Monday, April 24, 2017

Alright Advise [sic]

If this had not made the top ten list last week, I would not be posting this ~ but I am tickled at the response that reddit gives to my 8 Tips That Will Let Any Idiot Improve Their D&D Game:


My favorite is the commenter who feels that I don't like D&D.  I love the affirmation that implies: that someone who doesn't approach a complex, difficult and largely obscure and socially fringe game the same way as "me" must be someone who hates it.

Obviously, people who "hate" the game do not comment on it, they don't blog about it, they don't offer advice in any way except to say, "Stop playing that fucking retarded game."

I have, from time to time, tried to make friends on reddit, tried to bring attention to the blog on reddit or otherwise use reddit for dialogue . . . but this is the sort of response I always find.  I presume these people actually play RPGs.  I can't imagine what sort of play they indulge in ~ undoubtedly something a long, long way from my perspective.  I'd like to say there is room for all of us under the great big shelter of the gaming tent, but frankly, no.  In gaming terms, they're as relevant as the jet trail left behind the mechanical marvel that is flight.  They think they're part of the experience, they make an extravagant, expressive impression, which widens and widens until it ultimately just goes away.

Ah well.  I thought the reader might enjoy seeing how disappointed the greater community is with your choice of posts.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Confirmation

Very well.  For those who may doubt the veracity of my continuing to work on my book, The Fifth Man, for which I created a Jumpstarter campaign in February of 2016, I can offer confirmation of the existence of the book and of my efforts in the way of Ozymandias of Crossing the 'Verse, who is a regular contributor to the comments on this blog.

I have sent Ozymandias a copy of the book thus far: 49,000 words of third draft, 30,000 words of second draft and another 20,000 words of the completed first draft.  Let me be clear: there is a book.  I'm not just farting daisies.  And there will be a finished, published novel when, I am sorry to say, I'm satisfied with the writing.

But I have been in a state of increasing angst for many months now as the length of time between the Jumpstarter and the finished book has widened, as I am deeply conscious of having taken money from good, wonderful people without being able to give them a damn thing to show for it. For that reason I sent Ozymandias, someone I have never met in person, but whom I trust implicitly, a copy of the book thus far so that someone, someone, can come online and say yes, the book exists.

I am tremendously gratified by this.  A part of my concern has been laid to rest.  I hope that the reader who has helped me, who has stood by me, who has stepped up to support me, who has gone the best measure towards helping me go on and move forward, will feel gratified as well.

Thank you to all.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Good Fruit Grows on the High Branches

I've now been posting the Campaigners comic for two months and the honeymoon is definitely over.  I don't mean that I'm done with posting.  I'm working on the comic every day.  Rather, I mean that the sense of it being something weird and profound with every comic I post has greatly diminished.

Some of you, I'm sure, have encountered this feeling.  The first dozen or so posts on a blog are a huge thing.  We find ourselves checking for comments every five minutes and wondering who will think it is the most amazing thing they've ever seen, expecting something big to come out of every post.  At first, that is.  Then, gradually, if we keep at it, the process of posting and checking the post becomes a routine.

With the comic, my first few weeks were spent in the height of anticipation.  The time between comics felt like a long time, as I anxiously waited for the moment when I would be able to post a new one.  But that feeling has gone now.  Now, it feels that the comics are barely up at all before it comes time to post a new one.  Whereas before there was no sense of missing a deadline, because I was ready to work on comics that would be coming out weeks and weeks after the one I posted today, now it becomes more and more evident that the train I'm on is moving faster and faster while I'm creating slower and slower.

This is what everyone experiences who sets a target for producing work.  Even as the regular practice of creating and setting a quality standard imposes itself, so does procrastination.  A day goes by without working, then another day, then a comic is posted and we remind ourselves, "Oh shit, I better make something right now.  I don't want to have to be putting in work last minute!"

But we know that day is coming.  At least, if we don't sort ourselves out and behave responsibly.

Just now, I'm not worried about getting comics out in time.  I still have a back-log that will keep me going a couple of weeks (which is down a long way from when I was five weeks ahead) ~ but I live in fear that I will get stuck for a joke.  And that is what this post is really about: writing jokes.

The one thing I don't want to do is get into the habit of creating what I call "low-hanging fruit."  I'll give an example from the Dragon Magazine #191, having found an archive just the other day:


This comic is an absolute piece of shit.  First of all, it's sexist.  Second, its a pathetic cliche, which itself started as a fabricated urban myth that got picked up by television and then repeated many, many times.  Everyone asks for directions.  I know this, because I am asked for directions very often.  So it doesn't even ring of truth.  Finally, for some reason, even though the cliche makes an argument that men are the stupid ones, the woman is made out to be embarrassed by the dialogue.  For fuck's sake.

Pillsbury, the author of this dreck, had a month to come up with this.  For fuck's sake.  I wish I had a deal to draw comics for the front-line magazine in the game culture, so I could phone in a decades-old joke.  This is the worst kind of low-hanging joke to reach for; it only requires watching reruns of old Johnny Carson shit and stealing from it.

But, sadly, there were many people ~ boys ~ who laughed at this.  Some of you, just now, smiled.  Low hanging fruit is out there, people use it and make a career out of it, just like Johnny-fucking-Carson did, as everything he spewed out for decades was stolen from the generation before him.

The same Dragon issue had three other comics: I'll post them together:


These are three jokes written by three different people.  Yet they're really just the same joke.  They are all three anachronisms.  Take something modern, slap it into the fantasy realm, point at it with an image and then have someone say something perfectly ordinary that is only funny because it's a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than a fantasy existence.

Bleh.  

Yet again, some of you smiled.  That smile is worth deconstructing, because if we're going to tell jokes, we ought to know a little about why they work.

