Saturday, November 10, 2018

16th Class: Mid-Term Exam

Below are four essay questions.  Choose two and write a 500-word essay on each.  Be concise and do not exceed the proscribed length; it is enough to give a clear indication that you understand the material.  
1. Dreyfuss describes five stages of skill acquisition. Explain the progression from competency to proficiency from the perspective of preparedness (research, estimation, planning, resources, education, practice or rehearsal) using whichever form of preparedness seems most applicable to you.
2. Describe ways in which mentorship can advance the creation of game consensus and effectively situated learning; then describe ways in which mentorship can obstruct game consensus and undermine situated learning. Relate positive and negative mentorship to meaning-making.
3. Explain how unrestrained subjective thinking in managing role-playing games leads to the calcification of ideas and creative ability, particularly in the progression of novice to competent player. Relate your answer to the course definition of conventions and axioms.
4. Give reasons for why we prefer to use the enigmatic term "story" to describe the process of stability-rupture-reconstruction-stability rather than a more anatomical approach when describing to others, "how to play?" Given that "create a story" is a more popular form of advice than, "create a set of obstacles that will force your players to reimagine their characters," how do we expect the first advice to serve as a template for the creation of game worlds?

You will be given until 12:01 AM Saturday, Nov 17, to submit your answers. Your answers should be submitted to my email, You will not receive a grade if you do not submit your answers to my email. You may, if you wish, submit your answers directly to the blog (splitting your answers up as needed to make it fit), but answers submitted to the blog will not be published until after the exam deadline has passed. Answers submitted to the blog but NOT to my email address will not be graded and will not be published.

Grades will be posted Nov 17-18th as I am able.

Good luck.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

15th Class: Experiential

After the previous two classes covering game consensus and situated learning, we come now to the existential development of the role-playing character.  This is the process by which the character consciously or unconsciously shifts it’s original purpose and conception through hundreds of hours of game play.  Essentially, dealing with the world, managing the struggles and difficulties associated with adventuring, the precepts upon which the character was founded grow less and less important, while the existential needs and wants of the character take precedence.  The player will, without awareness, reshape his or her perspective, so that past expectations will be achieved or discarded in favor of a new perspective.  Just as we do with our daily lives.

This. too, is connected with meaning making.  The meanings we created once no longer apply; we have new knowledge now … and with it, new meanings.

From the perspective of playing and managing a role-playing game, we need to ask ourselves, how can we advance this change in knowledge, and thereby advance the habit of characters constantly making new meanings for themselves? How can we encourage player and character growth, together?  Because obviously it is not really the character that grows, but the player’s conception of the character.

Before we can answer that question, we must first understand the principles underlying rupture and reconstruction.  This is a universal phenomenon which we all know from personal experience.

The normal pattern of an individual's life follows a pattern of stability interrupted by rupture, followed by restructuring and then new stability.  Ruptures can be radical, causing PTSD, defying restructuring and lasting in years of oscillation between temporary comfort and difficulty.  Ruptures can also be highly transitory, so that something upsetting that happened a particular morning can be acknowledged, managed and ultimately restructured within hours.  Psychology tends to look at the larger moments of rupture because these are much more difficult to manage and often require outside assistance.

Ruptures are highly variable in type.  Ruptures can result from cultural changes and conflicts, such as war or the appearance of some new ideology or social-changing technology.  Ruptures can result as a change in a person's environment, such as moving to a new city or country, a change in management at work or a recession.  Relationship changes, such as divorce, a death in the family, a child leaving home, new love or a change of interests can be a rupture.  Merely growing older, an increase in health issues or changes in one's belief system should also be included.  Ruptures may happen in an instant, or they may accumulate over a period of years.  We need to recognize here, however, that the origin of the rupture is much less important than the effect the rupture has upon the way the person views their immediate world.

We each move from home to office, from office to entertainment venue, from venue to home, from home to parents home ... and each of these spheres possesses a recognizeable identity for us.  We go where we are comfortable; and the less we recognize the sphere, the more hesitant we are to go there, or let ourselves interact with it.  Going on vacation is stress-inducing because we don't know that sphere and we have reason to question that choice.  A bad vacation can very much be a rupture, one that we will have to deal with while losing that opportunity to relax from our day jobs.  This is one reason why some people never go on vacation.

Ruptures, when they occur, cause uncertainty.  Uncertainty is generally seen to be full of tension and anxiety, but it can also be felt as excitement (again, the thrill of going on vacation, to see something we've never seen, is both exciting and stressful).  Uncertainty can be paralyzing.  It can bring on the oscillation between our coming to terms with what's happened, while feeling despair or depression as we fail to overcome the rupture.  We feel a compulsion to explore, to experience newness, but we are also well aware from our own experience that newness can often have a high price.

Our takeaway here should be that we often deliberately court rupture.  We change jobs for the sake of opportunity, we seek out relationships or to end relationships, we adventure into dangerous places for the sake of newness, we play dangerous sports and other games ... and we do these things because, following the oscillation of the reconstruction process, we grow as people.  We see, we experience, we learn, we advance, we develop new ideas and we come away with new tools and methods of managing ruptures that might occur in our future.  If a rupture occurs, we feel certain that we will handle it and that ultimately that management, that reconstruction, will make us stronger.

Most meaningful activities, the ones we most remember, the ones that bring us the greatest amount of satisfaction, deliberately risk some form of rupture.  The very concept of game-playing is rupture on a micro-level.  Let's take a moment and view a typical role-playing campaign in terms of micro-ruptures.

The players create their characters in an atmosphere of certainty, with free time to conjure up backgrounds, purchase equipment, chat with each other about plans and build up their confidence.  Soon, however, after venturing out, they encounter a difficulty.  They have to reassess; change some of their expectations.  But then they advance, restore their characters, head out again ... and get into some really serious trouble.

