Monday, June 30, 2014

The World You Live In

Restored. Thank you Alejandro.

There's no question that many of the adventures in my world embrace the fantastical. Speaking only of the online campaign, I have had the party meet a humorous ghost, jump all over my world in a teleportation booth, staged a war with an undead army, walked the party through Constantinople while in the Ethereal plane of existence and razed a town with worms from hell and a massive giant hundreds of feet high. I do not feel that a campaign must consist of mundane events.

It must, however, be grounded in reality. There is one reason for this - the players are grounded in reality. In solving problems, they will turn again and again to what they've learned throughout their lives. That experience must have nothing to grab onto - else the world will be hopelessly divorced from meaning. Arguments will become constant - or the DM will have to employ his or her fiat constantly - because the players don't know what's real.

Yesterday, Matt introduced me to a rather remarkable concept, apparently a meme from 3rd edition. I will allow him to explain it:

"The 'peasant rail-gun' is an example of rules abuse in 3rd edition D&D. It works by taking a literal wording of the rules, and then applying real-world physics to the effects that situation would create. It works like so:

"In 3rd edition you can hand an object to another character as a free action. In game terms, this means you can hand a potion to a buddy, and still move and attack in the same round. A free action takes "no time" and it is the "no time" wording that is abused.

"So, you create a line of peasants a mile long. The how doesn't matter, there are several ways to do it from paying them a days wages to taking the leadership feat and boosting the parameters that earn you followers. Now what you do is that you have the peasants pass an object such as an arrow, a crossbow bolt, or an iron rail down the line, one by one.

"Remember, passing an item is a free action. The peasants can each pass the rail with the action taking no time within the span of a 6 second round. When the object reaches the last peasant, he throws it at a target.

"Now, enter the physics. You have just instantaneously accelerated an object to 1 mile per second. The speed of the object when it is thrown must take that acceleration into account. It stands to reason that it will impact the target at that speed, as there is not enough time for proper deceleration. The result is that whatever you were targeting is likely obliterated due to the force of impact from an object travelling at that speed."

Matt then goes on to say that no good DM would allow this, and he's right. For my purposes today, however, I feel that it's necessary to ask a logical question that defies the 'gun' on its own level.

1) presuming that it does accelerate as it passes from hand to hand, at some point, the speed of the transfer will increase past the point where the receiver is able to direct it accurately to the next person in line; the object will 'get out of control,' and must be dropped, or an accident will occur where the next peasant in line will be speared and perhaps killed by the rail.

2) Why is there any presumption that the object will increase speed? The object from the first pass is considered to be moving 3 feet in zero seconds, and this speed does not cause the object to threaten the first person it is passed to. Therefore, upon what basis does acceleration occur? A whole number cannot be divided by zero, but nevertheless, 3/0 = 3/0 x 1000. There is no acceleration.

Unless I've seriously goofed at math again, and that may be possible.

The larger point would be that once we have begun messing around with logic and physics in the game, we quickly create a circumstance where everyone has a premise for argument, while no demonstrable evidence exists. Quickly the campaign descends for a time into bickering and zero gain, while role-play becomes a game of rule-twisting and not running characters.

Matt is right. No good DM would allow this - but not because it is silly or dangerous or gamebreaking, but because it is an example of players playing the wrong game. For all the people who claim that role-play is about fantasy and not reality, abstraction and not simulation, as soon as we depart from actuality, the game stumbles and falls.

Which brings us back to Averroes in the 12th century: God cannot make a triangle with more than 180 degrees. No matter how 'fantastical' the ideals of our world, math is still math. I have yet to see any DM sit down to work out an alternative computational system that does not include, in any degree, the math we already use. That would be really something.

What is the value in saying that 'math is math'? It is the recognition that if I step into your world, I would expect certain principles to remain in place. Wood, for instance, would still burn by virtue of carbon combining with oxygen, which would then turn to a gas that would manifest as fire. The campfire, out of doors, would still burn at a temperature of less than 900 degrees, depending on the type of wood used. It wouldn't burn at 1100 degrees. If it did, because the DM said, "Open fires in my world burn at 1100 degrees," it would take very little time before ever engineer in the game figured out a way to make that 200 degree difference break the world. Having stipulated one change in physics, you fuck everything.

Yesterday, I argued that people in certain professions think in a certain way, and I received comments that I did not print that were pure speculation that I was wrong. Not all cops do think the same way, I was told. Nor do all peasants. We are not all alike.

I find that very interesting. Not because it is right or wrong, but because it clearly speaks to a perception of experience gained, a perception of culture and a perception of how the game is meant to operate.

Let me begin with the last of those, and for the moment allow me to accept the premise that all peasants are not the same. Since the assertion is there because we have been all taught that we are special snowflakes in school, allow me to extrapolate from the original assertion and argue that no peasant is the same as any other. After all, two peasants being the same is as politically incorrect as all peasants being the same, since we are still labelling one human being as being exactly the same as another.

Wait a minute. Human being?

This is a game. A ridiculously complex game, with millions of variables and an elaboration of setting that is impossible to create down to the last individual peasant. The party is moving through the country; they meet a peasant; they know, from this DM, that the peasant is necessarily unlike every other peasant in the world, so the party says . . . what, exactly? They dare not suppose that the peasant is tired from a long day's work, or that the peasant is poor, or has little combat skill, or that the peasant in any way reflects all the characteristics we have associated with peasants from the dawn of history. This peasant is different.

How? What makes this peasant different? If we give the peasant more money, why would he be a peasant? If we give this peasant artisan skills, then why has the artisan-turned-peasant decided to dress as a peasant? That can't be very comfortable for him. The shoes alone are murder. And do all artisan-turned-peasants continue to dress like peasants? Wouldn't this make them all the same?

I dare the reader to come up with 30 examples of peasants that would still look like peasants, but not be like any other peasant. And having done that, please come up with 120 million more, because this is approximately how many peasants I have in my world. I simply haven't got the time, so it would be useful to have that list. Please designate addresses. That will also be helpful when running my world.

Since I have a lot of really interesting people to create for my game, I find it rather useful to present and think of peasants as, well, peasants. This works as a good shorthand for my players, as when they see someone dressed as a peasant, doing peasant things, they understand who and what they're dealing with. Granted, the party might meet someone, someday, who looks and acts like a peasant, who is really a powerful fighter, pretending to be a peasant, until the last moment when the party is surprised by the peasant that can really fight!

Only, why has my fighter not noticed the peasant's anterior and middle deltoids, or the tensile strength of the peasant's brachioradialis, muscles that I have been trained to look for in my opponents when engaging in hand-to-hand combat? How is it this peasant is in fighting trim enough to threaten me, yet there's no signs of his having developed weapon-using muscle groups as opposed to farming muscle groups? Is it possible to be a strong fighter without these features being obvious? Have we got another example of a campfire that burns at 1100 degrees? Because if we do, then this game is going to get broken pretty fast.

All right, let's look at our perception of culture. Let us suppose that the guardsmen of our town, like peasants, are all different. Guards are individuals, not carbon copies, so we shouldn't expect a guard to act like a 'guard.'

Let me say that I, for one, do not want to be in charge of this rabble.

If bad writing has done real damage to culture, it is this: the understanding that, if we're watching a movie about a cop, a politician, a soldier, a doctor, a lawyer, a writer, an adrenaline junkie or the 'one,' we are watching a film about a person who is 'just like me.' This, of course, sells. If we write books or movies about actual lawyers talking about the actual law, the average person is going to feel stupid almost immediately. This does not sell. The principles of profiting off art, therefore, demand that characters be ordinary enough to be identified with, while at the same time contesting continuously with authority in order to touch base with the average viewer or reader, who's biggest problem in life is being told what to do all the time.

Fighting the system feels good. Watching or reading about others fighting the system encourages us to believe that we are not alone. Except that there are millions of people who are part of the system, who are not fighting it, who are rather happy with the system because they don't have the time or the inclination to read books or watch movies about why the system is an oppressive hateful thing. These people are in the minority. But they are also in charge. They are the people that the average doofus wishes he or she could rebel against - only they don't, because the average doofus is far too dependent on the system.

To sort out who belongs in charge, we have a method. If you behave in a way that is in keeping with our principles, you're allowed to belong. If you are allowed to belong, then we will let you push around people who don't belong. If you start behaving in a way we don't approve, then we will drop you back into the doofus pile. Oh, and remember - never, ever, fuck with people who belong. Those are the rules.

