Saturday, August 13, 2022
Friday, August 12, 2022
The above image comes from my Google Earth Pro, with each rectangle being 40 mi. by 20, or 64 by 32 km. In making the map piece by piece, I take it's equivalent from the map above in order to get the right placement of mountains or rivers ... with personal adjustments. Blue rectangles are places I haven't drawn maps for, but which I've outlined in order to get the coastlines "right."
The reader can see the definite curve that's emerging as I steadily add to the map surface. I have to make adjustments for it ... but these are so small that they can't be seen except by persons who are personally acquainted with the areas I'm mapping. For me, the adjustments seem huge, because working at the scale of 6.67 mi. per hex really makes them stand out. The scale for my hex map is 1:422,611, for those who care to know.
With regards to publishing the new map each month, I've decided to adjust my method. Instead of going around in a 40 mile wide circle, I've decided to make that circle 120 miles wide. This is why, on the left, you can see that I've jumped out three full rectangles into Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. I'm just starting into central Hungary. I'm not going to reach either Lake Balaton or Budapest with this go around ... but if I maintain this pace, I'm sure to get there in 3-4 months. It's been fascinating working my way through Serbia and Bosnia; the northern part of Serbia is called Voivodina, which I've just finished in the last few days.
Anyway, I should be able to produce maps of "what's new" more easily, as I'm not going all the way around the map each month.
This is something I tend to do late in the evening, as a relaxation while listening to podcasts, the news or audiobooks. I can do one or two rectangles a night (it's August 12th and I've finished 22 rectangles this month), with a slow steady gain week by week. After so many of these now, it's fairly routine, a bit like working on a colouring book, though there are strange places that offer a challenge. Here's the merging of the Danube and Drava rivers in Slavonia, surrounding the large city of Osijek, where the rivers form a regional swamp:
The land bridge that allows the road to pass from Osijek to Sombor is narrower than the map shows, but does exist in reality. I like the prospect of players having to arrange to put themselves on two ferries (the rivers are too large for a bridge) in order to get across, surrounded by traders who take this route regularly. Both Osijek and Sombor are important market cities, acting as transhipment points up and down both the Drava and Danube rivers as well ... since both rivers are navigable at this point. Squeezing in the details while producing a clear, pretty map is something I did last Thursday, on a day when I did about half a dozen rectangles.
So, I'll return to the main topic again with the next post. It's brutally hot here today and I think I'll take a shower and cool off.
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
I know my readers have been waiting. Forgive me for a little preamble first.
Sterling, I got the book. I picked it up from my mailbox just before heading out today, so I've been able to glance through it and read your kind letter. My grandmother was also a schoolteacher.
After not driving for 20 years, my partner Tamara has spent the time since the relax of Covid here in Canada chasing all the details that would let her regain her driver's license. This involved communicating with the Michigan bureaucracy, where her last license was issued, getting Alberta to believe Michigan, retaking her learner's license test, taking driving courses to invigorate her driving habits, taking the test twice and passing, as of Thursday six days ago. Tamara was anxious to get a car as soon as possible, so the last days have been filled with a visit to the bank, arranging financing, finding a car and then buying one, which we did yesterday, amid a rather ludicrous car price inflation that's ongoing. We got a good deal on a Ford Edge. Today, we took it out for a five hour drive around outside the city, visiting a provincial park and regaining some of our skills (driving comfortably in a new car for Tamara, navigating for me). Once upon a time I had an interest in being a navigator for a rally car, but no opportunity to pursue that ever emerged.
Tomorrow, I'll be getting a full analysis from the lab for my yearly checkup; I've had to wait two months for an appointment. It's possible I have a hernia; that's added to the list of other old man diseases I might have. No biggie, but it helps fill up the week.
Then, Sunday, on the 14th, Tamara and I will be getting married. We've been together continuously since March 30, 2002, so it's going to be a very simple ceremony. We have the license, there's no need for a blood test and the arrangements have been made. Just one more thing on my plate. Otherwise, it's been work, exercise and juggling advice about cars, marriage brokers and other minor details. This is why I haven't undertaken the post I promised.