Soon, it looks like it could end in a total-party-kill.  Several members of the party begin to identify their situation with inevitable doom.  Another disaster befalls the party and yet they fight it out.  Things swing wildly back and forth.  For a moment, the party is safe; then all hell breaks loose.  Someone's character dies.  Another falls unconscious.  Then something is found - treasure, or equipment - and the dead character is restored and the party advances in ability ... one more difficulty and the party retreats back to town and catches their breath.  There is a moment of comfort again.

But because of their actions, a new rupture is forming.  The enemy has followed the party back to town and now there is a momentous battle.  Magic items are used, some are destroyed; the enemy seems impossible to kill; there's no telling who will win; the party's tension rises, the moment is very exciting ...

We deliberately pursue this format of game play because it reflects our characteristics as biological, thinking entities.  We equate rupture with growth; we equate the threat of rupture with purpose.  And then, following the rupture, we narrate the process of stability-rupture-reconstruction and new stability as a story ... because that is how we are constructed to think.

For those who may be familiar with the term, "the Hero's Journey" described by Joseph Campbell is nothing more than the fundamental structure of human being's adapting and reconstructing themselves psychologically following any rupture that might have occurred in their lives.  Campbell's "universality of theme" exists because every person writing a story is a biological human being.

Our goal is to see clearly how creating rupture is the heart of the campaign structure - much more so than story or heroism.  Story is only the recording of the process; heroism is only the self-perception of how we rose to the challenge.  Both are second-hand descriptors of what is really happening.  We need to lay aside non-specific language and address the functional process directly.  We will continue with this subject, applying the cyclical process of experiential rupture and growth after the Mid-Term exam.

I'll take this moment and say a few words about the Mid-Term, which will be the next class.  There will be four essay questions on the exam - the student should choose only two of the essay questions, then write a 500-word essay on each of those two questions.  For those students who cannot follow instructions, you will be graded on the first two exam questions that I see pass my desk.  Each exam question will be worth 50% of the total mark on the mid-term, which as I said before will be worth 40% of your final grade.

You will be given one week from the time when the exam is posted to submit your answers.  Your answers should be submitted to my email,  You will not receive a grade if you do not submit your answers to my email.  You may, if you wish, submit your answers directly to the blog (splitting your answers up as needed to make it fit), but answers submitted to the blog will not be published until after the exam deadline has passed.  Answers submitted to the blog but NOT to my email address will not be graded and will not be published.

I will be grading each essay according to the following method:

  • F Grade.  Essays which show no evidence of grasping or understanding the course content will receive an F Grade.  Take note that answers that introduce outside, unsupported content not included in the course material run a considerable risk of receiving an F Grade as well (I will consider new material that is sourced on a case-by-case basis, subject to the academic value of the source).
  • D Grade.  Essays that accurately repeat the barest material included in the course content, providing no personal insight, will receive a D Grade.
  • C Grade.  Essays that show an excellent grasp of the course content, yet show little or no personal insight, will receive a C Grade.
  • B Grade.  Essays that demonstrate a strong recognition of how elements of the course content influence one another, offering personal insight, will receive a B Grade.
  • A Grade.  Essays that provide remarkable intuition from the course content and the source material, which surprises the examiner with its acumen, will receive an A Grade.
You will not be graded on your spelling or your grammar.  Remember that a D is a Pass.  I wish the best of luck to all concerned.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Go Low, Dumbfucks

Tomorrow is the mid-term election in America.  And two years ago, I took a vow.

Some people who come here are not left-wing in their outlook.  I don't care.  I'm not going to take a second to disparage the right.  I'm only going to say that whatever the outcome of the election, whatever number of people come out and vote, nothing is going to change in America by way of the Democratic party.

And to support that statement, I draw the reader's attention to this argument:

This whole situation is the Democrats' fault ... and has been going all the way back to Lyndon B. Johnson, who was more concerned about popular opinion than he was about how well the Vietnam War was going.

At a time when the Democrats should be going for the knees, their only functional strategy with these mid-terms has been to encourage people to vote.  As though that were a strategy.  It wasn't.  If you think that the Democrats winning anything tomorrow is going to count in the long run, you're just not getting it.

You're just not.

Sunday, November 4, 2018


I was going to create a poll to determine who, if anyone, was interested in taking the midterm exam for the RPG 201 course I've been creating.  But the poll feature has been removed from blogger.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

14th Class: Situated Learning

With our last class, we discussed the orientation of each player to game fundamentals of role-playing, arguing that better comprehension for all concerned would heighten the players' enjoyment and make for a more engaging experience.  When all the players are able to communicate clearly, nearly or all of the time, play is streamlined and the participants are able to invest themselves at a faster pace, on a higher game level.  This happens because conflict is reduced.

Let's move on to a discussion of the players' effects on each other during play, as the DM introduces situations that the players must resolve.  To do this, we need to consider some of the dynamics at play between the individual players - and to visualize those players, we can take advantage of the six-personality types developed by the American psychologist John L. Holland.  Obviously, this is greatly simplified and no one should imagine that players can be slotted into types so that there are only six types of players.  This is an exercise, to highlight the manner in which disparate people might communicate with each other during game play.

As indicated by the image, the six types each express a peculiar outlook or preference towards particular kinds of jobs ... and the development of a personal skill set that contributes to the performance of those jobs.  The conventional tends to like structure and to keep records; the realistic is hands on and practical, with a penchant for independent action; the thinker observes, evaluates, solves problems and is reserved; the artistic puts much of their energy into expression, creativity and a desire to act in unstructured situations; the social feels a strong need to help others, to inform or enlighten if the situation allows; and the enterprising likes to direct, influence, persuade or manage others.  For anyone who has participated in a role-playing game, it is easy to see how each character type manifests itself.

