Thursday, December 29, 2016

We Want Happy Players

I have recently found that it is supposed that I am inflexible where it comes to character generation ~ that once a player chooses, say, where their stats go, what their proficiencies are or what spells they might want to use, that's it, the player's decision is set in stone ~ no matter what.

First of all, I rush to say this isn't true.  I am more than flexible where it comes to player's character decisions, because I want the player to be happy.  An unhappy player will quickly lose interest in a game.  An unhappy player will fret and complain, and ultimately stop being in the game.  There is no percentage in making a player unhappy.

That is why I am more than willing to let characters swap around their stats, their decisions about what weapons they'll use and what spells they want up until the last moment before they actually join the game.  They should feel that if they have miscalculated or misunderstood some rule, that they have the right to redress the situation.  I have always felt this way.  If the character's weapon proficiency is too expensive, and the character wants to change that proficiency, then DO.  It is no skin off my nose.

Why should it be?  I am not invested with characters having such-and-such a wisdom or such-and-such a weapon.  They're all available and they can all be chosen ~ or not chosen, as the case may be.  None of them will ultimately guarantee the survival of the character . . . though yes, some will certainly detract from it.

This goes Double for situations where the rules are in flux ~ the sage abilities, for example.  Here the characters are guessing at what will work for them in the long run from a list that, for the most part, is fairly crude.  I am forever working on these damn things, the range of possibilities are vast and it is inevitable that I will have fallen short somewhere in both description and invention.  I still haven't got sage abilities at all for the monk and bard, whereas for most of the classes they are outlines at best.

Which means I must be considerate, here.  I want happy players.  I don't intend to get gamed by a player who chooses one set of sage abilities for one adventure, then tries to set themselves up with a different set for a different adventure.  But at the same time, prior to the start of the game, any decision regarding any part of the character's creation can be reconsidered.  After the start of the game, well . . . I will take that on a case-by-case basis.  I have allowed characters to choose different spells or shift other details, particularly in situations where I have made changes.

For example, a few years ago I rewrote all my mage and illusionist cantrips.  I added quite a few interesting ones and threw out a few from the old days.  Once I finished, I allowed all the casters affected to change re-choose their cantrips from scratch.  That was only fair.

That's how it goes sometimes.  The rules change and everyone gets a clean slate.

Hey, we're all just doing our best and it is only a game.  It might help not to embrace some image of me that I'm an uncompromising martinet.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Lurker's Corner ~ A Cold Examination of the Barrow Fight

Here we are, Monday again, and there haven't been many posts on the blog this past week.  At the same time, I am thinking sincerely of making the Lurker's Corner a regular thing . . . but perhaps once a week is too often.  There were many, many comments on the post last Monday, however, and that is encouraging.

I did say a week ago that I would wait until the combat was over before making any personal comments about what I felt had gone wrong with the party.  We only managed to get three rounds accomplished since then . . . but with Gudbrand dead, as Rowan slides into unconsciousness and both Aleksandra and Lothar likely to be attacked by two or three beetles each, things have gone far enough that I don't think any of my comments right now can seriously change the party's situation.

Let me just say that as I write this, it is round 11 and I'm waiting for Aleksandra to make a move and end the party's action for the round.  I hope to publish this after that move is made, so that the players are locked into whatever the 12th round might bring.  But I'm going to publish as soon as I'm done.

As the DM here, I have the benefit of knowing what the party was about to meet, so in many ways what I might say about their "errors" could be construed as unfair.  After all, I did not need to throw 12 beetles at them.  I could have thrown 6 or 3.  Moreover, I could have set up the "dungeon" so that the party had plenty of time to get down the makeshift rope together, even plan a strategy before they got attacked.

I didn't, however.  I didn't think about how the party might react.  I thought what might conceivably make a home for itself in a barrow in Norway; I began with the premise that it ought to be something that could dig up from below, since the top of the barrow would be all stone.  Once I decided upon beetles, primarily because it was an opportunity for the party to harvest the nodes on the beetles' for coin, I decided that given that it was Spring, the weather would be moderately warmer and that they would have begun to lay their eggs.  I envisioned four pits, and decided an average of three beetles per pit would be fair.

I decided that one pit would attack up front, once provoked, rolling 2-4 beetles appearing.  Then, each round following, I would roll a d6 to see if the beetles from the other pits joined in.  The first round, each pit would join on a 1; the round thereafter the pit would join on a roll of 1-2, then 1-3, then 1-4, as long as it took.

As it happened, one other pit joined in with the 3rd round after Aleksandra woke the first beetles, in round 4; then the other two pits woke together the round after, round 5.

I want to emphasize that what follows is only my opinion about how the players should have handled the situation.  But let's also be clear; I have done nearly a hundred combats with players since developing these movement rules about 8 years ago, some of those combats ridiculously huge.  I have noticed some patterns in that time.

Here are some issues I think are worth addressing:

Online Thinking

I'd don't know what else to call this.  Now that I've started some twenty people in my online campaigns, I have to wonder what sort of worlds that people run in.  Knowing that you have limited resources, and knowing that you WILL get other proficiencies in the future, why oh why would you not take a club as a proficiency?  Why would you presume that because it isn't on the market list that a club is something that can't be made?

First and foremost, why would the ranger choose to put his highest stat under charisma, particularly since his age would have assure an 18 strength, with +1+2 bonuses, if he hadn't decided to throw the 17 away on a fairly useless stat for a ranger to have.  Surely, a 13 would have been sufficient!

Similarly, why would a low-level assassin choose bolas as a proficiency?  Not a dagger?  Not an easy to find weapon, or one that would suit the environment?  There is a reason that bolas developed on the Pampas, a big, open plain, with very few trees, rocks or objects between hurler and target.  I've noticed that there's something strange about people's choices ~ put something strange on the list and players will be drawn to it like a moth to a bug-zapper . . . only to get killed by it, just like a moth.  Given that the bolas couldn't even be purchased in the present circumstances of the assassin, assigning this as a proficiency, when the assassin would have gotten another one after three levels, makes no sense.

But it is the sort of decision I've gotten used to seeing online people make.  At least the sort of mistake Gudbrand made, failing to buy weapons, is a mistake I've seen live people make.  But in all my playing of D&D, right back into the the 80s, I've never seen players make the kind of choices I see them make online. This goes double when we get to the battle sequence, below.

Failure to Take Advantage of Resources

Let's start with the players who decided that they absolutely would not hire their men-at-arms.  It stated clearly in the background generator that these people were friends!  Dani's started with the thoroughly great morale of only 6, meaning that on a 2d6 she had a 27 out of 36 chance of being willing to die for Dani in a bad situation. 

But the 6 g.p. was too high a price, given that Dani had only 10 to her name.  Nevermind that Gudbrand could have easily afforded it (he had 70 g.p.) or Rowan (who had 190 g.p.).  Lothar had a harder decision ~ the morale of his friends would not have be as well as Dani's, and the men-at-arms were more expensive.  Still, one of them would have been useful for a dungeon, given that they were sappers, and therefore could have managed getting in on their own.  As well, they would have spent the 24 g.p. on some equipment of their own, something I would have thought to bring even if the party did not.

And let us not forget that Engelhart's older sister would have worked for FREE.

Two extra men in the battle could have made a real difference . . . at least one of them could have hauled on the rope, dragging people up, so that they didn't have to climb once they were all inside.

It was argued that the party was very short of funds, but there was Engelhart's boat just sitting there in the harbor, worth hundreds of gold, while Lothar had access to 450 g.p. in stolen furs.  All I said about those was that it wouldn't be a good idea to sell them in Stavanger.  Did the party not consider selling them someplace else?  Someplace that it would have been relatively safe to get to, without being attacked viciously by a dozen monsters?

And what about Engelhart's family, where is says on his background that "friends of the character will be treated well"?  Did the party not think this would mean they could get fed?  I made sure that Engelhart's grandfather gave the party some presents.  Why did no one think to approach the grandfather and ask for an axe or something?  I would have probably given an old battle axe, good damage and break on a 1 in 4 if dropped.  But no one even asked. Lothar could have holed up there for a week, surely ~ "treated well" would certainly have included nursing his ills!

