Friday, August 31, 2012


Occasionally I have a chance to listen to random strangers in some venue spin on about philosophy or religion to each other ... and it is always funny.   There is always some smattering of books they've read, or social flotsam they've gathered - Dawkins is a favorite - which they casually mix in with their own experiences in Christianity or Judaism.  'Personal experiences,' such as a two week trip they took to Lebanon or Jamaica mixes in with the media perspective on Islam ... coupled with marginal siftings of David Hume or Nietzche.  Usually, they do not quote philosophers, but rather they repeat some other source which has boiled down the philosophy to its simplest elementary school accessibility.

What such people rarely have is any proper framework within which to put the scattered pieces together.  As they leap in their conversations haphazardly between Hindu reincarnation and Aristotelian logic, semantics and cartesian conjecture, it becomes plain that the dialogue - or dialectic, as may be - is driven more by which of the two individuals is anxious to demonstrate their flexible argumentative skills than to arrive at any conclusion upon which either expects to apply to their lives.

Such was the debate I sat next to last evening, doing my best not to chuckle aloud, and failing entirely to keep my facial expression straight and proper.  I don't doubt that in my youth I was every bit as random and directionless in my shotgun approach to intellectualism (nor do I doubt that some would think I still am).  There's something fun and pleasant about shooting a few hours down with spontaneous demands for others to define 'facts' or the unvaried proposal that given the right opportunity, a person could walk through a brick wall - since atoms are made of "mostly space."  Silly, but fun and pleasant.

Here is where we apply the present subject heading ... for if there is anything which amateur philosophers and religious pundits do not comprehend, it is physics.

I am no physicist.  I did not enjoy it when I first took classes in the subject, and I find it difficult to concentrate on the math - particularly when the math requires three dimensional thinking, such as calculus and the like.  It is out of my purview.  In terms of Dungeons and Dragons, it is out of the purview of medieval fighters and thieves, too, and no doubt well past the comprehension of most Dungeon Masters ... so physics does not seem very important where it comes to the game.  Occasionally an argument might erupt about the effect of a lightning bolt upon a pool of water in which both caster and targets are standing, but usually such arguments are resolved with all the deciphering ability of Middle Age philosophers - mostly wrongly.  Meh, it is as it is.

When philosophy is applied, then, by the random individuals with little or no training in physics, the subject of "what is real" and "what is truth" always has an 18th century ring about it.  After all, most comprehension of physics by the masses ends at what was understood by the highest minds two hundred and fifty years ago.  A physicist is not concerned by what is real, only by what is predictable or - in the case of quantum physics, more correctly stated as what can be reasonable expected.  we cannot deduce with certainty the results of the Hadron Collider, but we can with skill produce the Collider itself so that it produces results evolved from our former understanding of molecular structure.  We may go to the theatre being uncertain what the movie will be about, but we are quite confident there will be a movie and it will be something we have not seen - having properly constructed the theatre, you see.

Philosophers are rarely in the business of application, even to the extent of constructing a venue in which to discuss philosophy (the last major leap was the invention of the European coffee house, in 1645; the Ottomans had enjoyed this technology since 962).   This is why it is so easy to deactivate amateur philosophers with Taoism.  When the question "Why?" is asked, the question "What purpose would the knowledge serve?" is begged.  The investigation into 'why,' apart from its utter failure to produce an answer these past 10 millenium, has never satisfactorily explained the benefits which would be offered by its comprehension.  How is it that knowing why you are here, or what you are meant to accomplish, or towards what general purpose you are meant to serve, would produce satisfaction in your soul?  If the answer were clear and conclusive, would you accept it?  My feeling is that you would not, but that you would resist its clarity with dissonnance and denial.  Your mother told you to eat your beans, and gave you a reason, and it seemed not to provide enough justification to eating such horrid things.  Of course, you may like beans ... but then you would only be plagued by the possible 'truth' that the final answer to your purpose on earth may be to never eat beans again.  This would certainly seem inappropriate to your habitual willingness to eat beans.

The conclusion one might leap to is that 'truth' is in large part unpleasant or undesirable.  Thus, so many philosophies in existence which deny truth, enabling greater freedom of mind - and choice - about your bean-eating preferences.  Truth, we are told, is a straightjacket, and straightjackets exist to restrain you.

Thus, as I have been told often on this blog, "rules" are anathema.  The game should not have HARD and FIXED rules.  Rules deny imagination.  Rules deny possibility.

Strange, then, that every particle in the universe adhering to a highly fixed existence, described by the rigorous and unforgiving technology of mathematics, has not eliminated the imaginations of those conglomerations of particles that we ourselves are.  The universe is utterly inflexible.  Perhaps not understood; perhaps beyond understanding; but nevertheless inflexible, as in that it operates to a codebook which we have been piecing together since the age of Anaxagoras.  Conveniently, it is an inordinately, unfathomably complex set of inflexible conditions - so complex as to seem, well, flexible.  Just as we begin to feel that something cannot be done, another element of the inflexible codebook is interpreted and we suddenly discover that the impossible is possible.  Moreover, it was always possible.  It is not as though Physics has changed since we began to be complex enough to live thoughtfully without understanding it.  The same physics that allows me to fly would have allowed me to fly 20 hundred million years ago ... even though nothing flew, anywhere, to our knowledge.  Actual flight is unimportant.  Actual application of any physical principle is a convenience and not a characteristic.  It may have been that until the development of insects, nothing flew anywhere, ever - this would have had no influence whatsoever upon the principles of flight.  The rule remains unchanged.  Application is immaterial.

It is not that a rule in D&D - or any other game - necessarily restricts the game, since the imagination is not to be found in the rule itself, but in its application.  The application is the 'choice' the player has.  What is expressly interesting about the game of D&D, and of course in any possible game conceived of in the present and the future, is the number of possible applications which can be devised from the existing rules of that game.  More rules, coordinated so that overall the rules inter-relate to one another towards the degree in which the rules of mathematics or the rules of physics relate to one another, allows for a greater logic and coordination of the applications your players may dream up.  If you set out to produce rules, be mindful of the coordinates within which your players may operate.  This, but not that; so far, but no further.  Even a straight-jacket makes for interesting games of skill and imagination, since the body within the straight-jacket is itself flexible.

