Thursday, September 28, 2017

Trade Number Crunching

So.  This is hard to explain.

For more than two weeks, I have been putting all my energy towards a rebuild of one key part of my trade table.  I'm not changing any of the math, I'm only adjusting the manner in which the excel file is built.  The part I'm fixing corresponds to the calculation of transport against references.  See the link for a file that can be downloaded; the key page is the "New Master" tab.

Now, why anyone would care, I don't know; but I've been working on this day and night to the exclusion of all else, as long as 12 hours a day when I have the whole day.  I started on Friday the 15th.  I'm still working on it.  I guess this has been 62-68 hours of continuous work.  Why?  Because it is manually rewriting more than 40,000 excel entries.

Previously, the "master" page that accounted for all production for all market cities was a simple chart, 892 products across the top of the page and 1,067 market cities down the left side.  This made a chart of 951,764 cells, mostly empty, with about 5% of the cells filled with references.  When I wanted to calculate the distance effect on references, as shown on the wiki link, I had to multiply the whole list of cities against all the cells (because it wasn't feasible to pick and choose cells is such a large field), which was getting incomprehensibly slow and file crashing for my computer to manage.

And, of course, the problem was only going to get worse, because I had to add more markets: Burma, all of Great Britain, Iceland and part of Africa - a total of another 150 markets.  Something had to change.

So, now I have built the table so that it sorts each kind of product into its own individual chart; the calculation is made automatically when the distances are input into the file (as can be seen on the downloaded link) and added together.  I will then add another page that correlates the individual products so that it can be compared with the prices table.

This actually reduces my mechanics by one whole file, as it compresses two files into one (don't worry about it, it would take me too long to explain those files).  Plus it adds information, as now the user can go down the list and see where the largest amount of imported value is coming from.

I offer this for geeks only. Most of you just won't care, won't get anything out of the excel file, won't understand why I'm doing this.  But it is definitely better.

I'm pretty close now to getting all the data recalculated; but most of that is on another file, not linked, sorted but not actually pasted onto the new folder.  It has been a long, long effort.  I'm pretty tired of just crunching numbers.  But this is the reason I haven't been writing much; unlike making monsters, which screams blog material, rewriting numbers into new fields and organizing data, not so much.

I'll be done this soon, however, and looking for something else to do.  I think, in the future, it will be easier to add new markets to my trade tables, and that is what I want right now.  Earlier, I had to pretty much do big chunks of new data all at once, basically waiting to collect a chunk before updating everything.  Now I should be able to do one city at a time, very easily.

I'm really glad about this.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Those Who Quit the Game

This is an answer to Silberman's question, too long for a comment.  It also addresses Joey Bennett's comment on another post.

Some are not going to like this post ~ but that is, in many ways, the point.  As participants, we're often blinded by the things we enjoy.  And if someone comes along and challenges that enjoyment, we're inclined to get mad.

Now, patiently, consider a noob's first encounter with an RPG.  I don't mean this as a disparagement.  I was a noob, the readers here were all noobs, there's nothing wrong with being a noob.  We have to be noobs before we can be anything else.  But think about your first encounter with the game; or your first few encounters, if it took more than one to make your head buzz just before messing with your mind.

Different, right?  A really different and positive experience, one that hit out of the blue, that you weren't expecting, that rewrote the scale on things you thought you could enjoy.  Bang, it blew your head off and since then you've still been reeling.

Yes, we've gotten more experience, we're deeper in the game now, we're a bit jaded and we're thinking about some bigger things than those first few experiences ... but the real point I want to make is this:  how many people out there are really willing to believe that this game could be a LOT better than the terrific, tremendous game they've already encountered?

I'm thinking not many.  I think people automatically jump to the conclusion that this terrific game ~ played at the rather simplistic standard of your average Reddit bulletin board ~ CAN'T possibly be any better than it is.  That would be ... unimaginable.  And so they leap to the conclusion that a change in the game, any change, must be a change that will ruin this fantastic, incomprehensible thing.

This is what blinds them.  This is what makes them dig their heels into the dirt and scream bloody-blue murder against change of every kind.  The stubborn, foolish, myopic resistance built from too much love for the game.  I don't believe it's disinterest.  I think it is fear.  The response against "improvement" is too earnest, too political and personal, too universal to be anything but fear.  Any close examination of the discussion sites (and after my melt-down last week I spent many hours forcing myself to look more closely at all that toxic shit) reveals answers to questions that graphically deviate from the subject, that rapidly break down into flame wars and threats, that reveal individual malevolence and righteousness over relatively mild issues, all in a way that reflects the way terrified people react when something they love is threatened.

We here, we casually talking about playing the game outside the comforting acronym RAW [rules as written], we're not a threat to their campaigns or their player's interest, we're a threat to the whole system ... no matter how small and impotent we are.  If we keep talking like this, we're going to ruin role-playing.

Point in fact, however, I've been describing the noobs that never move on from being noobs, as Joey Bennett put it.  There's another group: noobs who really don't like this game that much.  They play for a while, mostly with the unchanging noobs, see that the game is fairly repetitive and they quit.  By the thousands.  We know it is so because bookstores and the net are full of people trying to sell the shit they purchased, that they know they're never going to use again.  We know it is so because we can all personally list a long string of names of people we know quit the game.  We don't like to talk about it.  We like to call those people dumb or lost or just misguided.  In fact, they are the anti-thesis of us.  They're people who did not think the game changed the scale for entertainment.

They wanted more and the game wasn't good enough.

Okay.  Let that sink in.  We've grown comfortable dismissing those people but let's try to embrace their thinking for a moment.  They were able to quit, wash their hands of the game and move on.  Why?

Because, I think, they were able to clearly see the problems with the game, such as the interminable dullness of repeated role-playing conversations that appeal to a base need for personal importance and grandiosity, but in fact serve no real purpose.  The blatant and obvious fudging of dice and circumstances by DMs who were clearly yanking a party's chain from personal glee.  The fucked up and confusing nature of point-buying systems that require a sickening kind of munchkinism to care about.  The endless bugs in rules that don't make sense or can't be changed, which are myopically exploited by players and DMs alike to create a sludge of "simulative" dreck.

I think those players who quit see all the same troubles and brokenness in the system that WE see, except that they don't in turn see any way - or motivation - to fix them.  What the quitters do see, however, is that in many, many, many ways, play by the rules is a total waste of time.

Their eyesight is clear.

So is ours.  But we have hope.  We think the game could be better; we're not satisfied with what it is now and we're willing to struggle, however much we can, to find improvements.  To choose systems that definitely seem better than other systems.  To drop rules.  To reconsider the importance of role-playing and rules surrounding role-playing.  And in my case, to massively draft rule after to rule to fill holes in the old, rotten ice where people want to skate.

Want perspective?  Stop looking at why people love the game and start seeing why people quit.  I think this comes with time, IF you're the sort who doesn't embrace the game like a faith, but like a game.  The time spent playing isn't enough in itself; you've got to push yourself.  Cooks don't become better cooks by finding one restaurant and working at the same menu all their lives.  They quit and go work somewhere else, where they learn new things, experience new kinds of management and tools, find different co-workers and push themselves to be different now that they're in a different place.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Measuring Yourself as a DM

I'll ask you to take the time to figure out the total amount of time you've spent actually running as a DM. Make a guess.  Take the total number of years you've been trying this.  Then figure out approximately how many times a month you've spent sitting in the DM's chair.  Then make a reasonable guess at how many hours each running lasted.

Suppose we take a baseline candidate: we'll call him Paul.  Paul has been running for two years.  For about four months at the beginning, he ran about five times.  Then he ran every week for about six months, for a total of 26 more times.  In the last year, he's run once every two weeks, about another 26 times.  Paul has run 57 times.  Paul figures these runnings have been about 4 to 5 hours long. We'll say 4.5 and multiply that by 57, for a total of 256 hours.

57 sessions sounds like a lot.  But let's compare it with something else.

Last year, Paul got a job as a full-time line-cook at 37.5 hours a week.  They gave him two weeks cross-training on most of the kitchen stations ~ 75 hours ~ and then got him settled on one station, where he stayed for twelve weeks: 450 hours.  Paul had never worked as a cook before, so it took most of that time for him just to get comfortable with the restaurant: to learn the menu, to barely master the most basic of knife skills, to physically adapt to the temperature on the line and get used to being around very hot surfaces and a lot of boiling substances, like oil.  Paul's hands are nicked and cut up, he's got little burns everywhere and he hasn't even remotely begun to develop the calluses a cook gets on the hands and fingertips.  To the rest of the kitchen, at 525 hours under his belt, Paul was a NOOB.

