Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ternketh Part III: Trying Doors

While part of the party is exploring the guards' quarters, Vlad, the 1st level ranger and new guy in the party, decided that he would take the lead with that party still in the keep's yard.  First, he tried the door on the left side of the gate (the guards' quarters were found by going through the right side door).  It is possible to see both doors in the image I posted up front on this post.

The left door also led to stairs, and these into an armory:

Except for the walls, the doors and the floor, the tables and stands are definitely dundjinni - weapons.  It was easy to grab them and I really didn't feel like spending an hour making images like these for a room that was empty (no monsters, note).  If I hadn't had the pirated images, I probably would have gone with some self-designed tables and racks, empty, then relying on my saying "the tables are full of stuff" to carry through the imagery.

Still, I suppose that the images here worked, because Vlad becomes apprehensive about the room and it's five doors (though he probably couldn't actually see the one on the bottom right from the stairs) and he backed off.  He could have pulled down about nine people to help him out but he didn't.  Instead, he reclimbed the stairs and decided to go across the yard, to try the door connected to the central 30 foot wide cross-shaped tower in the middle of the keep:

Player characters include Vlad; Woodsoul, 4th level druid;
and Sunsky, 1st level fighter.  Followers include Marcus, Attaman, Fehim &
Calim, all 1st/2nd level fighers; and Jonida, a 17-year-old combat trained friend.
Minka, Nasee, Roma and Jafar are all non-level men-at-arms.

Note that Vlad closed the door to the armory but the door to the guards'
quarters is still open.
From the list of participants, it's easy to see there are a lot of people, but not much power.  For some reason, the party (despite a lot of chatter) never did logically sort themselves out into well-divided groups.  Basically, the higher levels rushed down into the guards' quarters and the back pile sort of got bored and decided to see what they could do while waiting to follow.  The above image is just before Vlad reaches forward to open the door and find out what's there.

I did mean to make a point about doors.  Here's a close up shot of the two kinds of doors I designed for the keep:

one hex = 5 feet

The heavier door with the larger handle is the reinforced door; the other is just an ordinary door, the kind that can be easily kicked in.  Neither door has a latch.  Not depicted would be the brace that could be used to keep the reinforced door closed (slips into the wall).  Both these doors were easy to make, but took me a lot of experimenting over several years to see how to do it easily.

When I first decided I was going to start drawing my own stuff, I was totally shit at it.  But I kept at it, knowing that having the visuals was going to make a big difference to the party's immersion.  So I kept trying new things, kept playing around, learned more about textures and how the publisher program works and took lots and lots of ribbing from players as they described my bears as bats or my chairs as bugs.  Art, like all things, takes time.  It is worth the time.  After all, a company like dundjinni can only provide so many things and they can't make something that's precisely what I need for a given scene.

Ternketh Part II: Guards' Quarters

I had meant to take screenshots throughout the movement of the party through Ternketh . . . but of course, as the game commenced I got distracted.  As such, the next image I have in the chronology is this one:

Depicted: Olie, 8th level thief; Sven, 6th level cleric;
Sharper (blue), 7th level fighter; Holly (top of the stairs), 4th level fighter

Olie, wandering forward on his own, walked right past the first harpy that was hiding between bunkbeds on the bottom right.  Sven has just time to get to the door when he sees the harpy zone in on Olie (who never checked his corners), surprising him (he rolled a 1) and proceeding to rip into his back with a critical hit, right off.  I've increased the amount of damage a harpy does in AD&D, to 1-6/1-6/1-8.

Olie made his saving throw against charm, but the party lost initiative after the surprise so I got to attack him again:  all misses.  The party rushed in, Olie hit the harpy for all of 1 damage.  The harpy attacked back and hit him. This time, Olie did not make his save (yes, I do make it count every attack) and was charmed.  He dropped his weapons and then stood there.

Unfortunately for the harpy, the party had all rushed into the cramped room.  The harpy flew over the table, around the far side of the pillar.  The party was able to throw a dagger (missed) and a hammer (missed), but being in heavy armor they could not quite catch up (my harpies move 6 hexes, or have 6 AP, per round - they're fast!).  Then the harpy fled out the door, as shown:

Added: Demifee, 6th level mage; Taver, 2nd level illusionist;
Perkin, 4th level fighter; Maze, 1st level cleric
Demifee had time to get off a bee cantrip, shown as a small black and yellow striped circle, which did one more damage to the harpy.  The harpy's total damage to Olie was 11.  The thief then took 8 more damage as the party decided to bat him out of his charmed state (which fits in my rules for such things).  So, the party starts against the harpies 19-2.  Oh, and the harpy got away.

Note that everything in this room is interactive.  The doors can be opened and the chairs and table moved around.  The players tell me where they want to move as combat happens (and that can be complicated as we work out who goes first both on the basis of their dexterity and their position in retrospect to doors, furniture and each other).  I got called on my own rules a few times by the new guy, which is absolutely great, as I don't mind countermanding my own statements if my own rules say I'm wrong (the rules are always right, I am never right).

On the above, the harpy and the three chests in the room are all dundjinni's.  The rest is my own.  Were I to send the publisher file to the reader, I would strip the dundjinni stuff out but it would be easy for you or anyone to simply pull them off line again and fit them in.  I was glad to find a harpy on line - I did not look forward to trying to make one of my own.  The images that are 'transparent' are those with a crosshatching behind the image when the preview is looked at on google images.

This is the first three rooms below the castle walls - a small guard's rec room, the bunk room and a sort of commander's room at the top.  I've explained to the party that the harpies have defecated and urinated on everything, defiling it, but that it has been long enough that the effect is mostly dried (it was done a lot when Ternketh was taken but the harpies don't renew the effect regularly).  So the value of what they find is questionable.

Ternketh Keep: the Beginning

During my game last night, I took some screen shots of the party entering the keep at Ternketh, the floating city I've mentioned a few times these past two weeks.  I thought it might be fun to follow along with the party.  They didn't get as far as I expected, but I put that down somewhat to choice anxiety and in part to the party numbering 21 characters:

Four main characters, seven henchmen, five followers and five hirelings.

Basically, a squad.  I had the players "run" the NPCs - subject to veto on my part if they had the NPCs do something irrational, splitting them up so that everyone ran five people (and one ran six).  Most of these underlings are low level and will drop out as combat begins to heat up, but at the start it was a lot of uncertain micromanaging of where everyone should stand, what they should do, who can do what and so on that did slow down the game's momentum.

The above image depicts them entering the east edge of the keep through the narrow 6 foot wide entrance (there are no wagons in the floating city of Ternketh).  The bridge, shown on the right, extends directly over empty space, reaching from the floating keep to the outer town, which I have not mapped.  The town is a collection of 'docks,' or floating islands of wood connected to one another by rope bridges about ten feet long.  It was emptied and destroyed years ago by the harpies of the keep, so that few live there.  The harpies prefer the keep, meaning I only have to map the keep (yay).  The keep, the bridge and the town all float 2,500 feet above the surface of the earth.

