Friday, September 30, 2016

Roughing Scotland

It always looks a mess at this point.

Working on the coastline, plotting cities and towns, sketching out the boundaries of provinces - the last of which will probably change before I finish this map.  The above, I will not hesitate to say, was a lot of work; the Scottish west coast is not an easy line to plot.  Glad that this part, at least, is behind me.  Plotting the coast is one of my least favorite things.

But doesn't it look pretty?

There's the rivers yet to do, the drainage basins need to be calculated for that, plus the actual borders need drawing - and at some point, adding in the trade markets and the roads, though I probably won't do that for a long time.  Roads - because they fit into the trade system - are a huge headache.

There's lots of work to do, lots of work for all the rest of Great Britain, too.  Slow and steady work.  I like to show my work, however, particularly so I can see this post a few years later and remember what Scotland looked like before it was done.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

No Deals

At the Edmonton Con, we had a fellow, Otis, approach our table who was bemoaning the way his players took advantage of him.  I will give an example.  Instead of drinking a healing potion to heal, Otis explained that the player was always trying something completely out of left field, something unexpected.  "What if I just use a little of the healing potion on my wound, rubbing it in with my hand.  Will that do anything?"

Whereupon Otis looked heavenward in dissatisfaction, sighed (I'm really not making this up) and told us, "I don't know what to do when he says stuff like this.  I wish he'd just use the potion.  I have to say something like, 'Okay, if you roll a 1 on a d20, it like heals three points of damage.'  And then the player rolls a 1!  I hate this stuff!"

Um.  Yeah.  I tried to explain to him that he was only enabling the player by offering a chance of success.  the actual answer is, "No, it does nothing."  Park Place costs $350.  It doesn't cost $325 if you roll a seven when you land there, it doesn't cost $310 if you're wearing a green shirt, it doesn't cost $290 if the player on your left thinks that's "fair."  The cost is, was, always will be, $350.

Otis, poor fellow, proved inconsolable.  We never were able to make him see that his players were taking advantage of him by trying to end-run the rules or that he was encouraging their behavior by constantly finding ways to fan-service them.

Fan-service sucks.  I just had a long conversation with my future son-in-law regarding "gold rounds" in the online game, World of Tanks.  These are special shells that players can buy that are effectively breaking the game . . . but when haven't we watched profit-mongering by game designers destroy a game by feeding those who have the money to pay in?  We've seen this pattern for decades now: a great game appears, it seems to reward effort and adaptation with opportunity and benefits . . . and then someone else can step in with money and side-step working at the game by purchasing a super-mega-killer-death-action sword and within a year, poof!  No game.

It's presumed that this is a video-game problem but no, it's actually a game problem.  If you're unsure about this, ask someone's opinion about the designated hitter's presence in the American vs. National baseball leagues.  This is a rule adopted 43 years ago, in 1973; debate continues.  If that isn't enough for you, have someone who understands the in-field fly rule explain it for you . . . and then have them explain satisfactorily why the rule exists at all (please, if you have an answer for this, write it on another blog).

New rules break games - and this includes a rule made up on the fly, designed to spontaneously satisfy a player's momentary ill-thought innovation.  I'm a great fan of innovation:  when Ned Cuthbert stole a base in 1863 or 1865, that was the right kind of innovation - he wasn't breaking a rule and he didn't need one to be made for him.  When the Oakland A's chose not to steal bases because they were statistically viable, that was the right kind of innovation too.  I applaud players who try to innovate inside the rules.  I crush players who try to do it outside.

I'm sure Otis, however, is not alone.  I'm sure there are many caught in the same trap, who don't see that they are themselves the architects of their own misfortune.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


In my last post I mentioned that we had some insulting and abusive customers at the Expo I attended last weekend.  I'm glad to say they weren't especially those things towards us - it was, rather, that these were fellows (every one was a boy-bear) took such exceptional pride in being assholes towards their players that they felt compelled to entertain us with boasting about their sadism.

I will not go into details.  Mostly it involved detailed sketches of perverse devices and dungeon traps meant to gleefully execute players or mere gloating accounts of players they had twisting in the wind in their recent campaigns.  Each of these demons invariably seem to think their games are insouciantly hilarious, that everyone else they speak to will feel exactly the same and that we are all simply dying to hear them go on and on . . . and on about it.

The most difficult patrons are the war story tellers.  In most cases, easily 19 out of 20, I feel legitimately heartsore for their positions.  They have no one they can talk to.  Being a role-player and a figure behind a table, I'm more than ready to lend my empathic, considerate attention: as I have written a few times this year, the worst part of being a DM is that we are alone.  There's little to no support in the community and anyone who dares to speak about their worlds is bound to receive nothing but a contemptuous eye-roll.  I have expressed as much myself, years ago . . . but I have recently come to understand that we have to listen, and praise anything we hear that we feel is positive.  DMs need it!

That twentieth fool, however.  Sigh.  They have no idea they're cackling about things equivalent to stealing ice cream from children and pushing people in wheelchairs down stairs.  Worse, I can say quite clearly, "I don't feel the game should be played that way," without the words making the least impact.  I don't mean the words offend, I don't mean they disagree with the words; I mean that these odious cretins don't hear the words at all.  They're incapable of hearing condemnation or opposition.

One of our oddest encounters came when we had two professed players who described their DM as one of these fiendish bastards.  They loved it.  They gushed and tittered about their DM's propensity for systematically murdering off their characters with steady diligence.  Once they departed, my daughter and I spoke about it for several minutes, in part disturbed and in part in awe of their obliviousness.  It is remarkable that such people exist in the world.

Without question, there are toxic elements associated with role-playing.  It's a natural progression from so much proscribed content over the decades concentrating upon silliness and excess rather than striving for collaborative, refreshing, novel and satisfying game play.  To the toxic element, that sounds "boring."

