Friday, May 31, 2019


There are few rules that attract more ire than those that ask for bookkeeping.  Encumbrance is always the truly hated example, as the weights of specific things are a fiddly bit of information requiring math and extra writing.  The same could be said of asking players to identify just where a piece of equipment is ~ in backpack, on person, in saddlebags, carried by the porter and so on.  Players feel this level of detail should be just assumed, so they can get on with the real play.

But of course, the more it is assumed, the more players will abuse it.  In the days when I didn't demand it, I would discover a mage was carrying around 15 daggers, so they wouldn't run out, or that a ranger was carrying 135 arrows - in seven quivers, obviously.  All on his person.  And this says nothing of players hauling around ten and twenty thousand coins, presumedly in one sack.

Many DMs are fine with that.  So long as the daggers are paid for, or the character has written "sack" down on their character sheet, they seriously don't care about the niggling details.  I began caring, however; and though my players did complain a little, I found in short order that they cared, too.  They especially care when they've taken the time to organize their gear and one player in the party hasn't.

Ages ago, in 2014, I wrote this post about gear breaking down.  At the time, I considered it a thought experiment.  It was a bridge too far.  Essentially, I saw it as a means to give wisdom a little more importance, as I was concerned about dump stats and getting rid of that notion.  But I considered keeping track of this sort of thing somewhat less than ideal.

But I was commissioned by Zilifant, who has been a regular reader for years now, to come up with a system for decay ~ the deterioration and breakdown of gear, goods ... even food (which we might deal with separately under "spoilage").  Admittedly, I considered this infeasible.  But I do think there might be a practical method, that players could keep track of practically.

However, it could not be simple.  Things do not break down in the same manner.  Rope will fray, food rots or accumulates insects, metal tarnishes and rusts (and can be repolished) ... while gems show no wear at all.  Clothes may be servicable for putting on, but be grimed or stained in a manner that would make the wearer ashamed to be seen in public.  Animals get old, or lame, or diseased.  It isn't possible to have one across the board system that allows us to plunk in an object and spew out a result with dice.  It takes thought and flexibility.

But ... that said ...

I have a rule in my game that when a weapon is fumbled, another die is rolled to see if it breaks.  Circumstance, result.  The moment the sword is dropped, everyone remembers that it is time to check for a break.  If we could employ that same mnemonic to gear breaking down, we'd be fine with remembering to do checks.

What's needed, then, is a system of checks that produces some very specific gameplay results:

  • The checks have to be meaningful.  Stuff has to break occasionally, and players have to be conscious of that.  Sooner or later, something is going to break or fail at the worst possible time, and players have to be conscious of that, too.
  • The breaks can't be constant.  They have to be rare enough that, for the most part, the players are able to rely on their equipment.  If the breaks happen way too often, players will grow resentful of the system and become disheartened.
  • The breaks can't be excessively random.  On some level, the players have to be able to control the decay, and the rules have to be built in a way that if something breaks, the players are apt to blame themselves, and not the system.  This is very, very important, and is often overlooked by a game designer.  IF something breaks, the first thought in the player's mind has to be, "I should have ... etc."
  • The system needs to have a component that lets players sell off equipment that is in danger of breaking down ... and likewise, to buy used equipment if they wish.  If decay occurs, then naturally every object in the game universe will already be in a state of that decay; so this has to be part of the experience.  This means there cannot be just two forms of an object's existence (fine and broken); there have to be many.

I suggest five levels:  new, used, worn, shabby and ruined.  Objects in the player's possession can be easily tagged: (n) for new, (u) for used, (w) for worn, (s) for shabby and (r) for ruined.  New objects are purchased directly from the maker; these are quickly broken in.  Nothing stays new for long, before it becomes used.  Used objects are durable.  It is hard to reduce them, but with enough time and strain, they will be made worn.  Worn objects are starting to break down.  Under abnormal conditions, they will take a turn for the worse and become shabby; but under heightened stress they may bypass shabby and directly break.  Any object, even one that is new, may break under certain conditions.  It is up to us to define what those conditions are.

In broad terms, we can say that "normal use" of any object does not require a roll.  Using a sword as a sword, using a backpack to travel, attaching a saddle to a horse ... these are things for which the objects were made and therefore no roll to check their condition is necessary.  This means we need only check the decay of an object from new to used to worn to shabby, and at any point to ruined, according to the pressure or tension exerted on the object.  And to define that, we should consider unusual stress on an object.

In D&D, what counts as unusual?  Well, dungeons, obviously.  And moving off road.  And any time we use an object in a manner for which it was not intended.  Using a piece of clothing as a rope, for example; or walking dressed through a swamp; or falling into a pit trap.  These are moments in-game that we can define and apply from case to case.  But we should also consider that we are not keeping track of every moment of the character's game-day.  A trek across a wilderness obviously has moments where a character slips and lands in mud, or is caught by an old tree branch, or scrapes a boot or pant-leg on a rock, or is nipped by a horse ~ or a hundred other possible moments of stress that wouldn't cause a hit point of damage but would wear down gear.  Add to this that much gear of the fantasy game, while hand-crafted, is yet made of materials somewhat less durable than carbide steel.  That is, unless your backpack is made of mithril by elves.  There should be, therefore, a "general stress" of equipment that comes into play, even after ordinary use.

How then, to categorize this?  I suggest that a roll is made for every object that is carried, to determine if that object decays from step to step based, first, on the following generalizations:
  • One month of normal use, in normal conditions.
  • Three days of wilderness use.
  • One day of dungeon use.

This would account not only for the wear & tear of scrambling, packing, unpacking, crawling around underground and so on, but also for the stabs and jarrings of weapons blows, should combat occur.  None of these conditions would cause a new, used or worn object to break; but would do in a shabby object.  Very bad luck and twelve days in the wilderness could wreck a brand new rope, but that is unlikely.  In any case, remember that objects such as ropes are often unpacked every night and tied to trees to serve as shelters, tethers, or as a place to hang wet clothes or wiped kitchen ware, which soaks the rope and wears it down.  Objects on the ground get stepped on as a character moves into the trees for relief.  Or kicked.  Or crammed into a pack in a way the produces strain.  It isn't just what we normally use an object for; just being along on a journey causes decay.

Exempt objects may be anything that is expressly protected.  A scroll inside a scrollcase.  A spellbook inside a metal box.  If specific care is taken, then the protecting object should always have to make a roll first, before the contents are in the leastways threatened.  That will help put some players' concerns to rest.

Second, there are unusual circumstances, things that might occur only a few times in an object's lifespan.  A new sword is fumbled.  The break load on a rope is challenged.  A ten-foot pole is used as a lever.  A horse is ridden down a very steep embankment.  A galley is used to ram.  The possibilities are endless, but manageable.  This is not a simple game.  There is no way to account for every off-normal thing a player might do with an object.  Nor can we account for how much stress someone might put on an object.  At some point, we have to use our judgment as a DM.  Fairly, obviously, and discussed transparently with the player: "That is a very, very unusual thing you're doing with your crossbow.  I'll have to double the normal amount of stress be put upon the object.  Seem fair to you?"  A good player ought to acknowledge that it is; but if the player makes a sound argument that it isn't that unusual, the DM should consider stepping back.  The particulars are not that important, after all, so long as some kind of roll is being made.  But a good DM ought to be able to convince the player about the amount of stress being employed, and the importance of more severely challenging unusually innovative tactics.

