Saturday, April 25, 2015

Crossed Party Paths

Thank you, Maliloki, for asking a question yesterday that gives me an excuse to write this.

I have had three campaigns running in my world at the same time.  I still sort of do, but the online campaign's hiatus cruelly drags on.  Offline, I still have two running.  The question was, is it the same world for all parties?  And if not, is there a chance that the actions taken by one party will affect another?

My first party began in the town of Kolyeno in the county of Voronezh, Russia, on May 1, 1650.  It began there because that was the first part of my world that I mapped according to the principles my blog readers recognize (elevation, 20 miles per hex, etc.).  I began with Voronezh because it was flat steppeland, lightly populated and a long way from the ocean.  I felt, at the beginning of my mapping, that I should start deep inland, developing my skills as I moved outwards.

I know that in my book How to Run I proposed starting on an island or a peninsula.  I made that suggestion because I know most campaigners don't set out to make nit-picky maps based on the actual world's latitude and longitude.  A writer has to know the audience.

At the time of starting that campaign, eight years ago, I hardly had more of the world mapped than that tiny area of south European Russia.  Kolyeno is a tiny village of about 200 people, the right location to start a 1st level party.  In such a small village, their own, where they had friends and family, they weren't likely to be threatened until they took their first risks.  The choices the party made, combined with random events that involved the party indirectly, led them first towards China, then Persia and finally to Transylvania.  Throughout it all, it was their choice to stay or go.

The online campaign began within two weeks of a spontaneous idea I had in February, 2009.  I called it a 'stupid idea.'  It turned out to be somewhat better.  By 2009 I had four years of mapping under my belt and I had produced sufficient areas of the world to provide several options.  However, as I was working on advancing my trade system specifically for a start in Germany, I wanted to experiment with that.  Therefore, I offered the online players a choice of Mecklenburg, Saxony, Sudetenland, Vogtland, Erzgebirge, Bohemia, Moravia, Upper Austria and Bavaria.  The party ultimately went for the last option.  I rolled randomly for a center in Bavaria that wasn't Munich, Augsburg or Nuremberg (I did not want to start them in a big city) and got Dachau.  Yes, that same Dachau.

That location created the events that followed.  The choices the party made, combined with random events that involved the party indirectly, led them first towards Switzerland, then Cuxhaven (after a slight reboot) and finally to the Azov Sea.  Throughout it all, it was their choice to stay or go.

Of course these two campaigns were utterly unique, though they both started on the same date.  At the moment the First Party was in Kolyeno in Russia, the Second Party was waking up in Dachau, Germany.  When the year turned to 1651, the First Party was stumbling south through the desert east of the Caspian Sea, while the Second Party had just been freed from the hands of a bandit in northern Italy.

The Third Party began late in 2011.  Because I had done detailed maps of the area, and because that party did not care, it began in Kronstadt in Transylvania, again on May 1, 1650.  That party consisted of three persons who poked around the area a little before wandering generally southeast into Serbia, Kosovo and ultimately Albania.  When the year turned 1651 for them, Demifee had died and they had made their way to Amisos in northern Turkey.

Now, this is interesting.  In game time, the Third Party passed down the road from Amisos to Melitene before the Second Party, during January of 1651.  However, in real time, the Second Party had already been down that same road, in April of 1651.  Technically, after the Third Party in game time but the actual campaign took place in winter 2013/4.

If this doesn't fuck with your head, nothing will.

The Third Party never came to the little dungeon I set up for the Second Party (which they encountered on the way back to Amisos), for obvious reasons . . . I didn't need to!  As the Second Party came through, they came across the wounded Sphinx, who they saved, setting up a totally different adventure on the same ground.  Why wouldn't I?

Will these parties encounter each other?  Possibly.  For the next year, until Spring 1652, the First Party will be wandering around the northern Ural Mountains.  This because two members of the First Party pulled from a Deck of Many Things, earning the enmity of the same demon, then played stupidly playing with certain picture-portals in a dungeon (they were warned, seriously, that the pictures were EVIL), the demon grasped their souls and dumped them onto the first level of Hell.  Literally.  The rest of the party then went on a quest to get them out (the characters weren't dead, just trapped, a'la Theseus).  I doubt if the Second or Third parties will stumble across them, there, as 1651/52 plays out.

After that, the First Party settled in their Transylvania fief, only to spend the next year trying to wake up King Carol, the last king of the Avars, who slept for 900 years under a mountain in the Tatras between Slovakia and Galicia (Poland).  That is a whole other story.  For them, as I said on the previous post, it is now late 1653 . . . and for various reasons, they will soon be heading for Khorezm in Turkestan, to fight a big, big fight against an old enemy.

