TTRPGs

Transmissions From The End #011: Sneak Peak – Putting It All Together

Here’s another excerpt from the Systems Malfunction manuscript, as progress continues slowly and steadily. We really ought to get art briefs written up and out before the end of the month, which means we should be able to preview some art after Origins (which is suddenly very soon!).

As any of you following the Kickstarter closely probably noted, we didn’t make one of the Stretch Goals I was most excited about, which would have allowed us to include capital-scale starship combat rules and actual deck-plans for common capital ships in the Systems Malfunction universe. This is a major bummer, but one bright side is that with how far behind we are on a couple of projects, it would have been a nightmare trying to get those deck plans done in time. I still look forward to publishing a book of SysMal vessels, complete with deck plans, in the future.

In the meantime, here’s the chapter on scaling personal and vehicle combat from the Systems Malfunction manuscript. For those backers/fans/players who don’t have the Singularity Core Rules (and the extensive Strategic Starship Combat rules therein), I tried to provide some guidance on how to incorporate big honking starships into your campaign without having their full stats. The formatting of the table is incredibly janky, but obviously, won’t be in the final product, because it’s not being published through WordPress 😛

Astute readers will note that some of the suggestions for running combats involving both infantry and vehicles have changed from those provided in Singularity Core, in attitude as much as in content.

Bringing It All Together

If personal combatants and vehicles are involved in one fight, the shit has hit the fan and (meta)human beings are going to die historic—and become red mist. Some of those metahumans might be PCs.

If you have a battle mat and miniatures, bust ‘em out. Crude sketches are fine, but if you like some production values on your table, that’s cool too. It is very hard to do a vehicles-on-drones-on-infantry-on-Jackhammers fracas using only “theater of the mind” because vehicles can move much faster than infantry and in more directions. You use a vehicle’s Tactical Speed as its move speed in meters per turn. You ignore the ‘change range maneuver’, and resolving other Tactical Maneuvers (see p. XX) as Minor Actions (see p. XX), with Tactical Actions as Major Actions (see p. XX). This enables vehicles to use a Minor Action to take evasive maneuvers.

Instead of 10 seconds like turns with only personal combat, a turn of “mixed” combat is assumed to last the same duration as a turn of Tactical Vehicular Combat: a number of seconds equal to the highest initiative rolled (again: do not think about this too much!). ReAct (see p. XX) applies the same to metahuman and vehicular combatants, allowing extra partial actions after the “all-skate” phase.

Personal weapon damage and personal armor rating are designed to scale directly into those of tactical combat. If a personal weapon looks like it would not even scratch most vehicles, that’s cause it wouldn’t. If on the other hand, a vehicular weapon looks like it would unfailingly vaporize even the toughest, most heavily armored Replicant (and everyone standing next to him) it totally fucking would.

People trying to fight Jackhammers and drone-tanks and attack helicopters isn’t fair. The only chance of it being a fight at all lies with the odd chance that the people involved remembered to bring heavy anti-vehicular weapons.

There is a silver lining to having brought your frail metahuman body to a Jackhammer fight. Humans are very small targets; sensor assisted targeting can’t be used against them and they get to roll Evasion against all vehicular attacks: although ‘blast’ weapons will probably kill them even if they miss. Missiles cannot attack individual humans at all, nor can other weapons you can’t picture being fired at a man with a gun. For a human attacking a vehicle, the base difficulty stage is Easy. That is the last and only advantage humans get, however.

Capital Ships

Unfortunately, due to budgetary and page count constraints, the full rules for capital-ship combat (“Strategic Starship Combat”) can’t be reprinted in this book, which is a real shame. The rules appear in full on pp. 75-115 of the first (2013) printing of the Singularity System Core Rulebook, if you have access to that text. The silver lining to not being able to reprint those rules here is that they were as discovered in play less than perfect, and are definitely less than perfect for Systems Malfunction.

Generally speaking, it is probably best to treat capital ships as “set pieces” in any given Systems Malfunction campaign. Describe a larger space battle if one is happening, but keep the focus on the PCs and their actions (resolved through the rules for vehicular and personal combat). In other words, a Ferrata-Class Heavy Destroyer or a Narcissus-Class Planet Cracker is a location that exciting things are happening on, such as boarding action and defense, or a tense game of cat and mouse with an unknown alien lifeform. When in the course of space combat, a Destroyer that the PCs are assault boarding (or fighting off boarders from) becomes treated by the game more as something that things are happening to, rather than someplace that things are happening on, the likely “realistic” outcome is that a lot of PCs are going to die, very abruptly and without any chance (any roll to make) to survive.

