Monday, August 31, 2015

Read the Books. For Efs Sake, Read the Effing Books.

JB of B/X Blackrazor has a curious way of setting my teeth on edge, even when he's pointing out thinking that is not his own.  A fair part of my visceral reactions, I know, result from JB feeling that I need something like the linked comment pointed out to me . . . in the same way that I need someone reminding me that some people think it's a good idea to take young girls in their care and turn them into sex slaves.

It isn't that knowing these things isn't important or that I have any reason to remain ignorant.  But shit.  Really?

". . . there's this pervasive idea that goblins and other humanoids aren't quite as organized as humans where it comes to this practical selection process . . . it goes a long ways towards explaining why the (often larger, tougher) tool-making humanoids haven't become the dominant species on the fantasy planet."

I guess, on the surface, this looks like a good argument.  Except that the 1977 Monster Manual, published before most people having this "pervasive idea" were born, describes an orc tribe as possessing swords, battleaxes and polearms (which I suppose some will argue were just 'lying around,' which fails to explain why peasant rebellions led by 'organized' humans rarely possessed such items), at least half the time possessing two weapons (that's a fair bit of weapons' training for the disorganized), a social structure of a chief with body-guards, guards, leaders and assistants (sure, disorganized), ditches, ramparts, palisade walls, guard towers, gates, catapults, ballistae, tribal standards, the institution of slavery, the ability to speak five languages and being accomplished as tunnelers and miners.  I recognize that a lot of gamers are dead-brained idiots, but quite a lot of these things required a rather considerable social structure to be designed in 'organized' human culture.  Funny how the extremely sophisticated cultures of the Incas and the Aztecs never got around to building siege weapons.  Oh well, I guess they were too organized.

I'm sorry to let the ordinary suppositioner about history know this, but virtually every 'organized' advancement made by human culture was invented by one small group once upon a time, and then stolen by everyone else.  I'm not just describing things like designing a fishing boat or making a sword, no.  As I argued with my technology posts once upon a time, things like polytheism, priesthood, alphabet and music are profoundly affecting technological revolutions as well, requiring insight and considerable cultural development:

"We hear music, we feel a sense of wellbeing, which in turn we relate to the order of the universe, which deludes us into thinking we can do whatever we want and that we have nothing to fear."

How does this relate to social order?  We put up a standard, a flag, in front of men and we march them into battle, promoting in them the belief that they are fighting for king, god, home, whatever - exactly what the orc in the original text feels when they fight at +1 on hit dice and morale, right there on page 76 of the Monster Manual.

If the pervasive idea that JB describes has it's source, it's that the spreaders of said idea did not fucking read the books!  Which puts them right up there with people who think kids have to wait an hour after eating before going swimming or people who believe Obama is a Muslim because 'Hussein' has an Islamic derivation.  My name has a Russian Orthodox derivation and before that a Varangian Viking derivation, which obviously says I should write "norse celtic" on the government census when it comes around.  Except, of course, that the same people who recognize 'Hussein' have never heard of 'Smolensk,' except as the city in Russia vaguely connected with WWII, don't know about my various heritages because they haven't read those fucking books either.

Is it a good idea to let me know that there are impressively ignorant, grab ass fools in the world spreading dumbfuck explanations for concepts of which they haven't a clue?  Well, yeah.  Except that I got told this some 41 years ago, at the age of 9, and I have quite a few sources all over the net and the media reminding me of this far too many times every day.  So I don't really need another reminder.  They come pretty steady.

Should JB not have commented?  Oh hell no.  I like it when he comments.  He gets me going, and that's always a good thing.  And he did trash Tolkein in his comment, which suitably pointed out the dim-witted pretentious self-important white-guilted Brit that suffuses every nook and cranny of those texts.  I always appreciate that.

It is only that I get the same itch that the reader felt upon learning that an ex-employee from a Roanoke news station twittered a picture of his hand holding the pistol that killed a woman reporter and her cameraman during a live news broadcast:  oh, for fuck's sake . . .

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Set the Odds

Following up on yesterday's post, I'd like to take the matter of selective (rather than randomized) hit points a step further.

Let's take two scenarios.  In both scenarios, the party is wandering over a wilderness country more than 40 miles from a friendly town, where goblins are known to dwell.

In the first scenario, the party comes across a group of a dozen goblins busily quarrying into a rock surface just above the tree line.  The work on the rock is recent, as the goblins have succeeded only in cutting down about seven to eight feet, all of it in the shape of an open pit that's nothing at all like a shaft.  Perhaps a few weeks work altogether.  The goblins all have picks and there's about 500 g.p. worth of complex construction equipment laying about, just as we would expect with a site.  They're just goblins, so the party decides to fall on this little group and kill them, seize the tools and delicate instruments and head back to town.,

In the second scenario, the party is walking along the edge of the same treeline, where everything seems serene and peaceful.  There are no diggings, no sign of any goblins at all - but all at once, the party is hit by a squad of a dozen well-armed goblins who rise up from the rocks above the tree line.  These all fire arrows into the party, hoping to catch the party by surprise.  If the party turns and flees, the goblins are ready with spears; and if the party turns towards the goblins, to try to make their way up to the rocks, the goblins are scattered and well able to get two or three more arrows each before the party can reach even one of them.  Either the party has to separate and go after the goblins individually, try to hit them with missile weapons though the goblins are well under cover or simply give up the field and hope to take the goblins in the trees.  These goblins are well set up to get the party in trouble.

Now ask this question.  Which of these two groups of goblins are likely to have more hit points?

Is it completely random?  Really?  Are we saying that the second group just grabbed a dozen goblins from the nearby lair without picking the best goblins for the job?  Because that seems pretty dumb.  If your high school has a basketball team, is the team picked by just going randomly around the school and grabbing people without thinking about it?  Or is the selection process a bit more elaborate?

And what about these fellows in the quarry.  Sure, they're tough and strong and they've got picks - but does that really make them ready for a military standoff?  Do you think they been chosen to work this dig because they swing a mean pick?  Or might it be, since the work is just starting and there's a greater need to have engineers and goblin geologists who know what they're doing in preparing the intricate arrangements needed to start a mine.  Might it not be that these goblins were selected for their brains and not their combat prowess, hm?

It is true that D&D is a game and that games are based on random dice.  However, D&D is not just a game.  It's also design, the process of deciding what the numbers stand for, what dice to throw and why this roll counts and that doesn't.  It isn't just playing craps, it's inventing craps - and it's a helluva lot more complicated than craps.

It means that long, long before the players arrive at the table to throw their dice, the table has to be built and it has to make sense.  When the players see the collection of diggers, they're entitled to make an intelligent guess at how capable these goblins will be where it comes to defending themselves.  This enables the players to make the same kind of evaluation of the game that a craps player makes when deciding whether or not to double down on making a point.  A 10 is very different from a 6 in this regard.

It isn't unfair to change the 'rules' about how many hit points the goblins have given each special situation.  Taking the goblins at the quarry includes all the elements of rolling a 6.  Handling the goblins at the ambush, that's rolling a 10.  And if there are goblins in the trees, too, waiting for the party to run into them . . . well, that's craps, baby.

If you want a better world, don't let the structure of the game become such a straight-jacket that it forces elements of space and time into the same mundane lithium-fed snore-fest.  Let the monsters be tougher if the situation calls for it; and balance that by making the monsters weaker when the situation calls for that.  Sure, the dice are the game - but you're the DM and you've got to be the game, too.  You're the one setting the odds.  

The Collectors of Gong

We're all nerds so this won't be a pleasant memory for some.

I don't know how many times as a kid, until I grew into my shoulders and size, that I would find myself one the last or second-last to be picked for football, basketball or whatever game we were going to play.  In those days, even without urging from parents, kids themselves would choose two captains and let them pick from among the contestants - and as this was as true for school, family gatherings or any joint get-together from camp to church events (yes, gawd, those too), the picking was set up and followed through.

Even with complete strangers it was evident who could play and who could not.  Oh, everyone likes to tell stories about the scrawny kid with the amazing jump shot, but those stories never seemed to happen in front of me.  Even as I got older, bigger and tougher, there were still kids I watched get picked last and second-last, every time.

We can tell in advance which they'll be.  As Malcolm Gladwell writes, in a Blink.  It's a good thing, too - for being able to assess situations in a moment of stress has kept human beings alive these millions of years.  The games played by Homo Erectus were for higher stakes . . . and when it came down to choosing who would beat the sticks together to frighten the animal and who would hold the spear for when the animal came through the gap between the cliffs, Erectus picked the winners over the losers.

