Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ornamental Gems

I have a soft spot for gems, but where it comes to pricing them for my world, they are a bitch.  There are no statistics for what quantity of gems are unearthed from the ground (I've looked) with the exception of diamonds ... in which case the amount of industrial quality vs. gem quality is never specified.  There are reasons for this, no doubt - the industry doesn't want us to know how common these gems are, I would guess.  At any rate, the substantial cost of a gem is not in its location.  As anyone knows who has bought a rock tumbler, the cost of gems is in the finishing.

Here are a list of ornamental stones, with visual aids and links.  They are all, in my reckoning, worth about the same amount, and represent the lowest echelon of 'gemstones.'  Some of these are included in the DMG; some are listed as 'fancy' gems in that very flawed book, a rating I contest.  But the gentle reader is certainly permitted to contest me.

I've tried to show the gems in their most ordinary, polished state, but that wasn't always possible given the pictures I found on the net.  You can search for yourself if you like, there are plenty of images showing these from their raw state to quite marvelous pieces of jewellery.  Most of these stones are made valuable because they are able to be carved, rather than simply polished and set.

The only specific information I'll add to the links would be a list of sources where the gemstone would be found in my world.  None of these lists are meant to be exhaustive, they simply include those places for which I have reputable sources.  To make it comprehensible, I will use the regional names normally associated with Earth, and not what I call them my world.

A last point.  Many of these below are lesser quality examples of superior quality gems - such as cat's eye, which is a form of chrysoberyl, or prase, which is a form of chrysoprase; in both cases, purer chrysoberyl and chrysoprase are much costlier gemstones (and I may present those at a later time).

Agate, quality: America, China, India, Iran, Madagascar, Mexico, Oregon, Rio Grande do Sul, Salm County (Germany), Uruguay.

Agate, moss: America, China, Colorado, India, Michigan, Oregon, Rio Grande do Sul, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.

Azurite: Arizona, Australia, Chile, Lyon (France), Pennsylvania.

Cairngorm: Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Cat's Eye: Brazil, Ceylon, China, India.

Greenstone: China, Dudley (England), New Zealand, Odenwald Mts. (Germany), Turkestan.

Hawk's Eye: South Africa.

Hematite: America, Brazil, Cumberland (England), Elba (Italy), New Zealand, Norway, Saalfeld (Germany), Spain, Sweden.

Lapis Lazuli: Afghanistan, Badakhshan, Lake Baykal (Siberia), Chile, Coquimba Province (Chile), Hindu Kush (Pakistan).

Malachite: Arizona, Australia, Chile, South Africa, Zaire, Zimbabwe.

Mother-of-Pearl: Arafura Sea (Australia-New Guinea), California, Dahlak Islands (Red Sea), Saudi Arabia.

Prase: Erzgebirge (Germany), Finland, Salzburg (Austria), Scotland.

Quartz, quality: Afghanistan, Arkansas, Derbent, Eritrea, Grampian Hills (Scotland), Loire-Inferieure (France), Mayo County (Ireland), Orel (Russia), Orne (France), Saudi Arabia, Sinkaing (China), Vishniy-Volochek (Russia).

Quartz, blue: Brazil, Salzburg (Austria), South Africa, Sweden.

Quartz, rose: Brazil, Madagascar.

Rhodochrosite: Argentina, Colorado, San Luis (Argentina).

Rhodonite: America, Australia, India, Madagascar, Mexico, South Africa, Upper Svaeland (Sweden), Vancouver Island.

Tiger Eye: Burma, California, India, South Africa, Western Australia.

Turquoise: Afghanistan, America, Australia, California, Iran, Israel, Khurasan (Iran), Nevada, New Mexico, Sinai Peninsula (Egypt), Tanzania, Tibet, Turkestan.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kindergarten D&D

Nothing against Ryan over at Save vs. Poison, but when I see stuff like this, I feel myself wanting to ... wanting to ... oh fuck it, let's just read the quote:
"Yes, all these elements are realistic. Yes, it's harder to start a fire in certain climates. Yes, food might spoil or humidity might affect you... but the book struck me as nothing more than a hindrance to the player characters. I could find absolutely nothing in the book that did not bog the DM down with tedious administrative duties related to the local climate, and saddle the players with a bunch of additional penalties for things."
In Ryan's defense, he is crapping all over a pretty bad book, the Wilderness Survival Guide, which heartily deserves to be crapped on.  It was one of those last ill-conceived, slapped-together volumes churned out by the dying TSR in the '80s.  I remember finding a copy at the time and staring open mouthed at how much absolute nothing there was in the book.

But I am just sick to death of the pouting and whining about having to administrate details in a game, or requiring players to do more than spit words and throw dice.  This kindergarten logic that says that players just want to have fun, and that any sort of book-keeping - or god forbid, hindrance - is by definition non-fun, just makes me want to ... want to ...

(noises of things being thrown about a room, leading to something that sounds vaguely like a computer being used to smash a fish bowl, then softer sounds of fish being pounded into a carpet using a damaged keypad ...)

Okay, I feel better now.

I think the key word from the weakened moment above would be 'kindergarten' ... as in, we are all adults, we know how to write words, add and subtract - I would hope - and it would be rather pleasant if we could play a game that goes a bit beyond Pooh & Eeyore Find The Honey Tree, consisting of die rolls, and the biggest hindrance being that players have to lose a turn.  I grant that the Wilderness Guide did a crummy job of it, because the techniques suggested to roll said hindrances had the convenience of monkey farts on tap, but it IS possible to do a better job, to reduce the DM's record keeping and STILL make life hard for a party.

Would you care to know the value in making a party's life miserable beyond belief?  Ending the misery.  That's it.  Because we all want a party to be goddamn fucking overjoyed when the battle is over and when the day is won.  It isn't enough that we've reached the end.  We want to feel like we've been through hell, and that we're now at peace.  Hindrances, and then the absence of hindrances, are how a DM gets a party to feel that.

It is the old head-beating-the-wall joke.  And now it feels SO good that we've stopped.

Only attitudes like the one promoted above by Ryan are making the wall so fucking soft that it's like the wall is made of puffy marshmallows.  Oh, the campaign's over?  I hadn't noticed.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Seriously, if people could just write in and ask questions, it would make it a lot easier to decide what to post about.

