Monday, December 31, 2018

Venger's Options

Okay, that last post was not as popular as I hoped.  I tried hard not to come off as a smug, superior bastard but it was text, this is the internet and I have a reputation.  My goal was to explain how I see things differently ... it was not to minimize DMWieg's unpleasant experience or that of anyone who read that post.

I've had bad nights.  We all have.  But our experience and ability isn't about a bad night or about bad players.  We build ourselves on what we've done well and how we step up when the going gets tough.  When you have a bad running ~ and you will ~ then dig the fuck in.  There's no nice way to say that but there's also nothing else that's really going to help.

I did get one comment, from Venger Satanis.  I don't much like Venger.  On the whole, I think he represents the toxic male side of role-playing.  He thinks the goal is to "Game Master Like a Fucking Boss."  His presence, however, proves that I'm not a social leper because I'm a fucking dick.  You can definitely be a fucking dick and be popular:

No, I'm a social leper for other reasons.  Allow me to demonstrate.

Let's take some time and discuss Venger's advice:
"You could offer patrons name recognition of some sort, ways to collaborate with you creatively, or partner with an artist who can bring your writing to life."

Name Recognition

As good a place to start as any.  I'm watching people on videos post the names of their supporters online with every video, which makes some kind of sense.  At the start of a film we list all the people who gave money as "executive producers."  I've resisted this kind of call out because, frankly, it feels like outing people who may want to make their contributions in private.  That is probably my prejudice, however.

If I pay for a friend's windshield, I don't want my name tattooed on the side of his car.  If I have the money to take friends to dinner or I treat them to a movie, I'm not looking to be called out on Facebook the next day.  And if I was, I'd be embarrassed.  Not for doing the wrong thing but because I don't want to be measured against how much money I had in my pocket.  I want people to respect me for what I say and what I accomplish ~ not for what I have.

I grew up with money.  I grew up in a great big house with parents who owned two cars, a huge cabin on the side and could afford to take their kids and their grandkids off on vacations.  Two well-off, tight-fisted, selfish parents who never gave a fucking thing to anybody but themselves, justified because they grew up poor and climbed one class up from dirt.  If they had ever given something to someone ~ which they never did ~ they'd have definitely wanted their names on it.  Not to prove they were generous, no; to prove they were the ones that really mattered.  And their resistance against that impulse?  That's how they judged what good people they were.

See?  Prejudice.  I'm fucked up.  I didn't respect money because once I had it.  When it was gone, I didn't fight to get it back because I equated that bullshit with turning out like my parents.

If you want name recognition, say so.  I appreciate and thank every one of you who gives to my patreon every month ... I'll post your name on this blog.  Proudly.  I'll do more than post your name.  I'll write your biography as a post if you want recognition.  I'll call your boss and tell them what a good guy you are.  You can use my name as a reference.

But I won't add your name to a list to prove I've got supporters.  I won't trade my name on your generosity.  That sounds like a shitty, selfish thing to do.  I've never had a single supporter say, "Hey, where's my name recognition?"  Not one.

Ask and you can certainly have it.

Collaborate Creatively

I have tried.  Here are eight podcasts I did last year.  I asked others to come in with me on my wiki.  I tried to establish a group wiki all the way back in 2011.  I've encouraged comments.  Privately, I've suggested collaborations ... and, in fact, there are two that have a distant chance of evolving into something, though there's no time line.

I have been collaborating with people one way or another since 1985.  I took my experience as a DM to encourage my friends to create performances, which gave me the experience to get into film making and film producing.  Trust me, there's nothing like film and theatre when it comes to collaboration.  After four years of working on the university newspaper, I worked with others to get a zine on the streets in the 1990s.  For a time we sold ads, published 10,000 copies of a 12 page coffee shop magazine and technically made a profit.  I went with collaborators to the Edmonton Fringe Festival in 1997, the largest in North America, performing shows on stage and getting great reviews.  I collaborated with others to make this film, Coil, in 2001.  You'll notice I'm the lead supporting actor.  The film won at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and at the Toronto City Film Festival that year.  Sadly, it is an impossible film to find just now.  I have a VHS copy, but no DVD and even I haven't seen the film since 2009.

See, I really can act.  If you were putting together a cast right now, and I had the time, I'm a good pick for your villain or your tough old wise voice.  I can write like a storm.  I have skillz.  But here's the thing about collaborations:

They go nowhere.  At least for me.  Barbara Beall, who played the lead in coil, is a hell of a fine person and deserves the career she has.  I am damn glad for her.  She wanted that career and I promise you she has fought to have it.  But a person has to make a certain kind of sacrifice to make success out of a collaboration and that doesn't describe me.

For me to succeed in a collaborative D&D effort, I'd have to burn this blog to the ground.  Delete everything, change my name and then start quietly creating 5th Edition modules.  Treat the 5E rules as written and start building illogical dungeon rooms with really clever monster combinations and traps.  Never talk about myself.  Never buck the trend.  Join an Adventurer's League group and put my brain on a shelf.  I figure, as obvious as the rooms are, I could steal my way into a half decent reputation in less than two years.  I could write some suck-up letters to the WOTC, submit what they want to see and maybe get myself added to a writing committee for some future AL adventure by 2022.  Maybe I could write a dimwitted blog reviewing crap.  A podcast is out of the question, however, so faking popularity on that front is dead to me now.  I have to do it as Alexis or not at all.  I've burned that bridge.

But if I stay in writing, then maybe I could build a reputation as Seth Momford.  Or Adam Grange.  Scott Yell.  James Broom.  Any easily remembered 9-11 letter combination will do.

I'm mostly done with collaboration.  Nice thing about being a writer.  It gets done alone.

Partner with an Artist

Technically, that's collaborate creatively.  One thing I hate about these suggestive lists is when the suggestor runs out of new ideas after the second one, but pretends its an new idea with different words.

Bring My Writing to Life

Now.  That just hurts.

It's nice to think my writing lays dead on the page because there's no artist to paint it up for you.  Like Frankenstein's monster, sewn together with graveyard flesh, waiting for a spark. Without that, my writing is a rotting carcass.

The internet has created more writing work than any technological revolution since the printing press.  I only have books because the internet has shattered the repressive publishing industry of the 20th Century ... and is on the verge of shattering the laws surrounding publishing.  But the Glory Holes of Youtube, Pinterest and Instagram have stolen all the thunder because any dumbfuck spoiled brat empowered by her parents can cruise her way to super stardom before her 16th birthday (and destined to die an overdose before her 24th) and rule eyeballs far and wide.  To hell with finding an artist to bring my writing to life.  I need my writing to be screamed out of the mouth of a 14-year-old open-toed ungulate.  With balloons.

Sorry if that wasn't sufficiently visual.  I haven't an artist to paint the picture.

Let's get down to it.  It isn't that my writing isn't sufficiently alive.  It's that my writing isn't saying what's popular.

And I'm a miserable curmudgeon because I didn't take Venger's advice and say, "Wow, that's amazing!  First I'll post a list of my sponsors, then I'll take a creative person out of my back pocket to start a collaboration, an artist naturally, and bring my work to life!  Damn, if only I had thought of that!"


Collaborating is a good idea.  Trouble is, I don't collaborate because, well ... I am on the fringes of role-playing theory and just at the moment, without more research, even I don't know where I'm going.  I shot a few guidelines out into the void but hell, I don't know if they're going to attach to anything.

Who am I going to collaborate with?

Vengers advice is to basically lean on other people and let them do the work.  I have no one to lean on ... except for my sponsors, who kindly put up with me like Julius II with Michelangelo.  Not because I'm warm and fun and occasionally useful, but because I'm so crazy in the head there's a chance I might be onto something.

Investing in my blog is not like investing in Amazon.  It's like investing in the Hadron Collider.  We don't know what the fuck its going to accomplish but, maybe, someday, it might change our view of the universe.

People really hate that collider.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Raising Worth

Yesterday, I was reading Gothridge Manor talking about raising the number of his patrons in 2019.  He has 81 fantastic patrons and he hopes to raise it to 100 by the end of the year.  His plan is simple: it amounts to getting the word out and running more games.  Which is great.

