Sunday, November 28, 2021


I spent two days rewriting and expanding the explanation of this spell, now the longest spell page on my wiki:

What a headache ... and long overdue, though it's not the first time I've decided to increase the amount of detail.  This is one of those bits of AD&D that left way too much up to the DM's fiat, meaning that the exact benefits of the familiar was never available to the player in any real sense.  What exactly does "night vision" really mean?

Unfortunately, some of the needed back up links are still unavailable, as they need to be written, notably the pseudo-dragon and the quasit.  All I can say is that while the latter might be something like the original, the pseudo-dragon definitely won't be.  I've never understood the point in introducing a small dragon that's in no way like a dragon, and assuming the prefix "pseudo" is an effective handwave.  In any case, those monsters haven't been created because I have a LOT left to do.  They'll get done when I need them, or when they happen to come up.

I added six additional kinds of lesser familiar; obviously, I could have added more, as virtually anything could be one.  I considered "rabbit" but I'm not convinced on that one yet.  I marginally advanced the powers and knowledge conferred on the caster by the familiar and narrowed the gap considerably between what a lesser familiar can bestow and what a greater familiar can.  I think it's important for players to want every familiar for some reason, so that it's not just a lottery of winning big or getting the booby prize.  Personally, I'll take a chameleon, dog or mongoose quite happily.  I think the monkey needs one more small benefit, but I'm worn down by making this spell fit into the sage system and other parts of the game, and I can't think of something.

Anyway, have a look.  It's technically a first draft, so there are probably spelling errors and the occasional missing word.  Feel free to point them out.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Monetizing a Craft

On the subject of "creativity," and living a life of being creative, I feel there's a discussion I'd like to have in this year of late 2021.  And since it's Thanksgiving in America, there's no one reading my blog anyway ... especially with it being Friday.  This is one reason I was throwing up a caption on Fridays instead of writing a post: (a) it shows people I'm still alive; and (b) I felt an odd need to stretch myself in a different direction creatively.  I recognize that it annoyed some people and amused others ... but that can be said about anything I create, all the time.  Some will like it, some won't.  For that reason, if for no other, there's little percentage in creating things exclusively for other people.

On the subject of "being creative," I'm in the camp that believes the everyone has the potential to be creative.  I don't say they are, because they're not.  But if they sought education, if they trained their minds to think creatively, if they put in the time it takes to do this, I believe that a non-creative person can become creative.

Occasionally I hear some voice on the internet who says, "That's wrong.  You have to be pretty damn smart to be creative.  Otherwise, you're not going to invent anything new."  This is nonsense.  Creativity appears to be full of remarkable leaps and "divergent thinking capabilities," as a psychologist might put it, but from a lifetime of being creative and spending thousands of hours talking about creativity with other creative people, the truth is that these things come from being grossly familiar with something.  And when I say "grossly familiar," I don't mean a kid who works as a restaurant cook and pumps out thousands of club sandwiches while waiting for the next opportunity to go home and smoke weed.  I mean someone who pays attention to the sandwiches as they're made, to the quality of cheese, to the texture of the bread, to the thickness in which the turkey was sliced, to the smell and the colour and the day it was shipped in and cut and packaged.  Paying attention to these things is not "being smart."  These are matters of pure sensory observation coupled with mindfulness, which we can define as caring about your job, paying attention to what you're doing and mentally comparing something from day to day.

People care about their job when they're given reason.  If they speak out loud about an observation they make, and they're attacked or shamed for making it; or if they're surrounded by people who themselves don't care enough to explain the nuance of making food, or any other creative thing we might happen to be doing from day to day, then it sends a message that you shouldn't care either.  Constant abusive apathy and constant abuse for being interested in things will cause people to conclude that it's wrong to be mindful of what you're doing; that it's better to think constantly of escape, instead.  And this makes the person who does care, who cares in spite of others not caring, appear to be strangely weird and remarkable.  Such a person is granted special imagined superpowers, like being fabulously smart and really fantastically divergent ... which really just means different from a general population of drones who have been taught to hate being drones, who believe the only escape from being a drone is the seven hours a day one spends away from drone-land.

I've said it many times, however.  Caring and becoming good at something cannot be done just because one wants to be.  Many of the creative people I've known seemed to possess a "natural" creative ability ... such as being able to pick up a guitar and play it competently within a few hours.  Some of these people have chosen to be creative, but I've met just as many who did nothing of consequence with their guitar-playing ability.  A guitar is just a tool.  The tool's not intrinsically important to creativity.  It is a vessel through which we express something creative, but it's not creative of itself.  Playing guitar instantly doesn't confer mindfulness; it doesn't provide the practice that's needed to observe, investigate, deconstruct, become aware of what the tool can do and then take it to creative places.

We have so many wrong suppositions we make about creativity.  The guitar-thing is just one of them.  I've heard it said hundreds of time that some people just "are" creative and some are not.  And this appears to be so, when some psychologist takes a sampling of the population and asks a hundred questions about what we feel and what we might create and how we might go about creating that thing.  But such samplings are restricted to very brief moments of time.  Becoming creative takes many, many years; and ceasing to be creative can happen after a horrific trauma within a few hours.  Someone who is uncreative today, for whatever reasons, may be that because of the life they've lived up to this time  but this says nothing of the life they could have lived, or might live in the future.  Any creative person we interview can, at any time, decide they've had enough; they can't make it pay, they're tired of the shame and the attacks of their friends, they're tired of the scene and the hatred of outsiders.  And any non-creative person might find themselves attending a class, discovering they like a thing, that they care about it, that they want to go on caring about it and, what do you know, five years from now that non-creative person is "creative."  The whole dog-and-pony show we're sold on who's creative and who isn't is an enormous pile of horse-pucky, limited by terms that were never designed to explain change, but instead to describe what is at the moment when the questioning is done.

Furthermore, we must concede and recognize that most people who set forth to define who can and cannot be creative, or who is and is not, are themselves people who decided to care about something else.  Creative people do not sit about and debate who's creative and who isn't.  They talk about who's going to "make it" and who isn't ... in the sense of, who's going to make something important and valuable, and who's blowing smoke up their own ass.  Because a lot of creative people are.  Pretense is an effective and self-destructive strategy for managing the attacks and shame perpetrated by people who feel we shouldn't care too much about things, that caring "too much" is an unhealthy habit, and that specifically we shouldn't care too much about things that don't include a steady paycheque.

It's generally accepted by those who do earn steady paycheques, who chose to care about non-creative things, like psychologists and doctors and political scientists, that it's not such a great thing to be creative.  It's not something that you, O non-creative person, should wish for.  Life really sucks for creative people.  You work a lot for something that doesn't pan out; you spend a lot of time that you could be spending earning money NOT earning money, pursuing a "risky" vocation that may never, ever pay out in any degree that will satisfy you or anyone else.  As my father said back in 1980, when I told him I wanted to be a writer, "You're never going to make a living at it."  There's the shame, right there.  Out of the gate, at 16, a young creative person is warned, "You've made the wrong choice about the life you haven't lived yet.  Smarten up and make the right choice."

It continues to interest me that half the population argues that being creative is something smart people do, while the other half argues that being creative is something only stupid people try.

It's here that we get to the meat of this post; all that's come forward to now is just setting the tone.  In a lot of ways, when talking about being creative, or "an artist" as it were, we are still wrapped up in sentiments that were  extreme emphasis on "were"  realities about being creative.  For example, and thinking of many situations where the argument was made to me by other artists, and where I made the argument myself until I knew better, creative people used to argue that "If I make an amazing thing, the world will be a path to my door."  There are still many people who believe this.  There are many who believe this is the ONLY way to succeed as an artist ... in part, because most of the visible artists we see are those who became famous for making some amazing thing.

The whole idea, however, isn't based on a "creative" model, but upon a business model.  In business, we're producing a "product."  This product then needs to be manufactured, and distributed, and this requires paying a lot of people to create numerous copies of the thing and then store the thing, and in turn physically sell the thing face-to-face to customers, all of which requires enormous amounts of capital and expenditure ... and if you're an ordinary person, who has no access to these manufacturers, distributors, retailers or money-lenders, then creating an "amazing thing" won't do you much good.

And this might be true, if this was 1995.

But it is not 1995.

