Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Secondary Skills Updated

Just a little fun.  My background generator as it stands offers 110 possible backgrounds from which the player character can derive.  Some are common, some are very rare.  These would represent the households in which the character grew up, so professions that a father, mother or other ancestor would have practiced, around which the character was raised.  This is how I define the origin of "secondary skills."  If your parents did it, then you have some skill at it.  These are bonus abilities and features that the character adds to their other trained class skills.

Alchemist: able to read & write; 10 knowledge points in the study of druidic alchemy, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Alchemist's apprentice: +1 damage when throwing acid, -1 damage per die from all chemical attacks.
Architect: able to read & write; can plan shape of wooden or stone structures.
Armorer: fashion armor. Party's armor saves at +2.
Artillerist: 10 knowledge points in the study of combat artillery, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Artist: 10 knowledge points as a bardic artist, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Baker: make breadstuffs; subtract 1 damage taken from heat.
Banker: character has access to credit, equal to 25 times the character's starting wealth.  Character can read & write, and possesses a writ of passage throughout the kingdom.
Baron: the character's elder sibling is the rightful heir of the land. The character is entitled to use the title 'Sir' and has been granted a manor estate as a member of the family. The character's manor includes 385 acres, with 77 landed tenants and servants. The land receives 50 c.p. per tenant per month from each in taxes, tolls & goods, for a total income of 20 g.p. per month. Taxes on the property equals 32 g.p. per year, or 16 c.p. per acre. Able to read & write.
Blacksmith: ability to work a forge. Party's ironmongery saves at +1; character has +1 bonus to hit with hammer.
Boatman: navigate rivers, +2 to dexterity checks when aboard boats.
Bookbinder: lay our and design books, shape leather into book covers; character is able to read and write.
Bounty hunter: has amateur scouting knowledge (see Ranger), gains bonus proficiency in a hurled or fired weapon.
Brewer: brew beer; double resistance to alcohol.
Buccaneer: character has both sailing and swimming ability; and also possesses a writ promising the building of a single-masted vessel up to 2,000 g.p. value, at the character's behest.
Butcher: chop and preserve meat properly; add proficiency with cleaver (damage as dagger).
Carpenter: able to build wooden structures; +1 attacks against wooden defenses.
Chandler: reduce fats and tallow; subtract 1 damage taken from heat.
Cobbler: make and repair leather shoes; party's boots and shoes save at +3.
Confectioner: make candy and preserve meat and vegetables properly; subtract 1 damage taken from heat.
Cooper: make and repair barrels; party's wooden containers save at +3.
Count: the character's elder sibling is the rightful heir of the land. The character is entitled to use the title 'Sir' and has been granted a manor estate as a member of the family. The character's manor includes 385 acres, with 77 landed tenants and servants. The land receives 50 c.p. per tenant per month from each in taxes, tolls & goods, for a total income of 20 g.p. per month. Taxes on the property equals 32 g.p. per year, or 16 c.p. per acre. Able to read & write.
Crusader: the character is entitled to use the title, 'Sir.' The character is also a member of a Knight-Order, and may make introduction of self to the Grand Wizard of that order, with whom correspondence can be sent or reasonable requests made. Gains a +2 bonus to the moral of any man-at-arms.
Curate: possesses a bonus 1st level cleric spell, regardless of class.
Diemaker: amateur bardic skill in dies and minting, regardless of class, with character gaining 1d6-1 points per level.
Dispossed Noble: the character is entitled to use the title 'Sir' when referring to oneself. The title carries no legitimate power or ownership. Gains a +2 bonus to the moral of any hireling from the character's realm. Able to read & write.
Draper: make and repair curtains, tents, cloth shelters; +1 bonus to constitution checks.
Engraver: amateur bardic skill in craft, regardless of class, with character gaining 1d6-1 points per level.
Explorer: able to read & write; 10 knowledge points of clerical history, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level. Character has pathfinder ability.
Farmer: can sow crops, +1 to strength checks in the outdoors.
Fence: character begins game with 161 g.p. in stolen
Fisherman: fishes as a full angler and is able to swim.
Fishmonger: has fishing ability; +3 save against nausea and odors.
Fuller: transform fibres to thread or yarn, with or without spinning wheel; +1 bonus to strength checks.
Furniture maker: make and repair furniture; party's wooden goods save at +2.
Furrier: make and repair fur clothing; party's fur goods save at +2.
Gambler: character possesses the thieving gambling ability, regardless of class, with character gaining 1d6-1 points per level.
Gameskeeper: has amateur scouting knowledge.
Gladiator: causes +1 damage when fighting mammals or mammal-like beasts.
Glassmaker: make and repair glass products; party's vials and other glass saves at +2 (or breaks with +2 bonus if desired). Subtract 1 damage taken from heat.
Glazier: make and repair glass windows; fabricate stained glass and mirrors with shop. Remove glass easily when using tools.
Graverobber: +1 armor class against undead.
Guardsman: +1 damage when using fists as a weapon or when grappling.
Guildmaster of the leather worker's guild: able to make and repair leather goods. Gains a +1 bonus to the moral of all artisan hirelings. Able to read & write.
Guildmaster thief: enjoys the recognition of the criminal faction in one's own realm, with freedom from infringement by all but ignorant wrongdoers. Reasonable requests can be made, with give & take expected. Gains a +2 bonus to the morale of all criminals. Able to read & write.
Gypsy: +1 saving throw against magic.
Herbalist: has 10 knowledge points in druidical studies of bushes & shrubs, flowers & sprigs, fungi or grasses & grains (player choice), with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Hermit: has foraging ability, applied to both rural and urban settings.
Husbandman: +2 morale bonus for all domestic animals; those owned by the character - or within 1 combat hex - receive a +2 save.
Innkeeper: owns a three-story merchant's house and yard, in 65% repair, with kitchen, hall, 2nd floor common room and 3 private rooms on the top floor, receiving 46 g.p. per month. Taxes on the property equals 170 g.p. annually.
Instrument maker: make and repair musical instruments; complex items require a shop and much time. Party's instruments save at +2. Play instrument of choice.
Jeweller: amateur bardic jewellery designer, regardless of class, with character gaining 1d6-1 points per level.
Juggler: amateur bardic skill in craft, regardless of class, with character gaining 1d6-1 points per level; +2 bonus to hit with sling or dart.
Killer: character adjusts their bonus for all rear attacks by +1 to hit.
King: the character's elder sibling is the rightful heir of the land. The character is entitled to use the title 'Sir' and has been granted a manor estate as a member of the family. The character's manor includes 385 acres, with 77 landed tenants and servants. The land receives 50 c.p. per tenant per month from each in taxes, tolls & goods, for a total income of 20 g.p. per month. Taxes on the property equals 32 g.p. per year, or 16 c.p. per acre. Able to read & write.
Laborer: reduce degree of diseases contracted by 1-4 points.
Landed Knight: the character is entitled to use the title, 'Sir.' Owns 308 acres, with half-timbered hall-house, 54 landed tenants, receiving 40 c.p. per tenant per month from each in taxes, tolls & goods, for a total income of 11 g.p. per month. Taxes on the property equals 22 g.p. per year, or 14 c.p. per acre. Gains a +1 bonus to the morale of all men-at-arms.
Landlord: owns land near their place of birth, inside town walls: an empty quarter-acre lot, inside town walls, without earnings. Taxes on the property equals 74 g.p. annually.
Lapidary: amateur bardic stone-setter and cutter, regardless of class, with character gaining 1d6-1 points per level.
Lawyer: able to read & write; has amateur knowledge of law and policy.
Leather worker: make and repair leather goods; party's leather goods save at +2.
Librarian: able to read & write; gain a +3 knowledge point bonus to all initial in-field studies.
Marshal: the character is entitled to use the title, 'Commander' or 'General.' Owns 385 acres, with manor house, 77 landed tenants and servants, receiving 50 c.p. per tenant per month from each in taxes, tolls & goods, for a total income of 20 g.p. per month. Taxes on the property equals 32 g.p. per year, or 16 c.p. per acre. Gains a +1 bonus to the morale of all hirelings. Able to read & write.
Mason: able to build stone structures; +1 attacks against stone defenses.
Master-at-arms: gain two bonus proficiencies in weapons that can only be used hand-to-hand.
Medicant: able to read & write; 10 knowledge points in the study of clerical medicine, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Mercenary: gain bonus proficiency in any weapon that can be used by class.
Metallurgist: mix refined metal into special alloys; subtract 2 damage taken from heat.
Mine foreman: 10 knowledge points in druidical geology, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level; character has dwarven underground skills.
Miner: 10 knowledge points in the study of combat sapping, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Monk: character's natural armor class is permanently increased by 1 point.
Mortician: +1 bonus to saves, attacks and damage when fighting undead.
Outrider: gain 10 points horseback riding knowledge.
Papermaker: make paper, parchment or papyrus; reduce degree of disease by 1 to 4 points.
Political advisor: able to read & write; 10 knowledge points in the study of clerical politics, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Porter: double bonus to character's encumbrance limit.
Potter: make and repair clay vessels and products; party's flasks and other pottery saves at +3 (or breaks with +3 bonus if break is desired).
Priest: able to read & write; 10 knowledge points in the study of clerical dweomercraft, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Professor: able to read & write; gain a +4 knowledge point bonus to all initial in-field studies.
Prospector: has prospector ability, +1 morale bonus for donkeys and mules.
Puddler: transform rock ore to metal; subtract 2 damage taken from heat.
Rat catcher: +1 saving throw vs. poison.
Sailor: has sailing ability, +2 to dexterity checks when aboard ship.
Scribe: able to read & write.
Sculptor: amateur bardic sculptor, regardless of class, with character gaining 1d6-1 points per level.
Shipwright: make and repair ships and ship parts of all sizes. Give +2 bonus to rolls keeping ships from sinking.
Sinecure: able to read & write; has a writ of passage for the realm, exempt from paying tolls or fees; has the ear of the local nobility, with whom correspondence can be sent; permitted to dine at any of the realm's town halls at will, where the character was born.
Singer: 10 knowledge points in the study of bard's performance, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Squire: owns 283 acres, with timber-frame hall-house, 31 landed tenants, receiving 30 c.p. per tenant per month from each in taxes, tolls & goods, for a total income of 4 g.p. per month. Taxes on the property equals 17 g.p. per year, or 12 c.p. per acre.
Steward: +1 moral bonus for all hirelings and followers.
Stonecutter: cut stone blocks or shapes from surface rock; +3 bonus to strength checks.
Surgeon: able to read & write; 10 knowledge points in the study of magical physiology, with the character gaining 1d4-1 per level.
Tailor: make and repair clothing; party's clothing saves at +2. 
Tanner: strip hides from animals and tan leather; party's leather goods save at +2.
Tavern keeper: near their place of birth, the character owns a one-floor village drinking house, with kitchen, hall, extensive pantry & outbuilding smokehouse., receiving 94 g.p. per month. Taxes on the property equals 153 g.p. annually.
Teamster: can drive a donkey, a team of oxen (four in hand) or draft horses (2 in hand).
Tobacconist: dry and prepare cigarillos; +3 save against nausea and odors.
Toll keeper: character possesses the thieving bribery ability, regardless of class, with character gaining 1d6-1 points per level; +1 to ability checks in the outdoors.
Tomb robber: begin game with a magic item: a shield +1.
Toolmaker: make and repair tools; has amateur ability at thieves' setting and removing traps, regardless of class, with character gaining 1d6-1 points per level.
Trapper: +2 to dexterity checks when setting traps.
Tutor: able to read & write; gain a +2 knowledge point bonus to all initial in-field studies.
Usurer: character has access to credit, equal to 10 times the character's starting wealth. Character can read and write.
Veterinarian: has diagnose & treat farmyard disease ability.
Village witch: begin game with a bonus spell, regardless of class: dancing lights.
Vintner: ferment wine; double resistance to alcohol.
Wagoneer: make and repair wagons, axles and wheels; jury rig broken vehicles so that they may travel 5-20 miles before hopelessly breaking down.
Weaponsmith: fashion weapons. Party's armor saves at +2.
Weaver: transform thread or yarn into cloth, sew and repair cloth; party's cloth goods save at +2.
Witchhunter: +2 bonus to all saving throws vs. magic.

