Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Class Distinction

Over at B/X Blackrazor, JB makes some solid points about Class Proliferation that you should read.  There are multiple points he makes that I can't agree with, but none of those happen to be about the proliferation part of his post, so they're not important.  There is this little thing he missed, however, and I am inclined to write about it.

Admittedly, I had not been playing with the Little Brown Books very long when I encountered AD&D in 1979; about three months.  I asked for and was given the DMG, PH and MM for Christmas that year, so I moved onto AD&D almost as soon as I started playing.  I can't remember anyone who wasn't thrilled with the expansion; everyone in my circle immediately made the jump without hesitation ... I didn't hear a voice arguing OD&D over AD&D until the internet happened.

We loved the new classes.  All of them.  They brought in new ideas and new concepts, a rush of spells, characters that we all wanted to try and absolutely a rush for the thief, assassin, monk, druid, ranger and paladin.  We argued what was better, but of the ten fully designed classes there was no one in my circle between 1979 and 1983 did not want to try every class, nor one that we considered "didn't belong" or not worth playing.  Our only issue was that the bard was the worst possible design imaginable; we loved the idea of the bard, we wanted the bard, we tried desperately to play the bard ... but the character as written just sucked.

And then, the Unearthed Arcana.

I have it in my hands.  I bought it, of course.  This is the same copy I bought in '83.  The book wasn't bound as well as the original three, so that even though I've hardly used this book compared to the others, it is falling apart.  I remember reading the cavalier, the barbarian and the thief-acrobat and feeling a wave of utter repulsion and disgust for all three.  I talked it over with my players and explained that no, none of those classes would EVER be available in my world ~ and they haven't.

Right off the top, we were given long descriptions of what cavaliers and barbarians believed, or were willing to accept as characters, apart from what they did or what powers they had.  At 19 I could see plainly the dirty double-shuffle at work.  We'll let you have these extra fighting powers, but we're going to fuck you up the ass if you don't use them how we say.  And what powers are we talking about?


Yes, that's right kiddies, if your character wants to thump harder, do more damage, become a one-trick pony, we've got the answer for you ~ right this way to making your character as two-dimensional as it could possibly be.

The cavalier thumped from horseback and the barbarian thumped on foot.  We're not talking any NEW abilities or ideas, just the same ones ... only more so.  We could see clearly the kind of player these were catering to: players who bitched and whined that they couldn't hit harder, or in the case of the acrobat, that they could flip and jump and crawl around behind things better.

In other words, we made specialized classes that would enable these people to do the only things they really, truly wanted to do, better, and in exchange we took away powers they didn't feel like using anyway.  And that they called "balance."

Don't care about picking pockets and finding traps?  No worries!  You don't need to do that shit if you're an Acrobat!  Is all that ranger wilderness stuff boring to you?  Don't be down!  Be an Archer!  Does religion and all the accompanying character that goes along with that worry you?  Don't fret!  You can be a Healer!

With each new incarnation, do we get new ideas?  New character personalities?  No, we get cardboard cutouts that super-specialize in absolutely one skill only, to the point where as a DM you're ready to vomit.  Oh look, the Archer is getting out his arrows again.  The Healer is hanging back and doing fuck all while everyone else fights.  The Acrobat is inventing impossible ways to get out of fights.  Gee, I sure am glad all these classes were allowed to proliferate.

I'm ready to run by 5th level Kitten Tower Guard class.
I said in '83 that this class bullshit was going to be the death of good play, and yeah.  Here it is.  We invented a game concept purely for the purpose of selling out to a particular kind of wooden player and the result was munchkinism, skill lists and buys, wizard schools and ... well, you've seen it.

I'd accept double the classes that I use now, if they were distinct classes.  Not just a lot of one thing that another class also has and does less of.  And not a situation where two different classes do effectively the same thing by different methods, like magical healers and physicians.  I don't care how the character does something; I want the thing they do to be utterly unique, where they are the only class that does this phenomenally important and critical thing that the game desperately needs.

Since 1979, I haven't seen one such class.  Not one.  They're all derivatives of AD&D's 11 ... counting the bard.  And sorry, JB.  That goes for elven, dwarven and halfling "adventurers," too.  It's still just a fighter or a skill derivation of other classes.  I just don't see them as their own thing after you scour away the "we'll tell you how to think like a blank" motif that goes along with painting character classes as races.


Magical, statuesque monsters formed out of stone, these creatures may or may not have wings ~ though most do. They are found in ruins and caves; some are also known to attach themselves to cathedrals as goblins. They are very rarely found outside of Europe.

Created by magical experimentation during the development of the Abbey at Cluny, sometime in the 11th century, the method for sculpting gargoyles became widespread over the next 300 years. During the Papal Schism of 1378 to 1417, gargoyles fought for both sides, producing the consequence that many gargoyles ~ hardly intelligent to begin with ~ became self-aware and began to fight for themselves. The Council of Constance banned gargoyles in 1417 ... and since that time there have been efforts to exterminate the creatures. However, gargoyles are not especially malevolent or aggressive ~ but they have been easily used by malevolent forces, the consequences of which have soured empathy for these creatures.

Gargoyles are highly resistant to weapons and are enormously massive, being made of animated stone (the qualities of which are softer than stone but much, much harder than flesh). Their form can vary considerably, depending upon the sculptor, but draconic, serpentine, lion-like and bat-like features are the most common. The creatures cannot reproduce and are somewhat subject the same effects that would erode, break or shatter rocks. Except for their possible destruction, the length of a gargoyle's lifetime is unknown; they might conceivably survive for ten or twenty thousand years.

Because they are hunted, they will often hide in plain sight among ordinary, inanimate statuary, which they resemble. A gargoyle can remain absolutely still for as long as decades, so that an entire generation may presume that a gargoyle that they have observed since childhood is nothing more than a statue. Often, town fathers or church leaders will deliberately overlook the appearance of a gargoyle, adopting it rather than betraying its presence to gargoyle hunters.

Though indicated that as being found singly, that describes their common occurrence. Packs of gargoyles are sometimes organized by highly intelligent creatures who have made the effort to gather these creatures together. They are highly susceptible to obeying a strong, intelligent creature.


Gargoyles are immune to normal weapons and also to magical weapons that do not bestow a +1 bonus to hit. Most are able to fly (if originally carved to possess wings), but these creatures are not especially agile in the air.

See Bestiary

Old Work

If anyone wants to know how I wrote when I was 27 ... while unpacking today, I stumbled across an old scrap book of mine and found this:

Yes, that really is me.

The text reads,
"Every year at this time, I take a lot of abuse for committing murder.  Soon it will be autumn and I will be hunting.
"There are those who will read the above and immediately categorize me according to some invented stereotype.  This infuriates me, because there are so few people who understand what I'm doing when I'm out traipsing all over the countryside.  Their imaginations conjure up visions of butchered animals and 'poor little birds,' though I would wager that few of these individuals have any real appreciation for these things.
"A hunter knows what he hunts in the same way that a farmer knows his land.  Each year, I pay $45 for the right to harvest my allotted 'crop.'  I pay this money to Alberta Fish and Wildlife, a government institution whose purpose it is to ensure that I (in obeying the law) cannot adversely affect the environment.  For each animal I remove from the pool, my money goes to the care of many more.  How many people do you know who give an equal sum to the eco-system?
What is more, when I am in that environment, I am responsible for reporting any violations, such as trespassing on posted land, burning cover, and so on.  Since, year after year, I hunt the same areas of Alberta, I know these lands well ~ I know what the animal populations are, I know the farmers who live there, and I know what to look for.  I am in effect a caretaker ~ and every fall I do more for the environment that the majority of sofa-bound, self-righteous bleeding hearts who would outlaw me.
"There are two things that damage the animal population.  The first, and certainly the one of lesser importance, is the habit of poaching.  Of course, I look at poachers in the same way that a rancher looks at rustlers.  Fish and Wildlife does, however, when setting their kill limits, take into account the number of animals that will be taken illegally; therefore legal hunters suffer.  What's more, a ban on hunting (something I know many people would like to see) would not eliminate poaching, while it would seriously undercut the economic viability of a provincial wildlife association.
"Far more insidious are the habits of numerous farmers who inhabit the land.  In burning off their fields during the fall, cutting out foreste areas to expand their crops, or filling in slough bottoms, they destroy the water table and make it impossible for many animals to live year-round.  The duck population, for example, was seriously damaged through the early '80s hrough such actions, not through hunting.  Only because of groups like Ducks Unlimited and projects like 'A Buck For Wildlife' are populations just now reaching levels they held 20 years ago.
I do not apologize for killing animals, any more than any other animal tender.  But I will not be accused of being a red-neck, beer-guzzling butcher.  My gun is a tool and not a toy, and because of that I am not interested in 'sport.'  What I crave is an opportunity to enjoy and take advantage of that wilderness which so many desire to protect."

