Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Workshop: No Sense Makes Sense

Going back to when I was starting the game, I was particularly fascinated with the dungeon random monster tables that were included as part of the dungeon generation in the original DM's Guide.  I recognize this won't have much value for a lot of you ~ hell, I don't know if most readers have ever actually seen the DM's Guide.  But I'm going to talk about this because these tables were formulative to my thinking processes today.

To catch you up.  The tables were standard encounter tables, with the monsters selected according to their experience points as determined in the DMG.  1st level monsters, according to the book, are those with "up to 20 x.p."  Monster levels range from 1 to 10.  The first three columns of the table on the right repeat the DMG's table.  I've added the X.P. value (base rate for hit dice + x.p./h.p.) and the total average X.P. to be expected per encounter.

First, a little errata.  The DMG disagrees with itself in several places.  The experience table on p.85 clearly states that rot grub and ear seekers should get 5+1 x.p. as shown, but the monster index at the back of the DMG shows both getting "nil" h.p.  The index gives no totals for dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling or human, but I've calculated this out for the table above.  The shrieker has 3 HD, so it should have a base total of 35+3/h.p., but the monster doesn't attack at all so I have used the number given in the DMG index, p. 211.  I know this stuff drives people crazy about AD&D, but this is what happens when a bunch of publishing amateurs produce a book by committee.  It got no better when the modules then completely failed to maintain any consistency with the books.

The experience per encounter swings wildly from creature to creature.  It is plainly heaviest with the humanoids, who were also liable to provide the most treasure.  Potentially the most dangerous creature on the list is the manes, as they're the only ones that need a magic weapon to hit; encounter four of these right out of the gate with a brand new party and the only option is to run.  But the total value of an encounter with them averages only 56, with four of them giving only 90.

Halfling are heavily skewed because the average number appearing is the highest on the list; and elves, with 1+1 hit dice, get 10 more X.P. per individual than do dwarves, who have 1 hit die.  We have only 2-8 hobgoblins appearing, but 3-11 elves (which can only be generated by 2d5+1).  I always assumed the absurd numbers of dwarves, elves, gnomes and halflings took into account that these were not "evil" and therefore more likely to parley with/trade/help the party rather than try to kill it.  Humans only had 1-6 h.p. in AD&D, which makes them slightly less dangerous than goblins, thus the comparably lesser total.  Orcs, on the other hand, are more dangerous than goblins; but we gave a lot more goblins than orcs, making the goblin the most dangerous aggressive race on this chart.

Okay, what does any of this have to do with anything?  Who even uses this table any more?

Once upon a time, I did.  A lot.  I ran five or six NPCs through a totally random dungeon, as generated by this system, and completely ignored reason.  All I wanted was to set up battles between my people and the generated numbers here, basically using them to play chess with myself.  At 16 and 17 years of age, I played two or three hundred hours at this, not realizing I was giving myself an education about how to master the memory-work needed to remember weapon damage, hitting, spells, monster ACs ... and most important of all, can five characters really fight 5-15 goblins in an standing battle and win?

If we stick to the monster manual's armor class of 6 for goblins, and all the goblins have 1-7 h.p. (no special leaders), and we don't worry about rules relating to how much space a weapon needs in a narrow corridor, and the goblins don't use missile weapons, and the players don't skimp on taking heavier weapons that do 1d8 or more damage, as opposed to 1d6, then yes, most of the time the parties will win.  This doesn't allow for a second encounter, as the win is usually very close, particularly if the number of goblins is 12 or more ... but the benefit is that the players are almost always facing the goblins in narrow corridors, where the numbers are even for most of the fight, until the goblins are worn down.

I did these fights without my stun rules, using the standard combat initiative system; and I fought them on maps drawn on large white sheets of paper with a ruler and without squares or hexes, using basic Tractics Rules for movement.  I had played a lot of Tractics in the late 70s and I was comfortable with the idea.  People play it with complex terrains that they build, but we used to play it in my parent's rumpus room, a space about 18 feet by 25.

Apart from the range of experience, and the numbers of the combatants, the real table breaker is that 50% of the results are humanoids.  And more than half the results that aren't humanoids are either giant rats or shriekers.  Basically, 3 out of 4 encounters are three basic creature types ... and one of those is just a gimmick that will call humanoids or rats.  I would endlessly muck around with the table, trying to produce better results ... but of course, if you remove humanoid results, what remains gives very little X.P.  At the time, I couldn't figure out how to fix it. The answer, of course, was a better experience system.

I learned a lot from these tables.  In the end, I came to the conclusion that these tables are garbage, at least in the sense of, "here is chance of individual monster."  With just two rooms generated in the workshop, we've already eliminated the logic of most of these.  If there were giant rats, we should see droppings everywhere.  If there were shriekers, how did they get through the door?  If orcs, why haven't they cleaned up this place.  And if not orcs, if something intelligent, how come they haven't posted guards, spiked doors, set up alarms or otherwise sought to protect themselves?

Of course, they could be a wandering troop of goblins, that just happen to be here at the exact same time as the players. That's pretty unlikely.  It could be the guard posts, alarms, etcetera, are just past the door, particularly if one door leads to a hall, a stair, another hall and then a room with goblins.

It paints a pretty solid picture that a dungeon has to have some sort of logical continuity ... which I know is not at all news to anyone here.  But, I would argue that the continuity that most before this workshop would suggest would be as logical as the random table above.  The tendency is to create some huge unifying theme for the whole dungeon, something along the lines of there being 12 special rooms which each have a particular special clue inside that gives the final solution to the 13th room, yada yada yada.

Oh my gawd, stop.  Who made this dungeon, Disneyland?  I'm firmly of the belief that a huge amount of dungeon-design thinking ~ and adventure thinking to ~ has been polluted by the principles underlying Myst and adventures like it.

Myst is an awful game.  It provides passive interest for a single user who has all the time in the world to wander with vague purpose inside an enclosed, static, finite space.  For those with the tenacity to keep at it, there is an innate knowledge that eventually, all the clues and pieces and puzzles will be sorted and overcome, and the game completed, which will give a small dopamine rush, most of which will be the knowledge that now it is done, the player can play a new game.

It is the passivity of puzzle video games that is the killer where interactive table-top gaming is concerned.  The knowing that the puzzle is meant to be solved ~ and if we sit back mentally and go through the steps, all will eventually be revealed.  We can argue that it's not technically "railroading" ... but the assuredness of success, plus the knowledge that if we all die, well, that's the DM's fault or the die's fault, certainly not ours, since we got into this ride in the first place, kills tension.  "Look," say the player at the end.  "We went through all the rooms and opened all the doors and we did our part, now come across with the compensation."

This sounds like a job.  Ech.  As DMs, we would do better with a completely irrational dungeon rolled with an irrational die, since we would absolutely never know IF we should keep going, or IF there was an end result, or IF there was even treasure before all the dead ends stopped.  And those ifs create a pit in the stomach that makes people struggle between hope and despair ... which is what we want players to struggle with.