First of all, we smile or laugh in part because we know it is supposed to be funny.  The joke is framed as a comic and for that reason we are given the cue to a certain type of behavior.  Those pathways have already been driven into our brains by a million comics that we read when we were soft, easily persuaded children at a young, easily impressed age.  As such, even by the time we get old and jaded, we can still relate to the format even if the actual joke itself is trash.

Secondly, jokes are built on the unexpected.  The joke I put up last night, the latest comic that can be found on the sidebar, is built on three unexpected results, one after another, only the last two of which are actually funny.  I'm going to spoil the comic now, so if you haven't read it, pause here.

First, we don't expect the adventure to work things out with a succubus and get married.  But the better twist is the pun based on a common phrase that parents use to describe other people's children (a cliche).  It works, because the cliche doesn't carry the joke, the pun does.  This is then followed by the double-entendre regarding baby-sitter fees.  If you don't see the entendre, think about it.  I did.  It took me an hour of patient thinking to nail down that joke.

Jokes work best when they confer fridge logic: when the joke isn't completely gotten on the first try.  This is what I aim for: a joke that has to be mulled over, where the whole joke isn't evident at once.  The British culture is brilliant at producing comedians who do this naturally, which is why I watch far more British comedy than North American.  There used to be a fair Canadian culture that produced this kind of humor, too, but that has been gone for more than a decade now.  Sadly, the best Canadian humorist working right now (obviously, in my completely non-humble opinion) is Katherine Ryan ~ and she abandoned North America for Britain.

Searching for that unexpected twist is the difficult part of writing humor.  If I have a favorite for this, it would be Jimmy Carr, who is a class by himself.  Here is the sort of classic twist he has the habit ~ meaning something he does so regularly that I am in awe ~ of producing:

"If only Africa had more mosquito nets, then every year we could save millions of mosquitos from dying needlessly of aids."

That is 21 words.  And in it he sets up the standard patter of NGOs asking for use to care and be concerned, only to slap us down.  The writing in those 21 words is so tight, most people I know won't realize it.  Look at the word groups in the one sentence:  "If only Africa" (the set up), "more mosquito nets" (the standard NGO request), "then every year" (building the immensity of the cause), "we could save" (the heart of the pitch, lulling us to expect the usual end of the sentence), "millions of mosquitos" (mid-twist, where it should be millions of people), "from dying needlessly of aids."  Bang.  A four-word punchline.

You can see Carr deliver the joke if you're willing to sit 1 minute and 10 seconds through this toxic bullshit.

I dream of writing like this.  If you haven't seen Jimmy Carr do stand-up, go look for him on you-tube and be ready to laugh very, very hard: because he is not like American comedians.  He doesn't spend three hours setting up a joke.

Time and time again, I find myself thinking up the low-hanging fruit for a comic and then I tell myself, "No, you can do better.  You can definitely do better.  Then I think for a few hours, or days, and slowly hammer out the difference in my head between what counts for low-hanging fruit and what doesn't.  And I live in fear that, in the end, after too much time, I will drift into that because I have burned out on writing things that are actually funny.  And I will know that people will smile and laugh anyway, because ~ hopefully ~ by then they will be trained to know that I'm funny, even when I am not.

That is why so many comics, both mainstream and internet, limp on for years long after they've ceased to produce anything noticeably clever.  Because, once, they did.  And as humans, if once a dry well had water in it, we will keep going back to that well over and over, hoping that one day we'll look down into the hole and water will be there.  It takes a long, long time for us to stop doing that.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Reverse Sides

Let's try a thought experiment.

Instead of the usual game, we'll have the players run a group of humanoid monsters located in a subterranean lair.  We can call them "orcs," but any group will do.  We'll assign two adult males, two young males, three adult females and four children to each player ~ and we'll say that orc children grow quickly enough that these children are all mobile on their own, though we could force one of the females to be burdened with an infant if we wanted.

We'll start by assigning each individual hit points and combat abilities according to their status.  Each player should then designate one of their adults (male or female) as a "leader."  Then one of these leaders can be designated the "chief."  Orcs don't usually have stats, so we can forego those, making the character creation fairly simple.

Now assign some weapons and have the characters pick ten pieces of basic equipment for each adult and each young male ~ no more than two weapons, a suit of armor, and 7 pieces of whatever else they feel they'll need (including a shield), but with this limitation.  It has to be something made without an industrial or academic process.  No metal, no alchemy, no poison, no magic, no unusual tools, etcetera.  If we want, we can argue that one of the weapons each orc has was stolen from the outside culture, so they can have a sword or an axe.  Treat each article of clothing as a separate piece, so most will just wear a hide shirt that reaches to their needs.

We will also make one stipulation.  The orcs have two picks.  Without these picks, they wouldn't have been able to dig their lair out of soft rock.  So they'll need those.

Good, now ask them to make their lair.  They have to create tunnels that connect certain necessary points together: a breeding place for young (orcs are birthed from mudpits), a food-producing chamber (fungus or whatever other imaginary food can be grown underground), a place for each orc to sleep, a place to eat, a place for tools to be made, a pen for animals and one or more entrances to the outside.  Give dimensions that these rooms have to be to support the lair's food/shelter needs ~ such and such an amount of space per inhabitant.  Then limit the distance of connecting hallways to 10 feet per person.  The animals can be whatever exists in a dungeon environment that we feel can be reasonably domesticated (lizards, salamanders, weasels, carnivorous apes, worgs, whatever we want).  Fit the number of animals to the space you'll let them build.

Give the players time to draw out the lair.  While they're doing so, explain that they won't be able to carry weapons and wear armor all day long, for months and months of non-fighting time on end, so they will have to store these somewhere that they can be reached in time of crisis.

