In light of today's earlier post, I have a puzzlement. Some here are familiar with my attempt a couple years ago to apply myself to writing adventures on another blog, "Authentic Adventures," that sat behind a $10 patreon tier. The motivation to add to the blog refuses to materialise ... so I intend to remove the tier from my patreon before it can mislead others who are hoping I'll continue to write there. Sorry. I just cannot get into the traditional production of a "module"-like adventure, no matter how non-module it might present.
Friday, December 30, 2022
This 40x20 mile section of Kiyev Oblast was created for a reader because he asked. I suspect he's living in the city of Obukhiv as we sit, which is all of 21 miles from Kyiv. And he is a D&D player.
The map isn't accurate to GoogleEarth. There, the Stuhna appears to be a trickle that never reaches the Dneiper. I suspect it's part of Kiyev's water supply, or perhaps just for the area which is quite dense. The valley is clearly there and suggests a much larger river, which I've created. The lake near Obukhiv isn't included because it's too small, barely a mile across.
All the towns are real places.
I make more of these kinds of map on this blog.
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
Monday, December 26, 2022
And so a completely frivoulous post-Christmas post, not about D&D. It is about a game however, though it feels less like a game and more like an exercise in maintaining one's attention.
The game is Euro Truck Simulator 2, which I got for myself, just before Christmas, when I was assured it wasn't "under the tree." I'd played it a bit; enough to drive from Luxembourg to Braila, through Poland and Slovakia. It's definitely interesting to drive through areas that I've mapped.
I won't talk excessively about the game, except to explain that you're provided with a truck, you have a choice of roads to drive, so you can transport goods from one place to another. The truck is quite pleasantly realistic; a physical driver's wheel, pedals and gear box can be purchased to play the game, or it can be played on the keyboard or with a mouse. Being Christmas, the wheel I wanted wasn't in stock, so I'll have to wait to get it.
Beyond that, one learns how to manipulate the vehicle to keep it on the road, maintain speed, avoid breaking the law and avoid damaging the truck and the goods therein. One has to find places to sleep, find gas, get around difficult turns with sometimes two trailers, handle strange European road configurations (unless you are European) and generally be a good driver.
However, NOT being a good driver has few actual game consequences. The early game enables you to learn how to drive by charging you nothing for your mistakes, allowing your "employer" to fix the truck for free-to-you no matter how many times you roll it, and paying for most other mistakes you'll make. It doesn't get serious until you buy your own truck, thus making yourself responsible for your own mistakes. Until then, you can drive the truck off cliffs, into other cars, across country (as long as the vehicle lasts), ignore and smash other traffic out of the way, ignore police tickets, arrive super-late with cargo and so on ... without meaningful consequences. The way the game is set up, you can play this way indefinitely.
This evokes an elucidation on my part. To repeat, consequences only result from the game IF you choose to accept a path that creates consequences. This suggests a psychology experiment in my mind, one worthy of a PhD thesis.
As it's a videogame, theoretically ALL the actions taken by a given player could be recorded, exactly, within whatever parameters a research could want to set. We could, for example, record how many times a person broke the speed limit, how many accidents they had, how often they forgot to use the turn signal, how long it took when the sun set to remember to turn on the headlights, how long they left the wipers running after the rain stopped ... and hundreds of other extraordinarily detailed aspects of the game that applied specifically to a person's attention span, respect for others on the road, respect for the rules of the road, respect for the importance of the cargo being transferred and so on.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we decided that instead of computer driven cars, it was possible to get a job as an "online driver" of an actual physical truck moving along highways in the real world. The terrifying aspect of that would be that you, as said truck-driver, would crash this 50-ton vehicle through someone's house ... because, not being in the truck, YOU'd have nothing to lose except your job. Unless, of course, we could ask you to sign a waiver accepting personal responsibility, and costs, for whatever damage you caused.
