Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blast from the Past

I was recently reminded of the "TSR Code of Ethics," which was a list of do and don'ts for writers of TSR products, particularly Dungeons & Dragons. I recall a version of this from the mid-80s that was published in Dragon as part of its writer's guidelines; I'll try to seek that out and post it here once I do. Searching the Web, though, I was able to find a version published online in 1995. It's really fascinating, not just because of its content but also because of its late date. That TSR, two years before its purchase by Wizards of the Coast, was still abiding by a Code of Ethics like this one speaks volumes about the company. Looking it over also goes a long way toward explaining why so many old schoolers have such a negative opinion of 2e.

Here are the most interesting bits:

TSR, Inc., as a publisher of books, games, and game related products, recognizes the social responsibilities that a company such as TSR must assume. TSR has developed this CODE OF ETHICS for use in maintaining good taste, while providing beneficial products within all of its publishing and licensing endeavors.

In developing each of its products, TSR strives to achieve peak entertainment value by providing consumers with a tool for developing social interaction skills and problem-solving capabilities by fostering group cooperation and the desire to learn. Every TSR product is designed to be enjoyed and is not intended to present a style of living for the players of TSR games.

To this end, the company has pledged itself to conscientiously adhere to the following principles:

1: GOOD VERSUS EVIL

Evil shall never be portrayed in an attractive light and shall be used only as a foe to illustrate a moral issue. All product shall focus on the struggle of good versus injustice and evil, casting the protagonist as an agent of right. Archetypes (heroes, villains, etc.) shall be used only to illustrate a moral issue. Satanic symbology, rituals, and phrases shall not appear in TSR products.

2: NOT FOR DUPLICATION

TSR products are intended to be fictional entertainment, and shall not present explicit details and methods of crime, weapon construction, drug use, magic, science, or technologies that could be reasonably duplicated and misused in real life situations. These categories are only to be described for story drama and effect/results in the game or story.

3: AGENTS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT

Agents of law enforcement (constables, policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions) should not be depicted in such a way as to create disrespect for current established authorities/social values. When such an agent is depicted as corrupt, the example must be expressed as an exception and the culprit should ultimately be brought to justice.

4: CRIME AND CRIMINALS

Crimes shall not be presented in such ways as to promote distrust of law enforcement agents/agencies or to inspire others with the desire to imitate criminals. Crime should be depicted as a sordid and unpleasant activity. Criminals should not be presented in glamorous circumstances. Player character thieves are constantly encouraged to act towards the common good.

5: MONSTERS

Monsters in TSR's game systems can have good or evil goals. As foes of the protagonists, evil monsters should be able to be clearly defeated in some fashion. TSR recognizes the ability of an evil creature to change its ways and become beneficial, and does not exclude this possibility in the writing of this code.

6: PROFANITY

Profanity, obscenity, smut, and vulgarity will not be used.

7: DRAMA AND HORROR

The use of drama or horror is acceptable in product development. However, the detailing of sordid vices or excessive gore shall be avoided. Horror, defined as the presence of uncertainty and fear in the tale, shall be permitted and should be implied, rather than graphically detailed.

8: VIOLENCE AND GORE

All lurid scenes of excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, filth, sadism, or masochism, presented in text or graphically, are unacceptable. Scenes of unnecessary violence, extreme brutality, physical agony, and gore, including but not limited to extreme graphic or descriptive scenes presenting cannibalism, decapitation, evisceration, amputation, or other gory injuries, should be avoided.

9: SEXUAL THEMES

Sexual themes of all types should be avoided. Rape and graphic lust should never be portrayed or discussed. Explicit sexual activity should not be portrayed. The concept of love or affection for another is not considered part of this definition.

10: NUDITY

Nudity is only acceptable, graphically, when done in a manner that complies with good taste and social standards. Degrading or salacious depiction is unacceptable. Graphic display of reproductive organs, or any facsimiles will not be permitted.

11: AFFLICTION

Disparaging graphic or textual references to physical afflictions, handicaps and deformities are unacceptable. Reference to actual afflictions or handicaps is acceptable only when portrayed or depicted in a manner that favorably educates the consumer on the affliction and in no way promotes disrespect.

12: MATTERS OF RACE

Human and other non-monster character races and nationalities should not be depicted as inferior to other races. All races and nationalities shall be fairly portrayed.

13: SLAVERY

Slavery is not to be depicted in a favorable light; it should only be represented as a cruel and inhuman institution to be abolished.

14: RELIGION AND MYTHOLOGY

The use of religion in TSR products is to assist in clarifying the struggle between good and evil. Actual current religions are not to be depicted, ridiculed, or attacked in any way that promotes disrespect. Ancient or mythological religions, such as those prevalent in ancient Grecian, Roman and Norse societies, may be portrayed in their historic roles (in compliance with this Code of Ethics.) Any depiction of any fantasy religion is not intended as a presentation of an alternative form of worship.

15: MAGIC, SCIENCE, AND TECHNOLOGY

Fantasy literature is distinguished by the presence of magic, super-science or artificial technology that exceeds natural law. The devices are to be portrayed as fictional and used for dramatic effect. They should not appear to be drawn from reality. Actual rituals (spells, incantations, sacrifices, etc.), weapon designs, illegal devices, and other activities of criminal or distasteful nature shall not be presented or provided as reference.

16: NARCOTICS AND ALCOHOL

Narcotic and alcohol abuse shall not be presented, except as dangerous habits. Such abuse should be dealt with by focusing on the harmful aspects.

17: THE CONCEPT OF SELF IN ROLE PLAYING GAMES

The distinction between players and player characters shall be strictly observed.

It is standard TSR policy to not use 'you' in its advertising or role playing games to suggest that the users of the game systems are actually taking part in the adventure. It should always be clear that the player's imaginary character is taking part in whatever imaginary action happens during game play. For example, 'you' don't attack the orcs--'your character' Hrothgar attacks the orcs.

18: LIVE ACTION ROLE-PLAYING

It is TSR policy to not support any live action role-playing game system, no matter how nonviolent the style of gaming is said to be. TSR recognizes the physical dangers of live action role-playing that promotes its participants to do more than simply imagine in their minds what their characters are doing, and does not wish any game to be harmful.

19: HISTORICAL PRESENTATIONS

While TSR may depict certain historical situations, institutions, or attitudes in a game product, it should not be construed that TSR condones these practices.
As I said, fascinating stuff.

108 comments:

  1. Thank you for this document, Pat Pulling.

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  2. (By which I don't mean that James = Pat Pulling.)

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  3. Blech...what a load of PC drivel!

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  4. I never had a problem with this code of ethics. In fact, when you think about it, it sustains "old school" principles.

    1) Evil was never glorified in early adventures.

    2) Duplication--well, that's just to prevent people from writing the anarchist's cookbook.

    3 & 4) Okay, this is a little over the top, but I don't see anything that would really interfere with a fantasy game like D&D.

    5) This is as old-school as you get. When you start creating sympathy for the other side you mess with the archetypes you end up making it a mess of moral greys.

    6-10) This is just called having good taste.

    11-13) This pretty much prevents the writers from using D&D to hide hidden racist agendas.