Let's take these things in turn.  Once upon a time, when speaking about an artistic venture, we spoke about making something.  I tried to write a book, my friends struggled with making an album, or painting artworks, or arranging space to put on a performance or filming a film.  And these were products that were difficult to achieve or create without money and expensive equipment.  This is because if a book were written, an album or film made, a performance given and so on, these things had to be done in the real world, with real physical objects that had to be physically made.  The number of people we could expect to view these physical objects was minimal ... especially without the money to distribute or the money to knock on the doors of Guardians who were there to make sure that only approved films, albums, books, performances and what not would be allowed mass distribution to the masses.

There are a great many people whose businesses and industries depend upon the general population continuing to believe that it's still 1995.  The entire television industry, for example, in which the best rated-TV show today gets ratings so low that it would be cancelled if this were the early 1980s.  Television sells to a smaller market each year; a market that resists getting a computer; a market that gets older and therefore which is actuarially shrinking; a market that is less and less consciously aware of the real world, and can therefore invent whatever bullshit it wishes to sell as reality because most people in the world are not watching.  Other businesses include the publishing industry, the food industry, the film industry and the trucking industry ... and so on.  There are still billions of dollars associated with these shrinking, crippled behemoths, and so long as there is, there's going to be much effort to convince everyone that they're still strong, they're still making the rules, they still deserve our attention and respect, everything is in fact bigger and better than it ever was before and no, they would never, ever lie to you.  After all, they didn't lie in 1995, right?  So I'm sure they're just as honest about their expectations and future today as they were then.

Thus you will still find many pundits who will tell you, "Marketing is HARD."  It was.  It isn't now.  Marketing is still unpleasant, it's still unforgiving, it's still tedious and unfulfilling, but one thing it isn't is "hard."  Marketing is easy.  Create a space  channel, blog, webpage, whatever  and then create content for that space every day.  Or as many days as possible.  Be genuine.  You must be genuine.  Give a lot of time.  A lot of time.  Talk about anything and everything.  Be generous.  Be thankful.  Care.  That's it.  That's the formula.

This has always been the formula.  But while in 1995, the "formula" had to be pushed through grubbing executives and justified with market research and submitted with humility in front of sacred poobahs before it's being discussed by non-creative persons whose interest was money and not creativity, all that shit is gone now.  The channel is free.  The blog is free.  Webpages are not, but they're really soooo 2001.  Choose a free page on social media.  Discuss your creative agenda with no one.  Explain your creative agenda to no one except your audience.

In today's market, if you're manufacturing something, you're creating the wrong product.  I say this as someone who's just manufactured something; who has manufactured a few books.  There's a means to making things, and some cachet in having tactile products, but these are not the 2021 product you need to make.

I can do these things because I'm the design department; I'm the sales department; the internet is the customer support department.  I'm not making a gadget that can break.  Or cause serious harm to people.  I make books.  People have rarely been accidentally killed by a book.  If I were making knives, that would be a whole other thing  but if I were making knives, macrame flower-holders, metal armour or car parts, selling these things through the internet would be a bad, 1995-based marketing plan.  And as I said, it's not 1995 any more.

If I write a book and rely on how things were in 1995, then I'd have to get the book approved by an agent, who would have to get the book approved by a publisher, who would insist on my rewriting the book so it would conceivably be approved by the publisher journalism, who are necessary for selling the book to people who have never heard of the book and can't know for sure they'd ever want to read it without being first told by "experts" that they want to read it.  Of course, there might be someone who pays no attention to experts, but we have to print thousands of these things physically and then move them out to stores and draw attention to them and that's an outlay of money and blah blah blah, that's how things went.  I'd be put in a car and driven around to talk about the book everywhere, because there's no internet and television only talks to bookwriters who write specific kinds of books, so face-to-face meetings were important.  On these face-to-face junkets, I have to prove I'm really enthusiastic about going to them as long as it's expected, however much I might miss my family or children or former life, because now I'm a slave in a car pretending to care about my 55th junket three days before Christmas I won't be allowed to go home for, because the book's not selling as well as the publisher expected and that's my fault or at least my responsibility to fix.

But it's 2021, and almost 2022, and there is no publisher but me.  There is no outlay and immense stock of books because on-demand marketing blew the hell out of the publishing industry like Uber destroyed the taxi business.  I can print a bunch and get a table at a game con, which is enormous fun because I'm working for myself and I get to talk directly to my people  and not the people the publisher thinks should be my people.   My people are the only ones I'm answerable to ... and they're my people because I care, I write a lot, about anything and everything, I'm thankful, I'm genuine  even if that means being a genuine bastard  and I've built this space over a lot of time.  I've followed the formula.  And though I have a few products, what matters more is what I write here, not what products I make.

Once you have a space, and work at it, and earn the respect that people in fact want to give to those who work hard, you can make terrific imaginative creative things out of whole cloth.  You don't have to go through a tremendous guantlet to explain what this new thing is.  A traditional marketer will ask, "If people don't know what a thing is, how can they search for it on Google?  How are they going to find something they don't know exists?"

Traditional marketing presupposes that "finding" is the key to selling.  And that used to be true.  But when all the rest of the marketing, distributing, manufacturing and so on departments are dispensed with, there is much less overhead.  It takes much, much less for the creative person to, how did my father put it?  "Make a living of it."  The internet doesn't need to find me, or my product.  I don't need the whole internet.  I only need to be sure that those who have already found me have reason to keep doing so.  I need only be honest and authentic and to care enough to convince them to help me continue to keep whatever I'm doing going.

It's become spectacularly easy to create a product and then monetise it ... so long as you're making the right kind of product.  Most who get started, thinking they're going to do well, choose the wrong product.  They think they have to make a "thing" ... but let's hope that's dispensed with.  Next, they think they need a lot of equipment and glitz, and of course money to pay for it all.  I won't argue that money and glitz are nice.  People argued that my Kickstarter should be flashier, that it needed to get more attention, that the product wasn't highlighted strongly enough; and of course all those people are convinced that my kickstarter would have done better if I'd done those things, even though it succeeded at raising the money asked for.

Equipment and glitz are not, however, "content."  They're tools.  They won't make something creative more creative.  They won't give substance to something that hasn't any substance.  Something really expensive and really flashy might get attention for a while ... but it won't last and the creator won't learn anything about creating.  And to be clear on the subject, doing something successful for six years, that afterwards crashes and burns, won't sustain the creator's creative impetus for the rest of his or her life.  No matter how great one is when one's riding the crest, the shame of not being on the crest any more feels like being crucified over and over.  Creative success is about being creative, not being famous.

Feel free to disagree.  Eventually, you'll see where I'm coming from.

So what do we sell?

Not an idea.  Ideas are fleeting.  J.D. Salinger had a great idea for a book that he wrote in his 20s and had published when he was 31.  Catcher in the Rye has been considered one of the greatest works of literature ever produced since its first publication in 1951.  Salinger spent the rest of his life wrestling with his inability to repeat his success, escaping public exposure, struggling with his spiritual beliefs and, on the whole, remained an apparently unhappy person for most of his life.  Who knows what the truth is about that, but we know he was hounded relentlessly by a publishing industry that held him to a standard to which he didn't want to be held.

A more common story follows virtually any artist who created a series of works for a decade or so, did well, became famous ... and then simply ran out of ideas.  After a string of successful albums, books or films, one fails, then another, then another.  And as the specific industry turns its back on the artist, the artist grows increasingly obscure, until several generations of children are asking the question, "Who's Paul McCartney?"

Not saying it isn't great having a good idea, or that we can't seriously enjoy that idea when it comes or even build on it for the future.  But we shouldn't count on one great idea to sustain us and it's not necessary in any case.

Where once the goal was to become creative and effective with a given tool that channels that creativity, there's something more important that we can sell today.  As a product it's highly in demand and it's inexhaustible.


You can do it; now, teach someone else to do it.  You can renovate a bathroom?  Great!  Film yourself doing it, explain what you're doing, be detailed, take your time, admit your mistakes, have fun ... and then do it again.  Each time you renovate a bathroom, there will be different problems, different things to explain, different gadgets and pieces to buy and install, different jokes to make, different things that YOU will learn and then TEACH, in the same breath.