A few points.  The list is not intended to be "balanced."  You're lucky or you're not, and most are unlucky.  This works fine if your party is the sort that works together, as anyone becoming the offspring of a guildmaster thief or a banker becomes a benefit to the whole party, not just self.

Second, much of the list above swaps out for other details.  For example, since the actual background of the character is also generated, with family details, this adjusts what the status the character has with the king, count or baron appearing on the list.  As well, things like the "guildmaster of the leather workers" only shows the random generated artisan type for that guildmaster.  Anything that's a guild (vintner, baker, engraver) also has a chance of being generated.  I haven't included them all and I've left up the selected choice in the list to give an example.

There are different amounts of land that can be owned, different classes of vehicle and ship, different total taxes, different buildings, etcetera.  I've been expanding this for awhile, and not all of this is included on my free character generator, which I finished in 2012.  I'm hoping I can get an updated version in place this year.

Remember always that the character is not a "marshal" or a "guildmaster."  That was Dad and Mum's job.  But inheritance is possible, and it is possible to be born of the king and yet be the 4th or 5th sibling.  So just because you're royal or noble blood doesn't mean you'll be in charge of a kingdom or territory.  'Course, usurpation is always an option.

Still, everything after the title DOES apply directly to the character. So some players do start owning land, taverns, inns and boats.

Feels good to post some simple, pure rules for a change.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Hater's Game

Compare the following.  First, this description of dungeon mastering from the 5th Edition DM's Guide, p. 4, Introduction:
"The Dungeon Master (DM) is the creative force behind a D&D game.  The DM creates a world for the other players to explore, and also creates and runs adventures that drive that story ... A Dungeon Master gets to wear many hats.  As the architect of a campaign, the DM creates adventures by placing monsters, traps and treasures for the other player's characters (the adventurers) to discover.  As a storyteller, the DM helps the other players visualize what's happening around them, improvising when the adventurers do something or go somewhere unexpected."

And now, another definition, from the 1st Edition DM's Guide, p. 7, Preface:
"When you build your campaign you will tailor it to suit your personal tastes.  In the heat of play it will slowly evolve into a compound of your personality and those of your better participants, a superior alloy.  And as long as your campaign remains viable, it will continue a slow process of change and growth.  In this lies a great danger, however.  The systems and parameters contained in the whole of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons are based on a great deal of knowledge, experience gained through discussion, play, testing, questioning and (hopefully) personal insight."


The replacement of the 2nd-person "you" with the 3rd-person "DM" is telling.  The 1st Edition introduction doesn't talk at all about the DM or the adventure.  It talks about systems, about what the author tried to include, about boundaries to put on the party and what not to allow the party to do.  And again, it talks about "you," not some amorphous "the DM."

