Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ship Routes - Mediterranean

At my last count this morning, I have received 14 positives - looking good, and I thoroughly appreciate all the support thus far.  Now come on and get out those last six.

As a bit of inspiration, I've been working on this project about ten days now - I've finished the biggest, below, as well as the seas around Arabia.  Almost have the seas around India finished now, then its the Sea from France to the Baltic to the Barents Sea (a big one, but not quite as big as the one below).  Here are ship routes for the Mediterranean and Black Seas:

Typically, blogger doesn't manage the image very well.  Thankfully, I've put the map up on the wiki, where it can be seen in strong detail.

This map wasn't meant to be especially pretty, and I'm noticing now I've left a few notes on it.  Ah well.  Primarily it was meant to be serviceable.

In principle, the map is intended to show the shortest routes between port/market cities of various sizes.  Take note that the size is listed next to the city - thus Palermo, on the top of Sicily, is rated at 6, Corfu is rated at 2, Marseille at 5 and so on.  Most of the cities are rated at 1.

I began with Genoa, rated at 18 (found at the left top of the map).  This was determined by the number of references I found for Genoa being a commercial/trade/market/port - which turned out to be many.  I have reasoned that Genoa is able to import goods directly from a distance up to 180 hexes, or 3,600 miles.  A port with a rating of 1 can only import goods a distance of 10 hexes, or 200 miles; thus, small ports are dependent upon other small ports to obtain goods from a great distance.  Each time that goods pass through a trade city, a cost is added (which I would cover in the trade system course, if I get those other six positives) - thus, direct shipping decreases cost.

The next part, however, is complicated.  The reader will notice, very near Genoa, to the west, is the port of Savona (rated 7).  IF it happens that an outbound route from Genoa through Savona is the same distance (always counted in hexes, without fractions) as it would be without going through Savona, then Genoa declines the direct trade to any ports in that direction and they fall to Savona.  This is worked out because Genoa's route through Savona is the same distance as Genoa's route would be without Savona.  Therefore, if we look at Oneglia (further west from Savona, the 'n' obscured by the large red 1), Genoa is 3 hexes away.  Genoa is also 2 hexes from Savona and Savona is 1 hex from Oneglia, so Genoa does not import directly from Oneglia - or, at least, the price of goods from Oneglia is considered to be increased in price due to tariffs owing to Savona.  Savona, in turn, does not import from San Remo, west of Oneglia, because Oneglia controls that trade and so on, down the coast.

Now, if it happens that the next city down the coast is limited in it's imports (Oneglia is rated as 1), then the origin city skips the intervening city and imports from as far away as it is able.  Savona, for example, goes through Oneglia's hex to import from Algiers, far from the south.  But Oneglia hasn't the economy to import from Algiers (max. 10 hexes), so Savona imports from Algiers directly.  Genoa then imports goods from Algiers through Savona.

This is infinitely more complicated than most anyone in the world would do it, I know - and it wasn't the way I started.  I began by assuming that anywhere could import from anywhere.  The result, however, meant that every port had to be compared to every other port for the prices table, and this was simply getting out of control (too much to manage).  As well, this new method vastly cuts down on the possible trade routes - and this leaves empty hexes.  While making the Mediterranean map, I considered what I might do with those hexes.

Suppose we consider all the hexes with lines in them to be patrolled by naval ships.  However, hexes empty of trade routes are not.  That would mean that pirates would keep out of the trade routes, but they would deliberately haunt empty hexes next to the trade routes, waiting for a ship to fall off course.  In turn, any hex that was two hexes away from a trade route would logically be empty again, since it was too unlikely to find an off course ship there.

Now look at the map again.  See those empty three hexes directly west of Corsica?  Prior to the making of this map, those hexes weren't very important.  Looking at it now, however, there is an incredible amount of trade going back and forth past those three hexes: Marseille, Savona, Livorno, La Spezia and Genoa are all big, big ports with incoming and outgoing traffic going right by those hexes - and the shelter of west Corsica to hide in, assuming the patrols between Ajaccio and the Italian ports can be avoided.

Or consider Malta.  Without my design, Malta turned out to be not on any shortest route between anywhere.  The sea all around it is empty, unpatrolled, but on the edge of the routes going past Sicily.  How well does this fit in with the legends of the Maltese Knights preying on shipping?

Sometimes, we set out to achieve one goal and we stumble across something completely different.  For example, consider now that there is a strong reason to be a really good navigator - since the routes where the patrols run change direction abuptly in mid-sea in order to match up with the next port city.  If you're running a ship and you simply plow ahead, you're going to run right out of the lane.  You may still be the same distance from your destination, but now you're vulnerable to attack, where otherwise attack would have been very rare.  You've probably increased your chance of being attacked by pirates 16 or 20 times, just because you're a poor navigator.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Setting Forth

Following up on last Friday's post, let's assume that the party has worked out their differences and decided to enter into the forest to see what's what.  We know as the DM that the goblins are a village of about 30, with 4 dire wolves, about five miles into the wilderness.  At this time, I've been generally assuming that the wilderness will be trees - because this was originally supposed to be a scene in eastern Transylvania I was going to run for one of my offline parties two weeks ago - but the running was cancelled on account of illness.  No matter, I'll come up with something else for the party.

From my perspective, that is what I do where it comes to choosing what happens to the party.  I 'come up with things.'  Initially, it won't be anything more than what we've done so far - scene, dialogue and the expectation that the party will make a decision.  Describing the scene and waiting for the party to approach will typically take about 15 minutes.  The dialogue - mixed with the party talking among themselves, about another half hour.  The decision to enter the wood or move on - well, that can take anything from two minutes up to an hour.  I don't see the time as 'wasted.'  The party will discuss the matter, strategies, take stock of their equipment and so on - about the same actual amount of time one might expect a party to spend if it really were preparing itself to head off-road into an unsure situation.

I'm not bored while this is happening because I'm listening to the party, taking stock myself, answering questions and keeping the tension level up by keeping information to a minimum.  The party will ask all sorts of questions that are designed to make me 'show my hand.'  They'll come up with some idea and one will ask me, "Does that sound good?"

To this I will answer, "How would I know?" - while both player and I know damned well that I do know exactly whether it will work.  The player's goal isn't to get an answer, its to get the facial expression they're hoping for, the reveal in the poker face that tells them they're good.  I disappoint them, however.  The practice itself develops from playing DMs who wear too much of their game on their sleeve - and I don't.  It is what I meant when I spoke on Friday about indifference being a tool.

What, then, is in the forest?  Have I spent hours carefully detailing the goblins?  Have I sketched out a map of the forest?  Do I have the entire adventure planned?  The answer to that is yes and no.

On one level, I am improvising.  I am not, however, 'winging it.'  That would suggest that I've made no preparations and that's patently false.  I have carefully designed an extensive series of maps.  I have detailed information about the topography and what sort of forest this is.  My understanding of the domain (or region) is thorough and precise - and I am operating on certain principles that I have operated on time and time again.

The goblins do not live in a cave.  The forest is set among a bunch of low, gentle hills in an empty hex near the cobbled road, and as the hills are made of granite there are few significant caves.  Food is easier to raise in the outdoors, and these are only 30 goblins.  Set 5 miles from the road, they might just as well be on another so far as they concern the local authorities.  Everyone knows those hills are wild; they have no significant economic value, so no one cares if a group of goblins take up residence.  Goblins, human cotters, what the hell difference does it make to the lords of the domain?

As we drive around in cars most of the time, we have a piss-poor understanding of how far five miles is.  If you set out right now, walking on paved sidewalks laid out in a straight line, you'd manage five miles in about an hour and a quarter - presuming you were in good enough shape to keep up a strong pace.  If I replace the sidewalks with a well-cut pathway, wide enough for two or three to walk abreast, where logs have been laid down on soft places and across banked streams, figure about two hours - perhaps more, as the path won't be straight, adding distance to your walk.  Now make the path two feet wide, with roots, without any logs and through the slopes created by even moderate hills.  Better call that three hours now - with a needed rest, probably around three and a half.  If you're not in good shape (and the mages won't be), your feet will hurt, your back too from the pack, you'll be sweating and somewhat grimy from the march.  But at least you'll feel confident you're getting there.

But are you?  We tend to think of the 'wilderness' as a place where we drive out to the mountains, unload at the parking lot and take the trail along Boom Creek, through the Black Rock Mountain or on to Walcott Lake with the understanding that we know where we're going and approximately how long it will take to get there.  Here, however, we're walking into a thick forest with no idea whatsoever!  We don't know how deep in the goblins are.  How far do you walk in before you quit?  A mile?  Two?  Ten?

