Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Depiction Tool

Today is my birthday.  I am officially 50.  I know I've mentioned a few times that I am already, but I acquired a habit a long time ago of rounding up my age to the nearest year - which I have probably done more this year than any.

Being my birthday, I'd like to talk about writing.  I began writing seriously on my birthday when I was 12 - that is, I made the decision on Sep 15, 1976.  Most of you, I know, do not remotely remember 1976.  It was momentous for me.  I decided I would not be a mapmaker, an astronomer or a statistician, all subjects I had seriously investigated by that time.  No, I would be a writer - and so began a long, long campaign on the part of every authority I knew, parents included, explaining how terrible a decision it was.  Well, that is how authorities are

I've been considering still what I would do as another role-playing book.  I believe I have an idea that would be player-supportive, thoroughly positive and a good read regardless.  My only concern is that on several levels the book would run into problems associated with specific editions or rule sets.  I would like to write the book without being specific.  I can see already, with some starting research that I've done, how tricky that's going to be.  Which only means the project needs more research.

In the meantime, I'm putting on a shelf another idea that presented itself - simply because I have no idea at this time where I would start to research.  The subject of that book would be chorography - the art of using words rather than a map to present and give life to a geographical location, depending not upon a diagram but rather pure description.  For example, this from Washington Irving's Rural Life in England:


"The residence of people of fortune and refinement in the country has diffused a degree of taste and elegance in rural economy that descents to the lowest class. The very labourer, with his thatched cottage and narrow slip of ground, attends to their embellishment.  The trim hedge, the grass-plot before the door, the little flower-bed bordered with snug box, the woodbine trained up against the wall, and hanging it's blossoms about the lattice; the pot of flowers in the window; the holly, providently planted about the house, to cheat winter of its dreariness, and to throw a semblance of green summer to cheer the fireside: - all these bespeak the influence of taste, flowing down from high sources, and pervading the lowest levels of the public mind.  If ever Love, as poets sing, delights to visit a cottage, it must be the cottage of the English peasant."

We would ordinarily consider such a passage to be 'purple prose,' certainly heavy with adjectives, and a bit obvious about the specific elements addressed.  As Irving writes, however, it is 1820.  There are no cameras, no simple means of reproducing images except by painting, which required skill and was largely impractical for a traveller who had a day or two to express sentiments about a place.  Moreover, Irving does not particularly overwrite any part of the description:  he gives one short phrase to the flower-bed, the blossoms of the woodbine, the grass plot and so on.  In all, he describes a wide variety of things in a short space, only 147 words.  Truly purple prose would demand all 147 just to describe the colour of the pot upon the window sill.

Separating ourselves from the jaundiced eye of people hopelessly dependent upon the reproduced image, consider the reader in America who has never seen England in any shape or form, not even pictures of England, since there might never be any reason for a recently painted picture to find its way across the Atlantic.  Consider the reader on a barge of the Mississippi in 1820 (Mark Twain has not been born yet), three years after the state of Mississippi has entered the Union, who has never been to a large city where a British painting might hang.  To that reader, Irving's passage is certainly not trite or obvious.  In fact, it is alive with images, enough to compel an ordinary soul to venture across the world just to see the quaint little English huts, so different from their American cousins (where do you suppose later Americans would steal their aesthetic from?)

Look at the principles behind Irving's passage.  He speaks not of the shape of the cottage, but of the life that surrounds it.  He reaches for the logic behind each element.  He describes the cottage in reference to the seasons; to the care in which the hedge is trimmed, to the attention the cottage receives.  The stress is not on dimension - there is that one word there, 'narrow,' to describe the slip; the flower pot is 'little,' but the domicile is left uncommented upon.  The emphasis is upon the action taking place.  What is happening?  From the answer to that, we can guess as to the behaviour of the residents, the attention they pay to themselves, the manner in which they address each other and manner in which they feel pride about their domain.

There are rules about this sort of description.  Rules that I imagine someone, somewhere, may have written down.  I cannot tell for sure.  Perhaps the rules were unwritten.  Perhaps one has to read enough of this material to get a sense.  Writers produced this sort of thing for centuries, going back to Herodotus, Strabo, Pliny and other classicists.  The high point was just prior to the introduction of maps, that followed surveying, in the 18th century.  Irving was a late-comer.

I'd like to get a sense of those rules - then use them to empower DMs to produce descriptions of places as vibrant and meaningful as photographs.  To prove that 147 words is worth a picture.  We can't take pictures of our worlds, we can't produce paintings.  On the other hand, we are forced to speak about them, at length, for role-playing is a speaking art.  It would seem to me that tools for how to speak, present and depict a world would be useful for a DM.

Perhaps someday I'll figure out how to write such a book.


Fragility

The single comment I received to Friday's global warming post reminded me of Nassim Taleb's black swan theory, which I admit I haven't considered in years.  The post wasn't that popular, leading to the question, how many climate change economists does it take to predict the inevitable end of the world?

Apparently, all of them.

Taleb is an interesting fellow, engaging, informed, fair-minded and so on.  I am not one of his 'crowd,' so to speak.  But it is worth discussing his ideas about fragility and the reverse, that he argues must be called 'anti-fragility.'  Let's do that.

To quote Taleb: "If you do a top down, optimized system, it's going to be fragile.  If you let systems develop on their own, they'll be anti-fragile.  And this is how Mother Nature works; this is how evolution works."

What, then, is an anti-fragile D&D world?  Without question, it is a world where the game or adventure is simple enough that a given number of people - preferably only a few, as too many increases the number of relationships between individuals, increasing fragility - sit at a table and play, without preparation, without complex goals, without a long term plan necessitating the return of individuals at later sessions.  Why?  Because preparation can fail; because specific goals demand willing participation from all individuals; because there's no guarantee that the players who have come today will play again.

Thus, we have a single-session adventure that can be run on very little notice between a minimum number of people who accept that the game is going to be about gaining experience.  And this, dear reader, is exactly the sort of game that dominates the experience of role-players.  That is because every departure from these basic principles of play increases the inherent fragility of the game, stressing relationships between the players and the DM, until the centre does not hold and the campaign goes wonky.

The problem, however, with inherently anti-fragile systems is that they fail utterly to address the needs of the individual.  Nature, for instance, is a spectacularly coherent system.  Despite cataclysmic events right up to the level of exploding stars and galaxies, the natural universe as a whole simply plods on, billion year period by billion year period.  Which is great for the universe.  Sucks for us, though.  Everyone dies.  As a 'system,' it fails 100% where it comes to providing us with any of the basic things that make life worth while.  To provide those things - extending life, making life interesting, accumulating knowledge and relaying that knowledge forward, etc. - we're forced to make wholly fragile systems that Mother Nature necessarily abhors.

