Friday, June 22, 2018

What Concerns Me with NPCs

This is not a Master Class post.  It describes a tangent that came out of the last teaser I posted for the Master Class, NPCs Lie.  At the front of that post I wrote that, "role-players who must treat every encounter with excessive dramatic importance" frustrate me.  I then gave an example of a group of cotters met by the players ... leaving off the player's reaction deliberately, as the post itself is a teaser.

Forget what that reaction is.  The tangent was proposed by a comment I received from Homer2101, who had not read the full post (so it isn't relevant to this discussion).  The comment started,
"A real traveler coming upon some cotters has the benefit of about fifty million years of evolution plus a few decades' experience in local social expectations, when intuiting the correct course of action in a particular social situation. A player sitting at a game table has none of those benefits. The player sees an action (NPCs going for weapons) but she cannot reliably divine the reasoning behind it. To her the NPCs are black boxes. The same forces that cause otherwise-normal people to behave like fuckwads on the Internet, make it very difficult for players to intuit the appropriate course of action when interacting with NPCs.
"Clever players try to guess what the DM is thinking."
Homer then describes solutions that might be employed to solve the problem he identified.  That's fine.  I've tried some of them, I don't think they work, that's opinion, it's not relevant to this post either.  I answered Homer in the comments of that post, and among other things he replied with this question,
"... distilling ideas into discrete numbers has some advantages, which you are probably aware of. So What makes an NPC's relationship with the players different from combat, trade or knowledge?"

Okay.  There's the background.  I'd like to deconstruct this.

I don't accept that a real person in a real place has special intuition in problem solving that a role-player doesn't also have.  This, in fact, is the fundamental psychology behind the invention of role-playing as a therapeutic technique, one that long predates its use in gaming.  A player sitting at a game table ALSO has the benefit of evolution; not just the 50 million years of mammalian development, but centuries of experience with fictional development, theme, motivation, character and resolution.

I don't accept that only clever players try to guess what the DM is doing.  I think all players do this, with varying amounts of success.  It's a part of our human nature: guessing what other people are thinking.  Not just the DM. Everyone. It is what we do when we interact.  It is what the reader is doing while reading these words: "What is Alexis thinking?  What is he trying to get across?"  Our ability to do this with anybody we hear or read is not, I think, a special element of what clever players do.  Clever players are possibly better at it.  Or read another way, clever players consciously do something that everyone else does habitually.

Is that superior?  Or is that a way of overthinking?  My experience as a DM is that players who push to circumvent my thoughts by guessing ahead of me are usually a very large problem in game play.  This is part of the issue I proposed at the start: that savvy players treat every episode of NPC interaction as HUGELY important ... largely because they take the position that if the DM put this cotter's village in front of us, it must ~ MUST ~ mean something.

If it doesn't, all that DM's mind guessing will likely find a plan where there is no plan.  And that is a problem.  In my game, I'm likely to put a cotter's village in front of the party, because they've chosen to visit a place that would logically have a cotter's village.  And that is my thinking.  Like saying, if you're in a neighborhood with homes, there's probably a convenience store.  The convenience store isn't relevant to what's going on with the game.  No one at the convenience store has information for the party.  It is a convenience store.  And that's all.

I can create parts of my world all night long that way, without anything having "meaning," because my world is a sandbox.  Not a pre-made adventure, with NPC's waiting in a Truman Show manner, ready to play their part when the players walk by.  I'm good with my world being that way.  That's fine with me.  That's how the real world works.  No one at the local convenience store cares who or what you are, or what your plans are, or what adventure you're on.  It is up to you, the player, to show how what matters to you needs to matter to them.

If you won't do that, or can't do that, they don't care.

What makes an NPC's relationship different from combat, trade or knowledge?  The latter three are game metrics ~ performance measures of a player's activity or performance, at something the player attempts to achieve or succeed at.  Combat is a metric that measures the player's success at surviving battle.  Trade is a metric that compares the player's wealth with what the player can buy.  Knowledge is a metric that defines the player's performance at knowing things, both abstract and concrete.

The NPC is a not a metric.  The NPC's relationship with the player CAN be treated as a metric; gawd knows, I've tried to do that.  But a relationship is a correlation of statistical dependencies and associations, some of which are causal, some of which are reactive, but mixed in with motivations that might come from anywhere.  Relationships are not measurements.  Some might feel that they can be measured, but they themselves are not, like combat, a method OF measurement.

What the DM is thinking in creating an NPC might be, hell, anything.  We're just used to thinking that we can guess what an NPC thinks because the endless stream of modular adventures that have been thrust into the culture all have that Truman stank connected with them.

The NPC exists because the player exists.  This is, we have been told, the ONLY reason the NPC exists.  And in that argument, the NPC does seem like a metric.  It allows the clever player the fundamental a priori argument that I've already stated: since this NPC exists, it must therefore serve the player.  I have to figure out what that is.