Overall, a collection of instances, shared by the whole party, should produce a consistent judgement from the DM.  Some of these can be written down and codified; but something new is bound to come up at some point and a DM must be ready to make a judgement.  I'm not a fan of DM's fiat, but some ideas are impossible to codify entirely.  Like a judge defending the law, the key is to create precedents that can then be used to manage future instances.  Once many precedents are collected, and remembered, an overall consistency can be obtained.

As a condition, some things may never really experience, at least not short of an earthquake.  A stone axe, for instance, would have to be put under a lot of pressure to crack.  An immense stone building may survive hundreds of earthquakes.  Such things may never need to roll.  It still falls to the DM's judgment. 


The rolls themselves are not that complicated.  A new object becomes used if a 1 in 4 is rolled.  At the appropriate time, one die can be rolled per object, or groups of die can be rolled for multiple objects, with a random roll after to determine which object/s were made used.  Under stress, a new object breaks on a 1 in 100.

A used object becomes worn on a 1 in 20.  Under stress, it breaks on a 1 in 40.

Worn objects become shabby on a 1 in 12.  Under stress, worn objects break on a 1 in 30.

Shabby objects become ruined on a 1 in 8.  Under stress, they break on a 1 in 6.

Doubling the stress on an object is as simple as saying that something breaks on a 1 or 2 in 100, or 40, or whatever.

The fumble system remains unchanged.  Combat is a very, very stressed environment.

The system lets players see plainly that it is time to replace something that has become worn; or to decide that something that's shabby, like a mug (which grows chipped and stained), isn't crucial to life.  When it breaks, it breaks.

The system also lets the players grow attached to objects they can now identify as possessing for a long, long time.  That mug, for example, will probably acquire a description, and when it breaks its loss will be felt.  Some personal attachment to objects will likely be a happy result.

Overall, when a change in an object occurs, the maintanance of the equipment list is very easy.  An "n" is simply replaced with a "u."  The mnemonic for all the scales is nuwsr ~ which is fairly easy to remember.


Finally, this gives players the option of buying objects that are not necessarily new, for less money.  I would suggest objects should cost 100% of list price new, 80% used, 60% worn and 40% shabby.  This is a simple set of numbers that many players will be able to calculate in their heads.  Objects can then be sold to the merchant for half this price: 50% new, 40% used, etc.

Players will likely choose to pay for things that are new or used, but if they're equipping a force or buying clothes for a hireling, they may choose to buy worn items.  The same is true if objects are needed such as swords for training or a disguise is necessary.  A shabby set of clothes may be just what a thief needs.

Post Script,

Please give me your insight on any of the above.  I'll let the reader know in advance that I intend to delete any comment that tells me how YOUR system works.  I don't care.  I've seen other systems and discarded them.  But please feel free to poke holes in the above, if there's something you feel I haven't accounted for.  I feel like there's something I've forgotten, that I thought about yesterday, but for the life of me I can put my finger on it.

Tell me also if you feel this would be an excessive amount of bookkeeping in your game.  I'd especially love to hear from anyone who tried it, or talked about it theoretically with their players, to get the feedback from a completely unprepared audience.  Please record the response if you have the means.

This could be a monumental add to the game, if it did prove simple enough and immediately graspable for a group of players.

Thursday, May 30, 2019


Recently, for anyone who might be reading the blog, I've introduced a host of rules.  In the last two months, I've introduced rules for burglary, half-elf and half-orc physiology, the paladin's warhorse, spellbooks, commoners & comrades, how to train non-levelled persons to be better combatants, how to teach proficiencies, character secondary skills, nutrition and the preparation of food, a few spells and a few demons.  Today, by request, I'll be working on rules for wear & tear on equipment.  This has not been an unusual month.

I know that for most, while the rules may be interesting and we might pick and choose what we like from among them, most readers (particularly not my die hard fans) look at all this and shake their heads.  "What is the point of all these new rules?" they ask.  "How are we supposed to memorize this?"

Listen carefully, because this may be the most important post I ever write that teaches the gentle reader how to DM.  I was thinking about this last night, sorting out an answer to the eternal complaint, "more rules just means more work and less time for real gaming."  All we need do is think about piles and piles of splatbooks and we have cause to shudder.  There is only so many rules we can keep in our heads at any one time ~ and if anything taught us that lesson, it has been trying to run the game based on too many splatbooks.

The remarkable convenience of splatbooks.

The largest problem with splatbooks is that they are books.  They're analog.  Their substance was released at random, without proper indexing.  To my knowledge, a mass index was never made for all the splatbooks, and if it had been, it would have still been a book.  It wouldn't have included a note to that one paragraph you remembered from somewhere, gawd knows where, that you'd like to use now that it's popped into your head.  But you could waste an hour trying to find it in as few as three different splatbooks, and yes, that does steal time from play.

Book indexes are nice, but they are so last century.  Books serve the publisher.  They do not serve the user.

But this post is not about why you should computerize your game play.  This post is about the moment I just described: something you read, or you knew about, has popped into your head and, just like that, you remember it exists.

There is a way to force rules to pop into your head.  It is a process I have been employing since I was a teenager, without a moment's thought.  And, as I realize it now, it comes from a peculiar linear way I have of picturing game play.

Our brain is a memory device, a retrieval system which will store far more information than it takes to manage a role-playing game.  You remember the beach you played on when you were eight.  You remember how the motel you and your parents stayed in for that one night, whenever it was, when you were nine.  You remember the name of the first girl or boy you kissed, even though that was 35 years ago (or less, for some).  You remember when your parents were so big, they loomed above you.  But you didn't have any reason to remember any of those things, until I mentioned them just now.  And though some of you, perhaps, can't remember these specific things, the mnemonic I just used caused a host of memories that you haven't thought of in a long time to come tripping out of you.  That information has been there all this time, ignored for years at a stretch ... but you happen to hear someone mention the beach, or you physically see the motel, or you hear a name that sounds close to that first girl you kissed ... and there it is.

I'm only saying the capacity is there.  You're fully capable of tapping into a wealth of detail, if you approach the unlocking process just so.

Suppose we take the example of the food rules I've added.  To use them, we'll need to discard "daily rations" and replace them with specific items on the equipment table.  Then we'll need to organize those items according to the quality of food they fit.  They'll need to be priced accordingly.  The players will have to be informed of the rules.  Which means we'll have to know them and be able to explain them.  And then we'll need to remember to use the rules, every day of the campaign.

And this last is the kicker.  We'll need to remind our players to make food, then to cross it off their character lists, then we'll have to remind them to make checks, which will result, most likely very soon, in vomiting and diarrhea, which the players will carp and moan about, and say, "These rules are shitty," while complaining about them every time we mention them in our game.  Pretty soon, the players will train us not to bring up the rules, by making us feel ashamed to have ever installed them, so that we'll kowtow to their demands, forcing us to ...

What?  You don't think this happens?

First and foremost, as DM, we're the ones doing the training.  The players do not shame us into dropping rules, we shame them into not having the strength of will to overcome them.  So when they vomit and whatever, we shake our heads and observe, "Well, if you're going to eat this garbage you chose to buy ... if you're not going to hire a cook ..."

But still, there's that problem, how are we going to remember to fit the rules into the campaign?

I would guess that most readers go about the game like I did many years ago.  The players decide they're going to go out to a dungeon, and we say, "Okay, three days later, after travelling over some rough country, you arrive at the dungeon."

