Thursday, November 30, 2023

Books, End of November

I joined Audible some three months ago, around the end of August, mostly because I was jonesing for Hornblower books, which I became familiar with on youtube but which had all vanished.  Since, I've considered using the service — since I've become less and less interested in youtube this last year — to reacquaint myself with books I read decades ago ... both good and bad.  There are many books in my recollection which I haven't read since my teens, and many others I never finished; there are books that I've "read," but in some expurgated version, or at a speed commensurate with the needs of university.  As I expect I have several decades of time ahead of me, I thought perhaps this might be the best way to sustain a part of my education which, I'll admit, has lapsed.  I read far more new books in my teens and twenties than I have since turning 40; and there are many, many classic books that I've never read — though in many of those cases, I could describe the plot and even the theme of those books quite easily.

For the blog, I thought it might interest some readers what those books have been these last three months.  I thought I might even include the embarrassing ones, since after all I read quite a lot of second-rate books in ancient times, and there's nothing wrong with revisiting such works to see how one has changed in viewpoint and tastes.  With an audio book, there's no trouble in finishing something; there's always some opportunity to listen to something while doing the dishes, walking to the store, exercising or waiting at the doctor's office.  One definite reality with getting older is there always seems to be an enormous amount of available time in doing things that keep one from doing something more enjoyable.

So, here's a list of books now fresh in my mind, for anyone to comment on, or anything someone might like to talk about if they so desire.  Do not hesitate to roll your eyes at some titles; as I say, the process is a journey through time.  I'm not, after all, trying to obtain an academic degree.  Included is an estimate of the last time I read the book (in quite a lot of cases, I've read the book more than once before).

Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne — 1998

Captive of Gor, John Norman — 1989

Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov — 1983

The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck — 2004

The Happy Return, C.S. Forester — 2021

Lieutenant Hornblower, C.S. Forester — 2021

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Howard Pyle — never

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, C.S. Forester — 2021

The Puppet Masters, Robert Heinlein — 2015

Roughing It, Mark Twain — never

Ship of the Line, C.S. Forester — 2022

The Stand (1989 version), Stephen King — 1995

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens — 2001

The worst of these was unquestionably Robin Hood.  Far, far worse than the John Norman book.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Thorn in My Side

Of all the elements of creating and describing a setting, the most difficult is surely the weather.  Most manage the problem by pretending that the game world maintains a perfect 72 degrees at all times, that rain hardly ever happens, that the climate everywhere is more or less southern California and that there's no need to worry about it.  Players don't come to experience weather.  If they want weather, they can play outdoors.

For me, the issue that's plagued me these last ten years arises from conveying the proposed weather, or temperature, to the players.  Consider just this part:  the players wake on a morning with overcast skies; the temperature is a brisk 43° F, or 6° C.  In some measure, we have an idea of this temperature, but it must be admitted that it's easier to relate to such in October or November than it is in July.  In fact, that temperature feels very different in July.  Moreover, as I've said elsewhere, how does the player character know it's 43°?  There are no thermometers in a medieval setting.  Daniel Fahrenheit was born in 1686.  Even if someone had created settings for a tube filled with mercury or alcohol (and it hadn't caught on), that scale wouldn't have matched Fahrenheit's.

Put that aside.  Take a moment, just now, and describe 43° F to another person.  If you want a real challenge, do it without the number ... but in fact, having the number gives very little help in describing that temperature.  In general, without the physical evidence of the weather, you're sure to do a poor job.  Worse, I dare anyone to make a distinction, in words only, the difference between 43° F and 53° F.

Finally, there are many, many people in the world for which 43° F is so unlikely that they've hardly ever encountered it.  I had a friend once in Australia who lived on the edge of civilisation about 100 miles southwest of Brisbane, upon a stretch of land he'd owned.  Once, he told me, he'd woken up one morning and there was a skein of ice atop the water bucket on his back porch.  That was the closest he'd ever come in his life to experiencing snow.

So, for those living in such parts, or the reverse where they've never experienced a temperature above 37° C (for no one in such parts uses Fahrenheit), how does D&D address their needs?  How does the DM explain Sahara-like temperatures to a player in Hammerfest, who's never left Norway?

