Author Archives: okcstephens

AI Images as References for Live Artists

So, I’ve written a few articles on my exploration of human-prompted, AI-generated images. There is going to be more and more public discussion about this, and I think articles like this one at Kotaku, are important to read and consider. Of course, such articles are generally an undifferentiated mix of fact and opinion, but even where I disagree with the opinions I want to be open to them and see if any new points of view or data are presented that may alter my current position on the issues.

I also want to keep exploring various possible ways to use human-prompted, AI-generated images. One of the things I’ve mentioned is the idea of using such an image as a visual reference for an artist.

So, I did.

Here is an image of a lich I got from prompts fed into MidJounrey.

(Generated from prompts I fed into MidJourney)

I really like this image, including it’s sartorial style, but there are (at least currently) significant limitations I’d have to contend with if I wanted to use this commercially. Not the least of those is I have no way of creating different images of the same being.

So, what if I gave this as a reference to an artist I like? (And, you know, pay them to create more art.)

So, I took this to Jacob Blackmon and asked if he was willing to participate in my experiment (at his standard rate). He was, and sent me this sketch:

(Art by Jacob Blackmon, a living professional artist and great person.)

This highlights two of the things I love about working with Jacob. First, he did a LOT of design work in this piece, flowing from the reference image, but absolutely building well beyond either it or even standard fantasy lich images. Secondly, his sketch stage has enough detail for me to see where he is going and give useful feedback or ask for alterations. In this case, I gave an immediate thumb’s up.

So, that brought us to this, Jacob’s final.

(Yep, also by Jacob Blackmon)

This is awesome, it shows Jacob distinct and developing style, I love it, i can use it, Jacob got paid for it, and it would not have existed without MidJourney returning the top image in response to prompts I gave it. It’s not a duplicate of the original (nor did I ask for it to be), but it clearly uses that image as the umping off point for a new design.

I like this result, and can easily see going this route again. It remains to be seen how issues of legality, ethics, and public opinion shake out on any use of human-prompted, AI-generated images, but I found this a useful project to help me explore my own thoughts on the subject.

And, in this case, it put money in the pockets of an artist I like, which is always a plus.

Speaking Of Money…

I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more essays on industry issues, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, storytime posts, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

#MoviePitch: Villanus

Nobody ever pays much attention to Slammer, Oklahoma. Sure, it’s weird that there’s one Big House where the mayor lives, and everyone else is in tiny cabins and do farm work. And yeah, now that you mention it it’s odd that so many of the residents are cyborgs, floating brains, talking wombats, and the floating brains of talking wombat cyborgs.

But, it’s not like the whole town is populated by nothing but paroled super-villains, living under the watchful eye of the God of Dungeons just so they can live some semblance of a normal life, right?

Right?

And when tornadoes tear and flooding through Slammer and all the surrounding counties, taking out the God of Dungeons and doing a ton of damage and putting lives at risk, how are the ex-villains going to react to the combination of sudden unmonitored freedom, and a massive natural disaster?

Help?

Rob a bank?

STEAL a bank?

All of the above? …

AI Art As Writing Prompts

So, I generated this image using MidJourney.

(Created by me using MidJourney)

That image is at least as good as many I have seen in ttRPG gear books, and would make a great tripod security robot, or battle armor for a 3-legged species, or mecha for someone who pilots it from a chest cockpit.

But none of those things were what I was going for. Moreover, at least at current iterations, AI image generators can’t give me that same figure mixed with others, or in a different position, or holding a different gun. If I want any of that, I am much better off paying a living artist. So I expect living artists to be a crucial part of my business needs for the foreseeable future.

Right now, I’d say 80% of the useable art I get isn’t exactly what I asked for, or is background without characters. Other people are doing better, but I can only analyze where I am.

Which means a lot of these images end up being writing prompts if I want to use them in a commercial product. I have the skill to do that, and in one sense it meets my needs — if I set out to create a product I can generate images to build the game material or fiction off of until i have all I need, then write to the images. But I can also already do that with stock art. The upside of stock art is that it’s often easier to get things in the same system, there is an original artist I can go to commission variations if I end up needing them, and a copyright definitely exists (though not, for example, for public domain stock art). The advantages of the AI prompt are that it won’t have been overused before I release my product with it, and it may be cheaper. But it also may not be subject to copyright (see my last article on this subject), which would mean once it was out, anyone could reuse it. Again, much like stock art.

And, of course, I could use the AI generated images as writing prompts, then pay an artist to create new images using the AI image as a reference, which is going to have a mix of pros and cons that won’t be clear until case law is better settled, but it certainly less risky than pure AI images.

