Thursday, January 30, 2014

Training in the Use of Magic

I received the comment below on a 2010 post, from Taren. It's a good chance to change the subject. The comment has been slightly tailored; be sure to have a look at the whole:

"I have a question about your handling of the spells... so let's say a caster has his 8 spells learned and those are what he has available for the day... and forever (until he goes up levels). How do you handle the idea of having the character discover new spells or learn from a defeated wizard's spell book? Do you allow the character make a change to his list at some point, and have that be the new list henceforth? Would your character have to wait until he acquired a spell slot at a new level? I ask because I have in the past liked giving unique spell books or spells as part of a hard-won treasure. I'm wondering how you handle that sort of thing."

Starting with the post about magic changing the world, I've been hearing things suggesting that magic is seen very differently by many people in the blogosphere than how I see it. Two examples (among many others) would be the ability of one person to pour magic out from their hands like a flooding river or the idea that 1 person in 10 could be possessed of magic. I find both ideas ... bewildering.

Let us say that magic exists, but that it hasn't been 'discovered' yet. That is, the exact sequence of phrases, gestures or mindset hasn't been stumbled upon, or perhaps it was but it has long since been lost ... and all this time we've been living in a world with magic, but that it's hidden to us. This would mean that everything we've learned from science (which is a methodology and not an ideology, though it is often described as one by those who do not understand how it works) retains its merit. Moreover, physics continues to function as it always has, only that it can be circumvented by means that we as yet do not understand.

A sword, then, still swings through the air like a sword. It still resounds upon armor, it still cleaves flesh. The physical means by which the sword is compelled remains one that is exhausting, and one that takes experience and training to employ well. It is an effort, not merely physical, but mental as well, and as one swings a sword for several hours, surviving in a battle that rages on and on, one's mind degrades from dehydration, sugar depletion, excessive hormonal activity and so on. Hell, five minutes of such work would be enough to leave the fighter panting and needful of a moment's respite ... which good training acknowledges, as full-on physical and mental activity is debilitating.

We must assume, then, that magic, engendered somehow from or through the user, either as a source or a conduit, must also be at least mentally exhausting. Consider that I want to do something simple, something first level, like employing spider climb to scale a wall. What is the spell, exactly? What are the physical manifestations? Game editions don't care about things like this, because they're not about imagination, but rather about mechanics, but let's examine what must be happening. The fingers and body of the recipient must be somehow modified in order to make them able to climb the wall. The body is reshaped, perhaps with Peter Parker's finger spines, or it is magnetized in a manner that allows adherance even to non-metallic surfaces. At the very least, the recipient's body has been loaded up with POWER, which it is presumed has no effect upon the recipient either mentally or physically. The person can just climb walls now. That's the only change.

What kind of remarkable control does that require? I should think, if any sense of reality is there to be embraced, it must be a spectacular amount of control. Overloading the recipient in some manner could conceivably kill them, whereas too little power will have no effect. This is incredible fine-tuning on the dial, which the user of magic must employ with perfect ability. How long does it take to learn to tune this finely? Can it be picked up in a day? Or does it take a long time? If one has already learned to tune other spells, does it automatically follow that every spell is tuned to the exact degree?

How about this flow of power? Sitting here quietly, not producing magic, only compelling my fingers to move quickly over a keyboard, I can feel the effort. My knuckles feel the tinge of arthritis. I occasionally make a spelling mistake, which I fix, or I make a typo I don't notice at all. I'm acting quickly, but I'm in a quiet room, without distractions, thinking my way through this post and feeling relatively quiescent. I would find it particularly difficult to write this post in the midst of a raging battle.

So as a user of magic, I'm fine-tuning this immense power that is flowing through me, feeling my stress rise, my blood pumping harder to compensate for the effort that only my brain is using, just as an astronaut learns to control their body functions, their stress, which is amazingly difficult to do when out in space and in an extraordinarily dangerous environment. Using the mind in that environment is taxing in the extreme. Similarly, the user of magic is in the midst of a battle ground. He or she has no armor, no meaningful weapons, and they have to concentrate amid swordblows and movement, screaming, men dying, while they fine-tune the shit of out that magic to a perfect, non-dangerous degree. As the power pours from them, or through them from another plane of existence, how many calories does that burn? What is the depletion to their platelets and their hydration? How is it they're able to cast spell after spell without any apparent effect to their ability to move, walk, breathe and so on?

Training. Lots and lots of training. Phenomenal amounts of training. Training that goes past what's done with the sword, far past what is done with one's hands in a stressed environment operating complex and precise apparati. Training on levels we haven't yet sought for. As much training as a doctor receives. Potentially much more.

Let's consider a doctor. The first knowledge they gather is general knowledge - and there is a hell of a lot of that. To become a general practitioner requires terrific amounts of memory, and the ability to regurgitate that memory at will, preferably without many mistakes or having overlooked something. This takes years. And then, if that doctor wants to learn to do something specific, like heart transplants, this takes even MORE time. The process is slow and methodical and requires not only patience, but aptitude. Merely knowing how to do it or having the will to do it does not necessarily mean that one has the emotional strength to gut out the process. Many, many doctors who want to be specialists in some capacity don't make the cut. That is why there are so few people who can perform those very difficult surgeries that some of us need, and which we must be flown to Atlanta or Geneva in order to receive.

Now, here is our user of magic. Let us call him Bob. Bob has had his training (an extra 2d8 years according to the DMG, but traditional elves have had even longer to get good at this - or maybe they're stupider than humans and it takes them longer to learn the same spells humans do). Bob has spent his years trying to move a feather and light a candle, and while a lot of the stuff his tutor tried to cram into Bob's head hasn't taken yet, Bob is strong enough to throw spells 3 times a day (I'm going to go back to original D&D ideas here, so suck it up Pathfinder lovers). After three, he isn't "out of spells" ... he's exhausted. He's blown his ride. His heartrate has hit the ceiling, his mind is mush, and he's doing pretty well at that point to throw a weapon - badly - at an enemy. He hasn't practiced his weapon throwing skills because he was trying to get that fine-tuning just right, so that he didn't blow himself up when he tried to cast his shield spell.

But as Bob does more of this, and grows experienced, he realizes in a flash what his master was trying to say about that damn sleep spell over which Bob never got the hang. We would say Bob was second level, but really he's just learning to control his heart a bit better, to give himself more endurance, and that fine-tuning is coming easier to him ... now he can throw four spells before hitting his wall. And at 3rd level he can throw five, and at 4th level he can throw seven. And so on. That wall is getting farther away, he's learning little tricks and he's picking up on methods of channelling that energy that never occurred to him in the dull laboratory of his tutor. Bob is seeing his way to being a wizard.

This makes sense to me. What does not make sense to me is Bob stumbling into a tomb, finding a scroll, and instantly being able to cast that spell at will ... like a surgeon watching some innovative brain operation, shoving aside the attendant surgeon and then taking over the operation. That's the sort of thing that happens in bad television in the 60s, where the doctor is a TV Star ... but I can do without it in my D&D world.

Can a user of magic suddenly change their minds about the spells they have? Can a surgeon suddenly be an engineer? Or an astronaut? No. It took a lot of practice and training to use THOSE spells. This is how the process is conceived of in my world. I recognize that it compels the player to live with the spells they have, but ... sorry, no sympathy. Work with what you've got. That is the game. Circumventions in skills and abilities are ideas that were spawned by players who could not learn to work with the skills they had. Next time they play a user of magic, they can try different skills. They can try a different class. But no, I'm not interested in do-overs with the same character.

From the above, it should be possible to reason out the rest of Taren's questions. It isn't about how I apply the mechanics to my game. It is all about how the reasoning behind the game demands mechanics that FIT the process.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


From this answer to yesterday's post:

"Alexis is like the Glenn Beck of the RPG blogosphere, in a way. He has controversial views on the subject matter, and he makes outlandish statements that rile up the public and, therefore, gets him publicity, traffic flow to his blog, etc. Alexis and Glenn Beck should be taken with an awareness of that context. In that way, we all give ourselves a break in the realm of blood pressure."

I don't know, gentle readers, who are ensnared by my outlandish statements ... do you feel insulted?

How stupid you must be to keep reading me.

The Purpose of Change

I'm writing this in reference to something Matt said last Thursday on this post. I agree, unequivocably. AD&D sucks.

I've said so before, but so long before that I can't find the post - it was back in '09 or something like that. My point then was that D&D is broken. It's a freaking mess. And it doesn't hurt to revisit that view from time to time. So let's have it out. When I say that 4e is cracked in the head, and that it's poisoning the process of role-play, I want to make it perfectly clear that AD&D, or any edition, is not a solution. These original games, as written, are absolute crap.

I didn't know that when I was 15, of course. Back then, I loved the DMG, I thought the monsters were the kewlest thing ever, I thought the character classes were inspired. I and my mates embraced all of it. We played alignment, we played psionics, we played all the rules about initiative and back-and-forth combat and we used the experience tables religiously.

For about three months.

It wasn't long before we began to recognize there were serious problems with the game's design. I remember fondly the day we gathered together in the dungeon basement of my friend Jim and drafted the first of many, many letters to TSR, expressing our inability to play the system and begging them, deeply, to please send us back repairs to the rules, so that we could better play their brilliant game. We wrote how we would religiously play the game with the rules they had given us, because we respected them so well, until we received their answer. And so we did. We played with the exact rules of the books until, thankfully, 2nd Edition came out. Thank god! I remember how happy we all were, we partied in the streets, and Jim grabbed a nurse and gave her a kiss we'll never forget ...

I am, of course, shitting you. We did not write TSR. We did not give a rat's fuck in an Imperial Stormtrooper's helmet what the fuck TSR thought about what we should do with their fucked up game rules. We ditched alignment, we ditched psionics, we retooled the freaking monsters and we made up whatever goddamned rule made sense to us. We did it without permission, without pity, without the internet screaming at us to tell us what we could or should do, and we MADE the game better.