This, of course, falls into the category of Things Alexis cares about but no one else does.  For ages I've wanted to provide even a baseline of descriptions for 10-degree gradations (using Fahrenheit, since Celsius doesn't divide easily into distinctive categories) and been utterly stumped.  There are no pre-existing descriptions for weather at various stages, because, as academia would probably ask, what would it be used for?  What purpose could that serve?  Writers creating stories don't need that sort of specificity.  It's sufficient just to say, "It was a cold morning; Derek felt his flesh arise in goosebumps as he zipped his jacket closed."

Too, for a lot of DMs, the actual weather can fit into three categories: it's cold, it's pleasant, it's hot.  Nuance is unimportant.

The problem has been a thorn in my side for about 12 years.  I started using "temperature grades" in my online campaign back around 2012, having divided the thermometer into gradations just before.  I've posted these on the blog before and on the wiki, but here they are again for convenience.  It's an old picture and some slight changes were made in the base temperature, but nothing meaningful has been altered.  Those who are confused by Fahrenheit numbers can find the celsius equivalents on the wiki.

The point, however, is to escape the use of numbers altogether ... to be able to tell players it's "chilly" and have them understand what the weather's like without needing to add that the temperature is about 35° F.  That's next to impossible, however; we're far too dependent as folk upon the use of numbers to equate temperature, as I've found — which is odd, of course, as for 2 million years human beings used their senses alone.

Over the years, I've spent too many hours trying to research out a description for each of these.  It's amazingly hard, as language isn't designed for the purpose ("cold" covers everything on the chart in blue) and as I said, there's no effort to describe the feel of weather on the human body in any categorical fashion whatsoever.  There are materials on how temperature affects the ability to work, but these pay no attention to temperatures below balmy on the chart shown.  There are details about clothing, or the insulation provided according to "CLO," but that pays little attention to anything above warm.  It's a part of human experience that academia has chosen to ignore entirely ... and my own attempts to build a series of descriptions based on my own experiences have been unbelievably difficult and impractical.  Thus, the problem has sat, like staring out into the rain.

"So all we could do was sit, sit, sit.  And we did not like it, not one little bit."

This last summer, I began to suspect that chatgpt might manage the problem.  It has, conveniently, much of generalised human experience at its beck and call and doesn't give a good gawddamn about the "usefulness" of a bit of knowledge or material to constrain it's usefulness — unlike, say, anything produced by a university.  I thought about what parameters ought to be considered in producing a set of descriptions and beginning with my slow onset of health on the weekend, began running some tests.  Then, last night, in the space of about 75 minutes, I created a complete list of 19 different temperature grade descriptions.  They can be seen on the live links of the wiki page linked above ... though no doubt, some readers here have already been there.

There's still work to be done on each, as the descriptions are sweeping in scope.  Necessarily, in many cases, the distinction between two different temperature grades on various descriptions are unchanged or nearly so.  Let me demonstrate, with the subject of "community gatherings," for four different temperature "conditions" between "chilly" and "pleasant":

Chilly. In the social realm, community gatherings gain prominence as people seek warmth and social interaction in inns, taverns, or communal spaces. Trade and commerce might experience fluctuations as markets witness reduced footfall due to the cold, necessitating adaptation of goods to suit the weather conditions. Character interactions deepen as the weather fosters closer ties within communities, emphasizing reliance on one another for warmth, resources, and safety.

Brisk. Community gatherings continue to serve as focal points for social interaction, but trade and commerce witness a resurgence as markets experience increased activity due to the milder weather. Adaptation of goods to suit the temperature becomes less stringent. Character interactions maintain their closeness within communities, emphasizing cooperation and mutual support.

Cool. Community gatherings continue to thrive as social hubs, fostering interactions in pleasant weather. Trade and commerce experience increased activity in markets due to the comfortable conditions, allowing for a wider range of goods without strict adaptation requirements. Character interactions retain their cooperative nature within communities, fostering stronger bonds amidst the agreeable weather.

Pleasant. Community gatherings continue to be lively social events in the agreeable weather. Trade and commerce flourish as markets witness increased activity, offering a diverse array of goods suitable for the climate. Character interactions maintain their cooperative nature within communities, fostering camaraderie and mutual support amidst the enjoyable weather.

