Friday, July 31, 2020

What You've Missed in July

Here's a list of subject I wrote for The Higher Path and Authentic Adventures Inc. during the month of July 2020, that you haven't seen for want of a $3 or a $10 donation, towards my Patreon.  These posts are all a thousand words or more in length.

The Higher Path ($3/month)

Happy D&D: relating a video by Ian Danskin and the way that DMs and Players approach the game the way they approach life, and why there are many things that can go wrong in a game.  Investigations pursue the questions, why do we DM?  And why kill our own campaigns and get the players we deserve?

Why Rules Exist: an essay about the practical aspects of rules rather than philosophical, applied directly to why equipment lists demand rules to understand how equipment is used.  Some time is given to the simplification of equipment and why this creates less meaty games.

Why Experience is Vodka: a discussion of how game experience creates patterns of behaviour that are addictive to players, and how overfeeding that addiction is a bad thing.  Includes a detailed breakdown of different ways to grant experience, for combat, cleverness, participation and the choice of not using it at all, with pros and cons to each approach.

Nine Flaws: deconstructing what goes wrong in a campaign, relating to the failure of following procedures and dismissing the necessities of complications, making good rules and communicating those rules to players.

Combat and Honesty: not a discussion of screens and fudging, but a discussion of why OSR combat was broken from the very beginning and why all the changes that have been made to that system have utterly ignored the fatal flaw: it is boring.  Finishes with why gamesmanship for fun is a self-destructive process.

Effectively Playable: describes the precision in which rules are made in other games and how precision is so utterly lacking in D&D ~ and how that has wrought the process of constant necessary redesigns for the last 47 years.

The Road to the Last Word: a confession that rule-writing is the most boring sort of preparation that a DM can embark upon, and why it is absolutely essential.

What Makes Good Players: how D&D changes the DM's real life personality and character, and how that change, conveyed to players, creates a better gaming experience through education, permissiveness and responsibility.

Point-maps: an argument for why a DM should master the ability to make and consistently run a point-map before moving onto more complicated mapping and setting design.  Point-maps aren't the end goal and they're not really a solution, but they're workable and they can act as a stepping stone.

Mnemonic: an approach towards the essentials of seeing how the world works behind the mapped curtain.  Encourages the DM to see past what can be meaningfully designed on paper and into the very heart of world-active comprehension.

That's How You Get to Carnegie Hall: defines the difficulty of progressing through the creative process when we feel concern for how others will view and comment upon our work.  Offers constructive but time-consuming exercises to help learn the difference between bad writing and good writing.

Memories & Creations:  draws together numerous threads from earlier discussions about mapmaking, creativity and the enabling of players who have as much right to create points on a map as the DM, though this is something they must do without godlike powers.

Authentic Adventures Inc. ($10 a month)
If I haven't made it clear, these are notes on original adventure module creations and how to run them, not stories about a specific party moving through an adventure.

Dziwa: describes a dangerous journey across a desert to the town of Dziwa, introducing a description of the Mozabian Goat peoples.  The challenge is to behave appropriately in a dangerous foreign country, or else face severe consequences and possible death if they fail to both trust the natives and act politely.

Beyond Dziwa: to gain more information about their quest for the Ruby Cloak, the opportunity to speak to the dead requires a journey to a desert tomb, which will be found to be infested with giant wasps.  The complications and difficult invasion of the nest is followed by a fairly generous reward by the clerical guide for the party's success.

Tweggurt: describes the dangers of entering the town of Tweggurt, which is not denied to outsiders but is presently under the control of bandits who have seized and plundered the city, and now remain at the behest of the bandit queen Zegida.  To reach an important clue, however, the party would have to pass through the environs of Tweggurt, which will almost certainly get them arrested; how they deal with the arrest and how forthcoming they are creates both opportunities and hazards.

On to Wed Souf: escaping from Tweggurt, a party travels along the Wadi Rir towards Wed Souf, only to experience a desert downpour.  This brings the desert alives, creates circumstances by which the players will have to circumvent the appearance of many large animals who will congregate upon watering holes.  The players arrive a Wed Souf to find that a vast lake has formed near the town on account of the rain.

Aflu Lake: after many scenes in the dry desert, the party finds themselves crossing a pure-and-glorious freshwater lake created by the recent rainfall.  They encounter giant waterbeetles and iron feathered stymphalian birds, or merely pass them by, depending upon the DM's personal whims, in order to reach a monastery surrounded by water.  There they learn of the Ruby Cloak's probably location in the town of Mandel.

Mandel: at last, the end of the adventure, wrapping up the last questions and compelling the players to think out of the box in order to finally obtain the Ruby Cloak from the desert elements.  This leaves the players with a dilemma: do they keep the Cloak, which has vast power but not especially for the players, or do they hand the item over to the Taureg people in order to obtain great wealth and prestige?

Introducing Saithden: introducing a new adventure, in which a party stumbles across a deserted platform in the wilds of eastern Romania that hints of a huge treasure that was accumulated and hidden nine centuries before by the King of the Avars.  The hook includes details surrounding how to patiently introduce adventures patiently and not as a "you-must-do-it-now" demand.

Pierre LeBousqat: the players meet a key NPC in discovering the location of the treasure and what Saithden is, learning that the King who took the treasure lays sleeping under a mountain, and that he is probably possessed of a crown that brings immortality to the wearer.  The scene offers a pleasant role-playing opportunity for players who like to seek knowledge.

The Guardian of Rodna Tower: the players are asked to defeat an undead being to force it to yield information about where the mountain of Saithden is, so that they may go there and plunder it.  Introducing Khasparr a fighter-lich of great power, who will give in only if he is met repeatedly in single combat; failure to do so will mean the party cannot continue to pursue the quest for a full year.

All of this is available for the price it costs to obtain access to Authentic Adventures Inc.  If you like the posts I'm writing on Tao of D&D, these posts behind the pay wall are less frivolous, designed to help you successfully world build your campaign.  They are filled with inspiration and new concepts that you need to be a better and more progressive DM.
Please support me on Patreon every month.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Unpleasant Design

"Who are you excluding, and why?"
~ Roman Mars, 99% Invisible.

Unpleasant design, usually attributed to architecture, is a design strategy intended to purposefully guide or restrict behaviour that is unwanted.  While I like the video above, I think it fails utterly to notice that fortifications, iron doorways, secret doors and prisons are all examples of deliberate unpleasant design, all from a time when the words were not coined.

Another form of design I'd like to mention are fees and tariffs, which are designed specifically to discourage the entry of goods and persons into towns and regions.  I don't include tolls, as these were put on roads to pay for the making of the road, and were thus of such small value that it did not discourage traffic.  The most important fee with regards to unpleasant design is the fee that must be paid before a person "belongs" to an organization or a club.  Generally, depending on how exclusionary we want the club to be, the fee varies.

Your local community hall just wants enough money from its neighbours to pay the rent and maintenance, and to that end it wants everyone to join.  On the other hand, organizations like the past Murder Inc. want you to actually kill a person before you're even considered able to join ~ and most highly exclusionary clubs want you to back up a few dumptrucks full of money, even after you've passed the smell test.  That's because we don't want any untoward people access, for obvious reasons.  The wrong people are, well, the wrong people.

To bring this around to D&D, we've been searching around for reasons why players should accept rules regarding encumbrance, acceptance of the game rules and the fact of death in our campaigns.  These are design features that a specific type of D&D player doesn't like ... and as DMs, we have many conversations about how to encourage players to accept them, and how to set up session zero moments in order to give notice that the game will include them.  We do this, like good 21st century socialized people, with the desire to include as many people as possible in our campaigns.