I had to find a comparison paragraph in the Preface that I could match up with the 5e DMG, and it still doesn't.  The 5e DMG uses a lot of verbs to describe what the DM does.  The DM creates (used 3 times), runs, gets, places, helps and improvises.  These are all connected directly to the DM and what the DM does is written in every sentence.

The 1e DMG uses two verbs, build and tailor, and only in the first sentence.  The rest is about what happens after the DM acts.  The campaign evolves, continues, changes, grows.

The 5e introduction spends its time talking about what an adventure is, what things are, what the DM gets.  It never talks about cost and it never talks about change.  It is static.  It is these things we are telling you.

Whereas the 1e preface talks about what things require, what they limit and balance, and ultimately where it can all go wrong.  It talks about this on the first page.  Six paragraphs in, Gygax is warning that a mutable system means it can all go wrong and fast.  In the paragraph above, he lays it straight.  This is not going to be easy.

And it wasn't.

Consider the words, "In the heat of play," and how divorced they are from virtually anything you will read in a rule-book nowadays.  Gygax is remembering his wargaming days, his Chainmail days, the sessions where fights broke out and people hurled dice and threats at each other.  He's telling us, the reader, that the forge of play is going to make our game better.  The phrase, "evolve into a compound," is a weaponsmith's, the metallurgist seeking the right mix, so that it can be hammered and beat on the anvil to produce the best metal.  Those elements are our personality and our best participants.  Not players we "help," but players who, along with ourselves, found together to make the best alloy.

It is right there in his 2nd paragraph.  Inferior DMs and Players do not make good games.  A good game is not created, it is forged in fire and anger and hard work.  Nothing is guaranteed.  You've got to work.  You've got to discuss and play.  You've got to test and question.  Hopefully, he says, you have insight.

Why "hopefully"?  Why toss in that possibility that you won't have insight?  Why doesn't he just pat you on the head, like 5e does, and assume you can do it, without ever giving you reason to doubt?

Gygax isn't selling something.  He's saying, "Life is pain.  Anyone who says differently is selling something."

And this, I think, is at the core of everything.

2nd edition and everything afterward ~ no, scratch that, because I think it started even while I was still playing D&D in high school.  The modules and other like role-playing games that were published tried to sell an idea that "anyone could do it."  It is splashed all over the 5e DMG.  This book will help you.  As a DM, you get to wear many hats, like you've won a prize.  Want to invent a world?  This book helps you "nail down a few important details," like it's something you can sluff off in an afternoon, no problem.  Your world is a place where you can escape.  You don't have to memorize this book.  Swear to gawd, it says right here, "Being the DM should be fun."

Why?  Why should it be fun?  Because, as the 5e DMG says, "Focus on the aspects you enjoy and downplay the rest."  See?  This isn't about you and your players working together, this is about you slacking off when you don't give a fuck and just doing what feels like a laugh riot.

This guy made a game.
I want to emphasize something.  Try to imagine I'm writing this in giant letters written on a mountainside, so I don't have to spend the next 14 years carving.  5th Edition was the culmination of player advice being given to the company, which the company dutifully included in the book in order to please the fan base.  5th edition did not invent this perspective on the game.  The disgruntled, unhappy part of the fanbase, those fans who felt dissatisfied with the game as it was, those who had the will and the motivation to complain, built this system.  Those people that Bav called the 10%.  The loud chorus that declared their appreciation for 5e, because they hated old D&D as it was.  Essentially, if you're playing 5e, you're playing the Hater's Game.

Gygax takes time and effort to make it perfectly clear that no, not everyone can be a DM.  You can try, but be warned.  These are dangerous waters.  You're going to fuck up.  You're going to have to work.  There's heat and lots of hammering ahead of you.  And a lot of sweat.  It is going to be a bitch to bring this sucker home.  And you might never do it.  Be warned.

The Hater's Game says, "Hey, woah, slow down there.  DMing should be fun.  You don't have to work that hard, man.  You've got the books, don't you?  If something happens, well, shit, it's your world.  Just ... make something up.  Improvise.  Fuck, dude, what's with all this danger bullshit?"

One is truth and one is evasion.

One is your parents telling you as a child, "You lost.  If you want to win next year, you'll have to keep practicing."

The other is your parents telling you, "You did great!  You tried your best.  You have nothing to be ashamed of!"

It isn't even that there's a black and white line between "yes you can" and "no you can't."  That's a grey, grey line.  With a lot of work needed over here and time spent practicing over there, with things inside us to overcome and books to read, not to mention figuring out just what "insight" is.  But however grey the line is, there is definitely a tipping point that DMs reach where they realize, "No, I was not cut out for this."

In my opinion, that tipping point comes just at the moment when the DM realizes what it is we mean when we say, "this."   Effectively, the actual whole and complete picture of what it really means to be a DM.  It takes time to get there; and a lot of that time is spent wallowing around and scrambling ~ and then the sun comes up and the whole vista of D&D reveals itself as one immense picture.  For a moment, we stare at it, taking it all in.  It's ... it's huge.  It's just so fucking big.  Big and beautiful ... and scary.

And DMs divide themselves into two kinds of people.  One hesitates, blinks, feels a moment of lightheadedness, then picks up a pair of heavier gloves, hefts the forging sledge up on their shoulder and starts down into that enormous valley.

And the other shakes their head and says, "No fucking way," and promptly goes back the way they came.  The sun sets and leaves the familiar way in the dark and for a few years, the backpeddlar furtively pokes around at shit before deciding, "You know, this is kind of a waste of time."

I believe that 5th Edition, the Hater's Edition, deliberately caters to the backpeddler.  And the company went along because they realized that the DM with his hammer wasn't going to need the company anyway, not after they'd seen Shambhala.  So the Company and the Haters made a marriage and 5th Edition is the rough beast offspring that came out.  And we have be vexed to nightmare by the rocking cradle.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Games People Play

"Stupid" is a game described in Eric Berne's 1964 book, Games People Play, in which "White" plays against "Black" to win by pretending to be stupider than they actually are.  The goal of the game is to compel Black to vocally call White stupid, or act in a manner that makes it clear that Black considers White stupid.  If Black does so, White wins.  This enables White to discount anything that Black says from that point forward, as Black is clearly abusive, while simultaneously taking comfort that being judged stupid will mean that others will require nothing from White going forward.

In fact, the less that White learns, the more effectively White can play this game.  Known already to be "be stupid," White need not study in school or improve at day-to-day tasks.

White is then free to play the game, "Schlemiel," which permits white to act like an asshole.  For example, White deliberately spills his drink on a woman at a party.  Black, seeing this, initially feels rage, but then realizes that since everyone at the party already considers white to be stupid, recognizes that actually raging at white will make black look abusive, in which case white wins.  Black therefore resists anger, enabling white to say, "I'm sorry," while Black forgives him (giving black the illusion of winning).

White then proceeds to inflict other damage on Black's property.

Alternately, White may also participate in, "Clown," which is not a game but a pasttime, which reinforces White in the position, "I am cute and harmless," which is true if Black has lost the game Stupid.

I read through this, and other games, last night, after reading this post by Stealth.  It's brilliant, naturally ... and explains a great deal about what's going on with our players in games.  And in the light of it, I'd like to run through a few comments from the post of a few days ago.  From Matt,
"... what I've found is that most of my players seem fundamentally uninterested in their character sheet.  They don't care much for their abilities and spells and powers.  They use what they can remember, usually in the most basic way possible.  They are all more interested in the character that they've made, than how that character is represented by the rules."

From James,
"I tried to get my players to switch to AD&D, it failed ... I could draw a line in the sand, and risk a 5+ year campaign by demanding to switch systems. But I just don't consider the risk worth it in this instance."

