Sunday, May 31, 2015

No More Dragons

My party last night managed to make their way to their goal.  This was after getting into a fight with several hundred orcs.  These included a number of high-level leaders, 4th through 9th level . . . and the average 7th level party had to give ground and escape.  This took them into the lair of several carrion crawlers.

After all this, last night, it was one ancient black dragon, with one sub-adult and one young dragon as babies.

The party had eleven members, including lower level henchmen.  All but two were at 3/4 hit points or less.

The battle lasted approximately 8 rounds.  The ancient dragon employed its breath weapon twice. The young dragon did once.  Before going down, the dragons succeeded in causing 300 points of damage.

The 1st level cleric (a new player, started about three months ago) managed to do 12 damage and survive the battle.  One 4th level druid, one 6th level fighter and one 7th level fighter did not survive. Though two speed potions and one super-heroism potion were in play, they had no effect whatsoever, as the users were either killed or knocked unconscious before they could employ their three attacks per round.

It was hell.

The total haul in X.P. was around 110,000. (exact numbers unavailable, as I did not add up all the treasure plus what the party got for actually fighting.

The party has agreed, no more dragons for awhile.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Kingdom of Hungary

Sorry I haven't more than this to offer right now; I've only just completed the map and added it to the wiki.  I'll be working on a description (and breakdown of the individual divisions) for some days, perhaps for a week, depending on how detailed I get and how my new position goes.

Pretty, ain't it?  A sharp, close-up image can be seen by following this link to the wiki and then clicking the image.  As I say, keep an eye on the page (and links thereof), I'll be updating it steadily.

Hungary in 1650 is such an interesting shape; it is best to view it's plight as a shield that Europe used against the Ottoman Empire, controlling the lands inside the crescent - in effect, Hungary bent back on itself after the Turks drove the people back and back and back.  This line was a battleground for nearly 173 years (thereabouts), made defensible by the mountain ranges that formed the spine of the northern Carpathians and the eastern Alps.

Anyway, just posting it here to keep the blog alive another day.  I'll be working on the wiki until I have to quit it in order to set up for tonight's running.


Finished the front Hungary page.  I'll be working on the eight divisions now.

* Actually, I'd utterly forgotten that some 13-14 years ago I had written out an extensive history of Hungary; I had been on a jag of doing that before joining the internet.  I was only just reminded that I'd created that - took me about half an hour to unearth the old computer tower that had that data.  So I'm updating the Hungarian history considerably.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Having a conversation about meritocracies, I admitted that I prefer them.  For an old Liberal who is a step away from Socialism, that probably doesn't sound right . . . but like I defended earlier today, I will try to explain.

The traditional meritocracy is founded on the position that, being individuals that have proven their world, entitlement follows.  For those who haven't or cannot show their value to society, nothing.  "If you want it, then do something to deserve it," goes the usual reply to anyone who complains about this system - because meritocracies are almost always founded on the bootstrap principle.

I feel this is a lot of self-sustaining crap, particularly popular with people who do not pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, having been born into extraordinary wealth or at the very least, upper middle class.  Bootstrappism is very popular with the Republican party, particularly those who own farms left by their ancestors who choose to think of themselves as "poor."  But I'm going to stop myself there before I go into a tirade about how much of the population that considers themselves poor are really just people living on a narrow profit margin (of their own making).

A proper meritocracy should not be based upon what an individual has done, but upon what an individual is willing to do.  The answer should not be, "Go get it yourself," it should be, "What can you do, I'll help you do it."  If it comes back that the individual can do nothing, I firmly feel that the answer should then be, "What would you like to do, I'll give you the chance."

Thus, my meritocracy includes loans for students in order to give them skills.  It includes finding people work in their field and in providing money to ensure that companies in that field are able to hire employees.  It means that if I encounter someone who has no ability to DM, it is not part of my philosophy to send them away with, "Well, go learn how."  I would rather teach them.  And if they don't get it?  Well, teach them some more.  And keep teaching them until they do get it . . . or they decide to go learn something else.

There will always be a part of society that won't learn, won't improve, won't take the next step, won't consider their future and won't see anyone's offer to help as desirable.  Many of these people live awful lives right now . . . and yet the society I live in still tries to help these people.  I see that as right and proper.  There is always the chance that anyone will see the light and step up.  We've got to ensure, daily, that these people have a welcome mat to step onto when they're ready.

People who make the argument that "some people are born to be DMs and some are not" are merely absolving themselves of responsibility.  They don't know what they do that makes them 'good' and they can't be bothered to know.  They have no desire to share.  They enjoy their entitled positions . . . and they are very threatened when it's suggested that anyone could do what they are doing.

Far too often we make more of our circumstance than is deserved.  We translate "Mommy and Daddy left me money" into "we come from a superior stock" and ignore the sheer chance of it all.  We translate seeing an opportunity to improve our position as a clear indication of our superior intelligence, not evidence of being in the right place at the right time.  We translate "I kept at the job and got better" as evidence that anyone who fell by the wayside deserved to fall by the wayside.  And we self-identify our value by virtue of what happened to happen to us, arguing that we made it happen.

There's no rule that says everybody's Mommy and Daddy and leave their money to everybody, except the one we've made ourselves.  Having found our opportunity, it is up to us to help others find theirs.  Having kept our shoulders to the wheel and kept our jobs, it is our responsibility to lend support to others who are struggling to do the same.  No one deserves to fall by the wayside . . . and if they do, we're all at fault.  Our value comes from what we make happen for everyone.  We are all in this together.

It occurs to me that this is a good time to say that my favorite book is the Fountainhead.  And then not to explain why.

One of my best qualities is the ability to explain things.  Moreover, I like doing it.  I wrote a book that explains how to be a good DM.  I wrote another explaining how to be a good player.  I wrote a third explaining what works and what does not work about dungeons.  I suggest the reader look for these books, if the reader wants some help at their own particular wheel.

In the meantime, I'll be here, writing.  More than happily.  For that, I intend to get all the entitlement that I'm able to earn . . . recognizing that it won't all be mine when I've got it.

If you liked this post, tweet about it!

The Gnome Queendom of Harnia

I'm having great fun with these.

It's a great opportunity to hunt up things I've written randomly on the blog and try to consolidate them into one single story.  Harnia is another area that, like Cumana, did not have enough population density to pass the 1 person per square mile rule I employ.  That's because the modern city of Penza, which corresponds to Harn, wasn't founded until 1652.  Most of the other centers in this area were also post the mid-17th century.

While Russia did explore through Siberia throughout the 16th and 17th centuries (Yakutsk, on the Lena River, which is way the hell and gone east of the Urals, was founded in 1625), most of the territory itself remained unexploited for centuries.  The Penza Oblast is rich!  It makes one wonder at the rational that sent explorers across the whole of Asia when territories like modern Penza or Kharkov were ignored.  But that's Russians for you.  We do have a tendency to overlook the obvious in favor of the most difficult things possible.

I trust the reader isn't getting bored with these posts.  I have three and a half days before I start my job (Monday), after which all this glorious time spent working extravagantly on my world is going to be considerably reduced.  So it goes.  Unemployment is fun; I'd like to have a successful book that permits me control of my own time.

If it seems that I spend too much time cooking up schemes to make my D&D world pay a living for me, this is why.  I love working on my world and writing more than anything else in the world; it would be nice if either provided a living.  I've been on that quest (with either one) for quite a long time now.  I haven't given up hope yet.

I doubt I'll have more time to work on the wiki today . . . I'm due to create individual pages for the thane of Harn and the archthane of Seraphina.  After that it is the Kingdom of Hungary - which will be nice, as it's a human kingdom in a part of the world where people actually write details about geography on wikipedia.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Half-orc Sanjak of Cumana

This sort of thing is an awful lot of detailed, niggling work.  With repetition brought on through missing small details.

