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Topics - dubsartur

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Tabletop Games - The Game Room / Economics of Publishing
« on: February 07, 2022, 11:43:39 PM »
One of the things which fascinates me about RPGs is that they show how publishing works terribly as a capitalist enterprise.  Steve Jackson Games' annual report to the stakeholders reminded me of the issue.

Roughly ballparking things they have said over the years, SJG earns ~$300k/yr selling RPGs and ~$1m/yr selling card game Munchkin which make fun of RPGs and pop culture franchises.  Twitch says it pays the Critical Role vlog $5m/yr for their videos of celebrities playing RPGs (about as much as SJG earns from all its tabletop games and publications combined).  So there is no money in actually making the RPGs, but a lot in pop culture about RPG culture.

Nonfiction books have the same issue: writing a really good factual book does not predictable pay better than a rushed-together one.  The problem is that to evaluate the worth of information, you need that information (whereas I can evaluate a widget without owning it, and someone can use information about the widget to decide whether to buy it).

Further Reading: The Economics of Publishing (2018)

Ben Riggs, Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons (2022)

Jon Peterson, Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by (MIT Press, 2021)

Discussion and Debate - The Philosopher's Plaza / Canadian Politics 2022
« on: January 01, 2022, 11:21:27 PM »
This is a placeholder for a new politics thread!  This year there will be a provincial election in Ontario under their new fixed-term elections act.  Federally, we have all the issues which Justin Trudeau said he wanted to deal with in 2015 and then found would annoy powerful people to actually change, plus the pandemic, extreme weather which is straining provincial resources, a protectionist United States government, a genocidal and slightly less peaceful than usual Chinese government, and the fallout from the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Edit: oh, and the latest attempt to end the culture of sexual harrassment in the Canadian Armed Forces

People who like personal politics suspect that Justin Trudeau will resign circa 2023 to give the party time to align behind and publicize a new leader, but its really not clear who would replace him other than finance minister and deputy PM Chrystia Freeland.

This online fanzine (and podcast) seems like it might be of interest to Exilian folks?

Computer Game Development - The Indie Alley / Warfare 1917
« on: September 18, 2021, 07:55:52 PM »
A comment on Bret Devereaux's blog reminded me of Warfare 1917, an elegant little game about the beginnings of the modern tactical system from Armor Games.  (their website at does not seem to have it any more, maybe because I previously saw it as a flash game)

Quote from: Adam
You’re a commander, either British or German, fighting over a contested bit of front in 1917. You only know how to do three things.

1) Call for reinforcements
2) Call for fire support
3) Order your men forward to try to take the enemy line of trench, or die trying.

Now it did NOT have the race to the parapet bit, and there weren’t covered communication trenches to move between your lines, so it wasn’t a perfect simulation. But I did find that if everything worked out, it’s the way the article describes: You smash up the enemy trench line with your artillery, keep their heavy hitters like machine guns from moving, and your assault forces will almost always take the trench.

But your opponent is rarely so cooperative. While your guys are going over the top, he’ll likely as not launch his own artillery strike and now suddenly half your guys are dead and the remainder don’t have enough force to take the trench, even battered as it is. And, most importantly, THERE IS NO WAY TO CALL THEM BACK at this point. They either do or die, and the “die” is way more likely unless you send in reinforcements double-quick, but that means that if it fails, you’ve probably depleted your local reserves and are very vulnerable to counterattack.

At jubal's suggestion:

Where now the blog and livejournal? Where the alert that was blowing?
Where are the drafts file and imagebank, and the wild words flowing?
Where is the strife about small wars, and the cathodes glowing?
Where is debate and discovery, and the archives growing?

They have passed like bits on a floppy, like CD on a scarecrow;
The sites have gone down one by one, by their owners abandoned.
Who shall turn the dry sheaves into green grass waving,
Or behold a sunken ship to the Sun returning?

With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien


I am surprised they don't talk about Stronghold by Firefly Studios which is the only game in that family I played.  I guess it is a bit more a RTS than a city builder.

General Gaming - The Arcade / Historiated Games
« on: August 01, 2021, 07:10:55 AM »
Smithsonian Magazine c/o Janice Lidel

Wow he has a tenure-track job and a side business and I can't even get a part-time job shelving books.


