Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

I've been looking at the website, taking note of the Hurricane Harvey as it was forming and moving across the Gulf of Mexico.  Just from interest.

Here is a screenshot of what Hurricane Harvey looked like on August 24th, when we were told it was developing into a category 4 storm, the largest in 12 years:

Note the date and time on the left hand side.

And here is what Harvey looked like, 36 hours before, at midnight on August 23rd:

Harvey formed in the southeast corner of the Gulf of Mexico, which happens ~ but category 4 storms do not come from here.  The Gulf of Mexico tends to form tropical storms, not all out hurricanes. Big hurricanes usually form like Irma, right now in the mid-Atlantic.  But this is not the only confusing thing about Harvey.  Have a look at the Gulf of Mexico, just 12 hours before the picture above, at noon on August 22nd:

No hurricane.  There's a Low sitting over the Yucatan peninsula, which in the afternoon of the 22nd moves over the west coast of the peninsula.  By evening, it's evident that the Low is strengthening into a hurricane and by midnight on the 23rd, there's Harvey.  Just 66 hours later, at 6pm on the 25th, it hits the coast of East Texas for the first time.

And it has played hell with the region, as it didn't just make landfall and break up, because there was a tremendous weather system inland that kept Harvey trapped on the coast.

As I write this, on August 31, here's a view of Harvey as it pours rain on the states of Arkansas and Mississippi:

Interesting stuff.  I had seen that there was a report of another hurricane forming the same way by the 4th of September.  This morning, as I was looking at these maps, that was the forecast.

However, as I look now, that hurricane is no longer expected to happen.  Good news.  But from what I see and hear, it could take three weeks for the water to drain off East Texas.  I also hear this is in great part from the failing of East Texan communities to spend a proper budget on drains, not to mention an irrational attitude towards zoning, that prohibits the sort of urban planning that would make it possible to shake off a storm like this when it happens.

I don't know what people are thinking where it comes to this sort of thing.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Rant Unfair to Readers

I feel I'm doing a disservice to my readers, working on monsters as I have done the last couple of weeks ~ and not new monsters, but very old monsters.  I don't suppose there's much interesting that is left in these old beasts.

Was passed a monster chart the other day that had a lot of monsters that, I will admit, were utterly unfamiliar to me: drakainias, vemeraks, thulgants, bzastras and so on ... no doubt these are all terribly familiar to the reader.  Yes, well.  I never investigated the Monster Manual II, or the Monster Compendiums 1, 2 and 3, nor any of those monster books that were associated with realms or splatbooks, nor anything published having to do with monsters dating from the rise of 3e. I just didn't care.  I remember flipping through such books a the game store with a vague interest, seeing quickly that these new monsters didn't seem to have much "new" about them.  Just a shifting around and reconfiguring of the same old abilities, with new pictures and new unfamiliar names.  I might have looked at a myconid or a decapus at some point, but I wouldn't remember now.

I'm an old man, I guess.  When I went through the monster manual back in '79, I had at least heard of a chimera or a hydra.  I knew imps and minotaurs from stories.  Yes, there were some odd names, but they grew familiar over a lot of time.  Some I just never used.  I have never thrown a morkoth at a party or a thought eater (and I don't use psionics, at any rate).  I can count the number of times I've used a remorhaz, a groaning spirit or a mind flayer on one finger.  Most monsters, I have always thought, were a bit of a waste.

I went through the Fiend Folio when it came out, still a young feller, but I ditched more than half the monsters almost at once.  We played with flail snails but what a joke, along with flumphs, cifals and tweens.  Revenants were clearly set up to fuck with parties and I did not include them in my campaign.  The few monsters in the Deities & Demigods were better, particularly those from Melnibone and Cthulhu, the two parts of the book that were ripped out after the initial release (of which my original copy was stolen, so that I lost those pages until the internet happened).

But more monsters?  I had enough by then.  I was constantly having to adjust them, too, to make them more tougher or less silly or whatever ~ and that got to be a job that was too big to manage, as it still is.  Back in the mid-80s, I plowed through a description of every monster I used on my Commodore 64, 650 printed pages ... and kept the binder full of those pages on hand until about '91.  By then I was thinking that I should put it into Mac Word.  I would start, but it bored me.  I lost the binder in '97 to a nutjob roommate who destroyed a bunch of my things while I was out of town, so I had to start again from scratch in 98 when I got my Pentium.  Again, did not get far.

The wiki is just the end of a lot of tries to sort out the exact details of the monsters, to explain how the Beholder's eyes actually work or build proper rules for dozens of little details.  How does trample actually work?  When are people actually trampled?  The book makes it sound like characters thoughtfully lay down in front of cattle whenever.  I've always tried to clear that sort of thing up.

More monsters just means more misunderstandings, more work.  For what?  A different monster that also drains blood?  Yet another dragon or demon?  Yet another small creature that exists as a annoyance to play tricks and steal the parties things?  How is the game made better than there are fourteen different creatures that all serve the same purpose?

Humanoid races have always been useful.  We need lots of enemies to fight one another.  But if it is another humanoid race, what is the good of it being just another elf or another dwarf?  How many different kinds of goblin do we need?  Can't we just use goblins?

BUT . . . I know.  The tide is here and I'm underwater.  I'm carping about a world that is never going to change.  And I'm working on a monster list that can barely get a 'meh' out of the reader.  I apologize for that.

Still, the list I'm creating is very good for my game and my world.  These insights into old monsters, how they should have worked and how they can work, are worth a thousand ill-considered add-ons that seem to have been created more to give bored game designers something to do.  When drawing lines to make megadungeons go sour, let's throw five old ideas together into a blender and make a monster.

My daughter feels that I should write a book called the "Blender Monster Handbook," featuring monsters made by random dice and other poor decision-making processes.  She says it will sell.  I think it would be boring as hell to write.

I am sorry.  I am.  None of you readers have asked for this very boring rant.  You don't deserve it. This is just an excuse for me not to start working on making the centaur monster relevant.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Film Industry's Grievance

I watched the film Birdman last night. Two years late and after two previous attempts to get past the first ten, very pretentious minutes. I would never have watched it at all, except that in the last two weeks I have seen Michael Keaton, an actor who might as well have been dead to me, turn up in two good films: Spiderman: Homecoming and The Founder. And so, I felt I should give Birdman another chance.

I was in just the right mood to watch a bad film to the end. Sometimes, I'm more interested in ...

Saturday, August 26, 2017


This is only the bugbear and I wouldn't say I made a big change to the monster.  The rest of it can be read on the wiki.  I'm only posting it here because I had a thought during its writing that led to a good idea.

I was reworking the details about bugbear leaders, shaping it to my own world, adding bugbear shamans, clerics and mages, and finding the whole description increasing in clumsiness.  That's how I always felt about humanoid races from the books.  Unless I was prepared to do a lot ahead of time, it wasn't practical to have the party come across a large number of a particular kind of humanoid.  It is easy to roll hit points for two or three giants.  It is annoying as hell to create leaders, stats and hit points for 30 bugbears.

That is why, I suppose, so many just make them exactly the same.  And I have done that.  But it occurs to me, why not just attach a bugbear clan generator to the wiki page?  Then it can roll the classes, the followers, even give them detailed character stats and ready made hit points.

The reader can find an excel file on the wiki page, that can be downloaded and observed.  It covers both kinds of bugbear: what I call the Nissi An type, or homeland bugbears, who are more primitive, and the outworlder bugbears, who live among goblins, hobgoblins and norkers.

It's cute and helpful and not the end all and be all of generators.

However, why not a generator in the same format for every monster?  On its wiki page, waiting to be opened, downloaded in a couple of seconds and boom, stats and details, good to go?  Sounds good to me.

Then, as I move forward, I can make those tables more and more detailed.  I can make them more helpful.  As someone who heard this idea just told me, "Scary."

Friday, August 25, 2017

Making Choices in Player Creation

Enough of this negativity.  Let's get down to unsolicited advice.  Before we can get our characters going, we have to pick spells, abilities and gear.  Here's a run-down of what we want to keep in mind.


We can break these into five different categories, based on what the spells do for us and for others. I'll discuss them in order of importance ~ that is, what spells do we want to take first and from the beginning.

Offensive: whatever our conception of the character, however we feel about what a spellcaster does or doesn't do, we're acting the fool if we don't take at least one attack spell, right off the top.  The best spells are undeniably those that cause damage.  Influential spells, such as those that charm, hold or physically affect creatures are nice, but most of those are designed for use with humanoids.  During the crunch against a creature without intelligence or with eyes, as is often the case, a strong illusion or light-driven spell is going to prove useless, as are spells that change the environment or the creature's emotional state.  On the other hand, pure damage spells are universal.  They work against everything.

