Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last Day in October

That's pretty much it for me. I'll be around today to answer questions, then I'm signing off until December.

Through November, I will still moderate comments for the blog for anyone wishing to add anything. I won't answer any questions ... at least, not until December. But the gentle reader should feel free to bring up anything of interest.

I'll be doing some writing; working on my world; pursuing some other interests. I am not going to be participating in the November Novel Writing Month - any book of mine would need more than 50,000 words, and I don't intend to rush anything. I know some people thought this was my intent.

Be well. Work hard. Press the game forward.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Pretense of Simplicity

Criticism is not persecution.

The western culture has a tendency to treat everything that disagrees with individual taste as a 'persecution' of that taste - as if an argument, "X is bad" is obviously equal to "Everyone who does X is a reprehensible criminal who should be shot and killed at sunrise." This is a very Western attitude. It spawns from the cultural bias of several cultures that arose in the 15th and 16th centuries who were being persecuted, who then took every resistance to their extreme. It has also proven to be a great way to spin media, as people in this culture are more afraid of words than ideas ... and a word like 'persecuted' is a beauty. It conjures such lovely, abusive images, such templates of vile hatred and irrational, cold destruction, that it serves to sober an otherwise narcoleptic reader, causing them to sit up and take notice.

But persecution is not criticism.

Persecution is a systematic mistreatment of a specific individual or group, based upon the infliction of suffering, harassment, isolation and imprisonment. It is the spreading of fear for the purpose of imposing one's own will upon all those who listen. Persecution is produced by fear mixed with a desire for power.

Criticism is a corrective exercise. It is an effort not merely to find fault, but to suggest room for improvement, with the expectation that persons will accept and understand that growth and re-invention are key.

Often, criticism will seem abusive. Yesterday, on this blog, I wrote a post that was as creatively vindictive as I could manage. I wrote that playing the Red Box set was equivalent to playing a children's game. I presented that point with derision and mocking. I did so in order to juxtapose my perception of the Red Box set with the praise for same, in order to instigate a dialogue. I have no intention to systematically abuse those who play the Red Box set, nor to inflict further harassment, nor to spread any fear about playing with that system.

I do wish to wake people up as to what's possible. I do wish to compel the gentle readers of this blog to recognize that the adoption of a simplistic version of D&D will do nothing to advance your value nor your potential as a DM. This blog exists in order to spread knowledge, ideas and a philosophy of D&D. The Red Box set is anathema to that philosophy.

I read quite often that the more complicated versions of D&D - including 2.0, 3.0/3.5 and 4.0 - are difficult, confusing, labyrinthine and counteractive to ease of play. Yes, they are difficult. Yes, initially, they can be confusing. It is true that, to an uninitiated reader, or a reader who refuses to initiate themselves, the various books and rules can seem labyrinthine. But it is NOT true that these things undermine the ease or the practicality of playing the game. To demonstrate this, I will produce a metaphor.

Sie trinkt deinen Apfelsaft.

The above is German. And 46 days ago, I would have had no idea what the hell that meant. None at all. And yet, somehow, it is possible to learn the language. It is possible for anyone to learn it. Two things are necessary: the will and the means.

I have wanted to learn German for a long time, and recently someone produced the means. A means which happened to coincide with my will. And here is the result:

I am quite proud of this achievement.  The little flame symbol on the right with the 46 beside it represents the number of consecutive days that I have completed a lesson or practice sequence in the Duolingo system.  I discovered this system on my birthday, September 15th, and I have not missed a single day since. Today is the 46th day since my birthday, inclusive of my birthday.

I would not say I am finding German to be easy. I am crap at languages, I have always been crap at languages, and it has taken some will to dig in and adapt myself to the system. Duolingo teaches language the way it is taught to children. There are no lists of masculine, feminine or neuter nouns. There is no memorization or explanation of irregular verbs, or irregular pronouns. The language is learned by reading it and reproducing it, until one simply recognizes that it is "das Pferd" and not "die Pferd." For me personally, determiners in particular are frustrating as hell. But it doesn't matter. I'm not in a class, where a Prof is impatient with my progress. I'm not working with a program that insists I learn at a pre-arranged speed. I have all the time I like to practice whatever aspect of the language that I like, for as long as I like, and I comfort myself with the knowledge that German children have years and years to learn the language. There's no reason I should expect to produce miracles of knowledge in six weeks.

And still, I know a surprising amount of German now.

Is German difficult? Fucking A. It is confusing and labyrinthine? For me, so far, it sure gawddamn is. Is German ultimately counteractive to ease of communication?

Well obviously not. Germans have no more trouble communicating with one another than the reader does in this language.

COMPLEXITY does not equal impracticality.

In fact, I'd like to argue that in far more ways than I need to describe, complexity improves practicality.

This system that I am using right now, this collection of language, requires a considerable comprehension of words and ideas in order for it to work effectively ... and it took both the writer and the reader a couple of lifetimes to get to the point where what I say strikes home in a particular way. Striking home is the important element here. In order to do it, the requirement is that we BOTH understand what the rules are. We must both understand the meaning of every ... single ... word ... and we must both understand them in the exact ... same ... way. Otherwise it is impossible to get the sense of what I'm saying.

It's not enough that the words that have been created cover just the simple basics of life. The 172 words in German that I've learned thus far won't do! 10,000 words won't do. They won't let me understand Goethe and Nietsche, they won't let me discuss medicine, politics and history - hell, they wouldn't be enough to allow me to discuss the manufacture of coffee. To precisely explain anything, I need all the words I can manage ... and my comprehension and value in the world depends both upon my ability to use those words and my ability to understand someone else using them.

DMs like the Red Box set because it is easy to run ... but it fails in so many regards. It has no rules for any of the things a party might want to do OUTSIDE the precepts of the simplistic game. If I want to establish a fortification, tax peasants, find some bitches, have one of them give birth, raise a child, determine its stats at age 9, train that child, create a treaty with another state by which my child and the stateman's child marry, expand trade, expand the intellectual comprehension of my citizens, plant crops, shear sheep, suffer the weather, sail a boat, drive a dog team, improve my nutrition, avoid disease, etc., etc., THERE ARE NO RULES.

This means that, over and over, any time I get 'weird' in the game, I must return again and again to the defacto judgement of one person, the DM, who has already made it clear that he or she would rather run a simple game by using simple rules. How can I expect to have an impartial decision made by such a person, about something that person hasn't bothered to consider might be important?

I can't. The decision won't be impartial. It will be guided by an individual who has selfishly chosen his or her system for no other reason than that it is simple, and therefore not a lot of work. Using the argument that their "choice" is as reasonable as any other choice. Further supported by the fiction that "difficulty destroys play."

It's all bunk. It's laziness dressed up as libertarian self-righteousness. It's the sign of a BAD world, run by people for whom BAD is the standard, who expect you, the player, to conform to that standard because it conveniences them.

Dump it. Get into a better world. Run a better world. And let's stop pretending that this Pretense of Simplicity is anything more than pretense.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Just three days left in October...and to make it worse, I'm writing this on my deathbed.

Well, not really. I'm really just very unwell, as I have been off-and-on for three weeks now. It's a tendency, however, to exaggerate things, such as how sick we are, how tired we are, how difficult a thing is ... and so on.

I'm thinking in this case of all the people who proudly hail the "Red Box" set as though it is some genius work of simplicity, an example of D&D brilliantly reduced to its fundamental, important principles, with none of those unnecessary and troubling gray-area mechanics that make other more complicated editions so very, very UN-FUN.

I can recall the first time I saw the Red Box set. Now I have to get precise about what I mean when I say "red box" ... because there's the Red Box set released by Robert Moldvay (1977?) and the Red Box 'starter' set released in 1983. When I hear people say "red box" I have no idea which one they mean. But then, who the fuck can? It's a matter of great humour that the 'basic' game was re-released so many freaking times under the same name between 1977 and 1983, meaning that no two people today can really agree on what the red box set "is." At least when I mention the original DMG, there was only ONE DMG ... and even now, when I refer to it as I often do on this blog, no one that I know has ever mistaken my reference for the bullshit re-title that came out with 3.0-3.5.

But putting all that on a shelf.

Very well. I remember the first time I saw this Red Box set. It was at a gaming shop in downtown Calgary called 'Catch the Wind.' Just imagine, a gaming shop selling D&D that could afford to be in the downtown mall of a city of half a million (Calgary has a million now, but it was smaller then). Every gaming shop I've seen since was in some industrial park somewhere.

It's a rare gamer around now who remembers that place. Catch the Wind's primary business was in Kites - which is even odder for a downtown shop - but they had a wall that was dedicated to roleplaying games. I bought my Unearthed Arcana and my original Deities & Demigods there (the one with Melnibonean & Cthulhu myths ... but sadly my copy is long gone from this earth).

