Jul 27 2012

A Thought On the “Fake Geek Girls” Thing

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Yesterday, John Scalzi posted a righteous smackdown upon those who cry “fake geek girl” and demand proof of geek cred whenever someone engages in geeky behavior while also having the nerve to be female. His smackdownery was in response to a specific editorial written by a guy named Peacock, but also sums up well the feelings a lot of us have had over the past months as more geeky gals have stood up and pushed back against the phenomenon.

As someone who is not a gal but is of the general opinion that gals are awesome, I stood and applauded at this. On reflection this morning, however, I remembered that I have myself encountered, and commented upon, exactly the sort of “fake geek gal” Mr. Peacock was describing. She was at Dragon*Con, some years ago now, sitting at a table adjacent to mine, and well… let me just quote from my LiveJournal entry at the time

Sales were slow on Saturday, so late in the day I crafted a new “BMSIBYF” [“Buy my stuff, I’ll be your friend!”– a running gag of mine at cons] sign out of bristol, tape, and extra cardboard and went back to the campy grin technique. Immediately sales picked up, and by midday Sunday, I’d made lots of new friends. 🙂

This caught the roving eye of the booth bunny next door. I have only a passing familiarity with the group who was next to us, but like so many of the people at D*C (and even more at Comic-Con) they are an indy comics shop who are Not Dark Horse and Not Image Comics, if you see what I mean. Demons in spandex and leather-trenchcoat vigilantes, that kind of thing. Their table had fairly brisk traffic, but their only product as far as I could make out was a $20 shirt with their company logo on it– not exactly an item calculated to set the congoing public on fire.

Thus, they had a booth bunny, a latter-day Betty Boop who appeared to be in her early twenties, with abs and eyeliner and auburn-in-a-bottle hair, who would take turns sitting on their table and lying on her stomach on their table, batting her eyelids at the people who walked by. Unfortunately for our neighbors, even having a booth bunny was not enough to make a $20 shirt bearing an indy comics label logo an attractive commodity, and sales were suffering. Meanwhile, 85% of the people who came back to our little corner and spotted me smiling happily and holding up my silly little handmade sign, would at least laugh, and a good 50% would then come over to the table and even if they didn’t so much as buy a button, they’d walk away having heard of NeverNever and The Suburban Jungle and remembering me as the “buy my stuff sign guy.” Several people who’d never heard of my work still wanted pictures of me with my sign.

Well, not knowing the booth bunny I can’t really ascribe motives to her, but I got the distinct vibe that she was jealous. At a lull in the proceedings, she sidled over to our table, batted her eyes at me, and cooed, “Could I borrow your sign for a little while?”

Halfway between annoyed and amused, I responded, “Wellll … I dunnoooo…” In the past, I’ve been approached in exactly that same manner by people who then proceeded to punch me in the face and take my lunch money. But she assured me that she only wanted it for ten minutes, so I acquiesced. And, having learned from bitter experience that discipline is paramount in these situations, made an exact note of the time.

So she took the “Buy my stuff! I’ll be your friend!” sign, hiked up her midriff-tied torn-off t-shirt, and started posing with it and telling people, “GOSH, if you buy our SHIRT, I’ll be your FRIEND! What more could you WANT?” [A business partner at the time], being susceptible to booth bunnies and insufficiently clad females in general, took the opportunity to take several pictures of her.

Not a sale.

After eight minutes of the fanboys not noticing the difference between her with the sign and her without it, their continued insistence on not buying the shirt no matter how much they stood around and ogled her, and my answering queries of “You gave her your sign?” with a casual, “Yup … she’s got six minutes left!” she apparently got disgusted and handed it back to me.

“Here,” she said. “I guess I’m just not as cute as you are.”

Now here’s the thing: I’ve been going to Dragon*Con for over ten years. Of the thousands upon thousands of women I’ve met or seen at Dragon*Con, regardless of whether they were supermodel types or not, this gal is the only one I have ever encountered who seemed to actually hold geeks in contempt and only be there with the purpose of being gawked at. (Technically she was there to sell books, as she was the model the artist had used to base his heroine on; I don’t know if she was getting a cut of book sales or what. The gawking was intended to lead to book selling, not actually the desired goal in and of itself.)

So it’s not like “fake geek girls” are exactly a rampant epidemic.