Maybe, we shouldn't be doing that.  Maybe, we should be looking at the problem as a way to exclude people.  Given that I see so many people online complaining so often about that specific type of player that ruins everything, either because they don't take the game seriously or because they're simply rude ... then I see plenty of argument for why encumbrance should be seen as Unpleasant Design.  Rather that soften encumbrance, for which we've made an argument for why it should be there, perhaps the real solution is to Harden the hell out of encumbrance in order to drive off the wrong kind of people.

I think I've been doing that for decades, without thinking in those terms.  I do have a tendency to draw a hard line in the sand as a DM, as some online have witnessed.  I take the game seriously.  I don't like boors, clods and louts.  I don't like random racist remarks at my gaming table, or the sort of assholes who don't like to play with women.  I am ready to boot such people.  And I am quite sure than many of them stay away from my game because I am clear about whether or not I'm going to use encumbrance, or insist on obedience to the rules, or kill player characters.

Which, I think, is why my games are so goddamn satisfying for people to play.  I never have any trouble finding players.  All my regular players will ask, and often, if some friend of theirs can join, because they've been chatting up my game and now the friend is interested.  I have no doubts that I could charge people to play my game online, particularly if I set up a video conference on a given night, which I now have the power to do.  Frankly, though, I haven't got the time.  My point is that making games exclusionary, through the use of unpleasant design, is Not a bug.

It's a selling point.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Favoured Souls

[You can read today's post on the Higher Path here]

I've written about this several times, historically here, that being my most unpopular post for quite a while until I topped it with less popular posts.  12 years later, being older, moving slower, I'd like to address it as if I've learned something.  Are your PCs "favoured souls"?

I prefer that moniker to "heroes," but for most people it amounts to the same thing.  Right off, I'll say, okay, yeah, the PCs are favoured souls.  If that isn't a departure from my rant many years ago, I don't know what is.

But keep the cork in your champagne bottle, because I'm not done.

The worst sort of plot armour is one in which the character knows they're not expendable.  The very funny and yet obsequiously fan service character Deadpool is the epitome of the trope, in that not only is it impossible for him to die (even when he does, his girlfriend kicks him back), but he's free to break the fourth wall and gab about it at will.  I like the new Ryan Reynolds and I own copies of both Deadpools, so this is not a hate-piece about the character, but there is room in the lexicon of creative writing for just one of these guys ~ and not hundreds of thousands, as I suspect we can find around gaming tables world wide.  Any one of which would have to be an insufferable prick if He (and it won't be a "she") sat at my gaming table.

Here's the thing.  The player characters are favoured; I play a 4d6 drop the lowest dice to roll their stats (1s ignored is a bridge too far), so I'm definitely in favour of giving them a higher average than the hoi polloi.  I give them maximum hit points to start.  When they level, I do keep a no 1s rolled policy with regards to their hit dice, if not their ability stats.  And they do seem to find themselves favoured where it comes to someone stepping out from the bushes to give them highly irregular detail about something tremendously secretive happening which no one else knows about ... really, really often.  Like, irrationally often.

So I get it.  The player characters are special.  But apart from a few benefits, bonuses and unusual kicks at the can where it comes to getting ahead in life, I don't want the players to know it.  I want the players to feel tenuously uncertain about their roles in the next confrontation, in that anyone can die and that a brutal tone shift is always waiting in the wings.  At best, the characters are given a bit of a head start; this means they still have to run, and run hard, because the competition is made of a bunch of mean motherfuckers who aren't going to hold up if the characters fall behind.  This is a case of saying to the characters, "Okay, you've been allowed inside the door; what you do on this side of it, that's up to you."

Therefore, fundamentally, while the party are free to see themselves as heroes, no one else in the game world will; unless the players do something very specific that will make the locals think so.  I like it when the party does something dangerous and they get treated like heroes in front of an adoring crowd; usually, I find, this makes them feel very self-conscious, particularly if they feel this is now something they have to live up to.  The sort of "heroes" I hate are the ones who come into the game feeling entitled to get that treatment, just because.  Deadpool's cockiness is cheerfully counterbalanced by making the character really goddamn suffer for his "gift," so that he makes joy out of it but the joy has a taint of ruefulness.

When some player tries to adopt the Deadpool cockiness, this suffering, sacrifice, misery and so on is Never part of the mix.  We get Deadpool the immortal shithead, not the Deadpool who knows bitterly that he's a freak, or feels bitter about the loss of his true love, or bitter that he's not really in control of his destiny.  The cocky player doesn't want the baggage; they're satisfied with the snark and the immortality, and that is it.  Seriously.  It cries for a good kick in the non-regenerating peacockish nuts.

I suppose that's pretty clear.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Is it a Layout or a Straightjacket?

Working on a game module, I find myself looking for other forms of layout than the traditional style, as advanced decades ago by game companies.

It's been explained to me that I need to create a format that enables the DM to "quickly refer" to content on the module while the game is running.  I think we all understand this.  But I'm grasping that this quick reference necessity is a prime reason why modules are as simplistic, bland and two-dimensional as they are.  Any adventure that is expansively complex, that does not fit the motif of move from point A to point B, and on to point C, will be hard to model using the format that's used for modules.

For example; if my adventure includes a considerable number of variables, such as, if the party does A, then B occurs, and if it does C, then D occurs; and if both B and D occur, then E occurs.  And if E is followed by the party doing F, thus G, and the party does H, thus I, then how does what happened when the party did B affect the way that G interacts with I, leading to either J or K?

The reader may laugh, but in the recent module I'm writing, I have several such sequences that I find myself having to detail.  This simply does not work easily in a linear-type layout that creates a numbered dungeon chart, with room descriptions.  Nor is it capable of being handled by a DM who doesn't read and subsume the adventure before hand, instead deciding to run the thing on the fly, assuming that everything is cut and dry.

Leading to the question, isn't it wrong to expect better pre-written adventures, if the primary concern is that pre-written adventures don't require work to understand what's going on?

If you want a better adventure, then you have to forgo "instant reference" DMing.  It is that simple.

The user still gets a hand up with regards to running a more complex game, as they don't have to make it from scratch.  As I see it, however, I'm not writing modules for lazy DMs, because I'm not interested in writing the same old pap.  I'm set to appeal to a niche market ~ which makes sense, as I can't hope to compete with the pulp mill of most game producers, who Are interested in quick reference play, because they're interested in mass marketing and mass purchasing.  I'm not.  I have far less overhead, for one thing, and I don't need to sell as many of something to do well.

I don't want to sell a lot of modules.  I just want to sell the best ones.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Hard Things

I'm not due to write a post today, but yesterday I received a large donation from a follower who asked me to address an inherent conflict, between two roles in being a DM.  The first is being an adjudicator of the rules; and the second is in managing the plot advancement and agency of the players, in a manner that maintains pace and excitement throughout the game.  My supporter called it a "director responsibility," in understanding when the scene should be cut and when it should be allowed to run, and I think that is about right.  And I agree with him that it is hard to manage the rules and the nitpicky details at the same time as trying to inspire and produce game scenes that are both relevant and magnificent.  I agree that this is demanding and exhausting.  I sympathize enormously.

Though I sympathize, however, I am coldly hardheaded about holding myself to a standard.  Others may not want to do so, granted.  The presence of creativity in D&D and RPGs dictates that the game will adhere to the same essentials that rule over any artistic endeavour... and all such endeavours are hard.  Unless the reader has had their head in the sand, even the dopiest of us realize that even making a cheap, cheesy movie like Empire Records would far surpass the hardest things that most have done in our lives.  The number of details, the limitations put on a production by virtue of available money, the personality conflicts that are present in dealing with a hundred or more touchy, easily offended artistic types, the pressure of wondering if anyone will even watch this thing, much less like it, while putting ourselves in debt and spending time away from our families, while working 18 hours a day and more without getting enough sleep, as even medical problems begin to crop up because we're not giving ourselves enough rest ... in the midst of it, we wonder why in hell we ever wanted to be a filmmaker.

