Saturday, February 28, 2015

White Deserts in Spain

Like with this post, I noticed something when I was looking at Google Earth.  Below are images of southern Spain, where everything is inexplicably white:

At first, I presumed it was a poor camera image - there's lots of that on Google Earth, though it's disappearing.  Zooming in close, however, it looks like endless white fields:

But these are not fields.  In fact, they are greenhouses:

I was able to find this website describing them, but the text is cut off.  I was able to recover it.  The whole text reads,

"This sea of plastic, the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world, did not exist 35 years ago. It now covers almost 40.000 ha. An average of 200 mm of rainfall a year falls on what used to be a dry savannah where a few herds roamed. This pluviometry technically means that this part of the Almeria province is a desert. The cold greenhouses are home to fruit production, especially intensive vegetable production, which uses 1 cubic meter of water per m2 a year, that is to say 4 to 5 times more than the little rainfall provides. The plants grow on an artificial substrate made of sand covered in black plastic and get their water from forage. Half of them have been installed illegally and some of them draw water from fossil groundwater. The environmental balance is disturbed as is the soil, which is polluted by fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides used to increase the rate of the yields. The lack of water, increasing salinity and the exploitation of cheap immigrant (and often illegal) labour show the limitations of this system. There are now 100.000 ha of crops in greenhouses in Spain (ten times more than in France). On the international agricultural market Andalusia is the region that exports the most market-garden products, fruits and vegetables in the whole Europe."

The world is very interesting.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mr. Nimoy

Now, that is a pity.  I'm not usually inclined to write obits; but I am sincerely sorry for the loss of Leonard Nimoy.  That's all I will say - except that the feeling goes very deep.

Mapping Gerona

Indulge me, please.  I'm a terribly lonely person.

(Not really.  Who is taking the pictures, hm?)

Yesterday I posted a map of Spain that is in progress.  It still is.  But I thought I might do again something I did with Switzerland ages ago.

Take a corner of Spain - Catalonia, shown below:

I've left the scale on the map - so the reader can see that one hex is slightly less than one inch.  Here I've plotted the cities, I've drawn in the coast line, which is as painstaking as the city plotting.  I've added circles to indicate the 'high country' and arrows to show where the rivers ought to go.  Black circles indicate that the hex should display the highest elevation for the hex.  These hexes have no centres.  Orange circles do have centres; these hexes should show the elevation for the lowest centre in the hex.

Take note of the dotted lines around the text boxes.  Also take note that we'll have to make changes about what is on top of what; those centre circles on the coastline, for instance, should be on top of the coastline.  These are things we want to fix.

Here I've removed the circles for hexes colored orange, changing the elevation numbers on in the bottom right corner when applicable.  I've also added blue numbers for each hex where the river flows through.  These indicate the approximate size of the river - it works out to about 0.25 cubic meters of water per second per number - but really, it is just a general assessment for comparison to other rivers.  An ordinary mountain stream typically has a discharge of 1 meter per second - so it would be rated at '4' on the map above.

Rivers tend not to gather much energy on flat plains - which describes Gerona below the town of Olot.  Incidentally, I found out yesterday from looking at Google Earth that Olot is a volcanic zone.  I like these little surprises.

All I've done here is draw in the west border for the Gerona Marquisate (Spanish title).  It replaces the green line that can be seen in the prior map.  Notice that it, too, overlaps the coastline.  In the end it should be lower than the coast.

Here I've drawn in the small river/stream running through Gerona.  I've moved the river numbers a bit to make room for the river.  I've also tweaked all the place names (only in Gerona) so that they're not overlapping the centre circles they describe.  Incidentally, the font sizes for the centres are based on their size:

  • 8pt - less than 1000 residents (Banyoles)
  • 9pt - 1000-3999 residents (Figueras)
  • 11pt - 4000-15999 residents (Mataro)
  • 13pt - 16000-63999 residents (Gerona)
  • 15pt - 64000-255999 residents
  • 17pt - 256000 residents or more (Barcelona)
I haven't got any cities with more than a million inhabitants - so far.  I haven't done China and I don't have a final number for London yet.  Paris has 940,000.  Barcelona is 534,000 (was huge in the Renaissance).

The next step is to further define the coastline by covering the water side of coastal hexes with a shape that corresponds to the coastline.  Here I've shown it outlined in black, before putting it behind the blue line of the coast where it will partially cover the coastal hexes.

There, I've put the coast further back.  The trick here is to overlap things in the right order; the water overtop the hexes and the coast line overtop the water.  Note that the one river and the border (both at the top of Gerona and at the bottom) is still showing over the water.  We'll need to fix that.  If you're paying attention, you'll see that the elevation number for the hex containing Gerona is in the upper right corner of the hex, rather than the lower right.  That's because in the lower right it would conflict with the center circle for La Bisbal.  Moving it up looks better.

There's very little left.  There's a number next to Ripoll that needs to be moved on top of the border line and the all the hexes need to be colored according to its elevation:

There, done.  I've fixed the borders, moving them back, fixed the river, fixed that number in the La Pobla hex, centered the title for the Cerdanya county, colored the hexes and removed the feature that shows the boundary around text boxes.  Just like that, it looks like my maps normally look.

If I've done this right, the reader should be able to run the images as a slide show, with minimal jiggling between pictures.  This really isn't as much work as it looks - it took much longer to cut the pictures, make myself pause as I did and set them up for the post.  Altogether, what's shown is about 20 minutes of work.  The bigger part is the annoying city placement and coastline drawing.

Half-Thoughts on Traps

The Dungeon's Front Door was going to include the following material, but it was cut for not fitting into the theme of the essay.  I thought I ought to include the content somewhere, however.

Traps are founded on well-understood principles: that they might be found anywhere; that they can be detected; that they can be deactivated . . . and if not detected or removed, that they will deliver damage, poison or some other consequence.  But are we willing to consider the possibility of traps that have no effects?

The practical joke with the little flag that pops out of the gun and says BANG! - though crass, remains disconcerting if the gun looks real.  The dungeon trap that is easily found - yet strangely difficult or even impossible to remove (because it is not, in fact, a trap) can easily tie a party up for a long time.  The party will go into it with the assumption that any trap can be removed.  Since this 'trap' has no discernable mechanism, however - what should the party do then?

We can also introduce a circumstance where the removal of one trap will guarantee the firing of a second trap.  We can play with this idea in several ways.  We can allow the players to find both traps (or all of them, if more than two are involved) with one roll, so that they can see plainly how the traps are rigged to go off.  Or we can stipulate that only some of the traps are found, depending on whether or not the thief rolls successfully for each trap.  I personally prefer the first option - because that suggests the thief could stop trap A from setting off trap B, if the cord on trap C is pulled in this manner (using the party's fighter) and if this flagstone in the corner is stood on (using the party's bard), compelling all the players to take some part.  Then if the traps go off, it could be the fault of the mage or the druid.  

There is a certain fascination, however, if the party realizes there are more traps, but they don't know how many or even how these traps are connected.  Add in that some of these traps may be 'dummies' and we have a real conundrum.  Hah.  And I keep saying that I don't like puzzles in dungeons!

We don't have to consider the impracticality of some fool putting this arrangement in place, do we?  I mean, we've seen Saw, we have other cultural references - we're just willing to accept that some premise exists.  A party, I'm sure, would think it reasonable that someone would put something valuable behind a mess like this.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Black Fly

Just for fun . . . and for a thought or two to be given to parties roaming the woods.


This is what I do to relax.

Here's a section of Spain that I'm working to map, which at this stage consists only of plotting cities:

This is painstaking work.  Each hex covers a range of latitude and longitude; the city is then plotted inside the hex based on its own precise location.  I insist on being as accurate as possible.  Occasionally, it can happen that there are as many as seven towns & cities in the same hex (an example of that can be seen in the upper right hand corner, with Alcora, Burriana, Castello, La Vall, Nules, Onda and Villareal all sharing the hex.  These are all real places; images can be found on Google.