In other words, if the Ferrata destroyer the PCs are waging an epic sword/gunfight on has its hull ruptured by ASGMs and railguns and explodes, the PCs and their enemies are all, most likely, immediately and anticlimactically dead.

On the other hand, it’s likely that at some point in a good, action-packed science fiction campaign-scape like Systems Malfunction, one or more PCs are going to be in powered armor, Jackhammers, or Starfighters, attempting an assault/boarding on a much larger ship. It’s the kind of iconic scene that good military sci-fi is chock full of. When someone’s closing in for boarding action, characters will unfailingly come under fire from (or be firing themselves) point-defense weapon systems. The least I can do is offer the stats for some common point-defense weapons, and the damage they do to vehicles and unlucky individuals alike (all have Piercing 10).

Starship Turret Weapon Accuracy Damage Starship Turret

Point Defense Weapon

Accuracy Damage
37mm Gatling Autocannon 0 24 Flak Gun -1 10×4
Quad Pulse Laser +1 4×10 20mm CIWS 0 15
Grenade Machinegun -1 32 Point Defense Pulse Laser +1 4×4
Gauss Cannon +1 28 Point Defense Beam +4 10

Note that each turret a capital ship mounts can have up to two turret weapons, up to four point defense weapons, or up to one turret weapon and two point defense weapons (when firing a twinned weapon system, i.e. two or more weapons of the same kind on the same turret, the point defense operator receives +1 to his Gunnery roll). While a small torpedo or missile boat or a Prospector-Class scout or Traveler-Class Light Transport mount only one turret each, a mid-sized capital ship like a Ferrata mounts three turrets (each with two 20mm CIWS), a Great Dragon-class Red Army flagship mounts 12 turrets, and a Vitrix-Class Supercarrier boasts 18 turrets. Only attempt a boarding or bombing run on a serious capital ship if you’re part of a massive wave of smaller craft, or if you’re feeling particularly suicidal.

Note that ground and naval bases often have mounted turrets with similar weaponry, although in that context it’s properly referred to as “anti-air” rather than “point defense”.

Closing & Boarding

It takes at least a full combat turn to close to boarding or vehicle weapons range with a capital ship: how long it takes is ultimately up to the GM, based on how far your point of launch is from the target ship, but one turn is the minimum. A Hard Helmsman, Jackhammer Rig, or Pilot (2) Test is required to bring the vehicle within boarding distance of the target starship. During this time, point defense fire must be weathered.

Jackhammers and characters in Powered Armor get to make Evasion rolls against each instance of incoming point defense fire as normal (and at a cumulative penalty of -1 for every Evasion roll made that turn, as normal). Other vehicles such as fighters and drones, however, do not make Evasion rolls. If the Gunnery roll produces a number of hits equal to the vehicle’s Handling (minimum 1), the point defense attack hits.

Jackhammers and dropships (including the Fulminata) can breach and board enemy ships after closing. Breaching and boarding is a dangerous, time-consuming process, because of the risk of fatally depressurizing both vessels. The process of penetrating a hostile hull to deploy a boarding party takes one full turn. It requires a successful opposed test versus the target ship’s Repairs subsystem rating (range of 2 to 6 depending on the size and sophistication of the enemy vessel). The boarding party either rolls Demolitions (for a combat hardbreach), an Electronics test (to rewire an airlock), or a Computers test (in the case of a software override). If the test fails, the boarding party can try again, but not by the same means, and again combat boarding takes one full turn to attempt.

Transmissions From The End #008

What’s up End Transmission fans, he said by way of greeting, unsure if he was addressing an actual group of people that actually exist or a figment of his fevered imagination.

This episode is a sneak preview of what we’ve got coming up for the year 2017. Because we’re still early in the year, be aware of all of the following: there are some things we want to keep under wraps for now, some things we haven’t figured out yet, and some things we haven’t even thought of yet. With all of those caveats at the way, let’s talk about some stuff. Here’s an update on almost everything.

Systems Malfunction

For over 10 years it was an amazing, awesome, experimental boffer LARP. Then it was a gigantic, bullet-stopping setting book for the Singularity System. Then last year in October you guys funded us so we could make Systems Malfunction–still powered by the Singularity System–a standalone RPG. Again, thanks!

But I really, really, really want the book to be full color because well…just look at all of this full color art we produced during the Kickstarter. It’s AMAZING! But we ran out of time on our KS more than $10,000 short of our Full Color stretch goal. We thought more about what an injustice it would be to have to grayscale down those images from glorious CMYK,  So we tightened our belts and crunched the numbers a bit and now we’ve got an IndieGoGo set up. If we can get $3,500 in the next 59 days or so, we can make the book full color, which would be so great. For those of you who already gave generously to the KS and are already getting SysMal, if you have any ideas for additional rewards we could offer you through the IndieGoGo, shoot ’em over to me.

