Friday, August 1, 2014

Unfriending Strangers

Late last night, just before diving into bed (I have had a board built for the purpose), I received the strangest contention about my book, How to Run.  The fellow told me that he refused to buy my book because I had chosen Lulu as a platform - even though he really wanted to support me and buy a copy.

Apparently, there are people who have problems with Lulu, who spend time harping about the company and who cry out for some sort of class action suit against them.  I was directed to one of these sights by the commenter, just so I could see how 'evil' a platform Lulu is.

I won't link one of these sights, however, because I saw nothing on those sights that remotely meshed with my experience.  By this, I mean that the accusations and complaints did not make any sense.  For one thing, several people claimed that Lulu was charging them for an ISBN number.  I could, if I wished, walk the reader through the Lulu process and demonstrate that they'll give an ISBN number for the 500-word paper you wrote in Grade Five, if you were willing to type it into MS-Word and desired to publish it.  Free.  There were several such examples I saw.

This is the sort of thing I must write off to the Internet.  No matter what the platform or the product, I'm sure we can find hundreds of people with a gripe and a will to bitch openly about their gripe - even if the error in some way resulted from their own misunderstanding, irrationality or lack of experience. I believe we've all seen such things.

Naturally, I tried to convince the commenter, first, that I've never had any problems with Lulu.  No good.  By this point we were in facebook chat. Thinking the commenter truly wanted a copy of the book, I assured the commenter that Lulu has always treated me well, that no one has ever complained to me about the quality of the product they've received and that perhaps he could overlook the troubles of others in buying the book.

Whereupon, things got weird.

First off, I was attacked vigorously for performing a "hard sell" of the book.  Now, this was coming from someone who had already said he wanted to buy the book, so long as he didn't have to buy it through Lulu.  It felt strange being accused of pushing a book that, as far as I knew, was already wanted.

From the negativity I suddenly received (apparently because I wasn't willing to condemn Lulu along with the commenter), I guessed that the fellow hadn't ever read my blog - so I suggested, for the sake of understanding the quality of my writing, that he should check the blog out.  At this point, I was attacked for trying to push the blog on the fellow when he hadn't ever asked for such a suggestion.

I'm staring at my computer screen and I'm pretty confused.  I'm thinking, is this a spammer who attacks people who use Lulu?  Does he work for Amazon?  From the things he's saying now, I'm pretty sure he's never heard of me before.  I'm guessing his 'support' for me, the one he's supposedly giving me by buying my book, is based upon a desire to support anyone writing a book about role-playing.  He just happened to stumble across mine.

And . . . then it got weirder.

If you're going to sell a book, you can't be shy about it.  You can't think to yourself, "This person will have no interest in buying my book, I really shouldn't bother them with it."  That is a great way to fail. Truth is, it's like the old joke: a man is standing at the bus stop when a stranger rushes up to him, seizes him by the lapel and says, "I've gotta tell you this!  I've just slept with four women at the same time!  It was amazing!"  Where upon the man says to the stranger, "That's uh, great.  Why are you telling me?"

And he gets the answer, "Are you kidding?  I'm telling everybody!"

That's sales.  You tell everyone, you ask for the money, and if they make it clear to you that they're not going to buy, you keep pushing.

This guy, though, I had begun thinking was a whack job.  Still, I decided to make one more pitch.  I told him that it was a book like no other in the hobby and that he was really missing out simply because he wouldn't buy from Lulu.

At which point he scoffed, saying, "Do you know who I am?"  Well obviously, some guy who had somehow gotten friended on facebook, the answer was no.  I had no idea who he was, beyond a name, a rather piss-poor website that showed he was an obscure game designer I'd never heard of and a whole lot of conflicting interests.

"I've written six books about how to be a DM," he says.  "And 150 other books."  From there he begins to disparage me, my book, my existence in this world and my apparent inability to recognize him instantly from his use of text.  I'm thinking, "Six books?  Did he fail utterly with the first five?"  Then I'm thinking, "Does he sell a lot of books by forcing random people on line to guess who he is?"

See, speaking for me personally, in writing a book I'm a big fan of putting my name, my real name, right there on the jacket.  You know, so people know who wrote the book.  I don't see hiding my name as being a strong sales technique.  Apparently, however, this 'great' writer does, because I never did learn who the hell he was.

I'm a pretty strange fellow, that I'll grant.  And my temper does put me into places I shouldn't go.  But I don't believe I've ever praised someone's work, only to then tell them I don't give a shit about their blog or anything about them, while then getting irate when they encouraged me to buy the book I just praised.

Ah, the internet.  I'm quite certain last night I was dealing with some fellow who missed his meds or has decided to stop taking them to enjoy a fuller life.  All I could really do was unfriend him.

In the meantime, have you heard that I'm selling a book?  How to Run: an Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games.  Yes, I use Lulu.  Great platform.  They've always treated me well, these past three years.  Check it out, have a look at the preview, please 'like' the page and if you could, buy a copy.  It's a book about role-playing that I've never seen written by anyone else.  I confess, it isn't my sixth attempt, but then I thought I would research the text and produce quality the first time.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Retrospective, August 2010

I had it suggested to me by my partner Tamara that I should 'recover' some of the posts I wrote in years past, in some manner that highlights not just that they were written, but how I feel about them now. I suggested that on the first day of every month I could highlight those posts that had been written throughout the month four years previously. Thus, as it is August 1st, I should write about those posts I wrote in August, 2010. Well, why not?

