Saturday, April 30, 2016

500 Million Years Old

Look what I found in Mauritania:

Called the Guelb er Richat, or the Richat Structure

It's an elliptical dome in the western Sahara Desert, also called the Eye of the Sahara.  What a fantastic name (occurs to me that it is straight out of H.P. Lovecraft).  It's about 40 km in diameter - and apparently, not an impact crater.  Geologists believe that it's a magmatic extrusion.

I was just goofing around, half-working on the Sahara desert south of Morocco when I should actually be working on my book.  Ah, well, artists need to rest once in awhile.

Equipment Notes

Going forward, I can tell I'm going to need more space to explain and identify the rules behind a number of equipment pieces I include in my game - particularly those associated with herbal medicine and the apothecary.  I've never functionally sat down to fix the rules behind these things, except by general agreement, but it seems to me that the best way to do so would be to make it a part of the wiki.

Thus I've created this page as an index.  There's not much there just now, just three things; but I will update it continuously over the next few weeks as I work on fixing the general equipment table.  I can see this list expanding into a very large list.

Expand, Keep it Free, Request

For those who may be considering pledging to my patreon, today is the last day if the reader wants to see any publisher maps or trade content before June 1st.  As promised to those whom I've contacted, the main content on the prices table has been created: more or less, with a few exceptions of things that may occur to me in future, I've made a complete transfer from my old document regarding the material costs for things.  In terms of the trade system, this means the price of the thing that something is made out of: not the price of a gold necklace, but the price of the gold used to make said necklace.  This has taken me a couple of months.

Going forward, there is only left to calculate the prices of the goods themselves.  Unfortunately, I have some 950 goods to add . . . but so it goes.  I estimate that there are something like 2,000 calculations on the materials tab.  It isn't that I like to go big with these things.  I'm trying to account for every object that anyone could ever want to buy: not only the things I've invented but all the things that I imaginably might invent one day, most often on request from someone in my game.  This is a monumental task, particularly when one considers that I'm not limited to real objects - there is room in the system to calculate everything imaginary, as well.

Yesterday I was told by Chris, a well-meaning fan that I should expand the wiki, keep it free and accessible to all and allow patrons to request content.  Good advice.  For those who might be wondering, I have no plans to make the wiki into a pay site.  I think the greatest mistake that I see every artist around me making is the desire to turn everything into cash.  I know that of late I've been pushing hard across the board - circumstances have been forcing my hand.  However, I rush to point out that I haven't diminished any of the content that I have always supplied for free.

Admittedly, this blog has suffered from a number of time-oriented obstructions.  I talk too much about money, I talk too much about the jumpstarter and patreon, when I do get around to writing about D&D it is all opinion and without rule systems . . . it isn't the bygone days when I was writing tons of opinion and proposing rule systems that sometimes made it onto the blog.  When I compare to other blogs, however, which seem to be full of opinions and chatter about books written by other people, game cons and deconstructing endless disconnected info details because it is 'interesting' - but lacking in any gaming adaptations - I feel I'm not doing too bad.  Yes, I know, it's another disappointment when Alexis bitches about his life and does not advance something really practical like eight posts on how to start a campaign or get characters all moving in the same direction, but please have faith: tomorrow, I may get my crap together and post some of that.

Straight up, there's nothing a blogger likes more than a reader (and patron!) requests content.  Content is the hardest thing to come up with on a blog.  I write a surprising number of posts based on someone poking me in the ribs: told to watch something on youtube, asked if I really mean Shakespeare, challenged on my wisdom, pushed into detailing something about a system I'm writing and so on.  This blog is, for those who haven't caught on yet, wholly interactive.  If I'm not writing enough about things the reader cares about, the reader has only his or herself to blame.  Between the book and the pricing table, along with trying to make my way in the dumbfuck world, I'm pretty distracted here - requesting content is the very best way to get me on a page we can both consider.

I am going to keep thinking of things that people would think are worth paying for.  I'm sure more than a few people wondered why I didn't announce upon losing my job that I was going to start charging for D&D games.  Fact is, this would be a very bad time for that and it isn't something that should be rushed into.  It's a big step and it requires consideration, planning and commitment, something I can't do as long as I'm invested in the Fifth Man (book I'm writing - have you heard?).  I don't want to do anything half-baked, ever.  I'll launch that and anything else I can think of when its ready - and in the meantime, I'll be thinking over services that are worth launching.

Rest assured, however, that none of those things are going to be services I'm providing for free - like the podcast or the wiki.  If anything, when I have the time and the wherewithal, those are things I'm going to keep expanding, hopefully forever.  I know I can get the hang of this podcast thing if I can just do it enough to get a proper feel for it.  I'm not happy with any of the content so far: it seems scattered and too casual to me - yet I know instinctively that is part of its appeal.  I don't know yet what a 'right' podcast will sound like . . . but I didnt' know what a right blogpost would sound like 8 years ago or what a right campaign session would sound like in 1980.  We learn these things from experience.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Bending Sand

I have no pretensions that there is anything remarkable about the castle I'm building.  I'm about 15 here; it would be the summer of 1979, so somewhere between one and three months before the first time I played D&D.  See?  I've always possessed the creative spirit.

I vaguely remember this.  The location is Sylvan Lake, so I'm working with unsticky lake sand; I've dug the moat surrounding the castle to make a center as big as I could make it; as I remember, without any tools except my hands - and of course in one afternoon.  Here's a shot from before I had to abandon it:

Complete with mystified onlooker.

Found these pictures today while hunting around through old books and papers.  I post it because these things seem so important at the time when we dedicate ourselves to them - it reminds me that the thing we lose as we get older is that sense of imposing our will upon our environment.  There are always those who lose that 'youth' almost immediately; "What is the sense?" they think.  Having given that up, they carry on all their lives, preaching obedience and more importantly the benefits of obedience.  Obey and reap the reward.  That's how the song goes.

I treasure dearly that image above of my head down, covered with sand, working.  Not at what other people think I should be working at; not at something useful or even something that will last.  Just the pure mind bending sand to its purpose for as long as it has the opportunity.

This makes me want to make maps.  Instead, I'll write.  But it's all the same thing.

Critical Role

One of my players has encouraged me to watch a series of youtube videos created by the group Critical Role.  This is a tremendously popular skype group that features a DM and seven players who characterize themselves as voice actors - and there's evidence in that they have some game there.  The campaign has a heavy emphasis on role-playing, with each participant pushing hard to play 'in character' and relate to each other and the DM's many characters.

I have made my way through a full episode and I'm just starting a second.  As online games go, it isn't a train-wreck.  The participation is far from the painful public abortions recorded at events by the WOTC.  That said, I'm still viewing the content as homework rather than interest.

It is the sort of thing that convinces me that attempts to film or reproduce my own games would be a bad, bad idea.  I can't imagine I would be any better than what's shown here.  I really hate the endless mugging for the camera by the various players that goes on for hour after hour, as well as the constant, exhausting grinning that never seems to end when players and DM are on film.  It reminds me of amateur theatre productions where the director did not have enough control - or where there was no director, by group agreement.  Public performance needs someone to stand off stage or off camera and scream, "Energy!  Focus!  Stop fucking grinning!"

I'm sure I'm the only person this bothers.

Another thing that is eerie to me is the lack of attention to the character page.  My campaign is much more of a 'game' - with players highly focused on their character limitations, options, improvements and so on.  It is rare that there isn't a combat in my game that doesn't include moments of a player staring hard at their character sheet looking for a way to overcome the issue at hand through game mechanics.  This game goes on for an hour at a time without anyone needing to do more than ask the DM's NPC for clarification - which usually means moving forward to the next NPC to ask again for more clarification.  The interaction is filled with completely superfluous actions and content, followed by clever description by the DM that compliments said superfluous action, drawing the most meaningless act into minutes of irrelevant interaction and participation.

There are other features of gaming that I know have nothing whatsoever to do with these people.  For example, players roll dice at random to 'find things' without asking if the die roll is relevant.  This would simply never happen in my world.  The player would ask, "Can I find/get/see . . ." etcetera and IF a die roll would help in that situation, I would answer, "Roll this die to find out."  Otherwise I would simply say yes or no - because most things are NOT random.