I appreciate that certain physical conditions on my choices, being beyond my powers to change, lend themselves to my dissatisfaction.  I would rather not die.  I would rather not ache in the morning when I get up.  I would rather the distances between certain locations be shortened.  I am comforted, however, in the knowledge that for people dwelling in a time previous to this one, these inconveniences were much worse than they are for me.

The chances are that your world is a largely fragmented ball of goo, lacking in cohesion or structure.  It is, in fact, as this world we live in was perceived to be by everyone prior to the technological revolution that was our understanding of physics.  It is the world as it is still understood by people who are not educated about physics.  But reality is not a ball of goo.  It is not two random inconclusive, uneducated intellectuals bantering in a coffee shop.  It is logic and reason, even though it is a very complex logic and a very complex reason.

Allowing for a rich and complex world.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Rotten Door

I will return to matters of D&D, I swear ... when I have the time.

Thinking instead today of America's woes, a government that's broken, a coming election that looks to the rest of the world like an enormous sad joke ... and most of all a rich upper class that cares nothing for the remainder of the population.  We gaze in wide wonder from outside at a congress and senate so thick with graft that the simplest legislation, even legislation in the interest of the ruling class, has trouble getting passed.

It cannot be helped but to contemplate on the inevitable revolution that will seize the crumbling ruins of America, as that country turns against itself degree by degree.  The question has long since been how long before the revolution comes, and not if - always remembering that every successful revolution in history has been the kicking in of a rotten door.

Thus I offer this small morsel for thought.  As the power of America exists in the hands of the rich, who think only of themselves, who even among themselves compete and cheat the system to better the miser in the castle next door, how much concerted resistance will this class put forward when the door is inevitably kicked in?  Or will they flee, scattering to the four winds with their booty and their self-aggrandizement, caring nothing for the country they've squandered to obtain their wealth.  When the rotten door of the country gives way, will there be anyone but the patriotic poor keeping the country against the patriotic poor attempting to wrest it away?

When will half the poor refuse to kill the other half for the sake of bastards who care nothing for anyone?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I've been scattered these past two weeks, ever since the book launch.  My partner and I spent a good portion of my holidays last week flogging the thing online and trying to create a presence.  It is a hard, uphill climb, one that will be going on a year at least.  At the same time, I'm trying to edit my book, so that it can be published the end of October.  I thought at first September, but that ship has probably sailed.

Worked on maps, which I posted, and I worked on a new algorithm for the availability of goods and services for my equipment lists ... but that won't be evident in any of the future lists I'll publish, and in any case all 1,600 hundred items on the list need to be individually managed.  That will take time.

I admit I'm depressed at the moment.  Depressed at the long actual artistic tasks in front of me and depressed at the prospect of getting it on the market for no good purpose.  It may be lost on some readers that I have a profound artistic temperment - as my daughter says, it wavers from "I am master of the world" to "Is it any good?  Really?"  She's right.  It hurts to admit that, though.

My partner Tamara is twisted up for her own reasons, as naturally the sales jump she expected was less that desired.  And there have been unexpected problems, resulting in frustration and the feeling of being kicked when she's down.  I know I'm going through this myself in a couple of months.

The decision to publish our own stuff came uneasily, as people explained to me and Tamara that we were wasting our time attempting to get the subjective support of a publishing house.  The world has changed, and the only way to get recognition now is to sell online, prove yourself and THEN maybe one of the houses might deign to take notice.  This is a change in thought process, and not an easy one.  The fall out has been sobering.

Sometimes, the artistic temperment gets muddled with the problem that my brain never stops working.  Getting the brain shifted into something calm and pleasant is difficult.  Video games are often too much like work.  Designing D&D is often too much like work.  Writing is always too much like work.  Film and entertainment are good, but often too passive.  I like something that at least takes a bit of functionality - interactivity, if you will - to keep me relaxed.

About 8 months ago I stumbled across the flight simulator on Google Earth, which has been an interesting experiment.  If you haven't played it, you can find the option under the Tools menu; the simulator allows you to take advantage of Google Earth's 3D landscape as an arena for flight.

It's touchy, but easily manageable with a little practice ... and since sometime in February I have occasionally returned to it.  With it, I've been on a strange quest, the kind that appeals to me.  With the SR22, the slow plane that's offered, I've been flying from Calgary eastward.  The plane's top cruising speed is about 175 mph, and having dedicated some time to this, I'm about fifty miles from Isfahan in central Iran.  I have been flying from airport to airport, not stopping unless I've landed in an airport (had to teach myself how to land) ... and so far I've covered something like 9,000 miles on an uneven route through eastern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Europe and the Middle East.  I plan to drop into India, cross the Himalayas from there, fly across China and through Siberia to the Bering Strait, then down through Alaska and back home again.

I'm not in any hurry.

There's something odd about viewing Google Earth in this fashion - something I've learned.  Since I'm not rushing the trip ... and since it can take up to half an hour to fly to yonder mountain range out there ... I have plenty of time to contemplate the manner in which people live, the distribution of population, the circumstances surrounding the layout of roads and so on.  It is profound to think that prior to Google Earth, it would be virtually impossible to view the earth in this fashion - even as late as four or five years ago.  The 3D is excellent, there are images everywhere that can be viewed if the flight is paused, and of course I'm not limited by political air space. 

The world is BIG.  Deserts are not, in large part, empty.  There are large places of emptiness, to be sure, but its fascinating to note where on earth there are extensive fields and small towns.  The proliferation of huge cities in strange places is astounding.  I have a visual sense now for how the mountains are different in Montenegro as compared with, say, Scotland or central France - a sense I wouldn't have if I'd merely dropped into those places with Google Earth.  I've stared at those mountains intently as I've approached them, flown around them, watched the patterns of the ground change as its risen or fallen away.  I really believe I have a sense of the Earth now I did not have seven months ago.  I'm not saying in the least that its equivalent to actually going to these places ... but then, going to these places is not equivalent to joining hundreds of them together abstractly.

It takes patience.  I can heartily recommend it ... though I can't say I really began to feel the effects of it until I had begun to cross the Atlantic.  I continue to be enlightened.  Moreover, like I say, it is a calming influence.

There can never be too many of those.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Remapped, Reworked, Rewarded

At long last I've taken up mapmaking again, and I think I'm satisfied with the color scheme I've adopted.  After a lot of struggling with schemes both too bright and too dark, I am at last satisfied.

