Thursday, April 30, 2015

Splitting Parties and Check Lists

This is really a long answering comment to Barrow's questions earlier today.  I'd rather not be limited in space in answering these.

To begin, how do I manage multiple player character groups where PC's have differing goals or agendas - such as, Barrow asks, having a case where the thief and the monk are trying to escape Hell at the same time as the party is trying to break in.

That particular example is very easy to answer.  I didn't let Ivan or Shalar attempt to escape.  They were trapped, period.  Their only option was the rest of the party.  I set it up that way on purpose.

By not cutting away to the thief or the monk during the entire time the party set out to rescue them, I left the question of what state they were in (alive? in one piece? disfigured?) to the party's imagination, thus heightening the tension.  Film, and particularly television, tends to destroy tension utterly by adding a scene that shows the victim, alive, whole and unchanged.  It's presumed that the dialogue, acting and setting can be designed to make the audience feel the victim's plight, but usually this falls flat on its face.  There isn't that much horror that can be shown, even in an R-rated movie, to compare with our imaginations to make this giveaway effective.

All right . . . but what if the party divides up around the outside of a goblin fort, attacking the fort from different angles.  What then?

I try to run the characters in a situation like that in as narrow a sliver of time as possible.  A quick cut to the player trying to climb the tower, three to five minutes at most, then the next character taking a charge in brief, time enough to make a decision and roll dice, then quickly we're off to the next part of the battle field and the next character.  If everyone knows what everyone else is doing, it is fairly easy to keep these cuts rapid and short, since no one's immediate action is overly dependent upon information someone else has privy to.  They are separated by a battlefield; chances are, they won't be able to help, even if they know (impossibly) what is going on way over there.

Okay, but what if the party is divided and it does matter what group A knows versus group B?

Then you've got to physically move your party into different parts of your home, even onto the back deck or otherwise outside, as I have done upon occasion.  I've had the entire party in separate places, deliberately isolated so that their decisions can't be understood by each other, except according to what information I'm telling.

An isolation like this will happen if the party is captured and being separately interrogated - and it gets interesting, as the Inquisitor gains knowledge according to what other party members have told.  My parties don't stab each other in the back, thankfully.

More commonly, a party will be in two groups, assaulting a central point simultaneously.  Or some party members might be sucked into a vortex, leaving the others behind.  I've done that, too - thus giving some players knowledge that the other players don't have.

Recently one of my offline groups was in a fight with a crypt thing that succeeded in teleporting Pikel, the 11th level druid, four miles away, 'poof.'  I made the druid leave the room.  I did not tell Pikel what had happened until he was out of the room.  As far as the group knew, Pikel had been imprisoned or destroyed.

So, out in the hall, Pikel was told what happened and he recognized the general lay of the land (they were on an island 8 miles in diameter) and promptly turned into a bird in order to rejoin the party).  I left him and ran the party for a few minutes.  Then I went back and ran Pikel, telling him what he saw as he flew across the land.  Then back to the main party.  Then back to Pikel.  Then to the main party, who were wasting time uncertain what to do.  Then I had Pikel reenter, appear and tell the party what had happened.

It was a small disjointed part, but it felt fast-paced because I got up and moved back and forth, continuously, keeping both sides of the equation in the picture at the same time.

The DM has to be able to run without books, without depending on anything except a memory of the location if need be, to keep the pace moving forward.  If I had been too sunk in my books, having to carry those back and forth, the game would have degraded.  But I made the point in How to Run that the DM has to commit as much of the game to memory as possible.  The same qualifies for the world that the DM creates.

I also wrote in How to Run the importance of keeping notes both during and after a running.  These are called worksheets (what are we going to do) and checklists (what did we do?).  This is how I keep track of the date and even the time of the game.

Here's an example of my 'checklist,' which is a chronological account of what the party has done on what day, without filling out the details.  I tend to remember what has happened in each physical location, because I have had a very long mental association in my head between action and place.

This accounts for three runnings - starting from the moment the party decided to leave Korca in Albania to try to regain Demifee the mage:

December 4, the party wakes, sells off 10 ewes and 8 rams; the remainder 93 ewes are in the care of Darkas, who will sell them as he is able.
Jonida, Calim, Attaman, Marcus and Fehim are willing to travel along with the party. The party sells the land they cleared. Party owes 24 g.p. to followers (Jonida not included), 6 g.p. each, on Jan 4, 1651.

The party leaves Korca December 9th; arrives in Amisos, December 29th. This is the day that Demifee was raised, after sunset on the 29th (8:20 pm Turkish Time)

The Hyklion Society seems to dwell in an observatory on Simlak Hill, on the west edge of Amisos.

Jan 2nd, leave Amisos.

Jan 9th, reach Tokat.

Jan 10th, encounter ‘giant’ & 13 haruchai; the party succeeds in killing them all.

After killing the haruchai, the party wakes the sphinx. He-ni-te, the gynosphinx, explains that she is from Egypt; she was travelling with Ikhnaton, also from Egypt. They had come north to seek information about a solar eclipse that is meant to happen on April 12 in southern Egypt. She is seeking a lost tomb in the desert east of Asyut.

Deal with Mazonn’s background at the beginning of the next running. Randomly roll his experience, give him some stats.

Jan 15th. Arrive in Darenda.

Jan 18th. Arrive in Melitene, buy 12 riding camels, bit, bridle, saddle, blanket, large saddle bags, supplement for a week.

Jan 22nd. Arrive in Edessa. Showing about the Star of Michael. Told they will have to climb into the hills behind Edessa to speak with Elija the Hermit, at the Edessa Yeshivah. Jan 23.

Jan 26th. Start to climb into the mountains of the Ebionites.

After the second day of travelling into the desert south of Rakka (end of Jan 28th), the party is left with 360 oz. of water. They will separate, leaving five down in the valley and send Woodsole, Sharper and Olie with Henite up the mountain.

Jan 29th. Searching for the entrance. The five in the lower valley drink 40 oz. of water; the party searching drink 56 oz. End of the day will leave you with 259 oz. The Star of Michael is delivered.

Morning on Jan 30th, you return to the village and reunite with your followers.

Feb 2nd – Palmyra

Feb 8th – south of Damascus

Feb 9th, spend the day in Damascus. Run out of Salt on the 23rd of March.

Feb 25th, reach Rafah on the Mediterranean Sea.

Feb 28th, reach Mazar.

Mar 6th, reach Cairo. Pay the followers next on Apr 4. Spend the 7th in Cairo.

Mar 13th, reach Asyut. Ask for Fahid-es-Mahmoud Alam. The party finds him in the afternoon.

Mar 14th. Gazzim comes with the boat to pick up the party and take them to Mahmet Temple.  Not everyone can go, limited space in boat.  Starting up the Nile River, two day journey.

Mar 15th. Late at night on the 15th of March. The next morning the party will enter the temple to place the holy Ankh – Demifee, Woodsoul, Sharper and Olie.

There you go, easy.  The reference to running out of salt is in relation to having bought it in Damascus, so the party knows when they're supply runs out (so they don't have to keep constant record of it).

Whatever it is, I can simply write it out during the session, or expand it later if need be.  Gazzim, for example, is the son of Fahid's educated friend, volunteering to take the party to the temple in his small four person boat.  It is March in Egypt, so even though the river is receding from its January high, there are still many flooded areas in the valley; the temple is one that can't be reached other than by boat - and no boats are available for purchase.  Would be a waste of money anyway.

How to Start a Trading Town III

Be sure to read Part I and Part II before beginning this post.

