Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Value of What You Do is Your Call (It Comes With a Free Thing at the End)

Sentiments like the one to the right, which was the beginning of a contentious Twitter thread about how you should price your rpg work, are essentially well meaning--but I've begun to find them more and more hectoring in tone and frequency.

I agree with much of the underlying ideology at the root of these kind of posts: reaching a state of fair wages is a conversation we should be having, creative work in rpgs is undervalued, etc. (1). But what bothers me is the assumption than anyone has a right to tell me how I should price my work and the unspoken insistence that the primary way I should find value in what I do is economic in nature.

Part of the issue, for me, is that no matter how sympathetic I am to some of the stated goals of this kind of thinking is that it reduces the creative endeavor to its capitalist expression. If "I don't care about the money" is the wrong thing to say, than it must be important to care about money. If "I'm not looking to get rich" is an errant perspective, than looking to get rich must be the correct orientation toward creative work. 

This problem is pervasive in the language used to discuss the topic. Product. Strategy. Loss leader. The assumption is that to create is to engage in commerce. I can think of a lot of reasons to give stuff away for free, none of which have to do with a lack of self-respect or a sales strategy. 

Sometimes I give stuff away for free because I don't think of it as a "product." Sometimes I just want to share something without making a transaction out of it. Sometimes it means more to me that someone finds a use for the thing I made than me getting beer money out of it. Sometimes I want to pay it forward because of all the free stuff I've gotten use out of or enjoyed (2).

But don't take what I'm saying here as prescriptive. The best answer for you is the one you're happy with. I think you should charge as much (or as little, or nothing) for your creative work as you want. $200 deluxe hardcover, $10 handmade 'zine, $1 pdf, pay-what-you-want for a full game, or zero-cost "here's a Google Drive link," it's your choice.

Sometimes I give things away for free (every episode of my podcast, all the posts on this blog, and the occasional free pdf) and other times I set a price I'm comfortable with (the books and pdfs published under the Dolorous Exhumations imprint). I get to make that call because it's my work. I resent being told I should be ashamed to make that call.

The screencaps used in this post are not intended to harangue anyone for voicing their sentiments; the examples I've used here just outline the shape of what I'm addressing, and I've made them anonymous because I don't want this to be a "call out"(3). As I have said previously in this post, I think they're coming from a place of magnanimity and solicitude. But what I ask for is simple courtesy: please do not tell me how and why I should value what I do, and I'd appreciate it if you don't imply that what I do only has cogent meaning if I attach a dollar value to it. appreciate your concern, and I acknowledge that your opinion is well intentioned, but you do you. 

Unless you're pushing that "Devaluation of creative work" line, of course--I totally get why people are dunking on that. That shit can take a hike, especially if you follow it up with some but you're harming the community rhetoric. I'm not putting my hand in your pocket and if you're taking the tack of shaming people into compliance, I'm pretty sure we do not share a community in common (4).

(1) - Something I never (conveniently, perhaps) see: any indie game designers note that they pay their playtesters a living wage.
(2) - In fact, much of what I've done creatively wouldn't have been possible save for the generosity of people making free software available. Makers of open source software like LibreOffice, I salute you.
(3) All of the screencaps come from public, non-locked accounts, however, so I'm not putting anyone on blast here. For the record, the four posts I capped came from three separate Twitter accounts.
(4) - I have strong doubts that anyone who has ever played the what about the community? card on me reads my blog, has promoted my creative work, or purchased anything I've made. No one is obligated to, obviously, but it's rich to claim that we're bound by some notion of communal standards of support that clearly aren't reciprocal.

* * *

Oh, hey, a free thing!

If you click here you will be taken to the pdf of a supplement called A Fistful of Cinders. This pdf is an expansion for my Cinderheim setting, and I'm offering it to you for free. 

A Fistful of Cinders started as a challenge to make twelve pregenerated characters (one for each 5e D&D class), themed around the tropes and conventions of the Western genre. We're firmly in Western + Fantasy territory here.