Here's the latest incarnation:

The gentle reader simply cannot imagine the level of work that is in the above; or how difficult it was to have a different program version produce a map similar in color to the original, linked here.  I never wanted a different color - I was forced into making this upgrade by the collapse of the previous computer, and the old program I used to work with it.  However, I will admit that the new version has smoother lines, a softer look overall and - except for the fact that I'm doing work I've done before - the new program is faster.  It's difficult to tell, since when you create the png in 150 dpi, a lot of the clarity is lost.  It's 7 megs, however, in 300 dpi ... I've reproduced a small section here:

That, hopefully, gives a better impression of how it looks to me.
Upgrading every map I have is a year-long process ... presuming I really work hard at it.  It will probably take until sometime in 2014 - at which point I'll probably have to upgrade again.


I really do love maps, though.  It is very important to me that they are easy on the eyes, both mine and the players - that they look professional, that they are easy to understand and that there is level of detail that to some degree directs the game.  These maps will never be quite enough, however.  I would rather have mapped the world in 5-mile hexes rather than 20-mile ... but since that would mean I was still mapping a sixteenth of what I've got finished now, I knew from the beginning that it was impossible.

We do what we can.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Writing Rules in Blackmoor

For this post, I'd like to continue the discussion started here ... but first, I need to make a statement regarding readers who may disagree with my assessment of the Blackmoor supplement.

It was clear from the first post that personal opinions about the material were going to take precedence over intellectual opinions.  Players tend to reflect upon the material with deep sentimentality, gained from having first encountered the material at a tender age.  Thus, every word I say is like stomping on a 9 year old's heart.

Coldly, I don't care.  Nor do I wish to degrade any discussion on this blog to the level of childhood memories.  Therefore, be informed that defense of the material from what is plainly an infantile perspective isn't welcome here.  Yes, I understand some readers may "love" it.  Yes, I understand some readers cannot help but rush to its defense, ascribing intentions to the authors, rewriting the material to fit supposed interpretations and so on.  Any blind fool can see the reason for this ... but it has no place in a rational discussion.

I won't be publishing such comments.  This is not censorship; the writer has the whole internet to express their opinion on such things.  The writer's opinion isn't stifled.  But the writer will not be allowed to take advantage of this blog to express propaganda.  Talk about the material, disagree with me on the principles of the material, and I welcome your disagreement ... but fabricate your nonsense elsewhere.

Let's return to the discussion of the first 13 pages of Blackmoor, about classes and combat.  Allow me to say that the material is fairly good, though disappointingly brief, disorganized and not fully examined.  The beginning material is primarily written to introduce the monk and the assassin, and it lays effectively the groundwork for these classes.  Here we see the invention of the 'quivering palm,' limitations on what magic some classes are entitled to use, the introduction of the grandmaster and some very base ideas for poison.

On one hand, its possible to view these things as a stroke of genius - and they are - but sadly each element carries with it a limitation in long-reaching thought that the game has struggled with ever since.  Because most of these were designed for a combat game, their application to a role-playing game has always been difficult.

Should a monk really be able to kill with a touch at will?  If this is not a magical ability, why should the monk be limited in his or her ability to use the ability?  Are not all such limitions ad hoc, and if so, why shouldn't a 12th level monk be able to use some limited form of the quivering palm?  No thought was given to these questions, or others, because it was never supposed by the authors that so many people would be playing the game today, and questioning the reason between such inventions.

What I'm saying is that within the rules as written, if a DM follows the rule as written (since so little is written upon the sense and purpose behind each rule), there's no room to move except to ignore the rule.  The scattering of dictates and limitations imposed (only this magic, only these weapons) guaranteed that future players would futz, fix and fustigate with them into perpetuity.

It meant one more hurdle to encouraging new players to play.  An attempt to fix the mass of problems created here was attempted with AD&D - the so-called straight-jacketing of the game.  Unfortunately, AD&D did not stick to just addressing the matters Arneson introduced with Blackmoor.  Unfortunately, the game of D&D having such scope, AD&D went ahead and created hundreds more half-written rules, such as the ones written in Blackmoor.  Half-written rules required that the other half be written by the players themselves, no two of which wrote the other half the same way.

Accepted, D&D is a personalized game.  Adding to that, D&D is dependent almost wholly upon the skill of the Dungeon Master.  From personal experience, however, the rules as first designed in Blackmoor - and further obfuscated and redesigned dozens of times since - means that I am better off introducing someone to the game who has never actually played before.

Having introduced hundreds of people to the game, it has been my experience over the years that 'experienced' players are a major pain in the ass.  Not all of them.  Some have played in enough different games that they roll with the rules, whatever the rules are.  Most, however, have played only one or two campaigns, and as such don't like it if the rules don't fit their previous DM's style of play.

A former player who has never had a chance to participate in a long-term campaign tends to make a good addition to one of my campaigns.  A player who has NEVER played before tends to make a good addition also.  But a player who has consistently, for years, played in someone else's campaign is usually too corrupted to play in mine.

I think this says something about the rules of this game.  I also think the reason for this is the scattered, irrational reasoning of rules systems that are written as Arneson wrote them.  And while Gygax sought to shape this problem by saying that the game rules had to be a "guideline," the game rules have NEVER been written as though they were a guidelike.  Like Arneson, the rules are always written as the word of god ... with as little logic as god gave the subject of pregnancy.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Am A Book

One of the characteristics I believe I possess that makes me a good DM is being able to sit on information almost indefinitely, to keep it out of the party's hands.  Earlier I wrote a post on the campaign blog that describes a detail I've kept to myself for a little more than seven months.  This is nothing.  There are details about my campaigns that I have kept to myself for more than six years.  I haven't told anybody.  Moreover, unless a party goes and investigates those mysteried, I will go to my deathbed with the knowledge - because I believe that is how a story works.

It annoys me when someone won't read a book I've written, but that is how that particular artform works.  A musician can bring his guitar to a party and force everyone to listen, whether they want to or not.  A painter or sculptor can stand a picture in your way, and though you won't get much out of it unless you invest, if you pass that picture every day you will eventually realize it's of a pond or a beast or something else.

Books, on the other hand, are not visual and they are not auditory.  They require active participation on the part of the reader - and without that participation, the book may as well not exist.

