On No Artpunk II

With the morning of NAP II hovering above 700 downloads and more then that in donations (my thanks to all of you for your generosity), it might be a good thing to offer some additional context to dispel any confusion resulting from the various takes floating around the internet.

Why the contest?

Over the years I have observed the quality of many of the offerings in the OSR beginning to waver. Initially this was just a gut feeling, most apparent in the more artsy stuff, with Mork Borg and Troika but prevalent elsewhere. At around this time I also started delving seriously into old Gygax era DnD, revisiting some of the material I had been exposed to as a precocious teenager but much of it was fresh. The prevailing wisdom, based on Bryce Lynch’s still very useful standards and the concept of Conceptual Density, was that the value of an adventure was rooted in having lots of creative new things, usually in the form of creatures, items and spells. And to a degree this is certainly true, there is a large theme of exploring the Unknown and new so-called Gygaxian Building Blocks (creatures, treasure, spells) are part of that.

My observation was that although many of the new modules in question have a much higher percentage of these new building blocks, they tend to be far more primitive and how people actually tackle and interact with them is much simpler then the best of the older material (Albie Fiore, Paul/Jennel Jaquays, Gary Gygax etc.). The question is, could you write, not just a good, but a great dungeon module while using only extant material? Of course you could. But you would need to interact with the old game at a different bandwith. Whether you call this the structure of the adventure or simply a different order of Conceptual Density does not really matter. The point is that the weight of this quality of structure, the organization of Gygaxian building blocks on the quality of the adventure, is higher then that of the quality of any of its individual component parts.

To a degree you already interact with this structure. You map, you set the monsters, you place and conceal treasure etc. But the creative drive tends to focus on either a) Gygaxian building blocks, b) a single high-concept idea or c) layout and presentation. All three are sub-optimal, and can only reach their full potential when the structure, or process of DnD is understood. It is less a question of what you use, but how you use it. But they have the singular advantage of being highly visible, attractive to newcomers and relatively easy to do.

This contest was started as a way to rail against this prevailing trend, to draw attention back to what is most important and as an experiment to see if I could encourage people to engage with DnD on this deeper bandwith. By limiting the outlets for creative expression, I hope to see it applied to areas like mapping, clever compositions, interesting monster tactics, treasure placement, set pieces, evocative description, environmental effects, complicating factors and miscellanious weirdness. Whether I have succeed is up to you.

How can I compete?

As soon as the contest begins, submit your entry via email before the deadline, labelled NAP (number) and there we go. Previous NAP saw some people entering modules that they had already written. While not illegal, some stipulations on the date of creation will have to be added in future editions.

Do I retain ownership of my work?

Absolutely. By submitting you are giving me permission to publish the work in a compilation. If I end up wanting to publish it in another format (there have been questions of doing it in print, say) I will ask for your permission again. If you want to publish your own work before the publication of the No Artpunk volume, you can, although I would prefer it if you would wait.

What are the contest stipulations?
I will compose a full, detailed post on the format (go figure), material you are allowed to use, other limitations etc. with each edition of No Artpunk.

Do you make money off of this?
Nope. I can envision some sort of future when we try to bundle the best entries into a hardcover and ensure every contributor gets a fair share but for now, posting this does not cost me anything more then time and any proceeds go to charity.

Why do you hate layout and art?

Although the state of both manuscripts might dictate otherwise, I hate neither layout nor art 😛 There is a baseline level of layout beyond which efforts start to yield diminishing returns, and I also think art, while essential in communicating a vibe and attracting customers, does not have a huge influence on the quality of the adventure. In my perfect world, we have craftsmanship, fantastic new gygaxian building blocks, evocative writing, brilliant art and layout. In the world of limited time, single creators, limited budgets and massive competition, that perfect storm seldom occurs. I do see increasing attention paid to what amount to peripheral characteristics of the game when actually running it. Is the structure of the game in such a rut that we must innovate on the level of format?

You just hate all Artpunk!

This one is more complicated and that’s not really a question Virginia. I don’t think this Artpunk as a creative current is ultimately a generative direction for the OSR at large (a moot point really), but I have certainly given some positive reviews to artpunk in the past, and will likely do so in the future. Example reviews here, here and here. I’ve reviewed and appreciated donations from weirdo DnD. as well. Hell, one of the entries in NAP II borders on Artpunk. Promising future candidates include Ben L. , Arnold K. and Yoon-suin.

