Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sour Grapes

Everyone loves a little internet dustup.

My recent "review" post of James Spahn's White Star (I hate to use that term, since I'm just listing my most critical thoughts, rather than a comprehensive evaluation) touched off some negative feelings over at Tenkar's blog. Specifically he feels that my "rant" (Tenkar's term...I don't really think my critique fits the bill of an "angry tirade") stems from bitterness that Mr. Spahn has released a successful publication of similar design to a project that I myself have sitting on the shelf. Bitter...or perhaps jealous...that he's making money that should rightfully be in my pocket. The inference being that I'm pissing all over the game because of said bitterness, envy, whatever.

Sour grapes, in other words. As defined by Merriam-Webster (online):

unfair criticism that comes from someone who is disappointed about not getting something

The "something" in this case being all the satisfied customers of Mr. Spahn. the interest of clearing the air and moving on from the subject, let me just say that I am absolutely, totally jealous of Mr. Spahn and his success.

Still good for making, wine.
Yes, I have of those Seven Deadly Sins that we've been warned about since Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with that second tablet of Commandments. There's lots of stuff that I get jealous of: the readership other blogs command, the money that other publications make, the artwork that other authors can commission (or draw themselves), the sheer creativity of folks like Rose and Logan. I'm envious that WotC holds the IP for for D&D (and so many other games), I'm envious that FFG holds the license for Star Wars (and has production values that no one can compete with). I'm jealous that Monte Cook can just attach his name to a product (Numenera) and raise half a million dollars in short order via Kickstarter. I'm envious that Raggi lives in a country where the government will subsidize a start-up game company while I live in a country that doesn't even have a post office.

I'm your average, normal human when it comes to jealousy: I see things other folks have and I think, boy, I wish I had their success, or their talent, or their good fortune, or their work ethic and organizational skills that allows them to accomplish so much more than I can achieve. Hell, I get envious of the sheer amount of TIME folks have to work on their blogs or publishing kids in college, or young adults without children, probably don't realize how precious such a commodity is. I know that I didn't realize it when I was younger.

But, specifically regarding White Star: yes, I'm most definitely jealous of its success. And it's for an even baser reason than "that's money I could have been making." No: it's the prestige. To be perfectly vulgar (and to coin a phrase from my brother's banking industry days): I want to be the Big Swinging Dick when it comes to game design. I want to be the guy people say, "Ooo, look at what he's done." I want to be "The Expert" or (more accurately) "The Master." And I especially want to be a guy who originates ideas and concepts. This particular character flaw, an attachment to looking Large and In Charge, is NOT standard to all people (the way jealousy is). Astrologically, it comes from having Pluto in the 10th house and pretty damn close to the Midheaven...but it's emphasized by the fact that Pluto rules both my Sun and Ascendant sign.

[at least, that was the astrological interpretation a few years back...I haven't kept up with the recent changes in astrological thinking that have occurred since the demotion of Pluto from "planet" status...maybe we've gone back to the old ruler of Mars]

NOW: having admitted all that, please allow me to say that despite my jealousy, I've got no "bitterness" about White Star. Bitterness over this kind of thing is something I got over a loooong time ago. Folks probably remember I once put a book called the B/X Companion (published in 2010, though the writing was finished in 2009), an alternate to the Companion rules of the BECMI edition. What folks might NOT remember is that Barrataria Games put out their own "alternate Companion rules" months before mine was published. They took a different tact with their project, but the fact is THEY did it FIRST...and no, it's not like their book was terrible or something.

I blogged about this, and about the "low ebb" to which it brought me, a long while ago. I was very upset and, yes, bitter...extremely bitter...that I hadn't done more, worked faster, focused harder at being the guy to hit the market first (this was before I had two kids, mind you). I even considered chucking the whole project in the trash...really. But I didn't, and I published the thing anyway despite second-guessing myself, and I had some moderate success (the book is still selling electronic copy), and I used that money to do another book, and I carved myself a little hobby business.

