Thursday, May 31, 2012


Some of you may already be aware that I had a computer crash on me last month ... which totally sucks.  I'm sure everyone can agree on that.  One of the things affected was my maps; which I am now in the process of remaking, using an upgraded program.  This new program offers me some nice choices ... but certain effects are more difficult to create, which means I've been messing about with color schemes and such, to improve the general appearance.

I've finished one section of Norway and Sweden - the central peninsula - and I thought I'd ask how it looks in comparison with the old version.

Here's what it used to look like (better view here):

And here is what it looks like now:

I really don't know.  I don't like the new colors - but I don't know why I don't like the new colors.  I don't know if its because they don't blend well or they're too bright or something.  My partner says she likes the new look because its brighter and colorful, and because the borders are much more evident.  It could be the whole map looks more intense just because of the borders ... but she's right.  They are easier to see now.

Well, it's the internet, so lets pick a little bone.  Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Alternative to Play

Something that must be understood about artistic creation is that it is fundamentally a low-budget activity.  Oh, yes, you may spend millions accomplishing ridiculous gargantuan projects; and true, full-on movie-making is unpleasantly expensive ... but where it comes to writing, music, painting, dance and most traditional crafts,  the cost is minimal.  This is especially true of the artistic creation managed early in one's career - even with regards to movie-making.

There is something else about art that's rarely considered, but which applies to the above:  it is time-consuming and it has the magnificent virtue of holding the attention.  If one happens to have a lot of time; and one wants to be truly engaged ... art is a marvelous pursuit.

Still, IF you have an unfortunate nature that relates your personal worth to the quality of what you're able to create, art can be very hard on a person.  It can lead to episodes of fury and self-hatred, depression and even suicide.  On the other hand, that can be the spur that encourages your better effort.

Obviously, it's also a reason to quit.

Now, marrying these two thoughts together - art is a form of cheap, self-created entertainment.  It is the combination of these two conditions that makes so many people think they'd like to be an artist.  The cheapness, in particular, is easy on the budget ... which is why young people in particular thrive upon the artistic diet.

They have the time.  They are very bored.  They haven't very much money.  And they lack that really destructive quality that destroys most would-be artists:  they don't have an experienced perception of good vs. bad.  They haven't heard a lifetime of music, or watched a lifetime of movies or plays; they have not seen even a decade's worth of fine art, or read more than a bookshelf or two of literature.  In short, they are stupidly naive about the totality of the works that are out there ... and thus quickly and easily delude themselves that they have produced thoughts no one has ever produced before.  This encourages them to keep going and going as poets and musicians and novelists, when any rational - and jaded - person would know enough to stop.

Two things come to a head in an artist's life just past the age of 20 ... typically, somewhere during the first or second year of university, or the clarity of what it will be like to live a hard knocks existence.  This first is that they begin to comprehend that what they've thought of as "good" since the age of 13 was really just abundant ignorance.

But the gentle reader knows all about this, and the gentle reader is wondering why I've taken this time to point out the very obvious.

The second thing, the thing that is rarely related to artistic work, is that with the twenties a person begins to earn their first real money.  Suddenly, it becomes evident that there's a considerable number of interesting things to do if you have money.  We stop assigning "cheapness" as an important reason to do something.  Why sit struggling with an oboe when there's easily accessible, equally fascinating things to do and places to go for just a few dollars more?

May I say - this is certainly the reason why there are so many twenty-something and thirty-something losers in the artistic community.  If you've been to a open-mic poetry night, you know precisely what I mean.  These are people in their forties who STILL haven't cottoned onto the reality that their artistic efforts are shit ... but then, they've never been able to make any real money in their lives, either.  They weren't competant enough to earn even $30 K or better - and as such they are still casting about for something engaging that doesn't cost much.  Art, even bad art, fits that bill.

That's cruel and cold and probably unnecessary ... but then I've been to a number of these poetry readings over my life, and after those torturous hours, my empathy's been picked clean.

If the reader's paid attention, however, it will be noted that I haven't mentioned D&D yet - and I hardly did with the last post, either, so what's up with old Alexis?  Well, my point is this.

D&D is a very simple artistic endeavor, something any 10-13 year old with a brain can understand.  It is engaging, and it is CHEAP.  The cost of a few bottles of drink, a few bowls of eats, and five or six hours of hilarity and drama ensues.  D&D will always be popular with young people because young people haven't got a lot of money, they're pretty bored, they're desperate for something that's engaging and involves their emotions ... and they're dumb as hell about what's good and what's not.

This is why nostalgia is such a HUGE element of some people's conception of the game.  In the first part, because they remember when a few shit scraps of paper describing a dungeon didn't make them feel embarrassed as DMs, and in the second part, when they were dumb and uncompromised by comprehension of the big, nasty world, they were happy!

But as they aged, that all evaporated.  They began to comprehend how pathetic their efforts at world design were becoming.  Getting slapped in the face with CGI and performance art with the internet daily (yay, youtube!) is a sobering, brutal education.  How does one's piddling world constructed of pencils and paper measure up when there's all that out there to compete with?