But Paul kept at it.  He's been working for 52 weeks now, with not many days off (cooks rarely get holidays, because they don't get paid for them).  We'll say a week of sick days and lost hours.  Paul knows this restaurant, now.  He's had a total of 1,912.5 hours at the job and guess what: if Paul were to go work another restaurant, one he doesn't know, it would take him another four months to get comfortable there.  It takes me three months and I have 14 years experience; and I'm really smart, as my boss keeps telling me all the time, given the morons she will describe to me.

If Paul puts out his resume and claims one year of experience, no one in the business will think he's experienced.  They might hire him if he's young and eager-looking and is prepared to work for poor wages; but they won't think he's experienced.

Now, the reader should go ahead and look into their own industry and occupation and ask themselves if a year experience is treated as "experienced."

How many years does it take before you're a veteran?  On the whole, I'd say about four years.  7,600 hours. On the job.  Talking specifically about the time spent actually doing that job.

Here's the point.  You tell yourself you're not a "good" DM.  You hold yourself to that standard.  Well, maybe you're not.  But if the reason includes your coming up with a number of hours less than 2,000, then give yourself a break.

With DMing, you haven't got anyone there to train you.  You haven't anyone standing next to you telling you how to make a map or build an adventure.  You've got no paycheque, no intrinsic threatening motivation to make yourself run or improve at running.  No one is there to say if you don't get your shit together, you're fired.  You're free to learn at your own pace, which practically guarantees your pace is zero movement unless you're obsessed.

Give yourself a break.  You're putting in hours, you're learning, you're watching people play, you're getting something out of every session: and if you don't prove yourself to be a genius with 1,100 hours under your belt, get off your own back.  You're being stupid about this.

Making a sandwich isn't hard, dropping fries into a fryer isn't hard, mopping a floor isn't hard.  But if you're not used to doing it really, really fast, yes, you're going to have trouble adapting to the work.  It takes time to see the big picture.

DMing isn't hard, either.  But it's strange, it's complicated, there's a lot to remember.  It takes time to see the big picture.

Give yourself a break.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

We Among the Left and Right

Calling someone a name serves to bolster ourselves.  We might imagine that, metaphorically, when we call someone "stupid" or "reprehensible" that we look to left and right to see those others who agree with us.  We expect to be agreed with ~ that's the point in using a label.  We presume that our tribe will also see those people as silly.  Or reprehensible.  Or, as came up today, "elitist."

No one stops and thinks before using a label what the label really means.  It's a gut response.  I hear something that sounds like I might personally be disenfranchised from something and immediately I slap an elitist label on that thing.  It is a terrifically safe label!  There will always be others to the left and right who are also afraid of being disenfranchised, so I am certainly in good company.  And that's what elitists do; they create rules and restrictions, measurements and boundary lines, just to keep out people who are "good enough."  You there.  Yes, you.  Get out of here.  You're not good enough.

As a personal right, we have decided at this late date in civilization that achievement, experience, training, perseverance and personal effort have no right to disenfranchise people who have achieved nothing, experienced little, despised training, quit and have as yet achieved nothing of note.  That is how our society has chosen to define "equality."

If my death is mourned by hundreds of people, that is in no way proof that I lived a better life, that I gave more to my community or that my effort to be a better human deserves recognition.  The fellow who dies and is not discovered until the neighbors begin to complain about the smell, who is tagged and buried without anyone noticing except the services compelled to deal with the body, is just as good a person, just as important, just as valuable as I am.  That is what equality means.

And all the people on our left and all the people on our right who are terrified that it might not be true are shouting elitist just as loudly as they can, in the hopes that the noise will drown out reason.

Yet, in spite of the name-calling, we live in a fantastically elite society, where every move and action of the few noticed, "important" people of the world are given free rein to be as abusive, selfish, smug, profligate, physically aggressive and incorrect as they wish to be, because they are well-known.  Celebrities beat their spouses, scream racist epithets, get hauled into court for sentences that are a joke, casually make plans to disenfranchise tens of millions of people from health care and nothing happens.  Nothing happens.  They lose a few hours of playing sports or have to give up a few thousand of their millions of dollars or they get elected again, and we rush off to see them play a game or perform in a film and we're happy to be there.  Because the society is so elitist we're disassociated from it.

Let the guy in the next blog window, the guy with no power, the guy whose name you will never think of again, say something about why inexperienced people shouldn't be given a voice, and hatred of elitism will rain from the sky ~ for ten or fifteen minutes.  But let the actual people in power, who have guns in their holsters, drag people from their cars and beat them to death with a methodical terrorist agenda to disenfranchise millions of people, and yeah, well, the world's not fair.

The name callers of the world fight the battles they think they can win.  That's the point of it.  There's a risk in saying Chris Brown is an asshole for beating the shit out of Rihanna because one of the people on the left or right might still like Chris Brown.  That might start a fight.  And whatever, it's not like Chris Brown is going to stop being famous or rich or completely oblivious of me.  I really can't win that fight.  But this no-name dude on the internet, who has written a 23-word sentence on a chat window, HIM I think I can take.  So I gear up and take him because, well, he's within my reach.

Because we do live in an elitist society and we know what's in our reach.  We know it instinctively.  We don't have to be told.  All we want is to pretend it isn't so.  It isn't real.  I'm just as good as anyone else, certainly as good as Chris Brown and all the other famous people who are free to spew whatever bullshit they want because they're famous.  Maybe ~ hey, maybe ~ one day I might even get lucky enough to be one of those celebrities.

So we tell ourselves.  So don't tell us the fence is there to keep us out.  It's there to keep other people out, not us.  We're just as good as anyone.  Even if we are just a made-up avatar on the internet.  Among hundreds of others, just like us, above and below us in the chat window.  Fighting each other to make sure that none of us faceless, bodiless, disposable people here on the ground ever think of ourselves as better than our "equals."

My, my, my, we've got to fight so hard for this "equality" thing, or we might just lose it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Tommy's Son

From the net, I recently learned that Kiefer Sutherland is in some awful television show in which he is the President of the United States.  From the look of the trailer, it looks like Jack Bauer of 24 got elected; I wonder if he's going to be shoving any towels down the opposition leader's throat.

I have a bit of a soft spot for Sutherland, though I would never watch any of the awful shows he does.  It has some to do with his dad, Donald Sutherland, who is undeniably one of the great actors of the past five decades.  But in a much bigger way, it has to do with Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather.

Donald Sutherland married an actress, Shirley Douglas, who is immediately recognizable to any Canadian born before 1970.  And as it happens, every time I cut something open and get stitches, every time I need a broken bone set, every time I need anything from a hospital, which I will certainly get for FREE, because I am a Canadian citizen, I have Shirley Douglas' father to thank.

Because Tommy Douglas was the Father of Medicare in this country.  Beginning in the 1940s, Douglas led a long-standing charge to make legalized, paid-for medical care the standard in a part of the world little remembered on the world stage: a province named Saskatchewan.  Saskatchewan is as big as Texas; in the 1940s, it barely had 0.8 million people; today, 70 years later, it has 1.1 million people.  In Saskatchewan, that's progress.

In Alberta, we have a joke about Saskatchewan that any Albertan will understand immediately.  "What is the first thing you see after you cross the Saskatchewan border?  Manitoba."

Yet Tommy Douglas was a powerful speaker.  He was a socialist speaker.  A brilliant speaker.  By sheer force of will, he would ~ through those people he influenced ~ bring this entire country around to his way of thinking.  

"Saskatchewan was told that it would never get hospital insurance. Yet Saskatchewan people were the first in Canada to establish this kind of insurance, and were followed by the rest of Canada. We didn’t have Medicare in those days. They said you couldn’t have Medicare – it would interfere with the ‘doctor-patient relationship’. But you people in this province demonstrated to Canada that it was possible to have Medicare. Now every province in Canada either has it or is in the process of setting it up.
"And you people went on to demonstrate other things with your community health clinics. You paved the road, blazing a trail for another form of health service, to give people better care at lower cost. You did these things. You have demonstrated what people can do if they work together, rather than work against; if you build a cooperative society rather than a jungle society."

