Sunday, January 31, 2021

Project Progress

Alas.  My attention's been directed elsewhere, regarding last week's post.  Usually when I research some project, I learn interesting things that I can talk about here, but this has been such fiddly work, of a peculiar type, and such small inspirations haven't arisen.  Yet, I'm far enough along to talk about the project itself.  Yay.

Not very impressive, is it?  For some time now, I'm going to be steadily populating the above white space, seeing if I can fit in 1600 items or so.  The number so far is a little less than 200.  Everything here is subject to shifting around, with adjustments to fonts, headings and such—the only thing that matters is the actual descriptions, which have to be as tight as I can make them while using all kinds of rich, vibrant words to paint images.

I'll be reposting the image every once in awhile, because that makes it fun for me.

After a long conversation Thursday, which became passionate and loud, my business manager (Yes!  I have one of those!  Isn't that scary?) convinced me the above format will go right over the heads of many, many potential clients, the sort who can't train their eyes to look at a lot of words jammed together or adjust themselves to numbers which follow descriptions.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Apparently, however, this is unreadable:

Kirtle dress ~ elaborate dress coat, with slit sleeves & collar, laced as corselet; favours cold climates; highly crafted; damask 83 g.p. / 3¾ lb. linen 2 g.p. / 2½ lb. velour 36 g.p. / 5¾ lb. wool velvet689 g.p. / 4⅜ lb.

Common, ordinary people need something called "columns," with loads of white space, or else they consider the plentiful, remarkable content to be utterly useless and of no commercial value.  I tried to explain that columns and white space will just eat up space, removing any real cleverness to be found in the creation of the poster, since ultimately what remains will be just the same, dull, boring stuff that can be found on any equipment list.  But Mark says I'm going to face plant if I keep thinking that way, so I've agreed to make a poster that has a wider potential audience.

Wait, wait ... before you start screaming at the screen, wait.  I'm also going to make THIS poster, the one above, the original one I'd planned, without compromising my artistic integrity.  Then I'm going to sell both posters, independently, so that crazy lunatics like me—you know, that can read—will be able to buy one version that can sit in front of your toilet and never get old, whereas other people can buy their crutch-minded version.  It's my plan to build the deep one first, then figure out what content to drop in order to build the shallow one thereafter.  I may ask for some help on-line about that, but usually no two people can agree about what's superfluous and what isn't.  There may be no point.

Anyway, that's the state of my world.  The poster teaser post got a LOT of page views, so clearly there's something appealing about this.  I don't do anything halfway, so I'm frustratingly digging into the shelf-life of food products, what they taste like and other like details, because hell, I might as well go on being an extreme kook.  As such, this will take time.  Ultimately, I'd like a product that will mezmerise an onlooker, who's helpless to go on free-associating from item to item, until an hour goes by without notice.

That would be very cool.

Incidentally, I can't help noticing that the image above isn't very clear, due to blogger's policy of having the image upload capacity of a 2004 start-up.  If anyone wants to see a clear image of the poster, please email me at and I'll send you a copy right along.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Poster Teaser


This is a terrible teaser, especially if I don't come through and make it ... and on some level I'm writing about it today to keep myself motivated.  I'll have to be to get this project off the ground.

What the reader is seeing is a small portion of a 36" by 48" poster that will include as much of my equipment list format as I'm able to fit in.  At present, I'm using 11-point font; I'm not settled on the font-type, I'm looking into that.  This is Garamond, which is bound to be too thin a font for this.  I am sending out some persons to find me an artist to fit in small pictures here and there throughout; I have some leads on that.  I don't know how much the poster will cost, but as it is huge, and I intend it to be glossy, it's going to cost a lot.  So it goes.

Just now, I don't even know who I can obtain to print the poster; I'd like to make an arrangement with a company like Lulu, that sells my books, so that posters were printed as they were purchased, alleviating my needing to keep a bunch in stock.  I haven't looked into that yet.  I've only been on this project about a week now.

Obviously, I've had to create prices that discard my usual trade/pricing system; that should make the poster more accessible to ordinary game worlds.  As can be seen, I'm upgrading my descriptions, so that the poster will be interesting reading.  It should be the sort of thing a guest could stare at while waiting for the microwave or in a hallway next to the bathroom door.

Adding 25-30 items a day; some 1600 items to be added altogether.  Negotiations with artist, negotiations with printer during covid will be troublesome.  Hopefully, I can make this available by the end of April.  Some creative work, but nothing that will especially trouble me.  Shouldn't be a problem.

Incidentally, notice how most of these things would be included in a "craving" list.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Passion, Pursuit & Evolution

Mpff.  Heh, heh.  My particular flavour of insanity, as OrwellianHaggis said a couple days ago.  Following two different conversations going on this month, I find myself wishing to make clear what my expectations are, for other people using anything that I propose for D&D.

I have no expectations.  None.

It wouldn't be practical.  I have people here who are contributing as much as $20 a month to my Patreon for my ramblings, who nevertheless run their own game using the 4th Edition or 5th Edition game version.  If I can't convince my most stalwart fans to abandon these systems in favour of my path, then surely I expect nothing more from the average reader who gives me nothing.  People come here as voyeurs, to see the monkey dance, to think about D&D, to fantasize about a granularity they'll never impose and to be entertained as they drink coffee first thing in the morning.  They come here because I make them think.  Some people like to think and they like to be compelled to do so.  I am one of those persons.

I have very few sources I can go to for that ... and with covid, fewer than ever.  Some content creators have completely vanished, leaving behind the bones of their original work with no explanation as to where they've gone.  They've given not even a goodbye.  At a time when they ought to all be home and bored, therefore having the time to commit to their so-called passion, they're invisible.  Are they tucked in a corner, arms around their knees, rocking and moaning to themselves?  Seems like they must be.  Other creators that I love, such as Folding Ideas or Innuendo Studios, are churning out half-baked content every three months or more.  Ninety days is a long, long time to wait for 40 minutes of content, if we get even that.  They're spending their patreon money on flair and presentation, when all I want is for these smart people to TALK a little more often.  I suppose they feel the fans need more glitz.  That's not what made them famous.  Glitter takes hundreds of hours longer to create than ideas, and so we wait.  And wait.  And wait.  It's a desert out there.

Smart people have to be experiencing the same lag I do ... and therefore any time I can ease that lag for them, by not waiting more than a couple of days before writing something, even if it's just about writing something, I'll do it.

I believe that passion is the make or break quality one must possess to run the game well.  All the tips and details we can muster won't be worth a thing if the DM has no passion.  A couple of weeks ago, ViP threw out a comment at me and I gave him a pat answer.  Let me look at that comment again:

"... given that most if not all the social aptitudes required to run (and participate in) a proper game are absent in most teenagers, especially the basement-dwelling type, is it actually possible for a teen DM to run for other teens or children?  Is D&D played by youngsters a different game altogether, that somehow evolves into the real thing later in life?  Is the continuity between our childhood memories of the game and our present experience of it an illusion?"

The emphasis is mine.  My pat answer was that I'm not interested in the games that teenagers play—but of course I was a teenager playing the game between 1979 and 1984.  It was certainly possible for me to run other teenagers, and in some cases 20-something persons.  Compared to what I played in the early 1990s, those games were totally different, absolutely.  That doesn't mean they weren't "the real thing" when I was a kid, or that they became more "real" as I aged.  My games grew more sophisticated and elaborate, absolutely; they have ever since I started.  They did between when I was aged 15 and 17.  It doesn't take 10,000 hours to learn a new skill.  It takes 20.  200 hours will make you as good a DM as any green commercial pilot is as flying a plane—we're talking people you'll trust your life with.  That's as good a DM as most anyone will be of any age, even those doing it for 20 years.

Evolving a game takes passion.  If you don't care, you won't find a reason to evolve.  You'll just run the game the same way you always have—you'll even argue that because you're running the game now, "the same way you always have," that this is the only way it needs to be run, can be run or ought to be run.  I've seen all three arguments online.  If you look around, you'll find all sorts of articles debunking the "10,000 hour myth," specifically citing Malcolm Gladwell who only reported the concept in his book, Outliers.  Gladwell didn't invent it, anymore than Dan Rather invented the Taliban after reporting on them in the early 80s.  Since, it's been understood—by really, really stupid people who never read the book—that the hours spent won't automatically make you the Beatles or Bobby Fisher.  Gladwell never says it will.  He wrote that if you ARE the Beatles or Bobby Fisher, you'll rack up 10,000 hours because you can't do or think of anything else except that thing you're passionate about.

Like me.

I was not, therefore, "most" teenagers.  The games I ran in back then, made by most teenagers, were good enough because, initially, I knew little to nothing about the game.  Within a year, however, I had my 200 hours of direct play.  By five years, as I turned twenty, I had a thousand hours of play and at least five times that in preparation and design.  By the time I turned twenty I'd quit other people's worlds.  I tried to play several times in the 80s and they were all terrible, even those run by thirty-something adults, some of whom had ten years experience.

It being "possible" for teenagers or anyone else to run a game for other people is an obvious fact.  I'd argue that most adults run a game that is no better or worse than any game run by any teenager, given that most adults have never advanced their game a smidge since the day they began.  And, I'm sorry, but that describes virtually every reader here.  When someone writes me to say that reading me vastly improved their game, and that it's on a whole new level now, that's only because until reading me, that DM had ceased to question the precepts of the game.

Teenagers automatically question the precepts of EVERYTHING.  From the age of 5, when we start school, the reason we're given for doing anything is "because."  By 13, most children are mostly fucking sick of that.  Even the dumbest of them want a real answer.  Most of the time, it dawns that the "real answer" is that school is bullshit, teachers are bullshit, the curriculum is mostly bullshit and the promises that working hard in school is almost certainly more of the same.  It isn't, because if you don't jump the bullshit hoops you'll never reach the hoops when real stuff happens ... but given that everything else is clearly bullshit, and no one will admit it, it's hard at 13 to take an adult's word for anything.  Those that do, have the benefit of a parent who can explain what's really going on, or happen to get that rare, wonderful teacher who will admit that, "Yes, it's all shit, but eat enough of it and they'll give you steak."