While this map isn't exactly a dream, I don't mind.  I have figured out the secret for getting highest quality maps reproduced through the wiki (it involves linking the map to itself, which never occurred to me).  Thus, if the reader will follow the link shown above to the wiki page - and the links at the bottom of that page to 'sheet maps,' as I am calling them, the first perfectly clear maps of my world can be seen online.  For example, this one.  Click the map itself and a big version should appear.

This is wonderful.  Over the next few weeks I will be moving most of my big sheet maps onto the wiki.  I kept from doing it because I had not yet worked out the weird linking system.

In reference to an earlier discussion, Cumana represents the part of the Ukraine that did not measure up to 1 person per square mile - which some will find surprising, since this is one of the most populated parts of present-day Eastern Europe.  The region I'm calling 'Cumana' corresponds to the Kharkov Oblast - but Kharkov was not founded until 1654, four years after my world takes place.  Additionally, virtually every city in the Donets Basin (an industrialized area that compares with Silesia, the Ruhr and Lorraine) was founded after the start of the Industrial Revolution - many were founded by the Soviets.

Once all these places are removed, the population on the ground gets pretty thin.  This country was always pretty piss-poor farmland . . . subsistence at best, one of the reasons why Stalin made the attempt was move them off the land and into cities.  Hey, I hate Stalin as much as the next guy, but one of the things that gets forgotten when the millions that starved to death are counted against him is that millions had been starving in this part of the world for centuries.  Every seven or eight years there would be a gruesome famine that would devastate the country, encouraging the formation of groups like the Zaporizhians and the Don Cossacks, who would raid into every other region to compensate for having no food at home.

But . . . we're supposed to pretend that history in the region started in 1925.

It was a good place, for me, to settle as a half-orc kingdom, to explain where half-orc player characters came from.  If players are given free rein to pick, there are always an unusual number of half-orc characters chosen.  This is because of the bonus strength and constitution from AD&D. Elves are picked in the same way for sword bonuses and dexterity. I don't mind, even if my parties seem to end up being at least 75% either elves or half-orcs.  Dwarves don't seem too popular, nor halflings or gnomes.

Anyway, I'll be working on the provinces for Cumana next and then transferring details about the tribes from the blog to the wiki.  After that, looks like I'll be working on the gnome Kingdom of Harnia and the Kingdom of Hungary.  I'm going to concentrate on Eastern Europe for awhile.


I've finished the tribes page and a detailed description of the Cumana Het.  Keep an eye out on links that previously had no content - I'm continuing to work on the page.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dearth Over

Ah, good.  I'm employed again.  As of minutes ago.

UPDATE.  Damn it, no I'm not.  Job didn't work out.  Thank you for the well-wishing, however.  I'll save it over until I get something that lasts.

The Halfling Colony of Archangel

How does this format look for individual provincial maps?

Created this page on the wiki for Archangel today.  A good full-size view can be seen by clicking on the image on the wiki page.

Just for giggles, decided to apply the same method to the Pirate Khanate of Astrakhan.  What I like about the geography, history and people that are referenced throughout the two pages is that they can be looked up on Wikipedia.  I declined to put in links, however, as I have changing or adjusting actual history to fit the particulars of my world.

Short on the Wiki

". . . as you blog about it from time to time but work on it almost constantly, the oldest ones often are outdated (Meaning you have moved to better, more advanced techniques), and the middle ones are not always as joined as they could be."  - Scarbrow, the last post [emphasis added].

Ain't that the truth.

Unlike a book, a blog isn't static; it reaches back through time and it contains all the errors in thinking, all the attempts that failed, all the poorly thought out ideas once possessed and described, all the positions taken and all the crud.  Worse, for me at least, it contains a writing style that has been abandoned.  I am a better writer than I was in 2009.  I am definitely a better blogger.  I have a better sense of where to place my emphasis.

When I look back on those past essays, like the one in 2010, I want to rewrite it end to end.  Very often, with my more obscure posts of that period, I want to delete them altogether.

I don't because these posts are history.  My history.  My mistakes, my screw-ups, my misunderstandings, my flame wars, my notes on how I have changed or why I should continue to change.  To encourage and inspire myself, I need only go back and read, shudder, recover and read some more.

But where it comes to ongoing changes in my world - the middle part, as Scarbrow points out - yes, those things seem endlessly lost.  I'm responsible for putting up some trade system videos.  I have versions of maps produced at different times in different stages of creation with slightly different color schemes and all that is cluttered and scattered throughout this blog.  I have bits and pieces of my house rules, without any notes on what I'm still using and what I've dumped.  With more than a million words to annotate, that is probably how the blog will stay.

That is why I recommend not trusting this blog for the final word on anything.  The wiki I've created is anything but comprehensive, but what's there are the rules I play.  Where my game is concerned, those are the rules I follow when and if they apply.  I have a rule that I won't change any rule on the wiki during the game session unless it is in the player's favour - and I won't change it afterwards without discussion and assent from the players.

This blog is for thinking.  The wiki is the law.  If it is short, if there are gaps, then it is because I am not working enough on the wiki.

Seems I never do.  Trust me, however . . . in a few more years that thing is going to be amazing.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Nothing Certain

Been pretty quiet around here lately, hm?  At least for this blog.

I finished my dividing up of markets that I wrote about a week ago.  Took me eight months - or more precisely, I'd estimate about 175-200 hours.  Not kidding.  I worked on it for the last three weeks at least six hours a day, seven days a week, in this grinding way I have of just focusing.  During that time, incidentally, I also ran through the first six seasons of Voyager - a show I never watched, but which I always felt - being a trekkie from the 70s - I ought to see.  What a wretched show.

I often find that after very large tasks I experience a bit of elation at the chance to start a new project. This is usually followed, after a few days, with ennui.  For a little while, I don't feel like doing anything.

If I don't post, I know it gives the reader the opportunity to look at my backlog - and a lot of backlog there is.  A big surprise is the recent popularity of this post from 2010, talking about the way I started mapping my world.  At present, it is the most popular post on my blog for this past month - which is funny, as it was not a very popular post at the time I wrote it.

I take note of some silly comments made by one S'mon, who felt for reasons passing all understanding to use Scotland and France as examples for occupation of land, on a post largely describing the eastern side of European Russia.  Cognitive dissonance.  Must be the reason I did not feel the need to answer.

I am suspicious of the post's sudden popularity, however.  For months now I have been wavering back and forth on a possible book project, one that has gone up on the shelf and come back down again on three different occasions.  I've suspended talking about it directly on the blog, though I've mentioned it a few times obtusely.

For those readers who have purchased and seen my book, How to Run, I landed on the very rational project of writing a book that would do what the worldbuilding section suggests.  Progressively, I began to take notes and produce a design for a book that would describe the kingdom of Fallow, from end to end, side to side, pausing continuously through the description to explain why something was being included or designed in a particular way.  Specifically, I envisioned the entire book along the lines of a series of posts I began last September.  In fact, that post and the response to those that followed were so popular that I was inspired to write 'Fallow.'

As I dug into the project, however, I began to doubt.  It felt dry.  It felt deliberate and pedantic.  It felt like a book that was going to hit the ground with a dull thud.  So I shelved it.

Then I reasoned, why not try a test?  Write something else along the same lines, see what the response is and go with it.  So in March I began this series of posts.  Posts that seemed to land with a dull thud until I learned weeks later that people actually liked them.  There was certainly very little indication at the time.  I got a few comments on the first two posts, but the more I wrote, the less comments I received.  Prediction?  It was fine for a few paragraphs, but a book would have been deadly dry.

So . . . I shelved Fallow again.

