Monday, June 27, 2016

Strange parts of the world

The map below shows the basins of the Senegal, Gambia and Casamance rivers:

1 hex = 20 miles

The area is commensurate with modern day Senegal, Gambia, the southern edge of Mauritania and western Mali.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Earning Trust in Tutorials

In the last week, I completed my How to DM course with my first students.  It has gone exceedingly well.  Tim, who is a contributer and a regular commenter on the blog, finished his class on Friday.  He had this to say, graciously letting me post his email to me on the course:

"I just wanted to let you know how great my first game back with my players since the classes was. I had not expected to be able to hold onto the class material so well, nor to see such a quick improvement, but I had a huge success with my players.
I had a really great time playing with their emotions: at one point they found a mysterious magical object which then led to a back-and-forth discussion as to whether or not it should be kept, which gave me a great chance to play their fear against their desire for acquisition. I also found myself able to withhold information from the players better without betraying any hints, and the simple descriptions also helped keep their attention. I even was able to start the game off with the poker-face list of what is going on: "you see birds flying, people moving around your campsite, blue light glowing out of the nearby monastery, the river rushing past..."

I must admit, I found the experience very natural for me.  Setting the subject material, I was able to quickly determine which parts of the material held interest and value for the student, so that I wasn't "repeating the same class," the commonly expressed bane of teachers.  I wasn't at a loss for material at all: I could have easily discussed any of the three subjects - presentation, adventure building, decision making - for much longer than the 75 minutes we had.  As a result, I thoroughly enjoyed tailoring the course for each separate student, discovering what what parts they wanted to work on and then providing answers and strategies for those specific needs.

I hope I'm able to do a lot more of this in the future.  It is more than clear to me that DMs want counselling, direction, clarification and problem-solving skills.  After the first month, there's no question whatsoever that I have the means to provide these things - but it is very natural that the real hurdle here is to overcome distrust.  People don't want to pay a lot of money if they don't believe it's going to pan out.

I'm thinking of offering some very quick teasers, quite possibly free, in order to earn that trust.  15 or 20 minutes, straight-forward question and answer, set for a specific pre-planned two-day period, just a get to know me opportunity.  I'm not ready to do this right now; there's so much going on and I'm changing residences this week.  But very possibly this is something that could be arranged to happen in mid-July.


Didn't know this was out there.  And this too.  Thanks Daniel.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pricing Table Sorta Done

This week, I "finished" my pricing table.  That is to say, it isn't as though I won't continue to add things to the table or give it more details, but rather that it is once more game functional.  If I want to find a price for an object in Qarshi, south Uzbekistan, I can once again calculate that price in about a minute forty-five seconds.  Once upon a time, it took less than a minute, but the table is huge now and as such more challenging.

I said a year ago that adding France broke the original table.  This month, in the space of about ten days, I added 110 market cities in Spain and Morocco without hardly a quibble.  That's the trick: we make things more complicated in order to make them simpler.  My world now has 1,066 distinct markets selling 1,519 individual goods and services.  Fun times.  Compare this with my discussion about the system on the wiki.

The pricing table is available on patreon for a $10 donation . . .

. . . aaaaaaaaaand we interrupt this post for a fire in the building.  I was in mid-sentence above and realizing that there was a burning smell and that it was not my imagination.  I checked in the hallway and it smelled like someone had burned something on a stove - but worse, definitely worse.  So I called 911 calmly, then exited the building as I could hear the pumpers coming.

The apartment down the hall had a pot burning on the stove all right - and the apartment was empty.  So, when you think you forgot to turn off the stove before leaving home, yes, that sort of thing happens.

I'm back at my desk now, no harm done.  As I was saying, the pricing table, technological terror that it is, works fully now.  The first part of this won't mean much to the casual reader - it consists of calculating out the distances between markets and then dividing that distance into the unit I use to determine the presence of a given resource or form of manufacturing:

A very small sampling, showing that the base market for this
calculation is Barcelona, recently added to my tables (the distance
is 1 hex, so that everything made there is divided by itself).

The line of totals (in bold) along the top are then applied to the pricing table itself, thusly:

Once I paste in the generated numbers into the "input references" column, all the costs for all the products on the table (including cost of containers for liquids or composite parts for items) is automatically generated.  The change is instantaneous.

There's then a random number that is rolled to see if the given reference is available today.  If it isn't, then none of the things on the market table will show as available for purchase.  At the moment, the random generator is designed to deny only very rare things, leaving most of the equipment table the players will use intact.

In the long run, however, I can build a personalized determination for each item, based on things like seasonal availability, status of the buyer, familiarity with the town where the item is purchases, special skills in hunting out items, time spent looking for the thing wanted or whatever other framework I'd like to add.

I wanted to point out that those who may not be interested in building a trade system that the numbers in the input column can be changed manually, as well.  Therefore, if the user wanted to increase or decrease any given substance or product, just because, the table will manage that.  This means that a user who only wanted one equipment table for their campaign could play with the file, minutely adjusting things until getting exactly the numbers that fits with their campaign.

I will be adding to the table; there's the random number/availability thing to work on and there's also wages to be added (there's been minimum work on that).  These are things I've wanted to build for a long time but couldn't, largely because the file needed to be better organized and designed.  I've built it now to expand it much further.

