Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Admittedly, there has been a considerable amount of complaining on this blog of late; I have not posted any rules or maps or spreadsheets, that sort of meat that I have recently called for, primarily because I have been arrested with certain philosophical pursuits which have been time consuming. What time I have spent towards D&D I have used to crunch numbers in an attempt to make my massive 20 meg distance table more accessible, which I’ve done by making it a 40 meg spreadsheet with a great deal more information on it. Sadly, it isn’t the sort of the thing that makes good posting material.

If you are going to have a blog that lasts more than two years, I can suggest strongly to you that you develop a set of features … which will give you something to write about when nothing comes to mind. My Civilization posts, for example, which I’ve been putting out for months now, and will put out for months yet. They do tend to be a bit dry, however, and I have been thinking about something I could rant on regularly that would have more … zest, shall we say. I think I’ve hit on something which, unfortunately, both inspires me to write and also suggests I am setting myself up for a mighty fall. Nevertheless, nature hates a coward, so we shall give it a try. Don’t think too ill of me if in a month or two I simply give it up.

There is a list, available here, under the pompous title: The Grand List Of Console Role Playing Game Cliches.  It is very good for a laugh.  For me, I figure, if I'm going to bitch about things, I might just as well do it by the numbers.

Now, while I know these things are supposed to apply to video games, they don't just apply to video games.  For example: the first one on the list:

Sleepyhead Rule: The teenaged male lead will begin the first day of the game by oversleeping, being woken up by his mother, and being reminded that he's slept in so late he missed meeting his girlfriend.

I'm just going to say right up front that I am throwing out all references to video games, manga, anime (where this applies in spades) and so on ... because I want to talk about only the one RPG in particular.  If you have any personal comments to make about video games and this rule, please feel free to write them in your own blog.

Writing a lede for a story, that being the journalist's word for the first sentence or the first paragraph, is a bitch.  That's why the initial opening of virtually every kind of game begins with a terrible, obsequious cliche - you walk into a tavern; you awake in an inn; you arrive at the town gates; you're at the town gates and you're leaving ... and so on.  Openings always suck.  The story hasn't happened yet and you don't want to commit the players to anything before they've had time to breathe.  For example, try starting your players off with,

"You all meet for the very first time as together you flee two hundred villagers armed with pitchforks and clubs ... one of you must have said something wrong."

Now, I just know someone is going to write a comment that says, "I have started a campaign this way!"  Like that was a good thing.  It really isn't, since it just requires the DM to come up with a cheap deus ex machina gimmick (a convenient hiding place, someone suddenly arriving and standing the villagers off, etc.) ... and you are right back where you started: dullsville.  Most times, that machine of the gods is nothing but a huge hook, to start the story off.  I won't, at the moment, go off on why that pisses me off - the gentle reader should know I'm not a fan of story-driven D&D.  I'm just not.

If you want a sandbox, you've got to realize that starting off the adventure as a 'sleepyhead' is the RIGHT way to start.  I don't know about you, but no matter how fucked up my day is, I usually start it by getting out of bed.  Not always my bed ... but when that does happen, it's in the middle of the story and the characters ARE entitled to a beginning.  They shouldn't be robbed of it.

Yes, it will almost certainly be dull.  I heard the typical bleating with my last post about how DM's should make things exciting for the players, but let me tell you something - fuck all that.  I am not the tap-dancing fucking entertainment director on a cruise ship.  I've said that before, but the sheep just don't hear me.  I DO NOT ENTERTAIN MY PLAYERS.  I create a world, where my players are expected to entertain themselves.

Sure, I might mention in passing that the girlfriend did stop by, and that sleepyhead did miss the girlfriend, but that is not handing the party an adventure on a silver platter.  I will throw out some very gentle hooks, some very gentle hints ... but not to tell them what to do.  I do it because shit happens.  If you stand on a street long enough, you will see shit happen.

In the meantime, D&D is sometimes boring.  It should be ... any dramatist will tell you, that's how you build tension.  You establish a baseline of careful mundanity and ratchet the moment up to GODLEVEL terror.  It is the careful and clever pacing of an H.P. Lovecraft novel.  The sort of pacing that will still be around when Michael-scream-from-the-start-to-the-end-Day reaches his inevitable "who the hell is he" status.

So yes.  Allow for a small bit of calm, uninteresting behavior on the part of the sandbox characters.  If it isn't boring them, it shouldn't be boring you.  Of course, if it is boring them - and it often is - let them wallow in it at least a little while, long enough to admit they don't really have this whole sandbox thing under control.

It will teach them how to appreciate when things do start to happen.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The focus of this post is upon Western drama, which is quite different from Eastern drama, and is produced for different reasons. Except at this time, I don’t plan on making any distinction between west and east – the gentle reader may assume I am speaking only of the west.

Drama, the depiction of dialogue as presented on a stage to an audience, arose from what was a unique political system that had evolved in Greece in the first millennium BCE. That system, called ‘democracy,’ took as its means of governing the dialectic, in which individuals of differing ideas present their arguments with the intention of persuading one another. As a political system, it was remarkably practical – we still use it.

It was not, however, many years before it became clear to the debaters of ancient Greece that there were particular issues which did not have, as it were, self-evident solutions. In short, the same arguments arose again and again, and in the process the very best arguments on both sides became very well known – studied, in fact, in order that future debaters might learn from their forefather’s example of butting their heads against walls.

At some point it occurred to a rather talented group of individuals that these arguments might meaningfully be presented by means of persons acting out either side – with pre-written words that they would speak, presenting the argument in its fullness and without the inevitable weakness of passion to tear the argument down into a fistfight – which was apt to occur when such insolvable issues were presented. An audience might then, versed in the argument or not, hear both sides and thus formulate a conclusion of their own.

As it happened, it would naturally occur that the creator of this presentation would himself have one opinion or the other about what was right or what was wrong – and that he would tend to present both arguments in such a manner so as to end with the one that most appealed to his personal philosophy. A slightly less upstanding writer of presentation might ‘tweak’ the less appreciated argument, leaving out particular points or emphasizing those points which were markedly weak ... while at the same time presenting the desired argument in its fullness. It might even descend to the point that a presentation might be given where only one argument might be made, from beginning to end. We are familiar with this, of course. We call it propaganda.

All such presentations, regardless of their philosophical leanings, were called ‘plays.’ If we might return to the reasonably balanced presentation, we can see that these plays were the most likely to survive the passage of time. Propaganda rarely lasts more than a few generations. The earliest complete text of a play which we have was probably written by Aeschylus (525-456 BCE); there is some dispute as to which play of the seven that have survived – but any of them will do as an example. The Agamemnon, which features the murder of a husband by his wife, still allows the wife to make her point – a chilling and yet persuasive justification for why she takes the actions she does. The argument is followed forward in two other plays by Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides, the three-part series referred to as The Oresteia.

Through the examination of arguments and counter-arguments, drama proved that it was able to offer more than mere ‘discourse’ ... the tension/relief of tension aspects of storytelling were not entirely lost on the early playwrights. Various individuals were instrumental in pulling forth the comedic elements behind the philosophical discourse, which was a natural progression. The Romans took the Greek framework and ran with it.

But I don’t want to get bogged down in a historical study of drama. Let’s just say that we are quite familiar with the eventual devolution of ‘philosophical presentation’ into – virtually every sort of drama existing at present concentrates on either tension or comedic elements in story. Even in those so-called ‘think’ pieces, the presentation of the dialectic (both sides) is hacked to pieces on one side or the other. A recent example, that of Milk, makes no effort to present in full any argument against homosexuality except squawking puppets whom the audience is expected to despise. Not that I have any particular problem with that ... only that dramatically we don’t follow very closely in the footsteps of the Greeks. We have a point to make, but it is our point.

So where the hell am I going with this, huh? Where are the D&D references, Alexis?

Drama has always been an opportunity for a culture – and for the enemies of that culture - to framework arguments for the purpose of either establishing or deconstructing doctrines of behaviour. Don’t murder your husband; feel sympathy towards homosexuals; hate the squawking heads; punish murderers ... the subject matter may become more subjective with the eons, but the principal remains the same. Create a character intended to shill for a particular philosophy, put words into the character’s mouth, and present the play.

When the DM creates an NPC, a character which offers the DM the opportunity to speak his mind regarding how the players should act, he walks a fine line between either stifling the progress of the drama or facilitating it.

Where the NPCs drive the “story,” either through its inordinate combat ability or its influence on its surroundings, you have a ‘story-driven’ campaign. The DM has created a character for the sake of the DM’s propaganda, speaking out on what the DM thinks the players ought to do (get the five artefacts of Mary sue), or about what the characters are supposed to care (you shall be wealthy beyond your wildest dreams and be given lands of your own) – the players are meant to ‘move along’ as the story unfolds. Players who buck the story are quickly moved into the role of antagonist by the protagonist NPCs – who will draw swords or send armies out against the player if need be, to demonstrate the error of the player in ever attempting to think for themselves. If only the player had done what was expected, so the story goes, they would have been well off and respected ... but now they’ve snubbed the king or the wizard, and they must pay the price.

This is sometimes presented as a sandbox, since the characters WERE free to snub the king, after all. A true railroading campaign, we are told, wouldn’t have allowed that. But there is more to railroading that the DM playing the player character. When the only alternative to following the story involves penalty and threat, the DM is according to his own NPCs an importance that supersedes the importance of the players. No NPC should ever depend upon a player character’s compliance to the point where they would punish for failing to obtain that compliance. It is that formula that establishes a railroaded game – where no argument suffices except that of the DM.