A solution - and its not a new solution - is to run out and BUY a better world.  But how many players have wandered the aisles of game stores on their 16-year-old budget and dreamed of having all they wished they could buy?  More to the point ... how many of those have hit the age of 25, finding themselves earning $50 to $70 K a year, and have thus rushed out and bought everything?  I wonder - were they pleased?  Or did they discover that "everything" didn't measure up to the number of baseball games they could afford to attend, or the golf they could play now, or the skis they could afford or the boat they could put on a lake in the summer?

When someone says, "I haven't the time to play D&D now," what they really mean is that there are better things they can afford to do.  This is no different from the number of readers with a private book of poems they wrote as a teenager, buried in a box in the basement storeroom; or the unfinished novels so many people possess; or the guitar they gave to their nephew last year because, well, it hadn't been touched in years.

The young will always play; most of the old will find something better to do.  Very few of us, who saw the game as an artistic venture from the very beginning, will do this until we die.

We do not relish those first crappy days of our world.  We think of them with shame, appalled that we were ever so ignorant.  We love instead the intense, quality work we do now - because we are ABLE to do intense, quality work.  We don't do this because it is cheap; we do it because it is only more interesting that boating or skiing or golf or baseball games.  Oh sure, I'll do those things ... but understand, they're the second string where it comes to things that FASCINATE me.  They're not really important.  They're ordinary and often sort of dull.

I would rather be God any day of the week.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Free Discourse

When I was a young man, like many young men who have read books about politics and history, I fancied that I, like figures of the past, had some say in the manner in which the world was run.  Moreover, because I grew up in a school system dependent upon discipline to maintain order among hundreds of students at a time, I chafed against rules and ideals intended to organize my purposes along approved lines of thought.

Was it not true, I asked, that the thinkers of the past had contended with small minds who insisted that small ideas were the only ideas?  And did not those thinkers rail against small ideas, and propose a wider perspective upon the methods and manners of living?  I thought so, and therefore took my cue from them, railing against the petty tyrants imposed upon me:  teachers and priests and parents, none of which existed by my means and none of which seemed to have read any of the books conveniently placed upon the shelves of institutions over which they held authority.

That is particular always baffled me.  Why was it that John Stuart Mill or Hermann Hesse was there to be checked out by any student at any time, but no teacher seemed to have heard of either?  Certainly no teacher bent on chipping off the edges of square pegs comprehended the values of free discourse over dogma, charged as they were to expose the latter and formerly crush the former at every opportunity.

I did not comprehend, being a mere lad of 15 when beginning my political crusade, the dangerous fallout that can result when free discourse, spoken too eloquently and too well, is married to the minds of thousands of blind, unthinking sheep festering in their misery.  That is, I did not comprehend until I came across a copy of Mein Kampf.

While I am astounded at the difficulty one encounters now in attempting to find a copy of this book, compared with the late 1970s when it was on the shelf of the university I did not even yet attend (I was not out of high school, but I roamed the shelves there upon occasion).  Not having the privileges to take books from the university, I simply found a copy in a local bookstore ... though I was wise enough to keep it buried in my backpack and not wave it around at my teachers or my parents.  I did not, as it happens, read the book from cover to cover.  I cannot imagine any educated individual could.  I understand how a person, having had no other books to read, could affect an affection for the text - it is, after all, written for that very purpose.  It rouses the sleeping fool from slumber - yet anyone already awake can see immediately the idiotic claims, the rabid reaction to fear, the absurdist policies advanced and the damaged results of having quite a lot, but not quite enough, knowledge necessary to comprehend the Oz behind Germany's Curtain at the time.  The tiny mind of the author, crammed full to bursting, and thus splattered upon every page of the book, is more than evident.

Educated persons, living in a world completely devoid of poverty, deceit and shame - such as the esteemed world of the ordinary western academician - will read a few passages of the book, laugh, and discard the text as a artifact, anachronistic and appropriately neutered by history.  Socially 'responsible' persons, fabricating their own dogmas, will be offended to the highest degree - thus, the difficulty in obtaining a copy.

I did not view the book in either manner.  I was not offended; I had been called worse names by my childhood peers growing up than the words I found written.  Nor did I find it in the least bit funny.  I tell you honestly: I had only one response to the text, and that response was fear.

Not fear that someone might read it and believe it.  I had known for a long time that people believed such things, and that they acted upon them continuously.  At 15 I had attended lectures given by people visiting countries such as Honduras or East Timor, and seen images of massacres of villages and peoples in 1979, presented by people who had been there and could speak at length upon the subject, and who could and did provide proof that the guns used to kill children and priests in El Salvador were sold to cold bastard mercenaries by the Canadian government.  Any week of my choosing I could attend such lectures, as people tried and tried to return from the horror sites of the world with proof that would force some change to be made.  I no longer thought that Nazi Germany was an isolated incident; I had evidence that mass executions were ongoing ... as they have been ongoing since I became aware of it.  It goes on that nothing is done about Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma or Equatorial Guinea - why would it be?  The business of buying and selling in the world is no more affected by corpses that pile up today than was the German war machine seven decades ago.