I'm impressed the text holds up this well.  I probably haven't actually read the piece in 20 years, though I remember I did provide this book as a portfolio when I started with BusinessEdge News Magazine in 2004.  At any rate, I'm also pleased to say I stand by those points today as I stood by them then.

Except for the Editor [Nikki something] employing that damndable Oxford comma, which I would normally edit out but which I've left here, for historical accuracy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Players are expected to bitch and moan through the entire game that they'd rather be out exploring a fantasy world.

Get the Fuck off My Lawn

Perhaps this is over-reacting, but it burns me when someone says, "Remember folks; it's just a game."

Let's begin with this often being said on a game blog, often that have more than a thousand posts (JB's has 1,949).  Personally I've spent something like 5,000 hours blogging, judging from my 2,500+ posts, which is a mere fraction of the number of hours I've spent designing and playing the game.  Telling a dyed-in-the-wool blogger that their time has been spent doing anything that's "just something" is equivalent to interrupting High Mass in a cathedral-sized church to tell them God doesn't exist or driving down to an emergency evacuation shelter to tell the people there who have just lost their homes that, "It's only money."

It should be obvious to twits like this that the game matters to us ... and if we want to fight about it, then the twit can just fuck off.  I'm a Canadian.  Fighting over a game is a goddamn national sport ...

And in Canada we know what to do about smug little bastards that say otherwise.

But moving on, it takes a fairly obtuse personality to live in the present and not notice that games have consequentially taken over the public discourse.  Revenue streams the size of countries have gripped the market, mental health workers are seeing games as a means of restoring quality of life to hundreds of thousands of physically challenged persons, national defense and the military are now wholly run by game theory, while game theory and design is redefining economics, politics and statistics.  Without exaggeration, games have started running the world ... and that is a process that is only just beginning.  The very phrase, "It's just a game," is the kind of thing that could only be said by someone who's still living in the 1970s, who thinks that "games" are little board things where people push tiny dogs and cars around.  It's an ignorance in the extreme.

It amazes me when an adult can gush like an infant child over a game find he stumbled across one second, then piss on the passion and interests of others the next, demonstrating a profound failure to be self-aware of their own condescendence.  How such people are allowed to roam free around the internet without handlers baffles me.  Once again, I find myself wanting that superpower that lets me punch people through my computer.

This is not "just" a game.  Not to me.  Not to any of the people I play with.  Why don't these people see how far they get dropping into a bar sometime, during the playoffs, to shout at the fans, "It's just a game."

Hospitalization is the least price such maggots should pay.

Monday, February 18, 2019

5e: Ability Stats & Modifiers

Appears the version of the 5th Edition Player's Handbook I was referencing on line is no longer a thing.  Ah, well, it had an .ru address.  No worries, here's another version.  I suggest for those who wish to ensure being able to keep reading these posts that you rip a copy from the sight.  I did from the Russian site in December, so I have a copy.

Let's get past choosing a class and race and look at the generation of abilities.  We're told,
"You generate your character's six ability scores randomly. Roll four 6-sided dice and record the total of the highest three dice on a piece of scratch paper. Do this five more times, so that you have six numbers. If you want to save time or don’t like the idea of randomly determining ability scores, you can use the following scores instead: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.
"Now take your six numbers and write each number beside one of your character’s six abilities to assign scores to Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Afterward, make any changes to your ability scores as a result of your race choice.
"After assigning your ability scores, determine your ability modifiers using the Ability Scores and Modifiers table. To determine an ability modifier without consulting the table, subtract 10 from the ability score and then divide the result by 2 (round down). Write the modifier next to each of your scores."

Most of this is exactly what I have done for almost 40 years now; it is the method that was explained to me the first night I played, when I rolled dice to make a fighter.  But 5th Edition doesn't remotely leave it there ... they shove this universal system for determining modifiers on us that screams 3rd Edition.  Beyond this starting roll of four dice, I can't see ANY of the supposed "traditional" game.  Frankly, from what I've been reading so far, I'm convinced the company believes that no one alive can possibly have memories reaching back to the 1970s, so it's safe to call the crap spewed out by the company in the mid-nineties as "traditional" and "old school."

Back on page 7, in talking about the d20, we were told, "The abilities ... typically range from 3 to 18 for most adventurers," and that "Monsters may have scores as low as 1 or as high as 30."  Why this isn't under the abilities heading, I can't guess.  On page 13 we are duly given a table that describes all the modifiers for each ability score, thus preventing the players from actually having to do math, as was proposed in the paragraph above.  Thank the stars, they made it possible for the mathites to get their kicks and to save 9 y.o.'s the need to think.

Of course, we don't describe the abilities and their use in the game here.  Those have been bounced to chapter 7.  We're also told that skills and tools can be found in the mysterious chapter 7.  Earlier (also on p.7) we were told that advantage and disadvantage were presented in Chapter 7.  I'm sorry, I just can't wait any more.  I've got to go there and see what all the fuss is about.

Chapter 7 consists of six and a half glorious pages beginning on p.173.  Here is what it has to say directly about Ability Scores and Modifiers:
"Each of a creature’s abilities has a score, a number that defines the magnitude of that ability. An ability score is not just a measure of innate capabilities, but also encompasses a creature’s training and competence in activities related to that ability.
"A score of 10 or 11 is the normal human average, but adventurers and many monsters are a cut above average in most abilities. A score of 18 is the highest that a person usually reaches. Adventurers can have scores as high as 20, and monsters and divine beings can have scores as high as 30.
"Each ability also has a modifier, derived from the score and ranging from 5 (for an ability score of 1) to +10 (for a score of 30). The Ability Scores and Modifiers table notes the ability modifiers for the range of possible ability scores, from 1 to 30.
"To determine an ability modifier without consulting the table, subtract 10 from the ability score and then divide the total by 2 (round down).
"Because ability modifiers affect almost every attack roll, ability check, and saving throw, ability modifiers come up in play more often than their associated scores."

Yep.  Not only are we again treated to the math explanation, but we also find on p.173 a duplicate table to the one on p.13.  Just in case.  We get no explanations for why 30 replaces 25 as the upper end of ability scores (presumedly so the system can end with a +10 modifier) or precisely why the modifier is designed this way.  I point you to this discussion of why this sort of design creates problems.

In fact, we don't learn anything at all.  We're merely told stuff we already know, and specifically not told things that were a mystery before and are now still a mystery.  The Actual information we need is further up the page, and NOT located under "Ability Scores and Modifiers."  So someone flipping through the book looking for explanations is liable not to see it:
"The three main rolls of the game—the ability check, the saving throw, and the attack roll—rely on the six ability scores. The book’s introduction describes the basic rule behind these rolls: roll a d20, add an ability modifier derived from one of the six ability scores, and compare the total to a target number."

Why was this paragraph not included on page 13?  Wouldn't it have made sense to immediately explain the purpose of these modifiers at the moment the modifiers were introduced, or at least underneath the actual headings in the book that purportedly existed to explain the modifiers?  And hell, this was only 53 words.  We would have had plenty of space for them if we had gotten rid of all the useless filler clogging up p.12.

This is part of the reason why new players must be frustrated as they make an attempt to teach themselves how to play.  Not because the language is difficult or because the concepts are absurd (they only seem that way to old grognards like me, who have known better concepts), but because this book appears to have been organized by a pride of cats fleeing a vacuum cleaner.  No one takes the time to pedantically explain one concept from beginning to end without needing to resort to poetry, the concepts themselves are scattered throughout the book and actual content is repeated (!) so that you're not sure if something is written at the beginning or end of the book.  We have derailing crap like Bruenor thrown in to distract the reader from the key points and every section has yet one more pointless game-aggrandizing paragraph thrown in for good measure.  The book constantly assumes you know what it's talking about, so it throws around references like a prude wagging her finger at a porn convention, but nothing is actually defined.