That month I wrote a 4,000 word post on Theology that is certainly among my longest at the time. This was part of the Civilization Posts that I was still writing.  Naturally, I overwhelmed the reader with anything so long and so involved, but the three comments I received were supportive. I haven't much to add; the article needs more examples and needs to quote its source material and would probably be ten times as long if I sat down and rewrote it a thesis.  It also needs references to D&D throughout the post, not just at the end; but then, how interested are people in truly understanding what is behind the religions they invoke in their worlds.

I'm sure I just read this post from Caffeinated Symposium a couple days ago about how religions need to be more about knowledge and community structure than one-paragraph descriptions of gods.  Dave Cesarano makes a good point and it's definitely worth reading the article.

August 2010 was the month those Chilean miners were trapped underground, and I wrote a post about playing in pitch darkness, Gaming Under Duress.  The comments seemed to suggest that I am not alone in thinking of ways to play in order to pass the time.  I have led people through spontaneous games during camping trips, long-distance drives and occasionally while working with them at less-than-interesting jobs.  Imagination is a game that can be played anywhere.

I wrote some of my reasons for why I don't let people buy or sell magic in my post, Ewoks with Napalm, forever a contentious issue.  One of my offline players, upon hearing the possibility of making a vintage wine in large quantities that could heal hit points, immediately annoyed me by exclaiming, "Imagine what I could sell that for!"

This brings to mind three scenarios.  The first, if the wine can be sold very easily, then there ought to be tons of it at the market, depreciating the price and more or less making it worthless to sell, or even to bother making.  Why would a player make magic wine if magic wine is available cheap at the grocery store?

Secondly, if its not easy to sell, because its expensive, then why would a grocer buy it to sit on his shelf where it's not going to easily find a buyer, while at the same time is a screaming sign for thieves to break in and rob the place?  It's always interesting to me that the players walk into a perfectly ordinary shop, drop 5,000 gold for a magic ring and the proprietor is like, "Sure, I keep it right here next to the hair gel," because obviously there's no need for a place like this to have the sort of security Tiffany's jewelry possesses.  There are only about a dozen non sequiturs there.  Does the state really sanction this shop to sell off magic potions and swords and wands without feeling any compulsion to control the distribution of magic for the sake of retaining authority?  I guess not.

Finally, how exactly does the shop keeper ensure that every bottle of 200 is in fact 'magical'?  How does the buyer ensure quality control?  Even if we assume everyone in the kingdom is born with a magic tooth that let's them detect magic at will, how do we know that THIS bottle's magic actually heals hit point and doesn't just make hair a little softer and bouncier?  We surely can't count on identify magic, because even if you have the spell you need to above 4th level before it gets to be reliable.

I'm not going to pay 40 g.p. for a 'magical' bottle of wine when I don't know if it works or not.  Sure, the store owners in video games may be perfectly honest, all the time, but my world just doesn't work that way.  If there's a way to scam someone, a scam will be managed - and a whole population will have experience with the scam, meaning they won't trust anyone when it comes to buying magic.

So why do I sell healing salves at the apothecaries if all of the above is true?  Pity.  I sympathize with a party's desire to stay alive.  I'm not going to let a party manipulate that sympathy into easy bucks, though.  Push too hard on my good nature and that good nature evaporates.

In August I wrote four posts on Duty - Intro, Society, Self and what I called 'The Flow.'  Pretty heady stuff, a bit preachy, all on role-playing and interaction between the DM and the Player.  Funny, I don't find it much reflects the content of the Advanced Guide I've just released; the last one does, however, make allusions to recent events.  Curious how that always seems to happen.

Those posts didn't get much attention - or rather, they didn't receive much feedback.  I've read through them and I find the thinking a bit scattered.  I was struggling to nail down where the responsibility in gaming lies, towards others, towards ourselves, in our behaviour and in what we deserve to respect or the respect we deserve to be given.  It's a difficult subject.  I handled it better in How to Run, albeit very differently, as I approached the subject more from the point of view that we're not in as much control over our actions as we'd like to me.  Research done since those duty articles has taught me that I'm fighting uphill against issues that are hard to isolate and manage even as they're happening.  In 2010, I gave no attention at all to stress.

And, too, those were coming after an abusive and unforgiving post I wrote, one that still gets a bit of attention, Creativity and Breast Feeding.  Ah, Alexis.  Will you never change?

That's one of those posts that probably lost me the approval that I've gained with posts like The Great RPG, where the comments call me 'sensei' and 'fucking brilliant.'  There's no question in my mind that the hardest, most galling thing about me as a writer is that I will, one moment, shake a person down to their core with something they wholly agree with, then piss on all their loves and dearly held beliefs the next gawddamned day.  Most of the time, I don't do this intentionally, though that only makes it worse. It helps feed the theory that I must be psychotically unaware that I've only just made someone like me, and now I'm making someone hate me.  Jeez, don't I get that?

I suppose I do.  Thing is, I'm not your sensei or your worst critic - I'm just a guy who is taking the data and compiling it as I see it.  Then I'm writing it down in the way that makes the most sense to me, at the time.  Like a scientist, the last thing I'm concerned about is the 'comfort' level of the material. No matter what I write, some people are going to really like it and some people are not.  Sometimes, two days apart, these two extremes will be felt by the same people.

We're all pretending to understand this game - and in a wider sense, the whole system.  We're all doing our best with the material.  I happen to be in love with the material, more in love with it than I am with myself.  This has made me into a sort of dangerous, thought-spewing robot without any morality or sensibility to the sufferings or emotional dogma of others.  Made worse by my willingness to abuse the shit out of the reader in order to make my point.  Which I will do because if I make my point lightly, it will be viewed lightly.