I have fantastic patrons as well.  Before Christmas I asked you, Dear Patrons, what I could do for you.  There isn't much more I can do to get the word out ... I haven't got any place where I could write about my take on gaming that would be accepted or understood; and I can't run any more games.  But there is always a chance I can meaningfully answer a reader's question or expand some part of my world on demand, as I have done lately.

I would like to do more.  Patron runs on "rewards" and for the life of me, I have never been able to figure out this part of the process.  I don't build modules for easy delivery in exchange for coin.  I'm not an artist who can draw a picture for five bucks.  Most of you already own my books and I'm not in a position just now to complete another one (but I am struggling with two).  I have no pdfs, t-shirts or cups to give, I can't offer a private chat room (hell, people can talk to me on Facebook any time), you can request posts any time you want and I'm not going to sell access to podcasts or my wiki.

I'm not into products.  I'm a writer and I am interested in ideas ... and those who support me do so because the ideas just keep coming.  My agenda doesn't include my readers seeing that information piece-meal, for sale ... I want people to get the whole picture.  I'm not asking people to support me for what they will get, but for what they're getting every time I set out to write.

It is not a practical business plan.  Any entrepreneur will tell you so.  Why pay for the cow if you're getting the milk for free?

So I puzzle and puzzle as my puzzler gets sore, trying to think of something I haven't thought of before.  I have a gift of insight.  I'd like to use it for something.

Some readers, I'm sure, have already seen DMWieg's miserable, miserable failure (his words) in trying to run his girlfriend and two friends through Tomb of the Serpent Kings.  As I wrote on a comment there, without actually being at the table and watching what happened, there's no possible way to be sure what went wrong or what could be done about it.  It would be ridiculous to guess.

That, however, doesn't stop Wieg's readers from grabbing that ball and running into courts we're all familiar with: quality of the module, system requirements, comparing this experience to their own experience [damn it, I just know there's got to be a pattern here] ... and, for the love of pink unicorns, the difference between old-school and new-school.  Because another nit-picking examination of one edition versus another, or between role-playing philosophies, is sure to create insight here that none of us have ever heard before.

I asked Wieg some questions and received direct answers.  Since he was the only witness in this dialogue, I accept his conclusion: the players weren't that into it.  Understand, then: I'm not bringing it up now because I want to dissect why it didn't work.  I can't.  No one can, except maybe Wieg and the players.

What I can do is dissect how Wieg approaches the post, doing what we all do when something hard happens and we want to deal with it in company that we know will give us approval.  We write posts like this because we hurt ... and when others agree with us, or offer possible explanations when our own explanations fail, it makes us feel better.

We want that for him. We feel what he feels because of his first words:  "I can't help but feel it was my fault ..."  That right there is the stabbing blade.  Everything after those first nine words is a battle to resolve that bitter, frustrating emotional guilt.  They did do this.  I did try that.  I could have done better.  I take it personally.  I'm a great DM.  I'm not used to failing.

Forget the details of the post.  The other comments below the post represents the empathic process that the commentors also feel, because they have also felt that, "It's my fault" blade, and everything else that follows.  The words, the explanations, the comparison between philosophies and editions ... hell, JB's whole effort to explain what to do with new players is fallout from the communal engagement with that irreconciliable bitterness.  We have all been there.  We're all trying to resolve it.

Then understand this.  It is our fault.

For some, yes, as Fuzzy says, it is lazy refereeing.  But that's simple-minded for a problem that is far more complicated than whether or not we ran a particular adventure well or if we gave vivid enough explanations and descriptions.  It isn't our fault because we did a bad job.

It is our fault because when we stepped up to be the DM, we took the responsibility up front.  Go back and look at Wieg's first sentence: "Well, today I actually got my girlfriend and two of my friends to try old school D&D."

I don't know about anyone else, but when I "get" people to play, the quality of that play is ALL on me.  Whether I fuck up or not, whether the player is the sort that enjoys the game or not.  Because I met this person, parsed them out and decided, for myself, that they would be a good player in my world.  I did the measuring.  I created the frame.  I built the park.  If the guests paid and didn't enjoy themselves, then I'm duty bound to apologize and give their money back.  And then to take the necessary steps to improve the park ~ without looking for an out.  Because people, that's how it works.

Now compare that conclusion with the discussion in Wieg's comments.  I think JB did it best.  His solution was to seek for something proactive.  To improve that park.  Ask yourself, of the conclusions you read here and there, which ones can you build on?  Which conclusions will help you bear the stab of that knife and grow from it?

I have a gift of insight.  I'd like to find a way to make it worth something.  I'd like to sweep away the clinging vines of looking for blind conclusions to explain emotional responses and produce proactive strategies that people can look at and see, "Ah, yeah. I did push the start button."  Then to realize that all the "doing it better" has to start before the player even sees the button.

Well.  If you can.  Kick another buck into my Patreon, huh?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Ranges (monster habitats)

Well, I didn't get this done today, but I worked long and hard on it and I want to be sure people see it. So ... here's some of the work for Monster ranges, describing habitats for living creatures. This is something that can be perpetually expanded; eventually I'll create individual pages for each range, when there's enough detail sorted. This will do for today:

I organize the appearance of my monsters on the presence of vegetation and thus food supply, not upon terrain such as "hills" or "mountains." Some creatures do occupy alpine areas, but this is dependent upon the presence of alpine vegetation and not elevation.

The collection of ranges that I use are composites of Kuchler's vegetation classification, organized by climate type as often as not. This is augmented by some vegetation types not included by Kuchler, as monsters exist beneath the sea and Kuchler did not account for sea vegetation.

Please note: this formulation continues to be in a state of flux ~ many of the monster charts already posted on the wiki need adjustment in order to be in tune with the text below, while that text is being finalized. I hope to achieve parity across the Bestiary files in early 2019.

Monster Ranges include the following, with descriptions and images.

Aquatic Ranges


Includes ponds. These regions range in size from a hundred square yards to thousands of square miles. Several are remnants from glaciation. As they are isolated from one another, the residents of one body of water may be considerably different from another that is nearby. Temperatures vary in lakes and ponds seasonally in temperate and northern zones, so that much of the life associated with these bodies of water exists only during half the year.

The topmost zone of a lake near the shore, where it is shallow, is called the littoral zone. Able to absorb the sun's heat, the water is warmer and supports the most life: aquatic plants, insects, mollusks, fish and amphibians. Eggs and larvae are laid in this zone. Turtles, snakes and bird-life, as well as humanoids, are most likely to hunt here.

The near-surface open water in the middle of the lake is called the limnetic zone. Well-lit, it is dominated by plankton, fish and larger monsters that rise to feed.

The deep-water of a lake, below 30 feet, is called the profundal zone. The water is much colder and denser, little light penetrates and the main food supply is dead organisms. The main animal life is scavengers.


These regions are divided into four separate zones, depending on temperature, the amount of light and access to land.

The intertidal zone is where the ocean meets the land. Sometimes the bottom is submerged and at other times exposed, due to waves and tides moving in and out. Mollusks like places where they can emerge from the water to hunt on the land; creatures that prefer to remain submerged include snails, crayfish, sea stars and fish. Larger creatures, exposed only during the very lowest tides, include worms and large predatory mollusks and beasts.

The benthic zone consists of ocean where the bottom is largely untouched by tides and yet enjoys the benefits of life. The zone consists of huge ocean plains, much of it consisting of sand, silt and dead organisms, with little plant life on the bottom. Seaweed forests do reach up to the surface from the bottom but most plant-life is free floating weeds. The water is comparatively warm and nutrient-rich, with fungi, sponges, anemones, worms, sea stars, fishes and the largest number of dwelling humanoid species.

The pelagic zone consists of the open ocean, where the bottom is deep enough to be considered another zone. With no land at all, the pelagic zone is relatively cold, with surface seaweed. Fish tends to congregate in large schools, whereas much larger mammals (whales and dolphins), large fish (sharks) and ocean-going monsters dwell. Most very large creatures feed on abundant plankton.

The abyssal zone is very cold, highly pressured and low is sustenance. A constant rain of detritus floats from above, but light is scant and there is no plant life. Many strange animals are found on the dark floor, or near underwater volcanic vents ~ the largest monsters on Earth dwell in the darkness of this layer, occasionally swimming upwards to prey on large creatures in the pelagic zone.


