Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Campaign: the North Gate II

As I understand it, Kazimir and Delfig are approaching the North Gate to converse with the guards there. More about it I don’t know. The weather has been described on the previous post. There has been no rain yet, but it promises to start at any time.

The guards are concerned mostly with the sky. It is the players’ move at this point.

Campaign: Slipping Through Dachau

The guide, Udo, shows the way to the stable. You climb into the loft, and Udo opens the shutters on a side window. It opens with a bang. To remind you, there’s quite a wind blowing; the sky is blue-black with storm clouds, flashing with sheet lightning. The window is about 25’ above the street.

(OCC: a fall would cause 3-18 + (3-18/2) damage)

Udo demonstrates how, by sitting on the window sill with your back towards the street, you can reach up, grab the eave and pull yourself up so your feet are on the sill. Then he scrambles up onto the ceiling and out of sight.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Campaign: Notes, and Moving Along

Okay. I apologize for making a lot of hay about players and methods on Friday. I don't mean to imply that I intend to stop running, or to leave this campaign in the lurch at this time. I said when I started this that I would give it at least three months, and it hasn't been that yet. I feel I have a responsibility to you fellows, and I intend to live up to that responsibility; to help you along, get your characters on track and to make this enjoyable for everyone.

I don't say that people have been playing in a way that has impugned me. I find myself baffled from time to time, and yes, it would be easier if goals were clearer. But I can understand that there is a lot of information, a lot of baffling characterizations and apparent purposelessness in my descriptions and that the methodology of the blog can compromise interaction among the players. You fellows have been tremendously committed in coming here and giving it your best shot and I want you to know that I'm not blind to it. I sincerely appreciate it.

Let me suggest that if things really seem that out of phase with you, that you go ahead and ask me outright what the hell is my motivation. Get out a d20 and tell me that you've made your intelligence check and maybe then I can give you the information that you need. The problem must be communication.

Regarding the campaign, then.

Anshelm and Tiberius will both arrive back at the Pig tavern independently. Matters in the square have reached something of an impasse. The armed guard has begun pushing people (insistently but not threatening) off the streets. Tiberius attempts to have a message sent to the Merchant's Hall and is denied. Further attempts to take action will clearly have to happen surreptitiously, as the guard have become quite wary. The sky is beginning to show signs of a storm coming, and somehow this seems linked into the general mood of the city.

Delfig and Kazimir,

At this point it is well that you're dealing with a Christian cleric, who in the face of your confession forgives you at once. "My son," he will say, "You must make an act of contrition. This gold you received you must pass over to your church father, in recognition that it was a gain from those who would do evil, and not from good work that you might have done.

"As regards this Triskoon. He might very well be the master of this creature here on the table. I spoke that it would have served another--clearly you have discovered one of the doppelgangers that plot to destroy the city. They are evil creatures, who will invent whatever reason they can to destroy man.

"The story given to you was a lie, to trick you into giving your blood willingly. You are right in your guess. The blood is needed to raise Reekhova. It must come from a bard and it cannot be taken by force if the dweomercraft is to be successful. This is an old legend, but perhaps not one that is known outside the circle of some clerics.

"I cannot say now what we must do to make it right. Someone must be told--but it is perhaps too late." The cleric will go to the doorway. "See? A storm rises. It is a sign."

Emmanuel will ask: "Who? Who must be told?"

The cleric thinks. "There is only one who might listen. You must tell the paladin Hornung. But to do so would first require entering the town."

Friday, March 27, 2009

General Comments

I feel as though I've said this before, but I feel now that I have to say it again:

I am not going to suddenly KILL characters who fail to overlook some small detail, or who stumble into someone's presence, or who otherwise do something stupid. I may, with some development, make an attempt on a character's life, because they have failed to overlook something they've done, but in EVERY case this will be done in a manner that allows a reasonable expectation of the character overcoming the situation.

I will set up death dealing traps. These will not occur is apparently benign places, but will ONLY occur in situations where it is reasonable to assume that a death dealing trap would be almost certain to occur. I will not have vastly powerful, high ranking masters of power sitting randomly at the next table, who might take offense with a party member and then kill them mercilessly and without cause. I will not have a mage randomly blast a party member out of boredom (he'd send his minions to do it, and probably very minor minions if the party was low level).

Once again: I have absolutely nothing to gain by killing a party member just for the hell of it.

There is practically ZERO chance in my world that you would walk into a shanty and find inside the Lord of the Barony there. His retinue, entourage, what have you, would be parked all around the shanty, and its likely you wouldn't get within fifty feet of the place. If, by some queer or bizarre reason the Baron would be present because he likes to hide himself among the people, then he's not going to reveal himself without cause, is he?

Please understand, my world is reactive. It is there to present drama, create situations and provide opportunities. It is not a fantasy fun-kill murder death house for my amused and sadistic delights. People will not kill you if you do not give them reason. People will befriend you if you do not act like a constantly distrustful, defensive, timid mouse. I appreciate a reasonable amount of fear; but I am noticing an almost complete resistance to taking any kind of action, and it is beginning to drag the whole process down.

I have described and provided details and made up settings and introduced characters...on and on, in fact, for about a month now, and the party STILL has no plan, will pick no side and displays no willingness to take risk. I just about shouted out at work when Anshelm robbed the mage: "AT LAST!"

I am hesitant to encourage players to take action. Doing so for the sake of doing it would probably be bad, though I can't see how in comparison with the freight train that is coming at the party through the inaction they have embarked upon from the beginning. There is a lot of shit going on that no one has bothered to inquire into, and many, many people who have never been rationally questioned. Tiberius yesterday did not ask one question along the lines of "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON," while pretty much taking a position of righteous indignation.