From Sebastian,
"... every session I hate the system more.  There is no challenge.  Everything is meaningless.  But the group consists of old friends ... That, however, is the difficult part.  They have watched Critical Role and all that youtube garbage Adventurer's League and have understood that is how the game is supposed to be played."

And from Shelby,
"I was introduced to the game through 5e, and so my extended friend group is very Critical Role and AL minded.  Gradually, however, I grew dissatisfied with the emptiness of 5e, which eventually led me here.  But I'm the only one of that group to have had that resolution so far."

Recognize the pattern?  In all four cases, the commenters are being held fast by peer pressure ~ the threat that they will lose their players, and thus the game, if they compel their players to act in a manner they're players don't wish to act.  In turn, the players are playing a game where the DM is the lackey, forced to perform to suit the game that the players have already won.

In the game, "Stupid," Black defeats White by not caring what White does, or thinks, or wants, or believes ... and emphasizes that contempt by ostracizing White from Black's presence.  This, however, requires a risk: Black may be seen by others, particularly others who are also playing the game as White, as a threat, as unreasonable, as vindictive and as someone who deserves to be ostracized by other Blacks who are presently losing the game to various Whites.

But just to be clear, let me explain the game again without the metaphor.

I write a blog that defines 99% of the participants playing D&D as a clusterfuck of morons, which I don't care about and which I don't allow to post here.  The clusterfuck responds by expressing their innocence and privilege to continue holding onto their belief systems, which are strengthened by my calling them out, as now they can act freely as persecuted for what they believe.  This privilege of victimhood discounts any need on their part to do anything about improving their games.  In fact, NOT improving their games becomes a badge of honor.

At the same time, it privileges them with the option to vilify me, explain why others shouldn't listen to me, discourage any other person from improving their game because of the way I've brought harm to the community, etcetera.  Thus, by winning as Black, I create a comfortable space without Whites, but I slate every other game venue in my loss column.

To which I respond, c'est la vie.  And no great loss.  I'd rather win here than continue losing there.

Those who find themselves playing Black against their players who are playing White, who worry that winning as Black would mean losing their game worlds, their present campaigns or whatever else might be the consequence of not continuing to lose as Black, must decide for themselves what is best for them.  But we need to understand that one power of peer groups is that they enforce standardization of behaviours through emotional blackmail.  They ask, "Behave as we, the group, expect, or we will punish you."

Which is followed by losing Black players in my inbox saying, "If I behave as I want, my players will punish me."

Okay.  Just want to make that clear.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Invention of Culture

All right.  I'm going to tread lightly on this one.  Earlier today, on my post about racial characteristics in humans, I had the words, "cultural sensitivity" thrown in my face by Jojiro who ~ I think ~ actually shares the same belief structure as me.  However, he has an axe to grind with me about Chinese place names and mangonels, so I think making peace here is bound to be a rough go.  I'm not making that better by writing this post, but ... well, I'll have to be respectful.

The present state of personal politics that we have observed take hold and evolve since the late 1980s would have us believe that "race" and "culture" are the same thing.  This involves arguments where significantly positioned persons in social groups state matter-of-factly that because they were born into a specific culture, they deserve every bit as much respect for their choice in maintaining that culture as they expect to receive being of their given race.

Being in Western Canada, the most evident example of this would be the presence of Native communities who have been granted special status on account not only of the race, but also their culture.  There are numerous, complex reasons for this, which I don't wish to simplify.  One of the special reasons for the maintenance of the Native culture in Canadian law was that not very long ago many very deluded Europeans systematically tried to eradicate that culture in a very reprehensible manner.  If you're not familiar with the tale, I suggest the reader get educated on the matter.

Let me state clearly that I am opposed to forcibly obliterating anyone's culture.


I consider this a voluntary option.  It is a good idea,
but it should in no way regulate human choice or behaviour.
We have other laws for that.
Culture, unlike race, is an invention.

It is a belief system; and as such, like any belief, regarding anything, including Jojiro's opinion about me and my opinion about Jojiro, it can be voluntarily changed.

I was raised a Lutheran.  I was taken to a church every Sunday from before my memory began, and beginning at the age of six I was given instruction in Sunday School.  At the age of 13, I began three years of intensive studies for two hours every Wednesday night for three years, until I had memorized my catechism and a great deal else besides, so that I could be confirmed as a Lutheran at the age of 14.  I spent hundreds of hours in church, hundreds of hours in reading the Bible, hundreds of hours in taking part in youth events, including church plays and Christmas carolling, until I reached about the age of 17.  I can point to this period and plainly say without fear of being contradicted, this was my culture.

I was glad to ditch it at the first opportunity.  For a time I bought into it, said my prayers, believed in god, embraced the faith, considered myself "born again" ... and then a series of events having to do with my puberty began to assert themselves after 15 and I had some, *ahem,* problems with the expectations of organized religion.  I continued to pray, however, until I reached the age of 30.  Whereupon I ceased to do that, also, for other reasons.

One's culture can also be taken away.  And not only in the sense of the cultural genocide attempted by Europeans in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Beginning at 15, my other culture consisted of two very intense and much beloved environments.  One of these consisted of dark, smoky coffeehouses that served tea, coffee, felafel and lox, where poets read sharp, activist poetry between sets of Dylanesque musicians with guitars and harmonicas, which remained open until 2 a.m.  These places were fundamentally nothing like Starbucks.  They were deeply cerebral, radically political, fueled by anarchy, communism and social justice, and solidly underscored with fist-on-table-beating a priori position-taking.  Non-book readers need not apply.  Long before there was an internet, I fought flame wars in my teens with university professors, and afterwards to enjoy having them pay for my cheque.

My other culture was this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gc4yrcdAok&t=574s.  Except less shitty t-shirts and more men in leather and metal, with women in spandex and rubber.  Pretty much the same music.  I was a very, very, very angry young man.

Those cultures are gone.  Obliterated.  Not by Europeans, but by changing tastes, corporatism, chance, technology and a lot of forces I can't even guess at.  Cultures are an invention.  There is nothing about an invention that belies the possibility that someone will create a better invention and obliterate the culture that was.

Those who argue for "cultural sensitivity" choose to ignore this.  They want to believe that, like skin color, one's culture is a right.

The Canadian Charter of Rights states that everyone has freedom of conscience and religion, along with freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression (and other things that aren't expressly relevant to this point.)

There is nothing in the Charter of Rights that states I am entitled to have my culture sustained if other persons in that culture decide to go do something else.  I can't force people back into smoky coffee houses and compel them to listen to Bob Dylan.

Would be cool, though.

If people can change their minds about culture, and If culture can evaporate because people change their minds, it therefore follows that I am ~ so long as I do not use force ~ allowed to attempt to change the minds of other persons about their culture.  I can't deny you the right to believe what you believe.  But I am empowered to change your mind about what you believe.

Therefore, what you believe is not sacrosanct.  What you believe does not prevent me from disregarding, advocating against or otherwise verbally challenging that belief.

I am under obligation to keep my hands off you, and in this country, to not disparage your culture with hate speech or to rally other persons to harrass you regarding your culture.  But I'm allowed to produce arguments.

I'm allowed to change your mind.

If your belief system is so weak that it can only be sustained by insisting that other persons never challenge it, then it is not much of a belief system.

In fact, it is a belief system that ought to fall.

Are we good?  I didn't swear at all.

The Road Not Taken

Was that harsh?  You're saying it was harsh.  That's the only way I can take the lack of comment.  I tend to come down very hard on a given side when I give my opinion; which abruptly smothers any discussion; for how is a person supposed to argue in favour of 5e if I've already labeled anyone who would do so as a "dumbfuck"?


