Friday, January 6, 2023

Moral Compass

So. Let me be the first to admit that any "fame" (notoriety) or "fortune" (beer money) I have acquired in the RPG hobby is almost entirely due to the internet

And yet I am hopelessly naive about the business of using the internet in any kind of effective way. I have a (personal) Facebook page that I never update or look at. I have a Twitter account that I only use to follow local sports team reporters. I don't use Instagram or TikTok or..."Mammoth?" (that's a thing, right?) or even have the apps to access them.  I don't really worry about "cancel culture" or being "cancelled;" if the few hundred folks who check up on what I have to say suddenly stopped doing so, it really wouldn't affect me very much at all. I'd probably even continue writing books (slowly)...just because I've now, at this late point in my life, found that I enjoy the act of creating and self-publishing game material.

But, of course, I have the luxury of acting this way, because I don't rely on this RPG stuff as my livelihood. It is not my means of supporting (feeding) my family. It is not the way that I pay my rent. I can act in cavalier fashion, because if no one purchased another book from me or if I never wrote another blog post again, it would not affect my quality of life one iota. Hell, it might improve my quality of life, if I tossed everything aside and started a bagel shop or something (I don't know...just spitballing). I could still play D&D (with friends and family) even if no one outside my locale wanted anything to do with me...and to be clear there are VERY FEW people outside my locale (even in the RPG community) that even know I exist, even now. 

I'm just some dude: a faceless name in this niche of a niche hobby.

James Raggi is not a faceless name. In fact, as far as publishers go in the so-called "OSR" I daresay he's the BIGGEST name in the biz. Gavin Norman's OSE may sell more than Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but LotFP has been around longer. Dan Proctor and Stuart Marshall may have penned their retro-clones earlier, but the scope of their ambition was far more limited than Raggi. Goodman Games may be a powerhouse in the OSR world, but they have an entire team of individuals doing the work that Raggi has taken on his own least, that would be the assumption based on press releases (Joseph Goodman isn't quite the shameless self-promoter that Raggi has been over the years). 

Everyone else is 'small potatoes' in comparison...and with good reason. Raggi's impact on the OSR business has been immense. Turning his passion into a livelihood, as opposed to a garage-band hobby. Cranking out high quality product rather than vanity press releases. Pushing the envelope of artistry and taste and innovation within the OSR realm. Taking risks and blazing trails in ways that few, if any, had the gumption to do.

All that might make me sound like some kind of "super-fan" of Mr. Raggi. I'm not. I've purchased exactly two of his products over the years: a PDF of Death Frost Doom and a slim hardcover of LotFP volume 1, "Rules & Magic." Most of his products are simply items in which I have no interest. Many of the ideas that fascinate and entertain James as an artist and creator hold no water for me. It's not that I find the content abhorrent, revolting, or morally's just not 'my thing.' Same as I'm not into the cutesy D&D exemplified by Strixhaven Academy and such.

Likewise, I don't follow his blog these days (haven't for years, ever since it became mostly biz-related / promotional), or keep up on Raggi's role in whatever's the latest OSR drama. LotFP does, however, continue to exhibit it's own gravitational force in the waters I swim, and so I am at least peripherally aware that the company continues to limp along, existing.

On or around January 2nd, I had the chance to listen to Raggi's video declaration of "commercial suicide;" for those uninterested in the state of James's physical, mental, and financial health, I'd recommend skipping to minute 18 in the video. For those who don't want to bother, I can sum up pretty easily: going forward, James has decided that his company (LotFP) will publish products by artists and creators regardless of any controversy surrounding said individuals or any public outcry for giving such individuals a platform to express themselves creatively. 

I think I've listened to the entire screed some three times now (generally with the speed turned up), and I find myself 100% supportive of his position, his reasoning, and his moral compass. In fact, regardless of any commercial success or "suicide" that might result from such a stance, I think it's the only rational position...or position of integrity...that Raggi, as the man he professes to be, as the possibility he professes to believe in, can take.