On top of which, and this is the part that gets me, can you blame the gal? By wearing her ridiculous outfit and posing in her ridiculous poses and doing that duckface, she got crowds of hormonal nerd zombies to line up at her table, staring and making Beavis and Butthead noises. If the table had been stocked with a $10 book instead of a $20 shirt, I have no doubt they would have made a killing that day from all the troglodytes going “Uhhh… hot chick… me give money…”

Meanwhile, a perfectly nice and real, genuine, bona fide geek gal artist of my acquaintance who was across the aisle was being roundly ignored by those same troglodytes, because she wasn’t vamping it up but instead sitting there, drawing and smiling quietly at anyone who walked past. If Mr. Peacock feels insulted that “I am supposed to feel honored that a pretty girl is in my presence,” maybe he should be railing at the troglodytes who create that environment rather than the occasional (and frankly rare) woman who tries to capitalize on it.

Y’know, those same troglodytes who do this crap. And this crap.

Those are the real “pox on our culture,” Mr. Peacock.

-The Gneech

Filed under : Gneechy Talk | Comments Off on A Thought On the “Fake Geek Girls” Thing
Jul 26 2012

Verity as a Furry, Development Pics

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Verity as Furry Development Sketches 1 by ~the-gneech on deviantART

Verity, who was intended for Arclight Adventures but never actually appeared except for on the cover, re-visioned as a leopard for a story idea I’m noodling around with that would team her up with Tanya. I think I’ve pretty well settled on leopard as her species, but I’m still trying to settle on a typical spotty type, or “black panther” type.

Thoughts, anyone?

-The Gneech

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Jul 26 2012

“No Room For Pictures” RPG

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At AnthroCon, Matt Sowers handed me a small booklet that said in big letters, No Room For Pictures Role Playing Game Rules (Beta Copy). This, he informed me, was his attempt to meet the challenge of one of the designers at Steve Jackson Games “to present a fully playable game system, with a working rule set and enough examples to generate a complete role playing game in under 32 pages.” Matt wanted my input on his entry based on my frequent nattering here about my tabletop RPGs as well as my experience (however brief and long ago) in professional game design.

In an effort to be worthy of his trust on the matter, I’ve decided to give as detailed an answer as I can, having looked through No Room For Pictures (but not actually having tried running it). The short answer is, NRFP is not a game system I would be likely to use, partially due to systemic flaws, but mostly because there are so many other systems that already do everything it does, and some of them do it better. But there’s a longer answer as well.

I should point out, there are plenty of games on the market that already rise admirably to the SJG challenge. Savage Worlds, for instance, can be summarized in completely playable form with something like 16 pages, and is famous for its scenarios being one double-sided page or shorter. (It’s also supposedly brilliant at handling mass battles, but that requires another ten pages or so.) Savage Worlds works so well in this space, in fact, that any attempt to fill the same slot is going to have a really high bar to reach. The West End Games “Universal How-Much” (UHM System) created for Ghostbusters, that eventually evolved into the famous and well-liked d6 System, can be completely summarized and playable in something like 10 pages. There’s no shortage of rules-lite systems out there.

That said, what are the specific things about No Room For Pictures that would make me send it back to the drawing board? We’ll start with the core mechanics.

d20 Dice Pools

First off, NRFP is a “dice pool” game, and the dice used are d20s. The core mechanic is to roll a number of d20s based on your stats or skills and beat a difficulty based on the situation, starting at 10 and being modified by circumstances, then count your successes to determine how well you do at the given task.

This starts off hitting what I freely admit is a personal prejudice: I just don’t like dice pool mechanics, particularly with a sliding difficulty scale. My experience is that they tend to add a lot of math at the table and produce wild “always succeed or always fail” results. There’s always that one person at the table who can’t remember from round to round how many dice they’re supposed to roll for any given thing, and the GM has to learn what all the “standard modifiers” are. Add to that opposed dice pools, which NRFP uses for combat, and you’ve got tons of dice being rolled all over the place all the time, quickly escalating into a giant math-y mess.

The only way to minimize the piles of numbers being thrown around is by using small dice, probably d6’s or d10’s, because the math can be done quickly, but NRFP chooses a d20, I’m guessing largely because White Wolf kinda snagged the d10 already and everybody else was using d6’s. Unfortunately, d20 is pretty much the worst feasible choice. Although there is very little “mathematically” different between rolling d6 and trying to beat a 4, versus rolling d20 and trying to beat a 14, it’s still psychologically harder to grok quickly.

