Some of my early career was spent working on Sun workstations and servers. Way back then they had the slogan “The Network is the Computer”. Clearly, that slogan is the old wine in the new bottle labeled “Cloud”, but that’s another story. As I sit looking at an hourglass or a spinning “progress” icon, I realize that the original slogan was incomplete, the full version is:
“The Network is the Computer… and that’s why it sucks so bad.”
Though, to be fair, the network is not the problem, as such. The problem is the way it is used. Specifically, the apparent pervasive assumption amongst programmers that all network operations have zero latency, infinite bandwidth, and are 100% reliable.
Over the last several years I have noticed a common topic which comes up whenever I talk with my father. He always mentions about how there was another shooting, and how bad the crime is in the city. After he repeated this enough I began to wonder what was going on. Whenever I visit, everything seems as good or better than it ever was (though the homeless problem is worse than ever). I did a bit of digging and found that the crime rates have been declining for years as they have most everywhere in the country.
So what is going on here? Here is my theory: TV news. He has been watching more TV news in recent years and the steady drumbeat of stories about crime and tragedy gives the impression of a unfolding disaster. I have heard it said that the plural of anecdote is not data, but the plural of scary anecdote is fear.
Imagine a TV station which, every night, on the news aired a story about someone who was struck by lightning. Someone killed! Next night, a person injured and in the hospital near death! Next night, a person who was struck years ago and still suffers. Next night, a person killed when a struck tree exploded. Next night, a person whose dog was struck in the dog park. And so on. Each one accompanied with grisly photographs and footage. After enough of this many people would be scared to ever go outside. And that advertisement for a portable Faraday Cage starts to look like a good idea.
But, as we all know, this fear is utterly irrational and not backed up by the data: only 270 people are struck by lightning in the US each year, and only 27 of them die. Furthermore, that death rate has been on the decline since records have been kept (1940).
But TV news lives for the lurid anecdote, the horrifying footage, the eyewitness stories, etc. That keeps the ratings up. And creates a lot of fear of the wrong things. Even when they give numbers it is one or two numbers which is not very useful. For example, if I told you that the stock market fell 350 points, you might think you need to panic, but then if I tell you that the current number is 27,691, then you would know that is a tiny percentage, and likely a normal fluctuation. But if I give you a chart showing the stock market numbers over the last year or two you could actually make an informed decision based on long-term trends. But that won’t keep their ratings up.
This sort of thing is also what gets people elected, the current incarnation of the Republican party has taken this to the most cynical extreme as stated by Newt Gingrich when he was challenged with actual data:
“The average American, I will bet you this morning, does not think that crime is down, does not think that we are safer. People feel more threatened. As a political candidate, I’ll go with what people feel.”
In other words, screw facts, data, logic, and rational discourse, if I can whip up enough fear I can get myself elected. The dreams of the founding fathers trampled in the name of winning.
So, several months ago I wrote up my experiences with TSR in the early days of the internet. A few days ago, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Plot Points, interviewing Shannon Appelcline, and was surprised to hear someone else involved in those long ago events.
While I had some bits of history he did not (e.g. the email TSR sent to me and related names and dates) I realize I left out some details. Also, in my searching, I found another account of these events, and a detailed web site and I found Rob Repp, himself.
One difference between our cases is that his site was devoted entirely to non D&D games. Which means he could laugh off the threatening letters. My site, on the other hand, covered many systems and there was a lot of D&D content, mainly because that was what I played. When I saw something on USENET of interest, I would archive it on the FTP site. As such, the D&D parts of my site were probably the only materials which I personally read. None of it was directly copied from any TSR materials. None of it, in my opinion, violated any copyrights.
But what was on there? Those files are likely long gone. I think I have a DAT tape containing those files, but finding someone with such a tape drive is unlikely, and I doubt the tape would be readable after all these years. The things I do remember where things like new magic items and spells, alternate critical hits tables, alternate rules, new character sheets, new classes, etc. A big section of the site was campaign write ups, basically transcripts of sessions. Now that I think about it, the modern day equivalent would be all the live-play podcasts which are quite common nowadays (my current favorite is The Titans of All’Terra) But at that time, my favorite was Navero which, coincidentally, I finally found on rpg.net, which is the site Shannon runs.
For reasons I explained in my last post on this subject, I had entirely checked out of the discussions following the lobotomizing of my FTP site. I was angry and demoralized that something I had worked for years on could be destroyed so easily, so I walked away. That was probably also contributed to my giving up role-playing games entirely a few years later.
But after hearing the podcast with Shannon, my curiosity compelled me to go look at the messages on rec.games.frp.dnd, see what I had missed, and piece together a larger timeline. What follows is quite lengthy and probably of little interest to most people, but it interested me, so here it is.
12-May-94: This post from Rob Repp shows the first rumblings of trouble:
Please be advised that every element of our gaming system must be licensed before you can incorporate it into a piece of software. This includes game tables, item descriptions, and any copyrighted monster/character names. Feel free to contact me by email regarding licensing. Most of the authors that have written AD&D(R) software in the past neglected this step, and we're most interested in preventing that from happening in the future. Thanks! Rob Repp Manager, Digital Projects Group TSR, Inc. AOL: TSR Inc InterNet: email@example.com InterNet: firstname.lastname@example.org CompuServe: 76217,761 GEnie: TSR.Online
15-Jun-94: Apparently, the anti-TSR sentiments predated all this, and the T$R epithet was already in use as shown by this collection of rants which included Rob Repp’s name in an attempt to get TSR’s attention.