For example, we're told about the dwarves, "... what they lack in humor, sophistication and manners, they make up for in valor."  How?  In what way? And in what way different from another race in the game?  Are there bonuses for this valor?  Or is this just a meaningless, throwaway phrase intended to make me like dwarves without an actual reason?  We're told about the halflings that they are, "... people of simple pleasures ... they care for each other and tend their gardens ..."  That's it?  How does that help me establish my halfling character?  There isn't a lot of gardening in this game, you know.  What other simple pleasures?  Again, are there meaningful features attached to the race that will enable me to be, you know, interesting?  I can't go around every adventure moaning about how I'd rather be home tending my garden.  We're told about the humans, "All that haste ... human endeavors seem so futile sometimes."  What do you mean?  Do you mean endeavors like "valor" and "gardening"? - the only actual reason why these things appear at all on your list, because you're a human ascribing singular human virtues to non-human creatures from a conspicuously HUGE number of possible human endeavors?  What in the fuck are you talking about, and what fucking drugs have you taken?

We're told about the elves, "Elves don't need sleep.  Instead, they meditate deeply, remaining semi-conscious, for four hours a day."  Are there rules for this?  No.  Is there any explanation about the elf's awareness in this state?  The time it takes to come out of this meditation?  No.  We're told it's possible to dream, "after a fashion."   Is there any definition given for the effects on awareness around the elf if you're dreaming or not dreaming?  No.  Is this trance ever mentioned again, throughout the entire book?


So, basically, you have created a bullshit situation that every DM everywhere has to deal with at some point with their players, without any backup from the book, so that each DM is forced to rule upon the condition and effect of the trance in some way that personally applies specifically to that game and no other ... so that if a player used to playing elves ever plays with another DM, the rules are always going to be different, from game to game, from tournament to tournament, forever, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Why is it here???

Seriously, it is like the people in charge of writing the handbook thought they were writing some sort of poetry book, or perhaps an equivalent to A Teenage Guide to Popularity, the sort of nonsensical but extremely cheesy fluff that appears in Airport kiosks, to be bought by grandmothers on their way across the country, and the backpacks of nine-year-old girls who are young enough not to realize yet that every piece of advice has already been exploded by anyone who's reached the age of 13.  Where nothing is actually expected to be accountable, so it doesn't matter what sort of shit the writer (or writers) make up about popularity ... the goal here is to dupe kids, NOT create something that might be a viable handbook for surviving high school in the next decade.

That's what I think we have here.  This is not a RULE-book.  It's a book.  It has words in it.  Some of it is fun and inspiring, and might eventually find some relevance to a gaming campaign ... but most of it is forgettable nonsense, firmly kicking the ball of what the hell do we do next in the campaign into the independent DM's hands.  There's no wonder that a DM is going to fiat his way through every decision, every die roll, every bit of non-detail drivel the book provides.  What the hell else is the DM going to do?  Look for guidance from the rules???

Okay.  Breathe Alexis.  Just breathe.

We'll do another of these when I'm ready.

The Oirot Homeland

The above represents some work I put in this last December, where I managed to add the two small provinces of Oirad and Torghut, which can be found to the center right of the map.  Both comprise a tiny corner of China ~ and the center of the Oirot or Dzungarian power that ruled this part of the world for some four centuries (post Mongols up to the late 18th century).

Putting together the research, the change in color scheme to represent the desert, sorting out the mess of what were mountains, plains and river courses, this ended up being about 40-50 hours of work.  Whereupon I quit in disgust.  I'm not that happy with the color scheme, which tends to meld together making it difficult to discern one element from the next.  I cannot seem to improve upon it without either creating either a garish look or obscuring the hexes beyond use as hexes.  The research was a bitch; what little there is consists of conflicting reports that disagree about dates, borders, the existence and names of places, the actual location of deserts and a hodgepodge of other details that ~ for the time, broke me. I haven't even been able to look at this long enough to post it.

I get that both China and Russia would both want to keep this region they share in absolute, total obscurity.  China reports every city on the border here as having at least half a million people, even a million or more ... which is simply ludicrous.  Russian sources are worse, being both inconsistent and plainly lying about the height, location and number of mountains, lakes and routes.  All this on top of the topography itself being about as chaotic as any place I've found.  This has to be the most annoying part of the world I've ever mapped ~ including my bitching about Tibet in 2017.

Of late I have not done much mapmaking.  I lost much of 2017 due to the steady demise of my laptop at that time, and most of 2018 because I foolishly signed up for Windows 10 version of Publisher, which made working with images of this side flatly impossible.  I do hope to do more mapmaking this year, but I admit it isn't high on my motivation scale.  Digging back into this mess above promises to be no picnic, sorting out more of China and then Mongolia, that mess of pink empty hexes on the far right.

For those unfamiliar with my map-making practices, the pink hexes are roughed in civilized regions that haven't been mapped, the white hexes are those for which I have zero information, the circles, arrows and dotted lines are guidelines for elevation, river courses and other imaging ... all of which is designed so that if I drop a map for five years, I can step back in and remember what the hell I was doing the last time I was mapping this place.

I have to admit; I miss mapping Africa.  Africa made a lot more sense than this place.

I'm just whining, right?  Yeah, that ... that's probably fair.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own ..."

I should just leave this alone, but ... hey, when is this going to come up again, to this degree?  This time around, however, let's forget the particulars.  I'm resolved to examine and deconstruct the behavior I see going on, like any good anthropologist.  How are people reacting to the unfortunate Mandy's Letter and Zak's reprehensible Response?

[Yes, that's a judgement.  Anyone who does not see that response as reprehensible is ... well, reprehensible.  Look the word up]

Most of those who have accepted the most likely situation have divided into two camps.  We know these camps well; in our lives we've had hundreds of similar conversations about people, both personally known and in the celebrity spotlight.  Is this person aware that they are totally full of shit, or do they actually believe their shit?

I think this says more about the person landing on one side or the other than it does about the subject.  We know said person is absolutely full of shit; and we know that whether or not the person believes what they're shovelling or not, we're agreed that the shoveler needs to be told to put down the shovel and shove off.  So why does it matter to us as individuals whether or not the shoveller is lying or deluded?

It matters because of how we see ourselves.

On the one hand, we think, "I would never lie like that to anyone; I'm a good person.  Lying like that would be hurtful and abusive on levels I don't aspire to and would never consider.  I would have to be a fucking villain before I let myself do something like that."

And on the other hand, "I'd have to be fucking nuts."

Some of us can imagine being self-aware and devious on this level.  We've perhaps had moments when we realized we could seriously fuck someone over by saying the wrong thing or by giving away the secrets of others ... and we're concious of the decision NOT to act like a monster.  So we presume that when we see a monster, it's someone who has decided to throw away the rule book and embrace the evil.

But some of us cannot imagine that.  The tiniest tickling of the slightest possibility of having the vaguest notion of saying something cruel to someone has never entered their head, and when such things have been suggested to them their brain produces a null-program.  They can't remotely imagine such a thing.  When they see a monster, they don't see a human being moving the levers.  They see a monster.

There's plenty of evidence ~ oh, about 150+ years of research ~ that shows neither of the above are the case.  Sometimes the human inside the monster is pulling the levers and sometimes the human is fast asleep and the monster is rampaging at will.  Sometimes it's a matter of pointing the monster at the problem and then turning off and letting the monster handle it.  Yesterday, I had a long discussion about how to write a post about Mandy & Zak, decided I would write about the effects the MeToo movement has on invisible, hidden people ... and then the monster in me took over.

Then I reread what the monster had written about four times and decided to let it stand.  On this occasion, I agreed with the monster.

We see ourselves do this all the time ... and we see others make excuses for us, we see others vindicate our monster's behaviour, we have still others rake us over the coals and settle into grudges that never cease.  It is a factor of being human.

A simple scientist goes about his business of bettering
the plight of fellow human beings.
All of this is purely Freudian.  Call it the human at the levers or the monster, it is still the Id and the Ego ... and though we say over and over that Freud was all wrong and did not know what he was talking about, we continue to have ridiculous, pointless arguments about which was actually in control.  We continue to write novels based on Jekell and Hyde, because the question of "Who is really responsible, the guy who drinks the potion or the guy who acts on the potion?" continue to fascinate us much, much more than the actual damage that's done.

There's no debate in the damage that's done.  That's settled.  We're all in agreement.  There is only so much meat to eat in saying, "Wow, he was bad; what a bad guy he was; can you believe he was that bad?  I knew he was that bad; I should have known; I didn't know until I did; and can you believe others don't think he's bad?"  The real gristle, the bits we can grind in our teeth for days, is the why.  Why is he bad?  Well, me, I think he's just a monster.  No, no, I think he knows he's a monster.  Look at this sentence; it proves he knew what he was doing; actually, I think that sentence proves he had no idea.

And on it goes.

