Sunday, November 11, 2018

It's been awhile since I blogged.

For the record:
I'm a trans dyke and an anarchafeminist. This probably shouldn't matter but probably does.

So here is my extremely late take on the outrage over #Feminism (a storygame collection that is ostensibly about bringing feminism to people who play it) not winning an Ennie as an object lesson about nerd hot take cycles and whatnot. Which as a first order of business brings up why I am picking on a storygame collection (or microgame or honestly just non TTRPG or whatever thing). So here is the crux of my argument: There is an idea that is easy to get people affirming is that #Feminsim was nominated in the wrong category and didn't win an Ennie because it is feminist. Which is why an easy hot take was to complain #Feminism didn't win a fucking award because this is clearly not an attack on the problems with #Feminism but on feminism. Which is easy to be pissed about. Unless you read the book. Then it kinda makes sense I was on the stage more times than #Feminism (I also didn't win anything).

So, the hot take argument is that this is a concrete example of anti-feminism in gaming, something that is good (from the standpoint of game design) and good (from the standpoint of ethics because it teaches feminism) was not appropriately recognized for it's contribution. So because I take anti-feminism in RPGs seriously, I'm going to go slaughter a sacred cow because I think people can collectively do better. To emphasize this differently: I'm arguing that 'good' content is something that has to be established (calling something feminist doesn't intrinsically make it feminist, slapping a sticker that says feminism on a monster manual doesn't make it a feminist monster manual). I'm also arguing that games that people play don't say a lot about them as people but what they do while playing those games actually is what matters.

Before delving into content, let's talk about presentation for a second. First, I am not a graphic designer and i can barely use basic functions on InDesign. That said, I can safely say that every other Ennie candidate had better design work and didn't use stock art and have enormous amounts of white space.
Despite the tons of white space and several games that involve people adopting multiple roles or interacting with each others physical space there are no diagrams. But there is a high definition photograph of a lamp in the book for some reason? Which feels really lazy since so much of the core of these games is framing it is really weird that the big empty pages weren't filled with even MS Paint level diagrams for stuff. Ikea Furniture has solved how to communicate constructing frustrating ergonomic Swedish furniture in a mostly legible series of diagrams. I feel like a floor for consideration to win an award should maybe be presenting visual information better than something that has consistently had me assembling drawers backwards. The whole point to the fucking thing is the actual medium should be good. The reason games no one plays with pretty books (usually based on branded properties) win awards is because they deliver a nice object and they have name recognition. So in a weird way the argument that this collection got snubbed is an argument that feminism is not recognized widely as a good thing. So, this is probably the start of a proper argument.

This probably starts with the axiom that feminism isn't a monolithic concept. That is, as somewhat argued above, there isn't some singular standard by which something is called feminist, there are a lot of schools of feminism including the history of anti-feminists who argue that their feminism is the real feminism. Which maybe gets to the heart of the matter: something billing itself as feminist doesn't mean it is inherently good because the real question is what sort of feminism is it peddling and if that is actually good. Something calling itself feminist doesn't mean it is or that it is any good but rather that it understands itself as doing something for women. Which is why we evaluate things and decide if they have succeeded in their aim.

In a G+ Post I talked about the experience of reading #Feminsim. It's sort of stuck with me because it is confusing to me what the collection of games is trying to accomplish. I could do a breakdown of each game (honestly you'd have to pay me), so this is more or less a metacritique. If you think I am wrong in my interpretation of something please feel free to comment. This divides roughly into "some speculation about the people making this" and then has a skeleton tree diagram of what I think is wrong about the theories of what games are doing which is something a lot of people have covered.

So to start, I think #Feminism sprung from a plethora of misguided but good intentions. Importantly, I don't think this was a cynical cash grab (and i decidedly cannot prove that it was). So I don't think the people that made this are evil which is probably what separates my criticism from the people who hate the idea of feminism and therefore are opposed to goofy storygames about feminism rather than being critical of the execution of what, ultimately is a sort of inoffensive feminism for people who are really into Belle and Sebastian and NPR. This is sort of important because it feels like the people who this game was written for and the people who wrote it don't have a lot of exposure to the world or that their exposure is idiosyncratic and particular. A short summary may be that regardless of the intentions behind their actions the content of #feminism largely boils down to a harrowing paucity of real world experiences. As a corollary, a lot of stuff is uncomfortable to these people. For simplicity's sake we are gonna separate issues with the theory of design implicit in these games and me doing speculative armchair diagnoses of people I have never met.

