Saturday, August 31, 2013

4th Level Illusion - Dispel Emotion

Some readers may know that I've been re-writing Illusionist spells, both to improve the general list (which is shit in the books) and to deviate the illusionist's power more profoundly away from those things that make a mage dangerous. This has involved some serious rewriting of spells, sometimes simply throwing out the spell entirely and replacing it with something else.

I'm curious about this rewrite that I've produced for the 4th level Emotion spell, which is a case of getting rid of and replacing. I'm looking specifically for some angle I haven't considered:

Dispel Emotion

Range: self. Duration: 3 rounds +1 round per level. Area of Effect: 60’ radius. Casting Time: 2 rounds. Saving Throw: none.

Stifles aggressive or passionate emotions of all creatures within the area of effect, including the caster, so as to produce a sudden and profound disinterest in matters such as combat, fury, sexual passion or the like, for the duration of the spell.

Creatures affected will suddenly find themselves behaving quite passively, not only towards their own kind, but in fact towards any other also affected by the spell. All will be open to the sharing of ideas or negotiation, and will for the most part remain in place, moving no more than 10’ a round, and only then in order to bring themselves to a more comfortable distance for communication.

Note that the caster’s party and allies will likewise be affected by the spell, just as any other creature. The caster, however, while unable to take part in any aggressive action, or urge others towards aggressive action, will not be compelled to communicate but may move freely to a better advantage point—provided he or she does not do so at a speed greater than 3 hexes per round. Any faster speed will have the effect of breaking the spell for those nearby—see below.

The caster may also enable others to move freely, so long as he is able to touch them. To touch another individual—and thus give them the power to move freely also—the caster must enter their hex. Thus, the caster can ‘free’ up to three creatures per round of movement.

However, once an aggressively behaving creature (shouting, attacking, etc.) has either moved within 1 hex of an affected creature, or has at a distance physically interacted with a creature (throwing an object, striking with a missile, affecting with another spell), the affected creature will be freed of the spell.

Others, however, will continue to behave as before. Thus, the pattern of breaking the spell will typically be a wave that sweeps from the outside inwards, until either the spell duration is past or all persons have been broken free of the spell.

Note that rapid movement by the caster, or any the caster has ‘freed,’ will be treated as aggressive movement, so those adjacent to a freed person’s entire path of movement will be disenchanted by the disturbance in the spell’s dweomer.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Enthused & Deluded

This page is, to me, one of the most interesting on all of Wikipedia.

At first glance, it seems to explain EVERYTHING about the internet. Better than that, it provides the best ready and most convenient answer, ever, to anything that you, the gentle reader, don't personally want to believe, or that you might not ever want to admit.

All it requires is to dispense with certainty that you could never be someone suffering from it.

True manifestation of the deviation, in fact, is very rare ... and can be controlled by the possessor most often with simple therapy, increasing one's sense of self-conception. Nevertheless, for many, the immediate belief is almost certain to be that everyone, at least on the internet, is clearly suffering from the condition.

As I said, this is as convenient as it gets.

Of course, I myself am by no means immune.

So let's say, for the sake of argument, that I have completely succumbed. This would seem to be the best possible outlook. We'll just agree that I am truly 'out there.' The mechanism is befuddled. The harbour lights are off and the ship is sailing full on for the shore. Let's just look at things from that perspective.

I recently wrote on this thread,

"Whatever your world is. I am more clever than you. I am smarter than you. I am more imaginative than you. And most of all, I am more invested in what happens to me than you are. No matter how clever you think you are, no matter how smart, no matter how imaginative, your world is never going to be as interesting to me as making up my own game INSIDE YOUR WORLD will be."

Let's talk about that from my perspective, which is, after all, the only perspective I have.

Let us suppose that I am sitting in a coffee shop with a view of the street on a sunny day. As I am looking outside, a large flat bed truck pulls up with a small, funky looking vehicle parked on top that says, "Offroad Emergency Rescue." A team of men come out and start unpacking the vehicle, while another group of people start setting up a table with the intention of 'spreading the word' about this nifty new technology.

Do I get up and look at it? Am I interested? Certainly, some people are interested, but then, they don't know everything about the world like I do. They're stopping and asking questions and getting a little tour inside the truck and it all seems very interesting ... but I'm just sitting here drinking my coffee.

Am I denying myself some really interesting tidbit of knowledge? Perhaps someday I'd like to write a story that takes place in the outback, and it might be useful to have a look at this thing. On the other hand, if I was writing such a story, I could just as easily call up the company, perhaps arrange a personal tour at my convenience, along with far less time constraint and less competition for the presenter's attention.

Yes, in fact, there's no reason for me not to stand up and get another cup of coffee.

The point I'm making is that, so far as I am concerned, whatever the particular event that happens to be going on around me, I will make up my own mind as to whether I care. Recently, Calgary experienced some flooding. Part of downtown was submerged, considerable parts of the city were evacuated, and as it happens I was downtown in my office, going to work like usual, because in my addled state I had long since stopped listening to the radio because I had found everyone on it so annoying. That is, it was so obvious the news was selling me on what they believed, they had stopped actually informing me.

So I was not informed when I went to work that particular Friday. And because the bus delivered me into downtown just as it always does, I had no reason to believe there was a reason to be informed, until I actually found myself walking around empty streets, where it proved impossible to get my morning coffee.

By sheerest chance I ran into someone I knew just before entering my office and learned what was happening. We were all of four blocks from the edge of the flood just then. And with all the concern of someone who has no concern at all, I went into my office, took the elevator up, emailed the people I work with in far flung cities and snagged my work computer from its nest.

Re-emerging onto the street, it very quickly became evident I wasn't going to get a cab. Sometime between getting off the bus and deciding I should go home, the hotels had begun to empty, and cabs were now unavailable. I was not particularly worried. I did not see any reason to hurry. Nor did I see any particular reason to walk the necessary four blocks to see the City Hall under water. I thought about it. But I've seen tons of footage of floods on line, and I didn't think that any actual sight of a lot of water around the foundation of a building was going to radically alter my perception of what that looked like. I have, after all, seen a building partly emerged in water before.

Now, the gentle reader must understand that I have lived here almost all my life. And I am very geographically and geologically minded, so I have a very good idea of where the rivers are in Calgary, where their flow rates are fastest, where the carry weight of said rivers is going to make a mess of the city and so on. I've walked every inch of shore and I've always been interested in such matters. My own mapmaking on line is a manifestation of something that has fascinated me since literally infancy.

So, when I planned to simply walk out of downtown, there was no need to rush. While admittedly downtown appears flat to many people, it really isn't. I simply kept to the highest ground and made good time. I did not listen to the radio or the news. Why would I?

If buildings were going to start falling downtown due to soft ground, I'd have ample warning. Or I wouldn't need warning, since I'd be under the first one that fell. The radio wasn't going to change that.

So here we have an example of an actual crisis, a real world event, something that shattered the city for weeks afterwards and continues to have reprecussions - which I did look into once I got home and comfortable in my ridge situated home, 400 feet above the river valley - and yet I wasn't bothered enough to walk a few blocks and SEE.

If some fellow is running a world, therefore, it's going to be very difficult for them if they take the perpective that they're going to create "presentations" that are remotely interesting to me. Back in university, I had a professor who used to answer every question I asked with a book I should read. At this point in my life, I find myself doing to others what he did to me. Read this. Read that. Educate yourself. The fellow who is going to entertain me has one hell of a tough row to hoe. He's going to have to be as educated as I am, at least; in fact, he better be better educated than me. He has to be as steeped in the habits of human psychology, as morally deficient, as unpredictable and so on, as I am ... or he is going to BORE the ever-living snot right out of me.

He is almost certain to pick and play on things that are interesting for HIM. Which is nice for him. Only thing is, I'm not interested in the shit he's interest in. I am virtually never interested in the things that interest other people. Other people seem to be willing to swallow the most profound crap imaginable and get knotted up about it.  (As an aside, does anyone want to talk about how the spelling in the letter is almost flawless, or how the format of the letter is structured like a high school english essay?  For anyone who has read the sort of abusive letters this one proports to be - i.e., the sort a newspaper receives - is it really possible that the press has bought into this, or is it just that advertising sales were guaranteed to jump?)

Part of the reason I don't play in other people's worlds is because I'm not interested in other people's idea of a 'good adventure.'  I'd like to investigate my idea of a good adventure.  The same way I investigate my idea of a good Saturday afternoon.  Or the way I decide what I'm going to do when I go out for the evening.  Things that I don't have to explain to God or Mammon (well, Mammon has a lot more to do with it than God, but I'm making good money these days).

Why shouldn't it be that if I am a player in a persons world, that I can decide what *I* would like to do there?  Why can't we as a party decide?  There are roads.  Why can't we pick which one to walk down, and why shouldn't we expect a certain 'hands off' idealism on the part of the world's creator?  The so-called creator of this world seems to have it down pretty well.  He doesn't give a shit what we do AT ALL.  Quite a lot of DMs could learn from that.

