Thursday, July 6, 2023
Friday, May 26, 2023
[I ask] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. — John 17:20-21
One of the important principles in Orthodoxy Christianity is the idea that multiplicity is capable of becoming one. Through Christ, the various nations of the earth become one church despite all of the various things that we humans do to try and separate ourselves from each other.
This idea of one and many exists in every order of creation from the most high (God is both One and Three) all the way down to subatomic where electons, protons, and neutrons are gathered together as the building blocks of matter.
I don’t normally lead with such theological musings, but I want make clear the persupposition for why I find such beauty and joy in the idea of fandoms. When a fandom manifests itself properly, the love that each individual has for said franchise, game, hobby, sport, etc. can overcome all kinds of differences we impose upon ourselves and each other.
For example, the majorty of the folks who read this blog are not Orthodox Christan, and I would venture a good chunk do not even consider themselves Christian. Despite this, we can all gather in this corner of the internet and revel in the love we have for RPGs. That love overcomes the fact that we do not all agree about religion. It can also overcome all kinds of barriers such as language, race, politics, ethnicity, gender, etc.
To put it theologically, the unity that Christ gives us through the Cross, the Resurrection, and His Church manifests itself in a small way through fandoms. Conversly, the unity we find in fandoms demonstrate that the unity promised by Christ is very real.
As a consequence, I firmly believe that the reason our beloved IPs from Star Wars to Indiana Jones, to Star Trek, to Dungeons & Dragons are in such bad shape is the fact that the companies that are in control of these IPs have roundly rejected the fundamental premise of unity from multiplicity and the role fandoms play in overcoming differences.
Companies such as WotC, Disney, Warner, etc. have almost universally adopted ideas found in Critical Race Theory, Intersectional Feminism, and Diversity Equity and Inclusion. At first glance, all of these concepts are laudable. There is no question that various groups of people have suffered at the hands of others throughout history and that trying to fix the various problems that come from this suffering is something I would hope everyone is on board with.
There is one very large however here, though. All of these ideas are based on a dialectic — the Opressed versus the Opressor. As a consequence, every single one of these ideas requires division. Not a single one of these ideas can ever unify humanity because the smallest possible number in a dialectic is always two.
Thus, when the fandom becomes hostile to the direction a company is taking a particular IP, these ideas don’t allow for love to overcome differences of opinion. They don’t allow for fandoms to become part of the solution. Rather, the fandom is moved from the in-group (the Oppressed) into the out-group (the Oppressor). This is why fans have been accused of being bigoted in all kinds of ways over the last several years.
Those of us who participate in RPGs are very fortunate because the OGL was born out of fandom. It was designed in such a way that the love we have of D&D could empower us to produce a plethora of products for this hobby. We have seen the fruits of that love and don’t every want to go back. This is why WotC’s attempts to ditch the OGL has been received with such a pushback from across the entire fandom. At some level, we have come to understand that the unity we find in participating in this hobby at all levels is much more profound and valuable than anything WotC could offer alone as the gatekeeper of everything D&D.
While RPGs are a different medium than television or film, nonetheless, what has happened in the world of TTRPGs is a blueprint for fandoms to move forward and beyond the dialectic being imposed upon us by the likes of WotC, Disney, etc. We can participate in our fandoms (and make money doing so) in all kinds of ways that don’t involve us giving these corporations a dime.
We have a capacity to be one. They have limited themselves to merely being two.
They need us far more than we need them.
Saturday, May 13, 2023
In my line of work, I have to be acutely aware of presuppositions (one of the demands of doing theology). Our culture does not do a very good job of exploring or even being aware that we make them all the time. So, a definition is in order: a presupposition is a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.
Let’s explore an element of D&D that is near and dear to my heart, but is widely rejected by those who play: Race-as-Class. I think part of the reason that so many people balk at the idea of Race-as-Class is that they believe it fundamentaly prevents people from playing a particular race the way they want to. Personally, I have a metal figure in my collection that is a dwarven wizard. I love the personality that exudes from the sculpt. Race-as-Class seems to dictate that I can never use that character concept in my favorite versions of the game.
What this perspective fails to see is the presupposition that must be made in gaming worlds that have no Race-as-Class: since the mechanics of dwarf and human characters are so similar, there isn’t much actual difference between humans and dwarves.
In contrast, Race-as-Class poses siginificant mechanical differences between the two races. The culture that arises from humans as clerics, fighters, magic-users, and thieves is necessarily very different from that of Dwarves. One is mechanically diverse, the other isn’t.
