Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Dungeon's Front Door Book is Available!


The Dungeon's Front Door & Other Things in the Deep Dark is available for purchase.  At least, the paperback is.

The eBook will take a bit of time yet (be patient, the eBook thing is a real mess, will take me much more time to get it sorted).

Here's a shot of the back and front cover (it would wrap around the book):

Here is the reason why I don't believe in kickstarters.  I'd rather just produce the product and have interested parties invest in the actual existence of the thing.

Please consider buying a copy!

Monday, March 2, 2015

DFD Text

The text on the Dungeon's Front Door is settled.  The book is done.  I need only go through the process of publishing it now, putting it online.

The only difficult obstacle to this, right now, is the blurb that needs to be written for the book's back cover.  The front cover, as the reader knows, is finished; though I believe I'm going to tweak it to rid the cover of the white stalactite that is on the right edge.

The other short book included a blurb that read,

"In ten essays discussing the ins and outs of role-playing a character, the present state of D&D, the aftershock of DMing a game and more, Alexis Smolensk uses his 35 years of experience running and playing the game to entertain and challenge the minds of role-players everywhere. Smolensk pulls apart the motivations behind there being multiple editions of the game, making and breaking camp in the adventure and the intricacies of wild magic, offering humour and inspiration as well. Called by some a mad scientist of RPG writing, and by others a ‘Quixotic bastard,’ Alexis Smolensk may be the most gonzo, over-the-top old school grognard that has ever run the game!"

It's that end, that I've made bold, that I like.  I ripped it from things people have said about me over the years.

There were also three other quotes, pulled from people who commented on various essays in that book:

  • "Grand" - Poor Meepo's Almanac
  • "Never again will I go down into a cave without blankets." - Matt Williams
  • "This made me late for my bus this morning, Thanks." - Are Braaten
  • "I love this, its pure, clean, and murky-grey as my own mind." - Eid

I'd like to do something like this again.  I'd like to go back through my comments this last few months and pull things out that describe me, generally.

Right now, I could probably put the book together tonight and make it available for sale - but it's not good to rush these things.  I am, however, going online with it tomorrow, and NOT the 7th.  Woot!

In the meantime, if anybody wants to point out a comment they've made about me in the past, or something new they'd like to say about me today, to get it on the back of the book as a 'review' of my writing (including getting your blog's name in print, inside bookstores and on D&D shelves world-wide), then do it now.  You have about 12, 14 hours.  Then it will be too late.

Here`s hoping people are looking forward to the book.

Working on Two Things

I have the content for the book back from the editor, so putting the book together as best I can today.  Took a break to finish this:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The "Official" Football

John Arendt at Dreams in the Lich House has an interesting theory based on rumours (facts?) related to the WOTC label.  Apparently there have been layoffs following the production of 5th edition and the company has failed to promote new content in recent months.  Is the WOTC ending their pursuit of new developed content?  Are they going to sit on their laurels and soak up income off past content, alone?

I certainly hope so.

Naturally, Arendt's suggestion produces 'concern' and 'sadness' at the prospect.  My position, on the other hand,  is just the sort of thing that alienates the community.  Not my acerbic tone.  Not my unwillingness to compromise.  This.  Because I can't wait for the WOTC to shut the fuck up and stop muddying the water . . . and I don't care about how disappointed this makes the fan-boys.

The WOTC's content is like the "official" NFL football.  It is that ridiculous status that some 10-year-old boy adopts when his Daddy has gone out and purchased the football that the NFL has stamped with their name, their validation and their snobbery.  Suddenly, it's impossible in the neighborhood to play with any other football, even the soft, comfortable, well-worn and easy-to-hold football we've played with the last three years.  Now everyone has to play with the hard, fat, cheaply-made plastic football because a corporation has added the word "official" in machined lettering.

Part of the concern and sadness, I know, is the fear that role-playing will die if the company fails to keep it fresh and new.  There are many who are somehow convinced that we only gather together at our tables and play the game, we only discuss the game on the internet, we only get into flame wars about aspects of the game because the company continues to will the game into existence.  If the company surrenders, decides it's no longer profitable to keep with the present program, then that's it.  Thank you everyone for coming.  It has been a nice forty years.

