Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Bar

I'm not clear why anyone would think I wouldn't be extremely selective where it comes to players. This was a conversation last night, with a fellow who argued that not everyone needed to play exactly as I expected, and a DM ought to be tolerant of different styles of play. With that, I agree.

I don't mind if a player swears at my table. I don't mind if they get bloodthirsty, I don't mind if they're just in it for the treasure, I don't mind if they want to put off combat and just roleplay their way around a town. I don't care, particularly, what kind of game the players can agree to play - so long as there's an agreement - and I certainly don't expect people to play 'my way,' not even in reconciliation with the post I put up, How to Play a Character. That's advice. That's not an expectation.

I certainly won't let one player abuse another. I wouldn't let two people at a party of mine abuse one another; I wouldn't let two players on a soccer field abuse one another, I wouldn't let two strangers in a coffee shop abuse one another (it's the kind of thing that gets you shot or stabbed, but I still wouldn't let it happen). People want to call each other names, argue at the top of their lungs, get angry, fine; doesn't bother me. But where one person begins to use leverage against another, that's the breaking point for me. If I heard a manager openly threaten an employee with dismissal in front of me, that manager is going to have a very bad day. I'm going to make him feel very small. I don't see any difference in one player using his or her character to threaten someone else's treasured character. Abuse is abuse. I don't care what the justifications are.

But if a player wants to abuse an NPC, that's fair game. That's what NPCs are for. I'm not personally invested in my NPCs, so I see them as foils for abuse. They're marvelous little punching bags for players who need to get out their weekly frustrations upon. A player wants to leverage his power to make an NPC's life a living hell ... I'll get a real kick out of the cleverness of that.

There's nothing wrong with the abstractive need to abuse people; it's a natural condition of being human. Anyone who says they never need to do it probably ARE doing it, and are probably too stupid blind to realize they're doing it. Not abusing people takes an effort ... you have to decide not to do it when the opportunity presents.

(As an aside, I am accused of abusing people all the time; one of the truly best ways to get your thumb on another person is to accuse them of doing something considered 'bad.' But I don't abuse people here. I argue, I confound, I instigate, I do my own share of accusing - but everyone walks away with the same stuff they had coming in. I don't want anyone feeling that something's been stolen from them ... unless, maybe, it's the feeling of righteous innocence they've adopted out of sheer ignorance. I want people to feel bad, yes, for doing or believing things I think are wrong - but that's tough love. Someone has to tell you you've got your head up your butt, and if your family and friends aren't up for it, come around and I'll give it a try)

The desirable course of action would be to take your need to abuse and apply it in a harmless direction. Sports, for instance. Mass executions of imaginary goblin villages. Sugar-coated escapism. Whatever works for you. This is what I expect to find, psychologically, from people who come to play this game ... an ersatz methodology towards derailing one's frustration and stress and directing it towards a noble and enjoyable goal. And since people don't have the same stresses, or the same means of dealing with them, a DM's got to be flexible in offering the sorts of foils that are going to provide that.

So yes, I do believe a DM has to be flexible with regards to a player's particular way of playing.

That said, I reserve the right to have expectations of my own. I expect to be heard and understood at my table. That goes without saying.

I expect a player to respect the world. What I mean is that I expect the player to recognize that the world is not a joke. That when the Pirate Captain descends from the gang-plank and eyes the party with a cool, dangerous glance, I expect the party to recognize that they're in danger, and to act accordingly. I don't like having to kill characters just because they insist on being dumb-fuck stupid. It's a waste of my time. It's a waste of their time.

I expect players to leave their 'rules' about what the game is or how NPCs act or dress at the door. I expect them to realize that such rules are invented by truly bad presenters of the game, who have created these tropes because they ARE really bad at things like three-dimensional characterizations or a believable setting. Not every 8th level fighter dresses like a peacock. 10th level wizards are not duty bound to live in towers, or be snarling, difficult cliches. Fighters can be 13th level and still considerate; they can still fall in love with ordinary maidens. Not every Princess needs rescuing, not every dwarf drinks to intoxication and halflings are allowed to be very un-shirelike. In short, I don't conform to the demands and expectations of the jackass WOTC universe. I don't hold up neon signs over dangerous wilderness valleys and I don't have trucks rolling up and down streets broadcasting the level, rank and hit points of every citizen. Sometimes, players get rooked on gems they sell, sometimes they get conned, sometimes they end up looking like bleeding idiots and I don't see that as a problem. DRAMA demands that sometimes, just sometimes, it doesn't all go your way, things suck, and it's a good idea not to "try and try again." That's how the world rolls, that's how my game rolls. If the players can mistreat the NPCs, it follows the reverse is true. If the players can adventure the world and never take a damn bath, despite now being 9th level, then it follows that begger with the quarterstaff might be 9th level too. You just never know.

I expect players who realize their in MY world, not someone else's. I expect players to like that, if they're going to keep coming around. And if they don't like it, or they feel somehow it doesn't fit into their prejudices, I expect them to hit the road. A player is a fool if he doesn't realize I'm not going to weep about it.

In the meantime, I'm going to stretch myself to give the players a good game. A game unlike anything they've played. A game they can love, and feel empowered in - once they get their bearings and stop expecting me to do the work for them. After all, you can't feel power if you haven't first overcome your limitations.

I'm there to raise the bar. I expect players who want to clear it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Experience Of Change

I had a staggeringly productive last week, with things to put up on the wiki that haven't been, because I haven't taken any time for it. Overall, I was most pleased to work on a number of illusionist spells, weapons, some notes for combat rules, the treasure system and the weather systems I did post (both needed a tweak and the existing files need replacing), plus bits and pieces here and there for future projects. Someone should pay me a lot of money so I can take every week off. A bit more money and I can hire someone to do the grunt work. Ah, fantasies.

So I'm content with the content I've been providing lately. I worry, occasionally, that this blog gets to be too much about my random thoughts and not enough about the nuts and bolts of the game ... but after a week of both, I feel content to stretch out a bit and even to talk about something other than D&D.

I took some time off my new book, Act of God. This is a story about a terrorist who threatens to release a pestilence-causing toxin into a heavily populated river system with the intent of killing millions of people, and goes into the whys and the callous brutality of making a decision like that. The theme is in part about the manner we dismiss the deaths of people we don't know ... such as learning that 200,000 people died of famine in a country of which most have never heard.

I conceived the story a long time ago, back in 1994, and after several failed attempts to complete the project I finally worked continuously in a burst late in 1998, after finally pulling all the threads together. Afterwards I worked now and then on the 2nd draft while taking part in other ventures, and a 3rd draft which I finished in early 2000. I began shipping it around to publishers - and as it happened, even secured myself an agent for a time. That, unfortunately, led to three further rewrites (to satisfy the agency), a misplaced loyalty on my part and much prevarication on theirs, ending in my being dropped because they were representing "too many thriller titles" that year. This I saw as an obvious proof that I had written a bad book, and for a time I plunged into a depression where it came to writing. People told me the book was good, but I did not believe them ... I never believe the opininon of anyone who knows me where it comes to my writing.

The depression lifted when I fell into a number of magazine contracts in 2002, followed by a newsmagazine where I joined the staff in 2004, and I began to feel better. I worked at various projects for a time, began rebuilding my D&D world along the map-making structure that this blog has talked about ... overall, since I was being paid by people who told me the writing was good (and that the word they were getting from the street was very positive), I began to feel better about my talent. Money always has that effect.

Pete's Garage began as a project for the 2008 November Novel Writing Challenge, and I did end in writing the entire novel, virtually with all the plot-lines the book now possesses, in 33 days (I didn't get it in under the time of the month, but it was 63,000 words at the end, 13,000 more than the NoNo expectation). I left it for awhile after that, to get some distance on it, and began working on the 2nd draft in March of '09. Then the magazine I worked for went under (many publications were, that was the 08/09 financial crash) because it turned out one of the partners had been embezzling 40K a year - without advertising coming in, that shit hit the fan and all the partners lost thousands and thousands of dollars. I was lucky I was merely an employee.

A lot of 2009 was hard. My writing of this blog dropped, the right work proved hard to find and as anyone will tell you, living on employment insurance is not encouraging to one's creativity. So Pete's Garage languished until 2010, when I got work and began to get my life back in order. I finished off the second draft, then proceeded to work hard on the first three chapters, once again intending to beat the bushes for a publisher.

That didn't work out, as was evident by the end of 2011. It was at that point that my daughter, her friends, my D&D players and my life partner sat me down and gave me shit for being a stubborn, unrealistic throwback to a publishing world that didn't exist any more. They pushed me into vanity publishing, pushed me into rewriting my wife's book Poor Michael and my book Pete's Garage ... which has been a difficult, frustrating road, as I learn how difficult it is to edit and fix the errors of work one is too familiar with. There have been those who have willfully sought to help me find errors and improve the book, and to them I am very grateful.

This encouraged me in the spring of this year to get started on a How To DM book ... of which I wrote 15,000 words (some of which are here. As I worked on that book, I began to conceive how important it needed to be - how it needed to rise above the mere carping that makes a blog post, and how it had to rise above a simple how-to document. That book needs to grasp in its covers the whole conception of the roleplay experience ... and I knew for certain after the wallowing around I did that I simply did not have the right mindset yet. I needed to get some distance, think about it, puzzle out the necessary themes and establish one crystal clear theme on which to write. I'm doing so now, returning to some classic texts for inspiration and writing nothing more than a few notes here and there.