Looking back at the August posts, I see I had readers who commented then but who never comment now.  So it goes.  I know you're still reading me.  I know you're there, I know you're grinding your teeth and I know you won't comment now because, well, it's personal, isn't it?  That's fine.  My numbers go up.  My books apparently sell, much to my appreciation for those of you who are willing to let me in yet again.  I'm grateful for that.

Still a lot left to write yet, however.  There always is.

Rudiments

A blog, like a diary, is a slave to the thoughts of the writer on a particular day.  It isn't as though I'm able to compel myself to different thoughts simply because a reader somewhere is disgruntled about what happens to emerge from the tips of my fingers.  These are the yolks, folks, the eggs fall where they must and I continue to write in my merry way whatever the consequences.  So goes the world.  Vox populi, vox humbug.

This business of voices interceding into the behaviour and actions of other peoples starts a long time ago, where farming makes the institution of villages practical.  All around the year, your enemies in the hills know where you are, and they know that if the game thins out or the winter is hard on half their flocks, that where you are there is food.  Packing together the houses into villages brings security, for even if you don't build moats and walls, your neighbours can hear you cry out.  Therefore, when the hill peoples come 'a calling, they'll have to deal with the whole village, not just you and your family.

Contrary to the simplification of history, these villages do not instantly hire magistrates and divide themselves into wards that elders represent.  Villages begin without politics.  If we are talking about anywhere from 40 to 100 people, most likely the decisions that are made in the village will be made by people squabbling, threatening, gathering into their natural groups and daring the other to make the first move.  And, like most conflicts within families, conflicts within the village will be brief, non-lethal and purposefully forgotten.

We're a lot more like animals than we realize.  Like animals, we know when we're beaten and we give up almost immediately.  If you'll remember, fights on the schoolground in those first four grades were always very brief - the bully or tougher one ended up by sitting on the weaker, then he would get up and push the weak kid around a bit.  Total time of the fight, 30-40 seconds; total injuries: negligible.

It is when a village gets bigger that things begin to change.  This has everything to do with family.  Families are naturally occurring political units.  It's only natural to identify with blood, as blood is around all the time, you grow up with it and learn to rely on it - and to see everyone who is not a member of your family as an outsider.

Here is where politics starts - not by joining together, but by realizing that the threat is inside the village, not outside.  Oh, the hill peoples are still a problem, but with more people comes a greater labour force and walls become more practical - but with more people there are families that are getting bigger and bigger. These bigger families take it into their heads that they can push others around - and sooner or later the folk the family wants to push around is another family that is almost as big, but not quite.  For those of you not following, this is what happened with Eve Online back in January.

The result is political will manifested as retributive assassination.  An all-out war hardly ever manifests itself. And while robbery or adultery are comparatively rare, for we are still speaking of a small village of two or three hundred, where everyone knows one another, arguments and confrontations are not forgotten.  They are tallied, they are measured against every other confrontation, they are talked over at family meetings and discussed by a large enough faction to engender resentment and hate.  Jimmy pushed you, and Jimmy's brother pushed me, and Jimmy's father sold our father a lame animal fifteen years ago, etcetera.  Steadily, over time, this resentment builds into a generational dogma, until Jimmy and his whole family are something less than human compared to you and me and our family.

And Jimmy's family feels the same way about it.

Sooner or later, by chance perhaps, with all that hate, someone is going to get into a fight where someone gets killed.  From then on, it gets personal.  Jimmy kills me and my brother kills Jimmy and Jimmy's brother kills my brother and his first cousin, starting of a blood-feud of tit for tat that goes on and on and on.  There are many places in the world where this is common today - Iran, Albania, Liberia, Burma, Zaire - the list goes on and on.  In most every case these feuds are local and continue unabated because they happen in the backcountry or places where violence is so consistent that a state of lawlessness exists, like in Gaza.

'Civilization' begins when there are enough people who belong to neither family who are prepared to stop the blood feud by force.  Where a free-for-all justice system can no longer be tolerated, where the majority of the villagers are those who belong to neither faction, or any faction that condones spontaneous retribution.

That is the key word: spontaneous.  Retribution continues to be fine and practical, but it's necessary that the executions, when they happen, occur with everyone having a clear head and being able to agree that with this particular execution, all the other executions will stop.  Your family and their family will live in peace now, because we have systematically executed all the people who we feel are necessary.  Everybody happy now? Everybody good?  Great.  Let's get together on this thing and grow some crops, build higher walls, then raid other villages.

Something about the thought processes and comments of ordinary role-playing gamers tends to demonstrate how simply they look at the world.  For many, saying that there's a lot of 'in-fighting' among orc tribes seems to explain away everything that needs to be explained.  That it needs no further thought or investigation, or even rationale considering there is usually a chieftain among orcs and a chieftain's henchmen.  These, for those who don't know, do not tend to exist in an ordinary, isolated village of 250 people.  They do not manifest as a political fact until such time as the people themselves ask for someone to come in and set the standard for why in-fighting has to stop.  Once there's a chief, that's a clear indication that the orc tribe ought to be thinking as a unit - for that is the purpose of chiefs, that is why they are installed.  A single chief and his four henchmen absolutely cannot hold back the will of any one family that wishes to do as they will (i.e., fight with their neighbours).  That chieftain only rules because everyone agrees that this in-fighting has to stop.