Gee. I hope I remember what I was going to talk about.
Looking around for a neutral example to discuss, to kick off a campaign description, this comes from the one drive page from the Blue Bard, discussing Geoul. I plan to discuss it out of context; if you'd like it IN context, read as much as you can. It's time well spent.
"Bablemum, the great sultanate of the utter south has long been protected from its arch enemy, the Society of the Jaw: this by virtue of powerful leaders and, according to common myth, a seldom spoken of secret organization known as the Esoteric Order of the Twilight Princess.
"You live well, plying your trade and making reasonable money. But recent years have brought unrest to your heart and you begin longing for something more.
"Inquiry and risk draw you south, across the Six Kingdoms, to the quaint, hibiscus shadowed lanes of Geoul. Geoul is an ancient town of vineyards, scholars and painters, and there you receive your initiation into the Esoteric Order of the Twilight Princess -- hopeful that your new title "Secret Master" will begin your path to greater things. But shortly after joining this secret society, the building you were initiated in burns and the man who inducted you, a Master Elect of Nine named Nihs'Lohc, vanishes without trace."
I said with the last post that you'll decide the life the players will live ... here, they're being told that they're an initiate, which brings responsibility and awareness of a JOB the players will have in the campaign. Succeed, and they're doing what's expected of them. Fail, and there will be consequences. If the EOTP works like most like orders, don't expect a lot of gratitude for doing their job. That's why we're initiating them in the first place.
This sets a powerful tone for the engagement of the players, one utterly different from the one I set in my world, but NOT wrong. This is important. When I said that the campaign needed an ethic, I absolutely did not say it had to be my ethic. Here is an ethic. Here is a path to greater things (not necessarily known to a mere initiate). Further, here's personal responsibility. Their mentor, the guy that got them here, disappears and leaves them to bear up on their own. "Get with it soldier. Don't fuck up."
I said that you'll decide the monsters that will try to kill the players, and where they dwell. What is the "Society of the Jaw"? Do you think it's solved by one adventure? By a string of adventures? This is an arch enemy to a great sultanate. Whatever The Jaw is, there are members in every village; in every round table; secretly camped near every military post; in elaborate tunnels under every city quarter; attached to every priesthood ... indeed, hiding under a lettuce leaf in the players' garden. The Jaw are everywhere ... and they are the players' deepest, darkest nightmare of an enemy. No where is safe, and no one can be trusted. There are no "adventures." There is a continuous, fluid power struggle that moves seamlessly from day-to-day. Victories are as momentary as keeping back the tide; defeats are the smashing apart of age-old institutions and whole cities. The moment the party finishes off the "big bad" in his lair, which they've spent twenty sessions getting to the bottom of, they must dodge an assassin's knife seconds before they learn that all this effort has been taken to kill a mere lieutenant. There is no final victory, no final end to some episodic adventure. NO, there's life. Theirs, the world's, the battle to defend what's good, and their will to go on. That is all.
I said that you'll decide what's real and what lies the players will be told. Do the players really believe that these quaint, hibiscus shadowed lanes are what they appear to be? Are they so foolish to think that the vineyards, scholars and painters are merely what they look like? What is this entity they've been drafted into? Are they truly the enemy of The Jaw? Or ARE they The Jaw? Do they know? They cannot know. They must decide on the evidence before them, from running to running, whom they really serve ... and what might be the true nature of what these beings pretend to represent. They're not granted the luxury of absolute knowledge about right and wrong. No one is. For all they know, they're serving the enemies of Bablemum, and not it's protectors; for all they know, they're comfortable with that. Perhaps there's no good reason to defend Bablemum at all. In any case, it's up to them to decide. This is THEIR life. THEIR loyalties and actions. THEY must choose the best path for themselves ... while always being careful what they trust.
After all, I said that you'll decide why all the things in your world live and what they want and what they'll die to defend — except the players. The players are hurled into this maelstrom without guides, without assurances ... unless as a DM you're stupid enough to give it to them. As DM, you hold the key to your setting. The PLAYERS must find their own key, to unlock how to survive the DM's setting. This is the game.