I did fear that Hitler's notions were so terribly easy to put into practice.  Not because they had been put into practice, and that it was therefore evident that they could be ... no, I mean that from the words written on Mein Kampf's pages, how simply the process could be rendered.  Hate an enemy which your subject already fears.  Hate any existing condition which your subject views with  impotence or shame.  Have no compunctions of what enemy or what condition; what difference does it make?  Your truck is not loaded with ideals; your hay is their fear and their impotence.  Exploit it.

I continue to be puzzled at the conception that this was something that was done at a particular time and at a particular place by a particular man.  I am further puzzled that it is viewed as a creation of the 20th century, or that indeed it was ever "invented," and not merely pursued with blind intuition or imitation by creatures throughout human existence.  I cannot read an opinion upon the matter that does not begin and end with position that this habit of exploiting weakness and fear occurs with isolated infrequency ... as if it was not a part of the same church that slaughtered pagans in the 4th century, or the pagans that slaughtered christians in the 5th.  As if that exploitation was present when the Nazis sterilized humans, but was not present when the United States, Canada, Sweden, India, Japan or the United Kingdom, among others, did the same - and as if the vigorousness of the policy in each country is the subject on the table.

It is not that I create a cold, heartless world for my D&D players - if I may be so bold to interrupt all this with something as mundane as a role-playing game - because that happens to be my curious nature, as if I awoke one day and decided a dark world was more interesting.  I could no more conceive of a real world that is not brutal and heartless by nature than I could conceive of light without a source or mass without gravity.

Whatever random time and place in history I might imagine, it makes no difference.  Where once Ghibellines picked up stones and roof tiles in the streets of Florence with the full intention of braining the skulls of Guelphs, I can yet hear the voice of one such Florentine creating lies and fomenting falsehoods to urge his terrified and impotent fellows to fear the pope with shivering resolve.  I hear the same candidates for power urging the Concordians to shoot anything with a red coat; or brothers marching towards each other near a church in Mississippi; or horsemen burning piles of corpses on the fields around Oxanian Balkh; or footmen who will slaughter Archimedes should he be caught writing upon stones ... or those who would remake Iran into so much horizontal glass.  I don't think it takes a lot of brains, only a lot of energy, to impel one's sad, troubled fellows to murder someone else's sad, troubled fellows, and I think it must be acknowledged far more of the slaughter of humans for the purpose of conquest has been accomplished with blood made cold with fear than made hot with desire.

The curious thing about human nature is that in that moment of the bloody kill, one very much resembles the other.

Thus I run a dangerous, dark world; no other world with humans in it could exist.  Thus I look the abyss in the eye and calculate how near to its edge I dare to stand ... and disdain those thoughtless enough to think they cannot be marched straight into its maw, singing and banging drums.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


In my last post I asked if there was a depletion of interest in the D&D blogosphere ... and I received a few responses saying the previous energy came out of the excitement for Original D&D.  In this hiatus before 5th edition, OD&D has established itself now, the conversation is beaten into submission, and in the calm before the storm we shall see if the 4th editioners will rise up and bring flames to the coming struggle.

You know, regarding 5th edition ... about this time in the Friday the 13th series, we had started to make jokes about what the later film titles would be:

Friday the 13th, Part 13: Jason Gets Unlucky
Friday the 13th, Part 22: Jason Gets a Job
Friday the 13th, Part 29: Jason Gets Married
Friday the 13th, Part 30: Jason Gets Divorced
Friday the 13th, Part 41: Jason Passes the Bar
Friday the 13th, Part 42: Jason Takes the Bench
Friday the 13th, Part 51: Look Who Jason's Marrying Now
Friday the 13th, Part 54: Viva Las Jason!
Friday the 13th, Part 57: It's a Merry Jason Christmas
Friday the 13th, Part 68: Jason Adopts Islam
Friday the 13th, Part 69: Jason and the 72 Virgins

And so on.  Not really relevant, but when do we start giving D&D editions tag lines?  I suggest:

D&D Edition V: The Wizards Get Desperate

Be that as it may.  It's nice to know I'm not alone in thinking something is down.  I don't quite agree with the advanced notions.  I would argue, instead, entropy in the system.  I watched another blogosphere crash and burn about three years ago.  People fought and fought for their beliefs.  In time it became evident no one was ever going to change their mind.  Posts arguing anything diminished; this led to less linking between posts and less general commentary all around.  Blogs began to drop off the net.  A few huge, long-time flamers quit, after years of banging the drum for their prejudices.  Suddenly, all that remained were a few neophyte bloggers who had little or no memory of the previous blog structure.

This feels like the beginning of that.

If I were to say when the high point of D&D blogging, I'd mark the decision of Cyclopeatron to rank all the blogs by the number of followers.  It was an immense task; he is to be commended for attempting it once - I believe he managed to do it four times.  By then, I'm sure it was ready to shoot himself.  Search 300+ blogs in the space of a few days so as to get the follower numbers in the tightest possible time?  Insane.