A big impression of reading #Feminism is that it feels like the people who are really into this sort of thing have a limited experience of the world. They also think imagination bridges the gap between their experience and the experiences of others. It feels like both the audience (from what I guess from reading a book, drop me a line if you enjoyed #Feminism) and the writers have gaps in their understanding of social identities and think imagining what someone else's life is like will make you empathize with them. To be perfectly honest, I don't know how pretending to be a trans woman would help a cis person understand me or my life at all but I do think they could portray a ghastly parody of my life. This is probably true of all sorts of experiences.

There are also some games that boil down to "endure playacting an unpleasant experience" where I think there is to be some evocation of pathos but it ultimately comes across as sort of silly. For example, a game where you just roleplay a shitty date and someone play acts a dude who thinks the orgasm gap is OK and someone play-acts a woman... leaving when this gets too stupid? Like... you can train men to not be terrible at sex rather than performing an embarrassing pantomime. I don't know any men who woudn't feel deeply mortified by that dude but I also don't think roleplaying a woman telling a dude to shut the fuck up when he says stupid things is necessarily going to hurt anyone, I just have no clue how it is helping. The same cannot be said for the suggestion that a group of people perform cartoonish Hollywood racism in a game of a social gender role reversal in the film industry which is apparently to help the players learn something but the game itself seems like it is deeply confused about what that something is? For real, I'm not even cherrypicking results because I'm at least minimizing my complaints to games that can still be understood as games. It's also probably notable that a lot of aspects of these games either reveal poor understanding of present day issues or how human beings interact with each other.

  • trans women are presented as women who are relatively vapid, highly emotional and vulnerable... which is some patronizing bullshit. 
    • It gets fairly close to TERF portrayals of trans women as patriarchal dupes who only care about sexuality and have few, if any, interests and no larger political ideals.
  • there is an utter lack of comprehension about sex work and the nature of sex work & the repetition of human trafficking myths which actually directly negatively impacts sex workers
    • Also there is a weird sort of question of how boundaries work in games which gets to awkwardly half socialized stuff like a game that is an elaborate excuse to play spin the bottle with friends to learn about lesbian desire or something (I didn't re-read #Feminism to write this)
      • LIFEHACK: You can just make out with your friends, just ask them and accept a no. I saved you 30 minutes of awkwardly saying rhymes and playacting.
        • A Lot of these games have excuses for touch and like... again: you can touch other people by asking them if you are suffering from a desperate need for human touch and it isn't a shameful thing. Why does anyone need a game to touch their friends?
          • Also how do you rate someone as being "good" at this 
    • Sex as a whole seems to be really vexing to these people
      • Like sexual shame, stigma and coercion are kinda presented as norms in ways that feel distressingly personal disguised as universal experiences.
        • Which is not really my place to speculate just... the attitude this entire thing takes towards sex is like... a really intense case of attraction/repulsion
    • Also everything is Rated For Emotional Intensity 1-5 Tears
      • But like... it isn't well described and playing someones shame convincing them they deserved to be assaulted seems less a problem of emotional intensity and more a problem of why this exercise is helpful? (which is what i understood "The Grey Zone" to entail with competing self interpretations of something which... I shouldn't have to tell you why this is bad)
  • but a Nail Salon (a site of frequent debt bondage) is for playacting differences across race, immigration status and class... 
which really drives home the yawning chasm between "how human beings interact and understand each other" and "how storygames simulate human encounters." but more than anything, I'm flummoxed because there isn't any tonal consistency or particularly meaningful discussion of what feminism is or why feminism would matter or (because it seems like there was a realization that feminism isn't internally homogeneous and a lot of the games are asking players to just have fake arguments using stand ins for... positions distorted to the extent that you are clearly supposed to compromise). It feels like compromise is really important to these games because of what seems to be a strong emphasis among storygame stuff for everyone's feelings to be valid (unless you are someone that is collectively hated by that community, as far as i can tell). So... Feminism that argues that women should be better professionals and make more money and feminism concerned with the inclusion of trans women and feminism that is misguided about how to help sex workers and whatnot are all equally valid positions as long as they also accept the others as valid. There is maybe something to say about that from a standpoint perspective (that is, the feminist theory that everyone has their own particular experiences and they provide a valid site of analysis) but the problem is the whole "the personal is the political" implies that these are your real experiences. Roleplaying being another person who you may know nothing about doesn't seem particularly helpful for understanding why people make the decisions they do OR developing a greater understanding of them as people.