Now get rid of the trail.  Why would there be a trail?  What, the goblins cut a trail to take them specifically to this place in the road, so they can hit people as they ride through what, once every 12 days?  There's no way there's a trail!  Maybe there is deep in the forest, back a mile from the road, but which direction?  You and your party could wander two to five miles in the wrong direction (veering off by 20 degrees would be enough) and go right past the goblin trail, the goblin village and right out of the hills on the other side three days later.

Even if you find a trail, how do you know its the right one?  How will you know which direction to walk?  You could lose hours taking the trail until it up and dies some several hundred yards from a completely different human village, way off road.  Or to a hunting blind, used by - how would you know?

Well, the answer is always the 'ranger,' isn't it?  So let's presume you have a ranger, and you're tracking the goblins through the forest with no path.  Naturally, this is easy, because the goblins pack close together in tight formation, destroying the undergrowth as they go . . .

Except they don't.  I've walked through some very empty wilderness with no specific pathway and from experience, I can tell you that an untrained party tends to drift apart.  Four or five people will break up as they cross deadfalls, seek what they think is the easiest path and generally scout their way forward.  This is actually better, if you don't know precisely where the creek is and there's no path to get there.  The best fishing places on Boom Creek, which I linked above, sit about 2000 yards below the trail following the north ridge.  At some point, early afternoon, if you want to fish those places, you turn off the trail and drop into the wood.  There's no path because most who take the trail are merely heading up to Boom Lake for the sake of the hike.  The fishermen turn off the trail depending on where they personally like to fish.

As you drop off, the slope is about 30-degrees, with a pine-needle floor that kills undergrowth and makes it easy to keep your fellows in sight - but the forest is ancient and protected and there's a dead tree about every 15 feet.  It's a bitch to get down those 2000 yards - but at the bottom you find this:

Not my picture, found it on line - but I have fished
this exact bend.
It's a pretty meadow, with grass and soft moss.  In some places the creek is slow and five feet deep, so clear you can see the trout sitting on the bottom ignoring the spoon hook you've patiently dropped two inches in front of its nose.  Mostly its brown and rainbow trout, one to two pounds, good fighters. 'Tis one of my favorite places, though I haven't been up there in years.

A ranger is going to have a lot of trouble following one goblin's track in a forest of deadfalls and pine-needles, but let's say he's done it - and let's be Hollywood and say that the ranger can tell a human's foot is being dragged over the ground.  Let's say further that the ranger actually finds a trail and that it's one made and used by goblins (the ranger can tell).  Goblin tracks go both ways, but our ranger can somehow tell that the more recent tracks, or perhaps the greatest number of tracks, head in a certain direction.  The trail is narrow, designed for 50 lb. creatures, but the party gamely starts along it.

As I say, however, that doesn't mean they get there in the next five minutes.

If I started running at 7:00, the party started arguing about entering the forest around quarter to eight; they started in an average of let's say 8:15.  I describe the forest, the problems of the forest, and that takes us to around 8:30 - 8:45.  We can't say nothing has happened, can we?  The party is adventuring, they're blood is up, they're worried about what they'll find and every once in awhile I describe Mazonn's anguish at wanting to find his wife.

It's too soon to find the village - that would suggest it was easy.  I suggest that the party is tired and thirsty, and that they should take a break and eat something.  They discuss what to eat, share it around and realize all of the sudden they don't have that much food.

I've been running now for nearly two hours, creating almost continuously (and people wonder what I get out of it) - and now its a good time to call a break for the party so they can get up, eat themselves, stretch, use the bathroom and chatter away.  Meanwhile, I turn off the screen that shows the party what's on my desktop and I begin working on an upcoming encounter.  Now is a good time for one.


Speaking of erstwhile expeditions into the wilderness, linked here is an extreme example, the 1962 Canadian short film Nahanni.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Trade Table Videos or No?

Yesterday, I got a query on my old post about building a trade system from scratch - but I have to admit that it's very difficult to answer the question because the manner in which my system works is acutely complicated.  Much of it is based on knowledge I have gained on manufacturing and resource processing, incorporated by degrees over the 25+ years I've been working on the project.

More than a year ago I made a video for youtube called Tao of D&D Trade Tables Part I.  That originated with my thinking that I could do a brief overview of my pricing tables, but the video ran an hour and 8 minutes without my finishing the overview.  It generated a very small interest for the time it took.  As a result, I never did motivate myself towards finishing.  To date, I've had no one point out that there was never a Part II.

Yet, I do have people who write to me specifically to talk about the economic framework and the trade system.  I also have people who never fail to attack me for ever daring to implement one. However, except for the one post I linked above, nothing I've ever produced at length about the details of the trade system has gotten more than minimal feedback.

So here is the question.  Do people want me to spend several hours making what would have to be some very dull videos (for most) describing and detailing every corner of the trade system?  I'm not saying just an overview.  I'm saying a detailed 'course' in the design.  Point by point, for as long as that takes me to record.

Yes or no?

Fact is, that's a lot of time and effort to do something that, first, does nothing for my players; and second, will be a complicated reiteration of something I already know cold.  So my motivation is minimal.  To do that, I'd want to feel it really was of value to someone.

I could ask for comments proving that people want it, but I have enemies.  I have people who would gleefully write a comment, "Yes, do it!" just to make me work.  Because they're haters.

If I do this, it's wouldn't be because I need to do - it would be because you, the readers, want this.  So if you CARE, here's the deal:

Use the donate button on the right sidebar and send me $1 by Paypal.  That's it.  One measly cruddy dollar.  It's never going to make me rich, it's a third of a cup of coffee and that's going to hurt no one.  And if I get TWENTY people who are willing to have their names show up in my email because they've paid me $1, then I'll make the videos.

Someone will ask if they pay $20 by themselves, will I do it?  The answer is no.  The money doesn't matter.  Putting yourself out there, proving that you want this, that's what matters.  Twenty people. That's the deal.

If you really feel motivated, you can get your 19 other friends to send me a buck.  Do that, and you can make me do this just for you.

I think it's fair.  Because for me, to explain this again is a helluva lot of time and work.  Which, to be honest, won't be fun for me.

Whattaya say?  Is it a deal?

Friday, September 26, 2014

In-Party Indecisions

As I move forward on this, I see it becoming harder and harder to explain what's going on in my mind as I draw the players into a situation.  As the reader will remember, the players have just seen the father, Mazonn, break down while trying to drive the characters off, mostly from fear.  We may assume at this time that the players are free to take this advice and continue down the road, but let's assume they do not and that - by degrees - they get the story out of Mazonn.  His wife and his wife's sister have been stolen away.  Three of his family are dead.  His brother Vasile is a wreck and his son Aulus is but 16.

Apart from that, someone on top of it in the party is going to ask, "Where have you come from?  Where are you going?"  As a DM, we have to have answers for these questions - preferably not stock answers.  It's tempting to say they're fleeing something, or that they have a great opportunity elsewhere.  Both are intended to encourage an audience's sympathy or encouragement, since we feel sorry for people who have to leave their homes and we feel hopeful for people who have a chance to become rich.  These stories, however, are tiresome.  And we don't need another reason for the party to like these people, do we?  It would be better to just have Mazonn look at his son when he gets the question; have the son shrink, turn away and hide his face; then give a very general answer.  "From the south; we heard there's new settlement in (whatever place we wish to name)."  Now we know the son has done something awful and that the family does not talk of it.  Later, there may be an opportunity to explain that - or there may never be such an opportunity.  Adventuring can very often be a matter of getting used to disappointment.

In a play, of course, we learn everything.  In an open system, however, there isn't time to learn everything.  In a play, the audience takes a passive attitude towards information they don't have - they know it will be revealed before the end.  In life, however, we know that unless we take an active stance - and all the risk that implies - we are not going to learn shit.  This passive vs. active requirement is fundamental to the difference between the 'story' game and the 'open' game - and it helps explain why stories do NOT build tension as well as personal commitment does.  In a story, we are afraid for someone else (which is how we'll view our characters).  When we have to do it ourselves, we are afraid for ourselves.