The six letters A through F are a guideline to indicating movement.  The player indicates that a character moves F-F-E-F to show which hexes are being entered during a round of movement.  I can move this key around as I need to, so as the party changes their place on the keep, they can use the key as a guideline.  They're getting used to the key, as well (first time I've used it), so this has also slowed down the momentum a bit.  It will get faster as the party adjusts to it and doesn't need the key on the map any more.

When I put the first image of the character on the map, I was stunned at how BIG the keep is.  I've been working on it diligently for two weeks, even redoing part of it, but I hadn't really considered the size of the thing.

Obviously, this shows a very small part of the keep I posted earlier this week.  The gate is shown in the above image rather than the ramparts above it.  As well, I drew out a total of 21 images of characters, all my own work (though there is some duplication for the NPCs, partly because they don't matter and partly because it helps the party discern them from important characters).  Still, everyone looks fairly good.  It was a lot of work.

Everything in the above image is my work except for the flags and the blood on the ground.  The bones are my own.  They look really good, even up close:

The flags and the blood are obtained from a design site called Dundjinni.  I found them by searching Dundjinni on google images, typing "dundjinni flag" or "dundjinni blood."  These are links that lead to the Dundjinni forum, where links can get you to plenty of user art or other things.  They come conveniently 'transparent' so that they can be easily inserted into a publisher document.

These things are listed as "free" by the company itself.  According to the company website, I am breaking the contract of being a user of this material (though all I've done is view and copy the website, I am defined - by the company - as a "user").  Just so the reader is aware.

I will make every effort to tell when I'm using dundjinni images and when I am not, so that the reader can identify what's mine and what isn't.

At this point in the adventure, the party has merely entered the castle yard.  They see doors on the left and right and are making up their minds what to do.  There's nothing moving that they can see.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tense is Everything

Earlier today, I made a point about DMs and Players working things out so as to come to a reconciliation on game matters.  In general terms, I was promoting compromise instead of the common situation where DMs give flat, blanket statements about player behaviour, as though speaking as the Almighty dictating the ten commandments from on high.

I went looking about for an example of this.  I had several to choose from.  I chose the below article because, in fact, the writer has a reasonable point to make about players spoiling games.  However, he starts from a position as inflexible as granite.

"Let me tell you what a harda$& I am. I make my players give me completed characters before the game starts so I can read over them and approve them or reject them. Then, I reject PCs out of hand and don’t tell the players which one of my crazy-a$&, byzantine, secret rules they violated. Their only recourse is to start over and make a completely new character."

The Angry GM, The Mad Adventurers Society

Now, personally I don't mind typing the word 'ass.'  It's what George Carlin - in 1972 - called a 'two-way' word.  For example, it's okay to make an ass of yourself but you can't get some ass.

This isn't 1972, however . . . and it remains a pretty silly thing that some segment of the population still gets worked up by the use of these words.  In fact, the real issue is that the position the Angry GM takes is far, far more offensive than the actual word he obscured.  But perhaps "The Mad Adventure's Society" - whatever the fuck organization that is - has problems with using rude, blue, crass, gutter language.  Perhaps the author actually felt very bad when Carlin died, that one of the greatest comedians of all time was gone.

Sigh.  None of that is the point, so let me shelve it.  I'm in a wrestling match with myself: I want to delete the last two paragraphs and I don't want to . . . what the hell, I'm just going to leave that shit up and move on.

Now, it isn't that a DM shouldn't have standards.  We're playing in a social situation, there are plenty of details to be managed and understood, investment may be quite high, naturally we want everyone on the same page.  It is reasonable to desire players who don't answer 'whatever' when presenting the game and functional decision making is a must.

However, the above (and generally, the article) isn't the way to go about this.

Many times, on this blog, I have railed at a particular individual, discussing what I will politely call a complete and utter failed candidacy as a human presence ever likely to appear at my gaming table.  [See?  That's how a euphemism works].  There are absolutely people who fit into the "why am I hanging out with you people" category.  I do contest the participle, however - it presumes that I've already been hanging out when in fact there isn't a hope in hang-gliding Christ that I am ever, ever, going to hang out with these people.  Even at 17 I had learned to see these people coming long, long before the present participle could be enacted.  The correct participle is, "why would I hang out with you people."  Tense is everything.

When a DM hits the point where they have to start making inflexible, dictatorial decisions about what players must do before starting a game, it shows desperation.  I feel I should point out that in the linked article there, I did describe six behaviours that I found troubling.  I also need to point out, however, that I never did ask new players what they felt about any of those six points, and at any rate I only said I might be interested in their opinion.  In fact, that post did start a lot of discussions around my tables (including the online campaign) which proved to be useful in exactly the sort of compromise on the point that I'm slowly, slug-like, moving this post towards.

Unfortunately, the more inflexible the DM becomes, the less wiggle room there is in the campaign for those things that most enrich the game experience.  While forcing players to come up with acceptable back-stories sounds like a reasonable demand, it fails utterly to examine the value in having a back-story at all.  Backstories themselves are an attempt to give depth and meaning to characters that are typically devoid of player concern - that is, the players don't care about their characters, they go through them like cordwood, and the backstory theory is that giving the character a 'personality' will make them more valuable to the player.

Unfortunately, most players aren't writers, aren't psychoanalysts and don't have the training or the experience to propose (or run) a proper backstory that isn't de facto stolen from some other pre-existing source.  As such, players compelled to invent "less crappy" backstories must dig them up from a graveyard of television, film and literature, mashing them together Frankenstein's monster-like, only to have them turn on their master as a weird self-induced railroading massacre of player agency and satisfaction.  In fact, the backstory becomes a tool the DM is then free to use (it's true, I've done it) to screw the player into choking down a lot of bile or into pissing on said backstory because it has suddenly taken on a life the player never meant it to have.  Backstories are a horrible method for breathing life into a character - but they are embraced through much of the gaming world because no other means of immersion can be found.

That is, supposedly.  Backstories are a corporation answer to a human problem.  I'm quite certain that a group of individuals associated with the sale of the game, hearing that players were quitting the game because they found it repetitive (make a character, die, make a character, die) sat around and decided to expect ordinary individuals to feel more deeply about role-playing by insisting that all of them - every single one - should immediately and decidedly become an expert dramatist.  After all, role-playing is just like acting!  And everyone can act, right?  I mean, it's not like acting, writing characters or inventing stories is hard.  Pfft.  My four-year old son can invent pretend people!

Players then bought into this because . . . reasons.  I don't know, actually.  Sheeple, my daughter would say.  

Here, let's look at this issue from the above author:

"The problem with a PC who has goal like 'find my father’s killer' is that any adventure that doesn’t lead toward that goal is a distraction and ultimately the PC has no reason to take on that job. And when you have five PCs who all have their own single goal, the DM has to make sure that each PC’s goal is intertwined so that every adventure promises some of those stories will advance every single time."