But this is actually bullshit.  If I don't accept the premise as a DM, you as player have no leg to stand on.  And I don't accept the premise.  The NPC does not exist to serve the player.

Now, in recent building block posts, I have written that the NPC ought to provide a service for the player.  This is true.  The convenience store provides a service. You can buy things there.  This does not mean the convenience store serves you, as pawn in your life's game, as the old man who approaches the party does in a typical store-bought game adventure.

So.  I'm not very concerned about the NPC's relationship to the player. The player has to create and build that relationship. I only supply the NPC ~ and the NPC's motivations might be anything.  Literally anything.  How many people exist in the world, and what is the number of their collective motivations?

I'm not very concerned with the players taking the appropriate course of action.  There is no appropriate choice.  There is no inappropriate choice.  I'm not frustrated by players who don't take the appropriate course.  I'm frustrated by players who treat every encounter as though there is one.

I'm not concerned about clever players who try to guess what I'm thinking ... except that they keep thinking that I'm thinking something that I'm not.  Or worse, that I'm thinking what I will never, ever think ... that this NPC exists to serve the player.  If clever players would open up their minds and actually consider what I might be thinking ... they'd learn to be less concerned with that, and more concerned with addressing what's happening.

What's happening is much more interesting and concrete than what might be happening.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Story Behind the Senex Rewrite

This post is about business.  Perhaps someday you'll be where I am, and have to parse out something like this yourself.  I have been a tortured soul for several days now, looking for the ethical path.

Some months ago, with inspiration I wrote a post deconstructing the actions of players in my online world, carefully explaining my methodology as a DM, my motivation and expectations from the players, and why I thought the players reacted as they did.  I had never written a post like this.  I had not conceived of the idea until a few hours before writing the post.

The post was 5,600 words and was a lot of effort to write.  It was detailed, finicky work, with lots of consideration for providing a fair and faithful representation of my own feelings at the time and the desire not to offend.  I was thoroughly exhausted at the end of it.

The post was immediately very popular.  The first four comments on the post all said MORE.  And the fourth comment, from Samuel Kernan, suggested pledging for more such content, at a $3-$5 range.

So I wrote another post, similar to the first.  And that was very popular, too.  So it occurred to me to take Samuel up on his suggestion and set up a schedule for writing these posts, relating it to Patreon and putting it behind a paywall.  And as a matter of fact that also worked.  My Patreon account jumped more than a hundred dollars a month in pledges.

Good.  But I'm no dummy.  I saw immediately that there would be two problems that were going to arise.

First, the posts were burdensome to write.  Two a month, with a set minimum of 3,000 words, was going to be a heavy workload and they have been.  No complaints, but I have had to account for the time and ensure that both those posts have been completed before the end of each month.  Without question, after writing 13 of them now, it is work, no different than any other job might be ~ and in the short run, not at a high pay grade.

Second, I was utterly dependent on the existence of the campaign blogs having already been written.  Without that content, in the Senex and Juvenis campaigns, there was no "great new idea" for Patreon.  I relied on those campaigns to make the plan work.

However, I had never made a secret of the fact that I was running those online campaigns for the sake of my reputation and ultimately as a means of drumming up financial support.  Before I could tell people how to run D&D, I had to be SEEN running D&D, and well enough to justify people in believing what I had to say.  And it worked.  In nine years of running online games, I haven't seen anyone online argue that the campaigns proved I was a bad DM.

Which brings us to last month, when I discovered that the names on character contributions had been replaced with "anonymous," effectively sabotaging the value of those campaigns as readable commodities.  Whatever the reason, this was a massive threat to my new business model.  Without the campaign in existence, I was sunk.  So I took action.  I removed the Senex campaign from the public, placing it into private to protect the content.

I explained online what I thought was happening: that two players had deliberately sought out to disrupt the content by deleting their nicks, specifically Andrej and Delfig.  I immediately got push back from James Clark, who played Andrej, denying having taken any action.  He explained that he had lost the original Andrej account, etc., as a possible explanation.  The only thing is ... all of those accounts had been there 14 days before.  I know.  I had read them.  I was not prepared to believe this sudden change was coincidental.  I'm still not.

One commenter, Daniel Oliveira, suggested a possible explanation: and that might be the case.  I did not see that, however, as something that changed the threat level.  I had created something good, which the readers were decidedly supporting.  I was not going to risk that on the explanation of a stranger on the internet.

Still, Daniel's final words rang my conscience and I did not forget it:
"Hope that you put the Campaign Senex blog back online. I've found your blog 40-something days ago and I'm reading it all, chronologically, from the very start. So I'm fucking curious to finish reading the campaign."