Let the players devise any crude traps they want to create, giving a 35% roll per trap set of the trap going off, potentially killing one of the members of the tribe.  Make sure that the players understand that any trap in a commonly used corridor (the shortest distance between any of the above required places) will mean a 1 in 10 chance of killing a random resident, from child to chief, because of its ill-considered inconvenience.  Remember, too, that the traps have to be fashioned from ordinary goods.  No complex rock digging, however - we're talking soft rock and the orcs only have picks.

Still, they can make pits with logs over them for daily use and fill the pits with offal or spikes (since wood is easily obtained from outside).  They can make rope from the fibres or sinews of animals that will make springs and stuff.  They can make doors of every variety.  We might want to limit them to a set number of traps, perhaps five, ten or fifteen.  Of course, anything really vicious will start to take its toll on the population of their lair, so they'll think twice about really deadly things.

Good.  Now, give the players a bunch of gold and silver coins, with jewelry and gems.  Give them each a minor magic item.  Once again, point out that they can't carry any magic weapons with them all the time.  They'll need both hands to work.  Have then show where precisely all the money is hidden.  Let them be as precise as they want about hiding it, so long as they keep to the rules of no special means that can be made from the tools they have.

Finally, have the players identify where their orcs are at a given time of the day.  Stipulate that such and such many have to be tending the food making, the animals, the children, maintenance on the tunnels and tool fashioning.  Tools are always breaking and need to be remade.

Now, attack the lair.  Use the players' own characters.  We could create some of our own.  We may want to pick ogres or giants as our humanoids if the players are high level.  Have the players defend the lair with their humanoids while the DM attacks the lair with the adventurers.

If the orcs (or whatever humanoids) are easily killed, or if the treasure is found easily, find some way to penalize the players.  Get them to talk about how they could have done better.  If we want, we can hinge the player's success as orcs to how much experience the players' characters get at the end of the session.

Our goal here is to demonstrate that if the players had to play orcs all the time, they would be a lot smarter about where they stored their goods or how difficult it was to get into their lair.  Even the weakest humanoids could create insanely difficult lairs for a player to break ~ and the above experiment could demonstrate to players and DMs alike what to build and how to break it.

This is the sort of thing that provides empathy for both sides, player and DM alike, while vastly expanding the possibilities of presenting the game.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lurkers Corner ~ To Tell or Not To Tell

At last I have an excuse for another of these posts.

Here is the situation on the Juvenis campaign.  The players have clearly awoken something as a result of their actions at Mimmarudla, the dungeon they've plundered.  It has been clearly described now, today, that there is at least one group of frog-humanoids attacking people in Rogaland, the province of Norway where the party presently adventures.

No one in Rogaland seems to know what it is that was awoken or where these things have come from, though the party knows.

The question is this: should the party own up?  Should they go to authorities, identify the location of the dungeon and express their actions?  Or should they keep silent in the face of multiple deaths that have occurred thus far.

I love dilemmas like this, though the online party has barely acknowledged that there even is a dilemma.  The cleric, Engelhart, has expressed the questions I've just asked, but seems quite content to keep silent.  To me, a situation like this speaks to more than the character in the game: it speaks to the character of the player, as well.

Granted, everything that has happened is fictional and in game ~ so the dilemma has to be, what is the best way to continue the game?  Volunteer what we know or not?  Which offers the best opportunities, the best reward, the best survival expectation?  We can't argue morality (though there is a moral question here), but we can argue the nature of the game characters and what this says about their selfishness vs. their social responsibility.

I want to add that the most successful parties in my decades of game experience were those who consistently chose one of these options, though I won't say which.

Please weigh in.

UPDATE: the party has begun to discuss the dilemma now.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Top Ten Posts in Place

On the sidebar, the reader will see that I have created a list for the top ten posts, as voted on by the readers.  I'm going to remove the poll as soon as I publish this - but I wanted to take time to thank everyone who helped choose the 54 titles for the poll and for voting in the poll itself.  I think the Gentle Readers made good choices ~ these are at least some of my favorite posts to write, to be certain.

All of them, I notice, represent a big chunk of writing.  The two 10,000 word posts, the Preparation and Petard posts (both 7,000 words+), the posts that were the start of a string of posts, all demonstrate that the argument tl;dr is not part of the lexicon of my readers.  You like a lot of writing.  I will remember this in the future, particularly since most of the longer posts on this blog rarely yield more than two or three comments.

It has been an educational experience.  I believe that next year around this time I will encourage readers to make a list of 2017 posts, then see if any of those challenge the top ten already posted.

Thank you again.  I'm going to think now about what else I can write.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Notes on Stavanger's Economy

A very long time ago, I wrote a series of posts that I called "never too much economics."  I have to apologize to start: if you have not followed past posts I have written on hex generation, economics and my trade system, I'm going to lose your attention very quickly.  There's nothing I can do about that.  I have been working on this method for logically calculating the structure underlying any part of my world, very large world that it is.  The work shown today represents just a few hours of work for this particular region in my game, that created for the Juvenis campaign.

I'm going to use some of the details of that post in order to address this map:



This is a part of my larger game world expanded from 20-mile hexes to 6.67-mile hexes (6-mile for short), using a hex generator I've talked about on my blog before ~ though not for a long time.

The map shows production for food, hammers and coin, similar to the same measurements for the old game, Civilization IV.  Five years ago, I defined one food as sufficient to feed 167 persons at a minimal rate of sustenance, a very unpleasant 1,700 calories per day.  We may assume that is for any period, as we're not actually measuring the weight of food, only its consumption vs. its production.