Drama, as it is presented on a stage, provides no limits at to acceptable behaviour. A dramatic presentation is conceived of by a playwright, who has his or her particular bend on what is true and what is not ... even where both sides might be presented. But D&D is not a play. It is not a ‘story’ in any sense that a story is usually conceived. A campaign may move along without a purpose, without an argument to make, without an agenda. But the nature of drama is so pervasive in our beings – having fed upon it every day since our consciousness – it naturally applies itself to every condition over which we have power. A DM quickly recognizes the power available to shift the campaign towards this goal, or away from that one ... and in doing so satisfies a personal belief system, even to the point of having real people carry out those beliefs in dramatic form. Done brilliantly, the real people themselves might never guess that they’ve participated as actors. They might even argue, upon reflection that none of the principle decisions were their own, that the ‘ride’ was completely satisfactory, free will or no.

After all, we participate quite commonly in things over which we have no control. We are programmed to watch the film, or the sports event, to be led by it ... and never feel cheated simply because we had no measurable effect on the outcome. Our influence is not so important as our appreciation. That is one of the technological effects of Drama ... to provide a large population with entertainment, so as to pacify them and dissuade them from thinking about anything more important (but I am saving this argument for when I speak of Philosophy).

The sandbox game provides for an alternative option – free will. It presupposes that a party might walk away from any situation, at any given moment, and potentially suffer no consequence whatsoever. It also presupposes that the party might wish to walk towards a particular situation, whichever situation presented by the DM, or conceived of by themselves, which appeals to their fancy. Activity without moral constraint – where a party might play a group of rapists, or sacrifice babies to gods, or systematically execute thousands of petty criminals for the good of the state, or devote themselves to the peaceful contemplation of a glade or mountain top. Activity without judgment.

It is virtually impossible to find. The vast majority of DMs instinctively feel that ‘something’ ought to be off-limits ... if only because they don’t particularly want to spend their Saturday nights running a party of baby-stabbing rapists of pickpockets who spend their off-hours talking about the number of leaves on twigs. And no doubt, more than one sandbox-promoting DM has been forced to plead with his or her party to “cut the crap” and move forward to something that might be, well, interesting. I’ve done it myself. I don’t have much issue with the whole immoral behaviour angle, but I just can’t run one more offline session with the party sitting around repeating, “I don’t know, what do you want to do.”

So ‘activity without judgment’ has its limitations, and isn’t a particularly good meme for running a sandbox campaign (try it ... you’ll soon have monsters riding into town, a la Bonanza, just to keep things interesting). Sandbox or no, D&D does demand the sort of drama that will pack players into the chairs ... er, hem, audiences into the seats. It can’t be boring.

So as I say, a fine line. NPCs that keep the action moving, without dictating that action. That’s the key. It’s tough, and the DM who says they haven’t slid one way or the other off that line is lying. Through their teeth.

Monday, March 29, 2010

System Friendly

As it happens, I’ve never played 2nd, 3rd or 4th edition D&D. So you may take this with a grain of salt. You may take this with many grains of salt. I have no intention of deriding or making any comment on the quality of these versions of D&D at this time. Nevertheless, I do believe from sources that I am speaking to both on and off line, that the latest versions, specifically 3.5 and 4.0, are killing the hobby.

Let me say that in some ways, my own version of the game is also a culprit in this, deserving the same accusation I’m levelling at these other versions. I don’t mean to say that I, personally, am killing the game (my head is not that big, thank you) … but on some level this blog and the sentiments in this blog are creating an unsustainable situation vis a vis the overall popularity of the game.

We’re too fucking complicated.

It occurred to me as I stood up to play a game of chess, chatting with a bystander that I met at the convention – one of the vendors as it happened. The chess game was a board 12 feet by 12 feet, with pieces to match (the King came up to my midwaist, about 4’ tall). As I smoked my friend opponent, the bystander asked at one point: “Did you just move two pieces?”

So in less than about forty-five seconds, I explained the principle of castling to the fellow, who did not know about it … and later he employed the move without a moment’s hesitation.

And that is the issue. While chess is an enormously difficult game to play, it is not a particularly difficult game to learn … and if you play it with people who are on the same learning curve as yourself, just as enjoyable as two masters going at it.

Not so much later versions of D&D.

Each later incarnation of the game has become increasingly more complex, not merely as an overall combat/character system, but also in terms of enabling new players to do more than wait to be ordered about – more about that in a minute. The promotional period of a new player who has ‘just learned the game’ to becoming a DM – even an incompetent one – is thoroughly unrealistic if the popularity of the game is the issue. Right now this game is limping along on late forty-five year old men, who continue to play because it is a drug. But we’re not going to live forever.

When I first started playing this game, I did spend about three runnings being ordered about by the more experienced players: “swing your sword”; “stand behind the elf”; “here’s a potion – drink it when I tell you to.” But being a fast learner, and the game not being terribly complicated, I started running a D&D campaign within three months of learning the game. Hell, I started ‘self-running’ as soon as I could get photocopies of the books – which took about six weeks.

Sorry to say, but in 1979 that wasn’t at all unusual. I regularly introduced people into the game over the next few years who, within a couple of months, took a try behind the screen. Yes, some of them were gad-awful, but since the main issue was picking when the orc attacked, and keeping track of the orc’s hit points, even gad awful made for a decent combat running. And people got better with practice.

But put twelve rule books into a noobie's hands and just forget it. Guarantee, someone is going to have to be there to say where in the books to look, what rule applies where and how, and to put a stop to players so overwhelmingly trampling all over the DM when it comes to rule calls as to spoil any chance of a game. It is what I’ve had to do in my daughter’s case, where she is gamely trying to run my system without getting hopelessly confused. None of my other players remotely considers the possibility of DMing.

(Partly, that’s because they don’t want to go simple – a problem with supercomplicated is that you don’t want to go back. Now, again, that’s not a problem for us … but it is a problem when it comes to spreading the popularity of the game. Again, I’m not saying the games are good or bad – just that they’re horribly difficult to learn)

In the last three months I have introduced four new players into the campaigns my daughter and I run; plus one more who hasn’t played so much D&D. My first and foremost effort has been to simplify the game as much as possible for these players. I sometimes have to shut down my other players from explaining rules to the noobies, because my long time players give too much information all at once. No one learns well that way. The best thing is to explain little bits, very clearly, and try not to expand the big picture.

For example. This is a sword. It causes 1 to 8 damage. It doesn’t do the newbie player much good to launch into the fact that there are dozens of different kinds of swords, that all do different amounts of damage and are used in different ways. The player, at the moment, just has the one sword – they only need information about that sword. More information, and they get confused as to what die they ought to be rolling for damage.

Used to be, there was only one sword (or possibly two swords, short and long). The system was naturally simple. What must it be like, I wonder, to have to explain the fifteen different attacks for 4e, while having your players complicate the situation by talking about the attacks different characters are allowed, plus the attacks the noobie might get a chance to use someday? Sounds hellish. And it must drive off would-be new players.

Here is an argument for ODD: reduced complexity, easy learning. Logically, if anything I’ve said here has merit, the ODD movement should produce scads of new players, simply because those new players will find ODD much friendlier than complicated systems like mine and those later editions. And then, once they’ve learned on the old system, the noobies might take a crack at this complicated stuff.

Here’s hoping.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jesus Saves. Everyone Else Takes Damage.

I am here to report on Friday night at the convention, which is still ongoing.  Before I start, I'd like to describe my frame of mind.  Yesterday, I played in two campaigns, mine and my daughter's, from 11 in the morning until past midnight.  Friday we were at the convention, and then afterwards out for dinner and drinks.  So I am somewhat run down this morning.

As you read what I have to say about the convention, I recognize that words cannot always convey with accuracy the emotion of the writer.  So I would like to say that you should be hearing, not a rant, as is my usual thing, but deep, abiding sadness.  It would be understandable of the gentle reader to try to interpret what I have to say in terms of anger, and I want to be persuasive here.  Friday was a heartbreaking thing.

I don't want to talk about editions, or games, from the perspective of what I would play or not play.  I wasn't very surprised by the usual things ... a degree of standoffishness, the difficulty in getting a stranger to talk, how hard it would have been to have any discourse with people while they were playing.  I've always found that to be true.  To break down those walls, I would have had to be there for the whole weekend, to build up a familiar appearance and then to make friends.  It isn't something that can be done in an evening.

Rather, I want to talk about how the convention has changed, since I find that very relevant, and is the source of my ache.  I don't wish to say that this particular convention reflects what other people have experienced elsewhere - only I was stunned by what I saw.  Before I can explain that, however, I must first give some background as to what things were like 22 years ago.

At that time, the city I still live in a source of about 650,000 people from which local players might attend.  The convention was held in a large downtown hotel tower, and was attended by about 2,500 players at any time.  You paid at the door and from that point forward you could expect to be harrassed by vendors, and to gather quickly the headache that comes from being in a crowded room.  I made reference in my post last thursday about people on microphones ... I remember that there was a constant annoyance of announcements and people searching for people.  Pretty much on the level of a present day Walmart.  And there were booths everywhere.

So now I live in a source of 1.2 million people, in what has long been one of the fastest growing - or THE fastest growing, city in Canada.  The convention has been moved to a fair sized hotel in the retail/industrial district associated with the edge-of-city airport, and was attended by - I'd guess - 225 people.  People might argue a larger number, but I could have easily counted up everyone in the three rooms where the event took place, and I'm subtracting the some 40 people who were there to sell or organize the event.