    14) While it goes against the modern urban fantasy, people should note that even in the earliest days Gygax and company avoided getting into detail towards the Abrahamic religons. Devas were never angels, despite the misinterpretation. For the most popular gaming system, this makes good sense--don't open the door to religious debate within the sessions.

    15-16) See my notes above about not duplicating the Anarchist's Cookbook.

    17-19) This seems mostly to de-emphasis the negative view RPGs got from protest groups. While I don't think it was wise for TSR to ignore LARPs, I can understand this.

    So, I have really no problem with a code of ethics. It pretty much makes a lot of sense. Some are a little over the top but most is just a formal definition of rules--mostly because you always have to tell people that.

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  5. "When such an agent is depicted as corrupt, the example must be expressed as an exception and the culprit should ultimately be brought to justice."

    This is quite interesting, as it seems to force a predetermined result on the scenario. While you could argue that railroaded scenarios were already the norm at the time, this policy seems to say that any corrupt law enforcement agents (and a few other cases down the list) must be railroaded to their own destruction. Essentially, the policy is playing a minor role against sandbox gaming all on its own.

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  6. Also, JRT is quite right. It's a corporate policy, they all look like this.

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  7. The TSR Code of Ethics is a direct descendant of the Comics Code Authority, which in the 80s and 90s was being abandoned by the comic book companies. You can see see similarities to the 1954 code, but that code was itself revised in the early 70s and I believe that was the one used as a basis for the TSR Code of Ethics.

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  8. It's easy to condemn this, but one must remember that TSR faced attack in its early days based on its (perceived) portrayal of such subjects; couple that with a generally litigious US culture, and I can see why a document such as this was drafted.

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  9. That's one hell of a checklist.

    15 out of 19. I'm fired!

    Seriously though, how awful that these standards applied to a game inspired in major ways by Howard, Leiber, and Vance.

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  10. I don't see why dome are calling this "drivel" or "idiocy".

    I, for one, can respect TSR for being determined to be good. Sure, it's not like you could write a story of gritty urban realism with these rules, but for a fantasy adventure I think they're great.

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  11. These self-imposed constraints are understandable for a business wanting to be left in peace while it targets schoolchildren.

    I do wonder how many DMs/referees unwittingly adopted or inherited this TSR house style while developing material for their own gametable when they were under no obligation to negotiate the sensibilies of children or the mentally ill.

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  12. I also don't see the problem with the code of ethics. It is clearly a document written in large part by corporate lawyers. It should thus be read with its intended purpose in mind: to shield TSR from liability from lawsuits and bad pr that could harm the company/brand.

    Also, I don't see the code as being overly restrictive as to content. Remember that Howard, Lovecraft, Leiber et al. had to deal with similar forms of content restrictions, and that didn't stop them from writing the stories we know and love. If anything, it could be argued that content codes force the author to become more creative in order to get "questionable" content past the censor. One could argue there is an inverse relationship between quality of fantasy fiction and easing of content codes.

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  13. Thanks for this, and especially for the link to the full file. What I found fascinating in the longer version of the Code of Ethics was its last point about plagiarism:

    "PLAGIARISM
    It has come to our attention that some freelance writers are committing plagiarism (literary theft), which is a punishable crime. Your contract now reflects this (see page 3, no. 3; page 4, no. 5; and page 6, no. 12).

    However, TSR feels it is necessary to underscore these sections of the contract in an effort to clarify this important issue.

    Please understand that this reminder is not addressed to any one individual. It is included in your contract in an effort to heighten your awareness of the severity of plagiarism."

    The funny thing is that plagiarism isn't a crime. Plagiarism is unethical, but it's not prosecutable. Copyright infringement is the stuff lawsuits are made of, not plagiarism.
    See Posner's The Little Book of Plagiarism for an interesting essay on this matter

    From the wording here, it seems that by writing it into their contracts, TSR was able to break a contract if a writer broke any of the tenets of the ethical code. I wonder how often TSR broke a contract and kept the ideas around anyway.

    Anybody have a copy of a TSR writer's contract from the pre-WoTc era they can post?

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  14. No nuclear weapons, impossible to defeat evils, or real life magic!

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  15. For a game aimed at children, this exactly what I would expect and want the guidlines to be. Who here disagrees?

    The problem is that 2e was was developed as a game for children!

    I don't think enough of the OSR community talks about this facet enough. Let 4e be a childrens game, we have our internets rennaissance.

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  16. Basically: "This is an expensive, complex game we're now targeting at pre- and early-teens; act accordingly. Oh, we've gone bust. How odd!"

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  17. I agree with most of this Code. Don't forget that D&D was aimed at kids. If TSR did not enforce this code, some scumbag lawyer would happily sue them out of existence. (Not that TSR didn't fold for other reasons).

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  18. Anybody here read the whole document? This has nothing to do with publishing a game for children and everything about trying to control the flow of fan material in the early days of the internet (remember, this is a 1995 version of the document). Read the opening of the file that's linked to in the post:

    "FOR DISTRIBUTION
    Sometimes, you just want to get something you've written distributed to everyone else. You can do this by uploading the file to an authorized TSR site. These sites are:

    MPG-Net (mpgn.com): This is the free access that most users on the internet know about.

    America Online (AOL): TSR's forum on this service draws tens of thousands of gamers every month.

    GEnie: The TSR Roundtable also draws thousands of users each month.

    OTHER SITES
    There are currently no other authorized sites to carry TSR-related materials as they relate to the AD&D game. TSR is currently considering other sites (both on the internet and pay services) to provide files to the gaming public. TSR setting up its own web page is also a possibility.

    WHO OWNS WHAT?
    A disclaimer is attached to all files uploaded to any of the TSR sites. This disclaimer provides protection to both TSR and the author of the work by assuring that neither TSR or the author will distribute the work without the other's permission.

    IS THERE ANYTHING THAT CAN'T BE DISTRIBUTED?
    Yes. Anything that violates TSR's Code of Ethics cannot be stored at any site. The Code appears below."


    Note three things:

    1) They are directing people to what at the time were closed-networks--which charged by the hour to access.

    2) TSR didn't even have their own website at time. This was 1995. The internet was new and a lot of companies didn't understand it would fundamentally change business models and customer interactions.

    3) They wanted to control how D&D/AD&D materials were distributed. And they bungled it. They could have set up a place for customers to share and trade fan-made materials. Instead, they attempt to limit material to "authorized" sites, not realizing that the internat made everyone a publisher (yes, even in 1995).

    Excuse me? They are trying to limit the content of my fan-creacted D&D-related materials and where I can post those materials? I think not. Remember, this was written in the days before broadband, when most users used dialup and were charged by the hour (sometimes rounded up to the minute). These are the days before decent forum software, before blogs, etc. In other words, the distribution model shifted around 1995, and TSR drastically misread it (as we all know). The OGL and d20 license was an attempt to make up for that error, but it was too little, too late.

    What we have here is historical evidence of a company desperately trying to hang on to a business model which is about to be obsolete, clinging to the last remaining bit of control they think they can exericse over their business: Intellectual Property.

    And the supreme irony? WotC/Hasbro is making the same damn mistakes today, as evidenced by the Great PDF Yank of 2009. How hard would it have been to watermark PDF files with the user's name, address, and email information upon sale? Other PDF companies do this, so it's entirely technologically feasible. Instead, "punish the customer" remains the mantra. I don't know why a company that produces a product so many people love does so much to piss off their customer base.

