Sunday, 12 May 2013

I have a time machine but it drove me insane

This was provoked by Matt Diaz’s LOTFP classes. And by Richard G’s Monster Trainer Class and various other old-school class re-imaginings on G+.

Matts rules for sorcery and shapechanging are very neat and concise.

Because LOTFP classes only get better at one thing you have to take all the extra crap that comes with a splatbook class and distil it to one powerful idea. Then you have to take that idea and encode it in a rule. This rule has to be as simple as possible as most class rules have to fit on a page of A5. It also has to scale neatly over 10 levels without a lot of bumpf and crap. Doing this is intellectually and creatively interesting.

This made me think about what’s going to happen to Fourth edition. Now we all know that as soon as Fifth edition comes out Fourth will be forgotten. Then it will slowly slowly become cool till, in about 30 years, when D&D has built up enough new contradictions and fuckups, Fourth edition will be radical again. This is inevitable.

Our aged greybeard future selves will be creeping through attic, ready to move the old ‘books’ away from rising sea levels to the refugee camps. The kids don’t care about hardcopy and the robots are malfunctioning. We spy a dusty old copy of the Fourth ed players handbook. It’s creaking covers crack open like a book of spells. We sit down, ignore the sirens and the screams outside, and read.

 People will go through those books, mine them for whatever was interesting, create new stuff based on that and essentially have an OSR for Fourth.

Now that sounds like fun for my older self. But fuck that guy. I’m bored right now. Let’s have the autopsy early.  We should pretend we are in the future so we can have a renaissance about right now. A Pre-naissance.

Lets create a splatbook for the imaginary Fourth edition of LOTFP.

Come with meeee to the distant time of 2043. Raggi will have been shuffled aside by a board of directors with business degrees from affordable universities. The full name will no longer be used. The acronym LOTFP is now the official name because the original wouldn’t fit on the bases of the plastic toys created as a tie in an international Googlecast web series that was never released because the Indonesian island tax shelter that housed the shady production company Raggi hired to make the series because they were the only ones who didn’t vomit at the concept art fell prey to rising sea levels an emergency international fracking treaties and has disappeared from maps.

Sometimes people dredge up what they claim are lost ‘production materials’ but could just be bullet-riddled skeletons infested with mutant coral and broken computer parts. It’s hard to tell. Zak Smith found the Hand of Vecna and is now the Republican Senator for the Ocean City of New Idaho*. Jeff Rients fucking ate a guy.

Imagine with me a future splatbook retrieved by someone with a time machine. But the machine drove them crazy.

It would have a vanilla-esque name so bland its almost creepy. Like a stepford wife module.

“Burning Shadows, Heroes of Daggerknife Keep.
A supplement for Fourth Edition LOTFP.
Copy of Fourth LOTFP necessary for play. 
Including Errata for the FAQ of the Fourth edition players handbook volume 3 (9th printing).

Multiple new classes and guaranteed fixes for multiple rules issues with the LOTFP family of games. All your questions answered.
(item may not be returned once seal is broken.)”

And it would be stupid and it would be a joke but also it wouldn’t be. Because we understand things as much from watching them fall apart as from creating them. So why not transport ourselves 30 years into the future and watch the sad ignominious end of a thing we love. Like taking a time machine to interview your children as they lie dying in an old folks home. Using that information to raise them better.  You can’t fix everything, but you can do better than you did.

We can’t stop things dying. Ideas have a life inside them. For them to be any good they have to have an end. But we can make that life as good as possible.

We could have fun by ripping the shit out of all the things we dislike about late-period low-creativity RPG overproduction.

We could ferret through all the Fourth stuff we thought had a glimmer of something inside it, then use intelligence and creativity to purify, simplify and concentrate it, which would be difficult and interesting. Then build a new game from what we had made. Something both like and unlike what we know.

We could learn more about what we are doing right now by imagining its necessary end.

It would have
-Old School reducions/distillations of every thing good we could find about Fourth.

-Old school versions of as many of the weird splatbook classes as we could find. ESPECIALLY the weird ones no-one ever plays, like the Shardmind AND the boring ones no-one ever plays like the Rune Priest, or the Ardent, god that was a boring fucking class. But our versions would be good because the RunePriest is a guy who knows the Enochian language and an Ardent…. Well it could be good, it could be. 

