Thursday, March 13, 2014

Small Books

I received three good suggestions for a short book.  I'd like to go through them and give a few thoughts.

Create an Equipment List

It was suggested that this would be easy, given that I already have extensive lists and that they are fairly popular.  A different list could be created for different parts of the world, using my generator to create prices.

This sounds 'easy' but it really isn't.  I mean, it would be easy if I weren't concerened with old fashioned ideas like verisimilitude, continuity, context and so on.  For most people, however, I think that an Ethiopian equipment list would look odd and a bit concerning compared to, say, a Rheinish equipment list.  For one thing, prices for most things would be sky high in Ethiopia, given that it doesn't make anything that a growing party needs, meaning that it is either shipped in or people do without.  There's plenty of gold in Ethiopia, very little iron and even less traditional manufactures.  I have very little trouble explaining this to players in my world, but it wouldn't be easy setting it up for strangers.

That is not to say it couldn't be done.  In fact, I've pitched an idea to the artist I procured a couple of weeks ago, who is working on the Advanced Guide's cover, that was very much like this.  I'd like to produce a series of illustrated 8 by 10 books that covered parts of my world in the manner of this post I wrote last October.  This is a long range project, something I mean to do after How to Run and if I am on board with an artist willing to jazz up the book.  What with the world being a complicated, endlessly detailed place, I think I could produce such works as long as, well, I live.  Heck, one small part of the modern Czech Republic, Moravia, could be such a book.  Or Paraguay (Blackrazor could be helpful there).  Or the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua (the town of Bluefields was a pirate den in the 17th century).  The world offers plenty of inspiration.

I could add equipment lists to it.  For now, however, the idea is on the shelf.

Create a List of Essays from the Blog

Well, that's fairly easy.  There are some very popular posts, and they could stand a serious edit.  The post about the State of D&D, the old one about Mustard, one or two about Dungeon Mastering, definitely the humour pieces and so on.  I could dig out about thirty or forty and set up a poll, or just go with the ones I like.

I don't know how well this would sell to you folk, given that you know me and that you've already read those.  Some of you I know would purchase it just to support me (some of you beautiful people out there have cheerfully donated money to the cause from your own good coffers - thank you!).  I am sure, however, that with a good, lively cover, it would do fairly well at the Expo, as it would be another sales item sitting on the table, one more thing for someone to buy.  I think on some level whatever I do, I ought to put that book together just because it will pay for itself eventually.

If people have ideas on which posts to rework, shout those ideas out.  I think the How to DM post can be passed over, given the main book, but the other might serve as half such a book's content (20,000 words, 11 point font, 5x7 book ... would be a neat little 120 pager).

So probably, this one is being made anyway.

Write about How to Play

Well, I have covered this with the 10,000 word post, so I'm a little thin on what this would contain that the 10,000 word post does not.  Perhaps I could say something about total immersion involvement, or person-to-person conflict from the player's point of view.  The idea of having a book on the table (even a thin book, and it would have to be) that had the word PLAY in the title is mouth-watering.  I could use some suggestions on content.

It would definitely be an opinion book, which How to Run is not.  The latter is founded in principles that are not D&D, that have been translated to D&D in order to make you a better DM.  A suggested tag line from the press agent I spoke to yesterday was, "DMing is easy ... If you know how."  That comes out of my certainty that most DMs are wallowing.  They're unsure of what they're doing, and even when they are doing something right they don't know what it is right.  So DMing is definitely hard for most people.  I've heard that all my gaming life.

I'd like a similar perspective for the player.  Being a player isn't hard; but it is a combination of uncertainty and I think vulnerability.  I haven't played that much in the last couple of decades, and now when I do I feel so goddamned comfortable in that I can read the DM like a book.  Too damn comfortable to talk about the discomfort of a player without someone reminding me what that was like.  I've included a passage in How to Run about the importance of making players feel safe and secure, in order to encourage participation.  What would a player's angle on that be?

Pitch me something.  Don't worry if it ends up in right field.  The best ideas are sometimes thrown in - ie., highlighted - by the least experienced people.


Andrej said...

I think you're thinking too small here and are making a mistake by putting off the campaign setting books idea until later. If you could take the lowest hanging fruit of the "... illustrated 8 by 10 books that covered parts of my world..." and do one soonest with the promise of more to come it would be the entry drug into your madness.

Setting aside your core readership for a moment, who either will or will not by the Advanced Guide at this point, I can imagine unsuspecting DMs and would-be DMs thinking they're just getting another campaign world or even an adventure to crib from, because that's what we do when we're out of ideas ourselves, and will see a small sample of how the game can be played. Those you can reach will be reached.