Which sort of wraps into the fact that these seem to be written for people with a relatively low degree of socialization (note: I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with not being particularly adroit in social situations, I think it is wrong to make broad and sweeping pronouncements about other people from a position of ignorance). Here's an example:  there's a thing where a lot of nerd genre writing tries to write someone cool who does sex and drugs and they come off hilariously ineptly. They have a limited music taste so usually they listen to classic rock, they don't know a lot about sex so risque sexual content available in a lot of nerd worlds is really goddamn tame (I think it was the dude who made ready player one who in the HARDCORE PORN FUTURE had the range of extreme porn be: amateur and foot fetish stuff... which is to say tamer than web 1.0 internet pornography) and they basically don't do drugs so they describe drugs like the drug culture lecture in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Which is why they often don't write these things because either: 1) they know they know nothing about the subject at hand and describing or discussing it is really goddamn embarrassing or 2) the idea of the thing is deeply uncomfortable to them. [Note: I'm conflating writing games with writing fiction because the tendency seems pretty universal in nerd communities and i don't read a lot of storygames],

Which is why we need to differentiate "this is uncomfortable for me" from "this game is Evil!" Because weirdly the tolerance for explicit material is nearly nil among a lot of people who haven't really had a rich variety of life experiences. Which explains how the content of #Feminism ends up getting kinda incoherent is that it's people who don't seem to have any meaningful exposure to several topics that the games grapple with and therefore they wind up saying some stuff that feels inherently suspect to me: good intentions from poorly informed people don't count for much. Or distilled into a nice maxim: people with an incomplete understanding of a problem are bad at diagnosing problems. This book misunderstands some really important things (Like Seriously: SESTA passed and people still cheer Elizabeth Warren which is why something that made people less ill informed about sex work would have been nice) and it provides a concept of feminism that isn't coherent or particularly positioned to address anything other than really basic ideas like sexually assaulting people is wrong and women should have control of their bodies (but maybe not for porn) and people should check their privilege but also what that really means isn't implicit or explicitly there but you should probably do that. Which is where the good intentions calcify into actual problems.

Circuitously it is worth mentioning that I wrote this today because I ended up talking about The Misandrists by Bruce La Bruce. It's dope, my friend wrote a review (she didn't like it) but told me it was absolutely the sort of thing I liked and I should watch it. Anyway this has been really long:
It has a graphic scene of archival GRS surgery (or SRS or GCS or whatever acronym you prefer) overdubbed with screaming and forcible transition.

If that was released to RPGs there would be a riot. Someone else on Discord was surprised it had had a really high Rotten Tomatoes Score (it's dropped to 75%, i think when it was just on art circuit stuff it was 93% or near enough and the IMDB viewer score is 4.8). Why bring up these numbers:

  • People who are exposed to art or generally have a wide variety of life experiences (which is what people who review art film sort of self select for): aren't easily freaked out and review the movie as a sort of commentary
  • Random people freak out a significant amount and really hate this movie.
Which is relevant: the discourse should probably improve because people should maybe focus on having substantive critique or actually looking at cultural objects as if they are important using some better heuristics than asking if it is unchallenging. 

Which is the real sin of #Feminism as a design thing: it doesn't take a particularly firm stance about what feminism is or should be or could be or even what anyone should do with a series of play acting exercises. It seems content to assume everyone already agrees that feminism is good and that compromise is possible and this is good enough. Which is a weird corollary to the idea that games have some sort of implicit teaching  function. So given these two things in conjunction we can account for the weird evangelical tone some people take. If the content of games is important, a corollary is that bad content is intrinsically reinforcing, forming or maintaining bad behaviors. Further, if a game has good content it serves an intrinsically good moral function (i.e. the voters rejected feminism as a concept by not voting for said game to win). So this is gonna be a really fast breakdown:

Inoffensive Point #1: Games are 'about something'
Roleplaying games have content that reflects the society where the game was produced (if I was trying to obfuscate my point: I would say that games are a hegemonic). So games have built in assumptions about what people and culture and economics and a host of things are like (mostly just the DM saying "sure this is how a thing works" because it isn't immediately gamable).