If I decide to use AI images for commercial products, I strongly suspect they’ll mostly end up being used for the same sorts of purposes as stock and public domain art. I haven’t taken that plunge yet, and may never do so, but I can see how these would become one more tool. I can’t see how they could replace all the artists I regularly give money to, even if I wanted to do so.

(This is an editorial. No part of this article is covered by the OGL.)

Speaking Of Money…

I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more essays on industry issues, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, storytime posts, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

One D&D: What Can “Compatible” Mean?

This is an editorial. It is not covered by the Open Gaming License.

One of the things that’s being debated in the wake of the “One D&D” playtest release is how this is going to impact D&D customers, other publishers making compatible products, Virtual Tabletops (VTTs), and the ttRPG environment overall. For better or worse, D&D has a huge influence on tabletop RPGs overall in the English-speaking world. Even if you don’t play D&D, and never have, it’s popularity can impact what dice, maps, digital tools, play spaces, game conventions, and dozens of other adjacent materials and options are available to you.

There have been sea-changes in what was considered “D&D” several times before. The release of AD&D in the late 1970s was one, and to some extent so were both BECMI and 2nd edition AD&D. The release of 3rd edition in 2000, which dropped the “advanced” in the title, along with the introduction of the d20 System and OGL had a huge impact in 2000, and the release of edition “3.5” in 2003 is seen as going hand-in-hand with the “d20 crash,” leaving a lot of companies who used the OGL in trouble. (Indeed, many ceased to exist, and others walked away from d20 System-derived games forever.) Similarly the release of the radically different D&D 4th edition in 2008, which abandoned the OGL, had significant impacts throughout the industry (not the least of which was the creation of the circumstances that lead to Pathfinder 1st edition, and by extension eventually Starfinder and Pathfinder 2nd edition).

With the exception of the switch from 3.0 to 3.5, these changes didn’t much revolve around claims that the new D&D would be compatible with older editions. The release of 5e in 2014 was a bit different, often centered on the idea that it was going to take the best ideas from all previous editions, but it also tied to efforts to be simpler and more accessible, and to have “bounded accuracy” fix many of the problems in mid- and high-level play.

One of the talking points of One D&D is that this isn’t a “new edition,” but a modification of the once-and-future D&D engine that is the core of 5e. It is, we are told, going to be compatible with existing D&D materials.

So, in this instance, what does “compatible” mean? And, what’s WotC’s goal in striving for their new rulebooks (I’m entirely convinced there will be new print PHB, DMG, and MM books, and that belief serves as one of the underpinnings of this analysis) to be in some way compatible with the material they have been putting out since 2014?

Well, firstly, I don’t expect WotC to be particularly concerned about how their decisions impact people making “5e Compatible” products, and I don’t think it’s realistic (or, honestly) reasonable for anyone else to expect that either. The only group that might feel they have some claim on WotC’s mindspace is Dungeon Master’s Guild publishers, since they are working within the WotC IP, in a space where WotC gets a cut of their income. But even then, I personally expect WotC to do what they think is best for their own company (and will thus be most likely to allow them to continue to be the best-paying ttRPG employer in North America, and maybe the world).

My best guess is that WotC is going for One D&D to be “100% Adventure Compatible.” And, in this, I may be letting myself be influenced by the fact that’s very similar to what I was shooting for in the Fantasy Age Core Rulebook, which I have been saying since its inception was not a “new edition,” but a “quality of life improvement implementing much of what we have learned since Fantasy Age Basic Rulebook came out.”

While working on that, I discovered that you can make a new rulebook be “100% “compatible” with all the old accessories and adventures, and still not be exactly the same game. You can, with skill and caution, make a game with some new mechanics, and some mechanics that work differently, and not create anything that doesn’t work with the old game mechanics.

Let me give you a concrete, and entirely theoretical, example.

Let’s say you had S.T.A.B. (Sneaking, Talking, Arcana, and Battle) 1st edition, a very d20 System-esque game, where the success of most tasks are determined by rolling a d20, and adding some modifiers, and trying to hit or beat a target number. If you d20 die roll is a natural 20 you automatically succeed, and if it’s a natural 1, you automatically fail. And, one of the persistent pieces of feedback you get, is that people hate Hate HATE rolling a 2 on their d20 roll, because they will always fail due to the game math, even though it’s not an “automatic failure.”

