Saturday, June 21, 2008


Thinking of a comment made yesterday, about balance. There IS an overemphasis on balance within the game, and that emphasis comes from games being made back to the Babylonians…where what makes the game competitive is the individual’s talent brought to bear on the rules as written.

We play chess. The game itself is unchanged by us; we both understand the movement and limitation of the pieces. The winner is determined by ourselves, our weaknesses, our strengths, our experience.

Yes, that’s right: the winner.

The conceptualization of the winner is, to borrow a word, the hamartia of D&D. It is the fundamental error that has kept most from viewing the game through the right lens. Because D&D does not commit player against player, or player against DM. It is not “man versus himself,” either, although that clever rhetoric would appeal to some. The truth of it is that D&D is man against nature…the character against an abstract.

D&D is not an outward expression of the DM, not if the dice are trusted and invoked and allowed to veto the DM’s desires. The game is world-as-gestalt; the fabrication of multiple persons as a something that can be competed against but which can never be defeated. Your character is going to die. Eventually. There is nothing you can do about that.

Well, obviously, you can stop playing. Le petite morte, that.

And because the conflict in D&D is a mirror of the conflict in the real world, the argument for “balance” is fallacious. I am not competing with my friend the paladin; I’ve got his back and he’s got mine. If I want to see it as a pissing contest, well, that’s my failing…that’s not an inherent part of the game. The enemy is out there, and so long as we stand together, the ogre mages and remorhaz of the world can go hang.

So if my friend the paladin doesn’t suffer from the brittle bone structure that I was born with as a child, good. I hope he doesn’t, no one should have to. I get along with it myself because I’m used to it.

Do you see? The mindsets that occur in THIS game occur nowhere else. Your bishop hasn’t had a bad run of luck lately with turning undead pawns. Your king isn’t having trouble with the queen’s infidelity. It isn’t the power or the cool shit you can do that makes this game, it’s the shit-sucking misery that plagues your character’s every effort. When something goes right, it goes right OUTSIDE of you. Just like the real world, when you've knocked a hole-in-one on the par 4. Yes, you strut and tell all your friends that you are da shit, but in reality, you are thinking really deep down inside, man, that was fucking luck.

The effort people take to find ways to reward “good playing” just don’t get it. We are all spectators in our character’s successes and foibles…and it is fucking awesome to see that die tumble into a critical just when the party really, REALLY needs it. We take the credit, we get the experience, and we don’t care that it was random. We swung the club and got the ace and that’s what matters.

This is the game that is the real world. It works by the same rules.

Okay, that said, let’s get down to business.

There’s less need, I feel, to pump up the combat abilities with a lot of power. Still, constitution can pretty much be applied only one way: how much can the character take. The side over the ability I’ve seen in terms of a character’s sickly genetics—a very simple progression from completely healthy to a collection of multiple medical problems.

(that should read, "poison, paralyzation and petrification")

The side under the ability, on the other hand, was more difficult. I eventually hit on a collection of minor, somewhat supportive attributes. Keep in mind, as I’ve said before, most every party member has a 15 or more constitution. I wasn’t interested in giving some result like “immunity from all disease” for a roll of 10 under (that would make 1/3 of the party immune). I do want to be able to kill a party member occasionally with a disease; that keeps them from stumbling out into the wilderness without clothing, tents, tinderboxes, boots (I’ve had players forget to buy them) and so on.

The rules about the first 3 damage being exempt: I’ve known men who worked in hot, blistering environments with skin like leather. This is meant to address that. The same goes for the fellow who’s already been bit...four times—by his pet tarantula, and it doesn’t bother him as much now.

You may notice this is the second reference I’ve made to “weather grades.” I divide my weather into 26 grades, similar to the system originally suggested in the Wilderness Guide—but better. You’ll also note a link to worldwide weather data on my blog. That is because I use this data when I play. It is precise, incontrovertible and does not represent numbers pulled out of my ass—like almost every number I find in the published books…but we’re not talking about the equipment table right now.

A character’s endurance against these weather grades depends on where the character grew up. I have characters running who have come from as wide a range as Egypt (30 degrees latitude) and Karelia (60 degrees latitude). At present they are above the Arctic Circle…it is the second week of October. Which ones do you think are going to handle the weather better?

This is why I don’t say, “the character is unaffected by weather above –10”…because if the character is from Mozambique, that number should be different than if the character is from the Orkneys.

Incidentally, ever seen a world map invented by a Dungeon Master that had clear, recognizable latitudes? Or a rational weather system? That is because weather is the most complex and annoying geographical consideration—and must be explained away by most DMs as “affected by magic” because working out a completely unique weather pattern on an imaginary world is just plain psycho.

Which brings us to the Disorders Table:

Not much to say about this, it is pretty clear. I’m not going to pabulum feed the readers by going all out to write specific effects for each of the disorders, though of course I could. Insensitivity to touch? Player can’t wear armor, player must wear specific fabrics, player reacts violently (and manically) to being touched and so on. Brittle bones? Player suffers +10%, +20%, +40%, double from falls, crushing damage, etc…however much of Unbreakable you want to coordinate into your campaign. Weak stomach? Food allergies, poison save reduced, whatever you like.

I disdain giving a specific list because you, as DM, ought to be able to work that out to suit your campaign. Anything I suggest is going to be either too harsh or too mild. I’ll stay here by the trunk, thank you. It is your path to walk onto that limb.

1 comment:

  1. "The game is world-as-gestalt; the fabrication of multiple persons as a something that can be competed against but which can never be defeated. "

    Hell yeah! I think that is the single, best one answer description of D&D I have ever read.



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