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The Seether: Role-playing, an alternate history.
By Alex Loke
A self referential lie about the history and evolution of Role-Playing
Beginning of an Era — a tribute to our cavemen forefathers.
The history of role-playing begins in the time of myth and legend. Mankind looked towards the stars — only to be devoured by the vicious beasts that roamed the earth, preying on unsuspecting dreamers. Others wisely chose to dream in the safety of the cave — dreaming of a world with double ply toilet paper, bronze weapons and not dying of dysentery.
Role-playing draws its roots from the early mammoth hunters. Between being hideously gored and lunch, they would sit around campfires, rolling monohedral dice to determine who would be next to be sprayed with mammoth pheromones. Though many would argue that this was not specifically role playing, it could also be argued that being stuffed into a mammoth skin and covered in urine was indeed a role — if not a very pleasant one.
But like many early forms of entertainment, this Mammoth: The Gathering was short lived — much like Homo Erectus. Unable to support the product, due to the mass extinction of the main audience, the designers were chased from the cave and into the nearby peat bog — a tradition still carried out today though usually referred to as "leaving over creative differences" or "forming an independent company".
With only the most basic tools, an early form of war-gaming also evolved. Usually this would involve two sides, each bearing clubs and engaging in supposed mock combats, beating each other to the point of unconsciousness or death. Though less efficient than the modern form, war-gamers still look fondly on this time as one of discovery. Others preferred to look upon it with horror, mingled with an almost sexual morbid fascination.
For a time, the concept was forgotten in favour of other questionably beneficial advances, such as the wheel or fire. It was not until the Middle Ages that role-playing re-emerged, with the staunch support of an Opiate saturated monarch. Much like a complex game of "pretend", injected with rules and random chance, the game was forcefully enjoyed by all. The object of the game was to survive the day, while pretending to be poor uneducated filth, in an oppressive environment of war and "extreme pillaging". It was affectionately named "The Crusades".
Pope Innocent II called it "Sacrilicious".
The Modern Game Emerges: Thousands Perish!
No longer able to market himself as a full-time hormone replacement, E. Gary Gygax was forced to open the first Gaming Store. Unfortunately, without an actual product, Gygax was forced to close after a successful month of taking deposits for a stock that would never come and indeed, did not exist.
However, the fact that people were so gullible proved that a market could exist. For a time, Gygax toyed with the idea of legitimate business, though his inventions were only met with mild success. After the dismal sales of the suppository gun, which Gygax was later to attribute to a failure by marketing, he returned to his first love — financial advantage through deception. As Gygax put it when we approached him:
Get the hell out of my office.
And indeed, this was the time to clean out his office — both figuratively and literally. Gygax was later seen fleeing his burning shopfront and cackling maniacally. He disappeared for a time and it is believed he retreated to his cabin in the Adirondacks to rediscover himself — a process of meditation, prayer, fasting and the consumption of courageous amounts of peyote.
Emerging months later, hairy, bearded and naked, to forage through the trashcans of his neighbours, Gygax was subdued by Park Rangers and taken to a bear habitat in Yellowstone. Considered the low point in his brilliant career, Gygax rehabilitated himself, subsisting on a diet of salmon and pic- a-nick baskets. It was there that he met the estimable Dave Arneson, a victim of circumstance much like himself.
The two forged a friendship, once they established a common humanity, and escaped captivity. Arneson recalls the incident with some fondness:
Sneaking past the Park Rangers proved to be damned near impossible. That was until Gary had this brilliant idea. So I removed the bear suit I was wearing and they let me through as if I was invisible. It was like magic!
It was also here that they decided to name their company, Those Stupid Rangers, or TSR for short. Their flight ended at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin where the pair was able to conceal their presence by spiking the water supply with Gygax's remaining peyote. Arneson continues:
The people of Lake Geneva welcomed us with open arms; well, mainly because they thought we were purple anthropomorphised Christmas hams, there to bring about the second coming of Bushnup the Unsweetened. They loved us! Of course, there were always "misunderstandings". I mean who knew human flesh tasted like ham? Heck, I still have bite marks on my a**. Can I say a**?
Hiding from the drug-addled townsfolk by night, and writing during the day, Gygax and Arneson became more and more closed off. Their burgeoning cabin fever only fuelled the fires of inspiration and lead to the claustrophobic piece that would later become the Dungeoneers Survival Guide. Judiciously borrowing ideas from diverse sources, like the insane rambling of an unknown drunk vagrant, the game began to take shape.
The creative vision was interrupted though, by threats of legal action, causing the "Ronald McHobbits" to be renamed "halflings".
Naked Arneson sez: We're going to be rich dawg!