Oh, we knew people who didn't do those things. We met them at conventions and choked on our popcorn when they chattered on about how alignment was the most important part of the game, etcetera. We shook our heads quietly as we watched them walk away, and muttered, "What a fucking idiot," because it was plain to us at the time that such people were clearly deranged. We did not realize that the deranged people would someday take over the dialogue. I suppose we were too busy in our basements, you know, actually playing.

The total number of philosophical arguments I had about D&D or roleplaying between 1986 and 2006 would be, I think, around half a dozen. I'd stopped going to conventions, I didn't think very much of the D&D Club on campus, and at any rate I'd learned there wasn't any sense in arguing with the stupid people. I played a lot. I went through a period of about 8 years where I didn't play, but I worked on my world a lot and settled most of the ground rules upon which my game is run now. The old combat system is gone, I no longer use the monsters as written, I've reassigned meanings to a lot of the spells, I have a differently designed Bard class that works very well, and for the most part I've tweaked everything else. I don't run AD&D. I don't run any 'version' of D&D except mine. I often call it 1st edition because that's where I started, and because I still use the original 11 classes, which tends to be the most anyone really knows about 1e now. People who come and start in my world adapt pretty quick, I've found, if they're willing to listen. Most of the design I use is flexible for player agency and seems to work on an intuitive level. Rarely does anyone complain that it isn't AD&D or that it doesn't conform to some other system. Yes, that does happen. Players will always storm out of campaigns for reasons of their own. Not everyone can be pleased.

I didn't start this blog so I could argue with people about other systems. I felt it was an opportunity to express my experience, my view of the game, the work I'd done to modify the game, and to have a record for my daughter and other players about what mattered to me. Still, there's no question I let myself be pulled into debates. I feel passionate about what I'm doing or what I believe, enough that I get annoyed or unfriendly towards people who are confrontational about the whyfore behind those things.

The blog campaign I've been on these last many months has been 'fun' versus 'serious' gaming, which was started by a long-winded battle on a bulletin board ages ago. I get abuse for my position. People seem threatened by my position. It is a place I've been since attending Cons back in the '80s. I remember well the reasons why I stopped 'playing' and accepted that I was never going to do anything but act as the DM. I was in too many games where one or two players, with the support of the DM, acted like absolute fucking assholes in their quest for 'fun' ... which involved, mostly, pissing all over the game concept and pushing around other players who were less extroverted or sure of themselves.

This, I think, is the core of what's wrong with the community, and which the later editions were trying to solve with their concentration on balance. Some people are grossly extroverted and, at the same time, both enormously rude and abusive. Now, I seem to be both on this blog, where I'm writing my opinion - but in person I'm polite, considerate and greatly concerned that the players in my world be treated with respect and decency. This is why I jump on player-vs.-player notions with both feet. Because, whatever 'gaming' concept PvP provides, it is really just a justification for certain people to be assholes to other people.

Virtually ALL of these awful, rotten people would say, after a game, that they had enormous FUN. They certainly seem to be having fun, shouting down others, threatening, participating in the typical pissing contests between alpha males and so on. I doubt very much that these conceited assholes are even dimly aware how much their fun was obtained at the expense of others. I'm sure they think everyone at the table is having exactly as much fun as they are. I'm sure they use that belief as an argument to justify themselves.

I am also absolutely certain that in a 'serious' game, where everyone is expected to behave seriously, their particular brand of 'fun' will be difficult to obtain. I think this is the elephant in the room where the 'fun' argument is concerned. The question of who out there has to pay for the fun these people are having.

It's not that AD&D, or any system, contributes directly to this shit ... but I do think that the reliance upon a game system to solve all the problems that exist denies a real, front-line error in thinking. There is difficulty in handling people who play together. The constant wars about one system's virtues over another completely overlooks this difficulty. Those arguments miss the point that the issue isn't what the system is, or how good it works, it has to do with how much respect to players have towards one another. A system can't provide that.

We didn't like alignment because it was a set of dictates telling people how to behave. We didn't like psionics because it offered some players far too much power over other players. We didn't like the combat system because it did not allow players to act rationally or creatively on the battlefield. We did not like many of the monsters because they were either too deadly or too easy to kill. EVERY change we made to the original game was so that the people playing the game would have a deeper, more meaningful, richer experience. We never changed a rule so that things would be more 'real' or so that some dogma about the way elves or dwarves behaved would be respected. We never bought into any of that shit.

Most of all, we never, ever let people in the game use the rules as a means to push around other players. Or as a means to force everyone to be the same, or equal. The game was about different people working together. The game was never meant to be about different people all acting exactly the same.

It seems that our purpose for making changes was not that of the companies responsible for the game. It seems NOW that the changes the companies made were made in order to please a small, VOCAL minority of players who wanted the rules changed in order to satisfy their need to push others around. I think the companies missed that completely, and acted like complete dupes in their drive to make money.

I get mad, here, because I think people are confused about this process, from gamers making changes in basements to making the game better, to assholes screaming at companies to make profits by making a shit game that supplied the needs of assholes. And I'm going to keep getting mad about it.

I know that people are listening.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


There's been a few topics that have leaped to my mind lately; this one is the beginning of deeper, more involved discussion which I'm only beginning to get a handle on. Allow me to explain some of the background.

I have two players in an offline campaign who began playing in my world about 24 months ago, after admitting that they hadn't had much of a chance to play 'real' D&D. They had played a lot of DDO, they're both professional people, highly educated and self-motivated; but somehow the whole D&D thing hadn't caught onto their imagination until they were in the 30s.

At first, there was a fair bit of discussion about what a real game could offer that DDO could not, which I was able to amply prove after a few sessions in my world. Being a serious world, they liked the depth and the unexpected elements that I could bring into play, which obviously no present-day program bothers to incorporate, as they are fundamentally geared towards 'winning' - ie., upgrading. I was able to show gameplay where upgrading was not the whole story.

They naturally hungered for more gaming than I had time to offer, and so they pursued that through the main resource in this town, a place call the Sentry Box, which has been selling games since 1979, and which I have mentioned from time to time. My players got involved in a game night set up, which was the reason I found myself going along with them to play 4e back in December. They invited me, and I took advantage. Since, they've been playing 4e every Wednesday night, typically 2-3 hour sessions. They play in my world every four weeks, for about 5-7 hours a session (we went 9 this past Saturday, until 3 am, which is very rare for me). All in all, they're getting more 4e time overall.

Now, I said this to them this past Saturday, but I don't know what they'll think about me posting this - so I want to emphasize, very strongly, that being relatively new to the role-playing game, my feelings are they don't know what is happening. But having played this game for decades, I can see it clearly.

4e is beginning to screw with their heads.

I don't mean in the sense that they think its a better game (they don't, really) or that they're just becoming familiar with another system that doesn't work in my intrinsically-modified AD&D system, and that the systems don't work the same. No, I mean that the way 4e compels the player to think is damaging the role-play conceptions they have of reality.

I'll give an example that is not the example that came up in my campaign on Saturday (sorry, that one is buried, get used to disappointment). In most games, fantasy, space opera, what have you, an attack is an 'attack.' That is, the attack is a deliberately imprecise mechanistic concept that the brain relates to by having to fill in the gaps of what is happening. I 'hit' with a sword, or I 'swing' my sword. What am I doing, exactly? Not specified. But in my mind I imagine slamming away with the object as hard, as fast, as desperately or acutely as possible, to drive through the enemy's defenses as best I can. I think of it as a human-driven action that derives from my imagination of the event. The die simply tells me if I was successful. But I don't think in terms of beating the die - I think in terms of swinging an actual sword. Because I am making believe in that specific way.

But 4e delineates everything to a flourishing move that has a descriptive narrative that the user must try to adhere his mind to, in order to accomplish the move, which really comes down to casting a magic spell with a sword. It removes the sensation of what's being done, typically with a description that is NOT easily reconcialable with normal behavior. If you and I were to get into a random street fight, this instant, with fence posts we snapped up from the ground, we would swing them and try to hit each other. That is the language we would use in our minds, and in telling the story afterwards, because that is how we conceive of those actions. We would NOT be thinking, "Aha! Now is the time for Full Discipline!"

To digress a bit, I think some of the 4e reasoning arose out of the Princess Bride, which I must explain was a book LONG before it was a movie, and while I like the movie reasonably well, the movie is absolute total shit compared to the book. Hm. Try this. If the book was you having spectacular sex with the woman of your dreams on a warm, empty beach facing the Caribbean Sea while a pitcher of mohitos sat a little up the beach waiting to be had when you're done, the movie would be paying two apes to enact the same scene, ending with pouring the mohitos over themselves and then eating sand. There'd be a similarity there, somewhere, but the experience wouldn't be the same.

That whole bit in the movie where the Man in Black and Inigo are discussing Bonetti's Defense and Capo Ferro was invented by William Goldman in the book ... and done only about ten thousand times better. I think that the people who inventd 4e loved that idea, that swordplay could have names attached to it, and they went whole hog on the idea. The only thing is, Goldman had been writing for films for some time (he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, All the President's Men, Marathon Man and A Bridge Too Far, explaining why you've never heard of him). He was making a joke (the book is a satire) about the bullshit moves that onstage/screen swordsmen use that makes it look like they're fighting, while not actually risking injury. In other words, he was trying to force the reader out of the idea that this sword play was real, by having the character Inigo learn each style as though it was the equivalent of getting a doctor's licence. It's subtle.