Failure to Read or Comprehend Description

I have to believe this has everything to do with how other people run their games.  I had made it fairly clear before the party decided to go out to any of the barrows that I could make them more "interesting."  Has no one heard the [erroneously attested] Chinese curse?  How clear do I have to make it?  Should I have said, "Oh, I'm sure I can put things in the barrows fully capable of killing you"?  Do I have to make it that clear?

But the assassin dove in first without any hesitation, despite a serious lack of proficient weapons.  Then there was an interesting disconnect, one which Aleksandra may not have understood.

Initially, she said that "Once everyone is down who wishes to be down, I toss a rock towards the red glow." [The Barrow's Entrance]

This is a difficult phrase, one which I always encourage players NOT to use.  See, as a DM, I never, ever, assign any importance to what a player says they "will" do.  Planning to do something is not the same as doing, and in order to keep order at the table I don't presume that anyone does anything until they state clearly that they ARE doing something.  Which Aleksandra does, in the next post:

"Alright.  I toss one of my rocks towards 1008." [Under the Barrow]

With all the confusion that has gone on with the previous post, with players starting and stopping themselves from going down the twine, I started the next post on the campaign so that it would be understood that only two actual people were DOWN: Aleksandra and Lothar.  I stated that Aleksandra could hear nothing, adding that the sound of her heart in her ears was "the loudest sound you can hear."

I don't know why she presumed that there was nothing to be frightened of at that point.  It got confusing, with Engelhart somehow thinking he could see Aleksandra (when it was clear from the image that he wasn't in the room), as well as Engelhart, Gudbrand and Rowan all indicating in three successive posts that they assumed were all down the rope, even though I had not told any of them that they were, even going so far as explaining that they had weapons out and were ready.

This was absolutely profound to me.  I had explained the rope/twine situation, had explained that it would take rounds of time to get down, had shown in an image that only Lothar and Aleksandra were in the room.  But presuming all three had read Aleksandra's post about throwing the rock, they ALL seemed to suppose that the world would stop spinning on its axis long enough for them to all climb down the twine (2 rounds for each) before anything would actually happen in the room.

This sort of thing is so frustrating.  I said there was a glowing in the room, then ignored the party hauling out torches because there was no need for them.  Once the party was out of the sunlight, the glow from the four pits was more than enough to see inside ~ but I didn't make this clear enough and that fault is on me.

And worst of all, in the midst of trying to explain all the confusion to the players, I completely missed that Lothar had pulled his bow and made it ready to use.  So, as a matter of fact, I owed Lothar a bow shot in the first round of the beetles appearing.  Unfortunately, Lothar took my mistake as a DM's ruling [which he shouldn't have], so that he stated again in round 1 that he was loading his bow, when he should have been screaming at me that his bow was already loaded, stated clearly in the previous post.

After all, when I was bitch-slapping the three people who were still up-top, Lothar was in the room and did have plenty of time to load the bow.  Therefore, I wasn't speaking to him at all ~ something that would have been obvious, had we all been sitting around a table.  But we weren't, we were trying to do this in text, and in the interest of saving everyone's time, the whole comment thread became a nightmare.

Would Lothar's bow shot have made a difference?  Possibly.  We'll never know.  I make mistakes, I totally discounted that shot, Lothar assumed I was on top of it so he didn't bitch-slap me and the shot was lost.

It is difficult to run this game in voice; it is insane to do it in text.  The only thing I can do is to try to browbeat people into understanding HOW to communicate, one step at a time, not saying what they'll do in advance of someone else doing something, but to concentrate on exactly what they do right NOW and at no other time. The failure to grasp this definitely led to a lot of misunderstandings, and those misunderstandings led to big trouble when the battle got started.

The Party's Inexplicable Choices

First, I want to explain that the party had LOTS of hit points.  Look at the hit point damage from the end of the beetles' attack in Round 11: the party has taken 77 damage and three of them are technically still on their feet.  Even with the inexhaustible supply of bad luck experienced by the party, it is clear from the potential damage they could take that they had a deep, deep well from which they could expend hit points, waiting for things to get better.

Why didn't things get better, then?

Well, start with Gudbrand from Round 2.  He had disappeared most of the day, I was anxious to keep the campaign going, so I rolled a d20 for him and caused him to hit and kill the beetle in front of him.

This led to a bunch of unnecessary self-recrimination, that simply could have been overlooked.  Instead, it caused the player behind Gudbrand to indicate that he was running out of the combat, apparently hiding behind Aleksandra, rather than just attacking one of the two beetles remaining.  Who knows!  That attack might have hit ~ and even if it didn't, Gudbrand just being there in front of the beetle, giving the beetle something to hit other than Aleksandra.  But by taking himself out of the battle for Round 3, he basically crippled the party's combat strength by 50%.

Then he does it AGAIN in Round 4, deciding that the right thing to do is abandon the party completely, because he's busy with his real life and had chosen not to "burden" the party by staying behind and helping them live.  And this in the face of seeing right there on the screen that the party has just acquired 4 new enemies.  I didn't know what he was doing for sure, but I suspected: it was only when, in Round 5 he actually declared he was leaving the barrow, that I had evidence ~ whereupon I threatened to dump his cowardly ass out of the campaign, causing him to suddenly decide that maybe he better carry his own weight.  By then, of course, four rounds of damage dealing or taking had been lost, since even in Round 6 he hasn't made an attack.

Which brings us to Engelhart, who got onto the floor of the barrow in Round 4, at the same time those beetles appeared.  And what does he do?  Does he rush right over and help Lothar kill the beetle that is right there, within reach?  No, he rushes for "higher ground," where he'll have to wait a whole round (in which time he is totally useless) before he can get a mere +1 bonus.  Meanwhile, Lothar misses, and is now the only target that can be hit by the beetle in front of him.  Engelhart could have been right there to perhaps soak up some of that damage, but he isn't, he's well away from any danger.

In Round 4 the players seem to be working together ~ for what it is worth, ganging up on one beetle.  But while Rowan could have thrown his club at the oncoming beetles, he instead decides to spend all his movement accomplishing nothing that round.  He had a spear!  Why didn't he throw the club and fight with the spear?  At the same time, Lothar and Engelhart turn their backs on the oncoming beetles, when a hammer could have been thrown ~ except that the cleric took a maul as a 1st level weapon, in a forested/cave land, making about as much sense as a bolas.

At least they hit the beetle.  And no great problem, since the beetles don't have enough move to attack them anyway, so they can easily turn around and just fight.

Except . . . they don't!  Lothar continues to keep his back to the four beetles attacking, in order to kill that one that's been hit before, presumably because it will be easier to kill.  Do they teach this sort of maneuver in military school?

Meanwhile, Aleksandra attacks and then retreats, ensuring that Lothar has no support at all, since Engelhart has done the same.  Thus, when the beetles move in, they split the party in half, since of course they rush into the empty pocket the party created.

Now, this sort of thing has nothing whatsoever to do with bad rolls.  This is just horrendously bad tactics ~ but it gets better.

Engelhart widens the gap still further by continuing to back up, so that as Lothar does the same he still doesn't have anyone at his back and there's still a gap.  Meanwhile, Gudbrand is front and center, the first and best target in front of the beetles, where his +1 defense looks pretty pathetic.  And since Engelhart is at the back of this mess, the one fellow with the most hit points at this point has put himself where he is threatened by only one beetle.

In Round 7, both Gudbrand and Lothar are predictably stunned ~ they're the most vulnerable characters.  Engelhart doesn't get attacked at all, so that the weight of the next round is certain to fall on Rowan, who has nowhere to move the stunned Gudbrand except in front of the beetles.  Engelhart is totally blocking the party's retreat by sitting in the totally useless fullback position.  The party is in huge trouble right now, with only two real defenders, both three hexes apart.

Then Rowan, beyond inexplicable, ignores the four beetles in front of him to again turn around and attack a beetle that Engelhart can absolutely handle.  Why?  I have no idea.  This blows my mind . . . particularly as it means he and Gudbrand will be swarmed by five beetles the following round.  

Then, while Engelhart moves towards Lothar and Aleksandra ~ presumably to close the hole ~ he creates another one, totally abandoning Rowan and Gudbrand at this very critical moment.  And again, the cleric manages to get himself into a position where he will experience only one attack in round 8.