So it goes.  The alternative to fragility is a more certain death in undeniably less pleasant circumstances after a less fulfilling and less meaningful existence.  Thus my fundamental issue with Taleb and anyone who turns too much to nature as a template for design.  I find myself remembering the words of Rose Sayer, played by Katherine Hepburn, in the African Queen:  "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."

Where this applies to the above quoted 'standard way' of role-playing - anti-fragile throughout - it doesn't take long before one is very quickly BORED.  Yes, it is easy to get together without making any commitment to future games.  It is easy not to require the players to think more about their characters or the world.  It is easy if we don't need time to prepare.  It means that if you and I and others are sitting around in Jim's mother's basement, without a thing to do, we can always say, "Hey, let's play D&D!"  It doesn't matter who the DM is, because we have a rule book, we have a module, we can make simple-simon characters and start rolling dice.  So easy!

And as we get older, where the vast segment of the role-playing tribe is tired from their jobs, tired from extra work they had to bring home from the office, tired from picking up the kids or the last fight with the spouse, tired from the housework and the yardwork and paying the bills and doing the taxes and seeing Grandma at the home and having to pick up stuff from the store for the social event that's coming up next week that we have to make arrangements for and pick up Aunt Trish from the airport and on and on, it is so much easier if we don't have to pile on designing a world or designing rules to run the world we can only run one week in six - maybe - because that's the only time Dave and Rob and John can all free themselves from their schedules in order to play.  Fuck, life is hard, and doesn't make room for role-playing.

So if we're not all too tired to do more than drink beer when we get together, surely we're only going to have enough energy to run a module while we keep shit simple - because none of us are ready for another thirty-five minute argument about whether or not a lightning bolt will electrocute a mage standing in water.  Fuck that.  Let's keep this game simple.

Do we truly wonder why people quit playing?  When it happens that their 'lives' dominate them so much that they can't play a game that is reduced in complexity to the level of Monopoly?  Fuck.  If this is all that D&D could be, I'd have quit it myself decades ago.

The difference between this style of role-playing and Role-Playing - capital 'R' capital 'P' - is the game's potential fragility.  The spectacular degree to which the game can be made fragile, to where it is not easy!  Unlike other games - unlike even computer games, that are spectacularly more involved for the programmer than for the user - role-playing allows everyone involved to increase the complexity of the game, as the game is being played.  The player, if allowed, is entitled to purposefully expand the power, influence and inherent nature of their character in a manner that the DM must cope with, even as that compensation becomes elaborately difficult.  The DM, in turn, may at any time, during the course of the game, kick the experience up a notch, on the fly, based on nothing more than whimsy or inspiration.  Role-playing is not natural.  It is as near to Calvinball as mutually accepted structure will allow.
The ensuant pandemonium is made possible by the same engine that applies in the cartoon to the right:  the commitment of the players.  Those participants who have chosen to play a deep game - or perhaps have the opportunity to play the deep game - that I have been describing choose to do so over the petty, workaday, banal existences that most embrace because they are too gawddamn tired to lift their faces from nature's mezzanine. To compensate for their chores and grievances and self-enslavement to careers they hate, as well as the fact that Aunt Trish can't take a fucking cab like an adult, they've denied themselves the pleasure that comes from indulging in fragile things.

What matter is that the game is hard?  What matter is it that it requires our being hit with the ball or singing at the tops of our lungs or jumping until we fall down?  Life begins with hard.  "It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great."


Friday, September 12, 2014

Coming to an End

The Croods was an excellent movie.  This will matter later.

Sometimes, I forget what it's like to speak with the middle class.  This in spite of the fact that I have spent thousands of hours speaking with such people - and that I come from an upper middle-class background.  Yes, children, I was born in the suburbs, where I lived and died until I was 21, when I was free to seek more concrete-like pastures.  During these last thirty years (almost), I have done my best to avoid the entire class, preferring Bohemians and the like.

Yet, every once in a while I find myself in a disagreement with one of these bourgeois, reminding me within minutes how frightened they are.

I'm just finishing the 2009 book Superfreakonomics - which, point of fact, suffers a bit for being five years old.  There's economics for you.  Unlike the first book, there is more of a theme in the 'sequel,' as the culminating section of the book examines global warming strategies from a scientific perspective.  Fundamentally, the writers Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have collected a series of circumstances where the death of large numbers of people - associated with childbirth, traffic accidents, horse manure (resulting from horses used in cities for transportation) - was so common and expected that people simply accepted that nothing could be done.  Something was done, in each case, and it turned out to be something very simple: the use of handwashing and disinfectant to reduce hospital deaths in the 19th century, for instance.

Going forward, the argument is made that most of the huge framework solutions for global warming are causing as many troubles as they solve, whereas there are small groups of people who are investigating potential cheap and simple solutions based on silly things like science, fact, evidence and the like.

Without making any claims about success, I brought up the idea of simple solutions with a fellow yesterday - and ran smack into the terror & fear model that has been built into the middle-class homeowner's mind these past 20 years.  What is that model?  That we are in the trouble we're in because we invented things that had repercussions we didn't understand.  NOW, we must not invent anything else, because new things will clearly have repercussions we do not - and cannot - understand.

Take a suggestion from the book linked.  The stratovolcano Pinatubo erupted quite by surprise in 1991, proving to be the largest eruption  - to that time - since Krakatoa in 1883.  Afterwards, global temperatures dropped by about 0.5° on average, for reasons largely having to do with ejection of materials and gasses into the stratosphere, the layer of air above that which we normally use (the troposphere).  One of the interesting things about the stratosphere is that its layer of air does not mix easily with the troposphere - there is a specific boundary between the two layers having much to do with atmospheric thermodynamics that we don't have to investigate just now.  The ejection of SO2 (sulphur dioxide) into that higher atmosphere by Pinatubo produced a concealing layer above the earth that did not descend as time passed - though it did eventually dissipate throughout the entire stratosphere, that being an immense space.  Scientifically, this sort of thing happens whenever a very large volcano explodes.

Sadly, Superfreakonomics was released prior to the eruption of Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, so that volcano is not addressed in the book - but according to wikipedia, the Iceland volcano's eruption was not as powerful as Pinatubo.  It was the location of Eyjafjallajokull with respect to the rest of Europe that caused so much trouble, not the size of the eruption.

In any case, Superfreakonomics examines the possibility of purposefully releasing SO2 into the stratosphere (about 12 miles up) without intentionally causing a volcano to erupt to Pinatubo's degree (hard to do and undesirable) by scientific means, to potentially lower global warming.  Impossible? Perhaps.  But no one thought seat belts would save lives.  Or that it was possible to live in a world without horse manure.  Or that there were little microscopic things that were killing people.  Doubt, the theme goes, is the initial reaction that most everyone has where it comes to proposing a simple solution to what is believed to be an insurmountable problem.

There's no question that the insurmountability of that problem has been hammered into us these last two decades.  While I think the discussion about global warming's reality has been settled (there will always be kooks who don't agree - look at all the nuts who still believe in god), the campaign to settle that argument has left us with a disastrous legacy - a complete and total certainty that this is bigger than we are.  That there are no rational solutions, no possibilities, no further data to be collected, no possible direct ways to manage the problem.

