Thursday, July 31, 2014

Retrospective, August 2010

I had it suggested to me by my partner Tamara that I should 'recover' some of the posts I wrote in years past, in some manner that highlights not just that they were written, but how I feel about them now. I suggested that on the first day of every month I could highlight those posts that had been written throughout the month four years previously. Thus, as it is August 1st, I should write about those posts I wrote in August, 2010. Well, why not?

That month I wrote a 4,000 word post on Theology that is certainly among my longest at the time. This was part of the Civilization Posts that I was still writing.  Naturally, I overwhelmed the reader with anything so long and so involved, but the three comments I received were supportive. I haven't much to add; the article needs more examples and needs to quote its source material and would probably be ten times as long if I sat down and rewrote it a thesis.  It also needs references to D&D throughout the post, not just at the end; but then, how interested are people in truly understanding what is behind the religions they invoke in their worlds.

I'm sure I just read this post from Caffeinated Symposium a couple days ago about how religions need to be more about knowledge and community structure than one-paragraph descriptions of gods.  Dave Cesarano makes a good point and it's definitely worth reading the article.

August 2010 was the month those Chilean miners were trapped underground, and I wrote a post about playing in pitch darkness, Gaming Under Duress.  The comments seemed to suggest that I am not alone in thinking of ways to play in order to pass the time.  I have led people through spontaneous games during camping trips, long-distance drives and occasionally while working with them at less-than-interesting jobs.  Imagination is a game that can be played anywhere.

I wrote some of my reasons for why I don't let people buy or sell magic in my post, Ewoks with Napalm, forever a contentious issue.  One of my offline players, upon hearing the possibility of making a vintage wine in large quantities that could heal hit points, immediately annoyed me by exclaiming, "Imagine what I could sell that for!"

This brings to mind three scenarios.  The first, if the wine can be sold very easily, then there ought to be tons of it at the market, depreciating the price and more or less making it worthless to sell, or even to bother making.  Why would a player make magic wine if magic wine is available cheap at the grocery store?

Secondly, if its not easy to sell, because its expensive, then why would a grocer buy it to sit on his shelf where it's not going to easily find a buyer, while at the same time is a screaming sign for thieves to break in and rob the place?  It's always interesting to me that the players walk into a perfectly ordinary shop, drop 5,000 gold for a magic ring and the proprietor is like, "Sure, I keep it right here next to the hair gel," because obviously there's no need for a place like this to have the sort of security Tiffany's jewelry possesses.  There are only about a dozen non sequiturs there.  Does the state really sanction this shop to sell off magic potions and swords and wands without feeling any compulsion to control the distribution of magic for the sake of retaining authority?  I guess not.

Finally, how exactly does the shop keeper ensure that every bottle of 200 is in fact 'magical'?  How does the buyer ensure quality control?  Even if we assume everyone in the kingdom is born with a magic tooth that let's them detect magic at will, how do we know that THIS bottle's magic actually heals hit point and doesn't just make hair a little softer and bouncier?  We surely can't count on identify magic, because even if you have the spell you need to above 4th level before it gets to be reliable.

I'm not going to pay 40 g.p. for a 'magical' bottle of wine when I don't know if it works or not.  Sure, the store owners in video games may be perfectly honest, all the time, but my world just doesn't work that way.  If there's a way to scam someone, a scam will be managed - and a whole population will have experience with the scam, meaning they won't trust anyone when it comes to buying magic.

So why do I sell healing salves at the apothecaries if all of the above is true?  Pity.  I sympathize with a party's desire to stay alive.  I'm not going to let a party manipulate that sympathy into easy bucks, though.  Push too hard on my good nature and that good nature evaporates.

In August I wrote four posts on Duty - Intro, Society, Self and what I called 'The Flow.'  Pretty heady stuff, a bit preachy, all on role-playing and interaction between the DM and the Player.  Funny, I don't find it much reflects the content of the Advanced Guide I've just released; the last one does, however, make allusions to recent events.  Curious how that always seems to happen.

Those posts didn't get much attention - or rather, they didn't receive much feedback.  I've read through them and I find the thinking a bit scattered.  I was struggling to nail down where the responsibility in gaming lies, towards others, towards ourselves, in our behaviour and in what we deserve to respect or the respect we deserve to be given.  It's a difficult subject.  I handled it better in How to Run, albeit very differently, as I approached the subject more from the point of view that we're not in as much control over our actions as we'd like to me.  Research done since those duty articles has taught me that I'm fighting uphill against issues that are hard to isolate and manage even as they're happening.  In 2010, I gave no attention at all to stress.

And, too, those were coming after an abusive and unforgiving post I wrote, one that still gets a bit of attention, Creativity and Breast Feeding.  Ah, Alexis.  Will you never change?

That's one of those posts that probably lost me the approval that I've gained with posts like The Great RPG, where the comments call me 'sensei' and 'fucking brilliant.'  There's no question in my mind that the hardest, most galling thing about me as a writer is that I will, one moment, shake a person down to their core with something they wholly agree with, then piss on all their loves and dearly held beliefs the next gawddamned day.  Most of the time, I don't do this intentionally, though that only makes it worse. It helps feed the theory that I must be psychotically unaware that I've only just made someone like me, and now I'm making someone hate me.  Jeez, don't I get that?

I suppose I do.  Thing is, I'm not your sensei or your worst critic - I'm just a guy who is taking the data and compiling it as I see it.  Then I'm writing it down in the way that makes the most sense to me, at the time.  Like a scientist, the last thing I'm concerned about is the 'comfort' level of the material. No matter what I write, some people are going to really like it and some people are not.  Sometimes, two days apart, these two extremes will be felt by the same people.

We're all pretending to understand this game - and in a wider sense, the whole system.  We're all doing our best with the material.  I happen to be in love with the material, more in love with it than I am with myself.  This has made me into a sort of dangerous, thought-spewing robot without any morality or sensibility to the sufferings or emotional dogma of others.  Made worse by my willingness to abuse the shit out of the reader in order to make my point.  Which I will do because if I make my point lightly, it will be viewed lightly.

Looking back at the August posts, I see I had readers who commented then but who never comment now.  So it goes.  I know you're still reading me.  I know you're there, I know you're grinding your teeth and I know you won't comment now because, well, it's personal, isn't it?  That's fine.  My numbers go up.  My books apparently sell, much to my appreciation for those of you who are willing to let me in yet again.  I'm grateful for that.

Still a lot left to write yet, however.  There always is.


A blog, like a diary, is a slave to the thoughts of the writer on a particular day.  It isn't as though I'm able to compel myself to different thoughts simply because a reader somewhere is disgruntled about what happens to emerge from the tips of my fingers.  These are the yolks, folks, the eggs fall where they must and I continue to write in my merry way whatever the consequences.  So goes the world.  Vox populi, vox humbug.

This business of voices interceding into the behaviour and actions of other peoples starts a long time ago, where farming makes the institution of villages practical.  All around the year, your enemies in the hills know where you are, and they know that if the game thins out or the winter is hard on half their flocks, that where you are there is food.  Packing together the houses into villages brings security, for even if you don't build moats and walls, your neighbours can hear you cry out.  Therefore, when the hill peoples come 'a calling, they'll have to deal with the whole village, not just you and your family.

Contrary to the simplification of history, these villages do not instantly hire magistrates and divide themselves into wards that elders represent.  Villages begin without politics.  If we are talking about anywhere from 40 to 100 people, most likely the decisions that are made in the village will be made by people squabbling, threatening, gathering into their natural groups and daring the other to make the first move.  And, like most conflicts within families, conflicts within the village will be brief, non-lethal and purposefully forgotten.

We're a lot more like animals than we realize.  Like animals, we know when we're beaten and we give up almost immediately.  If you'll remember, fights on the schoolground in those first four grades were always very brief - the bully or tougher one ended up by sitting on the weaker, then he would get up and push the weak kid around a bit.  Total time of the fight, 30-40 seconds; total injuries: negligible.

It is when a village gets bigger that things begin to change.  This has everything to do with family.  Families are naturally occurring political units.  It's only natural to identify with blood, as blood is around all the time, you grow up with it and learn to rely on it - and to see everyone who is not a member of your family as an outsider.

Here is where politics starts - not by joining together, but by realizing that the threat is inside the village, not outside.  Oh, the hill peoples are still a problem, but with more people comes a greater labour force and walls become more practical - but with more people there are families that are getting bigger and bigger. These bigger families take it into their heads that they can push others around - and sooner or later the folk the family wants to push around is another family that is almost as big, but not quite.  For those of you not following, this is what happened with Eve Online back in January.

The result is political will manifested as retributive assassination.  An all-out war hardly ever manifests itself. And while robbery or adultery are comparatively rare, for we are still speaking of a small village of two or three hundred, where everyone knows one another, arguments and confrontations are not forgotten.  They are tallied, they are measured against every other confrontation, they are talked over at family meetings and discussed by a large enough faction to engender resentment and hate.  Jimmy pushed you, and Jimmy's brother pushed me, and Jimmy's father sold our father a lame animal fifteen years ago, etcetera.  Steadily, over time, this resentment builds into a generational dogma, until Jimmy and his whole family are something less than human compared to you and me and our family.