With this in your thoughts, consider this.  Some filmmakers, and other artists, decide to take all of the above and increase the stress and difficulty by exponential levels by deliberately assigning arbitrarily limitations to the form of work being accomplished.  An excellent unphotographable example would be Monet's waterlily paintings located at the Orangerie museum in Paris ~ as the link says, the paintings dominated Monet's life for 30 years.

But since we're looking at this from a film director's perspective, and because we have reason to consider the subject of imposed limitations with reference to D&D, I can't think of a better example than 2019's film, 1917.  Here the director, Sam Mendes, held himself to a set of rules where the film had to follow the main character from beginning to end, with time breaks in the single shot but without editing cuts.  Here's an early scene from the film that won't spoil what happens, if you haven't seen it (and really, you should; more than once).

From a purely practical point of view, why would an artist break their heads producing a film that follows these rules, when it probably won't make more money that a more traditional film and it will increase the headaches usually experienced on a common film set?  The answer should be obvious, but surprisingly it is not to some people: because stretching yourself within a set of self-imposed rules makes you solve creative problems outside the box.  You cannot make your film, or your book or painting or what have you, using the standard, simple, easy-to-employ tropes that artists come to rely upon.  You have to forget what you know.  You have to teach yourself, the hard way, by skull sweat alone, because there is nothing out here in the world to help you, how to do something that has never been done before.  This forces you to push past the daily business of being annoyed on a film set into the realm of "Gawddamn, I have no idea if I can even do this."  You lie awake and structure the problems over and over in your mind; it possesses you; and when you find the solution, you realize that not only have you solved the problem, you've solved a problem that no one realized even existed before you settled yourself to solve it.  In those moments, you cease to care if the film will do well; you cease to care if anyone else recognizes that you're an artist.  You know you're an artist ~ in a way that you never conceived of knowing it before.  In that moment, you realize you've achieved that thing you dreamed of achieving when you were just a little person, and the opinions of everyone else becomes irrelevant.

It is hard to explain to someone who hasn't done it.  All I can say is, yes, it's worth it.  And, like Monet, it is worth doing it until you die.

Understanding how to solve difficult problems is a step forward for anyone, not just an artist.  If you look around, you can find artists talking about it, working out their own prejudices in the works they write.  One thing that bites is watching some lazy writer invent a half-assed solution to some corner they've written themselves into, which they expect the reader, or the filmgoer, to simply accept.  Stephen King created an excellent example in his film Misery:

People will latch onto the words "cockadoodie car" as though the scene exists to have Annie Wilkes betray her obvious nutjobbiness, but this is not the point at all.  Her prisoner, Paul, is a writer trying to slack ass his way out of a problem; he has killed off the favoured character, Misery, of his many fans, because he hates the character and wants to move on and write other things.  But Misery is the reason he's a famous writer at all, and as Stephen King often does in his stories, he imagines his characters as unsuccessful or successful writers who are always unhappy and always struggling to be "good."  In this specific scene, the problem of resurrecting the dead character Misery is being forced on Paul the writer, and he's invented this "blood-transfusion" solution because he doesn't actually care.  But his fan cares, and Annie's not letting him off the hook:
"Misery was buried in the ground at the end, Paul.  So you'll have to start there."

She's a fan.  And she doesn't care if it's hard.  She knows her bitch pup Paul is capable of doing better, and she is going to hold him to the standard that She Wants, not the one that he does.  Like King does with himself, as demonstrated here, it isn't good enough to dodge your way out of things.  You've got to do better than that.

For any DM, this is a solid, memorable lesson.  Your players do not care if you find it hard to DM.  In fact, the more you complain about it, the more they'll entertain fantasies about hobbling you with blocks and hammers (though it was different in the book than in the movie and believe me, you don't want to know).  By sitting down at your game table, your players are putting their trust in you.  Their opinion of you is better than your opinion of yourself, and it really, truly sucks to have to live up to their standard and not your own.  Which, of course, is why some DMs pray to be players.  And some DM's adjust the stress by turning the volume Up, like Sam Mendes did with 1917, and Annie Wilkes wants Paul to do.

Which brings us to another movie.  Before writing this post, I was talking over the question my supporter asked with my partner, explaining to her what I've just explained above.  And as I am want to do, as I cast around for examples, I jump to bits and pieces inside movies, because I've seen these movies many times and because I have a vast lexicon of thousands of movies that manage to be fresh in my mind when I want an example.

If we're going to talk about things being hard, and why that's lousy, we have to see this:

Quitting.  This is about quitting.  This is about turning in the DM's responsibility and questing to be a player.  This is your players saying, "You know, I really thought you were a DM," and you answering, "Well, you were wrong."

But you don't like Dottie in this scene, do you?  Maybe you appreciate her position, maybe you get why quitting "only a game" isn't that big a deal and that you don't need this.  But then, why did you do it all that time?  Why did you put yourself through that, up until now?  Didn't it light you up inside?  And isn't that something you're going to remember, for the rest of your life, as you sluff your way through a more common, less challenging existence, one without the artistic creativeness you've had the honor of experiencing?  Is it really "too hard"?
"It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.  It's the hard that makes it great."

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Creative Process

Following a discussion about the creative process, I have to start by saying, no, I cannot make a person more imaginative by telling them how to be.  Much as I think that would be really cool.

I think with a lot of artists, it begins when we're very young.  The same way the love of baseball or love of pro-wrestling seems to seize some children in a way that makes them unconsciously fascinated, to where they can never get enough of a particular thing.  But I do not think that it has to begin when we are very young.  It is possible to be alive for forty years and not be aware of a thing, and then get fascinated by it to the point of obsession.

I became fascinated by D&D when I was 15.  But it was not the first thing that fascinated me.  Before I was 15, I progressively fell in love with maps, astronomy, bowling, human anatomy, adventure fiction, science fiction, drama, baseball, history, golf and sex, and most particularly with writing ~ primarily because this last thing would allow me to write exhaustively about all my other loves.  The difference between D&D and those others is that D&D became king ... well, over everything except sex.  Sex exists as a goddess in a universe by herself.  But that is a post I'm not going to write.

And, I suppose, writing has also found its way to stand shoulder to shoulder with D&D.  That is because both D&D and writing enable me to do something that gives zest to both activities: which is, essentially, to deconstruct the world.

Deconstruction was the source of my intellectual pursuits.  I had a human body and I wanted to know how it worked.  I lived on earth and I wanted to know how that worked.  The stars fascinated me and I wanted to know how they were put together and history ... well, I saw all these references to things that had happened before I was born, and wanted to know what those were.

Walking back through the logic of how I got to be creative, I'd have to argue it was the urge to deconstruct things because I wanted to know.  D&D and writing let me do that; and in turn, I can use those same skills to deconstruct D&D and writing.  That is what this blog tries to do.

To first have a compulsion to know about something, we must begin by admitting that we don't know.  We start from admitting ignorance.  We don't see this as shameful; everyone starts from ignorance about every thing ~ we only know anything from the time of our birth because someone has taken the time to teach us, or we have gone after the information ourselves.  If, as it happens very often, we're a person who takes what's told to us at face value, without ever questioning it, then we grow up knowing only what we've been taught ~ and unfortunately for us, many people teach not to inform, but to control.  Including parents.  I was told god existed, I was told that people on welfare were lazy, I was told that being gay was funny, I was told that an adult was entitled to drink as much alcohol as he could "handle" ~ and I was told to shut up because children are there to be seen and not heard.  These things seemed wrong to me; they did not seem wrong to my brother.  I do not talk to my brother.