Back in 2021 I wrote a post describing how I would henceforth forgo questions of politics (or opinion or belief) when it came to my gaming purchases...and, in part, this was due to with the fatigue of arguing politics and the downright inanity of trying to "vet" or police every product that crosses my path. Raggi's non-manifesto manifesto is a cry for logic and reason...a statement based in the fact that the internet (and social media) is not necessarily reality. For all any of my readers know, I may well be something extremely different from what I represent on this blog...people I've never met in person, but with whom I've had plenty of 'net interaction might be completely fictitious avatars representing, well, anything (any person) who has a finger that can poke at a keyboard.  Those of us who allow ourselves to be controlled by "internet opinion" or any story/rumor/gossip/scandal are...hoo-boy, we are asking for it.

But set all that aside (i.e. just keep it in the back of your mind while I write the next bit): we humans (yeah, all of us) are HUMANS...fallible humans. Some of us are real fuck-ups when it comes to getting along with our fellow humans on this planet...and, yet, there still exists within all of us the chance to create something of positive value for our fellows and (the possibility, at least) future generations...REGARDLESS of our failings.

Set aside the "gaming scene" for a second and let's look at a different scene: the National Football League.  The NFL is an industry that generates billions of dollars per is gigantic. And, yet, the employees of this organization (players, coaches, owners, admin staff) contain individuals who are fallible humans. Some beat their domestic partners. Some are sexual predators. Some are rapists. A handful have been murderers. And many of these individuals could (in their younger years) have been accused of the same kind of BULLYING that schools have attempted to crack down in the last decade or two. 

And yet...and yet many of these people do HUGE, POSITIVE things for their communities, donating their time, their fame, their fortune to helping individuals in need. Visiting cancer wards in Children's hospitals on a weekly basis. Digging wells in Africa. Rebuilding homes wrecked by hurricanes. Donating millions to disenfranchised children and victims of domestic violence. Raising money for cancer research. And THAT is just the "charitable" aspect of the NFL...the NFL itself creates jobs and revenue for all the people whose livelihoods are tied to the sports: hotels and restaurants and bars and service industries and all that goes with the billions of dollars of television revenue. That's putting food on tables and gas in cars.

All that besides the entertainment the League brings...and besides the way sports teams galvanize communities, bringing together individuals of all different races and religions and beliefs in support of their hometown colors.

Some of the people in this world are real pieces of shit: guys like Harvey Weinstein for example. I'd imagine that many of his victims are happy that he was convicted in a court of law and is now in prison. Probably there are those who wish Weinstein's punishment had been harsher or had happened decades earlier (the allegations of his sexual predation and rapes extend back to 1980). 

But say Weinstein had been jailed and thrown out of the movie business decades earlier; what would be the impact on the lives of individuals. Weinstein was directly responsible for the launch of many young actors and filmmakers careers. His company produced many uplifting, moving, and groundbreaking films. He's been an activist and philanthropist on a number of health and social issues; he was a founding member and board director of the Robin Hood Foundation since 1988, raising hundreds of millions to fight poverty. Miramax (Weinstein's company) release and distribution of The Thin Blue Line in the that same year is directly credited with gaining the release of wrongly convicted death row inmate Randall Adams...I'd guess he'd have some nice things to say about Mr. Weinstein.

[this 2017 analysis of Academy Award acceptance speeches from 1966 to 2016 found that Weinstein had been thanked or praised in 34 speeches—as many times as God, and second only to Steven Spielberg]

Point being: Weinstein is an example of human potential...a person with the capacity for doing both good and evil in this world. Plenty of other examples are available, from Alfred Nobel ("the merchant of death") to Marion Zimmer Bradley (whose aid was invaluable in getting many young authors...especially female authors...their start in the publishing biz). The longer people are around on this planet, the more opportunities they have to do both good and bad. Doesn't mean we should condone harmful actions (harmful actions should be condemned), nor am I trying to imply in any way, shape, or form that "the end justifies the means," or that good actions excuse bad actors; they do not. I'm only pointing out that good can come from anyone.

Back to LotFP: Raggi is not about supporting "the good;" his concerns (aside from those of his profession) is supporting creativity and art without least, without judgment on matters and concerns outside of the art being created. And as I wrote above, I support this position. If I were James, I'd be running out and soliciting creators from ALL points of the gaming spectrum, making LotFP a truly egalitarian publishing house catering to beliefs from every side of the market: left, right, center, and "weird."