Getting back to the point, by pasting all these non-contextual phrasing on top of swinging a weapon and hitting with it, 4e succeeds in destroying much of the game's improvisational element. Players aren't able to conceive of what they're doing, they merely plug the baffle-gab techno-phasing into the event, which sounds cool, to produce the need to make die rolls that BECOME the purpose of the combat. The die rolls no longer stand in for what's happening ... what is actually happening is removed one step from the player and the die now becomes what the player is actually doing. I'm throwing dice. I'm not swinging my sword.

What this means is that the player loses the ability to superimpose his or her self into the situation. If I and my enemy are standing next to a puddle, and I say, I try to hit him with my sword so that he steps into the puddle, because I have a reason for it I don't want the DM to know, then I can think out of the box and argue my intent to do that. Ordinary D&D is open that way. But what the fuck, do I use a 'Tide of Iron' or a 'Reaping Strike'? As a DM, I can describe a combat anyway I wish, to get maximum value, I can say the player has cut the enemy's wrist and the enemy gamely goes on fighting, but with 4e I have to WAIT until the enemy is 'blooded.'

Ultimately, the word 'blooded' ceases to mean, the enemy has been cut, and begins to mean, "the enemy is past the post and rounding the backstretch for home." It's deliberately both inconsequential (for role-play) and undesirably precise (for combat measurement). It is like looking at the clock during a television show and figuring out how long it will take for the main character to get out of the fix he's in.

WORSE, it causes people who play a lot of 4e to treat all the aspects of ordinary D&D like mechanics. Too much 4e, and all the aspects of D&D become mechanistic in appearance - and application. So much so that over time, you're trying to make the character understand that they're in trouble, and all they're doing is measuring how many hits they can take with how much resource that's left vs. the enemy's combat potential. There is no thinking out of the box, because the box is rigid and set and vapid.

I'm watching it happen to two good characters, who are losing the sense of emotionally investing in the game.

I had never considered just how soulless the 4e option is.


I hate this term. If we could invent a tag for the recognition of stupid people, we couldn't do better than this.

First off, it's a troll term. Trolls use it. On the surface it is supposed to mean, "We have different experiences, so we're likely to have different opinions." Under the surface, however, it says, "Fuck your experience. I have MINE."

Secondly, it's a shyster's term. It was invented in the 1970s, during the oil crisis, when drivers suddenly got really interested in cars that could get a lot of mileage to the gallon, so much so that it became a deal breaker on buying a car. Because manufacturers wanted to still sell the cars they'd already built and designed, they wanted to make claims about mileage that were basically untrue ... but so they wouldn't get sued, they slapped 'your mileage may vary' after the ad's claim. Some lawyer dreamed up the argument that not every car that came off the line was guaranteed to be exactly like every other car, so sorry, poor you, you got the random dodge that still did 8 miles to the gallon, instead of the 16 mpg we advertised. Tough shit.

So, basically, it evolved as a term that meant, "We may actually be bullshitting you, but we'd like to pretend that what we're saying is true." That's just perfect for the typical troll out for a day on the net, who is more than ready to bullshit and back that shit up with a lawyer's trick. Well done you, fuckwit.

There is something really profound in cognitive dissonance that I think explains a lot of human history. Historians - in case you haven't met many - are absolutely Monday morning quarterbacks. They love to tell you how Hitler would have won the campaign in Russia or all the mistakes that Napoleon made, or why the Catholic Church really didn't slap Galileo around the Vatican and make him like it (he and the Pope were friends, don't you know?). Feminist Historians in particular are spectacular in this regard - none of the bad women in history ever did anything bad - it was all press and misunderstandings.  All of the moderately talented women in history were talented beyond all reason, it was just a sexist thing that kept them down. If there hadn't been any sexism in the world, George Sand wouldn't have been named George and her books would be hailed as the greatest literature humankind has yet to produce.

This need to rewrite the past or pretend things could have been different shows a complete failure in justifying poor human behaviour. The quarterback didn't make the brilliant pass because the quarterback was sad or distracted or unfairly challenged - not because he blew it. The tendency is to think the quarterback saw the opportunity to pass and was unable to throw it that way. As though every action we take, all day long, is a decision we are unable to make - due to our inability, not our choice.

Take these the same trolls who say, 'IMO' or 'IMHO' ... "Yes, jackwit, we know it's your opinion." In pulling another shyster trick, dodging the consequence for speaking their minds, they've dropped the IMO bomb to say, "I know I've completely ignored everything you've said, but we're all egalitarian here, so don't judge me." There's that dissonance again. "I want to say what I believe, but I don't want to be judged for it."

Tough shit. You are judged for it. I'll be honest here and say that I'm judging you. I think you're a fucking idiot. I think you lack the faith you ought to have in your convictions. I think you're weak. I think you're incapable of producing a meaningful argument. I think you're living in a bubble of self-love that deludes you. I don't think you matter.

Let me let you into a little secret. No one else does, either. And that hurts, doesn't it? It hurts to know that people think all the things I'm thinking, they just won't say it out loud. They don't take you seriously, either. And because they don't take you seriously, they won't hire you. Or give you a promotion. Or care if you can pay your rent. They won't care if they hurt you. They won't care, because you don't matter.

That's mean. But shit, brother, I got all kinds of people who are going way out of their way to hurt me. They're trying really, really hard. They're spending far more energy on trying to hurt me than they're spending on making their blogs worth reading or improving their lives.

If you want this game to be respected, the game has to be serious. If the game is ever going to be good, it has to be serious. Does the game need to be serious? Well, no. Of course not. But that doesn't matter. No game needs to be serious. They evolve that way because the people playing those games WANT the games to be serious. Over time, those wanting it to be serious, who are themselves serious, play the game longer, harder and more meaningfully that those who consider it a joke or a lark. Eventually, the people who take it seriously become the center of the community, and those who think it a lark are pushed more and more to the outside of the circle. Because those people, the frivolous people, DON'T MATTER. They have no effect on anything. They're there, but they're just bodies sucking air. Evolution simply erases them from the equation. Time passes, and those people get bored with all the seriousness, and they go away.

Whereas the serious people keep playing. And playing. And playing.

There is no variance in the mileage here. We're driving, and we're getting plenty of distance for the fuel we're using. Whereas the trolls, tourists and losers are in the passenger seat, whining about when we're going to get there. Like children. Who don't know what the hell is going on, because they're children.

Just shut the fuck up. We'll get there when we get there.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Day is Coming

I want some room to answer this comment from the last post, from Andrej. Andrej plays in my online campaign:

"Yet people can get together and play chess or cards intently and people can get together to rehearse and act out a play or musical performance together intently. What is it about RPG's, that enjoy some aspects the above those stated activities, that makes it harder. Do even the better run games just accept that RPG's are less serious stuff? Is it something else?"

People who play chess and bridge do so for the pure tactical elements of the game. Chess players, in my experience, tend to be anti-social in general when they're not playing, and the game does not demand they be social. Bridge players, on the other hand, tend to be VERY social when they're not playing ... social to the point where they don't need to bond and interact and be friendly because much of the rest of their lives consists of that; bridge is a rest away from chatter.

Actors performing in a play reherse seriously because they know the day is coming that the will have to stand in front of strangers and be judged. When someone at a rehearsal is less than serious, who clowns around too much, the director is there to stomp them, and the other actors will tacitly support the director out of the fear they have that come opening night, they'll look like idiots. If you go to an opening night and the play is bad, it is usually because a) the actors were not serious; or b) the director wasn't willing to stomp hard. A fellow I knew back in the 90s, who directed several plays and a couple of films, ultimately realized that he had to be willing to throw people off the set or out of the performance for nothing more than not showing up to rehearsal. He had tried to be understanding for years, and it just meant that the serious people couldn't rehearse because the non-serious people weren't there. Answer? Fire all non-serious people. No matter how much they cry, how much they whine, what excuses they have, etc. By the time I'd attended my last experience with this director, 12 years after his first getting his feet wet, his speech included the statement, "If your mother dies, and you are giving the Eulogy at her funeral, and you don't tell them to reschedule the funeral because it conflicts with this rehersal, you will not be in this play. If you are less than dead, and you do not wheel yourself in your wheelchair to a rehearsal, you will not be in this play. Get a friend to pick you up, get a gurney, do your fucking lines laying on your back staring at the ceiling - if you're not willing to do that, you will not be in this play."

These are the standards to which I conformed when I used to perform. These are the standards that all good performance companies meet. Just talk to a couple of ballet artists about the damage they do to their feet.

RPGers do not submit to this type of treatment, or these standards, because they DO NOT CARE THIS MUCH. It is that simple. The chess players I have known, and I have known many because I used to moonlight at a coffeehouse/bookstore that at the time was the center for chess in a city of a million people, live for the game. They work at their jobs so that they can feed themselves and have a home so they won't be interrupted in their desire to play. They will play with you, but they don't give a shit who you are, how much money you have, what you do for a living, if you're married, if you're educated, if you have children or if you're psychopathic. They definitely won't give a shit about you if you CAN'T PLAY. If you prove you can play, if you can make them sweat before they beat you, if you are good enough that you can win half the time, they will pronounce you a worthy human being who has the right to share their air. Everyone else is shit.

Bridge players are friendlier. They'll chat about the hands, they'll give advice, they'll make a comment or two about the outside world while they're shifting their hands, and often the dummy will mutter on about a story, usually to the player on the bidder's right. But there is some terrifically subtle etiquette in it all and if you underbid or overbid too frequently, if you get a reputation for it, players will speak of you snottily behind your back, rating you on the same level as homeless persons or wifebeaters. You may be allowed to play, but it will become quite clear that you will not be wanted, and this is a decision that will be remembered all the rest of their life and all the rest of your life. It won't be, "Nice enough, but she can't play." It will be, "Oh my god, don't mention her."

Why? Because these players don't care about people. They may give lip service to it, but at the core they are haughty, superior, judgemental and unforgiving ... and they care FAR, FAR more about the game than they do about people.

