Saturday, December 2, 2023

Cold Start

Let's try a thought experiment.  I'm going to send you, dear reader, back in time to December 3, 1973.  You can't take anything with you, but you retain all the memories you have now, including what's going to happen in the world.  You can arrive anywhere in the world of your choosing (including the changing room of a clothing store), and you can be any age you choose to be when you arrive.  Naturally, it'll be up to you to obtain some money and a place to live, but let's presume you're able to do that, since my readers tend to be in the brightest 10% of humanity.

For this experiment, let's further presume you're never coming back.  Perhaps, in the present, you're dying of cancer or you're rapidly nearing your eighties ... and we can further postulate whatever else that might make a permanent trip to 1973 seem like the greatly preferred option.

Now, wherever you are, you're completely aware that, this being 1973, Gygax, Arneson and others are rapidly getting their first publication together ... but apart from that very small community, no one in the world knows of the existence of D&D.  Except you.

What would you do?  You could, possibly, take yourself to Chicago as soon as you had the means in the hopes of approaching the publishers before the actual publication.  You could confess what you know, or freak them out by demonstrating a knowledge of the game that would startle the creators ... that's up to you.  Alternately, you could simply wait for the first booklet to be published.  You could considerably jump well ahead of them and "invent" an alternate roleplay version using rules that won't be published until after 1977 ... literally stealing the game out from under their feet before they'd even conceived of things they haven't yet written.  You've got a good two years on the Dragon magazine, and a full year before the Strategic Review.  Plenty of time to become one of the "founders" of the role-playing community, if that's your bag.

But let's shelve that.  There are a lot of things you could invent that would make you richer than D&D, and better ways for you to get famous, if being Mr. Tannen is your bag.  I'd like to impress the reader with a somewhat different thought.

It's 1973, and given everything about how you play D&D, including all the rules with which you're familiar, and products, and races and monsters and so on ... you're the only person in the entire world who has any idea of the game's title or it's potential.  Just you.  Would you be interested in teaching other people how to play?

Nobody you meet has the least preconception; none of the players you might obtain will have come to you because they're "heard of the game" and have always wanted to play it.  However you get players, however old you are, and they are, you've got to convince them to play, you've got to describe the concept itself from a cold start, and you've got to convince them as a DM that they've just been introduced to the best game the world has ever seen.

Could you do it?

How would you do it?  Would you change the name?  Would you still include rules that you more or less accept but have never been keen about?  Would you use all the classes, all the races, all the monsters?

Remember, if you did want to start, you'd have to create the tables and details yourself, without any template to work from except your memory.  That's a lot of work ... and the players you present it to will obviously suppose you've invented everything out of your own head.  You'll have no "official" status as a DM (no one's heard of that) or be able to rely on ideals like, "This is how it's always been done."

Of course, you could just wait around until the various games you like come out.  You don't have to play D&D.  You can do without it for a few years.  It won't take long before the various official creators do all the work for you, producing the game you're familiar with.

But would you wait?  Or would you want to start playing right away?


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Saturday Q&A (dec 2)

Sterling in Maine writes:

[regarding Thorn in my Side]  The words "brisk," "chilly," "frosty," etc. don't matter. In solving the problem of how to describe the weather in my game, the various adjectives are irrelevant. What matters is whether or not the characters are adequately equipped to do what they intend or need to modify their plans to accommodate the weather. What clothing is required to be out in that weather, and what actions are possible with the equipment they have, and what are the consequences are of not aligning those things; those considerations do matter. Rather than trying to provide a literary description of 20F-29F conditions, I would advise players whose characters are leaving their base that it is below freezing. I could describe ice on the edge of the stream, or the tightness of the curl in a rhododendron's leaves, but I don't. Instead, if necessary, I point out that the clothes that were adequate last week will provide insufficient protection today. The character will be uncomfortable outside in a few minutes, will start taking damage from frostbite in an hour, less if the wind picks up any more. Hypothermia and death will eventually follow if the character insists on trudging off through the wilderness in those clothes today.

The character has lived in the game world for decades and has the basic common sense to know what clothing is necessary when. I have no problem describing the weather as "clear and 25F with 5-10 knots out of the northwest." That's meaningful to me and to the players, and it's what they need to know to play the game well. As referee, I can simply tell that to the player rather than encoding the information in a period-appropriate description which the player then has to decipher into game terms. If it's an unfamiliar environment for the character, a vaguer description like "you're pretty cold wearing just that," perhaps accompanied by a little trial and error as the player figures out what is necessary, is more than enough role-playing for my taste. Simply ignoring the weather and the constraints it puts on the characters, however, the "SoCal Model" as you say, is "not enough game" for me.

Arduin writes:

[regarding Thorn in my Side]  So as presented here it seems like this is meant to fold into the Malady system neatly, and that system expands to indicate just what a person could/would do on any given day by virtue of describing the community behavior at a given level of discomfort: we might imagine something like the "siesta" in warmer climates, where around midday when it gets hottest everyone takes a break and there's nothing for the party to do but join them.

I'm always in support of rules that encourage the party to behave as a part of the world instead of something adjacent to it. I want my players to curse when it rains or to consider waiting a few months for the spring thaw before heading out to a dungeon. That's the good stuff.

Oddbit writes:

[regarding Books, End of November]  Around the world in 80 Days was one of the ones I read a lot when I was younger. Not as much as The Once And Future King, but definitely on the repeat list. A Tale Two Cities and a different Robin Hood I believe were also big titles with repeat reads.

I don't appear to have 80 days on my nostalgia shelf which is disappointing, but there appear to be: Two Robin Hoods (Robin Hood and His Merrie Men Derrick Bown, the lesser of the two, and the Adventures of Robin Hood, Roger Lancelyn Green, the worn book of the set) Kidnapped Robert Louis Stevenson and The First Men in The Moon HG Wells which is the second most worn book on that shelf. (More poor binding than some of the others likely) Once And Future King also present. All this stacked on top of a large Reader's Digest Atlas of the World (I don't want to take everything off so I'm afraid no year at this time).

So there are definitely some books in your list kicking off some nostalgia.

Answer: I’ve only read a bowdlerised version of Kidnapped and had intended to read that at some point, along with Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, both of which I have read, and the Black Arrow at some point, which I haven't. Plan to read a Christmas Carol for Dickens after finishing the book I started today, and later on tackle Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, none of which I've actually read. I've read Great Expectations, in the last ten years, and once was enough. Have read the First Men in the Moon; I'll probably read War of the Worlds again sometime in the next three months; I've read the Invisible Man and not sure I'm interested in repeating it. I definitely don't care to pick up either the Island of Dr. Moreau or the Time Machine, both of which I've read and I'm happy to let them be.