On some level, it wouldn't be such a bad job. You'd be a "truck driver," but you'd do it from home, which would mean you wouldn't have to abandon your wife and children. When you slept, it wouldn't be in a truck cab, it'd be in your own bed. You'd eat meals out of your refridgerator, not in some miserable truck stop. When you needed to pee, you'd pull the truck to the side and pee in your own bathroom. We could strip a lot of crap out of the cab that wouldn't need to be there, because you're not there. But then, how could we trust you?
This goes back to the assessment of your driving the truck simulator. Every aspect of your ability to drive would be interpreted intensely, and after, say, 500 hours of investment on your part, which you could put in after work at your present day job, you'd be able to prove that you have characteristics that demonstrate your trustworthiness. Those things would absolutely be measurable. By example, you don't forget to check the mirrors. You don't bang into things. You always hit the wipers when you ought to. You don't speed. Ever. Because you're the kind of person that doesn't.
There'd be tens of thousands of people who wanted to do the job I've described, who simply wouldn't make the cut. The computer would note dozens of things they consistently failed to do ... things that demonstrated how many people wouldn't be the sort that could be trusted. It wouldn't matter how desperately they wanted the job or how many hours they put in. Their own choices and movements would demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they absolutely shouldn't be granted that kind of responsibility.
Okay, so, let's ditch the concept of a remote truck driver. That part of the argument isn't relevant. What matters is that no matter what sort of job you wanted to do, a program like the truck simulator, which offers no punishment except the standards by which you measure yourself, defines who and what you are as a "responsible person." Imagine a universe where you're not permitted to sit in the cab of a real truck because, basically, your own actions over hundreds of hours told employers what kind of person you really are. Nor would it matter if you wanted to be a driver. The same standard applies to EVERYTHING. Would you make a good cook? A good doctor? A good counselor? A good assembly line-worker? We could tell in no time. Even 20 hours would give us a quick predictor of what sort of responsibility you ought to be given, since after assessing millions of people, a computer would recognise certain habits you were going to retain from just the difference in hundredths of seconds regarding your pressing the gas pedal when the lights changed.
This idea no doubt frightens a lot of people. Truth is, it exposes what you and I are. There are no resumes, no letters of recommendation, no application process, none of that crap that's supposed to tell a future employer that you're reliable or that you're able to do the job. We have already built the program that can tell us that. And right now, it's been played by probably a few hundred thousand people.
Think about it. You may cringe at the idea ... and obviously I doubt this particular program's going to be used for this purpose. But the world is not full of only stupid people. Someone else very smart, very connected and with capital is working on a process like this, right now, that you're going to have to step up and face, probably in the next decade. If not, then I think that makes me the smartest person on this planet.
Personally, I'd be for it. Assess me. I'll own whatever the assessment is. For the record, I'm a terrible driver. My son-in-law, who plays hand-eye-coordination games rapidly performed two jobs in short order without any mistakes. Having never played the game before, and without any training except five minutes of my telling him what buttons did what. Took him 20 minutes. He's an electrician, in his 30s, expecting a promotion to a management position on an office-building site in the next year. He'll probably get it.
Meanwhile, I've flipped the truck unintentionally about ... 11 times? Thereabouts. I'm getting better. In any case, I don't know how the blinkers work yet. From a physical manipulation perspective, I'd be overwhelmed trying to remember to turn them on. I'll remind the reader, I don't have a driver's license. I've never had one.
But I'm absolutely certain that any assessment of my skills as a truck driver would prove that I'm responsible enough to be a stay-at-home writer. Especially if the door were locked from the outside.
Friday, December 23, 2022
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Sorry that I've left this blog to laze about a bit ... it's only that while I've been working on the wiki, I haven't found something "sexy" enough to post here. Recent writings include socage, the barter economy, fulling mills, notes payable, land ownership, windmills, debt and elder authority. Individually, these are dry, dry subjects, some of which are probably wholly unfamiliar ... but the collection of these things helps to establish a vision of the game's setting apart from the majesty of cheap adventure writing. But because I understand the lack of excitement these things convey, I've held back discussing them here.
Still, it's work done, in case people have wondered why I haven't posted here in many days, especially with my leaving such a crummy post to carry the load of appealing to new readers. Ah well.