There's no despair in a dungeon that is so perfectly arranged that every door creates a specific purpose for more doors.  There's just the plodding certainty that the doors will end eventually and we will finish this thing. Which we knew going in.  So the only real rush at the end is yay, we get to start a new dungeon.

These last two weeks, I've not been trying to create a random dungeon.  I've been trying to crack this thinking that randomness is always a sin, and that planning is always a virtue.  D&D is a game.  Video games are not really games, they're planned exercises that teach you all the intricacies of a particular space, which are then barely of value when the space is complete.  Unless you take that experience and apply it to another, similar game, it's useless.  But then you're playing another similar game, and another, and another, and jeez, all we ever play is this one damn game.

Because D&D, and role-playing, doesn't require the knowledge of code or the endless months necessary to write code, we can blow the doors off contained spaces and make plans for randomness that video games can only dream of.  Encounter tables that specify specific monsters are faulty and useless.  But this doesn't mean that random encounters are wrong.  They're only wrong the way they've been presented.

We know, given the two rooms we've seen, that there is something behind one of those two doors.  Something alive and dangerous.  No matter what it is, no matter what we might roll on any table, if we wanted we could make a justification for it.  So the actual logic of the thing doesn't matter.

Sorry.  It matters that there's logic, yes.  But which logic doesn't matter.  Get it?

Getting this across is brutally difficult.  The players want to feel ... scared.  Anticipation.  Tense.  The motivation to step through the next door is the process the players have of making something happen.  They want to be attacked.  They can't progress if they don't get treasure and they can't get treasure if they don't fight.
[though I know, much of this pure, brilliant game structure was gutted and hamstrung by morons who minimized the importance of level and removed experience for treasure ... which removed the player's agency and ... but that's another post]

Make the dungeon into a format where the players have to open the next door, knowing they'll be led inexorably to the final combat, and coddled until then, obliterates that player privilege of not knowing whether or not the next door will contain a bunch of monsters they can't fight, or beat.  It transforms an active game into a passive one.

Recently, I watched Moneyball.  It is a terrible film, full of dead air, and contrived conflict, and dull filmography, with a whole side story to the main character and his family that adds nothing whatsoever, but it focuses on about 25 minutes of mindblowing economics that shatters baseball history ... that should have been the whole film.  In that vein, I'm arguing for the underlying arguments of D&D.

Puzzle-solving is a passive activity.  Shelby described the dungeon so far as a "contemplative" experience ... which, for all the satisfaction that provides if we sit by the side of a river and listen to the burbling water, is something that's passive.  Is that what we're trying to provide here?  To paraphrase Moneyball, there is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening.  And this leads people who run dungeons and design dungeons to misjudge their players and mismanage their games.  People who make dungeons think in terms of rooms and groups of monsters.  But your goal shouldn't be to make rooms, your goal should be to award experience.  And in order to award experience, you need to create violence and rewards.  When I see game dungeons, I see an imperfect understanding of where player success comes from.  D&D thinking is medieval.  They're asking all the wrong questions.  And if I say it to anybody, I'm ostracized.  I'm a leper.

Look at a first level party, the one I've given: cleric, fighter, monk, mage and druid.  Together, they need 10,750 experience to level.  How many rooms are we going to make them walk through in order to get that?  How many times are they going to have to swing their weapons?  What's the distribution between numbers of times they will have to retreat from the dungeon to rest and come back, determining how many total spells the players will have to use against monsters?  What's your treasure to monster ratio, if you're going to require the players hack through, say, six rooms of encounters to obtain a sufficient amount of experience to reach another level?  Ten rooms?  Twenty rooms?

The spaces between those rooms are a break in the action. The spaces between those rooms are carefully planned rest stops for the party to gather strength, emotionally restore themselves, change their tactics, decide upon retreat vs. advance ... and generally, for the party to run the game.  If we can go back to video games for a moment, we all hate it when we can feel the hand of the game designer forcing us to fit some preconception about what the game is.  Your players feel this from you all the time.  But they put up with it, the way we do with video games, because of those time when you let them run the table.  That's why the players are in your world.  To run.  Not to follow.  Not to wait.  Not to be passive.  To be active.

The more sense you add to your structure, the less sense you add to your structure if your goal is to empower your players and make them level.  In pure mathematical terms, they have to hit a certain number of times, regardless of what they're hitting, to produce a certain number of deaths, while failing to lose a certain number of hit points that would mean their own deaths.  EVERYTHING else is the tactics and techniques used by the players to produce enemy deaths while conserving friendly lives.  Food, equipment, wealth, number of spells, types of weapons, all those other resources they can expend and preserve are only managed in order to give themselves the capacity to kill enemies and preserve their own lives.  And what paint you throw on the walls and what contemplative art you put on top of the paint is meaningless if it doesn't also clearly contribute to the game the players are playing ... which is not, evidently, the game the DM's are playing with the sort of game designs I'm seeing.

The second room.  It's a guard room, empty.  There are fresh crumbs of bread on a table, the fresh odor of tobacco in the air, footprints in dirt on the floor with clear lines, a cup with a half-inch of ale in the bottom.

That's enough.

Consider the difference in the reaction of the party from what I suggest, and what the reader suggests.

This is NOT to downplay.  But if we're going to learn how to DM, we've got to see the game for what it is.  This isn't Myst, a game designed for a single, bored person to play in between moments of working and sleeping, over several days or several weeks, when they are at the bottom of their interest cycle.  This is D&D.  We have four hours once every two weeks to make shit happen, now, so the players will advance, now, and not when some distant moment comes around after the solving of a puzzle.

Let's not waste it with an art exhibit.

[my sincerest apologies to all readers for my language and my blunt rhetoric]

Monday, April 15, 2019

Drafting Research

Following my introduction with this post, the next step would be to clear out the romance and attack spell research as a design problem.  Specifically, what are we designing, and how do we get there?

To explain that, I have to repeat my position on how spells work.  A "spell" is the assembling and ordering of natural forces, however misunederstood by a non-magic using society, in a specific way so as to call a predictable effect.  This assembling is accomplished, in my game, by producing sounds and moving the body, while concentrating the mind, through a period of time that a given spell requires.  More powerful spells are more complex, so that the assembling of the natural forces involved takes longer.  Some spells may require hours to assemble this power.

Assembling these forces has led to different strategies by different classes.  Clerics pray to appease higher powers than themselves, so that they may rely upon these higher powers to intervene in the magic's assembly when the moment comes.  Druids seek innate energies within the world's physical space, which they understand and can use at the right time to assemble their spells.  Bards do something similar, but they weave spells with music.  Finally, illusionists and mages rely entirely upon their own minds, assembling spells with considerable mental acumen.

If we are researching a cleric spell as opposed to a magic or illusionary spell, the methodology is entirely different.  Therefore, a spell-researching system must be flexible and view the problem from more than the static angle of acquiring materials and laboratories.  Why would a cleric need a laboratory to speak more nearly with the cosmos?  Why would a bard?  Or a druid?