Which would mean, described as they are in the books, orcs and other tribes would NOT be fighting.  They would be much more dangerous, for they'd be working together to build an establishment from which they could attack others.  If orcs ARE warlike, we've got to give them their due - they're warlike under leadership.

It is leadership that makes them scary.

For most, however, saying the words 'in-fighting' makes it true.  Because they've never taken a course on sociology or anthropology.  Because they can't be bothered to investigate their world.  Because they're half-considered fictional theology demands that the Word of God of a writer is the final say in something being true or not.

And this was fine when we were all fifteen and playing the game after school and around our parents' tables. But we're in our 30s and 40s now, and quite a lot of us have legitimate university degrees.

Isn't it about time we started using education to deduce the rudiments of the game?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Left Field Post

For reasons difficult to fathom, I'm going to hijack this blog and write about something so far out in left field that my voice will emerge with a tinny sound that's hard to hear.

If you are male and you want to stop being single, without being an asshole, a jerk or anything that you are not, listen.

I will get you married.

First of all, make up your mind that you're never going to be anything but honest.  You're never going to speak two words together that don't represent your honest opinion about whatever it is you believe.  Accept that this honesty is going to offend some people, but that it won't matter because the person that likes you won't find whatever you say offensive in the least.  In fact, they will like it.  If you choose not to follow this advice, you will find yourself with people who like you for things you are not, and that will never go to good places.  Therefore, accept it.  Speak truth.  Accept the fall-out.

Make up your mind to be clean, scrubbed, washed and decently smelling no matter when you leave home. That means work, it means hygeine products, it means money and it means changing your habits enormously. I don't suggest you do it because it will make you feel better as a person; I tell you to do it because every minute of every day is going to contain the possibility of having to make a good first impression in this instant, without warning.  I'm saying you don't know when you'll meet him or her - and that you probably already have, dozens of times, except they turned away from you thinking, "yeah, nice, but what a fucking loser."

Now, this next part is going to be critical.  You won't think it is, but it is.  This next part will make all the difference - and if you're a person who's really wanting this, you need to accept that what you want is more important that what you're doing right now.

Find a pattern.  Seriously, it doesn't matter what the pattern is, but find it.  Shop at the same place, buy your coffee at the same place, visit the coffee shop in the same hour, see a movie every Tuesday, walk along the same streets to get there.  Yes, walk.  Get the fuck out of your car.  Your car is a bubble, it's a prison, it's a big fuck-you sign to everyone else in the world.  You need to be accessible.  You must walk places where people can see your clothes, they can see the books you're reading, they can identify your haircut and your look and your whole demeanor.

See, this is based on the principle that, while you're not noticing or seeing the person you may someday have children with, there's a very good chance that they are noticing you.  They are working the shift when you get your coffee, they are taking note of what you're reading or what you're doing.  They're seeing your face every time you smile and frown, and they are making judgements about you.  If you want those to be good judgements, along the lines of 'I would like to see that person again,' then you should be finding ways to do things you like in public.  Going to places you like.  Taking part in things you like to do, even if you are doing those things alone.  Because the one you want is also there, maybe with other people or not - but they are bound to notice that you are there and having a good time and alone.  Especially if they see you next week, and the next, and the week after that.  And if you wear the shoes they like and you have the haircut they like, they'll find a way to talk to you.  They really will.

As for you, you have to talk to people.  You don't have to say anything, especially.  Small talk.  A comment on the weather.  An out-loud chuckle as you read your kindle.  A small comment as you step aside to let them get on the bus first.  Anything, so long as its benign and friendly and you smile slightly, showing that you're not trying.  Because you're not.  You're not going to pick up the girl on the bus by hitting on her.  But the little comment you say today will be given a little chance to grow when she sees you three weeks later on the same bus, and makes a little comment to you.

Because that's how things really start.  Little comments.  Tossed into the world like seeds, looking for a place to grow.

One more thing.  You're going to have to wait.  You're going to have to be patient.  You can't force any of this.  The secret is, get into the outside world and get comfortable there.  You'll find it's easy to meet a lot of people.  So long as what you don't try to do too hard is meet people.  You're just out there, where you can be found.

Now, if you're relaxed, and clean, and relatively happy and unthreatening, and friendly, and you frequent a dozen or more different places each week, you'll meet someone who will get very serious about you.  It's a lot easier than you think.

The Escape Clause

Yesterday, Carl wrote for this post,

"The effect of the stun rules is not unlike the effect of the Shaken rules in Savage Worlds.  So much so that - if I decided to use the stun rules - I would probably adapt the rules from Savage Worlds for getting rid of the effect: In savage worlds successful attacks often leave you 'shaken' - unable to act. On your turn you can attempt to get rid of the effect. If you succeed, you can move but not attack; If you succeed exceptionally you can also attack."

And that's fine.  I had said I adapted my stun rules from someone else and they're certainly not 'mine' in any sense.  I presume someone else is adapting them and naturally that adaptation is going to be different.

I only want to use the above to highlight a completely different point, one that is not directly related to combat.  It is a trait that is not specific to role-players, but it is specific to a certain type of person and a lot of those people gravitate towards gaming - presumably because gaming is a good fit for them.

These are people who cannot abide an absolute.

The rule simply has to have an 'out.'  No matter what the rule is, if it threatens my character's life, I want another saving throw, I want something I can do to mitigate the effect, I want absolutely to be raised if something goes wrong, even if my body is totally lost or buried under a mountain.  I want an escape clause!

