Friday, November 30, 2012

New Monsters

It's Friday morning and you have conceived of an intelligent homosexual mushroom, or an 18 foot tall gerbil that shoots rays out of its eyes, or a race of three-eyed gnomes with remarkable skill at throwing pick-axes, and it occurs to you, "I will draw up the stats for that monster!"  So you do and you post them on your blog, giving the mushroom, gerbil and gnome their own special names (fuungay, grrbel and triomes), plus hit dice, armor class and lists of special abilities ... and presto, the Great Beastiary of Internet Folly is a little better padded for your efforts.

Posting monsters is a favorite hobby for D&D bloggers; some blogs do nothing but post monster after monster, some of which make someone happy, somewhere.  Demographics guarantee that with a large enough pool of potential readers, one potential reader capable of hitting the buttons to make a complimentary comment on your blog shall justify all the monsters the gentle reader has ever posted.

Here, however, is my issue with it.

Monsters are not made useful by hit dice or armor class.  They are not made useful by numbers appearing, or frequency, or rating their intelligence or size or any other statistical characteristic.  Statistics are garbage.  They do not tell me word one about how this monster is useful in my campaign.

Nor do the general biological or simplistic sociological characteristics usually assigned to such monsters.  It's nice that your monster is a battlewagon, a clanlike humanoid or an imaginative demon, but here's a notice for you - no one NEEDS those.  We have plenty of battlewagons and humanoids and demons ... and in all honesty, if the problem you're attempting to solve is that your genre-savvy players already know the monsters in the book, you're missing the point.

Stop obeying the book.

Your players do not have the right to know that goblins have 4 hit points or that Night Hags have a 50% magic resistance (don't quote me on that, I don't have the book in front of me).  They are not entitled to know a bugbear's hit points, a rakshasa's AC or a sphinx's spell list.  Those things are NOT rules that you, as DM, are required to follow.  If you want the goblins in your world to have 80 hit dice, then the players have to suck that shit up - boo hoo, poor them, they didn't get to have superhuman knowledge in advance.  Fuck that they've read the books through and through ... you are not required to play the statistics in the various monster compendiums by ANY law of DMing that I know of.

So if you want to throw your players off balance, and deactivate their genre-savviness, change the numbers and watch them squirm.

Yes, yes, yes, I know, you still want to create new monsters.  Let me suggest a better guideline that splat-stats.  Consider, if you will, the gelatinous cube.

Here is a genre-savvy monster type.  Experienced players will guess a gelatinous cube is about to be in the offing just by the phrase, "the dungeon floor has no dust."

The cube serves a UNIQUE purpose.  It's a jelly, but it can be hit by ordinary weapons, it has an extraordinarily low AC, it doesn't cause much damage but it delivers a non-killing and yet highly nasty special attack (paralyzation), it gives a bit of treasure and it is mostly invisible even under light.  Thus, I can throw it at a low level party and it probably won't kill that party with damage, but it MIGHT manage a total party kill if everyone blows their saving throw.  Cubes have 4 hit dice which are good for experience, and the easy hit means everyone, even the mages, will get to do something.  In general, it is a damn good slashing monster perfect for parties without magic weapons and without many hit points.

I can make cubes as big as buildings for high level parties, give them hundreds of hit points, increase their ACs by arguing that 90% of the hits parties make aren't hitting any "vital nodes" and it is STILL a good monster.  Logically, a good earthquake will break it into hundreds of cubes, while an ice storm may freeze one part of it and yet the rest may still be dangerous.  It has elements of weirdness in it that adjust with flexibility to a multitude of attacks.

What is needed, then, is a monster that doesn't fit some previous niche.  It isn't enough to make it bigger or faster or magical or in some way the exact same only now its a spider or a crab or a peacock.  A peacock that's a lich is still a freaking lich ... the fact that its also a dead peacock just isn't enough to make it interesting!

The only thing is, most, if all, the niches have been filled.  Those sorts of combat vaguaries are the easiest ones to work on, and therefore were the first slots to have monsters plowed into them.  What's needed is not just a new combat niche ... but an entirely new ecological niche entirely.

When you sit to create your new monster, what is truly, awesomely needed is a CONTEXT.  How is the existence of this monster going to change the sociological characteristics of a world?  We build walls to keep out the orcs; we organize woodcutting parties to go out and rid the area of violet fungi or aggressive treants.  We string nets over the town to keep out the stirges.  How, exactly, does your monster affect the people of your world?  How do people interact with it.  I'm not talking just a border, with their land and our land ... we have that for hundreds of monsters already in existence.  How does YOUR monster change the rules, the precepts or the habits of the other creatures and peoples in your world?

Work on that problem.  Cows and chickens and horses may make boring monsters, but the world is radically different because these creatures exist.  A good monster - a really good monster - will offer some truly profound change to the worlds of the people reading your blog.

Don't ask me how you'll do that.  I haven't invented a new monster in years.  I haven't needed one.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Once More Egalitarianism Takes The Stage

One of the things about spending all your time writing, and NOT working on D&D, and NOT playing D&D half as much as you were, because you've recently put a campaign on hiatus and made time for yourself to do other things, is that you're NOT hitting new problems having to do with D&D and therefore you have less to write about on your D&D blog.

Nevertheless, some things are more important than posting.  I mean, I'm not the sort to suddenly decide to close this blog, since I love writing posts, I love watching the numbers jump right after I toss another bit of phlegm out there and I enjoy the scarce comments I receive from people who generally seem to like me.  It's only that, in times like this, when I think to myself, "Aha, write a post!"  I find myself contemplating the nature of man, or why politicians are not burned in effigy more often for supporting crap companies like Hostess, or why women in general need more backbone, and why they don't stop behaving in the sort of flimsy way their mothers did.

And these things, sadly, don't always express themselves well in D&D.

For example, last week I wrote about egalitarianism and history, which received good comments but one notable one in which the fellow, with good intentions, tried to say that this particular philosophy of egalitarianism only applied to legal things, and was therefore not a philosophy by which people tried to live their lives.  In other words, yes we should have laws for those things, saying people are equal, etc., so no one is left behind, but by god we shouldn't believe in that shit ... I mean really!  There is a difference between what lawyers say and the truth.

I thought and thought about writing a post in response to that, but it was hard to justify a wild diatribe against the sort of liberal bullshit where we pay lip service to an ideal we can't possibly believe in, while actually pretending that this is a blog about D&D.  It is at this point that a day, and then another day, and finally another day goes by and I'm writing nothing of any particular importance except to throw up funny pictures of women in really hot smocks immolating hapless bastards from the inside with fire wands.

I think my point from the previous post about egalitarianism was to point out that pre-Locke, and all that shit about human beings being, you know, human and such, and owing it to one another not to be heartless bastards, was the beginning of what we would think of as the beginning of thinking that human rights are important, as opposed to some previous time in history when generally people did not.  This is a terribly hard thing to get one's head around, unless one actually believes that human rights are a load of codswallop - but really, how many multi-millionaires are reading this blog besides that guy at the Alexandrian?  (I know he is, I can feel his hot breath on my neck).

I was extrapolating from this change in intellectually-driven human inter-relations to suggest that in a D&D world, people wouldn't feel very kind and sweet and inclined to help women being beat up and raped randomly on the street - thank you Butch for your support.  From this extrapolation, I suppose I had some silly point to make about modern humans pretending to live in such an age feeling free enough to eschew the teachings of Rousseau and Voltaire - which, let's admit, the majority of you haven't read anyway and don't know from Dr. Who, or where the fuck all this consideration for your fellow man propaganda came from - and thus go hog-wild butchering and slaughtering the weak-kneed whoresons of their mother's loins in Conan-like glee.  In other words, to enjoy the flagrant streams of shameful fantasy where it comes to things that don't exist anyway being obliterated from existence.