But then, both games, bridge and chess, have absolutes. There is an absolute win. There is an absolute lose. This makes it far easier to establish one's credentials, or to be rated, on ability. RPG's don't have anything as clear-cut as that.

Too, they've both had time, literally centuries, to establish social perameters about play. Both games can be played for money, but usually aren't, unlike poker or other assorted games that are tainted by the presence of people who either have problems with money or who ultimately are willing to cheat for money. People cheat at bridge or chess, but they do it for prestige ... and both games are hard to cheat at. Chess, because the good players never take their eyes off the board, and bridge, because it takes real wit to invent hands that no one has ever seen before. And bridge players remember hands. They remember hands from 15, 20 years ago. They can play them out for you, if you ask. Creating hand after hand from scratch, so you can look brilliant as a bridge player, would take more brains than it would to just get a lot better at playing bridge.

These centuries of development have included adapting new players to the standards the old players use. It means generation after generation of older players harumphing and clucking their tongues at young players who behave inappropriately, or hissing and even physically threatening people who won't shut up - with the full support of everyone in attendence, I might add.

Try to imagine a D&D game where the players acted like the tough chessplayers who meet at the park in downtown Manhattan everyday - who are not above putting a knife between your ribs for kibbitzing. Imagine a D&D player turning to another one and saying, "What the fuck do you mean you burn the barn down? Get your shit and get the fuck out. Do it now, or I swear to god you're doing it with a broken leg."

Imagine being at a convention and some guy passing by the table says, "You guys playing D&D, or what?" and your friend Joe standing up, looking at the stranger and saying, "Yeah. That's right. And we don't need motherfuckers like you opening your mouth and wrecking our veri-fucking-similitude. So why don't you take your pussy ass fifteen feet back and shut the fuck up."

Those days are coming. They're a couple of generations in the future, but they are coming. I think it's kind of funny-strange that people haven't yet grasped that all this back and forth about how serious the game is reflects the growing mood that for the game to be taken seriously, the players are going to have to get serious. We're a long way from that. There are still a lot of losers around who don't actually give a shit about role-playing, who are just tourists, just fuckers who are here to troll, not here to roll, who are taking advantage of the fact that the people who actually give a damn are still uncertain about what's allowed, what's expected or what we're allowed to say. But that ain't gonna be forever. Players in large numbers are going to get clear about what makes a good game, and what doesn't, and how the makers of the game have to bow out and shut the fuck up, just like any other kibbitzer.

The older players, the ones doing this for fifty, sixty years, won't need to "catch up" during games, because there's nothing left to catch up on. That's what age is like. They're gonna play very hard core games, and the young people 20 years from now are gonna see that in vids online and they're going to think, "SHIT, I want to play like that." And they're gonna turn to their buddies and say, "Hey, shut up, we're trying to get some role-playing done here."

Yeah. The day is coming. People just can't see it yet.

Friday, January 24, 2014


With regards to yesterday's post, I don't believe that there is an RPG equivalent to 'whitewater' ... at least, not in the sense that I or the gentle reader can watch a practitioner at a distance and think, "That's amazing!" The RPG is too intimate and too esoteric for that. One almost has to be in the game to understand the quality of the game master.

There are things I might look for - confidence, for one. A sense of humour that doesn't destroy the verisimilitude of the game. Judgements that encourage player respect. Self-deprecation. Compassion for the players mixed with an understanding that now and then a DM must be unsympathetic and tough-minded. On the whole, characteristics that are hard to pick up in an hour's conversation, much less at a distance.

Much of the resistance to a DMs ability or skill originates with the 'island' mentality of the game. Two hundred people do not play at the same time in the same game ... and if they did, the results would hardly bring the crowd together. I tried an experiment some years back where I ran a combat based on a poll, so that the choice with the highest number of votes would determine each character's action. Because I included some slightly stupid choices, such as the thief breaking off from the party and attempting to hide in shadows, the balance of the votes tended towards stupidity - I think probably because a group of uninvested persons did not care whether the characters lived or not. I think they wanted to see what would happen. I think, for outsiders, it is always that way. As outsiders, they don't identify with the characters around the table. They think, instinctively, "If that were me, I wouldn't do what he's doing."

It's funny that we have a whole film industry based on the premise that you will like this character because you identify with this character ... and yet in the real world we hardly ever identify with anyone. Conversations about other people tend to be about what's wrong with them, or occasionally how we would like to bed them or impress them. Rarely am I standing in a crowd at an office and hearing about how "John" is "just like me!" More likely, they'll say, "John's an idiot" or, more truthfully, "I wish John liked me."

Fan boys are the worst about this, being the sort that find fault with anything, no matter how desperately or craven the fault-finding is. Consider:

Accomplishment: Proved himself one of the best Air Force pilots
in the world; went to the moon; walked on it.
Fanboy Complaint: too stupid to speak English properly.

Accomplishment: Became the most popular candidate in two
American elections, to be voted by the majority as the most powerful
man in the world, despite the fact that he is black.
Fanboy Complaint:  he has big ears.

Accomplishment:  multi-talented, arguably the most widely-known
global celebrity in human history, with a personally earned
wealth in excess of a billion dollars.
Fanboy Complaint:  she's creepy.

Proving that it is possible to find fault with anyone or anything. The Fanboy's complaint against the kayaker who has learned to shoot the most dangerous rapids in the world is that they're an idiot for doing that. Against this sort of peanut gallery, there is no 'whitewater.' And presently, with regards to RPGs, the peanut gallery owns the theatre.

The Island structure of the game, however, means that it doesn't matter. The only meaningful opinion of anyone's ability to play the game is measured by people close enough to hit with a lamp cord. Anyone further away than that doesn't matter. Therefore, if your world has players that adore it, no matter what sort of game you run, you're met your quality targets. At least ... for as long as those players last.

It is harder for DMs who grow obsessed with the game, who come to realize as adulthood changes the social structure of their relationships, that player's DON'T last. Many is the DM out there who, in no way tired of the game, has watched the players wander off to become accountants, fathers, soldiers or foreign policy advisors, only to recognize they've run out of places where they can get players. How much the worse for them when they discover the 17-year-olds who loved their world were dumber than hammers, and that the new available player crop has a higher standard. And how many players would like another good game like the one they played in university ... but all the DMs these days are morons.

The critical moment comes when the world you've been playing in no longer exists, or when the world you've been running must now be compromised because you have only two players now, and math is an uphill struggle for both. The Island literally sinks below the waves ... and very often, the only rational solution is to give it up and quit playing in favor of giving a shit about the Superbowl. After all, you're 25 now. It's time to give up your infantile infatuations with a child's game and embrace the infantile infatuation with a child's sport. It's evolution.

There's a fellow I met last month who manages the local gaming group. He's in his 40s, he's clearly been playing for a long time, and he's proud of his ability to stay 'hip' and now. He's very excited about D&D Next and considers people who play 3.5 to be archaic and living in the dark ages. He plays 4e now. He's one of those fellows who cannot lay off warstories, even in the midst of running his own game. He enjoys his position of organizer because it means he can wander the seven or eight tables in session and interrupt the proceedings with advice, philosophy and, of course, more war stories. The players I know who attend these sessions weekly (some of them are in an offline campaign of mine) tell me he does this incessantly. Some may think this isn't relevant, but apparently his wife left him recently and he has admitted to many people (including me, within an hour of meeting him) that he's been depressed lately. There's no question that the game is a major social outlet for him.

Here, then, is something to think about when discussing people who have played this game all their lives. For many, it has nothing to do with the game. For them, the game's social premise is something that can be ignored, like a kibbitzer will at a chess game. The presence of other people is an opportunity to combat loneliness or promote one's importance. And the roleplaying game's open interactive framework is conducive to that. MUCH more conducive than it is to the insistence that players shut the fuck up and settle down to some serious play.

It is possible to recognize at a glance the quality of chess players by the intensity of their play. It isn't always so, but one does get to notice that if they're not speaking to each other, at all, it is probably because the game is more important than anything else in the world to them. I have personally experienced that level of intensity in D&D, but it could hardly be called as consistent as playing chess.

This brings back an old memory with which I'll end this post. When I was a kid, about nine years old, the gang of high-school teenagers down my street created a haunted house for Halloween one year. Their parents must have been indulgent, because they transformed the first floor of the house into a horrorscape, then charged kids who came in through the front door, walked along the designated pathway in a circle around four rooms, then out again. I don't remember much, except there was one scene that had a powerful effect on me.

It was four 'men' playing poker. Four of the boys were sitting absolutely still, as still as mannequins. I recognized them. They were dressed as cowboys, with guns, hats, mustaches and expressions of murderous will. I'll never forget how angry they looked. To get past them, we had to go really close, and squeeze between one of the chairs and the wall, and we were told in a hissing whisper before trying it, "Don't touch them! They'll freaking kill you." Being nine, we believed it. It was terrifying, being that close, and feeling that at any moment they'd suddenly jump up and shoot us full of holes. The effect was powerful. There was no question in our minds about how serious these players were.

I was young. I'd probably look at the scene now and laugh. But I totally bought into it at the time.

Role-playing would really be something if it were like that. Like gamblers playing for life and death stakes, with guns on their hips, ready to shoot. Where it took nerve just to sit down and start playing. Where the players had their hearts in their throats.

Yes, that would really be something.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Recently, it was made clear to me just how ... weak was the game of Pathfinder, which from the comments on this post, seems to be overloaded with the possibility for lone adventurers to heal towns at will. It's well known that 4e suffers from a similar rule-design. It's very clear how video games, which are based on the premise of indefeatable protagonists (once the user has adjusted to the new platform), have influenced not only role-playing games, but the mind-sets of players. Having said that, I'll now speak as a nearly 50 year old man and say, "Jeez, these kids are fucking soft today."