Most adults stop questioning about the time they become adults, because they start thinking they already know the answer.  If you know the answer, you don't question.  My 15-y.o. daughter used to say that they must take adults out into a field somewhere and drop an anvil onto their heads; it was her explanation for why adults behaved so irrationally.  She's 32 now, with a child of her own; she's seen with her own eyes now, the friends she had once who just stopped learning.  That's what happens.  That describes virtually everyone I write for.  They're not here to learn or to grow, they're here to be amused.

Therefore, the game people played as children and the one they play now IS a state of continuity.  There's no illusion—except maybe in their minds.  A self-aware person ought to look at the game they played back then, and the game they want to play now, and either assess 1) that there's a difference or no difference; and 2) why or how they came to a place where they changed or they refused to change.  We are right here, in our minds, the whole time, so when someone says, "I don't know how I got here," they must have chosen to be willfully ignorant at some point.  Apart from a severe trauma, there's no other excuse.

Being self-aware, I can pinpoint every choice and change I've made to myself and my game.  I can tell you about the time I chose to be more likeable as a person; and I can tell you why I decided I hated being more likeable.  I can tell what sort of parent I thought I'd be when I was eight, when I was 16 and when I was 24, when my daughter was born.  And I can tell you what kind of parent I was, every step of the way.  I have NO empathy for people who blew left and right with the wind, who closed their eyes and let the stream take them or who believed so dearly in the bullshit of their elders that they didn't realize they'd become their fathers until they found themselves habitually beating their own kids.  The way ZiP asks the question in his comment, I find myself wondering, "Don't you remember when you were a teenager?  Don't you remember how you thought?  Aren't you able to identify the aptitudes you had when you were 15 or 18?"

But then I remember that a lot of teenagers around me were doing a lot of drugs.  That's trauma.  That's the excuse I'm ready to take.

In which case, try to live your life right now as though you are a teenager and willing to question everything that's happening to you.  That's the point of this blog.  Making you "think" is tantamount to making you question.

The other day, when I asked if player characters should have a favourite colour, I got various answers.  I even got one fellow who tried to argue that he had a reason for choosing his favourite colour, while proving in fact that his "reason" was no more than pure sensory perception.  This is like saying my favourite ice cream is chocolate, because when I tasted chocolate I decided I wanted it more than any other.  Yup.  And at what point did I decide the taste of chocolate would be best?

Self-awareness.  It's a mystery to some people.

What OrwellianHaggis calls my peculiar flavour of insanity is really just my peculiar belief that if we can make rules to fabricate combat or resource management as game functions, why not clothing as protection against the weather?  Why not a craving for a kind of food?  Why not a favourite colour?  These are human experiences too.  Why should a game that provides context for every human experience be limited arbitrarily by those the original creators of the game presupposed?  Are we as humans limited to what other humans have invented?  I don't think so.

So, I will bring this long, rambling post to an end.  Seems I've been making nine or ten different points, which will seem disparate to many.  I'll try to sum up.  Passion causes pursuit; pursuit leads to evolution, in order to pursue better; evolution is marked by insight and new ideas; new ideas trash old ideas.  People without passion don't pursue.  They don't evolve.  They don't invent.  They just drag on doing things in the same old way.

Which sort are you?


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Wearing Clothes

Since the discussion on this post about colour, I've been thinking about the effort to maintain incorporated rules into one's D&D game.  This fits with changes to other another game rule, highlighted through rewriting my pricing tables (an arduous task that will take me many weeks).  I'll get to that rule in a moment.

As I see it, maintenance issues arise depending on the category of game rule.  We have, for instance, rules the DM must hold in mind during play: combat rules, natural effects (starvation, dehydration), physical limitations (like encumbrance or movement) and details that need to be invoked by the DM in circumstances, like "walking past a concealed door" or "wandering monsters."  DMs can reduce these by not discarding rules entirely, like not playing with encumbrance or how much food the players ought to eat.  After all, the DM must also hold in mind details that are not rules, such as how the setting is organized or the various "if/then" matters arising from the players' actions.

Another category are rules the DM should know well: how do spells, traps, magical items or special abilities work, so that when they're invoked in the game, the DM has already settled on their functional effect.  More familiarity means less game time spent reacquainting ourselves; but as there are many hundreds of these things, if something unusual arises, it's understandable the DM hasn't memorized them.  There are magical items I haven't seen in decades; there are some I've never seen.  The same can be said of some higher level spells, which never became consistent game elements.

Finally, there is one last category the DM isn't responsible for.  For example, I tell a player that they have a craving for chocolate, and that if they eat it, they gain a 5% experience bonus; once I've passed along that information, it isn't my responsibility to write it on the player's character or remember it.  It isn't my responsibility to remind the character ever of that benefit.  Or even make up a replacement craving when, five years later, the player realises their 12th level character doesn't have a craving written down.  Oh well.  Wasn't my problem.

I often choose to make it my problem anyway ... and I will often remember, even five years later, that it was chocolate the character craved.  But since the question of "how much content can we reasonably remember" was used as an argument for why we shouldn't increase the number of game rules, this last rule is particularly relevant.  Because I don't have to remember.  The player doesn't have to remember.  But if a player chooses to remember, and employ that benefit, I only need to remember how the benefit works.  That benefit, and a hundred others like it, ARE A SMALL PART of the 800 monsters, 400 spells and 2,000 perceived sage abilities I've already chosen to include in my game.  Add to that the 1,700 pieces of game equipment I've added to the mix, plus the 1,374 provincial political divisions in my world (which, I assure you, I am familiar with, every one), quibbling about this minor add to the game is silly.  When I suggest inventing a players' favourite colour or a craving, I'm increasing my recognized game details from 6,374 to 6,376.

Okay, so maybe these are the straws that will break the camel's back.  Only, I'm fairly sure the camel felt burdened before that last straw was added.  I don't.  I perceive there's a lot to manage ... but then I built this game wiki that helps make much of it searchable, along with hundreds of files on my computer, which are also searchable.  If I need to know where Thanjavoor is, and that the official title of the ruler there is a "Nayak," I can simply search any big city in south India, like "Madurai" or "Mysore," and there it is.  Granted, I recognize that many DMs might have trouble pointing to the continent that has Coimbatore on it, but that's not me.  Remember, I drew a very detailed map of that area.  I did the work.  I know these places.  The same can be said for any rule I've created for my game.  I may not remember the exact details, but I know where to find them and I can do so in seconds, because I'm not working with paper.

I can't help it if other DMs don't know how to file things.  Or make files.  Or use their memory.  But obviously, I can't limit my game world, or the rules I want to create, based on someone's inability to do these things sufficiently.

From the above, encumbrance is much more of a problem than some minor thing like "cravings"; or the nutrition of food the players are eating; or the change in my movement rules ("stride").  These are things I must think about continuously.  These do get easier with practice; and tools like the encumbrance calculator help streamline the difficulty.  Yet still, while working on the pricing table, I'm not removing items; I'm adding them.  I'm not removing features from the table, I'm adding features.  I'm increasing details.  Because I feel I can handle the increase.  And because applying work in one area can provide simplicity for something else.

For example.  For a long time I've handwaved the weight per square yard of cloth, making every type of wool the same weight, along with every type of linen and every type of silk.  This is because when I started building this pricing table, circa 1998 to 2003, the internet was in its infancy.  Better information wasn't available—and when it was, I didn't think to look for it.  But the reader will remember that I recently posted a list of wines according to a brief description of each; and I mentioned that I have 35 varieties of cloth.  Each of these got a description as well ... but I'm going to forego posting them here.

I also went through every cloth and located its GSM.  That is, the grams per square meter the cloth possesses.  For example, common linen has a GSM that ranges between 30 and well over 350 grams; the mid-range is 150-350.  For people who say my game is too gritty, consider that my pricing table could include a line for every 10 gram difference; except for the time involved, and the inconvience of choice for the player as they scanned down through 45 levels of linen, I could absolutely calculate a price for each.  Instead, I settled on an average of 140.  Damask has 200.  Sailcloth, 440.  These are translated into oz. per square yard, because the metric system doesn't exist in my world.

This helps me define the weight of every piece of clothing according to its type and fabric much more accurately (remembering that I'm not being as gritty as I might).   While accomplishing this task, I found myself revisiting a rule that I'd tried to implement, but which became too troublesome and time-consuming to include in my game—it being one of those rules I'd have to keep track of all the time: CLO, or clothing insulation.  This game rule requires that players calculate what clothes their wearing, adding numbers together and then comparing those numbers to the temperature.  It sort-of works ... but as the temperature changes, it requires constant inconvenient adjustment on the players' part.  So I dropped paying attention to it until I could build a better calculator, one that would allow me to change the weather and it would tell the players what clothes to add or take off to achieve comfort level.

This can now be done so much simpler.  CLO is measured against TOG, a unit of measurement from the slang "togs."  1 CLO = 1.55 togs.  Togs, in turn, are measured against GSM.  250 GSM = 1 TOG.  Of course, that's 250 grams to make a tog for a specific part of your body, which can be covered in about 8 square meters of cloth.  To give your body one complete tog all over, you'd need 250 grams x 8 square meters, or 2 kg.  Therefore, 1 CLO = 3.1 kg. of clothing.  In my game, that's 6.09 lbs.