Having put down that task, knowing only that I would eventually pick it up again, it seemed the best thing to do in the meanwhile would be to apply myself to something else. That something else was the book that had been a disaster ending in 2002 - Act of God.

So here I am, 23,000 words into the book, learning how truly terrible was the writing I had done 15 years ago. Structurally, the book is sound ... but bloody blue buffalo, I am such a better writer today than I was when I wrote and rewrote this book before.

There's a number of reasons, I believe. I've written literally a million of words of blog since then; I've written a quarter of a million words for publication on a wide variety of researched topics, including upwards of 75 humour articles. Day in, day out, I have written, written, written ... but more than that, I must acknowledge the change the internet has had on me.

These last eight years particularly, where documentaries seen twenty years ago, that I felt sure I'd never see again, turned up on youtube. Where ten thousand films became available through a wide variety of sources, not just ordinary American content, but every kind of content from every part of the world. I have watched more new movies these past five years than I had watched in the previous 25, for the most part being dependent on broadcast television. Add to this the option of lost television programming, songs heard on the radio forty years ago that would never be played again on 'popular' radio, independent music, independent art ... and by the love of puddle-jumping podunks, goddamn Wikipedia.

What I mean is that not only have I been able to educate myself in a manner never before possible, even with the best of university libraries, I have had the benefit of watching thousands of other artists educating themselves and tackling the same thematic and deconstructionalist art that appeals to me. I have been astounded to see things that I would never see, if I were dependent upon this myopic culture in which I live to get around to showing me. Unlike the whole rest of my life, I'm not living IN this culture ... I'm living in a culture without boundaries, without preconceptions and without rules of legitimate human behavior or artistic expression.

Thank you World.

So however bad a writer I was all those years ago, I know how to fix everything. And as each book I produce going forward, that I lay up on web with the will to sell myself, the books will get better as I get better. From what I hear all around, the latest book is pretty damn good.

I can't comprehend why anyone would want to live in any time that has come before this one.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

No Price Tags

My father would tell a story of going down to Mexico, where he chanced upon a small rock shop in Chihuahua State.  Being a rock hound and having spent years in Colorado - which is a heaven for amateur gem enthusiasts - this was the sort of place my father liked to find.  He used to drag me into places like this and spend hours explaining to me all the different rocks and what chemistry they had.

This particular shop in Mexico had what all rock shops have, a bargain bin where ordinary rocks that are mildly interesting make their way ... and this particular bin had a rough yellow lump in it about the size of an egg.  My father asked about the price and was told fifty cents.  The owner had identified it as an ordinary piece of crystal quartz, and since quartz is ridiculously common in Mexico, of course it wasn't worth anything.  My father didn't try to correct the owner; he simply paid the fifty cents and cheerfully made that nice large piece of topaz his own.

To a neophyte, a piece of yellow quartz and a piece of yellow topaz look almost exactly alike.  Quartz is a common mineral, cheap, found worldwide, and whereas it polishes up so that its pretty, it can't be cut very well and so it doesn't serve as a precious stone.  Topaz, on the other hand, is very precious, and when it's cut produces a remarkable brilliance that makes it highly desirable for jewelry.  What's the difference?  Cleavage.  The quartz is a six-sided crystal.  The topaz crystal has eight sides.

I find it remarkable that players seem to think that the value of a given stone or piece of jewelry is completely obvious on sight.  In the movies, of course, ALL gems that are found in treasure troves are perfectly cut, huge and plainly valuable ... and there is a clear distinction between the value of such gems.  That one there as big as my fist?  That's worth a lot more than this one here as big as a robin's egg.

Everything about gems defies that sort of comparison.  To begin with, they are very rarely cut.  Historically, most gems, especially big gems, were at best polished, and that is how they remained for centuries after being found.  Diamonds can't be polished; there's no grit in existence that will wear a diamond down, so for most of history - until diamond-cutting was developed in the 14th century - diamonds were fairly worthless, used as grit to polish other stones.  A big, faceted jewel such as those commonly depicted by Hollywood in the caves of Arab Princes wouldn't have existed - a large, rounded, beautiful stone like that in Conan the Barbarian was the norm.

Moreover, a small, brilliant gem could be worth a great deal more than a large dull one.  If one had two gems of the same size, knowing which one was more valuable and which was less would have been a difficult proposition for anyone except a trained lapidary ... which party members aren't, generally.

Another point, about polishing.  Does it ever strike the reader that the gems list in the DM's Guide includes agate?  By and large, agate is a ridiculously common stone, in this day and age the sort of thing rock shops sell to children because it polishes up pretty and shiny.  Typically, you can get it for about a dollar a stone, and that's from the fantastic mark-up the shop adds.  Slip down to any stony beach anywhere in the world and you can find billions of small pieces of agate as large as the end of your thumb - agate is, after all, just quartz, and the world is virtually made of quartz.

Nowadays, to polish agate yourself you need only a few dollars to get yourself a little drum that powered by electricity, with sandpaper you put in the inside and which 'tumbles' continuously until your piece of agate is nice and smooth.  It's the sort of fun hobby that mystifies children, who never imagined something so rough could be turned into something so smooth.

Imagine doing it without the electricity.  Imagine a set of employees whose job it is to turn the drum, endlessly, day and night.  The value of the agate is not its commonality.  It's the amount of effort it takes to make the agate smooth and pretty, so that its translucence catches the light.  Moreover, different agates will produce different effects - dendritic agate has patterns that reflect the incongruities existent in the original rock; Cairngorm is grey and ghostly; tiger-eye is bright and featured with small distinctive 'eyes'.  These characteristics are visible before polishing only to the trained observer.

I don't tell my players what a particular gem is worth because I don't feel they automatically have that knowledge.  This does make it difficult for them to neatly divide up treasure; it means that occasionally someone in the party gets lucky, despite the very best effort of everyone in the party to be fair and balanced.  But 'balanced' gaming is bullshit; knowledge is power, and if the characters have no such knowledge, then I am not bound to give it to them.

I conceal a monster's hit points and no one questions the logic of that.  I conceal a monster's attacks, their special powers, they bonus toys they may happen to carry, and no one questions the logic of that.  Why should a player question the logic of denying them automatic knowledge of the value of things?

Ignorance of the environment is a critical, crucial part of the game's drama.  I wouldn't mess with that by slapping a convenient price tag on everything that's found.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Links Search

Something I would like to do, that takes a lot of work and effort, which the gentle reader can help with.  It occurs to me that I can greatly expand my wiki if I add links to it, organized by subject matter (unlike a dogpile), that lead to other blogs and places.

I'd want the final word on what would actually be linked, but ... some of you readers know me well, and you have a good idea of what I want.  Not just opinion, and not just 'here's how I do it in my world,' but something useful that would be helpful in anybody's world.  I also think I'd be interested in elaborate, expressive graphics that emphasize something in D&D that's difficult to express.

I'll certainly take suggestions, and if they're good, I'll add them to the wiki.

A Weather Generator

I just wanted to make a brief post to draw attention to the weather generator I've created.  I have had one that I've been using for about a year, that I've been unhappy with for a number of reasons - mostly the variance of the results.  Too much variance, that is.  I'm a bit concerned now that I've made a generator that is too benign (boring), but for the most part I've been testing it with Greece, which has comparatively little variance in its weather.

I'll be testing and tweaking the generator in the future, adding things to it, but it is stand alone right now and I wanted a bit of feedback.

The weather has always been a bit of a thorn for me; I've posted about it several times on this blog, why its important, why it adds to the game and makes the experience more real.  I feel it is a severely overlooked issue of the game.  Any table, however, that's going to be worth anything will have to be an electronic one - there are just too many issues to contend with in order for a system like the one in the Outdoor Adventures to really work.  I am hoping I've managed to at least take a strong step forward from where I was, with the expectation that I will eventually be able to add that very frightening idea of some time ago, wilderness damage.

Mwah hah hah, hah hah hah.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Magic Added to the Treasure Table

I have been busy.

There are just over five hundred different magical items listed in the Dungeon Master's Guide.  This isn't all the magic possible in the game, of course not, but that seemed like the best list to begin with, and generally represents all the magic that I use (I've never been big on the need to invent new magic items).  It's a long list, and I've been patiently loading it into my recent treasure generator.  I wrote about that last week.

So now the generator provides magic, too.

To make it work, I took advantage of some work I did years ago, breaking down the frequency of each magic item on the main table.  For example (for those who have a DM's Guide), on page 121 there is a table that indicates what kind of magic item: d100, 01-20 = potion, 21-35 = scroll, 36-40 = ring, etc.

Then, under the potion table, also a d100, 01-03 = animal control, 04-06 = clairaudience, 07-09 = clairvoyance and so on.  So the base chance of getting an animal control potion by random roll is 0.2 x 0.03, or 0.006 ... expressed as a percentage, 0.6%.

Moreover, something like a dragon control potion is further broken down on page 125, so that on a d20, 1-2 = white dragon, 3-4 = black dragon, 5-7 = green dragon ...

So that a potion of green dragon control would have a ratio of 0.2 (first table) x 0.01 (potion table) x 0.15 (dragon control table) = 0.06%.

I went through the whole list and broke it down this way, not in the last week, but over a couple of weeks about ten years ago.  And there it has sat, the original purpose for my doing so tossed out in expectation that someday I'd think of something better.  And here it is.

The complete list can be found on the wiki link above, on the 'Magic Groups' tab.