I was with friends when we saw the Red Box set. By then we had been playing AD&D for four years. I believe our general response was, "What the fuck is this?"

The Owner, who was a sort of grumpy hippie-like dude, thin with a bald head and beard, muttered that it was D&D for kids.


That seemed pretty goddamn obvious to us. To begin with, there was that little label on the box that said, "For Ages 10 and Up" or something to that effect (this was 30 years ago), and that was always something they ONLY put on kiddie games. And when we soft-talked the owner into letting us open the box (in those days there was no tape, no plastic wrapping, you could just open shit), we stood at his counter for a few minutes laughing our goddamn asses off at what a bullshit simple-Simon game system it was supposed to be. I mean, seriously! Real players played AD&D with all the rulebooks we could get our hands on.

Hell, it used to be a sort of pride when I'd tromp off to run D&D, pull out my handful off hardcover books and let them drop, THUMP, on the table. It was a way of letting the players know, "Okay, this is fucking serious, and you better bet I know these rules cold - I have freaking memorized them."

D&D was serious to us. Players who vowed to progress their way to being DMs knew they were going to be held on account for knowing those damn books backwards and forwards and we all thought that was damn fine. Why should anyone be allowed to DM if they weren't going to prove they were committed to the ideal?

Over the next five or ten years, the Red Box set was around, sure. It was something someone's baby brother was using to play with his kid friends. It was always for sale at the Cons we went to and yes, now and then we met people who actually played the Red Box. But we just sort of looked down on those people as probably retarded or possessing of some other mental deficiency. It certainly never crossed our minds that anyone would actually preach the Red Box as some sort of superior thing. That was inconceivable.

I even remember one of those embarrassing moments when a relative gave me a copy of the Red Box set because they had "heard I liked Dungeons and Dragons." Major gift failure. I remember I read it all the way through and obtained absolutely not one idea from it.

By the late 90s I had pulled back from 'the community' in every respect. If I ran my world, it was almost solely with people who hadn't played for a very, very long time, or who had never played before. I did not play in anyone else's world. And that's how things were until I came across the on-line community of bloggers sometime around 2007. I'd say there was a 15 year gap in my social memory of the progression of D&D.

When, apparently, reading 400 pages of a text-book (the equivalent of D&D, Player's Handbook and Monster Manual) became so HARD that no one of any reasonable, ordinary willingness to run D&D would actually do it. I mean, seriously ... 400 pages? What the fuck? Am I taking a medical degree here? I thought this was supposed to be fun!


So now I converse with and compare notes with people who play the Red Box set with the understanding that I'm not supposed to look down on them. After all, it's not about the rules, it's about the imagination and the FUN. Nevermind that it would mean - were I ever to play in one of those games - that I'd have to rely almost entirely on the DM's Judgement anytime I wanted to do something that wasn't covered in the Mickey Mouse rules as written. I mean, its not like I have an imagination. It's not as if I'm going to butt heads with the DM every time my imagination includes things that aren't included in a 64-page booklet. It's not as though the DM isn't going to use the tiny size of that booklet to contain my imagination in a bottle. No, that would be inconceivable.

But let's be honest ... I am never going to play in a campaign run with a Red Box set. Even if I were at a Convention (I'd better be a paid speaker there, I don't know why the hell else I'd go ... except possibly to sell a DM's Book I may imaginably write some day), if a bunch of really, really excited people really, really wanted me to play, I'd have to tell them I'd rather pop up to my room, take a swim in the hotel pool, get Vodka'd in the hotel bar or, you know, sleep. Because I really just don't fucking care to play kiddie games.

There you have it. I'm a snob. It's a common failing with experts.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wrong Play

My post earlier in the week got these two comments:

From JDJarvis: "It seems a lot of folks can't understand you can have fun playing a character that isn't a Sociopath so they don't make the leap."

And from Jason Packer: "I've encountered more than a handful of players who are unable to create a character who isn't an utter sociopath."

I feel I must reply at length.

I have no particular problem with an individual pretending to be a sociopath at table, so long as their aware of their actions, and are able to view them with a certain necessary, desireable detachment ... i.e., "Yeah, we probably shouldn't have killed everyone in the village, that might have been a bit overboard, but hey - we couldn't leave witnesses, could we?"

Heck, that's fine. In actual life, the Mongols used to push people together in 'herds' of ten to fifty thousand, then spend days and days slaughtering them. The city of Balkh, a great seat of learning prior to the 13th century, was destroyed and ceased to exist for a period - despite almost certainly having a population rivalling that of the fifty thousand people who were killed by the Mongols at Samarkand.  I have yet to have a player character get really ambitious in that fashion ... though of course the template is there.  I hardly have one source for mass killings upon which to draw.

(Though it should be said that with modern, politically correct historical rewrites of EVERYTHING that has ever happened throughout time, NONE of these things ever happened. They were just nasty rumours spread by people who did not like Mongols. Human beings do not actaully do bad things ... except one completely anachronistic group of Germans, naturally)

If I had a character legitimately able to organize an army so as to repeatedly slaughter tens of thousands of NPCs and get away with it, then I think I'd be more impressed than appalled. I've read too much history and too many accounts of mass killings, from Cannae to Cambodia ... I'm too jaded to really have a problem with players 'killing' fictional descriptions of things.

I doubt that either Jarvis or Packer above do, either - though they can correct me if I'm in error. I think what they're referring to is the player who doesn't seem to know they're behaving with psychotic imbecility. The sort of thing where this conversation happens:

DM: You meet a old man on the road, making his way along with a gnarled cane; it is obviously difficult for him to walk, and it may be possible he hasn't eat in awhile.

Player: I kill him.
DM: I'm sorry?
Player: I take out my sword and split his skull open.
DM: Um, why?
Player: I feel like it (giggles). Do his brains run out over the cobblestones?

I've seen dozens of references to this kind of thing on blogs, most often with reference to the old man holding some secret or being intrinsic to a railroaded campaign, and now the DM has no way to tell the party where the princess is, blah blah blah. But the bigger point isn't what the player has lost by "acting hastily" or some other euphemism for being a RETARDED TIT, its the clear and obvious sign that one actually has a garden-variety sociopath sitting right at the gaming table. The player, that is, not the player's character.

Oh, probably not someone really dangerous ... there are probably no bodies in that player's backyard, that player probably hasn't the presence of mind to actually arrange and set up a murder without peeing themselves in a fit of fright and androgen deficiency. Nah, we're talking a sort of kind of ersatz socialized poster child failure who's raver parents operated with "on the fritz" efficiency during that all important formative diaper-to-toilet escalation.

Packer also added a point about how such persons being given the option of rolling a new character suffer a "non-punishment" for acting like pretty much like morons ... and that is mostly true.  In any one's world by mine, that is.

See, I take a rather confrontational style with D&D, just as I take a confrontational style with real life.  If I happen to be in a place where some sort of stupidity is taking place, all too often I'm inclined to speak out.  I'm that fellow on the bus who tells you to turn your fucking headphones down.  I'm the guy who, when standing in line behind someone screaming at the employee at the complaints counter, gets involved. When I see two Jesus freaks cornering some hapless and all too polite fellow on the street, I walk over and pick a theological argument. I like tearing born again Christians apart limb from limb and picking my teeth with the bones. That sort of propagandistic terror-spreading pisses me off more than I can express.

So if I have some hapless moron in my world, in my house mind, eating my food and making my chairs squeak, I'm not going to hold back. Fuck the game - what the fuck do you think you're doing, buddy? What are you here for? Are you aware there are four other people at the table? Are you aware of anything except your own derisive self-aggrandizing kindergarten pud-pounding jizz-spreading happiness? Hm? Can you tell me just what exactly the fucking point of killing the old man was? Go on. I'm waiting.

These are things I'm saying while standing up, looking down at the player, ready for his answer and by little freaking gnomes in the well water, it better be a goddamn GOOD answer.

My game doesn't depend on the old man transmitting any information to the party. As I said in Catskinning the week before last, if I need to put forward that information, I will find another way. What I want to know is why is my precious time being wasted. It is MY time. It's expenditure matters to me. And if some fuck intends to spend it thoughtlessly, then I want that fuck to know plain and simple that I am not happy with the robbery.

Why is it I have a game, and I don't scare all my players away? My players feel about this sort of the exactly the way I do. And it is nice for them that they don't have to handle this sort of shit personally and get their hands dirty. They have me to get my hands dirty for them.

Punishment for wrong play? Oh yeah. In my world there is.