And Jimmy's family feels the same way about it.

Sooner or later, by chance perhaps, with all that hate, someone is going to get into a fight where someone gets killed.  From then on, it gets personal.  Jimmy kills me and my brother kills Jimmy and Jimmy's brother kills my brother and his first cousin, starting of a blood-feud of tit for tat that goes on and on and on.  There are many places in the world where this is common today - Iran, Albania, Liberia, Burma, Zaire - the list goes on and on.  In most every case these feuds are local and continue unabated because they happen in the backcountry or places where violence is so consistent that a state of lawlessness exists, like in Gaza.

'Civilization' begins when there are enough people who belong to neither family who are prepared to stop the blood feud by force.  Where a free-for-all justice system can no longer be tolerated, where the majority of the villagers are those who belong to neither faction, or any faction that condones spontaneous retribution.

That is the key word: spontaneous.  Retribution continues to be fine and practical, but it's necessary that the executions, when they happen, occur with everyone having a clear head and being able to agree that with this particular execution, all the other executions will stop.  Your family and their family will live in peace now, because we have systematically executed all the people who we feel are necessary.  Everybody happy now? Everybody good?  Great.  Let's get together on this thing and grow some crops, build higher walls, then raid other villages.

Something about the thought processes and comments of ordinary role-playing gamers tends to demonstrate how simply they look at the world.  For many, saying that there's a lot of 'in-fighting' among orc tribes seems to explain away everything that needs to be explained.  That it needs no further thought or investigation, or even rationale considering there is usually a chieftain among orcs and a chieftain's henchmen.  These, for those who don't know, do not tend to exist in an ordinary, isolated village of 250 people.  They do not manifest as a political fact until such time as the people themselves ask for someone to come in and set the standard for why in-fighting has to stop.  Once there's a chief, that's a clear indication that the orc tribe ought to be thinking as a unit - for that is the purpose of chiefs, that is why they are installed.  A single chief and his four henchmen absolutely cannot hold back the will of any one family that wishes to do as they will (i.e., fight with their neighbours).  That chieftain only rules because everyone agrees that this in-fighting has to stop.

Which would mean, described as they are in the books, orcs and other tribes would NOT be fighting.  They would be much more dangerous, for they'd be working together to build an establishment from which they could attack others.  If orcs ARE warlike, we've got to give them their due - they're warlike under leadership.

It is leadership that makes them scary.

For most, however, saying the words 'in-fighting' makes it true.  Because they've never taken a course on sociology or anthropology.  Because they can't be bothered to investigate their world.  Because they're half-considered fictional theology demands that the Word of God of a writer is the final say in something being true or not.

And this was fine when we were all fifteen and playing the game after school and around our parents' tables. But we're in our 30s and 40s now, and quite a lot of us have legitimate university degrees.

Isn't it about time we started using education to deduce the rudiments of the game?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Left Field Post

For reasons difficult to fathom, I'm going to hijack this blog and write about something so far out in left field that my voice will emerge with a tinny sound that's hard to hear.

If you are male and you want to stop being single, without being an asshole, a jerk or anything that you are not, listen.

I will get you married.

First of all, make up your mind that you're never going to be anything but honest.  You're never going to speak two words together that don't represent your honest opinion about whatever it is you believe.  Accept that this honesty is going to offend some people, but that it won't matter because the person that likes you won't find whatever you say offensive in the least.  In fact, they will like it.  If you choose not to follow this advice, you will find yourself with people who like you for things you are not, and that will never go to good places.  Therefore, accept it.  Speak truth.  Accept the fall-out.

Make up your mind to be clean, scrubbed, washed and decently smelling no matter when you leave home. That means work, it means hygeine products, it means money and it means changing your habits enormously. I don't suggest you do it because it will make you feel better as a person; I tell you to do it because every minute of every day is going to contain the possibility of having to make a good first impression in this instant, without warning.  I'm saying you don't know when you'll meet him or her - and that you probably already have, dozens of times, except they turned away from you thinking, "yeah, nice, but what a fucking loser."

Now, this next part is going to be critical.  You won't think it is, but it is.  This next part will make all the difference - and if you're a person who's really wanting this, you need to accept that what you want is more important that what you're doing right now.

Find a pattern.  Seriously, it doesn't matter what the pattern is, but find it.  Shop at the same place, buy your coffee at the same place, visit the coffee shop in the same hour, see a movie every Tuesday, walk along the same streets to get there.  Yes, walk.  Get the fuck out of your car.  Your car is a bubble, it's a prison, it's a big fuck-you sign to everyone else in the world.  You need to be accessible.  You must walk places where people can see your clothes, they can see the books you're reading, they can identify your haircut and your look and your whole demeanor.

See, this is based on the principle that, while you're not noticing or seeing the person you may someday have children with, there's a very good chance that they are noticing you.  They are working the shift when you get your coffee, they are taking note of what you're reading or what you're doing.  They're seeing your face every time you smile and frown, and they are making judgements about you.  If you want those to be good judgements, along the lines of 'I would like to see that person again,' then you should be finding ways to do things you like in public.  Going to places you like.  Taking part in things you like to do, even if you are doing those things alone.  Because the one you want is also there, maybe with other people or not - but they are bound to notice that you are there and having a good time and alone.  Especially if they see you next week, and the next, and the week after that.  And if you wear the shoes they like and you have the haircut they like, they'll find a way to talk to you.  They really will.

As for you, you have to talk to people.  You don't have to say anything, especially.  Small talk.  A comment on the weather.  An out-loud chuckle as you read your kindle.  A small comment as you step aside to let them get on the bus first.  Anything, so long as its benign and friendly and you smile slightly, showing that you're not trying.  Because you're not.  You're not going to pick up the girl on the bus by hitting on her.  But the little comment you say today will be given a little chance to grow when she sees you three weeks later on the same bus, and makes a little comment to you.

Because that's how things really start.  Little comments.  Tossed into the world like seeds, looking for a place to grow.

One more thing.  You're going to have to wait.  You're going to have to be patient.  You can't force any of this.  The secret is, get into the outside world and get comfortable there.  You'll find it's easy to meet a lot of people.  So long as what you don't try to do too hard is meet people.  You're just out there, where you can be found.

Now, if you're relaxed, and clean, and relatively happy and unthreatening, and friendly, and you frequent a dozen or more different places each week, you'll meet someone who will get very serious about you.  It's a lot easier than you think.

The Escape Clause

Yesterday, Carl wrote for this post,

"The effect of the stun rules is not unlike the effect of the Shaken rules in Savage Worlds.  So much so that - if I decided to use the stun rules - I would probably adapt the rules from Savage Worlds for getting rid of the effect: In savage worlds successful attacks often leave you 'shaken' - unable to act. On your turn you can attempt to get rid of the effect. If you succeed, you can move but not attack; If you succeed exceptionally you can also attack."

And that's fine.  I had said I adapted my stun rules from someone else and they're certainly not 'mine' in any sense.  I presume someone else is adapting them and naturally that adaptation is going to be different.

I only want to use the above to highlight a completely different point, one that is not directly related to combat.  It is a trait that is not specific to role-players, but it is specific to a certain type of person and a lot of those people gravitate towards gaming - presumably because gaming is a good fit for them.

These are people who cannot abide an absolute.

The rule simply has to have an 'out.'  No matter what the rule is, if it threatens my character's life, I want another saving throw, I want something I can do to mitigate the effect, I want absolutely to be raised if something goes wrong, even if my body is totally lost or buried under a mountain.  I want an escape clause!

Naturally, the escape clause inevitably has its own absolutes.  And that is the problem.  Because, as we all know, eventually the escape clause needs an escape clause, for the original rule with the escape clause is still too damn final.  It's too unpleasant.  It means that sooner or later, I'm going to have to just suck it up and accept that I've lost.

That is . . . unacceptable.

The reader should know me well enough to know that I don't believe that.  I am a big fan of absolutes, of failures, of inevitable deaths and of players sucking it up because their character just dropped that big item in the primordial soup.  Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad.  What a tragedy.

While I'm trying not to sound like an old man and his lawn, I must explain that this peculiar habit of avoiding absolutes pops up everywhere in our culture - from calling in sick when you're not sick, to casual Fridays because five days a week are too many to dress for work, to "you're a winner" ribbons handed out to little children who lose on Sport's Day.  Life is simply too unfair for any of us to endure it day in and day out without an option, without a guarantee that we'll be allowed to break the rules on this one day because having to obey the rules all the time is such a drag.

I can't say I'm immune.  I break the rules too, since most of the time it's possible to break the rules and get away with it.  Yet I'm sober enough to recognize that breaking the rules is not a praiseworthy act; it's doesn't get the job done, it doesn't keep the hounds at bay, it doesn't pay the rent and in the long run, too much breaking of rules will drive us into decadence, degradation and ultimately leave us moribund.  The turnstyle marked 'rule-breaking' is the one that gets us on the train to Hedonism. 

Then again, if you don't know yet what's wrong with that place, I suppose you must still be young.  You'll see.

So here I am being all tyrannical again.  Obey the rules, quit whining, get the hell off my lawn.  Right?