Once the party has gotten the information, they'll want to talk about it.  We want to encourage this. We do not want to push the party one way or another, at least not in the beginning.  Let them gripe, let them re-examine the evidence, discuss what they believe and what they don't.  Keep them on topic!  They'll start to slide off into a lot of related and unrelated content and we'll need to say, "Okay, okay, but that's then and this is now.  What do you want to do."  We'll also need to say, "Fine, but since you don't know for sure what's going to happen in the future, what do you want to do right now?"  Let them talk, but be sure they stay on topic and don't let them over-think the situation.  There's nothing wrong with saying, as the DM, "You don't know that's going to happen, you have no reason to think that's going to happen, don't over-think this."  Now and then a party will need reassurances that if you wanted to kill them, you'd put thirty master assassins behind 30 trees and let fly.

Remember that as the party is over-thinking and coming up with half-baked ridiculous notions about what might happen if they do this or that, it's a sure sign that a) they don't trust you and b) they're getting scared.  They will never admit to being scared, but the whole "something is waiting to screw us over, DM or monster" thing is proof positive that you're getting under their skin.

You've got to get them to aim that fear at a target, and you've got to get them to agree.  How?

A typical situation that people online describe would be two halves of the party who refuse to agree.  Half wants to help Mazonn regain his wife and his sister; the other half wants to ditch this and keep going.  After five or ten minutes - all you'll need if you're paying attention - it's clear the situation is becoming deadlocked.  At this point, you'll be sorely tempted to push the side you don't prefer into the other camp.

You want the party to get the women.  You know there's a little goblin village of 30 goblins and 4 dire wolves about five miles into the forest, with a few thousand gold in treasure and perhaps the +1 double-damage sword vs. white-haired villains that the fighter's been hankering for.  The two people in the party who don't want to go are the same two who never want to do anything, so you say, "Hey, look, I've designed this part of the adventure already . . ."


You might say, "There's a fat purse hanging on the dead goblin's belt" . . . or, "You can see the goblin's sword has three jewels in it" . . . or some other painfully obvious bribe that really ought to be beneath you.

Or you might try, "I need the party to make up their mind, we're wasting a lot of time already." While pointedly staring at the one player who isn't doing what you want.  This subtly fixes the blame for everything on the one person you've identified with your eyes, building peer pressure against that person.  It's manipulative, it's an unfair use of your authority and you may not even be aware that you've done it.  The target will be aware, however, and they may respond quite bitterly - and if you blithely targeted them without knowing it, then you're now going to feel that the target is the problem player - after all, why is he suddenly getting bitter for no reason?

The problem begins where you or I the DM invests in one choice or the other.  We must acknowledge that, first of all, we have a great deal of power at that table; we must further acknowledge that once we begin thinking along certain lines, our subconscious will kicks into the process of getting us what we want.  We think, "I wish the party would do this" - and within minutes our monkey brains are moderating our facial expressions, the tone of our voice, our body language, the direction of our eyes when we speak and so on, all without our corresponding awareness.  If you think this isn't happening - that you control these things - then you are living in a dream world, bub.  This only makes the situation worse, as after a lifetime of total denial that you send messages without using your brain you're facing the steep hill of self-awareness.

The solution to this is not to think, "I'll have an opinion but I'll keep it to myself."  That's exactly where all this monkey shit starts.  The solution is to think, "I won't have an opinion.  And I'll mean that."

You can't control your subconscious - but you can adapt yourself to the understanding that BOTH decisions made by BOTH sides of the party have merit and that you can roll with either one when the time comes!  For many a reader out there, indifference will seem like an impossible goal.  As a DM, however, indifference will be an insanely valuable benefit for you.

Do you imagine that a professional umpire gives a shit which group of pampered, over-paid, spoiled-rotten ignorant jocks wins a particular professional baseball game?  In a world where every single pitch is going to be examined by hundreds of over-paid analysts one frame at a time?  Fuck no.  If you want to be an umpire, you have to get yourself into a headspace where it doesn't matter if Jim Bob or Bubba Jim is a nice guy or not.  No one deserves to win.  No one deserves to lose.  NO ONE deserves shit all.

You've just got to get all this shit about what players ought to do out of your damn head; it is their lives, their characters, their win or loss - you and your wishes don't enter into it.  You've created the situation; you're managing it, you're building tension and expectations - and in all truth, the less you say the better.

Think about it.  The party is arguing because they haven't got enough information to tip it one way or the other.  That lack of information is tension.  The one half is thinking, "If we go to town, we'll lose out on the treasure that is surely out there."  The other half is thinking, "We don't know what the hell is out there, I want to be more sure about what I'm doing before I commit myself."  Both of these positions are correct positions to have!

Both are strategies the players are employing to manage their uncertainty.  Some will say, "Well, we're here to adventure, they ought to be brave enough to risk it all, no matter what."  In the reality of the game, however, that is pure ignorance.  One might as well say, "Hey, fuck it, move the bishop, it's only a game!"

Thank you, no.  I'll move my bishop when it seems like a good idea.  This is where half your party is.

Any information you give at this point will tip the balance - and if the party is completely stymied, you will have to tip the balance if you want the game to continue.  However, as I've argued, you're hopefully indifferent.  So let's look at the situation again in terms of what we DMs legitimately control:  Mazonn, Aulus and Vasile.

All three will be perfectly capable of hearing the party argue - even if the party says they're moving away and out of earshot, they'll be visible (the npcs will ensure that) and the npcs will develop opinions about what's said or conveyed that they're entitled to comment on.

Well, we can have the npcs change the situation.  They set about righting the wagon and moving it off the road.  One or two of the players will probably help once this begins.  We can have the npcs ask questions of the party:  "Where are you coming from, who are you, where did that bauble on your neck come from, what does the symbol on your shield mean" and so on.  Questions that are likely to come from the father or the boy, depending.  We might have Vasile have a breakdown, seizing the spear and running into the forest, only to be caught and restrained by the father.  The father may tell Aulus to look after Vasile, bury the bodies, get themselves to the next town - while the father marches into the forest alone.

None of these tell the party what to do.  They're all part of the scene, the groundwork for which we laid out in the beginning.  If the party won't make up their mind, we just go on playing the scene out as it logically would play.  The boy would be curious; the father determined; the uncle distraught.  They'd feel all the emotions the party feels: uncertainty, expectation of failure and death, an inability to move on and leave the women behind and so on.

As the npcs play out their own drama, the players will make up their minds about who they are.  Their uncertainty will find a pale reflection in the father's apparent will to commit suicide by going it alone.  Their greed will be put into focus by the uncle's grief, the father's love for his wife, the boy's stiff willingness to do as his father asks.

And if the party still can't decide, the boy will eventually load Vasile in the wagon with all their stuff, the father will be gone into the forest and the situation will simply evaporate.

Through it all, you'll still be the DM.  You won't have manipulated anyone.  And if the party wants to fight and argue all night about what they should have done, LET THEM.  They have to learn to work together as a team - and that will mean that sometimes they have to argue until they learn how to make decisions together.

You're only making that harder for them if you intervene.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Ruination of Players

I just want to write a short post in the middle of this series - for it is a series, I intend to write tomorrow about initiating the actions of the party and shepherding them into the deeper parts of an adventure.

We have got to get rid of this idea that a DM is only as good as his or her players.  The players do not run the game.  It is necessary for the players to support the DM, but the DM must do the work, the DM must manage the game, the DM must see to it that the players have a reasonable, respectable place to play and the DM must intervene where players argue, where players insult players, where players make sarcastic comments or bully others.  I recognize that many do not see the role of DM shouldn't be that of principal or daycare worker - but those people are simply wrong.  If there is no authority at the table, the game will quickly devolve into a Lord of the Flies shitstorm where only the strong and only the loud are able to enjoy themselves.

The reason DMs tolerate this is because DMs are untouchable.  From there perspective, there's no need to involve themselves in the squabbles of players.  They're all adults, right?  So fuck 'em.  If they want to fight, why does that matter to the DM.  Since, after all, if any of that shit gets dumped the DM's way, that's going to either get the player's character killed or the player expelled.

This untouchability, coupled with apathy with regards to the players enjoying themselves, is a hell of a crappy way to organize any activity.  It takes a fool to think that five adults without a previously established agenda can agree on anything - and an even bigger fool to think that the DM's running is an agenda the other four can follow.

A bad world is never the fault of the players, it is the fault of a DM that is too weak to take responsibility.  It is that same weakness that means we'll probably never be free of DMs crying in their beer about the inadequacy of players and what players can handle.  "If Only I had better players!  Then I could really run a great world."