I wrote the post as I did because I don't want to hear arguments in favour of 5e.  Ever.  In my mind, the subject is closed.  The books, the rules, the methodology closed it ~ not you, dear reader.

The best way that I have to make this blog more popular would be to rescind that opinion, study and reproduce the annals of 5e as faithfully as possible, cease to discuss any house rules, tout the books, purchase and then praise the various adventures put out by the company and, overall, never again write a negative word about the company.  Logically, at this point, I should begin by purging this blog of any and all contrary content.  In fact, it would be easier to abandon the blog, produce another one, write under a pseudonym and move forward with a clean slate.  I could then begin writing modules instead of trying to teach, which I could then sell through Patreon, along with maps that I'm able to draw both online and by hand (I spent twenty years drawing pencil maps before moving to a computer).

I could approach this whole subject just like a job.  Oh, some of my readers might recognize my writing style, but probably not many.  I would lose my Patreon supporters, of course.  I could not expect any of you to support me if I sold out.  And yes, it would be a bitterly, mean thing for me to do.  But instead of 47 unbelievably supportive followers, who give me an average of about $8 a person, I'd pick up 470 non-caring louts who would give me $1 each.  And more louts besides.

Now, why am I going down this road?

There is no way to support a bad thing "a little bit" without compromising one's principles.  If I'm going to continue to compromise with 5th Edition, and consider it D&D, then I might just as well burn down all that I've done and join the gawddamn circus, along with Tenkar, Timothy Brannan, Sly Flourish and all the rest.  There's more money in it, there's more likes in it, there's more comments in it and overall, there are more opportunities.

And believe me, my droogs, I could do it just like Thanos snapping half the universe dead.  The mental necessity required doesn't ask more that one knuckle of my pinky finger.  There are no doubt a lot of people out there who think that there's no way I could restrain myself for five minutes ... but I beg to differ.  The reader has no idea the lengths I have gone to prostitute my writing over the last twenty years, churning out words for business, real estate, marketing, branding, ad copy, reviews and, yes, porn.  I can write anything I please, and I can keep my dinner down while I'm doing it.

I write this stuff, on this blog, because this is what I like to write.  And as long as I'm going to be honest, I'm going to call shit, "shit."  I would rather not be put in a position of decrying that which has launched a resurgence of interest in role-playing games ... but despite the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize winners, the so-called removal of sexism from the game, plus a host of other articles flooding out of the gates, I've been here since nearly the beginning of this game and I can smell feces when I'm in the room with it.  Whatever this thing is that the world has suddenly decided makes it worth their attention, the world is glomming onto a cheap, shitty fad that is going to evaporate ~ because there is nothing there.  It may be "cool" enough to get millions interested, but it isn't cool enough to keep them.  It's just toilet water.

So I'm coming out on the subject, and hard.  There are only 47 people listening (beautiful, smart people); enough for me but not enough for a revolution.  I don't believe this is a "resurgence."  I think this is the company's last gasp.

But I'll still be designing and playing; and as long as I am, I'll encourage my readers to burn their 5e habits and go back to the versions that will last.  Game stores with hundreds of players are just brick and mortar shacks desperate to stay alive in the age of Amazon.  You and I will both live to see the last of them die.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

It's Killing You

Okay, the workshop.

I've had time to think about it and I must admit, from my perspective, the workshop was a failure.  That is not a bad thing.  Multiple people considered that it pushed them forward in their comprehension, things were learned, I'm happy with the response and I think there's room for something that would work along these lines.

However, the more I dig into the way the game is being played, contrary to the way I play it, or the way anyone played it prior to 1990, I am stunned by the toxicity underlying 5th Edition's changes.  Weakened goal posts, with little to no meaningful acquisitions from advancement, plus what I've seen of the books, both in sentiment and purpose, simply staggers my imagination.

I hear all the time people saying, "One of the things I hate about 5e is ..." ~ followed by expressions that indicate the person is still playing that system.  If I were producing a workshop on how to best use medical marajuana, and knew of a strain that was as harmful to its users as 5e, I'd have to begin every workshop by saying, "Stop smoking that crap."  I would expect to have people come up and say, "But I like the taste," or, "I've been smoking it for years, what's the problem?"  These people always exist.

But seriously.  Stop smoking this crap.  It is killing your game, it is poisoning the capacity of your readers, it is damaging your own thinking process and it is only feeding a company that is deliberately trying to make you stupider.  Take your books, your maps, your modules, your downloaded pdfs, and anything anywhere that was written or produced after the last issue of the Dragon magazine and burn it in your back yard.  And I'm being kind.  For my money, burn ALL of your modules, except maybe the Keep on the Borderlands.  But I don't expect miracles.

If you have questions about your DMing ability, your only means of improving is to practice.  But there is no point in your getting better if you're stuck with a system that subverts your setting, pisses on your creativity, defies meaningful preparation and empowers your players to the point where power ceases to mean anything to them or to you.  The game as it stands now is totally fucking broken.  Stop smoking this crap.

I feel pretty hopeless saying this.  And some will argue that I'm an Old School Grognard with my head in the sand.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly, however, knows that I am anything but "Old School."  The old school is shit.  It was the old school's embrace of the module, the prefabricated map, the child-level writing of Forgotten Realms, the "rulings not rules" justification for laziness and the deification of Arneson, Moldvay and Gygax that led to the crowdsourced fueled nightmare that is present day gaming.  The old systems, 2e and 3e included, had elements that could be built upon.  Unfortunately, building was not the road taken.  Building was vilified, shamed, drummed out of the rhetoric and ultimately not rewarded by a company that instead preached participation over passion, nostalgia over nuance and content mining over worldbuilding.

And here we are.  There was another path, and most of the dumbfucks did not take it.  And here's the big news: if you're playing 5e, and you're thinking there's just a few things wrong with it, and that you're making it work, you, my friend, my reader, my would-be workshop participant, are one of the dumbfucks.  Especially if you read this blog, and it hasn't occurred yet that you're toking on a weed that's bent on killing you.

STOP smoking this crap.

This is how desperate the company is to get your attention.  And your self-delusion that the above,
because it is really impressive art, has anything to do with the way you run your game table,
or the way your players respond to you, is blinding you to what's really going on when you play.

Human Race

I've been exploring a rework of my character background generation system, and that has led me to the above picture.  This is based off this image ... but while a make-up company can be comfortable telling women that they have "espresso" and "walnut" colored skin, I'm not for my game world, so I've done the best I can to produce my own names.  This has meant having to use "cocoa," "mocha" and "chocolate," but I dare anyone to come up with better options.

The only reputable way to talk about skin color on the internet is in the realm of make-up, which is why the only consistent database that's available is one that features women's skin.  Skin color is one of those things that I'm beginning to think of as the "dark hole" of the internet.  We have all the information available that is available to humans, unless that information is politically charged.  As another example, just try to find a definition about "being healthy" that isn't fully based on telling you how to achieve it.  What actual health is, what it looks like, the firm, fixed definition of this thing, simply doesn't exist.

For my purposes, when I tell a player that the character they've just met is from, oh, Senegal ~ or if the player is from such place ~ as a writer I'd like clear, unambiguous language that helps define what that character looks like.  I don't give a shit about racism or the way that racists/anti-racists have decided to co-opt the language to fight their war.  All colors look "good" to me ... but I don't really care about attaching a moral evaluation to the issue.  When I say, that fellow's from Lebanon, I'd like the players ~ who have never been to Lebanon, and who may not be able to accurately separate a Lebanese from a Saudi or a Persian in their minds ~ to have something to go on.  In this quest, the internet is not much of a help.