An immense advantage over the other creatures of the earth that humans possessed, however, was in finding something useful and practical for the weaker members of the tribe to do.  Throwing the spear may be the job of the jock we all hated in high school (though some of us became that for a time), but making the spear was shepherded out to others who didn't need to be tough and strong, just patient and able.  We still divide things this way.  The kid who was picked last is the lawyer now, defending the kid who was a physical phenomenon now suffering from CTE.

The point here comes back to an argument I made more than a year ago about hit points.  My argument at that time was that, given a random hit point roll for a general population, the population that survives into maturity and past previous combats ought to have more hit points than the average die that's rolled.  From among creatures rolling a d8 for hit points, the 1s and 2s would die out in battle, I argued, leaving the 7s and 8s.

This did not go over well.  But, well, that's how it goes.

I don't plan to revisit the argument here.  Rather, I want to provide a counter argument that, in part, refutes it.

I don't think the 1s and 2s would see battle at all.  I think that these would be held back, kept in the caves and the service areas, judged unworthy for battle by the clan - at a blink, as I said.  Every goblin in the cave would know what a clumsy idiot Xyttat is; and Pysggak can't even lift a hammer properly, of course.  That's why these two collect the gong, shovel out the rothe pens, collect all the lickspittle from the Queen after she gives birth and generally present themselves for a good kicking during the high holidays.  Xyttat and Pysggak only have 1 hit point - it doesn't take a spratling to see that!  Xyt and Pys go to war?  Haha hah HAH ha . . . wait . . . whew! . . . just catching my breath.  Don't make me laugh.

The reader should just think for a moment about the way we assess people at a glance every day - and ask seriously if we wouldn't know which dexterous, strong, enduring clubmasters we'd send out into the daylight and who we're going to leave back home to cover the floors in rat-grease for the happy day they return victorious.  Because we do have a measure for who does what job.  Even if we do dream of pitching major league baseball, we know very well why we're not.

And it's cool.  There's always gong to collect.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I imagine for a few weeks I'm going to buzzing on the blog about the Wiki.  All four users are aboard and already it is clear that the participants are getting their feet wet.  I can see it is going to be a real challenge to keep up once they hit their stride, as changes start coming in by the minute.  But then, for those readers who may wonder what to do when the Wiki is not updating . . .

Maybe that won't be the case.  Perhaps one day it will always be updating.

I want to sincerely dedicate this post to Byrhtnoth, jerscott, MaxwellJoslyn and SimonTVesper, listed alphabetically.  Youse guys, youse guys . . . yoor da best.

Keep an eye on the home page as members decide whether or not to make their own space, and always on the recent changes page, also shown in the side bar.

Praise and applause are great, no question about it.  But it is far, far better when someone picks up a shovel and starts working along side us.  The feeling of not being alone, of being part of an effort, changes an ordinary task into a pleasure.  The best praise, the best applause, is involvement.

These volunteers deserve all the muster from myself that I can give.


From the Wiki:

Injuries are penalties imposed on the healing of hit points when a great deal of damage has been delivered to a combatant in a single attack.

When a combatant suffers sufficient damage to reduce them from more than half their hit points above zero to less than zero in one strike, then the combatant is considered to be injured - unless the total damage done is less than 12 points total. For example, if Caleb the mage has 6 hit points total, then takes 7 points of damage (sufficient to lower Caleb to -1 hp) then Caleb is not injured because the total damage done was less than 12.

However, if Bala the Druid has 17 hit points total and is presently at 9 due to damage she has already suffered, then takes 12 points of damage (sufficient to lower Bala to -3 hp), then Bala would be injured.

For every 12 points of damage received, the injury tally is counted at 1 point. Thus 24 points of damage would mean a 2-point injury, 36 points of damage would mean a 3-point injury and so on.

Note that 11 or more damage received in a given attack is sufficient to cause a wound. But injuries are not wounds! An injury does not occur merely because 12 damage has been done. For the injury to occur at all, the combatant must be hit hard enough to eliminate half their maximum hit points. For higher level characters, particularly fighters, it may require as much as 40, 50 or 60 damage for an injury to occur. The tally only refers to dividing this ultimate amount of damage by 12.

Healing Injuries

A combatant that has been injured does not sustain any additional damage due to that injury. However, the amount of time necessary to recover from the injury is dependent upon the injury tally. A 1-point injury requires that 10 points of equivalent healing must be gained before the first hit point after damage can be raised by one point.

In the example above, Bala has a 1-point injury that dropped her total hit points to -3. In order for Bala to restore her hit points to -2, Bala must heal 10 hit points of equivalent damage. In effect, the injury that Bala has sustained has stretched the healing distance between -3 and -2 hit points by a multiple of 10.

Let us take another example. Albert is a 7th level cleric with 42 hit points. While climbing up the side of a mountain, Albert slips and falls, taking a total of 46 points of damage. This reduces Albert's hit points to -4, all at once. And because the damage sustained is more than half his total, Albert is injured. Because he is at -4 hit points, he must roll to see if he is conscious (see Negative Hit Points). Albert makes a wisdom check, as described on the negative hit points page, and fails by rolling a 14.

From the fall, Albert is also wounded, which means that he has injured himself in some way that he is suffering -4 hp damage per round from the 46 damage he received. If he were laying on the ground all alone, he would bleed out and be dead in two rounds - and there is nothing Albert can do about this, because he is unconscious. However, lucky for Albert, he fell near to Erick, a 1st level paladin, who quickly runs to Albert's side and lays hands for 2 hp as soon as he can. He can't quite get there before Albert bleeds for one round, now reduced to -8 hit points. However, the bleeding is stopped and Albert's life is saved.

Albert is not, however, restored to -6 hit points by Erick's laying on of hands. Albert was injured. He sustained a 3-point injury . . . so to be restored to -7 hit points (one above the score he has right now), Albert must gain a total of 30 points of healing. Erick has given him 2. Albert needs 28 more. Once Albert has been restored to -7 hit points, he can begin healing damage normally.

If Albert had died, then been restored by death's door, then his body would still have to be healed those same 30 points, as the body would retain the injury, even though Albert would be restored to zero hit points.

Type of Injury

At this time, I have not created any specific tables for what is injured. The rule is still in its infancy - and since in most cases the injured person will be in the negatives and laid up, a flat rule that it is one or the other arm is sufficient. If the rule works and does not overly tax the patience of my players, then I will work up a injury table specifying what type of injury occurs.

The Evaporation of Interest

Wow.  And I thought the LARP reality show was cheesy.

I found the above image on the WOTC website fully intending to write a post asking what was new in D&D and pronouncing the words, "absolutely nothing."  I felt that was a safe bet where it comes to the commercial side of the business.  Then I found this:

This is not a movie poster.

But we're used to this, right?  It's an expansion for Neverwinter: Underdark, based on a character and novel by R.A. Salvatore.  Sold as something extreme.  In the words of the press release (no, I'm not linking it), "deadly and insane . . . epic."  Is it possible to write a promo for a game that doesn't include the word epic?  I doubt it.

Correct me if I'm wrong . . . isn't Salvatore the shit hack writer who churned out about a hundred Forgotten Realms books?  Hm.

This isn't a new game, mind you.  It's a storyline.  Yes, we have moved so far into the epic world of game manufacture that a storyline is deserving of this sort of hype.


I just know there are little fan boys all goosed-up about their excitement at seeing this thing get released. I'd hate to rain on their fun, but hey, let's face it - that's impossible.  These people are in way, way too deep for anyone's words to upset their habit.  At this point, these are people who wouldn't care if they woke up and found Larry Niven's fictional wire hanging from their brain.

Who's Larry Niven?  An actual science fiction writer.  Not that I ever really liked him.

No, this isn't written to change anyone's mind.  This isn't even written to shout at anyone to get the fuck off my lawn.  This is just . . . well, let's say I'm just keeping track.

In four weeks I'm going to be up at the Edmonton comic-con and I will meet none of the people who find the poster art above the least interesting.  Oh, they will be there - but I won't meet them.  I will meet a lot of people like me, people who are fascinated by the game as it was originally designed and who want to improve it as a work of love.

The sort of people who are selling the above art and the sort of people who are buying it . . . I don't know who the hell these people are.  As far as I can tell, their fascinations has as much to do with D&D and RPGs as people who attend NASCAR.  We live on the same planet.  The similarities seem to end there.