It's never talked about how quickly a bad DM ruins good players.


I wrote two chapters in How to Run about how to manage players.  Those two chapters, in a nutshell, translate as 'change yourself, change yourself, change yourself.'  We have no power to change others.  We can only hope that as we improve ourselves, others will see the wisdom of the choices we make.

Groundwork for Dialogue

Let's be more specific about these three survivors from the last post.  Let's say one is a father, Mazonn; his son, Aulus; and Mazonn's older brother, Vasile.  And let's be specific about the bodies. The first is Vasile's wife, Uta.  Another is Vasile's son Teo and the last is an old man, the pater familias of the family, Ivan, the father of Mazonn and Vasile.

Have that straight?  Well, if you haven't, imagine how the party is going to feel when they meet these people, having no idea who any of them are.  As a DM you're not going to put labels on them - the party will have to learn what's happening through dialogue . . . keeping in mind that the npcs aren't going to introduce the party around like this is a family reunion.  And while yes, we do want to think of the npcs as having their own agendas, there's no point in those agendas existing if somehow they don't conceivably matter to the party.  This isn't a tableau, meant to amuse the party a moment or two before they move on - this is a hook.  We want the party to join in of their own free will.  And, like a mark in a con, we want them to think it is their own idea.

Obviously, you're always going to have a jaded, disenchanted player who sees through every hook - I talked about that in How to Run.  That is not something you need to worry about.  We don't make movies for people who hate movies.  Your concern should be presenting a set of logical, predictable responses that will motivate the party's interest and involve them in what's happening.

Remember that as the discourse between the party and the strangers begins, there is plenty of opportunity for tension and uncertainty.  The party does not know who these people are or what they're hiding!  In representing them, we absolutely want to play up the party's suspicions, we want to make certain the party believes that something isn't being said, that somehow a conspiracy exists to keep the party in the dark and - most of all - that they're missing out on something.

For the love of all that's made of goblin bones, DON'T tell the party that these people lost a lot of treasure that they'll split with the party if the party helps get it back!  There's that heavy hand again, telling the party what to do and smashing the tension all to hell.

Look, let's back up.  The party is approaching these three survivors.  Vasile is beside himself.  He's lost his son, his wife and his father, and he's now the fellow covered in blood beside the body of his dead wife, having removed the spear from her body.  There's a large, recognizable wound in her chest that can be described to the party, for they're all soldiers and they know a spear wound when they see it.

At the same time, Mazonn recognizes the party approaching.  The party plainly sees the father say something into the young man's ear (Aulus is about 16) and immediately the young man rushes - with intent - behind the wagon, out of sight.  He reappears a moment later, without any explanation for what he was doing.

There isn't a party in the world that is going to miss that.  Something has happened and the party's curiosity will be naturally prodded.

The strangers DO NOT speak first.  They don't know who they're dealing with.  It's a good thing to remember that in many languages, 'stranger' and 'enemy' are the same word (the Greek barbaros, for example).  Mazonn will stare at the party with violence in his eyes.  He will beckon his son Aulus to get behind him.  Vasile will look up blearily only at the moment the party actually approaches.  If the party simply clops on by, no matter.  We will have a second plot hook for an entirely different purpose just down the road, perhaps waiting in the next town.  For now, we want to sell this one as hard as we can - so as the party moves around the wagon, be sure they see that there's nothing odd about the spot on the wagon that Aulus had rushed towards; make sure they get another description, more details, of the mess.  Make sure that they see there's a dead goblin laying in the grass where it was formerly not visible.  Then let the party walk right on by.

If they stop, however, and ask the question -"What happened here?" - they're now in the dialogue we want.  Which was the point of this post, even though it took a long time to get here.

We cannot, as DMs, merely look at this dialogue in terms of what would Mazonn and his family answer at a time like this.  We have a purpose ourselves for making this set-up.  There is an adventure behind this, that we want the party to follow - if they're inclined.  We won't force them, but we DO want to give them every opportunity to consider getting involved.  That's our agenda.  We shouldn't forget that.

At the same time, we're not vendors depending upon the buyer picking up the option.  If we fail to ensnare the passerby here, we lose nothing!  Role-playing is not a business - it is an art.  The process of presenting the art is the process of describing the event as it is happening, arousing the player's interest and possibly enabling them to step deeper into the artistic framework we're creating.  In the meantime, every moment within the artwork is precious - we want the players to feel their way, roam around inside the creation and make up their minds.

There is a great deal to be remembered where it comes to dialogue.  Imagine that you and I have just met.  You've read my blog, you have a vague conception of what I'm like, but you also know from experience that people in reality conceal a great deal about themselves.  You would know that, right from the start, I'm not going to tell you all my motivations for writing.  AND you would not tell me your motivations for reading.  You would not disclose most things about yourself, certainly not on a first meeting.  You would not want to be explicit in your opinions, not even about the blog, since you're not sure how I would react.

In short, you would be guarded.  It might take five or six meetings before you began to feel comfortable around me - and if I were not the sort of person you liked, you may never feel comfortable.  On the other hand, if you wanted me to like you, you might find yourself thinking of strategies - stories you could tell, things you felt we might relate on, things that would make you look 'cool' - in order to gain my conviviality.

Even if from the start you hated me, and wished to tell me so, you would do it from a safe distance.  If you were a person who had expressed your hatred for me on the internet, you might refrain from giving me that information when we met.  You don't know, after all, that I won't go for your throat.  I do seem like a pretty emotional fellow on the blog.

This is all going on in Mazonn's head when he finds himself facing the party.  The party might be on horseback, making them more intimidating.  From Mazonn's perspective, he's alone.  Vasile is a disaster and even if his son has some skill, as a father Mazonn is probably more concerned with his son's safety than his fighting ability.

Does Mazonn want to tell this party that goblins have kidnapped his wife Eliska and his wife's sister Marta?  Or that between the attack and the party's arrival, they checked on the family heirloom that they had left out until Aulus resecured it - secretly - in the wagon's hidden compartment?  The magic heirloom?  How is Mazonn going to tell the party that?  Blurt it out?

Mazonn will be guarded.  He may put his hand on his knife and say, "Move on, barbaros."  If the party offers help, he might growl, "We don't need your help."  And if the party presses him . . .

It is very important to make npcs act according to ideals we understand.  All too often, characters behave as though they had no blood, no mental processes, no sense of self at all.  This is what we mean when we say that a character is wooden.  Starlord returning for his walkman in the prison without regard for the reality that he has just escaped from a prison.  What is a more meaningful characterization?  That he got the walkman free and clear, or that he had to walk away from the walkman and accept that sometimes there is loss.  Which allows for a deeper examination of the character's motives?  Which reflects more precisely our own struggles in this real world where loss is a thing we suffer without succor?

Mazonn needs to be a living, breathing entity, not a pasteboard cut-out with the words "fuck off" like a bubble over his head.  It takes an incredible amount of energy to work yourself up to the idea that you, your son and your distraught brother are going to dive into the woods to get your wife and sister-in-law back.  It takes even more energy to face a party that - for good or bad - is quite capable right now of killing you.

What would you do in that situation?  Your stress is maxed out.  Your fears are maxed out.  You've just lost your father, your brother's wife and his son.  You're bloody, you're in the middle of a road, your shit is everywhere and your body is a chemical nightmare.  What would you do?

At the very least, you'd shake.  That would be visible to the party.  When you repeated for the third time to this party that just won't leave, "This isn't your problem!" your voice would strain; it would shake as well; you'd pause between the words 'isn't' and 'your.'  As a DM you want to capture this strain on your face, in your body language, in your presentation.

If you've read the book How to Run, you know what a moment this would be for the introduction of shock or something else that would increase the desperation of all concerned.  I would encourage you in such moments, however, NOT to step on your own set-up.  The players have more than enough to intrigue them.  Having Mazonn - who might be a big man, massive fists, perhaps a stonecutter or a blacksmith - break down in front of the party and sob is a powerful image, supported by his son saying, "Father?" in a plaintive, confused voice, having never seen his father cry before.  That right there is your 'in.'  It lets the party ask the right questions, while obviously the father is holding back out of distress and not duplicity.  From then on, the party will take over the narrative, filling in the blanks themselves and deciding they can't leave this man to fend for himself, his son and his brother, not in these circumstances.

All we have done, however, is draw out the same response any of us would have in an emergency.  And in having that response, the emergency itself is the adventure.  How often have you retold the story of breaking your leg or having your appendix removed?  Was it a boring story, because it did not include killing goblins?  Of course not.