I would say I rather failed at that, but then I sort of knew I was going to fail, since I'd written a thousand words about Juvenal and had gotten caught in a trap I wasn't going to get out of without another seven thousand words and let's face it, I had other kinds of writing to do plus the problem of earning daily bread.

So ... here we are.  Human beings.  Decent now, not so decent then.  That was the point.  And yet, this being the impetus of this particular prose, I have to express some doubt about how decent human beings actually are.

See, in watching one of those things where a British TV Star of small fame in North America offers an educated opinion about something, I found myself faced with the bit of truth that poor David Mitchell isn't quite grasping in his rant about the importance of human beings at least having the tiniest concept of preserving their own lives.  That being, humans are just gawd-awful stupid about such things.  I'm going to assume you can stretch your will to be able to listen to an intelligent man's desperate pleading with the human race for three minutes flat - the length of the video - so that you will understand when I say that there have been vast numbers of human beings completely capable of letting themselves die after discovering that the roof is on fire.  This is something that is usually lost on those who, being intelligent, fundamentally believe that by speaking in a given language, and putting words clearly together in a manner which one would normally assume would allow others to understand that language, they will be understood.  It just isn't so.  Language is particularly difficult to grasp, particularly by the willfully stupid - and for that, read those who have gotten this far in the paragraph without hitting the link beginning it.

Half the reason why certain D&D players must make statements like, "Whatever is fun for you and yours in the right way" is the level of exhaustion they have felt whenever they have tried to explain, even for three minutes flat, that there is another, better way to play the game, drink to the point of inebriation, preserve the planet, what have you.  It isn't that they truly feel forgiving of the other crap games people play, it is only that they've recognized that people are fucking stupid, and that they won't get it no matter how many times the words are spoken in the proper order for three year olds to understand, and anyway it doesn't matter, for even though we don't believe the words when we say them, its important that the words are out there to express the totally insincere egalitarianism that everyone is equal, even if we know they're not.

So poor David Mitchell and the race he's part of that's going to starve when the crops dry out, and poor us for trying to improve a game where the egalitarian bullshit that supports everyone being able to play as equals is more important that everyone be able to play, you know, well.

You know what, fuck chess books.  Fuck their exercises and suggestions and their efforts to help you win the games you play, becuase whatever is fun for you is the right way to play chess.  Fuck just absolutely everyone who ever tries to do anything better, because you know what, better just fucking sucks, it just makes me feel like I'm not as good as you are.

And that makes me hate you, you fucking pretentious bastard.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sorry, No Post Today

I wish I had a really good reason for posting this.  It would be wonderful if I could write a post about how there isn't enough sex in D&D ... but let's face it, most players of the game really are not tough enough to handle sex in all its perverse variety.

It would be lovely if I could squeeze out a post about the unique and varied uses of wands, rods and staves ... but OGLAF has undoubtedly beat me there, as it has beat everyone on the damn planet.

I could probably post about having just discovered OGLAF last night, but of course I can't do that because, well, we have to save face where it comes to these things.  It's important to present oneself as knowing everything, of being on top of literally every post in the whole internet, because no one, absolutely no one, could possibly have only discovered this brilliant site just last night.

It's a shame I can't come up with a post.  Oh well.  It's still a really good picture.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Argument That We Haven't Changed

This post is in part a progression from last week's post about bad journalism, addressing the question, are we getting dumber?

I don't propose to answer the question.  I would rather discuss why we ask questions like this in the first place.

My personal feeling is that it has everything to do with the bane of thinking in our age, egalitarianism, the ultimate round hole into which all square shapes must be pounded.

According to Wikipedia, "Egalitarianism is a trend of thought that favors equality among living entities.  egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status."

Which is summed up perfectly by Helen and Dash in the Incredibles:

"--Everyone's special, Dash.  --Which is another way of saying no one is."

No conscious, educated person believes in such nonsense ... but the wherewithal of human beings to WANT to believe in such nonsense, despite the evidence of their eyes, a lifetime of study, a functioning brain and their own failure to live by such principles can be breathtaking.  Cognitive dissonance is more powerful than the greatest forces of nature - of that, too, we have enormous proof.

So various questions are asked again and again: are we dumber; are we freer; do people resent authority more than they used to; and so on.  The reason for this is that a significant subset of humanity - and therefore journalists - have accepted the egalitarian myth, and that has challenged them to extend 'equality' into the past.

How many times have you heard it?  "Nothing ever changes."  "Those people long ago, they were just like us."  "Isn't it funny how things come and go, but people just stay the same?"

As someone who came from a classical education, I can give you the quintessential example.  In the 1st century AD there was a writer we've come to know as Juvenal.  His actual name was Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis.  Juvenal wrote some quite marvelous Roman humor, of which 16 pieces have survived - these are called the 'Satires' ... and if you want evidence that "we've stayed the same," Juvenal is your resource.

Juvenal writes a diatribe about how his friend shoudn't get married; about everything that's wrong with living in a big city like Rome; why women are the worst; the inanities of soldiers; and so on and so forth.  The satires are chock full of immediately recognizeable passages, which apply as much today as they did then.  As Juvenal says to a friend,

"Are you, in this day and age, ready for an agreement,
A contract, the wedding vows, having your hair done
By a master-barber, your finger already wearing the pledge?
Postumus, you were sane once. Are you really taking a wife?
Which Tisiphone is it, with her snakes, driving you mad?
You surely don’t have to endure it, with so much rope about,
Those vertiginous windows open, the Aemilian bridge at hand?"


In short, wouldn't you rather kill yourself rather than be married?

The references are different; the slang derives from other popular sources, but the sentiment is the same as any 20 something says to his pal when he hears he's going to tie the knot.  This was a classic example given to me by my own professors, to "prove" that we were really the same as the Romans, that they viewed the world not so differently from us.  My classics professors were as dissonant as anyone.  For you see, the gentle reader must realize I'm cherry-picking the above lines.  The very next in the satire run thusly:

"If none of these multiple exits please you, wouldn’t a boyfriend
Suit you better, one who would share your bed, a boyfriend
Who wouldn’t quarrel all night; wouldn’t demand from you
As he lies there, little gifts; and wouldn’t complain that your
Body was idle, that you weren’t breathing hard, as ordered."


That's a little harder to fit into the modern mindset, isn't it?  I mean, certainly there are gay men about ... but how often does the modern man suggest that his friend who is about to marry take it up with a boy instead?

If you've got the time, read the whole satire ... and as you read, ask yourself seriously if you're not just latching onto the passages that sound like us because those are the things you recognize, and dismissing the things you don't.  When you come to the end, see if you can remember those odd little parts, like where Juvenal writes, "When sinuous Bathyllus dances his pantomime Leda, Tucia loses control of her bladder ..." rather than the things that are warm and friend and familiar.

Now I can tell you, there's a platoon of classics profs ready to explain to you chapter and verse how Tucia's bladder really represents some ordinary thing we take for granted every day ... but don't take them too seriously.  I've known quite a number of classic profs, and I can tell you there is a rare profession that pays quite so much for going right up your own asshole every day.  It's a gift, it's a skill, and for anyone who doesn't mind living in a community small and smelly, it's a good gig if you can get it.  But down on the ground, no matter what the bladder symbolizes, we today are not connecting that particular organ with the act of lovemaking.  We're connecting different organs, and for entirely different reasons.

See, my point is this.  The egalitarian would like you to believe that if we dropped you into the heart of Rome, if we gave you a Matrix-like primer on Roman cultural references, and of course fluent use of the dialect, you'd get on in Rome just like you own home town - because the people would be the same, and what they wanted out of life would be the same.