We should realize that every human past-time contains this element.  It is why restaurants have bouncers, why concerts have security, why it costs so much money to join a country club and why dress codes exist.  It is why ball players get ejected by umpires, why penalty boxes exist in hockey and why some very talented people - who just can't control themselves - are sometimes suspended for the season or for the rest of their careers.  Every organized community is ultimately forced to police themselves, to enable a better experience for the majority.  Usually, it doesn't take long after the community's creation before something has to be done.

If I had one of these fellows - either DM or players - appear in my life (much less my table), it wouldn't take long before I showed them the door forever.  But I know, having just met them, that there are hundreds, thousands, of players and DMs who just put up with them, because . . . well, I don't know why because.  Or I know it, but I'll be polite and not say it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

So, You Want to Be a Vendor

As I've heard a lot of stories now from game/Con events, I feel I can offer some advice to anyone thinking of taking their artwork, skill-set or crafting ability to a Fan or Comic Expo.  I offer this with the best of intentions - not to disparage, but to help.  Many of the vendors we have met in the past have been extremely sensitive to the slightest suggestion; we've also seen some very green eyes as we've been selling like crazy as they sit, ignored.  It doesn't have to be that way.

I'll organize these in point form.  It's presumed already that the reader knows what they would present at a table at these Cons.  I'll point out that it is actually very easy to obtain a table, to meet the requirements and so on; success, quite honestly, is a matter of approach.  Consider each, as the reader will; we have done our best to incorporate every one.

1.  Learn How to Sell.  Being completely honest, this knowledge does not come from me.  I have a number of skills but for most of my life, selling hasn't been one of them.  My daughter, however, sells like a demon.  Out of high school, like most young, slight girls, she dove into the retail business.  Long before that, she had gotten involved with trading things on line, seeking out rare items, buying them up and waiting for the right sale.  Her early experiences in retail shops expanded upon this for a while, until I thought she would make it her career; then she changed her mind and embraced merchandising as an alternative.  For those who don't know, this means window dressing and organizing a shop in order to make customers comfortable and interested enough to buy.  It is really just a means of organizing the space so that things are less confusing - and at the same time, encouraging.

I've had a crash course these two years in these things.  I let my daughter set up the table, I take her advice on how to talk to interested parties, I smile and concentrate on what people say to me so that I can honestly and appropriately answer their questions, rather than trying to force a spiel on each individual.  I open the book, I show it, I put it into your hands - and when the conversation lags a bit, I name the price of the book.

This last is amazing.  For most people, this is all they need to hear to "close" the sale.  They are already considering the book - but they don't ask the price because it doesn't occur to them. They aren't thinking about price; they are thinking about what it is that interests them.  The price, when they hear it, "snaps" them back into the real world and reminds them that they only have to part with money in order to have it.  Nine times out of ten, people immediately reach for their pockets when they hear the price.

I've seen dozens of vendors now who won't say the price of what they have.  They are ashamed of the price they've chosen.  They feel naming the price is pushing too hard.  They will sit and mumble about the book for five, ten minutes, until the sale walks away.

If you want to be a vendor, either do it with someone who can sell - and then take their advice like it's gospel - or else go work in retail for six months and get good at it.  If you can't get good at it, forget ever being a vendor.  In this modern world, that means forgetting that you're an artist or a crafter that people will ever notice. If you can't sell your stuff, NO ONE will ever, ever, ever know who you are.

2.  Ensure the Product Has Value.  This is not as important as the first point; but if you want to sustain yourself for longer than a single show, the work has to be something people can view again and again, both from day to day during the event and the next time around.  I had a lot of people in Edmonton come around just to talk about the books they bought from me last year, giving me an opportunity to press for them to support me on Patreon or to buy into my online classes - which, admittedly, were a hard sell.  They require faith, since there's nothing concrete to support the notion that the classes will deliver what they promise - except my presence and what measure of credibility I offer.

We always see vendors who have a product that is, without a doubt, simply sad . . . particularly in Artist Alley.  We all remember people who could reasonably draw in school: often this level of drawing is presented as "art" for $10 next to people who are displaying spectacular content at comparable prices.

Because it is all on display, the measure of the work is in the eye - and nothing is less forgiving than the quality of the art.  I contend that many of the people who buy a table in Artist's Alley do it so they can roam around the Con for three days with a chair they can come back to when they're tired.  They don't really care if they sell.  If, however, anyone wants to "make it as an artist," the bar is more than evident.  If the vendor isn't making work at this level, forget it.

3. Have a Story.  It isn't enough for the work to be comparable or even amazing.  My daughter, who has been to more Cons than she can describe (she's a cosplayer), makes this point: "What is it that makes this amazingly fine jewelry better or different from that amazingly fine jewelry over there?"  There are artists all over the place and every person only has a set amount of money to spend.  Most of them are carefully counting out every purchase because it means if they spend $15 here, they won't be able to spend that money somewhere else.  This competition is always there - no matter what anyone is vending.  Every book I sell is money out of someone else's pocket - because the buyers are going to spend their $300 or $1,500 or $7,500 on something before the con is over.  That is an unquestioned fact.

Many of the buyers, however, know that the vendors have worked and struggled and banged their heads against their crafts long before getting to this point.  People want to hear about this struggle.  They want to know the reason behind the book, the inspiration behind this magnificent sword for $1,200, the concept underlying this set of figurines, the philosophy that impels this production company.  Tell them.  Anyone who has gotten to the point where they are selling their work at a Con already has a story.

