Discover more from TEETH
Not Technically Necessary
However, as a little taste of what’s ahead...
You are reading the TEETH newsletter, written and compiled by astrological interpretation Jim Rossignol and astronomical event Marsh Davies. This is a newsletter about table-top role-playing games: our own—that we’re publishing over here and also here —as well as interviews, links, and general noodling. Want us to see your work? Get in touch!
A Little Bit Of The Ol’ TTRPG Discourse.
The fulfilment process for the TEETH Kickstarter continues via the opaque and paperwork-hungry medium of global logistics. We can confirm that everything has been printed (although we haven’t yet seen any of it ourselves), and some of it is even in place in the correct warehouses! It will nevertheless be some weeks before it’s all in place to be shipped to you, the wonderful End Users of TEETH: A ROLE-PLAYING GAME. If you are expecting physical rewards then please be patient as this does take some time to organise and we have - we’re not boasting! - got it all done as quickly as possible. (That Marsh had almost finished the book design by the time we did the Kickstarter certainly sped the process up somewhat, but it will still be a few weeks before you are likely to receive your emails from our friends at Soulmuppet, who are handling the distribution. Remain vigilant for these communications!)
As for the stretch goal materials - these are to be shared as PDFs as soon as we’ve completed them! - well, they’re all well underway, with Jim putting the finishing-finishing touches to MANDEVILLE’S HORRID INVENTORY this weekend and both of us poised to get busy on the pre-made character roster. This character roster has a little twist which amuses us greatly, and I trust you will enjoy them in the same way.
Generally, though, it will be a little while before Marsh has everything designed and illustrated, of course, as that’s still a labour-intensive process. Marsh wanted to share this image, however, as a little taste of what’s ahead.
More teeth, you see.
-Marsh & Jim
This one is heavy on the Stuff We And Our Compatriots Found On Wikipedia (I forget who sent us a couple of these links, apologies if it was you!) and filed away for future reference.
Like Hounds & Jackals, which I am sort of stunned that I had never heard of before: “Hounds and jackals, also known as 58 holes, is a well-known Bronze Age board game which was invented in Ancient Egypt 4,000 years ago.”
Very TEETH, this one: “John Elwes was a member of parliament in Great Britain for Berkshire and an eccentric miser, suggested to be an inspiration for the character of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Dickens made reference to Elwes in "Bleak House" - along with another notable 18th century miser, Daniel Dancer." I love the idea of "notable misers."
And this too, about highwayman James Allen, could find its way into TEETH pages, and God damn: “While in Charlestown, Allen became deathly ill. He spoke openly to the warden, confessing many crimes but denying any involvement with the burning of the tavern in Dedham. The warden wrote down much of what Allen told him and published it as "the Narrative of the Life of James Allen, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the Highwayman, Being His Death-bed Confession to the Warden of the Massachusetts State Prison." Allen said that Fenno was the only brave man he ever met. He asked that a copy of the book be bound in his own skin and given to Fenno. After his death, a large patch of skin was removed from his back and tanned. On the cover was written "Hic Liber Waltonis Cute Compatus Est," or "Here is the book Walton made of his own skin." The book was given to Fenno, and his family kept it for many years. When Fenno's children and grandchildren misbehaved, they were paddled with the book.” What the fuck, History.
David Hood dazzles us with the nominative determinism of Edward Pine Coffin, who despite his name (or perhaps because of it) ended up in charge of famine relief in Limerick during the Great Hunger.
The Bonnacon will be my next submission to the great bestiary: “In Asia an animal is found which men call bonnacon. It has the head of a bull, and thereafter its whole body is of the size of a bull's with the maned neck of a horse. Its horns are convoluted, curling back on themselves in such a way that if anyone comes up against it, he is not harmed. But the protection which its forehead denies this monster is furnished by its bowels. For when it turns to flee, it discharges fumes from the excrement of its belly over a distance of three acres, the heat of which sets fire to anything it touches. In this way, it drives off its pursuers with its harmful excrement.”
And I really do need to set a scenario in a burning city, with an NPC called Thomas Dagger.
A Little Bit Of The Ol’ TTRPG Discourse
We’ve largely spent the northern hemisphere summer as hunched grotesques, pummelling words out of our keyboards, extracting research elements from the glitchy coalface of the internet, and avoiding discourse of any kind. However, this bit got through, and not in a bad way!
