Monday, June 20, 2022

1% Inspiration

The perspiration is yet to start:

The sage abilities discussed on this page, not included in the teaser above, finally establish once and for all my method for characters making magic items in the game.  It's not merely an issue of spending a lot of money and buying the place where the fabrication takes place, but with deliberately seeking out certain studies early in the game that permits item creation by potentially 7th or 8th level — although to do so this early would require more than one character to likewise make plans.

I've said before that the goal with creating magic items and invoking similar profound magical effects is not to throw thousands of gold pieces at the problem and then roll dice, but to spend much time, so that only so many items can be created before the character becomes too old to adventure.  It should be supposed that yes, a player character CAN make a vorpal blade or a +5 holy sword themselves ... but that the time scale on these items should be ten years.

This includes an understanding that such items are so rare that no, the player cannot go out and adventure for such things in the space of a few months.  Ten years of game time describes how long a character ought to adventure in order to achieve a level to where they could conceivably take a holy avenger out of the hands of the 22nd level paladin wielding it.  It's not my feeling that a weapon of this kind should be found stuck in a rock at the end of a platform in a deep dungeon ... unless the nature fo the rock, the dungeon and the time it took to get here made the character pay the necessary cost to even see the thing.  Just cause we're here, and can touch it, doesn't mean the rock will let it go.

Anyway.  There's no rush to actually detail the sage abilities; I haven't any characters yet who have chosen these paths.  Study "flowers & sprigs"?  Who knew?

It helps, however, to know they're there, and how the path to reach them works.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Players who Have Played Before

I have to be careful with this last post on the subject of bringing in new players — and here I'm speaking of players who are not new to the game, but are new to my campaign.  Having discussed the subject on numerous occasions in the past, I see little value in rehashing old wounds and mistakes made.  People make a mess of relationships for all kinds of reasons ... and more often than not, they don't get resolved because one or both parties feels a crushing load of shame, and not because there are irreconcialable differences.

Recently, I met a former player who left my campaign in and around 2012, largely because he was in a difficult place in his life and chose to abandon other activities in the pursuit of recreational drugs.  His leaving the campaign was equitable, but of course not well-respected.  He's been clean for years and years now ... and in this post-covid time, I asked if he would be interested in rejoining my campaign.  His face lit up and he expressed a strong desire to do so; and later I heard through a third party that he'd wanted to rejoin the campaign for five or six years, but simply couldn't face me to ask.  I saved his face by asking him.

This is how it goes with people.  Harsh words get spoken, the argument gets forgotten but the feelings do not.  It's one of the reasons I'm trying to change my ways and put an end to my ranting nature.  It's not that I've changed my mind on the fallacies of other DMs or that I suddenly respect or choose to tolerate what I consider wrongness in managing players or the game itself ... only that people tend to remember the hurt and not the argument I've made.  This has taken a long time for me to accept; and most people, I know, would feel too ashamed to admit it.

Anyway.  I really should stress that for the most part, I do very well with new players who have plenty of experience with D&D.  Most are tired of cookie-cutter games and want something on a deeper level, as several of my online players will attest.  There's little to be said about people like this because they are so easy to run and get along with that I look forward to their involvement.  I don't have to overly explain the character generation process, I can make a few quick points about rule changes, negotiation of said rule changes go swimmingly and overall it's less work to initiate a good experienced player from another campaign than it is one who has never played before.

The trick is, of course, recognising one of these good-and-experienced players from those who are intrinsically toxic.  A toxic player is also very good at playing; they are also very good at adopting and understanding new rules, and very often are very good at negotiating those rules to understand their stance.  Toxic and non-toxic players alike make good role-players; and they are often both pleasant and cheerful to associate with.  It's the samenesses that make it difficult to deal with toxic players ... because in the beginning, we're never sure that's what we have.

Fundamentally, the toxicity derives from two positions on the game that underlie the player's intentions: (a) winning and (b) self-aggrandisement.  In all fairness, these are the same problems that affect persons in business, in sports, in politics and in relationships.  The characteristics need not be overly pronounced like a made-for-netflix movie.  The need to "win" a situation, or "serve myself," need not manifest as a slavering workaholic fuck-you-I-got-mine perspective that is coldly evident on first glance.  It is most likely very subtle.

The need to win is more often a need not-to-lose, and more specifically a need not to fail.  Failing is the criminality that produces many toxic players ... not just the need not to make mistakes or approach the game with a "failure-is-not-an-option" attitude, but the need not to look like I've failed, or admit that I've failed.  These last two, and the inherent shame that saturates both, gets into the blood of a campaign and begins to taint everything.  Especially when "winning" becomes the equivalent of not putting one's self into a position where losing is possible.

This explains players who won't invest, who won't take risks, who won't calculate the odds, roll the dice and accept a negative result, on principle.  It's not that a negative result, in principle, is something that can't be sustained, but that there's a shame in having to accept that "I made the decision that put me in a place where a negative result was possible."  This belief in self-imposed shame is taught at a young age by fathers, mothers and coaches the world over.  I quote,

"The bizarre thing is, I did it for my old man.  I tortured this poor kid, because I wanted him to think that I was cool.  He's always going off about, you know when he was in school, and the wild things he used to do.  And I got the feeling that he was disappointed that I never cut loose on anyone, right?   So, I'm sitting in a locker room, and I'm taping up my knee ... and Larry's undressing a couple lockers down from me; and ... and he's kind of skinny.  Weak.  And I started thinking about my father, and his attitude about weakness.  And the next thing I knew, I jumped on top of him and I started wailing on him.  And my friends, they just laughed and cheered me on.  And afterwards, when I was sitting in Vern's office, all I could think about was Larry's father.  And Larry having to go home, and ... and explain what happened to him.  And ... the humiliation ... the fucking humiliation he must have felt.  It must have been unreal.  Huh, how do you apologise for something like that?  There's no way.  It's all because of me and my old man.  God I fucking hate him.  He's like ... he's like this mindless machine that I can't even relate to anymore.  'ANDREW!  YOU'VE GOT TO BE NUMBER ONE!  I won't tolerate any losers in this family!  Your intensity is for shit.  WIN!  WIN!  WIN!'  You son-of-a-bitch."

 — The Breakfast Club

Obviously, it's not as clear as that.  Not usually.  It manifests in the player being so cautious that other players are left in the lurch, unprotected.  Or the player deliberately building the character in a deeply munchkinian way, or thirsting after more and more magical items, or anything that will serve as a bulwark between success and losing ... because they cannot lose.  The feeling they have of leaving a campaign where they've lost is emotionally crippling — and reminds the player that this is NOT why they play D&D.  It's bad enough that this failure and losing are part of real life; the craving to escape that real life shame by rushing into D&D, or any escapist activity that assures success, absolutely, is their fundamental reason for being here.

