Monday, April 30, 2012

Fountain Tricks

I had such a fortuitous event in a campaign the other day, I had to write about it.

One of my parties has been climbing steadily into the back country of the Albanian Mountains, and had reached the town of Ohrid on the lake of the same name, on the border of modern day Macedonia. I had conceived of the town as a center for the study of thaumaturgy, music and ecclesiastical magic, and I had conceived of a trick to pull on the party.

When the party arrived, the town was having a festival. The party were permitted access through the gates, and were encouraged by the townspeople to drink and be merry. After having sold the magical nature of the town, the party was asked repeatedly if they had "tried their luck." Everyone in the town was trying their luck, which was an event where each person waited in line to turn the wheel on the town's magic fountain. The fountain was huge, and it measured - so they said - the amount of actual luck the wheel-turning individual actually possessed, or would possess for the next year.

The party naturally got in line.

As each person ahead of them turned the wheel, the fountain produced differing amounts of water, which quickly dried up. It was clear the fountain was magical. People around the party talked about their luck last year, and I described how some people were moderately lucky, and some were not lucky at all (no water). There were six tiers to the fountain, and no one ahead of the party filled better than the third tier.

The party got their turn; I had them roll a d20, then turn the crank and measure their luck. I explained that the second person's luck was determined by their own roll, and the first person's (since they were in the party together, the other members of the party who turned the wheel before affected the luck they had).

When the last party member went, they rolled a 1 on a d20. The fountain turned into a geyser, the town went mad with glee, all the tiers filled to overflowing and the luckiest person in the party had been found!

It was SO convenient that the last player had rolled a 1.

A foot pedal controlled the fountain. I had planned to make the fountain roll and flow at full volume no matter what the last player rolled - the town was simply waiting for someone tough and capable (and foreign) to step up. Afterwards, the pasha of the town wined and dined the party, gave them whatever they wished for (including magic potions), gave them all the information about their journey they could wish, and asked for just a little favor - could they please join a group of three magi descending into an oracle to give the beast within a present. The luckiest person in the world, surely, could keep the three magi safe.

In the middle of this sales pitch, the party stopped and laughed to themselves about how well I was role-playing the pasha, how interesting it all was, what they were going to do with their good fortune, etc ... while I managed to keep my face as straight as necessary. Loaded up with potions, the party descended into the oracle with the magi, who then vanished as the doors above were closed. For the party, one townsmember sacrificed himself to try to inform the party, so the party learned - too late - that the whole thing was a ploy. The potions were not potions, the fountain did not measure luck (as I said, it operated via a foot pedal, secretly used by the overseer of the fountain), and the party was screwed.

Was it fair? Of course. I absolutely figured I would fail to convince the party to go down the well that was the oracle - and then one of the party members rolled a 1. Ah, the magic of numbers. After the 1 was rolled, it was easy to believe everything the pasha and his court said.

The world is full of nasties.

So the party managed to determine their in a dungeon with a minotaur (who they saw, but haven't met yet), and a group of lepers. Fun times.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Comments on the Online Campaign

I wondered how many people reading this blog also have a glance at the other one representing the Online Campaign.  One of the players there said he tried to get a friend to read along, but that the blog-posts were hard to follow for someone who wasn't actually playing.  I had hoped when I started the campaign that it might show off something of my dungeon mastering style, and therefore lend credibility to the arrogant, intolerant positions I tend to take on this blog about D&D and how it ought to be played.  I wonder if that worked.

I've also heard it said that non-players of the campaign have nowhere to voice their opinions.  If you could, voice them here.  Don't feel they have to be positive opinions - I'm not opposed to criticism, so long as its positive and not directed in a personal manner.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


How do you manage the death of a player?

I don't mean a character, I mean the player themselves; the actual person you used to have sitting at your table Friday after Friday, munching through your refridgerator, swearing at your die rolls, laughing fit to kill.  What do you do when they pass on?

As it happens, I haven't had a player die recently.  I did know a fellow in the '90s who at the age of 21 developed scleroderma, who ran an 8th level ranger.  He ceased playing before the disease intensified, and he passed away within a year.  And of course my first wife Michelle, who died some years ago of complications arising from multiple schlerosis, will never run her 10th level thief again.

Still, I did run into a fellow who used to be the verve and center of the campaign I ran for the nine years between 1983 and 1992.  This was that fellow that emerges in your campaign who knows all the rules and who anticipates your twists and turns.  It is he who resolutely devises the brilliant scheme that brings down the indefeatable monster and it is he who steadily piles up paper notes upon your campaign until his character is a series of folders that he's bought a special briefcase to transport.

Jeff was just such a fellow.  Jeff rarely missed a session (maybe thrice in 9 years?), played in other campaigns on different nights at the same time as mine, was connected with the wargaming community and with the committee that organized the yearly city gaming convention.  He also graduated with honors, finishing his engineering degree while playing in my campaign.

He tolerated my politics (he was conservative), my odd proclivities and my repeated, disastrous attempts to construct a trade system.  The last took a lot of toleration.  Jeff also helped me work out the details of my stun-attack combat system.  He and I spent a lot of late night 12 and 14 hour sessions playing Panzer Leader, Car Wars, System 7 Napoleonics and chess.

I hadn't seen him in more than ten years.  I ran into his sister, got his number, and we agreed to meet for a drink.  Jeff doesn't play D&D any more.  He's not busy; in fact, he's hardly working.  He is not what I could call happy.  While I walked him from the cafe to the downtown train, we had a talk about his admitted suicidal tendencies.  Like any part of him I remember, he spoke about the matter frankly, in terms of its causes and purpose, not looking for sympathy.  I could see that he had reasons that made sense to him.  Knowing him as I had, I offered a few points I hoped were of value; I did not hear any acknowledgement in the tone of his voice.