Please, please, please, find some kind of action to take. This wandering around and wandering around is driving me mental.

Campaign: A Propituous Discovery

As Anshelm and Tiberius independently make their way back to the Pig tavern, our companions Kazimir and Delfig make their way through the apple orchard, seeking the company of cotters who live just beyond. Almost as they reach the edge of the orchard and come in sight of the shanties, they hear a blood curdling scream--a scream that is distinctly not human.

Pausing or rushing forward, they do not find any evidence for the source of the scream until they move into the clearing surrounding the cotter settlement. It is there that they hear the scream repeated--and are able to locate it as coming from within one of the shanty houses.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Campaign: the North Gate and Apple Orchard

There is not much to say regarding Delfig and Kazimir, who wait outside of town. For all intents and purposes we may assume that it is mid-day, and this post is opened to allow them to message their actions.

Campaign: the Rathaus Marktplatz

Tiberius steps out of the Rathaus, the Town Hall, with several other men who had, like him, tried to get permission to leave town. He finds the square almost empty, except for a few stragglers. Some who had been injured are being loaded onto two carts, but that business is nearly finished and the carts ready to leave the square.

Tiberius finds Karl waiting for him. "My friend," says Karl. "Did you have any luck in escaping the walls of our fair town?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Campaign: the Rathaus


The Rathaus, or town hall of Dachau, faces a small square called the Marktplatz, opposite the city fortress. The square is but sixty feet on a side, a widening of the principal road, the Mittermayer Strasse, as it passes beside the fortress; the party enters the platz along the Rosster Strasse. Two small lanes, ten feet wide, also lead into the platz: Lane Brucker and Lane Krankenhaus. Two large buildings, besides the Rathaus and the prominent gate of the fortress, appear to be warehouses.

At the present, the platz is full of citizens, at least two hundred, many of them angry. The town guard and members of the private mayoralty guard, plus some sixty glittering plate armored soldiers of the duchy are holding the crowd under control, but the situation is quite intense.

Clearly, much of the crowd is seeking to gain access to the Rathaus—after a few minutes of watching, you can see that the guards are letting a few enter from the crowd. You chance to see a soldier strike insensible, with his mace, a man in dusty travelling clothes, apparently a Pole from his dress, for reasons that are not clear to you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Campaign: New Doings in Dachau

Wednesday morning, May 7, finds our company in two places. Kazimir has found Delfig, and together they awake in the hay shed, just as the sun breaks the horizon on a bright, promising day. They quickly apply their ablutions and are headed towards the place of proposed meeting within the half hour, feet a bit damp from the dew. All about them farmers and herders are moving out into their fields and pastures, waving kindly to the interlopers as they pass.

Anshelm and Tiberius awake somewhat later, in the common room of the Pig Tavern, finding the space entirely their own. This is nothing unusual for the middle of the week. Helmunt has their breakfast ready, and as each takes their turn in the dung closet at the back of the building, the city has gotten a move on.

Anshelm and Tiberius take their breakfast on the front porch (Helmunt is bleaching the inside floor). A few patrons have settled into a table near our pair, and are filled with gossip. Another horse was killed last night. This one belonging to the stables of Johann Mizer. Something must happen, they say. This is the seventh horse that has been brutally slaughtered.

As if in response, there suddenly comes the clanging of armor. In minutes, some hundred heavy and light infantry fill the square in front of the cathedral. They form ranks, standing at attention, as the Captain of the City Guard, Hans Frinkel, reads a proclamation.

It continues for some time, but the principal words of interest are: “Until the perpetrators of this sinful act are caught and executed for their crimes, the town of Dachau has been placed under marshal law. Citizens and foreigners may continue to be about their business, but to leave or enter the town shall now require the signed seal of the Mayor’s office…”

It is not long before word of this action reaches the ears of the peasants outside of town, and as Delfig and Kazimir hove in sight of the front gates (from the proposed meeting place near the burnt out Inn), they see thirty soldiers posted there.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Type C and Type V

I’ve stumbled onto the descriptions of two books, both of which I believe relate intrinsically to Dungeons and Dragons, particularly to the “story-telling aspects” of the game, as they are so described. Before I get into just how they relate, let’s first describe both books for the benefit of those readers who may not have read either. The first was penned by Miguel Cervantes Saavedra, in the 16th century. The second, by Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire.

Cervantes’ work, Don Quixote, describes Hidalgo Alonso Quijana, who, because of his faithful reading of books about chivalry, comes to believe that everything they say is true and decides to become a knight-errant himself. He assumes the name of Don Quixote de la Mancha and, accompanied by a peasant, Sancho Panza, who serves him as a squire, sets forth in search of adventures. Don Quixote interprets all that he encounters in accordance with his readings and thus imagines himself to be living in a world quite different from the one familiar to the ordinary men he meets. Windmills are thus transformed into giants, and this illusion, together with many others, is the basis for the beatings and misadventures suffered by the intrepid hero. After the knight’s second sally in search of adventure, friends and neighbours in his village decide to force him to forget his wild fancy and to reintegrate himself into his former life. The “knight” insists upon following his calling, but at the end of the first part of the book they make him return to his home by means of a sly strategem. In the second part the hidalgo leaves for the third time and alternately gives indication of folly and of wisdom in a dazzling array of artistic inventions by the author. Don Quixote finally recognizes that romances of chivalry are mere lying inventions, but upon recovering the clarity of his mind, he loses his life.