And this is one big steaming pile of bullshit.

I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, O gentle reader, but you are not ready to live in Rome.  Hell, most of you are not ready to live in Mississippi in the modern era, and that's a world that gets at least some of the cultural references you get.  You are not ready to be dismissive about the plight of the average slave; you are not ready to view political and military oppression as a proper and ordinary thing; you are not ready to see women as chattel and children as little creatures that don't matter until they reach a certain age, at which the culture no longer expects them to randomly die.

This is why so much of classics scholarship - and historical scholarship in general - spends so much time and energy rewriting ancient facts with brand new modern interpretations, despite there being little or no evidence to support such ideas.  If you want an example, toddle yourself down to the nearest large university library, hop up to the section where they keep the books on classical history and have a look at how many of them have been written about women in the classical world.

Chances are, you will find a whole shelf, even two or three shelves, full of book after book with titles like "Women in the Roman Era" ... most of them written by women classics professors feeling the need to quantify their interest in an era that cared little or nothing for women.

You see - and this is the big joke - the total amount of actual hard material we have on women prior to 500 A.D. is bupkiss.  We have some nice pictures; we have some nice passing references, like Juvenal's satires, mostly filled with negative things about women; we have some tiny passages and bits and pieces from Livy and Plutarch, along with graffiti carefully copied down from hundreds of archeological sites.  We have the ever present poet Sappho, whom we're not really certain was a woman.  All in all, it's still bupkiss.  And yet book after book is written, on the same material, trying desperately to squeeze out some idea that women mattered, at least a little bit, despite the fact that we have quite a lot more material on classical men who apparently didn't think so.

When someone in a D&D blog postulates that sexism or child abuse or what have you did not take place in the past to the degree that some writers would have you believe, this is the sort of practice they're indulging in.  We shouldn't blame them; this is a fantasy world and no one really wants to live in the actual past, do they?  The actual past is very definitely NOT the present.  Human beings have changed, a lot more than we give credit for; we're a much more liberal society.  We're a much more tolerant society.  We're a lot more cognizant ... when we can get over our own bullshit long enough to be that.

I suppose, all in all, I haven't made a very convincing argument.  I feel like I've been writing a long time, though, and I suppose I'm either preaching to the choir or to those who won't be converted anyway.  I also feel like I've gotten this subject off my back, and perhaps now I can go back to something more D&D like.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mr. Sullivan's Cherry Tree

Yesterday, off-blog, I was asked with the best of intentions as to whether or not people weren't generally stupider today than they used to be.  This came out of a rather bloodless article from Andrew Sullivan (what else is new) which fails to produce any conclusion or indeed reason for being, except that apparently old Andy, when he hasn't anything to say, goofs together a bunch of quotes as though people out there are "arguing," "considering," "summarizing" or "pushing back" deep inside Andy's head.

If there is a depth that can be found sufficient to do more than wet the ankles.

I am not a fan of Mr. Sullivan.  My primary experience with him is his occasional appearances on Bill Maher's show, in which he's one of the "good guys" - because he's basically a liberal - but in which he manages to say absolute shit without beginning to comprehend that he's just said it.  He's a perfect example of the worst kind of liberal - heart in the right place, but lacking the least sense of practicality, reality or qualification.  His "fame" results from that peculiar recent phenomenon of a blogger who has grown popular from his ability to research and link, while simultaneously offending only the tiniest demographic of the population:  people who can read and who actually know anything.

Obviously, people who can't read aren't offended by him.  They just don't know he exists.

According to Andy's talking puppets, we somehow A) know the memory of a resident of Athens 3,000 years ago; B) are able to use the uselessness of I.Q. tests in reference to Siberian hunter-gatherers has allows us to draw a historical conclusion about all human beings from non-modern persons; C) miss the fact that Stephen Hawking would have died nearly at birth 200,000 years ago, along with the fact that we have so few examples of human genes from 200,000 years ago that it would not be expected to find a comparative 1 in a million persons with extraordinary intelligence; and D) know that extreme selection is a thing of the past because we can guess everything about human development a million years from now - i.e., that now that we've established the modern world, human beings will never face any crisis that will need extreme selection.

Now, I'm sure that these four quoted people are quite brilliant, and that reading their whole articles does indicate that they don't believe any of the shit I just said in the previous paragraph - although Mr. Crabtree ought to read something about Athens in 1,000 B.C., since the whole Mediterranean basin was in an extreme dark age following the decimation of the Minoan and Mycenean cultures, a situation that didn't change for the next two and a half centuries.  So, no bright, intellectually alive Greeks around at the time he quotes.  But I'm quibbling.

 What our friend Andy has done is carefully cherry-picked the articles to make ... well, not a point to be sure, but supposedly the "balanced" opinion of intellectuals today.  It's what people do when they don't end the data they've gathered with their own opinion ... which is not something ANY supposedly educated person would have done prior to about forty years ago.

This habit of the University Bubble, to present arguments and 'facts' without examination, so long as they are notated, is the first reason to think that intelligence is dead.  It doesn't matter what YOU think, or what YOU believe ... so long as you quote what others have squatted out in order to achieve their tenures, you get to be a 'scholar' too.

Funny that Descartes, Abelard, Erasmus, Luther, Francis Assisi and so on, the alive intellectuals of their day, don't spend all their time quoting and notating their sources.  For some incomprehensible reason, they simply wrote under the assumption that if you were bright enough and open minded enough to actually read the words, you could make up your own mind if they were true.

This is SO unlike the modern age, where you only know it's true if it has the right stamp of approval following the words - a university degree, a cultural notation, some kind of evidence that the speaker is rich or powerful or at the very least had a job once where he or she sat next to the rich and powerful.

Fuck the words.  The words they say don't matter.  Their resume is all that matters, so that once they begin to write total shit on the page, like our friend Andy does with adroit fluidity, it doesn't matter because, for shit sakes, the man has been on television sitting right next to Noam Chomsky.

That proves he must be right, doesn't it?

I ask you - are we getting dumber ... or is it just that reading things with the intention of piecing out the truth ourselves is too much work?  Perhaps it's so much simpler to look at the brand and feel the joy of having it stamped on our ass.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Shalar Maneuver

For ages I've had a player in my world whose been running a monk, who should manage the feat of reaching 8th level this winter - which is a considerable accomplishment, given what a miser I am about treasure in my world.  Anyway, the monk's name is Shalar ... and the title of this post is in reference to what my offline party says is Shalar's particular way of attacking opponents.

Because monks move faster than everyone - and because the player of Shalar really likes combat - for the longest time, any up front battle began with Shalar zipping way out in front of the party and attacking the enemy two or three rounds ahead of everyone else.

The Shalar Manuever would usually get the monk in deep trouble, which the party would seem to arrive in the nick of time to bail him out of ... so consistently that four or five times, the difference in life or death for the monk was a matter of one round or one hit point.

Now, the monk has stopped doing that.  He'd playing it safe now, probably because he's getting two attacks every three rounds and he wants to live.

Having watched a documentary about Jesse James today, however, and his time in Bloody Bill Anderson's civil war militia, I realize I've done the poor monk a disservice all these years.

It was described that Anderson would regularly attack forces three times as large as his - with the acknowledgement that Anderson never had more than 80 men under him.  Still, defenders would break and run, despite Anderson having plunged into the heart of them.  Again and again Anderson pulled the Shalar Maneuver and got away clean.

I began to consider how the morale of defenders ought to come into play at the sight of combat screaming attackers coming fearlessly at them at a high rate of speed - monks and horses and the like.  At present, I have no morale rules for an army breaking before a blow has been struck.