Ah, don't take it too much to heart. I'm channelling all sorts of emotions this week.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


At the beginning of Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath, the author addresses the deadliness of slings as terror weapons in an adroit, redesign-encouraging passage:

"Slingers had a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long strand of rope. They would put a rock or a lead ball into the pouch, swing it around in increasingly wider and faster circles, and then release one end of the rope, hurling the rock forward. Slinging took an extraordinary amount of skill and practice ... but in experienced hands, the sling was a devastating weapon. Paintings from medieval times show slingers hitting birds in mid-flight. Irish slingers were said to be able to hit a coin from as far away as they could see it. And in the old testament book of Judges, slingers are described as being accurate within 'a hair's breadth.' An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure their target at a distance of up to 200 yards ... imagine standing in front of a major league baseball pitcher as he aims a baseball at your head. That's what facing a slinger was like. Only what was being thrown was not a ball of cork and leather, but a solid rock."

There's more; it's a very good book. Gladwell's point is that in the Goliath vs. David conflict, David is actually the far deadlier combatant. This detail is also added: "... a typical size stone, hurled by an expert slinger, at a distance of 35 meters, would have hit Goliath's head with a velocity of 34 meters per second, more than enough to penetrate a skull ... in terms of stopping power, that is equivalent to a fair-sized modern handgun."

This is all fascinating, and in the light of the above many DM's would be encouraged to alter the amount of damage from a sling from a mere d4 to a d6 or a d8. Some might even be encouraged to create a possible rule where an accurate hit from a sling would have a 1 or 2 percent chance of death for the opponent ... because that is the way that things like the above are usually interpreted.

But note that, while Gladwell makes his point, he is careful several times to qualify the effects as coming from an experienced slinger; that use of the weapon was extraordinary; that the hand-gun stopping power was something an expert slinger could accomplish.

The paintings of slingers hitting birds were not intended to be representational of every slinger, everywhere ... they were examples whereby the painter was IMPRESSED by the event. The description of Irish slingers hitting a coin is the sort of thing that either the Irish would say in order to boast of their accomplishments, or something the opposition would say as a rumour sweeping through a camp. So it would be true with the Book of Judges, which anyone would have to admit was a set of propagandistic tales of the first order.

I don't doubt that some slingers could do all of the above. There's no question at all that a slinger could kill at 200 yards. It is not the deadliness of the sling that is in question, it is whether or not the average, non-expert, non-extraordinary soldier could pick out a specific target at 200 yards and, with a sling, hit that target so squarely that it would react as though it were struck by a bullet.

And the answer to that is no, certainly not.

There is a tendency to presume that when anything is described in an historical context about an event or a practice, that this is a representational description. It would be like Alpha Centaurans reporting on events they had seen on Earth and writing down the words, "Humans are able to throw balls of cork and leather at 100 miles per hour!" (or whatever unit of measurement they would be using). Not ALL humans, obviously! Just some humans.

So when you read about a sling killing at 200 yards, does that mean a sling aimed at something 200 yards away and then consistently and predictably hitting target after target at that distance? No, it doesn't. It means we found one body lying in the dirt, with a stone in its head, and someone said, "Wow, those slingers are two hundred yards away ... that's amazing!" Chances are, in the heat of battle, the slinger probably wouldn't have known they had killed that target; they're just slinging like mad, keeping up a steady volley of stones in the direction of the army that's coming on, and hoping they do the most damage possible.

One reads the same sort of assumption error when long-bows are described as killing targets at 800 yards ... and then a DM vastly increases the range on their weapons in the game - because that sounds logical. It's bee proven that a bow can be accurate at half a mile.

That's "can be" ... but does that mean "will be in this specific instance"?

Because, really, it's the will be that matters.

Here's something else to consider, while we're pondering the above event between the slinger David and the opponent Goliath. Off hand, with all the memory you've got, how many recorded encounters can you recall between a single slinger and a single target where BANG! ... one hit, and the target died?

Myself, I can only recall the one.

I have a rule in my AD&D version of the game that if you roll a natural 20, the damage is doubled. Thus, the sling would do 2-8 (d4x2) rather than 1-4. The player then rolls another d20, before doing damage, and if another natural 20 is rolled, then the damage is tripled (d4x3). Another d20 is rolled, and another natural 20 causes the damage to be quadrupled. And so on. As long as sequential 20s are rolled, the damage is increased in kind.

The chances of rolling two natural 20s is 1 in 400. The chances of three, 1 in 8000. The chances of 4, 1 in 160 000.

I have had four 20s rolled during a combat at my table. So the odds I haven't seen are 5 20s, or 1 in 3.2 million. But once the four 20s were already rolled, the chances of that had been reduced to 1 in 20.

With all the slings that have been fired in all the years of history since the Upper Paleolithic, we have this one account. Gladwell describes it in his book almost as if it were a foregone conclusion ... but even the people who witnessed it chose to describe it as the will and hand of GOD, and not an obvious result; and that particular way of looking at that particular event has not been shaken in the 3,000 years of history since David, even though for all that time slingers have been hitting birds and things within a hair's breath and coins as far away as they could be seen. Where is the written account of someone in the Roman era saying, "Yes, well, don't stand facing some guy with a sling, because that's pretty much a guaranteed death." There isn't. Slingers - with an S - are terribly, awfully dangerous. A slinger - one - well that pretty much depends on the individual, and whether or not god is on that individidual's side.

I don't disparage Gladwell's book. It is a spectacular book; you're an idiot if you don't buy it and read it. I have every reason right now to believe that Malcolm Gladwell is the smartest man on the planet. Gladwell would be the first to disagree with me. All I want to say is that where we are adding up the logic of things, we have to be careful not to presume that because A is true, B is true as well; because we don't have any evidence that B is true. We haven't actually done any groundwork on the effectiveness of slings used on a battlefield where combatants are massed in the tens of thousands.

We have done a lot of study, however, on the use of rifles on such battlefields ... where we can demonstrate that YES, rifles in the hands of experts can be counted on to hit and hit and hit targets up to half a mile away. And guess what? In actual combat, it's extraordinarily doubtful that this accuracy accounts for much. There's too much mayhem and distraction and targets that can't be seen and a motivation not to actually shoot at people (people really would rather miss) to be certain that accuracy is about anything except a pissing contest performed by military folk on a firing range. I would like to see the accuracy obtained from two soldier in opposite, open positions, firing in each other's direction simultaneously at targets a foot and a half to the left of the opposite soldier. Now that's research.

David just happened to roll an awful lot of 20s all in succession, just enough to kill Goliath. I don't think the damage done by a sling needs to be changed at all.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


At least I know my moral position is beyond question: YDIS.

If anyone has any suggestions ...

A Few Notes about Cumana

The following was written for my Online Campaign, to add to this post regarding a region called Cumana. I wrote the below without first reading the linked post ... which was two years ago ... so the gentle reader my judge how consistent my world is inside my head by comparing the two descriptions. [bonus points to whomever can guess which information I deleted from the original post because it did not match up with something I decided today - writing is editing]. I pretty much concocted this off the top of my head this morning:

The orange on the left is Zaporozhia; the brown on the
right are the lands of the Don Cossacks; the olive green in the
center is Cumana.  The little bit of olive green at the bottom
left is also a part of Cumana.

The Don River is the large river that flows down through Voronezh, off map,
then again entering and flowing through the Don Cossack lands.
The Sea of Azov is at the bottom left.  The fair sized river

flowing through Cumana is the Donets.

The bright green in the upper left is Poland; the pink is all Russia; the bit of
yellow at the bottom is the Ottoman Empire.

Cumana is one of three buffer states between Russia-Poland and the Ottoman Empire: Cumana, Zaporozhia and the Don Cossacks. Zaporozhia is like something out of a Conan novel; the people are human and extremely nomadic. Although there are "cities" in that territory, these are almost wholly tent cities with a continuously changing population, as clans come in, rest or trade for a few months, only to move outwards again to be replaced by other clans. So there's always a collection of persons and tents there, but the actual persons changes seasonally. There are almost NO permanent structures, not even a palace - the only ones would be scattered churches, mostly of foreigners. The Zaporozhians are principally animistic. They also tend to be 'mad' by European standards. They're violent, prone to clan in-fighting and revenge loops, extremely traditional in outlook and proud. Families are large and xenophobic in the extreme. Marriage outside the clan is done for political reasons, and then very rarely.

The Don Cossacks tend to be mercenary in habit. There are only villages in the Don lands and these are almost wholly inhabited by women and children. The men do not live with the women 9 to 10 months of the year, preferring to raid in every direction. Rangers are highly prevalent among the population and the Cossacks are extraordinary raiders and horseriders. They attack and disappear, attack and disappear, and since they have no 'base' of operations, the entire land could be put under military law and STILL they would function unchanged. The main difference would be that they would descend upon someone else's village and rape those women, as opposed to returning home once or twice a year to rape their wives.