Well, perhaps. There certainly seems to be a connection between not wanting to die - EVER - and weakness of character. Realistically, however, its only that video began to conceive that it was no fun to start over again a hundred times in an afternoon. Making a game hard seemed like the right thing to do, but if there's no real need to get good at it, then why do that?

I feel like I'm flailing a bit. A video game, or an RPG, is generally deemed a past-time. It is designed to pass time. Time is passed more pleasurably if one is having fun (and I mean that in this case), and having an image die on the screen, and having to return to the beginning and do it all again, isn't much fun. Comparatively, playing an RPG on a given evening is more fun if it isn't messed over by having characters die - and it was only natural that this would be the complaint players made to marketing departments looking to 'fix' the game. It is the most obvious complaint. "We're not having any fun because our characters are always dying."

Well, the cultural insistence that fun be a priority is evil, but let's not beat that drum right now.

The long and short of it is that RPG's are not perceived as something you get 'better' at. You sit, you play, you win, you die, you get treasure, you do it at a series of tables over a series of years and on the whole, you have a good time but you don't get better. You get more familiar with the rules, you learn the patterns of power-grading, you get familiar with all the character types and mostly the strategies, but it all seems like memory work, NOT skill. It's like, you may remember a lot of the actors from the films you watch, and you may be able to name thousands of films now that you've seen, but on the whole, you're not a better film-watcher. You're a better film-detractor, but the actual watching part, you do that with the same eyes you used twenty years ago ... and you do it sitting next to some kid who hasn't even lived that long. Same goes for RPGs ... and it seems there's nothing in the game that says, "If you don't become more skilled, you can't do this thing that other RPGers can do."

It isn't like, say, kayaking.

When you start with a kayak, on a pond, or on a smooth lake, you're well aware that you're not ready to be out in this kayak when the wind whips up. You may think about paddling on a river, so long as it's a very slow one. You're not ready to shoot rapids. Over and over you roll and face plant into the water, proving how helpless you are. You're an idiot at kayaking, no question about it.  And when you look at your teacher showing you enders and popups and squirts, you have no doubts in your mind who is better at kayaking here. There isn't the glimmer of delusion. Your teacher is skilled.  You're a noob.

If you care about kayaking, if you like it, you  learn that if you want to do any playboating on wild white water, you'll have to beat your body to pieces. It is going to be fucking HARD. It is going to bruise you, all over. You're going to suffer. And no one, not a soul, is going to make you do it. They may help, they may give advice, but if you're going to get this skill you don't have, it's all going to be because you're driven.

At some point in the future, you may get to have some fun . . . but for several months first, you're going to look like a moron.  Other kayakers are going to laugh and make jokes at your feeble attempts and you're going to want to quit every gawdamn day. Facts are, if you get better, it will happen because you couldn't stop trying. Someday, you'll tell others, "Yeah, I thought about quitting hundreds of times ... but something in me just kept pushing me forward. I kept coming back to it no matter how awful it felt or how impossible it seemed."

These are NEVER phrases associated with role-playing games. The reason is obvious. Kayaking is fucking hard. Role-playing seems, comparatively, stupidly easy.

I'm saying the players of RPGs don't imagine themselves depending on skills, not like kayakers. That is because the goalposts for getting better at kayaking are more obvious than RPGs. It is plain in a couple of seconds of watching who is a good kayaker and who is a bad one. Not so much with RPGs. A bad DM, or a bad player, looks like anyone else. It only becomes obvious when the DM has clearly gotten unhinged during a game or begins to display behavior that is willful, inconsiderate or obtuse. It only becomes obvious with players when they demonstrate themselves to be manipulative, abusive or poor losers. If a marketing company sits down with a bunch of random RPGers and says, "What would make the game better," there's no way to tell what kind of player is being asked. If a marketing company wants to know how to make a better kayak, that's no problem. There's a professional kayaker's association; there are kayakers who compete at world competitions.

In other words, if we mean to ask kayakers for advice, we're going to get advice from competent kayakers. If we ask RPGers for advice, the chances soar astronomically that some of that advice is going to come from complete morons. But the marketers will never, ever know.

There is a skill to playing the game. There is decidedly a skill to running the game. But it is impossible at this time to tell who has skill, and who does not. Moreover, we know that many players have spent their whole lives playing in bad games. For many players, a 'bad game' is the 'right game.' It is the game they know. Any other game seems 'wrong' by definitiion, because it would have to be different. And different, at first, is always bad. Different only becomes good when people grow used to it.

Now, we are adjusting tens of thousands of players to the idea that games like Pathfinder or 4e are 'good games.' They have been programmed to think these games are good, because that is how they have spent their time. There are no markers for them to reckon the value of the games, or their own skills within the game, as there is no outward sign that proves either (such as there is with kayaking). So they invent markers. They invent the markers that seem best suited to the game they've been programmed to like. It is as though I were to argue that my kayak is red. Red kayaks are obviously better than blue kayaks. Therefore, I am a great kayaker because I understand that red is better.

This has been going on a long time. It is going to go on a great deal longer. There isn't going to be any acknowledgement of actual skill in RPGs until someone recognizes that to be skilled will mean working. At present, there's nothing obvious that one is expected to work at ... and there's a loud chorus screaming pedantically that WORK is anathema to gaming. "You're an idiot if you work at this! AN IDIOT!"

Yep. Just like that first idiot who looked at a deadly run of white water and thought, "I bet I can take a one-man Eskimo boat down that and live. Water like that would destroy a canoe." Why he did that, who knows. But when he was done, and lived, I'm sure he thought, "Gawddamn. Bet I'll do it better next time, though."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Trade Process

I am not ordinarily the type to talk about my dreams, and I don't like to listen to others tell theirs. They don't make good stories and people over-describe what seemed to happen. I usually employ an agreement where they must tell me the circumstances of their dream in three sentences or less. I believe I'm going to break that rule and use four.

I was playing a violent game of hockey. The game paused long enough for the officials to clean the ice of blood, whereas I and a teammate went outside into the Southern California hinterland. There, I spent some time explaining to my curious companion the vegetative qualities of the chaparral and the manner in which the sun changes aspect with reference to the earth, producing the seasons. Then we returned to the violence of our hockey game.

The dream is so me. I don't play hockey anymore, but when I was young, I did, and violently. I took the part of a defenseman enforcer, not great on skills and finesse, but mean and energetic. This should surprise no one.

The other half of the dream, though, that speaks to something I love more; I love explaining things, answering questions, getting people to know something they didn't know. I feel that everyone should know what chaparral is, even if they've never seen it, even if they're never going to see it. And the change of seasons is just damn cool. I'm aware many people don't 'get it,' they can't picture the way the earth moves, or they didn't pay attention in school and no one has actually bothered to explain it to them since.

So why wasn't I a teacher? Honestly, it's because teachers are allowed to educate only upon very rigid lines and in rigid subjects, to a select number of persons yearly. I didn't like the idea of anyone peering over my shoulder, deciding what subjects to which I should limit myself. No, no, the preferred profession was writer ... which I am, and which allows me to be unlimited in my choice of subject. Potentially unrestricted, too, in the number I can reach.

Yesterday's post was of little interest to many readers, no doubt. Economics is not a major role-playing game driver, and my particular take is unwieldy for most and apparently purposeless. Why not just make numbers up? Still, a number of people did show an interest, and this post in particular is being written to answer the questions of one who commented on my facebook yesterday.

The arc of adding a market to the trade system is a multi-step process. This is a good thing, as when I get tired of working on one step, I proceed to another, and slowly work my way around the world one region - and one task - at a time. I don't think I've ever written down the full arc before, so honestly there's something pleasant in doing so, even if it bores three quarters of my audience stupid.

1) Research the encyclopedia. This is the stage at which the references quoted on yesterday's spread sheet are obtained. I'll post a small example from the encyclopedia, to give a feel for what data is being parsed:

PLYEVEN, a city, formerly known as Pleven, in north Bulgaria, the capital of the district of Pleven. The city is located on the important Sofia to Varna road, and is connected with the city of Somovit on the Danube, about 25 mi. to the north. It is an important Turkish commercial center. It has a large textile factory, and is a market for wine and livestock. Pop., 38,997.

There are five references here. Plyeven's commerce is mentioned twice, so it counts as 2 references for market. I use 'cloth' instead of textile (sounds more Medieval), while wine and livestock are plain. This is recorded, along with any other references to Plyeven's economy that might occur on some other encyclopedia entry, then I move on to the next location.

Here are a partial list of locations in South America that I haven't yet looked at:

... Managua, Manaus, Manizales, Manzanillo, Maracaibo, Maracaibo, Maranon, Mar del Plata, Marianao, Marie Galante, Martinique, Masaya, Matanzas, Mato Grosso, Mayan Architecture, Mazatlan, Medellin, Mendoza, Mercedes, Mercedes, Mercedes, Merida, Mesopotamia, Mexico, Mexico Federal District of, Mexico Gulf of, Mexico City, Minas Gerais, Mollendo, Mona Passage, Monterrey, Montevideo, Montserrat, Morelia, Mosquito Coast, Nassau, Natal, Netherlands West Indies, Nevis, New Granada, Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Niteroi, Neuvo Leon, North America, Oaxaca, Orinoco, Orizaba, Orizaba, Oruro, Ouro Preto, Pachuca, Paita, Pampa La, Pampas, Panama, Panama Canal, Panama City, Para, Paraguari, Paraguay, Paraguay, Paraiba, Paramaribo, Parana, Parana, Paranagua, Paricutin, Parnaiba, Pasto, Patagonia, Paysandu, Pelee Mount, Pelotas ...

At present, I don't know what might be included in any of these places. It is still a mystery. By the way, to get this list, I went through the encyclopedia page by page some 17 years ago.