This is so consistent it is almost hard to believe it isn't deliberate; I don't think it is, though.  Engelhart floats all over the battlefield, however, and either by luck or intention keeps avoiding being in the thick of it.  And while he may not have wanted to keep avoiding being attacked, he certainly never rushes forward to risk all to hold the party together!  He's in the center for three rounds and yet he's never in the thick of it.

So, in Round 8, the inevitable happens.  Gudbrand gets his ass kicked all over, leaving Rowan with his ass hanging out.  But instead of saving Rowan by attacking the beetles in front of the druid, the ranger rushes over and stands over Gudbrand's practically dead body (-8 is pretty much out of the question), while Engelhart plainly runs away from the center position to attack the lone beetle that Rowan hit two rounds ago.  And, making my jaw drop, Lothar also ignores the threat to Rowan and attacks that beetle as well.  But at least the ranger is using his body as a shield.

Now, I don't know how Engelhart feels about this.  Perhaps there is some logic here ~ but the fact is, he's completely avoiding being attacked by the beetles between Rowan and Aleksandra, while both Engelhart and Lothar abandon Aleksandra completely.  

I think perhaps the continuous missing had a psychological effect.  Certainly, by this time the Lurker's Corner post had gone up last week and everyone was talking on the campaign as if hitting was "impossible," so why even try?  That was a very bad head space to get into.

With the tactics employed, there was no chance of this going good places.  Aleksandra is surrounded by beetles in Round 8, Lothar and Rowan are getting swamped by the other five beetles and Engelhart is, once again, conveniently out of the struggle.  All those hit points that Engelhart has, that could help others not be stunned, are just sitting there.

Rowan runs out of luck in Round 9, Lothar also.  Now it is totally up to Engelhart to hold the line; Aleksandra, getting really lucky this round, realizes that she has to get back to where others can help her.

And now, seeing what Engelhart does, there's no question in my mind.  He walks away from Lothar, leaving the ranger to be attacked by 3 beetles, while retreating to a place where he has only one beetle to face.  How many ways are there to interpret that?

Round 10.  Gudbrand dies, but its a good thing, because three beetles begin to feast on his corpse.  This gets them out of the fight altogether.  Yay.  Aleksandra, who did not get supported by Engelhart moving Lothar into 0910 and taking the brunt of the attack at last, is now attacked by four different beetles.  Of course she is hit twice, miraculously making a check and remaining conscious.

Desperate now, Lothar overbears the beetle between him and the rope out of this hell-place, succeeding and using the beetles eating Gudbrand as a shield to try and get out.  All he needs is for Engelhart to step up, try to kill the beetle he's just moved or at least keep the beetle engaged long enough to let Lothar escape . . .

But Engelhart doesn't.  Instead, Engelhart uses this golden opportunity to flee completely out of the battle, ostensibly to cast a healing spell for 5-8 points.  Of course, the party is easily losing double that per round from the beetles attacking, and they'll all be dead by the time the cleric gets his spell off, but that's how it goes.  When all the beetles are feasting on everyone else, Engelhart will be in the perfect position to climb the rope and escape.

I'm sorry, but that is how I see this.  The party made huge tactical errors, repeatedly splitting themselves up when they could have been fighting together.  Gudbrand the assassin frittered, letting the real world intervene in his character choices, whereas Engelhart ~ by chance, by poor tactical decision or by sheer unwillingness to put himself in danger, perhaps because he lost the will to believe his die could roll above a 13 ~ wound up abandoning the party when his hit points would have increased the chances of everyone's survival.

Now, I don't want people to accept the above as fact.  I am one fellow, I'm not perfect.  I made several errors in running this game and was called out, justifiably, by all the characters, including the fellow behind Engelhart.  I'm just as capable as anyone of misinterpreting something.  Don't let my position as DM or blog-owner discourage you from telling me I'm wrong [politely, without name-calling, if you would be so kind].

Reading this in 2022, it turns out that Engelhart had to be thrown out of the campaign specifically for the actions he performed here, in another fight.  Eventually, Engelhart's maneuverings got to be so consistently against the party, no matter what the party did, that he had to go.  If I ever encounter a player like this again, who plainly shows his cowardice in a fight, I won't wait before saying it plain: "Work with the party or get out."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Artist's Perspective

Continuing with the bard, we have Dani's post about "Art Effects in D&D."  Following the link, the reader can see that Dani has come up with a terrific effect of possible bardic effects.  This fit into a conversation Dani and I had about the bard's abilities acting like slow-effect spells: very long casting times (days or weeks) followed by long-lasting effects, like the kind she lists.

When I'm working on my various sage-ability tables, I am anxious not to duplicate abilities that already exist among the considerable list of spells, existing magic items, ability stats and in the background generator I've created (though there is intentional overlap with the latter in many cases).  Obviously, this isn't easy or even always possible ~ but that is the goal.  Moreover, I'm highly resistant to giving straight combat or ability stat bonuses for anything.  The combat system in the game is so fine-tuned, I don't want characters having the option to bully up on extra to-hit and damage modifiers, such as what happened with the development of super-classes in the 1980s before 2nd Edition, ultimately carried through all the editions that came after that were designed to create super-heroes instead of characters.

As such, those rules to which I've clung greatly thins down much of Dani's list.  I've got many elements already that add to morale (04); I don't want anything that fuels magic or resembles a magic item (06, 07, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40) or combat prowess (20, 50); it can't duplicate an actual spell (08, 15, 22, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 41, 42, 46, 47, 48, 49) or a character/class ability (09, 11, 12, 13); and certainly nothing that flat out adds to a character's experience (10).  I am somewhat uncomfortable with any effect that compels a character to betray a particular emotion (16, 17, 18, 19), as it is very hard to employ against a player character to the same degree as an NPC.  Those discarded things, however, are the lowest hanging fruit.  It is easy to give more bonuses to weapon damage or to offer another light source; what's wanted are truly original ideas, the sort that demand original rules.  In this Dani excels, regarding the rest of her list:

1 Increases happiness in 1 mi radius when accessible
2 Fires burn hotter in the vicinity
3 Plants flourish, harvest is especially fruitful (yield increased by 25%)
5 Revitalizes: when resting in its view, 1 extra hp/HD recovered
14 Shortens magical research time
21 Training times shortened
23 Shortens construction time
24 Increases the quality of metal goods produced nearby
25 Increases the quality of wooden goods produced nearby
26 Increases the quality of stone goods produced nearby
27 Mineral veins more fruitful - mine 25% more resources than usual
28 People get intoxicated more easily near the artwork
35 Animals attracted to the object
43 Holy: attempts to communicate with the Divines are more likely to succeed
44 Sacrosanct: Area within 50' of artwork is sacred ground (as a temple)
45 Unhallow: Area within 50' of artwork is unholy ground, providing benefits to undead creatures

We can group these things into types:  those that change the social climate (01, 28, 35); those that alter fixed nature  (02, 03, 24, 25, 26, 27); those that increase vitality (05, 14, 21, 23); and those that adjust the divine (43, 44, 45)

These are each things that are largely ignored by most role-playing incarnations.  Whereas "nature" is often influenced by spells or magic items, those changes are largely elemental in form, NOT commercial.  Plant growth says nothing about ripening crops or fruits, there is nothing written about making trees easier to cut down or to make stone softer and easier to carve and shape.  Yet this is what we want to concentrate upon, since we want to see the world as bards see it.  Splitting even stone blocks from the side of a mountain to make them useful as materials is much more important than changing rock to mud.  What good is mud to a bard?  What good is stone that has been twisted and shaped, if it loses the cleavage and luster that gives sculpture its vivaciousness?  A bard isn't interested in warping nature, a bard's goal is to enhance what already exists, to produce ease of expression and the greater capacity for bang and audacity.

In regards to social climate, why do people get more intoxicated near the artwork?  Is it the artwork, or is it really what the artwork affects groups of people together.  Here we need to think of the artwork as a song or a great poem, where the common room of a roadhouse grow closer together in the dim firelight, transformed from lonely individuals to a beloved collective through the words of the bard; where the intoxication that is obtained isn't a falling down drunk starting a bar fight, but three score people all incomprehensibly happy and soused to the gills.