These are widely distributed warm shallow waters fringing islands and atolls, or located upon great shallow barriers upon a continental shelf. The algae that makes up corals produces nutrients through photosynthesis, creating sustenance for invertebrates, fish, urchins, octopuses, sea stars and some humanoid residents.


Includes streams. These bodies of flowing water change characteristics as they move from their headwaters towards their mouths. In high country, the temperature is cooler, clearer and has high oxygen levels, which are good for some fish and water scavengers. As width increases and the river slows, species diversity increases, as does vegetation. Towards the mouth, the water becomes murky, decreasing the amount of light. Without light, flora decreases and monsters that use the river as a retreat from which to attack prey on land increases.


Includes swamps, marshes and bogs. Wetlands are standing water that supports aquatic plants and a high diversity of animal life. Species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and furbearing animals, as well as monsters seeking isolation and shelter from humanoid outsiders. Some, such as salt marshes, have high salt concentrations, supporting sea life. Marshes can form along river estuaries or in wide areas where much of the land is near or below sea level.

Terrestrial Ranges


The zone of vegetation between the tree line and the highest point of all vegetation, called the nival zone. Alpine growth typically consists of herb grasses and plants, with all woody vegetation disappearing towards higher elevations. The upper limit of alpine vegetations also gives way to bare rock and permanent snow. Winds are strong and continuous, while precipitation is mist or snow. Temperatures are cold and it usually freezes at night. Residents consist of hoofed animals, small mammals and beasts that roost in the high country and plunder lowlands below.


Barren areas where little precipitation occurs and living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes an unprotected surface subject to weathering, exposing much bare rock. Downpours can create flash floods, resulting in a desert bloom of flora and much needed sustenance for animals and monsters. Plant life will occur wherever there is water, such as seepages from aquifers, surviving on sea mist or minimal rainfall, or congregating around springs that produce oases.

Plants tend to be wiry and tough, with cuticles and spines to preserve water. Creatures and humanoids need to keep cool, use little precious water and be efficient at finding food and water in the desert. Many creatures are nocturnal. Nomads move flocks and herds from oasis to oasis. The largest deserts include the Sahara, Arabian, Gobi and Kalahari, with large expanses of desert on every continent.
Links: ant (giant black) ~ ant (giant bull)

Number Appearing & Distribution

With this and the one before, I'm working on a few side-pages for the Bestiary to explain the descriptions on the monster charts I put up last year.  I've been lax about doing this, but I get to everything eventually.  However, Pandred asking me to make some monsters earlier in the month whetted my appetite so I'm trying to get these things together.  This is a work in progress, but we have to start somewhere.

On any monster chart in the Bestiary, the number appearing indicates how many individuals of that monster will normally appear within a two-mile hex. Thus, in the example on the right, the number of camels that would be foraging in a hex of that size would number 3-12.

This number will be distributed in various patterns depending on the behaviour of the monster. These patterns include:
  • Tight group: in a cluster moving closely together, usually less than one body length apart, frequently touching one another.
  • Group: in a body moving one to three body lengths apart, usually in the same direction, highly conscious of one another.
  • Loose Group: in a collection moving four to seven body lengths apart, generally in the same direction with stragglers. Beta-male groups are sometimes distinct from the alpha-male with females group.
  • Scattered Group: creatures gather in groups of 2-4, often out of sight or unrelated to each other, foraging or hunting over a very wide area. Separate groups gather together seasonally for mating.
  • Scattered: creatures may appear singly or in family pairs, mating with other singles or remaining alone through their lives.
  • Widely scattered: nearly always encountered as individuals.
The chances of any camels being in such a hex (because often a hex should have no monsters of that type at all) is equal to the relative power of the monster. For that we use the following formula:

"SA" denotes special abilities, so the formula below the line for the wild camel would be 1 special ability (spit) plus the square root of 3 HD, a total of 2.73. Then, 2 to the power of 2.73, over 1, equals 0.151, or a 15.1% chance that the two-mile hex includes a herd of wild camels.

Desirably, once we could calculate all the creatures present in a given hex, a ranger with sufficient sage knowledge would be able to explore such a hex in a few days and identify the spoor of most of the natural animals present, even if they were not actually seen. Should a particular kind of monster with many appearing be indicated, obviously these would be quite easy to find. However, a single highly dangerous monster might take a long time to root out ~ if its presence could even be detected.

For what monsters appear in what environments, I need to make a page for Range (monster habitats), which I'll be working on this afternoon.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Monster & Animal Species

I don't have the lifetime I need to write up all
the monsters that don't exist in my world.
I hope you can forgive me posting content that I've recently put up on the wiki.  Truth be told, the wiki is getting far less attention than it used to get, so I begin to think the internet is tired of it.  If I leave it there and never print it here, I think very few people would know about it.

And what the heck, it is still work of mine one way or the other.

The following is a list in progress of species in my game world (which a reader asked about last week, I think it was Ozymandias).  This is a partial list, reliably including monsters up to the Ds taht I've added to the wiki.  I'll be updating this table as I add more monsters to the wiki.  Last year about this time I set a goal of 50 monsters for 2018.  I'll be matching that number this year.  If I keep up that pace, I'll finish my monster lists when I'm, what, 66 y.o.?  Heh.  Anyway, expect to see a lot of monsters on the blog during the next couple of months.

Some monsters are based on Earth terms for living animals and others are creations solely for fantasy role-play.  Animal species are relevant to various sage abilities and sometimes for the creation of magical potions, scrolls, wands and other like items, as the bodily fluids of species can sometimes be exchanged for another like creature.

List of Species

Bat: a species of flying mammal, often appearing in very large numbers.  Docile species are insectivores or fruit-eaters and will attack only if disturbed.  More aggressive species have been known to attack large mammals for blood or as a source for meat.
List: bat (giant)

Bear: omnivorous mammals found on every continent except Africa and Australia.  These creatures have large bodies with stocky legs, long snouts, small rounded ears, shaggy hair, paws with five claws and short tails.  Food usually depends upon what is available in the bear's environment.  Hunted for their meat and fur.  Caged bears of smaller species are often kept as a source for entertainment.
List: bear (black) ~ bear (brown) ~ bear (cave)

Beast: supernatural hybrids, sometimes part human, often destructive and malevolent in nature.  The existence of beasts has been the result of both magical experimentation and inter-planar contact, where some beasts have emerged on Earth through divine intervention.  Most beasts created in laboratories are born sterile ~ but the means of their creation has become known, so that the same beasts do tend to appear, having either escaped or been freed.  Some notable beasts, always originating on another plane of existence, are unique in form.  See Beasts (sage study).
Dragons: dragon huakinthos ~ dragonis malignans
Ordinary beasts: ankheg ~ basilisk ~ behemoth ~ beholder ~ bird of Tyaa ~ bulette ~ carrion crawler ~ catoblepas ~ centaur ~ chimera ~ cockatrice ~ couatl ~ displacer beast ~ dragonne ~ eye of the deep ~ gorgon ~ griffon ~ harpy ~ hell hound ~ hippocampus ~ hippogriff ~ hydra ~ invisible stalker ~ ki-rin ~ lamia ~ lammasu ~ leucrotta ~ leviathan ~ lurker above ~ manticore ~ medusa ~ minotaur ~ morkoth ~ nightmare ~ otyugh ~ owlbear ~ pegasus ~ peryton ~ remorhaz ~ roper ~ rust monster ~ salamander ~ satyr ~ sea lion ~ shambling mound ~ shedu ~ slithering tracker ~ sphinx ~ stirge ~ trapper ~ treant ~ turtle (dragon) ~ umber hulk ~ unicorn ~ wyvern ~ xorn

Unique beasts: Apep ~ Bahamut ~ Blodug-Hofi ~ Cerberus ~ Dahak ~ Fenris ~ Flame Snake ~ Freke & Gere ~ Garm ~ Gullin-Bursti ~ Hugin & Munin ~ Indra's Elephant ~ Jormungandr ~ Ma Yuan ~ Minions of Set ~ Pack of the Wild Hunt ~ Peacock of Karttikeya ~ Phoenix ~ Sleipner ~ Tanngrisner & Tanngjost ~ Thunder Bird ~ Tiamat ~ White Eagle of Zeus ~ Yama's Water Buffalo

