Perils of the Small Press Era

The advent of digital publishing has changed the landscape for role-playing games, as it has for books in general.  We’ve returned to something closer to the early days of the hobby; individual hobbyists and enthusiasts can create and share their games and supplements without involving a large publishing house.  This has led to a wonderful variety of ‘indie’ projects, and I’m a big fan of many of these small-press games.

However, the small-press era does involve certain novel challenges.  I’m active on Google+, where I know and interact regularly with many of the people who make the games I play.  If I offer an opinion on one of their games, or post an actual play report, it’s likely they’re going to see it.  It was easy to talk casually and critically about a game made by TSR in its 1980s heyday, for example, or about a game published by White Wolf during the 1990s.  Those were (relatively) large companies that would not be greatly influenced by what I, one gamer among many, had to say.  It’s a little different when the author is looking over your shoulder in a virtual fashion.  Many of these games are sufficiently small that one enthusiastic (or very critical) blogger or social media poster can have an outsized influence on the public footprint of that game.

As an example of this, consider my current dilemma.  I’ve always been a little unusual in my tastes and in the company I keep.  At the moment I’m running a play-by-post campaign for a longtime friend of mine, someone with whom I’ve gamed for many years through the days of the MU*s (MUSHes, MUSEs, etc.).  It’s a sword-and-sorcery campaign, and at the moment I’m using the Blood of Pangea rules from Olde House Rules, for which I have the highest respect.  I think it’s a wonderful, rules-light system.

My campaign involves a fair amount of kinky, graphically role-played sex.

I’ve been posting actual play reports in an expurgated fashion, but while editing the next chapter in my story, I’ve realized that even a cleaned-up version of this scene is going to be obviously… adult.  I don’t know James and Robyn George– the minds behind Olde House Rules– personally, but I do interact with James on Google+.  He seems like a stand-up guy and he’s justifiably proud of the Olde House Rules imprint.  I don’t flatter myself that I am in any way an arbiter of role-playing fashion, and certainly Blood of Pangea will be fine regardless of what I post.  But the author is watching.  Am I presenting material with which he would not want Olde House Rules to be associated? Am I tarnishing the good name of his game?

I’ve considered switching my campaign to D&D (Rules Cyclopedia), which strikes me as a value-neutral rule set, effectively defunct long ago, and now fair game for anyone’s twisted imagination.

Has anyone else been given pause by the idea that an indie author, active on social media, might be saddened or upset by what one chooses to do with, or say about, their game?  The renewed intimacy of the hobby, made possible by the Internet and digital publishing, may have its discontents.


Shattered Land: Chapter Four


The sun is setting behind the pines. Spears of shadow cross the clearing before Thorvald’s cottage, and ruddy light suffuses the white snow with blood. The day’s wind has settled and the sky is clear; it’s going to be a still, bitterly cold night.

Thorvald has not yet returned from the wood, although he is due at any time. Yuwen Blue-Eyes appears to drowse by the fire, stretched out as before. He doesn’t snore, but his eyes are closed and his lean body is still. His chest rises and falls with steady, if somewhat shallow breaths. Gritta remains a lump of fuzzy brown beneath the furs.

And so Sora is the sole watcher when, checking at the door for Thorvald, she sees a larger shadow swim out of the trees. Someone wrapped up in a traveling cloak and mounted on a brown horse that struggles through the snow, lifting and placing its hooves in sprays of crystal. The beast’s breath fogs the air.

The stew is bubbling, sending up tendrils of fragrant steam and the warmth of the homestead, at her back, coupled with not looking at Yuwen, at Gritta, is almost enough to lull Sora into a false, uneasy sense of security. But the sight of the rider sends ice water through her veins. Her heart seems to stop, her lungs freeze.

And then she turns and ducks back into the thicker air inside.

“Sir!” Urgency makes a hiss of this call as she hurries to Yuwen’s side, a hand out to touch his shoulder. “Sir, a man on a horse. He’s coming. It… it isn’t the master.” Continue reading “Shattered Land: Chapter Four”