in turn became the keystone of the social scene for many of the players) and that grew richer for the participation of everyone who played. At the close of the Spring ’08 semester, the story was brought to a fittingly climactic end. Eight or twelve players were present. Some openly wept for the sense of closure that was collectively felt.

That would have been a good time to stop, but I was stupid, and got greedy. I imagined that after I graduated, the game, Systems, would stay behind me on the college campus and grow. That it would continue on where I had left it, eventually falling under the creative control of a younger generation of students: I thought, fondly (which is to say stupidly) that I would be remembered as founder. I tried to build and nurture a foundation that I could hand off to the next generation. I failed in creating this legacy, largely due to a lack of political sensitivity and acumen: I failed to build the foundation that could have supported the game as a lasting club at the college (that the atmosphere of the college was changing, from a haven for artsy/theater geeks to more of a mainstream state school, probably did not help).

Having failed my first objective, I tried a second one. I tried to grow and expand the game to a real LARP. I had no experience doing this and I went about everything all wrong. From 2008 to 2012 I squandered thousands of dollars of Mikaela’s money and hundreds of hours of my time trying to build, promote, and recruit for a Live Action game at the scale of NERO/Alliance, Dystopia Rising, Knight Realms–an “event” based game, with dozens of players in attendance at each of six to twelve yearly events. I failed abjectly, totally, and utterly, because I had no idea at all what I was doing. Throughout this period, we continued playing the game, a second story arc set in an earlier time period: 30 action-packed full weekend events. On average, eight to twelve people attended each game. Three and a half years ago, we played through the destruction of DP-010 “Dallas”, a Grand Finale to the game’s second story arc, the Croatoan Campaign. There were about eight to twelve people in attendance at the finale. Again, the “final game” was a joyous and moving event.

Of those eight to twelve people, a quick mental tally informs me that I am only currently on speaking terms with about two of them. And one of those two I am basically married to. Virtually none of the relationships dissolved amicably, or without significant pain that has left lasting scars.

I wish I could go back in time and make myself stop then, in December of 2012. Whatever dregs or drops of Systems Malfunction I have managed to ring out since then, I would trade them for the friendships that have been destroyed in a second. It was not worth it.

In 2013 and 2014 I tried to run Systems Malfunction again–a new setting, a new venue and format, poorly thought out and doomed to failure. We struggled desperately, painfully, and humiliatingly to maintain an attendance of even ten people per game from month to month. In late 2014, I gave up. It wasn’t a good time to leave off–I’d had two chances for that, and missed both of them. It was just that trying to breath some pitiful spark of life into the game that we loved was destroying the quality of our lives. It had to end. (At the same time, we published Systems Malfunction as a campaign setting for the Singularity System–a process that proved to be an arduous, backbreaking labor. We printed a tiny run of less than fifty copies of the book. We still have a few lying around unsold: I don’t know the exact number of PDF sales, but they are not good. I have trouble looking at this as anything but yet another failure, but technically, the clock is still running on this one..)

This year, we decided to give it one last try. This time we finally went about things the right way. We found an excellent venue and we booked it for the weekends we wanted to run the game, like every “real” LARP does, something we could easily have afforded to try the last time around, if my head had been in the right place. We tried to run games in April, in May, and in June. Two of them went off: in May and in June, everyone, old players and new, had a great time.

The June event had an attendance of about twelve to fifteen people: a decade later, in spite of everything I had learned and all of the new and improved editions of the game I had authored, I had done nothing in my efforts to grow the game’s player base but to spin my wheels and advance perhaps by a few debatable inches.

Between June and now, my personal life completely imploded. Long-lasting friendships disintegrated in a spray of shrapnel and betrayal. People who I had counted among my closest confidants are now strangers I would not even piss on to extinguish if I found them on fire, because that is the same level of care and compassion they have demonstrated for me, through the eloquence of their silence.

In spite of a healthy influx of new players, we canceled the July game and all subsequent events due to lack of attendance. If you don’t have all the facts, no one could blame you for seeing this as self-sabotage. But I have spent over a third of my life trying and failing to grow this game, and sometimes the only way to end the agony of failing at something is to give up: to have failed, and to put it in the past. I absolutely won’t say in writing that “I will never organize or run a game of Systems again” even though it’s overwhelmingly probable that is the truth. The reason I won’t say this is simple, maybe even a little silly: I am always very annoyed by people who announce repeatedly they are done with something forever (say, Hideo Kojiima and the Metal Gear franchise, for instance) only to keep doing it again and again. I want to at least leave myself a sliver of a backdoor of a chance of not being that guy.