Bovine: cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals, with all males possessing two or more horns and in many species with females that possess horns also.  Bovids are typically diurnal, with social activity and feeding usually peak during dawn and dusk.  While small bovids forage in dense and closed habitat, larger species feed on high-fiber vegetation in open grasslands.  Many bovids have been domesticated, while their leather, meat and wool is sought after.
Links: antelope (sable) ~ buffalo ~ cattle (domestic) ~ cattle (wild)

Camelid: large, strictly herbivorous mammals with slender necks and long legs.  Due to their body structure, camelids have to lie down by resting on their knees with their legs tucked underneath their bodies.  Camelids do not have hooves, they have two-toed feet with toenail and soft, leathery foot pads.  When they walk, both legs on the same side of the body move simultaneously.  Camelids long enough for human beings to ride have a typical swaying motion.
Links: alpaca ~ camel (wild)

typically malevolent semi-divine beings whose origin tends towards the lower planes of existence, widely ranging in type and form.  Chthonic creatures are often associated with subterranean realms and places, but also with places that terrify and mortify the senses.
Demons: manes
Devils: lemure

Crocodile: large, solidly built reptiles that include alligators and caimans, with long flattened snouts and laterally compressed tails.  Their eyes, ears and nostrils are located on the tops of their heads.  They can swim well and can move on land in a "high walk" or "low walk," while smaller species can even gallop.  Their skins are thick and covered with non-overlapping scales.  They have peg-like teeth and a powerful bite.  They are hunted for skins and for meat.
Links: crocodile (common, deinosuchus & saltwater)

Faerie: enchanted humanoids usually with some natural magic ability dwelling in sylvan lands which exist largely through the caretaking and concern of powerful members of the species.  Similar but unrelated to Apollonian semi-divine beings, with a considerable presence throughout those outer planes associated with peace, happiness or contentment.  Often, faeries are concerned with the well-being of persons deemed worthy in their eyes.
Links: brownie ~ mite

also cats, carnivorous mammals with adaptations for stalking, ambush and short pursuit hunting.  With graceful and muscular bodies, strong forelimbs, a powerful bite and retractable claws, cats often have characteristic striped or spotted coat patterns for camouflage.  Some cats have been domesticated.  Often hunted for skins.
Links: cheetah

Fish: aquatic animals with gills and bound to a water environment, either salt-water or fresh.  Fish are usually non-intelligent and voracious eaters of creatures smaller than themselves.  They are abundant and often appear in very large groups, which can make them dangerous even against larger prey.  Common fish are sought after as an important food source.  There are numerous sub-species.
Ray-finned fish: barracuda

Flightless Bird:  these animals are birds that do not have the ability to fly.  Body shape tends towards long legs, necks and large heads, though exceptions ~ notably penguins ~ challenge this norm.  Flightless birds tend to attack with beaks and feet, the latter often including vicious claws.  Flightless birds are treasured for their decorative feathers, meat and skins; many species have been domesticated.
Links: axe beak ~ moa ~ ostrich ~ rhea

Hemitheioc: neutral to benevolent divine beings, less than demi-gods, whose origin tends towards the upper planes of existence, widely ranging in type and form.  Hemitheioc creatures are associated with aiding mortal beings, often with generosity and guidance.  Far less commonly seen than malevolent divine beings, hemitheioc beings take pains to work through emissaries, signs and other subtle means, preferring not to reveal themselves if not absolutely necessary.  As such, their measures are more difficult to identify and counteract.
Links: djinni

Humanoid: a highly disparate collection of normal-sized, intelligent, communal upright-walking beings typically with a head, two legs and two arms, though exceptions exist.  Includes both benevolent races seeking providence for the largest number and malicious, warlike races bent on world domination and control.  The most dangerous are those in control of large political regions.  Does not include giants.
Demi-human races: dwarf ~ elf
Goblin-associated races: bugbear

Insect: creatures with a chitinous exoskeleton, pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes and antennae.  Most insects that comprise monster forms are giant in form, a spontaneous evolutionary condition that predates the human discovery of magic and is therefore attributed to wild magic.  The effect produces a limited-levitation effect that lightens the weight of the insect so that it is able to support itself on legs or even fly.  Some giant insects can walk on water or swim.  Insects may be solitary or live in large organized colonies.  Some are known to swarm.  The diversity of insects precludes further generalizations.
Links: ant (giant black) ~ ant (giant bull) ~ ant (giant carpenter) ~ beetle (giant bombadier) ~ beetle (giant fire) ~ beetle (giant rhinocerous) ~ beetle (giant stag) ~ beetle (giant water) ~ centipede (giant)

Primate: a collection of primitive humanoids, possessed of low intelligence and related to humans.  While some larger species are earth-bound, all species possess adaptations for climbing trees.  Small species will leap from tree to tree or swing between branches.  Walking movement includes upright on two limbs or modified knuckle walking.  Highly social in family or larger groups. Most species live in tropical rainforests.
Links: ape (carnivorous) ~ ape (gorilla) ~ baboon (mandrill)

Pudding: a form of slime mold thats secrete acid from their tissues that is capable of dissolving flesh, cellulose or metal, depending on the species.  See Slime Molds (list).
Links: pudding (black)

Rhinocerous: herbivorous large mammals, some that can be counted as megafauna exceeding three tons in weight.  Rhinos typically have one or two horns, though exceptions exist.  Leafy material is preferred.  Horns have been sought after as a source of medicine and magic.  Rhinos have a reputation for being highly aggressive.
Links: baluchitherium

Rodent: mammals characterized by a single pair of incisors on the upper and lower jaws.  Found in vast numbers on all continents and in all habitats.  Rabid and often associated with disease, many rodent species are considered invasive pets, eating and spoiling stored food, destroying buildings and threatening crops and water sources.  Rodents also serve as a source of food, as pets and as attack animals.
Links: beaver (common & castoroides)

Swine: even-toed hoofed mammals noted for their intelligence as animals. Though usually feeding on vegetable matter, swine are ominivorous and can be highly aggressive as predators.  Some form prominent tusks that can be very dangerous.  Swine are hunted for their skins, meat and fat, which can be rendered to make lard or candles.
Links: boar (common wild & hylochloerus) ~ boar (warthog)

Therapod: bipedal reptiles characterized by hollow bones and three-toed limbs, usually carnivorous though some herbivores and omnivores are included in the species.  Distantly related to birds.  Therapods typically possess blade-like teeth with serrated edges.
Links: bonesnapper

Weasel: carnivorous mammals with short legs, short round ears and thick fur.  Weasels tend to be solitary, nocturnal and do eat vegetable matter.  Most can swim and are comfortable in the water.  Even the smallest species are noted for their viciousness.  Many species are sought after for their furs.  Some species have been domesticated.
Links: badger (common & chamitataxus)

See Bestiary

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

21st Class: World View

Let's begin by going back and looking at our discussion of objectivity and subjectivity.  You will remember that we described "subjective" knowledge as a set of beliefs gained from the perspective of a single individual ... their "experiential knowledge," we called it.  We described "objective" knowledge as something that was true if it was universally true.  Very well, let's look at this again from the perpective of the players' growing experience about the setting, which we covered in the third lab.

We have a tendency to express our beliefs in black-and-white terms, but we do learn to our discomfort and our credit that beliefs are a complex mixture of grey semi-truths about ourselves, applying in different situations according to our feeling of control, our immediate need, our feelings towards other people and things that have only just happened that trigger us in a multitude of ways.  Still, if we were to categorize our beliefs, we would view those that directly applied to ourselves as the most important.  We can call these first-person beliefs.  Some apply to our values: I love my family, I like to watch violent movies, I enjoy vacationing at the beach, grunge music is garbage and so on.  Our deepest beliefs, however, tend to be ethical: this is how the world works, I need people to treat me like this, I am a good person, I deserve a break once in awhile and such.