Some people who know excel very well may shudder at the manner I used to randomly roll up the magic, as I did it in 23 separate calculations of 22 items each.  There were two reasons for this: one, because you can only pile so many IF statements in a cell before the program starts to have conniption fits; and two, because this made it easy to ADD magic items to various tables at a later date.  The table is based on the idea that really big treasures will roll for much larger magic items, while smaller treasures will be limited to smaller magic items.  As each magic item appears, that reduces the potential size of future magic items, so that a really big result will cut the list short ... and if the items are all small, a big treasure will have a long list of them.

I think it's one of the most brilliant things I've done in a couple of years - its a completely different way to rank a table, based not just on the relative likelihood of the item, but also its actual power and finally within the total value of the whole treasure.

I think in the future it will put a little more magic in my world; I think much of the magic it puts in will be more likely mundane and minor magic, as opposed to the heavy stuff being in the only decent random magic table in AD&D ... and I think it will put more magic into the hands of my NPCs.  I like it only about a thousand times better than that shit Creating a Party table in the back of the DMG.

I hope the gentle reader checks it out.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Actual Definition Of Role-Playing

JB at B/X Blackrazor has been writing a series of 11 posts on role-playing (this is part 10), and throughout it all I have been both annoyed and apathetic about it.

Today, he wrote his reasons for writing the series are to determine 1) What role-playing IS; and 2) How D&D informed us about it.

He also came up with three conclusions:

- Different editions of D&D place different emphasis on role-playing as an aspect of the game.
- Regardless of its relative emphasis, D&D has never prioritized the articulation of role-playing.
- Players (including DMs) are as guilty of assumption with regard to role-playing as the game designers.

I often wonder about JB.  He's not stupid.  He's a stand-up guy.  I think I'd be happy to buy him more than a few beers.  He runs a very popular blog, though it does seem to be filled with the sort of simpering synchophants I long ago poured gasoline all over before lighting a match.  Virtually no commenter there, ever, says the least sort of intelligent thing ... which is, I suppose, a reason I never see them here.

But he has been utterly, completely, indefagitably out-to-lunch with the entire series ... which has failed to reach any of his agendas because, well, he insists on describing how he FEELS about all of it.  He feels this is a good definition of role-playing, without ever saying why.  He feels the books haven't said enough about role-playing, because he has used his feelings as a measure of what roleplaying is or isn't.  And he has expressed his feelings about various writers writing about roleplaying while measuring their value against what he feels interests him, specifically.  The whole series comes off like ... well ... some you-tuber screaming about Britney.

And I am a bit sick.

Well, there's nothing wrong with opinion.  And we all have feelings.  I feel there are many worlds I'd never like to run in.  There are many DMs I feel should be removed from the table and given the operation that would make it impossible - snip - for them to roll dice.  And yes, I have many times described my feelings on this blog.  Anyone who says they haven't written their feelings on a blog is a damn liar.

The subject matter ought to be role-playing, not JB's feelings about it.  Playing a "role."  Defined as, "the function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation."

Note the complete absence in the definition of any measurable quality.  The definition does not say "playing a part WELL."  The definition does not say "playing the part INTERESTINGLY."  The definition does not say anything about the role being a part that by necessity differs from who you happen to be, nor does it give extra credit for playing a role that is startling different from who you are.  None of that actually exists in the definition at all.  Any discussion of role-playing that places any emphasis whatsoever upon any of those things is NOT a discussion about role-playing.  It's a discussion of the writer's prejudices, moral sensibilities, demands for attention and personal agenda.  Such a discussion it TOTAL CRAP ... not by virtue of my feelings on the matter, but by virtue of how the word "role" is actually defined.

Regarding the various editions of D&D and what they've offered in terms of guidelines or descriptions of 'role-playing,' that's all complete crap too.  The books don't provide any suggestions on what snacks to eat during a game of D&D either.  They don't offer anything about how to get your friends to play, or how to convince your parents its not a stupid game, or how many years you should keep playing D&D before it starts to get, well, queer.  The editions and the books that represent them don't describe a lot of things that have become de rigueur to the game.


Comb through the rules of Monopoly and find me the description of how you should gloat over the demise of other players who cannot afford your hotels on Boardwalk.  Find me the lengthy description in the original game of RISK describing how you're an idiot if you don't try for Australia first.  Get out a rule book on baseball and point to me the rule that explains how a catcher puts a batter off his swing by speaking particular words or phrases.  Find me the rule in football that describes how much balance to put on the balls of your feet based on who happens to be pitted against you, so that you don't wind up on your ass and so you do make him wind up on his.

You know where you find these things?  In playing the game.  In talking about the game.  In writing about the game.  The fact that they were not actually written into the rules of the game doesn't mean a fucking thing.  And any damn fool who spends 11 posts describing how they ought to, or discussing how the absence of same proves some damn thing about what those things are has his head so far up his ass I can't guess how the fuck he'd drink the beer I'd be willing to buy him.

JB has spent a lot of time writing his 10 posts - no. 11 to come.  I suppose he feels it is time worth spending.  But don't go there looking for answers about anything except the personality of JB.

He has failed to define role-playing (I used a dictionary).  He has failed to realize that D&D is under no obligation to inform anyone about role-playing.  He has failed to recognize that whatever the emphasis the various editions made, it is of no account regarding the manner or means by which people choose to play the game.  He has failed to realize that role-playing never needed to be a priority of the rules.  And he has failed to recognize that people, being people, ALWAYS make assumptions about everything, including roleplaying, and that at no time and in no way does it matter that these assumptions differ from the game designers, or from JB.

These things are irrelevant.  They don't relate to role-playing.  What people have said about it, or haven't said about it, or what they believe about it, is irrelevant to whether or not a thing is, in fact, role-playing.

I tell you, "My character turns left."  I have just role-played.  I have just assumed a part, essaying that the part takes a given function in a situation that has been given to me.  "My character lifts his weapon."  I have role-played again.  "My character moves to fight."  I have role-played again.  In fact, it is impossible for me to describe anything my character does without in fact role-playing.  Because it is a character.  And I have chosen to speak for that character, and describe what that character does.  It is a role I have adopted.

People desperately, pathetically, idiotically want it to be more than that, so they can use their agenda to rule how you, the player, role-play according to standards they have made the fuck up out of their own fucking heads.  They are trying to control you.  They are trying to make you feel inferior.  They are trying to make themselves superior in some bullshit fashion, having invented the measure of superiority so that it suits them personally.

Tell them to fuck off.  Tell them, "This is my character, and I will role-play it as I like."  Tell them very politely that you would appreciate it if they kept their opinions to themselves.  But don't fucking listen to them, don't fucking believe them and don't fucking think that because they've written a blog expanding wildly on their opinions that they've done something significant.

I Haven't Heard A Bad Review Yet

When someone else blows my horn, I'm going to point at it.  This in from Kyle:

"Literally just finished Pete's Garage. I was left wanting more. I bought the eBook to read on my tablet, so when I actually checked the page count, I was surprised to find myself a page from the end.

Pete's Garage is a wonderful read, and I can't wait for more work set in the same universe. The classical influences to some of the characters appealed to the thematic influences I have had since I was young. The humour present in your writing made me burst out laughing several times, having to explain myself to my fiance, who gave me that 'whatever' look."

Feels good, every time.  Thank you Kyle.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Horse Technologies

To begin with, the treasure table I put up yesterday has been upgraded so that the input data & results appear on one page.  Some of you who are not familiar with excel will find this much easier to view.

One thing I failed to make mention of was the Civ IV development index ... which the reader will find shown now on the Input Page.  This is in reference to the number of 'coins' a particular bit of land area would have, in accordance with various NTME posts I wrote last fall, particularly this one.  These things all link together.

By changing the comparative Civ IV development, you multiply coins, gems & jewelry on the Treasure Table by any number you choose to insert there.  So if the treasure isn't enough for you, there's a simple toggle you can play with.

A note about gold, silver and copper coins.  I suppose I am as robotic as anyone in the acceptance that there ought to be more copper coins than gold coins because gold is more valuable.  When you think of it, however, that really doesn't make a lot of sense.  You may have more pennies in your house than dollars in your wallet, but in reality you possess many more dollars in general wealth than you own in pennies.  Moreover, you are FAR more likely to have a hundred dollars in your wallet than 100 pennies in your pocket.  I've never quite made that connection.

This is why on the table there are almost always more gold coins than silver or copper.  The latter two exist to make change ... but the principle wealth anyone possesses ought to be gold pieces.  In reality, copper is so useful for so many things it is more likely that it would be melted down for use rather than hoarded away - so finding tens of thousands of copper pieces would be so unlikely I can't be bothered to include it.

Besides - and lets be honest here - copper is so degraded in value in the game that most characters after a certain level can't be bothered with the necessity of hauling all that weight for an easily dismissed gain.

As I said, the war tab is based off the cultural intelligence table I posted last week - along with this below:

This obviously deserves some discussion.

Once again, I don't want to get dragged into a debate about whether horses of a particular variety existed in Earth history at the same time as a particular armor or weapon, or versus a given tack or tactics.  Anachronisms are bound to occur, and whereas I can appreciate them, generally I am anxious to produce a playable measure for limiting some cultures while promoting the technological superiority of others.