2) Add the data to the Sources document, the one posted yesterday. This step doesn't need much explanation. Usually I record the actual material in word before adding the information to excel.

3) Identify cities. Using the map from the Collier's Enyclopedia, I create a list of cities that needs to be researched in order to identify if they existed or not in 1650, how many times they were destroyed or diseased (affects the present population), and who is in possession of the city at the time of my world. For an area like Spain, this would be upwards of 700 places. I also obtain the latitude, longitude and elevation for these cities from a website called The reader can find the Spain Cities Workbook on my wiki, if they want to take a look. I haven't finished gathering all the location numbers for these, but they've been researched.

Cities that are not in existence are removed from the map AND from the sources document. Cities that are mentioned in the Sources document (and from the Encyclopedia) but do not show on the Collier's map are combined with the region in which the city lies. Thus, if there is a town named Vuy in Provence, and it does not show on the map, then Vuy's produce is transferred to Provence in general, to simplify it. The alternative would be to create Vuy on the map, and since there are many, many of these places (A single French department may mention up to ten such locations) it would only increase the general workload. One draws the line somewhere.

4) Create the regional map. I still have the series of images I created on the blog for Switzerland long ago when I mapped that area. The purpose of the map, apart from contributing to the running, is to establish a consistent measure for the distance relationship of one city to another. Since the map is measured in hexes, and the trade system is based on the number of hexes (and elevation) separating cities, the map is essential. Because the map is multi-purpose, I complete it entirely before moving onto the next step. There are also reasons why this is helpful, as elements that matter in the distance measurement includes the existence of rivers, other towns, where the highest hexes are and so on.

There are plenty of examples of my maps around.

5) Update the cities table. This is the other table shown on the wiki link above, the one that says "Cities 19feb13." This is a list of all the cities I've researched to date that have been finalized, plus some notes here and there on other tabs. The population for the regions is based upon the individual adjusted population for the cities compared to the population in 1952. Some of the regions have the area measured in hexes; I haven't settled down to do nothing but count hexes in quite a while. It isn't that important, but there are reasons to do so that have a relationship to the character generator. That's another story.

6) Draw roads. The roads are the actual representation of the distances between trading cities. A trade city is defined according to whether or not there is a market there, such as there is at Plyeven. I only record the distances between trade cities, those establishing the price for goods for the region they are in. These road distances are recorded on the nightmarish distance maps ... also included on the wiki link, as "Central," "East" and "West." This helps me build the total distance calculation between cities, which is based on the shortest distance between two trade cities.

7) Actual distance table is created. These tend to be immense ... and they are obsolete almost as soon as I create them. I've included one on the wiki link called "Group 03_HOM to MOD_21jan12" - which tells the last time I created one. Warning: if you don't set your iterations to 1, you'll get a circular warning error the moment you open the page. I described how that's done here, but that may not be useful if you have a different operating system than me.

I say obsolete because I only generate the page so that I can steal the meaningful data from it. These are calculation pages, which run the numbers until they stabilize and give me the answers I need. I'm not a computer programmer, I don't understand macros, so I have to do it this way, which is a work around that doesn't actually take much time. The relevant data on the table is highlighted orange.

Every time I add a new market city to the table, not only do I have to calculate that city's distance from every other city, but I have to calculate every other city's distance from the new city. That means, with some 600+ trade cities so far, one new city means 1200 new distance calculations. And since I tend to add multiple cities all at one time, that means tens of thousands of calculations to add the 30 to 60 cities I add at a go. That's the reason I haven't done this since 2012. I only want to do it when I really have every new place I want to incorporate, as I don't want to go through this process monthly.

8) The distances are combined in the All Zones table. This is the most critical table in my whole trade system. The table has been included, as well, in the wiki link. The first tab, Market Provinces, shows the distance between the trade cities (side column A) from the 'zones' represented by other trade cities (top row 1). Some zones have multiple trade cities, but only the nearest trade city in that zone is relevant to this table. Thus, Gilead (Jordan) transports out of Amman and Aqaba - but those cities nearest to Amman import from Amman, and those nearest to Aqaba import from Aqaba. The actual distances inside the trade zone are discounted for marketing purposes (again, gotta draw the line somewhere).

By copying any line off this tab, I can then paste it on the 'Input Distance' tab. This tab, you will note, has a yellow line at the top; the numbers from the first tab must be pasted as values only on that yellow line, where they are then calculated against the source references listed below. These references come from the MASTER tab of the source document I posted yesterday. The numbers here are then divided by the distance and recorded on the 'Calculation' tab of the All Zones file. Take a moment to compare the population of Croft divided by the distance between Croft and whatever line of numbers you've chosen to copy over. For example, if I grab Sarajevo in Bosnia and paste it on the yellow line of the Input Distance tab, the Calculation tab adds 1 to every number (so there is no dividing by zero) and the population of Croft is divided by 105.1 hexes (the distance between Croft and Sarajevo). Answer: 3,197 persons in Croft affect the economy of Sarajevo.

This is done for every single item described in the previous post, from markets to turtles. The totals are listed in green on the Calculation tab.

9) Transfer the All Zones totals to the Prices Table. This, finally, is also on the wiki link. I cut and paste the green highlighted numbers onto the 'Input Data' tab of the Prices Table (again, as VALUES). Instantly, new prices are generated on the 'Market Display' tab.

The process to generate a brand new market from the All Zones data, starting from grabbing a city of choice, copying those numbers, grabbing the result, posting it on the Input Data tab of the Prices table, takes less than 30 seconds. It takes longer to transfer the numbers to another computer, or onto the net, than it takes to generate them.

I hope that explains the process straight through, at least in general.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Coming Up Empty

Allow me to ask a simple question. I know that many readers say they go back to old materials and, quote, "always find something new there." Are there people out there who find themselves going back to old materials, and are realizing there's nothing left there?

UPDATE: I'm getting no answers, so I suppose I must be the only one.

Source Work

For about a month now I've been diligently reformatting my Sources table so that it could be made small enough, and clear enough, to include on my wiki. It can now be downloaded. It is 5 megs in size, down from the 20 meg nightmare it was before, and is organized by both region and production.

To remind some readers, the numbers included in the Source document are references from a 1952 Colliers Encyclopedia describing what goods and services are produced in what locations. The Encyclopedia, as might be expected, does not give numbers for how much is produced, only that the thing is produced. My trade system is based on the supposition that the more times a thing is mentioned, the more valuable it is. Thus, if gold were mentioned (as the source document says) 237 times, and coffee mentioned 78 times, Then all the gold in the world is worth 237/78 = 3.038 times as much as coffee. From that, I then obtain the total amount of gold produced, and the total amount of coffee produced, and divide each by the value of gold that each particular resource is worth, and that gives me a base price. I have gone into this before, at this much linked post, so I'll forego doing it again now. Just now I want to talk about the Source document itself.

It's too massive to offer any images here - the reader will simply have to download it and follow along. The table includes areas that I have lifted from the Encyclopedia thus far. Areas not included would be all of the New World, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and Oceania. Everything else has been surveyed and is part of this table. I'm going to make a push this year to try to survey everywhere else if possible, but it is dry work and I tend to leave off it for a year or two at a time. Try to imagine doing projects that you leave off for multiple years, only to come back and then finish them. I've been working on this version of my trade system since 1998.

Total references thus far: 31,257. It is probable that the references-equals-value ideal would be completely flawed, except that I'm working with an immense data base. I've literally pulled references from thousands of cities, regions, rivers, lakes, valleys, deserts and so on ... and with SO many references, it is possible to get a general sense of what was considered important in 1952. That date is relevant, because it is more than 60 years ago now, and speaks of an age untouched by computers, high tech, world-wide communications or air transport, and a phenomenal amount of trade infrastructure that we now take for granted. Being much closer to the actual desired represented period, the 17th century, I get a better picture from the old encyclopedia of local economies than I would were I working from, say, Wikipedia.

If you are looking at the document, you will see that the Master tab contains the complete references, organized by region. The 2nd row contains the total references for all the products. Column A would be the various Kingdoms, where as column B would be the regional trade zones. Each column B can be found in the other tabs - for example, the first Kingdom/Zone, Altslok/Croft, can be found on the North Asia tab, right at the top. There the breakdown of the references in that region shows that goods and services are collected from places called Croftshelm, Rithdome, Roth and Rothering. It may be assumed that anything with a population figure is a region, whereas other locations are likely cities. Most geographical features are distinguished as such. Rivers are referred to as 'basins,' as in the Rhine Basin. Altslok, incidentally, is an invented name for places in the Altai Mountains - these would be the dwarven names, since I have removed the real world human population from that region and replaced with with dwarves. Everything has then been renamed, and it is the D&D names that I use. I've got them so well memorized now, I sometimes have trouble remembering what the real world names are.

On the master page, it should be noted that there are two sections below line 566 where the regions have a different color, where the Ottoman Empire is listed again, and where it shows 'kingdoms' like Africa, America, China, etc. These pink areas have had their references designed, but are not yet actually incorporated into the trade 'system' that I use for my game. These areas are 'on hold.' The small group from line 568 to line 573 are ready to be added, as the maps have been made. Those on lines 575 and down have no maps to enable them to be added. Thus, the Spanish Empire between lines 450 and 494 (colored blue to indicate sub-kindoms) does not actually at this time include the Iberian Peninsula. Ah well, we do what we can. All the trade zones that have not been added are broken down on the 'World' tab.

Likewise, the Holy Roman Empire (details on the H.R.E. tab), from lines 86 to 181, also shows the sub-Kingdoms on the Master tab.

The goods and services on the top line are not listed alphabetically, but in order of the type of resource they are. The order is actually determined by the United Nations International Statistics Yearbook code, for that was the resource I turned to in order to get a basis for how much 'stuff' was made. The yearbook has numbers for clothing, tools, emery, furniture ... anything you'd want, mostly, except for gemstones. Gemstone world production totals are not published. Want to guess why?