Attacks occur without detection of surprise or initiative; the players approach a stranger and BANG, lightning, everyone take 14 damage, no there's no saving throw to avoid this - and let me explain how you're all blown fifteen feet back and off your feet.  The players move to take an action and the DM says, "It has no effect;" and no player says, "What the hell?"  Damage occurs and the response received is the height of banality.

Moment-to-moment action is uncompromisingly micromanaged.  The unseen servant can't just be created and assumed to perform the action required: instead, the servant must be cast with a flush of performance by the character, followed by a lengthy description of the unseen servant coming into being, followed by the character telling the unseen servant what to do, followed by a description of the unseen servant following the order - and omg, please just slash my fucking wrists now.

I know people like this.  It thrills them to death to create every dialogue and to live their actions in real time.  Listening to it, I find myself drifting from minute to minute, until I'm hopelessly disconnected from whatever the hell is going on.  It seems to me that they're on some sort of lawn, they were going to go into a dungeon that never seems to appear, then there's another gate to be opened, now they're standing outside a door, then they don't seem to go there, there's some sort of large tower, oh wait, the dwarf is now answering the door to a dwarven house, now they're talking to some woman; wait, now it's a man - what the fuck is going on?

As I wrap up this post, they've gone to buy some stuff at what seems to be a sort of D&D supermarket (it has everything) - and this too needs a ton of description, characters, dialogue and backstory.  My players at this point would be hunched, obsessed, over long equipment tables parsing through their personal needs and checking the availability and prices of things they have trouble finding - the point being to ready themselves and get on with the adventure.

My world, my game, my players are very, very different from this.  This seems boring.  Agonizingly boring.  If I were playing I'd be sitting to one side, arms crossed, scowling, wondering when something was going to, well, happen.  I'd be thinking, what excuse can I make up right now that will let me leave and never come back?  Because gawd knows, I'd find something more interesting to do than this.

That's why I don't ache to record my gameplay.  What must my gameplay look like to others?  How boring would it seem to them?  How annoying would the grinning be.  How annoyed would they be that I didn't invent clever dialogue and descriptions, down to the tables upon which the trade goods sit, when they went to buy things?

Pretty annoyed, I'd guess.  Pretty bored, I'd guess.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Finding my equilibrium,

As an additional response to a comment received yesterday, not having to do with my life or my troubles, I'd like to say that I have, at the end of a serious session, sat back and - with the party - considered the significance of what we've created.

Acknowledging that when I say 'significance,' I meaning the word in a very specific way.  I don't mean, as the comment suggests, in the ethical way we are intended to view Shakespeare by high school teachers.  Yes, obviously Macbeth's tragedy is the subject of greed and collusion, in which a well-respected noble finds himself tempted by more power than he deserves, only to find that he's bitten off more than he can chew and that the fates themselves have it in for him.  We are meant, we are told, to view the significance of the play in terms of how we choose to live our lives, recognizing that our time on "the stage," as Macbeth describes, is filled with sound and fury and that we should not put too much stock into it, but recognize that a tale told by an idiot is something that cannot be trusted.

This is not the kind of significance I mean when I say that after an adventure we sit about and think of it.  If we understand the origin of the word 'significance,' we find the Old French significantia: "meaning, force, energy."  Some games I have played have certainly carried these elements.  The monster dies with the last possible roll standing between it and a total-party-kill, the player makes the impossible roll that saves the character's life, a plan comes together so completely that the enemy is destroyed before it has a chance to breathe.  These are moments of great significance, producing memories in us that get told again and again - like that time the thief stripped down to loin cloth, covered himself in mud and then, with a dagger, took out the guards at the gate without taking a single point of damage.  Or the time when the mage tripped (blew a 17 dexterity check), tumbled down three tiers of the stepped pyramid and took 82 total points of damage, dying.  Or was shot.  Or found that weapon of the gods.  Or some other notable moment that turned the game around.

Are these moments as significant as Shakespeare?  Absolutely.

The key is to try and see Macbeth - or any other play of the reader's choice - from down on the ground, as it were.  Will the player or DM produce the lofty writing, the soaring eloquence, the stately aphorism that makes clear the literary prescription?  No, probably not.  But Macbeth - the real Macbeth, not the fellow spouting words on boards for an audience - his thoughts were certainly those of a 'player.'  Would a player take the opportunity to kill a king with an eye to seizing the kingdom?  Would a player be possessed and terrified by the ghost of a vanquished enemy such as Banquo?  Would a player turn to witches to get out of a crisis?  Would a player scream at Macduff, "Fuck yes, let's fight!" then lay on forthwith?  Yes, damn straight.

And when the player died or lived, how long would the telling last?

The trouble with 'significance' in a role-playing effort is that too often it is created, promoted and celebrated by the DM.  Note the other part of the statement with which I started the post: we have considered the significance of what we've created - not the significance of what the guy behind the DM screen has created.

And this, I think, is where Ozymandias is right: because we've been programmed to assume that if there is going to be 'significance' in the game, then it's going to start with the DM shoving it down our throats - as opposed to, for example, 'fun.'  Rather than having great fun slaughtering a king in his bed, followed by a deluge of drinking, debauchery and smiting our enemies until there's a land-sweeping battle-royale ending in a do-or-die one-on-one contest (or a series of them, where each player gets his or her moment in the sun), we're stuck with a series of propriety lessons soaked with witches pointing fingers repeating "Bad, bad, bad, bad . . ."

Because most people who put on Shakespeare or think of Shakespeare forget completely that long before it became the stuff with which we torture high school students, Shakespeare was F-U-N fun.  The groundlings shouted mockery and abuse from the pit while Lady Macbeth showed off her bloomers and spat at them, as the upper classes tittered with their hands under each others' kirtles and petticoats.  Shakespeare was a raucous, drunken, bloody, moiling, sexy farce-driven festival of greed, chivalry and sport, so popular that not only do we remember the plays, we built an entire industry of story-telling around the principles so launched in that century.  It's only dry today because we are sermonized to concentrate on the prude lesson that's given and not upon the cold-blooded sound of Macbeth severing the heads from the bodies of Macduff's wife and children.  We're reminded about how "senseless" it is - we're not supposed to remember how passionate it is.

When DMs take it into their heads to create significance, they make the mistake of climbing into the pulpit and not the charnal pit.  We don't listen at the pulpit to enjoy ourselves, we do it to redeem ourselves from the ecstatic revelry of the night before.  The voice on the pulpit talks at us; the crowd we know and love talks with us.  We don't play D&D on Sunday morning: we play it on Saturday night.

This is worth remembering.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Lack of Women's Voices

"Tradition is what you resort to when you don't have the time or money to do it right."

I feel like I can breathe.

After a week of going from work to work, from the restaurant to the computer and back to the restaurant, I feel for the first time this morning that I can catch my breath.  I work tonight, which is a pity, but at least for a few hours my time is my own.  And of course what I want to do with that time is write.

More than a week ago I posted a song without comment - and it received no comment, which isn't much of a surprise.  There's no real way to talk about music; we feel music, and how it strikes us, motivates us, inspires us or sustains us, those things are almost impossible to articulate.

These last three years of putting together projects for publication have been instructive as to how I function as an artist.  After a certain point, as I near each deadline, the effort and the stress begins to overwhelm me and I begin to reach for crutches - anything that will help me limp across the finishing line.

I'm not sure I mentioned it at the time, back in 2014 . . . but when I was making myself get up and face How to Run each day, struggling to get it right and terrified of getting it wrong, as I knew how harsh the gaming community can be, the song that got me through that dark time was Sara Bareilles' Brave.  For, as I try to explain, writing is an act of courage:

"You can be the outcast or be the backlash of somebody's lack of love - or you can start speaking up."

I'm going to talk about music a bit.  I find it very strange what the fellows at the restaurant listen to for music.  Whereas back in the 90s, when I worked all the time in kitchens, the music was all radio.  Now, of course, it is a speaker and a competition for whose Ipod will be connected to it.