Sigilspc wrote me an email, pointing out that I had hex-mapped Central Asia, and asked, "Why has Afghanistan so often been the chosen grave of empire?"

I am prepared to answer the question; I've thought about this post off and on for months; and I will ask please to be forgiven for being pedantic about it.  If all the information isn't possessed, it is hard to make the argument, and there is a lot of information.  I will strive to be brief and yet comprehensive.

Starting at the beginning, then:

This is a rough piece of country, and probably won't be recognizable as Afghanistan to many gentle readers simply because the standardized border - the one that obliterates everything that surrounds Afghanistan - isn't depicted.  But places don't stop at borders, so the best way to think about this area is to throw out the political borders and look at the land.

So if the reader could please open the image, we can take a crack at Sigilspc's question.

To begin with, I'd like to draw attention to the large green space on the right side of the map, and the smaller green space on the top of the map.  The right is the Indus Valley, modern Pakistan or as it used to be called for many centuries, the Punjab.  This region continues to be one of the two most fertile river valleys on Earth, the other being the Ganges ... which, conveniently, continues from the Indus Valley eastwards.  Even in ancient times these lands contained millions of people, certainly a third of every human being on earth ... and even today a fifth of every human.  We're talking about, right now, a billion and a half people, stretching east and south of Afghanistan, right on the doorstep if you will.

Now, the top green area is the Amu Darya River valley, once known as the Oxus, which was Bactria for centuries before the arrival of Alexander the Great, and which was for two millenia prior to Genghis Khan's appearance a profoundly rich, intellectually focused center of learning.  Unfortunately, we don't know what those people were thinking, specifically, because they were massacred in their tens of thousands and the libraries all burnt to the ground, and the vast hordes of gold removed.  And now, keeping all that in mind, consider that to the west of this land is Persia, and just beyond that Mesopotamia and Egypt, so that the road west from this land of Bactria leads straight into the heart of the ancient, western world.

When I produced this map, I found these two green areas quite startling.  I had certainly heard about Bactria for decades, having taken Classics as a degree (literary works of ancient history) ... but having it demonstrated for me in this fashion really affected me.  The green on this map is land less than 2000 ft. above sea level.  The darker the green, the lower the land ... so that the area of the Indus is less than 500 ft., and the bottom of the Oxus - at least as far as the map depicts - is less than 700 ft.

If, then, we could pull out and look at the whole map comprehensively, there is a massive mountain wall between these two regions, not to mention a rather extensive desert that covers the southwest quandrant of this map.  The tan/orange hexes on the map range from 2000 to 7000 ft., while the purple areas are above 7,000 ft.  And when I say above that altitude, I mean the whole hex ... not just a few mountains.  Each hex on the map is graded according to the altitude points available in that hex, as obtained from the website on my links, the 'global gazatteer' on the left.  Just sayin', if anyone wants to check my work.  Have fun.

I should hope that most of my readers would have some idea of what the terrain in Afghanistan looks like - it is rarely mentioned that a great deal of it is so high above sea level that a great many of the readers who dwell along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would have trouble breathing.  I live at 3,600 ft. normally, and my lungs start to hurt whenever I get above 7,000 ft., due to the thin air.  A substantial portion of Afghanistan, particularly the northeast corner (called Badakhshan), gets well above 12,000 ft.

Where it comes to travel - particularly the sort where goods are hauled from one place to another, 'up' and 'down' are more of a problem than 'far.'  We've lost this in our travelling consciousness because tunnels and carefully designed angles of ascent and descent in our highways have removed the problem.  While the Romans did some good work in that direction also, they managed to provide roads to a very small part of the world, and one which was nothing like the part of the planet we're looking at right now.

So in considering a loaded wagon, I consider the steady rise of land from sea level to 400 ft. over a distance of 20 miles is equivalent to a full day of travel (which, in a wagon, is 5 to 10 miles over flat ground, depending upon how heavily loaded).  It's not strictly accurate; but if you want to muck around with some math for awhile, and inclined planes over distances and elevations, you'll start to get a sense of what I simply taking for granted at this point in the argument.  When doing the math, remember that land does not allow a level vector 20 miles in length compared with another vector 400 ft. straight up - it tends to roll, up and down, and roads tend to weave left and right.  After beating my head over this problem some years ago, I simply had to accept an easy, straight-forward ratio, which I've already given.  One way or the other, the gentle reader will concede that going 'up' is not preferable to going 'forward.'  It wastes time.  It requires effort.  And hill slopes tend to include things like wheels slipping on the road, falling rocks, mud slides caused by excessive rain and washed out roads.  Nice, low valley roads are preferable.

For those who have never heard of the Khyber Pass, it would easily be the most important route in history.  On this map, it can be found to the upper left from the center of the map - where a 100-mile line of green hexes (20 miles per hex) climbs up from Peshawar to Jalalabad.  The actual pass is between these two points (not marked on the map), between two purple hexes.  Sorry about not marking it - I know its there, and I don't need to remind myself, so ... I haven't bothered to draw a symbol there.  But you can find it marked on any good map if you want to look for it.  In actual fact, a traveller must climb the pass and come down again (unlike my map where the elevation steadily increases) ... but that is because the river gets wild as it drives through the pass and the traveller must make way over a mountain spur.

The pass itself is not the most important feature.  What matters is that from Jalalabad, it is only 180 miles - nine hexes - to the lowlands of Bactria.  The road on my map climbs up to Kabol, then north through Charikar and thence NW.  There are other passes through the mountain range that dominates Afghanistan, but none provides easy passage from the Indus lowland towards Persia.  And that is the key!  Eastern Afghanistan is a gate, between the higher technology of the west and the vast population of the east ... and peoples have moved both ways on this road since, well, ever.  We are quite certain than when Pithecanthropus Erectus made its way out of Africa half a million years ago towards China and the East Indies, they came through this pass - in wave after wave, please note.

Note the highland in the middle of that road, in which Kabol is the heart.  If you check out this region on Google Earth, it will look dry, and brown, and lifeless.  This is because satellite pictures are best taken during the dry season, giving westerners the perception of desolation.  In fact, when monsoons are hitting the coast of India, this sizeable plateau (about the size of New Jersey) becomes rich, green and vibrant - not to mention cloud-covered.  This is the region that spawned the Moghul Empire that would in the 15th and 16th centuries conquer India and create the culture that would build the Taj Mahal.  And they would do it with wealth ... hordes and hordes of wealth, gained in part from the magnificent trade between east and west, but also from the vast amounts of gold, lead, copper, platinum, gemstones and additional untold wealth in natural resources.