Of this number, about 150 or 175 were involved in the large 'strategy' room, some of which was set up with computers, most of which included people playing Warhammer.  Nothing new there.   The D&D Room, in the basement, contained at best (here I did count) twenty-nine people, over a two hour period.  I have a picture of the room at, according to my phone, 7:55 p.m.  Please forgive the fuzziness of the picture ... I am a crappy photographer and I was distraught.

So yes, scale was a disappointment.  Needless to say, no one needed to be on a microphone.  I found myself thinking about that old joke - how do you get forty Canadians out of a swimming pool?  Say "could everyone please get out of the swimming pool."  I wondered if I went to the center of the room and started to speak with authority, I could clear the room in orderly fashion with a story that the hotel needed to do a quick search for a lost snake.  But I didn't.

Three of our party arrived early, bought day passes for $25 that were supposed to allow them to participate (the website had advertised $10, but it turned out this only allowed people to 'survey', but not to be involved at all).  However, since all the games were regulated to death, and had to be signed up for a week in advance, it wasn't possible to play anyway.  The weekend pass was $45 ... and we saw no one at the event who did not have one - except us.  They might have been there, but we didn't see them - and there weren't a lot of people to sort through.  After we discovered we couldn't play any games, my amazing and brilliant wife took the organizers to task and had the cost of our passes dropped to the $10 cost advertised on the net.  She is fierce and I love her.

From what we could tell, the organizers were largely outsiders who didn't seem to know what was actually going on - aside from the rules about where to go and how much to pay.  This was the same for the various sellers of things ... offering a rather paltry collection of things that I can get mostly anywhere - for less of course.  We commented to each other that, given the very low number of shoppers (see picture, about 8:15 pm) that they'd do better getting a kiosk in a mall for the weekend.  They'd have had a better chance selling to teenage kids in the suburbs.

Except for the computer area, and the sales area, no girls.  I'm also not counting those selling things.  I mean, it's never been good, but 10% used to be usual.  I'd guess the number at less than 3% .. we could have squeezed them all into a volvo ... and then I could have gotten into the driver's seat and taken them somewhere fun.  The vast majority of the participants were over thirty, and at least two thirds over forty - and yet I didn't recognize a soul.  Not one soul.  The one fellow there who apparently I might have met - Paladin in Citadel - clearly didn't feel it was worth his time to actually look around for a large red-shirted guy with red hair.  I could not identify him from his picture.

We stayed three hours, thinking things might get better, that people might drift in ... no, actually.  Even the people at the front counter were bored.

Those are my general impressions.  I think I might write later about how 3.5 and 4.0 are killing this game (the three on-going D&D games were only that, as was everything scheduled according to those we spoke to).  But honestly, I'm just too depressed right now.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Updated Tale

For those who may be interested, here is an accounting of the last three weeks (character time) of my online campaign ... just to gather all together what has been happening for those who may not have seen it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ethnology Spatterings

This is just a general collection of notes, by no means complete - but all of it refers to the borders of what would be Soviet Russia.  Most of the important stuff here is committed to memory; but I've kept it, I suppose, in case I should ever look at it.  Which I probably haven't in seven years.  Plus, naturally, much of this is no longer true in my world.  But I have committed to showing how my thought process has attempted things, and others do seem to want to take from this sort of stuff.

from Feb. 23, 2003


First called the “Ante” by ancient chroniclers, the Slavs had spread through much of western Russia by the 9th century. Through intensive contacts, the “Eastern Slavs” gradually branched into three human groups: the Great Russians, dwelling in the snow forest; the Little Russians, dwelling upon the steppe; and the White Russians, dwelling in the woodland.

The Poles and Ruthenians, dwelling in the west, are human descendants of the Western Slavs.

Dwelling now in their homeland upon the north coast of Ulthuan Peninsula, Winter Elves once occupied much of the northern basin of the Barents Sea. A fair portion still dwell within Glu’Bak.

Wood Elves (Karjalaiset) represent a large proportion of the population of Egreliia and Karelia, and represent a minority in Ingria.

A small population of Wood Elves dwell in the region of Zyria.

These people dwell in many of the areas adjacent to the elven populations.

The Finns, subjected to strong Swedish influence, dwell in small groups in many places, even among the Wood Elves. Elves and Finns were creators of a great chivalric culture, culminating in the Kalevala.

Estonians, through centuries of intermarriage, possess few of the elvish qualities of the original inhabitants of the region. However, perhaps one sixteenth to one eighth of the population’s ethnology is elvish blood.

Lutheranism is the common religion.

Descended from the ogre-orc tribe once known as the Huns, the pure bred peoples exist only in small numbers as ogrillon. Such tribes are the Karachai, Balkar, Nogay, and Kumyk.

Many Bulgars have been so decimated by many centuries that the pure blood has long been diluted. Now little more than half-orcs, bred from intermixings with numerous races.

The orc blood of the Bulgars has no shared relationship with the orc tribes of the steppe.

Bulgarians are scattered primarily along the northwestern shores of the Black Sea, of Bulgar-human descent. Bessarabia, the Crimea.

Votyaks dwell in the hill-forests between the valleys of the Kama and the Vyatka, of Bulgar-gnoll descent.

Cheremiss and Chuvash are passive peoples of ¼ orc blood mixed with human. They are crop planters

Mordovians, like the Cheremiss, are herders with ¼ orc blood mixed with human.

Tatars are a dissected peoples, of orc-goblin mix, scattered on both the eastern and western slopes of the central Urals.

Bashkirs are an extensive and aggressive group occupying the Pre-Ural Plateau, of orc-human blood.

A ubiquitous peoples occupying much of the Arctic coastlands, stretching from the White Sea to the Laptev. The two pure-blood groups are the Ver’Kray tribes west of the Urals, and the Sam’yads, east of the Urals.

Ver’Kray is an extensive kingdom, including the territories of Naryan Mar and Glu’Bak.

Sam’yads dwell throughout the Samoyad Peninsula, the northern tundra lands of the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas, and the valleys of the Chulym and Kets rivers (where they are pirates). This last group migrated to the southlands centuries before.

Flinds are a peoples which occupy the highlands to the east and south of Gaa-Kaa, and represent a fair portion of the armies of that kingdom.

Kazakh, Kara-Kalpak, Kirghiz, Altayan

These peoples occupy the Manych and Caspian depressions, Ust-Urt Plateau, the Kirghiz Steppe, Turan Lowland, Kazakh Plateau, the Baraba Steppe, and vast areas adjacent to these. The Fergana Plain and various other small regions of steppe within the Tien Shan-Pamirs highlands are also occupied by orcs. The steppelands of the Minusinsk and Krasnoyarsk basins are orc lands.

Between the Black and Caspian Seas, and south of the Aral Sea, is the heart of orc culture, in continuous control of this land since the time of the Parthians.

Ogrillon - Kalmucks
Occupying the highlands of the Pamirs and Tien Shan, as well as the Amur Basin.

Khanty; Ostyak


Evenki, varying Paleo-Asiatics

The Oirots live in conical tents covered with bark.

Obscure Tribes: Circassians, Kabardinians, Abkhasians, Ingushian, Chechens, Avarians, Darginians, Lakians, Tabassaranians, Lesginians, Swanians, Mingrelians, Lazians. Possible races: Troll, Minotaur, Amazon, Troglodyte, Qullan

Armenians, Ossetians, Tatic, Azerbaidzhan, Germans, Liths, Letts, Greeks, Moldavians, Koreans

The Letts, which conquered the eastern Baltic coastlands millenia ago, were berzerkers; some of that blood still exists within a few of the people of Courland.

Vepsians, Vodians (Iskis, Ingria)

Today, scant populations of minotaurs, descended from the Cimmerians, can be found in mountain ranges from Transylvania into central Persia.


Russia has been culturally isolated since the Mongolian invasion of the 13th century. As the Renaissance stirred the west to intellectual curiosity and activity, Russia remained aloof from the progress achieved by the rest of Europe.

Larger cities have increasing numbers of stone buildings, while the small towns and villages favor wooden or—in desert localities—adobe dwellings. Theatres, circuses, and concerts are preferred enjoyments. Other pastimes include checkers and chess.

Russian fashion dictates loose-hanging blouses and brimless hats. Fur clothing is important to the survival of large numbers of people inhabiting the cold, isolated country.

The Byelorussian derives his name from the traditional white homespun garments he wore. He is generally brown-haired, and brown-eyed.

The Volga, known as the Rha or Oaros in antiquity and as Atel in the Middle Ages, is affectionately called “Mother Volga” by the Russians. For centuries the Volga has been sung in folk song and recited in fable.

Moscow is known among the Russian people as “Little Mother Moscow.” It is the official residence of all the royal families. As the center of cultural and artistic endeavor, it has had as residents numerous writers, artists, and musicians.

Many Mohammedan customs, such as polygyny, the wearing of veils by women, and the treatment of the latter as inferior members are consistent with the orthodox faith.


Collections exist at Chernovtsy; Zorg, Irkutsk; Ivanovo, Izhevsk, Khlynov; Kishinev; Kostroma, Minsk, Odessa, Orel, Poltava, Ryazan, Simferopol, Tambov, Tashkent, Tilsit, Volsk, Voronezh, Wilno, Yegoryevsk; and Yerevan.

Zoos can be found at Kaunas, Kiyev.

Art collections are found at Minsk and Ufa.

Archangel is known for a valuable private collection of ivory carvings.