I have a very, very large list of books to address, with the expectation of addressing enormous gaps in my literary education. When I want a break, I'll read some light fare, collect all my Heinleins and Forester, then torment myself with books I've never read by George Eliot, Thackery, Hardy and Collins, plus others. I may even read Wuthering Heights one day, though that's hard to imagine. Trying to have an open mind, letting myself have a go at everything.

Shelby M. writes:

I was curious how Hunting interacts with Butchery. As an unskilled Hunter, I can bring down something with limited success, but if I don't also have butchery, what can I actually do with the carcass?

Answer: It's always possible for one individual to have more than one skill, especially a non-player character who has the benefit of their parents profession as their whole education. If my father knew both how to hunt and butcher, then I would know that too in the medieval-Renaissance setting.

But remember that we live in a culture of self-reliance that was born of the Anglo-American frontier, where people in the 18th and 19th century were forced to slaughter their own hogs and cattle, and of course their deer, often through trial and error, because souls would head out five, ten or fifteen miles into the wilderness to live alone with their families. The medieval village was, however, a far more communal lifestyle; as a hunter, you'd have thought nothing of taking your deer to the village butcher, who would have taken a haunch of your deer for his trouble and provided you the rest -- and when the butcher passed on, you'd have taken your deer to his son, who you'd have known since birth. No sense of self-reliance would ever have occurred to you; it would have seemed perfectly natural that some hunt, and some butcher, and that the world has a place for everyone. The very idea that you needed to know how to butcher your own meat might very well have seemed as alien to you as the idea that on Sundays you should preach your own sermon.

OhioHedgeHog writes:

I have a question that's been bothering me of late. My table has taken a month off. During such breaks I use the prep time to update/upgrade my trade tables and to root around and tinker with mechanics. We tend to playtest stuff about once every couple of months. If it solves a problem without creating new ones, we keep the homebrew. But it raises the question: at what point are we no longer playing D&D?

Several answers come to mind. The FIRST being “do we care?” I asked my sounding board DM's and they thought “when you can no longer drop a character sheet/monster stat block/item from the system without a great deal of rework.” ChatGPT advised that “as long as the core elements of storytelling, role-playing, and the collaborative nature of the game are present, you can consider it a form of Dungeons & Dragons.” Which isn't exactly satisfying either. Care to weigh in?

Answer: Speaking for myself, I don't care if I'm "playing D&D" as others might define the game. The acronym is merely a convenience, not a descriptor, since it aids in explaining to others what I'm doing on a particular Friday night, or what I'm working on this Monday afternoon. Regarding character sheets, stat blocks or items from the system, I personally can't see how the dropping of any of them makes the least necessity for a "great deal" of rework. If I rid the game of orcs or demons, how is a rework necessary? My game required no special attention when, early on, I chose to play without alignment, psionics or additional, superfluous character classes. I suppose these losses might get in the way for those who are dependent on company products, whose events hinge on one of the party characters being a specific race or alignment, but my game is far more flexible and depends upon an entirely different set of parameters.

I think it's funny that Chat chooses to designate "storytelling" and "role-playing" as two of its stool legs -- neither of which are the least needful for playing the game. The "storytelling" trope is only about 15 or 20 years old, has never been usefully defined and is, in fact, just an amorphous marketing term. "Role-playing" can be defined as "saying what my character does," in which case it has as much chance of being lost to the game as the fact that we play at a location upon the planet Earth. The third leg, "collaborative," is itself a puzzle. Everything that involves two humans in a room is "collaborative." As guidelines for things that "can't be lost," all three are useless as guidelines for defining anything, much less D&D.

A game is a matter of risk. Creating rules that impose risk on would-be players of any game requires a great deal of work, followed by an even greater amount of "rework." Chess in its present form took centuries to develop. Baseball took a hundred years to form into what was being played in the 1890s. Any idea that D&D as varied and complex as D&D has today reached anything like it's final form is ridiculous. Yet people cling to things they love in absurd ways. Imagine that you marry your partner at 18 and you continue to live and love together for 70 years ... is that marriage at 87 anything like what it was when you were both 18? Of course not. You have changed, the world has changed, the goalposts have changed, everything has changed. At which part of the process was the marriage not a marriage?

Whatever the game's risks were when we played the game at 15, those are certain to be insufficient for our needs at 50. The context, the rewards, the consequences of the game's action MUST evolve with the players, if immersion is yet to be obtained. The game's elements must adapt to the player's changing world perspective. The rules must become more fit, more sustainable. Otherwise, they cannot survive. Those who cannot evolve their game, who cling desperately to a past for the evocation of their nostalgia are doomed to receive less and less value for their time spent. The rest of us should disregard their cries of "truism" or "genuineness" as evidence of their immateriality to the ongoing process that is the game evolution. They matter no more to the landscape of role-playing than dinosaurs waiting for the stone to drop.


Thank you for your contributions.

If readers would like to reply to the above, or wish to ask a question or submit observations like those above, please submit  to my email,  If you could, please give the region where you're located (state, province, department, county, whatever) as it humanises your comment.

Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.  

Friday, December 1, 2023


I post this as something of a humour, wishing to be clear at the outset that I'm not serious.  Some might think I am.

Just prior to my long illness of nearly two months, my partner Tamara and I acquired a rather sophisticated treadmill, to keep us company in our old age when sidewalk cracks and curbs lie malevolently in wait for our benign footfalls.  Using this, I've considered a D&D rule that argues for the players to travel any significant distance in my game world, say more than a mile, then one or more members of the party must mount the treadmill to aid in covering the distance.  I imagine some ratio is reasonable, say 1:20, so that if the party would travel 20 miles, then someone must walk 1 mile on the waiting mill.  A moderately brisk pace could manage this in about 20 minutes ... and of course any distance, of say 400 miles, would definitely be memorable to the tag-team group of players doing their time, that they'd certainly hesitate before setting out across my game continent.

This puts me in mind of other possibilities.  For example, if it's evening in the game world and not day, then the party should be limited to forms of light created by physical candles and actual oil lamps by which to read their character sheets — and underground when in a dungeon, also — with all the electrical lights in the room suspended.  Arguably, a small portable LED could be used if the character were to cast a bluelight cantrip, preferably a blue one, and the overhead chandelier turned on if someone were ready to expend a light spell.  Obviously, the duration of these would be limited by my phone alarm.  Naturally, the player characters should be billed the correct spoilage on burning candles and lanterns.

And this could also be applied to the food being eaten by the party during game time.  Before bringing a dish or bowl of anything to the table, a set amount of copper or silver coins would have to be expended from the character's sheet to cover the cost.  After all, characters must eat ... if the players are made hungry by the taste of adventure, it stands to reason the characters must be also.  So long as the money were paid up front, the players could then imbibe at will.