Voltaire’s work, Candide, describes Candide, an unsophisticated youth, as he goes through many adventures. Everywhere he travels he encounters intolerable abuses and the placid attitude of Earth’s people that accept them. Candide loses his home because he loves above his rank, is forced into military service, sees the horrors of war, witnesses material and moral destruction though the Lisbon earthquake, suffers from the Inquisition, flees to South America, visits Jesuit-ruled Paraguay and the wonderland of Eldorado, returns to Europe and finally settles with his companions near Constantinople, to “cultivate his garden,” which is to say to gain his life by the work of his hands, for “work alone makes life bearable, keeps away boredom, vice and need.”


To begin with, I am not--in speaking as a DM--a story-teller. I am a simulationist*. The characters in my campaign, unlike those of Cervantes or Voltaire, are not driven by my thematic needs, but by their own peculiar motivations. I have a problem with the story-telling argument because, outside of D&D, I AM a storyteller and novelist…and I can assure my gentle reader that the method is very different.

But let’s not quibble. I raise the two examples above because I believe they correctly divide the whole D&D community, if there is one. Certainly, one of a sort exists online among bloggers, who condone or eschew each others work, linking here and commenting there, blasting, propagating, propagandizing and quibbling. But I said I would not quibble and I won’t. Here and now I wish only to be a good biologist and stick a few needles in things.

(Second time I’ve used that metaphor on a blog post in the last month. I must like it.)

Without question, Hidalgo and Sancho are the vast proportion of would-be players, and the main thrust towards which the business community is oriented. They believe themselves heroes, they run about following elaborate adventures, they carry huge egos and massive delusional frameworks which require little more than a giant, a princess in distress and a pile of gold to satisfy. The perception is that the world is inherently good, that this good must be protected and by GUM, we’re the characters to do it. And if we fuck up along the way, well that’s no problem, its fun, its good for the humour of it, nothing ultimately matters except the size of our pounding hearts and the strength of our pounding swords. It is a fantasy, after all. It isn’t real. It isn’t meant to be real. For gawd’s sake, I can’t slay a dragon without my wind machine +5 and my cape of excessive charisma +8 firmly clasped at my throat.

And let’s get on board with that for a minute. It is Saturday night. I have had a shitty week, my boss is an asshole who couldn’t even spell D&D and all I want now is to drink a few beers with my buddies, shout royally at a dismembered troll or two and make believe that the magic testicles of ugliness in the jar hanging from my backpack belong to that rat fuck that hangs his workout clothes in the third floor washroom so that the place smells ranker than hell when I have to use it before getting out of my cubicle by five P.M.

Is that so much to ask? And is it so much to ask for another half-decent module so my buddies and I can get started at 6 P.M. on the dot without my having to spend my rare free time all week getting the fucking thing prepared? Could it have maybe a monster or two in it we haven’t killed before, and possibly a problem I need my brain to solve, and maybe one decent bit of fluff that doesn’t sound like its been rehashed forty times by people with nothing to do but sit in the WOTC bathroom because the bastards served crab puffs again at the monthly writer’s meeting? Please. Astound me. Astound my friends. Hank wants to rip his sorcerer’s blade of tiny chewing mouths into the belly of some bizarre subetheral beast while Donny’s bards screams tunes “to plug heart valves” on his master-crafted lyre to the Immortal Hits part Eight (received from the Great Bard Ronco) before the clock strikes ten and Wayne has to catch the last number 84 bus before it leaves.

It is hard to be a hero.

I am on record as saying the players are not; but perhaps that is because I am not a Cervantean. My worlds are not full of kindly persons who take pity on folly-driven knights out for a good time. I’ve written this already; I won’t expand on that subject further, except to say that it relates excellently to Voltaire’s universe.

Voltaire’s characters are not excellent to each other. They are monsters. Not in the sense that they boil out of caverns to serve master wizards half a continent away, but in the daily unpleasantness that we normally experience. The boss. The bastard and his work-out clothes. The number 84 bus.

There are rarer D&D worlds which do not fit well with modules, which are crafted to obey the synthetic twisted imaginations of their manufacturers--worlds in which behind every smile hides a wife-murdering axe swinger, a denizen of the lower depths or a man who has arrived to collect the taxes. Worlds with the methodical discomfort of a H.P. Lovecraft novel. A Voltairian world, if you will.

It is always perceived that such worlds must be humourless. Everything is so serious, every misspoken word becomes a dangerous liability, every opened case becomes the release of a hideous curse ending with a vast city burning in flames. How, in the name of everything unholy, is a world like this ever any fun?

Well, there are two kinds of humour. There is the brutish, slapstick variety, and there is the tension-releasing, often black variety. Snatch is an excellent modern example of the latter. A death-dealing grotesque circus, deliciously satirical and often maddeningly pleasurable--because the moment of tension ending makes laughter easier.

You will never sell products for the Voltairian universe. For DMs who practice the method, it remains a private thing. Outsiders are welcome to play…but suggestions of new monsters or tools or the like have no uses there. The universe is a fait accompli; if it was meant to exist, it will suggest itself to the mind of the maker, in its entirety, without the need of another source.

Which is what makes all us Voltairians such righteous bastards, I suppose.


* I have since discovered that 'simulationist' does not mean what I thought it meant.  Alexis, Feb 14, 2016.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Update

It's been a rough week. I've been recovering from the bronchitis, and my partner as well (she is two days behind me in being sick), and while I'm only just starting to feel like a human being again (not quite) I find the recession has resulted in cutbacks to my freelance writing gigs. I've just lost $900 a month income in, like, three phone conversations.

