Introduction to the LotFP Substack
What is the purpose of this page?
The conversation around publishing creative work comes in two layers. One is the actual creative content and how good that is. The other is the social aspect of whether the material is good for the community or greater society. These things constantly get confused by both producers and consumers alike, but they are different things.
When one chooses to (or is compelled by some inner force to) do things that don’t exactly mesh with the greater community’s sensibilities, the content almost gets lost. The important thing is what sort of human being you are, that you stand for all the good things and of course are against all the bad things. Once you are established as the wrong sort of person, then basically nothing you do matters anymore to a great number of people.
From my perspective, it’s impossible to know whether the content is good or not until the public gets hold of it. I have ideas, and eventually I feel energized about one of them enough to create something out of it and see it through to the end. Whether it’s the best thing in the world or even a good thing is almost irrelevant; that I’m excited enough to finish it determines what gets done.
My favorite example of judging the public’s taste comes from my first two official releases back in 2009. I thought No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides (now part of Adventure Anthology: Blood) was the masterpiece that showed off what I can do and would be beloved by all, and Death Frost Doom was just a side project standard dungeon crawl with a more experimental atmosphere that few would be interested in.
History has shown I had that exactly backwards as far as public response.
In my role as publisher, I have to decide what work from other people to publish as well. Sometimes I do an open call for pitches. Sometimes I ask someone I have a good working relationship with what they’d like to do next. Sometimes I assign things. I’ll have my say about some things, but for the most part (from my perspective anyway) I leave them alone to do their own thing. There are often bits I dislike in the work I publish by other people, but there’s no point in working with other people to bring their creations to life if all they’ll do is recreate my own preferences. Whether my suggestions actually make the work better, and whether keeping quiet on the things I don’t like are a net benefit, is impossible to know.
It’s all instinct and guesswork. That’s all any of this is.
So it’s difficult to discuss, really. “Why did you do that?” (whether on a whole project or fine detail basis) rarely has a more honest answer than “It just came to me and wouldn’t leave until I put it out there for you all to deal with,” and when it’s not that, it’s “I saw it in a movie/book/TV show and decided put that idea into this context to see what happens.”
This is a fine source of fan engagement and discussion, as people read the work and (ideally) recount to how they engaged with all these ideas in play.
But this other level of thing going on, “What sort of person are you to create things like this?”, “What values do your work promote?” that’s a whole different conversation. And, almost inevitably, this is the level I spend more conscious thought dealing with (as opposed to the “I am but a vessel for these ideas” of the actual content), worrying about, and wanting to discuss.
I ran into it early. Even before I was dealing with explicitly “edgy” content (better to try to be edgy, even if the result is failure, than to settle for being dull) and deciding to go all Grindhouse, I encountered the sort of thinking that demands I think about these sorts of things.
It was a review for No Dignity in Death in the summer of 2009. The book was a collection of adventures about the three unconnected deaths of three women. (The connecting tissue being that they all occur in and around the same town.) One reviewer took it upon himself to pontificate that rather than simply creating a book with a tragic theme, this was indicative of how I view women in real life.
The release of the Grindhouse boxed set in 2011 saw this sort of criticism explode. I had decided to go for broke, fully embracing the imagery of horror and heavy metal in a way that people just really didn’t do in the role-playing industry. Nudity, gore, and sometimes both at once. And it caused a stir. Particularly, how there were certain pieces of art depicting women suffering horrible fates.
It didn’t matter how many illustrations in that same set portrayed women in a triumphant or heroic light, it didn’t matter how many men were depicted meeting untimely ends by unpleasant means, the fact that women adventurers were shown being harmed meant something sinister about me as a creator.
The first two authors other than myself that I published were controversial figures as well. Some thought Zak Smith’s involvement in pornography was a “bad look” for the nascent Old School Renaissance scene (oh to have those quaint days back again…), and Geoffrey McKinney had caused a sharp division in the scene when the first edition of his book Carcosa had been published due to its graphic description of black magic rituals.
Their divisive reputations were not incidental, but the whole point of choosing them as the first outside authors to be published. In deciding to really make a go of this whole RPG publishing thing, I had to promote my values: Uncensored creativity and the associated risks that come along with that, the belief that taboo content (and taboo people) was a ridiculous concept to allow purchase within a creative scene, and that the outsiders with the warped ideas could match the established industry leaders in terms of quality of content and vision.
That worked splendidly, for awhile. Until it didn’t. And I found out that when enough pressure was applied that some of my principles turned out to merely be ideals.
But the company lives on and the work still continues. The ideal of being that renegade give-no-fucks creator has run right into the wall of having built a company (and dare I say institution) that is responsible for paying multiple peoples’ rents and requires the cooperation and support of a number of different businesses and their staff around the world in order to function.
There’s everything to lose now.
And that tension knowing that I have to choose projects and make decisions as if I have nothing to lose in order for me to be me and LotFP to be LotFP, and the fact that getting it wrong means hardship and even disaster for multiple lives in the real world, that sucks.
And I have some things which are being put together, and which should be part of the next release cycle, which will be risking it all. Working with people who have “bad” reputations for whatever reason. Preparing material that I honestly worry will cause business and creative partners to cut ties, maybe even have my payment processing canceled with the way the world is now.
This is what my life is and the lens through which I view every damn thing. In one particularly unpleasant discussion over this past winter, I ended up gesturing to the shelves of LotFP books in my living room/stock warehouse and said that was what the “real me” was. Everything else in my life does sometimes seem like it’s just a coping mechanism for the stresses of the thing I want to do in life. And I think that extraordinarily warped perspective gets in the way of people just wanting to enjoy, and discuss, the game as a game. You know, a distraction from the awfulness of real life.
I need to let them be distracted by the game without weighing it down with all this other nonsense.
But I need to talk about this nonsense publicly, because sometimes it feels like I am very alone in how I think and operate. I’ve pretty much self-isolated from my industry for a couple years now (not keeping up on news, releases, personalities, anything going on really that isn’t directly involved with my own publications) and I need to find my way back.
That’s what this place is going to be. My place to talk about these issues.
Hopefully it won’t be very necessary for very long, but do sign up to the mailing list here so I don’t feel like I’m just screaming into the void.
(LotFP Facebook Group for the fun game conversations and fan interaction that will no longer be weighed down with this nonsense.)