The story is fun, the characterisation and situations are fun, the loot and the power building is fun, the triumph is fun ... but anything that's a part of the game that the player cannot utterly control on every level is anathema to the dogma.  Math is an excuse; the real reason why encumbrance, tracking food, the number of spells one can cast in a day, having to live with less than ideal hit points and so on is so hateful is because they're all a reminder that the character is limited, and limited equals weak.  Weakness is the precursor to failure; no matter how we cut it, "Sooner or later the place where I am weak will lead to my failing, and I just fucking cannot deal with any more failing, especially in an activity I do for fun."

In my book How to Run, I talked about the accumulated pattern recognition that's gained from running D&D over a period of years.  One of those patterns I've been made to recognise are the tunes and tones that enter the player's diction as the game is played out.  Players learn a semantic and conceptual way of understanding what the game is about, for them, which when obtained is virtually impossible to shift or change.  The desires a player expresses in the first few rolls of creating their character; the way they express what they think the party should do; the hesitation they show when meeting a particular danger; the manner in which they physically have their characters approach that danger; the way they withhold powers they possess, "saving them for later," which they perceive is good play but is often evidence of not wanting to let go of something held too tightly, "in case."  Altogether, it expresses a doubt on the player's part that things will work out, or that they can think their way out of the problem when the need arises.  They don't believe they will; or, in the very least, there's a strong feeling that they might not.  And they are simply not willing to take the risk that they might have used a power now, when they'll so desperately need that power later.

This approach of anti-failure by excessive conservation of power seems like an example of "good play."  It's very often defended that way.  A long-time savvy player will have accumulated many examples of evidence that supports this approach, ingraining it further into the player's consciousness as "the right way to play."  It is, at best, "a" way to play.  Unfortunately, it's a heuristically oriented approach, where the player has learned this habit entirely for themselves, and not within a social context.  Socially, the player's failure is less intrinsically important than the party's failure ... but the player who must win is universally incapable of making this distinction.  "The risked shame isn't the party's shame; it's MY shame.  And as long as it's mine, I'll decide for myself how much of it I want to endure."

Taking us to the place of self-aggrandisement.  Let me stress here.  This isn't about being selfish.  Nor is it necessarily about pounding one's chest and promoting oneself as being powerful or important ... though yes, let's admit it, that's been a core-rhetoric in D&D since it's beginning.  We have many famous quotes from Gygax, Mentzer and others that are boasting, strutting and thoroughly toxic.  The meme of gloating player goes well back before Knights of the Dinner Table and the earlier Fineous Fingers.  Oftentimes, old schoolers achieved a certain glee in depictions of this sort.

Just as "to win" means to not lose, being important is served by not being overlooked.  However popular RPGs and D&D in particular may become, it's still an activity enjoyed by those who are educated and possessed of a heightened imagination.  Such persons nearly always end up spending a lot of time alone, in part because they did the homework they were given, in part because they retreat to imaginative activity as a means of freedom in an environment that's not pretty.  Learning how to manage ourselves and the various details in the world have much to do with an individual's life trajectory — and a long-time situation of diligently doing school work and being occupied with one's own thoughts rarely leads to a path of "being cool" and having popularity.

Those who have a supportive family are comfortable with their level of importance.  Those who receive accolades for their schoolwork, or who have even minor athletic gifts or an ability to participate as a team member gain early recognition for their existential importance in a group.  If they're among others and an hour goes by without their gaining any special attention, they're fine with it.  They've learned, either subconsciously or through the point being highlighted by some personal event, that everyone gets their kick at the cat, eventually ... and that ultimately everyone deserves that kick.

For some, however, cat-kicking possesses something of a dearth in their existence.  They're fairly convinced — AGAIN, either subconsciously or through the point being highlighted — that they haven't had their share of attention.  And it's very, very hard for them to sit among a group of people and not be recognised a requisite number of times ... that requisite being decided in their minds, and not according to some other, more socially agreed-upon measure.

In it's worst form, this manifests as the grabbing character who must have the best object at the table, for being the strongest and having the best is surely a way of getting attention.  Toxically, it also manifests as a need to push others down, since the importance of others is a challenge to the player's importance.  Much of this stems from a certainty that there's only so much attention to go around, that it's in short supply or that it must at least be cornered to the greatest degree possible.  Time, after all, is a limited commodity; therefore it follows that attention must be also.  "And anyone else getting attention robs me of mine."

But ... these monsters are so obviously horrific that types like this never get invited to my house, much less be given an opportunity to play in my world.  I've had a few of them turn up online; but they're easy to identify and dispense.  The more obscure variant of the species is the player who seems perfectly normal in nearly every aspect, except that — often to a very slight degree — they have trouble keeping themselves occupied.

The rest of this sentiment can be immediately recognised by any DM out there.  These are players who need a lot of handling.  Less needful of gaining importance from the rest of the party, they zero in on what the DM can give.  Being imaginative, they're full of ideas of things they want to do; but they usually lack some skill in getting anyone else interested.  Usually, it's because the "things" are impractical, too personal or ultimately not very lucrative.  Sometimes, the player will urge the DM to step in and ensure their idea becomes the game's direction — through wheedling or merely by never dropping the subject, ever.

It's an Amphipolean problem, which can only resound with those studying Greek history.  The party get tired of hearing it, the DM gets tired, the issue never gets dropped ... and increasingly the attention-seeking player chooses it as the hill to die on, the evidence that "No one ever wants to do the thing I want to do."  Sooner or later the thing will come to a head; and the worst of it is that in not giving the player their kick at the cat, denying the player further participation in the campaign feels like kicking a dog.

[Sorry.  From the moment I wrote about kicking the cat I knew the other metaphor had to find a place]

There's something undeniably hateful about pushing a fairly benign, often quiet, often socially paralysed individual out of a game ... so hateful that a DM — certainly me — will endure the situation for years if it means not having to address the matter.  In reality, the party begins to ignore the player, I begin to ignore the player, all because the player can only see the game from their personal, self-identified point of view.  And being ignored is the thing that player least wants to experience.  The situation is awful.  No question about it.

Unfortunately, social situations have their rules.  Participating in a social situation requires that the individual be conscious of their personal need to be socialised.  They must gain a comprehension of other people's needs, they must learn to view themselves as a part of a group and not an individual within a group; they must reflect upon how their language and their choice of subject-matter affects other people.  They must learn to give life to their words so that the words deserve attention, not the speaker.

These are skills we all must learn.  No one learns them perfectly.  Many reach a certain point and quit learning.  I personally wish to keep working on my socialisation for the rest of my life.

Concluding this series of posts, I'll end by saying that the goal of introducing a new character is to ensure the machine, the game, keeps running fluidly.  Whether the new player is wholly new to the game, or any RPG, or comes from other games to play yours, the DM should strive to keep the cogs and rods lubricated and smooth-running.  Any bit of grit, that occurs for any reason, is contrary to the manifest importance of a well-run, humming and exciting game.

Understanding that "grit" is defined according to what sort of game you're running.  In most games that others play, I would definitely be a very large bag of sand thrown into the gears.

Best that I don't play, then.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Bringing You In

As I said with this post, at the beginning of my D&D playing I was told to "watch and learn" ... which I did.  My first action, taken in haste and without understanding the consequence, got me turned into stone; whereupon I had little choice but to watch and learn.