The representation of weather would have it's difficulties.  I could hardly represent rain at the D&D table, except to perhaps spritz the players as they walked on the treadmill.  Certainly, if I said as a DM that it looked like it was about to rain, there'd be considerable activity at once for players to rapidly slip their laptops and paper sheets into waterproof containers ... though naturally I have no plans to soak my living room on a bi-weekly basis.  I could open all the windows in the house to effect a December weather day in Romania, but no doubt the pipes would freeze even in a few hours.  I can't help thinking this an unrealistic approach to providing the "feel" of adventure.  Getting summer temperatures is far easier:  ten persons in a 200 square foot room, while ample for a 90-inch gaming table and chairs, nevertheless manages to produce temperatures in the '90s by ten p.m.  This is, no doubt, due to all the hyperactivity, the higher brain functioning, the occasional object hurled at the DM in lieu of a polite response to bad puns and so on.  Yet as I wrote in the last post, it can't always be balmy in the game world.

It might be interesting to require players to bring along bedrolls, to roll them out on the floor at the start of every evening in the game's timeline, only to have to roll them up and again while breaking camp some five or ten minutes later — but some might find the process tedious after several runnings.

Which, I admit, I find those people who feel the need to create "atmosphere" with costumes or decorations.  If we're going to insert physical applications into the imagination of the game, why stop at a plastic sword, which can only get in the way of another player's donuts.

Though it doesn't hurt to give time and thought to things we ask player characters to do, such as travel great distances or eat constantly over a campfire.  Some actual sense of this is necessary, else we're bound to cease thinking of the player characters as biological entities rather than the bits and bytes of our self-mage graphic images.  Travel and survival are far more unpleasant and aggravating than we suppose.  It doesn't hurt to remind players of that, which is why I've written the post.  At the same time, we don't have to get silly about it.

Lest we forget its a game.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Books, End of November

I joined Audible some three months ago, around the end of August, mostly because I was jonesing for Hornblower books, which I became familiar with on youtube but which had all vanished.  Since, I've considered using the service — since I've become less and less interested in youtube this last year — to reacquaint myself with books I read decades ago ... both good and bad.  There are many books in my recollection which I haven't read since my teens, and many others I never finished; there are books that I've "read," but in some expurgated version, or at a speed commensurate with the needs of university.  As I expect I have several decades of time ahead of me, I thought perhaps this might be the best way to sustain a part of my education which, I'll admit, has lapsed.  I read far more new books in my teens and twenties than I have since turning 40; and there are many, many classic books that I've never read — though in many of those cases, I could describe the plot and even the theme of those books quite easily.

For the blog, I thought it might interest some readers what those books have been these last three months.  I thought I might even include the embarrassing ones, since after all I read quite a lot of second-rate books in ancient times, and there's nothing wrong with revisiting such works to see how one has changed in viewpoint and tastes.  With an audio book, there's no trouble in finishing something; there's always some opportunity to listen to something while doing the dishes, walking to the store, exercising or waiting at the doctor's office.  One definite reality with getting older is there always seems to be an enormous amount of available time in doing things that keep one from doing something more enjoyable.

So, here's a list of books now fresh in my mind, for anyone to comment on, or anything someone might like to talk about if they so desire.  Do not hesitate to roll your eyes at some titles; as I say, the process is a journey through time.  I'm not, after all, trying to obtain an academic degree.  Included is an estimate of the last time I read the book (in quite a lot of cases, I've read the book more than once before).

Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne — 1998

Captive of Gor, John Norman — 1989

Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov — 1983

The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck — 2004

The Happy Return, C.S. Forester — 2021

Lieutenant Hornblower, C.S. Forester — 2021

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Howard Pyle — never

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, C.S. Forester — 2021

The Puppet Masters, Robert Heinlein — 2015

Roughing It, Mark Twain — never

Ship of the Line, C.S. Forester — 2022

The Stand (1989 version), Stephen King — 1995

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens — 2001

The worst of these was unquestionably Robin Hood.  Far, far worse than the John Norman book.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Thorn in My Side

Of all the elements of creating and describing a setting, the most difficult is surely the weather.  Most manage the problem by pretending that the game world maintains a perfect 72 degrees at all times, that rain hardly ever happens, that the climate everywhere is more or less southern California and that there's no need to worry about it.  Players don't come to experience weather.  If they want weather, they can play outdoors.

For me, the issue that's plagued me these last ten years arises from conveying the proposed weather, or temperature, to the players.  Consider just this part:  the players wake on a morning with overcast skies; the temperature is a brisk 43° F, or 6° C.  In some measure, we have an idea of this temperature, but it must be admitted that it's easier to relate to such in October or November than it is in July.  In fact, that temperature feels very different in July.  Moreover, as I've said elsewhere, how does the player character know it's 43°?  There are no thermometers in a medieval setting.  Daniel Fahrenheit was born in 1686.  Even if someone had created settings for a tube filled with mercury or alcohol (and it hadn't caught on), that scale wouldn't have matched Fahrenheit's.

Put that aside.  Take a moment, just now, and describe 43° F to another person.  If you want a real challenge, do it without the number ... but in fact, having the number gives very little help in describing that temperature.  In general, without the physical evidence of the weather, you're sure to do a poor job.  Worse, I dare anyone to make a distinction, in words only, the difference between 43° F and 53° F.

Finally, there are many, many people in the world for which 43° F is so unlikely that they've hardly ever encountered it.  I had a friend once in Australia who lived on the edge of civilisation about 100 miles southwest of Brisbane, upon a stretch of land he'd owned.  Once, he told me, he'd woken up one morning and there was a skein of ice atop the water bucket on his back porch.  That was the closest he'd ever come in his life to experiencing snow.

So, for those living in such parts, or the reverse where they've never experienced a temperature above 37° C (for no one in such parts uses Fahrenheit), how does D&D address their needs?  How does the DM explain Sahara-like temperatures to a player in Hammerfest, who's never left Norway?

This, of course, falls into the category of Things Alexis cares about but no one else does.  For ages I've wanted to provide even a baseline of descriptions for 10-degree gradations (using Fahrenheit, since Celsius doesn't divide easily into distinctive categories) and been utterly stumped.  There are no pre-existing descriptions for weather at various stages, because, as academia would probably ask, what would it be used for?  What purpose could that serve?  Writers creating stories don't need that sort of specificity.  It's sufficient just to say, "It was a cold morning; Derek felt his flesh arise in goosebumps as he zipped his jacket closed."

Too, for a lot of DMs, the actual weather can fit into three categories: it's cold, it's pleasant, it's hot.  Nuance is unimportant.

The problem has been a thorn in my side for about 12 years.  I started using "temperature grades" in my online campaign back around 2012, having divided the thermometer into gradations just before.  I've posted these on the blog before and on the wiki, but here they are again for convenience.  It's an old picture and some slight changes were made in the base temperature, but nothing meaningful has been altered.  Those who are confused by Fahrenheit numbers can find the celsius equivalents on the wiki.