Though, yes, role-playing is better.  Because later we get to kill the goblins too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Setting the Scene

There has been a call now and then for me to give examples regarding how I create tension - through the use of dialogue or circumstance.  I did not give examples in How to Run simply because there would be too many possible examples necessary to correctly give a sense of good DMing - and were I to give only a few, those would almost certainly receive more attention than they deserved

I thought I might address this in a post.  Specifically, in an effort to provide measurement for what makes a good hook and what does not.  Like writing, the value of a hook depends on its ability to encourage action or to provoke it - a hook is useless if it produces apathy or distrust.  Bad writers, for example, will begin a story with a very heavy hand, concentrating on the narrative - and what has to happen next - rather than the conflict.  The result will be paragraphs of intensive reasoning that motivates the characters into doing what's next without any attention paid to why the characters do anything.  At best, the motivation will be something obvious, like a McGuffin or a single event that happened in their past.  In bad writing, one character experience justifies everything the character does.

The character feels sad all the time because the character's mother died.  The character won't go to this place because the character's mother died.  The character has trouble dealing with women because the character's mother died.  And so on.  In short order, we know what's going to happen next because it is plain where the writer wants the story to go.

In role-playing, the equivalent is where it is painfully obvious what the DM wants the players to do. For example:

As the party crests the rise, they encounter the violent aftermath of some sort of battle.  A wagon has been attacked and overturned.  The characters can see three dead bodies.  There are three men alive, who see the party immediately and begin coming towards them.  "Help us!" they say.

This is just awful.  As a hook it fails completely.  The DM's fingerprints are all over it.  Unless the party is inclined to do whatever they're told to do, the response will be groans and answers of, "Do we have to?"  At least, they would be in my world.

It isn't, however, because the basic idea is bad.  The fail is due to two things - the information that's given is far, far too general.  Apart from sweeping generalizations, there's no detail here, nothing to emotionally involve the party.  Remember that for a person to feel something, they must see images of what's going on - and 'three dead bodies' does not begin to cover it.

So, first, we need to expand meaningfully on the description - without any words that say what actually happened.  Both of these phases, ". . . the violent aftermath of some sort of battle" and "A wagon has been attacked . . . " are the worst!  Let the players figure it out.  Don't spoon feed them.

We need to remember that we are describing, not explaining.

As the party crests the rise, they see -

What?  Try to picture the scene in your mind before you speak.  What would the party see first?  Probably the overturned wagon.  And since the wagon would have been carrying something, we'll want to describe what's happened to it.  Was it valuable?  It might have been hay or sacks full of vegetables, or perhaps uncut lumber.  Remember that if it is something very heavy, the wagon probably wouldn't be rolled over - unless something really BIG did it.  That's a clue!  If the wagon was full of dirt and ore, and that's thrown all over the road, what's big enough to have done it?

Remember, too, that if whatever's in the wagon was something expensive, that's going to say much about both the living and the dead.  If the wagon was carrying all the people owned, furniture, bed, chairs, rugs and blankets, a barrel of water or food, then these people are going to be a family.  In any case, the more profound or interesting the cargo is, the more likely the players will care.

Let's go with the family that's moving their goods to another place.  It's simple and we can imagine it.  Strewn across the road - that's a good word, strewn, as it suggests an action without being specific - are the cheap furnishings of a house.  The wagon is overturned and the contents are strewn.  Some of it is broken - a split barrel, leaving a large wet spot, perhaps reddish in colour to indicate wine (which feels like more of a tragedy than water).

Now, we should be thinking, what was pulling the wagon?  Mule, horse, oxen or the people themselves?  If a mule, say, is the mule still alive?  What is the most evoking image?  The mule is standing untouched, a dozen yards from the decimation, calmly grazing on the grass.  Were that the case, we would want to describe the whole scene, in all its horror, before balancing it with the calm mule.  Or we would begin the horror by describing the mule still in harness, dead, head with an axe in it - a primitive axe, to entice the listener to wonder who in hell is using a primitive sort of axe around here - and tongue lolling out onto the stones.  The animal lovers in the party will feel the mule's death in their bones.

Okay, something has plainly happened - with the axe alone suggesting what.  Let's consider these three dead bodies.

Where are they?  Are they scattered, bloody, imbedded with axes of their own?  No, because that's way too obvious.  One might have a spear sticking out - but what would be better is if the body were laying close enough to the party for them to see the spear on the ground next to the body, the shaft covered in blood, having just been removed by one of the living who is weeping next to the dead body.  The mourner could have their hands covered in blood, with blood on their clothes - an apron, perhaps.  Whatever the clothes are will also give clues to the party as to who these people are, without obversely saying so.  These are things the DM should incorporate.

The bodies might be piled together, or laid side by side Hollywood style (always makes a good camera shot).  That alone would help suggest how long it has been since the event occurred.

Never, ever, only describe a body as a 'dead body.'  These were people once, remember.  Give them features, describe characteristics, elaborate on their clothes.  Shoes are always a good tag, as much about what we think of people is wrapped up in the shoes they wear.  Clogs vs. wrapped leather vs. hard, heavy boots.  All three make different suggestions of what sort of people these are.  Stephen King always has one of his dead bodies 'knocked out of their shoes' - because it evokes a strong image.

If it's a family, the bodies might be children.  The living might be children.  More likely, a parent with a child.  What are the relationships?  Who's in charge?  Does the son trust the father or not?  Is the son or daughter old enough to fight?  If we avoid the cliche that the son is ready to fight the first thing he sees (sigh), how might he react to the party compared to his father?

The three that are left alive would never notice the party immediately.  These men have just been through some sort of hell.  They're shocked, horrified that people they knew are now dead, too shattered even to collect their things and right the wagon, much less rush towards a party of armed strangers who just crested the hill.  This is the worst day they've ever had, and the party are now proof positive - to them - that this is the end of everything. The only reason they don't run away into the forest (or whatever the road travels through) in terror is that they were just attacked by things out of the forest.

Do the men have weapons?  If they do, there's other places we might go.  The bodies might be piled together, the men may be getting ready themselves to march into the forest and get back whatever was stolen from them.  Remember, they didn't know there was a party coming.  What would they be doing if the party had not?

To understand that, we have to decide what was taken, and by what.  Several things?  Humanoids, probably, since they used that axe and spear, but human-like or no?  It makes a big difference if the creatures were small like goblins and kobalds vs. something big like orcs, hobgoblins or bugbears.

Try to imagine yourself, capable of using a long knife or a club.  You've just been attacked by a group of orcs who in aspect resemble an organized gang of thugs.  They're six feet to six-foot-six, so in size they look like police officers.  They're muscular and mean and they look down on you.

Now imagine that you've been attacked by a group of goblins.  They're filthy and feral, but they're small.  You've been attacked by the equivalent of unwashed, insane children.  As hateful as they are, you're going to feel a bit more like these are in your league.

Suppose, then, that these creatures - whatever they are - have taken all your valuables.  Well, that might be galling, but you might just load up, gather the bodies and count yourself lucky to be alive.  Suppose, however, that they've taken your father or your brother.  Or your wife or sister.  What are you going to do then?

This is what's happening to these strangers we find on the road.  They're not empty vessels designed to tell the party what to do, these are living, suffering people who have just been violated.  They are already in a state of reaction.  That reaction is what will motivate the party's attention.

Inevitably, the party will either approach or pass them by - more likely the former.  The party will almost certainly ask, "What happened?"  As a DM, you have to be ready for that question.

You do NOT say, "A group of goblins came out of the forest and attacked us.  They stole our stuff and kidnapped my wife."  omg.  This is an opportunity to make the party feel involved, even responsible, without feeling like they know what the DM wants.

Try having the father step forward and saying, "This is none of your business, move on!"  Of course, we don't want the party to move on, so instead we say, "This is none of your business, outlaws!  Move on!"  Or some other insult, 'foreigners' perhaps, or 'mercenaries.'  Parties being what they are, they tend not to carry heraldry, they tend not to wash, they tend to travel a lot so they are almost certainly foreigners and so on.  If those don't make sense, try "non-believer."  If it's possible, get another insult or two into the party's head if the party does decide to move on without getting involved.  "Coward" is a nice send-off - as it will almost certainly bring the player back to the scene.