Moreover, we need to consider the point of reference between the spellcaster and the availability of the spell.  A mage or illusionist studies a spellbook, which orders vast amounts of information into the character's thoughts, which the character spends time organizing, like a memory expert creating a thought-cathedral in their mind.  The casting of the spell shatters this order, which is tenuous and is, in large part, subconciously maintained.  Therefore, it must be reordered again before the spell can be cast.  The term, "memorizing," is merely a placeholder.  It is a convenient word to describe something for which we have no word.

The cleric spends time effectively pleading with the cosmos, asking, "Please let me cast this spell again today, I cannot do it without your help."  The druid mediates and invests self with the ever changing environment, as the various energies that are everywhere shift daily; once those energies are found, they are tapped, and the druid stores spell energy in his or her body, which can then be released; but it has to be found again the next day, after resting.  The bard practices, tunes the instrument, spends as much as an hour finding the perfect tone and resonance, which takes time and effort to do ~ then affixes a perfect memory of that tone so that it can be played later that same day.  The next day, a change in the weather, the age of the bard, the stiffness in the bard's fingers, can all mean time spent needed to find that tone again.

More precisely, then, the mage and illusionist are looking to create symbols in a spellbook that can be, in turn, studied and used to order the new spell in the mind.  The cleric seeks to appease the god into giving a new spell that has never been granted on Earth.  The druid requires new knowledge of the environment.  The bard requires a new song.

Before the symbols can be written, they must accurately describe the manifestation that is to be created.  The cleric must be able to explain precisely to the god what is needed, and convince the god to perhaps turn to other gods in order to gain the power, that can then be sent on to the cleric.  The specific concordant element of the Earth itself, and perhaps the universe, must be identified and found by the druid before it can be tapped into.  The song must be heard, perhaps in the bard's imagination, perhaps in actual fact, before it can be written and repeated.  These are different journeys, but they amount to the same thing: discovery.

The path is an adventure.  And like an adventure, there are many paths that might seem like the right one, but the DM already knows, before the players start out, what the right path is.  The DM may provide ideas, or clues, or proposed strategies, presented in books and out of the mouths of experts, but the DM knows which experts are lying and which are telling the truth.

Like moving through a dungeon, the players have multiple doors that may lead them to a spell.  Some doors are false.  Some are real.  Some will lead to dangerous, but profitable outcomes; others will lead to simple, but fruitless results.  As each path is tried, and discarded, the player comes closer to the goal.

Let us take an example.  Suppose the spell "dancing lights" does not exist, and the player would like it to exist.  Our first question is, what exactly are dancing lights?  We have the spell description, but that only tells us the result.  It does not explain what the lights are, or how they manifest, or what they are made of.  Clearly, not fire.

Remembering that we are now creating this spell from scratch, the player does some research and finds several possibilities:  it is cold energy drawn from the elemental plane of fire; they are illusions and actually only exist in the mind of the onlooker; they are hard, physical light, compressed into fire-like images.  Which is true?  The DM knows.  And the DM does not change the final answer, any more than the DM moves the last room of a dungeon.  But each of these three possibilities looks promising.  Which should the player pursue?

The DM creates three pathways.  That is a lot of work for some DMs, I know, but I am explaining what I would do with spell research, given my degree of experience, and personally I would find it quite easy in a few days to spontaneously create three pathways.  In fact, I managed it since Friday:
One:  Research elementism.  Insert magical fire into natural fire, in a way that attempts to produce natural fire that does not need fuel to burn, using alchemy.  By reducing the heat of the magical-natural fire, perhaps it can "burn" without producing heat.  Experiment with other spells that allow telekinetic control on a very minimal basis (no weight, much easier than telekinesis).
Two:  Using suggestion and ESP, experiment with the creation of thought-creation in the minds of test subjects, to see if the dancing lights can be impressed in their consciousness.  Explore mass delusions, as well as spells such as massmorph and hallucinatory terrain.  Perhaps either can be simplified through painstaking work to draw a 1st level spell out of a 4th level spell's design.
Three:  Begin with the light spell.  Build a prism-based construction that will split the light into separate pieces, perhaps employing elements of the mirror image spell.  Using physics, split the lights in some manner that causes them to flicker, producing only the yellow, red and orange parts of the spectrum.  Since the light spell can be positioned the four weaker dancing lights should be likewise able to be positioned, and then made to move in some fashion.

Each of these is designed to produce the effect first.  Once the effect is produced, the mage and the illusionist can scribe the complex description of the effect into their spellbook, so they can master the effect when they need it.  The bard can hear the lights, and produce the music that will create them again.  Druids and clerics come up short. The spell is not available to their disciplines.

It would be a mistake to think that all three of the methods above will ultimately work.  That would ruin the game.  The player's frustration and sense of meaning in the exercise depends on one, and only one, means to the truth. This makes the truth valuable ~ and their decision-making, as they posit other spells, existing elements, related concepts, etc., into their efforts, entirely of their own making.

Spell research is making something out of pure imagination.  It defies ordinary rules for that reason.  But design follows specific, ordered pathways.  Propose the idea.  Brainstorm a means to get there.  Experiment with each means, to see what results.  Produce the result.  Reproduce the result again.  Write it down and make it standard.

The rest is the work of thinking, on both sides of the table.

The Second Room Finalized

Calling a stop to the voting (although only six ballots were cast), the final count is statues, scars and urns.  I'll adjust a little of the description to remove anachronisms.
Inside the room we find 5 more orc statues, shorter than the initial one. One of the statue's head has been smashed; the pieces lie on the floor. These are statues of Bashag's most loyal servants.
In the southern wall is carved a series of stone shelves, upon which once stood a series of clay urns. These now lie on the floor in front of the shelves, smashed, revealing the funerary ashes inside.
The stone floor around them appears scarred and eroded, as do the walls around the right-hand door. The scarring seems to reach out from the door towards the urns.

I've let this last week sort itself out, and I have encouraged the participants.  I meant what I said about creativity and tightening your descriptions, which is important.  But now I'm going to have to be a little rough.

Here I am as a player.  Hm, statues.  I look at the shelves and the urns.  I don't have detect magic or malevolence, but the funerary ashes suggest some sort of undead or curse may be up.  I would ask if something animated created the scars, but I expect the answer would be that a tool made them.

How interactive is this?  I don't mean to disparage.  But as DMs, I do want the reader to be considering the fundamental purpose of these descriptions.  The room seems to be junked.  So, no one is maintaining it.  These doors, logically, should go somewhere.  I can't imagine that there are active humanoids about, else some of this would be cleaned.  The ashes of the dead would be attended to.  But they're not.  I'm not going to touch them, nor anything in the room.

I would guess there is some single entity in this dungeon; something that has torn through this space and removed the inhabitants.  That would suggest going to the right door, to follow the scars and see if it lends a clue as to why this is empty.  I would expect to find non-intelligent creatures, until I reached some maintained part of the dungeon, suggesting I was closing on the top entity's lair.

