Friday, October 31, 2014

The Limits of My Conception

Apparently, the munchkin post was popular.  Anything popular is worth a revisit.

I confess I had not considered the acrimony with which the term itself is viewed.  To me, it was nothing more than a helpful definition for the sort of person that sees the game in terms of - let me see, Dave Cesarano called it, ". . . a solipsistic and narcissistic power-fantasy."  Yeah, I'll go with that.

The evidence for community encouragement of this sort of behavior takes me back, once again, to the 'bromance' that some 'dudes' share with pompous, male-dominated RPGism.  Munchkins are not hard to find.

Does it mean that everyone who embraces a point system is, by definition, a munchkin?  Absolutely not.  What I said was that the invention of the point system served as an enabler for the munchkin.

I do understand the pejorative of this.  In this culture, an enabler is as bad as the enabled.  I myself, yesterday, made an allusion to the point system as a drug pusher enabling the drug user.  That comment has been deleted; I have since thought better of it.

It is possible, I concede, to run a points-based system AND to restrain munchkinism at the same time. While I contend that the first, unrestrained, will unquestionably lead to the second, I am able to believe that a vigilant DM may potentially encourage players to seek other forms of play other than to seek their power fantasy.

But while I can believe it, I can't conceive it.  I haven't had any experience where, with munchkinism being possible, it isn't in turn embraced.  I have seen DMs urging players away from it; I have seen DMs removing avenues in order to make it harder; but no matter what, so long as the rules support the potential, I have always seen the potential exploited.

The class-system based game does not remove munchkinism.  Munchkins will acquire weapons, they will fight every distribution of treasure and experience, they will explore and examine ways to improve their armor and other equipment, fighting for every inch of gain and ultimately setting themselves up with as much personal power as possible.  In all my experience of making rules, I know perfectly well that the fundamental concern that must be considered in ever giving players a bit more power is how the munchkins will exploit it.

My thought turns to a non-game example, demonstrated brilliantly in Norman Jewison's Other People's Money.  In it, Garfield, the ultimate exploiter, says,

"They can pass all the laws they want.  All they can do is change the rules.  They can never stop the game.  I don't go away.  I adapt."

That is what munchkins do.  This is what Oddbit tagged onto Wednesday when he wrote, "The best munchkins would probably be great at making do with what they have."

I control munchkins by pounding them into rule-constructed chambers that serve like the iron suits of Dante's Purgatory, restricting their mechanical power to the same level as everyone else.  I compensate for this by letting them run loose on the landscape mentally and emotionally, recognizing that as they gain levels and accumulate powerful items my only real weapon against them is to pit them occasionally against other npc munchkins.  This has always worked well.

Of course the munchkins carp.  But even the most skill-enabled munchkin will, because it isn't about having enough power, it is always about having more.

This is why I am a cynic.

I can't conceive of a non-munchkin campaign because I've never seen one.  Tell me that you have seen unicorns and I may believe you, but I'm always going to reserve a bit of doubt until I chance upon one myself.

Because I can't conceive of such a thing (acknowledging that it nevertheless exists, because I've been told they do), my mind immediately wonders how I would be restrained in such a campaign if I chose to be a munchkin.

This is a mental exercise that has served me well.  Rather than viewing the question from the outside, I would rather view it from inside.  I am a munchkin.  I sit down at the table of you, the gentle reader, and together we proceed to make my character.

Has my character been pre-made?  I've played recently in campaigns where that seems to be standard. Ordinarily, I hate it.  It is a way to control my creative juices.  As a munchkin, this is OBVIOUSLY taking away my freedom.  What is the point in having a point-buying system if I'm not allowed to spend my own points?

Ah, the characters are not pre-generated.  Excellent.

Do I know this system?  Is it something I've played before?  Is it some unique system that someone has made from scratch or greatly altered from some existing framework?  Because if it is new or made from scratch, well that's a great way to keep me ignorant, isn't it!  Yeah, sure, first time in, I'm not going to know what the best picks are right off, am I?  Well, if you don't change the system in the future, then all right, FINE.  I'll learn your rules, I'll figure them out and you just wait, give me a few months and you'll see what I can do with this . . .

Oh, it is a standard game?  Good.

Let's see, we're playing at eight tonight - let's see what the internet says about starting a new power character in the system we'll be running . . . ah, this should be good.

Now I see me picking the skills I want and getting certain leading questions.  I don't say that you, gentle reader, do this, but it's just my perception of how I'm encouraged in your world not to be a munchkin.  Do I really want the biggest weapon?  Do I know there's a lot of places where I won't be able to use it?  Yes, I want it anyway.  No, I don't really want to take any 'character building' skills.  I already have character, I don't need it defined by skills.  No, I don't want to play a character that the party needs.  Sorry, exactly why do you say, 'I ought to'?  What are you implying?  Well, that's great for them, but what does it do for me?  Oh, I see.  I'm not supposed to just think about me, is that it?

I can't see any way of controlling me, the munchkin, that doesn't in some way begin with the same ways in which all people are controlled, everywhere.  Influence, guilt, moralisms, distinctions of what I ought to do when I make my character and so on.

Reversing back to myself as DM, I feel I need to make something clear.  Munchkins are GREAT CHARACTERS.  They get really excited, they act impulsively (which is always a spur to party activity), they challenge the perameters of my game and they want to WIN.  I, personally, happen to like players who like to win.

What I don't like are players who have it handed to them on a platter in the form of point-buying, so that they're able to win by mechanical means and not by actively applying their limited power to game play.

A munchkin without a point-buying system is just a hard player.  A player who's tendencies can be managed and directed towards invigorating the whole party.

The problem comes when the munchkin is given too much freedom in a system where there are others who are not prepared or not willing to take advantage of that freedom.  Then it comes down to endless arguments over what 'should' a player do when building their character, what balance of skills 'should' be chosen or what expectations of the party 'should' the individual player respect.

