Saturday, July 30, 2016

Connecting Ideas

I have been conscientiously avoiding any discussion of my book, The Fifth Man.  Not to worry.  I am working on it.  It is a grind, I'm not enjoying myself - and the only reason I don't talk about it is because I can't talk about it.  Spoilers, you know.  I don't want to talk about a specific problem in the book because of spoilers.

Yet I had a run-in with serendipity yesterday that will at least allow me to talk about why the book is a grind and why I make it a grind.  It has to do with Cezanne, Hallelujah and Malcolm Gladwell.

Now for those who have been reading my blog for awhile, it is already clear that I very much like Gladwell. I like him because he's interesting - and he's interesting because one of his things is to discuss why something we think as a culture or something we supposedly know is wrong.  He steadfastly chooses things for discussion that fit that priority for him.  He hunts for misconceptions and then he explodes them.  He doesn't, as many other pundits do, find documentation or evidence to support things for what we already believe.

This makes Gladwell a challenge.  First, the listener is made to think about something that is normally taken for granted: that a football team should kick on the fourth down, that having great food at a university cafeteria is a good thing or that having more information about something promises greater accuracy.  Then the listener has to accept, as Gladwell demonstrates with facts, that this isn't just untrue - that continuing to think this way is potentially self-destructive, whereas accepting the facts could lead to ground-breaking, potentially system-shattering improvements.  It is usually such a brain twist for people that they either a) don't accept it and hate Gladwell; or b) find themselves overwhelmed and so infatuated with Gladwell's intellect that they apparently lose the point of what he's just said.

Here's an interesting point.  Gladwell refuses, in interview after interview, to accept the label that he's some sort of genius.  This isn't modesty.  Gladwell is a journalist.  All the stories he tells, all the circumstances he discusses, all the associations he makes, are the words and research and brain sweat of other people.  Gladwell just describes it.  This is so constantly misunderstood by the media, by the public, by virtually everyone discussing him on the internet, that it must be a source of tremendous frustration for Gladwell.

Take the most famous association: the 10,000 hour rule.  Googling it, I find this headline front and center: "New Study Destroys Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule."  It isn't Gladwell's rule.  It never was.  The rule was Swedish psychiatrist Anders Ericsson's proposal that was part of a study that happened in 1993.  Gladwell made it famous.  Gladwell has never claimed that it's a 'rule' - he presents it in his book Outliers as a curiosity, an apparently consistent pattern that seems to hold for the time it takes to become an expert.  In his book, Gladwell cites examples - examples that still hold water, regardless of what another study shows.  Because it was never presented as a "rule."  It was the media, and particularly the internet, that gave it that title.

The reason I like Gladwell is because he is a window to hundreds of people that Gladwell takes the time to write about.  Not because Gladwell is a celebrity or a genius.  Now I can put that on a shelf and move on.

I have always preferred Paul Cezanne to other Post-Impressionist painters - Van Gogh, Manet, Pissarro and so on.  I can't explain it.  There's something about his work that pulls at me and that's all the justification that I've needed.  With that, however, I had learned a long time ago about Cezanne's frustration with his own work and his tendency to paint the same subjects over and over again, struggling to get them just so (search Google for "Cezanne's Wife") - even painting the same landscape every day, less to represent the landscape than to hammer his own mind or his skill into a shape that came closer to satisfying him.

I've done this, I've done exactly this - and I've always felt a kinship for Cezanne in this particular regard, feeling that I could understand the fierce arguments between him and Pissarro's infatuation with pointillism . . . how I would love to sit in and sop up that kind of passion.

In the media, Cezanne is so rarely mentioned - I am always pleased to hear anything about him, that expands my knowledge.  Let's put that on a shelf, too, and move on.

I'm Canadian, so I know who Leonard Cohen is.  In Canada, there has always been an agenda to force "famous people" that no one as ever heard of - so if you listen to the CBC, the Canadian version of the BBC, as I did in my teens, its impossible not to pick up knowledge of obscure people who happen to be from Canada.  This means that I first heard the song "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen when it was first released in 1984.  For those who don't know, one of the versions that Cohen did was used in the movie Watchmen during the much-despised sex scene.

I have always liked this song - and of the song I can make the joke, "How many musicians does it take to sing Hallulujah?"

"Apparently, all of them."

Unfortunately, I've never found a version of the song that I like.  Cohen himself has the right tone for the song (after about six tries at recording it), but his actual voice is shit and as much as I try to like it, I don't.  John Cale's version is passable but it suffers from way too much expressionism in the song, while the extremely popular Jeff Buckley version sounds like a cat being stretched out as a guitar string.  I've never understood how it got to be popular, nor why every other gawddamn singer feels that they have to sing the song the way Buckley sang it and NOT the way Cohen sang it.  Its a beautiful song!  Just sing the fucking words with the number of syllables the words have, without having to warble, infuse with cheap emotion or stretch the vocals out in some tortured, horrible way.

For a long time I have wondered what the hell it is with this song that compels musicians to ruin it.  Yesterday, however, I found my answer.  Straight out of Malcolm Gladwell.  Gladwell has started a series of podcasts called "Revisionist History" - and in episode number 7, released yesterday, he talks about the song Hallelujah and about Paul Cezanne (along with what happened with Elvis Costello).  In all cases, he answers questions that have been plaguing me for decades.  And he explains why I am banging my head on the desk, trying to get the book written properly.

I have said it again and again on this blog.  I like to be proven wrong.  I like it so much, I spend hundreds of hours trying to find people online who are writing, speaking or arguing in forums about things I think I know, so that I can feel myself torn down and demonstratively proved inaccurate, so I can adopt the new model and move forward.

I am surprised to find that I am often the only person in the room that feels this way about knowledge.  How is that possible?

Don't Worry, I Wasn't Going to Say Anything

I'm sorry, I'm Canadian.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Wiki Hits 1000

My Wiki has recently reached its 1,000th page:

This is counting active pages only, not files or pictures that are attached (which would bring the number up to 1,461).  And many of these pages are contributions created by fellow contributors, Byrhtnoth, SimonTVesper, Jeremiah and Maxwell.  Some of the pages are in depth descriptions of rules, spells, tables and concepts associated with D&D, while others are only placeholders . . . things that need to be written upon but the time just hasn't been taken (and I admit, some of those placeholders have minimum information).

Nevertheless, I consider this a major accomplishment for just five people.  A thousand pages is . . . lots.  Just managing that number, trying to fix the mistakes or make links between them, making plans for upgrading those pages and going way past a thousand (and we know there's enough vista to cover for that to happen) has been a profound exercise.

My own experience has been to work on some corner of the wiki, manage it for a time and then lose interest (temporarily) in order to move onto something else.  Having the wiki, however, I know where I've left off and it's fairly easy to come back to one of those subjects and pick up where I've left off.  I can make a placeholder for later on and track it through the wiki mechanics to find "orphans," files that aren't linked to the rest of the wiki, or "wanted" files that don't exist yet but are represented by a link somewhere.  Those don't count towards the total active pages, by the way, but there are 81 of them.

When I first came to the internet, I would find people putting together webpages of their world or of some other fantasy setting.  These always interested me, I always appreciated when people did the work and I would spend hours looking through the content.  Yet most of the time, I would stumble across the page after the author had quit adding to it.  I would go back again and again, for months, sometimes for years, hoping that there would be something new - and in virtually every case, there would be nothing.

I am extremely proud that I haven't succumbed to this.  People sometimes advise me that blogging is dead, that no one writes blogs any more or reads them (I think that's nonsense, but I hear it all the time).  I'm not worried, however, because if it does happen that this blog ceases to get readers, I know the wiki is going to last and last.  The server I've chosen is one designed for use by University professors and departments (what they think of me and my little project, I can't imagine) - so I think it's going to be here for a long time.  I pay for it - a small monthly $5 stipend.  My storage limit is 2 gigs; I'm currently using only 351.7 MB.  Not bad, though most of the size use is maps.

I hope the reader does frequent the wiki to see what's new.  The stats there tell me I get about 80-90 unique visitors a day, with about 400-1000 page views.  Those are not bad statistics for a free site.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The French Viewpoint

I promise that I'll come back to the remaining two vocational/encounter groups for my campaign (functionaries and soldiers).  I'm just taking a breather.  I enjoyed the discussion on the last post and I want to elaborate on one of the points.

I have been thinking about why there is so much resistance for DMs against getting rid of the screen.  I've often heard people say that they need the screen for the quick references there - but those can easily be memorized or addressed in just a few seconds from an open book.  I usually run with a table on the left of me and on the right as well, with open books on both . . . and books leaning against the legs of the table at m feet, where ever I can keep them close to hand.  As I've said before, while DMs may concern themselves that the players are "bored" with waiting while a DM looks something up, this is more a self-conscious fear on the part of the DM than it is a reality.  The players want to know what the book says too - the players are as invested in the correct response as much as the DM ought to be - and after 37 years of DMing, I can assure the reader that looking stuff up reassures the player that the world is honest, consistent and fair.  Once you have the players convinced of those three things, they'll wait until perdition for a legitimate answer to their questions (including, "Did I hit?).

No, that's just an excuse.  As regards fudging and the urge to fudge, even the right to fudge, as some DMs would have it, I find it interesting that we, the table-top gaming culture, have invented this word to draw attention from the actual descriptive, that the DM is looking at the dice and lying.  Let the defenders call it what they will, it's a lie, pure and simple.  I'm sure that if a poll was put up asking if it was okay for the DM to lie about the die (or any other part of the game), there would be less tolerance for it.  But use a word that doubles in use as a soft, gooey, addictive chocolaty confectionery, and it's okay.  That kind of revisioning is a lie all in itself, is it not?

Is there something other than the will to lie that's inherent in the need to keep the screen?  Yes.  I did bring it up in my book How to Run.  The screen is a separator.  It is a physical wall that serves to identify the DM from the players, to create a sense of superiority that helps establish an untouchable, dominant isolation from the rest of the party.  "I am the DM . . . the rest of you are merely players."

Suppose we imagine another such technique, one that I'll use because - as far as I know - it's not common to the table.  Suppose that every time we needed to ask the DM a question, or if you wanted the DM's attention, we were expected to start with the phrase, "DM, may I?"