Put it this way, there's been so many bad books written about how to play or run the game that I suspect those not already familiar with you will be hard to sell to. Introduce yourself in a manner they are used to and already willing to spend money on... with a pre-packaged adventure or setting. Look around the hobby, you know these sell. Even the crappy ones. Give them a good one. Invite them in. Then give them religion.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I feel the chief difficulty at this point, Andrej, is time. I could probably take up that idea IF I weren't working.

However ... here is food for thought.

Most people who do this plan for one event; that is not my plan. This is just to get my feet wet. There will be both Calgary and Vancouver next year (I'm too late for 2014) and perhaps somewhere in the States as well.

This book will not fly with one event; I have to make this an industry. When I do the NEXT one I'll have additional products like you name. But for now, I think it's beyond my means.

But ... let me be clear. I will NEVER create an adventure or a module for gaming. I am philosophically opposed to it. I'm happy to create setting info for incorporation into a campaign, that is all the real world is to me ... but I won't spoon feed squalling babies, even it it can make me money.

I don't expect people to understand that, but the almighty dollar does not rule my conscience.

Andrej said...

Fair enough.

Dave Cesarano said...

I will NEVER create an adventure or a module for gaming. I am philosophically opposed to it. I'm happy to create setting info for incorporation into a campaign, that is all the real world is to me ... but I won't spoon feed squalling babies, even it it can make me money.

I totally grok this but lemme put in a tad bit of perspective, here. Yes, I use modules but that is because I use them as idea-mines and for the maps. Indeed, the structure of modules and published adventures is actually not conducive to how I run. The one module I can think of that is, Blood of the Yakuza for 2nd edition D&D Oriental Adventures is actually my ideal--it builds a city, fills it with NPCs, stats them out, and then creates events and scenarios with timelines that are basically "this chain of events happens if the PCs do nothing."

But that is not what most modules are. At all, really. And seeing Alexis write a railroad (which is, actually, what most if not nearly all modules are) is like watching a Formula 1 racer drive a Pinto. These railroads aren't our stories they're someone else's stories. I like other people's worlds and exploring/interacting with them but I want my players and I to tell our own stories. I get the impression that (minus the "other people's worlds" bit) that Alexis wants to do the same thing. He and his group want to experience their own stories, not someone else's and he'd never want to foist his own stories onto another DM (even if the DM wanted them).

Re: Essay books--I would suggest, Alexis, that the essay book may be a great idea but capstone it with the "How To Play" essay; use that essay as the title (i.e. How to Play and other Essays on Gaming). I'd be down for getting a copy, most definitely.

Also, how much research have you done into actual real-world prices? As an ancient historian, I know there are a few sources for Late Rome (Diocletian's edict on prices, for example) and other ancient time periods, but they're scattered across long centuries with huge gaps. I have no idea what's out there for the medieval/renaissance era. I also don't know if there's much of a point to it--you've said your world is closely based on our world but is not our world. This is one area where I'm curious as to how closely you cleave to actual history or forge your own material.

Alexis Smolensk said...

That is a damn good title, Dave.

I'm very conscious of Diocletian's edict of stabilizing prices (24 door mice - really?), as well as other lists in obols, drachma, etc. Augustus made a list too. I've looked over 14th century french lists, earlier and later english lists, etc., not just for objects but for housing prices, taxes, cost of living, rents, etc. That was the only sort of research I did in the 80's and early 90's, and it convinced me that the #1 problem in using such ancient lists is that they are not totally comprehensive. They're not flexible, either, in that they don't include weight, skill in design, dimensions, etc., etc. It was a large reason why I chose to throw out that whole idea, because I would have been necessarily a slave to prices from different points in history, different geographical locations, and of course different prejudices, etc. How much does a house cost today, even in the same neighborhood? Ballpark reckoning, that's all it is. Even the price of your cigarettes, gas, bread, shoes, etc., etc., varies over distances as little as a block. Oh, of course, guilds did regulate prices, but that was breaking down in the 17th century and it still doesn't accord between the guild in Brussels competing with the guild in Antwerp.

There's a lot more I could say, but that's sufficient to get my position on that approach understood. I've seen others try that, including in the last year on a blog here and there, and I have to shake my head and chuckle at people going down the same roads I went down 25 years ago.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You know I did my degree in Classical History & Archeology, nyet?

Dave Cesarano said...

No, actually, I didn't know that. I knew you were up on your history, though and I'm not arrogant enough to assume you need an MA or PhD to know a lot about history.

it convinced me that the #1 problem in using such ancient lists is that they are not totally comprehensive. They're not flexible, either, in that they don't include weight, skill in design, dimensions, etc., etc.