The point, however, is to escape the use of numbers altogether ... to be able to tell players it's "chilly" and have them understand what the weather's like without needing to add that the temperature is about 35° F.  That's next to impossible, however; we're far too dependent as folk upon the use of numbers to equate temperature, as I've found — which is odd, of course, as for 2 million years human beings used their senses alone.

Over the years, I've spent too many hours trying to research out a description for each of these.  It's amazingly hard, as language isn't designed for the purpose ("cold" covers everything on the chart in blue) and as I said, there's no effort to describe the feel of weather on the human body in any categorical fashion whatsoever.  There are materials on how temperature affects the ability to work, but these pay no attention to temperatures below balmy on the chart shown.  There are details about clothing, or the insulation provided according to "CLO," but that pays little attention to anything above warm.  It's a part of human experience that academia has chosen to ignore entirely ... and my own attempts to build a series of descriptions based on my own experiences have been unbelievably difficult and impractical.  Thus, the problem has sat, like staring out into the rain.

"So all we could do was sit, sit, sit.  And we did not like it, not one little bit."

This last summer, I began to suspect that chatgpt might manage the problem.  It has, conveniently, much of generalised human experience at its beck and call and doesn't give a good gawddamn about the "usefulness" of a bit of knowledge or material to constrain it's usefulness — unlike, say, anything produced by a university.  I thought about what parameters ought to be considered in producing a set of descriptions and beginning with my slow onset of health on the weekend, began running some tests.  Then, last night, in the space of about 75 minutes, I created a complete list of 19 different temperature grade descriptions.  They can be seen on the live links of the wiki page linked above ... though no doubt, some readers here have already been there.

There's still work to be done on each, as the descriptions are sweeping in scope.  Necessarily, in many cases, the distinction between two different temperature grades on various descriptions are unchanged or nearly so.  Let me demonstrate, with the subject of "community gatherings," for four different temperature "conditions" between "chilly" and "pleasant":

Chilly. In the social realm, community gatherings gain prominence as people seek warmth and social interaction in inns, taverns, or communal spaces. Trade and commerce might experience fluctuations as markets witness reduced footfall due to the cold, necessitating adaptation of goods to suit the weather conditions. Character interactions deepen as the weather fosters closer ties within communities, emphasizing reliance on one another for warmth, resources, and safety.

Brisk. Community gatherings continue to serve as focal points for social interaction, but trade and commerce witness a resurgence as markets experience increased activity due to the milder weather. Adaptation of goods to suit the temperature becomes less stringent. Character interactions maintain their closeness within communities, emphasizing cooperation and mutual support.

Cool. Community gatherings continue to thrive as social hubs, fostering interactions in pleasant weather. Trade and commerce experience increased activity in markets due to the comfortable conditions, allowing for a wider range of goods without strict adaptation requirements. Character interactions retain their cooperative nature within communities, fostering stronger bonds amidst the agreeable weather.

Pleasant. Community gatherings continue to be lively social events in the agreeable weather. Trade and commerce flourish as markets witness increased activity, offering a diverse array of goods suitable for the climate. Character interactions maintain their cooperative nature within communities, fostering camaraderie and mutual support amidst the enjoyable weather.

Each gives a nuanced sense of what it's like to shop or move about an urban area given the approximate weather, in a meaningful way that can easily be applied to a D&D campaign.  Still, a lot relies on the DM to make sense of the above and extrapolate some description of his or her own ... as in, what products are available for purchase or what sort of "lively" social events might be taking place in pleasant conditions but not in cool.   "Agreeable" weather isn't "enjoyable" — but seriously, when was the last time we made a distinction like that for the purpose of game play?

As I said, these are things I seem to care about, though no one else does.  It's unquestionably difficult for a DM to make the adaptation being suggested here.  Apart from even being able to say what the temperature actually is (as most DMs have no rules whatsoever for such things, preferring the "SoCal" model), this approach asks for constant addressing of moderate descriptions and then remembering those descriptions in addition to all the other things a DM must know.  Is it worth it?  I think it is, if the DM is sufficiently invested in the concept and can properly invoke the distinctive material on demand.

But here again, we are moving forward into a very different world.  Just look at how in a very simple manner, with less than two hours work, I've been able to generate the material provided.  Consider the advancement of this material into a more interactive framework, where during a game I merely need to say to the Chatbox sitting on my D&D table, or nearby, "Tell the players what the weather is like," and the device is able to reproduce my voice, my cadence, while giving a full and indepth description, while I give my attention to other things.  I can pause and say, "Give them a little more description about what sort of stalls are included due to the city and temperature where they are," and the Chatbox does that.  Get ready, 'cause it's coming.

According to Nick Cave, supported in this reading by Stephen Frye, chatgpt is supposedly a "threat" to creativity.  What a bunch of hokum.  My contribution of creativity in this post is in no way threatened.  I saw the flaw in describing temperature.  I outlined the problem.  I foresaw the possible solution.  I selected the parameters.  I'm the one able to use the information provided for further creative ventures.

But without the technological advancement made here, without the tool, I'd still be dead in the water.  We make TOOLS as human beings to solve problems.  It stuns me that bright, capable people, standing in front of other tools and inside buildings that were invented to solve other problems can have their head so far up their ass they can't see the good of something.  That's the death of creativity, not chatgpt.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

(nov 25)

Again, no comments or questions today.  Thanksgiving in America is largely responsible.  I'm sure there'll be content for a Q&A next week.

If readers wish to ask a question or submit observations like those above, please submit  to my email,  If you could, please give the region where you're located (state, province, department, county, whatever) as it humanises your comment.

Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.


I'm considering adding an appendix to these posts that lists reworked pages of the authentic wiki.  Because I've been sick this last week, there'd be little point in doing so today, but it wouldn't be a bad complement to provide a list of this kind for the future.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Fading Time

These past two months, I've not been very healthy ... the cold I had through October has just hung on week by week, and come last Saturday I was struck down by something so brutal that it knocked me off my feet for three days.  I'm quite sure it was covid though the two home tests both came back negative.  The weight on my lungs, though I felt little breathlessness, coupled with a weakness and chills that made minimal self-care nearly useless, says otherwise.  I've recovered steadily these last three days, to where I now seem to have only a head cold.  It's been unpleasant.

I want to write a post.  I've done just a little writing of late: editing for the workplace and some on the wiki, all at a turtle's pace.  I have an idea for a post but as of writing this sentence, it's naught but scattered pieces and thoughts.  I think it'll be a swing and a miss, but here goes.  Warning, spoilers.

The Hundred Foot Journey is a film released in 2014 about a family from Mumbai who are seeking a better life in France, where they hope to establish a restaurant.  The story thread follows the young Hassan, whose fascination with food was emplaced by his mother, whose passing away violently at the film's start initiates the family's journey.