No, not quite.  I wrote perhaps one time too many about the importance of changing rules and adjusting your role-playing game to make it a better experience, to talk to the players about what to change and to accept that change is a good thing even though precedent and continuity are important.  Rules are fluid, they are part of the game's structure and the thing about structure: there is always room for improvement.

What amuses me - and I mean that word, amuses, in a completely non-sarcastic way, for I do not believe it does any individual any harm - is that this escape clause is applied so often to such mediocre details.  Such as the example above, where even the loss of one combat round is unacceptable without there still being a chance that it won't be lost.

That is where we can see how endemic the problem is.  We can see, clearly, where something was changed during game-testing, because someone complained.  "You mean I'm 'shaken' for the whole round?  No matter what?"

"Oh, okay, we can fix that."

Well, players certainly gripe.  They certainly do.  And it is hard to look them in the eye and tell them that what they wanted at the store isn't available, or that yes, the sword breaks, or that no, the crystal ball doesn't reveal anything at all.  No, seriously, nothing.  Really.  No, not even that.

Well, hell, it has to tell us something.  It's a crystal ball, for f's sake!

Nope.  Not a damn thing.  So move on.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Turtles Are Not Scary

Heh heh.  Talk about the book, tighten the upper lip and don't talk about the book . . .

Well, I'm only human.  And people out there have said they have obtained the book and that they were set to read it over the weekend.  So I know eyes have fallen on pages.

The rules say shut up.  But I never had any part in making those rules, while shutting up has never been my strong suit.

I ran D&D on Saturday.  Expectations were high, emotions were high, stress was high - and there was some drama.  Ah well.  Was to be expected.  People are pressure cookers and four months is a lot of pressure.   But the running was good and I left three players trapped on a narrow, enclosed beach, at night, with a giant turtle climbing out of the sea.  In the dark, they weren't sure what it was at first . . . their imaginations rose to the occasion.  Then they found it was a 'turtle' of unknown type and they felt relieved.  Turtles are not scary.

I've been relaxing the last few days.  I'm due to get my own books from the printer on Friday.  Yes, I know now that the spine is 'upside down.'  Too late for those books from the printer.  Perhaps, one day, the reverse spine will be the proof that it's a first edition book.  Fantasies.  We all have our fantasies.

I'm a bit scatter-minded, so I'm going to just write this and go.  Pages are turning and I swear I can hear them.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Lots of little one offs today.  Eh, no problem.  It's only a blog.

I'm receiving many sounds of praise, as people tell me 'congratulations!'  They mean well and the sentiment is much appreciated . . . and yet, because I understand words, I cannot help but cringe.

Congratulations has become the standard thing that we say when something good happens to someone. The increasing popularity of the word has been notable in my lifetime - people are more apt to say it today upon hearing good news than they were in the past.  As I'm not pedantic, and as I know words grow and achieve meanings they did not formerly possess, I am fine with that.  My resistance against the word has much more to do with me than the word's users - and so it is my problem and not theirs.

The word 'congratulation' appears in English in the mid 15th century; it is an import from Latin, from the verb congratulatio, which is to "give thanks" or "show joy."  So far so good.  However, the root for the Latin word is gratus, which is a "blessing," and it is here that the problem begins.  We get 'grace' from gratus, this being a gift from the gods, something that is dropped on us by chance or by the vicissitudes of fortune.

In other words, a good thing that originates in a place other than within ourselves.

We say "congratulations" when someone has a baby because it is something that is tried for - but understood to be something of a chance thing.  We "hope" for a baby but we realize that what with physical limitations, fertility, the possibility of poor health and so on, we may not get what we want.  So if things come around and you find you are pregnant, we say "congratulations" because you passed the first hurdle.  Then we say congratulations again when the baby is born, because you've passed other hurdles.

In writing a book, however, there are no mysteries, no doubts, no bestowing of luck by the grace of the gods.  At best, there might be something to be said for "You may die before the book is finished," but somehow when someone tells me 'congratulations' upon finishing my book, I don't think they're saying, "You lived!  I never thought you would!"

No, they're saying, "Well done!"  And they mean it.  They know I've worked and struggled and put in the hours and finished the thing on my own, and that the gods had nothing to do with it. They don't have to be told.

It's only that, when faced with someone who has recently done what I've done - and a host of other, similar things, they don't know what to say.  They do have this word, however, which we know well enough to say in times of great joy.  We say it at weddings and when you get the job you wanted and when you win best prize in a beauty contest.  It is the first word that pops into our heads.

Yet I can't quite get used to it.  I wasn't blessed.  The book didn't appear from out of the blue.  No others made a decision that enabled the book's existence.  Luck was not involved.  The appearance of the book was not, in any way, a surprise.  So saying 'congratulations' seems, somehow, awkward.

I'd rather people just said, "Well done."  Yes, there are two words, but there are less letters.  There are less syllables.  The words are clear and direct and most of all, accurate.  I applied myself and did it well.

I know that's what people are saying.  Thank you.

David Wong & I

I like learning that I am not the only one:

"In fact, I'd say it's this "just a game" mentality that makes them think it's OK to throw in these arbitrary rules that take you out of the fantasy. Am I facing a door that only opens if I first kill all of the enemies in the room? Why does it work that way? Or maybe there's a guard at the city gate who will only open the path after I complete some other, totally unrelated task -- so what's his reasoning for doing that in the universe of that story? Is there some actual reason why the pieces of the doomsday weapon I'm to assemble are scattered all across the map so that I have to slowly trudge from one to the next, killing crowds of enemy cannon fodder every step of the way?

"If your only answer is 'Because we programmed it that way,' you've lost me. You've woken me up from the fantasy by slapping me in the face with a stark reminder that this isn't really an adventure meant to capture my imagination. It's just a computer program designed to keep me pushing buttons for 12 hours."

Read more here.

A House Rule About Wounding

When anyone in my world does 11 damage or more on a single blow, they wound. This means that the enemy begins to lose hit points every round from bleeding.

For each 11 damage done, the wound is 1hp per round. If, for example, I hit your character for 47 damage, and your character survives, it would suffer 4hp damage per round thereafter - until the character was healed or it bound wounds.

Binding wounds takes three rounds per degree of the wound; so to bind a 4hp wound would take 12 rounds; however, for each 3 rounds spent, the total loss drops one point. So by round four, you'd be bleeding out 3hp per round, by round seven you'd be bleeding out 2hp and so on.

Goodberry, a healing salve, the recently added druid's vintage or any healing spell will close a wound immediately.

Course, this usually means falling out of combat so that healing can be eaten or applied.

The 12 point alternative is simply that it takes that 1 more hit point to wound the character; and that 47 damage wouldn't quite be enough to cause a 4hp wound, because the multiples are counted out in 12s and not 11s.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Swords Shall Be Bent . . . and Logic Too

Polybius was a Greek historian of the 2nd century BCE who lived much of his adulthood in Rome - about which he wrote a series of 'books' that are compiled together and called The Histories.  It's great stuff about war and individual prowess along with geography and ethical arguments about governing.  The Histories are the critical works about the first and second Punic Wars, in addition to the rise of Rome from a local bully to a Mediterranean-dominating superpower.  It takes patience and focus to read it, but I strongly recommend it for those who want a good sense for pre-Dark Ages battle.

All this is so I can quote a few passages from a battle between the Romans and the Insubres, in 223 BCE:

"They [the Romans] had learned from previous battles that the Gauls are at their most dangerous in their first onslaught while their ardour is still fresh, and also that because of the way their swords are forged, as has already been mentioned, it is only the first slash which takes effect.  After this the edges are immediately blunted and the blades become so bent both lengthways and sideways that unless the men are given time to straighten them with the foot against the ground, the second blow has virtually no effect."
The Histories, Book II.33

In my Penguin copy, there's this footnote:

"The same details concerning the soft edge of the Gallic sword are found in Plutarch's account of Camillus' victory over the Gauls in 377 B.C.; it may have become a traditional legend."

Then, later in the same chapter, Polybius writes,

"As soon as the enemy [the Gauls] had delivered their first sword cuts against the shafts of the spears and so put their weapons out of action, the Romans closed with them and rendered them helpless by leaving them no room to raise their arms to slash; this is the stroke which is peculiar to the Gauls, and the only one they can make, as their swords have no points.  The Romans, on the other hand, made no attempt to slash and used only the thrust, kept their swords straight and relied on their sharp points, which were very effective."

Such fascinating detail!  The design of the broad sword vs. the slashing swords of the Gauls, the manner in which the Romans could press in on the Gauls and keep them from even swinging and the softness of the metal that the Gauls could smelt.  This last is the most interesting to me, because once again we come back to the subject of orcs.

Humans, as we know, are part of an extensive culture - a necessity, since the players are bound to play some sort of humanoid that moves from place to place, expecting to be able to buy goods, stay at inns, use roads for travel and so on.  This unification means that technology is shared, so that developments spread throughout the geo-political culture.