Which I must point out is an overwhelming part of the discourse around munchkins and people building them.

Look at the inherent morality present in many of the anti-munchkin comments on Wednesday's linked page.

"Munchkins are those who will do whatever is necessary to gain every last bit of power they can think of"  (what part of that is outside the rules as written?)

"A munchkin is anyone who can squeeze more efficiency out of a given game's character generation and play."  (efficiency is a pejorative - there's a solid opinion)

"A player who has no awareness of proportion, tone or realism" (who's proportion, tone or realism?)

"Munchkins are people who believe that in-game power is a measure of their skill as a player."  (what is a 'player?'  Isn't that someone who plays the game?  What makes this speaker the final arbiter of what 'playing' means?)

It's all self-righteous judgementalism.  Having created the rule that promotes munchkinism, the obvious solution is to then SHAME any person who dares to employ the rule as written, particularly if they are efficient or effective in doing so.

Tell me, please, how your point-buying system does not promote either munchkinism OR this sort of high-mindedness.

As I say, I can't conceive it.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why Wasn't I Consulted?

Yesterday, I came across this article - admittedly late to the party, as it was published in January 2011 (why didn't people tell me?).  I rarely applaud articles.  This one was deserving.

Ford explains that people approach the internet with a question, that question being, "Why wasn't I consulted?"  I don't think the internet answers the question, but the response of the user contains the sentiment that the internet ought to answer it.  Ford writes,

"'Why wasn't I consulted,' which I abbreviate as WWIC, is the fundamental question of the web.  It is the rule from which all other rules are derived.  Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that effectively."

Ford then goes on to discuss the pattern of flame wars, anger and knee-jerk reactions.  I confess I relate strongly to that.  Much of the criticism of this blog, for example, tends to reflect Ford's premise:

  • "How dare you assign hit points to orcs without first consulting us?"
  • "How dare you have an opinion about a given module without first consulting us?"
  • "How dare you moderate your comments without first consulting us?"

And so on.

Ford then makes the cogent argument that if you want to be popular on the net, then you ought to set up some sort of system that enables people to consult.  Which, I suppose, makes a lot of sense.  By consulting (or appearing to have the power to do so), web visitors will feel engages and encouraged to continue in their engagement - thus they will return again and again.  By moderating the comments on this blog, I remove that power from many potential participants in the discussion - by disenfranchising them, I reduce the popularity of this blog.

Hm.

Let me talk about consultation for a moment.

Beginning in the 1980s, there grew a strong desire on the part of business to better understand how to encourage their employees to work harder and more consistently, to call in fake sick less often, to remain loyal and to stop stealing from the company.  Much was learned.  A central discovery, however, was that if you - the employer - directly asked your employees what they felt the company should do or how the company should manage their affairs, the employees on the whole would feel much more of all the things you would want them to feel.

Understand, however - the studies done demonstrated that it wasn't necessary to actually DO any of the things your employees suggested.  In fact, there was no substantial gain to be obtained by following through.  The most important thing was to ASK.  Having asked, you had already accomplished your goal: employees being more engaged.

This is why you - the employee - are constantly asked in your job to give your opinion on things that you don't care about - and why you're frustrated at your time is being wasted when you know damn well that corporate does not give a shit about you.  It is because the other people you work with are much, much dumber than you.  They think the company really does care.  If they didn't care, why would they ask?

Because of these studies, because human beings are so incomprehensibly naive and stupid, the corporate culture as been suffused with ungawdly loads of insincere crap that pours like a thick honey over everyone's thinking.  Corporations have run with these ideas because they work.  Other companies have proliferated whose sole purpose is to teach corporations how to implement such ideas, being paid huge amounts of money - and these 'consultants' sustain their profits because people really are moronically willing to accept the premise: "People asked my opinion.  People must like me."

Ford's article is much of the same.  He really isn't saying that people should be consulted - he is saying that people should seem to be consulted, because that will drive traffic.

I must confess.  I like to hear intelligent opinions from intelligent people.  I like it because it is encourages me to change.  I found myself rethinking - and on two occasions, researching - my sage tables point system on account of the opinions people had.

I encourage consultation because I want an alternate perspective.  Not because I care about this blog's traffic.

Much of the time, I feel that the sort of consultation people are prepared to give is not very helpful. Consider, for example, my wiki.

Virtually everything that has been added to the wiki has come about from consideration, consultation and experimentation.  There may be a few things there that I'm putting up because I am proposing a rule where no rule previously existed.  Even there, that rule includes my experience with other rules that I feel never did work.

Would I appreciate consultation on the wiki?  On some level, yes.  I'd love to have someone who tested the links and remarked upon some of the confusing language, when clearly I haven't fully processed my thinking.  I'd love someone who could go in an correct spelling errors without needing to ask me first, or fix typos and other grammatical errors.

But do I want someone to come in and propose a different system for weapons' damage?  No, not really.  This, however, is what I could count upon.

Yesterday, JB - a regular reader - wrote a post about the skill set offered by the old Empire of the Petal Throne.  In the article he mentions a few of the skills, but obviously he doesn't want to just reprint a skill set from a published game.  That's quite reasonable.  It's not a bad post.  Where my interest lies, however, is in the first comment, where DungeonMastahWieg writes, ". . . makes me want to come up with a list of basic skills."

Now, I would rush in there and 'consult' by pointing out that I have skill set lists and even a character generator that Wieg should look at - only, in following the link, I discover that Wieg runs the blog, Save vs. Poison.  A blog that has been in existence since 2009.  When Wieg's name used to be Ryan.

Ryan, who entered my online campaign as Kazimir, also back in 2009.  When he rolled up a character using my basic skills system.