The lesson here is that it didn't matter than my first experience was "easy" or not.  What mattered was that the party didn't overly mock me for being so stupid or in any way make me feel unworthy as a player.  Instead, as soon as they could, they got me turned back to flesh.  This is what matters.  As a player in this game, bad things happen.  It isn't the bad things themselves that turn players off, it's the way that other players, and DMs, respond in those moments.

Whatever I felt about those guys later — I played with them for 18 months before deciding their goals were fatuous and limited — they brought me in, adopted me as a player, let be become one of their number and didn't hold it against me when I stopped playing.  By the time I quit, I had three other regular games to play in and my own to run, all of which gave me a lot of experience in a short time.

Once a new player in my campaign gets to where the character is sorted, we can play.  The situation is briefly explained and the new player is encouraged to ask questions.  Usually, off balance, they have none to ask and we get into it.

Let's say we're in a dungeon and you, Dear Reader, have just joined the campaign.  Now how does that work?  The party is fifty feet underground and they've slogged through a hundred vermin to get here, and now you saunter as if you were looking for the washroom and you've ended up here.  I know that other parties make a big deal of such meetings, trying to justify this strange happenstance, but I prefer to wrap it up with something simple.  I've introduced hundreds of characters to games and I'm rather bored with the fifteen-minute "getting to know you" scene.  Rather, I'll say something like, "This is Horace, the fellow you met at the tavern in Ipswich three days ago; remember suggesting that he ought to come along?  Well, he's been about fifty yards behind you this whole time, getting over his nerve at the sound of battle and so on ... but here he is, ready to fight.  Aren't you Horace?"

You say yes and there we are.  The players ask about your equipment and if you're short a helmet or a weapon, they'll give you one.  "Uh, I had this extra +1 hand axe I'm not using right now; can you use a hand axe?"  "You've got leather armour?  I've a suit of +1 studded on my horse; if we get a chance, I'll give it to you."  This sort of thing.

I'll ask the party, "What next?"

And they'll say, "We're going through the door."  They outline where they're going to stand and who will do the actual opening and I'll ask, "Where should Horace stand?"  This is me ensuring you're not forgotten; I know you, as a new player, haven't any idea what this "where are we going to stand" thing is all about, so I'm there for you.  The party will tell you to stand here, draw your bow, point it at the door.  If anything comes in, shoot."  I move your image to a place on the map you can see, on a monitor screen.  That's you.  You can see how you relate to everyone else.

That'll sound reasonable to you, there's no reason not to trust this party, they've been friendly so far ... so you say, "Sure."  The door opens and 20 bats fly through and into the room.  You blurt out, "I shoot at them!" and I say, "no problem.  But first, we have to see if you're surprised.  You didn't expect bats, did you?  Roll a d6."

You're rolling the d6 for the whole party, but you don't know that.  I can get anyone to roll that d6, and the rest of the party knows this, but I'm picking you because you're new and I want you to feel involved.  You roll a one and the party groans ... and maybe you clam up in confusion or maybe you ask, "What?  What happened?"

And I'll say, "You rolled bad and the party is surprised.  It means the bats get to attack first."

Whereupon if you're chatty you'll say, "Gee, I'm sorry."  Keeping in mind that most new players don't say that or anything, they just feel real bad they've screwed up — without even knowing why or how they've screwed up.

"Don't worry about it," I'll tell you.  "You were rolling to see if the party was surprised is all; it happens.  These guys are tough.  You'll be fine."  I start filling the monitor screen with bats and as they pop into existence, there looks like way too many bats ... and you start to feel uncomfortable as more and more appear.  You feel a bit of a blood rush and so do the others.  Now I'm slating how many bats are attacking and who gets how many attacks against them personally.  This is done in the open, no DM screen.  I run through this process with about 20 seconds per person or less; we'll say two bats attack you and I'll ask your armour class.  Not because I don't already know your armour class, we sorted that out just half an hour or less ago, but I want you to look up your armour class so you can see where it is and remember it.  You tell me the number and I roll, saying I hit you once for 1 point of damage (they're only bats).  "Remove it temporarily from your hit points," I say, "While keeping your maximum written on the page."  If necessary, the player on one side of you will show you what I mean ... or maybe you just saw her cross out her own present hit points because she was hit for 2 damage.

"Okay, party's round," I'll say.  I go around the table, one at a time.  No one rolls a die or makes a statement about what they're doing until it's their turn.  I point at Jimmy and he picks up a die and says, "I attack," without needing to say with what weapon; essentially, his main one, the one he nearly always uses.  He'll only specify a weapon if its something else.

Although he has the die in his hand, and he's shaking his hand, he won't let that die go until I say, "Okay, roll."  If he rolls before I say, the number doesn't count.  But I don't hesitate.  The second he says that he attacks I tell him to roll, because I want the combat to go fast, fast, fast.  Player, player, player, 20, 40 seconds a player.  While Jimmy's die bounces on the table I'll say, "Allie, you're on deck."

What does that mean?  It means, Allie, get your shit together, get ready to tell me what you're doing when I call your name or point at you.  Hearing me say that Allie is on deck shakes her out of her lethargy as she watches Jimmy's die bounce — she wants to know that result as much as anyone, but I need her focused on the next thing, too.  Jimmy calls out the number of his die, a "7."  I don't like Jimmy to withhold the die and say, "I missed," because in reality, I've learned that many times the player is wrong about that.  Jimmy doesn't know what the armour class of the bats is; I do.  I also know Jimmy's level and his THAC0, so I can say absolutely that a "7" hits, because these are big, slow-moving bats that have been woken up out of their sleep and in a cold room.  Jimmy is happy and rolls damage.  "Allie, you're up," I say.  "Horace, you're on deck."

Now, maybe you say "What does that mean," but probably you've heard of baseball and — having seen Allie's turn come up — you can figure it out.  Maybe you ask, "What do I do?"  Chances are I won't answer that; I'm listening to Allie tell me what she's doing ... but here I can count on a player to say something like, "Get ready to attack."  If you have dice you've bought, he or she might pick out the d20 for you.  Allie wants to use a gadfly cantrip to attack a bat, which works because the casting time is so short a bat doesn't have time to spoil the magic; not that you, a noob, understand this.  Nor is there time to explain it; you're reaching for your d20, you hear the word "cantrip," which is utterly meaningless to you.   I say "go ahead" to Allie, who hasn't technically thrown the cantrip, and she instantly says, "I do," which means she's now thrown the cantrip, and before I take a hit point from the bat I turn to you and say, "You have your bow out.  You need a different weapon to attack the bats."  Then I turn back to Allie and say, "Your cantrip killed the bat."  Poof, the bat disappears from the screen.  "Anything else you want to do with your move?"  She tells me, I move her little image on the monitor screen and now I'm turning to you and asking what weapon you're using to attack a bat.  You say, maybe a little confusedly, and I tell you to roll your d20, and since it's already in your hand, you know it's the one to roll.  So you do.  And I call out, "Taber, you're on deck," as your die bounces on the table.