We can find this approach used everywhere ~ on episodes of Critical Role, in game modules, encouraged by youtube pundits, wherever.  We didn't just forget to eat, we forgot to live for three days.  Why don't we just put the dungeon entrance across the street from the tavern?  It amounts to the same thing.

Hey, we have monkey brains, okay?  When the DM says, "After three days, you get there," you may be able to puzzle that out intellectually, but your monkey brain interprets this emotionally as, "Oh, it's across the street."  And that's why we don't care where the dungeon is.  We didn't have to pay anything to get there, so it doesn't feel like it cost.  It doesn't feel like we're three days from home.  It doesn't feel like we've got out asses hanging out here and we're in serious trouble if something goes wrong.  It doesn't feel like it really would if I popped you 60 miles from anywhere and said, "Okay, we're three days walk from food, medicine, help, a telephone, everything."  There's no emotion at all.  And as such, your monkey brain is bored.

As I got better as a DM, I began to fit in more detail.  I was still far short of the mark, but follow me on this.  I would say, "Okay, this is Tuesday.  You're a day out of town, I'll see if there's a wandering monster; nope, nothing.  You get about twenty miles towards the dungeon, climbing up into some hills and walking your horses much of the way."

The players would say a few things and I would begin again, "Okay, this is Wednesday ..."  And so on.  Until we got to the dungeon.

Now, a lot of online pundits will shrug at this and pooh-pooh it, saying don't waste your player's time, don't waste game time, etcetera.  And it will sound right to most of us, because we hate having to commute to work and work would be way better if we could just get there and have done with it, and not have to commute home.  So why shouldn't the journey to the dungeon work the same way?  And even if there is a wandering monster, it's so booooorrring, because it doesn't mean anything to the adventure and there's hardly any experience and certainly very little treasure, so why do we have to waste our time fighting this thing?

Well, the pundits are wrong, because the fact is, I was half-assing my way through the "commute."  Yes, given the way I was doing it, discarding it seems rational, but the fact is that the longer I took to elaborate on the days, the more the players would fill up the intervening time with their thoughts.

When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, he didn't just write, "After Jim got the map after Billy Bones died, the ship arrived at the island."  Why?  There's no action.  We just meet some people, travel about, get a clue or two ... but heck, why wait?  The stuff that happens on the island is waaaaay more interesting.  Why don't we just jump ahead?

Because we've got to get used to the idea.  The longer it takes to get someplace, the bigger the idea grows in our monkey brains.  We don't have to account for every twig and stone along the roads, but we've got to give a sense that we're walking along, we're thinking about what's coming, we're doing things, we're meeting people who might have something to say, we're growing the idea in our minds as we're going.

Early morning, the last sight of civilization.
We take our time.  And as long as we're taking our time, we envision ourselves being there.  Now, think about it, as DM.  It's morning, you're getting out of bed, you've got three days walk ahead of you.  Get the picture in your head.  You really are there.  You can feel the splinters and the feather ticking of the bed in your ass.  You yawn, you stretch ... and what is the first thing you do?

You eat, of course.  This is the last decent meal you'll have before you have to eat what's cooked over a campfire.  Bingo.  Right there, you remember the food rules.

Okay, what's next.  Well, you're need to get your gear together, but before you can get fully dressed, what are you going to do?  That's right, you're going to look outside and see what the weather is like.  There, you've remembered to use your weather rules.

So, you get your gear ... the gear you're going to be relying upon for your life in three days.  Is it new?  Is worn?  How long have you had that rope?  Okay.  Now you're ready to invoke the wear & tear rules I'm planning to write.  Anybody want to spend half a day shopping, to replace something they've forgotten?  No?  Good.

Get your animals, get your equipment loaded up.  Some is going to go on the animals, and some of it is going to go on you.  That wakes up your mind to the encumbrance rules.

You haven't even left town yet.  But you've remembered all the pertinent rules, so you're good as a DM.  The players have quibbled and hawed at these details, but you're going to say very adroitly, "I sure hope you're ready for this dungeon.  It isn't going to be an easy dungeon."

That's going to put some spark in these rules.  Speed of movement is going to matter.  The quality of that rope is going to matter.  Is the rope going to kill me?  Jeez, it's warm now, but the DM said it rained last night.  What if it's raining hard when we get there?  And when we get out on the road, on our first day, on Tuesday, and we all have to make rolls for food effects, jeez.  Sure was easy, given we ate that fresh pork roast for breakfast.  Did anyone bring something other than salt pork and beans to eat on this journey?

We're five miles from town and one of the players is saying, "Maybe I should have picked up a new rope."

And someone else says, "Don't worry, I've got one."

Followed by the reply, "Is one enough?"

And now I'm not running the Tuesday journey, the players are.  They're not bored.  They're painting a picture from the details we're giving them and they're building up the dungeon in ways we could not hope to manage.  This is how rules expand game play.  And we remember the rules by playing the game ourselves.

When a man-at-arms joins the party, we're meant to think, if it were our man-at-arms, what would we do?  And if we were the man-at-arms, how would we view this party?  We don't do this in terms of story, but in terms of fitting ourselves into that position.  "Look at this group of louts I'm working for now.  Well, the druid seems pretty decent.  Wouldn't want to tussle with that fighter though.  And what is the cleric's problem, anyway?"  This gives us a frame when the party asks their man-at-arms to do something.  It makes us think of morale rules, and how we look at cooking rules, and what it must have been like for us before we became a man-at-arms.  That reminds us of the secondary skills rules, which then takes us in a hundred directions.  Taking our time to figure this man-at-arms out reminds us that he has aspirations, too.  He probably wonders about the day when we'll ditch this bunch of losers and get proper training as a fighter.  Maybe its something he'll tell the druid during a shared watch, perhaps on Wednesday, as we're still making our way to this dungeon.  Tell a nice, hopeful story, and the players' monkey brains will feel it when "Bob" dies.  "Damn it," says the cleric.  "I really liked Bob."

There really aren't so many rules they can't be remembered, if you're in the right frame of mind.  If you're thinking a step or two ahead of the players, you'll have a moment to look up detailed rules on a paladin's warhorse while the party is discussing the merits of a good rope, so that when they stumble across such a horse on Thursday morning, while still wending their way to the dungeon, they'll have reason to puzzle why there's no paladin on it.  You'll have the rules fresh in your mind, because you'll have found them on a computer, and will not have to have gone through five splatbooks to find the right passage about paladin's warhorses.  Why were you thinking about warhorses just then?  Maybe because some part of the dungeon has a religious bent, and there's no paladin in the party.  Or maybe because ol' Alexis wrote about it earlier this month.  Or maybe because you dream about warhorses nightly.  The point is, you have time to look up rules on the fly because the players have something to argue about.  You didn't skip them ahead three days to the dungeon, wrecking all this interesting opportunity to get to know Bob or puzzle about riderless warhorses or double-check the number of daggers that can be carried and still maintain a 4 movement rate.  These things make the party busy ... whereas skipping ahead, and making it easy for the party, only encourages idle hands.

The game itself, and the ebb and flow of events, from place to place, and from monster to monster, is a mnemonic.  But you have to live the game play as the DM first, as much as the players do.  If you're ready to jump forward through time, then no wonder you haven't time to ready yourself, or your players, for the task at hand.  No wonder everything in your game feels tawdry and cheap.  You're cheapening it by hurrying, by simplifying, by snuffing out the life of the thing in order to speed up the commute to the "good stuff."