Yet we don't need "official" sanction.  We don't need "official" content.  We certainly don't need this endless mess of multiple systems made infinitely worse by the insistence by the company of not maintaining continuity in their own product.

How many times has the reader played a module that strangely changed the rules on some aspect of the game?  How weird is it that gaming sessions sponsored by the company will not allow characters to be chaotic evil?  How many times have you debated a rules lawyer who doesn't see the rules the way you do because this module, this splatbook, this collection of writings, etcetera, say the exact opposite to the rules you paid for?  How many interpretations are there for the damage a shocking grasp does to a person in armour vs. a person standing in water vs. a person whose otherwise not grounded, etc.  How many times has your game been stopped short because people can't agree on the after effects of lightning bolts, fireballs, ice storms and a hundred other game features - because the company itself has never agreed on these things from product to product?

How many times have you purchased a module that you've launched for a party, only to have party members go out between the first and second sessions to buy the module themselves?  How many arguments has this started when you chose to change something about the module and they had the original - or had played the original sometime before?

How many times have you paid good money only to be let down?

How many times have you cursed the WOTC . . . only to forgive them because you're addicted to new product?

Since it's inception, D&D has never had the opportunity to establish a tradition.  From the day it was launched, it was immediately upgraded, updated and changed.  It was challenged by dozens of other systems and then hundreds of other systems.  Even the DMG from 1979 doesn't agree with the Monster Manual published in 1977 - a difference of only two years at a time when a highly limited number of people were playing.  This game came into existence broken, it has been hacked at and beaten, broken again, reset, adjusted, amputated, pumped full of blood, bled, stabbed, pronounced dead on the table and revived again, only to be castrated.  This game has never been allowed to simply be alive.

If the company would get out; if the boardrooms would get out; if all the people who didn't care about the game would just get out; there's a chance the game could find its centre.  Given two or three decades of status quo, a generation of players could finally decide on what works, what doesn't, what should never have been and what isn't worth caring about.  Given a generation, those people who don't care enough about the game to be proactive would slide quietly, ignominiously out of the picture and the remainder would carry on, discussing, debating the issues, until a settlement could be made that most of the participants could agree on.  If the kid with the father who thinks we should all be playing with an 'official' football would just go home, the rest of us could play with a pigskin that could be thrown and caught a country mile.

We just need time to catch our breath.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

White Deserts in Spain

Like with this post, I noticed something when I was looking at Google Earth.  Below are images of southern Spain, where everything is inexplicably white:

At first, I presumed it was a poor camera image - there's lots of that on Google Earth, though it's disappearing.  Zooming in close, however, it looks like endless white fields:

But these are not fields.  In fact, they are greenhouses:

I was able to find this website describing them, but the text is cut off.  I was able to recover it.  The whole text reads,

"This sea of plastic, the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world, did not exist 35 years ago. It now covers almost 40.000 ha. An average of 200 mm of rainfall a year falls on what used to be a dry savannah where a few herds roamed. This pluviometry technically means that this part of the Almeria province is a desert. The cold greenhouses are home to fruit production, especially intensive vegetable production, which uses 1 cubic meter of water per m2 a year, that is to say 4 to 5 times more than the little rainfall provides. The plants grow on an artificial substrate made of sand covered in black plastic and get their water from forage. Half of them have been installed illegally and some of them draw water from fossil groundwater. The environmental balance is disturbed as is the soil, which is polluted by fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides used to increase the rate of the yields. The lack of water, increasing salinity and the exploitation of cheap immigrant (and often illegal) labour show the limitations of this system. There are now 100.000 ha of crops in greenhouses in Spain (ten times more than in France). On the international agricultural market Andalusia is the region that exports the most market-garden products, fruits and vegetables in the whole Europe."

The world is very interesting.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mr. Nimoy

Now, that is a pity.  I'm not usually inclined to write obits; but I am sincerely sorry for the loss of Leonard Nimoy.  That's all I will say - except that the feeling goes very deep.

Mapping Gerona

Indulge me, please.  I'm a terribly lonely person.

(Not really.  Who is taking the pictures, hm?)

Yesterday I posted a map of Spain that is in progress.  It still is.  But I thought I might do again something I did with Switzerland ages ago.