I've run into that problem myself. And it is frustrating. White Wolf simplifies things by having dots in Resources in which the value of goods increases by an order of magnitude based on their dot-value. Where this simplifies matters through abstraction, it also complicates them. "You find three dots of Resources' worth in treasure." That sounds a lot more boring than "you find 10,000 gold pieces." This is an issue I've run into and it makes adjudicating a fantasy world a bit troublesome (although in modern games it actually works fantastically). So, you don't need equipment lists but at the same time, if you buy something that reduces your resources by 1 dot because it is so expensive, how do you get that dot back? Wait until the next payday?

But this is all a bit off-topic and I'm not certain how familiar you are with White Wolf's games (well, they're Onyx Path now, White Wolf was sold a couple of years back) or if you're even remotely interested in them.

To tie this back together, it may seem tempting to make a system like that more abstract for the sake of making the game easily run but I can't help but recall your post on initiative charts and I have to ask myself, "Does this actually benefit gameplay or not?" The same goes with making things more complex and concrete. On the surface, that variation in prices may seem like it could easily lend itself toward a more abstract system... but in reality the problems that abstraction bring about could also cause a lot of headaches on its own.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I so agree. Thus, the pricing thing is a great thing for my world; but I don't think it makes a good resource.

Cultural information about who hates who, why they're hated, how the hate manifests, how is the hate encouraged, who organizes the hate, when does the hate occur, how much hate is it, is the hate universal or specific, do people have to hate, is there support for non-hating, is the hate diminishing, are there special hate days, how did the hate start, will the hate someday end, are there plans to solve the need for hating, do people love hating, will the hate someday form a band and how much will the ticket prices be when the scalpers get a hold of it, THAT is good content for a source material.

Andrej said...

Cultural information about who hates who, why they're hated, how the hate manifests, how is the hate encouraged, who organizes the hate, when does the hate occur, how much hate is it, is the hate universal or specific, do people have to hate, is there support for non-hating, is the hate diminishing, are there special hate days, how did the hate start, will the hate someday end, are there plans to solve the need for hating, do people love hating, will the hate someday form a band and how much will the ticket prices be when the scalpers get a hold of it, THAT is good content for a source material.

To me, that's the sort of content that would make for a good adventure module. Maybe the trouble here is with terms. I don't see why you'd be hesitant to re-invent the idea of modular content if you're otherwise so willing to force a change in people's outlook and perspective on playing.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Good. Let's define terms, then.

Adventure Module:

Read this to the Party:

"You see the Town of Malfarb upon the hill a mile away, in the dreary night, and you have the voice of the old man ringing in your ears: The Mystical Glove of Omnent the Malfiesant is in the Town of Malfarb. You must speak to Ogo and obtain the keys that will allow you to enter the underground Sewer Pits."

When the party moves towards Malfarb, remember to remind them that they are wet and hungry and in need of rest and shelter.

See Map:

1. The Tower Gate of Malfarb. As the players approach, the guard Xander waves his arms at them and ...


Campaign Source Material

The town of Malfarb is located in the high hills north of the Gagla River plain, and is a home to malcontents and those willing to be minions to the Raska family, whose importance was originally established by a particularly evil Cleric known today as Omnent the Malfeisant. There are a number of artifacts associated with Omnent, included in Appendix D. Beneath the town of Malfarb are a number tunnels called the Sewer Pits, which contain a variety of monsters and are good for a couple of runnings if the party gets unhappy about how much treasure they've gotten this week.


Note that the 'module' is designed to allow the DM to act as a game's console, in that it tells him or her exactly what to do next, and what happens at every point in the city where the party moves. It speaks, predominantly, to the players, so any BOOB can run it.

Meanwhile, the source material speaks to the DM, not the players, and assumes that the DM can figure out how to move the players around inside the campaign space, in the order that serves the DM, and does not in any way require that things are done in order or that the players actually go to every place in order to serve the function of the material.

Are we good then?

Daniel Bergmann said...

I am not much of a replier, but this is my second comment today.

I am here to give you an idea.

You could sell a package of books writen by you, even with no time.

I believe you could get more than one from your posts leaving "how to play" out of it.

You could get more than one campaign source material by spliting by region like "northwest something" or "southeast something"

One "how to play", not because it would be more content than the post but because it would drag peoples attetion. In each table there is one DM and 4 players at least, players dont prepare and read blogs but they go to conventions. Young ones want to play better, they know they dont.
For this specific one would be more "what ppl want" than something else.

And even a small book "how to run" to sell to those who are unsure about the large copy. Since this small book would refer alwayas to "we explore more this subject in our advanced guide" or something like that. And that would iccur of ppl buying twice, buyince the small copy and than buying the advanced guide. And would make sense have an advanced "how to run" guide since you also have the regular one.