Since a CLO allows you, with a body temperature of 37⁰C (98⁰F), to sit comfortably in room temperature.  For this, I'm counting room temperature in the high teens celsius or high 60s fahrenheit.  Here, we can throw exact measurements right out the window and, for playability, propose that 1½ lbs. of clothing equals an increase or decrease of 5.56⁰C (10⁰F), from a base clothing weight of "6 lbs." (for simplicity). My temperature grades are designed around 10⁰F increments (there actually wasn't any measurement system at all in 1650, but it is hard to describe weather without also describing temperature), because it's easier to divide by 10 than 5.56, and 10⁰C has too much variance.  Anyway ...  That's a 30-degree difference for 6 lbs. of clothing, or 2 lb. per 10 degrees.

John, then, is enjoying a "pleasant" day (room-temperish), wearing 6 lb. of clothing.  I tell the party that the temperature has dropped to "cool" (10 ish degrees lower).  John gets out 2 lbs. of clothing and puts it on.  This couldn't be simpler.

Now, we can get more precise, if we want to isolate parts of the body.  If John is wearing 10 lbs. of clothing in "frosty" weather (20-something fahrenheit) and none of it on his hands or head, that's not quite in the spirit of the thing.  But we can simply say that 3% of his clothing weight must be made up in gloves and 8% in headwear (hood, pullover woollen cap, that sort of thing).

I'm going to stop calling this "CLO."  I never liked it, for D&D it's far too anachronistic.  I've decided to simply call it "covering" and even that isn't necessary, as most people will simply call it "wearing clothes."


I've just realized my original math was wrong and I've tried to fix it; but I can't help feeling there's something I'm missing with all this messing around.  I hate looking like an idiot, but I think maybe the above proves I'm an idiot.  Please let me know if I am.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Seriously Now

Looking at those three problems seriously.  I'll introduce an answer to each in the form of a quote.

So she says, "Uh-uh, You don't have a challenge, you need a challenge." So now I'm challenged, all right- I'm challenged to hold on to my lunch money because of all the big mooses who wanna pound me, 'cause they think I'm a shrimpy dork who thinks he's smarter than them! But I don't think I'm smarter, I just do the stupid homework! If everyone else just did the stupid homework, they could move up a grade and get pounded, too! Is there anymore coffee?

— Hogarth Hughes, The Iron Giant

Agreed, there are a lot of rules.  The task of learning and implementing them is daunting; there's no use in pretending that you can memorize them all in any brief period of time.  However, you're not meaningfully limited in time.  Yes, your game may be starting Friday, but so long as your players understand that you haven't ingested every rule in the book yet, and that for now you may have to look up a few, you're working on this problem and it should get better.  Say these words exactly.  "Guys, sorry, just feeling overwhelmed, but I'm working on the problem."  Then, work on the problem.  Read the stupid rules.  Not every rule every day, just a select number that you set as a goal for yourself, like you would learn vocabulary words for a foreign language.  You were taught how to do this is school, so you should know how.

Don't think about the size of the task.  Don't contemplate your perceived limitations.  You're quite able to memorize a great deal more than you imagine.  Read a small section of the books, think about it for a few minutes, and then tomorrow read another small section.  Go ahead and read sections you've read before.  Read passages for the sake of reading them, rather than making a plan to read a specific thing.  Pay no attention to how much you've read, or how much you have to read.  That doesn't matter.  Remember that you like D&D. You like thinking about D&D.  All you're doing is reading about D&D.  As you do this, the bits and pieces that you collect will find their way into your game, and you'll realize you don't have to look up things nearly as often.  A year or two from now, a very enjoyable year of learning your limitations, you'll wonder why you ever thought learning the rules was impossible.

Let me show you my plan for sending you home. Please excuse the crudity of this model. I didn't have time to build it to scale or to paint it.

— Emmet Brown, Back to the Future 

The key word here is "time."  Because of time, your game world will be necessarily crude, which is to say that it will be in limited stage of refinement.  If you had a lifetime, you would make the perfect adventure.  If you had eons, you'd make an elaborate game world in 1:1 scale.  Unfortunately, you have the time you have, so present your world, apologize for not having had time to perfect it and move forward.

Your world is fine for what you need to demonstrate.  If you have the capacity to build a model of Brown's elaboration, complete with little unpainted grey figures on the sidewalks, all the better, but it's quite clear from the film example given that scale and paint weren't needed to clarify the plan for sending Marty home.  So, let go of any preconception that your game world is going to be this shiny glistening thing.  It doesn't need to be glorious.  It needs to be functional.

Then, as you have more time, you can build small parts of it to scale, as you're able.  You can paint small parts of it.  You can contribute to the general aspect and feel of the game world or its adventures as best you can.  Meanwhile, you can say to your players what Brown says.  "Please excuse the crudity of my world at this time.  The orcs are heading across the field to your left ..." and so on.  If you will ease the standards you are attempting to meet, to a level that you can attain, you will find that worldbuilding is not nearly so impossible as you've led yourself to believe.

The making of a great compilation tape, like "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," it takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules. Anyway... I've started to make a tape... in my head... for Laura. Full of stuff she likes. Full of stuff that makes her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done.

—  Rob Gordon, High Fidelity

This will be the most difficult to grasp, particularly for those who have not seen this film or read the book.  The lesson that Gordon has to learn is the same that a DM must learn:  "It is not about you."  This does not mean your game world is not yours; you've defined it, you've worked on it.  It is definitely yours.  But you cannot make the world for yourself, because you cannot run in it.  This is half the message.

The other half is that when you make the world for your players, you're not making the world your players want.  Like Gordon's compilation tape, you're introducing something through your game that your players cannot predict.  You're throwing a surprise party.  You're making popcorn for your friends before showing them a film they've never seen or heard of.  You're sharing an experience in real time that you've had in your head, or that you had some time in the past.

Free yourself of worries that what you're showing them will be "good enough."  If what you made got your heart racing; and if you're full of anticipation for their reaction when you run; they will sense your eagerness and your anticipation.  These things will give your delivery the verve that it needs; exactly as if you were running over to your friends to tell them Kanye West just went into that Chipotle, right there!  They will see it in your body language.  They will hear it in your voice.  When those things convey your concern for them, and not you, you'll have no problem relaying the moments of your campaign.

This requires a shift in thinking.  Some cannot do it.  They are too embarrassed, or too concerned.  I feel I always had a fascination for show-and-tell.  I wanted other people to like something as much as I liked it.  I attribute my keenness to DM to that.

These things are slowly acquired.  They are meant to be.  There is no reason to worry if they can be acquired, however, because if you apply yourself how you can, regularly, you'll be fine.  If you keep willing yourself to grow, watering yourself and giving yourself good soil, you will grow.

Don't worry about that.  It won't solve all your problems, but you'll find you like your problems. And, when others will recognize you, and call you, a great DM, you won't see it.  You're just playing the game.  It won't feel like you did anything special; and you'll feel that what you do, anyone can do.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

All Problems Solved

In dungeon mastering a game, you're being asked to accomplish three impossible tasks.  

First, you're expected to learn and implement a vast number of rules, any of which may come up at any time during play.  This is made harder in that the rules are often scattered over multiple books, inserted between content that may have nothing whatsoever to do with the game's actual rules.  It is up to you to decipher the difference.

Second, you're asked to create or adapt some kind of setting, either a "game world" or some "adventure," which must be of a quality that the players will appreciate.  If you fail in this task, the players will become bored and your game will fail.

Third, you must deliver the game to the players with a verve you may not possess, in such a way that the players will be made interested—while at the same time you must also act as a referee and a gatekeeper upon your players' activities.  This is made harder in that these players are often your closest friends.

In answer, the D&D game industry has invented a solution to these problems, a solution that is oft-repeated by thousands of commentors and game pundits, as THE key answer in how to be a DM.


That's right.  Having asked you through the game's design to do these things, you are told repeatedly to neglect to do these things, mostly because these things are inordinately difficult and not fun—and the game is supposed to be fun.

Advice #1: "You don't have to learn all the rules.  Just the main ones.  The ones that come up a lot.  And anything else, well, just make a ruling.  D&D is better when it's simpler, anyway."

Advice #2: "You don't even need a game world.  There are tons of great adventures you can purchase; just ask around and find out which ones are good, and then have a good time running your players without all the stress."

Advice #3: "Nil.  We don't talk about #3.  Even when we pretend to talk about #3, we're really just talking about #1 and #2.  Where it comes to #3, we slack."

And there you have it.  D&D problems solved.  Now go and be a great DM, and never worry about the game again.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Question Benign

I'd like to leave this as an open question, relating to my last post.

I'm of the opinion that humans don't have a choice about the sexual orientation, their physical reaction to drugs or alcohol, and certainly not the number of brothers and sisters they have, or the backgrounds of their parents.  These are things we're given and forced to accept about ourselves; and it is on that premise that my character background generator is based.  NO, you can't make up a story in which your father was killed by a fellow who is now king and you're plotting revenge.  Your father being alive or dead at the time you start your character isn't up to you; nor is the behaviour of any NPC in the game world.  If you have a problem with your father being alive, you'll have to take that up IN GAME, in the manner that suits you.

This said ...

Should a player character be allowed to decide their favourite colour?

Monday, January 18, 2021

Effects of Equipment

I am amidst the reformatting of my pricing table, a long overdue task involving the correction of many, many errors that have been there for years, along with expanding details and adding features.  At present there are something like 1,500 items for sale and no, I don't think that's too many.  Honestly, I don't think it's enough.

As many of you know, my daughter runs a game of her own, and some of her players also play in the game of another DM, Tatyana, that my daughter knows.  My daughter uses my equipment sheet, while Tatyana doesn't ... and in Tatyana's campaign, everyone has plenty of money and doesn't know what to do with it.  They have so much coin they use it as road gravel (joking...).  Yet these same players in my daughter's world never have enough moneynot only because there are many things to buy, but because the existence of things create their own game effects.