The conventional player is keeping track of everyone the party meets and keeping the dungeon map straight, while maintaining that rules are rules.  She takes notice when the DM says anything unclear, and asks questions because she dislikes anything that's ambiguous.  The realistic player is min/maxing his character, taking advantage of every flaw in the rules and pushing for more power because for him, more power means a better chance at survival.  The investigative player is puzzling and overthinking every aspect of the game so far, proposing theories, analyzing every detail and bearing down on any mystery that might be present, certain that they will figure it out before the DM makes the reveal.  He is also holding back, listening, whenever the party is taking action or discussing things with themselves and others.  The artistic player is designing the appearance of his character, and the castle he'll build one day, and the elaborate backstory of his character, while showing little interest in the campaign's mundane details, such as how much food there is or even what day it is.  The social player is anxious that everyone gets a chance to speak, she is carrying extra supplies in case someone runs out, she is willing to go along with the majority and rarely speaks up against the majority - and, in fact, only joins the majority once it has formed without her.  Finally, the enterprising character is organizing the party, directing who goes with who when the party has to separate, is the first to speak up when speaking with non-player characters and is often the first to sacrifice themselves if a sacrifice is necessary.  The enterprising player will often ensure that everyone speaks in order so that everyone gets a chance to speak (which often pleases each other personality type differently but positively).

We could continue to discuss their individual approaches to the game, deconstructing their motivations and aspirations, but none of these players exist in the game alone and none of them are immune to the influences that other players have.  Towards that end, we would do better to discuss how they interact together and learn from one another.

Towards that end, I've reworked the earlier image to give each of the personality types a name.  Since we have the images to remind us, we can quickly identify these six players and remember what they are individually.  We can imagine Ian sitting between Richard and Armand, with Connie, Ernest and Sophie on the opposite side of the table and the DM posed between Sophie and Armand.  Both these last two are more likely to sit nearest the DM, as they are gregarious and attentive.  Armand wants to show his latest creations and Sophie likes the position of being seated at the DM's left hand.

Richard and Ian are both remote; Richard because he sees his role as opposing the DM while Ian simply wants to watch everyone.  Ernest wants to watch everyone also, but positions himself so that everyone at the table ~ except the DM ~ is immediately close to hand.  Connie, too, is remote; but only because she views herself as the keeper of notes and is comfortable where she is furthest from direct inspection by the DM.

It might seem purposeful to discuss how these personalities conflict with each other ~ yet conflict is more rightly seen as a means to an end, rather than as an isolated event.  If Ernest and Richard conflict over an issue, the conflict itself is not the goal, but rather the resolution of that conflict.  Remember when we discussed earlier that shared meaning making came about through interpersonal and intergroup behaviour.  To achieve a consensus, each participant will want to give their perception of the issue ~ over time, a positive group will find a way to achieve consensus and that particular conflict will be brought to a close.  Conflicts are time-limited, whereas a consensus can potentially reach into future generations.  There are many aspects of human culture that began as bloody conflicts, but eventually resolved themselves into mutual agreements that have lasted centuries as legacies shared down through generations.

However different Richard and Ernest might be, over time Richard will see things in Ernest's management of the table that will seem appropriate and successful ~ and Richard will adopt those strategies.  Ernest will watch how Richard has chosen his weapons and skill sets and will likewise choose to incorporate the same tactics.  Sophie, who might be intimidated by Richard, will feel comfortable enough with Ernest to let the latter show her how to incorporate Richard's ideas.  Ian will puzzle it out as the tactic is discussed around the table, then suggest a point where Richard's ideas could be improved ~ and Richard will immediately incorporate Ian's suggestion. Armand will find reasons not to incorporate the change, such as the lack of personality in everyone approaching the game the same way; and both Ernest and Connie will see merit in that argument and reduce some of Richard's harsher choices.  Armand might then try a watered down version of what Sophie has adopted.  And so it goes, round and round the table.

Armand says something clever to a non-player character and Ian is impressed.  The next time, Ian tries a similar reply, which gets a slightly different response from the DM than Armand got (partly because the DM has also been thinking about Armand's earlier riposte).  Connie has been thinking about the earlier exchange also and quickly comes up with something that supports Ian this time.  Her phrase gets a big laugh from Richard, Sophie and Ernest, which increases Connie's comfort playing with this group.  Richard encourages everyone at the table to speak their minds to NPCs and gets an approval from Sophie ... so Richard tries to say something in the parley that is still ongoing; unfortunately, this falls flat.  Ian tells Richard why, Richard takes it a little hard, Sophie says something encouraging and Armand changes the subject by saving Richard's comment with a quick explanatory lie.  Ernest, ever the persuader, sees how to expand the lie and in moments, Richard's failed effort is forgotten.  If Richard feels encouraged by his peers, he'll try again ... and eventually will learn something about role-playing by watching Ernest and Armand go at it.  And so it goes around the table.

This process is called Situated Learning.  So long as the participants of any activity are busy taking part in that activity, they will habitually learn from one another and ultimately incorporate pieces of what they observe into their own behaviour, no matter who they are or whether they are conscious of doing so.  In neither example given above is any player aware that they are watching, incorporating, self-selecting material or actively teaching the others in their group.  Yet it is happening ~ and over long periods, as a result of hundreds of hours of parties acting together, players will learn immensely just from watching each other play.

Note that I have been careful not to dictate that the manner of play of any of these participants is "better" or "inferior" to another.  Whatever the personality make-up of a game's participants, the players cannot help being what they are or finding importance in the things that matter to them.  Our goal should not be to dictate which player behaviour is appropriate ... or even to dictate what all the players must do with their characters or their approach to the game.  A positively managed group of players ~ those who are encouraged to resolve conflicts, respect each other's differences and focus on the game and not their immediate emotional needs ~ will eventually create a symbiosis that will cause all the players to behave in a single, unified manner, respecting each others abilities and peculiar gifts for solving specific problems.

There are problems in game play that only Ian can solve; or that only Connie or Sophie can solve.  There are situations that call for Ernest's management of the whole party.  Sometimes, Richard will save the day with his mechanical perspective; and sometimes Armand will save the day with his creative perspective.  And each player at the table will take a little bit of the others so that they will have some of Richard's power, Connie's methodology, Ian's insight or Sophie's patience.  This is how our education happens, everyday, regardless of what we are doing that day or where we are going.  We learn by watching, agreeing, adopting, seeing it done better, refining, innovating and then adapting that innovation ... while everyone in our company is doing the same, using our processes just as we are using theirs.