You just want to keep X out of the hobby!

If my plan was to gatekeep people with any particular set of characteristics not related to gaming I would say I have probably done a terrible job so far. Not only can I make no meaningful differentiation based on the entries, even if my supposed dastardly plan succeeds and all Artpunk is outlawed they could just play non-Artpunk. Even worse, I don’t even gatekeep fans of Artpunk. You could take the contest stipulations and submit Artpunk! As for my claim that the method of Artpunk yields diminishing results, well, you can always just compete and prove me wrong.

Do you really think we all have to go back to 1974?

No. I don’t think my contest stipulations are universally perscriptive to all adventures. You should add new material as an extension of the old material. You should innovate. You should try out entire new modes of adventuring. My thesis is that that innovation, for many people, will be of much higher yield once a firm grasp of the fundamentals is established.

This is an incoherent ideology based on a false dichotomy that looks to a mythical past and must fall like all demagogues do when the promised future does not arrive!

What? The dichotomy exists when considered as the degree to which a given population is interested in and attuned to the principles and concepts of oldschool dungeon design as expressed by Gygax, Jaquays, Fiore, Harold Johnson et. al. You might not be able to point out the exact point of division, but there is certainly a difference. My contention is that material from that time by those authors and others seems structurally more complex and solid, and is more fun to play then a lot of the material now, and that refocusing on those fundamentals will improve adventure quality as a whole. As a caveat, I also think reading Appendix N, while not mandatory, is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of the fantastic concepts and spirit of the original game. Once again, the theory is that innovation is possible and desirable, from a plateau of understanding and with an eye to continuity. If that ends up being utterly wrong, at the very least there are some good adventures people can play.

Prince, I love you, admire you and want to be with you but you could do this and be less mean about it!

That’s probably true. What can I say? I’m provocative, a brickthrower, an enfant terrible, a possibly incorrigible misfit. I run my mouth off, I swear like a sailor and I get into stupid fights on the internet. I believe in the spirit and benefits of healthy competition! My goal is not nefarious and my methods are benign. Come play a game of DnD with me sometime.

Happy gaming!

24 thoughts on “On No Artpunk II

  1. Yet another example of your sanity, O Prince. Neatly stated.

    May the hair on your chest never lose its curl!
    ; )

    [I now go to read my copy of NAP2…]


      1. Well, since you asked…

        The book is, of course, huge. I read your essays…I think they’re all quite good. Maybe the “On ArtPunk” will go over the heads of folks not already ‘deep in it’ (and reactionary ArtPunkMen, not necessarily the most erudite, might simply blow their tops) but I think it’s quite clear and explanatory, and NOT really offensive to anyone. I mean, you clearly lay out a purpose and need for something like NAP and analysis of the earlier D&D works.

        [and I don’t think you are over-lionizing Gygax, etc. either]

        RE the adventures themselves

        The only one I’ve read so far (there’s a LOT of adventure here!) is my own, which I haven’t read or looked at in a while. The odd typo is irritating but, damn…that’s a pretty good adventure, if I do say so myself!
        ; )

        Some of these entries have fantastic layouts that I am highly tempted to steal: I’d call out Skalbak Sneer andTwice Crowned King as especially nice. This is important for making the things USABLE at the table (as Bryce would, I’m sure, agree). I love Alchymystyk Hoosegow’s use of illustration is likewise excellent (Mt. Peikon is also fun in this regard), and I dig Ben Gibson’s photo inserts.

        A LOT of really fantastic maps…really wish my own was oriented to portrait rather than landscape for aesthetic considerations. But then, the whole point of NAP is not focus so much on aesthetics (still, perfectionism, you know…).

        Table of contents is good and very welcome. Would have liked to see the adventures organized by system and/or level range, but I also agree with saving the winner and runner-up for Le Grand Finale. Not sure how to reconcile that.

        I am now going to write something that’s probably a bit controversial (and likely to be taken poorly by NAP fans):

        For MY taste, the book is bit…um…big.