Which brings me to the bigger thing.  My background generator presumes that as a player character, you don't get a choice about your skin color.  I have the color I have because I happened to have been born to Russian-German stock in Western Canada.  I didn't get a choice about it.  I recognize that for many D&D players, "choice" is the wet dream to which they desperately cling to give their game any value, but frankly I think this self-aggrandizing game valuation strategy is repulsively masturbatory.  And let me be clear about that.  My feelings about ANY person who makes the argument that role-playing is about "living your fantasy" fall into the category of unrestrained contempt.  If fantasy is your object, please explore it in the bedroom or with your hand.  I'm not interested in enabling your fantasy.

The company is, however.  In those dark days when it looked like the company was going to choke and go under, they were grasping for whatever straws they could grab, and the enabling fantasy shift stick was one that came pretty easily to hand.  In my opinion, it has soiled ... well, everything that sort of fanplay usually soils.

I haven't yet had the player who shit a brick because I told him his character was dark in color when he was hoping for KKK white.  I imagine that I have had a player or two online who simply ignored me and believed what they wanted.  This is the real racism that we don't talk about with role-playing.  Not the elves, the dwarves and the half-orcs, but when was the last time your player described a human player character as cinnamon-skinned or molasses?

How much easier is it if your game world is Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, where everyone can be more easily white?  After all, there's no stigma attached to that bottom third of the map, is there?

Here I was just saying I don't care about racism.

One of the benefits of growing up a social leper is that it's easy to identify with the social leprosy that is attached to so many others.  Fundamentally, however, I'm interested in providing depth and distinction to my game world, to give it as tactile and as gritty a feel as I can provide.  There isn't a colour on the above chart that I wouldn't play proudly.

But then, saying that, someone is bound to boil out of their den to scream at me about cultural appropriation or some other such shit, which is a whole different post about a whole different kind of inventing social leprosy.  Whereas I think I've already made my point on this subject.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

It is Not My Birthday

Funny story.  After two deep posts published on Monday and Tuesday last week, I decided to rest on Wednesday.  Instead, I rested for six days.

I've got a thing tomorrow but in the meanwhile, I have a thought or two today.

I was mucking about with generating birthdays for new characters and sorted out a means of determining whether or not a player character was born during a leap year.  The value, naturally, is that the character could then be born on February 29th, which for no particular reason humans tend to find interesting.

My partner Tamara asked me, if her character was born on the 29th, would that mean they'd age more slowly?  It's an interesting thought, and I think some would go for it ... but I'm a bit reticent myself and I told her no.  But, it did get me thinking about what birthdays could mean for a player.

A simple and sensible option is to give the player +1 on all bonuses that day.  Reasonably, the character feels excessively good that day and therefore is emotionally in a good place.  The rule would make players look forward to their character's birthdays.  I like that a player might ask to forego making a raid a few days, "Because it will be my birthday."  That's kind of cool.

The extension of that would be, naturally, that a character whose birthday was the 29th of February wouldn't get that every year ... but on their single birthday every leap cycle, they'd get +4 to hit on all rolls that day.

I expect this isn't a new idea.  And I suppose a lot of players get this when their actual selves happen to play a game session on their birthday.  I wouldn't play it for real life birthdays, myself; only for in game birthdays and only so long as the day lasted.  If players wanted to jump five days ahead, to get from point A to point B, and a player had a birthday in between, they'd be out of luck using the bonus.

Anyway.  As the title says, it's not my birthday.  But it is someone's.  So if you're reading, and it is your birthday, what are you doing reading this blog on your birthday?  Go out and kill a dragon or something.

And Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Workshop: No Sense Makes Sense

Going back to when I was starting the game, I was particularly fascinated with the dungeon random monster tables that were included as part of the dungeon generation in the original DM's Guide.  I recognize this won't have much value for a lot of you ~ hell, I don't know if most readers have ever actually seen the DM's Guide.  But I'm going to talk about this because these tables were formulative to my thinking processes today.

To catch you up.  The tables were standard encounter tables, with the monsters selected according to their experience points as determined in the DMG.  1st level monsters, according to the book, are those with "up to 20 x.p."  Monster levels range from 1 to 10.  The first three columns of the table on the right repeat the DMG's table.  I've added the X.P. value (base rate for hit dice + x.p./h.p.) and the total average X.P. to be expected per encounter.

First, a little errata.  The DMG disagrees with itself in several places.  The experience table on p.85 clearly states that rot grub and ear seekers should get 5+1 x.p. as shown, but the monster index at the back of the DMG shows both getting "nil" h.p.  The index gives no totals for dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling or human, but I've calculated this out for the table above.  The shrieker has 3 HD, so it should have a base total of 35+3/h.p., but the monster doesn't attack at all so I have used the number given in the DMG index, p. 211.  I know this stuff drives people crazy about AD&D, but this is what happens when a bunch of publishing amateurs produce a book by committee.  It got no better when the modules then completely failed to maintain any consistency with the books.

The experience per encounter swings wildly from creature to creature.  It is plainly heaviest with the humanoids, who were also liable to provide the most treasure.  Potentially the most dangerous creature on the list is the manes, as they're the only ones that need a magic weapon to hit; encounter four of these right out of the gate with a brand new party and the only option is to run.  But the total value of an encounter with them averages only 56, with four of them giving only 90.

Halfling are heavily skewed because the average number appearing is the highest on the list; and elves, with 1+1 hit dice, get 10 more X.P. per individual than do dwarves, who have 1 hit die.  We have only 2-8 hobgoblins appearing, but 3-11 elves (which can only be generated by 2d5+1).  I always assumed the absurd numbers of dwarves, elves, gnomes and halflings took into account that these were not "evil" and therefore more likely to parley with/trade/help the party rather than try to kill it.  Humans only had 1-6 h.p. in AD&D, which makes them slightly less dangerous than goblins, thus the comparably lesser total.  Orcs, on the other hand, are more dangerous than goblins; but we gave a lot more goblins than orcs, making the goblin the most dangerous aggressive race on this chart.

Okay, what does any of this have to do with anything?  Who even uses this table any more?

Once upon a time, I did.  A lot.  I ran five or six NPCs through a totally random dungeon, as generated by this system, and completely ignored reason.  All I wanted was to set up battles between my people and the generated numbers here, basically using them to play chess with myself.  At 16 and 17 years of age, I played two or three hundred hours at this, not realizing I was giving myself an education about how to master the memory-work needed to remember weapon damage, hitting, spells, monster ACs ... and most important of all, can five characters really fight 5-15 goblins in an standing battle and win?

If we stick to the monster manual's armor class of 6 for goblins, and all the goblins have 1-7 h.p. (no special leaders), and we don't worry about rules relating to how much space a weapon needs in a narrow corridor, and the goblins don't use missile weapons, and the players don't skimp on taking heavier weapons that do 1d8 or more damage, as opposed to 1d6, then yes, most of the time the parties will win.  This doesn't allow for a second encounter, as the win is usually very close, particularly if the number of goblins is 12 or more ... but the benefit is that the players are almost always facing the goblins in narrow corridors, where the numbers are even for most of the fight, until the goblins are worn down.

I did these fights without my stun rules, using the standard combat initiative system; and I fought them on maps drawn on large white sheets of paper with a ruler and without squares or hexes, using basic Tractics Rules for movement.  I had played a lot of Tractics in the late 70s and I was comfortable with the idea.  People play it with complex terrains that they build, but we used to play it in my parent's rumpus room, a space about 18 feet by 25.