Making Friends

Here we come to the most critical part of our plan.  Thankfully, though it may not occur to the reader yet, we have already made some very powerful friends - though they only love us for our money.  These include the people who are bringing out beer, wine, dried meat or honey and the people we have borrowed money from (if we have gone that route).  These people are very interested in seeing more of our money and in being paid back.  It is nice to have powerful friends who have a vested interest in our well-being!

This means that when the Baron's henchman shows up (as the DM will inevitably decide is the next 'obstacle' to be placed in our path), demanding that we cease and desist our operations, we should already be prepared.

The Baron's response seems reasonable.  A group of strangers turn up from nowhere, start buying raw materials from the countryside and setting themselves up to stay.  And they have a lot of money!  OMG, what plot do they have in mind?

So the lackey appears (probably a 7th level lackey), saying, "You're all going to have to get out.  You have no right to do what you're doing!"  The DM is thinking, Aha, this should throw a monkey wrench in things.  What are they going to do?  Fight the Baron?

No.  What we're going to do is reach out our hand, holding 2-5 thousand gold (use your judgement) and say, "Hey, glad to see you!  We were worried we'd have to find you!  Here are the TAXES we owe you, with our compliments.  Oh, and tell the Baron there's a lot more where that came from!"

I presume you will do your due diligence and not give a total stranger claiming to be from the Lord all this money - but rest assured, this will be solved easily too.

See, the locals bringing their wood and stone will get there long before the Baron even knows what's going on (there's going to be no great rush to let the Baron know), so you'll be busy making friends with these people as well.

Yes, everyone that shows up with something to sell is now your best friend!  It doesn't matter if they come in with a single stone, you're ready to meet them, make them feel at home, give them some stew (free!) and - if the beer and wine has arrived - a drink of that too!  Those that leave, you want them talking to their friends: "Hey, they fed us, they treated us great, there was free beer!  It was a great time!"

Most of all, you want to hire these people.  As many as you can.  You need to build a dock, a pier at least, possibly set aside the largest stones you receive for the eventual break you may want to add to your shallow bay or inlet (that's why you don't pick deep water!  It only has to be deep enough to allow a longboat).

More importantly, you're going to need a warehouse that you'll make out of the wood you're getting, along with some corrals (so you can start buying animals along with other materials) and a modest house (remember, you're a simple trader, not a officious prat).  Anyone too dumb to build things out of wood will serve to start your road into the interior, using all that lovely cheap gravel and sand you've been collecting.  Where should your road go?  Along one of those paths, of course, that the people have been beating down with their wagons.  Obviously, the one beaten down the most.

This will help you gather a small population of laborers - more than a few of whom will recognize that lackey when he turns up.  "Is this the guy?" you'll ask.  And the answer will come back, "Oh yeah, that's the guy."


This is getting expensive, no?  The coin is flowing out and none of it is coming back; you're making a lot of people happy but you're going broke fast.  What will you do?

Well, if you can manage it early, you'll want to buy up other sections around your initial 30 acres - but the DM may not let you do that.  Chances are, however, that the land on every side is completely empty - and ostensibly under the authority of the Baron.  So, as soon as we've paid the Baron his 'taxes,' we will want to write him/her a letter:

"O Great Baron.  I see a glorious opportunity for you, my Lord, to make a spectacular killing.  I see all this wonderful land surrounding my humble little holding, but sadly it is empty of taxpayers.  If you will only let me solve that problem, great sir, I will sell the land to all my friends immediately in my company now, for a mere stipend of 40% of the value gained.  Sound good?"

Note, we have not named a price!  Given permission, we're going to sell the land for whatever price we name, give the Baron 60% and pocket the rest.  Now, either the DM will say "Sure, that sounds great, go ahead" or the DM will say, "Great idea, the Baron will send a man down to do that."

Either is perfect for us.

If the DM gives us the right to sell the land, we divide it in lots of 30 acres and name a rock bottom price.  We do not then sell it to other people.  We select a few choice fellows among our closest friends and we 'sell' them the whole lot for almost no money at all per plot, amass about 500 g.p. and give that to the Baron.  "Not bad," says the Baron, since the land is worthless and he/she is thinking of the taxes that will be collected from those buyers in the future.

WE then go to the city and resell the lots that we now own for great amounts of money, at our convenience, promoting the changes we're making and the opportunities for townspeople to 'invest in the ground floor.'  Turning over these lots starts us on the way of making money.

Okay, so the DM doesn't let us sell the lots ourselves.  No problem, since everyone around to buy the lots are friends of ours (free beer and all that).  This makes it easy to discourage buyers, driving down the price - until someone mysteriously turns up and offers a very low price for everything months after the property is offered.  Us, of course.

Now, the DM might be a dick and invent illogical, irrational buyers from nowhere, just because.  DMs will be like that.  Thankfully, a DM like this will also probably have the buyers move in, building houses, ploughing land, setting up to take over the place.

Well, that's just fine too.  Trust me, we're not going to give them any free beer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Toe Issues

My reasons for not posting today are varied and unpleasant.  To keep up with my promise to write everyday on the food blog, I'll let the reader here read it there.

Still need to promote the other blog anyway.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to Start a Trading Town II

Town Business

Having reached the nearest large city to your proposed future trading town [see post one], you have business to do.  You should still be taking every effort to keep your DM in the dark, so mind that you be careful how you phrase your questions.

This first venture into town is largely a fact-finding mission.  Here is what you need to know:  what is the cost of raw, broken stone (tell your DM that you're looking to build some rock walls), the cost of mortar, the cost of wood . . . and most of all, the price you'll be paid if you sell any of this material back to the town.

That is how you want to present it.  First, let me explain that you're not actually going to buy these things - right now, you're just in town to price them.  Tell the DM you haven't actually made any plans on what to build, so you don't know how much you'll need.  This is really just a smoke screen. The piece of information you really, truly need to obtain is that crucial, "How much will the carpenter or the mason pay me if I bring back wood that I've bought, that I'm not going to use."

Do not ask, "How much are ordinary people paid for hauling this stuff into town."  That's actually what you want to know, but you absolutely do not want to put this suggestion into the DM's mind.  What you really, truly want is for the DM to give you a ridiculously low price for returned goods.  In fact, the lower the better!  This may sound undesirable, but trust me.  If there is any way you can get the DM to commit to a raw materials price that is as low as possible, you win.  Why will become clear in a moment.

Remember, you are always looking to get the DM to commit to prices.  I don't have this problem as a DM, as my prices are determined by a system and not by my 'feelings.'  Chances are, however, that it is you against the DM's reaching into his or her own ass for the numbers, so play for numbers as low as possible.

The other thing you want to do is buy some futures.  This isn't a world of stock markets, but you may trust that there were 'futures' in medieval times.  Our goal is to buy a huge amount of beer, wine, honey and dried meat three or four months from now.  When I say huge, I mean HUGE.  If at all possible, spend 10-20,000 g.p. on it.  You will need it and it will make all the difference.  Make it clear that you're willing to give the merchants half the money in advance, right now, even though you don't want the product for as many months as you say.  The deal is, they get half the money, then they ship the product to you, whereupon you'll pay them the balance.  The key here is for the DM to understand that if they DON'T ship the product, not only will you not pay these merchants, you'll be back in town demanding your down payment back.

This puts the onus of hauling all this beer and wine on THEM, the merchants.  If you try to haul these goods back yourself, the DM will undoubtedly hit you with bandits.  So don't carry it.  Just get back to your little plot of land and wait for the stuff to arrive.

Why are you buying all this?  Oh, they'll be workmen to feed and make happy, and you're thinking about building a tavern.  Maybe.  Make sure the deal is struck and don't explain what the deal is meant to accomplish.