What I did manage to learn - this is not the first self-confessed suicidal dilettente I've spoken to - what that nothing had happened.  Nothing happening was probably the central problem.  Jeff experienced the same thing a lot of fast-moving academic teenagers experience:  scholarships, notariety, an audience applauding as one walks across the stage to accept an award, the certainty everyone has that such-and-such will go places, will do things.  Then, nothing.  Or very little.  The world stays the same place, the awards get moved from shelves to boxes and the whole game loses its clarity.

That's what I got from Jeff.  Just a sense that it's all for naught, so why bother?

I don't know how he's going to be.  I don't know if I'll ever see him again.  I know he won't call.   I'd like to think that a really good game of D&D might set him right, but in truth I don't think so.  I wish I could do something - but I'm old enough to know the decision making process of someone as old as me.  Something might sort Jeff out; I hope it does.  Truth is, people quit because they've had too much of a thing - good or bad.

Too often we press upon people to go on playing at something because we're playing at it.  We don't like that they do not want what we want.  We call them quitters and impose a moral superiority upon ourselves, as though not quitting is a noble and grand gesture we're giving to the world.  Even if we wanted to quit, we lie to ourselves, we wouldn't because we're not quitters.

It's all ridiculous.  Players quit.  We don't like it.

'Like' has nothing to do with it.

Friday, April 20, 2012


From the 10,000 word post:

"The exact line between 'what the players ought to know' and 'what the players shouldn't know yet' is very, very fine indeed ... and playing that line is the best way to build momentum in a campaign. People have a built-in need to know."

I have written before about witholding information from the player.  A little information is a tease; too much information is a cold shower.

As a DM you will find it difficult to restrain yourself, especially in your early experience.  You will want to tell all about the interesting characters you've conceived, or the profound reason why the setting is the way it is, or how imaginative you've been in concocting the necessary solution.  If you don't tell these things, you will bubble with excitement about the moment the party will find out ... and as a result, you will dowse the flame of your campaign.  Your players will guess their danger or their next move by your inability to sit in your chair ... and when the next twist happens, it won't be a surprise.  You might as well erect a red flag, then salute it.

A DM must be inscrutable.  When the players chat among themselves and conjecture the exact thing you have planned around the next corner, you should not smile and blush and admit that "Yes, that's right!"  Your face should be a closed curtain.  No matter what a party does or says or asks, you must approach your game like a poker player.  The more anxious a party becomes, the less intonation you should allow to creep into your voice.  Once the party is excited, the less you say or give away, the better.

Why?  Because it all ends when the party knows what's going on.  Oh, they might still enjoy a last combat; they might enjoy distributing the treasure after a hard day's work ... but they'll have lost that itching feeling under their skin that demands they pull aside the curtain no matter what is on the other side.  As a DM, you want them to believe it will be the worst thing imaginable - in their imagination, that is.  There is nothing you can conjure with your imagination or words that will be as frightening as their imagination - so shut up and don't try.  If you are inscrutable, they will project themselves onto the blank screen you provide - and if it turns out to be nothing, your player will be quite relieved.

And now and then, by sheer chance, you'll manage to come close enough to their imagination to get them really, really going.  That's always a NICE session.

Dance and sing too much, though, and you'll ruin it.

Literature and film has long understood that there's a way to build up tension about something that hasn't happened yet that will keep the reader or the viewer on the edge of their chair.  It is not as difficult as it sounds.  Where you might be inclined to tell ALL about a thing, don't.  An old trope is to describe everything about what a monster does without giving any information at all about what the monster IS.  Another is to present a series of illogical events in which a rational explanation is impossible.

There's a game we used to play as teenagers.  In effect, one person was the "game master" - he or she knew the answer to the riddle, and the others were forced to guess.  The riddle was usually something that was nearly impossible to guess at first glance, as necessary information was deliberately left out.  For example:

One day, a man walking down a street sees a sign in a restaurant window saying, "Fresh condor meat sandwiches served daily."  The man says, "I haven't had a condor meat sandwich in years."  He goes into the restaurant and gives his order to the server.  The server brings out the sandwich, and the man bites into it.  Then he puts the sandwich down, pulls out his pistol and kills himself.

Obviously, the question is why.  The answer is conveniently on the internet, but before rushing to look it up, consider the rules of the game we played.

The Game Master was allowed to answer questions.  The Game Master could only answer "yes" or "no."  It was important that he or she not give away the answer with facial expressions or other clues - the inscrutability I described.  The game is good practice for DMing.

Part of the game is that the players will ask again and again for the riddle to be repeated - and it's absolutely necessary that every word you use is the exact word you used previously.  People will jump on you otherwise.  So the game requires more than inscrutability ... it requires precision, as well.

We used to get a room of people very worked up as frustration kept them thinking and pondering and anxiously seeking the right question:

Was the sandwich made of condor meat?  Yes.  Was the condor meat fresh?  Yes.  Did the man actually taste the sandwich?  Yes.  Had the man actually eaten a condor meat sandwich before?  No.  Did he think he'd eaten a condor meat sandwich before?  Yes.  Did the man hate meat?  No.  Did the man always carry a pistol?  Yes.  Was it one he had bought?  No.  Was the pistol part of his job?  Yes.  Was he in the military?  Yes.  Had he been in a war?  Yes.  Had his supposed experience with condor meat been during the war?  Yes.

And so on, until eventually you corner the game master with the solution.  The man had once eaten human flesh, had believed it was condor meat, and upon tasting actual condor meat realized what he'd done years before, and could not live with the truth.