Thus, everyone pays them off, and tries to pay a little bit more than their enemies. The Russians encourage them to attack the Ottomans or the orcs of Digoria, the Ottomans encourage them to attack the orcs of the Jagatai Empire, the Digorians encourage them to attack the Astrakhan Pirates, who encourage them to attack the Cumans and so on. The Don lands consist of dry, very poor soil, cold and windy much of the year and generally of no economic interest to anyone.

These two states, then, with Cumana, form a buffer between Russia, the Jagatai Empire (that reaches all the way to the modern Chinese border) and the Ottoman Empire. Together, they are a formidable power; all three recognize that the fall of any one of them guarantees the fall of all three. None are the kind that will bargain with their enemies, therefore ... and they often break treaties. They survive on account of two reasons:

1) The Ottoman Empire is huge, and the Turk army has many, many enemies. They can't afford to move a significant army into the area to destroy any of these three states because they must keep that army elsewhere, to defend lands that are far more valuable than the steppe occupied by Zaporozhia, Cumana and the Don Cossacks.

2) Russia and Poland are ALWAYS fighting. If they could settle their differences, then Russia might have the will and the power to move and consolidate its southern border. After all, its being raided by three peoples and keeping them all under treaty at the same time is impossible. But any sign of weakness by Russia on the Polish border and Poland rushes to take advantage. There are intricacies there, but I'll save on the writing.

Poland and Russia made peace about three years ago ... but both are in an 'arms race,' and the war could start again at any moment. Russia would like to seize Polissya and Smolensk; Poland would like to seize Bryansk and Kursk. And so it goes.

This I added in reference to a question about the player character's religion:
There are few Catholics in Itoskhan or Cumana, perhaps 2% of the population; about 3% are Russian Orthodox, 5% are Greek Orthodox, 7% are Moslem. 1% would be Jewish. The remaining 78% of the population is a mixture of paganism (polytheistic Uighur/Mongol gods), Arianism (Gnostics) and animism (mysticism). Numbers for these are not available ... the majority is really a mix of all three.

And this because the player asked about the six other tribes in Cumana:

The Zolozi are the wealthy, powerful tribe who dominate the huge city of Mutrakan. Remember that while the Zaporozhians live in tent cities, the Cumans do not; they are the most civilized of the three kingdoms above, and it is the Zolozi 'Fatherhood' that has chosen to embrace trade and civilization in a distinctly oriental manner that has produced Cumana. There are hundreds and hundreds of shrines in Mutrakan (a city of more than 50,000 people), where people are very religious, but these shrines do not depend upon the 'priest class' that exists in Western/Aryan culture. Like Buddhist Lamas, the most devout people are those who dedicate their lives to the acknowledgement of the gods, but they do not 'lead' others; religion is a daily, common experience, where each individual gives what respect they wish without the manufacture of western guilt.

The Zolozi are the most religious, educated, worldly tribe, who produce the kings of Cumana, but this tribe also treats all others within the Kingdom like a father to a his sons - disciplining as necessary, maintaining order, but also providing food and support in times of trouble. Many a time in Andrej's youth would there arrive, in a year of drought (and there are many such years in this country) a caravan full of food given by the Zolozi that kept the villages alive for the season.

The Dworka tribe are half-orc dwarves, whose pure-blood dwarf forefathers occupied lands along the edges of Altslok and Croft (in eastern Kazakhstan), and who migrated with the Cumans in the 11th century, who over a period of seven generations (the number is traditional) were given orc brides as tribute in exchange for weapons and armor that the dwarves provided. These orc brides were chosen by the dwarves, who it is said 'smoothed them of features unbecoming to the Dwarf eye' by magic. Now the Dworka, or Dworkin as they are sometimes called, occupy the hill country along the Donets River in the Donbass, where they keep to themselves, continue to mine and manufacture, and protect Cumana from the Don Cossacks and the Eastern steppes.

The Bonyaki tribe are farmers who dwell upon the river banks south of Mutrakan, who have very little imagination or interest in the world. They are "the back upon which the weight is borne," so is the traditional pride of that people. They are resentful of interlopers "who dare to treat the land as only dirt for their tramping feet"... but can be generous to travellers who are respectful of their ways. In general they are quite poor, suffering more than most from periods of drought, but nevertheless forming the strongest piller in the strength of the kingdom, both in physical manpower and food production.

The Torkastra occupy the lands nearest the Sea of Azov and the valley of the Don where it debouches into the sea. They are fishermen and teamsters, as well as smugglers who operate between Cumana and the Ottoman Empire. On the whole, they are not highly respected in Cumana, but are nevertheless closely protected by the Zolozi, who of course have great use for a people with less 'character' than the Bonyaki. The Bonyaki and Torkastra are the most likely tribes to have differences, which is in no small way affected by the passage of Torkastrans through Bonyaki lands on their way to Mutrakan, they're habit of treating all Bonyaki as 'mud-snuffling pigs' and so on.

The Torkastra possess the largest number of Moslems, having interbred more with the Turks than any other tribe in the Kingdom, so that some Torkastrans are less than 10% Cuman (orc). It should be remember that the Cuman tribe were originally ALL orcs, but five centuries of dwelling in the midst of human peoples has largely reduced the pure orc blood, thus producing the half-orc kingdom. The Bonyaki are the purest strain; the Torkastra the most human.

The Gurdut live mostly in two groups, within the centers of Mutrakan and in Itoskhan. They do not have 'lands' of their own, though there are small hamlets of no name that are scattered throughout northern Cumana and Zaporozhian lands. The Gurdut are servants, mostly, who perform the lowest labor and who have the least amount of prestige in the kingdom. Gurdut children are often gathered at six-year intervals (paid as tribute by Gurdut families) and either sold abroad or occasionally made into eunichs for the Court. This is not seen as unusual, and indeed the Gurdut consider themselves to be highly blessed if the king should desire one of their children for this honor. It is said that the Gurdut "give in this world to receive in the cherished lands" ... which is a mystic belief in an Asian version of the 'happy hunting ground' that all Mongols dream of. The more a Gurdut gives in this life, the more it is said a Gurdut gains in the life hereafter - and giving a child offers great promise.

Finally, the Sharukan, who dwell in the city of Sumi, a tiny enclave joined to Cumana in the furthest north. The Sharukan are a small, very close tribe, who are scholars, interpreters, diplomats and teachers. In many ways they are the least religious, but the most talented of magicians in the kingdom. They see the kingdom as "Seven sticks that make a club," and are variously given to motivate the king to use the club in the wisest manner possible.

Despite their apparent superiority, the Sharukan behave in the most humble manner possible. They believe themselves to be the "least valuable of the tribes," are modest in dress and appearance, are generous, are more likely to seek peace of any of the tribes (including the Zolozi) and believe that retribution "Is the flood that destroys land and people alike." It is said that a Sharukan will never speak first when seated at a table ... and there is a myth that says of one Sharukan Hetman, Syrchan by name, "He waited so patiently for all his ministers to speak of all that required attention, that he did not interrupt for three nights and three days, and that on the fourth day when his opinion was at last sought, it was discovered that he had died."

These peoples are those who occupy the small enclave of Itossia, southwest of the main Kingdom of Cumana. The mass of the population is newly settled, having come only three generations ago. The Yetabeshi are a remnant of a people called the Nogai Horde, who until the 1570s dominated regions north and east of the Caspian Sea called Buzachistan and Mugodstan. The Nogai were Mongol and Turkic, who were part of Genghis Khan's Golden Horde, meaning they were half orc (Turks are human, Mongols are orcs) ... but the Kalmyks who supplanted them were pure-blood orcs.

Many of the Nogai peoples were scattered from the Dnestr River to Kubanistan, destroyed by Orcs and Ottomans, Poles, Russians and even Transylvanians ... but the tribe called Yetabeshi made peace with the Zaporozhians and settled in the valleys of the Vesele and Molochna rivers, greatly expanding the tiny villages of Itoskhan and Vesoi that had been founded in 1342 and 1265. Today, 90% of the residents are of Nogai descent, but there are notable minorities of Catholics, Jews and Greek Orthodox, remnants from the settlement of Greeks in the area 23 centuries ago and Roman Christians 15 centuries ago. Some Mediterranean features are distinctive in the human population of Itossia (shape of the nose bridge and hair), but there has not been time for these features to transfer into the Yetabeshi half-orc tribe.

Therefore, technically, the Yetabeshi are not Cuman in heritage, not even from the times when Cuman and Mongol tribes occupied separate parts of the far Eurasian steppe. There is, however, a communal feeling of welcome that exists in Cumana for the Itossia region - so that each of the other six tribes individually identify the Yetabeshi as lost brothers rather than unwanted interlopers.

