Sunday, November 30, 2014


Yeah.  Sorry about yesterday's post.  Seems every once in awhile the negativity just gets to me.

I'd like to make a prediction.  Within two or three generations - you will probably encounter this in your grandchildren - it will be the height of social rudeness to give your opinion about anything.  I don't mean that you won't have an opinion, or that you won't be free to choose what you like - its only that, like describing your last visit to the bathroom, you'll say nothing on the subject.

That's because all this negativity will reach a head with folks younger than us.  Activities like watching movies or listening to music or participating in anything provide escapism . . . but the rise of the internet has produced an escapism where the pleasure is in pissing into everyone else's bliss.  This permeation persists because it's new.  For later generations it won't be.

Like some of you, I can still recall a time when you saw a film and the next day it was fun to talk to other people who had also seen it.  Those were good five or ten minute conversations you might have at some point during the day.  Progressively, these have become the only conversations.  They last all day long and they do not leave you with a feeling of satisfaction at their end.  Worse, you're able to identify the source of your dissatisfaction - the fact that you took part.

Right now, it is easier to say that you never saw a film than to have an opinion about it.  It is increasingly better in a social context to say "I don't listen to music" than it is to explain what music you listen to.  This is the deeper, more pervasive trend that is rising.  At present, the media is all wrapped up in the flame wars and the abuse, but the end result of all of this is silence.

If I were a science fiction writer, I would put together a story about four or five people who cheerfully moved through their workday, happy to be at the desks, getting things done, feeling fulfilled - and not talking at all.  They'd enter their building, nod to others, smile, then sit at their desks and move through the whole day in silence.  It would all be very eerie, with plenty of hard work to keep them busy, with descriptions about the ache in their bodies and their intensive loneliness, a price they'd agreed to pay in order to feel productive and fulfilled by meeting their quotas and the freedom from persecution or propaganda.  Silence, blessed silence.

Then, quietly, this little group would drift into a warehouse at night, walking from their cars parked a mile away; each would have their own key to the back door where there was no light.  Each would fearfully move down a flight of stairs into a basement room, where silently then would sit down upon one of a circle of chairs.  Each would take out a book they had brought with them.  Then they would begin to talk.

It would be trepidatious at first, but steadily each person would become more passionate about their opinion.  Two in particular would build up an argument and this would eventually end in their pulling out weapons and shooting or stabbing each other.  Everyone else in the room would turn silent.  The uninjured would file out, while the combatants - without any consideration - would leave the injured to bleed out or finish each other off.

The next day the police would find the two bodies, and one would say, "Yeah, these people just like it.  Seriously, they can't wait to die.  I've seen some film of this shit and all these people need is enough motivation to get themselves ready to kill or be killed.  There's a lot of suicidal people get into this."  Then he'd pause and say, "That's the only way these people can feel anything."

And the other cop would reply, "Is that your opinion?"

Saturday, November 29, 2014



Naturally, I did get a ton of comments from people talking about how much they 'hated' the film.  I do not the leastways care.  If I wanted to listen to the opinion of total strangers regarding the poor quality of anything, I would go looking for it.

Because, see, it would be easy to find.  Every film listed on IMDb has some idiot declaiming its value.  This is universal.  Every film is bad.  Every film is, conversely, good.  As such, the user comments on every film follow the same pattern - "I don't know why people say this film is . . ." whatever.

The result, from the manufacturer becomes - evidentially - that there is no such thing as a good film. There is no such thing as a bad film.  There is only a film that makes money and a film that does not make money.

If people say a film is bad, but continue to pay for bad films, then their opinion ceases to matter.  Let the moviegoers squawk.  Hate, like, love, despise, its all the same thing so long as the money is there. Personal film criticism has no meaning.

Do you understand?  If you're the sort of fool that wonders why Hollywood (or anyone else) can't seem to make a 'good' film, you have to realize that the internet removed the last sense that such mattered.  The only film that anyone is trying to make is a film that looks annoying enough that you'll see it.

This need, then, to explain your personal feelings about any part of the film simply becomes a form of free advertising.  Wow, I wonder why its so bad - I should see it.  Wow, it sounds really good - I should see it.


A few weeks back I got into a literary discussion about Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.  It was quite a good discussion; at points it became passionate - which is always interesting with an ex-soldier jazz musician.  We talked about the A-for-America theory and the isolation of women by the church theory and a few nuances, but here's the point.  We didn't talk about whether or not the book was any good.  Not because we automatically assumed that it was - in fact, I can say without reservation that neither the other fellow nor I actually like the book.  I wouldn't rush out to read it again.

If there were a reason to do so, however, I wouldn't mind that much.  Like, dislike, that's fairly immaterial.  The book is written by a competent writer discussing a social issue related to a time that itself recognized the writer's worth.  The book is written well - which is not to say this makes the book easy to read.

In fact, it is not.  And that is relevant.  As I pointed out with Dante recently, Hawthorne takes work.  Most morons, it must be said, will not do it.  80, 90 pages in, they'll find themselves thinking, "What the fuck am I reading this boring shit for?"  They'll rush around to all their peers (since school is the only thing that has any chance of making them read a book like this) and say, "Yeah, that Scarlet Crap Book is a total Snore.  Jeez, what a crappy book."

There is a second class of morons, however - those that will power through the book, reading every word - and yet coming out the other side with nothing.  They'll read the book - and damn near every book - as though the process of getting to the other side is the point.  Nevermind the nuance - "I read every word, and I don't see what the big deal is."

This is why I think so little of people who say they read books . . . but give no indication in their behaviour to suggest as much.  This is why the fellow sitting across the table from me, debating a book neither of us like, is a friend of mine.  Because I respect him.  I know that when he says he's read a book, he's actually read it.  That is to say, he can talk about the book for twenty, thirty minutes at a time, he understands all the subtle clues and references the author took the time to invest into the book.

Regarding strangers and their ability to read - or see films - I don't have a fucking clue what they think or know or comprehend.  I suspect, from the presentation of their opinions, very little.  Very fucking little.

But see, I wouldn't have any of these people as my friends.  Because they're morons.  Do they dislike the film?  Well good for them.  Did they actually pay attention to the film?  Tch.  Probably not.

Most don't.  And I mean most.  In terms of percentages, the morons would equal every state and county in the union except the population of Cherry County, Nebraska.  Not that all the smart people are there - far from it.  But that's the number of people in America who's opinion about movies would be one I would actually respect.

Those of you who commented lately, whose comments didn't get published?  No, you're not in that number.  You and I, you see, could never be friends.  Because you're a moron.

No, I don't care if you believe me.  I really don't care.

The three people I published?  They're on probation.  One I've met, but we didn't really have the time to get into an intellectual discussion.  We mostly talked about D&D.

I'm really, really comfortable tossing most of you out with the trash.  Just saying.

The person who's actual opinion I would value would be Luc Besson's.  I'd like to know how he feels making a movie like this in a culture that does not care if it makes good or bad movies.  I'd like to know if he feels it reached his goals or if for various reasons it didn't manage to reach in as deep as he wanted.

Since Besson spent the time and the money and his sweat, and since he's the one who took the chance and did the work, his opinion matters.  The opinion of people who saw the film and did nothing else, sorry, no, those opinions do not matter.

Don't tell me if the movie is fucking good or not.  What are you, a moron?  Tell me whether or not you think you'd take the advice of someone you knew very well who reassured you that your kidney was going to cave in the next few months; and how you would relate to your kidneys if you had the knowledge of their function that you have of your hands or your eyes.  Talk to me about having that consciousness and how you would live your life otherwise if you had it; and then talk to me about how you conceal the knowledge that your kidneys are functioning, right now, in a manner that you pay no attention to, simply because your brain - or evolution - doesn't work that way.

Talk to me about that.  Use your brain - and while you're doing that, consider how the use of your brain simply denies  your knowledge of millions of things that you 'know' are happening, but can't assess in real time.

Because that's what the film is about.  If you want to talk to me about what the film is about, then stop fucking yourself with your I-feel-good-about-myself dildo and open a discussion.

You moron.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Movie Will Remain Unnamed

This post is an utter waste of time - and yet, strangely, I feel a need to write this out.

I'm wasting my time because, on the internet, once someone has invented a factoid that is later proved false, the false proof then remains absolute, unquestioned dogma until the end of time.  For example:

The original factoid - false - was that we use 10% of our brains.  We were told this in school when I was a boy.  It is unquestionably false.  We have all this brain matter for a reason.