The author then goes on to explain why 'motivations' are much better than 'goals' and he does have a point.  I agree with his assessment regarding the difference between each.

My principle issue, however, is that he seems to presume that - as people - we are limited to one or the other.  Or that we're limited to only one goal or one motivation.  His premise that adventures not specifically about the player's predetermined goal is a distraction makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Tonight, I went to a hockey game.  I am also preparing for my campaign tomorrow.  Was the hockey game a distraction?  Yes.  Did I therefore have no reason to go to it because it was a distraction?  That's crazy.  We distract ourselves all the time.  We love distraction.  That's because, as human beings, we don't just have a single 'goal' or a single 'motivation' - we have hundreds.  And they are changing all the time.  We discard old motivations and goals and we start new ones.  Sometimes we just get bored with things.  Sometimes a distraction changes our lives and we begin to pursue a totally different courses of action.

Our 'backstory' is not our master.  We grow up, we change our tastes, we imagine that we'd like to get the man who killed our father but then we realize that's pretty silly and in fact against the law.  Or we learn that he was killed in a bar fight in Kitzamaringo, Mexico.  Or we're told by our mother that, in fact, our father was never killed, he just left us as a kid and she was trying to soften the blow.  We get older and we learn things . . . and we set aside our childish ideals and motivations and we let the world teach us something new.

The more the DM tries to insist that our 'motivations' make sense, the less real or purposeful we become.  Trapped in the two-dimensional concept of the backstory (or any other rigid, insisting demands on how we run our characters or how we interact with the world), we're sooner or later reduced to going through the motions - running the character becomes a job, not a recreation.  The solution to this is NOT a better backstory.  It's the elimination of inflexible concepts on how to control behaviour where it comes to an open, imaginative world.

This is the reason why I've left the George Carlin stuff up at the top.  See, Carlin went right to the heart of the matter.  Those words - and the restriction of those words - represent a push-and-pull relationship that most people have with the way the world works.  Each word associates with an action and a feeling about that action that differs from the feeling we ought to have.  It is okay to make love to your wife but it isn't okay to fuck her.  It is okay to poop in the toilet but it isn't okay to shit in it.  And the very idea of making love to your mother - no matter what word you're using to describe that - is just plain wrong.

Because a substantial portion of the world feels that speaking about things in a certain way cheapens those things.  There are people who will feel this is a good post except that it was cheapened by the use of slang.  These people have made an assessment about how the world ought to work (and how our backstories ought to have been prepared by our parents) and in banning certain words - and other things - they hope to impose an inflexible framework on thought.

Except it doesn't work.  It never works.  We think as we think, we don't have any control over that.  I think shit when I see it in the toilet, another person thinks feces, another sees poop.  It isn't planned, it just is.  And chances are, as we get older, we will begin to see shit turn into poop or poop turn into feces - because this is what happens.  We either move towards a certain feeling when we see the world or we move away from it.  I happen to have moved towards a starker, colder, less sympathetic view of my bowel movements.  Others will age and crave a warmer, friendlier, less threatening perception.

Our only chance of mitigating between multiple persons at a gaming table is to discuss, seek places where flexibility can obtain and then compromise.  This can only happen when change is possible and embraced by everyone - in which case, ideals like a backstory must inevitably have a shelf-life.  After all, not only should the characters in the campaign have room to change, the players themselves, moving through their lives and learning as a result of actually living, need room to change also.

It amazes me that a player who invents a backstory at 17 is still expected to play that backstory in exactly the same way when the player is 21.  Do we not see how incomprehensible that is?  Do we not see that players who have started a campaign in their early 20s will probably be looking for something profoundly different from that campaign in their late 20s?  Is there any chance that a DM who acts inflexibly against this reality will almost certainly be stuck with players who are unable to live their own lives, much less participate meaningfully in a campaign.

I know that I'm the only one in the world, in this game, thinking on these things - but that is because, I'm sure, that I am changing all the time.  I think that is a good thing.  Moreover, I anticipate change in everyone else, even if they themselves haven't considered it.  I encourage the reader to recognize that - if you want to play this game with people your own age, all your life and all their lives, then you have to address who they are NOW.  You must live in the present.  You must adapt and coordinate your game thusly.  That means talking.  A lot of talking.

Otherwise, you'll find yourself endlessly introducing new people to your endlessly stale campaign, only to watch them go away when they change themselves out of it.

Friday, January 29, 2016

How to Start a Trading Town IV - Business Partners

In April of last year, I wrote three posts called "How to Start a Trading Town."  When the third post fell flat (no comments), I ended it.

For good or ill, I use comments as a measure of interest in what I'm writing.  I can write on a wide variety of things and it is usually best to write on things that will get people involved and interested.  If I write a post in a series and it gets no responses, then I have to look at the effort in the same way that television looks at a show with bad ratings.  The show gets cancelled.

After nine months of silence, however, I was asked here to continue the series.  And since I asked for story ideas . . .

Let's take stock.  Our characters have started with a considerable amount of money - at least 20,000 gold pieces.  We've picked an empty shore on the coast, where the water is deep enough for a long boat (and a bigger ship no further than 300 yards/meters out), where we can conceivably build a stone quay (eventually).  We've made deals with the local lord.  And we've begun making a few contacts in the nearest city, selling land or enticing away a few of the residents there.

All this assumes the DM is a reasonable entity and that we're permitted to move along with these things without undue sabotage.  Personally, I like it when a party 'sets up.'  I rarely present the local lords as insipid, grasping, spoiled prats who act like infants the moment someone sets up on their territory.  My reading of history tells that squatting is usually the way that most towns have been founded.  All new residents are a source of income for the local lord and are therefore welcome, so long as they're not criminals who prey on the lord's capital.  We're definitely not interested, here, in setting up as criminals (that may come later).  We want a strong, industrious, religiously regulated community that pays its taxes on time, develops infrastructure in both the settlement and the hinterland and is rich in artisans and friendlies.

In my world, this is easier.  I have rules that support players having multiple characters, I give followers easily and my players tend to see a certain wisdom in not using these as cannon fodder.  That is because, I believe, my followers are not stooges - they are people with friends, associates, allies and thus serve as intermediaries between the party and the locals.  If I'm paying a low-level fighter as a follower and that fighter is a disgruntled, hateful, disconnected misanthrope - and I remember many followers were in the games where I acted as a player - then this is only going to encourage me to not care if said fighter dies.  On the other hand, if my fighter is a friendly, jovial fellow who's sister is friends with the priest at the chapel out near Clonmel, then perhaps that's someone who I might want to keep alive - in case I need a priest for some reason.

So at this point, as we build our dock, warehouse, corrals and perhaps a church, then we will want to do more than make friends.  We want to make connections.  We want to get to know the names of the people we're working for, who they know, who they've heard of in the area and what meetings can be arranged.

