Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Drawing Board

Take this phrase in reference to creating a world for a role-playing game:

"Working without an empirical framework feels like 'cheating' . . ."

In response, let me quote my encyclopedia about empiricism:

"The doctrine that all knowledge of fact is derived from experience.  Experience is made up of the following elements and the relations between them: 1) sensations; 2) memories; 3) willfully created images; 4) emotions and feelings; 5) acts of will; and 6) thoughts, judgments and beliefs (including expectations) about the first five.  Empiricist philosophers defend their doctrine by successively examining all alleged types of factual knowledge and, for each of these types, either reducing it by analysis to terms of experience, or else rejecting it as not really knowledge after all, but only an ungrounded belief.
A classic example of empiricim is Hume's analysis of the concept of causality, published in 1739.  It had been believed, for instance, that when one touches a hot stove and suffers a burn, one can observe two relations between the touching of the stove and the pain of the burn; first, the touching precedes the pain in time, and second, the touching causes (produces) the pain.  But Hume analyzed the concept of cause and found that it was composed of two parts: 1) the time relationship between the touching of the stove and the subsequent pain; and 2) the expectation that pain will follow such an act, since in the past a similar contact has always been followed by a similar pain 
This analysis involves both reduction and rejection.  What we actually do experience, when we say that we know causality, is reduced in the above manner to sequence and expectation.  But if anyone clings to the belief that there is something more to causality, such as a "necessary force" or "power" whereby a cause inevitably "produces" its effect, this belief is flatly rejected on the ground that a close scrutiny of experience reveals no such force, and that therefore the quoted terms have no meaning."

I fully acknowledge that there is a strong sentiment to relate game design to the empiricism of the "real world" ~ the effort to do so is all over the internet, not only with relation to RPGs but with dozens of other passions as well.  And I can personally empathize with that sense of "cheating" . . . otherwise, I would not be plotting cities on a map using latitude and longitude as a guide.  I like that the placement of things on my maps, or in my trade system, or related to any system I create, reflects the real world.

But we have to face it; no matter how impressive my maps may happen to be, or how extensive my trade system may be, none of it is ever going to get recognition from anyone who is "empirically respected" in the real world.  I really don't have to worry about cheating anyone.  Reality has as much to do with game design as "necessary force" has to do with empiricism.  Reality is a bugbear.

My maps are useless empirically.  My trade system has no relation whatsoever to the actual movement of goods and services.  If I make an adjustment anywhere in that system, no one suffers.  Hell, for the most part, the player can't begin to imagine the processes that lead to a given substance having a given price . . . so I can't even take pleasure that my small audience will understand what I'm doing.  Empirically, I'm a total failure.  I have to be.  Nothing about what I'm doing can actually be applied to anything except to what I'm doing.

It makes a game.  That is all.  And I have to keep my focus on that truth continually, or it won't even accomplish that much.  That is the mistake that many would-be game designers keep making.  The sense that they're "cheating" someone ensures that they are also cheating themselves and their players.

We have to keep focused on what we're actually doing.  We're not writing a thesis on the practical use of weapons and their comparison; we're not building a model that will prove the superiority of one weapon over another.  We're not providing a framework that will enable a medieval simulationist to run a Tudor farm for five months . . . hell, if we were, we better get the hell out of numbers and graphs and go buy a damn farm in England.  Monopoly is not an accurate representation of real estate metrics in Atlantic City, New Jersey, during the 1920s.  Chess is not an accurate representation of political and religious influence in war during the Persian/Sassanian era of the 6th and 7th centuries.  Game design is not, not I say, an academic pursuit.

And to this, let me add that I've been at this game design thing a long, long fucking time.  I can afford to get a little interested in a reflection of accuracy (at best, a semblance, nothing better!) because I've smashed dozens of would-be systems in the past, all of them because they sucked as game systems.  I have my eye firmly on the principal importance of everything that I make: that a player can understand it, a player can use it and a player can feel the importance of its use.  When something doesn't work, I don't hesitate to smash it, no matter how much work went into it . . . because that's how design works.

We go back and back and back to the drawing board.  And we remember that games are about variables and constraints, decisions and payoffs.  It is not about proving or demonstrating that a pole-axe is a better weapon than a battle axe.  We want to get close to reality, but in the long run, reality is the first head on the chopping block.  It has to be.

Let me explain it another way.  Those designers who have put together massively detailed and complicated games, researched extensively and exhaustively, did not start with those games.  They started with tools like playing cards and game boards; they learned game theory first, they got good at it, and then they went on to try new and different things.  They had critics, they had powerful voices ready to correct them when they were wrong, they had a passion that needed servicing and they had the wherewithal to go back to that drawing board a hundred times if need be.  THEN, after all that, they decided to start researching a game they felt like creating.

I could add that they didn't spend half their lives reinventing the wheel.  More to the point, they learned their business first, then dared to subvert it.  Try to keep that in mind as you apply yourself to your business.


I don't want to distract from my last post about England, as I'm deeply proud of that ~ but I can see that there is a strong resistance to the idea of letting time pass rapidly in a game, for reasons I hadn't considered.  Thus I find myself addressing it again.

It seems that most do not seem to understand what I'm saying. I would say that Samuel Kernan has the right idea, stated in the second comment: "I could see a certain group of players interested in spending less time engaged in resolving combat . . . they might spend more time ordering others to do violence than actually engaging in fights themselves."

Yes, that's very much a part of it.  To which Embla responds, it sounds like a lot of accounting; and Agravain adds that there's a lack of a framework.

Um, what do these people think this blog or the wiki is intended to accomplish?  Put together a thousand pages on the subject, build up a sage ability system intended to create a framework, figure out where every detail fits into the class system . . . and then have that ignored utterly, as I'm told there are "absolutely zero rules" about managing a manor.

Really.  None at all.  And let me just point out that all that material was in a book in a common, every day, ordinary library.  Like this one.  Or this one.  Or this television series.  Or this television series.  That's right, there's nothing out there, zero ~ because when DMs don't have a rule for something, they throw their hands up in the air and they tell the players, "NO, that can never, ever happen, because I don't have a rule for it."

Or we could, like, educate ourselves and just make something up.

And yes, it could be a lot of accounting.  D&D is accounting: subtract the hit point, subtract the arrow, add the gold, add the experience, increase the hit points, divide the treasure by the group, buy things and add them to a list, change the numbers for what adjustments to make to the die . . . what is all this but accounting?  What we really mean is that is sounds like boring accounting, as in, no one will necessarily die, so who cares?

I'm curious, why did Farmville get to be so popular?  Why do games like the one I keep mentioning, Europa Universalis, get invented?  Because, on the whole, RISK wasn't gritty enough so we wanted Hearts of Iron.  Fable II is grittier than Fable I.  Urban Empire over Tropico.  Project Sylphead. Factorio.  Complex games, where logistics are forced on the user, because we want to spend all our time decided on tiny, tiny details, in order to affect a larger landscape.

Why should D&D be any different?  Don't the armies have to eat, don't we need farms to grow food, can't we decide how big we want our farms to be based on our income, can't we designate an amount of seed to be planted and amount of yield to be obtained?  Hell, you want crop yields for everything from beets to yams, it's called Google.  Google isn't robust enough?  We can send our players off on their phones to look that shit up, no?  Irrigate the land, costs money, more yield, right?  Roll a die for blight, roll a die for hailstorms, roll a die for perfect weather, give the players a bumper crop, let them feed their army.  I'm confused ~ why can't this be done without having to run each day of watching the plants grow?

LTW is worried that the players will ask, "How many rich merchants or nobles have I befriended?"  What is wrong with the answer, NONE.  No rich merchants.  No nobles.  Why?  Because meeting those people requires an effort and that is role-playing.  It doesn't come for free.  Meeting the farmer that's your neighbor over the back fence, yeah, no problem, his name is Fred.

But how many rich merchants and nobles are in the area?  Easy.  People all around talk about them constantly, having rarely even seen them.  There are three.  Two rich merchants and one noble.  The merchants names are Jack and Hank, one owns a huge flock of horses, cows and pigs, the other owns virtually all the land in the region.  The noble's name is Bob.  He's a total asshole.  He got his money from his Dad.  What else do you want to know?

Heirs?  Yeah, they each have one.  Or, at least, they've got one lined up.  You can be pretty sure it isn't YOU.

I guess this is "a lot of work" because the reader has totally ignored me about taking advantage of the work I've already done, creating a trade system, creating a wiki, putting it all online (yes, I've been a complete asshole this way) and explaining in over 2 million words of blog how to do it.  Yes, I can see how that's a real bitch, having someone stamp down a pathway for you so you can stand fifty feet from me in the snow and claim "there's nothing, nothing at all, to tell me how to do this!"

Sorry, that is pretty cheap of me.  Sincerely, sorry.  Sometimes, just sometimes, I just feel I'm writing for the air.