But then, I know, there are just so many people sitting in that coffee shop thinking, I'm bored ... I wish something would happen.  I wish someone would just give me something to do.  Sigh.  It sure is boring.

But, you know, I'm all screwed up in the head. That may be one of the reasons I think I'm so damn smart. Maybe I'm really not. Perhaps I'm very deluded about that. Perhaps I'm really no smarter than you, gentle reader, and that saying I am is just proof of my delusion.

Sure enough, that's reasonable. Can you tell me, though ... why is it I'm not bored right now?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Parenting, Not Autocracy

There was another question on yesterday's link that I'd like to address:

"How do you handle PCs who want to split up, perhaps act in manners that act against the interests of other PCs? Because when I ran a similar style, this was the biggest hurdle I ran into and it turned me off to the style personally."

Ever since writing the Opening Module post, I've been bumping up against this one. I've been trying to distill a meaningful answer that would be helpful to everyone who finds themselves in this position, something where I DON'T call adult people at a table who can't agree a bunch of squabbling children.

I try to picture myself a such a table. These two people on the right of me want to stay in port, buy a shop and start running underground weapons to rebel pirates who are plundering shipping on the sea. The two people on my right think that's a terrible idea, they would rather march into the wilderness, find a dungeon and start plundering its rooms. Finally, the two people in the middle are only interested in individual adventures; this one wants to case a house and rob it, alone, keeping everything that's found for himself; and that one wants to spend the whole night gambling, and wants me to play the croupier at the table so she can do that.

And since we're answering the question posed by Fochizzy on the link, let's assume that all six are adamant in what they want to do.

Now, I am also to assume that this is because of a sandbox 'style' of play - so presumably, if I toss in a wizard lord, smack the party around and impose a quest to kill the Great Slog of Punkettsville, this solves the problem.

This solves the problem?

Really, I want to understand. Everyone is acting in a basically selfish, inflexible manner, and the solution to this situation is for the DM to step in and behave in a completely AUTOCRATIC manner. This gets the campaign 'back on track' and therefore is a MUCH better way of running a game.

I see. Can I just ask ... how certain are we that the individual members of the party are that reluctant to work together? Are we certain that the DM isn't just a prick?

Well, some other people in the last couple of months have said or written that when they tried to just back out and let the party go at it, nothing happened all night long. Nothing. Now, I don't have any more information than that in these cases. It's necessary to fill in the gaps. There's no transcript, no blow by blow, no specific reference to what she said or he said or why specifically neither party desired to resolve the disagreement and get on with the game. I only know they weren't able to.

What would I do?

Well, probably I'd begin by troubleshooting plan A: the town smuggling operation. More to the point, I'd try to shoot it down. "You don't have any contacts, you don't have enough money, you haven't thought it through, how are you going to start it ..." That sort of thing. I'd start with the smuggling operation because it's the most complicated. It is the one that requires the greatest amount of thought. That also means it's the one that requires the greatest amount of resolve, so it's likely the first plan that's going to crash and burn in its early stages. It will probably crash and burn as soon as I start poking holes in the plan - legitimate holes the players haven't thought through.

It's the same thing you do when you start a business. First you think about everything you want to do. Then you think about everything you'll need. THEN, if you're smart, you'll think about everything that can go wrong, or more to the point, WILL go wrong. Then you go to someone else who has been there, who is also in business, and you get them to point out everything that will go wrong. If you find yourself saying, "Yes, but I've already thought of that, so it won't ..." then you might just as well quit now. What you need to say is, "Okay, okay, and when that happens, what do I do?"

By and large the ambitious players haven't really thought it through ... and unless they're committed, they'll start to have second thoughts by the time the conversation is rolled out and discussed, whereupon they'll lose heart and opt for the dungeon option.

However, if they don't lose heart, if they really have a plan, then usually what happens is that they have a role for everyone at the table ... and they'll start selling the table on those roles. They won't say, "Come help so my smuggling operation will work." They'll say, "Look, I'll need someone who can get the weapons; and where's the best place for cheap, available weapons? The dungeon up the hill. So help me get my end started, and then we'll go get the weapons ..." And soon enough at least four people in the party are on the same course.

The people who want to go to the dungeon just want direct, easy to understand experience. In the short run, they don't care where they get it. Of course, if they're just bloody minded about going to the dungeon, and they're not interested in being sold ... then I'll go to work on them.

First of all, I want to know what they want out of D&D. Experience? Combat? Anything else? "Seriously, you just want to come in and fight and get experience, and everything else sounds boring. Oh, you are serious. And anything else that happens - I see, it's just bullshit until the next combat. Good. I understand."

Here is where I get into some personal trouble with this subject. This is where I run out of useful things to offer the gentle reader, as a DM. I can't see myself gaming at a table with a person like this. I recognize there are people like this. I've met, oh, hundreds of them. Grinders.

As a player, I always found a way to point them at something I didn't like, or something that was an obstacle in the way of something that I wanted, so that we could operate together. I would meet people like this and I would deliberately use them, and I don't mean character to character, I mean person to person. It's the way a boss uses an employee that isn't that bright, keeping them motivated to get the floor mopped or the light fixtures changed, while carefully sidestepping anything about wages or promotion. "Yes, Dirk is a good worker, I just push him off in a direction and he does it. No, I really don't give a shit about him. I think I could replace him by the end of the week." It's okay. Dirk likes to kill things. And if I make sure that Dirk has something to kill before the night is over, Dirk is happy. I'd rather not have to service Dirk in this manner, but if that's what I have to do to achieve MY goals, then ...

Most players, however, don't have that killer instinct. They're not ready to lie, cheat, manipulate or whatever the person at the table who is nominally their friend. So it falls to the DM. And because the dungeon adventure is a lot easier than the smuggling adventure for the really 'focused' members of the party to grasp, the DM steps in and says, "Dungeon tonight." And the smarter more clever people sigh and give in and make the best of the dungeon adventure that they can. The Grinder, on the other hand, will not do this with the smuggling adventure. The Grinder will bitch and moan and roll their eyes and sulk because there was no experience tonight, no matter what was achieved.

Now, about the other two. The Gambler and the Thief. I am sorry to say this, but I think both are about as loathsome a people as it's possible to meet playing this game. The thief, at least, might do something that is interesting to someone. First time in a game, it's vaguely exciting to be a spectator watching a thief slip into a house, nearly get caught, successfully overcoming a dog and getting away clean with the jewels. That at least is a narrative. It's a completely selfish, cliched narrative, and the thief never really gets away with more than would be his or her normal share in a straight up encounter that involved everyone (there isn't time, the treasure is too difficult to carry or there isn't enough of it that can be grabbed before the room is full of angry residents) ... but it's a narrative.

The Gambler is far, far worse. They seem to have forgotten what they're doing in a D&D game. They'd rather play craps ... or whatever side game has emerged. They'd rather be in Vegas, but somehow they've wandered into your campaign and you've been caught unaware by someone whose either easily amused or has some sort of gambling problem. They're utterly oblivious to everyone but themselves. And when you say enough, they get upset or exhibit frustration, then pout for the rest of the night. Every time they come back into town, they ask if the gambling venue is open, and soon enough you'll find yourself saying, "No, angry townspeople burned it to the ground."

I hate these people. I hate having them at my table. At the moment, with all three of my campaigns being well-established and the participants motivated towards DOING something that they've decided on their own, it is invariably the newest person in any given campaign that creates a problem like any of the above. They come into a game with their own, personal agenda, or their own, personal bias, and they completely ignore that D&D is a game played by a lot of people, not just one person. They soon find themselves banging against the wall produced by the consensus-driven people who are already there, and either they bend or they quit.

On this blog I talk a lot about the player agenda. That agenda is, however, unfortunate for some, dependent upon the majority being serviced. This is no different from any other group activity. Sports, community service, political activism, the workspace, a holiday get-together ... it is all the same. The person with the biggest PROBLEM is the person who thinks the entire event needs to redirect itself towards their personal needs.

I don't mean, they enter into the activity with an eye to making sure every one's active and doing what they want and that the thing happens. There are those people too. Facilitators. Like me and Dirk. Dirk's happy, he's killing things; I'm happy, I'm cornering the weapons market. We both get what we want. If people want to play baseball, someone gets the diamond, someone brings the bat and ball, people make sure than Cynthia, who is just shit at catching, still gets a turn in right field, where she can occasionally drop a ball but not as often as she would in left field - and everyone makes sure to cheer Cynthia hard when she tries.

No, I'm talking about the asshole who has to PITCH, because he deigned to show up. Who has never been to one of these things before, but is ready to criticize everyone. And who wants to change rule A and rule B because they don't suit him.

Often, it's not that blatant. Instead of bossiness, there's a distinct sluggishness or apathy; the player mopes and sulks; they answer questions as though answering questions is the most boring thing in the world. They only get excited when everything comes around their way.

Trot 18 random strangers onto a baseball diamond and tell them to play, and 18 people can organize themselves pretty quickly. They'll use any of the standard ways for splitting themselves up into two teams that were invented for them in elementary school, they'll debate for a bit about what position to play, or what batting order to be in, but you can pretty much expect that they'll be playing baseball inside half-an-hour.