Everyone in charge knows these rules intimately. That is why they are in charge. They love the rules. They think the rules are great. Unlike a film, where someone in charge breaks the rules almost immediately upon the start of the story, people in actual control almost NEVER break the rules. They don't want to.

So why do all guards act alike? Is it because they are alike? No. It is because they know the rules, and they'd rather be a guard than a doofus. They know they can use their status to improve their lives, of course. But they don't push around 'real people.'

Oh, certainly someone occasionally fucks up or steals from the wrong people or otherwise makes themselves unwanted. We should keep in mind, however, that while this happens commonly in our system, that is partly because there's a real chance that you won't get caught. If you're a cop, you don't live night and day in a barracks. You don't live in a very small world, where every person you meet every day knows you and knows every one of your buddies. You don't live in a world where the spoken word is the only communication. You don't live in a world where, if you screw up your job, they kill you. Without a trial. If you're 25 and still at your job, you're one of those who has learned not to fuck up - and you've seen all the other people who are bad at it executed, one by one. You're much more motivated to do your job in that culture - in large part, because you have no other job you'll be allowed to do, even if you want to leave. The alternative job is called 'living in a gutter, depending on people who don't care about you for food.'

Yeah. We have a perception of culture that is based upon living in a very, very soft culture. There is a cure for that. If the reader feels that not all guards are 'alike,' I recommend joining the police force. Get back to me then.

Fine. That leaves us with a perception of experience. I've already mentioned fighters building up certain muscle groups. Along with that, there are certain stances, patterns of behaviour needed to stay alive on the battlefield, habits gained through the maintenance of weapons and armor, a perception about people who are not as combat-capable as you and so on. As before, if you're a fighter and you are 25 years old, there are certain behaviours you've come to adopt because those behaviours kept you alive while others around you were dying.

Think of it this way. Were all the vets that came back from Vietnam the same? No. You know what made them similar, though? It was all the shit they saw in Vietnam that you never saw. When combat vets see each other, they see differences. But when they look at you? They just see the same pathetic, tubby, soft ignorant doofus that they see everywhere else. And you make them sick.

Or, at least you did for a time, until they began to get used to you. They still don't 'get' you. You're mostly stupid and devoid of any value, and easily broken in half. So don't bug them.

Try to imagine a guard in a role-playing game talking to soft, breakable you, the reader of this post right now. Try to imagine how . . . annoying you seem.

The guard may be different from other guards, but from the guard's perspective that isn't a difference the guard is interested in showing you. You don't rate that kind of consideration, maggot. So shut the fuck up and move your butt along. They're tired and at the end of their shift, or at the beginning of it, or there's still half of this goddamn shift to go, and they ain't paid to stand here to start conversations with maggots. Their job is to shovel maggots out the door or in it, and that's exactly what they think of you while they're doing their job.

The peasant is no different. The peasant knows his people, he knows his place in the world, he knows what he's allowed to say and he knows that chances are he isn't going to live to old age. He knows every time he takes this wagon out on the road to carry a load, it is probably his last. Try to imagine that every time you walk out the door on your way to work, you say goodbye to your family understanding that your chances of dying on this trip are about 1 in 40. He probably makes only three trips a year. Every one of those trips is fraught with danger. He's managed to live to the age of 35 and so he knows there ain't gonna be many trips left. But god loves him, so he's going to heaven.

And now he sees four rough, powerful, armed men on the road. Well fuck. Does it matter at this point if the peasant is a unique snowflake? No. No, he's pretty sure that his luck has finally run out. He hasn't got a weapon. What would be the point? If the bandits attack, there's going to be at least half a dozen, and he's not going to fight them off. If he tries, then that's just another thing on his conscience when he has to meet his maker. Better to accept. That's what he's been taught by the church all his life. Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Islam, all the same. You're a peasant. You're not going to live forever. Work hard. Be honest. Your next life will be better than this one.

This is a perception you develop when everyone that exists in your world has power over you. This is the perception you develop as all your life you hear about people on the road being killed. Or taken away and sold. Or raped, when there's nothing you can do. You've lived to 35, but a lot of others haven't, and you know you're lucky.

This is what makes all peasants 'the same.' It isn't their personality, or what they believe, or any of the crap we've introduced in the 20th century about feelings. It's the world you live in. The one that defines what you're allowed to expect. That's all you get. Better learn to like it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lost Fails

My character is standing on a dirt road some five miles from town, late in the day.  It is overcast, with gray skies, and my party expects that we're going to come into town after dark and soaking wet.  But now comes along a cart, driven by a poor peasant.  The DM tells us the peasant is quite obviously poor, as he is wearing worn clothes and seems to suffer from a rash on his face.  The cart is empty.  I step forward and say, "My companions and I would like to rent your cart, sir, to reach the town across the valley.  We will give you a gold piece for your trouble."  The DM rolls a die.  "No," says the peasant.  "I better not."  But why?  I ask the DM.  The DM looks at me and shrugs.  "He just doesn't trust you or your party."

My character and the party have done well.  We have gathered a retinue of 25 men, we now travel upon wagons in style, we wear fine clothes and we are quite clearly wealthy.  As we approach the city gate, we are stopped by the guard.  They ask for a sum of money to enter that we consider hardly worth noting, so we are prepared to give him three times the amount out of a desire for largesse.  However, the chief guard tells us we cannot enter the city with our weapons.  "But we are clearly not ruffians," I tell the guard.  The DM does not roll a die.  "If you carry weapons, you cannot enter."  But why?  I ask the DM.  The DM answers, "Those are the rules."

Our party's ship draws up to the quay, having been granted permission to dock.  Several crew jump off the ship and proceed to tie the lines to the cleats.  The harbour master approaches and calls up, "Who are you, and where have you come from?"  We answer back that we're nationals, but we will only give the name of the captain.  The DM rolls a die.  He says the harbour master calls a contingent of the guard, that soon arrives on the dock.  We're told, "We will not let you disembark without fully identifying who you are!"  We answer back, "We will leave port first."  The DM does not roll a die.  "Go then!" shouts the harbour master.

I tested these out yesterday on two of my players to see if they would notice if anything was wrong in the above.  They didn't up front; once I had explained what bothered me, they understood, but on the surface the 'problems' presented for the party seem perfectly fine.

The above is a big reason why I have no interest in playing D&D in someone else's world.  Yet I know, too, that it is a problem that completely escapes most people.  It is similar to disconnects I have with people over movies.  While they're worried about where the actor's hands are from shot to shot, or the vague reflection of a camera truck in the shiny car door for a fleeting moment, I am bothered by the above.

I'm not concerned about minor technical errors.  I know how hard it is to film a movie, I know the insurmountable problems and why fixing continuity becomes a zero sum game.  The actor holding the tool in the wrong hand in one shot out of seven is going to cost many thousands of dollars to fix, even if we notice the error the day of shooting.  That has to be balanced against the expectation that fixing the continuity will make a difference at the box office.  Most of the time, it won't.  For those people who find this sort of thing annoying, however, because it takes them 'out of the film,' I'm always curious why the uncomfortable theatre seat does not do likewise.  But I digress.

Writing, unlike film making, is easy to fix.  Its, it's, which, that, I hurriedly walk, I walk hurriedly . . . takes two seconds, and any high school A-student knows how to fix those things.  They are mistakes that get made because the writer is concentrating on the content and not on the detail, and because much of writing is muscle-memory coupled with a strange sort of onomatopoeia that accumulates over time.  I move to write they're mistakes, the brain couples the sound with a word, the fingers (that have typed every version of every word thousands, even millions of times) slam out the word that sounds like they're and the sentence reads, their mistakes.  That is what editing is for.  People who make a big deal of the error when they see it are quite silly; they have no idea what content is, nor why it consumes a writer apart from fiddly little details, or how little regard a writer has for fiddly details that the reader can fix if need be.  But I digress.

Some readers are, just now, wondering what's wrong with the above three examples.  At this point, however, I'm going to be most inconsiderate.  I'm not going to say.  I will remove a few possibilities. It is a writing failure.  It is not an error in the words or the phrasing or anything having to do with technical aspects of writing.  At any rate, its only writing on the blog - in a game, it would be descriptions and speaking.  Nor is it something the DM is doing deliberately.  The DM is doing their best to run the game as the DM sees it.

