Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Elsewhere Party ~ 2nd Ballot

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

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

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

1) Region; 2) Region.

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

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

Let's Start: Rolling Character Stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

race-class limitations table

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

Character Class Minimums

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

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

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

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

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

Bein' Picky

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

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

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


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

Players should read this link.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Kiev, Moscovy)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Please give you choices in this format:

1)  Region; 2) Region; 3) Region.

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Regarding Details in Getting a Game Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn

No doubt, I am testing the patience of my gentle readers.  I am sorry about that, sincerely.  I'm just trying to get my shit together.  I am getting it together.  This just happens to be what that looks like.

I spent yesterday in thought and much of today as well.  While watching burgers sizzle and fries bubble, while watching calamari drain and ground duck meat thaw, there's not much else to do than think.  The subject has been, what do I do next?  Specifically, now that I'm admitting that my physical well-being demands rest on a Saturday; I'm working Friday night and Sunday is a complete loss as well.  My players can't run during the week so once again, I'm stuck without a game.

But am I?

It's crazy and some readers will roll their eyes, but I'm willing to give online a try again.  The campaign, that is.  D&D.  If anyone is interested.

No, it isn't going to cost anything.  I know I talked about that months ago but I'm not going there.

And I am duty bound to give respect to those players who were in the online campaign when I drew it to a halt back in April, 2014.  James who played Andrej still reads the blog now and then; Oddbit who played Lukas commented on my post yesterday, so I know he's still around.  I'm not sure about the fellow behind Maximillien; we seemed to part ways on philosophy some time back, I haven't heard from him in ages.  It's also been a long time since I heard from Butch, who played Ahmet.

I can make time to play.  I feel that perhaps this is what's needed to give me a shakabuku; I could use one of those.  I know that the moment I settled on this plan ~ about 140 minutes ago, while finishing this morning's shift ~ I felt a moment of legitimate happiness.

That proves this is a good idea.

Last time I asked for new players, I asked for a short statement expressing reasons for wanting to run.  I strongly suggest that would-be participants be the sort that need to constantly check their phones/puters for updates.

My best times will be Wednesday through Fridays, most of the day; Friday after four I'm out, pretty much until Sunday evening.  Then Monday and Tuesday evenings are fair.  Still, if it goes like it has in the past, the game will run pretty much 24/7, as regards asking questions or making plans, particularly if the players are willing to talk to each other and act as a party rather than as individuals.

I may be open to running two campaigns, four persons per campaign.  It really will depend on how willing players are to commit and give plenty of time.  Willingness to write a lot is more than a plus, it is critical to making an online campaign work.  This much I've learned from past experience.

So, anyone in?

Saturday, November 26, 2016


I should be running D&D right now; instead, I'm resting and writing this post.  I'm just too tired, too sore, too unable to think properly enough to run a game.  Reality.  At least I can say I'm employed, for three months now . . . I've been working as a prep cook in a gluten-free rib house of some quality.  I can say the work is hard or I can say simply that I've lost three inches around my waist and about 25 pounds in less than 90 days.

I had hoped that the last post where I proposed underwater rules might inspire a bit more conversation than it did, but I know it is Thanksgiving and that my American readers are wrapped up with black sales, football and food.  Perhaps I will hear more from people tomorrow.

I was looking forward to trying the underwater rules.  I don't know when I may be able to, now, as things are actually getting harder on Saturdays, as the owner has set up a series of Saturday parties, where we manage from sixty to as many as two hundred people at a go.  By the time I reach 5 p.m. on a Saturday, I'm wrecked ~ and not much able to play.  Damn, but it's a frustration.

Having been down this kind of road before, though not for about a decade, I know the thing to do is to keep working and designing.  That much I can do and in the long run, it all pays off.

A part of me says that I should suspend everything ~ the wiki, the game, the blog, everything, and just work on the book.  The book is a thorn in my side just now.  I'm stuck.  I shouldn't be stuck, I know everything that is meant to happen and I should be able to just finish it up now, but I'm not doing that.  It's hard to explain . . . it is a sort of, well, shame.  That makes no sense, I suppose, but that's the truth.  Another writer, another artist, might come closer to understanding.  Some of my DMing readers might get that as well.  I'm not kidding when I say that writing, art, is an act of courage.  It is like kneeling down in front of block, resting one's forehead on the wooden surface and doing so while a person stands right there with an axe in their hand ~ metaphorically.  That's the sort of stress it creates.  However one might feel that the work needs to be done, to be finished, there's that hesitation.  It doesn't go away.

Going into seclusion is a way of dealing with it.  Seclusion is an embattled defense against shame.  Only . . . sometimes it doesn't work.  Then one is put in the situation of remaining secluded and still getting nothing done, with the shame still there.

A blog is probably not the place to talk about this.  I'm so used to wearing my situation on my sleeve, however, I might just as well go on doing that.

I wish the best to all of you as we begin this Christmas season.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Underwater Details & Proto-Rules

In the interest of organizing some of what's needed for underwater adventures, I felt the best thing to do would be to address a variety of topics, as they occur to me.  Later I can add detail, create a single page like this in the wiki or perhaps a number of pages.  Sometimes it seems best to start writing there to get my thoughts organized and sometimes it seems better to start on the blog.


Without a scuba mask to help the eye see (we're designed to see in the air, not underwater), focusing underwater produces an extremely blurred image, even up close.  This, like breathing, has to be addressed if an air-breathing humanoid is expected to function under water.  It seems to me that any spell that transforms the breathing capacity of a character to be able to function under water must also include a feature that transforms the eye so that it will pick up images underwater in a way that the human eye does not - in effect, giving us the vision we would have if we were wearing a diving mask.

Still, since the transformation is done by spell rather than by equipment, we're free to assign any amount of visual ability that suits us or the campaign.  I choose to argue that objects and moving creatures become blurry after a distance of 20 feet, or four combat hexes in my world, and indistinct (that is, one thing cannot be separated from its environment or effectively from other similar things, moving or not) after a distance of 8 combat hexes.

This means that even if a spell does have a range higher than 40 feet, and even if a weapon can be thrown farther than 40 feet, nothing can be targeted at all beyond that distance.  Under the water is a close-up world.  Get used to it.


Like the eyes, a water breathing spell must also include an underwater speaking component - otherwise, any adventure under the water is going to quickly get boring, what with everyone endlessly making hand gestures at each other.  Whatever we might try to do, without getting ludicrously dictatorial, characters are going to say out loud what they're doing and what they want others to do even if we try to stop them ~ so let's not bother.  Let's just assume that they, and the intelligent creatures they encounter, can speak underwater normally . . . the campaign will simply be more interesting that way.  Others can prefer to mime their hours away but by a small adjustment to the magic involved I can skip it, so I will.

The distance sound can travel is another thing.  Arguably, water amplifies sound better than air for a variety of creatures ~ why not suppose that the "speaking" component of the water breathing spell works in reverse to the effects of vision?  We can say that speaking distance is doubled, so that rather than limiting relatively intelligible speech to sixty feet (12 hexes), we can increase that to 120 feet.  We may not see the enemy approaching but we can hear them . . . and prepare ourselves accordingly.