As for production on the actual book, here’s a quick look behind the scenes. The manuscript is currently just a hair under 50,000 words. Probably about 10,000 of those words are boilerplate and need to be rewritten. As a point of reference, Psionics weighed in at 78,000 words and change, and that was before about 30,000 words of fictions. I anticipate needing to write approximately another 20-30k words before the manuscript is complete, not counting a 10,000 word piece of introductory fiction. The latter I won’t be writing myself, at least plant A is that I want to hire a famous writer to write it. Someone whose name you will have heard of. But you know, make plans and hear God laugh, all that stuff. Anyway, I don’t anticipate having much trouble finishing the text portion of the game that remains to be finished at the rate which I write/design games, but art and layout often take longer, and we won’t know if the remaining art we’re commissioning will be color or B&W for 60 days. Still, we should be in position to deliver on our promise of a GenCon 50 release date, barring any (further) unforeseen personal disasters. Backers will receive their books first where at all possible.

S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R.

Last year I tried to launch the SPLINTER “living campaign” and didn’t get anywhere with it so I’m really hoping to make it work this year. If you don’t know what a “living campaign” is, the idea that diverse groups of gamers are playing the same adventures in the same setting at different game tables at various conventions across the country. It’s synonymous with ordinary play. D&D, Pathfinder, and Shadowrun: Missions have all run successful living campaigns at some point in their lifecycles. I know that we won’t be able to orchestrate on that scale any time soon, but we’re also doing things a little bit differently in that it is a literal, cohesive campaign: players can play it from the beginning or jump in wherever, experiencing an epic story where their choices really matter (my plan is, like what many established living campaigns did to one degree or another, to gather data on the choices made by players and think about how those can effect the writing of future adventures).

The living campaign is called Glory & Gore.

We have three episodes already written, and I had planned on writing the fourth, fifth, and sixth episode some time this year before Origins. Whether we have three episodes or six for 2017 players, it should be hard for the living campaign to do worse than the sad story of 2016, where we only ultimately ran two four hour instances of the living campaign. I am hoping to have a GM team that can run at least 25 instances of Glory & Gore, or 100 hours of organized SPLINTER gameplay, over the course of 2017. Wish me luck.

In other SPLINTER news, we have a terrific (and terrifying) adventure coming out hopefully at this year’s I-CON called Return To The Dread Abyss Of The Digitarchs from Oubliette co-creator Richard Kelly who also lead the charge on the (free) SPLINTER QSR. Art direction on it is almost three weeks behind, so it maybe delayed to a Lunacon or Origins release. Having not written it myself, I can say it is one of the greatest published adventures I’ve ever seen, for any game system.

Finally, I have a vision of a SPLINTER box set which will include the most current printings of SPLINTER Core, Sometimes Little Wondrous Things, and Ugly Things, perhaps also the SPLINTER Quick Start Rules, and pamphlets with things like three new playable Bloodlines (!) and rules for Martial Arts in the Realm (both ones Players train in Earthside, and ones passed down by Bloodlines for Aeons).

Psionics

Only two major pieces of news on the Psionics front (although there is some more Dicepunk news in the following and final heading). The first is that we want to take steps towards mass-producing the Psionics comic in a normal comic book size/format and try to get it in the hands of brick & mortar and digital comics retailers. Quite simply, we feel it’s too good a comic to be restricted to the cozy niche of tabletop gaming. We want to get it out there in the world.

And I also want to write a sequel, which is…daunting. But I want a comic book series, and it was never meant to be a one-off. I’m going to have to nut up and do it eventually, but thinking on the fact that I procrastinated writing “Tomorrow’s Starlight” longer than I procrastinated writing anything in my adult life, it may be later rather than sooner.

Speaking of sequels, sales of The Pleasantville Project have been decent enough that we are seriously considering beginning work on its sequel, continuing the Eternal Storm Campaign that will walk Psionics players from the awakening of their gifts to the end of the world as they know it.

No Country For Great Old Ones

(First off, a DicePunk adventure I believe I mentioned on here last year, Escape From Cleveland is officially cancelled before entering production. It stopped being fun around the same time that Trump was elected, making the possibility of Trump’s presidency 100% terrifying and 0% funny. However, since Psionics is firmly set “now”,  Psionics fans deserve an update on how the Trump presidency has effected the secret factions of the Psionics universe, much as it’s shaken up everything in the real world. This update will be short, free, and most likely delivered through this blog.)

No Country For Old Men is an adventure we have in the works that will feature officially licensed game statistics for Delta Green, Savage Worlds, and HERO System, Fifth Edition, Revised (or FRED) in addition to our own Dicepunk system.