The only thing we can do is junk our cars and our aircraft, eat local, cease to have children, eradicate at least half the population, stop all research, remove plastic from our existence, eliminate all technology that is post 18th century and then - once we've done all that - sit in the mud and wait to see who drowns when the ocean rises.

Faced with that prospect, the sentiment becomes, "Oh fuck it."

Bringing me back to my middle-class friend, who vehemently argued that we should absolutely NOT carefully release SO2 into the stratosphere because we don't know what will happen if we do.  Except that, you know, volcanoes occasionally do this and we know what happens.  And that we are deliberately, excessively, releasing SO2 into the troposphere, the air we actually breathe, with very little resistance or appropriate concern.  But, as they say, "Look what happened last time we didn't know!"

Putting me in mind of two quotes from The Croods, prior to where the characters learn anything. Prior to their world coming to 'an end.'

"Anything new is bad.  Curiosity is bad."

"Never not be afraid."


Thursday, September 11, 2014

PPK's

Do later editions of D&D make smaller parties more viable?

I confess, I probably don't have enough experience with later editions (I have none with 5e) to answer this question accurately.  Frankly, however, I don't see how the rule set actually matters where the problem is concerned - since everything that threatens a single character in the party can be increased or decreased in degree at the will of the dungeon master.  What difference does it make that two characters have more hit points in this system rather than that?  Or that those same characters are able to cause more damage in this system, or heal faster?  Isn't it a question of how many monsters the party encounters?  Or how high a height the character falls from?  Isn't the x-factor the decision of the DM to throw this much, this quickly, in these circumstances and with this much determination?

No matter how many hit points a character has or how many surges, I can always stack the deck with another dozen creatures pouring from another doorway, without mercy.  Which means that early editions of the game can be adjust the deadliness of encounters just as easily as any other edition - since the rule set doesn't limit the abundance of deadly possibilities.  Yet I hear every now and then that earlier editions lead to more total party kills.

My guess would be that modules like Tomb of Horrors or The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan built up a reputation for crunchy death-dealing sessioning, leading a lot of single-minded players into a mind-set that early gaming HAD to be deadly or else it wasn't 'D&D.'  Execution-style dungeons were trash in their day, played mostly by tourists who were in love with the idea of murder, death and killing, the same way that a fascination for these things will roll around in an emo's mind while clothing themselves in another layer of black.  Young boys develop such a fetish for the prospect of death that they'll dodge trains, jump from high bridges and otherwise experiment with chemicals just to prove that blood still flows in their veins.  For a segment of the population, D&D offered a safe, catechistic means of proving one's commitment - "I am willing to throw away a hundred characters to order to finish this dungeon, because that is how much I love this game!"

Unfortunately, this built up a renown for idiocy among certain groups in the population, so that I am still running across non-players in the late forties and fifties who - having not heard a word about Dungeons & Dragons in thirty years - still feel the need to roll their eyes upon hearing the words, remembering as they must the fuckwits screaming about the amount of damage they took in their high school cafeterias.  The impression was rooted and there it remains.

The question will arise, do I tailor the number of creatures to the party's size.  Of course I do.  Not in the sense that most would - if there is a goblin village in the area, then there is a goblin village.  But a party of 18 characters and their henchmen would make enough noise in approaching such a village that the first encounter would probably be a mass attack directed at the party before they knew a village existed.  On the other hand, two characters would make such a small footprint on the environment that they would probably stumble across the village undetected, thus allowing them to decide what to do about it.

The number of enemies is not the relevant issue - but the manner in which those enemies are encountered IS.  The smaller the party, the more likely they will be able to 'cut out' a section of the enemy and deal with them on their own terms.  If, however, two morons insist on openly approaching the enemy without thought given to strategy or tactics, then yes, they're going to die.  Quickly.

My 'tailoring' of my world is based entirely on giving my players the heads up where it comes to danger.  Knowledge is power.  Survival is the wise implementation of that knowledge.  If I as a DM were recalcitrant about delivering up that knowledge - and the possibility of players manipulating their situation into something they can handle - then yes, I probably would create a lot of TPK's.  But I can't see how the rule system I'm using is relevant to the situation.

But then, my small experience with 4e suggests that DM's are unwilling to create truly massive combats in the game.  No doubt, that is due to the ludicrous number of rules and sub-rules and rules of opportunity, all of which encourage situations of one party vs. one enemy, rather than a party fighting, say, 40+ enemies (which occurred in my last running).  Given what I've seen of later editions, 40+ enemies becomes a hassle - but perhaps that is due to my limited experience.  The reader should please correct me if, as a DM, they regularly run combats that feature squad or company sized battles.

For me, those may run half a session - but they're manageable and on the whole it usually means good treasure.  8 times out of 10, however, the players could avoid these fights - only the players like them.  While TPK's will sometimes threaten, they rarely occur.  In fact, I haven't had one in - fifteen years?

True enough, my parties have learned to run away.  Even when half the party dies, the rest usually get a chance to escape.  Partial Party Kill's are definitely the norm.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Engagement

This is not an improvement:



Ah well, it builds character.  Lots of character in Canada.

Yesterday, I built a post about injuries and paralleling some kind of hit point system with the one that exists in my game - so that certain injuries, such as broken limbs and physical maladies could not be easily healed.  I had intended to write a second post (today) about why, what's the point of this, but naturally one of my readers recognized the necessity of such a post before I'd written it.

From Harvicus:

"Unless you seriously restrict healing magic and how it applies to such injuries, what is really the point?  It just becomes flavor text at that point."

Here we find the smashing difference between earlier editions and later editions of D&D.  I don't have to 'seriously restrict healing magic' in my campaign.  The game, as originally written, never had a lot of healing.  It was presumed that you lived by your wits, by taking care, by not blundering into stupid situations and by teaching you to recognize your limits.  The characters were not 'tanks,' not invincible, not loaded with healing surges and extra fortune points for bonus lives.  Clerics, even those with powerful spells, could not heal an entire party at a glance.  At least half the game is about keeping yourself from dying.

Cure serious wounds is a spell that a cleric does not receive until 7th level.  It can take up to three years of consistent running in my campaign to achieve that level.  Even if you do, you only get one spell a day.  By 7th level, your fighter will have gained two henchmen; they in turn will have probably gained three or four more - which will mean you're potentially running a set of six to seven associated characters against a stacked and dangerous enemy.  If you are playing with three other players, and you've all decided to bring your full contingent, that's a force of 24 to 28 all told.  ONE serious cure spell is not going to be enough.  Chances are, none of the henchmen will be higher than sixth level, so one is all you're going to have.