Back in the day, I also wrote that a hex with two food symbols showing should be read as the binary number "11" ~ which would be 3 in the base-ten system.  A hex with three food symbols showing would equal the binary "111," or 7 in the base-ten system.  Thus, three food showing will feed not 500 persons, but 1,167.  The greatest production on the map above is the hex surrounding Stavanger, showing a loaf and two slices, or "1111111," or 127 in base-ten, enough to feed 21,167 persons.  That's not bad, but the county of Rogaland, depicted above, has a population of 25,627.

How much food is showing, in base-ten numbers?  I may have miscounted, but I get 392 food altogether, enough to feed 65,335 people.  That is, at sustenance level.  That 1,700 calories is fairly low, so we can double that amount for the people around Stavanger and still have enough food for export.  This makes sense.  Norway is a relatively rich country, with productive forests, plenty of water, excellent soil (where there is soil) and a relatively low population.  It ought to be an exporting region ~ even if it is only enough to feed 7,040 persons at a comfortable 3,400 calories a day.  There are many more people than that in the world.

The coins showing work the same way as food.  The number of coins in a given hex show an exponential progression, so that the hex with Stavanger in it would have 63 coins (binary 111111). Altogether, the region shown has 115 coins - so Stavanger by itself represents more than half the total wealth of the region.  This, too, makes sense.

My post on coins argued for a fixed rate of 2,500 g.p. per coin showing, with the understanding the the principle of money is that it flows through the hands of people on a continuous basis.  In effect, I argued, this would mean that the total income for all the persons in the region would be three times the actual physical wealth ~ arguing for a low velocity that would correspond to a 17th century world.

I'd like to deviate from that old number, however, as it was based on an ill-proposed Player's Handbook reference.  I should be able to do better.  For this, I'll turn to my trade tables, specifically the list of goods and services that are produced in Rogaland.

As it happens, Rogaland has a very poor collection of references for my trade tables:



That is a very sad collection of things. Clearly, the encyclopedia I drew from did not have much of a description for Stavanger ~ but the trick is not to rush forward and change it, because that seems best, but to presume that the region is economically depressed, regardless of how much food it produces or the number of people.

At present, my overall trade numbers (subject to change as I add more regions) indicate that one reference is worth 941.18 gold ounces, or 7,647 gold pieces per reference.  Since the total value for Rogaland is only four times that, or 30,588 g.p., it is plain that the number per coin shown on the map is going to be less than 2,500.  30,588 divided by 115 equal 265 g.p. per coin.

With a per capita income of only 1.19 g.p. per person, we have to wonder how anyone can afford to buy books and statues from the party for 1,750 g.p., as recently happened in the campaign.  I admit, that is a problem; but I paid out that money before making the above calculations.

We can push the velocity of the money in the region by 1, to a total of 4, then presume that the total income of the region passes specifically through the hands of the merchants (along with the upper class, the nobility and the hoi polloi, as detailed in my original post).  If the merchants represent 0.1% of the total population, this makes the average yearly income for a merchant in Stavanger (they would all be in the trade town) a total of 1,190 g.p. per year.

We can also assume an accumulation of wealth, arguing that gold (and everything else that doesn't spoil) is steadily mined and added to the system, where it spreads outwards in the form of trade and ultimately collects in the hordes and savings of people.  We might argue that if 2% of the total coins in the world is irrevocably lost to monsters, lost hiding places and being sunk in the sea every year, then there is something like 51 years worth of accumulated gold pieces in the world (at that point, loss more or less equals production).  That is more than enough for an apothecary to dig into their accumulated 56,000 g.p. of wealth to buy something very special.

This could mean that the monetary assets for Rogaland are considerable, even if much less than other regions with far more references to goods, services and manufacturing.  Like any good economist, it depends on how we propose to juggle the numbers.

I think I would want to create additional regions, then spread the income over several regions and not just use Rogaland as an isolated measurement.  I'd argue that the loss of coin from the system was higher, just to reduce the pure wealth available.  I think a combination of factors could lead to a better approximation.

What we want, of course, is to be able to identify the wealth produced by a specific hex, giving us a number as to how much coin is a) regularly flowing out of that hex, if the player wishes to start a venture of some sort, and b) how much gold is buried in the hex, in terms of plundering it from monsters and/or dungeons.

This lets the gold of the hex determine how much product is sold in Stavanger, if the party decides to go fishing or lumberjacking, rather than trying to figure out specific production figures for every imaginable sort of product.  The player spends x time in this forest, which produces y amount of money per year for z number of people (determined by food supply).  This makes a very simple calculation for how much money the player can make from time spent, without the fuss of guessing how much fruit or flax or feldspar a given hex can produce.

Finally, I come to hammers.

I am at a loss here.  My old thinking has one primary problem: the system does not generate what sort of buildings have already been created, or what has been done with the hammers generally in the last 750+ years of Stavanger's existence (founded 862).  If we are only talking of the hammers being used for civic improvement, then they are only available to those who actually control the hex.  If so, I can safely ignore them for the time being.

I would like another value attached to the hammers, however ~ a problem I haven't considered for a very long time and thus also a problem I have distance on.  Since I've only rediscovered the problem in the last couple of days, I haven't even begun to solve it.

What I'd like is some meaning that is applicable to player characters at any point.  It could represent the amount of labor in the area, available or otherwise.  It might somehow represent the present existing infrastructure, but I'm not sure how.  It is easy to add it all together to get the size of Rogaland's military, the work force directly under control of the upper classes or even the amount of original created artwork that can be found (related to the bard).  I just need to think about it.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Please Vote

The poll on the sidebar is progressing as expected, with 21 votes so far.  I know that I have more readers than that, but no doubt the prospect of choosing ten titles to vote for has frightened away a great many readers.  I would urge those who haven't voted to feel comfortable with only voting for one or two posts.  Pick those that seem most familiar.  It will hurt no one and it will help.  The more votes I get, the more likely it is that a clear top ten will rise to the top and that there won't be any ties that will require a run-off poll.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Depth of Story

Of late, I keep encountering this meme that writers seem to like, that most soldiers in the various wars of the last century intentionally fired their weapons over the heads of the enemy, because they did not wish to kill their fellow man.