I expect that the Second Party, online, will be managing to keep alive in and around the Black Sea for all that time.

Meanwhile, the Third Party is returning these holy items to their origin.  I can't say yet where they will be, since the players only have some of this information . . . however, it looks like they will be crossing to Aria, in northwest Afghanistan, seeking knowledge.  Just now, they're involved in events in Egypt.

See, my world is so immense, so HUGE, that even if all three parties happened to be in the same place at the same time, it would probably be a big city - where they could easily not stumble across one another unless I arranged it.  Or, like the Second and Third parties both passing through Tokat, they would be there three months apart or more.

I don't have to take special steps to ensure they don't meet.  Though I do need to keep good records on the date.

Something made easy by the fact that my world uses the same calendar.


Do be sure and catch the newest post on my new cooking blog.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Second Thoughts

Yesterday, I had to make a clarification, one that I will remake now.  I am firmly against increased and incessant role-playing constraints in role-playing games.  That is, the sort of thing where players are compelled by the DM to 'act out' lengthy scenes, often repeatedly, between their characters and the DM's NPCs.  I am not a fan of diceless participation events, which I will not call games as nothing game like occurs.

My post yesterday regarding funhouses was written to highlight how greater emphasis on mental participation has derived from the failure of RPGs to maintain their value in a rapidly changing world.  It was also written to point out how 'role-playing' has itself been redefined in order to justify the inclusion of insipid bantering as an alternative to making a better playing field for play.

Plainly, I wasn't clear.

The "Funhouse" I addressed is the closed, ordered, simplistic module set piece designed to
 surprise, challenge and amuse the player.  Specifically in a way that can be controlled, manipulated and most importantly simplified so that the DM is never challenged, never has to step out of his or her comfort zone and is never, ever, compelled to redesign or rethink a prepared, static and stultified landscape where the players have been placed.

We like to call it a railroad, but it is much more.  Railroads go somewhere.  The Funhouse is a box.  It goes nowhere.

Yesterday, I argued that the Funhouse was the logical construct for role-playing, given that it was made in a time of pencil and paper graphics.  More wasn't possible . . . except with excessive resources, none of which were available, asked for or expected by a small company fundamentally unable to service the very game they created.

What have we changed since?  Not a blasted thing.

Most people express sounds of being stunned, surprised and amazed that I have systematically been making maps that cover a fair part of the world.  That's fine, I'm just one person and I don't spend all my time working on maps.  But think what could be done with extensive resources!

Steam is all excited that they can offer this interactive system for the official 5th Edition, but how much is it, really?  In the demo, the creator/demonstrator literally goes on line and proceeds to steal the work/content of another, random person, then insert it into the game system you're using.  In fact, it is a design feature of the system, that it can rip off the internet so you don't have to make your own maps.  More importantly, STEAM doesn't have to make them.  "Hey, we know you're already ripping off the internet!  This will make it easier!"

I don't really care . . . but it shows where the focus is.  Steam and the programmers aren't interested in providing you with any sort of consistent, reliable setting for your campaign; they're making it easier for you to insert other people's funhouses for your convenience and their profit.

Fundamentally, since the program does nothing my earlier version of publisher didn't do back in 1998 (except for the auto features, which were technologically possible 17 years ago), the company hasn't done anything.  In fact, they've taken a few short cuts, since they're relying on the existing internet to fill in the holes for their product's imagery.

Does the program allow me to build on the program, then extend that build indefinitely into endless space?  No.  In this age of GoogleEarth, that is not an option.

But that's okay, because I can build my world on a totally different program, then import it into Steam's system, where it is useless because I prefer hexes to squares.

Someone invented Greyhawk more than 30 years ago.  Where is the massive Greyhawk virtual surface where players can move their pieces, not just independently but also simultaneously, in real time, in a non-turn based process, like any multiplayer video game right now?

Sorry, that's not available.  Not because it couldn't be available, but because, well, that's not our agenda.

I apologize.  I'm very biased about this.  I never began a campaign with the notion of running a dungeon funhouse.

Anything less than a world bores me.

Gawd, I wish I had better content to write about than this.



Good, I can quit making a world now.

Unless . . . oh wait, this only works if I play strict 5th Edition rules, doesn't it?  And if I use a square map grid.  Still, there are a lot of benefits to adopting this software.  Nice to see this kind of thing coming along.