So, when you release S.T.A.B.B.E.D. (Sneaking, Talking, Arcana, Bards, Battle, Economics, and Dragons), an “updated rulebook for S.T.A.B., you add a new rule — anytime your d20 roll is a natural 2, you then roll 1d10 and add it to your total. If you roll a 3 you add 1d8, if you roll a 4 you add 1d6, and if you roll a 5 you add 1d4. (This is almost certainly a terrible rule, I’m using it just as a very basic illustration of “compatible-but-not-the-same’).

Now, this changes the math of the game, and impacts how the game plays in many significant ways. Someone playing with the S.T.A.B.B.E.D. book is going to have a very different experience than with the S.T.A.B. book, and you can’t really have some players use one and some use the other. But you CAN use *either* to play through the classic adventure “King of the Demonpit Webs.” And they both work with the official expansion Stabinomicon book of extra classes, ancestries, spells, and talents.

But if a third-part publisher had released BASH (“Basic Adventure System Handbook”), based on STAB, and in BASH there was a whole system for earning a “booster die,” which you added to d20 rolls, and additional rules written with notes such as “If either your d20 die, or any die you get to add to it, is a 1, you take a point of Dangit, which the GM can use to cause you bad luck,” then the BASH system suddenly isn’t nearly as compatible with STABBED as it was with STAB.

Now, that example is clearly and intentionally ridiculous. But it shows how a new rulebook can have a set of notably different game rules that still work with all the official expansion books a company has released. It is, in that regard, “compatible.” And for people who only but official STABBED books, it doesn’t matter if they play older adventures or newer “Hardship paths,” though old STAB books, and anything other publishers build off STAB, may not work with all the new material.

While obviously I don’t have any insider insight into exactly what WotC is planning beyond what they have publicly stated, I have done this kind of backwards-compatible new game book work myself. It can be done. And it’s compatible.

Just not the same.

And Now, A Call To Action!

I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more essays on industry issues, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, storytime posts, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

Savage Worlds: RIFTS: Pawns

So, it’s VERY nice to have friends give you stuff. Having *just* mentioned that I do miniatures on a budget, friends returning from Gen Con gifted me with two sets of modern building props, a bin of Heroclix figures… and a box of Savage Worlds: Rifts: Pawns.

So, I did not get this as a review copy, and I had nothing to do with its creation.

And I don’t currently play Savage Worlds, or RIFTS of any flavor.

And I love this set. It’s going to see SO much use in Starfinder and Mutants & Masterminds games in my house. The visual design has always been one of the things I loved most about RIFTS, and these are some great examples of that. Since I have a ton of Pathfinder pawn bases sitting around I placed my RIFTS pawns in those, and they fit perfectly.

These aren’t *all* the pawns that come in the box, but they are (IMHO) those that work best as Large or bigger figures. They are bright, crisp, and bring a great visual for big monsters, alien creatures, emcha, vehicles, and one cool hoverjet.

The pawns come with little cross-brace stands you can slip them into, as seen on the crouching figure on the lower left. I prefer bases that cover a creature’s footprint, but you CAN use these without separate bases with just what’s in the box, which feels like a great value added feature.

I am particularly impressed with the mecha and upright vehicle pawns, including the Glitterboy. I would HAPPILY buy a box with just more of these.

All the pawns have distinct front- and back-art, in case you care about facing. The big wheeled vehicle flat is blank on the bottom, which seems like it’s missing a chance to have a wrecked version if you flip it over, but that’s the only missed opportunity in the set. These are on a 1-inch grid, and most of the bases are 2 inches in diameter (with a single figure on a 1-inch base on the lower right)

There’s a great mix of straight scifi, weird scifi, and science-fantasy in this set, as you’d expect from RIFTS. There are lost of single characters, but also some useful groups (such as Coalition bots) and Pinnacle Entertainment Group did an amazing job on the selection, art, and quality of production.

I got this set for free, but would happily pay the MSRP for for another set of the same size and quality.

Speaking of Paying For Quality…
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more product reviews, or essays on industry issues, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, storytime posts, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

The Tragic Atheneum. #WelcometotheArmitage

You can find more information about the mysterious Armitage Building on my Facebook and Twitter, under the hashtag #WelcometotheArmitage. Some other folks have joined in under that hashtag, as well. This is one of several longer pieces I started about the building, but have yet to finish or decide what to do with.

The Tragic Atheneum

On the 10th floor of the eclectic Armitage Building, in room 1016, is the Tragic Atheneum. It’s door is marked with “10*1016” in gold paint, and an image of a quill pen. The door is unlocked from 3 am to 11:11 pm, and no force seems able to get past it when it’s not locked. Those waiting for it to open do not note any sound, or see anyone tending to the door. At 2:59:59 am, it is locked. At 3, it is not.