Where once you created a piece of music and then sold it to someone so they could buy your music and listen to it ... today you can film yourself creating music, explain the process of creating music, teach others how to do it, help them along, communicate with them directly through numerous channels and help them create their own music and enjoy making it.

I write about D&D.  Yes, it's interesting that I have this huge, phenomenal world, but that's not because I'm smarter or more creative or because I possess divergent whateverisms.  It's because I cared, I loved it, I did it constantly, I was mindful of what I was doing, I listened to my players and I trusted my motives to just keep going, to create the next thing, to try something different, to explore possibilities and to ignore people who told me to stop creating and start buying someone else's product.

We're moving into some interesting times.  For two decades we've been told that the internet offers an information revolution.  What manufacturers and marketers don't want us to realize is that the revolution is learning to do things ourselves, teaching others and recognizing that a truly individual thing is not something we buy, but something we learn to make while enjoying the process of making.  Part of that process is teaching others ... and building a new economy through teaching and small-scale personal, authentic-based exchanges.  The 1995ers are worried; they don't know what they're going to do with a worker/owner based economy of five billion self-driven labourers who don't need a job.  They don't need a minimum wage.  They don't need marketing.  And they don't need venture capitalists, marketing agents, retailers, angel investors, brick-and-mortar stores or, well, anybody.

These people are scared.  And they will do their best to obfuscate our choices, to shame our desire to be creative and individual, to push us to believe that we need them, that there's no future without them, and that if we don't kowtow to them, our future, our hopes and dreams, our freedoms and everything that matters will be put at a tremendous personal risk.

Without a doubt, count on them to lie.  As much as they have to.

Monday, November 22, 2021


I've just mailed off every copy of the menu for whom I have a street address. There are a few more people still left among the kickstarter supporters for whom I haven't mailed off a copy.  I'll be contacting them directly.

Some menus were sent off last week ... and therefore should arrive before the bundle I sent today.  CanadaPost has created this exhaustive, punishing regimen for shipping packages larger than a letter out of the country; it took us some practices to figure it out.  There was much teeth gnashing around here, and not just from me.  We seem to have it under control now.  However, I've also heard that the Postmaster Goofball in America has bolluxed up the system so bad that less than 38% of packages are arriving remotely "on time."

So, my apologies for those who are still waiting.  Objects are coming.  I'm not tracking them because the system and the cost were wholly impractical.  And so, if you haven't received something by the 15th of December, give me a poke.  For those two persons waiting for packages in Europe, better give it a little longer.  Nothing is going across the ocean fast these days.

I still have a few bugs to shake out; I have at least one more package to send off this week.  I'm also going to have to look into a business license, which I've never needed before ... but clearly, CanadaPost expects me to have such a thing if I'm going to ship out of Canada.  No problem, the kickstarter guarantees I can ship it.

I think I can safely say the product will go on sale between the 29th of November and the 1st of December.  I'll post when that happens.

In the meantime, if you receive a copy of the menu, PLEASE write about it in the comments below.  If not, please let me know you received your package on my email.

Sunday, November 21, 2021


It may be that a childhood of playing boardgames on a very regular basis is one of the reasons why I refuse to see D&D as a sort of Candyland game, where the players start off at the D&D equivalent of the Gingerbread Plum Trees, work their way to the Licorice Castle, wander the Lollipop woods, defeat the big bad Gloppy and are rewarded by King Kandy at the Candy Castle.  Not that there's anything wrong with Candyland; it's a very good game to teach patience and forbearance to four and five year olds.  It is, however, despite the presence of two short cuts, an extremely linear game.

As all board games are, to different degrees.  Being one who had the opportunity to play them, and very often, long before coming to D&D, I had the opportunity to pick their anatomy.  And as I continued to play board games, and tactical wargames, for the first twenty years of my experience as a DM, I stole from them and messed around with them in attempts to make them more interesting ... much as I continue to do with Dungeons & Dragons.  But that is a post for another day.

I understand that some of my readers will have far more experience with boardgames than others; not everyone grew up playing dozens of them, or indeed any boardgame at all.  It also helps that my upbringing came before the arrival of other distractions, like computers and video games.  If it helps, take note that I don't have a deep, nostalgic feeling for the boardgames I played.  That was then and this is now, and having experienced a life without computers and one with, I'll take this one, thank-you.

But whatever your background, these games exist; and if you're interested in expanding your consciousness about D&D or any other game, it doesn't hurt to familiarize yourself with a few examples of game play that's been invented.  Today I'm going to deconstruct one, talk about the premise of the game and then address the manner in which it could influence role-play and agenda building among player parties in a sandbox game.

The game is Careers.

This is the clearest, largest copy I could find, without glare on the game board so that every square could be read.  It's 1024 pixels squared, so I can enlarge a portion of it fairly well, maintaining it's "legibility" somewhat.  For example, I can read the portion with a little effort, right-clicking it and putting it in a new window.


Quickly, let me go over the premise of the game.  The players start at "Payday" and move around the board much like most other games, using two 6-sided dice.  When they land on a white square, such as one that says "May Start Farming" or "May Go to Sea," they can pay the fee and move through the appropriate inner "Career" track with their next move.  When moving on an inner track, the player throws one die.  When the player lands on a box that shows a given number of "hearts"  such as the first square of the farmer's track shown, where it reads "Beautiful Spring weather..."  the player collects 2 hearts.  In this way, players collect hearts, stars and money, which the victory conditions require.

Before anyone rolls a die, they decide individually and privately what their particular victory conditions are.  By the rules, you need 60 pts.  You may obtain these in the form of 60 stars, 60 hearts or $60,000; but you may also mix and match what you choose to "go for."  You could, for example, shoot for 25 stars, 15 hearts and $20,000, which together add up to 60 pts.  The game can easily be lengthened by increasing the number of base points played to (for example, doubling it to 120 pts.), or shortening the game by declaring that we'll play to 40, 30 or 20 pts.  The rules don't say as much, but any idiot can figure out that the points played for are arbitrary.

There are two kinds of cards: Experience cards and Opportunity Knocks cards.  I won't get into the details, but most experience cards involve using the card to move instead of rolling the die.  For example, if I want to move 4, and I have an Experience card that says I can move four, I can jump from the start to where I'm gambling in corn, rolling a die and collecting $1,000 per pip.  I could also use the Experience card to avoid the hailstorm that comes at the end that would cause me to lose half my cash.

Opportunity Knocks cards allow the player to jump to the Career track of their choice  providing they have that card.  Some careers are heavy in money, others are heavy in stars and some are heavy in hearts.  Obviously, we want to move into career tracks that get us the things we want for our personal victory conditions.

At the start, the player's "salary" equals $1,000.  Everytime you physically move past the Payday square, you collect that salary and then bump your salary $1,000 for the next go around.  There are also squares that will increase your salary by landing on them.  If your victory conditions require money, you want to get your bottom around Payday as often as possible.  You do not cross Payday if you use a card to jump to a Career square, no matter which direction you're coming from.  You must roll the dice on the track to get your Payday.

There are other nuances but we don't need to spend time with them.  The last thing worth mentioning is that in some places you can trade cash for either hearts or stars, in different ways.  There are places where you can waste time, not moving, but collecting hearts as you wait.  There are enough finicky bits in the game to create uncertainties ... and since you have no idea how close the other players are to winning at any given time, there's a bit of anxiety that you're not collecting your stuff as fast as you ought.


D&D role-playing grew out of Chainmail due to a human predisposition for anthropomorphisation (I so rarely get to use 20-letter words).  This is the habit of ascribing human traits, emotions and intentions to non-human entities ... such as the North Wind and the Sun, foxes and crows, tortoises and to scale combat miniatures.  Among the creators of D&D, a leap was made that the wizards and fighters of the game combat system could talk and feel and have aspirations.  It wasn't much of a leap!  18-month-old children start doing this with their stuffed animals almost immediately after they learn how to talk.

The game-piece moving around the Careers board could just as easily be given a personality commensurate with the victory conditions that player chose ... but we don't do this because when we play a boardgame, we almost always identify the events and actions taking place with ourselves.  People do not land on Boardwalk and say, "Shit, my racing car has to pay $2,000!"  No, they say, "I have to pay $2,000."  It's automatic.  The main difference with D&D is that, having arisen out of wargames, each player has multiple units on the board.  This requires a designation that separates this unit from that one ... and this habit has perpetrated into normal game play of D&D, despite the players usually only having one player character at a time.