Fucking yay.

So, the campaign. I know there are cliffhangers, and I'm perfectly aware of and how to deal with them. All I need to know for now, hoping to get started again with the campaign after this weekend, is whether or not Delfig will provide a vial of his blood for Triskoon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In No Condition

Gentlemen,

Just to let you know. I'm suffering from a bout of bronchitus, and am in no condition to run D&D online or elsewhere at this time. Take care of yourselves.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Campaign: Deserted

In light of whatever might be a threat in the dark, Josef suddenly turns and runs off. While Delfig barely has time to recover from this surprise, Kazimir begins to back away. "I can't," he says. "I can't..."

And then he is gone too.

In the inky blackness, Delfig senses that something other than his two friends is moving...

Campaign: Tuesday Night in Dachau

For the present, there isn't much to say. As I've said, the evening grows quite brisk, and the fire at the beer garden is stoked to keep the place warm. The staff will begin to get anxious as both Anshelm and Tiberius nurse their beers...getting the hint that it might be the time to order another.

Some of the patrons are getting uncomfortable somewhat with the road dusted strangers who seem anxious to make friends. A fellow comes over and begins, "You were here last night, with Johann, were you not?"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cleric Wanted

Well, it was bound to happen. The player who was running Josef the Cleric has indicated that he would like to end his play.

So I will take another person, if they are out there. Given that the party now lacks a cleric and healing of any kind, I would prefer someone wishing to play a cleric...but I'll accept what I can find.

Feel free to apply. Keep in mind that you should probably read about the last fifteen posts before you do so.

Think Inside The Box

Recently, Carl of Three Hams Inn made a remark that I do not run an easy game. That is undoubtedly true. And I think he also spoke correctly when he suggested that players occupied in what he called “snipe hunts,” where they waste time following up useless details, are trying to think outside of the box, to get whatever advantage they can.

I think the failing of this is in the DM, in that it is possible to think out of the DMs box most of the time. Because let’s face it, DMs are generally pretty stupid.

I want to give an example from my own experience as a player, when I did a lot of that; but I have to confess that my best example does not come from D&D. It comes from traveller.

We had a referee for that game, a fellow named Irwin (yes, we were all nerds), who invented his own system of trade based upon his limited conceptions of it. If you play Traveller, you know that owning a ship is a major pain in the ass, as the things are prohibitively expensive and require constant effort to make the monthly payments. As such, if you intend to travel around and adventure, you have to take advantage of the various services Traveller suggests: carrying mail, carrying cargo and speculating.

We were pretty smart guys, and it didn’t take us too long to figure out the flaw in Irwin’s system, or how to exploit it. That was 27 years ago, so I don’t remember exactly what the flaw was, but if we took specific routes and used specific character traits jointly, we could pretty much guarantee 400 – 1200 per cent profits every time we jumped.

While Irwin couldn’t get his shit together, we had pretty much paid off our ship and made ourselves gazillionaires. When I say that Irwin had to get his shit together, I mean that he had to develop a backbone. Because every time he would say, “This can’t be right…this just can’t be right,” we would exclaim loudly and defensively, “It’s YOUR system!” Which did just the trick. Irwin took all of the responsibility on his shoulders and let us get away with murder. Eventually the campaign collapsed, when Irwin didn’t want to play anymore.

What’s interesting is that yes, it WAS Irwin’s system…which meant he could have called a halt to it and redesigned it promptly. But he didn’t. Somehow he got it into his head (with our help) that having brought out the system, it was “unfair” to change it in midstream…an attitude we exploited to the full.

I don’t know what it is that makes DMs dumb in this way, but they are. They can usually be gotten around in a variety of ways—none of them having to do with rules lawyering, a pretty sad way to manipulate the DM. It’s much more fun to play on the DM’s generosity, guilt, sympathies, naiveté or innocence. A party I led once seized a school (again in Traveller), methodically butchered all the children within and got away clean with the ransom simply because the DM was so easily shocked that he found himself uncomprehending that we could even imagine such a scheme.

There’s no way I’d have let a party get away with that…the press would have been there within five minutes and we would have been waxed soon after. But I’m not easily horrified.

If I run a tough world, it is because I run a tight ship. It is very hard to “think outside the box” because the box is big enough to anticipate most of what a party might do. Thinking outside the box means outthinking me, and I’m not that easy to nail down. My motives are unclear (mostly, I have no motives, as I run a world, not a moral play), and I avoid creating circumstances the party can’t just walk away from. I don’t put princesses into towers and draw maps to those towers in straight lines. I create mazes that parties can avoid easily by having no interest in anything, but which get sticky the more the party cares about a particular thing.

In other words, as I’ve often said, the party makes the story. I’ll throw in details that have nothing to do with the party, because “news” is interesting. But I won’t insist a party follow up on those details and get involved in that particular mess. If they high-tail it elsewhere, I’m fine with that, because as I say the world is big, and there are other pieces of disconnected detail that I’ll invent for wherever they wind up.

That sounds pretty arrogant. I guess it is. I like when a party thinks of something I haven’t. It gives me ideas. But in almost every case, that thinking of something will happen INSIDE the box…not out of it. After all, when it comes to Earth, thinking “outside” the box is really a misnomer…it just means getting enlightened about something that was always there.

I hold my world to the commitment of being as close to that as possible.