Then I decided that those characters needed to be a posse, and that the posse needed a reason to I made a few random tables that generate a situation that calls for the posse to ride out into the wastes and seek justice. 

Eventually it came together as a playset intended for a one-shot game when your group is missing a few players but you want to play something anyway. Think of it as a stop-gap, but I won't be mad at you if it leads to a longer campaign at your table.

Of course, since I'm all about choice, if you absolutely must throw money at me for my creative work (in the name of community, perhaps) then you can always pick up something from Dolorous Exhumations Press over at DriveThruRPG. If you like A Fistful of Cinders, The Liberation of Wormwood is the most similar in tone and purpose.

Monday, May 27, 2019


The pulp paperback boom of the 70s and 80s delivered an occasional genre gem, and Ken Greenhall's Childgrave is a prime example of a book whose back cover premise actually undersells its uncanny creep factor. Nominally the story of a photographer who is shocked when his camera captures the shapes of his young daughter's invisible friends, leading him to an isolated community in Upstate New York, this book delivers so much more.
CAUTION! Spoilers abound in this episode. Childgrave is BBfBP recommended reading, so be advised if you'd like to read the novel and tune in later.
What's the big deal about harpists? How can members of the secular society of New York City get back in touch with the spiritual? How much ambivalence is too much ambivalence during the parenting process? All these questions and more will be answered in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
Find us at, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our About Page.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Feast Your Eyes

Art that has inspired me lately:

Andrew Mar

 Andrea Sorrentino

 Drew Hayes (from Poison Elves)

Philippe Druillet (from The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane)

Artist unknown, community college mascot

 Becky Munich

 Santiago Caruso

Toshio Saeki

Satoshi Matsuura

Monday, May 20, 2019

When You Call on the Dark

With all the talk of rules for diabolic bargains coming in the forthcoming Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus book, this seems like a good time to post my guidelines for demonic bargains in The Liberation of Wormwood. I see these as a baseline way to approach dealing with demons; since demons are creatures of chaos, there's certainly room to add other possibilities here as well.

Those who crave power in Cinderheim often draw upon the unholy might of demon lords to make their desires manifest in the world. Survival is fraught amid the deadly wastelands of Cinderheim; growing stronger through demonic aid can mean the difference between seeing another sunset and dying unknown and unmourned.

Magical power is sometimes gained from demons through unconscious, pernicious influence. Although they are often blunt instruments of chaos, some demon lords are crafty enough to bend mortals to their will without attracting notice.

Sometimes a character consciously strikes a bargain with a demonic entity and trades their service and their immortal soul for a supernatural gift. Demons are little more than power given hateful substance; they have no qualms about sharing that power with others who might advance their aims and be corrupted to their chaotic, destructive purposes.

A player character should always be aware that they have the option of pursuing a bargain with a demonic force to gain additional power. A powerful demon, such as one of the demon lords trapped beneath the encampments of Cinderheim, might offer temptations subtle or otherwise—dangling the promise of power in front of a character caught in a precarious situation.

Accepting a demon’s offer of power, whether consciously or unconsciously, is always an act that damns a character’s soul. When they die, their soul is forfeit to the Abyssal Disunion and cannot be resurrected. A lost soul is initially refashioned as a lowly manes within the Disunion. As the newly formed demon spreads disorder, chaos, and violence, it grows in power and might evolve into a more potent form of demonkind. It is even possible for a tainted soul to eventually become a demon lord as powerful as those who have warped Cinderheim into a vast abyssal infection of tainted deserts and corrupted wastelands.