Mine is simple.  No one has ever written a proper academic book for a Dungeon Master who has been playing the game for ten years or more.  No one has ever explained what we're doing right when we have a great night running.  I didn't know myself before starting to write the book.  I had a tremendous moment of inspiration - I realized that the situational awareness of an emergency first responder was applicable to the situational awareness of a DM during a game.  It is all a flood of information in and the necessity of making decisions and managing people in a very short period of time.  The fact that RPGs are not life threatening is irrelevant.  The thinking process is the same.  And as I explain this to varying degrees (depending on the listener), I get a tremendous response.  I can make it very simple for people who only just grasp the concept of D&D - or I can dive into it as deep as I need for anyone who wants a detailed analysis of my thinking process.  I love these people - particularly as their eyes grow wider and wider as I discuss the principles underlying details like capitalization of ability, managing negative responses to medical physio-therapy, pattern recognition, functional design or any of the other disciplines underlying the writing of my book.  My story isn't "made up" - it is a straight account of how I got to where I am.

4.  Don't Go Alone.  This is fairly straight-forward.  People try to be vendors without help, because they don't know anyone or they can't afford to pay anyone.  It's awful.  We need company, we need someone to talk to after an insulting or abusive customer (and we had them), we need grounding, we need mental rest and we need someone to encourage us to remain in a positive state of mind.  Seeing people on their own, come mid-second day, it's clear how glum they are, how tired they are, how frustrated they feel if they're not selling or if they've underestimated the resistance to their product.  It isn't good.

We don't need someone to help; we just need someone who we can talk to, even if we are doing all the work.  If they're doing work too, all the better - but they better have more motivation than, "I'm doing this for that guy."  They need a story too, they need to know how to sell too.

5.  Go With the Right People.  So, a friend of ours, Jim, found himself helping out an artist friend of his, David.  David had been lax in his judgment and his booth had six "helpers" - girlfriends of friends and volunteers he accepted because "the more the merrier."  After Friday's show, the first day, all of them - including David - got hammered drunk in the hotel room, with two exceptions.  Jim and another helper, Brenda, went to manage the table - they were getting paid by getting a cut of the amount sold, so if they wanted any pay at all they had to do something.  Saturday started at 10 officially, 9 for the early-passes.  Jim and Brenda worked - no one else did.  Throughout Saturday, the others filtered to the table, hung over, unhappy, tired and draped all over the chairs around the booth.  David, the actual vendor, didn't get there until 3 o'clock.

The horror show didn't get better.  As money collected, several of the helpers tried to rob from the cash box, even though it was supposed to be split.  This got out of control and tempers flared.  Half the booth wasn't speaking to the other half and the Con still had a whole other day.  Guess what happened Saturday night?  Yep.  More drinking, a worse situation, three people not coming in at all the next day and Jim swearing at our table about how he was never, ever, going to do this shit again.

Being a vendor is serious.  But stories like the above are going on all the time.  Artists, having gotten there, don't care.  Helpers come up to "help" and end up taking advantage of the one person who actually cares about their art.  Helpers wander off and don't come back for three or four hours.  Things go missing.  It's really important to ask, "Would I pay my friend an income for what he or she is doing?"

I'm lucky.  I have a sensible daughter.  It is in the family.  I heartily recommend having a child, raising the child to be a human being and then shutting the fuck up as a parent and letting the child run the table.  I do this and it works great.

Conclusion.  There's a lot more.  Displays get built so that it isn't even possible to see the vendor.  Vendors spend the whole Con sitting on their ass.  There's nothing for the customer to touch.  People ignore customers.  Not displaying all of their product.  Coming in late.  Leaving early.  Not trying in the last half-hour of the day.  Having nothing that identifies the booth.  And so on.

The people who make money are those who watch others and avoid.  It isn't as important as one might think that the booth be stuffed with AMAZING things.  Ours wasn't.  But we were memorable because WE were; which is the point.  I'm not selling a backdrop, I'm selling me and my book.  Many vendors forget that this is the point.

Monday, September 26, 2016

My Education

Three days since I've posted: anyone still out there?

We've finished our third Expo, my daughter and I.  We had a great time.  Once again, we met wonderful people, imaginative people, people passionate about their games, their players and their Dungeon Masters. Role-playing is growing and expanding - I adore seeing this every time I do one of these events.

This time around, however, I did get a different education, with regards to vendors and organizers - something surprising and, thankfully, harmless.  I'll try to explain.

We did have some worries going into this event.  There's a recession in Alberta, caused by the drop in world oil prices.  Alberta is a big producer of the world's oil, about 1/40th, and a huge exporter to the United States; the drop in prices has hit the economy hard here and we absolutely expected this to affect the number of visitors and the coin they'd have to spend.  It did and we saw that through the eyes of dozens of vendors that we've gotten to know in these last two conventions.

In convention speak, the vendors talk about "table cost."  This is the price paid for the booth where people set up - and it is a different cost for different sized booths.  Most of the would-be artists at expos like these set up in what's know as "Artist Alley."  Typically, this is a booth about six feet by six, just enough for a table and two chairs, without much room for moving around.  Product will take up most of a table and can make it very hard to sell, given the tight amount of space - but the booth cost in the cons I've been to have been from $150-$250 . . . a number that can be shared by two artists fairly easily, lowering the amount of product they need to sell.

We did a booth like that in Toronto in 2014; but when we more than quadrupled our table cost in sales, we decided to spread out into a larger space, giving us more flexibility.  We never made money in Toronto; after air fares and hotels and other costs, we lost money, definitely.  It was also our first try and we had a lot of things we had to buy from scratch; it is cheaper to do a second or a third event than a first event, definitely.

In Edmonton last year, we got ourselves into a 10 by 10 booth; more expensive, about $500.  We did better than twice that in sales and on the whole, we broke even.  Without hesitation, this year, we set up for 10 by 10 again.  We figured, if we lost money because of the economy, it was still better to have the extra space - both for our product and for our comfort.

I took a shot of the booth this year (I always forget):

I chuckle some as I look at this, as anyone who's been to a con knows this is pretty stark for a 10x10 booth. We know it ourselves, particularly through the eyes of other vendors who will pop by to snark or give us some heartfelt pity.