After the last of the kinks in the system were ironed out, the game, Dungeons & Dragons, was released. As a companion to the first three books (Players Handbook, Monster Manual and Players Handbook 2: The Revenge), Gygax released pictures of Arneson taking a shower, which he later billed in the sales packs as a "Centrefold". The idea took off almost immediately, with 7000 copies being sold to one Jack Chick — and the subsequent naming rights raking in thousands from another, lesser known publication.
Arneson was furious, though somewhat flattered by the fan mail:
He told me the pictures were for the company records. If I had known my well-lathered crotch would be used in the Monster Manual with the caption "Shambling Mound" I might have decided differently. He could have at least used an air-brush — it wasn't my best angle at all.
Arneson's split over "creative differences" forced Gygax to look for a new second storey man. Gygax found a kindred soul in a plucky young medical test subject, Peter Adkinson. Though many will argue that Adkinson's contribution to Dungeons & Dragons was much later, Adkinson refutes the idea:
Sure, I was there from the beginning. I helped create Dungeons & Demons or whatever. Hey, does this mean I get some kind of royalty cheque? Buy Magic kiddies!
Amidst the confusion over royalties and Adkinson's barbiturate induced twitching fits, other companies began to emerge. It was at this time that Ken St. Andre released Tunnels & Trolls. Though it is only possible to speculate, St. Andre, a recovering alcoholic from Wisconsin, vehemently stated that he had not copied Gygax and Arneson's idea at all and that all the answers were in his head. After an unfortunate, accidental trepanation, St. Andre returned home and Tunnels & Trolls disappeared like so many English backpackers.
St. Andre was not the last one to "tread the dice" as it was called. Soon others saw the opportunity to exploit the market of wheezing asthmatic dorks.
The Golden Age of Exploitation
Buoyed by the success of what was obviously soft-core pornography, other companies diversified their portfolios to include role-playing, figuring that any venture that could lose so much money could easily be used to launder money. During this time, Gygax concentrated on various other projects, among them the disastrous Frantabulous Zeppelin Flight to the Moon.
The absence of Gygax and Arneson had left a noticeable vacuum in the industry.
The market was ripe, and in the eyes of Steve Jackson, this was the ideal time to enter into the fray. Jackson and his partner, Ian "Not Dave Arneson" Livingston released Melee (which was later re-named "Cash Cow"). That same year, Runequest broke all sales records of the time. Runequest's creator, Greg Stafford attributed the success to bundling the game with UN Aid Packages:
Boy those Ethiopian refugees couldn't wait to get the box open!
Sci-fi was the next big thing, following the fanfare of George Lucas' Star Wars. Mark Miller's first effort to cash in, Traveller, changed the tone of the RPG, injecting the much needed science fiction genre that the anorak- wearing snot weasels so demanded.
War of Steve's
However this was not enough. Left with a massive debt, upcoming deadlines and dreams of immortality, Steve Jackson diverted funds from Melee to solve the problem, with the help of Livingston. After weeks of intensive "research" Jackson unleashed the first human clone, whom he had affectionately named "Steve Jackson II". However, the clone could not be contained. Steve Jackson II was irrepressible!
The evil clone broke free to form his own company, appropriately named "Steve Jackson Games".
Fans were deluged with games from the two rivals. To counter Jackson I's prolific Fighting Fantasy Novels, Jackson II released his universal gaming system, GURPS. Neither product could gain foothold over the other. In true dramatic fashion, it was proved that there could be only one. There would be a showdown. Some suggested peaceful arbitration, however it become more and more inevitable that the final solution would end up being a knife fight in a Mexican transvestite bar surrounded by gawking he/she hookers.
However, at the height of the Fighting Fantasy Novels, the original Steve Jackson mysteriously disappeared. Though his clone's involvement cannot be discounted, there was no evidence to support the theory that Jackson 1 was cremated, mixed with ink and printed as the supplement, GURPS: Irony.
Cyberpunk — "Look mom, I'm alternative!"
With the glut in science fiction games based beyond the stars, the fan base was increasingly wary about buying the "latest thing". New ideas were looked upon with suspicion. Cyberpunk was no different. Originally created by a group of fetishists who had been locked in a basement for disobedience, this slick, modern interpretation of the future produced it's own sub-genre.
Thrust forcefully into the hands of the disenfranchised, Cyberpunk took role-playing to an entirely new level of aggressive marketing. Touted as an alternative to being force-fed iron shavings by R. Talsorian Games Inc's cyber-goons, Cyberpunk had remarkable cross-market infiltration.
Out of desperation to match Cyberpunk's outstanding sales, Steve Jackson II began a campaign of subliminal messages during episodes of Webster and Perfect Strangers. Unfortunately, this did not improve sales. At all.