Let me draw on another quote from the Blue Bard.
"Here, you can see a fleshed version of the Country of Ormolu (formerly known as Wardale) and the city of Sanctuary that abuts the Marches. A good deal of player time has been spent in this vicinity, investigating the ruins of Copper Grove, exploring the Misthalls and Amharc Mountains, braving the crags of Geir Loe (the great peak that overshadows Sanctuary) and striking out on perilous missions into the march land."
I wrote with the last post, you need a place for the player characters to start. Here it is. And on the surface, suffering from the mindset with which D&D has poisoned you, you foolishly look at the above description as a series of "adventures." But is it? Are there any words in the above that state clearly that there's been an end to any of these activities? Does "investigating the ruins" state clearly that the ruins have been cleaned out, or that the investigation is closed? Is there no more exploring of the mountains and crags left to do? Are "missions" a short hand for "adventures," with a beginning and an end, or are they in fact just temporal raids in an ongoing, potentially life-long operation where a thousand raids would still not clean out every villain, monster and demon from these awful places?
It depends on how you see it. The "adventure" model is a stupid child-like perception of social realities ... the sort of thing that we watched naively when we believed that once the cops arrested the drug dealers that "closed the book" on drug crimes for good. Nothing ENDS! And why should it? Why shouldn't another visit to the Copper Grove or Misthalls reveal yet one more secret, one further deeper undiscovered place, one other game changing fact that obliterates all our foregoing preconceptions? Would you care as a player? Would the ennui of knowing that you'll never kill every last orc, or root out every last evil treant from this forest, or kill the last city rat, sour your desire to play D&D? Not me. Not any serious player I've ever encountered. Imagine bringing out another orc and have the players cry, "But I thought we killed the last one! This sucks!" More likely, "O gawddamn, another? All right, I'll kill it ... you get the next one."
The mountains, the ruins, the halls and the march lands are always there, always ready for another sojourn, as soon as we recoup, attend to a few matters at home, clean out the chicken coops and whatever. This makes sense in the game world. The problems don't just go away. They're not just solved. At first level, they're surface problems ... but as the players go deeper, they find their original perspectives adjusted; they realise the orcs are just dupes, that the real evil is something worse ... until later on they realise how unsophisticated and artless was their earlier comprehension. These initial problems are just turtles standing on the backs of turtles ... and it's turtles all the way down. What really makes the world turn; what really drives the model; that's yet to be known. But when it is learned, wow. It'll blow the players' minds.
Yes, I'm saying that if you think you know what the ethic of my game world is, that's only because you've only played or seen the surface. There are things about my world that I've never told anyone. And they're BIG.
I said that as a DM, the monsters need to have their own agendas and things they'll die for. They are alive, too. And they're just as annoyed at these players that keep returning and making trouble as anyone. You can't keep going back to the same mountains and ruins forever without someone powerful deciding that's it for you. Sure, in the beginning you're a pest. You're a tiny chigger draining your little bit of blood off the immense body whose existence you can't imagine. But you take enough blood from that body ... you get big enough to get noticed, and felt ... something gargantuan and fast moving is going to slap you so fast and hard you won't know your body is about to be paste across the surface flesh of that being. That's the game too. If a DM isn't keeping one arm tied behind his or her back.
Sooner or later, the plundered become the plunderers.
Now. If you want further explanation, and examples, you'll need to ask a question. I understand this just fine, down to the bottom turtle. If you want to understand it also, you'll have to tell me what you don't understand, so I can help you. And everyone else reading this.
Saturday, August 6, 2022
Thursday, August 4, 2022
"They [the players] must be allowed to choose the best course of action. Once that action is chosen, the DM must be of a mind that allows the best possibility of that action succeeding, while changing none of the precepts inherent in the situation."
As I've said in this alternate case, we have no precepts. We haven't previously considered what Garth would do. Therefore, in following the rule, the player's action dictates our responsibility as DM. WE must allows Garth's personality to be such that allows the players "the best possibility." Having been asked, Garth willingly agrees to parley in good faith.
