Category Archives: Musings

I Am A College Dropout And Professional Writer

I do not have a college education.

I can, technically, list “some college” on forms or resumes as my highest educational level, but I got 0 credit hours from that “some college.” It wasn’t a great time for me, and I failed everything. Yes, every single class. For three semesters in a row. And, really, the impressive part of that story is that I talked my way past the admissions panels and deans of schools twice after failing every single class I took. While my close friends and colleagues know I can be a tenacious debater (I mean, I also talked my way into my High School diploma, which I was technically 1/2 credit short of earning), I have to suspect being a cis white male who was the son of two university employees (a professor and an executive secretary trusted to log information about radioactive materials) has as much to do with it as my blessing of blarney.

I was invited into a scholastic fraternity too, after three semesters of all-failing grades. So, yeah, I was treated by a nonstandard set of rules.

But I gave up, and walked away, and got jobs as a pizza delivery driver (a few times), movie theater usher (for one week, before I quit), banquet setup crew, short order fry cook, and the manager of a student union’s parking garage. All the while, what I wanted to do was write, preferably for big professional game companies.

And that left me in a bit of a pickle when I was applying for those professional jobs in the game industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As tempting as it was to write “Education: Talked my way into a High School Diploma and got enrolled in the same college three times despite failing ever class every semester — ask me how!” I’m not a big risk-taker when it comes to promoting myself. I was aware that cutesy things (sending in your resume as a character sheet or formatted as an adventure, doing it on pink paper with sketches of unicorns in the margins, literally folding it into origami that popped open as you tugged on it) were things some other applicants did, and that I just lacked the aura of whimsey to pull off.

So, for years: “Education: High School Degree, Aegis English Advanced Writing Program, Some College.

(And “Aegis English was just a special talented student program in High School, but I figured it sounded cool, and if someone asked me about it at least I was at an interview stage, where I could pile on the effort to be a strong advocate for my position.)

I picked and choose from other jobs that made me sound organized and team oriented. Being a manager of, well, anything was better than a big gap in my work history. Customer service at a bank suggested I could pass a background check. Most of the rest of it? Chucked in the proverbial bin.

Once I was actually on-staff at Wizards of the Coast for 14 months from 2000-2001, that became the crown jewel in my resume for a while. I figured a staff game industry job, followed by dozens of freelance projects for the same company, suggested I did good work. Then repeated freelance work for other companies. Then there was regular work for Super Genius Games. Then a developer gig for Green Ronin, which became the thing I built all my resume around.

And I began to wonder… was listing “High School, Some College” helping me, at all. Or, with no degree to point to, no specialty listed, no ongoing education in years, was I just highlighting one of my weaknesses? If I could get some staff jobs and tons of freelance, didn’t that matter a ton more than a sheepskin? No matter how undereducated I was, I could clearly put words together in a way that generated repeat business, which ought to be proof enough I wasn’t an idiot.

Now, to be clear, if I HAD had a degree in anything relevant, like English, Literature, History, Archeology, Film Studies (you know, just to mention some stuff there are Paizo employees with degrees in), sure, I’d include it. But there comes a point where the fact I was the manager of a parking garage, or could bread and fry cutlets, doesn’t really say anything about my ability to be a good fit for a staff job about making up worlds and rules and adventures.

It was actually my application to Paizo in 2014 when I decided “Fuck listing my education, with its high school and a few hours of college but no degree. I have more than 15 years of relevant, noteworthy, easily referenced work in this field. No one gives a shit if I don’t have a degree.” What I did do on that resume was list every single publication I had been paid for and was credited with. Every Dragon article. Every d20 Weekly byline. Every sourcebook, pdf, online adventure, and official website rules-answers article. Pages and pages of them.

Quantity, I felt, had a quality all it’s own.

(It was also, I have since been told by people who had to read it, a bit much. Nowadays I tend to lump things like Dragon articles and official advice columns into an entry that says “Various articles for Dragon Magazine, published from 1998 to 2009, list available upon request.”

And I can safely say in nearly a decade since making that decisions, whether applying at small ttRPG game companies, megacorporations, or start-ups, no one has asked me what my educational background it.

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The Dichotomy

As a GM, I often want to make sure I am providing a rich environment where players can roleplay, explore, build connections and networks, expand into their own character and story, and feel they have a voice within and impact on the world they are thrust into. I try avoid making every session just a “monster of the week” fight, or endless dungeon stomp.