What is "happy"?  How does that play in a game?  We have a tendency to think it means cutting the prices at the inn or maybe free stuff, but I think it is, rather, the willingness to give audiences to strangers, to find room at the inn where there is no room, to sacrifice a little self-comfort because another being is in distress.  It is the cleric, not being asked, seeing a character badly beat up and turning up to give an unsolicited cure spell; it is a bartender gently warning the party that the draft is much more intoxicating than they might think; it is the guards turning up, rounding up the party and then letting them go with a warning.  It is a dozen different ways to make people feel welcome and safe ~ exactly what every town in a D&D world never tries to do.

Why shouldn't a great artwork make people happy like that?  A cathedral, perhaps, or a great park in the middle of the town, where there are comfortable green lawns to lay upon near fresh water, designed by some bard interested in city planning (don't scoff, this was done often in many parts of the world as far back as three millenia ago).

We want to get out of the "spell/ability" framework in what a bard does.  We have other character classes to do those things.  The bard has to be different - has to fill a role that no other class can.  When we think of the abilities that a bard has, we have to stretch ourselves out of what's easy to create and try for what an artist would want, if an artist could transform the world the way a mage can.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Lurker's Corner - TPKs

Those of you who are watching the Juvenis Campaign at this time will not doubt have noticed that there is a total-party-kill in the offing.  There has been a lot of discussion there with the party kicking themselves for having made a few improvident decisions and having bad luck.

I hate at this time to heap abuse upon the participants, but another part of me says it is like deconstructing Boris Spassky's games against Bobby Fischer.  And so, coldly, I challenge the reader to explain what went wrong.

I have my own personal opinions, but I'll withold them until the combat ends (if the players don't bow out as a group in frustration ~ they seem pretty game, however).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Levels and Effects of Art

So, onto Dani's next bard post: Art within D&D.

About a decade ago, I began with the premise that Dani describes: that the object that a bard creates is a 'magical item.'  The character began producing a number of items and very quickly I found myself disliking the ability of characters to produce magic items at will; it simply gave them too much control over the world, in ways that challenged the risk and tension factors in the game.

At the time, however, I had not conceived of sage abilities or truly minor magical effects ~ the effects I awarded were battle friendly and that was the primary error.  Dani is right in her post when she describes 'softer' effects such as those coming from the Legendary Moonlight Sculptor.  She's right, as well, when she points out that the magical effect ought to diminish ~ I had not incorporated that aspect, either, because I didn't think of that.  It would have solved a lot of the magical item on spigot problems that arose.

Still, while I am revisiting the magical concept once again, I have considerable reservations.  My sage abilities are built into four levels of expertise: amateur, authority, expert and sage.  Amateurs tend to possess knowledge and a little practical skill, but certainly nothing magical.  Authorities possess a lot of practical skill, but again, little or nothing that is magical.  It takes an expert to crack the magical ceiling, with the limitation that an expert can only create magic that others have created before.  It takes a sage to create magic that is thoroughly original.

As an example, let's suppose we are a gastronomic bard, that we are artists with food.  As amateurs, we know cooking techniques and we're very comfortable with the use of knives.  We might receive an automatic proficiency (over and above our class proficiencies) in knife (a knife does 1-3 damage; it is not a dagger).  We might also know enough about food that we can extend the value of the food ten or twenty percent, meaning that we would know how to get more food out of a pound of meat than an ordinary person, simply because we know better how to handle the product.  I can say from experience that a cook is easily able to do this in a number of ways, from preparation to managing spoilage.  Those who have been reading my Juvenis campaign can quickly understand how this, as a first level skill, would be of great value in a strapped first level party (since I am stingy about supplying money).  Certainly, none of this is magic.

With time, we become bardic authorities.  Our food is now amazing.  Members of the party, particularly followers, are more than ready to remain in our fellow party members' service because they get to eat at the table we create.  The next day, well sated on nutritiously created food, they're ready to work harder ~ and they're ready to work harder knowing that at the end of the day a good meal is on it's way.  Moreover, once we convince anyone to sit at our dinner table, making friends is much easier.  Local town mucky-mucks are conciliatory once we've had them over for dinner, we have many of them asking us for recipes and cooking advice, while certainly we're developing a local fame.  On top of this, we're finding new sources for food.  We're expanding into owlbear steaks, dragon egg soup and the remarkable sauce-stiffening qualities of properly rendered gelatinous cubes.  Still, no magic, but definitely pushing the boundaries of taste.

Then, after a lot more time, we're gastronomic experts in a magical world.  Now we're beginning to grasp all the possibilities of emotional and theoretical sustenance, something that does not end with just the stomach.  I am not speaking of potions ~ that is crass alchemy.  I am speaking of that which we consume that gives us the power to maintain life and produce growth, mentally as well as physically.  Not the making of strength for an hour, but a permanent gain in strength (albeit a lesser gain than a potion might grant) or intelligence.  We speak of the repair of charisma or constitutionally poor health, not as an instant cure but through consistent nourishment of body and soul.

As for our abilities as a sage . . . that may best be left to the imagination.  What might we truly to with a whole culture, where we can create national dishes that every person will eat at once, bringing them to the same thoughts, the same ideals, the same desired futures?

My first point, then, is a structured gain from level of ability that coincides with other classes; we cannot give the bard extra magical abilities at the start if we withhold the same level of magical ability from clerics, thieves and fighters.

From there, keeping with Dani's program, she produces a table for the effect length that artists of various levels are able to produce.  If I understand the table correctly, for the journeyman to produce a journeyman-level artwork, the time required is 2d6 days.  I can remember in the past producing tables exactly like this . . . but I'm steadily changing my perspective on these things.

Art is never finished, it is abandoned; and it is only abandoned when the artist grows exhausted with the art in question.  In my experience, artists never feel that something can't be improved . . . I could go back easily and rewrite my book, How to Run, then probably go back and write it again.  There are many artists who get caught in the trap of doing that, perpetually.  Therefore, it isn't a question of something taking 2 to 12 days to get something done ~ it is a question of the bard recognizing that it IS done.

Let us take a project that we, as gastronomic bards, want to 'perfect' ~ though as I've said, perfection is maddeningly impossible.  We have an idea of inventing a cake made from carrots, sugar and cinnamon.  I won't use Dani's criteria, I'll use my own, so again we are amateurs, about the level of Dani's apprentice.  This is the best food we can make, so we'll be experimenting for a maximum of 16 days.  We'll get rid of the random number of days and just say that it will take us 16 until it is impossible for us to improve on the cake.

Now, we may have made the best cake we can make with out ability on the 3rd day, but I've never met an artist who would be convinced that was the case, no matter how amazing it tasted.  As I said, the artist is forever convinced of doing better.  Therefore, we will taste that 3rd days' cake and think, "Fantastic!  I bet if I adjust the sugar and add a very little nutmeg . . . then try a few pecans . . . woah, that would make this!  I'll do that!"

This is what artists do. They bang their heads against things.

So, do we abandon the effort after 16 days, when it is obvious we're out of ideas?  Have you met an artist?  I would argue that after 16 days, the bard must start making wisdom checks to leave the problem alone, or else keep spending time and money on it, in a fervent obsession that the artist has no power to resist.  What are we doing when we get to the new town?  We're rolling that d20, failing, then rushing out to buy flour, spices and sugar again.  And spending another day banging our heads against that wall.

Until, of course, we have the breakthrough when we reach authority status (journeyman) . . . and then, following Dani's table, we can now cheerfully spend 3d10 months working on that cake, knowing we're making real progress.  At this point, we're not just cooking carrots, we're growing them ourselves and exploring avenues of crossbreeding carrots to get the best possible starch out of the vegetable.  And in turn, the cake is having wonderful effects on others.

Of course, it can be argued that the effects are felt by others according to the random schematic that Dani proposes.  The carrot cake we made on the 3rd day DID have a great positive effect upon the eaters.  But we bards being bards, we don't make that cake again because we go off on a tangent cooking up failures for two weeks before coming back around to what worked.  We're not convinced until we have to abandon our work.