Potentially Contentious Claim #1: Games are not a pedagogical tool
Agreeing that games are about something, it seems counter-intuitive to say they don't teach you anything and this violates a principle of storygame design so lemme be really clear here.
  • Games have content that reflects the author who is a product of their society
  • People interact with these games
The storygame argument is that interacting with these games reinforces the ideas of the society and therefore games with 'bad' ideas are making people believe bad things. This assumption is appallingly wrong.  

  • because people have free will and a modicum of self awareness, even Tumblr level deconstruction arguing that the portrayal of X group in Y media reflects Z belief would be impossible if this wasn't true. If social norms were internalized uncritically no one could point at a piece of media and say "hey this thing hates women!" 
  • ALSO: storygames couldn't try to make games unpacking or undermining social expectations
  • SO: ultimately games are just things people play and they can potentially reject ideas that are present in the document itself. 
    • Ex. the argument D&D is colonialist is predicated on several arguments
      • Colonialism is reducible to economic activity (this isn't true)
      • Plundering non-humans is what D&D is about (also not true)
      • This economic activity is colonialist (in an extremely shallow reading)
      • D&D makes me believe colonialism is a good thing because I justify all of my decisions by dehumanizing anything I am given carte blanche to kill because of economic reasons. (doesn't follow)
        • Which would be pretty gross (it would be if it were true)
    • Which ignores that while gold for XP doesn't mean that I simply do everything to get gold or it wouldn't be a roleplaying game.
      • People do a lot of things for a lot of reasons (in games and also in real life)
      • This includes behaviors that work against getting gold because their character finds them objectionable (hence the idea of adopting a role)
      • Theoretically: you can play any game and the person at the table has more to do with whether a game is colonialist or not (it turns out bad people playing a game will probably make awful stuff happen because it is who they are, theoretically #Feminism as a collection would not change the alt-right gamer contingent into feminists).
        • This probably is a point about "whiteboard theory" and well meaning people with limited social skills determining why X group isn't in the room is that Y media is offensive to them (this is an ostensibly important thing)
          • This is a sort of cargo cult mentality that if "tolerance" vaguely defined is performed more people will play games. (It definitely helps to be welcoming to people, just saying the right words doesn't magically people show up to do something they don't find enjoyable) 
          • I believe this misidentifies the problem, badly. Specifically: it conflates a problem with group with a problem with content. 
        • Only it may be that I don't get along with the people making the speculation
        • It doesn't have to do with the assumptions built into games
Overall, this leads to a really impoverished idea of what games do (because a game just saying that it does a thing doesn't mean it accomplishes its aim).

You Can Call Me A Cruel Bitch If You Want, That Is Your Right

If you think I'm being mean-spirited you have every right to say that I am a cruel, edgy hatchet-faced bitch. You can say all sorts of mean things about me.
I'll just delete it but if it makes you happy to block me on some social media platform or throw a tantrum feel free to. 

If you can't beat my argument: I'm still right.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Galli As Character Class

I hate clerics, they make no sense. Or at least: they make no sense to me and pinning their magical abilities to level rather than faith doesn't make sense (since level is a measure of worldly experience not devotion). I also dislike that ecclesiastical hierarchy is implied by levels (why is the highest ranking in church hierarchy attained by adventuring? Why would an organized and established religion have mendicant priests going about doing odd jobs?). To rectify this:
  1. Clerics should be drawn from atypical religious practice 
  2. For religious reasons they are wandering around
  3. Their abilities should be mechanically linked to their adherence to religious behavior
  4. Their cult may be popular but being a traveling mystic is always somewhat strange
 I like the way several systems have you doing weirdo religious stuff so your god will listen to you (Logan Knight's homebrew mystic class, Mateo Diaz Torres' Pernicious Albion has Warlocks, The Cultist class in Johnstone Metzger's The Nightmares Underneath & Zzarchov Kowolski's Neoclassical Geek Revival Piety mechanic [as I understand it]). Having weird and powerful enough deity justifies following weird taboos and being a vagrant that tries to convert more worshipers to the fold. Exemplary of this are the Galli, as a historical curiosity (and occasional conversation piece in the 'is this a proto-trans population' debates): castrated followers of Attis the divine consort of Cybele.

[NB: I am taking a bunch of creative liberties to make this somewhat workable]

Who are they: castrated individuals[1] who dress in luxurious robes, attractive headgear (crowns, laurel wreathes, or Phrygian caps) and excessive makeup. Their hair is long and their features feminine. They have knives, bronze shields, and tympanum and dance ecstatically. They are preceded by frenzied music and wafts of heady incense. They bear a representation of their goddess atop a donkey. They perform for money. Because of the edict against castration of a citizen, they are drawn from the ranks of low born and foreigners. Sometimes they practice sacred prostitution. The object of equal measures of scorn and religious awe.