The Yetabeshi themselves are herders, ranchers, leather workers and wool gatherers, with handicraft industries of little trading importance - but locally self-sustaining. As a people they are proud, self-directed and highly communal, as well as possessing an optomistic outlook and materialistic certainty of fate. "The world will make room," is a typical Yetabeshi saying.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Hurdle

I think something has to be said about people in the game who attempt to portray 'characters' of their imagination as part of the 'role playing' motif. That is, the desire to produce a character distinct in its portrayal from the player, so that the player's fighter, say, does not do what the player does, or believe things the player believes, or otherwise views the world as the player might view it.

For example, the player, being a typical resident of the 21st century, is unlikely to scream bloody murder, raise the axe in their hands, and attack a seven-foot-tall monster ... where as their fighter would. More to the point, however, the player would probably try to survive in a given situation as best they could, whereas their fighter might not.

Those are perfectly reasonable character portrayals.

Unfortunately, when a player usually decides to produce a really elaborate character ... well, they just suck at it.

For those who can't quite grasp the substance of what 'character' means, I offer this lengthy definition. Please take note of the bottom of the definition, where it describes two states: "in character ... Consistent with someone's general character or behavior"; and "out of character ... Inconsistent with someone's general character or behavior."

What's required, then, of a writer, or a presenter, is the creation of characters for whom "in" or "out of" character has a specific, defined and recognizeable pattern. This is obtained by providing characters with motivation, a PURPOSE or LOGIC for why they behave the way that they do, so that the character as portrayed isn't a bunch of irreconciliable actions that fuck up a performance.

Writers almost always draw upon their own motivations because as human beings (questionable, but there you are), they are unlucky enough to be limited to their own experience. At best, I can only guess why the fellow further down the bar is right now stupidly drunk, or why he obviously has a lot of money to spend on drink after drink, or how he's able to stay on the stool even though he's been doing this now for 7 hours. I can only guess at why the bartender goes on serving him. I can only guess these things because I am not them. If I were to pretend to be them, I still wouldn't understand their motives because it took a long, long time for those people to become who they are ... whereas I've spent all my time becoming who I am.

So as a writer, I am always at my best when the various characters in my work represent different sides of myself, and not wholly disparate people with whom I have no association. At best, I might attempt to include the characters of people I have known all my life, such as my mother or father, or friends I have known since childhood, or co-workers with whom I have spent thousands of hours. I know something about these people because they have explained or demonstrated their motivations. I grasp them.

Moreover, I have practiced this technique. And when I say that, keep in mind that all the writers who have written all the really crappy TV Shows and Movies you have seen have also practiced this technique, and the best they've been able to produce are very ordinary, instantly recognizeable stock characters whose motivations are poorly drafted and often compromised by some situation where the writer has plainly gotten himself or herself stuck. Remember that everyone who talks about film and television spends many more thousands of hours talking about how such-and-such was not in character because "blank-blank-blank would never, ever do that."

Character portrayal is HARD. It has always been HARD. It is difficult to describe honestly your own motivations; describing another person's motivations is IMPOSSIBLE. But we try anyway, in the hope of getting into the ballpark, because other people are so gawddamn fascinating. Or rather, other people's stupidity is so gawddamn fascinating.

Here is how NOT to produce 'character': Have it do something you wouldn't do, because you wouldn't do it.

I don't know how many times I've run a game where some player got it into their head that their 'character' would be insulted about something which most obviously the player is not. The player gets the whole situation. They're genre-savvy, or they've been paying attention to the nuances, or they don't care that much about the priest, the princess, the king or the warlord. So when the warlord gives an order, the PLAYER is all like, "Sure, I get that, he's a warlord, he's got to keep himself in control."

But somehow, the player decides to interpret this from the character's perspective as, "What a fucking dick that warlord is, I'm not taking any of his shit!"

Which baffles me. Presumably, if the character were a character in this medieval world, the character would be just as clear about a warlord - having now met one - as the player would be. One might assume the character would have a better grasp on the situation, no? And be a bit more conscious of actually being in the warlord's presence, and seeing the warlord's army standing right there, looking all frightening and ready to go. But nooooo ... no, the 'character' presented doesn't care about any of that. The character's motivation in this instance isn't affected by any will to survive, or any recognition of having grown up in an environment where warlords have absolute power. Nope. This character has been beamed in from outer space - or possible from bad 1970s television - and remains untouched by the environment that surrounds them. This character turns to the warlords and says, "I demand attention and I demand that all my demands be immediately satisfied because I have just made demands!"

Somehow, every concocted Dungeons and Dragons character seems to be motivated to make demands on a constant, continuous basis, like an old woman at the complaints counter of the local Walmart, who can't understand why her panties can't be returned after having been worn for three weeks.

The problem, I think, is an inability to put oneself in the situation, and see the situation with the eyes of a person who is actually there. As a DM, I can describe the appearance of things; I can describe the sights and smells, the noise, the apparent activity of the natives ... but I can't make the player graft those things into the player's brain. If the player chooses to hear the words, "the children run through the streets banging pots," as WORDS, and makes no effort to pause for a moment and contemplate what that must sound like, or what that must look like, then I cannot as a DM force those images into the player's head. The player is then free to invent 'characters' utterly divorced from their surroundings, who are even less motivated or affected by those surroundings than the player. The player, at least, is aware of what THEY would feel like if transported into a fantasy world and forced to cope. The player, however, has no fucking clue at all what an imaginary, non-existent character would feel, because they don't know that character. They can't.

So the whole exercise is a dead loss. And over and over - as someone who DOES try very hard to imagine how I, or someone I know well, would act in a fantasy world, or how a warlord would deal with someone of no importance who made constant demands - I am forced to kill characters in stupid ways for stupid reasons because they are stubbornly portrayed by stubborn players.

It has much to do, I think, with a lack of humility. Players don't understand the difficulty of creating a character. They don't suppose it is difficult. They suppose it is a matter of 'talking differently.' Cognitively, it's not only that they don't get over the hurdle, they don't see a hurdle. And when they stumble and fall, they get up gobsmacked and angry, presuming that they must have fallen because someone pushed them. It's simply not possible that they were tangled up in their own bloody hubris.

Monday, October 21, 2013

I Am The Screw

It's not hard to tell I've already begun pulling away from this blog.

There's no sense in reassuring the gentle reader, since one of the great memes of the Internet blogging community is to write, "I'm going to do [blank]" going forward ... which makes a famously funny last blog entry.

The proof is always in the pudding. No matter what anyone says they're going to do, it means nothing until the thing is done. Committance, unfortunately, is always something that is done in the past. The default is the antonym, evasion ... that in which the verb is to not do. And there is nothing easier in the world to do than 'not do.'

Evasion is the crime I've committed all my life. I have pursued it extravagantly because the marvelous thing about evasion is that it confers freedom upon its practitioners. To commit is to put oneself in prison; and prison is hard.

That said, all the things I've ever done that mattered involved commitment and not evasion. One cannot evade work forever; one gets hungry. If one will have anything completed, evasion is a terrible strategy. If art is to be done, it is necessary to shackle oneself to the art and to do so with a well. Art is not freedom. Art is imprisonment.

But it is the sort of imprisonment I crave. And the craving has been very strong lately.

Please don't misunderstand me. This blog is a sort of commitment too, and putting it down for a month is very definitely an evasion. All I can say in reply is that the sort of evasion I intend to pursue over the next month is something like being released from minimum security so the screws can take me to federal prison.

I am the screws, too.

This blog is a crutch. It is a very nice crutch, it enables me to get feedback from remarkably bright people, and it enables me to talk about the things I like, openly and brazenly. It connects and it gets my name out there and you all get to see the interesting cool things I'm doing when I'm not evading my fascination with maps, rule design, gaming and so on. But this blog is EASY to write. Lately, that's been annoying me.

I'm on record again and again saying that if you want to run a D&D world, stop choosing the easy path. The easy path will return almost no significant return. You think your world is a great world, based on modules and someone else's inventiveness, but you're just standing on a crutch of your own. You have no idea what you're capable of doing - or what you're capable of learning - or even how your life could be changed - because you're evading the most important, significant, worthy effort of your existence:

To know something today that you did not know yesterday.

It really pisses me off when someone says, "I only know that I know nothing." That's all very cute, and Socrates was a bright fellow for saying it, but it's a lot of goddamn bunk. There's no wisdom in sitting in the mud, on your thumb, proud that you've realized it's all an illusion. The trick in life is to pretend that some stupid thing is true, then employ that truth and see where that gets you. The witticism about knowing nothing is an evasion. The hard part is not minding that you know nothing ... and applying yourself one marker further towards seeing what the hell you can do despite that crippling fact. Fuck that you know nothing. Do something ANYWAY.

That's what I intend to do. I'm sure I'll come back a little better than I am. Perhaps the reader could consider the value of doing likewise. If, over the month of November, you come to read this blog and there's nothing new here, and you find yourself disappointed, you might consider that there are a hell of a lot of new things everywhere ... and most of them are to be found in the direction of using your head to manipulate your hands in order to bring those new things into the light.