This is tricky.  I don't want to start from scratch designing movement rules for what might be the only underwater adventure I ever run - it would be easier to make use of existing rules.  Some might remember that I use a series of action points, or AP, that serve as a measure of how much activity a given creature can manage in the time period of one round.

Because of water's liquidity, I prefer to argue that all movement is much slowed.  The easiest way to express this slowing is simply to half all movement (that is, halving all AP/round), arguing that a character has to move by kicking their feet, pulling themselves forward with their hands, pushing away and various other swimming movements that must often be performed with one hand if the character happens to be holding a weapon.  It would be painfully complicated and aggravating to try to assign a measure to each possible example of such movement . . . thus it is much, much easier to simply cut the AP in half and have done with it.

A normal human, unarmored and with a minimum of equipment, normally has an AP of 5.  Half of this would incorporate a fraction and that, too, is irritating.  Alternately, we might leave the players' AP unchanged and simply double the costs of everything: it would, for example, require 4 AP to swing a weapon underwater instead of the usual 2 upon the surface.

[I trust the gentle reader will follow the links given so that they can understand this argument.  I trust my readers are diligent about all their research, nyet?]

Either way, halving the character's AP will produce fractions, which are irritating; doubling the AP costs will make many things too costly to manage in the space of one round, requiring people to keep track of how much time they spent towards what ~ and this is also irritating.

Suppose instead that we simply count 2 rounds as 1 round for the sake of resolving combat.  Whereas the combatants normally take their move in a 12-second period, followed by the enemy's move, suppose we just say this happens over twice the time period?  This lets us keep the AP and their costs exactly as they are, likewise slowing down the enemy underwater (even if they're crabs, fish, humanoids, whatever).  If something seems especially deserving of being faster than that (say, a barracuda), we can simply double their potential attacks in one "round" (or UR, for underwater round) to balance out their particular threat.

Underwater Rounds & Magic

Of course, being underwater shouldn't affect the speed with which magic is cast and discharged (see my Spellcasting rules, which are designed to limit the power of mages and clerics to deliver rapid-fire spells).  To my mind, a floating, concentrating mage, performing all the usual verbal and somatic cues (I don't use spell components), can do so as easily underwater as anywhere, once they can breathe, see and hear in that environment.  The delivery of magic, too, is subject to AP ~ but without the slowing down of movement necessitated by swimming and twisting, it can be cast and discharged in normal time.  That is, in the two-round period of the UR, twice as fast.

Normally, a mage casting a 1st or 2nd spell in my world would have to spend a round casting, then wait until the next round before discharging the spell.  A 3rd or 4th level spell requires two rounds of casting before yet a third round is needed to discharge the spell.  A 5th or 6th level spell requires three rounds of casting; and so on.  This profoundly limits mages in how fast they can hit the enemy with spells ~ much reducing the power of a mage with a big pile of spells and balancing the game much more in favor of those who do actual fighting.

Underwater, however, the mages can cast that 1st/2nd level spell and discharge it in the space of one UR.  Effectively, given that everyone else is slowed by water, mages will seem as though they are hasted (or, as far as every other campaign in the world goes, casting spells normally.  Hah.  But seriously, try adjusting the spellcasters in your campaign to my system if you feel they're walking all over the enemy far too much!).

More about magic below.  I want to stay in the realm of movement a bit longer.

Lateral & Vertical Movement

Once again, I want simple rules for moving around in an environment that permits up and down movement ~ meaning that I want to consider only minimal conditions for limiting the movement of combatants in an environment where it is possible to move vertically as well as horizontally.

For someone who represents combat as a tactical representation on a map, the 3-D problem is a big issue ~ that is, showing people at various heights above the ocean/sea/lake bottom clearly and easily enough that a combat map can be grasped by the participants.  For this I plan to define all vertical movement as "ascent" [in a desperate attempt to avoid the much-overused word "level"], which can be measured in numbers from the bottom up.  Thus, if we are floating at 2-ascent from the bottom, we are in an imaginary 2nd vertical hex above the bottom, or a movement of 1 AP (remembering we are talking underwater rounds) from the hex that meant we were standing on the bottom.

So, if a player chooses to move three hexes, they would declare both their lateral movement and their vertical movement thus: "I move 2 hexes forward and ascend 1 hex."  A number is then added to the side of the character to show what their ascent is, thusly:

Lateral movement would then be demonstrated on a typical hex map.

All distances (and therefore potential for melee) would be measured by the square of the hypoteneuse (which can be calculated roughly in our heads or exactly through a quick-and-easy prepared excel sheet).  If one combatant, then, was 1 hex away from an opponent laterally and 1 hex away vertically, the combatants would be judged to be 1.4 hexes apart and therefore not close enough for direct melee.  Combatants would need to be directly under or over their opponents or have the same ascent in order to actually fight hand-to-hand.


I have noticed that the original monster manual gives various weapons to marine humanoids, including most often the trident and the spear, but also include the dagger, javelin, net lance, sword and crossbow.  I have to wonder what reflexive animal sinew is used for the string of the last, as well as the means of forging metal to create the firing mechanism underwater; clearly, the crossbow is a placeholder for some kind of harpoon gun . . . perhaps there is some means of an intelligent race creating such a thing, so I'm prepared to let it stand.  A bigger problem, I think, is the balance a sword needs to be effective vs. its use underwater and obviously the difficulty of throwing or swinging a net in a liquid environment.  The latter sounds appropriate, as nets have always been used in association with tridents, but not actually in the water.

Spears, tridents, javelins and harpoon guns normally incorporate wood, so we have to wonder how these weapons are made in an environment without any.  At least wood is denser than water when left in water long enough, but that doesn't explain the absence of available wood for working (unless we want to argue an entire culture is armed with drift wood that has fallen into the sea).  Bone seems much more practical; it is denser than water when wet (so it won't float), less likely to rot and ~ given the size of the beasties roaming an underwater sea world ~ more likely of the right flexibility, length and shape to make spear/trident handles from as well as javelins.  I feel that an underwater "sword" would be more like a macuahuitl in design, incorporating various stones or possibly ivory teeth.

Beyond the above, there aren't many weapons to choose from.  A bo staff, used correctly, should be perfectly effective underwater (it is the drawing back and stabbing motion with the staff that is needed, not the swinging motion).  A quarterstaff would be too thick and long, and difficult to make of bone.

Virtually every other weapon is either too thick to use in water or has a balance that simply couldn't be mastered if the combatant were not standing on a fixed, gravitationally supported surface.  The heavy balance of a sword, axe, hammer or pole-arm is deliberately outward from the body, with the wrist being used as a fulcrum, in order to obtain the best possible newtons of force at the long end of the swing (which works very well), but underwater this just spins the combatant around, swinging them off their feet.  The necessary motion must be a stab, not a swing - which makes a foil a more effective sword than a sword; something like the macuahuitl would be effective only if the combatant were astride a heavy steed (a one-ton hippocampus, say), the mass of which would counteract the force of the swing, or were otherwise fixed to the ground.