Each gives a nuanced sense of what it's like to shop or move about an urban area given the approximate weather, in a meaningful way that can easily be applied to a D&D campaign.  Still, a lot relies on the DM to make sense of the above and extrapolate some description of his or her own ... as in, what products are available for purchase or what sort of "lively" social events might be taking place in pleasant conditions but not in cool.   "Agreeable" weather isn't "enjoyable" — but seriously, when was the last time we made a distinction like that for the purpose of game play?

As I said, these are things I seem to care about, though no one else does.  It's unquestionably difficult for a DM to make the adaptation being suggested here.  Apart from even being able to say what the temperature actually is (as most DMs have no rules whatsoever for such things, preferring the "SoCal" model), this approach asks for constant addressing of moderate descriptions and then remembering those descriptions in addition to all the other things a DM must know.  Is it worth it?  I think it is, if the DM is sufficiently invested in the concept and can properly invoke the distinctive material on demand.

But here again, we are moving forward into a very different world.  Just look at how in a very simple manner, with less than two hours work, I've been able to generate the material provided.  Consider the advancement of this material into a more interactive framework, where during a game I merely need to say to the Chatbox sitting on my D&D table, or nearby, "Tell the players what the weather is like," and the device is able to reproduce my voice, my cadence, while giving a full and indepth description, while I give my attention to other things.  I can pause and say, "Give them a little more description about what sort of stalls are included due to the city and temperature where they are," and the Chatbox does that.  Get ready, 'cause it's coming.

According to Nick Cave, supported in this reading by Stephen Frye, chatgpt is supposedly a "threat" to creativity.  What a bunch of hokum.  My contribution of creativity in this post is in no way threatened.  I saw the flaw in describing temperature.  I outlined the problem.  I foresaw the possible solution.  I selected the parameters.  I'm the one able to use the information provided for further creative ventures.

But without the technological advancement made here, without the tool, I'd still be dead in the water.  We make TOOLS as human beings to solve problems.  It stuns me that bright, capable people, standing in front of other tools and inside buildings that were invented to solve other problems can have their head so far up their ass they can't see the good of something.  That's the death of creativity, not chatgpt.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

(nov 25)

Again, no comments or questions today.  Thanksgiving in America is largely responsible.  I'm sure there'll be content for a Q&A next week.

If readers wish to ask a question or submit observations like those above, please submit  to my email,  If you could, please give the region where you're located (state, province, department, county, whatever) as it humanises your comment.

Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.


I'm considering adding an appendix to these posts that lists reworked pages of the authentic wiki.  Because I've been sick this last week, there'd be little point in doing so today, but it wouldn't be a bad complement to provide a list of this kind for the future.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Fading Time

These past two months, I've not been very healthy ... the cold I had through October has just hung on week by week, and come last Saturday I was struck down by something so brutal that it knocked me off my feet for three days.  I'm quite sure it was covid though the two home tests both came back negative.  The weight on my lungs, though I felt little breathlessness, coupled with a weakness and chills that made minimal self-care nearly useless, says otherwise.  I've recovered steadily these last three days, to where I now seem to have only a head cold.  It's been unpleasant.

I want to write a post.  I've done just a little writing of late: editing for the workplace and some on the wiki, all at a turtle's pace.  I have an idea for a post but as of writing this sentence, it's naught but scattered pieces and thoughts.  I think it'll be a swing and a miss, but here goes.  Warning, spoilers.

The Hundred Foot Journey is a film released in 2014 about a family from Mumbai who are seeking a better life in France, where they hope to establish a restaurant.  The story thread follows the young Hassan, whose fascination with food was emplaced by his mother, whose passing away violently at the film's start initiates the family's journey.

Though Hassan is a naturally gifted Indian chef, he at first becomes fascinated with French cooking techniques, the cooking of which he succeeds at through diligence and talent.  Soon after, he learns to blend his heritage with French cuisine, achieving success and fame through the process that delivers him into the epicentre of Parisian haut cuisine and the "next big thing."  The film's development of this narrative is careful, patient, intuitive and completely believable; this, I argue, from twenty years that I've spent in the food industry in light of the people I've met and worked with.