Some recent report came out that estimated that there was a trillion dollars worth of untapped wealth under Afghanistan - which is a magnificent joke, for no other reason than that this is a surprise to no one.  We're talking about a huge mountain range which has been thrown up by the India tectonic plate slamming very slowly and for eons into the heart of Asia and throwing up unimaginable riches.  Riches which are still, tectonically, being thrown up.  Hah hah.

The possession of these riches has been, for literally all of human history, a motivation for kingdoms to 'seek their grave,' as Sigilspc puts it.  Of course, the Persians controlled it for two centuries, the Parthians for four, the Sassanians for four, the Mongols for three and then the Moghuls (descended from the Mongols) for another two and a half.  So I guess it has to be wondered just how long your descendents have to own a country before it becomes "a failure to succeed."  I'm quite certain the kings who ruled and who died in harness were entirely confident the land was firmly under their thumb.

That, I think, answers the question as to why.  The question of who follows along: the Mongols came from the north, where the land above the map is still known as Turkestan.  The Sassanians were Persians.  The Parthians were from the lands around the Aral Sea.  Rajahs from India threw out the Moghuls in the 1700s, and the British began their foolish escapades a hundred years after that.

The main reason why Afghanistan is known as a 'grave' is because for the last two centuries the most strenuous invaders have come from lands far from this region, and who are themselves not Islamic.  There is no comprehension of the dominant culture, the land itself is ridiculously rugged - and yet heavily populated - and has become ethnically fragmented to the highest degree.  In fact, until the British began 'uniting' the country, it never had been a single entity.  The high center is Hazara; the northeast is Aria, the lowland on the west, or left, side of the map is Seistan, the south desert was part of the lands beyond that Alexander the Great called Gedrosia ... these lands have had many names, and have been ruled or not ruled in a hundred different ways.  Some parts are far more peaceful than others, some are far richer, some are far more fertile, and so on and so forth.  The region is anything but homogeneous, though the press, the military, modern historians and virtually everyone I talk to seems to think it exists in the same single-minded headspace as Texas ... which, incidentally, would be the size of Afghanistan inside its political borders.

Borders which are not especially respected.  The actual territory in conflict covers almost this entire map ... and yet the allies are only resident in two parts: the aforementioned Kabul, and Qandahar, which is very near the center of this map.  Qandahar is at the bottom of a big series of river valleys that reach up into Hazara and the region I'm calling Zabulistan (which the Moghuls called it) ... valleys which join together to form the Helmand River, that line of green that flows through the Margow Desert, and was itself an ancient seat of culture (as mentioned, Seistan), which in turn was occupied by the Scythians before the Persians conquered them, and who had spread throughout the lands from Poland to Siberia by the time the Greeks encountered them on the north side of the Black Sea.

My point is that these are ancient lands, far more ancient that anyone remotely considers.  It is hubris to think that Afghanistan is a 'backward' country.  What's backwards is thinking that wealth is still a good reason to be there.


I do apologize.  Not much D&D here.  But it's a nice map, right?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Never Run Your Parents

The most embarrassing moment I had as a DM came the Christmas of 1979. I was 15-years-old, and I had only started playing the game 15 weeks before. When it came around that my parents asked me what I wanted that year, I was definite about wanting the new AD&D books (which had only become available in my part of the world that Autumn) and dice. Which they, astoundingly, got for me. A nice new copy of the DMG and the Player’s Handbook (both of which I still own) and a Monster Manual.  I also still have the original 20-sided and 4-sided that came that Christmas.

I had been able to read parts of the books before, but having my own I quickly disappeared from the world all through Christmas Day doing nothing but reading, both going to bed and then starting early in the A.M. (my family always opened gifts Christmas Eve).  But then after dinner my parents insisted on playing this new game - they did not understand why I was keeping it to myself.

It helps to remember at the time that there was no media about the game - the first time my parents ever heard about the game was from me, and they had no idea.  But you try explaining D&D in an age when there were no home computers and no video games (both Donkey Kong and Pacman came out in 1980, so that tells you what I was up against).  Nevertheless, I agreed.

As an aside, my parents are terribly straight, normal people, upper middle class, educated, mildly paranoid about crime and obsequiously reticent about anything - or anyone - that's different.  Please keep this in mind.

Well, they didn't do so bad with rolling up characters.  It had to be very simple, I hadn't been a DM before, and I'd only played a dozen times.  I'd only played the AD&D system for a month.  So I kept it simple: my parents rolled up two fighters and my older sister rolled a cleric.

I started them off in a dungeon and the wheels went off the wagon immediately.

To start with, they just couldn't grasp the concept of no board and no pieces.  Even my friends played without miniatures (the push for little lead figurines had not yet hit the game where we were), and I was used to everything being in our heads - combat included, of course.  Unfortunately, my mother could not picture any of this in her head.  She does have an unfortunate habit of losing her place when it comes to movies with more than six characters, as she can't remember what Bad Guy B is doing at the warehouse in Scene 23 ... so this meant my often repeating descriptions which, let's face it, I wasn't very good at giving since I was young, ignorant and inexperienced.

When they came to a door that was jammed shut, with all characters failing to roll the die to open it, my father the engineer borrowed a ten-foot-pole from my mother (everyone had ten-foot-poles in those days, it was the style at the time) and with his two ten foot poles proceeded to lever the door open.  He gave me a complicated description - complete with diagram - on how this was possible and how the door would not be able to resist the force the two poles could apply, if the poles really were two inches thick and made of pine as I said.  He added math to his argument and I caved.

After that, every door became an exercise in my father pulling out his two ten foot poles prior to even trying the handle.  My sister, bored, spent most of the time doodling on her character and having very little interest, and my mother began to make humourous jokes about every odd word that came up.  Not good jokes, mind, just derogatory things about who invented the word 'orc' and how did pig-faced people wear a helmet if their eyes were on either sides of their big noses and so on.  My father began to join in on these also and things did not go well from there.  Frankly, within an hour, they weren't capable of taking anything seriously, from the word 'charisma' to descripe attractiveness to the word 'experience' to describe points needed to 'win.'  The combination of words, 'hit' and 'point' seemed to send them into paroxysms of laughter.

