Category Archives: Old School

Against the Dark Lord (Always)

I’m back. Because I could not be silent. I know that I put the blog to bed a while ago but recent events have upset my ability to let it go…

On this blog, I have been a huge supporter of Adventurer Conqueror King System. It is an amazing game and incredibly well-written, designed, and implemented. Unfortunately, it is also in bed with the notorious internet troll and alt-right hack, Vox Day.

Without belaboring the point, here is the outline.

  • Autarch has a new kickstarter for two books for the ACKS line.
  • Autarch worked out an agreement with Vox Day to provide a “bonus” reward to Day if his followers took up the battle cry to include content, “for the Dark Lord.” This also might or might not include adding money to their pledge specifically for this bonus reward.
  • Vox Day advertised this by mentioning that one of the pieces of art he’d commission for his reward was, a picture of vile minions eating SJWs.
  • A few – and I admit it was only a few – of us who are fans of Autarch spoke up about our concerns about this.
  • We were very politely told that Vox is a big supporter and paid his money so that is it. The company (and owner)’s stance is strictly apolitical.

Before I go on, one thing is important to clear up… Alexander Macris, the man at the heart of Autarch… has always been excellent in my dealings with him. I worked the Autarch booth at GenCon last year because I believe in the product and wanted to be a part of sharing it with the world and gaming community at large. Alex has always been extremely straightforward and professional in our dealings and until this incident, I would not have believed that I would ever be speaking against Autarch. It’s a shame.

But life and business are not, in fact, apolitical. Providing Vox Day with a new soapbox is not a move I can support. He is abhorrent and espouses openly hurtful views under the guise of “rationality” and “standing up against the intolerant left.” His crusade – specifically against John Scalzi – borders on obsession. (Though even I must acknowledge that there is one area where Vox Day and I agree — Scalzi is a terrible writer.) Saying that you are being apolitical is a way to wash your hands of the other guy’s sins while still taking his money.

Alex and I then engaged in private communication. I will not delve too much into what he said as it was between us and not in a public forum, but there are two issues in his response which I feel compelled to take up.

First, Alex listed off to me a history of his business decisions which led him to his current stand on the issue of Vox Day. I understand the list he provided and the decisions he discussed. I appreciate him taking the time to provide such a personal response. That said, there is a fundamental difference and misunderstanding between many of his previous decisions and this current one. In almost every previous case, his decisions involved parties that were doing no harm and were simply, “objectionable” to one group or another. There is a fundamental difference between that and the active anger, disdain, and hatred propagated through Vox Day’s community and his own writing. Day has taken an active stand to be a troll and an extremist. He does harm by his actions. Alex said that the protest is about “who Day is, not what is in the book.” That is a fair point. But unfortunately, you can claim to be apolitical but you cannot claim that working with Day is the same as previously employing someone that others claim to be objectionable when they are harming none. That is a false equivalence.

Second, just briefly, I am going to quote one very small part of Alex’s letter to me. It is in the interest of speaking to it directly.

private economic boycotts over differences of identity and politics are harmful to civil society...  I know that many disagree with me, and believe it is better to cause those who espouse unpopular views to suffer for them because they deserve it.

This is important. I do not believe that it is better to cause those who espouse unpopular views to suffer. No one deserves to suffer. What I do believe is that my private boycott of a product (also, not so private as I voiced my concerns in the Autarch forum before writing to Alex privately) is about not being willing to associate myself with the objectionable person or content specifically because of their actions. I don’t care about someone’s identity or politics in the abstract. I care about how they manifest those actions in the world. Vox Day is an internet troll who actively chooses to take a harmful road with his words and actions. His site and writing are not merely “words” they are calls to action. To say that you are apolitical but still associate with him because he has money and has said nice things about your work is not apolitical – it is willfully choosing to endorse, tacitly or not – the messages that he spreads.

Again – Alex Macris has always, always been excellent to me and I have a great respect for his hard work and the product he has created. Autarch’s ACKS is, really, the best D&D style game I have ever played and I’d rank it one of the best games in the market. And again, to be fair, Alex has repeatedly stated that he is in final control of the content and will be certain that it is appropriate to the tone and mechanics of ACKS. I believe him completely when he says that.