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  19. Interesting! IIRC they broke with the issue of slavery in the Al-Quadim setting, where this institution is presented as part of everyday life. What I find most surprising is their stance on LARPing. :D

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  20. 20. The quest for ever-increasing power, via murder and/or theft is assumed to be natural and admirable as a central motivation for any person of above-average strength, intelligence, wisdom, or dexterity.

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  21. Thanks for posting the code. Obviously trying to keep the game somewhere between G and P-13 analogous rating was the goal. It’s not easy to work ethics into a game that can be summed up as “Kill things and take their stuff.” I know the game is a lot more than that, but for many campaigns in the early adolescent years (1980s) that was the general trust of many games. The natural violence in the game never really bothered me, but I can remember plenty of discussions with high school teachers who would lament the game but see no problem in playing Risk. So it’s alright to carelessly send millions of people to their death, but not acceptable to bash in the head of a monster?

    Dennis: Come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help! Help! I'm being repressed! King Arthur: Bloody peasant!
    Dennis: Oh, what a giveaway! Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That's what I'm on about! Did you see him repressing me? You saw him, Didn't you?

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  22. Man, I really regret having all that rape, slavery, and drugs in my games. Oh, and in my real life too...

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  23. Matthew W. Schmeer said...

    Anybody here read the whole document? This has nothing to do with publishing a game for children and everything about trying to control the flow of fan material in the early days of the internet (remember, this is a 1995 version of the document). Read the opening of the file that's linked to in the post:

    I don't see how TSR or any company can force non-employees or contractors to adhere to a code of conduct. I read this as saying "if you want to post content to an official TSR site, you must conform to this policy." That seems pretty unremarkable to me. If you post to a corporate site you should expect them to enforce some rules on what you post. As for TSR pursuing folks on the net for alleged copyright/trademark infringement, I don't see whether compliance with the code of ethics or not impacts the question of alleged infringement in any way. One could fully comply with the code of ethics and still infringe their IP.

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  24. These were publishing guidelines, not instructions on how to ply the game in your mom's basement.

    I, for one, was grateful for these and similar guidelines. Imagine every product being another Carcosa. It would have made it far less interesting as one of 100 products just like it.

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  25. I remember that. I think RPGA used this, too, and it was one of the things that turned me off of TSR products. I dislike being treated like a child.

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  26. Dammit, Schmeer beat me to it! I was remembering the fuss about content, ownership, liability and 'questionable content'. As usual, the year in question is a keystone.

    I might add that obsenity laws, etc. vary from state to state, so 'blanket' rules of conduct or policies usually have to cover the bewildering range of differences in state laws, from a risk management perspective.

    The 'PDF Yank of 2009' mention is priceless, by the way.

    Kind of funny how printers started receiving PDF's for their digital printing systems way before publishers figured out how to monetize those files...

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  27. Nothing even remotely remarkable about this considering it's a legal document for a game publishing company.

    The reference above to movie ratings is spot on. Tons of RPG players would probably vote that an R-rated Raiders of the Lost Ark with tons more gore, sex, and un-PC activity by the heroes and villains would be pretty cool. But it won't happen with a PG rating and the market was the PG audience.

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  28. I, too, am against magic that could be "duplicated and misused in real life situations."

    And LARPing.

    :)

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  29. These are pretty much principles I put into play when running my games. I'm pleased.

    UWS Guy: Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. - C. S. Lewis

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  30. "These are pretty much principles I put into play when running my games. I'm pleased."

    It's not as though any one individual's game campaigns are the issue here, however...

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  31. Re: the Comics Code

    All the pulp publishers had similar codes, which were more or less restrictive based on the audience. Magazines intended for adult males and slanted to be "spicy" had the least restrictive, but they still had to be restricted enough not to be "banned in Boston", or other municipalities with a dim view of R-rated literature.

    Don't forget that Cabell did fall afoul of these restrictions with his book Jurgen.

    Anyway, the love pulps swore that they wouldn't promote adultery, premarital sex, or anything kinky. The true crime and mystery pulps were adamant that Crime Does Not Pay. And so on. Didn't cramp their style noticeably, and frankly, people in the Depression weren't looking for some kind of nihilist story.

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  32. "Didn't cramp their style noticeably"

    That conclusion seems sketchy given the obvious difficulty of knowing what could have been but never was.

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  33. "When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

    Also, it's important to remember that C.S. Lewis wasn't addressing this at a bunch of grown men and women with a passion for getting together to pretend to be elves. :)

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  34. Rach: Good point. I was probably being to kind, instead of "childish" I should have used, "mouthpiece of state propaganda"--i.e. don't question or undermine the athority figures. and "moral majority christo-fascist brow beating."--don't use real magic! Whatever that means.

    also...Hi Jeff Grubb! Cool to see a TSR writer in the comments here. Also, James, you were mentioned on the wizards website again this week.

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  35. These two are from Bizarro World:

    3: AGENTS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT

    Agents of law enforcement (constables, policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions) should not be depicted in such a way as to create disrespect for current established authorities/social values. When such an agent is depicted as corrupt, the example must be expressed as an exception and the culprit should ultimately be brought to justice.

    4: CRIME AND CRIMINALS

    Crimes shall not be presented in such ways as to promote distrust of law enforcement agents/agencies or to inspire others with the desire to imitate criminals. Crime should be depicted as a sordid and unpleasant activity. Criminals should not be presented in glamorous circumstances. Player character thieves are constantly encouraged to act towards the common good.

    "Hi. We're from the government, and as such we're always right."

    It's interesting that if TSR had had this code of ethics in 1975, it never would have published the single finest thing they ever published: the Empire of the Petal Throne RPG.

    The Bible couldn't get past the TSR Code of Ethics, either. "Hide your Bibles! The children might see them!"

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  36. It's important to bear in mind that the enforcement of the Comics Code not only prevented the publishing of 'smut,' but also stood in the way of important stories such as the anti-drug arc in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in the early 1970s. (Those particular stories were published by Marvel anyway, in an act of 'Code defiance' that pointed up the futility of the Comics Code.)

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  37. This is such a crazy mixture of kinds of speech - there's "boilerplate," outright censorship, special pleading... and it's supposed to form part of the writer's guidelines! I'm so gla I never saw anything like this when I designed computer games.

    ...so leaving aside undefined terms like "evil" and "right" (explicitly divorced from any specific religious context), I'm wondering if one could've made The Empire Strikes Back while adhering to this code - "good" does triumph over "evil," but not within the confines of the product.
    ...I'm also wondering about 1e Vampire: on the one hand, you're clearly promoting vampirism as a cool and desirable lifestyle, on the other, you're trying to present vampires, from a sympathetic viewpoint, as afflicted rather than evil. Where's the line?

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  38. richard said:

    I'm also wondering about 1e Vampire: on the one hand, you're clearly promoting vampirism as a cool and desirable lifestyle, on the other, you're trying to present vampires, from a sympathetic viewpoint, as afflicted rather than evil. Where's the line?


    --end quote--

    So can we blame this stupid code of ethics for emo kids and Twilight?

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  39. To my mind, this code of ethics defines the shift between new school and old school. It was when D&D stopped being a hobby aimed at adults and became a product aimed at children.