Still, it gnawed at me.  I had this kingdom organized in my head now; it has an existence that doesn't fit into the world I run.  So I thought, give it more research, see how it goes.  So I wrote three posts beginning on this theme.

The response?  Little to practically none.  My online party thought it was interesting, it applied directly to them.  With everyone else, however (in numbers and response) . . . thud.

I was going to write a fourth post but I lost interest.  No point in talking to the walls.

Then I find after two weeks of paying very little attention to the blog, what is popular?  Another post about starting a setting and ways to go about fixing it up.

I don't know.  I just don't know.  Write this book?  Don't write this book?  Market research is failing me.

Just now I'm taking notes on setting an adventure tale (with a small amount of magic) in the Fallow setting I've created.  Maybe that is a better way to go.  I've got the tale mapped out and I'm 40 pages into the writing.  But these first weeks are always the most uncertain.  It is very easy to give up a project when so little is invested.

Remember, I spend 175 hours in hammering excel numbers apart.  10-15 hours starting a book is nothing.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Paper Shapes

Kicking Horse Pass is located nearly two hours from where I live, out in the Rocky Mountains west of here.  I've been through the pass hundreds of times, but I've never really enjoyed the drive.  I'm made nervous by heights and Kicking Horse has plenty.  All it would take to die would be one bad moment at the wheel brought on by a lone, inconvenient animal like an elk, a big horn sheep or a moose . . . and there are plenty of those around the pass.  In fact, since the pass is in a National Park, those animals are protected.

It is just my imagination giving me nightmares.  I know that.

Back in 1883, however, there were no roads, no permanent inhabitants - it wasn't even certain that the pass would sustain a railroad.  So in that spring, the valley on both sides was inundated by surveyors.

Here's an account of Charles Shaw and his partner James Hogg in that year [see below]:

"They set off down the difficult incline of the Kicking Horse on the zigzag pathway, which the survey crews had already christened 'The Golden Stairs' because it was the most terrifying single stretch of trail on the entire route of the [Canadian Pacific] railway.  Actually, it was little more than a narrow ledge, less than two feet wide, cut into the cliffs several hundred feet above the foaming river.  It was so frightening that some men used to hang on to the tails of their packhorses and keep their eyes tightly shut until they had passed the most dangerous places.  Shaw had one horrible moment when his horse ran into a nest of hornets and another when he met two men with a packhorse coming from the opposite direction.  Since it was impossible for anyone to turn around, they simply cut the lashings off one of the horses and pushed the wretched animal over the cliff."

Here is more describing the same trip taken by Sandford Fleming and George Grant.  The reader can blame time zones on Fleming - he had crossed the continent in 1872 in the employ of the Canadian Government and now he was back, by invitation, to confirm the existence of Roger's Pass, one mountain range further to the west.

"Fleming and Grant were far more concerned about the terrible descent down the Golden Stairs of the Kicking Horse.  It was almost a dozen years since these two companions had set out, in the prime of life, to breast the continent.  Now the years were beginning to tell.  Fleming, though a superb physical specimen, was fifty-six.  For the past three years he had been leading an intriguing but sedentary life in England with side visits to various European capitals . . . engaging in such mile adventures as a gondola ride in Venice and a trip in a hot-air balloon.  Grant, who was forty-seven and inclined to a paunch, had quit his ministry in Halifax for the principal's chair at Queen's.  Now these middle-aged explorers were forced to negotiate a trail that terrified the most experienced mountaineers.

"Fleming dared not to look down.  To do so 'gives one an uncontrollable dizziness, to make the head swim and the view unsteady, even with men of tried nerve.  I do not think I can ever forget that terrible walk; it was the greatest trial I ever experienced.

"At that point the members of the party found themselves teetering on a ledge about ten to fifteen inches wide, eight hundred feet above the river.  There was nothing to hold on to - not a branch or even a twig.  Grant, who had lost his right hand in childhood, was especially vulnerable: 'It seemed as if a false step would have hurled us to the base, to certain death.'  The sun, emerging from behind a cloud, beat down upon them until they were soaked with a perspiration that was accentuated by their own state of tension.  'I, myself, felt as if I had been dragged through a brook, for I was without a dry shred on me,' Fleming admitted.  It was an exhausted party that finally arrived that evening at Roger's camp on the Columbia [river]."

Both excerpts are from Pierre Berton's The Last Spike, a set of tails about the Canadian continental railway written in 1971.

I copy them here for inspiration.  I also wish to highlight the differences between the fantastical and the real.  In the fantastical, the hero fairly skips along the ten-inch pathway.  In the fantastical, the hero is not possessed of a beating heart, pumping blood, sweat glands or a love of life so strong that there is a recognized tension in potentially losing it.  In the fantastical, the hero is made of straw.

Or perhaps it would be better to say that the hero is made of paper . . . namely, one flimsy sheet with scratchings on it that are utterly without animus.

As a DM, I do not wish to run heroes.  Heroes are boring.  That is why the best portrayals of heroes are in their failings, their hubris, their guilt and of things that seem to legitimately threaten their lives.

The player that shrugs upon dying, that crumples up their character sheet in the same moment that they reach for more dice to roll another character . . . that player is ruining your campaign.

Get rid of them.


Kick those horses off the ledge.  They're going the wrong way.

Your game will be better off.  You want people, not paper shapes.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Things to Report

 Over the weekend I completed watching Black Mirror, a British program that finished its second series last year.  Apparently, it's obscure, as I only chanced to hear it from a podcast posted last summer (never mind the podcast, it was shit).

See this show.  It makes Daredevil's "darkness" look like kiddie programming, it's thoughtful, profound, potentially disturbing and written with a skill and ability that puts North American scriptwriters to shame.  It's the first truly decent work I've seen this year.

Begin with the first episode, first season, though you may hear from some that it's not worthy.  The first episode sets the context for S01E02, though I haven't seen any reviewer that picked up on that.  If you're the sort who review what you're about to see before you see it, stuff the reviews.  Watch the first episode, get your head out of your ass and be prepared to be blasted by the second.

After that, it's all horror.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

So much so that, in feeling not that well yesterday, I took a trip from Trondheim, Norway, to Bodo, in 10 hours:

Seriously, I watched every minute of this, pausing it when necessary, together with my partner Tamara, commenting on what we saw and generally chatting.  Oftentimes, it was compelling and mesmerizing.  It is shot with good equipment, with and excellent wide-angle and, being Norwegian rail, there's no ugly electrical apparatus overhanging the track to destroy the landscape's raw beauty.

Is it a strange thing to sit for this long and watch?  Of course.  It helps immensely that I can identify the scenery, the effects of altitude on the environment, assess in a flash the difficulty of blasting through certain areas or the difficulties of some of the tunnels, not to mention the sheer pleasure of the visible culture.  It also helps that as an old man I have developed patience and attention to detail, skills that were not present in my younger self.  There's a reason why these things bring pleasure to older folk . . . we have a greater resource of perspective and we're used to spending long, long hours doing completely useless shit - like working a 9 to 5 job, for instance.  I have spent far more boring days at work that the linked video.

Or is it just that I'm unemployed and I have time, time, time to spend.  Hm.  Not so much.  I haven't been sitting around much lately.  Working on something - D&D, writing, looking for work, trekking to interviews, sorting out things that were ignored year after year and so on - helps numb the mind and keep it from stressing out.  I haven't been giving myself much time to think lately, since thinking leads to overthinking and just now, with still no job in sight, I have a lot to overthink right now.

The Norway trip, however, proved most distracting.

I'll throw in, too, the demonstration it provides for the inadequacy of fantasy settings for offering the depth of place and experience that the real world offers.  A fantasy may have rocks floating in the air, but it doesn't have the simple awe to be found in sturdy houses sitting upon the blasted heath, lost in lonely, desolate poetry.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Spending My Time

What have I been doing?  Why can I not write about my D&D world?  Am I not working on it?