That's Tommy.  And while I've been careful to use the last names of his descendants through this piece, I remember growing up when the man needed no other name to define him.  If my grandfather, who was born, who lived and who died in Saskatchewan, started talking about what Tommy said, he meant Tommy Douglas.

And now his grandson, a Canadian, is the President of the United States.

I'm so proud.


Not speaking to this audience here ~ I know most of you are lifers or near-lifers ~ but I wonder if the reason why places like bulletin boards, facebook groups and reddit are so screwed up in their role-playing thinking is because they're dominated by people who will only play the game for a year or two.

How much of the community is dominated by these noobs?  Since noobs make the best customers for the game company, is their importance being artificially inflated?

It seems to me that these noobs drive most of the conversations about the same noob-related content: how does alignment work, what races are cool, does anyone have an idea for an adventure, etcetera.  It seems to me that this noob-talk forces all dialogue into the same, tired avenues perpetually, as noobs get excited, buy a bunch of stuff, get frustrated and drop out of the community, only to be replaced by more ignorant noobs.

Can anyone think of another past-time where noobs dominate the field?

Is this choking good game play?


I'm being told by some angry people that this smacks of elitism.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

9 Answers that Don't Say You Like Me

I am perpetually getting this sort of explanation for why some posts don't get comments:
"... and I still don't know what I would say in response to it. Well, I can at least fell comfortable saying "bravo." ... BTW, this is a common occurrence after reading your longer winded thoughts and, I have long suspected, a reason why your best posts so often suffer from a lack of comments ..."

I'm choosing to believe people just don't know how to comment without sounding "sycophantic" ... which is something people also complain about to me all the time: "I would have said it was amazing, but I didn't want to sound s~"

So here are 9 possible choices for answers to a blog post that don't expressly say "I liked this" or "It was great" ~ statements that apparently make people here feel stupid, even though tremendously stupid-minded blogs I have seen have this stated dozens and dozens of times in the comments fields.  I am often in awe of how some addlepated blog meanderings get described as "brilliant post!" without anyone feeling sycophantic.

Oh well.

I suggest the gentle reader should try one of these.  They are expressed in the reader's first person.

1.  This made me think.  I [formerly believed/still believe] that [my opinion] was true.  This [has/hasn't] given me reason to change my mind.  But I may be wrong.
Probably isn't an excuse to build up an argument or otherwise derail the comment into a long-winded description of your point-of-view, unless you can back it up with sources or sound, a priori reasoning.  But a simple statement one way or the other is perfectly fine.

2.  After reading this, I went to the [text/source/video] that you linked.  Here's what I found.
Simple, elegant, expands the conversation and brings the point back to the same inspiration that got me writing the post. Certainly looks like you hold your own in the conversation.

3.  This was something I [had/hadn't] heard before.  I [thought/had heard/had read] that [the point in question] was such-and-such, and not what you're saying here.  [Optional]: I have examples: [quote].
I haven't read everything or seen everything, so I'm always interested in someone else having the same idea or printed material which states categorically the opposite of what I'm saying.  I'm not really interested in someone's blog, but anything that is formally published material is of great interest.

4.  Hm.  I found my attention especially drawn to [this point] and [this point].
Does not expressly state if the points were agreed with ~ but it does help me zero in one what resonates with people who read the blog.

5.  Regarding [this point].  Would you be willing to elaborate further?
This one is a danger because trolls love to press this button.  I've found in the past that a troll will keep asking me to write more and more about a subject, just to see how many words I will pile upon words.  So I can't say that I'll necessarily oblige, but it is always nice to be asked ~ and if I am asked in a particular encouraging way, I'll probably step up.

6.  If [this] and [this] were true, it would probably mean [this].  Have I got that right?
Not everyone has the art of speculation in their veins ~ but speculation is a terrific conversation driver and I encourage it.  Even if you're completely out to lunch, there's the old argument that there are no bad ideas except not speaking.  A bad idea can often get good ideas going, since deconstructing ideas, both bad and good, solves problems.

7.  You once talked about this before [link if it can be find].  Has your opinion changed over the years?  Will it change?
Taking my temperature is a good way to get a back and forth started.  Giving your temperature as well, if you're up for it, is better - but perhaps you can get me to say something you'll feel more comfortable commenting upon.

8.  As long as you were willing to talk about [this], do you have an opinion on such-and-such?
I'm always hunting for new subjects for a post.  It can't hurt to give me one.  If I start getting a lot of them, obviously, I'll pick and choose - but I might get to everything eventually.  Remember, I started all these posts about monsters because a single reader mentioned that I had never written down my rules about dragons.

9.  A point I'll support.  I linked this to my [blog/facebook/twitter/whatever].
Positively the best thing in the world you can do for me, apart from supporting me on Patreon.  Being told that I'm liked or that a post of mine is liked is a very small thing.  Being willing to step up and connect YOUR NAME with something I've said is HUGE.  If you want to tell me how much you liked something I wrote, try this.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Say It

In the context of a proposed history podcast (because life continues), I have communicated some with a regular reader here who responded to the linked post.  We have been talking and this is something we're interested in doing.  It wouldn't be role-playing driven, though we might mention RPGs ... it would be the more difficult pretext of spitballing historical events, patterns and geography: either a particular moment, or a process that covers a lot of periods and cultures, or a specific cultural region.

We've been talking about an overview of the history of Korea, most likely from the late 1800s, in light of recent events ~ considering most people have little to no idea why or even when the peninsula was subdivided.

This reminded me of a Sam Kinison cameo in the 1986 film, Back to School, which was a fairly intellectual romp featuring Rodney Dangerfield.  Still a lot of fun.

No doubt about it.  I hold History sacred also.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Shot in the Head

Some who are connected with me on Facebook know that it's my birthday today.

I'm not going to stop blogging, not going to stop working on D&D and not going to give up the agenda.  But I definitely needed a break.

A lot of people have told me lately that every field has its morons and jerks, and that's right.  I never thought otherwise.  My chief problem isn't that the community is filled with morons and jerks; it is that other fields also include academics, experts and people of influence, who could conceivably find me worthy of inclusion ~ as has happened when I had taken time to be in theater, film, music and journalism.  Hell, I've met people like Colm Meaney, Rick Mercer and B.B. King (seriously) in a professional, laid-back, everyday manner. But there's no one like this that's meetable in role-playing games.  It's a wasteland.

Every once in awhile I get a cold slap in the face that reminds me that I picked a field that is intellectually shot in the head.  That was not a good decision; but I made it when I was young and stupid and thought this game could change the world.

Stuck now.  Not going to go out and do theatre now (though I could, I did a little acting in 2014 to pump up money for taking How to Run to Toronto).  Journalism, as it happened, was also shot in the head in 2009. I know only one film maker and, though he's great, a wonderful, talented guy, going places, he's not going to find work for me.

So here I am.

I've always really liked my birthday.  I guess that's because I'm a narcissist.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Stream of Consciousness

Sometimes I write just to figure things out.

I write about four hours a day.  That's counting time spent on the blog, on the wiki, on things of my own interest, writing answers to emails and writing cover letters so that I can get myself a better job.  Some days I write more than four hours; rarely are there days when I write less than one.

I never spend a day when I'm not on a computer.  I get up in the morning and I sit at my computer and drink my coffee, watch the news and think of things to watch or read until I feel awake.  If I'm feeling low, after that I'll play a game, unless of course I have to go out and give my time to someone else.  If I'm feeling good, and I have the day free, I'll settle in to working around noon.  After that, most days when I have the day, I don't stop until I go to bed.

I take breaks.  I walk for an hour.  I give my Tamara a massage or we sit and talk for an hour, or we make plans for much longer; but when those plans are done I sit right back here and go right back to work.  Tamara loves me and she understands.  She likes watching me work and she likes what I do.

I figure I've spent about 1,000 hours this year, this far, writing.  I write more today than I did five years ago, or probably any time in my life.  I'm clearer.  I can think of more things to write about.  My mind seems to be endlessly fertile.  I get ideas all the time.  More often than not, I'm get to working on something in exclusion of my ideas and they are lost to the wind.  And I don't mind, because I know another idea will come.

These last seven or eight months, I've been seeing a counselor.  I know, I know, I said in July I was going to stop talking about my private life and I'll keep to that as best I can.  Just to cover some fundamental details, my father is in permanent care in a hospital for Alzheimers.  He thinks he's in the year 2046 and that he's being watched by aliens.  It is extraordinarily difficult to visit him.  I'm living in a bad situation right now, not one I would choose to live in.  I can't get a job that treats me with respect.