Nothing I've said so far could possibly spoil the film for anyone who enjoys food.  There is much going on that I haven't mentioned, and won't ... but with one more spoiler, I wish to explain that this Parisian life turns out to be wholly unsatisfying for the character.  The film manages this subtly; it would be easy for an individual without experience in food to believe that the end is all about family ... but the details of the film are quite clear.

The pursuit of new things, for the sake of novelty, is empty.  Appearance for the sake of appearance is hollow and lifeless.  Personal satisfaction cannot be found in doing "great things," because such things are transient.  Once they've been done, once the celebration is passed, it's as though the great thing was never done, and the rest of one's life opens like a yawning abyss devoid of meaning.  This is what Hassan realises.  He ceases to pursue the new; he turns his back upon Paris.  He returns to cooking good food, for the sake of the food being good.  This is why I like the film.

Forgive my indulgence in this rhetoric.  It's only that of late, I've progressively become aware of something that — though having encountered it many times before — has never been quite so clear as now.  I ascribe this to a number of chance films I've seen over the last ten days, about which I've had time to think and consider.

Once upon a time there was an actress named Marlene Dietrich.  The reader may have heard of her.  Spanning over a portion of the 20th century, she was perhaps the most glamorous and intensely mysterious woman in the world, possessing qualities that allowed her a career that would defy comparison to any actress that's worked in the past thirty years.  It's difficult to truly express what this meant.  Dietrich's relationship to Germany in the 1940s, to millions of G.I.'s, to the presence of sexuality in film, would be difficult to grasp for anyone without some sort of personal experience with that time and the people who loved her.

This, I'm finding, is one of the more bizarre elements of growing older.  To be clear, I have no personal memory of the time that Dietrich was a moving force in the world.  I was born in 1964, well after her "heyday," and to me she was just another old star like Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart.  But I was alive and conscious in the 1970s, when the mention of such persons was a common, everyday part of conversation.  Were I to write this in 1971, there'd have been no need to explain who Dietrich was.

I have more to say about her, but first I want to address this phenomenon ... not as something negative or positive, but just as something that's impossible not to notice.  One of the more fascinating things about the decline of fame isn't that people cease to be famous ... but that idioms and common references to things steadily dwindle away.  This is hard to explain without having experienced it, but I'll try.

A couple weeks ago, listening to Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (published in 1951), a paragraph in the book referred to events in "Little America."  Hearing that, I had to pause and remember what that meant.  Naturally, the reader might think of the show on Apple TV, but this reference was to a part of Antarctica that was claimed by the United States during the mid-20th century as part of their scientific exploration and research efforts.  In my youth, the region was mentioned as often as the moon with respect to science writing and fiction, as a place of great adventure, as somewhere so profoundly unreachable that it thrummed with romance.

But, until reading the book, I don't think I've heard the term used in more than 20 years.  It's still in my head ... but for nearly everyone younger than 50, the term might just as well never existed.  And that's just one of hundreds of such terms for every decade that's slipped into the past ... that, for me, are still progressively slipping into the past.

I'm not a "live-in-the-past" sort of person.  I'm educated about the present too, as much as I can be ... which weirdly makes all the detritus from the past that much more strangely irrelevant.  To pull a moment of thoroughly irrelevant garbage out on the spur of the moment, I saw the television episode of Murphy Brown where she had the kid, personally witnessing all the hullabaloo that went around on the news at the time, talked about it with people at the university and so on — and it's always funny to me when some youtuber dredges up an event like that, reads a few magazine articles and then purports to shove out a cruddily-researched stockumentary.  I'm always stuck going in my head, "It wasn't like that at all," but what good would it be to say that?  For one thing, as details of world history go, it's utterly irrelevant; for another, all history is changed.

Let's go back to Marlene Dietrich.  By the 1950s, she was growing tired of the industry.  She could choose any film she liked and if she graciously agreed to appear in a film, the film did well.  But her discontent had become well-known; people talking about her would never fail to mention that they wished she'd work more.  That is, people talking around me when I was a young kid, completely fascinated with watching old films, as I still am now.  In her last decade with Hollywood, before returning to her cabaret roots, she chose to work for friends like Fritz Lang, Orson Welles or Stanley Kramer, masters of filmcraft in their day.