Take your time and it is easy to remember all the rules you'll need.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

In Which the Cook Becomes the Most Cherished Party Member

COOKING (sage ability)

The craft of preparing superior food for consumption, with additional skill in making dishes which are more healthy and palatable. This translates to an increase in the taste of fare that is cooked by the character, as described in the nutrition & preparation of food rules.

Determining Taste
The taste of food is described as ten measures: grub, chow, nosh, savoury, tasty, flavourful, delicious, piquant, mouth-watering and ambrosia. Whatever the tools or space available, a character with the cooking ability will be able to improve taste by one measure: grub becomes chow, chow becomes nosh, nosh becomes savoury and so on. This includes a concomitant improvement in the diner’s response to the food as well, producing a better chance of the character finishing the meal sated, happy or elated, with a corresponding unlikelihood of being grumpy, tired, miserable, vomitous or experiencing diarrhea or a gastro-intestinal affliction.

Cooking also provides the character with an ability to distinguish fresh foods from selective, or recognize when food has spoiled and is inadequate for preparation.

CULINARY ART (sage ability)

The expansion of food-making craft to the level of artistic achievement, so that not only is superior food prepared for consumption, the overall experience of the food itself is heightened. This translates to an improvement of one degree of effect that is shown on the nutrition & preparation of food effects table.

The Effects of taste

The food experience is described as ten effects: affliction, diarrhea, vomit, misery, tired, grumpy, no effect, sated, happy and elated. Whatever the rolled result may have been, the culinary artist improves this effect by one degree: affliction becomes diarrhea, diarrhea becomes vomit, vomit becomes misery and so on, up through happy becoming elated. Naturally, this provides a comparative improvement in the diner’s well-being.

Because the skill adds to the previously existing cooking ability, this enables a culinary artist to have a 50% chance of producing elation in the diner, even when the food would have been originally mouth-watering in the hands of an unskilled person.

Note, however, that the effect cannot exceed the best possible result at that level of taste.  The effect of tasty, for example, would not improve to "sated."

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


"Things that I once felt (perhaps) 'needlessly' complicate the D&D game...things like time and aging, encumbrance, disease & illness, training requirements, weather (and its effects), or a 'living' economy...these things have the potential to make for a richer gaming experience. They also make the game more difficult to play, and much harder to manage. They are not Dungeons & Dragons in its Little League form...they are ADVANCED Dungeons & Dragons."
JB on his post, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Coming from one of the smartest advocates on the web for simple game-play, this is startling ~ along the lines of Berlin Walls falling down.  I try not to get my hopes up, however.  For one thing, I don't want to put any pressure on JB.

There's a comment on JB's post from Bob Portnell that provides some context for how most people view the difficulty to creating those things JB mentions ~ a living economy, weather, etc.  Portnell talks about how it sounds great, but that it never quite works out.  I'm going to shorten his full comment down to this on pertinent aside: "Me, I'm still flailing to make a spells plug-in work on my game."

I see that and for me, it speaks volumes.  It may be the keystone for why so many people do drift so purposefully towards simpler, elegant games ~ that being, they just can't bring themselves to get along with ... well, to put it simply, with the rules.

A good example is the spell system.  I read JB's blog on a regular basis, wastefully checking approximately every 30 hours to see if he's posted something, when for the most part every 108 hours would be sufficient.  JB spends a lot of time talking about D&D's spell system.  A lot of time.  I don't want to go into particulars, but like many bloggers talking about D&D, he's mostly unsatisfied with the way spells work, what classes should have spells, which spells should exist, which new spellcasting classes ought to exist, etcetera.  Which is fine.  These are questions that deserve evaluation and every DM should sit down and figure out an answer.

Only ... JB's been running D&D for quite a long time and this issue still isn't sorted.  I'd be willing to bet that Portnell, above, has probably also been playing for a long time ... and yet spells are still something bogging down his game.

In the kindest way possible, this is like a surgeon who has given up performing operations because a twenty-year quest to design a better scalpel still hasn't paid off.  I'm picking this metaphor carefully.  I'm likening the problem to a very smart person with an absolutely laudable goal of making a better scalpel missing the point that maybe, after so many years, with other people also working on the same problem over that period of time, it would be better to just perform operations.

I don't want anyone thinking I'm calling JB or even Portnell, whom I don't know, "stupid."

On one hand, I can accept that the magic spellcasting rules in the game aren't ... hm ... let's say efficient.  Every spell needs its own description and every description adds to the possibility of misunderstandings taking place in game sessions.  But, hey, some things simply aren't efficient.  Love and relationships, for example.  Or raising children.  Or taking a non-disastrous vacation.  Not everything in life was purposefully designed to be simple.  It's no fault of the designer; it's just that some things, however we'd like them neatly cut into and then sewn up, get messy.

I'd propose that part of the reason why some ~ and hey, I'm not necessarily saying this applies to JB ~ find it necessary to keep everything else simple because some of the big, glaring problems of non-efficient D&D defy proper, reasoned, rational codification.  Like Portnell says ~ he'd really like a deeper, nuanced experience, but he buys this stuff and then he doesn't use it, and the spell thing still isn't working, so shit, how much stuff can we really handle?  This has got to be as easy as possible, at least until I figure out the real problems, like how do the spells work or how to make combat more ... something.

Combat is another one, isn't it?  How many combat systems for just the medieval to Renaissance time period have been created and published since 1975?  At least twenty or thirty major ones ~ probably five times as many minor ones.  Add that to the impossible-to-guess homebrewed combat systems that at least half of all DMs in the community are working on.  Combat is another one of those inefficient, unlikeable systems that so many people like to carp about ... but again, it really is something that ought to be settled on.  Yeah, it's flawed.  So what?  My partner Tamara would like me to lose weight.  She still loves me.  Things aren't always exactly so.

I'd guess that most of those out there who are running fairly complex games settled these issues in their minds within three to five years of starting their DMing.  I've tweaked bits here and there, but I haven't made a serious change to my combat system since 1986.  I've rewritten the descriptions, but I'm still using the same basic spells, in the same basic way, since 1983.  I haven't changed my game world concept since 1982.

No, these things aren't perfect.  I've redesigned my represention of my game world many times: in 1988, when I started hand-drawing 4 ft. by 3 ft. maps (since lost, I'm sorry to say).  Then again in 1996, when I started putting them on computer.  Then a new incarnation in 2004, when I adopted the hex system I use now.  Then I decided the hexes weren't quite perfect, so I redid every map I had up until 2009.  And I'm doing an upgrade with imaging now, that I've been poking at for the last two years.  But it is the same world, the Earth.  But it is the same concept.  I haven't thrown it away for some other planet.

I have time to refresh and remake the same concept because I'm not struggling with hundreds of details I settled long, long ago.  I'm accepting the magic system as is.  And the combat system as is.  And hundreds of other systems, as is.  Not because they're not flawed, or because I necessarily believe they're the best system that could exist on those lines ... but because they're good enough.  They get the job done.

There are a lot of things to learn in the world; a lot of things that can be improved.  If you can, make your peace with some of your old bugbears and just move on.  It's not as important to get it "right" as you think it is.  And being hung up on it is keeping you from doing a lot of great stuff.