I felt totally inadequate.  I couldn't express how the game could be good, I couldn't demonstrate it to them, I couldn't get past all the mockery and I definitely didn't have the raw knowledge of the game that I needed to DM these terrible people.

Well, they had the same basic reaction when I said I'd be a writer.  And the same basic reaction when I said I'd go into the theatre.  Which they acknowledge now that I've done a good job with.  Like all parents, they don't remember at all having anything against those things.

But they still don't 'get' D&D.  And a repeat attempt to teach them has never been given, and will never be given, so there you are.  It is mostly because this is the pursuit I've never made any money at.  If I somehow turned it into a living, their selective memories would kick in and they'd accept me playing this game, also.

I suppose I've written this out as a parable of sorts, to remind people that there's a definite limit to how many people will ever play this game.  Some are just not going to get it - and when you find yourself facing these people, who have arrived at your table following their girlfriends or their boyfriends, I strongly recommend that you gently explain, that you encourage them to watch and not to play, and that later, much later, you threaten your players with a nasty thonging if they ever dare bring around that person again.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Impoverished Patrician

"Poor Little Rich Hero (Meis Rule):" If the hero comes from a rich and powerful family, it will have fallen on hard times and be broke and destitute by the time the game actually starts.

This is really the opposite of the farm boy who has come to the big city to make good; this is the sophisticate who comes to the farm in order to learn the true value of family, friendship, loyalty, et al, so that when they win the crown and head back to their sophisticated world they can take with them the down-home goodness of honest folks.

Really more of a fan-fiction thing than D&D, as I would guess more than half the people who sit down to write a Terry Pratchett-style book begin with a character of pure, noble blood who's estranged from an evil/misunderstanding father and loving mother, who must 'succeed on his own' ... or crap to that degree.  I don't find players follow this one up very hard - I can think of a few who make a note about a misunderstanding father (its always the father, isn't it, since our fathers never seem to understand D&D), but it never seems to go anywhere.

Of course, in a long-term sandbox game, there's not much desire on the part of the DM to make everyone an ex-noble of some kind ... because it creates large problems where it comes to group roleplaying.  Do you A) make sure that everyone in the party is an equal noble person of the same rank, to end jealousy?; or B) do you encourage other members of the party to play roles that are respectful of the one party member who is of noble blood?; or C) do you downplay the whole noble thing when it comes up?

Well, the three questions above assume that there's some kind of generation system in place to determine the social status of your players.  Otherwise, the question becomes, is everyone noble or is everyone not?  How many DMs are going to point to player two from the right and say okay, you're Prince blah-blah of the Kingdom Yah?  I don't imagine that the DM that did would then follow it up with, "You're rich, you've got a personal bodyguard of forty men, from whom you have absolute loyalty."  Seriously, are you going to play a thief standing next to that crowd?

Well, I would have issues.

More likely the DM will pull out the old saw, yes, you're a prince, but you've got no money, the kingdom is being run by your uncle that married your mother, and your father's a ghost, etcetera.  What's more, the kingdom of your birth is a long way from here - but yes, you have noble blood.

On some level, it might be fun to be a second rank player in a party like that, struggling to keep the prince alive against all odds, restraining the prince from doing anything foolish, fighting ultimately towards the goal where the prince could be reimposed upon the throne and all could be happiness and spoils.

Except for one thing - the male player who is playing the prince is almost certain to become the biggest prick in the universe.  Such is D&D.

Nerds and geeks being what they are - ie., not gentlemen - there is bound to be a dearth of noblesse oblige, something that can be measured by how many special benefits/privileges that you as DM give to the little snot once the dice come up that say, yes, this fighter is of noble blood.  Give him anything and he's certain to become the Marquis St. Evremonde by the second session.  Give him nothing and he's apt to pout and whine that what's the point of being a noble if you can't lord it over your friends?

Now, I've been decidedly masculine in my adjectives for a reason - simply because I believe you have a much better chance of party solidarity if the girl player of the group happens to be the one of noble blood - even if she's playing a male character.  Women, by and large, tend to handle this stuff better, with a sense of the dignity and responsibility that comes from being a noble person, without all the strutting testosterone that inevitably becomes the crowning center of a heavily male D&D contingent.  It reminds me that I should write a post about pissing contests in D&D ... but we'll leave that off until later.

At any rate, I do have a system that allows for a very low chance of an individual being a noble; and I've always presumed that this RPG cliche would be carried forward; I've twice had a noble person rolled up.  The first was successfully put on the throne of a small, regional country, just before the campaign ended permanently.  The other had died, unfortunately, at fourth level before anything could be done with it.

But now I'm thinking how interesting it would be to introduce a new player into a long-time party, who happened to be a noble.  Think of it: I start everyone at 1st level, which is a huge trial for new players who find they must play side by side with 7th-9th level characters.  I don't have a party that pushes noobs around (my gaming group is 4/7ths female), so it works out that if the noob keeps their head down, does a small bit and lives, they go up to 4th or 5th very quickly.

But how would it be if the 1st level did start with 40 personal armed guards, led by a sixth-level-fighter and several middle level chiefs and sub-chiefs?  Not henchmen, mind you, as these would have their own agenda - keep the king's spawn alive while seeing to it that he/she got some experience in the wide world - but they would be something to reckon with where it came to power plays within the group dynamic.

I think I've just talked myself into drawing up some guidelines ... someday.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

30 Ways Not To Cheat At D&D

UPDATE:  This post has been updated and included in the recently released book, How to Play a Character & Other Essaysavailable for purchase from the Lulu marketplace.

In the interest of keeping players on the straight and narrow, I'd like to commend players who do any or all of the following, and encourage them to continue playing in the most forthright and enviable manner possible:

1. The first roll you make for your new character’s stats is a 3, and the DM says, “forget that roll, call it a practice” - but you insist on keeping the roll and dutifully write it next to strength.

2. You are fighting a group of hobgoblins, and the DM announces that he has rolled a 13, missing you by 1 - but you remind the DM that the hobgoblins are within 60’ of their standard-bearer, so the creature gets a +1 and actually hits you.

3. While pick pocketing a nobleman - which the DM has mistakenly admitted was 8th level - your 2nd level character rolls a 27 when his pick pockets ability is 31%, and the DM says “Well done.” But then you remind the DM that you have a -30% modifier due to the target’s level and that in fact your thief has now seriously messed up.

