Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Owning Your Shit (Yes...Again)

When someone swipes content from someone else - whether it be art, or an audio sample, or a paragraph, or a map, or even a very specific idea/implementation - most people's initial intent in pointing out the source is not to try to serve as tattletales to the original IP owner. We know policing IP is the job of the creator. The purpose is to point out that something seems to be amiss. Much of the time the person in question is approached discreetly with a helpful tip. "Hey, I think you might have copied the Turd Monster from Toilets and Tourette's. You might want to do something about that."  Sure, you get douchebags that will jump straight to shouting it from the rooftops but those are the same people that yelled, "Mom, Bobby's playing with himself again!" at the top of their lungs when they were kids.

It's when the other party denies it, gives excuses, acts like they don't care, etc. that people get pissy. That's when IP owners get notified, and angry blog posts are hammered out like Stephen J. Cannell at his typewriter. All too often, it turns into a complete clusterfuck because the person at the center of attention gets hot under the collar and somehow screws up. They might say something they regret, reveal how ill-informed they are about the situation at hand, or otherwise get people more riled up by doing things like threatening defamation lawsuits or claiming there is a conspiracy to steal their ideas. But all it does is getting everyone else even more pissed off.

I'm so mad I popped my collar

Sidebar: no shit regarding conspiracy claims. This has happened twice now in two different incidents. Trust me, if your stuff was that good, WotC/Onyx Path/whoever would hire you or buy it from you. They wouldn't steal it. Yes, that means your shit isn't even good enough to steal.

To the Lakims and Alleys of the world, there is only one solution and it's the same one that has been repeated over and over: OWN YOUR SHIT. If you fucked up and accidentally reproduced an entire chapter from someone's fanfic and there are people right there who know what they are talking about just fucking own up to it, fix it, move on and don't do it again. No excuse. No explanations. No arguments. No "But it's perfectly leeeeegallllll". Don't put "ego’s sociopathic cousin, hubris" (as Patton Oswalt put it) in charge. You're not going to win, ever.

Not because there are Internet mobs and we just have to live with it or because you're a horrible person. Just because you need to own your shit.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Little Late To The Party

There's been excellent coverage of this (and boosting of signal) by Bruce Heard, Tim Brannan, and even Tracy Hickman. You can read about it there but in short, Tracey Alley used a copied map of The Known World from Basic D&D in her books. She also used some artwork for book covers that may or may not be licensed, and one book cover by an artist that might have swiped Paizo's goblin mascot. Part of this has blown over as she has has removed her books from Amazon pending a scrub of the copied material (except she's still hocking her books on Twitter). 

It takes a long time to update websites to remove other people's content, right Mykal?

But there is one tiny, niggling thing. The same niggling thing we saw with Mykal Lakim. She keeps throwing up excuse after excuse that give the impression she's being forced to do all of this...but doesn't really understand just what the fuss is about. While she has gone on at length about not wanting her work besmirched by the moral and ethical implications, she makes it plain that she believes she had the right to use the map and just needs to go through the motions to placate people: 

cf. the, "Nothing's illegal if you don't get caught" rationale
So...she was lazy and apologizes for offending people...but had the right to use the map and the names.

This is the "I cannot distinguish between infringement and plagiarism" rationale
And all of it was public domain anyway, like H.P. Lovecraft's early works, or Hercules.

Followed by the , "But Mom, everyone else is doing it!" defense
Her arguments devolve quickly into a continuation of bizarre assertions about public domain, USGS maps, copyright on "articles" (which is apparently what adventure modules are) and how this is all just like that one movie that is no longer under public domain (and even if it were would still be protected in some respects).

This is the "Throw shit against the wall and see what sticks" argument

And more backpedalling and armchair lawyering:

She was reliably informed by the same hobo Mykal Lakim talked to
This makes it all right, right? What's the fuss? She was just working off some old notebooks. It's a totally common pose that artists use...I mean, that's a traced map of Europe. Who remembers things they roleplayed 20 years ago, anyway? It wasn't copyrighted anyway, right?