And I can't seem to write this damn book about Herzog and Ruchel, that I call the Fifth Man.

More than anything, I've been seeing the counselor about that.  About why I can't write this book.  We've talked our way all around it, in fifteen different ways, and it just doesn't seem to get anywhere.  I haven't seen the counselor since the beginning of August and at that time, we agreed, it just isn't going anywhere.  He suggested I should take a long break and think.

I've been thinking.  Those sessions had some value.  I would think about things and feel a release of stress and begin to work on the book.  I took myself back to the beginning of it and worked through the 17 chapters to the present all over again, reworking the second draft, then felt ready to refinish the book by writing from chapter 17 to the end.

Then, nothing.  Nothing.  Ten weeks now.  Nothing.  I look at that notification on the blog and I want to tear it down, make it go away.  My readers see that notification and wonder.  I can't take it down.  But it is eating the shit out of me and I don't know why I can't write this book.  I can write and write and write about anything else, everything else, comfortably, peaceably, enjoying the process of writing, not feeling short of words or that I'm struggling, but not with this.  Just not.

I've had these things happening lately.  These frustrating, ego-wrecking things, not my fault, just shit going on around me I had a long time friend on the Internet go nuts on facebook a month ago, doing that thing a lot of us saw after Chancellorsville, comparing the racists against the liberals and treating them like two sides of the same coin, false equivalency ... and it hurt because he went straight to that aggressive place where he struck for the most hurtful arguments he could reach for; and I unfriended him and left it there, okay, happens, no big deal.

I got into the fight with an artist about an image I used for the monsters on the wiki, not a very good image, not really, but of course I took it down immediately; and then I gave an answer and got back this level of vitriol, unbelievable vitriol, from the artist's wife of all people, real 4chan stuff ... and I laughed and blocked the thing and didn't answer.  And again, no big deal.

Then there was that thing with the Pathfinder wiki, which shouldn't challenge my sense of wellbeing; connor gave me a great response to that, saying that "Very little of it is home brew collaboration" ~ and that made me feel better, definitely better, so it really isn't a big deal, it isn't.

And yesterday a friend put my Wishes entry off the wiki onto a private DM site on facebook, which I applied for and got into, and ... oh gawd.  Nearly 200 comments of people who clearly did not read the post (there was no impact on the viewer numbers), spewing the most toxic D&D crap imaginable, no one talking about anything I said because clearly no one went to the link, but immediately exploding into endless self-righteous bullshit about rules as written and I do this and I do that, and no one listening or seriously responding to anything that anyone else wrote, just there to write to see their own words in print.  Awful.  Really awful.  Just the sort of thing that convinces me the community is broken, hopelessly broken, beyond broken.  A lot of hateful, spoiled brats.

And no big deal.  Nothing to do with me.  But I've been looking at D&D today and wondering, where would I be if I had been interested in anything else?  If I had a blog about real estate or economics or fishing, anything else.  Where would I be?  Because just now I am seeing this hateful bullshit on the net and trying to deal with having connected myself to this, this albatross, this painted ship on a painted ocean, writing four hours a day for the same 250 people, with no hope of ever reaching anyone else, ever bringing about any change, ever getting this damn bird off my fucking throat.

Where would I be?  What if I just went and spent ten years writing about something else, to someone else, to adults, to people who can talk about their interest without having to hide their face in shame, without having to explain every time that yes, I'm actually designing a game, yes, I'm wasting my time, apparently, because I'm not writing a blog about Canadian politics or the aerial photography or theatre arts.  What am I doing here?  With this?  What?

I'm so inaccessible, you know?  So inaccessible.  I can be calm and friendly and answer questions and give the best help I can, but I can't seem to get myself down to where I'm dumb enough to be popular.  Even now, this, this strange thing I'm doing, this writing, where my hands are flying over the keyboard like I'm playing piano, and it feels like music to me ... this thing I'm doing ... it's more words than I'm supposed to write.  I'm over a thousand words now and I've been writing for all of 25 minutes, just 25, no pauses, no breaks, the music just pouring out, pouring steady, stream of consciousness ... just trying to work out a thing that's been on me all day.

If I can't be popular, is there a way I could at least write about something people would, I don't know, be educated enough to read first before spewing an opinion.  Not even original opinions, just the same bullshit opinions that have been spouted about wishes since the beginning of the game; the same stuff my 16 year old friends and I used to say, all the things about wishes that make them such a broken, awful, abusive, crippled part of the game. Jeez, if I were writing about water-filtration systems in Western Canada I could conceivably get the readership I have now in ten years and I wouldn't have to deal with people being infantilized swine when someone linked my blog or my wiki to another site.  There might be a dim chance that someone in a university or connected with the government might think, "That Alexis, he's making some good points, he's done his research," instead of, "If a player of mine wished for a sandwich I'd find a way to fuck him."

Being this inaccessible, there's no chance that anything reputable would look at me twice.  I'm just another one of them.  Another freak.  Another dick.  One of them.

There's no future here.  No future.  I always wanted a future.  That was the goal.  That's what artists think.  They think about the future, about having one.

The only damn future I have is in that damn book I can't write.

I shouldn't publish this.  I shouldn't.  It's too personal.  People will take it personally.  People won't get it, won't empathize, won't understand.  I'm too inaccessible.

Too inaccessible for D&D, that's for sure.

Should not publish this.

Should not.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Four Elements

On each of the inhabited continents, the same four elements were distinguished as building-blocks for all the substances that could be observed: earth, air, fire and water. Within the game world, it is accepted that these four elements exist, and that they represent the Four Elemental planes. However, science indicates clearly, even in the Dungeons and Dragons world, that science dictates the existence of many more elements than four, and that tradition practices as followed in Earth's history were a load of rubbish.

To be sure, to retain the effects of magic and the presence of elemental beings, both science and elemental theory must be true ~ with the latter explaining many of the magical effects that science cannot explain. Examples of elemental influence on reality would include ...

(continue reading)

Sunday, September 10, 2017


The reader doesn't mind if I just keep posting monsters as I make them, nyet?  Very well, the Djinn (I have a different take on it):

Formerly worshipped in pre-Islamic Arabia, these beings have been mischaracterized by sources as air elementals, geniuses as appear in Roman mythology, angels, demons and wicked spirits. In fact, like other hemitheioc creatures, these beings are something like mortal demi-gods, comparable to heroes who are born of one divine and one mortal parent. They have no known origin, except that it is believed that whenthe world was created, the djinn were created also.

Djinn inhabit the plane of Jannah, the Arabic paradise, where they grant wishes to the loyal and pious dead to dwell there. It has been told that these are the jinn that remain following the cull of the Pre-Adamites, djinn who were killed by ...

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Crann Bethadh

Also called the Tree of Life, that grew from the womb of the center of all creation. Among the Norse, the tree is called Yggdrasil. The tree exist outside the Prime Material Plane, and in fact enfolds all planes of existence: the outer planes, the astral and ethereal planes, the elemental planes and the negative and positive planes. Crann Bethadh exists as the axis mundi that supports all the planes and whose branches interweave between the planes and create passages from one plane to another.

Though there are hundreds of planes of existence, conceived of by every culture, both in the Prime Material and elsewhere, Crann Bethadh encapsulates them all. Most cultures vastly underestimate the ...


Because of fairy tales such as The Ridiculous Wishes or The Monkey's Paw, the value of making a wish in the Dungeons & Dragons game setting has always been subject to a thematic taint. It is unclear, from the style of a particular DM's play, whether or not the existence of the wish is a game feature or an opportunity to produce a spontaneous morality play, with the DM as moralist. Thus players have been required to produce exact words of uncompromising perfection when stating a wish, as an effort to restrain the DM from twisting the intended meaning of the wish and thus punishing the player for daring to use this ridiculously dangerous stab-yourself-in-the-chest ability.

D&D is not a morality play or story and the rules that apply to wishes must restrict the DM as much as the player. The DM cannot be allowed to use his or her discretion. Everyone using a wish should have a clear and reasonable idea of its effect and limitations, enabling them to employ this magic without fear of arbitrary consequence.

