Home > Uncategorized > Reverse Joesky, rant, and what this blog is about

Reverse Joesky, rant, and what this blog is about

First, since Matt Kish was a hit, you might also be interested in the art of J. M. Mathieux-Marie:

J. M Mathieux-Marie: "Helicorde," dry point.

She’s mostly known for evocative but not quite fantastical architectural prints, with occasional forays into dancing shellfish, always with dazzling chiaroscuro, which is mighty hard to pull of in drypoint, letmetellyou. But it’s the Piranesi-Giger mashups that keep me coming back. Here:

"Urbs II," drypoint  l'esclandre

So having paid my Joesky tax up front, here’s the rant:

I’ve been doing this blog for a bit, but without any clear idea of why – I don’t have a current campaign to pimp, I’m not even constantconning, and D&D isn’t my favourite game by a long chalk. So why am I here?

You’ve seen Jeff’s ultimate-flamebait post, what sucks most about 1e AD&D, right? My vote is that level limits for demi-humans is worst, which the smart and creative Chris Kutalik thinks is just plain wrong. Here’s why I’m against them and why I’m writing this right now:

Demi-human level limits are limits on how much fun the game can be. Especially if, like me, you don’t play exactly according to the rules and you just keep adding hit dice and cheese right up through level 10000000. And the justifications for them that I commonly hear all seem to sacrifice the emergent potential for fun in favour of some DM-fiat vision, and I hear these justifications from exactly the people who say that’s what they never want to see.

Why would you want to limit demi-humans? For “balance?” Pshaw. If you’re going to “balance” do it on game day one, not 3 years into the campaign. Because you want a “humans first” game or dislike “Star Wars Cantina adventuring”? That’s a valid artistic choice, but then don’t let players choose those races at all. Because higher-level elves will somehow inevitably overpower higher-level humans? My thinking is that above level 15 or whatever you’re superhero gaming anyway, and any hope you had of keeping the gonzo out is a long lost cause.

Here’s the thing: level limits model one of the ugliest lies of racism and are specifically what I don’t go to gaming for. A level limit says – no, encodes in the laws of your imaginary universe – you can never be better than this because of how you were born. This glass ceiling represents your maximum potential.

Don’t tell me that – don’t tell me what I can’t imagine – unless that somehow is the artistic point of your game (as in, e.g. CoC, where the limits of imagination are a central theme). Because if you tell me I’ll be crippled by playing an elf, that really, really makes me want to play a kobold or a slime or a gelatinous cube or an iron spike. Specifically, don’t tell me I’ll be limited later because I chose to play a certain kind of character at the start and the gameworld just isn’t flexible enough to let me find my own place in it, because you like Frazetta paintings and he painted human heroes. Because that is an affront to what I consider the whole point of this ludicrous not-earning-a-living-or-raising-children roleplaying nonsense.

Which brings me to the point of this blog, and what I think the challenge – the point – of roleplaying might be. Only this: imagine bigger. Roleplaying lets you play out the possible consequences of any damn thing you can imagine – as S. John Ross said, it stands alone in offering tactical infinity. It costs nothing to make your dragon a million miles wide, apart from an expansive hand gesture. So tear down walls, or build more interesting ones. Try different stuff – non-Western, non-medieval, non-material, nonsensical. Get a wider canvas.

To that end, I intend this blog to be a random grab-bag of provocations and badly-digested bits of inspiration. Its challenge is aimed mostly at myself, but I’d love it if you played along too, and showed me where I’ve stopped short and how hard it will be to keep up with you. It’s dedicated to imagining something other than 10′ corridors, or if it’s imagining those, then it’s dedicated to imagining why and how you can be creative in exactly that space.

That needn’t always mean gonzo, though sometimes it does. Often it means historical sources, archaeology and architecture and art. It doesn’t mean knocking down all walls at once – creativity often thrives against constraints – but it does mean trying to look critically at some of the stuff that’s generally taken for granted.

Most of all, it doesn’t mean insulting other people’s creativity, although I may express myself passionately at times. I will contradict myself. Not everything will fit inside one grand plan.

Finally, I promise not to write a complete fantasy heartbreaker game system here, until I do. I might, however, write a fantasy heartburner or windbreaker.

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  1. January 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Firstly, nice pictures. Very inspirational. Secondly, I agree with what you say about level limits; never liked them either, especially when my poor dwarf fighter suddenly found himself at maximum level 😦 Thirdly, I personally like random blabblings and my blog follows whatever whim I’m on at the time. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come out with 🙂

    As for pushing the boundaries of imagination: let’s reach for the sky! And beyond! Recently watched the rather excellent animation film Dragon Hunters, and loved the world they depicted in that (and the dragons, they were far cooler than anything WotC has ever done).

  2. January 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Unlike pure flights of imagination (individual artwork, writing) tabletop roleplaying, by its very nature, is collaborative. It is possible for one person’s imagination to step on the toes of another. For example, if one player wants to play in a gritty low magic setting, limitations are inherently part of the imagination. I think it’s important that there be some sort of shared understanding between the participants.

    Based on your comment about characters of level 10,000,000 you need to watch Gurren Lagann if you haven’t. Because that is sort of the embodiment of that sort of totally unchained imagination, and it is glorious. Unless you hate anime, which which case, well, don’t watch it.

    As I wrote over at Jeff’s place: “I like demihuman level limits, but I think they work much better in the context of B/X D&D with race-as-class. If I was going to play AD&D, and I was going to house-rule it around the area of level limits, I would add them for humans (at a few levels higher; the level 14 cap in the expert rules is reasonable) before I removed them for demihumans. But then, I’ve never been much in favor of demigod style play.”

    Also, I have always liked the idea of adventurers retiring at a certain point, and level limits are suggestive of that without enforcing it. Otherwise, you end up with a dwarf fortress type of game where the question becomes: “how long can I survive before the inevitable gruesome death?” (which, granted, can be a fun way to play). Even a high-level character will almost certainly succumb to the will of the dice at some point, if you are playing a game with an honest level of lethality.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure what earning a living or raising children has to do with anything. Am I missing a reference here?

    One more thing: I just noticed that you mentioned disliking increasing hit dice. The game plays fine without increasing hit dice, actually (though you probably want some way to protect players from being stuck with 1 HP for the entire game). It does mean that players have to be willing to not confront challenges head on most of the time, even at high levels. One other house rule I have thought about before is to allow increasing hit dice, but have HP be the minimum of accumulated HP and constitution.

  3. January 6, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I love the shit out of Matt Kish’s stuff and Jean Michel Mathieux Marie is totally tingling my jingle. I posted on Matt kish’s site, and he replied, and apparently he used to own a copy of the monster manual and read it until the covers fell off. So what a ca-wink-e-dink you made a post about his work as monster inspiration!
    Keep recommending artists!

  4. January 6, 2012 at 8:58 am

    also? Where did you find the more caceri/giger prints? my google fu is weak…

    • scrapprincess
      January 9, 2012 at 7:34 pm

      I am totally interested in these pages!

  5. March 17, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Great art, and great points about level limits. I hate them. I’ve always hated them.
    I recently returned to old school gaming via Adventure Conqueror King and the offensive level limits are there too (though they’ve added limits to humans as well at least). Still, I’ll be ignoring them. Like you said, either balance humans to start with (which I do by giving them slightly higher stats and an extra proficiency) or charge more xp (which the system also does). Level limits are just… stupid.

  1. February 9, 2012 at 9:14 am

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