See, now?  You're in this.  You feel the speed as I move around the table, you feel the experience I have in managing multiple details at one time, the sense of things moving around you, the image of the bats popping off the screen ... this gives you the feeling of being in a fight, of standing with others, of not having time to chat or ask questions.  No one else does, not now, because I'll shut them down if they choose this moment to talk about anything except the combat going on, in the order their names are called.  You don't feel "new."  Just like that, as puzzled as you are by all the terms and choices being made, you feel like a member of the party.  And as you learn the terms, hearing them used again and again, it all becomes comfortably familiar.

But suppose this is not how you're introduced to the campaign.  Suppose the party's still in Ipswich when you join the game.  "This is Horace," I say; "He's been listening to your conversation and you've gotten to know him."  Again, we skip over the introductions.  The party is talking about what they want to do next.

Allie says they ought to hurry back to Cirencester and fetch the book they need before heading north.  Taber worries that the wizard won't part with the book unless something is done about the situation with the wizard's daughter.  "We ought to fetch her back from St. Albans first," he says.

Jimmy says that before they do anything, cash is getting low.  "There's a dungeon right there in Thetford Forest," he says.  "We know where it is.  Why don't we hit it now?"

You ask, "What's a dungeon?" and I say, "It's an underground set of catacombs where monsters live."  And Jimmy instantly adds, "With lots of treasure."

You're really a noob so you ask, "Treasure?"  So I say, "Yes, loot.  Plunder.  Gold coins, jewellery, magical items ... fun stuff.  You need 2,251 experience to reach next level.  A dungeon is a way to get it."

"Oh," you say, not really understanding, but getting a sense that it's a place to go.  I quickly explain how the wizard's daughter has run away from him to marry her lover, but he's abandoned her and now she's sheltering in St. Albans and is afraid to go home.  The party was hired to find her in Ipswich, and they've just learned she was jilted here and that she's left for St. Albans to hide from her father with a cousin.

Allie says, "First, we go tell the wizard where his daughter is; he gives us the book, goes and fetches her and then we can hit the dungeon before going north."

Taber says, "We get the daughter first, take her back to the wizard, exchange her for the book and hit the dungeon before going north."

Jimmy says, "We hit the dungeon first, and then we can figure out what to do after that.  If we die in the dungeon we've saved ourselves some trouble."  He laughs.  The others laugh.

You ask, "Die?"

I say, "You lose all your hit points and your character is dead.  But that's not likely with this crew.  They'll have your back."

And Jimmy tells you, "Not to worry, I'm just kidding.  What do you think of my plan?"

Because they've been trained to think as a group, they want your opinion.  For one thing, you're the deciding vote.  It doesn't matter to them that you're new; in reality, one choice is as good as another, and once they've made up their minds, they'll move on.  This whole resentment thing you hear about with selfish people who stew that they didn't get their way?  They got turfed out the door months, years, decades ago.  Besides, you've never played before.  You have no idea that people actually get upset when they don't get their way.  It all sounds interesting to you.  So when you say, "I think we should get the girl," Taber cheers and the others go, "Okay, fine.  But we're definitely checking out the dungeon after."

Everyone says "agreed" and as the party heads for St. Albans, you feel like YOUR voice matters to these people.  That you've made the decision for them where to go.  That it's okay to speak up, even if you are a johnny-come-lately.  That taking part is something that's acknowledged as a good thing ... and at the same time, there's a feeling that no one's trying to freak you out about what might happen.

I really hate negativity in a campaign.  I dislike unneeded mind games, or people deliberately making up stuff to get a reaction from others.  And woe betide anyone who catcalls or shows the slightest glee at another player's misfortune.  You won't believe how fast I'll come down on someone who does that.  Everyone gets my attention and everyone is subject to misfortune if they try to get my attention for them personally when I'm giving it to someone else.  Everyone waits their turn.  When the party wants to hash something out, I shut up.  I wait until information is needed, but I don't wade in and tell anyone what to do.  I don't care if the party goes to St. Albans or Cirencester or Thetford Forest.  It's all the same world, all the same campaign to me.

No one is "special" ... because everyone is treated with grace, consideration and according to their needs at a given time.  Players who come in, new players especially, see and recognise this almost instantly, making the game easy to run.

Savvy players, on the other hand ... those who have learned a lot of bad habits from other campaigns ... they can be a fucking pain in the ass.

I'll talk about them next.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Framework around Character Creation

As promised, with this post I'll begin on how I manage the new player sitting down to play.  I've tried to explain the positive mindset that sets the atmosphere for the game; now we can get down to the gritty details of what's done and in what order. 

Before diving in, I must explain the nature of my campaign for those who don't know me.  New characters run by new players are nearly always introduced into a running game; I've started all of three campaigns on line in the last ten years and I don't plan to start another.  If I returned to running online, I'd owe my time to those who I've left in the lurch.  Offline, I haven't started a new campaign since 2011, and I've started exactly two in the last 24 years.  I was supposed to start one in 1998 that never came off, no games at all were played.  Before that, I started three campaigns altogether.  Reverse chronologically, that was one in autumn of 1984; one in the spring of 1981; and my first campaign came in January, 1980.  I got my D&D books for Christmas in December 1979.

This accounts for all the D&D campaigns I've started and run.   I've never run a game of my own that wasn't a campaign.  Stew on that for awhile.  I've run three different one-offs, each when I was acting as a DM for game cons in 1984 to 1986, all for strangers — with the same adventure being run four times, Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon.  I never, ever run one-offs for myself.  I feel I could do it, but I don't feel I'd get anything from it.

As such, all the players I introduce tend to be into ongoing games, where the existing players have already started several adventure threads, some of which are resolved and usually two to three that aren't.  I like to keep the players hopping with multiple adventure threads at one time, just like the accumulation of events in books and movies.

Because of this, there is no such thing as a "session zero" for these players.  They arrive, they generally know most of the players socially, though they might only know me; there's a simple meet-and-greet, as usually there's a half hour or hour of getting comfortable before I begin play.  Players start showing up as early as Six PM and we are usually playing between quarter of Seven and Seven.

With the campaign ongoing, there's no real opportunity to "make the first combat easy," as I often hear advised.  The first combat the new player will face will be the next combat, whatever that happens to be.  As the new player will roll a 1st level character, REGARDLESS of the level of the party, if the battle is something that high levels would face, the party are sure to do their level best to shelter the new character while assuring there's some experience gained from the event.  It's not my goal to encourage the player to feel "safe" in a combat.  It's my goal to teach the combat system, explain what's going on with the other characters, give options to the neophyte and let the events work their effect on the new player's psyche.  So long as the battle is exciting, I've witnessed no difference in the new player's attitude towards the event.

New players, I find, have NO preconceptions about what's expected ... and therefore, unless they're told otherwise, they will always assume that whatever they're experiencing is normal and reflective of everyone else's experience.  This understanding is paramount.  It's aided enormously by other players saying, regularly, "I remember my first time ... I was a 1st level and the party was fighting giants!"  Or some such similar story.