Eventually, every gamer arrives at the point in their lives where they look at what's happening now and compare it with the thing they enjoyed once upon a time . . . and realize those things have nothing to do with each other.  It isn't that maturity incurs a lack of interest - it is that at some point the interest we had is simply not being made.

Someone figures out that they can get money for creating a storyline based on work someone else did - someone they basically own, since he's an old asset they created in the 80s - for pretty much the same money they used to get actually working to improve something.  Storylines are cheaper than real game design and they're cheaper still when we don't even need to create our own.  Then its just a matter of plugging the new storyline into the old format and selling the same game over again to the same people for the same $80 (or whatever the cost would be - I went looking and I couldn't find a price).

And those of us who have seen better drop our jaws and wonder how it ever came to this.

There's one simple reason why so much of our economy is directed towards young people.  It isn't that the young have money to spend, although they do.  It isn't that the young have a taste for new things, although they do.  It is that the young have only bought a few things in their whole lives - and mostly pretty small things - and they're unsophisticated.  They have no reference point upon which to base whether something is viable or not.  They're easily duped.  They're stupid.

They make great consumers!  No sweat, no fuss, no annoying questions arising out of experience . . . and when a kid hits 18 or 19 and has bought enough games to ask those questions?  No problem.  The market has already dumped them.  We want 10 to 13 year olds, kids who we can clinically prove haven't fully developed brains.  No, seriously.  Brains still in development.

Okay, here's an old man statement, but it's a joke.  Seriously.  But wouldn't the world be massively different if we decided that children younger than 15 were disallowed from buying anything?

Not because it is bad for them - hell, kids are resilient.  But it is bad for us.  Because we have to live in a world where the above crapfest is sold as a bloody big deal, epic and exciting.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Wiki Forward

I expected crickets.  I said it was a bad idea.

Since Sunday's offer, I have spoken to four would-be members of the wiki.  As of now, two have jumped on and I have every expectation I will see the other two.  All four are long-time visitors to the blog and all four made a point of letting me know they had bought How to Run and my other books (see the sidebar). This is terrific!

I put up a very short youtube video on making pages in the wiki, if any of the members haven't seen it yet:

The wiki is quite simple to use, but please let me know if there are any other videos that I should make.  I am going to create one about loading a graphic onto a page that should be up later today.  There are plenty of other wikispaces tutorials around.

Most of all, I want both the members and the casual readers to get something more out of the wiki than I can deliver right now.  People are heading there in droves (275 & 250 unique visitors this past two days!) so there is definitely an interest.

For the moment, I want to wait a week before taking on anyone else, if you're thinking of coming on in.  Once this change gets settled a bit, once I start to figure out what the problems are going to be, I'm sure that the great people I have spoken to already will be instrumental in keeping the source material safe and protected - and that is my main concern, of course.  I have been wonderfully reassured on that front and to the members, I say thank you for that!

I want to put on the blog - because I did not float the balloon on the original post - that I am encouraging members to put up their own material, so long as it doesn't change a message that I've already created.  I would like the wiki to present one functional structure that will serve as a resource (letting people home-rule it to their heart's delight off the wiki), not just another dogpile that offers 11 ways to run a combat system.  There are hundreds of aspects that the game needs to be specified without reinventing the wheel over and over.

As well - and this is a memory issue - I do want to minimize unnecessary images.  I have 3 GB to work with one wikispaces - plenty of room if we concentrate on text and content, not flare.  Tables are great - but whenever possible, keep 'em tight, aesthetic and as low on KB as possible.

Towards that end, if any of the members want me to give them specific tasks to undertake, then please do not hesitate to ask.  I can't promise that they'll be easy, but I'm sure I can come up with some kind of job that needs to be done that I'm not addressing - or that I've made a half-hearted attempt at that someone else might enjoy more.

For example, I'd like an individual page for every monster, with stats and habitation ranges for my world - the real Earth, the place where we all live.  Describing an environment on Earth will be helpful for every player who is trying to figure out where creatures would dwell on their fantasy world - because, after all, we steal everything from our experience with this planet.

Welcome.  I think the next year is going to be great.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Conversations with My Old Self

Not to step on the importance of my archery post, posted about 30 minutes ago, but I just stumbled across this from my archives.

I came across this comment that I wrote on a post back in 2013, in which I talk about responsibility. This was prior to the inspiration that would enable me to write my book, How to Run, which astounds me. Because I got the book exactly right with this comment, having totally forgotten that I had written what's below:

"This is about half the original essay I was going to write for the book, entitled "Mastering Yourself as DM" ... it is part of the reason why I felt I needed to take a step back and look at the ideals of the book again. While I feel the above is wholly accurate, it is not the spirit nor the feel I believe this book ultimately needs. I don't want to simplify the material, but I want to direct something that is more positive. I'm stuck in the blog-mode, how NOT to DM. I am right now gathering my thoughts, making notes, preparing for the right book, that being how to BE a DM.

"Not get my book? I suppose that has much to do with how much a person really wants to do this. I don't think DMs are necessarily rare, lone wolves, ambiverts, etc. I believe that the RIGHT books have never been written that would enable someone to learn how to do this. I'm very anxious to write the right book, not plow ahead with the wrong one; I'm very conscious of that.

"Listen, being a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, what you will, is hard; the necessary mindset for those professions only very slightly derives from a particular kind of previous personality - the more relevant question is, Will you change your way of thinking so you can think like an engineer? Or a lawyer? Or a doctor? Many people can't, or won't, and find the course work impossible - they are crushed by the course work. They dislike the idea that at the end of their education, they'll be a different person than they were when they went in.

"I don't think D&D is anything like as hard as that - but no one can learn, or 'get' anything, until they decide for themselves that having always known a thing doesn't make it true, and having always been a certain kind of person doesn't mean they always have to be that person. Change is choice; it's not my responsibility to decide who will or won't understand what I'm trying to say.

"It is my responsibility to say it accurately, helpfully and as straight-forwardly as possible. That is enough on my plate, thank you very much. What other people 'get' or don't get is not my problem."

There: Now You're Legolas

I know this is going to make some of my players happy.

There has always been a disconnect between the sort of fast-shooting archery videos we've all seen on youtube and the rules I employ in my D&D campaign.  I have spoken about this subject before, but let me cover the basics.  I'll restrain myself from getting into the errors of archery videos - Anna Maltese has already done that.

I believe very strongly in the argument that the bow can only be effectively fired by an ordinary combatant once every other round.  Since my rounds are 12 seconds long, this means a bowman can only fire one arrow every 24 seconds.  For many players, this seems ridiculous, given that we watch videos on youtube where a speed-shooter fires 24 arrows - obviously, I'm being unfair about how many arrows a character is allows to fire.

My first argument has always been playability.  If the archer's speed at firing arrows is pumped to the point where players are entitled to fire an arrow a second, then very quickly the only weapon in the game will be the bow and everyone who isn't able to use it will find themselves disgruntled and cast out.  I'm not interested in allowing a single weapon to dominate my game just because trick shooters on youtube have figured out a way to half-strength fire arrows at highly prepared targets, then try again and again until a successful attempt at this gets caught on camera.

Secondly, I argue that loading and firing an arrow during combat isn't the only thing the combatant is doing.  If the archer gets to make a decision when their turn comes around that they're going to pick which target on the battlefield they wish to fire at after all the combat that has happened is resolved to that point, then I will argue that the archer has been paying attention the whole time.  It requires effort and awareness to pay attention, so we have to assume the archer is pausing at some point to judge the battlefield and make a decision.  Moreover, the same archer possesses an armor class - one that we presume will be there when an arrow from the enemy attempts to hit that archer or the archer needs to make a saving throw.  Therefore, this is more awareness that is required, as the archer must try to be conscious of being a target as well as a shooter.

Thirdly, none of the trick shooting displays we see on youtube - or anywhere else - are taking place during combat.  None of these participants are in fear for their lives, none of them are experiencing extreme adrenaline or fear of death, so tunnelling, or tunnel vision, has not asserted itself as a stress response.  Target shooters are free to comfortably focus on a target without needing to concern themselves with anything else going on around them; however, an archer in a combat cannot do so.  Yes, perhaps they can fire 24 arrows in 24 seconds at a completely meaningless patch on the ground.  They cannot fire arrows that fast while terrified for their lives at selected targets at will.  This notion would be highly ridiculous.

So, what is this post about?  Why this title?