As well, we and our party are going to get into a situation where some creature just won't die, though it must be in the neighborhood of five hit points or less.  This is just the time we need a magic missile or a low-damage chromatic orb.  It doesn't matter if it only does 2-5 or less.  Save it up and use it at that crucial moment that will end this thing, finally.

Protection of Others: there are many spells that provide aid to others in times of distress.  Bless or the cleric's Prayer spell is like that.  Protection from evil (or malevolence).  A wall of fog.  Any spell that will make things easier for as many fellow party members as possible.  I don't recommend that all our spells fall into this category, but we should be sure to take at least one if we can.  Obviously, the most important are healing spells, mostly because they can be the last ditch saving grace when a party member is slipping into the grave.  Take one of them first, then consider the others.

Protection of Self:  these are fine, but they are of secondary importance to any spell that can protect more than one person.  Yes, we want to survive and yes, it helps others if we are still around to cast spells.  But if the others don't survive, we're alone.  We should think about that.  So while eventually we will be taking a good, solid protection of self spell, like sanctuary or jump, we should make sure we're a strong protector of others.

Everyday Spells: these won't keep us alive in combat, but they're useful enough to be of value all the time.  A magical mount that enables us to travel, a familiar that we can find, a hut that protects us at night, something unseen that can serve us continuously or cast a light so we can see in the dark.  These are all good ~ but understand, they are really the 4th most valuable things we should be thinking of.  These are luxuries, not necessities, and too many luxuries will take up magic slots that could have saved the lives of our friends and ourselves.  So limit the number of luxuries to a minimum.

Spells that Solve Problems:  many of the spells available are tremendously useful ~ but only in rare, obscure situations.  Sometimes, the situation might be common enough to consider the spell: the need to climb something or not fall to our deaths.  But really, how often do things need mending, when we can't just do without?  How often does a small rainfall help?  Isn't that remove fear spell just going to sit useless in our pocket most of the time?  Before taking spells that do nothing but solve unlikely problems, we should really, really think.  Perhaps we should be taking a spell we will use, rather than a spell we might use.


Here I am thinking of my sage abilities, but the advice above that applies to spells should, in some degree, apply to skills as well.

Skills can rarely be applied to causing damage or even to direct physical offense, unless it augments some power we already possess.  We can take advantage of that, yes, but it risks our becoming a one trick pony.  What value has the pony got if it can't do a second trick?  So while hitting really hard is better than just hitting hard, maybe hitting hard is enough for now and it might be a good idea if we can jump the gorge instead of dying in it.

The same applies with regards to skills that help everyone and skills that just help me.  That latter may matter as regards to our self-image, but as skills are in short supply, being that we can only choose so many, we get a better capitalization of those skills if they can be applied to more people.  If they can help the whole party find something or protect themselves against something, we're getting more bang for our buck.  After we make everyone else a little safer, then we should think about ourselves and what we want.

That sounds a bit preachy, I know.  I'm really just talking about the better chance of survival for everyone.  If we are there to help our party, our strong and living party will be there to help us when we need it.  It is a change from an overt dependence on self-reliance to mutually assured survival ~ and yes, it means trusting other people.  For many, that is a damn hard thing to learn.

Armor & Weapons

How I have watched party after party equip themselves!  Armor, then weapons, then maybe they start thinking about clothes, very often forgetting their boots ... and then we begin the selection of tools, toys and, finally, just general stuff.

I don't have much to say about armor.  Players depend on it a lot, are very uncomfortable without it and would rather move slowly and be armored than enjoy the freedom of living without it.  I suppose that we must defend ourselves like a turtle if we have the capacity, so I won't fault players here for taking that route.

With regards to weapons, I have a few suggestions.  Pick one solid hand-to-hand weapon up front.  One-handed weapons leave us open for using a shield, but a two handed weapon is fine.  This first weapon shouldn't be too long, we are going to want to use it in close quarters.  A sword, a battle axe, a mace, a spear, a club or a quarterstaff is best, depending on our class.  Clubs and quarterstaffs break but can be easily, and cheaply, replaced.  Spears can also be thrown, if need be.  If we don't have a strength bonus at all, a mace is better than a sword because it won't roll 1s for damage.  Battle axes are good for breaking in doors and other things and swords are just a good, all-around sturdy weapon, with the benefit that none if it is made of wood.

Most of the time mages and illusionists will take daggers rather than a quarterstaff.  The dagger doesn't do much damage but it can be thrown and hey, the two classes only get one proficiency to start.  My one contention is that daggers thrown by a mage class that start by needing a 21 to hit AC zero makes for a lot of missing and very little damage done when a hit does happen.  How many times have I see a mage throw three daggers, hitting only once, and then for 1 damage!  Might just as well wade in and try with a quarterstaff.  At least if the goblin hits us for 1d6 damage, that's meaningful damage the fighter hasn't taken and it makes a bigger difference to the overall fight than standing to the side tossing metal pieces at walls.  But of course, that would demand our thinking of others ~ which, as I said, is hard to learn.

Okay, second weapon:  take something that can be thrown without loading.  A dagger is fine for a second weapon, a hand axe, a warhammer, a javelin perhaps and, of course, a spear.  We should then get into the habit that the first weapon we pull is not our main weapon, but our secondary weapon, which we're going to start by throwing.  Then we can draw the main weapon while we wade in.

Third weapon: now that we have something we can throw right off, pick something we can load and fire.  A crossbow is fine, but plan on using it once and then throwing it away in favor of our main weapon, because it won't be worth the time it takes to reload it.  If we want to use it twice, we'll hire a servant to reload our crossbow for us, while we kill things.  Nothing is more useless than a fighter standing around loading things.

If we want to fire something more than once, then we should go with a sling or a bow. The benefit of a sling is that stones are cheap and plentiful and the tool weighs nothing.  We never have to worry about having a bow strung over our shoulder while we're climbing through some hole in the ground.  The bow, on the other hand, does more damage and has a slightly better range.  Still, most of the time we're going to be shooting at things within 50 feet.  Range for either will be the same, most of the time.

Finally, a last weapon.  Here we can think about getting a specialty device.  A bludgeoning weapon for things that can't be cut.  A polearm for its reach.  A spear versus charge.  Something that hooks or disarms, if our DM allows that sort of thing.


Thinking about it, I believe this is going to require a post of its own.  I'll work up a list of ten or twelve things that we always ought to have with us and write that out.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Entitled Who Want

Let's settle that we've rolled the bare bones of our character and that we've settled on the stats, the general appearance, age, race, gender and other particulars that satisfy us, including a back story if that is what we want.  The next stage would be equipping the character, both in terms of the character's unique abilities and then in what actual gear the character will be carrying.

Without devolving into particulars of the present state of D&D or other RPGs, it is my feeling that player characters shouldn't be able to do much, particularly at the beginning.  The choice of what might be done should be of a good size, enough to promote discontent when the player understands that making this choice will preclude the benefits of that choice.  Choice can be paralyzing.  Players can easily spend hours struggling between choices ~ and can feel distress when they realize, or feel, that they've made the wrong choice, even if they really haven't.  The aftermath of choice is often the wherewithal to accept one's limitations and play inside those ... while many players are simply incapable of accepting their limitations in real life.  Naturally, if Johnny can't deal with his not being the guitar player he so badly wants to be, he won't do well with not being able to jump across this gorge now because sometime in the past he wanted a better bonus on his weapon.

Yet part of the game is that players must learn to play to their choices.  If Johnny's skills don't include gorge-jumping, then why is he here on the lip of this gorge in the first place?  I'm an extraordinarily clumsy person in real life.  I'd guess my dexterity at a 7, give or take a point depending on the day.  As such, I don't go rock-climbing.  I just don't.  I am a good writer, so I play to that strength and stay home.  I don't moan about my lack of dexterity; I cope with it and enjoy the fact that writing doesn't take much.

Players, I have found, don't think like this.  When asking what they'd like to do first in the campaign, they don't look at their character sheets and think, "What would a guy with a 17 wisdom and an 8 dexterity want to do?"  They think, "I can do anything if I try."  And so it begins.  Next thing, there's Johnny on the edge, about to die.