Naturally, the escape clause inevitably has its own absolutes.  And that is the problem.  Because, as we all know, eventually the escape clause needs an escape clause, for the original rule with the escape clause is still too damn final.  It's too unpleasant.  It means that sooner or later, I'm going to have to just suck it up and accept that I've lost.

That is . . . unacceptable.

The reader should know me well enough to know that I don't believe that.  I am a big fan of absolutes, of failures, of inevitable deaths and of players sucking it up because their character just dropped that big item in the primordial soup.  Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad.  What a tragedy.

While I'm trying not to sound like an old man and his lawn, I must explain that this peculiar habit of avoiding absolutes pops up everywhere in our culture - from calling in sick when you're not sick, to casual Fridays because five days a week are too many to dress for work, to "you're a winner" ribbons handed out to little children who lose on Sport's Day.  Life is simply too unfair for any of us to endure it day in and day out without an option, without a guarantee that we'll be allowed to break the rules on this one day because having to obey the rules all the time is such a drag.

I can't say I'm immune.  I break the rules too, since most of the time it's possible to break the rules and get away with it.  Yet I'm sober enough to recognize that breaking the rules is not a praiseworthy act; it's doesn't get the job done, it doesn't keep the hounds at bay, it doesn't pay the rent and in the long run, too much breaking of rules will drive us into decadence, degradation and ultimately leave us moribund.  The turnstyle marked 'rule-breaking' is the one that gets us on the train to Hedonism. 

Then again, if you don't know yet what's wrong with that place, I suppose you must still be young.  You'll see.

So here I am being all tyrannical again.  Obey the rules, quit whining, get the hell off my lawn.  Right?

No, not quite.  I wrote perhaps one time too many about the importance of changing rules and adjusting your role-playing game to make it a better experience, to talk to the players about what to change and to accept that change is a good thing even though precedent and continuity are important.  Rules are fluid, they are part of the game's structure and the thing about structure: there is always room for improvement.

What amuses me - and I mean that word, amuses, in a completely non-sarcastic way, for I do not believe it does any individual any harm - is that this escape clause is applied so often to such mediocre details.  Such as the example above, where even the loss of one combat round is unacceptable without there still being a chance that it won't be lost.

That is where we can see how endemic the problem is.  We can see, clearly, where something was changed during game-testing, because someone complained.  "You mean I'm 'shaken' for the whole round?  No matter what?"

"Oh, okay, we can fix that."

Well, players certainly gripe.  They certainly do.  And it is hard to look them in the eye and tell them that what they wanted at the store isn't available, or that yes, the sword breaks, or that no, the crystal ball doesn't reveal anything at all.  No, seriously, nothing.  Really.  No, not even that.

Well, hell, it has to tell us something.  It's a crystal ball, for f's sake!

Nope.  Not a damn thing.  So move on.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Turtles Are Not Scary

Heh heh.  Talk about the book, tighten the upper lip and don't talk about the book . . .

Well, I'm only human.  And people out there have said they have obtained the book and that they were set to read it over the weekend.  So I know eyes have fallen on pages.

The rules say shut up.  But I never had any part in making those rules, while shutting up has never been my strong suit.

I ran D&D on Saturday.  Expectations were high, emotions were high, stress was high - and there was some drama.  Ah well.  Was to be expected.  People are pressure cookers and four months is a lot of pressure.   But the running was good and I left three players trapped on a narrow, enclosed beach, at night, with a giant turtle climbing out of the sea.  In the dark, they weren't sure what it was at first . . . their imaginations rose to the occasion.  Then they found it was a 'turtle' of unknown type and they felt relieved.  Turtles are not scary.

I've been relaxing the last few days.  I'm due to get my own books from the printer on Friday.  Yes, I know now that the spine is 'upside down.'  Too late for those books from the printer.  Perhaps, one day, the reverse spine will be the proof that it's a first edition book.  Fantasies.  We all have our fantasies.

I'm a bit scatter-minded, so I'm going to just write this and go.  Pages are turning and I swear I can hear them.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Congratulations

Lots of little one offs today.  Eh, no problem.  It's only a blog.

I'm receiving many sounds of praise, as people tell me 'congratulations!'  They mean well and the sentiment is much appreciated . . . and yet, because I understand words, I cannot help but cringe.

Congratulations has become the standard thing that we say when something good happens to someone. The increasing popularity of the word has been notable in my lifetime - people are more apt to say it today upon hearing good news than they were in the past.  As I'm not pedantic, and as I know words grow and achieve meanings they did not formerly possess, I am fine with that.  My resistance against the word has much more to do with me than the word's users - and so it is my problem and not theirs.

The word 'congratulation' appears in English in the mid 15th century; it is an import from Latin, from the verb congratulatio, which is to "give thanks" or "show joy."  So far so good.  However, the root for the Latin word is gratus, which is a "blessing," and it is here that the problem begins.  We get 'grace' from gratus, this being a gift from the gods, something that is dropped on us by chance or by the vicissitudes of fortune.

In other words, a good thing that originates in a place other than within ourselves.

We say "congratulations" when someone has a baby because it is something that is tried for - but understood to be something of a chance thing.  We "hope" for a baby but we realize that what with physical limitations, fertility, the possibility of poor health and so on, we may not get what we want.  So if things come around and you find you are pregnant, we say "congratulations" because you passed the first hurdle.  Then we say congratulations again when the baby is born, because you've passed other hurdles.