By following this rule of thumb, the DM is sure to create better situations and possibilities for the players. Further, it places an onus on the DM to create as many precepts as possible — especially universal defaults that are always true unless we've chosen to make this situation unusual. For example, one of my defaults is that guards are trained professionals and cannot be bribed by total strangers, or talked out of doing their jobs, no matter how much money a player offers or how much talking a player does. Of course there are exceptions. But I choose when the exception occurs, ahead of time; if I haven't done so, then the default is that the guard is inflexible, and will call for aid if offered a bribe.
Unless the character offering the bribe has a special sage ability enabling them to successfully circumvent the default.
I have hundreds of like defaults, perhaps more than a thousand. Very slowly I am writing these out on my wiki, one page at a time. They stem from a perception of what my game setting should be like, as a means to provide the players the best possible experience. It's too easy to simply bribe one's way past a guard. Guards should be an imposing obstacle. Otherwise, why do they exist?
If the players hired a guard, what kind of guard would they want? This dichotomy is an important part of choosing the precepts underlying one's game. On the one hand, I'm making the character's situation more difficult by imposing harsh, often levelled guards between them and their goals. On the other hand, I'm making the character's situation easier by making available reliable, strong guards to protect the players' stuff.
Formally, "precepts" are general rules intended to regulate setting behaviour and design. We can call them principles, doctrines, guidelines and so on, but they amount to the same thing. A DM should sit and think about each aspect of the game setting down to the micromanagement of how things in the setting behave, from guards to rats to mind flayers, and also with regards to little girls, buttercups and clowns. Rivers, lakes, land, skies, towns, mountains and so on also require varying precepts regarding how these things work, interact with the players and incorporate themselves into the setting. For the most part, the default on these things ought to be easy. What's a little girl like? Well, what are little girls usually like, in your opinion? How do mountains usually respond? What's the usual situation that follows entering a town? Is that situation good enough for us? If it is, then we should adopt that precept and move to the next ... and if it is not, then we should either produce a new precept, or invent exceptions to specific little girls, mountains and towns. These things are up to us, after all.
But what about more volatile situations, where things change rapidly and unpredictably, such as general situations where the players are surrounded by scores of people ... like the aforementioned town, for instance. Here, we have many possible things interacting at once, each with their own purpose and direction, moving round the players, bumping into them, offering to sell the players things and so on. In the larger sense, the whole setting is like this, with millions swirling around, both near and far from the players, affecting one another, putting schemes into motion, producing waves of actions like political and religious struggles, wars and ideas — each with the potential to threaten the players unexpectedly in some manner. How are these things dealt with from the DM's perspective. We can't build a precept for everything.
Here, we have to build an "ethic" for the game world. By definition, this is a set of right and wrong behaviours relating to or affirming a specified group, field or form of conduct. Essentially, how does the world "act" for or against the players? What is the "law" of nature specifically as it addresses the party's existence and place in the game setting? Is the world against the party? Some of the world? And if some, which parts are for, and which parts are against, what the party wants to do?
Understand, here I am not expressing the game's setting as being aware of the party, but rather that when the DM uses the world to act for or against the party, upon what ethic does the DM act? Is it okay for the DM to ensure the player characters always live? Is it okay for the DM to purposefully hurt the players? If so, to what degree? And if it's not okay for the DM to cause hurt and unhappiness, then what is the role of the DM in ensuring the players always ultimately get what they want? These are essential metaphysical questions surrounding the nature of the campaign setting ... and for the most part, while they can be ignored, if they're addressed successfully, the effect this thinking has on game play is tremendously enhanced.
Unless you're nodding your head at this point, it's hard to make to make the reader understand. These are, after all, questions that humans have been asking themselves for millennia. But, for the sake of an attempt to explain, let me bring you back to where we started in this post.
Consider again the ethic that the DM's role is to make the game fun for the players, and that if the DM isn't doing this, somehow the DM is not running the game right. This is a commonly held approach, though rarely examined ... and again, this post won't devolve into a discussion of whether or not this is true.