It seems to me the first consideration would be how many defenders there are to how many attackers.  Following that, what is the position of defenders compared to attackers - are the defenders well-installed, behind walls and fortifications and facing the attackers from above?  Finally, in what state of mind are the defenders ... sleeping, setting down to tea, marching along a road, arranged to ambush the party?  Surely, their preparedness must apply.

I had considered advancing a bunch of rules to cover such things, but I think I'd rather try playing this stuff on the fly for a bit; doing some thinking about it.   Try encouraging some of the party members to make a bluff of rushing at some exposed enemy, rolling morale without any modifiers, and seeing what pans out.

Perhaps the Shalar Maneuver was always the right thing to do.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Flight

The history of human flight begins more than a million years ago when it was discovered - by accident, naturally - that by flexing the knee in a similar-to-walking manner, an individual could redistribute their center of gravity over a distinct lack of land - known to us as a 'drop' - that was, by happenstance, conveniently nearby.  The result was not encouraging, and so further developments in flight were delayed by some years.

With the discovery of the wheel and the domestication of animals, some humans would learn – through incidental observation – that a greater arc of travel could be created with added speed prior to actually moving past the ‘flight horizon’ of the landscape. It was conceived that by flattening out this arc, perhaps with even greater speed, flight could somehow be maintained ... but alas, greater speed proved elusive.

Many would-be aeronauticists, who simply tried hurling themselves from the ground into the air, were driven to despair.  Indeed, all attempts to fly by pure muscle power were frustrated by the apparent inability to separate oneself from the earth.  This led humans to construct platforms over the earth's surface - but sadly, these platforms only produced the same drop that had previously existed.  Nothing was meaningfully gained by these ventures.

Eventually, the mysterious force that kept humans bound to the ground would be identified and researched ... but unfortunately, flight pioneers continued to achieve short and – presumably – unsatisfying conquest of the air.

Then, as the injection system of the modern internal combustion engine was conceived, sustained human flight became - when viewed against the span of human existence - instantly commonplace.

The primary limitation upon 'successful' human flight was the necessary power needed to produce speeds which would allow the natural lift of the wing to support the weight of a human being - and all the shit human beings tend to bring along with them, since naked like a bird is not an viable option.  The most important shit humans were to bring along, once flight was made consistent enough to apply it to acts of war, were means to bomb the populace below.  'Conquest of the Air,' as it has been called, was really more of a conquest of the ground, in that we were able to blow the shit out of people who could not in turn blow the shit out of us.

Therefore, the importance of flight in terms of its operational power is not the flight itself - it is in its ability to deliver a payload of destruction.

Now, I recognize that flight has other marvelous benefits.  The little bowl of pineapple I'm eating for lunch is testament to that, as well as the incessant flipping back and forth across the country that encourages business and tourism.  Both increase exponentially the effects I described in my last technological post on Railroads ... so there's little need for me to reprocess that argument here.

Instead, I'd like to talk about air power, the other benefit of flight - and the one that makes all the difference in Civilization, where these technologies all come from.

There are numerous means of flight in D&D:  spells, magical items and flying mounts accounting for most of them.  The game conceives, mostly, that these techniques would usually be applied to methods of direct combat:  the mage floating above the battle, tossing down spells; the opponents with wings of flying or mounted upon hippogriffs and griffons participating in world war I duels in the sky.  I don't deny that these things would be commonplace ... but bigger and more important would be the simple act of bombing.

Presuming that gun powder isn't available, and that the ordinary methods of D&D flight do not incorporate a culture with the technology necessary to deliver an explosive payload - given the lack of explosives - how is it that one bombs a populace, if one is so inclined?

Consider, first of all, the fire trap spell.  I have always liked this, but rarely do players take advantage of the advantages.  Basically, the spell is cast upon something that is closed - and reacts once the thing is opened, causing a small explosion that produces fire and burns off hit points.

Let's presume the thing that is closed is a bottle, with a cork.  Let's presume that the bottle is made of ceramic, and that it is thrown in a manner so that when it hits the ground, the pressure of the hit causes the cork to pop out, thus initiating the fire trap spell.

This allows us to fill the bottle with whatever we'd like.  Oil is a nice option, but the firewater spell is even nicer.  Sadly, as I'm thinking of this, I'm not certain of the spell's duration and I don't have the book in front of me.  Is it permanent?  If not, we may want to stick with oil ... though I think fire trap would be sufficient to ignite the oil upon it's hitting the ground.

If not, we can always incorporate a glyph ... that gives us even more fire, if fire is what we need, and that is certain to set our dropped molotov alight.  Glyphs are definitely permanent until set off, and I feel certain that something dropped from the sky would be enough to initiate a glyph.  Of course, we could also add explosive runes for good measure.  We can even coat the interior of our ceramic flask with a grease spell, just to be sure the oil gets a good distribution upon striking.

Now, two kilograms of oil is equal to two litres, or about half a gallon ... which would weigh five pounds and be the equivalent of sixteen flasks of oil.  The ceramic could be made quite thin, and would perhaps add another three to four pounds.  Such an item, with the spells described above, hitting the roof of a house would make quite a show.

What is very interesting is, however, that hundreds of such bombs could be made in advance, since all of the elements described are not time sensitive.  A fair-sized city could produce the necessary number of spellcasters to create such an arsenal, particularly if they had a few weeks to prepare.  Once produced, twenty such bombs could easily be carried aboard one ordinary hippogriff, or even by a moderately stripped-down flying mage.  Mage, hippogriff and rider could all be made invisible, which is a spell not broken until some kind of aggressive action is taken.  Invisibility is a second level spell, and is therefore quite common.

Thus, the entire air squadron, filled to the brim with hundreds of bombs, could approach a city under a clear blue sky, in full daylight, without having to give their position away until the actual time violence began to occur.

A DM could argue that the act of letting go of the bomb was itself sufficient to end the invisibility.  A good lawyer could argue in response if the act of actually taking off with the intention of dropping the bombs was sufficient to render the recipient visible.  Was the 'thought' of dropping the bomb sufficient?  When, precisely, does an act of aggression begin?

Well, let's not worry about that.  Let's presume the worst - that letting go of the bomb makes the invisible bomber visible.  The only thing is, by that time, the bombs are already falling.

Let us consider that you are a resident of a city, and that you happen to be looking up.  All around you, people are going about their business, working, talking to each other, counting their steps on the way to the grocer's or the candlestick maker's ... and are definitely not looking up.

Suddenly, hundreds of feet above you. some fifty figures appear in the sky.  Just blip! and they are there.

You now have six seconds - one half a round in my world, a mere segment in terms of ordinary AD&D - to take some sort of reprisal against the attackers before literally a thousand bombs set your city ablaze.

It would be quite a crack team of first responders who had the wherewithal to see the appearance of the bombers, have their animals mounted and ready to fly, and do so while their wooden city exploded in fire, in time to catch the perpetrators before they simply dispersed to the four winds.  Remember, we're looking for bombers small enough to hide under a tree ... not a B-29 Flying Fortress.

How, pray tell, would you stop them from getting back, collecting another load of pre-made bombs, and hitting you again?

Obviously, every city would have to have a considerable supply of bombs - it would be a whole industry, to create them, to store them safely (a magazine of explosive runes plus burning oil would make a hell of a mess if someone accidentally dropped a bomb they were adding to the pile) and have them ready at hand to use against another city in time of war.

But which other city, hm?  A host of clerics would have to get on the phone to 'god' and get answers, wouldn't they?  Not only that, they'd have to be asking, regularly, if such and such a city were making preparations for war, if they were loading bombs aboard birds right now, and so on and so forth.  Pre-destructive intelligence would be of great importance - and so that would largely soak up a city's supply of augury and divination spells.

