Monday, March 9, 2009

I Throw Down My Half-Assed Glops and Scratches

Warning to my hothouse flowers. This post has Teh Swears.

Apparently, James Raggi over at LotFP has a bug up his ass about some of us in the RPG blogging community. Apparently, we've been Doing It Wrong, and James has kindly condescended to set us on the straight and narrow path. Behold the words of The Great Raggi:
I've glanced at a lot of people's projects that are happening on the web so far. And it seems that the scratches they're throwing online are it. Not a first step in development, not a statement of intent, just glops thrown out half-assed (it doesn't matter how big it is if it's just a sketch and some notes) and accolades taken in.

I don't care. They're not finished.
Perhaps I am being somewhat presumptuous, but I can't help but think that The Great Raggi has taken a peek at my own efforts and is lumping them in with those of Amityville Mike and the forthcoming project of James Maliszewski (which apparently was the impetus for The Great Raggi's post in the first place) as the object of his wrath. (Apologies if I'm overlooking anybody's projects; it's an exciting time for such things. EDIT: I just realized I forgot Sham's excellent "Dismal Depths" megadungeon!) And he apparently doesn't like the fact that (at least in the case of what Mike and myself have done, and from the descriptions we have, James will be doing), we are presenting our works a bit at a time, in easy-to-digest chunks. How dare we! Proper modules should spring forth from the brow of Zeus fully-formed, with all the levels in place and every page to be had.

Except, of course, that doing so would essentially mean telling folks, "Hey! I'm working on this great megadungeon project. But you can't see it. It's not done yet. Come back in a year." But what, exactly, is wrong with seeing things in pieces? You play so much that you can't wait a month for the next level? More power to you. And that's even assuming that such a project would ever truly be considered done. Gygax's original Castle Greyhawk wasn't. Ever. At any given time there were at least two levels being worked on, expanded, or added. So... work on that dungeon forever, but don't you dare publish it in partial form, because...
They're not finished.
Heavens, what heresy TSR committed back in the day by publishing D1, D2, and D3 as separate modules. And all those encounter areas in the Depths of the Earth unkeyed! That's not finished! Therein lies Problem The First, in the eyes of The Great Raggi.

The Great Raggi continues...
If the Old School Renaissance is going to amount to little more than rules clones, limited-scope "single quest" or "dungeon bash" adventure modules, and pdf-only huge maps with scarcely any detail... what's the point?
Problem The Second; we aren't putting enough detail in our unfinished dungeons, damnit! Huge maps demand huge encounter keys! Paragraph upon paragraph of rules embedded in stat blocks; what, is the DM supposed to actually crack open a Monster Manual during play!? What the hell are we thinking!? And how, just how is anyone supposed to run a game if the complete motivation of every single monster in the dungeon isn't laid out, the complete inner workings of the rivalries between groups, notes for every contingency in a trap spelled out in excrutiating detail? What if the player's poke at a covered pit trap with a 10' pole!? "YOU HAVEN'T TOLD ME WHAT TO DO", seems to go the lament! After all, there's "scarcely any detail" for the DM to use.

Except, of course, that that is the entire POINT of this sort of module; recreating a minimalist style that encourages-- nay, demands-- the DM become actively engaged in the creative process himself. The notes don't say what the relationship between the wererat and the hobgoblins is? Make it up your own damn self, assmunch! The players are poking around in the empty room and there's no paragraph of text to tell you how many chewed up bones are in the corner? Roll the first die that hits your hand or just make it up! That's what old-school DMs do. If you want to be hand-held through every possibility, and need someone else to "do your imagining for you" and give you exhaustive detail for everything, I hear there's a great game that just came out just for you. It's called 4th Edition.

But The Great Raggi continues, and informs of of the wants, needs, and desires deep in his "secret place"...
I want books. Actual, in my hands books, that people have put their heart into and maybe believed and invested in a little bit so they aren't just thrown up on Lulu at no risk while some third party makes any profit there is to be made. There are things out there that are good, are ready, but they just sit on a website.

Call me old fashioned (I love hearing that from people deep in the "old school") but I believe things that are only online don't count for shit and might as well not exist in the end. (does anybody else here back up their blog content in case Blogspot or whoever is hosting your individual blog has an "oops" or a complaint and wipes your shit out?) I consider this blogging exercise one of communication and idea-exchanging, perhaps a way to test some concepts out before moving forward, not in anyway useful for actual content.

...