If you have never opened Tolstoy's War And Peace, then you have never experienced the smoke and death surrounding the artillery battery and Andrei Bolkonsky's perspective at the battle of Schongrabern.  You know nothing of Peter's distain for the freemasons, or of Natasha's loss.  You never will, until you open the book and read it.  You will live the rest of your life unenriched, if you so choose - the book will not chase you on streetcorners or come to your house and open itself for you.  It will be your loss.

The same must be said of any place you do not choose to visit, or any knowledge you do not seek to gain.  The world is not built in such a fashion that it makes itself convenient for those who will not do work.  The world will happily leave you in your despair, if the four walls of your room are as much as your gumption will allow.

Because I am a novelist, I think this right and proper.  I cannot bring myself to be concerned with the sort of people who cannot read, any more than a playwrite can afford to worry about those who will not buy a ticket.  My D&D world is no different.

I will rain 'hooks' down on my parties, sending out encounters and having them stumble across lost items, or tempting them with deserted islands and caves.  If the party chooses to take up the mystery, I am committed to making that mystery as brilliant as I can manage, given the skills I have been able to muster these many years of playing.  But if the party declines to go farther, then I will go no farther.  They know what they have earned; and they will know no more.

More to the point, I will hold back and hold back the critical points of those mysteries until the time comes to reveal them.  If a campaign continues for years, I will hold my tongue for years - just as the last page of a book will not be understood in its entirety until all the pages that proceed it are read (there is a special place in hell reserved for people who read the last pages of books first).  This is how entertainment is derived from the artform; this is how I choose to lend the artform of D&D to the business of entertaining players.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Well, here it is a year since my last equipment post, and I might as well pick up where I left off.  Here is the shipbuilder's table:

I can honestly say this is the first time I've been happy with this table.  It's a frustrating problem, calculating details into the making and price of ships so that they have more 'guts' to them than just a name and a price.  Ultimately, it would be nice to have deckplans for ships too, which complimented the figures above - alas, however, I am not much of a draftsman, and I do not have the time.  I'd make an effort if someone bought one of these or seized one, but players are notoriously uncomfortable with sea adventures, since one bad storm comes up and the party is drowned.

Several of these items do serve as weapons - a marlinspike, or a serving mallet or a belaying pin, for instance.  I think probably the rule would be that previous experience with a dagger, warhammer or club would serve as proficiency with these 'weapons.'

The above table is based on prices in Lubeck, where the online party happens to be at the moment.  Thus, most ship items are available.  The "No." column above is meant to indicate the number of such items which may be purchased per party member per week.  More information about the elements of the table can be found here, and of course I'm available for questions.

I haven't much to say, I suppose, despite this table representing a hell of a lot of work.  I have added an additional 'area' for purchases - the Dockside:

(I've dropped the blue and pink columns as they were blank for this particular representation - normally they'd be present). 

This shows the element I intend to work on hardest this year regarding the equipment tables:  hireling costs.  I've never had a decent set up for these, not being quite sure how to calculate them.  However, I've had some ideas this last few months, and I'll be implementing them going forward.  I'll be updating those in the past as much as possible, once I get through these others I did not do last year.  I think the prices above are most reasonable.  They are much, much less than they would be in other parts of the world, since Lubeck exists just off centre of shipbuilding activity in Europe in the 17th century.  It used to be the center in the 14th, but that has since moved to Amsterdam.

As I reflect upon the last year, I have tried and continue to try to produce meaningful additions to the rules of the game, in addition to simply talking.  I am now in my 5th year of blogging, and I am proud that I am not simply reworking the same tired rules I was putting up in 2008.  I have a lot of new places to go, and new work to do, including ideas that I've had that never reached fruition (the hex generator, which I will get back to someday, is a good example), and things I've never mentioned.

I hope these tables offer something insightful to the DMs who read this blog, and encourage them to write more elaborate rules that go farther than I have gone.  If you do, take your time, get into the real details and don't worry that it is getting too complex.  My online blog proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what the best players really want is a more detailed, complex world that pulls them in as deep as possible.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Backbones of the Game

Well, an overwhelming number of DMs read this blog, as compared to players, a ratio of 44 DMs to 10 players.  This is according to the poll I'll be taking down tomorrow.  Is it the content of the blog, however, or is it that players themselves are a vanishing species?

I remember when the game first hit our city, everyone had to be a DM.  Everyone set about creating a world, everyone started to run games ... and just about everyone punked out after a few months.  It was important, however, that everyone try.  For one thing, it produced a certain respect in people when they realized they couldn't do it - and I have seen that respect in others who have said they tried to run a campaign for their group and didn't have the stuff.  It's a lot of answering questions the books don't cover, at the same time being fair, not pissing anyone off and not giving so much to the players they can't be reined in.  There are more than a few DMs who have given spectacular magic items to players, only to be sorry afterwards when the players start destroying everything.

To manage people takes effort, where you must balance your concern for their wellbeing with their productivity.  Most who find themselves thrust into the position quickly find themselves either pandering too much, or pushing too much.  Both are bad - employees will walk all over a weak boss, and they'll actively hate - and sabotage - a mean one.

DMing is Management - but since players aren't being paid, it will take about five minutes for them to start counting the value of your friendship against the value of walking out on you.  You're doing more than managing them towards a goal ... you're there to entertain them, to dance for them, to make them dance for themselves.  They won't put up with shit if they don't feel their getting their time's worth.

For that reason, a lot of DMs will try to 'buy' players with +5 swords and rods of rulership.  Sometimes this is done consciously.  Most times, it is not.  Either way, people can only be swayed so much with glittering magic ... in the end, if you are not dancing enough for them, they will stop appearing for you.

Naturally, not every player is picky.  Some aren't very bright, some are mollified greatly by shiny objects, and some have little or nothing better to do on a Friday night.  I would venture that none of the 10 players who answered the poll is that kind of player.  That kind of player wouldn't like this blog - it demands too much, it isn't very shiny and I don't pander.

I do dance, however.  I dance like the dickens, as evidenced by the constant stream of activity on this blog and the other one.  I know people read me because there's lots to read ... and that my worlds do well because there's lots to do.

If any of you 44 DMs have regular players that are demanding and cost you a great deal to keep in your world, you're wonderful and you're the reason this game continues to live.  Believe it - you are the backbone of this community.