Thus, I perceive that some cultures would be possessed of heavy warhorses, while others would not.  The same may be said of the stirrup, barding, hippogriffs or the availability of paladin's warhorses.  I realize some will recognize there's a magical quality in paladin's warhorses (they're not 'bred') ... but we can agree, I think, that some cultures will have learned how to call them, while others will not have.

Tactics were the most interesting part of the table.  Bareback riding would have been the first efforts made to actually ride a horse by gripping the mane and with the rider's thighs.  Consider - the first people who lived with horses ... why would they ever think that horses could be 'broken'?  If you had never seen a broken horse, and every time someone had tried to ride such an animal they were bucked off, wouldn't you just assume for generations that it was an animal that simply refused to be used in that fashion?  "Ride what?  The animal whose meat and milk we eat?"

Just to point out, not all horse-like animals can be domesticated.  Zebras have never been ridden - and cannot be ridden (as described at length in Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel).  The first persons to succeed with horses must have been stubborn, or drunk, or both.  I'm sure there were a number of factors at work there.

A bareback riding culture might have some reconnaissance options, but we're certainly not talking about a combat cavalry.  That wouldn't arise until at least a cultural intelligence of 8.  Skirmishing would represent a disorganized body of blanket-saddled men moving at the edge of an army and merely harrassing an enemy - NOT acting as a unit, but as individuals, most often dismounting before attacking, then quickly remounting their animals.

Organized raiding would be the step up from this, where groups of men would skirmish at specific enemy targets, still generally dismounting - though now there's a saddle, but no stirrups, something hard to imagine.  Horses tended to be much smaller animals, which could be better gripped with the thighs, as that's pretty much all you had to keep you on a horse.

The cataphract charge is the shock tactic of bunching horses as closely together as possible and all rushing against a line of men, using the bodies of the horses as weapons to trample and create a breach.  In my world, this would mean effectively one horse per hex, with some attacking possible from the horse but mostly on the ground after much of the cataphract was dismounted.  Generally, this reflects the standard Roman tactic.

Lancers appear with the development of the lance (see the other table) and the appearance of the stirrup (approximately the Mongol period).  Yes, there were lancers prior to this, but because of the impact, without stirrups, knights tended to be thrown off the horse - so the lancer as a reliable tactical unit really doesn't exist until after the invention of the stirrup.  Prior to that time, most lance combats were one-on-one honor bouts, even in war.  The battle of Hastings was fought mostly on foot.

Mounted bowmen, too, appear throughout central Asia around the turn of the millenium; the crusaders fought them, the Seljuks were deadly horsebacked archers and several armies in India featured them.  They predate lancers by some degree, but they're close enough I feel it was really a question of geography (the steppes of Central Asia vs. the forests of Europe, along with European horses vs. Central Asian horses) and not specifically intelligence.

Hit & Run presumes the mounted cavalry has transcended the need to get off the horse to fight, and that skirmishers are now rushing into combat and out without having dismounted.  Ambushing refers to the tactic of more thoroughly managing the movement of groups of mounted soldiers so as to move more quietly, in single file, and to keep the horses silent so as to surprise hosts of men - then hitting them from multiple sides in a controlled, managed action.  This takes tremendous skill, and there aren't many examples of it prior to the 14th century.

This leads to schooling horses.  I haven't talked about the advancements yet, but the next stage is tactics depends on teaching the horse to do more than simply bear a rider.  Sharp turns, gaits, managing to traverse difficult terrain and keep footing, these are things we take for granted in horses but which at one time were unknown.  The earlier reference to breeding comes from the fact that most horse breeds that exist now were manufactured from earlier natural strains, thus the creation of the warhorse and inculcation of certain desired traits.  This really took off when schooling horses became a necessity for military tactics.

The hussar charge is an improvement on the old cataphract in that the horses were more tightly packed together.  Tolstoy in his book War and Peace speaks in one scene of feeling Paul's knees pressed against of the flanks of the horses on either side of his own, as the charge was so compact as to utterly shatter an enemy position when impact occurred.  Hussars were the terror of the battlefield once this tactic was introduced - and it necessitated terrific schooling on the part of horses.

A very great problem with the hussar charge, however - and this in the age of gunpowder, the late 16th century - was that the mass of flesh packed together in this fashion made the hussar charge tremendously vulnerable to shot.  In a D&D world, it would be no less vulnerable to area effect spells like fireball, color spray, cone of cold, ice storm, burning hands, etc.  The solution that was applied was to have the hussars ride at the enemy loosely grouped, and then concentrate in the very last moments before the actual charge.

Point in fact, you will probably never see this in a movie, unless someone decides to do with with CGI.  The best scene from a good cavalry movie, the Light Horsemen, shows a cavalry on Beersheba as it rides wide open and straight at the enemy ... but the actual tactic of the late concentration was dropped after the American Civil War, and there are no soldiers left anywhere in the world who are trained well enough to effect such a charge, even on screen.  Though I think there may be some cavalries who could train up to doing it ... if they could be bothered.

Have a look at that movie link; it's one of the most beautiful depictions of horses in motion I've ever seen.

A few other notes.  Clingor would be, I think, a reference to the Thomas Covenant series ... it's a call out to campaigns that include some sort of magical cloth or saddle that enables the rider to be better fixed upon the horse, and not knocked off.  Magic barding is somewhat obvious; magic horseshoes would be like the horseshoes of the zephyr or some other similar item.

There you have it.  I suppose I'll come back around to another treasure post when I have the magic portion added to the Treasure & Arms table.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Road To A Treasure Table

Pardon me while I lose myself in some odd mathematical backflips.

I had decided that I should base an attempt at new treasure tables on the number of hit dice a party should be expected to kill prior to moving from first to second level. I decided that "hit dice" would be the equivalent to an average of 4.5 hit points ... necessary, since several monsters of my world have different dice to determine hit points than a d8. In my world, a heavy creature weighing 300 lbs. has 1d10 for each hit point. A 1 HD creature with 1d10 for hit points would be measured as 1.22 HD for the purpose of my treasure tables.

To kill 4.5 hit points, according to my experience system, awards the character causing damage 45 x.p. One can also reason that the monster will cause 4.5 h.p. of damage to the party in general for every hit dice the monster has - this would be the equivalent of 40 x.p. per point of damage, or 180 x.p.; thus, added together, for combat, a given 1 hit die monster would give the party 225 x.p. from combat and ultimately being killed.

If we consider a party made up of a cleric, fighter, mage, thief and ranger (a reasonable collection), that party would require a total of 9,500 experience to advance to second level. 9500 divided by 225 x.p. per hit dice would mean the party would have to kill (and be struck by) 42.22 hit dice. Of course, if the party had it easy, and killed all those hit dice without ever taking a hit, that would only amount to 1,900 x.p. ... far short of what they needed. However, if they were hit a lot, taking more than an average of 4.5 damage per monster hit die they killed, it could require less monsters to be killed.

Then, of course, there is treasure.

I liked the idea of a 1st level character having to kill 5 hit dice to become an 'ace' ... as they used to call pilots in world war I who successfully shot down 5 planes. The gentle reader take note, that would be 5 hit dice per character, or 25 hit dice for five characters. Supposedly, then, the balance of the 42.22 needed could be offered in treasure. As a baseline, then, I reasoned that 25 hit dice of monsters would carry the equivalent treasure of 17.22 hit dice ... or 3,874.5 g.p. That is, 155 g.p. per hit dice.

Now, a great many people are going to consider that a great deal of treasure. I would have thought so myself once, except that of late - the last couple years or so - I find myself thinking about how much coin a typical 1st level party member possesses. That is, along with weapons, armor, general equipment, etc. I usually start a 1st level character with anywhere from 10 to 200 gold, depending on how the character generator turns out ... and it isn't long before they glean a few hundred coins from the general adventure - even if I choke off to a fair degree the treasure they find. There's really no reason to think that an orc who has lived a long life hasn't also accumulated weapons, armor, a nice trinket or two, some gold and silver, etc, amounting to 150 g.p. When one considers how much it costs to feed oneself in my world, and that gold is by no means 'rare' - in that a gold coin only weighs 7 grams, and isn't actually more than about 56% gold anyway - then this isn't a bad guideline.

Too, there are always going to be a number of monsters and dangerous animals that have no gold at all. You have to kill something intelligent to get treasure, and I tend to run my intelligent creatures as dangerously as possible.

Okay, so, lets start with 150 g.p. (rounded off, just for simplicity's sake - the final number is a guesstimate based on an assumption anyway). Let's lop off 60 g.p. from that for weapons; and let's say only 1/5th of it is actual coin. O Reader, compare your own present 'coin' with your approximate worth. That leaves about 90 g.p., which can be divided - for the present - into gems, jewelry and magic. At some later date, I'd like to get down into greater nitty gritty like tools, clothes, land and a host of other assets, but for now I'll keep it simple.

(But just as an aside, how much experience does a party get if it wipes out a manor house and most of the wealth is in the actual house and the land? None, I presume ... but consider that's where most of the actual wealth would be. Very little would be in actual hard currency; medieval manors did not generally keep most of its assets in coins, since there is always so much maintenance to do on a manor. Finding 10 g.p. in an entire estate is a reasonable possibility - many lords were 'house poor')

I think jewelry is the biggest x.p. factor in those three, so I would divide the total in 30 g.p. per hit die in gems, 45 g.p. per hit die into jewelry and 15 g.p. per hit die into magic. IF a particular killed creature wasn't of enough hit dice to enable a piece jewelry or a magic item, that sum would be translated into gold and added to that pile.