Though Hassan is a naturally gifted Indian chef, he at first becomes fascinated with French cooking techniques, the cooking of which he succeeds at through diligence and talent.  Soon after, he learns to blend his heritage with French cuisine, achieving success and fame through the process that delivers him into the epicentre of Parisian haut cuisine and the "next big thing."  The film's development of this narrative is careful, patient, intuitive and completely believable; this, I argue, from twenty years that I've spent in the food industry in light of the people I've met and worked with.

Nothing I've said so far could possibly spoil the film for anyone who enjoys food.  There is much going on that I haven't mentioned, and won't ... but with one more spoiler, I wish to explain that this Parisian life turns out to be wholly unsatisfying for the character.  The film manages this subtly; it would be easy for an individual without experience in food to believe that the end is all about family ... but the details of the film are quite clear.

The pursuit of new things, for the sake of novelty, is empty.  Appearance for the sake of appearance is hollow and lifeless.  Personal satisfaction cannot be found in doing "great things," because such things are transient.  Once they've been done, once the celebration is passed, it's as though the great thing was never done, and the rest of one's life opens like a yawning abyss devoid of meaning.  This is what Hassan realises.  He ceases to pursue the new; he turns his back upon Paris.  He returns to cooking good food, for the sake of the food being good.  This is why I like the film.

Forgive my indulgence in this rhetoric.  It's only that of late, I've progressively become aware of something that — though having encountered it many times before — has never been quite so clear as now.  I ascribe this to a number of chance films I've seen over the last ten days, about which I've had time to think and consider.

Once upon a time there was an actress named Marlene Dietrich.  The reader may have heard of her.  Spanning over a portion of the 20th century, she was perhaps the most glamorous and intensely mysterious woman in the world, possessing qualities that allowed her a career that would defy comparison to any actress that's worked in the past thirty years.  It's difficult to truly express what this meant.  Dietrich's relationship to Germany in the 1940s, to millions of G.I.'s, to the presence of sexuality in film, would be difficult to grasp for anyone without some sort of personal experience with that time and the people who loved her.

This, I'm finding, is one of the more bizarre elements of growing older.  To be clear, I have no personal memory of the time that Dietrich was a moving force in the world.  I was born in 1964, well after her "heyday," and to me she was just another old star like Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart.  But I was alive and conscious in the 1970s, when the mention of such persons was a common, everyday part of conversation.  Were I to write this in 1971, there'd have been no need to explain who Dietrich was.

I have more to say about her, but first I want to address this phenomenon ... not as something negative or positive, but just as something that's impossible not to notice.  One of the more fascinating things about the decline of fame isn't that people cease to be famous ... but that idioms and common references to things steadily dwindle away.  This is hard to explain without having experienced it, but I'll try.

A couple weeks ago, listening to Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (published in 1951), a paragraph in the book referred to events in "Little America."  Hearing that, I had to pause and remember what that meant.  Naturally, the reader might think of the show on Apple TV, but this reference was to a part of Antarctica that was claimed by the United States during the mid-20th century as part of their scientific exploration and research efforts.  In my youth, the region was mentioned as often as the moon with respect to science writing and fiction, as a place of great adventure, as somewhere so profoundly unreachable that it thrummed with romance.

But, until reading the book, I don't think I've heard the term used in more than 20 years.  It's still in my head ... but for nearly everyone younger than 50, the term might just as well never existed.  And that's just one of hundreds of such terms for every decade that's slipped into the past ... that, for me, are still progressively slipping into the past.

I'm not a "live-in-the-past" sort of person.  I'm educated about the present too, as much as I can be ... which weirdly makes all the detritus from the past that much more strangely irrelevant.  To pull a moment of thoroughly irrelevant garbage out on the spur of the moment, I saw the television episode of Murphy Brown where she had the kid, personally witnessing all the hullabaloo that went around on the news at the time, talked about it with people at the university and so on — and it's always funny to me when some youtuber dredges up an event like that, reads a few magazine articles and then purports to shove out a cruddily-researched stockumentary.  I'm always stuck going in my head, "It wasn't like that at all," but what good would it be to say that?  For one thing, as details of world history go, it's utterly irrelevant; for another, all history is changed.

Let's go back to Marlene Dietrich.  By the 1950s, she was growing tired of the industry.  She could choose any film she liked and if she graciously agreed to appear in a film, the film did well.  But her discontent had become well-known; people talking about her would never fail to mention that they wished she'd work more.  That is, people talking around me when I was a young kid, completely fascinated with watching old films, as I still am now.  In her last decade with Hollywood, before returning to her cabaret roots, she chose to work for friends like Fritz Lang, Orson Welles or Stanley Kramer, masters of filmcraft in their day.

In 1951, she played a small part in an obscure film based on a Nevil Shute novel, No Highway in the Sky, working with Jimmy Stewart.  The story is immaterial.  Dietrich plays a famous film star, essentially herself, who has reason to believe the plane she's on is going to crash.  This allows her to give this speech:

"The moment and each one is like, kind of a present isn't it?  You know what I was thinking about just then?  All the people who come to my funeral.  That'll be quite an occasion ... there's my agent.  Oh, he'll be so sad.  He had five more years to go at ten per cent.  And then there's Laureen Carin; oh, she'll cry the most.  She'll give a beautiful performance.  And then she'll try to get the part in the picture I was going to make.  I suppose that's why I don't feel the way I thought I would.  I would have stopped working quite a while ago if I could have figured out what to do with myself.  I was married three times but it never came to anything.  I wouldn't be surprised if it was all my fault.  Maybe providence is trying to tell me something.  Maybe it took a first class high dive into the middle of the Atlantic to make me quit."

What an odd vignette, from this star, to a largely British audience; the film was made at Denham Studios in Hampshire England, in a time when such films rarely jumped the pond.  But of course Dietrich made many British films in the 1930s.  Did she find it funny?  There are a dozen self-referential moments in the film, as one might expect.  It can be seen for free on youtube; I watched it for the first time last week.

"Greatness" is not what we think it is.  For the great, as I said, it's something that happened ... not something that's happening.  I don't want to haul out Sunset Boulevard here.  There are literally thousands of real life examples, we don't need to reach for fictional ones.  If you're old enough to remember the 1990s, sit for a moment and consider how many names you can dredge from your memory right now, you have no idea what they're doing, or even if they're alive.  How many from the '80s?  From the '70s?  And if you've lived long enough, how many celebrities, sports figures or politicians can you remember taking for granted as recently as 9/11, who aren't dead, but might as well be?

Value in life is not found through greatness.  It's found in the standard we hold ourselves to, and only that.