You're not Sisyphus.  He had to push his rock.  You have a choice.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Several Bricks Short of a Load

I have posted descriptions of nalfeshnee, marilith and balrog on my wiki.  And again, this was work commissioned through my donate button, which can be found on the sidebar of this blog.  This content was made possible by JB of B/X Blackrazor.  Ask me about commissioning work at  I'm open to ideas.

Regarding the post I wrote yesterday about the lack of details after decades of supposed game design.  I should like to make it clear that when I say "detail," I don't mean a story arc, such as the Blood War.  Story arcs are not details, they're examples of someone slapping an overused B-movie plot line on top of D&D monsters, which happens all the time.  Basically, take a WW2 film, scratch out "allies" and "fascists" and write in the monster you want.  It's exhaustively tiresome, boring and definitely not what I was talking about.

J'ohn left a comment about how "Pandemonium" is even "more chaotic" than the Abyss.  Let's examine that a moment.  The image shown is the original outer planes chart, that was purposefully used to explain how alignment ~ that which players were supposed to play their characters by ~ was fundamental to the universe.  Evil on the bottom, good on the top, law on the left and chaos on the right.  Pandemonium is also chaotic, yes.  But that only stipulates that they don't like "law" there anymore than the Abyss does.  The separation between the Abyss and Pandemonium isn't how chaotic they are, but where they are on the good-evil scale.  Pandemonium is less evil.  But there's no reason to think anyone in Pandemonium feels any different about a military culture than the Abyss does.  Why would either of these planes have any interest in fighting each other.

I also find it a bit galling to be advised that there a "many planes" and that Pandemonium is one of them.  I believe the phrase suitable to my generation is, don't tell your grandmother how to suck eggs.  I don't expect the young'uns will get that.

The chart above is, by the way, execrable.  A quick reading will tell you there are not four locations in Elysium, there's no logic whatsoever to the three planes of the "Happy Hunting Grounds," which is a racist thing by the way, nor is Nirvana remotely lawful.  Nirvana is not anything.  The "666 layers" of the Abyss is pure Gygaxian bullshit.  The meaning of the word "abyss" is the description of something that is bottomless, infinitely so.  The Greeks called it abyssos, which they used to translate the Septuagint Bible from the Hebrew tehom, "original chaos."  It is, linguistically, the chaos from which all others chaoses come.  So whatever a dumbfuck writer working for the WOTC thought once while casting about for something cool to write in his game module, the abyss was chaos before the word pandemonium was coined.

Pandemonium, incidentally, was a word invented by John Milton in the 17th century.  He needed a name for Satan's Palace in the middle of Hell, so technically it isn't a plane at all, and if "Hell" in D&D is lawful evil, Pandemonium is technically as lawful evil as it gets.  Pandemonium is lawful evil's comfort cushion.  It is lawful evil central.  When you punch "lawful evil" (10-digit number) into your cell phone, the Pandemonium front office picks up.

The "place of uproar" meaning came in 1770.  "Lawless confusion," not until 1865.  The end of the Civil War.  You know, the holiday being celebrated today.

Honestly, people.  The internet and google exists.  It wouldn't hurt to type some of these words into these search engines and LOOK SHIT UP.  In the very least, please do it before teaching me how to suck eggs.

I'm going to long way around the barn to point out that on many, many things, research exists and it will yield some tremendous content.  If the game company were run by just one scholar, just one, who was able to look at a piece of description and throw it back in the writer's face, we'd be farther along than we are now.

Dave Arneson rushes to share his genius
with the world.
A tiny bit of scholarship reveals in a twink how truly unlettered and dense, and unwilling to crack the spine of a book or two, were the inventors and "geniuses" behind the golden age of D&D.  Time and time again I am both stunned and bemused at the sheer numbskullery of these dorks, who got away with it because they didn't have to deal with real editors, experts or indeed adults where it came to slapping their works together.  The adults came later, out of the 6 and 7 year olds who learned to play the game and grew up as stone ignorant as Gygax and others ... who in the intervening years between then and now have continued to perpetrate the chowderheaded dumbfuck unschooled game culture, and to do so from a dim belief that they are upholding some "real" standard of some kind, as they puff themselves up to speak academic gospels like, "Well, Pandemonium is actually more chaotic than the Abyss."  Oh, really.  How interesting.

I suppose, in truth, D&D never had a chance of being anything but a child's game, given the grounding it had from the founding deadbeat fathers who birthed this thing.  There's so much contrary, discordant, willful, deliberately clueless and proud-of-being-unworldly sentiment in the community, misinformation that the pundits preen themselves on using to inform others, there's not much chance of improvement.  The community prefers to tout the benefits of "making shit up," rather than paying any attention to anything that anyone has ever written about the thing being discussed.  And yet, with all this talk about the constant and endless importance of making shit up, whenever I'm driven to look around to see what might have been "made up" about the Glabrezu in the last 40 years, I never seem to find anything.

I guess we make shit up, but we don't write it down.  Hmf.  Most of these dumb bastards probably don't know how.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Um, Effort? Anyone?

Working on demons and demonology the last couple days, being commissioned by a reader to do so, I can't help notice the illogic of much detail that's been written by module-makers and their ilk.  I'm not an alignment-guy, but even I know there's a benefit to following principles that recognize good vs. evil, or law vs. chaos.

The Abyss is clearly defined as chaotic and evil.  And yet, I am reading everywhere about the queen of this or the duke of this group of demons or of such-and-such realm.  The Forgotten Realms Wiki describes the marilith as follows:
"Maraliths were the tacticians of Abyssal hordes and queens of the Abyssal realms. They served as the generals and advisors to the demon lords of the Abyss.  They sought strategies that brought the most destruction in whatever realm they were in."

All the pics I found for mariliths were poor.  This one
is so overused it's painful.  A less cartoonish, expressive
image is dearly needed.
Excuse me?  Tacticians?  Generals?  Strategies?  Hey, dummies, what do you think the word "chaos" means?

I've always seen the Abyss as a mess of layers where the denizens are at the mercy of incredibly powerful loner serial killer types, who don't work together, don't make plans, don't have purposes, seeing existence as the pure hedonistic pursuit of physical and immediate emotional gratification.  They don't form "armies."  Hey, buddy.  This is the abyss.  We don't follow "orders."  We don't even want to give orders.  Chill out, take a pill, slaughter a few fresh souls and get off my fucking cloud, man.

The Abyss has enough room for that.  It has enough room for everyone.  Ain't no resources and no land we gots to fight for.

It would be one thing if the various morons in charge of the "official" worldbuilding program had real insight about how a grand big picture of modules should work.  Instead, it's just the same concept repeated over and over by half-baked derivative slack-asses without real creativity stretched across every kind of monster.  If devils form armies, then obviously demons should too, and why not everything else in the universe?  Call it Rule 69.  Eventually the fan service of every game concept mirrors every other concept.

That this doesn't make any sense in the universe that's published and re-published ad nauseum as dogma plainly doesn't matter.

It is disconcerting that after 40+ years, there is so painfully little that's been expanded on the nature of so many creatures and concepts that are instantly recognizable to many of us.  Sometimes, what we do have is plainly ridiculous.  Quote, "Mariliths stood around 9 feet tall and measured 20 feet from head to tip of tail. They weighed 4,000 pounds."

Huh?  A Kodiak bear stands between 8 and 10 feet tall and weighs between 600 and 1400 lbs.  This is four times that average, for a creature that has a woman's volumptuous body and a thin, snake-like body.  Is it made of basalt?