Why are they: they wander around and perform blessings (a shield dance over newborns, blessing crops to be fertile as Attis represents the life-death-rebirth cycle of crops) and tell fortunes. The actual operations of the cult are opaque (it is, after all, a mystery cult).

Domains: the boundary between life and death, the wild (particularly birds of prey and lions), frenzied dancing, mountains and stones in general. In chthonic ritual practice can contact an ancient race of smiths/magicians who can work metal, teach the secrets of mathematics and literacy and bestow magic; they will also witness oaths and bind them. 

Ways of winning divine favor: Convert followers to worship, observe the holy week of Attis being pledged to Cybele, being castrated, dying and being reborn, make a sacrifice of a ram to Attis (Criobolium) or a bull to Cybele (Taurbolium), ritually sacrifice the testicles of a potent animal, observe minor holidays organized around the import of Cybele's worship. Flagellation and frenzy demonstrating devotion. Give solid agricultural advice in line with the religious calendar.

What are their powers: Lions will not attack them (so long as they are playing divine music) and can potentially be commanded (birds of prey are the same), they can make things fertile, they can communicate with powers under the earth to learn the art of metallurgy, magic, mathematics or literacy, they can shape stone and commune with the dead. They can perform a shield dance and enter a battle frenzy.

How is one initiated: the only requirement is the devotion necessary to castrate oneself in a fit of divine madness during the 'Day of Blood' (March 24) in symbolic mourning for the temporary death of Attis. Then you become a mendicant priest and perform for the glory of Attis & Cybele.

[1] Galli are in various sources referred to with masculine pronouns, feminine pronouns and 3rd gender pronouns sometimes pegged to if they have castrated themselves.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Cult of Aesthete Assassins

"People begin to see that something more goes to the composition of a fine murder than two blockheads to kill and be killed—a knife—a purse—and a dark lane. Design, gentleman, grouping, light and shade, poetry, sentiment, are now deemed indispensable to attempts of this nature.... To sketch the history of the art, and to examine its principles critically, now remains as a duty for the connoisseur"
—Thomas de Quincey, "On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts"
The Cult of Aesthete Assassins is the vulgar way of referring to The Society for Exquisite Excision. They are less a cohesive artistic school—let alone a guild of assassins as it is generally understoodthan an assortment of artistically inclined individuals—including theorists, critics and patrons—who view murder as a legitimate compliment/component to the other fine arts. A common confusion is that they only commit murder for hire; rather, there are as many rationales as there are methods of dispatch. Among the variegated rationales are:
  •  the aesthetic contemplation of the act of murder
  • the attempt to beautify the world as an act of aesthetic philanthropy 
  • to preserve the legacy of an artist by killing them 
  • an attempt to intuit some transcendent principle or experience through the act of murder
  •  the use of body as medium for artistic expression
  • a means of experiencing the sublime
  • the scandalous/audacious (and importantly, attention grabbing) nature of murder as art
  • an expression of criticism
  • ennui
  • debt
  • inspiration
  • establishing a legacy
  • showmanship
  • pursuit of arete  
Despite their sanguinary pursuits, the primarily concerns are artistic debate, discussion, criticism, curation, manifesto writing, squabbling, feuding and cultivating the artist-as-product to accrue patronage. 

The cost to acquire the services of one is extremely variable and prone to numerous whims including if the artist is concerned with working on a particular type of person (only Countess' of a certain age, Men on the night of their wedding, ornithologists, philosophers, the beautiful) or with a particularly expensive medium in addition to the cost of having them produce the body (marble, gold, ivory, jade, porcelain, rare pigments [ultramarine blue, annatto, cochineal, Dragon's Blood, etc.] and so on) and fueling the vices and muses of the artist necessary for inspired work. 

Hiring one is as simple as joining their salon circle, getting their attention, and convincing them to take you on as a patron—it helps if they have a masterpiece they need more money to finish or they have creditors on their heels. It also sometimes helps to get them intoxicated first. It also helps if you suggest you have received a bid from their more successful rival.

What is a typical Aesthete Assassin Like?
There are no typical Aesthete Assassins, the work of art is a singular production. It is hyperbolic to claim there is nothing that can be generalized about Aesthete Assassins but they are extravagant (both in cost and final product) and the extravagance is part of their individual charm.