I work with three kinds of guys, regarding their music - and let me just make it clear that I like these guys, whatever their motivations or their proclivities.  They're not especially bright, none of them are educated or even imagine they will be educated, but they're brutally honest and up front about how they feel about things.  This is what I've always liked about cooks; there's none of the dissembling, passive-aggressive shit that turns up in office work.  These guys are straight up aggressive.

First, there are 18-22 year old white kids, all Canadians, fresh out of high school, complete with pimples and baby fat.  Every one of them, without exception, listens to black male hip-hop, exclusively.  They don't listen to music from white men (with the exception of Eminem's Slim Shady period - that earlier stuff, never) and they absolutely do not listen to any music with a woman's voice.

The second group are mixed-race Canadians, mostly white, in their mid-20s and early 30s.  They don't mind the hip-hop but when they play their music it is all 1970s progressive rock or - believe it or not - disco.  There's no early 80s new wave, no U2, no Def Leppard, no Guns & Roses, no metal and absolutely no grunge whatsoever.  It is like the music invented between 1980 and the present never existed.  To the negatives we can add in no punk - not even the light punk like Talking Heads.  For 70s stuff, there's no Clash, no Boston, no Supertramp, none of the bands that invented the formula that U2 or Guns & Roses capitalized on.  Oh, and no Bowie.  There's a little Pink Floyd, lots of Led Zepplin (of course), a little Anthem and then after that it is mixed pop-rock like the Eagles and Jethro Tull.  Finally, they absolutely do not listen to any music with a woman's voice.

The third group are all guys from overseas: Kenya, Sudan, India and Central America.  These guys just don't care.  They don't play their music - but I suspect it would be World Music if anyone gave them the chance.

This thing about women singers has always been there.  Back in the 90s, when kitchens I lived in listened to Grunge day and night, with the occasional old-school rap, the ratio would have been 9:1 male to female vocalists.  Now it is none.  I swear.  I have been paying attention and in four weeks of working in this kitchen, with about a dozen different pods attached to the speaker, no one plays anything with a woman.

It tells me that white boys have lost their voice entirely in the world of music.  They've embraced a music from another time, a music that my own generation grew up with and rejected as they reached for something more personal and - dare I say it - sexual in content than the repeated propping up of the male ego to which bands like the Sex Pistols or AC/DC desperately clung.  I was 16 when disco died, when for a year we went to the Death of Disco parties, rushing to the raunchy lyrics of the Cars, Blondie and Bowie.  Progressive rock by then had become so over-processed we couldn't bear that shit any more - but of course by the mid-80s everything became so over-processed that rap was inevitable.  So it goes.

Those white boys who can't relate to music that was old when their fathers were children are immersed in the music of black boys, like some weird parody of that scene at the beginning of Office Space when the white boy in his car, listening to rap, carefully turns it down when the scary black men walk by.

It's impossible to see the lack of women's voices in their lives as an 'option.'  It's fear, pure and simple.  As their lives are becoming more puritanical, between the hysteria of the feminist community and the toxic backlash of endless male pundits endlessly deconstructing every single thing wrong with women, ever, to hundreds of thousands of listeners, males are retreating.  Whereas once these aggressive males I work with would have peppered their steady discourse (cooks never stop talking) with sexual jokes, innuendo, flirting (there are attractive servers right there) and ever-present homosexual accusations, said in jest or not, now the dialogue is all drugs, all the time.  I need to get drugs, I need to do drugs, I've just done drugs, these drugs are better than those drugs, etcetera and etcetera.  Drugs are safe, drugs are a retreat, drugs do not include recriminations and risk, drugs help.  Women are scary and difficult to predict and it's probably just better - since we're all still young, dumb and full of cum - that we silence those voices.  And since the front house servers are all trying to get on the good side with the cooks, they do their best to act like one of the boys or they don't talk to the kitchen at all.

That is a pattern I've noticed at the other kitchens I've worked in the past ten months.  The division between front house and back house is more pronounced than ever - in part because of corporate-restaurant policy but I think it is also that there's less trust between the two sides.  There are always male front-house servers, of course, but they tend to either be bartenders (in which case they have the same characteristics as the cook, just better groomed and less morlock like) or they're a bit gay and they tend to side with the girls.

Anyway, I just quoted a woman singer as the sustainer of my soul, so it's obvious I'm nothing like these guys.  I live in a world - evident from my latest podcast - that has loud women's voices in it.  I do my best to pretend, however.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Preview Now

Well, I am good to go with the preview: and since it is April 26th in most of the world, I'm just going to go ahead and start sending out the preview now.

I thought it might be fun to make a list of the places on Earth to where I'll be sending my work off:

Alberta, Canada
Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, France
Brussels, Belgium
California, USA
Dundee, Scotland
Greater London, England
Hertfordshire, England
Kansas, USA
Madrid, Spain
Maryland, USA
New South Wales, Australia
New York State, USA
Ohio, USA
Ontario, Canada
Oregon, USA
South Australia, Australia
Styria, Austria
Texas, USA
Tottori, Japan
Uusimaa, Finland
Washington State, USA

I'll just make the point that there were multiple receivers in about half the areas above: Oregon, London and California seem to be the hot spots.

I will be sending the content manually, so please allow some time for the material to show up in your email box - I should be through them all in less than half an hour, I'm sure.  It is seven minutes before the hour as I write this, so please judge from that.

If anyone doesn't get a copy, then please scream at me.  Somehow, you've gotten lost in my accounts is all.  If you don't see a copy, it is probably because I have the wrong email for you or in transferring my data from one system to another, I've skipped a line.  Please do not fail to contact me: I really WANT to send you the material.

Very well.  I better get started.

Preview Tomorrow

The preview comes tomorrow.

I am spending today completing a last review of the material, transferring the corrections from the editor and doing my best to hammer down the last bits of continuity.  Content will be going out when the material is ready, in pdf format.

I encourage readers who have not yet contributed $25 to the Jumpstart Proposal to give some consideration to the idea.  I know that many who have not will be happy to buy the book once it has been published in its entirety - and that they can easily wait.  I truly appreciate that.  But if you can bring yourself to help an artist in need, regardless of the permanency of the material . . . just consider me as you would a musician playing on a street corner.  The pleasure is found in the moment; the gentle reader can only take the memory of contributing a little to his box, not the music itself.  Nor is it a moment of charity; it is appreciation, pure and simple, for a fellow who has chosen to dedicate his life to art and the making of beautiful things, valued in far too little coin in this world.

Don't think of my hat being in my hand.  Think of my hat being at my feet, as I play for you.

And if $25 is too much  (and I'm sure it probably is) - then give the musician here a buck or so a month, for the sake of my dancing for you.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tao & Tao's Daughter Podcast S01 E04

Here is our fourth podcast, recorded March 18 at the Indigo Bookstore in West Calgary.  There are some issues.  We edited fairly hard in order to keep the subject more or less on track, there is plenty of ambient noise (audio improves after fifteen minutes for some reason), there are seven people talking and for some reason, at the 27:30 mark the audio repeats itself for about two minutes.  Oh well, we're learning.  It fits that we talk about getting past making mistakes in the first five minutes because this applies to podcasts also.

Please enjoy:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Podcast Tomorrow; Preview on Tuesday

Three days to the book preview.  I've completed my end of the language editing at last - it is in the hands of my editor who, unfortunately, has been given less time than she really needs to look it over properly.  That is all my fault; I've been struggling for the energy to do a good job since the kitchen work started and I've dragged it out a little long.  There will be a preview sent out on the 26th, however, and it will be as long and as rich as I promised.  If an odd word is left out in the last four chapters, if there is a small technical error, it will be because the editor just didn't get to the end of the work I've given her.  Those issues will be fixed when the book is published.

I figure I have one more day of work on it - making the corrections the editor gives back and doing a last search through my document notes (which I write on the document in the form of text balloons through microsoft words) for continuity.  The plot is complex, there are many details in the book and continuity has been a bitch throughout - it is always hard to keep an entire novel and all the intricate details of that novel in one's head at the same time . . . this is even more difficult with a mystery- thriller, such as I am writing, as the devil is in the details.  I've never written a tale like this with this much depth - but I am extremely pleased with it and I think that when every last clue is fixed and herring caught, the book is going to be well worth reading more than once (just so the reader can enjoy all the subtle hints once they know where the story goes).