Seeing it this way, we need to conceive of greater artworks as specific projects that a player chooses ~ not just a plethora of songs and recipes.  This plethora is there, we can cook whatever we want, we have that knowledge.  We can make your steak however you want it . . . but that's just process.  The real fascination we have is for that damn carrot cake ~ the carrot cake that will change the world.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Bard and Three Paths

I hope everyone wants to read about the bard for a while.  I'm going to be discussing Dani's content on the bard ~ not to disparage, but to tailor the information there for my world, specifically.  In general, this is what I expect everyone does with the content I create; I think it a healthy, useful way to apply ideas to a game world while at the same time personalizing our play.

As Dani did, I suppose I should talk about what music is like in the 1650s . . . but not the actual 1650s, she's completely right on those points and, being an expert, I don't dispute her points.  But my 1650 is not the real world, so I feel free to fudge on a lot of points.  This isn't new.  My world has no guns, though those were common in 1650.  My world also has knowledge of numerous chemical elements that were 'discovered' until the 1700s.  In fact, for chemistry, arguing that mages would be more diligent than their real-life, non-magical counterparts (and given that they're getting help from supernatural beings), I established the year 1800 as the measure for how far chemistry had progress (without, of course, allowing advances associated with gunpowder, munitions and other military sciences that I replace with magic).

We can, then, establish 1800 as the upper limit of musicology, also ~ and all the other arts besides.  Therefore, we can have the elevation of music to a supreme art form (at least, as near as Mozart gets, if not Beethoven) . . .  and at the same time, discount ballet as an option, since that did not really get started until after 1800.  I simply despise ballet, but we don't need to go into that now.

Like Dani, I feel we can propose three basic fields for music . . . and for many arts, both in and out of Europe:

  • The first path is, as Dani suggested, the folk performer.  These are creators who have as their primary audience the average groundling, as they were called in Shakespeare's day.  Being unsophisticated, artwork must be, for these people, a visceral experience ~ that is, affecting their inward feelings, essentially the 'gut.'  Artwork of this type can't be the sort that people have to think about in order to enjoy it.
  • The second path would be the contemplative performer.  These are creators who have as their primary audience themselves ~ and because of that sophistication, these are artists who would tend to produce something new.  Dani refers to this as the 'court-supported professional,' but many of these professionals had a great deal of trouble getting supported by a court and had to live in poverty and distress, hoping to find someone who would serve as a minor patron before a court would give any notice.  This kind of life is much easier in Arabia, Persia, India and Indo-China, as the climate and the institutionalization of begging in both the religion and the vast numbers of poor mean that an artist can more easily live a subsistance lifestyle than in Europe (or Japan and Northern China, for that matter).  In any case, the second path is naturally investigatory and intellectually compelling, as the artist is rarely satisfied with things that are purely gut-wrenching.
  • Finally, the third path is religious.  Not in the sense, I think, that Dani described. J.S. Bach and many others were something more than merely good church musicians, they were also deeply impassioned about their belief systems, being nearly clerics in their fervor or zeal.  Certainly this can be argued vehemently for many Eastern artists, who fanatically continue into this century to pursue fanatical artistic expression on a level that leaves the ordinary Westerner positively baffled:  .  Bards on this path have as their primary audience the gods ~ who do not mind that the art being created is fleeting, numbingly repetitive or obscure in the extreme.

I have been thinking that a bard needs to determine their primary artistic expression.  In retrospect, however, the choice of audience is critical for the artist to be expressive ~ and in determining what is the nature of that expression.  Furthermore, the effects of the art produced must also descend from the choice of audience, knowing that what can be done to move a group of patrons at the local roadhouse is quite a bit different from what can be expected to move the gods.

Working with the Tao

This is me at my place of work, prepping food for the line ~ never mind where.  A lot of it is really boring, since I'm not actually in the back, I'm cooking orders and carrying an incoming order downstairs and elsewhere.  But it serves to convey to some what sort of work I'm doing.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


I continue to stumble across posts about what a bard is or what a bard stands for ~ and sometimes I really feel that as a community we really ought to be past this now.

However, I think it is simply hard for people to wrap their heads around art being applicable to things.  We live in this strange, modern culture where art ~ at least, as we tend to see art ~ is a sort of distant happenstance that we use to fill up time when we are bored.

We're all so jaded ~ and for those who don't know what that word means, as I'm continually finding people now who don't, as the word has gone out of fashion, I'll explain.

To be "jaded" is to bored by the continual indulgence of something.  The word comes, not from the stone as some might imagine, but from a kind of horse ~ a cart horse, a horse that is worn out and good for nothing else.

So we do not, as a culture, go and see a movie any longer and walk away from it with our viewpoints changed or with our preconceptions shattered, as people felt once upon a time walking out of films like The Best Years of Our Lives, The Bridge on the River Kwai or The Graduate.  We get excited and hopped up about films that repeat precisely the same information as the film we was forty years ago, because we don't want those nostalgic, warm comforting things to ever, ever change.

Because we have moving pictures, we're barely aware of static art ~ unless it is porn.  We find ourselves in a museum every five to seven years, where we stare blandly at pictures for long, fruitless seconds before moving onto the next picture that fails to move us.  We're not caught up in such things; we need the picture to be lurid before it can conceivably shock or entice us, whereupon we either turn away or we fervently seek tens of thousands of like pictures, because a few is never enough to sustain our lust.  If the latter, then a single picture is lost in a sea, easily forgotten, easily deleted.

We cannot conceive of persons walking a thousand miles to stand in front of an image for hours, even every day for weeks, as they absorb and grow impassioned with every nuance of color, line or theme.  We cannot conceive of such persons changing their whole lives after such a viewing, becoming fervent believers, perhaps zealots, for a cause that now exists like a fire for them.  We never feel like that.  We mock those who, in this century, claim 'born again' status, knowing in our deepest, weary, contemptuous, cynical souls that such people must be deluded, deranged or merely stupid.

No rational person responds that way to words.  No rational person embraces ideas like that.  Rational people view coolly, then discard.

How can rational people find a place for a bard in a world that is mechanically designed with numbers, measurements, calculations and the very edge of living or dying on the knife's blade.  Bards?  Bards are for sissies.

It is nearly impossible for most people not to reshape the bard ~ or the 'artist' character ~ into something that would be relevant in our century, our technological framework.  The struggle is always to define how the bard measures up to the mage or the fighter, in clear, industrial terms.  A bard is a craft-making machine.  A bard is a communicator.  A bard is a pop star celebrity.

This last June and July, Dani Osterman worked on a month of posts relating to the bard in a hundred different ways, ending with this summation.  I'm still absorbing it.  Dani's take on the subject jumped me forward at least ten years of thinking on the subject; but I still haven't decided what to do with it ~ fit it into a sage table, somehow.  I've been deliberating on that for a week now.

I'm sure that the central key is not how the bard relates to the world, but how the world relates to the bard.  The onus is on the DM to presume the bard has talent . . . not for the player to be pushed into a place where they are supposed to invent talent that seems suitable to the game.  The art that a bard produces can be no more subject to the personal opinion of the DM or the other players (games where bards are expected to come up with poetry and actually sing it, because we're "role-playing") any more than a fighter has to justify the die roll associated with their sword.  It is the world that has to bend to bards having value, not the player to the world.

Measuring that, however, that gives room for passion and not just numbers and limitations, that's tremendously difficult.  I felt that Osterman was soooo close.  She may have it and I'm still damaged by so many arguments about the bard that I can't see clearly.  I know that building proper skills for my sage abilities won't be easy, nothing like as easy as they have been for other classes.  There's no metric in the real world for art having an effect on people . . . I think largely because by the time we began to develop behavioural metrics as a science, art had already begun its death spiral.

Yes, I said that.  We're all jaded, remember?  Whatever we say, I firmly believe that we're sliding into the same artistic dark age the Romans did; we're making the same mistakes, copying everything that is old, making it simpler, making it easier for the common people to understand, steadily rounding off all the edges and designing things so that they can be thrown together more quickly, more easily, more comfortably, even to the point of creating social mores that keep us from looking at anything that might "damage" our sensibilities, as if an ego can fall out of a tree and be crippled for life.

I don't worry, because it took three or four centuries for art to die completely ~ and it was helped along by a lot of really bad times brought about by a lot of really awful circumstances, far more awful than we can really imagine.  So this is a very, very, very slow spiral.  I won't see much change in it before I die.  Which is just fine.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Importance of Wasted Time

One serious adjustment that long-time players find themselves making in my world is the action point system.  There are a lot of different things that cost different amounts, and from the outset these seem arbitrary and difficult to incorporate into standard play.  Most campaigns are not tactical in nature ~ the old way is how I played for decades before altering my play 12 years ago.