We had others.  Some were painfully simple and could be solved in a few minutes.  Some took ages and ages.  I had one fellow on the hook for two years ... as this was before the internet, and he had no one he could ask.  I would not give him the solution, and so from time to time he would ask me a few more questions and I'd give him a few more answers.  He did, eventually, figure it out.  I'm sure it was a weight off his mind.

D&D is like that for me.  I will sit on the resolution for an adventure as long as it takes.  In 2005 my online party was desert crawling when they came across three ogres hauling a bevy of girls to be sacrificed in a far off desert city.  The party was new and weak, and three ogres was a tough battle.  The ogres were in the employ of a wizard named Patroclus, who dwelt in the city of Khorezm, south of the Aral Sea ... and the party later met a few minor minions of Patroclus who tried to get the girls back.  Not long after, the party returned one of the girls to her father the emir, who helped the party secure a periapt against scrying, whereupon Patroclus could not directly locate them.

In seven years of real time, the party has not heard from Patroclus.  Not a word.  But they occasionally acknowledge that Patroclus is out there, somewhere, waiting.  They know that I know how he will re-enter the campaign, and under what circumstances ... and I do.  The party worries about that.  They should worry about that.  It's a nice, long-term rumble beneath all the other unforeseen terrors they face.  The less they know about the truth - from my perspective and from the perspective of the campaign - the better.

For some, this kind of long term puzzle would seem impossible.  I argue that if you get good at not quite satisfying the party's curiousity, the party's curiousity will keep them coming back to your world ... potentially until your death.

Would be a shame, I suppose, if I were suddenly hit by a bus and the party never knew.  But life is full of disappointments.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Lacking Adventure

Ah, Adventure.  To venture upon; to expose oneself to danger or risk; to hazard everything for the sake of excitement or gain.  The whole world laid out, filled with the unknown, the unusual, the unimaginable.  Just the sort of thing for an enterprising party member to experience to the utmost.

Believe me, the webmasters of Official D&D have you covered.  They have a whole page dedicated to "adventure tools."

Well, "whole page" might be overstating it.  Actually, to be honest, "adventure tools" is overstating it.  What the Wizards of the Coast has is, erm, monsters.  Yes, you can find four wonderful tools about monsters:  the monster list they have; the fact that the monster list is Mac & PC compatible; the ability to save monsters; and the ability to import monsters.  My, my, my.  These are adventure tools aplenty.

A month ago I took note that if I never needed something to write about, I could go dig up the senior manager for the D&D research and design team.  Well, I'm not in a very good mood, and the fuckwits at WOTC do not disappoint.

Here's the scoop, by the way, for all you players of this game.  You are not expected to create anything.  In fact, the design team specifically does not want you to lift a freaking finger.  Just sit in your DM's chair, open your fucking mouth and swallow this nice spoon of olive oil the "experts" have prepared.  It's tastes like shit, yes, but its good for you.  It will get you comfortable with moving your bowels when you associate with their products.

Humorously, it happens that yesterday some corporate grunt called Tom LaPille wrote a corporate blogpost about monsters, beginning with,

"In D&D, monster entries give DMs pre-built enemies to throw at characters."

Foolishly, I immediately presumed from that first sentence that it was going to be the usual banal diatribe about how that's a bad thing, as if there's any person left in the game who doesn't know it ... except, marvelously, LaPille doesn't know it.  The article goes on and on about just how tailor-made those monsters are, for your non-thinking convenience.  Oh, they use the "minimum number of unique mechanical effects that still gets across the fundamental nature of the monster" ... but the more "setting-specific information a creature requires, the longer we need to make the flavour text."

Thus, the fundamental nature of the monster is clearly defined by its setting specificity ... please, let's not have any thinking outside the box, people.  Let's not have any thinking.  An adventure is monsters - and monsters define the adventure.  Q.E.D.

I don't suppose anyone has considered that an adventure, or that a tool for an adventure, might include something more than a monster.  I don't suppose we'd want anything that would help players of the game design a world, or a town, or even a building in that town.  We wouldn't want to design a structured social system that enabled players to plug in NPC descriptions or motivations or what imaginable expectations a mythical association might have of its players.  We wouldn't want a systematic, downloadable plethora of 4,000 mundane or unique settings, or 4,000 sim-like graphics that could be imported, saved and applied to your own desk-top design.  No.  We wouldn't want you, the player, heading off with some tool and making your own module, would we?  No.  Still, we have modules for you, so shut up and buy them.  Here's a monster toy for you to chew on.  Good doggie.

It wouldn't be easy to create 4,000 unique character descriptions.  It would have to be more than just a list of abilities or backgrounds; it would have to include that particular character's motivations, and how that character would be likely to aid, obstruct, mislead, motivate or manipulate the party.  Ten such descriptions would have very little use.  A hundred descriptions might suffice for just the bartenders one might want to conjure.  4,000 descriptions would probably cover a magnificent array of prepared NPCs ... and if they could be selected in a kind of I-Ching manner, it might be possible to organize the descriptions to fit types of scenario-specific adventures.  Such a list might even be overlaid on top of monsters.

Nor would it be easy to conjure the necessary graphics for every kind of fortification, temple, house, hall, workshop, settlement or other construction imaginable ... but having them all set up online, so you could quickly jumble them together like letters on a scrabble board, to create an instant combat scenario, would be phenomenal.  If we had the ground plans for 70 types of ordinary houses, or 90 types of workhouses, or 250 prefabricated villages - without any need for description, or pre-determined contents ... wouldn't that be something?  Plug and play ... and stuff your building full of 4,000 sofas, palattes, cabinets, pools, plants, art, etcetera, to boot.

No, certainly not easy.  Not impossible, either.  If we could just for a few minutes recognize that monsters are not the only things that can be plugged into an adventure.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Scientific Method

If you went to school, you should remember enough to know the elements of scientific method:  that one develops a hypothesis; one performs experiments; one observes; and one draws conclusions.  It's a great deal more complicated than that, but as the simplification satisfied the needs for your education, the simplification satisfies the needs for this post.