The Atheneum is one of the biggest rooms in the building, decorated in a heavy, overstuffed Victorian Gothic style. The gold leaf crown molding repeats “10*10*16” endlessly, there’s a small counter no one is ever manning near the only apparent door in or out, there’s no sign of any windows, and the interior is filled with a labyrinth of bookcases and cabinets that you can, literally, become lost in. Here, filed in ways no mortal has yet to comprehend and with constantly shifting positions, is every written book, story, and article that could have been, but wasn’t. There is no staff, but the Atheneum is meticulously clean and maintained. A simple ledger sits at the front counter, marked on the cover with the title “Million-Million-Million-Milton-Monkey-Marginalia” has columns for who is checking out a book, what book is checked out, and when it will be returned.

There’s a 1921 World Victory Pen Company ball point inkwell pen by the ledger. It never runs out of ink, and anyone who takes it out of the room loses it, as it always returns to the counter. Nothing else successfully writes in the ledger.

Faded instructions on a small index card notes at the counter all returned books must be placed on the return table, and no book may be borrowed from the return table. Of course, you books are removed by someone from the return table and refiled, and you can’t always find the same book again. A sign warns that return dates must be within 28 days, by 11:11 pm of the last day, and that tardiness is strictly forbidden. No one at the Armitage knows anyone who has ever been late turning a book back in. A few people who used the Atheneum and were habitually late or disorganized have simply disappeared but no one knows for sure if that is related.

Any print media from the Tragic Atheneum that is taken from the Armitage grounds becomes so faded as to be unreadable, though within the Armitage’s lights the print is perfectly clear. Electronic and recording devices do not record words from Atheneum texts, whether typed in, spoken aloud, or photographed. Written copies of such texts fade immediately if removed from the Armitage, and are not restored upon returning, and fade within weeks regardless.

Nonresidents visiting the Armitage seem unable to find room 1016, even if escorted by a resident. They can see and read texts residents have in their rooms, or any of the many cozy reading nooks, lounges, and studies scattered throughout the building, but only retain information gained in a general way, and never remember any twist or noteworthy conclusion. Residents do, but get a general sense it’d be a bad idea to spread that information around.

Sometimes, alternate version of religious texts are found within the Tragic Atheneum, but they are always bound shut by chain cages, and marked with a tag indicating they are not to be checked out. A few have done so anyway. One of those was last seen fleeing from the lost god’s suite on the 72nd floor.

The others have never been seen again.

#WelcometotheArmitage

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#SettingPitch: “Underground States of America”

Absolutely nothing I release today is going to get any attention whatsoever, given the new playtest for the Worlds Most Popular ttRPG went live this afternoon. So, I am taking this as an opportunity to do whatever I want!

Underground States of America was an idea I had in late 2019, while living in Evansville, Indiana. It sparked with the concept of having subterranean Brain Eaters in a PostApocalyptic setting that everyone was scared of, but turned out to just be Hoosiers who still enjoyed pigbrain sandwiches. From there, I began to think about what the underground in every state would look like and, for no good reason whatsoever, started in Kansas.

I was never sure what I was going to do with this. Thirdparty campaign setting for the spacebased Finder rog I had helped create? Game world for the system I have been working on ever since I thought of the Adventures of the League of Women Spelunkers, in 2016? Actually write a novel like I have meant to for 30 years?

Then I took on other projects, and stopped having time to do anything with this nugget, at least so far. I hope you enjoy this file from my archives.

Nothing here is Open Game Content, this post is not covered by the Open Game License.

U.S.A Underground States of America

No one older than the age of 3 survived whatever sent all of Lebanon, Kansas (including a shockingly large number of politicians, scientists, and military), to flee to Shelter 48, and none of those ever knew what had happened to cause the evacuation. They were raised by clearly-repurposed automated systems, which often tried to pluck eggs from under the children, or check them for Swine Fever. Shelter 48 had canned and powdered food aplenty, power, clothes, tools, medical supplies, movies, novels, manuals… but nothing with a year on it. Very little with name brands. No firearms. No *explanation* of firearms, or gunpowder, or nitro, or fireworks. Lots of bodies, though. Burned, skeletonized, mummified, rotted, and some twisted like they’d been turned to putty, placed in taffy-pulling machines, then dried out into the consistency of old leather.

Still with watches, glasses, nametags, and even money But only pennies, quarters, and golden Sacagawea dollars, all shiny and new when found, and all with XXXX where a date should be.