All right.  So the new player is introduced and the first order of business is rolling up a character.  This takes half an hour.  I'll get it started at 6:30 if everyone is settled, as this gives time for people to still eat (as they are getting off a shift and have come straight to my place), organise themselves, use my shower, whatever.  I do not hand out a character sheet.  Character sheets narrow the player's sense of what's important according to someone who ISN'T me or the player.  Therefore, what the fuck is this interloper doing telling my players what matters with regards their character?  Moreover, I have so many alternate house rules, many of them very elaborate, while character sheets are full of detritus and bad game design, none of which I use.  Additionally, character sheets are thick as jeebus with blank ink circles, lines, images, elaborations and other bullshit that only gets in the way of the DATA, which is the only thing that's actually needed.  Finally, if the player is an artist, and wishes to enhance their character sheet, they are free to do it as they please.  In any case, the second best character sheet is a blank sheet of paper.  The best character sheet is a word or excel document on a laptop.  Fuck pencils.

But ... usually, the start is a blank sheet of paper.  I've written out the process in my world, so let's skip the details.  There are decisions to be made regarding class, race and other things, and if the new player is completely unfamiliar each requires explanation.

I was told in my first game that I had to be a fighter because that was "simplest."  Everyone wanted to get past the trouble of getting me invested in the game, because they were basically kids ... and kids see things in terms of primacy.  I was told to write, not make choices ... and the advice to do this with new players is all over.  However, it's been nearly 43 years since my first game and I've learned much.  It's true that a first-time player can't "appreciate" which class or race they play ... if "appreciation" is defined as knowing what to do, how to get the most from each, or even exactly what it means to be a given type of character.  BUT, as I've stressed, it also doesn't matter what character class the new player fails to play well.  Good play is not what we're teaching.  We're teaching the fundamentals of play.

IF the first time you play baseball it's in a league game, then yes, it makes sense to put you in right field where you'll do the least harm.  Chances are, however, you're only playing in that situation because someone has the means to force the coach to let you play at all.

On the other hand, if your first time playing baseball is with your friends, or in a practice, then it makes sense to try you in every position possible, even on your first day.  A good coach can recognise a player's reach, stance, speed, coordination ... in short, the player's potential, and it may be that a brand new player may find his or her self playing short stop on their first league game ... and doing well at it.  Pitching is harder, but the player being a back-up pitcher is a possibility; so if the lead pitcher gets injured in the first inning, then yeah, you're up.  "Do you best kid.  The worst thing that happens is that we'll lose."

The playing of a difficult character class can't possibly act as a detriment to the party, no matter what it is — unless you're the sort of dumbfuck asswipe who thinks game results like "accidentally setting the ship on fire with a fireball" is possible from a mage who has spent at least 20 years of his or her life learning HOW to be a mage.  Any character, even a non-level with 1 h.p., adds something to the party ... so the negative consequences of letting the new player try a mage, bard or assassin are none at all, at least for that reason.  If a dumb noob gives away the party's position by shouting out, it doesn't matter what class is being played.

The argument is often made that it's time consuming to teach the new player how to play a spellcaster.  Why?  Because 1st level spells are so complicated?  Because the DM can't just name off five or seven of the most obvious good spells to take early in the caster's career, define each in a sentence and let the player choose?  Because the other players are really, really bored having to wait for the new player to roll up this class?

Nonsense.  Players in my game are as fascinated by someone else rolling up their character because they are also invested in the results.  And because they're encouraged to call out advice and take part in the proceedings.  The creation of the new character is a group activity.  There is no right answer and no wrong one.  Only possibilities.  And everyone has an opinion — with the necessary argument to back it up.  New players are not stupid.  They recognise the tone and facial expression of someone legitimately trying to be of help.  Remember, my game table is a positive community.  They like the feeling of having their opinions given latitude and consideration.  Soon enough, the various details are sussed out and the character comes into existence.  It's okay, whatever the character is.  The player will get LOTS of help on how to run it, with respect given absolutely that this involves suggestions and not dictates.  I'm there as DM to ensure everyone has a fair say and that no one is bossing anyone around.

That is my nature as a DM.  I may boss you around, Dear Reader, but that's because I'm correcting your gawddamn rotten thinking.  You start sounding like a giving, supportive, positive, creative person, and I'll bend over backwards for you, writing posts you want and spending endless time replying to difficult questions.  I take this same stance with every player in my game, new and old alike.  Have a question?  A beef?  Something unclear?  Let's haul it out, talk it over, come to an agreement and move on.

Games I've watched other people run are always rushing to get to the "game" ... and as a result, try over and over to blast through player questions and doubts.  As such, these never get properly and patiently addressed.  Which builds resentment.  Which builds discouragement and players not turning up at games.

A good campaign has to invest the time — an entire session, if need be — to sort out every petty detail down to the nap, until everyone is in agreement and on board.  Those who repeatedly resist each resolution are recognised as "in it for themselves," and are called out for that behaviour.  If they cannot adhere, or won't adhere, to the agreed-upon sorting out of game play, then they're asked to leave.

The result is that everything is eventually discussed, reviewed, redacted or tabled for discussion later when more evidence is accumulated.  Different matters having to do with my game, such as the implementation and function of sage abilities, are still in session with regards to my party ... and here we're talking of a subject that was ultimately placed in discussion by four different campaigns over the last ten years.  Each group of players brought their own take and slowly, steadily, the function has taken form — not strictly because of what I wanted personally, but through what seemed to be best for all concerned.

It's generally disbelieved that real human people can come to conclusions like this through talking.  I don't know why.  I've witnessed it hundreds and hundreds of times.


The new player is now ready to play.  But I have written quite a lot today and I'm ready for a break.  Thus I'm going to suspend this next part for the next post.  Farewell.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

They Don't Know Anything ... Yet

The first post of this blog talks about how I was introduced to the game of D&D back in 1979.  It briefly references having to play the game to understand it, the fact of my being given a fighter to play because it was easiest for the DM and that I was told to "watch and learn."

I believe that of course you have to play D&D to "understand" it, but the same argument has to be said for any human endeavour.  What it looks like from the outside, or how puzzling it might be, is always overcome through participating, whether it's learning how to sew, how to raise children, how to build an office building or what it's like to live with cancer.  On the other hand, I've learned through experience that it's perfectly possible to get the general idea of the game without actually having to play it ... as this is merely an explanation of the "interactive storytelling" dynamic that has been around since flip books were invented in 1860.  You're given information, you make a decision, the decision has a consequence ... and repeat.

D&Ders like to make things seem a lot more convoluted than they really are because they're super-conscious of all the choices and nuances of the game ... along with many, many interpretations and alterations of the rules that have gone on for decades — which most players, even those with only a few years experience, can't unsee.  But it's important to realise that people who have never played D&D before do not see the game as a "scary set of rules and math."  Most people expect a lot of rules when playing an intelligent, compelling game.  Most people do not see "math" as an insurmountable problem, since calculators exist ... and, in fact, since the math related to D&D is arithmatic, this is math on a 4th grade level.  Most people do this math constantly and necessarily as a part of their jobs, IF they have a university or college level education.