There is a fail, however.  A big one.  It is not the sort of fail that bothers most people, because people are willing to accept this fail all the time.  Just so long as it isn't a failure that hits home with them, because of a personal connection to the circumstance.  Then it will drive them absolutely crazy.

Worse, it is that the fail is something the DM is unlikely to recognize as a fail, even once it is pointed out.  This is in the realm of how a retailer will react when it is pointed out that there is something seriously wrong with the product - a shrug, followed by the attitude of, "I don't see how that is a problem."

Which means, of course, that it isn't, not for most people.  The reader, if the reader even cares to, is looking at the passages again and thinking like the retailer.  "What's wrong?  I don't see anything wrong."

I guess it isn't.  But I don't want to run in your world.



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Don Cossacks II

kindjal, 2 inch-wide blade, 24 inches long
As a child among cossacks reaches the age of three, they are put on a horse and trained to ride it. Children as young as five are able to ride easily for five to ten miles a day, and it is on their sixth birthday that they are given their first weapons.  This weapon, the kindjal dagger, is an elaborate, beautiful weapon that is cherished by cossacks until surrendered upon death, or given to another young child.
shashka hilt with tassel

shashka, absent tassel
Children are trained with the weapon and with horses until they reach maturity, by which time they are trained to use the shashka - a very sharp, single-edged, single-handed and guardless sword - that is, possessing no cross-guard.  The pommel, as well, is minimal, though a tassel is added to aid the grip. The point of the shashka was curved and not expressly pointed.  While the weapon would undergo transformation in the centuries to come (the gods have foreseen it), the shashka used by the Don Cossacks would be only slightly curved and a mere 30 inches in length. This would make the 'short scimitar' highly effective from horseback; the weapon was worn 'on the wrong side,' blade up, so that as it was pulled it did not require a sweeping motion to the right of the mount.

The minimal grip of the weapons allows considerable manipulation of the weapon with both hands.  Sword art is a skill gained by cossacks from a very early age.

As well, having been raised upon horses all their lives, many of age cossack warriors are able to ride while standing on the back of a horse, and even shoot from that position.

In their raids, cossacks are nearly always outnumbered considerably by their enemies, particularly in their late summer raids.  Attacks against armed groups were carefully staged ambushes at river fords, against foraging parties and the like.  Cossack tactics are punitive, vindictive and selfish.  They freely burn, raze, murder and pillage, rarely take prisoners and aim to destroy property rather than seizing it.

One great strength is in their considerable mobility of attack, as every cossack is able to ride brilliantly.  More important, however, is that cossack raiding parties tend to be less interested in common peasants.  Their tactic is to demand enough food to enable them to travel lightly to another village upon their route, while viciously destroying small villages that fail to offer food.  When finding an estate, however, they will steal the gold and light valuables, burn everything, then return home by the same route.  As such, they will share some of their bounty with villages that willingly supplied them.

This has encouraged many poor villages to happily give the cossacks food, expecting an eventual return for their loss - they may even greet the arrival of a band of cossacks with good cheer.  It does not mean that a grateful village may go unscathed, as cossacks are known to kill perceived enemies or callously seize members of the village, raping them before murdering them.  There is little the villagers can do in such cases.

The support of villages, however, allows the cossacks to raid very deeply into the surrounding lands, as they receive aid from Russian, Polish or Safavid peasants.  In battle, because they travel very light, they are able to surprise, strike effectively for two or three rounds, then break free.  Choosing their ground, they can drop down into a gulley or into a break of trees, disappearing and rapidly outdistancing their opponents.



Monday, June 23, 2014

Bibliography

I am getting quite close to finishing the book.  The release date is still floating quite close to July 15th - at this point I don't see any trouble in hitting that date, although there is always the unexpected.

I've gathered a small list of those books whose information was intrinsic to my thinking and to various parts of the book.  I thought it might be good to publish these, as an 'Appendix N.'  It certainly won't be the sort of list people would normally turn to for role-playing.  In my case, these represent content I turned to for understanding what is going on while we play and what goals we should strive for.  Most importantly, they aided me in understanding why things go right during a session, which was one of the secondary themes in the book.

Much of this content can be found discussed or described on youtube and other places in the net:



Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell. Back Bay Books, 2007

Conceptual Models: Core to Good Design, Jeff Johnson & Austin Henderson. Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011

Consumer Behavior and Algorithm Design, Prabhakar Raghavan. Video, Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, University of California, Berkeley, 2013

Here Comes Everybody; The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky. Penguin Books, 2009

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials), Robert B. Cialdini. HarperBusiness, 2006

Learning and Memory: From Brain to Behavior, Mark A. Gluck, Eduardo Mercado & Catherine E. Myers. Worth Publishers, 2007

Physical Therapy for Everyone: Understanding of Our Body & Simple Pain Management As Home Therapy, Clarence Chan. Video, Asian American/Asian Research Institute, City University of New York, 2013

Situational Awareness for Emergency Response, Richard B. Gasaway. Pennwell Corp., 2013

The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, & Human Evolution, Denis Dutton. Oxford University Press, 2009

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell. Back Bay Books, 2002


In all honesty, this is really more of a "reading list" than a bibliography.  I do not quote from any text, nor directly present any another author's position throughout my book.  I do, however, apply some of their general ideas to role-playing.

The Failure of Mysticism


We relate movement with the presence of life.  Trees and most plants do not 'move' in the sense that animals do.  Still, plants seem to have more 'life' than rocks.  When twisted or bent, they tend to revert to their original shape.  If grass is pulled, it seems to lose 'life' - it turns from green to brown, dries and crumbles.  Plants grow, albeit slowly, and often this growth can be seen from day to day.  A flower bud can be seen to open.  It was quite clear, even to humans before they developing tools, that plants were alive.

Some five years ago I wrote a post about mysticism, in which I described it as a religion with its origins being some 40,000 years ago.  In it I made some allusions to 'life' existing in things like a chicken bone or within the fabric of nature, which I called 'wild magic.'  The notion arose because, beyond animals and plants, there were a number of other things that seemed to prove the existence of 'life,' which made the religious explanation seem perfectly logical.

Water, for instance, does what a plant does.  If I put my hand in a pool of water, and scoop the water to one side, the water returns to its original shape just as a plant does.  Waves rise miles out to sea and beat upon the shore.  The movement clearly indicates that water is alive.

So it is with a number of things in nature.  Wind blows the trees around; frost may grow every night on a stump quicker than grass; earthquakes shake the earth and cause rocks to fall from heights; volcanoes hurl stones outward and breathe clouds of smoke; the sun and moon move across the sky and the sun's heat warms more effectively than a human's breath warms his or her hands.  How are these things not self-evident proof of life?

They must have been, thought the mystics, who would - in more sophisticated style - conceive that the wind or the sea moved not because they themselves were alive, but because something underneath, moving about, caused movement.  Because these things must have been huge, they were perceived as being out of the control of humans, who feared them.  As lightning flashed or floods tore down valleys, killing all who did not move quickly enough, it was clear that the 'gods' were indifferent, cruel, dangerous and intractable.  Despite a range of rituals that arose, they would have understood then - as we do now - that rituals very often did not work.

This was problematic.  After all, we had to live with these gods everyday.  We could never know for sure when one of them might strike - and this was particularly true of the worst god of all:  Fire.

40,000 years ago our ancestors were still dwelling predominantly between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.  Human cultures existed on all three continents of the old world, and just barely in Australia, but the most sophisticated cultures were those of the African Savanna and the Mediterranean basin.  It is difficult to imagine what a savanna fire is like. The link demonstrates that in the area where the fire has burned, the trees remain vital and alive - yet the fire itself can move swiftly and is terrifying.  It's living, god-like status is self-evident.  It appears silently, set off by an unseen lightning bolt, and within a day it has devastated the countryside.

And yet, there is something odd about fire.  Once manifest, it could not be controlled by any means available - it would burn until it ran out of fuel or was drowned out by rain.  Still, though it could not be reduced, it could be made to grow - by feeding it.  A part of fire could be grabbed and taken away, then kept in a 'cage' indefinitely, so long as it had enough to eat.  Fire could be contained - more than that, it could be owned.

Is this not a strange condition for a 'god'?  Is it not even stranger when the god could be made to appear on command, as humans learned to make fire.  Here was the most dangerous god of all, and yet here was a god that could be made to appear at will, could be forced to serve humans, could be kept in slavery and - because it was quite small within its cage - could be stamped out.