Interesting . . . I was just thinking, I gave a class this morning on Decision Making as a DM, and then within about half an hour I had to make a decision whether or not to call the fire department.  Same process, really.  Ain't life great?

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Cape Verde Islands

Let's just stick to game relevant content today, hm?

Very slowly, with my mapmaking, I am making my way around the northwest bulge of Africa.  This includes the Cape Verde Islands, about 350 miles west of Mauritania and Senegal, a group that I'm sure aren't nearly as well known as the Azores, the Madieras or the Canaries.  This is because the Cape Verde lie in the doldrums and, though tropical, are much more desert-like than other groups in the subtropics.  They're not lush, not especially productive; the population has a very sad history.

1 hex = 20 miles or 32 km

For two centuries, including the time my world takes place, Portuguese slavers would dump slaves from all over Gambia and Guinea on the islands, where they would wait - often starving - before being taken by another ship to Brazil.  There is no 'native' population; the islands were uninhabited prior to the Portuguese use of them. Today, the people are the offspring of multiple backgrounds, many of them tracing their lineage to slaves that escaped and hid in the back mountain country on the various islands.

I haven't decided if that's how I intend to depict them - though I'm leaning in that direction because it would be a tremendous opportunity for a party to seize the islands and right the wrongs being committed there.  If this was the case, then the slave population, being temporary, wouldn't count in the island's population.  In terms of trade, this would leave the remaining European population being industrious, diligent entrepreneurs and artisans.

I do recognize that it's a lot easier to leave real evil behind with a game world.  I wrote a post about that.  Still, there's something to be considered about actual human behaviour and actual human history: unhappiness is a part of fantasy.  The Brothers Grimm certainly understood that; and perhaps there's something in my being Russian, as well.  Cold brutality often figures in Eastern European fantasy - while the West in general has a long, unpleasant history with merchandising misery, as the Cape Verde testifies.

I'd love to run a campaign where a party seizes control of the islands, fights off a Portuguese fleet (perhaps with the help of others) and ultimately establishes a peaceful culture.  But . . . and this is important . . . I believe in the player's agenda.  If they wanted to run a game where they bought one of the islands and used it for the exact reasons the Portuguese used, then I would play that game too.  Not because it's right or wrong, but because no one is being hurt and we're all adult and mature enough to understand the difference between exploring a thought and living it.

The historical masters of those islands lived it and helped create the horror that continues to pollute large parts of Portuguese colonial culture.  I doubt I will ever have players with the stomach to even pretend to live it.  But having the opportunity to make a group with the idea then feel the consequences of their actions, rubbing their noses in it, would be an interesting campaign.  A very interesting campaign.

A much more proactive opportunity, I think, then simply denying adults that chance to explore it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


"In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe decided to study whether or not stress contributes to illness.  They surveyed more than 5,000 medical patients and asked them to say whether they had experience with any of a series of 43 life events in the previous two years.  Each event, called a Life Change Unit (LCU), had a different 'weight' for stress.  The more events the patient added up, the higher the score.  The higher the score, and the larger the weight of each event, the more likely the patient was to become ill.

Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, can cause death."

Here's a list of the life events and the weight they're given by the scale:

As of a week ago today, my total hit 382.  According to the website linked, anything over 300 is a high or very high risk of becoming ill in the near future.

I can't be reassuring right now and say that I'm all right.  I am very plainly not all right.  Stress management is a very tricky thing.  The first step is to admit that it is there.  Not to panic about it, but to look at it as structurally as possible, to identify the measure of it and, most of all, to ask for help.

I apologize for this post.  I can't think of a single good reason for writing it, except that I am conceivable not the only one in the world experiencing what I'm experiencing, and that others may gain something from hearing about this.  I'm not concerned with my reputation or how others will see me.  I'm a writer and I write.  Today, I'm writing this, just to get a handle on what's going on.  To be honest, just starting this post is giving me some stress, but I expect that to fall away as I write.

Last Tuesday, the 15th, I got a call from the police.  They were phoning me from my father's house, where they had responded to a call from my father that there were three people who had come in through my father's front door while he was in the living room, sleeping.  The police were phoning me because my father was disoriented and irrational.  It turned out the doors of the house were locked when the police arrived.  There was no sign of any entry.  The police were completely convinced that my father - from his behaviour - had imagined the event.

I did not know that in May, my father had called the police because he was convinced that someone was showering in his basement.  The police arrived to find no one in the house - but the dishwasher was running and my father admitted that this might have been the reason for his panic.  The police wrote this event off and did not contact his family - because these things happen.

However, this second incident has the police anxious that there shouldn't be a third.  I certainly understand that.

I had a long, long discussion with my father about the event.  My father is utterly, fully convinced that the police are wrong, that they did not do their due diligence in taking evidence of the crime.  My father clearly remembers what the three people looked like.  The lack of any forced entry has convinced my father that the three people had a key.  The failure of the security alarm to go off, as the door is wired, is due to the three people possessing a device that deactivates security systems.  The doors being locked when the police arrived is due the the three people intentionally locking the doors to fool the police.  The purpose of the intrusion, and the reason why nothing was moved, is because the intruders were seeking identity information so that they can break into my father's bank and empty it.  During the conversation, my father threatened that I would better appreciate the seriousness of this situation when he died and I discovered there was nothing to inherit.  Not kidding about this last.