Additional Modifiers

In my normal combat system, it does not require an AP to turn around in a hex; each combatant has a facing, but adjusting this facing without actually moving is not considered a penalty because I believe that any combatant must be doing this all the time, automatically, when fighting multiple opponents.

Underwater, however, turning 180 degrees requires a little bit of swimming, so I would say changing facing more than 1 hex would be a 1 AP penalty.

Regarding swimming, which is a sage ability in my game, I feel the best adjustment for possessing this skill would be to add 1 AP to any combatant possessing the ability.  I had considered adding 2, but knowing the system I use as well as I do, I know that even 1 AP will be a considerable advantage; I don't know that I want to give double that advantage.  I'd like to play test underwater combat for awhile ~ if it seems the advantage of 1 AP isn't enough, I'll improve it.

Normally, combatants above opponents gain a +1 to hit while those below suffer a -1 penalty.  I feel that this should be reversed underwater for two reasons.  First, the light is above the combat, so the combatant underneath will see the outline of the target more clearly than the combatant looking down into the gloom.  Secondly, it is easier to swim upwards and away from the pressure of water than it is to swim downwards; thus upward movement is always easier and therefore more deserving of the bonus.

Sinking & Floating

Both of these are troublesome, as they tie up a lot of attention in the middle of a combat, particularly if we are talking about more than 10 combatants.  I expect I will have at least one massive combat during this adventure with up to 100 combatants, so I want to keep the system as simple as possible.

Rather than argue that all surface humanoids will automatically float if they are without ballast and will automatically sink if they have ballast, I'm going to argue that characters must necessarily adjust their encumbrance until they have achieved a mid-point, where floating and sinking doesn't happen.  IF a character insists on going naked, without weapons, then they will float; and if a character insists on carrying more than 1/5th of their body weight in equipment, or wearing clothes that do not permit easy swimming, then they will sink.  Ad hoc (and not because I think it is accurate, but because it is practical), I will argue that a character able to float will rise 1-ascent every other round, while a character that sinks will drop 1-ascent every round.

Simplicity is the key here.


Here is my initial list of banned spells underwater.  I expect this list to be expanded and adjusted (players may argue for their partial inclusion), particularly in regards to spells that will "sort of work" but not fully.  The work is going to be so pervasive that it is just easier for the campaign to make rulings as we go (discussing the final decision with the players and coming to a consensus) and then updating the wiki during the game.

Cleric: lower water, flame strike, insect plague, control weather, wind walk.

Druid: predict weather, fire trap, create wildfire, call lightning, flame blade, pyrotechnics, summon insects, call woodland beings, control winds, wall of fire, insect plague, conjure fire elemental, fire seeds, control weather, creeping doom, fire storm.

Mage: affect normal fires, burning hands, find familiar, pyrotechnics, flame arrow, fly, gust of wind, fire charm, fire trap, wall of fire, control weather, ice storm, lower water, incendiary cloud, meteor swarm.

Illusionist: wall of fog.


Some will argue that fly should work, but I'm going to be clear on this.  "Fly" makes the body light enough to ascend; I do not consider it anti-gravitational.  Therefore, I would accept that a caster could cast fly, but it would quickly cause the caster to zip vertically upwards and out of the water at maximum speed, until completely entering the atmosphere (of course, this could be a good thing!).

I do not equate magical lightning with real lightning, therefore a magical lightning bolt will work underwater exactly as a magical fork of power.  Likewise, fireball does not create real fire, so it will also work underwater; the effect is an massive increase in heat in the area of the spell that lasts an instant, causing damage by cell rupturing.  The "fireball" component is the visual shock of the air turning to a blinding brightness than instantly disappearing again ~ not the creation of actual fire.


I do not remotely hope that this accounts for everything.  Actual play will reveal hundreds of issues that I can't predict ~ the key will be to keep updating the wiki as we move forward and adjust rules as it becomes necessary.  I'm going to treat this adventure as an experiment, being open to arguments ~ because that is the only rational way to solve the issues involved.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Overcoming the Liquid Environment

My underwater campaign was suspended for a session as two of the players were getting married to one another, while four of the remaining players were taking part in the wedding party and the DM was giving the bride away.  As such, I was granted a reprieve on inventing rules for fighting and moving underwater ~ but as the campaign is picking up this Saturday, it wouldn't hurt to embark on the subject for a few days.

First of all, fighting.  I had scattered thoughts about this, wondering if I should come up with a different actual combat system strictly for underwater combat [yes, my mind is stupid enough to go there] . . . but sanity and time constraints imposed their grip upon me and I have moved on.  At the moment, I am entertaining a practical, yet punishing alternative that I am certain the players will hate while at the same time possessing a wisdom that my players will accept.  I'll try to explain it simply . . . but please remember that it is always much harder to explain a rule in print to people who do not play the game than it is to present it in a campaign, person-to-person.

The argument goes like this: because land-dwelling players are thoroughly unfamiliar with fighting underwater, it follows that first efforts will fail in the extreme.  While able to water breathe and perhaps even use features such as the ocean/sea/lake bottom or rock outcroppings for support, they will underestimate the resistance and nature of the water, their vision will be distorted by the changing light underwater, they will be unbalanced by their boyancy and so on.

To reflect this, the combat effectiveness of a Ninth level fighter should be reduced to that of a 1st level fighter in ordinary conditions . . . but temporarily.  Initially, I would impose a -8 penalty to hit against all characters, regardless of class.  This penalty would then be reduced by 1 per four [possibly eight] successful swings ~ but please note, I do not say "hit."

A successful swing is any attack that would have hit if the circumstances would be completely normal.  Many successful swings would not, however, result in a hit.  I will give an example.

A 7th level fighter, Garth, who has never swung a weapon underwater is using a trident against a giant crab, armor class 3.  Garth normally has a THAC0 of 14 ~ at the moment, however, Garth's thaco is 22 (incorporating the -8 to hit).  To hit the crab and cause damage, Garth will need to roll a 19 or better . . . but to score a successful swing, Garth will only need to roll an 11, this being the number a 7th level fighter would normally need to hit AC 3.

Okay, how am I defining a "successful swing"?

I'm calling it any roll that gives credence to the idea that Garth has failed to hit but has comprehended why the hit failed!  That is, Garth has tried, sees the path to improvement and thus gained insight on how to do it better in the future.  Every four times this happens (including any successful swings that happen to also be hits), Garth improves, reducing his negative modifier by 1.

Thus, steadily, the more time Garth spends fighting underwater, the better he gets and the closer his underwater combat skill matches his ordinary combat skill.  Once both have lined up, then it is presumed that all needed changes and adjustments for fighting underwater have been overcome by Garth and he has fully adjusted.  In all, assuming four swings per modifier, Garth needs to succeed 32 times.

This is much, much easier for a 7th level fighter than it would be for a 1st level of anything, particularly a mage or a thief.  Racking up 32 hits for a high level might take a few combats; accomplishing the same at low level would be a very difficult slog, made worse by having to put oneself in danger for quite a while without ever having even a chance to cause actual damage.