The control we have over our character's success depends on settling upon a set of abilities (spells, proficiencies, feats, skills, whatever we want to call them) that we like and then playing to those strengths.  In the bigger sense, it is having a party with a wide variety of abilities and then playing to all of them as a team.  Matt is a better first baseman than I am, while I'm a better hitter, so I'll play outfield while he plays infield. Grant is better with his glove than I am so he can play left field and I'll play right.  Does it mean I'll have less to do as a fielder?  Yes.  But the chances of our winning is improved.

Johnny, on the other hand, wants to play first base because he wants to.  Period.  And no one will play first base instead because Johnny will make a racket, or he'll take his ball and go home.  This is what we're seeing all over.  I don't want to be a fighter that protects a mage because that's not as much fun as ignoring the mage's needs and feeding my own.  I don't care that we're going to go into a dungeon, I'm going to take polearms and morning stars as my proficiencies because, well, because.  Those weapons are cool.  And so on.

Then we can bitch and moan until the DM fixes the dungeon that allows us to do what we want. Because that's what its all about.  Doing what we want, and to hell with everything else.  The DM must change, the rules must change, the arbitrary limitations on what I can do must change, I deserve to be able to trade something I have for something I don't according to what I think is right, and if you won't let me, then you're being unfair.

This thinking has become pervasive.  As my daughter tells me, there are endless parents now who won't make their young children lose at board games.  These parents see their five-year-olds get upset when they can't succeed at Operation so they make concessions.  "It's okay if you touch the sides once," they say.  And so the kid never learns that skill, or the need to learn that skill, or indeed the value of skills.  They learn that rewards are given to the most upset ... and then a company comes along to ask game-players how they think the game should be played, and dutifully write down the opinions of a people who have no idea how a game works.

And here is where we are.

Stuff, Then Some Game Design

Part of my nature is to work on a particular project for a time, so long as it remains interesting, then ultimately set that project down to work on something else.  I'll work on maps for a bit, then the trade system, then the wiki and the sage abilities, followed by some project like rules for ship combat, then ~ and I'm doing now ~ I'll work on monsters, until finally after six or eights months, I'll start working on maps again.

I've actually been like this since I was seven or eight ~ though my projects were less ambitious then.  At eight, I would write some stories, then I would copy all the cities out of my atlas that had more than 25,000 people into a list, then I would draw some maps out of the atlas, then I would use my almanac to make some diagrams depicting how much natural resources one country was making compared with another country, then I'd make a list of the largest countries in the world, to compare them, and then I would get the urge to start writing stories again.  This was all long, long before I ever discovered D&D.

So, the reader can see, I was always crazy.

This round of monsters, I had promised myself I would do at least fifty.  So far, I've done 30.  In about a week, so not bad.  It would be nice if I could sustain this for two more weeks, that would get a fair bit done, but I could feel with the beholder yesterday and the black pudding today that I'm already beginning to tire of it.  It is a lot of writing and most of it doesn't have an immediate application for anything.  Still, I do intend to do that 50 and if I can push myself to keep going after that, all the better.

I was going to work on the bonesnapper tonight before going to bed, but instead I thought it might be good if I wrote a post.  A post not about monsters.  I can see that some of you are enjoying the monster posts, so I'm going to continue to put those up for a while.  If I'm working on the wiki, it's still content of a kind.  Just different.

But more than a week ago I wrote a post where I left a hanging promise to explain why minimum stats for classes are important.  I never did explain that, did I?

This is going to sound crazy for some people, but in truth the model for making characters ought to include disappointment. You want to be a paladin, an illusionist or a monk, and you have your heart set on it.  In your mind, you think its logical: this is just a game, right?  And in a game, you ought to be able to be the Top Hat, the Racecar or the Thimble, if you want to be.  That's only fair.  And then someone comes along and explains that no, sorry, you just don't have the stats. Sorry.  Better luck next time.

How is that possibly a good thing?

To begin with, the classes are not just pieces.  An RPG can use them as pieces, and still work as a game, but there is very definitely something lost by making that decision.  See, the classes, like rolling an 18 and not a 17 for your stats, are also a prize.  If you roll sufficiently well, then you have the option to open different features of the game ~ and I know that you readers understand this because you've all played video games. How many times has it been that you've played a game for endless hours before discovering that Easter Egg in the game that lets you do something totally different?  Why do game makers provide those options as Easter Eggs?  Why don't they just tell you?

Human beings are hardwired to make discoveries.  It is one of the best things about being human. The internet itself is the best video game in existence, given that despite the thousands of hours we've spent playing the game, we're still looking for something new.  Something different.  Something we've never experienced before.  We keep looking because the net is vast and we know that there is something out there that will blow our socks off.  Eventually.  And we are always right about that.

The worst element of RPGs, and any activity that draws us, is the eventual boredom we know we are going to feel when we've ultimately destroyed any sense of "new" in a thing.  The monster layout I came up with was new and the wiki pages looked better when I finished them, which gave me a shot of endorphins and/or dopamine each time I wrapped a page up and went to the new one. But that shot is getting thin now and I know that soon it won't be enough to keep me interested. The maps give me a shot because I'm finding a new way to make them look or I'm doing new, different places in the world, like Tibet or Sinkiang, but eventually that shot, too, begins to thin out and I want something else.  This is how we work.  This is why jobs become deathly dull until we can get promoted or find some other way to keep ourselves jacked while plodding through the day. This is why marriages sour and end.  This is why the one thing I really did learn in kindergarten was that kindergarten is really, really boring when you're a year older.

If I let you, the player, try all the classes any time you want, because I play a different campaign every week, so you can get the feel of having a mage, cleric or assassin long enough to find out it's really not that different from a fighter, just more stuff, you're going to quickly get bored with the concept of classes.  If I dispense with minimum stats, so you can be a paladin with whatever, then the prize and novelty of the paladin quickly diminishes to those ribbons they still give in school for "participation."  It kills the character making process.  It kills the sense of "I have a monk and I waited two years in this campaign to finally get one."  It reduces every class to the color of gray.

But this, of course, is what everyone is doing now.  This is standard practice.  Basically, because the game is being managed and promoted like the substitute teacher that just wants all the kids in the class to be happy because "Fuck them, as long as I get through today, their usual teacher can deal with this shit."  The WOTC took the stance of giving the players everything they wanted, because the players wanted it really, really badly, and now that they have it they're bored of it.

So we sit down at the table and the DM, who doesn't have any reason to particularly care, hands out a bunch of pre-made character sheets that are probably fudged or "balanced," so that no one feels they've been shafted with a bad character, and the character-making mini-game is gone.  I don't care about this character sheet.  I didn't make it.  I have as much emotional feeling for it as I'd have for a public bicycle or being forced to accept the last rent-available car on the lot.  I don't care if this sheet lives or dies ~ because it is a sheet, and not something that I witnessed being formed.  I had nothing invested in the numbers.  There might have been hope in my heart for rolling well, but now I feel nothing.  Who cares.  I'll run incautiously into the fray and just get this over with.

Every step below the pre-made character sheet is the same principle. Oh, I can be any class I want, no matter what I roll?  Great. Then who cares?  It's not like the mage is better, not in this age of "balance."  It's not even different, not really, because I've run every class by now and the magic is, well, gone.  But sure.  I'll be a cleric.  Whatever.

The guys who invented the game, I'm quite sure, were not thinking about human nature when they came up with the concept of class minimums.  I'm sure it was no different than a lot of other games in their minds, card games where you're lucky if you draw four aces or you throw a seven.  Disappointment turns up in successful games the way that some fruit flies breed and others don't.  There have been hundreds of thousands of games that have been made since neolithic times, but most of those are gone because they didn't have that sense of ... imminent failure that makes a game interesting.

And here we are, having made the best game in the history of the planet, killing it because a bunch of babies want their bottle now now now now now.  And they're getting it, because the people making the decisions, the DMs, are just bad parents.  They don't know what they're doing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The New Eye-Pod

... and I think this one is worth posting as well.  I worked long and hard on it both yesterday and today.

Kicking Jimmy Awake

Detailing the Beholder's ability to put people to sleep, I felt a compulsion to reworking some rules. This makes some changes to notes found on the action points page.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

I Am So Sad

I have now made two attempts to watch the new Netflix show, the Defenders.  The first time I lasted until the credits.  The second time, 22 minutes in.