Thing is, there was no fear in my father's voice.  No emotion at all.  He was tackling the whole problem of how these details could work together with the emotion of someone building a jigsaw puzzle.  I got the contact details for his family doctor out of him, without his seeming at all aware of why I may want that.

My father's doctor was to call me Thursday last week.  The day my phone was turned off by the phone company.  As the doctor did not get ahold of me, I spent Friday working to get my father's doctor on the phone.  I also did an online DMing class that day that went very well; so, I guess I could say I was managing all right.

I finally made contact with the doctor Friday evening.  My father is unquestionably suffering from something that may or may not be full-blown dementia.  This may be due to an unknown medical problem or it may be a permanent degradation of his brain.  The doctor confirmed my suspicions that my father is absolutely not self-aware of himself at this point.  The doctor explained that he has scheduled an assessment of my father's state of mind for July 5th - however, the doctor has also explained to me that this situation should not be left until that time.  I was told in no uncertain terms that my father should be placed into a hospital at the soonest opportunity - and I was given a moderately condescending speech about how his health trumps all other considerations.

The reason for this speech is as follows.

First and foremost, my father and I do not get along. We have not had anything like a father-son relationship for ten years.  This is due to physical abuse I received from him as a child, associated by decades of general disregard as to my personal life and beliefs (along with emotional treatment of my family, with many boundaries being crossed).  For the sake of insight, those who have seen the Breakfast Club might remember Ally Sheedy explaining the treatment she received from her parents thusly:  "They ignore me."

The final act came in 2006 when, during an argument with my father and mother while on a day trip to look at antiques in small town flea markets, my parents got into their car and ditched me and my partner Tamara in a small town 110 miles from home, with only what we were carrying at the time.

I am willing to overlook all this in the present situation.  I present it, however, because it speaks of a similar experience that both my brother and sister have had.  They're not especially close to my father either.  The last time I saw either of them was at my mother's funeral in 2012.  My sister and I said a few words.  My brother and I did not talk AT ALL.  We did not, in fact, stand any closer than 30 feet apart during the entire after reception.

My last experience with my brother was 25 years ago.  My brother is 5 years older than me and, when we were children, we shared a room together.  During that time, he regularly won his arguments with me through physical attacks.  When I grew up angry as a child and a teenager, it wasn't because of my father.  It was because of my brother.

25 years ago, my father convinced my brother and me to go hunting with him.  I was 27.  It had been five or six years since I had made any attempt to communicate with my brother and my father was trying to make amends.  Of course, this meant little more than putting my brother and I into a box and shaking it repeatedly.  Still, I remember the day was going along pretty well.

It was near dark and we had packed out guns away in the car.  We were about to head home.  I don't know what my brother said.  It was something insulting, but not especially.  He hadn't said much that was insulting all day, however, so I remember that it came as a surprise.  Never at a loss for addressing things head on, however, I answered him back plainly - just as people have seen me do on this blog hundreds of times.

My 32-year-old brother decided that he was just as entitled to turn his fists on me as he had when he was 14 and I was 9.  I can't believe he actually attacked me.  In response, I cleaned his fucking clock.  My father broke us apart and we went home.  I didn't get ditched on the side of the road that day - but obviously, the fight was my fault.

Since, I've made no attempt to approach my brother.  We only see each other during funerals and weddings; and he makes no attempt to approach me.  We're happy with the arrangement.

My sister is a decent, reasonable, non-violent person.  She wouldn't hurt a fly.  However, she is also 100% incapable of dealing with anything: life, responsibility, crises, anything.  When things get hard, she closes up like a turtle and shuts down completely.  This is a very common response to the sort of upbringing all three of us had.

Where it comes to putting my father in a hospital against his will, I have reason to hesitate.  I explained some of this to my father's doctor during Friday's conversation and the doctor quite reasonably gave me the speech.

I called my brother Friday.  I had to get the number from my daughter, who had to call her first cousin, my nephew, whom I have never met.  I called my brother Saturday.  I called my brother Sunday.  He won't return my calls.  The doctor told me during our conversation on Friday that he and my brother had talked.  According to the doctor, my brother seems unwilling to take action; my brother seems to be dragging his feet.

I talked to my sister Sunday.  She is not in the city; she lives far away and right now is in nearly the same financial situation I'm in.  I explained the situation to her and she doesn't fully understand it.  I explained with the doctor said I should do and she doesn't fully understand it.  She tells me to "Do whatever I have to" but won't expressly tell me that I should do what the doctor says.  I know because I asked her.  She won't take the responsibility to say, "Do that, I think that's the right thing."

So here I am.  I have these two siblings and this father and I seem to be the only thinking, rational person in this mess.  I have spoken to my father on the phone and I'm fairly sure that he's not going to willingly go to the hospital, whether I'm there or not.  I can't decide if I should see him today and talk to him face to face.  I've asked health services and they tell me that if he's not willing to go, I can phone the police and - following an evaluation that I'm certain my father will fail - they can force him to go in an ambulance.