This is hard to reconcile with the terrifying nature of the other gods.  Wind would not be put to use for millennia; volcanoes and earthquakes would never be put to use.  Water could be ridden upon, contained and moved from place to place, but it could not be 'made.'  It could be wrested out of plants, and if placed near enough to fire it could be made to disappear, but it was clear the water was changing to a strange, hot smoke that would form water on your skin and would burn you if you reached in your hand too closely to 'smoke' directly above the bubbling surface.  Fire clearly made water angry; water wanted to get away, to where it could later douse fire if it got the chance.

Earth is clearly the deadest material of all.  Plants would grow from certain forms of it, but too much earth would kill plants and certainly fire, while earth would soak water up within it.  Once again, however, earth couldn't be 'made.'

Only fire has this strange quality.  This would lead, as we developed culturally, to more and more complex descriptions of the motivation behind fire, as we struggled to explain these inconsistencies. Such inconsistencies are almost always what brings about the end of mysticism, as it is replaced with the more complicated polytheism.  Polytheism has benefits in that the gods are not merely incomprehensible beings, they are personalities, with habits, wants, needs and ideas of their own.  Fire could be neatly described as the 'child' of a fire god, establishing a hierarchy in which your fire in your oven wasn't the god itself, it was a sign of the god's generousity.  The god 'let' you make fire, by allowing the methods you use to create the fire to work in that way.

This is far more flexible a religion.  As we develop culturally, we need more complex religions that are able to keep up with our understanding of the world.  Throughout history we have disposed of religions that could no longer 'cut it,' replacing them with better, smarter, more useful religions.




Sunday, June 22, 2014

Here

As you breathe, you know you're alive.  Every movement you make, that you will your body to take, proves that you're alive in ways that you've come to take for granted.  You do not even think about the mystery of this thing, this life that causes you to lift your body each day from your bed and set about the tasks that you have ahead of you.  Feed yourself.  Make your car start.  Drive through hundreds of other cars, all moving fast enough to kill you and each other.  Climb out of your womb and snake your way into the misery of labour and work for enough money to feed your car and buy the food and make a place for your bed.

Then to do it all over again.

If you have the power, open your hand and place it before your face and look at it.  Try, if you can, to comprehend the complexity of that tool that you use easily every day, so easily that you need not even think about the complexity of the tool to apply it.  Imagine how difficult it would be to manufacture a tool that, not only did what your hand does, but does it so gracefully that you need not give more than the most fleeting thought in order to make that tool do what you want.

Now grasp that this happened by chance.

Not by manufacture.  An incomprehensible number of chances occurring in an incomprehensible number of living beings of incomprehensible nature, stumbling and procreating their way along through an incomprehensible number of sunsets, mixing and mutating until something as complex as you became so commonplace that it can be completely ignored in its millions.

How odd that we take it all for granted.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Work

"Make no mistake.  To improve, the reader will be asked to work."


- Introduction, How to Run


Throughout the book I find myself talking about work and speaking almost apologetically about it in order to make a world.  I'm not apologizing - but it is hard for some to reconcile themselves to the work needed for the project at hand.  When I ask for work, I know the resistance I will encounter.

Therefore, let us look at work and how it applies to role-playing games.  For most, work is a negative word.  We're willing expend an effort to do the things we want, but we prefer the effort be towards things that don't feel like work.

For example, I might enjoy kayaking.  I may plan to kayak several hours in an afternoon, even though I'm new to the sport, knowing my muscles will be sore afterwards.  I might plan a six-mile journey across a large lake, regardless of my exhaustion or my inexperience, simply because I wish to push myself.  Despite this, I don't think of my proposed journey as 'work.'

Yet I will say, without hesitation, that I am 'working' on my world.  I would never describe the effort expended in creating my world as 'play,' even though I may enjoy it as such and have as a good a time working on my world as I might propelling my kayak across the lake.  Where, then, is the difference between the two activities?  Why is one 'work' while the other is 'pleasure'?

For that, we'll need to examine what work is, and why we do it.

In large part, the subject of work has gotten a bad reputation because we typically associate the word with tasks performed for money.  Even if we enjoy our jobs, or do something we always dreamed of doing, we still say, "I love my work!"  We might say, "my work is my play," but there is still an inherent need to make it clear to the listener that we are talking about work.  If we were to say, "I get up every day and commute to play," people would think we were being clever.  They would think, "Oh, he means work."  We are programmed to associate the jobs we do with being work and not play, no matter how much we enjoy them.

To understand why this is fundamental, we must recognize that work serves a purpose.  It is not only that work is an effort, it provides us with something specific.  There is an end result that is separate from our sweat and diligence.  We have changed something about our circumstance, or about the world.

Suppose that I have bought a old house, and the previous owners have allowed a rock wall upon the back edge of the property to crumble and fall apart.  The wall needs rebuilding.  It does, because every time I see the wall, I am reminded that the property is in a sorry state.  I feel like I have bought a house as crumbled as the wall.  Even if I never intend to sell the house - so that rebuilding the wall won't bring me any perceived income - I am still left with the knowledge that the wall needs fixing.

I could pay someone else to do it.  If I did, the wall would look better on account of someone else's work.  They would be grateful for the income and the appearance problem would be solved.  Some people, however, would look at the wall every day and think, "That cost a lot to make it look that good."  That's not a positive thought.  It is the recognition of a loss (the money spent) in compensation for a wall that, in retrospect, may not seem like it was worth the money paid.  We might look at the wall and think, "I wish I had spent that money on something else."  If the wall needs redoing, we think, "That's going to be expensive."

The alternative is to do it myself.  I know it's going to be unpleasant, dirty work.  I know I many lightly injure myself in the process.  I know it will take the whole afternoon, or longer, and that in the end I'll be as sore as if I spent the afternoon kayaking.  I'm certainly not going to be paid for the effort - and I probably won't do as good a job as the contractor hired for the purpose.

Yet, when I finish the wall, I will look at it every day and think, "I did that."  That is something I am justly proud of doing.  I may someday think I could have done a better job, but when that day comes, I know I can always go out and do a better job.  Thus I equate 'work' with 'control' of the situation.  I wanted a remade wall, I applied myself and a wall was remade.

Where it comes to walls, we know that anyone with a good eye can stack one stone upon another in close order and make a reasonable facsimile of what's wanted.  We learn how to build walls with bricks before we go to kindergarten.  A wall is Stone Age technology and even the least competent among us have been educated enough to operate well in a Stone Age culture.  What concerns us far more would be those things which we cannot do and which no one else can do.

Tackling the first.  I cannot at the moment build a laptop from scratch.  I could, conceivably, receive education that would teach me how to do this, which would involve much of my time and effort just to become capable of making a laptop.  With enough training, I could perform the task and eventually find myself working on a laptop of my own construction.  The benefit to doing all that work - for measuring up to training is another kind of work - would surpass my ability to make laptops.  I would gain a host of new skills and abilities that might apply to a variety of electronic devices, as well as greater knowledge in buying objects that others had made.  If, on the other hand, I failed in my studies, I would lose much more than an ability to make laptops.  I would lose the chance to be a more effective and capable worker.

There are, however, many things that I cannot learn, due to time, interest, money or ability.  I am already far past the age for being a member of the military.  If I had joined when I was 19, I certainly would have had the mental acumen to keep up with what I was taught, but the effort of training demands the body of a 19-year-old.  As I am now 50 (or will be very soon), I could not expect to keep up.

I am also a bit old to be a doctor.  If we may imagine that I am going to live to 150, however, due to developments in the medical field, I may have the necessary brain power to apply myself to medicine and be a doctor in eight to ten years (presuming a school would accept me).  However, I have no interest in that work, and I know it would cost me dearly to pursue that vocation.  Therefore, I don't choose to spend the money on a field that would leave me cold.

Finally, no matter how much work I put into it, I am not going to be a professional bridge player.  I have played thousands of hours of bridge, and yet I seem to be of the same basic skill level today that I was in university, twenty-five years ago.  That may be a lack of interest, but I think probably I don't have the mind for it.  I'm a competent player - but that is all I'm ever going to be.

Moreover, whatever I may be capable of doing, there will always be something I don't understand well enough to do myself.  At some point, I'm going to have to pay someone to make that thing or repair that thing that I cannot do myself.  My capacity for work is limited by what I'm able to do, or learn to do, in the space of one lifetime.  That can never be everything.