Does it ever seem like D&D just isn't the game you thought it was?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Recooking The Books

Today I got into a conversation - bit of a row, but nothing personal - with a friend about my not liking something which she really likes.  It wasn't so much that the thing she likes is 'bad' ... it isn't, really.  It's only that, for me, it isn't 'new.'  I've seen it before, I've involved myself with it before and I've long since grown disinterested with the style and design of that 'thing' (nevermind what it was).

This is my nature; it is everyone's nature, I think, as they grow older, but all the more so if you've been the sort willing to wallow in life at a younger age.  After awhile, everything that is easy to find is ... easy.  It fails to rouse the blood.  My friend understands, but she is about 15 years younger than me and she just sees me as being frustrating and difficult.

Some old people regret the springtime of their years; they yearn for when everything was new, and they were wide-eyed and open to a thousand experiences that hadn't come yet.  Every year is a burden for them.  Every year is a multitude of doors closing because they can't seem to enjoy anything - a circumstance with which they react by growing meaner and resentful towards those who are still young.

Other old people, however, begin to view all that 'newness' with a sort of appreciative humor.  They can remember when something was new; but they're satisfied to be jaded now, to have seen all those things once and to appreciate that they are smarter now.

To explain - there are things I have been doing regarding this game, D&D, that I could not have conceived up 20 years ago.  There are levels to which the game applies that I was simply too young and naive to appreciate.  There are hundreds of things which I took for granted, which I've now begun to question.  Only in the last four years have I corrected the experience tables I played with for decades.  I've rewritten the hit dice/hit point rules.  I've explored interactive mechanics (not satisfied yet) and wilderness damage and weather-systems on levels beyond my 30-something abilities.

Something my daughter has been harrassing me to do for some time now - about a year - is to correct and update rewrites of the Player's Handbook I started about 12 years ago.  Now, this is something I started because I had to have a written record of house rules changes - and for spells in particular, there are many, many of them.  Mostly, it was necessary to try to write down some of the precedents that had gathered around spells over the years, which were NOT included in the original Player's Handbook or Unearthed Arcana.  Can an Ioun Stone be made into a clerical magic stone, for instance.  Must the magic stone actually be thrown?  That kind of thing.

However, such lists and notes are incredibly boring to write.  Important, but dreadful from the perspective of a DM who'd rather be drawing maps or crunching numbers, like I usually do.  So I did the lists as far as I needed to, covering what a 3rd level cleric needed, or a 5th level mage, and so on.

But it has gotten out of hand for some time now.  There have been many more precedents that have come up, forcing a change in ranges, area of effect and other details, and those things just mount up into arguments at the table about what is right and what is wrong.  The facts are that I really have to rewrite everything I've written, plus completing the spell lists to their end (not just to 4th level), with notes that I'm going to need my players to help fill out for me.  It's a monumental task, and it will include tweaking many spells which had been left alone.  I'll be thinking about them, you see, and thinking always means an effort to make them better.  Once those changes are discussed and beaten apart by the players, those will be the NEW rules I'm prepared to adhere to.

So I've been working on the cleric.  I'm not hurrying, and it is going to take awhile.  I hope to rework my sage tables in the process, and for the present I'm just not sure how.  I'll want to make them more accessible and applicable, certainly.  I'll want to expand them.  Particularly, get rid of the general/specific/exacting question method ... which just never worked.

I'm working through the second level spells for the present.  When I'm done with everything, I expect the Cleric alone, with spells and other notes, will probably run around 50 to 60 pages.  This, to me, is at least as long as the Cleric should run.  If I think of more, I'll add more.

Here's an example of the presentation for first level spells - with a general details list I'm planning to add for every level, to make it easier for players to choose their spells:

WOTC may see this and squawk ... I don't know.  The image may not be up in a week.  In the meantime, I want to make a different specific point, going back to jadedness and the clarity of age.

The last time I rewrote these, I didn't think much about the language.  I wrote the spells in pretty much the same style as the Player's Handbook, presuming that's what players were familiar with.

These last few weeks, however, resigning myself to doing this again, I've realized that the writing in the Player's Handbook is pretty shitty.  Perhaps its because of reading the White Box game, perhaps the amount of editing on books I've done this year ... but in all truth, if you're not familiar with D&D - steeped in it, you might say - then the gobbledygook in the Handbook is pretty unfriendly to read.  It is full of hackneyed phrases and unnecessary prepositions and a lot of other dreck which does not get to the heart and soul of the spell in ten words or less.  I've tried in the above to get rid of that - to make the first sentence clear, direct and instantly comprehensible.   Thus, I hope it greatly improves a new player's ability to read a spell with ease, grasping its intent at once and thus making the choice of spell easier.

Sometimes, the benefits of experience do not lend themselves to simply being comfortable with the complex, even if that's old hat; sometimes, there's something to be gained in being able to make the thing elementary, for those who have not yet learned to be extraordinary.

UPDATE:

Small addition.  The 'Believer' column on the table describes whether or not the recipient of the spell must be of the same religion as the cleric; for example, a magic stone, once created in my world, may be hurled by anyone who IS the same religion as the cleric ... but putting it into another person's hands would destroy the deweomer of the spell.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Medieval Mindset

I'm going to give the gentle reader a spoiler now; if you don't want to read something about real religion, with unmitigated, inconsiderate theological content, then stop reading now.  You're not going to see any other D&D blogs tackling this very real and very intrinsic part of medieval culture, and you probably don't want to ... so run.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the medieval mindset is to be found in a specific prayer ... and most people do not even consider how or why it applies to every act or element of the medieval dweller's life.  That prayer is the Lord's Prayer.  It was one of the most accessible parts of the liturgy to the common man, so much so that Martin Luther made it central to his presentation of Catholic teachings during the Reformation.

Here is the Lord's Prayer as I learned it growing up in the Lutheran Church:

Our Father,
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
On Earth, as it is in heaven,
And give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the kingdom,
The power and the glory,
forever and ever.
Amen.

Try to remember that while you are reading the words, these were the most important words to be found on the lips of every medieval European figure you've ever read about; they are intrinsic to the souls, the lives, the upbringings, the sense of right and wrong, the very foundations of every single one of those persons, whether good or evil, right or wrong, decent or indecent.  You may think Charlemagne is interesting, but he believed the above phrases as you believe in America; he depended upon the truth of these phrases as you depend on your cellphone provider to make your phone ring.  These words were absolutely incontravertible - and the medieval mindset, if you can conceive, depended on that fact.

For the above, there are hundreds of specific versions, with a word changed here or there, or made more modern, or more accessible or some such ... but I know these specific words because I had to say them something like ten thousand times as I grew up, amid hundreds of other people, or alone in front of them, for moments like confirmation.

To be confirmed in the Lutheran Church in the 1970s, you passed three years of Bible study, which I then followed with a whole lot more theological study because I like to know the reasons for things.  One of the things you study is the Luther's Catechism, which include commentaries he wrote on both the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed, which we don't need to go into here (and which I also learned by heart).  These commentaries you go through with your minister line-by-line, until he (1970s) is certain you understand them.

I have no idea what Lutherans go through now.  I am not a member of any Lutheran Church.  Training didn't take.  What we went through then was grueling.

I'm going to print the full 'First Petition' from Martin Luther on the Lord's Prayer, which addresses the line, Hallowed be thy name.  I don't expect the reader to read it; but you need to feel the full effect of this as it comes hurtling at a 14-year-old child.  I'll put it in green so you can skip over it more easily.

I'm sorry I can't print it in the original German; I wouldn't understand it in German, for I didn't learn it in German.