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  40. Another reminder of how much I hate 2E. I mean, without salacious nudity and Satanic symbology and rituals, what's the point?

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  41. Anyone noticed the 17) where TSR forbids the use of "you"? Interestingly, the "you" became the rule of the 4th.

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  42. I need my nudity, drug abuse and rape in games.
    What would it be with out it?

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  43. Sexual themes of all types should be avoided.

    Eclavdra, ditch the lewd tapestries.

    Markessa, put a ring on that finger.

    Tiamat, you're limited to one consort now.

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  44. #17 gets a smile given the way that was worked around in the old TV commercials (long before this ethics code)

    > Anybody have a copy of a TSR writer's contract from the pre-WoTc era they can post?

    Safe to say that the submission guidelines from c.1980 didn't have two pages of PC-ness attached: content, organisation/clarity, sticking to the rules & general design considerations were more to the fore back then.

    No adventure for Robilar, then. Oops... ;)

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  45. "For a game aimed at children, this exactly what I would expect and want the guidlines to be. Who here disagrees?"

    I disagree. Anecdote time...

    In junior high school English class, we were given a team assignment to "write a children's story". Everyone else wrote a "See Dick run" kind of thing. My partner and I wrote, basically, a Harry Potter-like story featuring Demogorgon as the villain (circa 1984 here). Some good characters perished along the way.

    Reading it in front of the class, pandemonium ensued. "That's not a children's story!" cried our classmates. "We're writing for children, not retards!" yelled my partner. The teacher wound up distributing the story to other teachers to judge the dispute on reading level (concensus: 4th grade level).

    Even for children, imagine how mangled Harry Potter would be if forced to follow these guidelines. Or Grimm's Fairy Tales. Or the Thomas Covenant books I was reading at the time.

    F*** that code of ethics. I'm pretty offended by the people defending it. Makes want to go buy 10 copies of Carcosa tonight and write an adventure violating every single item, just on general principles.

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  46. > Or Grimm's Fairy Tales.

    I thought those were kept under lock-and-key nowadays along with more traditional "secret cabinet" contents...

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  47. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  48. "How hard would it have been to watermark PDF files with the user's name, address, and email information upon sale? Other PDF companies do this, so it's entirely technologically feasible..."

    They already DID that. The OD&D PDFs I got in early 2007 are in fact watermarked with my name.

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  49. > designed to be enjoyed and is not intended to present a style of living

    Directly contradicts their code and need for such. If it's purely fictional entertainment and not a manual on becoming a satanist or whatever then why are the restrictions and requirements to portray a conservative, "socially acceptable", 1950's, everything is always peachy world?

    I put "socially acceptable" cause in my peer groups (which admittedly tend towards not parents and liberal) that code of "whitewashing history and reality" is very unacceptable.

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  50. One day you're a 'casual' LARPer. The next you're wearing a cloak to school.

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  51. "whitewashing history and reality" is very unacceptable

    yes. My first thought reading this was: wow, cold war cowboy values.

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  52. or, apart from the nudity, Taliban-like values: tolerate no difference, respect authority, stick to nice, clean violence.

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  53. In passing, was interesting to note the tone of Gary's relatively brief response (TD41) in response to the "Painted Ladies and Potted Monks" article in TD36.
    I wonder whether the likes of that also helped rile Jake Jaquet to write his rambling editorial in TD43 about the various reasons for fiction being rejected - which, in 1980, was before there was anything /codified/ with regards to submission criteria for modules/adventures.

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  54. As long as something can be used to bash 2e, it's all fair game it seems :( 2e WAS WRITTEN IN 1989!

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  55. The reason for negative opinions about 2e are simply in the mind of those that saw their "niche" hobby made more accessible to a wider audience. Hence, a sort of "diminution" of their supposed superiority over the unwashed masses.
    Tying the code of ethics with 2e makes goes hand in hand with the Requiem for a Golden Age b******t.

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  56. This document summarises everything that was wrong with 1990s TSR products. The rules are intellectually and morally insulting. They imply a world without moral ambiguity and they would exclude not only Conan and Elric and Ffahrd and the Grey Mouser, but also books aimed squarely at children -- Fighting Fantasy, traditional folk tales, Harry Potter.

    But to quote the incomparable Jeff Freeman:
    "TSR, Inc. adopted a different strategy to get gamers out of the hobby that was even more spectacularly successful: They wrote the game for twelve-year-olds. This is sheer brilliance, because even twelve-year-olds aren't interested in anything written for twelve-year-olds. For example, 1st edition AD&D was written for adults, the vocabulary alone insisted on a college reading level. Game modules, the monster manuals and so on, contained adult themes and pictures of bare breasts, sans suckling infants. Naturally, lots of twelve-year-olds were attracted to it.

    As illustrations of this principle, take `teen' magazines. Who reads them? Not teenagers. Pre-teens read them, because they deal with issues that are inappropriate for pre-teens. For example, sex. The surest way to get youngsters disinterested in anything is to write-down to them. TSR, Inc. realized it, did just that, and young boys, along with everyone else, stayed away from the game. School game clubs followed chain-mail bikinis right out of the hobby. TSR's strategy was so successful that they nearly went out of business and had to sell-out to a card-game company.""

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  57. @the incomparable Jeff Freeman: there may be people who, despite NOT being 12, does NOT have college-level education, yet would like to play.
    And there is people who, despite having decent education like myself (PhD in mathematics now, college student back in 1988), does NOT speak native English.
    Unless the incomparable Jeff Freeman supposes that the only people allowed to play are the ones he so sagaciously outlines, he should put a little more effort in looking two or three centimeters beyond his snobbish nose.

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  58. yay! I knew it couldn't be long until the pastime of shouting "elitist" passed to this comment thread too.

    James acknowledges that many gamers have a negative opinion of 2e and says this may be why: that's rather different from using it to bash 2e. He also says that although this document dates from 1995, it's an iteration of a code of ethics that was circulating in the mid 80s.

    I believe Melan's point is that the code is a method for talking down to 12 year olds, and that it produces content that's unattractive to the entire audience, 12 year olds included. Bringing vocabulary into the discussion doesn't really help that point, and is a different issue: newspaper English is generally pretty clear and insults nobody.

    I hope that clears things up. If hyperventilating continues, breathe into a paper bag.

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  59. Antonio: although we apparently share a somewhat similar background (non-native speaker, currently a Ph.D. in regional studies), my experiences are markedly different.

    For starters, I encountered gaming at the age of 11, and soon afterwards had to deal with fairly complex texts, including a treasured module from Gary Gygax (The Temple of Elemental Evil) and eventually a few other 1st edition sources. This complexity had encouraged me to better my English like nothing else; today, I still benefit from that time when I was reading things "above my level" (gaming was one source, trying to understand Shakespeare another, although lesser one). Teens are given too little credit for their willingness to learn, and in my opinion, by treating them as adults, Gary did them a tremendous service - in addition to giving them a much-welcome ego boost.

    Second, my personal experiences might be interesting because when we were gaming in 90s Hungary, we were mainly playing 2nd edition, but had a limited exposure to older material -- the odd folder full of photocopied rules describing illusionists, assassins, half-orcs and evil wizards; a pre-1985 module or two; a reading list that extended to both classical fantasy pulps translated in the 1990-1995 period and a slowly but surely growing list of TSR fiction (the Dragonlance Trilogy, then Drizzt and others).