Thankfully, there was one other display in this picture the camera doesn't show.  I was standing in it and so was my daughter.  And like every time we've done a con, we know our people; they don't care about flash, they care about content.  They wanted to talk about their game and that's what we did, continually, enthusiastically and with terrific success.

We had five hours on Friday, nine hours on Saturday and seven hours on Sunday, a total of $48 an hour.  On average, we sold one of our three books every fifteen minutes.  We talked to three or four people for every book we sold, so we were talking to people - sometimes to a crowd - steadily.  Like last year, we broke even.  The only real profit we made was sending the book out there and getting a great trip to Edmonton.  And we got noticed.

Twice, sadly, I was approached by smiling, happy vendors selling games and role-playing supplies to "help us" sell our books.  The deal?  I hand them books, right then and there, in return for 50% of the cover price.  How considerate.

I carefully explained to both that is costs me 40% of the cost of How to Run to have it printed; it costs me 20% of the cost of the book to get them shipped out to me, because I can't afford the benefits that come from printing and shipping hundreds of books - and I don't get tax breaks.  The big book pays for everything - hotel room, travel, food, table cost and so on.  With the smaller books, the printing cost is 50% and the shipping cost is 30% of the book price.  I make less than $2 from a sale of How to Play a Character.  I get about $3.10 from a sale of the Dungeon's Front Door.  For both, I do better with an online sale because I don't pay shipping - but the reader does.  This is a big selling point for us at these events.  I take the hit so the buyer doesn't.

When some other vendor offers to take 50% of my sales, it isn't just taking a profit in exchange for doing almost nothing; it's actually making me lose money.  Were these vendors willing to pay for my costs?  For the print cost of the book?  Of course not.  Because at this time, in this world of publishing on the internet, consignment is a scam.  I had only just learned that I'd sold no books whatsoever at Indigo following my West Hills adventure.  This latest has convinced me; I am never, ever, going to consign with anyone, ever again.  They can pay me up front if they want my book or they can make a deal with me where they print and ship the book.

My other bad experience was with the officially organized role-playing community.  Like with every expo, there was an organized tournament; there were role-playing panels.  In the past, these things have gone on without mattering much to me.  Last year, after the fact, I spoke to the organizer of the panels. This year, that meeting happened before the panels.  And it was . . . disappointing.

Not during the meeting.  Wow. During the meeting, where the organizer and his associate came up to my table and talked to me for about fifteen minutes, it was all smiles and promises, to contact me, to see about getting me onto the panel, to address things like I was bringing up about legitimacy and the lack of support between DMs in the community, the encouragement of fracturing people with game play and deliberately pushing them to make their public contact with one another into a conflict sport with prizes and shaming for playing the wrong games or the wrong editions - all things that I heard from others I met throughout the weekend.

But of course, nothing came of it.  I felt pretty pumped after the meeting, felt like something was going to happen there - but that was just wishful thinking.  The official community can't afford to be challenged like I want to challenge it.

I did get some tremendous support from a writer in the gaming community who reviews releases and games; his name, like all the names attached to this post, will go unsaid.  He admitted to me quite openly that the gaming companies have the community by the throat; that they don't care about what happens to players after they buy the games; that frankly, once the game or the module is in the participant's hands, the company could really not give a shit.  He and I together compared the situation to a car-maker that sells the car, doesn't provide service, doesn't care if the car doesn't work, doesn't even provide the keys for the car - because, frankly, the company just doesn't care if we can make heads or tails of the rules after we've bought the game. There's no content out there that really says how to play or how to avoid pitfalls with players or how to pull all these rules together into a campaign that will actually sustain itself - this is all left to the participant, who muddles through by leaning heavily on a few people who are willing to give considerate advice as opposed to dead useless advice (and yes, I heard immense amounts of that over the weekend, mostly from DMs who explained how it was given to them, making them feel stupid and useless as designers).

On the whole, I feel that I am getting somewhere.  I can't remember with whom (and I can't find it), but just before the weekend I made reference to a quote from Hadrian: "Brick by brick, my citizens.  Brick by brick."  Steadily, slowly, one book at a time, I'm receiving the right kind of attention.  People found us after their friends told them to buy the book, having bought it themselves this weekend.  People found us to tell us to keep going.  People found us to thank us for changing their games and their worlds.  People found us by happenstance, then declared that it took them a long time to find us again so they could purchase the book.  We did fine.  Just fine.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Expo First Day

I'm in Edmonton now, without a computer. I'm crap at texting so this is going to be short.

I love these cons. It's a great chance to meet people and touch base with the community, be recognized by readers and help my bottom line. I leave these events encouraged and enriched.

I can always use some of that.

If you're in Edmonton, and you have a little money, come and see me at the Expo at Northlands. Wallace Shawn is here (Inconceivable!), so is John Delancey, Christian Slater - and for those who care - Carrie Fisher.

And me, obviously.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Eyes! The Eyes!

And now, an evil cat picture.

In the last couple of days I've inexplicably lost my photo I.D.  I need an image on the net connected to my real name to support my other cards and things with my Edmonton Expo registration later today; I've decided not to use facebook.

Strangely, this has worked as proof of identity in the past.  It is a strange world.

Monday, September 19, 2016


There.  I have an actual, real life version of my "world" map.

And don't I look happy?  No, not really - just beat.

So, this is for my booth at the Edmonton Comic Expo this weekend.  The map is at least large enough that its not possible to look at the whole thing at one time - but realisticaly, the place names are not readable.  That would require a much larger image, one that's out of my price range.  Next time I have this printed, it will be at least six feet wide.  At the moment, it's 122 cm by 66 cm.

I need it until 5 o'clock on Sunday - and after that, I really don't need it at all.  I figure by the time I would want a poster like this again, I'll have England added to it, perhaps more of Africa, perhaps I'll work on Sinkaing and Tibet to fill in the space between Siberia and India - actually fairly easy, since although its a big space there isn't much research to do.  It is the research that slows down the making of this map.