Being forced to accept that characters don't just attack monsters in neat lines, that they have to account for every action as a measured deal, chafes at some people's conception of the game and simply acts as a confusion for others.  D&D is not a war game, I have been told; but I hasten to disagree.

D&D is a game ~ and combat is a game mechanic within that game.  It needs rules to make it interesting, to provide a payoff and make the characters feel threatened and fearful of dying.  Forcing players to account for their actions produces a limitation on how many actions they can take; this makes them feel that adequacy to the event is in question, which creates stress and concurrently risk that they must take in order to overcome the game's obstacle, the monsters trying to kill them.

But the action point system has one more element that makes this difficult, and it is the hardest element to initially accept.

The tendency is to suppose that dividing the round into points creates a group of 'mini-rounds,' which of course can bleed over from round to round.  If it takes four action points to load a bow, it is assumed automatically that the character can spend 2 action points this round and then 2 action points next round.

I don't allow this and I want to explain why.

By limiting the expenditure of action points to that which can be performed in a given round, and not letting them bleed over (with a few specific exceptions, for actions which cannot be performed in the space of 12 seconds), this forces the player to see each round as an exercise in efficiency.  They can't rely on events being the same after the enemy attacks, so each time the enemy attacks resets the system.  If, then, they can't make use of all their action points in a given round (or they don't have enough action points), they must adapt to that circumstance either by choosing a different action or wasting time doing nothing.

The tendency of players to view time in a role-playing game as something that can be easily allotted like sorting out the number of cookies between themselves and their companions is a weakness of most games.  Rushing about in a stress situation is full of stopping and starting, of being confused, of having to wait for someone in front to move so that we can go ahead, of planning to do something only to find that it is now too late and so on.  By forcing players to think in one-round limitations instead of making plans for how they'll spend their next forty action points over the next eight rounds, they must reassess and reassess, constantly.

Because the combat is frenetic and changes the balance of what's happening, players CAN'T have an organized plan of what they'll do for the next bunch of rounds.  They have to work to be efficient one round at a time with their movement, hoping they can use their points in the best possible way.  This means they will intentionally go one hex further just to avoid wasting the point, or deciding to pull out something this round (or forego it) because they have extra time and they're thinking "what can I do with this point?"

This pattern produces a much more confused pattern of behaviour, making the combat overall more random, less controlled, harder to predict and, therefore, a more difficult sub-game to play, since the learning curve is steeper than it would be if action points were allowed to bleed from round to round.

Overall, making the game harder makes it better.  Those players who have adapted are able to sense this, though perhaps not all may realize that it is the lack of bleed that improves play, rather than subverting it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Lurkers Unite: Comment on the Campaigns

Yes, I haven't been posting much on the blog, have I?

I just had a rough week, ending today; I've got a couple of days off, with appointments that will drag me from the computer, but mostly I'll be on and trying to make the online campaign move.

I was just asked to create a post for lurkers of the campaign to comment, so here it is.

If you want to comment on the underwater events about to happen on the Senex Campaign, please do it here.  If you want to comment on the party delving into the Barrow, do it here.  And if you want to comment on the character images that are going to keep appearing for awhile on both campaigns, do that here as well.

Have at it.  Keep it friendly, be nice, no suggestions for what the players should do, please.  But feel free to comment on what they have already done, or on things not applicable to either campaign.

The latest example:

And just imagine, five years ago, literally, this was the best I could manage:

We have a vast potential for improvement in anything we're ready to work at.  We just don't know it.  But faith, my friends.  Faith.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wearing Clothes

The above table can be downloaded from my wiki, at this page.  It is perfectly safe, I assure you.

As the wiki says, the table is intended to simplify difficulties surrounding the wearing of clothing in different weathers, with the general purpose of assigning damage to those who wear too much clothing or too little.  I have not made a practical use of this table: it has come into existence due to collaboration with the players of my Juvenis campaign, which has not been around as long as a week.  The work could not have been done without the help of Dani, a regular contributor to the blog, an ex-student of my tutorials and one of the persons running in the Juvenis campaign.

I hope that the generator will be of help to other DMs in other games.  I've played around with it a bit and I'm very pleased.  I'm sure my players will be, also.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Mass Experience

Having put up the markets for the online campaign, we can get that content off this blog.  I know you are all interested, but we can go back to other things and the gentle reader can go to the two campaign blogs to see what's going on.

The old campaign: Senex.
The new campaign: Juvenis.

I thought for a long time about what to call them, without the new people feeling downtrodden.  Latin seemed best.  And so did trying to do it on two blogs, as I have tried two campaigns on one blog and it is confusing.  All previous campaigns to now can be found in the back pages of the Senex blog.

Running a campaign is, I think, a huge help in blogging.  It reminds me of things that need to be done, it pushes me to get them done and it pushes me to address issues that players have a tendency to take for granted.

For example, experience.  For those not familiar with my experience rules, for the purpose of this post I suggest reading them.  The key element here is that I award experience for damage caused, not for kills.  This means that two combatants can slam away at one another, then quit fighting, and both get experience for the conflict.

This is critical, I think, to a philosophy of what experience is and how it is gathered.

In the old system, for example, where monsters or opponents have to be killed, experience is a limited resource.  There are only so many monsters and only so many people to kill them, so any experience I gain is necessarily experience you cannot.  Moreover, it presumes that the ONLY experience that can be gained is accomplished by murderers . . . and since we know that the general population do not go out and kill things, it is reasonable to presume that the general population has zero experience.

In my system, however, two boys punching each other out in a schoolyard are gaining experience.  Which is exactly what happens ~ remember that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.  The grit and passion of the British Soldier at Kandahar, in the Sudan and as they marched into the guns at Concord was founded by a school system that supported a degree of physical violence that gave the Brit "mettle."  A combat system for D&D ought to reflect that ruffians and hooligans in a bar, who may not have killed anyone, must still be capable of putting up a hell of a fight.

I challenge anyone to offer evidence that the strength and power of any army was based on how many soldiers it killed; fighting forces are founded in discipline, resolve, a sense of home and family ~ in short, nothing that is measured in actual deaths but everything that is measured in pounding, bruising and kicking a military force into being fit and trim.

Which brings me to the next point.  How much experience is out there?  If experience is awarded according as I've suggested it ought to be, there is no zero sum game.  The amount of experience in the world is a factorial of every person in existence and how much conflict they engender.

To put this into perspective, take the European War that finishes just before the time my world takes place: the 30 Years War.  From Wikipedia:

"The war ranks with the worst famines and plagues as the greatest medical catastrophe in modern European history.  Lacking good census information, historians have extrapolated the experience of well-studied regions.  John Theibault agrees with the conclusions in Günther Franz's Der Dreissigjährige Krieg und das Deutsche Volk (1940), that population losses were great but varied regionally (ranging as high as 50%) and says his estimates are the best available.  The war killed soldiers and civilians directly, caused famines, destroyed livelihoods, disrupted commerce, postponed marriages and childbirth, and forced large numbers of people to relocate.  The reduction of population in the German states was typically 25% to 40%. Some regions were affected much more than others.  For example, Württemberg lost three-quarters of its population during the war.  In the territory of Brandenburg, the losses had amounted to half, while in some areas, an estimated two-thirds of the population died.  The male population of the German states was reduced by almost half.  The population of the Czech lands declined by a third due to war, disease, famine, and the expulsion of Protestant Czechs.  Much of the destruction of civilian lives and property was caused by the cruelty and greed of mercenary soldiers.  Villages were especially easy prey to the marauding armies.  Those that survived, like the small village of Drais near Mainz, would take almost a hundred years to recover.  The Swedish armies alone may have destroyed up to 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages, and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns."

Sobering stuff.  For our purposes, I'll try to hedge on the conservative side.  The beginning of the article quoted suggests eight million died.  We'll say that's 25% of the total population involved ~ German, French, Slavic, Polish, Swedish and so on.