The first rule of admitting ignorance is that what makes knowledge cannot be decided before knowledge is gathered.  That is why Werner Herzog says in the video I'm going to link below, about Wrestlemania,
"... because you must not avert your eyes!  This is what is coming at us; this is what television, what a collective anonymous body of majority wants to see on television ..."

The most common reason that people remain ignorant is because they are willing to watch only things that they like to see.  People who spent hundreds of hours ranking things that they like are the type who deliberately, systematically work every day to keep themselves ignorant, because they won't watch something they don't understand or something they don't like.  They avert their eyes and as a result, they learn nothing about everything that brings discomforture.  This is not how we acquire knowledge; and it is not how we change.  It is how we make sure that we don't change.

And so ... let's look at something I don't like:

I saw this the first time because I liked Tony.  Tony of Every Frame a Painting was my kind of deconstructionist.

Rather than get into something as mundane as how this the reader is supposed to learn from this deconstruction or what we get out of it, I want to go bigger and express how the process of watching thousands of deconstruction talks can change our intellectual and creative nature.

Every day I open youtube and get a spread of videos that look roughly like this:

With the exception of one video shown here, I don't watch any of this crap ~ but because of what I do watch, youtube thinks this will interest me.  That's news to no one; we can all drag out a page like this from youtube and it makes us all wonder why people are so impressed with algorithms.  Because they're shit.

I did not carefully select this list; the collection of videos is always the same.  We have the desperate attempt by a poorly educated filmmaker to create a documentary on a scale that doesn't require a budget.  We have the attempt to mainstream the material by connecting it to pop culture or memorable people.  We have the do it yourselfer, which has some merit if the subject appeals and the creator actually does their own work and does it well.  For any of this to have value to me, it stands to reason that I have to a) be ignorant about the subjects being discussed; b) be gullible enough to believe that what I'm being told is true; and, most of all, c) I have to care.

The one credible video being shown is Hornblower and the Hotspur, which is the real audiobook published in 1962.  It's credible because it would not exist if it had not been vetted by persons with credibility, i.e., C.S. Forrester's publishers.  The rest of this is made up stuff that hasn't been vetted at all; it has be shoved onto the internet, just as what I'm writing right now will be.  This means that before it can satisfy a., b. or c. above, it has to prove itself credible almost immediately; and quite a lot of it fails to do that at first glance.

All this relates to a maxim that becomes fundamental to deconstruction:  the more you learn, the less valuable mainstream content becomes.  It is called becoming "jaded."

This is why almost everything about D&D on the internet is garbage.  Not because it always has been, but because the gentle reader here knows something more about D&D than they did when they were six, and now this all content looks flagrantly simplistic and even infantile.  When you see an amazingly poor video about D&D on youtube, and wonder how in hell it could have gotten 100,000 views, it doesn't hurt to remember that there are at least a million children younger than 12 who are playing D&D or have heard about it, for whom D&D does not fall into the realm of net-nannied material.

You and I, however, are not younger than 12; and while a content creator can amaze themselves with their prowess at obtaining a hundred thousand views, we must remember the source.

Oh my god, I am so going around the barn.

A jade is a worn-out horse, and less pleasantly, was used to describe worn out women as well (we're not supposed to use bad words like that anymore).  The double-edged sword that accumulates from the accumulation of knowledge is that while it increases the resource of ideas in our heads, being jaded also makes us inconceivably bored with most of them.  The result is two kinds of creators.

The first is where the author realizes, "Though I am bored by really crass character cliches and predictable plot-lines, I know that most of my audience (readers) are not, because they're not as educated as me.  They haven't seen as many movies or read as many books.  Therefore, I can foist this same old shit off on the general public and they will lap it up like dogs, because they always have.  After all, things become cliche because they are so popular."

The second is where the author resolves, "I am not going to write about shit that is beneath me.  If people don't get what I'm saying, fuck them; they can educate themselves and climb up to my level, or they can go hang."

For author, you can substitute the artistic creator of your choice.  Guess which kind of author makes money.  And guess which kind of author we still read two hundred years later.  Of course, you can spend money right now on bling, booze and jaded souls; you won't know that anyone is reading you two hundred years from now.

And you'll die uncertain if you actually made that cut.  Probably, like Edmond About, you won't.  Read any good Edmond About books lately?

So why would you want to be more imaginative?  It's just going to make you unhappy.  Sure, you've got all this bling and booze and *ah hem,* but you're heartsick because you know you've sold out and that even money begins to feel like a worn-out horse in not very much time.  Worse, you'll know you're brilliant, but no one else will, and if you tell them they'll say you're full of yourself and that you ought to shut up about whatever the hell you're talking about.  Because, you'll find, they don't get it.

Seriously.  They really don't.

Still.  It is nice to come up with an idea on a moment's notice.  Even if you find yourself sitting down to write about it and rambling all over the place in some haphazard way because it's almost impossible to put an esoteric fundamental problem like acquiring a subjective, non-defined skill into English words.  No matter.  It is all part of the creative process.

See, we start with a wall.

Then, we have a pile of shit deposited on the floor within throwing distance of the wall.  Got that?  I'm trying to keep this as simple as possible.

Now, reach down and scoop a hand into the shit.  Yes, I know, it smells.  And doesn't feel that good, either.  Never mind that.  You're an artist now.  You've got to learn to do these things.

Okay, have you got your handful of shit ready.  Are you sure?  Good.  Face the wall.  Check your stance.  The stance is very important here.  Carefully now ... swing your arm back.  Not too fast or hard.  We don't want shit all over the carpet and the furniture.  Nice and gentle.



Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Experiment

We run the experiment by introducing the players to the setting and adjusting the control variables, or rules, so that they remain constant and unchanged through the course of the investigation ... er, um, the game running.  We introduce the players as independent variables into the experiment and we are as careful as reality allows to restrain ourselves from tainting the experiment with unnecessary adjustments.  However, the observer effect remains nonetheless, because every statement made by the DM must necessarily alter the state of the independent variables being measured.

This reduces the quality of the experiment as an experiment considerably.  However, the social activity of the players can still be observed with reasonable expectations of learning from their behaviours and choices, so that by listening and watching, and restraining ourselves from interaction, we can gain an understanding of the players' patterns of behaviour, cultural norms, values, creative habits, actions under specific circumstances, organization of self-imposed authorities, means of communication and knowledge sharing, kinship, willingness to sacrifice, emotional responses, cognitive strengths and willingness to collaborate, and finally commonalities that can be seen in the various subjects being monitored.

The experiment can be run again and again, every week in fact, with the same subjects/players or with different subjects as opportunity allows, so that ~ if the players are left alone ~ we can see how to adjust the control variables to encourage certain spontaneous behaviours while suppressing others.  If we remove controls on restrictive player behaviours, for example, no longer requiring them to behave either lawfully or chaotically; and we impose other controls, such as keeping them from attacking one another, we can see an organic development in overall processes that suggest other hypotheses that will lead to further experiments.  Each conclusion allows us to improve as scientists, especially if we retain an observational that restrains ourselves from imposing our own beliefs, except before the experiment is initiated, as our beliefs are imposed through the control variables we choose.

In short, having created the experiment, we can take the role of anthropologists watching the players interact, to see what they'll do, once placed in the given situation.  This enables the players full freedom of action within the boundaries of the experiment.  In this manner, we can separate ourselves from the supposed immediate wants of the subjects, which can be denied, so that we may observe long-term whether or not the frustration of those wants leads to a negative response to the experiment or a positive one.

Does a player's request for immediate gratification today have any meaningful influence over the player's sense of well-being if gratification comes with time and through the player learning how to press the right levers?