Yes, probably many of these people don't know anybody.  But if our DM is on the ball, a few smartly dressed people will show up, from curiousity.  They may be ill-mannered, doubtful, even insulting.  We may be bothered by this but we have to rise above that - these people who have time to wander about doing nothing but sight-seeing are just the sort of people we want.  One of them can surely introduce us to a guild-overseer, an alderman, a deacon or perhaps a fellow running a fighter training academy.  What we want is an introduction.  Just a chance to rub elbows with the middle class in the city and learn a little more about what makes the town tick.

This is a lot of work for the DM, particularly if that entity doesn't have a clear idea of how business/politics works.  To give a good portrayal of "what's happening," a DM has to have some idea of what happens in the upper corridors of power.  Many DMs, particularly the young, haven't the experience or taken the opportunity to read up on how power works.

I was into this politics thing at a very early age - and I remember distinctly playing with the heads of a few DMs in my youth as I maneuvered them into allowing me and my party to get away with murder.  Literally, in some cases.  This is why it is so important that any DM should acquire a wide range of disciplines . . . because if the only thing the DM understands are the rules of the game and the principles of combat, that is going to seriously balk any attempt at a deeper sandbox.

I don't want to digress into that just now.  For the sake of this post, what the players and DM should do - in the case where the DM feels unprepared - would be to work out between them a reasonable expectation of what might happen or what both parties (DM and Players) can see as a win-win.

All too often, this isn't even considered.  I have been running this game for 36 years and I still turn to my players, often, for a tet-a-tet regarding what's a reasonable response to something the party wants to do.  I'm only one fellow - I don't have all the answers.  Of course, I'm going to negotiate with an expectation that any concession I make will be one that has to be made in the future, too (and in my case, what happens in one campaign becomes policy in every other campaign - I suppose I could write a post about that, too).

So when we are setting up our trade town and meeting people, we should be looking at this thing from the DM's perspective - and working to get the DM on our side.  We should be explaining that if we stay here, we will be less interested in wandering all over the world.  This means the DM can take time to design this one space.  All we want in exchange is that the space where we've planned to stay is one that will keep us happy - and that means we'd like the benefit of someday having a regular monthly luncheon with the Lord Mayor.

I realize that we're all trained to think that a second trade town is competition (and therefore should be crushed), but that's not really the case.  In fact, that second town should be seen as a sort of franchise - where the people from the first trade town can expand outwards, buying land, setting up a colony, using that second trade town as an alternate depot or transshipment point, one that's a little closer to the source of some other region's good and which can act as a supplier in case of siege.  The stronger that second trade town (the one we're building) is, the better it can act as a subsidiary.  Therefore, we want to talk to the Lord Mayor to pass the message that our little bit of land on the sea is really a good investment in the future for both the town and us - like Pepsi having Doritos.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Computer Errors Out of My Favour

Well, damn.

Everyone who has worked extensively with a computer knows that sooner or later, one way or another, without intending it and inevitably realizing it has been done after the fact, will destroy an incredible important document.  Forever.

This just happened to me.  Well, actually, I think it happened yesterday.  I only learned about it today.  I destroyed the publisher file that had all the design for the harpy keep that I posted last week.  As of right now, the only copy I have is the one on the blog.


I needed that for this Saturday's game - not just in a picture form, but in an interactive form.  Worse, there were changes that I'd already realized needed to be made to it - but as it's now a picture and not a file, I can't reasonably make those changes.

The only thing to do is to redo the whole image, from the beginning.  I called it five and a half hours of work.  So it will be.  Not because it would take that amount of time to do it again (I have the original as a template, after all), but because I have learned so much in making the rest of the keep that I'll be trying to make it better.

I am so looking forward to showing the party the work I've done - and all my gentle readers next week.  Admittedly, I am stealing images like crazy from a site called Dundjinni, because I am a horrible, nasty thief and because after looking through their demo it turns out that their service is more or less useless for my needs.  Much of what they have is on line, however, a lot of it as transparent pngs, so I am fitting in little images along with things I am drawing and designing from scratch.

It has been a profound week.  It is going to be a great game on Saturday (and only the beginning, since I don't see the keep getting cleaned out in one evening).

Okay, to work.

So You Want to Play Rough

I haven't written much here.  I've been working on the harpy project - which I can't post because my players haven't seen it yet.  I will be revealing whatever they discover next week.

In the meantime, a commentary on Tarentino's impending The Hateful Eight:

This is from Eating Raoul, just the sort of exploitation film that Tarentino loves.  I expect that with a great many people stuck in a Wyoming cabin in a snowstorm, there will be lots and lots of the sort of pud-pounding dialogue Tarentino has used to ruin all his films with in the last fifteen years.

"Nobody can say we don't earn this money."

Paul Bartel, the fellow with the frying pan, practically invented the action-sexploitation film.  Oh, I should mention, in the Disney film Tangled where Eugene says, "Frying pans!  Who knew?"  My first thought was "Paul!"

I saw this film when I was 18 and fell in love with Mary Woronov immediately.  I'm sure it's the only thing I had in common with Andy Warhol.  Sadly, given her successive film career, it was a huge disappointment.  But hey, I fall in love very easily.  It's my nature.

If someone wants to throw out a topic for me to write on, go ahead.  Just now I can't think of anything.  I'm busily working on my art career.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Three Cups Inn

Just a little fun.  Figuring out just what I want to do with this image tonight.  Took me almost as long to make this as the keep I posted Thursday:

Tried to represent the people as they would actually be sized.

It's a question of how detailed something like this needs to be.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Place for Harpies

See the updated version of this image on this post.  I had an error occur
after I had made this.

This took less time than expected: about five and a half hours.  But I had help; I used this art by Bogie-DJ as a template.

The setting is for the keep in the sky that I spoke about a few days ago, involving an unknown number of harpies.  I've posted a clear version above but for the game I need to overlay it with a hex map:

5 feet per hex

I can't say too much about it because this adventure hasn't run yet (it runs a week Saturday - I have the other party the day after tomorrow).  I can say that the large black circle is a well, through which the ground (about 2500 feet below the floating keep) can be seen.  The red/brown patches are dried blood and the yellow detritus are bones.  Beyond that, I guess the rest of it can be guessed at.

Two levels below this to create.  Looking forward to running this adventure.

Um . . . Purple

Embedded image permalink

I don't deny it.  I'd like to be more popular.  Being more popular would increase the readership, it would create more comments and it would sell more books.  I know that one way to being more popular is to fill out popularity applications like the one above - because it helps the reader better know me as a "person."  It helps humanize me and reduces my personality or nature to a stack of comprehensible, friendly identifiers.

"You like red dragons?  Cool.  I like red dragons too!"  And so on.