Now, deconstruct my interpretation.  Does this seem like a rational interpretation on my part?  Would you change your dungeon design if I said so at the table?  And would that change be ethical?  I don't ask you to say what you would make the design, I am only asking if my statements would sway you to alter that design [assuming, of course, this wasn't your exact intention].

Let me see if I get any response for this post, before I apply myself to expanding the dungeon further and continuing the workshop into a 3rd week.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Burglary (sage study)

The art of planning, executing and resolving a burglary, a three-step process that requires skills relating to discovery, observance, breaking and entering, appraisal and the purchase and sale of stolen property.

Burglars are those who use their intellectual understanding of architecture and people in order to enrich themselves. They are often better able to understand a person’s home than the dweller does. Burglars don’t need doors; they’ll make a hole in a wall or cut down through a ceiling. They’ll unpeel a building from the inside out to hide between walls, underneath the floorboards or up in the trusses. They'll break into one home, just so they can break through inside walls to reach their target.  Burglars are the dark wizards of building spaces.

If two rooms aren’t connected now, they soon will be. If there is no route from one building to another, a burglar will find a way. Of course, they must always be careful not to get stuck in an attic, or trip and plummet through a plaster ceiling ~ or accidently set fire to the very place they’re trying to enter.  It's happened.

  • Appraisal I: discern subjective value of gems, metal goods, artworks and other items of worth. 
  • Break & Enterenables the character to break and remove doors or windows in order to pass through.
  • Case Buildingassess the interior layout and social strata of a building, its residents and things related.
  • Detect Concealed Doorsenables the location of concealed doors.
  • Lookoutacts as a front to distract attention from a burglary or other ongoing crime.

Spell Research Woes

Lothar asked me this past week if I could talk about the process of creating new spells.  Let's start with this breakdown from StackExchange (commenter Andras), since it will fit in one image:

This is not far from the original DMs Guide.

My first conflict addresses the utter incompatibility of the above design with any rational setting.  First, I would argue that all spells in existence had to first be researched.  And second, that all the possible spells in the world are listed in the 3.5 spell list.  Why would the game hold existing spells back from the players who had achieved a high enough level?  There is nothing in the books that there is a hidden list anywhere.

Looking it up, I find 49 ninth level sorceror spells in 3rd Edition.  That's quite a lot compared to 1st edition, but still.  I argue these are ALL the spells in the world of that level.  Yet I read above that a character can whip up a new spell for this list in just nine weeks, for the paltry base cost of 81,000 g.p.  Crazy.  Why wouldn't every kingdom, which surely must have this kind of measly coin to spare (kingdom finances rather outweigh character finances by about a million times, literally), be busy designing specific spells to aid their own specific mages in an incomparable cold war of constant expediture?

Rule 1.  Spell design can't be bought.  No rule that has as its base, spend this much money for this amount of time, makes any sense.  For one thing, who is this money being paid to?  What funnel is it filling?  There's only so much equipment, so much raw material, that can justify these costs.

How to research this spell: buy two medium-sized galleys.  Drag them up onto dry land and burn them both down to ash.  Collect all the ash in a hole, using it to cover one ordinary chicken egg.  Wait four weeks, keeping area constantly wet.  Dig down and find egg, without breaking it.  Carefully crack open egg and pour out the contents into a very large pan made of 14 pounds of gold bullion.  Swirl the egg in the pan for five hours.  Pour egg into glass.  Drop pan in the sea.  Eat egg. You may now cast the spell.

This might as well be the logic.  Any collection of ordered instructions amounts to the same silliness as the above, however desperately we try to make it believable.

What we want is an honest struggle on the player's emotion, not a calculation on the character sheet that can be fixed with eraser and pencil.  How do we do things in real life?  How were those 49 spells originally invented?  For that, I can go back to my RPG 201 class.

[oh, I forgot.  There are actually only 109 first level spells.  So even though a 9th level spell in the game costs 81 times a 1st level spell (and ought to at least take 81 times as long), there are still only 60 more 1st level spells than 9th level.  Does that make sense?]

First, research.  Usually, the player proposes the spell, the DM decides the level of the spell and tells the player, and the player starts to create it.  But remember ~ from the player character's perspective, there is no DM.  There is no voice in the sky saying to the player in a booming voice, "THY SPELL SHALL BE 1ST LEVEL ...!"  *crack of thunder*

So right out of the gate, the player has no idea what spell level the spell is.  To learn this, and whether the spell is even practical, the player will have to visit libraries, speak with experts, write experts if this is possible in your game world, spending time and effort to go around asking questions.  At best, three or four sources make a suggestion of about 10 different elements that should be attempted ... with an understanding that the actual spell may need all, some, or none of these elements.  The advisors don't know.  This book may suggest ambergris as a fixing agent, but another book may suggest wood alcohol.  This sage may suggest a stag's blood, but another may insist it has to be the boiled skin of a toad.  In all, the player gets a bunch of advice, writes it all down (who knows what might be useful). then moves onto step two.

How much money and time does the player have?  Do we want to get some ingredients or all of them?  What is the player's gut instincts on the use of crushed pumice stone as opposed to using talc?  Do we really want to start experimenting with the most expensive things?  And where do we want to put the laboratory, if it turns out we're going to need access to these mountains and that sea shore?  Glass is more expensive in this part of the world than that; we could haul the glass, but is is safe to  bring 300 lbs of glass and expensive laboratory equipment through this war torn country, or to a lab in a dangerous foreign country where help isn't available?  But damn, some of this will need to be done in a very dry, very tropical part of the world!

Very well, we've estimated our resources and our agenda.  Let's plan this thing.  I'll need this many people and assistants, and these people to make leather out of the hippopotomus skins, not to mention drugs to keep us healthy while we work and at least some means of communicating with the Sorceror Anders if I get stuck.  Damn, this is getting expensive.  Is there a way we could do part of the collection in the tropics and finish the research in a temperate clime?

Now we have to find the right people, interview them, supply them, possibly apply to a mage school for additional funding or some kind of research support, plus a ship, plus a crew for the ship and a reliable captain, not to mention food that won't go bad in the tropics and some means of resupply if we need it.

Wait, wait, wait.  Am I smart enough to research this?  Do I know enough about toads and hippopotomuses.  Is there a course I can take?  Books I can read on the journey there?  It wouldn't hurt to spend a month boning up on the material before going, to make sure it is fresh in my mind.  I could take notes that I'll bring along; damn, I sure hope I don't lose my notes after we get there.  I better make copies.