Instead, let's approach the question from the player's pursuit of happiness, that I've already argued must be done by the players. How does the DM make the game fun, while enabling the players to pursue happiness?
Have to go around the barn for this one, I'm afraid.
A few years ago, I watched the movie Hector & the Search for Happiness. This recently emerged on Netflix, so if you have that service, I recommend watching the film. It will help you and your perspective as a DM providing a game setting for others who are essentially pursuing Hector's search (though admittedly, with weapons and the collection of treasure). The film addresses the following point:
Avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness.
Your happiness as a person is directly related to your perspective, your experiences and most importantly, what you've overcome. It seems counter-intuitive, but the less you've had to overcome in your life, the fewer unpleasant experiences you've been forced to acquire. This has narrowed your perspective to things that are effectively pleasant, but it has also removed most comparisons you might make between that which is pleasant and that which is unpleasant.
Where you've been says a lot about where you are now. What you've escaped from is more relevant to how free you feel, than is how free you are. Your ability to face death well depends greatly upon how many times you've faced death before ... or, in fact, what you've faced that is perhaps worse. If you've never faced anything, if every part of your life up to date has been beautific, then you're absolutely not ready to face most anything dreadful.
Consider that D&D is often first played by children. This might lead you to think that the death of a character would be a difficult experience for them, because compared to an adult, a child's life is relatively easy ... especially if we're speaking of the sort of lifestyle that allows the time, space and education that's needed to play D&D at all. That is, a largely middle-class lifestyle. Such children take things like a bed to sleep in, food to eat, a roof to sleep under, a loving family and so on for granted. And so, having their character killed, a thing the child has become attached to, is surely a considerable blow.
But it's not. Children do not grasp loss as adults do; they haven't the context to view anything as permanent. If I were to tell you that every year, without exception, you're going to be removed from your place of work and put somewhere else, with a different boss, higher expectations, constant training and only some familiar faces around you — while disallowing you the option of quitting this new job — you'd go insane in about three years. Children view this shake-up as normal. They may sleep in the same bed, but that bed may be in five different cities in the space of five years, depending on the parent's work record. We hand children off casually to grandparents, aunts and uncles, sometimes for two or more weeks, never asking the child's permission. Moreover, children grow up hearing endless stories of divorces, with friends suddenly vanishing forever from their lives because those parents have moved away or placed their child into a different private or religious school. Children grow up realising that nothing is permanent. The loss of a character is disappointing, but after so much disappointment, it doesn't take long to get over.
It's only when the child begins to settle down, gains control over his or her life, begins to make all the decisions and feels "free" from imposed authority that one more loss feels unacceptable. Sometimes, children experience far, far worse that adults, and have to live with those experiences all their lives; sometimes, the child emerges from the home so pampered and safe that they've experienced nothing. Point in fact, however, neither of these groups are likely to have played D&D as children. The first usually has a family so toxic that cruelty and want are so pervasive that there's no opportunity to play a regular game of any kind. The second has parents that won't let their child out of the house to play anything that sounds as "toxic" as D&D. No, it's the middle group that has D&D players among their number. And this middle group is fairly comfortable with the death of a character. They play many kinds of games, unlike adults; and all games have winners and losers.
A lesson that, strangely, many adults seem to forget.
All right, all right, heading on around the barn.
The age of the player when they come to D&D matters, as does how much experience that player has with life, games and loss. A DM running a group of softly raised older players who have recently come to the game will experience much more push-back than someone running players who have lost many characters already.
As a DM, it's part of the role to provide the players with unhappiness. Unhappiness upsets, brings complaint, threatens the player's comfort level and potentially gives them a reason to quit the game, or that campaign ... but it also raises the game's stakes and relevance. The best game occurs when the players have been unhappy — and have now extricated themselves from their previous situation. The comparison is what matters. Death, loss, misery, despair ... these things have threatened and these things have been overcome.