For example, we might add a dozen or more kinds of hat to our equipment table; there are, after all, many kinds of hat.  That might lead to a stipulation that in certain parts of the world, everyone has to have a hat; not having a hat is considered a moral offense ... and of course, which hat you purchase has an influence on which persons you speak with.  If everyone in the party wears one kind of hat, that being the "safe" hat, the one that draws the least attention, it can mean there are dozens of factions they can't speak to at all.  Moreover, don't ever get caught with two different hats.  It means you're not a true believer in one or the other (effectively both), and therefore worthy of having an "accident."

The various substances and manufactures of my world are brought into existence by my patient research through a 1952 encyclopedia; many of these things I had never heard of before: kumiss, garum, seratonin, witherite, kaolin ... a long list that is second nature to me now but were a mystery 20 years ago.  One list that I've inherited through the encyclopedia is that of wines; there are many thousands of wines, of course, but there are just 23 of name that the encyclopedia thought worthy of mention.  I've included these in my pricing list for a decade, but reviewing the list recently, and how they're described for the players, suggested I could go one better.  These wines needed more description ... and thankfully, as the wines are real, I could simply look them up and steal a brief description of each:

This should be readable if you open the image in another window; I thought it might be nice to set the list against an appropriate background.  That's not how it will appear on the equipment list, of course—I'd need a thousand pictures!

For the most part, the explanation is simplified from the real thing (wine experts tend to go on and on) ... yet I think it grants a feel for the wine that a player can appreciate for their character.  All of these specialty wines (sherry not included) are hard to find except where they're bottled ... and thankfully, my world takes place far enough along in Earth's history that there are bottles, even for champagne.  Granted, I fudge a little on the dates; magic and divination help to solve certain problems, like how to keep the cork in the bottle.  I am the DM, you know.  I'm allowed to add features to my world that I like.

The above list gets me to thinking ... and it is one of those things about rules again.  I may have mentioned this on the blog before, because it doesn't seem like an entirely new idea, but hell.  I would have proposed this a long time ago, and old men do repeat themselves.

Taking the different kinds of wine, distilled beverages, beers, cheeses, confectionary, smoked meats, with cider, caviar, opium, tobacco and such, not to mention rare naturally occurring fruits, vegetables and treenuts, I could create a list of "Cravings" that could be rolled upon randomly for every player.  A good, lucky roll would mean getting an item that could be found nearly everywhere, and was relatively cheap, though not very special as far as a character building notion; while a bad roll would be getting a Craving that was expensive and damn near impossible to find.  An example of that would be Arrack, a coconut liqueur which is distilled in only one place my world, that being on the Cochin coast of Indiaa long, long way from most places my players choose to be.

Here's the rub.  You get hold of your cravingEdam cheese, treacle, a bottle of Strega, gingerbread, whatever it happens to beand if you eat it up to 12 hours before getting into combat, you get a 5% bonus to your experience from that combat.  You're in such a fine mood, you understand.  This is not such a game balancing wrecker.  There are always certain classes (as gotten from old AD&D) that get 10% and others that don't ... and how you arrange your ability stats affects that too.  Thus, if some characters got a mere 5% bonus on a day some other character didn't, that's not such a big thing.  But it would, I think, serve as a motivator for players who had trouble getting hold of some rare Craving ... which might motivate the party to walk towards that craving (the closer you get, the greater the chance it will turn up on an equipment listyou don't have to go all the way to India) and then to corner the market on it at the next opportunity.  "Arrack?  Excellent.  I buy all of it.  Let me know when more comes in.  I'll buy all of that, too."

Now, some might think the Cravings ought to be equalled out, but where's the fun in that?  Life isn't fair; and I don't play with players who grumble about die rolls or bad luck.  Others might think I ought to give a +1 to hit or damage, or both, but I tell you, I already use that bonus often enough, thank you.  Lot of the time, I'm looking for other benefits to offer.

Come to think of it, I have 33 kinds of fabric/weaving in my world.  Could be, it's not what you eat or smoke, it's what you wear ... acknowledging that things wear out, meaning you can't wear your favorite scarf forever and still feel special.  Hm.  There are lots of ways to think about this; might be fun to make a list and give it a try.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Ruining the Game

Two quotes.  Pandred wrote today on my last post:  "I always regret the mistrusting impulse I get in situations like this, where something bad happened because of a risk I took, or the party took, and then Alexis gives us an opportunity to mitigate the bad outcome: in some ways, as upset as I would be, drowning abruptly would seem more just in the absence of an explicit rule stating, "In the event of a failed {blank} check, up to X nearby persons may intervene by—"  [emphasis added]

The second quote: "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?" Anonymous

I do more than mitigate the bad outcome; I invent the bad outcome.  I invent the 2% die roll.  I invent the storm.  I could skip including weather in my game.  Many do.  I could tell the party, "If you go right now, there's a good chance you'll die."  I could handwave the journey.  "You leave Stavanger, there's a storm, you've reached your destination."  The die may have the final say, but I invent the reason to roll the die.

I could do worse.  I don't have to leave it at conjuring a storm.  The player's food could get swamped with water and ruined.  The boat could hit a rock.  A ship could have come out of the storm and hit them.  The newly-hired pilot could have been a sociopath.   The tiller could have broken.  A sea monster could have risen from the depths and upended the boat.  A plague of stirges brought by the wind could have attacked.  The crust of the earth could have cracked open and swallowed the boat.  A meteor could have struck in the Yucatan and blasted life from the surface.  I didn't roll to see if any of those things might have happened ... but I could have.  The "risk" Pandred took could have been choosing to be born in the 17th century, inconveniently before Hastur the Unspeakable appeared and began the decimation of all things.  So it goes with gods who have absolute control over things sprouting from imagination.

Am I "mitigating" bad outcomes by not going down these roads?  Yes.  Would any player feel I was more "just" by coldly rolling dice towards such ends?  I should hope not.  Yet it IS part of my agenda to LET BAD THINGS happen ... and to resolve to propose one bad thing or another, of my imagination, that doesn't need to be noticed.  I argue this is a necessity to a good game ... but certainly there is a line to be drawn.  Why this bad thing and not that bad thing?  Why is this die roll fair for the asking, where as that roll would be over the line.  How do I judge this?  How do I know which is which?

I could handwave the answer by saying, "Oh, you know, experience.  Lots of time running."  But that's a load of crap.  I see evidence everywhere of DMs who claim 30 years experience who either fiendishly flog their players with jeering cruelty or who so sweeten the gaming experience that nearby milk curdles spontaneously.  I have no memory of having ever sadistically torturing my players with gaming inventions, nor of suddenly realizing my fault as a DM and learning what's fair and what's not.  Rather, I happen to be concerned for my fellow human, a trait much lacking in many these days; and being aware that there WAS a line between what was decent to do to players and what was notfrom the first day I ran a gameI have always treated players as I would treat myself.

If I were to get into a boat to cross a Norwegian fjord during a June summer storm, I would naturally assume that something bad might happen.  I'm neither a pessimist nor an optimist, either of which will insist that either something bad WILL happen or it WON'T.  I will only go so far as to say it MIGHT.  This is the quintessential principle underlying the roll of any die in the game of D&D.  You might receive the full blast of the fireball, but you might not.  You might hit with your sword, but you might not.  You might get across this fjord without a malady befalling you, but you might not!  Good gaming is recognizing when this "might" circumstance occurs; and recognizing that determining the odds of what might happen possesses all the depth of deciding what odds to assign Pavlov's Bell in the third, knowing that applying the wrong odds might eliminate persons betting on the horse OR bettors winning too much.  Either one will end your future as a bookie.

A DM has to look at a 2% chance in lots of ways.  One 2% roll is low, but a 2% roll every day will ding your bell before the summer's over.  Give a 1% fumbling chance of a combatant accidentally cutting off their own head, it will happen constantly when the combatants reach high numbers.  Assign a 1 in a thousand chance, however, and the game becomes a joke.  Players will waltz over magma fields and laugh at your game.  "Jeez, can you believe the shit Barry lets us do?"  "Yeah, I'm pretty bored with it."

Maybe God lets bad things happen because asceticism is good for the soul.  Or maybe there is no God, and the world is just full of bad things ... and the difference in players is that some have grown to accept this fact about the world, and some just haven't.  The world wouldn't feel real if bad things didn't happen.  Bad things happening is fundamental to the only experience we have, this one.

We can easily believe that we could slip and fall out of a boat and drown in the sea, so as a DM I can get away with that and be seen as "fair."  The player might get a cold, the player might catch pneumonia, the player could easily whack their head.  But seriously, a ship appears and runs over the boat?  What the fuck is that noise?  Threats to work in the game have to be credible.

And that means that any mitigation to the threat has to be equally credible.  One person on the boat is near enough to catch Pandred.  They can't all be in arm's reach.  The roll ought to be based on something intrinsic to each character; a flat 1 in 6 chance, what does that prove?  Consider the increased tension when the one character nearest to Pandred happens to be the hapless character with a 7 dexterity.  Hear the moans around the table when everyone realizes the chance of failure just went up.  It's like having the bases loaded, two outs, and the next up to bat is ... oh, shit, it's Eugene.  Fuck, we're all doomed.

I live for those moments.  The moment when Eugene hits a grounder and the second baseman flubbs the stop, letting two runs come in and Eugene gets his day where he's carried around on the team's shoulders.  When the 7 dexterity character rolls a 4 and catches Pandred.  DAMN.  Don't steal that shit from my game by assigning everyone the same roll.  Okay, so what if Eugene strikes out and the player throws a 10?  Life is hard.  Anyone who tells you different is selling you something.  Sometimes, however, every dog has his day.