I want books that can inform my overall game, not just adventures that take up a session or three. I want things that will survive the current fad of "retro gaming," no matter if it goes on to its previous oblivion or becomes corrupted by eventual commercial success. I certainly don't want a notebook full of net printouts. I certainly don't want POD jobs (whose companies double-dip, as you know the starting print price includes a cut for them, plus they take a cut of every sale...) from people who take so much pride in community participation that they treat shit submissions with the same respect as magnificent ones (I'm seeing that sort of attitude in some quarters).
Problem The Third: we aren't sending people stuff in the mail, personally, from the big pile of boxes in our garage. We're either lazy fucks, or Selling Out to Capitalist Pigs, or something...

We have committed a further sacrilege; we have incurred no risk! Fiends that we are, we have not put forth any of our hard-earned lucre where our proverbial mouths are, and simply vomited forth whatever hackery came forth from our monkeys-banging-on-keyboards design process and expected folks to just come along and download it. For free. What were we thinking!? And woe betide the person who resorts to print-on-demand! Such evil witchery will doubtless earn us a place on the stake when the Old School Inquisition visits our far-too-humble abodes. Real Designers don't just invest time into their work-- thou fool!!-- they invest a token amount of money into printing it out themselves, and then pour their heart and soul into the visceral act of stuffing envelopes and schlepping said envelopes to the local post office. Because print-on-demand services aren't really a way for self-publishers to take their work to the masses efficiently; they are the tool of Asmodeus, the Demon Prince of Capitalism, and must be evil because they dare to make a profit on the hard work of others. Infamnia! Taking the time to hand-write an address on a Tyvek envelope is vital to the act of connecting with your readers! Take heart that each and every one of them will know that you care. All twenty of them, but it's not numbers that count, but heart.

Except, of course, that this working-class-hero bullshit is just that. I could easily print out a bunch of copies of Castle of the Mad Archmage at my local Staples, and mail them to folks who send me a couple of bucks. But what the fuck would anyone gain out of that? Do you really think that anyone who wants a hard copy of my module, or Mike's, or anyone else's, can't slap it onto a USB drive, hie their asses over to Staples themselves, and get a very nice copy printed out on 17"x11", saddle-stitched, with a cardstock cover into the bargain for less than it would cost for me to send it to them, if you factor in the shipping? Is there some magic about the fact that I am doing the printing and the stapling, rather than you? Unless we're talking 3-color printing, or a hardcover book (and you can get those on POD sites, too), this is such a strawman that it's hard to even knock it down without wondering why everyone doesn't realize the fact. And guess what? Some people actually prefer to read things on a computer. *GASP!*

You want "actual, in your hands books"? Print it out your own fucking self, James. You want something "that people have put their heart into and maybe believed and invested in a little bit"? Buy a Bible.

And, finally, The Great Raggi gives us a parting piece of advice...
But to do that, we need to give people (at least the option for) things that they can use at their table, things they can read sitting on the can, or on the bus, and not things that require them to be in front of their frickin computer all the damn time.
It's called a printer, fucktard. Buy one. Until then, feel free to do yourself the favor of not downloading those half-assed glops and scratches that I have heedlessly thrown down. They're obviously not meant for you.

34 comments:

Benoist said...

I love your blog in general: the lore, the Castle of the Mad Archmage... good stuff!

Now this entry, man... I laughed my ass off reading it. Yeah, I think James actually got sort-of-a-point, but really didn't put it in the most diplomatic way, let's just say.

LOL blog wars are entertaining.

JimLotFP said...

>>Because print-on-demand services aren't really a way for self-publishers to take their work to the masses efficiently

They really aren't.

>>Make it up your own damn self, assmunch!

Don't know about you, but I could draw maps and come up with shorthand notes all day long.

Having that detail provided is the only way someone else's adventure saves any effort on my part (might actually take more effort without it - getting familiar with the general idea AND filling in all the details?). It's the entire utility of using someone else's material to begin with.

And it should be appreciably cheaper to do even a short run of printing as opposed to having an individual copy done.

Joseph said...

Having that detail provided is the only way someone else's adventure saves any effort on my part

Then shut the fuck up and do your own work, and stop bitching at people who actually might use this sort of material. Your way of doing things is not the only way.

Joseph said...

Yeah, I think James actually got sort-of-a-point, but really didn't put it in the most diplomatic way, let's just say.

I disagree. I think his whole "point" consists of "you're not doing it the way I think you should, so you suck."