4. Upon hurridly saying that your character will do something really stupid, your DM asks, “Are you sure?” To which you respond that no, you’d rather not do it, but since you’ve already said so, the DM better make it so.

5. While you are trying to talk your way past the guards, your DM has forgotten that you have a 7 charisma - but you remind him.

6. While you are giving instructions to the other party members on how to cleverly fool the approaching ogre magi, your DM has forgotten that you have an 8 intelligence - but you remind him.

7. For some reason, after hitting your party with a fireball, your DM has forgotten that whatever you and your companions are carrying should make a saving throw - and so you insist on rolling for each item.

8. After nearly falling from a subterranean ledge, you manage to hang on with both hands until the party can pull you up. But while the DM has forgotten that your character had his +2 sword READY, you dutifully remove the sword from your equipment list and tell the DM that your sword has fallen out of sight into the chasm.

9. The DM is willing to overlook that you failed to buy any footwear when you started your character, but you insist that your character is barefoot - even though the mistake was not noticed until you had reached the dungeon’s second level.

10. You haven’t mentioned feeding the dog you keep chained to your wagon for two or three runnings, and so you demand that the DM has the dog attack you.

11. After rolling a bad die and mistakenly hitting an NPC hireling with a dagger, you insist that the DM roll to see if the hireling will quit, throw something back or just decide to kill your character in your sleep.

12. After losing the sheet with your experience written on it, but still having a number that was accurate three months ago, you insist that your character is once again third level and that it is your own tough luck, no matter what concessions the DM is willing to make.

13. You forgot to write down the +3 plate mail that was found after the last adventure, and everyone in the party remembers you taking - but you repeatedly insist that since it isn’t written on your character you can’t possible have it.

14.No one notices except you that you have written on your character sheet that you’re carrying 6,000 gold, silver and copper coins, written on different sheets from different runnings. Dutifully, you scratch out all the coins - carefully calculating the removal of gold as well as silver and copper - that your character couldn’t possibly be carrying.

15.You remember that at the end of the last running you took 7 damage from a troll; but your sheet doesn’t say it, and no one else can remember the troll hitting you. Without hesitation you lower your character’s hit points by 7.

16. More than a year ago you remember the DM saying that it was a 10 g.p. fine to carry a sword in the city. Having realized you’ve had yours with you since the running began, you remind the DM and pay the fine.

17. Formerly, the DM has said that each player must pay 50 g.p. per month in general expenses. When four months have gone by and the DM has failed to mention it again, you cheerfully step up to pay your own expenses and police your fellow players to make sure that they pay theirs, also.

18. It seems to you that the DM hasn’t thrown a die to see if a wandering monster appears, but you encourage the DM to do so diligently.

19. The DM has forgotten that drow elves have magic resistance, but you remind him.

20. Having successfully crossed a frozen wasteland that has nearly killed several members of the party, your mage suddenly remembers that his familiar is a frog, and that no die rolls were ever made to see if the frog live+s. You insist that having forgotten the frog, it must have died, and you dutifully remove 6 hit points from your character permanently.

21. Wine, beer and spirits intoxicate, but your DM seems not to have taken that into account. You remind him.

22. Feeling that the party having seven magic items between the five of them is just too many for the level you’re at - whatever level that is - you encourage to DM not to give out any more magic for awhile.

23. The same goes for gold - in your opinion there is entirely too much treasure being given out at each encounter, and you encourage the DM to occasionally have monsters that have no treasure at all.

24. All in all, you also feel that the DM hasn’t taken into account how dangerous it is to go over a waterfall, and you carefully explain how objects get caught at the bottom, rolling over and over for long periods before they escape - that should be taken into account when seeing if the character lives, you insist.

25. Another player has cast lightning bolt while everyone in the party was standing ankle deep in water, and you insist that everyone must now take damage, arguing against the DM on principle, if necessary.

26. Having discovered, now that the battle’s over, that the DM failed to play an enemy monster up to its full potential, you insist on the whole fight being done again from scratch, or in the very least that there’s no treasure to be found since you don’t want to win on false pretenses.

27. After four runnings in which you have gotten consistent, even freakish, high rolls from your brand new 20-sided-die, you suspect there is some flaw in the manufacture, so you throw it away and never use it again.

28. Although you know the creature can only be hit by magic weapons, you continue to beat on it using your ordinary mace, as you are certain your character does not have your inside knowledge.

29. Whenever your character drinks from an open source, or enters a town, or consumes food that was purchased more than six days ago, you insist that the DM make all relevant checks for parasitic infestations or disease.

30. Whenever any other player acts in a manner not strictly keeping with their alignment, you steadfastly remind the DM.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


There can be no question that I am some kind of monster … a cheating, monomaniacal power-hungry ogre of a DM who ruthlessly manipulates his players, friends and family members for the sake of ‘winning.’ But even I have a heart, and it broke a little when I read this comment from the blog, Loud and Clear and Garbled, written by Illumina:

“I love D&D. I haven't been able to play a tabletop campaign since I was a teenager. I've a rather traumatic memory in which my father, running a campaign for my brother and a few of our friends from a store-bought adventure, allowed my character to fall in love with an NPC sailor. Then he killed him off in a kraken attack and sucked our party through a whirlpool into Ravenloft. I cried.”

For all the players out there who play with a sort of detached puritanism, there are players who allow themselves to become so immersed into their characters as to feel them life and breathe, and yes, even love, with all the intensity that the imagination can muster. I have had characters like this, long ago, who lived for years in a single campaign, who rose in levels and power and who began to feel real for me. I know there are some who would mock the above passage, but that would not be me.

I know how much my players love their characters; some more than others, true enough, but for many players the living character provides more than just a vehicle on game nights. The character becomes a thing to ponder in early mornings waiting for the bus, or long afternoons when work seems it will never end, or late at night when the house is quiet, and one is out on the back deck after the sun has gone down. What will Rupert do about the mage-assassin that pursues him? Has he lost any chance at winning the attentions of the king’s daughter? Where will he find the scroll that will at last get this cursed ring off his finger? A player’s mind drifts off to that world, those questions, providing a little more flavor to the quiet moments, something a bit more personal than wondering if the Rangers will have a decent team this year.

No, we don’t want our characters to die, and we have grown attached to certain features of a world … because that world has lasted this long, and become this real for us, real enough to become lost in it.