It is done with Microsoft Publisher.  I simply create a circle (white with a black fill) that is 0.1 x 0.1 inches (.254 cm), then create a text box next to the circle.  Yay, mapmaking.

I keep track of all the data on excel:

The left file corresponds to the map above.  The lines in excel shown are the bottom line of the map.  If you look closely, you can see Alicante in the bottom right corner of the map; in excel, it appears on line BJ1074.  The 'ring' describes the horizontal line of hexes.  The Alicante hex extends from longitude 359.33 to 359.65 (I'm using 360 degrees measured from Greenwich, rather than a +/- arrangement of E/W).

The right file shows the city details for the next ring, which would be no. 180 (measured from the north pole).  Each hex is 20 miles in diameter.  When I finish this post, I will begin plotting Cordoba.  It would be off this map, below and to the left of the bottom left corner.  Really, I should include picture of the line where Cordoba would go, so here it is:

See?  Cordoba has a latitude of 37.88 and a longitude of 355.23.  It is in Andalucia, in its own province.  'E-01' indicates the map where the highlighted hex can be found.

Once the cities are placed, this tells me where the boundaries ought to be - I try to keep the hexes wholly under one jurisdiction, but often I have multiple cities in on hex that are in fact in different provinces (researched on the internet), so the hex has to be split up.

Anyway, like I said, this is relaxation time when I'm not trying to make text fit the theme I've determined for a given essay.  I have one more of those that I have to go through before giving it to the editor - who has begun giving me back content already.  I think I may be able to get a book up before the 7th of March.  Quality before speed, though.

I need to go rest now.

A Well-Meaning Exchange

I always think people are going to miss these back comments:

Scott Driver:

A close "artsy" friend has a storefront where she sells boho shit that she's culled from thrifts in the area. Until recently she did it to keep busy while selling her art and treading water. It's not normally sustainable without another income stream. (In her case, her husband ... she's very talented but it's tough to make a living on visual art here.)

She has the social media network you'd expect of an interesting, talented, vivacious person. She starts posting each thrift find on Instagram ... things change. Now she posts whatever she finds, most of which is horseshit, and just based on her personality and a wide net, someone ALWAYS asks "omg how much and what size??" then rushes to buy it. It's completely altered how she views her dorky time-sink of a storefront. Now it's a thing.

Here's my question: Your in-person salesmanship - that face you give randoms at a con or a bookstore - are you doing that online anywhere? As far as I know, you're acerbic and uncompromising online, but willing to glad-hand and suffer fools in person.

You want to sell books or you wouldn't be sitting there watching assholes in front of a Chapters. Why are you willing to make salesman faces in person, where you might talk to three people, but not here, where you could reach a LOT more if you used the same salesman face? It seems perverse.

Alexis Smolensk:

Interesting. I am often astounded at the idea that people prefer to buy from a 'salesman face.' I find them quite off-putting, myself.

I am acerbic and uncompromising online - in two specific ways. Either I have identified an individual as a fuckwit, and I say so, or I attack wide groups of people for having what I consider to be a stupid opinion.

I never, ever, go after an individual person for no reason.

In person, whether I am selling or not, I am remarkably pleasant, friendly, witty, honest and forthright - particularly with strangers whom I do not know and therefore have no reason to dislike. This is why Toronto was an epiphany. I found I could speak quite candidly and absolutely honestly about the book, receiving in kind interest, a desire to know more and a remarkable approval of what I was doing. People who bought books from me did not feel pressured, duped, unsure or 'sold.' They felt enlightened, happy, encouraged and with a bounce in their step. People who bought the small book one day read it in a single night and came back the next day to buy the large book. I didn't have to slap on a 'sales face.' I had the product these people were desperate to buy.

When I am friendly, sweet, gentle in my content, full of tolerance and consideration online, I get trolls who hijack the conversation, treat my blog like a welcome mat, treat my readers like morons and show zero respect for anything that I've written.

Granted, there has always been a part of me that, as you say, does not suffer fools to live. Neither do universities, professional workplaces, the halls of power, people who make a lot of money for a living nor any person of intellect.

The difference between me and all of them is that I'm a WRITER; I write. Most of the extremely smart people I know do not give a shit about anything that happens online. This online community holds no interest for them.

I disagree. I think the world can be changed online. I don't think, however, that it can be changed by being nice.

TED Talks are nice. TED Talks are proving to be a dismal failure.

Now, Scott, I'll be frank with you, because I find you a bright guy. You may have noticed that I'm not selling the kind of thing your friend with the Instagram account is selling. She has a product that STUPID people will buy.

I am not selling something that STUPID people are interested in. I'm not selling cute, popular, sweet, precious, easy, stuff that will solve problems or a balm for people's ills. I am selling hard work, invention, creativity, failure and an admittance that you are inadequate. I'm selling the same philosophy that I live by every day. I'm not smart enough. I'm not working hard enough. I haven't produced enough value yet. This is what drives me forward and it is what I am selling.

I have a limited market. Despite that, in the last six months I have sold 250 books. My overall income from being acerbic and uncompromising has earned me more than $4,500. This is not enough to live on, but . . . it is enough to be proud of. I count these as people who want very BADLY to excel. I think these are amazing people. They put up with all my shit and my intolerance, then they tell me that I'm changing their game and their perceptions, that their players are loving the change and that they are running the best campaigns of their lives.

My god man. This seems perverse to you?

If you want compromise, if you want sales, I suggest you knock at the WOTC's door. Instead, you're here.

My technique must be working, no?

Listen, seriously. If you really feel that I should take steps to change myself in order to sell more - then I presume you feel that more people should read my books. If that is how you feel - if that is how you REALLY feel - then get off your ass and point your friends in my direction. Write a review for Amazon, write another for Lulu, write it on your facebook, write it on Reddit. Your pitching my book online is TEN TIMES more valuable than me doing it - because I'm obviously biased and selling, whereas you're someone who has been CONVINCED.

Go express your being convinced to other people!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Some readers who blog may have noticed lately that Google's Blogger service has announced that, come March 23rd, they're going to eliminate explicit content from their system.  I'm glad to say that this blog, which has no images of naked people, will not be affected.

I have seen some call this an act of vandalism.  I have also seen the term pornocalypse used.  If the reader has the bravery to follow this link (that I discovered when a blog I shall not name linked it), there can be read a long diatribe about the persecution that large technology organizations perpetrate on the use of porn.  It's interesting, but . . . as someone who has been on the inside of a porn-distribution service, it is way, way off the mark.

It is true that groups like eBay, Amazon, Craig's List and so on seem to be permissive for a time, only to change their minds and apparently revoke the privilege with a moral crusade.  Morality, however, is not the reason why services suddenly condemn the very porn that once they supported.  Nor is it the outcry of mothers or private businesses.  Most businesses, in fact, retain a defacto nod-nod-wink-wink policy towards a company's inclusion of porn in their bottom line.

In my late position working for a pay-per-view service, I spent a few years keeping track and updating the many, many porn movies that were available for purchase.  On average, the service launched about 20 titles a week, provided by a wide variety of both classy and sleazy porn film companies, including Mile High Media, Erobec, Valentine . . . even Penthouse.  These went through the same process as any other film we included, except that great pains were taken to ensure that some child with access to the system could not see any of these films if the adults in the house appropriately net-nannied the storefront.  Many conversations were had about that - and if a porn movie got put into the wrong categories by mistake (where it could be seen by anyone), things got very, very interesting - particularly if it came to the attention of the company's CEO (and here we are speaking of an 11-billion dollar company).