This is usually based upon a statistical argument, one that says a truly impressive number of bullets were fired without causing injuries; and this is in turn supported by anecdotal evidence of soldiers who have said that they refused to fire at an enemy.  All in all, it makes a nice argument for the humanity of humans, that even in war they'd rather not kill.

I don't know how this explains events in human history where soldiers have plainly proven their willingness to kill perfectly innocent civilians.  Custer's men certainly did not hesitate to massacre women and children at the Cheyenne camp on the Washita River in 1868.  Where was the humanity of humans when British Colonel Dyer's troops killed 379 unarmed men, women and children at Amritsar on April 13, 1919, wounding 1,200 others.  Dyer reported that his men fired 1,650 rounds.  Plainly his men did not fire over the heads of the crowd.  And when U.S. troops murdered, tortured and assaulted more than 347 unarmed South Vietnamese citizens at My Lai, I'm fairly certain that shots were not fired over the heads of the "enemy" by soldiers who were secretly unwilling to fight.

These are difficult memories to bring up.  Most would rather they were never recalled - and if recalled, only to be sure we promise never to do that again.  I don't bring up these events to indict the participants; history has already tried them and found them guilty.  But I wish to encourage the reader NOT to engage in false hopes that soldiers with guns are secretly not willing to kill.  That is a wishful thought, encouraged by those who need the crutch of wishful thinking to conceal the actual bloody carnage that results from there being weapons present.

I just finished watching the film Ghandi.  I consider the movie to be a masterpiece.  Most others, I find, consider the movie to be long, dull, somewhat preachy and in some instances, unforgivable in its inaccuracy.  Yet as I watch it, I am moved by moments such as the depicted massacre I've just spoken about and by the various other scenes of self-sacrifice, belief, virtue and endurance the movie depicts.  I believe that most find the movie difficult to watch because it demands something more of the viewer than most films.  It does not appease the viewer.  It does not say, "Here are some people just like you, so you can feel valuable as you watch and pretend you're as good as they are."

That's not possible with this film.  None of us are Ghandi.  Very few of us would be willing to endure the sacrifices that Ghandi's compatriots were willing to endure, much less what Ghandi took upon himself. There is nothing in the film that hides this.  The film says, "You don't rate.  If you're not measuring up to this, nothing you have done in your life has any value."

We don't make films like this.  Moreover, we don't encourage others to make films like this, not any more.  Youtube is filled with channels created by would-be filmmakers who have chosen to dissect the works of other people and say what makes them great.  But though there are many of this sort of film interpreter around, there are very few films that these interpreters seem to like.  The list is a very short one.  They all like Kurosawa and Edgar Wright.  And of course Martin Scorsese.  Most gush over Tarentino, ascribing all sorts of genius to the man that simply isn't there on the screen.  It is the same films, the same arguments about editing, the same repeated complaints about shot-reverse-shot, the same painstaking descriptions of composition and detail, soundtracks and the art of silence.

But what the filmmakers do not talk about is story.  They discuss story in passing, they talk about the importance of characters that the audience can identify with, but they don't talk about the nature of story and the cold brutality of stories that don't fit with the comfort level of an audience that wants to be wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket rather than face the harsh reality of the every day world and be changed by it.

The story that filmmakers want to tell now are stories about how soldiers shot over the heads of the enemy and not at the enemy.  Because that's what you and I would do, right?  We wouldn't intentionally kill others, right?  And if we did, we would feel bad about it.  We wouldn't enjoy it.  Because we're not made that way.

And if there is a mountain of evidence that argues that we are made exactly that way, because a billion others just like us have killed and enjoyed it, because the soldiers at My Lai were laughing as the children died, not because they were horrible but because they were just like us, because they were living in an insane world that did not include the possibility of any reaction except the kind an insane person would have - well, if that evidence is there, we ought to just ignore it.  We ought to pretend it isn't like that.  That the chemical weapons recently used in Syria aren't used all the time, by every side, because that would be more horrifying than a few children killed in a single attack.  It would be more horrifying because it would mean that children and others are actually being killed all the time.

But not in our movie.  Not in our story.  Not here.  Not on this earth that we think we know.  Because what really matters is how long the camera lingers on the face of the man who has just discovered his wife is cheating on him.  This is the universe we understand.  Small.  Bite-size.  A catharsis we can bear up against.  Nothing that is going to spoil our dinner.

And I wouldn't mind, because I'm just like every other person in the theater.  I was raised in this soft, silly environment too.  I ate a good, fat dinner too.  But I wish the filmmakers would try for something more than just feeding us emotion.  There's not much story in just emotion.  It doesn't measure up to what I would call filling.  Kurosawa and Scorsese are fair camera-pointers, but on the whole it is just cotton candy.  Not belly-filling.  Not mind-expanding.  Just candy.

And candy, you know, is for kids.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Polling for the Top Ten Posts

Before talking about anything else, let me post the links for all 54 of the posts that are up for vote, for the top ten posts for the Tao of D&D, up to March, 2017.  (See Sidebar for poll).


