Monday, June 26, 2017

More on Pete

I'm going to talk a little more about the cover change for Pete's Garage, that I published in 2013. I've never been happy with the cover; it has been a thorn in my side these last four years, for I haven't been able to figure out an alternative ~ and frankly, did not have the resources to get another good picture shot.

However, I chanced to discover that there is tons more excellent free-use content on the internet that even three or four years ago.  Amazing content, to be honest.  The image I showed for the potential re-skinning of the cover yesterday was free use.

And today, I want to do a Snoopy-dance, because I found the photographer and got his personal opinion to boot, and a "photo credit would be appreciated if possible."  Justin Higuchi is an L.A. music photographer, smoked port aficionado and obsessive free parker, born in Hawaii.  And he shot the picture below, which can be found on Wikipedia:


Recognize it?  The musician is Australia's Orianthi; she could be a character in the book.  The part of the shot that I mean to use is a small part of the right-hand side, flipped.

I am so pleased.  All I need now is a proper rewrite on the back of the book and I'm set to fix the cover.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Re-skinning Pete's Garage

I am thinking of redesigning my Pete's Garage cover along these lines:


Friday, June 23, 2017

Looking at Ourselves

For some readers, this won't be a comfortable post.  But if you are a DM, I would like to ask you some questions.  Try to answer them as honestly as you can ~ you are the only judge of what you feel.

Do you agree or disagree with the following?

  • I find that overall, my players think that my campaign is boring.

  • I mess up every time I try to run my campaign.

  • I feel devastated when one of my players criticizes me or my game.

  • When I'm creating an adventure or a setting, I feel I have to do my best to prove I'm good enough, or else I will lose all my players.

  • I could stop running my campaign right now and none of my players would really care.

  • I feel at the end of the night, when I'm done, that I've let my players down.

  • I am never going to be a good DM.

  • The worst is hearing criticism from my players that I know is correct; that just proves my world is no good.

  • I get discouraged when an adventure doesn't go well.

  • Believing that my world can be good is more important than what other people think about it.

  • Making my players respect my world is the only way that they will respect me.

  • It is important that all my players like the campaign I'm running.

  • I avoid having arguments with my players because it's important that no one gets angry or unhappy with my game.

  • I have modified my ideas about role-playing games to be more accepted by my players.

  • It is very hard to get players who will come back and play again, or even to like my game.

  • Before making a change to my world, I ask my players if I'm doing the right thing.


If none of these questions bother you, then you're the sort of person that would worry me very much.  For me, these go right to the heart of everything.  These are the questions ~ and the beliefs ~ that are keeping us awake at night . . . and it is perfectly natural to read them and to feel a cold chill.  They're all questions that have started arguments.  They're also questions that never get answered properly.

With the exception of changing the context, they are straight from a self-esteem test that can be taken on the Psychology Today website.  The test is free.  Feel free to take it if you want; and try to take it, if you can, in relation to yourself, your players and your role-playing campaign.  There's no need to tell anyone what you learned.

But that's not where it ends.  Psychology Today also offers a primer on improving our self-esteem (I, too, have demons).  And for our benefit, I'd like to rewrite it for DMs.

1.  Be mindful.

We can't change our worlds or our campaign if we don't recognize that there is something that needs to be changed.  By simply being aware of our need to criticize the design, or our imagination, or our ability to be inventive or fun, we distance ourselves from those moments in the campaign when we feel those shortcomings most keenly.  When we rush to disparage the campaign, we are acting in the way that we imagine our players are thinking ~ and this helps us feel safe and one of the group, as we pretend that we can be as critical as they are.  This removes us from the feelings that threaten us.  We stop being aware of that very uncomfortable moment when we feel inadequate.  But without this awareness, we can easily fall into the trap of really believing that we're not good DMs, or that we never can be.

We should not believe everything we think.  Thoughts are just that - thoughts.  As soon as we find ourselves going down the path of thinking less of our campaigns, we need to remember: "These are just thoughts, just opinions.  They are not facts about our abilities."

2.  Change the story.

We all have an idea about how and why we got into role-playing in the first place.  We have strong memories of our first games, of how great they were, of the people who ran those games and how important it was for us to be just as good at this as they were.  This is core of our self-image as DMs.  But if we don't want to be imprisoned by that measurement, we have to understand why we thought those people were so great.  We have to remember we saw them from the point of view of a person who knew nothing.  Were they really so great, or are we just internalizing our first experiences?

Sometimes, thinking that we'll never be the equal of them is said so often in our minds that it stops us from being able to play as well as we can.  We need to start with affirming what we know now, not what we knew then.  We need to repeat this to ourselves as often as we can.  If we want to change the story of our abilities, we have to start believing it how far we've come.

3.  Avoid falling into the compare-and-despair rabbit hole.

It is part of our gaming experience to attend conventions, join groups, play with different DMs, try new games, read everything that we can find and measure our abilities against those of others who are doing the same thing we're trying to do.  We need to stop comparing ourselves to others.  Just because someone appears to know what they're doing in their campaign, has a huge youtube following or is a leading figure in the community we see, doesn't mean they're happy.  Comparisons only lead to negative criticism of what we're doing, which leads to anxiety, stress and a resistance against running our campaigns or working on our worlds.  This can affect our physical health as well as our games, the way we talk to our players and the creativity we deeply want to possess.

4. Channel your inner rock star.

Albert Einstein said, "Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid."  We are all playing wildly different kinds of games, with different focuses and different motivations, depending on what we believe and what we know.  Just because I have a particular philosophy about what makes a game work, which this blow expounds, doesn't mean that it's the only way.  But I have to believe it is my way, just as every role-player has to have enough faith in their outlook to know what is going to work for them.  Take something from me, taking something from someone else, we have to go whatever way best plays to our strengths and weaknesses.

None of this defines our core worth.  Our core worth is in our confidence in our own games, especially in times of doubt, when we are most challenged by outsiders.  That's when we have to be sure.  It's easy to make generalizations about messing up and failing, but reminding ourselves that we put ourselves in front of our players and took the bit in our teeth is what can tell us that we rock.  This is the real truth about ourselves.

We need to ask ourselves if there was a time in our lives when we had better self-esteem.  What was going on in our lives when we had it?  When it's difficult to have perspective on things like this, we need to trust the voices of others, who knew us then or who know us now, sometimes better than we do.  Sometimes its easier for others to see our genius that for us to see it in ourselves.

5.  Exercise.

We are not a brain in a jar.  We are a brain in a complicated, potentially unhealthy spongy mechanism that rewards us when we act in a way that's physical, just as our distant ancestors had to be every minute of their lives.  We're built that way.  That is why exercising creates a feeling of empowerment ~ because we are driven by the same chemicals that rewarded running across open plains, searching for food, escaping enemies and enjoying ourselves in an immense, unrestricted landscape.

Exercise and measure it.  Calibrating helps us see our accomplishments ~ and accomplishments enable us to feel better about ourselves.  Don't just relax.  Get out and do something fun.  Do something hard.  See how it feels.  Then eat the fuel that makes the "hard" easier and get the sleep that makes doing it more fun.

6.  Do unto others.

You're not just a DM.  You're a figure of respect.  To some of your players, you are that same amazing, great DM that they will remember all of their lives, as they was nostalgically about YOU.  We need to see that.  We need to let them take us our of our head, as we look at ourselves clearly, the way others see us.  We need to reach out and give them what we hoped our mentors would give us ~ only we need to give more than we got.  We need to make the next generation better than what the last generation did for us.

When we see someone do something in their life, that they deserve to be proud of, we need to tell them.  We need to help them recognize their worth.  Helping players and other DMs respect themselves is a key to understanding why we need to respect ourselves.  Volunteering to run a game when no one else will; letting a new player join even when we think we have more players than we can handle; these are ways to stretch ourselves and prove our willingness to try.  That, too, is something we can respect ourselves for doing.

Don't spend the campaign mired in negative thoughts.  Be positive to others and realizing that you're reaping a return in smiles, friendship and excitement. When you sit down with the players, don't threaten them; thank them.  Laugh when they say things that are funny.  Enjoy the game.  When your mood improves, the game table will feel it.