So why did we have porn on the system at all?  One simple reason.  The service was not making money.  Throughout my entire experience - five years - we were firmly in the red.  There was never any chance of our division making a profit; in fact we were making less and less profit every annum.  We were kept alive because the service was a very visible part of the company's public perception and because it's existence drove other money-making services within the company, supporting its competitive acquisition of the marketplace.

In a situation like this, a VP will take any opportunity to reduce the amount of loss every quarter.  Thus, the inclusion of porn.  For a company just starting out, for a division that is perpetually losing money, porn is low-hanging fruit.  It is easy to get, easy to sell and thus easy to turn into immediate capital.

Porn has problems, however.  Yes, like the accidental misfiling that I mentioned above, but also in a host of other ways that affect daily operation.  See, porn is largely created by people who are uneducated, unreliable, unhappy or who just don't give a shit about laws or regulations.  Companies have to care about those things.  Because the porn industry does such a shitty job of regulating themselves, however, companies that use porn have to do it - and that means hours and hours of fixing images that were poorly conceived, fixing titles, fixing descriptions and synopses . . . and actually watching the porn to ensure that no content appeared that could not be legally run on our service.  We paid two people to sit around, all day, doing nothing but watching porn.

Before the reader gets all excited, thinking, "Kewl, I want that job!" I have to explain that having spoken to the people who did it that the job was horrible.  Mind you, these were people who did not have trouble with porn - otherwise, they would not have taken the job.  Porn in large amounts is, however, depressingly uniform in its presentation.  In large amounts (35-40 hours a week), it takes on a degree of disgust that doesn't go away.  The burn-out rate for people who did that job was 1 to 8 months.  This despite the money they were paid, which was very good.

Throughout all this watching, the viewers had to be very careful to miss nothing.  That's because it only takes a couple of frames to start a major freak-out among moral pundits and the mainstream media.  So not only are you watching a lot of crap you've grown very tired of, you have to watch it closely.

Finally, porn can only make you so much money.  At the beginning, that amount is nice . . . but it tops out at a given amount and that's it.  The clientele you have will only support so much.  That's because there are two kinds of porn-watchers (I know, I've tracked the numbers month to month for years at a time): the kind that watch one or two porn movies a month and the kind that watch porn continuously whenever they are at home.  A business depends on the latter kind for its bread and butter - but there are only so many of those guys that exist in the world (yes, I said 'guys').

So porn is a lot of trouble.  So it stands to reason that if you reach a point in your business where you are in the black without needing the porn, what do you think happens?  That's right.  You dump the porn.

In order to justify this dumping, you get on the bandwagon of claiming you're cleaning up your service, you're paying closer attention to the family and the upstanding merits of doing business responsibly, blah blah blah, because if you're going to ditch the porn anyway, you might just as well take advantage of the PR hit you can get by pretending that you now care about family values.

This recent step by Google Blogger means one of two things - either the company has decided that there are enough non-porn bloggers to justify the service's existence without porn . . . or its gotten to be too much trouble to police the mess.  Google, I promise you, does not care the least about the moral implications of including porn.

They just don't need it any more.


Porn is also great for bloggers.  Any time a blogger can find a justification for talking about porn, count on the numbers to go up.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lo, the 7th of March

This will be yet another short post.  But the rewriting, the re-editing will be done soon, at least for me.

After a long discussion with my editor, we've agreed on extending the publishing date for The Dungeon's Front Door to March 7th.  My sincere apologies.  All I can say is that it's a hard date.  I will release the book on the 7th even if I don't get back the edited copy for the last pages.  I'm being told that there's little fixing that needs to be done to the draft I'm providing the editor - so I will review the content myself and trust to fate if that's what it takes.

I really hate on line when people put off and put off and put off the end dates of something.  It's a sort of disrespect for the reader that I cannot abide.  So I will not be doing this to the reader again.

So, to repeat: the 7th of March, not the 1st.  And as I said yesterday, you can follow me on twitter, @Tao_of_DnD - where I will be updating daily.

I am going to be so glad to spike this project.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Updates on DFD

There has been less posting here, hasn't there?  Just working, my fellows.  Just working.

For those who have not noticed, I have added a twitter feed to the sidebar.  I am working to keep track of my progress through the book (The Dungeon's Front Door,, which I will be doing up to its publication.  If you want to know day to day how it is going, check the feed.  Right now, I am going through my content one last time, page-by-page.  I am starting to get some edited material back from the editor - which I will use to update the final text of the book.

This is just a short note to let readers know.  Please feel free to follow me on twitter: @Tao_of_DnD.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

No Biggie

Sadly, Chapters did not work out.

We spoke to a few people, make perhaps a few connections with friends they knew, telling us that these friends played D&D, but it was the wrong crowd.  Too many mothers and fathers with children, too many aged couples, too many people walking through the bookstore with a thousand yard stare.  They weren't just ignoring us, it was clear watching them pass that they were ignoring everything.

Having time to watch the bookstore in action, I saw far more customers arriving for the Starbucks next to us than seemed to come for the books.  I saw staff bored out of their minds, clearly with nothing to do and no one to direct.  All in all, a disappointing day.

But an educational one.  A day with a message.  A day reminding me that I've done very well to pursue my book on the internet.  I could not help but think of people with no internet presence, bravely writing their first book, then attempting to do what I did today with everything resting on succeeding at a bookstore.  That would be . . . heartbreaking.  I am glad I did not have all my eggs in that basket.

I woke today to find on my feed that we had sold a book overnight.  In a day or two, I will see another book being sold.  Puts failing at the Chapters in perspective.

It is sad, however.  It is.  By the end of the day, what with feeling one kind of stress before, then keeping up our energy to be hit with another sort of stress at the end (as we debriefed), we came home exhausted and strung out.  I had a sleep and now I'm up, feeling like this is something that happened yesterday.

So, next Saturday I will do it again.  At a completely different Chapters, much further out, in the suburbs.  Could be good.  Could be bad.  We'll just have to find out.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

At Chapters

I'm going to spend today pitching How to Run at a bookstore, my first time for this.  Should be fun.  I don't expect it to be very much like being at a table at a convention - I have no idea how many people I will meet that will have even heard of role-playing games.

This should be enlightening - from a statistical sample perspective.

If you are in Calgary and you're up for it, come down and see me, buy the book or come and get your book signed.

I'll be at Chapters Bookstore in Chinook Centre.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


For those who have never successfully integrated computers into your gaming - who might wonder how I do it or how it works.  This really deserves a video - but my attempts to video me running my game end up disappointing for technical reasons.

It is really very hard to effectively tape a D&D session.

So much of a D&D session is spontaneous, the game being unscripted.  If you try to fix this by scripting the game, the players are NOT actors and it looks awful and phony.  On the other hand, capturing that spontaneity on film, properly, would require four or five cameras, all of them running for four to six hours. A single camera simply fails 100%, as the game is not found in the DM's face alone, but in that of the players. requiring a very lengthy effort at editing the session - presuming that this was even a session worth filming!  Not all sessions are.

I have seen lately that filmmakers have finally realized that every individual person needs to be miked, too - but this properly needs to be a boom mike.  I've seen examples where the table is loaded up with mikes, like a set up found on public radio.  This looks absolutely nothing like a game session - and of course spoils the very feel of a proper game.  I wrote in my advanced guide that the DM's screen needs to be ditched because it ruins interaction and cohesion of play.  Technical apparatus between the players only reminds them that they are being miked, destroying any sense of capturing an actual game.

I need a very capable filmmaker to solve these problems - but I haven't yet been able to entice anyone into the project without a promise of money.  In the meantime I see videos put out by the WOTC of games held in public and I shake my head in disgust.  Here are people with real money, who ought to know better how to set up a proper film . . . and obviously they don't care.