Orcs and other humanoids, however, are necessarily isolated.  They have no trade, which means that unless a particular group of orcs happens to be sitting on a good supply of soft coal (hard coal could not be easily mined until the 18th century, after the development of harder steels and steam power) as well as iron, limestone and a hardening metal such as nickel, manganese, chromium or tungsten, we wouldn't find a society that could mass produce good metal for weapons.  Even if those materials did exist, there's no guarantee that the masters in house were clever enough to have developed metallurgical skills to match the highest degree of human-based technology.

In short, the orcs simply wouldn't have weapons to match human weapons, just as the Gauls did not have weapons to match the Romans.  It's no good, either, arguing that the orcs could have found enough weapons to sustain them, for as we know from both Polybius and Livy, the Gauls won plenty of battles against the Romans and this didn't help them.

See, the problem with found weapons is that the use of the weapon is dependent upon the individual being trained in the use of that weapon.  The Gauls may have found plenty of Roman broadswords, but this didn't make anyone among the Gaulish tribes suddenly professional at being able to manipulate and effectively use the weapon once they had it.  See, there are muscle groups that need developing, a stance to be adopted, techniques, a way of thinking about the weapon and so on - and these things are NOT self-evident.  Gauls might have tried, but they would have soon found the Roman weapons were too heavy in all the wrong ways - even if the actual weapon was lighter, without those muscle groups it would have felt wrong.

Suppose that we have an especially developed group of orcs who luck out in the mineral department so that they have everything they need.  Let's also say that there's a really brilliant orc that stumbles upon the secret of an improved forged iron, making perhaps the best iron in all the world.  It's a possibility, right?  Why not simply say that?

First of all, because obviously not every orc clan in the world can be so lucky - though we can expect a DM to cheat and suppose they might be.  With a genius orc iron founder in every clan, yet.  It still doesn't fly, for one simple reason.  Technology does not stand still.  Whereas today the orc founder comes up with something really original, the human culture doesn't depend on just one genius.  It jumps forward any time someone, somewhere, comes up with an original thought.  The orc clans in the traditional vision, however, are not communicating with each other.  They're in dungeons, deep underground, isolated and hardly trading thousands of tons of materials with other clans, or sharing knowledge from one clan to another as quickly and easily as humans are.

No matter how you look at it, the orc technology is going to lapse, and when their swords fall against the swords of humans, and their friends elves, dwarves and so on, those orc weapons are going to fail.  They're going to break or bend, and then the orcs will go where the Gauls went.

My solution was to make the orcs a huge culture, with huge territories, where they numbered in the millions and traded among themselves.  I also felt that in times of peace, the orcs ought to be able to trade with humans and vice versa.  Why not?  We trade with genocidal nations, even where the leader is a cannibal, all the time.  Why not orcs?  Wall Street wouldn't care.

Most, however, will simply ignore all this, giving orcs and other subterranean humanoids magical powers over the manufacture of iron weapons, which appear mysteriously no matter how many levels down we go - while no evidence of a forge - or a chimney leading outside from that forge - ever makes an appearance.

A Higher Class

I was asked why yesterday that I had been dead set against 'sage abilities' for fighters, but that my plans now included them.  I felt I should expand on that idea, and explain that my plans now include sage abilities for every class.  The word 'sage,' then, has ceased to mean an old man with plenty of time for reading books; it has become a convenient word for 'knowledge skills inherent in classes.'

Since beginning to work on the proposed system, with interruptions, I've come to realize just how many disconnects there are in the existence of things in the world vs. the magic that the game includes.  How did gelatinous cubes come into existence?  How are wands made?  Does a D&D world even have geology in the sense of fossils, tectonic plates and traditional volcanism?  If you have made a world with volcanoes, how do they work?  Has your world existed for billions of years, or did the gods make your world with volcanoes just so they could spout off once in awhile?  Do they spout when the gods say so?

For many, the answers are a matter of simple hand-waving.  But for some, who have an intense and abiding interest in such things, hand-waving is not enough.  I have been fascinated with tectonics since I was a young boy, having been well aware of the controversy in 1972 when subduction and continental drift were all the rage.  I was only 8, but I gobbled up books on geography like candy because I thought of the subject as the most wonderful thing!  Thus was the basis laid for my infatuation with mapmaking.

Fuck gaming.  Continental drift, volcanism, earthquakes and the like are incredible wonders - and where the reader talks of 'magic,' I point to such real manifestations of nature, complete with the rational formation underlying them, as every bit the value of any magic any gamer can pop from their skulls.  I shall never understand why laziness in waving something aside is allowed to take the place of the profound delight gained from knowing things and fitting those known things into the game universe.

I don't want my world to have volcanoes that don't act like volcanoes.  If there will be volcanoes, they will damn well function like volcanoes do, and the gods themselves shall tremble when half the mountain falls away and drifts ash upon a quarter of the world.

Which means that if druids know about the world, not all of that information will come from the gods.

Thus is the game a science, not the silly stories given to children to shut them up.  Thus all the various elements of the game must be hammered into that science - even though that is hard.  I don't care how hard it is. Great things are hard.  Passion is hard.  People who claim that things ought to be easy, for the sake of 'fun' or some other infantile pleasure, fail to see the intensity gained in accomplishment.  They have never screamed in delight and felt empowered like the gods, because they have done something amazing.

These poor, sad little furtive people and their fun.  We must pity them.

So yes, there are reasons to give sage abilities to other classes, to cover things that cannot be covered by spellcasters.  I'll confess, for fighters I am thinking of things like 'leadership,' the governing of men, the power to draw men towards oneself through prowess and ability, rather than charisma.  Find, if you can, a reference to Ulysses S. Grant's charisma - and then compare that to the number of references to his ability, his perseverance, his will or his energy.  There is more to leadership than being 'liked.'

I am thinking about logistics, though right now I have no idea how to apply that.  That will take more thought. What of naval combat?   What of the management of civilians?  What of keeping peace?  Or training men, particularly youth and civilians who have never participated in war before?  Are these things not also part of the fighter, and are they not ignored by the game as it stands?

We think so small.  We think extra shots with a bow or extra damage or more proficiencies or better binding of wounds.  Some of those things are important, and I will probably address them, but there are immense things as well, particularly in the management of fighting, that have for so long been ignored.

People are liking the druid studies, and that's great.  But having reconciled myself to changing the face of the fighter and other classes, I admit that I can't wait to finish the druid and start the next class!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Come Saturday

Ah.  I will be running D&D this weekend.

I have been lax about sending a message to the players online.  I suggested perhaps dabbling a bit last week, but day by day I have been procrastinating.  I think about sending them an email, thinking I'll ask if they're still interested, and then I don't do it.

I know it is just that I am really tired.

I never worked as hard at anything as I worked on the Advanced Guide.  By the end, just before I published, I was virtually a basket case.  I had given up doing anything else.  I had gotten past the point where I could even read, because I could not get my mind off the Guide long enough to actually feed my elephant.

I read some Polybius in the tub last night and felt great.  Overall, I feel great.  Including the small How to Play book, our sales are just shy of $1K, we've sold well over one hundred of both books and things continue to look promising as I approach booksellers.

But . . . running D&D again.  That is something.

I haven't actually run offline since, let me see, March?  End of February?  I've forgotten.  Online, the last date of the campaign was April 17th.  More than three months ago.  For me, those three months have passed like a blur.  I'm still having trouble remembering that this is 2014.  I feel like I've just stepped out of a time machine.

And the biggest thing about running again is that I now know more about running than I ever had.  In venturing out to explain what it is I do, I've uncovered dozens of things I now know I can't do any more. Through researching and writing, I learned myself why I was ruining my own game.  At several points in the book I admit this frankly:  "I am a bad DM because I do this and this."  I didn't see any point in pretending.

See, as much as it is nice to make a little money, it will never be enough to live on - so the writing could never be about the money.  The writing had to be about the players, who would be reading it.  It had to be about giving them a place to go, a goal to pursue, a way to work on a setting that would make sense, not just for role-playing but for how people think and act in the real world.  To positively meet this theme of the book, I often found myself feeling as though I were pounding words into the computer much like hammering iron upon an anvil, working the sentence and working the sentence in the hopes of making it something someone who could not see into my brain would yet be able to follow.  I desperately wanted to produce a guidebook that would truly function as a 'guide,' exactly like one would expect if touring through the high mountains and having things pointed out.

No one challenges a guide's opinion when the guide points to a valley floor a thousand feet below and says, "We could go there, but getting there is going to take time and considerable effort."  Only a fool then announces, "Well, that's bunk, that's your opinion, I'm sure you can get there easily."  A guide, faced with such a fool, can only shrug and let the fool go their merry way, while continuing to lead those who want the benefit of the guide's experience to continue in the guide's footsteps.

Now, I've played a lot, I've done a lot, I've explored a lot of rules and I've challenged myself to improve upon the game since the beginning - but I don't know everything because I haven't seen everywhere.  To write the book, I headed off into country that was unfamiliar to me, to make myself better so that the book would be better.  I feel I've done an excellent job, but only because I spent this time walking over ground that I know the reader has never seen.

In guiding the reader over that ground, I'm only doing what I've done as a DM since the beginning.  I've taken players, brought them into the fold, set out the principles of the game and then set out to show them what there is to see.