Well, I've had my say.  I'll apply myself now to getting healthier and pursuing work on my game world.  Someday, I hope I feel well enough to actually write my book.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

(nov 18)

There is no Q&A today ... my postings failed to encourage comments this week.  Better luck next Saturday.

If readers would like to reply to the above, or wish to ask a question or submit observations like those above, please submit  to my email,  If you could, please give the region where you're located (state, province, department, county, whatever) as it humanises your comment.

Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.  

Thursday, November 16, 2023

About Math

A warning about expertise.  Especially expertise based on math.

Since the late 19th century, it's been understood that of all the sciences, math is king.  The principle reason that any math beyond adding, subtraction, multiplication and division is taught in elementary school comes from a very strong desire to root out those children who have a natural aptitude for math as early as possible and get them on the right road.  It's for this reason that everyone else is made to suffer — including a lot of teachers, who have no idea this is the purpose of early math classes and so feel duty bound to ensure that every single child in reach learns geometry and, later, algebra.

In 1958, Isaac Asimov [a favourite writer of mine] wrote a short story called The Feeling of Power.  In the story, most humans have forgotten how numbers work, so they can't add or subtract without using a calculator.  The art of performing math with pencil and paper has been lost.  Then a lowly menial technician named Myron Aub reverse-engineers how to do math the old fashioned way; he tells his supervisor, who describes the technique to higher ups until finally the military establishment realises that this makes every person into a potential thinking computer.  When Aub learns that the military is using his discovery to kill people, he commits suicide.  Yet the cat is out of the bag and people are learning again that math gives one "a feeling of power."

Sorry, spoilers ... but you've had 65 years to read the story.  Don't dally.

The story is fine for 1958 when "computer" was still a job title for a human being who figured mathematics with paper and pencil.  We're living in Asimov's future and the mathematics being done in the present is far, far beyond any single human being's ability to calculate in the space of a lifetime.  Were Asimov alive today, he could not realistic propose the story he wrote then.

Generally, when we think of automation putting people out of work, we imagine fairly ordinary jobs like assembly line workers and farming; we're on the cusp of eliminating new positions like Amazon pickers or delivery drivers. 

But expect this trend to go much farther than people expect, because workers surrounding the fields of mathematics are next on the chopping block — and by this I mean engineers.  As things stand now, obviously, there's absolutely no way that I could design anything physical.  Physical things are a collage of measurements, stresses, fit-together parts and environmental factors.  In short, the application of a precise tool for design, math, being used to overcome an extremely imprecise real world.

Over these last five millennia — a mere drop in the bucket of all human existence — we've gotten much better at superimposing our imagination in a theatre of imprecision.  Until now, however, this has required the creation of mathematical tools first, then an education and quality assurance system to codify those tools, so they could be safely applied to make both little and big things, from a toaster to an airline jet.

For that reason, there's unquestionably a very large part of the educated world that feels comfortable in their roles as designers and engineers.  If you're fresh out of university, or heading into one, a warning.  In 30 years, the most important value you'll have is your ability to imagine things that don't exist.  Your value as a technical advisor won't be worth diddly-squat.  There'll be a program that does that for you.  Chances are, your entire association with actual math is going to be remembering that it still exists, in one form at least, though you'll never actually do math personally.

Most are going to be very surprised by that.  And frightened.  And lost.  Mostly because any engineer I've ever known took an attitude that "imagination" was a superfluous thing that humanities and social science students have.  NOT engineers.

By 2050, the best engineer is going to be a humanities graduate.  Who won't need to know one thing about math.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Robin Hood

 "Story, at least in the European tradition, requires conflict.  Characters must be flawed, they must make mistakes, their opponents must get the better of them.  Things in some way, shape or form need to get bad, need to entertain uncertainty.   In Return of the King, a conventional story, Denethor's actions must bring Pippin and Gandalf and Faramir low, in order to create the tension that will be relieved later in the story when the conflict is resolved.

"However, these basic mechanisms of narrative tension are at odds with the needs of propaganda ... the subject of propaganda has no arc but upward.  They begin strong and stronger, they crush all that oppose them, their opposition is flimsy and victory is trivial."

Dan Olson, Trimph of the Will and the Cinematic Language of Propaganda

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire, published in 1883 and written by Howard Pyle, is an awful book.  Interest in the character of Robin Hood had grown all through the 19th century, starting with his appearance in Walter Scott's 1819 book Ivanhoe, and Pyle — an American — was significant in cementing the version of Robin that dominates the 20th century and the present.  All the jargon about robbing from the rich and giving to the poor was central to The Merry Adventures, which pulled together multiple myths about the band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest that firmly established that list of familiar names.  Pyle invented none of the characters, so far as I know ... but he expanded them, give them additional parts to play in other stories while rounding out the merry band.

However, the stories are simply ... bad.  Every fight goes on and on for an hour without either contestant succeeding in striking the other; Robin is forever blowing three blasts on his horn to "summon five or seven score men" to overwhelm his enemies; there's never any doubt that Robin's going to succeed at some effort — and worst, in nearly ever story there's hardly a conflict at all.  By pretending to be someone other than himself, largely playing the part badly, Robin merely catches people unaware and then robs from them.  It's so obvious where the story's going that it's painful to sit and wait for the resolution to arrive.

Yet every adventure is describes as great and greater still, with none of the Merry Men ever being in real danger, not for a second.  It is as described above:  a really awful sort of propaganda for an England that's as interesting as a pasteboard sign outside a failed restaurant.  It's been something of a trial to bear up, to reach the end.  And that says nothing of the terrible, terrible verse that every character sings at every opportunity throughout.

There is nothing so boring as winning.  If anyone doubts me, get yourself on audible and have a listen.  If you're paying your monthly fee, the book is free; it costs no credits.  The audio version is not quite 11 hours.  I'll bet most couldn't get through two.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Bridge to a Present

As a boy, I remember my parents getting progressively more involved with a neighbourhood bridge club ... that is, the card game.  This consisted of some two score player teams, mostly couples, with games organised at private houses on agreed-upon nights.  How it worked was thus; using a physical bulletin board, or this heavy plastic-and-metal object called a "phone," as a host you'd try to organise just eight couples for an evening from the available much-larger pool.   Eight couples made four tables; and most people in my parents' monetary bracket could easily afford a set of four folding card-tables.  My parents stacked theirs next to the washing machine.

If you didn't wish to host, you could put your name down on the board and get yourself invited to someone else's house.  My parents would play weekly and about once every six weeks (though not in the summer), they'd host their own game.

The preferred version that my parents played still is called "duplicate bridge."  Imagine, if you will, four tables where the hands are pre-dealt before anyone sits down.  Each hand is put in a sleeve, which is ready for the players when sat.  Then the hand is played, the score is counted, and the original hands are replaced into the sleeves for the next players.