From columns ACX going right, the production was obtained from the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization Yearbook, and it is because of this yearbook that 'melons' are included under 'vegetables.' I'm perfectly aware that melons aren't vegetables, but for production purposes the FAO includes them as such, for reasons they must have regarding the actual production of such things. Many of the parts of this table will seem irrational that way - such as the inclusion of 'chicory' with 'coffee.' The gentle reader must recognize that there isn't one item anywhere on this list that appears where it does without a REASON. Nothing is an oversight. Every single item has been vetted, researched and considered for reasons of production, world trade, its relationship to other items and its 17th century value of purpose. I'll explain anything that is asked after, but I request please that an accusation not be made about some error I seem to have made. There is more in this table than is dreamed of in Horatio's imagination.

One issue would be the apparent duplication of products. For example, in the cereals group from columns ADA to ADK, 'cereals' has its own column, which is then included under the ADL, 'Total cereals.' This is because the encyclopedia did not designate which cereals a region produced when it gave the reference ... and being a deliberate sort of person, I have included the separate 619 references that were not so designated. This also happens with things like 'smelting,' 'fish,' 'livestock,' 'alchemy,' 'foodstuffs' and a host of others. There is a way I manage these generalized products in the final trade table, in which they are distributed according to what is determined to be the primary goods or services that are available in that part of the world.

No doubt I've forgotten something. I'm sorry it can't be simpler. The world just isn't a simple place. I trust that people will get something out of the basic material. The very least would be a list of all the things that are included. Here they are alphabetically:

Adamantite, African oak, Agate, Alabaster, Alchemy, Alexandrite, Alfalfa, Alloys, Almandine, Almonds, Aloe, Alum, Amber, Amber jewelry, Amethyst, Amontillado sherry, Anchovies, Angora, Anise, Antelope horn, Antimony, Antimonysmelting, Apple brandy, Apples, Apricots, Aquamarine, Arak, Arbutus, Armagnac brandy, Armor, Arrack, Arrowroot, Arsenic, Artichokes, Artworks, Asafoetida, Asparagus, Aspen, Asti spumante, Attar of roses, Avocadoes, Azulejos, Azurite, Bacon, Badocsony wine, Bamboo, Bananas, Banking, Barbel, Barges, Barley, Barrels, Barum ware, Basalt, Baskets, Beads, Beans, Bear paws, Bearskins, Beaujolais, Beech, Beef, Bells, Berries, Beryl, Betel nuts, Birch, Birdcages, Bismuth, Bitter salt, Black bread, Black coral, Black currant liqueur, Black marble, Black powder, Black wine, Blackberries, Blackwood, Blankets, Bleach, Bloodstone, Blue quartz, Boatbuilding, Bobbins, Bonecarving, Bonito, Bookbinding, Boots & shoes, Borax, Boric acid, Bottles, Boxes, Boxwood, Bracelets, Brandywine, Brass, Brasswares, Bread, Breadfruit, Bream, Brewing, Bricks, Bristles, Brittany horses, Brocade, Bromine, Bronze, Bronzewares, Brooms, Brown marble, Brownstone, Brushes, Buckets, Buckles, Buffalo, Building stone, Butter, Buttons, Cabbages, Cabinet-making, Cacao, Cairngorm, Cakes, Calabar beans, Calico cloth, Cambric, Camelhair, Camels, Camembert, Cameos, Camphor, Canaries, Canary sack, Candles & wax, Cannon, Cantaloupes, Canvas, Carbon black, Cardamon, Carnations, Carnelian, Carobs, Carobwood, Carp, Carpentry, Carpets, Carriages, Carroubes, Carts, Cashews, Cassavas, Cassia, Castor beans, Castor oil, Casuarina, Catechu, Catfish, Cat's eye, Cattle, Cauliflower, Caviar, Cedar, Cellos, Cement, Ceramics, Cereals, Chablis, Chabrieres wine, Chain, Chalcedony, Chalk, Chamomile, Champagne, Charcoal, Cheddar cheese, Cheese, Cherries, Chestnut, Chestnuts, Chianti wine, Chickens, Chickpeas, Chicory, China, Chocolate, Chromium, Chrysoprase, Cider, Cinchona, Cinnamon, Cinnamon leaf oil, Cipollina marble, Citrine, Citronella oil, Citrons, Citrus, Civet, Clementines, Clockmaking, Cloisanne, Cloth, Clothing, Clover, Clover seed, Cloves, Coal, Coats, Cob apples, Cobalt, Cobaltsmelting, Cochineal, Coconut oil, Coconuts, Cod, Cod-liver oil, Coffee, Coffins, Cognac, Coir, Colza, Combs, Common opal, Confectionary, Copal, Copper, Coppersmelting, Coppersmithing, Copra, Coral, Coriander, Cork, Cormorants, Corsets, Corundum, Cosmetics, Cotton, Cotton cloth, Cotton goods, Cottonseed, Cottonseed oil, Crabs, Crayfish, Cream, Crimson marble, Crockery, Cryptomeria, Crystal, Cucumbers, Cumin, Currants, Curtains, Cuttlefish, Cypress, Daffodils, Dairying, Dalbergia, Damascene, Damask, Darekh, Dates, Deer & elk horn, Dhows, Diamond, Diamondcutting, Dimsum, Distilling, Dogs, Dolls, Dolomite, Donkeys, Doors, Dorset butter, Draft horses, Drapery, Dresses, Dried fish, Dried fruit, Dried meat, Drugget goods, Dry peas, Ducks, Dyestuffs, Eau de Cologne, Ebony, Edam, Edible bird's nests, Eels, Eggplants, Elaeocarpus, Elephants, Elixer de Spa, Embroidery, Emerald, Emery, Enamelware, Engraving, Equisetifolia, Ermine, Espadrilles, Esparto grass, Esparto ware, Eucalyptus, Euphorbia, Ewe's milk cheese, Faience, Fans, Felt, Felt boots, Felt caps, Fighting cocks, Figs, Figurines, Filbert nuts, Files, Fir, Fire opal, Firecrackers, Fish, Fish fins, Fish hooks, Fish meal, Flags, Flannel, Flatfish, Flatware, Flax, Flint, Flounder, Flour, Flowers, Fodder, Foodstuffs, Fowl, Fox furs, Frankincense, Freestone, Freshwater fish, Friezes, Fruit brandy, Fruits, Fur clothing, Furnishings, Furniture, Furs, Garlic, Garnet, Geese, Gem carving, Gemcutting, Ghee, Gin, Ginger, Gingerbread, Ginseng, Glassware, Glazed fruit, Gloves, Glue, Goats, Goatskins, Gold, Gold filigree, Gold inlay, Goldsmithing, Gooseberries, Gorgonzola, Goshenite, Gouda, Gowns, Gram, Grand Chartreuse, Granite, Grapefruit, Grapes, Greenstone, Grey-pink marble, Griffs, Grindstones, Grossular, Groundnuts, Gruyere, Guano, Guavas, Gudgeon, Guipure lace, Gum, Gum Arabic, Gum benzoin, Gum mastic, Gum tragacanth, Gutta-percha, Haddock, Hake, Halibut, Handkerchiefs, Harari, Harpsichords, Harris tweed, Hats, Hawk's eye, Hay, Hazelnuts, Healing earth, Heliodor, Hematite, Hemp, Hemp goods, Henna, Herring, Hessonite, Hides, Honey, Hops, Horn, Horn carving, Horn combs, Hornbeam, Horses, Hosiery, Hushhash, Hyacinths, Incense, Indigo, Ink, Iodine, Iroko, Iron, Iron flowers, Ironmongery, Ironwood, Ivory, Ivory carving, Jade, Jade carving, Jasper, Jelutong, Jet, Jeweled daggers, Jewelry, Juniper berries, Jute, Kaffir, Kanku, Kaolin, Kapok, Karakul, Kenaf, Kendyr, Kid gloves, Kid leather, Kirschwasser, Knives, Kokura-ori, Kola nuts, Kumiss, Kutani, La Rioja wine, Lac, Lace, Lacquerware, Lamb, Lamp oil, Lamprey, Lamps, Lapidary, Lapis lazuli, Larch, Lard, Laurel, Lavender, Lead, Leadsmelting, Leadsmithing, Leathercraft, Lemons, Lenses, Lentils, Leopards, Leopardskin, Lichee nuts, Licorice, Lilies, Lily roots, Limberger, Limes, Limestone, Linen, Linen Goods, Ling, Lingerie, Linseed, Linseed oil, Liqueur, Lithographic stone, Livestock, Lobsters, Locks, Looms, Loquats, Lotus, Lowestoft ware, Lungen, Lye, Lynx furs, Mackerel, Madder, Madiera wine, Magnesite, Mahogany, Maize, Majolica, Malachite, Malaga wine, Malt, Malvoisie wine, Mandarin oranges, Manganese, Mangoes, Mangrove wood, Manuscript illumination, Manzanilla wine, Maraschino cherries, Marble, Marbles, Marigolds, Markets, Marsala wine, Masonry, Mats, Mavasia wine, Meat, Medicinal plants, Meerschaum, Mees wine, Melanite, Melons, Mercury, Metalsmithing, Milk, Milk of Magnesia, Millet, Mineral water, Minting, Mirrors, Mistletoe, Mithril, Mlombwa, Mninga, Mohair, Mohair cloth, Molybdenum, Montona wine, Moonstone, Morganite, Moroccan leathercraft, Mosaics, Moss agate, Mother-of-pearl, Mother-of-pearl inlay, Mules, Mullet, Murex, Muscatel, Mushrooms, Music scripting, Musical instruments, Musk, Muskmelons, Muslin, Muslin goods, Mussels, Mustard & sauces, Mustard seed, Mutton, Myrrh, Nails, Narcissi, Navagu, Necklaces, Nectarines, Needles, Nets, Nickel, Nickelsmelting, Niter, Noodles, Nutgall, Nutmeg, Oak, Oatmeal, Oats, Obsidian, Ocher, Oilseed, Olive oil, Olives, Onions, Onyx, Opium, Oranges, Organs, Ornaments, Ostrich feathers, Ostriches, Otter furs, Ovens, Oysters, Ozocerite, Paint, Palm nuts, Palm oil, Palms, Pans, Papayas, Paper, Paper lanterns, Paper products, Papier-mache, Paprika, Papyrus, Parasols, Parchment, Parmagiano, Parquet stone, Patchouli, Pates, Pates de foie gras, Peaches, Peanut oil, Pearl, Pears, Peas, Peat, Pepper, Peppermint, Peppers, Perch, Percheron horses, Perfume, Peridot, Perigord truffles, Perilla seed, Perry, Persimmons, Petrified wood, Pewter, Pewterware, Phosphorus, Piassava, Pig iron, Pike, Pilchard, Pilsener beer, Pimentos, Pine, Pineapples, Pistachios, Pitch, Plantains, Plaster, Platinum, Playing cards, Ploughs, Plum brandy, Plums, Plush, Podo, Podocarpus, Poison, Pollan, Pomegranates, Pongee, Ponies, Pont l'eveque cheese, Poppies, Poppyseed, Population, Porcelain, Pork, Porphyry, Port, Posts, Potatoes, Pots, Pottery, Poultry & eggs, Prase, Prayer carpets, Precious opal, Precision tools, Presses, Prickly Pears, Prunes, Pulses, Pumice, Pumpkins, Pumps, Pyrope, Qat, Quality swords, Quartz, Quicklime, Quinine, Rabbits, Racehorses, Radishes, Raffia, Raisins, Ramie, Rapeseed, Rapeseed oil, Raspberries, Rattan, Red Leicester cheese, Red pepper, Red sandstone, Red-stamp ink, Redwood, Refined sugar, Reindeer, Resin, Rhodochrosite, Rhodolite, Rhodonite, Rhubarb, Ribbon, Rice, Roach, Robes, Rope, Rosaries, Rose quartz, Roses, Rosewood, Rosin, Rough fiber cloth, Rough fibers, Ruby, Rum, Rye, Sable, Sacks, Saddles, Safflower seed, Saffron, Sago, Sailcloth, Sake, Sal, Sal ammoniac, Salmon, Salon, Salt, Salted duck, Samovars, Sandalwood, Sandles & slippers, Sandstone, Santonin, Sapphire, Saragoca, Sardine oil, Sardines, Satin, Satinwood, Sauerkraut, Sausage, Saws, Scissors, Sculpture, Sea ivory, Sea slugs, Sealskin, Seaweed, Seed oil, Senna, Serge, Sesame seed, Sesame seed oil, Shad, Shark, Shark fins, Shark-liver oil, Shawls, Shea butter, Shea nuts, Sheep, Sheepskin, Sheepskin coats, Shellac, Shellfish, Sherry, Ship rigging, Shipbuilding, Shrimp, Siege Engines, Siliphium, Silk, Silk cloth, Silk goods, Silver, Silver filigree, Silver inlay, Silversmithing, Sisal, Skins, Slate, Slaves, Smelting, Smoked ham, Smoking pipes, Snakeskin, Snow leopard furs, Snuff, Soap, Soda ash, Sorghum, Soybean oil, Soybeans, Spessartite, Spices, Spinel, Sponges, Spruce, Squeeze boxes, Stained glass, Starch, Stilton cheese, Stonecarving, Straw goods, Straw hats, Strawberries, Strega, Sturgeon, Sugarbeets, Sugarcane, Sugared almonds, Sulphur, Sunflower seed, Sunflower seed oil, Sweet potatoes, Swine, Swords, Syenite, Tablecloths, Talc, Tamarind seed, Tamarisk, Tangerines, Tapestries, Tapioca, Taro root, Tartans, Tea, Teak, Teak oil, Teff & tucusso, Tents, Terra cotta, Thatch, Tiger eye, Tigerskin, Tilapia, Tiles, Timber, Tin, Tinsmelting, Tinsmithing, Tobacco, Tokay wine, Tomatoes, Tonic, Tools, Topaz, Topazolite, Tortoise shell, Tortoise shell carving, Tourmaline, Toys, Trachyte, Treacle, Treenuts, Trout, Truffles, Tubers, Tufa, Tuff, Tulips, Tulle, Tuna, Tunbridge ware, Tung nuts, Tung oil, Tungsten, Turkeys, Turmeric, Turnips, Turquoise, Turtles, Tweed, Twine, Umber, Uvarovite, Valtellina wine, Vanadium, Vanilla, Vegetable oil, Vegetable tallow, Vegetables, Velour, Velour goods, Velvet, Velvet goods, Veneer, Vermouth, Vestments, Vetch, Vignettes, Vinegar, Violets, Violins, Vitriol, Vogla, Wagons, Walnuts, Water opal, Watermelons, Watermills, Waterpipe, Weapons, Welsh ponies, Whale oil, Wheat, Whiskey, White marble, Whitefish, Whortleberries, Willow wands, Windmills, Windows, Wine, Wire, Witherite, Wolf furs, Wood alcohol, Wood oil, Woodcarving, Woodcraft, Wooden shoes, Wooden tools, Wool, Wool Cloth, Woolens, Worsted cloth, Worsted goods, Yak tail, Yaks, Yams, Yeast, Yellow marble, Zinc, Zincsmelting, Zircon, Zsolnay