But if you've done the work, you already know it ... you bunch of arrogant bastards.  Heh.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Poor Michael Preview

Thankfully, Poor Michael has a preview, available by following this link and hitting the Preview button under the picture.  For heaven's sake, have a look.


My players in the Online campaign are interested in writing their own scrolls, and as I haven't written about magic creation on this blog before, I'd best do so now.

This is my solution to the problem of scroll creation - it addresses no other magic.  I should probably write those rules at a later time.  First, I want to say something about the possession of magic by players.

I don't feel excessive magic does anything for the game.  What would "excessive" be?  If the players are solving more than a fifth of their problems with the use of a magic item, then there's too much magic.  I don't mind the occasional use of a fireball wand or such - but the players should be aware that there isn't another fireball wand waiting in the next treasure.  That sucker should be precious ... and therefore, not to be used until the player's backs really are against the wall.

If you're running a world where the fireball wand is the first thing the mage uses, that is a sign that you are giving your player too much magic.  Why?  Because they don't need to think, that's why.  They don't need to be careful.  They have their deux ex machina in hand, and the dramatic relevance of your world is suspect.  Of course, if you just want to run a bunch of people slaughtering things, without experiencing real threat, that's fine ... but you and your buddies are morons, and you have no business reading this blog.

I like the party to have magic.  My parties soon learn that magic cannot be bought, and that if they cannot find it, they'll have to make do without.  Even when they do find it, knowing it may not get replaced at once tends to make parties appreciate magic.  Thus, when considering the creation of scrolls by mages, difficulty has to be the watchword.

Not all casters should be able to create all scrolls.  The higher the mage, the easier it should be ... but every level of spell requires new challenges, and while an 8th level caster may have little trouble with 1st level spells, 4th level spells should be a considerable challenge, and 7th level spells impossible.

I like a base % chance of success.  This is equal to the caster's level above that needed to cast the spell, multiplied by either the caster's wisdom or intelligence.  Thus, a 4th level mage with a 17 intelligence would have a 51% success chance to create a 1st level scroll, and a 17% chance to create a 2nd level scroll.  Mage and Illusionist cantrips are considered zero-level for the purpose of this calculation.

To have any real chance of scroll creation, the caster would need to obtain three rare books - none of them unique, but somewhat difficult to find.  They would be large, 14 in. high and 10 in. wide, with around 480 pages, costing upwards of 1,000 g.p.  They would be massive tomes, which would be made of delicate parchment, sensitive to damp and dryness, and therefore difficult to transport.  I conceived of these books last night, and I think they would begin a whole list of books I'd like to eventually add to my Printer's equipment list.  The rarity would mean that the three books were hard to find, and once found, hard to replace.  The titles would be,

Tobin's Materials & Measures - including the list of what was needed, how to recognize good material from bad, and what considerations must be noted depending on the time of year and location of the effort.  Thus, without this book, a caster would likely choose the wrong toad's liver for the spell, or pick a sparrow's wing that had lost its potency, for failing to know what is it that makes a good pick.

Six Degrees of Ink: A Master Mixer's Manual - there's more to using magical ink in a scroll than purchasing a bottle at the apothecary's.  Inks must be mixed and managed according to precise specifications, depending on the spell and the quality of paper - which itself can ruin a good scroll.  Here are the rules to choosing how to remix ink in order to precisely create the results a caster desires.

Leomund's Incantations of the Written Word: Unexpigated - a thousand symbols, chants, guidelines and methodologies for infusing the spoken word into permanent written form, in order to freeze magic so that any able to verbalize the written word thereafter can release it into the world.  If the spell is to work when anyone reads it, there must be a code that is followed, or the power of the spell is locked into the word so that it cannot be released.

A caster could create scrolls without the above books, but for calculating success the caster's intelligence or wisdom is reduced 4 points for every book not possessed.  Thus, a mage with a 17 intelligence who possesed only Leomund's Incantations would have a 9% chance per level of success.  Still possible, but the difficulty of remembering so many details would make the matter less likely.

This brings us to the ingredients, and the means to manage the ingredients.  I don't insist on mages using "material components" in casting spells ... but said components are convenient for scroll creation.  I have included some spell components in my Apothecaries' list, pricing the described items in the Player's handbook.  Every material component that was to be used would require a metal cage for living items, a bowl for liquids (wooden if harmless to consume, metal if otherwise) and a glass container for anything either animal, vegetable or mineral.  A glass rod would also be required for each item, a mortar and pestle, a brazier, chalk and paint for drawing symbols (one oz. per spell level), a blank scroll of parchment 12 in. wide and 14 in. long (per spell level), plus 2 ounces of magical ink (per spell level).

I may add more to this at a later time.  For now it seems an adequate description.

The actual writing of the scroll will require 1 week per spell level, which must be accomplished in a completely quiet and undisturbed place, indoors, where there is both natural light and continued provided light (a candle or torch or lantern per spell level must be kept burning continuously).  The caster cannot pause to cast other spells during this time, nor can he or she take time to investigate other matters, leaving the scroll creation to wait.  Others must be on hand to keep candles or otherwise lit and provide food, and an apprentice must be on hand to keep materials clean and rid the laboratory of the smallest vermin that might ruin the creation.  Excessive noise, such as a battle or even someone shouting, increases the chance of failure by 1% per round of distraction.

Only when all this has been managed is the chance for success rolled ... and if it fails, all material components, paper and ink have been ruined.

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Wife's Book

After a great deal of effort and discouragement and a lot of other things about two people living together who both write, my wife Tamara has consented to having her book published through Lulu.  This came from a decision we both made back in December, when we talked about how we were both writing, but neither of us had published a book.  I agreed that we would tackle our problems one at a time, or rather one book at a time.  I don't think it will surprise anyone, that we started with one of her books first.

Because she hasn't had experience as a journalist, and she's never published anything before, she needed a lot of help to get her book off the ground.  In effect, I became her editor, and that is where the arguments began.  However, I think we are both happy now, because she has her first book, and it is now available for sale.  I've even been able to convince her to start her own blog, which can be read here.

Tamara isn't as hard and tough as I am, as she has a different outlook on many things.  But I think she's as good a writer as I am, as I don't think details like punctuation or spelling necessarily make a bad writer.  Anyone can learn to spell ... it takes an artist to create literature.  So I am really happy for her, and that is why on my sidebar there's going to be a perpetual link to her book and to her website.