Take a corner of Spain - Catalonia, shown below:

I've left the scale on the map - so the reader can see that one hex is slightly less than one inch.  Here I've plotted the cities, I've drawn in the coast line, which is as painstaking as the city plotting.  I've added circles to indicate the 'high country' and arrows to show where the rivers ought to go.  Black circles indicate that the hex should display the highest elevation for the hex.  These hexes have no centres.  Orange circles do have centres; these hexes should show the elevation for the lowest centre in the hex.

Take note of the dotted lines around the text boxes.  Also take note that we'll have to make changes about what is on top of what; those centre circles on the coastline, for instance, should be on top of the coastline.  These are things we want to fix.

Here I've removed the circles for hexes colored orange, changing the elevation numbers on in the bottom right corner when applicable.  I've also added blue numbers for each hex where the river flows through.  These indicate the approximate size of the river - it works out to about 0.25 cubic meters of water per second per number - but really, it is just a general assessment for comparison to other rivers.  An ordinary mountain stream typically has a discharge of 1 meter per second - so it would be rated at '4' on the map above.

Rivers tend not to gather much energy on flat plains - which describes Gerona below the town of Olot.  Incidentally, I found out yesterday from looking at Google Earth that Olot is a volcanic zone.  I like these little surprises.

All I've done here is draw in the west border for the Gerona Marquisate (Spanish title).  It replaces the green line that can be seen in the prior map.  Notice that it, too, overlaps the coastline.  In the end it should be lower than the coast.

Here I've drawn in the small river/stream running through Gerona.  I've moved the river numbers a bit to make room for the river.  I've also tweaked all the place names (only in Gerona) so that they're not overlapping the centre circles they describe.  Incidentally, the font sizes for the centres are based on their size:

  • 8pt - less than 1000 residents (Banyoles)
  • 9pt - 1000-3999 residents (Figueras)
  • 11pt - 4000-15999 residents (Mataro)
  • 13pt - 16000-63999 residents (Gerona)
  • 15pt - 64000-255999 residents
  • 17pt - 256000 residents or more (Barcelona)
I haven't got any cities with more than a million inhabitants - so far.  I haven't done China and I don't have a final number for London yet.  Paris has 940,000.  Barcelona is 534,000 (was huge in the Renaissance).

The next step is to further define the coastline by covering the water side of coastal hexes with a shape that corresponds to the coastline.  Here I've shown it outlined in black, before putting it behind the blue line of the coast where it will partially cover the coastal hexes.

There, I've put the coast further back.  The trick here is to overlap things in the right order; the water overtop the hexes and the coast line overtop the water.  Note that the one river and the border (both at the top of Gerona and at the bottom) is still showing over the water.  We'll need to fix that.  If you're paying attention, you'll see that the elevation number for the hex containing Gerona is in the upper right corner of the hex, rather than the lower right.  That's because in the lower right it would conflict with the center circle for La Bisbal.  Moving it up looks better.

There's very little left.  There's a number next to Ripoll that needs to be moved on top of the border line and the all the hexes need to be colored according to its elevation:

There, done.  I've fixed the borders, moving them back, fixed the river, fixed that number in the La Pobla hex, centered the title for the Cerdanya county, colored the hexes and removed the feature that shows the boundary around text boxes.  Just like that, it looks like my maps normally look.

If I've done this right, the reader should be able to run the images as a slide show, with minimal jiggling between pictures.  This really isn't as much work as it looks - it took much longer to cut the pictures, make myself pause as I did and set them up for the post.  Altogether, what's shown is about 20 minutes of work.  The bigger part is the annoying city placement and coastline drawing.

Half-Thoughts on Traps

The Dungeon's Front Door was going to include the following material, but it was cut for not fitting into the theme of the essay.  I thought I ought to include the content somewhere, however.

Traps are founded on well-understood principles: that they might be found anywhere; that they can be detected; that they can be deactivated . . . and if not detected or removed, that they will deliver damage, poison or some other consequence.  But are we willing to consider the possibility of traps that have no effects?

The practical joke with the little flag that pops out of the gun and says BANG! - though crass, remains disconcerting if the gun looks real.  The dungeon trap that is easily found - yet strangely difficult or even impossible to remove (because it is not, in fact, a trap) can easily tie a party up for a long time.  The party will go into it with the assumption that any trap can be removed.  Since this 'trap' has no discernable mechanism, however - what should the party do then?