So I was thinking, entirely from curiosity, if it wouldn't be practical to simply auction it off to the highest bidder, with the deadline being 5 pm, Mountain Time, September 25.  Too self-serving?  It's a partial map (and technically, no matter what map I eventually print to replace it, will always be a partial map), so I can't imagine the interest value being that high; I do expect it will impress people at the Expo, encouraging a few strangers to understand just how seriously I take the careful design of my world.

Incidentally, I finished the actual organization of Britain.  Total number of settlements on the two islands: 374.  Population of the English Commonwealth under Cromwell: 8,286,074.  Population of occupied Ireland: 217,446.  Population of lawless Ireland (Eire): 286,002.  All of which has to be jammed into this tiny pair of islands:

Ah well, no hurry.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We're Alone

Since writing this post in May, I have progressively considered that the principle difficulty in Dungeon Mastering is to be found in isolation.  Virtually every game I can remember playing in my past, including my own game, along with games that I hear of others playing, exist in a vacuum.  The sole exception to this seems to be those games played in clubs, where the atmosphere can only be described as autocratic and unyielding - not the sort of place to transcend our old selves where it comes to running better games, as any contrivance against the standards of play is categorically decried and cast out.

I turn back my memories to when I played in club rooms, where there were five to ten campaigns of various sorts being played within a few feet of one another.  There was no WOTC in those days to sponsor programs that declared what modules would be run, how they would play out or when they would end.  We simply all played our own games, our own rules systems, without even the requirement that those participating be role-playing.  All gamers were welcome.

If it seems, however, that I am praising such halcyon days, I'm not.  Those get-togethers were anything but supportive; there was no rankle, no actual disdain, but there was certainly loads of indifference.  Each campaign would act as if they, and they alone, were entitled to play in that space of many tables, as if to say, "I wish all these other people hadn't shown up today."

With this, there were always the lone entities, people without a game, who didn't have time to actually play (as it was in University or before that, High School) or any interest in playing . . . but they wanted to watch, to fold their arms and make their presence known, to kibbitz the players or ask undesired questions.  Some of these interlopers were genuinely interested, some even made the experience a little better, like having an audience to perform for - but on the whole, not the sort of thing that improved the game's quality.

Barring the WOTC's apparent wish to turn role-playing into a low-grade sport, such as has been done with cooking, table-top is sorely lacking in reliable, practical wisdom and advice.  I see this when I talk to gamers at conventions: they distrust my book's proposed content, knowing how they've been disappointed again and again, or they reach out for it like inhabitants of a desert island seeing a ship.  There's no one - NO ONE - to tell them if their game has any merit, nothing to measure their skills against, nothing to give them reassurance that they are on the right path towards a better game or creating better adventures.

In the bigger sense, for most DMs, there's nothing to do about it.  Without a discernible path, without discernible goals, there's no way to make a strategy.  A strategy to do what?  What, in this game, defines a DM's "accomplishment"?

Most, flailing around for an answer, have learned to say, "A good game" or "A fun game."  But I talk to DMs who have been playing for twenty and thirty years who are worried that if they drop the ball repeatedly for even a single session that their players (who have been coming for three years) will get bored and quit.  One fun session isn't enough to discourage the feeling that the next session won't be and that, with enough bad sessions, the players will find something else to do.

That's horrible.  Playing for years, acting the part of DM for years, and still we feel that we're only one bad month away from the game going tits up.  Who participates in a activity with that kind of uncertainty - much less one with this level of work, sacrifice or outlay of coin?

I think there is an atmosphere of silence describing these issues, supported by the realization by many DMs that they can't speak about their issues with their players - that any sign of weakness would only bring about their worst fears.  It's fear; it's sensing that no one cares about us and our worlds because there's no one's opinion that can be gotten that can possible matter.  We're alone and there seems no alternative.

There is an alternative.  Start talking about it.  To anyone.  Doesn't matter if they play or not, doesn't matter if they understand.  If excellence is something that we want and we don't know how to go about getting it, then we need to learn what other people do in other fields.  Because excellence - and its definition - is possible.  Our uncertainty has been formed by the community being fragmented by so many things for so long.  We have spent so much time battering each other about what to play and how to play that we've spent very little time on why we play.  And why we'd like our play to be better.

Newest Tutorial Brochures

As students for my online tutorial classes have approached me and gone through the courses - happily, I'd like to add, writing very positively that the courses are worth the money - I have become increasingly clear about how the content of those classes ought to be described.  As well, I'd like to have a post where all four of the classes are in one place.  It is my plan to promote the classes at the Edmonton Expo next weekend, to encourage people to consider the possibility of jumping in.  Here are updated examples of the brochures.  Read them, I think these are undoubtedly better descriptions of what's going on with these classes.

Friday, September 16, 2016


I am getting ready for the Edmonton Comic Expo next weekend - and it is nice to have a little spending money (not much, but things are getting better).  As such, I just came back from visiting a print shop where I've arranged to have the big map printed as a poster.  I couldn't afford it's actual size: that would be 10 feet by 5 and a half feet, according to the printer, which would work out to about $500.  I had to settle for 48 inches by 26.

Talking to the print guys was a lot of fun.  These are people who deal with businesses all day and 99% of what they see is ordinary - nothing as intricate as the file I gave them.  I got wide eyes and impressed questions, plus some great praise as I explained that it was created on Publisher one piece at a time.  Since I am never ashamed about admitting that I play D&D or explaining what it is to total strangers, I was sure to tell them what the map was for.  And as I have learned in the past, it doesn't matter that I'm talking about a game or something that many people seem to think is silly.  The work is the work - it has the strength to startle anyone's preconception, if the merit is obvious.