28-Jun-94: Someone made an ill-advised post.
In article <email@example.com> John Scott, j...@thepoint.com writes: >Anyone know of an ftp site that has a monstrous compendium availible for >download? Thanks in advance. (Please email to j...@thepoint.com). I'd be interested in knowing about this one myself. :) Rob Repp | InterNet: firstname.lastname@example.org Manager, Digital Projects Group | InterNet: email@example.com TSR, Inc. | CompuServe: 76217,761 __________________________________ | GEnie: TSR.Online AOL: TSR Inc All opinions are my own, not TSR's | 414-248-3625 Fax 414-248-0389
So basically the original poster was asking “could a blatant copyright infringer please stand up?”, followed by the copyright owner expressing an interest in such a person, and surprisingly, someone did so a few weeks later (14-Jul-94):
It is available at ftp/mpgn.com, version II should be out soon.
Also, I should note that USENET custom at the time was to keep ‘signatures’ to less than four lines, so Rob Repp did trim his down since his first post, but I did find the last line to be most amusing. Though some people tried to argue that they could ignore everything he said since he wasn’t speaking for TSR. Nice try.
18-Jul-94: Then Rob Repp posts a message about copyright violation including this bit:
We ARE aware of the fact that people want to be able to share their creative efforts with others, and we're trying to find a way to manage licenses to allow this without giving it all away.. In the meantime, any software, netbook, etc. which uses TSR copyrighted names, material, etc. is unlawful.
A lengthy discussion ensues, more heat than light, as is often the case.
21-Jul-94: Someone involved in the previous discussion asked Rob Repp for clarifications, and shared the email thread, which ended with this:
Let me include a copy of a policy letter we just drafted recently. Here goes: As we have begun to explore the online community in depth, we've found many avid gamers and fans. We're interested in providing you with the best in gaming products that meet our own standards of quality, as well as suiting your needs and interests. We know that many gamers develop campaigns and other materials entirely for their own use. We think this is great! However, when gamers begin sharing their creations with the public, whether for profit or not, they are infringing our rights. If we don't make an earnest attempt to prevent this infringement of our trademarks and copyrights, our ownership of these extremely valuable assets may be jeopardized. A gamer in this situation has a few options. He can strip every TSR trademark and all copyright from his creations before putting them in public (i.e. "genericize" the adventure). Or he can share his creations with the public in a way that is licensed and approved by TSR. This is the more desirable solution, as it protects our rights, and still leaves room for gamers to share their creative expressions. Sometime very soon, we're going to create a place where gamers can legally upload and share their creations, including modules, stories and software. At that time, I'd be happy to work with you to give your product a base to work from. We are definitely interested in fostering goodwill among customers, and we'd like to see our upcoming effort as a pilot project. Eventually, we want gamers to be able to turn to TSR in cyberspace as easily as they do in a hobby store.
28-Jul-94:This is when emails were sent the the sysadmins at PSU, as I related in my previous post. It appears Shannon got the same email the same day, forwarded it to a mailing list which then found its way to rec.games.frp.dnd the next day. As can be expected there was a firestorm of discussion after this. I doubt I read any of it, as final exams were a few weeks away (writing and grading final exams is more work than taking one).
1-Aug-94: Amid the firestorm, people were trying to understand the fine line between fair use and copyright infringement, and Rob replied as follows
> Again, this is all missing the point. TSR can't sue me if I publish a > 'generic' adventure with the monster 'goblin' in it. But if I list that > goblin as having AC 7, 1-4 hp, THAC0 20, Intelligence Low, etc, then I'm > using TSR's copyrighted monster. If I needed the Monstrous Manual or > other TSR product to get the information for 'goblins', then I've > probably violated copyright. Note, I am NOT saying TSR can copyright > terms like Armor Class, Intelligence, etc. But, if I get the information > for goblins from a TSR product, and republish it in another form, I've > created a derivative work, and am thus liable. This interpreatation is correct. I checked with legal, and you've got it.
But clearly, Rob was getting overwhelmed by the response:
Due to the large volume of mail we're receiving, we're not replying to most of it personally. Copyright comments and legal questions will be archived for later examination. Policy statements will be posted to rec.games.frp.dnd. Customer service and gaming questions will be routed internally and answered as quickly as possible.
I can understand this, I could not read all the messages in the firestorm that was going on, then or now. I am just cherry picking the interesting bits.
4-Aug-94: Rob posted that he would be at Gen Con
For those of you who aren't entirely certain I exist, I'll be on a panel discussion regarding online services at GEN CON. David Goss, Bruce Nesmith and I will discuss proposed projects, future plans, and take questions from the audience. See you there! :)
I really wonder what happened there. Was anybody there?