We can also introduce a circumstance where the removal of one trap will guarantee the firing of a second trap.  We can play with this idea in several ways.  We can allow the players to find both traps (or all of them, if more than two are involved) with one roll, so that they can see plainly how the traps are rigged to go off.  Or we can stipulate that only some of the traps are found, depending on whether or not the thief rolls successfully for each trap.  I personally prefer the first option - because that suggests the thief could stop trap A from setting off trap B, if the cord on trap C is pulled in this manner (using the party's fighter) and if this flagstone in the corner is stood on (using the party's bard), compelling all the players to take some part.  Then if the traps go off, it could be the fault of the mage or the druid.  

There is a certain fascination, however, if the party realizes there are more traps, but they don't know how many or even how these traps are connected.  Add in that some of these traps may be 'dummies' and we have a real conundrum.  Hah.  And I keep saying that I don't like puzzles in dungeons!

We don't have to consider the impracticality of some fool putting this arrangement in place, do we?  I mean, we've seen Saw, we have other cultural references - we're just willing to accept that some premise exists.  A party, I'm sure, would think it reasonable that someone would put something valuable behind a mess like this.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Black Fly

Just for fun . . . and for a thought or two to be given to parties roaming the woods.


This is what I do to relax.

Here's a section of Spain that I'm working to map, which at this stage consists only of plotting cities:

This is painstaking work.  Each hex covers a range of latitude and longitude; the city is then plotted inside the hex based on its own precise location.  I insist on being as accurate as possible.  Occasionally, it can happen that there are as many as seven towns & cities in the same hex (an example of that can be seen in the upper right hand corner, with Alcora, Burriana, Castello, La Vall, Nules, Onda and Villareal all sharing the hex.  These are all real places; images can be found on Google.

It is done with Microsoft Publisher.  I simply create a circle (white with a black fill) that is 0.1 x 0.1 inches (.254 cm), then create a text box next to the circle.  Yay, mapmaking.

I keep track of all the data on excel:

The left file corresponds to the map above.  The lines in excel shown are the bottom line of the map.  If you look closely, you can see Alicante in the bottom right corner of the map; in excel, it appears on line BJ1074.  The 'ring' describes the horizontal line of hexes.  The Alicante hex extends from longitude 359.33 to 359.65 (I'm using 360 degrees measured from Greenwich, rather than a +/- arrangement of E/W).

The right file shows the city details for the next ring, which would be no. 180 (measured from the north pole).  Each hex is 20 miles in diameter.  When I finish this post, I will begin plotting Cordoba.  It would be off this map, below and to the left of the bottom left corner.  Really, I should include picture of the line where Cordoba would go, so here it is:

See?  Cordoba has a latitude of 37.88 and a longitude of 355.23.  It is in Andalucia, in its own province.  'E-01' indicates the map where the highlighted hex can be found.

Once the cities are placed, this tells me where the boundaries ought to be - I try to keep the hexes wholly under one jurisdiction, but often I have multiple cities in on hex that are in fact in different provinces (researched on the internet), so the hex has to be split up.

Anyway, like I said, this is relaxation time when I'm not trying to make text fit the theme I've determined for a given essay.  I have one more of those that I have to go through before giving it to the editor - who has begun giving me back content already.  I think I may be able to get a book up before the 7th of March.  Quality before speed, though.

I need to go rest now.

A Well-Meaning Exchange

I always think people are going to miss these back comments:

Scott Driver:

A close "artsy" friend has a storefront where she sells boho shit that she's culled from thrifts in the area. Until recently she did it to keep busy while selling her art and treading water. It's not normally sustainable without another income stream. (In her case, her husband ... she's very talented but it's tough to make a living on visual art here.)

She has the social media network you'd expect of an interesting, talented, vivacious person. She starts posting each thrift find on Instagram ... things change. Now she posts whatever she finds, most of which is horseshit, and just based on her personality and a wide net, someone ALWAYS asks "omg how much and what size??" then rushes to buy it. It's completely altered how she views her dorky time-sink of a storefront. Now it's a thing.