The factoid is universally understood to be false.  But the determination of this falsity has itself become a factoid.  One that cannot, ever, be disputed.

"We don't use 10% of our brain.  Now let's never have any discussion, EVER, about brains or how much of brains we use.  We use 100% of our brains, you fucking moron.  Silence, everyone who dares say otherwise."


Question: how much of our brains do we use at the same time?

Let's say the brain is a football field.  And let's say that the presence of a person on the football field represents an active brain cell.  Finally, let's say that every other person-sized space on the football field is an inactive brain cell.  Now, at any given moment, how many persons are there on the field?

From, paraphrasing from Barry Beyerstein's book, Mind Myths: Exploring Everyday Mysteries of the Mind:

"Brain imaging research techniques such as PET scans (positron emission tomography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) clearly show that the vast majority of the brain does not lie fallow. Indeed, although certain minor functions may use only a small part of the brain at one time, any sufficiently complex set of activities or thought patterns will indeed use many parts of the brain. Just as people don't use all of their muscle groups at one time, they also don't use all of their brain at once. For any given activity, such as eating, watching television, making love, or reading, you may use a few specific parts of your brain. Over the course of a whole day, however, just about all of the brain is used at one time or another."

Do we use the same 10% of the brain all our lives?  No.  Do we use all of the brain all the time?  Hey, guess what . . . no.

Is it possible that we use only 10% of the total brain in a given moment, recognizing that this may not be the same 10% of the brain from nano-second to nano-second?

Well, in fact we aren't sure.  We certainly don't use all of it, all the time.  We're not really sure how much of it we're using in any given nano-second.

Looked at this way, is it possible to describe the use of the brain in terms of some percentage of the brain's CAPACITY?

Fuck yes.

See, the football field has a given capacity.  This describes how many people can use the football field at the same time.  If we say that the capacity of the football field is at 10%, does this mean that the people in the field are only able to stand perfectly still?  NO.  Those people are still able to roam about the entire field.

Why am I talking about this?

Because there is a significant number of people in the world who heard this line from a movie:

"The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity."

And thought that what was said was:

"The average person uses 10% of their brain."

Then hundreds of thousands of people rushed out to write about how the movie did not do the research.

When in fact, the listener did not understand fucking English.

Because, once a factoid has been proved wrong, there is no need whatsoever for the new factoid to be questioned just because the writer has taken time to carefully nuance the way the phrase is used.  There is no need to remotely consider the use of the word 'capacity' in the sentence, or in any way consider that word to have any meaning or purpose when spoken by the actor.  All that matters is that 100,000 morons rush out to explain how fucking smart they are, because they already know that we don't use 10% of our brain.

Well, ain't that fucking great.

Funny.  When I heard the line, my first thought was, "Well fuck.  There are going to be one hell of a lot of people who misunderstand that sentence."

And there were.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I've been noodling around with this concept for days and still I haven't got it.  Perhaps writing out some of my issues in longhand will help.

The idea is that an individual with political skill would be able to get themselves placed into that position through influence.  This I wrote about days ago.  In truth, this is the 'easy' part - create a list of possible positions and assign a certain number of points necessary to fit yourself into that position.

Except . . . how long does this influence take?  What other factors may be involved?  Can you buy your way in?  And what if you can't do the job once you're there?  Clearly, some kind of competence roll needs to be included - particularly if you use the position to then peddle others into lesser positions under you.  Finally, what are the consequences of screwing up on the job?

Okay.  First we'll need an Influence table.

For the table, I'm defining 'influence' at equal to the character's political knowledge points squared, +1 point per 10 g.p. the character wishes to spend.  As a general rule, I feel that one month of activity is necessary per 100 points of influence necessary to achieve the position.

If that seems excessive - it works out to nearly seven years to work up to 'chancellor' of the realm, the equivalent of Vizier or the highest ranking non-royal in the land - consider that Adolf Hitler was released from prison in December of 1924 - he was nominated Chancellor of Germany in March, 1933 . . . a total of 99 months.  And that was a fast rise to power.

Probably, an adjustment would need to be made based upon the size of the realm - population or physical area would both matter in that calculation.

That brings us to the subject of competence.

I have a sort of loose theory on how this might be done - but I want to spin it out on the blog in case someone has a suggestion.

My first thought is that the lower the job level, the more actual work is required - this has been my experience, an experience that is backed up by literary sources (damned if I can remember one right now).  The higher one advances, the greater the responsibility but the less the actual labour necessary.  Once a job becomes a matter of making decisions, those decisions can be made anywhere - thus, less need to go into the office.

I suggest that the lowest level positions (under 400 influence) require 60 days every two months, minus the character's intelligence.  Smarter people work less.  It means a lot of time spent, but I hurry to point out to the reader that this is a system that is also meant for non-player characters.  How much does a schoolmaster work?  45-50 days every two months.  Obviously, dumber people would have to work more days.

As one progresses up the ladder (400 to 1444 influence), the character's wisdom is included, so that over a two month period the character would work 60 days minus their combined wisdom + intelligence . . . or typically 30 to 45 days.

Finally, the best jobs (1600 influence or more) take into account the character's charisma - cutting down the number of work days to as little as 15 to 30.  A remarkably smart, wise and charismatic character could literally work 3 days a month and still manage their affairs - brilliantly, I might add.  It assumes, of course, that the character is still 'working' most of the time, but actually having to check in at the 'office' isn't necessary - the underlings have been trained and the process perfectly tuned by a character of remarkable skills.

This provides a basis for competence - for every day that the character works, a roll is made to determine if the character fucks up.  That roll should be based upon their stats, yes, but also upon their political ability and possibly some other measure that, frankly, I haven't dreamed up yet.

Fucking up could be mild.  It could mean money lost, an accident or someone killed on the job, a serious consequence resulting in an army not getting supplies or the king being left without a means to the next town.  It could mean sacking someone with connections or failing to address any number of other issues.

These would need to be compiled and applied, from very minor issues to major disasters.  These, in turn, would mean that the character was sacked, fined, imprisoned, put in the public stocks, exiled or even executed - depending upon the level of the position held and the degree of fuck up.

Right now, it is that specific measure I need to determine competency . . . I'd rather not just use the character's stats or level or class or political clout.  It ought to be something else, but I don't know what.

The key here is the relationship between PAYING to get a really great job which maybe the character isn't actually good enough to handle.  This creates risk, which in turn creates drama.  Perhaps, some specific measure is needed that can be improved over time, so that the longer a character works at a position, the better they get at it (understanding, of course, that sometimes building up too much routine is the downfall of someone in charge).

Anyway, I throw this out for consideration.  Except for the actual Influence table included above, I'm not settled on any of these details.  Too, I am open to suggestions for public positions that I haven't included.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cats Do Not Exist

Slavoj Žižek is a strange sort.  He would not dispute that.  As he speaks, he shakes, he waves his hands dramatically, he plucks at his own clothing and he inflects the syllables of his words in an accent that is hard on the pampered ear.  He is energetic to the extreme.  He waxes from one point to the next without breaks or pauses, so that rather than transitioning between topics he plunges, like a man with a bayonet driving at enemy after enemy.  He is intolerant, particularly of rules, particularly those that relate to time, order, civility or pretense.

He is best when he stands alone, unrestrained, professing, ninety minutes at a time or more.  Question periods are inconveniences forced on him by banal university functionaries - some of whom have been posted at the table next to him in the hopes that somehow they will be able to restrain him.  Of course they cannot.  Žižek has been threatened in the officers of commissars; a scholastic lackey is no peril.

He's wonderful - and yet, I think, unendurable to many programmed to expect their intellectualism dispensed in the sweet, dulcet tones of an ivy school cerebral.

In this lecture, Žižek struggles to make a point about facts as we understand them, specifically in terms of what we accept as facts and how we inherently ignore these in spite of knowing them.  I would offer a quote, except - well, I'll give it a try.  Word for word, from 13:19 to 13:58:

"We can also call this the mechanism of what Freud sometimes refers to as, er, izolacija [slov.], isolation, where you accept a fact, but don't take it, don't - you do not - what you abstractly know . . . you do not really - how shall I put it - on a symbolic or effective level, you do not really integrate it.  You just rationally deal with it as if this is the case, but again, you somehow suspend its, let's call it symbolic efficiency."