8-Aug-94: Some posts started speculating that Rob Repp may not exist or may not be a TSR employee and this whole thing was a prank to which Rob responded:
For the curious: Yes, I did PlaneScape's border art. I do exist, and I am your internet contact. Snail mail can be directed to: TSR, Inc. POB 756 201 Sheridan Springs Rd. Lake Geneva, WI 53147 ATTN: Rob Repp, Digital Projects I did, in a fit of pique at being repeatedly misquoted, deny someone's recent request to quote me wholesale. Please feel free to paraphrase the gist of that response. Actual verbose policy statements and clarifications will be forthcoming, complete with a request to repost them where-ever you like. Any opinions on the border art?
30-Aug-94: By now, it seems Rob Repp was keeping his head down amidst the flamewars, but when someone tried to get him to respond, he did so:
Maybe I'm just ignoring you... :) Nope, I'm pretty sure that's not it. I must be busy, or maybe I just have nothing to contribute. Hmmmm, maybe I was in an accident. Nope. Ummm... "When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed." David Byrne Official releases forthcoming. Meanwhile, I'm quietly watching the commentary go by. That's all, nothing too sinister. Generally, when addressing a crowd, you should say only what needs saying, lest you draw fire. In fact, this comment is probably a mistake, but I couldn't resist. Have a nice day!
6-Sep-94: The compiler of the Net.Monstrous.Compendium apparently had worked to get explicit permission from TSR and apparently got it.
The flamewars are still ongoing, though tapering off a bit. One person questioned how much this is hurting TSR, to which someone said “I’m sure they’ll survive”. Little did they know what would happen in the next few years. Someone else called for a boycott.
Later that same day, Rob posted TSR’s official corporate statement:
REGARDING TRADEMARKED AND COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL USED ON-LINE: TSR is now an active member of the on-line gaming community. Since Day-One, TSR products and artwork have been developed by creative people employed or hired by TSR. This has resulted in the creation of an extensive line of products, identities, names, rules, game mechanics, logos, and standards of quality, to name a few. The gaming products, novels, and publications are designed to encourage resourcefulness and creativity in play. All of these created properties are owned by TSR through national trademarks and copyrights which protect their publication electronically or published on paper. When they are published by anyone other than TSR, Inc. or their licensees, this publication becomes an infringement to TSR trademarks and copyrights. However, the gamers, designers, writers, artists, and editors who work for TSR, do not wish to inhibit role playing game play. SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR CONTINUED PLAY: WHEN USING TSR PROPERTIES: You can create material using the AD&D game mechanics, etc. and place that material on MPGNet, a licensee of TSR, or place it on AOL on TSR's new Bulletin Board. You can download anything -- graphics, games, etc. appearing on TSR AOL for your personal use. Currently, any other distribution to the general public in paper form or on the net of AD&D adventures, other TSR materials and game mechanics, or copyrighted materials is considered unauthorized. However, you CAN freely distribute or publish "generic" novels, stories, game mechanics, etc. Read on. HOW TO CREATE GENERIC MATERIAL SOME TIPS: Don't specifically use AD&D statistics. Be creative. If you want a PC to encounter a stupid but strong NPC, let the GM determine the NPC's actual stats for the game system used by that GM. If the party encounters a hydra, let the GM look up the stats for the hydra in the game system he is using. Don't set the adventures in a TSR world. Create your own or use one from history or legend. For example, you could set your adventure in Atlantis, but not in the FORGOTTEN REALMS Adventure World. Don't use monsters, spells, etc. that were created by TSR. Create and name your own. Draw on history, legend or reality even spell their actual names backward for uniqueness. Or, if a monster or spell is used in several different game systems, this is a good indication that it is not owned by TSR. For example, Drow were created by TSR, but a hydra is a known legendary monster and is public domain. You really can get going creatively when you invent your own, unique, game mechanics . . . worlds, monsters, etc. And you are free to publish anywhere when you specifically do not rely on AD&D game mechanics or other material from TSR. With our new on-line forum on AOL, we'd like to hear from you about games, graphics, audio, and other material you'd like to download for your own gaming. Please let us know. We plan to be electronically publishing a lot of great things in the future for your gaming use. (R) and TM designate trademarks owned by TSR, Inc. (c) 1994 TSR, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
4-Oct-94: More speculation that Rob Repp doesn’t work for TSR made the rounds, with Sean Reynolds (remember that name) reporting to have phoned up TSR and was transferred to him.
18-Oct-94: Someone noticed my site was butchered and reposted the entire email thread between TSR and the admins (which I stuck on the site so people would know what happened).
Now that I look at this message, I see a list of the offending files, and it is pretty much what I said above, though I see a copy of the Net.Monster book which was given an official stamp of approval several weeks earlier.
26-Oct-94: I must have seen some of this as I responded to clarify why my site was butchered. I am pretty sure James Vassilakos, who I had been emailing about this privately, suggested I clarify things.
An interesting side-note is found a few posts later in that same thread, when someone got Steve Jackson himself to weigh in on this:
] The answer is simple: If you're selling a separate product based on our ] material, or free-distributing something that competes with things we ] license (e.g, software), then we would keep a level of control and ask for ] a piece of the action. On free-distribution GURPS software, we go through ] a quality-control and licensing procedure but no money changes hands. ] ] If you're creating a fanzine, or sharing your own original stories or ] online, then more power to you. We think it's great. We make no attempt ] to license or control fanzine writers, whether their medium is print or ] electrons. The two are indistinguishable these days, really. ] ] If you do create something neat, it would be a courtesy to send our ] webmaster a copy and give YOUR permission for us to archive it on our own ] system for our users to enjoy.