If you could have a look - we haven't been able to create a page yet to give an excerpt of the book, but that is coming soon.  Her book is called Poor Michael, and it is erotic and romantic fiction, with elements of alternative lifestyles ... that means its kinky.

It can be purchased here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Gems" of Research

As demonstrated by the recent poll, most readers of this blog are not familiar with Blackmoor.  Because of this, I will start with an overview of the first section of the book.

The first 13 pages are a mash-up of clerics and thieving skills (p.1); monk abilities and saving throws (p.2); monk followers, more about thieves including description, disguise and poison (p.3); mission costs and experience for thieves, monk and assassin experience and description of the monk (p.4); more monk experience and 50 words on Assassins guilds (70% of page 5 is an image of a mage); monk and assassin hit dice, the monk combat table and the assassination table (p.6); hit location (pp. 7-11, including tables for hitting "flyers," reptiles, insectoids, fish and snakes - the last obviously different from reptiles); weapon adjustments for attacker/defender height and weapon lengths (p.12); and finally a table of number of attacks/damage for monsters (p.13).

Let me pause and say that this truly underlines the blatant lie that is splattered over the original AD&D books, the one that argues that space is limited and the authors were forced to squeeze in what they could. It has to be understood that 4 pages of this book, from 56 to 59, are BLANK, with a heading for "Notes" ... because, as you know from being forced to attend school, paper is incredibly rare, as is any sort of binder-like thingy designed to hold paper. Nobody, anywhere, knows how to keep notes on something that we read in a place where we can find it, for as you know, in school we were taught to stick our thumbs up our butts, to get them good and wet for the teachers to suck.

It's absurd to try to cover these many subjects in six pages, and then to spend four pages on hit location.  It is very, very clear where the emphasis lies; the game rules are designed for COMBAT - but that is what makes those 50 words on the assassin all the more inexplicable.

Here they are, illegal and in toto:

"Assassins: There is no actual level above Prime Assassin, although there is power attained with the rank of Guildmaster. A character cannot be Guildmaster of more than one Assassins Guild. There is only one Assassins Guild allowable in any one locale (large city or area of about 2,500 square miles)."

And then, as I say, there's a picture covering the rest of the page.

My, this was incredibly important information that desperately needed to be said.  The game is certainly expanded by this intimate rule about Guildmasters.  The "power attained" is in point of fact described on p.4, making 10 words of the above redundant.  The "power" is that is that the Guildmaster can build a stronghold and rule a barony.  Presumably, this barony is no larger than 2,500 sq.m. - there must be a class of people out there whose job it is to measure baronies and adjudicate not the spot.  "SORRY, no, no can do, there are 30 acres here that are not allowable to Murdering, Hired Killers (everything must be capitalized, its a "Guildmaster" we're talking about here) ... so sorry, these will have to be taken away from you and assigned to another Guildmaster.  Yes, I know it sounds unfair, but as you are a Murdering, Hired Killer I'm sure you know that you will need to appeal to the local king in Triplicate on the Third Thursday of every month.  Thank-you!"

I know, I know, it's not meant to be exact.  But why 2,500?  Why not 2,800?  Why not 4,000?  I mean, I can see the logic for why you need three properties before you can build houses in Monopoly, but as rules go, this ad hoc designation about the amount of area that one Guildmaster can occupy seems a little unsupported.  What am I saying - I'm sure a lot of thought and research went into that figure.

After all, the rules say if you are high enough level, you must challenge the existing Guildmaster to a "duel to the death" - because among medieval killers, this sort of American West gunfighter approach to managing the exploitation of baronies was all the rage.  No one ever just moved into the neighborhood, set up shop, and competed for contracts until things got difficult.  Oh, wait ... western gunfighters weren't "Guildmasters," were they?  If were talking an American equivalent, we can use the forty or so competing mobster bosses carving up 1930's Chicago.  Let's see, Cook County, which is virtually all Chicago, is, let's see ... 1,635 sq.m.  Oh, that can't be right.  Hm.  I must be missing more of Arneson & Gygax's golden research skills.

What the fuck is with this barony thing, anyway?  Guildmasters hardly ever rose to the level of Barons, and when they did, they STOPPED calling themselves Guildmasters.  Baron had a bit more cachet.

Then there's that beautiful statement that a character can only be Guildmaster of one assassin's guild.  Now that really needed to be said.  Nevermind that I'd love to hear the story of how a character got to be the head of more than one guild, or particularly the one where the second guild was dying to have the character run it only to be turned down.  Guilds, you see, are like Prom Dates; there may be two girls who want to go to the Prom, but you can only take one ... sorry.

I'm curious - if you seize all the property of a second guild, can all the people of that guild join your guild, so then it can still be ONE guild?  Wait, what am I saying?  That would mean owning more than 2,500 sq.m. ... oh well, maybe the extra land can be dumped in an estate sale.

We know assassins do not rise to be Barons.  We know two guilds under the same leader is really one guild.  We know organizations often have thirty or more groups or cells or departments who know nothing about each other.  We know assassins don't play by the 'rules' ... at least, not these kind of rules.  Already, right from the beginning, Gygax and Arneson were dictating restrictions on character behavior that didn't make sense, don't make sense, and have nothing to do with all the other cultural references we have to actual assassins.  Having written this book three years after The Godfather, they completely screwed the pooch.

Unfortunately, having written the sort of stupid paragraph above, Gygax and Arneson polluted the heads of children who didn't know any better, who have spent their lives reinterpreting 50 words as if there is a deeper, misunderstood meaning that isn't clear upon first reading (I believe they're called "prompts").  Thus we are stuck with these thoughtless, witless notes - half-baked ideas that proliferate throughout this book and the others, raised to the level of dogma by worshipping morons.

Better that there's a picture.  It kept G&A from doing more damage.

Friday, August 3, 2012

White Box Poll Results

At last, the poll is completed. Let me print out all the results, since I will be removing the poll from my sidebar.  Altogether there were 84 votes; the number of votes for each answer is in brackets.  The question was,

What best describes your familiarity with the White Box original D&D set of books?