What we want is conflict.  We want the party to feel the angst, anguish and hatred of the npc's second hand - so they will lash out at the party, try to get rid of them, insist even after talking that they don't need the party, that they can do it themselves, etc.  Under all this should be the obvious fact that they can't  do it themselves, since they were attacked already, they lost and three were killed.  If the party stands back and watches the rest go after whatever or whomever is in the forest, the party knows they've just let those people go to their deaths.

This won't matter to the party if that scene isn't built before the interaction happens.  The party's sense of indignation has to be riled.  There are things in the forest attacking people on the road.  This is inherently wrong.

Of course, I've had parties who would simply finish the job.  They kill the last three people, saving the four-year-old girl for last, then see what there is left to plunder.  It is a great opportunity for leaving clues that suggest it would be nice now if at least one of these people were still alive to explain what the blazes this book is that was found in the secret compartment in the wagon's floor.

But that is another adventure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Features & Food, Part III: Animals, Dungeons & More

The trouble with this post, and the reason why it has gone up in three parts, is because of the niggling little details that have to be just so.  It worries me a bit, as hex type VIII is the simplest of them - and I had planned on talking about them all.

Anyway, the water section was the largest, finished yesterday.  I feel confident I can finish today.

Animal Sources

These three are a question of degree, with a game trail producing the least food, a choke point producing somewhat better and game country the richest.

The game trail is a fixed route, generally a series of braided routes a few hundred yards wide, by which meat-yielding animals travel.  A competent hunter would be able to read the trail, knowing at what point along the route and what time of day would be best to conceal his or her self.  

The choke point is a special form of game trail, where the topography forces animals to move through a pass, over a ford, along a particular ridge and the like.  Thus the choke point compresses a wider set of trails into a confining band.  At certain times of the year, animals may be found moving continuously through such an area - so many in fact that local hunters and carnivores will get their fill and ignore the great availability of meat.

Game country is a natural bowl or plateau where ground water is so plentiful that the trees, shrubs or grass grow thick as a carpet.  This indicates that a rich area of vegetation may exist even in a desert. Hunters may roam freely through such areas without the need to conceal themselves in a blind, as game congregates throughout the feature.  Game country tends to exist only in type VIII hexes (100% wilderness).

The chance for game country is 3 in 3d4, modified as follows: +3 if a lake is present; +2 if there is a river; +2 if there is a fishing pond; +1 if there is a dried pond; and +1 if there is an oasis.  Game trails occur in any hex that is adjacent to a game country hex, as they lead from the outside in.

The chance for a choke point is 2 in 2d4 if hills are present and 3 in 2d4 if mountains.  They do not occur elsewhere.


I considered for a long time how common dungeons should be.  I didn't want the standard D&D sort of dungeon to occur every six miles, but at the same time I did not want players having to walk halfway across my world in order to find one.  The solution was to reconsider what defined a dungeon - not necessarily for adventuring purposes, but as a feature that exists in a fantasy world.

I define a dungeon as follows:  there exists more than one habitat.  A single lair, even as large as several hundred humanoids, is a lair and not a dungeon.  For it to be a dungeon, there must be a second lair, at least, either linked with or hidden from the first.  This typically means a series of tunnels or connected natural chambers to be explored.  As well, there must be some natural food supply that exists underground, which the inhabitants consume.

Towards that end I have been working on a series of vegetation types that conceivably do not need sunlight to live.  I do not speak of molds.  If this is a fantasy world, we may conceive of molds that grow like fibrous carpets that can supply food for diminutive herd animals; plants that cling to ceilings and grow downwards, with a consistency like cornsilk, which can be chopped and boiled to make soup or woven to make rope; hard, woody plants that grown in hexagonal patterns in large chambers, that give forth gray flowers that ultimately yield fruit; and seaweed-like fronds ('pond-weed') that grows in cold water.  One might even imagine a plant that, if it receives a blast of light once per month, it stores the photons and thus thrives.  All that would be needed was a first level light spell.  Combined together with fish and animals raised to live on such provender, a 'dungeon' can be seen as a rich food supply, like an underground hydroponics lab without requiring continuous light. 

The chance for such a dungeon is 3 in 3d6, modified as follows: +1 for hills, +2 for mountains and +1 for subtropical dry climates.  This latter argues that dry, warm climates produce a warmer underground environment, suggesting that such places would be more likely to be adapted to the food supplies described.  While considering that 1 in 216 seems a low number, I would point out that this would mean a single 6 mile hex with seven lesser hexes would have a 7 in 216 chance and that one of my 20-mile hexes would have a 49 in 216 chance.  A country the size of Belgium would have an average of 8 such dungeons.  Moreover, dungeons need not only occur in wilderness areas - where Belgium would be concerned, such dungeons would merely be deeper and more likely associated with large cities and ancient churches or tombs rather than large caverns.

The dungeon type indicated is really more of a place-holder at present.  A % die gives the following: 01 ruined town; 02-11 ruined hamlet; 12-13 curiousity; 15-44 dungeon; 45-92 hollow; 93-00 religious ruin.

Ruined towns or hamlets are deserted places where much of the dungeon may be on the surface, with towns having expected underground places for adventuring and exploration - abandoned sewers or basements.  Curiosities are man-made wonders, such as singular constructions like pyramids, elaborate gardens or castles; natural wonders such as geological vents, strange islands, stone forests; technological strangenesses such as a buried spaceship that the party might discover; anything, really, that is separated by its unique circumstance.  Dungeons are the traditional form.  Hollows are collections of natural caverns with little man-made design.  Religious ruins imply undead or other evil creatures living in fabricated tunnels more than a thousand years old.


I'm sorry to say that the various examples of the tables above do not relate to one another.  I was hoping for that, but spreading this out over five days has meant the various tables have become muddled.  Therefore, do not worry about how the below relates to the examples given.  I shall sort that out at the end of this post.  For now, try to see the below table for its general 'look.'

For the moment, let's just treat these as abstract numbers.  Bush tucker includes berries, nuts, honey and the various provender to be found from oases.  Berries produce 1 food, nuts 1-2, honey 1-3 and an oasis 2-6+1 (2d3+1).

Fish includes values for coast, lake, river, river mouth, swamp, bank, fish pond and pingo pools. Most water produces at least a little food.  Coast produces 0-1 food, lake 0-2, river 0-1, river mouth 0-2, swamp 0-1, bank 1-4, fish pond 1-3 and pingo pools 0-1.  For reference, 'zero-to-one' is a d2-1, while 'zero-to-two' is a d3-1.  Even with the chance of a set part of water producing no food at all, fish tends to be a major source if there is water available.

Forage includes meadowlands, dried ponds and dungeons.  Meadowlands produce 1-3, dried ponds 0-1 and dungeons produce 2-8.

Game meat includes game country, game trails and choke points.  Game country produces 2-5 food, game trails produce 1 and choke points produce 1-3.

Before going on, lets look at a complete result for the whole hex, generated as one image:

I rolled for this until I got a dungeon result.  Incidentally, I've attached a working copy of the generator to the Wiki, which you can play with.  I'm afraid that most of it is junk at the moment, as the generator is in a state of flux, but you might enjoy looking at what I've done with Type VII and Type VI hexes in the meantime.

What is '1' food?  In the interest of verisimilitude, we had best go back to this post.  There I suggest that '1 food' is equivalent to 100 million calories, which I then suppose would be enough to feed 167 people (remembering that we're including children in our number).  We can argue here than one human weighs, on average, 137 lbs.  This would mean that 1 food on the above list was enough to feed 22,879 lbs. of flesh.

If we assume that the ordinary animals are accounted for in the existing biome, we can presume that this fed flesh refers to monsters only.  That rids us of the need to consider how many deer, rabbits, frogs, lizards, birds and whatever also exist.  We only need worry about creatures as they occur in the monster lists - humans included, as bandits, brigands and so on.

Thus, the dungeon indicated with its five food would feed 2,287.9 goblins, assuming their average weight at 50 lbs. each.  More than enough.  Of course, the critical principle here is diversify!  Don't just pick one type of monster to feed on one given source of food.

Some quibbler is bound to mention that since I rolled the dungeon as a religious ruin, and since I said already that such places would be occupied by undead - and that the undead do not eat - that the whole system makes no sense.  I'm sure, however, that we can use our brains and adjust for such illogical circumstances.