The real trick to achieve popularity would be to research which are the most popular answers on the internet and then claim to like those specific things.  This is called marketing.  For example, when I searched the phrase "I love bearded dragons," I produced 12,000 results, whereas when I searched "I love sexy dragons," I only got 3.  So obviously, I don't love sexy dragons.  At all.

What we like matters to many people.  Once, I lost a girl "friend" because I admitted I did not like David Bowie all that much.  I liked some of his work, I felt he did a fair job as an actor in some films, notably the forgotten Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (that I have not heard mentioned once in the recent stream of consciousness about the performer), but I didn't rank Bowie as the greatest singer of all time and I had very little to say about his astounding, mind-blowing influence on the history of popular music.  This was the wrong thing to say and the girl left me.  Obviously, I stopped saying bad things about David Bowie.

So we should remember than in describing our favorite cursed item, die or construct, there is an implied judgment waiting regarding our answer.  Mind now, this judgment will not be cast upon why you like a particular die or what traumatic experiences you've had regarding all the other dice, because what die you like is a matter of such subjective, visceral preference that there's no possibility of an believable intellectual or personal framework can be applied.  The whole point to learning what we express as our favorite die is to circumvent all that annoying human complexity and strike for the heart of our reason for asking:  are you a good person or are you a bad person.

Nuance, such as my mixed feelings regarding a pop singer whose best work was achieved when I was 8 (and therefore slightly before my time), is irrelevant.  Do you like this random thing that I have just asked?  If you do, you are a good person.  If you don't, you are a bad person.  Unless I've pulled a fast one on you and you're not sure if I'm asking because I hate this thing or like this thing.

Let me find a d30 and roll it.  There, number 25 - Favorite Magic Item.

To be honest, I really don't care.  I do enjoy that there are many different magic items, for it makes interesting associations during a given adventure and vastly increases the number of random events that might occur due to a device working or not, how long it works, how effective it is and so on, compared to the number, power, nature or social structure of the enemy.  I like that there are a lot of different kinds of magic items that act for differing lengths of time, that affect characters differently, that empower or weaken characters, that cost to use or are fleeting, etcetera.

Yet I've never sat down to rank them.  I suppose that the logical thing is to think, as we did when we were younger, "If my character could have any one magic item, what would it be?"  Well, that does depend on the character class, but we can say fighter because its the most common and what the hell, everyone can relate to a fighter.

The problem with arguing that the best thing would be a +5 suit of armor or a +5 weapon is that the actual amount of "+" is arbitrary.  Why not a +6 weapon?  Why not a +35 weapon?  Why not a weapon that simply can't miss, or does so much damage that it kills not only the monster being attacked, but the monster next to it?  Why not say, "I want a weapon that when I hit with it, it kills the monster and the monster's whole family?"  Or for that matter, the monster's village, all villages in the monster's realm, all villages everywhere, whole continents or the planet itself?  Now that would be a magic item.

I'd have to argue that the best (favorite) magic item would be the one I earned.  The one with a good story behind it, that I got by the skin of my teeth when I thought the whole party was going to die but I managed to pull it out of the fire at the last moment and this - this simple +1 mace that I got at 3rd level - is my most precious item.  I've had chances for other items because I'm 12th now, but somehow I just don't care that much.  It's okay if Christopher or Pauline wants to pick up something nice for their characters - and maybe someday I'll upgrade, but for now I think the mace is lucky.

Ah, who am I kidding.  Players never think like that.

I surrendered ideas like having a favorite anything around the time I stopped thinking of myself as a kid.  I will tell people that crab is my favorite food - but this is a lie, since the crab has to be cooked right and it has to be nearer to the sea than where I'm living just now, while I can't eat crab all the time anyway and a really well-cooked almond-and-sundried tomato stuffed pork can easily blow my doors off.  Food is just food - it is well-cooked or its not, and if it is well-cooked I don't care what it is.  Unless it's Brussels sprouts.  That shit is just nasty.

I completely accept if the reader feels that Brussels sprouts are their favorite food.  I'm not judging anyone.

Change is good.  Change is better than having favorites.  Moreover, it shouldn't matter what players prefer - I should be giving out magic items or anything else on the basis of what makes sense, not on what is my favorite thing.  Most times, I believe DMs give out a certain kind of monster or treasure, or use a certain kind of trap, because they're lazy and it's the first thing that comes to mind.  My favorite colour is . . . purple.  That is, it's the first colour I thought of.  And my cup is purple.  My cup that has coffee in it.  Which I don't prefer to tea, it just happens to be what I'm drinking just now.  Tea drinkers, please don't be offended.  And people who like the colour yellow are okay, too.

Oh, and I feel sad for David Bowie's loss.  I truly do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

For Those Who Think It Will Burn

I've taken a little piece from the BBC series I linked a couple of days ago, the Tudor Farm:

There is widespread belief in the role-playing world that if characters choose to light a house on fire, it will burn.  The above is demonstrable proof that it probably will not.  It's possible to get a house fire going, depending on how much flammable material there is inside the building - hay in barns, furniture, oils, cloth and so on - but the chances are when the fire is finished, the outer wall of the building will be blackened but resolutely unmarred.

I have been explaining to players for ages that pitch and sand can be mixed together as a means fireproofing wooden structures such as bridges or docks, that are necessarily associated with water.  The palisades constructed in the area where I live - where pitch is easily gotten from trees - were painted with this mixture, enabling them to remain standing a century later.

Another form of fireproofing is the building of Cob walls, a mixture of straw, water, rough sand (or small stones), clay and soil, which can be combined to form an insulting adobe that was employed in many parts of the world, notably jungle & scrub lands from Spain to India.  Since a cob wall is usually 16 inches thick, it tends not to notice fire at all.

If you are tired of your players spontaneously putting everything in your world to the torch, perhaps it could be time to give the world a proper facelift.  Then, the next time the players think they're going to set the place on fire by shooting it up with fire, you can look at them blankly and say, "Nope.  Doesn't look like that wall's gonna catch."

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Unknown is Concerning

I'll take a translation if someone has it.

Ah, war story time.  I'm only including it here for background.  I'll try to be brief.

Some readers might remember one of my parties is in possession of a flying ship.  Saturday, this led them to a floating town in the sky, Ternketh, a collection of wattle-and-daub houses, a group of some hundred 'docks' supported by nothing at all except magic, surrounding a castle-keep.  The entity is about a mile in diameter and largely denuded of people, as some years ago Ternketh was attacked by 80-200 harpies.  Most of these harpies are gone now but the remainder dwell in the keep and are kept away from the still inhabited part of the town through the use of wards (an occasional person is still caught and eaten).

It isn't known how many harpies are left - probably more than ten, perhaps as many as fifty.  The party also learned that the wealth of Ternketh - so far as the town knows - remains in the keep, as none of the Lords there were able to get free.  All were charmed and destroyed.  A view of the keep 'yard' (made of stone) from the air showed large patches of dried blood and many bones.