7. Forgiveness.

When have we gone too far?  When has a session gone astray, leaving everyone with hurt feelings.  When have we felt ourselves accused or made and accusation that is still unresolved?  We need to let those things go.  We need to let go of our resentment and move forward.  We're only human.  We have human needs, human limitations, human moments of weakness.

Forgiving someone does not mean we have to surrender some part of ourselves or protect our rights to independent.  Forgiveness is not a sacrifice.  It does not come with a price.  Forgiveness is an understanding, a clarity that says we're going to disagree with some people and that's all right.  We're not going to get along with some people and that's all right.  It doesn't define who we are, or who they are.  It just makes us different.

We need to stop hurting ourselves by letting what we've said, and what they've said, define who we can be in the future.

8. Remember that you are not your circumstances.

Things change.  They change for the better and they change for the worse ~ and we ourselves change as we adapt to all this change around us.  The key to our self-worth is to remember that what is going on today can only limit what we can become if we refuse to grow.

We need to feel good about ourselves to do that.  We need to feel secure in our thoughts, in the company we keep.  We need to feel able to find enjoyment and to not fear failure.  A moment of failure is only the circumstance we are experiencing in this moment.  It is not who we are.  We are the moment of success we will find when we learn from that failure.

We don't have to live forever in a world of doubt, self-destructive thoughts and regret.  We have tremendous potential to be great DMs ~ every one of us.  We have the potential to be aware of the truth and to make up our minds about what we want to be.  We can be careful not to be so self-critical that we forget our ability to get better with time.  We can effect a change on the world.  We can effect a change on ourselves.  We can surround ourselves with people who want to come along with us and we can forgive those who need to go their own way.  We can work hard to be better than this and, while we work, we can sing with the music and have a good time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What Is a Role-Playing Game?

I don't suppose I've ever answered this question.  For standard use, I will accept the definition from Ozymandias at Crossing the 'Verse, in the self-same post as this one is named after:

"A role-playing game is a free-form, open-world, cooperative game in which participants take on one of several roles, represented through avatars or characters in the game, with the purpose of achieving one of several goals, which may be variously defined by the game rules or by the players themselves, by overcoming the obstacles and challenges presented to them by the game master, a participant who is responsible for designing the world-setting and game rules, and for acting as the interpreter and adjudicator of the world-setting for the players."

This above was the motivation for my writing this post, not because I disagree with any of the above; I think it goes the nth-degree in maintaining the sense of openness and flexibility that is needed to describe the game, addressing correctly the substantial motivation for game success and neatly side-stepping the usual description of the game's facilitator as all-powerful god and decision-maker.

And so I will not try to better this definition; instead, I will try to address what goes on while a role-playing game is in session.  When playing, what is happening?

In the moment, we're certainly not kicking back and thinking, "Wow, it is so great to play in this free-form, open-world with our avatar representations and all these great challenges."  That is what's happening, but that's not what we're thinking.  To get a handle on how to better our thinking, and how to handle the business of playing moment-to-moment, we had better consider just how the game manifests at the ground level.  I'd like to take some time and do that.

The Story

Let's try it first from the considered argument that role-playing is a "story."  If we try, we have to ask, where does that story begin?  In someone's mind, yes, either the DM or the player.  The player thinks, "I have an idea in my head that my character has always wanted to ~" and the details of the story doesn't matter.  The next move the player has (or the DM, if the story has emerged from the DM's mind) is to tell the story.  This makes the third move of the cooperative activity the interpretation of the story by others and the fourth move, necessarily, either the acceptance or the refusal of that story, since what's being asked for is that other players should now join in with the precepts of the story as envisioned by the individual who conceived of the story.

This should ring alarm bells for some, but for a lot of people it doesn't.  This seems like a natural progression.  Someone has to invent a story, or else none of us will know what to do.  All we want for certain is that it is a good story, one we can identify with and thus interpret favorably, causing us to want to "buy in," thus ensuring that the story can now be fabricated as a group activity.

This seems to be what 99.9% of all role-playing game tables are doing.  Players join together, individually fabricate backstories, then compare the backstories to see who has the best one, which can then be improved by jointly including elements of the other backstories at the table into the final form.  When the game begins, then, each moment of the game is related to the backstory.  We encounter a monster and the monster, in some way, serves as an obstacle/enhancer for the story (because the DM is expected to make each part of the adventure relevant to the story). Overcoming an obstacle (monster or otherwise) purposefully moves the story to the next stage; the DM fills in fluff or meaningful information about the NPCs or the world in general that explains what happens as the players pursue the story until, finally, the story is brought to its inevitable and exciting conclusion, one that we hope will satisfy all the players.  The threads are tied up, the individuals receive their rewards for taking part, and the moment comes when the players and DM once again set themselves to come up with a new story, which can then set the framework for the next adventure.

As the players progress, they use the story as their guide: their ability to make sense of or clarify a given moment is found within the story itself, as the final conclusion is necessarily logical and gratifying.  Otherwise, it is not a good story and players will balk.  This orc, that impassable bridge, this confusing letter, the motivation of the prince when he cut his own throat and so on, all tie in together to form the puzzle of the story: and piecing together the puzzle, session by session, is the brain teaser that makes role-playing so great.

This is not how I run my games.

I am not telling a story.  I'm not creating a setting that has to produce a given set of predictable results.  None of the creatures or obstacles that I put in my world has anything to do with a preconceived story.  Characters may create stories or pursue plans, but none of the things they meet along the way will necessarily relate to those plans.  I'm under no obligation to ensure that any NPC has a comprehensible or relatable motivation once they happen to appear on the character's horizon.  A given event may, or may not, be linked to other events that are also happening in the game setting.

That is because, while I believe that stories do occur in a game, I do not believe that stories occur one at a time.  The people met, the places occupied, the events witnessed, may belong to a given story the players recognize or they may not.  The fighter who appears at the bar to fight the players will as likely as not have no connection whatsoever to the princess the players have been striving to save.  Sometimes, a rude fighter is just a rude fighter.

Why is this preferable?

The story is a crutch.  It is a narrowing of the possible reasons why anything that occurs within the game can occur, or does occur, because it must occur within relation to the interpretable story, else it doesn't belong.  Thus the players are not given the question, "does this matter?" but the question, "how does this matter?"  This vastly simplifies the parameters of the game, making it easier for the players to interpret and easier for the DM to run.

It also substantially reduces the free-form aspect of the game, in that player and DM perception alike is regulated by the number of possible obstacles that can meaningfully "make sense" in the context of the pre-fixed story.  By conceiving a story, whether by a player or by the DM, the size of the universe becomes vastly reduced.

The Haphazard Setting

Let's come back around and ask the same question that I did at the beginning of the last section, in line with the present header:  where does the setting begin?

The setting begins at a place.  There is no story.  As far as the setting is concerned, the players might just as well not exist.

If the players can operate in the absence of a story, the first question they must ask themselves is not, "Where ought we to go," but "Where can we go?"  In any game that I run, this is an open-ended question, limited only by the player's abilities and the physical laws of the setting.  The players cannot fly, they cannot have personal knowledge of places they've never been, they cannot ride a horse unless they've learned how, they cannot be sure whether the road to the west or the road to the south is the best choice.  But they must make a choice.  They must move.

And so, from moment-to-moment, the game is not about their destiny but their action.  It is explained to the players that if they wish to take an action that will increase their wealth, personal power, knowledge, status or sense of novelty, it will have to be an action that incorporates risk. Without risk, there is no reward.  So the players are invited, initially, to choose the sort of risk they'd like to undertake.

If they do not wish to undertake a risk of any particular kind, then the risk will be brought to them. Because this is the game.  Just as a game of monopoly is about moving about the board and buying property, the role-playing game is about moving through the setting, encountering risk and overcoming risk.

A monopoly player can choose not to buy property, ever; but the game will quickly turn against that player.  If all the players at the start of the game make an agreement that none of them will buy property, ever, they have not broken any of the game's rules; but they have lost the sense and the meaning of the game and the experience is fruitless.