This is it.  Don't buy any bulk materials.  You should probably buy half a dozen axes, an equal number of shovels, pick axes and sledgehammers, plus one wagon.  But drive back with the wagon empty, because you do not need to be buying things in this town that you will haul back yourself.

Home Business

Once you've come back home and killed whatever creature the DM has decided to have co-opt your land, you're ready to play your hand a bit.  Here's what you should have had the DM confirm:

  • the existence of people that will be nearer to you than they are to the large city you visited.
  • a confirmation (through exploring) that there are no other large towns nearby.
  • the ownership of your land (get a bill of sale!).
  • the price the city will pay for goods.

Chances are, your DM will try to reneg on any of these things, simply because DMs are dicks and they don't like being forced to live up to their statements.  See, usually a DM feels that the players are so out of control that the rules or information can be shifted whenever and however the DM personally feels it.  You have to know that if you start this plan, and your DM starts dicking with you, that to have any self-esteem at all you're going to have to rise from the table, call the DM several deserved names and storm out.

As an aside, I have occasionally thrown a player out of my campaign.  This is nothing to the number of times I have been dicked, screwed over and fucked with by DMs who could not understand that their word was their bond.  Conscientious incorruptibility is rare among DMs.

That said, let's continue.

You now need to put the word out to all the people, all around, that you are prepared to pay 50% more money than the city will for raw timber, stone, sand, gravel or clay . . . so long as these things are brought to you.  You'll pay cash on the barrel head, up front, no questions asked - you don't care where it's from or what it is.

See, you need raw materials and you need the locals to understand you will pay for these things.  If it were a real setting and you were offering good money for a bucket of rocks, no matter what the size, people all around would drop what they were doing and go out to dig up rocks for you.  This is human nature.

Now, if your DM tells you that the locals have a 'deal' with the city, or that they are 'used to' bargaining with the city, recognize that your DM is grasping at straws to keep you from doing what you're doing - without even knowing what that is.  Right now, if it were not for the title of the post, YOU, the reader, wouldn't be sure where this was going.  Imagine how the DM is going to feel!  Something is up, the DM doesn't know what it is, but this feels like a really bad thing that is going to work out for the player and not the DM . . . so get ready for ridiculous arguments and attempts to block you.

Remind the DM that nobody, ever, would be willing to travel twice the distance for one third less the profit, even if the laws said they had to!  Does your DM not acknowledge a black market?  Are there soldiers wandering the countryside arresting people for hauling logs in the wrong direction?  Is it illegal to fill wagons with gravel?

The more your DM argues this, the more your DM will look like an idiot.

Assuming your DM has a brain and not just an ego, people from the hinterland will start flooding towards your little piece of land.  The best way to get the word out is to ride around, give out some silver pieces as gifts to anyone you meet, explain what you're willing to buy and how much you're willing to pay . . . then sit back and watch the stuff roll in.

You should get all the timber you want and all the stone you want for less that its price in the city, plus it will be delivered to you.  Of course, you will need to have enough money to pay for this, no matter how much shows up.  This is the real problem you face, the real crisis the DM will create for you.  The danger that more material will arrive than you can pay for, and that the people who don't get your money for hauling wood and stone as far as your land get nothing for it.

Thus, you need a lot of capital to start this.  At least 50-60 thousand gold pieces, probably more, and possibly you should look into a loan in the city if this money starts depleting fast.  Remember, you just dropped 20,000 gold on beer, so the city usurers will see you as a terrific opportunity.

As the people start drifting towards your riverbank, your little bit of coast, your spot on the prairie or your place below the mountain pass, they will start to make pathways.  The stone and wood will tear up the soil and the travellers will naturally pick the shortest and best routes from the largest villages around you, so remind your DM that this will serve to mark out where the population in the hinterland is settled.  You won't have to search around for them - a dozen eight-ton wagons will make a nice trail that you can follow back to their source.

In our next post, we will be talking about how to deal with people - both the locals and the inevitable administrators.  Your DM is almost certainly going to think, "I will shut these people down by making the local lord pissed at them."  We will talk about what to do when this happens.

Monday, April 27, 2015

How to Start a Trading Town I


This is a general guideline for players wanting to build a port or some other center for trading goods in a D&D campaign.  It is not a trade system, nor does it require that a trade system be in place - but it should be understood that if the reader's DM is the sort that likes forcing players on 'adventures,' rather than letting them find themselves, this is going to be a massively uphill struggle.

Players should also know that DMs hate the sort of thing that I'm about to explain.  In general, you may count on your DM going the 'nth degree to put a stop to it, inventing all sorts of nonsense and making false claims intended to foil success before anything can be put in place.

Therefore, I strongly recommend that players DO NOT tell the DM what's happening.  That's right, that's what I said.  Whenever possible, the true purpose behind these machinations must be kept from the DM.  Plans must be made, if possible, outside the campaign, wherever the DM is not present, and all players must be sworn to secrecy.  Alternately, it will be possible for one player to take action alone, bringing other players on board at certain appropriate stages.  In my description, I will give the moments when this should be done.

Find a Location

To create your trading 'point,' you will need to find certain ideal features.  You must do this without help from the DM.  However, if your DM will kindly provide maps, you should be able to glean the information you need from those maps that will give you the opportunity you seek.

It should be understood that most game worlds and game maps are made by designers who have virtually no understanding of economies, demographics or the logical placement of cities, villages or towns.  This will work in your favour!  It will enable you to build a successful point where one would have existed if the denizens in your DM's world were real people, worried about things like making a lot of money and not having to haul their goods ridiculous distances.

As you glance at the map, you are looking for a 40-mile stretch of coast where no one has thought to place a city.  It would be best if this coastline was part of some civilized kingdom.  The farther this coastline is from a city on your DM's map, the better . . . but you do want the land behind the coast (the 'hinterland') to be occupied by at least a few hundred people.  Two thousand or more will be better.

How will you find out?  You will tell your DM that you are "Thinking of building a home [castle/tower] along this stretch of coast.  Is it populated?"

Your DM will naturally think you are seeking a place to set up a fief and will probably tell you, "Yes," thinking this will throw a monkey wrench into all your plans.

If you feel confident, you can look sad and ask, "A lot of people?"

And if your DM is the sort to stomp on your dreams (the dreams he or she imagines you have), then the answer will be, "Oh yes, lot's of people."

Don't say, "But there's no city on the map!"  Keep that information to yourself.  It is a long time yet before you can play your hand.

If it turns out the coastline is empty, look for somewhere else.  If no coastline is available, a stretch of large river more than 40 miles without a city will do (it does not matter if the river has a ford or a bridge, only that it isn't in a canyon or is a set of rapids).

A pass through mountains between two kingdoms will do in a pinch, but try to avoid this.  If it looks too good, however, remember to choose a place at least 30 miles from the pass, in the empty hexes on one side or the other.  Do not pick an area that has a pass to nowhere.

Take your time, don't hurry.  Somewhere within a hundred miles of your present location is always best, as it will take you little time to get there.

You might get lucky and have the DM describe the exact conditions you want as you happen to be passing through.  More's the better!  The DM's description of an area trumps a map every time.  That is why, after picking a location . . .

Scout the Location

You must go there before anything else can be done.  That is because the most important part of this step is to encourage the DM to confirm what's there.  As ever, use the story that you are looking for a place to settle, somewhere comfortable, where it isn't dangerous.  You need to get the DM to say these things, out loud [on camera or in an audio recording, if your DM is a real dick].  "Yes, the place is covered with people.  Yes, it isn't very dangerous.  There's already a lord here and all the land is already controlled."

To which your answer should be, "Aw, that's too bad.  But perhaps I could convince someone to let me build a small farm?  Nothing big, I only need 30 acres.  I think my character would like to start a family."