No Country For Great Old Ones will be an intense, southern fried crime drama with subtle elements of supernatural horror. It’s deeply inspired by the excellent film “Hell or High Water”: my basic thought process, having been playing a lot of Delta Green at the time was, wow, what if we threw some Mythos into this mix.

The Delta Green and HERO System rules deal directly with the Lovecraft mythos, while the Savage Worlds and DicePunk rules keep the same basic structure of the adventure, but use elements of the mythos that we developed for Phantasm(2010) in place of the Lovecraftian stuff (I finally saw Phantasm RaVager, and my feelings are mixed). No Country will be unique in a few ways besides having full stats for four different game systems. Namely, it is a “two sided” adventure (think of an old record, with an A side and a B side) where the PCs can be either the “cops” or the “robbers”. Once you’ve played through it from one side, you can play through it as the other side, and see how the other half lives, and see what formidable enemies your former characters make.

We could probably rush No Country into production in time for Origins of this year without a problem, but we’re also considering doing a Kickstarter for the adventure to raise awareness. That would delay its release until well, well after GenCon, however, since as a company rule we don’t launch a Kickstarter until we’ve delivered on the previous one.

That’s it for the fourth week of February and the first time I’ve managed to force myself to make a proper update this year. Tune in next Thursday or the following Thursday  (hopefully) for more Transmissions From The End.

<End Transmission>

 

 

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.

SPLINTER Core Reprint plus Journey To The Forbidden City nears its conclusion…

The much improved second printing of the SPLINTER Core Rulebook is now available! It’s free (in PDF) to anyone who already owns the original printing, just re-download it from DriveThru. Thanks to hard work from Mikaela Barree, it sports a massively improved layout and a sexier cover. But there are substantive changes as well. Along with some tweaks to the Realm rules, the game has been overhauled to use the DicePunk System rules for Earthside, as discussed here previously, which is very exciting to me because it makes our pantheon of games that much more coherent and organized.

Check it out here!

In other SPLINTER news, Journey To The Forbidden Jungle (MA15+, V/S/L) approaches its conclusion…

Below the Brigand’s Lair, the party found themselves on Level 1,011,999,603 – the shores of the River of Nothingness. Attempting to cross the gray river left Hegik and Viperis floundering amnesiacs (Yntrew and Philarion flew over, while Caduceus walked along the river floor in powered armor), after a Hoary Trenchmaw reared out of the river and was dispatched by the party. Hegik and Viperis fished themselves out of the drink as Caduceus, Yntrew, and Philarion were engaged by a trio of Harvester Assassins. The party was victorious, but Yntrew lost his head to an assassin’s monofilament garrote: before Analina could resurrect Yntrew, Caduceus took his badge and later crushed it before his eyes. After a battle with Demon Voormis leading their more mundane kin, the party rested, the tensions between them mounting. Philarion used an auto-mapper drone to map the rest of the level.

After resting, the party entered a large triangular structure in the center of the cavern level.  In the Hall of Traps, they sprung just about every trap, with predictably harmful results. Beyond the hall of traps, Herk Vadis rejoined the party: a Headless Hydra and a Painwracked Juggernaut fell before the party in quick succession. Entering the central chamber of the structure, the party initiated a battle with a series of Salamandrean Survivors emerging from a painted mosaic. As pitched battle was waged, they soon discovered that five Salamandreans emerged from the mosaic every turn, from a seemingly infinite supply!

The party was routed as Salima and then Philarion fell before the glaives of the endless lizard men. During the rout, while trying to rescue Salima, Viperis used Salima’s body as a human-shield to absorb the glaives of eight mosaic-born Salamandreans. This cowardly act allowed her to survive, as the party fell back from the rout to rest and regroup.

After a lengthy consideration of their options for proceeding, the party finally returned to confront the lizard men, finding them receptive to diplomacy. In fact, when the party acted in a friendly manner, the Salamandreans served them a large feast and even helped them discover the trap door leading down to the next level: Level 1,011,999,604: the Tomb of the Lizard King.

Moving down to the next level, the group was attacked by Bullet Men and managed to defeat them (a Scorpion_Tail symbiote detached itself from one of the felled Bullet Men and attached itself to Viperis). Next the party confronted Mordrin, the Asilos Punisher who had tried to assassinate the Duke of Reo on the Lizard King’s orders. A Hold cast by Yntrew paralyzed the Asilos, and the party destroyed the two Dark Walkers guarding him.

The Held Punisher was interrogated by the party, revealing that he’d acted as the agent of the Haon-Dor Fallen in awakening and guiding the Lizard King. When finally released from the hold, Mordrin narrowly avoided execution and fled using Smog Soul. The party followed him south through a secret door, and after trampling an Origin Wick and its family of Tallowkin, found themselves face to face at last with the Lizard King in his throne room.