Thus, in a given moment, when players encounter a situation of risk, the structure of the role-playing game is to not merely to reduce the risk, but to eliminate the risk entirely in the most effective, cogent, efficient way possible, to promote survival while simultaneously effecting change on the game's setting.

Each step along the way is presented as a series of options that all appear to offer a reasonable course of action that will make this possible.  Some of these courses of action will be a trap; many of them will not.  Some will be far more effective than others.  Some will be effective only if the dice roll in the player's favour.  No one, not player, not DM, can be certain of which course of action will be the best because any might be adjusted by a unique, never-before-considered possible action that will only occur to the player in the heat of a given moment.  Sometimes this eloquent, fortuitous happenstance will only occur because the dice roll a certain way; sometimes it will occur because the participants can't go with their original plan because something has gone wrong, such as a character dying or a door being permanently closed through misadventure.  Situations such as these force innovation, as story-lines NEVER can.  Innovation overcomes risk.

Momentary, inspired innovation, achieved by the momentary flash of enlightenment, is the golden trophy for which 0.1% of us play this game.  It cannot be planned for, it cannot be preconceived, it cannot even be sorted out of the existing possibilities except in the moment when it suddenly emerges as the only possibility.

Few people experience this, ever.  Even fewer people know how to create the circumstances to let it emerge from the synchronic gestalt that a role-playing game enables.  Most have no idea this is even the goal, as they've never experienced this moment in any degree that would let them either reflect upon it or willfully perpetrate its presence again.

Role-playing is a means of doing so.  It is an artificial way of forcing us, as human beings, to respond to risk in the same way that human beings, responding to risk through our racial existence, overcame each obstacle and allowed us to formally occupy the planet.  We're designed as biological constructs to think our way out of problems when we are threatened; by encouraging that feeling of threat, by forcing us to risk something that we treasure, we think like gods.

When we construct the game in a manner that eliminates risk, reduces threat, promotes certainty of eventual success, narrows our framework so that the unexpected need never been compensated for, we think like children.

It is up to us, really, what sort of game we want to play.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Strategies of the Lost

Of late, in the hope of finding ideas to make jokes about (and I've found a few), I have been watching advice videos for role-playing, principally D&D.  I did this back in 2014, before writing How to Run, but as it seems to happen, the world has changed since then.

Just three years ago, the mainstream content that existed could be described as ineffectual; scattered, cliched phrases that would help little in a campaign setting, generally in a light-weight format that "promised" to give the sense of what game play could be in the space of an essay that wouldn't have met the guidelines for a first-year university paper.

That has changed.  On the whole, the discourse has moved almost entirely to vlogs; and these vlogs are . . . well, mostly unwatchable.

The gentle reader may have noticed in the last few months that a favorite word that keeps making its way onto this blog is "toxic."  I stumbled across the word in relationship to "toxic masculinity" sometime late last fall and I don't seem to be able to let it go.  It seems like such a good, descriptive, stabbing word that I am certainly in danger of overusing it.  Yet it so perfectly describes a certain motive that I am witnessing more and more: the desire not just to be arrogant, but to be deliberately poisonous, harmful or consciously malevolent in the giving of advice to people interested in role-playing ~ and, indeed, anything else.

The motive has come out of video game play and, around the time of gamer-gate (remember that one?), began it's virulent spread into every human activity [as it happens, "virulent" is also a synonym of toxic, thus my adoration of the word].  Those of us who still have a sense of proportion will have noticed that, beginning around late 2014, there has been an increase in the level of hysteria in describing anything one might name.  Not that I think this has reached a fever pitch, by any means: we can go a LOT further with hysteria than we already have . . . but it is not a surprise to me that people are beginning to pull away from social media on account of it.

Yes, yes, I know that you haven't, you're reading this blog.  But it's undeniable that there are rumblings, even if anti-posts about facebook, instagram or twitter say predictable things about the decline and fall of these monoliths.  Please take note that I'm quoting Forbes, Locowise and the Guardian, three platforms that all have something to gain from a) the demise of social media and b) any suspicion on the part of the public that social media is declining.  So please take this argument with a grain of salt.

It certainly isn't the heady days of social media; my experience begins with dalnet and icq, but even I can remember a more recent time when chatrooms were full and sending a message to a group community had merit.  It isn't that there is something wrong with social media ~ rather, it is just that it becomes boring faster than it can resustain itself with young teenagers who haven't had a chance to get bored yet.  And teenagers are bored.  [sorry, this one was USA Today, a thoroughly unreliable source, so please give it no merit].

I wasn't planning on getting into a general discussion about social media, though.  I just got pulled in, as this seems to be a common topic of late among my peers.  They're dissatisfied with it, it costs too much money, they're not meeting sexual partners through it any more, they hate that they're paying for it for their kids, go on and name it.  I can remember that social media seemed to make some people happy and now it just seems to make people feel hollow and unfulfilled.

As far as those who would give advice about D&D [and no, I'm not linking them, hopefully by next year the links will all be dead anyway], most seem to have an agenda that would destroy any vestige left of the game.  Like the fellow I quoted lately who would have every DM fudge and cheat their way through campaigns, to those barking ceaselessly that rules are a waste of time or worse, or the strange ideology that all the responsibility must be dumped on the players, or that saying "no" to players is somehow controlling their characters, so we must always say "yes," etcetera, etcetera.

Some of this, when I watch it, falls into the "understandable" category.  Someone has stumbled across the principle of improv, that argues it is important to always say "yes" to make an improvisational scene unfold effectively.  They look at their own game and think, "Aha!  My game has always worked better when I let the players act freely!"  Immediately they argue, "Always say yes - if you say no, you're destroying participation."  And an ideology is born.

All of these ideologies, however, both the very bad and the almost-trying, fail in one primary regard:  they insist on humans being predictable and, worse, simplistically predictable.  There are all kinds of psychological reasons why it is easier to say "yes" rather than "no."  Role-playing is not theatre improvisation, though it bears some similarities.  A "good game" cannot be boiled down to any de facto truth because humans themselves cannot be counted on to behave consistently in all situations.

DMs have to be flexible, yes.  But flexibility isn't always saying yes.  It isn't cheating on the dice.  It isn't presuming the game must be carried by the players.  Or any other single notion that is carped upon and bombasted for a fifteen-minute vlog.  "Flexibility" means there are no truths except that there are no truths.  The solution isn't to always say yes.  The solution is to say yes when it is appropriate and to otherwise say no.

We're arguing about the wrong things.  We're arguing what we should do, not WHEN we should do it.  Take virtually any of the advice you've heard in the last three years: all of it, I promise, potentially has merit in a given circumstance.  To prove it, I'll argue the right circumstance for the freaking toxic fudging argument:

I'm running a one-shot campaign and it is the end of the night.  I'm at a Fan Expo and I'm never going to see any of these people again, or certainly not until next year, at which time they'll probably be at some other table.  The fighter makes a last roll to hit the monster, three minutes before the session will end, by mandate of the organizers.  And she misses by 1 pip on the die.

Will I say she hit?  Hell yes.  Will I drop the number of hit points the monster has in my head so that she kills it with that last blow?  Sure.  Why not?  What difference would that make?  I'm not investing in these players.  There's no chance that they'll be able to redress the situation later, something I would count of if it were a regular campaign.  So yes, I would fudge.

Does this make fudging a good thing?  No, it doesn't.  But like a human, I can admit to a specific place and time when the traditional rules don't apply.  I come from a western tradition where the law is structured in a way that permits contradictions to normal, accepted behaviour.

However, the contradictions themselves cannot be allowed to become accepted, else all turns to shit and the game is lost.  I can guess why the game is turning in this direction, however.

People are desperate.  Even those who have been playing for 20 years just don't get it.  They've been playing and playing and they still don't know why some of what they do works and why some of it really, really doesn't.  And like humans, they're casting around for some kind of explanation, something that is simple enough to be explainable to people who are themselves wallowing.

And, of course, all this advice misses.  Because something happens in a game, a DM says "yes" when "no" was the right answer, the game devolves into a screaming match and of course no one can explain why.