In writing a book, however, there are no mysteries, no doubts, no bestowing of luck by the grace of the gods.  At best, there might be something to be said for "You may die before the book is finished," but somehow when someone tells me 'congratulations' upon finishing my book, I don't think they're saying, "You lived!  I never thought you would!"

No, they're saying, "Well done!"  And they mean it.  They know I've worked and struggled and put in the hours and finished the thing on my own, and that the gods had nothing to do with it. They don't have to be told.

It's only that, when faced with someone who has recently done what I've done - and a host of other, similar things, they don't know what to say.  They do have this word, however, which we know well enough to say in times of great joy.  We say it at weddings and when you get the job you wanted and when you win best prize in a beauty contest.  It is the first word that pops into our heads.

Yet I can't quite get used to it.  I wasn't blessed.  The book didn't appear from out of the blue.  No others made a decision that enabled the book's existence.  Luck was not involved.  The appearance of the book was not, in any way, a surprise.  So saying 'congratulations' seems, somehow, awkward.

I'd rather people just said, "Well done."  Yes, there are two words, but there are less letters.  There are less syllables.  The words are clear and direct and most of all, accurate.  I applied myself and did it well.

I know that's what people are saying.  Thank you.




David Wong & I

I like learning that I am not the only one:

"In fact, I'd say it's this "just a game" mentality that makes them think it's OK to throw in these arbitrary rules that take you out of the fantasy. Am I facing a door that only opens if I first kill all of the enemies in the room? Why does it work that way? Or maybe there's a guard at the city gate who will only open the path after I complete some other, totally unrelated task -- so what's his reasoning for doing that in the universe of that story? Is there some actual reason why the pieces of the doomsday weapon I'm to assemble are scattered all across the map so that I have to slowly trudge from one to the next, killing crowds of enemy cannon fodder every step of the way?

"If your only answer is 'Because we programmed it that way,' you've lost me. You've woken me up from the fantasy by slapping me in the face with a stark reminder that this isn't really an adventure meant to capture my imagination. It's just a computer program designed to keep me pushing buttons for 12 hours."

Read more here.



A House Rule About Wounding

When anyone in my world does 11 damage or more on a single blow, they wound. This means that the enemy begins to lose hit points every round from bleeding.

For each 11 damage done, the wound is 1hp per round. If, for example, I hit your character for 47 damage, and your character survives, it would suffer 4hp damage per round thereafter - until the character was healed or it bound wounds.

Binding wounds takes three rounds per degree of the wound; so to bind a 4hp wound would take 12 rounds; however, for each 3 rounds spent, the total loss drops one point. So by round four, you'd be bleeding out 3hp per round, by round seven you'd be bleeding out 2hp and so on.

Goodberry, a healing salve, the recently added druid's vintage or any healing spell will close a wound immediately.

Course, this usually means falling out of combat so that healing can be eaten or applied.

The 12 point alternative is simply that it takes that 1 more hit point to wound the character; and that 47 damage wouldn't quite be enough to cause a 4hp wound, because the multiples are counted out in 12s and not 11s.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Swords Shall Be Bent . . . and Logic Too

Polybius was a Greek historian of the 2nd century BCE who lived much of his adulthood in Rome - about which he wrote a series of 'books' that are compiled together and called The Histories.  It's great stuff about war and individual prowess along with geography and ethical arguments about governing.  The Histories are the critical works about the first and second Punic Wars, in addition to the rise of Rome from a local bully to a Mediterranean-dominating superpower.  It takes patience and focus to read it, but I strongly recommend it for those who want a good sense for pre-Dark Ages battle.

All this is so I can quote a few passages from a battle between the Romans and the Insubres, in 223 BCE:

"They [the Romans] had learned from previous battles that the Gauls are at their most dangerous in their first onslaught while their ardour is still fresh, and also that because of the way their swords are forged, as has already been mentioned, it is only the first slash which takes effect.  After this the edges are immediately blunted and the blades become so bent both lengthways and sideways that unless the men are given time to straighten them with the foot against the ground, the second blow has virtually no effect."
The Histories, Book II.33

In my Penguin copy, there's this footnote:

"The same details concerning the soft edge of the Gallic sword are found in Plutarch's account of Camillus' victory over the Gauls in 377 B.C.; it may have become a traditional legend."

Then, later in the same chapter, Polybius writes,

"As soon as the enemy [the Gauls] had delivered their first sword cuts against the shafts of the spears and so put their weapons out of action, the Romans closed with them and rendered them helpless by leaving them no room to raise their arms to slash; this is the stroke which is peculiar to the Gauls, and the only one they can make, as their swords have no points.  The Romans, on the other hand, made no attempt to slash and used only the thrust, kept their swords straight and relied on their sharp points, which were very effective."

Such fascinating detail!  The design of the broad sword vs. the slashing swords of the Gauls, the manner in which the Romans could press in on the Gauls and keep them from even swinging and the softness of the metal that the Gauls could smelt.  This last is the most interesting to me, because once again we come back to the subject of orcs.

Humans, as we know, are part of an extensive culture - a necessity, since the players are bound to play some sort of humanoid that moves from place to place, expecting to be able to buy goods, stay at inns, use roads for travel and so on.  This unification means that technology is shared, so that developments spread throughout the geo-political culture.

Orcs and other humanoids, however, are necessarily isolated.  They have no trade, which means that unless a particular group of orcs happens to be sitting on a good supply of soft coal (hard coal could not be easily mined until the 18th century, after the development of harder steels and steam power) as well as iron, limestone and a hardening metal such as nickel, manganese, chromium or tungsten, we wouldn't find a society that could mass produce good metal for weapons.  Even if those materials did exist, there's no guarantee that the masters in house were clever enough to have developed metallurgical skills to match the highest degree of human-based technology.