The Fundamentals of Writing Monsters

There's a lot about some of these monsters that I feel misses the point.  If we look at a basic description of something like, say, the displacer beast, first we get a picture, then we get a description of the picture, which is really nothing more than filler.  Usually, the description doesn't even match the picture (the image does not show the tentacles sprouting from the creature's shoulders, but from the middle of its back, in a very poor representation).

Then we read about some special ability, "the displacement" feature, in terms of why the ability exists ("light-bending illusion") which does not actively say what happens if you try to compensate for it or bother to describe the effects of hurled missiles at said illusion.  The original monster manual (not the linked site) gives the displacer beast a -2 AC for the ability, which is paltry to say the least, and completely boring as shit to say what's deserved.

Then we get some meaningless vague references to the beast's ancestors, the attempts to breed the beast (with no rules or mention of the players doing this themselves), a list of creatures the beast could supposedly be bred to kill (I'm sure a cow and a horse would also work) and an argument that you can't breed the beast because it is too evil.  I have no idea how they're able to "use their malevolent intelligence to escape their masters" because this isn't explained; the beast doesn't phase, after all, it is a light-bending illusion, so what? The masters feel intellectually required to leave the cage door open?  We're not told. Shut up, accept this as dogma and move on.

Then we get a short account of why displacer beasts and blink dogs hate each other.  How is this useful?  Are there going to be a lot of adventures where it will be really important to parties to not have blink dogs and displacer beasts attacking each other?  Seems to me, humans and displacer beasts will attack each other on sight too, without the need for Seelies.  Many creatures everywhere will attack one another on sight. So what?  How am I getting information on making an adventure if I choose to throw one of these things at a party?

claws and teeth only for show
This is the problem overall with monster manuals as I read them.  They are giving the wrong information.  When I'm writing these beasts, I'm trying to establish three things: where are they found; what can they do; why would they interact with a party?  Being found is generally easy; I'm putting them in some vegetation and climate, somewhere on the Earth.  What they can do requires a little more than just saying they have tentacles: how far can the tentacles swing, how does the displacer beast use them ~ and if the beast is also a cat, why doesn't it also have cat-like attacks?  
My monster manual just gives 2 attacks for the tentacles and ignores the big teeth and claws that are depicted on the old displacer beast image. How does that make sense?

Too, I want something more meaningful for the displacer beast's "displacement" ability than a light show.  Really? That's as imaginative as we can get?

Finally, I need some kind of rational written into the monster for what would happen if a party might encounter the creature.  Would the creature attack them, and if so, how?  By what method?  At what point might the creature run away.

One thing I like about the wiki, if I think of something new, if something comes up in the middle of a game, I can go and fix the page immediately, upgrading it as necessary.  Putting it on the internet might (conceivably) have someone point out a flaw or a context that can add to any given monster that's been written.  It is an ongoing process, rather than a stale rewrite of a rewrite of a rewrite, which is what the fifty versions of displacer beast are that you can find online since its first depiction in 1979.  If there are more answers to those three purposes ~ where, what, why ~ it can be added later.

If you want to read my take on the displacer beast, you can find it on the wiki.

50 Monsters ... Bleh

50 Monsters.

More accurately, 50 wiki pages of monsters, because I'm not counting cases where I created both the ordinary and giant version of monsters (three types of crocodile), I'm not counting extra links to describe the details behind devils and demons and I'm not counting the dragon posts at all that began this recent effort, for the merest OCD reason that they're not in order and therefore they don't count.

Nor am I counting work I didn't do at all, for it should be noted that Tim has contributed work on firenewts, floating eyes, giant frogs, large frogs, huge frogs, killer frogs (though killer frogs are appearing in my online Juvenis campaign, Tim went with a traditional description) ~ so many frogs! ~ gargoyles, gelatinous cubes, hyenas, moas, ostriches and rheas.  Ozymandias has hunted around for a wide variety of very helpful pics.  It has been a great effort.

The hardest moment came when I was sent this link related to Pathfinder.  The sender's motive was meant to be encouraging, but I have to admit that I'm simply not capable of producing this degree of content: I don't have the resources and I don't have this much help.  As such, seeing it laid out, then comparing it to my meagre effort, is somewhat soul-crushing ... I can only sustain myself by seeing that pages like this description of the bedlam are filled with such gobblydegook and functionality references that the actual content is tedious and arcane ~ unless you happen to play pathfinder.

I want to believe that the material I'm producing is both accessible and suggestive, even if you don't play my system or don't play at all.  I couldn't even steal from the Pathfinder source ~ I did a listing on black pudding and there was nothing in the Pathfinder version's "ecology" that wasn't basically described in my original monster manual from 1979.  That's not much forward development.

Here I hesitate.  I'm not certain I should bring up this next point; it smacks of self-importance and egotism, of which I'm accused all the time and which I don't wish to confirm.  But the way I feel about that huge Pathfinder wiki ~ is that how the Gentle Reader thinks about me?  Am I, well, not exactly crushing souls, I haven't created that much content, but am I undermining your desire to work on stuff?

Okay, you'll jump down my throat and tell me "fuck no," and believe me, that's a good thing.  But I know how I felt after I saw that Pathfinder wiki and it was totally a sense of "oh gawd, why am I even bothering."  It was three or four days before I could get myself to work on another monster, and then only because I said I'd do 50 before I quit ~ and shit, if it didn't happen that the last two monsters were a demon and a devil.

I could have done something else, a caribou or a coffer corpse, something beginning with C, to satisfy my OCD.  But I meant to go through the monster manual before doing other things (though I cheated and added the giant bat).  I could have done two demons, but I had planned to do one type of multi-type monsters like demons, devils, dragons, giants and such, though I meant to do all the versions of the natural multi-types, like beetles, bears, snakes, etc.  For whatever loony, mentally bastardized reason, I found myself sitting at 48 monsters, with Demon and Devil in front of me, this miserable doubt cast by the Pathfinder wiki kicking me in the face and I just felt ... bleh.

It's been tough finding the motivation to dig through the demon and devil and make sense of those types, to give them character and motivation, and to get out of the doldrums of "just another monster."  I'm glad I did, I'm glad I had the source material, I'm glad people liked the work (the wiki numbers were really high) and said as much.  So great.

It isn't that unfair for me to ask if others have had this experience with me ... or, obviously, with everything else that's out there in the universe, encouraging you not to work on your world because why, jeez, what for, it's all be done already, even if the doing was kind of rotten.  Why do all that work just to repeat work that's already been done?

I guess, for me, it at least teaches me something.  It at least creates a problem that I can solve and learn about things in the process of solving.  But gad, yeah, sometimes it just feels like I'm a little flea picking at the skin of a dog that's going to scratch me onto a carpet just before the vacuum of Mrs. Nature rolls over me.

Well, fifty monsters.  Yay.  Sort of.  I could probably do another one.  A displacer beast is fairly straight forward.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

38 Year Anniversary

Today is the 38th anniversary of the first time I played D&D, which is also the first time that I heard of D&D. That's a long time, and as it goes on it gets harder and harder to remember those early days and what they were like.

The right post to write to ask, I suppose, is what have I learned?  Hm.  I can't make a good treasure table.  Most attitudes about the game come from people who have played it for three to five years (the length of high school and college), people who are either ready to quit or have become so established in their game play that they cease to question.  I've learned that I've been working on my world longer than any rational person ought to and that I'm still game to keep going.

I've learned a great deal about the world I would never have learned had I not been hunting along book shelves and through the internet for ideas.  I've learned that I have the sort of obsessive personality that would have been better pointed at being a lawyer or a researcher, except that I was just too damn creative and resistant in my character.  I've learned that its possible to make some headway as a random, obscure, disconnected designer but no more.  I've learned that given time and greater access to educational materials that I ever thought possible has enabled me to solve magificent problems that were, 20 years ago, insurmountable.

I've learned to wait for the next idea.  I've learned that wikis are a better world-building friend than anything else I've known.  I've learned that players are plentiful, so long as the light above the DM is bright enough. I've learned that good players are annoying, stubborn, self-aggrandizing, stultified in their habits and the only people really worth running for.  I've learned that I'm worse than everybody.

I've learned how young I was 38 years ago.  I've learned how stupid I was.  How little I understood.  How deluded were my ideas.  How much time I would be forced to waste before I would begin to see.  How many hundreds of hours I would burn making tables and charts and lists that would, in the end, be thrown away or simply lost, from lack of worth and lack of use.  I've learned that everything I made or drew or ran in the first 15 years of being a DM was destined not to survive to the present, at least not the form that it does now.  I've learned that all of that period was like living in a chrysalis, in which the only valuable product that had to come out of that mess and stumbling around was me.  I wasn't making a world, I was making me.