Here's my question: Your in-person salesmanship - that face you give randoms at a con or a bookstore - are you doing that online anywhere? As far as I know, you're acerbic and uncompromising online, but willing to glad-hand and suffer fools in person.

You want to sell books or you wouldn't be sitting there watching assholes in front of a Chapters. Why are you willing to make salesman faces in person, where you might talk to three people, but not here, where you could reach a LOT more if you used the same salesman face? It seems perverse.

Alexis Smolensk:

Interesting. I am often astounded at the idea that people prefer to buy from a 'salesman face.' I find them quite off-putting, myself.

I am acerbic and uncompromising online - in two specific ways. Either I have identified an individual as a fuckwit, and I say so, or I attack wide groups of people for having what I consider to be a stupid opinion.

I never, ever, go after an individual person for no reason.

In person, whether I am selling or not, I am remarkably pleasant, friendly, witty, honest and forthright - particularly with strangers whom I do not know and therefore have no reason to dislike. This is why Toronto was an epiphany. I found I could speak quite candidly and absolutely honestly about the book, receiving in kind interest, a desire to know more and a remarkable approval of what I was doing. People who bought books from me did not feel pressured, duped, unsure or 'sold.' They felt enlightened, happy, encouraged and with a bounce in their step. People who bought the small book one day read it in a single night and came back the next day to buy the large book. I didn't have to slap on a 'sales face.' I had the product these people were desperate to buy.

When I am friendly, sweet, gentle in my content, full of tolerance and consideration online, I get trolls who hijack the conversation, treat my blog like a welcome mat, treat my readers like morons and show zero respect for anything that I've written.

Granted, there has always been a part of me that, as you say, does not suffer fools to live. Neither do universities, professional workplaces, the halls of power, people who make a lot of money for a living nor any person of intellect.

The difference between me and all of them is that I'm a WRITER; I write. Most of the extremely smart people I know do not give a shit about anything that happens online. This online community holds no interest for them.

I disagree. I think the world can be changed online. I don't think, however, that it can be changed by being nice.

TED Talks are nice. TED Talks are proving to be a dismal failure.

Now, Scott, I'll be frank with you, because I find you a bright guy. You may have noticed that I'm not selling the kind of thing your friend with the Instagram account is selling. She has a product that STUPID people will buy.

I am not selling something that STUPID people are interested in. I'm not selling cute, popular, sweet, precious, easy, stuff that will solve problems or a balm for people's ills. I am selling hard work, invention, creativity, failure and an admittance that you are inadequate. I'm selling the same philosophy that I live by every day. I'm not smart enough. I'm not working hard enough. I haven't produced enough value yet. This is what drives me forward and it is what I am selling.

I have a limited market. Despite that, in the last six months I have sold 250 books. My overall income from being acerbic and uncompromising has earned me more than $4,500. This is not enough to live on, but . . . it is enough to be proud of. I count these as people who want very BADLY to excel. I think these are amazing people. They put up with all my shit and my intolerance, then they tell me that I'm changing their game and their perceptions, that their players are loving the change and that they are running the best campaigns of their lives.

My god man. This seems perverse to you?

If you want compromise, if you want sales, I suggest you knock at the WOTC's door. Instead, you're here.

My technique must be working, no?

Listen, seriously. If you really feel that I should take steps to change myself in order to sell more - then I presume you feel that more people should read my books. If that is how you feel - if that is how you REALLY feel - then get off your ass and point your friends in my direction. Write a review for Amazon, write another for Lulu, write it on your facebook, write it on Reddit. Your pitching my book online is TEN TIMES more valuable than me doing it - because I'm obviously biased and selling, whereas you're someone who has been CONVINCED.

Go express your being convinced to other people!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Some readers who blog may have noticed lately that Google's Blogger service has announced that, come March 23rd, they're going to eliminate explicit content from their system.  I'm glad to say that this blog, which has no images of naked people, will not be affected.

I have seen some call this an act of vandalism.  I have also seen the term pornocalypse used.  If the reader has the bravery to follow this link (that I discovered when a blog I shall not name linked it), there can be read a long diatribe about the persecution that large technology organizations perpetrate on the use of porn.  It's interesting, but . . . as someone who has been on the inside of a porn-distribution service, it is way, way off the mark.