Cure critical wounds is a spell the cleric does not receive until 9th level.  That's another two years of running your character.  Until then, if anyone loses an arm or a foot, they're going to have to get back to civilization, wait for an available cleric - who will have a long line of people waiting for that spell ahead of you - then pay through the nose.

Healing magic is ALREADY seriously less than what 4e, 5e or Pathfinder suggests.  And while I know that these are the games that a popular now, my personal opinion is that the healing in these games are designed for pussies who haven't the character to deal with possible death, discomfort or limited ability due to circumstance.  'Fantasy' has been designed, to my mind, for the benefit of milquetoasty, weak-kneed, driveling mollycoddled babies.

I have said repeatedly, how did the hobby get this way?  Corporate thinking.  Babies squalling about their dead characters, wanting a system that guaranteed their characters would never die.  Players who don't want to play with RISK, who don't even understand RISK, who have gotten so used to instant healing that they view a broken arm as 'flavour text.'

I wonder how many readers can understand me.  I have players who lie awake at night, worried about their characters in my world, because we had to break at a moment where the threat is so high that death seems probable.  These players love these characters.  I don't mean they feel moderately affectionate, I mean that the players are so attached to the characters that a loss would be devastating.

Conversely, the success of their characters, the triumph of their characters over their enemies, keeps my players floating on their feet for days, even weeks afterwards.

And while the reader looks at that and thinks, "Wow, what a bunch of whack jobs," I rush to explain that these are educated, capable and successful people who have many options for how to spend their game nights.  These are people whose minds I've been able to stir, to enlighten, to astound with images and ideas, who have been ensnared by my campaign to such a degree that their experience EQUALS the feeling that fans have for their baseball teams or for their favorite celebrities.

Over the last month or two I have heard a great outpouring of distress and sadness at the death of Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall and Joan Rivers.  I have listened to the moans and unhappiness of Netherlanders, Brazilians and one fellow from Cameroons at losing the World Cup.  The entire country of Germany EXPLODED in a frenzy at winning the cup.

I am saying that my players feel about their characters the way you feel about Robin Williams - or the way that Germans feel about German football players.  More so, as my players actually KNOW their characters.  When one of them breaks an arm, only to find themselves frantically trying to free themselves of their shield so they can block the attack of the jackalwere that's fast approaching, it isn't flavour text.

It's a full-blown panic.  It's deep, it's engaging, it's an immersion extravaganza.  And for these players, choosing which character to use their one-a-day serious cure on is like trying to decide which of your children you would save if you could only rescue one.

And I'm responsible for that.  I make my world that way.  I adjust the design, the function and the structure to carefully tweak each part of it for the player who wants to live the fantasy all out. These proposed rules are not just mechanics.  These are finely tuned processes that can't be fiddled with too carefully, that have come about from years of conjecture, consideration, examination and application. I am justly proud of having created a world that is so involved that it keeps players awake at night.

I only feel distress that others fail - stubbornly - to understand how high the mountain is that can be ascended here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Material Injuries


We had a little snow last night.  The pic above was taken at quarter to seven, as I was walking to work.  The temperature was -1 C (30 F).  The inevitable melt hadn't started (note the lack of falling snow on the road).  It was like a fairy land.

Yet, of course I was only able to walk through it comfortably because there are streets, because the pavement on those streets retains more heat than the ground, so that my feet could remain completely dry.  Seeing the world this morning put me in mind of mornings in a wet camp, where we were above six thousand feet and the rain had turned to snow in the night.  With the snow heavy and everything soaking wet, when even the wood under the tarpaulin won't light, it can be a misery.  More than that, careless people die in these conditions. Thinking they need to march out as soon as possible, they're soon soaked to the bone from weather and sweat, only to fall prey to hypothermia.

This I offer as proof that the wilderness ought to have physical effects on characters - and not merely a mild encumbrance like -1 to hit or -2 damage.  I can recall mornings in August so cold it was hard to open my fingers and grip the box of matches to strike a fire; hikes so cold that I was shaking and half-delusional as we descended back to camp, or back to our car because we had been caught mid-afternoon during a day trip.  Minus one is ridiculous.  Minus ten is more like it.  With a maximum weapon weight allowance.

I have been thinking about a shadow hit point/ability stat system that wouldn't fundamentally change any part of the existing game, while addressing things like hypothermia or, say, a broken arm.  Unfortunately, this would bring us back to the subject of hit points - and there is nothing that online gamers like to talk about more than what are hit points and what hit points represent and why hit points are silly and so on.  So before I venture forth, I suppose I shall have to write a very short explanation about hit points.

Hit points are a game mechanic.  They are a game measurement meant to indicate the nearness of a character to death.  Lots of hit points = far from death.  Few hit points = near to death.  Low level and minimum hit dice creatures are near to death.  High level and maximum hit dice creatures are far from death.

I do not care what hit points 'mean' beyond this reckoning.  Please do not bother to write to give me your pet theory.  Please read the English words in the above (look them up in a dictionary if necessary) and recognize that this is not a post about the meaning of hit points.  This is a post about game structure.

Let us take two persons, Rafe and Karl.  Rafe is a 1st level fighter with 14 hit points.  Karl is a 9th level fighter with 82 hit points.  At the start of a combat, Rafe is near to death, as only a couple of attacks may kill him.  It will take a lot of attacks to kill Karl.

Both Rafe and Karl fall off a low castle wall together.  Both break their arms.  In the real world, if Rafe was a 'cherry' and Karl was an experienced soldier, the main difference we would expect is that Karl is calmer, less affected emotionally by the broken arm.  Neither would be able to use that arm, however - and given proper treatment, both broken arms would heal at approximately the same rate (varied, depending on the type of break and precisely which bone in the arm was broken).  We'll presume for the sake of argument that both bones broke in precisely the same place and in precisely the same manner, so that the x-factor is in the basic biology of both.  Karl is probably older than Rafe, though perhaps by no more than a year or two, but if Karl is a lot older, Rafe's arm would probably heal earlier.  My point is that the combat skill of the injured persons would have no special effect on the rate of healing.

This is precisely the sort of thing for which the hit point game mechanic does not work.  We cannot say that a broken arm causes 8-48 damage, because that would probably kill Rafe while at the same time it would probably fail to reduce Karl even half his hit points.  A broken arm cannot be measured in hit points.  The result is that, usually, in game terms we ignore the issue that broken arms occur, conceiving 'damage' as something (in terms of the game mechanic) that happens to the whole body and which has no particular effects upon ability until the last hit point goes.

Making any attempt to adjust this gaming perspective is viewed as an affront to the game. Nevertheless, the game was made for players, not players for the game, so there must be something that can be done to address the issue.  Any adjustment, however, would need to fulfill two requirements:

1) It must be SIMPLE.  Players and DMs alike do not need it to be a complex set of rules or the creation of multiple note fields.  In other words, to keep it simple, stupid, let's not get bogged down in trying to adapt for a broken arm vs. a broken leg vs. hypothermia vs. fifty thousand other possible temporary weaknesses to the humanoid body.  We don't need to go from NO recognition of such things to a multi-varied adjustment scheme.