I made a concession a few years ago that if an archer wanted to fire an arrow every round - that is, physically load it and then loose the arrow almost as quickly, then I would allow it.  However, the action would include a -4 penalty to hit.  Having made the concession, I added the rule to my list of action points, recently added to my wiki (and still needing notes written regarding the things a character can do).

This made some players feel more comfortable with the potential for their archery speed.  Note that I don't use rules from the Dragon, 2e or 3e that allows multiple weapon proficiencies in the same weapon (which I thought was hugely player service and a sign of the downfall of rule-making in the game, coming out in the late 80s).  Therefore, there were very few ways for a character to 'get faster' with a weapon.

So I incorporated a rule about a year ago where lower level fighters could attack more often (the reader had better be familiar with this post before reading further).

This naturally led to questions about the one arrow a round rule - if a fighter could attack twice in a given round, "Does that mean that the -4 penalty applies?"  I ruled that it did not.  If a fighter could attack twice in a given round, then it was reasonable to me that the fighter could load and fire in one round - specifically the round where two attacks were allowed.  This was very much appreciated by the players and at the same time, it did not especially overbalance the use of the bow in my world.

It does help, in any case, that as a fighter goes up levels, that -4 means less and less.  Looking at this table, pulled from one of the linked posts above, it can be seen that by 7th level a -4 to hit against AC 4 (chainmail and shield) isn't bad at all:

The 7th level fighter still has a 35% chance of hitting a foe armed in chain mail even with the -4 to hit.

Something that did not come up - probably because my players expect me to think of these things before they do - is the question, "Does that mean I can fast load my bow twice in one round with the original penalty?"

Well, I've set the precedent . . . and though no one has asked this question, the answer is quite reasonably yes.  In the light of my earlier arguments, the character at a certain level will have gained enough combat experience to be less affected by their body chemistry than would a lower level combatant; and the fact that they already get multiple attacks demonstrates their skill at situational awareness, identifying threats and being prepared for them; and game play already has demonstrated that the penalty balances game-play.

So.  A player with two attacks in a given round should be able to load a bow and fire the bow twice in that same round . . . but because I'm a prick, I'm going to make it a -5 to hit penalty instead of a -4.  For reasons.  Just an inherent feeling based on experience in making this sort of rule work.

Players will appreciate being able to fire an arrow twice, even if it does lower their THACO.  At 9th or 10th level, they will hardly notice that lowering.  They will like it.

It will make them feel like Legolas.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Offer on the Table

This is a bad idea.  But I said that about the online campaign, which turned out to be a pretty good idea, so . . .

The wiki has reached 795 pages as of today.  As it grows, I find myself getting more and more distant from things that I put up two years ago - forgetting that I made pages or about rules that I've since gotten rid of.  Not to mention that there are hundreds of little spelling mistakes and typos throughout the wiki and potential links and back-links that could make navigation way easier.

I'd love it if sourcing out the mistakes that need correction could be done through the blog . . . but alas, I posted about the wiki's combat system and didn't get a single response to my point about errors.  I blame no one.  But it does make it plain that what's needed is another person to help me run down these things and fix them.  Someone dedicated, who feels it is worth their time and who wants to feel proud about it.

The wiki does allow me to designate another user.  It lets me track what the user would do and it lets me correct any deletions that might be made . . . so there's little danger that a person could come in and randomly delete a lot of material without my learning about it.  Even if another person decided to deface an article, there are ways to restore that article and then remove the user.

I like that these protections exist.

I am wondering, however, if anyone would like to be that user?

Certainly, it's time spent and trouble and the user would have to deal with me.  Plus, no one is getting paid, certainly not me.  All I can offer is some name recognition, responsibility and the possibility of a user contributing their own work.  And of course bragging rights.  If that counts for anything.

There are some requirements.  You have to be a regular commenter on this blog.  I have to know you.  I think that at least five intelligent comments would be a minimum.

I would have to know your real name.  Sorry.  My real name is out there for all to see.  I wouldn't need to put your real name on the web, no!  But I'd have to know it and I'd have to have a phone number plus whatever else that proves you're the person you claim to be.  That's a deal breaker.  I want evidence.  I'm taking a chance of someone hacking the wiki, which is proving to be a great success (1350 page views yesterday, usually 350-500 every day).  I don't want that fouled up.  I'm quite sure that everyone going to the wiki and liking it doesn't want it fouled up, either.

Anyway, the offer is on the table.  I expect crickets.  There's room for more than one additional user, so no one is competing for a slot - but I do have to have some previous idea of who you are and what you believe.

Up for it?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Illumination Details

Not fun, but cool to have this written out.

Matters regarding illumination:

Where underground movement, exploration and combat is concerned, light is absolutely necessary. The various forms of illumination in the game are described below or - with the case of cantrips and spells - given links. In each case, effects of illumination on combat are difficult to manage and usually completely ignored where the game is concerned. Combat rules described below are untested.

In each case below, the limitation on illumination describes the distance to which an enemy combatant appears visible enough so as to have no effect on attacks to hit. However, the fading point of illumination drops off quickly where detail is concerned; therefore, any combatant that is located one hex beyond the limit of illumination will be -1 to hit; two hexes beyond illumination, -3 to hit; and three hexes beyond illumination, -6 to hit. Beyond that, the target would be in darkness.

Moreover, if a combatant stands between the light and the target, then an additional penalty of -2 should be added to the to hit score. This penalty is cumulative with other penalties listed above.

In some cases, such as starlight or moonlight, both described below, man-made illumination will make visibility on the periphery of that illumination worse, as well as creating penalty causing shadows.

Torches: the cheapest and most available form of illumination. Torches can be made using a strip of cloth (cotton, linen or wool) some two inches wide and 36 inches long, which is wrapped repeatedly and tied around one end of a torch stake about 18 inches long, weighing between 16 and 24 ounces (about 1 to 1½ lbs.). This is then soaked in 1 ounce of whale lamp oil. The operation takes about 8 action points (AP) to complete. A torch will last approximately 100 rounds (20 minutes). Torch stakes can be reused.

A lamp oil torch will clearly illuminate to a distance of about 6 hexes; a whale oil torch to 5 hexes. A torch may be put down, though it will sputter out on a wet surface after ten rounds and potentially set a dry surface ablaze (make save against normal fire). In either case, regardless of the oil used, a torch that has been set down will illuminate to a distance of only 2 hexes.

Lantern, hooded or bullseye: because my world takes place in the 17th century, these have a bladder below the lantern's bell that can be filled with up to 4 ounces of whale or lamp oil, which is then adjusted by a valve that controls the degree of illumination. There are only three settings of illumination: off, dim and bright. A lantern burning lamp oil will be brighter, but the oil will burn away faster.

The hooded lantern includes a plate above the illumination that will enable the lantern to be carried without the light shining in the holder's eyes. It does not possess a 'hood' that will enable combatants to black out the light, as is often misunderstood. The bullseye lantern is a directional light that cannot be expanded to shine in every direction (again, a misunderstanding) but does possess two handles at the back that can be closed in order to snap the light closed with a shutter. The bullseye lantern shines a greater distance because the 'eye' is a lens intended to intensify the light. Details regarding how bright each form of light is, depending on the oil used, is shown below:

A lantern can be adjusted from from dim to bright, from bright to dim or from dim to off with 1 AP. Lighting a lantern, assuming everything is at hand, will take 4 AP.

Light (spell): the light spell will illuminate perfectly to a distance of 4 hexes. However, all hexes beyond the light spell must be treated as pitch dark; while a magical effect, the spell does not cause a central glow and the division between light and dark is a fixed boundary (making light more useful in a partially lit space or in a room where the whole interior falls into the light's range.

Bluelight (cantrip): illuminates partly to a distance of 2 hexes, so that even within the sphere of the light there is a -1 penalty to hit targets that are not directly adjacent. Increase all penalties for attacking outside the range of the illumination by -1. Treat all weapons and magic items that glow as equal to the effects of this cantrip, with the exception of items such as the wand of illumination.

Notes regarding natural light: below are four levels of natural light. Where penalties to weapons and range conflict (for example, a range of 2 hexes for a dagger indicates -3 to hit while the adjusted medium range indicates a -6 to hit, always use the highest applicable penalty). Also, treat any environment where a forest canopy completely blocks out the sky as dark, listed below. If a partial canopy, then reduce effects to the next least visible natural light. Rangers receive a +1 bonus to hit against the increased negative adjustments listed.