That all together can be sold as a package you only need to put "this book will be realeased in dec/15" and a date for each book that would mean almost a subscribe for those who bought it and would make it viable for you to realese them.

You would need 3 books or so and the rest as a promise on a date.

Doing that for the gentle readers would work greatly.

Sorry for the long text and for my bad english. English is not my mother language, but i thought my idea could help somehow.

James C. said...

Why is the interent so hard when its so easy to read. Alexis, please grant me a little benefit of the doubt. I undertsand the disitnction. You do know that by now, don't you? I'm suggesting you reject your first example and the associated definition of the term adventure. If we can all agree it's crap, why not reject it entirely. Redefine what it means to provide people what they need for an "aventure". Do the second thing, call it the first thing. Changing the language is part of changing minds. Just an idea.

Jhandar said...

I would put a vote towards essays on source material, as I always find them fascinating to deconstruct.

Another potential avenue, albeit non-literary, would be podcasting some of your play sessions. I know the internet is full of very bad sessions, and having some good ones to point at would be nice for a change. There are several sites such as Yog-Sothoth that lock play sessions behind a subscription to access.

I understand that this also opens up a host of alternative problems such as recording equipment, ISP fees, and PC group buy in. And most of this is an up front cost with a potential promise at a return. I am a large podcast listener and it is hard to find diamonds in the current field of rough, and I would be happy to provide a subscription for good quality content.

I understand this would mean a lot of hurdles, and given your desire to deliver good products every time would perhaps plunge you into an audio editing nightmare (which I why I would be very happy with rough un-editing casts personally). However, if I am being totally honest, that is what I would want the most.

Alexis Smolensk said...

"Why is the internet so hard ..."

It's probably punishment for having invented porn or something, James.

Okay. So it's a language issue. See, I wasn't getting that, and so I wasn't onto your point.

If you understood what I meant from the beginning, James, I would say that's an argument not for needing to change the language. Also, I must admit, I've never bought into that whole changing the language changes minds. Didn't work for feminism, pro-choice or KFC.

Seems to me, casually redefining words is one of the reasons the internet is so hard. Been 'impacted' lately?

Alexis Smolensk said...


I've tried several times in the last year to sort out the issue of filming sessions. We tried a fixed camera and it's horrible. We tried cell phones, with multiple people using them, and it turns out a player says something followed by, "was that on film?" where upon we have to dump all the content, because the mock insult that was made (something that another player at the table would understand, but which the world wouldn't) is intrinsic to what's happening. Turns out my world is a terribly personal, private thing, and not all my players even want their faces on the net.

This I think is one of the reasons that so many sessions look like shit on the net. I would like to do it with a proper camera man, lighting, sound, etc ... but that's still in the future, I'm afraid, particularly to do what Zak is doing (which is still shit, incidentally - I hope the porn they make is better).

James C. said...

It's not casual, though, it's very deliberate. It's rejecting the thing that wasn't sufficient and embracing the thing that is. Some people call it progress and have spilled millions of words on their blog for its sake, hmmm...

But I'm not really here to argue semantics. I think you've got the opportunity to improve play by redefining what a pre-packaged adventure should be and make it part of a one-two punch. You do not. At least, you do not in those precise terms. Maybe its too ambitious, or maybe its just not where you interests lie. Peace.

A book of essays I'd buy... but that's beacue I'm already here. As a means of making a quick buck to raise some capital, why not hand the collection plate around to the choir, I suppose. But you're the one who said you were against the almighty dollar for its own sake.

Jhandar said...

I would be okay with nothing but raw audio with no video. Every group has their own subculture and inside jokes, mores, and the whatnot. Every world is personal and private, that is what makes them great and provides the richness to that experience. Voyeurs such as myself just want to leech at it second hand.

Perhaps the just audio format may put your group more at ease as it is much harder to judge the disembodied voice of Hurk the fighter rather than Doug Randomguy who plays Hurk. But I can appreciate the apprehension on the participants part. I could imagine it would be like selling tickets to an audience for the first attempt at rehearsing a play or other performance piece. I could also imagine (you can also read that as 'hope')that the jitters would go away after a time, and given enough gameplay to listen to, much of the inside information could be gleaned by the audience.

But this is a personal decision for your and your group, and all my wishing and hoping is for not. I just want to periodically indicate it would be eagerly consumed.

On that note; I love the Tao Work addition! Keep the info coming.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm only opposed to the 'almighty' dollar ... not the needed dollar that will get me on a plane to Toronto.

Some have already donated, without the collection plate being shoved at them - bless them. I would like to offer value, if I can; tighter essays and clean ones, sans swearing, with pretty covers that make nice pieces.

I have pitched the subject of an source material book around; I don't want to say it absolutely won't happen. It would be a pretty edition to the Expo table.