The lowest of magic items (in terms of experience listed in the Dungeon Master's Guide) is a healing potion, worth 200 g.p. If we considered that a minimum, the party would have to kill a group of at least 14 HD (in one encounter) for a healing potion to be possible (15*14 = 210). To have a chance at something like a cloak of elvenkind (assuming you didn't get some other lesser magic item), the party would have to slaughter 67 hit dice of creatures - and then the cloak would be the only item.

For example, a party kills 20 orcs, who mysteriously do not have any leaders (who would be worth more than 1 HD, so let's just go with this because it makes things easier). We set up a random die roll so that the average treasure conforms to what's above. Putting aside the weapons and armor (I'm writing another post about that), we roll up an average of 38 g.p., 16 s.p. and 10 c.p. per orc (I rolled high), for a total of 760 g.p., 320 s.p. and 200 c.p. The orcs are entitled to approximately 200 g.p. in gems (also rolled randomly, this time low), but the first gem that's rolled up randomly is 250 g.p. ... too much! So the 200 g.p. in gems is converted to gold and added to the 760. The orcs are entitled to 500 g.p. in jewelry, and we find they have two pieces among them - a sword hilt worth 120 g.p., and a silver-with-turquoise stones goblet one of them has in a bag worth 180 g.p. The next piece of jewelry rolled was worth 210 (10 g.p. too many), so the remaining 200 is also converted to coin.

Those are base prices for jewelry, however. Checking for workmanship or fine gems is an extra bonus that isn't counted towards the average ... however, we check for both pieces and find the values are unchanged.

Now, this is what I was able to manage for the weekend - it's going to take me some time to work on magic tables. Also, I haven't quite worked out a random table for what KIND of gem is found, or what KIND of jewelry is (I made up the sword hilt and goblet on the fly). Apart from that, and apart from a few other things (like a single page that brings all the information together without the calculation), I have got a random table that generates all this that can be found on my wiki, right here.

You'll also find a nice page on weapons, armor and mounts, based on the cultural intelligence post I wrote last week. I will write regarding that table later.

Five years I've been writing this blog. Some days, I feel like I'm just getting started.

Friday, July 12, 2013

One Hit Die

Three months ago I trashed the Big Bang Theory for a pathetic depiction of D&D, citing the endless parade of pathetic depictions and wondering why the game can't be presented, well, respectfully.

Somebody in the great beyond must have heard me. Not long ago, upon the advice of a friend, a director of an upcoming online comedy series checked out my blog and was most excited to bring me on board the production as a technical advisor. I've been sitting on this information for awhile now; and even at this time, though the series is due to start in August, I still can't point to a website and say, there it is.

The show is One Hit Die ... there's a gateway webpage and more on facebook.  And I have pictures.  This has to be the coolest one:

The token goblin

I know at the present that the principle shooting of the first four episodes has been completed and that the series is now in post-production. I've seen the scripts of course, I can say they were quite funny and clever, fairly making light of the various tropes of the game.

This is where I came in, since the production staff wanted someone who could tear into the scripts and identify any game problems or issues. This I did, writing notes all over everything, primarily pointing out how people were going to guess at the levels of the characters, who would be able to perform what actions, what those tropes usually were, how people would interpret various lines and so on.

Now, I'm not so foolish as to believe that as the "game advisor" that anyone is going to listen to me. I didn't see the final scripts, I don't know what advice they took and to be honest, it doesn't definitely matter. They took the time to seek out SOMEONE who might actually know something about the game, and that has to be about a million times more than those morons who make movies with D&D in the title.

I am more than pleased they chose me. It was a terrific experience. And I look forward to seeing the final results, lo about six weeks from now.

More pics, for the curious:

Naturally, a thief.
An expected, far too sweet, cleric.
One grumbling mage ... check.

And one kick-ass fighter ...
without too much skin.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Few Scattered Notes

Today I went to look something up on the Same Universe Wiki and the site appears to be done. I'm not sure if its because it is inaccessible, or merely because I can't access it. If someone wants to confirm that the site is dead, or can still be reached, they will find the link in the sidebar. Please let me know one way or another.

One more reason for me to be working on the wiki; so whatever time I have today, I'll be pulling that apart. I dislike the auto-arrangement of the site, so I suppose I'll start with creating a set of pages that can provide a rational index.

Everything starts with an index.

For those to whom it matters, I'm sorry I've left it off the agenda for so long.

Regarding the weapons/armor table from a couple of days ago, and a reference to the need to include horses, I think I have a solution to that. Civ IV doesn't have a very gritty set of livestock technologies - there's only animal husbandry, horseback riding, guilds (which gives knights) and military tradition (which gives gunpowder cavalry, too high up the line for D&D).

The trick to the community intelligence idea would be horse tactics ... archery, shock, ambush, skirmishing, etc. I've done the research, and I'll have a table for that up next week (planned).

Anyway, the online campaign is soaking up time this week, so this is all the post I have time for.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Armor Weapons Tech Table

Recently, the post I wrote in 2011, Rethinking Intelligence, has make a terrific jump in page views. I have no idea why. Recently, however, I have been rethinking some of the ideas I had for applying Civ 4 technological development for monster intelligence (and I have no idea where that original post is), which has led to this.

The basic premise would be that monsters would have a "cultural intelligence" which would not necessarily correspond to that of the monsters individually. For example, humans would have a cultural intelligence of 18, even though individually their intelligence is average. This is because while most humans are not necessarily geniuses, they are able to take advantage of the inventiveness of genius ... and therefore, able to use technologies which individually they could never have invented.

The tendency in D&D is to assume every monster has the same cultural intelligence. Goblins and kobalds, described as low intelligence, are able to use bows or make armor every bit as well as most other cultural races ... while the 'very' intelligence of dwarves or the 'high' intelligence of elves does not expressly improve their armor class or weaponry past a +1 bonus to the latter - which isn't enjoyed by certain other creatures of similar intelligence.

This homogeneity grew from a lack of strategy; having invented intelligence, there was no follow through on how that intelligence practically affected the gaming world.  Intelligence was primarily invented as a limitation for magic spell use; later it was incorporated as a generic die check for the purpose of limiting character comprehension below that of player comprehension.  But the actual scope of varied monster intelligences in terms of how that affects monster cultures - for that, there are no details at all.

The first problem, then, would be to determine just what makes a cultural intelligence. Obviously, the intelligence notes in the various monster manuals are insufficient, since as I said it only takes a few geniuses to raise the cultural intelligence of the entire race. The problem is, I think, that a practical range of intelligence was never suggested. Clearly the range for humans is not 9 to 11; the range for goblins can therefore not be 5 to 7.

But need it be 3-18? Isn't it desireable that various races be given a wide-spread range on stats like intelligence and wisdom, whereas for other races the range is very narrow indeed. Why not designate some humanoids as barely out of the stone age? Why not limit gnolls, for example, at an intelligence of 12? We could posit hill giants at 8, stone giants at 10, frost giants at 11 and so on ... giving us a wide range of differing technological availability for each. Humans and demi-humans, obviously, would enjoy the intelligence limitations imposed in the Player's Handbook ... but all the other races are entirely up for whatever particular the DM of that world feels appropriate.

Suppose that we took the various elements of weapons and armor development as composed in the Civ IV tables and stretched them over the cultural intelligences we designate. Clubs for warriors, axes and spears for bronze age, swords for iron age, short bows for archery, long bows for medieval culture, crossbows from machines and polearms at the highest. Once again, yes, I'm ditching all gunpowder development for D&D. And I'm saying that an 18 cultural intelligence for a D&D world equals the equivalent of 16th, 17th century technology.

What we might arrive at is a table like the one below. Now, this isn't meant to be historically accurate, not by any stretch of the imagination. It is intended to determine specific technologies which can be applied to specific intelligences, loosely derived from hints or clues from the various books describing monsters:

Brittle weapons would be those that break easily; my clubs, for example, break on a 1 in 4 when a natural 1 is rolled on the 'to hit' d20. Durable weapons would break on a 1 in 6; tough weapons, on a 1 in 8 or better. The various weapons chosen for each intelligence level are meant to portray a general increase describing flexibility of use, convenience and damage done.

Proficiencies is a measure of the culture's education system, nothing more. It takes time to learn a particular weapon; a more efficient education system enables faster, more complete learning of more weapons in a similar amount of time. Thus, a goblin fighter may train as long as a human fighter, but the human fighter will learn more because the education system is BETTER.

Those multiple weapons are not designated to be alternate power weapons. Why would you train with a long sword if you already knew how to use a battle axe? Your second weapon would be something you could throw ... and then, as technology improved, something you might fire instead. Eventually, something you would throw AND something you would fire. Specialist weapons would be a bludgeoning weapon, or a pole arm specifically for battlefield encounters.

Yes, I'm saying that not all armors would be available to all cultures. The lower cultures would have to get by on leather; the very low cultures, with nothing at all. Of course, there's a chance upper cultures would want to advantage themselves of the increase speed and movement of not being in chain or plate ... the increase in intelligence, specifically, would allow them the option of either.

At last, magic. Humans and demi-humans would know how to make a +5 weapon. Goblins would not. Incidentally, "specials" includes things like the +3 frost brand or the +2 giant slayer. Those items would necessitate a more advanced culture.

Food for thought. Run with it as you will.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Art And Fall Of Preparation

The largest amount of time that any DM will spend on the roleplaying game is in the preparation for that game. This attaches a curious quality to the very act of ‘playing’ ... in that to play for a few hours, one must spend many more hours sketching out the fabric of the adventure, or the world, in which the players are to take part.