And doing THAT dispelled all my bitterness and all my resentment, even as it gave me a heaping pile of confidence and satisfaction. Time...years spent doing this self-publishing thang...has given me some perspective on the hobby...perspective that has dulled the hyper-competitiveness I once had. Allow me to elaborate:

WE ARE BLESSED. I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but allow me to reiterate: we (and I'm talking about myself and anyone with a computer who can read this) are extremely fortunate to live in a time when publishing our ideas...sharing our So Damn Easy. Look at this blog...I get to use blogger free of charge, and if I wanted to I could monetize the thing and get paid while using it free of charge! The fact that we have the time and energy to worry about squabbles on the internet instead of...oh, say, starving in poverty...should give everyone a big fat smile when they wake up in the morning. But for the wannabe publishers, these are truly blessed times.

WE ARE BLESSED TO BE GAMERS. All you readers who are suffering post-traumatic stress from being labeled a "nerd" in high school need to wake up and realize how good you've got it. Not everyone realizes the amazing flights of fantasy that tabletop gaming facilitates in the imagination. Not everyone has had the pleasure of experiencing the joy of escapism and world-building and role-playing that we have. We can be anything we can imagine...and we get to play in our imaginations with others who share our joy! The whole world could benefit from such play...but for most people, even if they have the leisure to do so, they haven't figured out the potential fun they're missing. Even for those with no interest in being an "elven wizard," the sheer variety of games on the market means there's (more likely than not) something there for anyone's taste in fantasy.

And that just ADDS to the blessings of the self-publisher. The community of gamers and (more importantly) game buyers means there's a support system to facilitate the publishing hobby. It doesn't matter if someone else "beats me to the market" with their game. I could knock-out a PDF of "B/X Star Wars notes" and sell it tomorrow and someone would buy it, if only to see how it's different from White Star, or to see if my stuff could be adapted to their WS game. White Star only helps the self-publisher to make money...there's nothing there to be bitter about!

Look, people: my review was nearly 2000 words long (1928, not counting the smiley face at the end). If you cut out my normal, meandering preamble, it's still 1642 words. Cut out the last couple paragraphs (about "what I'm going to do") and the post is down to 1482. Of that 1482 count, I spend exactly 97 words (one paragraph) comparing ways in which White Star was "spookily similar" to a project I was working on years ago...that's under 7% of the total "review proper." The other 93% is me critiquing (and sometimes crediting) the book. I don't see where I say "I could have done it better." My criticisms were regarding things that I found annoying, lacking, and/or problematic...which is the usual thing I offer when "reviewing" games. In White Star's case, I find that I am less-than-impressed with Spahn's design...that's not bitterness, that's just what I think.

Funny enough, I almost wrote something to the effect of "it's going to be hard to write a review without this sounding like jealousy and sour grapes, but..." and then decided against it.


I realize that some people may have misconstrued my offering (at the end of my post) to serialize a SW-esque work of mine as some effort to sabotage or "show up" White Star or something. No, no...the game of mine that shared similarities to White Star (with the working title "B/X Starkillers") is dead and (nearly) buried...portions of it were incorporated into other projects, but I gave up on it some time ago, for a number of reasons. The X-Plorers supplement I'm offering to serialize is "Star Wars-esque" but it ain't no White Star. For one thing, it's "Jedi-centric;" for another, it's no stand alone need Bezio's X-Plorers to make it work. There are two major reasons I haven't already published this supplement (aside from the fact that it's not quite complete):

A) I have less enthusiasm (i.e. "juice") for it then for other projects I've been working on.

B) When I realized the extent to which my "supplement" was clarifying/modifying Bezio's game, I thought, 'Jeez, I should just rewrite (i.e. "clone") and incorporate X-Plorers into this document and publish it as its own, complete game!' Fortunately, I never did that because (upon reflection) I realize not only is this a totally selfish and solely-for-the-sake-of-ego-aggrandizement thing to do, BUT it's pretty stupid: it's a bunch of extra work simply for the sake of saying, 'Hey, look...a "complete" game (not a "supplement").'

Fact is, there's no need to fatten the page I said, people will buy the thing (if I wanted to sell it), just to see how it works with X-Plorers. Keeping it a "supplement" makes me money AND makes Bezio money...that's a double-win for TWO publishers. And the gamer customers aren't getting screwed on the deal, because they can still pick up the free version of X-Plorers (to use with my supplement) or the free (serialized) version of my supplement (to use with X-Plorers)...only ponying up cash if they've got it to spend and if they think it's worth investing (for artwork and such).