The effect immediately proliferated the number of D&D blogs, and multiplied the number of blogs most viewers took the time to read.  Zak's Porn Stars blog numbers soared with the notariety ... Zak had the benefit of a spicy blog title and actual porn stars to back up the marketing promise.  My offline party joked that I needed to put together a blog entitled "D&D Girls Who Like to Fuck" ... but the girl players were not willing to actually hump on camera while playing D&D, so the idea never quite got off the ground.  Perhaps someday I can afford escorts and we can give that a try.

If I were going to state when the community jumped the shark, that would probably be around the time YDIS got popular.  Not because YDIS did or wrote anything that affected the community, but rather, because at that time people were ready for something different, preferably irreverent, since SO much of what was being shouted eighteen months ago was "right vs. wrong."  I'm a firm proponent of that, so naturally I was one of the best targets.

People being what they are, levelling a gun against them - even a gun filled with kindergartenish language - causes them to drop and close their eyes.  Most weren't resolved to keep fighting while being shot full of poo, and certain high-profile bloggers pulled a long way back and out of range.  The community split for a time between those who acknowledged the right of morons and those who did not, debasing the conversation generally.

I don't think people are expressly ramping up to fight ed. 5.  I don't think they feel they've won the OD&D campaign.  I think they're exhausted with the idea of another bullshit edition, I think they've lost any sense that anything is EVER going to change, and I think they've simply laid down into a groove of discussing non-controversial subjects.  As such, not much to say about anything anyone writes anywhere else.  Result: discontinuity, isolation and reduced kenetic activity.  Technical term: entropy. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wherefore Does The Flame Burn?

In winding down my day, I wanted to make a quick inquiry to anyone who might be having some of the same feelings I'm having.

Does it seem the heyday of D&D blogs has passed?  Has the subject been worked to death?  Have some of the great blogs in community ceased to be relevant, or have too many great blogs simply disappeared?

Mind you, when I say "great," I mean other people's opinions, or in terms of nominal importance.  I don't mean my personal feeling regarding their value.

Perhaps I've lost touch.  Perhaps I have been less and less inclined to roam the wastes looking for something of worth, and I have grafted my apathy upon the reality.  If so, correct me.  Tell me the flame wars burn with the same intensity.  Tell me the fan boys still pound the drums.  Tell me that interests have not waned, so that I may believe again.

Monday, May 14, 2012


How do you use tables when playing D&D?

At first, the answer seems obvious; when you want some, roll on the table.  However I realize, upon reflection, that the tendency for look for answers from without, rather than within, is not always an ingrained habit.  Be honest - how often do you double check yourself against a reference book?  You're pretty damn sure Cal Ripken was the shortstop for Baltimore in 1991 - he won his second MVP that year - so you don't bother to look that up.  Why would you?  But how many facts are you that sure of in your daily life that aren't just pulled out of your ass when you're questioned?

A table in D&D is a fact you don't know yet.

That seems absurd.  Tables don't give facts, they give results - and the results are based on the list you incorporate into the table when you create the thing.  True enough - but here's the kicker: when you're describing what beast stumbles out of the woods ahead of the party, and you turn to a table to determine the beast, once the result comes up it is a "fact."  It is, if you accept the table as law.

Thus the question, When do you use a table in D&D?

Seriously.  When do you?  Because the tendency is to decide yourself as DM what's the best monster to appear at that particular time, given the pattern of the campaign up to that moment, and fuck the fucking table.  The table doesn't have a sense of drama or idealism (what would be absolutely perfect).  The table doesn't care that the party is better prepared to fight fire elementals than earth elementals.  The table can't create a fabulous set of campaign dominoes all designed to tip and fall in just the perfect sequence.  The table is a cacophony.  It is a sour note.  It is an unwanted cat in heat at a Haydn recital.

So why use a table.  Why restrict your DM genius to any set of references that can only get in the way of your conducting the game?  Screw what the map says about this hex; screw that we're in a northern climate, screw the normal habits of the gods that make this move unlikely, screw what elves do or what dwarves hold sacred or how fast horses can run.  I'm RUNNING A GAME HERE ... screw the inconvenient details.

I think more games climb onto rails as a result of the DM having this or that concept about "what would be perfect right now" than because the DM has determined the fate for every person in the party.  It's an easy thing to do.  There isn't a DM in the world who hasn't had a moment of inspiration between runnings along the lines of, "Wouldn't it be fantastic if ..."  And boom - the game is on rails.

It's hard to resist a tendency like that ... and in the big picture, I don't think it should be resisted.  The human imagination is wide enough to have a really, really good idea once in awhile.  Sometimes a good idea is worth plonking into a campaign, randomness be damned.

Still, if you are plonking EVERY idea into a campaign, without any outside influence, then not only are you forcing the party onto a set of rails, you're forcing yourself, too.  Please allow me to explain.