I happen to disagree.

Jack Crow said...

Well said and funny rant, dead on 100%. I also love anything that uses the word fucktard.

Precocious Apprentice said...

I agree with you 100%.

Seems to me like James completely misses the whole point of old-school. If you want polished and fleshed out, why not play a more polished and fleshed out game? Isn't old-school supposed to be "make shit up as you go"?

This is all nerd rage. He should get off his high horse. It's bad enough that we have to have edition wars, old-school vs. new school, but now we have to have the old-schoolers that count and the old-schoolers who's contributions are worthless?

Nice. That is a hell of a way to keep a movement going.

Saturday Movie Matinee said...

It seems to me that the Old School Renaissance will be defined by play and not be publishing at all. Sharing play experiences, sharing techniques that make the style of games you like work and just good ole sharing ideas that came out of your play.

Plus, on the publishing front, Fight On! is certainly off to a solid start, no?

JimLotFP said...

>>I disagree. I think his whole "point" consists of "you're not doing it the way I think you should, so you suck."

The point is I fear we're building a faddish and transitory "renaissance" here and that would be a tragedy considering the creativity and talent of the people involved and the quality work they're doing.

Content is the hard part, yet people are doing that readily. A more enduring (dare I say legacy-enabling?) presentation is easy after that.

Blogging and pdfs and how the web and computers are used is all very *now*. We have no idea at all how things are going to look in 5, 10, 15 years.

Yet books have proven to have lasting quality and have survived numerous shifts in cultural trends and pop culture. Disregarding print is not a good idea.

>>Seems to me like James completely misses the whole point of old-school. If you want polished and fleshed out, why not play a more polished and fleshed out game? Isn't old-school supposed to be "make shit up as you go"?

I consider In Search of the Unknown, Village of Hommlett, Tomb of Horrors, and Keep on the Borderlands (among others) as "old school," and all of those are quite fleshed out (Keep uniquely so; no names for the NPCs yet there's the detail of the guild house, for example).

I would think that a player's free-form interaction with the environment is much easier for a referee to interpret and judge with more information and detail about what is in that environment.

kaeosdad said...

>>The point is I fear we're building a faddish and transitory "renaissance" here and that would be a tragedy considering the creativity and talent of the people involved and the quality work they're doing.

Ah, and readers were supposed to get your point by reading a short rant how?

>>Blogging and pdfs and how the web and computers are used is all very *now*. We have no idea at all how things are going to look in 5, 10, 15 years.

It's very the last 10 years or so. It's a new medium and it should not be ignored. If you want to see more printed products then read my comment on your blog. Make a guide to publishing locally on the cheap instead of ranting like a baby.

>>I consider In Search of the Unknown, Village of Hommlett, Tomb of Horrors, and Keep on the Borderlands (among others) as "old school," and all of those are quite fleshed out (Keep uniquely so; no names for the NPCs yet there's the detail of the guild house, for example).

They are also considered fucking classics and written by professional full time started the whole shebang writers.

I'm pretty sure that most bloggers and DMs in general work regular 40 hour a week jobs. Hobby time is limited often to how late you are willing to stay up while the wife and kids are asleep and I'm positive that most people can't put there hobbies and pastimes any higher than 5 maybe 4 on their list of priorities.

You wanna see better quality products? Then do it man! If you know how it should be done, quit whining and ranting and shitting on everyone and do it. There's no one stopping you and hey, you even have a published product published professionally so it shouldn't be a problem for you to lead the charge right?

Melan said...

Every post is better with that image.

That said... I have done what James suggests back around 2003 with the Hungarian version of The Garden of al-Astorion ( http://www.rpg.hu/iras/mutat.php?id=2832 , PDF available at http://fomalhaut.rpg4.me/2008/11/20/al-astorion-kertje/ , English version at http://www.judgesguild.com ). I had a friendly copy shop print me seventy-five hard copies, of which approximately 50 went into sale, the rest distributed among friends and acquaintances.

In practice, it did not work so well. First, some shops just refused to stock it (understandably, it was a homemade kind of product that was technically also illegal for various non-OGL related reasons). Second, while it sold out (yes, every single copy that went into distribution was sold) and it was profitable, it got zero feedback - years later, I heard back from some people that they had played and enjoyed it, but that was years later. Third, it was a whole lot of work that was significantly less enjoyable than actually working on something. If I tried physical production and distribution with an English product... well no, as an economist, I have a pretty good idea where not to put my money.