This brings us to our second problem.  There are things that no one can do for us.  This includes breathing and chewing our own food, and in the field of physics this is called work just as any other application of effort to change our surroundings.  With regards to the subject matter that concerns us, however, the one thing that no one else can do is to make our world for us.

It is true that yes, someone can make a world for us, but they can't make our world.  We can go to the local gaming shop and pick a world off the shelves, one that contains many of the features that interests us, but the world will be one that is designed for a lot of different people with different needs.  It won't be tailor-made for our purposes.  It can't be.  It is expensive to produce in quantity, and so it must be indifferent enough to the individual's values so as to be profitable.  In the long run, the world that we buy will be similar to the wall in the back yard that we had someone else rebuild for us.  We have the wall.  It looks great.  Unfortunately, we didn't make it, so to us it will always be just another rock wall.  This one happens to run along the back edge of our property, so we have the privilege of calling it 'our' rock wall . . . but in fact it has very little personal attachment for us. If we were to pay someone to tear it down later on, we wouldn't feel a pang of nostalgia, remembering the day we had dropped a rock on our thumb, forcing us to finish it the next day.  We wouldn't ache as the old rock wall came down.  We'd only be thinking of what was going to replace it.  So it would be with the world we bought.

If we want to feel a personal connection with the game world, then we will have to make it ourselves. However we may enjoy that effort, we know it is going to be 'work' and not 'play' because in the end, something tangible will result.

Part of the reason why we see our 'work day' as being something unpleasant is because, while we know that something has resulted from the work we do, we're untouched by it.  If I work in a call centre, for instance - because right now I can't think of anyone working in a place more removed from reality than someone working in a call centre - I will have to deal all day long with unhappy people complaining about a product that they have recently bought.  It is horrible work.  I would know inherently that I was helping the company handle their customers, and I might get a sense of purpose in knowing I was calming down a certain percentage of complainers - but there would always be more complainers.  In the end, I would feel that all the work I was doing was futile.  The people who benefited tangibly from my efforts would be far away and completely removed from my experience. They would also be benefitting from the efforts of hundreds of people like me, so that I could only claim a tiny imaginary reward for my efforts, one that was received by a person who would feel, probably, very superior to me.  To them, I am the lowest form of life.  I work in a call centre.

This lack of tangibility in our day-job relationships is what makes work seem like something we hate to do.  In fact, we are encouraged to work much, much harder than we do day-to-day when the work offers some immediate, identifiable reward that results directly to our efforts.  The happiest workers are those who can see the immediate results of their work, particularly when that result lacks any sort of doubt or conflict.  The fellow who builds my wall must worry that I won't like his work, and deals all day long with people who argue, negotiate or lapse upon every payment they're meant to make.  A doctor who heals me receives gratitude, but that is mitigated by the doctor's limitations, so that not every 'healed' patient remains healthy and there are many, many patients for whom treatment fails.

On the other hand, every word I work to write tangibly comes into existence the moment I write it.  I find tremendous satisfaction in that.  I may later change the words, or lament a failure of words, but the actual writing of words is a phenomenal compensation.  That is why I had done it for so long before actually being paid for doing so.  Having been paid for writing done, I can attest that money only improves the experience.

The work that I bring about through writing is certainly something that I feel no one else can do. Another person may write a similar book, but it will never be my book.  My book is unique.  This is why so very often artists who speak about their work equate the process to breathing.  No one in the world can breathe for my body except me.  No one else can produce my work.

My world, likewise, is a manufacture of my personal will.  The manifestation of my world is the immediate gratification for the work I apply to that world.  The result denies any possibility that my work is 'play.'  Play is pleasant and enjoyable, but apart from an enjoyable afternoon, along with a few memories, play is short-lived.  I cannot take out my afternoon spent kayaking and demonstrate my accomplishment to others.  I may show a few pictures - but the pictures will only depict my appearance on that day.  The pictures will not inspire in the viewer the same emotion inspired in me.

My world is quite different in that regard.  When I conceive of a part of my world, then set out to produce it, I am stunned at the final result of my efforts.  It is often hard to accept that I am the perpetrator of the final result.  The Greeks understood this.  Having created great works, and felt the same disconnect for those works that I feel for my world, they invented muses, that would take possession of the artist in order to create the work.  So many artists felt that their memories had somehow lapsed in the making process that this seemed logical.  They could remember working, but they could not remember the isolated moment when the work had come into being.  I have experienced this feeling.  I relate very strongly to it.

When I work, I am focused.  This is different from when I appreciate my work.  Appreciation is very different.  Appreciation is the evaluation of my work, the means by which I determine it's value to me. When I show valued work to others, it is very different from showing pictures of me kayaking.  When others see my work, they experience the same evaluation process as me.  It may not be their work, but they can see the value.  This is my perception while looking at the rock wall in the back yard that someone else made.  I can see the skill necessary to make a very pleasant rock wall.  I can appreciate the work done.

Were I a player, looking through the work that someone exactly like me had done on a world that had turned out exactly like mine - supposing that we were in another universe - then I would be impressed. I would want to run in that world.  That said, however, I must stress that the situation is unchanged from having someone else build the rock wall in my yard.  It would still be someone else's world.  It wouldn't be work I had done myself.  I could appreciate the work done, but I couldn't view it as mine. That is why I am a 'player.'  I don't make the world.  I play in it.

If only there were some means of increasing that involvement, however.  Suppose that we were to relate the world that I make to the real world that sprang of its own accord.  How could players view that world differently than as people who merely 'played' in the world.

That is very simple.  The reader has no doubt guessed it.  We allow the player to 'work' in our world.

In fact, from the beginning, we set out to construct the world specifically so that it can be worked in.  That is fundamental to the world's structure.  While we do create facets of the world that exist as amusement rides, services, distractions and so on, we also manipulate the greater concept of the world so that it can be made to produce tangible results for the players who choose to work in that world.  In other words, we don't just make a world for players, we make a world for workers.

Once the workers in my world cotton to this idea and seize it, there is then no end to the fascination they will bear for the games I run.  There is no degree of fanaticism that limits how they will feel about the world or what they will want to do when I am the DM.  The worker/players will be unrestrained in their obsessiveness about my campaign.  Having tasted that potion, they will find any other game unreasonable in its limitation.

Work is the key.  Not only the work that I do, but also the work the players are allowed to do.  Until we let them work, we haven't let them play at all.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Seeing Victims

Be warned.  Spoilers.  I got into a hard-core debate last night with an ex-member of the Albertan Wild Rose Party, a provincial party just slightly to the right of Hammurabi, so I'm going to start this post with some politics.  Towards the end, I let my passion and my rage off the chain a bit, but I assure the reader that despite the swearing and the tone, I'm in control of my emotions.  It's only that I want to sincerely get across the . . . injustice of it all.

Stonekettle's retreat was due to his post that expressed anger at the total fuck-up that was Iraq, specifically wondering what it was all for as Iraq now slides into the pit of demented religious fanaticism.

People who cannot figure out that war surprise me.  The following speech is from the Third Man; it's delivered by Harry Lime, a black marketeer in Vienna after WW2, who sells bad drugs to hospitals that results in the deaths of kids.  The scene is the Ferris wheel in Vienna, looking down at the people far, far below on the ground:

Martins:  "Have you ever seen any of your victims?"
Harry Lime:  "You know, I never feel comfortable on these sort of things.  Victims?  Don't be so melodramatic.  Look down there.  Tell me.  Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?  If I offer you £20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend?  Free of income tax, old man.  Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays."

I don't know why people find these modern wars so incomprehensible.  America has recently imposed a new stooge for the throne of Egypt, Syria has obviously been paid off, Libya is a money-making chaos for a variety of evil people and their corporations, while Russia just wants its hands back on the Donets Basin, where there incompetent Ukrainian fiasco is letting the machinery rust and the production of one of the richest places on Earth falter.  Follow the money.  Always follow the money.

And when I am listening to a pretty smart fellow, last night, give me all the same rhetoric about why we can't afford to pay our taxes (and why we shouldn't have to), along with welfare, the people out east who want a piece of beaten, old Alberta (which makes a per capita income that dwarfs Brunei and the rest of Canada) and how poor we are and how we can't afford services in this province like post secondary education, the rise in the cost of health care and so on, I just hear the same bleat that says, "Let everyone else die, I love my money, I love my money, Oh how I love my money."