Coming into Christmas, my "job" requirements are down to about four hours a day (I'm on salary), and I have straight time off coming the day after tomorrow, which should last until just after New Years. I'm on "call," but last year that amounted to my editing two paragraphs. Sorry, sorry. Shouldn't talk about work.
That doesn't mean I'm going to be writing more here or on the wiki, or on my mapmaking blog either. I'm seriously thinking about investing some money into the European truck simulator game, which I've been talking about for about a month and which someone might buy for me for Christmas. I'm unhappy that there's a time compression element to the game. In my mind, if it takes 116 hours and 23 minutes to drive from Lisbon to St. Petersburg, then that's how long I should have to play. But I'm obsessed with these stupid ideas.
If we can talk about the process of design and the effort of work for a moment, a lot of my day is a gentle up-and-down slope of stress, de-stress, stress, de-stress, with the goal to create a flow that has no serious peaks. In real terms, this means getting into a task that requires intense concentration and problem solving, followed by periods of getting a cup of coffee, chatting for an hour with my partner Tamara, digging again into a different hard task, putting that down and playing a light video game, then taking up another hard task and so on, as steadily I move from awake and alert in the morning to drowsy and resistant to another hour spent on some kind of work after nine p.m. I take a shower, tell myself there's time to work tomorrow, recount how much I've done in the day and read myself into the grave of sleep.
Overmuch de-stressing can lead to self-doubt and depression, which causes the mind to resist any possibility of engaging in new stress. But sometimes one has to take two or three days to quit everything, even when there's no pressing need to get out and do something. I'm not like most people. All my family from the previous generation has passed on now. I don't communicate with my siblings, nor have I associations with any cousins. I have a younger clan that plays D&D with me, a few friends that are, like me, no longer interested in going to bars in the evening. We don't see each other often because we're all working on our art. It's what we wanted to do when we were teens and it's become central to our lives now.
The younger clan is likewise busy: they rush around, they go to bars, they shop all day or slave at jobs. I see them to play D&D. I see my grandson once or twice a week, when we take care of him so my daughter can rush around. These are my connections to the outside. I have one event for Christmas: I'm making Christmas dinner on the 25th. Apart from that, all my time belongs to Tamara or to myself. So of course I have a lot of time to spend here, or on one of the other projects, or playing a truck-driving game.
I remember when all my Christmas days were filled by someone's calendar: working without time off, dinner with this family, dinner with that family, nights out with these friends, nights out with those friends, Boxing Day parties, New Years' Eve parties, office parties, volunteer events, school plays, church plays, seeing the philharmonic play Handel's Messiah, all of it. But hell ... I got, um ... tired of it. I mean, how many years can you sit in an auditorium and listen to the same musicians play the same piece, before realising there's more to life?
Being broke for those years after 2015, then being forced inside through Covid, I've come to realise I rather like a quiet, event-less season. I enjoy the idea of Christmas, of course ... I watch my favourite Christmas movies, buy gifts, get a tree together ... in fact ...
Recognise the picture behind the tree? I've had it more than 20 years now.
Yes, those are boxes behind the TV (they have books and magazines), and that is and AC unit tucked under the table, reminding us that it was summer. It's -25C outside and it's supposed to be -40C tonight; was last night, and is supposed to go on like that all week.
All this is to explain that while I work all the time, I also don't work all the time. The prospect of sitting quietly for four hours driving a make-believe truck strikes me as very relaxing; I can ponder the next wiki page or blog post, I can stack my thoughts about how the hamlet page gets organised, I can plan a road trip next year, I can think about longer term projects, and still feel not bored. I'm doing something. If there's anything I hate in this world, it's not doing something.
Feels like a tremendous waste of my time.
Thursday, December 15, 2022
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
This is the recently created new Authentic Wiki Logo, created by Kelly Schwartz, who is very close to one of my patreon supporters:
Kelly's done a terrific job, based on my earlier version of the idea. Rather than figuring out how to navigate mediawiki, I've sent the pic off to my server manager, who should have it up as soon as possible.
Looks just like I think D&D should look. Death, hack, gold.