"This is, indeed, somewhat obscure, and not expressed in good German, for in our mother-tongue we would say: Heavenly Father, help that by all means Thy name may be holy. But what is it to pray that His name may be holy? Is it not holy already? Answer: Yes, it is always holy in its nature, but in our use it is not holy. For God's name was given us when we became Christians and were baptized, so that we are called children of God and have the Sacraments by which He so incorporates us in Himself that everything which is God's must serve for our use.


Here now the great need exists for which we ought to be most concerned, that this name have its proper honor, be esteemed holy and sublime as the greatest treasure and sanctuary that we have; and that as godly children we pray that the name of God, which is already holy in heaven, may also be and remain holy with us upon earth and in all the world.

But how does it become holy among us? Answer, as plainly as it can be said: When both our doctrine and life are godly and Christian. For since in this prayer we call God our Father, it is our duty always to deport and demean ourselves as godly children, that He may not receive shame, but honor and praise from us.

Now the name of God is profaned by us either in words or in works. (For whatever we do upon the earth must be either words or works, speech or act.) In the first place, then, it is profaned when men preach, teach, and speak in the name of God what is false and misleading, so that His name must serve to adorn and to find a market for falsehood. That is, indeed, the greatest profanation and dishonor of the divine name. Furthermore, also when men, by swearing, cursing, conjuring, etc., grossly abuse the holy name as a cloak for their shame. In the second place also by an openly wicked life and works, when those who are called Christians and the people of God are adulterers, drunkards, misers, envious, and slanderers. Here again must the name of God come to shame and be profaned because of us. For just as it is a shame and disgrace to a natural father to have a bad perverse child that opposes him in words and deeds, so that on its account he suffers contempt and reproach, so also it brings dishonor upon God if we who are called by His name and have all manner of goods from Him teach, speak, and live in any other manner except as godly and heavenly children, so that people say of us that we must be not God's, but the devil's children.

Thus you see that in this petition we pray just for that which God demands in the Second Commandment; namely, that His name be not taken in vain to swear, curse, lie, deceive, etc., but be usefully employed to the praise and honor of God. For whoever employs the name of God for any sort of wrong profanes and desecrates this holy name, as aforetime a church was considered desecrated when a murder or any other crime had been committed in it, or when a pyx or relic was desecrated, as being holy in themselves, yet become unholy in use. Thus this point is easy and clear if only the language is understood, that to hallow is the same as in our idiom to praise, magnify, and honor both in word and deed.

Here, now, learn how great need there is of such prayer. For because we see how full the world is of sects and false teachers, who all wear the holy name as a cover and sham for their doctrines of devils, we ought by all means to pray without ceasing, and to cry and call upon God against all such as preach and believe falsely and whatever opposes and persecutes our Gospel and pure doctrine, and would suppress it, as bishops, tyrants, enthusiasts, etc. Likewise also for ourselves who have the Word of God, but are not thankful for it, nor live as we ought according to the same. If now you pray for this with your heart, you can be sure that it pleases God; for He will not hear anything more dear to Him than that His honor and praise is exalted above everything else, and His Word is taught in its purity and is esteemed precious and dear."

Luther was not fucking around, and neither was the Church I grew up in.  We were expected to know this, defend this and ultimately apply this to our daily lives.  I never met a Lutheran who did, ministers included, but nevertheless.

This period predated D&D for me, as I was confirmed the May before I started playing D&D that September (1979).  But look at all that great D&D shit in the content ... profanes and murders desecrating churches, pyxes and relics, the world is full of sects and false teachers, aldulterers, drunkards, misers, slanderers ... sounds like a Saturday night at the game.

But what is Luther saying to his congregation?  Yes, right, God is great ... but hey, look around you.  Everything around you is full of enormous piles of shit.  Wow, you live in a really crap world, and you haven't got a chance because these fuckers will put you down if they get a chance!

(Would have liked to have explained it that way when I was fourteen, when answering questions at the front of a church, but my father was bigger than me in those days).

So yeah - appreciate the good thing you've got; get down on your fucking knees, you poor suffering hopeless bastard, 'cause it ain't all bad, you've got one chance in this freak-ass suck-hole world, and its here in this house of the lord.  Be grateful.  And if you are, he will smile on you and save your cheap ass.

This is the whole Lord's Prayer, when you look at it straight.  It isn't just that God is a great thing, it's your responsibility not to be that shit you see around you.  Forgive others their trespasses.  Don't fall for the bullshit and the quick fix.  Keep your eye focused up, where the good things are.

People have a tendency to think in this age that those people in the medieval world must have been miserable.  Look at the shit they lived in.  Look at the lack of medicine or luxuries.  Look at the horrors of disease and pestilence and death.  "Shit," we think.  "Shit I couldn't live in a place like that five minutes without screaming."

But you don't understand.  Those people in that age and in that time, with that mindset, believed those words above ... and they repeated them with the fervor of belief.  And whatever the horrorshow we perceive that may have been around them, they were looking UP.  They were looking at the better world that waited for them ... the world we'll never look at, because we're cynical and because we know it's a lie.  They did not know.  It was not a lie for them.  It was the real deal, and they wouldn't believe you that it was false if you shouted in their face with a bullhorn.  They wouldn't believe you if you cut the flesh in pieces from their backs.  The world was not everything to them.

I wrote yesterday about how to play a cleric.  What I said was, do this and the people of the world will follow you unto the next world.  Just reassure them that what they have is not all there is.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How To Play A Cleric

I am aware that the cleric is not a well-loved character class, and that later editions in particular have recreated it into a field medic, the perception being that with more healing there's more killing.  Religion in general is not popular with a lot of D&D players (that whole persecution thing is closely felt), and as such the theological aspects of the theological class are downplayed severely.

Still, I think it is a matter of outlook.  With that in mind, I offer these suggestions.

Reverend Cleophus James:  DO YOU SEE THE LIGHT?
Jake:  THE BAND!
Reverend Cleophus James:  DO YOU SEE THE LIGHT?
Elwood:  What light?
Reverend Cleophus James:  HAVE YOU SEEEEN THE LIGHT?
Jake:  YES! YES! JESUS H. TAP-DANCING CHRIST... I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT!

One.  Have an agenda.

I don't mean something lame or overdone like "following my god" or "building a church" ... your cleric needs to reach for the stars.  Your cleric needs to conceive of some world changing strategy that will shake the pillars of heaven and pull them down, thus establish his or her self as the greatest religious leader of their age.  This will require more imagination than being a cog in the existing religious structure; it means, on some level, replacing the religious structure with one that is better.  How better?  That is for your cleric to decide.  It doesn't matter if the goal is nearly impossible ... eventually your cleric will be high enough level to bitch slap those who don't view the world with your cleric's agenda.  This is what you must plan for!  Conceive of other clerics under your guidance giving instructions to kingdoms and empires on how to behave and give money; conceive of a world-wide entity that is perhaps benevolent, perhaps sadistic, which everyone acknowledges as holding the greatest possible truth about life, the universe and everything.

What, you don't know what this truth is yourself?  Well, for heaven's sake, follow in the traditions of thousands of religious leaders who have gone before you and make shit up.

Elwood:  They're not gonna catch us.  We're on a mission from God.

Two.  Know your importance.

If you think religion is about following the dictates of your god, you know nothing about religion.  Religion was created for the cleric, not the cleric for the religion.  Your God, his or her minions, their powerful agents, the heroes and the priests have your back.  They are there to help YOUR agenda along ... remember, you've seen the light.  You know what's needed ... and as you go forward, hacking and slashing and pressing forward your religion, the gods will recognize your worth and clear the road for you.   Count on it, expect it ... and rail at the heavens when it does not happen, as did Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and all the great ones.  Remember, the holy word is conceived in holy writ - which if your cleric is on the ball has carefully taken the time to write down, just to demonstrate to all how the gods speak through you.  You might want to get on that, when you can.  How do you suppose these holy words came about?