We need to stop thinking about the game in terms of philosophy and start thinking of it in terms of precedent and problem solving.  A player says they're going to do something.  What you do isn't based on what you believe or what's right or what has worked in the past.  What you do has to be based on one thing:  what answer, in this precise situation, will produce the best possible effect?

You know, like you try to do all the time, as a human being, with your family, your friends, your job or your self.  D&D is just a different situation ~ but the rules are the same.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sight and Fire

From the wiki:

Provides a combatant with the ability to make the best use of cover while firing at an opponent with a bow or a crossbow, or when using a hurled weapon. The ability cannot be employed when using a sling, a staff sling, a bola or similar spinning weapon.

Effectively, the combatant, hiding behind cover, makes a sighting of the enemy, meaning that a glance is made around a corner, from behind a tree or by raising one's head above a wall or similar defense. Then, in the following round, with a loaded weapon, the combatant moves, fires at the sighted location of the target and then returns to cover at once. The weapon may be loaded in the same round that the sighting occurs.

If the target has not changed hexes since the sighting, the missile or hurled weapon has a -1 chance of hitting when fired or thrown in this manner. If the target has moved, however, the attack will miss, unless a natural 2 is rolled (in which case, the target might be hit by accident so long as the target is within a 30-degree arc of its original position). This is meant to be a quirk, based upon the friendly fire rule found under Critical Hits & Fumbles.

The combatant firing in this manner is considered to be at -4 AC for the enemy's attack immediately after the sighted fire is attempted (remembering that D&D combat is a turn-based resolution of simultaneous attacks).

Question:

I would like to know for certaint that this is clear and that there are no contingencies I might have missed.  Please weigh in if you think it is fine; that will help offset opinions from those who may have only read it too quickly.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stealth Problems

I am enjoying the stealth rules I created and I've had plenty of time to play with them ~ but I have to admit that they're tricky to use.  I thought I'd write a post about that.

The rules stipulate a minimum distance that the combatant can successfully approach an enemy without being seen, modified by such things as vegetation, the amount the combatant is wearing/carrying, the level of the combatant and the combatant's appearance due to camouflage.  The closer the distance between combatant and target, the more silent and hidden it is assumed the combatant is.

The tricky part is in describing this to the player, specifically due to troubles that arise in terms of the player's awareness of the enemy and how they may choose to describe their movement.

Let's take the easiest situation: the player can see the enemy at a set distance away; we'll say the enemy is 14 hexes away, with 5 feet per hex, or 70 feet.  The stealth rule then designates (we roll) how many hexes will separate the player character from the enemy before the character's movement is discovered.

What's needed at this point is a "commitment to approach," which is hard to obtain.  The characters says they are approaching the enemy.  Because of the rule, we don't need to figure out if the character uses the bushes or moves along a low wall or just crawls up on belly.  Time is not a factor in the rule (though we could stipulate one hex per round, or perhaps one hex per three rounds).  In movie terms, it's the scene where the character very, very slowly moves up on the enemy in order to kill them, pausing each time the enemy moves



Players don't want to commit, however.  They want to describe their movement one hex at a time, but of course until reaching the critical hex, the character isn't discovered.  So I have to ask the question, "Do you approach the enemy until you are discovered?"

That's a really hard question to answer.  It sounds ominous and uncomfortable and players don't want to answer it; which usually means they want to back off and not approach the enemy at all. Which is fair enough. Sneaking up on someone is freaky and ought to be seen as a very hazardous option.

Now let's take a more difficult situation to run.  The players can hear the enemy but can't see them.  They're nearby, in the bushes, and the players want to attack them.  However, now I can't tell the players how close the enemy are.  They can't see distance; hearing is not seeing and the distance can't be judged.  In such situations, I find it hard to explain to the players that yes, if they move up on the enemy, they'll have to risk being seen ~ while having no idea how many hexes the enemy will be away.  Again, I need that commitment to approach, until the enemy is engaged.

Prior to the stealth rule, I did not have a problem with this.  The players, by not relating stealth to distance, would happily blunder into the enemy and a fight would ensue.  They're in the bushes? No problem, we rush through the bushes and attack them.

But by introducing this distance scheme into the mix, players have become very, very cautious. Basically, I've given them a measurement that they think they ought to be able to control; but of course they can't, since a 3d6 roll can be pretty scattered, particularly when I'm making that roll in secret so they can't be sure what their result is (at least, until they're at -10 on the dice because they've reached name level as an assassin or thief).  By nailing down the specifics of the approach, I've given the players a reason to think twice; and thinking twice, they tend to err on the side of caution.  That is, they decide not to approach at all.

It is an interesting psychological problem and I have found it difficult to work with.  I'm going to be working on another rule about heightened senses [page description in progress], which will establish a minimum approach distance for anyone with the sage ability, regardless of the enemy's stealth, as well as providing some information on how distant an enemy is by virtue of hearing them. Heightened senses basically takes the place of "hear noise," while adding a few other juicy benefits.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Paying the Wrong Horse

risk.  Noun: a situation involving exposure to danger; the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen; a person or thing regarded as likely to turn out well or badly, as specified, in a particular context or respect; a person or thing regarded as a threat or likely source of danger. Verb: expose someone or something valued to danger, harm or loss; act or fail to act in such a way as to bring about the possibility of an unpleasant or unwelcome event; incur the chance of unfortunate consequences by engaging in an action.  Synonyms: endanger, imperil, jeopardize, hazard, gamble, gamble with, chance.

As D&D was originally conceived, the payoff for the game would result in the players taking a risk; the risk was that they would put themselves in a situation where dice would be rolled to determine the outcome, so that as the player chose to take a given risk (attack a group of monsters), the dice would then enable the DM and the player to resolve the context by seeing if the risk resulted in something that turned out well or something that turned out badly.

Adventure design, therefore, hinged on placed players in situations where a die would need to be thrown: a combat, an attempt to deactivate a trap, a situation where the player might be surprised or not, the chance of a player taking full damage from a dragon's breath or less.  And the payoff worked in kind: if the player lived, the player received experience, treasure, opportunity, recognition and increased power through magic and other upgrades.

It is natural that, faced with this, a player would try to mitigate the risk.  If the same payoff could be gained with less risk, then like any good laboratory rat the player would logically pursue a course of less risk.

If the player learned that by leaning upon and manipulating a DM, the risk could be mitigated even more satisfactorily and the payoff yet received, then naturally the player began to "play" the DM, as a means of mitigating risk.

In turn, if the DM personally felt impressed by a player's ability to cleverly sidestep risk, and decided that a payoff ought to awarded for cleverness, it then follows that the player should begin to recognize that the game has been reshaped so as not to reward risk, but to reward cleverness.

Finally, the next logical step in the pattern is to redesign the game, steadily, to ensure that cleverness in avoiding risk is rewarded, so that risk itself becomes an wholly impractical course of action, since the payoff for both risk and the avoidance of it is made the same.

Does the reader follow?  As a community, we award cleverness and not risk.  And that's where everything has gone wrong from the beginning.

If you break down any discussion about the awarding of experience, the use of saving throws, the save or die principle, the employment of wandering monsters, the invention of feats, the increase in clerical healing or healing of all sorts, the increase in opportunism in how many die rolls a player can make before having to submit to being killed, "role-playing" vs. "roll-playing", the wide-spread use of fudging, experience levels gained for "good play," the argument that a backstory is the most important part of role-playing and so on, at the core of all those arguments is a steady drum-beat that argues we ought to reward cleverness and not risk.

Because risk is "bad."  Risk means that the player might lose.  That would lower D&D to the status of every other game that exists, where losing is a reality that must be managed and accepted by the individual, regardless of the hurt or the disappointment that might bring.  Losing is the challenge, not winning.  Losing is the pain that is felt, that encourages the participant to re-evaluate themselves and their game play, that demands recognition of limitations and in turn demands the individual effect a change to those limitations.

Losing is not "bad."  Through losing, we overcome our fear, we recognize our humanity, we find reasons to feel empathy with others, we address our shortcomings and we become better people through seeing ourselves not as gods, but as mortals.