Thus, when I pull out that dwarven wizard figure the machanics of Race-as-Class put far more weight on my choice of class than the versions of D&D that don’t use it. In both cases, I will essentially be playing a human character; however, while the mechanics of a dwarven wizard don’t say a lot about my character, playing a dwarven magic-user that uses the mechanics of a human magic-user says a tremendous amount about the world, the history of my character, and dwarves themselves. In order to become a magic-user, my dwarf has had to reject his culture and his people to the point that mechanically he no longer functions as a dwarf. For all intents and purposed he is a human.
In both scenerios, I come to the same basic conclusion: mechanically a dwarven magic-user/wizard is essentially a re-skinned human; however, when one looks at the necessary presuppositions that Race-as-Class demands, I get a much more interesting re-skinned human — one that I don’t think I would have arrived at without Race-as-Class.
I say all this as a preamble, because I did something quite outside my comfort zone this week. Chris Gore of Film Threat is producing a new show on his YouTube channel which seeks to bring Star Wars fans together to discuss whether or not Disney has murdered the franchise. The format is that of a court with those who are on the side of the prosecution and those who are on the defense.
I was asked to be on the first show, because so few people in the sphere of YouTube Star Wars fandom were willing to argue the defense. It was all in good fun and I think the overwhelming consensus is that my side lost the argument (not surprising, since Chris Gore’s audience is largely unhappy with Disney Star Wars). I want to explain why I was willing to be on the Defense and that has to do with presuppositions.
While the language “Disney Murdered Star Wars” is hyberbolic, there is a necesssary presupposition behind that statement: Star Wars fans are beholden to Disney for all things Star Wars. I vehemently disagree.
The presupposition that I make is one that I believe better reflects reality: Star Wars is part of our culture. It no longer belongs to Disney or George Lucas in any way other than the legal right to produce Star Wars products. We, as the fandom have far more power than Disney thinks we do (or we do, depressingly). The Audience is a vital part of any artistic endeavor, especially when it comes to beloved franchises like Star Wars.
Very few Tolkien fans, for example, would argue that Amazon’s Rings of Power has any real place in the lore of Middle-earth. Likewise, the fans have the ability to embrace or reject anything Star Wars. As an example, few Star Wars fans acknowledge that the Star Wars Christmas Special has any real standing in Star Wars lore. Yes, it is the first appearance of Boba Fett, but does anyone argue that the Mandolorian, or any other Disney product, isn’t following the lore established in the Christmas Special? No, because the fandom doesn’t care about the Christmas Special. It does about the EU and the many ways Disney has contradicted it. Despite the fact that Disney has de-canonized the EU, it still lives on because the fans have embraced it.
The only way that Disney can murder Star Wars, in other words, is if we aid and abett them by rejecting Star Wars as a whole. As long as the fandom exists, Star Wars lives. And, if the fandom wakes up and realizes its own power and importance, we may see a day when the owners of the legal right to produce Star Wars products will listen.
Thursday, May 4, 2023
|The only Star Wars product|
I have enjoyed in the last decade
Star Wars taught me a tough but valuable lesson: just because something has a particular label on it, doesn’t mean that it is good. This lesson took a long time for me to understand, however. Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood and a formative experience in my life. One of my favorite RPG campaigns of all time was played with d6 Star Wars. One of my favorite computer franchises of all time is the X-Wing/Tie-Fighter series. I was all in.
I couldn’t bring myself to understand that the emotion I was feeling after watching Episode I at a midnight showing on opening day was disappointment. I spent hours and a lot of money watching Phantom Menace trying to convince myself that it was good. Then I saw Episode II in theaters at a matinee a couple of weeks after it opened and came to terms with the idea that Star Wars was no longer a brand I could trust.
I had hope that Disney could turn things around. So, when my kids wanted to see Episode VII in the theaters, I went. I walked out of the movie with a feeling I was familiar with and now was accustomed to: disappointment. This time, however, I refused to spend another dime.
I suppose that is why I was so adamant to ditch WotC when they put their “warning” labels on legacy products. The disappointment I had when realizing WotC saw me as a racist simply for buying and playing one of the most important games in my lifetime was similar to what I was feeling walking out of Phantom Menace. So, I didn’t spend another dime, despite several legacy products being released in POD that I would have otherwise snatched up in a second.
The last several months have proven my instincts correct. WotC has rendered the label “Dungeons & Dragons” worthless. It seems that the shenanigans Hasbro has pulled have finally woken some people up to the fact that WotC and Hasbro are run by people who care nothing about gamers or the games we play.