All me to explain that I am not a scientist.  If some gentle reader has some idea that I am about to write a post about the intricacies of science, and how it is managed, that gentle reader should be flying a kite instead of reading this.  I don't apologize for not being a scientist; I'm not a plumber, or a politician, or a prostitute - and since I feel the world has enough scientists, plumbers, politicians and prostitutes to accurately represent those fields, I don't feel any sacred duty has been placed upon me.  There's something truly criminal in the expectation that we must all be experts in the pure subject before we shall be allowed to talk about any peripheral angle of that subject.  I cannot place a toilet in my bathroom - but I know what a toilet is used for, and my lack of expertise in toilet installation is immaterial to my defining shit.  There will be a great many more essays written upon modern technologies in this series, and I wish it understood that I will be writing upon none of them as a field expert.  Willy nilly, I am a writer.  If you will read this, you will be reading a writer.  There are journals available should you wish an expert opinion.

So I shall not be examining the intricacies of the hypothesis development, nor experimental procedure, nor the modern accepted definitions of deduction vs. induction.  Here, I shall discuss the associations between the scientific method and Dungeons and Dragons.

Belief, as anyone knows, can alter observation.  Now and then, having met a person with opinions vastly different than my own, it is a mystery that we can both have lived on the same planet.  Take any Flame War of your choice - how much do these things really matter?  For all the history upon which we are able to reckon, human beings have been prepared to execute en masse other human beings for the sake of nothing other than belief.  If the reader doubts that "intelligent design" belief can cause  "intelligent design" crusaders to posit the existence of dinosaurs 4000 years ago, the reader should remember how fathers disfigure their daughters or how we kill one another over the matter of color.  Belief, as ridiculous as it gets, is very powerful.  You may be in a position of proven knowledge; you may be prepared to argue that position - but remember that if you are in the wrong room when you argue that position, you may very well not get out alive.

That is why the practical success of scientific methodology has with great difficulty encouraged the world to throw out prejudice in favor of proof.  "We" don't like your proof.  "We" don't want your proof.  So best you take that proof right on down the road before I pick up that pitchfork with an aim to do something with it.

The question shall therefore always arise, "what is proof?"  Between those ready to disregard the experiment; and those ready to modify the experiment to prove what they wish; and those too dumb stupid to grasp what the experiment demonstrated - there is a gigantic rift between what we can call "belief" and what we can imaginatively call "truth."

However, the genius of the scientific method is not that a particular experiment will "prove" anything.  No scientist of merit will argue that.  A particular experiment is only what that experiment is at that particular moment ... and nothing more.  When the press jumps up and down with excitement when a scientist has gotten some result or other, declaring that this "proves" blah blah blah, it is certainly not with words provided by the scientist.  It is, in a word, bullshit ... but it sells papers to nitwits who know little or nothing about science.  Scientists pay no attention, except to be annoyed.  They simply sit down and perform the experiment again.

The interesting thing about science, as opposed to belief, is the manner in which multiple cultures performing scientific experiments arrive at the same conclusions.  There are multiple examples of two scientists tackling a particular subject, both arriving at the same conclusion, and both rushing to write that conclusion so that it can be read (and the experiment repeated) by other scientists.  There are also multiple examples of a scientist producing a conclusion, receiving NO interest in return, and dying in obscurity only to have his conclusions vidicated a generation later.

This never, ever happens with belief.

Gautama sat under a tree, so they say, for 49 days and produced Buddhism.  Although there were hundreds of thousands of other - what shall we call it, introspective philosophers?  Although these others examined the same questions about misery and purpose, no other produced Gautama's exact results.  Every competitor - and there were A LOT of competitors in 6th century BCE India - had a slightly modified idea, a slightly unique angle on the question.  It would be as if multiple discovers of the gas oxygen all found that the weight of the oxygen molecule varied depending upon who had discovered it.

Note that, although isolated cultures have independently develop technologies, no other culture anywhere in the world independently developed Buddhism.  All Buddhist practices spawn from a single source ... which is a funny thing for this reason:  all Buddhism, like all religions everywhere, have divided and subdivided into hundreds of individualistic heresies, none of which quite preach the same thing.  If religion, or belief, has the clarity of truth, why is it that with each generation this clarity must then be modified by yet another introspective philosopher?  Why is it every church, temple, mosque and so on preaches its own cultural brand of truth?

There is no scientific method that corrals belief.  In truth, no one can successfully preach their brand of belief to you - you, gentle reader, will modify it even if you adopt what they say and join their practices.  You may never speak of your peculiar modification - but you will modify it just the same.  Some hardcore Christians will remember that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, and will be confortable visiting prostitutes, and some hardcore Christians will remember that Mary WAS a prostitute, and eschew it because Mary gave it up.  Still others will argue about what kind of prostitute Mary was, and base upon that which kind of prostitutes they will visit.  Such as it is with belief.

No amount of belief, however, will change the number of hydrogen atoms that a single oxygen atom will mate with.  If aliens arrive upon this world from the other side of the galaxy, they will know precisely this number.  They will have an expression for "number" that will fit with our expression.  There is nothing that any amount of belief can change about that.

Belief doesn't care.  The structure of belief does not include "new ideas" in its engineering, except that when new ideas threaten belief, ignore it.  It's a very simple, practical solution.  It doesn't require an hypothesis, or any time wasted on experimentation, nor any expertise in observing.  We leap directly to the conclusion we want, ignore everything else, shout down everything else, kill everything else - then get on with our merry, self-satisfied lives.

Ah, Dungeons and Dragons.  Is there any evidentiary proof?