The Advanced Guide was different.  Instead of teaching players how to play in my world, it had to be about how to teach DMs to run players in theirs.  It had to be about how to teach a DM what a world is for and why it needs to be.  It had to be about giving the DM tools.  It wasn't enough to say, "Oh, hey, you're a DM, have faith in yourself, do what you have to."  The ground I was showing is real.  It has firm, fixed, practical elements that can be dug up, processed and applied by anyone, not just those who happen to show a flair.

I don't believe that I know the 'right way' to DM; I'm still learning myself.  Saturday I'm going to take some of that learning and see if I can't better my game.  I am saying, however, that there are certain policies that a DM can pursue that will yield certain results, both good and bad.  If the DM does this, the results will be this, and for these reasons. If the DM does that, the results will differ and for these reasons.

Only through understanding the reasons, and accepting that what goes on at the table isn't just random bullshit - but that it is the absolute result of how the DM has determined to run the world can improvement be possible.  We make our own ruination; we drive the players to their tactics; we tolerate them when they behave inappropriately and we encourage their inappropriate behaviour when we act out ourselves.

No, there is no 'right way.'  But there is most certainly a 'wrong way.'  Unquestionably.

I know a lot of readers don't wish to buy the book, for any number of reasons.  I know that it's a fair sum, I know that it's an online book and that there's no way to know for sure what's being purchased.  I have only what I've written on the blog as a guideline for what I've tried to write in the book and the seriousness with which I've approached the material.

You're here, so you plainly have interest in the blog.  This is a long post, so if you're still with me, you plainly have interest in what I'm saying.  If you can't bring yourself to buy the book, or you haven't the means, then all I ask is that you consider those who do anxiously hope for guidance, and will pay any price to get it.  If you come here everyday to read the blog, then I ask you to just think of me now and then, along with the work I've tried to put here.  If you can't buy this book this time around, then perhaps we can agree on something next time I publish.

Whoops.  I've got to start getting ready for Saturday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fighting More Often

I've had a few days break since this, but let's continue.

As I was saying, there's this constant need to add more and more damage to whatever the leveled characters are doing.  I felt at this point it might be a good idea to know upon what we're improving - since I've been using the same damage-dealing standard for characters for nearly 35 years, and I have no problem with it.

First, however, THAC0.  I realize that many don't like it, that it's a mechanical name that takes away from the fantasy substance of the game, etcetera, which they claim breaks immersion.  What I know is that it enables me to calculate hits and misses very quickly for dozens of combatants, meaning that my game moves faster, there's less opportunity to be bored, the players get answers back immediately and they even gain a better conception of what they can manage to hit - so all around, THAC0 is a practical mechanism for me. If the acronym, however, is all that it takes to break immersion from your game, well . . . that's all I need to say.

I use my own THAC0 table, based primarily on the original tables in the DMG, except that I've smoothed out the improvements so that instead of the cleric's attack jumping two points in three levels, it jumps incrementally over that time.  Also, I've gotten rid of the monster tables for half a hit die, 1-1 hit die, 1+ hit die and so on, which we should all admit was pretty stupid thinking from the start.  I must presume the creators thought that splitting those low numbers fine would somehow improve the game?

Here's the THAC0 table I've constructed:

Simple, nyet?

Given this table, let's ask ourselves what damage could we expect a fighter to do in the space of three rounds, on average, against armor class 6, using a spear.  The answers are in this table below:

This is quite simple.  A 15 strength (or less) offers no damage bonus to the weapon, a 16 strength offers a +1 bonus to damage but none to hit, a 17 strength is +1 to hit and +1 damage, so more average hits than a 16 strength.  18 is +1+2, 18/01 is +1+3 and 18/51 is +2/+3.  I recognize this is old AD&D percentile strength rules, but try to adjust.  For the table above, I have made the assumption that no critical hits occur - everyone does those differently and I'm not in the mood to do the math to include my numbers.

The three rounds need not be consecutive for the table above to apply, nor does it matter if the fighter was hit or not between attacks.  The average of the weapon was multiplied against the chance of hitting, then that number was multiplied by 3 in order to get the above result.  The purpose for viewing this as three rounds rather than one is to emphasize the clubbing power the fighter would have in the space of a short combat.

Note that our fighter has been limited by a few things.  First, it assumes he never upgrades to a long sword or morning star, both of which have higher average damages.  It also assumes the fighter never gets a magical weapon of any kind.  However, to see what a 15 strength fighter does with a long sword rather than a short sword, one need only compare the next line of figures over - so that a long sword at 1st level causes - on average - 1.05 more damage in three rounds.  Taking a 16 strength over a 15 means that - assuming 10 rounds of combat per session and two sessions per month, your fighter (mysteriously remaining 1st level) will cause an average additional 84 damage (exactly, as it happens) over 240 rounds.  A number that will expand as you go up levels.  Something to think about.

The terrific jump at 7th level is due, as some will remember, to the fighter now receiving 3 attacks every 2 rounds; the similar jump at 13th level is due to the fighter now gaining 2 attacks per round.

Of course, some readers will think the combat numbers above are paltry.  A 13th level, however, would probably have a +2 or +3 sword in my campaign, which gives increased chances of hitting and damage, so the numbers get up there.  And I think killing a couple of ogres in three rounds on average is fair.  The fighter has support from henchmen in my campaign and on the whole I think the combat effectiveness rises quickly enough.

The first problem I see is NOT that the fighter doesn't do enough damage - but that the fighter's attacks don't increase more incrementally, as the THAC0 does on my adjusted table.  That shift is too stark and the fighter shouldn't have to wait that long for an improvement.  The monk gets 5 attacks every 4 rounds at 4th level; I see no reason why the fighter shouldn't enjoy some incremental improvement like that.  I've run many monks and keeping track of the extra combat is not that difficult - but then, there are way more fighters at the table than monks, so perhaps some sort of physical system would need to be put in place.

I would suggest, perhaps, the following smoothing out attack improvement, as shown on the right.  5/4 would be five attacks in four rounds.  This would mean attacking once for three rounds, then twice in the fourth round.

The proposed results would slow down the fighter at 7th level, but the players may be willing to take that slow down if they get more attacks at an earlier level - which they would.  Three earlier levels in fact, as early as the monk gets it.  The monk improves much faster, however, getting 3/2 attacks by 6th level - so the monk's superiority is not lost in this instance.

Except for possible clerical problems, I feel this system would provide some benefit to the fighter in the face of the extra abilities I am adding to other classes with recent sage tables (but then, I've been convinced to include such tables for the fighter too, but that's another post).

How would this adjust the above table of average damage?  Well, it wouldn't have been fair not to include an updated table, so here it is:

The jump at 13th level is still extravagant, but the overall improvement level by level is better, I think.  I should implement this, see how hard it is to keep track of the total number of attacks and who does what when (remember that my stunning system will stagger the second attack for everyone involved) and then take steps to manage that additional difficulty.

It isn't enough to say, "it's too difficult to manage" - what we need to do is design a system by which everyone can easily and comfortably keep track of those extra attacks, including the DM.  Won't it be fun when the party is attacked by a team of 4th level fighters?

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Business of Books

Today, I received a pleasant comment today from Wandrille Duchemin regarding my How to Play a Character & Other Essays book (see the original comment here):

"I bought the book, read it and loved it.  Although this did not profited you especially, I think it was worth the cost to make it come to Europe.  I would love to post a review on Lulu but I can't seem to find how... Anyway, can't wait to get the new book."

Thank you Wandrille, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Things are going along.  We've settled on a date for the official 'Book Launch' in Calgary, for the afternoon of August 6th, at The Sentry Box, described as Canada's Largest Adventure Gaming and Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Store.  I have a handshake deal with the owner to provide books for the shelf there also, so for those who are local you'll be able to buy the Advanced Guide directly.

For those who don't know, there is a Preview for the Advanced Guide under the box art on the above link, that runs to page 23 of the book.  It gives the whole Introduction and my explanation for why I say 'DM' and not 'GM.'  For what it's worth.

I like the deal I made with The Sentry Box and I'd be prepared to make the deal with other stores - if I knew of other stores.  I've asked around and several people think it's a good idea to make this offer:

Give me the name and contact info for your local gaming store, and the name of the owner (or whomever I would contact), and I'll try to get them interested in the book.  IF your lead pays off, I'll give you a 10% kick-back on the price I sell the book for (or on the percentage of a consignment deal, if that's what happens).  I'd be prepared to take a slight loss, giving it to you, if I can get the book out there.

Of course, if you'd like to go the extra step and sell the owner on me and the book, that helps put that money into your pocket.  It's up to you.


Oh, and it turns out a buyer got his paper book today!

Friday, July 18, 2014

More Druidic Knowledge

Since finding some time after finishing the hard core writing of the book, I've been able to get back to the sage abilities I had to abandon in April.

I've put up some of these just lately:  amphibians & reptiles, astronomy, bugs & spiders and bushes & shrubs.  The last is absolutely amazing.

The druid is coming together.

Keep an eye on the Work blog.  I'm going to stop updating it here and just expect people to occasionally look there to see what's new.


Adding flowers & sprigs.


Keeping with this theory that role-players - and especially DMs - find combat boring, I have long noticed a propensity to add more and more damage to the combat formula.  Such and such many more damage done per level, more strength bonuses (again per level or just generally), greater damage for weapons due to compounding proficiency skills and so on.