The rules of D&D occasionally ask us to invoke geometry (the spell effect is 30 degrees wide), but hardly ever asks for trigonometry or calculus.  I mean, I don't know when in 42 years I've needed calculus; occasionally I use algebra or simple perturbations.  But these are still lower grade school maths.  "Experienced" D&D players often invoke the trials of "math" as though speaking of math as something one needs to be a mathematician to negotiate.

People who have never played D&D before do not think of character creation as onerous or tiresome.  They've never done it before.  When the system is coupled with random generation and provides a thorough approach, the actual rolling up of a character is a fascinating process.  New players, once they obtain the needed materials, spend hours and hours generating character after character, appreciating and delighting in the process as they experiment.  They soon learn the system really isn't that complicated after all ... whereupon soon after they grow bored and conveniently forget they once had a different outlook.  Having become jaded, they assume everyone else, even brand new players, must also be bored, and so think that by providing pre-generated characters at the start of a game, or for giving to neophyte players, saves everyone that terrible, monotonous time-wasting process of character generation.

New players have no idea that being asked to keep track of so many things is unreasonable — that is, unless the DM harps on and on about how many things there are and how so many of them aren't used much, and how sorry it is that these things have to be tallied and included.  If a new player comes to the game and finds everyone else easily managing the details of their character without complaint, cheerfully expressing their anticipation of having enough money to purchase something, or reaching the next level, or finding ways to cut their equipment down to make them more effective, new players will adopt that attitude and embrace it.  If we prime the new player to see parts of the game as a burden, they will adopt the burden ... and take note of every other player's protests and complaints.  On the other hand, if the new player expects to step up and behave like everyone else, dutifully keeping track of things, THEY WILL.

Introducing a new player to a game varies remarkably according to the game table's social practice.  Bad habits perpetrate, as do good habits.  Positivity, demonstrated by the attitude of the party towards themselves and each other, constructs positivity in the learner, who then acquires the capacity to be positive with regards to the game.  When the DM hands the player a pre-gen character, a profound and definite message is being sent: you're not up to making a character; you're not meant to understand that process; we don't trust you; we don't have the time to teach you; we don't have the time to let you discover this process for yourself ... and so on.

Of course, if the "new" player actually has plenty of experience with D&D in other campaigns, they understand what to do with the pre-gen sheet.  And they may appreciate being able to skip that process.  But here I'm not discussing "savvy" players; I will address that matter later.  Nonetheless, it can be recognised that if a DM gets into the habit of using pre-gen characters, then he or she will distribute them indescriminately to everyone ... including wholly new players, players who like rolling up their own player characters (and thus have this opportunity stolen from them) and players who just don't care — thus equating all three as the same person for game purposes.  This is very definitely a mistake where learning and introducing players, even savvy players, into one's campaign.

A useful approach to the introduction of a new player can be taken from the social practice related to apprenticeships.  This is not merely a matter of introducing others to the base learnable materials associated with the game, but also reproducing a functional, affirmative mindset among all the players that establishes play.  I already have a group of constructive, enthusiastic players who are supportive of each other.  Introducing a new player, I want that new player to learn how to be constructive, to feel that enthusiasm is rewarded, and to participate in the support of other players beyond themselves.  Teaching someone How to Play is much more than teaching the rules or telling them when to roll dice, but also includes the attitude that's expected here, at this table, where you're being allowed to play.

This is no different than any other group activity, or any trade where multiple people work together towards a common goal.  It's not enough that you have the skills to be an electrician; you're sent to work in the field, with other electricians, to learn how to behave like an electrician does ... and those who chafe at being told how to act or conduct themselves, who act too rashly, who conduct themselves too independently, are denied their ticket.  This denial happens for two reasons: one, because no employer wants this person around, which gives the school a bad reputation as an insitution; and two, because people who cannot conform get killed.  Failing them so they find some other occupation is saving their lives.

Allegorically, the same principle applies to D&D.  Selfish and unsupportive players, players who brood over undesired rules and search endlessly for exceptions, those who seek to be rewarded for behaviour other than problem solving and risk, are those who forget what the game's meant to be about, or why we're here together, or the needs of others.  They're so busy grouching silently about what they want and not getting that they'll miss details, fail to grasp fully what's happening, make assumptions about what to do without sharing with others ... then bull their way ahead when overcoming obstacles.  This pattern of behaviour produces untenable situations that lead, again, to death ... though thankfully only a fictional one.

An apprenticeship takes a two-tier approach.  First, that the apprentice learns every part of the activity from the start, without exception.  The apprentice creates their own character.  Each part of the character creation is lightly explained the first time through, and then time is taken to explain these details again and again until the apprentice understands every part of the character creation process.  Judging from my experience, this takes about four or five years. (joking)

Second, the apprentice is corrected, as often as necessary — in a supportive manner, arguing that yes, you're allowed to make mistakes, but you're expected to know what the mistakes are.   I won't hesitate to let a player choose a bad spell for their spellcaster.  But I also won't hesitate to explain later why it was a bad choice and why I'm ready to let the character make a better choice.  Players are not sacrosanct in the way they manage their characters.  They are, and ought to be, subject to the criticism of every player around the table, and the DM also, because none of us are playing this game by ourselves.  We are playing together.  This means that ANY decision made by every player affects all the players, always.  If you choose a rather feckless spell for your mage when a better spell may have been more supportive of the group, then every person in the group is entitled to weigh in.  And you, dear player, are expected to accept this criticism ... and either defend yourself effectively or comply with the group's opinion.  If your defense of your choice is valid, others around the table, including me as your DM, are the sort who can recognise it and change our minds.  But if your defense is so invalid that it changes no one's mind, you are expected to change your mind.

This is why my players have no trouble disagreeing with me, or taking me to task when I cannot effectively explain my position.  I've trained them to be this way, with me and with each other.  This approach may strike many, many players out there with, "Oh my fucking gawd, I have my own opinion, thank you!" ... but I assure the reader, it makes awesome game runnings.  Those who want to be individuals in their game play should play chess.  Or video games.  D&D is a community; and the participants of my game are expected to act like they're a part of that community.

New players have zero trouble with this.  They have no preconceptions of how they're supposed to play, so they cheerfully jump into the supportive community model without hesitation.  They find the instant collaborative encouragement and advocacy as the vital element that makes the game fun and exciting.  They love and adore the idea of winning against a monster as a team, since everyone else exhibits that same ideal.  It doesn't occur to new players to seek shortcuts and gamesmanship advantages because they see no one else pursuing these.  It would never occur to them to ask if they could use a shield and a two-handed weapon at the same time, because on the face of it the question is ridiculous, given their non-game experience.  It takes a participant with lots and lots of D&D under their belt to pose most questions that try to circumvent the rules in such a fashion ... and they usually occur because some other DM said "yes."  New players simply haven't been trained to approach my campaign from the perspective of other campaigns.