Oh, gawd, I have super-powers and I am just so sad and so miserable, I can hardly bother to stagger down this hallway to my office and act so bored in front of these strangers, I am dying and I am so miserable and there is nothing I can do, I'm blind and you're in a wheelchair and life is just so bad, so awful, and these dreams, these dreams of dead people, oh, oh, it is so awful and terrible and pointless and angst, oh so much angst, angst pouring over everything, tons of angst, because we are the writers and we have the shit pile right here, the feces have been delivered, and we have shovels, so here it is, let's just start shoveling, shoveling and shoveling, and oh, aren't you excited now to watch these four mediocre series come together for the triumph of angst we're promising in the first twenty minutes ...

No. No thank you.

For the Juvenis Boys

I thought the players in the Juvenis campaign might be interested in this entry.  It can be read in full on the wiki.  It might stir a few memories and explain some of the details the party never did fully interpret.

Working on the Bestiary

The usual classic issue.  I start working steadily on the wiki and not much gets written on the blog.  I suspect that many of you are not bothered, however, since as soon as I start posting there, the stats show an immediate interest:

Starting just before the 15th, I started cleaning up the Bestiary page on the wiki.  As the reader can see, the number of unique visitors, around 100, is steady up until that time, though it is only averaging about 2 pages per visitor.  As soon as I start working on the wiki, making edits, adding new pages, the number of visitors increases (that's from links on the blog) and the number of pages viewed jumps to 7 to 10 per visitor.

I am enormously proud of the wiki.  It has been a long time project, of the sort that many people start on the internet, work on for about 18 months and then abandon.  I can remember many such webpages that were very interesting, but after reading through about fifty to a hundred pages, I would run out of content and no new content would ever appear.

At present, Tao at Wikispaces has more than 1,200 pages and the process continues.  I will go for a month or two without adding anything, for various reasons, but I love that thing.  I love the flexibility, the opportunity to start fleshing out a set of rules or mass of data ... and most of all, I love that I can start a template, leave it, and then pick it again 10 months later without much trouble at all.

I want to make a shout out to Tim of the Great Code and Ozymandias of Crossing the Verse, both of whom have started helping me with the monster project.  Thanks to both of you!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Podcast: Ep. 55, Role-Playing and More

Here's a link to the podcast I recorded last week.  It is out today:

Point of Insanity Network

No embed code at this time, unfortunately.  But here's a graphic for what you'll see if you hit the link.

D&D WikiProject

This is new to me, and I'm sure will contain information that I mostly disagree with, but I respect wikipedia and I think it's worth the reader's attention.  Others will no doubt get a lot out of it.  It is called the WikiProject Dungeons & Dragons, with this explanation from the site:

"Some Wikipedians have formed a project to better organize information in articles related to the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. This page and its subpages contain their suggestions; it is hoped that this project will help to focus the efforts of other Wikipedians. If you would like to help, please inquire on the talk page and see the goals and tasks below.
"The scope of this project is to improve the coverage and quality of articles on the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game."

I will probably be plundering it for some things.

I hope it doesn't go the direction of the compendiums, which gave tons of super-specific and largely useless information, most often writing whole paragraphs to describe behaviour that could be said in a sentence or two.  I always felt that these were written with the idea that the party was going to spend five or six sessions dealing with this one specific monster, so we had to be sure we gave the whole biological construction for the thing.

Writing monster descriptions myself, I try to be as concise as possible.  I have many memories of being in the middle of a game and being faced with some ridiculously long description of a monster I didn't have time to read in depth.  It is very inconvenient when time is an element ~ and I think it has caused me, on many occasions, just to throw orcs or something else simple at the party because I didn't have time to figure out the fifty rules dealing with carnivorous plant culture (monstrous compendium vol. 2).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bestiary Page

My bestiary page on the wiki has been a disaster.  I've never properly and consistently put the right amount of work into the descriptions, it's a bit boring to be honest, and the pages have never looked very encouraging when I've completed an entry.

I hope to change that and to clean up the bestiary page as it stands.  I wouldn't bother going to the link just now: it has too many empty links, as I thought I was getting work ready and instead I was just wasting time before actually working. 

But here's the update of the Alpaca page.  This is about how the page should look.

So, I'm going to be removing the dead links from the page and trying to add new, meaningful content.  It would be nice to add just one monster a day, but even that's impractical, as it takes time.  All together, I have over 700 monsters I could add, so this is an overwhelming, long term project.  At one monster a week, I'll have it all done by the time I'm 67.

Ah well.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


It was pointed out to me that I have never actually written down any of my rules about dragons, how they attack or what form they take.  I was surprised, actually.  I thought I had done it by now.

But no, I hadn't.  So here is a go at the content, collected in the next three posts, which are all copied from the wikispaces entries that I wrote today.  The content in the first post describes the dragon's combat abilities, along with details that apply to all dragons.  The second post gives the eight dragon ages, with some of my own names replacing those in the old monster manual. Finally, the third post gives an example of a dragon entry.  I really ought to work more on my wikipedia bestiary.

Dragons come in many forms, but fundamentally there are certain biological characteristics that all dragons possess. Dragons are covered in thick, heavy scales that serve as a powerful armor. All dragons will have four limbs, the potential to claw their opponents, a devastating bite and a tail capable of whipping opponents. Some dragons may lack wings, particularly those that dwell in underwater environments. While all dragons will produce various gases or liquids from an alchemical gland that is found just below the base of the dragon's long neck, the nature of the 'breath weapon' that emerges from this gland will vary from dragon to dragon.

Dragons that have wings will be able to beat these wings with sufficient force to cause a strong, buffeting wind, capable of causing damage and therefore stunning opponents. Some dragons of remarkable intelligence will have the ability to produce the effects of spells ~ however, this is not a "casting" ability, as dragons do not need to memorize this magic. The ability is inherent and therefore a remarkable dragon can discharge a set number of spells at will, per day. This is further described in detail below.

There are a number of misleading myths and ideas about dragons that do not apply to dragons in my world. It is, for example, nearly impossible to encounter a dragon that is sleeping. Dragons are the most prescient and dangerous creatures in all the world, precisely because it is so difficult to catch them off guard ~ and so the wishful thought that a dragon could be caught sleeping is a fantasy tale that emerges as a metaphor for accomplishing the impossible. Furthermore, dragons cannot be "subdued" as some would believe, being fantastically intelligent, nimble and very large in size. They do not intimidate easily and are nearly impossible to contain. Since a dragon's body is also covered in spines and sharpened ridges, they cannot be grappled, even by giant creatures, without damage occurring from the dragon's writhing body, not to mention that it would be difficult to keep from being ripped to pieces by a dragon's claws. Finally, some believe that dragons are cowardly, egotistical or driven to foolish acts out of a greed for wealth; these notions, too, are tales told by those who have sought to make nonsensical stories about dragons seem more plausible for dramatic purpose. There are reasons for these tales, in that less powerful dragons may be quite young and inexperienced, and potentially at the mercy of flattery and other enticements ~ older, more powerful dragons, however, are enormously wise and well-versed of the ways of weaker creatures. It is best well to assume that a strange dragon will make poor decisions that can be exploited.

Hit Dice, Mass and Age

Dragons will typically have a range of hit dice rather than a specific number. For example, a green dragon has 7-9 hit dice, while a silver dragon will have 9-11. This range indicates whether or not a dragon is willowy, sturdy or robust, these descriptions corresponding to the lowest number in the range of hit dice, the middle number or the highest number. A robust green dragon would have 9 hit dice.

The number of hit points that a dragon has depends upon its mass; a dragon's mass depends upon its species and upon its age. Typically, all adult-sized dragons will weigh approximately 500 lbs. per hit die. The robust green dragon above would weigh about 4,500 lbs, while a willowy green dragon would weigh 3,500 lbs. When we compare these numbers to the number of hit points per hit die, we discover that a willowy green dragon would 3d4 hit points per hit die (a total of 21d4, an average of 52.5), while a robust green dragon would have a d6 plus a d8 per hit die (9d6 + 9d8, an average of 72).

These numbers apply to the adult form of the dragon. Throughout their lives, dragons pass through 8 stages of growth: hatchling, yeulding,young, near-grown, adult, old, very old and ancient. The first five of these, from hatchling to adult, indicate an increase in size. The latter three, from old to ancient, indicate an increase in experience. (see Dragon's Lifespan). As dragons mature, they will have less hit dice, less of their full-grown attributes and less power to cause damage or breathe their signature weapon. Therefore, the actual age of the dragon must be taken into account to determine their effectiveness.

Melee Attacks: Claw, Bite & Tail

Despite their size, dragons are tremendously sprightly, limber creatures that are able to spin their bodies with amazing quickness. Some mistake dragons for lumbering like elephants, but it is much more true to say that dragons attack with the speed and merciless agility of a leopard or a shark.