2) It must not damage, slow, destroy or otherwise weaken the working game mechanic as it presently exists, preserving CONTINUITY.  I've run thousands of hours of combat and I have no problem with the system.  My players like it.  They don't need the system cluttered with junky rules or structure or anything else that will seriously undermine their ability to predict their own survival.

Fundamentally, I have no interest in including 'broken arms' into the combat procedure.  I would like to limit such grittiness to issues where people fall off cliffs or are knocked about in rivers or otherwise damaged in wilderness escapades.  At some point in the future, perhaps, there may be a means to marry the two prospects together, but for the moment I'd like to keep them separate.

My scheme would be to incorporate a material injuries as a percentage of stat or hit point total.  A broken arm, for instance, might reduce the number of existing hit points (and maximum hit points) by 50%.  It could be a range, but let's say 50% for the sake of the post.  The trick that would manage the two points above (simplicity & continuity) would be in healing the damage

As an example, let's start with Rafe.  He has 14 hit points and hasn't been hit yet.  He falls off the wall, breaks his arm and takes 50% of his hit points in damage.  He isn't dead, but he can no longer fight with his broken arm.  If it is his shield arm, he must take a few rounds to unstrap the shield (a painful operation) because he would be in too much pain to let the shield hang there while he moved about.  If it were his weapon arm, then he would have even more trouble freeing the shield from his arm (as he'd be doing it with the hand of the broken arm).

Writing this, I find myself thinking of rules about strapping of shields to arms (what shields need to be strapped, what need to be carried, how easy is it to knock an unstrapped shield from a character's hand, etc.) but that's a completely different subject.

Once Rafe's arm is freed, he can go on attacking with his good hand (the adjustment for attacking with the wrong hand is a dexterity issue) - but we have to acknowledge that every blow he makes and every one he takes will hurt his broken arm.  His strength, constitution and dexterity should all be dropped.  I would suggest 50% (as I'm a mean bastard), eliminating all bonuses.  For a fighter, this isn't that bad (though dropping the strength to less than '9' would mean Rafe was technically not a 'fighter' and should be fighting according to his hit die and not his level), but it's bad for a thief or a mage, since those classes tend to have lower stats in strength.

Karl is in a similar position.  Let's say he's suffered 20 damage already, so that he's at 62 of his 82 hit points.  His present hit points drop to 31, and his maximum to 41.  His stats drop by half, just like Rafe - and his THACO suffers, unless Karl has an 18 strength.

Both, then, are affected significantly.  Neither can shrug it off.  Karl is still a lot farther from death than Rafe, but there remains a meaningful ratio in the impact the broken arm has caused.

Most of all, both can go on taking part, while adjusting to the fact that they can't use their arms.  Such consideration can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis (the broken leg making movement impossible, hypothermia reducing intelligence and wisdom as well as physicality, etc).

How, then, do we heal it?

If we go back to the original D&D game, we find the healing spells helpfully described.  A broken arm is not a "light wound."  It is certainly serious, but it isn't critical, so we can assume that any spell of sufficient description will heal the hit points lost (cure light wounds would have zero effect on a broken arm).  Therefore, cure serious wounds, cure critical wounds and heal would all be effective. As hypothermia is only serious in its later stages (reduce hit points 10% per hour, perhaps), if dealt with before it became serious or critical, cure light wounds would probably work.

For Rafe, there are seven hit points between his present 'maximum' of seven and his usual total of 14. To heal those 7, he would need either a powerful spell or actual resting time.  Seven days would not be enough.  He would need, rather, 7 weeks.

Karl, on the other hand, has 41 hit points to gain back.  He could heal the difference between 31 and 41 normally, but above 41 he needs a serious spell or rest.  We would not, however, suggest that he needs 41 weeks!  Rather, we argue he heals 1 hit point per level per week of material damage, so he would heal in just 5 weeks (rounded up).  The reason?  Well, perhaps he can ignore the pain a bit more, so that while he isn't totally healed after five weeks, it stops hampering him as much as it still hampers Rafe.  Perhaps, as an experienced veteran, he knows better how to rest - fixedly keeping his arm still, eating better, not screwing around with his arm as patients often will, etc.  There may be other reasons.

As yet, this whole idea is untried.  I'm only expressing a possible way it could be managed - no doubt there are tweaks necessary, and perhaps a list of specific effects caused by specific injuries.  I intend to go on giving it consideration.

In the meantime, some more pictures from my walk to work:





Monday, September 8, 2014

New Campaigns

"Hello.  This is Sandra.  Sandra was once a ten year old girl back in the days when America was great, when she went to school with Democratic Candidate Bob Gillon.  Back then, your candidate tried to steal a kiss from Sandra under the school bleachers.  Do you want to elect a candidate that tries to force himself on little girls?"

I know, I know, I promised to stop writing about American politics.  It's only that you cannot imagine what it's like to be outside your country and see ads like this.

Thank god I still live in a country where firing a gun - at anything - on live TV will probably not get you elected.  Admittedly, I can't quite be sure.  I live in Alberta.

(that's an in-joke for Canadians only)

Been a strange weekend.  I write a post about seeking advice about D&D, and get an answer that there's a polite Star Wars forum that exists.  Logically, I should now write something about finding your own role-playing style, apart from the mainstream, only to find myself proved 'wrong' by evidence that excessive consumption of rabbit meat results in malnutrition.

I am not sure when I stopped writing in English - but it is the only explanation I have at present.  I look at the page and it looks like English to me, but apparently it isn't.  I've gone over.  I've lost touch. I'm just writing gobbledegook at this point.  The blog doesn't support guns, it doesn't support white cops killing blacks, it doesn't bemoan the death of Christmas and therefore this blog cannot be understood by American readers.

My apologies.  This is some kind of cultural break.  A miscommunication.  A failure to communicate.

The moron with the gun in the real political ad above thinks he's doing something very clever.  He thinks he's making a point.  There are tens of thousands who will see the ad and scream at their TVs rabidly, "Fucking A!!!"

The first words of the video, "Millions of dollars of negative ads are flooding into Alaska ..." will make no connection whatsoever with the viewer.  They will not realize they are watching a negative ad - or that it is being shown in Alaska.  They will not recognize that the very cheap looking video will have actually cost several hundred thousand dollars.  They have no understanding of filming for television, so they don't know what sort of grease it takes to fire a gun on network TV.  They will never see the tab being spent to buy network space between showings of Rick Castle, Fuckwit.  The people yelling approvingly at their TVs are ignorant.  Cheerfully, malignantly, indignantly, extravagantly ignorant.  Because this is the nature of appealing to the stupidest, most moronic subset of any group.  Do exactly what you are telling others not to do.  Do it, then pretend you're not doing it.  No one will notice.