That first Orphan Generation was big, though no one is sure of the exact number. The best guess is around 5,000 children were in the 100 nurseries when Shelter 48 came online, each with their own Sigil, a small distinct black-line shape on their wrist.

The Big Clock says it’s been 54 years since Shelter 48 came online. And it keeps counting up in years, months, days, hours, minutes, down to thousands of a second which spin by so fast no one can tell if there are actually numbers on those dials. And from 7 pm to 7 am, by the Big Clock, the Main Lights get dimmer and dimmer, though never completely going out, and then brighter and brighter

Very few of the Orphan Generation are still around, but their children and grandchildren, and even a few great-grandchildren are. Every child is born with all the sigils of their parents and grandparents on their wrist. Some great-grandchildren have their great-grandparent’s sigils, some don’t, and some have a few and not others. But you don’t need to check someone’s wrist to know if they share a sigil with you. If you smell a sigilkin, or touch their skin with yours, you have a flood of affection, protection, trust and familiarity fill you. But not sexual attraction. Indeed, the idea of being sexually attracted to your sigilkin is… well, it’s just gross. Nauseating, in fact.

Shelter 48 had numerous huge metal doors. It took a long time to find them all, given the almost-23,000 acres of tunnels, dorms, nurseries, warehouses, sick bays, factories, hydroponics, classrooms, databases, labs, libraries, theaters, parks, air scrubbers, power transformers, jail cells, observation posts, pools, gyms, sports fields, archery ranges, go-cart courses, mushroom farms, indoor skydiving shafts, meat printers, knife dispensaries, pill vendors, obstacle courses, computerized therapy and career guidance offices, pillow pits, quiet rooms, loud rooms, cryogenics repositories, cybersurgery autodocs, insect zoos, suicide booths, 21+ robot-monitored red-light halls and toy rentals, thumbprint-coded safety deposit boxes, courtrooms, trial-by-combat rooms, companion animal adoption centers, snorkeling courses, self-serve horrorhelm and deprivation stations, psionic activation chambers, and the periodic weirdly lit dodecahedral-shaped RONKUs (Rooms Of No Known Use).

None of them opened easily. But over 5 decades, with books and screens and machine shops, most of them have been forced open or torn apart. None lead up. Indeed, nothing found ever even suggests there *is* an “up.” But there are more tunnels, and chambers, and shelters, including those that claim to be located under Caldwell, Ellsworth, Kansas City, Lincoln, Leavenworth, Douglass, Fort Scott, and Wichita. Sadly, none of those have done as well as Shelter 48. Shelter 16 under Caldwell is the source of endless corpses (human and otherwise) infected and animated by weird fungi. Shelter 67 under Leavenworth has turned to cannibalistic warfare between 7 factions. Shelter 104 under Witchita, the largest encountered to date, is a dangerous ruin of run-amok robotics, carnivorous roaches, mole-boars, psionic ant colonies, and apparently one madman called Rawhand wearing a Richard Nixon mask and attacking people with an atomic-battery-equipped power drill he carries in massive, gnarled, skinless hands.

Several smaller Shelters simply had their populations fail to thrive as well as Shelter 48, and survive by trade and hiring out as mercenaries, workers, and anything else they are willing to be paid for. Some non-shelter Chambers have been turned into homesteads by groups fleeing on failed Shelter or another, or decided to carve their own way rather than bow to whatever ruling party controlled their point of origin.

Outside the Shelters and Homesteads, are thousands of rooms, tunnels, caves, and waterways both natural and man-made crossing an area of at least 90,000 square miles, all underground. Not only has it not all been mapped, but cave-ins often block old paths, and sometimes open new ones. Ancient, apparently indestructible and self-motived digger machines called Zom-bore-nies bore out new tunnels, or clear obstructions… apparently at random. Sometimes, a floor gives way, to reveal part of another level lower down.

There are the Long Ducts, which stretch so far from the edge of the known Underground that no one has gotten to the end of them and returned. Long ducts are often collections of related and interconnected tunnels and shafts, all running parallel. They are also often overrun by caustic slime-molds, scavenger gangs, raider camps, and the hallucinogenic electrified twisted vine-cables that someone dubbed Black Lotus, and which no Shelter book gives any information about.

There are the Dropshafts, that lead down. Some Dropshafts obviously lead to warehouses, and have Homesteads set up to control them, or outposts of more violent Shelters. Others go so far down, no rope anyone has found or crafted can bear the weight of a person to go far enough to reach the bottom. Most softly blow fresh, cold air. Some belch gray stinging fog. At least one smells of brimstone, and is guarded by batwinged cyborg mandrake roots. New Dropshafts have been showing up more frequently of late, sometimes with a floorplate just disappearing one day, and a new shaft replacing it.