Combat is the biggest offender here. The attacker rolls a pool against a difficulty equal to the target’s defense score; the target then “can choose to dodge” (but I see no reason why they wouldn’t always do so), which is rolling a pool against a difficulty of 10+(the number of dice in the attacker’s pool). The likelihood of successfully dodging is low-to-nil most of the time, but the hit point pool is so low that anything to mitigate damage is worth trying… even if it bogs combat down. This might be fixed by having dodge become its own separate action, sacrificing a combatant’s turn, or possibly by having people split their combat pool into “attack dice” and “defend dice” or something– but right now the system more or less encourages just standing there and trading blows.

Healing also seems to be quite harsh, particularly for a game that has such rock-’em sock-’em examples. Health itself is a flat hit point total with no penalties for being injured, but you only regain 1 hp/week (with a typical hp total somewhere in the 4-8 range)… so one fight could easily put the kibosh on a whole party. That’s great for, say, Lovecraftian horror, but not so hot for kung-fu action. Some kind of distinction between “combat hits” and “longterm injury” or options for different genres might not be amiss.

Skills, Character Customization, Weird Talents

This part of NRFP is seriously under-developed. There is a framework for skills and a few samples in place, but no real skill list. The few skills presented have fairly arbitrary costs and and pre-requisites, and there’s no guidance on how the would-be GM should assign these other than a vague “more specialized skills cost less but have more pre-reqs.”

As for customization and/or weird talents, there ain’t none. It looks like they were intended— some of the sample foes have spells for instance, but there’s no description anywhere of what those spells are or how they work. “Fireball (5)” is presumably an attack spell with a 5d20 dice pool. But what is “Bellow (8)”? A damage spell? Deafening? Inspire/Intimidate? No idea. Extrapolating from what’s here, I’m guessing that weird talents (such as spells) would be bought as Resources, the same way money is.

The Cumulative Effect

Consider the provided example of picking a locked door:

Our hero, Bao Sing, has been locked in a storage room after being knocked on the head. He needs to get out, because anyone who wants Bao locked up isn’t someone Bao wants to meet.

Trying to be sneaky, Bao tries to pick the lock on the door. He, for some reason, has a set of lock picks, but no real skill in using them. On top of that, it’s a pretty good lock.

Bao needs to roll an unopposed test to pick the lock. Due to the fact that he’s defaulting to his Speed score, the GM decides that Bao’s penalty is +6, and the quality of the lock adds two more to his penalty.

So Bao is rolling his base Speed (4) against 17. 10 (Base) +6 (Unskilled) +2 (Lock Quality) -1 (Lockpicks).

Needless to say, he fails with no successes. So he’ll go for the noisy method, and kick his way out.

Let’s take it apart piece by piece:

  • Why is he defaulting to his Speed score? There’s no “Lockpick” skill defined. One could convincingly argue that lockpicking is about Smarts instead of just nimble fingers. Presumably it’s a GM judgement call.
  • Lacking a skill already means you don’t get to add dice to your pool with a task; presumably the additional difficulty is prevent players who just have ridiculously high stats from facerolling over every obstacle anyhow. But the suggested penalty range (up to +10) is crazy huge. I would propose instead that instead of modifying the difficulty number, being untrained should set a cap on the dice pool you can use for that task (say, 2d20 or the relevant stat, whichever is lower).
  • Why does having a set of lockpicks reduce the difficulty of this task? I mean, shouldn’t it instead simply be that if you don’t have lockpicks (or something that can act as lockpicks), you can’t pick the lock? I could see having a really nice set of lockpicks providing a bonus, but I would suggest it came in the form of +1d20 to the pool (effectively making you more skilled) rather than modifying the difficulty number.
  • Imagine for a moment that Bao Sing was skilled at this task… say he had Lockpicking (1). Suddenly he’s rolling 5d20 against a difficulty of 11– for what is supposed to a “pretty good lock.” I don’t have the math chops to work it all out off the top of my head, but even with 1d20, a difficulty of 11 is a 45% chance of success. What are the chances when you flip 5 coins that at least one will be heads?

