Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Happenstance

Okay, so here we are, with some of the work done.  Those who are interested in "a page full of taxonomic detail" and who have trouble "filling hexes" may find this information about moving through hexes in a taiga environment interesting.

"Happenstance" refers to a single random roll that occurs each day, which yes, incorporates the possibility of a random monster encounter.  Sorry, can't help that, this is still D&D and that's what the monsters are for.  Throughout the content being shown, there are hints and links to as-yet not created content, which I'll get to work on when I'm able over the next few days.  So far, there are nearly 4,000 words written on the page and I feel like patting myself on the back and putting up a post here about it.

"Agency" refers to the last post here that I wrote Sunday.  In addition to these things occurring randomly, most of them can be actively searched for, usually two per day, apart from anything else the players might also want to do that day, such fabricate something or meditate.  This includes trying to find the next hex (basically, "travel"), locate food, locate a nearby river should one exist, this sort of thing.  This is the next portion I'll be working on.

It's a first attempt, and many will argue that it needs "testing," which is patently obvious. This is exactly what I intend to do with it, having Arliss and Bertrand run through it.  I think the larger point is that the randomness is, in fact, irrelevant.  It's a place to go if the DM wants to invent something out of thin air, that applies to this environment.  The randomness only exists because I'm inventing a self-play mechanic for the purpose of teaching my game.

Anyway, I've written lots already today and I'm cutting this short.  Enjoy the link; there will be more content on it soon, perhaps tonight, definitely tomorrow.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Cracking the Encounter Nut

As I try to get my nutcracker around this nut ...

Having invented an initial list of 'contents' for a taiga's wilderness hex, where the players randomly turned out to be, I'm confronted by a glaring problem that's I've met before, though not for some time.  But first, let's list off those contents:

predator, wood for tools, fuel, animal tracks and signs, seasonal camp, monster, drinking water; pond, lake, attract attention with smoke?, humanoid footpath, treacherous ground, grazing animals and other game, detect intelligent presence, animal trail, wildfire, natural shelter, identify sunrise/sunset, artificial light source at night, storm, gathering food, natural landmarks, creek or stream, dungeon, fishing, viewpoint, next hex, shrine; glade, ally; adventurer.  This isn't an exhaustive list; just what I was able to clearly identify last night.

Some of this may be counterintuitive, so briefly — since we're assuming that the players are moving through an area they don't know or maybe can't find their way out of, instead of creating a "get lost" roll, I'm simply adding the next hex over as something the players "discover," in the same way they stumble across a lake or a bear.  Finding an ally or adventurer is simply game play; the likelihood of an actual adventurer stumbling around in the hex with the players is ridiculously low, but for playability sake, we can rate that at, say, 1%.  Because it's fun.  Detect intelligent presence means that the players have just found some object or sign that indicates there's a potentially dangerous and intelligent monster in the area, something uncivilised; this being distinct from the humanoid footpath or seasonable camp, which are things that have been made by civilised persons, but which is presently abandoned.

But the key to this list is this: some of these things are random occurrences, and some of these things are so common that one can't shake a stick without hitting one.  Wood for tools and fuel, for example, or the choice to light a signal fire and attract attention (the roll is meant to indicate a place where this is realistic; obviously, any tree can be lit on fire, to the party's detriment in the long run).  Still other things can be searched for (grazing animals, foraging) while some definitely cannot (storms, wildfire).

Plus, and this is important ... it's an extremely boring hex if we only make one 'contents' roll per day.  An environment such as this cannot be reduced to one thing, even once per day.  As the players move through, they're going to pass over various features; as well, sunrise and sunset are going to occur every day, though not necessarily where they're helpful to the players.  We cannot see where the sun rises if there's a dense pass of 100 ft. trees that blot out visibility beyond a hundred yards.  Thus, this particular "event" is meant to specify that the players happen to be in a place where, yes, they can glimpse the horizon and where the sun comes up, orienting themselves.

If, however, we give four rolls a day, that's four chances that a random monster's going to come up.  We can assess for that by adjusting the chance of a monster from an overall 1 in 6 per roll to, say, 1 in 24 per roll.  But we'd have to do the same for wildfires, storms, grazing animals and so on, drastically reducing the chance of a single die roll producing something interesting.

I have a proposal, but it strikes me as ... hard to organise.  Suppose we accept that there's only one roll chance for all those things on a d100 table that can arise by chance.  Then, for everything else, things the party would definitely want to find and obtain, we could assign a "number in something" chance on a separate column, based on that table.  We could then give the players two rolls on this column, hoping to be lucky.  Effectively, we carve the day into two halves for the players intentions (find their way out of this hex, climb up a ridge looking for a viewpoint), and at some point during that day, something unintended happens all on its own.

For example, let's say there's a 2% chance of stumbling across a viewpoint, even though the characters are in hill country, simply because the conifer growth is too thick.  Or say there's a 6% chance of finding a pond.  And now let's say that instead of waiting for these things to happen in the daily-roll, the players instead say, "We try to find a pond."  Then we could assign a triple-times chance of their successfully doing that ... a 18 in 100.  And if they don't we could either (a) dictate that there is no pond in the hex, or (b) dictate that if there is a pond, it's going to be stumbled across randomly.  It can't be searched for again.

From that point forward, we have to decide which things can be searched for and which cannot.  In some cases we can assign things (wood, for instance) as not being part of the random table, since it's always around the party.  And an automatic chance of the party finding it.

Can the party deliberately search for a monster?  Sure.  Further, we can argue that, having found one (or a pond, for that matter), the chance exists for trying to find another one the next day, until the chance fails (the monsters are really buried).  Thus, a "dungeon," starting with a 1% chance randomly, can be found with a 3% chance if searching for it.

This, however, argues that if the players remain in the hex long enough, eventually they will find a dungeon, or anything else on the table.  It's inevitable.  I'd propose a ten-roll limit ... after that, the contents of the hex are more or less what they are.  'Course, there can always still be a wildfire or a storm; another monster can always drift in from another hex; there might yet be an adventurer.  This would seem to require a separate, "residual" table, that could be rolled on, oh, once a week, or a fortnight (two weeks), that wouldn't include dungeons or viewpoints, or any permanent notable feature that might be used as a guide for getting out or finding this particular hex again.

These are my thoughts so far.  Want to let them stew a bit before I start to order them into a proper table.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Saturday Q&A (jun 15)

Been some time since I've been skunked, but I have no comments or letters from this week.  I started this Q&A ten months ago, and I must admit I don't miss blogger comments.  I trust that the occasional dead week can only encourage more people to step up and ask questions or share content.  Meanwhile, I'll return to my projects for the day: I constructed a vegetation table yesterday, today I'll work on the notes for that table as I post it on the wiki.

The Q&A posts are getting to be my most popular, when there's content.

_____

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, alexiss1@telus.net.  Those giving a $3 donation to my Patreon, https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3015466, can submit questions directly to me in the chat room there.

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, June 14, 2024

No Empty Hexes

Continuing yesterday's conversation, let's just talk about how to best generate the wilderness.

I recognise that there are many who strongly resist the use of hexes, or any means that "parcels" the wilderness into areas ... but I must point out that with movement upon the earth's face, we've been subdividing the surface for the last 300 years.  Surveying has existed since the ancient Egyptians, but it didn't become common practice until the late 17th/early 18th centuries ... so it's right to think that for those in the so-called game world, anything other than measuring ground with chains to see who's farm is whose, or putting up markers, little subdivision of land takes place.  But this is all the hex is: a means of parcelling a large space of land so we can assign characteristics to it, and so that we can identify one parcel from another.  And so that our accounting of the land can apply to what character's can do or see in a day, those parcels have to be fairly small.

For those who still insist on creating maps in this century using pencil and paper, when there are far greater resources that are available, I understand that making a lot of "hexes" is demanding.  Squares are far easier, since they merely need a straight edge, and for best results, a T-square.  Draughting tools for making hexes are more complex and inconvenient.  Not for me, however.  I have "hex paper" on demand, as much as I want of it, so for things like this I find it very easy to apply.  Moreover, since a hex is more nearly like a circle than a square, the center point of any hex is equidistance from its bordering hexes, which cannot be said for the square.

