Thursday 6 December 2018

What is Artpunk?

(Basically fancy slightly pretentious hipster-esque D&D stuff.)

In answer to a question by Mastered by Marquis asked below, one I can answer relatively easily and quickly as there isn't much to say about it;

"I'm super interested in this concept of "Artpunk OSR" that you've mentioned a few times."

I did not invent this word, nor was I the first person to use it, though I don't really recall who did or was.

Like most descriptive words its edges are permeable. I think of it as describing people broadly around the aesthetic which I tend to like and most often work within. So me and Scrap. Previously I would have said Zak. Throw in Emmy Allen, possibly Ben L, maybe Zedeck. David McGrogan possibly.

Dirks work on Silent Titans I would consider to be 'artpunk' (see sidebar).

Any of these people may or may not agree with their inclusion.

In most cases the rules system is something roughly analogous to LotFP or uses other very ruleslight emulators like Black Hack, ItO or Knave. But its primarily an aesthetic movement which tends to use a particular playstyle rather than a rules-investigation movement.

Obsessions include original art with a unique aesthetic which isn't necessarily trying to remind you of anything, decent-to-excellent layout and info design, a common use of the aesthetics of ruin and of alienation and lots of trans people making it. Most of the trans people in my circles who were or are making stuff for RPG's would fit into it.

Another obsession would be actually producing things rather than talking about producing things, or arguing about what other people are or should be producing, or arguing about what other people are or should be thinking about what other people are producing.

Politics would be unstated but effectively centre-to-left (based on the people who are in it), with a relatively high sense of personal separation, or division of feeling from person, in comparison to more 'community' oriented communities in which feelings are more prioritised and the division between person and feeling is lesser. The furthest right you would probably get is David McGrogan (though of course, he has left, and without, I note, any soulful comment threads on what we could have done to keep him).

As to what it isn't; it isn't Dragonsfoot-esque. So not deeply concerned with rules or rules emulation and while it has nothing against Gygax or gygaxian thinking, exactly where the rules come from and their exact development isn't of primary interest.

It isn't 'traditional' primarily, nor is it calling out to tradition, either a Tenkar-ish aesthetic or even a modern corporate-happy aesthetic. (Gabor Lux and others might disagree with this.)

Neither is is quite storygamy. It would preserve the object-orientation, high player freedom level, problem-solvy bits, slightly harder edge and 'game' parts of OSR D&D. And it probably won't throw up a lot of hyper-specific social-issue stuff. There might be social issue stuff in it, but probably sublimated into invented worlds and situations. It would make things that largely have no direct political point to make, but which you could maybe say something political or cultural about.

If you want a 'ten commandments' then this breakdown from the famous Scrap thread works as well as any;

1. This is a game about interacting with this world as if it were a place that exists.

2. Killing things is not the goal.

3. There is nothing that is "supposed" to happen.

4. Unknowability and consequence make everything interesting.

5. You play as your character, not as the screenwriter writing your character.

6. It's your job to make your character interesting and to make the game interesting for you.

7. If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck.

8. The answer is not on your character sheet.

9 .Things are swingy.

10. You will die

By Gregory Blair, Brian Harbron, FM Geist, Zedeck Siew, Brian Murphy, Dirk Detweiler Leichty and Daniel Davis;

There's not deep theory here, I'm just trying to describe a 'scene' or social/creative web that I intuit more than see around me.

If you are someone looking for an OSR-descriptor world that will keep out the bad people you hate and fear, then this probably isn't it. It seems unlikely to me that Pundit, Satanis (or Tenkar) would want to be included, based purely on the aesthetics etc, but since there is no official definition you could hardly keep them out, and Satanis in particular will probably brand himself as 'Artpunk' just to i̶r̶r̶i̶t̶a̶t̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶f̶u̶c̶k̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶r̶y̶o̶n̶e̶ bravely defend free speech.

But there you go, a word that means something close to what some of you were looking for, and which you can use with some utility until the culture war eats it and you need to come up with another one.


  1. "6. It's your job to make your character interesting and to make the game interesting for you."

    While I think in this neck of the woods, this idea is understood. I feel like its one of the least communicated player responsibilities to the D&D/RPG community at large.

  2. My sense is that there is a "scene" here, but I would also consider this to be a fair label for any independently-produced RPG product with a sufficiently unconventional layout and enough art.

    I would be a little bit hard-pressed to say what kind of art qualifies, although I personally would consider Michael Raston's "Blasphemous Roster", FM Geist's "Dead Planet", and Jacob Hurst's "Hot Springs Island" to be art-punk (or art-punk-adjacent?), while DCC would not qualify in my view, despite having a pretty high art-to-text ratio.