Now, let me make myself clear.  Wieg/Ryan wasn't that fond of my online campaign, he didn't have time for it and as far as I know, we parted without any hard feelings.  Nor am I in anyway upset that he was interested by the EPT's skill system as described by JB and not the one I actually used to create his character, which I posted in 2008.  That's perfectly fine.  I'm quite sure that Wieg/Ryan doesn't remember that post.  It's all good.

My larger point is that Wieg/Ryan's comment on JB's post is extraordinarily typical of the sort of interplay and 'consultation' going on back and forth between blogs on the internet.  Even though Save vs. Poison has been around for five or six years, the response was made as though the idea of a secondary skill system had never remotely occurred to Wieg/Ryan.  As though, in some way, this is new!  The same can be said of JB's post, which really is nothing more than a mild rehash of a few things printed what, 36 years ago?

While I am perfectly fine sharing the webspace with other bloggers, the more the merrier and all that, where it comes to 'consultation' on what I'm doing or what I'm designing, I must argue that the idea is patently ridiculous.  I'm very sorry.  Most of you are busy proposing rules invented three decades ago, while I've spent this time working.

Has this made me popular?  Of course not.  Will this post help?  Oh, it might send waves among the unctuous gossip bitches of the online blogger community, but that won't mean much.  They'll just spend a lot of time demanding to know why they weren't consulted before I wrote this post.

I would love some help, some REAL help, from people who have consciously tried to educate themselves as to why parts of the game don't work.  Now and then, it's good to hear from someone who, like Jhandar recently, will propose a solution to a problem that is already hopelessly dead in the water, because then I get to write a post about why Munchkins exist and how that works.  I crave, however, the more thoughtful insight provided by Jhandar and others when they really dig into the game's structure.

Nevermind why it doesn't work.  How are we going to make it work?  That's the bigger issue.  I'm quite tired of the 'why doesn't it work' discussions.  I've had many of them for quite some time.  I suppose I'm ready to move on now.

Sorry I didn't consult anyone about that.



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Munchkins

Took me just a few minutes this morning to find this.  It's from a forum on rpg.net, dated nov 19, 2002.

"Hi, my name is Eric and I'm a munchkin.

"I admit it. Freely. I've designed characters around a kickass weapon or combination of Feats that allow me to do bucketloads of damage. Heck, I've built combat monsters and then come up with personalities later. I've designed supers characters to get a massive bang-for-my-buck. In a choice between a really heavy mech and a light scout, I'll choose the heavy one, and then modify it.

"At heart, being a munchkin is about being cool and kicking ass. If Glitterboys looked like shit but still had a massive weapon, nobody would play them. I wouldn't have made my D&D3e Feats-based combat monster if I hadn't just seen 'Phantom Menace' and watched Darth Maul and his Whirlwind attack. When I watched 'Brotherhood of the Wolf,' all I could think of is that I wanted to play an ass-kicking French naturalist and then butcher 25 barbarian-gypsies in an orgy of vengeance and knife-wielding mayhem.

"It's not about small penis size. It's not about 'getting one over' on the other players, or hating the GM, or wanting to derail the game. It's about being badass, cool, like all of those characters in all of those movies that you watch.

"The cool thing about munchkins - they really have passion. If the GM tries to shut them down, it becomes adversarial, but if a confident GM rolls with the munched characters it can be fun, because the PC is a) something the player cares about and b) offers the player a certain amount of security. He's confident in his character because it's cool, badass, and won't get killed by a stray knife hit - just like Clint Eastwood."

Honesty.  It must be appreciated for its own sake.

I have to wonder if Eric is still playing.  I have to wonder if he has changed the tiniest bit.

I quote the above because it serves as an example for what happened with D&D 3.0, when the points skill system was incorporated.  Spawn like the above emerged, as the system made their brand of playing possible.  These people were empowered - and having been empowered, they proceeded to shit gleefully on many a campaign and upon many a player that did not embrace their philosophy.

I contend that the term 'munchkin' originated with the Steve Jackson game of the same name, a not-too-bright card-based rpg substitute that nevertheless reflected a certain attitude that suggested the problem with rpgs was all the fucking roleplaying.  The game has been very successful.  Steve Jackson, some of you will remember, is the inventor of GURPS, the rpg system that taught the people who owned D&D how to piss all over themselves.

Much complaining was heard in the 1980s from the type of player that was as yet the munchkin unborn - players who chafed at the class-based system, as it did not allow them the 'freedom' they needed to be really terrific dicks at the gaming table.  Being the loudest, most obnoxious people imaginable, they of course would ultimately get their own way and the entire structure and function of the game would be altered in order to, as I say, empower them.

I hate point-based purchase-driven game mechanics.  They are based on the philosophy that 'freedom' is the equivalent of buying your way into whatever set up personally appeals to you, especially if that means the 'freedom' to maul or spit on the passion or enjoyment of other people.

'Freedom' is the construction site around a 60-story office tower that shuts down 9th street for 18 months because the makers of the building have enough money to buy the city council - so fuck everyone who now has to drive four blocks out of their way every fucking day.  'Freedom' is a few hundred graft-collecting politicians who decide for the good of a few oil companies that YES, it is important that we expend human bodies again to re-assert our exploitation of Iraq.  'Freedom' is the mother screaming at you at the mall because you've dared to drop the f-bomb within 90 feet of her snowflake-precious child.  'Freedom' is a lot of things.

I have a philosophy that the best play begins when the player has to 'make do' with whatever the player has.  The less freedom the player has to buy their way out of trouble, the better the game becomes.  I firmly believe that adhering to a class, and the limitations as well as the opportunities provided by that class, compels the player to step outside the mechanics of the game and innovate from the creative perspective.  The less a player can buy, the less that player can rely upon their dice and their power to get them out of trouble.  This encourages a greater reliance upon other players, which in turn helps build the party as a unified force that supports one another.