Designer David J Prokopetz posted “The Gremlin Game Designer's Creed” on his Tumblr, and there have been a few responses to it, not least on Thomas Manuel’s reliably excellent newsletter (which is where we saw it, via Gillen). It’s worth reading and thinking about, because the claims in there are all interesting and/or provocative. By reading it you can find out if you, yes YOU, are a Gremlin Game Designer. A sort of TTRPG-approach quiz.
I think I agree with a lot of what Prokopetz proposes, particularly the parts about players not needing permission to depart from the rules (although I also think that there are occasions when departing from the rules breaks the game and malignly wrecks the intent of the thing even if the breaking is okay and fun), randomness and lookup tables being your friend, and crunch being good. BUT I am definitely not full gremlin. For a start I don’t exactly agree with the big initial claim that “rules are toys”, not least because I think there’s a big old philosophical abyss to stare into when it comes to break up game, play, and toys, and how rules relate to that stuff.*
That wasn’t really the bit I cared about, though, and what I wanted to wax on was: “9. If your game has a default setting, explain it as little as possible, but always let the rules and presentation reflect it. Seeing an entry for "poorly made dwarf" in a table of player character backgrounds will fire a group's imagination more strongly in three words than a chapter stuffed with worldbuilding lore could in ten thousand.”
I absolutely agree with this, I love not explaining stuff! I love having stuff not explained to me. Doing Less is, as this paragraph notes with its reference to Troika’s brilliant minimalist character archetypes, incredibly powerful stuff when it comes to firing everyone’s imaginations. In my narrative design day job I often find myself arguing for positions that mean we remove lore, story, dialogue, explanation, and world-building in favour of letting the the player fill in the details. Hell, I agree with M John Harrison’s diagnosis of the world-building impulse that “worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there”. (I even sometimes wonder if I could publish just a book of the endless collections prompts and notes and phrases that I collect when writing, and perhaps that would be a better book overall.)
However, I am also aware that a very large part of the appeal of both reading and writing TTRPG material (and material for games more broadly) is precisely the voluminous filling out of fictional worlds. I know I love this, and I know others love this too. We want to sit down with a giant slab of world, and leaf through its made up history. We love atlases of Middle Earth and timelines which explain how Elminster got to where he is today. Look at the sheer scale of the 40k world-building, or the sheer number of D&D supplements. As a player and a creator of games I love “Poorly Made Dwarf” and I am inspired by it, and yet also revel in sinking into the ten thousand words someone bashed out on on an invented culture, or indeed writing those ten thousand words myself.
In this sense I suspect both positions are true, neither are true. It’s a horrible contradiction that I both want games to be little more than brilliant prompts to organic imaginative creativity, and also be meticulously wrought atlases of other universes. Perhaps it is fine: this brand of cognitive dissonance is something we deal with all the time. (And there are approaches to making one game do both, as we have tried to do in TEETH.)
Ultimately, I often argue that just as Warhammer is three distinct hobbies — collecting, playing, and painting/modelling — so TTRPG is three distinct hobbies: playing, collecting those lovely books, and actually reading 10,000 words of lore about Goat-Elves Who Wish To Be King. It’s fine for it to be both, and also for us to be both.
We can be both gremlins and we can be ivory-tower ficto-academics with long, flowing manscripts. We can do it all.
More soon! x
*Having been non-committally paddling through Bernard Suits’ bizarre 1978 text on games, The Grasshopper — I love Frank Lantz’ description of him as a “funky math beatnik” and he looks exactly how you would imagine an technical academic writing philosophico-poetic theory books about games in the 1970s would look — I have found myself thinking about games as a category as more as a part of the spectrum of all practical activities that have rules connected to them (cooking, driving etiquette, crossing the road would all be part of this) than simply as part of “play” as a behaviour or art as a slice of culture. Games, by Suits’ definition are activities we indulge in when we don’t have to worry about what we are doing, like much of culture, but they also have the shared characteristics of containing difficulties or obstacles that we agree to take on, entirely unnecessarily. Games are challenges that are unecessary, to ends that don’t matter. We don’t really care about putting the King in checkmate, and it doesn’t matter if we did so, but we will participate in the difficulties created by the rules of chess for doing so, simply in order to play the game with Uncle Stan. Which DOES bring it back to being inside the auspices of play, but anyway, I haven’t read the whole book.