11% - I don't know what it is.  (11)
42% - I've heard of it, never seen it in reality (36)
10% - I've had a few moments to glance through the three principle books (9)
  8% - I've extensively read at least one of the books (7)
21% - I've read all the books in depth (18)
  9% - I have Played a game with the books (8)
13% - I have Ran [run] a game with the books (11)
  5% - I play or run White Box games occasionally (5)
  1% - I only run games using the White Box (1)
23% - I am vaguely familiar with the Blackmoor supplement (20)
21% - I am very familiar with Blackmoor (18)
33% - I am vaguely familiar with the Chainmail miniatures rules (28)
11% - I am very familiar with Chainmail (10)

I love when a set of numbers concurs with my general expectations.  I had tried not to balance the statements to prejudice the responses - if anyone thinks so, they should indicate this in the comments section of this thread.  Then I can perhaps run a different poll with different questions to gain more insight.  The negative precedes the positive in every case, so there might be justification for another questionaire.

First and foremost, please note that this poll only describes my readers, and not the general community.  Thus, I presume with this post I am preaching to the choir.  I notice that when I look at the responses I get on Reddit (which I've been looking at lately), there are very different perceptions and motivations for how the rules are to be interpreted.  I'm well aware that 84 people on this site do not speak for the D&D community.

Still, 84 isn't a bad sampling.  I would have preferred 500 ... but meh.

Let's understand from the above that those people claiming the White Box remains 'important' to the game are full of shit.  63% of those answering have little or no direct experience with those original books - 53% have never actually SEEN the books.  There will be those who argue that without the original books, there would be no D&D, but that is like arguing that without the rotary phone, twittering wouldn't exist.  Yes, A led to B - but nearly two thirds of the people out there have received their knowledge of the game from sources that altered or improved these original books - which means the small number of pundits slapping their bellies about "original D&D" are making claim to an influence which has long since been made redundant.

Note also that none of the questions of the poll discuss any value judgement of the material.  There may be 10 people very familiar with Chainmail, but this does not say that they all like it or hate it.  It only means that they've taken the time to read the book.  It could be argued that becoming "very familiar" suggests interest ... but at the same time, many of those "vaguely familiar" may have read the first two pages and thought, wow, this is shit.

For example, at this point I would say I am vaguely familiar with Blackmoor.  In the last week I opened the book to read it, having had it built up in my mind that Blackmoor is a very important influence on D&D culture.  Now, 38 of those polled (44%) did answer some knowledge regarding this book - for the 46 people who did not, let me say this.  It's just another module.

Oh, I'll be going into it in depth later, when I can force myself to read every word of the obvious crap written within.  I only read it for about 30 minutes, so Iike I say, I'm only vaguely familiar with the crap.  I'm sure that people preach its importance on the basis of it being the FIRST or nearly first scenario published for the game, but this is something akin to being the first cheap pocket detective novel or the first issue of Boy's Life magazine.  If the material is crap, I'm not sure a claim that it was crap never before produced makes it praiseworthy.

A substantial portion of the community worships modules.  If you worship modules, and you're reading this blog after three years of my disparaging modules, you're not very bright.  Either that, or you're vaguely masochistic.

This poll, however, does not necessarily support my point of view.  Perhaps some of the 11% who've never heard of the White Box, or the 42% who've never held it in their hands would LOVE it.  It's just so obscure and difficult to find that they've never been able to slip on rubber gloves to protect the books from their greasy fingers.  My best argument that the world is not bound for a resurgence of OD&D (which was a popular cry last year but has since dried up) is the 1 responder who plays nothing but White Box D&D.  I love that he or she couldn't find a player to come on the blog and double that number.  Perhaps they didn't feel the need to prove a point ... but it does make the existence of players joining this responder suspect.

Isn't it fabulous that 11 people have run White Box games, but only 8 people claim to have played in them?  Nearly half who have run a game continue to run them occasionally ... 5 of 11.  Since we must assume all 11 of these have read all the books in depth (I hope you would if you're playing the game), that would mean only 7 in 18 people have studied the books without running a campaign with them.  I would think this might be due to not being able to find players ... since less than half the people who've really read the books have ever played.

It's too small a sample to be sure, but doesn't it sound like the White Box phenomena is something DM's like but not players?  Oh, I know the numbers prove nothing, zip, zilch.  But at least three DMs above have never actually played.

I'm encouraged to discuss the books at length, since 66 of you have never extensively read the original three books or become very familiar with Blackmoor, and 74 of you have never dug seriously into the Chainmail miniatures rules.  My goal, from the perspective of doing something positive, would be to enable the gentle reader  to BECOME familiar.  That would be a positive action on my part, to balance against the many probable negative things I'm going to write.

I hope it's understood that my purpose in writing negatively regarding the original material is to STRESS why it needed to be changed and improved.  I am disinterested in preserving crap for the sake of its sympathetic or sentimental value.  If it doesn't work, or doesn't promote the best possible game, then it should be parsed, deconstructed, improved upon AND THEN THROWN IN THE WASTEBIN.

It's continued presence only slows the benefits of progress.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Midnight Yoga for Alcoholics

No D&D today ... expect perhaps for a couple of bards I know.  I want to throw a heads up for a couple of friends of mine, always working to get that will o' wisp recognition:

If you like, be sure to pass it along.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thieving Skills - Pick It Or Not?

Pick pockets.

"Dear old gent passing by
Something nice takes his eye,
Everything's clear, attack the rear
Get in and pick a pocket or two.

When I see someone rich
Both my thumbs start to itch
Only to find some peace of mind
We have to pick a pocket or two."

-- Oliver, the Musical

I have never been a fan of the pick pockets ability.  I quite like it when a player is clever with it, uses it to filch a map off the bar from two lads planning a robbery, or kypes a dagger from a fellow's belt - that's sweet when it happens.  But what I usually hear - from people who have played WAY too much D&D in old style games - is the cliche:

"I look around the market: is there anyone who looks like they're carrying a fat purse?"

Jeezus.  Can you feel your eyes roll?