So, if I had a GURPS web site, none of this would have happened…
31-Oct-94: And the arguments continue, with another call for boycott. I chimed in about FUDGE, which I had switched to. But Rob Repp chimed in again
> Does TSR regard it as illegal to play AD&D with a dozen or so people over the > Net, as opposed to playing it with a dozen or so people in my living room? We certainly do not. Saving up all the moves, however, and republishing them as a separate work would probably be an infringement. Playing by any means is fine.
So this would mean live play podcasts, which are so common these days, would not have been permitted with this interpretation!
20-Jun-94: A press release about TSR Online
15-Mar-95: A hint from Rob Repp:
> Could anyone tell me what the WWW Home page is for TSR? Not yet, but soon. :)
8-Apr-95: James Vassilakos reposts his email thread with Rob Repp. He wrote a lengthy article about this in his magazine “The Guildsman”.
30-May-95: Someone reposted this job notice from the ADND-L mailing list:
Date: Tue, 30 May 1995 14:43:29 -0400 From: "TSR, Inc." <TSR...@AOL.COM> To: Multiple recipients of list ADND-L <ADN...@UTARLVM1.UTA.EDU> Subject: Help Wanted I realize that this is an ad, but I couldn't think of a more likely bunch of people to be interested in it, so here it is. :) Rob Repp Manager, Digital Projects Group TSR, Inc. ONLINE COORDINATOR TSR, Inc., the international leader in fantasy game, book, and magazine publishing, has an immediate opening for a motivated, organized individual with excellent communications and technical skills to assist in development of content for commercial online services and the Internet. Qualified applicants to be familiar with current online material. Ability to contribute to development of imaginative new content. Preferred skills include: HTML and/or RMPlus scripting; Adobe Photoshop; TCP/IP software tools; experience using WWW, FTP and Usenet; and interactive multimedia development. Online event planning, forum coordinator experience a plus. Send resume and salary history to: TSR, Inc. 201 Sheridan Springs Rd. Lake Geneva, WI 53147 ATTN: Human Resources or TSR...@AOL.COM
21-Jun-95: And the hiring process is done
Actually, I just hired a new online coordinator. I remain the "online rep." More and more TSR people will be out on the net in the future, though. We're getting more wired all the time. Rob Repp Manager, Digital Projects Group TSR, Inc.
A few days later Sean Reynolds reposted the TSR online policy and identified himself as “TSR Online Coordinator”.
12-Jul-95: A somewhat different post showed up on rec.games.frp.dnd:
I'm Sean Reynolds, TSR's new Online Coordinator. Rob Repp has taken a job with another company, and so he is no longer here at TSR. I'll be in charge of our online contacts, including the internet, AOL, etc.
Many years later, Sean wrote about being hired by TSR.
16-Aug-95: Sean answers a question about TSR trademarks, and basically says that TSR does not have a list of their trademarks and would not compile one.
21-Aug-95: Sean answered a question about a TSR web site and said things are looking up.
I forgot to mention it yesterday, but yesterday was my first anniversary of working for TSR. This means that _today_ is the first anniversary of the day Rob Repp _left_ TSR.
Later in the same thread:
>Tell us, Sean, what have you learned in all that time about being >an online rep? Take several slow, deep breaths before saying anything.
20-Dec-96: The tsrinc.com web site delayed due to InterNic, so I guess the long-promised web site was just now appearing.
10-Mar-97: Sean is separating his personal and professional personas on the net, a wise move since Sean had been posting to this newsgroup for several years before joining TSR.
3-Jun-97: WotC completes acquisition of TSR, later in the thread Sean says he got an offer.
16-Jan-98: Sean announced that he is going to leave his role as Online Coordinator and either to creative services or a different company. It appears he did get the job and worked on a number of products until WotC laid him off in 2002, read more on his Wikipedia page.
After looking at all this, it appears that if I had just blocked off access to the D&D related directories, within a year the whole thing would have blown over, and, two years later TSR would have been taken over by WotC and the landscape changed entirely. Though, on the other hand, FTP sites were on their way out, and, my site would have been rapidly become a historical footnote if I didn’t transition to the web. I may have been considering such a transition around the time of these events, but I honestly don’t remember.
Many years ago, I was talking to my father about money and retirement, and he asked me “when will you be vested?” I looked at him as if he had three heads and said “vested in what?” Then it was his turn to look at me as though I had three heads. When he retired in the late 80’s he had a full pension, and, to this day, has health insurance as part of that pension. He had no idea that these things are almost nonexistent nowadays. We also talked about wages, and I surpassed his highest annual wages when I was in my 30’s; but that’s in raw dollars! Once adjust for inflation, I have never come close to his wages, and I never will unless my boss gives me a 60% raise.
My father had a better life than his parents, and his parents were better off than his grandparents, and so on. But my generation is the first one to go the other direction, and with every passing year it is increasingly clear that the downward slide will likely continue. Understandably, younger generations are upset about this: #okboomer, for example:
Boomers as a class are guilty of; generational terrorism, insolvent social security and medicare nets, lower life expectancies, and psychopathic tribalism. All as result of their self-entitled narcissism as group. Look who they elect to represent them.