This is how we reach a consensus as a whole culture, by making meaning as we go and encouraging others to do the same.  This is how millions of people steadily shift towards believing the same things.  The practice is pragmatic, complex and incomprehensibly effective.

Very well, that's enough for today.  Just a reminder, we will have one more class and the one after will be the mid-term exam.  The mid-term will count for 40% of your grade.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Recoloring the Desert

I haven't worked on any maps in ages ... that's because back in December, I downloaded Microsoft Office 365, which it turns out is a ram hog of the first order.  It was effectively impossible to do any real work on large publisher files; apparently, Microsoft hates anything larger than a post-card, or ~ it could be ~ it insists everyone must spend $8,000 on a computer.  I've spent a year looking for a solution to this, reading endless accounts of other people complaining the Publisher runs like a frog with one leg on a Texas Highway in August, even though they've bought systems four and eight times as powerful as mine.

So, recently, I gave up.  I have obtained a copy of Office 2007 and, surprise surprise, Publisher works perfectly on it.

Prior to the hiatus, I was steadily redesigning maps, giving the more color and detailing parts of maps that were less civilized, primarily adding ice caps and swamplands.  Apparently the last time I posted about maps was in July of 2017.  Wow.

So, I'm working on my first desert; an area between the Aral Sea (old world boundaries, before it dried up) and the Caspian.  Here's an image of what the map used to look like depicting the area:

All the necessary information is there, but the it isn't exactly beautiful.  The empty hexes are all colored yellow (for dry steppe), orangish pink (for semi-desert) and grey (for full desert).

My idea for a map scheme has been to soften the lines; leave the hexes in place, but reduce the visual effect of the hexes for a more appealing, less rigid map design, while the hex color is reduced to the back ground.

I was fighting with the problem when my old computer began to suffer problems and then didn't pick it up while this new one couldn't manage the process with Office 365.  Now, poking at it for a week, here and there, relaxing after work, here's an example of the new color scheme for the same region:

Much better, I think.  More appealing to the eye, more colorful, and yet retaining all the information from the previous version.  I'll be using this color scheme as I continue to rework maps over the next year, along with adjustments to swamp (as around Astrakhan on the left) and deserts, while changing the names from Times New Roman to Garamond.  It's a relaxing process; I often do it while watching a movie or other entertainment.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Halloween is Nigh

My head is pretty much down lately.  I was given a day off in the middle of this madness we call Halloween ... a madness that I have been blessedly free of until these last three weeks ... and less than one week left, when it is all over.  Such is the experience of working in a costume shop.

Much of this month has been spent packing.  I've been fitting odd-shaped swords, bows with arrows, AK-47s, wizard's staves, 24-inch Captain America shields and other assorted items into Frankenboxes (where we make packages from the dead remains of other boxes), in order to ship them as far away as Sweden and Australia early in the month, and then progressively nearer as the time factor between shipping and Friday tonight, with the onset of ten thousand Halloween parties throughout the world.  I have the day off today because its more-or-less too close to party time to do much shipping.

And as October has progressed, so have the number of phone calls.  The calls we got at the end of September were different.  We were almost fully stocked, with costumes and accessories still arriving right through until yesterday (and probably today, but I'm not there).  The customers were cheerful, pleasant and sure of their costume ideas.  Not so much now.  The stock has trod its way out the door and more and more we have to tell the customers, "No, that's sold out."  Most take it well ... but there is an unquestionable air of desperation.  Impatient desperation.

When I go back tomorrow, it will be mostly parents calling.  Parents who didn't think to bring their kids in sooner.  Parents who were busy.  Parents who have been putting it off because Halloween is a chore.  We've already seen some pretty awful parents.  It is all part of the experience.

I'm slightly disturbed by parents who are anxious to find excessively violent costume ideas for their 5-year-old children.  I suppose I can understand Jason; the hockey mask is iconic and after decades of beyond-the-movie references the killer isn't any worse than Dracula or Frankenstein.  But Saw?  Okay, maybe Jigsaw, but some obscure character from the film?  I had a call like that just a few days ago.  Or what last year's Terrifier movie?  For a 5-year-old?  Just when did this near-infant child see this film character ... when they were four?

Some could argue with me, but I think that the kid has no idea, and the parent just wants to see the kid dressed as some obscure about-to-be dead character from Saw or as a freakishly murderous clown.  It's not a far cry from the parent who wants to dress their three-month old as a pink fluffy sheep or their two-year-old as Bonnie from 5 Nights at Freddies.  I'm saying that the line between, "I want to dress my children as my personal dolls" and "I want to let my children pick out a costume for themselves" is a pretty fuzzy line.

The other ask is the constant request for inflatable costumes for children.  Inflatable costumes are pretty cool.  For example, we sell this one for about $150.  That's a full grown man in the costume, because it's about 7 feet tall and 10+ feet long.  There are motors that inflate the costume and they weigh hardly anything, making them awfully popular.  And of course children want to wear them.

I hate to say it, but we basically sell this costume in
our store; only it is even more invisible.
However, the costume is basically a plastic bag.  Which reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live sketch with Dan Aykroyd playing Irwin Mainway, a manufacturer who sells Halloween costumes for kids that are really dangerous and inappropriate.  I did my best to find a clip but I think it may be banned from the Internet.  Yes, it is really that irresponsible - Aykroyd at his absolute best.

Putting children inside plastic bags is not a good idea; the motor conks out and the costume begins to deflate and the child either doesn't notice or begins to panic.  Instead of doing the logical thing and opening the costume, they freak out, roll around on the ground and suffocate themselves.  Most parents wouldn't think of that ~ and most who did would think, "Not my child."

I get about ten calls a day from parents looking for inflatable dinosaur costumes for children.  Fun, fun, fun.