But put 4 strangers at a D&D table and tell them to do what they want, and they'll calcify in a couple of minutes on four different strategies. That's why Fochizzy says that he doesn't play that way any more. He autocratically decides. Otherwise, nobody plays.

I think that's wrong. I think it's a rational solution if the goal is to put up a barn or to get a film made. One autocratic individual can motivate a crew without any trouble.

I think, however, that the REAL solution is to have the party come around night after night, forcing them to face the same question, until one of two things happens.

1) They recognize that no one is going to hold their hand, and that if they want to play D&D they're going to have to sort themselves out like grown-ups.

2) After the second or third night of this, only one or two people show up. The most serious players. With less people muddying the water, they'll get started. And then, when one of the others find you're still playing D&D, and show up to find the other two are already moving in a set direction, that third person will fall in line.

The party will have ultimately decided. And you'll have a sandbox game. One where you'll NEVER have to boss the party again. But it is like giving birth. Sometimes the campaign dies, comes out still born. Sometimes you get a squalling, screaming infant. But as the infant grows, it begins to create it's own way in the world.

As a DM, you cease to be an autocrat, and slip comfortably into the role of proud parent. Giving advice, making suggestions, offering ideas ... but never, ever ruling your way or the highway.

Still, there are a lot of parents who try to parent that way. There are a lot of old age homes full of lonely parents.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wiggly All Over the Place

Watching a conversation at The Wizards Community, a place I had gone only because it was driving traffic towards this site, I came across this question imposed by one Fochizzy:

"I am legitimately curious as to how you create these random maps, monsters, NPCs and tables that you discuss. Do you create them in advance and use what feels appropriate? It sounds like you eschew most preparation, so how do you keep it all together? Because my experience with someone with a similar style to what you espouse is that they were unable to keep everything straight."

The statement was meant, I believe (in context), to be anecdotal evidence of the impossibility of such a venture. In context, there's a sort of "pffft!" sound that one can hear in the background, which I think is evident from the last line of the quote. On the next page of the thread, one can find Yagami answering it (Yagami who occasionally pokes his head up around here, and was responsible for creating the thread linking to content on this blog). I think I can offer a better reply.

The maps, as anyone knows who reads me, are a long term venture that has paid off ... but even at the beginning (around early 2005), when the only map I had was a small reproduction of the province of Voronezh, creating my own map on a computer program, which could be manipulated at will, was well worth the effort. This is where my long-running off-line party started, about 8 years ago now, in a little town on the edge of orc-country in the steppes of Russia, a town called Kolyeno. With the aid of Wikipedia, an encyclopedia, several atlases and my own imagination, I was able to insert the party into a place that had a history, and which was relevant to them at least in terms of being able to comprehend how large a world they were in beyond the simple local hills and grasslands surrounding the valley of the Don River.

Therefore, I keep the maps straight by working off the real world, where all my information is on the net, at my fingertips, and all I need do is conform that information to my perception of what a 17th century world would be like. I even have tables that tell me what moon phase exists in any particular part of the world, at any time, such as Athens in 1651.

The monsters are mostly those in the monster manual. I insert these more or less in places where there are no people. I've been doing this mostly grab-ass for the last 33 years, using my experience to estimate how many and how they're encountered, mostly with the mindset of depicting these monsters as they would live and breathe if there were no persons there to discover them. In other words, I don't have the party come across a chimera because its interesting and exciting to kill a chimera. I presuppose, IF a chimera were in this place and time, WHAT would be the chimera's motivation? What do chimera want? Is it sleepy and perhaps resting after several months of causing destruction? Has it climbed out of a cave and is mostly interested in sunning itself? Is it hungry? Has it little chimera children its raising (well, probably not, because that's not how chimera happen). IF the party stumbles across the chimera, how is that likely to happen. I have to assume the chimera was doing something before the party showed up. It wasn't just waiting there off camera, arguing with its agent on the phone before the call came for it to step out and read its lines. That chimera has an agenda. What is it? What does the chimera want? And how does what the party want conflict with the chimera, or in fact how does it coincide? Must we always assume the party and the chimera are opponents in whatever struggle is taking place?

So I manage these monsters mostly by putting myself in their place. Since I as DM have no agenda, no cattle run or railroad, then the whole matter of the chimera (or any other monster appearing) comes down to, "Has the party moved into an area where something other than vermin is likely to be?" And that thought is followed by a die roll that tells me if there's a monster there. If yes, we can start up a dialogue/battle. If no, I can tell the party they are one day closer to their destination without there being a distraction. One die roll. Everyone's happy either way. Win for the new encounter (and possible experience), or win for the party's plan moving that much closer to fruition.

And if the party is somewhere that only vermin are likely to be (vermin = creatures too dumb to know that they'll be killed if they wander into civilized lands), then the die roll is there for that, too.

NPC's are run pretty much the same way. If the party goes into a particular civilized land/area/city/what have you, I think, who would they likely find there? And what would be their agenda? Sell stuff? Get help? Ask the party to get the hell off their land? Steal from the party? Con the party into believing a lie in order to get their money? There are really thousands, tens of thousands of motivations, and I'm creative.

I don't need an overall grand plan to give an ordinary NPC a motivation that will challenge the party. The guy driving the car on the road ahead of you, who is challenging the living fuck out of you, doesn't need to fit into any grand scheme. He's a problem. NPC's are often problems. They are sometimes solutions. They have information, they have both ordinary and extraordinary little agendas, they're chock full of adventure opportunities.

I don't have to keep track of them because, well, chances are as an adventuring party you'll never see them again. Even if they're someone you see everyday, I don't have to create their stats or most of their wealth because there's no logical reason the party would ever have knowledge of that anyway. I myself only need it if that person is actually going to get into combat; the idea that I'd sketch out an entire NPC sheet for the local grocer who always says hi to the party when they come back to town, whose name is Greg and has a pretty wife, is ridiculous. Why would I do that? Even if the party attacked Greg, in about two seconds I can decide that he probably hasn't got any special stats, and being a grocer he's probably got between one and eight hit points. If he were a guard, he'd have a d8 for mass and a d10 for his level, and maybe (50%, say) either a 16 strength or a 15 constitution. Probably nothing else. That thief that robbed the party is bound to have a good dexterity (roll 5d6 and keep the highest three). It takes no time. And the NPC is probably going to disappear forever soon after, or be dead. Why would I waste time designing them down to how much they weighed or what color their eyes were? The party doesn't care. Why should I?

And if the body is to be rifled, I can just as easily rattle off a dozen things the body is carrying or wearing in the middle of a session as I can write it down ten days earlier in 'preparation.' Preparation there is a waste of time. I can be preparing better things ... like a general treasure & arms table that identifies the value the NPC is carrying fast enough to keep the game going.

Yes, I eschew a great deal of bullshit preparation. Most of this preparation is a sort of self-roleplay thing that people do in order to be part of the game when the game is not going on. But then, I wrote a great long post about that.

Keeping this "all together" is really about going with the flow. Not trying to force the party into a box. That means that a lot of things get left by the wayside, never developed, because the party really wasn't interested in them. And sometimes it means my forgetting the name of that grocer because the party hasn't been back to that town in seventeen months of play. But you know, if I start calling the grocer 'Gary,' no one cares. And if someone says, "I thought his name was Greg," I answer, "Oh, right, Greg. Anyway, Greg says ..." and the game goes on.

There is this rather foolish sense that a DM has to be this flawless individual who can never make a mistake about something they have in their campaign. That's simply not true. The gentle reader will find generally with the party that they're ready to adapt to a lot of things - such as keeping notes themselves if they ever want to find that strange little man outside that town. I don't keep information like that in my head for the party. They remind me. They say, "Hey, did we find that prayer rug the town said they were missing?" And I think, oops, forgot all about that. Out loud, I say, "Nope. No sign of it." Whereupon the party goes, "I wonder where that is."

But you know what? If they NEVER find it, no big deal. Because sometimes things just go missing. Sometimes, the town just has to get along without that prayer rug. Maybe a black pudding ate it. Maybe its in someone's backback right now as they're getting aboard a ship for China. Who the hell knows? What the hell difference does it make? If the party doesn't find that particular bit of treasure, no biggie, there will be other things. I don't have anything in my world hinging on the whereabouts of that thing, so if I've forgotten to toss that thing into the treasure where, seven months ago, I totally meant to, what the hey? The game still manages to go on.

I never tell the party that, of course. I keep it close to the body. I never reveal what happened to stuff that was never found, because in reality, there's just stuff we lose and we never find. There are people we knew really well who might be, well, anywhere. We can't even find them on the Net. Maybe they died before the Net got really popular. Who knows?

Every once in awhile someone in the party might say, "I wonder what ever happened to ..." and I think, hm, maybe I'll have them find that. Or I think, naaaaaah.

Not telling the party things helps a lot in keeping it all 'straight.' Not having a plan helps in that there's no real definite reason to keep things 'straight.' My principal self-rule is that I don't intentionally fuck around behind the party's back changing things. Once I decide that this is that, I make it that. True, I do forget stuff - like that prayer rug. But I never had any specific plans for what that rug was, anyway.