This is human.  It is a way we have of resolving the issue, of settling our minds about something that's upset us by making sense out of it.  Of course, we'll never know the real answer.  We could grab Zak and chain him down for decades and never get the real answer.

"Mr. Manson, why did you kill those nice people?"

There is no answer.  There's just the bullshit we tell ourselves, as we settle into the question of whether we're running the asylum of our own brains, or if the asylum is running itself.  When you shit, dear sir, how does it smell to you?

Zak isn't on trial here, dear reader.  YOU are on trial.  You and your beliefs, your decision-making process, your willingness to drink the potion and your tolerance of the Hyde that results.  As you point the bony finger at the criminal in the dock, are you ready to accept that you're pointing at a mirror?

We know we've done at least a little of what he's done.  All the people rushing about posting snippets of dialogue, celebrating his downfall with the same tactics and methods that Zak himself used to burn others who were posted to the pyre before it became his turn, all the commentors feasting on the bones and tearing through the gristle on Reddit, are just poor reflections of the criminal on trial.  Must I paint the image of the French Revolutionaries cheering in the stands as the guillotine dropped and dropped?  Is this post itself not just one more echo of those cheers, of Zak's cheers, of the cheers of every villain who has been executed in turn to the roaring crowds of the murderers who clap themselves on the back and say, "Job well done"?

So it goes. So it goes. Note that I've been careful to produce examples that predate the internet.  Note that I haven't tried to blame any of this on our ability to "live in bubbles" or receive "confirmation bias."  We, dear fellow humans, have always been like this; only we used to stand shoulder to shoulder as we laughed at the witches as they pleaded not to be burned, creating arguments with our words that they surely knew they were witches, they were only pretending not to be witches because they were obviously lying ... and pity in our minds as we thought, "The poor woman. She has no idea she's a witch."  But no matter which, the wood still burns.

I don't ask you to stop what you're doing.  I only ask that you stop pretending.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Welcome to the Punch

Today, as many of us find ourselves thinking of the MeToo movement, I'm wondering about the hole that is left behind when someone like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer or Kevin Spacey are suddenly shoved off the mountain.

Picture the lowly cameraman or desker working for NBC News, whose dead-end career ~ stifled because, for whatever reason, Matt Lauer didn't like them ~ suddenly found new life in the man's absence.  How many actors and crew are working today because Weinstein is gone?  Who has a chance to work because Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey or Mark Halperin have been let go by their employers and now find themselves without power?

Contrariwise, we should ask ourselves, who built their careers on the influence of these men?  And who now find they must earn their way ~ where before they only had to show up?  Who right now, unnamed, is struggling to produce work that has to fly on its merits and not upon the word of some megalomaniac who has been dispossessed of influence?  When these things happen, it leaves a hole.  It leaves an opportunity for persons of worth to excel; while the hangers on must now find another boot to lick.

Enworld has reported:
"DriveThruRPG has stated that it will sell no future works by Zak Smith.
"Veteran author Ken Hite has announced that he will not work with or share credits with Zak Smith again.
"The Gauntlet blog and podcast will no longer cover Zak S or his publications, or attend conventions that he is permitted at.
"WotC's Mike Mearls has noted that they have not engaged with Zak S since he worked for them as a consultant on 5E, although a previous statement from him in 2014 takes a different stance.
"Gen Con has tweeted a brief statement which says it has investigated, but the results are confidential."

And while voices rush forward to claim solidarity with Mandy and others, or arguing that accusation is not guilt, I find myself thinking how eager these entities were to throw Zak under the bus.  We like to think it's about protecting their good name ~ but business commitments are often more complicated than ending one's association with a counter person at MacDonalds.  Clearly, none of these are working with Zak anyway.  Their statement to unalign themselves is cost-free, with everything to gain.

Do I stand with Mandy?  Sure.  I'm not passionate about it.  I'm not infuriated with Zak.  If it's true, I'll contribute $5 to the committee to take him to a farmer's field and shoot him.  That's a dispassionate Russian's answer.  It's probably true, considering my personal number of flame wars with the guy up until I started to moderate this blog (whereupon Zak went away without being asked).

We knew what he was.  We saw it.  There were hundreds of thousands of words splashed on boards and blogs like the blood from a serial killer's knife ... yet it took years and years to ban him, block him or hate him.  It never takes anything like that long to get people to hate me.

This was a guy who built his castle on the fact that he could take pictures of porn stars to legitimize a blog name that produced readers from a click-baity internet.  In ten years of extraordinarily popular blogging I saw little of value in his writing, nothing I can remember now, certainly nothing that justified a blog that lasted eleven years (?) where most gather dust after three.  From my reading, I'm stunned and amazed that anyone ever sold works by Zak Smith, that anyone ever shared credits with him, that a reputable podcast ever covered him or his publications, that Maxim ever showed any interest, that the WOTC ever knew his name or that the leaders of GenCon let him speak.

Clearly, whatever he was offering, despite being a garbage human being down to his boots, it was what a lot of players and pundits considered respectable, "quality" content, worthy of praise, distribution and appreciation ...

... and that being the cold, bitter, brutal reality that most people just will not face: that Zak probably had his head up his ass the whole time, and that many, many people just would not SEE it.

Read through Mandy's letter.  Read through all the letters.  Read through the people posting sections of their discussions with Zak ... there is a ticking theme through it all.  "Zak was an asshole ... but I couldn't see it ... I was lying to myself ... it wasn't until after that I realized ..."

Welcome.  Welcome to what a few of us started to say on the first day.  Welcome to the argument that hundreds of ordinary, common, non-moderator bulletin board contributors recognized in the first hundred words of the first twattle that Zak spewed.  "This guy is full of shit.  Why do you like him?"

Welcome to the hundreds of times we were told, "Hey, you just don't 'get' him. Zak is a good guy.  Really."

Welcome to the Punch.

Is Zak a good guy today?  And as you shake your heads slowly, and recognize that no, Zak was never a good guy, take a moment and think about your complicity in this lie.  Think about your contribution to Zak's cause, Zak's fame, Zak's plans and Zak's ego.  Think about the responsibility you had over the last ten years to look at his words on his blog, and not at the porn stars.  Think about what you were responsible for spreading when you saw his videos with his DMing style.  Think about how you propped this artist up with your support and your fandom, blissfully drifting along until the day you learned that you were actually a shitty person for not doing your part to burn this little cretin to the ground.

For those who embraced this image in 2009, while
 some called it filth. What does it say to you now?
I feel for Mandy.  I do.  And I stand with her.  But she contributed to this shit too.  I can't vilify her for that; I believe she probably had to grow up a lot before she could get herself together to write the letter and I absolutely believe the people responsible over her in her childhood did not give her the tools she would have needed to let the cat out of the bag nine years ago.  She's the victim.

But all of you ... you people who are now SO righteous and offended ... I don't buy your victimhood.  I don't buy your feelings of betrayal.  You wanted to believe his lies were justified and now that your fantasy has been exploded, you want to believe in your innocence.

Fuck that.  People on the net have been saying, LOUDLY, that Zak S is a fucking shit heel for literally ten years and you ignored them. You cut them down, you burned them to the ground, in favor of your personal hero.

Well, look at your hero now.

Welcome to the Punch.

Me, I'm glad that a loud voice that used to say with remarkable arrogance that D&D is about "fun," and "fuck anyone wanting to raise the level of the game," has had his teeth kicked in.  Good.

More room for those who have something legitimate to say.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Visits from Tenkar

Forgive me, but I really must ask.  Of late, I cannot help but notice that a significant number of readers are drifting through my doors from Tenkar's Tavern.  This is up from zero just a few months ago.  I have no particular issue with Tenkar; he's a gentle soul and his podcasts are occasionally interesting to listen to, if juvenile.  But he is very definitely not the sort of role-player that finds me interesting.  Seems to me that I used to not even be on his blog roll as little as a year ago (but I could be mistaken about that).

Is there anyone who would be able to clear up the mystery?  Has there been some discussion about me, or is there one reader who has suddenly taken to checking my blog 20 times a day through Tenkar's site?  I'd love to know.  As I said, in October the traffic was non-existent but it has lately climbed into the third spot on a very regular basis.



This is a risky post to write.  I will start by saying that I don't consider myself a racist.  Yet I came of age in the 1970s, when much of the cultural dialogue about racism held that everyone ~ due to the unfortunate osmosis of culture and media ~ was, to some extent, racist whether they liked it or not.  It was bred into us, hammered into us and preached into us.  However much a white liberal might identify as non-racist, this does not rid us of a dialogue that reaches into our mind as we interact with others of another race.  I will be forever trapped by these thoughts, "Express yourself kindly, speak softly and considerately ... and do all that can be done to assure this person that you, in no way, am treating them differently from anyone else."