I remember episodes of I Hit It With My Axe, which I showed around to my players and other artists.  These were films supposedly made by people in film - but they were cluttered, ugly, poorly miked, disastrous writing, filled with the backs of people's heads and with chatter that was either hopelessly garbled or meaningless in the context of a game.  My amateur attempts to do better have proven that I cannot - that is why there are no films of my playing a session.

But I will continue to look for someone capable who would be willing.  At this point, to get talent I need it to be a documentary made with real money - perhaps to show it on Netflix.

In the meantime, I am a writer.  So I will stick with writing out the details of my game play as best I can.  This much is free.

Earlier today, Scott Driver left a comment that can be found here, written below the DFD Introduction pose.  In it he makes a very reasonable point:

"I've never successfully integrated computers either for gaming or my profession.  Professionally, it adds complexity to an already chaotic situation and it's not easily stress-tested. Back when I tried cases before juries, I was almost always alone, and I stuck with legal pads and binders because they're simple and there's no risk of looking like a fumblefuck. I can execute on the fly without even thinking about the underlying tech."

I can really relate to this - but not in terms of computers.  See, I have never learned to drive.  I do not even possess a learner's license - and I never have.  If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you may remember once or twice where I described something to do with me driving a car.  I have driven a car, I know how to drive a car, but I've only done it for twenty minutes at a time and therefore always illegally.  This is also, incidentally, the reason why none of the pictures I've taken this last month feature me driving a car.  The one I added today (which will be gone in the morning) is of me sitting in the passenger seat.

So for me, driving through the city would be an exercise in panic.  I once was a bike commuter - the kind that rode in winter as well as in summer, in circumstances probably more dangerous than driving a car - so I know the streets.  But when I rode a bike, I didn't really have to look at signs.  Most of them don't affect bicyclists.

Were I to get a license, it would be a completely chaotic situation.  I would be terrifically stressed.  'Fumblefuck' would be my middle name.  And that is the reason I have kept putting off getting a license all these years.  I don't want to kill anyone.

Computers, however, are different.

I began on manual typewriters at age 8.  I moved on to an electric typewriter at age 13 when my grandmother passed away and left my parents hers (she was a schoolteacher and a writer). Computers followed soon after.

In grade 10, I took a typing class - and failed (I have a 7 dexterity).  But I kept the book and worked on the exercises continuously.  Today I type 65-75 words a minute.  I type fast enough that I can create content for the players to read, if it is something with detail that they need to remember, without breaking the pace of the session.  Part of the reason why these blog posts have so many words in them is that I type and think at the same pace (I've trained myself to slow my thinking to match my typing speed when I write, so writing is just like talking).  In effect, when I write, the screen and the computer disappear . . . I stare through the screen in a sort of zen-like state.  Thus, during a session, if I need to send a message by computer (or type a note in the middle of combat), I can listen to a player talk and write the note at the same time - sometimes I can talk and write a completely different note.

After hundreds of hours using a mouse to build newspaper pages, a skill I learned in university while volunteering for the paper there, I applied that skill to other projects.  I went on building pages for magazines that I helped build or start, while learning from professionals how to build ads or graphically design images.  These last eleven years, of course, I have been building more than 80 maps that are huge in scale (maybe you've seen a few), while using the computer to run my sessions as well.  This has meant that drawing with a mouse is as comfortable and normal to me as drawing with a pencil used to be.  I don't even think about it while I'm doing it.  In fact, I use map-making as a relation tool to manage my stress, enable meditation or to keep me busy while I listen to lectures or follow audio books and podcasts.  During a game, then, the players don't have to wait a bunch of time while I interface with the computer - I can draw and design while talking to them, or listening to them make plans for their character's next actions.

This may sound impressive - but if you think about it, you can tell me all of this right back by describing what you're able to do while driving a car.  There you are, sitting behind the wheel of a potential weapon, a projectile of metal, fibreglass and rubber, riding along at speeds above 100 km/hour, along with hundreds of other cars doing the same thing . . . and still you can argue with me about why you think Aerosmith deserves the attention they've received these last four decades.  Vehemently.  Because the car is an extension of your body and your mind that you don't think about.

Computers are no scarier than a car.  The difference between me and you driving is that you were once agreeable to being educated in that - whereas I was not, for reasons I won't go into.  The computer keyboard and the programs that enable me to design only happened to me because I took the courses and pestered experts for answers.  You can do this too.  I only began graphic design about 12 years before I began creating the maps you see - and I did tons with that design long before I stumbled across my map-making method.

You CAN do anything.  Get educated.  Learn.  I am perfectly capable of driving a car.  I even kind of like it . . . until there are other cars around.  But trust me - your learning how to use a computer like a pen isn't going to kill anyone.

The Size of the Book Close to Finalized

I am sorry to confess that the DFD book is going to be a might shorter than I had hoped.  I've cut an essay from it that just wasn't working.  I wasn't happy.  This leaves a total of approximately 27-28K words, or around 122-128 pages.  A bit longer than the last essay book, but not the moon.  Sorry that it can't be more.

I just haven't got the sand to write another essay.  I'm pretty near burnt out on the subject of dungeons.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DFD's Introduction

In keeping with previous efforts, once I have the introduction to a new book finalized, I feel it's right to preview the book.

As best as I can tell, there's still a chance that I will have the book done on time.  There have been some hang-ups, however, and I am especially anxious to be sure the book is of the highest quality.  Thus, I am committed to letting the readers know in advance if there is going to be any pushing back of the release date.

Right now, I'd say the March 1st date on the Dungeon's Front Door is pretty soft.  On the other hand, if I were to push it back, positively the latest would be a period of one week (March 7).  The book is entirely completed just now, but editing can be a frustrating affair.

I will let the reader know the firm date on the 24th of February.  Please forgive me if I have to push the book's release back.  Some things can't be helped.

At any rate, here is the introduction as it stands.  I am following up with the photographer of the book's front cover to check the facts included below:


Before completing this book, I had considered adjusting the present-day appearance of the figure on the front cover. For anyone who cares to look at the image in a good light, it will not be hard to discern an orange hardhat through the dim light, a blue water bottle and a climbing harness, all standard equipment for anyone adventuring underground nowadays. Suggestions were made that I should give the subject a set of horns, disturbing bright eyes or simply black out the shape entirely – all of which I did not do.

Somehow, I felt that any change for fantasy’s sake would be too on the nose, even clich├ęd . . . and as I grew familiar with the image over a period of months, I began to feel that any change would diminish the sheer beauty of the landscape that it depicts – a place on this Earth that is completely real, just as it appears.

The location, as photographer and caver Nicholaus Vieira told me, is found under a mountain in the Selkirk Range in British Columbia, located within Glacier National Park near Roger’s Pass. To reach the point where the photograph was taken, Nick and friends spent thousands of hours spent researching, training, organizing and exploring a cave system that he calls “Raspberry Rising.” As of 2014, the passageway on the book cover had never known the sound of a human’s footsteps.

In real life, far from the fantasies of dungeons, it takes many, many incursions to explore the interior of a cave. It means hauling several trips worth of gear up to the entrance, reconnoitering the space within, storing goods, making preparations to climb if need be . . . and in the case of Raspberry, bringing along dive gear.

The Raspberry cave system is formed from a sink-hole that can be found below Tupper Glacier. Steadily, over millennia, the water dribbling into the mountain has formed an unknown number of parallel passages, descending more than two thousand feet over several miles. This we know only because dye tracing proves a relationship between the sink hole and the Raspberry’s entrance – though the actual system between the two has not yet been fully explored.