In other news, I have a podcast that I will be putting up tomorrow - the fourth in a series.  This one was recorded among my players at the Indigo Bookstore, on March 18.  Unfortunately, the sound quality in the first third is less than ideal.  It was something of a free-for-all among seven people and so it won't be like the first three I've put up.  We recorded it on a phone like a microphone, using a selfie-stick; in parts it works very well; in others, where the ambient noise gets too high (my sound editor for this did her best to buffer it out) it is just annoying.  I hope the gentle reader will forgive; like anyone doing their first, early podcasts, it is a learning curve.  We all feel the content is worth the listen, even if it takes a patient listener.

I wish I could put up something else other than details about my life.  I have done zero work on actual D&D since a week ago yesterday; which seems like an age and a half to me.  My blog posts make this evident, as I'm not talking about D&D.  This is what happens when we chase deadlines; my May and June - for now I realize there's no way I can have the book completely finished before the end of June - will be much like my present.  I am sad about that.  But the book is worth the effort and that's why I do it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Boldest Experiment

I was asked if I could satisfactorily answer the following:
"What happens when a character dies in a per-pay enterprise like this? Should they expect not to? Imagine the furor around a video game costing $59 where character death was permanent. Now multiply that by 100."

Sigh.  This makes me sad.  The very intention of the "what if" scenario proposes that people have become so fragile, so needy, so entitled that if they were to spend money for the privilege of playing a game, the ensuing tantrum of their dashed privilege would grow so onerous that my resolution would be swept away in a hurricane of screaming, self-righteous hysterics.

Multiply that by 100.

One hundred of what, exactly?  100 commenters on the internet?  100 players?  I'm certainly not capable of running 100 players at the same time and I find it impressively unlikely that I would be killing 100 players simultaneously if I was.  That would truly be a total party kill, not to be matched in the annals of the game.

But let's imagine that someone has chosen to play in my campaign - and that I've rolled a die, or they have, and as a result they've died.  They are so invested in the game, so invested in their character, that they choose to seek compensation for the death of this character through a means that will cause me harm in some manner.  Let's further assume that this person's perception of me turns so black over the death of this character (remember, paid for), that they truly, deeply, intensely hate me.  We need to multiply something by 100: let's multiply this hatred.  What are the possibilities?

Well, I'm on the internet with my real name.  It's reasonable to assume that someone truly motivated could choose to seek me out, hunt me down and kill me.  This is not the first time I've speculated about something like this.  A little over four years ago, I had a little troll who wrote nasty messages and personal threats and a lot of other things, causing me to remember the story of Billy Pilgrim and Paul Lazzaro from Slaughterhouse Five.

So it goes.

My father, who is 80 now, cannot get it into his head even after forty years of my deciding to be a writer that this occupation actually requires that I be, well, publicly known.  Just a month ago he was cautioning me in serious tones to "be careful" about who knows me on the internet because there are people out there just waiting to use personal information about me to destroy any chance of my getting a "good job."  He is, without a question, a doomsayer of the first order; I remember back in high school, when we first got a Betamax Video Recorder, that my father discouraged us from speaking about it to our friends, arguing basically, "If word gets out that we have one of these, there are people who wouldn't hesitate to break into our house to get it."

Today, my father lives in the same house that I lived in when I was zero.  That house, today, is worth around $800,000.  It sits amid a bunch of other houses that are also worth one hell of a lot of money - and it always has.  We would try to explain to my father that every person in our neighborhood owned a VCR, but that never seemed to get through.

Oh, in case someone is thinking right now, "Why doesn't your father help you?"  Well . . . in the original Fun With Dick and Jane, Jane goes to ask her father for money and gets this speech:

Father: "All right.  It's the monsoon season . . . and you're standing outside in torn raincoats.  Come through this by yourselves and you'll be dry for the rest of your lives.  Take money from me and you'll be wet.  Soaking wet from now on.  Jane, it's the best thing that could happen.  Especially for Dick.  I'm so happy for both of you.  Especially for Dick."
Jane:  "Dad, Billy is doing his work by candlelight."
Father:  "Splendid!  So did Abraham Lincoln."
Jane:  "How are you both doing."
Father:  "Never better!  Jane . . . we have sowed all our lives, and we're now reaping the harvest!  Reap!  Reap!  REAP!"
(this vid was the best I could find)

So, basically, I'm not deserving.

Okay, so I've gone around the barn, down to the store, gotten into an argument with the hairdresser next door and now I'm on my way home.  1.  I already have a public persona; 2. I've already been not liked; 3. every public persona risks some nutjob turning up some day; 4. Given my upbringing, I ought to be insanely paranoid but I've chosen not to be.

Let's contend with a far more likely scenario.  Said player's character dies.  Said player is unhappy.  Said player shouts about it on the internet, tries to raise x100 angry sentiment against me.

Sorry.  I don't see it.  First of all, I don't exactly know what horrible thing can be said about me that hasn't already been said.  Someone could claim to know something about me that's horrible - but that's already been claimed and it turns out that making shit up on the internet is quite ordinary.

Moreover, I ask the readership: consider if this argument would produce much sympathy:

"I paid $100 to play a role-playing game online and my character was killed.  And now I want justice."

Is there a way to add information to that argument that doesn't make the person sound, well . . . I'll refrain from the expletive.  I can at least feel reassured that, living in Canada, there's no practical way to bring a grudge suit against me on the basis of "I'm very rich and I like to use the system to fuck with people."  The legal system is different here; bringing suit is not just a matter of having money.  Moreover, I'd be operating under the legal disclaimer that exists on the Patreon website: so that as long as I follow Patreon's rules, I'm protected.  It would be very hard to bring a suit against Patreon at this time and there are much bigger fish in the kettle to contend with if that were the case.

As near as I can tell, this leaves my personal feeling of remorse or regret at killing a player character, given that someone has paid me for the privilege.  This leaves my self-esteem and my resolve in the face of pure, unbridled hatred, as I am told that I have committed a sin by running a fair and reasonable game in which a die roll may result in a character running out of hit points and being killed.

In 1985's Lost in America, the character's wife loses all the money the couple has at a Las Vegas Casino - and in one of the most painful scenes ever filmed in the history of American cinema, Albert Brooks, director and writer of the film, spends six minutes arguing with the owner of the casino in a vain attempt to get his money back.  I'll link the last four minutes of that conversation.

I don't know what sort of person could watch that scene and identify with Albert Brooks - but if that sort of person wants to give me money to play in my world, that sort of person is going to find that I'm on the casino owner's side.

Imagine the furor.

Yeah.  Furor.  Imagine it.

I'm just shaking in my boots.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

An Atrocious Suggestion

Jeez, I just want to start this post with an apology.

As soon as I'm done, I'm going to put up a poll.  I really want honesty - because I've just gotten off the phone with a friend who decided what I needed was a swift, spiritual kick to the head meant to alters my perspective.  There was yelling involved.

I ran an online campaign for 5 years.  That's evidence of commitment.  The campaign included maps, geographical and social details, combat, a continuous character narrative arc and a personal player sandbox agenda.  I did it for free.

My friend feels I should be paid for it.  I asked, how much would someone pay for that and he said, quote, "Why the fuck don't you ask them?"

My part-time job, which I am leaving for in about two hours, pays be about $1,500 a month.  Unlike the job I had when I was running the online campaign, I don't have a desk, I don't have a computer and I have zero free time.   Right now I am working, writing, getting a little bit of D&D done and that is about it, since occasionally my partner likes to see me.  The only way I would have time for an online campaign would be if I were working even less hours than I am now (about 28/week).  This works out to the measly sum of $75 to $100 dollars a day.

I figure I could probably manage two to four parties of 4-5 people each, either scheduled for a given night of the week and run partly on skype, or continously on email throughout the day as I did on the campaign blog.  This is a maximum of 20 people.  20 divided into $1,500 is $75 per person per month.  Let's further establish that I'm on the hook for at least 6-8 hours a week per party, both in direct playing and in answering questions, solving problems and prep-time.