Apart from the range of experience, and the numbers of the combatants, the real table breaker is that 50% of the results are humanoids.  And more than half the results that aren't humanoids are either giant rats or shriekers.  Basically, 3 out of 4 encounters are three basic creature types ... and one of those is just a gimmick that will call humanoids or rats.  I would endlessly muck around with the table, trying to produce better results ... but of course, if you remove humanoid results, what remains gives very little X.P.  At the time, I couldn't figure out how to fix it. The answer, of course, was a better experience system.

I learned a lot from these tables.  In the end, I came to the conclusion that these tables are garbage, at least in the sense of, "here is chance of individual monster."  With just two rooms generated in the workshop, we've already eliminated the logic of most of these.  If there were giant rats, we should see droppings everywhere.  If there were shriekers, how did they get through the door?  If orcs, why haven't they cleaned up this place.  And if not orcs, if something intelligent, how come they haven't posted guards, spiked doors, set up alarms or otherwise sought to protect themselves?

Of course, they could be a wandering troop of goblins, that just happen to be here at the exact same time as the players. That's pretty unlikely.  It could be the guard posts, alarms, etcetera, are just past the door, particularly if one door leads to a hall, a stair, another hall and then a room with goblins.

It paints a pretty solid picture that a dungeon has to have some sort of logical continuity ... which I know is not at all news to anyone here.  But, I would argue that the continuity that most before this workshop would suggest would be as logical as the random table above.  The tendency is to create some huge unifying theme for the whole dungeon, something along the lines of there being 12 special rooms which each have a particular special clue inside that gives the final solution to the 13th room, yada yada yada.

Oh my gawd, stop.  Who made this dungeon, Disneyland?  I'm firmly of the belief that a huge amount of dungeon-design thinking ~ and adventure thinking to ~ has been polluted by the principles underlying Myst and adventures like it.

Myst is an awful game.  It provides passive interest for a single user who has all the time in the world to wander with vague purpose inside an enclosed, static, finite space.  For those with the tenacity to keep at it, there is an innate knowledge that eventually, all the clues and pieces and puzzles will be sorted and overcome, and the game completed, which will give a small dopamine rush, most of which will be the knowledge that now it is done, the player can play a new game.

It is the passivity of puzzle video games that is the killer where interactive table-top gaming is concerned.  The knowing that the puzzle is meant to be solved ~ and if we sit back mentally and go through the steps, all will eventually be revealed.  We can argue that it's not technically "railroading" ... but the assuredness of success, plus the knowledge that if we all die, well, that's the DM's fault or the die's fault, certainly not ours, since we got into this ride in the first place, kills tension.  "Look," say the player at the end.  "We went through all the rooms and opened all the doors and we did our part, now come across with the compensation."

This sounds like a job.  Ech.  As DMs, we would do better with a completely irrational dungeon rolled with an irrational die, since we would absolutely never know IF we should keep going, or IF there was an end result, or IF there was even treasure before all the dead ends stopped.  And those ifs create a pit in the stomach that makes people struggle between hope and despair ... which is what we want players to struggle with.

There's no despair in a dungeon that is so perfectly arranged that every door creates a specific purpose for more doors.  There's just the plodding certainty that the doors will end eventually and we will finish this thing. Which we knew going in.  So the only real rush at the end is yay, we get to start a new dungeon.

These last two weeks, I've not been trying to create a random dungeon.  I've been trying to crack this thinking that randomness is always a sin, and that planning is always a virtue.  D&D is a game.  Video games are not really games, they're planned exercises that teach you all the intricacies of a particular space, which are then barely of value when the space is complete.  Unless you take that experience and apply it to another, similar game, it's useless.  But then you're playing another similar game, and another, and another, and jeez, all we ever play is this one damn game.

Because D&D, and role-playing, doesn't require the knowledge of code or the endless months necessary to write code, we can blow the doors off contained spaces and make plans for randomness that video games can only dream of.  Encounter tables that specify specific monsters are faulty and useless.  But this doesn't mean that random encounters are wrong.  They're only wrong the way they've been presented.

We know, given the two rooms we've seen, that there is something behind one of those two doors.  Something alive and dangerous.  No matter what it is, no matter what we might roll on any table, if we wanted we could make a justification for it.  So the actual logic of the thing doesn't matter.

Sorry.  It matters that there's logic, yes.  But which logic doesn't matter.  Get it?

Getting this across is brutally difficult.  The players want to feel ... scared.  Anticipation.  Tense.  The motivation to step through the next door is the process the players have of making something happen.  They want to be attacked.  They can't progress if they don't get treasure and they can't get treasure if they don't fight.
[though I know, much of this pure, brilliant game structure was gutted and hamstrung by morons who minimized the importance of level and removed experience for treasure ... which removed the player's agency and ... but that's another post]

Make the dungeon into a format where the players have to open the next door, knowing they'll be led inexorably to the final combat, and coddled until then, obliterates that player privilege of not knowing whether or not the next door will contain a bunch of monsters they can't fight, or beat.  It transforms an active game into a passive one.

Recently, I watched Moneyball.  It is a terrible film, full of dead air, and contrived conflict, and dull filmography, with a whole side story to the main character and his family that adds nothing whatsoever, but it focuses on about 25 minutes of mindblowing economics that shatters baseball history ... that should have been the whole film.  In that vein, I'm arguing for the underlying arguments of D&D.

Puzzle-solving is a passive activity.  Shelby described the dungeon so far as a "contemplative" experience ... which, for all the satisfaction that provides if we sit by the side of a river and listen to the burbling water, is something that's passive.  Is that what we're trying to provide here?  To paraphrase Moneyball, there is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening.  And this leads people who run dungeons and design dungeons to misjudge their players and mismanage their games.  People who make dungeons think in terms of rooms and groups of monsters.  But your goal shouldn't be to make rooms, your goal should be to award experience.  And in order to award experience, you need to create violence and rewards.  When I see game dungeons, I see an imperfect understanding of where player success comes from.  D&D thinking is medieval.  They're asking all the wrong questions.  And if I say it to anybody, I'm ostracized.  I'm a leper.

Look at a first level party, the one I've given: cleric, fighter, monk, mage and druid.  Together, they need 10,750 experience to level.  How many rooms are we going to make them walk through in order to get that?  How many times are they going to have to swing their weapons?  What's the distribution between numbers of times they will have to retreat from the dungeon to rest and come back, determining how many total spells the players will have to use against monsters?  What's your treasure to monster ratio, if you're going to require the players hack through, say, six rooms of encounters to obtain a sufficient amount of experience to reach another level?  Ten rooms?  Twenty rooms?

The spaces between those rooms are a break in the action. The spaces between those rooms are carefully planned rest stops for the party to gather strength, emotionally restore themselves, change their tactics, decide upon retreat vs. advance ... and generally, for the party to run the game.  If we can go back to video games for a moment, we all hate it when we can feel the hand of the game designer forcing us to fit some preconception about what the game is.  Your players feel this from you all the time.  But they put up with it, the way we do with video games, because of those time when you let them run the table.  That's why the players are in your world.  To run.  Not to follow.  Not to wait.  Not to be passive.  To be active.

The more sense you add to your structure, the less sense you add to your structure if your goal is to empower your players and make them level.  In pure mathematical terms, they have to hit a certain number of times, regardless of what they're hitting, to produce a certain number of deaths, while failing to lose a certain number of hit points that would mean their own deaths.  EVERYTHING else is the tactics and techniques used by the players to produce enemy deaths while conserving friendly lives.  Food, equipment, wealth, number of spells, types of weapons, all those other resources they can expend and preserve are only managed in order to give themselves the capacity to kill enemies and preserve their own lives.  And what paint you throw on the walls and what contemplative art you put on top of the paint is meaningless if it doesn't also clearly contribute to the game the players are playing ... which is not, evidently, the game the DM's are playing with the sort of game designs I'm seeing.