There, those are the details I'll render; the party hasn't actually entered the keep yet, so I can't say more than what the party knows.  If someone wants more information, I'll share it but only so long as it's something I've already told the party (or might tell them, since after reading a question here they will probably ask it during the next game anyway).

My point for writing the post is this:  the party had most of the information they really needed by 9 o'clock.  There were details to be worked out, obviously, but by nine they had decided to go in and do their best.  They're 5th-8th level, most of them have wicked saving throw bonuses on account of various benefits, they've loaded up with one heroism & one speed potion (they're going in at night), an ultravision scroll and there are 18 total characters, henchmen and followers involved.  They have waxed their ears to stop from hearing the singing and they're loaded for bear.

We did not run any combat Saturday.  The players spent two hours planning and I called the game at eleven.

I have watched this phenomenon again and again.  An unknown number of harpies is concerning.  No one wants to tackle that - but they don't want to lose out on heaps of treasure, either.  Understandably, they want to be sure they've covered everything.  They've got a lot of manpower to share around and naturally this has to be done right.  There's every chance the wax won't work - that has to be considered and a ready plan for that contingency is in the offing.  The players are wise enough not to rush when they could better prepare themselves.

And yet . . . two hours.  I wasn't bored.  The players weren't bored.  There was plenty of tension and voices were rising a bit here and there.

None of the adventure is quest-driven.  The party is on a quest, but they have a little time to spare and this is very tempting.  But they know they can back off and just continue on their way (though it is guessed already that the harpies know something is up, since the party passed over the keep in the daytime in a big floating ship, and may choose to swarm the ship as it leaves if they believe the ship's owners are frightened and weak).  They don't have to attack the keep.  They're not terribly concerned about the townspeople but they won't mind saving them anyway, since there's at least one old man (a venerable cleric) who might be a very good friend to the party.

Players will, however, find excuses not to go right now.  As a DM, it's important not to push them.  If they want to spend the rest of the night going back and forth over the best tactics, for the love of blue bloody bacchanalian behemoths, LET THEM.  The game is running itself.  A resolution will come in its own good time.

A forgivable error - but an error, nonetheless - comes when the DM mistakes 'pacing' for 'advancement.'  Though the party may not be taking physical action or physically moving forward as characters, this does not mean there is no momentum in the game.  Some momentum is oscillation; where the same ground is gone over and over again because the players are adapting themselves to several things that may be about to happen due to their decisions:  one of them may die; something dear and important may be lost; there may be other unforeseen consequences that could have been avoided but are now part of a reckoning.

The unknown is concerning.  Whenever possible, let the players make up their mind about how concerned they want to be and then wait.  Just wait.  As I've said many times, these moments are not about the DM.  It's about them.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


I've tried this post a couple of times now - and it always begins to wallow.

I want to say first that the social contract in a game does not depend on the DM.  All the various things I've written about DMing - pacing, focus, mind-fuckery, trust - are there because we have no alternative to someone acting as judge, intermediary or interpreter between the players and the world.

The DM has to make decisions about what is possible, because the rules cannot account for every idea or innovation that occurs to a player in every situation that might occur.  The gameworld is too complex and multi-dimensional to ensure every contingency is managed.  This is the 'judge' aspect.  Still, I make very few new judgments in a given game.  Most of the time, I am reminding players of judgments I've made in the past, which I've remembered or the players have forgotten - or the players are reminding me, because my memory isn't perfect.

If we had some sort of device - let's call it an Interpolator - that could remember all these judgments and keep track of them, along with the remaining rule structure that has already been put in place, that could ease my burden considerably.  Once in place, we could agree as a group to modify the Interpolator occasionally only for new things.  This could be done as a group.  No single person would need to do it, though one person in a group may be more imaginative/creative/aware of issues that came up.  Once the new idea was logged in, however, the Interpolator would handle it.

We could then apply the Interpolator to the mechanical elements of the game.  Not only would the Interpolator know what die needed to be rolled or what the results were, it would not be necessary to roll a die at all.  Once the player decided to do something - stating the player's intention - the mechanics of 'effect' would be managed and the result would be instantaneous.  This would massively increase the pacing of the game, since all the mechanical detail would be eliminated and made faster.

The DM's second contribution, the intermediary, mostly works as describer for the players.  The room looks like this, there are this many people on the street, the sun is going down so there is this much level of light, etc.  There's also a considerable element that the non-player characters in the setting talk like this, they have these agendas, etcetera.

Obviously, an Interpolator could handle all the imaginable visual details.  It would be clear how deep the chasm was, how long the road was, how green was the grass and so on.  Once again, this would massively remove a lot of burden from me.  Since this would also be linked with the mechanical aspects of the game described above, the players would be interacting with the environment in real time, so that in game/out of game elements of play wouldn't be necessary.  The focus of the players would be on what they saw.  While yes, they would probably still joke around and make mock of things, now they would be doing it while standing in a forest or visually seeing the NPC standing three feet away, giving them cues that the NPC could hear and understand what the players were saying (and making judgments about them).  This situational awareness would considerable cut down on the amount of inter-player dialogue (tell the guard he's attractive) that goes between players, as they would be aware that such dialogue was being overheard.  This would greatly cut down on meta-gaming and vastly increase the immersive quality of the game.

Probably, the non-player characters would be necessarily simplistic, at least for a time.  Still, there could be formulas that were designed to let players 'teach' the closer non-player characters how to act.  So that if the character told a friendly NPC to stay behind the party and use their bow, rather than running into the fight, this would become the default action of the NPC.  The next time the party battled, the player would turn to tell the NPC to use their bow and see the NPC pulling out a bow already.  Or the player could give some other order to the NPC and these orders together would be managed to encourage a sort of contingency program that NPCs would follow.

Non-friendly NPCs might have a wide range of programmable elements that could give them 'character.'  It would be best if this were accessible to the players, however.  Corporations, no doubt, would sell characters, but ultimately some sort of youtube-create-your-own-content would be far stronger in the long run, since tens of thousands of individual creators would be more imaginative than oh, say, Mike Mearls.  If it got online, we could fill our towns and worlds with characters stolen from the net - and even if many of these characters were duplicates in behaviour and purpose, for the most part in most games they already are.  Made individual personalities for thirty attacking orcs, lately?  Hell, if said orcs had two random personalities sprinkled between the 30, we'd be stunned.  In any case, there'd always be room to tweak a personality very slightly - and everything we did would be remembered and automatically carried forward.

This might mean starting up a game and suddenly watching NPCs randomly killing NPCs, like spontaneously mixing a base and an acid without realizing the result - but such things could be planned for (and noted, so that it didn't happen again).  In any case, no single player would need to be 'the DM' in this emplacement . . . a group could decide how to seed a town with individuals or simply let the Interpolator do it.