One step removed from ourselves are second-person beliefs.  I love my family, so YOU need to respect them, I like violent movies so you should also, everyone should like vacationing at the beach ... and of course, you need to know that the world works like this; if you don't treat me like this, you are a bad person; you don't deserve a break right now if it fucks me, etcetera.  Find enough people who support your second-person beliefs and "I" becomes "we" ~ we enjoy violent movies, we are good people, we deserve a raise in pay.

Finally, there are third-person beliefs, largely disconnected from your personal experience.  The Broncos should have traded that guy, the government has its head up its ass, I would have made the second Iron Man movie differently, Britney Spears' career is over, feminists are screwed up, take your pick.  Third-person beliefs are often completely full of shit because they're third-person; we know almost nothing truly relevant about how the Broncos view their own club or what compromised the making of a movie, or why a singer who sells out stadiums doesn't understand that her career is "over."  Third-person beliefs are fun but mostly based on misinformation.

The composite of all these subjective beliefs is called your "world view."  It is based on your orientation to all the things you believe; if you were the wardrobe designer for the next Britney Spears' tour, your perception would probably be different than if you were a D&D artist painting miniatures in your basement for income.  Your beliefs depend on who and what you're connected with; it is as much a physical perception as it is one of values, emotion and ethics.

Okay.  Let's turn this on its head.

When we present a setting for a role-playing campaign, all of our beliefs about that campaign, our world view of that campaign, become facts.  They become objective truths.

If you find that hard to grasp, consider.  In any setting of our making, if we imagine that the king should have executed his prime minister, that isn't an opinion.  We know why the king should have, we know what the prime minister is planning and we know everything that is going on in their minds that we care to know.  When we have an NPC tell the party, "The prime minister isn't planning on killing the king," we're not guessing.  We know if it's true.  We even know if the NPC believes if it is true.

When we say there are 781 people living in that village over there, we're not estimating.  We're not saying there are "about" that many ... we're saying exactly how many there are.  Oh, we may say to the party, "There are seven or eight hundred people there," but the exact number is right there for us any time we're ready to name one.  And we are never wrong.

There are two things we don't know.  We don't know what the party will do or say; and we don't know anything the dice will decide.  Often, the party will surprise us; but we know if we're suprised and we're free to update our total knowledge accurately at the moment we're surprised ... so this is not much of a challenge to our power.

The dice are different.  The dice are fickle and they will often cause things to happen that fall way out of our expectations.  Every time we invoke the die to make a decision about what's possible, we're not relying upon either objective or subjective belief: we are initiating an experiment ... and as we know, experiments often produce results that are difficult to stomach as knowledge, once they happen.

[This is, incidentally, one of the reasons why fudging is common; having perfect knowledge of everything else, and the ability to update that knowledge on the basis of accepting or discarding something the players might do, is a difficult pill to swallow when the dice subverts our omnipotence.  The temptation to change the die, and retain that omnipotence, is overwhelming.  We will make any excuse that defends that change]

IN THE LARGER SENSE, we need to understant that this shift from subjective to objective truth is something only the DM experiences.  The players do not have the benefit of any of this knowledge.  From their perspective, the "knowledge" the DM relates is just as subjective as any other experience they gain from the world outside the game.  Anything the DM tells them may or may not be true.  The DM has no power to guarantee that any statement that's made will be taken as 100% factual by the players ... which creates a dynamic that can be both astonishing and exasperating, depending on the DM's comprehension of this rare dichotomy.

The sort of person who embraces the DM's chair is the sort that is comfortable with possessing total knowledge in the face of people who don't.  Some DMs will use that disparity to their advantage; others will forego that advantage for the benefit of the players.  Experienced players learn to tell the difference.

DMs uncomfortable with possessing that knowledge, learning they can't truly share it with anyone, will back out of the position in favor of returning to the player's position.  Having the knowledge ~ understanding in part that it should not be shared, that sharing it will often meet with doubt or even apathy and that decisions creating the knowledge will lead to party unhappiness, frustration and even character death, is very uncomfortable for some.  Of course, the demands to create the knowledge have their own toll.

Most of us hardly know ourselves very well; to ask a person who only partly understands their own nature to now make a world for others to judge, resist or resent is simply too much.  We cannot ask people to play god who haven't the stomach for it.  After all, it isn't just creating those second- and third-person truths about the king, the prime minister and the NPC.  The DM takes over the role of creating those first-person opinions as well.

Think this is the way the world works?  As DM, I know how the world works and you're not there yet.  Think you can decide how people will treat you?  As DM, I'll let my invented people decide that.  Think you're a good person?  As DM, I define "good."  This is what "playing god" means.

It is easy to think those things are a judgement on the player by the DM ... and rest assured, many players absolutely take it that way.  Remember, these are the beliefs we have at our core.  When those beliefs are challenged, we don't care if this is a game or not.  It is our responsibility to define elements of the game, such as ethics, values, emotion and such in the same way the players might; otherwise, the game itself will not exist as something the players will want to play.  We can begin to discuss how that works with our next class.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

5e: An Introduction to Nothing

"In the Dungeons & Dragons game, each player creates an adventurer (also called a character) and teams up with other adventurers (played by friends). Working together, the group might explore a dark dungeon, a ruined city, a haunted castle, a lost temple deep in a jungle, or a lava-filled cavern beneath a mysterious mountain. The adventurers can solve puzzles, talk with other characters, battle fantastic monsters, and discover fabulous magic items and other treasure."

Some might think that with this single quote, to of page 5, second actual page of the 5th Edition Players Handbook, I'm moving through the material too slowly.  I'm in no rush.  I have plenty of time to investigate one paragraph at a time.  My goal here is not to give a review of the book or the game, but to identify the intent of the publishers, to examine their choices and see what they want participants to understand or believe.  That's why I think paragraphs like the one above deserve a close look.

Between 1974 and 2014, there have been established certain terms and phrases that have become universal to the role-playing game.  Players make characters.  Not adventurers.  And the publishers understood this perfectly, because while they made the bold move to newly define what players make, they also knew those same players wouldn't quite accept that ... so they added, in brackets, "(also ...)"

I want to be in the room when this sentence, or position, was discussed.  I imagine that certain marketing types, eager to sell "adventures" like the idea that the player characters could be rebranded as "adventurers."  I can imagine one of them saying, "See?  It just works together."  And it does.  Yet I can't recall anyone in the last four years talking about 5th edition and referring to their fighters and wizards as "player adventurers."

The book seems full of this sort of presumption.  It appears again with the next phrase: you don't "play" with other adventurers, you "team up" with them.  And oh, those adventures are your friends.  Yes, we run plenty of tournaments throughout the world where you'll sit at a table and play this game with total strangers, but we're not talking about that now.  These adventures are played by friends, because darn it, we want to make sure that as we're describing this game, we want you to have a very positive attitude about it.

With the next sentence, we want to make sure that your "team" "works together."  I don't have any problem with that in principle.  I don't want to be a part of games where the players work against each other or where they don't see the importance of acting together.  But why does this language ring of corporate lingo?  Why are the five things listed that the group can explore essentially the same thing said in five different ways?  Why is the sentence structure so that, taken literally, you can only do these five things?

Tell me if you know, because I don't follow modules and I'd have no idea ... but did the company, by any chance, release modules or parts of adventures between 2014 and 2016 that depicted a dungeon, a ruined city, a castle, a lost temple and a cavern?  Oh, and I'm sorry to quibble, but lava-filled caverns occur under volcanoes, not mountains, and because of the pressure that lava under the ground creates, the cavern would be molten and without room for adventurers.  Here's a small reminder of how pressure under volcanoes works, from October 17, two months ago:

But yes, that is quibbling.  My apologies.

A big one for me is why "solve puzzles" is the first on that list.  "Talk with other characters" I can understand.  The name of the game is "role-playing."  The initials are not SPG.  Nor do I understand why battling fantastic monsters is deliberately framed as separate from the acquisition of fabulous magic items and other treasure.

Someone specifically chose this language.  Someone took the time to separate these concepts: we don't kill monsters for their treasure.  We don't kill monsters and get treasure.  We kill monsters ... and we stumble across treasure in an unconnected way, as a fourth thing on this list after puzzles and talking and killing.