One thing about dedicating myself towards pure game design, I find myself getting into the weeds with the content I'm creating. Having completed, sufficiently for now, a page on type-7 hexes, I considered those pesky red links that appear on the wiki, indicating there's no page to visit yet. Before going ahead with further descriptions of facilities, I should address those. After some thought, I decided the "settlements" page was very sparse, and that the 6-mile Hex Map page could definitely use developing.
With both, the difficulty of those subjects quickly become apparent. Using a blog post about settlements I wrote some months ago, I built this settlements page on the wiki. On the surface, it looks fairly short, but the issue is that to describe what I do, I have to invent a number of terms, and then explain what those terms mean. I'm never completely sure I'm being understood, which makes me anxious. Explaining even very simple arithmetical formulas can easily confuse a reader, so that I find myself becoming desperately pedantic, without knowing if that approach even works.
As such, I hated writing the wikipedia page. I hate the page itself. I know of no simpler way to describe what is, for me, a very easy process ... but that's because I built it to serve myself. Then again, it makes sense to describe my approach as best I can, since others could and probably will benefit from it. Still, it's not nearly as fun as writing a page about gong pits.
With the settlements page behind me, I undertook the 6-mile map page. This was absolute hell. It requires a lot of different pictures showing lots of different bits of information, all of which has been collected and built since twenty years ago, which I haven't had to explain to anyone, ever. There's something exposing about not only explaining what I do, but why it's the right thing to do. I find myself getting defensive and there's no reason for it; yet this is partly the effect that the internet has on all of us. We're doing something that no one else, anywhere, is doing, and yet we feel we have to defend it because we know there are voices out there who are ready to cry out, "Stop doing that! It's bad!" For reasons.
Fitting the various images with the text, to make it look accessible ... well, it looks good on my monitor. I use a zoom of 110%, so that letters appear on my desktop rather small. If I push the view up to 150%, the pictures jump all over the page and it looks like crap. I have no solutions for that. I would have it that wikimedia would let the text be adjusted by the reader without adjusting the size of the pictures; if someone knows how to do format that, let me know.
I have a characteristic that says if I'm going to get into describing something, I should describe it all. This is not always a good thing. It's like describing a fictional character's clothes by getting into how the buttons were sewn into the character's waistcoat. Still, with mapmaking, it feels like skirting over an issue is going to leave the reader going, "Where the fuck did that come from? I don't understand why he decided to do this ..."
There's no winning, I suppose. Chances are, I've forgotten to explain some part of the process along the way and I'm going to get the response anyway. These are, after all, only a first draft. I can make them better. Though I need some distance. I've stopped editing anything I created in the last three months. It's just better if I edit that same content as much as a year later, when like a reader, I have no idea what I meant.
Well. I need to do a post about rivers, but I'm going to kick that can down the road awhile. Two of these explaining technique posts are enough for now. I'll be happy to dig into a page about something as simple as cloth mills.
Monday, December 12, 2022
Thursday, December 8, 2022
Check this out.
I'm the sort of fellow who likes to throw the ball over the wall and then figure out how the wall's climbed. I don't have any pages for any of the above links, but of course the concepts all exist in the real world, so it's a matter of applying those concepts to the D&D world. All of these things existed in the 17th century. Nearly all of them were present in the 13th. Most of them are totally ignored where D&D is concerned. Gygax's understanding of medieval economics has served me well for many years, but it's time to throw out those crutches and examine the higher concepts of gaming.
One thing I like about D&D is that I'm not limited to the game maker's perception of how an object or a social practice functions. Unlike a video game, where the local inn operates in very specific ways, enabling me to rest before returning to the game's rigid programming, I can take a D&D inn all apart and examine every facet of a truly functional inn from every angle. There's no game rule that exists saying I can't buy an inn, run it, supply it with liquor, use it as a cover for illicit political activities (a la The Tale of Two Cities) and as much else as I conceive. It's only blind, unwritten convention that constrains me from breaking free of the frigid game's non-evolution.
Who knows what games might sprout from ideas like accepting state contracts or investing my money in war bonds to support my country of choice? Only my imagination.