Consider: a 1st level mage in my world has a normal THAC0 of 21.  Underwater, to start, this becomes a 29.  To get a successful swing on the crab would require an 18 on a d20; to do damage would require a 26.  This means the mage has to put himself in the way of the crab's claws (and anything else) for a really long time, getting snapped at and punched around without any hope of helping kill the beast.

Three points, however.  First, I wouldn't expect many first levels to do any underwater adventuring; it is difficult to manage, what with water breathing and having the means to truly be equipped for the tasks involved.  The party I have going in is largely 7th level or better, with 5th to 8th level henchmen for support.  There are a few players who have low level characters, as they haven't been playing in the campaign all that long, for whom this is going to be fretful; but they have considerable support to protect them while they get bashed around.  There is one 1st level fighter who did join just two sessions ago . . . but lucky for him, he was incredibly lucky in his rolls and wound up with an 18/00 strength, with a natural +3 to hit.  That will help a bit.

Second, I did not intend to drop them into the heart of the adventure right off.  I expect them to wander through some undersea "wilderness" for a bit as they approach the main adventure, so they will have a chance to cut their teeth on some smaller beasties, roaming about the sea.  This should give them a chance to prepare themselves . . . and if some decide not to prepare themselves, letting the big tough party members handle things, they'll certainly regret that later!

Finally, my experience system rewards players for getting bashed around.  So at least they won't be standing up to sea creatures for nothing.  And they'll be taking a hit for the team.

Monday, November 21, 2016


A boy is wandering over a battlefield and from among the dead, finds a gnarled tree limb that was being used by one of the invaders as a club.  The boy drags it home, thinking it a prize, though no one else has any use for it.  The boy scrubs it with sand and makes it smooth, he cuts away parts of the staff and carves his name into it, Gryg.  As he grows into a young man, he uses the staff as a walking stick and later, as a weapon.  The shape and feel grows so familiar to him that he prefers it to other weapons, though he learns how to use a knife and a sword.

One year, there is a civil war and with his friends he goes to fight in it.  In the midst of a battle, his company is in danger of being wiped out when he rallies them, raising the staff as a guide for others to follow.  The tide of the battle turns and he becomes known.  By the end of the struggle, he is the undisputed leader of his company.

Returning home, he becomes one of the important men of his village; his name and his exploits are mentioned in several yearly festivals.  He continues to carry the staff with him, having hammered bits of iron into it to keep the wood strong.  When Gryg becomes an elder, the staff is well-recognized as a symbol of authority.

Another war comes and Gryg gives the staff to his son, Grygson.  It is too old to be used as a weapon, now, but it serves as a standard for others to rally around.  Grygson carves his name into it as well; when Grygson meets the king, he makes a note of it on the staff.  When his father dies, Grygson decides to carve symbols of the battles his father fought.  Now there are several companies who treat the staff as a symbol of luck and power, swearing their faith in the staff's ability to protect them.

Very late in life, Grygson's village suffers from a serious drought and he, an old man, begins a march towards a new land where his family, and other families of the village, will settle anew.  Along the way, Grygson dies ~ but his daughter, Grygora, promises the staff, which she names Gratifier, will lead the people safely to their destination.  When they do arrive, she blesses the ground with the staff; each member of the new village puts their hand on the staff to swear their gratitude for bringing them to to this new place. She is made the chief elder of the new village and sits, with Gratifier on her knees, at every ceremony and at every meeting.

Grygora dies childless, but she gives the staff Gratifier to the wisest male in the village, Hansyr.  This male is well-chosen; he is educated and clever.  He has much of the staff carefully carved.  The bare wood is lacquered.  The bits of iron are replaced with leaves of hardened steel and the tips of the staff are fixed with silver.  The elder that is chosen to follow Hansyr, whose name is Grey, renames the staff Greymail and has a large carnelian inserted into the gnarled head of the staff.

There are three elders who follow Grey before the staff comes into the hands of Marryn.  By then the village has become a town and the surrounding environs have sworn allegiance.  Marryn raises the staff and begins a successful war of conquest with the creatures at the edge of the frontier, destroying them.  Thousands of would-be settlers and partisans of all kinds begin to settle into the emptied forests, greatly raising the strength and power of the region.  The town is renamed Marryn's Grey and the region, Staveland.

After a dozen generations, these names have become Marengrey and Stavland.  Stavland is an important part of the kingdom now, the leaders of which have been conferred the title of Duke.  By this time, the staff has been much transformed; only its heart remains wood, the outer surface completely covered in metal and various gems.  Most of the time the staff rests in a glass-covered case in the palace of the Duke, moved from this place only three times a year for specific ceremonies.  Here it remains, until it happens one day that the Duke of Stavland is named King by an election of all the nobles, when it happens that the former line has died out.

Now, standing in the Great Palace, we are allowed to view the ornate, magnificent staff, the size and shape of a massive scepter, from a proscribed distance.  Can we hope to imagine a boy finding such an instrument on a battlefield, unwanted, unimportant?  Yet is it not the truth that any spectacular item we might chance to see or find, placed into our hands by adventure, may not have a history that is unfathomed as we see only the magnificent thing it has become?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What Is Strategy?

Very well, this post will be about role-playing, though not directly.  My goal is to tackle that thing that hampers all those campaigns wherein the participants would play better, if they knew how.  This is no different from any other venture, any other thing that people do, where they seek for means to improve their play, improve their personal ventures and improve their lives.

I have been thinking heavily on the subject of strategy since proposing a tutorial on the subject.  Later today I'll be delivering the class to my first student for it.  As such, I'd like to write about it today, gathering my thoughts.  I'm content that whatever I might say here, it cannot begin to cover the personal struggles that any one person might have with the material described below.  All I am doing here is sketching out the barest bones of the subject ~ though I hope to go on some time about it.

It would be impossible to write a blog like this without touching upon strategy more than a few times. The subject itself is pervasive and at the same time remarkably fuzzy with regards to the understanding of those who talk about strategies, plans and goals.  Experts of every stripe use the terms interchangeably, making a mess of discussions.  Those who feel they have a perfect and comprehensive understanding of "strategy" where it applies to military matters will scoff at strategy applied to management, game theory or personal growth.  In effect, we have a minefield.  This leaves one recourse, where I'm forced to clarify what I mean when I use these terms ~ and please understand, for the sake of this post it simply doesn't matter what other people mean.  For this I ask ~ kindly ~ that the reader simply accept these definitions so that we can move on and be productive here.

A strategy is not a plan; it is a collection of plans.  Neither a strategy nor a plan is a goal; the goal is the end result of a given plan ~ and because strategies are made of many plans, it follows that strategies incorporate many goals.

Strategies are flexible; they propose plans and abandon plans as need be, while remaining more or less the same.  Rarely do we abandon a strategy, since most often strategies tend to be imperative.  It is our goal to win; it will take plans to achieve that goal; but a strategy is more appropriately thought of as "We are mustering our resources in the present to achieve the best possible result, whether or not we win in the short run or the long run."  Strategies are not contingent on winning; they are not contingent on any specific collection of resources or feasible outcomes.