In the main, I'm less concerned about making the world "fun" for the party than I am letting the party make the world "fun" for themselves. I don't worry about if I'm running a world like a computer would run a world. I don't get wrapped up in how much personal glory I'm getting, of if the party properly respects the effort I've made. I want to know for certain that the party is having a good time. That it is worth it for them. That they're engaged.

I'm engaged in making all this background. It amuses me more than enough to have created a big park where other people want to play. I don't feel at the same time that they need to pay lip service to me for having created it.

So there you have it. I keep it together by playing it pretty loose and off the cuff, which works because the world as it stands is pretty loose and pretty much undefined. The less defined it is, the better park the world becomes. I like it that way, my players like it that way.

I think that phrase, "keep everything straight," is telling in itself. Railroads are straight. FIXED design is straight. Inflexible things are straight. I don't make a straight world.

Mine is wiggly all over the place.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Game World Of Winston

For now, let's solemnly gaze upon the genius of Winston Rowntree.

Full Image
Is it not strange that the community is full of people who argue that the headings on each image are not TRUE? That "awful" is giving the players a good experience and that "good" is impractical and therefore a waste of effort.

Any person looking at this would understand immediately ... unless they played D&D, of course.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Those Who Love the Game

Well, it was a very interesting weekend, full of sound and fury, signifying very little. Much of the abuse I received on other sites drew me to think of the lives that very famous people have, where the degree of hate and clever abuse reaches a profound level. We don't have to be famous ourselves to recognize it; have a look at the hundreds of sites dedicated to the pure hatred of Star Trek Into Darkness. That's some intense shit.

Even a little success guarantees a degree of abuse, mockery and hatred. Somerset Maugham wrote, "The Philistines have long since discarded the rack and stake as a means of suppressing the opinions they feared: they've discovered a much more deadly weapon of destruction - the wisecrack." This he wrote 70 years ago, heralding the present age of trolls and the ridiculous, who turn discomfort at the D&D table into a crime most heinous, to further their (unknown) agendas.

A few things I feel I must convey. People at my table are made uncomfortable. They are made uncomfortable the way a horror movie makes the audience feel uncomfortable; or the way a viewer is made uncomfortable when a gunman in a film drops the muzzle of a pistol to a child's head; or the way a depicted rapist opens and closes his hands in the darkness, watching a lone woman walk from the night-time grocery across the dim parking lot. Discomfort is my trade. I am an artist.

There's very little drama in presenting things that are comfortable. Players don't receive much emotional reward if they haven't been set back on their heels or if their hearts aren't pounding furiously in concern for their safety. It's a poor critic who can't understand why an audience must feel their adrenaline rising, or why they must be compelled to wince or reel in shock when some favored character is killed, or some place is burnt to the ground, or the occupants murdered blithely.

I am an artist. I can't be constrained by an audience that claims political sanctuary the first moment things get a little rough. I can't tone my content down to PG because someone at the table hasn't yet comprehended in that in the world - in a medieval/renaissance world, to boot - people are raped and people are murdered, that cities topple, that cannibalism and bestiality are rampant, and that in most of the world all this happens right in front of children. Where it comes to managing my world, where all these things happen, and more - because they did happen, they have happened, they are happening - I won't turn a blind eye. I won't compromise for the sake of a single player's weak heart. That player has no business at my table. In the larger sense, that player has no business being in the world, a world where unimaginable atrocities go unchecked because of people living in spastic comfort and contrived innocence fail to rise to the challenge of ending them. That is why we have psychologists. To heal such people. That's why its understood that people who cannot or will not deal with reality are 'damaged,' or ill, or otherwise in need of help. Everyone thinks they deserve pity. No one believes they are right about their delusions.

My players, at least, recognize that living in my world means girdling on a sword and warming up a spell or two, in order to right some wrongs. It's fantasy, but it's eyes-wide-open fantasy, practiced by people who in their ordinary, daily lives, will stand up and face a crisis bravely and unafraid. I don't have spineless people at my table. I don't need to worry about my players, or their reaction to the horrors I present, because they're adults. They're strong enough to smash back whatever ball I hurl at them. They've reconciled their consciences with the evils of the world and they refuse to pander to the fear of them.

Critics will say this isn't any fun. Critics will wonder what would be the point of a game with such horrors in it. My players don't have to wonder. They're jaded, they've played a variety of 'fun' games and they've come to the conclusion that 'fun' has its emotional limitations. What my players are is SATISFIED. They are spiritually and emotionally rocked by the world I provide, causing them to shout out at random times during a session, unable to contain themselves, that "I AM FUCKING LOVING THIS!" The reader can find numerous examples on my online blog, anytime the tension gets thick.

Players return again and again to my campaign because this is what they want. They don't want protection. They don't want warning. All they want is to feel that when the shit starts to get deep, it isn't random. That there is some sort of rarefied, unpredictable logic to the nightmare as it unfolds. So it carries with it the whiff of believability, so it can be adventured into with the whole heart.

For those who can't understand this, I am sad for you. For those who have players at their tables who wouldn't accept this, I am sad for you. For those who must qualify every statement with a warning, or who feel their players would be 'creeped out,' or that they need you to otherwise hold their delicate little hands for them and reassure them that all their nightmares won't come true, I am ungodly sad for you. It must be awful having to run a world where no one plays in it but tiny child-minded infants. Or perhaps you are one yourself, in which case, your Mommy probably shouldn't be allowing you to play freely on the internet. You need a Net Nanny.

For those of you with stiff chins and ass-sticks, who proudly claim to be adults while asserting that no game of yours would EVER include such clearly unacceptable content, I am sad for you. You've received an education, you've seen a thousand films, you've suffered the indignation of serving people (everybody serves somebody), you've had bad things happen to you and all you've done is learn to live in fear. And to force others to live life on your terms, tempered by your inadequacies and your need to discriminate between what is real and what is false. I'm sad for you. Mostly because you have no conception of why anyone would be sad for you. As you feel your ire rise while reading this, and as your righteous indignation rushes for the right words to justify your existence, try to remember that the world - the actual world, the one you're living in - doesn't care about your anger. It doesn't care about your sense of right and wrong. It is smashing all the icons of propriety you can construct, gleefully, unilaterally ... and inevitably. As you live this little closed existence you insist upon, the forces are in motion that will calmly rip that world asunder and deprive you of your certainty.

Because that is the way it always happens.

I write this post for those players and dungeonmasters who can't understand why that game has to be fashioned in such juvenile strokes. I write for those who want more, who want darker, who want to play with the whole range of human emotions, who recognize that in a world of nothing but sweetness, things cease to have any taste at all. I write for that small cadre of grown-ups who are still playing this game after thirty years, who have turned their backs on the community but not upon the desire to learn more and more about the angles and possibilities of the game. I write for the open mind, the free spirit, the philosophically bent designer who has long since come to recognize with age that a minute of satisfaction is more emotionally gratifying than a month of fun. I write for the silent and diligent gamers who no longer have the energy to deal with trolls, who watch my energy with smiling faces.

I expect fools to be made uncomfortable. I expect them to cry foul. I expect them to argue every decision, debate every reality, refute every principle and decry every injustice as the cold hand of harsh reality drags them into the grave with the rest of us. They're free to quibble. Their quibbling has no influence on me and mine, because I do not DM for the quibblers.

I DM for my players. I DM for those who love the game.

The rest do not count.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Yesterday, Tim Brannan posted some links on The Other Side blog that I think are worth talking about.  Basically, they are about how the public face of mass gatherings is being influenced by people who sincerely want their personal discomfort to be the guiding line for what is, and what is not, acceptable. The actual incident, or its actual manifestation, is immaterial. We've seen a lot of this lately, and there's a growing dialogue - and manner of speaking - that has developed lately that serves as a ready tool for people who want to control other people's behavior, likes, dislikes or choices.

This ready tool comes in the form of a veiled prejudice which stands as a conveniently flexible guideline for anyone who wants to express the need to control. The argument goes that a person's discomfort is REAL, and because it is REAL, it cannot be dismissed - it must be addressed. And the only way to address it is to remove, retract or otherwise ban the thing that has made this person uncomfortable.

The argument is further vouchsafed in the established social rule that discomfort is BAD. That all things that cause discomfort are BAD. That no one should ever, under any circumstances, be made uncomfortable about anything, EVER.

This discomfort = BAD = stamp out and kill formula is working great for a small number of people who really, really care.

The vast majority of people really, really don't care. But that doesn't matter. Because we will educate them, until they do care. Exactly the way we care. Because that's the formula.

Anyone who questions the basis for the formula - that discomfort is BAD - will be denounced. It must be made clear to every person that no one should ever feel discomfort, and if they do, that is a terrible, awful crime ... and mass gatherings are not here so that crimes can be perpetrated on the participants. Nay, not even upon one participant. If one participant is uncomfortable, then it follows that every person, everywhere, should also be.