This isn't so far from reasonable.  I've worked in a lot of restaurants and it was standard policy for a server to get the cook's attention with "Kitchen, may I?" or the server's attention with "Front House, may I?"  The phrase respects that people are busy and that interrupting them without warning creates stress and bad tempers.  Of course, with the help of TV, this has been lately transformed into "Chef, may I?"  Many kitchens now demand that the head chef is referred to in this way by everyone, regardless of their role, who works in the restaurant.  This has led to swelled heads, obviously, as chefs have somehow gotten themselves promoted to the status of doctors, judges and political leaders - without the need for things like ten years of schooling, political appointment or running for office.  (I was told once in a kitchen that there are only two correct responses to a chef: "Yes Chef!" and "Done Chef!")

So, tell me . . . does "Yes, DM!" rankle when it's proposed for the gaming table?  Personally, my skin crawls.  I'm simply not better than my players, I'm not entitled to special acclamation and I know damn well I wouldn't be solid with giving that sort of honor to another DM.  I act in the role of DM because of what I get from the process, not what I get from the players.  I enjoy thinking fast on my feet, I enjoy the show and tell, I enjoy the strain of withholding information until just the perfect moment and I enjoy the emotional response from players who are surprised, elated, downtrodden, desperate, ready, panicked and so on.  I don't need my ass kissed.

I argue, however, that the screen represents exactly this.  The DM can make whatever arguments they wish for the screen being there, but the reality is that these are suspiciously convenient reasons for the DM being able to furtively, deceptively, haughtily, unapproachably and coolly putting on airs.

There is an old joke I've always appreciated . . . that an American, seeing another fellow glide by in an outrageously expensive car, dreams of the day when he, too, will be able to drive a car like that; while a Frenchman, seeing the same fellow in the same car, dreams of the day when he'll drag the bastard out of his car and make him walk like everybody else.

We Russians have always appreciated the French.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Entitlement Blinders

Nearly a year ago I wrote a post called 8 Tips That Will Let Any Idiot Improve Their D&D Game.  In it, I stressed the importance of not fudging the dice, arguing in just a few sentences that the DM should be as bound to the rules as anyone else.

Yesterday, I got this answer from Helene de Marcellus:

"See, I do fudge the dice rolls. And I will continue to do so. See, I'm running a campaign with at least 9 pcs at a time, and I have to work a lot to balance the monsters. Oftentimes, they end up being a few challenge ratings higher. The group's besting this monster, and then, on it's turn, it one-shots a pc. Or it would, if i didn't fudge the roll so the pc is merely unconscious. Call me a bad DM for not balancing the monsters right, or the traps, but sometimes I need to fudge stuff to keep the game moving. As long as the players don't see me fudging the rolls, the reality is not broken. I do NOT use fudging as a means for lazy story-telling. I use it to fix my mistakes. Sometimes, if i didn't fudge, I'd have TPCs [sic] on my hands, and that would not be good."

This is an excellent example of the level of hubris that exists as many gaming tables around the world. The depth of privilege this indicates makes it far more interesting as a deconstruction opportunity that it does for a responding rant.

Take, for instance, the self-accusation that the writer makes, suggesting that I would call her a "bad DM." That entirely misses the point.  In the post above the comment, I stress how obeying the rules doesn't allow for the sort of 'solution' that's being proposed here.  Obeying the rules demands innovation, improvement in oneself and in the level of the game being offered.  Taking short cuts, such as the justification for fudging die rolls offered above, makes for a bad game, not a bad DM.

Pause and consider the same words above be used as by a sports referee to explain the importance of making bad calls - in order to ensure that the "game" between the opposing teams is "better" because it "keeps the game moving."  Imagine this being the argument because one team is vastly more talented than the other.  Imagine the ref saying, "I call penalties in order to fix my mistakes."

The key, however, is this: the DM here has convinced herself that the players don't know.  She says so blatantly: "As long as the players don't see me . . ."

This is the cognitive dissonance at the bottom of the problem, because the players do know.  Of course they know.  Refs or umpires who think they're pulling the wool over the eyes of the players and the crowd exist - and they are absolutely the worst, because it represents a specific kind of blindness: the one that argues that they're the only people with brains.

Consciously or sub-consciously, it doesn't take long for anyone invested in the game to recognize that something is wrong - particularly when the party is fighting something huge that, somehow, doesn't seem to kill five or six characters in the party.  Or that the rolls seem to 'mysteriously' favor the party.  Nor does this take long.  We're most of us familiar with all kinds of games long before we come to D&D.  We have an intuitive understanding of how random success works.  The link describes how participants were tested against the authenticity of different decks of cards, red vs. blue - and while it might be surprising to some, it took a mere 10 draws from the bad decks before participants in the study began to react physically to their use; by 40 draws, the problem was consciously understood.

No one "saw" the decks being stacked.  "Seeing" wasn't necessary.  The DM who thinks that the screen or any other tactic can hide fudging is suffering from self-delusion.  All the players know - even if they say nothing.  For those who have played the game before, the acknowledgement of the game being fudged is there as soon as the screen goes up.

And while many, many people in the game accept this, the truth is that fudging substantially reduces the value of the game.  The players never "succeed" on their own.  It is always with the DM's help.  This undermines their general feeling of triumph . . . tainting every achievement, making the game a dull grey mess.

Get rid of the screen.  Let the players see the dice, just as they would at a craps table.  Accept that losing is part of the game. Don't use the dice to "fix" your monster selection for encounters.  Rather, "fix" your monster selection by playing out as many TPKs as you need until you learn.

Until we understand that we're not better than our players, Our Games will never be better than we are.

If you read this post and liked the sentiment of opposing fudged die rolls, or you'd like to see me go on writing posts like this, donate $5 or some such consideration through my blog or become a Patreon supporter, giving me some small stipend a month that you won't notice affecting your bank account.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Describes those who act as merchandisers for objects and services that are made by others, as a conduit between artisans and the buying public. Traders do not make things, they buy and sell them. The vocation of a trader is to make profit - to ensure that they make more money from what they sell than the expenditure they are forced to make when they buy. Traders only appear in towns or cities, except under some circumstances: see below.

The status of traders varies from region to region; in low tech regions, between 7 and 11, traders tend to be seen as pariahs or parasites of of the social system - there is a distaste among some for those who do not create, but merely sell. In higher tech regions, where investment becomes more common and the raising of capital in order to create infrastructure becomes more important and respected, traders form an integral part of the region's power structure.
There are two common forms of trader: wholesalers, who deal mostly in raw materials, forming the chain between producers and storefronts; and retailers, who sell from a storefront directly to regular customers. A third type, the peddler, acts as a travelling vendor, occasionally dealing in wholesale goods while hawking goods along roads or in small towns and villages. In all three cases, the balance of goods that are bought and sold will not be manufactured items, but raw and natural goods: produce, staple crops, ores, fish, livestock, animal products and such. These are things that are not 'made' and therefore offer the highest rate of return between the producer and the market where they are sold.

Peddler Encounters
The role of a peddler is a solitary one, a dangerous one also, as to remain commercially viable a peddler must cover a wide territory in order to sell comparatively few wares. The wares themselves cannot be of much value, nor can the cart that peddler uses cannot tempt thieves. A too successful peddler is bound to attract too much of the wrong attention, only to thereafter begin again from scratch or fail to have the wherewithal to continue at all.

During the days, peddlers will be encountered on open roads, and near the village greens of small settlements; they will be very hard to find at night, as they will usually have some safe house along their routes where they can lock up their wares at night. In the open, peddlers will be very distrustful of strangers, especially those who express a willingness to look over their wares, as this is a common ploy to expose what valuables the peddler has. In a public space, the peddler is likely to be more forthcoming.

Peddlers will speak easily of the places where they frequent and will be a font of knowledge about the region, for those who are wise enough to recognize peddlers for this quality. Look for the following motivations in their behavior:
  • Pressure to make at least some token purchase, preferably something of absolutely no use to anyone, that the peddler acquired while making a barter with a starving someone who possessed nothing else (most manufactured knick knacks a peddler has will be acquired this way).
  • A strong resistance to letting a sale get away - food peddlers were often known as 'badgers.'
  • Wares of lower quality than would be found in a town or city; armor that will work at one armor class lower than normally associated with a type; weapons that will break easily; all at the same prices one would find in a proper market.
  • An acute willingness to participate in petty crime, so long as the peddler's association with the area isn't threatened; this would include things like a potential for fencing small goods, hiding goods or making introductions to less savory individuals the peddler is bound to know.
  • A moderate taste or tolerance for gambling, vices and a willingness to dispense "street justice," meaning that a peddler might prove to be more vicious in defense than expected (use of poison, for example).

Many peddlers are one-time thieves or assassins who have withdrawn from their old ways or have been cast out. Appearances are deceiving.  It is unlikely that a peddler would be above 3rd level, however.

Retailer Encounters

On the surface, these can resemble artisan encounters - however, a trader is likely to have a much wider view of the world, meaning that they are bound to recognize members of the player party for who and what they are. As such, while selling out of a storefront, a retailer will be more focused towards matching their wares to the particular needs of the customer. If a conversation does arise between the trader and a party member (see artisan for rules regarding this), expect the dialogue to differ. Expect the trader to:
  • downplay any aspects of creativity or ingenuity that the players have adopted, stressing that a particular item or object for sale would serve the purpose much better (for a reasonable price).
  • promote any stereotypes about race, region of orientation, religious orientation and so on when defining the character's intentions to buy anything, showing great surprise if the player does not conform to the convention.
  • sell the idea that there is a simpler solution than taking the time to know or understand anything. For example, a trader will argue that a music box is the equivalent of any musical instrument, because it takes less effort to play.
  • take a stance that anything that happens in the region fails entirely to take into account the special needs of the buying and selling community.
  • treat any large purchase as a virtual bribe regarding any information about the community where the trader dwells (including the potential for giving away state secrets). Make the chance for a given trader to reveal such information a 1% chance per 10 g.p. spent; however, the money spent must be on wares - a trader will straight up refuse an obvious bribe. DM's prerogative what information is revealed, but it must be of substantial interest to the party!