Only an experiment will tell.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020


From Grubb Street, talking about roleplaying games:
"This image (and all images) is off the 'net. My woodgrain box was long-ago crushed through use and travel, and the booklets worn and coverless. The Lovely Bride has one in better condition, but it is one of the later white boxes."

Sentimentality is a funny thing.  I confess I have my own weaknesses in this, which I've occasionally posted from time to time.  It is hard not to be prompted occasionally by the touch of awe we had for these things, or the ways we invested our lives so heavily into the game.  Evenings spent around kitchen tables in friends houses ~ friends who are long gone now, and who knows what has become of them ~ with parents looking in to say something disparaging or to voice legitimate curiousity.  Every bit of the tactile still brings an immediate affection that isn't lost, even though it has been decades since.

Would that I had known then what I know now; the games I would have run, the adventures I would have built, the maps I would have drawn.  As a compliment to dewy-eyed memories of the past there is the stark truth that time is getting shorter at the other end, the one in front of me.  It's not that likely that I will be able to look upon right now after four decades have passed.  Will I impress myself?  Is there sentiment left for that future me to look back at this present and feel the touch of the keys under my fingers, to remember the comments and the time spent writing post after post?  I wonder what the things I am doing today will inspire in the things I will be doing ten or twenty years from now.  When I was a boy of 15, the age of 21 seemed so far off ... but now, of course, six years is but a stroll to the corner.  I can look back on the last six years and shrug at the meagre distance between me and 2014.  So will there be anything new in the next ten?  Or am I at the end of things, where from here on it is just bookkeeping.

I see that in others my age; and I am a lot closer to what it means to be 75 than I could have imagined 20 years ago.  It seems that most people as they pass their mid-50s stride, they're content to ease down the hill on the other side and just let ambition go.

I don't feel that way.  But I don't feel as well as I did, either.  Every little part of the body breaks down.  I'm on daily pills now for my blood pressure.  Some mornings my hips are so bad it takes two rounds of aspirin to sit easy.  The doctor is a regular thing, at least once a month between my partner and I; and there are a lot of evenings when we decide we're too sore from the day's work to do anything but rest.  A lot of evenings, I don't work at any project.  I'm just too tired to think too hard.

And then, I let myself get angry at all that, and tell my body that I'm in charge, and it can just go ahead and hurt as much as it wants, I'm getting this done.  I have a lot of really good days like that.  Days when I go to bed at night feeling proud of myself.  Days when I want a hill to climb, rather than one to stroll down.  I like those days better.

I hope there will always be a lot of them ahead of me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Arguing the Merits

[This bonus post is a reprint from The Higher Path, available for a Patreon donation of $3 per month; the content is part of a series discussing nine common errors DMs make]

"A rules lawyer is a participant in a rules-based environment who attempts to use the letter of the law without reference to the spirit, usually in order to gain an advantage within that environment."

I don't have any particular issue with a rules lawyer at my game table, foremost because I'm as conscious of the rules as said lawyer and secondly because I impose a condition of the law that I can't help noticing most DMs fail to recognize.  When a lawyer brings a case to court to argue it, before any argument can be made the judge has to first decide on the merits of the case before it will be considered.  If you recognize that as the DM, you are the judge, you'll realize that you don't have to listen to any case that lacks merit.  By definition, "merits" are defences that rest upon the justice of the case, and not upon technical grounds only.  That simple distinction obliterates at least 9/10ths of the arguments made by game rules lawyers ~ and if you outline that distinction, clearly, you can end nonsense cases put before you of this kind.

The way to break a rules lawyer is to use the law.

The wikipedia page also makes reference to a "sea lawyer," which I think is worth adding to the discussion.  According to the Glossary of U.S. Navy slang, a sea lawyer is,
"(1) A sailor or his buddy, making eloquent but completely spurious arguments at Captain's Mast, or in response to some disciplinary action. (2) An argumentative, cantankerous or know-it-all sailor. A sea lawyer is adept at using technicalities, half truths, and administrative crap to get out of doing work or anything else he doesn't want to do, and/or to justify his laziness."

This is precisely the problem with such people in game play.  It isn't that they debate or discuss the rules, which is perfectly sound and reasonable (after all, it is why we have lawyers).  It is that they are miserable, lazy persons lacking immersion in the game, which causes them to wreck campaigns while glomming attention and screwing up the works.

Not that I think anyone here needs me to define the D&D process, but let's do it anyway for argument's sake.  My role is to provide information about the setting, which includes detailing characters in that setting and things that happen surrounding the players.  When the players ask me a question, desirably, it should be about the setting, and not the rules.

It's understandable at the outset that we will need to discuss the rules to some degree, to settle on how the rules work.  For the most part, this should be one rule = one discussion.  That discussion will usually be 20 or 30 seconds, or less, unless it is a tricky rule.  Unless something truly goofy happens during the game, we shouldn't have to discuss that rule again (though, we will, because people can't remember things).

Rule discussions in game should be limited to clarification, Not supposition.  Any argument that begins with a metaphorical or simulationist perspective, such as, "I can swing a shield like a sword and I can prove it to you," has zero merit as an argument, not because it isn't true, but because we cannot measure the practicality of that thing with real experimentation against real orcs who are really trying to kill the player, who is not the fighter represented on the game's sheet of paper.  And so, therefore, the entire argument lacks evidence.  Arguments like this, that derive from a metagaming perspective, should never be heard by the DM.  According to the rules, the player's character has never been trained with a shield; it would never occur to the character to suppose he or she could use a shield as a weapon; therefore, the supposition is null and void.  Therefore, there is no merit to the player's argument and it will not be heard during game play.

Once you get this into your head as a DM, you'll be able to cut player's off mid-sentence without hesitation, like a Judge cutting off a lawyer stepping outside the law.  Once you get into the habit, the players will stop advancing metagaming arguments, the rules will come to stand as pre-determined and the players will stop talking to the DM when they get information about the setting, and will start talking to each other.

Flaw #4 reads, "Encouraging game metrics that rely too much on DM-Player negotiation, consuming the DM's precious time while hampering Player-Player communication."

Not only is this a dictate for the players to follow, but it is also a dictate for the DM.  If you find yourself starting to lose your voice by the end of a five-hour session, it is because you're talking too much.  Talk less.  Get your descriptions and important points out and then shut the hell up.  Stop embellishing beyond the bare minimum.  The game isn't about you.  The game is about what you inspire in others.  Let them be inspired and then back off.  Manage their requests, manage their rolls and decisions, manage the non-player characters and shut down player attempts to reach across the table and utilize your presence as a help-meet for their actions.

Because if you're soft and forgiving; if you're sympathetic and indulgent; they will smell it on you and wheedle every damn thing that comes into their imaginations out of your big, fat beneficence.  Your players aren't stupid.  If you give out that you can be played, they will play you.  They will tell you long sob-stories and butter you up; they'll argue mundane issues because you've already demonstrated a habit for being gotten around; they'll coax you and tempt you and twist your emotional arm.  Every character death will feature threats of game-quitting and suicide if that's what it will take to melt your big ol' fuzzy heart.  No treasure horde will ever be large enough; no magical weapon will ever have enough power; and no rule in your game will be fixed and inviolate, ever.

Every game will be a steady, unending discussion between you and the individual players, as they will never need to talk to each other.  Why would they?  They can get a lot more out of you!  What, in the name of the game, could another player offer that won't be bigger and better coming from the DM?

Monday, July 20, 2020

Raising D&D

Recently I found a floorplan of the rented condo I lived in between 1989 and 1997, as shown.  I find it a little funny that, thinking of it, finding it took just a few moments.  I'm not living too far from the place now; if I were making a little more money, I could move back there.  That would be sort of funny.