My experience system awards 20 experience for every point of received damage; it also awards a 20 experience bonus that is divided among the witnesses of received damage, as well as the casualty or victim. Thus, you get experience just from watching another person die, or suffer a great injury, or otherwise come to harm.  Consider the ramifications.  You also get 10 experience from causing a hit point of damage to another person.

The next step would be to estimate the number of hit points involved in the conflict described above. Remember, we're not just talking about the total number of hit points of people actually killed, but also the number of hit points that were caused in damage, healed, then were damaged again.  Over and over.

We can deliberate upon such numbers all day, but I'm going to offer a conservative estimate.  Let's say that among the 32 million people involved, over the space of 30 years, from 1618 to 1648, each person took an average of 2 hit points of damage per year.  Some of that average is in the form of people who died from the damage and some from people who were only wounded . . . and leaves plenty of room for both high level types who have up to 100 hit points to lose and people who lost no hit points at all throughout the entire conflict.  And here we are only counting damage actually done to people deliberately.  We're not talking about people who fell off horses or who died in fires set by soldiers, or those who perished by disease (though arguably, witnessing someone dying from disease is experience, since most of us who have had something like that with close relatives come away from it being changed deeply)

This gives us a total of 64 million hit points times 30 years, or 1.92 billion hit points.  That is 1.92 billion hit points caused, 1.92 billion hit points received and potentially 1.92 billion hit points witnessed.

We will, however, have to remove a quarter of the hit points received ~ those people who received them are dead, so they are not part of the pool of living experience that we're calculating.  So we are speaking only of 1.44 billion hit points received by people who are still alive.

We could quibble about people who died of other causes over the years, age for instance ~ but this is why I am proposing the very conservative 2 hit points per year estimate.  That is pretty conservative.  The town of Manchester accumulates more hit points damage than that when United wins.

Adding it all together, this gives us a total of 72 billion experience . . . shared, of course, among the remaining 24 million population (not 32 ~ 8 million of those died.).  That is an average of 3,000 experience per person.  Per every person who was involved in that struggle.  Peasants too!

This makes 2nd to 3rd level the average level among people who participated.  That includes every mercenary soldier who came home to Sweden, Norway, Spain and Greece, every bartender in the Holy Roman Empire, every wench, every peddler, every child, every grandmother.

When you walk past a person on a road in Hannover, you have no idea what the person has been through!  What they've seen, what they've had to do, what kind of measures they've taken to keep their family alive, what skills they've accumulated and how dark might be the deepest corners of their soul.  When you walk past anyone on the road, worry.  You don't know them.

I wish I could make this clear to players.  They have a tendency to think they're the only people in the world who ever experienced violence.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pause Before Buying

Okay, I'm taking a breather.

I got all the new characters started, with backgrounds.  Some are selecting spells, some sage abilities, some weapons, some are waiting for a pricing table.

I worked about 10 continuous hours yesterday and almost 9 today.  Wednesday and Thursday are best for me.  I have half a day of the next five going forward, so I won't have all this time.  But the main thing is getting all the players busy.

Everyone, look for pricing lists tomorrow.  The Senex campaign will not be starting in the Donbass, but in the Greek Islands . . . but will probably be moving towards the Donbass at some point.  I'll be providing a price list for the market of Syros ~ everyone, including Kismet, Sophia and Enrico, should assume they have an opportunity to go shop there; we can assume these three will meet Yuliya and Ibrahim there.

The Juvenis campaign will be buying goods in Stavanger, of course.

Please, everyone provide the information for your characters that's needed so we can keep moving forward.  There will be time to hesitate and question your market purchases on the weekend.

Also, I know that most campaigns need some complicated reason why a bunch of strangers group together to become a party.  I don't think this odd at all.  People meet, they hit it off right away, they all have similar interests and they thrown in together.  Happens all the time.  We don't need a special reason.

I don't know if I will have a reason to talk to the players on this blog again.  I may write a post for general interest, talking about the process of making so many characters and such ~ but I have found in the past that readers don't actually have much to say about that.

One player asked if I could set up a place where the would-be players can begin to chat and get to know each other.  I suggest using this post.  I'll take down the moderation until tomorrow morning ~ which might be interesting.  All sorts of riff-raff and such could get in here!

Characters One-at-a-Time

In not very long, I'm going to be moving the campaign chatter right off this blog.  Here is the plan.

I'm going to create a second campaign blog.  The old campaign blog has been renamed "Campaign Senex."  This will include the following characters: Ahmet, Andrej, Ibrahim, Lukas, Nine-toes, Yuliya, plus henchmen Enrico, Kismet and Sophia.

The new campaign blog will be named "Campaign Juvenis."  I'm still setting this one up, waiting for details as to where it starts before finalizing the lay-out.  This will include Arduin/Rowan, Dani, Drain, Maxwell and Shelby/Lothar.

Everyone seems to have had their character's stats rolled now.  The next step is to deal with each of you individually, so that we're not tripping over each other comments.

Keep an eye on this post.  I'm going to update HERE, not in the comments, posting a link to your personal character as soon as I'm ready.  Please have a character name so that the post I create will be in your character name, and not yours.  Here are links towards dealing with various character creation issues:


Yuliya Romanyuk
Ibrahim bin Yusuf


Aleksandra Ivanovna
Gudbrand Andersen Lillesund
Lothar Svenson
Engelhart Askjellson

That's everyone.

People can start addressing their questions to these posts as I create them.  Please be patient: I'll be running around to 11 different posts, so I may take time to get back to you if others are dealing with really difficult problems.  We'll just work out these things for as long as it takes until we're ready to go.

Elsewhere Party ~ 3rd Ballot

Whatever Drain's second choice might have been, it is clear that the party has chosen Northern Europe on the second ballot:

So, we have one more vote ~ where in Northern Europe.

Here are your choices:

  • Denmark (civilized, parkland & sea)
  • Human Norway (semi-civilized, forest & sea)
  • Human Sweden (civilized, parkland)
  • Human Finland (forested lakeland)
  • Human Estonia-Livonia (forest, rock & sea)
  • Gnomish Norway-Sweden (forest and rock, mineral)
  • Elvish Lands of Finland-Karelia (forested, contemplative)
  • Halfling Archangel (very far north)
  • Gnomish Russia (forested, desolate)

As before, please rate your first three choices in order of importance.  If there is a tie, we will have one last ballot to break the tie.


Okay, it is settled:

It is up to me, now, to pick a market city.  That I am going to do randomly.  There are 8 trade cities in human Norway: Kristiansand, Christiania, Fredrikstad, Halden, Bergen, Narvik, Stavanger and Trondheim.

I roll a . . . 7.  That's Stavanger.

I went looking for some images and found this:

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Elsewhere Party ~ 2nd Ballot

This post applies only to those who will not be running in the Donbass:  Arduin, Dani, Drain, Maxwell and Shelby.

In the previous post, I included a table that showed the most votes for ~ in order - Northern Europe, Western Europe and Northern Asia.  We don't have to wait for the deadline because all the votes are in for those involved.

Let's vote on those three again: but just give your 1st and 2nd picks:

1) Region; 2) Region.

We will deal with specifics inside the region once we've chosen it.

I presume we'll hear from everyone long before tomorrow is over.  Is anyone here in Europe?

Let's Start: Rolling Character Stats

Issues surrounding the location of the Elsewhere party will be dealt
with in another post.

Here are the two groups.  Have I missed anyone?  That's entirely possible!  Please point out your comment and I will update the above.

As far as I know, Oddbit will be running either Lukas or his hench Kismet, or both.  James C. will be running either Andrej or his hench Sophia, or both.  Nine-toes will be running his character Nine-toes from back in the day.

Butch I'm not sure of ~ will it be Enrico or someone completely new?

Apart from Nine-toes, who has been clear and only has Nine-toes to run, could Oddbit, James C and Butch be perfectly clear about which character will be run and in which capacity, of it a new character is to rolled from scratch.

The rest of you all need to roll new characters.  Here's what we will do.