On the whole, traders are less friendly and more profit-driven than artisans, as they exist in a highly competitive business (there are no guilds for traders and no commercial protection generally). They are prepared to abandon their residences if it proves profitable, as they regard money as more valuable than community. They are ready to 'buy' another community if need be. On the whole, then, encounters with traders will be founded on money. Traders will resent player characters who insist upon par when trying to selling items; player characters willing to take a few coins less than par will make a friend of a trader (who will then give them preference in future exchanges, particularly if what the party brought in earlier proved a good sales item).

At best, a retailer is likely to be no higher in level than 4th. Most will be thieves or fighters, though very few may be members of a subversive clergy. A very rare number of store fronts (about 4%) will be fronts for some illegal operation.

Wholesaler Encounters

These are traders who act as enablers to trade. They buy from independent growers, herders, miners and other concerns, then sell to storefront traders - or directly to authorities to support the needs of the military and the building of infrastructure. The most important wholesaler in many parts of the world is the religious monastical system, which pays for items such as wool, salt, grain, produce, hemp or stone, then gets rich transferring this product from rural parts of the world to city and town markets.

Wholesalers act locally, often transferring goods a distance of no more than a few miles from farms or crews working in the hinterland onto the nearest trade routes, where the product is then picked up by other wholesalers who specialize in long distance travel. Some wholesalers exist continuously on the move, moving caravans across the desert, ships across the water, barges up and down rivers or merely along roads from market to market. Other wholesalers never move, setting themselves up in large markets and paying for goods as they arrive, only to then warehouse the goods until they are sold - incrementally, to keep market prices high - to retailers in store fronts. Some wholesalers retain a troop of retailers who sell products at the local bazaar (town market) or stockyards.

Local traders deal in products that have short lives: dairy products, fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. Distance traders tend to deal in hard products that can last weeks in a ship's hold or upon a mule train.

It is probable that any wholesaler encountered will be moving raw materials that, as a body, are worth considerable coin but which are impractical for thieves to steal: ores, cereals grains, hulls full of fresh fish, bricks, barrels of oil or wine, cut timber or some other similar cargo. Even if an individual barrel of ale is worth more than 100 g.p., there would be no practical means of moving it due to its weight and no market to sell it to, since barrels are carefully branded and marked and traders keep careful records for who is entitled to sell wholesale from one place to another (not to mention keeping records for who is on what road in what week). Therefore, most wholesale traders don't keep large retinues of guards to protect their wares - they would be sad for the loss, but it is already understood by all that a group of bandits that attempted to rob a caravan would find themselves in possession of too much of something that carried no value for them. In fact, the less guards a caravan has to protect it, the less likely it will draw attention to itself - and thus a ton of expensive fabric, pottery or dried meat can be moved from city to city safely under hundreds of grain sacks.

When meeting a wholesaler, there will be some mistrust; but if a party is prepared to move along slowly, they will likely be welcome as companions to the caravan or as paying passengers aboard ship or barge.

Wholesalers know a great deal about the trade routes they travel; they know little else about the regions they've been. They are reserved about giving trade information to strangers, as it is a competitive business; however, if the party were to do something of value to a wholesaler, such information may be available.

Because wholesalers aren't interested in selling to customers, they have traders waiting at the end of their journeys for prearranged loads that they are bringing. As such, wholesalers won't sell to just anyone, as this would threaten their trade agreements that will keep them in successful business for years. Players have to arrange with wholesalers in market cities to have goods brought specifically for them (which can be done, saving a lot of money, if the players are prepared to wait). Once a wholesaler feels safe around the players' party and that the party is generous with their own sincerely told story, arrangements can be made if the party wants to do business or even buy into the wholesaler's business.

Depending on the size of a moving caravan or train, travelling wholesalers may be anywhere from 5th to 15th level (as some are monarchs of a sort, leading hundreds of animals and humanoids), as it requires great skill to survive along roads that often pass through wild parts of the world. A local wholesaler, dealing around a town or city, may only be 2nd to 6th level. The master of a wholesaling business permanently at residence in a market will control a thriving business and will have had extensive experience fighting off enemies upon the road in his or her younger days - count these as 8th to 12th level (as they settled for a more comfortable life before becoming the sort of masters who have controlled a caravan all their existence).

See Encounters


A term that describes the aristocratic classes of low tech regions, minimum tech 7, in which wealth and status is equated with the necessary income to own, ride and travel in carriages pulled by horses. The class is typically hereditary and hold a monopoly on all political power in the region. Equestrians represent an amplification of the control held by elders and chieftains in tribes. The Equites monopolize political power in towns and cities, and in the regions at large, so that the highest ranks of authority, land ownership and wealth are withheld from the general populace. A single member of the Equites is known as an eques. As a group, they typically form an oligarchy in the regions in which they dwell.

Unlike manor lords of a feudalistic culture, Equites are dependent upon the populations of towns and cities, as it is the size and number of their tribes that have given them power (being the richest and eldest of a large clan guarantees their wealth). They are rarely to be found in villages. In larger settlements, however, their number creates the assembly that holds both local and regional power (one of their number being the regional monarch, typically hereditary), the highest functionaries within a region and the leaders of soldiers. Few Equites are traders.

Encounters with Equites depend greatly upon the status of the player characters. If the characters are merely ordinary adventurers passing through an area, there is little reason for an Eques to deign to speak with them. On the other hand, if the characters have obtained notoriety, or if the characters have established themselves in the region as landholders and persons of importance, then they will likely find themselves directly acquainted with equites of the highest stature.

Once again, I don't prefer to use non-player characters to introduce adventures as set pieces in my world - therefore, the overused trope of having an Eques come forward, explain some problem to the characters and then expect the characters to solve it, is not included below. Rather, I try to give three tiers of communication, based on the players' importance to any Equites that might be in the area. Further elaborations can be built from any of these scenarios.

Confronting Strangers

Upon arriving in an area or making themselves known to a community, a well-armed and demonstratively unique party of adventurers brings attention to the locals. Several details may come to life: a) the party is made up of a mosaic of different races, some of which are highly unusual for the region; b) the weapons carried by the party are heavy and numerous, while it will be obvious to everyone that plate mail and war animals of various kinds will indicate considerable wealth; c) the players spend a great deal of money, more than a gold coin for every man, woman and child in the community; d) the players act in a way that distinguishes their lack of respect for local laws or customs; e) there is evidence of wounds, blood on clothing, the dirt that speaks of a wilderness expedition that defines the party as potential outlaws, fugitives or at least persons of desperate nature; f) the party has brought in some questionable items (dead creatures, monster eggs, notably rare items of every stripe) that they wish to sell.

Using the DM's prerogative, it may be appropriate to have a member of the Equites - with a small cadre that outnumbers the party by at least 25% - approach and confront the characters regarding their origin, their purpose for being in the area and their immediate intentions for the future. This Eques may be a local constable, a town elder, a knight, a baron or any of a dozen other important functionaries. The Eques will want satisfactory answers for these questions that accomplishes the following:
  • Ensures that the community is SAFE from the party.
  • Gives clear and unambiguous details regarding anything about the party's behavior or appearance the Eques wishes to ask.
  • Indicates that the party respects the local authority, that is, the Eques speaking to them.
  • Shows the party's generosity in trusting the Eques to be part of whatever their forward plans might be.

Failure to do any of this will justify the Eques acting in whatever unilateral manner the Eques sees fit. Parties will very often fail to recognize that in this place, the Eques has power, respect and the absolute loyalty of up to one hundred persons within shouting distance. Moreover, the Eques that approaches will be 6th to 8th level and be supported by at least two henchmen that are one and two levels removed from the Eques' level. Parties that don't behave appropriately will get spanked, and hard. This will probably not mean a jail sentence, but rather a severe fine (everything they own) and a short trip to the edge of the community. This, or the party will be forced to fight to the death against people who are capable of defending their homes and know the lay of the land (making practical flight extraordinarily unlikely). Note that while the party may have horses they can ride to safety, Equites are known for owning horses (and presumably, in a D&D world, a wide variety of other animals).

Alternately, impressing the Eques on the counts above will likely gain their help and friendship (assuming the party's purpose isn't nefarious). This will potentially mean an invitation to dinner, important information, offers of help and allies, special benefits promised upon success of the players' actions, a friend who will speak positively about the party to other persons and thus expand the party's wealth and status in the region. If the players will be generous to the Eques, the Eques will be generous to them.

Obviously, there is a small chance that the Eques that approaches the party will be the actual enemy of the party that the party is seeking. Such situations are special and must be managed depending on the circumstances of the adventure.

Meeting Allies or Famous Characters

Occasionally, player characters will be sent to speak with Equites of various statures, often carrying a token of good will or even a letter of introduction. Once an Eques meets a party under such circumstances, it will be presumed from the outset that the party does not represent a danger to the community and that the party's intentions are friendly. However, the Eques will still be free judge if the party respects and trusts the Eques with information - failing this, the Eques will withdraw support and may take steps to have the party confronted by some other person of authority or power (depending on the circumstance).

In such circumstances, the Eques will desire most to see the players through to success in their activities on account of the person or body that recommended the Eques to the party in the first place. If it happens that the characters lied about their association with the Eques' friend or associate recommending them, and this comes to light, there will be dreadful consequences. If the players live up to the recommendation, however, once again there is great likelihood that the Eques will be a very good friend to the party in the future.

If it happens that the characters are famous in their own right, and this fame becomes known to the Eques, the fame itself will act as a sort of "free-standing recommendation" without the need of a specific person to encourage the Eques to trust and act faithfully to the party. As ever, it must be acknowledged that the party had better live up to their reputation or this help will quickly and irrevocably evaporate. People do not like being fooled and played.

Convening With Equals

Where the characters have established that they themselves are Eques, then there will be rules limiting the amount of power than another Eques has. Equites, of course, exist in a hierarchy - but even if a king has an issue with a lesser member of the elite, there cannot be open discord between Equites within a given region. Thus, any difficulties between various members of the upper classes must be resolved through competition, a court of approval of some kind (in which an Eques' status can be removed) or through subversive action (that cannot be traced to the Eques responsible).

Individual Eques will always help in circumstances where both Eques have something to gain - regardless of personal feeling or emotion. While there may exist hatred between members of a region's oligarchy or ruling members, this hatred can often be overlooked for mutual gain - and then dealt with later through extortion, manipulation, falsified evidence or assassination. A region full of deceit and mistrust can nevertheless pull together against an enemy.