And I did not like writing the second post of the masterclass blog last month without having that Senex campaign to link up with for reference.  So I ruminated.  And ruminated.  And considered what I could do about it.

So at 4:30 PM, lying in a cool bath on a hot day, I reasoned with myself that I could rewrite the whole campaign, editing it, so that it could be preserved without any worry that someone with a grudge might someday come in and delete comments they had made six years ago, because I had misrepresented them in some way.  I didn't like that.  I worked damn hard on those campaigns.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, possessive of them.

At 5:00 PM on Monday, I started editing the first post of the first campaign, which I originally published on this blog, before ultimately creating a new blog just for the campaign.  I set myself a blog size of at least 10,000 words for each "campaign post."  Six hours later, I was still putting the posts together, managing to edit, organize, format and parse out a little more than half of one such post.

The work, I found, despite my zeal in undertaking the task as soon as I had conceived it, was excessively nit-picky.  Players were chucking all sorts of garbage into their game comments, jokes, odd bits of grammar and punctuation that had to be puzzled over, stating things out of character or excessively in character, all the usual things players do in a game.  I was anxious to be true to the material and yet to make the material more relevant to my fundamental needs: to have a resource that I could count on for further deconstruction essays, for those loving such essays.

As the work went on, however, soaking up more and more time, I could not help wondering, "Why the hell am I doing all this work?  Does anyone even care?"  It was pretty easy to go back and see that none of those old posts are getting much attention these days.  One page view a week is a big deal.  And so in the midst of the work, I found myself questioning the work ... which is perfectly normal for any monumental task.  Particularly as I discovered that it took no more than five campaign posts on the blog to fill out 11,500 words.

There are 467 posts on the Senex blog.  Think about that a moment.

Editing the whole campaign is a GIANT task.

So I began to wonder.  Do I post this on the Tao of D&D blog, where it can be read by anyone, for free ... or do I post it on the Master Class blog, behind a $3 paywall?  I hemmed and hawed about it all through Tuesday.  I shut my online Juvenis campaign down early on Tuesday because I was so tired from the work and the thinking that I had to crash that afternoon.  I talked the question over with my partner.  I talked the question over with my daughter.

Ultimately, the decision was made on this basis.  The rewrite had one relevant purpose: to sustain the content that was going to be appearing on the Master Class blog.  Therefore, it effectively IS the Master Class.  Given the amount of work it was going to be to edit it, I felt it fair to support the paywall ~ however people might feel about paywalls.  I was working.  I felt it was fair that it should increase the value that people who were supporting me on Patreon would get for their money.  With this reasoning, I published the post Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning, I got a message from James C., who ran the character Andrej, one of those that went anonymous.  The message was not sent to my email, it was posted as a comment on google+:
"So as if publicly accusing your former players (me among them) of inexplicably deleting their names from countless old posts wasn't bat-shit crazy enough, you've now decided to edit the content they helped to create without checking in with them (again) and put it all behind your paywall? It's your blog, and you can do what you want with it, but my advice to you, moving forward and for the sake of both yourself and your current players & collaborators (Juvenis campaign), is to treat them better..."

Okay, there's anger there.  I concede that there was public accusation.  I concede that I am probably bat-shit crazy.  I don't think either is necessarily unfounded, considering this is the Internet, and that I've had some genuine, sustained online hate directed at my thoughts and decisions.  But I'll grant that I am operating without certain information and it has been for that reason that I took some of the more egregious accusations I made off my blog.

However ... I did not "check in" with this player before taking action because this player was in no way connected with any of the material that I posted on Tuesday.  He had not joined the campaign as yet, and therefore was not relevant to the decision I had to make Tuesday.  Granted, if I follow through with my plan, I will eventually add the content he helped create, and I am sure this is how he saw it.  So he has a reasonable expectation that I am bound to edit ... mmm ... around 80,000 words of campaign content first, so that I can then start to edit the content that included him.

I'm also sure that he isn't considering the amount of work involved with painstakingly and accurately re-editing the content of multiple contributors, as opposed to one contributor who wrote ten comments without much long-term consideration about how those comments might someday be used to educate others.  Which I am doing.  Which may, or may not, be my privilege.  It's a grey area.  Someone could, I suppose, sue for a % of my Patreon.  I don't know.  I know that I'm not going to restore the Senex campaign as a public platform and I know I'm not going to edit this much content for free.  I have limits on how generous I'm prepared to be with my time and my expertise.

I suspect that the mere fact of the publication Tuesday, and the lack of comments about it, has some people ... questioning my motivation here.  So I have tried to write a post explaining my position, and why more of these Senex rewrites are bound to appear in the future.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Senex Campaign 1: First Day in Dachau

After much thought, I've come to a decision about the Senex Campaign, which I took off-line some weeks ago.  I have decided to write it out, so that it can be preserved as I feel it ought to be preserved.