Nick’s party are following the stream upwards through the heart of the Mount Tupper, climbing waterfalls (sometimes strictly by feel, due to spray) and cascades, seeking the stream’s trunk passage through the mountain. Five times on this journey, they have encountered a “sump” – places where the passage dips so that the stream fills the passage with water, something like the U-curve under a kitchen sink. Raspberry’s sumps are long, technically difficult and too large – and inaccessible – to drain. Thus they can only be passed by cave diving – which means that at each stage along the journey, Nick’s party must bring along their scuba gear in order to navigate their way through.

While sumps can have clear water, Nick tells me that some of these in Raspberry have a consistency “like chocolate milk.” Thus, in scuba gear, deep below the Earth’s surface, he is literally feeling his way blind through a tunnel the shape of which is impossible to know. Sumps like this can take a lot of dives to fully explore.

How far is all this from the rather mild process of exploring a D&D Dungeon? Comparatively, I cannot help but view most of the dungeons I’ve run as a sort of Fun House joke, as far from anything truly dangerous as it is possible to get.

Then again, I remind myself that dungeons in the real world do not have creatures living there, who surely would take the time to knock out a few narrow passages, put in a door or two, level the floors and perhaps take up a broom and a mop and make the underground presentable. Of course, that gives me the image of an orc wearing a French maid’s costume – try to get that out of your head!

Thus I am reconciled with the potentially game-shattering realities of real caves – though there’s little doubt that I’m due to examine more fully the principles and practice of what the spelunking world can offer. That is, provided I’m not actually required to go underground. It isn’t that I’m claustrophobic or anything – after a lifetime of writing and editing in dark, dank rooms, surrounded only by the dim glow of the computer monitor, being in the dark is something of a habit. It is only that as I get a lot older, I become increasingly clumsy and increasingly colder. I doubt I have the wherewithal to climb a ten-metre high waterfall.

This series of essays do not, therefore, attempt to dissuade the reader from running the traditional dungeon found in D&D. Rather, I have sought to rant over a few of the tropes while mocking others, then deconstructing that which remains. Amid the philosophical approach that tends to possess me when speaking about the things I love, the reader will discover a collection of positive, useful thoughts I have accumulated about dungeons. Within, I will describe what a dungeon is and what it means to be in one. I will suggest ways to flesh out and provide substance to the underground and its inhabitants. I have included some humorous moments and taken time to wonder what it is that makes dungeons popular – for they are very popular, despite all the goofiness and absurdity of their existence.

The preposterous notion of dungeons – as slashingly brilliant as their invention was – will forever entice some poor soul to write, grinding along, of all the things that we already know to be terribly wrong about them. It is truly a sign of something’s value when it will withstand criticism that is 100% true about that thing’s badness. How awesome is it that sensibility makes no difference? For all the influence that reason has to say about the existence of dungeons, it might as well be an exhausted, wrecked hamster rocking back and forth on a very small wheel.

Therefore, I expect to still be running dungeons thirty years from now . . . for parties that will still be excited to gain admittance. Whenever a DM begins to feel that the game is getting out of hand, whenever there are clear signs that a new campaign or adventure is needed, the dungeon is there. When the players want to indulge in a little nostalgia: the dungeon is there. Whenever we’re looking for cutting edge, for the risk of a total party kill, for a little hack and haul away the loot: the dungeon is there.

Or rather, I should say here – as the dungeon is what you have in your hands right now. The dungeon as I see it. Therefore, let’s stop loitering outside. Let’s pick up our weapons and see what there is to kill.


Some moderate changes have been made to the text after fact checking with Nick.

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Rotten When It's Cold, Too

This post is the second part of the argument that can be found here.  The argument of that post was that the effects of climate have to severely affect the character's statistical ability to function, otherwise they will simply ignore (or fail to account for) the rule.  It further argued that weather is indifferent and affects all player characters without exception (no saving throws).  This post continues on these principles.

Proposed Rules for Cooler Temperatures

Unfortunately, we cannot treat cooler temperatures in the same manner as warmer, simply by removing points from character abilities.  While few especially enjoy a cold day, we can mitigate a cooler climate with appropriate clothing - gloves, hats, jackets, cloaks, coats, sweaters, mufflers, fur trimming and so on all serve to make the intolerable tolerable.  If it then starts to become warm, we can simply strip off this clothing as necessary, especially if we layer what we're wearing so that mid-day and midnight can be managed easily while adventuring.

However, there are consequences of working (or participating in combat) while wearing protective clothing - just as there are consequences to stopping work after heating up.  Even though it is cold, the body begins to sweat - and the moreso if the body is wearing a heavy coat that is not removed as we heat up.  Even if we do remove that coat, once we begin to cool down after exertion, we can experience a terrific shock if the weather is very cold to start.

Consider - the characters get into a combat when the weather is 'brisk.'  As you can see to the right, this is around 45 F/7 C.  They're wearing the logical clothes for this sort of weather, a jacket and cap (at least this is logical in Canada!) - which has the effect of making the climate comfortable (I'd consider it cool rather than pleasant).

As they get into the battle, they begin to heat up.  After 8 rounds, the effective ambient temperature becomes 'cool' while the temperature in the jacket is 'pleasant.'  The combat advances to 16 rounds and the character continues to heat up.  Now the ambient temperature is 'pleasant' but with a jacket on it is 'warm.'  At once, the player loses a point from their stats across the board.

So the player tears off their jacket, cooling off immediately and extending the period when they can fight without penalty until the 32nd round.

But the battle ends on round 25.  The character pants and begins to cool down.  In 27 rounds (in my world that is only 6 minutes), the character cools down again to the point where they can put on the jacket without losing ability points (assuming we're using the cool-down rate I used in the previous post).

Only something very different has happened here.  When we sweat in a 'balmy' temperature, this is a good and comfortable thing.  We receive mostly positive effects from heavy sweating.  But when we sweat profusely in a climate that is 'cool' or 'brisk,' we risk getting a reaction from cooling down quickly due our core body temperature being challenged.  That means the cooling down rate of 3 rounds to 1 round of work doesn't work - because in fact in a cold climate you can cool down too fast.  Suddenly you are colder than you mean to be.  Instead of the ambient temperature feeling like it cools down to 'brisk,' it plummets right to 'chilly' or even 'frosty.'

Now you're in trouble.  You're covered with sweat and even if you pull on the jacket, you are still wet.  Being wet + cold + exhausted is a great way to bring on rapid hypothermia.  You can die from that.

So what we need are some pretty vicious rules that account for hypothermia - things that insist that the characters get a fire going before they dilly-dally around with things like gathering up treasure.  Even chasing an enemy through a wood for ten or twelve rounds can get you into trouble.

Granted, in the example above, the chance for hypothermia ought to be pretty low.  I suggest that if the experienced heat climbed two grades during the battle (as I described in this case), then after the battle it ought to drop two grades below whatever the actual ambient temperature is.  In the above example, I described that as being 'brisk.'  So the ambient temperature experienced by someone after a 25 round battle ought to be 'frosty.'

Once the temperature drops to 'chilly,' the core body temperature for the individual is threatened enough that we can reimpose a drop in stats (35 F/2 C is the point when hypothermia can begin to affect the body's core).  This equals -1 across the board at 'chilly' (which includes the point where water freezes), -2 for 'frosty,' -3 for 'icy' and so on.  Thus, our characters in the above example would need to make a constitution check against hypothermia at -2 (effective temperature 'frosty') to their constitution.  Failure equals hypothermia.

The effects of hypothermia are easy enough (see link).  The main problem is that the body begins to lose heat rapidly - so that if something isn't done, the individual will die.  But there is lots that can be done - provided you are not running from a pack of ice wolves - such as starting a fire, wrapping the character in DRY clothing, heating potatoes that can be held in the hands, sharing body heat or building a shelter that will collect lost body heat and perhaps additional heat from a candle or lantern.

If none of these things are done - or if the character suffering from the hypothermia has gone off alone and can't be found - then the character will absolutely die.