I believe that's because each PC has highly individualised traits related to the game's character design rules ... and that although I am playing my single fighter in this campaign, I've had dozens of other player characters in my past.  Thus, there's a need in my mind to separate this fighter from another fighter I ran five years ago in another campaign, or from any of the other character classes and races in my history.  This pushes my character further from me than an ordinary game piece for a boardgame; after all, there's zero need to differentiate this iteration of the game piece, or the game, from others.  I'm quite comfortable saying, "Damn, I was hit by a hailstorm last time," without this seeming incongruous  even though it happened in another game and perhaps some years ago.

Yet, Careers deliberately gives non-game material for sentimental, aesthetic reasons.  We do not land on a square that merely reads, 2 stars, 4 hearts.  No, it gives us a reason for that gain: we've raised a prize bull.  Knowing that we've raised a bull helps us not at all with winning the game or strategizing our next move.  And still it's interesting to know that's what we've done, while simultaneously giving the feeling that we're somehow involved with farming.  Another square, elsewhere on the map, also gives us 2 stars and 4 hearts; only this one's in the Politics Career and we get it for "Lead official overseas visit."  Somehow, though it's the same, it's not the same, is it?

Agenda Building

Careers was published and released for the first time in 1955, nearly 20 years before D&D.  Suppose that someone had realized the possibility of creating a series of random personal characteristics and predilections.  Suppose that before the game started, each career was not merely differentiated by what happened there, but also by our particular player character's ability to perform as asked, once entering that career?  An official overseas visit can go well; it can go badly.  If Careers is expanded into what we understand to be a role-playing game, then we know perfectly well that a player character can seriously fuck up a visit like that ... especially if that character has the attributes and nature that they ought to be applying to raising prize bulls and not entering politics.  Obviously, the number of choices for what a farmer does in Careers is limited to nine squares ... but if we were to take the whole of the profession and expand it rationally, there are hundreds of squares we could propose.  These could have very different pathways that could be followed, leading in some cases to politics, specifically labour management and socialisation, leading to others in researching hybrids or inventing farm equipment.

This is true for all the different Careers represented in the game ... and in hundreds of other possible careers as well ... and because I bring this up, I'm contractually obligated to include the image shown.

Whatever the Gentle Reader's feeling about such a game, the fact remains that we can learn from the thought experiment.  The D&D game is NOT merely a collection of rules restricting play and dictating how players advance.  I'm accused of believing that's what it is, because I spend so much time pointing out that there ARE rules and that the rules matter, and that those who ignore rules are not running a game but are instead perpetrating a ridiculous farce.

But believing that there are rules doesn't mean that I don't also ascribe to the principle that D&D is an emotionally sentimental, aesthetic game, and that many of the functions of the game are wholly separate from  "winning" or "surviving" the game world.  Hell and damnation, I run my game world based on the real Earth because the players taking an action in PARIS, FRANCE, feel emotions and connections they wouldn't feel in some made up city in a made up game world, even one that's been popular for  big whup  forty years.  Paris has been around for 1500 years and it has quite a lot more cachet than Greyhawk.  For one thing, you can buy a plane ticket to get there.

A role-playing game could certainly have been created out of Careers ... or, for that matter, any boardgame we care to name.  Which is to say, looking at how a boardgame did a thing, then extrapolating that thing for the more complicated RPG that we're running, is a useful and practical exercise.   This includes the "fluff"  which is really no more dismissible than the presence of love in your life  as well as the hard, practical gains to be made.  Careers asks us to collect "hearts" and "stars," representing these things as numbers.  In D&D, they are the fulfillment that comes from working with one's fellow players, or the status one builds in the game world through deeds.  Not only deeds of valour, but deeds of generosity, sacrifice, duty, honour and dependability.  Do we not, in fact, record these things when they happen, even if we don't do it the same way as numbers for experience?  Are they any less important?

I see people try to pretend, on the other hand, that they are the only thing that's important ... and that's wrong too.  Success isn't just found in joy and glitz.  It's also found in hard, diligent work.  The numbers are there to represent the latter.  You don't "win" if you don't pull the cart.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Why D&D Takes What Boardgames Do and Makes It Better

The last post was quite negative, so let's balance that and talk about the good functions of boardgames and their relationship with D&D.

Despite the stories I've told, most whom I've played board games with came to the game wanting it to be a good, positive, honest experience.  I've played hundreds of times with my daughter, who is presently the owner of said games (having inherited them from my parents), and she continues to play the same boards, with the very same cards, houses, counters, money and additional bits and pieces I played with 50 years ago.  She and her friends continue to get joy out of those games, as I did before becoming the jaded, blunted D&D player I am today.  I have good memories of many of those games, including thousands of shouts of "hurrah!" at a moment of good fortune, many moments of triumph and very much nostalgia for the little jokes and details the games included.

Discussing yesterday's post with my daughter today, she reminded me that there are two versions of the game "Careers" in her possession.  In the earlier 1950s version, the game gave an opportunity to "Go to Sea," and potentially die horribly.  In the later 1970s version, sea was replaced with "Go to Space" ... where there was the potential to die horribly.  Yes.  Die.  I cannot help but appreciate a board game for children that included a rule for "lose everything" and go back to the beginning ... but there it was, long predating D&D.  Was I perhaps subconsciously prepared for the role-playing result by participating in frank, condition-conscious boardgames of the period?  Perhaps.

In the newest version, space has been replaced with "Computer Science."  Somehow, I think there's no die horribly option.  I couldn't tell from the image linked; the boxes are two small to read.  Still, perhaps there's "Get electrocuted and die; lose all your hearts, fame and money."

Boardgames survive because they are communal, relationship-building activities, especially when cooperation is more important than "winning."  My father was always generous about letting others win, while my mother wasn't; as a boy, I swung hard between the two poles, until recognizing there were more important things than winning a board game.  Quite possibly, D&D settled the conflict for me.  D&D is absolutely co-operative, once there are firm protocols in place that make it clear who are the enemies and why player-vs.-player is toxic.  In all the rules versions that were put out between 1974 and 1985, there are NO paragraphs promoting or condoning player-vs.-player.  I'm not sure it's even mentioned in AD&D ... if it is, it isn't called by that phrase.   I was able to find an excellent article from the Dragon Magazine #75 written by Lew Pulsipher (which I could easily highlight positively in a post), from 1983 (p.41):

"... sometimes the chemistry (or lack thereof) among players will ruin the session, because they're looking for different forms of recreation.  For example, players who get their kicks from backstabbing and player-vs.-player competition will not get along with players who enjoy cooperative or even regimented adventures.  How could one GM possibly satisfy both groups at once?"

I could have written that ... except there would be more swear words and I'd say "DM."   Rightly managed, D&D is supremely cooperative ... much more so than a boardgame that promotes a winner or a loser.

Another positive aspect of board games is their ability to teach us how to set goals and be patient.  Strategy requires the capacity to accept and tolerate trouble, set-backs, losing all your money or finding yourself forced to rethink your strategy in mid-stream ... without getting angry and upset.  Young players need to be coached on the principles of waiting for things to get better ... when stress arises at not getting something that's wanted, right now, the solution is not to dip into the bank and give the child another $500 ... because, as some parents might be convince themselves, "It doesn't really matter anyway."  Loss isn't the only lesson that needs learning!  Forbearance, faith in an expectation, knowing that the next hand or the next die roll might change everything ... these future things have to be conceived as if they were real, to counterbalance what is happening right now.  If the future cannot be appreciated, then all that's left is stress!  If your child is overwhelmed because everything up until now has gone badly, it's most likely because they're assuming the past is determining their future.  This is never the case ... but if they don't learn otherwise, they'll carry a distrust for the future with them all the rest of their lives.  Boardgames and card games can teach them otherwise, if they can be made to see it.

D&D goes one further in this dynamic in that if things are going bad, they're going bad for the party as a whole.  One player with a run of bad luck in Monopoly necessarily enriches the other players during that run.  But one player with bad luck in D&D is a burden everyone shares together.  If Fred rolls six fumbles in a combat, the others aren't enriched, they're challenged further, especially if Fred dies and they've lost an ally.

