Is This the New Standard?

So El Presidente said the following at a press conference earlier this week in defense of the illegal wiretapping of American citizens that he authorized:

“…the FISA law was written in 1978. We’re having this discussion in 2006. It’s a different world. And FISA is still an important tool. It’s an important tool. And we still use that tool. But also — and we — look — I said, look, is it possible to conduct this program under the old law? And people said, it doesn’t work in order to be able to do the job we expect us to do. And so that’s why I made the decision I made.”

Riiigggghhhhttttt. OK, first of all the world is different in many ways, but it’s not that different. Like there weren’t terrorists in the 70s? Good god, that was the era when planejacking was invented and there were plenty of homegrown terrorist groups thriving in the Western democracies too. The idea that terrorism is some new crazy thing that we’ve never seen before is complete bullshit.

My larger point though is that this can’t be the new standard. When strictures on the government aren’t working for the president, he can’t just wave them aside. It is simply unbelievable that Bush can publicly state that he broke the law and it isn’t considered scandalous. It’s times like this when I like to apply what I call the “Clinton Test.” Why don’t you play along with me? Imagine for a moment that it’s 1996 and it comes out that ole Bill was illegally wiretapping American citizens. What do you think the Republicans would have done? Think they would have let Bill off the hook because they felt his heart was in the right place? Hell no. There would have been impeachment proceedings faster than you can say, “She gave me a Lewinski.” But Bush, he has nothing to worry about. He’s got a majority on Congress and the so-called moderate Republicans are too gutless to stand up to the administration. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is going to be packed with conservative ideologues that will plague the country for decades. And the Democrats can’t seem to find two nuts between them.

I weep for America, I really do.


Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is one of the most notorious exploitation films of all time. Released in 1975 the movie takes place in a Nazi prison camp run by the sadistic Ilsa. She is out to prove that women can stand more pain than men. She does this, of course, by horribly torturing her female prisoners. The male prisoners suffer a different fate. They get to sleep with Ilsa, but those that don’t satisfy her are castrated and their parts become souvenirs. Naturally, no man has ever satisfied the She Wolf of the SS, until rough and ready American pilot Wolfe arrives in camp that is. As he explains to his unmanned compatriots, he has such amazing willpower that he can hold off a climax indefinitely. “I guess you might call me a freak of nature,” he says with a straight face. Wolfe and others plan an uprising and after much gratuitous nudity and gross-out violence, Ilsa is overthrown and killed. Amazingly, being killed does not manage to stop Ilsa. She returns in three sequels: Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks; Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia; and Ilsa, the Wicked Warden.

Ilsa has graced many t-shirts (they were staple on St. Mark’s Place in NYC) and has even been the subject of a punk rock song by the always-terrible Murphy’s Law. But to date there has been no homage to Ilsa in miniature form…until now.

Not only Ilsa, but four other Nazi She Wolves as well. Need I say more?

Sick of 4E Already

God, 4th edition D&D; hasn’t even been announced yet and I’m already sick of it. These days it seems like a day can hardly go by without another freakout thread on whether or not WotC is going to publish D&D; 4E. Well, here’s a newsflash for everyone: of course they are. That’s the RPG business model in the print arena. You sell one edition and all the expansions you can for it until sales of new supplements drop to an unsustainable level. Then you do a new edition and reset the clock all over again. So it’s not a question of if WotC is going to release 4E, but when it’s going to happen.

The timing, I think, will tell us a lot about how D&D; sales have been the last couple of years. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t expect to see 4E until 2008. I think the 3.5 launch was bungled enough that they wouldn’t want to do 4E sooner than that unless they had to. So, if we see an announcement this August about a 2007 release date for the new edition I think that will speak volumes as the current health of the game.

The more pertinent issue for everyone else is whether the 4E rules will be put into the System Reference document and whether the d20 STL will continue. This is something I have no insight into. I could really see it going either way. With Charles Ryan laid off, the last person in a position of authority who was really behind the OGL is gone from there. On the other hand, stepping away from the OGL would cause them to take a PR hit and they may not want that affecting the 4E launch. Of course, gamers have a long history of making a big stink out of things and then going to buy this week’s object d’outrage anyway, a fact the sales guys over there are surely aware of.

From WotC’s point of view, I could see why they would not want to go through another d20 boom and bust with 4E. The thing is that the print market is hardly cluttered right now. There are maybe half a dozen companies that still regularly put out d20 material and even those releases are getting fewer and farther between. A middle path WotC might take is to just doing a licensing deal with the remaining good companies. That’d give some quality 3rd party support without cutting out the legs of the entire d20 industry. It would hit the PDF market pretty hard though.