    In all cases, the old materials won out over the more slick and better presented TSR supplements. We intensely disliked the 1990s Forgotten Realms boxed set (Ruins of Undermountain excepted) while we were fascinated by the glimpses of old Greyhawk; we played games with morally grey and often downright mercenary characters; we rejected Weiss and Hickman in favour of Vance, Howard and Leiber (and a number of locally written books that would say little to an English-speaking audience -- although it may be interesting to mention that one of these definitive novels were based on a 1st edition AD&D campaign that incorporated elements from the U1 and L1 modules).

    At that time, in an environment where we simultaneously experienced bits of the old and the new, the old won out. And that has nothing to do with either a niche snobbery against the "unwashed masses" or a supposed "golden age", although it might have had something to do with wishing to be grown up (which is a completely natural aspiration at that age). We played the games the way we found them more interesting and authentic.

    I very much share Jeff Freeman's thoughts on TSR's failure, and consider the Code of Ethics and important document in understanding that failure.

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  60. Richard: correct. The code itself is just a formalisation of things we had already seen, and bridled against instinctively.

    But even if we say gaming should be focused on "positive values" (and for the time being, let us not question how positive these suburbanite values really are), this code is the wrong way to go about it since it is such a straightjacket on creative processes that the results are inevitably going to be bland.*

    (* I don't want to be unpleasant to anyone's childhood, but Comics Code-produced comics are generally also very bland while, for example, Alex Raymond's original Flash Gordon isn't even though it comes from the same creative wellspring and is generally pretty tame mainstream newspaper stuff.)

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  61. Strangely enough, if you read many of those in the opposite way they are almost the definition of Tekumel/EPT!

    Mark

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  62. I think the thing that's most interesting about these rules is that they're way out of step with everything that was going on in society during the 90's. TV channels and movies were loosening up the restrictions on what was acceptable programming, so were comic books (as Mr. Grubb pointed out), and for the most part, so were games of all kinds.

    It's no wonder that the White Wolf games, with their supernatural "World of Darkness" were so popular in the 90's. People were migrating towards gritty, more realist portrayals in their entertainment, and D&D was not providing that style in their published content.

    Now, of course, people's home games surely took a different turn. We certainly broke a lot of these rules in our games.

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  63. I think people miss the two primary points of the CoE.

    1) It's a built-in PR statement to help defuse criticism of the company as doing something to morally harm youth.

    2) It's mostly a guideline meant for the tons of unsolicited submissions made and for people designing official adventures to be used with the RPGA and for Dungeon and Dragon magazines. Setting up some guidelines helps weed out things.

    And for those who don't think rules were a good idea, keep in mind D&D was a high-profile brand that needs protection. When you let others contribute to a brand, you need rules. D&D is both the IP and the brand of a company, and certain standards need to be applied. Before the CoE, I'm sure at least half of these rules were obeyed by the editors and owners.

    While I would have liked these rules to not have been codified, the cynic in me realizes that your only as strong as your weakest link. This is why we have to put laws on the books for crap that should be common sense, like no texting while driving.

    It should be noted that the d20 license originally had no restrictions, probably trying to get away from the formal and stiff Code of Ethics--and indeed they produced a few "for mature audiences" works, but after Book of Erotic Fantasy they had to change it. In other words, while we would like to think people won't abuse the privilages, they do.

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  64. This "Code of Ethics" clearly states TSR products were designed for kids, back in those years (though I'm not sure this changed a lot).

    OD&D and AD&D were adult games, made by adults for (young) adults.

    I was little more than a kid when I started to play, and as Melan wrote, the level of complexity and the "foreign" quite complex language encouraged me to improve my English and my reading skills. Many thanks to Gary for that.

    I really think a more "childish" ruleset using a simple language and with no "offensive" pictures would have repelled me (to say the least).

    What would be the DMG without its lovely (and yet scary) naked succubus? What would be the Deities & Demigods without its bare breasted Egyptian goddesses?

    Come on... Light eroticism is an important part of Heroic Fantasy, as are "dark" heroes (like Elric, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser) and, of course, violence.

    I do agree with James (does that make me a "sycophant"?): TSR made a very bad move by cutting its roots to authors like Leiber, Moorcock, Howard or Burroughs (just to mention a few who would have been rejected by the "code", shame on them)...

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  65. One thing about comparing TSR CoE to the Comics Code Authority...

    While it's true that some of the code was limited, I remember a few creators (such as John Byrne) pointing out that some of the best comics of the Silver Age, like Lee and Kirby's run on the Fantastic Four, all happened in code approved books. So did Claremont and Byrne in X-Men, Starlin's Warlock, etc.

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  66. Mr Grubb's post far, far above confirmed my initial response of 'resurrected and repurposed Hayes Code'. This document being a recycling of "for the cheeeeldren" Comics Code boilerplate comes as no surprise.

    Under these editorial strictures it appears that such genre favourites and gamer gateways as HPL, Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, Karl Wagner and Clive Barker would all have been banned from writing copy for TSR. It's a funny old world...

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  67. My first English rpging books were the AD&D2e ones, and the exposure to translated materials in Italy was next to zero. I used AD&D2e to play Dragonlance and Lankhmar, Greyhawk and Conan. From cheesy to pulp. Go figure.
    And we did not think we were being "talked down" as 12yo despite being 16+. It was first and foremost a game, we were used to boardgames with well-defined and explained rules, and before that, the Italian translation of Mentzer D&D.
    Only in the last 5 years or so I have acquired the AD&D1e books, and what I see is essentially the same game as 2e; I have mixed and matched the twos since then.
    So yes, some ways of reasoning still strongly remind me of elitism (and I don't need paper bags richard, thanks :) )
    Jeff Freeman's "analysis" simply lacks any objective foundations (like, say, economics?) besides his obvious tastes. When a company goes belly up, you can bet your hands it's somewhat more complex than an ethics code.

    Finally, to use the words of Moliere:
    "That must have been wonderful; I don’t understand it at all."

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  68. Very interesting post, JM.

    I find it interesting that so many media outlets--- from the Hayes code to the CCA to TSR, apparently-- felt the need to apply a "code of conduct/ethics" at or near the end of a period that we now see as a "Golden Age."

    Cause, or effect?

    @Geoffrey: As Matthew G. "Monk" Lewis said: "As for the Bible, I cannot imagine any book less suitable as reading for young and impressionable persons."

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  69. To me, the criticisms of "removing the nakedness" is a bit of a canard. A lot of people got their start with D&D through the basic sets, and not a naked picture in the one of them. It stands to reason once D&D "took off", some of the art would have been cleaned up, if for nothing else to prevent the game from being attacked by local obscenity laws. (There were D&D books in Toys R Us, for instance).

    As far as the fiction goes--from what I saw, the TSR novels were very creative and I think sometimes even pushed the envelop. Clearly they were able to get into some pretty dark themes with Ravenloft and Planescape. I don't think creativity was stiffled at all. Even under the code of ethics, stuff like the slavers and the GDQ series was kept intact without edits.


    I think most of the objects in the 1990s to the CoE was because other game companies were pushing the envelope a little more and having a blunt instrument in such formal language was seen as antequated.