Indefinitely and for the foreseeable future, Systems Malfunction is over. To everyone who loyally followed the game for years and to everyone who came (or came back!) to give it a chance this last time around, you have my profound thanks. I genuinely wish things could have been different. This is not how I want to close the door on ten years of my life, it’s not the note I want the thing I love the most to go out on, but the only alternative is picking at a healing wound over and over until it becomes violently infected, and that is just self destructive madness.

End Transmission Games will continue to produce Tabletop Roleplaying Games of excellent, perhaps even unparalleled quality, for sale at preposterously low prices. The future of Systems Malfunction as a game setting–as opposed to as a live combat LARP–remains open ended.

– DTO
7/17/2016
Ossining, New York

Another Travelin’ Song

“Well I’m changing all my strings
I’m gonna write another traveling song
About all the billion highways and the cities at the break of dawn
Well I guess the best that I can do now is pretend that I’ve done nothing wrong
And to dream about a train that’s gonna take me back where I belong

So I will find my fears and face them
Or I will cower like a dog
I will kick and scream or kneel and plead
I’ll fight like hell to hide that I’ve given up”

UPDATE (Crosspost from ETG Tumblr)

Why did we pick Tumblr? I literally can’t remember.

Systems Malfunction: The LARP: The Resurrection: If we get six more preregistrations today, and have an attendance of 20+ on July 8th, there will be a game. If not, this dream goes back in its coffin indefinitely, but maybe not forever. Here’s hoping.

SPLINTER: Surprising Things: ATTN Backers, assuming our printer doesn’t poo the bed, we should be mailing out books starting next week.

Also, Glory and Gore, the SPLINTER Living Campaign, got off to a rocky start because of a SNAFU in Origins’ preregistration system. I’m hoping for a more robust launch at GenCon.

DicePunk: The Pleasantville Project by Richard Kelly, the first Psionics adventure, is out! First of how many? Depends entirely on how it sells. So, you know. Buy it! (Apparently, as I type this it’s on sale? Kick ass, who knew!) It’s awesome. It’s the first thing we’ve published that I didn’t write even close to a majority of, and so I feel less iffy about saying that it’s awesome.

Singularity: MOD04 – Infowar, the book of the hackings for The Singularity System, is tentatively slated for a GenCon Release.

GenCon: We’ll FINALLY be at GENEVA CONVENTION (that’s what GenCon actually stands for, if ya didn’t know) in a booth of our very own: #2853 (mother of God that dealer’s hall is BIG)! Stop by and say hi. Get some books! Get your books signed! Etcetera. I should repeat this announcement several times before the show is upon us.

Origins 2016: SNAFUBAR

SNAFU: Military acronym for Situation Normal: All Fucked Up.
FUBAR: Military acronym for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition, a more severe version of the former.
SNAFUBAR: A portmanteau of the two above military acronyms, forming a longer acronym: Situation Normal: All Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. As far as I know, I’m the person who came up with this but if I’m not, I wouldn’t be surprised. The concatenation seems pretty obvious.

Anyway, did you know, Origins Game Fair has a preregistration system? It’s where you can preregister for games. In 2015, IIRC, we ran six demo events. Nearly all of them were packed tables, so because of that and because we had more GMs on our demo team, we expanded to nine events for 2016.

The first five of our nine events, and the ninth, were no-shows and Did Not Run. At first, we thought we had been hexed by voodoo, or perhaps cursed by God. Midway through the show, we found out that it was not dark magic or divine wrath. Rather, a “SNAFU” in Origins’ preregistration system was showing everyone that tried to preregister for our events that they were sold out, even though there were zero tickets sold. (This even effected Catalyst: two people went up to a Catalyst Demo Team agent and said: “The system said this was sold out.” The Demo guy responded: “If by sold out, you mean that you two are the only ones who showed up, then yeah.”) That meant that only our Friday Night, Saturday Morning, and Saturday Afternoon demos actually ran. The Origins registration system’s little SNAFU cost us literally 2/3rds of our events.

“Thanks, Obama!”

As for sales, they were solid, but not quite as good as 2015. Our lil’ booth grossed just a hair more than the IGDN megabooth, which I’m proud of, because they had Call of Cathulhu (and in case you haven’t heard, Cthulhu and/or Cats are a little hot right now).

We’re going to be Kickstarting something soon. Internal deliberation exists as to what and when, so it’s probably months off. I can more or less guarantee that it won’t be a brand new game line: supporting the DicePunk, Singularity, and SPLINTER lines is all my brain can handle. But the Psionics KS in 2014 taught us that a non-zero number of people notice our company exists when we’re actively Kickstarting something. And since our meta-goal is to increase public awareness (if you’re one of the five people that read this, lol, you can help boost our signal!) that means another Kickstarter. We’re not lacking for product ideas. The most likely candidate is a new setting for the practically venerable Singularity System (on the market since 2013 now!).