I need you to roll 4d6 a total of six times, keeping the sum of the highest three dice in each roll.  I will then need you to assign these six rolls to strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity and charisma.  Then please post these rolls in a comment below.  With the assigned rolls, specify your race and your gender.  Races are limited to dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, halfling, half-orc and human.  Not all races can be all classes:

race-class limitations table

  • DO NOT give your character a name or any other details other than the stats, the character's race, gender or the character's class.
  • DO NOT argue about the race-class table above.  These are final and I don't want to debate about it, particularly at this time.
  • DO NOT forget about the ability stat limitations for the individual classes.  You will find a table for these listed below.
  • DO NOT ask questions about the campaign or beyond the specific rules regarding character creation, or what you will be able to do at some point in creating your character, except where it directly applies to your character's stats, your character's race and your character's gender.  We'll get to everything eventually.
  • DO NOT make any adjustments to your character's stats due to your race or your age.  Wait for me to tell you what adjustments to make.  I want to see the natural numbers you rolled, not adjusted numbers!

Character Class Minimums

Do remember that my character generator makes nothing a dump stat.

I would strongly suggest that players do not try to run a multi-classed character . . . but IF you have the minimums for all the classes you want to mix (and there are no limitations as to what classes can be mixed), then you may ask questions about it.

All classes have higher minimums for multi-classed characters for the primary stat.  The primary stat will be the one that requires the highest minimum for the class.  For the assassin it is strength, for the monk it is wisdom, for the ranger it is constitution.  For a multi-classed character, this stat must be 15 or better (the wiki under cleric and mage disagree with this ~ I need to fix the wiki on these points).  Where the minimum primary stat is already 15 or higher, there is no change.

All multi-classed characters get all the abilities of all the classes they happen to be, with one exception.  Whatever the mix, a multi-classed character gets the best possible selection of weapons and the worst possible selection of armor.

I think that's the lot.  Let's give it a try.

Bein' Picky

Listen, players.  I know it is in a player's nature to be cavalier where it comes to answers and giving information . . . we wouldn't be D&D players if we didn't have a strong sense of individuality and a need to express same in a variety of ways.  I'm knocking you square pegs into a round hole and you're bound to feel ill-used.  I get that.

But if I'm running this many players, getting you all started, getting this thing off the ground in the shortest possible time, then Short, Precise answers are practical.  The more lackadaisical you are, the greater the chance that I'll miss something or misunderstand something.  We're operating in print, right?  It takes time whenever I have to comment to clarify something and you need to then clarify it, time that we don't need to take if you'll just be Short and Precise the first time around.

At least in the beginning, just do it by the book.  It will be good practice for when we get into combat, which is a trial to manage in text and with pictures.  Don't feel ill-used; just accept that communication and clarity is more important than individuality right now.


I mentioned Van Halen and M&M's in a comment a few minutes ago.

Players should read this link.


While people decide which campaign they want to be in, we can take steps towards figuring out where the indeterminate campaign will be.

In future, when I want to give actual real life times, I will designate them as follows.  It is nearly 12 noon for me, but it is nearly 7 pm Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and 2 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST).

As such, I will give this as a real life time as 7pm GMT/2pm EST.  I trust that the Pacific Time people, like me, can figure out what I mean compared to the American eastern seaboard.

To determine what "Elsewhere" is, we'll take a ballot.  This will take at least three ballots, I figure, so I ask that people be patient.  Here are the options:

Western Europe (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain)

Northern Europe (Scandinavia, Denmark, Russia north of Moscovy and west of the Urals)

Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Kiev, Moscovy)

Africa (limited to what I've created; south Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, not including Egypt)

Ottoman Empire (Egypt, Middle East, Greece, Balkans, Mesopotamia)

Safavid Empire (Caucasus, Persia, west Afghanistan, west Pakistan)

Moghul Empire (India, Ceylon, east Afghanistan, including Burma and southern Indian states)

Northern Asia (Turkestan, Uzbek, Kirghizia, Kazakhstan, Jagatai Empire, Siberia east of the Urals)


Sorry, I'm not going to run Paraguay at this time ~ it is not connected to the trade system.

When you vote, please designate your first, second and third choices.  Please do not abbreviate.  Abbreviating will suggest you're not really prepared to take the time to express yourself when the game starts.  Also, I like attention to detail [he said, looking at Maxwell who spelt Frederic's name with a 'k'].

Please give you choices in this format:

1)  Region; 2) Region; 3) Region.

Your first choice will be rated at 3 points; your second at 2 points and your 3rd at 1 point.  Points will be added and we will revote on the top three choices overall.

Best of luck.  Deadline 12 noon GMT/7am EST December 1st.  Votes by those in the Donbass campaign will not be counted.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Regarding Details in Getting a Game Started

I am glad that I haven't heard a lot of angst from among the would-be players.  Prospects should remember that I'm not big on players who wish to perpetrate a strong invented personality, which will then be used as a justification for disrupting or derailing group play.  D&D is, to my mind, a group activity, not one in which an a single individual attempts to achieve their personal goals independently of others.

This is never more true than online ~ the secret of a good online campaign, I have found in the past, is plenty of chat between the participants, where the chief slant of the dialogue is between the participants and not directed at me.  Think of D&D as a wheel; yes, every part of the wheel has its connection with the hub, that being the DM ~ but if any part of the outside rim is broken or left out of the spin, the wheel smashes on the pavement.  Players have to do more than play together ~ they have to reach out to other players, to ensure that everyone is on board and involved, whether they have been able to express themselves or not. These are the best games.

For those who have expressed interest but not the ability to be wholly committed: believe me, I understand.  I would like to have the resources to be "on" 24/7.  Looking at my week, I figure I have approximately 42 hours of time in which I will have the freedom to see a question, concoct an answer and post said answer.  I also feel that I will be able to jumpstart my book writing again by being forced to be clever, creative and intellectually active on a daily basis.  I find I am craving some kind of push; so I won't just be squeezing in a bit of play for four or five hours a week.

It takes about 10 hours of typing, responding, fixing maps, creating visual spaces and answering questions to equal about 90 minutes of ordinary face-to-face game play.  For players, it isn't practical to be able to give your full time on a given afternoon or two mornings per week.  You have to be prepared to find 3-5 minutes to quickly pump out a response, somewhere between 4 and 20 times per day, to keep the momentum of the game going forward.  I've seen what happens when people are only able to respond to what their characters are doing one time per day or not at all.  It is destructive to the cause.  What is needed is a practical obsession, one where ~ if you have 90 seconds free ~ you immediately rush towards the campaign to see if anything has changed.  It doesn't mean you have to speak every time you check, but it does mean knowing what others are saying and then jumping in before it's noticed that you're the part of the wheel not turning.

So be realistic.  I appreciate greatly your interest and your spoken desire, but don't put me in the place of giving you a spot at the table if you're uncertain.  You have to be certain.  Otherwise, please let me shake your hand, clap you on the shoulder and welcome you to watch with vigor.

Perhaps I might think of some way for others to rubberneck a bit on the campaign.  That might be educational, if somewhat annoying to the participants; if you're really interested in playing, but can't, perhaps we can make a space where the moves and choices of the players are freely discussed ~ with the deepest respect and cautious empathy expressed towards the players at all times!  I don't want to bitch session where people write in to talk about what a bunch of fuck-ups the players are ~ we don't need haters.  But an honest dialogue that expresses roads and options not taken, or expresses positive approval for choices by players could inspire better play in other campaigns.  Comments moderated, of course.

In such a case, a short comment would be better than something very long, unless a person felt absolutely sure that nothing in the comment could offend; I'd hate to dump someone's carefully thought-through 500-word comment because one sentence in the middle was 'iffy.'

Much of this hinges on whether or not Oddbit wants to go on playing Lukas; in that case, because I'm a purist, I'd have to argue that he is still at the top of the Black Sea on the coast of the Sea of Azov.  People should be questioning if they'd be willing to start there with Lukas, if he's still in this.

Otherwise, please consider where you'd like to start.  It is a big, big world.  Montague [as Frederic] mentioned Khwarezm [spelled about two thousand different ways; in my world it is divided into three states: Khiva, Kulpakstan and Tash-Ko].  But I'm prepared to run anywhere in my mapped world, from Senegal to Scandinavia to Burma.  If someone wanted to try the new map of Britain, I'm just a day or so out from completing it [being lazy; sorry].

Please let me know ~ and anyone who hasn't weighed in yet, please feel free to do so.

JB, if you're out there and wondering; I'm more than willing to give it another try.