Because creativity isn't bad...the act of creation is a positive thing. I truly believe that. Some acts of creation are more positive than others...greater or lesser lights, I suppose. But creation is better than destruction; far too much of the latter in our lives. Creating, sharing, building...people need more of this, as much as we can get, at least until our species reaches that enlightened stage where a critical mass understands that we are all part of one body, one world, one existence. 

[sorry, don't want to wax too philosophical, but one should realize that positive and negative are simply two forces going different directions and assigning one as "good" and one as "bad" is actually a mistake as both forces are necessary and essential for existence. However, as the vast majority of people on this planet tend to be unenlightened individuals who get bent out of shape over destructive forces...especially when those forces occur in our own lives...and tend to fear death and not see the eternality of the human soul, I think it's best to focus (at THIS STAGE of our species' development) on the less problematic (causing) side of the force equation, i.e. the positive, and let God handle the rest. For now]

Now, I am sure there are folks out there who feel that it is against their principals to support (i.e. pay money to) a company that supports (i.e. does business with / pays money to) individuals, talented or not, who are 'bad actors' (i.e. people who behave in a fashion one disapproves of). I grok that. I have principals that determine how and what I support, too (for example, I refuse to shop at Walmart...for many reasons). 

But I also recognize the truth and wisdom in Raggi's statement: just because a hate-filled person (say, Hitler) writes a hate-filled book (say, Mein Kampf) doesn't mean people who bother to read it will become hate-filled, any more than "bad" people who read, for example, The Bible will suddenly become holy, Godly types. I suppose there are "impressionable" types who are easily manipulated, but the sheer amount of manipulating material in the world today utterly dwarfs the tiny amount of game material being produced ANYwhere, let alone by one lone indie publisher in Finland. Imbeciles and the ignorant are likely to fall into vast pits of crazy long before they succumb to the influence of elf-game propaganda.

Creation is preferred to destruction. Vote with your wallet. Encourage better creations (whatever "better" means to you). But don't discourage the act of creation itself

I still can't say I'm a super-fan of James Raggi's LotFP imprint. But I am a fan of the possibility for which he stands. Hopefully, his health will improve in 2023 as a result of this new authenticity.

Happy Friday, folks. 
; )


  1. Excuses, excuses, excuses. Raggi has built his own raft, methodically, bloody-mindedly, disastrously. He’s encouraged every other voice in the industry not to climb onto his raft. No one wants to touch him. People who matter don’t want to review his work. Those people who count in the field just want him to go away.

    And now he’s gone on the internet and screamed that since no one wants on his raft, he’ll ride it alone. With his principles. Which amount to a total failure to admit he’s made mistakes, offended people, acted selfishly or otherwise created this toxic atmosphere around himself.

    And meanwhile, folks like you, JB, and Jeff Reints, and others, rush to his defence. Rush to explain that he’s really a good guy, when he’s very obviously NOT a good guy by the standards of anyone who’s worked with him, and no longer wants to. You, JB, who admit you don’t buy his stuff.

    The video clearly shows a delusional malcontent who feels very unfairly misused, like a man boy crying that he can’t get a girlfriend because they all leave, because girls suck, and fuck it, he doesn’t need girls. It’s pathetic. It’s sickening. And it’s a scene I’ve already seen dozens of internet wizards play out, when the internet doesn’t want to play with them any more.

    I don’t give a damn what he’s provided. He’s provided it. That’s irrelevant to his behaviour, just as Weinstein’s contributions were irrelevant to his repulsive activities. “Creativity” is not a blank cheque. You have no business making excuses for people who deserve no excuse.

    1. Hmm. I don’t think I’m “defending”Raggi. I suppose I’m defending this particular position he’s taken (in anticipation of potential backlash? I guess?), out of some misplaced feeling of needing to “help” or support (what I consider to be) a thoughtful position.

      But I agree that he’s dug his own hole, or made his own bed, or whatever. We all do. I think his defensiveness, outrage, and “poor me”-isms are…mm…projections that don’t help his cause much. But that stuff’s not really what concerns me or piques my interest.

      I certainly don’t think I’m excusing bad behavior. If that’s what you infer from my writing then my writing is unclear. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Raggi is excusing (or condoning) bad behavior in his creatives, either.

      But maybe you feel I’m excusing RAGGI’s bad behavior simply by stating I support his stance on who he’ll publish/work with going forward, Um…no? That’s not my intention. Fact is, I don’t know much of the specific dust-ups and fuck-up’s going on with LotFP. And I don’t care much, either.