Gygax returned from self-imposed exile to discover an industry in turmoil. Drunk on his own power and a belly full of cheap hooch Gygax re-wrote his original game into what his inebriated mind believed to be a simplification of the rules. The end result was Advanced D&D.
The game sold phenomenally well, until fans discovered that it was basically D&D with the word "Advanced" appended to the title and a few pages taken from the Arizona Telephone Directory. Needless to say, the new edition made the old obsolete. Arneson look-alike, Brian Blume wasn't surprised at the success of AD&D:
AD&D was something different. It was like the new Coke — and I don't mean the cola. Those amazing marketing people suggested we lace the product with contact LSD, so much so that people didn't know what they were buying! We really diversified our market — and set ourselves up for repeat customers wanting multiple copies of the same products.
After the ploy was discovered, Blume was arrested for distribution, but again, Gygax was saved by phenomenal luck. No warrants were served against Gygax, who apparently enjoyed protected species status.
Change of Management
Soon after the release of the new game, there was uproar in the religious community — Satanic cults across America served Gygax with a notice of copyright infringement, citing multiple examples of plagiarism. Gygax officially responded by summoning 3d6 levels of creatures from the lower planes and fleeing the country, leaving the company in the hands of Lorraine Williams.
Williams contribution to TSR was strongly felt. In the false belief that she had acquired a different kind of 'game" company she advertised organised hunting trips in the Lake Geneva offices. This would be the first of many violent clean outs of writers and designers at TSR, as well as administrative staff and one unfortunate "Chicken-o-gram" guy.
Williams reign was characterised by what others would call "unselective mismanagement". This was attributed the fact that her desk was featureless, barring a single magic 8-ball that remained there until her tenure as CEO was abruptly ended.
As per the contract, Williams returned to the Abyss after her period of 1313 days in office. Mysteriously, the entire Dragon Dice inventory disappeared with her.
Bad for us, good for Satan!
Amidst the tragedy of the TSR "clean out", rumours began to surface about the hideous black ceremonies that gamers conducted under the pretence of playing a "game". A dramatic rain of unholy fire from the sky quashed these rumours — as well as the accusers.
The sole surviving group, BADD (Bothered About Devil-worshipping Dorks) took immediate action. Frustrated that their accusations of devil worship were met with cautious umming and ahhing, BADD sought a new method to discredit Role-Playing. They systematically accused gamers of everything from Satanic ritual killings to popularising Japanese Culture — in the vain hope that role-players would implicate themselves.
Role-players fired back with Michael A. Stackpole. Stackpole's unique aerodynamic design meant that he would fit easily into any standard loadout and could be launched to maximum effect. After days of constant shelling with academics, BADD was forced to retreat. Their self-proclaimed War on Reason was over and the ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Michael) was retired.
Vampire: The Semi-Colon
By now, the industry had learned that timing was everything. The release of popular culture staples like Alex Proyas' "The Crow" and Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles was enough to make Mark Rein Hagan look up from his absinth glass and pay attention. Rubbing his tar-stained hands with glee, Hagan put pen to paper to create Vampire: The Masquerade — a game of "personal horror". The subtext was that Hagan used the game to promote his bizarre beliefs and also as a veiled criticism of his next-door neighbour, Earl.
Hagan had tapped a previously unknown market — depressed teenagers with high disposable incomes. In quick succession White Wolf Studios, Hagan's company, released Werewolf: The Apocalpyse, Wraith: The Oblivion, Mage: The Ascension and Changeling: The Dreaming. Eventually he was wrestled to the ground before print runs were allowed on associated products like Jesus: The Nailing, Shoehorn: The Fitting and Garden Gnome: The Ornamenting.
The commercial appeal of Vampire was enormous. Soon, the setting was picked up for an Aaron Spelling produced television series. After protracted negotiations as to whom Tori Spelling would be playing, Spelling Studios screened "Kindred: The Embraced" to a waiting audience of drunks and the unemployable. Initially, the industry reviews were "positive". However, it's eventual commercial audience saw through the obvious lie, and once the Spelling's vast bribe reserves were emptied the project was abandoned. Hagan's tie in to the series, Nepotism: The Spelling, was pulped.
White Wolf's brilliance was curtailed in 1997 when Peter Adkinson trademarked the colon.
Magic: The Ka-Ching
Fed up with working the streets for change, Beatnik transient Richard Garfield, spent his spare time drawing pictures of naked mythological creatures on top of playing cards. It was at this time that he met with Peter Adkinson — and according to Adkinson "struck a deal".
He needed to eat, so I gave him half a sandwich, then swiped the cards he had. According to the law, that's as good as a contract! I had a similar contract with the Ars Magica people, only without the sandwich.