I would say, for most of the community, no.  No, not really.  Most argue vociferously that there is no "right" game and that there is no "right" method of play.  A few still take a position of some kind - but the position is necessarily vague and emotionally constructed.  It is a belief, and as such, the speaker usually proclaims the value of belief.  After all, its a simple, self-justifying position to take.  I have taken it myself, at least once on video.  Thus goes the song: "I'm just giving my opinions."  My, don't we all know how that shuts down the competition.  You, O Reader, cannot argue with my opinions except with your opinions, and since all opinions are equal, you must take your opinions down the road.  Q.E.D.

I confess a laziness on my part.  It is far harder to give reason or provide argument for doing what we do, or for why we don't do some other thing.  How shall I explain that I play AD&D as opposed to some other edition?  How many words would it take before the reader surrendered in despair, long before the reader grasped my position?  We all know from experience as little children that there comes a point where you just ... stop ... arguing.  When you're a little child, you use your fist at that point.  When you are an adult, you walk away.  You stop listening.

Rarely, do you experiment with some one else's belief.

Why then do we spend so much time and effort pontificating upon our beliefs?  What do we expect to accomplish?  Why write a blog about how I deal with weather, or the background of characters, or the mapping of the world?  Surely, you the reader have already decided what you shall do about those things, and anything I have to say will have little effect upon you.

We read for interest.  We read to fill our day.  We read about this game because we like the game, and reading about it produces little hits of dopamine that brings us pleasure ... even if we despise the exact content of what we are reading.  We are not scientists.

A scientist will read a position paper in his or her field and question the validity of the research.  Everyone else will read a position paper, essay or advertisement and question its source.  Do I believe in that person, we will think.  Do we like that person?

We do not seriously consider the material.  We know we don't believe the material.  If we believed in that material, it would already be ours.  More often than not, if we like the person, it is because it sounds as though that person believes what we believe.  We HATE people who do not believe what we believe.

The technology of the scientific method has steadfastly overcome this very human and crippling trait.  It has solved many of the world's real problems, despite the belief systems of the world's residents.

Deep inside D&D, I am certain, there ARE right ways to play.  There are right ways to for DMs to treat players, and right ways for players to manage their characters, and right boundaries of play to observe and right behaviors that should be adopted at the table.  I write this blog month after month with the intent of arguing what I believe are the right ways.  I encourage disagreement on the subject material, because this blog is my experiment.  This is practical when the disagreement is founded upon experience or conjecture; it isn't very practical when the disagreement is founded on prejudice and pride.

This isn't a perfect world, and human experiments are hopelessly ruined on account of unforeseen variables.  Still, we try.  We explain the experiment; we run through the manner in which variables manifest; and we struggle to enclose the environment in order to manage the experiment as best we can.  If we learn something that can be described to others, and if others can reproduce the results in another experiment they conduct on their own, then we move a little bit ahead of where we were yesterday.

What we don't worry about is how long this takes.  We don't mind that the conclusion will not arrive in our lifetime.  Wanting a conclusion right now is a religious thing.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Steam Power

As a classicist, I can assure you that a great deal of interest has been directed towards the steam "engine," or aeolipile, created by Hero of Alexandria.  The creation of the device probably predates Hero, possibly to the 3rd century BCE - but this is not what interests classics or ancient history professors.  No, it is that the existence of this device, and the fact that it was never put to any practical use, is proof positive that the Romans did not view technology in the same manner as we do ourselves.  No, the Romans were NOT driven by the need to constantly reinvent their universe!  The Romans did not see labor saving devices as all important necessities!  Hero's steam engine proves that although they had the possibilities of the industrial revolution at their fingertips, the Romans eschewed technology in favor of a more traditional ideal.

What a load of hogswallop.

The above opinion was pressed on me a number of times by my professors, and was argued in a number of texts I was expected to regurgitate.  It must be remembered that classicists are as a whole reclusive rather anti-practical lumps, and as such are expected to miss the obvious problem with Hero's "engine."  That is, that it isn't an engine at all.  It's a toy.

See, what the aeolipile does not do, that which practicality demands, is that it does not process cold water into steam while it is in action.  If you add cold water to an aeolipile while it is spinning, it very definitely stops spinning.

It took another 16 centuries for James Watt to satisfactorily improve upon a number of cantankerous steam devices in the 18th century and create an ENGINE.  The steam engine, the gentle reader understands, both takes in cold water AND puts out steam, simultaneously.  Hero and his contemporaries couldn't figure out how to do that - and that is why the Romans did not embrace the Industrial Revolution.

Yet try and tell a classics professor.  Go on.  Try.

I won't jump into the function of Watt's steam engine, an improvement on the Newcomen steam engine, a leap forward from Thomas Savery's pump, etc.  I won't, because D&D isn't steam punk, and I'm not here to argue that it should be.  I would like to point out, however, that the making of steam into water has been around a lot longer than human beings have - the problem for our species has always been the interjection of a great deal of heat into a relatively small amount of water in order to create steam to exact specifications.

Well, it's a problem we have.  It's not a problem where a spellcaster is concerned.

Let us consider the spell heat metal.  This is a spell which, according to the books, causes metal to glow a dull red - so we're talking about a fair amount of heat.  Now ... what stops me from creating an iron flask about the size of a bread loaf, filling it with water, sealing it with a metal plug and dipping that into another layer of metal in order to seal it tightly?  If the water within has nowhere to go, and the metal is heated, what is the effect?

For that matter, if I cast shrink (the opposite of enlarge) upon the object, but not upon the water it contains, what is the effect of that?

What if I have clairvoyance, enabling me to see the water, so that I cast either enlarge or shrink on the water, and not on the container?  And if I create water, then shrink it, then teleport that water into the container, then dispel magic, what is the effect of that?