Give yourself up. Confess your guilt. Then shut the prison door and get started.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Third Adventure

One thing I love doing as a DM is playing three adventures simultaneously with the same players.

The way this is managed can be worked out by any DM with experience and the willingness to be patient.

The first adventure is always whatever the players WANT to do. They want to plunder a dungeon, start a farm, travel to China, etc. In an extended campaign they're bound to have a long term goal which cannot be fulfilled in a few runnings, which will usually require that they travel or build ... and the events associated with that goal are usually obstacles in the way of achieving that goal. The party settles in to do some goldmining and someone either wants to seize their claim or push them off the land, that sort of thing (to describe a cliche sort of obstacle).

The second adventure is what people in the industry of making modules likes to call a "side adventure." It's the event that occurs while the party is on their way to something else, where some element of the side adventure is so intriguing or so appalling that the party must investigate or set things right. They're on their way to China, but this village on the way is being plagued by bandits, several children and old folks have died, "We really ought to fix this." Something on these lines CAN be cleaned up in a few runnings.

The third adventure is my favorite, a large part of why I find running D&D an unmatchable enterprise. The third adventure is where something is happening that is so big, so unfathomable, that the party is only one tiny element on the edge of it. The entire planet is going to be taken over by Slaad, but no one the party has ever met has even seen such a creature. By chance the party stumbles across one and kills it. An X-files like crew of ridiculously high-level people show up, bundle up the evidence, briefly make the acquintance of the party and then disappear ... for six or seven months of running, NOTHING is heard again. No information, Nix, leaving the party to assume it was all a glitch and that it can be ignored.

It is like the Alien space ship grabbing Brian as he falls, rescuing him before he dies, then dropping out of the film never to appear again. What did it mean? In the movie, probably your best guess. In my world, something far too magnificently important to be even remotely grasped by mere players.

Admittedly, it is a bit of fucking around with people, but in my head I have the whole trail of events sketched out. These people over there did this, which caused this, which resulted in this event, spawning that getaway (which the party witnesses), followed up by this bustling about in the aftermath, which produces a plan, which involves the party being contacted in order to do "this," which the party does or doesn't, which cause groups A, B and C to frantically find another way to ... and so on.

I freaking love it. And I'm prepared to sit on it for a decade, if need be (I did once, between '83 and '93). I'm in no hurry.

In a complete world, it is like when you get pulled over to the side of the road because you're driving with a load that's not covered - when you did not know that was even against the law, now. Some people, somewhere, made decisions that now result in you paying a $300 fine. Tough luck. The world is moving all around you and you haven't a clue what they're doing.

It's important to let the party know they're just tiny little fish in a gargantuan, baffling, random pond with elements so remote - yet so influential - that it is more than just a little scary.

Like life is.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

There's a Charge for the Meal

I confess. I read YDIS. I'm not going to link that, nor explain what it is for those who have never stumbled across that particular blog, because I have standards. I read YDIS because every time there's a post, someone in the comments section mentions me, or this blog, and I get a flood of people who show up here because I was mentioned there. I track the sources for my readers, so I can't help but notice.

The general sentiment on YDIS is that I am hated. Greatly. Mostly for existing. Partly for daring to produce intellectual property for money. In every respect because I am an easy target. I have an opinion, and all persons with opinions are easy targets.

I have never had anyone come here and claim to have found me through YDIS. I have never had a negative comment on this blog that reflected anything said on YDIS. I must therefore infer that readers are not affected by, nor influenced, by anything that is said there in any way. I must infer that the vitriol there has all the etching power of a furbie sliding over a gymnasium floor.

So when I read a group of idiots discussing the relevance of YDIS, as there are lately on an rpg-net thread - which I also decline to link, due to the same standards - I am amused. YDIS is keeping us 'honest,' say some. YDIS has great influence in the RPG universe, say others. Very few will step forward and say, "What a load of bunk. A bunch of bastards that will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes."

Influential? As much as any troll with a bridge to sit under, I suppose. A bridge that Yahoo tolerates, for reasons that may have something to do with Yahoo employees who - up until recently - collected paycheques from home but did no work there. If YDIS depended on a blogspot bridge, there would be no YDIS.

I challenge anyone to produce an instance demonstrating any concrete influence upon the RPG universe. At best, we may influence individuals. For example, this post will influence the little furtive troll that produces YDIS. Who will write more about me. That will drive more people to this site, who will read here and perhaps comment, but certainly without any reference to YDIS. So I will expand my readership. That will in turn produce a greater ability to sell my intellectual property. Which is good for me.

Trolls are the easiest people in the world to manipulate. But then, they are the only mentally ill not provided for by a Hollywood Celebrity.

Unless that's what Pauly Shore does now.

As a writer, the facts are that to gain any recognition I must sell to someone. Freelance, I sell to editors; politically, I sell to the various national and private elements who offer prizes for work, and most often get paid nothing for it. Lulu allows me a platform on which to sell directly to the reader. My success is not determined by that platform, nor by the opinions of others who feel that platform is right or wrong, or that I am right or wrong for accessing the platform. My success is dependent upon the willingness of people who have read the book to mention the quality of the book to others. If they will read it and enjoy it, that is all well and good. If they will read it and NOT mention to others that they have, and encourage others to read, then I have failed.

If I provide advertising for the book, then I am buying from someone else who is selling their product - air, space, interconnectivity, call it what you will. I am contributing my wealth to someone else's business in order to expand my own. If I were a restauranteur, would I be less of a business person if I did not accede to the dominance of a restaurant chain who told me how to manage my business? Would it be unfair for me to sell to customers, who had to take it on faith that I could cook? If you, the gentle reader, were to walk into my establishment, you could expect to pay $20 for a meal that could turn out to be excellent or poor; you do not know for sure. You judge my establishment on the appearance, the decor, the smell of the food emerging from the kitchen. You have perhaps read advertising I have purchased telling you to come to my restaurant. If you are disappointed, you won't return. You will still be $20 poorer. If the food is well, then you will return, and you will spend another $20.

The business is the same, though I provide a book rather than a meal. I still ask for $20. I give the book a name, Pete's Garage. It is a friendly name. It is a somewhat busy, but odd cover, featuring an old speaker, a blue Les Paul and a wrench. I tell you it is a book about musicians. I tell you that its funny. I offer a preview that's found under the box art on the linked page. I write this blog day-by-day so you will know that I am able to write. That the meal I offer will be rich and tasty and that it will stick to your ribs. I trust you will enjoy the meal so you will return and buy another.

I am a small business owner, with a small business owner's concerns. I also happen to like D&D. I also happen to enjoy history and debate and a certain amount of philosophy. I'm a character. I'm odd and mixed in my tone. I'm a softly played Les Paul. I'm a hard-hitting pipe wrench. I'd like for you, O Gentle Reader, to buy my book. Why? Because I think you might enjoy it. Because I think it might make me richer. And in so doing, because I believe we will both be better off.

I'm selling a book.

YDIS is selling nonsense. He's clearly getting a lot of buyers, but what he has to sell doesn't cost anything, and can be produced out of your own mouth at will. What I'm selling is rare and hard to find.

Reader, make up your mind.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Compiled Political to Date

A nice political map, showing areas I've reworked over my original maps, that can be found on the Same Universe Wiki. 20 miles per hex.


As I am aging, and somewhat conscious of being 50 next year, I'm coming around to the recognition that I have to live my life differently. Again.

That doesn't mean giving up things I love, such as D&D, or ceasing this blog; but I did mention last week that I was going to take the month of November off ... I thought I should talk about that again. The decision is all about this difference of which I speak. It is really an adaptation. The sort of adaptation one has when the day comes you realize you just can't party hard until five or six in the morning, put on a fresh shirt and go to work. It no longer works.

That's where I am. I have habits that are no longer working. And because I've survived and stayed passionate because I've been willing to change in the past, I have to take on that decision to change again.

Typically, I am sitting on a computer for between 14 and 16 hours a day. Not just work days. Every day. That's not a matter of compulsion, I choose to do this, because I thoroughly love computers. Rather, I love what I can do with computers. This blog, writing and publishing a book like Pete's Garage, maps and tables, communications, research, entertainment, reviewing intellectual property ... I'd have this thing plugged straight into my brain if I could. I realize that some people my age are frightened by computers, or don't know what to do with them. That isn't me.

Unfortunately, it is the ergonomics of computers that is starting to prey on the inadequate, crumbling body I still possess. I keep it fairly fit; I made a change in my diet that lost me forty pounds this year, so I'm noticeably thinner than my last video of myself. I've never smoked, I don't drink to excess and I've never done drugs. Hung around a lot with people who did drugs - once upon a time, since I mostly knew musicians - but kept off them myself. Still, my shoulders bother me. My wrists, my forearms ... my arthritis bothers me. I've had the arthritis since I was 20, but every year its a bit more of a challenge. Writing all the time has always meant a bit of pain, all the time, but ... of late that's getting to make me feel exhausted. Constantly.