Even if a check against hypothermia is made, the situation hasn't changed.  If the characters don't get dry and warmer very soon, they will need to make another check and another, perhaps every 2-5 minutes (certainly no longer).  It can take a long time to die from hypothermia but getting it can come on pretty rapidly if you're not prepared.

That means EXTRA clothes when marching about the wild, kept dry; and picking when you want to get into combat, since you don't want to get caught out in the wild having to be on the run while soaking wet.  Once we've established rules for losing stats after combat in cold climes, accounting for these things becomes the difference between life and a TPK.

Have a look at this comment of William Jones' and my answer.  In the case of the character from Asyut (and living there), that cold shock can kick in when the temperature is merely cool (night in the desert).  Thus the rule helps explain the effects on those shivering in the middle of the night in the Sahara.

There's something to be considered, too, for the fellow from Haerpin.  That fellow may be used to a 'brisk' climate . . . but body temperature is the same for everyone.  Thus, while he considered the yearly temperature at home to be pleasant, that is pleasant only so long as he is wearing protective clothing.  Once he is naked and wet in a brisk temperature, his core temperature is as shit as anyone's.

This is all a bit complicated - moreso than the last post.  Still, it would really give people pause.  It's bloody cold outside - do you really want to get into a combat?

There may not be an option, there - but I'm going to leave that for a third post. There was a lot more in the above than I expected.


I will get back to weather soon, but first I have to toss out a few updates.

First, I will be available and signing copies of How to Run at the Calgary Chinook Chapters Store on the 21st of February, this Saturday, from Noon to 4 p.m.

Then, a week later, I will again be available to sign copies at the CrossIron Mills Indigo Bookstore on the 28th of February, the Saturday after, again from Noon to 4 p.m. (and perhaps a while longer).

The book has been available for sale in Chinook since late December and has sold decently; it isn't likely the book is on shelves yet at CrossIron Mills . . . but they promise me soon.

In other news, late last night I came across a fellow, T. Xenos, who is putting How to Run into practice.  You can read about his efforts to design test sessions for his players in this post and in this one.  Xenos' work is based on Chapter 13: The Creative Process.  He's working very hard and he deserves attention - so go, have a look, give him some feedback (which everyone loves) in the spirit of good will and community.

I'm applying myself to other tasks at present, but I will write more about the weather when I can.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

It Has to Really Hurt to Count

The Problem

Back in 2013, I tried to introduce a table that would give some teeth to weather; I called it 'New Temperatures Table from Hell.'  And it totally wasn't.

Here's a reposting of the table I tried.

The failure in the table is that it is too much information to memorize, meaning that in the middle of a session it needs to be checked again and again - making it hell far more for me than it ever was for the players.  And it wasn't hard enough.

The left half, for instance, was an attempt to punish players for wearing armor in conditions that were too hot or too cold.  Unfortunately, the wearing of armor is so ingrained in the game's mentality (even when they're unarmored) that we would all keep forgetting who was and who was not in armor.  I would try to keep track, forget to look at my notes and then finish a combat only to find that such-and-such was not actually in chain.  It was not very long before I gave up, simply because it was taking too much energy to incorporate a rule that was confusing.

The right side was worse.  While the 'additional effects' were easy enough to roll across the board, there isn't enough difference in the various grades of temperature to make the players really aware of what the weather is like.  The difference between 'brisk' and 'chilly,' for instance, is fairly immaterial.  That means that everything between 30 and 80 degrees fahrenheit (-1 and 27 C) is just one big bland blah.

And this is the real problem.  For weather to mean anything, the concrete changes that happen at each stage of temperature must be deeply affecting to the characters and their abilities . . . otherwise any system might just as well not exist.  The characters end up living in a perpetual California spring.

I have long wanted to be able to describe a cold day's temperature to a party and have the players go, "Oh, shit.  Let's just stay in."

It would be phenomenal to say that the day is "pleasant" and have the players answer, "That sounds like a great day!"

Impossible?  Has been so far.

Yes, there will be many who will simply groan at the very idea of a fantasy world that doesn't work like the air-controlled interior of a holodeck.  "Why?" they will query - does it get us any more experience?

To which I must regrettably answer, "No, probably not."  But it continues to nag at me.  How can you have a meaningful adventure in south Russia, France or Japan if these three places all have virtually the same temperature just because it isn't very, very cold or very, very hot?


Which brings me to articles like thisthis or this, with studies like this and this, that make it clear that the productivity and effects of temperature drop off pretty fast once the temperature rises above what I've described as 'pleasant' - in the 65 F/18 C range.  Too, these effects are felt right across every human trait - the ability to think, remember, perform, act, work or relate to other people.  It is even worse if you're from an area where 'pleasant' on the chart above is actually cold or warm compared with the yearly norm.  Everyone's norm is based on where they come from - an idea I have long embraced but which has eluded me because of the difficulties in accounting for it in the game.

Not to forget that age and weight are relevant - and presumably race, which would certainly make an interesting study at Colombia University, if we could manage it.  All of this keeps hitting me in the face - that this is an element that is deserving of attention, no matter how damned hard it is to include in the game.

I feel the only way to make it relevant is for the change in temperature to be so adverse to the status quo that the players cannot ignore it.  Change in temperature has to hack the character's entire stat-block, in the worst way, else they will ignore the alteration and the subtlety will get forgotten in the game.

Moreover, to keep the change from becoming too selective and individual to the characters, so that it is hard to remember who is down 1 point versus who is down 3 points (or who made save versus temperature effects), the alteration has to be total, universal and absolute - no saving throws, period and tough fucking luck.  When the temperature is 100 F/38 C, everyone pays.

Proposed Rules for Warmer Temperatures

Okay, keeping it as simple as possible.

Let's say the weather is 'pleasant.'  Let's not concern ourselves with what temperature that describes.  We only identify the ambient temperature with a number through a lifetime of association, which a medieval/fantasy resident would never have had (no thermometers).  So let's simply say that 'pleasant' is the perfect condition for living.  The weather grades above pleasant are 'warm,' 'balmy,' 'sweaty' and 'sweltering' - with the last being far, far less comfortable for adventuring than 'pleasant' is.

Remember.  The goal is to hurt the players with this system.  Like having to work in the outdoors on an unpleasantly warm day, the players need to hate the idea of getting into a situation when the weather hits 'warm' or 'balmy.'  Maybe those aren't bad conditions to lay by the beach or take a swim, but no one wants to fight orcs in this weather.

So, right off - 'warm' means a -1 to every ability, right across the board.  Earlier attempts that I have made were just too nice to be noticed.  However, when the character's strength drops from 17 to 16, the player is going to damn well notice.  The same thing goes when that ignored 8 charisma drops to 7.  This is going to seriously mean something.

We can just extend this straight out.  A 'balmy' temperature will drop all the abilities by 2 points; 'sweaty' by 3 points; and 'sweltering' by 4 points.  Ouch.

That ought to make the party sigh when they climb into the mountains above the desert and their ambient comfort improves.  Let's remember that most medieval lords would forsake the lowlands to seek residence in the mountains - we have many present day examples where this is still standard practice.

In a conversation about this, last night a player suggested that combat ought to increase the ambient weather +1 right across the board . . . beginning around the 5th round.

Thus, if the weather began as 'pleasant,' beginning with the 5th continuous round of combat, your character would quickly heat up and things would quickly become 'warm' - oops, there goes your strength bonus, your constitution bonus (oh yes, you would lose hit points!), your dexterity bonus and so on.  Too bad for you.

We can then suppose that come the 15th round of combat, we can increase that discomfort further - so that things become pretty 'balmy' as you're still hacking away.  Oh, poor baby.

It doesn't have to be the 5th or the 15th - that was the player's suggestion.  I could see it being closer to the 8th, 16th, 32nd and 64th - at which point the weather might as well be 'sweltering.'