The answer to that question is, unfortunately, yes.  It's a market.  People bring their money.  What's more, other thieves than the player know this.  Some Master Thief knows this, and that's why he or she has the boys pick a few here and there without spoiling the field by taking too much!  That's why there's an understood rule in the town underground that this particular market square is OWNED by Ricktus the Unforgiving, who cheerfully murders dumb-ass outsiders who think they can saunter onto his stealing grounds and pluck plums he's let dangle for months.  The last thing Ricktus wants is for some tight-ass town official with tendencies to blood vendetta to have his pocket picked ... but of course the fucking player doesn't think about these things, because the fucking player has been playing for 15 years with fucking DMs who don't think about these things.  So then I have to kill the player's thief, and smartly, because even if the official doesn't notice it, the 4-24 other thieves who are always in the square see the player's thief pick that pocket plain as fucking day.

This tends to produce two effects: 1) the player cries and whines and never plays in my world again; and 2) the player never uses their thieves' ability to pick pockets.

My feeling is, (1) good riddance; and (2) if you want to use it, think it through.

Since that isn't working, however (because players can't be bothered for a few coins), and since I'm rewriting the thieving abilities anyway, I will relax my position on the matter and see if I can't arrange a compromise that retains the master thief's status and enables the player to reasonably secure a few coins.

As ever, the first real problem is the percentage.  It doesn't convey any measure of whose pocket is being picked, so that the 1 HD prostitute is as easily picked as the 1 HD village idiot.  You can modify for level, but there's no modifier for streetwise (and no measure, either).

The second problem is that of identifying the target.  Let's ask the question, is the actual target of the theft important?  If the player is caught, then the player is going to have to run from virtually every authority in the square no matter who is the target.  Remember, this isn't a poor production of Oliver, where the thief runs ignored through the streets, pursued by the gentleman who is ignored.  This is a square with a potential lot of spellcasters.  You really want to mess with your thief as a DM?  Have a tree suddenly appear two feet in front of the thief just as the thief looks over his or her shoulder - they turn back, there's a tree, no time for disbelief - BANG!  One unconscious thief.  Whereupon the first level illusionist with phantasmal force walks up to the gentleman and says, "Half?"

Think of the spells: magic missile, grease, hold person, push, trip, blind ... and locate object, augury, divination, etc.  Realistically, in the age of magic, with so many easily applied spells available to first level casters, once the thief is revealed, that thief is caught.  This is usually overlooked by DMs (who haven't the imagination Ron Howard gave a Pie) ... but I don't overlook it.  If you want better, smarter players, you shouldn't cater to their laziness by overlooking it, either.

Let's say we don't need to identify the target.  Let's further say there doesn't have to be one target.  After all, what the player actually wants is the money.   There's a rule floating around that picking pockets is worthy of gaining experience, but seriously, I hope DMs are not dumb enough to follow such rules.  If they are, well, what I'm about to suggest won't change it.

If the target is unimportant, we can perceive the market square (or the whole town or village) as a kind of field, which the thief picks from.  If we suspend the troublesome percentage role (yes, "role," not "roll" - I have ideas for the %), we could employ a different measure for the thief's efforts.  A measure like, How Much?

It's reasonable that a high level thief ought to be able to take more from that field than one that's lower level.  If we impose a rule that says a thief must spend one full day in examining the field, identifying other thieves who may be watching, picking their moment and choosing from opportunities (assumed, not described by the DM) as best they can, at the end of the day the 8th level thief will have more to show from that work than the 1st level.

In other words, we can roll dice to determine how much is taken, not IF something is taken ... so that the 1st level can take a day to get money for the inn that night, and an 8th level can help fund the party's latest adventure by lifting more.

Mm, but how much more?

It has to be little enough so that it doesn't unbalance the game in favor of the thieves' take.  If the thief is lifting 200 g.p. a day by 6th level, well, I think my thief is going to take a year and visit London.  At the same time, it has to be enough to count for something.  I propose a sort of lottery.

Let us say that the base theft for a day is 4d4+4 c.p.  That's a range of 8-20.  That's not much, but it's a bit of pocket change for a low level thief.

We can then modify this by multiplying it against an increasing modifier.  For such things, I love the Fibonacci series:  1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.  Each number is equal to the sum of the previous two numbers, so that the next number in the series would be 13+21 = 34.  This series doesn't climb as quickly as exponents of 2 (1, 2, 4, 8, 16 ...) but it does climb meaningfully.  Thus, the 8th level thief is lifting between 168 and 420 c.p. per day (or 1 to 2 gold, depending on how you want to roll).

This isn't much, and shouldn't be much ... too much, like I said, and they'll leave off adventuring.

Yet I have an interesting way in which this can be enhanced.  Let's say that for one day's stealing, there's a low chance (1 in 20) that the thief will get lucky.  They'll pick up 10-100 g.p. in one pull.  Let's further say that the thief gets 1d20 roll per level to see if they're lucky.  This means that, even though the 2nd level pulls as much as the 1st level (note both the first numbers in the Fibonacci series are '1') ... the 2nd level gets twice the chance to get lucky.

Let's further say that multiple 1s on d20s do NOT mean multiples of 10 to 100 gold in one pouch ... but that every collected 1 can be rolled again, so that on the second round the hit might be as much as 100 to 1,000.

For example, suppose that Dorry the Doorslipper is 6th level, and she spends the day thieving.  She throws dice, getting a 13, multiplying that by 8 (see the series) and getting 104 c.p. worth in silver and copper (how you determine that is your business).  Dorry then throws 6d20 for her luck ... she rolls two 1s, and so gets the 10 to 100 g.p. bonus.  She then rolls both 1s (the other four dice are ignored) to see if she does even better.

You can decide if you want to allow a 1,000 to 10,000 g.p. option.  (It's a 1 in 8000 chance, so the payoff is slightly worse than 1:1 - 11:16)

Ay, but here's the rub:  if the player wants the piddling few coppers, they can take them without risking any chance that the local thieves' guild, or any other witness, will see them.  But after, repeat AFTER, the player rolls a 1, so that they SEE the plump pouch, they then have to decide if they want to throw the % listed in the player's handbook to take that pouch.

Worse, if it is a VERY plump pouch, the 100 to 1,000 g.p. pouch, they have to roll that % twice to get it.  This is because that pouch (or tiara or jeweled sword or whatever you decide it is) is more obvious to everyone in the square ... there are more people watching it.  Thus, if Dorry gets a second 1 in a row, and sees that very tempting piece, will she dare take it?  Only Dorry will know.

If she is spotted, well ... as I said:  spells, spells, spells, and of course a very angry guard and or master thief.