    I suppose that trying to pin down the art style could be the wrong approach though. Maybe I don't consider DCC to be art-punk because of the company size, or because it violates too many of the "commandments" rather than anything about what the pictures look like.

    1. i feel like DCC is like big Image comics and artpunk is like indie comics. like they’re pretty close, really, but they feel very different and their differences can be traced back to economic interests (company size like you said) and DCC’s requirement to please a much broader audience.

  3. Interesting. All ten points sound **very** Dragonsfoot-esque to me.

  4. I agree 9 1/2 out of 10. With regard to number 5, I think it’s also okay to consider your character a separate playing piece, like a complicated pawn in a board game off the rails. The rest I agree with as written; very good list.

  5. I’m curious why you once would consider Zak( why did my phone just try to autocorrect Zak to Anal!?!?) but not anymore? I enjoy his work but generally skip his blog due to the way he argues his points, which I often agree with. Has something happened?

    1. I no longer want anything to do with that man on any level. See the drama posts on here for more information.

  6. That’s a good term, the application of which to myself I gladly accept.

  7. Is there a separate Artpunk surface aesthetic and play aesthetic? Or do the two organically co-occur?

  8. I would go further and say there's no community at all. There are some conglomerations of people who work together. Mostly what I experienced on G+ is a relatively large mass of bickering people united only by a shared interest.

    1. Depends on what you mean by community. We share our creations. We build on each other. That counts.

    2. I've made this case elsewhere recently, David, in response to Joseph Manola's thoughts on recent controversies (sparked by your resignation). To the degree we are a we, a community, it's one focussed on one activity, with no shared mediating instituions to make common life make sense or guard propriety.

    3. I think those who are inclined to describe it as "a community" use that word tactically as a way to exclude people they don't like: "People holding such-and-such views have no place in this community". It is a useful word for those people but useless in that context if you actually want to understand what "community" really is.

    4. Though functional communities DO tend to have boundaries, however porous. The radical sectarians in the OSR aren't wrong about that. There's simply no shared life together or wider common purpose or moral values that can reasonably define a boundary, which means it's in the stricter sense an emotivist statement. (Think MacIntyre on the self-fulfilling nature of emotivism.) There is only the shared hobby, open to a massive legitimacy crisis debate.

      Now, re Patrick's post, you can literally see those "artpunk" writers who collaborate as a microcommunity, though serving relatively few of the functions of concrete communities.

      You probably disagree, though!

    5. No, I agree pretty much entirely.

  9. Number 5. I don't know what number 5 means at all. I can interpret it as, playing in the first person, almost larping, not in the third person, "my character attacks", but in practice, it's the same. It's a game, not theatre, but you know that so I might be interpreting number 5 the wrong way, but that's why I first said I don't know what number 5 means.

    1. I find your question challenging, the best I've got right now is that I think the guideline is intended to push people more towards seeing their PC as a person in this unpredictable living world more than seeing them as a character in an evolving drama.

    2. Not sure if intented, but I read it as an embrace of picaresque randomized emergent narratives from the players' side.

      Wow I put too many buzzwords in there

  10. +1 Very much a list of core values for DF

  11. I don't know if the Big Five personality metrics have any value, but using them as a conceptual model my guess would be that the connection between this highly exploratory, unconventional, and non statement-oriented work, and trans artists, would be that those artists lay deep along the "openness" axis; according to the model, open people are characterized in part by a pure interest in aesthetics, and also by being open-minded towards things that differ from the cultural median, such as their own spirits. The aesthetics of ruin would probably be related to an above-average level of neuroticism, which correlates with depression and anxiety, and OSR-ness seems to imply a degree of cantankerousness, thing-orientation and "let them fail" attitude, all of which characterize Disagreeableness (with Agreeableness indicating "interest in people").

    Open to Experience, Neurotic, Disagreeable. Not a common orientation, and maybe that's why there's been such distinct and original work happening in this milieu. I saw some of Scrap Princess's most recent commissions the other day and as always they just magnetic.

    Sharing these traits is a UK band called Chemtrails, whose work gels IMO with the Artpunk aesthetic in both sound and a lot of their lyrics; toxic wastelands with people surviving in a panicked and mutated but slightly whimsical state, love-pacts with aberrations; the vocalist sounds like one of these creatures with the attendant acidity. I find it very very interesting, and I don't know who does their album cover art, but they're good. They are often the soundtrack in my mind when I engage with you and Scrap's work.


    "A Beautiful Cog in the Monolithic Death Machine"

    "A Killer or a Punchline"

    "Naked Souls Get Swallowed"

    "Suck My Mind"

    "Burnt Shadows"

    "Blurred Visions"

    "Brother Connor"

    "Slag Heap Deity 2"

    Some part of me feels that CthulhuTech's feel was kind of in this vein; brutal, hopeless, and original