Remember reading about battles going on all day?  About combatants that are 'fresh' compared to those that are 'tired.'  Well, we wouldn't just be talking about hit points.  When everyone in your party is fighting with stats that are -3 (and perhaps a similar loss to armor class, movement, even damage done - we can get really brutal here), then you're going to really feel the difference in fighting an enemy that just got started.

You'd want to retreat, to rest and cool down.  We could make this hard by saying that it takes 3 rounds to cool the effects of one round of combat.  This could be speeded by the removal of armor or clothing - but then it would mean either rejoining the combat without armor or spending all that time getting redressed after cooling down.

If this was how a system worked, you'd sure want to start your combat in a place where the temperature started as 'cool,' right?  Damn straight right.

I'm going to take a break now; I will get to the Proposed Rules for Cooler Temperatures next.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

These Pics

So, for a month I have been putting up pictures of myself, one a day.  The purpose for doing this was to try and break down the walls of the internet - to help separate myself from a grumpy voice writing posts and emphasize my humanity.  Before the internet, all my arguments with people were in person - and if they were unhappy with me, I was at least close enough that they could reach out and make that unhappiness known.

Off the internet, however, when we are arguing with a person, we can see pain, we can see when our points are making headway, we can see the moment in a listener's expression where they've lost our thread.  And we can adjust for that.  Here, however, we're all blind.  Most of the time, we can forget we're speaking to a human being because all we see is text.

I actually don't much like to see myself in pictures.  A picture emphasizes too many qualities about my appearance that I'm not fond of; and I've never thought a picture does me justice.  Pictures are too static, too unforgiving.  I am trying to get over this, however, because I want to stop being just a compilation of words.  I want to be a person.

I'm sure I'm making some readers uncomfortable.  I'm sorry for that.  But the reality is that what you're reading now is the physical, sometimes-less-that-attractive embodiment of someone real.  And I hope that being real helps a bit with my being less threatening.


This link.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Visible Random

Steadily, the closer a book gets to completion, the more energy it requires.  As that energy approaches the requirement necessary to actually judge the book's value before putting it on the market, the body reaches the point where it can no longer judge anything with validity.  This is the point I am fast approaching now.

So it is nice if I can envision something outside that framework, giving me something new to consider.

Earlier today, between breakfast and lamenting the necessity of cover letters and their actual value in obtaining a meaningful position, I found myself thinking of random generators from a different perspective.  I'd like to present that perspective now.

The intrinsic problem with any game mechanic based on a die roll is in their limitation.  Typically, dice are used either to indicate pass/fail (such as the 'to hit' die) or to offer a range of possibilities (as in any random monster generator).  Board games such as Monopoly or the game of Life use the second method by streaming the options in a linear loop or ribbon - the multiple possible results of rolling a '7' are different if you're on Park Place than they are if you're on Boardwalk.  The existence of cards or other game mechanics will then result in certain parts of the board being more valuable than other parts.  The table below, for instance, gives the average number of rolls needed in order to recoup the cost necessary to buy the property:

Nothing beats New York

It is in this manner that certain board games made the best possible use of dice before the existence of role-playing games.

The pass-fail result is a harder mechanic to build into a strategy.  If I need a 17 to hit a given monster, then all I can really do is keep trying to hit every round and wait for the odds to pay off.  In later games, we saw an attempt to change this by allowing players to increase their odds through gaining a variety of skills - but fundamentally the static result remains the same: there are only two options:

Suppose we want to decide something less concrete than whether or not a character can jump a ten foot gap without falling - say, in picking the commander of a group of soldiers under our command.  Imagine that we assign all commanders two fundamental traits, loyalty and ability . . . and then when the battle occurs, we have that commander roll pass/fail on both those traits. This would give us a slightly more elaborate set of results:

That is a bit better.  Offers some nuance.  We can assign at least three different results for the battle.  Where both rolls pass, terrific success.  Where both rolls fail, a rout.  And when one roll passes and the other fails, the battle (or whatever situation is to be decided) ends in a stalemate.  Moreover, we can split the stalemate result into two forms - one due to the commander not being loyal enough and the other due to the commander not being able enough.  If a plan is in involved, there are meaningful differences between being loyal and being able.

More importantly, note how we've reduced the chance of a total failure from 50% to 25%.  That is significant - and will become more significant as we move forward.

Suppose we introduce a third trait in our commanders: personality.  Loyalty only describes the commander's attitude towards us - personality describes the soldiers attitude towards the leader we've selected.

Now we have three separate rolls to make - which requires that I produce something like a 3-D chart to keep track:

Best I can do, I'm afraid.  This sort of thing can quickly get confusing, so I will try to explain.  The upper and lower four square arrangements are reproductions of the loyalty/ability table above.  In the upper square, the third roll, the one for personality, passes universally.  In the lower square, the third roll fails universally.

Now we have nuance.  There is only a 1 in 8 chance of all three rolls pass; but also only a 1 in 8 chance of all rolls failing.  There is a 3 in 8 chance that two rolls will pass and a 3 in 8 chance that two rolls will fail.  Even without distinguishing which roll passes and which roll fails, we have four levels of result:  a total success, a moderate success, a moderate failure and a total failure.  We have 8 different categories that we can use to designate specific circumstances surrounding what abilities pass and what abilities fail - which in turn can never be entirely equal in their importance.

For example, suppose a commander fails at loyalty and personality, but succeeds in ability.  This could suggest that while the commander does not care for the plan or the soldiers care for the commander, the commander's sheer capacity to manage the situation stopped the battle from becoming a complete rout.  A commander like this should perhaps not be in charge of men but of the whole war, where he or she can take part in making the plan.

Suppose, instead, the commander fails at personality and ability but nevertheless remained loyal - the commander lost the battle and sacrificed the men, but yet managed to save his or her self.  Is loyalty in this case really a useful trait?  You'll have to decide.

Unfortunately, with three rolls we have no potential stalemate.  Thus I am pressed into producing a 4-D diagram.  I apologize if this gets confusing:

The fourth roll might be anything - but I prefer a negative alternative.  Sanity, perhaps.  On both sides of the above diagram, the 3rd roll applies to both left and right top or bottom squares (depending on pass or failure).  The 4th roll applies to either the whole left side of the equation or the whole right side.

I think I will disdain from this point from going through the specific possibilities.  By now the reader should have the idea and be able to count.  What's important about the above is that none of the rolls need to be a 50/50 chance of pass failure.  Obviously, you would want the best possible set of traits imaginable, basing them on intelligence (ability), wisdom (loyalty), charisma (personality) and perhaps a completely outside the framework determination for sanity (which would not be wholly evident, would it?).  Balancing these different attributes is what makes for a similar nuance that a board game offers to dice-as-selection-tools.

Since a character's ability stats are themselves based on a selection die, and since we can enhance any characteristic by selecting aspects of it still further, there's no end to the nuance that can be achieved.  We can get further interesting patterns by changing for what length of time the above rolling applies: A single round?  An hour?  A battle?  The 'to hit' die system works because we expect the players to be able to roll several times to get an overall average of success.  By increasing the number of times we need to roll to determine the result, we produce a more reliable mean from which to judge success (consider the table above regarding Monopoly properties).

This is all old hat.  I meant to expand the reader's perception of the decisions being made by making them more visible.  I hope that it helped.


At last, I was able to access this video from an old and dead phone . . . with help from a friend.  Sorry about the aspect ratio - get over it.

The apology right after the shark went by was because I had to hold my phone in front of fellow who started to push himself forward just as I was panning through the shot.  It was filmed in the Toronto Aquarium during my selling my book at the FanExpo in August 2014.  Not a long video, but I love how close the shark got:

Anyway, took me until tonight to finally get access to this thing.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Vlack's Flack

At last, something to write about.