These are the kinds of messes you let yourself in for with a dice pool mechanic. If you were set on it, tho, I’d alter it thus:

  1. Use a standard difficulty, which should be fairly high. Say, 15. Someone with 1d20 in their dice pool for a task would only have a 25% chance of success there.
  2. Make being unskilled at a task put a cap on the maximum dice pool you can use for that task as the default (say, half your relevant attribute). I’m a fairly brainy guy, but I have no idea how to pick locks. But being a fairly brainy guy, I could probably figure it out with time.
  3. Have some skills default to the value of the relevant attribute. I’m thinking things like “Brawl” and “Drive” here, which most people have a passable knowledge. Have other skills completely closed to anyone untrained (e.g., computer programming).
  4. Have beneficial conditions add dice to the pool. A really nice lockpick set gives you +1d20. A diagram of the specific lock you’re trying to pick gives you +3d20, etc.
  5. Have penalties come in the form of required number of successes. Easy task: 1 success. Moderate task: 2 successes, and so on. “A pretty good lock” might require 6+ successes, but with the mitigating factor being that you can try more than once and add your successes over time. (Or something similar.)

A Solution In Search of a Problem

But honestly, and I don’t want this to sound harsh ’cause Matt’s a cool guy and I don’t want to just dump on his project, I think it would be better to chuck the current setup all together and look for some other route. The gaming industry has dozens of perfectly feasible rules systems that can do this basic sort of resolution-based narrative. “Roll stat beat difficulty” is where tabletop RPGs have been for 20+ years now, and it’s a pretty mature concept. NRFP’s most fundamental flaw is that it’s re-inventing the wheel, when what Matt should be doing is trying to create wings.

Take a look at some of the past decade’s big new concepts. Gumshoe threw away the whole idea of rating your character’s Strength, Health, Height, Weight, Turn-Ons and instead uses your character’s drives (i.e., their motivations) as the engine of their success or failure. Dread is a very cool horror game that resolves everything by playing Jenga(!)– “Want to fail at the stated task? That’s free. Want to succeed? Pull a tile from the Jenga tower. If the Jenga tower collapses, your character dies horribly.”

To create something cool and exciting, I would suggest Matt come up with some specific problem that he wants to solve, and then create a game that solves that problem, rather than just making a different way to solve the problems of 20 years ago. Gumshoe came about because Robin Laws wanted to run mystery scenarios that wouldn’t get stymied by a missed Search check. Dread came about because the creators wanted to add real suspense into their horror game. Savage Worlds was written because the creators wanted a game that was “Fast! Furious! and Fun!” and could handle enormous combats quickly while still supporting roleplaying. The only problem NRFP solves right now, is fitting under 32 pages.

-The Gneech

PS: In Matt’s defense, I got a kick out of the sample scenario provided. Who doesn’t love demon apes? You should totally write that up as a Savage Worlds one-sheet.

Filed under : Roleplaying Games | Comments Off on “No Room For Pictures” RPG
Jul 24 2012

Fictionlet

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To: Brigid
From: Mandy
Subject: Document Estimate

We need an estimate on creating a document; please get this in by COB today. Thanks.

To: Mandy
From: Brigid
Subject: re: Document Estimate

Details, please. What kind of document, what is it for?

To: Brigid
From: Mandy
Subject: re: re: Document Estimate

It’s for a proposal. Don’t worry, this is just an estimate, we won’t hold you to it. Please get this in for COB today.

To: Mandy
From: Brigid
Subject: re: re: re: Document Estimate

I’ve heard “we won’t hold you to it” before. Please give me more details; I can’t give you a reliable estimate with all these unknown variables.

To: Brigid
From: Mandy
Subject: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

Can you detail the unknown variables you’re referring to?

To: Mandy
From: Brigid
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

Please specify which unknown variable you would like details on.

To: Brigid
From: Mandy
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

I don’t have time for push-back on this. It’s due by COB today.

To: Mandy
From: Brigid
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

Fine. The document will take 100 hours.

To: Brigid
From: Mandy
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

100 hours is a completely unreasonable estimate for this project. We’re looking for something like 4 hours.

To: Mandy
From: Brigid
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

If you knew the number you wanted, why did you even ask me?

To: Brigid
From: Mandy
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

Because the creation of documents is your department’s role. We have to have your sign-off on the estimate. So, 4 hours to create a document? This is due COB today.

To: Mandy
From: Brigid
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

Until you tell me more about this document, I’m standing by my 100 hour estimate. How long is it? Three pages or 300? How many collaborators are involved? Is it a pamphlet, a book, a website, what?

To: Brigid
From: Mandy
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

I am very upset by how uncooperative you are being. This thing is due COB today, why are you wasting time! I told you 100 hours was completely unreasonable. Please revise your estimate to 4 hours.