I can't blame him for the difficulty in getting this message across.  To express it myself, I'll choose an actual fact.  You know that cats exist.  Yet, knowing this, you live your entire existence as though cats do not exist.  Even when you see a cat, even when you acknowledge that the cat is there, you do not resolve the cat's existence beyond this acknowledgement.  To yourself first, then to others as the matter arises, you express your total disbelief in cats - even as you yourself recognize the stupidity of this assertion.

This sounds crazy, but it's not something I haven't noticed; clearly Žižek has noticed it also, Freud must have (whatever you think of Freud, he was at least observant) - and if you think about it, you will be able not only to recognize the characteristic in others, but also in yourself.

However, perhaps you would not be able to after all.  Were I to confess something presently that is in my own mind of this nature, then in admitting it I would also be on some greater conscious level integrating it into my condition, no?

Nevertheless, this wouldn't be much of a post if I did not make the attempt.  Here goes:

I have trouble reconciling my drive to role-play or work on my world with the reality of what I might have been able to do if I had chosen to apply my capacity to other pursuits.  It is easier, for example, to simply argue that of all the people born in the world, one or two of them will possess a natural inclination towards spending most of their life portraying a fantasy landscape - even if, in terms of the 'real world,' this is of very little practical value.  It is not defending the poor, it is not healing the sick, it is not defending the country or even helping build the country.

Granted, yes, I can point to the few people who express gratitude, but I realize that the gratitude I could have received as a lawyer or an educator - either profession I could have applied myself towards - would have been more intrinsically useful to society.  I can pretend to the contrary all I wish; I can pretend the same to myself.  I can equally pretend that I never chose to be a role-player, that I was only 15 when I was introduced and that I was somehow duped, that I never had a choice because I was too young to make a choice - and that by the time I was wise enough to know I was spending too much time on D&D, it was too late to spend time on anything else.

Truth is, I knew it as I was spending too much time on it.  And I didn't care.  I did not care that other opportunities were available.  I did not spend a moment applying myself to anything except my love of writing or gaming.  Where an income was necessary, I performed at the level of least effort whenever possible, knowing I was doing it at the time and paying no attention whatsoever to the fallout from that.  I sleep-walked through cooking, even though I worked as a chef in a five-star restaurant.  I quit jobs when sleep-walking wasn't sufficient, finding another job whenever I wished for one.  I cut classes, skipped, produced course-work material the night before and still managed between a 3.3 and 3.5 grade point average (peak is 4.0 in Canada).  That was sufficient to call myself an 'honor' student, which was as much of a joke as its possible to express.  I did not 'honor' anything about university except that it gave me reading to do, a library to do it in and the possibility of discourse with others who were also reading.

In writing about the hair shirt I know I've got to put on, I'd be remiss if I did not say clearly that I could have put the hair shirt on a month ago.  I could have been applying myself harder to the task. I could be out right now raising money from patrons to pay for further printings of the book to press them onto the shelves of more bookstores.  Instead I blithely go on designing my D&D world while pretending to feel satisfied that I've gotten ten books on one store's shelf.

But then, cats don't exist.  Isn't that the point?  Cats do not exist.  And working on my world is a fine way to spend the evening.  Because there's nothing else I should be doing right now.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Hair Shirt

"Fuck, I dunno.  The fuckin' speech is always about having the courage to break free from conformity and be yourself or whatever.  I got no problem being myself - the real issue is how do you break free of hating existence once it's become clear that who you've courageously become is unlikely to pay the rent."

Winston Rowntree, Make a Sound

Hah.  I could have written that.

Somewhere out there (where I can find him on twitter, but I don't) is a great artist and writer who is thinking over and resolving in his mind the same issues I have. This is a good thing.  This sorts out the universe for me.

It's been four months and a collection of days since I released How to Run.  I find myself thinking about my head space six months ago, my thoughts at the time containing the usual nightmare of "Is this any good, how much is the internet going to dump on this, maybe I should force myself to do another draft, etc."  It feels good to lay those fears to rest.  It feels good to know that the reviews on Amazon give me five stars three times.  We all know how cruel and heartless the internet can be, thus the necessity of courage.  Not to be myself, but to put on the hair shirt and make the thing happen.

Hair shirt?  I'm speaking of the Latin cilicium, the garment made of goat hair that has been seen traditionally as a religious self-flagellation.  Tradition has it that, like wikipedia says, a devout would wear the hair shirt to prove their repentance and willingness to atone.

Reading Dante's Purgatorio a few days ago, I found myself rethinking that tradition.  There's no question that working on my role-playing book this last spring was an experience I would equate with discomfort and mental pain.  Those who had to put up with me those few months could bear witness to this - not only had I become intolerable to others, it had grown quite impossible to live with myself.

I remember saying in March that I was trapped.  I had to finish the book.  If I had withdrawn, if I had quit, if I had put the book off endlessly, then the reputation I've built up on this blog would have been cast away.  At the same time, producing a bad book would have had similar consequences.  You readers who have bought the book and found it worthy, you know what I mean.  Some out there must have wanted me to fall on my face.  Certainly in March I couldn't be sure I wouldn't.  But I was trapped.

So I wore the hair shirt and finished the book - and these four months have worked out fine.  It's a shame there are no atheistic phrases to indicate how profoundly relieved I am about that.  Imagine, if you will, that I have been able to take the hair shirt off.

But there it is, still hanging in the closet.  Pretty soon I'm going to have to put it on again.  Soon, I will have to really dig in with the next book, the next risk, the next opportunity to fail to pay the rent.  This is how it goes.  This is how art gets made.

I am convinced that the hair shirt isn't a punishment, but a means to an end.  The key is in understanding that shirt isn't forced upon us, but rather it is something we choose to adopt - to compel us towards an achievement.

I find myself realizing that Thomas Aquinas did not wear the thing to prove his devotion, but to acquire his devotion.  Subtle perhaps for some.  It seems as wide as the universe to me.

Perhaps I do beat the drum for hard work loudly.  When I stood to pitch my book at the fundraiser last July, I stood on the stage and said, "This book will challenge you to work; it will drive you, it will get under your skin, it will push you to look deep inside yourself to find the labour it demands of you."

When I stepped down and found my friends and family, my daughter leaned over to me and told me that I talked about 'work' way too much.  "People won't like to work," she said.

Then I find myself looking at the 5-star reviews on Amazon, where the readers talk about the inspiration the book gives them to work.

Work is a hair shirt.  It is a willingness to suffer in order to produce value.  It is a suffering we pursue, not for the sake of the suffering, but because humans are built in such a way that comfort - while pleasant - leaves nothing to show when it's done.

As per yesterday's post, I don't say this because I want it this way.  I haven't chosen - wouldn't choose - to have fruitful creativity depend upon the wearing of hair shirts or any other similarly unpleasant process.  It's only that this is the way the process works.  You've got to consciously accept that you're not going to enjoy the next few months.  You've got the consciously accept that if you try to enjoy any part of those months - if you take the shirt off - it is only going to be a bitch and a half to get that thing on again.

Once it's on, you've got to leave it on.  Even if it makes you scream.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The One True Tao

How odd that there are people still who seem to believe that I am preaching the 'one true way.' Perhaps it is the title of the blog - the apparent insistence that I know the path the reader must tread, that I am demanding that the reader tread it and that if the reader refuses, the reader is an idiot or a fool.

I do not a preach a religion.  I propose an argument.

Let us suppose that you wish to be a DM.  There are a number of reasons why you may find yourself in that way of thinking - the act of creating a world appeals to you, you want to act the part of conductor for a change, you feel you have things to say or that you have a vision you wish to share, you simply like the idea of being able to manifest your design, etcetera.

These are worthy ideals.  Not because I say so, or because I believe them, but because the participants themselves describe their motivations in these words over and over.  We have an established codec for reasons why people want to DM - and whether or not I choose to make a list of them, I did not invent the codec.  Your reasons for DMing and mine are both part of that.  Both have an equal value.

My part is not in attempting you to believe you should DM for other reasons - but to propose an argument that states that there are other reasons, and that discovering those reasons can expand your self-awareness.

Here, for example, are the reasons I DM.  Here are my motivations.  Here are the ideals I personally seek to achieve.  Here are the effects I've recognized these motivations have had upon my players.  This is the first part of my argument.