Let me try to explain about "manorial management mechanics."  You have some land. You buy something to grow or raise on it.  It costs you.  Then you look up on Google how long it takes to grow into an adult, how long it takes before we can kill it for meat, how much meat it produces, how much we have to feed it, how many people can watch how many animals, how much room it needs and so on.  Then we buy the feed, we build the barn, we hire servants, we build a slaughter house, we find out the price we'll get from a local merchant and then we pocket the cash.  Is that so hard?

What system?  Why, the one that already exists, everywhere.

A couple of months ago I had a question about how sharply you can turn a horse at a gallop.  I looked online but I couldn't get a good answer.  So I picked up a phone and I called the International Horseshow Venue here in the city and asked to talk to someone who knew about horseriding.  I was in a conversation in three minutes.  I explained that I was designing a game and that I was working out a mechanic to do with horses.  How sharp can you turn a horse moving at a gallop?  360 degrees.  Basically, as sharply as you want.  There is no limit, not in terms of the horse's ability to turn on a dime.  I got the low-down on that.  You can rear the horse and turn it in the other direction in a space about as wide as my combat hex.  The real problem isn't the horse's ability to pivot, but in how much time in a round the rider has to dedicate to managing the horse.  Can't swing a sword if you're veering off in the direction you've just come.

Now, here's my point.  There it is, the whole world, and all the Answers in it, on your phone, on your desktop.  And the reader is asking, "Where am I going to get these answers the players want?"

Really?  Gee.

I guess I just see this whole game far, far too differently than other people. I guess I'm just some special autistic idiot, who has some ridiculous notion that if a player says, "I want to do this thing that I'm perfectly able to do as an ordinary human being," I'm supposed to make that happen.

I just don't want to answer, "Um, no, sorry, I never thought about that until this very minute, so I can't let you do that.  Yes, I suppose there must be small bits of land for sale; yes, I suppose that a merchant probably would be interested in buying sheep from you if you buy a ram and a ewe and get them to mate and produce a bunch of lambs.  Sure, yes, if you want to run them in a meadow, I guess there must be meadows around ~ I mean, heck, what do the other shepherds do?  And yes, the merchant has a name, and yes, the merchant has family and friends, and yes if your charisma is 14 he's probably going to look at you better than the average shepherd.  That sounds logical.

But, look, I can't actually let you keep following this line of reasoning because it sounds pretty hard to keep up with.  It's a lot of work for ME.  You understand.  So listen ~ let's just put on a sword or something and walk down some stairs to an empty square room with a trap and a puzzle in it that I got from a local game store.  That's really more my speed.  Okay?  Fine?  Good.

No, no, no.  I don't want to hear any more about sheep.  If you want, I'll let you buy a lamb and you can keep it in your backpack on the next dungeon adventure.  That's as far as I'm going.

Is this me being nasty and cold and mawking?  Yes, yes, I admit that.  But I'm not trying to make anyone feel stupid, I'm trying to wake you the fuck up.  It is a much, much bigger world out there than the one you've been fed.  And in some ways, it starts when TIME isn't necessarily as rigidly played out as the game normally demands.  This is all I'm saying.  We can measure time any way we want ~ and we can use the endless resources of the whole universe to answer the player's questions, one by one.

Hell, I was doing that long, long, long before I had a trade system.  I only built the trade system so that I wouldn't have to pull a number out of my ass.  But before the trade system was built, my ass was all I had.  This was 1983.  There was no internet!  But I sure as shit wasn't going to tell a player I didn't have an answer when they asked for something.

Monday, January 30, 2017

At Last, Britain

Sorry to say that I took French leave on my online games for two days; people must be wondering what the hell I'm doing, what I'm up to.  I apologize.  I've been a bit down, a bit distracted.  It's encouraged me to focus on something I love, namely this.  I've finally finished off that corner of England that I left undone back in October, I've added the market city icons and all the roads on the two islands.

The Islands offered a lot of different challenges.  This last, to add roads, makes England look like a modern road map.  There are simple reasons for that.  Most of England is, first, near to the sea.  I think I remember reading that no part of Britain is more than 72 miles from the sea.  This encourages trade, since every port all around the two islands encourages the creation of a line of cities across the island to a port on the other side.

Second, the islands are largely flat.  This makes travel overland far easier in England, in particular, much easier than it is for nearly every other part of the world.  Few hills to climb, and few substantial rivers to boot, made nearly England terrifically accessible.  Only Wales and Scotland offer difficult terrain.  The corners of Ireland, on the other hand, were a refuge for rebels and tribalism (and poor in land), so that it was politically resistant to trade rather than geographically.

I'm glad to have this part of the world behind me.

In terms of trade, the map above creates this land travel map:

The small distances represent the number of market days between the various markets, due to both distance and terrain.  The next stage after this, before I can add Britain to my trade system, is to figure out the sea distances between this and the rest of Europe.

I was also going to say, I started working on this map sheet about ten years ago, about the winter of 2006/07:

Steadily, I've added pieces.  I remember when it was just Poland, on the right side of the map.  Then I added Bohemia and Moravia, Hungary, the parts of Yugoslavia, and finally Germany.  I remember what a headache Germany was.

I've talked about adding pieces on this map on the blog: Switzerland, the Low Countries, France.  I remember working on Italy and it just took up a tiny piece in the bottom right.  And now, at last, I've finished that tiny piece of England on the top left.  Done at last.  This is my biggest map, in terms of sheer complexity and memory.  This thing is 4 mb of data.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fast-Forward Time

The title of this post comes from an answer to my previous post, written by Ant Wu:

"Having a player resource that is unchanging like a college, academy, or conservatory is nice, but may not be completely believable. It is a game-inspired resource, not necessarily a narrative one, especially if you can just fast-forward time."

It does strike me as odd that the writer perceives that a narrative is something anathema to "a fast-forward," but that is not my goal here.  Nor do I want, especially, to dispute the writer's point.  I only throw it up to highlight the apparent dismissive idea of fast-forwarding the campaign ~ as though it is, somehow, a sort of cheat, or bamboozle, or reach around that circumvents the all-important tempo that the players must subscribe to if they are to role-play.

Suppose that we are running in a campaign ~ yours, perhaps ~ and we have accumulated a comfortable pile of wealth, enough to sustain ourselves for at least a year.  And suppose the question arises, "You arrive at the little town of Liddick.  What do you wish to do?"

And if we, the party, wish to answer, "We settle down," is that allowed?

I suspect that in most campaigns, it isn't.  I suspect that most DMs would ask, "Do you wish to retire your characters?"  I suspect most DMs would quickly transform Liddick into a town full of adventure.  Suddenly, there would be hidden passages leading to dungeons, there would be criminals of every stripe come to rob we players of our money, a host of intrigues, unexpected hordes invading the town and what not.  I feel confident that we would be compelled back into the narrative because it must be so, else what is a DM for?

Yet suppose we don't have a DM that rattles the cage, but that we adopt the ordinary, expected lives of everyone else in the local community.  What ought to happen?  Rolls for wandering monsters?  Day-to-day encounters?  With what?  We're in a town.  We're paying our bills, paying our taxes, buying food for ourselves, investing in the local economy, perhaps buying some land, perhaps buying some animals, perhaps taking a little time to improve ourselves.  Where is the wrong in that?

But there is "wrong" ~ one can hear the implication in Ant Wu's words: especially if you can just fast-forward.

Now, I don't mean to deconstruct the writer; I very much doubt that his intentions included any special read into this particular assemblage of words.  We are dealing here with an habitual perspective, not a premeditated one.

The passage of time in most campaigns is fixed.  Time passes very slowly in the dungeon, then at a median pace between the dungeon and town, then very fast in town.  It can take four or five sessions to play out an hour or two in a dungeon.  It can take just enough time to describe the journey (the first time) between the town and the dungeon, where we roll the possibility for an encounter or two, potentially filling up one whole session.  Then, in the space of an hour or two, a week goes by in town.  Then we are headed off to the dungeon again.

In most campaigns, this is it.  Town, road, dungeon, road, town.  We might vary it with town, road, town, road, dungeon, road, town, road, town, road, dungeon, road, town and so on, but the pattern is there.  The game, according to every source we can read, every source we can buy, every source espoused by the manufacturer, fits the formula.  The town for supply.  The road (path, trail, whatever) for narrative and creating tone.  The dungeon (ruin, caves, lost city, whatever) for the actual game.  This is it.  More to the point, for the general community, not only is this all we're allowed, this is all we're entitled to want.  If we want anything else, if we challenge the formula, we are a pariah upon the very community in which we dare to commit our voices.  There's no room for us.

So why would the passage of time ever need to pass more quickly?  To what purpose?  Getting to know the community, establishing an enterprise, castle-building and anything else not having to do with a dungeon are not game elements ~ that is why the rules for such things always stress two conditions: how much does it cost to build and how much does it cost to maintain.  There are never any rules for what it produces, who it attracts, what status is offered or what purpose it might serve, because the fundamental reason for the player castle's existence is that it is a money sink.  It costs, thus emptying the player's wallet, thus requiring more dungeoneering.