24 Petards to be Roasted Upon (or, How to Be a Player)
8 Tips That Will Let Any Idiot Improve Their D&D Game
All the Magic in the World
Art and Fall of Preparation, the
Breaking Camp - The Best Part of the Day
BU to HP
Calm, Cool, Gentle Presentation, the
Conflict No. 1: One on One
Crossovers
Daughters, DMs & Henchmen
Fallow
Four Measures
Goblin Fort, End of 1st Round, first of a series
Groups
Help Costs
Higher Class, a
How It's Done
How to Dungeon Master (The 10,000 Word Post)
How to Play a Character (The 10,000 Word Post)
How to Start a Trading Town I, first of a series
How to Tackle a Dungeon I - First Steps, first of a series
I Thought Everyone Knew
In You
Infrastructure is Fun
Infrastructure Perspective
Interpolators
Island, the, first of a series
It is NOT "Just" A Game
Keep 'em Hungry
Let's Try It From the Beginning Again
Mapping Garalzapan's Land
Mass Experience
Mining - Metals & Minerals
Morale and Popularity
My World
Narration of the Real, the
One True Tao, the
Perspective from the Floor
Rules That Work
Seizing the Day
Setting the Scene
Size of Alexis' World, the, first of the tech level series
Smolensk Mysteries
So Sick of If
Tales from FanExpo 2014
Threaten Them
Trade Process, the, first of a series
Training in the Use of Magic
Weather Generation Mark VI - Temperature, first of a series
Where You Eat Matters
When Wisdom Isn't a Dump Stat
Why Don't They Throw Rocks?
Why Wasn't I Consulted?
World You Live In, the

For the moment, I'll suspend any opinions on the above.  Where a reader indicated liking a series, I posted the first example of that series.  I did not include the Civ IV Technologies on the list because those were spread out over three years and - while technically a series - are so different in scope that I did not feel that any one example could represent the whole group.  So we'll give the series an honorable mention.

Friday, April 7, 2017

E14

Old Posts 21-30

For those who may be interested, please feel free to comment on any of these old posts.  All comments go straight to my email, so I will see them.

I'll start collecting the list of Top 10 Posts that people have proposed and create a poll out of them for the weekend.

Here is a list of 10 posts that I created in July, 2008:

Values.  Trade Prices.  My first belated attempt to explain the same pricing system that I would repeatedly explain over and over, as I searched for the words to do so.  My inability to convey this concept through text nagged at me for years.  Believe me, if you sit next to me at my computer, it is really easy to understand.

Haulage.  Trade Prices, Transport.  Same thing as above.  Just as I would do this on my wiki, ultimately very slowly and with many pictures, I tried to explain my method for calculating the price of things based on a sound economic principal, rather than on km/mileage between markets.

Commodities List Part I.  Trade Commodities.  A list of goods and services corresponding to my trade system at the time I started my blog.  At that time, my system did not include Holland, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, North Africa, India or a variety of other parts of the world.  Covers minerals and ores, foodstuffs, textiles and woodworking.

No Pics Please, We're Mathematicians.  RPG Trends.  Some pithy remarks on the apparent importance of artistic expression that was very central to the gaming community at the time.  Some points about my personal inclinations towards math and D&D.

Commodities List Part II.  Trade Commodities, Trade & Production, Worldbuilding Theory.  A continuation of the first post, covering alchemy, building materials, metalwork, crops, market gardening, livestock and fish.  Includes a list of largely unreadable tables that account for all the references in my world at that time.  I was new to blogging, so that was a waste of time.  Some notes on how I designate some parts of my world as occupied by non-humans.

Sources Table.  Trade & Production.  Broken link to my sources table, which is now only available through Patreon ($10 donation, button on the side bar).  [Hm, delete the post or leave it as a record of where I once was?]

Prices.  Equipment Table, Goods Manufacturing, Trade Prices.  Again, an early attempt to discuss how the value of commodities and transport are translated into the specific price of a specific good.  This is better done on my present-day wiki.  Includes content, however, on the progression of iron ore to pig iron, wrought iron and ironmongery, distinguishing one from another.  Gives equipment list for ironmongery products.

Player Wrongs.  Legitimacy in DMing, Ranting, RPG Trends.  Discussion of "player rights," DM responsibility and anti-politicization of the game.  I am actually talking about Legitimacy Theory, but I would not stumble into a direct connection between RPGs and that until 2014.

Answers.  Trade Prices, Worldbuilding Theory.  Arbitrary numbers in developing a trade system, rehash of the earlier haulage and values posts.

Commitment.  Personal Memoir, Player Participation.  How lack of commitment leads to the dissolution of game play, social pressures to participate in events other than D&D, lack of respect the game has in the outside world and the failure of players to respect the game enough to sacrifice in order to play it.

Reading these posts each week is a terribly sobering experience, one that I can't say I'm enjoying.  I know that others have written to say they were enjoying these posts at the time, now that I read them I wish I had known more, or been more willing to make a better effort all around.  I suppose it really only matters what I do today.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Art Inflation

Continuing this discussion as an addendum to my late Bard post, I had mentioned that there was a problem with the audience or beneficiaries of artworks that have been produced.  I'll tackle this now.

See, we can talk about the bard creating art and suppose the party picking up a little experience here and there as the party's bard gets lucky with doubles, but we have a greater question.  What is to stop the party from simply entering a large city, visiting the local gallery and soaking up all the plentiful x.p. that's already been produced and is hanging on the walls there?  Or literally paying for experience by coughing up the entrance fee for the Cirque du Renaissance that happens to be showing at a Burgundian or Florentine fair?  See a few jugglers, attend a play and a concert, walk past a few swirls of paint and go to bed a 5th level fighter!

I won't deny it, that is a problem.

Let's consider some solutions.  The first and most obvious one is access.  17th century French salons, at least, were not open to the common hoi polloi.  A vast majority of people ~ player characters included ~ can't read, leaving off a fair number of great works in the way of poetry and prose.  The very best pieces of pottery, jewellery, sculpture and such never make their way into the public markets and are often made for private appreciation.  Galleries, as we understand them, were a somewhat later invention than the 17th century and this, at least, can slow down a few visitors.  The Louvre in my game will still be a palace until 1692 and won't be open as a gallery until 1793, after the French Kings are gone.