Startling people is I wanted the map printed: to show people at the Comic Expo how much work I'm putting into my world, so that they'll make the connection to how much work I put into my books.  A physical representation is more effective than a computer screen - not because it's real but because it is BIGGER.  Even a really big computer screen just looks like the image has been blown up to size.  A physical representation on paper can't be.  I so wish I could have printed that 10 x 5 foot map; that would have stopped people at the Expo in their tracks, from fifty feet away.

Oh well.  Someday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Such a Little Thing

A few numbers, some names, nothing spectacular.  Gawd, it's office work.  And while I know that the general reader will sniff the air after looking at this, for me it is the base measure of the world.  It tells me the names of the dragon "catches," places where the dragons roost, where they have hollowed out hills or - in the case of Airgead - where they have brought into being a magical floating cloud, resting on the surface of the Loch and providing a protective obscurity against enemies.

Negative numbers indicate that Date before the Christian Era.
The number serves for calculating the population.

It tells me, too, that two thirds of the dragons dwell in solitary groups throughout Dric-dachaigh, most likely nesting in isolated places where ten or twenty generations of dragons have roosted.

Oh, and there is the rather boggling idea of 1,813 dragons.

I want to thank everyone for the names.  On the whole, the gaelic-angle sound sold me right off, so I tried to pick names that fit best with that pattern.  The elevations aren't mountains - but then, this is Scotland, where the mountains don't get all that high anyway.

We can easily imagine the dragons dwelling upon the hills above the towns of Argyll; all those included here on are water, something that I find very enticing - and then I remember it rains in this part of Scotland all the time.  I noted that none of the tour pictures feature rain.  The photographers must wait for weeks to get a shot of dry streets.

Well, back to other things.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Kingdom Naming

This is the island of Eorsa, in old Argyll county, Scotland:

According to my research, none of the towns that my encyclopedia includes were in existence in Argyll come the time of my world, 1650: Inveraray, Oban, Campbeltown and Dunoon were all founded later on.  Here is a shot of Fraoch Eilean:

When I started mapping the real world, I made a rule regarding the denizens of any region on the globe.  If the number of probable humans in 1650 was equal to less than 1 person per square mile, that region would be under the control of a NON-human race.  This is why most of Russia in my world is inhabited by orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, ogres and bugbears.  It is why northern Sweden is inhabited by gnomes.  And it is why the county of Argyll, in Scotland, needs to be occupied by non-humans as well.

I ask you, what sort of non-human culture do we put in a place that looks like the island of Luing:

We had a discussion among some of my players and agreed that this would be an excellent habitat for a dragon culture.  It is, after all, Briton, where dragons have always played a role.  I would posit that we could have a benevolent dragon population made up of relatively isolationist dragons, mostly adult or younger, living off the sea, vociferously demanding respect for their borders, yet occasionally acting as mediators and the voice of reason in a difficult political landscape.  After some discussion, we have imagined these being silver dragons.

Something like Glencoe might make a suitable home for them:

However, so far, I haven't heard a name for the kingdom/entity that I like.  Anyone have any ideas?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Whatever Happened to the Podcast?

My reasons for updating the whole world map as I did yesterday were part of a process of moving the podcast content my daughter and I created this spring from Soundcloud to Youtube:

We were having problems because while Soundcloud is free at the start, at a certain number of minutes it isn't.  We didn't foresee that and did not want to spend any money on it, so the problem became how to reformat the content and add an image.  We haven't had the means to do it, though in the end it was fairly simple.  I needed to be in a better financial situation first, which has happened.  I'm still in a lot of trouble, but I have at least a little spendable income.  For about five months, even with the donations from readers, I have had zero disposable income.  Every dime I've received has gone into rent, utilities, the basest of foods or management of debt.

My daughter and I stopped recording podcasts because of Soundcloud's format.  Having solved that problem, I expect we will be getting back to creating new content.  It's just a matter of making time to do that.  I think we'd do best to call it a second season and perhaps adjust the format a little.  We'll just have to see.

At any rate, all the podcasts can now be viewed on youtube.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Strategy & The Long Game

The DM Tutorial classes have been such a success.  As of late I have been thinking and blocking out a book I could be writing in six months to a year - and the basis of that book has already given me enough insight to add another class to the three I have already launched.

Those who have already taken the class may be interested in taking one more lesson from me; others may feel that a sequence of four gives them more bang for their campaigns than three might have.  We'll just have to see.

The above class is on strategy: digging in and having a go at making your world more than a some-time thing, something that will sustain itself and help individuals become better persons as well as better dungeon masters.  Being able to devise a strategy, having that ability in one's toolbox, goes a lot farther than just making a long-lasting RPG.  It can be the tool that sets you, the individual, up for life.

The class runs 60-90 minutes, as all the classes have.  I'm confident that I can immerse the student in what one needs to know about strategy making.  It ought to be a great course - and quite possibly the one that someone might want to take in order to test the water with me as a tutor.

The World Thus Far . . . Again

Let me begin by apologizing.  Up front, this isn't anything I haven't posted before.  Twice before, in fact.  But it does bring the completed part of my world up to date, adding in the western Sahara and Senegal:

This isn't a very clear map.  The world is getting bigger and bigger and it is stripping the hell out of my computer's capacity to save it as a remotely detailed png - at least, one that can be viewed well on Blogger . . . or even my wiki, for that matter.

Thankfully, however, I have found a way of managing a single image at 20% of its actual size in reality.  This makes an image file that is 50 megabytes.  That's too big for blogger, too big for just about anything: but with a little coaching, I have loaded it onto Google Image.  Here is the url:

It will take a moment for the fuzziness to clear on your computer as you look at it.  It is very big, after all.  Were I to print this in real size, it would be something like 25 feet by 16.  Too big for a computer screen.

I trust this will look interesting.  If it does to you, please support my Patreon, so I can go on adding to its size.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Irish Problem

Those supporting my Patreon know that I haven't done anything in the way of mapmaking for a couple of months (which isn't like me).  The good news is that for six months or so I have been working on England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  I haven't done any actual mapmaking, but I have done most of the research necessary.  I have approximately 400 villages, towns and cities that have been looked at and confirmed as existing at the time of my world, the year 1650.  The research also includes what disasters have happened in these places (as I reduce the population of a town if it has had a plague, been destroyed, abandoned or pillaged) and most importantly, who controls the town?