Would that it were that simple.  I can't wait for the fall out when my brother, who has been warned, decides that I've overstepped my rights as the youngest sibling.  I can't wait for my sister to freak out and to find myself dealing with her husband, who manages everything for her.  I just fucking can't wait.

On the bright side, I've called health services.  I've spoken to Calgary Regional Health Care, effectively the Alberta government, and they're looking into what they can do to help me.  We've started a file and - I know from the days when my first wife had multiple schlerosis - this will absolutely get the ball rolling.  Basically, I'm covering my ass by putting the responsibility where the responsibility belongs - with people who know what the hell they're doing.  I did what I said to do at the beginning of this post.  I asked for help.

I'm waiting for a phone call.

I was right.  I do feel less stress.  Point in fact, however: this accounts for only 44 points of the crap that's going on in my life right now.

If you're feeling stressed, add up your points.  Ask for help.  Don't do this alone; you'll wake up and find yourself in a hospital before you know it.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Manor House Part I

In 2010, I wrote a post called Estate du General, which was, I said, trying to get a handle on what the structure and format of a manor house and demesne.

Yesterday, I found pages that includes the statistics behind that post.  It is one of the things I feel was meaningful among all the 'practice' writing that I've chosen to throw out, described in my last post.

What I'd like to do is rewrite that post and add more to it, based both on my old notes and on things that I have learned since, along with my imagination.  While this will mean some repetition, I think that the content will be so much more in depth that none of my gentle readers will care.

Geography & Authority

We'll start with a manor lord that fits D&D.  Our manor lord will be a mage, Ikhnaton, who once did a favour for a royal household and was granted a manse in compensation.  Our mage is a baron.  This manse is 1419 acres in size, or 2.3 square miles, about the size of a neighborhood subdivision or a small town of about 2,500 people.  As before, I'm going to use the same image that I used with the previous post:

Let's get a clear idea of the map above.  We have two cultivated fields and a fallow field.  Let's call the cultivated field on the left the "West Field;" we'll call the one in the middle the "South Field."  The Fallow Field is the "East Field."

We'll call the meadow that is surrounded by the South Field the "High Meadow," because the stream enters the manse at that point, flows into the South Field and then into the Village proper, past the Church Lands (including the cemetery) and then The Park, which is Baron Ikhnaton's personal yard, paddocks and gardens.  The stream then meets the river at the top right at the northeast boundary of the manse.  We'll call the meadow that's along the river at the right the "River Meadow."  The third meadow, the one in the top left, we'll call the "North Meadow."  The forest is the last section of our manse - we'll call it "Stream Wood," to separate it from the forests surrounding the manse.

We have two roads through the manse (no one in a medieval mind-set would have thought of these as four roads going outwards from the village).  These aren't really 'roads;' they're more like cart tracks.  Probably, some gravel has been added to the length of roads through the village (and some to the boundaries of the manse in the worst places), but the routes will by and large be only hardened courses with cropped grass down the middle (called the 'long acre') and ruts.  One of the two roads has a toll bridge on it, about 18 feet of boards over the slow, deep stream, so we can call this the "Toll Road."  The other road passes the Church and the Manor, so we can call it the "Main Road."

Let's break down the size of each piece of land:

Forgive the medieval measurements.  They're appropriate for the
time being described.  2.47 acres = 1 hectare

Ikhnaton, being a D&D character, is never home, so the manse is actually under the control of a steward that Ikhnaton employs.  This person administers all three types of land - though he spends most of his time overseeing the immediate concerns of The Park.  To help him look after the other three parts of the manse, he employs a reeve, a hayward and a warden.  These, in order, look after the dwellings (and the people), the fieldwork and the secondary land.  The reeve ("shire reeve" or sheriff) is there to keep peace, keep track of outsiders, ensure that the tolls on the bridge are collected (for which he employs a keeper) and to hang out a lot at the blacksmith's and the miller's.  The hayward ensures that everyone works when it is their duty to do so, that the boundaries on the fields are kept right, to manage the labor on Ikhnaton's fields and to keep order through the day between farmers; he manages the animals on the meadows but not the meadows themselves.  The warden watches over the back country, helping to select trees to be cut, catching poachers and patrolling the outer boundaries of the manse.  This last is why the master of a prison is called the "warden" - because the job means keeping the borders secure.  All three of these report daily to the steward.  This accounts for most of the law in the manse.

The only appeal is to the church.  Here we may be dealing with a pastor, a teacher, a recluse or simply an individual who was given a benefice by the church and doesn't really care about things like religion.  However, whoever resides here is an important person, with capital, outside influence and potentially the power to produce an insurrection at will, if goodwill has been sown with the peasants.  We'll say that on Ikhnaton's land, the Church Lands are occupied by a gentle friar that doesn't give services but does offer regular spiritual support, advice, alms and occasional support for the steward, Reeve, Hayward or Warden.  The Friar might step forward to restrain a punishment if the case is unusual.  The Friar could also, of course, use his influence to have someone exiled or expressly punished "for the good of the community."

These names are European, obviously: but most cultures have had these roles filled in some manner.  They are logical subdivisions of labor and social justice - so whatever the titles may be or the sort of religion in question, these figures are recognizable from society to society.