In other words, I am saying that making the players happy and satisfied is a goal; running a given adventure or campaign is a plan towards that goal; but immersing ourselves in an activity that we love, regardless of this campaign and regardless of these players, that is a strategy.

The first step in developing a strategy is becoming conscious that we are already in the process of having carried a strategy this far, with or without giving it any thought.  We have learned how to dress and feed ourselves, we have learned how to find our tongues, we have found others who will play the game and we have gotten ourselves ~ alive ~ to the place where we are right now reading this post.  What we do going forward from here is up to us.  We've been making plans throughout the process.  In a moment I plan to interrupt myself to make a cup of coffee before continuing this post; I have achieved this plan thousands of times in the past, on the whole without realizing that doing so was a plan.

Consciousness here means that we choose to fine-tune our strategy beyond the immediate and the most convenient.  This is what I have been on about in the past when I have argued that as DMs we can be better.  This is what I have been on about when I've talked about work.  Any moron can construct a bad strategy; most already have.  What else can we call a strategy where every plan is concocted on a moment's notice and carried forward with hardly a thought for the future, where every goal that is planned for is impractical or unobtainable?  The trick is to create a good strategy.  For this, we must apply principles to the manner in which we make plans to master goals that we can achieve.

To do this, we must first change our minds about something.  The Game I proposed Monday is a measure of that.  Each person who answered ~ and presumably many who thought about it and did not answer ~ found themselves reconsidering decisions they had made.  They have changed their minds since first feeling that they were making the right decision ~ some almost at once and some after years of experience and consideration.  We are all capable of changing our minds; the difficulty is whether or not we are able to recognize that it is time to change our minds, faced with realities that we are prepared to accept or not.  Very often, it is better to deny the reality than submit to it.

Choosing to devise a better strategy is changing our minds, since it begins with the comprehension that the strategy we have employed thus far isn't working.  Sometimes, we won't do so until change becomes an act of desperation: we have lost all our players, all our motivation to play, all our supposed resource of creativity . . . or we simply have lost the power to control our lives enough to give ourselves time to do that which we enjoy.  The random plans we have been making have led us to this point and now, at last, we see we're in trouble.  Well, what to do about it?

Following awareness that some strategy has been in place up until now and that we're prepared to adjust it (that is, to make better plans to achieve what we want), our next step is diagnosis.  And here, for a time, I will employ a medical metaphor ~ in part because medicine deals so well with this particular issue and in part because we all, in one form or another, have had that experience where medicine helped us or someone we knew.

We are the patient.  We're aware that something has gone wrong with us and we're at last prepared to take action: in this case, to seek care.  Now, this need not come from another specific person; we have access to books and the messages of countless other people, we have our own minds, we have resources of our own. The source does not matter:  the point here is to determine what is wrong with our strategy.  What isn't working.  In what way is the patient ill?

We should not make the mistake of thinking it will be one thing.  It won't be.  We are terribly complicated people and the game is a terribly complicated thing.  Any one of us could easily sit and in the course of ten or fifteen minutes come up with a dozen things that are definitely not working as well as they should.  These are all things I covered in How to Run: presentation, continuity, decision-making, self-control, structure, confidence, bad habits, understanding others, finding our center, organizing the game and our world, aesthetic improvements and so on.  The internet's take on role-playing is a laundry list of complaints, from the tiny micro-management of how a given rule works to macro issues like not having enough time to play due to family, real world commitments, lack of players and DMs, whatever happens to be on the blog or board's agenda today.

Simply listing what's going wrong will itself depress the desire for a better strategy and as such, most people just won't do it . . . or they will start to do it, become disheartened and retreat from the bare-knuckled brutality of fighting against overwhelming obstacles.  Most often, it is easier to return to the comforting sanctuary of the strategy that hasn't worked up until now.  It is, at least, familiar.

But let us press on.  If we approach a doctor for a battery of tests, we're going to get from that same doctor a list of things that will make us distinctly uncomfortable: high blood-pressure, the potential threat of a poor diet, a heart arrhythmia, an unexpected lump somewhere that might be a tumor, something disturbing that the doctor notes in our left eye . . . and much more terrifying things that I don't need to list here.  That is why many people do not go to doctors.

From the doctor's perspective, however ~ and in this metaphor we are not only the patient, we are also the doctor ~ these are largely solvable issues.  If we are right now walking about and able to make our own way into the clinic without much trouble, if we are not actively in pain, these are probably going to be things which do not require immediate care.  We are not, after all, being carried in with a gun-shot or as the result of a car-crash.  There are much more immediate, difficult problems to be managed in the here-and-now.

Thus our next concern should not be the number of troubles but with the nature of each one.  We're not going to deal with them all at the same time; rather, we are going to concern ourselves with triage.  We need to sort those troubles based upon their urgency ~ which, if any, needs to be dealt with first. This can do a lot to shorten our list to just two or three items, about which we may deliberate for a time before choosing which can be managed first to produce the best results in the shortest time.  That is what we're doing: managing our shortcomings, building a plan that will overcome a goal that is self-evident.

Too often, we are living with a philosophy that argues that our "goals" should be synonymous with our wishes.  That we should dream for things and then struggle to obtain these dreams.  This is all well-and-good, except that for the most part the obstacle that keeps us from obtaining our dream is our failure to first address our shortcomings.  Before I can be rich, I need to examine what it is that makes me poor.  Before I can find love, I need to examine what keeps me from loving others.  This is a step that is most often forgotten or deliberately ignored.  It isn't as "fun" as winning the lottery or achieving fame.  Hospitals, where sick people get well, aren't nearly as sexy as reality TV shows, where sick people get rich.

Partly because many sick people never get well.  Nobody minds if some sick people don't get rich.

We want to base our triage on basic principles that have been established, again, by the medical field. Before choosing that one, most urgent illness that troubles your campaign, where you hope to make progress, ask yourself the following:

  • What resources or experience exists, that is available, that will let me manage this problem; if we have no idea whatsoever how to start, we should probably approach some other matter.
  • Regarding those things for which we have a plan (or for which we can make a plan), what are we prepared to address right now, given our time constraints and abilities?
  • What will make the most difference from the perspective of other people?  If we're the only ones who will notice a difference, there's little likelihood that it will affect our games much.
  • For which things can we get assistance?
  • Finally, what is most likely to produce results that will then, in turn, make us better and more able to address the next thing.

That is, after all, the strategy: to make a plan that obtains a goal, which in turn suggests another plan that produces another goal, until we are moving towards goals that we have not yet conceived.  Remember, big picture.  First we make the body well, and then we use that wellness to bring change to others, not only in achieving our dreams but in achieving the dreams of other people.

Yet how do we construct a plan?