Imagine, if you will, four tables arranged in a manner that we'll call East, South, West and North.  I'm going to use Anglo-Christian names here, because this was the 1970s and, sorry, everyone was AC.  So imagine the Randalls and the Johnsons are playing at the East table.  At the south are the Holts and the Brimsmeades; at the west are the Bolters and the Paxmans; and at the north are the Nicheforucks and the Williams.

So all four tables play their pre-dealt hands.  Get ready, because this gets complicated.  Here's a diagram, if it helps.

From each table, on the second round, the green couples all move counter-clockwise, while the tan couples move clockwise.  To the table where the Johnsons have just played the Randalls, the Holts arrive from the south and the Williams arrive from the north.  See, the idea is that, eventually, each couple plays at all four tables (not seeing the same hand twice), and at no time do the same couples ever play against each other.  Here's a diagram for the second round of play.

At this point I start to get confused.  For the third hand, if the Johns keep going clockwise and the Randalls counter-clockwise, they'll play each other again; so instead, the tan couples continue going clockwise and the green couples jump across the compass, from north to south, south to north, east to west and west to east.  That is, the Holts and Nicheforucks switch, as do the Bolters and the Randalls.  Which gives this layout:

Confused beyond all reason?  Yeah, me too.  It takes adults to invent a system like this.  In the end, I couldn't figure it out.  I end up with four couples all shifting tables and having to play each other again.  The duplicate bridge rules I could find online are all for more than four tables at a time ... so I can't say for a fact this is how my parents and their club did it.  I was nine.  And in bed.  Under threat of extreme punishment, because this was the 1970s when parents were still allowed to beat their children.

Anyway, I'm getting caught up with details.  My failure to make sense of the dance aside, I went through this process to give a feel for the dance that occurred after each round of play.  All together, sixteen people get up, go the bathroom, get drinks, smoke (right there in the living room, because that was also expected) and otherwise talk about the oil crisis or what a bunch of twits those Liberal bastards were under Trudeau.  That is, the other Trudeau, the present-day one's father.

Laying in bed, not sleeping — of course — I could hear the shifts being made.  I listened to a room of adults laughing, falling quiet, laughing, falling quiet, in a familiar routine.  Without music playing, because they didn't.  Bridge nights were always a Friday.  They lasted until midnight, and many's a time I remember my parents coming in after midnight when going to play at someone else's house ... not drunk, at least not that I could tell.

But on a Saturday morning I'd get up early (I always did, the best cartoons were on early) and find that my parents were too tired to clean up.  That was rare; they were usually demons for a clean house and I'd get up and the living room would be pristine, my father having done it before going to bed.   But sometimes, nothing was done.  The folding chairs were still in place, the ashtrays full of butts, wine-glasses still with a swallow of vintage in them.  Those weren't my first taste of wine (we were allowed a tiny eggcup-sized sip on Christmas), but they were a taste I had from time to time.

Bridge was not just a game.  It wasn't merely social.  People cared about testing their skill against one another, which is the purpose of duplicate bridge.  The winner (and there were door-prizes in private homes in those days, usually a bottle of something but it might be other things) was the couple that scored best playing the same hands.  Skill mattered.  Performance was measured in points.

If all they wanted to do was just play bridge, they could have moved round the room and dealt new hands with every round.  Apparently, that wasn't satisfying enough.

Now, I could say something about how casually those folks drank while playing cards, which nearly everyone does, now as then ... and how infantile it is to find some brands of people muttering that, absolutely, D&D shouldn't be played while *gasp* drinking!  But as it happens I don't drink during D&D.  I don't care if others do, but they don't either.  Not because it's wrong — I mean, seriously, is there some sort of accident that happens involving dice, pencils and a miniature I'm not aware of?  But because we want our heads about us.  It's a thinking game.

Moreso than bridge, I guess.

I think rather I want to highlight any sense that D&D isn't reality, or that reality isn't D&D.  Gathering a table to play, I'm not running a group of "characters" or that of a fantasy realm.  I'm employing those tropes to create an unusual set of problems which a circle of humans undertake to solve.  As a DM, the act of stringing words together to convey a scene, or extrapolate on a player's action, is honest work that takes effort and skill to do well.

Managing a player demands a host of other skills, from handling and explaining rules to lifting the spirits of individuals who are having a bad night — sometimes from the dice and luck, and sometimes because they lost their jobs just two days before the game.  It's admitting that we're wrong and giving ground when that's called for, and standing on a line and not taking one step back when a point needs to be made.  It's giving a "good game," but it's also not selling the game's cow when milk's going to be wanted on another day.

I don't do these things in a "fantasy world."  My player may want some terrific piece of bling that could be used to smash a host of enemies, and I may be willing to let that happen — but every minute I've got to guage in my mind what the consequences will be for me, the game, the player, the other players and what sort of games I'll be running to ensure a challenge still exists.

In bridge, the cards do most of the work.  The order of cards provide an umpty-upt million combinations that keep the game fresh, at least for bridge players, but when running the game, I am the cards.  And it's foolish to think that responsibility isn't very real when handling both long-time and new players.

It urks a little, then, to be told I take the game "too seriously," when that comes up now and then.  What I take seriously are my friends — their respect, their approval, their sense of satisfaction and their unavoidable life-driven difficulties, whatever those are.  Asking me to "relax" or "take it easy" means, to my stupid ears, like I'm being told not to give as much as I can to my friends, who deserve every drop.

This is no doubt because of how seriously my parents took bridge night.  When the game was "at home," dinner was early, the dishes were done early, the living room's set up was sacred, and woe-betide any child who was seen when the doorbell rang with the first guests.

Now, obviously, that sounds odd to the modern sensibility.  Lest anyone be uncertain, I don't ascribe to any of the nonsense my parents did.  My players all knew my daughter when she and I were both much younger, and naturally my grandson knocks everyone's elbow during games now.  He moves from lap to lap, begs candy, sometimes delays a running all by himself and I don't mind.  I'm only speaking of how the event of game play was treated in my childhood, though the game was different.

It can't be coincidental.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Friday, November 10, 2023

Saturday Q&A (nov 11)

Chris C. writes:

You have asked for comments, but your reply to others' blog posts is also a comment of sorts. I have to admit I need to read your things in moderation. It's the discomfort: I should be writing D&D; I should be pursuing opportunities to gather players. You have made an impact as a writer beyond D&D when it starts spilling out into the real world, you know. The lifestyle of The Way (and guilt outside its departure). I feel some fear over telling the next bit, but here goes: one search result for "fighting claws" turns up a Wikipedia article on "bagh nakh," a weapon from India. And this brief bit: "poisoned bagh nakh had been used by the Rajput clans for assassinations. The most well-known usage of the weapon was by the first Maratha leader Shivaji who used a bichuwa and bagh nakh to kill the Bijapur general Afzal Khan." Is that not enough of a seed to launch a thousand adventures?