The Manor

The Park, or the Manor, consists of several buildings.  It is typical to think that every manor must be a castle or a fortified building, but since most were not we'll treat Ikhnaton's manor as a villa rather than a keep.  The assemblage of structures includes the main house, a kitchen, a winery, a longhouse, stables and a paddock.

The Main House is 30 ft. by 60 ft., about two hundred years old, with a stone and mortar foundation. The main floor is broken limestone and mortar, while the two stories above the main floor are constructed of timber, wattle and daub.  There are three fireplaces inside the house.  The main door would be located along the longest side of the house, not on its end, as the house runs along a circular drive.  Three authorities of the manse, the steward, reeve and hayward, live in the main house with their families, on the second floor.  The third floor is shut off and reserved for when Ikhnaton is here (at which point it is opened, cleaned and made ready for the mage).  This third floor consists of a main bedroom and an extensive laboratory/library.

The second floor also includes two women, married to the reeve and the hayward.  The steward's wife died last year while giving birth.  The steward has two children left to him, the reeve and hayward have four between them.  These children also live in the house, where they are not expected to labour.  They are tutored by the friar and have a governess (the vintner's wife).

In an office on the first floor is a young scribe and his wife; they have no children.  This fellow keeps track of the manse's accounts while his wife takes care of him and acts as a midwife for the manse.  Technically, they are "servants," though of course they are treated well.  There are fourteen other servants in the manor - cleaners, launderers and servers - made up of spouses and elder children from those who live in the surrounding buildings.  These are watched over by the reeve's wife, who has taken over the duty from the steward's former wife.  All these servants arrive at the house each morning - none of them live in the house walls.

The Kitchen is attached to the main house but is not actually part of it.  It has been added alongside the house (with an inside door to the house), overlooking the back yard away from the road, where it can take advantage of the garden, the pond and the path that leads to the river (which helps provide food to the manor).  Both the cook and the baker live in the kitchen building, with their wives who are both servants in the main house.  The cook has two boys who help out in the kitchen while the baker has a 14-year-old daughter who has also been co-opted as a servant in the house.  There are two younger children who do general kitchen chores as well.  All nine of these people retire to a loft built on top of the kitchen at night.

The Winery is built against the back side of the main house, but there is no inside door.  The Vintner lives here with his governess wife and their seven children.  Three of these are servants in the main house; the eldest boy, 16, works alongside his father.  One of the remaining children, a boy of 9, has been selected to be a playmate to the steward's son, who is about the same age.  They are seen everywhere together, though of course the steward's son makes all the decisions about what the two boys do when there are no adults around.

The winery's remaining two children are younger than eight and are more or less free to do as they like, as the father does not want them underfoot (the mother is forced to be more concerned with the house children than her own youngest ones, so they are able to raise themselves - though they tend to attach themselves to various adults throughout the manse, including the warden, the friar, the various stablehands, etc., who help look after them, and all the other children in the same age group).

The Longhouse provides lodging for the swineherd, the shepherd, the reeve's deputy, the hayward's two deputies, the vintner's assistant, nine fieldhands and the four stablehands, along with 15 wives and an assorted 41 children, aged from baby to 16.  Five of the wives and three of the children are all servants in the main house.  A boy of 15 sometimes helps the scribe by running messages throughout the manse.  Along with the stablehands are 8 boys who help in the stable and paddock.  All of the remaining children who are older than ten work in Ikhnaton's fields each day - with the exception of the shepherd's son, who helps out his father.  We may assume that the shepherd and swineherd's wives also help in moving the sheep and the pigs each day.

If the reader is losing track, I don't blame you.  Here's a breakdown:

So, why go through all this detail?  Well, to emphasize that even the most common manor house would have considerably more people as part of its structure than the few that Hollywood usually depicts (as they have to worry about how many extras to pay).  This may sound like a lot; 14 servants in a house this size was certainly nothing unusual - and 20 farmhands (11 who are children) for an area of 270+ acres (a third of the manse, which was typical for the lord to own) is hardly an excessive number, considering all that needed to be done.  10 acres or 4 hectares, for those without a sense for these things, is an enormous area to manage.

The stables may be a bit more than Ikhnaton needs: but perhaps, like me, he really likes horses.  Perhaps, like the wine the vintner makes, it raises capital for the manse.  Something has to pay and feed all these people.

Take note, none of this begins to describe the village itself.  That is a whole other pile of people.  Some might also notice that I haven't mentioned any fathers, mothers, grandparents or other relatives to the above.  These, not being part of the business of the manse, have residences in the village, where they are visited regularly.

Still, what does this have to do with D&D?  Nothing.  Everything.  The thing about NPCs is that most DMs tend to view them as a faceless mass.  On the other hand, an imaginative person can look at that last list above and begin to see there are interesting patterns in the families and individuals.  Just try to envision the individuals here.  What is the stablehand without a family like?  Or the fieldhand in the same boat?  What is the relationship like between the mother and the son who both work as servants in the house?  What kind of gang do all the youngest children form before they're forced to work in some way?

Now try to imagine that you are Ikhnaton.  Who of these do you want to know by name?  When your manor is being looked after, who do you turn to if you want to check up on the steward?  The scribe?

Take a step back, then, and try to see the whole.  You're looking at a street in a town, at a tower overlooking the valley: the guard you're trying to talk into letting you through the gate.  Can you see it yet?  Can you see how the big picture forms from the little picture?

