Monday, September 23, 2013

This Is Learning

I'll start by posting four political maps that I've created in the last year. Three of these I've posted before.


Danube Mouth

Don Basin

Asia Minor

Me, I look at a group like this, and after literally years of designing - and redesigning - these maps, I see how they fit together. I must admit to being stunned, however, everytime I actually 'fit' them together. It's a shame that the actual size of the files overwhelms the size of the program used to handle them ... but then, the diameter of the total image shown below - if printed - would be 60 inches wide.

So what is the point of this today? My head is in a number of different places, and maps are safe. Not especially deep, but a safe subject that offends no one. I part-way finished off the upper right corner of the map (there's always some little detail that I miss, drives me crazy), the 'Don Basin' section, on the weekend, as it is an area the online party will get to in time (they've been paid by the church to start a mission on the Sea of Azov, somewhere along the stretch of green coast in the region of the 'Donbass.' That's within the Kingdom of Cumana. Where two weeks ago I posted the birthplace of one character (middle bottom, Melitene, though that's probably unreadable), the new section includes the birthplace of the half-orc, within Itossia (separated from the remainder of Cumana by the brown-colored lands of the Zaporozhian Cossacks (Ltava, Severia, Dneiper Bank, Zaporozhian Sich). That whole area between the Black Sea and the purple lands of Russia is a political mess. If you check out a variety of historical atlases, circa mid-17th century, you'll get a wide range of opinions on what belongs there.

That is one thing about political atlases. They are notoriously unreliable. They're based on whatever books the researcher happens to read, and since records for the period are sketchy at best, a lot of enthusiastic mapmakers draw those lines in rather imaginatively. Trust me, after reading them all my life, if you have a book in hand that you believe is an accurate depiction of the South of Anything in 1648, you're almost certain to have a lot of misinformation.

Thankfully, I don't have to worry about all that, because I make maps to play D&D, and NOT to achieve my doctorate from the University of Wherefore. I adore the little snooty comments from people like, "WELL, in 1648 there was no 'Budapest' ... it was 'Buda' and 'Pest,' so nyah!"

This, of course, proves that the entire map is garbage. Except that, well, there's no freaking city called 'Gondor,' either, so in a mythological representation of Earth I guess I can call it any freaking name I want, can't I? Kid you not, I get the above sort of comment from gamers.

There is something in error with the fanboy/gamer nit-picking mindset, isn't there? And it is so easy to fall into it, and spend all your time correcting people on the net about the correct pronounciation of 'lich' or the exact definition of 'lawful evil' as opposed to 'neutral evil' ("But justice, the law, is blind, so isn't legal evil technically neutral?") ... and there are thousands of blog posts to prove it. There's a lot of energy spent there, energy of the sort that makes it so hard to add two humbers together, driving people towards the sort of roleplaying games that eschew the use of experience, in order to simplify the game.

I'm astounded to see adults writing that grade two arithmetic is something that drags down the game with complexity. Perhaps they aren't adults? Perhaps they are blogs written by grade 1-ers?

If so, they possess remarkable writing skills. But you know, writing is also something that's pretty complex. So is speaking in erudite English. Perhaps these are things that should be removed from the game, in order to simplify it even further. Perhaps everything beyond eating cheezies and washing them down with kool-aid (preferably provided by Jim Jones) should really be taken off the table. I mean, if adding 178 to 4,591 is getting just out there, perhaps we don't just need an experience-free game, we need a game-free game. Something that we can call, I don't know, sitting around a table with your thumb up your ass.

You'll still have a free hand to roll dice. Dice are pretty. Dice make a happy sound. You like rolling dice.

As I said, I'm sort of here and there right now.

One thing I did want to get on, the endless parade of people hacking and rehacking the game in ways that have become, well ... completely stupid. Like the no experience in gaming thing. I suppose it's some sort of biological mandate. Like the 10-year-old kid proudly telling his father that "I've found a new way to mow the lawn, Dad!" before realizing the new way actually sucks and takes twice as long to do a crappier job, people HAVE to get rid of classes and then put them back, get rid of skills and then put them back, divide the thief into four separate classes before realizing all four are useless, dividing the mage, dividing the fighter, imposing alignment, removing alignment, redesigning experience, redesigning experience again, redesigning experience for a fifth time, throwing out experience, etc., etc.

I don't right now have a solution for the Hear Noise problem. I want a solution. A solution would be convenient. But I don't, at this moment, have one. I'm fine with this. A solution will eventually present itself. The original rule sucks majorly, so I'm not screwing my party by not having a solution for this problem. I realized after 33 years that I really was going to have to change the thieving skills after all that time putting up with them as best I could. For most of that time, I did not even conceive that there could be a better solution. I only understood that the thief needed them, in order to be a thief, and so I just went along.

The more obvious solution that people adopted was, "Get rid of the thief." So they did. And disappointed a lot of players. And realized after not too much running that there's a fundamental need for a thief-like skilled person in the game. So they reinvented the thief as a different class. They gave the skills, but not the class, to other player classes. They rebooted their campaigns and included the thief, then they got rid of the thief again. They despise the robbery/killing angle, but they also realize that denying that is a sort of railroad. So they wobble back and forth on the fence, back and forth - and this is supposed to be a better solution that just putting up with the goddamned skills. That's because, basically, it's the morality of the thief that's conceived to be the problem, not the playability of the thief. I just don't understand that.