Would I the conviction to suddenly study Indian history, and begin my own hex tiling of some region, and launch a campaign setting thereby: India in the 1400s, perhaps, using your wiki as a rule- and sourcebook. It's all very exciting and fertile, as greenfield projects tend. Even so India itself, which in tech circles float the whisper of castes and its discrimination. (And that's just when everyone is human, not half-orc, elf, or the like.) The other is China: in the age when junkers sailed as marvels, the sea and its navigators. There's a clear ending point too: when the emperor closes off and shuts down the navy, and what could have been. Here, the players could certainly launch into their own cleverness.

As someone new to Advanced D&D, as you say, both my son and I should be firming up our mechanics and such. So it won't necessarily be India or China or Europe in culture or flavour, but a bit of what essence may filter through our limited lens, from what we have read, or imagine, and of course with much liberty as could be granted as high fantasy for children, in weavings of parables or a spin on children's tales.

Answer: I'm the first person to argue that the greatest danger in seeking knowledge is that you're liable to run into someone able to write or say something that makes everything you've believed sound like the thoughts of a fool. Happens to me, happens to everyone. I got my first doses in early grade school and those were fundamental to my wanting to be a writer. Writers had changed my thinking and made me feel a fool, and I felt compelled to spread the word of that foolishness-feeling to others. After all, why should I be the only self-aware fool in the room?

I was, though, and am, most of the time. I see NO difference between D&D and the real world, not because I'm I think D&D is the real world, but because D&D is a part of that world. The advice that works in D&D works in the world; the knowledge of managing players is the same as managing anyone. Give them the tools to do the thing right, first, and then, when they know that right way, let them challenge it. Nothing wrong with eventually allowing the player to obtain "fighting claws." Of course they're real weapons; we would not have them in our fiction if they didn't exist in fact. But jumping straight to claws is bad form for someone who hasn't yet swung a common weapon. That's no how we train soldiers; it's not how we train martial arts students; it's not how we train those in grade one to read.

On another point, there no such thing as "a seed" to launch a thousand adventures. In reality, you need a thousand seeds to launch one adventure, because adventures are not built upon a nifty fact from a history source. Adventures, like the game itself, are constructed of hundreds upon hundreds of game elements and structures, imagination and intuition, only one of which can be grown from a single seed. Nay, what's needed is a field of seeds, and another field beside it, and another in back of the house, and a fourth to lay fallow until next season.

Elizabeth in France (temporarily) writes:

I appreciated your recent post on the development of the Sage Abilities. At the end, you say that this is also used for non-levelled NPCs, and from the wiki, they can gain knowledge points through instruction only. This implies that the Expert and Sage levels can only be achieved by levelled characters. What is your opinion on NPCs fulfilling the role of e.g. expert cook, or expert weaponwright, with the resultant supernatural abilities?  Do you think that the equivalent of Wayland the Smith should always be a levelled character?

Answer: To put the sage abilities into context, the very best chefs there are in the real world would have "authority" status; there are no experts or sages among cooks, nor any other profession, since magic does not exist. It the real world, Wayland would be this — but since he IS a mythological character, then I must argue, in D&D at least, that yes, he's a levelled individual. He achieves notoriety for his skill and receives experience when the king enslaves and hamstrings him, and more when he kills the king's son, and from the treasure he presumably takes along with the winged cloak, which is more experience. We may think he has other adventures and continues to advance.

But ... we may also propose a rule that if a character works at a profession, and does not go adventuring, spending a set number of hours at a task per year, perhaps 1200 say, then at the end of the year the character can make a wisdom check which, if successful, gives 1d4 knowledge. Therefore, a non-levelled person, being trained as a youth, and spending 40 years at their tasks, and succeeding in half their wisdom checks, and rolling average on their dice, could add 50 points of knowledge by the time they reach their mid-50s. If they were a bit luckier still, they could reach the level of sage, without needing to be levelled.

Nigel R. in Germany writes:

Thank you for your overview in "The Wherefore and Whyfore of Sage Abilities."  I admit to having had some confusion over why these were "sage abilities" instead of abilities, and that is now clarified.

I used to play a lot of Rolemaster. I/we liked it that a fighter could hide or climb, a mage could use a sword, and so on. However, as everything became a roll, it got too much. I like the idea of assumed knowledge that does not require a roll. You’ve previously given your personal example of pan searing salmon, and I can, for example, pack 8000 wine bottles into boxes at high speed without breaking one, whereas a newcomer could not keep up, and would drop things.

My question is, how do you handle sage abilities that “oppose” each other? For example, Group One is tracking Group 2, but Group two is expecting this and is employing some sort of “counter tracking / hiding tracks” measure.

Or, as a second example, Group One has a guarded campsite, but Group Two is attempting to use stealth to get close and ambush? Is this resolved on a ‘higher level (or skill level) wins’ basis, or is it "embedded" in the descriptions of the respective abilities, or is it something else?

Answer: Some sage abilities do require a roll, and many of those have to do with the "opposition" you describe. Looking at the rules under stealth, you can see adjustments to the distance that a character can approach based on the level of the "observer," whom one tries to approach.

Additionally, there's a sage ability called "counter-tracking," in which the pursued creates situations that slows down the pursuer, that allows shaking off pursuit by increasing the distance between the two. When being tracked, what's required is to spend time creating a situation which, to be resolved by the tracker, takes them MORE time than it took you. Thus, they fall further and further behind, giving the opportunity for the pursued to reach a village where tracking would be impossible, or for a rainstorm to occur, as that fouls everything.

I'm not particularly pleased with the counter-tracking rule; it's jumbled and overly complicated, and I'd prefer something simpler, but the circumstance it's trying to capture is tremendously complex and generally not within the purview of a D&D campaign. This is why a lot of rules for certain things in the game are garbage — it's very hard to gain the sense of what's happening with die rolls. But I take stabs at these things and later I try to improve them. The wiki is good for this; with time, a rule gets better through rewrites.

Never had a character use the counter-tracking rule, and for that matter I can't ever recall a situation in 40 years where an NPC has tracked a party. Nonetheless, the rule is there.

Taylor R. writes:

Your most recent blog post “Climbing’s a Bitch” mentioned climbing shoes. This jogged my memory of a podcast I listened to a while back. The Irish of the Aran islands used a leather sandal which they kept constantly moist to protect their feet from the sharp rocks while they climb over the scree which cover their islands. The source the podcaster is using was from later than your game’s time period, but as he’s describing the remote Aran islands, I imagine their style of sandal had been around for a long while. I’m not sure how useful this would be for you, but it struck me as a good example of local knowledge using limited resources to adapt to their region. Could fit in with a sage ability?

Answer: That would very definitely fit in with a sage ability. Perhaps maintaining shoes of this nature and knowing how to tie them properly is part of the scrambling ability.


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