Jake:  Ma'am, would it make you feel any better if you knew that what we're asking Matt here to do is a holy thing?

Three.  Get your party on board.

This can be difficult, especially since you've recently become an obsessive megalomaniac ... but it can be done by emphasizing how your agenda serves the party's general needs.  Seize wealth from the infidels?  Check.  Crush enemies without hesitation?  Check.  Perceive the cleric's own church as a collection of misguided fools who have no right or privilege to tell the cleric, or his party, what do to?  Check.  Give free reign to the party to act as they please, so long as occasionally they mention to the cleric that they may have gone a bit far?  Well, that might be difficult to work out, but so long as you, the cleric, show some general pride for the party's general mayhem, couched in the occasional praise met with a hint or two towards contributing to the general welfare (yours), they might gratefully acknowledge they'd all be dead if you weren't there to bring them back from the grave, or speak a word or two to get one of the higher ups to bring these poor 'sinners' back from the grave.  You might want to mention that from time to time, to keep it in the forefront of your party's mind, so that while you're indulging their murderous activities, they're indulging your pocketchange.  It's a give and take ... and it is up to you to make them understand that.  Don't let them push you around.  Make it clear that you are there to be needed; and they are there to pay for it.

Jake:  Your women. I want to buy your women. The little girl, your daughters ... sell them to me. Sell me your children!

Four.  Be ruthless.  Be without scruples.

It is a silly cleric who limits his or her own success with a lot of morals which - honestly now - are just ambiguous, inconvenient rules made up by other people who can't understand why the world doesn't work the way they think it does.  You, the cleric, you know better.  If the agenda is going to require ten thousand female slaves in revealing steel armor, well, then it is.  That should not be questioned!  It is the agenda!  And those who don't understand or don't appreciate the beauty of a thing like that will die under your merciless phishy phalanxes.  That is the word, and the word is made flesh ... revealed flesh in this case.  Remember that whatever is necessary IS necessary, and that is the end of the discussion.  Your cleric will decide what is necessary ... and further, of course, what morals other people are expected to adhere to.  That last is obvious.

Elwood:  It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full take of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark ... and we're wearing sunglasses.
Jake:  Hit it.

Five.  Pay attention to details.

Pomp and ceremony is the eye-catching, shiny mollifier that will drive others to be mystified and excited by your presence.  It is all public relations ... how you present yourself, how you direct your actions and the order and degree to which you take actions are important.  Each morning, you should have included in your agenda habits which you will not break.  It is your attention to detail that will make others agog at your preparedness and your diligence.  You do not care if the dragon is approaching.  It is time to kneel and say thanks, and if the dragon doesn't know that's more important than the dragon's silly agenda, that's too damn bad.  Your god has your back, right?  Then the damn dragon can wait until YOU'RE ready to meet with him.  I cannot stress enough how important this is to your character, his or her nature or the party's reflection on how you have chosen to act.  While yes, this should not be an obstacle to the party's temporal needs, it SHOULD be something which everyone is aware of and which everyone respects.  Like wearing sunglasses.  Like having your pinch of snuff before entering a mysterious cave.  Like the thousand and one other momentary pauses you insert into your cleric's day.

The better you can imagine out these five things, the better cleric you will be.



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An American Intervention

I hope that my gentle American readers can forgive this.  I write nothing about America without getting hate mail, but I was hoping we could speak reasonably for a change.  I promise not to rant, and perhaps I can get you to listen.  Call it an intervention.  Call it a little chat from your neighbor across the fence.

I know you're very sensitive on the subject; I know that often it feels like the whole world is against you, that none of us are in your camp.  You're proud of your country and we all understand that.  We've visited your country and for the most part we like it.  There's very little that's actually wrong with the land and the people.  It's your philosophy that makes us uncomfortable.

You see, today, as you're having an election, the vast majority of us out here in the world can't understand what you're thinking.  To us, it seems obvious who ought to be elected.  To us, we can't even understand how Romney got on the ticket.  It's not that we don't understand the need for a Republican party - we do.  It isn't that we don't understand why Republicans defend those positions - we understand that also.  It's that we can't understand how, from around three hundred million people, this can possibly be the best candidate half your country can endorse.  It baffles us to the extreme that no reasonable, charismatic, properly educated candidate came forward to take the helm of the Republicans and make them look reputable.  Surely, there must be someone in the country on the right with more than one degree; who has more than a passing military experience; who has experienced more of the world than a small fraction of high-end holiday resorts.  Yet, no such person materialized, not over any of the 18 months of this ongoing, impractical experiment to allow a few voters from Hamilton County in Ohio and Hillsborough County in Florida to decide who is your President.

Speaking now as a person living in a country whose present Prime Minister does not represent my philosophy of government, I want to say that I do not find myself afraid.  Yes, Stephen Harper, who is the P.M. of Canada, is the head of the Conservative Party.  They hold many of the same ideals and purposes as the American Republicans do.  But I am not afraid to find myself living in a country that has chosen to elect them.  Nor do I hate them for winning the last election.  I would rather they hadn't; but I have faith that the country will be run decently until the Liberals are chosen, and policies I support are reimposed.

I don't understand how you can stand to live in a country where you fear who will win your election.  I can tell you that we out here in the world fear that you will vote for people who clearly do not care if the poor live or die.  We in the world fear the next war that America will start.  We fear the next bullying tactic America's Government plays to support its cadre of corporate supporters.  We listen to Americans scream their fear, and we don't understand why this fear must continue.  We want to believe your country will not be forever run by people who seem incapable of empathy or kindness.

Believe me in this, also; we are not overwhelmingly impressed with President Obama.  He seems to speak well, but he is as much a warmonger as the previous President and, like all candidates we've seen for these last four decades, he seems unable to understand that violence is not peace.  His concerns regarding the various factions fighting for control in various countries are clearly those of the American Military and the American Businessman; humanitarianism seems irrelevant to him.  Human pain and suffering, even that in his own country, seems irrelevant to him.  The man talks a good patter, but he hedges and backfills and never quite seems to be willing to accept that unpopularity from a very vocal minority is not a reason not to take action.

I would ask you, America, to vote your conscience, but I think I can speak for everyone out here in the world when I say it does not appear that you have one.  Please do not take that as an attack.  Take that as a reason to convey your beliefs in a manner differently than you have.  I have no doubt that you do indeed have a conscience.  For the sake of heaven and all the people of this planet, your own people included, please listen to it.  Please show us that you are listening to it.  Please show us that it is the same conscience that humanity has striven for these many centuries:  that human beings are more important than money; that we must sacrifice our comfort and our security where human suffering is involved; and that when we do not get what we want, we count our time and patiently re-evaluate the situation, before turning to violence.

I would like someday to see some of this emerge from the greater majority of people in your country.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Making Shit Up

I wanted to get in a couple of last stabs at the election, today and tomorrow, whether or not anyone thinks this has something to do with D&D or not.  I am of the opinion that, fundamentally, EVERYTHING has something to do with D&D ... and I've been trying to prove that for years now with my technology/civilization posts.  Knowledge is power.  The more you know, generally, the better a DM you can be.  No matter what you happen to study, you will bring that information to the game, and the game will be better.

With that in mind, I'd like to offer this video of Malcolm Gladwell speaking at PopTechn 2004.  I have not embedded it because it is on vimeo, and not youtube.  If you've seen much of Gladwell, these themes will be familiar to you; if you have never seen Gladwell, and you have brain - get ready for a ride.