There are rumors of new groups being spotted, claiming to be from Her Royal Majesty’s Subterranean Expeditionary Force, or Empire State Bunker AA-5. Some objects with markings like that show up in the hands of roving junk dealers, but most folks assume they’re fakes.

Though the Empire State thing that might have been a pistol, once, sure got everyone’s attention.

No one much cares how any of this came about. The few who do haven’t found any good explanations, just more questions. But it is what it is. These are the Underground States of America. This is your world.

The past is the past. What are you going to do to ensure your future?

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What Is Owed?

As a creator, I sometimes struggle with what I owe my family, friends, fans, employers, industry, colleagues, and customers. Not any one of those things in isolation, but how to balance them against one another.

Especially when I prove unable to do all of the minimum of what I feel I should.

Do I owe my family some of my time every day? If so, does that supersede owing work to to employers who are paying me by the project? What if it’s by the hour, or by the month?

If I tease a cool idea and people strongly request I work on making it real, do I owe them that because I proposed it? I mean, I clearly think not, but then, why am I noodling with new ideas in my off hours anyway? If I have late work, do I *get* off hours?

Is there a level or diligence and quality I owe my employers? Do I have a duty to my colleagues and industry not to devalue, demean, or damage the business community we make a living on? How far does that go? Honesty in my dealings, sure. But, do I always need to give my best ideas and best work, or is good enough sometimes good enough. Can I primarily be concerned for getting my own from licenses and open sources, or do I have a responsibility to avoid the tragedy of the commons?

Obviously I owe customers what they pay me for, but where does my owing them go if I fail to produce what is expected when it is expected? Should I be willing to go into debt or bankruptcy to focus only on things due, no matter my economic reality? Should I spend less time sleeping, or sacrifice my health with simulants and energy drinks to crank out the overdue as fast as possible?

Do I owe something back to the community, which has certainly supported and aided me over the years. Is being a mentor to those who ask enough? Should I be seeking out mentees who are otherwise overlooked. Am I being a bad trustee if I don’t? Is it enough to do my best to cause no harm, or must I decry harm done by others wherever I find it? I have a venue, how much do I need to seek to actively use it to support others?

I’m not kidding about any of this. Some answers are obvious, taken individually. I told people who subscribed to my 52-in-52 program they’d get 212 pdfs, total, in 2020. For various (and often unavoidable) reasons, that didn’t happen. It’s 20 months past when it was supposed to be accomplished, and it still isn’t. So, taken by itself, obviously I owe those people the remaining products (because it’s not that nothing has been delivered) as soon as possible.

The 52-in-52 bundle is still for sale, and all the money I make on it (and more) gets channeled into fulfilling it. It’s a great value as is… but more is due. I’ll never give up on finishing it, and I make sacrifices to make that happen. But am I not sacrificing enough? Am I wrong to insist on making sure I don’t skimp on quality while grinding on 20-month-late material?

Is that as soon as possible no matter the consequences to my economic, physical, metal well-being? I think clearly not, but absolutely urgency and some sacrifice on my part is called for. As soon as possible while trying to also make sure people subscribed to my newsletter get their content, my family gets my love and support, my friends get to talk to me, my employers get the contracted time I have agreed to, and I am spend the time needed on my own health and sanity and relationships to be sustainable? That sure feels reasonable, but there’s no meter for that — no magic timer that dings when I have spent the minimum hours needed to fulfill my social obligations, or care for my body and mind. How hard do I push? Does the answer need to be “harder” the longer it’s been since I managed to complete part of the missing content?

When I am paid by the word, how much do I need to make sure I am giving the best, and most focused words? If I have to choose between hitting a deadline and hitting my normal quality level, do I make that call, or go to the people hiring me? If I am convinced it’s better-than-average is that good enough, or do I owe my very best work on every project all the time? That sure sounds reasonable, people don’t normally tell me they don’t care how good I job I do.

If I am instead contracted for hours, those have to be efficient hours, right? If I have writers block and stare at a screen for two hours, should I call that working on that project and be paid for it? Does it matter how often it happens? If it’s no more than my usual amount of wasted time is that okay because it’s part of my process; but if global threats and moving and friends dying and new careers being started means I’m having nonproductive hours much more than normal, do I need to not count them all as “work”?

If a colleague wants to consult with me to hep them in their career, do I need to refuse because the time should be spent on overdue projects? Is 5 minutes of it okay, byt 5 hours isn’t?