So I'm recognizing that I need to rest occasionally. I need to stand down, get off the computer, and rest. Frankly, I've forgotten how. November is meant to be a little research into that.

For those people who talk about playing D&D until they die, I wonder if they can comprehend how performing intellectual tasks for extended periods becomes more difficult with age. This is why many older people wind up in things like fishing, knitting, lawn bowling and golf. Tasks that are involving, but can be done with muscle memory in time. The problem solving in golf - and some one will tell me all about how there is such problem solving - is way, way down the schedule of difficulty from the problem solving in game theory and design. They are not in the same course.

I want to go on problem solving. Lately, however, I've experienced a certain ... reduction in energy that's the result of 'fucking around' on the computer between doing real work. In the past, my default has been to play a game or do some mindless graphic design (drawing rivers on maps, for instance) when growing tired of serious writing, such as for the combat how-to. But now the mindless stuff is exhausting me as well, and I'm not getting anything serious done.

I want to see how much energy this blog actually takes. Is it part of the problem? Does it satisfy a need for communication that I need to retain? Is it - as I suspect - an encouragement towards creativity and work, or is it sapping energy that I could be using elsewhere. Most people tend to argue the latter, but most people always claim they haven't got "time" to do something ... which is mostly bullshit. We all have plenty of time. The question is how to spend it wisely.

I think this blog is good for me and my creative juices. But I want to see. I want to feel the difference it makes if it isn't there.

I think the knowledge will make me a better person.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


It would be hard to explain why including gems on my equipment tables is difficult. It isn't so much that I couldn't make a list of gems, with price and availability ... it's that adding a different size for each type of gem gets to be inconveniently long.

Desireably, I long-since decided, I could put up a random list. That too proved difficult, what with accounting for availability and size, to make a generation table that was both practical and interesting.

I hope I've done it. I worked all day today on it, and I'm happy with the result. I can't show it as one table, however, since ... well, its randomly generated. So all four of the below images are individual manifestations of the result. A party, to sell their gems, has to get a little lucky with the local demand.

I don't imagine this will mean much to the gentle reader. But I get a warm feeling.

No doubt some will ask why there's a price to buy if there are none available.  Well, it's partly a general programming issue (I don't feel the need to wash it out), and at the same time it does give an indication of the mark-up the store is getting over the supplier.

I trust there's enough there to give a general idea of the availability of gems for sale.  The weights are based on the mass not only of the size of the gem, but also of the specific density of that particular gem as opposed to others; amber, for instance, has a low specific density, so a plum-sized amber weighs much less than a plum-sized cat's eye.

It will also be noted that the gems are much larger here than they would be in the real world.  That's intentional.  Somehow, I prefer that gems be the size of cherries, almonds and plums rather than tiny little chips or pin-heads.  I could adjust all my prices and availabilities to make the world fit the modern truth, but this just seems more appropriate for a fantasy world.

I've learned a lot from this.  I need to try to adapt that to jewelry ... which is bound to be much, much harder.  Also, I'll have to repost this table when adding other things a lapidary does beyond providing the stones.  But I'm tired and I wanted to post this, after a full day of continuous programming.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Something you learn as a writer and storyteller, after doing a great deal of it, is that there is always a better way to give information to the reader or the listener. For example, there's several ways I could have started this post, apart from the lede I used, which was to start with the vocation of writer. I could have started, "When you are describing things in D&D ..."; or I could have started with some friendly story about when I tried to write something and then changed my original intent to something else. But let's leave this recursiveness aside for the time being, and presume to believe that I've started this discussion and as such move on with it.

It is called exposition. It is the delivery of information the party needs. How high is the table? Where is the table in reference to the room? How does the color of the table reveal information about where it was made, and how does that apply to the situation as is? As a DM, you have to keep this sort of thing going constantly.

Where it comes to the BIG exposition, that critical start to the campaign where you explain that the King is old and his daughter is a tart who has been schlepping with the Duke, the King's brother, in an incestuous relationship that's now leading to deposing the old king and replacing him with his younger brother in unholy union with the King's daughter, the usual effort in D&D is to sit the party down in some room, have some wizard or otherwise knowledgeable fellow serve them all mead and ale, and then spend 20 minutes telling the whole story.

Never do this.

Seriously. It is the worst kind of writing there is. I mean, there's nothing wrong with the venerable fellow who tells the party the story. There's nothing wrong with the mead and ale. What's wrong is the telling of the WHOLE story.

For the love of all that's dramatic, never, EVER, tell the whole story up front. Always presume the NPC telling the party the story has his OWN motivations, and that therefore he's deliberately motivated to leave things out. Things like the daughter not actually being the king's biological daughter. Or that the Duke had actually been given the throne in the first place by the present King's father, only the older brother usurped it by claiming he was the elder. You want to leave things like that out. You want the party to not know the whole story.

Better yet, don't have the story told by ONE person. And that's where the "more than one way to tell a story" comes in. It's easiest to have one person telling it, yes, but it's better if the party learns different things from different people over more than the first running. The fellow shoeing the party's horse mentions that he did this for the princess the day before, and that he saw her riding into the woods yonder. A few fellows at the bar intimate that the princess has a lover. The party inadvertently stumbles across the Duke as he's paying off someone that looks questionable, and then a few days later the party finds out that fellow is an assassin from a member of the local thieves' guild - who of course knows nothing about the dealings with the Duke. And so on.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The party may not want to stay in that town, SOOOO ... they're not going to see all that shit or talk to those people. So when they're forty miles away, in another town, they hear a couple banging away in the next room at the Inn. The next morning, they see a young woman riding away on a horse, and a rather scruffy man is inadvertantly answered "yes, your highness" by an oddly obsequious but equally scruffy man who's with him. So the party pays no attention and you ... let it go.

Or, the party meets three men on the road, ex-soldiers, and they're angrily discussing with one another the latest news that the King has made a treaty with the next kingdom over, in order to settle the matter because the King wants more military in his capital. One of the soldiers says its because the king is coward and is afraid of assassination, and another says its because he wants to use that military to increase taxes in the kingdom. They make no mention at all of the Duke and the Princess, but they do say there was one assassination attempt already ... and then they ask where the party is from, and if the party knows anything.

Because, I have to tell you, if you can get the party doing your exposition to your NPC's, you have it made in the shade.

The problem for a lot of would-be storytellers is this misconception that the story-telling process is one way, from story teller to audience. This may sound strange to some, but I'm going to extol Pantomime. That's a stage-form that's rarely seen as a masterful storytelling concept ... but it is.

Pantomime is almost thoroughly dead in North America, and at any rate has been reduced to the sort of thing that children are expected to see, and that adults are expected to despise ... or endure for the sake of children. For those not familiar, it is a slapstick variety show with stock characters and typically stock jokes and storylines, in which the audience is encouraged to participate.

The particularly relevant interplay that I want to address is the circumstance in 'Panto' where the comic lead deliberately asserts that something is true, when the audience already knows it isn't, or the reverse. This is because, of course, the audience has seen the entire performance, whereas the comic lead is of course ignorant of things that have happened when he is not on stage (its usually a 'he,' even when it's a woman dressed as a 'he'). So the Comic will say, "Oh, yes it is!" ... and the whole audience will roar, "Oh, no it isn't!" And the Comic will say, "Well, he doesn't love her!" and the audience will reply, "Oh yes he does!" ... and so on.

This is a hard interplay to get with your players, and of course it doesn't play out that obviously. But if you're smart and clever and take your time about giving information from many sources, you'll get your parties to stop believing A or B, and they'll start saying to each other "He's lying" or "That can't be right" and so on and so forth ... until your parties are sorting the whole thing out FOR YOU and all you need to do is watch the process while you get coffee and answer questions.

There are a lot of ways to give the same information. There's always one more than the ways you've invented. With practice, the reader can train his or her self on multiple ways to skin that cat. Don't give up after the first try. Don't think you've done the job with your first idea. There's a better idea behind that first one, hiding a little deeper in the bushes, a bit harder to find, with fur that's so much nicer than the grotty old cat that was half-dead on your doorstep. You'll just have to stretch yourself a bit.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Modelling Roles

I wouldn't know how to be a role-model.

Some fellow last week wrote a comment praising the hell out of my knowledge and writing ability, then damning the use to which I applied them. I'm never very clear about that - if I'm so smart and knowledgeable, then how is it I don't know what I should be talking about? And why is it I'm expected to be a 'leader' by expounding the opinions of people who generally are not considered to be either knowledgeable or clever? How do I lead people on their crusades when I don't believe in their crusades? Wouldn't that make me a manipulating power-grabbing disingenious liar?