We can, first, search for one.  It is probable that others have found themselves in the same fix that we find ourselves, who have learned to extricate themselves and then ~ happily ~ have chosen to write or speak about it.  This is why we read.  It is very unlikely that we will personally meet people who have the same struggles as us, considering how many possible struggles exist, but finding a book about someone like ourselves can be remarkably easy.  Moreover, as people in print tend to be more forthcoming than our family and friends, we can even pick up books at random and find ourselves agreeing with a total stranger who seems to know us better than our nearest and dearest.  It is a strange thing, often ignored and discarded by people who feel that book-larnin' ain't got nothin' on larnin' somethin' ourselves.

Let's say, however, that we can't find someone else's plan, that there's nothing out there to help us find our way. Then what?

There's no easy solution here.  Sorry, but that is how it is.  If we're alone in this, we've got a fight on our hands, no question.  Still, there is an answer and it is simple.  We need to fail.  A lot.  We're going to sit and think and propose a plan for ourselves, which we will then put in place and watch fail.  Then we're going to do it again and again, not because we "know" that one day we'll succeed ~ there are no guarantees ~ but because we'll be collecting a pile of data about what doesn't work.

I know, this seems pointless, but it isn't.  Virtually everything about human knowledge is based upon what doesn't work.  The whole medical field, for example.  Tried this and the patient died.  Tried that and the patient died.  Tried this other thing and the patient lingered a bit and then died.  Then we tried this and the patient died more quickly.  And so on.

As as the knowledge advances, someone comes forward and says, "What if we do this?", producing the answer, "We tried that.  Didn't work.  Yes, we tried that too.  Yes, and that."  And so on.

This is where we are.  We're steadily working out for ourselves what doesn't work, narrowing the vast field of possibilities until we have less and less things we can try.  Even if we don't succeed, we might find something that will at least arrest the problem we're working on long enough to drop it down in the list of triaged items so we can work on something else.  This is forward movement!  We may not cure the damn problem but we can make it chronic and manageable.  And in the process of planning to overcome this particularly disability, we've also been teaching ourselves how to make better plans and make better mistakes.

Regarding making plans and finding plans that succeed: there is a famous quote from Helmuth von Moltke: "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."  

[frustratingly, I could not find this in the German; if someone would please send me the original German text, I would much appreciate it]

I have consistently seen people interpret this as meaning that plans are therefore a waste of time or that somehow plans lead to failure.  Moltke is not saying that it is wasteful to plan.  He is merely saying that after the plan has been set in motion, that's as much as any of us can do.  The planning stage is done and it is time to watch, learn and use what we've learned to make the next plan.  The reason for this is because battles are a raging storm, where far too much is going on and it is therefore impossible to assess what's needed or what to do.  Of course the plan is decimated by the battle; once the battle has taken place, that plan can never be employed again.  The world has changed.  The circumstances of the war has changed.

We have to incorporate into our thinking that plans are more than structural, they are also chronological.  They are as dependent on the time they are put in place as they are upon the problems they seek to solve or the situation they seek to manage.  Once a plan has been put into place, any plan, it is time for a NEW plan.  All too often we get ourselves into trouble thinking that the plan that worked long ago will still work, or that we can keep using the same tactic over and over without taking into account that players, the game, the whole activity will have been changed.  We all know worlds like this, where DMs say, "if it ain't broke, don't fx it."  But it is broke.  That's the problem.  It is broken and because there's nothing as clear as shattered glass on the floor to reveal that fact, it's assumed that everything is just fine.

We do need to make a plan but we also need to make new plans, all the time.  The success of a strategy comes from falling in love with goals and not with plans.

I also wanted to talk about knowing when and if a plan has failed.  All too often, before a plan can prove itself, the strategist will seek to retract it, certain that it was the wrong plan and that leaving it in place will now be disastrous.  Again, we come back to Moltke.  Once the battle has begun, it is too late to do anything.  Meddling at that stage, for whatever perceived reason, will only guarantee the plan's failure.  It is difficult, going through the motions of a plan, feeling that it is certain to produce the wrong results, feeling embarrassed that the plan isn't better, feeling uncomfortable with daring to have produced a plan at all.  We have all been there; we've introduced something into a campaign and because it isn't taken up at once with the greatest enthusiasm, we're ready to abandon it at once . . . solely on a feeling.

If we want any measure of success, we cannot abandon plans until there is evidence of failure. We have to ignore our gut.  Yes, the players will grumble; they are human and all humans are uncomfortable with unfamiliar things.  We are searching for inconsistencies in the plan, for evidence of insurrection in the players, for situations that the plan fails to address and ~ following a discussion ~ where it is agreed upon by consensus that a new plan is needed.  Until that time, however, stay with it.  Persevere.  Even if it does happen that it is a bad plan and the goal isn't achieved, we're learning.  We're learning what doesn't work, what fails, because it will help us design.

When we produced the plan, we did it with the best instincts we had.  We have to trust those instincts, at least for a little while.  Let's say, for long enough.  When we go back to the drawing board, we want some idea of what to draw.

Those, then, are the basics of building a strategy.  I am sorry that I can't give the reader one out of whole cloth.  I could pretend to do that (there's a big business in it), but I won't.  I'm not here to screw you, I'm here to enlighten you.

Go back around and read the post again.  Take your time.  You'll find that I'm making a lot of sense.  Then ~ and I urge you to do this ~ find some content regarding the creation of strategy and get started.  You might find this interesting.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Sigh.  The battle goes on.

Some of my readers may remember that I wrote a few months ago that my father's doctor suspected that he had contracted Alzheimer's disease.  This diagnosis has since been confirmed.  After much struggle, we were able to get my father into a proper long-term care facility, where we expect that he will be for the remainder of his life.  He moved into this facility on Monday.

He managed to come to the wedding, but it was clear to most of the family who hasn't seen him in the past ten weeks that he had come down a long way, both physically and in his mind.  On the whole, the emotional response was shock.  I felt some of that myself.

Starting on Monday evening and ending yesterday, my sister, my brother and I, along with my daughter and her husband, have taken turns to walk through my father's house and see what is salvageable.  My sister has had more opportunity to do that; she came to live with my father about two weeks ago; unfortunately, she also withheld a lot of information from my brother and I because, well, my sister is living in denial and has trouble expressing herself when in an emotional state.

As such, we didn't discover that my father got rid of all the beds in the house about four weeks ago and has been sleeping on the floor.  We didn't know that mice had proliferated in the basement and have now gotten to the point where lyme disease is a real danger.  We didn't know that the contractors who were to come in and make the house ready for sale were set to fumigate the house today, so that instead of having two weeks (as we had been told) to deal with things in the house, we only had two days.  We didn't know that my father has been steadily demolishing the house, doing so right in front of my sister, who was so distraught by this that she simply kept it to herself.

My parents bought the house in early 1967.  My first memories start later than that date, so I don't remember a time when they did not live in the house.  Throughout my father's life, he has steadily rebuilt and renovated the house, regularly replacing the siding, repainting, updating the plumbing and the wiring, rebuilding sections of the house, expanding it three times from its original form, making it into something wholly unique.  Four years ago, when my mother passed away, the house was pristine; both my parents were high-strung, fanatical clean freaks, keeping the 3,100 square foot house neat as a pin.  As of yesterday, while picking over the devastated remains of the furnishings and fixtures, while cleaners were stripping everything off every wall and out of every closet, the house is a shambles.