Pandred's mistrusting impulse derives from what she says later in her comment: "... resistance built up by years of playing with arbitrary DMs."  DMs who will kick you down for no good reason and DMs who will prop you up, again, for no good reason.  Ruining the Game.  That's the approach that most take out of ignorance, willfulness, reluctance or plain stupid thinking.  D&D is an amazing, human-changing game that can lift participants to the heavens ... but it is there for anyone to ruin, who cannot or will not understand why certain things have to be done in certain ways.

It isn't D&D that's at fault.

The Presence of Death

As a solution to the problem of getting back and forth across a large fjord in Norway, separating the party's base camp from the large market city of Stavanger, my party purchased a ship's boat: 3 tons cargo capacity, three oars and a rigged sail.  They obtained a pilot, Nadia, to direct the boat and maintain it, because none of the player characters have any skill in sailing.  In the example below, I'm going to cut out the extra dialogue relating who is present at any given time while we play. 

On the morning the party was ready to leave Stavanger, I described the weather thusly:

"... the morning of the 20th starts with a strong breeze and a moderate rainfall (5mm over a 3 hour period). This is enough to produce a steady downpour, something equal to this. Nadia is game to go nonetheless, though you're all going to get very wet, as the wind will blast the rain sideways. She feels she can get you across the bay in about five hours. I'd intended to describe the journey, but given the conditions, the players will have to decide their intentions first."

This is what I mean when I say it's the DM's responsibility to give a reasonable expectation of risk to the player characters.  I don't have a result in mind.  I know that Nadia CAN manage the weather, but I deliberately word this in a manner that the players cannot be sure ... i.e., she is "game to go."  That phrase, stemming from the adjective "game," meaning brave, daring, gutsy, definitely does not mean "can absolutely and unquestionably succeed," which is why I chose the word.  Even though I decided from the pilot's experience, dexterity, the nature of the storm and the seas where Nadia had managed a boat that YES, she was going to bring the boat safely through.

That did not mean she would bring the party safely through.  In my mind, the odds were high that all would work out.  I had plans to roll dice in this event; dice can always go badly.  The players, as it turned out, were also game:

Pandred: I'm okay with making the crossing.

Embla: Let's cross. I've taken care of wages on my end.

Vafrandir: I am as well. We make sure all the supplies are strapped down tight, we've enough rope. I've accounted for all food to this point.

Marcule was not heard from, this being online, but three persons is a quorum so the agreement is to go ahead.  That's where we ended the session yesterday.  Take note; the party doesn't have to leave today, or even this morning.  They could wait out the weather.  The decision to go is ALL on them, as I've clearly given an impression of what the weather is like, and I've offered no absolute promises.  What's more, they've only just engaged the pilot; the fact that the party agreed to trust the pilot tells me they're beginning to trust ME as a DM.  That's very important.

Today I wrote,

During the crossing, there is a small percentage, 2%, of something troublesome happening. There are six of you in the boat, and to save time, I will roll for each of you: Embla, Marcule, Nadia, Pandred, Vafrandir, Valda. Pandred, sorry to say, your number came up (I rolled 1 in 50 for each of you alphabetically). I will need Pandred to roll a d% as the fjord is crossed.

A 2% chance per player—and one third of those players being NPCs—are pretty good odds.  If the pilot, Nadia, had been the one getting the bad roll, there's really no chance of her suffering any part of what came next.  But Pandred is nearly a landlubber.

Why this matters, and why I'm highlighting this particular moment in this campaign, comes from how often I hear players on the internet bitching about how UNFAIR it is that a single roll of the die can unreasonably ruin the fun of a campaign.  I believe this carping is partly the substance of bad temperaments and a failure to recognize the characteristics of games, where any bad move can, without your expecting it, cause you to suffer a consequence.  If my knight is taken unexpectedly in a game of Chess, is the game "ruined"?  What if I bet and lose at Poker?  What if I fail to attack Irkutsk in RISK, and that turns out to be a fatal mistake?  Who are these people who don't realise that games always involve a chance of loss?  Did their parents keep them in bubble wrap before unleashing their snowflakeness on us?

Watch how it plays out.

Pandred wasn't immediately available to make her percentage roll, so I made it to keep the online game moving along.  This roll was applied to the maladies table shown; this is just a simple table that I occasionally use for any small, minor unfortune that arises.  I rolled a "64", producing a slip and fall for 1-4 damage.  Pandred took 4.  In itself, no big deal.  A hundred times the result could come up and it would never be a big deal.

However, in this storm, in this wind, on this small boat, with the players baling, and Pandred not having any boat skill, there had to be a check to see if Pandred would fall overboard.  For this, I always use a "dexterity check"—the player rolls their dexterity or less to compensate for the slip.  Pandred's dexterity is 14, so she had a 70% chance of success.  Now, let's view that chance a moment.  I am playing online with these players ... because of this circumstance, they have every opportunity to fudge that I have.  Pandred could have easily written that she rolled a 12 and there, no problem, she remains in the boat.  But Pandred answered back that she had rolled a 20.

We need to reflect on that.  A 20 puts Pandred in the water of a bad storm; Pandred can't swim.  No one in the party can, except the pilot.  And it wouldn't matter anyway, because if the pilot had jumped in after Pandred, they'd have both drowned.  You can't swim back to an unpiloted boat in three foot waves, because you will NEVER catch the boat.  Pandred is a 4th level fighter; just turned 4th level, after about three years of our playing online (things move slow when you play this way).  YET, she was willing to take the die as it was rolled, because that's how things should be.  As a DM, you should get on your knees and kiss the ground begging for a player like this.

This is the kind of player you get when you take a stand on things.  Not because you make this kind of player, but because you get rid of every other kind; and players like Pandred flock to your door because they're sick of playing with DMs who don't recognize the respect these players have for the game.  When I tell you to boot jerks and assholes, I am telling you to remove the chaff from the grain.  You can't eat the chaff, you don't want the chaff.  You want brilliant, glistening kernals like Pandred here.

But, I am not a monster.  I don't like single life-and-death rolls; I like there to be at least one back-up.  So, I wrote,

The DM: Okay, this is getting dire. Vafrandir, you're nearest Pandred; I will need you to start with an intelligence check, to see if you're too dullwitted by the storm to be paying attention to Pandred's slip. d20, please.

Vafrandir: roll 5, my Int is 12.

Vafrandir is every bit the player Pandred is, so when he says he rolled a 5, I believe him.  I don't have to see the die.  But note here that I'm not just giving Vafrandir one roll to save Pandred.  I having him make a roll just to see if he can save Pandred.  This has two game functions: it builds tension, because I'm not telling Vafrandir ahead of time how this is going to work.  People who have played with me a long time have seen this pattern before—it matters, however, that I'm not saying "Okay, roll to see if you notice so you can roll to see if you catch her."  That's a stupid downplaying of the effect here.  We want to feel the emotion, the fear, of Pandred slipping, and Vafrandir realizing she's going to fall overboard—"OH SHIT, PANDRED!"  I don't need to play that part out, because all the players are doing that without me, in their own heads.  I don't need to "purple this up."  I just need to move methodically through the process.  Telling Vafrandir he's closest.  Telling Vafrandir to check his intelligence (basically, a "perception" check).  This is a hard storm.  Vafrandir, the only person close enough to catch Pandred, could easily be tired, cold, languishing in the bottom of the boat; failing the check, he would hear a cry, lift his head and see that Pandred wasn't there—without even knowing why.  This could have happened that way.  And knowing it could have happened that way gets Vafrandir's heart racing as he reaches for his die to make the intelligence check.  This is ALL STAGING.

Okay, so he sees Pandred start to go.  I write,

The DM: Okay. Temptation is to say, "You see Pandred start to fall, what do you do?" But I think we'll assume that you try to catch her.

In anyone else's game, Vafrandir might have the option to just let Pandred fall.  There's nothing to force him to act.  I don't know why, on this particular occasion, I felt the need to point this out; probably, because we're playing by post and I have time to think about this.  At the game table, I wouldn't say anything like this.  Yet it is convenient for this post, because we can make a point about player vs. player.

If the players need to trust me, they need to trust each other.  They need to be there for each other.  This vastly reduces the number of "silly deaths" that occur entirely at random during a game.  It lets me as a DM count on the other players to be there, to let me let them have extra, logical rolls that can counteract one bad result.  It lets me run a better game.

I told Vafrandir to roll, to see if he was able to catch Pandred.  He did, and I wrote,

The DM: You catch her, and a heart-pounding moment is finished. Chances are, you wouldn't have had time to think about hollering; the dexterity check is a reflex check, to see if you would habitually just reach out and steady her; there wouldn't have been planning in it. But don't forget to keep reminding Pandred that you saved her life. You're a hero.

Vafrandir: Everyone here has saved my life many times! I am honored to return the favor. My heart was honestly in my mouth.

Marcule: Deep exhale.

Pandred: Alright, so next adventure is to slay Poseidon himself. Guy tried to ambush me, you all saw it.

Classic after reaction.  Cheers, release of tension, joke, everyone shakes out the panic and the campaign gets underway again.  Don't tell me these moments aren't intrinsic to the game, because they really are.  But it depends on how they're run.  It depends on the way we respect the player's perspective.  It depends on setting up the moment, so it's not entirely unexpected; this was a dangerous storm.  There was always a chance something bad would happen!  Sometimes, the die tries to take you out.

If not for moments like this, the game would be as dull as dishwater.  They can occur while on a simple crossing of an ocean, or they can happen in the middle of a combat when everything is going well.  Suddenly, the dice turn on you; and sometimes your friends can save you and sometimes they can't.  But if we play it so that you NEVER suffer real consequences, then none of these die rolls matter ... and you can't possibly achieve the kind of sharp alarm that enlivened everyone's afternoon today on the campaign.