Fast-forwarding to things like the harvest, or the taxes we might gain (always described as paltry), or an education we might pay for, these things circumvent the strict town-road-dungeon formula.  They seem, therefore, weird, different, even surprising.

Yet isn't life-span just another resource that should be available to the players?  Isn't the number of years they have left just another limited supply ~ apparently unlimited at the start of the game, but steadily less and less so as the player moves towards the age when they will lose their strength, constitution and dexterity benefits.  Why shouldn't this, and this alone, be the only meaningful price to pay ~ along with, of course, the price of feeding and supporting oneself?  Why is this never considered?  Players in the game never seem to age . . . primarily because they are go-go-go all the time, living fast and dying young.

Why not live slow?  Why shouldn't we enjoy a little good life, a few months, a year, between our adventures?  Why shouldn't we make friends in the community, engage ourselves in their struggles, gain their perspective, apply ourselves to preserving them as well as ourselves, all the time living a year a session, until we reach our sixties?  Why must everything fit the timeline of the dungeon?

By my count, most games I've seen hardly last forty sessions.  If each session covered the events of a full year, a campaign that ran every two weeks would last 18 months.  And would the DM not be challenged to come up with a meaningful set of events to make a year seem important?  Would the players not be put to problem solving, if the challenge was how to steadily expand their assets year by year, rather than their experience or the number of magic items they possessed?  How would the game actually be any different?  Would we not still be role-playing?

Apparently not.  Perhaps we can't imagine four persons engaged in a unified struggle against an enemy unless they also happen to be trapped in a room between hosts of monsters.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

College Life

So I had some energy to work on the bard today ~ this is a long, long struggle that does not feel like it is going to end.  However, I did fill out some important points and make some important pages, including copying some material from the blog and making it official on the wiki.  For anyone interested, I include pages on Art vs. Product, Sukha, Upeksa, Making Art (needs much more work), Criticism & Composition, Tutoring, Conducting and Audition.

It is this last I want to talk about.  It was the first I started on today and it started off the rest of the work.  The idea came to me just recently, with the idea that a "college" could be a resource for a player character, but one that could only be accessed through the character having a specific kind of knowledge and only by the character applying for access.  In terms of the bard character, the main resource I'd expect a player to access would be to give modifiers to the creation of making art and towards improving the quality of the bard's performance.  Basically, drop by the university, let a few weeks of game time pass, take a few courses, then head off to the next adventure.

This is the kind of thing that could be done in fifteen minutes of a campaign.  All too often, I find that players treat time similarly to the way they do in real life.  I very rarely have players who realize that they can, if they want, simply decide it is four or five months later, enabling them to spend a winter in a state of half-slumber until the spring arrives, or take part in farming to raise food for a half-years' campaigning, or some other reason that simply calls out for the party to sit and LEARN for a time.

This seems anathema to most party thinking, however.  They seem to think that I'm going to run the three months of the dead of winter as though it is happening in actual time.  I don't know if its because other DMs do this, or players cannot reconcile the movement of time without relating to it as though the time is really passing.  I don't know what is wrong with players thinking, "We spend the next three years tilling our land, building up our homestead, getting to know the neighbors, finding out how the world works in this corner of the globe and generally relaxing, perhaps getting married and raising a few kids before heading off.  But there must be something wrong with that, because players don't do it.

All the same, I'd like to extend the college idea to other classes.  A cleric may have access to a seminary or a monastery, a fighter to a military academy, a mage or illusionist to a magic academy, a thief or assassin to a guild of sorts (or some equivalent I haven't considered yet) and a monk to yet a different monastery or perhaps an ashram.

The benefits could be legion.  As yet, I'm sure I haven't conceived of most of them, yet.  Still, perhaps this is the way to have access to spells such as resurrection or remove curse, to the restoration of spent magic items, to trusted sources of information, to small improvements in the character's sage abilities or status . . . in all, each of these resources could insist upon a yearly stipend that would, in turn, provide unlimited access to various benefits, even though these benefits would be geographical in nature and tend to tie a player down to a specific region.  As it says in the description I gave for Audition, the player could have access to only ONE seminary, college, academy or conservatory.

Some might dispute the phrase, ". . . all colleges throughout the game world will be informed of the acceptance."  But why not?  I conceive of a magic book that would exist in every such institution, that would define membership by requiring individuals to sign in upon arrival.  The book might betray a non-member, or it may transfer knowledge of the membership to every other similar book in the world, all of which are interconnected by design.

Therefore, we may have access to a wonderful conservatory in Edinburgh, but right now we happen to be in Egypt and it hasn't been much use for a while.  Still, one day when we get a chance we'll be going back there ~ and when we do, we'll have a lot of questions to settle.  Perhaps we may even spend a few months getting them settled.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Answering a Question About Spears

In the interest of shaking off this funk . . .

Training to fight and defend in a mass formation, in which the presence of friendly combatants on the left and right offer greater stability and defense during combat.

The formation is a straight line, offering a front of defense against an enemy, to help protect the defenders while the advance or fight. The skill enables the single combatant to take advantage of the formation, learning to move with it and in it without creating gaps or weakening the front that it gives the attacker.

This front, or "wall," ensures that each combatant in the line (with the exception of those upon the ends) can be attacked by only one enemy per round. Because the front is largely created from the use of shields and one-handed weapons, where the amount of flank being shown is minimalized, the use of large shields in the line provides an extra +1 armor class adjustment over and above the usual benefit from such a shield. Thus, members of the phalanx are harder to hit when in formation than they would be as scattered combatants.

Additionally, when the phalanx consists of two rows of friendly combatants, there is an adjustment to the usual stunning rule: in this case, a defendant is not driven back one combat hex when stunned. The other members of the formation, themselves trained, will support a stunned defendant so that ~ although they will not be able to fight the following round ~ they will be able to retain their position in the line.

Finally, those with phalanx training will be trained to use a spear with only one hand. Normally, the spear is a two-handed weapon ~ but with proper training, received with this study, the weapon can be balanced with one hand when acting within the formation. Because the formation requires that only one hex must be defended against, the spear's point needs to move less, and thus it can be handled. Outside of the formation, the spear must still be used with two hands.

The formation requires that all the participants have a minimum of 10 points of knowledge in martial discipline.

See Martial Discipline

More Drama

Just two months ago I wrote about my father and Alzheimers.  This last few days the situation has changed again ~ and I write about it now only because I am a writer and this is how my peculiar therapy works.

The home where we put my father has been increasingly having trouble with his condition.  It isn't just a matter of his disappearing from the "house" where he has been living since November, which has happened a couple of times ~ it is also that he has become increasingly violent and, well, the real truth of it is psychotic.

Starting with Friday, he was moved out of the facility and into the hospital, first into the care ward and from there into the psychiatric ward, where he has been under restraint since Saturday.  At this point, he is beyond communication.  We are told that he is convinced that this is all a plot to end his life.  We are also told that he believes he is living in the year 2046 and that, apparently, some science fiction book he has read at some point in his life is fueling his paranoia.

There are simply no words.  The facility where he was living has let it be known that he won't be able to go back there.  He will need to be placed into a more severe facility.  At the moment, there are none available; this means he will be put on a waiting list.  However, he needs to be fully assessed before even the waiting list can be a possibility ~ and whatever the case, he may be forced to spend the rest of his life under restraint, whatever happens.

This whole final act of my father's life ~ a man who was an outstanding professional in his field, who received more than twenty awards of service and recognition, who was once the president of the Canadian National Science Fair, because he enjoyed science and the education of children, is right now screaming in a closed room about . . . nonsense.

So.  I'm just working on my equilibrium right now.  It is a difficult time.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fighting Women

I don't ordinarily publish posts like this, but as I've been looking at hundreds of pictures of armor lately, trying to find good representations for the armor I use in my world ~ near impossible ~ I have been also been looking at an assortment of other pictures.

Basically, women fighters.  I have a couple of these in the online campaign of late and I was asked lately what a 18 strength woman fighter would look like (see the comments section).  I felt I could put up a sequence of pictures, as most everyone does who isn't interested in writing a lot of words, to engage the discussion on women in armor.

I've sought a collection where the armor worn is legitimate, and where the women look like they actually could put up a fight.  I've emphasized real over a staged, presented depiction, to get a sense of what this might look like on the battlefield, since D&D is not necessarily a sexist representation of a medieval/renaissance battleground.

I'm not necessarily concerned with authenticity here. I have been on the wiki, but here I just want a vague representation of what the battle maiden might look like. Basically, for the most part indistinguishable from a man.

This woman, for instance, could easily be mistaken for a man at a distance, until coming face to face with her.  The loose clothing around the legs is the same, the stance is the same, the helmet conceals most of the features and if she's a long time fighter, she has the bulk to carry it through.