Okay, okay, let's go.  Damn, it's hot in the tropics.  Okay, take this mix and pour it into that one, then ... oh damn, I've poured it too fast.  Let's do it again.  Why is this sample turning green?  Let's do it again.  Ooo, that looks good, in the morning we'll ... what the hell?  It was fine last night.  Now it looks like ... oh well, let's do it again.  Attempt number nine.  Attempt number fifteen.  Attempt number thirty-one.  Maybe this isn't right.  Maybe it shouldn't even be hippopotomuses.  What's as big?  An elephant?  Okay, let's try it with elephant skin.  Hm, it certainly looks different.  Let's try it again.  Attempt number seven.  Attempt number sixteen.  Damn.  Damn, damn, damn, damn!

Now what.  This worked and this worked, only that produced the wrong result entirely.  Is it the fixing agent?  Or is it the tannin in the leather process?  Maybe it isn't hot enough in the room.  Or there's too much air movement.  Let's think this through.

Attempt number eleven.  Attempt number forty-seven.  Attempt number one hundred and thirteen.

Sigh.  Do I really need this spell?

I don't suggest this as a means of torturing a player out of creating the spell.  But rather, having the player recognize that invention is itself an adventure.  Some, I know, won't see it that way.  But for me, magic is science.  Science is magic.  And it doesn't come easy.  It shouldn't.  It should be a mystery wrapped in an enigma.  And in the end, what's discovered may not even be what the character was looking for.  It may be something ... amazing.

Which may be its own profound adventure.

From the Witcher

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Voting on Workshop, Week 2

This should have been done yesterday evening, but yesterday became a sort of spontaneous holiday as the govt, after ten weeks, finally decided that Patreon was not a sufficient reason to suspend my employment insurance.  How nice of them.  And not in any way inconvenient.  I applaud them for making a sound decision.

So, let's get to this.  We're not on any crucial schedule, so we'll say that voting for this ends midnight Sunday.  I'll still try to get the third workshop class up Monday.

Here are the seconded concepts, each tagged with a single word.
Engravings: The walls are covered with engravings depicting Orcish warfare. In the center of the room is an altar dedicated to the Orcish god of war.
Urns: In the southern wall is carved a series of stone shelves, upon which once stood a series of clay urns. These now lie on the floor in front of the shelves, smashed, revealing the funerary ashes inside.
Webs: This room was once a guard room; table, a couple chairs, some weapon racks. It is currently filled with the thick spiderwebs of a giant spider. Though the spider isn't here, if one hacks through the webs, one will find both the northern and eastern doors open, allowing the spider easy access.
Statues: Inside the room we find 5 more orc statues, shorter than the initial one. One of the statue's head has been smashed; the pieces lie on the floor. These are statues of Bashag's most loyal servants.
Spike: The N door has been spiked shut.
Skeletons: The left-hand door is closed, but near the right-hand door (which is ajar and hangs crookedly on its hinges), there are several small skeletons of varying sizes, which could be rats or foxes. The skeletons are bare, but whole; the bones have not been scattered.
Scars: The stone floor around them appears scarred and eroded, as do the walls around the right-hand door.  The scarring seems to reach out from the door towards the bones.
Paintings: The north, east and south walls are covered in plaster painted with depictions of warfare, stylistic, with orcish warriors, led by an increasingly powerful looking figure, having the upper hands on goblins (north wall), hobgoblins (east) and humans (south), in this order of progression, and each time the army grows with the fallen race's warriors.
Rubble: While those walls don't show any defacing, the western wall has its plaster in a shattered mass on the ground, clearly removed by tools and blunt damage. The rubble contains some pieces where elven warriors are still visible. On the wall, the raw stones show, with dryed blood spattered everywhere.

Please let me know if I missed something.

I just want to say that, once reduced to one word, we are somewhat in cliche territory, though the descriptions themselves are creative and NOT cliched.  But I would encourage the readers to consider: when being creative, we humans tend to fall into thinking habits.  The first thought that leaps into our head often does so because it is the most obvious thought.  When creating a dungeon, we often leap to "orcs" rather than "butterflies," because long association with D&D produces this idea front and center ~ and while the second room was forced in some degree by the first room, the orc statue that was voted on in the first room could well have be anything else.

Not that this is wrong.  The argument for why an orc statue was sound: because it tells the party what to expect.  This does not change our self-awareness that "immediate" ideas are often immediate because they are cliches.  I say it only to make the reader take an extra moment to second guess their instincts.  A great part of creativity is recognizing that an instinct often "sounds" like a really good idea ... but then too late we find it's really not.  That's how Jar-Jar happens.


Let's try for three motifs, though if the reader would prefer just two, then write "blank" as one of your choices.  Give your first, second and third choice.  I'll count the votes as 3 pts. for 1st choice, 2 pts. for 2nd choice and 1 pt. for 3rd choice.  If "blank" gets enough votes to get into the top three, we'll go with two motifs.

The image is not to adjust your vote.  I just needed a nice pic.  Please vote your conscience.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Whatever the Hell it Was

I am going to talk about dice fudging.  But first;

Stumbled across the new Going in Style film, and I can't say I'm interested.  But it made me think of the 1979 version that I'm fairly sure I saw at the drive-in with my parents.  It didn't make much of an impression ... but I remembered the story and I found myself wanting to connect with what that old film was like, from the point of view of someone who is 54 and not 16.

I felt sure the newer film would be looser, more raucous, less paced, jokey and perhaps with a little bit of drama.  The old film, I was sure, was so thick with drama it was hard for me to enjoy.  I watched it another time, on television, sometime in the 80s.  But not since.  I did not remember this scene.

Let me take a moment and explain a little about drama.

Drama is a story where we talk about something we wanted, and we didn't get, or we couldn't have, or we can't now change.  Then we talk about how it makes us feel.  And then we talk some more, trying to get a handle on managing that feeling, knowing that we're never going to succeed at it.  Ultimately, that's where it ends.  The disappointment, the uncontained sorrow and melancholy we feel, it becomes part of us.  And as we get older, we remember it, and we relive it.  Just like Willy here.  We relive it and it aches ... and all the harder because there is no way we will ever find a balm that will remove that ache.

We watch drama, if we're at all interested in being self-aware, and not resolved to destroy our consciousness through the means available, to reflect upon the shared experience of that ache.  To identify with others of our species, who understand what it means to be our species.  It's not the laughter and the joy that makes us care, or love, or lift ourselves a little higher.  It's the mistakes.  The regret.  The losses.  The things that we wouldn't have asked for, that we wouldn't have wanted, that we would be happy to be rid of.  Yet we wouldn't be us if we were rid of them.

Our best works of art are not comedies.  They are not satire.  They are not heroic tales.  Watching enough of any of those, and usually age 30 or 35 is enough, we grow jaded and cold.  We begin to grow bored with things we're not and we'll never be.  We get interested in ourselves.  And two minutes of a film we'll never see, that we never want to see, can cut into us like a knife.

It takes character and resolve to stand up to consequences.  Squeezing out of trouble, shifting the responsibility, finding excuses, rationalizing a behaviour we have that we don't want to look too closely at, those things get to be habits.  They're options we take because we're all too aware that lifting our chin to take the punch is hard, too damn hard, for the way we feel right now or the way we want things to go.  We avoid.  Often when we avoid, we find such success at it that we encourage others to avoid.