And, I might point out, even you, dear reader, wondered whether I was going to say that Pandred died.  That is the power that the presence of death has over the game.  A presence you must give it, if ever you intend to be a good DM.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Don't Read; Much Bitterness

No question.  Restarting the online campaign after a two-month hiatus is robbing energy going towards this blog.

I haven't anything left to say at present on the subject of NPCs.

I've thought about writing a post regarding the definition of "campaign," but I'm not feeling that would be fruitful.

A few days ago Keltoi posted a comment regarding emergent stories, with this link to an article arguing that emergent experiences just aren't as important as authored stories.  Essentially, this comes down to an argument that says an OUTSIDER gets more out of the latter than the former.  Why I, a gamer, should give a rat's crap about what an outsider feels about my game experiences, isn't really explained.  I suppose it's the perception that "PopMatters" thinks we should have ... and since PopMatters sells advertising to popculture companies, and said advertising pays the author of this garbage's fee, it probably matters to the game company advertiser that word-of-mouth advertising from game users turns out to be more effective if the stories being told are "more exciting" in the retelling.  Ugh.  Not writing a post about this.

JB started a pretty good post, the third in a series he's writing, providing a scathing critique in the first half ... but then he went to this place where he tried to explain away everything he'd just criticized with a cruddy old lampshade I couldn't sell at a flea market in shithole Oklahoma.  I thought about tearing into that and decided it wasn't worth it.  JB has a natural instinct that drives him to habitually defend every tiny piece of the original works of D&D, and since he's one of three D&D bloggers left in the known universe that I waste my time with, it's fair to argue that I'm just being an asshole about it.  Looking for the link just now showed he's written a 4th post today; I'll read it when I'm done here.

I have a slight notion of writing a post about how if we look at D&D as it was first conceived, OD&D as it were, there's really nothing there that needs to be "fixed."  On the level it was intended, it works.  My issues were that it didn't work well enough, or didn't cover enough ground, or that it could be done better ... but if I were to run dungeon encounters with B/X, exactly as written, the concept would work.  This goes against the idea that D&D needs to be drastically rebuilt from some massacre of fundamental rules, like getting rid of experience, combat, races, classes, all gaming that takes place in towns or what else ... which is a little big like saying we could make a better car if we got rid of the wheels, the transport capability, roads, affordability or fueling stations.  Alas, however, I tend to think this point of view is either obvious or hopelessly lost on people who DON'T have campaigns and yet nevertheless dream of starting one of this variety, that no player or designer is asking for.

As you can see, this is a post of posts I didn't write.  I have this vague hope that from sketching these out, something will click in my head and I'll suddenly go off on a tear about the game importance of food and shelter, why players should be occasionally and physically punched in the face (for their own good) or what snacks I will eat while watching the public execution of an ex-president and treasonous halfwit on television.  I admit that the events of the last eight days have convinced me that running on a platform that we should Build a Wall between Canada and the U.S., which the U.S. will pay for, is a credible political strategy just now.

I think this could get me elected as a member of the socialist party up here.  And gawddamned right, we have one in Canada.  Eff you, Oklahoma.

If the geographic center of the contiguous United States is 2.6 miles northwest of Lebanon Kansas, the pinpoint of the intellectual pit of despair in America is 337 ft. due west of the Tulsa Foot & Ankle Clinic on E 47th Place.  Just saying.

All right.  What do I think of the raid on the Capitol Building ... hm.  No, it's not as bad as 9/11.  It just seems comparable because this happened 8 days ago and 9/11 is just shy of 20 years past.  If 9/11 and the raid took place on the same day (whew, what a day that would be), the raid on the Capitol Building would be an afterthought.  And we'd be told that, even though all the people were white, the Arabs were responsible.

One thing I haven't heard pointed out is that during the BLM marches this last summer, a very large proportion of the people marching were NOT black.  Understandably, hundreds of summer campaigners have pointed out the disparity between police responses between the present episode and numerous episodes we saw in 2019.  But while the blue wave attacked crowds demanding action against corrupt police officers during the summer, those cops kicked, beat, hospitalized and drove over protesting white and non-white people indiscriminately.  These crowds in Washington and at State Capitols are almost entirely white.  It really stands out in the photos, along with the total absence of face masks.  For the record, male facial hair also seems to be a prerequisite, while both sexes seem to have an extreme resentment of personal grooming.  This is a crowd where the men really feel they need to broadcast that they're men, while the women need to broadcast any sentiment that they might be mistaken for women.

[go ahead; vilify me; like I care]

The U.S. is now officially a failed state.  It has been a progressively failed state going back to Reagan, whose personnel walked off scot-free or nearly so after questionable activities in Iran and Nicaragua, breaking the law regarding lobbying and the HUD rigging scandal, the EPA and ultimately the S&L crisis.  Anyone alive and paying attention could see the power elite in America had abandoned the high ideals of the 50s and 60s, without any real consequence landing in the laps of the real people in charge.  At worst, a few stooges were allowed to plead guilty and step into low-security prisons for short sentences, or get off with probation or not even that.  The only thing that has changed in the last 35 years is that it has been increasingly difficult to hide the level of bullshit from the American people.  Thankfully, video games and the internet made it possible for most countries in the world to invent "bread & circuses" on a scale that paralleled Rome's ability to keep its people satisfied.  If any of the events of the last four years had happened in 1969, the city of Washington would be smoking now.  If you don't believe me, look up the riots of 1969 and see what those people felt was worth rioting over, and compare it to this bullshit now.

I've been alive for 56 years and I can say without hesitation that I've never experienced a Prime Minister in either Canada or Britain, nor a President in the United States, that I felt deserved their authority.  At best, I've been able to tolerate these leaders.  I'm fundamentally a liberal reactionary; I believe in an unchallenged welfare-support system and severe restraint on business, particularly big business ... but I've worked in enough crooked small businesses to know the social abuse that gets carried on by a tiny-minded shithead with 14 employees can be staggeringly abusive.  However, these petty tyrants are rarely able to turn on spigots that poison rivers, or make phone calls that start wars; so, yes, I'm for watching the big bruisers a little more closely than the little ones.  I don't believe a corporation is a "person."  I believe the owners of the corporation should be held accountable for every death a corporation causes second-hand.  I believe in a staggered tax rate.

I believe that property is sacrosanct.  I believe religious organizations should pay taxes equivalent to any corporation.  I don't believe the government should provide grants for the production of art or the investigation of social science; but pure science will get my support.  I don't support charities.  Any charity.  I've seen their books, I know where the money goes, and it is not where the charity pretends it goes.  I'm opposed to the politicization of personal choices; I'm fine with what individuals do, but when individuals gather in groups to enforce their political will upon outsiders, then no, I'm not aboard.  If the only defense that can be mustered is that there are more of us than there are of you, because alone we're terrified and we feel persecuted, then I am definitely not your ally.  As such, I do not get along with virtually every liberal on the planet.

I say these things to help make clear my perspective on politics.  I'll go further with the next paragraph.

After Joe Clark faceplanted in the early 1980s, and after Pierre Trudeau's anti-capitalist agenda was attacked by his own party, Canada was handed to the Conservatives under Brian Mulroney, who faithfully followed the gutting instincts of Reagan and Thatcher—though more restrained, because the left is more powerful in this country than they are in Britain or America.  Mulroney gave it up for Kim Campbell, whose legacy was the creation of a rightest group of fartheads that you'd recognize as the present Republicans in power in America.  Those fartheads didn't get into power.  Campbell faceplanted after 132 days, followed by Jean Chretien, who—HATED by the right—remained in power for 10 years because, well, Canada.  But then the moderate left turned on Chretien and we got Paul Martin, who accomplished nothing.  He was succeeded by Stephen Harper, who proceeded to lead austerity measures like every other conservative group of hacks intent on gutting the country and handing it over to the highest bidder.  Harper did this for nearly 10 years, until finally he was removed for the sake of Trudeau's son, Justin.  Who is a nice guy.  A really nice guy.  And excepting the response of his government to Covid, which is paying the country to sit on its collective ass and therefore not superspread the disease, I would have called him a "do-nothing."  Because, regarding the way the country was raped under Harper, there's been nothing done.

All right.  America.

Carter was a well-meaning idiot.  Nice enough, and a good man at heart no doubt, but not a leader and not up to scratch as far as foreign or domestic politics were concerned.  Reagan cleaned his bloody clock in 1980.  Reagan was a crook.  He was a smarter crook than Nixon but his agenda was to remove as many restrictions and restraints created by the governments under Roosevelt and Eisenhower as he could, in the time he had.  The elder Bush then went ahead and carried on that good work, silently enabling American business to cement their position against retribution from the courts or future governments.  And then Clinton did absolutely fuck nothing to reverse that clock.  I was there, I watched it.  Eight years of sitting on his fucking hands, except when he let himself get talked into continuing the Republican agenda of removing even more restraints on business.

Then we got the younger bush and 9/11.  What an opportunity that was!  Not only did we continue to gut restraints on business, we invented government institutions that would deliberately oppose any attempts to reverse those restraints for the "Security" of the country.  Good for us!  And after 8 years of austerity and that bullshit, in which the infrastructure of America was allowed to continue rotting, as it had since the 1960s, we got Obama, Mr. Hope Man.  Who then DID NOTHING.  For eight more fucking years.  Except, again, in the interest of "working with the right," carrying out more of the The American Government's Crusade to Make Business Untouchable.