The second room.  It's a guard room, empty.  There are fresh crumbs of bread on a table, the fresh odor of tobacco in the air, footprints in dirt on the floor with clear lines, a cup with a half-inch of ale in the bottom.

That's enough.

Consider the difference in the reaction of the party from what I suggest, and what the reader suggests.

This is NOT to downplay.  But if we're going to learn how to DM, we've got to see the game for what it is.  This isn't Myst, a game designed for a single, bored person to play in between moments of working and sleeping, over several days or several weeks, when they are at the bottom of their interest cycle.  This is D&D.  We have four hours once every two weeks to make shit happen, now, so the players will advance, now, and not when some distant moment comes around after the solving of a puzzle.

Let's not waste it with an art exhibit.

[my sincerest apologies to all readers for my language and my blunt rhetoric]

Monday, April 15, 2019

Drafting Research

Following my introduction with this post, the next step would be to clear out the romance and attack spell research as a design problem.  Specifically, what are we designing, and how do we get there?

To explain that, I have to repeat my position on how spells work.  A "spell" is the assembling and ordering of natural forces, however misunederstood by a non-magic using society, in a specific way so as to call a predictable effect.  This assembling is accomplished, in my game, by producing sounds and moving the body, while concentrating the mind, through a period of time that a given spell requires.  More powerful spells are more complex, so that the assembling of the natural forces involved takes longer.  Some spells may require hours to assemble this power.

Assembling these forces has led to different strategies by different classes.  Clerics pray to appease higher powers than themselves, so that they may rely upon these higher powers to intervene in the magic's assembly when the moment comes.  Druids seek innate energies within the world's physical space, which they understand and can use at the right time to assemble their spells.  Bards do something similar, but they weave spells with music.  Finally, illusionists and mages rely entirely upon their own minds, assembling spells with considerable mental acumen.

If we are researching a cleric spell as opposed to a magic or illusionary spell, the methodology is entirely different.  Therefore, a spell-researching system must be flexible and view the problem from more than the static angle of acquiring materials and laboratories.  Why would a cleric need a laboratory to speak more nearly with the cosmos?  Why would a bard?  Or a druid?

Moreover, we need to consider the point of reference between the spellcaster and the availability of the spell.  A mage or illusionist studies a spellbook, which orders vast amounts of information into the character's thoughts, which the character spends time organizing, like a memory expert creating a thought-cathedral in their mind.  The casting of the spell shatters this order, which is tenuous and is, in large part, subconciously maintained.  Therefore, it must be reordered again before the spell can be cast.  The term, "memorizing," is merely a placeholder.  It is a convenient word to describe something for which we have no word.

The cleric spends time effectively pleading with the cosmos, asking, "Please let me cast this spell again today, I cannot do it without your help."  The druid mediates and invests self with the ever changing environment, as the various energies that are everywhere shift daily; once those energies are found, they are tapped, and the druid stores spell energy in his or her body, which can then be released; but it has to be found again the next day, after resting.  The bard practices, tunes the instrument, spends as much as an hour finding the perfect tone and resonance, which takes time and effort to do ~ then affixes a perfect memory of that tone so that it can be played later that same day.  The next day, a change in the weather, the age of the bard, the stiffness in the bard's fingers, can all mean time spent needed to find that tone again.

More precisely, then, the mage and illusionist are looking to create symbols in a spellbook that can be, in turn, studied and used to order the new spell in the mind.  The cleric seeks to appease the god into giving a new spell that has never been granted on Earth.  The druid requires new knowledge of the environment.  The bard requires a new song.

Before the symbols can be written, they must accurately describe the manifestation that is to be created.  The cleric must be able to explain precisely to the god what is needed, and convince the god to perhaps turn to other gods in order to gain the power, that can then be sent on to the cleric.  The specific concordant element of the Earth itself, and perhaps the universe, must be identified and found by the druid before it can be tapped into.  The song must be heard, perhaps in the bard's imagination, perhaps in actual fact, before it can be written and repeated.  These are different journeys, but they amount to the same thing: discovery.

The path is an adventure.  And like an adventure, there are many paths that might seem like the right one, but the DM already knows, before the players start out, what the right path is.  The DM may provide ideas, or clues, or proposed strategies, presented in books and out of the mouths of experts, but the DM knows which experts are lying and which are telling the truth.

Like moving through a dungeon, the players have multiple doors that may lead them to a spell.  Some doors are false.  Some are real.  Some will lead to dangerous, but profitable outcomes; others will lead to simple, but fruitless results.  As each path is tried, and discarded, the player comes closer to the goal.

Let us take an example.  Suppose the spell "dancing lights" does not exist, and the player would like it to exist.  Our first question is, what exactly are dancing lights?  We have the spell description, but that only tells us the result.  It does not explain what the lights are, or how they manifest, or what they are made of.  Clearly, not fire.

Remembering that we are now creating this spell from scratch, the player does some research and finds several possibilities:  it is cold energy drawn from the elemental plane of fire; they are illusions and actually only exist in the mind of the onlooker; they are hard, physical light, compressed into fire-like images.  Which is true?  The DM knows.  And the DM does not change the final answer, any more than the DM moves the last room of a dungeon.  But each of these three possibilities looks promising.  Which should the player pursue?

The DM creates three pathways.  That is a lot of work for some DMs, I know, but I am explaining what I would do with spell research, given my degree of experience, and personally I would find it quite easy in a few days to spontaneously create three pathways.  In fact, I managed it since Friday:
One:  Research elementism.  Insert magical fire into natural fire, in a way that attempts to produce natural fire that does not need fuel to burn, using alchemy.  By reducing the heat of the magical-natural fire, perhaps it can "burn" without producing heat.  Experiment with other spells that allow telekinetic control on a very minimal basis (no weight, much easier than telekinesis).
Two:  Using suggestion and ESP, experiment with the creation of thought-creation in the minds of test subjects, to see if the dancing lights can be impressed in their consciousness.  Explore mass delusions, as well as spells such as massmorph and hallucinatory terrain.  Perhaps either can be simplified through painstaking work to draw a 1st level spell out of a 4th level spell's design.
Three:  Begin with the light spell.  Build a prism-based construction that will split the light into separate pieces, perhaps employing elements of the mirror image spell.  Using physics, split the lights in some manner that causes them to flicker, producing only the yellow, red and orange parts of the spectrum.  Since the light spell can be positioned the four weaker dancing lights should be likewise able to be positioned, and then made to move in some fashion.

Each of these is designed to produce the effect first.  Once the effect is produced, the mage and the illusionist can scribe the complex description of the effect into their spellbook, so they can master the effect when they need it.  The bard can hear the lights, and produce the music that will create them again.  Druids and clerics come up short. The spell is not available to their disciplines.

It would be a mistake to think that all three of the methods above will ultimately work.  That would ruin the game.  The player's frustration and sense of meaning in the exercise depends on one, and only one, means to the truth. This makes the truth valuable ~ and their decision-making, as they posit other spells, existing elements, related concepts, etc., into their efforts, entirely of their own making.

Spell research is making something out of pure imagination.  It defies ordinary rules for that reason.  But design follows specific, ordered pathways.  Propose the idea.  Brainstorm a means to get there.  Experiment with each means, to see what results.  Produce the result.  Reproduce the result again.  Write it down and make it standard.

The rest is the work of thinking, on both sides of the table.