Dorpat includes a fine artworks collection in the Ratshof family.

Kazan contains collections of coins, gems from the Ural Mountains, and artworks. An armory of note is here.

A very special collection of religious relics, seized from the Tatar Mongols who ruled here, has caused Kazan to become a place of Pagan pilgrimage.

Ancient magic and artifacts of the Bulgar Ogres, once before in the hands of the Tatars and now the Russians, are also found here.

Kiyev contains collections of artworks and magic.

Konigsburg possesses an considerable armory, containing the great weapons collected by the Teutons. An major art collection also exists in the city, and several minor ones.

Kursk includes collections of artworks and magic.

Lvov includes considerable collections by the families Ossolinski and Lubomeirski, as well as several others.

Moscow includes a collection of ancient writings is housed in the Kremlin. The monks of the Convent of the Miraculous Apparitions of Archangel Michael, possess an art collection.

Riga possesses many collections, including that of the Duke of Livonia. Such collections include the gathering of numerous ancient writings of the Lettish peoples; the largest collection of amber jewelry on earth; and magic.

Saratov possesses a zoo, herbal gardens, and an art collection.

Schaulen contains a notable collection of amber jewelry.

Smolensk has a collection of ancient writings.

Tiflis contains collections of artworks and magic.

Vyborg. The Viborgense family owns a fine collection of paintings, pottery, costumes, and other articles.

Druidic Circles

Circles exist in Ak-Mechet, Archangel, Dushambe, Harn; Kaunas (2), Kazan, Kiyev, Krasnoyarsk; Ltava; Minsk (2), Odessa; Tashkent; Tiflis (2), Tilsit, Vinnitsa; Vologda (2), and Wilno.

Bard Colleges

Colleges exist in Aktyubinsk; Bukhara, Baku, Chernovtsy; Erivan; Harn; Irkutsk; Kaunas (2), Kazan, Kharkov, Kishinev, Kustanay, Kzyl-Orda, Minsk, Murmansk, Odessa, Petropavlovsk; Pleskov, Samarkand, Tashkent; Tiflis, and Tilsit; Yakutsk

Festivals are held in Kazan (3), Kiyev, Mutrakan (2), Kiyev, Moscow, Murmansk, Perm, Tashkent, and Tiflis

Kiyev includes the Franko College.

Moscow includes several important colleges, including Maly College on Sverdlov Square; Mayerhold College; and Vaktangov College, as well as other colleges.

Among famous Bards was Simon Dach, a native of Memel.

Shota of Rust’av, who wrote the epic poem The Man in the Panther’s Skin, probably in the 14th-century, is regarded as one of the founders of Georgian literature.

Thieves’ Guilds

Pleskov includes the Chancery House.

Alchemist Guilds

Baku; Dushambe, Frunze, Ivanovo; Katub; Kaunas, Kazan (2); Kiyev (2); Kustanay; Kyzl-Orda; Lvov; Moscow, Minsk (2); Murmansk, Mutrakan (2); Odessa; Pavlodar; Petropavlovsk; Saratov; Tashkent (2), Tiflis (3); Tomsk; Torzhok; Urt; Yerevan

Artisan’s Guild

Irkutsk; Izhevsk; Kiyev; Perovo; Tashkent; Tiflis

Assassin’s Guild

Baku; Irkutsk; Izhevsk; Kharkov; Krasnoyarsk; Odessa; Samarkand; Simferopol; Tashkent; Tiflis; Tomsk; Urt; Vinnitsa; Yerevan

Naval Ports



Secondary libraries can be found in Archangel, Harn, Irkutsk, Kaunas, Konigsburg, Kostroma; Molotov; Moscow; Odessa, Samarkand, Vilnyus, Yakutsk, and Yerevan.

Lvov contains the Boworovis Library.

Moscow contains the Library of the Patriarchs.

Training Grounds

Places for the training of knights include Archangel.

For the training of griff-handling, Kiyev.


Lesser universities include those of Baku, Frunze, Irkutsk; Nalchik; Odessa, Perm; Petrozavodsk; Samarkand; Saratov; Simferopol; Tashkent; Tiflis; Yerevan.

Seminaries are found at Ak-Mechet; Aktyubinsk; Bukhara; Chernovtsy, Harn; Zorg, Kaunas (catholic), Izhevsk; Khorog, Konigsburg, Kyzl-Orda; Krasnoyarsk; Minsk, Moscow, Petropavlovsk; Petrozavodsk, Samarkand; Tiflis; Vinnitsa, and Vologda; Yakutsk

Cults are found in Syk’Kar, Urt.

The Synodal Building (17th-century), which contains the Church of the Twelve Apostles, may be found in Moscow.

The Collegium Albertium, founded by Albert I, Duke of Prussia, in 1544, is located in Konigsburg.

University of Vilynus, founded by Stephen Bathory as a military training ground in 1578; it has since expanded.

University of Dorpat, founded in 1632 by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, has suffered much oppression by the town’s community. Twice efforts have been made to close down the institution.

The Bibi-Khanum, in Samarkand, is another fourteenth-century college which is a structure of splendor.


Baths can be found at Gagry, Gulripsh, and on Saaremaa; in Adzharia and Kubanistan; in Kis, Samara

Beaches may be found along the Kurisches Haff, and at Parnu

Mineral Hot Springs are found at Chisinau, Orn, Tiflis, and Zorg.

Sanitariums may be found along the southern Crimea, at Yalta, Alupka, Soldayey, Balaklava, Alushta, Feodosiya, and Livadia.

Pag includes mineral springs which have cool and warm, as well as sulphurous and saline waters.

Nalkistan includes several magical mineral springs.

Castles, Fortresses & City Design

Bokhara has a definitely Eastern appearance. It is surrounded by a crumbling mud-brick wall, possesses narrow, crooked streets crossing many canals, and has scores of mosques. Near the Mir-Arab is the 203 ft. minaret.

Samarkand has many fine, magnificent edifices left by Tamerlane. The Rigistan is a large square, enclosed on three sides by buildings decorated with brilliantly colored tiles. The Mohammedan part of the city comprises narrow, winding streets with low, flat-roofed houses of adobe.

A striking group of domed building near the cemetery contains the tombs of Tamerlane’s wives and sisters. The Gur Amir, tomb of Tamerlane himself, has an elegantly decorated chapel. There is also the sumptuous grave of Shah Zindeh.

Kiyev - The city has the Kreshatic as its principal thoroughfare. Noted is the eleventh-century Golden Gate.

Ottoman Empire in Russia:

Chernovtsy has several attractive parks, squares, and gardens.

Chisinau includes the Alexandrovsky Prospect, the main avenue through the town. There are public gardens.

Erivan includes an old fort which rests upon a rocky eminence on the river bank. From the fort may be obtained an excellent view of Mount Ararat, 16,946 ft. above sea level.

Vati has a 16th-century Turkish citidel near the city and park.

Persia in Russia

Baku includes the Maiden’s Tower, a massive cylindrical structure formerly used as a lighthouse.

Poland in Russia

Lesser castles are found at Daugavpils (2); Grodno; Mitau

Minsk is famous for Alexander Square, is the center of the city. There is also a town hall.

Mitau includes a castle of the Teutons. Surrounding the city, as part of fortifications, is the Jacob Canal.

Tilsit includes a castle founded in 1288 by the Teutonic Order.


Fortifications exist at Bryansk; Ryazan; Serpukhov; Stalingrad; Tambov; Voronezh, Ufa, and Yaroslavl.

Town Halls exist at Orel.

Astrakhan includes Alexander Square.

Kazan includes the kremlin, founded in 1437 and the Syuyumbeka Tower, a relic of Tatar architecture. The principal thoroughfare, the tree-lined Voskressenskaya, leads across the town to the kremlin.

Moscow is divided historically into five main parts, which form concentric circles. In the center is the Kremlin, the oldest part of the city, which is located on Borovitzky Hill above the Moscow River. Adjoining the Kremlin is the Kitai Gorod or Chinese City, the crowded, irregularly built center of business. The Kremlin and Kitai Gorod were combined into the Gorodskaya Tchast, or City Quarter, which was surrounded in 1534 by a whitewashed wall, approximately 1½ mi. long.

The city center is Red Square, which lies to the east of the Kremlin, between it and the historical division of Kitae Gorod. Nine hundred yds. Long and 175 yds. broad, it is bounded by the Kremlin wall on the west, by the former Trading Rows on the east, and by the Cathedral of St. Basil on the south. The Trading Rows of the old city, on the east side of the square, contain various offices and storehouses.

In a semi-circle around the inner city is the Byely Gorod or White City, which is the most elegant section, with numerous palaces and public buildings, and the most exclusive district; it is girdled by handsome boulevards 4½ mi. long on the site of the former wall. The Byely Gorod has become the center of Moscow and Russia. Moscow is divided into six administrative districts: Zamoskvorechye, Baumansky, Sokolniky, Krassnaye Presnya, Khamovniky, and Rogozhsko-Simonovsky. Each district has a contact with the Red Square.

Adjoining the White City is the Zemlyanoy Gorod or Earth City, named after ramparts built here; on the site of the former wall is the boulevard-like Garden Street, 11 mi. long. The suburbs, occupying three fourths of the total area of Moscow, compose the outermost zone.

The walls of Moscow surround it completely. At the Vladimir Gate of the Kitai Gorod is the headquarters of the Moscow Guard. The Iberian Gate leads to the old inner city.