I said "morons" and I meant morons.

40+ years and we get 29 words about their personalities, and these don't even make sense as they basically describe character aspects that are diametrically opposed to chaos.  All in all, it's enormously frustrating.

I've written a bunch of posts lately about the importance of having rules, but this is a special problem that pervades throughout the game universe.  If we go looking for dense, meaningful content, it just isn't there.  We're given the same statistics, with half-notes that improve nothing, with the expectation that we're going to use these ideas for combat and for nothing else.  And then we're told by a whole other group of twits that the game "shouldn't be about combat," or that combat bores people, or whatever.

What a bunch of shiftless jerks.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Three Spells

These three spells were commissioned yesterday, by Giordanisti, which should be a familiar name to most of you.  The spells aren't new ~ but this particular trio has inspired a great many arguments at game tables and my personal take has accumulated over time in order to suspend misunderstandings.

In particular I have always hated the web spell as written.  Under the right circumstances it is effectively a death spell, which is ridiculous for 2nd level.  A 5% chance of dying outright per round, after ten rounds is effectively a 50% chance.  So I have rightly toned the spell down to the level of mirror image, audible glamer and rope trick.  Still useful, but not the devastating spell that it was.

As I wrote yesterday, to have me do some writing for you costs a $12 donation for 800+ words (I generally feel inclined to keep going once I open up a subject).  This can be done through Patreon or the donate button you'll find on my side bar.  Talk To Me First, however, to agree on material before you send me any money.  Do remember that you're not just buying something for yourself, but for hundreds, perhaps thousands of other readers.


Range: 1 hex per level
Duration: 20 rounds per level
Area of Effect: see below
Casting Time: 1 round
Saving Throw: none
Level: mage (2nd)

Creates strong sticky strands that form a web curtain that is, at full extent, 40 ft. long, 15 ft. wide and 5 ft. deep. This may be attached to a vertical point or hung between vertical points, or doubled back on itself to create a thicker curtain. If sufficient surrounding structure exists, such as walls and a ceiling, the web will fill a space of 3,000 cubic feet. It is not strong enough to be climbed upon.

The web may be cast so that it passes through a combat hex with allies or opponents, so that creatures will be caught in the web. All caught persons will find themselves trapped, requiring effort to extricate themselves. Movement out of a webbed hex will cost 3 action points (AP) per hex. Attacking out of a webbed hex costs a penalty of -4 to hit.

A heated blade does not improve speed of movement, but the hex to which it is applied will be cleared of webs. Likewise, a torch and similar open flame will not set the entirety of the webs alight, but if it is applied while moving, again, the webs in that hex will be cleared.

See also,
Mage 2nd Level Spells


Range: 60 ft.
Duration: 1 round per level
Area of Effect: one creature per three levels
Casting Time: 2 rounds
Saving Throw: none
Level: mage (3rd)

Advances the speed of movement for the recipient so that all actions require half the time they would normally require, while also doubling the recipient’s number of attacks. The recipient’s total action points per round are effectively doubled. Contrary to popular belief, the spell has no actual effect on time.

The spell has no effect upon a recipient’s armour class or ability to hit, though the probability of hitting is increased by the addition of more attacks. If the recipient normally has multiple attacks, these are doubled also: 5 attacks in 4 rounds would become 10 attacks in 4 rounds; 4 attacks in 3 rounds would become 8 attacks in 3 rounds, and so on.

Once a recipient has been affected by the spell, they need not remain inside the spell’s range.

Spellcasting is not, however, improved; while the caster may be able to perform the mental and physical actions of producing the spell more quickly, the actual coalescing of power, or the attentions of divine beings and such, cannot be adjusted.

The spell will counteract the effects of the 3rd level mage spell, slow.

See Also,
Mage 3rd Level Spells


Range: 40 ft. + 10 ft. per level
Duration: instantaneous
Area of Effect: up to three targets
Casting Time: 2 rounds
Saving Throw: ½ damage
Level: mage (3rd)

Evokes a powerful stroke of magical electricity that leaps out from the caster’s hands (both are required) as a bright flash. A crash of noise accompanies the bolt, but as it is about 110 decibels there is no affect on hearing. The lightning can be split so as to affect up to three targets; moreover, this targeting is accurate, so long as the caster has line of sight. Additionally, the course of the lightning outward allows pinpoint accuracy, so that friendly targets will be unaffected by the bolts created.

As the lightning is magical and not natural, it cannot be passed through a conductor, nor does the presence of water nor connection with the ground alter the spell’s effect in any way. Likewise, magical lightning will not rebound from mirrors or any other surfaces, contrary to popular belief.

Against living creatures, the spell causes 1d6 damage per level of the spellcaster, so that a 7th level lightning bolt will cause 7-42 damage. The damage is rolled individually for each target. Any struck individual is entitled to a saving throw against magic which, if successful, will half the amount of damage taken.

Whether a save against damage is made or not, from 5-20 random objects that are carried or worn by the target must make saving throws for items against lightning. Solid objects enclosed inside a container need not make a save, unless the container itself fails save. Liquids, such as potions, holy water and beverages, must make save regardless. A fail will spoil the magical effect; other liquids will merely acquire an unpleasant metallic taste but will be otherwise unharmed. Beverages should be counted as durables with regards to nutrition.

Post Script,

I have received a request for demon generation spells and demon monster descriptions, so that will be coming up on the wiki this next week.  To my American friends, have a pleasant Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Evasion & Counter-tracking

The following exists because it was paid for by Silberman, who comments here regularly.  He donated $12 to my Patreon for the following content, in accordance with my recent policy.  A cost of about 1.25 cents a word.  I encourage other readers to commission work from me, just remember to communicate with me about what you'd like to see before sending a direct donation or contributing to my Patreon.  Let me just say that this is a great way to buy a gift for your fellow readers and to keep me working.

I'm afraid I don't have proper tracking rules as yet to compliment this work, but who does?  After the research that led me to create the sketch below, I have a better idea now of how I would design those tracking rules.  These are two sage abilities that would be found under the sage study, Scouting.

EVASION (sage ability)

Provides the character with skill at consciously avoiding detection by others who may be actively hunting the character, or in a position to witness traces left by the character. The measures taken will not fool another who has tracking ability, nor monsters with tracking abilities, but it will be sufficient to conceal the character’s movements with other beings, particularly humanoids.

The ability grants no benefits to others associated with the character, who will unavoidably make obvious tracks on trails, stamp vegetation, mark soft wet places as they walk, etcetera, even if counselled to do otherwise. For the possessor of the skill, however, evasion will include actively choosing routes that won’t reveal footprints, bending back grass and vegetation, selecting hard surface entry and exits onto trails, roads and river banks, the wisdom not to sit down upon halts, to listen automatically for movement of others who may be moving in the area, a heightened awareness of wet environments, knowledge not to cross open spaces, how to maintain one’s equipment to leave the least scent, the presence of scent with regards to air movement and wind direction, etc. All of these things provide a negligible chance that the character, acting alone in the wilderness, will leave any track that will be noticed or remotely followed by a creature other than than those gifted in tracking.

The skill does not offer any special benefits to not being seen or improvement in the character’s stealth ability.

See Scouting

COUNTER-TRACKING (sage ability)

An advanced skill similar to evasion, providing the character with techniques that will mislead or delay those with tracking ability, particularly confounding tracking monsters and animals such as dogs or familiars. These measures have the potential for shaking off pursuit by enabling the tracked character to outdistance a tracker; or, in certain conditions, to obscure the trail so that it cannot be followed at all.