The gifts granted by the demon lords of Cinderheim fall into these categories found in the Other Rewards section of the DMG:
  • Charms. Charms are often the initial offering a demon grants to a bargainer. Because charms are a finite, exhaustible resource they function as a form of addiction. A demon uses the promise of renewed charms to lure a bargainer into dependence upon them for magical aid. Demon lords withhold charms from those who do not feed their needs and desires.
  • Dark blessings. Dark blessings are the demonic equivalent of the blessings bestowed by the gods. The demon lords of Cinderheim are powerful enough to offer dark blessings in return for a character performing an act that significantly advances their aims. The promise of a dark blessing is used to coerce characters into service. They are often accompanied by bodily corruption that marks the recipient as being favored by a demon lord.
  • Training. Demon lords visit the mortals they corrupt in their fevered dreams to teach them proficiency in skills, grant them feats, or give them inspiration. This training is frequently also used to test the bargainer’s loyalty and cement the bonds of servitude. Through training, a demon shapes a bargainer into a useful tool. The training offered by a demon lord may also change a character’s personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw.
  • Epic boons. Epic boons are only granted to a demon lord’s most powerful champions. These gifts are bestowed exclusively upon faithful and fanatical disciples who have served their masters well. When a demon lord offers an epic boon, it is a sign that they feel assured that their servant’s loyalty is beyond question.

Due to the influence of death-hungry demons in Cinderheim, a death saving throw succeeds on a roll of 15 or higher.

If a character enters into a bargain with a demon lord and has the Spellcasting or the Pact Magic class feature, the demon may add additional spells to the spell list for their class, thereby expanding the spell options available to them.
The demon lords of Cinderheim’s major encampments grant the following spells to their followers, cultists, and champions:
  • Druuz. Identify (1st level), augury (2nd level), speak with dead (3rd level).
  • Narah. Expeditious retreat (1st level), enlarge/reduce (2nd level), gaseous form (3rd level).
  • Raaz. Hunter’s mark (1st level), enhance ability (2nd level), haste (3rd level).
  • Thanor. Charm person (1st level), suggestion (2nd level), vampiric touch (3rd level).
  • Yaza. Dissonant whispers (1st level), phantasmal force (2nd level), animate dead (3rd level).
  • Yrkali. Wrathful smite (1st level), spiritual weapon (2nd level), aura of vitality (3rd level).
  • Zulor. Bane (1st level), beast sense (2nd level), erupting earth (3rd level).
The independent demon lords listed below grant the following spells to their followers, cultists, and champions:
  • Abrigrax the Deceiver. Disguise self (1st level), invisibility (2nd level), hypnotic pattern (3rd level).
  • The Flayed Horror. Ray of sickness (1st level), ray of enfeeblement (2nd level), bestow curse (3rd level).
  • Kyrus Vor. Searing smite (1st level), hellish rebuke (2nd level), fireball (3rd level).
  • The Motley Princess. Hideous laughter (1st level), crown of madness (2nd level), blink (3rd level).
  • Sadireth the Vile. Grease (1st level), web (2nd level), slow (3rd level).
The demonic nature of Cinderheim can physically corrupt those living within it, and those who bargain with demons often find their bodies altered in strange ways. Players may roll on the following optional table to see how the demonic forces of the desert have transfigured their characters or they may simply pick a result that appeals to them if they so choose.

Bestial horns grow from their head.
Spiny ridges or coarse patches sprout from their body.
Their body is covered in fur, scales, or feathers.
Their body is covered in boils or weeping sores.
Their body is entirely hairless or exudes a slimy sheen.
Their ears are oddly shaped or their nose is nonexistent.
Their hair, eyes, or tongue is unnaturally colored.
Their limbs are unusually long or are strangely gnarled.
Their skin is leathery, withered, or oddly textured.
Their skin is unnaturally colored, patterned, or marked.
Their spine is crooked or abnormally twisted.
Their teeth are long fangs or protruding tusks.
Their tongue is forked, elongated, or otherwise uncanny.
They have a misshapen head or are animal-headed.
They have extra or fewer fingers than usual.
They have ferociously clawed hands or misshapen digits.
They have hooves instead of feet or misshapen feet.
They possesses a tail or other extraneous appendage.
They possesses extra, although sightless, eyes.
Useless, vestigial wings sprout from their shoulders.