My father has apparently thrown away thousands upon thousands of dollars of porcelain, artworks, collectables of every kind, including about 1,000 vinyl records dating from 1948 to 1962, a hundred hours of 8 mm film, stamps collected by my grandfather up to 70 years ago, first edition books owned by my grandmother and only the devil knows what else.  We shared notes and searched for things that have simply vanished.  We know that before losing his ability to drive that he was regularly making trips to the city dump, to "simplify" the house, we were told.

The whole thing is a bloody tragedy.  There are no words for it.  My brother and his wife were able to save some of the most valuable furniture and tools, table-saws and drills, on the whole worth about $10-12 thousand new.  I don't like my brother but I don't begrudge him these things and I'm glad he was able to find a place for them.  My son-in-law preserved some as well.  My daughter has rescued four royal Dalton porcelain dolls from the 1960s; my brother's wife and my sister shared three others.  I don't know what else my sister took before my father was moved to the home.  My father was not able to completely destroy the record collection ~ about half of it remains.  I found a few of my lost, deeply adored treasures from my childhood, but most everything was gone.  It was tremendously hard to feel motivated to dig too deep into piles of garbage, cans of paint and oil and such, seeing evidence of mice chewing, so no doubt some things were missed.

I feel sad.  I still feel in shock.  And angry ~ dreadfully, bitterly angry.  I know it is the disease, and I know that the final appearance of the house was due to that.  But my father was also an intensely selfish person.  He had plenty of opportunity years ago to request help in organizing his home and his life, but instead he adopted a "self-reliant" pose and in the process, managed to abuse his children one more time for good measure.

At least, this is done.  One more rock turned over and the pestilence redressed.  There's just one more miserable act in this miserable drama, the one that comes on the day he dies.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Game

While we're waiting for me to get myself together after much too much fun over the weekend, let's play a game.

Fundamentally, it is a role-playing game, but one that is personal to each of us.  It begins with a choice, where both options are a flight of imagination, quite impossible, but both are full of possibilities.

Let us say that I'm able to alter your reality in one of two ways.

In the first option, you would be able to return to your 12-year-old self, at the time, the place, the world you knew back then, without any changes save one: you will retain all the knowledge and experience you have right now.  Like you never could the first time around, you could play the system; assuming you could find a way to lay bets, and do so with the memory you have right now (no making lists of winners in advance, I'm going to send you off in the next three minutes), you can make a ton of money, you can decide to change things and do things differently than you did the first time.

The upside is that, of course, everything will be familiar.  For some, perhaps their family life at 12 isn't something they'd want to return to, but for many it would be an opportunity to see relatives and friends again, to return to the comfort of a mother and father who took care of you, to see a world that is now long past or forgotten ~ particularly for those of us for whom 12 was a long, long time ago.

There are a couple of downsides.  Forget new music, movies or television for awhile; and if you're going far enough back, forget the internet and easy access to media.  To you, everything will be old. There won't be anything new for a long time, unless you invent it . . . not until you catch up to today.

As well, it will be hard to get the right timing on meeting those friends you knew after 12; hard to make your marriage happen again, if you're happily married right now . . . and forget your children.  Even if you knew the day your son or daughter was conceived, even if you actually succeeded in conceiving a child on that day, it wouldn't be the son or daughter you know now.  It would be someone similar, someone that looked much like the child you had, that behaved much like the child you had, but the child you have right now would be lost forever.  There's nothing you could do to change that.

In the second option, I make you 12 right now.  It's today and you're still the same person you were, but you're in a 12-year-old body.  Perhaps you'll be able to identify a surrogate mother or father in the next few minutes, explaining the situation for them, or perhaps you'd like to take your chances on your own.  You won't be able to play the system like in the first option, because the future will still be unknown ~ but at least you'll have the potential to begin again and do it better than you did the first time around, plus you'll have all these extra years of life.  That is, assuming you're not hit by a bus.

Which would you pick?  And once you picked an option, what would you do with it?  Be brave, imagine this is a role-playing game and you've just been transformed or reanimated, whatever you want to call it, and the DM is asking, "What do you want to do?"

Tell me in the comments.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

After Wedding Blues

Three days of partying, speech-making, rushing about, dressing, undressing . . . marriages are wonderful things.  The sun is down this Sunday afternoon and we are all lazing about, occasionally debriefing about all that's happened and feeling a great need to rest.

The speech went just fine, the day went just fine.  My daughter is married.  I feel as if I have just closed a book somehow, on a great many things.  It is a fine thing to be a parent.

I haven't forgotten the blog. I will come around to writing on it again soon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


My daughter's wedding is just two days away, Saturday, so things are scattered and far too busy to do any real work this week . . . so I am relaxing by kicking out a few things in the wiki.  I've finished the changes I intend to make to medicine at this time (I have no one above authority level in my games), so now I am working on a paladin skill, piety, chosen by a 6th level paladin in my game by the name of Zephan.

This surprised me a little, as the player who operates Zephan (my son-in-law as of this Saturday) is something of a munchkin.  Zephan is a phenomenal character, generated with four naturally rolled 17s, placed under strength, wisdom, dexterity and charisma.  It is particularly funny since, in more than 8 years of play, the fellow has never rolled an 18 for a character stat, not once.

However, reasoning that piety would be a way to round out the natural power of the character and produce opportunities, the player opted out of increasing power in favour of status.  I really respect that.  I have made a point of telling him so.

This brings us to the problem of how to create piety in a game setting without travelling down the road of telling players how to have their characters behave, something I simply don't do.  From the beginning I have allowed paladins to act as they will, trusting the terrific amount of experience needed to go up a level to restrain their awesome power ~ that, and not rushing to give them +5 holy swords any time before the 20th level.  In fact, I've only given one holy sword away in a campaign, to a 7th level; it was not in a campaign I am running now and the sword was merely +1, +2 against malevolent creatures.  The player was very happy and it did not upset the apple cart of the campaign.

As such, any sage ability the paladin possesses must fit two criteria: it must not function in a way that undermines the struggle of the players vs. their environment and it must allow for total free action and agency for the player running the paladin.

With this in mind, I have three new skills with which I will try to thread that needle.  I'll try to talk about the value and limitation of each.

Prostration is an act of demonstrating humility ~ which might mean any number of physical positions, depending on the part of the world and, of course, the religion of the paladin.  It is not an act of submission, but rather something like a proof of credit.  The paladin, through body language, tells witnesses that "I am to be trusted, my goals are your goals, my motives are pure."

The difficulty, of course, is that without the restriction of telling the paladin that they must actually BE pure, there's every opportunity for the paladin to gain the trust of others and then subvert that trust for cruel, unjust and certainly impious purposes.