What is the effect if all of this is done on a container of considerable thickness which is molded into having an enlongated spout, which is plugged until the pressure is released within.  How much pressure can I produce in order to give me how much steam?

If I create whichever steam-producing metal bubble seems most effective, and apply a fire trap, so that it only opens at the spigot-end when a door is opened, how much damage can I cause?

If not a fire trap, how about a ward or an appropriate glyph of some sort?

If I enlarge my metal bubble and put it in the hands of a creature who naturally gives off a level of heat, then create a gate to the plane of water inside the bubble, how much damage will that do?

Are there any particular reasons my character cannot experiment with these things in your world?

Group IV

I am now sixty percent of the way through the Civilization IV tech tree, and things are certainly looking very modern.   To continue this through the next 20 technologies, I will certainly have to get clever, n'est pas?

I confess, the ones that worry me most are probably the last three of this group, fission, radio and refrigeration - but I'm sure with some research, I can apply my mind to these and figure something out.  I estimated it would take me nine months to complete the last group; in fact it took me 13.  At that rate, I shouldn't have these finished until the May 2013.

But it really depends on how I apply myself.

So far, the whole series has taken just over 33 months ... and will not end with the completion of the technologies.  I have considered additional series on the buildings, the religions, the various units and even the various resources in the game.  It's a terrific source for conteplative posts, and I'm not planning on giving it up for years to come.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Naked Chick Warriors

If you're not familiar with my experience system, before reading further I suggest taking a glance here and here.

There is a strange element of this system that has come to light in the last year or so, as enough time has passed now to compare how certain classes are affected.  Fighters, as it happens, do quite well with the system - but since fighters in general need more to go up levels than clerics, druids, thieves, assassins and even mages and illusionists after a certain level, this works out nicely.

But it really depends on how safe a fighter plays it.

Consider:  if you gain 20 x.p. every time you take a point of damage, it follows that the better your armor class, the less damage you'll take, and the less experience you'll get.  Proposed:  an orc has three chances to attack you using a short sword befpre you're able to kill it (we'll suppose your fighter can take 18 damage and live).  Here's your likely gained experience from the orc depending upon your armor class:

figure 1

That's a significant spread - and interesting since, supposing you can take 18 damage, even with the worst armor class possible you're likely to lose less than half your hit points.  The gentle reader should note that in the above table, the fighter is assumed to be fighting alone - and thus is gaining the 20 x.p. for each point of damage, PLUS the addition 20 x.p. bonus points for being present in the fight.  Also, it does not take into account the average of 45 x.p. gained from killing the orc, assuming it has hit points equal to one 8-sided hit die.  (The reader did read the links carefully, right?)

When you fight alone using my system, you really rack up the experience.

(I should pause and point out that the experience gained from killing an orc in the DMG is something like 14 total).

So, the fighter that plays it safe is going to go up levels a lot slower than the fighter that takes risks.  If we add the 45 x.p. average for the orc to the total damage, the fighter in plate mail has to kill 16 orcs in one-to-one combat (on average), while the fighter wearing no armor at all has to kill only 6.

Obviously, this doesn't stop players in my world from rushing to the best armor class they can find.  Living longer means they can rack up more damage against enemies before getting cut down, and that's usually what happens.  A fighter lasting longer takes awhile to make those 10 x.p. per point hits count, but its safer.

However, here is something else to think about.

Remember, I said that the bonus 20 x.p. was also going to the same fighter in the above example, because that fighter was alone.  But what if the fighter isn't alone?  What then?

Suppose the fighter is with a party of four - what is the spread on experience then?  Well, let's separate out the bonus from the fighter's personal gain and see:

figure 2
Basically, if you're playing it safe, you're screwing your associates out of experience.  The mage or cleric standing behind you gets a lot more knowledge about life and combat watching your limbs get hewn from your body if you're not gussied up in plate armor.  Not all that nice, but certainly interesting.

I don't think there's a player alive who'd be willing to trade in his or her better armor just so the tag-alongs can get a bit more experience - thus it begs the question:  is this fair?

Damn right it's fair.  No one can argue that it isn't hugely more vicariously rewarding to watch people get themselves cut to ribbons than to watch swords bounce off shields and breastplates.  That is, assuming that the cleric or the mage behind the fighter are also taking part in the battle (crowds in the stands at gladiatorial shows, not taking part, get no experience - but its a nice afternoon for them).  If the cleric is watching the fighter's blood pouring out, this spurs the cleric to greater, more frenzied action (one hopes), compelling the non-fighter character to get into the fight and spare the fighter some of that nasty damage.  Overall, the party benefits when the fighter isn't clothed in iron ... and doesn't that bring up some marvelous conceptual ideals where it comes to fantasy imagery?

Turns out, Conan's followers did a lot better than King Arthur's, since Conan was half-naked most of the time.  Turns out, the chain link bra worn by Red Sonja was there to bestow benefits on the followers beyond a frenzied hard on!

Unless, of course, you're not buying it.  Eh, whatever.  If it justifies a naked chick warrior, I'm all for it.

Chemistry III

This is a short rejoiner to last week's chemistry posts.  The solution was suggested by my rather brilliant future son-in-law, who conjectured to me last night that mithril or adamantium might be states of matter, and not elements in their own right.  As a diamond and a lump of coal are both carbon, and as ice and water are both H20, titanium (Ti) and mithril (also Ti) could be alternate states of the same element.

Running with this idea myself, I would rather that mithril and adamantium were alternate "magical" states of the elements uranium and radium.  The radioactivity of the familiar elemental form could be viewed as an enthalpic, or thermodynamic potential incorporated through connection with the negative or positive material planes, as understood by zarathustrian Magi.  Thus, we could conjecture that the development of zoroastrianism in the early first millenium BCE (the date of Zarathustra's actual existence remains in contention) was the development not only of human-usable "magic," per se, but a terrific alchemical leap forward in the comprehension of metals that did not take place in the real world.  We modern dwellers never quite made the connection that Zarathustra proposed, and we still haven't managed to calculate matter in terms of its magical properties.