But the fundamental disagreement here is not about politics or identity. It’s not about whether Vox Day is a “good person” or not. I frankly don’t care. I’m not always a good person. The issue is that Vox Day actively creates a hostile atmosphere in our community and acts to sow discord, disdain, and spite while frequently patting himself on the back for same. And that is not something that I can associate myself with. If you have reservations, I hope you will express them as well.

Skill vs. Skill (Part Two)

This is a follow up to my last post concerning the nature of character skill vs. player skill at the gaming table and the various interactions that entails. Several comments on my last post raised specific points I intend to address as I write this, Part Two, and I have some additional ideas I hope to develop here.

Continue reading →

Encounters and Play/GM Style

This is a small post and I’ll say up front, I’m covering some well trod territory here… but it’s something that was on my mind recently as I began thinking about how to put together a toolkit for encounters.

At the con this past weekend we had several conversations about the difference between old school play and more modern “D&D” play, specifically thinking about how frustrating encounters are to create in a game like Pathfinder. It can take hours to plan a single encounter in Pathfinder. More importantly, we were discussing the idea of planned/balanced encounters vs. story-driven encounters.

I started thinking about the games I’ve played the most and how I GM, how I create encounters. I find that the more rules-light and the more well-defined the setting, the more capable I am of improvising and feeling good about it. I think back to running Star Wars D6 system in the Rebellion era and it was incredibly easy to run on the fly. I could improvise details and encounters easily. Amber DRPG works the same way for me.

Part of this comes from the fact that the whole group of players are very comfortable with those settings. They know the details and so they are not thrown off when encounters are not “balanced” because the expectation exists that they could run into odd but appropriate stuff at any time. Some other games really emphasize the encounter-mechanics-based method over the idea that encounters make sense for the setting. I think this is why my return to old-school, open-world style gaming has really been a boon. Sure, it’s sometimes a pain to make up treasure hoards and I am still getting my players familiar with the setting I’m running in, but the feeling of freedom has invigorated my desire to GM.

I’d never really thought about this from the player side before, and how it affects the play experience. I’m going to keep ruminating on this more, but it’s a thought that might show dividends at my table.

Thanks.

Adventurer Conqueror King Campaign

Last night was the second session of my new Adventurer Conqueror King System campaign. Session 2 also meant our first death but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

The first night primarily involved character creation with 3 players. Using one of the optional rules in the book, I had each of them roll up multiple characters and choose one of them to play. The others end up as back up characters and for use as NPCs.

The party… Knut (“Nut”), a thief with 2 hit points (there was some culture shock), Aella – a Bladedancer (a type of war-cleric who fights with two weapons), and a Dwarven Vaultguard named Mithras. I think the names embraced the style we were going for. Also, excitingly, the Vaultguard rolled both a 16 strength and a 17 intelligence and chose to play a dwarf instead of diving in with an Elven Spellblade.

So we have no arcane caster. It is what it is.

The first night we went through a very short, very typical dungeon crawl and it was strangely refreshing for me. I really enjoyed going back to a very simplified and straightforward accounting of time (the 10 minute turn). This actually made me feel a lot better about how I narrated time in the dungeon and really gave some context and some pressure to the idea of “you only have so many torches/flasks of oil.” So far, I find that I’m really enjoying these bookkeeping elements, including encumbrance, particularly because ACKS makes them much easier to follow on the fly.

After returning to civilization, the party wanted to do some buying and selling and they realized that the very little town they are in (a class six market) is just not going to cut it. The market system is a great innovation in the game and really streamlines a lot of the difficulties involved in “can I buy X here?” and really helps to push the characters toward civilization. I think there is room to manipulate the market system here with some subsystems so that it is not always tied to population size but I’m a big fan.

For their second adventure I’m running a modified version of a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure – and it’s a blast. I won’t say too much here – since they are playing through it still and my players all see this blog but I do want to say a big thank you to Knut for not only being our first casualty but also giving us the first chance to roll on the Mortal Wounds table. Let’s just say that it is going to be a game-changer when the bladedancer hits 2nd level and gets actual healing magic.

More to come on the ACKS experiment but I’ll say two things right now, I’d kill to get a copy of the Core Book as a hardcover (around $135 to get one on Amazon marketplace) and (not ACKS but…) Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures are every bit as cool to run as they were to read. I’m really digging this.

Thank you to the entire OSR for making Old School cool again. I’m having a blast.