All that is such a waste of time to say, because it convinces no one, but yeah ... I somehow feel before plunging into this that I should explain why I'm using hexes, and not straight lines.  Though why, I can't guess.

But okay, so, the players enter a hex.  Forgetting the hex's topographical and other details, I'll need to explain the point of adventuring in this fashion ... that is, what exploring accomplishes that a pre-fabricated adventure, or a dungeon, does not.  Forgive me if I descend into pedantry at this point, but the internet has plenty of ink and I do feel we need to fully grasp the game's structure beyond the nonsense storytelling/collaborative/lore and "epicness" jargon that we're spoonfed online.

The dungeon's function is to deliver experience and wealth into the party's possession, while presenting situations that are engaging and include a reasonable measure of risk.  This last stipulates that for the party entering, there is a high likelihood of success, better than one might obtain at a craps table; in fact, better than betting on red on a roulette wheel.  Were I to rate the odds, there ought to be a 20% chance that one character dies during the effort, 6% that two die and 1% that everyone dies.  But this doesn't include the possibility of someone losing an arm or a hand, beings struck blind, losing a valuable magic item, losing a considerable number of resources and, naturally, making an enemy that will continue to pursue the party until, in fact, someone is actually killed.

Worse odds than this and there's little reason for players to enter the dungeon.  It's just experience and coin, after all, which only goes so far as a motivation.  If players aren't entering dungeons, its either because they have no reasonable expectation of surviving as a group, OR, the demand for money in the game world isn't high enough to make the risk worthwhile.

Along the same lines, the wilderness ought also to exist to provide things the players want.  It's not there to look like a real world, it's not there as "flavour" and it's fucking useless if it's empty.  Each and every hex has to provide the players with something.  Otherwise, like a gun hanging on a wall in a play that never gets used, it shouldn't be there.

I feel this needs to be hammered upon, because the Gygaxian poison from the 70s continues to run rife through this culture.  Gygax, and most of the creators of his era, were lazy.  So lazy, in fact, that where it came to a game world, he and his intellectual kin kicked the can down the road by suggesting that the board from another game entirely be used to fill in the hole created by their laziness.  That game was Outdoor Survival.  Here's the map board that was suggested for use as the D&D "wilderness."



Apart from the extreme crippling incompetence of the era's proposal, something for which everyone attached to the original books ought to have apologised for the rest of their lives, please note how ungodly empty this map is.  This made sense for the Outdoor Survival game, which I've played ... though admittedly, it's just a longer, more dimensional version of playing the children's game Candyland.  And as I pointed out yesterday when I discussed the wilderness generation page in the original DMG, when Gygax proposed to randomly generate an outdoors, his system basically presents an even emptier version of the above.

There's no "game" here.  It delivers nothing into the hands of the players.  It is nothing more than an extremely boring obstacle between where the players are and where they want to be, "filled in" with random monster encounters which, by the original rules, are ridiculously deadly to players while putting nothing whatsoever into the player's pockets.  You enter the 1st level dungeon and expect to fight, at worst, 7-12 orcs with one HD, with an expectation of treasure.  Then, on the way home, as a random encounter, you're beset upon by 2-20 wolves with two HD, with jack shit.  Why would anyone ever enter the wilderness?

The very idea of the wilderness was poisoned from the beginning by such half-assery, accompanied by a steady resistance and laziness that declares the wilderness impractical or otherwise undesirable as an adventure environment.  As I sit to start creating a random generator, I have exactly zero resources, accumulated from over 50 years of D&D, to draw upon.  Oh, there were "attempts."  The infamous, massively incompetent "Wilderness Guide" of 1986, which did wake me up to things the game definitely needed, but which that rule book absolutely whiffed upon.  I've read and sometimes owned other so-called guides, mainly from 3rd edition, which provided a terrific degree of random shit, without any organisation applied to it.  Basically, when the party was in the desert, you could slap some "black sand" in front of them for, again, flavour.  But beyond a short paragraph description, there were no game rules or metrics attached to it, so in essence, it was painting the desert black.  Hands in the air, now: Worldbuilding!

Very well, what does the wilderness supply?  Well, it need not be the same things as a dungeon. After all, there are things that can't be found in a dungeon: food, for one thing, that the players can safely eat. Wood to make tools, fresh water to drink ... horses, and grass for them.  Places where houses and storerooms can be built, places where men-at-arms and supplies can be held at the ready. A safe place to sleep.

There are, I believe, four things that the wilderness supplies to players, which contribute deeply to the fabric of the game beyond the necessity of passing through: threat, supply, knowledge and deliverance.  Each covers a wide range of possibilities, which the wilderness designer, whether or not randomly generating a space, needs to be aware of.

Threat includes everything that makes the players feel unsafe.  No matter where they are in the game world, there are always threats; but this concept includes not only the threats themselves but the means by which the players protect themselves against those threats.  This includes, naturally, the monsters that are present in the hex — and here I'm arguing that every hex has monsters, always and without exception, though most of the time due to circumstance, the size of the hex and pure chance, the players are liable to pass through a hex without seeing one.  But this needs to be clear ... if the players go looking for a monster, they will find one ... at least, until that monster and others are "cleared out" of the hex.  Because finding a monster, and knowing one is there to find, is a bloody point of this game!  The value is in the monster's presence; the players knowing they'll find it, or them, whatever form it or they take.  It's having a reason to be there in the first place, since some of the monsters that can be found will, as with a dungeon, have treasure.  Hell, so far, "Grimstone Hollow" may only be this lair of these hobgoblins.  So far, there's nothing the players have found to indicate this is anything more than that. 

Where the players camp, how they camp, what equipment they bring along and what vigilance they adopt, these too are part of this hex's presence.  At no time can players be made to think that if they're moving through wilderness they're safe because a little piddly die roll has to come up a 1 in order to attack them.  That perception goes on the fire.  The players must be taught that preparation is what will keep them safe, not the odds.  Take this exchange:

Players:  We turn in.

DM:  You turn in?

Players: Yeah, it's dark, we're not travelling at night.  We make camp and we turn in.

DM:  O ... kay ...

Players:  What?

DM:  Nothing.  You turn in.  Got it.

It's my temptation as a DM to explain, um, maybe they better explain what preparations they take beyond "setting a guard," who can be feathered with nine arrows from the darkness as said watch stands next to the fire, in plain view, bored, getting warm.   Is it worth making an encampment?  Is it worth trying to find a place where their backs are against a stone wall, where there's a gap in the rocks that covers their front, where some kind of alarm exists to warn the watch upon falling asleep?  I don't know.  If the "monster" out there smells the party, they'll come and look.  They'll look and decide.  They might go away, they might stay.  But it shouldn't be a "random monster roll" that decides one way or the other.  It should be what the player's camp looks like.  It can be a die, but not that die.  Not one the players think they can count on.

Threats come from the terrain, too.  Slips, falls, maladies, bad weather, rain, dropped equipment, torn clothing, soiled or stolen food ... anything and everything that might happen in a wilderness is a threat.  These things too need to be accounted for.

Supply is king in this environment.  We're not entering a dungeon for an hour, we're crossing a considerable amount of land, during which time we need to sleep, rest, eat something and thus dwindle our resources.  And while the environment threatens that supply, it should also offer boons that help the players out.  A brook where it's practical to waste an hour or to and catch fish.  A berry patch.  A bee hive.  Naturally occuring salves that can be used to cure wounds, which can only be used here because they can't be feasibly stored.  Grazing animals, of course, that might be taken down with a lucky shot.  Their leather, though wet, can be dried out in a few hours to a day, and rinsed too if possible.  It can be used wet, though it's difficult to work with.

My sage abilities are designed to handle some of these problems, but suppose, like Arliss and Bertrand, that it's unlikely either has any scouting, foraging or hunting ability (they could take logistics, I suppose).  Even a dope can stumble into a deer, however; I know, because I've done it multiple times.  One time, I was just 8 feet from the deer when it stepped out from the wood next to me.  I didn't have a shot gun, I was fishing; it was June.  But the players always have weapons.  In a low-technological society, without guns, this sort of thing should be fairly common, just as it was moreso in Alberta in the 1960s and 70s than it is now.