        250 pages is LONG. Now, I *know* this is 250 pages of goodness, but its a tad, um, “unwieldy.” Scrolling through the PDF is slow; printing the thing would be crazy, right? Whether you’re talking POD or just something to throw in a binder (how big a binder would one need?). And…yes, I’m an old geezer…I prefer to have hardcopy for use at the table.

        You set a decent page count maximum for the contest, so I don’t think this is a case of adventures being “too long” (although, I will note that the entirety of G1-3 was published in a 32 page booklet that includes 7 levels, new monsters, pre-gens, and illustrations). Instead, this is (probably) an issue of too many winners being included in the book. Maybe six or (horrors!) as few as four would have made for a tidier package.

        But how to cut such great adventures?

        I don’t really have a good solution to offer. My initial thought would be to have a “NAP Basic” book and a “NAP Advanced,” each with 4 or 5 adventures (1st through 3rd place and one or two runner-ups). But what if the majority of entries are Basic-based? What if the best submissions are all for the OD&D system? It really depends on what’s being submitted…the quantity, the quality, and the system. AND it’s a great thing to put so many adventures of so many different types on display for all to see that YES you can make solid adventures for ANY of these old systems using little more than the standard book content.

        So…a quandary. The point isn’t (I don’t think) to set the bar too high. 700 downloads? I’d imagine that will likely lead to MORE submissions for NAP3, not less. On the other hand, every volume folks are willing to donate to get means more money going to charity, and that’s something to think about, too.

        Summary: an amazing compilation. I look forward to both reading and running some of these scenarios. And I am VERY excited to see what NAP3 will bring about.
        : )

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Re: Becker’s size comments:
        You can publish a product on DriveThru with multiple PDFs, so having a Core and Advanced, or something along those lines, would definitely be easy to do for a NAP3. I also noticed the heavy size of this one, with the adventures clocking in on the long side (although not generally overwritten). A tighter page count probably wouldn’t go amiss if you’re looking to tighten into a more consistent style guide the next time around.

        Although now that Trent showed us his special hack, maybe I should submit my six-level, ~500 room kilodungeon with attendant 184-key hex crawl overworld next time for some strong feedback. 😉


      3. Re: Becker’s size comments: I assume the way to go is to print them individually. Of course, you’d have to know which of them you intend to use, so the logic is a bit circular. Otherwise you’d have a shelf full of unused modules.


      4. It’s easy enough to peruse the PDF before picking which ones to print, surely. As long as the modules are worthy, I don’t see the page count being an issue myself.


    1. Always. I got hold of a copy of Beholder #6, so that one is next. Probably…Huso? And I have UDG. And Jaquays. There is some new stuff that looks good, and some new stuff that looks dreadful. Yoon-Suin. The golden fields are ever green.

      The Hasbronnen have buckled, their OGL lies shattered. Rejoice in the eternal, everlasting OSR.


  2. I view NAP as an opportunity to share and show off a bit. The flavour I get from it is that it’s almost like a bunch of third year apprentices trying to outdo one another by showing that they have paid attention to the past masters of the art (Gygax, Jacquays et al)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are becoming a trooper. Of the ordinaries you have won over me and T Foster, but I would like to see nagora, genghisdon, elfdart, sirallen, delta, falconer, geoffrey brought here to inquire.

    One guy I would love to have interacted with in the past is Evreaux from Dragonsfoot. And one to exclude is Gnarley Bones who is a cliche of a stuck-up sodomite.

    While I was searching for the influential posters above I came across this post I made on DF from 2010:

    ==The BBC’s demise as an intelligent broadcaster has been slow and painful. It was inevitable once the ratio of cranky half-educated women employed rose high enough to form a preaching coven. The blandness of BBC drama has nothing to do with tapdancing for dollars and everything to do with writers’ fear that their messages will not be politically correct enough. Blaming the Yanks is daft or perhaps a tic.

    The two Survivors series encapsulate the respective broadcasting epochs of the BBC:
    In 1975 our heroine is an intelligent patrician. She is stoical, beautiful and proud. She has a cute ass which we get to see.
    In 2008 we get a fat Scottish garrulous slag, a whining groaning incompetent mammy. She is the type I would put a bullet in her head on sight post-apocalypse so we could use the aspirin for something other than headaches.==

    Twelve years later white europeans are in the slaughterhouse.