It often does feel like earlier generations have “pulled the ladder up behind them”: They have social security, pensions, and medical care, but it does not seem clear that any of that will be there in the coming decades. However, I am not sure this is “generational terrorism”. Here is how I think about it: my generation went looking for the American Dream, and walked in to find her murdered, with the boomers standing next to the corpse. Was it murder? Manslaughter? Was he an unwitting accomplice? Or was it just coincidence? It’s hard to say; it probably depends on which boomer you talk to.
Regardless of blame, it is clear that my parents’ generation had opportunities that I will never have (unions, pensions, cheap housing, plentiful jobs) and there are opportunities which I had that my children will never have (social security?, affordable college, steady jobs). There is plenty here to feel resentment about, but we need to actually understand the problem and develop actual solutions rather than name-calling. I just recently found the book The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown which will, hopefully, provide some answers here.
But one factor that I think is often overlooked is the pervasive impact of oil prices/availability; I feel that everyone should read The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency for the full story. My parents lived out their adult lives in the boom years of cheap oil, and in those years we restructured our civilization around the automobile as though the oil would always be that cheap. My father could easily drive 25 miles to work because the oil was cheap and the highways were never crowded (coincidentally, he spent his career in the asphalt business, helping to pave all the new roadways). But now we find that we are lucky to find affordable housing within 25 miles of work, and the roads are often choked with traffic. Our children cannot walk anywhere since nobody thought to build sidewalks or have any amenities within walking distance, so, on top of everything else, we end up being a taxi service for our children. We are trapped in a prison of our own making, squeezed between an unsustainable living arrangement and inexorably rising oil prices.
But, all in all, this “ok boomer” is another shot in the ongoing battle going on between Boomers and Millennials (“snowflake” was one of the epithets being hurled the other direction). Meanwhile, my generation sits in the middle, ignored, as usual. For example, Gen X was left out of a list of generations, but someone explained why this was:
Gen X was apparently out of the building during roll call, probably too busy taking care of an elderly parent while sending an Uber to an unemployed millennial child and arguing with a post-millenial about why the WiFi is so slow. #GenX
That hits pretty close, though my millennial child is under-employed and has his own car, but my post-millennial child will complain about the WiFi. But don’t we all?
This post has been sitting half finished for a very long time. I hereby give up and post it as is…
So it was election night 2016, and it was becoming clear what we had done to ourselves. I began thinking about my daughter and what to tell her the next day. This would be her first memory of an election, and instead of being something to, at least somewhat, inspire her confidence about the power of democratic institutions, it would, instead, be a traumatic stain in her memory: someone got elected, under questionable circumstances, who, even an 8 year old could see, was clearly incompetent and indifferent to the democratic institutions of this country and the rule of law.
Then I began to think about my first memories of anything political: I remember sitting with my parents watching the evening news as Nixon announced his resignation, I had no idea what Watergate was all about, but I knew something really bad had happened, a corrupt leader breaking the law to gain a position of power. A traumatic stain on my image of our democratic institutions.
Then, I began to wonder if all of us have some memory like this, so I started asking around. My wife’s first memory was of Reagan getting elected (another dark day). My mother had a clear memory of her entire class going outside to stand around the flagpole as they lowered it to half-mast when FDR died. My father didn’t remember anything about elections or politics, it wasn’t something his immigrant parents ever talked about (though, to be fair, I don’t think they ever talked much about anything). But he says he remembers seeing B-17 bombers going overhead and the fear of what the Japanese might do. My mother-in-law remembered seeing a sign which said “I like Ike” and asking her father “do we like Ike?” and he said “Oh, yes we do!” So at least one of those was not traumatic.
I don’t know what this memory will do in my daughter’s head as she grows up and starts participating in our democracy. I can only hope that it will inspire her to be involved and engaged in making things better rather than descending into resignation, slacktivism and trolling on political forums.
Despite this error, Firefox did, in fact, launch correctly. So both unhelpful and incorrect.
But the sad corpse emoji makes it all better.
I’m glad there could be a reason for this error. But, on the other hand, it may just be random, like the lottery in reverse.
I will do my best to recount my small part amidst the decline of TSR, but many of the original files are gone (or are on media which nobody can read), so the exact dates are a bit fuzzy.
I had been playing AD&D since the early ‘80 while in high school with two friends, but in total isolation. I rarely met anybody else with interest in it and so our games were pretty much limited to published materials and our own attempts to concoct our own. In fact, my first DM experience was with Village of Homlett and then I tried to write the sequel promised at the end of that module. It is probably a good thing that I lost those materials.
Sometime around 1988, I discovered rec.games.frp and related newsgroups on USENET. This changed everything for me, suddenly I was reading details of other people’s games, alternate rules, monsters, maps, stories, etc. This cross-pollination greatly improved my own game and rejuvenated my interest. I started buying material for the new Forgotten Realms setting and started a campaign based on it.
Within a couple of years, my university got connected to the internet, and we set up an ftp server on a Tektronix workstation sitting in the computer science lab (on more than one occasion the FTP site was down because a student bumped the network equipment behind that machine). One of the first things I did was start collecting the useful bits from rec.games.frp and populating my ftp site. On 10-Apr-90 I sent an announcement to rec.games.frp, and even more things started coming in and the site grew by leaps and bounds.