Or I could cut the number of my shifts, keep working half the time I am now and charge less - but that is more work for the same amount of money.

The real problem, I think - and my friend admitted the issue - is that this is something of an all-or-nothing thing.  Right now, because of exhaustion and scheduling, I can't even run one of my live parties; and they get me in person, for free, when we play.  I don't know what or how I would run people on line.  Perhaps when the book is packed away and done.  I can't see it happening now.

I'm just going to ask in a poll, however - and christ on a cracker, I'm sorry as shit for doing this - what people would pay on Patreon to run online in my world.  It would at least tell me how many.  I remember when I offered this for free about five years ago, it wasn't that many people; but I would never have expected then that people would give me $3,000 in donations, either.


The results to the poll were as follows:

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Preview Looms

We are 10 Days away from my releasing the Preview to my book, The Fifth Man.

This complies with the $25 reward offered by the Jumpstarter Proposal I first launched on the 7th of February.  Following the work I've done on it today, I feel that I can confidentially define what that proposal is include.

Laid out as a standard size paperback, 135 pages (or thereabouts).  In words, 40,000.  This will make it slightly larger than the Dungeon's Front Door in terms of content.

I wanted very much to provide a substantial portion of the book without undermining the book's larger story arc - while at the same time providing something of a meaningful resolution to the arc that dominates that first third of the story.  I haven't spoken about that arc (as far as my brain can remember) - so it should be a pleasant surprise to the reader, without any spoilers whatsoever coming from this blog.

The reason for a big preview is two-fold: one, I felt people deserved a lot for their contribution to the jumpstarter.  My gentle readers made it possible for me to continue living in my present space long enough to finally find work and my gawd, that is unaccountably huge.  This means I am writing this at the same desk in the same room that I have happily occupied for more than seven years now.  I'm home, I'm in control, I'm alive and the world continues to spin with something resembling hope.  For that, I wanted to give a lot, as much as I could.

My second purpose is to demonstrate, as strongly as I can, that the book is not a false hope, like so many things associated with kickstarter campaigns.  I have a lot of work left to do on the remaining half of the book - I am estimating between 45,000 and 55,000 words left to craft according to previous drafts, adjustments and character development; plus editing those words and bringing the book to a solid conclusion.  Every inch of this thing is established in principle and context; I know what happens with and to every single character; this thing will get finished, barring the possibility of my actually dying before getting it finished (in which case the existing draft will at least be made available).  So there's no fear that the readers won't know what was supposed to happen.  I trust that this preview will lay any notions like that to rest.

If you're interested and you're not among the gang that has already make a donation, please jump forward and help me out: it's $25 for the preview, but you get a module and other content as well, if that matters.  I have a lot to write and I'd love it if I could work more on the book than on a flat top, a deep fryer or a dishwasher.


Thinking seriously of writing a post called "The 7 Things Everyone Forgets When Trashing The Fountainhead" . . . but that's probably a bad idea.  Hah.

Climb That Wall

Let's talk about walls.

I've been working on the above table since this morning; I've decided to quit on it for a bit.  My previous take on this thing - the material components of musical instruments - was highly simplistic and I've meant to upgrade it.  This is still mostly simplistic - but it is more detailed than what I was doing before.

Thing is, it makes me want to pound my head on the desk.  Not that I won't eventually get through it - but the detail is exasperating for a variety of reasons.  Here are a few: just how much of a cello is made of sprucewood versus boxwood?  I can't find any information regarding that on the net.  Cellos are virtually always made of maple, which I don't have anywhere on my system because I have not found one damn place in Europe that boasts of making it.  Oh, I know that it's there, I just don't have any references for it and as people know, I'm insane about sticking to the originating material.  Still, I can assign it the same price as beechwood, I can even argue that in a world full of magic that MY cellos are made of beechwood and good-gawdammit, they sound exactly the same (so f-you).

I can argue that but unfortunately it annoys the bleeding crap out of me.  Moreso the fact that cello bows are made of two damn woods that are both found in the new world and for the love of fuck, I haven't included Brazil and the Yucatan into my trade system - so, no Pernambuco or Brazilwood.  Ever try to research if a cello bow can be made of some other wood?  It's fruitless.  I did find a single phrase that said, effectively, "We can't be sure what wood cello bows were made of before the discovery of the New World . . ."  Great.

Listen, I know that all of you can just put a brazilwood reference into some forest near the tropics of your world, but I'm screwed.  I have to make the cello bow out of blackwood for the time being; this is a dense wood from Africa - I did find someone advertising a cello bow made from it, though it probably sounds like bowing a cello with a taxidermy-dried cat.

I was supposed to figure out a harp next and . . . nope, not today.  I'm just not up to it.  This is what I mean by a wall.

Everyone hits them, working on their world.  The stuff can be interesting; I know a lot more about cello construction than I did an hour ago.  It can also be frustrating, searching for a specific thing that no one else in the world thinks matters.  On the other hand, without the net, I wouldn't have a hope - so there's that to thank.

What is it, however, that is going to get me back into the driver's seat, to look up harps, harpsichords, organs, drums, squeezeboxes, violins, flutes, recorders and so on?  Frankly, the players will.  Because everything has a price and the players will want to have a comfortable choice.  What am I going to tell bards in my game future wanting to pick an instrument?  That I couldn't be bothered?  That, sure, the cello price is logical but the flute price is pulled out of my ass?  Not me.

This isn't going to come off as kind: but I'll say it as someone raised by people who were much more concerned with themselves than with their children.  We do this thing for other people; if a DM doesn't have the will to sit down and make the world because it is exhausting or difficult or just takes too much time, I count that as, well . . . selfish.  That DM still wants to be a DM; they just want to do it without the work necessary to deserve it.

In my outline of How to Run, I mentioned the work we put into our worlds to make them beautiful. Here is the relevant passage:

"My world can’t rely on being what I hope it to be. It must be everything others hope it to be or it has no value. The cool, bitter reality of the effort is that I will have to build, install, renovate or ornament parts of my world in a way that I might find garish, graceless or camp: because that’s what players love. Theatre owners cannot only put on the plays that they happen to like. That is no way to bring in an audience. As I have said, I don’t even have the luxury of only pleasing an ‘audience’ – my players want to feel they own the place they’ve entered. They want to feel at home. I have to compromise my sense of beauty and please the entering crowd – else the crowd will simply walk out again.
Therefore, my world must be a masterpiece. It must devour the players, swallowing them whole, and doing it with a virtuosity that leaves them begging and panting in the world’s belly, never wanting to get out. I want my world to be something they cannot quit. The difficulty of that does not matter. It is what both my players and I demand. To have players I can count on, that they should wish to play at every opportunity. They should crave it. They know another world like mine is difficult to find.

That is why I waste my time with what seems like a silly detail - what sort of wood is a cello made of, how many ounces of spruce exactly and so on.  The lack of this sort of thing is what inspires endless youtube videos pointing out how one girl in the far background of one shot in a two-hour film was obviously not in character.  That lack is what drives you crazy when you see a tiny bit of pixellation in one short cut scene 18 hours into a game you paid $63 to own.  Gawdamn fucking lazy bastards - they should have fixed that.

So yes, it bothers me that I don't have maplewood in my campaign.  And it bothers me that I'm not going to find details on how much of what things a harp is made from, by weight, because it matters.  It all matters.  Moreso in a game where virtually everyone else's campaign is this horrid collection of crumpled papers, half-painted figures, buttons and game pieces for enemy orcs and a DM wearing a sloppy t-shirt that needed cleaning Tuesday.  I know I'm competing with that - but I'm still not inclined to be lazy.  My world must be a masterpiece.  So I'll overcome the annoyances and just get it done.

I used these once upon a time; more than 30 years ago.

Friday, April 15, 2016


There's a rhythm in rush these days,
Where the lights don't move and the colors don't fade
Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams
In a world gone shallow in a world gone lean;
Sometimes there's things a man cannot know
Gears won't turn and the leaves won't grow
There's no place to run and no gasoline
Engines won't turn and the train won't leave.