I am working.  For months I have been taking this:

And transforming it into this:

Obviously, not just for Corsica.  I have made more than 250 of these adjustments.  I have perhaps another hundred.  This is all part of point 8 described on this post.  I finished point 7 for France back in October.

What is the adjustment?  I am changing the way my trade system's imports are calculated.  Let me show you a map of Corsica to give an idea of how these relate to each other.

From the beginning, I have had a number of territories, like Corsica, that possessed more than one trade city.  In this case, Ajaccio and Bastia.  Since my data on the island would only give what the whole island produced (antimony, copper, coal, etc.), I felt the easiest thing to do would be to assume both cities had access to these goods.  Thus, goods shipped out of Corsica would come from either Ajaccio or Bastia - and if the market you happened to be in was nearer to Bastia than it was to Ajaccio, then the distance was counted to Bastia and Ajaccio could be ignored.

This was fine, except that each time I added a new section of my world to the trade system, it was necessary to hunt down all the incidents where one city was ignored for another manually.  This was no big deal when I had less than 200 market cities.  It became more and more of a problem as I expanded into Germany, Italy and India.  And then France . . . well, France broke me.

France is huge where it comes to my system.  This is fair; in 1650, it was the world superpower.  At various times in history France fought against England, Austria, Prussia and Russia, often in combinations of two or three or all four . . . because for a time it was the wealthiest, most populated and most diverse economy in the world.  England was nothing like France at the time.  If you look at England in 1650, you will find a great many of the large industrial cities we recognize were just little burgs or not founded at all . . . places like Bournemouth, Manchester and Birmingham were insignificant when Marseille, Lyon or Le Havre had huge economies.

I realized to shorten my work in the future I was going to have to chop these multi-trade city market zones into pieces, making each one a separate table.  This meant separating them out according to population, which meant assigning towns within the province to one trade city or another:

Ajaccio gets those towns and cities that have the easiest access to Ajaccio; the rest go to Bastia.  Thus Corsica is not divided evenly down the middle, but according to its urban population dividing the former total (33,254).  The products of Corsica are rolled randomly between the two markets (using excel) and the specific placement of the goods and services are assigned.  If there were multiple totals for something (say, Antimony), then each reference would be rolled for individually.

I decided not to use fractions (which would have been a huge pain) for simplicity reasons.  For the game, it really doesn't matter that in the real world antimony in Corsica is actually mined in Bastia.  As I said, I have around 350 splitted markets requiring this sort of work.

It is patient, it is time-consuming, it is pedantic (because I don't like arbitrarily assigning anything) and there is absolutely no way I would have time to do this if I were working forty hours a week.

So, between looking for work, going to interviews, missing out on jobs by a hair and being generally low, spending my time profitably.

Hard to explain this or expect anyone else to 'get it.'

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Measuring Marigolds

I used to believe in things like this - pithy sayings that encapsulated an idea, that were meant to motivate or enlighten somehow, sending the individual off (it was hoped) on a vision quest.  As the years pass, however, I grow progressively more jaded, more certain that change only results from pain and unhappiness . . . and that when it does result, it is nearly always in a bad direction.

Oh, I suppose that someone hard against it, beating their head against their life and realizing they've been on the wrong track for a decade, might see something like the above and grasp, clearly and for the first time, where their errors lie.  The reader will undoubtedly have a story or two about when this has happened to them - in a given place or time, seeing words written on a wall, shaking them to their core and starting their lives anew.  Or something like that.  I doubt very much, however, that the reader has, right now, read the above on this blog and had that experience.  Most of you will have read the above and recognized, "Oh yes, that's true."  You may have gotten a small dopamine hit from the recognition.  But I would wager it is something the reader already knew.  I would wager that this was not new information.

How much time do we spend reading the same information over and over, reminding us of those things that have become obvious in the extreme?  How often have you sat at the table with Mom and Dad, talking over something that's happened, only to have one of them dig into their big bag of cliches in order to fill the next ten seconds air with something everyone at the table knows?  Oh, and not in a general way, either.  I am writing of a way where that thing is so known that repeating it actually desecrates anything worthy that might have been said.

Let's face it - there are a whole lot of us that have nothing to say except that blood is thicker than water when its learned that Uncle Gord has emptied Aunt Urethra's bank account - again - in order to lose it all at the casino.  There must be some reason we keep inviting Uncle Gord back to Christmas dinner, rather than reflecting or considering that maybe Uncle Gord may not be a positive influence in our lives.  Nope, not going there.  Blood is thicker than water.

The same can be said - dragging this blog back to a D&D relevant place - for yet another discussion about what charisma or wisdom is or what it stands for.  I'm sorry for writing that piece the other day.  I meant to provide some insight on describing charisma for game purposes, but somehow it degraded - again - into the charisma is blank discussion.

Let me clarify about that.  Charisma is a game mechanic.  Wisdom is also a game mechanic.  The actuality of each is defined by how it modifies die rolls occurring during functional game play.  There is some value in conveying each in order to encourage a certain behavioral responsiveness from the player within the game structure - however, as has been demonstrated by 40 years of participation, players plainly do not need more clarification in this regard.  More clarification, here, would only be telling us something we already intuitively understand.  More clarification would be pithy, impractical and ultimately repetitive, given that decades of this sort of chatter has failed to produce any notable result.

We get it.  So let's drop it.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, I know we're not going to drop it.  Suggesting that we do so was pithy.  I understand that.

Culturally, we have a lot invested in measuring marigolds.  There is a certain fetishistic satisfaction in digging out some small, irrelevant concern and writing a few hundred words about it - the meaning of charisma, giving our personal, profound and lengthy opinion about characters already discussed to death, the benefits of killing in a game versus not killing, blah blah blah.  It fills empty screen, it jogs the readers mind and reminds them of that old debate, that old character, that old bugaboo about experience giving, all accomplishing nothing but describing the length and breadth of petals that will be gone and forgotten less than a season away.  We turn to the internet to learn something about the game and we get dribs and drabs hither and yonder, banked, buttressed and shored by things we've read before, that we've read a hundred times, that we've read so often it is hard not to let our eyes roll from their sockets.

Write, repeat, read, repeat, draw, repeat, paste picture, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I am at my best when I am working, then describing what I have worked upon.  I am at my worst when I am telling the reader what the reader already knows.  The reader is better not reading this, but turning aside to go work.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Phenomenon

It is possible I ruined my offline campaign Saturday.  Yet it was far too tempting to put into place a magic item of extraordinary potential . . . a considerable gift, given that the players did not have to fight to get it.  Rather, I granted the thing to the party because they befriended a sphinx at the point where the creature had -8 hit points, rather than killing it or fleeing it.  The party showed courage, they showed respect, they showed themselves willing to risk their own lives in order to emotionally support an NPC.

In many campaigns, as we discussed last week, I would be giving the party experience equivalent to the value of the sphinx.  There's a number of reasons why it would be impossible to define what that experience would be . . . but it doesn't matter.  As I said last week, I give parties more than X.P.

Sorry I couldn't use this as an example for those discussions - but the party didn't know about it and I couldn't write about it here.

I gave the party this:

Upper Deck
Lower Deck
Back in March, I wrote a post that made reference to "a phenomenon such as has never been seen in the world since that day."  This is it.  It is an Air Ship.  It has no sails, no rudder.  It floats on four brass - yes, that's correct, brass metal - balloons that inflate or deflate by virtue of the will of the pilot.  It moves indifferently to the wind or the air itself.  The balloons, see, do not inflate with 'air' . . . they inflate with magic.  The object is something on the order of 44 centuries old.