But failing to be clever obtains none of this.  Failing to be clever only incites participants to attempt greater and wider attempts to be clever, desperate attempts to be clever, needy attempts to be clever, frustrated and argumentative attempts to be clever, the certainty that if the right string of words can be pounded together, then we will BE clever and the game will be given to us free and clear.  Cleverness, both in its success and its failure, has the habit of convincing us that we are gods, swelling us with hubris until the moment comes when we learn all that arrogance, conceit and egotism won us, in the end, only the proof of our cherished flaws.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Food for Thought

For those who might be interested in how it is going with my book, I will offer some perspective. Here is a list of familiar novels by the number of words that they possess:


As the reader can see, I am just now passing the Martian Chronicles and moving up on the Color Purple ~ an awful, awful book.

Now here is a shorter list describing how long some books took to write:


David Copperfield is obviously a lot longer than my book, but the Jungle Book is shorter.  My book isn't any where near as fairy/folk tale as the Hobbit, so I'm not competing with it; at any rate, I'm going to miss that mark too.  I began seriously writing the present book in the late summer of 2015. C'est la vie.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Selling Fudge

If the reader wants an example of just how toxic the grand community is for role-playing and D&D, I couldn't give a better example than this.

[picture removed due to my increasing disgust with linked content presenter]


Watch it.  Watch it all.  You'll have to power yourself through it, unless you are just as toxic as the creator.

Take note of the self-styled opinion the presenter has about himself: that he is "great."  Take note of the repeated cognitive dissonance as he justifies each action he advocates, then rushes in to qualify that justification, only to then dismiss the qualification he's just made on the basis of doing whatever feels "right" at a given moment.

Take note that the individual clearly has no concept of his own humanity, his foibles, his limitations, his arrogance or his biological limitations in judgement making.

Then, once you've completed the video, if you still have the stomach for it, read through the cheering, praising, vociferous panegyric of the DM's belief system and opinions, filled with unrestrained awe and love.

The picture is one of a community so bereft of good sense, so lacking in perspective or any knowledge of effective human management or person-to-person respect, that they are ready to lunge for this leaden life preserver of an emotional despot in the hopes that they won't drown in their campaigns.  To a responder, it is clear that none of them run a good campaign, that each and every one is merely a perpetrator of the same noxious habits of the presenter, seeking nothing less than affirmation and a pat on the back for being injurious, self-absorbed, indifferent assholes themselves.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Tech Progression

As an addendum to my previous post.  Here is my latest effort to simplify the progression in cultural entities (services, features, social forms and goods) from tech-5 to tech-7 . . . to give information that can be gained somewhat at a glance:


Saturday, June 3, 2017

What a Tech Level IS

For those who are tired of hearing about tech tables, I apologize.

At present, I find myself in difficulty.  I'm organizing my thoughts with outlining further characteristics of a tech-6 culture, specifically the presence of mines, minimal transport and cart-roads, the presence of artisan shops, connections with the world market, ending with governance and minimal religious authority.  The difficulty in describing these things are not in the things themselves: we can easily understand how a brewer's establishment might work and how we wouldn't expect to see something like that except in a well-built up community.

The problem lies in determining what a tech-6 culture isn't ~ because my mind, like anyone else's, will automatically seek to assign the next logical thing, be it an accessory, structure or way of doing things, because this is our experience.

Allow an example.  Let start with the head of a large village, a chieftain.  He (or she) has a close-knit association with his family and reliable associates, say eight extended families that number about fifty persons within a village of 400.  Now, where do they live?

If we're thinking a primitively agricultural community, like that of 16th century Hawaii or perhaps 8th century Vikings, we immediately think of a long-house.  This is certainly a very primitive variety of village feature: a long, narrow, single-room structure built by multiple cultures in different parts of the world, because it provided protection and, for some, status.

It is, however, a tech-7 building, not one found in tech-6.

Now how do I know that?  Well, I am founding this system on guidelines that were established by the tech system in the game Civilization: and in that game, the "dun" ~ a Celtic alternative in the game for walls ~ comes available at the level of masonry.  Masonry is not one of the techs that I mentioned as being available at tech-6 . . . it isn't available until tech-7.

I am making the association between duns and longhouses because both indicate a technical advancement in protection . . . and because I argue that protection, or defense, is itself a step forward.  At some point in human habitation we did develop agriculture and animal husbandry without also having developed the recognition that even the most primitive form of defensive housing would be necessary.  Thus, for tech-6, we have the first advancement, we don't have the later.

That is damn hard to get my head around, I will admit.  I find myself having to step back and step back again and again, trying to get a firm and distinct handle on just what exactly tech-6 is as opposed to tech-7 ~ and hell, I'm only just starting.  If the jump between these two is this difficult, how hard is it going to be to nail down the difference between tech 10 and tech 11?

And now here is the most frustrating part of my dilemma.  I'm trying to create a rational table that can be seen at a glance that will explain, in pure and simple terms, what a tech level IS.  So far, I haven't found a way to do that.

I'll explain briefly how I'm building up notes.  I start by going through the Civilization (Beyond the Sword) effects, buildings and units to collect details on what comes available with what technology.  I then list these in terms of physical changes that will be made to the environment and culture: structures, institutions and production.  I assign whether these are connected to coins, food or hammers, then how much of each of those is needed to mean that in that hex, that structure, et al, is present.  Finally, I try to create a list of those things that would be associated with the structure, institution and production that helps define the technology number that we're at.  Here are my notes for tech-7:


All of these things are available at tech-7 but not at tech-6.  And while the table is easily read and considered in a minute or so, it isn't immediately comprehensible what this all means.  That, I have found, is disturbingly difficult to establish with simplicity.

I have made a number of attempts now to write out a given tech level in terms of what it means and what sort of culture/experience it would represent for the players ~ and it always winds up being an exhausting description of detail that ends up being wholly useless for game purposes, as I can't sit and read four thousand words and compress it effectively enough to enable proper game play.  I find myself forgetting things and wandering into the wrong tech without thinking about it, because habit tells me that if there is a primitive society it ought to have a long-house.  Except that for about 8000 years of human history, primitive agricultural societies didn't have them.

So, I'm stumped.  The "world from scratch" posts were intended to get a handle on this ~ and I'm going to continue to try to get a handle on it, and I'm going to write those posts.  But I can see this is wrestling a mental tiger; so far, I feel more like the problem is mauling me than I am getting it chained up and domesticated.

P.S.

The "super-high" column in the table above is a reference to deciding if a hex has a great lighthouse or an aqueduct based not just on the coins or hammers of a given hex, but that hex + those hexes surrounding that hex.  I am still playing with different ways to make the 6-mile production hexes pay off.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Risk vs. Reward

My players should read this.

I don't think I've properly written a post that compares experience obtained from combat vs. experience gained from treasure.  If, say, a group of 2nd level characters were to kill four bugbears, how much treasure would they get?

Let's begin by calculating how much experience might be gotten from the actual combat.  It doesn't really matter, but let's say the bugbears had 20 hit points each and that during the combat, they eradicated an average of 10 hit points from each member of the party.  We'll say there are five players in the party.  Each bugbear can't die until reduced to -4 hit points, so that is 96 damage caused and 50 damage received by the party.

In my experience system, we calculate these numbers to arrive at a total of 2,960 experience.  This is an average of 592 x.p. per player character.

Now how much treasure should the players get?

The interesting word here is "should."  When I began initially playing D&D, that "should" seemed like a logical application to the problem - and I spent literally years developing a wide range of tables and calculation systems which would ask for a die roll and spit out a number.  I roll a 3 and, ptoop, it says here the bugbears are carrying gold, gems, jewellery and magic items worth 3,552 g.p., which is then worth that much in experience.

Gawd, I was so naive.

For some time now, I haven't used any system for this sort of calculation ~ not because I wouldn't give my I-teeth for one, but because the computer needed to spit out a meaningful number would need to be as complicated as my brain and as experienced in the game at least as much as I was 17 years ago (ah, erm, 20 years).  That is because the circumstance in which the bugbears are killed matters more than every other consideration.