The art of table-top gaming has been founded on the principle that the more time that is spent in preparation, the better the game. More preparation presumes more detail, a greater development of the personalities the players are bound to meet, a more complex arrangement of the circumstances of the adventure—more elaborate maps, floorplans, more complex toys for the players to use and puzzle out, etcetera—and most importantly a greater familiarity and cohesion to the whole. If the DM knows his or her world in tremendous, intimate detail, then surely it will be a better, more believable, or perhaps more esoteric world than otherwise.

So we must also believe that very little preparation equals a game with none of those qualities ... and empty game, without imagination, or things to capture the interest of the players. Thus, while preparation equals a better world, the lack of preparation must therefore mean no world at all.

Frustratingly, it isn’t enough to say that preparation is good. What sort of preparation? If I am a new player, without any experience, what should I prepare? Even if I have been playing for years, how am I to be sure that the hours I’m spending aren’t wasted, and that they are put to good use? I am getting older, after all ... I have a job, a family, responsibilities, I haven’t the time to waste making huge dungeons and complicated ruined cities, especially if there’s hardly any likelihood the party will see all of it. I don’t just want to prepare—I want to prepare efficiently.

Here is how the method goes. First, we must design that which is going to be used by the players: the rooms where the monsters are; the people who will speak to the players; the statistics of the monsters themselves; and the treasure that is given. Where it comes to a standard night of play, these are the details that will absolutely, without question, matter.

Since one room is hardly going to be enough to satisfy a party for one night, we must create a series of rooms, and a series of monsters and non-player characters, and of course a series of recorded treasures. And since the players are bound to wonder what all this stands for, the Second thing we must have is a reason for the players to be here. We must have some idea that binds these rooms together. Every part of a dungeon, or a castle, must have some connection that will apply to every room, from the beginning of the series to the end.

Now, in our culture, there already exists a template that defines how imagination is constructed into a linear arrangement. It is called a story. It exists in books and film; it can be of any length, and it can be about anything; and it has clear, recognizeable elements to it that anyone can understand immediately. For a DM who is looking for a way to pull together the scrambled arrangement of rooms and ideas they’ve already had, a story is a great help. Not only does it help find a place for ideas one has already had, once the story is invented, it helps create new ideas!

There is a powerful relationship between the story and the preparation problem—for preparation is indeed a problem, in that it requires the creation of original ideas, either stolen or from scratch, if it is to be of an value in the campaign. A series of rooms that have no imagination will do just as well to never have been made. There is a tremendous pressure on the adventure designer to have something interesting and exciting, full of drama, that will grip the players and set them spinning on their seats.

Unfortunately, if you have done even a little preparation, you know how hard that is. You might have no idea what a good dungeon room looks like. Worse, you might be plagued with notions of terrific adventures you’ve been on as a player, and be utterly lost as to how to replicate their quality. You will probably doubt your ability to do so.

Then, there’s the little matter of how truly boring and stale it can be to sit for hours, drawing walls, drawing little doors and halls, all the while painstakingly putting down details about monsters in long columns on paper. Then, when you’ve suddenly had a good idea, you’ve had to erase some area in order to fit it in, or rewrite out a page of statistics ... only to find yourself the next day thinking, “It’s awful! I must be stupid!” ... so that you have to take it all out again.

The act of creation can be bitter and disheartening.

Even if you get the thing made, there are other matters to contend with. You hope the players will like what you’ve made. You search their faces through the entire campaign for signs of interest, for reassurance, for signs that tell you what you’ve done is good. You’re crushed when they tell you casually, “Yeah, it was all right.” You’re even a little furious when they show no real interest in something upon which you worked for hours—and if they actually criticize your work, that can produce all kinds of gaming drama ... but not necessarily the sort you desired.

DMing begins with the way you look at the things you do to prepare yourself, and the game, for actual play. If you have applied yourself completely and wholly to the practice of preparing adventures for your players, you have let yourself in for a wide collection of unavoidable pitfalls. Most of these pitfalls are so established in the role-playing community that they are seen as a necessary evil, things that every DM must suffer, something for which there are no solutions. Some of these pitfalls apply only to yourself; others apply to the reactions of your players; and the very worst ones apply to the things you must do in order to get specific reactions from your players.

The Minor Pitfalls

Let’s examine the nature of the highest quality preparation artist for the roleplaying game. Here is a fellow (who obviously need not be a ‘fellow,’ but let’s propose that we have a ‘he’ for our purposes) who is able to prepare adventures of the greatest possible type—the sort that could easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any module on the market today. Let’s further presume that this fellow has the time, and the will, to work tirelessly upon his projects, to ready them for the games that he runs.

At some point in the past he once designed adventures that were intended to run a whole night long, but which parties shot through in forty minutes; so our fellow has learned to ensure that doesn’t happen. He knows now how to keep a party occupied.

Our fellow knows how to write a good speech that a kindly old man or a dispossessed knight will tell the party, to ‘hook’ them into the adventure. He knows how to describe dank walls and how to give a location real flavour. He is a master at puzzles and designing traps, and his story twists are the twistiest. He makes floorplans that reach to the horizon, filled with incredible amounts of detail, and he knows how to make these details matter in the game. There’s no such thing as an ordinary object in his world; whatever you find on the table today will be absolutely necessary three gaming sessions hence, and his parties know to recognize that everything has value.

Our fellow does have a bit of a problem, however. As successful as his adventures have been in the past, there is relentless pressure on him to forever improve upon himself. Here is the first of those pitfalls, the sort that applies to your own perspective as a DM. No matter how good you’ve been, that’s in the past. Our brilliant adventure-making fellow knows that his next effort must be better than ever, or it will fall flat upon the viewer.

Oh, this may not actually be true—but his own pride in himself will make it true ... because that is a long-standing pitfall of the artist. Our fellow’s reputation is on the line. He must do better, or he’s a has-been. He’s lost the touch. He’s rehashing the old stuff, he’s running through the same cycles ... and the worst thing he can hear is to have players say, “Well, that was good, but you know what was my favorite? That time we punched out the Great Hepphalump on the top of Mount Killerdog. THAT was an amazing adventure! I wish you’d make another one like that one!”

I hope the gentle reader can understand the difficulty here. A ‘story,’ where it has been prepared, must have a beginning and an end. This means that it exists separately from other stories. Sequels are always a possibility, but we know from the movies that the dialogue here is always to compare the sequel with the original.

Where stories are prepared for our consumption, either as viewers or as roleplayers, we accept them as singular, segmented entities. We can do nothing else, because stories—formatted in roleplaying adventures—are given to us. We identify them as packages.

Stories are not life, because life does not ‘present’ in that way. Life continues unabated, very often without cohesive structure, the very structure which the DM so dearly clutched to his or her chest as a means to draw together the discontinuity of the rooms created for the players. Life is full of discontinuity; continuity is something we create in order to comfort ourselves when discontinuity disturbs us.

Our fellow, however, perseveres. He is not concerned with any of this because, as I said, he knows—as do so many roleplayers—that one-upping oneself is simply the price we must pay. He knows there is no solution, except to do it, and to put the entire question of his mind ... at least, as far as he’s able.

Great adventures, however, take time, and greater adventures still more time. The greatest adventures, it is so rarely understood, are those which are never completed. These are the adventures which are conceived of, upon which our fellow and others work upon for years, until at last other responsibilities, a lack of players, a lack of will or the unpleasant disaster of losing all the work one has done because it was left in the wrong box during a move ends on the drawing board the greatest adventures you or I or any player will ever have played.

These are adventures often spoken of at conventions; that are promised to players in uncounted sessions; that gain hushed, reverent descriptions like “the huge undead city” or “the giant cave” ... until a word or two has all the knowing people at the table nodding their heads and anxious anticipation.

But why is it we tonight are playing in something our fellow fetched together in a weekend rather than the Island Ship of Captain Deviant? Because it isn’t ready. It needs many more touches, there are still things our fellow needs to solve, the entire port side of the ship is yet lacking the verve it needs ... but not to worry, this winter, after Christmas, he will have plenty of time to sit down and really work on it. Then it will be spectacular.

This would be a good time to discuss the solitary nature of preparation.

DMing AloneSome years ago, a series of relocations and other events left me without a gaming group, as the players I had run with for fourteen years scattered to meet obligations and seek opportunities. Finding myself campaignless, and busy with my own projects, I found myself faced with a question: “If I did not have any players, was it worthwhile continuing to design my world?”

Without players, any new rules I might conceive could have no game testing. I have never been the sort to design adventures, but even if I wanted to do so, they seemed to offer little purpose. Having no game to prepare for, was there any point in preparing at all?

I eventually came to the decision that I liked designing my world, even if I had no players to play in it. The act of designing was satisfying; the various tables, maps or floorplans had a beauty inherent of themselves, which I could certainly appreciate, even if no one else could.

Nor did I forget that surely, one day, I would have players again. When that day came, I thought, my roleplaying world could be deeper and more intricate than it ever had been; I could offer a wider set of opportunities, while fixing issues I’d never had time to fix. Running every week meant much of my tine was spent addressing the immediate needs of the campaign. Not running meant the freedom to work on anything I desired, for as long as I desired, until I felt—for the first time—that it was ready.