There are women who are fighting, exactly like this, all over the world, enjoying the opportunity to grunt and dish it out with the men, as hard as they can, with all the subsequent bruising and soreness that follows the next day.

Now one thing that has to be noted, there's no particular reason why she can't show some skin.  Men do.  It is a question of heat release, after all.  Fighting, as I've been arguing lately, is a heat-generating process, and carrying all that extra padding and covering will only serve to produce first a tremendous discomfort and then afterwards a possible hypothermia.  I'm not sure, but I wonder if there isn't a common concern for hypothermia at events where in the evening it grows a lot cooler than it has been during the day, where people who are walking around in sweat-soaked wet armor have a tendency to pass out.  I hardly know anything about it, but it seems probable.

This next is the kind of thing I was definitely looking for.  Here the woman is exhausted, showing the fight she was just in.  Or at least I like to think so.  She gives all the look of someone who could have lost her match, her face is showing a sense of discontinuity, as though her mind is thinking over the match and not in the present.  It's easy to imagine her moving over the grass, helmet and shield hanging loosely from her grip, but a natural, comfortable rhythm in the greaves and heavy dress.

I was looking for women who weren't necessarily the most charismatic.  I don't think that matters.  Part of the issue of dressing every woman up in partial armor is that it emphasizes the need for a hot body, pert breasts, pretty limbs and so on.  Here the issue isn't how good she looks, but how good she fights.  Can she beat the hell out of the other person.  In a stand-up battle, that's key.

There's some of that with the woman on the left, here.  She's either been in a fight or she's gearing herself up for one.  She's relaxed, ready to go (possibly again), eyes watching the battle going on with a comfortable, confident air.  I especially like this picture, I like her apparent willfulness, the easy way her hand rests on her knee.  The ring, however, would be a bad idea in a real fight.

With my turns around comic and fan conventions the last couple of years, I can't help being impressed with the quality of armor being made.  Yes, it is made of modern materials, certainly anachronistic with the period, but when it comes to smashing each other in open fields, like so many are doing, the source of the materials or their museum-legitimacy don't matter much, do they?

I do like it when the armor looks thoroughly abused.  Yes, it's suggestive of the authentic, but it speaks to the character of the person as well.  We know that the actual armor of the actual person in the picture is likely fashioned to look broken, bent, banged up and burnished right from the start ~ but what does it look like when we think of it inside the narrative, when the character is told that the woman coming towards the party right now looks like she's fought a war single-handed.  I think it says something more than just the combatant can't afford new armor.  Armor, like any other clothing, becomes comfortable with wear, it becomes like a second skin.  That's not something you get from a new suit.  Sometimes, you'd rather trust to the old standby if it means that in the middle of a battle you're not worried about the many parts of your body that are threatening to chafe on you.

Here's another example of banged up armor.  I had my doubts if I ought to have included this picture, as the woman here might look a little made-up and staged for the picture.  Still, I wanted to include it just for the armor.  I like a suit with some dents in it.

Note, for instance, the apparent state of the padded cloth on the inside of her elbows ~ torn and frayed, filthy, certainly not the standard trope where depicting fantasy characters in pictures.

There isn't near enough dirt where it comes to actual characters in the actual world.  Baths were rare and, where no central heating existed, potentially life threatening.  That old phrase about "catching a chill" used to mean something serious.  William T. Sherman died of pneumonia brought on from exposure to the rain while carrying the coffin of Joseph E. Johnston, and that was 1891.  Colds and catching pneumonia used to be a very serious thing.  People avoided baths like the plague, they wore the same clothes on the road for weeks, even months at a time without washing them.  For the most part, travellers ~ adventurers ~ were filthy.

I'll finish with this one, because I am getting tired.  I don't know what special point I can make about it.  The money purse is a nice touch.  The quarterstaff is a bit too much of a prop, I think ~ a real one would be a lot smoother, less painted.  Some of the documentaries I've seen would argue it should be a lot thicker, too, but I don't really know about that.  Dimension is one of the hardest things to be historically certain about.

So here I'll part with the subject.  I couldn't just post pictures, it wouldn't be like me.  Chances are I'll have to mess around with blogger for half an hour after I post this, trying to get the words to appear in the right places next to the pictures, as the blog program is anything but design-friendly.

I'll try not to do this sort of thing often.  It's not the highest class of intellectual character.  Not really.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lurkers Corner ~ Classic D&D

I have no particular comments to make ~ but for anyone who might have fallen away, the Juvenis campaign has just discovered they're in a dungeon.


Just an extra word on an effort I took up tonight to try to nail down the various issues with different armors that I use.  The descriptions for these have never been precise and there never has been a proper metric for how they're made and what they incorporate.  With the addition of CLO and the changes I've recently made to encumbrance, there always has to be some sort of push back for players that decide to load up on armor class.  I've unbalanced that part of my game a little with these changes.  Used to be, higher armor class meant moving slower.  I'm adjusting that now to a higher armor class tires the character out sooner and starts to cause damage, while pretty much enabling combatants to move faster while wearing heavier armor.

To get this properly set in place, I need to know precisely what those armors are now, so players can make a choice that fits their needs.  The amount of exhaustion they feel has to match the improvement of armor class to make the game experience measured.

Be Capable of Harm

I was recently asked a question by a DM about his not being able to get his players interested in game hooks.  Whatever he tried to entice them with, they weren't buying.  He didn't know what to do.

I have posted this scene before, but that was four years ago so what the hell.  It's good for another go around:

On the other post that I wrote, brief as it was, I got a great comment from Yagami, whom I haven't heard from for a while:

"It seems to me often that these people have little experience in leadership roles. I have managed in my life...and it is a difficult role. And it is made difficult by the fact that people do not, generally, take seriously someone they do not find to be capable of doing them some sort of harm. Harm, in this case, of course meaning repercussions of a negative kind, not physical injury."

This is followed by a bunch of supportive statements about working and my blog that I don't need to repost here.  The key is that a DM must also be a threat.  If the players are not finding the obstacles to be, well, big enough to stop them in their tracks, then the DM has missed the object.

I have found three ways of making obstacles big and frightening.  I've written some about all three of these, but it doesn't hurt to cover the basics again.

First, make the obstacles BIG and FRIGHTENING.  If the party is walking by some great plot hook on the road, with a "ho hum" attitude, then the obvious failing is that this particular plot hook did not bash the players over the head.  This has to happen!  A bunch of big, nasty things step out on the road and no, they're not going away and no, they're not going to be ignored.  They've been paid to be there, to take care of this party, for gawd knows what reason (think of something!).  They've seen the party walking along and those look like real nice weapons and that looks like real nice armor, and those packs are nice and full.  And yes, we're going to take them.  And no, we're not a bunch of little goblins.  We're big, frightening bugbears, with axes twice the size of ordinary, able to do twice the damage, we smell, we're unhappy and yes, that is a baby's head on a chain hanging from the leader's ear.  And there are a lot of us.  More than there are of you.

Second, make the obstacles UNCERTAIN.  Don't paint up all the details, make sure that there are plenty of very disquieting things about this situation we've stumbled upon that suggests that we'd be stupid to walk away from this.  Use all the senses.  Far too many DMs are concerned with just two things: what the party sees and what the party is told by NPCs.  These things are nice but they won't carry all the water we want to carry.  The party should be hearing things that aren't seen, that are making noises that suggest, "Oh Shit, this is bad.  This is very bad."  The party should be smelling things that are just plain bad.  The party should be quietly munching dinner after dark, only to have something move wrong in their mouths, to make them look down and see that they've just bitten through a dark green worm with unpleasant red veins.  What does that mean?  Omg, we don't know, do we?  We better do something about it, but we don't know what, so I guess that means we're in pretty deep already and it is dark.  "Holy crap, something just walked across my foot!"

Finally, make the obstacles INSURMOUNTABLE.  This is key.  Create one, perhaps two obstacles that are so big, so massively connected, so well resourced, that no mere party of characters will ever be able to take them on.  The party's only chance will be staying out of sight, staying out of notice ~ and occasionally, that will mean killing a witness that might just walk back and tell the huge, terrifying, unknown enemy that we're in this town, on this day, staying at this inn.

I have several ways of creating this last entity.  I want some big, faceless organization that has nothing specifically against the party, except that the party just happens to be in the way of their plans and, well, it's nothing personal.

I want some very high level person who just happened to have something invested in that group of orcs that the party killed four months ago, that were carrying that pretty yellow stone that the party got ten gold for.  Unfortunately, the yellow stone matters, it's location matters, and the only group of people who have any idea where that stone is right now is the party . . . who foolishly got rid of it, not knowing how important it was to She Bitch of the +5 Strap-On.  Whoever the hell she is, wherever the hell she hangs her hat, whatever the hell she might have against the party for some reason.  Whatever it is, it is very definitely personal.