Munchkins seek to buy the game.  People who support buying mechanics support munchkins.  I think many would-be designers don't know that's what they're doing.

But they are.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Just Employ Others

Not surprisingly, of late I have become increasingly focused on the trade system and the wiki (and that other thing).  I find it hard to write about anything else.  So I don't think I'll try.

Yesterday, Issara Booncharoen proposed a solution for a condition found in my sage abilities system - namely, that being not enough points to know what the players might like to know.  In his words,

"... The difference between number of points the character has and the threshold for whatever the next level is is the number of minutes/hours/days required reading/working things through from first principles/achieving things through trial and error before the player can start using the skill normally. Say a player has 8 points in a field and wants the answer to a question relating to it, they know enough to know where to look and can find the answer to the question with two hours research, if they can get access to the book. Or they know what sort of people would know the answer, and it takes two hours (assuming an appropriate environment) to hunt down someone who might know that information and interact with them to the point where they're happy to answer your simple question."

In my words, if you're 1 knowledge point shy from amateur status, it will take less time looking up the information in a book than if you're 9 points shy.  From that, it should be possible to search for knowledge even if one has zero knowledge points - something which admittedly I find problematic.

Suppose that we take a specific example for which this system would work.

With regards to the study of Bushes & Shrubs, there is an amateur proficiency for 'Arboriculture': identify name of genus and species of shrubs upon sight. Includes value of same. Min. 10 pts. Unlimited use of this ability.

I can see right away how a bit of study can help there.  Pluck the plant (or draw a reasonably decent picture of it), take it to the local druid that's used to these things (is an amateur) and get them to say, "ah, that's a primrose."  Libraries are rare, but digging through the right books for a day or so could get the same answer.  Works great!

Now let's take an example where it doesn't work.

Bushes & Shrubs also has an amateur proficiency for 'Pruning': allows for the intensive improvement of one fruit tree per season per pt, doubling its total yield. Cultured, unpruned shrub patches typically produce 3-12 lbs. of fruit. Each shrub patch requires half a day of effort.

This is a hands-on activity, one that requires a steady hand, a good eye and plenty of personal experience looking at thousands of tree branches and knowing instinctively what is good to cut and what isn't.  Moreover, it requires an adept hand that makes a clean cut with the knife, causing the least possible damage to the tree.  How do characters learn this through a few hours of study?

Answer is, they don't.  The proficiency assumes the character has cheerfully spent their free time performing the activity, even in the midst of running through adventures, personally examining nearby trees, stopping to chat occasionally when passing near an orchard with some pickers, sharing ideas with a fellow at the tavern before turning in, making use of their years of original expertise gained as a child (indicated by the player having chosen that class or field) and so on.  The character can't get that information out of a book; the character has to live that proficiency.

When I look over the other proficiencies associated with bushes & shrubs, I see the same pattern. Horticulture, Grafting and Silviculture are pruning on a grand scale; bonsai trees and topiary are artistic pruning.  Viticulture is a mix between artistry, horticulture and gut instinct.  The only actual proficiency a library would be good for is the identification proficiency.

This is the pattern with other studies as well.  While some things could be looked up, most things are hands on experience working in the field, from properly employing a sextant to experimenting to invent a previously non-existent humanoid that can breed offspring.  The only shortcut to these things would be to actually have the amateur, authority, expert or sage present, doing these things for the player.

And perhaps that is best.  Perhaps the player, rather than trying to shortcut their own knowledge, should accept that the solution is to bring along someone of needed ability until such time as that ability has been gained by a player.  This in turn would help compliment the manner in which the player gained that ability.

Yesterday, I said I could get behind Issara's proposal.  I'm not so sure now, having given it some thought.  I think we all want to circumvent limitations.  Sometimes, however, it may not be the most fruitful means of expanding the game's play.



Monday, October 27, 2014

One Point Makes the Difference

Since yesterday, I've been breaking apart the spell and cantrip lists on the wiki for the cleric and illusionist, creating more than 130 new pages.  I hadn't really considered what a monumental task it is to rewrite all the spell lists - but in breaking them up, I'm getting a sense for that.

Yet, it is also encouraging to know that I've done at least this much.  And it is encouraging me to apply myself once again to the sage tables, something I've left off for three months now.  I can sense the motivation, like a train whistle that announces itself far in the distance.

I'm in an organizational frame of mind.  For weeks I've been transforming and working on the distance tables for the trade system.  While I'll continue with that, I'm also thinking about the wiki and whether or not to keep the work blog (I don't think that idea worked), while gearing up to work on the new book.  I wrote a few thousand words last week on that project, just enough to get my feet wet; I hope to have some sort of working first draft by Christmas.  Sorry that I'm not ready to talk about it yet - I don't want to cripple the muse that is kindly possessing me.

There's no question that the completion of How to Run shattered me a bit, forcing me to draw back and regroup.  I'm pleased that it did as well as it did - I still think there are many more people who would gain from reading it.  I believe the readers who liked it are helping me send that message; there are signs of that in the book's sales.

I wanted to talk about those sage tables, however, that are proving to be every inch the gargantuan task that the spells represent.

A quick overview - different classes are provided with a set of knowledge paths which players can choose, which provide both mundane and exquisite abilities that can be applied to every day running. I don't mean for this knowledge to be applied to making the characters more powerful in combat, so even for the fighters it does not include weapon use or additional bonuses.  The knowledge is more like 'support' for managing the environment, handling equipment, organizing the world and making use of things.

Knowledge is divided into four basic orders, amateur, authority, master and sage, based upon the number of points accumulated over levels.  Each level allows a die to be rolled which increases points, depending on the path chosen by the character.  Never mind the details right now.