Classic cognitive dissonance.

I don't particularly want to change the thieving skills. I hate the gawddamn things, but not changing them is a hell of a lot easier than changing them. But I am sick of players just not understanding how they work, particularly players who have played few thieves, and the players are sick of it also. So I feel sort of pushed into fixing the skills.

BUT ... and this is important ... I don't want to change them in a way that requires I change them again next year. I'm ready to redesign the maps because I can make them prettier and more information laden every four years, but I'm NOT doing that with thieving skills. I'm not changing anything until I know I can live with them for the next thirty years. So if Hear Noise sits on a shelf for nine months, fine. I don't need a solution today.

Where the game designing gets grab-ass is to be found in the fellow who has completely redesigned D&D - classes, experience, levels, spells, purpose, everything - in less than a year. Sometimes, in a couple of weeks. Words to watch out for: "I rewrote the MAGE last night! It's brilliant now!"

In mowing lawns, there are parents who listen to their children and answer, "Mow the lawn like I tell you," and there are parents who answer, "That's nice, let me know how it works out." Both kinds know that little Billy is a moron, but type A jumps right in with saying so, and Type B lets little Billy find out for himself. The difference is that the Type B parent loves little Billy, and knows that with some careful parenting, little Billy may stop being a moron someday. The Type A parent doesn't give a shit whether Billy is a moron or not, but does like it when Billy is obedient.

The rest of the world does not especially like little Billy, much less love him. So when little Billy goes to school, for a long time his 'discoveries' about the better way to do things get crapped on with a truly committed zeal on the part of teachers who don't have the fucking time to let Billy learn things on his own. They'd like it if, when they say 4+4=8, little Billy just takes that as a given for a year or two before it dawns on little Billy why.

But that's okay, because when Billy gets to be 15, he can play D&D, where there are no right answers ... and then he can spend the next ten years of his D&D gaming repeating the bullshit game design crap that everyone and their dog tries before they decide to quit playing D&D so they can move onto serious drinking at the local bar. And during that span of D&D life, Billy can have a blog, and fill his blog with all that crap.

Won't that be nice?


  1. You know...I got the distinct impression this post may have not been all about maps. But they are such lovely maps!

    I mean, every gamer thinks THEY could do a better job, it is like being a sports fan where you are convinced you could run/manage a team better, except in tabletop RPGS, you CAN actually try to do better.

    Except you can't, not really. You are competing against paid professionals who do this for a living. Unless you are willing to devote a lot of time and really understand design theory, plus have a strong system mastery, the attempt is doomed to fail. It'll be playable, sure, but it won't be better, not really.

    I had some friends who devoted an entire year to trying to fix Exalted (a completely broken White Wolf line). I think they were driven mad by the exercise, until they realized that Exalted is broken on purpose, because when everyone can do stupidly powerful, reality-bending, things, everyone is on the same level.

  2. There are times when I wonder what Alexis is talking about. And why. I mean, why this topic? Who does these things? Who spends all this time working on the game only to throw out that labor at the first sign of a problem? Who would waste all the energy and effort...?

    Wait. Oh, yeah... that'd be me.

    But still, who else is doing this? I'd be interested to see what ideas they've posted online...

  3. Because it seems today I just like to hear myself talk, I'll throw this out there: One thing I've noticed, mostly within my professional life, but also in D&D is that the reason I end up throwing out my work after 6 months to a year, is that I discover that the problem I was solving was not the problem I needed to solve. So I create this great (or overly complicated) solution that is quickly worthless because I discover I didn't actually need to care about the problem it applies to. In the case of hear noise, I don't think I even understand the problem you're trying to solve.

  4. You actually make a very good point, Neklan, on the nature of learning, and ultimately in the wisdom of knowing the difference between what isn't working because it isn't, and what isn't working because you don't understand it. I wanted to go deeper into that tomorrow.

    The problem I'm trying to solve with Hear Noise is to put some power into the hands of the PLAYER. At the moment, the decision of what is heard depends wholly upon the DM's whim, in that the DM can decide, regardless of the % roll, what you can hear and how much of it. You put your ear to the door, and the DM says, "you hear mumbling but you can't make it out."

    I'd like the player to be able to answer, "My 10th level ability says I can piece out conversational sound at this distance even if there's a door! It better be a pretty big room, and they better be such and such a distance from the door!"

    Power to the player.

  5. Ah, that makes much more sense now, yes.

  6. James, "paid professionals"??? They gave us D&D 4e. Have you looked at it?

    Passionate hobbyists, willing to learn from their own mistakes, will outperform "paid professionals" every time! (OK, not EVERY time, but rather more often than the public believes...)

  7. Yes, I have looked at 4e, I enjoy it quite a lot, in fact, because of what it is: a tactical wargame that strove to achieve some sort of a balance and understood that one way to do that was through brute simplification.

    I disagree with your sentiment that a passionate hobbyist will outperform a paid professional, because the hobbyist will be hindered by the following problems: they lack objectivity, time and resources.

    The passionate hobbyist will create a game that is better for the passionate hobbyist, and those who share the passionate hobbyist's biases and preferences, but that does not mean it is a better game.


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