Take a hobby.  People enjoy the hobby, but there's this nagging, fundamental issue that will not go away - a significant number of people are uncomfortable or unclear on how exactly to participate. There are endless discussions on what is accepted or not accepted, what's the right way to play and why it is very, very necessary to understand that there is no right way to play.  The rules keep changing.  Pundits rise up and declare the new rules are wonderful.  Pundits rise up and claim the new rules are stupid.  The wave rises and falls.

The hobby is dying.  The hobby is stronger than it ever was.  We don't have anyone in our school who can DM.  I don't know how to DM.  I DM, but my players think my game is shit.  I started a campaign, but it broke up after the first session.  We played for two months and then we decided to start a different campaign using a different system.  We don't play seriously.  We don't play enough. Pathfinder is better.  Swords & Wizardry is better.  Lotfp is better.  My game is better now.  No, I can't explain how.  No, I can't say it is definitely the system.  The new campaign feels better.  The new campaign is simpler.  The new campaign has more role-playing.  The new campaign has more character.  The new campaign, the new campaign, the new campaign.

What the hell?  Why is it always the 'new' campaign?

Have we simply gone so far that we've missed the relevance of those words?  "I've been running for 25 years - yes, I just started a new campaign last month."

I would like to know how many new campaigns an average DM starts per year.  Per decade.  Per lifetime.

I've been running 35 years and I have started three campaigns.  I ran the first for three months, starting three months after discovering the game.  I ran the second for five years, starting three months after the first failure.  I have been running the third for 28 years.

Why is that not typical?

Why do we want to pretend it shouldn't be?  Why have we invested the word "new" as something that's beneficial or great in a campaign?  Doesn't that mean that all the time and effort and discovery and design that went into the old campaign was thrown out?  How rarely we use those words: "I threw out my old campaign last week."

Why?  What was wrong with it?  "Oh, well, it was . . . well it wasn't . . . the players didn't . . . but it's okay, because I'm starting a new campaign next month."

Well good for you.  I won't hope this one will be the one that takes, because it won't.  It will be shit just like the one before, because it's plain that no lessons were learned.  People are killed by guns every day, but as a would-be Senator the message I want to send will be that you should use a gun to express your discontent with the other fellow.

Lessons.  Not learned.  Repeating the same mistakes, over and over.  Because no time is ever taken to examine the mistakes.  Find me the blog post that says, "I started a campaign but it was total shit.  I screwed over the players, I spent too much time on dungeon making, I tried to railroad the players into a story that bored the shit out of them, I really screwed the fucking pooch.  I did.  Not the players.  It was all my fault.  I'm really looking over my mistakes and I've decided to change the way I play.  I'm going to think it over long and hard before I start another campaign."

Those posts are out there.  People rarely go into detail.  It's embarrassing.  I can't really blame people for not tearing into themselves in the public eye.  We could use a little more of it, however - as that would build at least some sense that improvement matters.

Instead, we get, "I've started a brand new 5e campaign and it's BETTER!  It is so, so, so better!"

Oh yeah?  How?


Friday, September 5, 2014

Phat Enough to Try

The title for this post comes from the gangsta slang version of Google that a friend linked.

Yep.  Link to Jon Stewart, top centre.

Continuing on with yesterday's thoughts about players being Volun-told, certainly many players don't see any benefit to their being elected as DM  As I said already, they only see the work.  They only see the stress associated with failure.  In fact, there's nothing self-evidently positive about DMing, which has given rise to the myth that it's something only a few can ever like - and that only a few can ever be good at.  In other words, DMs are born, not made.

If that's the case, then there ought to be something intrinsic about my liking for it, that others do not possess - nay, that others cannot possess, unless they too were somehow damaged in the womb.  To guess at what that is, I ought to begin with what makes me yearn to DM.

Let's go back, way back.  Way before I was fifteen and began to play (this Sep. 6th will be my 35th anniversary) - because obviously the predisposition must have been there.  In my case, I can argue that I was 'bent' to be a DM even before the game had come into existence, as I was ten years old in 1974.

Looking for clues, I'd have to say that my groove (this was the 70s) began with telling jokes. Sadly, I don't remember the first joke I ever repeated, but I'd be willing to bet that it got a laugh.  Most jokes that kids tell each other do - from other kids.

The earliest joke I can remember inventing happened two years before the invention of D&D; I was eight.  I was just a little kid sitting by a campfire with my dad and a bunch of his work friends who had come up to visit the cabin we had out by Sylvan Lake.  At some point, I don't remember, one of them must have used the word 'prostitute,' because I remember turning and asking, "Dad, what's a prostitute?"

And my father, wanting not to lie to his eight-year-old son in front of his friends, and not being the sort to deny me curiosity, answered, "Well, it's a woman who sells her body."

That didn't actually make any sense to me, and I asked, "One piece at a time?"

I remember there was a great deal of laughter - which again, I did not understand.  I did not actually understand that joke that I'd invented until years after D&D was invented.  I did understand, however, that things I said had an effect on people . . . and that I liked that effect very much.

I don't believe that's something I feel uniquely.  I think most of us get a kick out of making people laugh or changing someone's mind.  I think that's universal enough that it has caused facebook and twitter to explode as social media, since all those things do is to allow us to use an ersatz method to get others to approve of our having found something they haven't seen yet.  Look at this; wow, that's cool; good feelings gained.

It is really just a large scale game of show-and-tell, which I always liked as a kid.  I was always bringing things to school that I wasn't supposed to (sometimes these things were 'borrowed' from home) in order to get a certain wow factor from my friends and others.  We get status through this wow factor, status that translates to people liking us because we are cool.

This can go bad places.  For me personally, in those pre-internet days I was always reading something, often something strange, so I was ahead of the curve where it came to finding shit that was plain unusual (a string of 13th century woodcuts that I found in grade 7, showing the ways witches were executed and disemboweled comes to mind; those were different).  By the time I'd hit my teens, the reading I'd done was hitting a critical mass and I was gaining a lot of prestige by simply making shit up.  I'd decided to be a writer at 12, so I was writing furiously by fifteen, filling up a hundred pages a month with made-up shit - and that was having a great effect on people, even if the writing was beyond awful.  We were kids.  Everyone's writing is beyond awful.

Stumbling into D&D, I had already been built for it, no question.  Invent a world, show that world to players?  Old hat.  It was just another way of working by myself, then showing and telling.  Is that because I was somehow built to show and tell better than others?  Was I a born DM?

Nonsense.  I had simply had a particular background that encouraged my expressing myself openly. Like the difference between my father answering my question about prostitution as opposed to another father who would have cuffed his kid and told him to shut up.  My father never explained what a 'piece' was - he laughed along with his friends, but all he said to me was "That's right," leaving me to spend the next years figuring it out (Playboy would eventually explain it).

The reason why elected DMs don't see the positivity in DMing comes from their having had a long history of showing people things that either received a 'meh' or an insult.  They never learned to glean any pleasure in thinking up something new and expressing that aloud.  Their efforts were suppressed. They were never given a chance.