To: Mandy
From: Brigid
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

My estimate is 200 hours.

To: Brigid
From: Mandy
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

Why are you doing this??? It’s COB now I’m putting in that you estimated 4 hours.

To: Mandy
From: Brigid
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: Document Estimate

Why won’t you tell me what it is??? And I want it on the record that I did not estimate 4 hours.

To: Brigid
From: Frank
Subject: Way Over Budget

Why did you charge 35 hours on this document? According to the proposal, it should have been 4 hours. Please be ready to explain in a meeting at 2:30.

To: Frank
From: Brigid
Subject: re: Way Over Budget

Please see attached.

To: Brigid
From: Frank
Subject: re: re: Way Over Budget

I don’t see the issue. It looks to me like it should have taken four hours.

To: Brigid
From: Facilities
Subject: Broken Chair/Window

Please do not throw any more chairs out windows. It is very dangerous and expensive to replace.

<-- previous B&G
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Filed under : Brigid and Greg Fictionlets | Comments Off on Fictionlet
Jul 16 2012

OMG Commish

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So tonight I started working on one of the backlogged commissions that had built up over time; it was actually commissioned in December (I think it was), with the understanding that it would take me a while to get to it. And… it’s a bear.

I don’t mean, it’s a picture of a bear. I mean, it’s a huge, complex, amazing request that will sorely test my artistic ability. It’s going to require patience, and stamina, and attention to detail of a level far beyond anything I normally put into a work.

Oh, and it’s ponies. Go fig.

I didn’t realize just how big a task it was going to be when the commissioner asked for it– not because they didn’t make their wishes clear, but rather because I didn’t really wrap my mind around it. Thinking rather cavalierly that I could probably just bang out something loose and fun and everyone would be satisfied, I completely failed to take into account that some monstrous part of my brain would put its metaphorical foot down and say, “NO. Gneech, you’re doing this picture, and you’re doing it right.”

“But–!” sayeth sloth. “That’s gonna be haaaaaaaaaaard!”

“But–!” sayeth doubt. “I’m scared! What if we pour all that into it, and nobody cares?”

“But–!” sayeth avoidance. “Isn’t there something else we could work on instead?”

“NO!” sayeth the monster. “We will do this. We will do it hard. This level of work is something we should have done long ago. We have long bemoaned the fact that we never went to art school. We have long looked on the work of others with envy and regret. We will do this.”

And so… it is being done.

Tonight was almost pure laying-of-groundwork. I did a page-size sketch, storyboard-style, to establish the placement and position of all of the figures involved, as well as to highlight certain flourishes that were not specified in the commissioner’s request, but were implied by the subject matter. Then I created a canvas in Photoshop and began to lay down guidelines and a perspective grid.

I’m drawing a perspective grid. In Photoshop. For ponies. Ye gods.

This work is so large and contains so many “moving parts” that I suspect I will end up doing it in large chunks, and then bringing the chunks together at the end. The background will be rendered first, including some elements which are themselves almost individual pieces worth a commission. Then figures will be drawn individually or in clusters, and moved into place.

My commissioner, for his part, is paying what is for my ratesheet a quite hefty fee (even if he doesn’t see it as such), and I have to admit that’s certainly a motivating factor. I can’t stomach accepting a fee I don’t feel like I’ve earned, and this is a fee I would hate to turn down. But it’s gone beyond that, for me. Having looked at the thing squarely and with both eyes open, I’ve been given the option to back out and refused it. Monster brain, once it rose to the challenge of creating this thing that would normally make me flinch and slink away, is hungry for it.

So bring it on, OMG commish. You’re going down.

-The Gneech

Filed under : Artwork | Comments Off on OMG Commish
Jul 15 2012

Photoshop Lesson: Isolating Inks From the Background

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Okay, this is something that I’ve known for years had to be in there, and had to be easy, but couldn’t find any lessons on anywhere and eventually just gave up looking. But last night I found it, buried in a sidebar in Manga: The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Digital Painting Techniques (ImagineFX), and it works beautifully! It sure as heck works better than the “select color range and delete white” method I’ve been using until now!

Anyway, I’m posting this here for my own easy reference, but I figure other folks might be looking for it too. I’m working in CS3; I’m sure these techniques exist in other versions as well, although the interface might be different.

This is an image-heavy post, so I’m going to put it behind a cut. But it’s a nifty, nifty technique! Read more »