Say you want a revolution

“I’d start a revolution, if I could get up in the morning.”

Sid Vicious, Red Box Dungeons & Dragons

I work in roleplaying games, full time. Not many people do. I won’t forever. But you’re not getting these dice back. This is my hobby, and it’s in my blood.

I know the industry news sounds grim. Nobody wants to hear what happened to Catalyst. We didn’t want to see what happened to West End Games, either. And I thought it was pretty much bullshit when I heard Ursula Vari was out of Shiny Toy Guns.

But that’s life. You spend it chasing one dream, and then you have to find another. As the original punk said:

When King Numedides lay dead at my feet and I tore the crown from his gory head and set it on my own, I had reached the ultimate border of my dreams. I had prepared myself to take the crown, not to hold it. In the old free days all I wanted was a sharp sword and a straight path to my enemies. Now no paths are straight and my sword is useless.1

I’m a fully second-generation designer at White Wolf, someone who grew up on Vampire and the Rules Cyclopedia, working in one building with old school giants and new wave maniacs. Kinda like that kid who sings for Journey, the one they found on YouTube. I’m a middle school gamer, and no mistake.

And, well, things have changed a lot since middle school. The industry went and died messy in the bathroom. No one’s sure who really killed it, like Nancy Spungen, or the chauffeur in The Big Sleep.

Roleplaying games, though, are a lot like punk rock. There’s always going to be some kid in the garage reinventing them. Forum roleplay, small press RPGs, old school revolution. There are always going to be people who want to rage against machines and publish zines, and if they’re on Drivethru and Lulu instead of the corner gaming store, well, that’s change for you.

There’s always going to be somebody to pick up an old Sex Pistols album and find the turntable to play it on and say “fuck, I want to do this, but I want to make it mine.”

That’s who we are. Punks, dreamers, and precious little messes.

Say you want a revolution? Then start rocking.2

  1. Robert E. Howard, “The Phoenix on the Sword”
  2. This originally was a comment on Grognardia. But it became a little more of a personal statement than I’d intended.

4 thoughts on “Say you want a revolution

  1. Good stuff. I’m digging myself out of the “really for true end” of my own gaming writing career, and looking freshly with purely personal interest at the marketplace and fandom, and DAMN is there a lot of good stuff out there! There’s always someone synthesizing pure magic gold out of the weirdest mix of dross, and even if it’s not the gold I’m looking for, it’s fun to see the stuff continue to pour.

  2. That’s really funny. Filamena and I were just talking about this a few days ago.

    A bunch of our friends/peers in indie games call themselves “hippy game designers.” I like to think of myself as a “punk rock game designer.”

    Good stuff.

  3. David is sometimes made uncomfortable by the idea that he is making ‘a hippy game.’ He apparently has a problem with hippies. (My parents are hippies, he likes them fine, so it is instead a sort of free floating hate I think a lot of guys who were punks in their youth suffer from.)

    So we were listening to NOFX in the car, (to feel old, mostly, and make sure the girls have a good background in music that makes fun of George Bush,) and he told me our game is punk, not hippy.

    And here you are posting this. Thank you, and well said.

  4. “There’s always going to be somebody to pick up an old Sex Pistols album and find the turntable to play it on and say “fuck, I want to do this, but I want to make it mine.””

    Fuck yes.

    I’m always singing along with songs I like, but what’s more, singing them to myself, on my own. My brother always teases me (hgalf-serious, of course): “Joel, you know why they sing that song? …SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.”

    It’s a funny thing, we’re both singers and have done choir stuff together, but for some reason he wants his musicals and pop music to be done by professionals, period. Or maybe he just wants the music to be ON STAGE, in a formal performance or recording. I dunno, I shouldn’t put words in his mouth. Me, though, I want it mingled with everyday life, and I want to make it my own. To me, that’s what songs are FOR.

    That’s also what stories are for. I want to make stories my own, and what’s more make my own, and for that I turn to roleplaying. I think my own outlook straddles the line between hippie and punk–if I had to characterize them, I’d say Hippie ethos is about bringing expression andartistry to the masses because it, like, feels good, man, and Punk ethos is about bringing it to the masses because IT’S IN THE CLUTCHES OF A VILE AND EVIL MACHINE AND YOU JUST CAN’T STAND IT ONE MORE GODDAMN DAY.

    Then again, I think the hippie movement originally had that kind of edge and rage and passion, and has just lost the cutting edge of speaking truth to power. Punk is dangerously close to losing it now, as well.

    In any case I’m excited to see the garage sensibility return to roleplaying, both with the Forge/indie scene and the Old School Revolution. Hell, even stuff like Pathfinder seems essentially a labor of love from, like, a very posh garage. The idea that this is something we make ourselves rather than have it handed to us by the Man is like oxygen on the moon. We need to seriously breathe deep, man.

    Right on, and thanks.


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