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  70. That should be objection, not objects...

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  71. > Strangely enough, if you read many of those in the opposite way they are almost the definition of Tekumel/EPT!

    EPT's intro & Tekumel's setting was written (in large part) back in 1949/50. Definitely pre-TSR Ethics code. ;)

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  72. > To me, the criticisms of "removing the nakedness" is a bit of a canard. A lot of people got their start with D&D through the basic sets, and not a naked picture in the one of them.

    Bare-breasted harpy says otherwise.

    There's more nudity and violence in the UK version of the basic book, of course. :)

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  73. "It should be noted that the d20 license originally had no restrictions, probably trying to get away from the formal and stiff Code of Ethics--and indeed they produced a few 'for mature audiences' works, but after Book of Erotic Fantasy they had to change it."

    They certainly didn't "have to" change it. Having fundamentally changed corporate philosophy, that was merely one step on the way to total elimination of the d20 license.

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  74. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  75. > James acknowledges that many gamers have a negative opinion of 2e and says this may be why: that's rather different from using it to bash 2e. He also says that although this document dates from 1995, it's an iteration of a code of ethics that was circulating in the mid 80s.

    I'm still trying to find this mid-80s TSR "Ethics Code" but it doesn't appear to be in The Dragon; at least not explicitly stated as such up to #182 (mid-1992), by which time "Business Ethics" appears in every(?) issue's publishing blurb, so I'm quitting whilst behind!

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  76. While this started out as a fairly interesting discussion, it is depressing to see it devolving to the traditional 2e bashing. While I D&D material from the first decade of the hobby, my favorite supplements were published after the so-called Golden Age. The Code of Ethics, while interesting, seems to have had little impact on the quality of the products IMO.

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  77. >EPT's intro & Tekumel's setting was written (in large part) back in 1949/50. Definitely pre-TSR Ethics code. ;)

    Oh sure - I just thought it was amusing that it was published by TSR and was pretty much the opposite of all those recommendations.

    Mark

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  78. > Oh sure - I just thought it was amusing that it was published by TSR and was pretty much the opposite of all those recommendations.

    That did get a chuckle; doubly so knowing Phil's background and having heard about how he was introduced to Gary. Ca'n't quite visualise a response of "sorry, but that doesn't meet our ethics code" under those circumstances. :)

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  79. I'd just like to point out that relaxing standards like this doesn't automatically allow some kind of creative flowering. Instead you get the incredibly pedestrian "grittiness" of Dragon Age: Origins.

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  80. What I find most interesting is some of the gaming implications:

    "All product shall focus on the struggle of good versus injustice and evil, casting the protagonist as an agent of right."

    "When such an agent is depicted as corrupt, the example must be expressed as an exception and the culprit should ultimately be brought to justice."

    "Player character thieves are constantly encouraged to act towards the common good."

    "As foes of the protagonists, evil monsters should be able to be clearly defeated in some fashion."

    I think this certainly shows an assumption of the pcs being "good guys" and that the "good guys" usually win. Neither assumption is necessarily in harmony with any of the pre-3e D&D rules.

    However these assumptions could go a long way towards explaining the dissonance we see between the hard 2e rules and the soft 2e advice and setting materials.

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  81. F*** that code of ethics. I'm pretty offended by the people defending it. Makes want to go buy 10 copies of Carcosa tonight and write an adventure violating every single item, just on general principles.

    But you're talking about buying a privately-produced product and making your own personal product.

    The "code of ethics" is a corporate policy for a large corporate publishing company. Those are different things entirely.

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  82. In any discussion of "mature content" like this I think it is helpful to distinguish between "content developed by and for mature people" and "content which only mature people should be allowed to consume". The inclusion of gratuitous violence/sex, positive portrayal of illegal activity, etc, may fall under the second understanding of mature content, but not necessarily the first. Not even "morally grey" content is necessarily the first sense of mature content. There are many classic examples media that contain little mature content (in the second sense) but are still appreciated by mature people (Star Wars comes to mind).

    That said, I do think that there are times where to remove the second kind of mature content would also cheapen the experience (e.g. Hotel Rwanda). There is much value of the second kind of mature content, but most people don't use it well. Why let any old Joe write an adventure with a bunch of kinky sex, gory violence, and promotion of larceny when that's as deep as it goes?

    While I do disagree with individual aspects of the ethics code, I do agree with the idea of an ethics code in principle. The fact that some really meaningful stuff might be blocked does not bother me, mainly because if the story/adventure/whatever is really that good then it will likely be successful anyway and most reasonable won't care. Codes of conduct will never be perfect, but that does not mean that they should never be created.

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  83. >That did get a chuckle; doubly so knowing Phil's background and having heard about how he was introduced to Gary. Ca'n't quite visualise a response of "sorry, but that doesn't meet our ethics code" under those circumstances. :)

    I don't know that story; can you pass it on?

    thanks,
    Mark

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  84. Somewhere between the Stepford Wives world of this TSR code and the tiresome, puerile "shock aesthetic" of the shopping-mall goth, White Wolf Vampire crowd... there lies sanity.

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  85. Why let any old Joe write an adventure with a bunch of kinky sex, gory violence, and promotion of larceny when that's as deep as it goes?

    The first amendment?
    No, I know TSR isn't the state, and I'm flamebaiting a little there, but I do rather worry whenever I see comfortable assertions about censorship. Here we see a company stating what its products will and will not be about, and being pretty restrictive about it, going far beyond banning explicit portrayals of sex and violence - going far beyond norms in many other media at the time - and all while promoting adventures limited only by your imagination! And sure, you could make your own games about whatever you wanted, as long as you practised don't ask, don't tell on any message board associated with TSR...

    In the end I think this document is troubling because of what it forecloses. Any editor has the power to censor silently and absolutely. TSR didn't have to put this document up in order to control what appeared under its imprimatur - as noted above, it definitely was an act of PR, probably aimed principally at parents. Its effect, though, different from that of mere editing, is to prevent submission of ideas. Perhaps "most reasonable won't care" if an idea gets presented that violates the code but for excellent reasons... but that idea is much less likely to appear once you've thrown this big bucket of ice in the way.

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  86. ...on the free speech issue (and the infallibility of authority) again, I'm reminded of Steve Jackson, who actually did face some efforts on the part of government agents to shut him down. His reaction was to fight for his own rights and those of his employees/co-workers. He did not decide to shy away from mentioning computers, hacking or authority figures in his company's subsequent work. In contrast, this document shows a company turtling up and sacrificing its creative opportunities out of fear that not doing so might adversely affect its sales or market position. The circumstances aren't identical: I can see that arguments can be made for or against either action in either circumstance, but I know who I'd rather write for.

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  87. Moving on...

    To put this document into proper historical context, it was released right after TSR went after fan sites in an effort to protect its IP. MPGNET was set up to allow these documents in a controlled environment, but the code had a chilling effect on actual submissions. Although it kept off stuff that was definitely "mature but immature" (e.g. The Complete Guide to Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which was essentially a sex netbook), it also effected everything that didn't conform to a very narrow and restrictive morality. For the fan community, it was one insult after another.

    Fortunately, TSR went bankrupt soon afterwards, and Wizards of the Coast initiated a much more permissive and sensible net policy when it took the reins.