This gives me an opportunity to properly edit the content.  First and foremost, to remove immaterial content, such as comments about availability or status.  To clean up the grammatical and spelling errors.  To sort out discontinuities, particularly the temporal problem of players happening to comment long after a question was asked or already answered.  I can remove comments that went nowhere.  Or rather rude comments that added little to the overall experience.  And I can clarify wherever that might make the message clearer, even if the players at the time were forced to suffer my limitations.  Hell, I can even replace old diagrams with better, more aesthetic versions, if I so choose.

So here I start that process, with the player's first days in 17th century Dachau.  And slowly, steadily, I can complete the whole campaign, beginning to end.

Starting the Campaign

Note: "OOC" = Out of Campaign

It is early afternoon on a Sunday, May 5, 1650. Four of you are resting yourselves on the porch of a town gasthaus, The Pig, at the corner where a narrow lane meets with the town square. You’re waiting for your friend Kazimir to arrive. Not long ago, you watched the usual scattering of most of the citizenry from the town cathedral’s doors from your usual place across the square…whereupon the gasthaus threw open its doors for business. A number of stalls and tables were quickly erected by teams of young boys in the employ of their merchant masters, a goodly number of them against the side wall of the church, where you can the usual piles of vegetables and sacks. Various less blessed members of the town are picking them over, haggling with the sellers and stuffing their bought wares into sacks to be hauled off to the various common quarters of the town.

The bartender, Helmunt, fills your drinks at no charge. Upon an agreement, the four of you have been given the privilege of drinking free in exchange for your endorsement, your willingness to put an end to any trouble and the simple fact that you represent the higher end of Helmunt’s clients. He has hopes that your presence on his front stoop might expose the quality of his kitchen to a few of the better members of the town.

You’re bored. This has been the routine for nearly two months now. You four, Tiberius, Josef, Delfig and Anshelm, met on a cold morning in mid-spring (for the region), finding yourselves all stranger, fairly compatible with one another and equally of the opinion that many of the vicissitudes of life are unappreciated by most. At the moment, however, you could stand a few more changes than there have been.

But it is a fine day; May Day celebrations were four days ago. The Bishop of Friesing, the nominal lord of the town, along with Dachau’s burghermeister, gave a fine festival--and since, all of you have been fairly restless. The discussions around the table have suggested a number of reasons for this…that you can’t stay in this dull town forever. That it is these ridiculous Catholics with their fascinations with guilt and sin. That a small taste of the outside world has whet your appetites. But what to do now is left to your minds to conceive. So far, there has been little luck there.
Delfig Kôlhupfer, the Bard: Has anyone visited The Pig that would have given us reason to think they might have something interesting to talk about? Was anything said or done at the May festival that would have be interesting to follow up?
Is there anything interesting in terms of other ‘strangers’ being in town?
I’ll most likely be idly strumming my lyre and humming, seeing if anyone is interested in a song (and parting with a few coins in appreciation.)
DM: No, no and no.
Anshelm Helbelinc, the Thief: I spit and gesture at the marketgoers. “Like little rats, out and back to their holes.”
I reach for my snuff box. Is there anything unusual going on among the merchants and common folk? Any unusual people? Even if it’s not unusual, does anyone look like they’re casing the crowd for an easy mark?
DM: No, no and no. Gentlemen, this is not a ‘story’ campaign. There’s no rule, no plan, no set-up. Nothing will be handed to you on a plate. You will have to make a decision about what you, as a group, want to ‘do,’ and then set about doing it.
I know you’re not used to that. But sadly, there are no ‘unusual’ people. You might see the church’s head deacon poking about the chicken cages at one of the stalls.
Josef Mieszko, the Cleric: I’ll ask Helmunt the next time he comes to the table if he knows of any legends or rumors of the town or vicinity where profit might be gained by adventurers such as ourselves.
Tiberius, the Mage: “Gentlemen …” I take a slow swig of my drink. “We’re all bored. No disrespect to our fine patron for the free beer, of course.” I salute the owner. “But, why don’t we hire ourselves out to one of those merchants and see if we can’t see some real action?”
Anshelm: “Eh, why shouldn’t we? It’s better than chasing errant rats back to their hiding holes. Should we wait for friend Kazimir?” I continue scanning the market crowd while speaking. “Not sure I like the look of any of ‘em, though...”
[OOC: This doesn’t mean that Anshelm’s against it; he just doesn’t like people in general]
Delfig: I nod to myself as I remember a request. I dig into my pouch, fishing out four silver pieces and tossing them to Josef. “I know I’ll see that again ... especially when we get off our collective asses and start seeing what we can see.”
Josef: “Thanks, Delfig.”
Delfig: “Lets wander about and see what is happening.”
With that, I will stand and start walking about the marketplace, strumming my lyre. If any seem interested, I’ll greet them and play a bit if they seem interested. I make sure to approach the various merchants, nodding and smiling, calling out a friendly greeting. If any seem inclined to talk, then I’ll start a conversation with them, inquiring about any local news or if they have any sort of interesting work to discuss.
Anshelm: “Well, I guess Delfig’s made our decision for us. A pretty song, at least.” I follow the bard into the crowd.
DM: People show a vague interest in Delfig; but of course, they’ve seen him before, doing exactly this most every day; and frankly, there are better bards in the town.
Delfig: If there’s nothing of interest around the market and everyone seems boring, I’ll go back and join Josef and Tiberius and suggest that perhaps we go for a walk away from town along one of the roads. Maybe it’s time for a road trip to Ingolstadt.