So Iraq is going to the dogs.  Well, that was expected.  American business soaked it for everything they could get, they created the mock-up of a police force so they could leave the country with a modicrum of dignity (that was supposed to help the Republicans win the election back home, but it didn't fool enough Democrats), and now its done.  The dots are still moving, but someone else is getting that money.

And Alberta doesn't give a shit about the rest of the country. Why should they?  If other people wanted to be rich, they should have been smarter about where they were born.  Those are the breaks.  There's no room for thinking of someone else.

This does come back to D&D.  Because I was also talking to a table full of DMs and Players last night, being reminded that most DMs view players the same way Halliburton views Iraq, or Alberta views the rest of Canada.  Players don't do the work.  Players come and players go.  Players are replaceable.  Get what you can out of them, and if they give you trouble, pitch them to the wind.  Because fuck players.

My book How to Run has a theme.  I know, for some, it won't be one that's appreciated.  My advice to DMs is Do it for the Players.  I preach this all the way through.  If you're not making and running your world for the players, you suck at this.  You're a bad DM.  No, there is no gray scale there.  You make your world for yourself, you run it for yourself, you don't view the players' needs as first and foremost in your mind, then you are exactly the sort of crap DM I have avoided all my life.

To an outsider watching you run your world, what kind of DM you are is obvious.  It is easy to see if the players are engaged.  It is easy to tell by the kind of questions they're asking.  All too often, online, I tap into game video and what I hear is the party trying to find something.  "We look here; we go there and see if we find it; we ask these people, do they know?"  And so on.

If you're a player, take a step back from your campaign.  Are you spending most of your time looking for things?  If you are, you are probably running in that world to make the DM happy.

The best way to keep a party busy is to have them go and get something.  That's how we keep populations busy, too.  We all spend most of our day rooting around at work so that we can get the thing we came looking for, a paycheque.  Then we root around getting the things that keep the home going and so we can eat and not starve, and once all that looking for things is done, we begin looking for shit on the box to keep ourselves entertained until its time to look for sleep.  Look here, look there, keep your head down, don't look around at all the other people who have their heads down looking. That way, you won't see shit.

Are you starting a new campaign?  Well, you better not ask players what they want, or else you'll have to spend a bunch of time getting it for them.  Think of something that they can look for.  That will keep them moving nicely, mooing like good cows, until you can think of something else for them to find.  Woot, D&D!

Talked to a fellow last night who bought one of my books after I'd insulted him a few times.  Seems to go that way with gamers.  He was talking about how he was set to run as a DM for the very first time. I can see his face as I write this.  His face revealed everything.  His face was the reason he bought my book, because I told him that my reason for writing anything was to make things better.  He said I hit the exact right button, as he dug in his pocket for enough change.

See, his face in that moment is what blows to hell all the crap I read on-line.  It's the thing about this role-playing preoccupation that make me ... just angrier than I can express.  It is what makes me truly, deeply hate the Wizards of the Coast, and all those guys who created and invented the game.

Because this 20-something man's face - this machinist's face, for that was his occupation - was spooked.  He was afraid to run for his first time.  I have seen that look on the faces of hundreds of would-be DMs.  And none of the rhetoric I read, or the pomposity of the game's founders, or the shit churned out by the WOTC, does jack shit in addressing that issue.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's a great fucking game.  Why is running it so fucking scary?  And why do the people who learn how find they have to be pricks to get past that fear?  Answer me that.


Stonekettle Station Takes a Step Back

But for the sake of a few commenters, whose advice I followed, I could be where Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station is right now.

Wright has a style of writing that is much like my own, though we come from very different places. His blog has for some time reached the attention of the left and right presses, who steal from him all the time.  As he is of the American military (I believe he's serving in an advisory capacity at present) and can express himself in loud, rational-sounding rants, he makes great copy for stealing.  I guess this must be getting out of hand for him.

I know how he feels.  I find my stuff lifted and reposted all over the net, without so much as a link or a call-out to me.  Hell, the Google feature that allows something to be 'reshared' promotes this sort of activity.  I never see the readers for a 'reshared' document.  'Resharing' does nothing for me.  Does great stuff for Google, I guess.  Doesn't drive people back to my blog, since they don't have to come here.  I would rather people posted a link to this blog rather than resharing a post in its entirety, but hey, this is the internet.  It is designed to make people less important than 'crowd.'

Wright's problems are much bigger than mine.  Being military, he's going to be particularly sensitive to things the military sees as bad behaviour.  He's going to be sensitive to the whole internet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Explaining D&D

Interviewer:  This all looks good - we like your background, and from talking to you I think you can probably bring a lot of experience to the team.  There's just one other thing - I see you've put 'plays D&D' on your resume.

Applicant:  Yes.

Interviewer:  I've heard of that.  I don't know much about it.  Can you tell me what it is?

Applicant:  Well . . . that takes a little time.

Interviewer:  No, seriously.  I'd like to know.  My son has mentioned it now and then, but he doesn't seem to be able to explain it.

Applicant:  It can be hard.

Interviewer:  So?

Applicant:  There's a lot of different ways to look at it.  Most people call it role-playing, but it's really a framework in which people try to solve problems presented by a specific individual.  That's the 'DM' - never mind what that stands for.  The DM creates a set of circumstances that are imaginary, while the 'Players' set out to solve the problems that the circumstances create.

Interviewer:  This is a game?

Applicant:  Sort of.  There are points for those who make the best choices supported by die rolls.  Make a good choice, roll a die and get a good result, you get the most points.

Interviewer:  So it's like Monopoly.

Applicant:  More or less.  Try to imagine that all the events you experience in Monopoly - buy property, buy houses, collect for passing go and so on - are made very gritty.

Interviewer:  Gritty?

Applicant:  Detailed.  You imagine that you're actually on the Boardwalk itself, looking at the property there.  Because it is very complicated, there are fifty or sixty properties on Boardwalk, and you're free to go into each and look around, to decide which properties you want to buy.

Interviewer:  How do I see these properties?

Applicant:  I have detailed descriptions that I give you.  I'm the DM.  That's what I'm supposed to do.  As you tell me you're going into the first property, I tell you about the size, what the carpet looks like, what maintenance has been done and so on, so that you can make a decision about whether or not to buy.

Interviewer:  And my decision . . .?

Applicant:  Determines how likely you are to buy a property that is going to make a good return for your investment.  You don't have a specific idea that this property will make such-and-such an amount of money, so you have to guess.  I have a list of numbers and algorithms that tell me how much a property is going to make based on the condition of the property, but you're not able to see those numbers, so you just have to guess and do your best.

Interviewer:  I see.

Applicant:  Once you decide to buy, there are other things.  You may have enough money to do renovations, or you may have to take a loan out at the bank.  If that's the case, you would have a 'conversation' with the loan officer, which would decide whether or not he trusted you and was willing to give you all the money you needed for the renovations you want to do.  In this arrangement, I act the part of the loan officer.

Interviewer:  So I talk to you.

Applicant:  Right.  You tell me about your circumstances, what you want to do, how you feel you'll be able to pay the money back, what rent you intend to charge on the property and so on.  I have a bunch of numbers that tell me what a good rent on that property would be, so if you name a number that's too high, I probably won't give you the money.  On the other hand, you could try to tell me about your wife and kids, or try to impress me with your business acumen and so on, in which case I would roll dice to see if the loan officer was moved by your pitch.

Interviewer:  Okay.  That sounds fairly interesting.  What if I wanted to go to another source to find out what other properties in the neighbourhood were costing me before I went to the bank?

Applicant:  That's no problem.  You could either ask around to get a general number, or you could pay a small fee to a company that provides that information.

Interviewer:  I'd rather do that.

Applicant:  Good.  Then chances are you get the loan at the bank, since you've done your research.  Next, you'll probably want to -

Interviewer:  Hire a contractor.  Do I know any contractors?

Applicant:  It's possible you know someone in your family that does that sort of thing.

Interviewer:  I'd rather not hire family.  It never works out well.  I'd rather hire a good contractor that's done work in the area, so that he knows the neighbourhood and specific work codes associated with the city.

Applicant:  Good idea.  Asking around, you can find three different contractors who all claim to have done work in the area.  They are all in good standing with the city and asking around, you find they all seem to be competent.  Boardwalk is a high-end area, and apparently there are other influences that seem to push out contractors who don't do a good job.

Interviewer:  Other influences?

Applicant:  Yes.  Boardwalk has a lot of businesses that are associated with gambling.  There is said to be an 'underground' element that keeps the area clean and friendly to tourists.