In 1951, she played a small part in an obscure film based on a Nevil Shute novel, No Highway in the Sky, working with Jimmy Stewart.  The story is immaterial.  Dietrich plays a famous film star, essentially herself, who has reason to believe the plane she's on is going to crash.  This allows her to give this speech:

"The moment and each one is like, kind of a present isn't it?  You know what I was thinking about just then?  All the people who come to my funeral.  That'll be quite an occasion ... there's my agent.  Oh, he'll be so sad.  He had five more years to go at ten per cent.  And then there's Laureen Carin; oh, she'll cry the most.  She'll give a beautiful performance.  And then she'll try to get the part in the picture I was going to make.  I suppose that's why I don't feel the way I thought I would.  I would have stopped working quite a while ago if I could have figured out what to do with myself.  I was married three times but it never came to anything.  I wouldn't be surprised if it was all my fault.  Maybe providence is trying to tell me something.  Maybe it took a first class high dive into the middle of the Atlantic to make me quit."

What an odd vignette, from this star, to a largely British audience; the film was made at Denham Studios in Hampshire England, in a time when such films rarely jumped the pond.  But of course Dietrich made many British films in the 1930s.  Did she find it funny?  There are a dozen self-referential moments in the film, as one might expect.  It can be seen for free on youtube; I watched it for the first time last week.

"Greatness" is not what we think it is.  For the great, as I said, it's something that happened ... not something that's happening.  I don't want to haul out Sunset Boulevard here.  There are literally thousands of real life examples, we don't need to reach for fictional ones.  If you're old enough to remember the 1990s, sit for a moment and consider how many names you can dredge from your memory right now, you have no idea what they're doing, or even if they're alive.  How many from the '80s?  From the '70s?  And if you've lived long enough, how many celebrities, sports figures or politicians can you remember taking for granted as recently as 9/11, who aren't dead, but might as well be?

Value in life is not found through greatness.  It's found in the standard we hold ourselves to, and only that.

Well, I've had my say.  I'll apply myself now to getting healthier and pursuing work on my game world.  Someday, I hope I feel well enough to actually write my book.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

(nov 18)

There is no Q&A today ... my postings failed to encourage comments this week.  Better luck next Saturday.

If readers would like to reply to the above, or wish to ask a question or submit observations like those above, please submit  to my email,  If you could, please give the region where you're located (state, province, department, county, whatever) as it humanises your comment.

Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.  

Thursday, November 16, 2023

About Math

A warning about expertise.  Especially expertise based on math.

Since the late 19th century, it's been understood that of all the sciences, math is king.  The principle reason that any math beyond adding, subtraction, multiplication and division is taught in elementary school comes from a very strong desire to root out those children who have a natural aptitude for math as early as possible and get them on the right road.  It's for this reason that everyone else is made to suffer — including a lot of teachers, who have no idea this is the purpose of early math classes and so feel duty bound to ensure that every single child in reach learns geometry and, later, algebra.

In 1958, Isaac Asimov [a favourite writer of mine] wrote a short story called The Feeling of Power.  In the story, most humans have forgotten how numbers work, so they can't add or subtract without using a calculator.  The art of performing math with pencil and paper has been lost.  Then a lowly menial technician named Myron Aub reverse-engineers how to do math the old fashioned way; he tells his supervisor, who describes the technique to higher ups until finally the military establishment realises that this makes every person into a potential thinking computer.  When Aub learns that the military is using his discovery to kill people, he commits suicide.  Yet the cat is out of the bag and people are learning again that math gives one "a feeling of power."

Sorry, spoilers ... but you've had 65 years to read the story.  Don't dally.

The story is fine for 1958 when "computer" was still a job title for a human being who figured mathematics with paper and pencil.  We're living in Asimov's future and the mathematics being done in the present is far, far beyond any single human being's ability to calculate in the space of a lifetime.  Were Asimov alive today, he could not realistic propose the story he wrote then.

Generally, when we think of automation putting people out of work, we imagine fairly ordinary jobs like assembly line workers and farming; we're on the cusp of eliminating new positions like Amazon pickers or delivery drivers. 