While Delfig and Anshelm wander out and back, Josef and Tiberius make their own plans.
Josef: I’ll go to the grocer and purchase some rations, and then return to the gasthaus.
Tiberius: I get up as well, and search among the merchants who have the more expensive wares, asking if they need any guards for their caravans.
DM: Helmunt the bartender, having overhead Tiberius’s suggestion, will stop Josef and Tiberius just before they go.
Helmunt (npc bartender): “Are you bonded to the merchant’s guild? Would it be possible for me to post a small notice in favor of my establishment?”
Tiberius: “An excellent idea, my good man.”
Josef: We’re not bonded, no. But perhaps we should go to the Guildhall then to sell our services instead of frightening the fishmongers and fruit vendors!
DM: Helmunt is confused by Tiberius’s answer. He looks askance at Josef.
Helmunt (slowly): “Would you be hired if you were not bonded?”
Josef: My guess, Tiberius, is that we’d be on our own with the Merchant’s Guild. There must be a guildhall somewhere. I’d not be opposed to hiring on to a march to Nuremburg, either.
Tiberius (not answering Helmunt): I ask Helmunt the location of the guild hall and start there.
Josef: “Tiberius, wait! I’m not certain that such a place exists. Thinking about it, it seems that perhaps we’d have a better time talking to one or a few of the shopkeepers who provided us our gear of late. It seems it would be one of these men, who actually deal in goods brought into town, that might be inclined to bond us.”
Tiberius: “Okay, let’s do that.”
DM: You need not ask. The merchant’s guild hall is the large three-story building across the principal square from the cathedral.
Josef: Perhaps the apothecary is in need of some materials - I used to engage in similar activities in my youth. Or we could go hunting, and sell pelts to the furrier. Oh heck. “Let’s you and I, as learned men Tiberius, inquire at the Merchant’s Guild.”
Tiberius: “Then, we’re agreed.” Setting down my cup, I walk over to the guild hall with Josef.

The details of the characters’ actions are interrupted as the players have a discussion about merchants and their interests, learning something about the trade in Dachau.
Anshelm: How often do merchant caravans enter or leave Dachau? Is anyone selling any sort of luxury item, something that might attract the attention of highwaymen, etcetera?
Josef: I wonder. The roads here seem safe - I wonder how much need there would be for such protection as we might provide. Still, money is money - and I have precious little.
DM: The principle trade route reaches from Italy through Innsbruck in the south, to Northern Germany through Nuremberg, north of Dachau. Beer, precision tools and metals tend to move south; fabrics, spices, incense and perfumes tend to come north. Everything attracts the attention of highwaymen. The roads are not that safe.

continued elsewhere ...

This is just a small part of the first day, and the first of many such posts.  I am going to divide them into posts of 10,000 words or so, and put that content on the Master Class blog.  After all, the primary value of these posts to me is as source material for those deconstructions.

To see the rest of this post, you must pledge at least $3 to my Patreon account. This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class, but you must do it soon if you wish to see this post before August 1st.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Point and Click ~ Remaining Dev-6 Graphs

Father's Day and I am happily sitting at home working on projects that I love.  I'm not a fan of the day; I don't make my daughter cater to me, which puts her in the position of having to cater to her in-laws instead.  Which is a shame, but ... c'est la vie.

I'm completing the remaining knowledge tables that apply to regions with a 6 Development: animal husbandry, archery, mining and the wheel.  Here's the four of those things, all at once:

Animal Husbandry



The Wheel

Saturday, June 16, 2018

NPCs Lie

I want to say as a DM that there is little that frustrates me as much as role-players who must treat every encounter with excessive dramatic importance, that see every NPC like a pantomime villain or themselves as the center of the setting's universe.  Of course, this is trained into players, who are the center of the universe as far as most settings go.  It is no mystery for a player that the king of the country wants to meet with them personally, or that some powerful wizard has taken the time to choose this particular no account group of wanderers for the most important adventuring business imaginable.  The tropes surrounding role-playing are as anvilicious as they are common, particularly in that savvy players ~ most of all ~ come to expect the anvil to be dropped right on their heads, all the time.