Moonlight, full: includes periods on clear nights where the gibbous and full moon are 45ยบ or more above the horizon. Treat periods where the gibbous or full moon are lower in the sky, or the moon in any other phase than a crescent, as partial moonlight, below. Visibility will be near daylight, though penalties for medium and long range targeting will be increased by 1, to -3 and -6 respectively. Employing any man-made light will spoil the moon's effects, though torches and lanterns will enjoy double the effective range of normal illumination. A torch would therefore allow visibility to 10 or 12 hexes, depending on the oil used.

Moonlight, moderate: includes periods on clear nights where the moon's phase shows more light than a crescent, but is not sufficient to provide full moonlight, above. Visibility will enable persons to see one another well enough to fight, though all attacks beyond melee range (1 hex) will suffer a -1 penalty. The ranges of all hurled and fired missile weapons will be halved and penalties for medium and long range targeting will be increased by 2, to -4 and -7 respectively.

The druid spell, starshine, provides effects similar to these - in which case, druids enjoy a +1 bonus with rangers vs. to hit adjustments.

Starshine, ordinary: includes periods on clear nights featuring a crescent or new moon, where the temperature is no warmer than cool. Visibility will enable persons to see one another well enough to fight, though all attacks beyond melee range will suffer a -2 penalty. The ranges of all hurled and fired missile weapons will be reduced to one third and penalties for medium and long range targeting will be increased by 3, to -5 and -8 respectively.

Dark: describes any night in which the sky is clouded or overcast, the moon is shrouded by thick clouds, hasn't risen or has already set, or where the warmth of the night has created a haze or humidity that limits the amount of starlight. Visibility will be extremely poor, so that even persons who are adjacent to one another in melee will fight at -1 to hit and all attacks beyond melee range will suffer a -3 penalty. The ranges of all hurled and fired missile weapons will be reduced to one quarter and long range will be impossible. Medium range attacks will suffer a -6 penalty to hit.

Combat on the Wiki

Nearly two years ago, I made an attempt at codifying the rules for my combat system.  It did not go well.  There were problems with my language and clarity, leading to a number of misunderstandings and a loss of commitment on my part (see, it happens to me, too!).

It was around then, however, that I began to throw myself deeper into the creation of my wiki . . . and it was inevitable that combat would eventually become something I worked on.  And this seems to be the week that the inevitable got started.

I've been hacking at the combat system for several days now.  While it is as troublesome as ever, I must admit that being able to work through the wiki and not upon a linear document does allow for cross-referencing that, I hope, will enable greater understanding and more time spent on the little details that present themselves.  Moreover, I believe that the wiki will enable a greater flexibility in fixing language that needs to be clarified, much more than would a document in Publisher (my last attempt at rule-building).

Mostly because the images I add won't need to be carefully formatted every time the length of the text changes.

So, I am working away.  Like everything else, I will probably do this for a week or two before heading back to another half-done project . . . but that is how I work on my world.  I dig into some facet of the structure until I am bored with it, but I am careful to leave the work I've done in a condition where it can be picked up again when the mood strikes me.  This way, I'm not restarting a project over and over - I am slowly adding to each part, then leaving it rest while I recharge my batteries doing some other project.

I feel this is a large part of the reason my game moves forward - because I am always working at something and because I am always adding to work already done.

Everyone gets bored.  The trick is to arrange our boredom so that it remains constructive.

Oh, and please . . . if the reader sees ANY issue or error on the wiki, please do not hesitate to comment on it here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Universally Good

A big thanks to those of you who helped tweet or share my troubles on facebook; every legal redress of wrongs done is a stressful thing and any support is always appreciated.  I've taken down the post from my blog but the matter remains on my twitter feed, for those who don't know what I'm talking about right now.

Moving onto other things.  For those who have a problem with sexuality, spoilers.

A few days ago, I stumbled across a post I hadn't read from seven months ago, written at the time I was on a tear about player-vs-player.  And on that subject - that of Spazalicious' post - I want to proceed carefully.  I believe that the argument made there is legitimate and worth examining.

The crux of the argument is a familiar one that has been argued before: that PvP can be, at a given table, consensual.  I've never argued that it could not be.  Many things are consensual.  It is reasonable to argue that if every player at a given table agrees to the player-vs-player formula, then it ought to be legitimately pursued.

To press the point home, Spazalicious urges the reader to "take a lesson from the BDSM community:"

"Obtain consent from all persons involved, always ask if your partner is okay, and have a safe word for if [sic] things get too intense for 'stop' to make sense in context."

For those who may not know, a significant part of the BDSM community - that part that is most concerned with winning acceptance from the general public that does not practice BDSM - has promoted something for several decades known as "Safe, Sane and Consensual."  The guidance offered by this policy (SSC) is to discourage harm between participants and to encourage the best possible mental health for those involved.  By talking over what sexual practices are desired, it is sincerely hoped that participants will not find themselves regretting their actions and that the greatest possible empathy will be shared by all.

Unfortunately for some in the BDSM community, a strict adherence to SSC denies many of the desired activities that are part of BDSM.  These activities cannot be reasonably described as 'safe,' simply because they are not.  It is further argued that many completely accepted social pursuits - such as mountain climbing, hang-gliding, white-water rafting and hunting - are also fundamentally unsafe, even though efforts are made to make these as safe as possible.  Still, the best way for a mountain climber to remain safe is to not climb mountains.  This, however, does not work for the climber.

As such, some in the BDSM community have opted for a position known as "Risk-aware consensual kink," or RACK.  In this philosophy, it is desired that both or all partners are aware that the proposed activity is dangerous, that everyone is of sound mind and that elements of SSC - such as the use of a safe word - may be legitimately set aside in preference to an experience that is less concerned with safety and more concerned with sexual gratification.

What, then, does this have to do with D&D and role-playing?

Spazalicious is expressing the philosophy - as it is promoted in the BDSM community - that consensuality trumps all other concerns.  Yes, it isn't safe.  Yes, people get hurt.  But everyone agrees - so everything is okay, nyet?

If the reader ever gets an opportunity to speak with a member of a Search & Rescue team - and better yet, has the opportunity to get a few drinks into said member - then do not fail to ask about the 'consensuality' of people who get themselves into life and death situations while mountain climbing or white-water rafting.  Get ready for a rant - a potentially furious rant if said member has ever lost a friend or relative while trying to rescue a 'risk-aware' mountain-climber, hiker, winter skiier or any of the other truly dangerous pursuits that people jump into with a minimum of preparation or real awareness.  Because people are stupid.  People think they are self-aware and prepared to get consensual with the mountain and forest, but it is exactly this kind of thinking that gets perfectly aware people killed while trying to pull a citizen out of trouble.

The reader might, if the reader knows people at a hospital, have an opportunity to meet someone who can tell at least one story about a BDSM participant who was flayed or beaten to within an inch of their death, on the argument made by the top (dominant, dominatrix, etc.) in the situation who says, "But he didn't use his safe word!"  Because it is reasoned by many in the BDSM community that people, in the midst of being tortured, are consciously self-aware enough to even remember that they have a safe-word.  Human beings, made up of chemicals that flood tissue in the most potentially dangerous soup imaginable, simply aren't that reliable.  The BDSM community likes to pretend that humans are reliable, because it helps sell their practices to non-participants . . . those same non-participants who are just aching for a reason to shut down BDSM clubs, to end the careers of a very vocal and protective Professional Dominant community and to encourage everyone, everywhere, to recognize that BDSM is, in Spazalicious' words, "universally evil."

I don't feel that it is, myself.  But BDSM isn't a very good argument for the magical legitimacy of personal consensuality.  The so-called community is more divisive, troll-ridden and predatory than any group of people that has ever existed - except probably the military.  Fact is, participants in that community just don't care.  They're not participating for the glory of social acceptance - they have other motives.  Social acceptance is simply the veneer that has been lacquered over the top by a small number of voices who recognize that acting as leaders in a beleaguered and largely misunderstood community gains them a small amount of personal power.  It is these leaders who have invented terms like SSC and RACK in order to sustain the pretense of that power.  Most participants, however, simply act as they will.

The key error in Spazalicious' thinking - and it is an error that we all make, continuously, since more than a century of brain-function research and psychological investigation has failed to make an impact - is that we are in control of our desires.  This isn't so.  We would like it to be so, we're very certain that it is so, since it very much seems to be the case.  It is very easy to delude ourselves - since it is an unreliable brain affected by hormone-evolved brain chemistry that we use to convince ourselves.

