Tribes of Mastodon

Cover of Sticks and Stones Microgame
A great old game of Stone Age hunts!

This post has next to nothing to do with the old Sticks and Stones microgame, other than perhaps the tribal aspect, and the image of the great beast on the cover. It has everything to do with Mastodon decentralized social media. 

Like many, I’ve abandoned Twitter under Musk’s management. And like most, I’ve cast about for some sort of Twitter replacement, with new accounts at Hive, Post, and Mastodon.

Hive is the nearest to Twitter in feel, and I love the fact that it’s the personal work of two college students. I wish them huge success. But it’s clear they’re struggling with the surprise influx of Twitter deserters. The platform itself feels unfinished, loose, and rough around the edges. Its only interfaces are Android and Apple apps, and the Android version is extremely buggy. I’m currently unable to do more than log in.

Post Social has a nicely professional feel to it, and I’m encouraged to find Dan Rather posting there, but I just can’t get enthused about diving in and exploring. To be honest, part of that lack of enthusiasm is there’s no integration with WordPress. No hyperlinked icon to display in my sidebar. No Post Social auto-post checkbox on blog entries.

Which brings me to Mastodon, which has both, making it just as easy to integrate with that account as with Facebook. That’s becoming increasingly important for communicating with a widespread community of family, friends, and fans, because not all of those people share any particular platform. The cross-posting efficiency allows more time for a bucket list (ever-lengthening) of writing projects.

So I’ve been settling into this “Decentralized, Open Source, Not for Sale, Interoperable” community. And I have to say it feels pretty good to participate in a neck of the webs again with no ad-driven algorithm pushing stuff across my screen, nor news algorithm funneling me into an increasingly myopic selection of stories.

Mastodon feels something like a party spilling through the many chambers of some community owned palace. People gravitate to different rooms based their own interests and experiences, but you can still hear other people chattering in other rooms and can wander as you like, meet who you like, and hang out with who you like.

It’s different enough from other social media to require some getting used to, but it’s been around for awhile (since 2016), so its structure begins to make sense as you settle in. And for the first time in a long while, this here extrovert forced into an introverted lifestyle by a focal seizure disorder feels like he’s wandering through a crowd again. An honest-to-god, elbow-to-elbow, sea of people with one thing in common: the desire to communicate under their own terms, as “Citizens,” not a crop of “Consumers.”

Open source, community supported technologies like this are the Information Age’s best chance at a more egalitarian future. They’re sort of a barter economy, allowing us to be a global tribe, working toward a common good.

Oh, and if you come across a copy of Sticks and Stones, definitely give it a try. It’s one of my favorites from the early years of tabletop gaming.

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