Well, that donut was followed by the biggest hole in the world.  Yay.  Who didn't have the intelligence to hide the agenda, but what the fuck, who cares, too late now to do anything about it.  So we have watched the consequence-free retard strut and retard himself on stage, wondering how a country can function if it can't remove a stain this black from its own bib.  But that's okay, because the answer turned out to be Biden.  Biden who stood next to Obama while they both did nothing.  Biden who says we have to reach out to the right.  Biden who wants things just like they were, when the agenda was to fuck over the American people and support Business ... whom, I might add, have been given the front and center position in Biden's cabinet.  So we know, regardless of anything else, what sort of four years it's going to be.  By 2024, you'll be lucky if you still have the right to quit your job.  The job that will be assigned to you.

So, that said.

If you think the Capitol means jack shit, you're just looking at the man's right hand before he shives you with the left.  You, dear citizen, don't own your failed state.  It was steadily handed over to other people right in front of you, while you continued to think it matter which party you voted for.  I'm not really keen on Canada either, for the present, because it's going on in just the same way here.  My only solace is that I'm going to be an old man when they shove me against a wall to shoot me, because some group of liberty-loving rebels won't give themselves up.  Don't worry.  I'll remember to spit on the guard after he shoves me.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Actual Talking Between Player and NPC

The first post in this series can be read here.  

After this bricklaying of the background, we can address the problem at hand: as a player, you want to talk to an NPC.  How do you go about doing this?

We have certain hurdles, which ought to apply in an RPG as much as they do in real life, in part because communication is built-in as a game challenge and in part because the game gives us an opportunity to play-test real life situations.  These hurdles are the same obstructions that we suffer with all the time: that it is hard to address someone we don't know; and that it is expected that anyone addressing us does so out of a motivation we don't trust.

We're in game, and your fighter wants to speak with a town resident to learn something about the game world.  We should assume that if you're from around here, the DM shouldn't insist on you asking anyone anything about the surrounding environment.  This is your home.  You should already know everything there is to know, and you should already have a relationship with everyone around.  So, the trouble with speaking to a town resident should only apply if you're a stranger in this town.

Think of how you feel when you're addressed by a stranger.  Not every stranger you've met has an agenda, but you've met enough to know that anyone might have one.  Is this a salesperson?  Is it a religious fanatic?  Is this stranger trying to distract you, so that someone can pick your pocket or knock you out from behind?  Is the stranger a beggar?  Depending on where the reader lives, these possibilities are greater or lesser.  Readers from New York will view strangers very differently than readers from the Platte Valley in Nebraska.

For D&D purposes, it ought to be understood that the enclosed, tight packing of people together in even the smallest towns made every urban center a dangerous place.  A crowded avenue was less openly aggressive than a slum, where a gang could brazenly attack in the open, but every street had some kind of threat.  Without welfare, with hundreds of recent arrivals from the country struggling to live in the city, with an occupying "police" force whose only concern was to protect the money of perhaps 10% of the city's residents, factions and families openly contested in the streets over territory that could amount to no more than a hundred foot stretch.  Think Romeo and Juliet, think drug dealers or streetwalkers ready to knife someone for standing on the wrong corner, think New York street gangs who still fight over which people are allowed to use a convenience store.  I don't mean to paint constant discord and violence, but it's there like an constant bass tone ... and anyone who might walk up and talk to you without obvious cause could mean a threat.  While that case may not occur more often than 1 in 30 times, or 50 times, each time it has occurred in the past causes you to treat everyone with vigilance.

So, randomly talking to a stranger in a town, how do you think they're going to treat you?

That's right: they're going to treat you like a potential criminal.  Which means the weirder you sound, the less straightforwardly you talk about specific, relatable things, the more you will sound like an uncertain threat.  "Hey, Mr. Townstranger, can you tell us where the local dungeon is?"  wtf.

Even if you try something friendly—like, "Hey, those are nice beets you've got growing there.  How do you get such a green colour on those?"—you're still going to sound like you're setting the stranger up somehow.  Why do you, a stranger, care what sort of beets I'm raising?  Small talk is hard; strangers, particularly the sort of xenophobic strangers who largely have never gone more than 7 miles from the place where they were born, want you to get to the gawddamned point.  Are you buying these beets?  Are you asking directions to a specific place, that I would know?  Then fuck off.

This is what makes a tavern better than a random person on the street.  Strangers are expected in taverns; the tavernkeeper's livelihood depends on them.  This doesn't mean the tapster is all that anxious to speak; mostly, the focus is on serving you food and drink and getting your money—and as a stranger, there's no reason to assume you'll ever be back, so gaining your approval isn't high on the list of priorities (this not being the PR era of the present day).  Still, you're permitted socially to say something to the tavernkeeper about the weather, the general feel of the town, asking questions about employment or getting directions.  Those are safe subjects.  But asking, "Hey, heard any rumours, Mr. Strangebartender I've never met before?" deserves nothing less than a trite fuck off.

Players should not have to ask these sorts of questions.  If there is a dungeon about, it wouldn't be called a "dungeon" and probably if it were known to the town someone would have gotten rid of it already.  Dungeons are found by chance, not by someone presenting a travelogue showing players the way.  This bad, bad trope was invented by lazy writers who couldn't think of a better reason for a party to tramp into the wilderness, where they could accidentally stumble across such a thing.  Additionally, if there were a rumour, it wouldn't be told to a stranger; it would be told under the auspices, "Don't tell anyone, but I heard ..."  That's how rumours are.

Somehow, the players have to figure out a way to make themselves "belong" to the general tapestry of the town.  This means NOT expecting to be instantly accepted, giving NPCs a definite reason to see the player as trustworthy (and generous), not acting goofy or weird, not wearing their weapons and armour to the bar, buying stuff and hanging around a few days getting to know people.  Good first lines include statements like, "I just came into town and I'm looking for a bed and a good meal."  "I'm not feeling well, could you direct me to the apothecary."  "Hello."  "Nice day."  And, if a response is given, adding something like, "That's a fine animal you have there," or "Good morrow to you."  Then, moving on and not trying to force a conversation.  Get a room.  Get a drink and a meal.  Sleep, get up the same morning, get another meal from the same place.  Mention that yesterday's meal was fair but that this morning's was excellent.  Mutter about a few things you'd like to do that day to the innkeeper.  See if he/she responds, offers some advice.  TAKE IT.  Come back, describe your experience taking the innkeeper's advice.  Get another drink and another meal.  Sleep again.  Have the same thing for breakfast the second day.  THEN cautiously address the subject that you really care about.  "I have a job that's taking me up to the Strangedark Forest tomorrow.  I'm concerned about what I'll find there."

IF the innkeeper knows anything at that point, he/she will definitely tell you.  Unless the DM is a dolt.  If the innkeeper says, "I've never known anyone who went up there before," (because the DM can't see  a cue for shit), then thank the innkeeper, remark that you've got to buy an animal and that since you got such good advice yesterday, maybe he/she knows a good place for horseflesh?  When there, strike up a conversation about horses with the stabler, mentioning your planned travel in the woods, and later a conversation about food with the provisioner, mentioning your planned journey to the woods ... and get someone to bite.  A good DM will take opportunities like that to feed you more and more information, about the fact that the woods are too dense for horses, you should take a mule, or you'll want jerky, because it rains a lot up in those foothills, or whatever expands the character's knowledge without the character having to blatantly ask blunt questions.

However, like I said, this is how it works when the Player AND the DM has some sense of how people actually converse with each other.  Given that many game participants are, well, garbage at communication, this is a long, long climb to a better role-playing experience.  Good sense on both parts, however, can lead to those kind of deep, caring relationships between DM and Player that I've been addressing.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Further NPCs

This post continues in the pattern set by the last post.

Captain America: the First Avenger

The writer has two agendas to set up with Steve Rogers: that he's ready to sacrifice himself and that he won't quit.  The first word he says, in answer to the question, "Boy, lotta guys getting killed over there; kinda makes you think twice about enlisting, huh?", is a stern "Nope."  Count 'em, that's one.  He's labeled 4F ... but a film minute and 20 seconds later, Steve is getting beat up in an alley, setting up his catch phrase, "I can do this all day."  Yessir, in straight language, Steve is a loser and a sucker.  Used to be, in Steve's day, these were cherished traits.

We don't like him because he's tough and a hero, though of course we know that's where this is going; and, naturally, if we liked the comic we're disposed to like the character.  But the writer isn't relying on that.  He's giving good, solid reasons to like Steve.  Like Dickens and Shakespeare noted before him, the best way to cultivate sympathy for a character is to have a little guy struggle against a great big guy.  We want to see David win against Goliath.  And even though David became a great king, and even though Steve becomes Captain America, we recognize when these were little guys who were willing to lay down on the wire for their fellow man.  An NPC with almost no hit points, who nevertheless will try to stand next to the player even against the strongest monster, is an easy sell ... we need only add a few lines before getting into it with dice:  "As Winston takes his place against the enemy, you see the screwed up look of courage in his soft, young face; nevertheless, he doesn't flinch, he doesn't waver, he gives it all he's got."

If your players don't melt at that, even if Winston is killed (and I don't fudge dice, so he might be), there going to care about this guy, even if he doesn't live to become first level.  You just see the funeral they give him.

Die Hard

Before we see John, we see his hand gripping the armrest of his seat, followed by the passenger next to him saying, "You don't like flying, do you?"  As we pan to John's face, he looks cool, calm ... and he mutters, "What gives you that idea."  This combination hits home without our realizing the discontinuity here.  John is scared ... but John won't admit it.  Right away, we find out he's a cop; and soon after that, we find him actually following the advice of his fellow passenger, making fists with his toes in the carpet.  'Course, that sets up an ongoing complication with the plot, but in the moment we see John as the sort of fellow whose open to new ideas, even if they seem silly.  John is human.  He's subject to weaknesses.  He is also flexible and able to get past his fear.  In those first few minutes, however, we don't know yet of what he's capable.  That comes later.

John is the NPC that everyone underestimates.  Before the fight, he's sweating.  He hasn't got shoes.  He doesn't look ready.  He's a nice enough fellow, but the party's certain that when the chips are down, John's going to fold.  And then, he ends up being ... John.  Do not judge a book by its cover.