The Lizard King–who was not alone, but rather attended by a Hypnogorgon, a Haon-Dor Fallen, and a powered armored figure with a rather large enchanted greatsword, as well as four GIU-44 Assault Droids–acted quickly, creating a Forcewall between himself and the party. The Lizard King spoke with the party for a short time: in the end, he offered Caduceus a bounty of 1,000 Eagles per head for his comrades, and Caduceus accepted. One of the droids brought an Entoptic Generator and activated it, initiating the ensuing battle.

In the ensuing battle, Caduceus and the droids now on his side killed Analina, felled Philarion repeatedly, and nearly felled Viperis. Yntrew, meanwhile, was held and then spared by the Lizard King and his entourage on their way off the level via a high-tech elevator. Caduceus too fell in the battle against his former friends, destroyed by Philarion with a dramatic use of a Rust Grenade. The GIU-44 Assault Droids marched past Caduceu’s corpse, trying to finish Viperis and Philarion, but were ultimately destroyed. Maurice Beauxxhome escaped from a coffin-like closet in the Lizard King’s throne room. At first, he attempted to resuscitate Caduceus, only learning that Caduceus was a traitor upon seeing Viperis personally perform Caduceus’ coup de grace.

The party–now reduced to Viperis, Philarion, Yntrew, and the not-currently present Hegik, Varatha, and Herk, with the deaths of Analina, Salima, and the betrayal and then death of Caduceus–now tries to decide their next move, alongside Maurice Beauxxhome in the Lizard King’s abandoned throne room.

Renzozuke, a Mnemonic adventurer sent by the Marquess Rella Biron to determine the fate of Maurice’s expedition, joined the party.

Searching first for Maurice’s equipment the group encountered a pair of Halflifes, destroying the radioactive undead. The team then defeated a Dire Dragoon and rescued three dozen captives that the Lizard King had used as human cattle and feeding stock. Here, the group split in two, with Maurice, Philarion, Herk, and Renzozuke leading the mistreated and malnourished captives upstairs to safety, while Yntrew, Hegik, and Viperis went downstairs to pursue the Lizard King.

Taking a high tech elevator 340 floors down to Level 1,011,999,945 — in the vicinity of the ancient but high-tech city of Archaeobatrachian — Yntrew’s group was set upon by a pack of Rust Cotillion Raches. The appearance of a mysterious sniper–the Vryx known as Ziq–was instrumental in the group’s triumph over the Cotillion forces. Meanwhile, Maurice’s group encountered the duke of Reo outside of the lizard king’s Fortress, turning over the Lizard King’s prisoners to their care.

The two teams reunited and regrouped down the elevator shaft, at a Penitent colony situated on the upper levels of the Temple of the Frog – Level 1,011,999,946. From there, the group pursued the Lizard King downwards. They found no sign of the Lizard King’s forces, but did confront an Automated Sentry Platform, a deadly pair of Raving Reprobates, and a series of devious traps. Ziq and Renzozuke were transported to the top of the elevator shaft by a Teleport Trap, but managed to rejoin the party eventually, in the Penitent colony.

After refreshing themselves in a nicely appointed bathroom, the group triggered another trap, teleporting Renzozuke temporarily into the vacuum of space. A battle with a Viscerid Hysteric followed. With the Hysteric vanquished the party slaughtered a Voormis Broodmother and brood, and then were attacked with swarm gas pods by a Rookery Paymaster. After slaying the Paymaster, the group entered the compute room he’d hold up in, and Hegik and Philarion gained access to one of the computer terminals. The group systematically searched the camera feeds of each functioning camera to reconnoiter their surroundings. The most interest seemed to be in the room across the hall, which contained a leaking Nuclear Reactor and a brown Ugly Thing guarding a large horde of treasure, most saliently, custom Powered Armor.  After much planning and preparation, the group finally lured the Ugly Thing out onto a series of mines buried by Hegik–destroying it–and seized the treasure.

The party next moved down into an incomplete utility space below (Level 1,011,999,948). There they destroyed a Softshell Moltless before being ambushed by a pair of Viscerid Liberators.

On Censorship and Principle

The internet has made the venerable epigraph “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (Evelyn Beatrice Hall, if you were wondering, but traditionally and wrongly attributed to Voltaire) seem a rather tired and worn-out bit of rhetoric. But overused or not these are words I have always tried to live by, as best as I can.

I disapprove of “Tournament of Rapists” in the strongest possible terms. It is a benighted piece of grotesque wrongheaded filth that should have never existed. I seriously question the character of the people who created it and who sought to publish it. I cannot overstate the fact that I am not a fan.