I’m not looking for anyone else to answer these questions for me. My honor, my reputation, my work ethic, and my need to do well enough to get repeat business and my guides, and I have been doing this for decades.

But I always keep an eye on: What is due?

And how do I balance the accounts for different aspects of my life when I can’t pay them all?

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More Thoughts On AI Art Legalities

Okay, let’s be sure to start with these points:

*I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

*I have not yet used AI-generated art for any commercial purpose other than one image on this blog for editorial example, but I am currently of the opinion that I ethically, morally, and practically can in some circumstances.

*I have already written one article on AI-generated art, but the question is getting a lot of attention, so I may well post more as new thoughts get proposed and articles written and (if it ever happens) legal cases settled. So far, that still covers my current position on the issues.

But, it’s absolutely worth looking at other people’s thoughts.

Here’s another article on the legal questions of commercially using AI-generated art, by Lauren Panepinto. It’s extremely important to read the notes after the article, since she corrects a few items herself. Also, her core assumption that if something has no copyright, you can’t use it in a commercial fashion is, IMHO, entirely 100% baseless. There is no law anywhere that says art without copyright can’t be used commercially.

For example, there is a photo a macaque took of itself, and a legal case (Naruto v. David Slater et al.) determined that image was created 100% without human intervention, and thus never had any copyright. However, that didn’t mean no one use it commercially (and, in fact, the case was brought because someone was using it commercially and someone else wanted to stop them from doing so). The commercial concern using the photo was not directed to stop. The ruling of the case was, in fact, that they could do so, and didn’t have to pay anyone for the right.

Art having no copyright (for whatever reason) means EVERYONE can use it commercially — you can’t prevent someone else from using it too. And, of course, if you get an AI image and yourself make changes to it, even that stops being an issue. (Though I personally believe it will be determined that using prompts you input of your own creativity into an AI to generate images is going to be seen as the same as using a Spirograph — the end result is created by human input, and thus copyrightable.)

Now the question of whether art that builds algorithms from online image archives is considered derivative, that *would* cause the art to be unusable in commercial context. However, as Panepinto notes, it seems likely this will go the way of similar legal claims against google Images which, so far, has not had lost any case claiming they must pay for archiving images Google doesn’t own the copyright to. (And yes, I mean it’s likely to go that way for both ethical and legal reasons — as long as an AI isn’t making collages using bits of other art, but instead looing at online images to create a process by which it can draw images from prompts without using those assets, it is to me no different than a living artist looking at and learning from existing art, which artists do all the time.)

Also, there’s an article going around people are claiming means AI-generated art cannot be copyrighted by anyone. That’s not what that legal case determined. The applicant in that case claimed the art had been created by an AI 100% autonomously (with no human input at all), and wanted the AI to be legally acknowledged as the creator, claiming he would then own the copyright because he owned the machine. The ruling so far is that if the AI created the image “without any human help,” then no copyright does or can exist for the image.

The case did not look at what level of human help is needed for something to qualify for copyright protection, since that was not at issue. I suspect entering prompts and selecting images to get variations on will be determined to be enough for the prompt-issuer to receive copyright. But even if that’s not how that goes, the art can still legally be used commercially, you just couldn’t stop someone else from doing so.

This is a complex and developing area of law and ethics, and while I know where I come down on the issue so far, I’m studying and considering as new arguments and discussions come out, and not only has it not yet reduced my level of ongoing financial patronage to living human artists, I do not foresee it ever doing so as I believe there will always be things living artists are better at, and thus it is in my own best interest to keep the community of them paid and healthy.

Speaking of Being a Patron to Maintain a Healthy Industry of Creatives…
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Ranked Ability Score Checks, for Pathfinder 1e and Starfinder

It’s pretty common in Pathfinder 1st edition and Starfinder for GMs to occasionally ask for a raw ability score check (1d20+ability modifier), such as making a Strength check to muscle open a door, or making an Intelligence check to see if a character remembers some tidbit of information not related to a specific Knowledge skill. The games explicitly support this idea, but of course your ability score modifiers do not increase at anything like the speed of your skill bonuses, and since skills include ability score modifiers most GMs automatically scale the DCs of ability checks as a game increases in level to keep pace with skill DCs. This *isn’t* supported by the game rules, but it is perhaps inevitable.

Interestingly both 5e and Pathfinder 2e have a different DC/bonus progression that keeps raw ability checks competitive throughout a character’s career, on-par with attack and skill/proficiency checks. Some GMs and players have even called this out as one of the great advantages of those systems over older d20 game engines, and PF1 and Starfinder specifically.