I began by realizing that, obviously, if the bugbears were wending their way along a forest path as a hunting party, they wouldn't take their kit and kaboodle with them.  What would such a bugbear be doing with 1,500 g.p. on his person?  Why would he even take his +1 mace?  Are maces any good for killing deer?  No.  So first we have to begin by deciding that treasure depends on the practical amount of goods that a creature (whatever it is, bugbear or otherwise), would logically have on them depending on what they're doing.

Consider that meeting a group of bugbears tromping through the wood and killing them is a fairly casual encounter.  The players are not invested.  Or, if the reader prefers, the players haven't committed themselves.  This, I feel, is the 2nd most important element of treasure giving.  To what degree have the players steadfastly applied themselves in this situation.

In the case I've just described, probably not at all.  They were walking along, the bugbears happened by, a fight ensued and the players ended it.  Job done, collect a few trifles and move on. Basically, we can look at this as the players "scratching the surface" of the bugbear situation. Without having given any consideration to this prior to about a paragraph and a half ago, we can call this a "Status-1" encounter.

A Status-2 encounter would run thusly.  The players examine the bugbears and find themselves presented with a clue that tells them where other bugbears (or perhaps another related creature) might be located.  The players must then make a decision: do we pursue this situation or do we shrug, count the gains as gains and move on.

It is the decision that matters.  Let me repeat that.  The players must commit themselves by deciding to exacerbate the situation.  The situation is NOT exacerbated if more bugbears come out of the woods to hunt down the players!  By the principles I've established for practical treasure carried, a bugbear posse would distinctly carry NO gold of any kind and certainly not a lot of gems and jewelry, among other valuables.  They would carry a +1 mace, though, so we can make allowances for armor and weapons.  But we've got to stay in the confines of practical gear for the bugbears to be carrying.

On the other hand, if the players take the fight to the bugbears, entering the fringes of their lair/homeland, the players are stepping up their involvement and, importantly, their risk. Because the game can only be won if the risk creates the right amount of entitlement.

So, where does Status-2 end and where does Status-3 begin?

[do remember, I'm making this up as I go along; I've never thought of this in stages before, I'm just creating stages to make it easier to teach the concept).

Status-2 comes up to the point where the party has engaged elements of the enemy in its lair/homeland in such a manner that an easy exit remains present.  If the players can stop without fuss, back out, quit and go to town, we're still in Status-2.  This means the players have been able to chop a few bugbears, maybe a worg or two, perhaps killed a few other random dungeon beasties, but at no time were the players legitimately overwhelmed.  They're making skirmishes, nothing more.  They haven't been forced into the kind of stand-up fight that makes retreat near-impossible.

Now, we can definitely award them more treasure for Status-2.  They're actually killing bugbears in their homes, so we can figure out how much wealth a bugbear ought to have and award treasure in line with that.  For killing four bugbears in a personal lair, I'd probably award the players about half the x.p. in treasure that they'd get from combat x.p.

So, Status-3.  The players find themselves having killed a small outpost and see, from the map in the solitary lair of the four bugbears, an outline of the nearby village, where there are 50 bugbears with about 100 goblin servants.  The 2nd level players look at that and think, "Let's leave."  They take their treasure, having probably acquired 3rd level, and rightly save their lives.

But let's argue that these are 2nd level characters who are the henchmen of a bunch of 6th and 7th levels.  They go back to their lieges and show the map, and the players have to make another decision.  This is definitely a Status-3 situation.  Once that hornet's nest gets woken up, no one is getting out of there easily.  Do we go in?  If we do, then this won't be a jaunt.  We'll have to attack, grab what we can, then probably hack our way out of there, hopefully getting back to our horses and clear before the bugbears and goblins can fully rally themselves.

What sort of treasure should they get for that?  Well, certainly the kind that can be grabbed quickly, as they'll be moving while pillaging.  A smart party will set it up so that the higher levels can rush in, hack, plunder the houses, then drop the stuff for the lower level characters to grab and high-tail out of town, while the upper level characters move fast and draw the fight to them.

I've never actually encountered this kind of smart party.  Usually what happens is that the players insist that every character, follower and hireling they have will join the fight together, without any attention given to communication with the outside or transfer of supplies or treasure, convinced they can take the whole town . . . and then all the lower level characters die and half the upper level characters, while three manage to cut their way out, taking no treasure with them.

BUT . . . there ought to be considerable treasure if the party hits a tower and perhaps one or two other key buildings, grabbing all they can find, running whenever they stun a single bugbear (instead of staying to fight again and again, even though that means being found by twenty more bugbears), then getting the hell out in ten or fifteen rounds.  Treasure for a Status-3 encounter?  About double the amount of experience gained from actual combat.

Now, another type of Status-3 encounter would be getting into a dungeon and finding the way out spoiled, so that the party was trapped and couldn't retreat easily.  That's a more likely situation for readers, as that's one the modules like to set up.  But the principles are the same.  The party's focus is on getting out . . . so while they're plundering as they go, they're not heading purposefully for the heart of the beast.

And that is a Status-4 encounter.  Kill everything.  Clean the dungeon out.  If the players keep at it and keep at it, returning after their first, second and third forays, until finally they kill every bugbear, even as the bugbears have abandoned their village and are now dragging all their wealth into the hills for a last stand, then the players deserve the ultimate amount of treasure.  For my game, that would probably be about 5 to 8 times the amount of experience earned through combat.

This ideal, then, rewards players who don't quit.  That's the key.  If the players are content to move from place to place, meeting the occasional creature, getting bashed around and then retreating to town, without investigating the matter further, then the amount of treasure should logically be minimal.  Perhaps none at all, depending on the party's exact moves.  But if the party gets the bit in their teeth, keeps digging and won't give up until every last miserable creature is either disenfranchised from the lair's treasure or dead, then the party deserves a good, solid, level-promoting treasure trove.

That's how I see this process.  It is risk vs. reward.  A decision to risk it all, risk the maximum, gets the highest possible gain.  A decision to play it safe, just poke at the fringes of the thing and turn tail rather than take the next step, deserves the minimum.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fame

Though it may be somewhat self-indulgent, there's an experience that I have been having lately that I feel compelled to talk about - a writer's experience.  It is this:  I have noted a certain souring of interest or positivity when I have expressed to friends, acquaintences or co-workers, even some members of my extended family, whenever I mention that I have recently made money as a writer.  This isn't exactly distaste, though it is nearer to that than disinterest, which used to be the reaction I received for many years when confirming to people that I wanted to be a writer, long before actually earning money at it.

Moreover, this is not a feeling I got when I was writing for trade magazines or writing journalism articles, when I worked for companies that paid me regular wages for basically uninspired work.  No.  This is a response that is directly linked to work that I am doing for myself, specifically in connection to the money I earn through Patreon or book sales or direct donations.

It is not a pleasant response.  I have received it now from enough people that I can't help noticing it.  There is a clear message being sent: "shut up about it already."


Now, obviously most people don't want to hear about the jobs that other people do.  This, however, does not keep people from going on and on about their jobs - an experience that we, as a group, all accept as normal and deserving of a certain amount of mutual respect because we know that at some point in the future we're going to want to go on and on about our jobs, too.  The thing about that is, however, that most of this going on about our jobs is all bad going on: our boss is a prick, the hours are crap, we don't get any respect, we had to work overtime every day last week, the asshole who works there is an asshole and so on.  People do not tend to go on and on about how great their job was last week or how much they look forward to going in again on Monday while talking to us over beers Saturday night.

Fact is, I don't have anything bad to say about this particular job.  And I do consider it a job, as some days it makes me more money than my actual job does (granted, I have a pretty cruddy day job right now).  I earned ~ and yes, that's how I view Patreon and other donations ~ as much as $400 last month and it was flat out wonderful.  It is this, I think, that tends to produce the sour response.