But censorship is always wrong. When a monolithic distribution channel like One Book Shelf, a self-acknowledged de-facto monopoly, bans a product, that is tantamount to censorship, and they know it. And they very nearly did so, not because it was in line with their principles, but to satisfy the demands of a screeching hate-mob of perpetually outraged social justice harpies who for some reason did not think that not buying the product and/or leaving it one star or less reviews would be enough to let the market sort itself out. This is shameful.

At DriveThruRPG, we trust publishers to upload and activate their own new releases without anyone at DriveThru reviewing the product before it goes public. Because this system worked so well for the past 14 years, we had no need to create an “offensive content guideline.” To avoid anything approaching censorship, we simply adhered to an unwritten policy of not banning any RPG product.

There is, however, a growing problem. Sometimes, RPG creators design content that goes beyond disturbing. For example, we recently — and rightly — received criticism for selling an RPG supplement called “Tournament of Rapists” for four days on our marketplace.
In hindsight, we realize that we should have suspended that product from sale immediately, pending further internal review and discussion with the publisher. For a variety of reasons, we relied on our standing policy of not banning RPG titles, even in the face of a product so offensive that the policy was inadequate. We understand that we were wrong to do so.

A New Policy

It is time to change the approach we have used on DriveThru. Our prior stance, that “censorship is unacceptable,” was tantamount to shirking our responsibility. As market leaders, we are in a position that requires us to be leaders also in keeping the RPG hobby inclusive and safe.

I have actually been hoping to try and strengthen our working relationship with DriveThru RPG in the future. And in the interest of being fair, I will acknowledge that OBS did not actually ban this product. They did ban another product, nearly a year ago, that was far less offensive by any reasonable human metric, for even more tenuous reasons, but that is neither here nor there. In this case, they spoke to the author and publisher who agreed mutually to pull the product, so that is alright. What is not alright is that DriveThru has changed its policy AWAY from a policy of “Censorship is uancceptable”. This is not a good change.

I don’t know a lot about James Raggi. He’s the designer of an RPG called Lamentations of the Flame Princess that I also don’t know much about, but that looks pretty cool and which is, while WAY BIGGER than anything End Transmission publishes, not exactly SUPER-WELL-KNOWN. Anyway, my point is, he recently said this on Google+. And while I’m not a Google+’er, I couldn’t + this enough. I don’t know what political baggage agreeing with him might entail, but I agree with what he had to say:

I checked my stats and according to the ranking function they have in the Publisher tools, I am a Top 2% seller on OBS. (which says more about how small the 98% are more than how big I am) I have done over $100,000 gross sales over the six years I’ve sold through the site, which isn’t nothing.

If one of my products gets pulled, or if the products of my peers are pulled without their consent, I am taking every LotFP product off of that site, which will be something of an economic armageddon for me and a hardship from everyone on my roster getting royalties from sales. I’ll also have pretty much no mechanism for conveniently delivering PDFs to people. (even reinstating PDF sales on my site would leave me no mechanism to provide access to people that do not purchase the title; I have rather cheap software and investing in more sophisticated software will be quite impossible without OBS sales money coming in.)

This past weekend a brainless howling mob showed they were in charge of this industry and have the power to disappear ideas and products they disapprove of. Whether this is the majority or a very vocal minority doesn’t make much difference to me; I consider myself at war with them. That this is within our industry feels like an intense betrayal; I have been literally shaking mad over the past several days. Simply shitting out pieced-together cheap crap POD versions of what I owe people and simply quitting has crossed my mind.

Without the ability to freely create, and freely reach people who might be interested in those creations, participation in this hobby and this industry is simply not worth doing.

Anyone who would restrict that creativity, or make it more difficult to find people who are creating things you might enjoy, anyone who restricts imagination and works of fiction, anyone who works to ban any work, is simply evil.

Evil.

We have lost a great deal over the past several days.

While I appreciate his turn of phrase (“brainless howling mob”), I think he’s going a bit far in calling this impulse to destroy art that offends you, and the business based decision to give in to that impulse, “evil”. But it’s sure as hell not good. A lot of social justice berserkers argue that censoring this product somehow makes tabletop gaming a more inclusive, safer space for women and minorities. That is so much bullshit. Censorship rearing its ugly head in this industry makes the space of tabletop games feel that much less safe for my girlfriend, just as one example. Because fuck censorship.

We are, of course, not actually pulling our products from DriveThru, for the same reason that End Transmission games, if it were a person, would not light a stick of dynamite and then swallow it: it would be EXTREMELY. FUCKING. BAD. FOR US. I am in no position to commit principle-based financial seppuku when we are trying to support our family and we are trying to do so through our games. Above and beyond this, a repulsive shitshow like Tournament of Rapists is not the hill my company is going to die on, thank you very much.