I'm three weeks late to finding this post - but I suggest you read it, and not just because there's some back-handed praise for Tao of D&D.

There's quite a bit that I strongly disagree with.  Games are more than "just games."  Things may be what they are, but understanding what a thing "is" means breaking it down and examining it.  My friends are particular about what we do.  Hitting things again and again with a sword is fun.  I have no intention of ever playing 5th edition.  Random charts rule.  Shocking grasp produces magic, not electricity.  I do not enjoy other people's blogs immensely.

Apart from that, I wanted to be sure I linked the post somewhere on my blog, as I feel the author's ideas could lead to some meaningful posts in the future.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

You Have My Word

Recently, I read an excellent piece about the attacks of trolls, Trouble at the Koolaid Point.  In it, the author describes how extreme tactics work in silencing people and the motivations for those tactics.  The inspiration for trolls is not in hating the individual's work - but rather, in hating the individual's popularity.

Bad work is everywhere.  I need open only a few pages on the internet to find something that I disagree with.  It takes only a few more pages to find something that offends me and soon after that I am going to find something that disgusts me.  We all have this experience with the internet.  It would be pointless to spend too much time railing against it, even for trolls.

No, the issue arises when something that disgusts becomes popular.  It is the popularity that is the crime - for popularity is seen, in this instance, as evidence of evil willing the fight against all that is good in the world.  And evil cannot be allowed to win.  Therefore, those in the world who will raise evil to the level of popularity must be crushed underfoot, by whatever means that requires.  No bad deed that a troll performs can be as evil as the popularity that troll is set to end.

I read things like the Koolaid Point article linked above and I wonder, when will it be my turn?  I'm certainly courting trolls, what with posts like the one I wrote yesterday or this one recently.  I wake up to hate email occasionally and the tone is certainly that of the article - that I don't deserve to have a blog or that I don't deserve attention, or that the author is writing the email because I don't deserve a public comment on the blog.  Naturally, I observe this with a jaundiced eye; of all the possible insults in the world, there is no lower hanging fruit than to be called unworthy.  That is, after all, what the word 'shit' means.

We view most things in the world to be unworthy - and we have all, at some point, been affected strongly by the disapproval of others.  From the first we're denied entry into some group or clique, we fail to meet the standards of the school we'd rather be attending, we're picked last to play baseball because our bodies haven't matured yet, we get cut from the basketball squad, we don't get picked for the part in the play and so on.  Most drama about being young is about initially not belonging, then overcoming the disapproval of peers in order to belong.  The entire process of becoming mature is found in the acceptance that there will always be others who disapprove.

One of the earliest hard lessons I learned about this came from my first sales job.  It was awful work.  I was 17 and I had answered an ad to be a phone solicitor for a carpet cleaning company.  The office was a hole, a cheap room with rotten carpets (irony) and telephones on cheap tables - not even the booths we associate with call centres.  There were no computers, this being 1981, so we had cruddy pages full of numbers and addresses to call.  The two bosses were impatient and abusive.  A literal stream of people started the job every day only to fail, since most of the work involved cold-calling people.  Working a shift meant continuous abuse from the people called and continuous abuse from the managers, unless you were able to sell quite well.  I did not last long.

The reason was simply that I was too squeamish to offend the people on the phone by pressing them to buy.  Successful sales is based on your ability to transform upfront disapproval into approval in a short enough turnaround that you can make people empty their wallets.  It is an art.  Not an art held in high regard - but an art that, if you're able and of the right mind set, will make you wealthy.  I did eventually acquire the art - I have used it recently in helping sell my books.  But it is important to recognize that to sell those books I have had to get into a person's face and risk disapproval.  Disapproval comes quite easily and truth be told I do not sell everyone - there will always be those who storm away with disgust.

Because this is what it is to sell something.  Even an idea.

I try to sell something with every post of this blog.  Admittedly, it is generally a hard sell.  I have ideas that are not popular.  I have a personality that does not encourage endorsement.  I am gruff, intolerant, difficult, critical, mocking and patronizing.  When I get tired, I rant and swear and go on too long about unpopular things.  I trash the WOTC and I trash people who play for 'fun' and I trash players who act selfishly.  In doing this, I come off as a troll myself, screaming about my disdain and rejection of you, the reader.  It will seem that I have said, many times, that you do not deserve the game you have.

Except that I have never said that.  I have never implied it.  I may hate the game you play.  I may belittle it.  I may describe to you the reasons why it sucks and why I would not play your game.  I may do so in burdensome detail.  But I won't say you do not have the right to play and I won't say you don't deserve the world you have.  Quite the contrary.  Your world is what you make of it, whether you build it or buy it.  You exactly deserve the world you have.

That is not sarcasm.  We all deserve everything we have.  The people we hate deserve the attention they get, because for all that we hate about them, there are others who love them.  The people we hate are entitled to their money, their fame, their success and their willingness to ignore everything that you have to say about them.  We may hate these people, we may disapprove of them - but that does not really matter where it comes to what they deserve or do not deserve.  Because, thankfully, we are not the only voice making that decision.

By all means, hate me.  Scoff at what a rotten salesman I must be, since I am clearly not selling YOU.  This is as it must be.  I am selling a very hard product.  I am selling work.  I am selling sacrifice.  I am selling the notion that, as a DM, you should expect a zero-sum gain from your players.  These are difficult things to buy.  They require a certain mind-set, one that comes with recognition that the world being run is failing.

People who are running worlds that fail again and again will reach for any straw, even one that will burn their fingers.  They are dissatisfied and they have no idea why.  They love this game but everything they do with it seems to suck.  They play in other worlds but those worlds seem to suck too.  "Why?" they ask.

Then I come along and say, you're treating the whole thing as a joke.  You're treating every game you play lightly and without the commitment it deserves.  You're putting your energy into the wrong things.  You're seeing the whole problem from the wrong perspective.  Etcetera.

These people are willing to listen to be because, while I am saying that they suck, this is something they already know.  It isn't a mystery between us.  They're not getting their backs up and thinking, "What a self-righteous bastard he is, telling me I suck."  They are thinking, "Fuck, he's right.  I do suck.  I hope he can tell me how to stop sucking."

It's all in finding your market.  My market does not include players who see the game deservedly as a joke or as light entertainment.  My market does not include those who are still enamoured with the game as it first excites everyone before it becomes repetitive and boring.  My market does not include those who will eventually grow bored of the game and then quit.  My market consists of people who are now jaded and don't want to quit.

It's a small market, I'll grant.  But my message is, you don't have to quit.  You can keep playing.  Do this.  Try this.  Think this way.  There's a million things to do yet.  You just have to change.

As miserable and crabby I may be, this is a glorious, beautiful message.  Those who want to hear it, who need to hear it, don't care how unmannerly I am.  They only hear how committed I am, how passionate, how certain I sound that I know what I'm talking about.  The more certain, the better - because they don't want to do all this work and get shit back.  They need faith.  And nothing is more guaranteeing of faith than a uncivil bastard who thrives despite all the disapproval, all the enemies he accumulates, all the hatred he draws.

I write and I write and I write - and every word sells the solid, reliable, concrete foundation that I am offering you as a DM.  Work hard.  Read me.  Steal from me.  Your world will be wonderful.  Pay no attention to detractors.  They don't matter.  Believe in yourself, in your efforts.  They will not be wasted.

I promise.

A video of my reading this post can be found here.  My eyes are on the text too much at the beginning, but I manage in the later video to get on top of that.  Another attempt, perhaps two or three more, would vastly improve it.  I'm going to be deleting old attempts at my videos on youtube, while working to take the making of these videos more seriously; I feel positive that I'm going to re-record this, but I want to see how much attention it draws as is.