The player characters will be put in situations where they will have to decide which factions in a region to support, which moments are best to take action and which are best to let others do it; and ultimately how to make friends and influence people. This must be done one at a time - but take note, an Eques being rude or even directly insulting to an Eques will not result in an outright opposition or physical attack. More likely, it will result in a smile - one that is more disturbing than an enemy Eques drawing a sword.


Note that the above describes situations in which an Eques of personal power or interest approaches the party. Encounters with persons of specific function within a region, who have specific agendas, will be covered on the page describing functionaries (many of whom will also be Eques).

See Encounters

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Skilled craft workers who make or create things by hand that may be functional, decorative or describes manufactures made by hand-processing. Thus, artisans make house wares, leather work, clothes, foodstuffs, ceramics, glass & stoneware, metalwork and so on. An artisan is any individual who makes or provides services, but does not apply to unskilled manual laborers. Artisans at the top of their class are known as 'masters'; those who have been rated as adequate by guilds are known as 'journeymen,' while those in the learning process are apprentices. All master artisans in the setting, including those within the guild, are self-employed . . . journeymen may or may not, but on the whole will be mostly autonomous while working shoulder to shoulder with a master who owns the business in which they work.

Artisan encounters will always happen in a village, town or city - and for the most part, will be one-on-one meetings. Whereas most campaigns would see these as opportunities to blatantly sell players on committing themselves to an adventure scenario or quest, with the artisan begging the party to retrieve something, break into something, confront an enemy or some such, I perceive that none of those encounter tropes would be common or specific to artisans, as opposed to any person that might be met on the street. Artisans are not inclined to begin fights, organize themselves into gangs or see theft and melee as practical methods for expanding their reputation in the community. Artisans work at their trade: being makers and shop owners, working most hours each day in their own spaces, would have little time to frequent drinking establishments or chase people on the street begging for attention. As a result, most circumstances in which D&D "encounters" are thought to happen simply don't apply.

Characters and artisans would meet by chance, in the most obvious way: while purchasing things. A character moves from shop to shop, seeking bargains, the best equipment for the right price, equipment for the party (it may take two or three shops to find enough of a rare item) and so on. Some shop keepers talk; some do not. When a conversation is begun, it is done organically - a few words are spoken back and forth, both the character and the artisan find something they like about the other and the conversation begins. It is never about adventuring: it is about the exchange of thoughts, information, ideas. Moreover, it must be emphasized that the shopkeeper is as interested i what the character has to say as the reverse.

Each time the characters make a decision to do some shopping, when they pour over equipment lists (do not give an artisan encounter when a player knows what's wanted and specifically searches for one thing), ask the party if they appreciate that the hunting through shops in the market will take the whole morning or the whole afternoon. If an assent is given, "yes," have each player roll a d20 against their charisma. The player character that beats their charisma by the most will have an artisan encounter, by themselves (sternly inform the other characters not to give advice, though they can comment). If two or more characters tie, either roll it off or prepare to give more than one artisan encounter.

Artisan encounters may be brief, depending on the character. When they have gone long enough, have another customer require the artisan's attention, so that the conversation is cut off that day. Obviously, the player can end the conversation at any time.

Artisan-Character discussions are not set; however, the following topics will be typical, any of which can be used to gain the artisans favor (don't expect immediate bargains - but after 2-5 return visits a given artisan will 'save back' special items or may give away small items for free), which may mean opportunities for further exchanges. Presume that all artisan-character conversations are positive (charisma check was made). Artisans will no do things for the player, however, if asked, nor with the artisan ask anything of the player.

Subjects include the list below; there is no need to stick to any one subject or to cover any subject that doesn't seem relevant to the player's choice of dialogue. The artisan will:

  • be interested in seeing anything the characters are carrying that is visually unusual, wishing to know where it has come from; in general, the artisan will be curious to know where the character has come from or what the character is doing in town. 
  • be interested in showing off things of his or her own creation, not to sell it but to discuss how a particular thing was made. 
  • express personal opinions on the state of the community, the town or city, the region or the whole country, being either disgruntled at the state of affairs, happy with them or doubtful if such will continue. The artisan will not commit treason but may express a number of blatantly uncomfortable viewpoints. Resist having the artisan make personal comments about the player character - race, creed, whatever - as the artisan still sees this person as a potential or paying customer. 
  • give a positive opinion or suggestion about where else the character could look, something else the character should buy, something the character ought to see in town (because it is interesting) or worthwhile warning about a particular road or place in the area. 
  • describe something the artisan did once that was very brave, particularly when speaking to an obvious fighter; the artisan will probably be looking for respect from the fighter while in turn offering it. 
  • describe the effort he or she has taken to get the shop in order, to survive the economic circumstances and perhaps tell a tale or two about some difficulty that was overcome ("we had a fire two years ago, we're still coming back from it"). 
  • draw the character's attention to the object they've chosen to buy as not one of the best in the shop, offering a better one in its stead (perhaps with a +1 bonus to save against random destruction). 
  • discreetly express approval for the character's attractiveness or personality, flirting politely. 
  • offer his or her name for the player to use in seeking out good accommodations or some other minor benefit (depending on how well the character plays the conversation). 
  • warn the player about a local crime the player may be breaking without knowing it (carrying banned weapons, wearing a disallowed color, showing too much skin, etcetera), or any other thing the player might want to avoid doing in the area. 
  • thank the player for coming to his or her shop, wishing the player the best in future endeavors. 
  • make/tell a joke. 
  • offer a wager. 
If the conversation is going well, ten minutes should be the cut-off point. If the other players are showing signs of fatigue at the conversation, cut it off sooner. Try to make the conversation at least a little relevant to the player's present concerns and adventure, but don't reward an obtuse, probing question with an answer and don't be heavy-handed and anvilicious in giving information. In other words, don't be the DM, be the artisan. Let the conversation progress as the artisan would - without an agenda but with vitality.

See Encounters

Monday, July 18, 2016


This post describes working parties for commercial ventures who work mines, ships, roads and more. For rules describing the effectiveness of crews in combat, see Crew Quality.

Crews are work gangs or classes of people who work together in a common activity, generally a structured or hierarchical organization. A location in which a crew works on land is called a crew yard or a work yard; upon the sea, a crew works aboard ship. The members of a crew are predominantly untrained laborers led by skilled laborers and overseers. Large camps will include one or two managers or administrators (scribes, with a staff), who will act under the orders of a governor, director or owner (who will virtually never be found on site).

Aboard ship, these upper positions will be held by mates, led by a boatswain (bo'sun), sailing master and captain. Specialty positions aboard a ship will be held by a pilot, ship's marksman, ship's carpenter or surgeon. As with land crews, the owner of the ship is rarely present, as the captain has been hired to act on the owner's behalf in the ship's commercial venture.

Crews differ in behavior regarding the quality of leadership, the form of occupation, the season (winter in a cold country or summer in a hot country tend to increase stress and potential violence) and degree of isolation. Land crews may be found hundreds of miles from the nearest civilization; seagoing crews, thousands of miles. Crews may control an entire island or valley, they may be working in the midst of a city or they could be responsible for miles of underground tunnels. Sea crews may be military- or trader-based. Land crews may parties committed to clearing land for agriculture, ditch diggers for irrigation or road builders, dredgers, sappers, miners, sawyers and tree cutters for fuel or for construction (including shipbuilding), quarry stonecutters or trappers/hunters.

There are three probable land crew encounters (among a host of unlikely possibilities):
  • Speculators. 2-5 workers are encountered prospecting, exploring, tallying trees for cutting, marking the location of roads or other projects intended to be initiated in the future. The party will be tough adventurers, high minded and educated, most likely working for themselves or hired by others to traverse areas to learn if there is something there to be exploited. These groups are likely to be friendly but distrustful, presuming any party they meet is potential competition interested in making an enterprise of the same valuable land they've examined. As such, they will likely swap for equipment but will not give information on what they've seen or found. A ranger will almost certainly be the leader of these speculators; fighters, thieves, assassins, thieves, mages, illusionists and even a rare cleric may make up their number.
  • Incomers. 5-30 workers who have been contracted to set up a working camp, prior to the existence of the camp itself. This may involve building ditches, chutes, minimal fortifications, setting up tents, laying trap lines, clearing trees, dredging river courses, cutting roads/trails and so on. Not all eventual camps will involve permanent dwellings, so that a group of incomers can easily be mistaken for camping bandits and vice versa. These groups will be experienced workers, who have fought enough creatures and threats that they will all have some combat training. They will be led by an overseer who will be 3rd or 4th level and at least 4-9 others that are 1st to 3rd level who will be ex-military of one kind or another. Incomers will work on building a camp from a few weeks to several months.
  • Full Camp. Workers who are actively full-time on a commercial venture. Small camps of 10-60 workers are most common, but camp size can be as large as 300. Camps larger than 40 will typically have a few permanent dwellings; camps larger than 100 will manifest as villages. Camps larger than 300 will have transformed into permanent settlements, with other ongoing activities beyond the commercial venture that initiated the settlement's existence. The workers of full camps will be three quarters untrained, inexperienced workers; the remainder will experienced workers with some combat training. For every 10 members of the camp will be one of 1st level; the camp will be led by at least four overseers of 2nd to 3rd level and by an administrator of 6th level. Among the workers there may be a surprise, a higher level character who has taken work amidst poor circumstances, whose real experience is unknown to the others.

Crew encounters at sea will most likely consist of fishermen, who will take to the water in individual boats. Treat fishermen and their operations as a moving full camp, operating out of a nearby settlement. Some fishing crews on long-range fishing trips will encamp on the shore at night when able; larger fishing fleets will consist of dozens of vessels that may be bound for fishing grounds thousands of miles from their settlement origins.

Details regarding other ship activities, such as traders, pirates, patrols or explorer vessels will be dealt with on other pages in the wiki.

See Encounters

Sunday, July 17, 2016


Sometimes, it is about hammering down simple things.

Bandits are groups of nomadic humanoid wanderers reminiscent of more primitive bands, dwelling in regions where there is a sufficient capital to sustain a life of theft and predation. While lawless and prone to marauding behavior, not all bandits are necessarily malevolent. On the whole, those who turn to banditry do so as a reaction to oppression or hardship. Bandits often take no action whatsoever against the lower classes, preferring to prey upon elites of all forms - that is, those with money. Occasionally, some bandits ensure their safety by giving generously to local residents who have very little, helping to sustain their lives. In return, these residents will obstruct authorities seeking familiar bandit groups, providing safe lodging, giving false information or giving warning to the bandits that searchers are in the area.