Or whatever else eases your DM into thinking that whatever you mean to do is totally harmless.  So far, the conditions described above are perfect.  As I say, if this were a real world, some entrepreneur would already be building a port here - but this is D&D, where the river exists as a blue line on paper, not as an actual place where npcs think.  That should work out nicely for you.

You do want about 30 acres.  If at all possible, this should be on a shelf about 15 to 30 feet above the water of a shallow bay, not a place where the land drops straight into the sea.  This will be an easier place to find on a river.  If you are taking advantage of a pass (or potentially a large flat farming plain where no city exists within 40 miles), any flat bit of 30 acres will do.

Once you find the location, let the DM know that you're going to lay out stones to mark the corners of your house.  Then proceed to spend at least four days amassing enough stone that it will be impossible to lose the spot.  You might also want to remember, by the time you get back to this place, the DM will undoubtedly put a monster here.  Be prepared to fight when you get back.  If you can, trap the area, put a follower on the area or simply remark that 'someday' you may get back here, 'maybe.'

Now, the next part will require a lot of money - probably 10s of thousands of gold.  It is assumed that you've already been travelling and smashing through dungeons, so you have more money than you know what to do with.  When we begin again, we'll discuss what to do with all that money.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Slow Starts

I hadn't pushed the cooking blog today; I didn't want to be rude about it.  All blogs start slow.  I wouldn't expect this one to be any different - after all, you read me for D&D, not for cooking.

But I also know that you must sometimes move the plate under someone's nose several times before they will take the time to smell the food.  Since it's late in the day, and since I did put up another post already, I'll just say a word or two before tomorrow.

I was worried, but I think I am finding my voice.

Semi-Precious Gems

I've put off doing this for years, after this post in 2010 and this post in 2011.  Here is a list of semi-precious gemstones, based more or less on the original DM's Guide with regards to value.  There are no tables for actual gem values (purposefully, as the jewellery and lapidary industry does not want you knowing how valuable or invaluable these are).

Alexandrite (a type of chrysoberyl): America, Brazil, Burma, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Tasmania, Ural mountains, Zimbabwe

Almandine: Afghanistan, Austria, Bohemia, India, Sri Lanka, Brazil

Amber: America, Asturias, Burma, Canada, Dobruja, East Prussia, Latvia, Lithuania, Pomerania, Sicily, Tibet, Transylvania, West Indies

Aquamarine (a type of beryl): Brazil, Burma, California, Carolina, Colorado, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, New England, New South Wales, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Zimbabwe

Beryl: Brazil, Madagascar, Sri Lanka

Black Coral: Malaysia, Northern Territory, Yemen

Coral: Andalucia, Canary Islands, Comoro Islands, Corsica, Hawaii, Japan, Kenya, Kerala, Peloponnese, Seychelles

Fire Opal: America, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Ionia, Mexico, Western Australia

Garnet: Bohemia, Carolina, Idaho, Madagascar, Mexico, New York, Ural Mountains

Goshenite (a type of beryl): New England

Grossular (a type of garnet): America, Canada, Punjab, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania

Heliodor (a type of beryl): Brazil, Madagascar, Namibia

Hessonite (a type of garnet): Sri Lanka

Jade: Brazil, British Columbia, Burma, California, Formosa, Guatemala, Japan, Kiangsu, Mexico, Mongolia, Ningsia, Poland, Sinkiang, Yunnan

Jet: Asturias, Colorado, France, Utah, Yorkshire

Melanite (a type of andradite garnet): Black Forest, France, Latium

Morganite (a type of beryl): California, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe

Pearl: Arafura Sea, Bahrein, Burma, Central America, Dubai, Ethiopia, Gujurat, India, Japan, Kuwait, Mannar Gulf, Mexico, Northern Territory, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Tahiti, Venezuela

Peridot: Brazil, Burma, Egypt, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Norway, Queensland, South Africa, Zaire

Pyrope: Australia, Bohemia, South Africa

Rhodolite (a type of pyrope): Brazil, Carolina, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Zambia

Spessartite (a type of garnet): America, Brazil, Madagascar, Rhine Valley, Sri Lanka, Sweden

Spinel: Afghanistan, Brazil, Burma, Ionia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, New Jersey

Topaz: America, Australia, Brazil, Burma, Cornwall, Egypt, Japan, Madagascar, Namibia, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Saxony, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe

Topazolite (a type of andradite garnet): Switzerland, Trentino-Alto Adige

Tourmaline: Angola, Australia, Brazil, Burma, California, Colorado, India, Liguria, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, New England, New York, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Zimbabwe

Uvarovite (a type of garnet): America, Canada, Finland, India, Poland

Water Opal: Mexico

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Crossed Party Paths

Thank you, Maliloki, for asking a question yesterday that gives me an excuse to write this.

I have had three campaigns running in my world at the same time.  I still sort of do, but the online campaign's hiatus cruelly drags on.  Offline, I still have two running.  The question was, is it the same world for all parties?  And if not, is there a chance that the actions taken by one party will affect another?

My first party began in the town of Kolyeno in the county of Voronezh, Russia, on May 1, 1650.  It began there because that was the first part of my world that I mapped according to the principles my blog readers recognize (elevation, 20 miles per hex, etc.).  I began with Voronezh because it was flat steppeland, lightly populated and a long way from the ocean.  I felt, at the beginning of my mapping, that I should start deep inland, developing my skills as I moved outwards.

I know that in my book How to Run I proposed starting on an island or a peninsula.  I made that suggestion because I know most campaigners don't set out to make nit-picky maps based on the actual world's latitude and longitude.  A writer has to know the audience.

At the time of starting that campaign, eight years ago, I hardly had more of the world mapped than that tiny area of south European Russia.  Kolyeno is a tiny village of about 200 people, the right location to start a 1st level party.  In such a small village, their own, where they had friends and family, they weren't likely to be threatened until they took their first risks.  The choices the party made, combined with random events that involved the party indirectly, led them first towards China, then Persia and finally to Transylvania.  Throughout it all, it was their choice to stay or go.

The online campaign began within two weeks of a spontaneous idea I had in February, 2009.  I called it a 'stupid idea.'  It turned out to be somewhat better.  By 2009 I had four years of mapping under my belt and I had produced sufficient areas of the world to provide several options.  However, as I was working on advancing my trade system specifically for a start in Germany, I wanted to experiment with that.  Therefore, I offered the online players a choice of Mecklenburg, Saxony, Sudetenland, Vogtland, Erzgebirge, Bohemia, Moravia, Upper Austria and Bavaria.  The party ultimately went for the last option.  I rolled randomly for a center in Bavaria that wasn't Munich, Augsburg or Nuremberg (I did not want to start them in a big city) and got Dachau.  Yes, that same Dachau.

That location created the events that followed.  The choices the party made, combined with random events that involved the party indirectly, led them first towards Switzerland, then Cuxhaven (after a slight reboot) and finally to the Azov Sea.  Throughout it all, it was their choice to stay or go.

Of course these two campaigns were utterly unique, though they both started on the same date.  At the moment the First Party was in Kolyeno in Russia, the Second Party was waking up in Dachau, Germany.  When the year turned to 1651, the First Party was stumbling south through the desert east of the Caspian Sea, while the Second Party had just been freed from the hands of a bandit in northern Italy.

The Third Party began late in 2011.  Because I had done detailed maps of the area, and because that party did not care, it began in Kronstadt in Transylvania, again on May 1, 1650.  That party consisted of three persons who poked around the area a little before wandering generally southeast into Serbia, Kosovo and ultimately Albania.  When the year turned 1651 for them, Demifee had died and they had made their way to Amisos in northern Turkey.