On the other hand, if I don't use my power for good - I kid you not, the guy came just this close to telling me with great power comes great responsibility - then I'm evil anyway. I'm evil because I don't champion commonly held truths.

Here's the whole comment, written on this post by c- dm:

"Yesterday I found your blog and I was ecstatic. I play a lot of D&D, most of it from the DM chair. The wealth of ideas you've shared with the gaming community here is praiseworthy on the merit of sheer volume alone. But the quality is also very high, far above the line for this sort of blog. Your passion for the craft is evident. Your background, your personal toolset as a DM, and even your trajectory through a half a lifetime of gaming reminds me a lot of my own experiences.

I don't know why I clicked on the Popular Posts link for this entry. I should have known better. But I did.

I'm very disappointed in you Alexis. It hurts. I can hear in your voice that were angry and wanting to vent. Everyone needs to vent now and then.

As a Canadian, as an ally, as a fellow gamer, and as a human being, you might have chosen to stand with your party members, here in times of trouble as in times of joy, and help us bear the burden. Instead, you have spitefully chosen to run to the sidelines and throw stones. You could have chosen to take this opportunity to bring people of like mind together and do some good. Instead you've chosen to divide us.

I implore you to make a different choice next time. Do not underestimate the influence that you have. When you speak people listen. Given the quality of your blog I'm willing to bet you have a lot of readers. You may not have asked for this responsibility, or even care, but you can change things. Not this way, but by donning the mantle of responsibility and leading the way.

Please, use your influence to lead."

Yes, well, I probably shouldn't have written that post. Too much Noam Chomsky in my head, I suppose. But don't worry. This isn't going to be a political post. Instead, I want to talk about dumping responsibility on people.

And with that, I'll remind the gentle reader of my first line. I wouldn't know how to be a role-model.

Not that I'm not proud of my efforts and happy with my peculiar way of biting and slashing at people; its only that I couldn't in good conscience recommend it as a methodology for dealing with people. People who know me well are familiar with a certain generousity they can expect from me ... but I'd say there's probably an unspoken - but privately held - understanding of what a selfish prick I am. I'm only lately realizing how this plays out in my private life; and that the source of it is definitely my parents.

My mother died about this time last year; I don't particularly miss her. I know that's wrong, but I've also come to realize - and my daughter concurs with me on this with regards to her grandparents, her uncle and her aunt (my brother and sister) - that I grew up in what was largely a loveless home. A responsible home. A respectable home. A home where morality and propriety were held in high estimation. But in fact, a hollow shell.

I did not raise my daughter in such a home. Her mother passed away some years ago, but my partner Tamara is a second mother to my daughter and we are all very close. They both tolerate me and they have both had personal, close experience with the exact reasons why I am broken.

Not something that's going to be evident online. Online, I am only going to appear to be broken without cause. Which is funny, really, since obviously no one is ever broken without cause, and no one who is broken decided to be. The myth that we could all be happy if we simply pretended to be has managed to sell a lot of bad books to broken people who haven't adjusted to their peculiar broken natures, but it really is all just a myth.

We are broken, and that is what has the potential to make us great.

There is nothing special about a perfect piece of pottery that is manufactured by a machine. It sits in your cupboard like its five other perfect brothers, utterly interchangeable and fully replaceable. If you're the sort of person who needs clean, perfect, unflawed things out of which to drink your coffee, then the world has been made for you. Pottery Barn has all you'll ever need.

My favorite cup is anything but perfect. It has a chip on the bottom that broke off when my daughter's mother some 19 years ago hurled it at me in a fit of anger. The cup bounced on the carpet, banged through the bathroom door and ricocheted off the sink without smashing to pieces. It's a big, clunky, hand-made pottery thing and at the moment its not in my cupboard. It's in a box, buried in a storeroom, safe and sound and fully useable. It didn't ask to be broken. Yet it stood up to that indignity with dignity. I love that damn thing.

It can't be replaced. It can't be copied. There's not another cup in the world like it, and there will never be another cup in the world like it. It will never be a role-model for cups.

My particular nature is not to be found in my manufacture, nor in the failed storage facility of my early years. My particular nature is in the glue and gunk that has been slapped into the cracks and ground down over the years. Those edges are nothing like as sharp as they used to be. Another decade or two and they might actually be smooth and comfortable to touch. I can't say. I'm still working on it.

But I'm not here to lead any body down my particular path. The gentle reader shouldn't expect that. At best, I might offer some other path, gathered either from wisdom or from a big sign reading "warning - avoid area." It would be perhaps best to heed that message.

I really wouldn't know how to be a role-model. I think it likely that no one should ever be a role-model, nor seek role-models. There's something parasitic and festering with the whole business. Best to get on with fixing your own broken pieces and leave me to fix mine. And if mine seem to cause division and spread hate and evil, well ... don't read this blog. Encourage others not to read it.

But don't encourage me not to write it, nor to write it in some other way. That's a waste of your time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Alexis the D&D Player

There's a fellow at work who has been moderately damaged by the knowledge that I play D&D. It's not the sort of thing I hide, not any more than I would hide watching sports or going weekend skiing ... but its very strange the effect the game has on people. It isn't as those this fellow harasses me or anything, but he is occasionally inclined to refer to me as "Alexis the D&D Player" in a context having nothing to do with D&D or even weekend activities. This is the sort of thing that happens. It's very unlikely that he would refer to me as "Alexis the skiier" or "Alexis the hockey watcher."

It's clear the thing is on the fellow's mind. He isn't a D&D player, he's never played, his entire conception of the game was being dimly aware that other people in his high school played the game, and that they were a bit 'odd' (he's told me this). So he automatically grafts his one impression of the game onto me. But frankly, I don't care.

It is interesting that he remembers these others from high school (which for him, was twelve or fourteen years ago) enough to make the association at all. That goes to show what a visible influence gamers have. "I have no idea what those people are doing over there, but they're sitting around a table rolling dice, shouting at one another and one of them seems to spend much more time talking than the others."

Does it not seem strange that this is such extraordinary behavior that people are inclined to remember it for years and years afterwards, even though they have never actually known anything about the game other than having someone else say, "those people are playing D&D." Why should anyone but a player remember it? What does that say about other people and their innate fear of sitting around tables talking? And why is it that the mystery of what the game actually includes produces such a intense reaction in people when they meet someone who actually knows something about that game?

Is it even a mystery they care about? This fellow hasn't asked me any questions about the game, so I must presume he thinks he knows something about it, even though clearly he hasn't any idea, enough that he either believes he doesn't need to know more, or perhaps that he is afraid of what I might tell him. Perhaps we're gutting kittens in the dark of the moon or taking turns to go to the toilet in order to fellate one another. I suppose in someone else's imagination, anything is possible.

I don't bother to correct the fellow, or ask him to stop doing this ... that is, calling me by my 'title' as player of a game he doesn't understand. I know this sort of thing is rampantly common, and I know that's why many people don't say that they play the game - which probably increases the mystery and in turn the level of anxiety in some people as to just what happens during a game. The whole thing probably results from a game that's too complicated to pick up in watching for five minutes, and so virtually everyone who chances to hear five minutes of the game being played within earshot is driven to flee the area immediately or else risk being pulled into some body-snatcher pod and reproduced as a walking plant.

Anything's possible.

Changing the subject utterly for just a moment, this next statement being the real reason for writing this post apart from the fact that I felt the need to mumble a bunch of platitudes that really do not apply to anything ... I have decided to take the month of November off. I mean, OFF. I'm going to suspend the online campaign, all my offline campaigns, and all posting on this blog for 30 days. I may work a bit on D&D, but I mostly want to find some time to do some writing and perhaps regain a little of my sanity in a world gone crazy. Being forced off my feet for a few days, to lay on a sofa and rest watching movies and sleeping intermittently, I'm a bit more concious of being plugged in than usual. A vacation would begin with being unplugged ... so I think I will. Unplug.

I trust you'll all find something else to read.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Combat Pages 2 through 4 ... Movement

The pages above are posted without much preamble, I'm afraid. I've cleaned up the language, I hope, reshaped or redesigned some of the graphics, redesigned the pages and - I hope - improved the whole mess. Page four has new material on it.

Neklan in the last post made a point about units turning 360 degrees and needing 72 hexes to do so. If you remove the straight-away from a standard 400 meter track, you get a circle that is approximately 553 feet in diameter, which would be 110.5 hexes side-to-side. The total circumference would be 867 feet, or 173.4 hexes.

I think the movement rules are fine for turning.

Take note that for combat purposes, there are means in the movement rules to sharply change your facing by slowing down briefly at pre-planned moments.

Anyone, player of mine or otherwise, who'd like to nit pick the pages below are welcome to do so, and will get no counterargument from me. I will select the comments that are most useful and will adjust the pages as necessary.