I will stay with you tonight
Hold you close 'til the morning light
In the morning watch a new day rise
We'll do whatever just to stay alive.

Jose Gonzalez - Stay Alive

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Today. And Tomorrow.

13 Days until the preview of my book, The Fifth Man, comes out. There is still time to support my writing endeavours, if the wonderful people I've met this last two months find it in themselves to be generous. A small $25 donation wins you an excellent module, the preview to the book, the support of a hardworking writer and my eternal gratitude.

Ultimately, we were able to raise $2,868 of the $6,200 we were striving for.  I haven't had a donation in more than a week and so I am thinking we are perhaps at the bottom of our well.  Unlike every other kickstarter in the universe, however, the fact that I have fallen short means nothing.  I will finish the book and I will make good on my promises.  I am eternally stunned to hear of people raising $80,000 out of a request for $100,000, only to blow the money and throw in the towel on a project they supposedly cared about.

I edited 9,500 words today.  That is a lot harder than it sounds.  It isn't just a matter of correcting spelling; it is ensuring that every word spoken by a character is IN character; that the continuity is right; that the pacing and pattern and detail is all in place, leaving the reader to feel as though they've been seated in a comfy chair designed by gods.

Earlier today I wrote about two films that I called badly written.  I think this happens far more because these things happen because writers - particularly screenwriters - are pressed to finish projects in a time period that is unreasonable.  I think it is also because to write, a writer must have time to think, to concentrate on that one project to the absence of everything else.  Writing is thinking; it is elaborating upon a moment in time with reflection, reason and a willingness to admit that a given passage or a given plot development isn't good enough.  All art obeys this rule; but all artists do not.  Far too often, as I've said before, 'good enough' weakens a piece of art - because it isn't, not really.  Yet it is hard to keep coming back to something again and again that we thought was done . . . and it is so very human to convince yourself that it is, even when deep down inside you damn well know that it isn't.

Some artists tend to understand this better when they're young and poor and there are no distractions beyond the distractions they make.  It is harder for Tarentino or Scott to free themselves from distraction and bullshit, so they churn out projects in far less time with far more money than they should be spending, because they have to cut corners and pay people money to do it.  Artists with 30 years of fame under their belts hardly get a chance to think, unless they go all Garbo; it is easy for me to dedicate my mind to a single task because there are no events to attend, no meetings to attend, no charity events to attend, nothing that costs me time and money that I 'owe' to other people.

I'll never forget Vonnegut talking about that, about being pulled into the machine, and how the machine keeps a writer from writing.  In the end, he was able to separate himself; but he never turned out work again like that he did in the 60s and 70s.  Then again, he didn't have the internet.  The internet might have revived him.

Ah well.  I'm already old; and I never did get caught by the machine.  I know I would do the comic con circuit, if I could - though that goes forever now, you can do that circuit every weekend all year round if you want.  I watched the writers at their booths, the kind getting $5 a signature, talking about the same things over and over to fan after fan.  They all looked tired.  They looked unhappy.  Like having to go work in the back house of a restaurant, up to their elbows in rotten food and grease - but for more money.  I look at that and I wonder, is that what I'm doing it for?

I'm not.  I'm doing this because I love it.  I get up at 7:30 on my day off and after an hour of searching the net for the usual intellectual wake-up stuff I'm on my computer, working until 4 pm on the trade pricing table.  Then I'm editing, to take a break to write a post for the blog, to get back to editing until midnight.  And when I have to stop, because I get to the end of chapter six and that seems like a good place, I sit in the living room, on a different computer; and after ten minutes of looking at the net I'm writing a different post.  I just mean to write a few words about the preview coming out but I find I'm not done there.  I'm still writing.  It is almost one in the morning and I am still writing.  As I finish these words, I realize I have been continuously working on one project or another for 15½ hours.

And the worst thing?  I can't do it tomorrow.  Because I have to go work.  Which sucks.  But yes, you all know that already.

Well, 13 days.  That's the important thing right now.  And even though all you brilliant readers have donated already, I'll just say again there is a jumpstarter.  There is a patreon.  There are no expectations, no recriminations, no extortion where it comes to not finishing the job that people have already paid for and which they deserve to receive.

Damn, you know?  The internet is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Writing, Films, Nonsense, Thanks to Everyone Who Voted

That is very gratifying.  It isn't that I have hundreds of readers or anything, but a 93% success rate is confoundedly agreeable.  And here I thought people, on the whole, were getting tired of me.

I'm sorry I haven't got a long, drawn out post to present this evening about the trade system or some other worthy topic.  I'm working on my book and, having eaten some fuel, I have to get back to it.  But I wanted to post the results of the poll before taking it off the sidebar.

So, more material on trade would be a good idea.  So noted.  The next big problem is taking all those references about goods and services and making them work for you in terms of creating prices.  I've been steadily working on my own pricing table week by week, distributing it out to the three people who have pledged $10 on Patreon; they're looking at the very guts of my work, as it gets structured.  Those with a sharp eye will watch me change lines, shift details and fix numbers when I need them to fit what I know will be the player's preconception of pricing.

Worked all last week and I had today and yesterday off.  Most of the nicks and cuts on my hands have scabbed, so I'm ready to go get a bunch of new ones tomorrow.  Right now, I count 14 days before I'm responsible for putting out a preview of The Fifth Man.  Most of the main characters will be introduced and most of the continuity is worked out.  A few people who paid for character names will be disappointed, since their characters appear later in the book than the preview.

I am really enjoying the content as it fleshes out.  The characters come across as real, distinctive, likeable.  As near as I can tell, I haven't had to resort to any tropes that could be defined as bad writing: no handwaving or deus ex, both of which infuriate me when I read a book or see a film.

Quickly now - I've seen two movies in the last two weeks that I feel are worth remarking upon.  First, there was The Hateful Eight.  This is just dreck.  Dreck.  The expositional writing is so awful there might as well be a ticker-tape across the bottom of the screen, like on the Fox Channel, reading "Tarentino just couldn't think of a better way to introduce these two characters than this; please stand by."  There is literally a scene where one character walks up to another and says, blatantly, "What's your story" - before then moving on and doing it again.  Two more times.  Over and over, he was apparently unable to move the exposition in any other way.  It's painful to watch - and it just goes on, mawkish minute after mawkish minute, in an interminable stylistic suck that Tarentino has managed to dupe an audience with because there's blood and swearing.  Personally, I like blood and swearing.  I swear all the fucking time on the blog and when people on screen get shot, I like seeing blood is going to come out - because that's what happens and it doesn't shock, offend or even disturb me (it would in real life, but shit, this is a movie).  I do, however, have a problem when the amount of blood changes from scene to scene, is conveniently easy to clean up when it ought to be all over a wooden floor, conveniently fails to have any impact on the players who should be smelling it a mile from the main setting and ultimately exists in a kind of cartoonish silliness for the purpose of exploitation.  Great director?  Bleh.

The Martian.  Surprised me.  After Prometheus I swore I'd never see another fucking Ridley Scott movie again - and watching Exodus go by I was bloody grateful for the promise.  But . . . after watching that doof Neil deGrasse Tyson promote it (I respect what the guy knows, respect his intelligence, like it when he gets pissed at stupid people; but I'm exhausted when he dumbs down science so that 'everyone' gets it - fuck everyone, Tyson; they don't care), I conceded to giving it a watch.  Wasn't bad.  Thought it was going to be dreck.  Wasn't.  Wasn't great, either.  The Matt Damon parts were smart but watching the bureaucracy jerk itself around arguing about money and time reminded me of much better movies made 40 years ago.  It's supposed to be drama, instead it's a domino-line of tropes, blathered by people without personalities or proven merit (and sorry, giving a character's title at the start of the scene does NOT constitute evidence of merit).  There's a little trope called informed ability and woah, is this movie ever stuffed full of it.  Just more lazy writing.  But the Matt Damon parts were good - despite the fact that I can't for the life of me remember the name of the character, because the name was absolutely of no importance in the film, just like every other personality trait.  The science was wonderful - when it was on screen.  My main issue with the film is this, however (spoiler): we all knew that the ship heading back to Earth was ultimately going to come back to Mars to rescue him.  This is an American film and we know how Americans think: leave no one behind, not even dead people, ever.  Unfortunately, we had to wait three quarters of the film for the characters to come around to this realization, along with a very convenient rocket explosion and a series of other very convenient plot points that guaranteed that the end would be tense and full of speed and terror and lots of importance.  Which it wasn't, because of the director's fingerprints, drool, jizz and virtually every other bodily fluid smeared all over the fucking film.  This one could have been great, really great.  Unfortunately, it was directed by another "great" director who has far, far more fame than he has ability.