It's a real kick when I can say "Yes," to someone who has been looking all over the country for a particular costume.  It's fun, too, when I can boost someone's confidence by assuring that the costume will fit and it will look good.  We sell some very, very nice costumes.  No one took me up on my offer of giving advice about costumes this year, which is a shame.  I really have the inside scoop here.

Well, after a few days, we can put Halloween to bed and then it is Santa suits, Santa suits, Santa suits all the live-long day.  I've already had quite a number of those conversations ... and let me just say: if you're one of those people who buys your own $300 Santa suit so that you can dress in it every year and make kids happy, someone ought to erect a statue to you.

You're a damn hero.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Silver Age Cometh

If you’re the kind of D&D player who wants your reading material intellectually rich and gooey, this is definitely the blog. Still, I’d just like to comment a little on the recent posts, which I know hasn’t left much room for light-hearted reading. And regarding that, I’ve been thinking about the scattergun posts that I began writing years ago, and how that has evolved into lengthy series posts and in-depth investigations into the core beliefs underlying D&D and other role-playing genres.

Truth is, my agenda from the beginning of this blog was to inform, to explain what I think D&D “is” … its measure, its potential, the fundamental methodology that underlies how it is run and how it is played.

Unquestionably, it was presumptuous of me to believe that I knew the answers to those questions. People said that I was flogging the "one true way" and that my whole approach was that I was right, and they were all wrong.

That's almost true. They're all wrong ... but so am I.

Which is why I keep trying to figure out how to be more right tomorrow than I am today.  It doesn't do any good to offer another subjective opinion on the substance of role-playing.  We've been offering that since the days of the Dragon Magazine and it hasn't moved the conversation forward in 35 years.  When I have a discussion about alignment today, I hear the same arguments, the same evasions, the same half-baked definitions that I heard when Boy George was singing Karma Chameleon.  The conversation is stuck in the Dark Ages and all the rationally considered personal rhetoric I can offer isn't going to change that.

That is why, increasingly, I've been trying to approach the game from established precepts outside the D&D community ... and trying to build a consensus among those actually playing, rather than those who want to profit from having us play.  Or from those who are turning liveplay into a business, so that film companies and celebrities who have never offered a thing to enhance the game can pollute the agenda and the format for at least a generation.  Whatever approach I'm here to offer now is on the verge of being completely washed away by sponsored louts in a way that will make the min-maxing of powergamers look like an appreciated characteristic of RPG's Golden Age.

Make no mistake, we are definitely moving into role-playing's Silver Age and it is going to be ... an unholy mess.  Those readers who talk about playing D&D until they live in a retirement home are going to find themselves increasingly isolated and made into dinosaurs by the wave of fanboys and girls who don't play, don't understand why anyone would play, when the liveplaying by their heroes is so ... much ... better.

But then, there are so few of us around anyway, who would care?

I have no wish to watch my active game be transformed into a passive experience, where I watch others play, no matter how charismatic.  We've seen the process before.  Where once we had shows that taught how to cook, now we have shows where cooking has been transformed into a sport, where the actual cooking is never explained or even reasonably demonstrated, in order to make room for infantilised adults to express their anxieties and ultimately their blubbering tears when they fail to "win" ... as though knowing how to cook isn't itself an achievement.  Where once we had shows that explained how to make furniture or rebuild your house, now we watch people argue with each other in houses that are being remodeled in the background and off camera, presumedly by a crew of someones who come in when the main personalities stop arguing and go to bed.  Because while tens of thousands might be interested in cooking and renovation, millions are interested in watching people they will never be fight arguments they will never have, during experiences that they will never experience, because it is easier than rising to the bar of having to do something.

For a lot of people ~ a hundred times more than those who have ever DM'd or played in an RPG ~ the Silver Age is going to be a wonderful thing.  They're going to love their personalities, their favorite shows, their most cherished moments and their re-enactments of episodes and adventures, spotted with actual attempts at role-playing but mostly their attempts at producing their own liveplay theatres, which have already exploded across the web.  What they won't like is the inevitable Bronze Age that follows ~ and more quickly than it did for comic books ~ when efforts to create more and more interesting liveplay events drift into the "dark age" of attention-seeking.  But I won't have to write about that for a few years.

My only refuge ~ the only one I can see ~ is to drift myself into academia.  There's a chance that actual role-playing can be preserved ... but I admit, not much of a chance.  I see no chance at all if it isn't grounded in some kind of legitimacy; an examination that will stand the test of time and the shattering of gameplay as "doing it like the heroes on our game channel" becomes more important than playing the game.  Sometimes I feel like a monk in Ireland, glad to have a hovel near the coast where it's quiet and we can think clearly about things that really matter.

Of course, that's my presumption again.  Who says I'm good enough to be a monk?  I'm probably what they say I am: just a boring guy who doesn't understand that the game is just about having fun.

My plan is to produce 36 classes in the RPG 201 course, if I can.  I do plan to present a mid-term exam, and then a final exam, though I'll be surprised if more than a handful try either.  I intend to grade the exams, just as though I were a professor, and I intend to be quite clear on what the exams will be graded upon, so that I can demonstrate after the fact to anyone why this effort got a 'D' and why this effort got an 'A.'  I've been trying to come up with some meaningful artifact that can be gained by those who pass the course (a C- will be sufficient), as proof and for "bragging rights," but I can't think of anything that satisfies my standards ~ meaning, something I would be proud of having if I participated and someone else was grading.

Once I've finished the full course, I intend to reproduce the work as a book, with expanded passages, more examples, fixed passages and a better construction for the overall work.  Afterwards, if I can think of a 300-level course that would follow, I will work on that.  And so on until I choke on my bedsheets at the age of 90+, if I can manage to live that long.

I expect to do most of this in obscurity, watching millions get thrilled as they pay $75 to have their picture taken next to the celebrity of their choice, who can't seem to remember their spell list and needs to read it over again every time it is their turn to cast magic.  Or perhaps I'll watch a movie with the smug bastard who, after preening through nine years of being a DMing celebrity, will finally be given the lead role in a Rom-Com.