And while I'm talking about X-Plorers now, this reasoning likewise applies to White Star. WS has got an OGL...folks can develop supplements for it and make money off Spahn's groundwork, should they so choose. Again, I can be jealous that James Spahn is getting the prestige and credit for making an "Old School Star Wars-esque" game, but there's nothing to be bitter about. Fact is, I could take my X-Plorers supplement, adjust it, and resell it AGAIN for use with White Star. With such profit-making potential why would I go and piss all over the thing...I should be talking it up! Telling everyone how great it is as a "tool box" for space opera play! Getting people fired up so they'll buy both WS and anything else people (i.e. "me") makes for the game!

But the truth is, even if my prior post appeared to be "sour grapes," it's not. There's some disappointment for me with White Star. It's not disappointment that Spahn did something that I didn''s that there were some design choices made that weren't especially good ones. As I said, it's a quality product for $10 and it's the closest thing to a B/X Star Wars game that I've seen...but it falls short (for me) in a few ways. Not that this matters: posting my thoughts on the game gave me blog fodder for, well, two days now. If folks are distressed my the negative tone...well, there's no such thing as "bad publicity," right? I could have kept my thoughts to myself, I suppose, but that's not really my thang.

I mean, I'm a blogger, yeah?
; )


  1. mature, sensible, honest.

    well said!

  2. Duide, you actually have to defend a review? What the hell?

    1. @ Anthony:

      Actually, I don't...but it gave me a chance to say a few additional things.
      ; )

    2. Well, yeah. I just meant why would some one take offense. The only reason to be upset about a review is if it's full of ad hominem.

  3. Thank you for this. As you may understand, it is particularly relevant to me at this time.

  4. Well written, cohesive, and comprehensive as usual! I like Tenk, but come on. Seriously? Sure, we all get jealous, but you weren't roasting the competition. You were chagrined, if anything. We all feel that feeling of "Aw man, I coulda done that!" But you in no way came across (to me, at least) as some turd purposely blasting someone else for "beating you to an idea." And anyway, that whole concept is bogus, because you would produce your own/different take on a sci-fi game based on the old D&D rules, right? There's that dopey "scarcity" mentality our society labors under, where if someone creates something similar to what you're doing, they "beat you to it" so now you have to pack it in. Nope nope nope. There's room enough for all of us, just like there's room for many retroclones, etc. As Morgan Freeman once said, "Allah loves wonderous variety" (sorry, I will probably be attacked for promoting terrorism by mentioning the Islamic name for God...I don't mean to rope your blog into that, JB!).

    1. @ Anthony:

      I am all about promoting the good things in Islam (and every other religion that has wisdom).
      : )

    2. Religions don't have wisdom. Men do. Sometimes they create a religion and encode some of it. Then other men twist it into what we get instead.

  5. Plus, it is indeed a great time to be a nerd! Fantasy and sci fi offerings have hit the mainstream, for better or worse. But we are still the ones who have the deeper understanding of and experience with those genres, and the bounty of the imagination!

    Note: I actually believe the true definition of nerd is someone who is obsessed with an activity enough that they delve into the minutia of said activity. Thus, anyone who is really into their hobby is a nerd. So, hardcore fantasy sports fans are nerds, as are rabid fans of specific TV series, etc. Anything to which you lend great concentration and energy and time is your nerd-subject.

    1. I've known several hardcore sports fans that refer to themselves as "sports nerds." Your definition doesn't seem to be too far off.

  6. You didn't need to defend yourself, your not-really-a-review, or even your humanness... but, damn it, you managed to illuminate the OSR publisher condition. Not everyone, obviously, but you described me and many of us with uncanny accuracy.

    Maybe it's Pluto, probably Mars... "Know thyself." That is key!

  7. Well Tenkar seems unusually emotionally invested in White Star for whatever reason and seems to take any criticism, explicit, implied, or imagined, as unfair or downright nasty. Not sure why, but I don't know him aside from his blog. His objectivity seems lost on White Star, though.