You, O Gentle Reader, who are a DM, are a composite of your experiences ... and as such, you are a miasma of conflicting beliefs, prejudices, flat-earth ideals and habits, all of which combine to resist new ideas, no matter what the source.  If you are self-satisfied enough, you begin to despise new ideas, particularly where they challenge your old ideas, and thus the comfort zone you've built up all these years.  Yet Art, my dear reader, is not created from a comfort zone.  Art demands the injection of new perspectives, and most certainly the blowing apart of things like "perfection" or "what feels right" for this particular moment.  If you spend too much time shaping your world in the manner that best suits you, you will only create the reflection of all your limitations ... and worse, those limitations will calcify, and your static world will atrophy and die.

An elaborate table, with lots of results which may seem like a moment of cacophony, can serve as the gemination of new, as yet unthought of ideas.  The monster your generate randomly may SEEM like a bad idea - it may not seem like the wrong thing to throw at the party at this given moment ... but in fact, it may also force you to CREATE a justification or a purpose for it to be there logically.  That might be a creation you would never have conceived of in your the habitual manner of your campaign.  The table forces you to think outside your own box ... and may establish a precendent for future activities that otherwise you might never have considered.

In other words, the table doesn't obey your limitations; and by obeying the table, you must cast aside your limitations and improve as a DM.

So when should you use a table?  As often as freaking possible.

You must learn to second guess yourself, all the time.  When you think you have the "perfect" answer, ask yourself with real purpose, just what the hell does "perfect" mean?  Convenient?  Predictable?  Ordered?  Perhaps what is needed here is something that is not perfect, but something that is wild and uncontrolled, something that will tear down the flat, featureless walls of your game and push you into corners of activity where you will find yourself wallowing.  If you're uncertain of where a game might take you, imagine how wide open and undisciplined your world might seem to your players!  They might be able to predict YOU ... they will never be able to predict your tables.

The obvious step from here is to create tables for everything and anything that might not be clearcut.  Why not a table that defines the hazards a road might offer?  Why not a table that challenges a player to overcome some obstacle in purchasing a horse?  Why not tables for the residents of an Inn's common room?  Why not a hundred tables, so that when you feel your world needs some shaking up, you can screw yourself and get the "facts" from something outside your rule?

A little NOISE might do your campaign a lot of good.

Friday, May 11, 2012


At least 9/10ths of the success of this blog depends upon how often I post.  The better posts, for me, are those like the last one - simple rules for managing intoxication in the game.  The more common posts are more like this the one I'm about to write: drivel designed to keep the latest post on this blog from drifting into week-old territory.

I think about 60-70% of this blog is fundamentally drivel.  I hope it's interesting drivel - I hope occasionally I mutter a line or two that someone finds useful - but just the same it's random thoughts off the top of my head, about people or ideas that I hate; about something that happened last week; about something I've read; or, less often, about some trouble I'm having with a table or rule idea.

A third of the time I spend hacking out the most recent episode of a long-term series I'm writing: the technology series; the how-to-DM series; the RPG-cliche series ... and so on.  And if I don't feel like writing one of those, or I haven't had time to do the research on one of those, I either don't write at all, or I write the sort of drivel I'm writing now.

I can't blame the gentle reader for wanting more.  I want more, too.  I wish I had time for more.  I'd get up in the morning, work at something fruitful (instead of something that only pays me more money than fruitful things earn), and post here in the afternoon.  T'would be a nice life.  But if I had that kind of time, and it paid me the kind of money I wanted, I'd probably be on a boat in Europe somewhere looking at shit or getting drunk on Italian wine.  I probably wouldn't be writing.  Or I'd be writing drivel about the kinds of wine your world should have.

Let me confess - prior to the tanking of the economy and the bicemation of the print industry (if decimation is every tenth, bicemation is every other), when I wanted to feel better about myself I would journey to the halls of the magazines for whom I used to write humor.  My editors would grin and smile, they'd offer me drinks, they'd chatter on about how funny and wonderful I was, and I'd enjoy the rewards that writing DRIVEL provides ... because that's all that magazine writing really is: interesting drivel.

Of course, when all those editors were fired, and humor was suddenly seen as an expensive luxury, my freelance jobs dried up.  Sadly, I no longer had places where I could go and pretend to be a writer.

The internet isn't the same.

Still, the rule about writing drivel for magazines is that the drivel must be written in a timely, monthly fashion.  Oh, we may not have a really good idea for a funny tale this month, but the magazine is coming out, the advertisers are paying and geez, gotta write something.  So it is with a blog, too ... except that its a little harder, because the drivel doesn't earn 55 cents a word.  But then, it's easier too, since no one ever needs to be impressed.  It's a blog.  No one ever expects to be impressed.

Sorry, sorry, digressing there.  The blog is about D&D so we should talk about D&D.

Lately I have been drowning in things I want to do but don't have time to do.  Every session seems to be an adventure in The Shit That Didn't Get Done.  I want to roll treasure?  Nope, still using that crappy old table.  Equipment list?  No, still haven't finished off those tables after The Sculptor.  The ranger in the party has a pet giant beaver?  Damn, still stuck with the description in the book, which really doesn't describe much - plus I need to know what a giant beaver weighs to get the hit points right.  In fact, there's only about 700 monsters to sit down someday and work out.