I realize I am a small voice in the wilderness, but I not only encourage everyone to stop buying something simply because it has the label “Dungeons & Dragons” on it, but to create your own systems, adventures, and worlds. I can almost guarantee that whatever you produce is going to be a whole lot better than whatever WotC has put the label "Dungeons & Dragons" on.
BTW for those interested, the title of this post comes from the fond memories of an alum of my seminary who went to my school in the 70s. In response to the popularity of Star Wars and the Force, which from an Orthodox Christian POV is a dualistic heresy, one of the bishops printed up a bunch of T-Shirts that said, “May the Φος Be With You.” In Greek, φος (phos as in phosphorescence) means “light” as in John 8:12, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
Ever since May 4th became a thing where Star Wars fans say, “May the Force Be With You” I have gently corrected their spelling…
Sunday, April 16, 2023
Foreseeing this, Isaiah proclaimed: "Hades," he said, "was angered when he met You below." It was angered because it was abolished. It was angered because it was mocked. It was angered because it was slain. It was angered because it was shackled. It received a body and encountered God. It took earth and came face to face with heaven. It took what it saw and fell by what it could not see. Death, where is your sting? — The Catechetical Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom
Friday, April 7, 2023
…it's base premise is that the major religion is a mix of real world ones, predominantly Christianity, but with lots of Islam, Buddism and so forth. There are lots of theological disputes within the system, there's "magic" that "works", when you're praying to a game version of God (Pancreator, a semi-gnostic syncretic deity). Lots of saints and rituals resembling the Church's rituals and so forth.The question here is whether or not it is okay, from a strictly Christian POV, to allow for magic to be awarded to followers of, for lack of a better word, “pagan” gods?
First, we must clear up something. Neither Orthodox Christianity or Scripture posit strict monotheism, as understood by most moderns, Jews, and Muslims. Take for example this prayer from the Presanctified Liturgy and the Vespers service:
Compassionate and merciful, longsuffering and very merciful Lord, hear our prayer and attend to the voice of our supplication. Give us a favorable sign. Guide us in Your path that we may walk in Your truth. Gladden our hearts that we may fear Your holy name, for You are great and work wonders. Only You are God, O Lord, and there is none like You among the gods. You are great in mercy and gracious in strength and in aiding, exhorting, and saving all those who place their hope in Your holy name. [My emphasis]When I first encountered this prayer, I was a bit scandalized because it explicitly acknowledges the existence of other gods(!); however, this prayer merely reflects a viewpoint expressed by Scripture. Take Psalm 82:
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I say, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for to thee belong all the nations! [My emphasis]In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT used by the ancient Church), the “divine council” from the first verse is συναγωγή θεών. That first word is a root word of Synagogue and the second is a declension of ο θέος — God. There is no escaping the idea of other gods or their existence.
The polemic presented here in Psalm 82 is that Yahweh — the Most High God — is the creator of all things, including these other gods. This is made clear by the line, “you shall die like men.” Within the context of the Fall, everything that has a beginning also has an end. These gods were originally created to watch over and protect the various nations, but turned against their cretor and accepted worship from those very same nations.
It is important to remember that within the context of a Fantasy or Science Fantasy world, whatever magic system exists is part of creation and something God made. Like all things given by God, this magic system can be used as God intended or used in a manner that does not. In Scripture, we see this happen with technology.
The Book of Genesis presents us with two Civilization builders: Cain and Noah. As the first city-builder, Cain uses technology to build a society of personal pleasure, power, and sin. This civilization is so evil that God deems it unsalvagable and calls forth the Flood in order to start over. Noah is the means by which this happens. He uses technology in obedience to God. Through this use of technology, humanity and through humanity all of creation, gets to participate in a salvation event.
Thus, if I were to play a TTRPG where various gods grant magic to their followers I would portray it as the gods of Scripture giving out technology to Cain’s civilization. While it might temporarily give a character influence and power, it ultimately will lead to destruction. In contrast, that same magic used in context of the Most High God and in obedience to Him and His Church can be salvific.
One of the reasons I like 0e and B/X is that the mechanic of arcane vs divine magic make this distinction very easy to emulate and communicate in game play. I myself have never read anything about the Fading Suns game world or mechanics, so I don’t have any explicit advice about how to implement these ideas mechanically or mythically within that setting or rules; however, Scripture can help here, too:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. — Matthew 16:18No matter what situation a TTRPG places humanity or what alternate history it proposes, it is very easy to insert the Most High God as creator of all things. In a scifi or future fantasy setting, the Church survives somewhere, however big or small. As long as I present this knowledge and this reality in some way shape or form, the story that emerges from play is an exploration of the consequences of our relationship (or lack thereof) with the Most High God.