The head is tremendously large and sits atop a flexible neck that can stretch to attack a creature up to three combat hexes from the dragon's main body. This encourages defenders who would cast spells (which the dragon's intelligence would recognize as a danger to be stopped!) to keep well back. Moreover, since the dragon can twist in place, the head is able to attack in any direction during a given round (though the dragon must turn its body 60 degrees to attack someone directly behind).

The dragon's claws are designed to attack creatures directly in front; each claw can do an effective amount of damage, with larger dragons easily killing a 1st-level defender in one blow. The dragon will begin combat by attacking multiple people with its bite and claws, then concentrating all its attacks the following round on any creature that is hit without being stunned.

If an adult or older dragon strikes with both claws in a given round, whether at the same or different targets, a dragon will then rake with its back claws, effectively gaining two additional attacks.

The dragon's tail, usually enriched with spikes and ridges, can cause nearly as much damage as the bite. The dragon will usually use it to attack anything that is to its rear or flank. It will always turn and strike with its tail upon giving round. Because of the tail's momentum and size, any small or medium-sized creature that is stunned by the tail will be knocked two hexes from the place where it was hit.


Dragons that have reached the age of being nearly grown are able to buffet their wings. This is less about the size of their wings than it is about the speed with which the dragon can flex them, creating a strong wind that will cause real damage. The dragon will rear up, forego an attack with its claws (the head and tail may still attack) and rapidly beat its wings, affecting a 180-degree circle radiating outwards from the dragon's body.

Anyone within four combat hexes of the dragon (20 feet) may suffer damage from buffeting. The amount caused is 1 h.p. per HD of the dragon. Those affected may make save against magic, suffering only 2 damage if they succeed (regardless of the dragon's hit dice).

Creatures larger than 510 lbs. will not be forced back by the severe wind, but lighter characters must give ground. Those starting within 3 hexes of the dragon (15 feet) must fall back two hexes; those between 4 and 6 hexes away must fall back one hex. Creatures that weigh 80 lbs. or less must move back an additional hex, wherever they are standing when affected. All movement must be in a direction away from the center of the dragon's body.

Buffeting with put out torches and lanterns of all sorts (some of the effect is magical, so that the wind will insinuate itself into the cracks of a lantern), knock birds out of the air and force them to land, stir up dust and create obscurement for one round, and fan the flames of any fire that covers an area of more than one combat hex.

The dragon must have room to buffet. Buffeting can be done while the dragon hovers anywhere up to 10 feet above the ground. Typically, a dragon will buffet before escaping, or moving off to seek a better defending position. Buffeting can also be done simultaneously with a dragon's breath weapon.

Flying & Hovering

If there is room, dragons prefer to fly rather than fight from the ground. It's best tactic is to beat its wings sufficiently to bounce from the ground up to ten feet in the air, striking with its claws upon landing, with its bite and tail from actually being in the air and then timing its attack so that it is moving upwards to ten feet, then hovering a second or two before descending. This means that the players are unable to use short melee weapons, though pole-arms remain effective.

If the dragon then chooses not to attack another round, it can beat its wings and take for the air (or buffeting hard) before actually touching the ground again. The combination of these tactics make a dragon very hard to fight in the open air, so that a dragon would rather escape its cave to fight than to remain cornered. In the air, the dragon can raze the ground with its breath weapon, strike with tail and head while flying over the heads of its enemies and retreat to thirty or forty hexes away in just two or three rounds ~ where it can wait before moving in to strike again, or give more ground until it finds an advantage.

Breath Weapon

The dragon's breath weapon comes in all forms: fire, liquid acid, poisonous and sleeping gas, blasting ice, lightning and so on. Principally, it is an area of effect weapon that causes a tremendous amount of unavoidable damage that can be reduced by luck but not avoided. I like that dragons are powerful enough to have this effect.

Rules most commonly try to give the area of effect of a breath weapon according to the location of the mouth and the radiating cone or path, or the dimensions of the cloud being produced. These rules discount the possibility of the dragon swinging its head around in a circle or a straggling strafing path as the dragon flies over a crowd of enemies. Therefore the rules I will play by will measure the dragon's breath weapon by the number of combat hexes the dragon can effect at a time, so long as the hexes connect together and form an imaginable path. The specific number of hexes, and the effects of each dragon's breath weapon, will be discussed on pages describing specific dragons.

Not all breath weapons cause damage. Those that do cause damage will also require that characters to make save for items in their possession. Any characters in an affected hex must make saving throw against breath weapon; the amount of damage is halved if the saving throw is made, or the effects of non-damage causing clouds is reduced or dispelled.

Additional Notes

I have suspended a number of rules that apply to dragons in old D&D's Monster Manual, such as the aura of fear surrounding dragons, ferocity bonuses associated with mated pairs fighting together, all rules associated with subduing dragons, the convoluted manner in which dragon saving throws are calculated (dragons save according to their hit dice or energy levels), calculations for dragon treasure and dragon alignments.

To my mind, all dragons have an intelligence that permits them to speak. Only old, very old or ancient dragons have magic use, as I have indicated on my Dragon's Lifespan page. Not all dragons are either metallic or colored, nor are dragons locked into a two-dimensional moralistic view of the world. Dragons are intelligent creatures, of all sorts, some bad, some good, some self-interested, some generous and so on. Not all dragons are solitary; I have two places in my world (so far) where dragons have actually formed a social structure and which are treated by outsiders as sovereign territories. The last thing I want in a game called Dungeons & Dragons is a narrow minded view of how dragon culture works.

For the time being, I will let these details stand as is, coming back another time to flesh out anything that seems needful. At this point, it would be best to start writing about the motivations behind individual species. I've played with the nomenclature a little, but after some though I must admit that I'm used to using the colors to describe them.

The other two posts, then follow after this one; I posted them in reverse order, so they could be read from front to back on the blog.

Dragon's Lifespan

Dragons are born from eggs laid by adult dragons. The gestation time of a dragon's egg is typically a period of one year. Dragon eggs are magical in construction and thus will be revealed by detect magic spells and devices. After birth, dragons pass through 8 stages of growth: hatchling, yeulding, young,near-grown, adult, old, very old and ancient. The first five of these, from hatchling to adult, indicate an increase in size. The latter three, from old to ancient, indicate an increase in experience. Dragons also occur in three forms: willowy, sturdy and robust. See Hit Dice, Mass & Age for descriptions of these.

As dragons grow, they gain in hit dice, hit points, ferocity and dangerous potential. Even the most immature of dragons make formidable opponents, while dragons of great experience are probably the most dangerous mortal beings in the world.


At birth, a hatchling will be about 5% the full mass of an adult dragon. Thus, while a sturdy brass dragon would weigh about 3,500 lbs., a hatchling of the same species and form would weigh 175 lbs., or as big as a fully grown human. This calculation also gives the weight of the dragon's egg, not being something that can easily be moved. A hatchling is about 10% of a full-grown dragon's length.

A hatchling's hit dice will be only 1/4 that of an adult, always rounded down. The aforementioned brass dragon would have 7 hit dice as an adult, but only 1 hit die as a hatchling (and attack as such). Comparing hit points per die would show that the hatchling would have only 1d8 hit points.

Hatchlings will remain of this age for only a month after birth, before quickly morphing into yeuldings. They will emerge from the egg with claws and teeth, but with only bony stubs where their wings will someday be and only a short, not-yet-grown tail. The claws will cause 1-3 damage and the bite 1-6. The body of a hatchling is soft, so that this calculation should be used to determine its armor class: (x + 10)/2, where x is the armor class of an adult dragon, with all fractions rounded up. The brass dragon with an armor class of 2 would, as a hatchling, have an armor class of 6.

Hatchlings possess a breath weapon that will cause 1 hit point per hit die of their fully grown selves. The hatchling brass dragon in the example above will someday have 7 hit dice, so its breathweapon will cause 7 damage, 3 if a saving throw is made. The alchemical gland is immature, however, so that it will drain after only one use in 24 hours. As well, the effective range and volume is only one combat hex, or 5 feet.


A month after emerging from the egg, a hatchling will molt its outer skin and grow in a few days to yeulding size. During this time the dragon will be vulnerable and unable to defend itself, but typically the dragon will bury itself in mud or sand up to ten feet deep, sometimes finding these conditions at the bottom of a pool or pond. The adult dragon will usually be nearby and protective of the yeulding. Dragons molt in this manner only once in their lives.