This would be the first home my daughter knew, and as it happens she met one of the players in her present-day D&D campaign while living here (who grew up in the same collection of condos), so moving back in would be pretty weird.  But that's not what this post is about.

I'm sure I've mentioned before that I did not begin running my daughter in my D&D campaign until she was 14, because I'm a miserable, strange and complex person.  My personal feeling is that children shouldn't play the game until they are at least 11, at least not with adults.  This isn't because I feel the game is too violent or difficult; it is because I believe (and there's only three or four mountains of evidence in psychology to back me up on this) that young children build patterns of behaviour that hold with them all their lives, and that these patterns influence the way they see things.  If a child's first interpretation of the game is as a child, that will be a different interpretation from what we could expect from someone who first came to the game as a youth or an adult.  Children play D&D very differently from adults; I wanted my daughter to comprehend how adults play, not how children do.

That's not quite what happened.  She did begin playing with her friends when she was 8; but these were silly games (her description) and I don't think they had much influence over her thinking.  Her real experience came from another source ... which brings us to the floor plan presented.

The reader can see the location of my daughter's bedroom.  Beginning from about the age of 4 or 5 (her description), her mother, Michelle, who has long since passed away, would put her to bed between 7 and 8 p.m.  Then my daughter would wait for a bit, for the game to "get going."  Then she would sneak around the hallway, to the little cubbyhole where the washer and dryer was, where she would slip inside and close the thin sliding doors.  Then, she would lie on top of the dryer, just 7 ft. from where her mother, me and our friends were playing D&D, bringing a pillow with her and listening for hours.

We never caught her.  She did this for years, she told me around the time she was 17, but we never knew.  You can see plainly from the floor plan that we walked past her dozens of times on our way to the washroom; the lower, smaller bedroom was my study, where I kept back-up materials, so I would have gone there over and over.  She faked a lump in her bed so if we checked in on her, we wouldn't want to wake her up; and when she got tired, she put herself to bed without a word.

I can only assume that she really liked the game; and, for the sake of my ego, she really liked the way I played it.

I have other evidence for that.  Here is my daughter, showing me her D&D books, from about a year ago:

 At least I did one thing right as a parent.

[p.s.; I may have posted the video once before on this blog, but I couldn't find it; I might have told the story about her hiding in a closet, but I couldn't find it.  I'm old.  I forget things.  Like your grandfather who keeps telling you the same story, over and over.  Have I not mentioned lately that my daughter is pregnant?] 

Moving The Ruby Cloak to Stage 2

[You can read today's post on Authentic Adventures Inc. here]

On Thursday, I completed the first adventure, The Ruby Cloak, on my Authentic Adventures Inc. blog, that I launched back in May.  Took me 17 posts to complete the adventure, which amounts to about 30,000 words; judging from the feedback, it doesn't seem to have any loose ends.  I've begun laying out pages to create a pdf document and possibly a physical booklet; I have no idea how long that will take, but that's how these things always go.

Seems I'm always starting projects and never finishing them.  Believe me, it weighs heavier on my mind than the reader can imagine.

I'm beginning a new adventure today, Saithden.  While the Ruby Cloak took place at the edge of the Sahara Desert, this adventure takes place in the shadow of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania.  There won't be any vampires.

Considering the matter of creating a module for sale, I'm faced with the process of obtaining art for the project.  At least, I've watched while others struggle to raise thousands of dollars in GoFundMe in order to pay artists to create works.  It's obvious that a great many people buy modules for the artwork, as a kind of fantasy porn, but I am skeptical regarding the actual value that art provides.

Let's say I want to produce a module adventure that I sell for $25.  I'm seeing Wizards content priced from between $25-45 that is drenched in artwork, setting the standard for the market I'd be plunging into.  Typically, I'm quoted $500-1000 per artwork from artists I've spoken to online; which would mean that 8 pieces of art (which would still be thin compared to Wizards content) would cost me roughly $6000.  This would mean I'd have to sell 240 copies just to break even on the art cost, whereas during that time I'd be getting nothing for the months of work that I put into writing the content.

This seems crazy to me.  I'm just a small producer; I don't expect to sell more than 100 copies of something this obscure, at best.  Probably, I'd do better to produce a module without any art at all, sell it for $10 a copy and be satisfied with selling 20 copies.  I would make more money that way.

Additionally, I can't see what purpose the art actually provides.  The module can't be witnessed by the players during the actual running of the adventure; most of that artwork appears on the same page as the details of the adventure itself, so the DM can't exactly share the book around to show how glorious the castle is or how frightening is the monster.  These pictures are also just snippets of the whole description of the adventure, which must be conveyed through words, not pictures.  I can appreciate that DMs often need images for inspiration, but books and written words can also be sufficient inspiration for these things.  You're having no trouble picturing what I mean right now, and I'm not adding any pictures to these words as I write them.

It seems to me that the market has its head on backwards.  We're paying high costs for images when the images are actually largely useless to the process of running the adventure.  We're paying dreck costs for writers who actually do produce the necessary material, since the adventure's value is based on how complex and innovative is the sequence of events involved.  We're demanding that small publishers support a whole industry, fantasy art works, which is extraneous to the product's design.  Why?

Particularly since gorgeous, plentiful fantasy art is everywhere on the internet.  It isn't as though we can't find images of battle scenes, beautiful women, spectacular dragons and so on simply by typing these words into an image search.  Exactly why is this content "better" if it is placed into a physical book, when the cost for printing color and visuals is excessive?  As a publisher and as a client, how does this serve us?

I'm going to be publishing my module with a few maps and no superfluous images.  The art market is ridiculously overpriced for what it provides me and I'm not going to be using it.  My writing is of very high value and the intricate design and uniqueness of the Ruby Cloak adventure argues its value.  I don't expect to sell many copies, but I do expect that those who buy it will become repeat customers for later adventures that I create and sell ~ because the writing is going to be that good.  It breaks all the rules of adventure module publishing; but it respects profitability and purpose of design, so I don't care.

I am open to an artist who wants to step up and produce some art in exchange for a percentage of the sales.  I am an artist who wrote art, and all I'm going to get is a percentage of the sales, even though I am responsible for the adventure's creation and all the layout involved in making it a product.  I'm taking a risk on producing this; I don't see why an image artist shouldn't be expected to take the same risk.

An artist won't, of course.  If an artist does step up here (and I find that unlikely, as I've made this offer before), it will be out of respect for me, and not from a profit motive.

I should point out that obviously, if I plan not to include an artist at all (except my own efforts at producing maps), then the quality of art I'm willing to consider is probably not that high.  Amateurs reading this should give that some thought.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Warning: Contains Abusive Language

"This is a role-playing game. It takes place entirely in our collective imagination. I tell a story and you make choices in the story. Let's begin. You are all standing on a country road. Legend has it, the evil dragon Draconis dwells nearby, guarding a massive pile of treasure.  Working as a team, your goal is to track down the dragon, kill him, and then claim the treasure as your own.  Jeff, your turn."
Abed Nadir, Community S02 E14

Community was an infantile, facile, poorly written angst fest for miserable people desperately seeking a program that depicted characters more pathetic than themselves.  I did not watch it past, I think, about halfway through the second episode.  I just wanted to be sure we understood my perspective on the show.

On July 7th, Netflix and Hulu pulled the episode quoted above.  I could give a shit, both for the loss and for the reasons they pulled it.  The brief snippets I've seen of the show make it appear a deliberate civilization-wrecking shit-show, using approximately the same logics regarding free speech that made Larry Flynt's Hustler so prominent and profitable.  The fact that society has chosen to arbitrarily die on the hill of stopping one or two particular egregious improprieties the taste of the month does not justify the hundreds of other sickening degeneracies present in this and many other present shows that pass unnoticed.