This doesn't discount everything, however.  Crecy, Chartres, Lincoln and hundreds of other cathedrals are still quite evident and plain to be seen by most of the population, as are the Pyramids, the Hagia Sofia, the Taj Mahal and the many parts of the Great Wall of China.  Musicians may play for monarchs but they don't play exclusively for monarchs, so that even the greatest musician in the world may happen by to play for a bed that night.  Circus performers, puppeteers and dancers are quite public performers and we all remember being told about the groundlings at Shakespeare plays.  There are still plenty of opportunities for free x.p.

However, comprehension does limit this somewhat.  I described the limits of how much understanding a lower level has in art created by a higher level bard when I first proposed the art-as-x.p. transfer idea.  Perhaps we might install a different limitation, however, in the way of intelligence and wisdom checks, so that our munchkin fighter of the 8 intellect can't help but fall asleep as Hamlet talks to his dead father.

But that doesn't help us with mages and clerics, does it?  And the last thing we need is to give mages and clerics an edge - they get enough as it is.  So perhaps checks aren't such a good idea.

Well, how about fatigue?  How many paintings can a person stare at?  How many circus performances and poetry readings can a person reasonably be expected to endure?  Perhaps that first bard might get the blood pumping and flowing, but after the one after, or the one after that?  We might say that if we grew up in the vicinity of Notre Dame, who really cares what it looks like to outsiders.

On the vein, perhaps there's only one kind of art that can appeal to a given person.  You might like art pottery but floor mosaics are a yawn.  Perhaps its music that steals your heart and you feel nix, naught, nothing for what others call a good dance routine.  Perhaps all this other stuff just doesn't reach you - but give you the death-defying, flabbergasting demonstration of a high wire act and your day is made.

Finally, there is always scarcity.  The players may go looking for these things but the reality is that they're just damn rare.  Or surprisingly lacking in the promise that others have given.  Perhaps the Pyramids really are just piles of rock.  Perhaps the Taj looks great in a rendering, but since the grounds weren't finished until 1653 (the Mausoleum was finished in 1643), perhaps it is less than great when surrounded by thousands of slaves ripping up the earth in every direction.  Perhaps the Great Wall is just a wall.

I think it is probably a combination of all these things - along with every dirty trick I can invent to turn seeing a single painting into a difficult, trying adventure that makes the pay-off cost something.  Certainly, having created the problem, I'm on the hook for managing the solution in a reasonable, player-accepted manner.

Else I'm stuck with players easily piling up unbound amounts of experience, which certainly doesn't work for my game.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Taking Stock in April

For those who are interested, I am wrapping up my mini-vacation tonight and will be giving at least some of my attention, again, to the online campaigns.  The Senex Campaign, I know, has been a trial of late, as the players seem trapped in this awful little room with this awful single, apparently indefeatable monster.  I would have like to resolve that before this break, but unfortunately that resolution did not come together.

At the same time, I know, the Juvenis campaign is in a similar lull, the sort that comes once a dungeon is finished and a party feels a bit, well, unstructured for a time.  This passes.  But that party, too, would no doubt like to move on.

I have concluded an important agreement with an as-yet unnamed party regarding my credibility ~ an agreement that I sincerely hope will put my concerns at rest and those who have chosen to back me in the past.  I will be providing evidence of the book to this person who, in turn, will confirm the book's existence and forward movement.  This person has a long-standing blog on the internet and a reputation to defend: he has, therefore, his own reasons to be honest.

It is the best I can do.

There are a lot of calls on my time, not the least of which is still trying to beat the streets to find work. Things are looking up. I have bites and nibbles all over and something is going to give soon.

I will still be giving my all to the comics and the book.  Everything else, including the online campaign, is just going to have to take its time in between my other commitments.  I have no desire to suspend either campaign, especially since after the book is done I am going to feel a tremendous weight fall from my conscience.  There will always be another book, but at least for a time I won't feel like I'm grinding helplessly in the dark.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fixing the Bard's Ability to Transfer X.P.

Coming back around to the bard.

Some might remember that way back in January, I wrote a proposal that a bard's artwork could work as a transference of experience from the bard to the audience, effectively putting one's soul and experience into that work so that a part of it would then be given - in a firm, practical, game meaningful way - to the person who saw or heard the results of that artwork.

A few days ago I put up a table on my wiki that would try to codify this, to propose how long it would take an artist to make an artwork vs. how effective the artwork would be.  The table looked like this.


Let me start by saying there is a big problem with the table, one that took two days to sink in.  First, however, I'll talk about how it was supposed to work.

The bard starts by stating what degree of artwork they want to make.  We'll say that our bard Henri is an authority-level bard, meaning he is unable to make illustrious work or better but he can make anything up to excellent.  Henri is a painter and he decides he's going to make a fine piece of art that will take him, according to the table, 19 weeks.  It would take less if he were an expert or a sage, but he's an authority so there it is.

Each week, Henri makes a check to see how he is progressing.  Note that the heading says "weeks of success" ~ which means Henri must be successful 19 times to complete his work of art.  It could take him many more weeks to actually finish it, which accounts for going over and starting from scratch, going through blue periods and moments of crisis, struggling with the method and so on.  Each week, Henri throws 2d20, one against his wisdom and one against his intelligence.  If he succeeds against both, he has had a successful week and he can move on.

Finally, when the painting is finished, others who view it gain the benefit of 5-8% of Henri's experience.  We'll say that Henri is 6th level and has 30,000 x.p., and we roll a 5 (poor Henri), so that others gain 1,500 x.p. upon seeing the painting, adjusted according to what level they themselves are.  All of that is covered in the link that started this post.