The one thing I would truly like to get out of it would be the ability to let other players move their characters.  As things are for my combats, I am stuck moving everyone according to their instructions . . . this Fantasy Grounds offers an alternative.

Beyond that, the program doesn't do very much that my working on publisher doesn't already allow. The program does many things in a more automatic fashion, but I doubt very much that it is more versatile than my imagination.  In some ways the 'automation' would drive me nucking futz.

Most readers, however, should check it out.  Many will find their jaws dropping.

In many ways, this is an answer to my statements yesterday concerning video games knocking pen & pencil D&D for six . . . it is, however, still the implementation of the Funhouse.  More on that in a little while.

Pushing, Pushing

For a fortnight, I'm going to be pushing the new blog.  What's the use in an experiment if no one reads it?

I will, however, be writing here also.  My only difficulty is that the D&D project I'm working on at the moment is a statistical re-evaluation of one aspect of my trade system, a methodical process that requires that I go through and re-organize the references for more than 900 market cities.  It is dull, repetitive, impossible to explain . . . and exhaustively time consuming.  Thankfully, I love shifting numbers around, possibly because I am an alien.

As such, I have nothing to write at the moment except opinion.  I can't talk about my wilderness damage table because I'm not working on that.  I can't highlight recent additions to my wiki because I'm not working on it.  I can't post a map because I'm not mapping or updating existing maps.  I'm crunching numbers.

Opinion is good, though . . . yes?  I hope yes.

It's ten a.m. as I write this.  I'm going to shove out the 20-30 resumes I canvass daily and then I'm going to get some other chores done while sitting and waiting for the phone to ring.  Then I'll pick up yesterday's discussion about Funhouses.  Sit tight, enjoy your day, we'll talk later.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Let us speak of the intervening annoyances of reality.

Progressively, I have been lately coming to the conclusion that there are only so many D&D players out there.  Not that I don't love you bastards - those that I do love, at least.  Unfortunately, thinking and planning as a writer, there may not be enough of you to love me into a steady gig.

Recently, now that I am three months unemployed, in a city woefully dependent on a stumbling oil industry, I am thinking of the distant future.  I am thinking that perhaps I need to branch out into other subjects.

I have considered starting a blog reviewing film or discussing theatre.  I've done a lot of that here on the blog and I could chatter on for awhile that way.  Others have certainly found an online future there.  Yet I know from earlier efforts in that direction that I don't have much interest in it.  I mean, I can write about it - I just don't care to.

Politics is a possibility; yet I am so disgusted with the state of politics in the present era, both at home and abroad, I doubt I have much to say that wouldn't be ranting.  I would prefer something more civil.

Towards that end, I am going to try an experiment.  It will likely fail . . . but we will never know if we don't try.

I hope the reader understands that this will not mean I will cease writing this blog or cease working on my wiki.  I plan to continue playing D&D until my demise and the wiki is tremendously satisfying as a game support.

Only, of late, when someone asks me to send something that I have written, that proves my skill . . . well, I've spent most of my recent efforts on this blog and this subject.  I'm greatly out of the habit where other writing is concerned.

So, there we have it.  As long as I'm not employed anyway, I have the time to spend on vanity projects.  I'm interested to see if this one takes root.

The Funhouse

"For fuck's sake, this isn't fiction."

Those are Maxwell's words from yesterday, expressing the exasperation and frustration he's feeling with DMs who cannot grasp the role-playing game's fundamentals.

Fiction is a work "of imaginative narration . . . something feigned, invented or imagined; a made up story."

A role-playing game is a participation "in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting."

I understand Maxwell's aggravation.  Having created the fictional setting, the DM tends to drift into a pattern where it becomes necessary to control the actions of the characters in order to keep them in union with that setting.  Why is it necessary?  Because we fall in love with the things we make.

This is not the sort of D&D I play now, but it was once (a long time ago, when homes had rotary phones).  I would estimate that 99.9% of DMs equate 'campaign preparation' with 'making a building for the party to act in.'  That building might be above ground, it might be a dungeon, it might be a ship . . . but it is a construct of some sort which is fundamentally designed to produce a given behaviour once players enter.

We can call this form of game preparation the "Funhouse Method."  The player characters are looking for something to do.  To give them something to do, the DM invents a storefront.  The storefront has an entrance that in turn leads to a path.  Along the way there are things that will amuse the players, surprise the players and enrich the players.  In time, the players will find the end of the Funhouse and step out the other side, where they will be able to shake it off and enjoy a corn dog or a cotton candy.  When the next Funhouse is ready, the players will enter it.