Perhaps I am overthinking it.  It would be easy to believe that this is a stumbling, cluttered, amateur hack-job of a paragraph, written by a low-paid writer cramming corporate terms into an player-friendly attempt at poetic license.  After all, this is the third attempt to name what D&D is, in less than two pages:

  • "They were tired of merely reading tales about worlds of magic, monsters and adventure.  They wanted to play in those worlds, rather than observe them."
  • "It's about picturing the towering castle beneath the stormy night sky ..."
  • "The group might explore a dark dungeon, a ruined city ..."

Nor is that all.  Further down the same page, we have three more examples:
  • "Sometimes an adventurer might come to a grisly end, torn apart by ferocious monsters or done in by a nefarious villain."
  • "The many worlds of the Dungeons & Dragons game are places of magic and monsters, of brave warriors and spectacular adventures."
  • "The worlds of the Dungeons & Dragons game exist within a vast cosmos called the multiverse, connected in strange and mysterious ways to one another and to other planes of existence, such as the Elemental Plane of Fire and the Infinite Depths of the Abyss.  Within this multiverse are an endless variety of worlds."
And it happens one more time on the very next page, where a long paragraph hammers this list style example-giving right into the ground.

It doesn't ring like a clumsy writer.  It rings like a list was provided of things and the writer was compelled to compress the list into the smallest number of words possible.  Moreover, it is a style of writing that has been used to describe D&D all the way back to the first edition.

We all know that D&D is a hard game to describe well.  Words don't seem enough to grasp all the things these lists try to present, nor is it easy to find phrases that explain quickly what it means to create a character and act as a Dungeon Master.  These concepts don't present themselves as self-evident to the uninitiated.  I have never, since beginning this blog, tried to explain in a single short post what D&D is to someone who has never heard of it, seen it or played it.

The first time it was explained to me, the explanation came about 90 minutes before I sat down to play ~ and that experience instantly eliminated any need for explanation.  Since, whenever I have needed to explain the game, I have simply said, "Come around and watch; then you can decide if you want to play."  This has always worked.

I suppose you've got to write an introduction to a book like this.  But does this book include plans for  Castle Ravenloft, the dark dungeon, the ruined city, the Infinite Depths of the Abyss or any of the worlds full of magic and monsters?  Then why are we talking about them?  Shouldn't the introduction to this book address itself first and at once to what is in this book, the one we're reading?  I think so.  All this other falderal is unnecessary fluff, like the ads jammed at the front of magazines and old school comic books ~ stuff we have to turn past to get to the material we wanted.

It does get there: halfway through page 6, with the heading, "Using this Book."  When I write another of these posts, I'll start there.

Occultism (per request)

With this post, the general of the elf and dwarf also completed, I come to the end of all that Pandred asked me to do.  At the moment, I have nothing on my plate that comes from a reader or a Patreon supporter.  Help me fix that!

Sage studies are a major headache.  As I've said before, they are always a rabbit hole and, realistically, they should be subject to adjustment through play.  Any complex subject ~ occultism for example ~ would need to be play-tested before it could be comfortably established.  This is why I usually try to keep any rules I write deliberately conservative.

Much of what appears below, from my game wiki, has not been tested.  I have run the tarot ability, and it worked fairly well.  However, that's largely because my world is very highly defined with an extremely flexible dynamic, so that if a card gives me an idea of a series of events that will happen, I can roll with it very easily and not feel that I or my system is threatened.  Another DM would perhaps not be so confident.

In any case, Occultism would be a mess for anyone.  As I have built the concept so that it stands completely alone from spells, or any of the effects that any game spell provides, the result is both alien and impossible to estimate.  It would only take one very ambitious, innovative player to potentially wreck the concept ... I have kept that in mind throughout and I believe that I have tried to put barriers in place.  None of these things, at least for the level of knowledge discussed, could tip my campaign as far as I could see.  I could be wrong.

Much of this is new, having just written it today: numerology, tea leaf reading, carve sigil, detect mania, make a reading, acupuncture and comprehend aura are all new subjects upon which I haven't written before.  Please enjoy.

Occultism (sage study)

Enables a scientific investigation of magic and the magic arts, not necessarily limited to the employment of magic by any particular class. Also investigates other phenomena, such as mass suggestion, superstition, the nature of the soul and the development of incantation.

A significant part of the study includes the cultivation of wild magic, a naturally underlying power that manifests in the Prime Material Plane from outside influences, most predominantly the four elemental planes and the planes of positive and negative energy. By closely examining these forces through occult disciplines it is possible, and dangerous, to set events in motion that will irreversably change the lives of people and entities. Knowing how these changes are about to emerge, the occultist can then use that advantage to further a cause or find benefits.

While most events set in motion are relatively benign, the wild nature of uncontrolled magic can produce results that are either fortunate or disastrous ... so it is with care that an occultist stirs wild magic. Too many investigations will multiply the possible results to such a degree that unrestrained chaos results ... which, like nature, is nearly always more destructive than helpful.

Effectively to make the occult work as a study, as a DM my duty is to adjust the events upcoming in my world according to the random elements created by investigations into astrology, tea leaves and so on. This can be complicated and problematical for a pre-destined adventure; I have found in the past that the chaos that results usually causes a player to turn to this discipline with extraordinary restraint.

For anyone wishing to invest into the occult, having gained the study, I will require that they choose one of these five disciplines, with the understanding that it is the responsibility of the player, and not the DM, to assemble the necessary materials and learn their use, just as any practicing occultist must:
Astrology: the player will be expected to purchase an astrological book that will enable them to make astrological charts ~ and to make these charts of player and non-player characters in the setting as part of the cultivation of the discipline. The player does not have to believe in astrology, but the effects of making a chart will depend on the player's ability to demonstrate the accuracy and detail of what planets are in what houses at the time of the charted character's birth.
Bone Throwing: to read the bones, the character must purchase or be in possession of six 6-sided dice that are unique of each other, with images instead of numbers. Often called "story cubes." Add to these one 6-sided die that possesses pips. The manner in which the dice land determines the interpretation.
Numerology: requires little preparation, but does require the character keep continuous track of all dice rolled at a table in a given period to have any chance of making an observation. Depending on the die rolls, it is possible that no observation will result from this work that is done.
Tarot: the player must purchase a tarot deck. Results will form from the cards as they are pulled and set out during the reading.
Tea Leaf Reading: the player must provide loose tea and cup, as well as willingness to drink the tea and perform the ritual of tea reading in order to create the images necessary to make a proper reading. The player will be required to study the pattern of the leaves and identify pictures therein.

Occultism associated with other planes of existence and demonology is more appropriately described as dweomercraft.

Carve Sigil: inscribes a pictorial representation of the occultist's desired outcome.
Detect Mania: enables the recognition of crowds influenced by unnatural mass influence.
Make a Reading: produces psychic results when the proper rituals are performed.

Acupuncture: the relief of pain or other malady through the insertion of needles.
Comprehend Aura: enables the detection of the colored aura enveloping a living body; reveals the presence of familiars.
Seek Totem Spirit (NA): self-identifying with a familial animal form to gain greater natural prowess.


Form Incantation (NA): empowers a cultic rite, enabling a limited mastery of wild magic.
Master Familiar (NA): reveals the true nature of familiars and increases the bond between familiar and master.
Transfiguration (NA): the power to experience a momentary divine radiance.

Maleficium (NA): the mastery of wild magic with the intention of causing harm.
Mysticism (NA): the practice of religious ecstasy as a means of controlling wild magic.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mite (as requested)

Armor class 4 with leather armor.
These small creatures are not a race unto themselves, but rather grotesque, spiritually poisoned sprites that have become consumed by their baleful vices and compulsions.  Hating other sprites and themselves, their obsession with malevolence has mutated their minds and their bodies.  Malignant and cruel, sometimes in pairs or threesomes, these creatures steal away from the sun, seeking dark places and victims for themselves.

Mites are very clever and will hone themselves as thieves, rising as high as 5th level.  They specialize in skullduggery and especially in setting and removing traps.  Though small, they will arrange trap doors and sliding chutes intended to imprison their victims in small traps, where they can be patiently poisoned, starved or bled to death.  Mites prefer the taste of larger humanoids, disdaining the taste of other food and particular of good fairies.  The more disdainful the humanoid, the better the flesh tastes to a mite.