Isn’t it strange that an old cynic like me would understand that, and not condemn it? For I don’t … I don’t posture and take the attitude that too much fantasy is a bad thing and that we ought to ‘grow up’ and realize that it's just a fucking game. It is NOT a game … it is a second life. It is a happiness, and sometimes a sadness, that provides some of us with the chance to live out of ourselves, and in that way become greater than just this thing that drags its way to work and then drags its way back home.

I am sorry for your loss, Illumina. I truly am.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Harmless Bit Of Deception

I ran in my Daughter’s world on the weekend, and it happened that after four sessions my first-level mage at last became a second-level mage. This marks the first time I have had a character of my own level since the 1980s.

This is mostly due to not playing as a character, but almost exclusively running as a DM; and it is because characters that I have played either were not meant to level (tournaments) or the campaigns did not last ... but I’ve bitched about that enough.

I find myself a great deal less concerned with the levelling of my character than I think I was way back then. I suppose I’ve gotten more fatalistic.

I am anxious to level - my particular style of play is very risk-oriented and I can take risks more safely with more spells and with a greater pool of hit points. My philosophy is that a mage, even when they are lacking spells or combat ability, can afford at lower levels to take a hit or two, thus enabling the fighters to last longer. It is, in a sense, giving them six or eight more hit points - mine - simply by putting one more warm body out there to get hit.

Since I am playing, I might just as well talk a little about my style of play ... while avoiding, if I can, the bane of all D&D discussions: giving a blow-by-blow of what happened in our last session.

My co-players are the same people, with a couple of exceptions, that play in my own campaign - but they are rugged individualists and not at all concerned with my other role. However, the fellow playing the 3rd level paladin in this campaign did not hold it against me in the least that in the last session I ran, I killed off his 9th level druid. Very considerate of him. Still, I wouldn’t think my character gets any special treatment ... my daughter enjoys, I think, having full powers to tell me to “... Shut ... Up.” Any fathers out there with similar stories?

That said, I have a lot of experience playing this game, and have seen a lot more styles of play and tactical strategies than my co-players. As such, I find myself trying sometimes to play a little stupider than I am; I try not to dominate the discourse between the players too much by telling them where to stand or what to do; and I try very, very hard not to get manipulative of the DM, who does not have my experience. This is the hardest thing not to do.

I’ll make the example as brief as I can (I may have mentioned this before, seems like I have). In a Traveller game a couple of decades ago I had a Referee who created a system for trading goods from planet to planet, incorporating a set of stock markets into his system. We - specifically me and another rather brilliant fellow named Mike who I have seen in years - saw the error in his system fairly quickly and set out to dupe the DM out of tens of millions of credits. We did it by using his system against him, but also by manipulating the hell out of his human weaknesses.

It requires a level of asshole in order to be a DM; all I need is a DM who is willing to be nice to me or considerate or to stretch their willingness to believe that ‘my plan’ makes sense, and I am off and running. I haven’t seen very many long-time players talk about it, but playing the DM (‘topping from the bottom’) is a reality of the game, and the principal reason why a short-time DM has the worst of it. It only takes one experienced player to seriously ruin a neophyte DM’s day ... and I have to struggle not to be that player.

Why struggle? Because I like to win, that’s why. I like to pull the A-Team like plan together and have it smash apart the pile of troglodytes or giant frogs or whatever that look like too many to kill. And I’m good at making it sound reasonable that the strategy I have in mind will work ... when I know damn well as a DM that I’d be going, “Uh, no,” or possibly, “Maybe you haven’t thought about this.” That being a wrinkle in the plan that I would see, but this DM doesn’t.

There was something like this that happened Saturday, and I kept my mouth shut at the time. We were faced with a room full of bow-using baddies that were above us, we created a fire and filled the room above with smoke, and then we went up and killed them in the obscurement, making good use of the thief in the party. And never once did the DM mention that any of us suffered from breathing in the smoke.

It might have been intentional on my daughter’s part. She may have thought of it, and decided that she just wanted us to get through the room and onto the next part of the dungeon. No doubt someone else in the party also thought of the forgotten detail. If so, they kept their mouth closed also. Probably thinking, as I was thinking, ‘Best not to say anything.’

Now don’t say that as a player the gentle reader hasn’t had a moment like this. We all have. And we are well aware that saying something would slightly to greatly reduce our chances of success. We’re not all so super-pure that we don’t decide to sit on the information for a round or two, even when we do confess our thoughts.

It’s a complicated game. The rules are ill defined. It’s easy to get away with shit. And if the laws of physics can be ‘forgotten’ at a convenient moment ... well ...

Who can blame us?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bag Of Spilling

It's convenient that, whenever I have nothing particular to say, I can do another of these:

"Let's Start From The Very Beginning (Yuna Rule):" Whenever there is a sequel to an RPG that features the same main character as the previous game, that character will always start with beginner skills.  Everything that they learned in the previous game will be gone, as will all their ultra-powerful weapons and equipment.

Now, I've said it before - the video game cliches do not translate universally to D&D.  But what this makes me think of is all those DMs that are out there who are treating their worlds as though they are a collection of Final Fantasy editions.  In other words, Hey guys, lets dump our old characters and roll up NEW ones!  Won't that be fun?  Hooray!

If you'd like to know why every - fucking - superhero - movie has to be an origin story - for the good guys in the first movie, and for the bad guys in every movie thereafter - it is this rather sickening need for geeks of a particular nature to connect the word reboot with good.  Having had to run a ranger for all of two complete sessions, they are now tired of running a ranger and would like to run a mage instead.  Thus, let's roll up characters tonight!

And this of course translates to the DM also, who after running a D&D world for - gasp! - a whole evening, they'd like to run ... Shadowrun!  Or GURPS or Call of Cthulu or the Masquerade or Whoremaster or whatever other fucking game came out in the last five minutes.  Thank Buddy Christ and flapjacks, at last everyone can now reboot their adopted personalities and spend a good two or three hours rolling up or choosing new skills and abilities.  Yes, we're having a good time now.

Without question there's something appealing in knowing that in rolling up new characters tonight, the dice might come up with one of those perfect combinations that will make this character truly memorable ... which is not unlike the same emotion that comes from heading down to the videogame shop (or scanning for new crap games on-line) with the dream that THIS game will be unlike any other that has ever come before, and will shatter one's malaise by proving, at last, what computer gaming can be!