As a player I love those things when they seem to evolve naturally. When it feels like they are being forced and this results in slow sessions where no player is particularly engaged and things are sow, I desperately wish we could just go smash undead/punch fascists/shoot robots. I much prefer even a typical monster-of-the-week fight to a roleplaying session where things aren’t gel-ing.

This makes me wonder how often I am trying to hard as a GM, failing to just let things naturally evolve on the RP side. I have begun to think part of the issue is that my own GM style tends towards crucial, needful conflicts that can’t wait. That’s partially in response to my players generally being the opposite of murder hobos — they don’t want to have characters that murder and loot for the sake of murdering and looting, but want to be heroes who put themselves in harms way while saving others… even as they as players enjoy the action and reward of fighting and looting. So, I often generate foes who *must* be opposed for ethical reasons, and then players feel like they can’t take a day off without letting someone down.

Maybe I can find a way to have more fights and risks be optional, things you can feel good about going and opposing, but not feel bad if you let them sit because everyone really wants to help the orphaned goblin child find a home this week.

This is the other side of roleplaying for me; the flip side of rules and tactics and action economies and even storytelling. The fine tuning of figuring out what activities the GM and players will all enjoy going through within the game.

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The Greatest Game Mechanic In The World … Tribute.

Last night, gripped by exhaustion and insomnia, unable to stay up or lie quietly, with half my body burning up and the other half freezing cold, I had an amazing idea for a game mechanic. I wasn’t awake enough to go write it up, so I tried to take some notes about it, to make sure I didn’t lose this amazing idea for ever.

Sadly, the notes are literally useless, and while I remember thinking about the idea — every aspect of where I was when I had it, what time it was (3:45 am), and how much I tried to burn it into my brain so I would not forget it… the idea itself is gone. A complete blank. other than knowing it has to do with ttRPGs, I have no clue what it was like.

So, in tribute to that Greatest Game Mechanic in the World, which is gone forever, here is an entirely different RPG mechanic ideas, which is NOT the Greatest Game Mechanic in the World and may, in fact, be bad.

Blurred Positioning

Most ttRPGs have some form of segmented movement, where on a character’s turn they take an action or set of actions (such as “move, draw a weapon, attack”), and then the next character takes their actions, and so on. This causes the problem that it is difficult to represent actions interrupting other actions in the natural flow of an encounter. All too often, someone either runs from point of cover to point of cover with no one having any change to shoot at them unless they have stood around waiting for just that (and let’s be honest, if someone is dashing 20-40 feet, there’s at least a chance that someone with a firearm could pop off a round at them), or is behind cover and wants to pop up, fire once, and duck behind cover, is stuck for a full round standing exposed and away from cover because they couldn’t complete the action before the end of their round. Instead of some cover, they have no cover for everyone else’s turn.

Blurred positioning accepts that even if your character is in a given place at the end of their turn, someone might have taken an action in a rush as they repositioned. At the end of a character’s turn, they state one of those positions to be their “main state” even if it’s not the one they ended at. (You may have ended standing up from cover at the end of your turn, but you spent most time ducked behind it on your round).

Each character is a legal target at every place they have been since their last turn. However, actions taken actions a position other than their end-state suffer a penalty (-4 or -20% or roll twice and take the worst result, depending on your game system).

That’s it, that’s the whole mechanic. Wherever you were at any point on your last turn, you can be targeted as if you were there. But, for al but one of those places, people are at penalties for trying to get you at that exact moment.

No, seriously, the idea I had last night was SO good.

Whatever it was.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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…
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!

Convention Harassment is Real. What Are We Doing About It?

On three separate occasion in my life at scifi/gaming conventions, someone I tangentially knew and who I was not even vaguely in a romantic or even potentially romantic relationship with gabbed my ass. I don’t mean brushed by me, I mean got their fingers deep in a cheek and checked for ripeness. Each time, I was shocked and horrified. each time, I didn’t say a damn thing about it. This may, in fact, be the first time I’ve ever discussed it publicly–I’m genuinely not sure.

These harassers were of different ages, genders, and stations of power. To this day I have no idea what their goal or thinking was, if any. In at least one case, alcohol was involved. Maybe for all three, I do not know. Two of them are dead now, and one no longer able to go to conventions for various reasons. And, that third one later apologized, and I believe did the work needed to earn my forgiveness. This article isn’t about that. It’s about making sure people know and accept that sexual and emotional assault in public geek spaces is real, and we need as a culture to ask ourselves what we are doing about it.