I hear D&D is a game of imagination.
Monday, December 5, 2022
I'd imagine this would drive many traditional D&D players crazy. They'd see the rigidity of the concept as incredibly limiting, though obviously it's anything but. Whereas we're usually given a rough population figure, say either 20-80 people or fewer than 20, here we have detailed numbers that dictate a thorp might have anywhere from 3 people to 38, accounting for things that might exist. No river, no dock, no mill. No trees, no sawpit, no woodcutters. Hell, no farming, no anything, except perhaps a well. One that's natural, of course. No point in sinking a well if there's no one around to draw water.
Everyone has a reason to be here. Thus, if the players are here, they know what those reasons are ... and the very nature of the thorp defines what benefits the players might derive. They can barter for food here. They might be able to catch a boat here. They can get a sack of grain turned into a sack of flour, all at rates far below city prices. The party can make arrangements to bivouac here with their tents, more assured than usual that they won't be harassed. They can make friends here; find a servant here, if there's a youngster older than 14 who's desperate to get out and see the world, all moon-eyed at these players who've been to the big city.
It's a useful place. And they're scattered all over. If I go back to the original sentiments for this blog, it's a place that offers the players the opportunity to build something. Not that they should assume the locals are pushovers, just because they're isolated. Any one of these might be an ex-soldier, whose seen and done things the party hasn't yet. It's not a good idea to push around strangers. You don't know where they've been.
For me, I like seeing the hammer concept come together. Collect the individual parts, fold them together and create a thorp. Collect more parts and make a hamlet. Collect more and make a village. Keep going, right up until we're building palaces.
Hope I can do that. Some of these descriptions are really going to tax my imagination.
Friday, December 2, 2022
I know I'm supposed to be creating new spells and monsters, but somehow I feel these are the things that have been overlooked for insane amounts of time, and should have been put together as a splatbook 40 years ago. It's not just a general description of a simply-built house, either ... it's the expectation that I'll be adding other houses, more elaborate houses, explaining various wood and stone constructions, and eventually providing floor plans for dozens of buildings. Why has this not been done already?
There's little understanding, I think, how this sort of reality — a dangerous word to use — provides a grounding for players who find themselves in the actual game world. If the fabric of the setting is allowed to endure as a sort of greyish smudge, the players cannot help but assign the same characteristics to every building, every location, every group of people. Thus there's no sense of place, because the DM wouldn't know how to begin describing the interior of a peasant's house, or remotely explain how farm goods end up appearing on a shelf at Equip-o-Mart, the Adventurer's Convenient Retail Store™.
But, as many rpgers will tell us, the game isn't about "reality." Sometimes I wonder if that's because it's so damned hard to produce a believable setting that we've lampshaded the whole idea that conveniently permits the lazy DM an excuse to do fuck-all. Not to mention the company as well. I can't speak for the fantasist, but I actually live in reality, a place I rather like, the general ignorance of American courts and youtube film critics notwithstanding. One of the things I like about reality is how gawddamned tactile and real it all is, enabling me to put my coffee cup on its heater, knowing it'll be warm and joyous next time I reach for a drink.
Knowing is a pretty darn good thing. Much of a players' time in a campaign is spent not knowing a bloody thing, either because the DM has forgotten to explain it, or conceive of it, or because the game itself is a sort of tourist bus the players board until they're let off at the dungeon's entrance to begin their "adventure." Please, everyone, the bus leaves in three hours. Please remember the name of your tour company and set your phone alarm to remind you when it's time to come back.
Everything between town and the dungeon is like that stuff a tour guide mutters at the front of the bus, pretending you care.
But, yes, I'm not blind. I know that hovels and garners are pretty dull things. It's not like there're going to be adventures like White Plume Garner and the Secret of Salt Hovel. I get that. But the reason I take time to fill in these boring details is so you don't have to. Then, if something someday occurs to you that you need to give the players some kind of rumour or a place to stumble into when coming out of a forest, maybe you'll remember that page about the building that stores grains, fruit and vegetables before they're moved onto town.
That'll be a nifty detail to give your game world three dimensions.