Or is that really the case?  The issue here is not that the skill can be used to dupe a trusting official into freely giving information into the hands of an unworthy paladin ~ I argue that it can and that this is a legitimate use for the skill.  This issue is how does this define the paladin with respect to the paladin's deity?  It is sadly always assumed that paladins must obey the commands of "good" deities.  Why?  Is there no evil in the world equally in need of a warrior pious for their causes?  And does it not stand to reason that the paladin that is ready to exploit a skill for the benefit of malevolence is rightly to be found in that camp?  Naturally, it would mean that the forces of good would quickly drop said paladin from their good books, meaning that the paladin's natural +2 bonus against malevolence would have to be reworked ~ not revoked, but merely differently directed.  A paladin makes enemies like any other character . . . this doesn't mean losing their paladinhood.

So I'm fine with prostration being used for evil, along with the consequences of a character who unwittingly or wittingly finds themselves in that camp, potentially to their dismay.  It's not something I would punish a player for but it isn't as easy getting along with evil people as it is with good.  They tend to be, well, evil.

Propitiation is the act of standing in on behalf of someone else that has sinned, acted against the faith, seeks divine atonement or divine recognition.  Like Lancelot acting as the moral center for King Arthur or Baby Doll sacrificing herself in order for Sweet Pea to get away.  In Christianity, the obvious example is Christ himself, who died so that everyone else could be saved.  We don't need to expect a character to go that far ~ a quest or two is probably enough.

I like this particular skill.  It fits right into the D&D paladin character and is full of rich adventure opportunity, self-sacrifice and empathic role-playing.  The principal drawback is, I think, how much is needed for propitiation to occur?  There's no standard I can think of creating, meaning that I'll just have to deal with this one on a case by case basis.  As well, for the most part the ability requires that I think of situations in which a non-player character needs some kind of help.  Yes, from time to time, an actual PC might get themselves into a situation where the party paladin needs to step in and handle this one, but I don't see that happening often enough to make the paladin feel like this is a hugely important sage ability.  For it to have verve, the campaign is going to have to occasionally inject some poor soul in need of having their excommunication dropped or getting one of their seven deadly sins forgiven.

That's great fodder for a railroaded campaign, but I don't run like that.  Sadly, I think this one might get shelved a lot of the time, which means one less thing the paladin can do having gained the authority level of knowledge.  I find that disappointing.  Still, perhaps the character will think of some way to actively seek out such persons, acting on their agenda and not mine, making the ability work.

Prayer is an act that serves to create a rapport between worshipper and deity, requesting knowledge and seeking divine intervention.  I don't doubt that most campaigns have played with having both clerics and paladins pray, since it is "in character" . . . but we all know that there is a serious lack of guidelines for how much intervention a character can expect in exchange for getting on their knees for less than sixty seconds of game time.  I've even played with the concept of the player actually having to get on their knees, using the institution of public shame (players are notoriously sensitive to looking foolish) in order to control the seeking of boons and benefits, both of which were failed rule ideas (pre-sage era) that I threw out decades ago.

I'm not sure how to solve this one.  It isn't good enough to go on a case by case basis.  There has to be a solid guideline both for what can be adjusted and what can be learned . . . and neither can have the power or influence of a spell of any variety, as this is knowledge, not magical power.  Still, the ability belongs here, in this category and at this level.  I will just have to think of something in the next few days to make it work.

Hah.  The next few days.  Yes, so simple.

Anyway, there's a few thoughts on the subject.  I'll be working on this wiki page in the days ahead, in bits and drabs, as this has lately been the most solid work I seem to be able to do at any one time.


Addiction in my game describes the compulsion that characters possess for hard drink or for stimulants and hallucinogens (such as tobacco, opium or qat), the dependency upon which can require a character to daily partake, at some expense, or to become stressed and less effective when these substances are not available.

Most often, a character will acquire an addiction through the character background generator, due to a negative roll against a middle to low wisdom. Addictions are reckoned as a measurement of material that must be drunk, eaten or smoked within the space of a day or a week. When addicted characters fail to obtain their dose, they can temporarily lose ability points or combat ability until such time as they can acquire a 'fix.'

Kicking an Addiction

To get rid of an addiction, a character must make a wisdom check each day to abstain from use of the substance. Success at this roll will not, in the short term, suspend the negative consequences of failing to partake, it is the only path that will, in the long run, end the dependency. The character must, initially, succeed at a wisdom check for seven days running. All wisdom checks are presumed to have been made at sunrise of a particular day. For each successful string of seven days, a character will receive a +1 bonus to all further wisdom checks with regards to their addiction, provided they do not fail to make a wisdom check and attempt to relapse. In relapsing, the character will immediately take steps to acquire the substance they need and use it. If this occurs, the character has lost all ground gained and must begin their resistance anew.

It should be obvious that this makes it almost impossible for a character to become free from an addiction on their own. It is so easy to relapse that, if the substance they need is available, they will certainly fail again and again to kick their addiction. There are, therefore, only two real paths to kicking their addiction:
  • The first is for others to take steps, often combative steps, to ensure that the character cannot relapse even if the character attempts to do so. If it happens that the character, failing to make a wisdom check, is kept from relapsing until sunrise the following day, they will be entitled to another wisdom check. If this succeeds, the character will not attempt to relapse that day, the crisis will be past and the character's forward accumulation of days is not compromised.
  • Secondly, the character can put themselves under the care of a physician able to aid in detoxification. This will give a +3 bonus to all wisdom checks made under the physician's care, in addition to bonuses gained by repeated weeks of success.

Thus, the path of success will mean that the character, with the help of friends and a physician, will steadily improve their bonuses week by week until it is impossible for them to fail a wisdom check.

Further Issues

Note, however, that friends must be vigilant in keeping a watch on an addicted character, as the character will give no sign of intending to relapse. As well, the player, having spent multiple sessions with a character of lowered strength, dexterity or other ability statistic will likely want to quit their treatment, returning to their use of whatever substance. These negative consequences, difficult as they are, do not go away until characters have truly freed themselves of the dependency.

Finally, a character can be compelled to fight other characters (though I do not support player-vs-player, this is a special case) from a sort of madness, if physical restraint is applied against a character's will. In cases where a character is in a town, where these substances are easily available, this may be necessary.

To determine a character's success at obtaining a substance in a town or city (where anyone might possess the substance), the character should make an intelligence check; success would indicate that the character has somehow met an individual willing to pass the substance quietly into the character's possession (addicted persons help each other). One other random character in the party, keeping watch on the addicted character, should make a wisdom check to see if this exchange is observed. If it is not, consider this:

The character may obtain this substance on a day when they have not failed their wisdom check - just in case they may want it later. Therefore, the character may already be ready to use the substance with a wisdom check is failed . . . potentially within minutes of sunrise. Thus, a failed wisdom check by the party will mean the relapse has occurred, even in the wilderness. Occasionally subjecting the addicted character to a search could prevent this, but any such searches that occur when the character is actually in possession (make the intelligence check to know) should result in a player-vs.-player conflict. Suffice to say that choice of weapons is left up to the characters.

Last, it must be noted that each time a character wants to relapse and fails to do so, the character should make a system shock survival roll (see Player's Handbook). Failure to succeed at this roll will mean the character will fall to a random disease of random nature and degree.