So much that they can't help themselves from looking straight up at the DM, waiting for it.

This is a trial and a half if the goal is to run a nuanced, subtle campaign where the NPCs have their own lives, their own agendas, and couldn't care a whit for the party's involvement ... in fact, the party's involvement is often directly not desirable.  Yet with some parties, as the DM sets up the scene where the townspeople all appear to say, "Get out, you're not wanted here," we can count on the players to hear that with a *nudge nudge* *wink wink* no matter what we say or how we say it.

This is probably the hardest issue I have with experienced players.  It is a problem I never have with newcomers.  This tells me that it is a problem that is trained into players, most likely by badly designed adventures, supported by poorly written exposition to enable the most cliched of motivators.  The ever-present MacGuffin, for example, that we cling to as DMs because it's easy and players understand it.

All too often when we don't use a blunt instrument to put the adventure into the player's skulls, it just doesn't get there.

Antoine le Nain's Three Strangers

At the start of my online campaign in 2009, members of the party stepped out of the town of Dachau and into the nearby countryside.  Whereupon I described this simple scene:
DM: You find a small collection of eight cotter's shacks, cotters being landless people allowed to occupy the lord's land in exchange for their perpetual labor. This being Sunday, none are at work in the fields, but are instead commanded to not work at any activity.
Despite your efforts to remain hidden, your darker appearance against the white boughs is noticed rather quickly. Several men, who had been lounging and waiting for the sun to fall, rise now, grasping the nearest club like object to hand and stand staring at you distrustfully.

Here we have a perfectly reasonable reaction on the part of the cottagers.  This is their home.  It is Sunday and they are surrounded by their families.  Strangers show up, armoured and with weapons, in a place where no one with the money to buy armor has any reason to go.  Of course they're going to be distrustful!  Of course they're going to be sure they have hold of a club or two.  Being that its a party, there's no livery on these strangers, no indication that its the guard.  The party could be anyone!

continued elsewhere ...

This is the first of two such posts I will be writing in the month of June for the Tao's Master Class blog, where the rest of this post can be found. Examples on the Tao of D&D blog can be found here and here.

To see the rest of this post, you must pledge at least $3 to my Patreon account. This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class, but you must do it soon if you wish to see this post before August 1st.

Because it is difficult to keep track of who is donating $3 to me each month, I am no longer accepting small direct donations for the Master Class blog.

Working ...

I just want to drop a note to say that I'm working on the masterclass post for mid-June and should have that post up by tomorrow.   I want to give it my best effort and I am rethinking some of the ideas inside the content.

I'm also preparing for a podcast I've been invited on, that's being recorded tomorrow.  I'll keep the reader posted on that, of course.

This is just a matter of several things coming together at the same time, making my mid-June somewhat pressed for time.  Rest assured, the content is coming.

In the meantime, as I met a player of D&D who had not seen the D&D content that appeared on Sixty Minutes in the 1980s, I offer this:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Agriculture Graph

When I started this process, I thought the layout was going to be nit-picky and arduous, but to tell the truth I'm rather enjoying it.  Most of this research was already done; so most of what I'm doing here is reformatting ... but I am finding that process more relational and comparative than the collection of notes that I have.  True, the notes are more copious, as is the source material for this.  But working on the charts has been fun.

Agriculture comes into existence with development 6; before that, it is technically "gathering," which is covered on the hunting page.  I have four more of these, before going back to my description of Stavanger ... but even then I have ideas for more visual aids on these same lines, that I look forward to working on.

I am experimenting with different backgrounds.  This seems too washed out for me; a more stark design is called for, but I haven't settled on what that would be.

Incidentally, when I do get to development 7 cultures, and that is in the future, I'll be expanding on all these pages and adding still new ones.  It's all very interesting for me; it locks together several juxtaposed pleasures: history, visual design, game play and worldbuilding, as well as raw creativity.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mysticism Graph

This covers details on development-5 cultures in my game.  For those who might be interested, you can find further information on shamanism and animism on my wiki, as well as wild magic.  I do recommend searching tokens, totems, ancestor shrines (African) and ancestral shrines (Chinese), the manner in which frankincense is cultivated, sacred places, geoglyphs and sacred isles.  All of this makes good adventure fodder, whatever world you might happen to be running.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Hunting Graph

Like the fishing chart, we have the collection of building blocks for the wilderness, in which predatory hunting is the only "knowledge," participated in singly or in groups (such as by wolves or other carnivorous family groups).

Hunting expands technologies and that makes more building blocks at the very bottom level of development ... and that in turn changes when hunting is adjusted by the presence of archery, animal husbandry and agriculture.