The origin of the Funhouse reflects the time and limitation of the role-playing game's creators.  The game had never existed.  The rules seemed naturally suited for a closed, restricted environment.  Working with pen and paper in the age of rotary phones, a more elaborate environment was impossible.  The Funhouse was practical.  It was contained.  It had limits that the DM, with the DM's resources of that time, could manage.

As the Funhouse proved an effective, doable setting from the start - and since templates for the Funhouse could be published in their entirety as a single unit quite easily - the Funhouse developed a reputation for reliable, easy-to-run usefulness.  An ordinary DM, with little experience, could purchase a few Funhouses, run them, gain experience, then set out to design Funhouses of their own. With more experience, these Funhouses could be made more elaborate.  Research through the purchasing of Funhouses that had earned a reputation for brilliance could help ensure better and better constructs that could astound and entertain the participants.

However . . .

The world moved on.  Pen and paper was replaced with computers, that in turn proved they could create the Funhouse far, far more effectively than the role-playing game could.  Whatever the excitement created by role-playing games in the late 70s, it was dwarfed by the staggering potential of video.

In response, a strange thing happened.  The pen and the paper of the role-playing game became a fetish.  Tools that had been used simply because there were no other tools became emblematic of "What the game really was," an obvious reactionary response to the threat imposed by video.  As video has expanded the Funhouse into extremes impossible to manage with pen and paper, those tools have nevertheless become enshrined by the role-playing community.

There has been a response in RPGs to video games.  That response has been role-playing.

Comparing my memories of games and the community in the 1980s with what I read today, there has been a re-interpretation of what role-playing is.  The term was borrowed from the 1960s by the university students who invented D&D because it seemed a natural description of injecting personality into an imagined construct.  To understand what "role-playing" meant to the originators of the game, it is important to know the definition of the term as it existed in 1973, when it was taught to those same students.

Here is a discussion of the potentials of role-playing from Coping and Defending, Processes of Self-Environment Organization, p. 92:

"Still other kinds of situations require different patterns of ego processes.  If subjects are engaged in an objective and dispassionate discussion - for instance, in interviews that are done to collect demographic data, they are not likely to have much need to regulate their affective reactions (except as some subjects' idiosyncratic and not entirely assimilated memories - their childhood social-economic status, for example - may cause them to reaccommodate to past events of pain or joy). Situations where people must act, and thereby publicly actualize themselves, are more likely to require affective regulation.  Much research so far done with this ego model has been based on people's ego processing in interviews that call for relatively detached reporting about one's self, rather than acting for one's self.

One exception is the work by Hunter and Goodstein (1967) and Margolis (previously Hunter) (1970). These investigators designed four role-playing situations wherein student subjects were called before a "dean," who had either correct or incorrect information about them and who intended to praise or punish the student for superior or inferior performance.  Margolis reports that the use of various processes was highly specific to each of the four role-playing situations.  This is, of course, the point that needs to be made: Different situations require different ego patterns that usually emerge, not because the situation determines the person, as the social learning theorists assume, but because the person cognizes the situation and in interacting with it, brings specific patterns from his ego repertoire into play."

I must confess.  When I read things like the above, I hear hammers falling on simplistic evaluations of players made by DMs.  I get excited, I see the evidence accumulating for why rebuilding the system or why punishing the player to get different responses is built on deeply faulty premises.

I forget that for people not used to reading this sort of material, much of that reads like gobbledygook.  I'm sorry about that.  I recommend getting up to speed on this sort of research if you're ever going to have a meaningful opinion about these things.

The above quote is an example of the thinking behind role-playing: that the process of pretending to be something the individual was not was revealing of egocentric behaviour that the individual was likely to keep hidden most of the time.  Role-playing was advanced (still is) as a psychological methodology for surfacing, and thereby managing, elements of an individual's subconscious personality.

As role-playing games progressed farther and farther from psychology, however, the term 'role-playing' was redefined by gaming participants more in line with 'acting.'  To act is to function as a "storytelling medium who tells the story by portraying a character and, usually, speaking or singing the written text or play."

Since the DM's part of the role-playing game was to role-play the non-player characters in the created Funhouse, the npc-as-storytelling-medium became central to the fictional setting.  However, the DM's agenda as a role-player was very, very different from the player's agenda as a role-player.  The player was free to be dispassionate about the player character because the passion of the PC was not relevant to the entertainment-value provided by the setting.  The player's enjoyment was reflected in the player actually enjoying what was happening all around, and not by the player's self-satisfaction at having played the character "well."