Of course, the Bag of Spilling rule is there because the game makers can't think of any other way to make the game take sixty hours to play without bringing you right back to the beginning again.  If they started you out at the point of the last game, the only thing they could do to fill up the time would be to make you fight the same combat over, and over, and over.

Which, let's face it, some people think would be great.  This being people who have not yet found that its possible to masturbate without a video screen.  The handheld, electronic device still has merit, but its not made by xBox ... though it sounds like it should be.

And so we can argue that DMs start new compaigns because, obviously, after the rolling up of new characters and the careful placement of town rumors and the cliched front entrance of the Designated Place of Questing ... they're pretty much out of gas.  Their imaginations have been strained to the very limit and now, NOW, there's nothing left to do but start again.  With space this time.  Or steam.  Or whores.

(Now I'm thinking I have to invent an RPG called 'Whoremaster,' where Players act as slavers from the Land of Albion, who must pursue their quarry through lands distant and dangerous to provide the means of resuscitating the flagging bloodlines of their Ancestral Lineage ...)

It is a weakness of the videogame format, which continues to be dependent upon creators who then provide manna for users.  'Interaction' is limited to reviewer feedback, or cheesy limited choice options after the manifestation of the game.

It is a powerful aspect of D&D that creation and participation have the potential to occur simultaneously, with the DM making shit up on the spur of the moment based upon something the players happen to mutter out loud, and the players in turn responding immediately to the invention of the DM.  But whenever people speak of playing at the very edge in this manner, out come the naysayers.

Carl over at Three Hams Inn has a post up that's getting plenty of feedback related to this: you can read it here.  On the page Carl makes the following point about the traditional style of playing, the one promoted in the DMG:

"Leading the group around by the nose results in frustration. Frustration for me because no one ever follows my clues or finishes my adventures, and frustration for the players because they want to do what they want, not what the DM tells them. Railroading also utterly destroys suspension of disbelief. It's like watching a movie and figuring out the entire plot in the first 10 minutes. You know what's going to happen but instead of just leaving, you have to sit there for another 90 minutes before it's over. I never want a game to go like that. I want it to be almost as much of a mystery for me, the Dungeon Master, as it is for the group of players."

To which I would add, there is a hope that characters who felt free to participate in a game that they CAN influence by their behavior will be less inclined to dump that game for the 'thrill' of once again rolling up new characters.  The DM is less inclined to run out of ideas, and at the same time can enjoy the 'mystery,' as Carl puts it.

It must be very dull for some DMs to have everything laid out, where the only interest is to see how other people react to the designs I have created, at some point in the past.  Believe me, I understand that interest - I'm experiencing it now, since I am writing this and it is being done at some point in the gentle reader's past.  It is an experience that does not compare to the animated, spirited experience of being in a room full of people all creating at the same time.  Writing, as far as its emotional gratification, is tepid compared with the gritty back-and-forth of a game.  Which would be why I could understand many DMs getting upset that their carefully preplanned adventures don't rouse the room quite as spiritedly as they hope for -

Whereas beginning again, that jumpy, urging excitement that comes with the fresh spilling of dice and the results that are produced - where no one knows what's going to happen - too often proves to be the best moment in a DM's campaign.  Which is a sad thing to think about.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Zero-to-One Intelligence

Early on in the game I began organizing monsters from the principal manual and other sources along biological categories, which with monsters usually meant trying to hammer a very odd beast into a particular category - which in turn would make the whole meaning of having categories a bit of a waste.  So I gave it up and moved on to other things.

But about a year ago I conceived of the tables which will follow, which represent only a small fraction of the whole ... but if I am going to wait until I have all of them, I'll be posting this sometime between 2014 and 2018.  Damn, I hope it doesn't take that long.

The tables are still based on a grouping principal, but one of behavior rather than biology.  They are presented here in the hopes that they will be helpful.  For the most part the intelligence, number appearing and dimensions correspond to the books - but not always.  I felt free to redefine something's intelligence or other characteristic as it fit my purposes, or as it seemed to more logically fit into the whole.

Diving straight into it, I'll write notes as we go along.  The first set of behavioral groups all have zero intelligence.

There is only one monster that fit this category, as anything else that bewitches things has a higher intelligence, and does so knowingly; the eye, I reason, does it without thinking at all.

'Density' would be a description of what pattern of inhabitation the creature has in a hex.  In this case, 'scattered' would mean that it would be unlikely to find more than one floating eye at a time.  The number appearing, as I've chosen to interpret it, would not be the number of eyes per encounter, but per hex - per incidence of that particular monster being rolled.  In other words, if you were to say that there were 30 types of monsters in a hex, and you rolled 30 times, each time you rolled up 'eye, floating' there would be 1-12 creatures in the hex.

The contact distance is a calculation based upon the number of creatures and the size of the creature.  Because floating eyes are so small, any distance greater than one hex (a distance of 5 feet) would be extraordinarily unlikely - particularly since they are only encountered under water.

While the 'encounter' column should be self explanatory, the 'gestation and growth' column will probably need a lot of notes.  In this case, the floating eye leaves an eggsack full of its young in an area of low shallows ... which itself could be found independently of the creature itself.  It could also be disturbed, causing many, many tiny floating eyes to emerge all at once - perhaps as many as 4-10 times the number normally appearing.  Remember that most young floating eyes would be eaten before reaching full growth.  but four dozen little ones (with a bonus to saving throw, perhaps, and each with 1 hp) would be an interesting disaster.

These would be hunters which would work together for their prey.  Groups are either loose, close or tight - which would be the difference between a group being within eyesight, or operating within six hexes of each other, or often touching each other while attacking.  In this case, the number appearing does refer to the number of creatures per encounter, since these creatures are always together.  But there might be multiple groups in a given hex.

The list gives a wide arrange of dimensions for various creatures that, in the real world, would collapse under their own weight: the 41 lb. fire beetle, for instance.  All weights were calculated exponentially from existing creatures, to the best of my ability.  Some creatures, such as the shark, actually are as large as indicated ... remembering that in all cases the maximum dimension is given.  Thus, a shark could easily be much smaller than 2 tons ... but as the shark in the monster manual has 3 to 8 hit dice, the gentle reader may assume that the largest dimension refers to 8 hit dice. (the giant shark, incidentally, has a higher intelligence and thus fits into a different behavioral category).