In contrast, with PDFs and fanzines, I actually get comments. It is a more efficient form of distribution; I have no idea how the situation is in Finland, but the audience is simply not large enough and the products not lucrative enough to move them through game stores. Maybe Helsinki has an enthusiastic old-school player base - good for them if that's the situation. And of course, taking a bundle of printed modules to an old school convention would be very cool if you had a pool of people sharing. But generally, the physical proximity is too high; old school is a loose global network, not a geographically concentrated phenomenon.

With regards to the "half-assed glops and scratches" bit, that's rather insulting, although on the fundamental level, I agree that even hobby writing deserves a degree of (self-)respect on behalf of the author.

Melan said...

Oops. "the physical proximity is too high" --> "the physical proximity is too low"

S'mon said...

Well said. >:)

Jim, you can be a bit of a dick, you know.

S'mon said...

Jim:
"Having that detail provided is the only way someone else's adventure saves any effort on my part (might actually take more effort without it - getting familiar with the general idea AND filling in all the details?). It's the entire utility of using someone else's material to begin with."

Your brain obviously works differently from mine or Joseph's. I need the bare bones to riff off, I am easily buried by too much detail. Eg I do like the quirky room descriptions in B1 In Search of the Unknown but I would much rather have had the monsters & treasure listed for me, then my brain could get to work thinking how the critters interact and will react to the PCs. Conversely I have many new school modules with vast reams of background and description that just overwhelms me and leaves me frustrated. Or makes me think the writer is a frustrated novelist, not a gamer. Sometimes I can extract an adventure from the morass, sometimes not. But always for me the bare bones of the module are what matters.

Zachary The First said...

Well, he definitely should have couched it in better terms, but it is Jim after all.

Having all this stuff online has been a huge boon for me, especially for cheap or for free. I can download what I want, and decide to print what I want. Yeah, I like books, too, but unless the grid goes down, my pdfs aren't going anywhere, and I can choose, print, and share with who I wish. And we've already seen other works, such as Labyrinth Lord, get picked up in print by Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I think old school products have a foot in both camps.

I think Fight On! is doing quite well, also.

Joseph said...

S'mon, you hit the nail on the head about being overwhelmed by too much info. Brevity is often the soul of old-school design.

Lance said...

Makes me glad I deleted LotFP from my bookmarks: negativity doesn't build the hobby. It's funny all of this ranting against "unfinished" stuff coming from the guy who took people's money on a pre-order for a module that never materialized . . .

JimLotFP said...

And I repeat again that everyone who requested a refund has gotten it, and everyone else has received everything I've released in the meantime (admittedly one serious, one not so serious thing) so it's not like I took the money and ran.

Just waiting on two more pieces from the current artist and the project will be done.

Randall said...

JimLOtFP said: "Content is the hard part, yet people are doing that readily. A more enduring (dare I say legacy-enabling?) presentation is easy after that."

GOod presentation requires a completely different skill set than writing content, however. Not all content writers have good layout/design skills. Nor do they all know someone who does and is willing to do it for free.

Nor do all content writers have the spare cash to print up a couple of hundred copies of their project at once. Many probably lack the time and skills to do mail order well, especially in the US where there are a boatload of laws governing it.

Rather than just not produce anything because they lack the skills and spare cash to become a small print publishing company, they do what they enjoy doing -- produce content. They make it available as free or low cost PDFs (often without the expensive professional art and layout that would be needed to sell a physical product) that people can print if they want hard copies. And they make it available through POD for people who are willing to pay for bound hard copies and shipping. That covers 90% of the bases and with very little upfront cost to the hobbyist producer.

It sounds like you'd rather see people produce nothing if they lack the skills, time, and cash to print up copies and sell them out of their garage via mail order. If you can't have 100%, you'd rather have 0% than 90%. If so, I suspect you are in a very small minority.

Lance said...

If so, I suspect you are in a very small minority.

Indeed.

drmanbot said...

I guess there isn't much to do between Russian invasions of Finland other than to grow your hair and bitch about dudes in Jersey crafting D&D games.

Here's a thought. Download it and print it out how ever the hell you want. Emboss it. Laminate it. Make sweet love to it by Gulf of Finland if you wish. But to tell other people that you shouldn't bother just because its not up to your specs is just stupid.

Juampa said...

I have been following (lurking) Greyhawk Grognard for quite a while, along with GROGNARDIA and The Society of Pole, Torch, and Rope. I hate blog wars almost as much as I hate edition wars.

