No, Virginia . . .

“You can’t fool me. There ain’t no sanity clause!” Chico Marx

Bookmark Cthulhu is now live, just in time for the holidays! And in a break with RPG tradition, it has no sanity rules. What it does have is a system for steadily rising dread. That, and a way to rank Lovecraft’s classic monstrosities and create new ones of your own by using his most common adjectives.

Though madness is a common theme in Lovecraft’s tales, very few of his protagonists actually go mad. They suffer shock, they may feel themselves doomed, they may panic to the verge of madness, but they don’t end up in a sanitarium.

Instead, they suffer one of two maladies: loss, or dread.

In terms of loss, Lovecraft’s earliest tales take their protagonists to lands of dream, where some pass up a chance at happiness, and others find themselves unable to return. Many of his dream tales have no protagonist at all and simply relate a story of destruction. Dreamland tales are generally wistful narratives.

His later stories, however—what we think of as the Cthulhu mythos—occur in the waking world, where beings and forces more powerful and long-lived than humankind are discovered by a select few narrators. Narrators who tell of madmen and death, but who live to tell those tales. These are stories of existential dread.

The granddaddy of all Lovecraftian role-playing games is, of course, Call of Cthulhu. Its Sanity game mechanic is as legendary as it was innovative for the hobby. That steadily eroding Sanity attribute invokes a sense of peril that not infrequently results in death of players’ characters. The mechanic works so effectively, in fact, that most Lovecraftian RPGs since have mimicked it exactly.

But “customary” doesn’t mean “necessary.”

Bookmark Cthulhu replaces “eroding Sanity” with a “growing Dread” in every adventure. (Sort of like mental “hit points” compared to eroding abilities.) This feels truer to Lovecraft, and better suits the unusual mechanics of the Bookmark HP RPG itself. Which gives the sourcebookmark a legitimacy beyond simply mimicking what’s been done in games before.

Call me crazy, but I think it works. ¯\_(°°)_/¯

 

The World Is Your Bookmark

“The world is your bookmark,” Joel Brooks

I’ve no idea what Brooks meant by that statement, but it makes a decent lead-in for this post. And if you’ll allow me to paraphrase, “A bookmark can be a world.” At least in tabletop role-playing game terms.

About a year ago, on a whim, I did a weekend thought experiment in role-playing rules to track damage without the typical “Hit Points.” As of today, the Bookmark HP RPG core rules bookmark has reached Electrum Best Seller status on DriveThruRPG, and the Player’s Handbookmark is now a Silver Best Seller! Four other titles in the line are currently Copper Best Sellers (Bookmark Cyberpunk, Bookmark Supers!, Dracula’s Get, and the Game Host’s Guidebookmark), and several newer bookmark titles are well on their way.

Having worked full-time in a hobby dominated by Dungeons & Dragons, I realize that these bookmark sales are Lilliputian.

But if you browse the thousands of publishers on DriveThruRPG, with hundreds of thousands of products, and note that less than 14% reach Copper status, less than 15% more reach Silver, and barely 7% reach Electrum status, you’ll understand that for this retired, self-promoting, self publishing designer, doing everything alone, it is something of an accomplishment. Add in several other best-selling games outside the bookmark line, from Copper to Gold, with some very flattering reviews, and I still wake up each morning encouraged to create.

And you’ll understand just how much your moral support means to me.

So, thanks! I much appreciate it.

Now I gotta get back to work.

Retooling My Post-Musk Bio

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One benefit (seriously) of the shift from Musk’s Twitter has been rethinking my bio on social media.

To this point, that bio has been a pitch for my self-published games, ending with a tongue-in-cheek, boat-rocking “Vegan gun owner.”

And I’ll be honest, the RPG designs in particular have been exceptional. (If that sounds arrogant, remember that I’m in the habit of saying the same about work by other designers.) D6xD6 and Bookmark HP RPG especially have a simplicity on the surface that belies the carefully crafted mechanics beneath. I’m gambling my Origins award for Dragon Dice on that opinion.