The ability will grant some benefit to others associated with the counter-tracking character, in that false tracks can be created so that up to four others besides the skilled character can be potentially shepherded away from trackers. The ability does not allow the number of those in flight to be hidden, but by directing others to take specific actions and movements, the counter-tracker can have the tracker moving in circles that will waste time.

This technique includes laying false trails and backtracking around objects, having a group “jump off” a trail at different points, creating deception tracks, shepherding groups to enter stream banks and exit in ways that will leave confusing evidence of movement, various use of water to break tracks, creating boxes and figure eights with movement both on land and in water, leading trackers to probable spot-points for the best effects from snares and traps, varying direction of march and using vegetation to foul leashed animals and their handlers, forcing them to untangle themselves before continuing pursuit.

Speed of Flight

Laying false tracks requires time and careful effort ~ others with a minimum 13 intelligence and 14 wisdom can give aid. Note that enemy trackers can anticipate counter efforts if a team’s movements are sloppy, allowing them to leapfrog the apparent tracks and close distance with the pursued.

Counter-tracking reduces forward movement for the pursued by 25% and for the pursuers by 30-35% (d6+29). A leashed dog adds +4% movement speed to the pursuers. An unleashed dog will move faster, gaining a +5/6% benefit, depending on the training of the dog. Shepherded characters with less than 13 intelligence should make an intelligence check each hour. Each failure will “speed up” the pursuer by 3%.

The DM should determine the actual distance separating the pursued from their pursuers, then keep track of this distance accordingly.

Pursued characters should decide each hour if they intend to move their best normal movement or if they wish to counter-track. Normal movement, during which the pursued will move at 100% speed in that environment, will leave blatant tracks that can be followed. The delay of the enemy tracker to begin moving at full speed as well may count as distance gained, but that distance will be lost again if the character acts again to counter-track.

Any of the following will add 1-2% to the speed of pursuers who are employing an animal to track:
A pleasant or warm day.
A wind speed of calm or light air.
Flat open ground under a canopy of trees, slowing evaporation and wind dispersal of scent.
Any member of the pursued has less than a 11 constitution, meaning they’ve gained a heavy body odour from sweating while in flight.
Frozen or thawing ground, which retains scent better and longer.
Two hours after sunrise or two hours before sunset.
Items dropped or left on the trail, including pepper and like products, which in fact will not affect a animal trained to track. These items confirm the pursuer’s belief of being on the right track.

Any of the following will allow the tracks of a counter-tracker to eliminate further pursuit:
Rainfall equal to 30 mm over a three-hour period.
Any rainfall followed by a warm or hotter temperature.
A wind force of 6 or greater.
Populated, crowded areas where foot traffic will obscure sign and scent.
Fast running water.
Moving at night.


Note that trackers and pursued may, if coming close enough, gain a visual sight of each other, not only across open ground but perhaps for brief moments as elevation allows line of sight into a valley, up at higher ground or potentially across a large body of water. A wisdom check is needed to determine if either group catches sight of the other; the lowest roll against wisdom determines who sees first. If the d20 rolls are equal, both pursued and pursuer see each other at approximately the same time.

See Scouting

Post Script:

Most of the material above was extracted from this linked document on military counter-tracking techniques.  A very interesting read.

An Explanation and an Apology

The mandate of this blog is to express what I do and what I believe as a DM, in order that others will learn from my experience and my research how to better run their game worlds.  This presupposes that as a DM and a player, I've tried all sorts of things.  Many of those things didn't work.  Some of them did.  Through the years, I have discarded notions and ideas that didn't work, putting all my energies into things that did.

It would be stupid at this time to take a supportive position on some element of D&D that, in my opinion, doesn't work.

For example, alignment doesn't work because the definitions are so squidgy that they can't be applied properly, while players deliberately squidge the lines further because, conciously or unconsciously, they don't like having their actions judged and limited by arbitrary and ill-defined guidelines.

Point buy systems don't work because the players are endlessly channelled into seeking the biggest bang for their buck, or deliberately not doing so in order to be "individualists," resulting in the individualists having crappier characters and then harping on the inbalance that's created by some players willingly trashing character for the sake of power.  The system creates two camps of players that pursue two philosophies that run directly contrary to each other, splitting parties and ending with DMs who cannot provide adventures that will suit the prejudices of both camps at the same time.

Pre-made modules are counter-educational in that they encourage laziness in DMs (who think modifying a pre-made adventure is "work"), encourage blandness in campaign design and subsidize a game industry that has money and not game experience as it's agenda ... while supporting a media-consumption culture, who follow the cultural passive wasteland of "shared experience" instead of the active, vital possibility of shared skillsets and inventiveness.  The fact that thousands of DMs "like" modules is, in fact, the problem, in the same way that millions of people waste trillions of life years in the pursuit of drunkedness, drug use, gambling and other self-destructive behaviour ~ because it is a "quick fix" for the problem of obtaining a skillset that would make one a good DM.

I'm used to it.
I'm not going to change my opinions on these things because others think I'm wrong.  If someone will create an alignment system that players will not chafe against and DOES provide absolutely defined lines of what is what, I'll consider it.  If someone does create a point-buy system that doesn't create munchkins and those that hate them, I'll consider it.  If someone creates a module that teaches a DM how to create their own adventures and ends the dependency on modules, Hell, I'll pay the WOTC money for it.

Been 40 years of trying the first two.  And dead ignorance about any need for the third.  So I don't think it is going to happen.

The result of these positions I have, and many, many others, is a motivation on my part to say the sooth as plainly and bluntly as I'm able, because I don't want anyone to misunderstand.  I hate these things with the burning heat of a thousand suns.  And I'm going to keep saying so.

But I'll be honest.  After 2,900 posts, finding a pathway to addressing a specific subject can be trying.  I will often tour around other blogs, seeking an example of someone supporting an element of game play that I've discarded, and build a post around it.  I did this yesterday with the quote from ruprecht.

Then a thing happens.  Almost always, the person quoted discovers my use within a few hours ... even if I haven't linked to their name or their site.  In ruprecht's case, he was commenting on a blog that wasn't his ... so while Venger might have noticed a boost in page views from my blog, ruprecht wouldn't have had that notification.  Yet ruprecht's first comment arrived about an hour after I posted.  How did he know?

I have to assume that these people, the ones I strongly disagree with, read me daily.  And naturally, most take offense.  I can't blame them.  After all, I'm pissed at them, so why shouldn't they be pissed at me?

And yet, in being pissed at ruprecht, I didn't discuss it on Venger's blog.  So why does ruprecht feel perfectly justified in a confronting me on my blog?  Why doesn't ruprecht get pissed off at me on his own blog, where I can't moderate him?

It is because the audience is here.

Indulge me a moment.  I want to talk about moderation.  I still have a heading above my comments box, which ~ to remind the gentle reader, who likely ignores it every time they comment ~ says:
"Comments that quibble, derail with minutia, argue semantics, insult, ask excessive questions relating to non-post topics, waffle on without addressing the content of the post or fail to make sense, attempt to criticize the philosophy or legitimacy of this blog or its author, or otherwise fail to include a positive, friendly, useful or compassionate message, will be deleted without remorse."