At least, not until the matter of role-playing became more important in light of the competition offered by the advancement of video games.

Throughout the 90s, the importance of character role-play was preached and promoted by game producers as it had never been before.  Remember, initially the use of the term 'role-play' only existed to distinguish between the original Chain-mail rule-set and the invention of D&D.  The importance of the descriptive adjective was conflated with time into the all-consuming purpose of the game - at least, in the eyes of some people, particularly those who were financially competing with other media.

As there was no way to improve the Funhouse technically, it became necessary to improve the Funhouse esoterically.  The back-story, or reason for entering the Funhouse, was turned up to 11 as a means of creating a better and more thoroughly emotive gaming experience.

However . . .

This was impossible if the players themselves were not co-opted into the esoteric construction.  Thus, a greater pressure was placed on fitting the characters into the setting by any means necessary.

This brings us to Maxwell's original complaint.  His exasperation and frustration has been brought about by a willing effort to save the Funhouse by yes, insisting that it IS fiction, it IS the responsibility of the players to adopt EMOTIONAL, MYSTERIOUS persona in order to make the game BETTER than it has ever been before.

Otherwise, how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015



Through B/X Blackrazor, I came across this.

Lately, I've been constantly on the look-out for ways to promote my books, promote the blog, promote anything about me that I can.  So I thought, well, 200 words to describe an RPG?  That's a joke, right?

So I sent the joke RPG I had put together three years ago.

After all, there it is, pre-made and ready [link given to enable finding comments to the original post].

I told Mr. Schirduan that I didn't care about his prizes, but a mention of me or my books would be prize enough.

Heard back.  Mr. Schirduan did not understand.  Did not see how this could be a role-playing game.

I wrote back, saying sorry.  That I hadn't realized he actually wanted rules.  Whereupon I got an answer back, that whatever this was, it would be a pretty terrible game.

Wouldn't anything of 200 words or less be a pretty terrible game?  That's what I asked.  The answer came, encouraging me to take his contest seriously and give it a real try.

And this . . . this . . . is why I avoid the community.

I am too busy taking my own world seriously to invest my time and effort in order to win this fellow's approval.

As you move through this life, you may feel reassured that there will always be someone else who will assure you that your future lies in taking THEIR agenda seriously.  You may be sure they will tell you how 'fun' it will be and how much 'you' will get out of participating.  Because, obviously, Mr. Schirduan's primary agenda is to make your life better.

This is part of why I am a terrible marketer.  I have trouble redirecting the responsibility onto others.  I have trouble taking a smug attitude about how much my book will do for you.  "Yes, without my book, your world will be terrible.  Without my book, you will never be a good DM.  You should seriously think about my book, because of what it will do for YOU.  You'd understand that, if only you'd take my book seriously."

Well, I guess I'm doomed to fail.  Because none of that is true.

I have written a few books about D&D.  They contain details and discussions you won't find elsewhere . . . just like this blog.  They will cost you the same amount as your morning coffee for one, maybe two weeks.

Each includes somewhat more than 200 words.

Apparently, I'm missing a gimmick.

Let's see.  Let's have a contest.  Design a national constitution sufficient to cover all the needs of a country larger than 200 million.  Please be specific and account for all variables.  200 word maximum.  The winner receives a bootleg copy of a 70-second porn video featuring a bullwhip and a strap-on.

Submissions due by 5 a.m. April 23!

Good luck!


Just for fun, thought I'd post an update of my Palestine map that I finished a few weeks ago.  The color scheme has been altered to my new template, as has the desert hexes, coastlines, roads, borders and so on.

This used to be on my Same Universe wiki, but that site is gone now.  Sorry I can't offer a comparison.

Don't Get Them

Want to hear something funny?  I've only just stumbled on StackExchange.

I suppose this kind of thing is necessary.  Someone is going to invent it, run it, drive traffic to it and use it as evidence that they're 'helping' bring the community together.  I can't say, however, that I have much interest in it - except as a thought experiment.

Take this page, the one that includes the most frequent questions.  In turn, take the question"How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins?"

The most popular answers are as follows:

  • Blame the RPG you're playing.  Choose RPG's that do not promote casual violence
  • Punish bad behaviour; make the players think hard about their immoral actions
  • Take away the motivation for killing by changing the game mechanic
  • The players are merely reacting to the setting you've created

It's a perfect representation of the same answers we get about why people commit crime in the real world:  environment, lack of alternatives, failure of deterrents and poor education.  Without thinking about it, a group of amateurs has re-invented the penitentiary system.  The argument that builds up on the page, mechanics vs. reward/punishment, reflects the real problem that has existed since we decided not to simply execute everyone in society that proved to be a problem:

How do you make people behave as you want them to behave, while giving them the illusion of freedom?