Sorry, however.  I have no actual way to determine, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all the people at my table who consensually agree to play PvP are actually consensually doing so.  Some will agree because the group agrees.  Some will agree because their sexual partner at the table agrees or because their siblings agree.  Some will agree because they lack information or experience about other ways to play.  Some will agree because they are habitually predatory because of other activities that have shaped their thinking.  Some will agree because it seems that the authority figure at the table, the DM, seems to want it.

None, however, can be absolutely certain to agree on a strictly consensual basis.  Because humans are prejudiced, naive, easily swayed, confused, anxious to agree in order to win approval and on the whole, stupid.

The best solution for this uncertainty is to seek forms of game play that do not promote unnecessary conflict and stress.  Because it is universally recognized that a lack of negative conflict and stress is the best way to ensure that everyone has a good time.  PvP may not be "universally evil" - but it is dead certain that a lack of PvP is "universally good."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bad Air

Now, there are some who would argue that I am missing the point of Raph Koster's article.  He's talking about addiction and the substitution of social needs, the worry that some users will fail to recognize the difference between reality and fantasy, as well as concerns that the moral lessons learned in video games will leak out and cause everyday violence.

These are things, Koster says, that the creators of games ought to worry about.  People need help and surely it is better to make games that help people than it would be to make games that encourage divisiveness and unhappiness.  No?

It sounds very well but in fact the language is deliberately slanted to promote an agenda, that agenda itself couched with idioms like 'channel of communication' and 'imprinting behaviour' - both of which apply to every moment in which one person speaks to another.  Whenever I hear of people who speak of art in terms of opening channels, it's quite plain they've become enraptured with meaningless pat phrases that fail to specify what's happening any more than what I do when I ask the barista for coffee.  I'm opening a 'channel of communication' there, too.  When I'm told to have a good morning as the coffee cup is passed to me, that's also 'imprinting behaviour.'

Looked at closely, arguments like "a substantial proportion of the audience is using it [your game] as a therapeutic tool" betrays a strong, patronizing attitude.  It presupposes that anyone who turns to a game for satisfaction, escape or comfort is somehow more needy or weaker than those of us who do not need a video game for that.  The attitude is carried further when Koster says,

"Think about what sort of people these are, and how your design affects them. Think about the ways in which your design will be misused, and the ways in which it may impact a player emotionally."

Poor wee lambs, they need your help to encourage them not to 'misuse' your product or helplessly fall victim to your masterful power to confuse their tiny minds.

This pervasive attitude that has arisen, that argues game culture ought to be a means for social engineering and not merely a tool for entertainment, is an old, old pariah that has already made its way through prose, film and music.  It is the other side of the same coin that derived the Hays Code, sought to ban rock & roll and fears for what the young people are reading.  It is an ever-present argument that says, "We know what's best for you, because what's best for you has already been decided by experts who have been stung by the bad side of gaming."

Koster is precisely this sort of pundit.  He puts it right there in the article,

"I had seen many players of MUDs get hooked on them to the exclusion of studies, or watched them damage their real life personal relationships while favoring the virtual ones."

To which the reader is expected to have the visceral reaction:  "OMG, they ignored their studies? They ruined their relationships?  That's awful!"

But how much were they invested in those studies, really?  How good were those relationships?  We don't know.  We're not expected to consider even what specific coursework these non-specific people were involved in.  Our minds are led to immediately assume we're talking doctors and people who were married with a whack of kids - because that's the worst possible scenario that can fit the 'facts' - but don't worry, Koster created Ultima umpty-umpth years ago, so he's an expert on how people live their lives and the choices they make.

We're all D&D players here, so we've heard all the lectures about not spending too much time on D&D and how it is going to ruin all our lives.  We've heard the lectures on not taking imaginary campaigns too seriously, given by people who have never played or by people in the industry who are holding the next copy of Grakka's Death Castle IV behind their back, hoping to sell it's 32-page format for $40.  In the case of the latter, all this concern about the user is just so much lip service paid to people who are neither sellers nor users, just so the business model can include the disclaimer, "But we did warn them!"

It is all about disclaimers.  It was unstated in the previous post, but no one really subverts their freedom to write as they will due to this 'responsibility' they share.  Moral responsibility is fine, so long as it rides in tandem with what the creator wants . . . but as soon as the creation and the responsibility go their separate way, the creator very quickly argues "Art" and "Freedom of Expression" and the responsibility argument quickly skulks out the door.

Koster's argument carries the same merit.  Once a created video game gets off the chain, grows wildly popular and begins to reshape culture in ways the author never imagined, there's no rush forward by the creators to take any real responsibility for the fall-out.  It's only a matter of time before these same wee lambs realize they might have a court case if they sue the game manufacturers, based on the exact same 'responsibility' argument that was made prior to the game's success - whereupon responsibility is unceremoniously dropped while the game makers cry "User Accountability" and "Sanctity of the Marketplace."

These moral arguments only matter to people who are not playing the game.  For those on the inside, these arguments only apply when the consequences come to call.  The game player who realizes that he's been five months in his basement only because the pizza boxes and the bottles of urine are getting in the way of his monitor is happy to applaud Koster's morality.  The makers of Axe-Kill, Death in Schnectady, only sees the 'truth' of Koster's position when they've lost the court case against the sixteen families suing over the string of axe-murder deaths that began in Schenectady three days after the release of the game.  Until they lose, however . . . all that morality stuff is obviously nonsense.  There was, after all, a disclaimer on the box.

I'm pretty sure, however, that if the case ever came up, the defendants wouldn't lose.  No one wants a legal precedent that supports the argument that Koster makes. No one, anywhere, wants to make creators - or any of the other manufacturers who have a little TOO much in common with creators - to ever be brought up on charges for social effects resulting from electronics, toys, motor vehicles, alcohol or any of the other things we use to actually affect people.  Point to the right of someone to bring me to charges for the consequences of a book I've written and I will point at all the gun manufacturers who should also be put on trial.

So long as they're safe, so am I.  And a responsibility without consequences is just air.  Nonsensical, self-promotional, moralistic, patronizing, condescending air, but air.  Empty, except for the lingering bad smell in the room.

The Creator's Self-Delusion

"Game design is a powerful way of imprinting behaviors on people, and that it is entirely possible to imprint behaviors you didn’t want. Just as you can train a firefighter’s instincts through fire drills, just as you can train a people to grow up racist, you can train players to react in certain ways to certain situations. Games are always pretty abstracted from reality, so this training may not be happening in at all the ways you think it is. But it is always happening. Games teach, and you are teaching something . . . But in the end, they can also hugely improve a life. So like any tool, like any cultural artifact, their virtue lies not in themselves but in what the medium is used for. That’s an awesome responsibility."
- Raph Koster, Games affecting people

Here is a favored bits of wisdom to which Literature and Philosophy Professors so dearly cling. "Dear child, don't write something evil - for evil will come of it!"  I have had many a would-be creator preach Koster's sentiment, that on some great level our great works have great effects.  We must therefore soberly reflect upon the deep, abiding, mortifying responsibility we possess unto the world.

My, my, my, isn't it heady stuff?  So demonstrative of our importance as creators, so evidentiary that we have it us the power to write the Bible or Mein Kampf (Koster's examples) - only of course we don't because we are just so darn responsible.  How wonderful it is that we restrain ourselves!  How important it is that we sit together in academic classrooms and clubhouses and discuss at length the terrible obligation we bear to protect society from ourselves - and others, of course, for it is only right that while we restrain ourselves, we ought to condemn all those who do not . . . 

For there lies the crux.  It isn't what we dutiful creators refuse to create, it is the fault we are more than prepared to find in the writing that others do!  The pornographic, the ideological, the dangerous lawless willingness of creators to just create things willy-nilly, audaciously, immoderately, foolishly!  Woe ye that falleth into the pit, for thou creates at the world's peril!

As an ambitiously minded writer whose opinions were stark and direct about things, I was lectured upon this position (and warning) many a time.  I was able to see it for what it was; a fear, a construct to help explain how evil existed in the world . . . and most of all another moralism that could be safely ignored, for I never met a single lecturer who possessed the potential to write anything that might change the world.  Surely, if the goal is to play it safe with human minds, nothing of relevance will result.

The world is a wild and dangerous place, full of willingness to commit evil without so much as a shopping list to support its purpose.  Several millennia of this nonsense has well proven that such people will glom onto whatever convenient text presents itself, so long as it can be turned, twisted and carefully rehashed in a manner that it will ultimately prove/justify whatever we need it for.  Koster's very choice to include the Bible in his list of examples demonstrates rather plainly his apparent unawareness that it was written by several persons, rewritten on several occasions, split apart and hashed back together a dozen more times and carefully translated by various groups in order to create the text desired.  Heaven knows (joke) what the original authors intended - but it no longer matters, because the intention of the author was never part of the equation.