I would feel more sympathetic if it were not for all the years of being treated as a moron and deluded nut job because I would tell people openly that I wanted to be a writer one day.  Even now, when I explain that I actually earn money from book sales, from books that I have written and published myself, I get fewer questions than spoken assumptions that I am participating in a hobby that isn't actually a) serious; or b) worth respecting.  And having faced this sort of myopic, idiotic criticism in a world full of libraries, bookstores and bookshelves in many, many homes that are full of hundreds of millions of books, I feel a certain spiteful urge to rub my moderate earnings each month into every face that screws up a bit whenever I mention that yes, I don't feel the necessity to pick up an extra shift tomorrow because, in fact, I earned money writing.

As I write this, it is late at night on the 27th of May.  Tomorrow, the 28th, will be the nine-year anniversary for this blog.  That is 2,340 posts, not including this one, with 15,004 comments from readers and 1,779,308 page views.  I have good reason to celebrate.  Since the time I've started this blog, I have written four books, I've added a wiki, I've run an on-line campaign off and on for six years, I have attended Conventions and Expos as a vendor and done extraordinarily well, I have pissed off an enormous number of people and yet I am still here, still writing, still being read and still coming up with ideas that are so startling and different that I turn heads on a monthly basis.

I have done as much of it as I can without hiding myself from anyone ~ and on occasion I've been beat up for it on levels that most of my readers can't imagine.  Out there somewhere there is still a very unpleasant, abusive image of me with breasts (must I link it?) that is never going away.  If ever I actually achieve success and fame, that fucking thing is still going to be there and it is going to get shown.  So I might as well embrace it, because that is a part of my experience now.  I remember it caused some very sad days, particularly for my partner Tamara, who was heartbroken to see something she loves treated that way.  I had more to do helping her deal with it than helping myself deal with it.

This is what happens.  Any sort of success breeds a particular kind of resentment; which I see expressed again and again by those who have achieved success, in the nicest, kindest, most gentle of expressions possible.  No one, not even those with a little bit of success like mine, want to think for a moment that there are others who might be jealous or frustrated about their own efforts or otherwise just unhappy to see someone get money for something they don't view as being actual work.  We would ignore it, except that we keep getting slapped in the face with it.

And of course, we feel guilty and a little dirty because we wanted to be famous.  I certainly did.  I imagined that long before I was 25, I would be a celebrated author like Hemingway or Herman Hesse, or maybe Kurt Vonnegut, standing in front of groups of people and talking about the themes of my book and how I hoped to send a message that it would be great if we would just all treat each other like people who have feelings and not like dirt and inconveniences.  I liked the idea that people would think well of me and speak well of me to other people that I didn't know, who would then come up and want to meet me.

Who doesn't want that?  Even if art and celebrity isn't your thing, everyone would like to be told by some stranger, "I was asking for a good mechanic and a guy name Charlie Schwartz said that I couldn't go wrong with you."  That is an enormous boost to our self-esteem.  If any of us are lucky enough to have that happen more than a few times in our lifetime, however, it is bound to cause others to feel that we're getting a "swelled head" because we want to talk about how great that feels.  Because it does feel great.  It is the kind of thing that will turn an ordinary person suffering in a crummy, unpleasant job into someone who will actively decide they're going to spend the rest of their lives doing that unpleasant job amazingly well.  We ought to celebrate that.  It is simply a very sad thing that there are many people in the world who have never experienced it.

And it is sad that there's an industry that has turned that experience into an industrialized process, so that we feel pressured by the people that we're supposed to like, even when we don't know who they are.  I'm sure that a lot of people, hearing about the late bombing in Manchester, had no idea who Ariana Grande was or why the news felt the need to tell us, amidst reports about people dying, that this rich pop singer was okay.

That was perfectly understandable, however.  When we do find out who these famous people are, and watch them and like what they're doing and give them a little space in our minds, we will recognize their faces and begin to see them as someone they know.  An enormous number of people listening to the news do know who Ariana Grande is and what she is all about to them. They probably don't know a single other person at that concert, but they do know her and it is only natural that they should worry about the one person they DO know.  That's why she gets a special place in the news.  Not because she's better than the other people who were frightened or injured or who died, but because her name is one that's recognizeable.  If your cousin Edyth was at the concert, and you knew it, the first person you'd want to know about regarding her health would be her.  That's how it works.

The issue isn't whether or not Ariana Grande deserves to make money for what she does; obviously, someone thinks so, even if it doesn't happen to be you.  As far as my own, much smaller income goes, those people who have been kind enough to encourage my well-being and welfare monetarily obviously feel that I deserve to have the money also.  It doesn't matter what it is for except those people.

The awful creatures in the world who think that there should be some measure about who "deserves" fame and who doesn't are in the dark where it comes to humanity.  For all the cruelty they try to inflict (and I'm sure Ariana has experienced millions of times more cruelty than I have at the hands of would-be judges), it is they who are the problem, not the rich and famous.

It shouldn't matter to me that I get a pursed face and a dismissal whenever I express my happiness at my circumstance.  It does, however.  I've been doing this for a long time and the long nights of despair, year after year, accumulates.

Yesterday, I put this image together for my comic:


The art is all me.  None of it was copied or traced or otherwise cobbled together from other things. I conceived of the characters looking up and somehow, some way, I managed to make it look real. For someone who, nine years ago, had the artistic talent of a three-year-old drawing for a refridgerator, I fairly exploded with happiness yesterday about this.  I am enormously proud of myself.

But the response I got from others in the real world was strange.  They approved of it; they told me it was good.  But then I got this weird lecture about not "trying so hard" to get attention or to blow my own horn.  As if I did not have a reason to.  At least I did not get that from my partner.

Fundamentally, I wasn't "cool" about it.  I was thrilled, a little too thrilled.  I should have presented the work and acted all, "Hey, no big deal," but I couldn't be bothered.  I wanted to do the Snoopy dance.

I feel like that a lot.  Just now, the writing, the blog, the feel I get from being a part of this, is the best part of me.  So I want to talk about it.

Now, it is the end of the month.  And I will ask the gentle reader, what has this nine years of experience been worth?  Can I encourage you to donate $1, $5, $10 or more to my art and my efforts?  This is the best of times to do so on Patreon, for there are only a few days before the end of the month.  I'd like to turn this "hobby" in a living wage and readers are the only way I can do that.

What do you say?


Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Separate Mindset

"The first prehistoric farmers of central Europe, the so-called Linearbandkeramik culture that arose slightly before 5000 B.C., were initially confined to soils light enough to be tilled by means of hand-held digging sticks.  Only over a thousand years later, with the introduction of the ox-drawn plow, were those farmers able to extend their cultivation to a much wider range of heavy soils and tough sods.  Similarly, Native American farmers of the North American Great Plains grew crops in the river valleys, but farming of the tough sods on the extensive uplands had to await 19th century Europeans and their animal-drawn plows."

- Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies


If the reader has spent any time reading material regarding the rise of civilization and the development of human technology and culture, the above quote will not stick out.  The sentiments expressed by Diamond are those that can be read in hundreds upon hundreds of other sources.  They are not wrong.  That is precisely the change that increased the food supplies of both Europe and North America, as well as many other familiar cultures that can be found around the world.

The paragraph jumped out at me last week, however, in light of the continuing controversy I seem to be having about the explanation of my tech level proposal.  If I may express the argument some have made, it would seem obvious that, once the technique could be intellectually shared, the food supply of every region would be increased as the ox-drawn plough was introduced.  Why would anyone continue to plough with hand-digging sticks once the ox had been domesticated?

Diamond is making an assumption in the above; he knows he's making the assumption and it is no problem for him, because the argument he makes is not challenged by the assumption.  That assumption is that heavy soils and tough sods exist in the area where ox-drawn ploughs are introduced.

That is by no means a guarantee.  There are many places around the world where such soils don't exist, where hand-digging sticks are sufficient.  It is true that oxen will till much more soil than hand-digging sticks, but many places in the world do not have enough tillable soil to make the introduction of oxen an efficient addition.  Oxen eat.  Some parts of the world can't produce enough food for both the humans in the region and oxen, so if cows exist at all they are not the sort that are made into working animals.  A working cow gives less milk and far less meat, and because it must be fed in and around the place where it works, it must be fed with food that is produced on the local soils.  On the other hand, cows that are not used as working animals can be taken far afield, to eat natural grass on lands that cannot be tilled at all, since they are composed of too much stone.