The bite of a mite is toxic and has the potential to impart some of the mite's malefic nature to the subject in the form of a curse.  Any who are bitten must make a saving throw against magic, receiving a +1 bonus for every point of wisdom above 12.  Once cursed, victims will be apparently unaffected, but will immediately refuse to harm a mite, or prevent a mite from taking action.  Until the curse is lifted, the victim will be unable to spare opponents, resist taunts that encourage the victim to fight or flee a fight unless reduced to less than 20% of their hit points.  This will persist even after the mite is dead, as a part of the mite lives on in the victim.

Mites will often create complex tunnels near potential victims, with these passages being as small as four inches in diameter.  Mites are particularly fond of targeting isolated farms, waiting for their chance to kill off members of the humanoid family one by one, often succeeding in doing so without alerting the residents as to what is happening.

See Bestiary

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

RPG 201, Lab #3 ~ Setting

Welcome to the 3rd Lab.  Our goal is to discuss player experience, development and expansion, in such a manner that the players grow from being common, ordinary adventurers into entities that have the power to affect and redesign the setting to satisfy their needs, enabled and supported by the Dungeon Master.  And while the game rules do not change, the power the players gain over their environment does.

Most participants never experience this aspect of role-playing.  For them, the game is a linear model that resets itself with every adventure.  As we discussed in the last class, the players equip, venture out, achieve the goal ... and then repeat this process with the next adventure.  Each adventure differs in detail and as the party progresses in power, the adventures progress in potential threat and value of the reward.  However, the structure of the adventure does not change; each element is repeated until the players either achieve a level that denies further promise of adventure or tire of the setting, the game form or the Dungeon Master.

Clearly, the linear model offers success in game satisfaction, for a time; and it offers a structure that can be sustained by a single individual preparing for adventure after adventure.  Further, the structure can be pre-designed, enabling the individual to bypass much tedious preparation ~ and enables the same pre-designed module to be employed again with a different party at a different time.

But while the linear model is much praised among many participants of role-playing, it is limited when the consequences of the players' adventuring is ignored ~ which they usually are, because most DMs prefer a closed linear model.  Let us, instead, speak of an open linear model.

At the start of the campaign, game play begins just as we expect.  The players Discover the adventure, either through information they receive or circumstances they observe ~ what is usually called a "plot hook."  The adventure needs to be sufficient to draw the players in, but we have plenty of examples of that so we need not expand here.

The plot hook will inherently give the players reason to Pursue a course of action AND a viable reward.  Within the heroic model, this includes the vanquishing of malevolence and the preservation of innocents, but it also includes the acquisition of things, with the accumulation of wealth and power.  There is also the novelty of doing something new and different.  But here we add three additional rewards that do more than expand the ability of the players: status, purpose and enlightenment.

Briefly, Status not only rewards the players with additional privileges and access to benefits and help, it makes others positively aware of the players ~ that is, persons of power see the players as beneficiaries to the kingdom, as persons worthy of giving advice, as allies and as friends.  Purpose addresses specific player interests in righting widespread wrongs, not just in this particular adventure, but in other potential adventures.  As the player examines their purpose, whatever it might be, this purpose ~ and not the next journey there and back ~ becomes the driving force behind the players' actions.  Enlightenment, in turn, expands what the players understand and know about the setting, allowing them to refine, or even change, their initial purpose.  With comprehension of the big picture of the setting, they begin to realize their sense of worth. They matter.  In time, they will not be easily restrained in their purpose, once they know what they are able to accomplish.

With these things in mind, we need to understand what Effect the adventure has on the game setting.  In the closed linear model, none.  The adventure is over.  In the open model, however, the adventure itself causes something about the game setting to change.  There is a consequence.  The removal of a powerful entity creates a power vacuum.  Persons beyond the party gain something from the goal the players did not expect.  Thorin is placed successfully on the throne but the one ring is found.  The course of events do not cease when the adventure is finished; the adventure gives birth to new developments, new threats, new challenges.

With the open model, we encourage the players at the end of the adventure to understand that the setting has Changed, and that the change is irrevocable.  We draw a direct line between their actions and the change ... whatever has happened, the players are responsible.  They can face their responsibility, taking the next step to better the situation, or they can flee their responsibility, the choice is up to them.  They cannot, however, pretend that the responsibility was not theirs; they chose to adventure; they creating the consequences; and now the consequences, for good or ill, will play out regardless of the players' involvement.  This after-shock is critical in providing enlightenment and purpose to the campaign; and to the players benefit, having accomplished the adventure, the DM provides them with status and aid that will enable them to address the consequence of it.

The inclusion of status, as well as the increased resources that are common among closed models, provides a Coherence to the campaign.  The next adventure is not an isolated experience; it plays directly upon the accomplishment and rewards of the previous adventure.  The setting, far from static, moves and rolls as the players manipulate events, even through their small actions.  The players' influence the campaign just as the campaign influences the players.  Soon the players recognize that the second adventure, to fix the problems of the first, will itself have consequences ... so that rather than repeating itself, the open model expands and expands as it reacts to each thing the players achieve.

Some might imagine that the consequences of every adventure, to ensure player involvement, should necessarily be bad.  The players empty a dungeon, so something worse moves into it, so the players have to empty the dungeon again, so that something even worse happens, etcetera.  This would make a very poor open model, one that would quickly discourage the players.  Rather, we should suppose that some neutral consequence happens, that the players realize they can capitalize upon; followed by another neutral, but greatly interesting consequence, allowing more capitalization, more opportunity to expand their purpose, a chance to enlighten themselves further and establish their status to a greater degree.  Neutral opportunities are risky, dangerous, sometimes negative, sometimes positive ... but always suggestive that there is some balance the players can achieve.

As adventures pass, with consequences, status and purposes growing in number and complexity, the players should be able to sense a Crescendo in their future.  A point where the matter will be ultimately resolved; where the players' involvement alone may not be enough; a moment of true reckoning, where everything that has been fought for and everything that opposes that accumulation will come face-to-face, once and for all.  That crescendo can be put off, again and again, for a long time; or the players can actively pursue it.  Sooner or later, however, it will arrive.  All can be sure of it.

And when it does, a Resolution will be made.  Vast matters will be settled.  Powers greater than the players will negotiate and everyone, players included, will agree to respect the boundaries that are named.  Whereupon ... the players will pick up some small consequence of an earlier adventure, one too small to deserve their attention before, and begin to expand their setting in another adventure.

How is this done?  The DM must perceive that the players are entitled to a Back Stage pass where the world is concerned.  The DM provides the players with insight into how the setting's variable layers are designed.  The layers of politics, the layers of capital, the layers of religion, the layers underlying how creatures of great power, from gods to unfathomable monsters, inter-relate and intermix with one another, high over the player's heads.  With this enlightenment, we wish the players to always answer the question, how do they view the world now that they know this?  Is the world bigger than they expected?  More complicated?  Friendlier?  Scarier?  And knowing this, how do the players fit in?  Forget their petty backgrounds or problems ... in the grand narrative of the millions who occupy the game setting, where powers that clash far outweigh the players' hit points or potential damage, how will the players negotiate all so that they, too, might someday clash with the greatest of them?

This is more than a matter of letting the players accumulate upgrades and items of power.  The players will need more than their own party; they will need allies, safe places, a means to turn enemies into friends, self-awareness against their own pride and impatience and an ever greater understanding of just what they're up against.

That is as much a struggle for the DM as it is for the players, for it is the DM who must determine what this setting is!  How it is layered, how the interactions occur, what is the grand narrative and how is it made?  For the rest of the course we will be tackling these larger issues, as we introduce the setting in structure, function and behaviour.

Take care, and Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

5e: The Challenges That Scene Presents

This is the third consecutive post I've written about 5th edition; do not worry, the bloom will fall from the rose.  It is only that I first wrote my 3rd lab for the RPG 201 course, only to feel that it needs another try.  I'm going to get some distance on it first, probably post it tomorrow ~ and instead plow into another of these posts instead.