Thoughts I would never have speaking with a white person.  Aye, there's the rub.  I've been inculcated with that pollutant; I can only assure myself that I would never support a racist agenda, that I would not deny an individual their rights based on their race and I would not hesitate to lend my support to someone on the basis of race.  We fight racism by being conscious of it; but it is not a fight we win.

To a lesser degree, I can make the exact same argument about culture.  I'm Canadian. I have belief systems and ideals that are regulated by that culture and that were installed in me as a child.  The pollutant of nationalism is rife in my mind also ... though not to the degree of racism.  For many, the two are conveniently intertwined; but as I fight one, I fight the other.  Come live in Canada, come work here.  I welcome you.

For me, race and culture have become pariahs in the global identity because of those who would exploit them for power or for gain.  There are two ways of exploiting either: a) create fear, attack them, gather others who hate them, encourage violence and sell the products that hatred craves; b) create fear, defend them, gather others who will defend them, encourage violence and the products that solidarity craves.

A Russian, living in a Russian neighborhood, spreads fear that others hate Russians, so that Russians must stick together, encouraging us all to believe only Russians, to think like Russians, to have faith in Russians ~ and to believe that everyone who is not a Russian is an enemy.

I grew up hearing that.  I've heard gays talk that way, I've heard union workers talk that way, I've heard Canadians talk that way ... and I've heard a lot of people in the media talk that way.  It is just as racist and nationalist to rabidly defend a thing as it is to rabidly hate a thing.

Okay.  D&D.

Part of the appeal of free-form character systems is that the player is not driven to BE a thing.  Classes ~ and particularly "races as classes" ~ encourage us to buy into a product that we should rightly feel has that familiar pollutant we've encountered before.  Those who sell that product can only see the convenience of it: "See?  Being an elf gives you limitations; and limitations give you boundaries.  You know where you're coming from; it's easier to build a 'character' from that."

It's easier to build a cardboard character from that.  I, me, this writer, am not a collection of limitations and my pushing those limitations.  I have things I believe that are not related to what I do, where I came from, what I am, or what I want to be.  Those things were collected over time and ~ to be truthful ~ a great many of them were gained in the face of being told, "You can't do that" and "Oh, you're just trying to get attention."  Those are the watch-phrases of anyone who has boundaries and pushes boundaries.  We're told what to believe; and we're told that if we try to believe something else, we're either lying to others or lying to ourselves.

I don't want to encourage my players to see "fighter" or any class as a limitation or as something to transcend.  I'll take my own case: I'm a writer.  That is not a limitation.  As an identity, it is what I say it is.  My writing is what I want it to be.  If I want it to be something else tomorrow, that is not "pushing a boundary."  Every kind of writer I could ever want to be is well within the field of what I am.

Were I a soldier, and self-identified as a soldier, I feel pretty much that I'd describe it the same way.  I've known a lot of soldiers and I never hear any of them speak of the life or the mindset as a limitation.  I feel that most people who appreciate and obtain an identity in their profession can identify the same way.  A profession is not a limit.  It is a freedom to act.

A race, on the other hand, IS a limit.  I can be any sort of white man I want, sure ... but what does that mean, "Be a white man?"  White man isn't a profession.  It is a color.  It's a surface template.  It's not a process, it's not an ideology.  It's an obsession with a particular abstract effort at sorting me from others.  It means no more to me than the sort of hair follicles I have, the size of my pores or the width of my eyeball.  When I look at the back of my hand, the only thing that's interesting about it is the number of scars and cuts that accumulated over decades of cooking and heavy labor ... things I did.  I don't give a damn about the hands themselves ... except that it's convenient for writing that I still have all my fingers and that I've learned to ignore my arthritis.

We think of character classes as limits because we habitually slot what we do into the same category as what we are or where we're from.  That's a mistake of our upbringing.  We were abused by people with professions long, long before we began to understand anything about those professions.  The teacher, the doctor, the police officer, the sports star, the performer ... these were all fronts to us as children, just things people decided to be.  We saw them as surfaces, just like the color of my skin and the flag I saluted when I sang its anthem.  Many of us still see them as surfaces, when we're pulled over, when we see our hero do a car commercial, when the doctor is arrested and pushed into a squad car.  We have a terrible, awful habit of seeing everyone except ourselves as surfaces, just as though the soldier is a different race than we are or that the feminist is from a different country.  That's easy for us; that doesn't challenge what we think or what we believe; we don't want to see deeper.  Hell, most of us don't even want to BE deeper.

But a profession is not a race.  It is not a nationality.  Being a druid, a bard, a ranger or an illusionist is an opportunity, not a limitation.  I can appreciate how a lot of people can't see that, given their limitations as people.  It seems obvious to me.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Let the Thief Do It

I've heard this sort of thing hundreds of times and this is no reflection on JB ... but he repeated the theory for this post he posted yesterday, motivating me to write this post.
"... if we look at D&D as a 'successful' concept in tabletop RPGs, we can see that at least part of its appeal is how it draws the party together in cooperation for a common objective. And the way it does this is pretty darn simple: while there is 'strength in numbers' (to spread the attrition around), the limitations of each individual class (or, in the positive, the powers and capabilities of each class) provides an incentive to work together to solve the conflicts and problems being thrown at the PCs in their quest for treasure. Mechanically, they're semi-forced to get along with each other, because survival ... and success ... becomes much more difficult without cooperation."

Is that really the case?  Or is it just that we've heard this propounded so often that we take it for granted as something that sounds true?

For a moment, let's deconstruct those "capabilities of each class."  The first two that occur to me is the cleric/healer's ability to bestow healing points on a party and the thief/rogue's willingness to scout ahead.

I'll discuss these forthwith ... but first let me say there's nothing the mage offers that the party technically "needs."  It is nice to have those spells, and certainly the mage can end a fight quickly, but at lower levels a mage is just as likely to be pretty nigh useless in a fight.  But, yes, the mage does offer some informational talents, defining a magic item, comprehending languages, detecting magic and malevolence ... but if we think about it, these are short cuts to things the party is going to find out about eventually, without the mage.  And before the gentle reader chides me that it is better to find out soon than later, please hear me out.

That healing power that's offered means a lot less in the early versions of the game.  A 7th level cleric in 1979 AD&D was able to offer a total maximum of 25 hit points per day, through two spells: cure light wounds and cure serious wounds.  The average was only 14.5.  If the cleric in the party were another fighter, that fighter would easily have more than 25 hit points at 7th level ... which means that another fighter would soak up more hit points than a cleric could heal.  Statistically, the cleric's heal was more or less the difference between what the cleric could soak up at 7th and what a fighter would have.  The only difference is that it could be targeted to other people who got in trouble ~ but it wasn't actually needed.

And as far as scouting ahead ... most of what made this practical was that the thief was forced to do without armor, so that at least one member of the party wasn't crashing around in metal plates and chains.  In truth, in most situations, any elven fighter willing to sacrifice armor class could have done almost as well as a thief ~ and would have survived being discovered better if it comes down to that.

Here is the thing, however.  Because the module-makers and designers KNEW there were going to be thieves, mages and clerics, they designed the environment specifically to take advantage of those skills.  If you get rid of traps, there's no need for the find traps skill, or for renewing someone's hit points to make them battle-ready because some arrow trap sapped 5 hit points from the fighter.  If you get rid of the endless stream of languages, or runes and glyphs, or make the magic items recognizable, or simply get rid of scores of other "make work" features that we expect to find in every dungeon, the truth is that these other classes may have style and character, but they're not actually a "necessity."

I don't think that JB is wrong; in D&D, the player characters ARE semi-forced to get along with each other for survival ... but not for the reasons he proposes.

By creating these make-work processes for the various classes, D&D dupes the players into thinking they need Fred for his healing and Gary for his stealth.  That's let's Harold keep his armor and it lets him gripe that he's down hit points, as he knows Fred is there for him.  If there was no Fred or Gary, Harold wouldn't lazily rely on them.  And if there was no Harold, Fred and Gary would know they'd have to do their own fighting ... which would suck.

It isn't so much that four fighters in a world that wasn't tailor made for other class abilities couldn't get along ... it's that if they were four fighters, they'd squabble and bitch about whose turn it was to shuck off their armor and scout ahead.  They'd hold constant pissing contests about which was the toughest fighter and who did the best in the last fight, with three of them mocking the lowest of the four for having the least kills and for constantly tripping over his 20-sided fumbles.