Well, I don't have an answer for that.  No one does.  The faulty premise is right there in the original question: the speaker has already condemned the players as "cretins" right out of the gate.  All conversation from there necessarily goes downhill, since the motivation here is clearly trying to change people . . . not play the game.

This does seem to be a special problem that exists among the participants in role-playing games.  I must assume that there are many participants who are playing these games with strangers, people who are not their friends, who are therefore unable to appeal to sentiment or mutual respect.

Speaking for myself, I only play with friends.  When I have had a new player, I have made sure I reach out and make that person my friend.  When this has proved impossible - and it has - then that person is not invited back.  I feel no responsibility towards people who are not friendly.

I must also assume that many participants are uncomfortable with fictional murder.  I am not.  When my players commit murder, I don't automatically set out to 'punish' them for their actions.  True, if they kill an especially powerful person, there will be consequences - but I don't automatically create consequences for every murder because I don't consider that important.  If the party feels a need to kill off a bunch of fictional creations from my imagination, I don't care.  These are my friends; they have stressful jobs; they work hard and throughout their days they have to put up with all sorts of objectionable people (cretins).  If they want to blow off a little steam by putting a sword through the ribs of a government official, who am I to deny them?

But, of course, inherent in the original question is the adjoiner, 'My PCs keep killing off the wrong people.'  That is, people who the DM created to deliberately manufacture the next part of the adventure.  There's no reason for the DM to care if the players kill off someone inconsequential.  It only matters if the players kill the DM's pet.

Well, that's the real world too, isn't it?  The cops don't care if some druggie is killed in a slum in Watts, Ferguson or Haarlem; but kill a white man uptown?  Yeah, then you've got trouble.

This is a good time for a digression.

I finished watching the 8-episode first season of Agent Carter.  Yeah, there are problems, but that isn't important right now.  Suffice to say I don't watch a lot of mainstream television, so there are tropes I remember that I haven't had to put up with for a long time.

For example, that ever-constant scene where the good girl has already determined how bad is the bad guy, along with how desperate it is that the bad guy be stopped and right now.  And here we are, with the good girl pointing a gun at the bad guy and not firing.

Wouldn't it be nice if television could work like D&D?  None of my players would hesitate to blast the bad guy by surprise through the open door; none of my players would warn the bad guy and tell him to put his hands up.  None of my players would ever, ever, get so close with a weapon that the bad guy could kick it out of their hands.

Here is the problem with RPGs in the hands of people who are uncomfortable with realities.  Too much time is taken in trying to make them work like television.  That's all the page on StackExchange has - endless arguments on how to enforce standards on player behavior, via mechanics or deterrents. Oh, it's all outlined as 'for the player's own good.'  All penal codes are.

I'm a DM.  I'm not running a penitentiary.  I'm not trying to rehabilitate my players.  I'm not interested in rebuilding the system so that it works as a better prison to inhibit play.  I am here to create a world and explain the functions of that world.  I am not here to judge.

If I don't like the player's behaviour, the player can get out.  But I'll be damned before I try to change anyone.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Relax and Go With It

I had a non-playing session on Saturday.  That is to say, the players showed up, we set up the tables and got out our characters to start running . . . and then we didn't.

No one made a conscious decision not to run.  I have learned from experience to let the players chatter away for awhile, wait for them to settle down from their lives and the need to share recent experiences, then calmly start the campaign with a few chosen words.  On Saturday, however, the words did not encourage the players to start playing . . . so I let it go for another fifteen minutes and tried again.  And another fifteen minutes and another.

Until finally, by 8:30, an hour and a half after our usual start time, I threw in the towel.

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened.  It does occasionally - and the important thing is to not fight it, not feel guilty about it, not think of it as a sign that your campaign is on the skids.  Fact is, these people are friends.  Sometimes, friendship trumps role-play.

After many years of experience, I've gained a feel for when this sort of thing happens.  There can be a number of factors.  The game could reach a level of tension where the players just aren't quite ready to take the next step.  By coincidence, there could be a lot of things that have gone on in their lives and they have to talk about it.  Or, as in the case the other day, one player was out sick (as he is disabled, this is a serious thing) and the other was screwed by a commitment he could not ignore.  And the rest of the players felt they'd be cheating the two others by continuing the campaign from where we'd left off.