Note that in this case every creature's purpose in life (on this table) is to feed, and nothing else.

The progressive attack would mean that, once the melee was started, every set number of rounds another creature would join, then another, then another and so on, until the entire number is involved.  A 'swarm' means that every creature attacks at once, and at the same time.  A milling approach would mean that the creatures would move about the party without attacking for potentially forever, until provoked - like being in the room with a bee, which is aggressive but yet roams around before having a reason to sting.

Creatures may also be movement sensitive, and will strike from cover (such as the weed eel), or by simply moving at the party in a direct attack (the ochre jelly).

There are a number of eggsack types, pushed into mud, a dead carcass, or carried along with the body.  Ochre jellies obviously just split in two (fission) ... while manta rays produce live births from eggs they carry in their own bodies.

Swift growth or swift molting would mean the creature grows to full size within a season after birth, sometimes faster.

The only treasure here are the natural light glands that the fire beetles carry as part of their bodies.

(I note there is one forgotten note - a fire beetle can be seen at twice the contact distance if it is dark).

This table is probably a bit repetitive - these creatures have behaviors that are so alike.  I don't have much to say here except that the weights for humanoid-like monsters were calculated according to human size, and then multiplied by the material the creature was made of.

I should describe what I mean by 'durables'; this would be any item that could be expected to remain once a body dropped in its tracks and began to decompose.  So this would describe coins found in pouches (leather lasts a long time), weapons, armor, pieces of jewelry and so on ... because obviously the non-thinking creatures above would have no use for such things and would presumably leave the bodies where they lay.  Of course, some powerful cleric could be coming in monthly to turn back the zombies, collect the trinkets, and leave again.  (Has anyone given any thought to animating dead as a money making strategy?)

These creatures above, of course, have no interest in feeding on players, but only want to a nice warm food source for their future children.  All are so small they are encountered only at a very close distance.

And these are growing entities for which existence depends upon finding carbon-sources in order to expand - namely, the players.  They grow by killing, and then 'consuming' the victim through expanded growth.  The more they kill, the larger the growth becomes - so that a large violet fungi patch would represent many kills over a given period of time.

The 'fuzz stage' described under gestation refers to a point when the plant splits and releases great quantities of seeds into the environment, much like a cat-tail.  I once wrote about this when I redesigned my gas spore.  A detailed description of the yellow musk creeper (using zombies to spread its growth) is given in the Fiend Folio.

These would be monsters that had a very definite lair, which they defend by instinct.  Most attack progressively, though the spider uses its web as a trap.  Bats will generally ignore creatures until a first bat makes an attack, whereupon the others will swarm.

Those collecting food will hunt over a wide area, and may be encountered outside the lair.  They will not eat their victims, but will typically paralyze them or render them otherwise harmless, and carry them back to the lair.  Durables would then be found in the lair since the carried body is not stripped of its equipment before being carried away.

The distinction between 'widely scattered' from 'scattered' merely indicates that in the former case the creature is territorial, and does not cross into those regions occupied by its own kind.  When two of a kind encounter one another, they tend to combat one another (this is my world only, obviously, since I know how much many DMs love having dozens of gelatinous cubes attacking a party at one time).

Note that the weight of the gelatinous cube is slight compared with its dimension; this is because I reasoned that a transparent creature would have to have a very low specific gravity (low mass).

Not every creature is inherently violent.  The dragonfish is bothering no one when it is stepped upon and thus releases its poison; a stinkbug reacts equally defensively (whereas the bombadier beetle in the former table is aggressively meat-eating, the stinkbug is herbivorous).  The giant sea turtle is not destructive - it does make a great friend, however, if speak with animals is employed.

A very large section.  A great many monsters are designed to be party killers - that would be the primary reason for most of these.  A number of these attack by surprise, from beneath the water, by dropping from trees, from rock crevices or even from inside solid rock (thoqqua).  Beyond that, the table largely speaks for itself.

The monodron is the only non-intelligent creature that can be summoned (that I account for, anyway).  It is the first of a series, the higher examples being the duodron, the triodron and so on - the names coming from monsters presented in some book or other, I can't remember.  In my world they are bird-like creatures that become increasingly larger and more powerful with each designating number.  I would recommend that the gentle reader simply ignore any monster that they are unfamiliar with, or add their own, however they wish.

These, then, are the last group.  Each of these monsters acts as a sort of trap, waiting for their prey from a set location, rather than roaming for it, as the 'solitary hunter' does.  It is a minor distinction, but I felt worth mentioning.  The reason why there is no treasure would be that the trap-location is not kept, but changed from day to day.  The frog or crab make holes in the mud or sand; ankhkeg's do so in soft loam; plants such as witherweed, tentamorts and whipweed move very slowly from location to location if food becomes rare.

The tentamort reproduces not by fission but by duplicating itself ... thus it gains in mass first, developing four tentacles before subdividing; while a creature that gestates by fission divides, and then its multiple parts gain mass thereafter.  Again, a minor distinction, but interesting.

From this point after, I include monsters with 1 intelligence - animal intelligence.  Each monster is listed twice, as each provides two different kinds of encounter.  This is also part of the concept.  As intelligence increases, the number of possible encounters per monster also increases.  I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Again, this would be a large category.  The behavior of this group would be largely due to the size of these creatures, the smallest of which would be the ostrich at 290 lbs.  As they are not easily threatened, they will often treat others, such as the players, with indifference - thus the category.  Of course, if pushed, these creatures will push back.

Occasionally, however, certain individuals will be diseased, or driven out of their herd, and will become maddened killers.  Those individuals are then particularly dangerous.

Note that animal intelligence creatures are the first to be mated, or protective of one another, or of their offspring.  Typically, several mated pairs will exist in one group - which, to remind the reader, would mean that the number appearing here are found together, and not scattered over the hex.

As these creatures tend to be fast, these creatures do not fight when threatened, but will instead flee.  They all live as mated pairs within the group, except for those who have not 'won' mates during the breeding season.

A somewhat more threatening group of monsters, malicious hunters will often kill (or destroy) with no particular purpose, more than they can eat - such as a weasel that will kill every chicken in a coop but only eat one.  Thieving creatures will create a 'cache' of stolen goods, if given a chance to steal repeatedly, that a ranger might be able to find.