Trade table for Sopron in Hungary - shit, this is still the algorithm that counts India as one country.  When am I going to get that finished?  Wandering hexes north of Lake Bakony?  No, I haven't even begun the hex generator - I don't know when I'll get time for that.  Yes, yes, I know the cleric is 7th level.  NO, I still haven't rewritten the fourth level cleric spells.  And something else I should do is rewrite those crappy half-assed sage tables.  That would be nice.

The computer I produce my maps on just died, and the program I've been using for the last ten years can't be gotten now and has ceased to exist.  That's okay, the new publisher is better, I'll get the hang of it ... but it means redoing every freaking map I have.  Yeah.  I have plenty of time for that.

The weather generator is better but there's still trouble (I think I could work it out if I could put three solid days of thinking towards it) with the wilderness damage effects element of the table.  Not that ANY of my players really wants me to work hard on the problem.

Oh, right, I am running three campaigns.  And I'm still somehow managing 1,000+ words a day on the novel that my partner and I decided needs to get published in July.  After beating my head against the industry for 20 years, trying to get a book published, everyone but everyone now tells me the only way you make money at this industry is self-publishing.  So something is going in with Lulu this year.  Possibly two things, or three things ... depending on how reworking other books the publishers would never fucking read goes.  Well, that's all a lot of fun.

Want to know something?  I still have no clue who won the World Series last year.  And regarding the Stanley Cup this year, I haven't one idea who might be playing, if they've even started the playoffs or what round they might be in.  I haven't heard a hockey score since December ... I'm sure someone, somewhere, gives a shit about that stuff, but it ain't me.

I showed my partner the film Citizen X the other night, which she had never seen.  It is a good HBO movie made for television, and youtube has it nicely in one piece.  It is about the Russian serial killer Chikatilo, who killed at least 53 persons, mostly children, in the region about Rostov on the Don, an area something similar to Norfolk Virginia in density of population, climate, social perceptions and so on.  At 1:30:30 of the film, the psychiatrist reads from a document he wrote about Chikatilo:

"Citizen X has probably had a tendency towards isolation since childhood.  His internal world, filled with fantasy, is closed to those around him ... the adolescence of such a person is as a rule painful, because he is often subjected to the laughter of his peers ..."

Part of being an honest person, with yourself and with others, begins with hearing words like this and being able to interpret how they might be addressing you personally.  A closed person with dismiss them instantly, just as a player of D&D with no will towards introspection will not consider what it is to spend time playing or designing this game.  I am not a closed person.  When I heard those words from the film, my first idea from them was that I'm like that.  I, too, live in a world entirely construction of fantasy.  My work consists in maintaining and modifying an enormous database directly related to the film industry, which is all about fantasy worlds.  I play D&D often, and I dedicate a great deal of time to the idea of the game as well as the game itself - the drivel on this blog, for example.  I write about D&D related matters that in no way help me play the game myself, and I approach those matters as though they have the importance of death and taxes.  And when I am not playing or working at or writing D&D, I am writing or reworking fictional pieces of literature that appeal to my reconstruction of a fantasy world that suits me in the depiction of its characters, their dialogue, the fate that guides them or the resolution of their imagined structures.

The one comforting thing is that I don't have the time to murder people or hide their bodies ... though truth be told, any profiler of serial killers will tell you that a 47-year-old white male fits right into that groove.

Hey, anyone getting freaked out right now?

Don't.  This is all just a lot of drivel to keep you interested and coming back.  Enjoy your day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blessed Drunkedness

In the routine of running my online blog, the party came across some barrels of ale - and as they were beat up some, and as I remembered something about the intoxication table in the DM's Guide increasing hit points, I went for the first time in years to look at that table.

Only to find, not much to my surprise, that it was virtually useless.  It was quite obvious that intoxication was seen as a strictly negative influence, and so any level of intoxication began at once to degrade your character.  No wonder I hadn't every played the table, nor bothered to keep any accounts of how a player's drinking might affect a player's abilities.

There had to be a greater give and take, I thought.  And what better than a meaningful increase in hit points ... which much less of an influence on a player's to hit table.

I think I've come up with a pretty fair gradient, one that allows the players the benefits of practical drinking:

Slight Intoxication: gain 1 hp, -1 wis & int, +1 morale & bravery

Moderate Intoxication: gain 2-5 hp, -2 wis & int, -1 to all other stats, -1 to hit, +2 morale & bravery

Heavy Intoxication: gain 2-7 hp, -3 to all stats, -2 to hit, -1 damage, +3 morale & bravery

Great Intoxication: gain 2-9 hp, -4 wis & int, -5 to all other stats, -3 to hit, -3 damage, +4 morale & bravery

Both the online party and the offline party seem to appreciate this.  My offline party especially - they actually got excited at the prospect of being able to drink at least to moderate intoxication, while taking only a -1 on their to hit.  For some characters, like a high level fighter with strength and a magic weapon bonus, it's not much of a penalty in exchange for 2-5 hit points.  18/51 strength, +2 sword, +1 for bless, +1 bonus for having a bard singing in the background, and needing only a 9 to hit AC 5 ... hell, what's a -1 to hit penalty?  Even a -3 isn't that crippling.