No?  Well, we'll keep at this.  We'll see what comes out of it.

Canada Is Going After Your Guns

I had a conversation yesterday with a fellow who works as a Canadian customs agent in British Columbia (that's a Canadian province, for those who don't know), where many of the Americans who come across the border there are on their way to Alaska.  We'll call him 'Brad.'  Brad tells me that most of his job, all day, every day, is seizing guns.

Apparently, it is supposed that Canada will say nothing and do nothing if an American wants to keep his (or her, I suppose) full-automatic and semi-automatic firearm - rifles, handguns, machine pistols, ordnance of all sorts - in their trunks, glove boxes and backseats.  The most common excuse?  "Well, I was going to Alaska, so I'm not actually leaving the United States."

Surprisingly, we don't let them.

Brad explained that the moment they come through the gate, they are on Canadian soil; and as such, once the restricted and prohibited guns are found, they become the property of the Canadian government.  That's international law.  So the guns are seized and they are destroyed; they're NOT held and sent back to the owners.  Those guns are gone.

Most don't complain.  Most, Brad tells me, apologize for misunderstanding.  They thought the guns would be all right and they're sorry.  And so they give up their hundreds of dollars of property without any complaints.  The only ones that are a problem, Brad says, are those that have really excessive items, with outstanding heavy magazines and calibers.  Still, with 70 or 80 border guards around, trained to deal with any troubles, there's not much a crazy gun nut can do.  Brad says they've never actually had a violent incident associated with someone who had to give up their guns.

Sauce for the goose.  I continue to argue that the only solution to the problem in America is that the government should go after the guns.  We do.  Most civilized countries do.  When I hear an American (as I did on Real Time with Bill Maher just this morning) say something as idiotic as "There is no gun control law that has ever been proven to reduce gun crime," (Emily Miller is an idiot of the order that should be Trump's VP), I look at my own country.  We've had incidents here.  We don't have them every week.

I understand the reticence of the American government to pass a law to destroy guns.  I don't understand why ordinary, common citizens in America don't simply set up opportunities for large masses of people to get together in huge events and destroy guns en masse, for the good of their country.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Delusion

Book sales have been off for the last month - didn't expect to make any money on books this month (and I mean 'any').  Then, this morning, I woke up to this:

Damn.  Amazon book sales came through for me.  When I say I'm limping into my end game, I'm not kidding around.  The smallest changes to my fortunes are monolithic.

So, yesterday, while not having internet and feeling my lowest, I set myself to parsing through the paperwork I've been accumulating all my life.  This meant digging through four office crates of material to decide what I need to keep.  This is material that's been carefully preserved in my storeroom, unseen, for nearly eight years.  Here is the result:

This is what 10,000 hours of writing looks like.

This is all junk.  It wasn't around the time that I started my blog but it is now.  This immense pile of paper is all full of writing, most of it handwriting, produced hour after hour since I was about 22.  That's when I did my last purge - a purge I swore then that I'd never do again.  But I'm not the same person, 30 years later.  I read through hours of this material yesterday and I have no good feeling about it at all.

If there is a story here that deserves telling, I would rather write it from scratch, from my own head, that be affected by what a former me tried to write.

Some people get all creeped out by the thought that as our cells replace themselves, our entire bodies are steadily replaced until none that were there ten years ago have survived.  Does this not make us a different person?  This has become a popular internet meme.

I have no doubt about it.  The material in the image above was written by somebody else.  That much is obvious to me.  I have a dim memory of the material but no memory whatsoever of actually doing the writing.  With most of the short stories that I wrote in the above, I could not remember the ending or remember the point of the story.  I can see now why some of this content didn't have the impact I imagined it would have.  Because it is just bad writing.

I see it as practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  Writing sentence after sentence, not because the sentences meant anything but because eventually I would learn how to write a sentence properly.  Not that I understood that at the time.  At the time, I wrote under the delusion that I was producing content.  I continue to write under the delusion that I am producing content.

The delusion is what makes art possible.  The confidence that we possess that enables us to THINK we're doing earth shaking things when in fact we're just creating a lot of waste paper that will need to be thrown out someday - when we have grown enough to realize that it has to be.

This is why we cannot live in the present.  The present is shit.  Yes, I know I'm writing from a bad place just now, pulling my life apart, packing it, throwing it out, broke, helpless to control my finances or my freedom, forced to return hat in hand again and again to others with nothing but my so-called 'value' to trade on, but I have the evidence right here in my living room.  I had to write all that crap out one page at a time so that I could be the writer that I am now - but during the process, I was utterly deluded.

O Gentle Reader, you are too.  You don't think you are, because the delusion is lovely and it sustains us, but in fact everything you're doing right now for your game world and your campaign is shit from the perspective of the other you who will look at it ten years from now.  You can choose, at that time, to look back on all this by embracing the fantasy that it was all beautiful and needs to be kept perfectly preserved in order to sustain that beauty . . . but if the day comes that your survival brings it into question, you'll burn it all down because, in the end, 99% of it did not matter.

There are a few things I kept.  Some small bits and pieces.  Some of that is going to make it onto this blog.  I found some old dragon magazines and other booklets I thought were lost; I found my Gamma World rules though what the hell I'll ever do with those, I don't know.  Everything else is going in the trash - or perhaps I'll burn it in my fireplace in a ritual sacrifice.