Presumably this is done to hurry the battle up and to ensure that the players' characters are more likely to survive.  If Joe the 9th level fighter gets a +1 bonus to damage for every level, then with a spear Joe is now doing an average of 12.5 damage every time he hits.  Great, Joe.  Go get 'em.

This just doesn't work either in a game or in reference to actual human abilities. Having lived a while, I can say that age and experience convey neither greater strength nor greater speed and dexterity.  Age does for a time - say, between the ages of zero and about 28 (depending on the activity) - but after that the decline is quite noticeable.  Even Conan was described by R.E. Howard as diminishing as he got into his fifties. Experience just doesn't make you stronger.  It doesn't give your arm the power to do more damage.  It does make you less willing to jump into a fight, knowing you'll probably die there, but that's not really the same thing, is it?

Besides - and this is the part that really confounds me - doesn't the game already have a system that enables you to upgrade?  Hm?

Fact is, for many people, it just doesn't upgrade the character fast enough.  It is the sort of thing that psychologists have been studying since the 1960s, with a quaint, benign little experiment that turned out to have profound revelations:

The 'Marshmallow Test' is a study in deferred gratification.  As an experiment, it has been repeated tens of thousands of times.  The principles of the test are simple - a very young child, 4 years of age or so, is given a marshmallow on a plate.  The child is told, "If you do not eat the marshmallow for ten minutes, you will be given a second marshmallow."  But if the child eats the first marshmallow, that's it.  That's all they get.  Then the child is left alone.

The reader can see in the video how this affects children.  Marshmallows are like crack to children, and for many of them it is unbelievably hard to wait.  They want that gratification right now, and many of them cannot wait the necessary time to get it.

The results of this test shattered the psychology community, in that it had implications for long-term human behaviour.  Some of the same children who were given the test in the 1960s were placed into a study that has now lasted more than 40 years.  You can read about the study on this TIME webpage.  Participants in the study have been divided into 'low delayers' and 'high delayers' - the latter being those who could wait for the second marshmallow.  From the linked page:

"You might say that high delayers have better mental brakes, while low delayers are driven by a stronger engine. “The low delayers don’t tend to activate the prefrontal cortex as much as the high delayers do. The high delayers are very effective at being able to regulate their behavior and not activating this deep system,” Casey says. “There’s not as much of a push-and-pull for the high delayers.”

Now, gaining levels is definitely a delayed gratification.  It takes time, patience and a strong willingness to accept that, once you have gained a level, that is all you get!  Those who are pushing for rule changes that give more power to players sooner are simply low delayers who cannot bring themselves to wait.  They want that power to sweep their way through enemies TODAY, not tomorrow.  The level gain system imposed in the original game or in AD&D doesn't move fast enough for them - and as a result, for 40 years they have smashed and grabbed their way through game design until we have this mess of a promotion system that exists in most new games.

In fact, I think if the reader gives it some thought, they'll see there are dozens of circumstances where things have clearly been changed or adjusted in order to satisfy the low delayers' requirements.  There are fundamental principles that have been compromised not just so they can do more damage or hit more often, because it takes too long between rounds to get enough gratification, but also in the overall length of combat, the amount of healing these players can get, how much treasure they expect to find, the magic they expect to be able to BUY rather than FIND and so on.  For at least half the players out there, nothing in the original game moves quickly enough.

Speaking for myself, I began writing my book on November 1st, 2013, pretty much by surprise (I didn't know that on that day I was going to get the jump start that would get me going).  8 and a half months is a pretty short time to write a book, especially one of this magnitude.  If it hadn't been for the decision to go to Toronto and the timeline that forced me onto, I would probably still be in Chapter 10 or 11 right now.  I was pushed to meet a very uncomfortable deadline, one that wound up with me shoving out every other activity from my life for a time.

Through all that work, I had to delay my gratification - in the hopes that I would make it a good book, that it would cover the subjects necessary, that the language would be as good as I could make it and so on.  I did not do the marshmallow test, but delaying gratification has been my life's work.

Yet this blog is full of examples of my rushing to dive in before I'm halfway through a thought.  I'm always putting things up that are half-made or half-planned.  I'm convinced that the feedback on things I haven't thought through is tremendously useful.  I have repeatedly made changes due to the 'brainstorming process' that is this blog (I talk about brainstorming at length in the book).

Putting things into actual use demands delay, however.  It demands forethought.  The book needed at least as long as I gave it.  I was prepared at any time to ditch Toronto if I felt the time-line would spoil the book's quality.  It didn't.  I worked harder, was all, keeping that future gratification firmly in mind.

Being a certain level means learning to live with the limitations of that level happily, not rushing about to enhance the level so that it operates like four levels above it.  Quite a lot of 'designers' are never going to understand that - because, frankly, they don't understand anything about the function of the game they're blissfully fucking up.  And the worst of it, the very WORST of it, is that DM that claims upon making a change, "My players like it."

Yeah, dummy.  Your players like marshmallows.  Duh.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The 1 Hit Point Jump

I cannot express how good it feels to write new theoretical content.  Advice is fine and all, but I wrote tens of thousands of words of that.  A change = a rest and all that.

So, continuing on with the stun rules described in this post.  The purpose of this post would be to determine what peculiar effects this has on the subject of creatures in the world and their behaviour.

Let's group the number of hit points creatures have according to our ability to stun them.  Thus, creatures with 1-4 hit points would be a group, since they can all be stunned (or killed) by 1 damage.  Creatures with 5 to 8 hit points would be stunned by 2 damage, creatures with 9 to 12 hit points would be stunned by 3 damage and so on.

From the outset, I'd like to point out that by giving player characters more hit points to start, as described here, vastly increases their chances of surviving the first few rounds of combat, as will become evident with the rest of this post.

Let's take a set of creatures that have already been struck with a weapon.  In this case, we will assume that all the creatures described below were hit by the first attack; the chances of that first chance succeeding doesn't matter.  We'll assume these are creatures that have already been hit with a spear (1d6 damage); all we want is to determine the effects of that spear.

Starting with the first group, those having 1-4 hit points.  We already know that all those with 1 hit point are dead, and that the attacks will kill 5/6ths of those with 2hp, 2/3rds of those with 3hp and half those with 4hp. More importantly, for our purposes, no matter how much the spear will do in damage, all of the first group will be stunned.  It only takes 1hp of damage to stun up to 4hp, so those who aren't killed won't be able to attack the next round.

This means that - using the same 35% chance of hitting that I have used all this time - a good chunk of the creatures that survived the first attack are still going to be killed before they get another swing.  Assuming we start with 100 creatures of each hit point, the results will be as follows:

'Success of 2nd Attack' refers to the creatures being 'double-tapped.'  They've been hit, and now they can be attacked again, at once, without a chance to defend themselves.

In an effort to show my work, I'll explain the above table.  The initial hit points on the left most column are those total hit points left of survivors after they've been hit once; of 100 with 1hp, there are none; 16.7 survive of the original 2 hp creatures and these all are left with 1 hp.  33.3 survive of the original 3 hit point creatures and these are evenly divided between 1 and 2 hp after being hit.  50 survive of the original 4 hit point creatures and these are evenly left with 1, 2 and 3 hit points.  The numbers are then compiled, all those with 1 hp, all those with 2 hp and all those with 3 hp.

The number hit and missed reflect the 35% chance of hitting the creature.  Those with 1 hp that are hit all die, leaving only those that weren't hit.  5/6ths of those with 2 hp die, leaving the remainder with 1 hp and those that weren't hit with 2 hp.  Finally, 2/3rds of those with 3 hp die, splitting those who were hit between 1 and 2 hp, and finally those with 3 hp that weren't hit.

The total number left of those who were hit by the second attack is a total of 3.9 out of 35.  That's a devastating kill rate.  That 3.9 that survive are of course stunned again.  But of course this only applies to those creatures that were hit.  Unhit creatures can now attack back and do some damage.

The point here is to indicate the comparative effect of the double tap.  Naturally, we've only covered weak, low hp creatures, so we don't expect them to survive anyway.  Let's move on to something stronger.

Because stunning only occurs if we do one quarter of the hit points needed, we must recognize that while 1 damage will stun anything with less than 4 hp, it won't stun something with 5 hit points.

Let's look at the table above again, only this time let's add 5 hit point creatures and let's make each line of the table specific to creatures with that number of hit points to start..  Remember that the 'Success of 2nd Attack' column can only apply to 83.3 of the 5 hp creatures - since the remainder aren't stunned and therefore can't be double-tapped:

The jump is meaningful, but not excessive.  It does mean that 16.7 1HD/5hp creatures can swing back immediately whereas their 4hp cousins cannot.  This means that, using the stun system, a 5 hp creature is considerably more dangerous simply because there's at least a chance that, if it gets hit, it will still be able to swing back.

That is significant.  It means that a single kobald leader with 5 hp has more of an advantage over his peers than merely 1 hp.  Given the same chance to hit, the same AC and so on, he is still markedly more competitive than his underlings.