Bandits recognize no authority but their own.

Bandit groups typically number between 10-60 combat-trained members (foragers), about three quarters of whom are males. In addition to this number, there are typically another 5-30 women and children that are kept hidden in some variety of fortified camp/lair, where the bandits feel they can safely return on occasion to reacquaint themselves with loved ones and store their gains. They are led by a bandit chief, typically of 4-5th level. Among the foragers, 3-24 will be 1st level; 1-8 will be 2nd; 1-4 will be 3rd. There is then a 25% chance of a sub-chief, who will be 4th level. 10% of bandits will be supported by a single shaman, guru or cleric.

There will be three sorts of encounters with bandits:

  • Scouting party. 3-12 members are encountered on their return from a reconnaissance or a raid. There's a chance that the party will surprise this number, that some of them will be wounded and that they may be carrying anywhere from 250-1000 g.p. from the treasure they took (if this was a raid). A reconnaissance party will have been scouting a target; if the party chooses to parley, there's a small chance - if the party looks the right sort - that the bandits may ask the party to join in with them on a raid. They'll be moving during the day, camping at night.
  • Encampment. 5-40 members will be camped, possibly waiting for raiders or a reconnaissance party to return, potentially celebrating before returning to their lair, more likely sustaining themselves with fishing, foraging, cutting trees, drying hides or other task necessary to sustain the whole bandit group. The season should matter; in fall and winter, the encampment will almost certainly be focused on supplies; in spring, reconnoitering; and in summer, raiding. There's a chance the party may surprise them. If the party chooses to parley, several of the bandits will slip out of the camp while the leaders talk, until a chance comes to feather the party with arrows while the encampment attacks and kills the players. Note that a bandit encampment, from the outside, will not look different from a working crew, except to a thief (who should roll a d12 - a number equal to or less than their level will reveal the truth).
  • Ambush. The whole bandit group (10-60) will have decided that the party is worth raiding, or else they will be raiding a village, manor, caravan or some such the party has entered or associated themselves with.

Bandit camps are fervently sought after by authorities. Successful bandits who accumulate enough wealth will sometimes 'retire,' buying their way into the establishment, sometimes obtaining a pardon by bribes or through committing their men to an authorities' cause in times of war.

Bandits will have unusual knowledge of a given hinterland, making them invaluable as spies or smugglers. They prefer mounts in open country but will not use them at all in mountainous or forested regions.

See Encounters

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Never Has the Tao Been More Tao

Following yesterday's post about shamanism and animism, I followed up with a game version of mantraism, on the wiki.  Mantras are the basis for most modern Asian religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and so on - and believe me, that is a long, deep rabbit hole that the average reader does not want to go down.  Eastern theology gives headaches to people who spend their lives studying it.

Still, I want to write about my work on mantraism (which I'll refer to without posting here), since I found it a brain bender for about eight hours yesterday.  I'll write about the trials and about some of the serendipity that arose from the content.

Job one was to make the content as simple as possible.  It would do no good to attempt an accurate representation of the use of mantras for game play, first because I don't want to spend the next ten years sussing it out and second because if I did it wouldn't be any good to players who didn't want to spend a year learning how to play it.  Any game rule has to be something that can be grasped in one or two sessions of explanation - which means throwing out considerable amounts of theology and nuance.  On the whole, that doesn't matter - no one playing D&D is attempting to obtain enlightenment . . . we're not being honest to the source material, we're being honest to the world we're building.  Priorities matter.  Therefore, if something in the content doesn't match up with what a real Buddhist or Jain believe, fuck it.

That said, we do want it to be recognizable as mantraism.  Whenever possible, we want to ascribe the correct definitions to things, even as we simplify them or leave out details that give them more nuance.  Throughout the wiki page, when I describe what something is, such as japa, reincarnation or the paths of accumulation or joining, these are directly from the source material.  I'm not making this stuff up - the reader should feel free to do their own research.

The value in adapting source material is that we can exploit the originality of that material without having to invent something from whole cloth - and at the same time, people familiar with the material can identify touchstones that are familiar and pleasant. The only people likely to be annoyed are true believers - who, I will say, are unlikely to be role-playing.  An actual Buddhist role-playing would be something like a Islamist taking a job painting Mohammed characters on store windows for Ramadan.  This joke will be clearer to those who understand Buddhism.

This is a fine line to walk already - the third element in the mix is that the content must be made practical for gaming.  That is, it must have some kind of effect that players can identify.  Mantraism is different from the religions I posted yesterday because, though it is the primitive form of philosophy that preceded the enlightenment of the east some 2766 years ago (the actual origin is contested - some argue it began with Hinduism and others that it existed for thousands of years before Hinduism) in that mantraism remains a fundamental basis for later religions.  This means that if a player chooses to be a Buddhist in my game (and I've had two of them in the last 8 years), what I write about Mantraism now has to also apply to what the character believes later.

Why does that matter?  Well, to me it matters because I haven't had a strong fundamental basis for how a Buddhist cleric would function.  What would matter to a Buddhist?  How would adventuring fit into the mix and how would the cleric perceive the long game where it came to increasing in power, focus and purpose?  Two days ago, this would have been very hazy and difficult to describe.  After the work I did yesterday, however, I suddenly find it crystal clear.  Right now, I think it would be possible for a player with no comprehension at all about Buddhism to quickly master the principles I've laid out and feel consequentially different from believing in a western-based faith (and most religions in D&D, whether those of the real world are played or not, are based on western polytheism or monotheism).

Note that I keep talking about Buddhism and not Hinduism, which is also mantra based.  That is because my Hinduism rules is yet going to need work.  Buddhism is much more an offshoot of mantraism - and it was mantraism that I outlined yesterday, not full on Buddhism.  That advancement will come later - but for the moment, everything that I've written about mantraism also applies to Buddhism, so in a sense we are talking the same thing.

So, the mantraism page on the wiki describes three basic points: 1)  thoughts empower action; 2) japa enables right thought; and 3) right thought places the individual upon a path that creates character class and produces game abilities.

1) In D&D terms, thoughts empowering action is equivalent to saying that thoughts empower magic. That is what we are talking about, yes?  Mantraism isn't a religion, it is a magical format that has magical effects.  This is the fundamental purpose to having a religion in D&D, that it creates some sort of power that interests the fantasy role-playing motif.  Without a magical effect, religion is utterly useless to the game except as fluff.  We don't need fluff, we need a principle that the players can play - so religion must be a form of magic.

2) Japa is the repetition of mantras.  If you're looking for your keys, you're wandering around the house saying, "Where are they?  Where the fuck are they?  Where are they?  Where are they?" - over and over.  This is a pattern that every human betrays in times of stress and in every culture.  Mantraism recognizes this biological constant and attempts to ritualize it: screaming about the keys helps you find the keys (theoretically), so we only ask that you scream about the keys with these exact words in this exact tonality this number of times.  That is japa.

3) As I proceeded along in my research, I discovered a strange serendipity arising.  The number of mantra repetitions, for instance, being 108 according to the source material.  How curious it was that 108 repetitions would take 15 minutes, when 15 minutes has been established for literally decades as the time it takes for a cleric to relearn a 1st level spell in my very old Vancian-based system!  How interesting it was that I seemed to be establishing a logical basis for the monk character traits as well as a form of non-spellcasting cleric!  How marvelous it was that the actual description of the Buddhist stage of supreme attribute helped define what a monk's abilities ought to be, more accurately that the clumsy telling of the original AD&D handbook.  I'd never heard of the four stages of the Path of Joining until yesterday and yet they fit right into my game system like a glove.

In particular, I enjoyed the meaning behind the Path of Accumulation.  At first, I resisted the description, since I supposed we were talking about some form of religious acquisition - but in fact we are talking about exactly the sort of acquisition that murderhobos in D&D like to do.  Players can be Buddhist and hack-slash lords at the same time, because mantraism and Buddhism begin with admitting that most persons are going to be involved in material accumulation - says so right on the tin.  This puts everyone on the First Path - including non-believers like you and me, who are merely members of the lesser stage.  One has to love an all inclusive religion like this.  EVERYONE is a Buddhist.  So the next time some effete says that we don't 'understand' Buddhism, we can spit right into his face and answer, "I understand fine for someone on the first path."


I cut mantraism off at the end of the Path of Joining because I want it to remain primitive (it is designed for tech level 6, some readers will remember).  At a later time, I see that I will have to plunge into Buddhism again, completing a set of rules for the remaining three paths above the second - but later.  I'm resting for now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


I had great fun yesterday hammering down two magical/religious practices in my world in D&D terms: shamanism and animism.  Of the two, shamanism is more primitive; animism arises out of shamanism in areas of greater technology.  Both magics/religions are intended for cultures that are too primitive for spell or cantrip use - and so the rules for each had to both limit the amount of power that could be used while giving possibilities for how each could provide powers and abilities not associated with standard Vancian magic.  Both are described on the wiki and will provide plenty of reading not included here on the blog.  I recommend reading both pages through and comparing the one with the other (noting similarities and differences).

The strangest addition is Fetishism, which I'm going to post below - just because I think it is so damn interesting.  There may be some flaw in the rule that I'm missing, I hope someone will point it out to me if they see one that makes the ability way too powerful.  I stress that this would be primarily an ability for non-player characters . . . though, of course, it is almost certainly something that I would eventually add to my sage abilities in the future, so that players could partake.

Please forgive the disclaimer at the start of this.  I wanted to make clear the fundamentals of my perception of animism based on pre-European incursions and misinterpretations (which is what most of what we know about animism).

From the Wiki:

Fetishes are objects that are possessed of magical power, that enable the bearer to have power over others. The following is an attempt to separate this practice in my world from the corrupted and largely misunderstood development of 'voodooism,' or 'Vodou,' in later centuries, which is far, far from the practice that actually occurred in Old World primitive cultures. In creating rules for fetishism, I have chosen to ignore cheesy ideals that have long since become awful cliches in film and the Caribbean tourist trade. I simply am not interested in this, and don't feel it would be a good fit for my world - particularly as I am attempting to present many possible animistic regions, not just those of the West African slave states.