Hmf.  I found some pictures that I took with a girl that I was in love with 34 years ago.  Some decidedly questionable pictures, in a package in a folder that I'm sure I have not opened since, oh, about 2001.  Funny.  I so loved her.  I don't imagine she'd be very happy to know those pictures are out here in the universe - but I won't show them and, anyway, no one would recognize her, I'm sure.  And no, I'm not burning them.  I can't.  They bring a tear to my eye.

Yet it is good that we let the old part of ourselves die.  It is good that we kill the child that used to reside in ourselves because it lets the new child breathe and discover new things.  If we hang on to all that love for things we had in the past it will eventually suffocate all the things we have the potential to love in the future.  Some things, it's easy to do that.  Some things are not.  Those who do not do the best they can, however, end up living so deeply in the past that they hate everything about the present - and they have no future.

Just now, I have to have a future or all this present delusion (the post I'm writing right now) is for naught.  In the meantime, some of the past will have to burn.  I don't have a choice about that.  I'm leaving this place, this room where I'm writing, and I'll never be able to come back here again.  That's how it is.  I'll never be the person who wrote all those words in that pile above again.  Today, I'm writing different words.  In the future, I'll write different words still.  That isn't living in the present.  That's just breathing.

Hope is living.  Hope waits for tomorrow.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


It has been a very difficult week, a week full of walls; and today, after writing my post this morning, we ran straight into one.

We had thought we had worked things out with the phone company, but apparently not.  We discovered that our internet was turned off.  It took 7 hours and the sacrifice of our friends to turn it on again.

And unfortunately, we're facing the same thing again in four days, when it will be our electricity.

It is hard to admit to being an utter failure at this age, but this is how I feel just now.

The Death of Things Past

The internet is not the same place it was ten years ago.

Methodically, there are voices stepping forward everywhere that are building up a positive wave, such as this youtube channel that I found this morning.  I found it remarkably refreshing to read someone with good things to say about movies that have made billions of dollars by putting tens of millions of butts in theater seats, when what we used to hear on the net was "Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad . . ."

It all stands to reason: some twenty years ago, the development of the public net was dependent upon a small cadre of those who understood what computers were and what they could do - persons who were naturally resentful of a society that steadfastly refused to given any credence to this and who treated anyone with 'knowledge' like crap scraped off the bottom of a shoe.  In 1996, the most celebrated people in the world were sports figures.  Back then, it wasn't necessary to pay any attention to sports to know who Ken Griffey, Andre Agassi or John Elway were.  I've never sat and watched more than five minutes of a basketball game in my life, yet I knew perfectly well who Michael Jordan was before he became a movie actor.

Who is the equivalent today - an athlete that's huge, right now, who got his start no earlier than 2010?  There isn't one.  The sportos will rush forward and name off a bunch of people for me, but I promise: I won't recognize a single name.  Because today we live in a world where if you don't watch sports, you don't give a shit.  Back in the '90s, television still mattered, it had the power to push people down on throats that we didn't care about.  Today, it doesn't.  Nothing that happens on television matters.  Because the internet has replaced it.  Today, if you don't go LOOK for it, it doesn't exist.

In the 1990s, television ignored computers (it still does - but then, computers are the enemy, competing for all that advertising).  This is why a ridiculously innaccurate computer-based movie like Hackers made such a splash: because, among computer geeks, this is all they had.  They had to love it.  After two decades of personal computer use being utterly ignored by the media (I'm counting from the mid '70s), FINALLY someone made a movie.  It is horrifically, hilariously stupid and counterfactual.  Just try to imagine a group of modern day doctors expressing their fandom love of a movie that depicted medicine with this level of accuracy.  But talk to any 'hacker' who was alive and conscious in 1995 and they will gush endlessly about the immortal love they have for this film.

Those computer savvy guys were naturally misanthropic: the media hated them and they hated the media.  It was only natural that, with this perspective, when Dalnet and ICQ got off the ground, it would be filled with a bile of epic proportions.  With only 20 years behind us, this is a generation that is still with us - and will be with us for a long time.  Yet it is also a generation that has lost its grip on the throttle.  No wonder: that generation has systematically set out to destroy every platform that has been made available, from Yahoo, Friends United and Friendster up through Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.  The only sites that have survived their predations have been those that took an excessively draconian attitude towards outside influence: that is, anything owned by Google, Apple or Amazon.

The war was on almost immediately: and the loudest voices in any chat room has fought that war by claiming "free speech" and "freedom" as their watchwords: that is, the freedom to destroy things, to ruin things, to make things vulnerable enough that a troll can do whatever a troll wants.  Trolls hate comment moderation.  They hate youtube's policy of removing videos.  They hate blocking.  Guess why.

I read comments sections when I want to don my sociologist's lab coat.  There has been a change.  Once upon a time a troll would start something and - in the ensuing flame war - a dozen other trolls would come to a troll's rescue.  More and more, I am seeing one troll and a dozen other reasonable people piling up on him.  Overall, there are less trolls . . . at least in places where there's little or no payback for their efforts.