If you like the content above consider checking out The Liberation of Wormwood, a supplement for generating characters facing the invasion of their hometown by a usurping force, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Salon Sublime

The Salon Sublime is a faction comprised of hedonists, sybarites, and aesthetes devoted to seeking the most rarefied forms of pleasure and bodily gratification. Because the novelty of pleasure is fleeting, members of the Salon constantly seek new intoxicants, erotic rites, and outré experiences to excite their jaded appetites. A typical meeting of the Salon resembles an outlandish party featuring orgies, drug use, and unusual combinations of pleasure and pain. Members of the Salon tend to dress in the latest fashions, even to the point of adopting flamboyant or risqué garb that causes shocked reactions when worn in public.

Pleasure is the ultimate truth.

  • The yearnings of the soul are sated through the body.
  • Pleasure is the only thing that makes a life worth living.
  • Aesthetic discernment is the highest virtue.

  • Secure connections with Umberwell’s various gangs to obtain supplies of new, experimental drugs.
  • Maintain relationships with authority to ensure that they turn a blind eye to the Salon’s dealings.

  • Smuggle a new intoxicant into the city-state.
  • Provide material to blackmail a wealthy family into throwing an extraordinary masquerade ball.
  • Recruit a beautiful cabaret star to the Salon.

If you like the content above (or any of the content here), consider checking out Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name, system agnostic New Weird city setting, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ultimate Fashion History: The Weimar Republic

Becky Munich, whom you might remember from the cover and chapter art in Krevborna, passed this video about the fashion of the Weimar Republic along to me. 

From the description: "People often ask me which moment in the past do I think has had the greatest impact on fashion today. Without hesitation, I answer; 'The Weimar Republic!'  The 'divine decadence', cabaret scene, sexualization and 'the outsider as insider' of Germany 1919-1933 gave birth to some of fashion's most immediate signifiers.  So WILKOMMEN to this Ultimate Fashion History special."

Check it out:

Also, while we're on the subject, y'all know this is out, right? 
Good god, that cover!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Jojen Paste and All Your Other Game of Thrones Needs

"Did...I get eaten??"
With only two more episodes left until Game of Thrones concludes, it feels like Thronz Mania is in full swing. If you need a source for episode recaps, livestream chats, and fan-theory summary, I think you could do worse than checking out the Alt Shift X Youtube channel.

(It also covers other shows like Westworld, but nobody is really excited about that, right?)

Here's my favorite insane theory Jojen Paste: Does Bran Eat Jojen?

Monday, May 6, 2019

Five Wanderers Who Settled in Wormwood

Five Wanderers Who Settled in Wormwood
Five of the mentors on the random table that determines who taught your character the ways of their class in The Liberation of Wormwood are based on characters from my first Cinderheim campaign. I suppose this is a bit of an Easter egg for those players, but here's some of their characters' origins:

Goblin bard
Majidah was sent to the deserts of Cinderheim by her mysterious master to uncover forgotten lore pertaining to demonkind. She settled in Wormwood to teach the residents of the town the magical songs of her people.

Gith sorcerer

Yrraza is the lone survivor of a githzerai craft that crashed in the desert; she was searching for a way to return to the Astral Expanse, but settled in Wormwood to further study the power of inherent magic.

Hill dwarf fighter
Grimnor, a veteran of the War of Blue Orchids, came to Cinderheim to find his wayward son. He settled in Wormwood to serve as the town's stalwart sheriff.

Tortle druid
Banj abandoned his hermitage for reasons he never revealed. He settled in Wormwood so he could commune with the nature spirits living nearby.

Anne Bonny
Human rogue
Pulled into Cinderheim from our historical earth by strange force, Bonny resumed her career of marauding on the sand seas of the abyssal desert. She settled in Wormwood with a cache of ill-gotten booty.

If you like the content above consider checking out The Liberation of Wormwood, a supplement for generating characters facing the invasion of their hometown by a usurping force, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.