Almost Insentient, Almost Divine: regardless of the aesthetic principles embraced, as a rule Aesthete Assassins are always without fail very intentionally dressed. They may adopt some strange minimalism of wearing all black and painting their face chalk white—but in that case they spent hours perfecting the shade. They may appear disheveled but there are hours in front of a mirror capturing the exact ways in which they appear unkempt. They may wear impractical, expensive and gaudy fashions but they will often wear it only once because otherwise it loses its impact. The same goes for their personal appearance: regardless of what they have decided is the properly embodied aesthetic for them (perfect muscular symmetry, scarification to highlight portions of their body, elaborate tattooing, intentionally marring their appearance for juxtaposition) it is the product of studious contemplation and the relentless application of cosmetics, management of diet and exercise and selective use of whatever enhancement is available. The artist is an integral part of the work of art. This is reflected not only by their embodiment but also by their commitment to conspicuous consumption.

[consult Elizabeth Amann's Dandyism in the Age of Revolution: The Art of the Cut for inspiration if you like, or just look at weird avant garde fashions].

The fortuitous encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table: Aesthete Assassins have, functionally, subsumed all moral questions as questions of aesthetics and therefore spend most of their time contemplating aesthetics, debating the meaning and value of art with each other, justifying the enormous cost of their masterpiece and pursuing an extremely personal commitment to the aesthetic. To anyone outside of the system of aesthetic considerations guiding their behavior, they often seem arbitrary, addled and chaotic—what possible justification is there for bejeweling a tortoise to death? to mutilating the wings of 27 peacocks to create an exacting tableaux before setting them ablaze? to throwing expensive bottles of champagne into the ocean? 

[À rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans has some excellent ideas about interior decoration and personal aesthetic vision].

Luxury Problems: Aesthete Assassins would rather starve than consume an inferior meal, freeze to death rather than wear an unfashionable coat and have a tendency towards expensive addictionsespecially ones that increase aesthetic appreciation. Common addictions include: hashish, opium, absinthe (with active wormwood), mandrake, nightshade, belladonna, nicotine, snuff and whatever is currently the most fashionable and new substance. Periodic reminder that for real there was a whole heroin chic thing around having tuberculosis, like it was considered a romantic disease (run with that).

Art is Hard: Aesthete Assassins struggle with the doubled vexation of wishing to be widely recognized for their craft, while also maintaining the quality of their works. Many rely on a host of interns and assistants [think Damien Hirst]. They also go through creative slumps, feel uninspired, feel required to exceed their last great work, or struggle with being hired on by provincial clients whose tastes are dull and pedestrian. This is why they have salons, in order to both vent about the narrow vision of their employers and criticize each other to even greater heights—also there is usually free food and drink.

The Medium is the Message (or some suggestions for Aesthetic Assassin mediums)
"whilst the portrait painter often has to complain of too much torpor in his subject, the artist, in our line, is generally embarrassed by too much animation"

Ceramics: Bone china can be produced using the target, possibly make them witness the conversion of their favorite hand into a teacup. Then utilize it in an elaborate tea service (the tea is poisoned; the poisons timed to the service).

Gastronomy: Obviously one can prepare and cook another human being in a variety of ways. On top of Hannibal, I would suggest The Cannibal's Guide to Ethical Living (Mykle Hansen) for a completely different take on the aesthete cannibal. Preparing a meal out of someone—even a sumptuous meal—can get repetitive. Gourmand Assassins also specialize in making foods that highlights being poisoned and still are irresistible (Fugu, Ackee, Cassava are all poisonous and popularly eaten).

Music: The obvious answer is using human derived catgut to string any number of instruments (a harp, violin, cello, etc.)—obvious answers are boring [gut strings are also used in some tennis racquets]. There are a lot of contemporary musicians that use bone derived instruments: Eraldo Bernocci [Obake/BLACKWOOD], Adel Souto [156], Christopher Juul [Heilung], and Michael DeWitt [Zero Kama]. Historically the Kangling (Tibetan horn made from a human femur) is used in ritual practice, Damaru (a kind of two headed drum) have been made from human skulls, there is a pretty cool Lyre made from antelope horns and a human skull in the Met.