Further, it is silly to presume that we can create anything - a book, a game, anything - with a predictable, rational, singularly-opinionated audience in mind.  Hell, I can't even be sure of the several hundred readers of this blog, much less the potential millions who might read a novel of mine if it reached the popularity of Twilight: I Sat on a Rolled-up Cushion for 700 Pages.  It simply isn't possible to be so sure of every turn of phrase and every description I write that I won't, quite innocently, incite some wing-nut to shoot eighteen people during the showing of the book-made-into-film.  I can't conceive of the narrow-minded perspective necessary to believe that a creator's responsibility can remotely take that into account.  I presume people who spend their whole lives speaking only to people exactly like themselves - which may explain some of the shock when it is a university that falls under some cock-up's gun-sights.

Finally - and this is the thing that most baffles me about the argument - it presumes that I'm prepared to give responsibility for my decision-making process to whomever's book I just finished reading.  As if I am utterly bereft of any sense of consciousness . . . demonstrable when it happens that I read a very strong text - such as Mein Kampf - and immediately become the book's robot slave.

I have read Mein Kampf.  I read it when I was 14.  And I was very affected by it.  I decided it was obviously written by an extremely loony and yet obsessive person who possessed a rather disturbing depth of design along his one obscenely fixed frame of reference.  The book is frightening only in one degree: is it absurdly passionate.  It is not, however, the cursed video tape in the Ring.

But I get people all the time who pull out the old M.K. in this argument, the scary M.K., that has so obviously drawn us all into the destructive void, since at no time in history before the creation of that evil book were there crimes or mass slaughterings or war or racism or any of the other boogeymen we keep in the closet to remind us of the terrible responsibility we possess when we create anything.

Another creator is not responsible for me and my actions.  It is this way because I have no interest in allowing it to be any other way.  It is my responsibility to allow what will affect me.

It is there that the whole argument collapses.  It's only validity exists in my inability to view the world from another person's point of view - and thereby to imagine that I have power over others, simply because I am self-aware of my perspective and no other.  This makes it easy to convince myself that I am powerful and that all others are easily seduced and motivated by that power.

It is all nonsense.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Illusionist Spell Use & Acquisition

I feel I am getting closer to specifically defining how a spell works in a character's mind as well as in within the structure of my rules.  The description below corresponds to all my classes - it is only that the content below has been taken from my recently reworked illusionist page.

Unlike other systems, illusionists in my world cannot change or alter their spells daily. The list of spells they possess for their characters are the only spells those characters understand. Thus they must choose carefully at each level, then make the best use of the spells they possess as they can. Like a fighter able to use only a specific list of weapons & skills, the illusionist (and any other spellcaster) is only able to use a specific list of spells.

After casting a spell (or cantrip, for it is true in the case of both), the illusionist must spend a period of time in concentration and study before the spell can be cast again. This is often referred to as 'memorization,' but more accurately it is an ordering of the mind. When the spell is cast, the mind is disordered and much energy is expended. This is sometimes wrongly called 'forgetting' the spell. In fact it is simply that the discipline necessary to recast has been lost. Because of so much energy lost, the illusionist must rest for at least six hours before the necessary time can be taken to discipline the mind again, in the precise manner needed. This process is sometimes called 'learning the spell.'

To an outsider, it really does seem as though the illusionist must relearn the spell every day through memorization, before forgetting the spell again. However, these are the simple-minded explanations given to spellcasting by those who are incapable of truly understanding it.

The illusionist need not take steps to reorder the same spell every day; once compartmentalized in the mind, it is not lost until the spell is actually cast. Thus the unused spell remains locked in the illusionist's mind, unless some damage is caused to the brain that would result in the loss of the spell (an injury that would damage the illusionist's memory or some form of madness). Otherwise, the spell remains fixed until the necessary key words are concentrated upon, 'freeing' the spell. This freeing process is called 'casting.' The process of then letting go of the spell (causing it to enact itself) is called 'discharging.'

Casting a spell and unlocking the mass of knowledge about that spell is the process by which energy is gained from the surrounding environment and pulled into the illusionist, providing the necessary power to transform the physical universe in the manner for which the spell has been created.

As a method to enable the concentration and reordering of the spell, the symbols and words are stored on books and scrolls, to which the illusionist must have access. As having a large number of spells and cantrips can take a lot of space, many higher level illusionists acquire several books or scrolls that they keep in various cases - however, as a group, these are jointly called a 'spellbook' - largely because every low-level illusionist begins with just one small book sufficient to keep records for a few cantrips and 1st level spells. As more spells and cantrips are gained, however, inevitably another book is purchased - or if bookbinding is rare in a region and difficult to obtain, scrolls will be used in a book's place.

Spellbooks and scrolls are measured by 'quires,' a measurement that most would associate with 16 book pages - if the book is 9 inches by 12 inches in size. Changing the size of the book page would change the number of spells and cantrips that could be written on a given page . . . so rather than count the space needed to write a spell or cantrip by 'pages,' quires are used.

A single cantrip will require 1/32 of a quire. A given spell level would require 1/16 of a quire. Thus a 3rd level spell would require 3/16 of a quire. As books in the equipment system are priced and measured by the number of quires they contain, the size of a spellbook the player buys at the start of the campaign determines how long it will be before there is no more space and another book or scroll is required. Take note that in gaining several spells and cantrips at a given level, this space can be used up quickly - and it is often true that a low level illusionist can't afford more than a small, cheap book at first level due to available funds.

As space is required, an illusionist's spellbook may include a group of books which are tied together with string or stored in a box—or even several boxes. A very large spell book can have as many as 14 quires, large enough for a 26th level illusionist. Such a book would be very heavy and expensive.

Copying spells from one book to another is entirely possible if the illusionist knows the spell, but the process will become quite expensive in terms of magical ink. For game purposes, the cost of inscribing a new spell gained from levels - the first time - into the illusionist's spellbook is suspended (simply because I do not wish to punish players for going up a level!). I generally presume that the illusionist has been carefully obtaining just enough magical ink to inscribe their book (through the donations of persons well-met or guilds) without this acquisition being noted on their character sheets. Elective spell copying, however, will require the cost of materials to achieve.

It is presumed that while the character is at a certain level and able to cast those spells they understand, they are reflecting upon and considering other spells that they partly understand (due to their original training and insight) until such time as they achieve a level and the necessary epiphany needed to finally understand how those spells work has been acquired. This epiphany is the result of having gained enough experience.

If a spellbook were destroyed, it would be very difficult and expensive for an illusionist to re-gather their spells together again. While the illusionist could simply write out any spells that were still ordered in mind (a process of unlocking the spell without discharging), finding copies of spells that were not ordered (but which the illusionist would understand upon seeing) could require much searching and expense - plus the cost of materials.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Map Key

I just have a few minutes before getting my campaign started.  I finally completed the map key for my elevation maps, such as this one here, for those who may be interested.  Much more involved than might be expected.  I've given the code for red (R), green (G) and blue (B) microsoft color formatting for those who might wish to duplicate the scheme I use for designing their own maps in Publisher.

Sorry for the blurriness; but see the link above.
The wiki gives it plenty of clarity.

As Hard As I Can Throw

Speaking only for my campaign, mind . . . there's no chance whatsoever that I would ever adopt the proposal suggested in the previous post.  It isn't a prejudice.  It isn't that I'm old school.  It isn't even that I feel it isn't 'fun' for people who want to play the game that way.

My issues run deeper.

Has the reader ever played baseball for a company league or at a family reunion where it was generally agreed that the pitcher had to throw underhand?  Where it was also agreed that throwing the ball too hard was unfair?  Where people were permitted four strikes instead of three, for the sake of everyone having a good time?  No?

I have.  Uncle Irving is getting along in years and can't hit the ball like he used to . . . but he's a rich farmer and half the participants are in line for Uncle Irving's money in a few years, so whatever - if old Uncle Irving wants thirty strikes, he's going to get them.

Because that's where this sort of thinking goes.  It's the sort of thinking that lowers the badminton net or shortens the distance for bowls; the sort of thinking that demands the better player to sacrifice a rook or a knight before the game starts; the sort of thinking that invented tee-ball so that two-year-old children could experience the thrill of hitting a standing object with a bat.  It is the sort of thinking that says the game doesn't really matter . . . only 'fun' matters.