This I like very much; it leads to a structural quality to how magic works, without necessarily deconstructing the manner in which ordinary physics (chemistry, mathematics, etc.) continues to apply to the game.

Do I like the fellow my daughter's with?  You bet I do.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Status, April 10, 2012

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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Threaten Them

Raph Koster wrote an excellent post last month on the ease with which a well-designed game can be thoroughly and disastrously ruined through the implementation of one stupid idea.  That's not quite his take on it, but Raph is a fairly polite fellow, with a good corporate face he presents to the public; I'd love to know what he really thinks.

I must tell you, O gentle readers, when I go looking for game design articles intended to make me think, Raph's site is where I begin reading.  It is the only place on the net where I read article after article without the need to comment about how the writer is inaccurate - but then, all these writers are doing very well for themselves.

Koster ends his post with the following: 

"Every inconvenience is a challenge, and games are made of challenges.  This means every inconvenience in your design is potentially someone's game."

Read that very carefully.  This may be the reason your game design sucks.  You have spent such an amount of time creating monsters that are cool, or dungeons that are keen, or tables that are nifty ... but you haven't yet created anything intended to challenge your players.  You haven't given them anything special to overcome.  You've created a bougoise resort, where they're put on tour and told to look left and look right at all the fascinating pretty things you've devised, but there's nowhere to get off the bus that isn't brimming with ready-to-eat buffet tables for their convenience.  Yes, yes, it's all very nice, but the world you've created is Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean.  It isn't paint ball, it isn't skydiving or kayaking.  At its very, very best, it's miniature golf.  The monsters are all laid out in neat rooms, and the players get to knock the ball as best they can, but there's only one hole where the ball goes.

Well, someone is bound to say, it's pen and paper at a table.  It's not going to BE paint-ball, no matter how hard you try.  Don't expect too much.

Think about why paint-ball works - about why it is FUN.  You get to hurt people.  Oh, you don't hurt them very much, but the little balls hit hard enough to bruise, they certainly hit hard enough to know you've been hit, and there's an excellent adrenaline-dopamine rush involved in not wanting to be hurt, yet really relishing hurting others.

Sure, we don't say "hurting."  We say hitting or sometimes killing, or some other removed word that doesn't remind us we've just had a great afternoon causing others to feel pain.  Even if they shout about the pain they feel, we're quite capable of blotting out the questionable morality by intoning the rules or blatantly dismissing pain under rhetoric claiming, "If you weren't ready to get hurt, you shouldn't be here!"  Ah, the human brain.  So conveniently compartmentalized.

So we all agree to be hurt, and we all agree hurting other people is fun - and we all agree its a bit MORE fun when you get hurt somewhat less than the people you hurt.  There's no question about it - the participant who has done the most damage is probably having the MOST fun.  That's something else we compartmentalize out of our thoughts.

It is fun to hurt.  And there are activities where hurting others - even strangers - is considered acceptable.

Yet I also mentioned kayaking.  You're not hurting others in kayaking (if you are, I want to know how that game is played!).  The principle is similar, but not quite the same.  Yes, the less hurt you are, the more fun you're having ... but if you're not hurt at all, then you're NOT having fun.  If the watercourse isn't capable of hurting you, then it's boring.  You want there to be a chance of being hurt - and if you're hard core, you want there to be a chance that the watercourse will kill you (thus, skydiving too).  Otherwise, you're bored.

Any activity that has the potential to hurt us dupes our hormonal system into flooding our blood with a variety of consciousness-affecting chemicals.  That's the rush.  No threat, no drug.  It is the natural drugs we want.

Those drugs very definitely exist at the D&D gaming table, because the participants bring those drugs with them.  At the gaming table, we may not be able to threaten people physically, as with a paint ball gun or a river gorge.  I haven't yet dropped a player out of a plane at 9,000 feet (give me time).

But I have created a world that threatens a player emotionally.  Character death, insults, tension, frustration, inconvenience ... it all leads to anger and shouting and thrills and human-manufactured drugs.  The game has to be hell on the players, else the players won't enjoy it.  Convenience up the game for the players, and you'll reduce the game to something that doesn't need their effort or suffering to succeed at ... and people love to suffer where it comes to succeeding at things.  They may not want to risk being hit by a paintball, but they want risk - they want to know the character they love has at least a chance of dying - so that when the character doesn't die, the absolute triumph at clubbing down the monster's last hit point brings a scream of pleasure.

If your players aren't wallowing in despair from time to time, they're not nearly as high as they could be.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Chemistry II

Yesterday I wrote wildly about chemistry, searching for a unifying fantastical theorem, and Eric left a fairly reasonable comment positing that titanium would do for a stand-in for mithril, while some sort of steel would do as a stand-in for adamantium.  He used my own words in his argument.  I love when people do that.

Alas, it is not nearly enough.  If all fantasy vs. reality needed were create and switch solutions, I wouldn't have needed to write the post as I did.  Unfortunately, we need magical "chemistry" to be so much more.  It needs to be alchemy.

While modern reality, based in quantum physics, is weird enough to be defined as Clarksian "magic," it isn't nearly romantic enough for fanciful creationism.  Not by a long shot.  The packages for magical chemistry have strange, strange markings indeed.  The labels do not only describe the substances in the bottles; they describe with equal abundance conjectures without substance, like emotionalism, fate, spirituality and morality.  Yes, true, it's fine to measure by the oz. something as simple as a philosopher's stone; where is the measure that defines whether your chemical compound successfully attacks "evil"?