However, the linked article above turned up on my feed, and as it was about Dungeons and Dragons (and yes, I had previously heard of the "infamous, beloved" episode), I chose to read it.  It is the first time I've seen a piece of this episode and ... well, it was obviously a post waiting to be written.  Since I am bored enough to be reading shit off my feed, I might as well write it now, though I am not scheduled to write a post on this blog until the 20th.

I've seen a lot of stuff over the years take a dump on my passion, but this steamed.

"Your turn"?  Huh?  That's not even accurate to the way the word is used in the game.  It is never anybody's fucking turn.  The DM does not turn to a particular player and say, "your turn."  Not in any game I've ever seen or heard about.  Jeebus.

"Working as a team," I am now going to give you a job, because I'm your employer here.  I am offering you pay in the form of a make-believe dragon horde.  Now do as I tell you because my version of "collective imagination" is that you're a bunch of pawns and I'm your gawddamned master.

The reader might have noticed, I'm pretty angry just now.

It would probably be best if I deleted everything I've written so far and started again.  I have no doubt I've offended people (since Community was so-so popular, in the way that television shows would have been taken off the air for piss-poor ratings when television had social relevance, like in the 1990s).  No doubt, there are those who will argue that the show "gets better" following this obscene introduction to the game.  This is the kind of post I keep saying I'm going to stop writing, because it's extremely negative and obverse to the process of teaching people how to expand and improve their D&D games.

Here's a clue.  Don't tell your players what to do.  Tell them where they are and pick something more interesting than a crossroads.

D&D does not "take place in our collective imagination."  If you believe that, then you don't know a damn thing about preparing for a game, managing your skills or your equipment, using a character sheet or reading the emotional state of other people in the room who are real and NOT imaginary.  What we choose to talk about may be imaginary, but the process of talking and playing the game is concrete and definitely real.  No doubt, however, some readers here don't know what I'm talking about.

"Our collective imagination" is a bullshit phrase that doesn't actually mean anything.  Try writing 300 words defining the concept without talking about any fixed game element, and without descending into meaningless purple prose that isn't just more of the same manure.  How is our imagination "collective"?  Discourse and planning are collective, but those things aren't done with our imagination, they are done according to established rules which the game defines.  Or, at least, that a game prior to 5e defines.  For our imagination to be "collective," we'd all need to be telepathic and we'd have to not be individuals.  The words sound fun and coercive, but that's just because you're a dumb human.  You're easily distracted by things that sound like they ought to be possible.

As an aside, I'm finding "cancel culture" very interesting.  I'm old, so my perspective is a little different from the younger folks.  Long, long ago, when the world was new and I was very young, if I wanted to see porn I had to go to a bookstore and ask quietly to see what was "under the counter."  This would enable me to buy a video from a choice of two options.  Anti-porn legislation, and all the legislation in existence that banned virtually everything considered a "vice" in the late 1970s and early 80s, that was a "cancel culture" far more rigorous and absolute than this one.

Only things that aren't worth hiding under a counter truly get cancelled.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020


Not my day to post here, but thought I'd share a piece of office equipment my Patreon paid for.  I live about 10-14 hours a day in a computer chair.  It's finally nice to have a very good one.

Thank you to all my contributors.  You are the most wonderful people!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

July Schedule

As the reader can see, I have decided to change the pattern of writing from what it was last month to this.  Those three-posts-a-day tasks were just a wee bit too much for me, as were the nearly 40 posts I put up last month.  At some points, I had kept up a schedule of two posts a day for nine days at a time, with more than half those posts being heavily researched and involving additional features for design.  It got to be too much.

So with this, I'm going to try to take weekends off and see how that goes.  Also, because June made it difficult to do side writing, I'm also going to take two full weeks off of writing this blog.  This will be the last post I write here until July 20th ... but as you can see from the above, I will still be writing continuously through that time.  Only, I'll be writing for those persons who support me on Patreon.  I'm sure the rest will understand that while I want to work on a specific book that I've been adapting, I can't skip my responsibilities with people who actually pay me money.  But I can make room for myself here, as I'm not beholden to the general internet.

Rest assured, I'm working, I will be back to write later on in the month and I am always thinking about D&D, role-playing and how to better express to people that they need to study design and human behaviour in order to be better and more popular dungeon masters.

Please feel free to ask me any question on any subject, regarding any post I've written.  I enjoy any comment I've written and I always have time to take ten minutes or so and write out an in-depth answer to a question that a reader might ask.  I should always hope that readers will see me not just as a form of entertainment, but as a dependable, enlightened resource that is ready to help.

[You can read today's post, Beyond Dziwa, on Authentic Adventures Inc.]

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Rambling on a Sunny July Afternoon

July 1st and it is Canada Day.  I have nothing scheduled to write, because June is over.  I'll post a July schedule tomorrow, but for today I'm relaxing.

I wanted to add a bit to yesterday's post.  People noticed P.F.'s fear of confrontation and I concur.  I'm less convinced than some readers that what's depicted arises out of 5th edition, though undoubtedly that shares much of the responsibility.  My take is that the lion's share is related to a politicization of social relationships that 20/30-somethings have embraced through their upbringing with the internet ~ the idea that if anyone likes a thing, then everyone has to tolerate that thing so that the individual doesn't feel misused and isolated.  The absolute worst reference in the whole video is the "rule of cool," which readers did note.

TV Tropes defines Rule of Cool as,
"The limit of the willing suspension of disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its awesomeness.  Stated another way, all but the most pedantic of viewers will forgive liberties with reality as long as the result is wicked sweet or awesome."

This notion is largely meant to apply to film.  The application of it being applied to RPGs is ... troublesome.

Enabling that encourages dysfunctional behaviour, supporting the use of the rule of cool to solve game problems such as defeating enemies or overcoming obstacles, ensures that the players will ramp up the "awesomeness" of that dysfunctionality until it destroys all semblance of the game.  P.F.'s sin is not that he allows it, or that he supports it ... the sin is that clearly, he gives no thought whatsoever as to the origin of the rule of cool or how it became part of the D&D milieu.

This seems to apply to every other statement he makes throughout the video ... and indeed, through all his videos, as I've seen them.  He, and the people who comment beneath the videos, do not question the presence or the relevance of such rules.  They simply accept them, as though the presence of things like advantage and disadvantage, having the players discuss how they feel their characters should be rolled up, point buys, ignoring the DM, letting the players ignore the DM and so on, the rule of cool, are beyond examination or discussion.  These things just Are.

I find this continually jaw-dropping.  It is obviously creating problems.  P.F. repeatedly uses the word "impossible" to describe managing perfectly ordinary parts of the game, such as knowing the rules.  Clearly, the "rules" he refers to are not the sort I had when I started the game; and they're not the sort originating in the 5th edition books.  The rules as P.F. understands them are impossible because they are not rules at all; they are not even guidelines.  "Rule" is weak garbage-speak for "I have to listen to everyone's opinion and make a compromise."


On one hand, I agree that some things should be discussed and negotiated with the players.  How they roll their characters, or how the fundamental system of combat works, or fucking laws of physics (the rule of cool can go piss on itself), are not up for negotiation, period.  Ever.  I don't care who is pissed.  My partner and I have been together for 18 years, and if the die roll came up and killed her 13th level mage permanently, she would be pretty goddamned unhappy.  And given that we live together, and that she's more inventive with her revenge than I am, my standing by that die roll has every potential of a very long period of resentment. 25 years from now, when we're 80+, and sitting on rocking chairs, I'd fully expect her to pronounce bitterly, "You killed my mage, you bastard."  Not the dice.  Not her choices that she made.  Me.