The DM's third role, that of interpreter - well, we've already covered a lot of that, haven't we?  I wouldn't need to explain rules or explain the motivations of the NPCs because it would be right there in front of our eyes.  I wouldn't need to mind-fuck the players - just being in a visual environment that was full of sensory information would manage to make everyone feel overwhelmed and out of their element.  Most of the mind-fuckery is immersive in its intent and the Interpolator - even operating at a pretty dumb level - would do that nicely the first time the player encountered an actual door with an actual uncertain, visual possibility behind that.  So I'm off the hook there, too.

And as far as trust, well . . . this is interesting.

Most legitimacy is established by making sure all the players are treated equally.  But the Interpolator does this automatically.

Consider the trust between players.  Jim, Wilma and Quentin all must make decisions that will keep them alive individually and alive as a group.  In a normal game, Quentin looks down at his character sheet and sees only that - his paper.  He looks at Jim and Wilma and sees them as people sitting at a table, perfectly safe in the face of three orcs, so it is all a game to him and he is free to treat it as a game.  Having this freedom, he can quickly justify the game's lack of personal meaning by reducing the immersion he feels and can from there begin to fuck with the other players, breaking down the social contract.

However, if we are visually seeing the Interpolator's world, it becomes pretty obvious to Jim and Wilma that Quentin is doing this.  They're looking at the world, making plans, while Quentin is acting out.  This pulls Jim and Wilma closer together and ousts Quentin from the core group.  Quentin can't appeal to the DM because there is no DM - and the Interpolator doesn't care.  Quentin is alone.

The strongest punishment invoked by reality against the Quentins of the world, those who won't play well with others, is that they will end up alone and unprotected.  This encourages most Quentins to at least try to play well with others situationally (though sometimes they become successful movie directors).  The impress of the Interpolator's universe, both visually and in its cold-hearted nature, would encourage Quentin to 'pull together' a little if he wanted to survive the game.

True, he might still see it as a game - but with so much sensory input, he would be more easily fooled into thinking that he wasn't.  This would help build a better team dynamic and thus a stronger party and game experience.

Where it comes to social pressure and the social contract, the greatest element fucking up the balance is always the DM.  The DM has more power and knowledge and does not have even remotely the same motivations as the remaining players.  The more personally the DM becomes invested in the outcome of the game, the crappier that outcome becomes.  Removing the DM and replacing him or her with a device that can manage the other elements to a satisfactory degree (so long as the players can screw with the system to tailor it to themselves) would vastly improve the role-playing game.

How would any of this work technically?  No idea.  Not my problem.  I'm just using this whole thing to point out that DMs need to withdraw from the system as much as possible while enacting the bare minimum of control on the players.  I will embrace anything - even something that would replace me utterly - in order to better accomplish that.

Hell, if I were replaced, I could gird on my own dagger and play.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Fourth Question

It began with the realization that Giles Coren is Victoria Coren's brother.  I had never put that together.  For those who don't know (I didn't, 45 days ago), Giles Coren is an English columnist and restaurant critic for The Times in London.  He has a remarkably dry sense of humor (like his sister) and is possessed with that peculiar British talent that retains its superiority while indulging in self-abuse.

Investigation into this strange new person uncovered his association with Gordon Ramsay, which is okay because Coren bitch-slaps Ramsay unhesitatingly.  Yay.  This then led to the series that Coren did with Sue Perkins (that some may recognize from Q.I.) in which the two of them go back in time to sample the food and living habits of various historical periods (The Supersizers Eat... 2007-08).

Well, that was interesting and I considered posting it here on the blog and talking about food before realizing that probably no one would care to read my opinions on the subject.  So I dropped the idea and moved on.

My partner, however, having cut her teeth on this historical reality show jazz, continued on while I sat in my room playing Patrician III, writing my book and occasionally bothering to work on D&D.

This has not been time wasted.

So following Coren she found Back in Time for Dinner (2015) and then Electric Dreams (2009).  These are not my thing, but at least - since both are BBC productions - the various characters more or less speak and act towards one another like human beings.  Unfortunately, they ran out rather quickly.  Still hungry, however, my partner was bound to find across Frontier House (2002), which was positively wretched but not nearly as bad as Texas Ranch House (2006), which I can only describe as execrable.  My partner, bless her, has far more tolerance for this sort of shit than I do.  I had to fight back with BBC's Tudor Monastery Farm (2013), in which at living in the past is at least done by educated historians and not slack-jawed, infantile, passive-aggressive dicks.

Tudor Monastery, best of the lot.  A shot from the center of a
Hall House, in which the fire was built in the house center
without a chimney.

Now, I realize most of this is old and I don't expect anyone to get excited that I've linked the above - but it is all there on youtube.  I haven't had "television service" since 2004 because it became practical to simply watch everything on the internet, even before youtube was launched.  So I don't see advertisements for TV shows (along with commercials, political ads, news stories, flood warnings or threats to launch a nuclear strike) unless I go looking for these things.  This makes for an extraordinarily pleasant existence.  Therefore, until recently I hadn't become aware of these shows and would not have watched them except that I love HER, very, very much.

It is impossible not to notice, however, that these shows tap the same buttons that D&D and other role-playing games tap . . . in some ways, much better than RPGs because the cows, the fences, the building of fires with flint and so on are obviously much more 'hands on' than talking about these things around a table.  On the other hand, these things also suck at RPGs in that they are bound to universally fail because no one's allowed to truly feel more than, well, ashamed or humilated by having a camera in their face while forced to deal with others prancing and dancing their fucking self-righteousness because they have a camera in their face.

Yesterday, I asked a question.  I'll reword it 'slightly' to fit the context of the above:

Is it possible to create a visual, audio and moderately sensory habitat or setting in which players of an RPG world could dispense with a DM and pursue a different sort of social contract through the use of an electronic medium that would be so much better than D&D that DMing (but not playing) would become obsolete?

 I don't think I'm going to answer that, at least not right now.  I'm thoroughly enjoying reading and taking inspiration from others who are parsing this question.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


"I'm slowly coming around to realize that social pressure and social contract are really what make the role-playing game unique, and what brings the special moments that cannot be had in other forms of games."

"Extended discussions on any subject requires that involved people feel somehow authoritative on the discussed subject."

During my game on Saturday, several of my players expressed the opinion that from among the people commenting on my blog, Scarbrow seems to be particularly insightful. And I feel these two recent examples show his talent for getting to the nub of the matter - perhaps it has something to do with his being Spanish, that English is not his first language or that he's just a bloody genius.

In any case, putting these two thoughts together:  if I want an extended discussion about how the social contract of the role-playing game produces an effect that cannot be duplicated with any other medium, then the first thing I cannot do is express my opinion about it.  I tend to come off all authoritarian and shit, making people feel there's no room for an alternate opinion (given I'm moderating this space).  If I play, then people are bound to feel either a) I won't listen for the opinion they have and are certain is correct; or b) I'll suck all the air out of the conversation by saying the words first.