Not that it matters, because I've learned it had to be that way.  All that time had to be spent.  I can't express how many useless times I tried to create a treasure table without ever once coming up with a working answer.  No matter.  I had to learn.  I had to see.  I had to come around to where I am not by the longest route possible because all the short routes don't have enough scenery.

I've learned that making a game and a world has very little to do with what I've done.  It is all about what I'm going to do.

Devilish Culture

Having completed the work I mean to do on the background of demons, I am still cleaning up the background of devils.  This has been a long, hard fight but I am getting it under control.  Thankfully, I don't have to do any background like this again until I get to giants.  And I will probably put monster making on a shelf long before then.  If nothing else, some readers are learning some interesting things about the profound depths of human mythology.

So, the culture of devils.

Devils are beings from the Lower Planes of Existence, dwelling almost exclusively in the planes of Hades and Hell, who serve the purpose of torturing the malevolent dead as a means of cleansing the soul. This has gained them the reputation for being disturbingly malevolent themselves, and this is quite a common description for most of the individuals, particularly among ...

Monday, September 4, 2017

War in Heaven

What follows is a meaningful description of the causes and effects related to the war between angels led by the Archangel Micheal against those led by Satan, that ended in Satan's defeat and casting down into Hell and the Abyss. This is viewed within the game world as a real event that happened according to the manner in which divinity is created and made real.

Writing in the 15th century BC, the prophet Zoroaster proposed the ideal of cosmogonic dualism, arguing that the universe had been created by two demiurges, artisan-figures who together took complementary and conflict-driven roles in the mastery of all things. Zoroaster described these both: Ahura Mazda represented the sphere of truth, order, justice and light, which was a new describing of a much older god, El, who was the consort of the great mother goddess Ana. By the time of Zoroaster, El had already ...


Given that this recent Mythology link is really getting out of hand on my changing actual knowledge about the world to fit my D&D world, I feel I have to put a disclaimer on my wiki:

This wiki is a description of Alexis' Dungeons and Dragons' world, which is far reaching and complex. This fictional setting is based on the real earth, its geography, it's peoples and its cultures, including religious and philosophical components. The world freely interprets these things for the purpose of running a D&D campaign, and does not hesitate to change, throw out or add information as needed, in relation to every subject to be found in this wiki. Therefore, it is stressed that ALL of the material within can be relied upon to be probably FALSE in its descriptions or real things, particularly within the heading marked as "mythology." Alexis likes to take largely disparate ideas and press them together into new ideas, without concern for actual, human reality. After all, Wikipedia exists. There's no need to be accurate about anything here.

It's only that in some ways, particularly the recent work I've started on devils, I'm really pushing the boundaries of truth and legitimate religious studies scholarship in order to make multiple ideas and cultural connections fit into a single world-building narrative.  I'd hate to have someone stumble across this wiki and think that any specific sentence I might happen to write could be used for a university essay (mmph.  that would be funny).

Sunday, September 3, 2017

This is Enough Demons for Now

Upon the subject of demons, I have been putting together some content on the wiki outlining my structure of these monsters.

Starting with the creature itself, there is the Demon page.  This concentrates on what a demon can do, with a quick introduction and then a discussion of their abilities.  Wanting to give them powers closer to those I have read about in many an ancient text, I made their most important power the ability to possess others ~ and not once a day and not by the use of a magic jar spell.  Certainly, very unpleasant, but I insist that monsters should not be weakened just because it will make players uncomfortable.

And this is why I've gotten rid of several things that the books tried to sell as "fun" but are, in fact, imposed handicaps on what should be a terrifying monster.  I just don't understand.  If the beholder does not have a special "amulet" that enables the beholder to be controlled just because the players have gotten a hold of it, why should a particular demon?  If mind flayers and sphinxes don't have to worry about people knowing their names, why should a demon.

I understand that these things are supposed to be clever and adventure making, but it is really crappy, trope-driven adventure making, the sort of awful cliche that we're always seeing in TV supernatural series so bad writers can explain how a bunch of "good ol' boy" humans can get an edge on something that ought to be able to kill them outright.  They're cheap, cheesy off-switches for monsters and they are inexcusably stupid.

I just don't see that characters should be able to kill demons at all; but I don't have an experience system that is based on killing anything, so it works out for me.  At best, I expect a party to fight one off long enough to get it to teleport somewhere else ... which, let's admit it, is good enough.

Oh, and I also made a page on Demonic culture.

I have been playing with this concept that's based on arguments I've made in the past that the Gods are only as powerful as the belief that people have in them.  I'm making up my mind to go one step beyond this ~ that the gods don't exist at all until they are invented by creatures on the prime material plane.  This is what I was getting at with the Gehenna story.

It is always presumed that the gods must be much, much older than we are ~ but why?  We invented the gods, didn't we?  How does that necessarily change the freedom with which the gods act, why does it matter when they came into existence?

We conceive of things all the time that then get way out of our control.  It's easy to imagine that if our thoughts were able to create a real god Zeus, that's going to get out of hand very quickly ~ particularly if we don't know our thoughts created him.  We're just going to assume that he's been there all along and that we've "discovered" him.

There is a story that Zeus created the goddess of wisdom, Athena, directly from his head; "born from the head" will turn up the story if you search it on google.  I've decided to call the process of giving birth to gods (and therefore to places within the outer planes) as "Thoughts Made Manifest." This is, without a doubt, the scariest idea that can be imagined, if we apply it to the actual creation of things simply because we invent them.  But some readers will remember the old Star Trek episode that played havoc with the party on account of that.

I'm not saying that one character's thoughts will suddenly produce a god.  That is not enough belief.  But a thousand characters?  Ten thousand characters?  At some point, there is a tipping point reached and the belief becomes real.  And this is the premise I intend to build my entire god-based universe upon.

Anyway, I hope the demon content is fun.

A Mythology Post

Okay, this was sort of fun.  I thought I'd take a shot at making a few pages for the wiki about "Mythology" ~ get a feel for what those pages would look like or how the content would be designed.  It needs a map, but there aren't any ready at hand that would fit the content I'm designing.  The reader may note, however, that I am trying to keep with the spirit of the actual mythological context, just sprinkled throughout with transitional stuff designed to make it work together and within my D&D game.

This should be somewhat chilling.


A part of the Lower Planes of Existence, a place of punishment, created by the sacrifice of thousands of children in the Valley of Gehinnom outside of Jerusalem, beginning some ten thousand years ago. As the children died upon burning pyres and began to enter the underworld, then no more than a place of dust, a shelf of icy rock was made manifest against the side of a mountain, amidst a great ocean, under an open sky, and there the dead children were left to wait, their feet frozen into a cake of ice that stretched out into the water. But this place had no name, not as yet.

Within the second millenia BC, the mountain above Gehenna began to ...

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Geography of the Underworld

Let us begin a further discourse on the underworld with two premises, both of which are based on the very believable argument that theologians that are part of our own Earth have no idea what they are talking about, as they have never actually been to any of the places about which they pretend to be expert.

The first premise being, that existence after death is not a stagnant and calcified experience: that, from moment to moment, events occur which provide opportunity for the creation of narratives and change.
And the second premise being that the motivations of demons and devils are not, in fact, known or understood, except by those who have had the opportunity to die and experience these beings as they function.

From this starting point, we can see the opportunity to create a campaign that begins with the death of the characters, moves through a set, planned adventure that is based around the culture of demons and devils, that in turn allows the characters to have ambitions of some kind that can be pursued.  We do not need to be bogged down by limitations such as, the only reason for the existence of a devil is to torture dead beings.  Nor that a demon's conversation is all pain pain pain all the time.  We can surmise that these creatures, too, have aspirations, goals, ideals, dreams ... and in turn, let downs, disappointments, failures, despair and so on.

After all, Earth's theology was designed to scare the shit out of people to ensure obedience; it was not based on observation and experimentation.

What matters, however, is that we want to retain most of the scenes as proposed by Dante and other writers ~ hordes of the dead pushing down to the river, where they wait to be taken, across, the dead floating in pools of acid or fiery oil, the horrific lines of the dead being whipped down winding paths over precipices by laughing, gleeful devils ... all that has to stay because all that is compelling and distinctive of a world that is definitely not the prime material plane.  All I am saying is that while being boiled alive, there should be some sequence of options available that makes it possible to be bumped out of the pit and into some other kind of frying pan, which in turn provides an opportunity to get into the line where the next punishment provides some opportunity for redemption ... of a kind.  Let's say, an opportunity for moving up in the world.