Initial sales of the new game, Magic: The Gathering, were promising. Sold originally as a fibrous diet supplement, Adkinson found that fewer people were trying to eat the indigestible cards and more and more were using them to play an elaborate game. He immediately trade marked the game and hired the creators. However, they soon left over "creative differences".
Unfortunately, despite the success of Magic, Adkinson and his new company Wizards of the Coast, were plagued by nuisance lawsuits by people claiming to be this mythical "Richard Garfield". WotC lawyers tracked the lawsuits to a single source, a man who called himself Richard Garfield. Adkinson is thoughtful about the subject.
Usually I just threw money at things and they would go away. It works most of the time — except with the herpes. Though rubbing fifties on my crotch could have been what caused that in the first place.
The popularity of Magic sparked a string of thefts from vagrants around the country. Not all attempts were successful however. Games like TSR's Spellfire and Christian CCG Redemption sank like over-weighted Cuban political dissenters. Only the original retained it's longevity, which Adkinson attributes to himself:
It just goes to show that a man with an idea, some money and a predilection towards blackmail and intrusive surveillance can sell a game that was only ever said in the same breath as "dangerous colonic obstruction".
The Dream Ends: Braaaiinnsss!
After her hasty departure to the Underworld, former TSR CEO Lorraine Williams's financial advisers negotiated the sale of TSR for the price of 10 magic beans. Behind the negotiations was Adkinson, riding high on his incredible sales record and legally prescribed Morphine. TSR officially became a subsidiary of WotC in 1997,
Adkinson's first change was to remove William's throne of skulls. More drastic changes were to come. Adkinson raised the necessary production staff, and put them to work cleaning out the offices. The questionable ethics of zombification were overlooked as an alternative to cheap foreign labour, despite warnings from his spooky foreign groundskeeper and the warnings covering the Book of the Dead.
Soon it was made clear, however, that Adkinson had overstepped the boundaries of both the living and the dead. The irate undead labour force called an emergency stop-work and a spokesman for the Coalition for Undead Rights took their grievance to the courts. His decaying psyche recalls the incident well.
However, he was not the only vocal minority — there were Zombies who were more than satisfied with their position in the company. The leader of the Undead Workers of America was not convinced of the abuse. He countered the spokesman's arguments with:
Understandably, the judge was unable to rule in favour of either side and the undead were emancipated to a small backwater town in middle America.
Production on the 3rd Edition of D&D rolled on, despite vehement statements that there would not be another edition. Writers and artists were coaxed from their oxygen sealed panic rooms with cattle prods and exclusive contracts. The staff worked for what seemed like hours, rewriting the original rules with fancier fonts and prettier pictures. Play testers were ostensibly hired to test the 'new' system in a controlled environment of torture combined with hours of sensory deprivation. Positive responses were rewarded with food and water, negative with severe reed beatings.
Eventually, the reviews were all positive.
The Modern Game
And so, we reach the modern times. It has been said that the present is supported on the stable base of the past, much like any other bloated capitalist regime. Fortunately this comparison is faulty. More accurately, role-playing is as redundant and parasitic as advertising executives, pilates instructors and the remaining Beatles.
Fortunately, due to cross-market licensing, corporate interest and third- world organ harvesting programs, Role-Playing is enjoying a renaissance. Peter Adkinson remains confident:
I have my finger on the cholesterol-choked pulse of the gamer. They want what I tell them they want. And the only thing that can stop me? Ninjas.
The Future is ours! Let's steal all we can before the future of the future comes!
So where exactly is the hobby going? Who knows? We can only speculate or blatantly lie. Fortunately, the author wishes to preserve his dignity. He's lied enough for this life. In fact, if karma has anything to do with it, he's going to walk outside and get run over by a truck full of syphilis- infected rhesus monkeys on Viagra and PCP. Itching followed by madness would be his reward. Again fortunately, karma has no real world effect, considering most of East-17 are still alive.
Role-playing will never truly be extinct. Unfortunately, much like an involuntary bowel movement, it can no longer be contained without some kind of vacuous suppository. Now it has been established that role-playing predicates itself on chemical 'enhancement', financial deception, devil worship and zombification. There can be no doubt that as long as these things exist, role-playing will be firmly established in the annals of fraudulent, undead junkie whores of the dark lord.
Considered a master of forced crotch jokes and auto-erotic asphyxiation, the author recently changed his name to "Baby Killer" acceding to popular use. Currently, Alex is acting chair for the Ninjas for Peter Adkinson Appeal Support for this worthy cause is desperately needed. You can contact the appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org for enquiries and considerable cash donations. Alex promises not to blow the cash on blackjack and hookers1. Ninjas supplied by www.sexninjas.com — when it absolutely, positively has to be public, messy and honourable.
1 Not a guarantee.
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