Campaign: A Walk in the Country

Delfig, Kazimir and Josef have more than a little trouble crossing the countryside to the north side of Dachau. They soon discover that it is impossible to avoid detection—the country is too thick with farmers, herders, laborers working on rock walls or woodcutters. But they soon discover that these villeins have little interest in them. What they don’t encounter is a patrol, or a gameskeeper, or anyone in authority at all.

But the ground is soggy from yesterday’s rain, and more than once they must leap a wall to find themselves up to their ankles in sodden ground. More than once they find they must edge around the mucky edges of a soft-soiled pond to reach ground which can again be walked on easily. Each time they poke into a forest, from which they can see a keep or a blockhouse a mile or so away, they find what with crossing gulleys or following gulleys, they seem to get turned around again and again, until they can reach the copse’s edge and regain their bearings.

At last the twilight comes, and they are still some goodly distance from their destination, uncertain how far. With the sun falls the temperature, which freshens following the summery day, turning cool, and finally quite brisk. In spite of having no intentions of starting a fire, it soon becomes apparent that without one, the group will freeze to death with damp feet and little clothing beyond a cloak to comfort them.

Has anyone means to light a fire?

Campaign: Dachau's West Gate

Anshelm and Tiberius experience some difficulty returning to Dachau along the road. During that trip they encounter three tolls, each of which would cost them a silver piece. However, when Anshelm attempts to demonstrate the merchant’s guild insignia (Tiberius has his writ of passage), he’s questioned at length, as these same guards remember Ells (who is familiar to them) showing them the patch, but not Anshelm. This requires some clever lying (for which I don’t see the value in roleplaying out). Nevertheless, our pair manage to return to the city by six bells.

As they are let into the town gates, well before curfew will close them for the night, they overhear two guards:

First Guard: Another one?
Second Guard: Yes, early this morning.
First Guard: And hacked to death, just like before?
Second Guard: Just like before.
First Guard: Who was it this time?
Second Guard: Joseph Mizer. The bastard.
First Guard: Serves him right.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Campaign: The Meyer Homestead IV

Herr Meyer has no wish to have anyone in the party to prove their word. He has already asked the party to get off his land. He continues to hold two hammers by their necks, expectant that the party will follow his instructions.

The afternoon has worn on some. The sun stands past the zenith, and the temperature has risen to full summer. While it may be moderately cool under the trees, out here on the meadow one can feel the sun hot on one's shoulders, and sweat rising under one's clothes in the mild humidity.

Crickets buzz. The stream continues to bubble, the water wheel continues to roll and creak.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Campaign: The Meyer Homestead III

While Delfig is thinking he’s not going to catch Herr Meyer as they both run through the woods, and is about to give up, when they both burst into a small clearing, about eighteen feet across. Between two trees in the clearing is a pole, about seven feet off the ground, which has hanging on it a line of rabbit skins, long dried out. Meyer leaps for the pole, sweeps off the skins and turns to face Delfig.

At the same time, Anshelm and Kazimir stand at the edge of the forest, wanting to see where Meyer might have gone, and uncertain which way to proceed. Tiberius stands some thirty yards away, towards the house. Josef looks on the meadow from the rise where the cart track descends the hill.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Conscience

No, I haven't been writing very much non-campaign material. At this point, I'm pretty sure that 90% of anyone's interest in this blog comes from myself and my five players, so it may have been a mistake to try the system without initiating another blog. C'est la vie.

Part of why I don't want to write has to do with what my opinions might be about the ongoing campaign and why I don't want to throw a monkey wrench into the player style of play. I know that I have about thirty articles I could write on what I'm seeing, some good, some bad, but every time I sit down to put any of that to print, I'm thinking, how will the players view it.

However much a DM might like feedback, giving feedback to players is always a touchy subject. I have at various times in my career had to throw people out of my campaign and house, end physical brawls between players, manage players who have become far too upset by what are really minor things (losing a level for instance), scream at players who just won't shut up, cajole players who won't talk at all and generally act as mother and priest...since so much of life happens outside of D&D, and people need to talk to someone, I'm an authority figure for them.

It has been this way since I was fifteen.

The emotion one generally feels is to pick up heavy objects like glass tumblers and start hurling them with adroit precision. The emotion one generally displays boils down to, "Uh huh. So what do you do?"

At this risk, then, of spoiling the campaign, and increasing even further my bad reputation--and because this is the only thing on my mind which is remotely connected to D&D, I'm going to make a few gentle points about those measures of play which are, frankly, baffling me. Be warned, however...some of these do NOT come from the online campaign, but from my offline campaign, which I ran last night.

Red Herrings. A discussion went on around the table last night about a tournament campaign one of the players participated in as a DM. She decided that she would see if she could tie up her party of apparent morons and keep them from finishing the quest, without doing anything really. I don't know why, she just a bitch I guess. The starting level was a goblin lair, and the tournament had suggested the DMs should "make it real." So when this DM described the cave-in blocking the passage, she decided to say that a goblin arm was sticking out of the fallen rock.

The result was that, for the next forty minutes, the party in the tournament did everything they could do discover the "significance" of this arm, including unearthing the whole body from the stone and searching it, guaging where the arm might be pointing to and so on. Naturally, since it was a red herring, nothing came of these investigations.

As I run what I perceive to be a real setting, I'm not particularly concerned about the "meanings" behind what I'm describing. My world is, in a word, meaningless. At least, in terms of "problem solving apparatus," such as those occurring in video games. In a video game, everything that exists on a dungeon level is relevant (though I am told games of late have started to move away from this). But in the world around us, most of what we see is utterly irrelevant. Goblin arms do not point at secret passages, insignia often do not have special meanings, sometimes innocent people are actually innocent. Sometimes, there's a knight in the bar because he's thirsty.