Now, this is interesting.  In game time, the Third Party passed down the road from Amisos to Melitene before the Second Party, during January of 1651.  However, in real time, the Second Party had already been down that same road, in April of 1651.  Technically, after the Third Party in game time but the actual campaign took place in winter 2013/4.

If this doesn't fuck with your head, nothing will.

The Third Party never came to the little dungeon I set up for the Second Party (which they encountered on the way back to Amisos), for obvious reasons . . . I didn't need to!  As the Second Party came through, they came across the wounded Sphinx, who they saved, setting up a totally different adventure on the same ground.  Why wouldn't I?

Will these parties encounter each other?  Possibly.  For the next year, until Spring 1652, the First Party will be wandering around the northern Ural Mountains.  This because two members of the First Party pulled from a Deck of Many Things, earning the enmity of the same demon, then played stupidly playing with certain picture-portals in a dungeon (they were warned, seriously, that the pictures were EVIL), the demon grasped their souls and dumped them onto the first level of Hell.  Literally.  The rest of the party then went on a quest to get them out (the characters weren't dead, just trapped, a'la Theseus).  I doubt if the Second or Third parties will stumble across them, there, as 1651/52 plays out.

After that, the First Party settled in their Transylvania fief, only to spend the next year trying to wake up King Carol, the last king of the Avars, who slept for 900 years under a mountain in the Tatras between Slovakia and Galicia (Poland).  That is a whole other story.  For them, as I said on the previous post, it is now late 1653 . . . and for various reasons, they will soon be heading for Khorezm in Turkestan, to fight a big, big fight against an old enemy.

I expect that the Second Party, online, will be managing to keep alive in and around the Black Sea for all that time.

Meanwhile, the Third Party is returning these holy items to their origin.  I can't say yet where they will be, since the players only have some of this information . . . however, it looks like they will be crossing to Aria, in northwest Afghanistan, seeking knowledge.  Just now, they're involved in events in Egypt.

See, my world is so immense, so HUGE, that even if all three parties happened to be in the same place at the same time, it would probably be a big city - where they could easily not stumble across one another unless I arranged it.  Or, like the Second and Third parties both passing through Tokat, they would be there three months apart or more.

I don't have to take special steps to ensure they don't meet.  Though I do need to keep good records on the date.

Something made easy by the fact that my world uses the same calendar.


Do be sure and catch the newest post on my new cooking blog.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Second Thoughts

Yesterday, I had to make a clarification, one that I will remake now.  I am firmly against increased and incessant role-playing constraints in role-playing games.  That is, the sort of thing where players are compelled by the DM to 'act out' lengthy scenes, often repeatedly, between their characters and the DM's NPCs.  I am not a fan of diceless participation events, which I will not call games as nothing game like occurs.

My post yesterday regarding funhouses was written to highlight how greater emphasis on mental participation has derived from the failure of RPGs to maintain their value in a rapidly changing world.  It was also written to point out how 'role-playing' has itself been redefined in order to justify the inclusion of insipid bantering as an alternative to making a better playing field for play.

Plainly, I wasn't clear.

The "Funhouse" I addressed is the closed, ordered, simplistic module set piece designed to
 surprise, challenge and amuse the player.  Specifically in a way that can be controlled, manipulated and most importantly simplified so that the DM is never challenged, never has to step out of his or her comfort zone and is never, ever, compelled to redesign or rethink a prepared, static and stultified landscape where the players have been placed.

We like to call it a railroad, but it is much more.  Railroads go somewhere.  The Funhouse is a box.  It goes nowhere.

Yesterday, I argued that the Funhouse was the logical construct for role-playing, given that it was made in a time of pencil and paper graphics.  More wasn't possible . . . except with excessive resources, none of which were available, asked for or expected by a small company fundamentally unable to service the very game they created.

What have we changed since?  Not a blasted thing.

Most people express sounds of being stunned, surprised and amazed that I have systematically been making maps that cover a fair part of the world.  That's fine, I'm just one person and I don't spend all my time working on maps.  But think what could be done with extensive resources!

Steam is all excited that they can offer this interactive system for the official 5th Edition, but how much is it, really?  In the demo, the creator/demonstrator literally goes on line and proceeds to steal the work/content of another, random person, then insert it into the game system you're using.  In fact, it is a design feature of the system, that it can rip off the internet so you don't have to make your own maps.  More importantly, STEAM doesn't have to make them.  "Hey, we know you're already ripping off the internet!  This will make it easier!"

I don't really care . . . but it shows where the focus is.  Steam and the programmers aren't interested in providing you with any sort of consistent, reliable setting for your campaign; they're making it easier for you to insert other people's funhouses for your convenience and their profit.

Fundamentally, since the program does nothing my earlier version of publisher didn't do back in 1998 (except for the auto features, which were technologically possible 17 years ago), the company hasn't done anything.  In fact, they've taken a few short cuts, since they're relying on the existing internet to fill in the holes for their product's imagery.

Does the program allow me to build on the program, then extend that build indefinitely into endless space?  No.  In this age of GoogleEarth, that is not an option.

But that's okay, because I can build my world on a totally different program, then import it into Steam's system, where it is useless because I prefer hexes to squares.

Someone invented Greyhawk more than 30 years ago.  Where is the massive Greyhawk virtual surface where players can move their pieces, not just independently but also simultaneously, in real time, in a non-turn based process, like any multiplayer video game right now?

Sorry, that's not available.  Not because it couldn't be available, but because, well, that's not our agenda.

I apologize.  I'm very biased about this.  I never began a campaign with the notion of running a dungeon funhouse.

Anything less than a world bores me.

Gawd, I wish I had better content to write about than this.



Good, I can quit making a world now.

Unless . . . oh wait, this only works if I play strict 5th Edition rules, doesn't it?  And if I use a square map grid.  Still, there are a lot of benefits to adopting this software.  Nice to see this kind of thing coming along.

The one thing I would truly like to get out of it would be the ability to let other players move their characters.  As things are for my combats, I am stuck moving everyone according to their instructions . . . this Fantasy Grounds offers an alternative.

Beyond that, the program doesn't do very much that my working on publisher doesn't already allow. The program does many things in a more automatic fashion, but I doubt very much that it is more versatile than my imagination.  In some ways the 'automation' would drive me nucking futz.

Most readers, however, should check it out.  Many will find their jaws dropping.

In many ways, this is an answer to my statements yesterday concerning video games knocking pen & pencil D&D for six . . . it is, however, still the implementation of the Funhouse.  More on that in a little while.

Pushing, Pushing

For a fortnight, I'm going to be pushing the new blog.  What's the use in an experiment if no one reads it?

I will, however, be writing here also.  My only difficulty is that the D&D project I'm working on at the moment is a statistical re-evaluation of one aspect of my trade system, a methodical process that requires that I go through and re-organize the references for more than 900 market cities.  It is dull, repetitive, impossible to explain . . . and exhaustively time consuming.  Thankfully, I love shifting numbers around, possibly because I am an alien.

As such, I have nothing to write at the moment except opinion.  I can't talk about my wilderness damage table because I'm not working on that.  I can't highlight recent additions to my wiki because I'm not working on it.  I can't post a map because I'm not mapping or updating existing maps.  I'm crunching numbers.

Opinion is good, though . . . yes?  I hope yes.

It's ten a.m. as I write this.  I'm going to shove out the 20-30 resumes I canvass daily and then I'm going to get some other chores done while sitting and waiting for the phone to ring.  Then I'll pick up yesterday's discussion about Funhouses.  Sit tight, enjoy your day, we'll talk later.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Let us speak of the intervening annoyances of reality.