    1. My thanks,

      More grogs would improve the learning curve even further. And it is occasionally interesting to watch a grog response to new material, a reverse of the appeal of my blog. My interactions with Gnarley Bones in the Tenfootpole comments section have been nothing but cordial, he seems alright.

      Ya gotta do the black pilling stuff? It will get a rise out of some folks, probably. I don’t really watch political material. It is either brazenly fictional or you can already infer what will happen and what the conclusion will be. Information diet is a concept that will have to be relearned by those that follow us.

      I am reminded of the parabel: A man stood in the square of Moscow holding a blank sign. He was arrested. The sign did not need to have any writing on it, because everyone already knew what he wanted to say.

      If there is a thing I miss of old it is the death of dialogue, the hunting horns of Argument, the earnest joy in blows well struck. There is a sort of misery in knowing that even if they were to deal a true strike your enemy would not be happy.

      No Artpunk II is at almost 800 downloads, and donations are climbing towards the thousand. I included articles that would point people towards both old school materials and great material from the early and middle stratum of the OSR, so hopefully there will be a ripple effect.

      Towards a better OSR.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Excellent pod PoN. Guests were all on point and capable. The most interesting part to me was the discussion about meta-gaming. At first glance this subject sounds like ruinous wankery but GAMING POSTURE is actually the heart and soul of playing AD&D, the attitude of a player to his character is of PRELIMINARY importance and should be competently addressed by the DM to inductees. What he must say is very difficult to know but it is essential.

    [Off Topic]

    I’ve always loved Bowie’s music and I HIGHLY recommend Moonage Daydream 2022. It is a pleasing medley of judiciously chosen snippets of music and interview, layered with time-orienting topical visuals. Footage is largely unseen I understand. If you are a Bowie fan RUN to watch it.


    1. Forgot to share this badboy in the heat of the battle.


      I’ll throw up a post later. I’ve got a second victory lap to do and some considerations for NAP III.

      I still talk too much but there is a better balance now. Humbling and cool to be in a room with venerable AD&D players.


    2. Bowie never features in AD&D forum recommendations but he should. Early Bowie lyrics are highly imaginative. Bowie is clueless SF, best interpreted as Fantasy.

      Historically, those hostile to Bowie hate queers and trannies because they degrade our culture, but I think you can enjoy Bowie regardless.


      1. Prince, don’t listen to Kenny G, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Bowie was about as gay as Elvis. He claimed to be bisexual to be edgy and rebellious (the modern day equivalent being the middle aged INCEL typing snide racist and homophobic comments in his mother’s basement). His SF albums were insipid and dull. If you want to listen to plotless sci-fi meanderings you might as well listen to Tubeway Army. Bowie was a legend, a true chameleon who turned any musical genre he touched into gold (until he got old). His Berlin trilogy is probably his best, most innovative work.

        On second thought, you should definitely check out his second album, The Man Who Sold The World. It’s his ‘heavy metal’ album (well, metal for 1970).

        A better match for Prince would be Frank Zappa. The father of prog rock (and the artier side of metal). Frank Zappa didn’t do fantasy or sci-fi, but you’d definitely find much to like in his temperament and philosophy. He skewered everybody. You should check out his autobiography. You’d like his take on contemporary topics like feminism, and you get to see him invent the model for Napster and Itunes in the mid-80’s, to boot.


      2. Lmao right in the family jewels:P

        I of course checked it out, I liked Man Who Sold the World. I grew up listening to a lot of 60-70s music so Dire Straits, Iggy Pop, Tubular Bells, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Rolling Stones etc. is all familiar. I started off with Limp Bizkit as a precocious 10 year old and I’ve listened to metal ever since. Currently it is a mixture of Steak Number 8, Raketkanon, Ningen Isu, Eternal Champion and Avril Lavigne.

        I’ll check out Frank Zappa on the strength of this second recommendation, letting you know my final verdict.


  5. Great listen. Probably need to rewind and take a few notes.

    Funny that they’re using the term “fantasy adventure gaming” for what we do…I tried to coin this phrase back in 2015, but for some reason “FAGing” just never took off as a go-to acronym. Go figure.
    ; )

    Hoping they’ll drop a second episode in the near future!


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