Friday, January 20, 2023
I have made no secret about stepping away from Hasbro and WotC for years now. I was never going to give them any money for any new sparkly version of DnD regardless of this whole OGL mess. While I will not be using any OGL from Hasbro going forward, I do want to raise a klaxon, warning anyone who thinks that any concessions Hasbro gives publishers are worth a morality clause, or that a morality clause is something that should be a part of any other Open License.
In order to demonstrate how strongly I feel about this, I give you James Raggi — someone whose published works I largely dislike and will no longer purchase for reasons of personal morality:
Sunday, January 15, 2023
|This is likely the most popular thing |
Prokopius Press has ever produced.
Thursday, January 12, 2023
The last few days have been fascinating to watch. I think Hasbro vastly underestimated their customer base and the Dungeons and Dragons brand has been severely damaged. It will be interesting to see how they try to repair it.
In the meantime, 3rd party publishers like Kobold Press, Frog God Games, and Autarch have all officially declared that they will not be signing the OGL 1.1. Basic Fantasy (one the the pioneers in the world of Retro-Clones) is currently getting rid of all the OGL language in their products. There have been several statements that even if the original OGL can be upheld in court, Hasbro has shown itself to be a bad actor and can no longer be trusted. I don't see how any publisher going forward can use the OGL, even if Hasbro walks back on OGL 1.1. For all intents and purposes, the OGL is dead.
Enter folks like Kobold Press and Autarch who are moving forward with non-OGL game systems and Paizo hosting a website dedicated to creating a new Open RPG license that can used by anybody, and Frog God Games calling for publishers to band together to create these systems and this new license.
I will echo the words of Bill Webb of Frog God Games: if you care about this hobby, buy some books from publishers you like so they can keep their lights on long enough to get these things done. I have.
Godspeed to everyone who is trying to put food on the table. May the apparent darkness of today lead to a very bright tomorrow.
Tuesday, January 10, 2023
My last post here was back in June (!) of 2022. If I am honest, it has a lot to do with the fact that I am not really all that invested in RPGs at the moment. I am happily and busily printing and painting away in my latest deep dive into the world of miniature war gaming. I also have to admit, 2022 was a very painful year…literally. Spent some time in the hospital and am currently still trying to figure out the source of the pain I have currently been in for the last several months. So, I hope you excuse my complete lack of activity here on the old blog.
The world of D&D, however, is currently going through a major crisis in the form of the OGL 1.1. To which I say: D&D is dead! Long live D&D! Hasbro has every right to change the OGL for whatever edition they want to produce going forward; however, that OGL will only be legally binding for that edition, and possibly 5e (thought I don’t believe so). The original architects of the OGL created it specifically to protect the game and those who play it from a major corperation trying to do what Hasbro is currently trying to do: kill the game (whether they realize it or not).
Game mechanics are not copywritable in the U.S., and the legal scope of the OGL simply makes certain descriptions of mechanics and monsters their legal property. Everything else is Open Content usable by anyone. The intent was that if the owner of the D&D brand ever went out of business or decided that D&D would no longer be published, the game itself could survive under other names, with different descriptions, published by other companies. Paizo’s Pathfinder is not only the direct result of the OGL, but was the intention of the OGL — because WoTC was abandoning 3.5e in order to produce 4e. Those folks who wanted 3.5e to continue had the ability to. Not only do we still do, we still have the ability to produce games that emulate older editions as well. Long live D&D (just not under that name).
If you recall, back in july of 2020, I wrote this post in response to a disclaimer WoTC placed on all their legacy content of DTRPG and DM’s Guild. They haven’t changed the language and I have spent a dime on their products since. I would highly recommend everyone adopt the same same attitude. Hasbro has clearly demonstrated that they do not care about the game, about the community, or about you. In turn, you have absolutely no obligation to support them in any way, especially financially.
Instead of relying on major corporations to curate and control the IPs we love, we ought to either support the independent creators that are producing great alternatives, or start producing our own.
It also might be worthwhile to start working on rewording the entirety of whichever SRD you like the best and then releasing that document as Open Content under a different license to give all of us yet another legal haven to ensure the game we love can live on for generations to come.