So they didn't have the heart to continue.  Nor was I prepared to make them.

I don't doubt that this has happened to a lot of readers.  If it has, say so, because this is the kind of thing that DMs get deeply introspective about, feeling sure that it's a sign their campaigns are failing.  Some DMs feel they have to get tyrannical when this happens, or they feel that a missed opportunity is proof that the campaign is dying.

Truth is, though the DM is the captain of the ship, tyranny will accomplish only so much.  After a certain point, the crew needs shore leave.  We give them shore leave because when they come back, they will be readier, they will be more focused, they will be stronger.

Now and then, letting the players chatter away for four or five hours, instead of playing, let's them work out details, it lets them bond, it encourages them to feel comfortable and natural in the space where they play.  Moreover, the time afterwards, as they think about having not run, will encourage them to be bright, sunny and chipper when the next game starts.

Granted, two or three sessions in a row like this would suggest there was a problem.  But I find that this happening once in a score of sessions is a good thing.

Better that we go with it and enjoy ourselves.  The campaign won't spoil.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


I am not a fan of revisionist fiction - which perhaps sounds strange for a D&D player.  My reasons probably spring from a distaste for propaganda, essentially the rewriting of history for the purpose of encouraging people to hate.

Revisionist history supposedly has a higher calling - to highlight a given ideology so that the reader will look at it and think thoughts like, "Wow, it really would have been bad if the Nazis had won World War II."  However, I don't believe this is really the writer's motivation.  I believe the writer is using the revision in order to flagrantly masturbate - and encourage masturbation - about a specific fetish while casually side-stepping the responsibility.

Allow an example of the same sort of thing as regards sex.  Television has always used this same principle in order to include soft pornography under the guise of the morality play.  Television movies like Portrait of a Stripper or Portrait of a Centerfold were just the sort of cheesy, obvious efforts to put wank-material on television in a time before even VHS allowed for renting porn.  Poor literature does this sort of thing all the time: introduce the waif, seduce the waif, show the waif getting involved in something nefarious, show the awful effects of the waif's actions on the waif's family and then have the waif discover the 'evils' of indulging in this terrible, terrible behavior.

There was recently a piece of shit film that came out in February this year that followed that plot to the letter.  Nothing has changed.

For a more direct example of revisionist history, I suggest Norman Spinrad's, The Iron Dream.  If you're the sort who likes revisionist history, I recommend it.  There's no reason your education should be lacking.  It's just the sort of book a munchkin would enjoy.

I suppose it's fine to like these sort of things (I'll have to toss in The Man in the High Castle by Dyck, for those who will be thinking of it right off), but I don't.  I think works like this encourage lazy thinking.  The supposition always depends on ignoring key points about reality in order to emphasize other moments - such as supposing that the Germans were ever going to possess the Crimean oil fields.  The Germans never got remotely close to that, while there's no doubt whatsoever that the Russians would have simply set them on fire, as the Iraqis did five decades later.  But that's an inconvenient fact . . . so we ignore it.

The same kind of lazy thinking pops up all the time in speculation about the effects that magic would have, must have, on a fantasy world, if magic existed.  Druids and other spellcasters, for example, would replace the need to even have farmers.  Mages would obviously invent all our present technology in a few hours, if only they were motivated.  Or magic would destroy any desire for ordinary science to continue development.  Or the existence of dragons, elementals and other huge monsters would surely demand huge changes in city lay-out, fortifications and the like.


Let me repeat, because I don't want to be mistaken for being insincere, sarcastic or facetious. Undoubtedly, magic would massively revamp social structure.  If magic existed.

Only, here is the thing.  We don't know how.  We don't.  We can't know.  We have no experience with magic, no experience with what it would do to society or how people would react, or what things we would change about ourselves.  We can speculate like crazy about those things - and Oh My, Oh My, have writers ever speculated.  But we don't know.

Still, we can be SURE that if someone, somewhere, in a blog sets out to decide for themselves what magic would or wouldn't do, that someone will be cherry-picking which magic will affect which cherry-picked parts of society.  We can also be sure that the conclusion will be pulled right out of the speculator's asshole.

I've seen a lot of this sort of thing, taken part in it.  Arguments like this always descend into the other fellow's cherry-picked shit versus my cherry-picked shit.  It isn't possible to be comprehensive; there are too many spells, too much magic, too little factual analysis available to account for ALL possibilities . . . and yet everyone who indulges in this sort of argument will get bloody-minded that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Lazy thinking.