If I'm not going to bend for the sake of Her happiness, the woman I love, the woman I would unhesitatingly take a bullet for, your chances that I'm going to go back on a ruling like that are right between fucking never and you-will-eat-my-shit-first, fucker.

Ah.  Trying to express my level of passion ... and on some level, the disgust I feel for the perpetrated idealism underlying P.F.'s video makes any language I could invent seem to pale in comparison.

People want to see P.F.'s trouble as "his inability to accept the role of DM," as Lance put it.  But I think it goes deeper, to something I see repeatedly on twitter and facebook, as people try to walk the fine line of standing by their principles while tripping over themselves to placate other people, either because they don't want to be hated or, worse, because they don't want to be labeled "The Hater."

See, as I keep pointing out, it isn't just P.F.  Read the commenters under him.  There are thousands of them.
"My rule is what I call Macgyver: if you can reasonably argue something being plausible, and the table agrees, I'll allow it..."
"For the rule of cool situations just say "remember, everything you can do, the monsters can do too" and the laws of physics will suddenly become sacred."
"Recently some of the other players started telling me that I was kind of being a prick for doing so, because I never call myself out for messing up, so lately I've been saying things like "And since I already cast Zephyr Strike, I can't Hide as a bonus action, so I guess I'll just end my turn normally."
"My simple rule when DMing is once the end of the round is reached no backises."
"I realized when I entertained the idea of save scumming, that I was only doing that because I was trying to make the character an extension of myself; I wasn't enjoying how much 'I' was failing. After that realization, I decided to play the character in a way that was vastly different than my real life self, which started to make the game more fun for me."
"It takes too much time and is too annoying to backtrack 4 turns later because someone forgot bonuses or advantage or whatever else. You just have to suck it up when you make a mistake and move on..."

This is just sampling the first 50.  It goes on and on, with garbage human being after garbage human being making arbitrary standards on non-rule based prejudices, smugly, while defacto accepting what P.F. has said as substantially reasonable.  The most profound thing about twitter, and virtually everyone discussing how something "ought to be done," is the inherent sense that the statement that has just been made is a "mic drop."

I've just said "this" in 62 words without examples or evidence.  Of course I'm right.  Of course I am.  I dare you to write something that disagrees with me.

I think my favorite is the guy who decided the solution to not feeling a failure was to distance himself from his own actions through inventing an invisible friend.  Because that is accepting responsibility for your actions.

boom.  mic drop.

Jojodogboy wrote a supportive comment to assure me the world is really a great place and that there are people who play good D&D.  He argued for granularism, which is the process by which we rebuild the mountain one grain at a time, because we're ready to take the time while the rest get bored and find something else to do.  I agree.  I defend granularism and I practice it.  Doing so right now.

But I don't think that the things Jojodogboy mentioned ~ builds and feats, or maximizing, or the need for interacting with the world as a game fiction ~ have anything to do with it.  My sage ability system encourages "builds."  For that matter, so does Monopoly, RISK, creating a baseball team, putting on a play, starting a company or clerking for a political party.  Builds are a good thing.  3e didn't suck because it had "builds."  It sucked because the build system it employed was a really, really shitty build system.

A "feat" is just another word for a skill.  Skills are necessary for game play.  The idea of having skills, and indeed the skills that were called "feats" in various games, is a powerful feature for building character behaviour, opportunity and imagination.  It wasn't the concept of feats that sucked in themselves, it was the compulsion to reduce every skill to a stale, universal rolling system that failed to make allowances for the individualism of the human knowledge being instituted.

If I play again, you can bet I'm going to maximize my strategies for survival.  I do so in real life; and I laugh when people, in real life, say things like, "there's nothing wrong with preparing for survival, but it is important to have fun, too."  Maximizing is a good, solid functional metric for players to follow in aiding their game play and their success at the game.  And games are, whether fun or not, about Success.  The problem with previous game systems isn't "maximizing" per se.  It was the game-breaking shitty design in what maximums were possible that sucked.  Instead of bitching about people who want to maximize, why not make a game where the "maximum" is still inside a rational limitation.  Fuck, brother.  When I play any video game, you can bet I'm "maximizing."  The good games don't make it possible for me to buy something that breaks the game.

You know, I really don't know what the words "within the game fiction" actually mean.  I suspect it is just new jargon for, you know, "playing."  I've been around for a long, long time.  I've heard lots of jargon.  The DM describes a scene; the players decide what to do.  There are all kinds of people on the net who feel the behaviour underlying this interaction needs to conform to some ideal nature of play ... but in the real world, I have tens of thousands of people telling me similar things about what to believe regarding work, religion, politics, artistic expression and on and on.  I am a function guy.  I am not here to tell the players what to do.  I am here to make the world and to present the world, and then have the world unroll and respond to what the player's behaviour is.  That is my form of emergent play.  I have no idea what was meant in the sentence, "I get a lot more..." but that sounds suspiciously like someone is trying to sell me a product.

Thank you for the support, Jojodogboy.  I don't really need it.  I'm pretty well wrapped up in disgust and righteous indignation.  I don't mourn for the game.  I mourn for the fucking idiots playing it.

Going back ... P.F.'s failure, and the failure of those commenters, isn't that he can't accept being the DM, it's that he seems to be unable to accept the nature of being a human being.  Forgive my saying this, but I'm somewhat experienced and I've picked up a few things.

I'm thinking of a movie written by Billy Wilder.  "Why don't you grow up, Baxter?  Be a mensch.  You know what that means?  A human being."

I think the most pathetic behaviour that has come out this last quarter of a century is the sickening effort people will go to not to draw a line in the sand and stand by it, through thick or thin, come hell or high water.  I watch the line of celebrities as they wait to stand in front of a mic and apologize for some frivolous, irrelevant, human statement that some doofus happened to overhear, as though what such-and-such said about A. or B. or C. has any application to their responsibility to a public so endlessly distracted by bullshit that they can be bought by the banning of a flag at Nascar, the pulling down of a few hunks of metal and Mississippi changing their flag.  Covid rages across countries throughout the world, yet we can be certain the news has time to point another camera at another waggish second-rate half-forgotten grammy winner, writer, movie actor or who the fuck knows what, because he said or she said a word that only one race is permitted to use, lost their temper while drunk, failed as a parent or said that a person born with a penis isn't a woman.  My gawd.  At LEAST We're Paying Attention to the Shit that Matters.

P.F. himself parts the curtain on his anxieties at the begining, when he paints his own eyes in huge anime glitziness to indicate his super-innocence in the world of pulling down his own shitty videos, then depicts himself again at the very end as a stuttering, uncertain, "please like me" sook.

He's terrified, as a infant child, that saying what he supposedly believes won't receive approval.  The world is not populated, as we're constantly told, by entitled narcissists.  It is populated by children, whose political battlecry of tolerance is not aimed at other people ... but from a terrible fear that someday, someone will see them for what they really are, and not feel inclined to tolerate them.

Well, not being a baby; and not overly concerned with whether or not people like me; I'll point out that Canada Day is a celebration of how my country came to a reasonable set of terms with it's colonial master, amicably settling our disputes and agreeing that it was best to move forward in the future like adults and not squabbling, grasping, demanding, petulant children, which is how the Continental Congress sounds to me as they debated things like trade and whether or not to keep humans as slaves.  See, when you're an adult, and the goal isn't to be liked, but to stop shitting around and come to an agreement that stands the test of time ~ 153 years and counting ~ things can get done without leaving endless irreconciable bullshit floating around, like who said what to whom about what and why they should be punished for it, or what are we going to do about stopping doing the bad stuff we've been doing for 244 years even though it even came to war over the issue that still didn't fucking settle anything.

Want to be a better DM?

Don't ask to be liked.

Be a mensch.