The cold hard truth of the matter may be that what WotC does with the 4E and the OGL doesn’t even matter anymore. D20 sales have been declining steadily since the release of 3.5. Companies have come up with their own variants that are not reliant on the D&D; core books anymore and many of these are selling a lot better than d20 stuff these days. What happens with 4E will not affect the health of Mutants & Masterminds or True20, for example. Those are stand-alone games with their own player bases. Ditto for games like Spycraft and Arcana Unearthed.

Realistically though the soonest anything will be announced is GenCon Indy in August. Until then folks should relax and play some games. There are certainly plenty enough to go around.

Things That Make You Go D’oh!

I guess this means January is list month on my blog. Here are some things have made me say “D’oh” recently.

  • Deciding over the holidays that I really need to lose some weight and then coming home to find one of our vendors has sent a 5-lb. tin of butter cookies to us as a Xmas gift.
  • Sending a fellow publisher an e-mail about a typo on the sales page of their new PDF product and scant days later getting a new book of ours back from the printer and finding the exact same typo.
  • Having so many miniatures that I’ve managed to lose an entire army in the depths of my collection. I know it’s here somewhere…
  • Finally cleaning up the living room after the holidays only to have (at a conservative estimate) 15 boxes of books show up over the course of a single week and get dumped there “temporarily”.
  • Going to the post office to get some of the new stamps without realizing it’s the very first day they are on sale. Not only is there a line out the door, but there’s also been a run on the stamp machines and they are empty.
  • Getting knocked off my usual sleep schedule and deciding that 1 am is a good time to do things like clean and post stupid lists to my LJ.

10 Fundamental Contradictions in RPG Publishing

The first thing you need to understand is that in the RPG business, you can never win. Somewhere on the internet there’s the person or small group of people who happen to hate exactly the sort of thing you’ve just published. And then they must go on and on about it on every available forum for months or in some cases years. So just get used to that one right off the bat. But there is more to come, oh yes there is. Here are some real chestnuts:

  • If your core rulebook leaves any room for expansion, you are trying to rip people off by “making” them buy supplements. If you don’t produce any supplements, your game is dead and thus shouldn’t be played by anyone for the rest of time.
  • If your adventure has a discernable plot, you are trying to railroad the players. If it doesn’t, it is dismissed as simply a dungeon crawl.
  • If your book is mechanics heavy, it is boring and flavorless. If your book is mostly source material, it’s useless fluff.
  • If you do a licensed book that cleaves closely to the core rules, it doesn’t accurately reflect the setting. If you make rules changes to reflect the setting, it’s too far from the core rules.
  • If a book is late because you want to ensure a quality release, you are unprofessional. If you rush it out to meet the release date and there are typos or mediocre illustrations, you are also unprofessional.
  • If you try to appeal to the average fan, your products are too derivative and boring. If you try to break new ground, your products are too weird and niche.
  • If you never change your mind about a product line, you don’t listen to the fans. If you do change your mind, you are cursed oath-breakers.
  • If you publish a short setting book, it’s too sketchy. If you publish a long setting book, it’s too intimidating.
  • If you publish a niche product, retailers won’t buy it because it’s too risky. If you publish it as a PDF instead, you are trying to undercut retailers.
  • If you win an award, it doesn’t mean anything. If you don’t win an award, you must be doing something wrong.


I have a tendency to personalize symbols. I will wear a symbol that’s important to me, but I sometimes forget that other people may read very different things into them. My winter hat, for example, is a NY Yankees hat. I found it somewhere or other or maybe it was left at our booth during a winter con, I really can’t remember. I started wearing it not because I give two shits about professional baseball, but because I lived in NYC for 9 years and the city is in my blood. To me the hat is about New York City, not the baseball team. Most of the time I don’t give it a second thought.

Last month I was in Boston, showing Nicole and Kate around the North End a bit and then walking over to the South Station area to have dinner with my old friend Jay and his family. It struck me as I rode the Orange line into town that this was NOT a good place to wear a Yankees hat. If there’s anywhere that townie hooligans might attack someone for such a display, it’s Boston. So when I was walking around Beatown, I turned the hat around (’cause dammit, it was cold and I wasn’t going without) and everything was fine. I will think more carefully when packing for my next Boston trip, however.

Back in college in NYC, I had this punk rock trench coat. I had painted the name and symbol of a band I liked, Social Unrest, on the back. The trench coat was black (natch) and I had painted the symbol in white for a nice contrast. One night I was out with some of my friends at a 24-hour diner called the Waverly. It was 2 or 3 in the morning and after many cups of coffee we decided to split. On the way out I was accosted by a group of black skinheads (and before you ask, yes, there are black skinheads; they predate all the racist stuff that started later in the 70s). They asked me if I was into white power. I was boggled. “Uh, no,” I said, “and I’m not just saying that because there are five of you and one of me. What gave you that idea?” Turns out it was my jacket. The Social Unrest logo incorporates a cross and since it was done in white they had thought it might represent a Cross of Odin (a common white power symbol). I explained to them that Social Unrest was a punk rock band and a very left wing one at that. They were suspicious but the incident thankfully defused. My friend Aaron said, “Dude, that’s what you get for wearing obscure social symbols on your jacket.” Which was a bit dickish but really he was right. How people outside the punk scene would view that symbol hadn’t really been a concern to me when I was making the trench coat. Live and learn.