One perspective of the DM that truly separates him or her from the point of view of players is that when the game is not in session, there still seems to be something to do. Players digging a mine want to know how much ore they find, and where they can sell it and for how much—and there’s always the matter of risk. Players come in with floorplans of the temples or castles they want their characters to build, wanting to know how much will they cost, how defensive the walls will be, how effective the very engines are that are on those walls and so on. In your last game, trying to roll up a disease for one of the characters, you found yourself hating the random table and so you are thinking of redesigning it. And for most, there’s always the next level of the dungeon that needs attention, as well as the paint job that awaits the new Grey Giant that so dearly waits to surprise and shock the party. If it isn’t a sensational job, the whole effect is lost.

In fact, there is so much to do that the temptation to put off the entire running just one more week is occasionally irrestible. More than one DM has claimed illness so that either Friday or Saturday can be spent uninterrupted with paints or graph paper. More than one DM has silently cheered when this week there have been too many cancellations to make it worthwhile getting together to play. When you plan to run 52 weeks out of the year, it isn’t wholly a bad thing if that number is shaved to 49 or 48 ... especially if the first session coming back from a break is expressly better because the prep time has been lavish.

There are even DMs in the world who secretly prefer world designing and preparation to actual play—which doesn’t say they’d like to give up play altogether! It is only that where it comes to the various elements of the game, design vs. play, for these few DMs the former certainly outranks the latter.

And why not? Play is fraught with difficulties. It is often disappointing. It often demands energy and effort on the part of the DM when he or she might not happen to be ‘on’ that night . Add to that the aforementioned element of failing to meet the party’s expectations, the critical looks on player faces, the worry that some gaming feature will fall flat ... and in general, the malaise that accompanies the certainty that one is simply not very good at DMing, and that on the whole it would be better if someone else did it. Preparation—where as yet no great idea has had the opportunity to fall on is face—can be a desireable alternative to everything that can go wrong.

Many who resist DMing a game continue to design or play with their world, some perhaps thinking of the day when they might DM, and others knowing deep in their hearts that designing the game is enough. There is nothing wrong with this. There is nothing that states, unequivocably, that roleplaying games must be played in order to be enjoyable. Design strictly for one’s own benefit is as legitimate a pasttime as rebuilding your house, disassembling your car to clean it every Sunday afternoon or walks in the park. Still, there remains a put-up-or-shut-up stigma in the gaming community that is bound to dismiss anything such an individual might say about being a DM, in that there has been little, if any, experience in the trenches.
And that has merit. It may be well and good to design a world without presenting it, but it is certainly harder to present what you have made than to keep it hidden. The prejudice holds just as true if you write novels you never allow anyone to read, or practice a guitar which you never play in front of another person. DMing in front of an audience is risk. Preparation is only the beginning.

The anticipation of running a game is a drug, like any risk. Knowing you might fail—and knowing you might succeed—enriches the experience. It is interesting to note that while confidence in oneself as a DM increases the willingness to throw oneself out there and take the chance of failure, too much confidence can winnow down the actual reward. Once one is so certain of success that the game becomes an ordinary activity, something is lost.

It may surprise many long-time, confident DMs that I have taken the position that the act of running a campaign is scary. For many, it is not. They’ve done it many times; they have ceased to even consider the possibility that a night’s running might end in disaster ... for even if it does, oh well, it has happened before and no big deal.

For the untried DM, preparing a game in no way guarantees a good game. But the act of preparation itself is safe and in many ways enjoyable. However, it is almost always understood that someday, even the most recalcitrant DM will have to take that chance and actually present their world to players.

The Preparation Expectation

As the gaming session nears, and the last touches are put on the various features that will be presented that night, the DM has long since allowed his or her self to contemplate the player’s reactions to everything ... the trap in Room 33; the sudden death of the guide when he seizes the green glowing orb in Room 41. The inevitable dilemma when the party reaches the two stairwells, side by side, not knowing for certain which one leads to success and which one is the sure road to a total party kill.

Because the excellently prepared DM has spent all this time carefully preparing all the elements of the adventure, and the game at large, there is more going on than that he or she knows what is about to happen. There has grown, drawn line by line, detailed sheet by sheet, day by day, an expectation of what is going to happen.

Let us return again to our fellow, the one we described before, who knows everything there is to know about designing an elaborate adventure. Our fellow expects the party to miss the terrific little clue in the Fountain Room, and how they’ll almost certainly have to back track to get it. Our fellow knows all the players in his campaign very well; he knows how this one is going to react to the massive violet pearl waiting in the Clam Vault, he knows how that one is going to shriek and howl when the party finds itself surrounded without any apparent hope in the Tower Of Maus.

Our fellow is thrilled to be able to at last be trotting out these moments, in this latest much-anticipated adventure that he’s been working on for months. He chuckles to himself as he rearranges the living room, or as he shops for snacks and bubbled drinks at the supermarket. He twiddles his fingers in anxious pleasure as he reviews each wild notion he’s put in there, each little inexpectation, each shock and grab and hook.

Our fellow has already run the adventure for himself and the party hasn’t sat down yet.

Not just once, either. He’s run it a hundred times, all in his own mind, and every time it comes out exactly the same—the way he intended. The way he worked hard, for long hours, throughout many sunny afternoons and in the deep dark of the early morning, to get this adventure to be just right.

This is the nature of art forms. A theatre company works day and night, with each other, alone in the shower, in every way imaginable to make the performance as perfect as possible. The author checks every sentence, every bit of continuity, struggling to involve the reader and dig as deep as possible into that reader’s mind, either to astound, shock or beguile. Musicians practice, poets try every scheme, dancers break themselves to perfect the presentation.

But something must be understood with all these art forms where preparation is applied in the extreme in order to obtain the greatest possible results:

These arts are minimally interactive.

No one asks, nor desires, that members of the audience climb upon the stage and explain to the main character why she’s a fool for going out with the antagonist. The symphony does not hand out musical instruments to the audience as they enter the hall. The performers of Swan Lake are not there to dance with you. They are there to dance for you ... and where it comes to the recognized arts, this is hardly a surprise.

The roleplaying game is not a performance. It was never intended to be a performance. And yet where it comes to grand preparation for the roleplaying campaign, the various complex elements of that preparation take on the characteristics of performance. What’s remarkable is that preparation does so with unexpected and yet undeniable stealth. It would never occur to our fellow, the great adventure designer, that he has undermined the very fabric of the interactive roleplaying game. All he has done, from his perspective, is attempt to give the players the very best experience possible, to the best of his ability, within the framework of the roleplaying game as he understands it. What, he cannot imagine, can possibly be wrong with that?

That Which Is Unforseen

When my daughter was sixteen months old, she had a purple push-car that she adored. We had a large, rambling house, mostly on one level, and as she grew more dexterous with age, she would scurry from the living room to the master bedroom, the length of the house, at speeds great enough to give a parent’s ankle trouble for a day if one did not listen for the sound of wheels on a hardwood floor.

The car was built well, however, without any moving parts except for the plastic wheel, and she had proved many times she could run straight into a wall without suffering anything except rioting peals of laughter, which would go on until she’d backed up to have a go at the wall again. Such is childhood. And if the walls suffered a few bumps and scrapes, well, those could be plastered and painted when she had ceased her era of dangerous driving.

Then there came a moment that severely tried everything I had believed about parenting—that literally blew all the mental preparation I had done about what was right for a parent to do, and what was wrong.

The car was much larger than my daughter. The flat rim that circled the place where she sat was as tall as her chest, for at sixteen months she wasn’t very big. She could climb over the top of that rim to get inside, of course ... but it did require a climb.

One particular day, as I came into the TV Room, my daughter had taken it upon herself to climb up onto the rim of the car ... specifically onto the rounded hood, where she was standing and where she had been holding onto the steering wheel for balance. Her precariously placed feet were more than a foot above our hardwood oak floor ... and just as I came in the room, she let go of the steering wheel, stood straight up and grinned at me.

If had not been for her grin, I’d have leapt across the room and swept her up in my arms, to be sure she did not suddenly fall backwards and crack her head on the floor. But I had never seen a look like that before—and I have not seen it since. My daughter was in the midst of triumph ... and in that split second I realized all the things that as a father I could never prevent her doing. I could not stop her from deciding one day to sky dive, or choosing to cross-country ski into the mountain back-country in the dead of winter. I could not demand she never enter the army, or refuse her permission to dedicate her life to fighting some deadly disease in the Amazon. Nor would I want to. I wanted her to do anything and everything her heart desired, and I wanted her to have that same look of triumph on her face as she did them.

I realized as a parent that this moment, where as a little girl she climbed onto a plastic car, wasn’t about me. It was about her, and her life, and what she believed she could do. And if I rushed in and destroyed all that, only because of my own terror, I did not know what unforeseen damage I would cause her bravery or her ambition.

So I approached cautiously, my arms open, smiling, ready to jump if needed, but waiting for her to make the next move. And when I was close enough, she reached out for me.

That first impulse, to arrest our fear and control everything that happens around us, regardless of the consequences, or who we might hurt, or whose triumph we might destroy, taints the happiness of millions of people. When we think of ourselves first, and then act upon that thought, we have dismissed the acts and thoughts of those around us. We have ‘taken charge’ ... and however we may believe the righteousness of our charge taking, we have done so selfishly.