This example can reveal the inherent nature of all the players.  IF the others turn and snipe at Fred, demanding to know why he can't roll better, or tell him to pick a different die, or in anyway dump their new troubles verbally on him, then as a DM you have a troubled, toxic party that needs addressing and possibly trimming.  What we want are other party members to step up and call out, "Don't worry Fred, we're got you're back.  We'll hold them until things turn around for you!"  This positive response reflects the party's understanding that they're in it together ... and that whether Fred rolls a 1 or a 20, he's embraced and upheld either way.

ANY sports coach worth his salt recognizes the importance of a team that "pulls together" ... and the necessity of trading away or benching even the best player on the team if that player cannot learn to play well with others.  D&D gives a tremendous opportunity for game participants to play together and succeed together ... or would, if the game's masters weren't busy making sure they have super-individualized avataristic personalities that cleave vast gaps between their attempts to fraternize and join forces.  There's a reason all the members of a team wear the same jerseys!  Sameness breeds trust and friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood and a sense of family.  Individualism breeds spite, entitlement and disunion.

When D&D asks a group of players bent on ego and eccentricity to form together and build a strategy, one they can all get behind together, the result is a ghastly mess.  Everyone wants something for themselves, and without the binding strength of a "party," everyone wants it right now and in great heaps.  But a group of players who are used to thinking as a friendly, supportive collective are instantly able to decide what's best for the greater good; and with the support of their friends, they're able to play the long game ... they don't need to be enriched today, because they know that it's going to come as soon as the battle's finally won.

It's a tremendous pity that most DM's will never experience this sort of party ... but it must be understood that this is because they don't understand their responsibilities AS a DM.  A party must be brought together, they must be encouraged and taught to act together, they must be REWARDED for acting together ... and those who won't act together must be kicked off the team.  There are no ifs, ands or buts to this program.  There's no other method, no great adventure module that will smooth over those rifts, no clever voices the DM can speak, no new RPG that can be switched to in hopes of better results.  Make them a team, or make them go home.  Do not play board games with players who throw fits and tip over the board; and make sure everyone feels they belong.

Point in fact, the "fudging" solution is an effort to keep players who would tip over the board from doing it, by ensuring they "win."  This is the unsaid part of, "I fudge so everyone has a good time."  It automatically equates "a good time" with "nothing goes wrong."  People this fragile need to re-train themselves at checkers or Candyland.  They don't belong at a D&D table.

The best boardgames enhance creativity and self-confidence.  The latter is far easier to obtain when the others around you are cheering you on, but let's move on from that argument.  Confidence in a board game arises from discovering for yourself a strategy that never occurred before.  This can be a very simple discovery ... for example, realising there are more hearts on the board than either stars or money in Careers.  In D&D, small adjustments to a character's possibilities arise all the time: in the weapon we pick, in the amount of armour we choose to wear, in recognizing there's a clever way to use a spell we'd never considered and so on.  But let me take an example from RISK.

For years, going back to my childhood, I took it for granted that the best strategy was to get hold of South America and hold it until the dice paid off.  If South America was unavailable, try for Australia.  But South America is better.  Even though it starts with two territories to be defended, it's adjacent to Africa with it's six territories; if these can be taken, there's four territories to defend.  Europe also has four territories, but if you break any of those the defender gets nothing.  The attacker has to break two territories, well apart on the board, to wreck the S.A/Africa block.  It doesn't always work, but it often does and I believed in it.

Then, in my 20s, I played with a fellow in multi-person games who consistently and deliberately avoided taking any continents.  His strategy was to work in the top of North America and Asia and just take territories that weren't in anybody's way.  While the other players were busting continents left and right, and losing armies as they did, he quietly accumulated 15 territories, getting the equivalent of South America without making enemies.  If the others didn't notice, he'd push to 18 territories ... and often he could do it because going after him meant letting someone else keep Australia or South America.  In the end, he'd simply edge out the opponents on territories alone.  I began to try the strategy; it works brilliantly.  The trick is to take one territory a turn and, like I say, make no enemies.  Perhaps it appeals to my Russian heritage.  I always had a special place for Irkutsk.

Learning little things like that about a boardgame we've played all our lives is huge.  It boosts our faith in ourselves, jumps up our willingness to be creative and gets us motivated to look for other bits of genius.  D&D excels at this.  There are so many aspects to the game, so many little ways to find bits and pieces and adapt them to new strategies and possibilities, that players who are free to innovate develop a habit for doing so.  This habit drifts over into their other activities, as what's being practiced are those cognitive skills that universities crave to invest in their students.  If such institutions had the least idea what D&D could be offering, they'd rush to invest in game studies and courses.  Unfortunately, the true virtuosity of the game is magnificently concealed behind droll, tiresome plug-and-play innovation-killing expectations.

Ah well.


Turns out, neither my daughter nor I remember the Careers board as well as we think.  Sea did not become space; join an expedition became space.  I'll be writing more on the Careers game soon.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Boardgames & D&D

I was asked by ViP about the continuity in behaviours and social dynamics between board games and D&D.

There are obvious ones, starting with sore losers.  These are people who feel their personal worth is determined by the outcome of a game, equating their capability of winning with their competency or value as a human being.  It has to be understood that the connection is taught.  It arises out of family members or friends gloating over their wins or mocking their siblings for losing, which is a memory that can last the rest of a person's life  the pattern is at it's worst when the mockery is condoned by parents and authority figures.  In my childhood, this abuse was so common with boys that examples can be found on television shows and movies from the 1960s and 70s ... where the abuse is depicted as a positive thing.  Arguments like "it will make him a man" and "it'll give him motivation to win" were seen as good parenting.  If your parents are good people, just imagine the shit they had to overcome.

In D&D, the "incapable" loser manifests as envy; an inability for a player to hold themselves accountable for a mistake  and thus accusations against other players for not holding up their end; outbursts of rage at a bad die roll; calls that the game is "unfair" when someone else rolls a better character or succeeds more commonly in combat, and disappointment at not getting the character class the player wanted.  Listening and catering to this behaviour, effectively ennobling it, has led to die matrixes to determine character class abilities, safe cards for game play so that no one is made uncomfortable, fudging dice to make sure than everyone "wins" and a host of other design changes that have been baked HARD into 5th edition ... and ultimately into a whole generation of players.  This is the psychological backlash that arose out of the 80s and 90s to the poison described in the above paragraph ... and it is just as bad, in reverse.

Hopefully, boardgames can teach children how to lose without losing becoming a traumatic memory  either because the loss is minimized, thus crippling the child by creating a sense of constant primal entitlement, or because the loss is maximized, thus crippling the child by creating low self-esteem and a fear of taking responsibility.  The child that kicks over a checkerboard will grow up to rage-quit a D&D game ... just as the child who mocks a loser will grow up to chuckle and laugh when someone rage-quits their game (see the same clip).  The push at the end is encouraged by the DM's response ... giving insight to a combination of different things going on:  the paladin being told how to run his character, the paladin's obvious feeling of helplessness; the paladin's poor self-esteem, the sneering indifference of both the DM and the yellow-jacket guy, the total lack of empathy from any of the players, including the DM, when the paladin gives up, the paladin's cringing response after the push, the insult about whether the paladin is "retarded," the continued smiles and chuckling of the other players through the confrontation, the "asshole" insult, the DM's denial that he's an asshole, the DM returning the insult with "you're a fucking weirdo" ... it's all a wonderful example of an extremely toxic space with extremely toxic people.  Made all the better by someone getting their jollies by posting it on Twitch.

Here is another example, in the reverse.  Angry player wants to increase his chance to hit, finds himself DM'd by the DM (who can't take his pen out of his own face), and DM'd by the player across the table, and who then has his space violated by the player on his right, who snatches up the Angry player's die.  Of course the angry player feels entitled ... but is he necessarily an "angry" person, or has this browbeating been going on all night?  We may think he should "chill," but perhaps he's been doing that for the two hours before the 33-second clip is shown.