Conversely, the second part of my argument continues:  here are reasons I have seen others express for why they are DM.  Here are the motivations they have related.  Here are the ideals they seek to achieve.  Here are the effects that I've seen, or that I believe will result, once these ideals are impressed upon the players.

This is what I write about when I argue.  This is all that any argument consists of.

What I have seen is a measure of my experience in playing.  My experience derives in part from my own campaign, campaigns I have participated in, campaigns described to me by others, campaigns I have seen described over these 35 years and so on.  As I have played and read all this time, I have considered, evaluated, tested and discarded many ideas and efforts to produce a game that is not now my own.  The game I run today is not the game I ran ten years ago.  Why?  Because I have rid myself of the parts of my game that were not working.

I expect that every DM does likewise.  Some consistently, some inconsistently, some willingly, some from having to concede to players who threaten to storm out.

Upon what, I ask, will the reader, as DM, base their further evaluation of their world?  Experience.  Their own, that of their friends, that of people they read on the internet.

I am on the internet.  I expect that some DMs will read what I have to write.

Should I write material and opinion that runs counter to my own experience?  I have no reason to do so.  Should I cater to the present culture in some way that appeases or pays lip service to what others believe or do, simply to be considered tolerant and therefore more likeable?  I do not see this serving anyone, except those who prefer satisfaction to change.

The 'way' is a path.  We move upon the path.  Forward, back, slowly, painfully, losing our way and returning to our course, but it is action we seek, not commendation.  It is a destination we seek.  I am not interested in promoting satisfaction in the world you have - but in promoting tools and methods for you to employ to produce the world you do not have yet.

Do I express the one true way?  Far from it.  My path is not your path, it can never be your path, for my world is my world and yours is yours.

Will it seem, however, that in building a world of complexity, in promoting that world, in flashing it before the noses of others and claiming that it is worthy to work hard, that I am spitting upon the worlds of others who will not work as hard as me to produce their worlds?  Of course.  The harvest of commitment and achievement is to call attention to friviolity and inadequacy.  It is to say, "I have done this.  What have you done?"  And to receive in reply anger, bitterness, disrespect and excuses.

"Just because I haven't chosen to 'waste' my life making a world as stupid as yours . . ." goes the counter argument.

Should I have made less world?  Should I have kept my world hidden under a bushel? Should I not have talked about the things I have learned these years?  Should I have never started a blog?

I think better that I should say, Ignore Me.  Do as you will.  But recognize that your condemnation and your brackishness does not derive from what I have done or from what I believe, but from what you have done.

Those who will do, who are happy to do, will take encouragement in knowing there is a path to tread.  They will concern themselves less with who leads them upon the path and more with the path itself, grateful in their knowledge that there IS a path.

One that we are walking upon together, arguing, challenging one another, pointing out details along the route, enjoying the movement of our limbs and the clear, crisp pleasure of our active minds.  We are engrossed in the way onward.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pointing the Way

Ah, these silly ideas.  They do spread, don't they?

Hooray for the point crawl.  A truly wonderful tool for DMs (fuck players).  Where all the difficulties of actually mapping anything is replaced by - wait for it!  The LINE!

Woot, lines!  Lines that are so exciting and thrilling and full of dimension and possibility.  Lines!  'Ray!

Yes, that's right, your whole gaming experience can be reduced to squares and lines on a map that are in no way a reduction of verisimilitude or suspension of disbelief.  In this wonderful future DM-friendly (fuck players) concept, you'll have three, nay four, lines to choose from, immersing you in a world as miraculous as a tour at your local State Capital building.

That's right, now you can follow the yellow line to cardiac surg- er, um, the dragon's den or the red line to the orc village, neatly and clearly laid out as a strait railro- er, um, possibility-conductor to your soon-to-be-sensation next adventure!  Truly excellent.

Yes, players will be less disoriented by blank map spaces!  Less bothered by things that the DM has decided contain nothing of interest!  Less inconvenient DM world presentation and aesthetic design!


DMs, change over today!  Fast track your way to a world you can make in five minutes with a ruler!

Blemished Frame

Zoe Quinn.

Having written that name, everything I now say is suspect.

Legitimately so.

I have no opinion of any kind on Quinn except those opinions offered by the woman herself on the site linked.  I take her entirely at her word.  That is because her opinion is the only relevant one being put forward by anyone who's name, history and investment in the matter is actually known to me.

I had never heard of Quinn until reading the Cracked article.

Yesterday I wrote a post on the difference between fame that is given by others and fame we give to ourselves.  Those 'others' need not be managers or talent scouts, they need not be publishers or patrons.  'Others' can be a horde of prideful, inventive internet whores desperate for any target that can be identified, aimed at and exploited.  Just as I am doing right now, merely by starting this post with her name, the link and my disgust.

This, for those of you who may not be aware, is the fundamental principle of journalism.  The ideal is to take something that has happened, conveniently so far as your use of it is concerned, determine a few so-called 'facts' that can be twisted to entice the reader or viewer, then exploit the ever-living shit out of it.  The less personal involvement you have with the actual event, the better, for this entitles you to claim an 'unbiased' viewpoint.  See?  I have nothing invested in this particular lurid murder, car-crash, impending war or evidence of bodies strewn over the desert.  I'm disinterested.  Now allow me to tell you what I think.

This ludicrous perception that, once you've chosen to write about something, that you are in some way not tainted by it simply because you don't know the victims personally has sustained journalism for four centuries.  It allows newspaper reporters a semblance of self-respect, even piety, as they shove mics into the faces of hapless persons recently bereft of their family members or as they glory in the downfall of the mighty.

There are still many 'traditional' journalists today who express distress and fear that 'responsible' journalism is dead.  I put these words in quotes because these are totally bullshit words, invented for the purpose of egotistical puffery.  There is a difference between old timey journalism and what we have now.  Newspapers and television exploited pain for money.  The average, ordinary person exploits pain from petulance, priggishness . . . and boredom.

There's no real way for an ordinary, puritanical snob to make money from repeating the phrases or making up shit about viral content.  At best, all one has is their internet connection and the number of facebook friends they've accumulated through hours invested in the creation of interesting spam. Unlike Fox, there's very little advertising money to be made in a few hundred viewers willing to let their eyes glaze over while staring at someone's facebook or google+ page.  It takes the FCC or some other approving government agency before you can get your dick in a knot and be paid for it.  Small-time journalists have to make due with the warm, glowy feeling of seeing the number of likes or +s climb.

Small-minded people in the world have rebuilt the system so that we're all salesmen now - as sickening as that reality is once it's fully realized.  The real plunge, however, comes when you comprehend fully what it is we're all selling:

The certainty that the buyer is just stupid enough to believe we know what we're talking about. Especially when we don't.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Plan for Doing

Yesterday, I outlined some of the issues with digging deeper into world mechanics, and received this comment from Timothy Vaughn.  In an effort to be helpful and save work, he suggested doing part of the work in order to cut down the amount of work:

". . . instead of detailing every job, you'd only need to provide reasonable guidelines for a DM to break down a job into these characteristics on the fly."

I am not writing this post to spank Timothy for this suggestion - it is perfectly understandable.  We have only so much time, we can't waste all of it describing what job the exchequer does in the kingdom, so do the job at 50% of the quality and have done with it.

I'm anxious to explain the ills and failings of this sort of approach where making a game for other people is concerned.  Whereas yes, it does help make my life easier, what exactly does it do for the players?  How has it changed their perception of both opportunities and fun to be had?

My first efforts at the sage tables, made about seven years ago (older than this blog), were limited in a number of ways - partly from how I expected them to be useful (merely as an informational conduit to support players), but also because I had yet to make certain connections about the potential for this game.  Through thousands of comments and hundreds of posts - and a few flame wars - I have changed my position on a number of things.  The research leading to the writing of How to Run was a complete overhaul and re-evaluation of role-playing for me.  And now I am finding myself astounded at the depth and potential for these sage tables.

Not only do they offer 'skills' for the players, but choices for role-play, things for the players to DO, routes to take in order to invent their characters and develop their imaginations.  I don't just want the sage abilities (and the additional rules associated with them) to fill in gaps like so much wet plaster and rags used to plug a drafty hole.

Timothy's suggestion works if what we expect to happen is the player to get the idea on their own and then approach the DM.  It is a 'just-in-case' solution, the sort of thing we set up ahead of time so that we're ready if the player takes it into their head to do something weird.  That's not my proposition at all.