Like with a threat, every hex ought to have something.  That doesn't mean it will be found; hell, it might be a gold mine, passed over and over with the players never knowing.  Specific resources have to be looked for, by persons who know how; but it's reasonable to assume that if I know how to hunt for mushrooms, and we're in a temperate deciduous forest, there are mushrooms to be found.

Knowledge is key to getting out.  Being able to cross a piece of land and find the tiny brook in it that leads to the creek, that leads out onto the plain.  Getting atop a hill to a viewpoint and being able to see the land two hexes away, to see if the hills keep going, or if perhaps there's the sign of a river below, or fields in the distance.  Seeing any distance in the wilderness is hard due to the terrain and vegetation, the weather and the height on which we stand.  Potentially, from a 200 ft. rise, I can see about 17 miles before the curve of the earth ... but the last third of that distance will be hazy and indistinct without aid (or even with, given the time period's technology).  The problem is, where 200 ft. rises occur, there are usually other such rises, and they get in the way.

Still, it gives a reason to climb out of the valley to see if this is a good place to look.  This means giving up the river-as-guide technique, where the river may lead a party on quite a merry chase before it reaches a civilised hex.

There are the various signs of life, too; things they leave behind: spoor, scents, kills, shucked skin, actual signs that say, "you've already entered our land, prepare to die," that sort of thing.  As players move through the land, they need to be told things that they can use to make intelligent decisions about where to go next.  It cannot just be a random choice of go left or go right.  They should regularly be given enough reason to believe that if they choose to go in this way, there's a better possibility of them finding their way out, or their way to whatever they're looking for.  And if using a random generator, this knowledge should adjust what does get encountered next, proving the legitimacy of the system.

Deliverance is, obviously key.  Somewhere out there, there are civilised people, with farms and things to sell, where there are taverns with beer and inns with semi-clean beds, at least a roof anyways, and something more to see than trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks ... you know.  "Canada."

Desirably, by contriving these four guidelines to play, the wilderness ought to be constructed, even randomly, into a more intuitive, creative, meaningful place to adventure.  My personal feeling is that the environment ought to be as rich in combat and treasure as the dungeon, or perhaps there should be little difference between the two.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Why Bother?

I consider that it's my responsibility as a writer to keep others appraised of whatever knowledge I've accumulated from time to time.  Until very recently on this blog, I would write about what I was doing, hoping for feedback and perhaps a better idea how I could approach something, especially if I had some project over which I was puzzled.  The early concept of hex groups, for instance, or NTME, or how that developed into infrastructure and the description of facilities.  Similar patterns related to sage abilities also manifested over the years on this blog, rising from the extremely simplistic system I had in 2008 to the impossible-to-complete system I have today.  I do have my online players at the same to thank for that, as they encouraged me to give sage abilities to every class, which started that snowball.

Today's subject is the "RWG," as yet unlaunched, or even as yet had the ground broken ... the "random wilderness generator."  The vote on my patreon seems bent on having Arliss and Bertrand leave the dungeon to seek additional help destroying these hobgoblins, which sets them outside in a world they do not know, which I do not know, because that sounds more practical for the reader here.  I could just have them step out into my world, in Romania or Slovakia or Bratslaw, but then what value would this have for the reader, whose world is not my own?  It seems better that if we're going to produce a "random" generator, it ought to assume that nothing exists outside the dungeon until the die designates it so.

Here, I'm not looking for feedback, but to inform.  I expect that many of my typical readers have at one time or another, and probably closer to when they started playing than to the present, tried to randomly generate the outside world.  The original DMG's effort is utterly pathetic.  It consists of two tables, one that includes all of 10 possible terrains (of which one is "pond"), with 9 types of "settlement," with a slightly less than 1 in 7 chance of finding any person at all.  Thus, it creates a very grey-paste empty world, much like Gygax's dungeons, only more so.  When rolling a "city," absolutely no information or description is given, except that it has d6 x 10,000 people in it.  The whole thing consists of three-quarters of a page, a third of which is a single picture having nothing to do with the wilderness.

Though, admittedly, I did think it was one of the book's better pictures.

I expect that were I to receive feedback, most of it would boil down to, "why bother?"  Which is, I think, the first question to be answered.

Tuesday, I heard from an erstwhile friend of mine, featured in this video, who pressured me to "brand" the hell out of my videos, as he's sold his soul to the business world; he'd be the first to admit that.  He encouraged me to invent some sort of name for the overall "campaign" that's been launched through the existing videos and the content I've produced for the wiki, so that I have it for the title cards I learned how to create all of seven days ago.  "Grimstone Hollow" is just this dungeon; I expect there will be other dungeons.  So, at the moment, I'm playing with the notion of calling the overall campaign, "A Story that hasn't Finished Yet."  Because, first, it has the word "story" in the title, which is one of those buzz words in D&D that's a crap-concept, but actually means something apart from what the company has stamped on it, and second, because I think it gets to the heart of what we do here as dungeon masters and game world designers.

The title hit me as I tussled around with chatGPT, which can be a good sounding board for these things, as it has lots of really garbage ideas (like anyone, including myself), what at the same time it's tapped into vast amounts of human knowledge, much more so than my tiny ape brain holds.  Anyway, it was going on about standard D&D ideals and I was explaining for it, and myself, why I'm opposed to those ideals, and I stumbled across the principle that "a happy ending is a story that hasn't finished yet."  Which is true, and is in fact one of the oldest take-downs in human history, where the smart-as-a-whip scholar Solon bitch-slaps Croessus in the 6th century BCE.  Not how my classics professors would have put it, but they were always stuffy.  Wikipedia is pretty lax on it's tale-telling; the original can be read at the outset of Herodutus' The Histories.

I had chat discuss what it felt about the sentiment, "A happy ending is a story that hasn't finished yet," and found in its overwritten answer the phrase, "The Game is the sum of all events, including those yet to come."

That ... is brilliant.

And it is D&D.  In my last post, I argued that a quintessential part of this game is that it doesn't end, and to that I'll add that the lack of ending means that, much of the time, in an engaged campaign, the party lives as much in the future of the campaign as it does the past.  That is, they're going somewhere, they're thinking about where they're going, they're planning for what they'll meet, they're buying equipment and toughening up their characters abilities for when that time comes ... and this incorporates a considerable amount of the game's discussion and play.  Hell, the creation of the character itself is a plan for the future.

Most people are not future-oriented.  They are present oriented, or past oriented; they're either hedonistic, living for pleasure or avoiding pain, or they don't think it pays to play; or they remember all the good old times, or their thoughts are nothing but regret about all that they've done.  Both these mind sets are anathema to D&D, because either the game becomes about what we've accomplished, or it becomes about what momentary bit of pleasure or excitement we can invent for ourselves in this immediate moment.  These people can't be encouraged to engage in a long-term campaign because they're not built for it.

I haven't ever seen that so clearly before.  The first question I should ask a perspective player is, "what are you doing next month?"  If the answer is, "I don't know, I'll probably be working," I should say, "Thank you, you wouldn't be a good fit for my game."

If their answer is a long description of how they're having their backyard remodelled, or how their sister is visiting and all the things they're going to do, my answer can be, "C'mon and play."

I live in the future.  A writer has to.

Like others, the argument has been for more than a decade that the "story" shouldn't be made before the players sit down to play, and that it's this reason that the concept of "story" in company-oriented D&D is such a crap concept, because the company is pounding the drum for stories that are fully invented and in place before we know who the players are.  But the game itself isn't about having the future come to pass, it's about rushing towards the future and seeing what happens.

When I began recording this combat, I had no idea what was going to happen; I didn't want to script it, or run it through and then record it; I wanted to maintain the premise that whatever happened, I'd just sort it out afterwards.  If the characters died, then I'd roll new characters and end things there. Because this is what D&D is ... it's trying something in the future, having that future happen, then picking up the pieces, whatever they happen to be.