Of particular interest is the Tower of Ivan the Great in the Kremlin. The Tsar’s Bell, also known as the King of Bells, which lies in front of the tower. The bell-tower of Ivan the Great was built under Boris Godunov in 1600 as a public works project for the famine-stricken poor. Its five stories, 320 ft. high, are surmounted by a gilded dome and cross. In the tower are two churches and a synodal treasury; the tower contains 33 bells of various sizes. The Tsar’s Bell, the largest bell in the world, weighing over 175 tons, was reputedly cast first in the seventeenth century, but it was broken.

The highly ornamented Tsar’s Cannon, one of a line of cannon in front of the Kremlin Arsenal, was cast in 1586. The Kremlin Arsenal stands opposite the senate building; it is a storehouse for the Moscow garrison and is a center of defense.

The most important park is Gorky Park, along the bank of the Moscow River. The Alexander Garden, built over the little, marshy Neglinka River, lines a moat outside of the Kremlin wall. The Sparrow Hills afford an excellent view of the city.

Nizhni-Novgorod consists of three parts: the upper town, 330 ft. above the east banks of the two rivers; the lower town, on the immediate banks below; and the Kanavino section, or foreigner’s quarter, on the Oka’s west bank. In the upper town, on the highest point, is the fourteenth-century kremlin, enlarged and modified many times.

Pleskov is surrounded by 12th-century Kremlin walls.

Ufa includes the governor’s residence.

Sweden in Russia

Narva includes Swedish and Teuton fortifications. The high square tower, known as “Long Herman,” on the southeast side of the old castle of the Teutonic Order, dates from the sixteenth century.

The 15th-century Ivangorod Fortress, lies the right bank of the Narova River, opposite the town.

Riga includes a massive castle, with two crenelated towers erected in 1330 as a commandery of the Teutonic Order. A citidel also exists in the town, and the 17th-century Powder Tower.

Vyborg includes the 13th-century Gothic castle, around which the city developed, and the Fat Catherine tower of the old walls


Ltava includes the Memorial Stone.

Lesser fortifications are found at a bluff overlooking the Dnieper, 30 mi. east of Kamenskye.

Ruins & Catacombs

Anau is the site of two ancient settlement mounds near Merv. The more important mound is the northerly, older one, of a comparatively primitive farming community. The general level of culture corresponds closely with that at Sialk on the Iranian plateau.

Gagarino is situated on a terrace of the river Don, a few miles below the ruined city Lipetsk in south Russia. Buried is an oval hut (about 18 x 22 ft) having the floor scooped out of the subsoil to a depth of approximately 18 in. Mammoth tusks and stone slabs defined the edge of the hut, from the floor of which were obtained implements of flint, bone, and ivory, and close to the wall were found a number of female figurines carved from mammoth ivory. Among the animals represented in the food debris were woolly rhinoceri, mammoths, and wild oxen; bird bones and remains of foxes and marmots will also be found.

Kazan. 30 mi. to the northeast is the ancient capital of the Bolgary Khanate, predating the Mongols.

Kerch has beneath it several catacombs dating from the 2nd to the 5th-century A.D. Kurgans, or burial mounds, around Kerch contain numerous treasures to those who discover them.

A hill back of the city is called the “Mound of Mithradates.” According to legend, it contains the tomb of Mithradates VI, who died a century before the birth of Christ.

Kis is surrounded by hills which contain numerous caves.

Lake Ilmen once had prehistoric settlements around its shores.

Lipetsk and Spasski were both cities destroyed by the Mongols in 1240-41, and never rebuilt.

Sevastopol was destroyed and never rebuilt.

Smolensk includes the five-domed Cathedral of the Assumption, founded in the early twelfth century, was destroyed in 1611.

Voronezh, founded upon a Khazar town, retains underground catacombs used by the trolls.

How They Looked Once

This is an example I found of how I used to create these maps, this from Feb. 21, 2004 ... a mere six years ago.  This was after I had given up on hex maps, and before I returned to hex maps based on elevation, rather than the political relevance.

Not much to say about this.  I still find the map compelling, but not as informative and not as beautiful as the present incarnation.

The Weekend Convention

I have decided I am going to go to the RPG/Wargamer’s convention this weekend; we were planning on running 12 hours on Saturday, and the players have definitely decided that we are (I have no say in these things), so I’m only going to go on Friday night, with a couple of the fellows (players). It will be the first time I’ve attended a convention of this nature since 1989 (other conventions, yes, but not RPG).

I don’t expect to have a good time.

I do expect to see a lot of crap for sale, and to hear a lot of nonsensical bullshit pitched for the benefit of the community, and to hear those same sappy speeches as people get up and thank everyone and flatter everyone and generally act like typical middle class boobs with regards to why we’re all there. I will roll my eyes until they ache, no doubt. It is one of the things that always sickens me at these events – can’t we just fucking play? Do we have to hear the organizers pound their puds on the microphone?

But I’ll escape to the lobby for those things, possibly out of the building altogether from time to time. I don’t expect to play in any games (unless my players really insist on it), I definitely don’t intend to buy anything (what would I buy?) and I think there’s a fair chance I’ll be disenchanted with the degredation of the community as I’ll see it.

Why don’t I want to play in any games? First and foremost, because I can’t be bothered with a character I know won’t exist after a single running. Listen, if I want to have one night of fun, I’ll go to a bar, find a hot chick, bring her home to my wife and watch them go at it. That’s as much of a one-night stand as I’m interested in. Besides, there’s the whole thing about having to put up with someone else’s rules, someone else’s angst, someone else’s philosophy. Sorry, if it isn’t evident from this blog, I’m an enormously intolerant person. I might get a few ideas from some gaming tables if I see something, but I don’t need to play to get that.

So why am I going?

It was suggested that I make up some businesscards with Tao of D&D and hand them out, to push up interest in the blog, but that seems awfully cheesy and I won’t be doing it.

I do expect that I’ll get some material for this blog – things to bitch about, details about behavior and such that will reawaken my experience from years ago and remind me ... oh yeah ... why I so hate such events with the burning fever of a thousand cholera victims. There’s a certain visceral pleasure to be derived from ritualistically casting out the ‘true believers,’ digging them out in their lair with the intention of raising the light of intellect and crying, ‘begone cancerous filth.’ I used to do such things in the days when I visited Pentacostal churches.

MOSTLY, however, I am going because I am hoping for that one really good conversation with another discontented soul who has also gone to see the soulless masses fritter and cavort with one another. Some other entity with a world, a bad attitude and an interest in digging down and talking about the subject. These are the sorts of rare persons I sometimes meet at Sex trade shows or at special campus lectures ... people of my ilk who also want to meet people of my ilk.

If I come back and say that I had a good time, you will know that I found such a person.

Making Value Of Your Education

If you haven't seen it, you should have a look at this brilliant post about creating weather for your world.  It also supports an argument I've made before - we have university educations, people.  Let's use them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Yesterday, PatrickW asked me what climate maps look like, after I suggested that he look into it … and found myself stumped.

See, the fact is, if you don’t have a very clear idea of what weather is, and how it works, there isn’t going to be much chance that a map depicting the weather is going to be of any use to you. And it’s fairly clear that my reader Patrick hasn’t spent many hours with a meteorological textbook, as evidenced by the question. He’d have seen maps, such as the one shown of Australia.

While this gives an overview of the rainfall in Australia (and it's a pretty map), it doesn't actually identify how much rainfall is the 'mean', or how that rainfall is divided throughout the three month period from October to December.  It doesn't say how many days the rain falls, or how much rain falls on average per rain storm, or whether the rain falls lightly or by means of thunderstorms, or even through ground fog.

Naturally, for the planet Earth, some of this is easy to find out, some of it is harder ... but ultimately, all obtainable.  It is possible to devise a random table for anywhere on the planet, and for any day of the year, including the temperature, air pressure, prevailing winds and so on ... but once you leave this planet, then what?

Well, you're fucked, if you want to make anything vaguely as complicated as the map above.  That's because of the considerable number of influences on even just the rainfall, as shown above.  That very dark red spot in the northwest corner of the map.  Why exactly is it so dry, when just to the west or east, the rainfall is or is nearly maximum?  I can identify it as the Rudall River and the Great Sandy Desert, likely affected by the Hamersley Range on the west, and the prevailing wind from the Indian Ocean losing moisture as it crosses the high country.  But you're going to have a hell of time making any kind of map remotely as complicated as the above - too many factors.

If you're inventing your own world, where do you start?  What are the prevailing winds?  Are you able to identify the principal zones of convection and subduction at the various latitudes of your world, to at least make an educated guess as to where said winds should originate? 

Of course you can't.  Because you DON'T care.  Why would you?  Seems like an enormous waste of effort.  Hell, even if you were running the planet Earth you wouldn't bother looking up a single table.  I understand your thinking: "Hey, you want to know when it rains?  When I say it rains.  And when I say it stops, it does.  Period."

Well, that's pretty swell.  It helps explains tropes like It's Always Spring or the fairly universal Winter snow that occurs everywhere on the world, because the DM is from New York and in New York, it snows in the winter time.  It helps provide either four traditional seasons happening everywhere, even in the tropics - or alternately, a tropics setting where there is only one static season that continues all year round.  The sun never changes the angle it has in the sky, and sunset always happens at 7 p.m (or 8 p.m., if you don't happen to come from California).  And you've saved a lot of time and trouble as a DM.  Everyone's a Winnah.