Additional Arts (because otherwise this will go on forever): bodies can be taxadermied (including with flensed elements for aesthetic appreciation; think paintings by Bacon) which can also translate into an art installation or be inventively posed for depiction in another medium, skin can be tattooed, flayed off and made into a garment or canvas, the act of murder can be a performance (utilizing elements of mime, theater of cruelty, theater of the absurd, etc.). You can almost certainly do various sorts of printmaking using a human corpse. Various sorts of bone carving are among the earliest forms of art, scrimshaw is a very particular style. Andres Serrano (among many others) used a wide variety of bodily fluids in his compositions ["Piss Christ" is just well known]. These all can be done in conjunction.

There are probably many more I am not thinking of.

Suggested Reading:
Thomas de Quincey, "On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts"
Patrick Suskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Hannibal (TV series)
Maria Tatar, Lustmord: Sexual Murder in Wiemar Germany
Marcel Duchamp, "The Creative Act" 
T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and Individual Talent"
Ina Blom, "Boredom and Oblivion"
Johnathan Harris, Art, Money, Parties: New Institutions in the Political Economy of Contemporary Art 
Anything by Antonin Artaud, Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze.
Anything about the Vienna Actionists.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Frostbitten and Mutilated: An Assortment of Hot Takes

This was originally a text document I was dumping hot takes in and I realized how 
tedious it would be to actually copy and paste everything. I probably will write a real 
review sometime (and I couldn't help myself and responded to some of my own 
Goofus-y hot takes).

Goofus Take: D&D is intrinsically colonialist, therefore Frostbitten & Mutilated 
(F&M) is a supplementthat expands the scope of colonial thinking within the 

Rejoinder: Only if much of the actual content of colonialism (such as forcible religious 
conversion, the destruction of sacred sites, the construction of racial codes and laws 
delineating lesser and servile "rights" (if any) for the colonized; alongside the mass 
plunder of goods through compelled labor and enslavement) is disregarded?

Goofus Take: If not colonialist, the assumptions of the game are capitalist; these games 
promote acquiescence to capitalism!

Rejoinder: I don’t think anyone has really done complex economic modeling within RPGs 
(although Hot Springs Island does suggest the mass introduction of wealth into the world 
economy will have destabilizing effects). Prices are fixed (or sometimes there are 
adjustments for certain circumstances), goods are generic and relatively the same 
throughout the world, I don’t think that stock, credit, and complex financial mechanisms 
are either promoted or included in play because that would involve backending a lot of 
math? But also this is mistaking “gold/silver as xp mechanism and measure of 
accomplishment” with “gold/silver as intrinsic good.”

Goofus Take: Well black metal is a fascist genre so the game is fascist.

Rejoinder: Only if you go with a really particular read of Lords of Chaos and believe Varg/
Burzum is of singular importance to the existence of Black Metal. There is also quite a 
bit of Red and Anarchist Black Metal.

Goofus Refusal to Give Up: Varg has an RPG! Raggi said he would hire him! Burzum is
 darkness in Tolkien's old speech and this is somehow meaningful!

Rejoinder: Yeah, Varg is a colossal nerd with a non-OSR RPG that hasn’t picked up 
much of a fan base—although it sells as a curiosity the same way paintings by serial 
killers do. Fun fact (discovered by Claire): Burzum’s “Burzum (Dunkelheit)” straight up 
PLAGIARIZED the lines “When night falls, she cloaks the world in inpenetrable (sic) 
darkness. A chill rises from the soil and contaminates the air. Suddenly ‘breathtaking’ 
beauty has a new meaning” from Realm of Terror (1990) a Ravenloft supplement. 
NEVER have I wanted to bully an overrated musician more.

Goofus Take: ‘Amazons’ is cissexist because Zak does not rule on if trans women 
can be Amazons
Goofus Take: ‘Amazons’ is an attack on the reality of women because Zak doesn’t
 in text exclude trans women

Rejoinder: Maybe those rulings are best kept to the GM? I mean, Raggi defines a woman
in LotFP (if we take Vaginas Are Magic as word of god) as “someone (or something…) 
able to be impregnated and carry a child to term” (Raggi 2017, 6). This excludes 
adolescent, infertile and post-menopausal cis women as women (as a corollary that 
Raggi acknowledges). The follow up is that parasites qualify as pregnancy; so, yes, if 
yourun Alien everyone is a woman. Since rules are meant to be broken, disregarded and 
discarded: I assume Zak is leaving it up to individual GMs? He’s free to write an official 


Goofus Take: The “Y” in “I Search the Body” blends into the r in “forgetting dust”; Zak 
clearly should surrender his awards because this is terrible design.