Curiousity. In spite of what I've just said, not everything is a red herring. Mystery novels are built on the investigator's ability to separate the difference between a significant detail and dreck. Fetish shows like CSI try to stuff so much information into a 42-minute episode that they haven't got time for dreck, so everything is seen as important. Reality shows like Survivor are so full of dreck that absolutely nothing that's said matters. Somewhere between these two extremes is good drama.

In my world, the character's ability to tell the difference between a relevant detail and fluff is the dividing line between who will survive and who will not. Most D&D campaigns I've found will either a) produce fluff which is so clearly unimportant that it can be safely ignored; or b) augment every detail with such a display of trumpeting that it cannot be ignored. I do neither.

The "correct" thing to do as a DM, at this point, would be to give no details whatsoever about the party. I've never been comfortable with that. I am concerned that my world is too different, that my expectations are too high, that I'm being unreasonable about conclusions I'm making. In other words, I'm acknowledging that I am human, and that my style of play is potentially unfair to the players, who don't know me, can't sense my tone of voice from an online description, can't really visualize what's happening or why they are about to die.

I've had it described to me by a smart fellow who doesn't play D&D and who didn't find my world compelling, that part of my problem as a DM is that I have a tendency to make suggestions to players. That I will answer someone's action with, "Are you sure you want to do that," or even, "Had you considered...?"

I'm told that, strictly speaking, it's better to let players make their mistakes, kill them off if need be and let them learn. In other words, to behave as a video game would and be merciless.

I'll tell you what the problem with that is.

The player is not the only person to have invested time and energy into this character. Unlike a video game, I am conscious of time. I have no desire to spend all of my campaign helping players roll up character after character, as this is not what I particularly enjoy. Moreover, I don't see why a player can't learn, and enjoy the game, without having to be killed over and over again uselessly. I will kill a player if they insist on behaving irrationally or if they stubbornly stick to a course of action that is bound to end in their doom. I have had players in my world who, upon getting to know them better, proved to be such vile human beings that I couldn't wait for their characters to do something enormously stupid so I could kill them in some humiliating fashion and thus move the person conveniently out of my campaign and my life.

But my reasons for giving "clues" and making moderate suggestions are intended to save me time, energy and peace of mind. The player may be unsure of how to behave, but if I can have them make a wisdom or intelligence check correctly, I will tell them the answer to the puzzle just as if they had opened that imaginary lock with their dexterity.

I have already been told by one of the players in my online campaign not to make suggestions. I appreciate that. But it is not my style as a DM. Nor is it my nature as a human being.

And now I find myself staring at the screen and pausing before going on. I want to make a small list of things; but first I want to say a short word about...

Character. I am all for players having "character"...meaning, a personality they wish to run. Where this ALWAYS falls down, however, is that most of the time to personality the player has decided to play is self-destructive--someone who is either hopelessly random in their actions, or a toxic, unpleasant individual, or someone who is just plain stupid. I've known many players who have moved through my world systematically drawing ire and hatred from NPCs, until finally one of those NPCs says, "fuck it" and kills the bastard. Being someone who has drawn much ire and hatred in my life, I have to say that I've never felt the need to enter a bar, insult everyone present just for the fuck of it and then destroy property at random. I've never felt the need to make deals with important people and then snub my nose at them for fun. I've had players do this, all in the name of "character." Usually, after they are killed, they will roll dice and go about producing the dead character's emotional brother. Somewhat like Bob does in Knights of the Dinner Table.

This isn't meant to be laudable behavior. In a comic, its funny because its true. In a campaign, it is merely annoying.

Successful players are ALWAYS those who do not put on a pretense of being some imaginary character, but players who dig down within themselves to find something which they don't generally display. This usually turns out to be a remarkable trait they possess. I have a cleric in my offline who, when not a cleric, is shy and speaks little. But who will, at play, display vocal support for the party, resolve, bravery and generousity. That is because, deep inside, the player in question has these traits--she isn't making them up for the sake of "character."

Players should be themselves.

Spoilers.

All right then. Some concerns that I have. Keep in mind that these are recorded because nothing, or little of value, was written online about them. I don't know what is going on in anyone's head. I don't care. These are concerns not because they were not thought of, but because they were not ACTED upon.

1) The lack of any recognition that the smell of blood might be important.
2) The meaning of the word "beets." A great many jokes were made, and some rationalizations, but the matter now seems to be completely forgotten.
3) The fact that a writ of seizure was not provided to the party.
4) The fact that clearly Frau Meyer or Herr Meyer were threatened when the party arrived, suggesting that all might not be as it seems.
5) The clear mastercraftsmanship of the homestead, suggesting that Herr Meyer has been here for some time, is likely to be able to read, and quite probably is as dangerous as an ogre.
6) The fact that Meyer left his shop to speak to a stranger, far away from any town or people, without weapons, indicating that he's not afraid, and therefore that he is almost certainly not zero level.
7) His sending Melanie into the house, suggesting that he felt threatened, and was not likely to respond any longer to either threats or entreaties of goodwill.
8) The fact that the house that Melanie has just entered is made of stone, and is likely quite impregnable.

Finally, I'd like to remark on a few things that have, well, seemed contrary to normal behavior, and in some cases the survival of the party.