It'll probably win an Oscar.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

13th Class: Game Consensus

Today we want to look at how some of the material we've been discussing has a practical application.  To begin a brief overview, we began with the question, what parts of the game are absolutely fundamental, regardless of the participants and their impact on the material?  We then discussed the methods by which we prepare ourselves for playing the game, employing research, estimation and planning, resources and education, then practice and rehearsal.

Afterwards, we examined the process by which an uninformed player of the game becomes competent, then how a competent player becomes an expert ~ and linked to that, an examination between subjective and objective evidence and its influence on our thinking processes.  We then discussed methods of determining the values of subjective evidence, as a means of pursuing objectivity where none exists, through conventions, preparations and mentorship.  Our next three classes dealt with popular theories of RPGs: storytelling, heroism and episodic game-play.  Then with our last class, we pursued the fundamentals of meaning-making, in which we spoke about the meanings we make for ourselves, that serve as a stand-in for knowledge, when making decisions about presenting role-playing games.

Our intention today is to show how preparedness readies us to be mentors, through our understanding of the principles, language and distinctions of RPGs, that in turn places novices on a strong footing to apprehend the game and make themselves capable of the social interactions that take place at the game table.  This is not only a matter of creating new gamemasters, but also through improving the comprehension of the game players themselves, enabling them to know more thoroughly the game they are playing, through the eyes of the person running the game.

This is all important.  All the participants, and not just the Dungeon Master, need to understand every facet of what is happening, all the time ~ just as the participants of any recreational joint activity are given full and complete information about all the facets of any particular game, sport or recreation.  We inform others interested in fishing where the fish are, what the rules surrounding fishing are, what lures and available means of fishing exist and we do so cheerfully and without reservation.  Likewise with participation in a team sport, or when we sit to play a board game.  Socially we consider the social process of meaning-making includes full disclosure where the rules and opportunties are concerned ~ we only conceal our individual strategies and tactics.

As individuals, it falls upon us to explain concepts and limits to other players freely.  We do so because the activity is communal and friendly.  We do so because fellow informed players who learn the game we play waste less of our time asking questions, making confused and erroneous choices, failing to take part in discussions because they don't really understand what's going on and ultimately choosing not to take part again, either because they don't "get it," or because they are ashamed to admit they need help.

It does nothing for us not to explain how specific tools, weapons or spells work.  We have nothing to gain by insisting that players teach themselves, to "prove" themselves worthy of our games, as though the goal is to demonstrate commitment to an ideology rather than active participation.  It does nothing for the DM to reserve knowledge about rules from the players, as an "edge" that gives the DM more power to pervert the game in the DM's favor, as though knowing what the rules are exists as a challenge to the DM's power, rather than a means of facilitating easier and better game-play.  A lack of clarity among players and DM is tiresome and destructive to game play.  A social agreement upon the rules ~ all the rules, all the time ~ creates momentum, trust, unified goals and streamlined play.

Where possible, we should take the time explain the terminology used throughout the game, suspending the game as necessary.  If need be, we can invest some time explaining the relationship between the terminology and how the players view the matter being represented - for example, what a "hit point" is in the game we're running, and what it represents.  We need to obtain a consensus on the use of each skill used by the players, what it does, how it works in this campaign, what limits it has ... and then expand that practice to all the aspects of the game.

In some sense, this is like the "session zero" that is postulated by some participants ~ but we really need to go further.  Role-playing games change progressively as more skills, powers and levels of status become available to the players, so orientation needs to be a constant part of the game process.

Where a consensus cannot be reached; where discord repeatedly disrupts the game over a point of the rules or a point of character building, or with role-play, then discard that rule ... disallow that means of character building ... and reduce the use of role-play.  We cannot stress this enough.  Meaning-making demands social connectivity and relative thought processes, in order to produce a symbiotic thinking apparatus that enables all the participants to share the experience.  If discord keeps popping up, it is a system error.  The system is driving the participants apart.  The answer is to change the system ~ either replacing it with something better or removing it's necessity.  Organizing thinking among the participants improves the subjective experience for all, because it is the same subjective experience.

By investing comparatively little time in making all the participants aware of the game's precepts, we reduce opportunities for gamesmanship.  Gamesmen take advantage of conflict, distraction and antagonism to "break the flow" of the activity.  "Flow" is the mental state of operation in which a single person, or group of people, are fully immersed in an activity to the point where they are fully absorbed.  A common experience where flow occurs is when one's sense of space and time is lost.  Hours go by without consciously experienced as one does when participating in activities that are dull, repetitive or taxing.

Breaking flow is the act of disrupting immersion by tactics such as asking questions that have already been answered, demanding approval or attention, making comments or refences to material that are out of context, dragging out a decision that needs making, adding unnecessary noise, giving purposeless or directly destructive advice, speaking out of turn and so on ... all elements which are advantaged by unclear semantics in the rules, practices that spark conflicts and multiple interpretations of the same game element.

When explaining the rules and precepts of a role-playing game to the participants, the least likely person to appreciate the effort will most likely be the player who feels they "already know the answer" ~ which precludes the certainty of consensus ~ or who feels that the practice is a "waste of time."  This last clearly indicates that one participant at least is not seeking the social aspect of game play, but is instead already angling for advantage against the others.  The most troublesome players will most likely resent any methodology, most of all one that brings the less prepared players up to speed on aspects such as character abilities, options and ways to strengthen their character's effectiveness in play.

In particular, many DMs will resist enhancement of their own players on these lines, being themselves anxious to advantage their own understanding of the rules while undermining the understanding of their players.  Such DMs will resist any attempt to gain knowledge from the player's perspective.  DMs of this type should be recognized early and avoided.

Very well.  With our next class, we'll be discussing the group dynamics of play, covering group strategies, learning through game play and the manner in which brighter more experienced players can be encouraged to "apprentice" players of lesser calibre.