Progressively, I have been lately coming to the conclusion that there are only so many D&D players out there.  Not that I don't love you bastards - those that I do love, at least.  Unfortunately, thinking and planning as a writer, there may not be enough of you to love me into a steady gig.

Recently, now that I am three months unemployed, in a city woefully dependent on a stumbling oil industry, I am thinking of the distant future.  I am thinking that perhaps I need to branch out into other subjects.

I have considered starting a blog reviewing film or discussing theatre.  I've done a lot of that here on the blog and I could chatter on for awhile that way.  Others have certainly found an online future there.  Yet I know from earlier efforts in that direction that I don't have much interest in it.  I mean, I can write about it - I just don't care to.

Politics is a possibility; yet I am so disgusted with the state of politics in the present era, both at home and abroad, I doubt I have much to say that wouldn't be ranting.  I would prefer something more civil.

Towards that end, I am going to try an experiment.  It will likely fail . . . but we will never know if we don't try.

I hope the reader understands that this will not mean I will cease writing this blog or cease working on my wiki.  I plan to continue playing D&D until my demise and the wiki is tremendously satisfying as a game support.

Only, of late, when someone asks me to send something that I have written, that proves my skill . . . well, I've spent most of my recent efforts on this blog and this subject.  I'm greatly out of the habit where other writing is concerned.

So, there we have it.  As long as I'm not employed anyway, I have the time to spend on vanity projects.  I'm interested to see if this one takes root.

The Funhouse

"For fuck's sake, this isn't fiction."

Those are Maxwell's words from yesterday, expressing the exasperation and frustration he's feeling with DMs who cannot grasp the role-playing game's fundamentals.

Fiction is a work "of imaginative narration . . . something feigned, invented or imagined; a made up story."

A role-playing game is a participation "in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting."

I understand Maxwell's aggravation.  Having created the fictional setting, the DM tends to drift into a pattern where it becomes necessary to control the actions of the characters in order to keep them in union with that setting.  Why is it necessary?  Because we fall in love with the things we make.

This is not the sort of D&D I play now, but it was once (a long time ago, when homes had rotary phones).  I would estimate that 99.9% of DMs equate 'campaign preparation' with 'making a building for the party to act in.'  That building might be above ground, it might be a dungeon, it might be a ship . . . but it is a construct of some sort which is fundamentally designed to produce a given behaviour once players enter.

We can call this form of game preparation the "Funhouse Method."  The player characters are looking for something to do.  To give them something to do, the DM invents a storefront.  The storefront has an entrance that in turn leads to a path.  Along the way there are things that will amuse the players, surprise the players and enrich the players.  In time, the players will find the end of the Funhouse and step out the other side, where they will be able to shake it off and enjoy a corn dog or a cotton candy.  When the next Funhouse is ready, the players will enter it.

The origin of the Funhouse reflects the time and limitation of the role-playing game's creators.  The game had never existed.  The rules seemed naturally suited for a closed, restricted environment.  Working with pen and paper in the age of rotary phones, a more elaborate environment was impossible.  The Funhouse was practical.  It was contained.  It had limits that the DM, with the DM's resources of that time, could manage.

As the Funhouse proved an effective, doable setting from the start - and since templates for the Funhouse could be published in their entirety as a single unit quite easily - the Funhouse developed a reputation for reliable, easy-to-run usefulness.  An ordinary DM, with little experience, could purchase a few Funhouses, run them, gain experience, then set out to design Funhouses of their own. With more experience, these Funhouses could be made more elaborate.  Research through the purchasing of Funhouses that had earned a reputation for brilliance could help ensure better and better constructs that could astound and entertain the participants.

However . . .

The world moved on.  Pen and paper was replaced with computers, that in turn proved they could create the Funhouse far, far more effectively than the role-playing game could.  Whatever the excitement created by role-playing games in the late 70s, it was dwarfed by the staggering potential of video.

In response, a strange thing happened.  The pen and the paper of the role-playing game became a fetish.  Tools that had been used simply because there were no other tools became emblematic of "What the game really was," an obvious reactionary response to the threat imposed by video.  As video has expanded the Funhouse into extremes impossible to manage with pen and paper, those tools have nevertheless become enshrined by the role-playing community.

There has been a response in RPGs to video games.  That response has been role-playing.

Comparing my memories of games and the community in the 1980s with what I read today, there has been a re-interpretation of what role-playing is.  The term was borrowed from the 1960s by the university students who invented D&D because it seemed a natural description of injecting personality into an imagined construct.  To understand what "role-playing" meant to the originators of the game, it is important to know the definition of the term as it existed in 1973, when it was taught to those same students.

Here is a discussion of the potentials of role-playing from Coping and Defending, Processes of Self-Environment Organization, p. 92:

"Still other kinds of situations require different patterns of ego processes.  If subjects are engaged in an objective and dispassionate discussion - for instance, in interviews that are done to collect demographic data, they are not likely to have much need to regulate their affective reactions (except as some subjects' idiosyncratic and not entirely assimilated memories - their childhood social-economic status, for example - may cause them to reaccommodate to past events of pain or joy). Situations where people must act, and thereby publicly actualize themselves, are more likely to require affective regulation.  Much research so far done with this ego model has been based on people's ego processing in interviews that call for relatively detached reporting about one's self, rather than acting for one's self.

One exception is the work by Hunter and Goodstein (1967) and Margolis (previously Hunter) (1970). These investigators designed four role-playing situations wherein student subjects were called before a "dean," who had either correct or incorrect information about them and who intended to praise or punish the student for superior or inferior performance.  Margolis reports that the use of various processes was highly specific to each of the four role-playing situations.  This is, of course, the point that needs to be made: Different situations require different ego patterns that usually emerge, not because the situation determines the person, as the social learning theorists assume, but because the person cognizes the situation and in interacting with it, brings specific patterns from his ego repertoire into play."

I must confess.  When I read things like the above, I hear hammers falling on simplistic evaluations of players made by DMs.  I get excited, I see the evidence accumulating for why rebuilding the system or why punishing the player to get different responses is built on deeply faulty premises.

I forget that for people not used to reading this sort of material, much of that reads like gobbledygook.  I'm sorry about that.  I recommend getting up to speed on this sort of research if you're ever going to have a meaningful opinion about these things.

The above quote is an example of the thinking behind role-playing: that the process of pretending to be something the individual was not was revealing of egocentric behaviour that the individual was likely to keep hidden most of the time.  Role-playing was advanced (still is) as a psychological methodology for surfacing, and thereby managing, elements of an individual's subconscious personality.

As role-playing games progressed farther and farther from psychology, however, the term 'role-playing' was redefined by gaming participants more in line with 'acting.'  To act is to function as a "storytelling medium who tells the story by portraying a character and, usually, speaking or singing the written text or play."

Since the DM's part of the role-playing game was to role-play the non-player characters in the created Funhouse, the npc-as-storytelling-medium became central to the fictional setting.  However, the DM's agenda as a role-player was very, very different from the player's agenda as a role-player.  The player was free to be dispassionate about the player character because the passion of the PC was not relevant to the entertainment-value provided by the setting.  The player's enjoyment was reflected in the player actually enjoying what was happening all around, and not by the player's self-satisfaction at having played the character "well."

At least, not until the matter of role-playing became more important in light of the competition offered by the advancement of video games.

Throughout the 90s, the importance of character role-play was preached and promoted by game producers as it had never been before.  Remember, initially the use of the term 'role-play' only existed to distinguish between the original Chain-mail rule-set and the invention of D&D.  The importance of the descriptive adjective was conflated with time into the all-consuming purpose of the game - at least, in the eyes of some people, particularly those who were financially competing with other media.