1) The murder of Ells. Um, the murder of Ells. And lastly, the murder of Ells. I don't really care about murder. Murder the three-year-old boy if you want to. But does this seem the path to a successful future?
2) The expectation that a homesteader will willingly walk to the edge of the woods with a total stranger "who just wants to talk." Seriously. Are there DMs who would have the NPC say, "Sure, why not? Tell me total stranger, who is seven-foot-six and dressed in leather armor, how can I help to move myself away from my protection and my wife and children, and any weapons I might have stashed, so I can walk fifty yards away towards the thick woods with you"? Really. Are there DMs like this out there? I want to know.
3) The failure to react to the homesteader's being Jewish, made clear through several references. Does it not seem strange that a German merchant should wish to push a Jew off his land just outside of Dachau? Of course this MIGHT be a red herring. But surely, come on, someone must realize the arrangement is a tad too poetic to be completely meaningless. Put together with the lack of a writ of seizure, there should be some serious questioning going on.
4) Oh, and the murder of Ells.

All right then. My conscience is clear. We'll see who is still playing tomorrow.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Campaign: The Meyer Homestead II

As Frau Meyer walks towards the mill, Delfig finds himself waiting in front of the house door, where the various children of the house watch him. The three older children, two boys and a girl, all younger than ten, seem somewhat fearful. The girl in particular watches Delfig with large, worried eyes.

The three year old boy sits against the door jamb and plays with a blade of grass he's just found. He blows on it again and again, watching it dance as he grips it.

Soon Frau Meyer returns, with Herr Meyer. Delfig sees them coming across the grass towards him. A chicken steps daintily out of their way.

"Yes?" asks Herr Meyer.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Campaign: The Meyer Homestead

The cart track rises over a small spur, a mere thirty foot climb, from where you can look down into a small meadow a hundred yards across, on both sides of the stream you’ve crossed twice. From where you are, the varying structures are on the opposite bank…but the stream is quite shallow and filled with stones, fashioning a wide ford.

At one point a channel has been cut into the stream, and above the channel a well-placed dam across the stream creates a substantial pool, thirty yards across—this feeds into the channel, creating a rushing flow before the water is restored to the natural stream bed. The rushing water powers a waterwheel, built by all appearances by a master craftsman, connected to a cylindrical structure twenty feet in height and twenty feet in diameter. The shingles on the roof of the cylinder have been replaced in the last three years, and the building appears to have been painted the previous fall—it is a bright, forest green in color.

Near this structure, to the right, is a low, flat stone and plaster house, crystal-white in color, with glazed glass windows set into expertly fitted frames, quite symmetrical to the eye. A stoop, with a wooden awning to protect the main door from the weather, extends in a cobbled stone half-circle ten feet from the house, to a graciously tailored yard where chickens and three piglets are at the moment feasting. A woman is assiduously cleaning the house’s windows. Further to the right is a barn, smallish but much in the same condition as the mill, also painted recently and in the same forest green. Between the barn and the river is planted an extensive vegetable garden, showing a smudge of green to suggest the first shoots rising. Squinting your eyes, you can see four children, on their knees, appearing to weed the garden.

Campaign: The Journey West

Ells leads the party through the town, past the fortress on your right and through the west gate--which is a good deal smaller than the rather impressive North or South gates. Your feet fall onto a narrow road, barely wide enough for a wagon, with the Asper river on your left and a series of cow and sheep pastures on your right. You note that, while the Asper is perhaps twenty yards across as it passes through the town, where both sides of the river have been embraced by stone walls, here before the river enters the town it is much wider, somewhat shallow and grown with reeds. Numerous sand bars follow its banks and from place to place there are deep ruts crossing the road where for centuries cattle have been led from the pasture to the water.

The day grows warmer by ten bells (you can hear the distant toll of the bells of Dachau for a good four miles), and to keep from growing very uncomfortable you will need to doff your cloaks. I cannot remember if anyone has a hat, but if they do, it is greatly appreciated.

You have walked a good five miles to reach a small stone marker describing the distance rising two feet on the side of the road. Peasants are rare, and there are no travellers approaching along the road. Over that distance you have seen many farms growing rye and other crops, mixed with pasture land. Now and then there are streams, with bridges and guards asking for tolls, but Ells demonstrates a patch of embroidered cloth and metal baubles and you’re exempted from paying. Increasingly, both sides of the road have grown thick with a mixture of elm and pine trees, with small forested patches falling into darkness on the side opposite the river. From time to time, where you have climbed a low rise in the road, fifty or a hundred feet, you’ve been able to see extensive, forest-covered foothills to the south, perhaps forty or fifty miles away, and purple mountains beyond that; even at a distance of eighty miles, they look impressive, with glaciers visible on their high slopes.

At the marker, Ells will point at a much narrower track, hardly wide enough for a cart, which will climb the isolated hill group rising three hundred feet on your right, perhaps a mile away. Almost at once as you leave the main road, you find yourself passing through a forest. The track crosses, then recrosses a stream as you begin to climb. There are no longer any farms, nor inhabitants to be seen. The cart track is in quite good condition, and shows signs of being maintained.

What preparations do you care to make?

Campaign: Gathering the Party

Jumping ahead, the evening winds down and the various members of the party find their way back to the Pig. It is agreed that Tiberius and his friends will appear after breakfast to collect their front fee.

Last night it rained again, more heavily this time, with lightning shaking the tavern’s rafters with its force. As the sun rises, the sky is clear, and it promises to be a beautiful day. In many places on the street and in the square, where the drainage is poor, there are large ponds left from last night’s rain. As the party emerges from the Pig to eat on the outside porch, the temperature already cool but comfortable, there are three kittens licking at the puddle just a few yards away.