I swear.  I'm showing these charts around to my immediate families and players and all I get back is a blank stare and a vague compliment.  I feel like Syndrome.

Fishing Graph

My biggest issue with the development system is keeping the content straight in my head, so that I can tailor changes that enter in with new developments.  Everything in the diagram above is related to just fishing knowledge ... though certain things throughout might be applied to other things, such as bows for hunting or boats for military raiding.  The goal here is only to provide a visual relationship between the actual technical knowledge, what physical things that creates, how that affects culture, what improvements exist, what trade references the improvements derive from and what building blocks are created by the composite of the above.

The table isn't complete, even for the development stages meant.  This includes merely that which I've been able to think of, or which was tagged by something I researched.  There's always room to add something else if the notion of it presents itself.

Just a quick run-down.  References are invented products that are integral to my trade system.  Hexes that serve as physical locations for the presence of these references are called "improvements" ~ which are a special form of building block, which I have been describing at length for many weeks now.  Improvements increase the amount of food, labor or wealth, as well as more esoteric things such as culture, health or happiness, depending on what the reference is.  Most hexes, regardless of possessing an improvement, will have some degree of food, labor or wealth production.  Improvements just improve that.

Building blocks largely derive from technology; but may potentially derive from anything.

Here I'm dividing "knowledge" from "technology" so as to distinguish what is known from what is built with that knowledge.

Finally, cultural aspects derive from the use of technology or knowledge.

Beyond this, I think the table above is self-explanatory.  Please do not hesitate to ask questions about it.

I plan to begin constructing tables like this for every type of knowledge that applies.  So far, apart from fishing, I have introduced hunting, meditation, agriculture, animal husbandry, archery, mining and the wheel.  I then intend to update these as I progress with development stages, while continuing to add more sources of knowledge.  So I have a job ahead of me.

I was originally trying to build the table above in excel; but it was simply getting visually out of hand.  I am hoping this more graphic example is clearer, more flexible and ultimately more readable by people who don't have the benefit of reading my thoughts.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Starvation & Half-Rations

Recently, the online party in the Juvenis campaign miscalculated the depth of the dungeon they were entering and found themselves unexpectedly short of food ... and to deal with the problem as a DM, I found myself turning to a very old methodology that I'd developed more than two decades ago.  All this time, I had never actually built a set of rules to manage starvation.  As I write this, the trial has passed for the party, but I find myself wanting to settle on a hunger-starvation system nonetheless.

The principle problem is that it can take humans an extremely long time to die by starvation, particularly if they are able to get at least a little food.  For example, 19 men survived a journey of 1,500 miles on an ice floe for six months at the close of the disastrous Polaris expedition, from 1871 to 1873.  These are men who had been on bare rations for a year prior to the loss of their ship Polaris, who survived by straining just enough shrimp from the sea to give them each as little as an ounce a day, supported by the killing of a very rare seal, which might be gotten once in three to four weeks.  And a seal does not go far between 19 men.

Some people do just give out ... but many will survive, though they may not find the energy to act.  The goal, then, is to not to build a system of saving throws, in which the character simply dies, but a slow, grinding means of eventually killing a character off, while giving the potential for that character to survive a long, long time.

My idea is that the character would suffer acutely right at the start.  That going without food initially has a severe effect, dropping the character's ability stats badly on the first day of feeling the pinch, and an equal amount on the second day.  However, while this penalty doesn't go away, the severity of the increase diminishes as time passes.

Suppose the character is reduced to acting on half rations, and we want to know precisely what sort of effect that will have.  I propose the table on the right as an initial proposal ~ there's more to come on the subject, but I want to be sure this part is understood first.

"Half-rations" is defined as an insufficient amount of food, below the amount that is required, but more than half that amount.  If we suppose the character needs 2 kg of food in a given day in order to do heavy work, spread between two or three meals, then half rations would be anywhere between 1 kg and less than 2 kg.  How much less is really up to us; but for game purposes, we don't want to reward the clever player who figures out that we will handwave two grams below the amount needed.  We should then consider the numbers to be absolute.

Still, if we want to quibble, there's room for it on this table.  If a day of half rations lowers your ability stats by 10%, we can argue that 1.9 kg should reduce the stats only 1/10th of 10%, or a mere 1%.  It depends on how fine we want to split that hair.  We can argue that even 1% less than a 17 is 16.83, which we can state is a defacto 16 for game purposes.  That would discourage players from splitting hairs ... but we can go full game, too, and say that any deficiency in the amount of food is enough to cut stats the full 10%.  I personally lean to this approach, as I just don't want to reward cheap players.

Okay, let me explain the table.  As I say, that 1st day hurts, as does the 2nd day.  Both see a severe drop in the character's stats.  But then the idea of living with hunger begins to take hold, so that the 3rd and 4th days cause an additional penalty of only 5% each.  The 5th, 6th and 7th days add a penalty of only 3.3% each.  And finally the 8th through 12th days cause further penalties of only 2% per day.