None of that is noticed by a party with 12 through 17 hp, but look at the numbers above and make a reasonable guess at the difference between 8 hp and 9 hp.  The 8 hp orc, top of his untrained breed, is definitely improved upon by the 1+1 HD/9 hp elf, nyet?  The 2 hit dice creature with an average of 9 hp has more than hit points where it comes to the 1 HD creature - simply because that creature is going to be harder to stun.

Most readers, I know, don't employ stun rules, but you should really consider how a simple rule addition can alter the dynamic of combat in more ways than might be initially understood.

Stun Based Combat

I have to remind myself over and over that many role-players hate combat.  They find it "boring" or non-essential to character-driven stories and so on.  I find that odd, because for most of my players, combat is the best part of my game.

That isn't to say it is the goal of my players to participate in combat, it is only that since combat tends to occur due to building conflicts, the outcome of the combat - as well as the moment-by-moment thrill of the die rolling - truly inspires my players and gets their blood pumping.

I know most games play a combat format that is back-and-forth and quite bland.  Without rules for position of attack and movement, combat becomes an attrition with both sides rolling dice like the card game of War, until finally someone runs out of hit points.  Since the loss of hit points in themselves don't matter - a combatant is hit for 7 of their 8 hit points and this makes no difference - then the only roll that really brings pleasure is the last one, the one that kills.

By proposing that 1 HD creatures be made up of 8hp creatures, I am increasing the attritional quality of combat, so that the killing die is suspended until the second, third or even fourth hit finally does the creature in.  If every creature takes this long, then the overall effect on the combat is to slow it down - which seems against my own principles of pushing for faster paced games.  Running a faster game is, in fact, one of the central themes of How to Run.

Thus, some of the push-back must originate with players who perceive the game doesn't need to be made longer on account of giving a few inconvenient creatures more hit points.

The original rules of AD&D, I remember, required that before each round, initiative was meant to be rolled, to see if the players went before the enemy or the enemy went before the players.  This would mean that the battle would swing in uncertain order, so that a series of rounds would give initiative to the party, then the enemy, then the enemy again, the party, the enemy, the party, the party, the party, the enemy and so on.

Unfortunately, the extra initiative roll became annoying at the start of every combat that virtually everyone adopted a straight turn based system, me-you-me-you-me-you, encouraging repetition and contributing to the overall dullness of combat.  With the increased total points incorporated in games like 4e, it was necessary to add in the 'bloodied' rule into combat to give a sense that something was being accomplished, since everyone was swinging every round regardless of how much damage they were doing or how much damage they were taking.

This was certainly something that my party and I were aware of back in '85.  I remember we were discussing some rule that someone had wrote about, that could have been in The Dragon Magazine, I don't remember.  The rule proposed was that if someone attacking did a set amount of damage in a round, this would 'stun' opponents so that they would 'miss a round' due to having taken a lot of damage.  I am not sure, now, if the article proposed that this amount be one third or one quarter the total hit points, or if the article was arguing for a set number, 10 hit points perhaps.

Either way, after a discussion that took up part of a running, my players and I at the time settled on one quarter damage being done as the minimum needed to 'stun' opponents.  That is, if your fighter has 16 hit points, and I am attacking with an orc that rolls a d6, then a roll of 4 or greater would be needed to stun you.  If you had 17 hit points, '4' wouldn't be enough, I'd need to roll a 5.  If I rolled a 3 or less, your fighter wouldn't be stunned, you would be free to attack.  If you were stunned, you wouldn't attack, you'd miss your turn while the enemy attacked again.  If you stunned the enemy, the enemy would miss a turn and YOU would attack again.

We tried it immediately, and I remember the fairly low-level party took on a giant lizard with 32 hit points.  The lizard got pretty lucky from the start, took out a couple of players and cornered this one player.  Desperate, he swung, hit and did a lot of damage - enough to stun the lizard.  He rolled again, hit, and stunned the lizard again.  Then on his third swing, he stunned the lizard a third time - and by that point the whole party was shouting at the top of their lungs in excitement.  His fourth swing killed the lizard and from that point on, no one ever wanted to go back to the original system again.

See, as the lizard's hit points were dropped, the chances of stunning the lizard improved.  A hit of 8 would stun the 32 hit point lizard, leaving it with 24 hit points.  Now it would only take six damage to stun the lizard - which would drop it to 18.  Then it would only take 5 damage to stun it, which would drop it to 13 and mean that only a 4 was needed.  And so on.

The lizard had been hit, and because the player did good strong damage with every hit, he kept the lizard off balance and was able to defeat it.

This whole matter of keeping the enemy 'off-balance' with strong hits was a huge blessing to the excitement of my combats.  Now, if there were 6 players facing off against 18 orcs, combats didn't simply go back and forth with all the players attacking and all the orcs attacking.  Now, a certain number of orcs were always off balance and so were a certain number of players.   Neither side was able to carry on their side of the attack with a full team - and that had other interesting fallouts.

Whenever I do these combats with the online party, they move fairly slowly; I have to get everyone's orders delivered by comment, then I have to make up the whole map, run the enemy side, save it as a pdf, crop it, post it, then write out what's happened in text accurately enough that the party can make strategy.  If there are questions, they have to go through the comment system - and all this while trying to do other things, so we play 1, maybe 2 combats in a day (3 or 4 if everyone has time).

In real time at a gaming table, these combats go very fast.  My players know the movement system, they can ask questions very spontaneously, I can update the map as we go and because players are stunned, I don't have to go through every player or every enemy every round.  I may only have to ask four players what they're doing, while those that are stunned have time to think about what they'll do when they're up and active again.

If a player gets stunned a couple of times in a row, this doesn't aggravate them or make the game more boring, this scares them something seriously, as they know they're declining in hit points and that it is getting easier to stun them!  Rather than withdrawing from the combat, they become very anxious about calling out to other players to SAVE THEM.

The stunning rules means that no one on the battle field is invulnerable, even if they have 80 or 90 hit points. The party may be fighting something big, that does a lot of damage - and there are a lot of things that can do 18, 20 damage on a hit - which means that after one or two initial hits that don't stun, that second or third hit is going to start stunning the main fighter in the party.  That fighter NEEDS someone to jump in and take a hit so the fighter isn't simply pounded into the ground.  The party as a group knows they won't last very long as the one true hero that needs no one else.  That forces them to fight together, to cover each other, to make sure they're not alone against an enemy.

Even if they're not fighting something big, whatever they are fighting will notice there's one or two opponents on the field who aren't being stunned - and more and more firepower gets poured into those who are clearly the strongest enemies.  There is no longer any anonymity as far as the enemy is concerned.  The party notices that dynamic also, and they can decide either to kill off the little fellows before going after the Big one, or they can try to take him down before he does too much damage.

Finally, it really builds up a free for all battle feel.  Because a 'stun' drives you back five feet (since I use positional rules), it allows sides to breach a line, force a party off a cliff (if you're stunned 'off' a cliff, you get a dex check - fail and you fall), or back into whatever terrain may be prevalent.  This too builds up a strong 'lets-work-as-a-team' mindset, pushing parties together.  The pushing about makes for complex battle arrangements, characters who get separated or cut off, fighting that happens on every side of a character and so on.

When I the huge mass combat for the party, using these rules, the results were spectacular, keeping the party glued to the effect even though we played that one battle out for about 13 runnings all winter long.  The party could not get enough of it, and refused to stop even though I would give them the option of fast-tracking it. They WANTED to play out every round, right to the end.  The reason was the system and how it made the whole battle throb with intensity and emotion.

Next post I'm going to play with some numbers, and what this system does to the 1hp vs 8 hp supposition I've been trying to get sorted out for more than a week.  I meant to do that with this post, but I felt it would be best to spend a lot of time explaining why the stun system I employ is vastly superior to the ordinary turn-based combat I see everyone else using.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Back to the Beginning

"Fool, fool, back to the beginning is the rule."
Fezzik, The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

We don't see a characters day-to day health. We don't see how clumsy they are, how often they scrape themselves or stub their toes or fall in the mud. We don't really see height at weight unless we are explicitly told these things. Even if we are, we don't see the breadth of the shoulders, the muscle groups that have developed, whether the person carries the healthy fat of someone who wants not for food, or whether they have simply gorged themselves in a time of feast and will starve again during famine. We don't see which people have trouble seeing, or which ones have trouble hearing. We don't see which people have flat feet, or who have bad luck. We don't see the people who physically and mentally can't take the stress of combat. We don't see the squeamish soldier who vomits every time he smells blood.

We only see hitpoints. This is the only value we have to describe the ability of a person to survive combat. This value represents an assessment of all of the things I mentioned above, and more. It is an assessment that the world reports to us, the players. So, do you play a game where these other factors are worked in to the descriptions of characters are worked in and interact with each other, providing bonuses and penalties in real-time? Or do you play a game with just hitpoints? Because if it is the later, then yes, an orc can see its hitpoints. Rather, it can see all of the things that contribute to hitpoints. They see the runt who can't keep his stomach down in a fight, and we see the orc with 1hp. They see the muscled, well fed, sturdy warrior, and we see the orc with 7 hp. The smart army is going to kick as many of the people that they have assessed as "weak" to the least important positions. They are going to be peeling potatoes, not guarding treasure or ambushing adventurers.
Matt, comment on Save vs. All Wands, July 11

I had intended to move onto other facets of last week's arguments (interrupted by the publishing of my book), but it has been discovered that my math from a week ago Monday did not meet the necessary requirements.  I did not show my work, there were definite failings, and this was pointed out by the fellow I referred to as 'self-deluded.'  That was, in fact, the only personal comment I made about him - all my other insults were directed at the dumbassery of his arguments regarding the 'reality' of hit points.  Let me be clear. He, Oakes Spalding, corrected my math.  The arguments I called a self-deluded dumbassery STILL ARE. As it happens in reality, however, people can be both stupid and correct in unrelated things.  This is a case of that here, with both him and me.