Now, today, faced with the prospect of having to show their world and tell about it, they're not phat enough to feel the confidence that's needed.  The confidence that I had at eight, that allowed me to feel safe about asking my father the definition of a word that didn't previously exist in my world.  It is all about how safe any of us feel.  If we don't feel safe, we're not going to stick out heads out, are we? We're going to huddle and keep our heads down and not ask the question, not follow the question up when the answer doesn't work, and not go digging for the real answer to why others reacted the way they did.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a group of players deciding that Jeremy is going to be DM. The error, I think, is that the players think that this is the whole of their responsibility.  They've shoved the matter off on Jeremy and now they think they're done.

They're not.  The players who join together to push Jeremy into the role must understand that they're next responsibility is to ensure that Jeremy feels safe in that role.  It's up to then to repeat, as often as necessary, that there isn't going to be any judgement of Jeremy's skills; that no one's going to demand that Jeremy be great right off.  That everyone here understands and supports every moment of Jeremy's learning curve, that they're by his side and that they're ready to goddamn help if that's what it takes.

That's what it will take.  If the players want Jeremy to be phat enough to try, those same players have got to be phat enough to back his play.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Volun-told

It is a common story.  A group of people would like to role-play, only there's no one to actually run the game.  After some discussion, an agreement is made by everyone who isn't Jeremy: Jeremy is going to be the DM.  Jeremy protests, but it's no use.  The matter is decided.  Jeremy will run the game.

We spoke to at least two dozen people with this story, people who felt inadequate to the task, people who would rather just play, people who were trying and doing their best and well aware that they were failing.  I would try to be as encouraging as possible.  "If you're feeling less than up to it," I'd say, "imagine the inadequacy the rest of your party feels.  They're not even strong enough to try!"  But while this was meant to be encouraging, these are people past encouragement.  They just do not want to run.

At least half of them will run a module or two out of guilt before quitting, whereupon none of the people may ever play D&D again.  Many of the remainder will build up a stock of resentment, turning that into a vindictive campaign that will degrade into a revolving door of character death, or player-vs-player conflicts that will serve the DM's subconscious desire for revenge (pvp is really just a form of gladiators playing their roles for the emperor's pleasure).  Some of those DMs, over a period of years, will become right bastards, concealing their original resistance against running under layer after layer of spiteful lacquer.  Revenge against the player becomes their own single ambition.

Only a very, very few will develop an aptitude for it and an inclination to grow positively.

How did we get into this mess?

I learned to run the game through watching others, during a time when many people wanted to give the prospect of DMing a go.  The initial game was very simple - roll characters, explore dungeons, roll to hit, roll damage, haul away the loot.  AD&D only marginally changed the basic principles of doing those things, so that the majority of participants shared a common experience that could be shared, explained and consulted.  The answers that would come back were, for the most part, universal, for suggestions that were made or cautions that were given reflected issues or problems that everyone who had run the game had encountered.  There were none of the dialogues that would later befuddle or bog down the basic process of learning - for someone just starting out, things like railroad-vs-sandbox or narration-vs-simulation, have very little meaning.  They're concerned with finding rules, making good calls, enabling the participants to enjoy themselves and not fucking up.

The new DM has been repeatedly made the victim these past forty years.  Endless rule changes have shattered any supervisory potential the community may have had.  A new DM can expect nothing but endless conflicting arguments weighted by uber-nuanced advice that speaks more about the teacher than the student.  Rather than teach, long time participants are anxious to grind their axes, leaving those on the outside feeling overwhelmed and under-supported.

The result is that no one who is 'volun-told' to DM sees any benefit in it.  All they see is work, effort, an expectation of being judged, a certainty of failure and a constant desire to shove the whole problem onto someone else's shoulders.  In the meantime they're sour, unhappy or lethargic - except for the real pricks, who see the dearth of DMs as a great banquet for their sadistic or self-gratification masturbation rituals.

I don't think the game is going away; I don't consider role-play as something sliding into oblivion.  I do, however, see that there's a problem between those fearful to DM and those players who haven't the responsibility to step up and take their turn.  I say that because, while we met people at the Expo who expressed discontent as being forced to run, we met more who saw we were selling a book on How to Run and responded, "We ought to buy this for Jeremy - he's a total shit at DMing."

In fact, some people did.

This is a problem.  At the ground level.  A problem no one seems to care about.  A problem that is exascerbated by yet another system that does less and less for the general welfare.  I can say without doubt that the return to 'old D&D' isn't about simplicity, it is about commonality.  The need to find a game that nearly everyone understands, even if they don't play it or they consider it beneath them.

If you're a new DM and you're reading this, I offer this advice.  Don't buy 5e.  Don't buy 4e, 3e or 2e. Find the oldest, most universal system you can find and begin there.  You may feel like you're a bit of a throwback, but as you venture your way through the rule-books, you'll find yourself with no end of people who will be able to give you advice.  For while these toffs may preen themselves on their brand new systems they can't explain in 10,000 words or less, they can - most of them - remember how the original game works.  And they can help you master it.

Perhaps, by chance, you'll find it isn't beyond your ken after all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Retrospective, September 2010

Funny, I can't remember anything about what I was doing four years ago.  I remember I had a few plans.  I was going to write about the products behind my trade table, so I started a post on metals & minerals that became one of those posts with the most views ever (mostly because of people looking for metals & minerals, and not this blog).  I also tried a completely failed effort at building a general database among several DMs - which would help to convince me afterwards that where it comes to a serious view on the game, I am alone.

I wrote posts about the random generation of maps, which I know someone did have use for as they told me a couple years later.  I ranted against modules (nothing new), which would eventually lead to my making a deal with James Raggi and my attempt to run Death Frost Doom.  But that's another month.

The most significant event of that September was my spitting in the face of Alexander of the Escapist - following an obscure offer on his part to somehow be part of the online magazine that he still runs (so far as I know).  The initial meeting began with this post, in a conversation between Zak and I. Basically, Alexander offered,

"I wasn't envisioning that the material would go up on "my" website (The Escapist). I'm assuming material would go up on a to-be-named website, at another domain name, unaffiliated with The Escapist (wiki.DandDAcademy.com or whatever). 

"It would simply run on spare bandwidth and capacity that we have on The Escapist - Basically we pay a lot of money every month for a server and database capable of handling a million people downloading videos on Wednesday morning, which means that the rest of the week we have lots of idle capacity, and there's nothing this wiki could do to put a dent in that."

I remember looking at that, four years ago, and looking at the website for the Escapist, thinking, "What an immense pile of crud."  That was more or less it.  Maybe there was an opportunity there, but somehow I couldn't see myself affiliated with a site that promoted spewed infantile entertainment.  For free.  I saw it (and still see it) as a sleazy attempt to exploit my material without offering me any real compensation, while practically guaranteeing that I would never be taken seriously.  That's my name associated with that website - and while Zak has no trouble being one of the infantile crowd, or having everyone in the world know he wallows in the world of porn manufacture, I find myself seeking a somewhat better crowd of supporters.