Couldn't resist.  In the timeline of Bruce Willis films, Die Hard is his breakthrough film.  He'd done the show Moonlighting for about 18 months before he got the gig to make the film, which he got because he was popular on TV.  He'd never played a serious bad ass before 1988; in the film Sunset, released the same year as Die Hard, he's the comic relief.

By the release of RED in 2010, Willis is playing his super-guy action-hero persona in every film, even when that's not his character.  So how do we make the audience "like him"?  That is, in a way they didn't like him before.  Simple.  We put Frank Moses in a calm, harmless setting.  He draws on his housecoat.  Has his old man pills.  Does his old man workout.  Gets his mail.  And calls into his addictive phone relationship with ... a phone operator.  Lying about not getting the cheque he's got in his hand, just to hear the voice of a strange woman, so he can talk about his budding avocado.  Wow.  That sure is sad.

Like John, Frank is a hidden killing machine of incomprehensible ability (and more so than John); but Frank is calm.  Frank fears nothing.  Frank is bored, lonely, and trying his best to be Ferdinand the Bull, having been put out to pasture.  Frank will tag along with the party out of habit, but what he really wants is to get in touch with things in life he never experienced, because he was always fighting so damn hard.  He'd like a real life.  Like the mystery of growing an avocado.  Or having a girlfriend.  See, at heart, he's "gooey on the inside.  Gooey."

Takes some skill to make the party grasp that; but Frank makes a good character for a romance plot, who afterwards turns up again and again as a friend of the party who helped him find his lady-love.

Personal Services

Christine is a thirty-something waitress in a low-end restaurant somewhere in London, the sort where the patrons don't care if the servers chat openly to each other while serving food.  She's rather dense in discussions about sex, easily embarrassed and shocked, habitually moral without actually being moral, talkative and crude.  She's not likeable at all, at first, except that she's cute and definitely not happy about her present.  Brashly, she describes her sex life as "wet knickers and missed periods;" a moment later, Christine runs out the front of the restaurant to scream at a "scrubber," a slattern-looking woman, about rent that hasn't been paid.

It's a difficult character to grasp and harder to portray.  I include it here because not every NPC needs to be as simple as most of the ones I've presented.  Players will like an NPC who's fast-talking, unrefined, cocksure and in their face, so long as the DM is able to keep the dialogue both shocking and interesting at the same time.  It needs saying something the players don't expect, adding something insulting, then following that up with something that makes the players laugh before they have time to react to being insulted.  It's revealed in a series of scenes that Christine is capable of patience, forgiveness and being as bold as brass when the moment calls for it; the reader might think of the sort of mother whose just five feet tall giving steady abuse to her three six-foot-four sons, while they dig their toes into the ground and apologize.  It's a motherish fearlessness that breeds love and protectiveness in players who meet NPCs like this.

L.A. Confidential

Oh, lots of meat here.  We could do Jack, Bud, Ed or Sid ... we're made to like them all, but let's take the opportunity here and do a villain.  How are we meant to like Dudley?

Well, first, his name is Dudley, which we normally associate with a somewhat gawky, harmless, earnest fellow who's not too bright.  Second, we have him played by James Cromwell, whom some will remember played a nerd father in Revenge of the Nerds.  Third, the "heroes" of the film are brawling, sleazy, ambitious slightly crooked punks.  We're introduced to them all before we meet Dudley, whom we first see asking a reporter to drop his title as police captain ("call me Dudley"), followed by his giving fatherly advice to Ed Exley that amounts to, "you're political but you're not crooked enough."  It's a strange exchange, where we're forgiving of Dudley's obvious corruption, because by this time we've already been told that L.A. in the 1940s is a mobster town where execution style murders are business as usual.  Dudley seems like the sort of fellow whose trying to hold a corrupt department together with tape and sealing wax ... so even though his advice is "bad," it seems less "bad" than the members of his department (especially with the scene that follows soon after).

The stereotype advantages the cliche of fatherly advice, given in the calm, indulgent tone that Dudley uses.  Hell, we've all gotten bad advice from our fathers; we know they meant well.  We're plugged into accepting Dad's concern as a sort of love ... and oh what a mess that makes when it turns out how wrong Dad really is.

Now, I'm not saying that the Dad stereotype needs to be set up for a gotcha twist at some later point; but presenting a father-type who shows concern for the party, gives a few good pieces of advice, then a few bad ones, will get a surprising positive response from players ... one that can be played straight, with them knowing that "Dad's advice" is often wrong, but that Dad himself is still pretty cool.

Draft Day

Here's another sort of father; a sports manager this time.  Before we even meet Sonny, we're treated to a conversation between the owner and manager of the Seattle Seahawks, Walt and Tom.  They're looking for a chump.  A desperate chump.  Cut to Sonny Weaver of the Cleveland Browns, the losingest football team (hasn't won a superbowl since 1964) in a losingest town (Cleveland is famous for losing teams, not to mention losing everything else), listening to two radio sports hosts talking about what a bunch of losers the Cleveland Browns are, and specifically why Sonny isn't the man his father was, and why he's complete garbage as the Browns' new manager.  Yep, the director of Ghost Busters, Ivan Reitman, lays it on pretty thick.  That's Reitman's style.

It is hard not to like a loser.  This is just another take on the small guy fighting the big guy that we've already seen, except that now the small guy is a 50-something fighting the whole world ... not quite alone, as it turns out, but feeling that way.  For the first twenty minutes the film does nothing but kick the shit out of Sonny—in the way that only football fans and true believers can.  This is one of those things where a character can't be beaten down too hard ... it always makes the redemption that much sweeter.


Tempted to address Victoria, but we've just seen someone down on their luck, so it's got to be Toddy.  He starts the film anyway.  The opening shot pans from a cold, miserable Paris in the 1930s to the aging Toddy sleeping in bed, while the young man he's just slept with, Richard, starts to rifle Toddy's wallet.  Toddy catches him at it and they proceed to tepidly insult one another.  Richard is a punk; Toddy is taciturn, sarcastic and ultimately resigned to the process of young men ripping him off in exchange for sex.

This seems a long, long way from D&D, doesn't it?  To comprehend character, the reader has to see past the immediate circumstances; people in general are dissatisfied with their circumstances for thousands of reasons.  They chafe against their lives, the exchanges they must make to get what they want, the unhappy consequences of things they have to put up with ... what matters here is that Toddy repeatedly manages to put himself together and ford through, bestowing kindness, patience and sound advice upon others.  Unhappy, but not bitter.  He's a bartender who first tells the party that they can't stay for more than one night, because he's losing ownership of the inn in the morning, but not to worry, because the drinks are free.  Toddy is the older hireling who wakes up beside the campfire in pain, takes five minutes to get on his horse and then tells heartwarming stories throughout the day.  Misery and generosity make a fine combination.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Might as well do a fantasy story.  Bit of shooting fish in a barrel, but ...

Skipping over the exposition about giants, setting up the film's content, which helps establish our Jack as a small boy (easy pickings for a film director), we meet the elder Jack for the first time in the classic manner.  His uncle is ripping into him, berating the lad in the usual manner of elders.  Jack takes a little misery, not as much as we saw it poured on Steve and Sonny above and to some degree on Toddy, but some misery just the same.  It's always easy to show a character being dumped on.  It builds sympathy in the onlooker, so long as the game's party isn't the sort to join in on the dumping because they feel the same need to be self-aggrandizing toads the same way as Jack's uncle does here.  On his way, Jack apologizes to the horse for having to sell it (aww...) and soon demonstrates himself to be as gormless as his uncle suggests.  But, you know, gormless in a well meaning way.

This is the last one, so I'll address the subject of inevitable success, which is a staple of films but need not be necessary in D&D.  Trying is more important than succeeding.  This is often missed by storytellers who think every crisis must end in a resolution of success, or else the players will feel swindled and bitter.  In response, I grant you the ballad of White Squall by Stan Rogers ... which should get the cherished reader in the gut.

There is always another NPC, another anxious failure with hidden talents, another girl who wants to try so hard it makes her teeth hurt, another redeemed criminal ready to self-sacrifice to make things right ... it doesn't matter if the die does not roll their way at the critical time.  In fact, as I suggested above, the death of such a character is more remarkable than the character's survival.  Ages ago, during the online campaign, I set up the death of a father-like friar, Jan, at the hands of two criminals, after encouraging the players to like the fellow.  The death felt like a stab to the heart; it also left a legacy that I'm sure both players continue to feel to this day—even though the death wasn't noteworthy or a case of self-sacrifice; in all truth, it wasn't even a tragedy ... it was, in fact, pure pathos.  The death accomplished nothing except that it left the players on their own and the criminals were never brought to justice.  That didn't matter.  What mattered what the players felt a trusted friend of theirs had died.

If Jack or Isabelle had been eaten by the giant, it would have made a poor film; but an RPG isn't limited to the cast list or the narrow bandwidth of a film.  An RPG can have dozens of important NPCs, who can disappear and re-emerge every few sessions or not until after a year.  If one gets eaten by a giant, there are always others to step forward with the party and acquire their own important place in the party's hearts.  The more cherished the NPC, the more intense the game moment when they don't make it ... just as it's infinitely intense with the player's own character bitterly meets its final end.  Granted, this takes maturity; it isn't easy to admit that the world isn't made of candyfloss.  But if its a candyfloss world the reader wants, NPCs as flesh-sticks will do nicely.  If you want your players to find your game memorable, however, then you've got to let your NPCs and your players risk everything as they quest for success.  Everything.


I still haven't answered the question, how do you talk to an NPC.  I'll need to get to that now.

This series continues with Actual Talking Between Player and NPC