This is fine, except it's broken from the outset.  We'll start that even 38 weeks of work seems a little short for giving someone ~ even an equal level ~ that much experience.  I messed around with the table in all sorts of way and I can see that's still an issue.

A much bigger issue is the question, why would Henri EVER make anything except creditable works?  It takes less time and the payoff is much, much better that working for a long time on something fine.  Henri can make better than 6 creditable paintings in the time it takes to make a fine one, with more than three times the probable payoff.  So the table's concept is garbage out of the gate.

Finally, there's no adjustment here for the artwork being a fail.  Henri knows if he works all this time on the painting, eventually it will be finished and eventually it will pay out.  So there's no stress here, either.

[there is another issue having to do with the viewer/audience, which some of you will have guessed, but I will discuss that in another post]

Now, there's nothing about the table above that can't be salvaged without dumping the % column, so let's start there:


Let's keep Henri having to choose the level of artwork, only let's have that choice mean something. Let's also keep Henri having to roll under his wisdom and his intelligence for each week, in order to be successful.  But let's skew those rolls in a way that rewards MORE work instead of less.

Suppose that Henri's intelligence is 10 and that his wisdom matches the bard's minimum for my game, 13.  And we'll say, for the heck of it, that Henri decides to create a creditable work.

This means he has to succeed at 3 rolls (2d20 per roll, against the two stats).  That's easy.  But now we're going to say that for the artwork to have any value, one, two or three of those rolls must be a double.

That is, the number on the wisdom check and the number on the intelligence check must match; if they do not match, the artwork progresses towards completion but, in fact, adds nothing, zip, zero to its value.

Once Henri has rolled three times, if there are no doubles, the artwork is finished and can't be continued.  Henri might sell it for some income, but it is worthless for experience transfer.

Let's spend a moment talking about rolling doubles on 2d20.  There are 400 possible combinations in rolling two 20-sided dice, just as there are 36 possible combinations in rolling two 6-sided dice.  With 2d20, there are 20 possible rolls in 400 that will result in a double.  With 2d6, there are 6 possible rolls that will result in a double.  Therefore, there's a 5% chance of rolling doubles with 2d20, just as there is a 16.67% chance of rolling doubles with 2d6.

[Please forgive these comparisons. People are more familiar with the odds on 2d6]

However, for our success to count, the doubles that Henri rolls for making an artwork must also be equal to or less than both his wisdom and his intelligence.  That means there are only 10 possible doubles that enable Henri to give his art value: a mere 1 in 40 chance.  So yes, Henri is going to produce less valuable art than someone with an 18 in both intelligence and wisdom: just as a fighter with an 18 in both strength and constitution is going to do better than one with a 10 strength and a 13 constitution.

But okay, so what?  Roll a double, not, Henri can spend 19 successful weeks making six so-so paintings or he can spend it making one so-so fine painting.  If every double produces the same bonus to the experience he can transfer, what difference does it make?

Ah.  Obviously, we have to look at that bonus.

Henri attempts a credible painting and, lo and behold, he rolls a double in his third week.  Yes!  How much transfer does Henri get?

Well, I have to base this on someone spending 6 years working on the Mona Lisa (Da Vinci painted a lot of similar paintings that never amounted to a thing except to art historians) giving a 20-30% transfer.  That's a masterpiece, 305 successful weeks from a sage, by someone who probably had a 19 in both intelligence and wisdom, so six years and a bit to roll an average of 15.25 doubles.

If we allow each double to generate 2%, that works out.  But I have another idea.  A better idea.

Suppose that for a first double, we offer 0.3-1.8% of the bard's experience available for transfer (3d6 x 0.1).  If Henri rolls a 10, that's 1% of his 30,000 x.p., or 300.  Not bad, since it would take Henri an average of 13 credible paintings to get a single double.

But what if he gets a second double?  Is it 2 x 0.3-1.8%?  No, I don't think so.  A second double on one art work means either it is an ambitious project or the bard really was on fire.  The second double gets a 0.1% bonus!  Yes, I know what the reader is saying: big deal.  But what if every subsequent double gets a similar bonus?

Very well, look at the table on the right.  With each cumulative double to be obtained in a given artwork, the overall average of that particular double increases. At best, a credible work can manage three cumulative doubles before the work is completely done.  This doesn't mean it can't be a pretty amazing work; but the chances of rolling three doubles on 2d20 in a row, all of which are below one's wisdom and intelligence, is pretty low.  Henri has a much, much better chance of getting three (or even two in one work) if he tries for longer and longer works.

And if it is an immense project, something that really will take years (including the destruction of failures or merely the attempts before hitting the mark - like Michaelangelo's multiple attempts at David) has the chance of really mounting up points with a lot of doubles.

Am I making bard transfer artwork incomprehensibly difficult?  Oh, you bet!  I want it to be the Holy Grail, not something a bard character churns out without reflection or suffering.  The mere fact that a bard could waste 20 weeks of their life and game time trying to create a juggling move or forty stanzas of epic poetry, only to fall flat on their face audience-wise, will really make a bard pause before making the effort.

Remember, we want the player bard to have the artist experience.  That includes failure, just as it does for a fighter.  But it also includes the very, very rare piece of incomprehensible genius that causes the world to stop and take notice.  That takes time, it takes suffering . . . and it takes risk.

There's a reason why a lot of artists are prone to suicide.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Editing Will Be the Death of Me

Damn it.

Because of formatting, I screwed over a punchline in yesterday's comic.  And it took me a whole damn day and more to notice!

Look at it again:


I have this long list of checks that I go over, that I'm adding to all the time.  Haven't had this error before.  I hope, eventually, that checklist will stop this sort of thing from happening.