Nearly all the destruction of D&D that's taken place has been a decades-long effort to obliterate this functional part of the game.  Players don't want to accept consequences, DMs don't want to deal with unexpected events, even die rolling has become overwhelmingly designed to produce less and less random results.  This is all that hyper-multiple modifiers to a die roll are, or exhortations for "average damage rolls," because rolling a d8 is too random, takes too long, or otherwise threatens to upset the expected results of the battle.  We want to get the battle over with as fast as possible, within 75 seconds if possible, because battle is a problem to be solved, not a part of the game's thrill.

Listened to that podcast all the way through yesterday; not so bad, for what it is.  Part of the argument being made is why rolling both attack dice and damage dice at the same time still isn't fast enough, since average damage rolls are even faster; roll to hit with a long sword, and if success, it always does 5 damage.

Overall, it sounds strange to me.  The video combat I recorded runs not quite 14 minutes; and it wouldn't last more than 6 if it weren't for my explaining things.  I grant that D&D combat in the later editions is ridiculously long, for reasons the video describes; but then, when you're rolling so many dice for damage, what would you expect?  At it's heart, however, D&D isn't hockey.  It's baseball.  With a well-designed version, when the attack die succeeds, the damage die is like watching the hit ball soar up into the air, not knowing if it's going to be caught, not knowing if its going to be a home run ... it's a paced, carefully orchestrated moment of tension to have that die bounce and turn up a good hit or a bad one.  Gutting this feature, for the sake of time, would be like automatically awarding the player two bases with every hit as an "average."

Average damage is really fucked-up thinking.

But to get to my point, I didn't know how the combat would turn out.  And now, if they do go outside, I don't know what's waiting for them there.

Not an "adventure," at least not in the way that the company, or even some others I respect, imagine it would be.  The adventure doesn't have to be following a set of guidelines that are guaranteed to produce a particular result that the player is fine with.  It can be a series of "who-the-fuck-knows?" incidents that, together, produce the unexpected, perhaps difficult, perhaps astounding consequence.  It's picking up a thread on the ground that runs ten thousand miles and following it, to see where it goes.

It the way I'm using it, a random generator does this.  It's not the best strategy for a real-life game, because we don't have the kind of time it takes to check tables or, as in my case, to build them from scratch out of nothing.  But by seeing how theoretical tables could work, by seeing what needs to be accounted for, or how this leads to the next thing, we may grasp certain fundamental concepts that tell us how to design that thread for our players.  This is why its worth bothering about.  Because it provides a framework for our thinking process, when we have to instantly decide on the next thing, because the players are there now.  A framework that, as it grows in complexity, becomes a template for designing on the spot something that otherwise would take weeks to set up and get ready.


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Inevitability

I decided to be resilient.  This links to the second episode for Arliss and Bertrand's adventure into Grimstone Hollow, a hobgoblin lair.  No spoilers.

The original plan remains unchanged.  Create a random dungeon generation, use it to create a dungeon for a fictional party, video tape the combats and post them on youtube, provide a link to the Authentic Wiki to the transcript of the video, so that links can be provided to rules for anything that happens during that combat ... and then progress the party further along using the forementioned generation process.

Nor does this generation have to be dungeon-oriented.  I'm certain I can make a reasonably interesting wilderness/civilisation hex-crawling generator that, with imagination, can produce practical outdoor scenarios and set-ups to combats as well.  I haven't attempted something like that since the late 1980s, but I'm way, way smarter than my 20-something self, so I'm willing to give that a try.

Meanwhile, I think I've found a way to kick that football.

Here are the downsides of my plan.

1. Work.  Lots of work.  Work to make the generator, work to update the self-play tutorial, frequent work to build unmade rule sets to compliment the other work being done, work to run the combats for myself, work to edit the combats, work to write up the transcript of the combat, work to keep updating things across several different medias and webpages.

2. Errors.  Lots of errors.  Errors running the combats and forgetting rules, errors in mixing up numbers and errors in the generation tables, errors in the editing, errors with youtube posting, errors that have to be explained in the transcripts ... and a certain amount of shame in having to admit that even though I'm responsible for all these rules, I fuck up all the time because there are a lot of rules.

Here's the thing about that, though.  It's more important that I be authentic than that I be right.  I'd rather mess up the rule, and admit I messed up the rule, and either retcon or move on after the screw up, and take the shame-slash-embarrassment for that, than pose as some creature by pretending that I don't make mistakes or that anyone watching me should think they ought not to make mistakes.  DMing is complicated, it's self-distracting, and half the time we're paying so much attention to getting one thing right we get two other things wrong.  In the combat posted, I forgot to run Kragthar's attack at one point.  I didn't realise it until I was writing the transcript.  But I was concentrating so hard on explaining what was going on, especially with Grimgor, that I just forgot to make the attack.  I authentically fucked up.  And I authentically admitted it.  The wiki isn't called the Perfect Wiki.

3. Less room for other things.  The Streetvendor's Guide is a priority.  And now this is a priority, as I'll explain below.  Paid work, obviously, is a priority.  This blog is not.  Sorry.  People can watch for my content on the Wiki's recent changes page, or they can watch for updates on my patreon (https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3015466), where I will be posting.  If you want to know what I'm doing on some Tuesday, when you don't see a blog post, I suggest bookmarking these pages so you can see what I'm working on.  If you're coming to this blog everyday, or every few days, to see what's "new," please understand, this blog is going to chase what I'm doing.  It's no longer the tip of the spear.

I'm always a writer, so I'll play catch up here, and throw out things that matter to me here, but this just isn't where my head's going to be.

Okay, let's talk about the upsides of this feature.

A. It's animated.  Unlike the finished maps, which don't move, and unlike the videos I did earlier this year that featured me making maps, these videos are instantly accessible to anyone who's played D&D, even if they don't understand the modified AD&D rules.  Combatants are fighting each other in a dungeon.  This is instantly comprehensible.  There's more talking than movement, but point in fact, that's how D&D works also.

I've been searching around for something that's dynamic without my having to be on camera, because I don't want the problems that are associated with trying to edit my movements in coordination with my space.  My den at present is fairly cramped, and will remain as such, and I just don't want to deal with trying to remake my background, nor with worrying about how my 60-y.o. self looks on camera.  I don't need that judgment.  I'm self conscious enough about my voice.  So this gives me a lively, effective way to express that voice, to get excited about combat, while moving things around so the viewer doesn't get bored.  Win-win.

B.  It's narrative.  Since the events that take place are part of a continuing "story," one that hasn't been predetermined, I can benefit from the building of an audience that knows what's happened before and is ready to learn what happens next.  Moreover, because I'm going to get better as the series progresses, for the viewer, it will feel as though the idea is growing and strengthening, especially as the characters gain levels, additional allies, friends and other elements of the overall structure changes.

In effect, it's putting a harness around Dungeons & Dragons itself, using the elements of that game to build a real life audience for myself.  All the aspects of D&D that make it great, that it's ongoing, that players grow and improve, that the dangers increase, that the elements of the game are instantly recognisable and have a pre-made audience, are all things that work in my favour as my little group of adventurers survive or die, succeed or not, gain levels, gain power, gain status and seek new obstacles to overcome.  It's so obvious, I have no idea why I failed to stumble into this before.

C.  It's educational.  Dungeon masters everywhere are always looking for new ideas, new ways of looking at things, not just events that can take place in the characters' lives, but fixes for rules and other problems that come up all the time.  This gives me an opportunity to showcase elements of the game that I support, making a solid argument for their inclusion, through demonstration rather than argument.  As far as what this blog can do to convince people, a practical, ongoing experiment that shows the rules work, and that they make for interesting and ideal situations for future players, is too good an opportunity to pass up.  And, I think, it's bound to attract an fresher, differently thinking audience.

D.  It's interactive.  I've already established a tier on my patreon for anyone who wishes to give $1 per month, if they'd like to vote on what the party does next.  Here, for example, is the pole following the above linked combat:


I'll post it small, so if you don't want spoilers, don't open it.

It's not very much per month and it gives the feeling of being engaged ... and an engaged audience is a much better audience.