At the same time, any time some new player introduced to my campaign tries to play with someone else, the disappointment has nothing to do with the rules, the edition or the amount of roll-vs.-role playing.  It has everything to do with the incessant, poisonous self-involvement of the other players and especially the DM.  Having been introduced into a positive D&D environment, the intrinsic lack of personal support from others around the table is unpalatable, to say the least.

In short, I ruin players for other games.  Been doing this for forty years now.

With my next post, I'll take a whack at those critical first hours when a new player sits down to play.  I can only explain these things as I do them; I can't hold in much regard why or what impels other DMs to do what they do.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Globs & Blobs

I've questioned if I should write this post, because on the surface it sounds lunatic.  Nonetheless, I haven't anything else in the offing.  My cerebrum seems to be functioning less as summer comes on.  Must be the gravity chair on my deck.  Tilting back slows brain activity.

No doubt, you've seen maps like this section from Faerun, thick with a graphic of dense trees from edge to edge.  The effect of fluffy edges does entice and is suggestive of high adventure and such, but in fact the forest depicted doesn't work especially good as a map.  As in, doesn't really explain how to find our way to where we might be going.  Nor does it especially give us information on what sort of forest it is.  After all, even forests with the same basic vegetation, say deciduous, can be quite different from place to place.  The high forest depicted here would be inundated with streams and rivers (not indicated), since the trees need water; that would presume dales and valleys (not indicated), meaning some parts ought to be "high ground" (not indicated) and even somewhat boggy in nature (not indicated).  In fact, because the forest is quite far north, obviously there ought to be snow fall, and frozen ground, so that a large area like this in a north temperate region ought to be replete with muskeg and beaver ponds (not indicated).

Of course, all this can be written out on the side, but without a map indicating which parts are which, the big green adventurous forest is somewhat, well, grey.

I used to employ trees on maps but I've moved away from that; most regular readers know that of late I've been incorporating hills and mountains in the maps I've been posting.  Hills, like trees, are usually painted in a sort of glob, such as the Dessarin example here.  The hills in the three groups are differently located, and the western example includes a group of purplish mountains, but on the whole these look like three of the same thing ... except, of course, they have different names.

Consider the opportunities available when assigning globs of hills and forests to your game map.  Notice how the Dessarin Hills have little, smaller blobs of hills, like satellites attached to the main body.  The Faerun map above does the same, with drips and drops of forest around the main body, like patches of spilled paint.  These single hills, or hill-glops, are much more interesting than the main body of hills, since they suggest isolation.  They are perhaps inhabited by singular groups small enough for a party to handle, or they represent differently thinking peoples separated from the main tribe.  Humans like bite-sized pieces.  It helps to produce maps that give this.

So.  What is the difference between these two groups of hills?

If you said there are many more on the left, congratulations, you're very smart.  Nonetheless, the point is that there are more hills on the left ... because those are "foothills," clustered against a row of mountains, while the hills on the right are surrounded by a grassy, well-watered plain.  In both cases, let me explain that the distribution of hills is not random.  Oh, there's a certain arbitrary attitude I have about plopping in one hill after another, but I'm also conscious that I'm representing certain kinds of topography with each symbol I place.

The hills on the left are south and east of the Transylvanian Alps ... which are being formed by the steady northward movement of the north African techtonic plate.  These same Alps have been shaped by various Ice Ages over the last million years.  The area has a pattern of general uplift complimented by cutting and shaping of huge mile-high sheets of ice, advancing and retreating.

The hills on the right are found on the boundary between Romanian Moldavia and independent Moldova; they, too, were formed by glacier, but in their case they represent till left behind after the last glacier retreated.  They're not very high and they're generally not made of rock ... but rather piled up soil, sand and gravel.  Thus, while the hills on the left are empty of settlers, the hills on the right support shepherds and small-plot vegetable farmers.

Now consider this splattering of hills around a bend of the Prut River in northeastern Moldova.  Presume for a moment that each hill is an actual hill, sitting out on the plain through which the river flows.  Each hill is pile of gravel left behind by glacier.  There aren't enough of them to hinder the development of farms or roads ... they might even be accompanied by ground water springs, making these few hills both valuable and attractive to look at.  I can say that having looked very closely at this area, this is not exactly how the topography looks; in fact, the hills are lower and somewhat closer together ... but I'm simplifying by using one symbol in different ways, to produce different topographies.

Therefore, by choosing how far apart those symbols are placed or how they're joined, we can invent a more interesting map.  Notice how on some maps, the hills are placed so they actually touch one another ... but on this last map, every hill is isolated.  There are two hills near Chirca on this last map that are nearly touching.  It's easy to imagine that both hills form a single small biosphere ... unlike the two hills near Hirbovat, which are clearly independent hills.

The larger globs of the foothills above, and on the left, are sometimes clustered in groups of three and four.  We may surmise that while the hills around Chirca can be easily traversed, these thicker patches of hills are a real obstacle.  Thus to convey a part of the world where travel is difficult and harsh, I need merely pack the hills in tighter.  Or use more elaborate hill-symbols to indicate higher hills or those that are more craggy.  Since I'm drawing the images myself, this is no problem.

Space matters.  In making your game map, be aware of the space on the map and how you're using it.  The larger map of Romania and surrounding environs I've been making is a series of connected hill groupings, with areas where the hills thin and thicken.  The real world isn't like the sharp dividing lines of most fantasy maps, where the hills clearly end next to plains like an existing property line, or where the mountains come to a halt here, and no farther.  Vegetation grows denser or it thins.  Hills pack tightly together or they get scattered.  Mountains right next to each other don't look the same, because the last Ice Age bore through inconsistently.  This mountain here may be 8,000 ft. high; but the one next to it might be only 4,000.  This mountain may form a four-sided spike, but the next one over might be a pile of four rounded mountains knotted together.  Plains are broken all over by hills, deep valleys, large depressions, patches of semi-desert.  Don't make every mountain, hill, tree and grassland on your maps a single "type."  Each type of terrain ought to bleed together, slowly, over hundreds of kilometers in some cases.

It makes the map more interesting. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022


So, I am curious about the boat. Nevermind about the woman; she's dressed in perfectly normal clothes. I have no idea how that spot got on the picture. Nonetheless, if anyone would like an unexpurgated version of the image, I'd be happy to comply. It's from August, 1977.

About the boat, then. How old is it? Did it have to be towed to get the shot, or is there a photographer hanging on the tippy-tip of the bow to take the picture.  I'm sure some fish-eye lens is involved.  What sort of boat is it?  I'm guessing a sloop, but what do I know?

How old is the boat; I mean, how old is it at the time the picture was taken, 45 years ago.  We may be certain that the woman on the boat, Barbara Corser, is at least 63, or a few months shy, given the legal age of models.  So, young enough to still be sailing.  Would she need to be a sailor to some degree to get this shot, so she could jump up and lend a hand if something unexpected happened?  Or is the sea calm enough that there's no real danger here.  Judging by the small whitecap on the right, the Beaufort scale calls it a gentle breeze, as crests begin to break.