But expect this trend to go much farther than people expect, because workers surrounding the fields of mathematics are next on the chopping block — and by this I mean engineers.  As things stand now, obviously, there's absolutely no way that I could design anything physical.  Physical things are a collage of measurements, stresses, fit-together parts and environmental factors.  In short, the application of a precise tool for design, math, being used to overcome an extremely imprecise real world.

Over these last five millennia — a mere drop in the bucket of all human existence — we've gotten much better at superimposing our imagination in a theatre of imprecision.  Until now, however, this has required the creation of mathematical tools first, then an education and quality assurance system to codify those tools, so they could be safely applied to make both little and big things, from a toaster to an airline jet.

For that reason, there's unquestionably a very large part of the educated world that feels comfortable in their roles as designers and engineers.  If you're fresh out of university, or heading into one, a warning.  In 30 years, the most important value you'll have is your ability to imagine things that don't exist.  Your value as a technical advisor won't be worth diddly-squat.  There'll be a program that does that for you.  Chances are, your entire association with actual math is going to be remembering that it still exists, in one form at least, though you'll never actually do math personally.

Most are going to be very surprised by that.  And frightened.  And lost.  Mostly because any engineer I've ever known took an attitude that "imagination" was a superfluous thing that humanities and social science students have.  NOT engineers.

By 2050, the best engineer is going to be a humanities graduate.  Who won't need to know one thing about math.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Robin Hood

 "Story, at least in the European tradition, requires conflict.  Characters must be flawed, they must make mistakes, their opponents must get the better of them.  Things in some way, shape or form need to get bad, need to entertain uncertainty.   In Return of the King, a conventional story, Denethor's actions must bring Pippin and Gandalf and Faramir low, in order to create the tension that will be relieved later in the story when the conflict is resolved.

"However, these basic mechanisms of narrative tension are at odds with the needs of propaganda ... the subject of propaganda has no arc but upward.  They begin strong and stronger, they crush all that oppose them, their opposition is flimsy and victory is trivial."

Dan Olson, Trimph of the Will and the Cinematic Language of Propaganda

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire, published in 1883 and written by Howard Pyle, is an awful book.  Interest in the character of Robin Hood had grown all through the 19th century, starting with his appearance in Walter Scott's 1819 book Ivanhoe, and Pyle — an American — was significant in cementing the version of Robin that dominates the 20th century and the present.  All the jargon about robbing from the rich and giving to the poor was central to The Merry Adventures, which pulled together multiple myths about the band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest that firmly established that list of familiar names.  Pyle invented none of the characters, so far as I know ... but he expanded them, give them additional parts to play in other stories while rounding out the merry band.

However, the stories are simply ... bad.  Every fight goes on and on for an hour without either contestant succeeding in striking the other; Robin is forever blowing three blasts on his horn to "summon five or seven score men" to overwhelm his enemies; there's never any doubt that Robin's going to succeed at some effort — and worst, in nearly ever story there's hardly a conflict at all.  By pretending to be someone other than himself, largely playing the part badly, Robin merely catches people unaware and then robs from them.  It's so obvious where the story's going that it's painful to sit and wait for the resolution to arrive.

Yet every adventure is describes as great and greater still, with none of the Merry Men ever being in real danger, not for a second.  It is as described above:  a really awful sort of propaganda for an England that's as interesting as a pasteboard sign outside a failed restaurant.  It's been something of a trial to bear up, to reach the end.  And that says nothing of the terrible, terrible verse that every character sings at every opportunity throughout.

There is nothing so boring as winning.  If anyone doubts me, get yourself on audible and have a listen.  If you're paying your monthly fee, the book is free; it costs no credits.  The audio version is not quite 11 hours.  I'll bet most couldn't get through two.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Bridge to a Present

As a boy, I remember my parents getting progressively more involved with a neighbourhood bridge club ... that is, the card game.  This consisted of some two score player teams, mostly couples, with games organised at private houses on agreed-upon nights.  How it worked was thus; using a physical bulletin board, or this heavy plastic-and-metal object called a "phone," as a host you'd try to organise just eight couples for an evening from the available much-larger pool.   Eight couples made four tables; and most people in my parents' monetary bracket could easily afford a set of four folding card-tables.  My parents stacked theirs next to the washing machine.