I want the rules to INSPIRE the players, to blow their minds and produce the response, "Shit, that is kewl!  I'd like to try that!"  This is the whole purpose for making the rules openly and posting them on the wiki - to encourage players to recognize there's more to the game than what their peculiar DM lets them do.  Nothing would make me happier than to hear of a player that approached a DM with my wiki and the argument, "I'd like to try this.  Here are rules to cover it."

At this point, I'd like to side-step here and talk about something related.  Please bear with me.

There are two categories of fame.  Both have nuances, manifestations and degrees, but fundamentally the division between the two is clear cut and undeniable.

The first category of fame is that which other people give you.  Usually, because it's recognized you have some sort of talent, but not always.  Often, all you need is a quality that can be sold.  The benefits to you, aside from the money you're given, is a chance to experience a world that most never will, to see things and meet extraordinary people, while receiving gratuitous, unconditional love from thousands or perhaps millions of people.  The downside is that you're more or less owned by other people, who will insist that you perform as desired with respect to their ideas about promotion, their ideas about performance and their ideas about moral responsibility.  This is supported by the danger that these other people will one day drop you, so that the people who once cared about you will later think, "I wonder what ever happened to . . .?"  Worse, you'll find yourself sliding down into normal life, where a few people will recognize you for something that you've now come to realize was never deserved - except that you won some weird sort of lotto.

The other category of fame is quite different.  This is fame that no one can take away, because the person that gave it to you was you.

At the beginning of Richard Dawkins re-release of the Selfish Gene in the early 1990s, he speaks about the strange way that everything else he had written since the original publication in 1976 was curiously overlooked by fans.  These would appear at his readings, say a few nice things about his new book, then produce the Selfish Gene for signing.  At the time, of course, he had no idea that he would later write a book that would make his original 'fame' pale in comparison, The God Delusion.

We can safely include Dawkins in the second category of fame.  Whatever happens, Dawkins will remain famous until his death and for a long time after.  It does not matter if he ever gives a lecture again or goes on tour, or takes part in any promotional activity whatsoever regarding his own notariety.

The same can be said for many people who were once under someone's thumb, but who in the long run proved to be too talented or effective or meritorious to remain that way forever.  Eventually, it doesn't matter if they make a bad film, get caught having sex on film or scream about Jews in a parking lot . . . famously or infamously, there's forever the possibility that they will simply pull themselves together, approach a few people with money on the basis of their ability and produce another film or project.  Whereupon people will pay to see them.

Look at Sylvester Stallone's recent reappearance on the scene after a long absence.  Sure, he's a muscle-bound mass of sinew with a dopey grin, but he holds an interest for enough people based on his previous record.  People will pay to see him.

What is the difference between one category of fame and the other?  I promise you, it isn't talent. Talent will convince others you have something to sell, but in the long run if you have personality problems and a poor work-ethic, you'll get dropped - and hard.  It's worse if you're looking to establish the sort of fame that you own yourself, since that's a situation where no one else will do the work for you.  The onus for setting up the date and getting there and delivering, time and again, is on you - else it doesn't happen.

It's work that gives you a chance at succeeding, not talent.  But it has to be the sort of work that serves to make you useful - as entertainment, as insight, as a rainmaker or what have you.

The grand halls of fame aside, this is true for you as a person, too.  A DM is 'famous' in a very small venue - just a few participants, who are there to show up for every running based upon how useful you are to them.  Your usefulness is based upon how much work you're willing to do - not work for yourself, but work for them.  If, when you sit down to work, you don't have that clear in your mind - that you're working for the approval of other people - then you might just as well not work at all.

This is the reason why many readers read yesterday's post and did not even imagine doing as much work as Timothy suggested.  They don't feel that the game deserves any work - because as DMs, they think the game is about them and their control issues.  Timothy, at least, is prepared to make concessions to support the fanbase . . . but so far, those concessions only amount to contingency plans.

I ask you, Timothy - and others as well, reading this - to go more than half way.  Don't just plan for your players in case they do something.  Plan for your players so that they WILL do something.  Make every facet of your game follow that principle.  Work to achieve it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Deeper and Deeper

So, these damn sage tables.

I'm working through Politics at the moment, which is proving to be an awful rabbit's hole going down into the lands of Lewis Carroll, no question about it.  I feel compelled to explain.

Last night, for instance, I was working on a particular idea - that characters (player & non-player alike) who become political will, quite reasonably, expect to obtain positions of authority.  I don't know player character in my world would want to become the local tax collector - but as there are no rules about what characters are allowed to become, we ought to at least acknowledge that some player in the world has imagined the possibility.

Very well, let me put the reader into this position.  You have a player who, rather than marching off to the next dungeon, expresses an interest in being a tax collector in your world.  How would you manage it?

I feel quite certain that most of you have no rules whatsoever for such a contingency, and that the very idea of making such a rule seems ridiculous and - in light of the sort of campaign you run - even stupid.  This gives you as a DM two options.

First, you can tell the player that it's not possible, tax collectors come from certain families or of some other predetermined nature that totally closes that door off to the player, FOREVER.  Alternatively, you can play the whole scenario by rolling dice for a completely invented number (one you have invented in the last second or so before rolling) and then saying, "No, it's not possible" or "Yes, all right, whatever."  If the latter, you fuck around with the numbers, claim such and such an amount of money is collected and perhaps roll-play a few things until the player gets bored.

In other words, you're stuck with DM fiat.

This has been my situation too, though I must admit that the pursuit of the sage abilities has begun to crack this model open at the seams, as I realize step-by-step that there IS a logic to it all, albeit a sort of crazy "is this really D&D?" sort of model.

So, a player decides to be a politician and, according to the rules I've proposed thus far, the character starts with 12 points of political knowledge.  Or the player chooses another expertise, but slowly amasses 10 points and thus becomes an amateur politician.

The Functionary skill (as yet unwritten, so I don't have a link for it) provides the character with the possibility of campaigning or otherwise angling for a public position of some kind.  Just now, I am thinking about the political knowledge points being a sort of influence.  The more knowledge points you have, the better the position you can angle to obtain.

This puts me on the hook for listing a large number of political/public offices, which then demands a table and okay, that's a bit of work, but not that bad.  Obviously, each position needs to be assigned a value in political skill above 10.

Let's say 10 points means that you can become, if you wish, a 'rat-catcher.'  It's a job, it gives you an income, you become recognizeable to the local guard and it gets you inside a few places.  If the players want to use this for undercover purposes, to get into the guard house for nefarious purposes, it's there.

This makes me think, what does being the rat-catcher actually offer?  Does it give you a connection to the underground?  Wouldn't the thieves and the beggars also know who you are?  Wouldn't this be a great way to contact the thieves' and assassins guild?  Or a means to find certain sewers or other subterranean dens under a city?  That information might even come with the help of other rat-catchers, who themselves may have a guild.  Isn't it a jump-off point for urban adventuring?

That sounds good to me, if a character could survive the actual rat-catching part, what with disease and all . . . but here is the bigger problem:

OH SHIT, now I'm on the hook for making rules for every political position throughout the whole of society.  Not just for rat-catchers and tax collectors, but for bailiffs, catchpoles, chancellors, constables, courtiers, diplomats, exchequers, haywards, jailers, liners, masters of the revels, pursuivants, reeves, watchmen, woodwards and gawd knows what the hell else I can come up with for job titles.  All of which would now need a page in the wiki for the player to consider if the player does want to 'join up' to get a hold of some local power.  Not to mention that it's just good sense to provide all that data for the non-player characters who really do need their power and job-descriptions sorted out and fully understood.

Um, shoot me?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Original Fantasy

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Matthew 16:18-19, The King James Version

"And when we reached the first step of the stair
It was white marble, polished to such gloss
That, even as I am, I saw me there;
And dyed more dark than perse the second was -
A calcined stone, rugged and rough in grain,
And it was cracked both lengthways and across;
The third step, piled upon the other twain,
Seemed all of porphyry that flamed and shone
Redder than bright blood spurting from a vein,
And this, God's Angel held both feet upon,
And on the threshold of the door he sate,
And that seemed made of adamantine stone."

Canto XI:94-104, Dante's Divine Comedy, Purgatory; translated by Dorothy Leigh Sayers

Begging the reader's indulgence, I wish to give a small 'geography' lesson.