However, if a GM and players want to have raw ability checks scale increase at roughly the same pace as skill bonuses, that’s easily arranged as a house rule. You just need to distinguish between a character’s ability score modifier (which adds to things like attack rolls, damage, skill checks, AC bonuses, and so on), and the characters ability CHECK, which is what you add to your d20 roll when making a “Strength Check” or “Intelligence Check.”

Note that this will allow characters to manage superhuman levels of ability score checks by mid-level, with heroes bursting stone doors off their hinges, holding their breath for minutes at a time, running marathons, and other events that are often ascribed to heroes in real-world ancient mythology.

Ranked Ability Score Checks

In addition to the actual modifier for your six ability scores, you need to track your ranks in each ability. Your ranks add to your modifier when making a raw ability check for that ability. Your ranks do not affect anything else you normally add your ability modifier (having +1 rank to Dexterity Modifier Checks does not increase your ranged attack, armor class, Reflex saves, or Dexterity-based skill checks, for example). You cannot have more ranks in an ability score check than your character level.

Select one ability score as your focus ability at 1st level. (In Starfinder, this must be your key ability score). You gain ranks equal to your level for that score’s ability checks, and an additional +2 focus bonus to ability checks for that ability. You gain three additional ranks at each level you may assign to any other ability scores.

If you gain a feat that grants you a bonus to all uses of one or more skill checks, it also grants you a +1 to one ability score used for one of the skills increased by the feat. For example, if you take Skill Focus: Swimming, you also gain a +1 to Strength checks. If you take Animal Affinity, you gain +1 to either Charisma ability checks (as Handle Animal is a Charisma-based skill), or Dexterity ability checks (as Ride si a Dexterity-based skill).

Feats that only grant a bonus to some uses of a skill check (such as endurance, which applies to some, but not all, Swim checks), you gain no special bonus.

Putting It All Together

So, let’s do an example.

Sashette the Seer is a 1st level human oracle. Her ability scores are Str 8, Dex 14, Con 13, Int 12 Wis 17, Cha 10. She decides to make Wisdom her focus ability, so she automatically gains one rank in it. For her remaining 3 ability check ranks, she puts one each in Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. So, her abilities, modifiers, check ranks and check bonuses look like this:

Sashette the Seer, 1st level
Str 8 (-1 modifier; +0 check ranks, -1 total ability check)
Dex 14 (+2 modifier; +1 check rank, +3 total ability check)
Con 13 (+1 modifier; +1 check rans, +2 total ability check)
Int 12 (+1 modifier; +0 check ranks, +1 total ability check)
Wis 17 (+3 modifier; +1 check ranks, +2 focus, +6 total ability check)
Cha 10 (+0 modifier; +1 check ranks, +1 total ability check)

At 2nd level, she automatically gains 1 rank in Wisdom (her ability focus), and continues to put 1 rank each in Dex, Con, and Cha.

Sashette the Seer, 2nd level
Str 8 (-1 modifier; +0 check ranks, -1 total ability check)
Dex 14 (+2 modifier; +2 check rank, +4 total ability check)
Con 13 (+1 modifier; +2 check rans, +3 total ability check)
Int 12 (+1 modifier; +0 check ranks, +1 total ability check)
Wis 17 (+3 modifier; +2 check ranks, +2 focus, +7 total ability check)
Cha 10 (+0 modifier; +2 check ranks, +2 total ability check)

At 3rd level, she decides she’s not as concerned about Constitution ability checks, but really wants to be better at Intelligence ability checks. Also, she takes the Skill Focus (Perception) feat, which gives her a +1 bonus to her Wisdom ability check total.

Sashette the Seer, 3rd level
Str 8 (-1 modifier; +0 check ranks, -1 total ability check)
Dex 14 (+2 modifier; +3 check rank, +5 total ability check)
Con 13 (+1 modifier; +2 check rans, +3 total ability check)
Int 12 (+1 modifier; +1 check ranks, +2 total ability check)
Wis 17 (+3 modifier; +3 check ranks, +2 focus, +1 feat bonus, +9 total ability check)
Cha 10 (+0 modifier; +3 check ranks, +3 total ability check)

For many groups, the additional bookkeeping won’t be worth the utility of a GM being able to use one set of scaling DCs for ability and skill checks. For others, a set of rules that mean a 10th level raging barbarian actually has a decent chance to smash in doors and lift portcullises will be a welcome addition. And some groups may even choose to replace the skill system entirely, allowing characters to be trained in any skill that is a class skill or they have a feat to grant a bonus to, and then using ranked ability checks in place of all skill checks.

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