I don't blame the gentle reader ... coming up with actual weather for a completely new planet is pretty nigh impossible, unless you happen to be a meteorologist with a masochistic streak (don't they all have that?).  It's an old bugbear of mine (mentioned before) how ridiculous is the placement of deserts or jungles on most purchaseable maps.  Bottom of the map, jungle, top of the map, polar regions.  Never mind that the total number of 20-mile hexes shown on the map would only reach from the north shore of Lake Superior to Tennessee.  Okay, so its a small world with a very dense core (1G).

So I take back the suggestion I made to Patrick.  Forget weather.  It's at least a year's work, and all you're going to get out of it is a die roll that says, "Fog, 1 degree above zero, wind from the west at 2 knots" ... that your party won't give a damn about anyway.

'Course, I'll still be making my weather tables ...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Community Proves It's Worth

So there was a flame war and I missed it.  The various political elements at TARGA (Traditional Adventure Roleplaying Games Association) got into a big fight about how important it was to protect the children from a film featuring a number of oddly dressed women sitting around a table making a few crude sexual jokes between playing a very casual game of D&D.  The film comes from Zak of Playing D&D With Pornstars fame, and he made great hay out of the professional standing of his players.  I can't possibly blame him ... if you've got porn stars, flaunt porn stars.

Beyond that, I can't tell you much.  I missed the actual war.  I was playing D&D and Sunday, I was having very kinky sex with my partner.  All day.  I had just got these thigh high boots, and I was anxious to put them on and ...

But that's not important right now.

It should surprise no one that as soon as a community installation like TARGA gets the slightest bit of honest attention, all the morality crap is soon to follow right behind.  I doubt very much when the group was launched little more than a year ago (their blog begins with Jan, 2009), anyone gave two thoughts for the importance of protecting children.  The only comment about children on their introductory post was that they weren't going to force lead miniatures into their children's hands as proof of their old schoolness.  And I'm not sure if TARGA gives a shit about children even now.  I haven't seen the posts that made up the flame war, I can't find them and I don't know which side the powers that be came down on - although Zak's video is still there for anyone to see.  Makes no difference to me.  Someone at TARGA or who reads TARGA or who thinks TARGA should correspond to their personal morality was there to use the existence of the group to pound out the same old morality play we've all watched destroy every valuable institution in the last fifty years.

Boo Hoo.  It was inevitable.

You know, when I sit here and preach and piss people off, you know it's me, and only me.  I'm not using an acronym to back up my opinion and give it a false value.  I'm not pitching a philosophical position that you're meant to believe is held by a host of people, who are all approving me, and disapproving you.  However you feel about me, we are one on one - I hate you, you hate me, and that's as far as it goes.  Play the game however you like.  Doesn't affect me.  Just as what I do really doesn't affect you.

We don't have to tailor our comments here or anywhere else, because we're not representing a 'Front.'  We aren't protecting anyone's thin skins but our own.  Let the rest of them harp and debate about the public relations policy a generalized union ought to have for the good of everyone, and you and I will just kick back.  We'll talk about the game, what we love about it, what we're doing with it, where we hope our world will be twenty months from now.

Twenty months, when TARGA is either a sick, dead joke or a puffed-up pomposity with nothing to say.

Monday, March 22, 2010

See Anything You Like?

A shot of what would be the RPG blogosphere's favorite shelf at the local bookstore. This is where I can find stuff cheap when I want it

Just by chance, for the first time in fourteen years of having the internet, I checked to see if there is still a local gaming convention in this city, and it turns out there is. And it starts Thursday.
Odd coincidence. Not sure I'll even go to look.


In this article, I don’t want to dwell on the five basic machines – the lever, the pulley, the inclined plane, the wedge or the wheel – simply because I can’t think of a great many sexy applications with regards to D&D. It’s only natural when we think of machinery and its influence on the game, we think of devices requiring moving parts, or devices which transform energy into work. The most obvious and interesting D&D machine is, of course, the golem ... which I’ve always assumed transfers ‘energy’ from a non-material plane of existence, powering a near-sentient creature made of various materials into a killing machine.

But I’m not going to talk about golems, either ... there’s been enough written on them, and I’m almost certainly to step on someone’s pre-existing canonical perception (no doubt invented in the Dragon. To date, I think I’ve thrown something like three golems at parties as a DM, and two of them were almost certainly in those heady hack and slash days of my youth, when all we cared about was number of attacks and damage. I’ve never had a party member seriously commit to making a golem ... and that’s probably because there’s enough evidence out there to suggest that golems don’t last long enough in combat to make the effort worthwhile. But – and this is my last word on the subject – the amount of incidental damage a 12’ tall iron golem might do in my world would be terrific (the thing would weigh 15,000 lbs. or thereabouts).

Starting on the subject of machines, I begin to move out of technologies from the past into technologies in the future ... bringing up an issue I began when I started this series: namely, when do the technologies stop applying to D&D, and start applying to games like Traveller?

I am curious to see if I would like to continue writing about technologies which would apply to Traveller (which I did play for some years), because I know I have readers who would be interested. So I shall try beginning here to keep in mind I’m writing for a second RPG beyond the fantasy setting.

A number of fairly complicated machines were very common by the 12th century: water clocks, water and wind turbines, ship rigging, siege weapons, the crossbow (the weapon gained in Civ IV with this technology), wind organs, even steam-powered robotics (including some which were coin operated). The late middle ages saw a flowering of clever mechanical devices which were most evident in mechanical town clocks and upgrades of those things just mentioned ... just the sort of thing imagined with artefacts such as the Machine of Lum the Mad, or the mechanical owl from the original Clash of the Titans. I personally like the idea of a mechanical hand which can be bought by players to replace a lost appendage – very expensive naturally, but still obtainable.

While it is a common tendency to presume that a particular mechanical device came into existence at a certain set moment in time (brought out by a given inventor), the truth is that some kind of machinery performing every given function probably existed long before it was practical for distribution. That is the key condition. If we take something like the cotton gin ‘invented’ by Ely Whitney, it behoves us to remember that likely a kind of machine meant to separate cotton from seeds existed for at least a century before Whitney was born. Not a very good machine, not a reliable machine, not a machine that separated out every seed. When it comes to machinery, the key feature is not whether it does the job or not, but in how continuously functional that machine is.

Consider the automobile through the 20th century. We generally give some date in the 1890s for the invention of the automobile (invented by a variety of different makers who all claim to have done it first), but the automobile built in 1896 by Daimler has very little to do with the one the gentle reader drives today. Cranking the car to start it, different varieties and clarities of fuel (cars have been built to run on wood), wooden/metal/plastic construction, tires, potential driving distances and speeds ... each decade of car production has created and recreated the original invention. Early cars required far more maintenance than present models – if you owned a car, you learned how it functioned so as not to be stranded five miles from anywhere, in a country with very few repair shops (but of course, cars were simpler and most tool shops could and WOULD make what a car owner needed, on the spot ... not so in today’s world).

My point is this: that the creation of a machine does not guarantee the function of that machine. There’s no real reason why a player might not invent a working car or a submarine in the late Middle Ages (Davinci did) ... but making that car run, in all weather, without fail? Not a freaking chance.

Part of the ‘fun’ of machinery is the maintenance thereof. It is a central issue in Traveller, since there are supposed to be just so many engineers for every tonnage of equipment, in order to keep it in running order – with a misjump being possible every time the ship is used. That is why, whatever the particular machine involved, it’s less a question of how much does the machine cost to build, but how often must existing parts be replaced, and how easy is it to do so? Not to mention, how costly is it?

It’s generally overlooked. Suppose you build your iron golem, at 1,000 g.p. per hit point (a rather excessive cost, and it would be different in my world, but we’ll use the Monster Manual for the moment) ... what are the chances of that creature slipping and falling, and needing repairs? Will it still be a thousand g.p. per hit point? That’s just ridiculously expensive, given that the monster might damage its hand tearing down a local fortification (poor Golly, did Golly hurt um hand? Mama pay four thousand and Golly all better).

It’s a bit ridiculous. I would recommend less emphasis on the actual cost of repairs, and assume a lot of the cost could be mitigated with time and expertise. It has to happen that if you’ve fixed golems before, and you get good at it, there have to be shortcuts that will save time. Even if it means Golly’s only good for twenty or twenty-five rounds, before it starts to go a bit wonky.

Because that’s how machinery is – it NEVER works like it’s supposed to. Car doors never close correctly, indicators get stuck, connectors leak, power connections get gunked up and fail, overloads occur, etcetera, etcetera ...

If this kind of thing interests you (it doesn’t me so much), and you want to invent a table which will identify everything that might go wrong with your party’s mechanical rocket launcher (the Chinese built one by the 12th century), or even just the water wheel that runs their armourer’s shop, start a list of words beginning with ‘malfunction’: misfire, snag, defect, disconnect, fail, entangle, unravel, grind, shiver or shudder, split, fracture, rattle, seize, short, leak, interrupt, unbalance, oscillate, run down, weaken, burst, whine, crack, explode or break.

Have fun.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Estate du General

Like the data on cities, this was created during a period when I wasn't actually running any games; I was trying to get a handle on what the structure and format of a manor house was, how it operated and so on, because in those days I still hadn't cracked my economic system.  This file below is a fragment of the research I did the previous year ... I can't find the rest of it, as several boxes of my stuff were damaged, destroyed or thrown out by a roommate I had.  This file here was an attempt to rebuild the lost work, with the expectation that I would do the research again ... but I never did.

