Last week I had a terrible overworked schedule, followed by four glorious days of long weekend, including one session. I feel almost resuscitated.
Some of the RPGers out there might be interested in hearing that Saturday's running with my usual offline party involved no combat, virtually no dice rolls and no experience - and it happened that way rather spontaneously. As a DM, I would count myself among gamers who consider the die roll to be virtually the god of the game. The die is the unforseen; it is the football that lands oddly on the field; it is the puck that hits the goal post and shoots into the crowd; it's the tendon that gives way at a critical moment; it is the patch of grease that ruins the final sprint of the Tour de France. Without the die, there is no passion, there is no angst, there is no victory.
Still, if the game is deep and flexible and full of insatiable curiousities, there is room for a session now and then that does not depend upon the die. Such was the session Saturday.
I don't want to get wrapped up in a warstory about what happened, so I'll stick to the pertinent facts. They've been moving through a rather deep dungeon full of warps and plane gates, and this last dropped them into a desert world that may either be upon another plane of existence or - the party suspected - may have been a jump back in time - about 3000 years. This proved interesting, as the party encountered first a tiny settlement, then a large city - both of which presented the following difficulties:
1) Little or no comprehension of how the party came to be there. While I did play up the trope of the party being mistaken for gods just a bit by the rural settlement, the city folk were more cynical. After all, there was some movement between cultures circa 1350 BCE, but it would have taken a fairly worldly culture to be familiar with it. Still, the party's appearance as medieval warriors and mages managed to stir some local curiousity and fear.
2) Considerable difficulty in communicating with the locals. Even if the party had some language skills, that was with language that existed in some form in the 17th century. This represented a time long before Latin or Greek. Even though it happened (by terrific coincidence) that one member of the party had a comprehension of sanskrit (rolled a 01 on a percentile die - an incredible stroke of luck), we really have no idea what sanskrit sounded like, so words could not possibly be exchanged even with the most erudite of inhabitants. However, the party was eventually taken to the local priests, and communication was eventually managed through tedious writing back and forth.
3) Little or no comprehended religious iconography or patterns that the party could relate to: again, pre-Greek, pre-Norse, pre-Christian, pre-Buddhism ... in fact, before just about everything the party could draw reference to. The religion they did find was fundamentally Babylonian, but nothing as sophisticated as Nebuchadnezzarian Babylonianism. Effectively, the culture was animistic, and this made communication interesting and difficult as well.
4) No money, no coin, no comprehension of coin - and because it was a desert culture, little or no comprehension of metal. While the "bronze age" did have tons of metal in it, great quantities of the metal did not make its way into every culture. This particular place where the party found themselves did not even have wood ... but mud, bricks and water was ridiculously plentiful, as it was a huge oasis plain. Tools were largely fashioned of bone and clothing largely fashioned of linen (flax was plentiful). As such, the party's metal tools were fascinated over, and ultimately traded for. The party walked away from the encounter with six slave-girls (18 charisma each) and a pound and a half of myrrh. They thought they did very well.
Mostly, the evening's running was simply enjoyable because it was a mind-turning adventure. Any time you can make the party think differently about the world they're in, its a good exercise for them. The party was not in any way directed to act in any particular way - it was a true sandbox.
Sunday I had a good discussion about this blog and the nature of it, and in particular the moderation of comments. It was explained to me that the best part of the moderation has been a marked increase in the quality of the comments, in comparison to the quality of comments found on the internet generally. The speaker expressed his reasons for not commenting on this blog - specifically, that there was lesser need to "fight battles" with people who apparently did not get the point, or who would hijack the blog for their own purposes. That this hasn't happened for some time has, in the speaker's opinion, improved this blog.
I find it funny because I haven't actually had to delete a comment I've received in about a month - not since a group of people who read JB's opinion about himself, ignored that opinion, and decided JB needed "defenders." In all, I got two nasty comments. Including those, I'm fairly certain I've had to delete all of four, perhaps five comments this year (not counting my own I've removed). In fact, I don't have to use the moderation very often at all. Either all the stupid people have just gone away, or they've gotten the message, or they no longer care. It doesn't matter which; I'm glad they're gone.
Overall, it makes me wonder about the various arguments people decide to get behind. I've argued viciously for the importance of dice in the game, but that hardly means I won't run a session (mostly) without dice. I wonder how many vociferous proponents of non-dice games roll dice a bit more than they'd admit to. They say the internet is the Mother of Lies (Satan got a girlfriend). I can't believe half of what I read. I'm quite certain that most of the people who think I'm an asshole really don't think that; just as I'm certain a good portion of the people whose comments I've moderated over the last year have admitted to themselves that I was probably right.
We're human beings and we're not as ignorant as sometimes we appear. Sometimes, we get into arguments that become shouting matches - and after the fact we regret them. Pride, however, that deadly sin, makes it awfully hard to say sorry. It is harder still to right our wrongs.
I like the moderation. It has proved successful. I'm glad the intellectual debate on the blog has improved. I'm glad to be spending less time being pulled into arguments where I am defending a point against someone for whom the point is less important than their pride, or their prejudice. I'm glad that I'm not drawn into a position of defending my pride. It is pleasant to feel that this blog is less about my pride, and more about my beliefs.
I am nearing the end of my 4th year of this blog. I should have burned out by now. This particular year, 2012, has been strange so far. I've mentioned a few times that I am doing less designing, and more playing, than in previous years. As such, I haven't worked on things like the hex-generator, or my wilderness damage table, or even the maps I normally produce. I haven't had the time. I've been productive, but it has been directed towards writing, playing and - somewhat far out of the subject material - sexual adventuring.
Well, its good to be old enough not to feel duty-bound towards any particular activity. It's good to receive praise for making a decision which - nine months ago - I knew would be unpopular. It hasn't killed this blog, and it hasn't killed me.
Sometimes, you know, I write here just so two years from now I can remember what I was thinking.