Amateur starts at 10 points; authority at 20, master at 40 and sage at 80.  The point system is, not surprisingly, troublesome - not only in itself, but also in its presentation.  For reasons I can't put my finger on, I find myself chafing against declaring a skill to be something only a master can perform. I know it has to be that way.   It's like the thing with dogs and cars.

Yet I can see it from the player's perspective.  Let us say, for instance, that the player chooses to know something about geology.  10 points would indicate that the player is an amateur geologist. Yet the player only has 9 points.  Surely, those 9 points mean something, yes?

I have to argue that they don't, not because they shouldn't but because it would be impractical to allow hair-splitting on these lines.  I understand the arguments.  A person doesn't *poof* become an amateur geologist.  It takes time.  There's a recognition of common features and items before one becomes able to recognize a wider range.  'Obviously,' if the character gets one more point and suddenly becomes an instant amateur, while having no knowledge previously, then there's something wrong.

The solution, as anyone would propose, would be to have a percentage roll that decides whether or not the character knows something.  There we go, problem solved.

Except . . . well, I tried that and it doesn't work.

Players would ask to roll the percentage at every opportunity, which was fair but which also presented their knowledge as entirely hit and miss grab bag.  At no time did the player ever really believe that they had any ability or knowledge - they simply saw the possibility of knowing something like a magic 'genie' they could ask questions and hopefully get a right answer.  The skill didn't play out like a character building device - largely because randomness is a really shitty game delivery system.

I realized that sage abilities would have to function like other player abilities - the fighter does not roll to see if knowledge of the sword's use is present!  A geologist does not randomly guess at the meaning behind a given rock formation.  Knowledge simply IS.

If this means in game terms that the player instantly goes from knowing nothing to being an amateur, then it does.  Many features of the game work exactly that way.  We're just used to those features and we don't think about them much.  Unless, of course, we're still flummoxed that this is a game.

It means that having 9 points in the understanding of geology is equivalent to having zero understanding.  That's just the way it has to work.  Dogs and cars.

At the same time, it also means the character with 10 points can be sure of their amateur status.  We have a fairly good concept of what amateur status in a field means.  We understand the main stream, but we don't create knowledge and we tend to miss hidden details or the odd and absurd.  We understand the basic tools, such as a touchstone, but we're foggy on why precisely the tool works. We have knowledge of use but not theory.

Within that framework, we can assess the character's skill without needing to roll dice.  We can apply our own experience to the question - is this something an amateur geologist would know?  If yes, then we can assume the character ought to know as well.

This gives the character a clear sense of their ability and their power - and in turn allows the character to make predictions about what value their assessments will have.  Is this the sort of rock formation that contains caves?  Yes it is.  If we keep searching, we're certain to find a cave.  This is not a guess.

The benefit of that is, I think, worth the inconvenience of one point making the difference.

There is an alternative - but it's unthinkable.  Assign a specific knowledge set to every point gained. Shake the knowledge set so that different amateurs get slightly different mixtures of knowable things, gauged throughout the process, until ultimately every sage knows everything.

GAH.  I'll be at it until doomsday.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Handling the Mess

Readers have gotten so used to my not posting on weekends that hardly anyone bothers to show up.  I am sorry about that.  I tend to dig in on the weekends, working on projects or getting ready for my game Saturday nights.

Away back in Ought Eight, I published the following, that I called the 'evil, insane killer distance table.'  At that time it did not include Italy or India, it did not include half of Germany or the Netherlands.

And it did not include France.

Over the past few weeks, following the sea routes tables I finished up, I've been occasionally working at an overhaul of that diagram for the new year.  Here is what it looks like now:

Sorry about the lack of detail - it's 80 inches by 34,
- and still I had to use 5 pt type to fit in the names


A bit bigger, wouldn't you say?  In all honesty, it wasn't that bad this time around.

Of course, it does not include Africa, China, Southeast Asia or Japan.  It does not include Spain or Great Britain.  And it does not include the New World.

Still, I have faith.  These things take time.  I am ready to add Spain to my maps, whenever I want to start working it, and eventually that will mean adding it to the trade system also.  I really ought to be working on my sage tables and my spell lists, but . . . well, I've always tended to work on whatever struck my mood.

People may have noticed I've begun poking about the wiki lately.  I'm finding as I begin this time around that there seems to be some organizational issues - mostly in naming the pages.  Once a page is named, while the name can be changed, it leaves a bunch of undead corpse pages that can't be removed, so that as I go I'm wading through the remains of bad planning.  There are issues with wiki building that I'm still learning.

I hope I can really get the thing in motion over the next year - which will mean actually building up a lot of my proposed content directly onto the wiki (such as sage tables and character development).  I think the best thing to do will be to micromanage the pages - rather than having one page for first level illusionist spells, for instance, I may have a separate page for every spell.  Same with every other feature.  While this will mean lots of links, it will also help my organization.  For the moment, that seems to be the stumbling block.

Anyway, enjoy your Sunday.

UPDATE:

A publisher file of the image above can be found at this location on the wiki.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Immediately

Serendipity.

Just received a comment on yesterday's post literally minutes after listening to part of Ric Burn's history of New York City, released between 1999 and 2003.  It's a massive, 17 and a half hour chronological study.  This is Part 7, which I'm just completing.  Anyway, first the comment:

Doug writes,

"I wonder how much of this is a result of players who don't bother fleshing out their characters. Giving a character a place to call home is an invitation to a DM to mess with that home. Sort of the reason why so many characters seem to be orphans so the DM can't kidnap a dear sibling."

The passage in the documentary above that I've finished was the demise of Robert Moses, after devastating much of New York in the interests of traffic flow and housing despite the destruction of lives and long-standing communities.  In effect, Moses was a real-life DM - urban planner, planning authoritarian, all-around self-righteous asshole on the grandest scale possible - whose greatest happiness in life was the destruction of things that people held dear for the sake of 'the good' as defined by Robert Moses.