Difficulty is not sufficient. Puzzles and problem solving are not sufficient. These are intellectual exercises and have as much emotional impact as what you feel if you're unable to finish a crossword puzzle. We're not speaking of disappointment. We're speaking specifically of the character's being sincerely unsatisfied and unpleased with the situation at hand, potentially because it seems impossible to resolve.
It's not the DM's right to impose unhappiness ... it's the DM's imperative. If unhappiness is not imposed, the players will never fully engage in the game. More to the point, they won't be able to, because they've been taught by life that anything easy is not necessary or worth bothering about.
Course, this creates a problem. People quit when things are too hard ... and they quit when things are too easy. Creating unhappiness is a fine art. Too much, and people will find the campaign too hard. Create none at all, and people will grow bored. We want to slip in as much unhappiness as the players can possibly withstand ... while simultaneously maintaining some glimmer of hope that there's a way to emerge from this misery with success and treasure. Getting the measure right takes practice ... and at the beginning, it's wise to incorporate unhappiness in small doses.
That said, the more unhappiness the players have overcome, the more experience they have with it. Like Pavlov's dog, once they've gotten used to the unhappiness bell, they'll think of the success first and the misery after. After awhile, no matter how unhappy you make the players, they'll be so focused on their "inevitable" success that they'll tolerate blocks of misery high enough to blot out the sun.
Takes time. Does work though.
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
1. Pieces of equipment are complete units onto themselves; they are not formed of other things, and therefore no information need be given as to how much wood is needed to make a wagon, or how much meat a chicken supplies, or what ingredients, amount included, are necessary to make a bottle of beer. Furthermore, for the most part, very little effort is made to include raw materials on an equipment list — except for perhaps one or two dozen commodities. Certainly, a concerted effort to include ALL the things that ordinary human beings can buy locally are never included.
2. Players have next-to-no knowledge of how anything is made, or how it works, and therefore zero information needs to be supplied as to the pieces, fixtures, parts, materials used, or any other aspect of the piece of equipment being bought. We're buying a "rope." Because as players we are universally ignorant, there's no need to describe the rope's breakweight, it's thickness, the manner of its weaving or even the materials from which it's made. All rope, we are meant to understand, is exactly the same. This same rationale applies to every object in the game universe.
As a result, if a character wishes to transform bars of nickle, manganese and iron into a sword, there is no price for the bar, no manufacturing time, no detail of the tools needed or what space is required ... so that even if the player has done this personally, and knows the answer to many of these questions, the DM has to invent the price of tools, materials and space out of thin air, since no game equivalent has ever been offered. And if there is some version of the game that includes a price for a "blacksmithy shop" (I've never seen it, but there have been a hundred splatbooks, so it's sure to be out there), then it's a single-type all-purpose cookie-cutter blacksmithy shop, with minimal details and the assumption that every blacksmithy everywhere in the world is exactly the same, like waking up in a Howard Johnson's.
D&D has had 40 years to address this problem and it has done ... nothing. Because it's perceived that nothing needs to be done. Players don't want details. They don't want to buy raw materials. They want things they can march into a dungeon. They certainly don't care what their rope is made of, or what food tastes like, or how to actually make armour in game. "It costs such-and-such an amount of money per week to make a sword." So you pay the money and "buy" the sword that you made, exactly in the way that you would have if you'd gone to the market. What you've done is buy the right to say you made the sword yourself ... except that you didn't. In any sense.
This minimalisation forces the players into a conformative, passive mindset where it comes to purchasing equipment and deciding how to spend their money. The overall result is a total lack of interest in buying things past what's immediately needed to play the adventure ... which in turn causes the piling up of player money, making it possible for them to pay for the adventure's necessities, whatever they are, because no other enticement exists for which to spend their money. That causes DMs to lament the inexhaustible supply of player money, producing the DM's feeling that somehow this money needs to be drained in some other manner, by theft or by irrational training costs, which matters not a whit anyway because players don't care about money. Not in the system the game has built.