E. It's multi-media.  There's youtube, of course, and the poll, and being able to look at the work on the wiki, plus this blog, plus the comments that are bound to come up about this on Saturday's Q&A ... all of which means that if the viewer really wants to get into the concept, the content to be viewed doesn't stop at the end of the video.  They can go and immerse themselves in some other facet of this experiment, and see where it leads them.

All of these things together assure me that, despite the work, and despite the errors I'll make, and despite youtube's algorithm and the initially low numbers, provided I put in the time, I don't think I can lose.  My foot is going to hit that football and I'm going to feel great.


Saturday, June 8, 2024

Saturday Q&A (jun 8)

JB in Washington State writes,

Regarding The Halfling & the Knight.

I was able to attend a theater production with my family last Wednesday. As (generally) happens when I go to such a show, afterwards I find myself thinking back on my own theatrical "career" and wondering if I could still do the stage thing these days. Would I even want to? And while there's a part of me that loves and longs for the days of being an actor, I think the answer...at least to the latter question...is mostly "no." Not because I'm worried about making a fool of myself, or being brutally critiqued, but because of the WORK involved: the time, the effort, the rehearsals, the memorization, the simple building of chemistry with one's fellow players (not always easy, and often times frustrating). A lot of work for something I am far less passionate about these days compared to A) my family, and B) my gaming/writing endeavors.

Once upon a time, I had that love for acting.

The kind of D&D you wish to play requires that love. The event you describe is less (I think) about any inability to play the game, and far more about the lack of willingness to embrace the game being played.

And in this, I am referring to the druid player (not the others who supported her). The others walking out, that's an issue of social dynamics and a whole different ball o' wax, not pertinent to my response here.

The druid is not an easy class to play. I haven't seen many over the years, and I'm not sure I've ever seen one played well. It does not fit into the easy role that other adventuring classes do. It is somewhat like the illusionist in this way: extremely powerful within its own sphere of control, and much less effective than the other "generalists" of the group. If you go into the game with such a character while simultaneously burdened by a "traditional" outlook (fight the monsters, loot their bodies!) it's bound to be a rough go.

But when one EMBRACES the game, such issues of ineffectiveness cease to matter. You start looking at what your character IS, rather than what she is NOT. If you love living in the (imaginary) world, you must put yourself in the shoes of your character and approach the game from that character's angle, from their point of view. I am a halfling druid...how DO I "adventure?" If you love the game, if you embrace the game, you'll find your place in the world and on the team.

"Spotlight time" is a matter of perspective. One can ALWAYS find ways to get into the spotlight in an RPG. Finding a way to get into the spotlight in a way that is USEFUL and NON-DESTRUCTIVE (to the game, to the group) can be a tricky ask for some folks...but that's the game that's being played. Finding ways to contribute, so that the TEAM (and thus the whole table) benefits. For some character types...the low-level magic-user that's burned all his/her spells, for example...that can be more challenging. But it's not impossible. My most recent game has a 1st level MU whose only spells are "friends," "find familiar" (which he can't afford to cast), and "jump." In three fights he has not cast a single spell, nor done a single point of damage. But he has cared for and guarded the party's pack mule which (carrying their supplies) is their only lifeline in the desert environment they're exploring. And as an elf, he has other abilities (stealth, languages, immunities to charm, etc.) that will enable him to shine in areas where others don't...he WILL get his chance to contribute.

Your player seems to be taking the old adage "don't hate the player, hate the game" too much to heart. You, I grok, have little patience for this: the game is what it is, the player needs to get with the program. I, in my wishy-washy, hippy-dippy fashion, see this as a lack of love going BOTH ways. You need to embrace the player (not coddle her but help her to understand) and the player needs to embrace THE GAME (not just her kewl concept character that is "ineffective" when one tries to pound it into a round hole). More love, that's what's needed...in my opinion.

But I acknowledge that perhaps that won't work. The most recent editions of D&D have definitely bred a style of play where the player's only love is for their own individual character. This style is pervasive and its influence is far reaching. I don't know the relative age of your druid player, or whether or not she came from a 5E or video game background (either one teaches bad precedents). Narcissism is a deeply ingrained part of our culture (well, American culture for sure). It can be tough to overcome it, to retrain and unlearn. My recent strategy of "start 'em when they're young" seems functional enough, but that doesn't apply to adults. With adults you have to find a way to be both iron fisted AND uber-compassionate at the same time. It's a tough tightrope to walk, requiring a lot of effort.

Still, I suppose, folks who are passionate enough don't mind putting in that kind of work.

Answer: I agree that we need to embrace the player.  I agree that that kind of work is necessary.  But I feel strongly that this advice at the end spoils what would otherwise be an excellent series of astute observations and attitudes about game play and one's best approach to the game.

Throughout our lives, we are counselled endlessly to unleash the better angels of our nature, to reach out to others, to express the best parts of ourselves and so on.  And while this is "good" advice, it's legitimate to point out how very, very rarely it produces the sort of result we wish.  Yes, we cast that seed into the ground, and yes the seeds do grow ... occasionally.  But we also cast one shit-ton of seeds upon that ground, sacrificing our time, our wealth, our wherewithal and often our dignity only to be rebuffed and slapped back, and told our "better angels" are manipulative bastards.  We reach out to be screamed at, "DON'T TOUCH ME!"  The best parts of ourselves are recast as patronising, pandering or, to use your word JB, narcissism.

I cannot say just how much money I've spent picking up the check for individuals and whole parties, only to watch friends melt away out of petulance, selfishness or indifference.  Or how much money I've spent in other people's rents to help them over the "hump," or people for whom I've found jobs, or days I've spent buying groceries to make sure a sick friend's fridge is filled with juice and fruit, to help them get by.  And this number of times is dwarfed by the myriad hours I've sat listening as people poured out their hearts but would not take my advice; as people cried on my shoulder but would not take my advice; as people gratefully appreciated my willingness to walk them all the way home so they didn't have to be alone that night ... but would not take my advice.

Where are those people now?  Self-destructed, suffering the aftermath of their drug-addled or alcoholism choices, the aftermath of their failed marriages, the aftermath of their resistance to getting an education or doing anything to improve themselves ... and, thankfully, out of my life, where they now belong.  Because I did the work, I took the time, I showed the uber-compassion, I carried their emotional baggage ... and when, finally, it was plain they were never going to put their baggage down, I decided I'd stop carrying it for them.

But it's this, most of all, that I think betrays you JB.  Because I know you have done all this too, and that your compensation for it has been exactly the same as mine.  Everyone who makes something of themselves, who does the work, who raises a family well, who sacrifices the easy fixes and fails to do the drugs and the liquor and the gambling and what else, has exactly the experience I have now.  We all watch our lives get better while the lives of those people we constantly reach out to gets worse and worse.  We tell them point blank what they need to do, we offer to sustain them until they do it, and for that they bitch in our face about how easy it was "for us" and how hard it is "for them."

The difference between us, JB, isn't that either of us have put in that kind of work; it's how much we're willing to lie to ourselves about what that kind of work can accomplish.  I've never been the sort to tell someone else, "Give to your friend, they need it."  I'll do my giving; I'll do it because that is my nature.  But I won't lie to myself that this time it's going to be different, this time they'll see the light, this time they'll fix themselves and get their shit together ... because they won't.  I don't do my work because I think they're going to get something out of it.  I do it because I'm a mensch.  I'm a human being.  Because it's the decent thing to do.  But not because they're going to suddenly become better because I sacrificed whatever.

You know, Canada is a cold bloody place a lot of the year.  And a lot of the year, we have snow.  Not the 10 feet that comes and goes in the maritimes, but two or three feet that stays for a hundred or so days.  And cars get stuck in this snow, all the time.  If you walk outside in the winter, as I did a lot as a young man, you'll find yourself on the curb next to a stuck car about once a week.