But social justice issues, especially the “Black Lives Matter” movement, are more important. To quote Salman Rushdie, “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.”

I’m trying to capture all of that in the new bio: credentials, then passions, then gratitude.

“I’m a ‘retired,’ award-winning hobby game designer & author. Passionate about social justice, games, & poetry. A one man, best-selling, bucket-list self-publisher. Honored to play any part in other people’s fun!”

Walking the line between passion and arrogance is a difficult task. At times I’ve stumbled and stepped on toes, and I carry that guilt with me. At other times, when it comes to social justice, I step on toes intentionally, in the spirit of Rushdie’s quote.

Every writer’s work requires confidence, a belief in oneself, though few writers enjoy self-promotion. I certainly don’t. Nor do I “enjoy” confrontation.

But I tell you the truth as best I see it. About cruelty. And about human kindness. About suffering. And about joy. At my age, I’m aware that sometimes my efforts have changed lives, just as other writers have changed mine. I’m grateful for both.

And I love you. Here’s wishing you the very best today and always.

Les

A man goes on a journey, a guy walks into a bar

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

According to the late novelist John Gardner, there are only two kinds of stories: “A man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.” I figure the “a guy walks into a bar” qualifies as the latter. Here’s one that recently made me laugh:

A vegan, a cross-fitter, a Linux user, and a Raspberry Pi enthusiast walk into a bar.

They’re all the same guy.

One guy walks into a bar.

Why won’t he please shut up!

As a vegan myself, I find jokes about them funny. And my second-oldest friend is a cross-fitter. I’ve lots of Linux users in my circle. And one dear tech hobbyist friend loves to tinker with Raspberry Pi. It’s fun to laugh about yourself.

But here’s the thing: The joke doesn’t match my experience. I’ve heard nowhere near the amount of evangelism from those four groups in my entire life, than the amount of blowback from people complaining about them over just the past half dozen years.

Why?

If we’re honest, I think we have to admit that deep inside, these things make us feel judged.

  • Every time I see a cross-fitter’s post about some physical accomplishment, I feel a twinge of guilt for not taking better care of myself, not walking more, not using the free gym membership for seniors.
  • Every time a Linux enthusiast recommends dumping Windows or Mac for the open-source OS, I feel a twinge of foolishness or laziness for doling out cash to “rent” a corporate OS. Yes, there are valid reasons to justify that rental, but most of the work I do could just as well be done with open source software.
  • Every time someone mentions the customized computer they built to their own specs, I feel just a little bit ignorant and spendthriftish.

In each case, the thought is fleeting, but deep inside the feeling lasts awhile.

I’ve seen this with the topic of home schooling. “But how will your children learn social skills?” It’s couched as a question but serves as a criticism. And from my experience, home schoolers virtually never start the conversation, never say, “Well, I home school my children.” Instead someone else says, “Missy here home schools,” and the criticisms start flying.

It happens with veganism. “But where will you get your B12?” Most who ask the question have no idea what B12 is, why it matters, or what options there are. “How will you get your protein?” Same thing.

It happens with pacifists when they’re bullied or abused. It happens with religious persecution.

Not long ago, Cracker Barrel added a plant-based sausage to their menu and much of its customer base lost their minds. Logically, the response should be, “Well just don’t order it.” But emotionally, it seems pretty obvious that by its very existence, a plant-based sausage makes the traditional pork seem less healthy. And people don’t want the shadow of that implication cast across their breakfast plate.

People who home school imply, by their very existence, that public school is flawed. Which casts a shadow on parents who accept the status quo. Plant-based diets cast a shadow on the modern meat industry. Pacifism casts a shadow on the violence so inherent in our civilization, from household level to mass shootings to wars between nations. Religious faith—okay, in that case I gotta say that American Evangelicals have sort of spoiled things for the rest.

But in my experience, that guy walking into the bar doesn’t have to say a thing about his enthusiasms. The minute he asks if the fries are cooked in the same oil as the chicken, no matter how casually, the “So you think you’re better than us” circuit trips, and the blowback begins. It’s just human nature.