Let's take a simple, anachronistic example, as I explain why I have castles in my world, despite the magic that exists to blow castles all to hell.  Spoiler: I'm going to talk about my world now.

Players expect castles.  Castles are familiar, representative of the culture the players understand and therefore appropriate.  Illogical?  Maybe.  That doesn't matter to me.

Yesterday I was asked, quite reasonably, "Do fortifiers in your world make any allowance for airborne menaces like flying casters, dragons, etc."  It was part of a well-founded inquiry into the matters of my world.

Here's the thing.  I gave an answer in the comments field that sort of captures some of my thinking, but the straight answer is "No, I don't."

That's not bloody-mindedness.  I'm just not incorporating castles and other fortifications into my world to keep out non-player characters.  Forts are there to keep out players - and if the players decide to gather together and destroy a fortification with magic, monsters and their own forms of armageddon, they're welcome to do that.

My NPCs don't.   For the same reason we don't use nuclear weapons casually.

A castle is more than a fortification.  It is a statement of authority.  It says, "I have money, I have prestige, I have a will to stop you.  Don't bug me."

Magic isn't just a technology; it is an implied stalemate.  Like Robert A. Heinlein's Solution Unsatisfactory, it is a group of armed assailants standing together in a room, each with a loaded .45, pointed at one another, waiting for someone to do something stupid like start firing.  It is mutually assured destruction . . . and as such, everyone in the world, where it comes to using very powerful magic, must consider what they're doing.

In a truly cherry-picked fashion, it is generally assumed that if a druid were to start a wildfire that consumed a significant town, this would be a pity but, oh well, what can you do?

No, no, no.  The status quo has a very strong motivation to not let things like that happen - and to punish those who follow courses of action that change the status quo.  If the players ever get to be big enough to own a .45 of their own, so they can start blasting away with it, everyone in the world will turn around and blast away at the player.  Not just the infringed party.  Not just the person the players wronged.  Everyone.  Because everyone is threatened.

So, leave that castle alone.  Take it by conventional means, sure - that doesn't threaten anyone.  Want to put the gun in your pocket and have a fist fight?  Sure, go at it.  But leave that gun in your pocket.

Do the dragons, elementals and other big monsters understand this?  Oh yes.  They're part of it, too.

I know that this is a strange mindset to have about a D&D world.  Usually, it's assumed that if the players get to a level where they can have wish as a spell, that ability comes along with the indiscriminate right to use it.  Au Contraire!

Use it at your peril.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


As long as we're talking about the dangers of playing with fire . . .

I've been working on a rewrite of the 4th level druid spell, produce fire.  I've renamed it, since I've upped the area of effect to a 30 foot circle, greater than the 12 foot circle described in the AD&D Player's Handbook.  I'm calling it create wildfire.

It is a real horror of a spell - not because it does a lot of damage to individuals, but because of the terrifying speed with which the fire moves.  I am basing that on this Toronto firelab guidebook, which is based on grasslands.  I'm sure I must be reading some of the information wrong; of course, I'm grossly simplifying the numbers contained inside for game use.  Nevertheless, if it is dry, there's no rain, there's plenty of fuel and the fire gets started in a high wind . . . well, holy hell, a lot of stuff is going to burn.

I'm going to let the wiki handle the details of the spell - I suggest following the link above if the reader wants details on fire movement.  I'm also basing a lot of the spell's principles on my recent weather tables, which I am hoping helps keep many fires from skipping more than 20 hexes a round.  After all, any sort of weather that produces more than a light breeze will probably also produce precipitation, particularly in cooler, wetter climes.  Thankfully, hotter, dryer climes also tend to have fuel ratings that are very low.

Still, in perfect conditions, right at the cusp of there being plenty of fuel and in a month with low rainfall, I can see a disaster looming.

Will a player character pause and consider the implications of letting a wildfire break out just to kill a few enemies, if that fire also means a large burned out area covering hundreds of square miles.

At least we could be sure that a high level cleric or druid attached to the kingdom would probably get involved before vast territories were destroyed, potentially causing thousands to die from famine.  Too, there's always the reality that a fire started in a big city will have a higher percentage of 1st level mages, druids and clerics with precipitation spells who, by virtue of population density, will be a block or two away when the fire starts.  The player arsonist might find it hard to burn down a town when some do-gooder keeps wet blanketing the area.

For the time being, I'm going to leave these numbers and see.  They fit with the research I've done, though they are scary.  I doubt that an RPGer pulling numbers out of their ass would have arrived at numbers this high.  I wouldn't have.