Anyone who is nodding along with the above and thinking, "Yeah, what's the deal? Even D&D stole a lot of things from a lot of places" needs to read Part 1 of this post by Patton Oswalt. I'll quote the best part, even though it's fucking Patton Oswalt so you should read it no matter what:

I’m never going to win this fight. There’s always going to be a portion of the population – maybe a majority, even – who think that The Actor, The Valedictorian and The Pastor did nothing wrong. That comedians really do get their jokes out of books. That anyone can be funny.
And that’s okay. There are almost 7 billion people on this soggy marble. I don’t need all of them on my side. The fans who unfollowed me on Twitter after I shut down The Pastor – just like the ones who unfollow me when I rage against the NRA, and gay marriage opponents and FOX News? I don’t want them as fans. As carefully as I’ve curated and cultivated my career, I’m now doing the same with my audience. Universality was never my goal as a comedian. Longevity and creativity are. 
I’m a comedian. I get to care about this stuff.
In the end, Tracey Alley doesn't deserve to be run out of town. She doesn't need to be insulted - although I have been rather blunt with her because I find her smoke screen of "I didn't do anything wrong leeeegalllllyyyy" to be tiring. She doesn't need to be threatened. She needs to do exactly what she's done. Apologize, even if I wish she didn't sound like one of my kids being forced to apologize to the other one but whatever. Pull her works everywhere in order to remove the plagiarised content and get on with her highly derivative writing.

And the people who are saying, "Well, TSR did this..." and "What about this Kickstarter that didn't deliver, why aren't people complaining about that" need to shut the fuck up. You aren't helping. In fact, you're just supporting a growing culture of people who feel they can appropriate whatever they want, because "They're not playing with it anymore!" All of you - every last one - know damn well where your ideas come from. The reverse is true - if some writing or art isn't yours, you know damn well it isn't, even if you don't know where it came from. This isn't rocket science, people. The prevailing attitude of, "I found it on the Internet/in my notes, so it must be okay to use it in my work and sell it!" doesn't help anybody. When it happens over and over again it takes food off of content creators' tables. It makes them less likely to share, and to be understanding with fans who not only pay homage to the creators they love with their own works but pay the respect and credit to the original creator that they deserve. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Mid-Year Retrospective

I started out this year with a few goals. The first was to get back into gaming. The second was to start blogging about gaming, because I felt I had things to say. Because of other things taking up my thoughts and time - looking for a new home and working on getting my son out here from Indiana - I think it's a good idea to kind of look at where I started from and where I'm likely to be going.

After backing the Fate Core Kickstarter in January I wanted to do a couple things. The first was my Tribe 8 conversion to Fate, which turned out really well. There are still a few things that I want to do to polish it up, and I haven't actually started a game like I wanted. I'm kind of glad though because the Fate System Toolkit just came out and I haven't had a chance to look at it in detail - but there seem to be things that I'm going to want to change.

I also started cooking up a Thief-inspired setting. I want to revisit it and flesh some things out, because I have some other ideas where to go with it. The same goes for the setting I pitched for Apotheosis Drive X. I left a lot out of what I had written, and for the time being it's just sitting in my Google Docs folder.

Speaking of ADX, one unexpected turn for me was finding way more Kickstarters that I was interested in than I expected. I kind of went overboard - Fate Core, ADX, the Spark RPG, two Fate Dice Kickstarters, Exalted and Mekton Zero. That's more game spending than I've done in a long time. I don't regret any of it, but in the upcoming months I need to curb that kind of spending.

Finally, I have some other things I wanted to do. I have a review I promised and I wanted to finish reading the Laundry RPG. There are bound to be other things that catch my interest as well, and I'm sure once I'm not so preoccupied with moving. Who knows, if my son decides to continue playing RPGs maybe I'll have a guest author on occasion.

Friday, June 7, 2013

RPG Realism And Why It's Crap

The past week or so has been quite busy so I had to take a little break from blogging. I'm back with some thoughts that have been brewing about realism in tabletop rpgs. This post is an expansion of a point I brought up in a previous post.