A fighter can comfortably hang back while "his bitch" scouts ahead, waiting for "doc" to patch him up ... while the thief can hang back while his bitch fights off the orcs.  It isn't what each member of the party does.  It's about what each member of the party lets the other character do.

JB's post talks about how the superhero genre doesn't produce this effect:
"Supers tend to be fairly capable individuals, able to handle whole swaths of mooks and villains on their own, only being held back by individual flaws ... But for a team of heroes, such flaws rarely come up, because it would tend to throw one hero under the bus while her teammates heroically soldier on. Instead, the tendency is to simply throw one Giant Big Bad Threat at the team that requires the full might of the team to overcome: an Uber-Villain or a Villain Team (one foe for each hero!) or a Humongous Natural Disaster."

Effectively, we have to assign players roles in the fight so they know what to do ... because a typical group of players are unable to assign themselves tasks like grown ups.  This is why the army invented sargeants; because a group of extremely capable soldiers, left to themselves, won't get anything done.

I hadn't seen it before, but the class structure creates a series of jobs for each player to do.  Yes, true, another player or class could do those jobs.  The 7th level druid could (as the rules originally went) transform into a mouse for every single scouting ahead mission, which was certainly a lot more stealthy than a thief ~ but even though I ran such druids, this never happened.  Presumedly, because it wasn't the druid's job.

Admittedly, this isn't where I thought I'd end up.  I thought I was going to explode this myth of players working together because they were different classes ... and instead I've strengthened the idea that they have to be different classes.  Not because it helps the players work together, but because players don't like to work together.

If anyone has some memories of 3rd Edition, where builds tended to make players the same, where the problem of "who's turn is it?" came up a lot, I'd love to hear about it.

Somewhere, there's a party busy rewriting their characters while jabbering about seeing a
movie that opens next weekend.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Perception Checks

The DM describes anything: a room, an opponent, a landscape, the thorn in the player's foot ... and the player answers, "I want to make a perception check."

Effectively, the player is asking, "I want more information than you're giving me."  By using the perception roll, the player means to use the rules of the game to force the DM to give more information; or, in the case of looking for a weak spot in the armor of an opponent, a flaw in a non-player's argument or evidence of some kind, the player wishes to force the DM to give the player an advantage.

So DM's learn to describe part of what the player ought to see, knowing the players will make a perception check, so that the DM can then tell the rest of the story.

This is terrible, terrible game design.

My dictionary defines perception as "the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses."  In other words, if the player character HAS senses, they should already be aware of anything that they are capable of seeing or hearing merely by being present in a given space.  There should never be a need for a "check."  Can I see?  Then I see it.  Quod erat demonstrandum.

If, as a DM, I don't say that the enemy's armor has a weak point, then either A) you don't see it; or B) all armor has weak points, you always see it and it makes no difference to your ability to hit an opponent because it is assumed your level always permits you to take the best advantages of your enemies' weaknesses as you are able.

If, as a player, you are in a darkened room, and I don't describe the homonculous in the corner because it is hidden, then you don't see it, no matter how hard you roll the dice or how hard you skin your eyes in an attempt to see something you don't know is there.  If, on the other hand, you move forward, to where you will see it, then you will see it, and there is no need to make any sort of roll whatsoever.

You can't perceive something you don't perceive.  If you perceive it, then I am duty bound as a DM to tell you that you see it.  That is my responsibility, not because you rolled a die but because you see it.

If you see something and you don't know what it is, that is because you don't know what it is, not because you have inaccurately perceived it.  If you don't know what it is, all the perception rolls in the world will not give you knowledge you do not have.  If you do know what it is, there is no need for a roll.

If the thing has concealed itself so that it appears as something other than it appears to be, then that is a roll related to the thing's ability to conceal itself, NOT as a matter of your ability to perceive it.  If it can conceal itself as something than it is not, then you will perceive it as something it is not.

More information is obtained by changing your physical position; by using your other senses to investigate it or by poking at it with a stick of by some other test.  In other words, by taking an action, which the player designates.  NOT by looking harder or hearing harder without actually changing anything about the situation you've already perceived.

I'm sure I used this picture once before, but it applies so fuck it.
Occasionally, a character will be focused on something and may not see a monster enter a room, or may not notice movement of some other form.  Under those circumstances, I do use an intelligence check to determine the character's awareness or alertness to that change; however, this never applies to any situation where the player may come to harm.  Situations of that kind deserve a surprise roll, for which I will simply say, "Roll a d6," without explaining why.  I say it.  Not the player.  How would the player know to make a roll about something the player cannot possibly know anything about?

If the player is surprised, then it is too late to know why; and if the player is not surprised, I will say, "This happens [description] and you're not surprised.  Please take action."

Since I describe the new situation, there still is no need for a perception check.

The perception check makes no sense to me.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hunting Will Good and Intelligently

Having some distance on the work I posted late Saturday, I can see I'm not quite there.  Close, but not quite.  Let me explain what I'm trying to accomplish.

The "breakthrough" was the realization that intelligence (and to some extent, all ability stats) needs not to be seen as an enabler but as a ceiling.  We tend to think of a high intelligence as a shortcut to information, circumventing the need to role-play the situation ~ that is, to skip having to play the game.  This should not be the case.

Fundamental to RPGs is the understanding that as players WE do the heavy lifting.  Our strength may give us a bonus to hit, but it shouldn't circumvent the need to step forward and take a chance.  A high dexterity does not guarantee that we'll avoid damage ... only that it should slightly reduces the chance of damage.  If it reduces that chance of damage too much, the game becomes too easy ... and therefore not a good game.

Intelligence and Wisdom are doubly troublesome for several reasons.

The first issue is that no one has a clear and consistent black-and-white concept of either Int or Wis.  The two stats were born out of psychology's erstwhile belief in nurture-vs.-nature, a theory that has since been exploded and which is not discussed much nowadays (except by non-experts who are unable to let a theory die, no matter how much evidence mounts against it).  Though I tried to rigorously define it on Saturday, even as I was writing the entry I kept drifting into concepts that I then realized I had defined as wisdom.  It is pesky problem.

Let's shelve that.

Cognitive stats absolutely should never be allowed to take the place of the players' thoughts and choices.  No matter what the character's intelligence, the player must be and should be the source for action and decision.  DM's that allow players to use their cognitive stats as a stand-in for their own gameplay might just as well be DMing computers.

[And here I will resist going on a tear about perception checks; I am going to address those, but I hope to wait until I arrive at that page of the 5e Handbook]

I propose that when the player asks, "Will my intelligence allow my character to solve the puzzle?"  The answer ought to be a flat, "No."

But if the player proposes, "My character wants to make a puzzle that would be difficult to solve," the answer ought to be, "Maybe."

My thinking starts with, "How much intelligence does it take to create a puzzle?"  We might agree that a meaningful puzzle requires an 8 Int or better.  Then anything proposed by someone with less intelligence ("low" according to the original definitions for intelligence, was 5-7 Int) would be instantly solved by any rational creature (5 Int or better).  This then answers part of our question: a creature with an 8 Int can make a puzzle.  There's no need to make a roll if your Int is above 8.

Next, my thinking asks, "Could a person of 8 Int make a puzzle that a person of 9 Int couldn't solve?"

I find that interesting.  Standard D&D thinking would say no, forever arguing that knowledge is always linear.  This is easily demonstrated as nonsense.  To use an anecdotal example, I was watching this completely moronic video recently [effing youtube feed] and came across the example shown on the right.  I froze completely and did not get it before the reveal.  I have no doubts whatsoever that I'm smarter than the group that proposed the puzzle, and let's face it ... words are my thing.  And still I fell down on this one.

Contrary to what people who continue to be steadfast believers in I.Q. (a group of non-experts who are unable to let a theory die, no matter how much evidence mounts against it), puzzles are not actually a good method for measuring intelligence or ability.  Everyone has, at one moment or another, even the very smart, seen something like this and just choked.  Then we tell ourselves, "Well, I'm stupid" ~ which is, in fact, a socialized prejudice that was hammered into us as children and also has not one thing to do with fact.  Our non-linear development as human beings is part of the reason why the player needs to solve the puzzle, and not the player's intelligence.

From there, my thinking takes me to a place, "How much intelligence is needed to make a puzzle that no one could solve?"