And more often than it should, we also learn that finding people a new way to avoid pain and misery is a great business model.  Nothing makes a buck like a rationalization your neighbour hadn't considered.  Turn your rationalization into a book, turn it into a channel, make it into an industry, then spread it around so everyone can buy in.  Because everyone, everyone, is seeking a way not to feel like Willy does at the top of this post.  If you can promise they don't have to; if that's what you're peddling and you can make it sound real, jeebus boy, you're on your way.  You've got a licence to print money.

Okay.  That drama thing is settled, I think. Let's move on.

Crossing the 'Verse recently characterized the paradigm defending dice fudging thusly:
“Sometimes, the die comes up with something that completely deflates the moment; it derails the game; it kills the momentum; or it otherwise destroys the overall feel that you’re going for.”

People will talk about whether it's right to fudge the die to ensure that doesn't happen.  People will talk about whether or not the moment should be deflated or if the game should be derailed. But what they won't talk about is "the moment."  Or, "the game."  Or, its "momentum."  You, the reader, are presumed to understand these things perfectly ~ and most of you will believe that you do.  Yet let's see if we can't define them.

"The moment" is that critical point that promises you're about to achieve something, or obtain something, or prove something that's really terrific.  "The game" is the collection of moments that have brought us to this point, the spectacular collection of lesser "moments" that right now promise a win that will really produce a resounding emotional triumph.  "Momentum" is the inexorable, unstoppable, adrenaline-rushed roller coaster that the players have been riding up until this moment, when the player, or the DM, is going to throw that ultimate, utmost climatic die, upon which total success hinges.

And the die fails.

Drama is a story where we talk about something we wanted, and we didn't get, or we couldn't have, or we can't now change.  Here it is.  The consequence.  The moment of loss.  Failure.  Death.  Disappointment.  The bitter, rancid fruit, in your hand.

It takes a real asshole of a DM to make you bite off a piece of that fruit and swallow it down.  Especially when it wasn't "you" that failed.  It wasn't.  It was the die.  The goddamn, inflexible, unfair die, that doesn't even have feelings, that's just this stupid thing made of plastic, that doesn't really have any actual power to force me to accept its dictates.  Hey, it doesn't have any power, does it?  Fuck no.  And fuck if I'm going to accept what a piece of fucking plastic says.  Not me.

One thing for sure.  My DM's going to understand.  My DM ain't gonna pick a hunk of plastic over me.  And anyway, it should have worked out, right?  It should have.  Everyone can see that it should have.  Damn it.  Damn IT!  It should have come out right.  But that's all right.  My DM is not an asshole.  My DM knows what's riding on this. Look how this moment was spoiled.  This would be a pretty fucking shitty game if the DM didn't understand how this ruins everything.  Fuck yeah.

Those are the thoughts going through your head, those at the thoughts going through the other players' heads, those are the thoughts going through the DM's head.  It's just a die.  It's not real.  And things should have worked the way they were "supposed to."

I've seen this many times as a DM.  I've had players throw over the table.  I've had shouting, and swearing, and players threatening to quit.  I've had a player quit, and never come back.  Once, I had to physically throw a player out of my house.

I am playing a different game.

Let's redefine those terms, as I see them, and not as most see them.

"The moment" is every moment in the game.  No moment is special.  No die roll is special.  Events turn, patterns form, die rolls become critical, sooner or later the ultimate, utmost climactic die is thrown.  But it is the player, and not me, who has shaped the moment when everything hinges on that die.

"The game" is the collection of player choices that brought the player to this risk.  The player entered the dungeon.  The player stayed longer than was wise.  The player failed to run.  The player did not bring enough help, or resources, or resisted retreat to get more resources.  The player runs the game.  The obstacle in front of the player is set up, but the player never has to overcome it.  It's a big world.  There are many obstacles.  If the player has to overcome this one, this specific one, it is not my business what happens.

"Momentum" is in no way hinged to success.  For my money, the player screaming at their loss, the player throwing over the table, the player shouting in my face, the player railing and throwing dice and storming out of the game all sound to me like one FUCK of a lot of momentum.  No one is bored.  Drama is spectacular.  Everyone talks about it.  Everyone redresses what happened.  Everyone offers an opinion.  Everyone is engaged.  The moment is real.  The moment is memorable.  The moment is profound and moving and, in its ugliness, in its misery and melancholy, the moment is beautiful.

The player I threw out of the house that day made up with me a year later and rejoined the game, with a new character.  All but one of the players I've had that stormed out in anger because yes, I was going to honor the die, came back within 20 minutes.  They came back and apologized.  They were told it was fine.  They learned their friends could forgive. Their friendships became stronger.  They rolled new characters.  The new characters came to be loved.  Old characters, even those who had reached a high level, were honored, but well forgotten.  People lived in the present.  The drama made for good stories.  The stories made for great jokes and laughing and camaraderie on a deep, esoteric level.

Because I was an asshole.

I don't know what makes me an asshole.  Maybe it's the subconscious effect of seeing that scene from Going in Style when I was 16, and a lot of other scenes besides.  From a very young age I ate every movie I could see, often three or four a day, all day, if I could find them on TV.  I did not care what kind of film.  So maybe watching hundreds of hours of misery, of fighting, of people swearing to hate people, of reconciliation and comprehension, innured me to the panic that someone might not like me because I was willing to let their character die.

Because in those moments, I was willing to let the chunk of plastic matter more to me than their feelings did.

Maybe it was because I loved the game more than I loved my friends.

I like to think I expected more of my friends than a typical DM defending the virtues of fudging dice seems to expect.  I like to believe that a bad die roll in a bad moment isn't that big a deal; and that someone swearing at the table over a die isn't that big a deal; and that shit happens, and so what?  Players will get over it.  At least, the players I care about will.  I've seen people lose their shit over a lot of things ... a lot of petty things, as it happens.  It's not a big deal.

It's definitely not enough of a deal for me to compromise a die roll.  It is so easy to do that.  So easy.  And once it's done, and rationalized, and excused, and the consequences easily avoided ... well, it's so easy to do it again.  And again.  And again.  And each cheat cheapens the drama.  Each cheat steals the potential for a player to experience the full game.  Each cheat steals.

I'm not ready to steal a life experience from my friends for the sake of avoiding a bitter result.  I don't care if the experience is a good one or a bad one.  I look at that two minute piece of film at the top of this post and I think, do I want that moment of sadness removed from the world?  I think it is beautiful.  It is more than a man feeling sorry for himself.  It's resilience.  It's having the strength to talk about it openly, and see the mistake for what it was, and to regret the mistake and be a better person, even if now, this late in life, it makes no difference to anyone except that person.