Consensus isn't easy.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

12th Class: Meaning-Making

In each of the three theories discussed so far in this class, including other theories we might have mentioned, the interpretation in each case relates to the way participants learn to manage role-playing games.  RPGs are interpreted as story-driven because they draw on the story telling process that has always been there in our communications with each other ~ but role-playing seems to enhance that importance.  RPG players are interpreted as heroes because positive games result when we act morally and with respect towards others ~ which has always been true, but role-playing seems to make this more evident than usual.  And RPGs are interpreted as goal-driven because we have always strived towards goals, largely by describing our personal narratives in purposeful ways rather than as unpleasant random statements.

Role-playing games simply reflects normal human behaviours.  We are story-tellers, whenever we communicate or express what matters to us.  We may not always pursue an heroic course but we know perfectly well what's expected; and when in the company of others we present ourselves as the sort of people who would do what's expected.  And we are goal-oriented; in many ways, our biology makes us so.  We are not interpreting the game with these ideas.  We are interpreting the way we play the game.  We are holding up a mirror and thinking it is something else.

We should not interpret this as a negative approach.  It is, essentially, what psychologists call "meaning-making," a process that we develop at the youngest age, which we carry with us continuously, as we seek to make sense of situations, relationships or ideas we don't fully grasp.  We look for frameworks that will help us understand these things; and like our Novice learning an RPG, we start with conventions as children, then move onto axioms we create ourselves and finally, if we are so motivated, we begin to see how other people view the world and establish precepts that enable us to make decisions from multiple possible options.  This is how we as humans become proficient as humans.

Let us step back and consider an early issue that arises as we first become acquainted with role-playing: our relationship to the rules of the game.  Initially, due to the number of rules involved and our lack of experience, we will view the rules with a "surface" interpretation, much like studying for exams that demand quick answers.

We focus on the words, accept each rule as written, with some assumption that it will become clear later.  We view the individual rules as separate bits of data, having little to do with one another.  We give considerable credence to the rule source; we interpret the rules as the meaning, bestowing innate, inviolable knowledge to the writer of the rules, presuming that the writer cannot possibly have failed to make the meaning clear when wrestling with the language.

This surface learning begins to break down when others in our association begin to interpret the rules differently than ourselves; and at once we set up standards by which the rules ought to be interpreted, which in turn become conventions for new players.  We are making meaning out of the rules in a way that satisfies the immediate needs of the game, but fails to engage with deeper issues and concepts that underlie the rules ~ the very purposes that the rules were originally written to serve.  We need to ask ourselves, were the rules written to establish the rules themselves, or were the rules written to enable the full dimensions of the game to be played?

With experience and awareness of how the game's rules apply in a wide variety of situations, we begin to understand that the meaning of the text is deeper than the words used to describe it.  We recognize that learning the game is a conscious agent of understanding the rules in an holistic sense ~ how the object of the game depends on a wide view, where the individual rules are not isolated but in fact relate to each other in multitudinous ways.  We seek to compare our interpretations with the semantic message-making of the rules as written and integrate both into our game play (possibly making new interpretations or rewriting the rules), creating axioms.  And finally, we test our interpretations on players during games and either reinforce our axioms or revise them.

For most people, this is done entirely without conscious awareness of the process. We only discuss the process here in order to understand it, and through understanding make ourselves more aware of what we ourselves are doing, and what others are doing when they communicate with us.

The rules of the game are merely one small facet of the meanings we create for ourselves while comparing what we're told, or what we read, with our own deep investigation into the fundamental material used to communicate RPGs.  Deep learning leads to meaning-making that produces stronger practices and more relevant advances in game play (it does with all other human activity as well).  Deep learning encourages closer examination of the sources, which leads to strategies for an even deeper and more holistic approach to meaning that we make out of the game.

With the last three classes, I have been emphasizing that what we believe about the game, as expressed in various theories, is subjective and is therefore not knowledge, which requires objective proof.  At this point we need to ask the question, is meaning-making knowledge?

No.  It is not.  Meaning-making is also subjective and we should not mistake our interpretations of the materials as knowledge-making.  It would be fully possible to concoct meanings from a given source material with a highly obscure or highly prejudiced sensibility, ending with a viewpoint or values that were extreme or even perverse.  In our experiences with the internet, we have all seen many such examples ... we need not list them.

What makes meaning meaningful is that it has the potential to be shared.  Our perceived reality must be communicable to others, to give it any legitimacy.  The reason why we draw on studies and resources for this class comes from our recognition that others have produced ideas and theories that sought to be recognizable to others in the same field, who were examining the same materials and arriving at approximately the same axioms to explain the various facets behind human behaviour or comprehension.  When we make meanings that approach a positive self-concept, others respond to the values of that concept and re-evaluate their own approaches along a continuum between interpersonal behaviour and intergroup behaviour.  This concept defines what we think of as social identity theory.

Without the possibility of knowledge making, given that objective proof of our interpretations has escapes human abilities for the present, meaning-making along that continuum is the best we have.  It is not enough for us to make meanings for ourselves.  We are prescribed to create meanings that others will find valuable; and to express those meanings in a manner that will enable others to build on our interpretations in a positive manner that can then be carried forward by other persons and later generations.  In this sense we move the process towards knowledge, even if knowledge itself is outside our abilities.

With our next classes, we'll be investigating meaning-making strategies for game play that semantic, interpretive and holistic in nature, before moving onto lectures where we'll be discussing a base understanding of key structures and functional design of role-playing games.

I'll just remind the class that the mid-term exam in coming up with our 16th class ... and that studying early should be something you'll consider doing.  We'll talk about the particulars of the exam soon.

A little early for Christmas, but the right sentiment nonetheless

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ray of Enfeeblement

Giving some oomph to this long-considered weak spell:

Range: 10 ft. +5 ft. per level
Duration: 1 round per level
Area of Effect: 1 creature per level
Casting Time: 1 round
Saving Throw: negates
Level: mage (2nd)

Weakens an opponent by striking them with a magic ray, emerging from the caster's hands or eyes.  If the struck creatures fail to make saving throw, their strength will be sapped at once, causing 1 round of dazed weakness equivalent to the creature being stunned.