It is hard for many to comprehend how preparation so dearly commits our behavior to a future we expect to occur. I had always believed my first responsibility would be to keep my daughter absolutely safe—but how ridiculous and irrational was that presumption? No one with freedom can ever be kept absolutely safe. But how often do parents act rashly, and smother their children’s aspirations? How often do DMs, having worked long hours, having spent their effort into an adventure, expecting that all will happen game night in a particular way, will act rashly to ensure their players have the very best experience possible? Regardless, in every sense, of the players themselves, who were were never asked, who never had any opportunity to take part in the planning, and who now required to carry forth as expected by a DM who can claim only to have their best interests at heart?

The free player has the right to rise at the table and ask if it is really his or her best interests the DM is concerned for, or the DM’s perception of the player’s interests?

Participation Vs. Preparation

As the players arrive for a night’s gaming, they are full of anticipation. They trust their DM, and yet they know that tonight they may live or die; they may find some remarkable treasure; they may have that harried, terrified moment of uncertainty that will make tonight’s running the sort they’ll remember years hence. They do not know what will happen.

They have an inkling of the adventure, because the DM has been dropping hints for weeks, perhaps months, and now at last the night is here. And as the DM spins the tale, investing the players in the game, they sit in rapt attention, listening to every detail, knowing that everything may be important.

That, at least, is the romantic’s notion of what goes on.

In the real world, we know a little better. We know that Jeremy will probably have another argument with the DM. We know that some misunderstanding about what was meant or intended or expected will hold up play and push everyone’s patience to the wall. As ever, there will be shouts of “Can we Just Play?” and “Forget it, will you just forget it? No one cares anymore.” And through the night the DM will strive to keep everyone focused, to drive everyone towards the common goal, to keep the game going … whatever that takes.

If you are the DM here, you know what this is like. You have prepared the adventure, and you have in your mind one other thing beyond what you expect will happen … you have an expectation of how what the party will achieve tonight. You absolutely expect that they’ll reach the Wall Portrait of St. Surcease sometime before midnight—and they had better, because if they don’t, then what with a week or more passing between seeing that crucial clue in Room 9 and the Portrait, they’ll never make the connection. They have to see them both tonight, or else the whole thing is ruined.

But … your party has unfortunately learned a bit too well that anything and everything might be important. This has led to that extremely unfortunate meme, the habit of overthinking. And there is nothing that ties up a party’s progress, or that makes them lose focus, then getting hung up on some very minor detail that you, the DM, put there solely for ‘mood.’ But now its been fifteen minutes and they’re still at it. Now its been twenty-five minutes and they just won’t let it go. The clock is ticking. The Portrait is five rooms away. Oh, you think, struggling, for the love of all that’s holy, could they just drop it?

You know in your heart of hearts that this was not what you prepared. And you know—because no one else can know—that this is only a tremendous waste of time. Nothing of value, not coin, not experience, not purpose, is to be gained from this endless yammering back and forth … and no one seems to be having the least bit of good time.

There’s only one thing you can do. You have to tell them. You have to get them off this thing, because there are really interesting things that are waiting for them, that are much, much better than this.

Now, stop here and consider.

Are the players bored? It’s been half an hour, and yet for some reason they keep trying new things. They’re making jokes about what others have tried, they’re feeling frustration and their heads are starting to hurt trying to come up with new ideas … but are they bored?

If they were, they would tell you, no? If they wanted you to break the verisimilitude of the game—to speak to them as the voice of the supreme being, separating truth from falsehood, they would ask you, no? These are your friends. They are convinced something is wrong here, and like a dog with a bone, they will fight with it as long as it takes to find out what it is.

Dogs with bones are not bored.

Who is bored? You are, the DM. You’re bored. You’re not in this game. You can’t get anything from their frustration … the only frustration you feel is your own, special, precious variety. And you know how to deal with that: control the game. Move it forward. Give to the players knowledge that they can’t possibly have, to carry forth your agenda, to get them further towards the goal you’ve selected—selected long before anyone sat down at the table to play.

What is especially interesting about the overthinking meme is that you, the DM, have taught it to the players. You have created the world full of puzzles and complex if-this-then-that formulas. For the story format is all about causality. The players know you have carefully constructed the world they’re moving through, and so they know—unlike ourselves, in this reality we really exist in—that nothing has happened by chance.

You have overworked the contingency plan as to what is presented, and the players know you have given much work. So the players must—by virtue of the adventure format—outthink you. That is the conflict of the adventure game. The monsters and rooms and traps are incidental to the problem of being one step ahead of the DM, and the DM being one step ahead of them. Even if the players haven’t realized that, consistent playing of games built on this sort of structure will teach them that they must play this way.

As time goes forward, you will need to make things more complicated to stay ahead of them; and as you make things more complicated, they will overthink more and more … and more and more you will need to circumvent your own expectations to move your game along to the next expectations. Your puzzles will stump them. Your monsters will kill them. Your red herrings will trap them in endless loops of their own making. And at each step, you—and not they—will solve the puzzle, will cheat on the dice to keep them alive, and will signal when its time to pay attention and when its time to ignore what’s seen.

In the end, no matter how wonderful your players, no matter how wonderful your adventures, you will be playing the game for them. A little bit in the beginning, but as the process goes on, perhaps year after year, your players will lean on you, they will let you tell them what they need to know, they will appreciate surviving all the battles and piling up the loot. If they stay in your world, they will let you run their characters.

This can continue indefinitely … this does continue indefinitely. The matter of ‘playing’ can ultimately become the ‘participation’ of showing up and going through the motions. Roleplaying is communal. It is friendly. It is a Saturday night with good company. For thousands of players, better that than a Saturday night at home, alone, without any participation. The game, at least, is diverting. There are still dice, and the dice aren’t quite predictable. And lest we forget, millions of millions of people participate in passive, friendly activities without ever questioning their validity, their value or their motivation.

Creating adventures will keep a DM busy. Relating those adventures to others will keep a party busy. The snacks are eaten, the pop and beer are emptied, the evening is spent and the next week started. And so goes the game for so many people that play, that there seems little, if any reason, to think it needs to be anything more.

The Story

Before continuing, let us sum up. As a means to avoiding a game where, conceptually, little enough happens that it might be ‘boring,’ a DM prepares an adventure. One adventure follows another, and to avoid repetition, the trappings of each subsequent adventure become more involved and more elaborate. The pressure to keep up with the expectation of the players for better adventures produces stress, that works to undermine the DM’s confidence, so that he or she is compelled to spend more and more time creating--or perhaps seeking out—adventures which will measure up. This discourages the DM from presenting said adventures too soon, along with actually causing some adventures to wither on the vine. Meanwhile, the DM grows to appreciate preparation more than gameplay, in part because there is no judgement, and in part because so much more time is spent in preparation than actually playing.

As the adventures grow more difficult, players are encouraged to believe that everything that is seen or encountered matters in some unguessed at way, which encourages overthinking, which in turn stagnates the momentum of campaigns while encouraging the DM to break the fourth wall and tell the party directly what is, and what is not, more important. The presentation of the adventure format has already created a degree of passivity, so that with an increasing necessity to provide hints to players, the players become dependent upon the DM in order to complete the adventures. With this dependency comes the certainty that the adventure ultimately will be completed, so that the players are made even more passive, until ultimately game night is a process in order to satisfy the DM’s ever-present expectations, which have been installed by the process of preparation.

Through it all, there has been the story. Stories, whether conceived by storytellers as complete entities to themselves, or as reworked tales told by others, or as imposed structures placed upon otherwise random events, must be viewed according to two significant and fundamental principles: 1) that they are subjective to both the teller and the listener of the story; and 2) they are a set of linear events, with a beginning, and, if not specifically with a hard ending, possessing at least a resolution to the main context of the story.

Whatever may be the DM’s intentions with the creation of the story, however sincerely the DM wishes for the story to be interesting or exciting, and to involve the reader’s emotional investment for an evening of gaming, it must be understood that it is the DM’s story. It is not the player’s story. The player was not present when the DM was creating the story, and had no input with regards to the quality or development of the story at any point during its construction. Therefore, the DM is the teller and the player is the listener; the DM is active; the player is passive. Where the player may have the opportunity to expand the story, this expansion is minimal where compared to the DM’s creation.

As the DM determines the beginning of the story, and the resolution of the story, through the preparation of the story, the player’s involvement in the story is therefore, again, dependent upon the sequence of events and the resolution, which has each been predetermined by the DM prior to the participation of the player. This dependence again compels the player to be passive to the DM’s active presentation of the story.

Roleplaying should not be a passive activity.

Where the DM makes activity in its entirety, the player is shut out. Where the DM determines the resolution of that activity in its entirety, the player is shut out. The common, accepted way of presenting the roleplaying game, where one person prepares the game in solitude prior to the outset of play, denies fair and equal participation to every participant of that game.

Where one person’s imagination is tapped to create a game, and no other person, the imaginations of all other persons beyond the one are wasted. The DM does not alone contain all the imagination of a gaming group. The DM should not hold a solitary franchise where it comes to the creation of play—in fact, the DM should hold no franchise greater than the sum total of any single player. Every player that sits at the DM’s table is entitled to the same rights and privilege to create the adventure, the whole adventure, as the DM possesses.

To meet that expectation; to satisfy the freedom of the players to create their own game, to participate equally in the use of their imaginations, the DM must learn to control the game in a manner otherwise that preparing the events and resolution of the game in advance.

The DM must refuse to impose a story on the campaign. The DM must restrain his or her self from attempting to do so, for the good of the players and in the best interest of allowing all the participants, players and DM, the opportunity to fully express themselves creatively.