And having listened to this and learned a great deal, along comes Doug to write about messing with the home.

It is very easy for DMs - and television script writers - to leap to the easiest, repulsively overused plot device in the history of serial writing, the destruction of anything the player appreciates.

The player has built a castle?  Immediately - and here I mean in the very next running after the castle is built! - set forces in motion that will destroy, or at least seriously threaten to destroy the castle.  Nevermind that there have never been any forces in the region or that the land has stood unoccupied for millennia, as soon as a castle appears, the DM must wreck it.

The player has an object of power?  Immediately set about having something steal it, dis-empower it, produce something of equal power and go head-to-head with the player, whatever works.  DON'T let the player enjoy it!

The player has managed to establish a rapport with an ally, local authority or guild?  That's a death sentence.  The ally or local authority must die immediately, the guild's management must change immediately, and to someone who obviously must now HATE the player, there must not be any sense of gain or status that the player can enjoy!

We must maintain the player character's inconsequentiality, we must ensure that the player NEVER has a chance to expand from a foothold that they have established, we must always see to it that there's always a higher power or entity that despises the player's success and makes moves towards eradicating it.

Player characters must not be allowed to obtain power.  Even if the DM does allow the player to enjoy it temporarily, the decision will be made immediately about how long the player will be allowed to enjoy it and when the door will be shut.  There's no question about that.

Why?  Because power is an annoyance.  It requires, first of all, that the DM must adapt to new circumstances.  A party that has acquired a host of magic items and followers is now difficult to kill, meaning that all the old patterns of humanoid squads and a few giant beasts aren't enough to threaten the party anymore.  It will take companies of humanoids and a great host of beasts to really challenge the party!  Hell, that's a lot of fighting, a lot of planning, a lot of rolling up hit dice.  Fuck all that. We'll just destabilize that follower base, deprive the party of all the magic, leave them naked on the street again and then MY adventure, Caves of the Cave-loving Cave-dwellers of Cave Cavernous will be relevant again!  Hooray for good DMing!

Having to allow the player who's obtained a minor nobility to attend meetings organized by the Duke or King is just too much trouble.  Damn, that means the world would need to make some sort of sense, it would mean that I'd have to portray a campaign that demands a knowledge of how governing works.  I'd have to read a book!  The king would have to speak respectfully to a party member!  There'd have to be armies and mass battles and - holy shit - what if the party actually tries to get married and have children?  Jeebus, that's pretty freaking squicky!  I just can't deal with that.

Ah, I know what to do!  Okay, first the king dies, then his evil brother marries the queen and together they set out to clean out the kingdom, and of course first they'd start with the newest lords . . .

Listen.  I know why a lot of you run worlds.  Some of you have done the above without knowing any better.  Some of you damn well do know better.

I can't figure out how the people who know better still have players.  But then, I suppose a lot of your players don't know any better.

This 'immediately' shit is really most annoying.  The decision that's made not even to give the alternative role-playing campaign a try, but to immediately destroy the first steps towards that with undermining the player's efforts . . . this really bothers me.  We should really understand that the immediate destruction of things that people have fought for and risked for and invested their time and mental faculties for is a really, really, really shitty thing to do.  It's a poisonous DM's strategy, a self-aggrandizing, miserable thing to do.

It ought to bother your players.

I hope some of them have gotten furious and shouted at you.  They ought to do more.  They ought to break your jaw.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Origin of Identity

Indulge me a moment and study the map below.


It's quite an ordinary map, the sort usually created by DMs, though arguably it is probably more tightly compacted than most fantasy maps.  Rather than vast, empty hexes, such as might be found with a map like this, the makers of Divine Right were creating a wargame.  There was a strong desire to make as many of the hexes strategically important - and so the hills in the south part of the country do not spread over 40 hexes, but only 4.

Suppose these are 20-mile diameter hexes.  There are 64 hexes altogether, so in size Pon would be about 10% bigger than Switzerland, or half the size of Indiana (about 17,000+ sq.mi. or 43,000 sq.km, if that helps any).  It's much like Switzerland, that had a population of 1,664,832 when the French started counting census - and since population numbers tend not to shift that much until the industrial revolution, a million people is not a bad guess for a decently organized and defensible region like that above.  Of course, three measly cities for a million people seems ridiculous (compare with the number of important cities in Switzerland), but we can presume there are other places that just aren't written on this map.

If all we want are places for adventures to occur, the map is already sufficient.  The Gathering is a convenient nest of gnolls waiting to be killed, the Barriorr Mountains of the Mountains of Ice can be filled with as many dungeons as we want, the Border Forest cries out for bandits and raiders across the border from Mivior (the yellow part of the map) in either direction and the Lost City of Khos (sorry, the map cut off the words in the middle) beckons.  We have three convenient towns for the party to retreat to in order to lick their wounds and everything is nice and closely spaced, so everything can be reached with just a few days walking.  What more could we want?

I dearly want to answer that question, though I encourage the reader to do some self-investigation as well.  If all the hexes indicate are the terrain and the distances between places, then why should anyone care what Pon is or what it stands for?  If its nothing more than a splat-kingdom for marching out for nickels and dimes, it's immediately interchangeable for any other place in the player's mind. The map in the player's head is as blank and empty as the hexes themselves.  Those four hill hexes in the south are cut from the same cloth as the hills in the middle of the country or the hills west of Marzarbol, just as Marzabol, the Heap in the Hills and the Crow's Nest may as well be identical.

What makes us love a country?  What makes it feel like home, or a place we dream of being, or something we would fight and die for?  The great big mall that's conveniently 40 miles south of us? The beach ten miles to the north?  The stadium close enough that we can walk the distance?  Is it conveniences, services, things to do, opportunities and so on that make the land what it is?  I feel the answer is no, for those things are everywhere.