Retaining the idea of being able to affect others with fetishes, or talismans, the emphasis here is on positive effects. Fetishes, unlike shamanistic tokens, do not require the sacrifice of an animal or a humanoid - but they do require considerable skill in their creation. (note: this is a skill I would like to eventually add to the bard, but I do not have the necessary rules at this time].

The fetish talisman is created by the animist shaman as follows: the object must be made of a material that has been formed from a living creature: wood, wax or even dung are the most common materials. This is then fashioned in the form of a specific humanoid subject, though the likeness is not expressly important. The subject's hair must be cut directly from the humanoid's head, either willingly or without the subject's knowledge - hair taken by force will not serve. The figure must be made with cloth that the subject has worn more than once. Finally, once the talisman has been made, it must come into contact with the subject for the space of one round (12 seconds). Thereafter, the talisman/doll will serve as an effective animist fetish.

This empowers the animist shaman to perform two forms of control. The first transfers a condition or ability from the shaman to the subject; the second reverses this, so that a condition or ability is transferred to the shaman. Note that this transfer will last only as long as the shaman concentrates upon the fetish, so that in most cases it will not enable to shaman to take on powers that can then be used, since focusing on the use of that power will cause it to recede.

However, the shaman can bestow the subject with better ability stats (since the subject can take advantage of these, having no need to concentrate), a better to hit table (if applicable), a superior saving throw, greater morality and so on. Hit points cannot be transferred. However, were the shaman intoxicated, that could be transferred; likewise, the shaman could transfer an injury, taking it away from the subject to make the subject were more effective as a combatant, or giving it to the subject in order to cripple him. A disease could likewise be transferred. The shaman could drink poison and transfer that as well; or accept poison from the subject, empowering the shaman to save vs. the poison and survive it while the subject could be sustained before the effects of the poison was returned. There are numerous other ways in which the power of one individual or the other could be shared one way or the other.

Note that the effects of some circumstances, such as a fire or suffocation, could be not be transferred, as the animist shaman could not effectively concentrate on the fetish while on fire or, say, drowning. In general, if the experience is something that would suspend the concentration necessary for casting spells, the fetish cannot be used.

An animist shaman's magic can only support one fetish at any one time. To make another fetish requires that the prior fetish be destroyed, smashing it first with the hand and then setting it afire. This destruction does not affect the subject, as it is not what the talisman/doll experiences that is transferred, but what the shaman feels.

Animism is most common among tech 6 and tech 7 cultures, though there are cults of animism that exist in all cultures above tech 6.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

24 Petards to Be Roasted Upon (or, How to Be a Player)

I have been looking for something like this for a long time.  I came across it Wednesday.  It is a book, called Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, written by Martin Seligman and edited by Christopher Peterson.  The core of the book is something that reads like ability stats for a player character . . . except that, in actuality, they're ability stats for the person who IS the player.

Specifically, Seligman is talking about strength of character.  Towards this ideal, he puts together a list of six core virtues that are in turn made up of 24 "character strengths" - which Seligman proposes are measurable.  I won't even try to explain this; I'll steal what Wikipedia says:
"Each of the twenty-four character traits is defined behaviorally, with psychometric evidence demonstrating that it can be reliably measured. The book shows that 'empirically minded humanists can measure character strengths and virtues in a rigorous scientific manner.' "

Once upon a time, I wrote a essay (later part of a book) called How to Play a Character.  I could take Seligman's work and quite probably write a completely different book, How to Be a Player.

The six core virtues, plus the character strengths inherent in each, are as follows:
  • Wisdom & knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective.
  • Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality.
  • Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence.
  • Justice; citizenship, fairness, leadership.
  • Temperance: forgiveness & mercy, humility/modesty, prudence, self-regulation.
  • Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality.

The whole provides a spectacular framework for the mind and the interrelationship of persons, without showing dependence on things such as status, physical prowess, personal glory or charisma. I personally feel the choice of strengths is a game-changer for what matters in terms of defining success not by measuring ourselves against others, but by measuring ourselves against our happiness and what others take from us.  But please don't imagine that I fully understand it, because I don't.  It would take months and months to understand it - but from what I've read so far, there's no question in my mind that what we want from players and DMs has been quantified - for the first time that I have seen.  The book is 12 years old, so none of this is new - but the internet is a big place and it is only by chance that I found it.

I want to look a little more closely at the strengths that Seligman describes and discuss their relationship to a player at a gaming table.  This seems like a good exercise for me and might help to explain why I'm excited about Seligman's book.  As I go through it, I'll put Seligman's words in italics (using only his emphasis, where applicable), then comment afterwards.

Creativity [originality, ingenuity]:  Thinking in novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it.
Basically, do different things.  That's a thousand times harder to do than say - and some people are naturally gifted towards this kind of thing.  Here's the point: if we assign the standard D&D 3-18 score to this character strength, or ability stat, then we have to acknowledge that most people will fit into the 10-11 range, some will have a creativity of 7 or 8 and some people will be damn brilliant creators with 18 points.  And just as it is stupid for a mage with a 7 strength to gird on a weapon and wade into combat, the thing to do here is to admit that our creativity may not be our strength.
That doesn't mean that a player with a low creativity isn't occasionally going to have a stellar moment.  Now and then, even someone with a 4 dexterity gets lucky with the die and pulls of a successful dex check.  It's only that an 18 creativity is more reliably creative.  The key here is not to try to pull the whole load for yourself.  The mage relies on the fighter to dig in and handle the strength stuff, right?  So where it comes to gaming, we shouldn't hesitate to ask the creative player for help - and take advice.  We can pick and choose from what we see; we can put in our own ideas, while stealing from people more eloquent or original than ourselves . . . the only thing we shouldn't do is try to pull the whole cart ourselves.  We will have other strengths - like a mage, we do things other than hacking and slashing.  We have to approach our playing style the same way.
But no, we won't be able to change our 'class' easily.  We can - but it will take more than a sheet of paper and dice.  It will take effort and commitment and years.  In the meantime, we need to apply our energy in the places where we excel.

Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]:  Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.
Again, some are going to be high in this trait and others won't be.  Personally, I have no idea why anyone with a low rating in this trait would be playing D&D at all . . . but social pressure, habit and sheer stubbornness make people do all kinds of things.  I don't have any advice on how to make an incurious person more curious; this particular problem has baffled me all my life, as a solution might be able to end social diseases like trash television, organized religion and professional sports (anyone want to get together to play baseball this afternoon, I'm totally there).
Those who are at least mildly curious might at least see the value in curiosity, and recognize that cats must be killed regularly for the good of the species.  If at all possible, we should strain ourselves to play a little higher up the curiosity scale from the points we possess - and to encourage others to do so.  Moreover, it would be better if the community overall embraced the idea that doing things the same old way is anathema to the experience of playing, the thrill of finding new angles on methods of play and the importance of not letting the game become stale just because once upon a time it was played in a particular way.  Clearly, those who advocate for simpler, shallower and traditional games have a very, very low curiosity rating: around a 9, I would guess.  It's hard to imagine anyone with a curiosity less than 9 even playing the game.

Open-mindedness [judgment, critical thinking]:  Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one's mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.
This is something we're all doing, all the time, and something that enables the kind of curiosity I'm promoting to happen.  The only thing is, a great many of us are not doing this well.  We're deliberately weighing some evidence in preference to other evidence, such as our personal experience with 5e being more important than anyone else's experience with 5e.  We're very rarely able to change our minds in the light of evidence, such as those who claim role-playing is dying despite the proliferation of comic-cons, fan expos and so on where role-playing is always a highly promoted feature.  We're jumping to conclusions, such as arguing that alignment is necessary for a good game.  We're not examining things from all sides; we only see things from our side.  We're not thinking things through: we're grasping at the first visceral response we have when we hear or see something and flying headlong into it as the solution for our campaign: only to find, again and again, that it wasn't.
We need to step back and not search for simple answers, immediate solutions, supposed agents that will solve all our gaming problems or supposing that we have any means of judging the popularity or value of something without hard evidence.  We need to move ahead slowly, diligently, with our eyes and minds open, ready for an answer that will fit ALL the evidence, not just that we cherry pick because it suits the weather.

Love of learning:  Mastering new skills, topics and bodies of knowledge, whether on one's own or formally; obviously related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows.
Here's the thing with Seligman's emphasis: it isn't enough that we keep reading and investing ourselves in more and more knowledge - we have to move away from our comfort zones.  We must read things about which we know nothing; we must read books and talk to strangers about things of which we know nothing - and then push our boundaries further by examining WHY things we don't like are liked by others, and strain ourselves to the utmost to embrace that like and make it part of ourselves.
Our capacity for doing this, particularly on the internet, is nigh impossible.  We are culturally minded, programmed, resistant to change, hateful of things we do not like immediately and we're both dismissive and disgusted with persons who do not recognize our personal right to be just as gawddamned ignorant as we want to be.  Still, love of learning is the acquisition of knowledge and knowledge is power.  And as much as we hate it, we know that being in a room with people who know something we don't know sucks.  That's the emotion we need to latch onto, as we break out of our small box and tentatively dare to listen quietly to a Katy Perry song (five or six times) or watch golf seriously.  Then, not fear the consequence.

Perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people.
Well, this is what I'm trying to do right now.  This is why I have readers.  This is why I'm trying to teach D&D classes and make a wiki and argue endlessly about things that I know bother people.  This is why I can't seem to contain myself to just D&D or just role-playing . . . and why I'm still at it, because I know that there still are others trying to make sense of the world and looking for a voice that can help answer that question.
The key of this trait is that it is proactive.  Listening or watching something is passive; jumping forward to express one's opinion is active - and it is a risk.  We will get spanked, we will encounter resistance, we will contend with apathy and mockery.  But as I depend on thousands of others in my life who were proactive enough to write books, make music, preach poetry, teach university classes, make documentaries and reach my consciousness in a hundred ways, I'm trying to do my small part in doing the same: and as I do, I learn better ways to do, I stretch myself and take greater chances and gain greater knowledge in how to convey what I believe and how better to understand what I believe as well.