So . . . 

I'll initiate with a few questions:

1)  Is the social contract strengthened or weakened by the DM existing as a "judge"?  Should the DM back off to a greater extent from regulating role-playing games, in order to produce a more equal social contract, or should the present view of DM as absolute final arbiter in all things be upheld?

2)   Should parties have "leaders," as stipulated in the DM's Guide, so that there should be one person who speaks when the whole party is going to take an action?  Should individual players be allowed to stipulate action only when the DM expressly calls upon them?

3)   What destroys the social contract?

4)  Could the social contract ever be replaced by an electronic medium (of imaginable, even fantasy power)?

Please.  Talk among yourselves.  

Orc Council by Peter Siedl

I'll make every effort not to delete comments.  As I'm not promoting any particular viewpoint, rules 1 & 2 do not apply to this post.  As it is all opinion, rule 3 does not apply.  Therefore, let's just not insult anyone.

Monday, January 11, 2016


From the Wiki:

The act of running over a short distance at the greatest possible speed. Because of physiology, a runner's near-top speed cannot be maintained for more than 3 combat rounds (36 seconds) due to the depletion of phosphocreatine stores in the muscles. Even at amateur sprinting speeds, however, this can cover a considerable distance.

As a combat round is inconveniently long and vague where sprinting distances are concerned (in an Olympic race, reaction time, block clearance and achieving a speed of maximum acceleration all occur in a 4-second interval), the actual distance covered by a sprinter is broken down by action points expended rather than in terms of rounds.

Further, the highest speed possible by a character will be limited by any baggage or items the character may carry. In game terms (rather than reality, as I am lacking useful tables that can be applied to role-playing encumbrance), this will translate as a 40% reduction in potential distance covered per action point lost due to encumbrance the character carries. Since this will quickly reduce 'sprinting' speed to below normal speed, it may be presumed that when the character is able to move at a faster rate through combat running, it and the character's 'sprinting' speed should be seen as equal. The rule treats the matter this way to suspend any idea that sprinting ability is a form of combat superiority.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Funniest Thing I Have Seen in a Year

Found this about two weeks ago.  Showed it to the D&D crowd last night.  Great laughter all around:

I particularly want to give kudos to the artist(s) who developed the icons, logos and script for the various scenes.  Brilliant.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Bodyguard Result

Several days ago, BaronOpal was able to impress into my thick head some of his reasons for resisting a character of his having a background generated with an addiction.  I wanted to pause, before writing this post, and assert that while I like generated results and I support things not always going the player's way, I'm not a tyrant.  Given a reasonable, convincing real-life argument, I would probably offer the Baron, or any other player, the option of an alternate character generation (though I would insist on everything being regenerated, not just that one result).

Still, on some level it is the DM's role to pester the players - so I am still looking for odd things that can be added to the background generator that will make players take notice.  After all, if I'm not provoking a response, I'm only doing half a job.

With this in mind, I've been working on the Father's table.  I don't mean that to be sexist; I'm working on a result that gives an equal chance for it being the "Mothers table" just now.  The point is that a character's secondary skills (or benefits) come as a result of whomever may have had an influence on the character at a young age.  In many cases, since characters occasionally lose both their parents at a young age, are foundlings or grow up on the streets, "Father" here is a mutable term.  Progenitor may be a better term, but it distinctly does not sound 'fantasy,' eh?  Sounds lawyerish.

One possible result is that one's progenitor is a grandmaster/grandmistress of assassins or thieves.  I've puzzled about the 'benefit' of that - apart from money.  With this result the character gets a nice bonus there.  Here's what I've landed on:

Ciela and her Protector by Benlo

We may propose that the 1st level character (all my player characters start at 1st, regardless of the level of the party) has a father or mother who is naturally concerned about their child, and has the power to compel others to be concerned.  In this case, the 1st level character starts with a 'bodyguard,' a 2nd to 5th level thief or assassin (depending on the guild) whose role it is to protect the player character - with or without the player's permission.

The bodyguard would be completely loyal to the character, except where the character was clearly attempting to put themselves in unreasonable danger.  For example, the character decides to climb a wall and infiltrate a castle.  The bodyguard might approve of this - IF there is room for the bodyguard to come along.  If not, the bodyguard might physically restrain the player's character from taking such action.  Whether the party comes to the aid of the character, that's up to them.

The bodyguard would fight with the character and the party, but would not move farther away than the distance that could be covered in one round, if the character got into trouble.  This could be very useful for the character - IF the character were prepared to play within the bodyguard's rules.  It gives the character considerable clout at the start of the campaign, particularly if everyone starts at 1st level.

For my world, which doesn't allow player-vs-player, I would not let the player direct the bodyguard to intimidate others in the party.  The bodyguard's attitude would be more like, "Listen, you need to be friends with these people - that will keep you safer.  You should apologize and make nice."  The bodyguard is not a toy.  He or she sees the long range benefit of the character having friends in the party and would work towards that.

After a time, the character would level (and the bodyguard too, as a henchman, getting half the player's experience), and might not want the bodyguard any more.  This might involve ditching the bodyguard (who could then appear later at the DMs discretion, out there and always searching for the character), killing the bodyguard or perhaps finding a way to communicate with Mom or Dad about ending this annoying presence.  On the other hand, once the character hit a certain level and got control over the bodyguard, the bodyguard could be adopted as a loyal henchman (according to my rules).  Or the character could just enjoy the extra presence of a loyal guard ready to get up and fight, so long as the character doesn't do something really stupid.  Most of my players do not run stupid characters and would not find this a problem.

Still, I like the idea of a character trying to run from his or her own bodyguard and getting tackled, getting a lecture and getting hauled by forcibly to a safe place.

Railroading?  No.  NPC foil to character's usual 2-dimensional expectation of success.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Tariff of Toll Rates

I just came across this interesting image:

Toll Bridge Rates on the Connecticut River between
Vermont and New Hampshire

The title of this post corresponds to the header on the sign.  Below that, it reads:

Each foot passenger = 2¢
Bicycles, each rider = 2¢
Horse and rider = 5¢
Horse, jack, muse, neat beast, sheep or swine, each = 2¢
Any vehicle drawn by one horse or beast = 10¢
Any vehicle drawn by two horses or beasts = 15¢
Any vehicle drawn by three horses or beasts = 20¢
Any vehicle drawn by four horses or beasts = 25¢
Any vehicle drawn by more than four horses or beasts; for each additional horse or beast = 5¢
Automobiles, passenger (seven passengers or less) = 15¢
Automobiles, passenger (more than seven passengers) = 25¢
Automobile trucks, less than 1 ton = 15¢
Automobile trucks, 1 ton or more = 25¢
Motorcycles, one passenger = 5¢
Motorcycles, with side car (two passengers) = 10¢
Motorcycles, with side car (more than two passengers) = 15¢

I love it when people put thought into things.