The first winter that Tamara was here, an American whose childhood was spent in Kentucky and adulthood was spent in Michigan, we were walking along a street in early winter and we came across such a person; and without hesitation, I rushed off the sidewalk, threw my sole weight against the back of that stranger's car and, with lots of experience and the strength of a 38 y.o., tossed him out on the street and he went his way.  No thank-you, no offer of a reward, just on his way.  And Tamara was stunned.  She'd never seen anything like it before.  AND, being an American, she was pissed that he hadn't rolled down his window to thank me.

But that's not how it works in Canada.  We don't do it for the reward.  We don't do it for the human connection or the sense of self-gratification.  We do it because there's snow, and everybody does it.  Because there's snow.  This is incomprehensible to anyone who has not lived all their life in a snow-buried country.  We do it because it needs doing.  And when we're in trouble, we know someone will stop because someone always does.  I could tell you other stories about the Canadification of Tamara.

Yes, I did the work with this girl.  And yes, I was offended, angry, betrayed when she instigated the bullshit that ended my D&D campaign.  But afterwards, when my mind was clear, I reviewed much of her behaviour over the months and realised, plainly, that I had let that situation become what it was because I was being patient, kind, compassionate, empathic.  It was my fault.  I should have cleaned her out of my game months before.  Then I would still have a game.  And she could go dump her toxic shit on someone else's party.

 

_____

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, alexiss1@telus.net.  Those giving a $3 donation to my Patreon, https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3015466, can submit questions directly to me in the chat room there.

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, June 7, 2024

Arliss & Bertrand: What Now?

I learned how to change the front image on the guardroom video, so it no longer looks like it did.  This isn't improving the impressions, but the views have taken a tiny jump upwards since yesterday about 33% above the paltry views from before.  The link now looks thus:



Let's see if I can get a response from anyone on this.  Bertrand and Arliss killed 1 hobgoblin in the dungeon; there is another that skipped off to warn those beyond, so the nest is aroused.  According to this page, the number of hobgoblins they may expect to find is 2-8 total soldiers (average 8 h.p.) and 3-10 additional non-combatants (0-8 hit points, as some may be too young to engage).  I think I've solved the generation problem I discussed with this post (I'm so brilliant), so having completed the plundering body table here, I'll be working on that generation table today.  I banged my head on wood design and furniture yesterday, as well as actual job work, so I'm resting today.  Unless something comes in and interrupts me.

Okay, that's the background.  Should Arliss and Bertrand push on?  They can easily open the hooked door; the hinges are on their side, though they're probably crusted over and rusty, and anyway the hook isn't designed to stop interlopers, it's designed to slow them down, which it will.  After that, they could find themselves facing as few as 4 total hobgoblins and as many as 17.  My partner Tamara thinks they should push on.  A few others have made comments on the chat room that seems to suggest this should be their intent, though they haven't stated it outright.  I'll go forward if the balance of people want it that way, let these guys die and roll new characters; or see how it goes and take the campaign from there.  Might just as well make this interactive, as this is easy.

The poll can be found on my patreon https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3015466.  It costs $1 to play, which gets you the right to answer all future polls so long as you support my patreon.  Sorry.  Just business.

P.S.: 

Here's my take on the space behind the door.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Charlie Brown Lands on His Back Again

I've taken a bold step, creating a short combat video related to the self-play tutorial and dungeon, found on youtube here:  https://youtu.be/cbTPP7MoVyM?si=acqLE3oh8R01aS0v

And predictably, it has face-planted with regards to the public media.  For me personally, youtube will always be Lucy, no matter how many times I line up to kick.

The idea is this: make a video of a combat, a demonstration of the combat rules being played out, not only in one example but combat after combat.  Create a transcript of the combat and post that to my wiki, so that I can add links to the transcript that explain the rules being played.  I think it's innovative, I think it's brilliant, I think there's absolutely nothing like it on youtube or in anything I've ever seen about D&D.

And unfortunately, without noticing it until it was too late, the entrance way and guard room look like a dick pic:


The analytics tell the tale:


For the first hour, the number of actual appearances on youtube, the chances that anyone could click the video and look at it, were under a hundred.  They are now very slowly climbing upwards (my other vids would have more than 10,000 impressions by this time).  Maybe this'll change, but I don't expect so.

Anyway, there's the link, see the video.  I'll be doing another like it, when I'm ready.  I woke up this morning, excited to be creating it, getting it rendered into video and making the transcript, but I see no reason for celebrating now.

It's a good idea.  Fuck you, youtube.


Sunday, June 2, 2024

Dungeon Generation

The generator in 1979's DMG begins thusly:


From the start, it's plain that the purpose here is not to provide content for self-play, but for the DM to use the generator to spontaneously create a dungeon for other players.  It recommends amending results to fit the space available.

When I first encountered this in 1979, my immediate interest was to use the generator to create a dungeon that I could adventure through.  In those days, I did not care much about believability.  If one room had orcs and the next kobalds, and the next after that skeletons, I didn't care.  My concern was to run myself through combats, collect treasure, see where the halls and stairs took me, and do so as often as I liked, for as long as I liked, as there was no reason to explain any of the illogic to anyone.

I have in the past ascribed much of my confidence in running combats to the considerable number of battles that I ran through this generator.  Repetition helped me remember the damage done by every weapon, equate the armour with armour class, test the use of spells in game play, read the lists of spells when choosing them for my own characters, test combat strategies, group dynamics and compare many types of monsters against characters of different levels and abilities.

I recognise that many feel that such activities would be boring, or beneath them, or even a little bit shameful, in that it speaks to an obsessiveness with the game that might be uncomfortable.  I was certainly obsessed with the game in those days, when I did not write about it as now, but rather set up endless physical miniatures on a giant dungeon made of taped together graphpaper sheets, drawing the rooms by hand and then running those battles, keeping track with pencil and paper.  This being before 1985, I did not have a graphically-capable computer for this sort of work, there were no video games that could come close to this kind of combat simulation ... and as I remember it, I had lots and lots of time.

A considerable drawback that I found in the DMG generator as written was the completely useless empty spaces it provided.  The first table, "Periodic Checks," provides only a 1 in 20 chance of encountering anything alive:


There is an equal chance of finding a trick or trap.  There's a mere 15% chance of finding a room.  The rest of it is 75% of empty hallways, stairs, side passages, turning passages and the occasional door.

The room content's table is no better:

Of that 15% of chambers or rooms that occur, only 25% have a monster in them.  25% of 15% is 3.75% ... so that only an 8.75% of total rolls in this dungeon have something that can be fought ... and including the "monster only" result on the table above with the wandering monster on the periodic check table,  there's a 74.3% chance (in the whole dungeon) that any monster that IS discovered won't have any treasure.  Though yes, there is a 1 in 20 chance of treasure being found without a monster.  That increases the chance within the dungeon of generating a treasure result to a total of 2.5%.  That is, 1 in 40 rolls we make using the generator will produce a treasure.

No wonder the generator never developed any popularity.  It comes nowhere near the abundance of monsters and treasure that the company's modules provided!  Worse, because it's random, it's easy to fall into a slump where roll after roll, followed by drawing out the dungeon, can mean no meaningful result for actual hours of physical mapping.  I finally gave up as a kid and just rolled a d8 on the chamber/room table, adding 12 to the result.

I think I started with a d10, adding 10, but then I starting thinking, "Fuck it.  What do I want empty rooms for?"

This doesn't represent a failed concept, merely a very poorly rendered one.  Though I've admitted that I couldn't construct a generator myself ... but in all honesty, this hasn't been because I couldn't just move numbers around and improve the DMG version easily, but because every time I've considered this project, I want it to be much, much more than this.

There aren't enough results.  Granted, though, there are only so many kinds of tunnels, only so many kinds of rooms.  There are only so many things to put in rooms, for that matter.  If the reader doesn't believe me, suggest one addition to Table 5, above, that would be practical to roll every 20 times one encounters a room.  Go ahead.

After a lot of thought on this, I've come to the conclusion that the "periodic check/random room" design is the fundamental problem.  Halls and rooms are not randomly built by engineers who make humanoid lairs.  The placement of rooms within those lairs isn't random.  There are right and wrong places to put storerooms, common rooms, private chambers, treasure rooms.  They can't be scattered willy-nilly everywhere.  Every tunnel requires ungawdly amounts of excavation, shoring up, removal of materials, lighting and maintenance.  And the result of an unneeded hallway is tremendously inconvenient where livability is concerned.  Ask yourself if your home would be improved by an unnecessary 20 foot hallway between the bathroom and your bedroom, or your workspace and your kitchen.