As children, when we're ready to start thumping on our friends because the threshold between tolerance and violence is pretty low, we learn NOT to fucking touch other people's armies in RISK, or other people's racing car in Monopoly, or the bank, or other people's D&D dice.  I remember when I was eight I had a drag out fight in my friend Kevin's basement over a RISK game that one of us was losing; it went sort of like this.  I don't remember who threw the first punch or why ... but it didn't end my friendship.  It clarified where the boundaries were.  When someone grows up to be 18 and they still don't know not to touch other people's stuff ... well, I can only say, I hope that guy doesn't find himself working on a job site, in a restaurant or joining the army.  I've played with ex-military who would have, spontaneously and without thinking, broken the kid's arm for that.

Politeness didn't originate socially by everyone agreeing to be sweet and kind; but by an inherent understanding that you WILL be sweet and kind on that side of the boundary or you'll lose an arm.  I grew up learning this from my vicious, selfish, self-righteous but extremely polite Russian and German family members ... who had to be polite with each other despite all those qualities.

Moving onto cheaters.  Much of this has to do with the sore loser problem, taken to extremes.  "I can't bear to win, so I'll cheat to make sure I do."  By and large, cheaters fear conflict; though maybe you haven't caught one, cheaters have been caught before, and probably often, since cheating is a compulsive behaviour.  Cheaters tend to avoid intimacy  again, because letting someone behind the wall increases the likelihood you'll see what they do there.  Cheaters in D&D especially don't like what business calls "quality assurance."   They don't like to prove their character's possession of things or how much experience their character has ... and will usually use the "privacy" argument I've just made about dice to protect their character sheet from a DM.  These are the same kind of people who hold their monopoly money in a single stack, habitually in their hand, or like to add armies to their RISK territories in a glob rather than one at a time.

The principles of performance magic are built on tricking the senses into being able to cheat you ... obstensibly for the purpose of entertainment, but there are more than a few magicians in stir who realized that the skills that enable them to perform magic will also help them lift your wallet.  For an ambitious player of any game, there are many, many ways to cheat.  There are no sure-fire ways to guarantee that one of your players isn't slyly cheating from time to time ... though the player who rolls six 1s in a particular game night probably isn't.  [who knows?  It could be a set-up; that's how cons work].

It's strange to me that people would cheat in D&D, since the game isn't about "winning."  By the time I'd played a year of D&D I'd already met several examples.  After all, I'm talking other 15 y.o. kids, not experts along the Las Vegas strip.  I'd learned to watch my relatives for cheating; my uncle Igan had a nasty habit of counting four holes in cribbage when he pegged three.  He was a huge, leathery, terrifying farmer with hands like a catcher's mitt, but even when I was eight, if I called him on cheating he'd shrink and apologize, counting accurately.  Usually, my aunt could hear us playing.

Truth be told, cheating in D&D as a player will not help that much.  I don't randomly ask to see a players' character sheet ... but eventually they'll have to roll a saving throw for every item they're carrying due to a breath weapon or a high fall.  For those times, I'll definitely be looking over the player's shoulder as they roll down the list.  I insist on all dice being rolled in front of at least one other witness, and it's not usually me ... but if I want to see a roll because it's a life-or-death roll, then I'm going to get up and watch that puppy hit the table.  So for all the cheating any player might do, sooner or later, they're still going to roll or die, when I'll be watching.  They might hit a little more often; they might level a little more sooner; they might have a bit more gold than I gave them  but unlike a card game or a chess, the other players and I don't "lose" by their cheating.  At worst, its a pathetic bad habit they ought to shake before getting into a situation with not-nice people, where their habit gets them thrown out of a fast-moving car.

Ah, then there's gamesmanship.  This is the art of winning games by being a total fucking dick.  I have played everything from golf to football to chess to tiddly-winks with people like this, in my family and out, but I don't have this problem with D&D.  See politeness, above.  I expect my players to wait patiently for their chance to throw dice in combat, I expect them to listen politely to other players, I do not allow harassment of a player (except by an occasional taunting NPC, and the players get to kill those) and I don't trust anybody who commits an infraction against protocol more than once in the same way, despite being told to stop doing it.

This is why I have rules like, "no one throws a die until the DM says its time."  I did my years of play where players would roll a die out of turn, get a high number, then pout and complain and moan that they didn't get to keep the roll in spite of rolling it out of turn.  Note that if they're rolling it out of turn, everyone else is distracted by watching the legitimate roller, so who the hell knows what was really rolled?  And even if they do, it creates a lot of negative energy around the table when a player has to be disappointed because they really did roll a critical ... which no, they can't keep.  Rulez is Rulez.  Everybody abides by the same ones and everybody sucks it up.   Nobody, but nobody, rides for free.

I get exactly how that makes me sound like a "miserable bastard."  I'll remind the Gentle Reader that we all thought the teachers were miserable bastards when they forced us in line ... which they did for good reason, because if you don't force 35 kids in line, you get chaos and nothing gets learned.  I'm only a miserable bastard DM when a particular player feels the protocols don't apply to him.  When there are protocols, and the players get used to them, and accept them, and recognize why they exist, they're just as annoyed as me when someone bulls in and decides to act chaotically, while vociferously proclaiming that protocols are wrong and unnecessary.

Thankfully, like our grade school teachers, I don't give a rat's ass who thinks I'm a miserable bastard.  I care that my players are able to invest themselves totally into a game that runs as smooth as creamcheese glaze.  I played several year's worth of games without protocols; as I closed my first decade as a DM, I couldn't help noticing the protocols were making the game a lot tighter and efficient ... and thus improving both momentum and immersion.  After four decades, I will boot the cog that won't turn right before I'll tolerate it in my engine.

Those are the problematic game elements that occur to me.  If anyone has any others that deserve discussion, let me know.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Bored Games

To appreciate this post, it has to be undestood that I was born in 1964.  I was 9 y.o. before there came a 3rd channel on the TV.  I did not see my first arcade game until I was 11, and only then because I was in California visiting Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland.  I didn't see an arcade game in Calgary until 13.  I didn't have cable television until I was 15, which only meant about twelve channels.  I didn't have a Betamax video recorder until I was 16, the year after I began playing D&D.

In short, the number of distractions apart from boardgames and sports was far more limited than now.  Thus, when I say I spent hundreds of hours playing a wide number of boardgames and card games, it was because there was lots of time.

My parents were serious about games.  By the age of 6, I'd learned to play numerous card games, chess, checkers, battleship, parcheesi and Chinese checkers.  Game nights on Saturday were a regular thing, two or three times a month, so that by eight I'd was a veteran of cribbage, backgammon, rummy, canasta and poker.  Whist, and then bridge, would come later.  Every member of my extended family, especially my hard-fisted German material grandfather, played cribbage ... and he in particular played "to educate" trusting young children.  If your not familiar with the cold-hearted rules of cribbage, if you fail to count all the points in your hand accurately, your opponent can call "mulligan" and count those points against you.  No empathy intervened.  My grandfather would be the first to say it was a mean, son-of-a-bitchin' world out there, and if you can't learn to rely on yourself, you deserve to get kicked in the teeth until you do learn.

So ... games were a weird, fucked up battlefield.  Virtually every elder person I played cards with held those sosrts of beliefs, on both the German and Russian side of my kin.

I got rather good at cribbage; there's more to the game than might be imagined, as it's about leading your opponent into playing cards that will enable cutting their throat.  No need to go into it.  Like poker, it's a skill.  I'm an excellent poker player ... if the poker is REAL poker, that doesn't rely on ridiculous levels of chance, such as the ignorantly popular Feckless Hold-em.  I love convincing a bunch of young "players" to try stud or draw; they just don't understand percentages or pressure.

As a kid, I played poker for literal peanuts, poker chips, matches ... whatever was available.  I once was busted during a school science fair for playing poker while waiting for the teachers to bring the classes down to the auditorium one at a time.  Gave lots of time to sit around and be bored.  Got a week's detention for "gambling" ... with jelly beans.  Authority fails to recognize a lot of the time that they're teaching the wrong lesson.

 I never liked checkers as much as chess.  If I played with my sister, it had to be checkers because she didn't understand complicated games.  She was good for games like "war" and "go fish," or any board game that was really linear, like Careers, Payday, Life, Mille Bornes, Snakes & Ladders, Monopoly, that sort of thing.  I played more board games in my childhood than I can possibly remember now.  My sister and I used to play games at the family cabin, all afternoon, playing one kind of game after another.   For my sister, the tougher games were onces like Masterpiece or Stock Ticker, and she certainly wasn't up to RISK.