To a DM, this feels off ... because it seems evident that money should matter, since that is the human experience. It doesn't equate, however, because we view money most romantically as something that obtains emotional highs and lows, new experiences, security and power ... whereas none of these things exist in the game's structure as designed by the originators. In D&D, money is a number that's piled up until it's exchanged for something meaningless, that brings no special benefit to my character's personality, status or ability. Unless it does so through rules that make no sense, that are obviously invented for the sole purpose of reducing my money.
There is a solution, but it requires a complete turnaround of the game's design. JB likes to say that "D&D is about adventure." Adventure is exciting. It is certainly an intrinsic part of the player's experience. But saying that D&D is about adventure makes as much sense as saying that life is about sex, or that childhood is about Halloween. It is not necessary to adventure in order to play D&D. I have run a year's worth of sessions as a party established and organised their colony, cleared and planted land, interacted both peaceably and threateningly with local tribes, helped supply a war effort, freed slaves, planned for the future, began personal relationships, attended a coronation, infiltrated spies into an enemy outpost and traded goods they had mined, raised and acquired through diplomacy. None of this falls under the heading of "adventure" in any traditional sense, yet none of the players were the least bored, they were operating entirely according to their own agency, doing what they wanted to do ... and at no time would any of them believed they weren't playing D&D.
D&D is about playing a character that makes choices in a game world regarding their ambitions and intentions to accumulate varying measurable products: money, experience, notariety, the expansion of their belief system or anything they can invent. I once ran a character whose sole desire was to acquire books, with the intention of building an Alexandria-sized library. My tactic was to join the siege army surrounding a city, aid in the city's fall and then rush in to pillage the libraries within. Is this "adventure?" As a genre, I'd call it "criminality" or "war." Just because it's exciting doesn't make it adventure.
The frustrating two-dimensionality of the adventure-arrangement for D&D is perpetrated by the system's total inability to support any other framework of play. The books were of no help to the DM or me in describing how to wage war against a city, or how to be a small contingent of players operating inside an army. The DM had to invent this on his own. The books provided me no help in helping the players develop their colony and trading intentions. I had to invent this on my own. This led to the development of my trade tables, my massive equipment list and ultimately the menu I launched last year. All things that my players, and many others who have experienced these things through other DMs, to realise that "adventure" alone is an extremely shallow approach to what the game offers.
I'm stumped, at present, on how to explain any of this to a new DM, with shiny copies of 5th edition spread out before them. Some things just don't seem possible.
Monday, August 1, 2022
Sunday, July 31, 2022
So, six months work:
This is the full map so far, at 43% zoom. Just gets bigger and bigger. There's quite a bit more above than I had the end of June. I rather like the effect of colour as the hexes begin to shrink and disappear, with the brighter patches being various shades of orange to tan. That large light splash in the middle left is Transylvania; the orange arc north of the big river, the Danube, is Wallachia; south of the river it's Silistra in Bulgaria. The light patch on the far left, just below centre, is Serbia; the light patch on the bottom right, along the sea, is Dobruja.
You can see from this that "nations" are less about boundaries and more about patches of density separated from elsewhere by forests and mountains. Intensely populated centres are important militarily and economically; small patches, like the two orange groups in the upper right that represent Bukovina and Moldavia, matter locally but are mere satellites.
I have begun to place additional labels on rivers and mountains, but I'm still playing with colours for these things. The map is so dense that there's little room to draw in large letters defining "Serbia" or "Transylvania." I'm also beginning to feel that the boundaries need darkening, to a colour that's a deeper yellowish-brown or orange, that offer a better definition. Not sure yet which way I'll go.
Posting the map in 100% of it's zoom now requires six plates. Moving from west to east across the top of the map, and then from west to east across the bottom, this is Plate 1. Moving clockwise from the top, Ruthenia, West Transylvania, Bidin in Bulgaria, the Banat.
Plate 4. Southwest Transylvania, Bidin, upper and lower Serbia, the Banat.
Plate 5. Southeast Transylvania, Wallachia, Silistra, Oltenia.
Plate 6. Ismailia, Black Sea and the Lower Danube, Dobruja, Silistra and east Wallachia.