Okay, I'm tired now.  This has been a lot of work.  Different subject tomorrow.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Features & Food, Part II: Water

I'm beginning to feel like this is the post that will never end.  Here is part 2:

Moving onto water-based food supplies:

Each of these tables are deliberately simple for the present - they can be expanded for later ideas having to do with potential food supplies.  I'm just tossing out what occurs to me - and at the same time, adding features that may have nothing to do with food, such as the 'dead pond.'  A dead pond is a place where salt or other minerals have rendered the water undrinkable.  That will probably become a stub at some point in the future that designates a certain creature that might dwell there or be associated with it.

Banks are related to salt water.  They may also be called shoals, places where fish congregate due to food supply.  Cool or cold sea water is created by currents, inspiring bacteria growth that in turn encourages spawning and schooling among larger fish.  Not every sea hex is a bank; the local fishermen come to know where to fish, so that there might be adventurous fishing folk temporarily in a hex that is considered 'wilderness.'

Dried ponds have little or no standing water are still fed by groundwater, so that they feature green grasses, rabbits, grouse and other small game, as well as hay for animals.  Seasonally they will form sloughs, standing water that is anywhere from an inch to a foot deep - these will evaporate slowly, as groundwater is usually just below the surface.

Fishing ponds are fed by brooks or creeks, or may be formed by groundwater springs (not to be confused with aquifers, a rare form of geological groundwater formation).  These may be naturally possessed of fish or they may have been stocked by locals.  Water tends to be from 3 to 10 feet deep (or more, depending upon the topography).  I have written some rules about fishing on the wiki.

Hot springs occur in mountain areas (and rarely elsewhere).  Oases form in deserts - and are really only special because they're springs that occur where there's no water.  However, they do tend to be intensely employed for that reason, so that a single oasis would likely produce more food than a dozen springs in a temperate clime (where they would be ignored).

Pingo pools and hills are fascinating.  I was surprised to find that the pools sometimes contain fish; this is due to periods of flooding, so that fish are left behind after the nearby river recedes.

The base chance for a bank is 2 on 3d4, modified as follows: +2 for coast, +3 for a river mouth, +1 for open sea. This means that the chance indicated will be impossible unless the sea touches upon the hex - which is fine, since in those cases a 'bank' cannot occur in a mainland hex.

The base chance for a dead pond is 2 in 2d4 in subtropical dry climates and 4 in 2d4 in temperate dry climates.  Dead ponds do not occur in other climates.

The chance for a fishing pond is 2 in 2d4, modified as follows: -1 in mountains, +2 if a river, +3 if a river mouth, +4 if a swamp, +3 in tropical wet climates, -1 in subtropical dry climates, +1 in temperate wet climates.  Dried ponds occur if the chance for a fishing pond is missed by 1.  Thus, if the chance of a fish pond is 2 and a 3 is rolled (as is the case with Hex C above) then a dried pond exists.

Hot springs have a 1 in 100 chance of occurring in mountains.  (Non-random hotsprings occur in my world where designated by wikipedia - benefits of running the real world).

Oases occur on a 3 or 4 rolled on 3d6 in desert hexes.

Pingo pools occur on a 2 to 4 on 2d4 in subarctic conditions (north of the tree-line).  Pingo hills occur if the chance for a pool is missed by 1 (like dried ponds).

Friday, September 19, 2014

Features & Food, Part I

Here and there, I have been working on my 'hex generator 2.0' - which will probably be a relief to some of you who are tired already of me writing about what role-playing is.  For today, then, let's dig a bit into something more substantial.

If the gentle reader is not familiar with my hex generator, you're going to want to start on this post about Groups.

This post will be dealing with 'Group VIII,' where all sub-hexes are wilderness, and specifically the food that can be found within that wilderness.  As ever, I am working on the premise that before we can determine what randomly exists in a hex, we have to start with whatever sustains those creatures.  More than that, natural food helps establish for the players a logical framework for the wilderness that's a bit deeper than, "this hex is full of trees."  Or rocks, sand, water, what have you.

For that, we have to establish what the hex fundamentally is - in terms of topography, hydrography and climate.  We start with Table I:


For the most part, this is a straightforward indication of whether or not a hex contains a certain feature or not.  'Mainland' would be a non-coastal hex.  Hills differ from mountains in terms of their elevation, but more importantly in terms of the amount of free rock; a 'hill' may be counted as something where the top of the feature could be considered arable; a 'mountain' would have large areas that are distinctly not arable.

Terms like 'tropical wet' vs. 'sub-tropical dry' have specific meanings that have specific definitions. For the present, I'm lumping together tropical dry in with subtropical dry, but later I may separate the two.  The reader should understand that the amount of water is much more important than the temperature of a region where it comes to both food production and animal (monster) population.

I suggest familiarizing yourself with the K√∂ppen climate classification, to get a feel for climates that occur in given parts of the world:

Good.   Let's compare Table I above with a part of the world itself.  If we start from this map,

which is in turn a break-down of the 6-mile per hex map on this post - an expansion from the map here - we can enlarge a section to get this:

The larger hexes are each 6 miles across (a bit more, but let's not quibble), while the smaller hexes within are 2 miles across.  Table I at the top of the post corresponds to the 7 letters within the chosen wilderness hex.

According to Koppen, the whole area is temperate dry.  A stream flows through hexes A, E, & F.  C & D are coastal hexes; the others are not.

From here, we proceed to food sources, broken down by type.  We can start with plant life:

Why 'bush tucker'?  My original generator had listed this as 'berries,' but in fact there are a great many more possibilities than that - naturally growing nuts, insect mounds, honey, tubers & roots, bulbs and so on that can all service as food sources.  It can be seen that I am specifying what the bush tucker is.  Meadowlands, in turn, provide natural grasses that will feed domestic horses, donkeys or mules, but not provide sustenance to creatures that cannot eat woody materials.  Admittedly, I haven't included a section for providing food for a wider range of herbivores - I hadn't actually considered specifying that until just now.  I should probably give a flat amount of plant sustenance depending upon the climate.  I was concentrating primarily upon things that would matter to the party.

The base chance for bush tucker is 2 in 2d4, or one chance in 16.  This is modified as follows: +3 for a lake (minimum a mile across), +2 for a river, +3 for a river mouth, +4 if the climate is tropical wet, -1 if sub-tropical dry and +1 if temperate wet.  These adjustments are tests for the present - based more upon a general feel than upon any kind of data.  If someone wants to provide me with hard data as to the amount of bush tucker to be found, broken down by topography and climate, I'd love it.  In the meantime, I'm shooting in the dark.

The base chance for a meadow is the same, 2 in 2d4.  This is modified as follows:  +2 for hills, +1 for mountains, -1 for subtropical dry, +2 for temperate wet, +1 for temperate dry.  I'm not sure I have a good argument for why hills have the best chance for a meadow.  I confess to not fully understanding meadow-development as a science.  It just feels 'right.'  If anyone wants to pitch an argument, I'll certainly listen.

Annoyingly, I'm being interrupted just now.  I'll have to make this a Part I post, and pick this up later if I can.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Plenty of Reasons

I still get views for this post, the fifth post I wrote for this blog.  True, it is the post that set the standard for this blog - it trashes the old mindset about seeking adventures and proposes a completely different sort of player investment from the typical module template.  It directly outlines how there endless adventure opportunities for people who are prepared to be entrepreneurs instead of looters.

I remember feeling at the time that it was a hopeless argument, that it would - and did - fall on deaf ears.  It didn't.  As I say, I still get views.  But it didn't change the vista of the game either, which is a bit funny.  All writers dream of writing an essay that will make everyone think differently.  Pure nonsense, of course.  That's not how change happens.

Take the I Have a Dream Speech by Martin Luther King.  People speak of it now as though it changed the way people thought about black people and white people in America.  Ferguson, recently, proved that very little has actually changed, but laying that aside . . . by the time King had given that speech in 1963, Montgomery had happened, the SCLC had been formed, Birmingham had gone down and King and his followers had been fighting that fight for at least nine years.  The speech delivered on the steps of Washington was not his first reference to his dream, either.  The march on Washington was simply the next logical step in a long struggle that still goes on - and the people who cheered when they heard that speech already believed before the speech was given.  No one's mind was changed.

Not even mine.  I wasn't raised a racist, so when I hear the phrase, "Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children," I continue to be stupefied that this insane idiocy continues year after year, when it is so plain that one human being is one human being, period.  I never needed to be convinced.