I've always wondered about this, since in my experience none of these games are much fun at all.  I feel no sense of victory if I've defeated an opponent that was down a rook from the start.  When the distance for bowls gets short enough, I feel like a fool tossing a ball ten feet.  When the baseball game mitigates the rules degree by degree - until I'm being railed against by a family member for selfishly swinging for the fences when Aunt Ruby is in right field - then no, I'm not having any fun.

Ever watch a two-year-old play tee-ball?  They have to be told to swing, then they have to be told to run after the ball has fallen off the post.  Then the poor little tyke is shouted at again, when they've forgotten which direction they're supposed to run - so dad shoves the fellow in the right direction and he sort of stumbles towards another man on the base who is beckoning him to "Come on, come on!"  The tyke's face is a picture of bewilderment, as intimidated he finally reaches his destination as parents laugh and cackle in the stands about how "cute" the little darling is between declaring, "Aw, the darling doesn't know where to go!"

Is the darling having fun?  He doesn't look it.  The parent at first base has to keep pulling him back onto the bag whenever he tries to wander away, keeping him corralled  - where he stays unhappily, since he has no idea what's happening.  Surprised that he's being shouted at again, he turns, falls down - gets a belly laugh from the audience and a round of applause as he wobbles to his feet again - then he's off to second base, as confused as ever.

Watching this sort of thing repeated, I cannot help but think hell keeps a whole tee-ball level where participants are made to play in perpetuity without any understanding why or how it matters.

This is my problem with circumventing rules about distribution or reward for the sake of 'fun' or ensuring that player entitlement to rise up a level every two or three sessions is ensured.  It isn't a reward any more.  It isn't even a measure of relative game play.  After all, what if the characters never went up?  What if the level was perpetually 5th, without any experience whatsoever?  Would it mean there were no goals to fulfill?  No achievements?  No threat from battle?  No reason to play?

Or is it possible, just possible, that we could all agree not to care about levels?  Suppose the game simply had no sense of improvement, the players just acted upon their agency or in the stories the DM fabricated . . . would it be any less of a game?

For after all, going up levels only means the monsters grow harder, the options grow wider, the plethora of weapons and magic increases and the challenges more difficult to face.  In effect, the balance remains.  Play as a 5th level forever or as a 15th level forever, the sense of overcoming obstacles, solving problems and achieving triumph would be the same, would it not?

What is it that makes the level matter?  Is it the entitlement of knowing that it is owed to us for agreeing to play?  Is it the change it will bring to the campaign?  Or is it the sense of finally reaching something through suffering, anguish and pain, uncertain that it even could be reached, after an indeterminate time, perhaps a time that has been long in coming?

What sense of achievement is cousin Levin getting if he needs five swings to hit the ball?  Or is it that  Levin's issue is the inevitable decay of the flesh, the stark cold reality that he's 55 now and every reminder of it brings a painful sorrow.  Is it that Levin, no longer playing in college when his body was strong and he had the freedom to practice, hasn't quite learned any lessons about acknowledging his limitations and coming to terms with them.  It isn't so much the 'fun' Levin expects to have . . . it is the removal of his disappointment, the temporary appeasement of his reality, the removed reminder of his inevitable death that demands that one extra swing and the pitcher's halting slow steps towards the poorly hit in-field grounder that Levin needs.

I don't want to give experience away simply for the sake of succoring my player's sense of dissatisfaction with how little time they have to participate in my world.  I run my world for the players, yes, but to provide opportunities for ambition and for their reclamation, not for the sake of charitable pity.  I would feel dirty to give experience simply because it was Tuesday and they had managed to find a sitter.  I would feel a little disgusted at a player that pouted and wallowed because it had been six runnings and the player still hadn't gone up, which was even worse now because the player had to head out to the company plant for the next two months and was going to miss everything!  I don't want to hear myself saying patronizingly, "Well, okay, you've been a good girl . . . here's 2,000 x.p."

I'm not interested in players whose attention span depends upon advancement.  If I had a player who felt it wasn't worth making plans to attend my campaign because recently there hadn't been much opportunity for experience and treasure, since the party had chosen a safer course that did not guarantee it, then I would show that player the door.  I do as much as anyone to ensure chances for gain and triumph, but I run a world based on player agency, not player entitlement.  If the players don't go up levels, then by gawd and bloody turnips that is their fault and the die's fault and not mine.

I run a world.  I place things in it, I introduce the people and show the pathways.  I provide the hooks and manage the strange happenstance that drives tension, hilarity and drama.  I fill the coffers that pour out when the coffers are found and I put the monsters and other things between the players and coffers when necessary.

But I guarantee nothing.  Zilch.  The party misjudges the enemy or rolls a string of bad numbers and that is going to be the ball game.  Three strikes, that is all anyone gets, and yes, get ready because the pitches are going to be overhand and as hard as I can throw.  There ain't no packed lunch, there ain't no sympathy in the big city, there ain't no sanity clause and nobody rides for free.

If that ain't the way my players want to play, then they can go head on down to the WOTC clubhouse and have it all handed to them, with gravy on it.  Down there, they can learn to suck eggs with grammie.  Up here in the big leagues, however, we play for keeps . . . and if you lose your bee-swirl pee-wee aggie, that's just too damn bad.

We want no casual players 'round here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

An X.P. Proposal

Allow me to say, first of all, that this post is not intended to be sarcastic or mocking.  I mean what I say.  I would not take the position suggested alone for my own campaign, but I offer this as an idea to deal with a social issue that some apparently seem to have.

Something said by Carl Nash on the last post caught my attention:

"I don't care too much one way or the other about rate of PC level advancement, but my players do... and it is not uncommon at all for several sessions to go by without a combat as the PCs are busy doing all kinds of other things in my world. With our schedules leading to infrequent sessions, if I leveled up by the book there would be basically no advancement at all for years of real life at a time."

Personally, I have never experienced this 'busy-ness.'  The most time-intensive period of my life was when I was going to university, holding down a job, raising my 5-year-old daughter and taking care of my physically-impaired spouse.  This included attending classes, studying, taking my daughter to school, bringing her home, cooking and cleaning the house, putting my wife to bed at night and working day shifts in a restaurant when I was not at school.  I had help, of course; two sets of grandparents to help look after my daughter and a part-time nurse to give my wife her meals twice during the day and keeping her clean and healthy.

And I still ran D&D.  Hell, I would have gone mad without that release.

But I do understand that people can't or more precisely won't adjust their schedules if it challenges the possibility of promotion, acquisition or perceived responsibility to a child's sports or academic advancement.  I grew up in a time when my participation in sports happened in the immediate community, which could be enabled by walking to the rink, pitch or diamond, where we would gather to be driven to visitor games in three or four cars.  I know that today every parent takes every child individually in a separate car to a game and that many such activities that used to exist in every neighborhood now demand journeys of up to fifty miles or more by car.  Moreover, the helicopter-mentality in the raising of children has meant that parenthood is by far a more time-intensive activity than it was for my parents or for me.

So I won't judge or condemn.  You and your players, for whatever reason, are condemned by circumstance.

I propose, however, that rather than attempting to link experience-for-play to some artificial standard of game play, that the experience should be directly linked to the actual time that the player spends attending the campaign.

Theoretically, any DM could establish that the experience gained by the players for their characters should be equal to 10 points per level per minute of playing the game.  This would mean that a first level fighter needing 2,000 xp (sorry, I'm perpetually stuck in e1) would need to play for 3 hours and 20 minutes in order to advance to second level; it would then take 1 hour and 40 minutes to advance to 3rd, 2 hours and 13 minutes of play to advance to 4th, 4 hours and 10 minutes to advance to 5th and so on.

Thus, the players, regardless of what activity they participated in, combat, gaining treasure, talking the green swamp monster into helping the town build its walls, whatever, would be rewarded for just showing up.  No other specific behaviour would be required.  This would enable the participants in the campaign to consciously be aware that their failure to attend would mean definitively falling behind others in the group - and yet they would know that by adjusting their schedules somewhat, two or three runnings would advance their characters at least one level.

Of course, once passing 5th level the time necessary to advance each level according to the arithmetic I've proposed would get quite lengthy - but undoubtedly an exponential increase of some kind, which the individual could work out for their own campaign, would solve that problem.

As I say, not meant sarcastically.  If advancement is this important and circumstances for play all that unfriendly, then why not just tie the experience level to the level of participation?