A pilot stands at the wheel, shown as a small blue circle on the upper deck, under a tarp (that in this case was added by some hapless astronomers 9 centuries before the party finds it (all the furniture shown was also added by these same fellows).  Taking hold of the wheel, if the pilot wishes the Air Ship to move, the ship will drain the pilot of one energy level.  This drain is not permanent . . . it will return.  Unfortunately, I cannot tell the reader at this time, as the party does not know how long the drain lasts.  Turns out it is at least 48 hours.  That's as long as the party has had in game time to play with the thing.

Once the pilot has sacrificed the level - an operation that requires 30 combat rounds, or five minutes - then the pilot can cause the ship to move in any direction, vertically or horizontally, so long as it does not encounter an obstruction.  The ship moves quickly in terms of combat and decently in terms of long distance travel, but it will not outrun a horse - the speed is 50 miles over 24 hours or 7 combat hexes per round (5 feet/hex).  It will not outrun a hippogriff cavalry or a giant eagle.

The party has not attempted to change the ship from a level aspect, but it was designed to operate as a platform - low to the ground, high in the air, whatever was needed.  It will float on water and can be made to sink below water, if the user wishes - though that has consequences for whatever is carried, obviously.  The party has taken it to 3000 feet (with some discussion about medieval people being able to tell what that even is, much less having the willpower not to freak out once the thing climbs fifty feet above the ground), getting the feeling that the ship could be taken to the moon if they so wished (would take 10 years).

A single pilot can manage the craft for no more than 8 hours before becoming fatigued and needing sleep.  Another pilot can take over, however, at any point, for the one level drained is good for 24 hours of continuous ship travel.  Thus, three or four pilots can keep the ship going around the clock.

Sitting on the ground, the deck is approximately 25 feet above the ground.  It is thus difficult to unload or load large objects when 'docked' on dry land.  On water, it can be settled to a level where the deck is 9 feet above the surface, before water would begin to pour in the windows on the lower deck (not shown).  There are shutters that can be closed in bad weather, that would seep water but which could be easily drained by simply lifting the ship.  When sunk into the water to make the main deck accessible, a pilot must man the wheel . . . otherwise, the ship will 'bob' up to the surface.

I said that the ship is not affected by wind - this is not true of the occupants, who would experience wind across the deck of the ship as though they were standing on the ground.  Thus there is a very real danger of being blown off in a high wind.  The deck is very stable, however, so that animals can comfortably rest or walk upon the deck and there is no danger of motion sickness.

I'm sure there are other details I covered, but I cannot remember them now . . . please feel free to ask any questions and I will answer as needed.

Why am I worried that this might break the campaign?  Because surely the players will be tempted to retreat from the world.  Already it has been discussed how others will likely want to steal it.  The party is already aware of the dangers of bringing it near a civilized area.  At the moment, the party is 7th level and they feel distinctly weak to be in possession of such an object.  I fear that they will feel a strong inclination not to leave it behind in order to investigate a dungeon or become involved in any local place.  I worry that the ship will become the whole campaign.

Still, there are benefits.  I expect much more of my world will become part of the regular campaign, as these players can now go anywhere.  I am glad I have made so much of my world to this point.  I remind the reader that these are the players who are returning holy relics to unknown parts of my world - so this is also a means to the end of their quest.

I've never created anything like this before.  I conceived of it about six months ago and finally, after what felt like a long wait, I was able to present it.

The party is very excited. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Scars and Stuff

Well, here's something.

Setting aside the content of the post, which is cute and silly and I really don't care, my attention is drawn to the first comment below.  This paints a pretty picture of how poorly people understand charisma:

I remember a GM being a little surprised when another player and I started commenting on an NPC. He said, “But this guy has a charisma of like 9, he’s all scarred and stuff."
One of us said, "what’s his strength score?"
"Um, 18?"
"See, he’s buff. Our characters appreciate a buff guy with scars. Shows he’s worthy mate material, a good warrior. We think he’s hot."

Is this the fault of the DM or the player?  A little of both, actually.  It wouldn't be the first DM who rushed to the conclusion that someone with a 9 charisma had scars and stuff.  Nor would it be the first player who made the conclusion that an 18 strength = buff.  Truth is, most people don't have a clear idea of what these numbers mean, except as generalities . . . that are in turn tremendously affected by what they see on film or television.

There's a speech I used to give wannabes I met in theatre and the arts.  I would pedantically explain how no one in the movies is ugly.  This is terrifically difficult for people to understand or believe . . . because their conception of 'ugly' has been adjusted radically upwards.  Actors are, at worst, comparably ugly.  Compared to you or I, none of them are.

Consider, first, that you're in a theatre seeing the head shot of someone on screen.  That head is eight to twelve feet high - at least.  Next time you're in a bad movie, look at the 'ugly' actor's skin.  Look at their teeth.  Look at the hairline, the shape of the brow or the eyes.  Face-to-face, in real life this 'ugly' actor would look amazing.  This is a necessity.  No one wants to see an ordinary person's face blown up to 12 feet high.

Occasionally, someone will turn up in a film with bad teeth.  Or scarred skin.  One of my favorites for this is Dan Hedaya, who began playing rats, crumbs, jerks and blue collar guys.  On screen, he's 'ugly.'  But through his career, slowly, he worked his way up to playing likable characters.  Check him out on Conan.  He's plainly very charismatic.

Here's a shock for some readers.  A charisma of 9 isn't scars and stuff . . . it's normal.  It's probably YOU.  If you can bear to look at yourself in a mirror and make a guess at your own charisma, that is.  Here's a hint.  If you can spend a whole day in public and no one approaches you, starts a non-business related conversation with you or remarks on your appearance, you're absolutely less than a 13.  If any of the above happens regularly but not every time, you're probably a 12.  Otherwise, time to face reality: you're an 11 or lower.

The reverse is true.  You're nowhere near an 8 unless you're used to people changing tables or seats after sitting down near you.  It's not your face or your scars and stuff, it's the way you smell.  It's your teeth.  It's the apparent presence/probability of lice in your hair or your clothes.  If you don't see people wince as you talk to them or deliberately interact with you while plainly not looking at you, you're probably at least a 9 charisma.

I'm saying that this 9 charisma guy is painfully average.  His defining features are not the scars on his face, it's the way you have trouble remembering what he looks like.  It's his unpleasantly recessed eyes or the way his beard grows in, the slight waxiness of his skin or the receding hair line.  You know . . . like you and I have.

Is an 18 strength 'buff'?  You mean, like these guys?

Totally buff.
The problem is that all too often we associate 'strength' with 'cut.'  That's a Hollywood thing, again. Those guys with the abs and the definition?  They're fragile and prone to injuries:  lower back, tendonitis, torn muscles, other soft tissue damage, sprains, slipped discs, the list is long and painful.

So that guy with the 18 strength and the 9 charisma . . . is he hot?  Well, he may have some scars, but probably not 'hot' ones.  Let's start with the gut, the man-breasts, the hair that's falling out from overexertion (even without steroid use), the shortened arms or legs, the lack of a chin or the ears that no well-meaning physician pins back, this not being the modern era.  Let's add in the 'scars' from the last time he was burned, his broken nose, the jaw that healed improperly, the lope he has from an bone injury that fused because one leg is shorter than the other . . . none of these things being enough to make him look especially ugly.  No, he's just an average massive mountain that's been beat up a few hundred times.

Without having a consciousness about the human body, however - or rather, having a consciousness that tells you that a 'scar' equals charisma 9 and vice versa.  Instead, we should realize that it isn't having a scar, it's what scar you have.

Charisma 9?  Let's start with the 18 strength mountain looking too fucking scary - in armor and massive two-handed weapon - to be hot.