If you can think of something that's made in the world that isn't on that list, it's probably from South America or the East Indies. And it's very unusual.

Monday, January 20, 2014


An excerpt from the book, How to Run: An Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games, 2nd Draft.

"At the outset, the fundamentals of the role-playing game seem fairly obvious. The DM conveys information to the party about the setting and the things that are encountered, and the party responds to those things by declaring their actions. A degree of excitement is obtained through combat or discourse with those wishing to coerce the party, this being the essential conflict. Finally, the DM provides compensation to the characters for success with wealth, power upgrades or status.

"Much of the principle information to be given seems related to mechanics and dimensions—how large is the room, how wide is the setting, how powerful are the enemies, how much distance separates the party from said enemies and so on. Many of the rules, particularly the combat rules, exist in order to supply bearings, giving the players perspective that enables them to make judgements so that they can move or react within the space of the system.

"It soon becomes plain that there is a difficulty in the potential repetitiveness of the game, which must be overcome. The players cannot only encounter the same enemies over and over again, nor compete for the same materials endlessly. Coin becomes meaningless as everything that can be used against conflicts is soon acquired. The meaning of compensation in the campaign diminishes.

"To provide a solution, games propose a multiplicity of opponents, each with different combative skills or abilities, on the range from easily removed to those enemies who potentially may never be removed. In order to deal with or defeat these enemies, the party is adjusts their strategies accordingly. Much of the game embraces the identification of what is being faced, so that the correct response can be put in place, and quickly. Added to this are adjustments for the setting, which becomes a dangerous, non-sentient opponent.

"In addition, the characters are given upgrades, allowing them a greater versatility in strategy. First, these upgrades are presented as a series of posts that must be passed in order to improve, but this is later adjusted so the upgrades themselves can be chosen according to the proclivity of the player. The game’s strategy is increased in structure so that the correct upgrades must be chosen in the right combinations in order to produce the widest possible range of responses when met with a threat. Finally, other upgrades, in the form of tools, are incorporated, to allow everyone the potential for improving their strengths or options, and as a meaningful contribution to those things that are provided when success occurs. Coin becomes a means of purchasing upgrades, allowing even greater player flexibility in tactics.

"Handling the complexity of these variables, as well as providing a narrative structure that rationally and effectively draws the instances of confrontation into a comprehensive whole, would seem to be the definition of good role-playing game management. The DM must be a front for a considerable number of antagonists, detractors, long-term adversaries and assorted critters, demanding a strong grasp of the rules and the ability to hold authority at table. It would seem, in order to reach this degree of virtuosity, that one must be a very good DM.

"However, once again, the difficulty in producing a well-mastered game asserts itself. Despite the apparent advantages of diversity provided by long lists of upgrades, tools and opponents, the system—whatever system it might be—asserts itself as a homogenizing influence. Over time, the the tactics sort themselves out in importance, so that the most useful become universal to all the players. The distinction between enemies diminishes, as—in truth—contrasts between designed enemy cultures or attack styles prove to be cosmetic rather than intrinsic. Once the players have experienced a fair selection of the existing repertoire, the game is again reduced to the weary process of overcoming the enemy in order to collect compensation.

"A possible solution would seem to imply intensifying the quality of the narration, in lieu of further modifications to conflict resolution. The difficulty lies in the method of creating a complex, intensive narration to which the party will willingly adhere without coercion. While the DM may be very creative in the development of complicated story lines that swing out in novel, profound directions, until they culminate into a singular resolution intended to produce a resounding crash of triumph at its end, this is a difficult presentation to carry forward into the game unless the players are somehow given the power to know what part they will play in this elaboration, and how best to play it. On some level, of course, it is possible to enable the protagonists to possess a strong hint as to the entire framework, but then we have merely imposed the three-act structure once again onto the players, reducing the immersive qualities of the game. The actor upon the stage, aware of the play, may appear to be angry or distressed, but this does not describe the true emotional presence of the actor during the performance—which is, it must be understood, that of a crafter producing a craft. Crafting is an excellent past time, and certainly both engrossing and fulfilling, but it is not role-play in the sense of playing a game."

Then I go on to chatter about nuance and things. Further context withheld.