As there was no way to improve the Funhouse technically, it became necessary to improve the Funhouse esoterically.  The back-story, or reason for entering the Funhouse, was turned up to 11 as a means of creating a better and more thoroughly emotive gaming experience.

However . . .

This was impossible if the players themselves were not co-opted into the esoteric construction.  Thus, a greater pressure was placed on fitting the characters into the setting by any means necessary.

This brings us to Maxwell's original complaint.  His exasperation and frustration has been brought about by a willing effort to save the Funhouse by yes, insisting that it IS fiction, it IS the responsibility of the players to adopt EMOTIONAL, MYSTERIOUS persona in order to make the game BETTER than it has ever been before.

Otherwise, how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015



Through B/X Blackrazor, I came across this.

Lately, I've been constantly on the look-out for ways to promote my books, promote the blog, promote anything about me that I can.  So I thought, well, 200 words to describe an RPG?  That's a joke, right?

So I sent the joke RPG I had put together three years ago.

After all, there it is, pre-made and ready [link given to enable finding comments to the original post].

I told Mr. Schirduan that I didn't care about his prizes, but a mention of me or my books would be prize enough.

Heard back.  Mr. Schirduan did not understand.  Did not see how this could be a role-playing game.

I wrote back, saying sorry.  That I hadn't realized he actually wanted rules.  Whereupon I got an answer back, that whatever this was, it would be a pretty terrible game.

Wouldn't anything of 200 words or less be a pretty terrible game?  That's what I asked.  The answer came, encouraging me to take his contest seriously and give it a real try.

And this . . . this . . . is why I avoid the community.

I am too busy taking my own world seriously to invest my time and effort in order to win this fellow's approval.

As you move through this life, you may feel reassured that there will always be someone else who will assure you that your future lies in taking THEIR agenda seriously.  You may be sure they will tell you how 'fun' it will be and how much 'you' will get out of participating.  Because, obviously, Mr. Schirduan's primary agenda is to make your life better.

This is part of why I am a terrible marketer.  I have trouble redirecting the responsibility onto others.  I have trouble taking a smug attitude about how much my book will do for you.  "Yes, without my book, your world will be terrible.  Without my book, you will never be a good DM.  You should seriously think about my book, because of what it will do for YOU.  You'd understand that, if only you'd take my book seriously."

Well, I guess I'm doomed to fail.  Because none of that is true.

I have written a few books about D&D.  They contain details and discussions you won't find elsewhere . . . just like this blog.  They will cost you the same amount as your morning coffee for one, maybe two weeks.

Each includes somewhat more than 200 words.

Apparently, I'm missing a gimmick.

Let's see.  Let's have a contest.  Design a national constitution sufficient to cover all the needs of a country larger than 200 million.  Please be specific and account for all variables.  200 word maximum.  The winner receives a bootleg copy of a 70-second porn video featuring a bullwhip and a strap-on.

Submissions due by 5 a.m. April 23!

Good luck!


Just for fun, thought I'd post an update of my Palestine map that I finished a few weeks ago.  The color scheme has been altered to my new template, as has the desert hexes, coastlines, roads, borders and so on.

This used to be on my Same Universe wiki, but that site is gone now.  Sorry I can't offer a comparison.

Don't Get Them

Want to hear something funny?  I've only just stumbled on StackExchange.

I suppose this kind of thing is necessary.  Someone is going to invent it, run it, drive traffic to it and use it as evidence that they're 'helping' bring the community together.  I can't say, however, that I have much interest in it - except as a thought experiment.

Take this page, the one that includes the most frequent questions.  In turn, take the question"How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins?"

The most popular answers are as follows:

  • Blame the RPG you're playing.  Choose RPG's that do not promote casual violence
  • Punish bad behaviour; make the players think hard about their immoral actions
  • Take away the motivation for killing by changing the game mechanic
  • The players are merely reacting to the setting you've created

It's a perfect representation of the same answers we get about why people commit crime in the real world:  environment, lack of alternatives, failure of deterrents and poor education.  Without thinking about it, a group of amateurs has re-invented the penitentiary system.  The argument that builds up on the page, mechanics vs. reward/punishment, reflects the real problem that has existed since we decided not to simply execute everyone in society that proved to be a problem:

How do you make people behave as you want them to behave, while giving them the illusion of freedom?

Well, I don't have an answer for that.  No one does.  The faulty premise is right there in the original question: the speaker has already condemned the players as "cretins" right out of the gate.  All conversation from there necessarily goes downhill, since the motivation here is clearly trying to change people . . . not play the game.

This does seem to be a special problem that exists among the participants in role-playing games.  I must assume that there are many participants who are playing these games with strangers, people who are not their friends, who are therefore unable to appeal to sentiment or mutual respect.

Speaking for myself, I only play with friends.  When I have had a new player, I have made sure I reach out and make that person my friend.  When this has proved impossible - and it has - then that person is not invited back.  I feel no responsibility towards people who are not friendly.

I must also assume that many participants are uncomfortable with fictional murder.  I am not.  When my players commit murder, I don't automatically set out to 'punish' them for their actions.  True, if they kill an especially powerful person, there will be consequences - but I don't automatically create consequences for every murder because I don't consider that important.  If the party feels a need to kill off a bunch of fictional creations from my imagination, I don't care.  These are my friends; they have stressful jobs; they work hard and throughout their days they have to put up with all sorts of objectionable people (cretins).  If they want to blow off a little steam by putting a sword through the ribs of a government official, who am I to deny them?

But, of course, inherent in the original question is the adjoiner, 'My PCs keep killing off the wrong people.'  That is, people who the DM created to deliberately manufacture the next part of the adventure.  There's no reason for the DM to care if the players kill off someone inconsequential.  It only matters if the players kill the DM's pet.

Well, that's the real world too, isn't it?  The cops don't care if some druggie is killed in a slum in Watts, Ferguson or Haarlem; but kill a white man uptown?  Yeah, then you've got trouble.

This is a good time for a digression.

I finished watching the 8-episode first season of Agent Carter.  Yeah, there are problems, but that isn't important right now.  Suffice to say I don't watch a lot of mainstream television, so there are tropes I remember that I haven't had to put up with for a long time.

For example, that ever-constant scene where the good girl has already determined how bad is the bad guy, along with how desperate it is that the bad guy be stopped and right now.  And here we are, with the good girl pointing a gun at the bad guy and not firing.

Wouldn't it be nice if television could work like D&D?  None of my players would hesitate to blast the bad guy by surprise through the open door; none of my players would warn the bad guy and tell him to put his hands up.  None of my players would ever, ever, get so close with a weapon that the bad guy could kick it out of their hands.

Here is the problem with RPGs in the hands of people who are uncomfortable with realities.  Too much time is taken in trying to make them work like television.  That's all the page on StackExchange has - endless arguments on how to enforce standards on player behavior, via mechanics or deterrents. Oh, it's all outlined as 'for the player's own good.'  All penal codes are.

I'm a DM.  I'm not running a penitentiary.  I'm not trying to rehabilitate my players.  I'm not interested in rebuilding the system so that it works as a better prison to inhibit play.  I am here to create a world and explain the functions of that world.  I am not here to judge.

If I don't like the player's behaviour, the player can get out.  But I'll be damned before I try to change anyone.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Relax and Go With It

I had a non-playing session on Saturday.  That is to say, the players showed up, we set up the tables and got out our characters to start running . . . and then we didn't.

No one made a conscious decision not to run.  I have learned from experience to let the players chatter away for awhile, wait for them to settle down from their lives and the need to share recent experiences, then calmly start the campaign with a few chosen words.  On Saturday, however, the words did not encourage the players to start playing . . . so I let it go for another fifteen minutes and tried again.  And another fifteen minutes and another.