In short, the orcs simply wouldn't have weapons to match human weapons, just as the Gauls did not have weapons to match the Romans.  It's no good, either, arguing that the orcs could have found enough weapons to sustain them, for as we know from both Polybius and Livy, the Gauls won plenty of battles against the Romans and this didn't help them.

See, the problem with found weapons is that the use of the weapon is dependent upon the individual being trained in the use of that weapon.  The Gauls may have found plenty of Roman broadswords, but this didn't make anyone among the Gaulish tribes suddenly professional at being able to manipulate and effectively use the weapon once they had it.  See, there are muscle groups that need developing, a stance to be adopted, techniques, a way of thinking about the weapon and so on - and these things are NOT self-evident.  Gauls might have tried, but they would have soon found the Roman weapons were too heavy in all the wrong ways - even if the actual weapon was lighter, without those muscle groups it would have felt wrong.

Suppose that we have an especially developed group of orcs who luck out in the mineral department so that they have everything they need.  Let's also say that there's a really brilliant orc that stumbles upon the secret of an improved forged iron, making perhaps the best iron in all the world.  It's a possibility, right?  Why not simply say that?

First of all, because obviously not every orc clan in the world can be so lucky - though we can expect a DM to cheat and suppose they might be.  With a genius orc iron founder in every clan, yet.  It still doesn't fly, for one simple reason.  Technology does not stand still.  Whereas today the orc founder comes up with something really original, the human culture doesn't depend on just one genius.  It jumps forward any time someone, somewhere, comes up with an original thought.  The orc clans in the traditional vision, however, are not communicating with each other.  They're in dungeons, deep underground, isolated and hardly trading thousands of tons of materials with other clans, or sharing knowledge from one clan to another as quickly and easily as humans are.

No matter how you look at it, the orc technology is going to lapse, and when their swords fall against the swords of humans, and their friends elves, dwarves and so on, those orc weapons are going to fail.  They're going to break or bend, and then the orcs will go where the Gauls went.

My solution was to make the orcs a huge culture, with huge territories, where they numbered in the millions and traded among themselves.  I also felt that in times of peace, the orcs ought to be able to trade with humans and vice versa.  Why not?  We trade with genocidal nations, even where the leader is a cannibal, all the time.  Why not orcs?  Wall Street wouldn't care.

Most, however, will simply ignore all this, giving orcs and other subterranean humanoids magical powers over the manufacture of iron weapons, which appear mysteriously no matter how many levels down we go - while no evidence of a forge - or a chimney leading outside from that forge - ever makes an appearance.


A Higher Class

I was asked why yesterday that I had been dead set against 'sage abilities' for fighters, but that my plans now included them.  I felt I should expand on that idea, and explain that my plans now include sage abilities for every class.  The word 'sage,' then, has ceased to mean an old man with plenty of time for reading books; it has become a convenient word for 'knowledge skills inherent in classes.'

Since beginning to work on the proposed system, with interruptions, I've come to realize just how many disconnects there are in the existence of things in the world vs. the magic that the game includes.  How did gelatinous cubes come into existence?  How are wands made?  Does a D&D world even have geology in the sense of fossils, tectonic plates and traditional volcanism?  If you have made a world with volcanoes, how do they work?  Has your world existed for billions of years, or did the gods make your world with volcanoes just so they could spout off once in awhile?  Do they spout when the gods say so?

For many, the answers are a matter of simple hand-waving.  But for some, who have an intense and abiding interest in such things, hand-waving is not enough.  I have been fascinated with tectonics since I was a young boy, having been well aware of the controversy in 1972 when subduction and continental drift were all the rage.  I was only 8, but I gobbled up books on geography like candy because I thought of the subject as the most wonderful thing!  Thus was the basis laid for my infatuation with mapmaking.

Fuck gaming.  Continental drift, volcanism, earthquakes and the like are incredible wonders - and where the reader talks of 'magic,' I point to such real manifestations of nature, complete with the rational formation underlying them, as every bit the value of any magic any gamer can pop from their skulls.  I shall never understand why laziness in waving something aside is allowed to take the place of the profound delight gained from knowing things and fitting those known things into the game universe.

I don't want my world to have volcanoes that don't act like volcanoes.  If there will be volcanoes, they will damn well function like volcanoes do, and the gods themselves shall tremble when half the mountain falls away and drifts ash upon a quarter of the world.

Which means that if druids know about the world, not all of that information will come from the gods.

Thus is the game a science, not the silly stories given to children to shut them up.  Thus all the various elements of the game must be hammered into that science - even though that is hard.  I don't care how hard it is. Great things are hard.  Passion is hard.  People who claim that things ought to be easy, for the sake of 'fun' or some other infantile pleasure, fail to see the intensity gained in accomplishment.  They have never screamed in delight and felt empowered like the gods, because they have done something amazing.

These poor, sad little furtive people and their fun.  We must pity them.

So yes, there are reasons to give sage abilities to other classes, to cover things that cannot be covered by spellcasters.  I'll confess, for fighters I am thinking of things like 'leadership,' the governing of men, the power to draw men towards oneself through prowess and ability, rather than charisma.  Find, if you can, a reference to Ulysses S. Grant's charisma - and then compare that to the number of references to his ability, his perseverance, his will or his energy.  There is more to leadership than being 'liked.'