Once the yeulding passes through this period of growth, it will be 20% the full mass of an adult dragon. While a sturdy brass dragon would weigh 3,500 lbs., a yeulding of the same species and form would weigh 700 lbs. A yeulding is about 30-40% of an adult dragon's length. It's hit dice will be 1/2 that of an adult, always rounded down. Thus, whereas a sturdy adult brass dragon has 7 hit dice, a similar yeulding has 3 hit dice. A brass dragon yeulding of this form would have 3d10 hit points.

Yeuldings will remain of this age for about four years, before experiencing a radical growth spurt. Yeuldings will have wings that have sprouted and their tails will lengthen; however, yeuldings cannot fly and the tail is not flexible enough to be used as a weapon. The scales of a yeulding's body will be as hard as that of an adult, so that they possess the same armor class as an adult dragon. The damage from a yeulding's bite and claws will be 1/2 that of an adult.

Yeuldings possess a breath weapon that will cause 2 hit points per hit die of their fully grown selves. The yeulding brass dragon in the example above will someday have 7 hit dice, so its breath weapon will cause 14 damage, 7 if a saving throw is made. The alchemical gland is yet immature, however, so that it will drain after only two uses in 24 hours. The effective range and volume is reduced also, to an area of 3combat hexes, straight out or sprayed in front of the dragon's mouth in a shortened cloud.

Young Dragons

The growth spurt of a yeulding to a young dragon is a dramatic shifting and adjusting of the dragon's outer appendages, happening over a period of 2-4 months. The limbs extend, the wings grow out and the tail becomes flexible and longer, while the dragon's neck lengthens, enabling it more control over the placement of its breath weapon. The bones of the dragon can be literally heard as they grow, a cracking, sometimes grinding sound. In overall mass, the dragon does not increase that much ~ only to 40% of the full mass of an adult dragon. Throughout the process, the dragon will be able to protect itself and should be considered to be no longer a yeulding once the process has passed the second month.

Young dragons are about 75% of an adult dragon's length. It will have the hit dice of a full-grown adult, less 2. A young, sturdy brass dragon would have 5 HD. At 40% of the adult dragon's mass, it would weigh about 1,400 lbs. and have 5d12 hit points. Young dragons will have the full use of their wings for flying and of their tails as weapons, but as they are quite clumsy they have not yet learned how to maintain a buffeting rhythm nor how to rake with their back claws. The damage from a young dragon's bite, claws and tail will be 3/4 that of an adult.

Young dragons will also have reached a weight and size where they cause incidental damage.

Young dragons possess a breath weapon that will cause 3 hit points per die of their fully grown selves. A young brass dragon of the example above would someday have 7 HD, so its breath weapon will cause 21 damage, 10 if a saving throw is made. The alchemical gland is yet immature, however, so that it will drain after only two uses in 24 hours. The effective range and volume is reduced also, to half the area of effect of an adult dragon.

Young dragons will not mature until they reach an age of 15-18 years.

Near-Grown Dragons

After 13 years of age, a young dragon's overall body and bulk will begin to mature, as the bones harden and gain weight, as the dragon's spines and ridges stiffen and increase the dragon's protection against hand-to-hand attack. Beginning at 15 years of age, some dragons must be considered nearly grown to adulthood; no dragon that is 18 years of age or older can be considered young.

Nearly grown dragons will have 80% of the full mass of an adult dragon and be equal in length. Thus, they are hard to distinguish from adults. Near-grown dragons will attack with the full hit dice of their adult dragon peers and cause damage with their bite, claws and tail that is equal to an adult dragon. They will be able to buffet with their wings (for 1-4 damage) but will, as yet, be unable to rake with their back claws.

Because of the spines and ridges on a near-grown dragon's body, the amount of incidental damage caused is double-normal, or potentially 1 damage per 500 lbs. of the dragon's weight.

Near-grown dragons possess a breath weapon that will cause 4 damage per hit die. A near-grown sturdy brass dragon's breath weapon would cause 28 damage, 14 if saving throw is made. The alchemical gland is still that of a young dragon, however, so that it will drain after only two uses in 24 hours. The effective range and volume is reduced also, to half the area of effect of an adult dragon.

A prime difference between near-grown dragons and adult dragons is that the former cannot mate or lay eggs. As such, being of full size but not yet with the responsibility of a family, near-grown dragons are the most likely to be encountered as solitary dragons in the wide world. Because they are only 15 to 40 years of age, it is the behaviour of near-grown dragons that has often created the myths and false beliefs about dragons.

Adult Dragons

Once maturing to adult, typically something that comes about gradually between the age of 35 and 40, a dragon has reached the pinnacle of its physical characteristics. It will weigh approximately 500 lbs. per hit die, attack ably with bite, claws (including the ability to rake with its back claws), tail and with buffeting wings. The amount of incidental damage caused by the dragon is double-normal, or potentially 1 damage per 500 lbs. of the dragon's weight (or coincidentally 1 h.p. per HD).

An adult's breath weapon will cause 5 damage per hit die. The alchemical gland that produces the substance of the dragon's breath will sustain three uses in 24 hours and will reach to the full range and area of effect of the dragon's power.

Adult dragons will mate for life. They will remain adults until reaching 80 to 100 years of age, and during that time will raise a brood every 12 years, typically in the late spring or at the start of the wet season, so that hatchlings will be able to molt into yeuldings when mud and wet sand is available. Dragons will fly up to 10,000 miles to isolated areas of mud and sand, often choosing the thickness of jungles, muskeg bogs, isolated island atolls or deep deserts (where some yeuldings will molt under sand dunes).

Broods will consist of 1 to 4 hatchlings, of which one in four will typically die during the molting stage for reasons that are generally unknown. Population growth can become unstable for a time, but typically dragons are removed from the prime material plane to the outer planes for a variety of reasons; typically, a pair of mated adults are chosen to breed elsewhere. This helps reduce the number of dragons being bred on Earth.

Old, Very Old and Ancient Dragons

Once reaching an age where dragon pairs become infertile, anywhere from 80 to 100 years of age, they will settle in a permanent lair where they may remain the rest of their lives. This will often not be the same location where they gave birth, as that was founded on the strange growth cycle of dragons and not necessarily with a desire to protect themselves. Old dragons will prefer deep caves inside mountains of every climate, large impassable swamp lands, the top ridge of ocean trenches or crevices of great size amidst glaciers, depending on the species of dragon.

While they do not become physically stronger or increase their hit dice, once old dragons settle they will being to accumulate energy levels, similar to the levels that characters gain as they accumulate experience. Dragons gain knowledge directly through the earth, through a meditation that is enabled by the magical design of their minds, enabling them to grow in power as clerics or mages, and most commonly as fighters. Typically, an old dragon will have gained their first level within 5 years of seclusion. Thereafter, they will gain a new level every 25-30 years, gaining hit points, spells, sage abilities and so on as they accumulate. These gains are indistinguishable from the levels a character will gain, except that dragons are able to discharge the spells they possess at will, without any requirement for the spells to be cast first.

Eventually, a dragon-fighter's skill will increase the number of attacks that a dragon will have each round, or increase the dragon's THAC0. In terms of sage abilities, old dragons tend to focus on general knowledge rather than applied abilities, since they expect to spend decades in contemplation, only occasionally rising to a discussion with other dragons of their age.

Old dragons, because of their experience and improved ability to target with their breath weapons, will cause 6 damage per hit die with their breath weapons. Very old dragons will cause 7 damage per hit die and ancient dragons will cause 8 damage. This is the primary physical difference, since the number of hit dice will not increase after the dragon becomes an adult, nor will the amount of damage the dragon is able to do with their physical bodies.

Typically, old dragons will become very old once they reach the 5th level of experience (between 160 and 195 total years of age). Very old dragons will become ancient once reaching the 9th level of experience (between 260 and 315 years of age). The maximum age of ancient dragons is unknown, but it is believed that they will pass away, if not discovered and killed, before they reach 600 years of age.

Dragonis Malignans

Also known as the "black dragon," generally perceived to be a vile-tempered flesh-eating creature prone to dwelling in remote swamps, bogs and extensive muskeg covered regions, particularly in northern temperate and sub-polar lands extending from Eastern Europe to Xachta. There are four known species of dragonis malignans, distinguished by the amount of grey, the pattern of horns crowning their skulls and their intelligence.