I celebrate that.  And I celebrate players who have gotten past their dead characters.  And DMs who have taken the storm and forgiven the player, and never held the player accountable for having an honest, bitter piece of fruit to swallow.  Hell no, I won't cheat.  I won't rationalize cheating.  I won't preach cheating and I won't condone cheating.  Cheaters steal all the reality and beauty, and ultimately the love, from the world.

No matter how they rationalize it.

Second that Work

I also wanted to drop a note today to express my liking for the responses that have been made to this week's Workshop.  There is a great deal more focus this time around than there was last week, though I am concerned that many are understandably reticent to step forward and make a suggestion.  That's not at all unusual in any course on any subject, as the class quickly understands that the teacher is serious about the material and is unhesitant in offering criticism.

My opinion of most teachers has not much improved
since 1980-84, when the above was a familiar meme. And
I'm not that fond of the level of education demonstrated
by many of the "students" of that era, either.
I had it pointed out to me last week that I am "not a professional instructor."  To me, this has always been one of these strange, querulous things about human prejudices.  We were most of us, as members of western society, subjected to a magnificent parade of spectacularly poor instructors, by far the balance of teachers and professors whose acquaintance we shared, and every one of these accredited and counted as "professional."  Any honest memory that we have about our experience with the education system tells us that the bar for becoming a professional teacher was very, very low.  And yet, because a few teachers greatly excelled, and gave us a reason to care about some subjects, the whole profession is raised up and put on a pedestal that we are all supposed to pay lip service towards, as though the very fact of being paid somehow transforms these prickly, ill-humored, ill-natured petty classroom tyrants into pillars of society.

As I've written 11 years of material for this blog, most of it in a vicious, iracible tone, and all of it being instructive, reaching a point where I am, in fact, paid to write, I'm unable to specify any difference between myself and a so-called "professional instructor," except that my readers have the agency to stop attending my classes, they have the freedom to stop paying me, or some have the freedom to take part without paying at all, and I'm not actually in charge of helpless, policed children who I am sure would gratefully take part in a classroom with me than they would with any of the Mrs. or Mr. So-and-So's that I was exposed to as a four-foot-tall defenseless boy.  Teachers who, I might add, successfully polluted my subconscious with a considerable number of neuroses and paranoias that I will likely take to my grave.

And so, as a teacher, I will speak this clearly to the participants in the Workshop thus far.  Well Done.

Well done on making some changes in your thinking and well done in taking a new tact with your ideas of dressing the dungeon room.  Well done in stretching yourselves.

Friday is fast approaching and I would encourage readers, including those who are only reading, to step forward and second, or "like," the material that others have presented, if you are inclined to do so.  It is very hard to put something out there and not have it approved of; let's be certain that if something falls short, it is because it deserves to do so, and NOT because a reader hasn't freely expressed their happy approval.

Give these workers some support!  They can use the confidence.

Solving the Half-elf Problem

This will be short. But I want to present it, as I'm writing the overall document for the wiki, as my particular take on how to solve the endless problems of "racism" that arise in the way D&D was conceived. It seems funny to protect ourselves against accusations about fictional species, but ... it's the world we're living in.

Half-elves, then, are born of either a human mother and elvish father, or the reverse. These offspring are most likely to dwell in the culture possessed by their mother (as determined by their place of birth). Elves are not able to breed with other humanoids beyond humans. Contrary to popular belief, there are no sustained half-elven cultures; this is because the mother’s race will prove to be dominant after the first generation, so that the offspring of a half-elf will be either human or elf, with mere peripheral characteristics of the human or elven grandfather.

In the case of two half-elves, where one has an elven mother and the other a human mother, the offspring’s grandmother’s race, through the matrilineal line, will establish itself as the child’s birth race. For example, half-elf Gareth (human father, elven mother) has offspring with half-elf Miri (elven father, human mother); in such a case, the offspring would be human.

Both humans and elves will almost always embrace the offspring as a member of their own natural race. As well, racist abuse of half-elves is rare, since both humans and elves know the consequences will ultimately restore a trueblood offspring in due course. This is true even if the half-elf breeds with yet another race (which is possible). The mother of that race, or the half-elf’s mother (if the half-elf is the female), will always prove to be the dominant race of the offspring.

Why go to this effort? One, I don't want to deal with half-race societies, at least not those between two races that are both player character options. I have a different solution for half-orcs, that I'll be posting on the wiki sometime before the end of the weekend, I'm supposed to be doing some work on burglary (thief sage) for oft-commenting reader Ozymandias, who is taking advantage of my offer to write specific posts on specific subjects for the wiki. All the content about Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and two posts about the Bronze Age came about because Vlad asked me to do the same.

It never hurts to ask. I'm open to suggestions from those named on that post, or anyone who wants to make a $12 donation through Patreon or the button on the sidebar. If you don't know my game world and take on things, I suggest you speak with me through the comments field or by email, alexiss1@telus.net, before donating.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Bronze Age Europe

A little more history, with surprises thrown in, particularly towards the end.  I've been enjoying exploring a historical rendering of my game world.  Most of this has been in my head for decades, but it's never been thoroughly written out.

By the late Neolithic period in Europe, six dominant cultural regions had formed: a) Danubian cultures, from the Rhine to the Black Sea; b) Mediterranean cultures, from the Adriatic to eastern Iberia, including large portions of the Alps; c) Thessaly and Macedonia; d) the Dneiper and Don valleys; e) a mosaic of local cultures, including halflings, from Iberia to Sweden; and f) the pre-Vepsian culture extending across northern Europe from the Volga to the Greenland Sea.

The construction of megaliths took place mainly in the Neolithic period, continuing into the Chalcolithic and the Bronze Age. Prominent examples include the sites of Brú na Bóinne and Carrowmore in Ireland, Maes Howe in Orkney, and Gavrinis in France, Carnac in Brittany, Stonehenge, Avebury, Ring of Brodgar and Beltany.

The smelting of copper begins along the Danube from 3500 BCE. After 2800 BCE, various peoples, displaced by the Vepsian gnomes, move south and occupy all the lands between the Dneiper and the north shore of the Caspian Sea. The polished battle axe proliferates in these steppe cultures after 2500, possibly due to influence by gnomish metallurgy. Beaker pottery spreads throughout Europe from 2200 to 1900, influencing the manufacture of kilns and ultimately of metallurgy.

The Vepsian Bronze Age begins around 1950 BCE, marking the beginning of that culture’s consolidation into the Vepsian civilization. The arrival of seafaring elves (sometimes called the seafaring peoples) results in settlement along the north shore of Ulthua (circa 1800). These bring a crude Bronze Age culture with them and an advance technology in woodworking.

By 1600, other Bronze Age cultures have taken hold in south-western Iberia, central Europe and initiating the start of Mycenaean Greece.

The Cretan Neolithic culture advances in many ways after 2700 BCE, forming the complex Minoan Civilization. Yet despite many technological feats, the Minoans do not develop arsenical bronze until after 1450; this allows them to be overrun by the Mycenaeans by the next century.