There were, however, consequences.  Many people who felt the jury was still out on me declared me guilty after that.  Doors were closed.  A flood of people directed from Zak's side of the community stopped coming around, stopped commenting.  The first attempt at a data base would die a sour, lingering death and I would lose a lot of faith.  Many of the bitter posts that came from me over the next year would have their roots in my sense that the community as a whole had it's head in a dark place.

That's changed.  I've seen far too much positive support these last four years to question my decision. I don't know what the future holds - but it isn't being part of a joint effort.  I wouldn't want it, knowing that I'm on the cutting edge.  The only thing holding me back is time.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tales from FanExpo 2014

I am back from the Expo, back in the comfort of my routine, reviewing endlessly in my head the events of the past six days.  I can say with conviction now that I have spoken with the people.  My daughter and I met hundreds of role-players, of every interest and sort:  D&D, Pathfinder, Rifts, Traveller, Gurps, Vampire the Masquerade and many others.  Not a single S&W player, however, and not one single person who mentioned Paizo.

By final count, we sold 62 books - 39 Guides and 23 How to Plays.  On the whole, I'd guess we sold about 25% of the existing client base (that is, 1 in 4 people we spoke to).  People came up to the table who never expected anyone would be there to talk about role-playing, so we caught a lot of people by surprise.  It must be remembered that it was a FanExpo - not a game-based event - so we had to compete against a lot of product that had nothing to do with us.  None of that kept us from being a success.

At times, it was so thick I couldn't text a sentence without two interruptions; at times, we went a hour or more without anyone approaching the table.  It was not, for one second, boring.  People told me to take a book - nonsense! I never had time to do more than check for comments on this blog.

We met one fellow - ONE! - who claimed he already "knew how to DM."  No one else who spoke to us remotely considered themselves arrogant enough to know all there was to know about role-playing. The vast proportion of would-be and willing buyers were desperate for the book's purpose.  They were plainly exhausted with the corporate agenda, with this genre vs. that genre, with glossy empty minded-content and so on.  The fact that my book had no pictures was a selling point!  Seriously.  I actually sold one unsure fellow by demonstrating that the book lacked illustration.

On two occasions with long-playing grognards (both 30+ years in the game) I could see from their expressions that they wanted the book, that it was exactly what they'd been looking for - but they just couldn't believe that I wasn't bullshitting them.  It was plain from their questions and from their repeated opening of the book to have another look.  In the end, neither bought.  They couldn't believe. I couldn't blame them.  Anyway, once the word gets out, they'll come back and find it has what they've wanted.  It will all be good in the end.

Here's what I did NOT find:  people bitching that the game is supposed to be fun; people complaining that the book was in depth, heavy, too big or otherwise too academic; people arguing one type of genre or system over another; people who felt any need to embrace D&D Next; people who mentioned GNS Theory (one fellow I talked to had heard of it - no one else had, so I stopped mentioning it); people arguing dice vs. role-playing; or people bitching about girls in role-playing.  In other words, none of the endless crap-festival tropes that come out of the online community exist in the real world.  No one cares about those things.  They just want to play - and they want as much help as they can get.

We talked to dozens and dozens of girls, many of whom ran games, many of whom bought either book, most of whom had a long history with role-playing and were anxious to talk about it.  The girls told less war stories than the boys, but on the whole I have to admit that war stories in general were far less common than I expected.  People wanted to talk about their issues, their limitations and the things they were trying to improve about their games.  They wanted to express in the most real terms their sincere, enthusiastic desire to play in better campaigns.

I have never felt so validated as a writer.

Six months ago I struggled with one dilemma: did the community really want the sort of book that I was proposing?  Certainly, there was very little reason to believe that they did, given online discourse. I had to believe in a silent majority, a reader and participant that fitted more accurately with the sort of person I'd met in my 35 years of gaming - even though I hadn't had very much personal experience with that person in the last two decades.  I had stepped away from the community, concentrating on my players, and spending the time on this blog tossing out message after message screaming that the online rhetoric was propaganda.  As the weekend progressed, it became encouragingly clear that I have been absolutely right about that.

People do not care about role-play vs. roll-play.  They just care about playing.  They do not care about inappropriate grammar or strawmen or derailing the conversation - because in the real world, the vast part of the community is exceedingly polite, all the time.  They don't play in clubs or groups or organizations, they don't playtest for the WOTC and they don't know anyone who does.  They play with their families and their friends, they seek the opportunity to play with people, they wistfully consider the days they used to have time to play - but they don't whore themselves out to anyone for the opportunity.  It is tremendous, enlightening, reassuring - and of great motivational inspiration for me.

These are my people.  They understand the way I think . . . and as it happens, I understand the way they think.

As the rest of you - those of you who are stuck in this board-group-association mindset - I think for the first time I don't need to say that your time has come.

I don't think that, really, you ever had a time.  I don't think that the WOTC has ever actually mattered. I believe now that I've allowed myself to focus too much upon it because of the noise that it makes - but I have spoken to the people now and my mind is changed.

Traditionally, returning from an event, it is expected that I have some pictures.  I most certainly do:

He told us it was the first time he had ever tried make-up.
Was a very frightening effect.

Make it all herself - except for the stockings.  Spectacular detail.
Had never heard of Girl Genius, which was hard to believe;
was very excited that there's a huge steam-punk community in
Western Canada.

Her own work; the horns were excellent.

She made every inch of the costumes; he's only her 'dummy.'
Married and they bought a copy of the book, were very excited
by it.  She wants customers, so find me and I'll put you in touch.
We talked for about 20 minutes after the sale.

These two were overjoyed that we recognized them - actually,
tagged it from his dog ears first.  Great pair, lots of fun.

Agreed with us that there needs to be more evil and less
nice Catwomen.  Told her to threaten her boyfriend
with the whip and he said, "She does anyway."


It's not a con without Darth Vader on vacation
in the south seas.

We like Harley Quinn with the bomb.
We saw hundreds with hammers. 

A sweet, sweet girl with a definite cruel streak.
We liked her immediately.

Game of thrones was making a huge appearance -
quite a lot of whole cast groups wandering about.
Had to keep this one for the girl-as-king - she totally
pulled it off.

Both these girls are over six feet.  Which tells you how tall
the captain is.  They came over just to get their pic
taken, then stayed once they learned what we
were selling. The captain bought both books - has a very
serious campaign - love to run in it.

Sadly, the quality of the work doesn't come through
the picture.  Was deep and eye-popping.  She was great
about letting us look her over.

This is Jerry.  Let me talk about the book for nearly half-an-hour,
asking questions and looking for more and more detail.  Never
did buy, though


The rest of these are those my daughter took - so I haven't anything to add.