I am thinking about logistics, though right now I have no idea how to apply that.  That will take more thought. What of naval combat?   What of the management of civilians?  What of keeping peace?  Or training men, particularly youth and civilians who have never participated in war before?  Are these things not also part of the fighter, and are they not ignored by the game as it stands?

We think so small.  We think extra shots with a bow or extra damage or more proficiencies or better binding of wounds.  Some of those things are important, and I will probably address them, but there are immense things as well, particularly in the management of fighting, that have for so long been ignored.

People are liking the druid studies, and that's great.  But having reconciled myself to changing the face of the fighter and other classes, I admit that I can't wait to finish the druid and start the next class!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Come Saturday

Ah.  I will be running D&D this weekend.

I have been lax about sending a message to the players online.  I suggested perhaps dabbling a bit last week, but day by day I have been procrastinating.  I think about sending them an email, thinking I'll ask if they're still interested, and then I don't do it.

I know it is just that I am really tired.

I never worked as hard at anything as I worked on the Advanced Guide.  By the end, just before I published, I was virtually a basket case.  I had given up doing anything else.  I had gotten past the point where I could even read, because I could not get my mind off the Guide long enough to actually feed my elephant.

I read some Polybius in the tub last night and felt great.  Overall, I feel great.  Including the small How to Play book, our sales are just shy of $1K, we've sold well over one hundred of both books and things continue to look promising as I approach booksellers.

But . . . running D&D again.  That is something.

I haven't actually run offline since, let me see, March?  End of February?  I've forgotten.  Online, the last date of the campaign was April 17th.  More than three months ago.  For me, those three months have passed like a blur.  I'm still having trouble remembering that this is 2014.  I feel like I've just stepped out of a time machine.

And the biggest thing about running again is that I now know more about running than I ever had.  In venturing out to explain what it is I do, I've uncovered dozens of things I now know I can't do any more. Through researching and writing, I learned myself why I was ruining my own game.  At several points in the book I admit this frankly:  "I am a bad DM because I do this and this."  I didn't see any point in pretending.

See, as much as it is nice to make a little money, it will never be enough to live on - so the writing could never be about the money.  The writing had to be about the players, who would be reading it.  It had to be about giving them a place to go, a goal to pursue, a way to work on a setting that would make sense, not just for role-playing but for how people think and act in the real world.  To positively meet this theme of the book, I often found myself feeling as though I were pounding words into the computer much like hammering iron upon an anvil, working the sentence and working the sentence in the hopes of making it something someone who could not see into my brain would yet be able to follow.  I desperately wanted to produce a guidebook that would truly function as a 'guide,' exactly like one would expect if touring through the high mountains and having things pointed out.

No one challenges a guide's opinion when the guide points to a valley floor a thousand feet below and says, "We could go there, but getting there is going to take time and considerable effort."  Only a fool then announces, "Well, that's bunk, that's your opinion, I'm sure you can get there easily."  A guide, faced with such a fool, can only shrug and let the fool go their merry way, while continuing to lead those who want the benefit of the guide's experience to continue in the guide's footsteps.

Now, I've played a lot, I've done a lot, I've explored a lot of rules and I've challenged myself to improve upon the game since the beginning - but I don't know everything because I haven't seen everywhere.  To write the book, I headed off into country that was unfamiliar to me, to make myself better so that the book would be better.  I feel I've done an excellent job, but only because I spent this time walking over ground that I know the reader has never seen.

In guiding the reader over that ground, I'm only doing what I've done as a DM since the beginning.  I've taken players, brought them into the fold, set out the principles of the game and then set out to show them what there is to see.

The Advanced Guide was different.  Instead of teaching players how to play in my world, it had to be about how to teach DMs to run players in theirs.  It had to be about how to teach a DM what a world is for and why it needs to be.  It had to be about giving the DM tools.  It wasn't enough to say, "Oh, hey, you're a DM, have faith in yourself, do what you have to."  The ground I was showing is real.  It has firm, fixed, practical elements that can be dug up, processed and applied by anyone, not just those who happen to show a flair.

I don't believe that I know the 'right way' to DM; I'm still learning myself.  Saturday I'm going to take some of that learning and see if I can't better my game.  I am saying, however, that there are certain policies that a DM can pursue that will yield certain results, both good and bad.  If the DM does this, the results will be this, and for these reasons. If the DM does that, the results will differ and for these reasons.

Only through understanding the reasons, and accepting that what goes on at the table isn't just random bullshit - but that it is the absolute result of how the DM has determined to run the world can improvement be possible.  We make our own ruination; we drive the players to their tactics; we tolerate them when they behave inappropriately and we encourage their inappropriate behaviour when we act out ourselves.

No, there is no 'right way.'  But there is most certainly a 'wrong way.'  Unquestionably.

I know a lot of readers don't wish to buy the book, for any number of reasons.  I know that it's a fair sum, I know that it's an online book and that there's no way to know for sure what's being purchased.  I have only what I've written on the blog as a guideline for what I've tried to write in the book and the seriousness with which I've approached the material.

You're here, so you plainly have interest in the blog.  This is a long post, so if you're still with me, you plainly have interest in what I'm saying.  If you can't bring yourself to buy the book, or you haven't the means, then all I ask is that you consider those who do anxiously hope for guidance, and will pay any price to get it.  If you come here everyday to read the blog, then I ask you to just think of me now and then, along with the work I've tried to put here.  If you can't buy this book this time around, then perhaps we can agree on something next time I publish.

Whoops.  I've got to start getting ready for Saturday.