Anybody want to make a guess at the coastline in the background.  It won't look like that any more.

I swear, whenever I see the word "shipping" now, I think someone is going to talk about the word that ends in "-ship."

Friday, June 10, 2022


I grew up in the suburbs, in an upper middle class neighbourhood.  Where if a strange car parked on a public road in front of someone's house, the house owner would come out and give the driver shit for parking on "our street."  Where fully grown adults with professional jobs would get into fistfights about who cut which half-inch wide limb off which tree.  Where those who hired a lawn care company to look after their yard didn't "deserve" to own their house.  Where people going to a party at the top of the street would drive their cars rather than walk.

And where everyone knew who was ducking into whose back door to cheat on whose spouse, while tacitly looking the other way ... until the shit hit the fan, and then everyone would get out on their lawns and watch the show.  I mean, why would you hide behind your curtains?  Everybody knows you're watching.

As I grew older, each year the hypocrisy grew thicker as I came to understand the outside world.  That is, as I came to understand sex.  Sex emerged from our Dungeons & Dragons games spontaneously, obviously — we were the sons of doctors, lawyers, engineers, ministers, researchers, university professors.  We lived in a pristine, supra-scrubbed culture both indoors and out ... and so naturally we had a mall, which naturally had a smoke shop, which naturally sold porn mags to all the clean-cut, professional men who were intrinsically too clean to watch porn on film.  The way this joke came into my hands is an interesting story.  It comes from an issue of Penthouse, May 1974 ... when I was 10.  I bought it when I was 14 from a friend, who found the mag under his father's chest of drawers, after his parents got divorced.  And I still have it.  Strange games.

The joke works on multiple levels.  The little boy that knows, hitting the sister where she lives.  The woman admitting that the language isn't hurtful, but where it's coming from.  The way it's ... positive advertising.  After all, Rosalyn's paid to suck.

If we're going to call D&D "an adult game," then sooner or later we're going to have to be adults.  What I remember about the people I grew up around was their privileged, often ludicrous outrage at things they didn't understand.  Which is the same feeling I get when I read someone's list of D&D "don'ts" where no. 7 is "No Sex."  Because, with that familiar suburban taint of hypocrisy, it's "creepy" ... as opposed to, you know, the necessity to produce all the beautiful children in the world.

Oh, I'm sorry, I've gone and written about whores and children in the same post.  Gawd, what a monster I am.  I have no business being a grandfather.

We are living in strange times.  On the one hand, it's perfectly legitimate, and let me stress, a good thing, for an individual to legally and physically pursue the gender of their birth.  And if I can be more clear about what that involves, there are books at the medical library that explicitly details exactly what physical alterations are necessary ... trust me, the disturbing nature of the pic at the start of this post isn't on the same planet as these texts.  We can accept all this, support it, politically ... but as a DM I'm not supposed to mention "sex" in a running.  Oh no.  No.  That's a bridge too far.

Well, I'm not going to flog this.  I've ridiculed it.  That's enough.

Part of me says, don't publish this post.  Lot of people aren't going to read this far.  Hah.  They won't get past the comic.  The other part of me remembers that I'm not here to please.  Not interested in ranting an all, but ... I still want to push boundaries.  Force people to look at things that are uncomfortable.  Question the ad hoc principles that a bunch of moralists who don't play D&D think ought to be the boundaries.

But even I don't dare venture into another description of how sex in D&D could work.

Yep, strange times.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Adventure Fiction

Looking around for something that might raise an eyebrow.  This article is from the self-same Sep 1981 issue of Heavy Metal.

It's fascinating that a footprint for these people can be easily found on Wikipedia.  Charles Platt seems to have produced a wide variety and considerable amount of content, but not one single thing listed drifts remotely into my radar.  Judging from the article, he seems to be something of a flake, seems to resist the moving forward of technology and in general doesn't seem to be much liked.  Of course, Wikipedia can be very, very misleading.  The cryonics thing, though ... just hm.  He's still alive.

I post this for its obvious D&D connection, especially that it's a voice in 1981 not connected to the Dragon Magazine.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Infantry Men! Infantry Men!

Perhaps this is more your style.

Juan Gimenez was responsible for the "Harry Canyon" segment of the 1981 film, Heavy Metal.  He had a long history with science fiction and European comic magazines throughout the 1980s in particular.  He passed away in April, 2020, from complications due to Covid.

This story was published in the Sept 1981 issue of Heavy Metal magazine, the issue hyping the just released film on the front cover.  Enjoy.  Once again, this goes to establishing my early mindset as a D&D player.  I was 17 when this came out.  Feel free to scream at me in the comments about how I'm breaking copyright laws (though I'm actually not).  After all, I'll be the only person on the internet doing so.

The Pragmatist

I have a new scanner ... and I have a lot of very, very old magazines.  On occasion, and perhaps often as I get started with my new toy, I'm going to throw out anything that looks interesting regardless of the content's association with D&D.  All of it is going to be plagiarised, just as everything else on the internet.  Some of these things were intrinsic to my development as a boy.

This image is from June, 1977.  Never mind the source.  I was 13.

Background Recklessness

Believing that a character's background should consider the decisions the character has made in the past, a number is generated by rolling a d20 and subtracting the character's intelligence.  The result, from +17 to -17, is compared on the "Choices" table of the background generator.

On the whole, the more intelligent the character, the smarter he or she has been and the better the result.  However, I consider it possible that anyone, regardless of intelligence, has experienced a moment of recklessness, which has a 1 in 20 chance of occurring according to the table.  The result gained is a "zero" after rolling and subtracting intelligence.  Here's a copy of the table on the wiki.

As can be seen, most of the results are only slightly debilitating ... with a very low chance that the character will be seriously impeded physically.  For those who may be interested, here are some rules regarding the running of blind characters in my game world.

Is this fair?  No.  There's a chance that a perfectly good character may come around to this table and achieve a 1 in 2000 chance, ending up blind.  There's a 1 in 500 chance that some really serious crippling condition will be gotten.  And if so, that player has a detriment to overcome, until such time as they can increase their status and capital to where they can have some cleric cast a spell and fix their problem.

Of course, if the character joining an ongoing campaign begins with a high-level party, this problem can be solved with a finger-snap.  I find this somewhat disappointing, but I'm satisfied with the game world and I'm not going to change long-established rules for this one background idea.  Perhaps a player will decide to allow their character to give it a try, for the challenge it offers.  I doubt it, but we'll see.

As far as it being fair, yes, this is certainly a kick in the breadbasket.  But to remind the reader: D&D is not a competitive game.  It is a group of characters with varying talents and abilities overcoming a problem together.  Which is to say that the blindness of one character also becomes a concern for every player, if the campaign is run respectfully for every participant.  Jokes will be made, of course; but I would also expect empathy and support from fellow players, as the one without a hand or a leg — together with others — sorted out the best strategies for casting magic, combat, defense and so on.

The conversation about character faults has been going on a long time, so I'm not covering any new ground here ... but as I recently completed the layout for the table, it felt right to give it a look.