And after all, if you're already at -1 hit points, and you don't figure you're going to do much more combat at this point as you stagger along with the rest of the still-healthy party, why not get plastered drunk?  That extra 4 or 6 or 9 hit points might be the difference in being killed by a trap or not.

I suppose some might argue that a trap should kill you no matter how drunk you are ... but what the hell, this is D&D.  Perhaps your drunkedness just makes you lucky.

Well, with my offline party talking about playing some of their characters in a permanently drunken state, I thought I should work up another table, one that no one seems to think needs to be made.  How much do you have to drink to get drunk:

And this should be adjusted for weight, too.  I'd suggest using the base weights for various characters as a measure, modified for some races to be able to drink better than others.

Take the weight of your character and divide it by the average MALE HUMAN weight.  For humans, gnomes and halflings, do not adjust the ratio;  multiply it against the table above.  For elves and half-elves, reduce the ratio by 20%.  For dwarves, increase the ratio by 50%.

Thus, assuming everyone has a equal constitution (17), the average elf (100 lbs.) requires 2.8 pints of ale to reach moderate intoxication.  An average human (175 lbs.) requires 6.1 pints.  An average dwarf (150 lbs.) requires 7.9 pints.

But I never thought elves could hold their liquor.  The gentle reader may think otherwise; or they may have an alternative means of taking weight into account.  For me, this works ... and a table that works is all I ever need.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meet the Dweebs

Why is it every time I meet D&D players in the real world, they always turn out to be such fucking dweebs?

On the bus home yesterday I sat across from a twenty-something couple in an intense argument about whether or not it would be possible to strangle a god to death; she was arguing for, and he was arguing against, and it became clear after awhile that he was her DM in the game they were playing.  So naturally I spoke up and got involved.

After the initial shock of meeting someone who's almost fifty who understood what they were on about, we got into a three-way discussion about a flood of "practical" game advice - mostly given by them to me.  I learned really important things about why NOT to game with the Devil (he cheats); about how to beat Death (take his scythe away); about the exact wording of wish spells; about how duplicate gods exist in multiple universes, so that if you kill one here the others will be aroused; and how having mass numbers of attacks enables you to kill gods and thus become one yourself.  There was a great deal of discussion about super-powerful magical weapons and which ones are best wished for when you get a wish.  And all this in just under 23 minutes.

I'd say the game is divided between people who would read the above and think, "Good Discussion," and those doing a face-palm right now, thinking, "Oh my gawd this same old shit again."

Guess which camp I fall into.

There's no wonder in my mind why people who do not play this game see players as a bunch of flakey morons.  I can imagine what the others on the packed bus thought while probably not comprehending most of it.  If someone else did know, he or she wisely kept quiet.  I kept quiet for the most part, letting them ramble on in that "keen" or "cool" way people have of getting excited about their thing.  I did say that I had a world.  I didn't offer details, however, and naturally they asked no questions - that type never does.  I learned that they were players of Pathfinder; they got off the bus having no idea what edition I played.

I have to laugh when a conversation about playing the game includes the phrase, "Whenever I have a wish spell ..."

In thirty years of play I have given exactly two wish spells to players.  One resulted from a Deck of Many Things.  I can't remember what it was used for; I think the party returned to somewhere.  The other resulted from a randomly rolled scroll - and it was used to resurrect a permanently lost player character (a mountain fell on him).  My personal opinion is that I don't fuck players who use wish spells by twisting words or reading everything as an entendre.  That sort of thing popped up out of Victorian morality, based on the premise that anyone who ever gets anything for free should be punished for the good of their souls.  I have a more Chinese opinion about these things.  I think a player should be given precisely what he or she wants - which often will not be as wonderful as they hoped.

Oh, during the discussion about becoming a god I learned that the fellow's character in another campaign had become 25th level after a year and a half of campaigning.  I'm never clear about the structure of measuring these intensive games of plentitude - once you blow the doors off restraint, what keeps you from making the treasure 60,000 gold for killing four trolls as opposed to 40,000?  When you massacre 113 frost giants with 113 swings of your sword, do you give 1,000 gold per frost giant or 2,000 gold?  How does one decide, exactly?  Is one necklace of missiles ever enough?  Shouldn't everyone have a bag of holding, and isn't it necessary that every member of the party have some kind of artifact, just so no one feels left out?

I've never been clear on those things.

My apologies to all the pud-pounding fantasy fan-types out there, but there really is a more sophisticated way to play this game than figuring out how many magic swords you can hang around your waist.  See, it's like the two ways to see the purpose of movies.

There are fans of a movie like Transformers, where the thrill is about big honking robots fighting.  The reason is entirely unimportant.  The only reason to have actors at all is because they're cheaper to film than CGI.  You need to plant people in their seats for 120 minutes, and since the budget only allows for 10 minutes of CGI, you've got to fill the other 110 minutes with something.  It might as well be with Megan Fox and some dweeb with which the audience can identify.  Gamers who like this sort of thing just want to be big robots, smashing around, and the more magic the better.