In the Pripyat marshes, where the dark grey variety (called wretched malignans among scholars) has been hunted almost to extinction, centuries of persecution have created a blood hatred between these dark grey dragons and most humanoids. The war against this species has created most legends about black dragons, that they are cruel, vicious and ruthless, with insatiable appetites and a special taste for children.

By comparison, the midnight-black variety that dwells throughout Magloshkagok, ostakis malignans, a close relative of the wretched variety, is virtually its opposite in nature and temperament. The ostakis is celebrated by the tribal goblins of the region, given ritual feasts during good seasons, treated well when encountered and are often sought out for council by elders. Ostakis dragons are also found in Bjarmaland, Samoyadia and to a lesser extent along the fringes of Nissi An.

Plavatis malignans are very dark greenish-grey in color and dwell in the river systems of the Ob, Irtysh, Yenisey and Lena, most likely to be found where the water is deepest. They have abandoned the use of their wings (which now consist of boneless membranes that drag along the river surface as they swim) and remain in water throughout the year, hibernating beneath ice in estuaries or deep lakes during the winter. The plavitis are generally unfriendly and rarely speak without outsiders, unless compelled.

Finally, the lesista malignans are forest dwellers, most often sheltering in rocky outcrops and caves in muskeg-sodden areas, or in forested hill country surrounded by large swampy areas such as the Vasyugan or Nimdobayek swamps. They are few in number but likely the most friendly of black dragons. They will generally give birth in mid-spring, then migrate once their hatchlings have grown into yeuldings.

On the whole, black dragons are territorial and will only bring an attack against unrecognized creatures moving into their domain. Ostakis and Lesista species will often take a wait and see attitude. When attacking, however, dragonis malignans spew a black bile that acts as an magical-based acid. This quickly breaks down once it leaves the dragon's body, making it impossible to preserve without magical means. Black dragons like to reserve this fluidic "breath" weapon for attacks from the air, flying above the tree tops and using the foliage for cover. They like to target boats on the water, to break a group's will to move deeper into their marsh.

In combat, they will prefer to fight immersed in water, as it decreases the size of their apparent body and forces enemies to move into the water to engage in hand-to-hand. Black dragons are excellent swimmers.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Designing a Player Character

I've stood by and watched a lot of characters get rolled.  I've watched the reaction to the dice and the process of settling where the ability scores get placed, what equipment gets chosen and the eternal questions of race, class, skills and so on get answered.  Even after all this time, I rather enjoy this part of the game, even though I haven't rolled up a character to play myself in, oh, about eight years.

My core method of starting a character hasn't changed much since the early 1980s.  I have the player roll four 6-sided dice, discarding the lowest die.  These are then placed according to the player's will under the six familiar stats (do I have to list them?).  The player does this while keeping the minimum requirements for classes in mind.  This used to be understood by everyone that played, but I suspect that's changed, and that 5e no longer requires minimum stats to be met in order to be a ranger, a paladin, a monk and so on.

I'll get into the question of why minimum stats are important (eventually), but let's start with why using a 4d6 and not 3d6 matters.  From the beginning, I bought into the argument that player characters ought to be "better" than ordinary people.  Not because they're heroes or because they uphold some great cause, but just because a better collection of stats ensures a recognizable edge on NPCs without those stats.  We can take a simple depiction to express the value in this: a player is running across a rooftop, being chased by an NPC.  The player has to make a leap from this rooftop to that; the distance is part of the calculation, but so is the player's strength or the player's dexterity (depending on whether we feel the ability to cross the distance is important or the ability to land well on the other side).  The player makes a roll and then the NPC makes a roll.

We would, I think, rather play in a world where the likelihood is that the player will make the jump and the NPC will fail. This fits with our dramatic instincts and with our self-image.  Whether or not we do good things, we are the good guys (we always think everyone else is the bad guys).  It just seems right that our chance of making that jump ought to be better than someone else's.  And when we make it, and they don't, the world seems to be operating in good order.

Of course, we could miss.  And of course, the NPC might also make it.  But the number of times this departure from our mental projection occurs matters to us.  Too many departures and we'll start to feel the game is rigged somehow, that there aren't enough chances for us to win.  Again, we're the good guys.  The DM's NPC doesn't really matter, right?

There are many who feel it's right if the players have exactly as much power to make that jump as NPCs ... but I can't agree.  As a DM, I don't have near as much invested in a NPC as the player has in their character.  It takes very little for me to produce another NPC as needed, as I don't need to spend a lot of time determining all their stats, their equipment or their particular details ~ certainly not for an NPC chasing the character across some rooftops.  The difference is considerable.  And since the game is about the player, I'm fine with the game interface being balanced for the player.

The 4d6 seems to make a good average improvement, without that improvement being excessive.  I've seen campaigns where it was 6d6 and drop the bottom three dice, or eighteen 3d6 rolls, or some other combination, most of which were named in the old, old DMG from 1979.  Other systems seem too balanced towards a superior player or they seem unnecessarily time-wasting.  4d6 less one die gives an average of 12-something instead of 10.5.  That is just enough to matter, without being enough to make the player feel safe. It fits with the amount of play I want the player to have within the game's structure.

The next question, then, is why let the character select where the rolls go?  There is a top-to-bottom philosophy that insists the die roll order fits the order of stats.  I think I understand: DMs felt the players shouldn't be allowed to consistently run the same class of characters all the time.  "Why does Glenn always have to play a fighter?" goes the logic.  Yet I think this is a DM's problem.  If it were Glenn's problem, Glenn would stop playing a fighter.  I think we should stay away from one person imposing their problem on another person's contentment.  I don't think there's a strong argument to be made for such things.

I like that the player gets some control over what they have to run for what I expect to be a long time.  I don't start games that are meant to stop soon and I haven't found many players whining about having to play a cleric or a mage because that's what they chose two years ago in real time.  That may be mitigated by my henchman rule, but I don't remember it being a problem before.  If it is a good game, and if all the player classes can prove themselves to be relevant in tackling the game's interface, then I think players just like the fact that they're stronger and tougher and have more resources at their disposal, whatever their class is.  The problem arises, I think, when the character improves in level but no real change results as to what the character can do.  The fighter was always an issue here: more hit points and a better combat table, even more attacks, does not make for a dynamic, growing character.  Thankfully, I've solved that problem too.

The player, then, reorders the numbers around the character class requirements and around what obstacles the player intends for the character to overcome.  When considering the number under a given stat, the player thinks in advance, I'm going to be solving a lot of problems that need an effective intelligence or constitution or charisma.  I should then start building my character's goals around my strongest stats.

Hm?  No?  Don't look at it that way?  Well, you're not alone.  No one looks at it that way.  They think, a high stat under charisma will make people like me, a high stat under strength will mean I do a lot of damage, etcetera.  They don't build characters ~ or agendas ~ around their stats.  But they ought to.

Consider.  I start with six rolls (and I'll roll these out).  I have a 14, a 15, a 10, an 18, a 13 and a 9.  Swear to gawd, I just rolled an 18.

Could be a fighter, but there's only a little Con and not much of anything else; I'd rather try a cleric.  It works better for this example, anyway.  I won't get a wisdom bonus in spells for ages but I'll put the 18 under wisdom and the 15 under constitution.  I feel I'm going to want to run a congregation someday so I'll shift the 14 under charisma and I'll take the 13 under strength so I'm able to carry armor and weapons without getting slowed down much.  That's a 10 for intelligence, but I plan to be a bullheaded cleric anyway, and a 9 for dexterity.  I doubt I'm going to run over many rooftops.  I'm far too wise to get into that sort of situation.

I'm running with a DM that is very much like me, so as often as I can I'll try to build up a store of knowledge that will allow me to make a wisdom check when the situation seems unclear.  My DM feels that someone with a high wisdom ought to have a good sense about the motivations of NPCs or the best way to go about getting help from people and organizations.  Past that, my high constitution will mean I'm not afraid to enter into hard, difficult to survive places.  I won't be foolish about preparing for icy or sweltering climes (and my wisdom will give me checks there) and my constitution will give me a good, tough ability to hunker down when the weather and the terrain turns sour.

I'm not planning on influencing a lot of people with my charisma, at least not until I'm in a position of power, because I don't feel I want to lie much with this saintly man of the cloth; but I do want to be left alone.  A high charisma will tend to be treated among the better citizens and as I intend to keep myself clean and well-groomed, the charisma ought to help me if the rest of the party (or strangers in the area) start acting like a bunch of louts.  My strength is at least still above average ~ but not too much.  I'm going to be getting into the fight until I amass enough spells to be an effective caster, so I'll need good armor.  I guess I can take on a fair burden, too, since I'm going to be human.  That makes me a big, burly member of the party among these elves and half-elves, but I don't mind carrying a good, solid load.  If I move at a rate of 3 hexes per round, I should do all right.  Not a chaser, but good enough to stand in front of a mage.