I’m a 400-500 lb man, depending on when you catch me. If I can be a target of abuse, anyone can be. And while these assaults affected me, at no point did I have concern for my physical well-being, security, reputation, or other relationships. That is very much not true for a lot of targets of abuse and harassment. A lot of my reaction to these assaults stemmed from the fact I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. In therapy and support groups, I have been told over and over that abusers are good at identifying survivors they can target without much pushback. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it might explain why anyone would harass me.

You know — pure evil and sadism.

As I write this, Gen Con just ended. I have always had an amazing time at Gen Con (although, yes, one of the events I am describing took place there, back when it was in Milwaukee, so those amazing times are mixed with other stuff too). But already, less than a week after it ended, there are both public reports and people talking to me in private about harassment and abuse that took place at the convention. And, of course, there are people publicly scoffing at the idea that someone might be assaulted, frightened, or threatened by an event that took place just the past weekend.

If you didn’t see it or hear about it, all that means is, well, you didn’t see it or hear about it. But it is happening, and I don’t have some brilliant or universal solution to offer to stop it. But I do know that dismissing or ignoring it is going to make it worse. And, to be very clear, this is not a Gen Con-specific problem. All gatherings have their predators and broken stairs (and if you don’t know what I mean by “broken stair” in the context of industry abusers, go do some research. It’s been discussed, a lot, by people smarter and more experienced than me, and you should be up to speed on those discussions if you want to have any chance of understanding the problem enough to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem). Bigger gatherings (and, I suspect, ones with people from more different places, which are often the same thing) may have more actual events, but that may be just the same percentage with a bigger population.

The second half of this issue, beyond “acknowledge this is real,” is to talk about what we, all, as part of the community are going to do about it. What policies do companies and organizations have in place? How are we making it clear to abusers and potential abusers that this behavior is not acceptable? Why are people still pressuring attendees in public, professional, or work environments to engage in unwanted, undesired behavior and conduct?

This is not the end of that process for me, but it’s part of it. To stand up and say loudly yes, people are abused. Yes, some of them aren’t talking about it, or won’t for years, and that doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue. It’s real. I have seen it. I have even been a target of it, in discrete cases. but I have also stood next to people in this industry who don’t have some of the unearned advantages and privileges I do, and for too many of them harassment is part of the background radiation of their life.

That can’t be considered acceptable.

My (Current) Thoughts on AI Images

There are numerous AI (“artificially intelligent”) programs designed to allow someone to use text prompts and maybe a few simple other buttons to generate images that have never existed before. People have been playing with them for years, and the fact they were improving has been clear for a long time, but in my opinion they have taken a major leap forward suddenly and recently. As with any disruptive technology, this opens a number of cans of worms, and some of those worms seem likely to crawl into the game industry sooner, rather than later.

This broke open for me last month, when I used prompts to produce the following image using Midjourney — an AI image creation program, that allows you to enter text prompts and style notes, ask it to create variants of options it presents, and eventually upscale a thumbnail to a higher-res image. I pay for access to Midjourney, and for the rights to use the images it creates with my prompts in commercial products.

(Prompt and variation choices by me, using Midjourney, and who to credit here is one of the fundamental questions of AI art)

I was blown away that my effort to use prompts to have Midjourney return an image of a dungeon entrance, such as was of the right quality and style I could use it in a professional ttRPG adventure, was successful. I had been sharing images I created on social media that were much less successful, so I shared this one as well, with the comment “So, this is the first MidJourney AI image I’ve prompted that I believe I can use as-is for a ttRPG product. It’d make a great cover, even.”

It would have been more accurate to say it was the first image I thought I *could* use, since I had no immediate plans to do so, but I said what I said. While the response has evolved as more people replied, the early pushback referred to my suggesting I would put that image in a product as “anti-art,” “unethical,” and “gross.”

I wanted to dig into those responses, so I tried to ask leading and clarifying questions. I likely should have waiting longer before replying, because my knee-jerk responses to being called gross can be more confrontational than I prefer to make my professional communications. having taken more time, and having had a number of conversations with different people in a number of different places, I thought compiling my current thoughts and positions in one place would be a good move.

As a starting point, I recommend anyone interested in the question of the history, legality, and morality of AI art read the recent Engadget article by Daniel Cooper ” https://www.engadget.com/dall-e-generative-ai-tracking-data-privacy-160034656.html. The article doesn’t try to definitely settle any issues, but it’s a good rundown of what some of the big questions are.