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  88. I like the idea of companies having ethical codes, and embattled TSR might well want to use such a code to choose their legal battles by screening out things they weren't prepared to fight over in court, but this one is seriously defective. Here are two examples of serious problems with the moral quality of this code:

    3: Agents of Law Enforcement

    Post-Kent State, post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, was it even remotely morally defensible to ban stories about widespread corruption on the part of government and law enforcement? The biggest moral issue of the modern age is not what all the other monkeys might be doing with their private parts, but widespread abuse of power. To pretend such abuse is always an exception is profoundly immoral.

    4: Crime and Criminals

    Law enforcement agents/agencies are not the guardians of goodness or justice, despite the branding, but of law and order. Laws can be just or unjust, used to promote either—as we well know. Buying off congressmen to get porkbarrel and other kinds of bad laws passed is widespread, and distrust in the enforcement of such unjust laws should be promoted.

    The Nuremburg Principles were formulated in the wake of the Holocaust to establish the guidelines that could have averted it and could prevent another one from happening. Chief among those is that authority figures are not to be followed blindly any more, that under international law it is essentially illegal to do so; you are required to be your own moral agent and to evaluate the laws you are asked to submit yourself to, and if they are unjust it is your duty to challenge those laws. Any law enforcement agent/agency who enforces unjust laws should be distrusted, and anyone who cares at all about the moral underpinnings of civilization should promote such distrust. To ban depictions of people fulfilling their moral duty in such cases is deeply immoral.

    All nineteen of these clauses (and the plagiarism clause, as noted above) are profoundly broken in some way that ethically matters. Companies should adhere to published ethical standards, but like many others this one is so simple-minded and authoritarian as to be morally compromised.

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  89. > To put this document into proper historical context, it was released right after TSR went after fan sites in an effort to protect its IP.

    Then it got better, now we're back on http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=466679 , eh? (Is there any such discussion that you /haven't/ posted on, Melan? Kudos. :)

    aside: Did you find any "ethics guide" explicitly mentioned in detail prior to Jim Ward's (B.A.D.D.) note in "Angry Mothers from Heck" in TD154 (Feb 1990)?

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  90. Rick,

    While I agree with the examples you presented, to say "all 19" are bad seems a little ridiculous. 6, 8, and 9 I would probably say would be at least a minimum standard I would set for a gaming product.

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  91. irbyz: it is possible, especially since I have never posted on the WotC/Paizo forums, and have largely given up on following ENWorld. But I am trying! :)

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  92. OK, I can be a harpy and complain about TSR and the slide into the mundane. But, I would say that it also reflects a certain generational ethos.

    At the time, 2e the prime growth market for AD&D 2e was 10-14 yr old boys. TSR did not want to alienate the parents of aid market. For if the parents would come down on TSR for producing risque or things were otherwise for a mature audience (and as parents controlled the purse strings - they excerted somewhat control over the market).

    This is not say that TSR should not have tried to push the envelope...afterall, what are the prime interest of teenage boys - almost everything the code is protecting them from...

    Whereas, 1e and Old School, prime market was already an older gamer, as countless 20 to 30 somethings were joining the D&D craze of the 1970s and it was maybe not explicitly marketed as an adult game. It was written by adults with people who could hold adult conversations or not get shamefaced when they saw a naked body. And, anything in infancy is bound to be more revolutionary or risque than an established product. Plus, OD&D and 1e were very much still products of the counterculture rather than the establishment.

    So, IMHO, real the sad thing, is that TSR never really believed that their demographic changed...that is say aged and matured. One only needs to see that most of the AD&D/D&D supplements that deal with sex or adult themes are very bland.

    So, OK, TSR could not do this as a leading edge of the hobby...where I find fault is with smaller companies like GDW (and whatever subsquent incarnation these games go by) now they do not celebrate the eros or even titilation of their audience drapping themselves in a dated moral stance that make their games look and feel boring. Which is interesting because Traveller could have gained so much from films like Outland or Alien but it chose to go back to a santized "Golden Age".

    But this rant is about AD&D and the code. Well, TSR lost many opportunities to take their audience or spilt their audience into different age categories - instead they sought to be all things to all people and the code merely codifies that. So, while we must lament for lost opportunities, the old school is bringing back some of this goodness and changing the margins of gaming. For it is bringing back the old timers and introducing new players to an adult discussion.

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  93. [quote]18: LIVE ACTION ROLE-PLAYING

    It is TSR policy to not support any live action role-playing game system, no matter how nonviolent the style of gaming is said to be. TSR recognizes the physical dangers of live action role-playing that promotes its participants to do more than simply imagine in their minds what their characters are doing, and does not wish any game to be harmful.
    [/quote]

    Clearly, nobody bothered to tell the Scandivians - thank god.

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  94. >> TSR recognizes the physical dangers of live action role-playing that promotes its participants to do more than simply imagine in their minds what their characters are doing, and does not wish any game to be harmful.
    > Clearly, nobody bothered to tell the Scandivians - thank god.

    Yeah, and then look what happened; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/dorset/8563377.stm : can just imagine that conversation, now; "I told you that sword was sharp, Tyrfingr"..."yes, but Sveinaldi said it wouldn't be any fun if we just /imagined/ it..." (trans. fr. OE.Norse).
    TSR were right, I guess; and that's why Viking LARPing died out and the Danelaw fell to the Anglo-Saxons.

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  95. Paizo has a similar code of ethics, though a bit different. For example, all of their adventure paths require the characters to make unsavory "deals with the devil," in order to complete the storyline. Presumably, the rest of their guidelines follow the same values.

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  96. @Rick Marshall:

    You *PRECISELY* captured my sentiments on this subject. I had especially found the two you highlighted to be far and away the most troubling. Thanks for that well reasoned and written post.

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  97. @JRT: "While I agree with the examples you presented, to say "all 19" are bad seems a little ridiculous. 6, 8, and 9 I would probably say would be at least a minimum standard I would set for a gaming product."

    6: These cannot even be used by bad characters—pirates, assassins, and slavers who never ever swear, really? Consider how many things are considered vulgar, none of that either?—not even to teach or tell a plausible story. These are things that should be used with taste, not tastelessly avoided.

    8: How can lust conceivably be called a form of violence or gore? Lust is another word for attraction; it is the word people use when attraction disgusts them, when they consider attraction excessive or otherwise inappropriate. There's something perverted and filthy and morally bankrupt about a culture that thinks hacking your enemies to pieces is heroic but feeling attraction to another human being is disgusting and repulsive.

    9: Two main problems with this one.

    First, not "INAPPROPRIATE sexual themes should be avoided" but "Sexual themes of ALL types" [my emphasis]—really? So . . . no pregnancy, no childbirth, no attraction, no flirting, no double entendre, no affairs, no coveting, no infidelity, no elopements . . . This clause is very badly written and does not even reflect the author's intentions, let alone well-crafted ethical guidance.

    Second, in the first half of the twentieth century rape was considered a primarily sexual activity, which is why so many localities would not even prosecute rape as a crime, treating the victim as a dirty sex fiend who was doubtless asking for it. To combat that grotesque and immoral treatment of rape victims, rape is now widely recognized as primarily an act of violence, of domination and control. This gives rape victims at least a fighting chance to rebuild their self-esteem and a chance at a healthy sex life. That moral and cultural victory was won at least ten years before this "ethical code" was written. No one with any moral sense still lumps in rape in with sex.