Who will go to the Merchant’s Hall for 5 g.p.?

(OOC: Don’t worry about if you arrive late. I’ll slip you in whereever along the events as they progress)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Campaign: The Foreign Quarter

I'm adding this post for the benefit of Josef and Kazimir, to give them another place to post their actions. But since they are, as near as I can tell, still in the foreign quarter, which I described yesterday, I have little left to add.

The foreign quarter of any period city is much the same; a mashing together of temporary housing, varying culture-focused taverns or shops, offices for obtaining privileges to begin business in the city or own land as a foreigner, and people who tend to spend much of their time waiting between opportunities to do casual labor.

Campaign: The Beer Garden

The rain ceases to fall in the early afternoon, though the weather remains gloomy for the remainder of the day; the high hills to the southwest of Dachau retain a shroud of fog into the evening, with no sign that it will lift before sunset. It is, altogether, a dreary day.

In the afternoon, a message arrives from Johann Mizer as to the location of the beer garden, and an indication that Tiberius and his friends should meet him there at six bells. It is not a great distance; Helmunt, ever eager to please, offers to send a boy with the party to show the way, if only a copper piece is given. One way or another, through the wet streets the trio find their way to the garden, which at first glance is unfortunately in the out of doors.

Stepping through an arch constructed of latticework and holly branches, the party finds a group of wet wooden tables and benches. The latticework extends over their heads, and weaved into the frame are more branches, not quite thickly grown with holly leaves—this will take a few weeks yet. In the sunshine it would be a beautiful shaded recluse.

To the group’s delight, however, it is discovered that half the beer garden is roofed, and a solid structure built on three sides. On the fourth side is a roaring fire, fully eight feet wide and four feet deep, in which burns hemlock and yew. Stepping between a few puddles still filling the hollows between the exposed benches, Tiberius, Anshelm and Delfig join the hearty throng of forty people sitting in the warm comfort provided by the fire.

Mizer is there; he happily greets each one of you; introductions are made, and Mizer pleasantly insists that he buy the first round. The day did not begin too well for him; but an arrangement has been made and a silversmith is to be ousted from his rented property a few miles out of town, so that it will be put under Mizer’s ownership.

While hearing this tale, the trio cannot help noticing that the barmaids are exceptional—all beauties, all quite young and with remarkable ashen skin and near-perfect teeth. This last, of course, would be quite rare to their experience, and Mizer will laugh when he sees his companions noticing it.

He’s quite happy to explain the happenstance. The beer garden is in part owned by an adventurous young fellow, who a few years ago took part as a mercenary in the war, in Saxony, and made his fortune in silver. This young fellow, a paladin, Eberhardt Hornung by name, has since become the darling of the town, and this beer garden a contribution to his fame. It is true, adds Mizer discreetly, that Hornung also holds a string of harlots…the “cleanest” harlots in Bavaria, since none ever suffers from any disease, not even in their mouths. But Mizer suggests not spreading around any rumors a person might be told in a beer garden.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Campaign: The Cold Light Of Morning

Having not as yet settled in what action to take, the night catches up to the party and they settle down in their beds to sleep. The next morning, Monday morning May 5th, finds a gentle falling rain. The Pig tavern quickly empties, as those who spent the night pull out before sunrise for their homes and small mills outside of town, leaving the party to awake alone. As your board has been paid up until the end of May, Helmunt has a breakfast prepared for you: duck's eggs, boiled sausage and porridge. While there is an awning over the outside tables, it leaks; so you find yourselves inside, finishing your breakfast and wondering if the rain will end before the morning.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Campaign: Sunday Night At The Pig

The evening begins to wear as our five companions make their way back in groups to the Pig tavern. First, the assassin, fighter and cleric; then not long after, the bard and thief. They find that the tavern is full of guests, as it is nearly every Sunday night, but that their beds have been faithfully kept by Helmunt. By the time they grow comfortable on their first ale at their usual table, the market stalls and goods are completely gone from the square; all that was being sold in the Merchant’s Hall is packed up and carried away until the following Sunday.

But the town is not quiet. A scaffold and stage have been set upon on the front steps of the cathedral facing the square. A small crowd has gathered to watch some of the preparations - a crowd that grows steadily larger, and includes both the poor and wealthy citizenry. While the party discusses the matters of the day (and they shall find the time to do that for themselves, while all that is described below will occur after, during or before their tale telling), a performance is staged.

It is a “mystery play.” Promoted, in this particular case, by the brewer’s guild of Dachau. The thrust of the drama is quite simple, and follows the tale of the good Samaritan. Only in this tale, a man is beaten for his goods by Turkish bandits on the road leading from Dachau to Augsburg. He begs for help from a Frenchman, who ignores him. Then he begs for the aid of an Italian, who likewise ignores him.

Finally, the man is found by a German, who immediately puts the poor fellow on his horse and takes him to his house, where he cares for him. And the robbed victim is discovered to be tremendously wealthy--he gives everything he owns to the German before parting from this world and finding salvation.

When the play ends (assuming it has not been interrupted by a thief thinking he will filch a purse or two), it is quite dark and the square is lit by torches alone. These are extinguished as the audience departs, until the only active place at all near the square is Helmunt’s humble abode. Soon, within an hour or so, Helmunt will close the tavern in accordance with the law, and all its residents will find their way to their beds in the common room upstairs.