Until finally, by 8:30, an hour and a half after our usual start time, I threw in the towel.

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened.  It does occasionally - and the important thing is to not fight it, not feel guilty about it, not think of it as a sign that your campaign is on the skids.  Fact is, these people are friends.  Sometimes, friendship trumps role-play.

After many years of experience, I've gained a feel for when this sort of thing happens.  There can be a number of factors.  The game could reach a level of tension where the players just aren't quite ready to take the next step.  By coincidence, there could be a lot of things that have gone on in their lives and they have to talk about it.  Or, as in the case the other day, one player was out sick (as he is disabled, this is a serious thing) and the other was screwed by a commitment he could not ignore.  And the rest of the players felt they'd be cheating the two others by continuing the campaign from where we'd left off.

So they didn't have the heart to continue.  Nor was I prepared to make them.

I don't doubt that this has happened to a lot of readers.  If it has, say so, because this is the kind of thing that DMs get deeply introspective about, feeling sure that it's a sign their campaigns are failing.  Some DMs feel they have to get tyrannical when this happens, or they feel that a missed opportunity is proof that the campaign is dying.

Truth is, though the DM is the captain of the ship, tyranny will accomplish only so much.  After a certain point, the crew needs shore leave.  We give them shore leave because when they come back, they will be readier, they will be more focused, they will be stronger.

Now and then, letting the players chatter away for four or five hours, instead of playing, let's them work out details, it lets them bond, it encourages them to feel comfortable and natural in the space where they play.  Moreover, the time afterwards, as they think about having not run, will encourage them to be bright, sunny and chipper when the next game starts.

Granted, two or three sessions in a row like this would suggest there was a problem.  But I find that this happening once in a score of sessions is a good thing.

Better that we go with it and enjoy ourselves.  The campaign won't spoil.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


I am not a fan of revisionist fiction - which perhaps sounds strange for a D&D player.  My reasons probably spring from a distaste for propaganda, essentially the rewriting of history for the purpose of encouraging people to hate.

Revisionist history supposedly has a higher calling - to highlight a given ideology so that the reader will look at it and think thoughts like, "Wow, it really would have been bad if the Nazis had won World War II."  However, I don't believe this is really the writer's motivation.  I believe the writer is using the revision in order to flagrantly masturbate - and encourage masturbation - about a specific fetish while casually side-stepping the responsibility.

Allow an example of the same sort of thing as regards sex.  Television has always used this same principle in order to include soft pornography under the guise of the morality play.  Television movies like Portrait of a Stripper or Portrait of a Centerfold were just the sort of cheesy, obvious efforts to put wank-material on television in a time before even VHS allowed for renting porn.  Poor literature does this sort of thing all the time: introduce the waif, seduce the waif, show the waif getting involved in something nefarious, show the awful effects of the waif's actions on the waif's family and then have the waif discover the 'evils' of indulging in this terrible, terrible behavior.

There was recently a piece of shit film that came out in February this year that followed that plot to the letter.  Nothing has changed.

For a more direct example of revisionist history, I suggest Norman Spinrad's, The Iron Dream.  If you're the sort who likes revisionist history, I recommend it.  There's no reason your education should be lacking.  It's just the sort of book a munchkin would enjoy.

I suppose it's fine to like these sort of things (I'll have to toss in The Man in the High Castle by Dyck, for those who will be thinking of it right off), but I don't.  I think works like this encourage lazy thinking.  The supposition always depends on ignoring key points about reality in order to emphasize other moments - such as supposing that the Germans were ever going to possess the Crimean oil fields.  The Germans never got remotely close to that, while there's no doubt whatsoever that the Russians would have simply set them on fire, as the Iraqis did five decades later.  But that's an inconvenient fact . . . so we ignore it.

The same kind of lazy thinking pops up all the time in speculation about the effects that magic would have, must have, on a fantasy world, if magic existed.  Druids and other spellcasters, for example, would replace the need to even have farmers.  Mages would obviously invent all our present technology in a few hours, if only they were motivated.  Or magic would destroy any desire for ordinary science to continue development.  Or the existence of dragons, elementals and other huge monsters would surely demand huge changes in city lay-out, fortifications and the like.


Let me repeat, because I don't want to be mistaken for being insincere, sarcastic or facetious. Undoubtedly, magic would massively revamp social structure.  If magic existed.

Only, here is the thing.  We don't know how.  We don't.  We can't know.  We have no experience with magic, no experience with what it would do to society or how people would react, or what things we would change about ourselves.  We can speculate like crazy about those things - and Oh My, Oh My, have writers ever speculated.  But we don't know.

Still, we can be SURE that if someone, somewhere, in a blog sets out to decide for themselves what magic would or wouldn't do, that someone will be cherry-picking which magic will affect which cherry-picked parts of society.  We can also be sure that the conclusion will be pulled right out of the speculator's asshole.

I've seen a lot of this sort of thing, taken part in it.  Arguments like this always descend into the other fellow's cherry-picked shit versus my cherry-picked shit.  It isn't possible to be comprehensive; there are too many spells, too much magic, too little factual analysis available to account for ALL possibilities . . . and yet everyone who indulges in this sort of argument will get bloody-minded that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Lazy thinking.

Let's take a simple, anachronistic example, as I explain why I have castles in my world, despite the magic that exists to blow castles all to hell.  Spoiler: I'm going to talk about my world now.

Players expect castles.  Castles are familiar, representative of the culture the players understand and therefore appropriate.  Illogical?  Maybe.  That doesn't matter to me.

Yesterday I was asked, quite reasonably, "Do fortifiers in your world make any allowance for airborne menaces like flying casters, dragons, etc."  It was part of a well-founded inquiry into the matters of my world.

Here's the thing.  I gave an answer in the comments field that sort of captures some of my thinking, but the straight answer is "No, I don't."

That's not bloody-mindedness.  I'm just not incorporating castles and other fortifications into my world to keep out non-player characters.  Forts are there to keep out players - and if the players decide to gather together and destroy a fortification with magic, monsters and their own forms of armageddon, they're welcome to do that.

My NPCs don't.   For the same reason we don't use nuclear weapons casually.

A castle is more than a fortification.  It is a statement of authority.  It says, "I have money, I have prestige, I have a will to stop you.  Don't bug me."

Magic isn't just a technology; it is an implied stalemate.  Like Robert A. Heinlein's Solution Unsatisfactory, it is a group of armed assailants standing together in a room, each with a loaded .45, pointed at one another, waiting for someone to do something stupid like start firing.  It is mutually assured destruction . . . and as such, everyone in the world, where it comes to using very powerful magic, must consider what they're doing.

In a truly cherry-picked fashion, it is generally assumed that if a druid were to start a wildfire that consumed a significant town, this would be a pity but, oh well, what can you do?

No, no, no.  The status quo has a very strong motivation to not let things like that happen - and to punish those who follow courses of action that change the status quo.  If the players ever get to be big enough to own a .45 of their own, so they can start blasting away with it, everyone in the world will turn around and blast away at the player.  Not just the infringed party.  Not just the person the players wronged.  Everyone.  Because everyone is threatened.

So, leave that castle alone.  Take it by conventional means, sure - that doesn't threaten anyone.  Want to put the gun in your pocket and have a fist fight?  Sure, go at it.  But leave that gun in your pocket.

Do the dragons, elementals and other big monsters understand this?  Oh yes.  They're part of it, too.

I know that this is a strange mindset to have about a D&D world.  Usually, it's assumed that if the players get to a level where they can have wish as a spell, that ability comes along with the indiscriminate right to use it.  Au Contraire!

Use it at your peril.