Now, that intelligence.  My DM usually does intelligence checks when players take an action that is flat out stupid; I think with my experience at the game that I'll take my chances.  'Course, I'm won't be the brightest penny in the box where it comes to tactical games or giving orders; guess I'll let some other lead the army we accumulate someday, else I'll walk them straight into a rout.  And with my dexterity, I should be fairly deliberate about keeping my feet on firm ground, walking on the side away from the cliff and vying for knowledge that doesn't require much hand-to-eye coordination.

That, finally, gets us around to why minimum stats for classes are a good idea.  But, this post is already pretty long.  I guess I can manage that for another day.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Podcasting, WPIIA and Other Things

Yesterday, I finished my guest appearance on a Point of Insanity Podcast, specifically Whose Podcast is it Anyway, which will turn up on Friday, August 18.  It was a lot of fun and I got to talk about some of the things I've lately posted about, along with slamming the company behind D&D, adding some talk about Sasquatches and about Russian history.

Listening to Chad, the Podcast presenter, talking about his relationship to the Reagan era (he turned 13 when the Wall came down), I was astounded by the knowledgeable distance between what he knew and something that was happening while I was a conscious and politically active, self-aware individual.  I had turned 16 before Reagan was elected; I watched that campaign, my first (politically interested Canadians watch both the American and British festivals, as we are affected by both), and I remember very clearly what sort of things were being said about Reagan.

None of those things are being said now.  Reagan is the go-to president when people want to talk about a Republican who did bad things but was basically of good character.  Pundits will often say, "Reagan did this or that thing, but at least he was aware of the consequences of what he was doing." Like being aware makes it all better.

Reagan was awful.  Worse than that, he was a joke.  But the Iran-Contra thing had been going on all that summer and making Carter look like a worse joke.  Reagan "got the hostages out," which he totally did not do, as anyone conscious was aware of at the time, but all that has disappeared into dry history books no one reads.  I have lived long enough as a political animal to watch history being rewritten by the winners.  Totally rewritten.

However, as you will hear, Chad seemed to find my few comments about the Afghani war and the coming down of the wall as interesting ... and that makes me wonder about how much raw history is being lost on a daily basis as people who remember first-hand what was going on in the 60s, 70s and 80s are passing away.  History seems a mystery to most people anyway, since the education system (in Canada too, as much as anywhere) is shoving it aside in favor of social culture and social responsibility.

I can't say that the world "needs" me to settle in and write a ton of history, giving my take on things like the Reagan years or what it was like to listen to stories about Carter's brother or Gerald Ford's falling down stairs, both of which were so important a week couldn't go by without either being parodied or discussed.  There are hundreds of thousands of history students who are already doing this, not to mention a major cultural effort of writing the history of everything via Wikipedia.

It reminds me, however, that people don't read history.  If it happened before we were born, it seems to bear little interest for us; why care, everything that matters must have happened after 1964, the year I was born.

(I know, you think that everything that mattered happened after 1976 or 1983, but you're wrong)

Of course, we're willing to make some exceptions for things like Kennedy's assassination, that McCarthy thing and Nazis, but we don't want to get crazy, right?  Not that anyone understands the fifty reasons why people would want to shoot Kennedy, or who McCarthy was or what started that witchhunt, or that Nazis were not just bad guys in Indiana Jones' movies, but hey, we're just interested in the important stuff, right?

I think it is a little sad.  I could do a podcast every week where I did nothing but talk about history, potentially with time to look up small details on the net just to be sure I got the details right ~ and what's odd is that I'm sure that some people would really like it.

But my experience with Chad reminded me what I really need to make a podcast work: someone to ask me questions.  I'm great at answering questions off the cuff.  I enjoyed doing the bits with my daughter, but the issue there was that she steadfastly refused to be a set-up person for me (something about not wanting to be in the shadow of her father or some silly thing).  I've played around with just talking, but it feels ... weird.  If I'm just going to chatter, I'd rather write.  I write better than I chatter.

I'd love to do more podcasts.  I've looked, and I've had some others who have looked, but we haven't found any podcasts who are willing to step up.  If anyone has any ideas ~ or connections, which is better ~ I can write the introductory email.

And if someone wants to dig in and go head to head with me, I have the means to record us and I have the guy to edit us (if he's still willing).  So let me know.  Could be fun.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Button

I'd like to say that I've accomplished something with these posts about game inefficiency, rigidity and agility, but the truth is we've come to the end of the track and I have to wonder what's different.  Personally, I feel vindicated on a lot of fronts.  I had begun making my world with an agile design idea decades before agility was even proposed (was talking with a business manager yesterday who made the same remark with regards to his own practices).  I have always felt that the game world had to be rigid, with an understanding that the rigidity had to be improved or made more flexible, if it wasn't producing a good game.  And why wouldn't we want an inefficient game?

The main change for me these last two months is that I now have design industry terms to describe things that I've always thought of in fuzzy dimensions.  I can now use the term and point to the book and say, "Aha, evidence."  Yet on the whole I'm not looking at my world design differently and thinking about things I have to change.

It was a good idea that I began sketching out the various details of the sage tables for all the classes, even if the work wasn't actually done.  That was certain a more agile method: but I took that step to feed the needs of the online campaigns and I did it before starting this long series.  However, I have to point to that as the last radical step I've made in my game design.

On the whole, however, I feel this has been more of an exercise than a reaching out.  I think I could review all the research, now that I'm on the other side of it, and pull these posts together into a single book; I could go off on a number of side discussions that would flesh the book out to 40-45 thousand words.

What I can't do, though I've been trying, is to figure out a way to help others with the metaphorical blank piece of paper that faces them.  I've just finished the last post by saying that a better adventure is not going to make your world better.  Fact is, a quickly produced, well run adventure will be as good for your players as any long-term effort would produce.  Arguably, long-term efforts encourage us to lose our focus about what makes the running good.  The longer we spend making an adventure, the more we become attached to the plan and the less awareness we retain for the players: remember, plans are important but collaboration is more important.

If you approach your players with an adventure that consists of four straight up fights, with treasure, a little personality for the enemy combatants and a strange terrain to give the fights some verve, you will do better than if you created twenty or thirty well-described, mostly empty rooms, carefully crafted and laid out in extraordinary detail.  That's because YOU, your brain, your capacity to make something interesting, is a hundred times more complicated and involving than any lines you can draw (or manufacture out of paper and styrofoam).

An elaborate dungeon drawn with the elegance of three dimensions, figures, shading and color, to scale or upon a scale that provides aesthetic, makes an interesting artwork and that has positive influence over how your players perceive you and your world.  All that effort does produce a level of awe that can work for you.  But very little of that effort actually applies to a game more profoundly enhanced through the imagination.  Artworks help where matters of location, proximity and player planning applies; but it doesn't turn the monster to flesh: it is your heart and your ability to emote that makes that so.

That is so unfair.  We've been sold on the ideal that having the materials and then putting them together in these shapes will make a great game.  We've been duped into thinking an imaginary fantasy game can be plugged together with mechanical movements: read this paragraph, wave your hands, show the players this picture, throw this die and everything else will just be wonderful.

It isn't true.  And we've all known it isn't true, from the beginning, when we first began running games with a pit in our stomach and a doubt that we really knew what we were doing.  But we went on doing it in the way we were told because that was all we knew.  That was what everyone else was doing.  And anyway, a little more often than not the players seemed to be digging it.  But we knew when we started DMing that it seemed like a false front, like we were faking it, hoping eventually that the feeling of faking it would go away and we'd know what we were doing.

But it didn't.  And this last six weeks has been about why.  The goal is to recognize that the effectiveness of play isn't in the tools or the modules.  It isn't in the dice or the clever role-playing.  It isn't in backstories or rules.  It's in the fundamentals of game design.

Success is in understanding, yourself, how to find a way to make the players feel that they might not succeed but that they might succeed at the same time.  To find that button and then to keep hammering that button until your thumb gets raw.  Everything else is just gravy.  Helps you find the button and helps you hammer it a little harder ... but it won't push the button for you.  And in the final analysis, you don't actually need any of it. We could play, you and I, without any dice, without character sheets or maps, in the dark, trapped in a coal mine, if we had to.