Goofus Take: Zak dedicates F&M to Cookie Corey and wrote about barbarian women; 
however, rather than promoting women, Zak is stealing the spotlight from women in 

Rejoinder: There really should be more women making RPGs (I really liked “Gardens 
of Ynn” by Emmy Allen & it is probably the next thing I will write about when I am clear
of deadlines). It doesn’t follow that Zak is somehow stealing the spotlight by making
RPGs (and this claim is usually made by performatively left dudes who want 
their product to be fixated on?)

Goofus Take: Zak makes a joke about the cultural appropriation of Nordic cultures; 
clearly this is because he thinks cultural appropriation is a joke.

Goofus take: The background (pg 8) and the culture of the Amazons implies that 
Zak believes without men, women are incapable of culture.

Rejoinder: I probably am not the person to answer this because I’m into Monique 
Wittig and the Amazons society is appealing to me.

Goofus Take: The GM advice promotes adversarial GMing.

Rejoinder: Challenge =/= adversarial; if an area is supposed to be a howling white waste 
full of deadly things it makes no sense to play it soft? (also half the advice is don’t be a 
jackass at the table? But sure selective reading works?)

Goofus Take: The “Appendix N” doesn’t feature enough female fronted bands!

Rejoinder: Female fronted isn’t a genre? I would probably make a mix of Lotus Thief, 
Myrkur, Bolt Thrower, Mares of Thrace, and Wolves in the Throne Room (or Boreal, 
Leech, or similar) maybe some Ash Borer, Oathbreaker or Harakiri for the Sky. YMMV, 
but I think it is a solid list? (and my choices are def not all black metal let alone TRVE).

Goofus Take: some of the pagination (ex pg 16) gets lost by the artwork and shows 
sloppy copy-editing, it is unprofessional!

Goofus Take: Everything in this book would kill my PCs! Zak clearly likes his creations
too much & wants them to destroy your PCs party!

Rejoinder: Git Gud

Goofus Take: It is unclear if you need to kill all five heads of Nidhoggr or if killing one is 

Goofus Take: Many species of owls (17% to be exact) are endangered (and 11% of 
species are near threatened, 2% are extinct); the description of owls as linguistic 
parasites encourages the harm of an endangered species.

Goofus Take: The Pearlholders are the thing Zak does where he snipes at critics (like the 
Cannibal Critics in Maze of the Blue Medusa) which is petty.

Goofus Take: Zak’s fascination with snakes evidences that he is a Scaly (and some
weird conjecture from there that implies this is inherently evil).

Goofus Take: Snow Leopards were only recently moved from “endangered” to 
“threatened” and Zak seeks to encourage PCs to murder them (in real life) with his
bestiary entry.

Goofus Take: The witches (Frost, Thorn, Dread) are recycled from Zak’s 2009 one shot 
dungeon Wolves in the Throne Room [and the three Perfect Sisters from Maze of the 
Blue Medusa]; Zak is coasting and/or lazy.

Goofus Take: Wolves are an important part of ecosystems and largely endangered or 
extirpated and Zak encourages killing them (and probably supports shooting them from 
aerial observation).

Goofus Take: Worms is formatted so Speed: Negligible / Armor: 10 appears as Speed/  
Negligible Armor: 10 and I am too stupid to figure out how this should be understood
despite writing this hot take.

Goofus Take: The “Groundhog Day” conceit is railroading and anti-sandbox design.

Goofus Take: The Dim Fortress is too linear.

Rejoinder: Tack some extra rooms on and mess with the floor plan but not the order? I 
think the ostensible point is that the Dungeon is a hugely foreboding place that is 
absolutely not supposed to be a megadungeon because of the ticking clock and the fact
that every combat in the damn place is pretty deadly so why bother with spreading it 

Goofus Take: The Sevenfold Tower is some narrativist indie game bullshit—it is totally 
designed for the sort of people who would rather act than face challenges.

Goofus Take: The Witch and Amazon classes are just repeats of the Alice class from
Red and Pleasant Land; Zak is a contemptuously lazy one trick pony who thinks repeating
the same design over and over again entitles him to celebrity and awards.

Works Cited:
Raggi IV, James Edward. 2017. Vaginas are Magic. Lamentations of the Flame Princess. 

Smith, Zak. 2018. Frostbitten & Mutilated. Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Finland.