By virtue of the method I'm using of going round and round the outside rim, I find myself reposting content that's already been posted. I suppose this is somewhat boring for the reader. I'm hearing less and less interest in these maps and if the reader likes, I can centre on one corner a month rather than posting the whole thing each time. The map spreads out over eleven working sheets at this point and it would be easier for me to post the sheets as they're finished rather than trying to match them up. Still, it looks remarkable to me. I find myself gazing at parts from time to time as I'm working, startled by the slow, tremendous growth. The chaotic terrain of southern Serbia was, this month, both a trial and something of a revelation, as I've never viewed this part of the world in such deep detail. I can't imagine how difficult it was to invade and hold, for NATO forces, for the WW2 Germans or for the WW1 Austrians. The mountains roll every which way and have no continuity.
Please let me know if you're still anxious to see what next month's generation produces.
Friday, July 29, 2022
I feel that I wrote a good post about story today. I made the argument that the word story is an enticement, a gimmick that writers and business people use to fool listeners into thinking they're getting something good ... when in fact they're getting a moral of little value. The post argues that we rush towards stories nonetheless, because we're biologically programmed to think we're going to find something when we search for it. Even when we come up empty.
I love to write. It's what I wanted to do for a living ... and now I do. Whereas many times in the last seven years I've been in earnest where money was concerned, things seem to have sorted themselves out. I have steady work, I'm appreciated, I'm ribbed almost daily for having the luck to go to Montreal in just 61 days ... and my partner Tamara and I have been able to enjoy our emergence from Covid (if that's what this is) with more comfort than we could have hoped.
Throughout the changes we've experienced, Patreon has been an important part. Supporters made it possible for me to get a new computer when my old one failed. Supporters made it possible for Tamara, an American citizen, to achieve permanent status in Canada. We've filled out a form to become married in the next month, without a ceremony (as she wants) on a day that's yet unspecified ... though it'll be prior to Montreal. On two occasions, Patreon stood between us and the street.
I want those who have decided, or had to abandon my Patreon, to know that I understand completely and wish you the very best. Inflation is rampant, there are many reasons not to continue funding an old D&D horse like myself ... and self-care must be first and foremost. I don't know for a fact why you've chosen to go. I may be repeating myself and you've become bored. You may be on your last financial legs. Possibly, you believe that since I'm no longer down and out in Calgary, I don't need your support. I almost never learn the real reason. It doesn't matter. You've given what you can, or would, and I thank you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Once upon a time, if I spoke of Patreon, it was to tell what dire straits I was in. No longer, thank everything. There are, today, only two reasons to give to my Patreon. The first is that you feel I've earned it. That I've written something that you would have paid some amount of money to buy, if it were stuffed in a book published by the WOTC, that you found on your gamestore bookshelf. Something you read and thought, "Wow, that was really worth the money." If I've written something on those lines, and you were moved by the value, then it makes sense to pay me.
The other reason is that you have enough money that you can indulge in frivolities like "making the world a better place." And that you feel, perhaps delusionally, that I'm the right pitbull for you to back. That you feel my work here, and on my wiki, and in the books I've written (and pretend to write), are the right place for your money. If you believe that there is a better D&D culture and community that might exist out there, and you feel that my scribblings are helping make that possible, then it makes sense for you to contribute to my Patreon.
But if you're still giving me money to support me, to help me pay my rent, to ensure that I'm not so broke that I'll stop writing because I've been thrown out of my residence, then you're free at last. It's a full year since I hit on my present writing job; if it lasts just five years, Tamara and I will be set for life. I've had two other offers connected to the work I'm doing, so I have other places to go. I'm comfortable. I'm happy. If you like, pat yourself on the back and know that you kept an artist from going down for the count. YOU did it. YOU supported me until I got here. You've done your job. Thank you. Please feel free to withdraw your support now, and help some other poor down and out writer. There are lots of us.
Felt I had to write this. I don't want any of my supporters going away unhappy, or unappreciated, or feeling like I don't care. I do care. A lot. I want all of you to be happy and I want to keep on writing, here and elsewhere, whether I'm paid or not.
It's all I ever wanted.