Interviewer:  How do I meet this underground element?  Do they harass people who buy property in the area?

Applicant:  I don't have any dice, so I'll just have to go with my instincts.  There's probably someone you've met by now who has a story to tell about being roughed up, yes.

Interviewer:  So we're talking the mob, right?

Applicant:  Apparently.

Interviewer:  Okay.  I set out to find someone who can help me contact the mob, so that we can make a deal of some kind.  I don't want to get into this without first knowing who I'm dealing with.  I was thinking of starting up an export business.  Is there anything that the casinos need that I should consider including in my designs?  Or perhaps I should cater to the tourists.  Are many of them from overseas, or is it mostly traffic from the Three-State area . . .

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Don Cossacks I

The land of the Don Cossacks, called 'Dikoloj' by the people themselves, or the Wild Field, is a flat steppe as large as England that extends on both sides of the lower Don River, between the Caspian and Black Seas.  The land was settled by the Khazars early in the 12th century, a trollish race whose descendents dwell in diminishing numbers in an isolated pocket within Ottoman Kubanistan.  The Khazars were overrun in the 1180s by Cumans and Pechenegs, who destroyed many of the trolls before moving west against the lands of Kiyev.

For the next 60 years, the Dikolaj would be largely unoccupied except for scattered remnants of trolls and Cuman orcs, as well as Digorians, minotaur raiders and Turkish adventurers.  In 1238 Batu Khan of the Mongols would subjugate the region, but it would remain largely uninhabited.  This would not meaningfully change until the arrival of two human peoples, the Jassi from the west (Hungarians) and the Kosogi from the south (Circassians from the Caucasus mountains), who settled on the east and west banks of the Don River.  At the time of this settlement the Cumanese Kingdom had been well established, though that entity had little interest in lands to the east.  Digorian orcs occupied the western shore of the Caspian, while Jagatai orcs controlled much of the valley of the Volga. The Ottomans controlled much of the shore of the Black Sea (Kubanistan), but had not settled the hinterland.  The human Jassi and Kosogi were able to fill a power vacuum between these forces.

Both tribes had a long tradition of horse culture, and together formed a bond that would see much interbreeding, as well as a strong sharing of culture and religious tradition.  While the Jassi were of moderate Christian heritage, the Kosogi had retained many of the polytheistic roots that had begun during the early Bronze Age.  Both cultures were influenced by old gods in the region whose worshippers had past, but whose burial tombs were found and investigated, leading to a revival of the Yamna cult.  This manifests chiefly in a strongly held belief in the 'Red Maiden,' who is said to visit with warriors the moment before they die, either taking them with her or empowering them to destroy their foes.  This is said to have happened when Zynovey Chihirin fought the Turks at the battle of Hannah Flat in 1544 - the moment before he died, he was suddenly restored.  He and his small band then wiped out half the Turkish army before putting them to their heels, assuring that the Cossacks would retain ownership of the lands around Tarsk since.

From Spring to mid-Summer, when the Don River is too high to cross, the Kosogi, or south Cossacks, raid the lands of Digoria and the Safavid Empire.  During this time the Jassi, or west Cossacks, commonly raid eastwards into the lands north of the Caspian Sea.  In late Summer and throughout the Autumn, when the Don River grows low and the river is easier to cross, the tribes join together and raid west into Cumana and Poland, and north into Russia.  The tribes are among the best light skirmishers in the world on horseback, ride lightly armored, kill few of their enemies and normally take only enough to make their lives comfortable during the long winters.  By early October the raids end as winter settles in, whereupon the Cossacks return home to their families and a life of quiet contemplation and simple pleasures.




Monday, June 16, 2014

Horrid Little Landscape

I wish I had something new to write about.

I am so bored with the community.  I haven't had time for months to do any proper work on my own game, so I haven't been able to write about that.  I haven't read anything particularly deep or meaningful in a long while, so I haven't been able to enthuse about something new.  To keep this blog going, I've had to scope around for something that someone else has said, and then riff off that - and holy crisco am I shit bored to death of that.

There's been a recent rise of visitors from the hate sites (really, it never amounts to more than a couple dozen a day, out of a thousand page views), so I know they're writing about me.  I could go there and look and then riff off that . . . but I've told myself to stop doing that.  It never amounts to anything.  Seriously, you could cut my name out of the text, write in the name of anyone else and it would make as much sense.

The most interesting thing I've heard in the last week from the outside world was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor getting turfed from his seat in Virginia in the primaries to a freakazoid Tea Party candidate who seems to think that God voted for him.  Dave Brat's victory speece was beautiful.  Particularly since the Republicans invented the Tea Party by pushing their own rich masters to fund the Tea Party to wild levels.  Only to lose complete control of same.  And then to have Cantor kicked out for muttering words of immigration reform because he, like other intelligent power mongers on the hill, are aware that the Rupublicans are going to have trouble ever winning a national election again without the Hispanics?  Brilliant.  It's not like Cantor thinks anything good about the same 47% that Romney betrayed the party's real feeling about.  He, and others, spent 5 months after the presidential election crafting that pro-immigration proposal in early 2013.  Little did he know he was digging his own grave.  It's even funnier, as the link indicates how waffling the Republican chatter is, as Cantor delivers the fence-sitting position brilliantly, hoping that they can gauge public response to tell them what to do next.  Ha hah.  According to wingnut Dylan Byers, Dave Brat won due to his support by talk radio hosts.  God, apparently, eschews television and the internet, preferring technology from the 1940s.  When days were good.  I can't wait for Brat to lose to whatever intelligent sounding Democrat they stack up against him.

Sigh.  But I promised not to talk about politics on this blog, either.  The hate meter really climbs when I mention politics.  For a country that built an system that cripples politicians almost half a year before their term ends (lucky Cantor, he gets to be a lame duck for five more months), Americans don't seem to like their system very much.  For the rest of us, the donkey and the elephant might as well be real, as we watch them tumble around in a giant side-loading washing machine with about fifty chickens.  In other words, funny.

I was complaining about having nothing to talk about.  It would be nice to build something up rather than tearing something down.  I am doing that, off camera, but on the blog it's just about impossible.  I can't find anything I agree with.  I do this sort of roaming around thing these days on other blogs, thinking, seen that, seen that . . . what, that again? Omg.  What the hell is this?  How long has this guy been playing, three months?  Really?  I can't believe this guy is asking this question.  I figured this out, what, 27 years ago?  Oh, this is great.  Yeah.  That really needed to be pointed out.  That wasn't obvious or anything.  Seen that.  Seen that, seen that, seen this tried before, yeah, oh, here we go again . . .

Just repeat that for another half hour and assume I wrote a post about it.

Eh, what do I know?  Yesterday I posted my fat ass riding a kayak.  I know I'm bored.  This kind of material seems to sustain the attention of people who claim to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, technicians and so on, but I find it all pretty weak.  I just don't want to see another list of "things I find at the bar" or "ways to die in an avalanche" or some other fool thing.  It's awful.  I want to stop writing about it.

But what else do I have?

My life is on hold.

I suppose that from time to time I would like to retreat to simpler things.  When I was a boy, we used to play a lot of scrub.  There'd be four or five of us, usually not more, and so teams were impossible.  The batter would hit to an outfield of four boys and we'd count points by how many bases were run.  Then the batter would go to left field, left field would go to right, right field would go to first base, first base would go to pitcher and the pitcher would bat.  And so we would play all afternoon.

There weren't any arguments over rules.  We all knew the rules.  Occasionally there were arguments over touching the base or not.  I can't remember a single game we played where the 'winner' has stayed in my mind.  I guess we counted, but the count didn't seem to matter.  We weren't all of equal ability, but we were friends so that didn't seem to matter much either.  I was probably somewhere in the middle.  Not the best catcher, but I could wallop it and I could run.  I always liked to hit a baseball.

I haven't in . . . well, about 15 years now.  The last time was coming through Riley Park, a big greenspace near downtown, and there were four teenagers playing scrub.  I would have been 35.  I asked if I could take a swing, just feeling a bit nostalgic.  They said sure.  They didn't back up very far.  The pitcher wound up and threw overhand - not that hard, I'm an old man to them.  I hit that first pitch way, way off into the trees.  The sound the boys made me feel pretty good.