But I do need to shake my head at DriveThru caving to this kind of pressure. Censorship is always wrong. Answer speech you find distasteful with your own speech. Not by silencing it.

I <3 GenCon

Usually I don’t manage these post-con recap posts until around Tuesday or so, after I’ve had Monday to make it home and recover, but this one seems to be burning a hole in my pocket so to speak, so I’m going to let it fire itself off now (Sunday, just sitting down after the con closing). Maybe I’ll go short now and make a more detailed recap later. Maybe.

I love GenCon. For four days a year, my social circle is suddenly four times as big as for the other 352. Everyone is excited and they’re all excited about the same stuff that excites me. People I run into know me and what I do and treat me like they care and it matters. And all around me are geeks and nerds of every imaginable stripe letting their freak flags fly, wearing their colors proudly. It is an incredible high and I am left totally physically and emotionally exhausted and with no idea how to feel now that it’s over.

We got to play a couple of fun games, although we spent most of the con running our own demos in the IGDN room. Not as much Battletech as I’d have liked to get in, and I missed out on a RIFTS game I’d had my eye on, but oh well. Ben Woerner ran his World of Dew for us (I played a ronin based on an amalgamation of the roles Toshiro Mifune is named for: not particularly imaginatively, the character was named Toshiro Mifune, and for name meaning, I facetiously wrote “Toshiro Mifune” in that spot too, then crossed it out and wrote “Japanese Clint Eastwood” which I thought was descriptive enough). I’ve actually owned World of Dew since GenCon of last year or even earlier, but I’ve never gotten to play it. The game he ran was quite nicely done (his ability to spontaneously generate samurai noir characters and places with appropriate names was impressive), but it did get me thinking about why I’m not a fan of storygames/meta-narrative currency in general, so that will probably be a blog post soon where I actually go in depth and discuss some game design philosophy/theory stuff. At midnight on Friday I finally got to play the National Security Decision Making game, specifically the fast-play doomsday clock scenario. I was randomly handed the Presidency of India, barely survived an internal coup from a slighted covert operations director who went rogue, and was minutes away from convincing my cabinet to sign off on nuking the crap out of Pakistan when they were saved by the bell, the bastards. I’ll admit I almost fell for the smooth-talking Chinese diplomat who nearly convinced me to let Chinese troops occupy the Kashmir region as a demilitarized zone. All in all it was chaotic, hectic, heated, zany, high-intensity, preposterously stressful yet almost unbelievably fun two hours. Would definitely play again.

Our six demos (24 whole hours of demos) went great overall. The IGDN rooms were a seriously happening place. By a very idiosyncratic and highly mercenary metric I personally like to use, we had an unprecedented success rate of 65% (the number of players who had fun was over 90%, but that’s not how I’m measuring success in this instance). Mikaela took the bullet on the morning demos of Splinter and Singularity for me. I ran very full games of Psionics on Thursday night and Singularity on Saturday afternoon, eight players to a table! Dan Davenport, the GMShoe, graced us with his presence for the Singularity demo, which was super fun.

The three Psionics demos we ran–Mikaela ran two of them–one on each day, were especially fun and memorable. Many players took off with really fun and interesting interpretations of the pregenerated cast, and there were some seriously unexpected twists and turns that unwound from the demo scenario, especially at Friday night’s game, which got intense. I was happy to see my pal Rusty in attendance at Saturday night’s game. All in all, I got to meet and thank a great big bunch of Psionics backers in person, along with many fans that have been supporting us for years now. You people are super and it was a blast gaming with you and hanging out. Overall, it was a really cool experience.

I’ve kind of lost interest in supplying my games to Games On Demand for them to run. This is the second or third year running that I’ve talked with their organizers about how to go about this and received exceptionally uncomfortable answers. I’m really tired of being stonewalled: there are plenty of other avenues for GMs to run my games at conventions.

We met famous (or at least semi-famous, or nerd famous, or internet famous, or whatever) people and they were nice to us. Yesterday Mik got to meet Trace Bealieu, who was really friendly and approachable, and snagged me an autograph from Margaret Weis. Periodically over the course of the con my mood was dampened by the occasional belligerent jerkass or creepy slimeball (more on the last later maybe), and even if those creepy jerks are far outnumbered by cool dudes and ladies, I’ve always been more sensitive to negative emotions and more inured to positive ones. Still, though, today was really the feather in the cap, though, a blur of awesomeness that left me feeling both dizzy and over the moon.