If you didn't wish to host, you could put your name down on the board and get yourself invited to someone else's house.  My parents would play weekly and about once every six weeks (though not in the summer), they'd host their own game.

The preferred version that my parents played still is called "duplicate bridge."  Imagine, if you will, four tables where the hands are pre-dealt before anyone sits down.  Each hand is put in a sleeve, which is ready for the players when sat.  Then the hand is played, the score is counted, and the original hands are replaced into the sleeves for the next players.

Imagine, if you will, four tables arranged in a manner that we'll call East, South, West and North.  I'm going to use Anglo-Christian names here, because this was the 1970s and, sorry, everyone was AC.  So imagine the Randalls and the Johnsons are playing at the East table.  At the south are the Holts and the Brimsmeades; at the west are the Bolters and the Paxmans; and at the north are the Nicheforucks and the Williams.

So all four tables play their pre-dealt hands.  Get ready, because this gets complicated.  Here's a diagram, if it helps.

From each table, on the second round, the green couples all move counter-clockwise, while the tan couples move clockwise.  To the table where the Johnsons have just played the Randalls, the Holts arrive from the south and the Williams arrive from the north.  See, the idea is that, eventually, each couple plays at all four tables (not seeing the same hand twice), and at no time do the same couples ever play against each other.  Here's a diagram for the second round of play.

At this point I start to get confused.  For the third hand, if the Johns keep going clockwise and the Randalls counter-clockwise, they'll play each other again; so instead, the tan couples continue going clockwise and the green couples jump across the compass, from north to south, south to north, east to west and west to east.  That is, the Holts and Nicheforucks switch, as do the Bolters and the Randalls.  Which gives this layout:

Confused beyond all reason?  Yeah, me too.  It takes adults to invent a system like this.  In the end, I couldn't figure it out.  I end up with four couples all shifting tables and having to play each other again.  The duplicate bridge rules I could find online are all for more than four tables at a time ... so I can't say for a fact this is how my parents and their club did it.  I was nine.  And in bed.  Under threat of extreme punishment, because this was the 1970s when parents were still allowed to beat their children.

Anyway, I'm getting caught up with details.  My failure to make sense of the dance aside, I went through this process to give a feel for the dance that occurred after each round of play.  All together, sixteen people get up, go the bathroom, get drinks, smoke (right there in the living room, because that was also expected) and otherwise talk about the oil crisis or what a bunch of twits those Liberal bastards were under Trudeau.  That is, the other Trudeau, the present-day one's father.

Laying in bed, not sleeping — of course — I could hear the shifts being made.  I listened to a room of adults laughing, falling quiet, laughing, falling quiet, in a familiar routine.  Without music playing, because they didn't.  Bridge nights were always a Friday.  They lasted until midnight, and many's a time I remember my parents coming in after midnight when going to play at someone else's house ... not drunk, at least not that I could tell.

But on a Saturday morning I'd get up early (I always did, the best cartoons were on early) and find that my parents were too tired to clean up.  That was rare; they were usually demons for a clean house and I'd get up and the living room would be pristine, my father having done it before going to bed.   But sometimes, nothing was done.  The folding chairs were still in place, the ashtrays full of butts, wine-glasses still with a swallow of vintage in them.  Those weren't my first taste of wine (we were allowed a tiny eggcup-sized sip on Christmas), but they were a taste I had from time to time.

Bridge was not just a game.  It wasn't merely social.  People cared about testing their skill against one another, which is the purpose of duplicate bridge.  The winner (and there were door-prizes in private homes in those days, usually a bottle of something but it might be other things) was the couple that scored best playing the same hands.  Skill mattered.  Performance was measured in points.

If all they wanted to do was just play bridge, they could have moved round the room and dealt new hands with every round.  Apparently, that wasn't satisfying enough.

Now, I could say something about how casually those folks drank while playing cards, which nearly everyone does, now as then ... and how infantile it is to find some brands of people muttering that, absolutely, D&D shouldn't be played while *gasp* drinking!  But as it happens I don't drink during D&D.  I don't care if others do, but they don't either.  Not because it's wrong — I mean, seriously, is there some sort of accident that happens involving dice, pencils and a miniature I'm not aware of?  But because we want our heads about us.  It's a thinking game.