Now in Color

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think about World War I in black and white. The photos and footage you see is nearly always that way. The History Channel followed up their WWII in Color series with one that did the same for WWI, and while neat it simply colorized previously existing b+w footage.

About six months ago I ran across some actual color photos from WWI. It turns out the French army had a special unit equipped with expensive state-of-the-art (for 1914) cameras and this unit shot some of the only color photos of the war. The Military History Channel has been running an excellent 10-part series (The First World War) based on Hew Strachan’s book of the same name and you can see some of these photos in the credits. The other day I found a site that has a treasure trove of these shots and it is quite cool. You can find it here:

The cameras were rather unwieldy so there are no action shots, but they are quite interesting nonetheless. I particularly like the photos of the French colonial troops because people often forget that it wasn’t just white folks in the trenches. Or that the war didn’t just take place in Western Europe for that matter. That’s one of the reasons I liked the Strachan documentary. It takes the “world” part of the World War I very seriously and dedicates entire episodes to theaters of war that usually get only a brief mention in such shows, if they are talked about at all.

You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla

Kate is at her Dad’s this weekend, so Nik and I are having some adult time. Last night we finally went to see King Kong. I had hoped to see it over Xmas break, but Kate would not go for it. When she was wee, a zoo gorilla scared her and since then gorillas are one of the few animals Kate does not adore. It’s for the best that we did not take Kate to Kong, what with the multi-mouthed worm-creatures that decapitate hapless sailors and all. Had we done so, I’d probably never live it down. Kate still gives Nik guff over the movie that ends with an otter being beaten to death with a shovel. That was not the cute and fuzzy animal experience she was looking for and Kong certainly would not have fit the bill either.

I ultimately found King Kong to be a disappointment. When it was initially announced, I was lukewarm. Over the last six months, however, my interest was piqued to the point that I really wanted to see it. Then at about the two-hour mark of the actual experience my enthusiasm began to wane. It felt to me like a team of super creative people went hog wild and lost sight of the story they were trying to tell. It’s not enough for Kong to fight a T-Rex, he has to fight three T-Rexes. The party doesn’t get attacked by giant spiders, but by a dozen different types of creatures in apparently limitless numbers. Then there was the “Jimmy” subplot, which I just didn’t care about and sucked up way too much time. And the less said about the dino stampede the better. All these indulgences lead to a film that is bloated and overlong by an hour. At a certain point, I was like, “Oh, just take him back to NYC already!” Now there was some neat stuff and the effects were largely very good, but I ended up liking Chronicles of Narnia much better than King Kong. That I did not expect.

There is a Kong art book I want to get though. Christian Gossett, the guy who created the Red Star comic that my company licensed, went to New Zealand to work at Weta Workshop on the film. He told me that the artists did so much concept artwork, much of which couldn’t be used in the movie, that they decided to do a book that reports on a fictional expedition to Skull Island. I flipped through it a couple of weeks ago and it looks quite cool. It’s really not the far from an RPG sourcebook actually, just missing game stats. I’ll be picking that up when I have the chance.

Props to the Dickies for the entry title.

Duel of “Death”

So “Santa” got Kate and I these foam swords for Xmas and we’ve been fencing with them in the kitchen, much to Nicole’s delight. Kate is into it and having mock fights with her is pretty fun. Kate clarified that we were only “fake killing” each other, so that was OK. Earlier tonight we dueling while Nik bravely tried to reorganize our cupboard in the midst of our battleground. After awhile, I leaned back against the sink to take a break. Kate says, “Come on, you’re just standing there playing with your sword.”

“Well, Kate, you’ll find that men like to play with their swords.” Nicole snickers.

“But you’re just resting!”

“Yeah, that’s usually what happens after men play with their swords,” I reply. Nicole laughs.

More banter and sparring follow. Finally, Kate gets fed up and says, “Less talk, more smiting!”

Yep, that’s Nicole’s daughter all right.

Kate shared much of her wisdom with us on our recent trip. She was really cracking us up, so I wrote down some of the highlights.

Kate clarifies things with her Mom: “I didn’t say you were mean, I just said you weren’t nice to people.”

Kate comments on the hardness of life on Little House on the Prairie: “Back in those days, Thomas Jefferson hadn’t even invented the light bulb yet!”

Kate reacts to Destroy All Monsters: “Godzilla is nice; he helps people.”