Film and everyday culture has traditionally proposed that, within catholicism, that moments after passing away the first thing that you'll find yourself facing is the Gate of St. Peter, described above by Dante.  Naturally, this is all folk tales and fun, so we have made much mock of it in the last century.  Some depict an endless line at the gate; others the possibility that 'failing' at the gate involves a trap door and so you're dropped into the other realm in a wonderfully comic shock. It has long been a western notion that there's a conversation that you're bound to have with St. Peter when the time comes, where you'll explain your actions, give Peter and God a good talking to about the mistakes they've made or simply moon the bastard for all the crap you've had to endure.  But you don't have to worry about any of this if you happen to be an expert in parkour - because then you'll just leap the fence.

If we adopted the world of seven centuries ago, however, the time of Dante, you might be surprised to find yourself nowhere near a gate, but in fact at the mouth of a river - an earthly river, in fact.  The souls of the good were supposed to gather at the mouth of the Tiber, below Rome, at the infamous port of Ostia . . . at one time, the busiest port in the world, this being where grain was unloaded from Egypt to feed the enormous population of Rome.

This assumes that you've been a good and repentant Christian; if you haven't been, you'll find yourself on the banks of the River Acheron, waiting for the Demon Charon to ship you over into hell - and meanwhile you'll be pestered by clouds of stinging gnats.  But let's be generous.  Let's assume you've at least - as many say they will - repent at the very last moment, on your deathbed.

So there you are in Ostia, with all the other shades that have died.  You haven't any substance any more, your 'body' does not cast a shadow and there's not very much to do except speak to some of the others who are also waiting there.  You might, if asked, take up an instrument (which you'll be surprised to discover you still possess, if you're a musician), but for the most part you're too anxious for that.

You're waiting for an angelic pilot who will return with a boat that will take you completely to the other side of the world, the antipode of Ostia.  This turns out to be quite seriously in the middle of nowhere, a long, long way east of New Zealand, a lucky call for a church and Dante who did not live in a world where New Zealand or Australia were known to western Scholars.

That's 41.74 S, 167.76 W

Finally, the angel shows up - and takes hundreds with him, but not you.  Then this happens again and again.  The decision-making process does not seem based on first-come, first-serve.  You begin to realize that the leaving it off until the last minute idea seems not to be working that well.

Don't misunderstand me.  There's a reason why, on this blog, I spell it 'gawd' and not 'god.'  I'm a sinful bastard, quite ready to pay my coin to Charon and let havoc progress from there.  All I'm suggesting is that there was a rhyme and reason the manner in which mythical constructs are built - and be reassured, there is no more complicated and complex fantasy landscape than that of hell, purgatory and paradise.  And here Dante codified it all up for us.

At last, you get a ride.  The angel wills the boat around the world at unbelievable speeds (not being limited by physics) and you find yourself at the shore of purgatory.  And there, no, I'm very sorry, you do not see a gate.

What you see is a beach and a lot of reeds and a fellow who doesn't even happen to be a Christian. This is Cato of Utica, called the 'younger' to separate him from his great-grandfather.  Cato is 49, impatient, stern and anxious to get you off the beach and on your way, since there are others coming.  No, he isn't here to listen to complaints.  He speaks and you find yourself jumping at his tone, hurrying on your way up to the first terrace of ante-Purgatory.

Yes, that's right, you're not even in Purgatory proper, yet.  You're lucky, though, for the first terrace - the worst - is for those who were once part of the church but were excommunicated.  These poor schmucks have to spend 30 years for every year of falling away from the church wandering endlessly about the terrace . . . wandering, wandering, wandering.  Not you, however.  You're not of their breed, so you climb your way up through the nooks and crannies to the second terrace - and there, you learn you are among the indolent.

That is, you've waiting your whole life to get your shit together - and lucky for you, you did at least manage to do so before you died (you're not in hell forever, right?).  Unfortunately for you, however, a great mood of melancholy overcomes you and you flop onto your ass, your arms resting on your knees.  You are tired, oh so tired.  The sun is terribly hot.  Slowly, you crawl away, getting behind one of the great rocks on the terrace, where you find some shade - and there you pant, languorous, up to doing very little.  After a time, the sun moves and you do too, keeping in the rock's shade, waiting for the sun to set.

And this you do for the number of years that you have lived your life up until the moment of your death.  Twenty years, fifty years, eighty years.  Lax, winded, lolling, prostrate, disabled . . . and waiting.  Waiting with nothing to do and only other helplessly tired, formless souls to keep you company, all of you too tired to do more than contemplate your state.

Here you stay, waiting for the long years of your life to pass, until finally, after all that, you may yet get to see the gate described at the top of this post.

Here, too, I leave you, to think about Appendix N, and the contents thereof - a lot of cheesy, second-rate writers of the last century or so, whose context was so distantly remote from the time in which your characters live that their characters might as well be space cowboys.

I can't honestly recommend Dante.  He is a bitch to read, entirely because he is so far removed from our present experience, even our ideas about life and death.  I cannot manage him without notes and a lot of patience - that I don't suppose most have, unless they've adapted themselves to the understanding that there is a great deal to be gained in working hard for hard-to-acquire knowledge.  If you have not tried Dante yet; or if you have tried Dante and failed to get through (as I did, disastrously, my first three times), then I don't imagine you're going to take me seriously if I say, "read this."

After all, it's good to have a strong understanding of 13th century Italian history.  It's good to have a solid grounding in Greek and Roman literature, plus history.  It's good to have more than a passing comprehension of the church that once ran the western world.  Before I could, in all good conscience, recommend Dante, I would first tell you to read all of that.

This isn't easy.  This takes commitment.  You've gotta want it.

Then again, you've already got your whole life to sit around on your ass once, don't you?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Old & Beer

I suppose, as a writer, occasionally one must sacrifice the subject at hand for whatever preys upon the mind.  So it is today.

I am not much like a man of 50.  I am not that disturbed by what's on the screen at the theatre or that the country is going to hell in a handcart.  I do not bitch and moan about taxes or the cost of gas or all the ways that average individuals refuse to obey the traffic laws or how in my day people were a lot more polite.  I will admit that the service in restaurants was better some decades ago, but at the same time I must also confess I give a lot less of a shit about things like good service.  I'm perfectly happy to get my food, however surly the server happens to be this afternoon.  I did work as a cook once. Now matter how unhappy the server may be when at your table, this is nothing compared to how the server is in speaking to the cooks.

Nor have I somehow become disturbed by technology nor the way the young are supposedly more promiscuous today than they once were.  They're not, by the way - it only seems that way because it is possible to post, replay or discuss such moments repeatedly and endlessly.  I'm very sure that Loni Anderson or Farrah Fawcett were fucking everything that moved in 1978 (yes, I know those names are unknown to many of you), but the 'proof' of such things came in a few soiled magazines that could easily be ignored.  Whatever the case, I don't find myself particularly moved that the Miley-naked-on-a-wrecking-ball won best MTV video . . . well sure, why not, it has to have been the most talked about music video of the year.  Hate means as much as Love in this culture - they're both passionate sides of the same coin.  "Best" means "Loudest" - and from all this noise it managed to emerge into even the cloistered walls of tired marketing business meetings this year.

At 50 I'm entirely comfortable with the proliferation of sex.  I think of my parents at this age, when I was 22, hearing their tireless drone about the death of decent culture in . . . well, let's see, that would have been 1986.  Yes, the pornographic horror show represented by television like Dallas and L.A. Law.  Sigh.  Yeah, I'm good with internet porn.  It's fine.  It has a place.

Mostly, I find myself annoyed with things I can no longer get.  Like decent beer.

I was invited out to a sort-of-hipster bar in town that caters mostly to wannabe artistic posers who have, in their thirties, barely reconciled with the reality that grunge is over and everything they ever dreamed of being in high school is now impossible.  Just about the time they were in high school, however, and aching about for cheap beer to assuage their Teen Spirit, a group of entrepreneurs realized that the ability of people to recognize the difference between bitter and sour was seriously for shit.  Some of these entrepreneurs that were geographically local took it upon themselves to create what is now hipsterishly called a 'micro-brewery.'

Through a strange process we call technology and development, over the course of thousands of years it was discovered that the larger the container in which one brewed beer, the greater the separation between the clear, desirable liquid at the top of the mash tun and copper and the crap that gathers at the bottom.  By creating really large vessels, in the neighborhood of 25,000 gallons or more, a satisfying, bitter beer could be drained off, a beer that was not also sour and weak.