Well, hope that didn't piss off too many people.  I have to go back to writing now.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

How to Run: An Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games

For many of my readers, none of this will be new.  I feel that it is something I should do, now that it's been nearly two years since the book was published.

The book is divided into four parts:  The Art of Presentation (6 chapters), Managing Yourself as DM (2 chapters), Managing Your Players (2 chapters) and Worldbuilding (4 chapters).

Breaking it down, chapter-by-chapter:

Chapter 1: Early Days

At the start, I am quite frank about once being utterly unskilled as a DM.  I talk about the difficulty of role-playing games and start the theme of the book.  Although it is very, very hard to be a DM, this is something that comes with experience.  We shouldn't be hard on ourselves at the beginning, we should realize that with time and patience, and a lot of hours spent running, we will steadily get better.  We can learn that the rules are tools, we can learn to experiment in our building and design and we can educate ourselves from a wide variety of resources to expand our minds and the options we can bring to the table. (9 pages)

Chapter 2: The Carrot and the Donkey

Here I talk about motivation - about developing the campaign as a 'theatre' that the players willingly enter.  I talk about the first steps in starting a given session, getting the players "in the mood" and making them feel uninhibited.  Then I discuss arousing the players' curiosity, getting inside their heads and the importance of avoiding 'formulas' that will supposedly get the same returns running after running.  I talk of the importance of making better and better carrots to keep a party intrigued and keep them coming back for more.

From here I talk about the participation of symbiosis.  Everyone in the game must be on the same page and they must want the same things, both DM and Players.  Working together in a supportive relationship will enhance participation and drive the players towards wanting that carrot.  Players who disrupt this formula must have it explained that role-playing is a group activity - there isn't room for one player to hog all the air in the campaign to the exclusion of other players.  By reducing conflict, we can make the game move faster and make the experience more pleasant for everyone. (14 pages)

Chapter 3: The Players

This chapter features a breakdown of player 'types' based on solid psychology templates: three subdivisions of the categories extroverted, introverted and indifferent.  I arrived at nine classes of players - understanding that these are not boxes intended to categorize people, but as jumping off points to talk about strategies in dealing which each form of behaviour.  Any real player will be an amalgam of these classes: the important thing here is that we have something to work from.

These nine classes are Enthusiastic, Obligated, Conditional, Predisposed, Disenchanted, Badly Behaved, Social, Shy and The Guest.  In each case I give the reader an idea of what each has as a motivation, how to recognize that motivation and strategies on how to deal with it - with a reminder that players are the game and that our game must be tailored for the collection of people in it. (33 pages)

Chapter 4: Drama

At last, I get into the gears of running the game.  I begin with a breakdown of the formula that has defined successful drama since the ancient Greeks, discussing it in terms of role-playing and presenting details to players.  I talk of adding complications to the adventure, of encouraging player innovation and about bringing the traditional adventure to a good conclusion.  This first part of the chapter is written as a solid play-by-play for DMs wanting to guideline on meat-and-potatoes adventure building.

At this point I begin to tear apart the dramatic structure in terms of role-playing not being a stage-play created for an audience.  In fact, there is no audience; the Players are the actors upon the stage and there is no script - therefore, there is no real need for specific dramatic cues that were designed to keep an audience in their seats for two hours.  Players easily sit in their seats for four or five hours without any trouble.  While understanding that the game can be run on the traditional dramatic structure, it does not need to be.  We can change what's happening on the spur of the moment - what I call "Here and Now" DMing.  This is where we let the symbiosis we talked about in Chapter 2 develop into a dramatic experience that is both written and experienced in real time. (17 pages)

Chapter 5: Continuity

This chapter discusses the importance of building causality into the campaign, in order to carefully seed events in the future out of what's going on in the present.  Nearly every DM understands that player actions demand consequences when the players do something very bad - but we need to understand that the campaign needs to be reacting all the time to what the players do.  The players have to feel that they are influencing the campaign just as the DM is influencing the players.

To enhance the fluidity of the world, I then discuss five ways in which the DM can poke that fluid:  I call these Shock (surprising the players with the unexpected, unbalancing them); Rage (stirring up emotions like anger and resentment in order to fire the players towards taking action); Distraction (filling out the moment-to-moment game with little things that compromise player comfort while creating obstacles); Despair (letting the players experience the low-point of disaster and ruin without rushing to save them); and Triumph (total victory).  Of these, the comparison between Despair and Triumph is key to the game, for if the players are assured they will always be saved then there is no real sense of overcoming impossible odds; there is no high if there is no low. (29 pages)

Chapter 6: Pomp

For the chapter, I discuss the grind of being a human body putting out a performance - being conscious of one's appearance, stance, voice, personal tells (like in Poker) and other similar ways in which we interact with the space that we're in.  I talk about "Space" as well, the place where the game is played, the distractions of that space and its convenience.  I talk about "Relations" between persons at the table (are they friends or practically strangers) and how this can change the dynamic.  I talk about the trappings of the game, the mechanics of the meta-game and how these things can serve to clutter a campaign, the influence of the dice and the manner in which we sit together at the table. (15 pages)

Chapter 7: Vigilance

Now I have moved out of the presentation and into managing ourselves as DMs.  I talk of how DMing is an act of courage, of how easy it is to fall into doubt and question the authority we've suddenly been given.  This then leads into a discussion of legitimacy: what is it that gives us the right to DM, to make decisions that affect others, that drive the game and enable us to play with the heads of our players?  There are strategies for winning loyalty and respect, strategies that - if we don't follow them - will make more work for us as our games become increasingly illegitimate.

I talk about overload, the amount of information coming at us and how we wallow while trying to handle it.  I detail what I experience while DMing and about maintaining the social context while still managing the game.  The key is data; getting it, distributing it, being open about ourselves and our difficulties and relying on the players to understand our mental limitations where it comes to the information that's flowing into our heads while running.  From here I explain how I got better at managing data through pattern recognition, and about how this same pattern recognition proved to be a back-up for my gaming where it came to stress.

Stress is a large part of DMing and I talk extensively about it, as well as on how to think better while DMing through understanding how our thinking is compromised by our physical limitations.  Finally, I discuss good habits vs. bad - and about how if we're not aware of the latter they can build up and make it impossible for us to ever be a good DM.  I feel this is the most important chapter of the book. (29 pages)

Chapter 8: Decision Making

Here I come back to momentum and experience in running the game, emphasizing tactics that a DM can adopt to make things move faster.  I talk about maintaining focus and about the capacity we have to control our impulses if we are aware of those impulses.  In many ways, these strategies will help in a hundred ways outside the role-playing game.

In every case, it is important to remember that we can only control ourselves and that we must not perceive that the problem originates with the player.  By applying the right strategies to our own gaming we can mitigate or eliminate troubles that the players are having - particularly if we emphasize that player-to-player symbiosis that we are responsible for creating.  This then leads into Foresight, the ability to guess - and effectively - where the players will want to go with their characters.  It may be a very high standard we are setting for ourselves, but if we want to be a great DM we must pursue the harder course - taking that responsibility onto ourselves and changing the way we view running in order to make the game better for everyone. (24 pages)

Chapter 9: Power Politics

Starting the section on Managing Your Players, I use the chapter to emphasize that we cannot change other people; we can only change ourselves.  To Manage others demands changing those parts of ourselves that win over the players - there is no strategy that describes "controlling players" by some imaginative formula.  Control is maintained through respect; respect is maintained by acting in a manner that is worthy of respect.