Speaking of big questions, I was asked a lot of them when I publicly declared I had AI art I can put in a product. I don’t want to call out anyone specifically in a venue where they can’t reply (and I absolutely do not want to encourage anyone to engage in people I disagree with online in anything other than a polite and professional manner, so please don’t), so I have tried to summarize my position on big questions below. Given there are public links to this article, it’s fair game for anyone who wants to debate or disagree with any of my thoughts or statement.

We should all acknowledge there are unsettled legal and ethical questions about AI-generated images. For example, AIs are trained by looking at images online, almost always without compensating the owner of those images, or asking permission. However, the AI do not just remix existing visual elements, nor copy them into a database and go back to grab pieces of them. They look at existing art as references, to learn from them. I do not see an ethical difference between that and a living artist doing the same thing, which is commonplace and well-accepted.

Another common concern is that art generated by an AI may take jobs from existing traditional artists. Such concerns have been raised by new technologies before, including photography and Photoshop. Pragmatically, I note that as of time of writing this, my art budget has not been reduced at all by my use of Midjourney (and this article is the only “professional” product I have such images in atm, and only because it is crucial to understanding why I am even discussing this). I pay several artists, to the tune of several thousand dollars a year, and do not foresee that going down at all. Midjourney can do many amazing things, but at least in my hands it can’t produce something like a recognizable band of adventurers, especially not reproducing them in multiple different illustrations.

However, that pragmatic note aside, I do not accept the argument that my using an AI to create my own art is an ethical or moral failing on my part. The system requires input and decisions from me to generate art I can use, and I do consider the images in question to be “art,” even if a machine was substantially used in its creation. All the mechanical aspects of fixing an image with a camera are machine labor, and it is accepted as art. If I created an image with a spin art machine, or a spiralgraph, that is accepted as art. Nor is the claim that I am unethically avoiding paying artists convincing to me. I can and have used public domain images in commercial products, and that neither puts money in any artist’s hands, nor inspires anyone to claim I am being immoral.
I absolutely understand the concerns of professional artists that this new technology may make their careers more difficult, or even impossible. I have seen the same AI-driven changes begin to influence how professional text is generated and sold. The program Grammerly is used by at least one company I am aware of to replace one human editing pass, and I have been told other places use it in place of any paid editor. Things like resumes and ad copy have AIs dedicated to producing them, and that trend is only going to grow.

In my opinion the answer to those challenges is to work for a world where creators don’t have to depend on companies paying them to create what those companies want, and constantly working to do so as cheaply as possible (as opposed to claiming that finding a cheaper way to obtain images is immoral, which would also apply to using stock art for example, which I do all the time). I suspect this problem is going to spread, farther and faster than expected, and no effort to convince the world to not use it is going to be enough to save creators that can be replaced by it. Those answers may include seeking direct patronage from fans (such as through Patreon and Ko-Fi), a Universal Basic Income, or some other answer no one thinks of using every truck driver, warehouse worker, delivery and transportation job, and basic manufacturing employment begins to be eliminated due to Ais doing it cheaper.

But this technology is not going away, and I suspect it will always have things it does not do as well as living artists. At the moment, I am exploring what it can and can’t do, and I am continuing to research, consider, and come to my own conclusions. There are risks involved in adopting any technology early, and I am weighing them. For example, without paying a much higher subscription fee, my Midjourney art can be seen and used by others with the license, so I have no exclusivity. Further, if the courts decide these images are being created by a machine, rather than being created by humans using machines, there’s a good chance that legally they will be impossible to copyright, adding another layer of complication for using it commercially.
On a personal level, I am enjoying many of the images I created as things to look at. I enjoy creating art this way, and am growing to appreciate the skill it takes to do so. Like silkscreen, quilting, coil pottery, or tie-dye it’s a very different kind of skill, but that’s not on its own enough to say it isn’t art.

So, on AI art I know what camp I’m in but, obviously, not everyone is going to agree. This tech is happening, so it’s worth learning and thinking about. I don’t currently have any plans to actually put AI art into commercial products, but I’m, absolutely using it for my own entertainment and in social media posts. I’m still considering how to proceed in cases where AI art looks like it may be a good match for a product’s needs, and may use it as the basis for human artist efforts, or as underpainting for more traditional art, or as-is, or as-is but paying an artist extra money for each AI piece I use in a form of patronage just to keep the human artist industry vibrant, both out of love of art and (pragmatically) because I believe a healthy visual creative field is necessary to make the best possible game products, even with access to AI-generated images.

Speaking of Being a Patron to Maintain a Healthy Industry of Creatives…
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!