Any other conclusion would be that we are comfortable with people's discomfort. Anyone who is comfortable with another person's discomfort is clearly a dangerous psychopath. It's inherently understood that causing discomfort in other people and then being apathetic about it is a clear indication of someone with mental problems.

The gentle reader is going to see a LOT more of this. So get ready. There aren't going to be any lack of examples. You're going to find yourself supporting, or being rolled over, by people who feel this way, who have learned to shout these words reprovingly, and who have also learned to turn litigation and legislation in a manner that enables them to force you to adhere to this policy.

For a little while, socially speaking - twenty or thirty years - this is going to be western culture's default position.

If you think of it as a sort of engaged universal hysteria, a reaction to feeling powerless and frightened in a world that seems too big or dangerous to be grasped by people whose education has failed them, you'll find that it's really sort of humorous, in a way. Pathetic, of course. Very pathetic. But quite funny. Like watching that fellow years ago screaming into the camera to leave Britney alone.


I am 49 years old.  I am sure most of those arguing with me are younger.  Even still, for those who keep their muckraking sticks up their ass, the crystal clear sound of youth.  Never mind what I say: these are the people who will soon be making the rules for you:

Please refute when you produce a video more popular.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sex and D&D ... the Steamy Edition

Discounting an earlier post I wrote on this subject, there really is no reason why sex cannot be part of a player character's agenda ... despite a general feeling that no one would ever want to take part in sex and gaming unless one were, as Roger the GS puts it, "goofy horndogs" ... despite, as he also says, the lack of mechanical means.

This continues to astound me, really ... but then matters of sex always do. For such a universal recreation; for something that undeniably offers the best feeling - however brief - that any human has a chance at obtaining, for free; and for something that yields the most rewarding experience and purpose that can conceivably be available, the insertion of life into one's family and care, this culture just baffles the living fuck out of me.

But then, I grew up in the 70s.

No one in the 70s thought that any of this moral crap was going to hold out much longer. Stonewall had happened, public nudity had broken the barrier, the powers that be were unable to hold back not only the spread of porn but the spread of all kinds of porn. The religious right had failed in their effort to stem the tide of swearing and sex in film, or to keep people from making fun of religion (see Life of Brian) and on the whole, generally, the majority was waking up to the fact that sex could be talked about, it could be admitted openly as something a person liked, and all those people who whined about it were clearly impotent and constipated.

Then ... the moral majority coalesced and went to war against the free press and media by targeting advertisers and money. AIDS happened and the public was deluged with misinformation that expressly misrepresented homosexuals ... and terrified heteros in their beds. Governments and especially the feminist right cracked down on kink with laws and invented morality intended to make everything sound like rape. And political correctness was invented.

So here we are. People still like sex. The porn is still everywhere. Homosexuality hasn't been crushed. Television and movies are full of nudity and kink. All the morality proscription failed in the extreme. Rule 34 reigns supreme. But four guys sitting around a table playing D&D can't deal with one of them saying he'd like to have sex with an Elven princess without being labeled a "goofy horndog."


I don't know if its because boys who play D&D are so socially inept with women that homosexuality is a constant, terrifying possibility - being that they cannot get within touching range of anything but boys - or if it is because D&D boys are so noticeably desperate that speaking out loud of the opposite sex brings derision and hatred because, well, We Do Not Speak Of Them Here. I've certainly been in some games where boys describing sex with women was a wild free-for-all, going back to our high school days when those things were funny as hell. I have it on good authority that there are some profoundly unpleasant moments at some tables for girls where the sex jokes are constant, blatant and abusive ... and so maybe that's the goofy horndogginess that occurs at Roger's table.

That kind of horndogginess would get you punched in the face at mine. Probably not by me - I'm all the way on the other side of the table. There are some boyfriends and women who would be a lot closer to you, who'd reach you first.

Sex is a part of the human experience. It's a huge part of drama, of purpose, of what makes us go. We identify in large part with the need for, and the results of, sex. This is why there is a lot more sex on the internet than there is D&D.

But it makes a player feel ... uncomfortable. That is the whole argument against. "We were playing the game the other day, and we had gotten into town after a hard battle. The DM said there were some prostitutes by the front gate, just to make us understand what kind of town it was, and Jeremy - he's new - asked how much they cost. We laughed, but he was serious. Oh my god. So the DM told him, and Jeremy said he paid the money and they did it in back of the guardhouse. Jeez, it just made me sick. What a fucking horndog."

And ... yeah.

It's not actually difficult to get into a discussion these days about sex. They happen at work, they happen spontaneously at the bar, they just sort of crop up here and there. Hell, I've had conversations about sex with my parents (after I got to be 40, they just loosened up, no idea why). Of course, there's the whole internet. And what's funny is that there are these vast, open landscapes of people talking openly about sex, and the sex they'd like to have, and when they'd like to have it, or when they did have it ... and none of them are snorting in comical shock when someone says "boob" or "pussy" - like a bunch of cheezy grade sixers.

We all know where these chat rooms are. And we know people go there when they'd like to stop being alone, and maybe meet someone of like mind.

I met my present partner of 12 years through one, back in 2001.

The "uncomfortable" argument is a powerful one. It transcends the table, it reaches out to the whole D&D internet, where Roger and many others sneer in disgust at the idea of a player choosing to step into the shoes of a HUMAN BEING. Yes, by all means, hack things to death. Yes, gloat over gold. Please, here, the door is wide open for any mind fucking game-playing you'd like to do with other players or the DM. Yes, welcome to the land of megalomaniacs, narcissists, gluttons and the pompous. "But we don't do that other thing."

The moody, dangerous Pirate Captain heads down to the beach, bottle of ouzo in hand, mourning the loss of her dead husband, whom the party briefly knew and whom they buried. The player character watches her, well aware of how violent she can be, how deep her feelings - and though she's been described by a male DM, the description is compelling, just like every description of a strong female character in a book or story written by a man has been since the dawn of time. And the player would like to do something. He's interested in where events might go if somehow this NPC were induced to be more than just a momentary distraction, but an ally too. But how to approach her. She seems to disdain everyone and everything. But clearly she is filled with passion. What to do?

Like any fighter girdling on a sword and stepping up to a lion, daring to face the thing in its lair, he marches forward and without any weapons at all. He knows she probably carries a dagger. He knows she's murdered men before. But he wants to believe there's more than that. He tells the DM he seizes her by the arm, and turns her around. He's a fighter, he's fifty pounds more than her, and the DM rolls a die. "I tell her to stop being stupid," the player tells the DM. "I tell her she cannot mourn his death forever. She's destroying herself with liquor and this endless sorrow. I shout at her, tell her to be alive now, to recognize that her dead husband would not want her to stay like this."

"She fights you," says the DM, and the player realizes that her hand might in that moment reach for the dagger she has hidden. "I hold on tight." The DM pronounces that the player is successful. The woman doesn't speak, and asks if the player says anything else. The player, daring, says, "I tell her that her husband left her." The DM rolls a die, says the woman breaks free and punches the fighter. He takes a point of damage. "DAMN YOU!" the woman says. The fighter doesn't give in. "He gave you all he had and now he has left you. He's left you here, alone, and you know that there's nothing else he can give you!"

A roll. The DM says the woman stands her ground, furious, trying with all her strength to hold herself together, but clearly she's too overwhelmed to speak.

The fighter says, "I speak to her very gently. I tell her she's not alone. I tell her there are others here who won't leave. Who will fight with you, win with you ... and die WITH you. If you will open your eyes."

She looks at the fighter. The DM announces that she is overwhelmed. He says that the woman lifts a hand, half-heartedly, towards the fighter.

The fighter responds, "I seize the hand. I use it to pull her tight against me. If she makes no protest, I kiss her hard. I make her understand I've meant every word."

The DM says she doesn't fight. She gives in. She yields. The fighter says, "I press her down to the sand. I'm very careful not to push too hard, not to hurry. I want her to understand that this is not sex, this is me caring for her. I want her to understand that I'm willing to be there for her."

The DM judges the moment, chooses 2d6, decides that if its a 7 or more, then she returns the feeling; if it's a 6 or less, she has merely weakened, but she is still thinking about her husband.

The DM rolls a 9.

"She understands," the DM says.

Goddamned goofy horndogs.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Realistically, I don't mind a player who gives advice to other players, and for the most part I don't see that as "playing someone else's character." The game is meant to be open and friendly, and quite often there's a lot of interplay that really couldn't happen if reality were invoked.

This is particularly true where characters are separated by a great distance, where there's no possibility of giving advice. Naturally, if the party is tight together, the giants are just over the hill and people are debating what to do next, it's perfectly acceptable that the player of the mage says to the player of the fighter, "Use your bow and hide, don't come out until they start ripping up the trees trying to find you."

Things get trickier, however, when the fighter has moved off to the left with the thief, and the mage is now eighty yards to the west hiding in the scrub with the ranger. I'm still generally willing to let it go, however, when the giants begin ripping up trees and the mage says adamantly, "Attack now. Now!"