From here I talk about player expectations and how to meet them, most of all the important balance of providing a game for the players while being the absolute arbiter of the campaign.  It is a difficult balance to walk and it is full of pitfalls.  I debate theories that the DM 'serves' the players or that players need to 'buy in' to a campaign.  These sound good on the surface but in fact they create division at the table and fail to achieve that all-important symbiosis.  DMs play with players, not for players.  Whatever powers the DM has, this can't be compromised - or else there will be no players to play with. (17 pages)

Chapter 10: Bad Games

Here I return to the effects those bad habits have that I introduced in Chapter Seven.  While bad habits do not make us 'bad people,' they can easily challenge the experience in such a manner as to make it bad for everyone at the table.  Relying too much on our personal charisma, for example, or exploiting player vulnerability because it makes for apparently good drama, produces conflict, shame for players who feel used and dissension between player factions that ultimately arise when one group feels pitted against another.  There will always be bad games - the key is to recognize the signs and to see why bad habits should be avoided. (18 pages)

Chapter 11: Beginnings

Conclusively, I begin a four-chapter discourse on making our own worlds from scratch.  This begins with a discussion about what all designers must manage - regardless of what fields they happen to design in: function, structure and behaviour.  Function is the purpose for which something is made.  Structure is how it is made.  Finally, Behaviour is how the thing is actually used.  If I build a cellphone to keep me informed, built from electronic parts, this does not keep a user from using it as a coaster for their coffee.

When building our worlds, we need to keep these three things in mind, if we want to design a world that will serve its purpose, work excellently and be appreciated by the user (ourselves included).  Bringing these things together is called formulation, which I talk about as the chapter closes. (25 pages)

Chapter 12: Elements of Design

Once again, the chapter translates the exact premise that engineers and manufacturers experience when trying to make anything that exists in our world.  The world we build must follow the same principles, since it too is a 'product' that will be 'used' by the Players and by ourselves.  The chapter discusses the individual needs we will want our worlds to provide: a sense of place, authenticity of experience, suitability to the players interests, convenience, simplicity of use and so on.

I speak at length about Aesthetics and the beauty of the world, how beauty draws players to the game and how presenting phenomenal amounts of beauty will awe the players and make them more pliable to the campaign.  If the campaign is impossibly wonderful, then players will feel less inclined to walk away from it - since they will truly be losing out on something amazing, something that holds a greater importance for them.  The more work we put into our worlds to make them beautiful, the more profound will be the effect of those worlds on our players' behaviour.  I talk about how to do this.

Finally, I talk about the materials the world is made from, personal prejudices for some materials over others (and for some gaming systems over others - without naming names!).  I talk about the use of dice, about cheating, about tempo in gaming and finally about the cost of finishing a game (in time and money) to make it what we want it to be. (27 pages)

Chapter 13: The Creative Process

Here we move away from theory and towards practical application.  Having developed a philosophy, now we need to develop ideas.  We need to brainstorm, breaking out of our prejudices and into training our minds to understand that some ideas produced at random can expand and elaborate upon our world concept.

Once we have done that, we can begin writing the proposal - the bare bones of a campaign, to present to players as a way of seeing what might need to be adjusted and what their behaviour might be.  Proposals "sound" dull and difficult, but communication between a DM and Players is the key to a great game.  A proposal need not be formal - but it should include what the DM wants so as to get feedback on what the players want. (23 pages)

Chapter 14: Modelling

Having built up the philosophy and the technique, I embark on a chapter long account of a fictional kingdom, Fallow, that I use to set out the guidelines of what a proposal ought to contain and details that we will want to include.  I talk about entities (everything that exists is an 'entity'), entity sets (groups of entities that function together) and relationships (the pre-existing association between factions of non-player characters in the campaign), to help the reader build up an idea of what to place and where.  There are a great many kinds of relationships - the most common of these are detailed one by one.

I also talk about disclosing this information to the players, what to tell them and what to hold back, so that they can 'discover' about the world as they go forward.  There will always be more world, more kingdoms, more people to be met and more relationships to be discovered, both far away and right under the players' noses. (30 pages)

Chapter 15: Gaining a Level

This chapter falls into the Appendix of the book and is part of no other category.  In it I talk about the ways in which role-playing games can influence the rest of our lives, primarily because they give us skills (education, understanding, interactive abilities, a sense of working for our own causes and so on) that translate well to many other practical and vocational activities.  At the end, I talk about how writing the book has transformed my own perspective of the game, how it made ME smarter and more aware, since it was vigorously researched.  I make mention of how it was not based on 'game design' texts but upon sources far more technical in structure: psychology articles, conceptual design, consumer behaviour, physiotherapy, situational awareness for emergency response, models for persuasion and so on. (12 pages)

Now, if you've read the book, please send this post to them.  Please link it to your facebook.  Please twitter it.  Please get the word out there.  It takes you thirty seconds to slap the url to a page and say, "Read this.  It is worth the time."  Those thirty seconds may make an incredible difference to my experience and my world.  I will get on my knees and beg you to do that.

If you have not read the book, please see from the above that this is not the same patter that you're likely to read in any other book or see on any youtube video anywhere.  This is a hardcore, advanced, deliberative point-by-point attack against the substance of DMing that is designed to shatter the game as you now play it and put in its place something better.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Building an Index Table

For those who are familiar with excel, this is fairly straight forward stuff.  As I go forward, however, it gets harder to explain what I'm doing.  I'll try to make this clear enough so that if the reader finds they're wallowing a bit, someone close should be able to help them walk through it.

At this point, we're going to make what I call the "index table."  Basically, we're just going to divide the distances we've generated into the references we've generated.

I suggest making a table that looks like this:

Table A
It has a lot of empty space, but this is just a set up.  The reader will note that there's only 1 iron reference in our whole system, all coming from Alzak.  That's interesting; all those mountains in Pon and I didn't roll a single iron reference.  Well, scarcity, right?  It would certainly make a campaign heavy on wooden weapons, particularly if we wanted to make the only iron forging located in Alzak as well (which would give the Dwarves a considerable advantage in the world); but I'm digressing.

All we want to do now is insert our distance calculations from the previous post into the above table.

We'll have to make a reduced version of the distance post's last table, by keeping only the part highlighted in orange, below.  Note below how the cell K3 equals the cell C3 - but that the reduced version has no merged cells:

Table B
The cells K3 to K11 can now be attached to Table A, above: either by copy and pasting them as values (when you go to paste, use the drop down menu by right clicking and then select "paste special" and click the "Values" button), or - if you're really clever - incorporating the right-hand side of Table B right into Table A, as shown below:

Table C
I would normally be doing this on several worksheets in one document, to save space, but here I'm arranging the format just to make it clearer to the reader.  Honest, it is best to set up one worksheet per level of table in your document - even several documents, as I keep my distance calculations completely separate from my index calculations, just for my sanity.

Very well, I'll remove the little table on the left of Table C and we'll move onto the next part, which is slightly tricky.  Each number, from cell D4 to cell AI12 needs to be divided by the distance numbers.  The way we do this is to divide D4 by C4, D5 by C4, D6 by C4 and so on, the same way for every line.

We do this by creating another complete table, a near duplicate of Table C:

Table D
We'll call these the "top half" and the "bottom half."  D16 in the bottom half equals D4 in the top half divided by C4.  By putting "$" signs in front of the C and the 4, we ensure that when we copy left from D16, all the cells above will be divided by the same distances we've inserted.

I hope that is clear.  The benefit here is that if we want to put in the distance numbers for a different market (other than Marzarbol, which is shown here), then the "TOTALS:" will change automatically without our needing to build this table again.

These totals are the "Index" for the pricing table.  I can show the reader how to build further content from the Index, but obviously I'm interested in getting readers to donate $10 to my Patreon, to have a look at my own pricing table from start to finish.  Please excuse the pitch, but I'm not quite earning enough money to see me through to managing my bills before the first of May and I can use all the help I can get (either through Patreon or through direct donations).  We had a good donation yesterday and it lifted everyone's spirits, given that we're spending a lot of time counting every penny at the moment.