Love the Buffalo Bills if you must, but it's only a trick of fate that you were born in Buffalo and not Pittsburgh or - horrifically - in some city in Canada.  I want the players to ask themselves what it is that makes us cheer, put up with the shit and viciously defend our city, even when that seems irrational.

It seems silly and stupid to argue that plunking in a few industries and products will give a region character, but is this not the case?  Is Chicago not defined by hog butchery and its transshipment docks, as well as the industry that accelerated jazz music there and construction boom that built the city skyward?  Is L.A. not defined more by its industry than by its beaches and weather?  San Diego has the same beaches and the same weather, but who gives a shit about San Diego?  It's damn near as big as Detroit and Philadelphia, but when was the last time you heard anyone mention that city outside a sports reference?

What we do makes us who we are.  What a country or city does gives that place an identity.

Do your players want to walk over blank hexes to the next combat, or do they want to live in a place that gives a sense of identity?  And while you ask yourself that question, O Reader, along with the others of this post, piece together the problem that creating an identity is a hundred times harder than creating a dungeon.

Perhaps that's the reason why so few DMs have given it's creation an effort.
 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unreason

There is a natural resistance against things about which we cannot know for certain.   The effectiveness of certain weapons over others, particularly in terms of personal experience with the use of those weapons.

How interesting is it that we have so little context from the men who actually used swords and axes to kill other men.  How resistant those men were to writing down the details, or how resistant were editors to publish books containing such information.  How few soldiers today return from the fields of war to write detailed accounts of enemy's heads blowing open or the pleasant, comfortable way the rifle felt in their hands as it warmed steadily through a fire fight.  How is it that such accounts are not commonplace, given the number of soldiers in the world who have shot or fired such weapons, who have been educated enough to at least write an account of it?

Perhaps there is some knowledge that is better not to share.  It is better that the descriptions of war are not associations between cock and gun, but reconciliations between normal perception and the scattered, irrational experience of being under fire.

An officer came blundering down the trench:
"Stand-to and man the fire-step!"  On he went . . .
Gasping and bawling, "Fire-step . . . counter attack!" 
Then the haze lifted.  Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
"O Christ, they're coming at us!"  Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rive . . . rapid fire . . .
And started blazing wildly . . . then a bang . . .
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans . . .
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death.  The counter-attack had failed.

From Counter-Attack by Siegfried Sassoon


Strange that the efforts to settle upon changes the the damages or use of weapons never takes into account the battle itself.  What DM proposes that players, set to enter combat, will forget that they even have a weapon?  Or that they may, stunned and confused, wander throughout the melee, axe dropped heedlessly upon the ground, until they are cut down or they find themselves hours later, lost, having forgotten where they are?  Where is the madness of fighting?  Where is the unreason?  Where are the clumsy, untrained dupes who have been conned into coming who are now unable to bring themselves to kill anyone?

Where is the humanity?

Let's not pretend any of this game is real.  It is as far from real as anything gets.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Production Figures

I'm setting up to create another video on Friday, describing my mock-up of Pon, the region within Minaria, as promised in my last video.  I should have a map for Pon that I can post sometime soon. For the present, I've added a couple of pages to my wiki giving the number of total references in my world broken down by product and most common, as well as numbers I use for total production, which should be viewed as separate from references.

I think I'm a bit short on text for both those pages.  If someone wants to make a point about something that should be expanded upon, for the sake of information, give me a poke and I'll update.

The smart reader will note that there are hundreds of things notably missing from the production list that are certainly on the references list.  For example, I have 45 references for armor and 48 references for weapons, but no numbers whatsoever for how much of either are actually produced. That is because all figures I could find for manufactured products were unreliable in terms of the Renaissance period (or the medieval before), meaning that I had to build a completely different methodology for working out the cost of manufactured products.  This did not, unfortunately, work out the total amount produced of manufactured products, but then that was never my intention.  I wanted prices, not amounts, and as it happened I did not need to produce the latter in order to produce the former.  This is a subject I will go into more deeply at a later time.

I am sorry for where the amounts for produced goods are listed in ounces rather than pounds or tons. I know this makes it difficult to assess how much is produced at a glance.  The numbers work for the system, however, as I am more concerned about the price of things in terms of copper pieces per ounce than per larger amount.  By breaking things down to their smallest numbers, it is easier to multiply against a given product's total weight.  It just is.

Why ounces and not metric totals?  Why do I insist on handling 16 ounces to the pound or 8 pottles to the gallon?  Flavour.  The metric system was not invented until the 18th century and my world takes place in the 17th.  Thinking in terms of the old Imperial system actually helps me understand why certain objects were fashioned to be a certain size.  I feel it is worth the mathematical hassle.

As the link says, I post the production numbers strictly as a guideline.  I truly am sorry about not being able to reproduce my source material - much of it came from library reference basements or shelves that in fact don't exist any more.  My local university library, for example, has eliminated much of its original reference material for the sake of the internet, or modified those original papers so that they're now found in other forms.  To reproduce my data I would have to go back to scratch - and since my data is fine for me, I don't feel that's necessary.  The reader is more than welcome to produce whatever data the reader is prepared for, if the reader feels evidence is necessary.  I suggest beginning with expansion of industrial power in Western Europe post 1750.  You'll find it hard to find any data on industrial expansion in the rest of the world, even America, prior to 1800.  In all truth, America's industrial power in 1750 was virtually nil, so it doesn't give much value as far as working out a ratio against the total production of things in the present day.  Insufferably, no one felt it was important to keep reliable statistics for how much metal or cereals or even sugar was produced worldwide in 1650.  What the hell were those people thinking?