I feel continuously confused by many things like this.  Yesterday, I read the following on the Site That Shall Not Be Linked (from Scott who gave a pleasant, positive review on How to Run here):

"We have very different ideas about the necessity of taking games seriously - not saying that taking them seriously is silly or 'I could do that if I tried but I don't want to!', I have no idea if I could or not.  I just don't think a lack of rigor renders the pursuit a farce."

I look at that and find myself immeasurably baffled.  On the level of the Dream Speech.  And yes, I'm using my writer superpowers to draw a connection between the ignorance of people in facing the question of race with the ignorance of people in facing the question about taking things seriously. Because I don't see any difference.  After all, it isn't as if the mustard post doesn't make the point plain as day.

The reason that I feel this way is because I have played a number of games without rigor, and every one of them turned out to be a farce.  I see utter, unmitigated shit posted by the WOTC as representations of game play and I think, this is a farce.  I see the embarrassment in the faces of people who ask me, "What is your book about," the same disdain and unpleasantness that people associate with the words, "I am a born again Christian."  I am ashamed of the culture that has sprung from the game I love, and I have plenty of reasons to be.  Beginning with the sentiment among the participants who argue, "No, no I will not take this game seriously.  And you can't make me."

I concede that for the rest of my life, no matter what happens, the world at large will not respect this game.  Later generations may receive approval eventually for the game's attention to detail, the artistic measure in the game's creation, for the encouragement of life skills in the fields of research, drama, design, human resource management, therapy or team building, but I know that my generation - apart from those who play - will never think of this game as anything other than juvenile nonsense. Not because it is, but because the vast number of participants were first isolated, then exploited, then finally encouraged to behave like 14-year-old children.  Who now argue vehemently that expecting them to act as anything except children is robbing them of 'fun.'

I quit playing because I could not find a game that met my expectations.  I wanted to live out the fantasies, to take my intellect and conquer worlds through guile, risk and planning, to accumulate wealth, power, status, each of which were a means to transforming the world to suit me.  This is, after all, what I do in real life.  Only, in role-playing, I was hoping to do with with swords and massive amounts of strength and power, where the limitation wasn't my bank account but my imagination.  I wanted to shake the pillars of heaven.

What I got were mealy, tired, dull as dishwater conventional DMs with narrow minds who felt threatened by my imagination, who put up nonsense machinations to ensure that, one more time, we were going to walk out to the same fucking dungeon and walk through the same fucking empty rooms until reaching the same fucking mindless fucking monsters that would leave us the same fucking treasure that we could spend on the same fucking trinkets in the same fucking town on the same fucking borderland.

Yeah.  Real.  Fucking.  Fun.

What's wrong with the frivolous game?  It is summed up in this portion of the comment from Algol on my PPK's post a few days ago:

"When we get higher level it always feels logical for me to use the massive wealth I have to create armies. Surely a group of 200 men at arms would be a better investment for combat effectiveness than personal magic items? Or take command of the city guard or any other way to increase power other than increasing the numbers on my sheet. Yet it's always a fear of large combats that makes everyone shoot down this suggestion immediately when I bring it up."

That is just sad.  I read that and I just think, fuck people, you know?  Fuck the people in this hobby, with their thumb on top of imagination, keeping it down.  Miserable bastards and their lack of will or commitment or rigor, who can’t be bothered to try.

There are plenty of reasons to be ashamed.  This is just one of them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Opening the Door

I feel I'm responsible for addressing the other side of the equation - if we desire not to have the door slammed in our face, what do we do?  How do we get the door open?

The religious proselytizers will pitch hard the benefits that believing in their religion will do for you, hitting on the key words that society has already inculcated into your mind as things that matter. Your soul. Your comfort. Your fear of death. Your sense of purposeless wandering and lack of well-being are particularly targeted, as these are things Westerners pine about.  Obviously, reading this, you may not be a Westerner, but then my experience with other cultures tends to suggest that doorknocking to sell you religion is not a phenomenon.  I'm not even sure it happens anywhere other than Anglo-America.

I like to tell the JW or the Mormons (these two representing 90% of such callers - Pentecostals and 7th Day Adventists have gotten rare) that heroin pretty much offers me a great soul-saving package. Heroin puts me at ease and removes my fear of death.  It satisfies every benefit they can pitch - and all without having to sing or sit near other people.  Once I see my proselytizers start to get uncomfortable, I proceed to begin arguing their need to give up religion and pursue heroin.  But I digress.

(that said, I used to use John Bunyan's writings as a template for kicking the shit out of born-again Christians, but heroin is in fact more fun)

Before I go any further, I need to address what sort of person we're looking to invite us into their thoughts.  Right off the top, its a different matter than proselytizers - they're only interested in money, so anyway they can get you to give it to them works.  Money is democratic.  Every idiot has some, so it's always more practical to begin with the stupidest people.  But then, there are so many of the stupidest people, a religion tends to run out of sales staff before running out of buyers.  People like me - and presumably you, since you've driven through this wall of text to get this far - are too much trouble for religionists.  There are easier sources of money for them.

Matters of mind are a bit expensive for stupid people, so typically one would like to start with the smartest people.  Unfortunately, many of the smartest people have already read and gotten completely bored with the internet, long before they're ever going to reach your blog.  They haven't the patience to sit through a million pages of drivel before lucking out and finding something good. For them, the internet matters only when they're researching something - and they don't research things on blogs.  You're fairly safe in guessing that they're not reading you.

What you can shoot for are two reasonably common groups: those who are intelligent but fundamentally anti-social, so that they do have the time to read dreck while steadily building up a framework for finding better stuff; and the young who haven't had time to get tired of anything yet. If you have a brain for a bat, and you want to swing it online, these are your targets.

The trick will be that you're bound to encounter a great many people who are anti-social who either a) feel this is a badge of honour; or b) are wholly unaware of it.  The former will see anything you do or say as a challenge to their world view - since the act of presenting a position online is a very minor way of becoming 'the man' . . . that being precisely the thing they're rebelling against.  These are not that difficult to recognize.  After all, they wear their badge on their sleeve.  Try to remember that for these people, the subject matter is not their principle concern.  Their principle concern is resisting - you, thought, change, the world, whatever happens to present itself.  Some of these will seem quite intelligent - many of them will actually be very intelligent - but the need to lay waste to everything in arm's reach will make your message a complete waste of time.  Don't let it bother you. These people were broken before you met them.

The unaware are far, far more difficult.  They're not rebelling, they just don't get it.  For whatever reason, they avoided schooling or they drifted through it (right up through until they received their doctorate) with the fundamental belief that all that is knowable is already, somehow, known.  Thus, anything that doesn't automatically fit the criteria of their education (or lack thereof) will sound bogus to them.  Keep in mind, these are not actually intelligent people - these are educated people, who have their specific problems depending upon which education they've received.  These are people who will continue to support the old way of doing things because it was the way they were taught, by their professors, their parents or their grandparents - who, being personally known to them, are beyond being wrong.  You, the unknown, must obviously be, as you are unknown.

I don't present these two groups in order to graph out ways in which you can reach them with your message.  I present them so that you understand that both will waste tremendous amounts of your time.  Just so you know - you'll let them.  You'll feel convinced that if you make the right proposal, if you suggest the right plan, if you describe it more slowly or in more intricate detail, you'll get your message across - but no, you won't.  Don't worry about it.  These two groups have been around a long time:

"This boy is ignorance, this girl is want.  Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

Remembering always that Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was about trying to change someone's mind.

You do not have at your beck and call ghosts of past, present and future to throw at your audience, so try to spend the time you have on this earth speaking to the people you may meet with open minds and open hearts.  They're the only people who ever really change anything, anyway.

How do you reach them?  Be honest.  Be human.  Accept that you make mistakes in your message and admit those mistakes as forthrightly as possible.  Write a great deal, not just about your message but also about all the things that make you a person with that message.  Keep working.  Examine your work but also yourself, and recognize that you're not done learning, either.

When you express these things to an audience, directly, understand that no person's disregard for you personally can matter in the larger picture.  Know confidently that anyone you meet who speaks about you, to you or to others, without also presenting what you've said or giving it due attention, is a person without importance.  People who matter are concerned with information, not personalities.  Endure the slights and see them as evidence that you're making headway - for you are.  Those who want and those who are ignorant only scream when they're threatened.

Finally, remember, no matter how you feel on any given day, or what evidence you have regarding your position in the world, you are not alone.  That feeling of lonesomeness you feel every once in a while is nothing more than you having lately lost your focus.  Regain it.  The people out there listening to you are happily waiting for more news of you.