I really enjoy Joseph's work with CotMA and hope to run it someday. I agree with him 100%. In my opinion, a rant is just venting one's frustration. It produces nothing of value and sometimes (such as Jim's rant) it hurts others.

Politeness goes a long way to make people listen to you, or in this case, read your blog :)

Joseph said...

Yet books have proven to have lasting quality and have survived numerous shifts in cultural trends and pop culture. Disregarding print is not a good idea.

And yet you still have not explained why there is some special magic when *I* print 50 copies of WG13 at Staples and mail one to you, rather than you going there yourself with a pdf on a thumb-drive and having them print it. The difference? You still have a hard copy (without having to wait for the mail) and I *don't* have a box of them in my garage. That's a win-win as far as I can tell.

I fail to see any superiority to your model, other than the fact that I don't make any money at it, which is, frankly, my call as to whether or not that's why I'm doing what I'm doing. There are other reasons to put out such products...

Bill S. said...

I'm patiently waiting for my stipend from LotFP so I can put all five of my modules in print.

Just send it along, Jim. I think TSR-like printing quality for the size run I want will be around two thousand, U.S.. You've got my paypal, right?

Zachary The First said...

I WOULD like to point out that this is your only post that has the tag "BLOGOSPHERE DOUCHEBAGGERY". I just caught that. :)

Joseph said...

Here's hoping it remains a 1-post topic. :-)

Joseph said...

Oh, and I should point out that I have indeed self-published gaming material before (notably but not exclusively the play-by-mail game I posted of a few weeks ago), and had boxes in the proverbial garage, and dutifully mailed the product out (at a profit, I might add). I am not ignorant of the process, nor of its plusses and minuses. I also am actively (albeit part-time) employed as an editor (and, soon, a designer) by two gaming enterprises which choose to deliver their products via the hard-copy method that James advocates.

I made a deliberate choice to distribute Castle of the Mad Archmage in the fashion I do, and it suits my purposes to do it that way.

Pere Ubu said...

Call me old fashioned (I love hearing that from people deep in the "old school") but I believe things that are only online don't count for shit and might as well not exist in the end.

Has someone not been informed about the whole "save Web page" option in his browser? 'Casue I don't know, mine works just fine for saving blog posts.

It's the entire utility of using someone else's material to begin with.

As opposed to, maybe, using said material as inspiration?

Benoist said...

[i]I repeat again that everyone who requested a refund has gotten it, and everyone else has received everything I've released in the meantime (admittedly one serious, one not so serious thing) so it's not like I took the money and ran.[/i]

You are aware that you just killed your whole original argument by posting this, right?

Donny said...

@ Benoist - You sir, are my hero.

You win :)

Kellri said...

Good on you mate. Jim's long ago worn out his welcome on any discussion forum and isn't likely to get anyone interested in collaborating with him any time soon. Is it really any wonder he's become like the fox bitching about the sour grapes? You need more A4 paper Jimbo!

P.S. Fantasy ******* Vietnam...it's got no art, no proofreading, no appreciable content...it's not ******* finished.

Will said...

"And yet you still have not explained why there is some special magic when *I* print 50 copies of WG13 at Staples and mail one to you, rather than you going there yourself with a pdf on a thumb-drive and having them print it."

It's simple longing for the old ways, I think.

Was this an issue back when you wanted the latest gaming book twenty years ago?

I think not. The deal then was: I pay the money, you ship me the product. What's so hard to understand about that?

Kind of ironic that nostalgia-ridden "old-school" publishers are now getting baffled by that particular arrangement.

Gamer Dude said...

While I'm not going to do the "I hate Jim" dance, 'cause frankly I don't really know the guy, I will say that his original post didn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense.

I for one completely love the way that this whole thing is growing organically...fits and spurts don't bother me one bit. And what one person may call "unfinished", might be a gold mine of ideas and information for a guy like me.

Hey, isn't this actually supposed to be a hobyist endeavor anyway?

Joseph said...

The deal then was: I pay the money, you ship me the product. What's so hard to understand about that?

One might ask in response, I'm not charging you anything, and you get to print out the product yourself, or not, as you see fit. What's so hard to understand about that?

Espousing a particular style of game design from 30 years ago does not mean we must limit ourselves to the technology of 30 years ago...

PatrickWR said...

Christ, I just found this post lurking in the bottom of my Google Reader. Awesome stuff, and blogosphere douchebaggery at its best.