I don't think any tabletop roleplaying system mechanics can be "realistic". Skill levels, attack and defense rolls, damage, experience, modifiers - none of them have a damn thing to do with realism. Mechanics are abstractions - even the ones that most people consider complicated - and in no way approach realistically simulating anything. As such realism is a complete waste of time as a design goal. If you're trying to create a ranged combat system to realistically simulate firearms, just fucking stop now. The same goes for sword fighting, or vehicle combat, or anything else. You're just going to wind up plastering "Most realistic rpg ever" on the cover and get mocked. Maybe go play a video game instead if you want that kind of realism.

But are video games really more realistic just because they're driven by HD-quality graphics and physics engines? Given the uncanny valley, flip-floppy rag doll physics and a host of common glitches that are fodder for nightmares or Tool videos I say, "No". That's because while photorealistic graphics and attention to detail is a goal for most video games, actual realism typically takes a back seat. Most video games strive to have consistency, believability, and suspension of disbelief. Everything else is gameplay and looking pretty, and those are the two things that tend to attract me to videogames (although looking pretty and glitchy as hell isn't).

Others just go for silly

Tabletop rpgs are a universe of magnitude simpler than a video game and "just realistic enough" is a lot more granular. Someone can go and run all of the physics calculations and figure out what kind of a damage bonus each point of strength should get, or how much energy a projectile loses per meter, but in the end all of those calculations will boil down to a singular abstraction of the reality the game takes place in. Realism flows naturally out of how those rules are interpreted and implemented in play. When realism is the design goal, in my experience complexity goes up and the chances of losing consistency or breaking down completely are much higher.

One of the defenses of realistic rules is that the GM often doesn't have experience with a particular circumstance - whether it be rock climbing, or driving a tank, or firing a gun, or hacking a computer. Therefore, the realistic detailed rules provide the framework for the GM to be able to adjudicate those situations. The problem with this approach is the designers often don't really know either (cf Vampire Undeath's being advertised as realistic and thoroughly researched, with a rule that a jammed assault rifle needs five minutes and an armorer to clear). This extends to many things like how difficult tasks should be (how many times have you seen a system with task thresholds that just seem out of whack), how often people succeed at tasks (ditto for people failing at tasks, but this is usually a dice issue), the number and scope of various modifiers, and how people learn. The designer might have pages of equations backing up why a particular modifier works the way it does and even that will be a white room affair that doesn't take into account countless variables.

That isn't to say it's not a good exercise to incorporate whatever level of realism into actually designing the mechanics. It might even help balance out some rules and figure out where the boundaries of believability are. But once that tweaking and honing is done, the consistency and playability need to be the ultimate goal -  not whether or not the game accurately represents the unladen weight of a swallow.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rare Non-Gaming Blog Post

Given that I've been going over the same post for nearly the past week, I'm going to jot down a very rare non-gaming post.

In August my 16 year old son Aiden is coming from Indiana to California to live with my 7-year old daughter, my girlfriend, her 6-year old daughter, and I. He's had a rough road after seven years in Indiana. When things started to go south several years ago, Aiden and his younger brother (and my second child) were actually in California with me for almost a year as I fought unsuccessfully to keep them here. Their return to Indiana was on a legal technicality.

Since their return Aiden has had a very hard time - new stepfather, increasing friction with his mom as he's grown into a young man, and eventually a couple of poor choices. Some of them are the same poor decisions that virtually every teenage boy makes, but others were driven by some very extenuating circumstances. Aiden's carried the burden of those choices, taken responsibility, done everything asked of him and grown and matured considerably. In return he's been effectively shut out by his mother, as have I for having the temerity to support Aiden's growth and believe in him.

Over the past year and a half I've been able to rebuild my relationship with Aiden. It's bittersweet because being shut out by his mother myself, I've been cut off from my other son. Luckily I have wonderful assistance in various agencies in  Indiana that are enabling me to continue to communicate with Aiden, enable his move to California, and also eventually correct the situation with being estranged from his younger brother.

So, last week and this week have been spent communicating with the proper individuals in Indiana, as well as my girlfriend and I searching for a new home here in California. Tomorrow I'm going to look at a very good prospect. Once we secure that, we'll move on to the next phase of turning it into a home for all of us. Last but not least, come August Aiden will be able to come home.