I am extrapolating this on the Fibonacci series (endlessly useful), so that further 10% segments are successively divided by 8, 13, 21, 34 and 55.  Altogether, that would create a starvation that would kill everyone in 143 days, or just under five months, somewhat crueler than the measure of the Polaris expedition survivors, but in line with other, similar experiences, such as Shackleton's adventure or John Franklin's first expedition ~ the one he wasn't lost in ~ overland through the Northwest Territories.  However, this doesn't take into account the effects of eating less than half rations.  How would that work?

My choice would be to count quarter rations up to half rations as two days of starvation; and then to count one-eighth rations up to a quarter rations as three days.  Anything less than one-eighth would count as four days.  That would bring starvation around a little faster than the Polaris expedition, but then we're not dealing with the healthier 19th century human.  In any case, one could live a long, long time on one-eighth rations.

My food rules say that a sedentary character, one who needs to do little more than rest, make food for themselves and manage the small duties of living in a camp, must eat two pounds of food a day (my 17th century system uses imperial units).  One-eighth of this is a mere 4 oz. per day.  If the character tried to do hard work, that would require twice as much; and if the character were to take a part in battle, three times as much.  But let's say we're sedentary characters, with little food, waiting to be rescued before we all die of starvation.  Or by some other means.

How would this work, exactly.  Well, that's a very long table ... but let's go as far as 33 days.  From day 13 to day 20, the character is losing 1.25% of their stats each day, and from day 21 through day 33, the character is losing only 0.77% of their stats each day:

Here we can see the days of reduction to stats applied to a real character, that of Rob Munro the Scot from my Juvenis campaign, a druid.  The numbers drop precipitously at the start, quickly flattening out at the high scores drop into the sixes and sevens after two weeks.  The reader can see that I've highlighted the ability stats as they drop, in lighter orange for the most part, and under the dexterity at one point, in a darker tone.

The first shading indicates the point at which the druid no longer has the necessary stats to act as a druid.  Being old school regarding D&D stats, the druid needs a 12 wisdom and a 15 charisma; and every other stat has to be 6 or higher, as the old Player's Handbook indicates.  Here, the character's wisdom, dexterity and charisma all fall off the minimum on the third day.  That is sobering.

On the 19th day, the character's dexterity falls below 3, typically viewed as the minimum roll for any character.  I see that as significant, as the point in which the character must make an ability check to perform any dexterous activity, even walking or feeding themselves.  And since that check is going to fail 90% of the time, this particular character is going to suffer very badly from any long-term starvation.  That 7 dexterity is a harsh disability.  Still, there's nothing that says a check to see if the character could walk can't be done as often as necessary, noting the time this would spend as the character eventually got the strength to rise, only to collapse again a few rounds later.

That brings me to the subject of ability checks in general.  When the party was starving in the game of late, I had the active members all make an ability check against a random stat, once per day.  For example, I had the druid here make a check against constitution, which the character succeeded.  On some level, because the characters were following a route through a familiar, cleared dungeon,  I could have asked for more than one check (as it is a dangerous place) ~ but normally, I wouldn't ask for any checks unless the players did something purposefully dangerous.  My logic was that they did not "feel like themselves," and that this justified at least one check.

I think I'd increase the number of checks being made per day over time: perhaps 2 checks per day on the start of the fifth day, then three checks starting on the 9th day, and so on.  After a while, though the characters could manage to stay alive, they'd yet become virtually helpess ... particularly as every stat dropped below a 3.

That 3 could be treated as another threshold, where constitution was concerned.  Breathing is a constitutional action.  Just as the heart beating is a strength issue; or being able to think is an intelligence requirement.  At some point, having to be constantly making a roll for these things ought to end in the body just giving up the ghost.

The question is when, or how.  I haven't quite worked that out yet.  I like this scheme so far ... but it still has holes that I need to fill.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Authentic RPG Podcast, with JB

Introducing another episode of my first series of podcasts, with JB from the B/X Blackrazor blog.  JB has been blogging for nine years and playing just about as long as I have.  I get more viewers from his sight than from any other site on the web, 'cept straight from google.  He's an ardent supporter, a regular reader and commenter and in this podcast he does most of the talking.

Please raise a glass to JB's efforts, enjoy the podcast and take a moment or two to consider whether or not you'd like to get involved with my second season of podcasts, which I'll be explaining in about two weeks, when I publish my last podcast of the first season.

I'm sorry that these have gotten further and further apart.  I think with my personal style, I'm comfortable with putting out a podcast when it is done, and not when a schedule dictates.  I guess I'm just too much of a Bohemian to respect schedules.