By the way, that's a thing that's needed in 1 of every 20 rooms.  A bathroom.  There are none in this generator.  I see no reason why orcs or hobgoblins would be happy without one.

If the generator's going to be of value, it's got to account for the way we build habitats.  Everything else in this post is going to be specifically about humanoid habitats.  While some randomness does exist (my place is different from your place), the functionality of the way these rooms fit together must be accounted for.  We can't have a 180 foot hallway because we rolled a 1 or 2 three times in a row.

But that creates a problem ... not one of the generator itself, but of the possibility of the generator working the way it did for me 43 years ago.  I can fashion a set of generated layouts, and assign random numbers to them, but it means that as a player, I know what the next 3 or 5 or ten rooms are going to be, before opening any doors.  That spoils the "self-play" ideal I've been considering.  Which I admit is somewhat disappointing.

I've been trying to crack this problem.  The front door of a house is easy enough to generate; we've got to get in.  The front hall is pretty obvious; it's the first room inside the house.  I've created tables for both these spaces.  After that, things get complicated.

In the original dungeon generator, you enter a room, you roll 7-12 orcs (all combatants), then you fight them.  But in any believable arrangement of people dwelling together, when the hell would 7-12 of them be gathered in the same random place?  It might be dinner time, but then there'd be dependents as well.  It might be a common room, but again, dependents. It might be the chieftain's hall, but what, all 7-12 of them are always there, all the time, on the off chance that a bunch of adventurers will show up?

And, point in fact, if they are part of a clan, does 7-12 orcs represent the whole number of combatants?  Or are there another 7-12 somewhere else?  And if so, how many rooms have 1-3, 2-5, 1-6 and just 1 by his or her self?  What is the TOTAL number of orcs, combatants and defendents, in this specific lair?

I've decided that it's a first level dungeon, and that the number of orc "soldiers" and dependents equals about 16 to 28.  From there, we generate "logical" rooms that designate some number of these (each room has a spread of humanoids), until all the appropriate rooms AND humanoids are accounted for, whereupon the "dungeon" dead-ends.

OR, some random result along the way provides a threshold to another kind of dungeon, or stairs down introduces us to more of these same humanoids on "level 2," where double the number of orcs we found on the first level dwell (48-84 total).  Another flight of stairs (or other access) downwards increases this number again ... or perhaps allows the incorporation of the orc's masters, ogres or some such.  It's too early to deal with that problem.

The one at hand, presently, is how to generate those logical rooms?  My first thinking is to not assign the total number of humanoids at all, but to assign room types which then provide a final total of monsters when all the rooms are generated.  Of course, this means that somehow we have to decide when this common room is the "last" room, and there isn't a mess or a hall or a treasure room still left to be found.

Seriously, look at the tables.  If there are only 3 hobgoblin warriors and 7 dependents in the whole "dungeon," there would probably be some treasure, but does a treasure room make sense?  A gathering hall?  A shrine?  A chieftain's private apartment?  But how do you know which rooms don't make sense if you don't know, ahead of time, how many hobgoblins there are? 

Which is fine, if we're generating the dungeon for players ... but how do we generate the dungeon for ourselves, to give ourselves the pleasure of being surprised?

Working on that.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Books, End of May

It's been another three months and I've continued reading, with this time around including books I never thought I'd read.  Here's the list and the year in which I'd last read the book.

Call of the Wild, Jack London — 2002

The Commodore, C.S. Forester — 2020

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway — 1991

Firestarter, Stephen King — 1995

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott — never

Night without End, Alistair MacLean — 1985

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen — never

Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein — 2019

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson — never


Only nine books, which seems like I'm slowing down.  I'll be honest; Little Women was a slog.  18 hours long by audiobook, it took me all of April to read it, this after slicing through six books through March.  I appreciate why it appeals; I personally feel it invents the genre of both legitimate modern Christian literature and every sort of magazine story from the Saturday Evening Post through Reader's Digest.  But its just schmaltz from end to end.  I appreciate that the characters become real after a time, that they feel real, that their goals and identities acquire a solidity that many writers I've read simply cannot achieve.  Hemingway wishes he could make characters this strong.

But gawd, what insipid, cloying, miserable little cretinous self-righteous toad stools they are.  It's a whole book of fucking Mrs. Grundy, the book to read if we're ready to explore a world where the end goal is putting the ghosts of our companions into a silver picture frame and crying about them whenever we see their dear little harpsichord, the one they loved so much, standing in the corner, newly dusted every Tuesday in memory of sweet little Beth.  Gag.  Makes me want to get drunk, in a strip club, before going home and fucking a drag queen.  Sorry.  I'm just way too, um, sinful to read a book like this.

Pride and Prejudice, on the other hand, I loved.  I absolutely loved.  I have not read a new story so well constructed, so smashingly built, so piercingly conceptual, in more than a decade.  Absolutely wonderful.  And for none of the reasons that certain kinds of women seem to love it.  Not long after reading it, I stumbled into that piece of shit miniseries (youtube located it for me, because my phone could hear that I was reading the book) with Gemma Arterton, Lost in Austen, which was plainly written by someone who had not read the book.  Not long after, I was shoved into that absolutely crap Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei movie, The Rewrite, where Alison Janney acts with a stick up her ass while she preaches all about Jane Austen — plainly has NOT read the fucking book.  These last three months (read Pride and Prejudice in the first week of March, positively gobbled the book whole) I have been rankled with spastic, idiotic platitude-like ramblings from actual women and characters about the "female liberalism" of Elizabeth, and between laughing my head off and pounding said head on the table, I dare someone to point out one line that clearly would not have been stated by any well-bred woman in the era, as something a well-bred woman would be expected to say at that time.

Apparently women today think women in the early 19th century were the equivalent of burka-wearing 19th century arabs.  A little history, people.  Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, ffs.  In 1819.  While sharing a house alone with two of her male lovers, way, way, way far from family and the clergy.  And was not burned at the stake.  Austen was not writing in the 15th century.

But, the book.  Genius.  Pure genius.  Hard to explain why.  Characters able to hold two thoughts in their head at the same time.  Characters committing wrongs, without being wrong.  Oh, Wickham and Lydia were doofs, but the balance of the main characters being both prideful AND prejudiced (and no, one character did not represent one while another represented the other — there's some English lit professor bullshit for you), and how smashingly that ended with both being deliciously humiliated and forthcoming and open-minded all at the same time ... oh, the world should make this much sense.

That moment when Elizabeth realises she totally fucked up.  Wow.

Jekyll and Hyde disappointed but, eh, was clever enough.  I got a lot more out of a Farewell to Arms, being older, and could accept the ending much better this time around.  A lot of my memories of the book were out of order, which I suppose makes sense.  I had read the Call of the Wild aloud to Tamara soon after we returned to Canada; she'd never even heard of the book.  Sad to say, it can never be made into a movie, first because it's about the dog, not the man, and second ... the world has decided to believe the wild is a beautiful, Rousseauian place, where nothing very bad needs to take place, ever.  The sheer murderousness of this book can never be presented to a general audience of this present day.  More's the pity.

Firestarter I last read when I was working catering at the university, which is why I know when that was.  I can't seem to leave the Hornblower books alone; I find myself re-reading them.  I could write ten posts about Starship Troopers, but what would be the point?  There are certain books that have emerged into our culture as things that are talked about but never, ever, read.  Every time I meet someone bitching and moaning about the Fountainhead, I ask a very simply question about a prominent, major character of the book and get the answer, "I don't remember him."

Hint: it's the prominent, deeply destructive character that manipulates everything beginning about half the way through the book, whom no one discussing the book ever, ever mentions by name.  I assume because none of them have gotten that far when reading it.