We are seeking playtesters for GURPS Vehicles: Biremes and Triremes, by Carolyn Stein and Stephen Kenneth Stein. This 30- to 35-page sourcebook takes an in-depth look at classical and medieval galleys. Contents include historical context, naval terminology, details on crewmembers, and of course vehicle stats.

On the real-world side, we are looking for applicants knowledgeable about classical antiquity, medieval antiquity, and/or the warships of those eras. On the GURPS side, we are seeking gamers conversant with GURPS Low-Tech, the GURPS Low-Tech Companion series (1, 2, and 3), and the stats system used for vehicles in these and other works, starting with the GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns. Familiarity with the GURPS Hot Spots volumes covering Mediterranean city-states would be a plus. That said, it's always good to get a fresh perspective – if you think you have something to contribute, then by all means apply!

The playtest is currently scheduled to run for about three weeks, from August 13, 2021 to September 3, 2021. Please submit your application ASAP.

Preferential playtest slots will be given to those who have spent at least $50 on PDFs from Warehouse 23 in the past calendar year, though this is not a requirement. For more, see the general playtest information page.

Prospective playtesters should email Roger Burton West at with [playtest] in the subject. Include your preferred email address for the closed playtest mailing list, your name as you wish it to appear in the published supplement, your Warehouse 23 login name, and a few words on why we should pick you: qualifications, experience, current gaming group(s), etc. Please use this format:

Code: [Select]
John East

I've been a GURPS fan since 1995, and mainly run historically themed campaigns set in Europe. I was a playtester of GURPS Vehicles and both editions of GURPS Low-Tech, and I own all of the GURPS books you listed. I also do naval reenactments, and have served as crew on a replica Venetian galley.

We look forward to hearing from you!

The Rise and Fall of Online Culture Wars (Substack)

I saw some of the weird things he talks about, but my point of view was more "a strange new culture of mockery and soundbites appears and is embraced by the Old Media.  At the same time, many influential Americans on the Internet are recruited for faction fights within the richest third of the US and turn their spaces into weapons in these fights.  Most foreigners and many sensible Americans lose interest and quietly stop posting or rebrand themselves, while these spaces start to devour themselves.  From 2016 onwards, the US begins to wobble from its dominant position in Internet culture while squeezing its fist tighter and tighter on corporate social media."  So I would not try to talk about the alt-right as if it were just a US phenomenon, or feminism on the Internet as if it was not there from the beginning!  His essay is very parochial!

One reason I keep writing on my site is not to concede talking about ideas on the Internet to the twitter-lovers and the LessWrong types and the people who spent too much time on tumblr.

My heart assumes that if people write or lecture gladly and confidently on a subject, they have verifiable expertise in it and have given it serious thought.  My mind has trouble convincing it that most of these people just have the gift for gab or are emitting talking points given to them by someone in their faction.  I don't get confused this way face to face, its easier to understand when someone is just playing with ideas or working through them (so I should ask some gentle questions) and when I should shut up and listen and when they are trying to sell something and I need to deflate their nonsense.

Also, I'm confused by the paragraphs about the rise of images accusing critics of belonging to some un-cool group, because yes it was annoying and poisomed some spaces, but does anyone serious take that kind of ad hominem seriously?  Some people use it when goofing off, but I am trying to think of someone thoughtful using that kind of rhetoric in public.  And insulting people rather than engage with their arguments is a very old move in rhetoric.  I would not treat it as a cultural change on the level of the Old Media going from erasing the open Internet to treating tweets as Very Serious Sources.

CFI Calgary has a zoom conference on Saturday 8 May 11.00 to 24.00 Toronto time

Talks on geeky and humanistic topics include:

Andy Thomson – Why We Believe in God(s)
Sandra Dunham – The Cost of Religion in Canada
Amir Artaban Sedaghat – East, West, Islam: a Perpetual Misapprehension?
Panel discussion: Losing Our Religion - Moderator: John Varghese; Panelists: Joshua Jeyakumar , Muhammod, Talla Odeh, Allison Jensen
Gus Lyn-Piluso & Joan Harrison – Education for Democracy
Michael Wong – Star Trek and Science (n.b. this Michael Wong is the astronomer with a podcast in the United States, not the engineer with a website in Ontario)
Panel discussion: Freedom of Speech: A Cost Benefit Analysis - Moderator: Kayla Horan-Dmytruk; Panelists: Scott Fraser, Mark Urista, Cara Zwibel
Sean Manning – Ancient Astronauts Built the Science Fiction of Egypt direct link to the videoconference
Zack Dumont – Surviving Misinformation in a Global Pandemic

So, since "Schlock Mercenary" ended ... does anyone often feel that there is something weird about the climax of that webcomic's stories?  Often the story builds to a peak of tension and that is suddenly erased by something in the background which is not fully explained and we move on to the denoument.