Now, most places in 1650 are relatively stable.  Borders change and shift between kingdoms and empires, but large parts of the world have usually been under one government for centuries or longer.  Iberia, for example, was easy since everything south of the Pyrenees has been Spanish or Portuguese since the ousting of Islam.  There were a few border places in Estremadura (a region that spreads over both those countries), but nothing complicated.

England and Scotland are about the same.  In 1650 Cromwell had consolidated his control over the main island of Britain, so that at the mid-point of his authority, it is easy to identify every center as either England or Scotland.

But those who know history, who have heard me mention Cromwell, know that Ireland is a ghastly, horrendous mess in 1650.  Cromwell's forces landed in early 1649 and the war that followed was an episode in brutality, atrocity, clumsy military policy and strategies marked by unrestrained activity on both sides.  Effectively, the war was an early experience in guerrilla measures, an attempt to win by attrition, both exacerbated by famine and even an outbreak of bubonic plague.  Estimates describing the drop in Irish population range from 15 to 83 percent, depending on the source quoted, with as many as 50,000 people transported as indentured laborers (which, in the 17th century, translates as slave labor).  And therefore, in my world, who controls Ireland?  A party of players could spend three years running there and never be sure.

One thing, it is a hell of a place for adventuring, if massacres, taking a stand on a piece of land and hiring out as a mercenary is the party's thing.  To hell with a dungeon; just crossing the landscape would be living day and night in a free-for-all combat zone, potentially heightened by creating armed troops consisting of everything from brownies and sprites to banshees, headless horsemen and demon kings.  All the party needs is nerve.

But from a DM's perspective, how do I make the map?  Who runs Ireland?

Off hand, it would be easiest to identify Ireland as part of the British Empire.  The Brits are in control of most of the major ports, Dublin, Galway, Wexford, Cork and such; the bigger inland places, Athlone, Limerick, the Shannon valley, is hold-out Irish.  But there's no central Irish government that can be described as controlling those areas not conquered and garrisoned by the Brits; even local government in the "lawless zone" is run by fiat and the despotism of insurrectionists who are themselves barely organized.  The bigger point to be made, however, is what's most "romantic"?  What best fits a D&D game?

I like this:

For clarification, The Pale was a part of Ireland directly under the control of the English government in the late middle ages.  Gallowglasses were a class of elite mercenary warriors primarily of Norse-Gaelic clans of Scotland.  Other Scot colonists (Ulster-Scots) settled in northern Ireland in the early 17th century, led by James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery.  Vikings settled in Ireland between the 800s until the 12th century, in scattered places, mostly in places that would become abandoned and then later occupied by Irish.  The Normans were, of course, French in origin (and Viking Norse long before that).  All these come together to make Ireland a terrific hodgepodge.

The map is tremendous for making a clear designation for what parts of the island the Brits control (though I am going through a county-by-county historical investigation for better detail); for those parts not Brit, the larger clans can be designated as "controlling" those zones.  It is, however, grittier than what I need; I can be satisfied that the McCarthys and O'Sullivans control the southwest without having to keep track of every O'Hurley, O'Daly and Ferris in the region.  I can plunder the names and make them small groups in the bigger picture for an actual campaign, but the map can just list the major clans.

Sorting this out will take time - and if you have a particular love for a particular name (your own, perhaps), I'm sorry if you're not included.  The map above, though, will tell you what hex your people ought to come from, once I get the map made and posted.

It is reasons like this that I have left England off the world for so long.  I began making my world map in 2005 and here I am, 11 years later, with all of Europe made but without the British Isles (or Iceland, for that matter).  I knew it was going to be a bitch.  I'm going to be glad when it is behind me.

Monday, September 5, 2016

I Always Had My Suspicions

Many of the comments on the video argue that the test enhances the minutest of inconsistencies, so that the actual difference it the die, as it would affect rolling, is negligible.  I would tend to agree with that.  At the same time, many of the dice shown in this video are distinctly of the cheap variety, the sort whose edges begin to degrade after ten, fifteen years use.  Some of my dice are like this, some have gotten to the point where I won't use them for anything critical in a game.  Others of my dice are 30+ years old and show no breakdown at all.

I only put the video up because I knew this would be something too interesting to ignore.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Bully Boy

I do not generally post ripped material, but since it is impossible to find this song in any format but this one, I'll go ahead and take the consequences.  If the estate of the McGarrigle sisters wants to come after me, I will tell them firmly that they should make their album available in digital.  This is from 1964, the year of my birth:

She’s sailing out of Lunenburg harbour,
A legend and a win before her,
She won all the races of her day.
The ghost we see is only time away,
And it’s blow boys, blow my bully boys, blow . . .

Captain Angus Walters met the Prince of Wales;
He rode the seas and fought the gales.
They sold his ship to carry freight;
The queen sailed off to meet her fate,
And it’s blow boys, blow my bully boys, blow . . .

Now in the memory of other times
She rides as the tail on the back of a dime;
She follows the wind then answers the call,
As seagulls cry to the sea and all,
And it’s blow boys, blow my bully boys, blow . . .

Ready for Class

Just getting ready for my class today in my present digs.  Looks more like a traditional vlogger's chosen background than I've ever had before - but fact it, the background belongs to my daughter, not to me.  My stuff is mostly in storage.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Shot to Pieces

It has been explained to me that this blog is a necessary and critical complement to my wiki; since this comes from one of my strongest and most honest patrons, Scarbrow, I am inclined to believe him.  I do use the blog to promote the wiki.  I do that because if I write rules on a wiki page, I'm 99% certain that no one who reads my blog is ever going to see it - and because I'm stoked about what I've just written, I'm geeked out about it, I want to share it and be sure others do see it.