I'm more of a Ratatouille fan myself, where the big climax in the film is making someone change their mind.  If there were giant robots in the world, it would probably take about five minutes for them to start fighting each other.  So, not much effort there.  But people actually have minds that CAN change, yet it happens with such infrequency that it's possible for human beings to get excited about it. Therefore, my games are about changing people.

I'd rather play a game where players think, where curiousity carries more weight than wishing and getting.  I'd very much rather stop meeting freaking morons who think the opposite.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Give a Whiff

From the 10,000 word post:

"In D&D, we not only have curiousity, we have a guarantee that we WILL know, once the right actions have been taken.  This is what is promised by a book or a film, too - but in D&D we are not passive.  We are active, we make the decisions about what we want to know, and what we'll risk to know it."

To keep the momentum going, you have a powerful ally in the curiousity your players possess.  So long as you always keep one more thing on the horizon that is not fully explained, you have the potential for stirring your players to investigate that one thing.  People are obsessed with wrapping up loose ends.  People always feel, somehow, that it is possible to finally know everything ... and they will foolishly risk all if there's one nagging problem left unsolved.  You're talent as a DM depends on your ability to exploit human nature.

If you wish to really give the party an opportunity to direct their own lives, and move through your campaign as they wish without feeling railroaded, then you must provide more than one thing that is unexplained.  As the paragraph that led off this post says, what's marvelous about D&D (and what sucks regarding life) is that there IS an explanation.  A resolution IS possible.  With that knowledge, the party will be spurred to go find out (thus ensuring your campaign's continued momentum).

With more than one puzzle remaining, you will find your party debating vigorously on which one to pursue.  This is more than merely having two doors available for the party to choose from.  A door with something behind it is mildly intriguing.  Elaborate puzzles, however, require a greater investment than turning a door knob.

What is an elaborate puzzle?

For too long D&D has been sold upon the idea that a complex puzzle is some physical thing with a lot of moving parts, which needs a trick to solve.  Pull lever A, then release the water from bucket B, catching it in sluice C and directing it into reservoir D, to which must be drained into pipe E and flushed through spinwheel F ... and so on.  This is not the type of puzzle of which I am speaking.

The greater question is not how the above puzzle is solved, but why the above puzzle exists at all!  Why would someone build it?  What purpose does it serve?  Surely, it is possible it has a greater ideal behind it than just to annoy party members.  What if, in addition to the contraption itself, there is a signature affixed to the bottom?  That signature would immediately become the most interesting thing about the whole mess - particularly if that signature promised the possibility of meeting a real person, who in turn enabled the party to grasp some greater significance to the construction of more elaborate puzzles.

The puzzle itself would be forgotten in a few hours - but the signature on the puzzle would baffle and intrigue a party for weeks.  Finding more signatures, and more information about the creator, and clues to where the creator might be, and how the creator's influence is affecting all the people of a given realm - that is a campaign that has the potential to drive the game for months.

If the party solves the puzzle on their way to defeating some monster, upon defeating the monster there is sure to be someone who says, "We should find out something about the man who signed that annoying puzzle."  If you as DM then have some ready information to give the party in answer to that query, your campaign will not have to wait to regain momentum - the party will be off and running again, and they will do it believing that they are mastering their own destiny.  It was their idea to investigate the signature, no?

Fill your campaigns with little clues that have NOTHING to do with the present adventure.  A caravan crosses the party's path with no purpose other than to bring a dress to the local princess who is marrying (against her will, according to the master of the caravan) the local prince.  Seven dwarves are digging with shovels in the middle of a stream and seem really unwilling to talk about why.  A young girl stumbles out of a nearby forest, is unable to talk, and kills herself with a knife the first chance she gets to be alone.  Different people along a road seem unable to stifle their laughter whenever they see the party's assassin.  A shopkeeper refuses to sell the white-booted horse to the fighter, although it seems no different from any other horse, and the shopkeeper denys that he has a buyer - he just won't sell it to YOU.  A look of fear crosses the features of a town guard upon seeing the mage, but he quickly covers it up and now he won't talk about it.  A teamster is casually cleaning blood off his buckboard as the party moves past.  The river the party means to ford has a very definite blue tinge.

These are puzzles.  Any could be ignored by the party right now.  Later on, when the party has nothing going, they might debate among themselves about investigating the forest the girl came from, or the blue river, or if the wedding took place.  They might spend half an hour kicking it among themselves ... always having it in the back of their minds that if they're curious, they can find out why.  You as DM can promise that.

This keeps the game ticking along.  You don't have to push your party to go here or there ... just provide a little whiff as they're going by, and they'll come back to the thing all on their on.  It depends on how well you sell it.  Dungeon mastering is like arranging a confidence game; you have to hook your players in with something that, A) doesn't make sense; B) seems to be below everyone else's radar, so that your players feel smart about noticing it; and C) promises wealth and power aplenty.  If you actually provide wealth and power, your players won't feel suckered - or they may tolerate being suckered if it works out all right in the end.

Either way, your campaign keeps moving forward, no one is bored, and half the work of what to do next is carried by the party.  You might even get a chance to eat a sandwich while they're arguing among themselves about what to do next.