In early 1994 I took a new job. A few months later, an email was forwarded to me by my successor:
Date: Thu, 28 Jul 94 17:28:59 –0400 From: TSRInc@aol.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: TSR Copyrighted Material SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR: Your site was recently included in a list of noted FTP sites for DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS and ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS gaming material. You should be aware that DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS and all related marks and properties are copyrighted by TSR, Inc. of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. You should also be aware that any items created without a specific license are infringements of TSR copyrights. Such items include (but are not limited to) any software, net.books, modules, tables, stories, or rules modifications which contain elements from our copyrighted properties, including characters, settings, realm names, noted magic items, spells, elements of the gaming system, such as ARMOR CLASS, HIT DICE, and so forth. To date, TSR has not licensed any of these net publications. On behalf of TSR, Inc. I ask that you examine your public net sites at this time and remove any material which infringes on TSR copyrights. Our intention is to find a way to license these and future creative efforts. In the meantime, remove them from your sites without delay. Please feel free to contact me with comments or questions. I will refer any pertinent queries to our legal department as soon as I receive them. Rob Repp, Manager, Digital Projects Group, TSR, Inc.
At this point in my life I was not prepared to deal with this: I had just taken a new job, I was a junior engineer frantically trying to learn new software and how to keep builds, and everything else, going. I was also teaching a system administration class at the University, and I was in the process of buying a house and preparing to move. So this was really the last thing I needed on my plate.
I was pretty angry about all of this, as I had nothing on my ftp site which infringed any copyrights. I read most everything that went onto the site, and I never would have permitted anything which outright copied TSR materials. Apparently, someone in TSR leadership must have felt than any fan-generated work represented competition that had to be stamped out. Since it was quite unlikely that any of these fans were capable of challenging TSR in court, it was an easy win for them.
As a result of all that, I don’t think I took any action. But TSR had been mailing other admins all over the University, and they shut down the site in September. They let me go in and pick out the non-D&D material and set up a new site. Over the next few weeks I butchered out 70 megs of stuff and brought the revised site back (here’s a message I posted about this). I sent mail to the TSR representative asking them to review in case I missed anything, but I never heard anything either way.
Since I had a fairly well-known FTP site and a lot of naive youthful enthusiasm, I thought I could have an impact on TSR. So put a README on the site explaining what happened to most of the content and encouraged everyone to boycott TSR. Within a week I had a manifesto posted there, further encouraging people to adopt freely distributed gaming systems to avoid this whole issue. If TSR wasn’t going to be nice to the fan community, we should abandon them. I had been active in the GNU Project for several years and clearly had delusions that I could be the Richard Stallman of FRP games. Hah!
I looked at various game systems and settled on FUDGE. I set to work reformatting the plain text rules into HTML and put that on the ftp site. Then I started putting together a fantasy supplement which was intended for former D&D players like me. That effort never got past an outline and a Texinfo formatted document (with no content). My gaming group started playing using FUDGE, but designing a game system is hard work, and the gaming sessions were not as much fun and both the game sessions and the fantasy FUDGE effort fizzled.
As this was going on, the arguments on rec.games.frp.dnd continued, though I was largely detached from that for the reasons mentioned above. Looking at the archives on Google Groups, it appears that the discussions continued for several years, with many people (including me) using the epithet T$R to represent the company’s apparent greed.
About 30 people pulled together a mailing list about the TSR situation, and some discussion ensued, both about legal options and alternatives like FUDGE. Unfortunately, this also quickly fizzed. The last email was in December of that year. One of the leading people in those discussions wrote an extensive article about this in his “Guildsman” fanzine. You can see this via the Wayback Machine.
So, what happened then? I don’t know, I barely thought about D&D until recently, so I had no idea what happened. Here’s what I have pieced together: It would appear that this legal action was part of TSR’s death spiral (listen to Why Did TSR Fail for details), and the bankrupt company was bought by Wizards of the Coast whose attitude towards the fan community was entirely different. The next edition of D&D was made freely available, which was a total reversal in policies. It seems like there is a lot of fan/3rd party material available, including on Roll20, DM’s Guild, and others.
So, with that, I officially retract my call for boycott, though I suspect only a handful of people remember it, and the only people still following it had, like me, abandoned gaming for other reasons. Since I started this article I bought the D&D Starter Set, so it is now officially official.
Years ago, in an episode of the Permaculture Podcast, the host joked that Computer Science was less science and more superstition and witchcraft. That had a familiar ring to it.
Several years earlier, I had started a new job at a company which was almost entirely Windows based (all my previous jobs had been primarily Unix). One day I was trying to track down a complicated problem. I asked my boss if there were any more diagnostic tools at hand which would help, to which he responded “would the problem go away if the computer is rebooted?” Most likely, but that won’t fix the root prob- “Then reboot the computer, it’s Windows, people are used to that. Don’t waste your time debugging.” I verbally agreed, but in my head I thought “how are things supposed to get better if we do that?”
Fast forward two decades… our lives have become awash in pervasive and increasingly complicated devices. Every day, we encounter strange problems: Spinners which never stop, devices which won’t connect, blank screens, mysterious crashes. Why these happen is a topic for a different day. But how do you troubleshoot it? Google the problem and you’ll find numerous articles which are a variation on this theme:
But the upshot of this is that nobody knows what is going wrong. All these so-called “troubleshooting” steps are just guesses and workarounds for a wide variety of bugs which are unlikely to ever be fixed. Nobody cares. Just keep rebooting until it works or until there’s an update which breaks other things. The next big version will change everything, anyway, so why bother fixing it? Buy the next latest and greatest gadget, repeat ad nauseum.