      Raggi’s company has the potential to be something very different and (*sigh*) ‘special.’ Definitely different from what it was; definitely different from other publishers. Maybe that will never happen because of the man’s ego, self-delusion, persecution complex, etc. Hell, maybe he WILL die (as he states his enemies would like to see) before LotFP becomes anything more than what it already is…a stumbling, fading indie press, slowly withering in the wilds on Finland.

      Or maybe not.

      I don’t know. I guess I just thought it was all worth a blog post / discussion.

    2. It's this "nostalgia" thing. The guy did something we liked, so ... we have to support him in his pain?

      And there's no question that there's pain. It's certainly a pain I've felt. I've a lot of experience dealing with hate on the net. But for people who find themselves in this position, who feel they've run out of straws, that everyone is against them, the video ought to start out with, "This is my fault. This is all my fault." Then it should go on for fifty minutes about how I'm going to change myself and become a better person.

      It does NOT go on and on about "How I should have told them to F off," like he hasn't been telling them that for a decade. He wants pity. And I see all over that he's getting it. But pity won't help him. It just feeds his sense of entitlement.

    3. Mm. I hear what you’re saying. I wouldn’t call it a nostalgia thing (for me). And while I have sympathy for a dude that’s clearly suffering…well, lots of people suffer.

      As I wrote above, I recommend folks skip to minute 18…that seems to be the mark to avoid the agonizing preamble.

    4. Absolutely. People shouldn't look at the whole truth.

    5. Wow, you continue to be insufferable, Alexis. Lol

  2. This is a complex topic, the sort of thing which is better discussed in a programme like BBC Radio 4's "The Moral Maze" (a good module name in its own right :-)).

    While freedom of speech and innocence until proven guilty are sound principles we are equally free to declare that we find something to be offensive and beyond the pale, or that we find someone's methods unsavoury. If lots of people find your output offensive and unsavoury then you won't sell much and people won't hang out with you.

    But there are also things that we (our national societies) find so offensive and unsavoury that we declare them to be illegal. The arguments are always at the margins and for most of us that remains irrelevant.

    I've looked at reviews of some of the LotFP content and while there are germs of good ideas in there both in rules and settings the quality of those is are diminished by much that I find offensive and unsavoury. So I'll not be buying any of it, recommending it, nor playing in any games using it.

  3. I think he conflates rejecting work by bad actors, vendors deciding the controversy isn't something they want to deal with, and internet trolling with censorship. I have no idea how many people actually have it out for him (if any). (As an aside his reluctance to ever name names, good or bad, is annoying, but maybe well advised legally.) I do feel bad for him, whether or not he brought some of this onto himself. I really don't quite understand why he simultaneously courts controversy when rejection and criticism hurt him so much. And he comes close to the "free speech means not being accountable for anything" camp though I don't think he quite crosses that line.

    That said I do get a kick out of some of his products and I think his publications as artifacts are a cut above almost every other gaming publisher. I haven't worked with him but would if I had something that fit his model and anesthetics. His line is a niche in a niche industry and I don't really think he'd be happy with what would come with becoming a mainstream success.
    Honestly I think he has some fans that are just as toxic as the would be censors he talks about. But it makes perfect sense to me for him to be working with (I assume) Zak S and whoever else he is planning to work with. I wish him well. But I'm sure as hell not going to buy something if it's by that Varg character who made a neonazi FRPG, and while he'd be a "good fit" given LotFP's origins and this latest declaration, that would be where I'd draw a line about supporting sh!tty people.

    1. Varg brings up an interesting philosophical question: He's a convicted murderer who did his time. Do you still consider him a murderer?

    2. I'd say he is still a murderer. Being punished for a crime doesn't undo it. The question now is was he rehabilitated? I don't know much about his case, whether he ever accepted responsibility, etc.

    3. Murder by definition is the unlawful, premeditated killing of one human being by another. A murderer is someone who has committed murder.

      You don't un-become a murderer. You either are one, or you are not.

      But even if you ARE a murderer, it doesn't mean you have to continue to kill people. Doesn't mean you can't make restitution and live a life of service to your fellow humans going forward. Doesn't mean you can't produce positive effects in the world through your actions.

      They just won't be doing anything for the person you murdered.