A lot of writing about plotting today is weirdly proscriptive on the basis of a very narrow selection of model stories and a very narrow selection of people's responses to those stories, but I often felt let down at the end of a book.

Most of us should be familiar with Sanderson's First Law of Magic ("An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic").  A while ago I stumbled across a blog comment which has also got me thinking:

Quote from: heteromeles
Actually, there's an interesting counter-take. It's a throwaway line in Tyson Yunkaporta's Sand Talk. He asserts that anyone can do magic, but that not everybody can do all the rituals, because that's about knowledge, and that is (for reasons good and bad) guarded.

I tend to think he's right, but his version of magic is basically what Trump was spewing for the last four years. It's not telepathy or levitation, it's forcing others to live in your made-up world, even though they know it's not correct. This can be used beneficently with blessings (getting someone out of a funk to do something they don't think they can do) or as a curse (to mess with someone's head). Sir Pterry called it Headology. Ritual, in the sense of keeping a bunch of complex systems working over time, looks like magic (and it does overlap with the above), but it depends on people knowing what the heck they're doing.

So far as I can tell, the Taoists have a really similar idea: any idiot can do magic, and magicians are the hucksters, fortune tellers, performers, carnie trash, and so forth. The Taoist priests work to heal people and to bring out the good in the changes of the world. They're working at a much different and higher level.

Now I realize fantasy tends to be whiffy about religion and with good reason, but just perhaps, it's over-glorified the "move fast and break things" aspect of magic, glorified the world-wreckers entirely too much, and made fixing complex problems too simple, magical, and dependent on the inner nature of the young, rather than the hard-earned skills of the old. There is something to be said for Yunkaporta's view, that any clown can curse someone, but that's not necessarily a miraculous thing. What's miraculous is keeping a place like Australia habitable for 50,000 years or so.

I am thkinking about this, but it has potential as an alternative to a Law and Chaos / History and Chance opposition.  It harmonizes with some modern (since Aleister Crowley) occult thinking which has to use a 'god of the gaps' argument that the altered states of consciousness are really the point and not just side-effects from calling down the moon or making someone passionately in love with you.

Matt Easton has a handy video on why people rarely carried more than a staff weapon and a shield or a bow and arrows  Computer games and some roleplaying games ignore the practical difficulties and the interesting decisions to make.  If one character in the party is the big axe guy, and another is the crossbowman, those are niches where their players can take the spotlight while the others watch and hold their breath! 

The only thing I would add is that in some places in the last few hundred years, we do see people who wandered around with say a long gun, a sword and shield, and some knives or pistols.  Men in Norway were dutifully following the old law which said they always had to carry their spear in public into the 17th century!  And travellers were very keen to get a donkey or a pack-horse or a mule or a camel, and there were baggage-animals for a wide range of budgets.  But he gives some good rules of thumb for the video-gamey instantaneous weapons swap.

Discussion and Debate - The Philosopher's Plaza / Canadian Politics 2021
« on: January 12, 2021, 02:53:34 AM »
So, last spring's observation that Canadian politics were in a quiet phase were a bit premature, although this government has run things more or less as expected.

According to a briefing for the Privy Clerk, the 46 year old reservist who broke into the gardens of Rideau Hall with loaded firearms on 2 July 2020 "was seeking to have the prime minister arrested for his policies related to firearms restrictions and COVID responses."  Apparently he left a note in his car saying something about a communist dictatorship.

There is growing anger at politicians and officials who traveled outside Canada over the holidays while telling the public to stay home and not mingle outside their household, and at provincial governments which are handling the epidemic especially poorly.  For many Canadians, spending a few weeks or a few months somewhere warm and sunny every winter is a treasured routine.  Parties which saw this coming and issued warnings to their caucuses tend to have less members to apologize for. 

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