Bravery [valor]: not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on conviction even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it.
I find the key word in the above is 'shrinking' - as a DM, for so many years, I have seen players struggle with the game most of all because they do shrink from speaking their mind or standing up to bullies.  They worry that they will make a wrong decision or that whatever they do, it will somehow come back to bite them.  More and more these days, it seems to be a meme that experienced players are damaged or some other such thing by their previous experiences with DMs who behaved badly.  I hear this again and again.  I find it an enormous pity.
I don't want to rant, but I am finding it hard to go through this list and not concentrate on the negative aspects of NOT having these traits.  The positivity of the traits, for me, speak for themselves.  Who would argue that it isn't good to be brave or to love learning?  Yet in each case, as I continue, I can remember conversations online that seem to say exactly that.  I want brave players, players who correct me when I make mistakes, players who speak up for what they want to do in the game or who feel that the game has been made to suit their personal needs.  I always encourage players to speak up and I hope the same goes on in every game - and when there is someone who hasn't got a bravery of 13+, I hope that there is another player there to stand up for them.

Persistence [perseverence, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; "getting it out the door;" taking pleasure in completing tasks.
Aha, well, here's my whole approach in a nutshell.  I wrote in How to Run expressly about the pleasure of working and the value to be had there.  I encouraged with all my might for DMs to let go of the need to rebuild their campaigns from scratch year after year and just work on one world, period.  Persistence is all over the map where it comes to participants of the game: particularly with DMs, but with players too.  Unlike curiosity, where those without it are unlikely to play the game, there are plenty of DMs and players that have a persistence stats of 3 or 4.
It's a complicated game.  Players need to give it more than one night of play before quitting - but we don't live in a world where this can be explained.  At best, we can try to make they see how coming back for a second or a third session will help them feel more connected and involved.  That first session, like a first day at work, is a wash.  I know the player might not come back; but I try to make them feel safe and involved.  I try to encourage them to look to the future and not the present.  And whenever I can, I try to be as consistent a DM as I can be.  (Just now, with my life the way is it, that's been a joke; but I still hope to make this long dearth of gaming up to my players when things are sorted out for me).

Integrity [authenticity, honesty]: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one's feelings and actions.
Once again, will anyone argue that integrity isn't a good thing?  Yet when we are faced with players who use the premise of character-invention as a pretense for acting out like children or abusive assholes, what are we to think about their integrity stat?  A 7?  A 6?  Certainly not the 15 or 16 we'd prefer.  Granted, most people are not honest all the time, but I think we could agree on there being an agreement at our tables that the participants reserve the abusive character trait for the character and keep it wholly and completely out of the player's mouth.
But this is a problem with a 'role-playing' game, isn't it?  People take the stand that they want to play a role . . . and since they want to immerse themselves in the role, they want to speak as the character and act as the character to the nth degree.  Yet there's something about the choices certain players make about what sort of characters they want to immerse themselves into - and just exactly why they are so terrifically fascinated with revenge and murder fantasies or motivations surrounding theft and selfishness.
For any number of people to play a personalized, imaginative game together for any length of time, integrity must be more important than game.  This is why there have always been rules of conduct surrounding all inter-human games and relationships.  D&D is not special in this regard.  Those who cannot learn to play well with others do not deserve to play at all . . . and I find it strange that so many will argue that this isn't the case.

Vitality [zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated.
And we certainly want these players at our tables.  Two or three vital players can be enough to drive forward a campaign regardless of who else might be playing - yet please, let us acknowledge that however much we want it, not everyone has a vitality of 17.  We are not all blessed with explosive energy.  The trial for most of us comes from not having the sufficient vitality today, because we're under stress, we're short on sleep or we haven't come up with a plan for the game like we'd hoped we'd have.  Sometimes it is simply a lack of faith in ourselves or some circumstance that seems a little hard to play out because we haven't that much experience with how a royal court or a naval vessel actually functions.
We should see, however, how training comes into this.  Like a cyclist or a songstress, we train and train each day to improve ourselves, our scope, our comprehension and our willingness to dig in and try, conditioning ourselves with knowledge, bravery, persistence and creative techniques, until we're ready to perform.  Vitality, like any other trait, can be trained into us.  We can become more vital by acting to improve everything about ourselves, from our health and behaviour to our comprehension and empathy with others.  We feel more like doing things when we're comfortable with things; and the act of playing or DMing is a steadily growing process of training ourselves to get better at a game we love.

Love:  Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people.
There's nothing in this that will get a bigger belly laugh from a troll than the mention of love.  It is as though I should somehow be ashamed for saying that I love my players; that I do more than run them as a DM, I share with them, I feel pain with them, I understand their frustration and I am concerned about their experience in my world.  I want them to feel cared for - and there is nothing I find more reviling than the notion that I shouldn't feel this way about others I have spent hundreds of hours running in my game.
I do more as a DM than merely open the door and let the player in.  There is a commitment here: a recognition that I have adopted a responsibility for someone else's time spent, to ensure that it is treated with empathy and not disdain.  For those who would twist that concern into a joke I can feel only pity.  I find it highly probable that most role-playing games are formed of people who feel a love for one another like members of a family; unspoken, no doubt, because we've been taught by so much in this culture to fear exposing ourselves by confessing to any feeling for anyone that isn't wrapped up in a wedding and children - but that love is there, nonetheless.  Mark this and believe it: campaigns that last and last do so because that love is there, whether it is acknowledged or not.

Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, "niceness"]: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.
I have written from time to time about my willingness to be cold and insensitive in my writing; that without making people uncomfortable, there is no reason for them to change.  I have, to this point, already written a number of things that could easily not be considered kind.  I won't make an argument that my own kindness rating is extraordinary.  Yet I will say that the time this takes to write out a post like this, to bring to light the aspects of playing that we need to have at our tables, is a sacrifice.  This is as it may be; I feel that I am ready to do favors for others and to do good deeds as I am able.  I am here to help.  I take care of my players.
They, in turn, take care of me.  They have been coming forward for months and helping me sustain myself as best they can.  All people, everywhere, have to take care of one another to make life tolerable - it is no different at the gaming table.  Practices in role-playing that don't have kindness and consideration at their core don't belong.  The lack of these things will destroy any game - and all too often I find with strangers that there is no motivation whatsoever for consideration.  This is made even worse by philosophies like creating a character backstory, encouraging players with axes to grind to find a tacit approval for their failure to consider other the other players in what sort of backstory they're bound to write.

Social Intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick.
On the surface, this sounds like the perspective argument I made earlier.  There is a world of difference, however, between understanding another person's perception of the world and knowing how to deal with it appropriately - that is to say, positively.  Role-playing games have a reputation for drawing in people without a lot of positivity.  I'll say from my recent experiences with certain gaming clubs, the reputation is deserved; and I'll say from my recent experiences with individuals at gaming conventions that the reputation is very definitely not deserved.
The fact is that certain cultures promote certain behaviours - and those with poor attitudes or belief systems will drift into places where those things are tolerated, most commonly as a default.  The remainder will always hold people accountable for their behavior.  We are responsible, before going anywhere or doing anything, to acquire a maturity where it comes to speaking with other people - it is easy to go balls out to the wall on a blog, but in person the rules are different (this is a large part of the reason why people find me very different in person than they expected from my writings).  In person, we all have to give of ourselves if we want people to trust us or consider us worth their investment.  It's easier to do this and be sincere than most realize - sincerity comes from recognizing that our opinions mean nothing; it is our actions that count.

Citizenship [social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork]: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one's share.
Please read this carefully.  Citizenship is more than paying attention to one's country or one's heritage.  It is addressing the problems of the world not only as individuals but as a group.  We are so caught up with what is best for us personally or our families, personally, that there is little room for seeing the bigger picture of my neighbor, my co-worker, the guy standing in line ahead of me, as all going through the same shit that I'm going through.  We've even come so far as to make feeling concern for the other fellow as a sign of degradation and perversion, as an opportunity for diminishing the argument that everyone here, right now, is suffering in some way and that everyone deserves to have that suffering reduced - which is made worse by the simple fact that we have the means of reducing it but we don't, for reasons.
Once again, I don't want to get lost in a big rant here.  I would be happy if four or five players at a table would just see the game in exactly these terms: we're in this together.  We're better if we pull together and we stop concerning ourselves with which one of us can kill more orcs or produce more hit points damage on demand.  As evidenced in the source material for this post, this isn't just something that matters to me, this is an expression of the general mental health of everyone.  Those with a low citizenship stat are killing this game, one table at a time; the rest of us must pull together and make it clear that games are played together, not individually.

Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
This means that every new player has a right to get on board the campaign and be given an opportunity to master the game.  It declares that DM fiat, randomly generated and randomly applied, has no place in the game.  It means that your dearest friends are not somehow more deserving of godmodding than other people sitting at the table.
But it also speaks of justice.  Justice includes a fair assessment of another person's skills and behaviors and a reasonable restriction on those things.  It means that a person can be asked not to play.  It means that some people shouldn't be invited in the first place, not based on prejudice but based on the same principles that ought to apply to everyone: their willingness to be polite, to not act out, to respect others, to play the same game that others do and so on.  Everyone being held to this standard is justice and fair.  Bias happens when something only applies to some people and not others.  I see there's often a mistake made here, where it is presumed that some are more deserving of 'justice' because they have self-identified as needing more than what the average boy-bear or girl-bear needs.

Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time maintain good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.
There I am as the DM, right?  Readying the game, pulling the game together, ensuring that the participants get along, taking responsibility for the event.  Yet more than this, everyone is a leader.  We lead by example, by addressing issues in ourselves before demanding these things from others.  I have struggled with every one of these character strengths, long before encountering this list.  I have had my bad times, had my failings, made my mistakes, screwed up, driven good people away from my games and behaved badly.
But it isn't about what we've done; we've all done wrong.  No person can pretend to have treated everyone fairly or well - and whatever we wish different about our pasts, we will live with those errors and bad judgments for the rest of our lives (if we have the capacity to be self-aware).  What matters is that we learn from those choices and not make them again.  We step up in future when before we shirked.  We dig in and do it right, as best we can, learning as we go.  We accept our limitations and ask for help in changing ourselves for the better of others, the ones we have the capacity to hurt.  Leading is doing this without being asked, without being threatened.  Leadership is doing it before others do, because we're brave enough or intelligent enough or kind enough to take that burden onto ourselves.