Microbreweries generally cook beer in containers that are between 3,000 and 10,000 gallons, where the wort and the sparge water are collected at the same time, producing a completely shit-tasting beer that - through a process that I shall describe soon - has now become considered "the way beer should taste" in the minds of ignorant hipsters.  To this crowd of people, beer without that back-room floor mop taint tastes 'weak' or 'flavorless.'

How has this happened.

Well, it is all a brain thing.  The micro-brewery industry in the mid-90s (and probably earlier in other parts of the world - I live in the dog's armpit, culturally) was able to get itself off the ground by selling beer as much as 25% cheaper.  This meant that virtually everyone between the age of 16 and 19 was disposed to spend less money on more beer that - however shit the alcohol content - at least kept the average teenager's mouth full.  During that crucial four-year period, however, beer goes from something you drink so you don't look like a loser to something you drink because you've actually adjusted and adapted to the flavour.

Only the flavour they began adapting to in the 90s was the sour flavour of micro-brewed beer.  Or as I think of it, badly brewed beer.  Fuck.  They might as well make their beer in a bathtub.

For twenty years, however, I haven't had to care.  I mean, fuck it, so they drink their swill and that's their problem.  Philistines.

Except, of late - and I mean in the last year or so - I've come across two conditions that have begun to annoy me.

The first is that this is now becoming the only kind of beer available.  At least, in this country.  I have to go more and more out of my way to find a decent German beer or even a pint of Guinness, which is inconceivable to me.

The second is that bar staff are becoming profoundly aggressive in selling their micro-brewed shit to me.  There are now about two hundred such breweries in Canada and the business has become very competitive, so much so that just to get their beer into a bar the breweries will underprice themselves in the hopes that someone will get a taste for what they're making.  This has allowed many bars - hipster bars - to specialize in not specializing their beer, because they can get it all cheap, cheap, cheap.

This has led to a certain thought process that says, "Hey, we have 62 kinds of beer, there must be one that you like!  Let me rattle off all their names to you right now!"

Except, of course, that every single one of them is shit.  Something that you cannot explain to the annoying, anxiously pitching server because the server doesn't know fuck all about how beer is made or even that there is such a thing as a science of making beer.

And people ask why I'd rather be living in Europe.

On three occasions in the last three months, I have had to get rude with a server just to get them to shut the fuck up and stop giving me brand names, so that I can tell them I'll have a Glenfiddich instead.

Somehow, this feels connected to my getting old.  Still, the porn is better now.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Schmoozing and Rules for DM's

The ability to Schmooze was a long haul, but I do think it was worth the effort.  I hope the reader will have a look.

Something about the incorporation of some of these rules for the game - specifically, in reference to players ever using them.  Players may not.  It should be noted, however, that these are rules that I myself intend to follow with regards to NPCs.  That means, even if they are of no use to the player, they will help codify the behavior of the people acting and making agreements around the players.

What does it mean when an NPC says someone is their friend or their ally?  What does it mean when an NPC says either to a friend?  What are the limits of what an NPC will do for someone when first meeting them?

For example, let's suppose the character does not have a schmooze ability, but does meet someone on the road and wishes to ask for directions.  What then?

It means that, at best, the stranger should be considered a threat at all times; unwilling to help beyond perhaps giving directions (which might be a charisma check just to get that) and unwilling to give even their name.  It makes a clear line between who is trustworthy and who isn't.

I will probably provide some rules later on for things like friends made through circumstance rather than schmoozing.  I obviously need rules for enemies - but for the time being, that can wait.  I'm sure the subject is likely to come up again and an answer present itself.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Purchasing Disinterest

Last night, while searching for a name, I came across one of those typical long discourses about this edition versus that edition.   This one dated back to 2012, two years before the actual release of 5e.  I found myself reading it all the way through . . . not from interest regarding the subject, but from the point of view of a time traveller looking into the past.

It tweaked my funny bone somewhat that the conversation included two people that have been universally banned from this blog - for hijacking.  But that's really not important.

If you take the time to read the exchange, you'll note that everyone is so sure.  So sure in their facts, so sure in their predictions - and so very, very sure in their assessment of words like 'toxic' or 'business model.'  We have - all of us it seems - perfect knowledge of the goings-on behind closed doors in the WOTC or TSR.  We also appear to have perfect knowledge of the number of sales compared to the number of happy customers - in that we are assuming that IF someone has purchased something, it clearly means that something was a 'successful' purchase.

Well, never mind all that.  I could probably find the exact same conversation going on today.

I am on record as hating the WOTC and considering the RD department thereof - and specifically Mr. Mearls - as a group of corporate bootlicks with gritty, muck-caked tongues.  Admittedly, however, this is only my perception, based upon the word choices Mearls and others make when starting sentences, continuing sentences and then ultimately ending sentences.  In fact, they may all be very nice people.  I wouldn't know.  I wouldn't cross the street to meet one of them.

However, this is not a rant about the WOTC.  This is not a rant about anything.

I think we do ourselves a disservice as a community when we speak of things like 'sales' or corporate agendas as having anything to do with the game.  I find it distressing to read that there are people online who think of AD&D as 'dead' because the WOTC sales for an AD&D re-release were not as robust as perhaps that company hoped.  I find the argument fails on all kinds of levels . . . mostly in that it completely belies the behaviour of actual players.

For example - the readers here are well aware that I run a Frankenstein's monster of an AD&D campaign, with additional eyeballs and unrecognisable limbs sticking out in absurd places.  Most of the readers here, no doubt, do not run AD&D, they do not play AD&D and for the most part they have little or no respect for AD&D.

And yet, I think I can say with reasonable fairness that most of the regular readers here would be willing to play in MY AD&D campaign.

Not because I'm special, or even because my world is special, but because - and I feel strongly about this - the majority of people simply prefer to play in a good campaign, whatever the rules.

The worst part of D&D, or any role-playing game, is not the system.  That has simply become the stand-in explanation because the factual truth is difficult - perhaps impossible - to manage.  It comes down to this:  some people are good at DMing; and some people are not.

Most of you would play in my world because you feel, after my running for 35 years, I'd be competent enough to offer you a good, steady, consistent game with minimal nonsense and crap.  This continues to be a rare thing.  It will always be rare - because it takes time to make the mistakes and learn how to deal with the flow of information that will make running the game well a possibility.  Moreover, it isn't just that the person has to have years of experience - it is that those have to be good years, with good players, the kind that do not cocksuck the DM's ego, in turn eliminating any need for improvement, ever.

For most of you, if you could find a DM like this, you would not give a rat's crap in a bugbear's porridge what edition was being played.  You'd adapt.  You'd make it work.

The absurd weakness in counting sales as evidence of success is that it eliminates the possibility that an experienced, able DM no longer needs to buy anything in order to continue their steady week-by-week campaign.  Role-playing doesn't work like the video-game market.  People who purchase video games get bored of them.  They complete the adventure - maybe twice or three times - or they master all the skills the video game can offer and become hungry for something new.  The market can measure its success by sales because it knows that a significant percentage of the market is, every day, using up some foregoing product's potential.

Role-playing isn't like this.  There are only certain types of people who buy new role-playing games:

I. There are those who think the game is all about the system, who cannot seem to make any system work and so they are eternally on the hunt for the magic system that will finally create the magic world they think magically results from rolling dice on the right magical tables. These people have never been able to reconcile that the successful game does not exist in the structure, but in the function - and having never had a clear idea of what function is or what function they'd like to implement, they opt for what they can understand: a different structure.

II. There are those who have never played any game before.  They're buying 4e or 5e because this is what is in the stores, this is what all their 13-year-old friends are playing and this is what the local in-store posters says they should buy.  They're very reasonably reaching out for the first thing they see.  Unfortunately for the game company, there's no rhyme nor reason from which the demand emerges; most people who play role-playing come to the game from word-of-mouth. Advertising is spotty and confusing at best, never gets into the mainstream and thus the newcomers can never be truly 'grown' with certainty.  Thus, year to year, the number of noobs buying a particular edition can never be used as a measurement - from a marketing standpoint - against other years.