R.K. Milholland (!!) said kind things about the artwork in Psionics, I bought a print from Metamorphosis Alpha and Dungeon Crawl Classics artist Doug Kovacs, met and bought an autographed book from Adam Scott Glancy over at Pagan Publishing, one of the original creators of DELTA MOTHERFUCKING GREEN (holy crap you guys), talked shop and hung out briefly with Eloy LaSanta, Matt McFarland and various other folks from the IGDN, saw my books on the Studio 2 shelves among the likes of Pinnacle Entertainment (!), Mongoose Publishing (!!), and FASA (!!!!) which made me feel   like I was a ‘real’ game designer more than anything else has, and then hung out for a while with Matt Clements, Brandon Aten, and Kevin Siembieda, all of whom were amazingly friendly and approachable. I happily traded my very last copy of Psionics (!!) to KS (!!) for Palladium’s new(ish) Robotech Tactics RPG, and Kevin actually asked me to sign it as though I was anyone of any importance, or as though he hadn’t been an industry legend for a bajillion years, which is ridiculous, in the best possible way. I also bought a Rifts ballcap, a Chaos Earth mousepad, and Chi-Town Library pencils, and the probably-never-gonna-be-produced-but-anything-is-possible RIFTS Movie Script.

In closing, today I spent way, way too much money on dice, minis, Magic cards, RPGs and Battletech stuff, and I am very, very tired. Fuck yeah, GenCon.

ALL HAIL KING TORG!

“ALL HAIL KING TORG!”

POST-CON RECAP GOGOGO

For the third year running, Origins was awesome and exhausting. For the third year running our sales showed slow and steady growth, too. This year, just as steady but way less slow. In fact, if you squint, for the first time ever we actually MADE SOME MONEY by going to the con. Shocking, I know. But I think we might be approaching one of them ‘tipping point things. Keep in mind you’re hearing guarded optimism from a dedicated lifelong pessimist here.

21 out of 25 copies of the limited edition Psionics Core Rulebook sold with two more hand delivered to backers. I can confess this is the fastest we’ve ever sold anything. T-Shirts, stickers, and dice were a hit too–especially the design we’ve taken to calling Comrade Octo-Stalin and anything remotely related to Pyrokinesis. It is a pleasure to burn, apparently.

We had great fun running great Psionics demos Thursday and Saturday nights–Friday was a mysterious no-show. On Friday for the first time ever two PCs played by strangers initiated and completed the act of coitus in a men’s bathroom stall during a combat sequence, if I’m not mistaken, IN INITIATIVE ORDER. So yeah. That happened. Much experience was awarded.

On Saturday, the player manning the Firestarter intentionally overloaded, instantly reducing all other PCs to ashes. I was cringing and expecting recriminations for this disaster, when two of the players whose characters had just been immolated bought the book immediately! The most pleasant surprise ever, for sure. And goes to show that there ARE some gamers out there still who share my philosophy about character death.

The sole Splinter demo was a huge success too, sad I wasn’t there to see it but Mik did a bangup job and the number of groups actually playing Splinter might have just increased by a relatively huge margin. Singularity demos were fun too, especially Thursday’s.

On Friday night Mikaela and I got to hop on a game of RIFTS being run by the folks at Amorphous Blob (a gaming club, or so I gather). I played a CS Strike ‘Borg, she played a Dog Boy, the scenario was based on Expedition To The Barrier Peaks (my favorite!) and SOME ALIENS GOT THEIR DAYS THOROUGHLY RUINED. Huzzah.

In the background, I overheard a WWII Champions/Hero System game with Marvel superheroes as the PCs and the Red Skull as the villain, and at one point I heard the GM say “well he has 10 points of Mental Defense, because he’s a Nazi” and that was pretty great, but then I heard the GM say:

Take an extra 6d6 for your Presence Attack, since you just killed Hitler.

And my life was well and truly complete. What an awesome week. Big thanks to John and Allison for helping out with the Booth, the Demos, and everything else.

I bought some stuff. Notably, I got a starship deckplan from Scrying Eye games (starship deckplans, usually from Traveller, are something I almost never get to use but am nonetheless addicted to collecting), the miniatures game Aetherium (if you know anything about the stuff I make, you understand why I had to buy this) and the short story collection Soft Apocalypses by Lucy A. Snider, because as an author who sells my stuff directly, I love to buy stuff directly from authors. I’ve read a few stories in it and I can’t recommend it strongly enough if you’re a fan of really, viciously disturbing horror. I mean, “I Fuck Your Sunshine” is the title of one ‘track’ on this ‘album’. ‘Nuff said, I think?

Now to re-enter my post-convention recuperative coma. Psionics fulfillment will be underway shortly, with the rollout of the PDF most likely leading off.