But, let me get back to chess.  My father taught me when I was very young and I regularly played with him and with my brother, who was five years older than me.  My brother was and is a bastard; he and I have been in the same room four times over the last thirty years.  The last time I saw him was my mother's funeral, nine years ago.  I began beating my father at chess when I reached 11.  My brother, when I was 12.  By 14, I was deep into chess with the school club and competing in the occasional tournament.  My best rating was just over 1400.  I did okay, not great, but I was studying chess by then in addition to playing it; the game became a science rather than fun.  But ... as writing became more important to me, and with the time I wanted to give to D&D, I recognised that to get better at chess I would have to give up other things I liked more.  So I backed away.  I continued to play into my 30s, but I haven't played a game offline in 20 years now.  I'll be sure and teach my grandson, and play with him if he likes it, but that's all chess is to me now.

Stock Ticker hit me like a fever around age ten or eleven.  I got better at the game and my father liked it a great deal.  He did all the calculations instantly in his head  it's just two and three digit multiplication  but it was impressive when he could rattle off how much 11,500 shares of stock would cost at 1.35 cents a share.  He taught me tricks that I used through high school and university, but computers ruined me.  I'd have to struggle coming up with the right number in my head today.

I liked S.T. because it consisted of edging out the competition by risk and tenaciousness ... personality traits I still possess, though I apply them to other things.  I don't imagine many readers here have played the game, and if they did most likely found it rather dull.  But around age 11, it was my favourite game.

RISK, not so much.  I appreciated the geography of it and I was always a strategy player, but children playing the game are liable to argue, kick the board over, sneak armies onto territories and that sort of thing.  I lost friends to RISK, some from cross-accusations and some from hard feelings from getting pasted.  It's hard to like a game when, if a run of luck occurs, the losers start screaming.  I began to shy away from invitations to play that game.  I did try Axis & Allies for a time, but I felt the game was structured against complete freedom of play.  Every game tended to follow the same objectives, reaching the same three or four possible conclusions; I didn't feel there was enough imagination involved to hold me.  In any case, by 13, I had a friend introduce me to Panzerleader.

Before D&D, that set of Avalon Hill tank games became fairly central to me, apart from playing chess.  I continued to play Panzerblitz, Arab-Israeli Wars and Squad Leader through university, until other participants evaporated.  I had two copies each of Panzerleader and Panzerblitz and I remember one summer our group of four played a vast game with 14 boards and seven hundred units to a side  two commanders to each side, each moving two armies against two armies.  Obviously, we never finished it; when the tide of battle started to go one way, the losers lost interest  though of course it could have gone either way, still  and I learned my first lesson in player "commitment."  Often, the idea of a game is much more interesting than actually playing it.  I could have happily played that battle to the last man standing.  Perhaps if there's a heaven, I'll get to yet.

D&D was the elephant that changed all my patterns.  I still played boardgames with my family, but with my friends it was mostly D&D.  There were some dalliances with Car Wars and The Creature that Ate Sheboygan; The Awful Green Things from Outer Space was a riot.  Those were games I never played with family.  Much later on, my parents got interested in things like Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan ... but these are games that have a limited number of practical strategies, and once the strategy is realized, the game is as linear as Careers.  Truth be told, video games in the 1980s began to obliterate any interest in board games.

My father taught me how to play whist when I was 10 and cutthroat bridge soon after.  Bridge was his favourite game; he played it like a tonic, and once I'd become a decent player he wanted to get up a foursome between him and mom and me and whomever I was dating, engaged to or married to.  So a string of girls sat in as a fourth until my first wife Michelle, who was about my level.  But my father really understood that game; he never failed to teach or praise after every hand, as necessary.  For a time he turned me into a good player, a skill I used well at university; through the 80s I played nearly a thousand rubbers with other friends and strangers; sometimes we'd play all day, changing out partners as people went to class, picking them up again when class was over.  Typically, there were two or three tables going at a time, with alternates waiting to jump in.  It wasn't a "club" ... it was just something to do in a world without social media and cellphones.

There are no boardgames of the '70s I didn't play for hundreds of hours; and most especially Monopoly, as there was always a copy of the game around.  On one level, I count a lot of that time as wasted.  There's not much to learn from one's 157th game of Life.  It's really just waiting for death.  It helps put a little perspective on those who talk about teenagers "wasting" their lives with social media.  At least that's a potential to learn skills like communication and writing.  We tend to forget that many of the pasttimes of erstwhile days were based on chewing up hours with purposeless make-work.  Roll the dice, move the piece, buy the property.  Wup wup.

'Course, anyone reading this will argue, "But Alexis, clearly you established a set of game principles that have served you in good stead these decades since!  Not cheating, waiting for others to take their turn, thinking before acting, understanding how many, many different games were constructed  all of that is good meat for the stew!"  Sure, I'll go with that.  One thing a video game doesn't do well is teach participants to wait their turn; and both D&D and life require a considerable amount of letting other people speak and act ... and not just waiting for our chance to speak.  But I'd argue that D&D was a better teacher of that then those old board games.  It's a far, far better game.  I'd far rather work on my game world than spend a minute playing a board game or a card game.  I've spent enough of my life doing that.  I'm not interested anymore.

Game Details

Recently I was asked some questions by a reader ... and now seems like a good time to answer them.  The question was about my gaming group (I have two of them), which admittedly I don't talk about much.  There's a reason for that:  I've no wish to parade them in front of my readers for the sake of views, given that they have private lives and their participation in my game is a private thing.  Still, there are some things I can say that I haven't related so far.

I'm going to answer these in the reversed order they were asked ... but only the asker and I know that, so I don't know why I'm bothering to say it.  Meh.  There it is.

Question: would I run my game differently if I could run only once a month?  How would I address finding the balance between wanting to run an immersive game vs. the players having to work hard to pull threads and find their own adventure?

In this country, Canada, we have a social system that has successfully passed laws that have been passed to control the spread of covid in order to protect the greater number of people.  This law-passing process occurs because there is only one Government body involved, which is not limited in its power by bullshit laws about phony filibusters, or even real ones.  One of these laws at the present, disallows private gatherings of any kind where more than two households are involved; period.  If such a thing occurs, the police can appear, demand the end of the private function and, if not complied with, can make arrests and end the meeting legally.  This actually occurs, despite the nutjobs in this country who make stupid videos ... because in Canada, the actual law is the law, and not what internet boobs pretend the law to be.  Therefore, for some time now, since the appearance of the Delta Strain, I haven't run D&D in person, at all.  Although, for a brief time in early 2021, I ran it a few times, about a month apart.

I ran the game exactly the way I always run the game.  After 40 years of play, I know of only one way to run; that is, with the expectation that I will run again, definitely.  When we pick up the game at some point in the future, the first session will begin with where the last session left off, even though that may be a year or more in time.

Keep in mind I have participants who have advanced as players for more than a decade, couched in the sort of game I run.  They also play in other games (though not lately), and tell me about distinct differences, but once they sit down with me they're ready to be immersive as soon as I'm ready to run.  It is a mindset that both DM and player possess, when they're adjusted to thinking of the game that way.  It's evidence of the "practice" I describe regularly.  There's no "hard work" involved.  While away from the game, the players consider and think about the things they'd like to do next, even calling me up and chatting about them out of game, whereupon I'll offer advice or angles they perhaps hadn't considered ... and when the game starts again, they'll say, "Oh, and there's that thing I wanted to do.  What are the numbers on that, or can I meet with the right people, or we get started on our way to pick up the thing we'll need.  Can we buy the land tonight?  How much is it?  That kind of thing.  They're as anxious to get started on their ideas when the game starts as I am to answer.

I've been experiencing this dynamic for virtually all the time I've been running, so it's weird for me to think that most players seem compelled to begin each game session utterly cold, with nothing to think about until the DM tells them what's in the next room.  Seems a very stale enterprise.  Yet until now, I don't think I've mentioned what goes on outside my games in just this manner.

Question: Can I tell a little bit about the dynamics of my in-person gaming group.

Okay, sticking to the character names and concealing some details.