I guess if I really, really wanted to play I could have set up a game by now.  I could have organized it, gotten out enough people to make teams and played.  Somehow, I just haven't felt the urge.  I find myself interested in other things.  I'm not looking for simple pleasures.  I did simple.  Long ago.  Anymore, I'm looking for things that are very, very complicated.  Detailed.  Hard.  Enough to hold my interest.

I'm not that interested in the people who founded the game except to point out, wow, look at the way the people who founded the game really fucked it up.  People who play today can't even figure out what dice to roll to make a character.  It is that fucking sad.  I mean, sad.  Sort of like watching five children playing scrub because there's no parent or neighborhood that cares enough to help them find other players.  Sad like an old man who wishes he could play baseball again but never gets another chance.  Sad like people who are so pathetically apathetic that they are still planting a garden every year, only to let it be consumed by weeds again - like they did last year.

Makes me a little sick, actually.  Churns my stomach.  What a horrible little landscape we've created.  What a pitiful bunch of monkeys, filling their little voids with straws and the grasping of them.

Please let me get this fucking thing done, and run my world in July.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Last Rest

Seems when I say that I've written such and such number of words, or that my book is 60,000 or 70,000 words in length so far, people don't know what I'm talking about.  So, to put things into perspective, on Friday I reached 84,800 words (yesterday I took the day off and went to the beach).

Here's a comparison for the reader's benefit:


This is from a site that has compiled a long list.  Overall, this makes me feel accomplished.  But I have more to do.

In the meantime, in the interest of showing people my fat ass, including a moment where I'm shifting it up so I can be more comfortable, here's a video of me getting some exercise yesterday.  This is my first time in a kayak, ever.



Spread that around the internet.  Only remember how despicable we are for pointing out the truth about how much weight people carry, and how unhealthy it is.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Real Deal

This is never going to stay up on the google+ page of someone who doesn't like me, so I'll repost it here.




Well Jay, you and I don't see eye-to-eye, but here's something you perhaps should consider. None of these beloved 'grandfathers' ended up with very much control over the pastime they initiated. Nor did they invent that pastime in a vacuum. In fact, they invented it among a lot of other people who DID wind up with a lot more control than these grandfathers, who aren't depicted sitting around in obesity.

These may have wound up this way because in fact they weren't very bright, they were just four somewhat imaginative, ordinary college students that started something that quickly grew too big for them, who afterwards were able to live very soft, largely purposeless lives playing a game or indulging themselves however they wished because they didn't have to earn hard livings that would have kept them trim and healthy.

Perhaps we should stop mythologizing these people and simply see them for what they are. Fat do-nothings who got lucky.

UPDATE:

Did anyone, I wonder, notice that both posts I wrote today were about the same thing?

FURTHER UPDATE:

According to this post, these four were not who I presumed them to be, according to this post.  Sigh.  Twice this week I've had a research error.  Somehow, I don't feel bad this time, since the four people who were quoted in the post I linked earlier were Dave Trampier, Aaron Aalston, Tom Moldvay and 'Gary'  - presumably Gary Gygax.  And this is who I meant in my reply.

No.  I did not pick up on the fact that these were not the four in the picture, because I do not know what the four guys in the post look like.  I couldn't pick Aalston out in a line-up if my life depended on it.  Gary I only vaguely remember from his 60 Minutes interview.  I never cared about any of these people, so I didn't have posters of them on my wall.

I just feel awful about that.  My original statements, however, directed towards failures at the art of holding onto or improving their own creations?  Those stand.


Flimsy Screens

"But, I don't understand," said Dorothy, in bewilderment. "How was it that you appeared to me as a great Head?"

"That was one of my tricks," answered Oz. "Step this way, please, and I will tell you all about it."

He led the way to a small chamber in the rear of the Throne Room, and they all followed him. He pointed to one corner, in which lay the great Head, made out of many thicknesses of paper, and with a carefully painted face.

"This I hung from the ceiling by a wire," said Oz. "I stood behind the screen and pulled a thread, to make the eyes move and the mouth open."

"But how about the voice?" she inquired.

"Oh, I am a ventriloquist," said the little man. "I can throw the sound of my voice wherever I wish, so that you thought it was coming out of the Head. Here are the other things I used to deceive you." He showed the Scarecrow the dress and the mask he had worn when he seemed to be the lovely Lady. And the Tin Woodman saw that his terrible Beast was nothing but a lot of skins, sewn together, with slats to keep their sides out. As for the Ball of Fire, the false Wizard had hung that also from the ceiling. It was really a ball of cotton, but when oil was poured upon it the ball burned fiercely.

"Really," said the Scarecrow, "you ought to be ashamed of yourself for being such a humbug."

"I am - I certainly am," answered the little man sorrowfully; "but it was the only thing I could do."

And so it goes.

When I read this story again as an adult, which would have been in my late 20s, I saw something more in the above passage than the appalling behaviour that everyone sees in the Wizard.  I was told to read the book by a prof I had, Dr. Janos Svilpis, about whom I can find only one reference online, as J.E. Svilpis.  Ah, the days before the internet.  Dr. Svilpis, who also believed brilliantly that the Three Stooges were representatives of Russian Communism (Lenin, Trotsky & Stalin), used to buy his favourite students beer at a local tavern, where shelled peanuts were free and where the shells were simply swept off onto the floor, where they would be swept away at closing time.  The Highlander is gone now; but I shall always remember loud arguments with a paid-for beer in my hand, in a room that smelled of peanut shells, with the most gonzo prof I ever had.  Poor Svilpis.  He did not fare well when student evaluations became the norm.  He was far too 'out there' for students concerned about what jobs their degrees would buy.

Svilpis did not think the Wizard of Oz was a children's book, and as I remember he called me an 'idiot' for thinking that it was.  Well, he was buying the beer.  So I read the book and found that he was right.  Not simply because the poppy field is about heroin, though that's what everyone who reads the unexpurgated text discovers, but because there is a great deal about the idiocy of human behaviour to be found in L. Frank Baum's text.  In the scene above it is not just that the Wizard is a very poor person - it is also surprising that Dorothy and her friends were taken in by such pathetic ruses.

A dress and a mask?  A burning cotton ball?  A beast made of skins sewn together?  Are you kidding me?

The film production of the book recognized that there was an elaborate failure in the Wizard's design - but rather than exemplifying the book, the film set out to 'fix' it . . . so generations of people fail to understand that the Wizard is not hiding behind a curtain, but a mere 'screen.'  A screen so flimsy that a little dog could tip it over.  Here's the passage: "The Lion thought it might be as well to frighten the Wizard, so he gave a large, loud roar, which was so fierce and dreadful that Toto jumped away from him in alarm and tipped over the screen that stood in a corner. As it fell with a crash they looked that way, and the next moment all of them were filled with wonder."

Yes, Baum IS telling a tale about how charlatans set out to fool perfectly ordinary people, but he is also expressing the utter, blatant ease with which dumb, heartless and cowardly people are fooled.  Because it is pathetically simple.  So simple that people cannot tell the difference between human skin and many thicknesses of paper.

We shouldn't wonder that so many of the things we find and see in the world turn out to be garbage.  We shouldn't wonder when we are taken on a tour, only to find the trip isn't worth the money we've paid.  We should expect that the materials we've bought turn out to be mere reproductions of other materials, that were themselves reproductions.  We are so desperately in need of something new, we're ready to fool ourselves in buying anything . . . and then convincing ourselves for years after the fact that what we have is the real thing.  We're willing to saddle up, head out West and face witches, that belief is so strong in us.

What morons we are.

I was working on a passage last night about work - the work that it takes to make a world, and the work that it takes for that world to be something amazing.  Afterwards I thought about the passage, and chuckled, because I know that the last thing most anyone wants to do is work to make a world.  So I think, "What am I doing here?"

Perhaps the wisest thing I could do would be to build a flimsier screen.  When I have people tell me that the game is 'only' this or that, then clearly what is called for is the making of a flimsier screen.  It would be so easy to start another blog, upon another email address, and simply preach exactly what the hix in the stix want to hear - and then sell them sewn together skins and paper-mache heads.  I could build myself up by attacking day and night that 'tao fucker guy,' building up a sweet following that would buy my derivative crap. Because that's how it is with people.  Tell them what they want to hear, and let them walk themselves right into a witches' castle.

Dr. Svilpis must have messed me up though, because here I am writing a book telling people that they're going to have to work, and probably fail for a long time, if they want to have the thing they want.  That's no way to get rich.