So, I will set about making corrections in that which I got wrong.

Before doing so, however, I am forced by the existence of dumb asses (this being a very personal comment directed at people, and not their ideas) to set out some principles.  I can't believe I have to set out these principles, but the community has gone straight up its own ass and this makes stating the obvious a necessity.

First and foremost:  hit dice are a game mechanic used to give value to a creature's maximum health.  hit points are a finite value used to determine how much damage a creature can withstand in combat.  Hit points are determined traditionally as a set random value assigned as a die or such-and-such number of dice per hit die.  Traditionally, the die used is an 8-sided.  The number assigned by the total rolled dice to determine a creature's hit points is the maximum number of hit points the creature is able to have.

If, due to circumstances of injury, exhaustion, physical difficulty or hampering of combat strength, the number of hit points of a creature are currently less than the total number of its maximum hit points, then it is the DMs responsibility to make clear the total number of hit points of the creature in addition to the creature's present hit points due to circumstances.  The DM would be irresponsible to assume the number of current hit points were merely "something less than the maximum" without also assigning a true number of hit points that the creature would possess if the creature were not suffering from present circumstances.  As the players must keep track of their maximum hit points as well as their current hit points, the DM must keep track of all creatures' maximum and current hit points also.

The DM is also responsible to make evident, in a manner that would be plainly in evidence to a character's eyes, any creature that is currently under plain duress, ie., evidence of exhaustion, injury, pain, suffering, blood on clothes, an inability to walk normally due to a rock in the creature's shoe large enough to lower the creature's hit points and so on, so that parties attacking or being attacked by creatures are able to make a clear and obvious visible assessment of limitations of opponents due to having lost any substantial portion of their hit points prior to being encountered.  A DM failing to do this is guilty of deliberately limiting a player's legitimate knowledge of the circumstances in order to deceive or otherwise fudge the game's present play in the DM's favour.

I consider that an act of railroading and robbing the players of the fair ability to play in an unrigged game.

Very well.  Let's start again.  And this time I'll show all my work, a LOT more clearly that Oakes shows his, and we'll see where we are.

Let us take 800 one-hit-die creatures, because it actually doesn't matter if the attacked creature can use a weapon where this argument is concerned.  Let us assume that by perfect, possible chance we roll their hit points (using 1d8), getting exactly 100 rolls of each possible hit point value:  100 with 1 hit point, 100 with 2 hit points, 100 with 3 hit points and so on.  Really, this is the sort of thing I assumed people could understand when I wrote my original post, but people - it turns out - are really, really fucking stupid.  So it has to be said very slowly and in great detail so they will understand.

(Incidentally, my published book, How to Run, doesn't do this.  It is an Advanced Guide, so for some of you, it is really going to be too difficult.  It has English words and stuff).

Let's start with 100 creatures of 1HD that each have 1 hit point.

Now, in my original post I never said what was attacking the humanoids (or creatures, as we are now calling them).  I said that whatever it was had a 35% chance of hitting, because I was rating the creature as AC 6.  I was, in fact, assuming a 1st level fighter, that hits AC 6 on a 14.  For the very, very slow, that means a 1st level fighter would hit on a 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20.  That's 7 possible facings out of 20, or 35%.  I know this is really hard for some of you, but there you are.  Try to keep up.

Because some of you seem to think everything makes a big difference how many creatures attack the 1HD/1hp creature per round, I won't use rounds. I'll just refer to attacks.  Someone attempts to attack the 1 hit die creature at some point.  It doesn't matter if the creature attacks first, or succeeds, or if it kills 50 creatures before it is actually attacked, because for this argument, that doesn't matter.  We know from experience that it probably won't kill 50 first, but that isn't important right now.  Sooner or later, if it keeps getting into combats, it is going to get attacked.

Since we are starting with 100 creatures (to make our math easier), we assume that they're all going to get attacked a first time.  There's no need to assume that this is all going to happen at the same time, or in the same round, because within the function of this argument, that still doesn't matter.  For those who think it does matter for some reason, you're too young to read this blog.  Go ask your mommy or daddy.

Let us assume that in this universe, the chances of hitting exactly equal the actual hits that are done, so that in the first round, 100 creatures are attacked with a 35% chance of hitting them, and 35 creatures are hit. Miraculous!  And all done through the power of supposition.

Bif, bang, boom, 35 1HD/1hp creatures die.  That leaves 65.  Now we have a second attack.  We assume, again, that if they're still around, eventually they will be attacked a second time.  Being attacked is extraordinarily common in combat, so we can presume they'll probably have to take that risk again.

2nd Round:  35% x 65 creatures = 22.75 creatures are going to be hit.  To keep our numbers nice and round, let's say that fractions in this universe are dispersed by the gods, so that we only hit 22 creatures.  All 22 of those creatures are now dead.

3rd Round:  The 43 creatures that remain are attacked again.  This time, 35% x 43 = 15.05.  We drop the fraction and 15 die.

And here is where Oakes is correct when he tells me there wouldn't be 4 left.  I honestly don't understand right now how I wound up with 4 originally.  Some goofy thinking there.  Wow, I sure fucked up.  I must be really, really stupid.  Oh well.

Still, I count 28 left.  What happens if they're attacked another round.  We must assume, mustn't we, that these creatures, if still alive, are going to be attacked again, right?  Well, to save time, assuming they are attacked for a whole bunch of rounds, nine rounds in all, I find the remaining 1HD/1hp creatures diminish thusly (each number is a round, for those who are having trouble) - please try to remember I'm dropping fractions:  19, 13, 9, 6, 4 and 3.

I sure conflated that with the last post.  My math really sucks.

Okay, let's take one-hit-die creatures with 8 hit points.  We have 100 of those too, remember?  We could work our way up through each number of hit points up to 8, but this post is getting long enough, so let's just jump to the top.  After all, we know that since my original argument that there would be far more 1HD/8hp creatures left was totally bogus since my math sucks so much, we might as well prove that there isn't going to be a difference. There isn't going to be a difference, right?

Well, this is going to be more complicated (and here's why my math was screwed up, because I was trying to manage the 8hp creature and I overcomplicated the 1hp creature; oh well, live and learn).

Again, everyone is attacked and of 100 8hp creatures, 35 are hit.  These all die, and . . .

Wait a minute.  Wait just a minute.  None of them die, do they?  Seems to me that I came to that conclusion before, but my math really sucks, so let me look at it again.

All 35 that get hit take 1-6 damage from the spear I had originally applied in my first post.  That would mean that 5.83 suffer 1 damage, 5.83 suffer 2 damage, 5.83 suffer 3 damage, 5.83 suffer 4 damage, 5.83 suffer 5 damage and 5.83 suffer 6 damage.  I felt I should list them all off, since I don't want any of my readers thinking I've pulled a fast one.

Well, we still want to keep round numbers, but just for shits and giggles, let's say that the gods really hate 1HD/8hp creatures and that they insist on all fractions being kept.  Makes it harder for me, but . . . well, they're gods.

Let me put this into a table, because that will be easier for everyone:

Now, maybe it's just me, but the fact that I have to make a table for these, that I didn't have to make for the 1HD/1hp creatures, ought to say something of itself, but there we are.  Let's look at the second attack.

Of the ones that were hit above, each of those has a 35% chance of being hit.  This works out to 2.0405 of each of those that gets hit a second time, and 3.7895 not being hit by the second attack.  Taking one of those groups as an example, if we just take those with 2 hit points remaining, 84.33333% are killed, while 16.66667% take 1 damage.  See?  This is really simple math, isn't it?

So to see who gets hit and who doesn't, and how many take how much damage, let's have a look at this table:

We can then compare the above numbers with those that are killed:

And from that we can get a lay out of how many are left with each amount of hit points:

Total: 86.61741667

Hm.  Maybe it's just me, but it seems like even if a troop of 1 hit die humanoids had been attacked prior to meeting the party, most of those with 8 hit points to start would still have 8 hit points.  Isn't that strange?  I must be reading the numbers wrong.

Well, I've shown my work, and the means of getting there, so let's just jump to the end.  Let's see how the 1HD/8hp creatures would fare to the end of 9 rounds (*sorry, for easier reading, I'm going to limit it to 3 decimal places - the reader will have to trust I'm not lying about decimal numbers I'm not showing):

There!  Proof positive that the reader is absolutely right.  There is no difference  whatsoever between creatures having 8 hit points and surviving combats and creatures having 1 hit point.

Damn.  Glad that's settled.