Thus, any numbers you produce for your system will be - unfortunately - in part dragged out of your ass.  There just aren't any numbers.  You'll find a number for something made somewhere (Toulon produced some nice numbers in the 17th century), but that won't help if your world's culture is that of Asia, Africa or even western Russia.  You'll just have to face it - making up a production number is the best you'll be able to do.

I would argue strongly that you trust my numbers, at least in terms of their comparative ratio.  I've been doing this a long time, I positively HATE making up things and I've worked hard to get good comparisons that work well for the world.  If your world is more medieval or ancient than renaissance, I would recommend going through and reducing a lot of the numbers based upon what technological innovations your world will precede.  For example, you had better cut your grain production considerably if your world does not include the horse collar.  You might want to toss certain staple crops altogether, if you want an ancient Rome feel, as there shouldn't be any potatoes, chocolate, tobacco and so on.  On the whole, for pure fantasy's sake, there are a number of things you might want to pump upwards, such as turtles for turtle soup, while ridding yourself of products just to make things 'weird.'  Remember that any changes you make to the production will have potentially drastic effects upon the price of things if you don't consider references as well.  There's no point in increasing the number of turtles in the world if you don't also increase the number of people who think eating them is important.

That should give you food for thought for a day or two.  There will be more.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dollar Voting

I received a message this evening from a source that cannot be named, asking if he can start a dollar vote on my next book being How to Run Adventure Hooks.

And he donated a dollar.

Well, I am working on something along those lines, with a larger perspective.  I felt I ought to reassure the good fellow.  Of late, I must confess, I've been having some trouble hooking a party and getting them to bite - so remember that everyone can have trouble with this.

I wanted to post a youtube vid with Hoagy Carmichael singing "There Ain't No Fish," but this is the best I could do.




Dogs & Cars

I must say it.  I don't care about weapons.

I'm a D&D player, so I know I'm supposed to, but somehow I just can't get interested.  For me, it's been four decades of people declaring that a 'long sword' is 'this' or that no, it's actually 'this,' that it is used with two hands - er, I mean one hand, or both one hand and two hands, etcetera, etcetera.  Four decades of the sword weighs this much, no this much, well in fact this much, except that you're all wrong and it weighs this much.  Four decades of every sword is basically the same weapon, except when they're not, except when every different culture seems to have invented their own version and stuck with that version for centuries, for apparently no reason whatsoever, since every sword is the same and training with every sword is the same.  Except for all those people who say it is not.

Four decades of meeting people who 'train with weapons,' who teach others how to use weapons, who make their own weapons, who unearth weapons from archeological sites, who all strangely tell me different 'truths' based upon their 'real experience' with the use and manufacture of weapons.  Four decades of opinions that distinctly differ from the opinions of others, in a culture where everyone has to begin their personal 'truth' about weapons with some form of the statement, "Let me begin by saying that everyone else is wrong . . ."

I don't know why the scholarship in this field is so universally fucked up, but I have been around long enough and heard enough now to know to doubt anyone who argues from the position of, "I know this to be true because I have done this or read that."

Any argument that requires a resume before starting is highly suspect.

Where this sort of thing dominates in other fields, there is an opinion that I believe has credibility: "We just don't know."  Strangely, in a macho-male dominated field like weapons, however, the number who are willing to say that are very few.

We don't know.  We don't have reliable records made and kept by contemporary sources, we don't know for sure that the weapons we have pulled out of ground were made for fighting, despite the nicks on such weapons (how do we know the weapons weren't used to hack and cut things to impress visitors, the same way 'weapons' are used in thousands of basement apartments today).

We do know there has never been a universal policy or philosophy in weapons manufacture, ever. Consistency in weapons didn't begin until long after the industrial revolution - and even today the value of the world's best weapon is not based upon its accuracy, range, muzzle velocity or rate of fire, but upon its ability to be made cheaply and remain functioning in absolutely shit conditions.  Even as I write this, however, someone, somewhere, is readying an explanation for why I have that wrong - and moreover, why the exceptional distribution of the weapon in all environments and among all cultures doesn't prove anything.  Nor the fact that the weapon was first put into service 65 years ago, despite all the technology developed since then.

We don't know.  Three words that most of us don't know how to say or don't like to say.  We just don't fucking know.  For me, where it comes to D&D, or the made-up justifications behind the changing of the weapons rules in D&D, every argument for why something needs to be changed about damage or weapons use comes down to a series of elaborate justifications to produce nothing more than ass-generated results.

We just don't have to work this hard.

Allow me to provide a game example.  I do this in the hopes of expressing how very, very little the actual use of actual weapons in actual history matters.

How fast does the roadster piece move in Monopoly?  And how fast does the dog piece move?  Look at that!  The same amount.

Did that require thousands of hours spent training with dogs and cars to establish the movement of either in a game?  Would thousands of hours help make better rules for the movement of either?  Does it fucking matter?  Or is it all just a lot of crap spewed out to satisfy the unhappy whims of people who are so bored with the game they have to fiddle with nonsensical rule changes?

Because I think it's spew.

My 'long sword' does 1 to 8 damage.  It has always done 1 to 8 damage.  It always will.  Why?  Who cares.  Because it does.  Because it's a game piece and that's how much damage it needs to do to make it different from another weapon that does 1 to 6.  Isn't that enough?

There are a million complex things in this game that are pretty hard to manage:  tension, character development, managing players, keeping abreast of what's happening and setting a pace that presses for player emotionality and enjoyment, just to name a few.  The accuracy of damage that a sword does seems pretty far down the list - particularly when changing that damage will have no appreciable effect on the game except - from what I've seen done in the last four decades - to fuck up the original balance.

That balance was simple.  You have hit points.  You have a weapon.  The weapon removes hit points.

And the dog goes as fast as the car.