I don't think the mage is standing up and shouting these words, though I can't blame a DM for reading the scene that way. If you want to get fixated on reality, you pretty much have to. I'm a bit more generous. It's the sort of thing that's going through the fighter's mind anyway, the mage is just enunciating it out loud ... and not every player at the table can express themselves as well in a given moment. Sometimes, having an expressive player speak the conscious thoughts of everyone at the table (who are all thinking, "Attack! Attack!") is beneficial for the enthusiasm and emotion of the moment.

So I'm willing to suspend the impossible for that reason.

Where it gets difficult is where one character is placed in a situation on their own, usually one that involves a conversation with an NPC, but sometimes where they have to puzzle themselves out of a mess they've gotten themselves into. What you want is for that player to feel the desperation of being there - and to feel the difficulty of showing themselves capable of overmastering the NPC or the situation in a manner that proves their worth.

In other words, it's an opportunity for a player to shine. For the less exuberant players at the table, this can be a critical moment in their experience as player in a D&D game. They're often the type that hangs at the back; who are happy to go along to get along. They love the game, they love smashing the enemy and watching their blows count in battle, but they're not exceptionally confident as actual persons ... they're quiet and shy.

This means that if there's a free-for-all interplay where strategy is discussed or the drama is unfolding, they're the least likely people to throw in their two cents. This does not make them bad players. Anyone polite, imaginative, and ready to step up when the time comes is a good player, even if they don't feel the need to dominate every session.

Those who do dominate a session, however, tend to be less comprehensive of the less expressive players. Wrapped up in the moment, they generally fail to recognize that others are there ... and as a DM, it's important to step in and - occasionally - shut people up.

Because you've let them off the chain on a lot of occasions, however (like with the giants), sometimes the decision to say, "no, shut up now, let them work it out themselves" comes as a surprise. And occasionally a bit of offense is taken. But it IS necessary for the drama to occasionally shut down some of the players in favor of others, where the intention is to keep the drama at a peak for everyone.

It won't take a lot of imagination for the reader to guess that the writer of this post is one of the worst imaginable for "playing other people's characters." I've never seen it that way; I want to live, and if living means that the mage not fuck up and deliver the fireball in the wrong place, I'm going to make it clear where that fireball should be delivered.

I had a situation Saturday where the party was fighting a host of orcs and the mage had set up to deliver a lightning bolt. Because there was tension, because there was a question of the party surviving, because there were a dozen targets and because the targets were color-coded on the battle map, the mage got a bit flummoxed and wound up discharging the lightning bolt into at least one orc who was known to have less than five hit points. Everyone was talking at once, giving advice ... and confusion took the day. And after it had happened, and after I had ruled that it couldn't be retracted, one of the players at least was seriously pissed.

I have two thoughts about that. First, yes, the mage goofed. I would have probably been pissed myself, had I been the thief watching it. And I would have wanted to explain carefully why the mage should not be stupid and do it that way again.

On the other hand, as DM, people ARE going to goof. In a real combat situation, people will fuck up. It happens. And realistically, no matter how many times you try to stop these goofs from happening, they just will. Emotions run high, there's a lot on the line, people are all talking at once and in the middle of that mayhem, people say "orange" when they mean "red" or they say "blue" when they mean "green." That's what stress does to us.

As the DM, I have to be the one not feeling the stress. I have to be the one who doesn't have anything on the line, and I have to be the one who has empathy for everyone at the table ... especially those who are less able to stand up for themselves. I have to shut down the player who is starting to ride the mage, I have to keep the air clear, I have to move the game along ... and I have to sometimes say to a player, "Shut up and let them do it."

If I let myself be as emotionally wrapped up in the game as the player, then I am the one that is fucking up now. There are parts of the game that I can enjoy, but that is not one of them. Being above the stress means making the game better for the players ... and being there to defend them, or set them back on track, and not let everything devolve into bitterness and backbiting.

If there is an argument going on at your table, and you're not stepping in to stop it, quit DMing right now. You don't have the temperament for it. If you have an opinion that either player is right, or that there's anything to be gained by letting them 'settle it,' then you have no idea about your purpose.

Never let players snark at one another. Never let anyone at your table make a judgement about if another player's action go unchallenged. Make your players understand you're not going to allow that shit. Make a player get up and take a walk around the block if you have to ... and if they won't come back, then good riddance. Your table doesn't need that kind of petty shit. BUT FIRST AND FOREMOST, give them a chance to cool off. Don't get worked up yourself. Remember, they're feeling stress. They're not really bad people, they're just really, really involved with their characters. That's they only reason they're feeling bitter or resentful ... and given a chance to step away, reassess, what have you, they'll most likely come back apologetic and considerate.

Let them participate, but only up to a point. Let them get excited, let them cry out in anguish when one goofs or fucks up. But step in there and don't let them dwell on what's happened. Move them onto the next round and keep the battle going. They can sort out who made what mistake when its all over and they've won or lost. If they've won, its all going to seem a lot less important.

But get in there. Get in your player's face. Draw the line for them. They won't draw it for themselves. Don't be a jerk. Don't judge them. Just stop them from what they're doing and make it clear the line is there. Then smile, clap them on the shoulder and keep going with the game.

Managing people is all about making them feel good about themselves when they feel like shit. This is very hard to do when they're doing something wrong. You've got to make them understand it's wrong, and that you understand perfectly, so you can build their self-esteem while making them change. It's a skill that as a DM you must learn, or in the end your games will always descend into chaos.

I have said that the DM is not a player. You can't afford to be. There's too much for you to do.


There are those who will not be able to reconcile the above advice with the person they believe writes this blog. Something that I cannot seem to make people realize online is that there is a difference between me as the person, concerned with the feelings of people I work with and whom I love, and the cold, harsh opinion I espouse here. Both of them are true reflections of myself. I am always sincere. I don't love nor agree with everyone, and I attack those whom I do not; but because you personally don't find yourself able to reconcile your beliefs or actions with mine doesn't make me a monster. I'd be happy to make the acquaintance of most any of you; I'd be happy for the opportunity to explain where you've gone wrong ... considerately and sincerely. So long as it's understood that my position is that you ARE wrong, and that for whatever reason your being wrong is hurting the game, the people around you and the general wellbeing of the planet. On that account, there's really nothing I can call you that isn't called for ... so don't ask for tolerance. Don't say that you have your way, that your way is just fine, because I don't believe it is. And I'd like to see you grow up, educate yourself and come to the recognition of just why you've been a selfish, misguided doughhead all these years. That's all, no big deal. Lots of doughheads around. The difference between you and they is that you're a doughhead that keeps coming back to read this blog, and that means there must be hope for you. I'm not making any inroads with those fascinated with NASCAR. Do you see how that works? You're 100% in control here. All you have to do is never read this blog again, and I will never have another moment of influence over anything you think. It's all very simple.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Climb Walls - Thieving Ability

The content of this post is built on the premise described on this post.

No-Fault Climbing

Thieves are considered to be able to climb any reasonable vertical surface with 100% percent efficiency, so long as the distance climbed does not exceed their stamina. A 'reasonable surface' is defined as any constructed or natural surface that is not, a) polished or plastered smooth and intentionally manufactured without cracks; b) possessing a vertical slope greater than 95ยบ; or c) made of material such as smooth metal or glass, possibly of magical origin.

The total distance that a thief may climb without fault is equal to their own dexterity in feet, +3 additional feet per level. Thus, a 4th level thief with a 15 dexterity would be able to climb a distance of 27 feet (15' + 3' x4) without any danger of falling. This presumes that if the thief is able to rest (remain in fixed position without having to use his or her hands to hold on), the thief would then be able to climb another 27 feet without fault. Thus, imaginably, the thief could climb a 3,000 foot cliff, so long as there was a place to rest every 27 feet or less, without any danger of falling.

Danger Climbing

If the distance between places to rest is greater than the distance the thief is able to climb safely, then the thief must take a chance of falling. This chance of falling is equal to the standard climb walls percentage found in the player's handbook (table posted here to follow later), up to an additional distance equal to twice the thief's no-fault climbing distance.

Thus, a 4th level thief with a 15 dexterity has a climb walls of 88%, and is faced with a single climb of 80 feet. The thief can easily accomplish the first 27 feet; since the remaining distance is less than twice 27 feet (which would be 54 feet, and the remaining distance if 53 feet), the thief need only succeed at rolling 88 or less on a d100 in order to successfully climb to a place where rest is possible.

If the distance is greater than twice (say, it were 55 more feet), but less than five times the thief's no fault distance (a total of 135' beyond the initial 27'), then the thief must roll his or her climbing percentage twice to succeed in climbing that additional distance (anywhere between 82' and 162'.

If the distance is still greater, then the thief must roll three times to succeed in climbing a distance more than five and up to 8 times their no fault distance (up to an additional 256', or between 163' and 283'). Further distance calculations are based on 13 times the distance, 21 times the distance and 34 times the distance.

Obviously, a different base dexterity and a different level would modify the above numbers, which are all part of the same example.


Modern pitons do not exist in a D&D world, but spikes may be driven into walls or rock faces as often as availability allows. If pitons are used, there is a good chance that they will belay the fall of an individual who has slipped. For the remainder of this document, pitons will refer to spikes, and not to modern mountain climbing tools.