The answer is tricky, and for that I'll return to a comic I wrote two years ago:

I love this comic.  I haven't thought of it in about 15 months and I grinned when I reread it.  But does it demonstrate that Asif (in green) is highly intelligent ... or does it merely prove that he's well-read?  If the latter, that's evidence of his high wisdom and not his intelligence.  It takes far, far less intelligence to repeat something that someone else has already said than to come up with it cold.  For example, I'm smart, but I am not Hegel.  Once Hegel comes up with the concept, however, we must ask the question ... once I've read Hegel, am I as smart as Hegel?

Ah, that's tricky.  Let's go back to our original proposal about intelligence limiting a character.  "Mr. DM, when my character reads Hegel, does he 'get' Hegel?"

And that is an intelligence check.  I've read Hegel.  I get what he's saying, because I've read and listened to people who have tried to explain Hegel to me and others at the same time, but I don't "get" him.  He's over my head.  But then, he's over most people's heads.  To get Hegel, your intellect has to bend a certain way and then you have to spend nearly as long as Hegel spent getting to the place where Hegel arrived.

On the other hand, I've read Christopher Hitchens.  I'm definitely as smart as Christopher Hitchens.

Fundamentally, the point I'm trying to make is this: the game's intelligence stat is not about circumventing, it is about doing.  My character with a 7 Int reads this grade 12 textbook.  That's fair.  I took Grade 12 with others of about that intelligence and they were able to read the book.  Did they read it all the way through?  That's a choice and therefore that's a wisdom check.  Did they "get" the book?  Well, I'd say yes if the character had a 10 intelligence, but with a seven ... I'd say that was a check.

[I need to stress that my 7 Int is NOT based on a 70 I.Q.  Like I said with my last post, my intelligence is independent of I.Q.  A "7" would be a fairly typical person who would make it through high school but score in the bottom of their class]

How about a typical first-year university text ... I read Livy in my 1st year.  It's not nearly as dense as Thucydides or Tacitus, but words are words.  The "get" is different, however; the message is not simply, "This happened and then this happened."  There is a very definite theme at play and I took classical history with a lot of smart people who did not grasp that theme at all.  To be honest, I took courses from some profs who didn't.  I needed the them explained to me ... but once I got it, I saw that theme everywhere.

I'm arguing there's a threshold.  If you're of this intelligence, then there are these things you obviously understand, but there are all these other things you maybe understand.  The intelligence check is for the maybe stuff; it would be stupid to make a person of 15 intelligence roll to see if they could understand a grade-12 textbook [I am looking right at you, 5e].

Admittedly, however, this all gets to be a crap-shoot after the point where I stopped my post yesterday.  That is one of the reasons I petered out.  It is easy to understand low intelligence ... but at what point should a person of 15 Int obviously understand something that a person of 14 Int would have to roll for?

Not a freaking clue.  Not at the moment, anyway.  There ought to be those things, however.  The fact that we can't define them does not make a person of 14 Int equal to 15, and there would be things that all 15 Int persons would get that 14 Int persons might not.  But hey, give me a break.  It's not like this intelligence thing was easy to crack for everyone else who's taken a swing at it.  The very fact that I am taking a swing at it, or that I feel I can, is itself a definition of my intelligence, compared to a lot of readers who might now be thinking, "what the fuck for?"

Because it matters, oh ye who has blown their check.

I wish I could say I was done, but I'm not.  Because self-perception of intelligence is a thing, too.  That forces me to embed this awful, awful video ... which unfortunately makes a brilliant point that utterly, completely, absolutely and with all dispatch was totally missed by the presenter.

The presenter here, and many presenters on the internet who I have seen make many of these same points, thinks he is much more intelligent than he actually is.  His first example out of the gate is one of my favorites ... because it argues against what a stupid person thinks a smart person is doing, while the smart person is doing something totally different.  Right off the bat, 19 seconds in:
Cracked Host Guy: "... I've spent the day memorizing poetry because of this scene from Good Will Hunting."
College Dude: "... As a matter of fact I won't, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social~
Will: "~Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinction predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth.  You got that from Vickers, Work in Essex County, page 98, right?"
Cracked Host Guy: "Because Matt Damon [sic] is a brilliant mathemetician, he has apparently memorized entire history textbooks, right down to the page number of certain important quotes.  Hence."  [shows poetry book]  "I figure if memorizing history textbooks makes you a good mathematician, memorizing romantic poetry will probably help me figure out how to escape from this YouTube bunker."

Face palm.  I've heard so many deconstructions of Good Will Hunting along these same lines that I'm beginning to think the movie itself should be the official I.Q. test.  To begin with, we might start by understanding that Matt Damon is playing a character, he's not a brilliant mathematian; and from there we might move onto the point that a character in a movie being able to do more than one thing is called "depth" ... you know, the thing that a million would-be online critics crave when they talk about how bad the acting in a film is.

Full disclosure: I would rate Good Will Hunting as a 2 out of 4 stars.  That means I'd watch it every three to ten years, but certainly not every year.  It is nowhere near one of my favorite films.  There are problems with it that don't matter here.  But several of the speeches do address intelligence in a way that seems to make people of less than my intelligence truly dumb as posts.

Will's demonstration of intelligence here has nothing whatsoever to do with memory.  The character is not a student.  That means he's reading Vickers for reasons other than, "This is my assigned coursework," which, we know, is why the College Dude is reading it.  Moreover, Will knows beforehand that the Dude is going to quote that part ... because clearly, there's a prof out there somewhere who LOVES that quote and every dumbfuck college student who staggers into Will's bar thinks that quote is a weapon that wins every argument ~ because some prof told them it did.  But unlike the student, Will read the text for reasons of his own; a poor person, reading a book called, "Work in Essex County," about farmers and fishermen from 1630 to 1850.  Will, in the movie, is bitterly hateful of little rich college students who think they can understand what it means to be on the bottom row of society because they read a fucking book; Will reads the book and feels the book, as an actual template of his actual life.

So when Will quotes the book, he's rubbing the Dude's face in the actual text, saying, you dumbshit, if you knew anything about what you were reading, you'd understand what the quote actually says, not what you think the quote says.

Now, compare this to what I was saying about making choices as a writer and presenter.  The writers here, Mr. Damon and Mr. Affleck, had literally millions of possible books they could have pulled out as an example for this scene ... and they picked this one.  Do you, dear reader, think they stumbled across this book from a commercial they saw on television?  This film was released in 1997.  It was probably written by the two five to ten years earlier than that.  No internet.  Given that, they pulled it off a shelf somewhere.  Do you think they walked into a library, went straight to that shelf and found the book there?  Hell no.  Nor did two early twenty-year-olds chance upon a book with the full title of Farmers and Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630–1850 and think, "Wow, that's going to make a great scene in a movie someday!"

No, they heard of the book because, when Damon was at Harvard in 1992, he heard the College Dude himself make this argument and, because of it, Damon went to the book and found out what the fuck that quote was all about.

And this ... AND THIS ... is what defines intelligence.  The unwillingness to see a presented argument as THE argument, ever.  The will to go and look for the work yourself, to dig, to do MORE than memorize, to demonstrate fact from fallacy by means of full disclosure of all the pertinent facts.  Exactly what the Cracked Host Guy did not do, and what I see every pundit on the internet not do when they discuss this movie.  Which, case in point, is also the goddamn point of the movie.

Sorry.  Went a long way around the barn there.

There is another demonstration of Will's intelligence that is missed by the Cracked Host Guy.  Will response is fast.  Now, this is one thing in a film, where everything is scripted, but wit and repartee has long been a demonstrative facet of intelligence.  Cyrano de Bergerac was right to see the connection between wit and swordplay, that Edmond Rostand reflected in the drama we know better than the real fellow.  Wit is biting, vicious, button-pressing and dangerous to display in common company ... and, as Christopher Hitchens often displayed, highly addictive.  Dumber people make wonderfully marvelous straight-men, which makes not letting free with the sarcastic barb that will get you killed seemingly impossible.  But again, it's wisdom that restrains the cutting tongue, not the intellect.

Hammering this hodge-podge into a rules set is, to say the least, beyond the pale.  But I can tell you clearly that one technique that will not work is to create modifiers and then roll for everything.

It takes a real moron to come up with that plan.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Intelligence Scale

Originally, I meant only to add a description of intelligence for character creation; and then I had a bit of clarity before falling asleep last night.  I picked it up this morning and had meant to carry it forward up to 18 intelligence ... but alas, I lost the thread of my intent long before.

The idea follows something I proposed long, long ago, saying I would need time to think about it.  Having got it this far, I probably need time again; or perhaps I've just lost my clarity in the midst of researching and trying to build a fluidity to the change of each intelligence value.  Here's what I have, transferred from my wiki.