8:30 a.m., May 11th
11:30 a.m., May 11th
We live in a strange country.

Hard Lessons

Now and then, it is difficult not to become so immersed in one's own life that everyone else and everything else seems to matter.  It is at this point that we decline invitations, we grow a bit obsessive with our hobbies, we shut out the world . . . and we stop writing blog posts.

Here's where I've been throughout May - writing about film and not D&D.  Dropping, already, the recent attempt to write about food (I'm really just reconsidering my voice).  Crunching figures rather than contributing to the necessary rule lists I've planned.  Shying away.  Going to ground.  Concentrating on the daily process of spending my life profitably.

However, I can't get away from seeing my blog as a responsibility - a commitment that I've taken up and that deserves respect and the application of my time.  This puts me in a difficult position, the same that every blog writer faces repeatedly, without let up.

What do I write about?

Some things I can think fall under the category, "That will take more energy than I have."  Others are in the category, "Stop writing that shit, it is tiresome."  Still others in the group, "Oh god no."

At the end, all that's left is to write about writing . . . which is equivalent to turning in a tampon-in-a-teacup as our monthly art project after weeks of procrastination, inactivity and one badly timed drunken night when it was our last chance to work on our art project.  It is trusting that we can talk our way out when we haven't actually chosen to work our way out.

As such, I know what I'm doing here.  I'm boring both of us.

In the last two or three years, I have been learning a hard lesson, one that has been challenging a bad habit I've had all my life.  It is the "I'm going to do this" habit.  The habit of telling people what plans we have for the future, usually because we're too excited about the project to keep quiet.  It is a bad habit for a number of reasons.

First, obviously, we tend not to follow through.  There's something about the project that loses our interest, it turns out to be bigger than expected, it develops an unforeseen problem that makes it impossible to complete . . . and after any of those, we're stuck having to explain why we didn't do that thing that we meant to do, even though we were formerly excited.

I used to justify the habit by arguing that commitment would impress in my mind the importance of following through and finishing the thing . . . embracing guilt, as it were, as a means of forcing completion.  It sounds good on the surface but it's a load of bullocks.  Guilt isn't strong enough . . . and what's left is having to admit to more people than ourselves that we've let them down.

The solution - the difficult solution - is to work in obscurity.  Have a new project?  Shut up.  Something we're getting ready for launch?  Shut up.  Got plans to build a system that is going to be amazing?   Shut up.  Just shut up about it.  Build the project, get it ready for launch, fix the system and then talk about it, after it is finished.  There will be plenty of time for others to get excited about it then . . . when it is done, when it has a chance of living up to expectations.

Until then, it is just air.

Been hard learning this lesson.  Sure gives me less to talk about in a blog post.  In the long run, however, discipline is more important than public relations.  Less sexy.  More important.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Character Identity in Daredevil

I had a small epiphany with Wednesday's post and I thought I'd follow it up in reference to this post by JB over at BX Blackrazor.

Here I want to emphasize that I don't want to make hay on the post; it's a fair overview of the Daredevil series from a character perspective and it is worth reading.  I stayed far away from it when I first saw it, as I hadn't started the show until this week, but I read it all through just after writing my own post on Daredevil.

JB's comments helped cement my epiphany . . . particularly in reference to fan experiences with things like Star Wars or Indiana Jones.  And just for fun, I want to throw in Mr. Plinkett's reviews, since they're relevant to my thinking of late (stumbled across them about two weeks ago).

I've realized why my perspective on these things is not, and never can be, the perspective of most readers.

I am not Luke.  I was never Luke.  When I saw the film in the theatre at 12, at no time and in no way did I remotely identify with the character.  I was not excited at the idea of owning or swinging a light saber, I did not fantasize about owning the Millenium Falcon, I did not fall in love with Princess Leia and absolutely nothing about fighting for the rebel forces against the bad guys appealed to me.

Oh, at 12 I thought the film was pretty cool.  I remember getting furious with the Oscars that year (yes, at 12) because those elite morons were too buttfuck stupid to realize that Star Wars was obviously the best movie released that year!  My older sister and I got into a huge fight about it.

I have since changed my mind.

See, while everyone else - apparently - went on dreaming about the day that they would someday be Luke, I never did.  So as I aged, I didn't retain any of that fantasy.  When I saw the movie again years later, it was as an older, more experienced person, watching the film without ANY personal investment.  I saw it as a film, nothing more.  And since that time (when I was around 17), the film has been awful.

I would rather watch Annie Hall, the film that won that year.  A film I also hate.  The Goodbye Girl should have won.

But see, I don't identify with any of the characters in those films, either.  I don't identify with characters.  That is perhaps because I am hopelessly, psychotically different from everybody.  Not in a good way.  While I may be able to grasp the reader's point of view, it is practically a guarantee it won't be my point of view . . . for a wide variety of reasons.  One being, I get nothing out of pretending to be someone else.

Perhaps that is part of the reason why players who 'pretend' to be specific characters annoy me so much.  Up until recently, my first thought would be that they pretend so fucking badly.  I mean, they are Mark Hamill acting, get it?  Just imagine how bad Star Wars is for me, without being able to identify with Luke's dreams . . . all I have to enjoy is Hamill's acting ability.  Cringe worthy in the extreme.

So, onto JB's post.  Which I don't mean to disparage.  It is fairly clear that JB is the sort who can identify with the characters.  His descriptions of Daredevil and Wilson Fisk are infused with that relationship.  This is not, not I repeat, a bad thing.

But it is extraordinarily telling where it comes to his description of the women in the show:

Rosario Dawson (as Claire Temple) and Deborah Ann Woll (as Karen Page) are good, though I wouldn't call them especial standouts. I mean, Dawson is talented and beautiful and does her "normal" level of work; I find it hard to distinguish Woll terribly from her very memorable role in HBO's True Blood. Both suffer a bit of the O-I'm-A-Damsel-In-Distress-But-Still-Show-Signs-Of-Being-A-Capable-Human-Being syndrome that we see a lot of in the Old Comics Rebooted category of television.

Whereas much of the description of the male characters is affected, above JB writes in cold, flat descriptive terms.  The women do not arouse his receptivity . . . for a simple reason.  Like virtually every appreciator of fictional content (both sexes included!!!!), he's not a member of the opposite gender.  He does not want to be - and therefore he does not identify with their needs, their causes or their trials.

Here is where 99% of the film reviewing content on the web crashes and burns.  It is virtually ALL based on a) what does the reviewer like; and b) what does the reviewer relate to.

We trash Hollywood for producing the same crappy four characters in every film (templates can be found in Gone with the Wind), but then the public goes limp when a character doesn't tag them emotionally.  Filmmakers have no choice.  The characters have to be liked.  Otherwise the viewer will go elsewhere.

I am forever going elsewhere, however, since I don't want to be any of these people.  Daredevil is a whiny infantile brat with a schizophrenic condition that lets him hospitalize people (often in ways that would leave them cripples for life) while chirping about his virtue (I don't kill people), immediately turning into a self-righteous prig the moment his friends act without his approval.  Wilson Fisk is a pandering, weak-minded bully who turns into an infantile tantrum-having freak when he has to kowtow to people he has chosen to co-exist with, while somehow possessing all this ridiculous loyalty and respect from murderers and habitual criminals who are used to defying both reason and justice.  Karen Page is a sprightly, cheerful collection of human sticks that would break in a stiff wind, who nevertheless rushes around the city in a sort of blind fearlessness mixed with SJW outrage that makes me wonder how she managed to get through high school in New York without acquiring a single facial scar.  The only character I think I could have a beer with would be Foggy . . . but then I'd be so annoyed by his repeated joke of not saying what he actually believes that I would eventually be driven to giving him a facial scar.  So yeah, maybe a beer once every other season.