Pitons must be placed by persons with wisdom in order to be at their most effective. Any individual can hammer a piton into a rock; only a wise person will put it in place so as to perform its purpose. Note that proper placement of a piton does not guarantee success - but poor piton placement guarantees failure.

Piton effectiveness is never determined until such time as the piton is actually employed to arrest a fall. At that time, the individual who placed the piton (which may not be the individual who has fallen) must make a wisdom check (roll equal wisdom or less). If the wisdom check succeeds, then the piton has been placed properly and has a chance to arrest a fall. Otherwise, the piton will become unfixed from the rock when weight is applied and the piton will be useless.

The chance of a piton holding (when placed correctly) is equal to 100% minus the total weight of all persons falling divided by 50 lbs. multiplied by the number of 32' distances dropped. Thus, a 150 to 199 lb. climber falls a distance of between 64 and 95 feet, which equals a subtraction of 3 x 3 percent - in which case the piton will hold if 91% or less is rolled.

The distance fallen is determined by the length of rope plus the distance above the piton prior to the actual fall.

Tying Together

If individuals tie together, without the use of a piton, the chance of a resting individual (not holding on with his or her hands) on the rock face arresting the fall of another individual is equal to a percentage of 5 times the anchor's strength minus the same percentage applied above. If this percentage fails, the anchor is pulled off the face of the climb and will fall.

If the individual is not resting, and is in fact also climbing, then the chance of that individual arresting another individual's fall is equal to twice the anchor's strength minus the usual percentage.


Non-thieves are able to perform no-fault climbing up to a distance equal to their dexterity. They are able to danger climb just as thieves do, only their percentage climb walls ability is equal to 70%, subject to race adjustments. This climb wall ability does not increase with level.


I'll be adding thieving abilities to this page throughout the week.

Monday, August 19, 2013


One thing I did not talk about last week with the whole Nibovian Wife nonsense was how truly stupid the monster is. Basically, the monster (the DM) tricks the player into sex, then gives birth to a creature that hunts down the player forever. The contention of the linked thread was that this was sexist. Technically it is. It bears great similarity to many historical depictions of a woman-gendered character using her natural femininity to bring down or destroy an 'innocent' male counterpart. There's quite a lot of contention about the innocence/guilt of the male in the equation who sleeps with a woman, but the central point here is that the man is being fucked over by an alien who recognizes the best way to fuck over a man is by presenting as a woman. That's sexist.

I don't really care if it's wrong or not. In game, many of the things players do is "wrong." Murder is wrong. Theft is wrong. No one cares if players slip out of town without paying their taxes. A great deal of vice is happily overlooked. Sex, however, is always different. Sex is the vice we can't forgive. I think that's very silly and childish. I've always thought people who had a problem with sex, the practice of sex or the participation of others in sex were very silly and childish. Given that we're all here on account of sex, making sex really one of the truly meaningful acts humans can perform - the creation of other humans - there's no real position one can take against sex without somehow also being anti-human. All positions against sex are, by their nature, either discriminatory (we can have it but they can't) or idiosyncratic (do it this way but not that way). Both positions are indicative of a lacking generousity or empathy.

There are two elements of the monster that bother me a great deal more than its ethical status. The first would be, is there any circumstance in a game where this would be a practical monster to inject TWICE in a campaign. The second would be, does the injection of the monster consider the needs and entertainment of the players, or of the DM?

Because, really, I think this is a DM's monster. I think this is one of those bullshit moments where certain DM's get to wring their hands in glee over the downfall of a particular player character, for no other reason other than the DM being a self-satisfying, masturbating prick. The monster does absolutely nothing for character agency, or to provide the players with either opportunity or challenge. What it does is to derail a campaign that might have been moving in a positive, albeit difficult direction, and force it into a tunnel that has to be marched through at the DM's whim for two or three really insipid, pointless, predictable sessions that can only come out one of two ways - neither of those ways being determined by character play, but by the DM's personal whims or concessions and how the dice happen to fall. It's crap. It's filler. It makes a certain type of sick DM happy. For a player it is nothing but a price they have to pay in order to play with such a fucker. I don't doubt many players have walked from many a game when faced with this sort of thing.

There's NO benefit to having this monster turn up twice. Except, of course, for a DM who runs many parties, who gets to try out his little gotcha monster on all of them. One easily imagines the DM cackling at the table, telling how the last party that faced this little DM wank-fest did this or did that, or died or didn't die, and wow wasn't that fun for the DM.

There is a sort of DM that wanders about the community landscape inflicting this sort of creature (or dungeon) on as many hapless parties that they can reach, spreading it around conventions and local gaming groups like a plague, tricking thousands of neophyte players into believing that this is D&D, that it is all about gotcha monsters and gotcha moments, where they see the smiling face of their fucked up little tin pot DM and think to themselves, "One day I hope I get to fuck over a party, just like him!"

Sometimes it seems to me that's the message that gets passed along from DM to player. It isn't that players wish they had agency and don't get it. It's that players NEVER perceive that there is any other game than this you-touched-the-statue-without-checking-for-traps-and-now-you're-dead bullshit. They're weaned on it from little noobs at the mercy of smug fuckers with a DM screen right up through the ranks until they're smug fuckers themselves.

This game is not about abusing players.

I recognize that I'm talking to a lot of DM's now. A survey ages ago now told me I don't have many actual players who read this blog. I think I need to say therefore that when I hear one of you - either here, or on one of the many other blogs of the blogosphere - talk about how D&D needs to be FUN, and how it shouldn't be about responsibility or work, I'm significantly aware that for a lot of the non-regular readers that means, "Stop messing with my sadism."

The gentle readers here, those that know my violent rage is directed a people who deserve it, know exactly what I'm talking about here. They've seen it. They've experienced it. And they take great care not to play like this in their worlds. They don't need me to preach this.

No, this ire is for the others. You know who you are. You puff yourselves up to look all righteous and indignant, but in truth you slaver over monsters like the one above like wicked children who can't wait to push some poor victim off the swing.

The game isn't always going to be a venue for you people. There are more of us than there are of you.

Friday, August 16, 2013

See A Penny ...

I've had this rattling around in my head for the last couple days, since writing it, and I'd like to discuss it:

"... In 33 years of DMing, no matter what the level of a player, I've never had a player feel any amount of experience was too little to bother recording. Even if they need fifty or a hundred thousand, if you give a player five experience, they will diligently write it down."

I need to qualify that, because while I think that's true with experience, it hasn't always been true with every part of the games I've run, or with every player.  I feel that I must advise the gentle reader that if a player is sitting at your table who doesn't write down the experience you give them, or some part of the treasure you've given them (because its not worth bothering about), then that player is going to give you trouble.

As a test with new players, offer them some incredibly small amount of either treasure or experience and watch their reactions.  Say they are walking down a road, on their way to an adventure, and while they stop for lunch you say, "Oh, Charlie sees a copper coin on the edge of the road, just sitting there, by a tuft of grass."

Now, that is going to create overthinking, probably.  For the very obvious reason that DMs don't think of it (I don't), anything mundane that would really happen in ordinary circumstances tends to get overlooked.  Finding a random copper coin on a long road, like one might find a penny or a nickel, would probably happen if circumstances were real and not invented out of my head.  At any case, parties are programmed to see everything as a clue, so I'd suggest you make it clear to them that it really is not, that it can't possibly be.  It's just fallen out of someone's pouch, apparently when they were counting their money.

What's important to note is the enthusiasm with which the various party members react to keeping the coin.  Do they offer it to other people from friendliness, or out of apathy?  If you give them a chance to find it on their own, do they remark on how they don't tell anyone else?  Do they carefully note it down, or do they not note it down at all.  The way they react to a stimulus like this will tell you a lot about what sort of player they are.

What any DM wants in a player is engagement, enthusiasm, a spirit of cooperation with others and diligence.  What happens in the game should matter to them enough to make the effort to record things.  The only real manifestation of that coin is changing a number on the character sheet ... and a player who does that with the feeling that they have just felt the coin in their hand is the sort of player you want.

The way a player reacts to the banal will translate to how a player reacts to any opportunity.  Some will argue, "I'll pay attention when it's interesting."  That is NOT the player you want.  That is the player that is going to grind the game down every time you have not scheduled a morning of 'Shuffleboard with the Stars' for that player (if you want to be a cruise director for your campaign, that's what it will feel like).  For good players, it is "interesting" because the player is interested in what is happening, and interested in organizing themselves for what's bound to come next.

For example, people not in the military have a perception that military training is all about running, climbing ropes, shooting guns and more running.  It isn't.  There are massive amounts of training on how to organize a foot-locker.  How to organize your pack.  How to set up a camp.  How to keep things clean.  How to keep yourself clean.  You know, boring shit.  Shit that doesn't make an interesting Hollywood scene.  The sort of thing that some players roll their eyes at because they'd rather be fighting.

I have this ponderous equipment list that I use, that has nearly 1,500 items on it, that shift and change depending on when I happen to generate the list.  Sometimes things aren't there, sometimes they are, and the whole thing is organized in non-alphabetical order.  There is some really useful stuff there, but the really useful stuff tends to turn up only once in a while ... so every time you happen to go into town to buy something, you have to remember to look for it.