Let's begin with the balance of the 5th Edition Player's Handbook Preface,
“The first characters and adventures you create will probably be a collection of clichés. That’s true of everyone, from the greatest Dungeon Masters in history on down. Accept this reality and move on to create the second character or adventure, which will be better, and then the third, which will be better still. Repeat that over the course of time, and soon you be able to create anything, from a character’s background story to an epic world of fantasy adventure.
“Once you have that skill, it’s yours forever. Countless writers, artists and other creators can trace their beginnings to a few pages of D&D notes, a handful of dice and a kitchen table.”

With very moderate reservations, I agree strongly with the above. These two paragraphs express their intent plainly and with purpose. I would prefer to quote them, praise them and move on ... only when I turn to the next page, page 5, titled "Introduction," I find that everything in the above text is sliced clean into the hazard.

I'll explain, but first I want to say again that it is not my intent to nit-pick, to look for small or unimportant errors and faults, especially in order to criticize unnecessarily. At times throughout this post, I will stop and explain exactly why I'm making a particular point, so that the reader will see that my issues are neither small nor unimportant, but rather damning evidence of the amateurish work herein.

First, let us quote the opening paragraph of the Introduction:
"The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords and sorcery. It shares elements with childhood games of make-believe. Like those games, D&D is driven by imagination. It’s about picturing the towering castle beneath the stormy night sky and imagining how a fantasy adventurer might react to the challenges that scene presents."

The emphasis is my own.  We have just had it explained to us the page before that when we start to make adventures, we will probably create a collection of cliches.  It is clear that we are to be forgiven for this, because we are just starting out, yet presumably a collection of cliches is something to laugh about and think on later, "Oh, what a bunch of amateurs we were."

Yet here we are, talking about a game driven by imagination, and we are slapped with the cliche, "A dark and story night ..."

Mon dieu!

Do we not know that the notion of starting any idea with the conception of a storm at night is a cliche so famously gauche that it initiated a writing contest specifically to mock cliches, still going strong since its founding in 1982?  Yet here we are, in 2014, setting the stage with this as an example of how "imaginative" D&D is.

Okay.  Okay, okay, okay.  Let's move on.  What follows is a passage that will be familiar to most of you, as it is quoted from the Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, written by Bruce R. Cordell and James Wyatt.  It was released in 2006 for the D&D 3.5 ruleset.  Here is the passage the 5th Ed. P.H. quotes:
“Dungeon Master (DM): After passing through the craggy peaks, the road takes a sudden turn to the east and Castle Ravenloft towers before you. Crumbling towers of stone keep a silent watch over the approach. They look like abandoned guardhouses. Beyond these, a wide chasm gapes, disappearing into the deep fog below. A lower drawbridge spans the chasm, leading to an arched entrance to the castle courtyard. The chains of the drawbridge creak in the wind, their rust-eaten iron straining with the weight. From atop the high strong walls, stone gargoyles stare at you from hollow sockets and grin hideously. A rotting wooden portcullis, green with growth, hangs in the entry tunnel. Beyond this, the main doors of the Castle Ravenloft stand open, a rich warm light spilling into the courtyard.”

For my part, I do not care if there are cliches in this or not.  Apart from pedants, it is recognized that most of the English language is made up of one form of cliche or another, repeated so often that these become patterns of speech and hardly noticed in everyday life.  "How are you?" is a cliche, yet it is said twenty times a day between strangers who do business or seek answers, because it is convenient and comes direct to the point.  A cliche offers clarity and directness, better than more flowery language that can confuse and unnecessarily obfuscate the purpose of writing.  That the above contains cliches is a matter of complete indifference to me.

Yet, the writers of the book felt compelled to disparage cliches directly, connecting them with inexperience and, hah hah, what a bunch of crappy adventure writing we did when we first started off, eh?  The writers cannot disparage the use of cliches and then present THIS nest of cliches after telling us that "the Greatest Dungeon Masters in History" transcended cliches and produced "an epic world of fantasy adventure."

It demands a belly laugh.

Here are the cliches I see in the above: “craggy peaks,” “sudden turn,” “crumbling towers,” “keep a silent watch,” “disappearing into the deep,” “spans the chasm,” “creak in the wind,” “atop the walls,” “hollow sockets,” “grin hideously,” “spilling into the courtyard.” These are ancient clichés, everyone, with one appearing in nearly every sentence of the introduction.  I do not point these out with relish, but with baffled confusion.  What group of publishers, having the whole repertoire of the company's lexicon to draw from, decided that this was work of the highest merit?

Moreover, throughout the passage there are inconsistencies that cry for a literary appraisal.  Once again, let me stress, I have no concerns whatsoever about the content here ~ only the language that was chosen as evidence of great imagination.  It matters not to me where the Castle Ravenloft is related to the craggy peaks or the road ... but the language tells me that we do not see the castle after passing through the craggy peaks, but only after the road takes a sudden turn.  It is clear from the passage that Ravenloft is huge - yet we do not see it between the trees, we do not see it from the pass between the craggy peaks ... we only see it after the road turns?

Forgive me.  That would seem to be small and unimportant, but this was the passage chosen from thousands of potential paragraphs in hundreds of potential modules ... and in the first sentence the scale of the castle vs. the road is at odds with the presentation.

Then we are told that the towers of stone keep a silent watch ... but lest we confuse the issue, we are told they look abandoned. Why present this first as a poetic anthropormorphism, only to shatter it at once with a stark admittance?  What service does this do ... and what logic is it to tell us the "towers" look like guard "houses?"  Granted, it is true that guard houses can be tall, but then a resident of the period would have described them as guard houses from the start, and not as towers at all.  Is the writer even sure what a tower or a guard house is?

The examples compound.  We are told the chasm is wide, so we must assume that if we're on this side of it, and we haven't crossed, the actual gate, portcullis and doors are a fair distance away.  Yet the gargoyles that are "atop the high strong walls" are described to us as though we were but twenty feet away.  We are able to see that they stare at us and that their eye sockets are hollow.  We are able to see what sort of grins they possess.  Would they not, from our vantage point beyond the wide chasm and beneath the high walls, seem but vague smudges?  Particularly as we have also had this scene set by the Introduction paragraph as happening under a "stormy night sky;" would we even be able to tell they were gargoyles?

What of these drawbridge chains, straining from weight.  The drawbridge is lowered. The chains exist to pull the drawbridge up, to a place where it does not weigh heavily upon the chains.  When the drawbridge is down, it is made to rest upon stone braces built into the sides of the gap. That is because very heavy things are dragged into castles, like massive blocks of stone, that would break a level platform hung on chains alone no matter how thick or new they were. How come these imaginaries of epic fantasy don’t know how drawbridges work?

And what of the portcullis that is "green with growth."  Given that it is night, and green is remarkably hard to distinguish at night, how do we know this is growth?  I have learned from a moment's investigation, though it is not included in the text above, that this green growth is slime.  How is it that we are able to recognize this slime at this distance?  Or that the portcullis is rotting, or even that is it made of wood (though we might guess it)?

Take note: we've already been told that there is a courtyard beyond the entrance ... and four sentences later we are told that the castle doors are open.  Should we not have assumed that, else how would we know there was a courtyard?  Yet we know why the open door was not mentioned before; it is there to set up the rich, warm light that spills into the courtyard.  From whence is this light coming?  From the stormy night?  Or from within?  If from within, should not the light spill out from the courtyard?  And how much light is this, that will light a courtyard of a castle as large as Ravenloft?  And how, under this stormy night sky, is the light "warm"?  Welcome, surely, but ...
And while the reader grits teeth and clenches fists, hearing me disparage the sanctity of the Ravenloft introduction, I point out that these 128 words of description would drive an editor to cover the page red with pen.  At least it is spelled correctly.

To say again: I am fine with the content.  I am fine with Ravenloft as an adventure, with all the vampires.  Yet with that said, this is a poor example, on its own, to show how we rise to the challenge of describing this scene.  If this is what the publishers believe is the epitome of giving structure to stories, does this not give cause to reconsider the publishers' expertise in designing a book of this stature?

Why, I want to ask, did the publishers not write something new?