I certainly don't identify with any of these characters.  I don't fantasize about having incredible combat prowess that would let me bitchsmack 18 guys and yet walk away.  My enjoyment is found in how the scene plays out effectively, in how the combat is staged, in how long someone has to hold the stupid ball in order to prevent the good guys from winning or how many scripts containing the next four future scenes are hidden by the actors under desks or behind conveniently placed lap-top screens.

On that level, the show is choking pretty bad.  I got to Ep 9 and that ludicrous fight in the warehouse, followed by the ludicrous dive out the window and the ludicrous travelled distance between the warehouse and the Daredevil's roof and I'm taking a break before learning how much more ludicrously bad the show is going to get.

Yeah, I know.  Not a D&D post.  At least, not mostly.  I'll just reiterate this point:

It takes a really, really good writer to impress me.  It is incredibly hard for that writer to impress me for more than a few hours, especially if that writer is being forced to produce new material in a very short time.

I am not surrounded by players who are really, really good writers.  And given the fortnightly presentation of my game, even a really, really good writer is going to choke on character development really, really quickly.

So don't.  Just don't.  People have to learn to recognize their limitations.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Patience, there's a lot to mull over.

Is it fair that I claimed yesterday that XP rewards for non-combat begin with a reluctance to enter combat and kill things?

I don't think so.  It is usually presented that way.  Killing is boring, killing is munchkinism, killing doesn't require any special expertise, "We saved the kingdom and we didn't have to kill anything," etcetera.  I simply don't hear players say, "I wanted to use diplomacy and not my sword because I wanted greater skill at being a diplomat" or "because I felt the best way to get experience was to parley."

Getting experience from not fighting is always expressed in terms of what the party did not have to do - that is, roll dice, risk hit points, indulge in repetitive combat round syndrome (RCRS).  Once a discussion on the subject begins, then arguments about skills and character are invoked . . . but somehow, the subject is never led with these arguments.

But let's shelve that and talk about skills, since that is a legitimate argument.

Matt rightly pointed out that 3rd Edition did create skills that were not combat based but were tied to the combat mechanic of experience.  I won't argue the rationale of this, since I have also created non-combat mechanics and I have also connected these to experience.  So why?

A two-part answer.  First, in my world, gaining experience is something that happens slowly.  In the last four years, the highest levels of the party have only gained two levels.  For the most part, they have moved from 8th level to 10th; in some cases, from 7th level to 9th; and in the case of the ranger, Falun, from 7th level to only 8th.  Rangers in AD&D need a lot to reach 9th level.  They've been running for round about 8 years and they have reached an average of 250-300 thousand experience.  That's all.

For most campaigns, this is a brutally slow progression.  It happens in my world partly because I am cheap on treasure, particularly on magic, and partly because once players begin to mass three or more characters (main character and henchmen), the experience shared tends to get thinner and thinner.  The party knows this.  They would get more XP if they fought battles without their henchmen, but they love their henchmen; and anyway, while the main characters go up levels slowly, the henchmen move upwards in level regularly.

This slow progression helps encourage the ideal that, since it takes a long time to move upwards, it is reasonable to assume masses of knowledge are being acquired before the next level.  Thus the pacing of my game - not the actual rules, but the pacing - helps the functional rationale of my sage system.

The second answer is more applicable to the general audience.  We attach things to experience for a number of sound reasons.  First of all, like hit points and coin, X.P. is measurable against activity.  While yes, there are numerous methods for calculating X.P., once a DM settles on a calculation, it is predictable and rational, for the most part, where it comes to combat.  The orc has a settled X.P. value - it doesn't matter who kills the orc, what level they are, what weapon or spell they use or ultimately how difficult it was to achieve the killing given the circumstances . . . that's what the orc is worth.

Of course, Gygax tried to fuck with this, rating player role-playing ability according to how he felt a fighter should act or how 'tough' the orc was in comparison to the character, but virtually everyone ignored p.85-86 of the Dungeon Master's Guide because it's so obviously written by a frikkin' idiot.

How can I say that?

Imagine a rule in Monopoly that said that a property's value increased or decreased according to how much money the player had.  Or how about a rule in RISK that adjusted the value of Africa depending on whether you also controlled Europe?

Of course, now that I think about it, there is a rule in Bridge where if you win, you're 'vulnerable' . . . but I always thought that rule was silly, too.  Not every Bridge convention uses it.

But I digress.

The benefit of a universal measuring system based on firm, non-opinion based actions in a game are vital to that game's structure and ultimately the behaviour of those participating in the game.  Once the rules are known, perfectly, then the challenge in the game is in playing through the functionality of the game according to it's limitations.  Movement is limitation.  Attempted actions are limited by the available dice the player can roll in the given situation.  Success is uncertain and therefore failure is very definitely a probability that the player can mitigate but not eliminate!

Wealth limits how much the player can buy.  Hit points limit how long the player can survive an uncertain number of rolled dice.  Experience points limit how many options the player has according to the number of levels obtained.

Before I can produce another measurement for the game, I must know what that measurement is going to limit.

Let us say, for example, that we're going to make a limitation based on the player's 'diplomacy' skill.  What is that limitation going to be?  How are we going to define what limits 4 points in the skill against what limits 8 points?  How are these points going to be gained.  What is the value of convincing an orc to do . . . something.

Because that is now the world we're in.  We need to convince the orc to do something.  Could be anything.  Depends on the situation.  I'm at a loss to describe what, precisely, defines a 'win.'

Typically, this would be defined as the player getting what the player wants.  We know how this plays out in combat - the player makes a judgement call on his hit point reserve and his capabilities defined by level against what the player can guess about the orc, makes the decision to start the fight and hopes that he'll be tough enough to win.

Apply that to diplomacy.  What is the orc's diplomacy reserve?  What capabilities does the orc have?  Upon what basis can the player judge those capabilities before the diplomacy starts?  What are the negative effects if the player loses?

Incidentally, this is where my idea for Conflict Cards failed.  I created the reserve.  I defined the orc's capabilities.  I gave a structure that would allow the player to sort of judge the orc.  But there was no 'lose' scenario except 'failure to win.'  There was no consequence.  Thus the players could attempt to win repeatedly at no specific risk to themselves.  What was needed was some rule that stated, "If the player fails to convince the orc, the player must acquiesce to one demand made by the orc, hand over 50% of their cash on hand, agree to a proposition and then carry it out, etcetera."

Diplomacy and many of the other 'skills' in 3E suffer from the same nonsense.  There's no consequence.  Experience for combat has a consequence.  The player may not live to the next level, and therefore there's a chance that the player will never become a better diplomat because the player will be dead.

Incidentally, failed diplomacy in the real world has enormous consequences; jail time, for instance, merely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time; giving the wrong information (ie., too much) to the wrong people; making enemies; getting blacklisted; pissing your career away; public scandal. These are not consequences in a role-playing game, except for making enemies, which in the game only means having to fight when you'd rather talk.

Once the DM begins to give experience away for talking where no real consequence can result (no consequence that will matter to the player's character, at any rate, since the consequences of diplomacy don't measure themselves as a loss of freedom, like in the real world), then the value of the experience structure is compromised.  Now the player can very much count on living as long as the player chooses to gab rather than risk.

Thus everyone who has ever found themselves at a table with a player who tries to talk their way through every problem.  These are merely players who have found that they are able to hack the system, since they know DMs are a) impressed; and b) suckers for a schmott guy.  Who can blame them.  If the game is hackable, the hacker will surface.

Point in fact, the principles of the above argument is the basis for why my sage abilities are more about 'knowledge' than 'skill.'  I'm not trying to create a series of abilities that provide die rolls for overcoming problems.  I'm concentrating on what the character knows.