And because it can be several runnings between towns, players often forget they wanted to buy something, and so when they've left, they think, geez, I didn't even look to see if it was there.

Some players really hate this.  They hate that the list is so long, they hate that everything isn't always there and they hate the time it takes to find some miserable small thing they want.  So they ignore the list.  They buy a few things and they get it over with as quickly as possible.

Other players dive in, full hog, and load up their characters with all sorts of minor, vaguely useful stuff they probably won't need but which might prove useful.  I once had a player solve a door-trap puzzle with a comb that they'd thought to buy, that didn't weigh anything anyway.  Now who goes to town in D&D and buys a comb?  Players who are enthusiastic about the game, and who picture their character wanting a comb to keep their hair straight.  They don't care that the comb will ever be useful ... that's not what they're buying it for.  They just like the idea that in the morning, their character combs their hair.  It produces a good feeling for the player, knowing that.

The player who couldn't be bothered, who can't identify with that feeling, who thinks it's "silly" or a waste of time ... that is not the kind of player you want in your campaign.  That player will browbeat you every time you don't organize your campaign for their benefit, which will always mean a D&D version of Call of Duty or DDO.  Every time you try to lift the fantasy element of the game a bit higher, that player will do his or her level best to slap that fantasy into hack-mode, while sulking moodily the rest of the time.

A good player will pick up the copper coin.  There will be a recognition that, while there may be a meaning, there's no point in mulling over the meaning for half the game right now.  A meaning, if there is one, will make itself evident soon enough.  No one can prepare for something on the basis of finding a coin on the road.  The player will offer the coin to others.  If no others want it, the player will record the coin on their sheet.  The player might even designate it a 'lucky coin,' particularly if the party catches some break that night and the player makes the connection that - even though it was pure chance - it's 'fun' to think of the coin as lucky.  The player won't feel any need to demand that the coin is magical.  The coin will thereafter get a unique line on the equipment list, and if the player is told fifteen months later that, after being dunked and nearly drowned in a stream, some of their equipment is missing, that player will immediately say, "Is my lucky coin gone?"

Because that is engagement.  That's enthusiasm.  That's doing more than tacking power points to a sheet of paper, that's living through the character and feeling better and more alive because of it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Four Measures

With the post earlier today out of the way, let's get on to more serious material. To begin, if you have downloaded the hex generator in the last couple of days, toss it. I have upgraded it considerably as of last night.

Today, rather than tackling it point by point, I'd like to speak generally about experience, leveling up and why D&D is satisfying because of both, before getting on to alternatives that might also achieve that level of satisfaction.

As human beings, we are often more fascinated by slow moving things than the alternative, because they are slow moving. A covey of partridge jump up from the bush and are gone in a few seconds ... it's exciting, but it's also over almost at once. A flight of geese high up can be picked up in the distance and watched for three or four minutes, often enabling the viewer to pick out details of the birds' flight pattern, the smooth and easy glide as the birds shift to catch the airstream of the one in front. In a particularly stress-free environment, even watching clouds as they shift across the sky can keep the mind active, particularly if the clouds are dark and steadfastly making their way towards the viewer.

I think human beings are naturally clock-watchers. I don't believe we need instant gratification; I believe we are often greatly pleased by something that is far in the future, which incrimentally nears, which promises benefits that are unique and interesting.

I think this is an important element of D&D that is often overlooked in good gaming. It takes a long time to amass enough experience to be high level. The numbers go up very slowly ... a hundred here, a few hundred there, a burst of a thousand and then it's fifty or sixty-five. In 33 years of DMing, no matter what the level of a player, I've never had a player feel any amount of experience was too little to bother recording. Even if they need fifty or a hundred thousand, if you give a player five experience, they will diligently write it down.

There's something fascinating about those numbers steadily climbing, session after session. There's something fascinating about counting the numbers down, watching the amount needed slowly shrink ... and it doesn't matter that the eventual gain - the new level - isn't very much. A tenth level fighter will need 250,000 x.p. to increase the present hit points from 92 to 97, and to improve the chance to hit by a measly 5%. But they don't care. They love going up a level.

I don't want to get into why that is, though it's probably a worthy post. I'd rather point out that it would be foolish to think that because THIS particular slow-moving increase in experience and nominal power is special, it excludes automatically that there could be another measurement that could likewise affect the game.

Just look at what experience is. It's a number on the character sheet. It's a number that goes up. When it passes a certain point, the character's options for play are slightly transformed. The transformation is entirely in the player's hands, and the transformation is both fluid and flexible.

This is one of the reasons the skill-system was such a miserable addition. It wasn't flexible. You were either skilled or you weren't. The skill was either useful or it was fluff. And the skill did not apply to every situation, unlike the growth of experience and level. The skill seemed tacked on; and everyone knew that by not taking these skills as opposed to those, one was in fact intentionally crippling the character. True, some people fetishized that, supposedly for roleplaying purposes, but I think this was only a sort of resistance to the skills being so inflexible and so obviously unbalanced where it came to contribution to the game.

Obviously, the game is about measurement. And the thrill of the game is about surpassing that measurement - preferably in a fashion that gives the player as much agency as possible with the character. The player wants choice; the player wants to be able to change their choice once its made. There must be room for improvement that isn't a straight line, that allows choices based on contingency vs. practicality, or aesthetic vs. use. And everywhere, the improvement has to be a real improvement, one the player can visualize and build upon, just as the player is able to see where the improvement happens as a result of experience.

I said the other day that not everything in the game should be pounded into the experience process; and I said that if a settlement campaign were going to work at all, it would need to provide things to the player that the experience/combat system cannot provide. For example, the impossibility of seizing parts of the world and gaining its resources without having to use the D&D combat system.

I don't think I can provide those things yet ... but I believe I have a glimmer of those things.

WEALTH is the most obvious. Wealth has always been part of D&D, and players enjoy being able to build castles and houses and temples almost as much as they do leveling up. The only problem with these things is that once they're built, they're almost certainly static. The temple does nothing but sit there. The castle is useless if no one is actually attacking the party. And because these are nothing but things the players can't put in their pocket, eventually they're just concrete blocks around the character's feet. Their creation does not move the game along. The reason for that is because very few of the creators of the game have any conceptionalization of how such structures DO move civilization forward. That's been a very sad state of affairs.

Another facet is productivity, or LABOR. Labor has traditionally been used to build the static castles and temples, or been used to fill armor and carry swords for when we want to see enemies slaughter hundreds of unimportant mercenaries just to keep them busy. There's never any investment in these mercenaries because their existence or lack of existence measure out to the exact same empty status quo. An actual lord, watching his men slaughtered, would know that even if he won at that point his lands were going to go unplowed, the industries in his control were going to stand idle and that just the maintenance he was losing was going to bankrupt him and his family. Parties never need worry about that. Men, whatever their purpose, are found down at the local town by turning on a great spigot that reads "labor" or "men-at-arms" ... a spigot that never runs dry.

A third horrid bugbear is HEALTH. This is something no one ever wants to look at. Any incorporation of health in a campaign - as a measurement of that campaign - immediately incorporates the lack of health ... and that means players potentially getting sick and dying. No one wants that. No one wants to run a character who has to worry about being sick all the time, and there's no room for encouraging players to believe that arriving at some place healthy and wonderful would be a boon their characters would appreciate. See, it is because D&D suffers from the It's Always Spring trope. The players are ALWAYS healthy. How can you give them any feeling of health from that viewpoint except to increase their hit points, the healing of their hit points, their imperviousness to the removal of their hit points and so on. To make health mean something, first the actual PAR setting for the campaign has to be considerably lowered. That's unacceptable.

Yet some of the most popular posts on this blog have been those I wrote about nutrition and wilderness damage. On some level, players appreciate the idea of things not always being perfectly healthy ... they're just not all that clear on where that goes, except to where their character dies spontaneously from a hang-nail.

Finally, HAPPINESS. That's especially tricky. I got good response to the post I wrote earlier this year on ennui ... but again, very few people can appreciate how one incorporates happiness into the campaign without also penalizing characters arbitrarily for a lack of happiness. Okay, disease we understand. There's a chance for it, you contract it, you die or don't die, it's disliked but it's random. "You're saying my character is unwilling to fight ... because he's not happy? I don't get it."

Both health and happiness have to be applied to some other achievement than the intrinsic qualification of the character - they have to be applied to the environment instead, just as labor and wealth are. In some manner, the application of these four things has to change the world in a way the character cannot. In short, the Village rises up or does not rise up because it is unhealthy or unhappy. This is something a player can understand. So long as they can fight the enemy themselves (without restraint), they get that the TOWN WON'T because they town is unhappy. That's a workable formula, leaving the player to immediately ask, "How can I make the town happy?"

That puts us clearly in the character agency direction, because there is never just one answer. There has to be many, and there have to be answers the DM never conceived of, but which can be applied once invented.

Once that's made clear to players and DM's alike, than we can move on to global domination.