It is true that groups like eBay, Amazon, Craig's List and so on seem to be permissive for a time, only to change their minds and apparently revoke the privilege with a moral crusade.  Morality, however, is not the reason why services suddenly condemn the very porn that once they supported.  Nor is it the outcry of mothers or private businesses.  Most businesses, in fact, retain a defacto nod-nod-wink-wink policy towards a company's inclusion of porn in their bottom line.

In my late position working for a pay-per-view service, I spent a few years keeping track and updating the many, many porn movies that were available for purchase.  On average, the service launched about 20 titles a week, provided by a wide variety of both classy and sleazy porn film companies, including Mile High Media, Erobec, Valentine . . . even Penthouse.  These went through the same process as any other film we included, except that great pains were taken to ensure that some child with access to the system could not see any of these films if the adults in the house appropriately net-nannied the storefront.  Many conversations were had about that - and if a porn movie got put into the wrong categories by mistake (where it could be seen by anyone), things got very, very interesting - particularly if it came to the attention of the company's CEO (and here we are speaking of an 11-billion dollar company).

So why did we have porn on the system at all?  One simple reason.  The service was not making money.  Throughout my entire experience - five years - we were firmly in the red.  There was never any chance of our division making a profit; in fact we were making less and less profit every annum.  We were kept alive because the service was a very visible part of the company's public perception and because it's existence drove other money-making services within the company, supporting its competitive acquisition of the marketplace.

In a situation like this, a VP will take any opportunity to reduce the amount of loss every quarter.  Thus, the inclusion of porn.  For a company just starting out, for a division that is perpetually losing money, porn is low-hanging fruit.  It is easy to get, easy to sell and thus easy to turn into immediate capital.

Porn has problems, however.  Yes, like the accidental misfiling that I mentioned above, but also in a host of other ways that affect daily operation.  See, porn is largely created by people who are uneducated, unreliable, unhappy or who just don't give a shit about laws or regulations.  Companies have to care about those things.  Because the porn industry does such a shitty job of regulating themselves, however, companies that use porn have to do it - and that means hours and hours of fixing images that were poorly conceived, fixing titles, fixing descriptions and synopses . . . and actually watching the porn to ensure that no content appeared that could not be legally run on our service.  We paid two people to sit around, all day, doing nothing but watching porn.

Before the reader gets all excited, thinking, "Kewl, I want that job!" I have to explain that having spoken to the people who did it that the job was horrible.  Mind you, these were people who did not have trouble with porn - otherwise, they would not have taken the job.  Porn in large amounts is, however, depressingly uniform in its presentation.  In large amounts (35-40 hours a week), it takes on a degree of disgust that doesn't go away.  The burn-out rate for people who did that job was 1 to 8 months.  This despite the money they were paid, which was very good.

Throughout all this watching, the viewers had to be very careful to miss nothing.  That's because it only takes a couple of frames to start a major freak-out among moral pundits and the mainstream media.  So not only are you watching a lot of crap you've grown very tired of, you have to watch it closely.

Finally, porn can only make you so much money.  At the beginning, that amount is nice . . . but it tops out at a given amount and that's it.  The clientele you have will only support so much.  That's because there are two kinds of porn-watchers (I know, I've tracked the numbers month to month for years at a time): the kind that watch one or two porn movies a month and the kind that watch porn continuously whenever they are at home.  A business depends on the latter kind for its bread and butter - but there are only so many of those guys that exist in the world (yes, I said 'guys').

So porn is a lot of trouble.  So it stands to reason that if you reach a point in your business where you are in the black without needing the porn, what do you think happens?  That's right.  You dump the porn.

In order to justify this dumping, you get on the bandwagon of claiming you're cleaning up your service, you're paying closer attention to the family and the upstanding merits of doing business responsibly, blah blah blah, because if you're going to ditch the porn anyway, you might just as well take advantage of the PR hit you can get by pretending that you now care about family values.

This recent step by Google Blogger means one of two things - either the company has decided that there are enough non-porn bloggers to justify the service's existence without porn . . . or its gotten to be too much trouble to police the mess.  Google, I promise you, does not care the least about the moral implications of including porn.

They just don't need it any more.


Porn is also great for bloggers.  Any time a blogger can find a justification for talking about porn, count on the numbers to go up.