When I think about it, my biggest failing as a blogger is not that commenters don't respect the above warning, but that I don't.  I don't.  Almost every time I draw out someone like ruprecht, I feel duty bound to give them an opportunity to plead their case, on my blog ~ and in the process, I utterly suspend my own warning.

Ruprecht's first two comments yesterday morning were attempts to argue semantics, quibble about what I meant and then ~ by implication ~ criticize this author with an argument that I "admit to doing the work" then "parse what is meant by work."

Plainly, infractions of the rules.  But did I uphold the rules?  No.  No, instead, I tried to define my viewpoint further, which I shouldn't have bothered doing, since he obviously didn't read the whole post.  None of his quibbles were about my statements about improvising my sessions, which de facto put me outside the box he was trying to shove me into.  An oversight I should have pointed out, instead of allowing myself to be drawn into his semantic bullshit.

It is a weakness of mine.  And every time it happens, I get pissed at myself.  And then I realize afterwards that the first damn comment should have been deleted and the whole thread nipped in the bud.

See, the problem is that every time I let myself get drawn into one of these back-and-forth contests, everyone else stops commenting.  No one wants to get involved and they don't want their thoughts lost in the peevishness that's ongoing and to which I'm contributing.  I really need to prepare myself better.  When I post one of these things, I have to take a good, hard look at the first response from the quoted individual and think, "Is this a legitimate attempt at discussion, or is this a fellow flying at me because he's pissed?"

Ruprecht could have addressed the whole post, not just his semantic definition of "preparation."  He could have recognized that defining 11 years of my posting and arguing about D&D in 16 words, given that since he appeared in my comments roll about four months ago he's nitted and picked with every phrase he's written, that I might have something to say about it.  He might have been more careful.  And I might have stomped on his troubled comments harder right from the start.

JB, Ozymandias, kimbo and about 90 other regulars have no problem having a back and forth with me, without accusations about my motivations or my delusions.  These back-and-forths are not chance, they're not accidental ... and I'm getting to the point where, from the first comment from a previously-unseen reader, I can see this one is going to be trouble.

It is something about the choice of words, or the order of sentences, or the general feel of how they're not getting the point, or what parts of the post they seem to focus on in exclusion to all else.  Most of my posts are about five or six different things ... but guys like ruprecht or Venger always wind up picking and choosing one particular thing that bites at them, personally.  And I can feel the "personal" in the way they word their sentences.

Hey, look, I don't care what horrible things people want to write about me on the internet.  Ruprecht is invited, with my full approval and encouragement, to write long, abusive posts about me ... as long as he does them on his space in front of his readers.  But I have to curtail that shit here; because honestly, I owe an apology to every regular of mine for not deleting ruprecht's first two comments right out of the gate.

I'm sorry, Dear Readers.  I am sorry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Excuse Culture

"And here came Wellard onto the quarter deck.  'Reporting for duty, sir,' he said.
"The boy's face was white, set in a strange rigidity.  And [Lieutenant] Bush, looking keenly at him, saw that there was a hint of moisture in his eyes.  He was walking stiffly, too, holding himself inflexibly.  Pride might be holding back his shoulders and holding up his head, but there was some other reason for his not bending at the hips.
" 'Very good, Mr. Wellard," said Bush.  He remembered those knots on Booth's cane.  He'd known injustice, often enough.  Not only boys, but grown men were beaten without cause on occasions.  And Bush had nodded sagely when it happened.  Thinking that contact with injustice in a world that was essentially unjust was part of everyone's education.  And grown men smiled to each other when boys were beaten, agreeing that it did all parties good.  Boys had been beaten since history began, and it would be a bad day if ever, inconceivably, boys should cease to be beaten.  This was all very true, and yet in spite of it, Bush felt sorry for Wellard."
C.S. Forester, Lieutenant Hornblower, pub. 1952

In the above passage, Forester is describing events aboard Her Majesty's Ship Renown, circa 1800, during the first phase of the Napoleanic Wars.  It is an inconceivable passage to be reading in this day and age ~ though I do remember being in school when the strap was still a real possibility and was in fact used on others, but not me.  So I have perhaps a different perspective than later readers.

I don't advocate the strap ~ but I do think that an immersion in icy water of brutal reality is an essential part of a person's education.  In the case above, the "boy" is a midshipman, with very serious responsibilities aboard a ship, the duty of which might have meant the death of a sailor if not carried out correctly ~ and yet in the British Navy of the time, a midshipman could have been as young as 12.  That is truly out of our conceptions, now ~ as is the discipline that was needed to master these ships upon a dangerous and truly obscure open sea, where death was common.  Our soft sensibilities of the present age would make no sense under such circumstances ... and it does us well to remember that we have the luxury to assauge our sensibilities because of the time we dwell in.

I heard the passage yesterday on the audiobook linked, and wanted to fit it into a blog post immediately.  I've been rather enjoying listening to Forester's Hornblower character recently, having never had the opportunity of reading them as a boy ~ though I did read other things written by Forester as early as elementary school.  As books, I'd recommend them; the whole series, starting with Midshipman Hornblower, appears to be on youtube at present.

Earlier today in a comment, JB answered my postulation that there were good DMs and "everyone else."  JB wanted me to be sure I understood that some not-good DMs deserved to be noted as, "getting better."

Well, sure.  Of course.  Good DMs get better also.  But merely wanting to get better, or trying to get better, but not yet being "good," does not in itself earn respect.  Which again, is part of the excuse culture we live in.  Too often, people feel that trying to get the brass ring, or nearly getting it, deserves all the plaudits and rewards of actually getting it.  And this is so pervasive in our culture that many such persons receive those plaudits because, hey, it really sucks to try and fail.  All of which leaves the chum with the actual brass ring in hand asking, "Hey, I actually got the thing.  What gives?"

This is a shortcoming of empathy.  I consider empathy to be a daily necessity, for myself and others, and many's a time I've reproached someone who refused to give it to a co-worker or a friend.  Empathy can build support and the resolve in others to succeed, but it can't bestow that success.  We do no one a favour when we tell them, "Sure you failed, but at least you tried, and that makes you a good person."  Nonsense.  If we want to do someone a favour, we tell them, "Okay, you failed.  Let's figure out a strategy that will help you succeed."

As a teacher, I don't have to worry about students who want to be a good DM and haven't done it yet.  If they want it, they'll get it.  They don't need to be patted on the head until they get it.  And those that will make the best DMs don't want to be patted on the head, because they know that's just a fucking sham.  Give me my sheepskin when I've earned it, thank you.  Stuff your participation ribbon up your ass.

Those who want special consideration because they're "trying" won't ever be a good DM.  They're not in it for the effort or the success, they're in it for the status.  They want to call themselves DMs because the title makes them feel special ~ and they want others to fall in line recognizing how special they are.

Every officer aboard an H.M.S. navy ship knew the cane from both ends.  The cane is a metaphor for the unjust world.  No one likes the unjust world.  But those who focus on the unjust world, who treat every misery of their day with a need to be mollified by that misery, who need to make victories out of attempts and expertise out of half-hearted effort are sad, sad creatures, who don't deserve notice.  We make our way despite the injustice, despite the cane, despite the hurt and the abuse. We hold up our chins and hold back our shoulders, whatever the pain, bearing it for the sake of ourselves.  We don't dwell on what's happened, we dwell on what we're going to do now.  We pick up our feet and become good DMs.

We don't waste time approving ourselves, or asking for approval.  We're busy working.  We're flogging ourselves.