Television, of course, hasn't understood anything about trolls or the internet.  The news channels gamely put up a twitter feed and delight in having every troll in the universe hammer away in favour of Donald Trump in real time.  I said before that the internet is television's competitor.  There are absolutely less viewers of sports, news, virtually everything today (except porn) than there were 20 years ago:

Not that anyone wants to talk about this.

In light of such numbers, I have my - very reserved - notions that perhaps television executives have an agenda to make the internet look bad.  How else does one explain this incomprehensibly irrational scene?

This would be my vote for the worst depiction of a computer on any media, ever.

Unquestionably, it is in the old school media's interest for the internet to continue to look bad - and promoting trolls, giving them unrestrained access to television feeds and otherwise promoting the fear agenda where it comes to computers is 100% in the television media's interest.  They would like it if we could all just stop this silliness of wasting all our time with this nonsense internet thing and go back to sitting still in front of a box patiently waiting for commercials to finish - something I did casually for the first thirty years of my life.

Hard to believe.

I have enormous faith in the future.  Oh, eventually the governments of the world will use some pretext for shutting this internet thing down - but every year they fail to do so brings us closer to the tech that will enable us to establish this internet thing without any actual need for a "net" - computers will simply piggyback on a general wifi-interlock system in some Tesla air-transfer arrangement that will mean I'll only need to buy a computer in order to get on board the completely free system that replaces the present model.

Okay, I don't know how it will work - but trust me, it will work and the government won't be able to do a thing about it - not even if we have to buy our computers from "pushers" on the street corner.

By then, the internet culture will have washed the bad-blood generation out of its system and, while trolls will never be a thing of the past, the unwanted will be no more a problem for the internet than the asshole who's had too many beers and now must be shown the door.

Hm.  Bars will probably have a lot less of those when national-level broadcast sports finally lays down and dies.

Monday, June 13, 2016


Just for fun, I thought I'd post my recent work on my lodging table.  When I published my innkeeper table in 2011, there were six things on this list.  I think this is better:

I like to think players can be made to care about these things, if only enough information can be made available for them to make a choice.  I know that 4 g.p. a night doesn't sound like much to hit a player character with (+ 3 g.p. for their horse), but over a month that's something like 500 g.p. for the whole party.

And I continue to think about a rule where the players can experience a boost of some kind, a sort of "happiness" bonus, upping one of their stats by +1 (perhaps making it the players choice) if they can get hold of a random luxury (which would mean compiling a list).  This would include anything from finding oranges available or smoking tobacco, eating a pie, using a perfume or incense, getting hold of a certain kind of wine or - from the list above - having had a massage in the last few days.  I have this rather big list of stuff to make a table from that could include perhaps 200 things - some fairly common and others just damn near impossible to get unless one goes to the source of that thing.

Just one more idea for inspiring character adventuring.

Amaranth's Immortality

I'm having great fun expanding the number of herbs and drugs that a character may want to carry in their pouch, just in case:

From the Wiki:

Sacred to the pagan goddess Artemis, the amaranth flower possesses a two-fold effect that aids in the immortality of those that are aged, sapped of energy and life or even recently dead.

When purchased, a paper box of amaranth will typically contain a single bud. This bud has already been carefully grown in a prepared soil and harvested at a precise time in its growth state, empowering it with minor magical effects. Thereafter, it is fairly easy for an amateur to crush the amaranth into a paste and mix it with a concoction of olive oil and wine (called 'oil of amaranth') in order to be effective (3 oz. of each mixed with amaranth paste). This oil can be made in about ten minutes but does require the requisite amount of oil and wine, as well as a mortar and pestle to crush the amaranth petals.

Note that the flower's magical properties are lost quickly after it is crushed (within an hour), so that preparation must always be done before the effect is desired; a dried amaranth flower, if the dried leaves are not crushed, can remain effective for up to a year.

Sustaining Long Life: Upon reaching the 21st year, it is said that a human or demi-human who successfully consumes a dose of amaranth on their birthday each year will live forever. The oil of amaranth must be made and consumed on the individual's birthday and does work: however, there is only a 1% cumulative chance per birthday that the flower will bestow eternal life. It is not known to the players what this life will consist of; and a single forgotten year will ruin all the effort that has gone before. However, it is said that this eternal life guarantees complete immunity from all disease, death by poison and the strength, dexterity and constitution of no worse than a middle-aged man (penalties for these stats for becoming old or venerable are ignored). The flower does not protect the user from a violent death.

Combating Weakness: For creatures that are suffering from weakness brought about by a drain of their strength or constitution, a dose of oil of amaranth can be prepared to help restore these stats to their former level. Though it may take hours for repleted strength to be restored through rest, the oil can restore from 2-5 points of constitution, strength or both (roll separately for each) in the space of five rounds. Note that amaranth will not improve a creature's strength or constitution, only restore points that have been lost from spells, poison, noxious odors or other monster attacks.

Ensuring Resurrection: In the case of someone that has recently died, the amaranth flower is not crushed, but is instead put whole into the mouth of the recently demised person prior to casting death's door, raise dead or resurrection. Then, when the spell is cast, the chance of failure from resurrection survival is cut in half. For example, if a creature with a 12 constitution has an 85% chance of resurrection survival, this chance would be improved to 92.5%.

See Equipment Notes