Occasionally, yes, this translates to skill.  If you 'know' how to swim, you can swim.  But 'diplomacy,' 'bluffing' and 'intimidation' are not knowledge-based contributions to your character - they are functional shortcuts to reduce the amount of gaming time necessary to deal with player-vs-npc interaction.  Of course we all know how to 'bluff.'  Doing it well is an entirely different thing than possessing the knowledge for how it works.  Moreover, who you bluff and upon what basis the bluff is carried forward is massively dependent on your personal experience.  You may find it easy to bluff your friends at poker; this may help you bluff strangers.  It does not help in 'bluffing' your way onto a military test base as a nuclear physicist (though, of course, television would have us believe these are the same thing).

Skills like bluffing, diplomacy and intimidation are not actually skills, they are composite skill sets acquired through familiarity and experience with specific circumstances, where the character will have probably spent most of their lives.  Where my sage abilities are concerned, I am struggling to stay away from such short cuts and skill sets in the hopes of promoting the character's decision-making process.

I haven't succeeded entirely at this.  Influence, for example, is a very definite short-cut.  Thankfully, it has an extremely limited application for the game structure I'm augmenting.  It would not, for example, be of any value to a character attempting to influence a bartender into offering a free drink, or any other similar tactic.  It is a short cut designed to limit what job a player can obtain - without in turn guaranteeing any success at that job.

I learned through the Conflict Card fiasco the errors in player mechanics that don't include negative consequences.  Similarly, I chose with that fiasco to embrace the principles of players receiving rewards that were NOT experienced-based where it came to talking themselves out of trouble.  If the players want to stop a war in my world, great!  Will it get them rewards?  Yes!  Status, power, perhaps a bit more land, credit, friends, opportunities, contributions and gifts.

But experience?  No.

I think part of the reason why experience IS given for diplomacy, talking, getting out of scrapes without fighting and so on comes from the DM's inability to make any other reward matter.  If I were to run a world where any of the things I just named would offer no meaningful change in terms of what the player was empowered to do in the campaign, then yes, I suppose I would have to give experience for talking, too.

Just think about it.  If the campaign is ALL adventures and modules, ALL quests and story arcs, then what good does status do, except as a series of empty titles?  What good is influence, since the only power that helps the player is in getting to the end of the next mission?  What good is land if it has to be left behind for another dungeon?  What good does credit do the player if there's no reason to borrow money?  What use do the players have for friends that aren't part of the adventure they're on?  What do they need with opportunities since the narrative provides that anyway?  What good are contributions or gifts if the treasure offered is three times as much?

None.  None at all.  Which leaves nothing for the DM to give except experience.  Everything else has an extremely limited appeal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I Like Killing

Well, all right, fictional killing.

I find it very tiresome when 'heroes' in television shows get their morality on by whining endlessly about their refusal to kill people, even incredibly bad people who clearly have no morality at all. Particularly in shows where the villain's lack of morality is ramped to fetish levels.

This invariably makes the hero look like a moron.

If the hero were an ordinary soul, like you or I, then obviously this character would not be putting on a mask, chasing bad guys through the streets, initiating fights, smashing criminals, breaking bones, drawing blood or any of the hundred other things that 'heroes' do.  This character would be having their 'moral dilemma' as you or I have it, in the sense of, "I am extremely ambivalent about causing any pain at all, so I pay taxes supporting a legal entity that manages this stuff for society as a whole."

You or I are not vigilantes.

However, were we to become vigilantes, it would be sheer idiocy to pretend that we could do it without having to occasionally - and practicably - apply deadly force to the equation.  The cops have to do this, occasionally, despite having the option of jails, courtrooms and ultimate prison.  As a vigilante, we would have none of these options.

Moreover, if we were to target a specific enemy, over and over, repeatedly, at some point I should hope that - having had some measure of success - we would recognize that we were now in a fucking war.  In war, killing becomes a necessity.  Pretending that we could start one and then fight it without having to accept the principles of war, that is, that there are too many enemies in war to take everyone prisoner, especially in situations where we are a solitary participant without back-up, is sheer lunacy.

Yet television keeps fostering characters who argue that this is rational.  Because, hey, killing is bad.

What else is bad for a fictional presentation?  Disbelief.  Piles and piles of frustrating, ignorant disbelief.  All this disbelief makes it hard to watch.

Monday, I began watching Daredevil, the TV series.  I'm seven episodes in.  It began brilliantly.  The fight scene at the end of the second show is stunning.

But seven shows in, where we introduce Stick, what are we talking about?  "You have to grow up and kill people."  "That's not my way."  "That's a coward's way."  "It's my way."


ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

We can acknowledge the idiocy on television, but we can't change it.  Why?  Because people are morons.

Yes, that is the equation.  All the things I've said in this blog so far?  Not believed.  Not in the least. We can fight a war, insists the general public, without having to be 'evil.'  That is, without having to bring force to bear in order to win.

Thankfully, no one actually fighting a war believes this.  Else those people who did bring force would have won.

We cannot 'win' against evil if we won't dig in and fight full-on.

But television . . . sigh.  I must point out that in quite a number of movies, it is perfectly acceptable for the hero to joyfully slaughter everything that moves, even without much provocation, even without all the bad-guy-I'm-an-incredible-villain pornography.  In a movie, it is okay to kill the bad guy if he's standing outside the back door having a cigarette.

That's because if you pay $12, human life has less value.

Interesting, isn't it?  Our morality is founded on whether or not you're willing to pay the equivalent of an hour's wage.  You can own that lowered morality on DVD for even less.  You can buy it in the bargain bin.

The reason is clear.  $12 is what separates us from people who are too moronic to accept deadly force as a reality.

Actually, since my Netflix costs $8, the difference is only four.  This world is whacked.

Earlier this week I fell into a short twitter flash-fight with a few other DMs who I'd rather weren't following me.  Well, they probably aren't, now.

Short version, they were all proud of themselves for being the sort of DM's who give experience for talking . . . er, hm, "solving problems without having to resort to fighting."

I've talked about that before - about how experience increases combat ability and little else.  If the character doesn't use the sword, doesn't gain experience by the sword, then it is safe to say that no improvement is the order of the day.

I can only presume that this is the same kind of wishful thinking that bans television heroes from killing the bad guys.  Killing is wrong.  Oh, sure, we've invented a game based on killing, where the rules promote killing, where all the benefits are designed to come from killing in order to enable killing more effectively in the future.  But killing is wrong.

Therefore, whenever possible, my character won't kill.

Oh, but I still want my character to go up levels.  Oh yes.  That's absolutely necessary.  What good is it to play if I don't improve?

Here, we're not seeing players gaming.  We're seeing a very different kind of fantasy being played out.

A big reason why the television audience prefers a Daredevil who doesn't kill - or a Batman or a Superman - is that people want to pretend to be these characters.  Yet they don't have the temperament to imagine getting their hands dirty.  Killing is squicky, even when the villain is very bad . . . and the ordinary person can't pretend to be Daredevil if part of the program is getting squicky.

But that's okay, because the magic writer dust of television will keep Daredevil alive, come what may.

Much of the D&D audience - role-playing games in general - have trouble with the same level of squickiness.  Oh, they want the magic and the swords and the keen-o power toys, but actually playing the game to kill opponents, well, that makes them queasy.  Ew.  But boy oh boy, is this sword with the notches ever kewl!

And it's okay, because the magic campaign dust of DMing is there to make sure the character becomes the toughest master in the universe with that sword.

Because D&D is about role-playing, not roll-playing.

I am happy that these people do not play in my campaign - because frankly, I think it might be a bit too real for them.  I think they'd lose their cookies.

Unless, perhaps, I made them pay me $4.