In it, he describes several situations where first impressions, and the human effort to explain or describe their first impressions, produce stupidity.  Gladwell would never use a word like that; it is my word, because I don't have to hedge or placate my audience.  Gladwell would likely argue that you can't call ordinary human behavior 'stupid' when it is typical of everyone.  I would argue that stupidity is as stupidity does ... Forrest was not wrong in that.

By and large it helps explain why vast numbers of Americans will vote for Romney tomorrow although they will not be able to express a reason why, or even think to do so.  Most democrats I have spoken to in the country past the border say repeatedly, "I don't know how anyone can vote for Romney!"  It is because most people don't really care about either of the stooges running, and have chosen for reasons they cannot explain to vote for the white guy, or the old guy, or the black guy, or the one that seems less threatening, or less inhibited, or less likely to take money from our pockets, or for the most part taller, tougher, nicer or possessed of the largest forehead.  In other words, for no reason whatsoever that they can name.

It's biological.  It helps if you can comprehend that.

For the same reason, most of the dialogue surrounding D&D, or any other question, is equally approached from the same perspective that Malcolm in the video describes - that is, from a sense that said speaker/writer cannot explain why they like this as opposed to that.  Even if they attempt to do so, the fact is they do not possess the vocabulary, reasoning or experience to make up their mind properly ... which does not stop them from making up their mind.  They are adults, they are possessed of a certain number of years which gives them a right to speak what they believe, regardless of their comprehension of the subject, and they have the constitution, their friends and all the gods in heaven to quote if you dare tell them they cannot do so.  Give opinions they will, and said opinions will be mixed with a wide variety of implausible bullshit.  Such is life.  Such is the reason why the election is so very very close, despite the apparent stupidity of one candidate and the apparent dithering of the other.

Such is the reason why OD&D, White Wolf, 4th Edition, Paizo and all the rest jostle and jumble among the tens of thousands of crying and decrying masses ... because the right and wrong decision in the mess has not one thing to do with the actual value of this versus that, and everything to do with arguments made from needing to say something, even if the wrong thing, then shouting louder than the opponent in order to not sound stupid or insincere.

Insincerity, uncertainty and ignorance are greater sin that being wrong.  Let me say that again.  It is better to be WRONG than to sound like I don't believe in something; or to sound like I am not sure about something; or to admit that I don't know something.  Thus, the importance of making shit up.

I have always found this whole human nature to be fascinating.  See, it is biology, but it is biology in the sense that if you KNOW something about the subject at hand, you don't have to make shit up.  And that is the long term success story that is the human race ... the consistent effort to find answers so that shit ceases to be the go-to option.

Of course, not everyone is on board with this concept yet.  Just as not everyone who finished this post bothered to watch the Gladwell video.  Learning is inconvenient, and takes time and patience.

Making shit up takes a couple of seconds.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Railroad

Ages ago, when I was still fooling with different worlds and styles of play, I conceived of a modernistic campaign based on Top Secret combat rules that was to be set in northern Michigan.  Specifically, upon the railroads of northern Michigan.  The idea was that gas had grown scarce, but that electric power could still be generated ... and that factions would fight for control over those existing bands of rails that enabled them to carry food from the fields of Minnesota to the Great Lakes.  The premise, I admit, was never that deep, and the game never actually got off the ground.  Still, I liked the idea of railroad to ground battles taking place, augmented by the need to deliver successfully the stable that would keep tens of thousands of people alive.  Naturally, there would also be factions who controlled the switches, to allow trains to move from one track to another ... but like I said, the whole idea never came off.

It is hard, I think, for people to comprehend now the influence and change brought on by the implementation of railroads in the 19th century - nor how fast those rails were laid down.  Over a period of 22 years, from 1838 to 1860, railroads expanded from 500 miles of track to more than 10,000 ... at a cost of around $50,000 per mile of track in the U.S. (more in England and Germany).  Passenger totals per year increased by more than 25 times, to more than a hundred million.  Thousands upon thousands of rolling stock cars were built, coal was suddenly in demand everywhere and the very nature of the country was changed over from what was to what is, as least for us.  The line between ourselves and the world of D&D was struck swiftly ... and with it came a remarkable host of social changes.  Things we take for granted - regular travel, delivered goods, mass immigration and polyglot society - none of this was conceived of prior to 1830.  Travel was something that was done for months at a time, and only by a very few people.  The majority of goods that could be bought by most of the population were strictly local.  People did not marry far-afield, except in the rarest of cases.

This last is usually overlooked.  The sharing of our gene pool, that which we accomplish in a blink of an eye as we marry people from across the country or across the world, has served greatly to improve the health and well-being of the human population.  Both pestilence and deformaties thrive in an isolated environment - even if that environment is East Vancouver or the slums of Washington D.C.  Diaspora, which railroads enabled, does more than give you or I a greater range of healthy prospects for our choice in partner, it shines a light on localities because we can go there, look for ourselves and bring aid as needed.

Compare the backwaters of Europe prior to the 18th century - those places which did not sit upon the major trade routes, or did not have easy access to the sea or plentiful fertile land.  It is no error than Cervantes places his disturbed hero from the land of La Mancha, which sits high upon a poorly thriving plateau where no one with sense would travel.  Lands in France, such as Gascony or Auvergne, were infamous for the stupidity - indeed, the mental retardation - of their residents.  It would be all well and good to say that this was due to an urban Paris looking down upon their rural counterparts ... but the French habit of headbinding was a RURAL phenomena, and one that quickly disappeared with the spread of railroads into obscure parts of the country.

What the railroads did was to initiate our modern sense of homogeneity in culture - aided of course by automobiles and air travel.  The initial effect was that prices in a particular part of the country were quickly leveled, so that the cost of a loaf of bread became virtually the same in Pittsburgh as it was in Des Moines.  This has become universal; the coke bottle sitting on my desk as this is written costs the same as the one sitting on the gentle reader's desk as this is read.  You may be in Florida or Toronto or San Diego ... it makes no difference.  Time and distance have ceased to matter, since said bottles flood into our cities daily, no matter what the origin.  The price at origin is increased in order to compensate for the price at destination ... and we accept this as a matter of course.

If you intend to create an economic model for your D&D world, you must begin by throwing all this out.  Speed of travel doesn't exist at all.  It is not even a comparison of a train travelling at 60 miles an hour compared to a cart that manages 8 miles a day.  Railroads, for all their headaches, still suffer fewer delays and difficulties than do wagons on even 19th century roads.  Rail placement is far more flexible than canal works - which in any case are unusual in pre-Reformation Europe, though China had more than a few - and coal makes a better, more resilient fuel, less subject to spoilage, than forage.  Animals die, secondary roads become mires, foreigner's lose their way and it is much, much easier to plunder wagon goods moving along a highway than rolling stock upon rail.  The question is not how fast do the goods arrive, but indeed if the goods can be expected to arrive at all.

In short, it is not what railroads may do for your world, but in fact what they have not done yet.  Populations are infinitely more xenophobic, cultures more inward looking and distrustful, scarcity more rampant, intercultural relations often non-existent except for the purpose of war and thus innovation non-existent.  Remember too that the lack of travel meant far fewer people being educated at what were far fewer institutions of learning.  It was only the rich man's son who had any chance of being educated even by Jesuits - the only widespread institution of learning in Europe - or by Moghul or Manchu/Ming beauracracies.  Less instruction means a dumber, more ignorant populace, or one that is probably less willingly corrupted or swayed by high-minded player intrigues or explanations.

Don't forget that most of the time the peasants should look rather uncomprehending at parties most of the time, as said parties do their usual song-and-dance about what they're doing there and what they've come for.

These people are not citizens of the world, after all.  You could argue, and rightly, that there is no "world" as we understand it ... just a big unknown that begins on the other side of far ridge.