The strength lost will equal 2-5 points, +1 additional point per 2 levels of the caster above 3rd.  This would mean that a 5th level caster's ray would reduce strength by 3-6 points, a 7th level caster by 4-7 points, a 9th level caster by 5-8 points and so on.  The ray of enfeeblement is particularly effective on creatures with great strength, such as giants and warrior races.

When employed against creatures that crush or squeeze their opponents, whose exact strength is unknown, such as apesboa constrictorscouatl and the like, the ray will lower the damage done by these attacks by 1 point per strength lost.

Creatures can be drained until they are at zero strength but no more.  Creatures so affected cannot move or act, and have not even the strength to speak.  They must wait until the effects of the spell pass before regaining their strength.

Strength that is lost is regained at a rate of 1 point per round after the ray's effect has passed. Therefore, if a 3rd level caster were to affect a hill giant with a 19 strength, reducing that strength by 4, the giant's strength would be 15 for a total of 3 rounds (while the spell was in effect).  It would then take four rounds before the giant's strength would return to normal.

The ray of enfeeblement ignores percentile strength.  Those with an 18/percentile strength are considered to have a strength of 18 ... and when regaining their 18 strength, the percentile is assumed to have been regained also.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

11th Class: Game-Play

With our last two classes, Storytelling and Heroism, we discussed theories that contributed to player well-being and motivation.  Today I'd like to talk about a theory of game-play, suspending for the moment a schematic discussion of how moment-to-moment game play might be resolved, and instead discuss a theory that arises among role-players as they progress from Novice to Competent player.  That theory would be that the best campaigns or adventures are fundamentally goal-oriented.

Let's examine what I mean by "goal-oriented."  The imagination might leap to the most immediate example, the expectation of a party bound on an adventure that produces at the moment of success the substance of Joseph Campbell's elixir, enabling greater knowledge, insight, reconciliation with a lover or some equally necessary treasure to the so-called Heroes' Journey.  But here we limit ourselves if we consider merely stories that begin with a hero setting off on a quest, achieving that quest and arriving back home.  We have many stories in our lexicons that resolve themselves as simply, such as romances, court intrigue, mystery stories, comedies and tragedies, all of which are compelling and none of which depend on a concrete resolution.

We might base a role-playing campaign on any of these, though admittedly some would find fault with some of these examples ~ and we should understand that this fault finding is subjective, and not indicative of impracticality where role-playing games are concerned.  Many role-playing games explicitly examine alternative stories as a basis for game-play.

However, we must take note that all of these games are necessarily goal-driven, because they are fundamentally episodic.  They have a recognizable beginning and an end ~ and as such, "adventures" and "alternative" role-playing campaigns are largely bound by the broad strokes of Campbell's thesis: we begin with a call to adventure, we motivate the players towards a goal, the players set off, they are tested, they are rewarded, they return to the ordinary world and await for the next episode to begin.

Or to rephrase it in game mechanic terms, the players sense what is happening, view the model, evaluate the situation, make plans, act ... and then begin the process again with the next episode.

The example on the right is a further example of the same principle. Though we examine the various subjective aspects of what makes "good" or "awful" game-play, we recognize instinctively that the play itself is episodic.  The reason is plain to see.

To begin with, our game experiences were initiated with games far simpler than role-playing, almost always with characteristics that included "winning" and "losing."  And all of those games were distinctly episodic in format, and almost always in a format that enabled play from the beginning to the end in one sitting.  It is natural that we would see RPGs as an extension of that episodic format, even if a given scenario stretches out over several game sessions.

Additionally, when considering what a game scenario ought to be, we return to storytelling ... and again, virtually every example we have of a story is episodic.  A book may take many sittings to read, but it, like a movie, a play or the recounting of personal events by a friend, has a recognizable beginning and an end.  Long before becoming involved in RPGs, we have already heard many thousands of stories and are thus primed to think naturally in parcels of time when attempting to express ourselves.

When discussing stories, we talked about how good stories obtain the attention of our listeners and make a collection of facts easier to hear and remember.  We have all experienced situations where a speaker seems to ramble at length about a group of disconnected ideas and events, the recounting of which seems random and without purpose.  We can barely keep our minds from wandering, while wishing to press the speaker to "get to the point" ~ which can be difficult if the speaker is an employer or a lecturer, where self-interest or social propriety disallows such an approach.  When thinking of an RPG without a strong, worthy story at its core, our minds travel directly to some situation where we imagine a DM reading off lists of disconnected values, like an accountant droning upon our tax receipts, or the pursuit of a mundane collection of activities, such as an RPG called, "House and Handicrafts."

The necessity of an episodic, story-driven campaign scenario is so powerful that we're bound to think that it's presence cannot possibly be a theory.  Yet, again I will remind the class, what have we objectively proven?

Granted, we are raised on an episodic portrayal of events.  We have adapted to it, we have embraced it ... and through personal experience we have witnessed examples of the contrary that confirmed that we have taken the right path.  Subjectively.  We have not, ourselves, examined at length and over an extensive period of time any personal alternative, nor have we demonstrated with anything except our value judgements that RPG campaigns can only be effectively run in the manner of adventures and other episodic formats.

Remember that when we discussed the path from competency to proficiency, Dreyfus wrote about how proficiency meant being able to discriminate between a wide range of choices regarding what might be true and what might not, in order to explore a situation in depth and arrive at a decision that took all the facets of the study into consideration.  That is why we make the distinction between a "fact" and a "theory."  Not because the theory can't be held to a practical standard, or employed with day to day use, but because it can't be measured directly against other possible theories that might also be employed, if we were to open our mind wide enough to consider that there isn't just one subjective viewpoint ~ our present one ~ in the offing.

For our next class, we'll be talking about the origin of these theories and why they seem to make so much sense that we're loathe to consider any alternative, as we discuss meaning-making.