By this time, after 1500 BCE, numerous central European cultures have developed Bronze Age societies. The Celts, Italics and Illyrians expand into Italy, the Rhone, Seine and Rhine Valleys, Iberia, the Balkans and Asia Minor, where they destroy the Hittite Empire, which by this time had developed the secret of founding iron. This knowledge would afterwards spread through Europe, initiating the region’s Iron Age.

The use of bronze tools and weapons greatly empowered the cultures able to use the technology. Bronze Age swords appeared in the 17th century BCE. These, along with spears, shields and maces, supported by slings and javelins, allowed these cultures to claim lands inhabited since time immemorial by monsters and immense creatures of dreadful form. The Bronze Age initiated an age of heroes, in which warriors who were godlike in stature were able to slaughter these beasts and make the lands clear for settlement. Hydra, Stygian beasts, enormous lions, lesser and greater cyclops, chimera and minotaurs were eradicated or driven back. The Nuragic civilization of Sardinia was built upon the bodies of giants and still has monumental Giant’s graves. The effect of this was to give humanoids untold accumulations of experience that had never been available, providing them with prowess and knowledge that was hitherto unheard of in Earth’s history. These heroes became so powerful that some became demi-gods, possessing names that are instantly familiar to this day.

This led to an expansion of the fighter class, in which training in certain kinds of weapons produced a newer, different breed of combatant, with greater hit points and a greater potential in battle. Not merely limited to three or four experience levels, fighters could accumulate as many as 15 to 20 levels, making certain of their number powerful beyond the comprehension of the time.

Priests of the Bronze Age were able, in certain parts of the world, to communicate and interact directly with Gods, who had grown interested in Earth through tales told to them by Odin. God settled upon Olympus for a time, showing an interest in the Mycenaeans and Minoans, and in Elphyne, sometimes called “Fairyland.”
[take note, the humanoid “elf, elven” is distinct from the faerie “elfin,” which does not refer to a single race but to the collection of all fae-folk].

This association led to the earliest use of clerical magic, expressed as crude spells much reduced in power from the present period. These spells were largely portentous in nature ~ augury, for example, possessed an earlier form than the more familiar spell. Other early spells include create water, purify food & drink, chant and enthrall.

Rumblings of other classes that gave some promise of appearance after the Bronze Age include the druid, ranger and thief. But these would not flower until the Iron Age that followed.

See Also,
European History
World History

Fresh Recruits

The following talks about the manner in which armies were raised in the 15-16th centuries, with recruiters riding through the countryside, with a licence to raise men, pay them and sometimes start off commanding them.
"Whoever the recruiting agent was ~ the agent of a regional magnate or of a supplier with a stand-by contract to raise men on demand, a local authority or a roving captain who had petitioned for a recruiting license ~ the approach, save to the few who positively welcomed the chance to enlist, as an identical mixture of cajolement and pressure.  Magnates called on their clientale groups of tenants and retainers to honour obligations, sometimes written, sometimes simply assumed, to serve them in arms along with their own tenants or servants; kinsmen were urged to support them in the same fashion, for the honour of the family and the favour of the king.  Local authorities, in rural parish or urban ward, consulted registers of adult males, selected the number they had been charged to send, and sent the constable to summon them in the name of the monarchs's wage, the justice of his cause and the reputation of a community only too well aware of its vulnerability to punitive taxation.  The captain submitted his patent, had his mission proclaimed by the cryer at church, market and through the streets, set up his standard, had his drummer beat, and waited for custom in an inn or the more supportive house of a justice or alderman; serve the king was his message too: let him pay you, enter that alternative society of warfarers which promises freedom for the humdrum, penurious, hen- and priest-pecked life of everyday."
J.R. Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe

That's just marvelous.  There's several pages of this kind of information, talking about how a town had to put up the money for recruits, to get them to staging areas, and hope the monarch would return the fees; and of course how individuals with means and connections would use whatever means they had to ensure they could get out of service, while dumping that burden on the poor, the stupid and the desperate.

The Goblins Want YOU.
I see two interesting starts for campaigns that don't end in the party being recruited.  The first is simply watching the process happen all around them, as people are rousted out of their houses, out of beds, pressed here and there, assembled, arguments on the street, recruits finding the coin to pay off a guard, a landlord asking the party if they want to rent a room cheap, as he's just lost his tenant, other similar opportunities, the town asking for donations and the players having the opportunity to make friends, etc.

And second, the players being assigned as recruiters, with the understanding that they'll get paid for every recruit they raise, and the knowledge they don't have to go to war themselves.  Of course, the more recruits they raise, the more recruits the local town must pay to send to the staging area (recruiters do not travel with cash!  Says so in Hale's book), so there's push-back from the town fathers if the players get too ambitious.  But then, the players can argue the name of some lord, who can bring punitive measures of all kinds, if the town doesn't play ball.  Really gives the players a chance to swagger.  Would make a very different sort of adventure.

Inspiration is fun.

Monday, April 8, 2019

DM Workshop, Week 2


Using Gygax's tables as written, there is a 60% chance of this result, once I've rolled that the door leads to a room.  If you follow the generator as written, you end up with miles of empty rooms, like this, one after another, frustratingly filling up map while NOT finding monster to fight and not finding treasure.

I shortened the likelihood for this occurring to only 25% ... and when I got the result I did, of course, I considered just fudging it and producing another result.  Thing is, however, I want you, dear reader, to recognize just how miserable this is for a players ... because right now my method robs you of the normal sense of "control" you have as a DM.  As a DM, you don't have to put up with this crap, if you think an extra room is boring and ought to be filled with half a dozen somethings.  And if you've DM'd for a long time, you're extremely comfortable and familiar with that sense of entitlement.  Sure, the players can deal with this shit, if you the DM think it "builds tension" when you feel like spattering out a series of empty rooms.  But now the shoe is on the other foot.

The problem is the same.  We have a 30 ft. square room, with two doors, one on the left and one on the right.  Once again, I'm asking that you fill it.  Before you do, however, let me explain that your first problem is to explain why this room doesn't have a monster in it.  Unlike a set of caverns, where emptiness is expected, or an underground ruin, where the doors are broken in and we might expect to see a bunch of vermin, these are carefully constructed rooms with working, solid doors.  And a place where anybody might "just walk in."  If this is someone's lair, they're awfully lax about security.  They don't care about interlopers ... or they happen so infrequently that no one worries about them.

No, that isn't easy.  And I apologize.  I'll add to it that continuing the theme of the statue is your second agenda.  The statue is your theme now ~ if you can elaborate on that theme, you can both solve the first problem and provide this room with a deeper sense of place and purpose.

I'd like to try something via comments.  Go ahead and get crazy with the descriptions if you like, it doesn't hurt to throw shit at the wall and see what sticks.  But, to see if it sticks, I'm going to suggest disregarding any item or motif unless someone else specifically seconds ("likes") that particular item.  Then, those items that are liked can be collected together and applied to a vote late this week.

Welcome to hell, ladies and gentlemen.