Surely you cannot be unsure!
In all my years of programming I’ve never had an operation return an uncertain result. I’ve had my share of unexpected results, but that’s just sloppy programming somewhere along the line. Perhaps it is returning a result of type SchrödingersCat.
On a recent vacation I was driving through Utah and passed through Heber City. I had just started reading “Of Dice and Men” and the next day read the chapter about the Satanic Panic and this excerpt:
In May of 1980, parents in the “solidly Mormon” farming town of Heber City, Utah, convinced their local school board to shut down an after-school D&D club and acused its organizers “of working with the Antichrist and of fomenting Communist subversion.” Local Christian minister Norman Springer told The New York Times that the game was “very definitely” antireligious: These books are filled with things that are not fantasy, but are actual in the real demon world and can be very dangerous for anyone involved in the game because it leaves them so open to Satanic spirits.”
This encapsulates my only regret about the vacation: that I did not get a picture of myself by the town sign holding a D&D book. By the time I read the above passage, I was a hundred miles away and wouldn’t be back there.
For more details of what happened in this city in 1980 see this paper.
I do not recalling hearing about any of these things when I started playing D&D just a few years later with a couple of high school friends. But soon after, I happened upon a copy of Jack Chick’s Dark Dungeons. At first, I found it hilariously wrong on so many fronts. But then I became more alarmed, knowing that my home town had many people who would actually believe this, in fact, almost certainly so, given I found the pamphlet in a local grocery store. And one friend had informed me a year earlier that I would be going to Hell for not believing his brand of Christianity. So a good old-fashioned book burning was not out of the realm of possibility. My D&D hobby was not something I talked about at school because I knew it would be just more fuel for ridicule and bullying. But now I had another reason to keep it to myself; bullying is one thing, but bullying in the name of self-righteous superstition and fear is far more dangerous beast (as some of my ancestors found out).
However, I continued to think about why people had such reactions to D&D. It seemed that there were some pretty profound misunderstandings of the game. For example after one game one of our parents asked who won, underscoring how D&D was different from other games.
I started comparing D&D to other games. First, chess. One one hand you have a game where you play a single individual and you have to face the consequences of your actions in the game. But with chess, the entire goal it to wipe out the enemy, pushing your hapless pawns (peasants) and other servants to their deaths, all to defend the relatively impotent king. That’s real wholesome: everyone and everything must be sacrificed to save some spoiled inbred brat whose only qualification for the job was who their daddy was. What about Monopoly? The entire goal it build up a financial empire, largely via luck of the dice, to dominate and destroy your other opponents. Another wholesome message. Poker? Take everyone else’s money. Actually it is hard to think of a game that does not involve defeating other players. Even when there are teams, they are generally trying to defeat other teams.
I think role playing games (like D&D) are unique in that all players work cooperatively towards a goal (which is usually to defeat evil monsters). Everyone collaborates to tell a shared story with an element of chance thrown in at every opportunity (via the dice). There are no winners, or, perhaps, they are all winners. With that in mind, the “communist subversion” accusation mentioned above makes a bit more sense. I mean, the nerve of people, to suggest working cooperatively! Next thing you know, they will be kind to their neighbors and start loving their enemies, a suggestion which got one man nailed to a tree 2000 years ago.
The common refrain back during the satanic panic was about people committing suicide or murder because of D&D. If a person is driven to such acts because of a game, the problem is mental illness, not the game. If a person is that detached from reality, most anything could set them off (e.g. a Beatles song, The Catcher in the Rye, Jodie Foster, etc.) It is an interesting coincidence that the people who asserted that D&D contains actual occult material and that you could actually summon evil spirits with it, also show an obvious detachment from reality. That isn’t to say that book burning is as bad as murder, but both are acts which can only happen when one has detached themselves from reality and their moral compass.
The accusation of “satanic” is, of course, laughable, but it is clear that such beliefs have not gone away, as I was writing this, a pastor at a Catholic school in Nashville banned Harry Potter books claiming:
“These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text,”
While I do not believe that it is possible to summon evil sprits (since I doubt such things even exist), but it is apparently possible to summon medieval superstitions, even in the 21st century. For more details, read this.
I could go on further, but others have explored this at length, The Plot Points Podcast has several relevant episodes: The Satanic Panic and Demons & Devils & Dungeons & Dragons: A Brief History and the book Dangerous Games seems to be an in-depth treatment of this topic; I plan on reading it. You can listen to an interview with the author.
I recently upgraded my workstation and, once again, had to change music players. Though this is just as well since Banshee’s 20 seconds of unresponsiveness after changing tracks was pretty intolerable. So now I tried Clementine. It seems like a reasonably good player, but on certain tracks I get this:
Presumably the tracks in question were MP3, but knowing the track/file name and the plugin it wanted would be most helpful in locating the exact plugin I need. After installing a whole bunch of packages with different codecs nothing changed.
In my youth I used to think that free software would ultimately be better quality. So much for that.