But Starship Troopers ... I have to keep going back to it, because it grounds me.  And I'm not a nazi, I've never been in the military, I'm deeply red liberal (in Canada, where the colours make sense) and socialist.  So, headscratch your way out of that one.

Finally, Night without End.  I don't know if I'm going to read another Alistair MacLean.  I remember that I'd liked the book, but this time around, no, not really.  It reminds me of why I don't like a whodunnit, which the book is.  Combined with one of those action stories where no matter how often the character succeeds, something always goes wrong. Sort of like the last page of the book, the Princess Bride.  Gets tiresome.  Like the writer's thinking, "What can I break next?  I ought to make something break here."  All the while, writing pages and pages of, "It might be Bob.  Or it could be Dave.  Or maybe it's Fred.  'Course, can't discount Janet."  And so the character ponders and ponders, and the book gets larger and larger, until pretty much anyone could have done it, and I just don't care any more.

Anyway, reading an omnibus of Conan stories now.  I'll have more to say about those three months from now.

Saturday Q&A (jun 1)

Griffin writes,

Regarding not using gold for experience for advancement, that might be worth investigating more contemporary non-D&D games. On the other hand, given how little you have in common with other D&D people online (theoretically your peers) I'm not sure you would find the non-D&D people a useful resource for much.

The tricky thing is that a system should still have experience and advancement that is separate from either PC or DM fiat, because people like it when number go up and more abilities are gained. So you need to hook it to something the PCs can do, action > result > (XP). I've pondered it once more (a topic that is a perennial subject with rpg bloggers so it rolls around in my brain occasionally) and have more or less settled on gold means experience because nothing else is as flexible and free of DM fiat (for the most part when the DM assigns the treasure) in my estimation. Though your experience system of points for damage is quite good.

Answer: Yes, and that's what I would rely upon should I choose to stifle the presence of coins and treasure. Mind you, I didn't say that's what I would do, only that it was worth investigating.

As always, experience can be given for a less valuable commodity. The exchange rate need not be 1 g.p. per x.p. If treasure for experience proves to be still required, that doesn't eliminate the possibility of reducing the party's overall income to a point where participating in something as lowly as farming couldn't become a rational way to ensure they're able to resupply themselves with vittles, as opposed to the exorbitant costs for foods at the town market.

For the record, I have nothing whatsoever in common with other D&D folks online, and haven't for a long time. I haven't found a single idea or useful feature from any officially published source, from any publisher, since before 2005. I do have peers, but they don't exist in those corners of the internet.


JB in Washington State writes,

I've pursued similar lines of thought, myself. Not about what the game becomes if followed logical conclusions and PCs end up tied to a plough or busking for coins (I do have an answer for that: not D&D), but rather the "why" of all those treasure hoards that monsters acquire.

And other then dungeons being built from the remains of ruined empires and lost tombs (where the treasure existed long before mindless monsters moved in), my solution to sentient creatures collecting wealth (orcs, ogres, dragons, etc.) is to give them some sort of economy...a USE for the treasure.

Ah, but then why are the players butchering these intelligent beings for their wealth? What kind of game are we playing here?

I've come to treat most of the description found in the Monster Manuals as hearsay from ignorant and/or racist humans...the kind of descriptions found in, say, the journals of historic conquistadors upon encountering hostile indigenous cultures during their exploration. All such descriptions, thusly, must be "taken with a grain of salt." My setting has humanoids that have regular interaction with human locals (usually in especially rural areas) for mutual benefit, and such interaction requires normal units of exchange (coins, etc.). The humanoids, also, mine and craft goods, make use of resources found in forest and foothill. The treasure is there for a reason!

Which doesn't mean the players are immediately motivated to murder and rob. No! Now that the humanoids are more than cardboard cut-outs, they can be dealt with, negotiated with. Players can do jobs for them: slaying pesky monsters of the type that have NO treasure, in exchange for reward, for instance. Of course, they can also have rivalries and warfare and find the usual reasons for murder and looting that all (real world) "adventurers" have found over the centuries: possession of land, food supply, resources, etc.

With such a mindset, orcs found in a tomb or ruin are simply a competing band of looters. They're hoping to carry that chest of coins back to their OWN society, where they will hoard it or spend it or trade it for influence and fame, etc.

So many options become available to the DM who's cut alignment from their game.


Nigel writes,

Regarding Dams ...

This was an interesting post. Thank you. I was on holiday and tried to write this on my phone but it didn’t really work.  The info that follows would be the exception to what you wrote, rather that the rule. I was inspired to do some reading about this. (I won’t dignify this with the word research, as I haven’t done deep dive into primary sources or read much in Czech.)

The Czech Republic (surprise!) has a very long history of fish pond building. It started in the 11th century and grew until the Thirty Years’ War, thereafter it declined before further growth in the 1800s. Wiki covers this reasonably well, e.g. here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fishponds_of_the_T%C5%99ebo%C5%88_Basin

(Note that the Trebon basin is just one of several basins. One of the ponds was and still is huge: the RoÅūmberk Pond, of about 4.9 sq km)

Here’s a verified source with a couple of facts, just the abstract:

https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-94-007-4001-3_208

With these snippets:About 20,000 fishponds (180,000 hectares) existed on the territory of the present Czech Republic in the 16th century.  Its average annual amount per hectare has increased from 70 kg in the Middle Ages to the contemporary 450 kg.  So yes, barrels of fish absolutely, but most probably carp rather than perch.


Zilifant in Minnesota writes,

Your recent posts about your gaming group disbanding really hit home with me. Since members of my group moved away, I've been without a regular group for some time, and it's been very hard on me. I have tried gaming via Zoom and it's not satisfying for me at all, particularly when my work day is mostly spent in front of the computer and in Zoom meetings. I'm sure there could be folks who frequent my local gaming stores that might be decent players, but honestly every time I go into those stores and overhear the people gaming there it makes me cringe at the ridiculousness of how they're playing and how obnoxious they are. They don't seem like people I could see myself playing a serious campaign with.

I was glad to see your "Loving This Game" post yesterday, which displayed your optimism of finding a new group and getting a new game going soon. I am similarly between gaming groups, but my own outlook is a bit more pessimistic, even though I love this game too and desperately want to find a new group to play with. So my question to you is this: How do you intend to find a new group of players, and what advice do you have for others who are in a similar situation?

Answer:  Like you, I have similar ideals about people in game stores, though I've never actually been on zoom. But speaking as someone who also spends most of his waking hours on a computer, both for work and play, I don't understand why the game wouldn't be satisfying through a screen. I ran games by text on a blog and I absolutely enjoyed the D&D aspects of that process. Zoom, I think, would vastly streamline the problems that a blog created.

BUT ... for the present, I wasn't planning on finding a game group in the real world. It's probable that I can get a game going with humans online anytime I want, but I wasn't thinking about that either. The last few efforts to get something going online proved difficult because while I had willing players, like you, after starting they found it difficult to communicate and maintain their interest online. So, presently, I'm not going this route either.

My third option is to play ... with myself. I think I know how I'm going to do this, but I'm not ready to talk about it while I'm building up the wherewithal to dig in. Said game would be very simplistic, but it would be a way of going back to the roots of my style of play, while testing out and demonstrating aspects of the content existing on my wiki.

Just why people have such trouble with communicating through a screen is a mystery to me. I found it very easy to step away from everything to do with the internet for 7 days. Never opened my laptop, though I had one with me, never checked my email, never sent any email, didn't look at any webpages and didn't care. I did get eager to write, but not to see "what was new" online. There's hardly anything new online. But this said, I'm fully able to perceive you, reading this as I write, without actually needing to be in the room with you. Being in an actual room with you would just muddle our conversation with a lot of visual cues that aren't necessarily relevant to what you and I care to share just now. This is a pure relationship, without all the baggage of our lives and other predilections. Perhaps it's because I'm a writer; I chose a profession where I would do tons of talking to an audience that wouldn't be present when they could "hear" me.


Sterling in Maine writes,

Although lacking in the sorcery part of "S&S," I'm a big fan of Harold Lamb (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Lamb). He wrote oriental adventure pulp prolifically around that same time as Howard. I think you and some of your readers might enjoy him.


 _____

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