So this is an outline of a 'standard' estate ... it was not intended for an adventure, but as a representative model for how much food would be raised and how much might be surplus, how many people would live on how much rural land, how many animals might exist there, what income it might generate and how labor would be divided.  This so that I could judge the population density of certain regions, to identify how people lived and how difficult it was to buy and sell food (and thus set up a basis for an entire system).  Obviously, it does serve as the basis for a possible adventure, but I wish to stress that the numbers here are not pulled out of my head, but were all carefully researched from source materials (and averages used where multiple estimates were discovered).

Lord knows why I liked the Frenchified name.  Probably sounded more D&Dish to me.  In keeping with the practice I established, this is unedited in content.  I fixed a few spelling errors and broke up the paragraphs some (since it apparently was written out in one solid block of writing) for ease of reading. I'm printing these things unedited because I want to emphasize that I got better at writing things like this with practice. The gentle reader should take that as an assurance.

from November 30, 1998

Estate du General
The Estate du General is organized among the various classes of persons who dwell there: the steward, who stands in stead for the Baron and watches over the gardens, fields, and paddocks, is master over the largest portion of cultivated land, about 400 acres total—though these fields are not positively removed from the general cultivated fields, which lie in a half circle to the south and west of the Manor, at about a kilometer distance in all directions.

The Manor itself is surrounded by a hundred acres of parkland; to the immediate south is a meadow of about 80 acres, and to the west is a civilized forest of about 135 acres, separated from the more distant cultivated land by another meadow some 150 meters wide extending more than 2½ kilometers (89 acres). Between the forest and the east meadow the church directs about 50 acres of unsown church land.

As the Lord of the Manor, or “Chief Manse,” the Baron holds six complete fiefs total, of which this is one; the manor house is used by the Baron’s Steward for administration. This house is a 30’ diameter square stone building, with three or four rooms, facing an inner court. Attached to the stone house is a wooden hall some 20 ft. long and 15 ft. wide, wherein dwells the two overseers, and the manor servants, and their families; they look over the field and boon work upon the Baron’s estate. There are, in addition, several other buildings hedged around, including workrooms, a kitchen, a bakehouse, a winery, servants quarters, barns, stables, and other farm buildings. Around the whole there is a hedge carefully planted with trees.

An account of the servants (besides the overseers) includes the vintner, the cook and his son, the baker and his son, the scribe, the charwoman (wife of the cook), and the Steward’s valet.

Between the two meadows, located along the stream through the Estate, is the village of the cultivators, the villeins. This is a cluster of three sizable houses of wood, some 17 well-kept huts and 4 dilapidated hovels. The stream provides water for the village and operates the mill.

The only person who works perpetually in the village is the Miller, a freeman, who not only mills the available grain in flour, but also cuts hay from the meadow, and collects brush and fallen timber for fuel and building purposes, which he gives to the baron or sells to the villeins or passers by.

Three gentlemen both work farms and have specialty skills, which enable them to be freeholders of their farms, though they are still endentured to provide services for the chief manse. These are the blacksmith, the mason and the carpenter. None have their own tools, but work one day a week in the workshop of the Baron.

Their houses are wooden, about 15 ft. square, of one floor with a stone foundation. They own an equal portion of land to that which the villeins work, that is, about 30 acres. In other estates, these men are sometimes able to hire cotters (lesser serfs who have much less land than villeins) to work their land while they provide for and operate their own shop, which they’re able to do three days a week.

All villeins are expected to serve one day per week in the maintenance of the chief manse (called “boon” work), and two days in the fields of the Baron. No one is allowed to work outside on a Sunday, and so the villeins are free to work their own land the remaining three days.

Seventeen of the houses of the village are occupied by villeins, and four by cotters. The houses of the former are about 100 sq.ft. in size and well-kept. They are made of straw, mud, wattle, and some wood. The houses of the cotters, however, are only about 60-80 sq.ft., and in poor condition.

The cotters each work the fields (though no boon work) of the Baron five days per week and are free therefore to work for themselves but one day per week. They each have about 6 acres of land which they cut themselves, with permission, from the waste forest south of the cultivated fields. They must pay an equivalent tax as other villeins, though they have much less land, and they support themselves by working odd jobs as needed.

The cultivated lands amount to a total of 801 acres, divided into three great fields. In one the winter crop is sown, and another sown in the spring for the summer crop. The third field, in rotation, is allowed to lie fallow each year. The arable fields are divided into one acre strips, each one furlong (40 rods) by 4 rods wide, separated from one another only by balks or ridges of unplowed turf.

As said before, each villein owns 30 strips of land, 19 of which each year is planted. The Baron’s portion of the cultivated land is 195 acres, of which 130 is planted. The scattering of ownership among the joint fields encourages a communal form of labor.

Each villein keeps a small garden plot of about 1 acre; the garden plot of the Baron is 10 acres. In addition, the Baron also holds a huge orchard of 195 acres, dedicated to various fruits and grapes. These plots are used to raise vegetables, pulses, and other more obscure crops: portions of them are set aside for grapes, beehives, and so on. The Baron’s plot includes a sizable orchard as well.

Within the yard of their houses in the village, the villeins keep chickens, geese, and pigs. Cattle and, more commonly, sheep are allowed to graze upon the Baron’s meadowlands for a yearly tax. Pigs feed upon acorns and other nuts in the surrounding forests. Children are generally given the task of herders, but the Baron’s flock is looked after by a chief husbandman and two herders; further, the paddock is looked after by a muleskinner, or horse trainer.

The Manor House: Steward, Reeve, Hayward, Vintner (or brewer), cook, baker, scribe, wagonner, valet, shepherd, swineheard. 11 adult males, 9 adult females, 21 children, 4 aged males, 3 aged females.

Village: Miller, Blacksmith, Carpenter, Mason, 17 villeins, 4 cotters. 26 adult males, 20 adult females, 50 children, 9 aged males, 7 aged females.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I am undecided as to whether or not I can count myself among the number of ‘old school’ or not. On the one hand, I can appreciate arguments about limited resource playing (set number of spells, hit points, items and so on instead of that 4e crap), the DM making a final ruling on more open-possibility game, a greater abstractness with regards to combat and the like ... sounds good to me, I’ve been playing that way all along.

On the other hand, most of the loudest ‘voices’ crying out for DIY-D&D also seem to have something to sell – a module, a new published copy of ‘old’ game rules, whatever else they can dream up. And yes, this sure is old school ... I remember hating that freaking approach then, too.

Play your OWN game with OUR ideas ... bleh.

I am all for reading other people’s blogs and succouring ideas from them. Ideas are everywhere. But a pre-made module is NOT an idea. It’s a cage, and it is designed to make DMs dependent on other people inventing the dungeons and other people inventing the story line. Back then, the argument was that a new DM could get their start with a few new modules, before learning how to write modules themselves. Yes, DIY modules, written exactly the way TSR wrote them.

Like I said, sounds like old school to me. Old school bullshit.

I hope the gentle reader can understand me here, because I’m about to explain why I never gave a shit about Dragon magazine.

Without bothering to go look up on Wikipedia to find out how long the magazine lasted and during what years, I’ll rely on my memory, since that’s really all that matters to me. Yes, there was a magazine that was a huge influence on the game, particularly in the 1980s. It did run for more than 240 issues (I think the last one I saw was #244). In the beginning it had some good comics. I read Fineous Fingers avidly, and later What’s New (note the link on the right; couldn’t find one for Fineous). Murphy’s Rules were sometimes funny.

I suppose I read the editorial with every issue, and I remember we did have arguments about those editorials back in the day ... but I can’t remember a single one. The actual substance of whatever I may have read in those days has blended together into one large pasty wad. I can no longer deconstruct the source.

I do remember the magazine always had reviews for games (call shilling for the advertiser), a new list of monsters, a new list of spells, or of gods, or of traps, and generally one or two ‘adventures.’ What I remember most about the adventures was that they all sucked. Never used them. Never got an idea from them. It was just more mucky duplicating of the modules I mentioned above. Same old thing.

I seem to remember some of the monsters got used, but none of them stuck in my world until the appearance of the Fiend Folio (in which 60% of the monsters were laughable, ridiculous things – I own the internet rights to if anyone wants to buy it from me). The gods were entirely worthless. I told my players if someone liked a spell from Dragon magazine, they could research it in my world and I would allow them to use it. No one ever did such a thing.

Beyond that, the magazine had advertising. Loads of advertising. For games I didn’t buy, for modules I didn’t want, for crap I didn’t need.

So you can imagine how I feel when I hear someone quote not only the item, but which issue from the Dragon it came from.

To me, this sort of thinking - along with the endless creation of jazzy stuff meant to jazz up a world – IS old school. It reflects perfectly the dumbass mindset of those days.

This game doesn’t need ‘old,’ it needs a Renaissance. I can’t ask for a complete ban on products (since I’ve pitched a few on this blog), but let’s not pretend that modules and DIY go hand in hand, hm? I do need a list of traps, and a list of new monsters. But I need new traps and monsters ... but I need them to actually be NEW – not just retreads of other monsters. I don’t need sixty new colors for slaad; I don’t need twenty new materials for golems; I sure as hell don’t need another humanoid race with less than 4HD. And I don’t need these things inside a module, I need them in a written form that resembles a Biology Textbook. Or an Engineering Textbook.

I need a method to map a three dimensional castle that doesn’t require fourteen pieces of paper or my getting a degree in graphic design. I need treasure tables that are simple simon, that enable me to ‘plug in’ new ideas I have for giving my players treasure – and I need those treasure tables to be based upon what people are carrying, what they’re keeping in their living quarters, how far they’ve pimped out their ‘ride’ and how much they’ve dressed up their guards and servants. These treasure tables don’t need to be in another goddamn paper module where they apply only to the Gold City of Freaksburg, they need to be in a full-ass excel spreadsheet that applies to EVERYWHERE.