In 1986 I was handed a newspaper all about legalization of marijuana (it was actually an early version of the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes), and I have been supportive of legalization ever since. I voted for it a couple times, but it didn’t pass until I left the state. In fact every state I have lived in has legalized it… after I left! Perhaps supporters of legalization in Connecticut should start a fund to get me to move elsewhere.
More recently I read the book After Legalization which outlined the different ways legalization could actually happen, using the end of prohibition as a guide for how it could be done and the implications of the various alternatives. If you are at all interested in this issue, you should read it.
However, I would like to submit an alternative plan for your consideration:
Thus, the only way you are going to use marijuana is to grow it yourself. This would suddenly become a nation of gardeners! Numerous people would look at which part of their yards could be used for growing and how to construct beds. Everyone would begin talking about compost methods, mulching materials, gardening tools, and breeding strategies. The next thing you know, they would also begin planting some tomatoes or carrots, since it is easy enough to grow another row of plants. Some people would start cultivating more land and maybe start their own farms, earning a bit of extra money, providing fresh vegetables to their neighbors, and getting out into the outdoors.
I will give Thomas Jefferson the last word (in a letter to George Washington, 14 Aug. 1787):
Agriculture … is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals & happiness.
And in a letter to John Jay, 23 Aug. 1785:
Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independant, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to its liberty & interests by the most lasting bands.
You know the old story about the three little pigs? Well, it didn’t end the way they say. You know that arrogant jackass brother of ours who built a brick house and was willing to let us be killed by the wolf? Well, we saw what was coming! Before the wolf got there, we marched over there and turned his big brick house into a restaurant and we fixed him real good!
You should try him with the spicy BBQ sauce, it’ll make you huff and puff and…
The guessing games continue. This time we get to guess as to why the remote desktop viewer was unable to connect.
Perhaps the host was down? Perhaps my password was wrong? Perhaps there was a protocol error or incompatability? Perhaps the remote service was down? Perhaps my breath? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
It is one of those mid-summer days, and my daughter is struggling to find something to do. After several rounds of “I’m bored” and my unsympathetic response (“Bored? I was bored once… in 1974!”), I put on my headphones and pretend I’m having a meeting so I can focus on work. A while later I go out to get some tea, and I find her with a bunch of papers and dice, making up a story using the dice to determine what would happen next. That seemed familiar! Something I had not thought seriously about for about two decades came to mind: Dungeons and Dragons. Let the rambling history begin…
I had started playing in high school. My friend Lance played D&D, told me about it, and loaned me one of the basic set red books to read. I was enthused about it, but for some reason nothing came of that other than a few drawings of dragons. Several months passed before we finally started playing, and this included a new kid at school named Chris (in fact, it may have been the third person that gave us the impetus to start).
The trio of us played for many years, with other friends and relations coming and going over the years. Chris enlisted in the military and was gone for several years, though the rest of us kept things going. It was a great day when Chris returned, not just to have him back in our games, but then he started DMing again and was also studying literature in college. The combination of that influence and the fantastic Judge’s Guild campaign materials made for some of the best D&D I ever played.
There are many things I could relate here, including the various campaign settings we used (including Judge’s Guild), my activities on the Internet and TSR’s legal threats, an alternative RPG system we started using, and probably other things I will remember at some point, but I will leave that for other posts.
But, by the late ‘90s, our gaming sessions gradually became less frequent as life started intruding (girlfriends, wives, houses, career, etc). I can’t quite remember how our last session ended, but I’m sure we couldn’t figure out the next date and said we would stay in touch and come up with another date. That never happened. Soon after, I changed jobs, sold my house, moved to a distant city, and a whole lot of other things happened (some glimpses of this can be found way back in this blog). So it wasn’t so much a matter of putting away “childish things”, but rather all the non-childish things took over and began a long period of amnesia.
So, now we are back to the present and I’m thinking wistfully about D&D. Almost all of my gaming materials were lost long ago in one of my many moves. How can I get back into it? Might my daughter be interested? Can I locate Lance and Chris and renew our friendship, and perhaps gaming?
So this is probably the start of many writings from my odd perspective of having played AD&D back in the day, and now coming back to it and looking back on the management changes and 4 editions which happened in the meantime, much like the proverbial “unfrozen caveman”.
Here’s a short version of my first impressions: I am pleased to see what seems to be a total renaissance. The backwards handling of the internet and fan works in the 90’s seems to have been entirely reversed (with the core rules being freely available, with numerous fan works), the core materials seem to much higher quality than I have ever seen. Furthermore, it seems that the game is now being embraced by many outside of the geek culture and is enjoying a wide acceptance than I ever would have thought possible.
I could ramble on further, but instead, I’ll try to write on specific topics in the future; first on my list is TSR’s handling of the internet which directly affected me.
I haven’t been writing about error messages in a while. But this is not because these horrible error messages are hard to find, but rather I’m overwhelmed by them. We are all steeped in incomprehensible, unhelpful error messages every day and it just starts to become part of the background noise of our lives. It’s like blogging about drops of water in the river.
So in hopes of getting this going again, here’s one of the worst ones I’ve seen in a long time:
The “details” link is a nice touch, I’m not sure why I didn’t capture what happened when I clicked that; I can’t remember what is said, but I am certain it was utterly unhelpful.