Phil DeFranco, who I don't listen to but whom my daughter loves, tells me that I shouldn't just copy content from one platform to another.  I should invent individualized content for each platform that I touch on - twitter, pinterest, facebook, whatever - because the people who choose to follow me on those platforms deserve it.  And because it is good for promoting myself.  Truth is, DeFranco gets millions of views for his videos and that's hard to dismiss.  I'd find it easier to embrace that advice if DeFranco didn't sound like a smug, weedy, insincere asshole in the recent internet tradition where every popular channel creator sounds like an overblown parody of a 1965 sports/news announcer.  My daughter and I have had vicious arguments about this delivery pattern, as it applies to people like Markiplier and Jacksepticeye, both of whom make me want to dig out parts of my brain with a melon-baller.  They're equally popular to DeFranco and likely to be equally full of good, wonderful advice about how to be popular on the internet, which may be because of their content or perhaps because they speak in frequencies that resonates with my daughter's age range.  I have no idea.

I've been puzzling through this "how to popularize yourself" problem for some years now, not especially fooling myself about it.  James Maliszewski, who wrote nothing but brain-dead pap on his blog for years, mostly regurgitating other people's work by holding it up to the light and saying, "See? Shiny!", remains more popular that I will ever be as a D&D blogger despite his sordid disappearance and apparent failure to produce the content promised for the money he was given (a personal fear of mine).  I continue to read links to his shit on other people's blogs with a sort of "ooo! ahh!" vibe that fails to make itself clear to me.  Why, precisely, was this guy so popular?  Is it - as many people around me have postulated - because he was so bland and tedious that he was beyond threatening anyone with his opinion?  If that's the case, I can think of about fifty RPG blogs on the net that deserve the sort of notoriety and deep, passionate respect that Maliszewski got.

Don't misunderstand me.  I know precisely the hole I dug for myself from the get-go.  I started this blog with the refrain, "This is shit and this is shit and this thing over here?  That's shit too."  I wasn't holding back at all, I was expressing decades of frustration and disappointment that I had felt combing the shelves of game stores looking for rules that were worth my money, that I had felt listening to people gush about game modules and such that left me cold and staggered at the level of juvenile effort and design that went into their creation, that I had felt sitting at game table after game table for years run by assholes who goose-stepped their callous superiority over players in a desperation to prop up their inadequacies - in a world where I had had few ears towards which to voice those feelings.  I leapt onto the blogger page with an idea to finally find someone that would relate to my feelings about the disaster that D&D had grown into over thirty years.

I should not have underestimated, however, the sanctity with which people held most of their nostalgia memories about when they started playing D&D as little children.  More than anything, I have come face to face with the notion that D&D is never as good playing as an adult as it was when we were nine.  As with most things, I do not remotely understand this.  Maliszewski's popular schtick drips with it.  "See?  We were only nine!" could have been his tag-line.

All this comes back around to what I'm doing here with this blog and with my perspective on D&D.  The message on the blog has steadily changed from what's wrong with the game towards what could be right with the game - but I'm digging out of a deep hole with regards to my potential audience.  The wiki is evidence that the work can be done on a world, the rules can be created and they can be easy enough to make sense and solve problems rather than create them.  The trio of books I wrote about gaming continue to sell and I feel that most of those readers have gotten a lot out of them.  And for those people brave enough to take the classes, I'm providing a content-rich experience that isn't just blowing smoke up the ass of someone who's given me money (unlike everything that's ever come out of the WOTC).

None of this makes me popular.  I have some amazing, driven, wonderful people who feel a deep attachment to what I say, that I owe the world to and that I find myself thinking about with every word I write; but this blog will never be as popular as lotfp, whose every post is just an advertisement on what's being sold this month, or ddwps, whose every post more or less comes down to, "Look at this thing I shat out today - isn't it pretty?"

Even as I have softened over the years, I'm still threatening.  Or I ask too much.  Or I write too much.  Or it's just all too much to incorporate seriously.  Or it's my bed and I've got to lie in it.  There are lots of good reasons for people to see in me the same thing they saw five years ago and hated - because I am, fundamentally, still the same intolerant person that hated everything popular back then.  I have made my bed.

The fantasy book, The Fifth Man, that's supposed to be my doorway.  I'm shot all to pieces with the gaming community, for the most part, but I haven't managed to destroy my reputation with everyone who has ever bought a fantasy fiction novel, not yet.  I have my fears and concerns about the success of the book; or even that I can be successful.  I have the same feelings that any writer or artist feels about their eventual success. They'd like to have it.  They'd like to know that all the effort wasn't wasted.  They'd like to think that some kind of fame and respect is still possible.  Those who give up hope in those things give up working.

Whether I use the blog to promote the wiki, or copy the wiki into the blog, does not really matter. The main thing is to keep working, keep evolving, keep hammering as I said a few days ago, keep changing minds when I can and always, always, produce the best content I can.  Using the blog as a frontpiece for the wiki sounds important, but I already know that the audience here is the same audience there.  You reading this, you're part of a small group who, like me, are willing to keep moving forward.  You've gotten through all this post so far, when most of the people who foolishly came round to see if I was still here or if I had changed stopped reading when I insulted Maliszewski.

(When I really want to see what people think of me, I look my name up on Reddit).

That's what I meant when I wrote the post about quitting the blog at some point.  Not any time soon, just the understanding that as the world changes and people stop coming around to read the blog, it will be more practical to just put the energy elsewhere.  Who knows what time will bring?  I'm fairly convinced right now that my surprising jump in page views that started about six months ago has come about because of feeder sites like Feedly (where people read me but can't/won't comment) or from bots.  Feedback matters to me - when I'm not getting it here any more, I'll move on.  And it won't matter where, because I'll still be me and I'll still write things like this.