    So, no, it may seem silly, but it's not. I studied the entire document, I thought about each clause long and hard, and in the end realized there isn't a single one free of serious moral flaws. I considered listing the problems with each clause, but I really didn't want to sidetrack the discussion, so I just picked two of the worst to use as examples. Now we're up to five. If you need me to prove my case on the remaining fifteen, let me know so I can take it offline to my blog so I don't consume this thread any more than I already have.

    It would be interesting to see what the ethical code should have looked like, to rewrite it in a way that does its job better but without stifling the creativity and judgment of potential authors. That could have been done, those goals don't have to collide, but they do when someone tries to respond to the mess TSR faced at the time by handing down rules like the ten commandments.

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  98. I didn't read all of the comments above so it may have already been mentioned, but I love how in #2: NOT FOR DUPLICATION it states how "presenting explicit details and methods of magic that could be reasonably duplicated and misued in real life" is unacceptable and goes against the product's intent as fictional entertainment. What? No REAL MAGIC is allowed? Damn them!

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  99. > how "presenting explicit details and methods of magic that could be reasonably duplicated and misued in real life" is unacceptable and goes against the product's intent as fictional entertainment. What? No REAL MAGIC is allowed? Damn them!

    That particular clause almost sounded like a direct reaction to the ol' chestnuts such as http://www.chick.com/articles/dnd.asp ;
    <<
    On top of that, the second issue is that the materials themselves, in many cases, contain authentic magical rituals. I can tell you this from my own experience. I was a witch high priest (Alexandrian tradition) during the period 1973-84. During some of that period (1976-80) I was also involved in hardcore Satanism. We studied and practiced and trained more than 175 people in the Craft. Our "covendom" was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; just a short drive away from the world headquarters of TSR, the company which makes Dungeons and Dragons in Lake Geneva, WI. In the late 1970's, a couple of the game writers actually came to my wife and I as prominent "sorcerers" in the community. They wanted to make certain the rituals were authentic. For the most part, they are.

    These two guys sat in our living room and took copious notes from us on how to make sure the rituals were truly right "from the book," (this meaning that they actually came from magic grimoires or workbooks). They seemed satisfied with what they got and left us thankfully.

    Back in 1986, a fellow appeared on The 700 Club who was a former employee and game writer for TSR. He testified right on the show that he got into a wrangle with the management there because he saw that the rituals were too authentic and could be dangerous. He protested to his boss and was basically told that this was the intent—to make the games as real as possible. He felt conscience-stricken (even though he was not a Christian at the time), and felt he had to resign from the company.
    >>

    No need to buy a copy of Authentic Thaumaturgy, eh? :)

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  100. 11-14 are fine with me, more or less. They are basically about treating sensitive real-world issues with respect. Number 12 specifically refers to real-world human nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. Evil orcs and drow are OK by them, as are 'racially inferior' goblins and kobolds. I guess it hinges on your definition of "fairly portrayed"

    17 is just about separating fantasy from reality, which isn't a problem for any of my current gaming group.

    I got a chuckle out of 18: I think LARP is pretty lame, but to each their own.

    The comments about "literary theft" are quite ironic, considering TSR's own problems with Deities & Demigods. "Do as we say, not as we do?"

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  101. @Rick, sorry, but I think you're taking this a little too far, pushing the code to find any little edge cases. For a lot of us, clause six meant things like filling the modules with swear words, and there's no need to get into details about things like orgy's with #9. (And I get sick of the old argument that sex is less offensive than violence--it's a very simplistic argument).

    As for #8, you probably should not spend a lot of time on the details of rape in a module of escapist fantasy.

    Admittedly, the wording may be over the top and this is definitely a blunt instrument. I wish these could have just been internal policies, but at the same time they had a right to protect the brand and the problem with something like D&D is that you get a lot of submissions and later they were concerned about people on the Internet tarnishing their brand name.

    @irbyz, I'm a little skeptical. I'm not sure that the "game writers" had much of an influence on the game itself. (It would be easy to identify who they are, right?)

    From what I've seen in the PHB, most of the magic was fantasy, and there are even a lot of hints of whimsy (such as Gygax's pun-based material components). There's not a lot in there that emulates what we'd consider real-world magic. I also know Gygax has gone on record saying that spells were not occultism in Best of the Dragon #2 (and although he believed in ghosts and religion, he said he never saw any magic ritual remotely approaching the power of even a 1st level spell).

    @Referee, while I understand thinking the game is "for adults", when it turns out you are gaining a young adult and adolescent audience, for better or for worse things change. While I don't agree with everything in this CoE, I see nothing wrong with, for instance, removing the few naked pictures of monsters, or toning down a few things. Its similar to what the creators of the Sopranos did for the planned syndication--during the actual filming they filmed alternate scenes where the profanity was removed and strippers wore minimal clothes. I think this only increased the audience, and it didn't get in the way of other things--Gygax-written stuff still had a high vocabulary, for instance.

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  102. > @irbyz, I'm a little skeptical. I'm not sure that the "game writers" had much of an influence on the game itself. (It would be easy to identify who they are, right?)

    Erm... I'm quoting Jack Chick's website and observing that such an "Ethics Code" clause might be in reaction to the likes of those stories. Those don't need to be any more "factual" or "representative" than those "angry moms" (one, maybe two per week) that Jim Ward was reacting to in his sanitisation of 2e, as admitted to in TD154.

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  103. @JimLotFP
    "Seriously though, how awful that these standards applied to a game inspired in major ways by Howard, Leiber, and Vance."

    Agreed.

    They're not entirely horrible standards to have, I don't think, but they fit poorly with the source materials. Also with getting teenagers to buy things.

    It's interesting that this code seems to be built around the idea that you can create interesting games around the difference between good and evil. Something that TSR never bothered to do.

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  104. this code seems to be built around the idea that you can create interesting games around the difference between good and evil. Something that TSR never bothered to do.

    That's very elegantly put. Thank you.

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  105. Jumping in late to note that, without the code, it would be inevitable that TSR would encounter uploads to its official fora that would cause a scandal of greater or lesser degree, with possible real-world effects such as being dropped by retailers.

    Being the big name in the industry, and having the past history of being targeted by unethical zealots and sensationalist headlines, I'd argue that TSR had considerably less margin for error in this area.

    So without such a code it would be inevitable that TSR would end up doing ad hoc censorship, for reasons not stated up-front. Writers would end up not knowing what would be rejected, or why. Enforcement would likely be spotty at best, and thus would appear capricious, and some writers might well start to take it personally.

    Nowadays, you're seeing that same response among iPhone app developers. Apple's guidelines for acceptable apps are seen as vague, irregularly and inaccurately applied, and constantly shifting. Apps that are accepted for sale in the App Store for three versions get thrown out on the fourth version, for something that it did all along.

    It's certainly an unpleasant area to get into, but that's business. There was no upside to TSR in paying the legal expenses to defend some third party's S&M paedo-torture dungeon on 1st amendment grounds. Today there's no upside for Apple if an Apple Store in Texas were busted because some kid bought a porn app on an iPad.

    It's just a price of success in the USA.

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