 -All the most fourthy Fourth edition things that were half good but rewritten, condensed and with a LOTFP twist.

-Decrepit patch-on fixes for imaginary rules problems created by a byzantine decadent 30 year old version of LOTFP. Fun because we get to think about how game structures grow/decay over time and interesting for the same reason.

If we imagine its really popular and there are 1000’s of nerds going ‘ghhhaaa the investment rules interfere with level progression above Sixth level! Fix it!’

“The animal sacrifice rules conflict with the human sacrifice rules. Harmonise it!! Don’t nerf my druid if he wants to sacrifice both at the same time!!!”

It wouldn’t even need to make that much sense as a lot of the Fourth stuff is so fractured and disconnected you needed a fucking doctorate in D&D to even make sense of it. Like the essentials stuff. What on earth was going on there?

-Instead of an endless list of weapons that looks like it came out of a spreadsheet, make stuff like the treasure gen tables from Realms Of Crawling Chaos (that was some good shit)

-And all the strange classes people have come up with online. Living Statue plus Matts Warlock plus Monster Trainer plus Anarchist Librarian? Why not?

-And anything else that was good and interesting.

It’s a Science-Fiction Renaissance.

*Vote Smith. Duty. Honour. Country.  Idaho! Drowning The Weak.

I think about science-fiction like this-

William Gibson was asked about Scienc Fiction and its relationship to the present. His answer was something like this: ‘All science fiction is about the time it was written. When you read it you can see the time of the writing more clearly that the time that was being written about. It dates faster than any other fiction because it is about the present.’

And I thought ‘no, not really’. 

It matters that it is about the future and about the future of the person reading the book. When we imagine that future place, we hold within ourselves a silent tension. All the chains and links of cause and effect that could lead us to that future. So yes, we are sitting here in the present, imagining the future in the story and what it might take to get us there and what we see around us that could lead us there.

The things around us become charged with meaning because now they are not just dull blocks of everyday perception but possible routes to there, that other place. What will happen to this street, that sign, what’s happening on the news, has the weather changed?

We are also present in that imagined future world, looking back on our present time. We see our present, the place where out body is sitting, book in hand, as a foreign world. Seeing our self from the other side. Like a person on a screen.

So we are present in both places, the mind moving constantly back and forth between the future and the now. The more powerfully the fiction transmits us along this line of tension. The more fluid and unceasing the rotation between the two, the better we regard the fiction.

Holding that sense of liquid awareness is a powerful thing to happen inside your mind. It’s not an argument or an arrangement of facts. It puts itself inside you head as if it was alive. When later you recall what you felt when you reached that page of the book, or when that one image in a substandard film went past, it is more like remembering an animal than a fact. As if you had seen a beautiful strange creature moving across a darkened path when no-one else was there. Like a Black Tiger crossed the road before anyone saw. Or like remembering music without words. You don’t have the language to label it so it lies there inside you, powerful and unspoken. When you meet someone who heard the same part of the concert that you did, you both know, and neither of you have a name for the thing you heard.

The Renaissance, that actual real historical renaissance performed by men in hats long ago, is like science fiction.

But instead of creating a tension with an imagined future it does so with a rediscovered past. When Europe started really thinking about, and finding out about it’s past, it found new things there. Except they weren’t new, they had always been there.

I think the minds of those people were living in that tension, looking back on a past they had not entirely understood and imagining all the things that brought them to where they were. And also, at the same time, placing themselves in that past in a way they never could have before, and looking into the future, their present, as if it was a new country. Not an old, ruined place.

The Renaissance re-orders our assessment of self. It lets us become someone new. It doesn’t force us into it. It’s very gradual and invisible. Like noticing the dimensions in an optical illusion shift, then making them reset, then shift again. Moving it back and forth and realising that the room curves neither in or out but can be seen as both, that you can choose which shape you see because neither are quite real, just part of something else. Or like, when you are a child and your parents are moving, walking through  an empty house for sale and realising that, yes, the house is bigger, a door leads through just there and the corridor curves into an unseen room. Such a gentle shift. You don’t even remember believing in the smaller house.


  1. I might be tired tonight, but when I read your first sentence I thought you were attending lessons on how to run LOTFP.

  2. "item may not be returned once seal is broken."

    Isn't that always the case.