The Smaller Party consists of one family member and two close friends.  This is variously called "Demifee's Party" or the "Airship Party," the latter because the players uncovered an ancient airship in Egypt and have been tooling around in it returning sacred objects to their origin in order to raise a member of their party who was in bondage on another plane of existence.  That member has been returned, those quests are over and the party has decided to use the airship  which is driven by force of will and not by currents of air  to venture to the Moon.  They were busy insulating the ship against the cold when last we played.  It has been almost two years before I've been able to get together with this party, though the four of us recently took a trip to B.C. together.  We hope to begin playing again in February.

The Larger Party consists of two direct family members, two in-laws, one member who was a cousin of my first wife Michelle and is therefore a cousin of my daughter, two lesbians  and "the lesbians" is how they expect to be called by everyone, all the time, with their expectation that we should do so  and one friend, for a total of eight people besides myself.  This game has been ongoing since 2004, though not everyone has played for that long.  It is typically thought of as "Falyn and Pikel's Party;" with the original "main" characters and their henchfolk, the total number of "party characters" available to the players equals somewhere around 35.  As some have reached name level, another 40 followers, whom the players are free to run, can be added to that number.  These are scattered in three groups, with the middle body in Transylvania, where the players possess land, a secondary group in Volhynia, in Poland, where they are attempting to seat one of their number, who drew royal blood as a background, on a throne of some kind, and the primary group which is off the coast of the Canary Islands, submerged below the sea, having transmuted themselves into waterbreathers in the hopes of finding one of two missing treasure ships of the Portuguese Crown that were stuffed full by Antonio, Prior of Cato; by the story the players discovered, these ships were driven south by Dutch pirates, only to fall prey to a Spanish patrol that sunk the ships somewhere immediately south of the island of Gran Canaria.  Either ship might contain as much as a million gold pieces in valuables, perhaps much more.

When they sit around my table, using their main characters, Arne the ranger sits on my immediate left; Arne is very much the "enthusiastic" player I described in my book, How to Run.  Falcon the mage sits on Arne's left; Falcon is an intense bookkeeper, keeping track of names, where things happen, how much everyone has and so on, without my expecting it.  Sebastien the cleric sits to the left of Falcon.  Sebastien is a talker; he gets bored more easily than the others and he has to be shut down by me regularly if he's not directly involved in play.  Hof the thief sits to the left of Sebastien; Hof is a jovial, Santa-like figure, clever and very innovative.  If there's a strange, excellent way to do something, Hof will think of it.   However, he's self-sacrificing and fiery in combat, making him a lot of fun to battle with.  Garalzapan the wizard sits next to Hof; he's much more powerful than Falcon and one of the first two participants in the game, along with Falyn.  Unfortunately, Garalzapan cannot tell the difference between an eight-sided and a ten-sided at a glance; so Pikel the druid sits next to Garalzapan and gently sorts out some of the game's details.  Pikel is my power player, my munchkin.  He's stoic, patient, a die roller of mysterious and devastating luck (which occasionally runs out) and decidedly the brains of the outfit where it comes to tactics, organisation and problem solving.  He talks very little with NPCs.  Next to Pikel is Fayln the other ranger; Falyn is the role-player, the scrounger, the one who remembers to buy everything that anyone ever needs on the equipment page.  Falyn started with Garalzapan, Pikel joined to make it three ... and all three remember clearly when they were brittle, fragile neophyte adventurers.  They've come a long way and been joined by smart people.

There's one missing; an in-law.  Very eager to play, very anxious, but has recently joined our number and hasn't had a chance to roll a first character.  Once again, we hope to start running again in February, but it will depend on what the restrictions are after Christmas.

Question:  How long is a session?

Sessions for either party start between 6 and 7 PM, depending on when everyone can arrive.  By 7:15 we're usually in full swing.  There's often a 15 minute break between 9:30 and 10, which often involves a run to the local convenience store.  This last summer I moved to a place that's literally 150 yards from a 7/11 (do they have those in the States?), so it will get visited a lot.  Games then run until midnight, usually, even if people have to work the next day.  Now that the grandson is 13 months old, I don't know about that end point; we'll have to see.  In former times, if a good battle was still in swing, it wasn't impossible to keep playing until 1 or 2 AM; but none of us are as young as we used to be.


Well, if anyone else has a question, I'd be happy to answer.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Of Little Account

"But Dungeons & Dragons is also a perfect illustration of how capitalism bends and deforms any artistic endeavours to its own ends, and how, whatever the specific details of the situation or the intentions of the people involved, the demand for profit will always subsume the desire for aesthetic value or artistic integrity. Just as television puts the goals of its creators behind the demands of advertisers, and movies are more answerable to accountants and marketers than to audiences and filmmakers, role-playing games bend the knee to owners who care more about the bottom line than the needs of play and story.

"Peterson notes early on that D&D was an unlikely success. Although Gygax left behind a comfortable living in insurance to pursue his gaming hobby, he likely never expected to make more than a modest income. A big reason why is that D&D was never actually meant to be a product. He wasn’t initially interested in selling the slick, glossy product line we see in bookstores today; he wanted to sell a set of rules, essentially guidelines for play that could easily be adopted and adapted to whatever scenario other hobbyists cared to cook up. He wanted this because that’s exactly what he had done as a game player and creator himself, folding J.R.R. Tolkien–style fantasy into his passion for wargaming."

 —  Leonard Pierce, 'Dungeons & Dragons' Is a Case Study in How Capitalism Kills Art

A gift like this doesn't arrive every day.  Err ... ahem ...

I told you so.

Which doesn't exempt the author from being wrong in many places throughout the article.  International copyright law doesn't work the way he thinks it does, or the way the WOTC pretends that it does ... but no professional writer wants to lift up that rock and free the creepy-crawlies inside.  And like most outsiders  and oh yes, this writer is definitely an "outsider" — he's forced to base his article upon public sources of knowledge, which is fair.  After all, he hasn't time to visit around to dozens of local non-league affiliated gaming clubs to learn what grassroots players think or do.  At least he acknowledges that homebrew campaigns still exist, even if he has to link stackexchange to prove it.  I rarely expect this much, so I suppose I'm grateful.

My position continues to be that capitalism doesn't actually "kill" D&D's artistic development.  This is ongoing, and will continue to be ongoing for as long as players and copies of the game are available.  The thudding malaise of the industry does smother improvement and innovation by giving a bullhorn to the stupidest, least imaginative participants (the non-productive 80%), catering to their needs and structurally building a public persona to match those expectations.  Yet we'd be hard pressed to locate an industry that doesn't do this.  The harder pill to swallow derives from the "productive" 20%, who are prone to climbing onto a cross whenever some beloved part of their game is threatened by legitimate improvement.  All the blame cannot be assigned to capitalism.  At least one part in five must be assigned to dogmatic quasi-encephalitic fundamentalism.

"Encephalitic"?  Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain.  It makes a far better term to describe the online intellectual pollutant than "flame wars."  It's difficult to promote change and growth in an atmosphere fed by tetchy man-boys clinging to the few good memories they had before they were ten — namely, game modules written at a grade eleven reading level hoisted on pedestals formerly occupied by fantasy writers who are degraded now for the crime of not having been born in the "woke" 21st century.

But ... now I'm just taking pot shots at random.

My larger point is that the folderol surrounding capitalism and its billions, the "evil" that wins in the end, evaporates like a puff of smoke the moment some technologist invents something more interesting than Instagram.  Technology giveth billions and technology taketh away.  D&D's value is that it's not based upon a product or a gadget, but upon small groups of humans collaborating in real time, with a set of rules not dependent upon what a hipster or a company thinks.  The whole world does not sit at my gaming table; the whole world has no say in the kind of game I run.  I need the cooperation of just two to four other people ... a number that's far too small for a big company to design for, while being just the right size to commit whatever heinous acts personally suit our ilk.  It defies mass marketing by not depending on what the mass market needs or wants.  It defies influence by the rich.  It does not need a public voice to function, and unlike the "crafts industry," it does not need buyers or sellers.

It needs our friends.  And ONLY our friends.  The rest of the world and what it thinks, the hue and cry of lost artistic dreams and whatnot, the sad demise of the originators, the failing shark tank of present day family members squabbling over scraps, can all just fuck right off.  Because they're irrelevant; just as "the Christian gawd" is irrelevant to the kind of sex I had earlier today, despite 2000 years of trying to dictate how that's supposed to go for all of us.