Now, getting down to the structural framework of the underworld.  Let me say up front ~ if you haven't taken the time to read Dante, this might be hard to follow.  I'll try to give a brief synopsis of the bits that I need explained.

In the Canto III of the Inferno, Dante borrows heavily from the imagery of the Greek Hades.  The river that Charon, a Greek figure, takes you the sinner across is the Acheron, again from the Greek.  The dead wait on the shore, as they do in Hades.  There's no Cerberus on the other side, or Greek monsters, but within the 1st Hell (canto IV), that Dante names Limbo, there are many intellectuals, mostly Greeks and Romans, who were good men who never wished malevolence on anyone, but because they could not know of God or believe in him, they're doomed to this plane.  Mostly, they sit about and wait.  For what is not made clear.

Taking up the problem I mentioned two posts ago, the "all myths are true" issue as Tim calls it, part of the practical solution is to recognize that we as a people tend to call the same thing by more than one name.  I think it is reasonable, then, to establish that Limbo and Hades are fundamentally the same place.  Since we have no alignment straightjacket to adhere to, we don't need an arbitrary plane to exist between Pandemonium and Gladsheim.  We have a geographical placement for Limbo in Hell, and therefore Hades is folded into Hell as well.  Hades is simply the Greek name for the planes that they knew about.

We could argue that "Hell" was an extension of Hades that was conjured into existence by the gained beliefs of millions of Christians as their numbers swelled in the 4th century.  I have, in the past, argued that "belief" fuels the powers of Gods; perhaps that, in turn, fuels the creation of physical spaces.  As the Gods grow more powerful, they naturally start creating homes: and as Christianity expanded to be much bigger than the comparatively small number of Greek believers in their gods, the former plane became crowded and needful of renovation.  Hell could have begun as an add-on of a level or two, then the expansion of eight new levels to comprehend the sudden complexity of what places needed to be made for which dead.  Just a thought.

As an aside, I had considered making a map to add to this post ~ but I must confess, I haven't the energy or the wherewithal, at least not now.  Perhaps another day, when I will add it to the wiki.  Right now I just want this straightened out in my mind so I can get back to describing demons and devils.

Gehenna, then, is the Jewish destination of the wicked ~ and apart from many arguments about Gehenna referring to real places attached to the Holy Land, the part that matters to me is the rabbinical tradition that those condemned to Gehenna are made to spend no more time there than the period of one year (the Jews clearly being more merciful to bad people than the Christians).  This, to me, sounds more like Purgatory ~ and that works for me, because the original map of the outer planes never did include a Purgatory in their conjurings.

Unfortunately, Gehenna cannot be reconciled with Dante's Purgatory as easily ~ and I like the Purgatorio.  When Dante arrives in Purgatory, he and Virgil find themselves on a beach next to a big ocean, where occasionally boats come along and drop off the dead.  These dead step off the boats singing about the escape from Egypt-land, so that at least gives us a strong relationship to Jewish mythology. We can, from there, relieve Gehenna of its flames and equate it to this initial part of Purgatory.

Dante calls it ante-Purgatory, the three levels before Purgatory, where the excommunicated who waited until the very last moment of their lives to repent are waiting on the arrivals beach.  We can always argue that the sun is hot, sort of like burning, but that's not confirmed by Dante.  Oh well. It gives us a place for Gehenna, and we can always say that Dante was misinformed.  The main thing is that the repentant bad people have a zone between Hell/Hades and Purgatory where they can go and spend a year (or longer), giving us a bit more structure.

The Abyss is easier.  It, too, is a Jewish legend, perceived as a part of Gehenna, beneath the ocean and sealed.  It is the seat of the evil spirits, that being demons.  It is equated with Sheol, also a very deep pit, repeatedly mentioned in the Bible and likely derived from an Assyro-Babylonian word, "Shu'alu", where in that culture is the place where the dead are cited or bidden. We can assume, then, that there are a lot of different names for this same place.  We can imagine that the ocean that this Abyss is under is the same that the beach in ante-Purgatory/Gehenna looks out over, that the boats cross.

Perhaps souls that do not properly get off the beach feel compelled to dive into the sea and thus disappear forever, into the Abyss.  Perhaps the arrival at Purgatory isn't a guarantee of eventual redemption.  The boundary might be fuzzier than we imagine, and that actions that are taken after death have influence on where we go, as well.

Now, Tartarus is also an abyss.  It is where the monsters go, where the bad gods go (the Titans and such), it is the primordial place where the Greek mythology of the present imprisoned the mythological ideas of the past.  Tartarus is, therefore, old, much older than any of the other places in the underworld ~ old enough for Cthulhu, perhaps, and gods older than Kronos and Uranos before him.

Geographically, Tartarus is viewed as "below Hades" ... which makes a connection between it and the rest of our model, as Hades is the top of Hell.  I'll go one further and argue that Tartarus is the Abyss ~ one and the same, just as the Abyss is Sheol and Shu'alu. This gives us a passage from Hades/Hell into Tartarus/the Abyss and a passage from Gehenna to same.  This might be a passage out or a passage in.

We might imagine our dead party, arriving at the Acheron, told to find their way into Hades, to avoid the deeper Hell, find the terrifying passage into the Abyss, avoid the much older passages into Tartarus under the Abyss, in order to find their way out of the Abyss and onto the beach of Gehenna, where my some means the might climb up the mountain of Purgatory and, perhaps, find a way into life? Perhaps there is a passage from the top of Purgatory across Eden into the Prime Material, before moving onto Paradise.  Only the DM would know.

This, then, is enough for now.  I'll just add that I feel that demons and devils are, in fact, divine beings.  That some may be twisted, as Ozymandias suggests ~ but then again, some may not. Some might be disposed to help a party trying to find the passageway out of Hades or out of the Abyss. Though telling them apart from the "helpful" demons who are directing the party down the wrong passageway ... that might be difficult.

Oops, forgot Pandemonium.  Well, another time.

What Makes a Demon

Answering the question, how are demons made.

The word "demon" comes from the Greek, daimon, which was seen by that culture as a personal familiar or in the fashion of a guardian angel, a little spirit that was associated with various objects and features about the house, such as doorways, plants, family pets, fountains and so on.  Each daimon ensured the health and function of that part of the house, and was acknowledge lightly by the inhabitants, the Greeks having a casual attitude about their polytheism.

The Romans called these daimon by a different word, genius, which can be reckoned in the Roman culture as the "soul" of a thing, metaphorically.  The door and doorway that blocked the burglar from entering did so because it appreciated the inhabitants, and they in turn appreciated the genius within the doorway, as well as the genius that resided in horses that drove well or the cart that did not break, or the one in you, you lucky thing, that made you so smart.

The daimon, or genius, in a thing could undergo an apotheosis, becoming a god, just as the genius within doorways was eventually, after centuries, interpreted as Janus, who was related to many things doorway-related.  The importance of Janus in Roman culture is really interesting, but I don't want to be side-lined here so I will leave off from that.

The medieval concept of daimon, daemon or demon arose out of the Christians' blanket condemnation of all things pagan, a process that began in the 4th century as the adopted Christian religion began to clean house in ancient Rome.  It must be remembered that Christianity was born of Rome (and not Judaea), that virtually all the believers who suffered through the various persecutions were all Roman in citizenry, whether they happened to be Spanish, Italian, Greek or Anatolian in ethnic heritage.  When the Christians finally got in control of the Empire, they meted out to the pagans as persecution was meted out to them, resulting in a pogrom against all things non-Christian from the 5th century on.  Mind you, the circumstances surrounding the length and depth of this pogrom are still in contention, as many present day scholars simply refuse to believe that Christians could systematically butcher perhaps hundreds of thousands, or millions of non-believers ... despite the fact that we have several uncontested examples of Christians doing exactly that, multiple times, in the form of cities slaughtered and destroyed in the Crusades, thousands of witches burned century after century, the wholesale slaughter of Europe and 8 million people during the 30 years war, etcetera, etcetera.  Oh yes, I'm quite sure the early Christians were much more restrained than their later brethren.  I'm sure they gave the pagans a pat on the head, thanked them for all the business with crucifixions and lions, then sent them on their way.