Finally, I want some miserable little bastard with a grudge, an unreasonable grudge, the sort that he's willing to grind and grind for years at a time, at just enough of a distance to steal things out of the party's kit, to add things to the party's kit, to spread rumours about the party and do whatever he has to do to just makes things a little harder.  It's personal for him, too, and best of all he's not interested in telling anyone.  One thing the party will eventually realize; someone has it out for them and it is getting awfully annoying and utterly impossible to ignore.

If we're offering ideas that the players scoff at and shrug their shoulders at, then we're not digging in.  The players aren't scared.  They don't think the DM is a threat.  They see the plot hooks a mile off and they can see there's no teeth in them.  They're walking all over the DM because they know, deep down inside, the DM is the sort that can be gotten around.

The obstacles are too small.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Bardic Struggle

Having figured out what the bard's art does [the gentle reader is not bored of these constant posts about the bard, are they?], I'm free to map out how the bard creates art and how to measure the effects of the art created.

The most obvious thing to do would be to create a study/skill called "create art," in which the bard would gain points.  As the points mounted, the bard would create better and bigger art, in a very linear manner.  This is standard RPG design.

Frankly, I find this remarkably stale.  In it, everyone's path is precisely the same, there's no room for personality and we don't even have the flexibility of being able to choose from a wide range of spells.  It is dull, dull, dull design and it is exactly the reason why the bard character comes out so flat.

Remember what I said before: we want the player to feel what it is like to be an artist.  Part of that feeling is a sense of inadequacy that the bard must start with, then overcome by virtue of multiple possible strategies.  It is the same inadequacy that a spellcaster feels at not having enough spells to protect themselves or the fighter feels at being easily thumped down to zero hit points.

Only the goal here is to restrain the bard from being able to make art like a Fable character pounding a hammer on a forge.

The very pinnacle of creation game play.

To that end, I've decided to frustrate the bard all to hell by dividing up the creative process and spreading it over several studies in the same field.

Because a character in the Senex Campaign is a bard, who has chosen poetry as their art form, this post will deal with that particular example.  Other art forms will require a moderate adjustment to this formula (which will be interesting to do), but I see no reason to worry about that until I get a player character interested in pursuing one of those other forms.

Too, I should explain that a bard has four fields of interest, three of which are not creative.  So for this post we're specifically speaking about how a bard makes "art" and "product," and not how a bard researches matters in depth (which will produce other effects I will eventually create), how a bard teaches others (the college option) or how a bard gets into the world of business (as a producer, agent, stage manager or general techie).  I'm building the "bard" character so that one does not even have to create to be a member of the class.

Let's just stick to what we usually think of as a bard.

The poet who chooses "Artistry" as the field has four choices of study: conceptualism, creativity, performance and practicality.  I'll just quickly run these down.  Conceptualism is the effort to make work that pleases oneself, the sort not likely to be understood or appreciated by others.  Creativity is the ability to think theoretically about art, to understand what it is but with no capacity to actually make work.  Performance is the ability to present work, but without a personal comprehension of how that work is made.  Practicality is the ability to make useful work that an audience on the whole would like, but doesn't allow the first sense of aesthetics.

In short, they're all meaningful . . . but they are all distinctly lacking if the poet wants to write really terrific poetry.  To do so, the poet needs all of the above!  And this is where strategy arises.

At first level, the poet can pick one of the four ~ but only one ~ in which case the poet will gain enough points to be considered an "amateur" in that particular study (+1d12/level above 1st).  As an amateur, the poet will be able to write conceptual poetry for themselves (potentially massing enough work for later on when it can be refined and published).  The poet will have the capacity for creativity without actually making any work.  The poet will be able to perform, but it will be other people's stuff.  And finally the poet will be able to write nice, practical poems, along the lines of greeting cards.

BUT, the poet also gets 1d8 -1 points of knowledge per level in the other three studies.  10 are needed for amateur ability, so the poet might become an amateur in one of the other three at 2nd level.  The poet might not.  The odds say that probably one of them will reach amateur status by the time the poet reaches 3rd level ~ and probably all of them by 5th.

Conceptualism + Creativity will mean inspirational, self-styled poetry that could sell if published (conceptualism without creativity, not a chance).  Conceptualism + Performance would be the opportunity to meaningfully recite one's own personal poetry in public, increasing the poet's personal sense of worth.  Conceptualism + Practicality has the possibility of making an empathic connection to other persons, so that poetry written only for the poet might also strike other specific persons the same way.

Creativity + Performance does not increase the poet's repertoire, but it increases the level of the performance, changing that 1% x.p. bonus to 2%.  Creativity + Practicality improves the quality of practical work and its overall worthiness.

Finally, Performance + Practicality contributes to one's personal fame and listener donations.

Remember, at the same time, we are talking amateur status with each of these.  As one becomes an "authority," the pattern changes again.  It takes 30 knowledge points to become an authority, which one can do with a primary study by 3rd level ~ but it can easily take 8 levels or more to become an authority in something with an average of 3.5 points per level.  And that drag will be felt, particularly if the character just can't get their practicality up.  There's only so much one can do as an amateur.  To create really meaningful work, one has to increase one's knowledge and thus one's capacity for skilled artistry.

See, we can't make inspiration, great poetry (Sukha), if we can't work ~ and one of the skills that comes with being practical is "focus."  That is, the ability to sit and work and work and work without turning aside from the project and getting distracted.  If we can't do that, if all we can do is frivolously dick around, we'll never startle the world.  We'll never make our party as happy as they'd like.

But if we don't have conceptualism in our bucket, we'll be miserable.  Making our own art makes us feel better, it gives us a greater sense of value, it supports us when times are tough.  And if we don't have performance in our bucket, most will never know that we're a great poet.  This is 17th century.  People don't read!

And if we don't have creativity, we'll never have the inspiration anyway.

So figuring out what we can do will depend less on our skill set and more on our limitations.  We will be waiting to learn things we don't know, to make things we can't make and to hope one day we'll figure out just the hell all this shit works.

Like an artist does.

The Bardic Mini-Game

With proposed changes to the bard of late, I have seen several express a concern about the bard character becoming its own "mini-game" ~ enabling bards to play while other players sit on the sidelines and watch.

I can understand that concern.  I'm against such gaming on principle.  All players deserve attention during the game and it is up to the DM to find ways to ensure that a particular character or character class doesn't get this kind of privilege.  That people go to this place, however, this concern that the game will suddenly become bard-centric, is an expression of how other character classes created by other RPG designers suddenly became all the rage, excluding other classes.

I think that is because most RPG designers are "bored" with the old character classes.  They need something new to base the whole game on because they've become dried old prunes on the cleric or the mage, having run out of ideas, and now that they have a NEW character class to waffle on until they get bored of that, naturally everything in the game must now become about the new class.

This isn't me.  I have tons and tons of cool shit left to add to the cleric and the mage ~ and all the characters, really.  It is only that right now I happen to be talking about the bard, a class I'm trying to rescue from the dustbin of game design by making it actually relevant.

Does it mean that the bard will have some character to swing around in the game once it's been fleshed out?  Yes.  But do consider how much time is spent in the campaign listening to the cleric harp on about religion or the mage about spells, or the fighter about weapons, armor and fighting.  These classes have their "mini-games" already; it is only that we're used to the amount of time dredged up for pissing contests between hit point totals and the need to sacrifice something as soon as possible, so let's all go on a quest to do that.  No one is carping about the "mini-game" of yet another fallen paladin that has to drag the party on yet another bloody quest to get a lost virtue restored.

And let's face it: having another reason to quest, having another character class that deserves consideration, having another conversation at the table about what's relevant and what can we do now, won't be a bad thing.

To my mind, the way I will design the "work" the bard does, it won't be any different from a cleric building a temple, a fighter building a castle, a mage building a laboratory, a thief building a guild or any of the other establishment things that any character class might get want.  I think another part of the issue is that its imagined the bard will, almost immediately, be rushing around creating art and being famous.

That is not how this is going to be.  Like a 1st level fighter that is little better than a squishy mess waiting to happen, a low-level bard will enjoy an artist's path: being ignored, having little practical ability, the frustration of too little ability for too much ambition and ultimately waiting, waiting for the day when they're actually able to make the show they might dream of having.  It isn't handed to them on a silver platter.

In short, they've got to adventure like everyone else.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Reading through some Buddhist content about happiness (sukha), joy (piti), equanimity (upekkha) and Brahmavihara (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmavihara) I found myself having some strange thoughts on bard performance and the "better life."  When in doubt, always go east young man.  Always go east.

I ended up with a series of platitudes which today I cannot find, but are fundamentally tied into benevolence and charity.  The content person does not quest for wealth or power, but for well-being, well-being for self and well-being for others.  This is what the bard does ~ transmits a sense of well-being.  We have been describing this as happiness . . . but we have lacked any meaningful game benefit that this can offer.  And as I've said, I don't want to fall back on hit points, morale, saving throws or any of the usual things that get modified in the game.