III. There are those who are simply fascinated with game design.  They have no particular interest in becoming good at any of the games they buy, they simply love digging through this or that particular game to see how the designers 'did it.'  Thus these people buy game after game in order to satisfy a hobby that has very little to do with actual running or sessions.  It is an academic exercise for them.  Most often, when these people do run, they are so unhappy with how they themselves have chosen to handle a particular aspect of the game that they are forever changing things - or tearing down the campaign altogether so they can begin again.  They don't really care to game - but they love to design.

IV. Finally, there are the collectors.  They're buying everything and anything just because.  Many of them don't even crack the spines or remove the plastic.  In fact, not removing the plastic is the sign of a true believer.

All four types drive sales.  All four are measured and counted upon by the 'business model' because for a company, sales are more important than use.  Who cares what the use of the game is, so long as the gamer keeps buying?

There are tens of thousands of players, however, that are not buying.  Who may never buy anything again, ever.  Why would they ever need to?  The books don't wear out easily.  When they do, another copy can be picked up at any decent used book store or on ebay - sources the company cannot track. Everyone, including the companies, know this.  It isn't important to them; it does matter to us.

Our investment can't be measured in sales.  It is measured in hours.  For those people who say 'D&D is dead,' I counter that I spoke to hundreds of people just a little more than two months ago who enthused wildly about D&D and its continued importance in their lives.

I doubt that altogether those people purchased more than fifty products this year.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Check . . . Check . . . Is This On?

Just checking - you lovely people all know that I'm putting up new content on the wiki every day, right?  Admittedly, most of it is in the half-done phase of being, but it's there and it's new.  You're looking at it when you're totally bored and you've run out of decent crap to look at, right?


It is true, I am pushing the book hard this week.

As of last night, I finally received approval for getting my book placed on the shelves of a local Chapters/Indigo store, the first of many in the city.  Chapters, for those of you in America, is very much like the (defunct?) Borders, a big box store that sells books by the pound.

While writing the book earlier this year, I went to see what else on the subject of RPGs that the store was selling - to see the name of the section and how best I would sell it.  Online, I had found a Chapters selling Pathfinder; and in the past I have seen straight D&D books on their shelves.  My examination, however, turned up exactly nothing.  The 'role-playing' shelf that I was directed to look at contained books describing Marvel characters, graphic novels and fanbooks about Star Wars and Star Trek.

So, I don't think there's going to be much competition.  Nor do I think that Chapters gets a lot of customers coming in and asking for books about role-playing.  So I do have it somewhat clear in my mind the likelihood of the books flying off the shelves.

Still, I understand that it's possible to get a table out front where I can pitch to customers coming in - which will be more or less like a mini-version of a comic-con, where I'm the only presenter.  I am definitely ready for that.  I see that as a terrific opportunity.

So I am happy.   There are other stores (each must be approached one by one) here and in other cities. The process is to just keep marching forward until something tips.

It's strange to me that How to Run was finished only four months ago.  Seems like a long, long time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are adventure hooks that parties acquire as they move through the systems of the world, revealing the possibility that local power merchants have made agreements or arrangements by which they can further their control through channels outside the law.

Conspiracies are typically arranged between individuals who represent larger groups, such as the head of a guild, an officer of the law with minions or employees, an organization of like-minded persons and so on. Two or more such individuals will meet to work out a strategy in which their individual powers may be combined to ensure a better arrangement for all those involved. The groups represented by these individuals may know all, a part of or none of the actual conspiracy. Several persons in the group may be aware of only their end of the conspiracy; there may be many innocent persons in the group who are wholly unaware that illegal or immoral acts are being carried forth.

Very rarely, an organization may be designed for the sole purpose of conspiring with unwholesome or innocent persons alike - for the purpose of clarity, at a later time when I start writing about such organizations, I'll use the term cabal.

While the long-term goal of a conspiracy might be power, in the short-term conspiracies are typically founded with mundane expectations in mind: the removal of troublesome persons, the acquisition of territory or wealth, the establishment of security in one's position, the implementation of legislation, the instigation of war or participation in treasonous activities such as the selling of information or sabotage. While any of these may be accomplished within a few months, in the long term a successful conspiracy is likely to endure past its original mandate. Once a single action has been tried and managed, then other potential actions will spring to mind, encouraging participants to feel secure in their power, widen their conspiracy and attempt bolder, more risky operations.

Truly successful conspiracies may expand into purely evil endeavors - such as the spreading of lies to encourage mass fear or self-destructive behaviour. Individual lives can be destroyed through personal attacks and invented evidence. Persons may be outright assassinated, followed by invented justifications that encourage the people's passivity. Belief in the state can be undermined through the conspiracy's invention of a wholly false conspiracy designed to achieve desirable results. A policy of racism can lead towards participation in genocide. Anti-religious crusades based on the politics of threat and terror can initiate a warmongering social movement for the purpose of widespread conquest. The potential for conspiracies are endless.

Most often, conspiracies are founded by persons with few personal skills and some charismatic appeal who through ordinary channels have inserted themselves into a middle position within a heirarchy. Once there, they become dissatisfied with their lot. Very often the conspirator recognizes his or her personal limitati0ns and comes to understand that further success must be obtained by means unsavory. At this point they will cast about for an opportunity, generally finding it in another individual in some other branch of power suffering from the same limitations.

Able to work together, they balance their existing abilities against their willingness to swindle others, masquerade as persons of importance or otherwise evade expected practices. This puts them in a position to acquire followers who themselves see opportunities for improving their own existences. Very few of these followers will be more than thugs, but occasionally they will include an individual or two with personal ability in sharp dealing. Should an organization like this possess a reasonable organizational structure, strong bonds and the existence of a slight power vacuum - and some luck - it can be expected to expand considerably and endure for a time.

While the existence of a personal conspiracy may last only a lifetime, some conspiracies skip from generation to generation because they are founded upon a persistent idea that finds traction in new minds. Two typical examples would be persistent racism or the prophecy of future events that are unlikely to occur in anyone's specific lifetime. Either can be used as a jumping off point for making successful short-term gains possible.

An extensive list of conspiracy theories can be read on wikipedia.

Note that the newest changes I have made to my wiki (where the above is from) can be found here and also through a new addition to the links list.

I . . . Am . . . Alive!

Stretching and coming alive like the undead, searching for some bodies to write about.  Most everyone here in Canada is talking about the hipster talk-show host who was recently exposed as a covert junior-style male sadist who liked to take women around to his house and smack them around a little. Seriously.  While yes, I can make up shit like this, at the present that's not necessary.

The one thing I truly hate about being sick is how much at the mercy of such nonsense I become, as I lay about half-dead searching for things that will take my mind off the fact that I'm too tired to work. This is the thing.  I want very much to be working.  Projects are under way, inspirations have been had, I'm more than prepared to dig in and effect the 99% perspiration part of the equation . . . and I'm snorting out a baby's weight in phlegm every hour or so.

I'm feeling better now, thank you.

There are four projects specifically that I am working on.  I should only be working on one, but this is how I am.  It's probably the reason I haven't conquered the world yet.

First, there is the new book.  Within the next few months, this will become the only project I'm working on, which makes me a bit sad - but books need a lot of energy and eventually I'm going to have to stop scratching at the pages and actually fill them with words.  What I have is going quite well.  I expect I should be ready to talk about it in January.

Second, there is the wiki.  There will be new material for that from day to day, as I feel able.  There's been a lot added in the last couple of weeks and I expect to continue.  I had a fellow find me through the wiki yesterday without having any idea that I possess a blog.  Now that is progress!

Third, having completed the formatting for the distance tables, I'm now working on a redistribution of existing references in the sources table.  As a statement, I know that's not very revealing - I just want to write the words down.  Suffice to say it is a consuming, comforting project that I can do when I don't want to be creative.  Sometimes, I just want to lose myself in geography, numbers, design and troubleshooting.  Basically, I'm breaking down many of my larger market zones into smaller market zones, in an effort to make the whole system more gritty.  Yes, I know how crazy that sounds.

Finally, then, there is the trade video.

Let me apologize.  It has been a frustrating, difficult trail, mostly because I've been fighting with myself to stop going at it casually and to make an effort.  I am now working on a script.  I expect the end result to be edited.  I trust that this will make it more 'fun' to watch.  This does mean that a three to four minute video is going to take me considerably more time to produce that spitting into a microphone . . . but I feel I owe it to you and to myself.  After all, you paid me money.  It would be the height of indifference not to respect you for that.

Please be patient with me.  I am getting on my feet.  I will have meaningful product for you to consider soon.