If the habit of using a cow to till isn't pursued, then the region will possess no residents who know how to employ a cow as a working animal.  Do you know? You don't, because you don't need to know.  An impoverished, agriculturally-stunted environment doesn't have that knowledge either, not because it doesn't exist, or because it isn't known about, but because it isn't needed.  There are no parents to teach the technology to their children, so for all intents and purposes, the region continues to exist in a technologically backward state.  It is irrelevant what technology exists elsewhere.

Far too often, we presume that different parts of the world advanced at different rates because the knowledge was lacking.  To some degree, this works for parts of the New World prior to the 16th century . . . but how does it explain the continued backward cultures of Persia, North Africa, even Lapland and Pictish Scotland up until the 1400s?  People elsewhere in the world knew how to read ~ why didn't a typical Icelandic herdsman?

Well, what good would it have done him?  It required all of his daily labor, in those hours when light was available, to accomplish the tasks that would keep him and his community alive.  When he was done, it was dark.  He could not afford candles ~ what a waste that would have been.  It requires a tremendously intricate commercial and civilized culture to enable a very small number of persons to possess the capital to waste on candles for no other purpose than to read or otherwise occupy themselves at night.  The typical resident of Iceland did not have access to that culture until the early 20th century.  No resident of Iceland possessed it in the 15th.  That is why Iceland had an oral storytelling tradition.

This notion that knowledge overwrites everything about an existing culture's technology and status is a 20th century one.  We cannot free ourselves consciously from it because it represents so much of our personal identity and cognitive experience.  We see something new and we have adapted to immediately embrace it ~ because everything that we see can be embraced, implemented into our lives and made useful.  This has not been true through the majority of human history; something demonstrably true from the accounts written by hundreds of travellers into foreign places: Conti, Przhevalsky, Leo Africanus, Marco Polo, even Lewis & Clark, if an American example is needed.  In a world without mass communication or easy travel, a distance of a hundred miles must be, for most people, as far as a trip to the moon.  Most people did not possess enough food at any given time in their lives that would enable them to walk that far and back again.

That is hard to get our heads around, when we get on a flight in the morning to attend a funeral 500 miles away, then to get on another flight afterwards to be home in time for dinner.  To us, every farmer's field is the same, every collection of livestock is the same, every weapon is the same ~ and if there isn't iron to be mined in the area where swords might be made, obviously it would be imported, right?

But am I right?  What would Ooredoo, my most recent tech-6 contribution, do with a lot of swords?  To be used against who?  Invaders who would come to seize . . . what, exactly?  And if the invaders took over, and demanded taxes from the residents, how would that actually change anything?  They pay taxes already.  If they spend their hard-earned food on swords, the swords would just be sitting in rooms, where they could not be eaten.  What good would that be?

We simply can't imagine a world without nationalism, without identifying ourselves according to our traditional belief systems, without getting angry because an outside country has done something inside our country.  But no one from before the 15th century would have cared about that. Nationalism is a very late cultural development.

I urge the reader to try to think as a medieval or renaissance individual would have felt, when faced with technologies that did not substantially improve their lives, or were impractical for reasons such as available resources or social interest.  Things were not always the way they are today.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How Do You Write?

There hasn't been much writing here this week.  There just hasn't been time for it.  The book is taking form steadily, patiently; I would like to hear anything people might have to say about the sidebar updating my progress.  Good idea?  Bad?  Waste of my time?

It has accomplished one thing for me.  I feel absolutely awful if I have to put a zero there.  Sometimes, that's because I don't do any work at all.  Sometimes, because I'm writing some part of the book doesn't qualify as "progress."

I'll try to explain my thinking on this.  Typically, I write a very rough first draft of anything I take very seriously.  Then I will write a much better second draft, fitting in all the details and additional concepts that have arisen since the first draft, along with extending the descriptions, the general pattern of the characters and extending or adding scenes where warranted.  I'll also butcher scenes with the second draft; I may remove whole characters who don't fit into the scheme or which I decide are superfluous.  It is sometimes very hard to nail down all the details of the second draft.  This particular novel has been a nightmare in this regard, particularly as the last third of the book has snaked around like a firehose that has broken free and is now breaking windows.

The last third of this book exists much more in my mind than on paper.  I work at parts of it, I rewrite, I adjust the order of events, I change the specific setting itself, I calculate the transitions and how to get characters in and out of scenes without it looking obvious.  The movement of the characters should appear natural, not forced and definitely not dependent on one of them carrying around an idiot ball or some other awful writing trope.

So, still working on the second draft for that last third.  There are notes in abundance, pieces and bits of detail, passages where I've written out what happens and some things still relevant from the first draft.  I'm about 95% certain about the end of the second draft, now, but it still challenges me.

After the second draft, I'll work on the third draft.  This is where I work primarily on the language. For this book, I'm doing my best to keep word use so that the vocabulary is no later than mid-18th century.  For reckoning, every word in this post, so far as I know, would qualify ~ so I'm not writing in a pre-18th century style but I am keeping my idioms and references clear of post 18th century slang and usage.  For instance, lately I had to change my intention of using "mindset," as that is 1920s jargon.  I wanted to put another example here, but frankly I can't remember one.  Most of the time a word is fair game.

I clean up the extra words and struggle making things clearer.  I am getting better at this.  Part of me wants to go back and rework the language of How to Run and other things I've written because have the 18 months with this book I feel like I have better defined myself than ever before.  But that is probably also due to the blog.

After the third draft, then I do a read-through, preferably with time lapsed between writing and reading.  This read through tightens up the language still further and helps identify continuity errors, which are a terrible problem in any long work.  He took off the ring in chapter three but he is still wearing it in chapter four, that sort of thing.  That stuff is still likely to slip through.

Finally, there are words that get missed, even though the passage reads perfectly to me; I just don't see the missing word.  Or the typo.  Or the small spelling error.  It isn't that I haven't read the passage at least a dozen times, it's just that my mind and the text are hopelessly mutable.  At some point in the past, that word was probably there or it was spelled correctly. But after shifting and changing and adjusting and rewriting, it gets taken out even though my brain rates it as still present.  This is why someone else is always needed.

Anyway, it is only this final reading that I am counting as "progress."  So if I go work on some passage of the book that isn't part of this final edit, it isn't progress, not yet.  As such, I try to work on some rewriting each day, then a small bit of progress on top of it, to feel like the book is making headway.

Hope that clears up some things for the reader ~ and I hope that for some writers, they can compare their own habits to mine.  Being asked, "How do you write?" is a very common thing for a writer.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Touring Numbers, Notes

A brief addendum to my last post.

To encourage a greater distance travelled between cultural sites, making distance a condition of the experience gained by a player, we could include this table:

This counts as 20 miles per hex.

Thus, a party of characters reaching for the easiest fruit, moving from close town to close town, could still benefit from week to week investigation, but if they chose to move great distances before touring again, they would gain more per week.  This, of course, would not increase the total amount of experience available from a cultural center, but it would increase the speed with which cultural gains were made.  That would incorporate a cultural shock into the learning experience.

As a second feature, we could use this list of places from Wikipedia (making your own up, of course, if it is your originally created world) as a guideline for pilgrimage sites.  The adjustment here would be to double or perhaps triple the amount of experience-gaining potential for true believers of the given faith.  Therefore, though Rome in my game is not the largest of cities in Europe (it has 313,786 people in my world), by giving it three times the potential experience gain, rather than having a maximum experience base gain of 3,137 x.p., it would have 9,413; and if persons were to travel 100 hexes to reach it, or 2,000 miles, that would be increased further to 16,944.  Though it would take a total of 94 weeks and a day to gain it all.

That would include time looking at art, visiting churches, attending ceremonies and festivals, reading in libraries or conversations with religious leaders and scholars, etcetera.

Would players really want to do it, though?  Would they be willing to sacrifice a year of life in order to gain a "safe" boost of experience?  Or would they rather just adventure.  On the whole, I see these rules being something that low-levels, up to 5th say, may jump at, but in which those higher than 6th would probably lose interest.