Forgiveness and mercy:  Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.
And here we come to my lowest stat: I must have something like a 5 or 6 here.  I'm not forgiving.  I'm rarely merciful.  I feel ire at those who have done wrong and who will not change; and I am completely irrational where it comes to another person's shortcomings.  I will usually give people a second chance but after that, wow, am I ever ready to close the damned door forever.  My one saving grace is that I won't hunt the person down and destroy them . . . though when I was a child I often had fantasies about that.
This past year and a half I have been struggling to loosen up on all of this.  It isn't done overnight.  The tendency to drift into anger and impatience is always there with me and throughout this post I have found myself constantly doubting the value or reason behind it.  I did not invent these character strengths; I feel just as much at the mercy of their ethical inflexibility as the next fellow.  As I write through, I'm self-examining and finding again and again a tendency to go roaring off on some tyrannical position that I know isn't the right thing to do.  Here's the point, however: we are all weak in some capacity.  Forgiveness is my particular weakness.  Addressing it is perhaps the hardest thing I've ever had to do - and it has been forty years of consciously addressing it, since my childhood.  We should not feel bad if we have encountered our own demons through this exercise, however; we have demons. It's good to fight them.

Humility/Modesty: Letting one's accomplishments speak for themselves; not seeking the spotlight; not regarding oneself as more special than one is.
I'm fine with this one at the gaming table, where I get that the whole game can't be about me.  But outside gaming - and particularly with my writing - I tend to see the inter-personal realm as an arena without rules.  That is more than evident from this blog, where my anger and willingness to seek the spotlight and regard myself as special makes every post possible and draws attention.  My daughter and I like to see this as the "dance, monkey, dance" equation.  The monkey has to dance stupidly to get the attention - and once the stupid stops, so the attention goes away.
I'm in a quandary here: I don't become a writer, my lifelong dream, without a spotlight and without other people thinking of me as special.  Modesty brings obscurity and obscurity does not sell books.  Yet I understand the premise here: acting all special tromps on other people's dreams and wishes, wrecking their opportunities to enjoy the spotlight and feel special themselves.  So there is a balance that must be struck.
In D&D and in jazz, there are times when each participant deserves a solo, a moment where all the attention is on them.  This shouldn't translate into a whole game or even a whole evening, but most everyone wants the chance to shine - and those who don't want it should be pulled out into the sunlight occasionally to show them that it won't cook their flesh and destroy them.  So while we're basking in the pleasure of our own accomplishments, we should realize there is a time to stop talking about them - to let other people talk.  Hard as that may be for someone like me, who has a humility stat of probably 8.

Prudence: Being careful about one's choices; not taking undue risks, not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.
We all suck at this, don't we?  Oops, sorry, don't mean to haphazardly assume that everyone feels regretful of saying things we shouldn't have said.  I'm sure I shouldn't have written that.
Still, I do feel I'm getting a handle on this one, from two angles. One, I am saying less, recent posts about my personal life notwithstanding.  And two, I'm much clearer on the term 'regret.'  There is the sort of regret we feel where we know we've caused someone pain - and there is the regret we feel when afterwards it is thrown in our faces and we are ashamed.  Blogging on the internet has taught me to just not give a damn about the second one.  I don't feel ashamed when I'm forthcoming.  It isn't that I don't care what others think - it is that I'm dead sure that those who would see it as a bad thing are also those who want me to feel shame for daring to share.
I am always distrustful of those who use shame as a tactic to win battles.  I can understand evidence, even truth that hurts and makes us re-evaluate our ideals.  When I see shame in operation at a gaming table - where someone fails to make use of a skill or rolls a bad die, only to be vilified for it - my blood boils.  It is a completely visceral reaction.  It was trained into me by others who sought to make me ashamed for my intelligence, my proclivities, my interests (including D&D) and so on.  Game and be proud.  Make a mistake, kill a whole party and be proud.  We're all just doing our best.
I hate to redefine prudence like this, if that's what I'm doing.  I'm not sure if this was Seligman's intention or not; he defines prudence as 'common sense' and I have never found anything sensible in this world to be common.  Perhaps this is proof that my prudence stat is as low as my other temperance stats.  Perhaps as low as 3, since I cannot see another way of looking at prudence except to know what you're getting into and be ready for it.

Self-regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one's appetites and emotions.
Yes, I probably have a low stat is this one, too.  I'm often reactive, often off the chain, often grossly involved in my appetites and emotions.  It must feel very different to wake up in the morning and not be caught in a tempest of passion, like I often am.  My only real experience with this is that I'm slowing down with age.  We couldn't call that "self"-control, however, could we?  More like actuarial control.
Still, I will argue that self-regulation is a good thing.  Every time I've been able to get on top of myself and steer me in a rational direction has proven a good step forward.  Doing it more often would be of terrific benefit for me - so yes, I will argue that we would all do a lot better if we could up our stats in this regard.  I am probably never in better self-control than when I am a DM or a player, as I am consciously aware of what I'm doing there.  Perhaps this is why I find DMing so exhausting - it is the act of shutting myself down over and over.  Just a guess, though.
We have all played with players who did not display self-control, or who could not in the least way.  It is exhausting for everyone.

Appreciation of beauty and excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
Here I find myself again on comfortable ground.  I fell in love with most things along these lines early in life and I continue to immerse myself in every opportunity to enable aesthetics to elevate my perspective.  I don't know how much I can say about it here that will be useful to the role-playing genre, except to argue that DMs ought to go the extra length to make their worlds more attractive; players ought to go the extra length to make their characters more pleasing.  Images, odes, dimension, fertility of imagination and so on - whatever can be embellished about the character, from the way they look to the small, seemingly incidental interests they have or the things they do.  I have always seen that some players devote themselves to these details while others just don't care - and while the adornment can be purposeless if it is not somehow applied to game play, the resistance against adornment is a form of self-denial, suggesting that players would rather not give dimension to their characters as this makes them somehow more disposable.

Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
For some, to give thanks is to acknowledge dependence - a circumstance which they cannot bear.  Of late, I have much reason to thank my readers: they have sustained me and supported me and there is not enough gratitude I can show them.  Sometimes, this gratitude is embarrassing, I grant that: but at the same time, I agree with Seligman that it is necessary.  Without gratitude there is no union, no meeting of individuals on a common playing field.  Because of the help I've received, I don't feel I've gotten here alone - and the acknowledgement of that is gratitude.
I think that most tables - certainly the players of mine - have a sort of mutual gratitude that exists between them, even if it isn't said.  Someone's character nearly dies and another player swoops in, grabs their body and takes it to safety; they bind the character's wounds and protect it.  After the battle, healing is cast and the beneficial powers of the party are shared - and although I don't hear a 'thank-you' spoken by the players (once in a while, perhaps), there is an inherent bonding that the players recognize.  They will do it in return, when the moment calls for it.  Often, as well, a party will show their gratitude for letting the most successful character in a battle choose first from the treasure.  These are forms of appreciation, even if they don't fit the standard motif.

Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]:  Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.
Where it comes to players quitting the campaign or DMs quitting the game completely, it is hope that is lacking.  It is the certainty that this game isn't going to get better, that there's no way to make it better, that the skills don't exist to make it better . . . and without that expectation, the campaign crashes and burns.  DMs start games with plenty of hope - but without a frame to sustain that hope, without an understanding of how the game can expand and work more successfully, there is no future.
I've tried endlessly on this blog to point out new pathways of thinking, new possible games, new ways to look at adventure and DMing, new kinds of ways to look at playing and managing players - and always I run up against people who say the game should be "this" or that a given aspect doesn't have a place because the game isn't "that."  Such boundaries to game play - the idea that the game should be anything - are the killer of hope.  Hope can't be found in rules and restrictions.  Hope can only be found when its firmly believed that nothing can stand in the way of a game - or a world - that offers the opportunity to break rules and try something new.

Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.
In case anyone thought that D&D shouldn't be fun, I beg to differ.  D&D is fun.  I contend only that it is "all" about fun, because it isn't.  I've never run a game where laughing, teasing, smiling, a smart remark, a pun or a joke wasn't part of the standard evening's entertainment - and I have never, ever, reprimanded someone for bringing hilarity to the table.
I have shut down people who have tried to use the game as a personal apparatus for their sense of superiority or whimsy, who derailed the game again and again to talk about themselves or tell long leading stories to set up one of their punchlines.  But it is easy in such situations to see that the game is fun only for the person telling the story; not for those listening.  Like everything else, the humor inherent in the game must be shared; it must be a moment where everyone is laughing, where the weirdness or coincidence of the game has sparked its own story, made its own joke.
In game, I am the straight man.  I don't tell the jokes - but through my gaming and my presentation, supported by the strangeness of the die and the bizarre circumstances in which the players find their characters, humor happens spontaneously.  Spontaneous humor is always the best, always better than someone who 'remembers a joke' or takes it upon themselves to be the party's clown, making a snark about everything, throwing endless shit at a wall and hoping something sticks.  Adults, I think, can tell the difference.

Spirituality [religiousness, faith, purpose]:  Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose anjd meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort.
Save me from people who believes that spirituality has anything to do with a given religion.  It is much more universal than that.  We make up our minds about what to believe, what a game should be, how players should act, what our goals should be, where the game should be going, what rewards are justified and how to improve the experience from game to game through the joined discourse that binds our individual thoughts into a mutually held faith.  That's not religion, but it is a contract, one we retain for ourselves.  It is up to us, not a god, to decide how we will act with one another and what we will consider important; and it is up to us to revisit those decisions daily, whenever any of us feel that something should be changed.
Spirituality is a sacred duty to preservation of ourselves, unlike religion, which is the preservation of another group of individuals who are now all long dead.  Religion tries to calcify spirituality, to make us believe that if it worked for those people long ago, it will work for us.  I feel the steady death of religion is found in the speed with which our life experiences are changing, forcing us to find a present spirituality that will have meaning in the now, not the then.


I'm not happy with this work.  It's too long, too preachy, too full of obvious sentiment to be considered original work.  I only hope it helps to quantify the places towards which we should put our efforts in learning to be better players and better DMs.

I hope that from this people can see that the secret to being a good player is to be a good human being - and that the converse is equally true.  We can teach people how to play D&D; with time, they can become very good players.  But if a person isn't much of a person, in the greater scheme of things, then there's no reason to want them around long enough to test them out as players.  All we can say to them is, "Go off and change.  Come back afterwards and we'll take it from there."