Variously defined to include logic, understanding, self-awareness and reasoning, for game purposes I have chosen to describe intelligence as problem solving ability and alertness. In game terms this argues that seeing the answer to a problem is a question of intelligence, not wisdom; and that being aware of what is going on around the individual is also intelligence, and not dexterity. Intelligence as described here bears no similarity to "I.Q."

Ability checks are made against intelligence only when there is doubt that the character's intelligence is sufficient to reason through a set of variables or be alert enough to see the meaning of a given clue or detail. Players cannot simply turn to the PC's intelligence as an ability that lets them roll and instantly "know" things. Players must use their own intelligence 99% of the time throughout the game; however, very often the player will attempt an action or a plan that the character would be unlikely to conceive. In that instance, the player should make an intelligence check. If successful, the action can be carried out.

Take note; "learning ability" is often attributed to intelligence; in my game, that would be part of wisdom.

Intelligence is an important characteristic of mages and illusionists, and a minor requisite for assassins, bards, paladins, rangers and thieves. For mages, intelligence will dictate the maximum number of spells that can exist in the character's spellbook (qv). Furthermore, it should be understood that upper spell levels for mages cannot be employed at all if the mage has a minimal intelligence.

Chance for a spell included in the spellbook describes the percentage chance that is rolled for each spell in the magic user lists to determine if that spell is included in the mage's conceptual ability. This does not apply to illusionists.

Minimum # of successful rolls indicates the lowest number of successful rolls for spells that the mage can have. This does not apply to illusionists.

Maximum Spell level use shows the highest level of spell that the character can use with that intelligence. This column applies to both illusionists and mages.

Description of Values

Zero Intelligence (0 pts.)

Unable to think and lacking self-awareness, these creatures act without will, driven by hormonal responses. They are compelled to find food or to reproduce. Once engaged in combat they will not retreat but will always fight to the death. They cannot communicate with others of their own kind except through the release of pheromones, which may appear to create cooperation but in fact is purely reflexive in response.

Deficient Intelligence (1 pt.)

Sufficient to provide minimal self-awareness and bare instinct resulting in an innate behavior in response to outside stimuli. Creatures of deficient intelligence will experience fear and will herd together for defense ~ but will equally abandon others of their own kind, including their offspring, with self-preservation being more important than social bonds.

Reproduction if primarily sexual, with times of the year when instinctive competition to determine opportunities to mate takes place. Displays feature activities such as showing plumage or rutting. These creatures are always herbivorous and never hunters; they will exhibit some curiosity towards the offer of foods, especially those of a pleasant odor. Without magical influence, these creatures defy interaction and cannot be trained.

Domestic Intelligence (2 pts.)

Necessary for domestication as a creature. Take note that not all domestic creatures have an intelligence of this value; only that they must have at least this much in order to form an attachment to a more intelligent companion. Creatures of domestic intelligence will also show a fondness and loyalty. They can be angered and will become defensive if angered; they will not always fight, however. This defensiveness is often a show of threat before fleeing.

Creatures of this intelligence will form family relationships for life, care for their offspring, defend their lairs, display memory, play, act curiously if not threatened and will actively hunt (including tracking and returning to familiar hunting grounds). These creatures will also cooperate with their own kind, though often they will become aggressive and competitive once food is available. Primary motivations continue to be the pursuit of food and reproduction.

Sympathetic Intelligence (3 pts.)

Necessary for humanoid creatures (with much lower-than-average mental acuity) and commonly the intelligence for successful hunters such as canines, felines, suidae, ursae and a wide range of magical beasts. These creatures will hunt patiently and cleverly, will share food among their clans and will care for and adopt the young of others. They will form close domestic bonds with more intelligent creatures, particularly with tool-making humanoids.

They have strong memories, will form lasting bonds and cooperative relationships with humanoids (hunting and sheep dogs, cormorants, working animals, mounts, etcetera), are strongly faithful, will play and will defend creatures other than those of their own kind. They are able to recognize treachery and also display a wide range of emotions.

Humanoids will be minimally communicative and animal-like in their display of emotions. They will form staunch bonds with others and will sacrifice themselves rather than let those others come to harm (though the sacrifice is not self-aware; death is a difficult concept to grasp). Fighting abilities will be instinctive; they are limited to bashing weapons. Weapons may not be hurled, not because the creature is physically incapable, but because it doesn't not occur. They are limited to daily living skills and are limited in sage abilities to adaptive or instinctive abilities [no defacto list exists at this time]. All efforts to problem solve or be alert, as well as recovering anything from memory, requires an intelligence check.

Cognitive Intelligence (4 pts.)

Enables self-awareness so that the creature is aware of their own awareness, and in humanoids the ability to express consciousness of their own mental limitations. Creatures are able to comprehend money, the importance of some things over others and reasons why they are being asked to do things. Creatures of this intelligence include a wide variety of non-social monsters, many of them with inborn skills, primates and humanoids who represent lower-than-average mental acuity. No humanoid race comprises principally of members that are of this level of intelligence.

Creatures, both humanoid and not, will betray deviousness, be capable of lying, yet will remain naive of consequences for their actions. Play is often extraordinarily aggressive or excessively idle, such as repeatedly throwing a ball against a wall for many hours at a time, mesmerized by the patterns it forms. Memories are long and grudges are common. They are not likely to judge the actions of others except when those actions directly infringe on their freedom.

Humanoids will be haltingly but moderately communicative and expressive with their emotions. They will form highly loyal bonds with fellows and may even fall in love, though they will not understand the social mores associated with relationships. They are not able to rebel against requests from trusted companions without an intelligence check. When a check succeeds, being conscious of their own limitations, they will be enormously proud of themselves.

Fighting abilities are instinctive; bashing and stabbing weapons are permissible. Weapons may be hurled. They are able to do tasks made of two-or-three steps, such as sharpening a weapon AND putting it away or eating from a plate, washing that plate and putting it away. Such things are limited to busywork; tasks that require figuring the place for something unfamiliar, sorting, locating something that can't be seen or is in an unfamiliar place, or any more complex problem requires a check. The creature can watch and be trusted to be aware in that specific direction, but being alert for something unexpected requires a check. Sage abilities must still fit into the descriptions above or are not available to the creature.

Primitive Intelligence (5 pts.)

Minimum necessary for a humanoid culture. Creatures are able to perform all familiar tasks related to food gathering, hunting, raising offspring, sorting and sharing material wealth and rough hand-made tools without checks, but do not have interpretive-based sage abilities.

Though able to understand the spoken word generally, creatures have high difficulty understanding abstract concepts such as philosophy, mathematics, science, mechanics or distant geography. Religion and history is understood primarily through story-telling and art, with no real sense of theology or causality. Magic is appreciated and recognized, but the process bears no comprehension at all. Limitations on such things, or why there should be limitations, are unclear to the creature.

When in simple, day-to-day situations, it is rare that any checks will need to be made. However, the alertness needed to think a player character's way through unusual environments (dungeons, dangerous and chaotic terrains, cities or streets where sensory overload is constant) will require occasional checks if there is no one else to keep the character focused. One such situation is battle.

Should surprise occur, creatures of primitive intelligence are apt not to rely upon their instincts but upon their responsibilities ~ and this may cause the creature to freeze, similar in manner to a deer but for entirely different reasons. Because of this, unless an intelligence check is made, the creature will be unable to take any action except to defend themselves for one more round than is usual. This hesistancy can be overcome, however, if a more intelligent creature, unaffected by this hesitancy, is there to shout "attack!" or similar order at the right moment, spurring lesser companions to action. Thus a chief in a primitive clan or tribe will usually have sufficient intelligence to thus lead their people.

Primitive intelligence allows the use of most hand-to-hand and hurled weapons, but discounts use of the bola, the bow, slings and like weapons that have multiple or moving parts. Common implements with moving parts require a check to use; complex implements, such an astrolabe or abacus, are beyond the creature's ken.

Low Intelligence (6 to 7 pts.)

Though in the upper group for primitive cultures, for most civilized societies this indicates the bottom range of competent intelligence for social participants in daily life. Such creatures are able to work at repetitive tasks, raising food, maintaining domestic animals and other day-to-day social duties without intelligence checks.

They are, however, challenged to understand matters outside their immediate needs and positions. Even if they participate in religion, it is more mystery than belief. They are comfortable at festivals and sport; but discussions of current affairs and politics confuse them. They are apt to ignore the doings of the world. If someone should explain such things to them, it would be an intelligence check.

Low intelligence creatures have access to the full range of weapons and the use of common implements without needing a check. Surprise in combat operates normally.