On wikipedia, under piti, there's an excellent distinction made between "happiness" and "bliss" that is attributed to the 5th century treatise, the Visuddhimagga:

"If a man exhausted in a desert saw or heard about a pond on the edge of a wood, he would have happiness.  If he went into the wood's shade and used the water, he would have bliss."

This is what we want the bard to produce in game terms.  Something that the players will identify only with the bard: some effect that only the bard can cause.

With our last post, we were discussing the varying qualities of Aristotle: that happiness makes us flourish, that happiness causes us to behave virtuously, that we embrace temperance, justice, the desire to better ourselves, the encouragement of efficiency, proficiency, friendship, worthiness and respect.

We were describing experience.  We just didn't think of that.

But this is what the bard gives: experience.  Having an evening with the bard creates that sense of bliss as we immerse ourselves into the performance.  It focuses us, it reminds us of why we persevere, the experience provides us with resolve, bravery, a sense of duty, a sense of strength and possibility . . . in short, ALL the characteristics that we associate with being better in battle, with standing up to the enemy and taking a hit for the crew that we work with, with potentially sacrificing ourselves to save a fallen comrade.

I have often argued that we can't give experience for things that don't contribute to being a better combatant . . . and yet I would argue that attending a show does make one a better combatant.  It gives us something to fight for.

I can see it quite clearly.  The benefit of the bard character is that it gives other characters experience.  And the bard, in turn, gets experience from other bards.

Ah, but how?

I see two paths.  We can call them Upekkha (or Upeksa, in sanskrit), the sense of peace and well-being (equinimity, composure, the state of being sublime) and Sukha (happiness, bliss).  For certain, those terms are not going to be confused with any other term used in D&D.

In terms of bardic performance, Upeksa is the feeling we get from encountering something familiar and immensely satisfying, or what we have already defined as "product" where it comes to bardic creation. Sukha is, therefore, the feeling we get from encountering "art" ~ something wholly new that astounds our senses and overwhelms our thoughts.  Take note that I am using the word "encounter" deliberately. Visiting a theatre or attending a concert is, in D&D terms, an encounter.

Now, that is going to mess some people up.  And some people will feel that I am going a long way to completely break the game.  But rest assured, I'm being very careful in what the effects will be of either Sukha or Upeksa.


Very well, our bard gets up in front of an audience at a local roadhouse or inn and gives a recitation of a familiar poem, or perhaps a poem that has made its impression on audiences before but is not overly known to this audience.  There are perhaps twenty, perhaps fifty persons in the common room, warming themselves by the fire, ending their conversation because poets are rare and poetry is appreciated in that culture like it will never be in ours.  What happens?

Nothing, right away.  The bard has co-opted someone else's art as product and, while having produced a warm and fuzzy feeling among the crowd, we are speaking of contentment and well-being.  We are not speaking of epiphany or the scattering of formerly possessed ideals.  We're not talking Archimedes running down a street naked.

But . . . the audience goes away from the performance affected.  They are warmer in their hearts, they are a bit more interested in the world around them, they are more attentive.  Our bard isn't the greatest of bards and the venue isn't the greatest of venues, but there has been a change.

We could stipulate that for the period of a week after the encounter, each person in attendance (the party included!) will gain +1% experience above anything they would normally gain.  That's not profound, that's not game breaking, but it is significant and the party will certainly not turn it down.  It is, of course, not cumulative.  Still, having a bard on tap, knowing that small bonus will be there as long as the bard is with the party, casting poems around the campfire before we turn in, will have its impact.  If the bard dies, the party will certainly notice a little bit more than they would losing a thief or a druid.

Of course, as the bard progresses in level, that percentage will increase also.  We already give a 10% bonus for having a better strength for a fighter or a better wisdom for a cleric; why not a 2-5% bonus for having a better bard?  It may only be an additional 20-50 points on every thousand, but it will be 20-50 points for every person in the party.  When thinking about the online Juvenis party right now, with four characters and five followers, that's 180-450 additional experience for every thousand gained.  That's not peanuts.

But let's take the next step.  What about improving the venue?

We were talking about the bard performing at a bar.  What about an open-air stage?  What about an enclosed theatre, an opera house?  And what if we are not just talking about any poem, discussed for a few minutes or half an hour, but an epic poem that takes an hour to tell.  What about an National Epic, memorized in its entirety, tailor-made for an audience that gets weepy every time it is heard (and being the 17th century, it isn't heard often).  What is the benefit from that?

I can see going as high as 15-20%, for the space of a week afterwards.  Such events would be spectacularly expensive, they might last only one performance or perhaps for a run of a week, like the Bayreuth festival (but in my world it is too early for Wagner).  It would be hard to seriously to keep attending something like this and still get any proper adventuring done . . . but imagining travelling seven hundred miles just to attend the festival.

And perhaps it might have a diminishing effect.  The most profound concert in Europe, given perhaps in Vienna, gives a 20% for the first week . . . and a drop of 1 or 2% for each week thereafter.  The players could space out on the bonus for months, making their plans to visit the same concert next year, every year.  THAT is granting something to the players that they really want.

Really, the potential is masterful.  Players are suddenly asking if there's a theatre in the city; they want to go to the city instead of the town because there might be something more.  The bigger the city, the more profound the encounter they might have.  And it is something else for them to spend their money on (at prodigious prices ~ it cost more than $350 to see Springsteen in concert in 2016).

Moreover, it gives something concrete for a bard to shoot at.


Now, this is different.  The benefits of Sukha can be obtained only once per artwork ~ and only from the artist actually responsible for that artwork.  So before Sukha can occur, the bard has to produce something personal and unique . . . and before that can happen, the bard has to get an inspiration and then work to make that inspiration happen.

That is a lot suddenly resting on top of the bard's being successful.  Now it isn't just getting the work finished.  Now it isn't the work bringing happiness or causing the locals to be more productive (though it might do that too).  Now it is the players waiting for the work to be done, because they are going to get experience from it.

Now the bard is hearing, "Is it done yet?  Is it done?"  And when the DM asks for the bard to roll the die to see if it is, every neck at the table is outstretched to see what the result is.

That's combat.  That's what happens with combat.

And because the bard's work isn't going to be accomplished with just one roll, there are going to be stages to the success of this thing.  And with each stage, the players get a little closer.

To make that work, the benefit for hearing the work has to be meaningful.  That is, if it works, right?  We talked about art not working.  If it doesn't, the bard won't be the only failure.  The whole party should be banging their heads on the table.

Want to know what it means to be an artist?  It means when we fail, everyone fails.  Just look at the favorite sport on the internet.

So what is that benefit?  Well, that depends on the amount of work done.  And that depends on how hard core the bard wants to be before risking total failure (and possibly an in-party lynching).  Working for a quick result might require two success rolls and then the final check against the stat indicated . . . and it might give 4% of the bard's total experience on hand to listeners (with some sort of adjustment for the level of the listener or lack thereof).  If the bard is first level and has a thousand experience, that's no big deal.  Oh, too bad, we lost 40 x.p.   Big whoop.

But let's say we have a poet that is more ambitious, deciding that this is going to be a serious poem, an epic.  There are going to be a series of 10 needed successful rolls that will extend the making of the poem to perhaps a year, until such time as the bard reaches 5th level and has a total of 20,000 x.p.  Suppose that the fallout from this poem will be 20% percent of the bard's total experience; that's 4,000 experience, bang, all in one swoop.  Wow, what a poem!

As I say, that would have to be reduced for characters of less than 5th level.  It could be argued they just don't "get it" ~ it is above their experience level.  Still, we could have an adjustment like two to the power of whatever the difference in levels was: so divided by 2 for 4th level, by 4 for 3rd level, by 8 for 2nd level, by 16 for 1st level and by 32 for the non-leveled persons.  This would still mean 125 x.p. for the common listeners.

The limitation is that each person hearing the poem can get this benefit only once (after which it becomes just another Upeksa), but there are virtually an unlimited number of persons the poem can be given to.

"Oh, just joined the party?  Oh, you must take some time and get the bard to recite his Clown's Panurge . . . it's fab!  You'll be changed, I promise you."


The potential changes here are enormous.  I was talking it over with my daughter just now and making jokes about the party rallying around the "culture stick" and screw the mage.  In my daughter's words,

"There are two characters hanging off a cliff and you can only save one.  Do you save the mage or the bard?"

I know that I am crazy half the time and that I am constantly raising the bar on the game to the point where most would find it impossible to run ~ but I'm just going to say that this is the most profound idea I think I've ever had.  It is nowhere near the "thread" I talked about yesterday.  Five hours ago I had not one iota of a wisp of a dream of this idea.

But now I think I'm the most brilliant person who ever wrote anything about D&D.  Feel free to just write "OMG" or "Wow" in the comments.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lurker's Corner ~ Protocols

I feel like I'm constantly having to bring up issues having to do with protocols during the online games, much more so that I feel like I'm doing while at a table. That is probably because I am doing it in text.  Still, it comes up a lot and, in text, it is quite frustrating.