The persecution of paganism that made Europe absolutely catholic by the time of the Vikings could not fully stamp out the old beliefs.  We still have them, in Christmas and Easter, in kissing under mistletoe, in believing that we feel things "from the heart," in the concept of the firstborn being the most important member of the family, in the concept of luck, in giving names to ships, in the bogeyman, in words like "panacea" and "halo", in astrology and in the supposed "left hand of god," along with the symbols we still use for planets and in thousands of other casual references we make daily, without realizing these were pagan concepts.  What the Christians could not destroy, things like gift-giving at Saturnalia or Gods that were just too popular, they adopted and rewrote, turning the festival of Saturn into the festival of Christ and turning the Greek God of wisdom, Sophia, into Saint Sophia, which could then have a Church dedicated to her memory by a Christian Emperor in the Christian era, Hagia Sophia, also known as the Church of the Holy Wisdom.

And pernicious beliefs that any common individual might believe in and cherish were twisted from friendly spirits into evil spirits, demons, that possessed people and turned them away from the true faith, providing an easy excuse to turn this ancient practice of thinking there's an animus in the fountain that keeps the water fresh into something that we can use to tie you to a stake and burn you to death, just to make sure you don't start thinking that maybe there's something to this old paganism after all.

Calling these things evil demons isn't enough, however.  We must take the concept of the spirit possessing the well and transform it into the spirit possessing YOU; then we can expand the role of the (Persian-derived) anti-Christ devil into the master of all the demons in all the world, so that we're good and positive that there's a deliberate, contrived, world-wide plan that seeks to pollute and poison your immortal soul, run by the worst demon we can conceive of, filled up with all sorts of impressive and terrifying powers, factory-designed to scare the living shit out of anyone whose never read a book or who possesses the least understanding of how things like volcanoes and hurricanes work.

Once that scheduled PR stunt is in place, we have just the thing; give us money, we'll make sure Christ puts his loving arms around all of you.  What else can possibly save you from the demons?

So, in wondering where demons come from, that's where they come from.  This doesn't tell us how they function in a D&D campaign, but it does give us more wiggle-room when thinking about how demons should act.

Are you sure now that they're as malevolent as the Christian religion makes them out to be?  After all, that's the source you're relying on for your conception of what the word demon means.  The Christian religion.

Not that I want my demons shaping up like Aahz.  I admit, I intend to retain the notion that demons are malevolent.  I only make the argument that they don't have to be.  It's a choice, see?  Not a blind compulsion.

To me, this makes the whole matter of demons ~ and presumably devils as well ~ a lot less certain. Within uncertainty, there is drama.  There is adventure.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Proposing the Underworld

As I have rolled forward working on monsters, I have tried to make their interrelations with the world, and frankly the party trying to kill them, a little more practical.  This has included things like patterns of attack, such as whether or not the monster focuses its weapons on one target or on many, or how long the monster can be expected to remain in the fight.

I have also, now and then, put a few other features in, such as adding a generator for hit points and stats, or detailing the exact way that a monster's poison works, updating the poison list for those poisons that might be salvaged after the kill.  Steadily, I have made my way through strictly the original monster manual to the end of the C's (I'll go back and add other monsters from other books later) ~ and this has brought me to the letter D:  demons.

Looking over the general description that Gygax wrote 40 years ago, that was meant to apply to all demons, I recognized at once that there's very little in the description that defines what a demon is. As part of the description of the manes demon, it reads, "Those dead which go to the 666 layers of the demonic abyss become manes."  Which dead?  What is it about these dead that separate them from dead that go elsewhere?  And what of the other, more powerful demons (and the devils also). What makes a demon?

We can return to John Milton and apply the mythology that devils, and perhaps demons as well, are angels that have been cast out of heaven.  This, however, only postpones the question, what makes an angel?  Milton did not have to worry about this; he didn't have to deal with players who might want to actually make a demon or a devil, or be put in a situation where they have to stop such an event.  Milton had it easy.

So I am thinking about that, about what makes a demon, and what separates demons from devils, from a zoologist's perspective, when I realized that before I can even try to answer that question, I have to first define what distinguishes the Abyss from Hell, Gehenna, Tartarus and Hades ... not to mention other lower planes of existence not highlighted by the original alignment chart.

Now, let's be clear.  I don't use alignment.  For my game, "evil" is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, term.  To some degree, everything and everyone of rational intelligence is in some part evil, just as all rational things are in some part good.  Evil is a choice, not a character trait ~ and to be specific, the choice is to be malevolent, which derives from the Latin meaning to "wish badness," most likely upon others and upon the world.

This is why deadly spiders are not evil or malevolent; they do not actively wish anything; they merely need to eat or lay their eggs and the poison they carry is an unknowing means to that end.  The spider does not wish you harm; it does not know there is a "you" at all.

If I'm going to craft the lower planes, then, it follows that their geographic relationship has nothing to do with having law or chaos as a framework.  "Law" is just as much a choice as malevolence.  All things that have authority have law; and all attempts at law fail to root out the last vestiges of chaos. Unless Hell features a perfectly ordered society in which all persons in it move in lockstep, without randomness or uncertainty in a completely known universe, there will be chaos there ~ and if you as DM perceive that this might just be exactly what Hell ought to be, to fit your prescriptive framework, well, how boring.  I wouldn't want to adventure in your Hell.  Where's the wiggle room?

To remain consistent with that rigid, playable framework that is required for a good game, the lower planes must be made flesh from some other sourcework than those applying to D&D alignment ... and thankfully, we have only 2,800 years of general theological supposition to consider.

Let us not forget that Hell, the Abyss, Gehenna, Tartarus and Hades all exist in an academic sense well outside the realm of role-playing games, engendering discussion that is regularly pursued by people other than role-gamers.  When I think to figure out what these things truly are ~ and I must admit, I've never really sat down and given it much thought before today ~ I want to go to the source.  To the "real" work that has been done.

There is an obvious problem.  These things come from different cultures, who all created various destinations to which the dead to travel.  Basically, the same dead.  There was no distinction made within these cultures that only a certain kind of dead would go to such-and-such a place ... so we must either pick a specific place for all the dead to go (perhaps to be redistributed later, for some reason) or create some factor that defines which dead go to which place, and why.  An easy, obvious solution would be to argue that all the Greek dead go here, and all the Christian dead go there, the Elvish dead and the Orcish dead go elsewhere, but to my mind if there really were these planes, why would they care what belief system these beings on Earth had?  Is a demon prejudiced?  Does a demon send you back if you're not the victim expected?

Not to my mind.  And in fact, I have little interest in any distinction that would regulate which dead go to which lower plane based upon what backgrounds they had or how awful they were.  We already have such a system established for Hell and Hell alone, written by Dante, and I'm not going to denude certain levels of Hell so that I can outsource murderers or blasphemers to another plane of existence just to be sure the caves there don't go empty.  No, I just don't see it that way.

To my mind, it makes no nevermind what carcass you possessed in the prime material ~ you're dead now and it is your essence, not your body, that is burning in the eternal pit of flame; so expect to be sitting in that pit next to an orc, a halfling and a lizard man, because that is just how it goes.

Perhaps I'm ruined by Dante.  Hell must be, for me, the arrival gate.  Abandon all Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.  If there is some reason why the other planes are populated by the dead, it is because of what happened after those dead arrived in Hell.  Basically, to my mind, the other planes are parts of Hell, where the dead are selectively routed after it is discovered that they have ... something.  Skills?  The right attitude?  They've been here this long so they're ready to be moved down?  Perhaps, in the true Mengelenian sense, there are devils and demons moving through the suffering hordes, selecting this one for experimentation, to create a better beast, to divide and multiply into a more horrific atrocity, and there are specific places where that happens.

If I can establish a movement of the dead, a steady migration out of the planes of Hell and into other planes, where lines of misery can be identified as the swirl of dead are marched into deeper and deeper misery, then I can perhaps figure out the jobs that these demons and devils do ... and ultimately, how they were designed by higher powers in order to do those jobs.  From there, it follows that this provides a personality for individual demons and devils that really, really, really doesn't exist in the books, a motivation, that can in turn explain just why these three demons are found standing on this dark streetcorner in the middle of the night when a player character walks by.

I'll be working on this for a while, playing with it, writing a draft on the blog and eventually a final layout on the wiki.