Don’t give me another ‘storm damage table for ships at sea’ that has six possible outcomes in toto ... I invented that thirty years ago. Do some research on spars and holds and forecastles, and tell me how many seamen I need to make the ship go at optimum turning speed – tell me where those seamen are positioned on-board and how many years experience they have. I don’t know sailing, people ... some bastard out there that plays this game must, and they ought to be working on this, right now. And the same goes for spelunking, construction, farming, blacksmithing, political assassinations inside a monarchy and god knows what else. I’m not going to be happy until the twenty page pamplet is written on “How to use a sword from a hand glider.”

I need meat, and that is what this hobby needs. MEAT. Not more swill, not more buttfarting, not another three-page dungeon or another list of gods with 200 words or less written on each one. Meat, people. Give me meat.

Unarmed Combat

It occurs to me (given what is happening with the campaign blog) that I've never published these house rules.  It is about time I did so.  I hate the complicated (and virtually useless) rules from the DMG ... so I fixed them.  These have worked for me for quite awhile:


Grappling describes an attempt to wrestle an opponent to the ground, in order to subdue, disarm or otherwise overpower the grappled creature. In typical combat situations it is not an effective ploy when used in one-on-one situations; however, if several creatures attempt to grapple a solitary defender at the same time, it can be useful in overcoming those whose armor class makes them virtually invulnerable to ordinary combat. This is because grappling is a question of dexterity and weight.

When grappling, the attacker drops or sheaths weapons in order to use both hands; grappling with one hand is possible, but incurs penalty modifiers. A d20 is rolled as always, but only the opponents natural armor class and dexterity is considered. Natural armor class for most human races is 10; this may be modified by magic rings, bracers of defense and defensive spells, but not by magical cloaks, ordinary or magical armor and so on. This is because grappling is not an attempt to strike at specific points in the body in order to cause a wound, but at the body as a whole—which is obviously much easier to hit.

Additionally, the attacker gains a +1 to hit modifier for each 50 lbs. of weight above 100 lbs. which the attacker weighs. If the attacker is holding a light one-handed weapon, a penalty of –2 to hit is given; a heavy one-handed weapon gives a penalty of –4, and a two-handed weapon held one handed while grappling gives a penalty of –6 to hit.

Fighters or monks who have multiple attacks against opponents attempting to grapple receive a +2 to hit for every additional attack. Thus, a monk with two attacks per round would receive +2; a fighter with 3 attacks every 2 rounds would receive +1; and so on. All other to hit modifiers also apply.

A successful grapple indicates that 1-4 hp of real damage will be done (this may vary, as claws or weight consideration may potentially cause more damage). Strength bonuses apply.

Attackers who attempt to grapple, who then fail, suffer a –3 penalty to their normal AC.

Once grappled, the defender may attempt to resist by breaking free. This is accomplished by rolling a save vs. paralyzation. Defenders gain a +1 modifier to this save for every 50 lbs. of weight above 100 lbs. If successful, the defender may also attempt to strike that round with fist or weapon, whichever might be available. If unsuccessful, the defender can take no other action. The defender may attempt to resist one grappling attack per number of attacks which the defender possesses. Thus, if a fourth level fighter is resisting against six goblins, the fighter can attempt to resist four times (attacks against zero levels).

The defender might, instead of resisting, attempt to grapple also; in which case, the attack is exactly the same as above. Opponents may thus continue grappling from round to round.

However, once one of the opponents is stunned, that opponent is considered to be pinned, and may only take the “resist” option. Failure to resist all grapplers indicates the defender is still “pinned.”


Overbearing is an effort to force back opponents from positions of defense, so that they must move backwards while an attacker moves forward. Success in this is entirely a condition of weight; a heavier opponent is more likely to push back a lighter opponent. There are considerations, however.

The base chance of success is a hit against AC 10 (regardless of the defender’s AC). The attacker has a modifier of +1 per 50 lbs. of weight above 100 lbs. which he possesses, and a modifier of –1 for every 50 lbs. of weight of his opponent. Armor is considered as part of overbearing weight, but equipment is not.

Thus, Abner the fighter wishes to push Jacob the fighter back one hex. Abner’s overbearing weight is 240, giving him a +2 modifier; however, Jacob’s defending weight is 197, so Abner really only receives a +1. Abner attempts to hit AC 10, and succeeds. Jacob must back up one hex while Abner may move forward (the movement penalty for overbearing provides for the necessary movement ability).

However, if Jacob were not able to push back, because Jacob’s back was to a door, the overbear attempt would fail. However, if Jacob were fighting at the edge of a cliff, and the overbear succeeded, Jacob would need to make a dexterity check to grab the edge (at +4 on the die roll) or fall.

It is possible to overbear and fight normally in the same round. If a creature is simultaneously overborne and stunned in the same round, the creature will give two hexes as a result (but the attacker would only advance one hex).

If riding a mount, the mount’s weight is included in attempts to overbear—and will allow up to two opponents to be overborne in the space of one round. Thus, a light horse weighing 400 lbs. would gain a +6 to overbear (a horse typically weighs 67 lbs. per hit point; horses with less than 5 hp are considered immature). Note, however, that a heavy warhorse, with barding and bearing a rider in armor, could easily top 2,000 lbs.

Another important consideration is the depth of defenders. If attempting to overbear a defensive position composed of two lines of men, one behind the other, the attacker must successfully overbear the weight of the opponent and of two defenders buttressing from behind. Thus, while it might be easy to overbear a 75 lb. goblin, this becomes more difficult when three goblins weighing 225 lbs. are faced. For deeper lines, a pyramid of opponents supports the front…thus a line three deep would mean six goblins to be pushed back, a line four deep would mean ten goblins to be pushed back and so on. In this way it is possible for a sufficiently supported line to withstand a cavalry charge.

Overbearing causes no damage. See overrunning.


Overrunning indicates when a charging attacker knocks down and tramples a defender, thus continuing to move past and potentially attacking more rearward members of a standing army. In order to successfully overrun an opponent, the attacker must be in the second round of continuous forward movement (at least three quarters full movement in the first round) and be presently moving at a speed of at least seven hexes per round. The trajectory of the charging attacker must be a straight line.

If, under such conditions, the attacker successfully overbears the front opponent, overrunning will occur. There are bonuses to overbearing if the attacker is in motion; weight is effectively increased by 50 lbs. per 10’ feet of speed above 25’ per round (per two hexes of speed above five hexes per round). Thus, if a charging man weighing 175 lbs. attacks at a speed of nine hexes per round, his weight is considered to be 275 lbs. for overbearing purposes.

Once having successfully overborne an opponent at a run, the attacker reduces his speed by 25’ (five hexes) per round and causes damage to the trampled opponent. This damage will be equal to 1-4 for attackers with an overbearing weight under 200 lbs.; 1-6 with a weight of 201-400 lbs.; 1-8 with a weight of 401-700 lbs.; 1-10 with a weight of 701-1,100 lbs.; 2-12 with a weight of 1,100-2,200 lbs.; and 2-16 damage for all heavier creatures. Additionally, it should be noted that in overrunning creatures, normal combat is also carried out, so this is damage added to that which may ordinarily occur.

In overrunning an opponent, the attacker may lose his or her footing, so a dexterity check must be made to remain upright. This check is at +4 for creatures moving at treble their movement, and +8 for creatures moving at quadruple their movement. Note that as speed increases the overbearing weight of the attacker it potentially increases damage also.

Attackers who are still moving at the minimum speed necessary to overrun a second opponent may do so, provided it does not occur in the same round and provided this does not require any change in direction.


Pummelling indicates striking with the fist rather than with a weapon. It can be an effective action prior to regaining a dropped weapon. Notably, attackers who choose to have both hands free (and sufficient dexterity) may attack twice or more (depending on their combat ability) per round.

For most humans and demi-humans, pummeling damage equals 1-3. There are exceptions, in that halflings and other races are small enough to cause only 1-2 damage, while some half-orcs, humans or dwarves might weigh enough to cause 1-4.

Pummelling is carried out exactly as normal combat, with the exception that a strength bonus is not allowed unless the attacker’s fist is armored with a guantlet; even then, the strength bonus is halved (an ordinary strength bonus of +1 equals zero, a strength bonus of +2 or +3 equals +1 and so on. Thus a hill giant’s strength bonus when pummelling would only be +3, and only while wearing a guantlet).

Monks using open hand damage are in fact pummelling. Monks as a class are not permitted to use guantlets, and thus have no strength bonuses. The monk ability to ‘stagger’ (stun as listed in the Players Handbook) opponents cannot be done by other classes through pummelling.

An unarmed opponent facing an armed opponent suffers a modifier of –1 to their armor class, as they are unable to properly parry attacks. Monks are not considered to be affected by this rule.

Combatants with multiple attacks may strike with both fist and weapon.  In cases where an attacker has three attacks every two rounds (such as a 7th level fighter), the fist may be considered a half attack (thus, the fighter could attack with fist and weapon every round). This can also apply to monks who may choose to use weapon and open hand simultaneously. Note that characters with a high dexterity may also employ the fist as an option to a second weapon—the fist acting as the secondary weapon, and receiving one less than the penalty indicated (a 17 dexterity where the secondary weapon hits  with a –1 would have no penalty if the secondary weapon was a fist).