Consider, if you will, the principles of hermeticism, and how they were conceived to apply to the alchemical postulations of the Medieval and Renaissance periods.  Most of our modern concepts of immortality, the soul, prophecy, daemonism, kabbalic introspection - indeed the word "magic" itself - derives mostly from the utter bullshit spewed by a long line of imaginative philosophers, many of them quite probably high on a number of psychotropic substances - and many, many of them possessing a pretty loose conception of reason.  Reason, the gentle reader will hopefully understand, was not central to the goal for most hermeticists, who were much more concerned with rising out of the body physical into the realm of the body not-yet-realized-but-filled-with-sincere-wish-fulfillment.

Still, the kookiness of the writings were a spectacularly rich source for fiction authors and storytellers of every design and every culture, who could spin magic into tales of whole cloth, giving us the same stories forming the solid foundation for D&D - which must, in turn, leads to the only possible proposition:

If magic is true, then the hermeticists - and by association, the "science" of alchemy - must also be true.  And if there is to be a magical chemistry, it cannot be solved with the mere insertion of titanium for mithril (with all due respect, Eric - I did not describe the whole frame in my last post).  I dare the chemist to reproduce "evil" upon the periodic table (don't say, lacking in electrons, else you will define poisonous chlorine and flourine gas as "good"); or select out the isotopes most useful in foretelling the future, or if luck is something that obtained from the lanthanides, the actinides or the halogens.

It is a big, big question.  If I were not such a geographer and economist, with my time spent crunching maps and costs, perhaps I might have a massive spreadsheet and graphs defining the nature of matter - in its magical identity, that is.

Ah well.  Someone might get interested yet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I love D&D.  I love the impatience of players who are so anxious to roll dice they've forgotten to tell me who they're attacking or with what.  I love the frustrated bull-sessions of players who can't decide how exactly they're going to cross the field of battle to sneak into the fortress and steal the mcguffin, arguing and suggesting and ultimately putting off the dangerous inevitable risk of death.  I love the satisfying twists when you get to tell them the guy who's been pursuing them these last three weeks - who the party thinks is an assassin - is really just the fighter's uncle Fred.  I love the mind games and the monsters and the melee and the mystery.  I love that the game is an arena, and that while there are rules about what you CAN do, there are no rules about what you should do.

But D&D is not all I love.

I have been playing since I was 15, but I must inform the gentle reader, D&D is a LATE love in my life.  Long, long before I fell for this game as a teenager, I had already fallen in love with writing.  I had also fallen in love with geography, history and pure science.  I spent many hundreds of pleasant hours reading about physics and geology and medicine ... and I have spent thousands of hours since doing more of the same.

So I hope it can be understood that when I hear others wax on about how wonderful it is that D&D has room for metals that don't exist, or physical properties that don't exist, and that FANTASY is the end all and be all of their love affairs ... I can quite kick all my loves to the curb just because I happen to love D&D.  Yes, indeed, fantasy is lovely.  So is chemistry.

I am going to have to wonder, then, where 'mithril' fits on the periodic table.  Oh, I know, it doesn't.  It's make-believe.  It's handwaved, a wizard did it, the phlebotinum fits between magnesium and aluminum, so shut up.

Hey, hey, hey, that's good enough.  As long as it fits somewhere.  Because strange as it may seem, even in fantasy the periodic table still applies.  Gold still carries the same fundamental properties of copper, potassium still bonds with chlorine the same way lithium bonds with flourine, and mercury is STILL almost but not quite liquid at room temperature.  If everything else has properties that define and designate exactly how they work, I'm only saying I want those same properties to exist - in your mind, if nowhere else - for mithril.  I want a melting temperature, I want at least three different isotopes (and let's face it, one of those has to be radioactive) and I want to know what compounds it forms.

Naturally - and oh yes this is the 'natural' subject - no one wants to tackle that down to the ground.  The easiest way to manage any invented substance is to give it the same properties as gold - or even better, xenon.  Mithril does NOT combine with ANYTHING.  Too complicated.  Too much work.  This is fantasy, after all ... and fantasy is never aided by thinking imaginatively about things like science.

I am dead certain that with the vast canon of invented substances and creative hand-waved chemical potions and products (which are never called "chemicals," as that would be obscene and anti-fantasy), people have sat down and proposed that they contain mithril, adamantite, unobtanium and a thousand other make-believe elements.  I'm willing to bet, however, that what hasn't been done is a grand, unified theory explaining exactly why mithril mixed with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and cesium produces this result, and not that.

Why would they?

Well, perhaps they might be in love with chemistry.  Shall we posit the absence of chemists from the game of D&D?  Shall we presume that of the thousand or more blogs written on the game in the blogosphere, NONE of them are written by chemists?  Is there not a single possessor of a bachelor's degree among the hordes of writers?  Surely there must be such a person.

What does it say for this hobby if there isn't?

I am sorry to say, my love of chemistry extended only so far as pure science.  I comprehend the structure of the atom, as well as I can.  I am a huge fan of Heisenberg and the physics thereof.  But I confess I couldn't calculate a mole if my life depended on it.  I understand why sodium and chlorine bond, why they're stable, and why independently they're dangerous as hell; but I couldn't write a mathematical description of the process.  I didn't dedicate my life to that particular love.  I didn't exactly leave her jilted on the altar, but I turned down her proposal of marriage, and we're still good friends. The 'chemistry' just wasn't there.

There must be someone out there able to redesign the periodic table.  Does it exist online and I've just missed it?  If so, please, be a good citizen and send me the link.  I'll write another post about it if someone throws the thing at me.

Only ... it better be good.  I love chemistry, remember.  I don't want to see a cheap whore pretending to be her.