Every game has protocols.  These are to stop people from attempting to edge the rules on any part of the game that might be too fuzzy to be covered by rules.  Eventually, any consistent edging requires the necessity for creating a rule just to manage that situation.  For example, take this one from major league baseball:

Rule 5.07(a): Pitchers may disengage the rubber after taking their signs but may not step quickly onto the rubber and pitch.  This may be judged a quick pitch by the umpire. When the pitcher disengages the rubber, he must drop his hands to his sides.

I like using baseball for examples because (a) it is a game and {b) virtually everyone has played it. Take note of the example given.  It demonstrates clearly that pitchers were frequently trying to get the better of the batter by subverting the batter's ability to be ready for the pitch.  In fact, it was getting so bad that pitchers would prepare their bodies for throwing a pitch while still off the rubber ~ thus the necessity for the rule where the pitcher must have his hands down and at his sides.

This gets fairly complicated:

Set Position shall be indicated by the pitcher when he stands facing the batter with his pivot foot in contact with, and his other foot in front of, the pitcher's plate, holding the ball in both hands in front of his body and coming to a complete stop.  From such Set Position he may deliver the ball to the batter, throw to a base or step backward off the pitcher's plate with his pivot foot.  Before assuming Set Position, the pitcher may elect to make any natural preliminary motion such as that known as "the stretch." But if he so elects, he shall come to Set Position before delivering the ball to the batter. After assuming Set Position, any natural motion associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without alteration or interruption.
Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 5.07(a)(2) (Rule 8.01(b)) without interruption and in one continuous motion.
The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop.  This must be enforced. Umpires should watch this closely. Pitchers are constantly attempting to "beat the rule" in their efforts to hold runners on bases and in cases where the pitcher fails to make a complete "stop" called for in the rules, the umpire should immediately call a "Balk."

In my game, I'm anxious to establish similar guidelines for player behavior.  For example, the assumption that a given player on a side goes first, when in fact someone else does due to position or dexterity.  Situations where players declare an attack and then throw the die before the attack is established as legitimate, possible or credible, forcing the DM to rescind a "great throw" on the player's behalf, because it was thrown at the wrong time.  This is always demoralizing in the game, with most of the blame falling on the DM who forces the players to "toe the rule" ~ something they don't mind doing when the mistimed roll is bad:

This I particularly dislike.  I would rather every roll made counted.  It sucks when players say, "I attack!" then rolls a natural 20, only to be told afterwards that they're nowhere near the opponent and the 20 doesn't count.  Follow the sighs of disappointment, "Aw!", then follow the next opportunity when the player rolls a 3.  I don't personally need this, the party doesn't need this, and it is easily contained by disallowing the players from making ANY rolls without confirmation first.

What many don't understand is that having protocols to control what's rolled and when actually saves time and keeps game play moving forward.  There are less arguments, less misunderstandings, less expectation that the campaign will be about "gaming the DM" and more effort made to just play.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Metrics of Happiness

My next struggle for the bard is creating a metric for performance, namely the effects of performance and the overall definition for how we see a performance from an amateur bard as opposed to an authority or an expert.  How, exactly, does a performance from a pleasant singer at the open mic night down the street compare with the professional who comes to sing for the local fair?  What is the difference between going to a concert to see the latest band climbing the charts and a chance at seeing Bruce Springsteen?

Again and again I find myself coming face to face with happiness and the need to create some sort of defining measure for it.  On the whole, there isn't need of one for the players.  The players are happy or they are not, depending on their feeling for the game, their sense of achievement, the anticipation of success or the concern about the death of their characters . . . but we don't need to create a number on their character sheets that defines whether or not they're happy.

Non-player characters, however, that's a different thing.  For the most part, no one has bothered because, well, who cares?  If the non-players get in the way, we kill them, and if they don't get in the way, good.  Why in the name of the game would we give a damn if any of them were happy?

I grant that.  The only reason I have at the moment is that the bard is going to want to get up in front of these non-entities and read poetry or sing a song, and it would be nice to know if the audience claps or not.  It would be nice to know if there was any reason to do it, beyond the bard saying, "Yes, I sang for them last night."  That's not much.  I mean, once or twice, we might be able to fool ourselves with our imaginations into thinking, "Cool, it was great being a bard last night," but that's not going to sustain itself through a whole campaign.  It will get sour fast.  Soon enough, the bard is going to not bother.

It would be pleasant if the bard had a reason to bother, which is what brings me around to happiness.  Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that a particular sort of bard was able to make a particular crowd happy to a particular degree.  And let's say that a better bard made everyone feel happier, and that a terrific bard made everyone positively joyful.  We might even be able to think of a collection of adjectives for seeing Springsteen.  I have it on good authority that people pay hundreds of dollars to see these things in order to have an experience that will last them the rest of their lives ~ that's got to count for something.

More to the point, seeing someone perform live can be a life-changing event.  People walk out of such events on the edge of making a decision about who they are and who they want to be.  We want to include that, yes?  We want the bard to feel the experience of creating that . . . and on some level, we want the bard to be able to see other, more fabulous bards, and experience that change for themselves.

Okay.  How?

Just now, no idea.  Working on it.  On the whole, happiness is a state of mind.  It has confounded philosophers for three millennia, not to mention a host of people tackling the subject from a biological, psychological, economic and artistic point-of-view.  We don't think old Alexis is going to solve it in a fortnight, do we?

Here is what I have.  Happiness makes us flourish.  That is, it causes us to do more than simply wallow in our happiness, it has a side effect of causing us to either continue doing the thing that makes us happy in exclusion to all else (hedonism) or it causes us to seek a means of keeping ourselves in a state of health and welfare that ensures we will never be unhappy again.  The latter interests me, since it is the most positive, practical aspect of what the bard might be able to cause: people work harder, they sing while they work, they fight less, they invest their money, they set up families, they strive for a better life, they explore, they invest in progress, they imagine a world that will be in existence after they've left it.  If the reader wants more, it is all there in Aristotle.

He has all this flourishing bound up with "virtue," which for most people in this culture is a sort of dirty word. The politics of Virtue has come to stand for every miserly, uptight, sanctimonious, pompous, anti-sexual voice that's ever been raised for the "good of the country" and "decency."  This is not what it meant to Aristotle. Mostly, to get to the meat of it, Aristotle meant virtue as not being stupid.  Temper your habits because untempered habits will fuck you over big time.  Be prudent in your decisions because too many stupid, rash decisions will ruin you.  Be courageous because cowards are hated by everyone and that will certainly make you miserable.  And be just, because if you treat others badly, they will most certainly make you pay for it.

Don't be stupid.  Which, if memory serves, will lead you into a life of efficiency, friendship, a sense of self-worth and, on the whole, someone respected in the community.  These four things will help ensure your happiness, as it is easy to be happy when you're prosperous, appreciated and respected.

Applying this to the bard.  We need to imagine our ordinary little bard, a poet say, getting up in front of a crowd at the local roadhouse, calling out for attention. I've already established in a previous post that our bard is somewhat talented ~ so it doesn't take long to get the attention of the room, given that the room is in a late medieval world where poetry is something not seen regularly and would be received like Beyonce randomly turning up at your local pub and being willing to belt out a song or two.

What happens?  Well, presumably, the bar fills up with people who have a good time.  And then they go away, back to their lives, and make decisions based on what they just experienced.

We know that for sure.  We know it, because we do it ourselves, all the time.

The question is, how to measure it?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Like an Artist

There are two key structures that I want to design into the bard character, and both were discussed in the comments section of the last post.  In this, I want to be clear: these rules are based upon what I see as the necessary elaboration of the bard character.  I've been pulled once (it is so hard to resist being an emotional being) into what is a bard and who is a bard, and I don't want to discuss that again.  I want to talk about the mechanics of making a bard work.  Esoteric discussions that do not involve metrics are actually of very little help.

I know that is bound to choke discussion, as I have found whenever I get into the metrics of something.  I am hoping, however, to obtain some understanding for my end goal with the bard.  Very well, down to the meat of it.

Art vs. Product

I'm taking the point of view that a bard, once reaching the status of being a 1st level, is a competent craftsperson.  They can play songs, write with efficiency and clarity, cook well, throw a pot, fashion leather, sculpt and so on.  It isn't a question of whether or not they can do these things well.  They can.  This is a fixed ability, not something that needs a roll to check.

Use this as a guideline: if a 1st level bard draws a lute out at a tavern and begins singing, people all around will enjoy the singing.  Again, it isn't a roll the bard needs to make to find out if people tell him to put the lute away.  They don't.  At first level, the bard is as competent as an average modern day artist who people read and go, "Hey, that fellow can write," or, "Wow, that picture looks just like me."

However, most of what the bard produces is "Product."  The songs sung at the tavern are familiar songs, the meter used to make the poem is a familiar meter, the story told by the puppeteer is well-known, the food is commonplace and recognizable.  And 99% of the time, this is what a bard does.  Bards take the stock forms of their individual skills and abilities and make proficient, workaday, conventional products therefrom.

As well, the bard never really moves away from this.  Bards have a small repertoire of things they know at 1st level and as they grow in level, that repertoire grows as well.  But it never stops being about producing product.  Shakespeare rewrote Marlow and used earlier works as his fundamental guidelines for churning out play after play, the Impressionistic crowd copied from each other, filmmakers borrow techniques, potters watch other potters, jewellers steal, everyone does it.  Over time, it only looks unique and artistic because most of the hoi polloi aren't sophisticated or engaged enough in the field to recognize the difference between something new and different and something regurgitated.

This can be a tremendous frustration for an artist, when something is celebrated as Brilliant and Unique, when in fact is it derivative of some style or particular work that has simply dropped sufficiently out of fashion that the 25-year-old reviewer has failed to acquaint themselves with it.  Those inside the profession, however, know; and so, too, do the creators themselves, who are perfectly aware of the stealing they've done and are also perfectly willing to keep quiet about it.  If the masses want to be duped, and want to give me money for duping them, then all the power to me.

All this, then, is product.  Art is what product steals from.

Art is what a bard does 1% of the time.  That up front needs to be understood clearly.  This is not a case of a bard deciding between A and B.  This is a case of a bard having to do A because B just isn't there.  The bard will absolutely rush to do B, the moment B presents itself, but so long as B is a fickle bitch, then A will have to do.

So when does "art" present itself?  Here we are looking for a specific word, that being "inspiration."  Art happens when the bard encounters inspiration, which isn't a case of just wanting it.  Inspiration has to be gotten ~ and regarding inspiration and the game of D&D, it needs to be gotten out there.

We can make a few guesses at what in D&D would be inspiration.  A legitimate near-death experience.  A magnificent undertaking that ends well.  Something horrific on the Lovecraftian level.  The death of a friend.  A love affair of note.  Something truly memorable.

But, no, the obtaining of an inspiration is not experience, it is not another level, it is in fact absolutely nothing but air.  Having an inspiration means almost nothing in terms of creating an art work.  Remember, 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.  All we are saying is that once the inspiration has been sought for and obtained, thereafter the bard has to figure out ~ in their capacity as the representative of a particular art form ~ how to make the inspiration real.

Success vs. Failure

Before we can talk about this, we have to define the difference between these two terms.  This, fundamentally, is what the last post was about, though I think that was missed by some.

It is almost habitual to think that "failure" means bad.  But remember, we are defining the bard as an able, competent artist, not a wannabe who someday is going to be able to make art.  That is nonsense.  J.D. Salinger was only in his late 20s when he wrote Catcher in the Rye ~ which, for all its faults, is without a doubt a distinct, different voice in literature.  We only fail to see that because is in not 1951, when the book was published.  But Salinger was certainly not a 9th level writer.  However much we want to believe the equation that Level = Art, we need to get away from that concept.  The real equation is that Work = Art. Characters with level only have more resources, and therefore the capacity to create larger pieces of art, more expensive pieces of art, pieces of art that require dozens or hundreds, even thousands of participants.

Moreover, resources mean distribution and notoriety.  Quality is not, in itself, a guarantee of notice.  Very often, "art" as I've defined it is often so different, so obscure, so uncomfortable, that it is only understood by other artists . . . who in turn make product out of it that is less different, less obscure, less uncomfortable, and therefore more easily consumed.  This formula is so completely misunderstood by non-artists, despite the endless works that try to describe it, that it is strangely "natural" to think that good artists will automatically be recognized as such.

To use an example from a different field, it has been said that Newton's Principia Mathematica was incomprehensible to nearly everyone who read it, even other mathematicians.  But because it is math, even ignorant people are by and large willing to accept that the book is highly valuable.  Yet at the same time, we encounter no hesitation whatsoever to call great artworks "worthless" and "shit" when they prove too hard to read.  "Yeah, War and Peace. Why would anyone ever read that?"

From this, I postulate that "failure" does not mean bad.  We could rather argue that failure implies a disconnect between the artist and the audience, even with other artists.  An artwork that inspires no one to produce product certainly falls short of affecting anyone.

There is another "failure" that is worth noting, that I did touch upon with the last post.  That is, the failure to get the result wanted.  Let us say that I produce a song about the solitude of individuals facing a terrible oppressive nation, to offer solace to the few intelligent men who, like me, feel helpless in the face of a mighty exploitive entity.  And much to my unhappiness, I discover that this book is embraced, nay, publicly celebrated by the united forces of the KKK, who claim it as the modern bible of their cause.

What am I to do?  My name is now certainly being exploited by an entity over which I have no control, while at the same time every stranger I meet presumes immediately that I must be part of the KKK because I wrote the book for them.  Talk of the solitude in the face of an oppressor.  My career is over, my name is over . . . the most I can do is change my name and hope I can disappear into obscurity.  That is, if I haven't put my picture on the cover of my book.

"Success," then, is the opposite of all this.  Success is communicating, success is inspiring others to make product, success is not having one's name spoiled or being misunderstood, not being vilified and not being burned in effigy.  And, potentially, getting a little money out of it too.  Perhaps a little fame, but this is the 17th century and without the benefit of mass media, fame is in small packets.  We all know the name of Cyrano de Bergerac, technically alive at the time my world takes place, but it is probable that most of the people living in Paris had never heard of him, certainly most of the people in the countryside of France hadn't and only a tiny percentage of people outside of France would have ever read him.  About the same number of people who have read him today.  Yes, we know who he was, but have you read his Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon? ~ had you even heard of it?  Can you confirm without a doubt that I'm not inventing that title without looking him up?

Creating Art

We want a metric that will let the bard character, once having obtained the inspiration, to create an artwork without having to actually create the artwork.  But we also want that character to have some influence over what the artwork will be, how big it is, what it's general tone and subject will be and what general direction of effect it will have.

I propose that we use the universal condition of all D&D characters, the character stats.  A bard looks over the options presented and decides what to take a chance on ~ because, yes, while the quality of the art is not in dispute, the reputation and comprehension of the art is.  But before we get to that, let's define the stats in terms of artwork.

Charisma is obviously beauty, the awe-inspiring pleasure of form and appeal that causes the viewer to drop jaw and stare.  Of course, the opposite is there as well, the desire to horrify, to force others to turn away, like Hieronymus Bosch, to use a relatively contemporary example.  Opposites apply to all the art forms that can be made - and success does not depict necessarily beauty or ugliness, but which the bard desires.

Constitution is health, the patriotic, the celebratory depiction of the present culture, religion or state.  It is also the demise of the state, anarchy, subversion, treason and rebellion.

Dexterity is difficulty, intricacy, the making of something that seems so absurd in its construction that it cannot possible stand, or something that the human body cannot possibly do; or making a tool do something that no one could have imagined was possible.  It is also the pure naturalness of form, of movement, of perfect ease and embrace.

Wisdom is educational, it is making the viewer, listener or subject aware of what has happened, how things work, how the universe functions, what is truth.  And it is also what is not truth, it is fantasy, it is strangeness, it is using the preconceptions of the mind to subvert the mind.

Intelligence is the call to think, to see, to obtain realization, to seek paths of greater understanding, to investigate, to ask questions, to insist that there is more than what we understand.  And it is tradition, ignorance, hate, resistance against reason, the insistence that investigation is evil and that things should be taken on faith.

Strength is strength; it is military might, it is a call to arms, it is compelling, bombastic, it is marching music, it is beating feet and booming drums, it is sinew and force of will and personal success.  It is also weakness, pandering, the denial of personal responsibility . . . and it is porn, it is debauchery, it is hedonism and lust, it is all the crutches that people lean upon because they are too weak to endure.

Some can take that list as moralistic.  I'm not too worried about that, I'm only interested in a metric for defining.  That is because, once we hammer out rules for what makes an inspiration into an artwork, we need rules for what effects an artwork has.

And we can begin those rules by saying that AFTER the artwork is made, after it is released, the character makes a check on the ability they have chosen.

Most characters will play it safe.  Bards have a high wisdom and a high charisma, it will be safest to make artworks that play to those abilities.  But whatever they case, they'll have to do the work before they can know if the work was in vain or not, or what the outcome will be.

THAT is the player understanding what it means to be a bard.  That we are inspired, we pick our chosen message, we pick our form, we start the work, we keep at the work, we finish the work . . . and all the while, we're not sure.  Will it work?  Will it?

It is easy for a player to say, "I write a song," then throw a die and know.

What if we make the player wait to roll.  What if the player has to sacrifice time for session after session, until at some point in the future, the time comes for the die to be cast.  What will that feel like?

It will feel like an artist.