Moreso than bridge, I guess.

I think rather I want to highlight any sense that D&D isn't reality, or that reality isn't D&D.  Gathering a table to play, I'm not running a group of "characters" or that of a fantasy realm.  I'm employing those tropes to create an unusual set of problems which a circle of humans undertake to solve.  As a DM, the act of stringing words together to convey a scene, or extrapolate on a player's action, is honest work that takes effort and skill to do well.

Managing a player demands a host of other skills, from handling and explaining rules to lifting the spirits of individuals who are having a bad night — sometimes from the dice and luck, and sometimes because they lost their jobs just two days before the game.  It's admitting that we're wrong and giving ground when that's called for, and standing on a line and not taking one step back when a point needs to be made.  It's giving a "good game," but it's also not selling the game's cow when milk's going to be wanted on another day.

I don't do these things in a "fantasy world."  My player may want some terrific piece of bling that could be used to smash a host of enemies, and I may be willing to let that happen — but every minute I've got to guage in my mind what the consequences will be for me, the game, the player, the other players and what sort of games I'll be running to ensure a challenge still exists.

In bridge, the cards do most of the work.  The order of cards provide an umpty-upt million combinations that keep the game fresh, at least for bridge players, but when running the game, I am the cards.  And it's foolish to think that responsibility isn't very real when handling both long-time and new players.

It urks a little, then, to be told I take the game "too seriously," when that comes up now and then.  What I take seriously are my friends — their respect, their approval, their sense of satisfaction and their unavoidable life-driven difficulties, whatever those are.  Asking me to "relax" or "take it easy" means, to my stupid ears, like I'm being told not to give as much as I can to my friends, who deserve every drop.

This is no doubt because of how seriously my parents took bridge night.  When the game was "at home," dinner was early, the dishes were done early, the living room's set up was sacred, and woe-betide any child who was seen when the doorbell rang with the first guests.

Now, obviously, that sounds odd to the modern sensibility.  Lest anyone be uncertain, I don't ascribe to any of the nonsense my parents did.  My players all knew my daughter when she and I were both much younger, and naturally my grandson knocks everyone's elbow during games now.  He moves from lap to lap, begs candy, sometimes delays a running all by himself and I don't mind.  I'm only speaking of how the event of game play was treated in my childhood, though the game was different.

It can't be coincidental.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Friday, November 10, 2023

Saturday Q&A (nov 11)

Chris C. writes:

You have asked for comments, but your reply to others' blog posts is also a comment of sorts. I have to admit I need to read your things in moderation. It's the discomfort: I should be writing D&D; I should be pursuing opportunities to gather players. You have made an impact as a writer beyond D&D when it starts spilling out into the real world, you know. The lifestyle of The Way (and guilt outside its departure). I feel some fear over telling the next bit, but here goes: one search result for "fighting claws" turns up a Wikipedia article on "bagh nakh," a weapon from India. And this brief bit: "poisoned bagh nakh had been used by the Rajput clans for assassinations. The most well-known usage of the weapon was by the first Maratha leader Shivaji who used a bichuwa and bagh nakh to kill the Bijapur general Afzal Khan." Is that not enough of a seed to launch a thousand adventures?

Would I the conviction to suddenly study Indian history, and begin my own hex tiling of some region, and launch a campaign setting thereby: India in the 1400s, perhaps, using your wiki as a rule- and sourcebook. It's all very exciting and fertile, as greenfield projects tend. Even so India itself, which in tech circles float the whisper of castes and its discrimination. (And that's just when everyone is human, not half-orc, elf, or the like.) The other is China: in the age when junkers sailed as marvels, the sea and its navigators. There's a clear ending point too: when the emperor closes off and shuts down the navy, and what could have been. Here, the players could certainly launch into their own cleverness.

As someone new to Advanced D&D, as you say, both my son and I should be firming up our mechanics and such. So it won't necessarily be India or China or Europe in culture or flavour, but a bit of what essence may filter through our limited lens, from what we have read, or imagine, and of course with much liberty as could be granted as high fantasy for children, in weavings of parables or a spin on children's tales.

Answer: I'm the first person to argue that the greatest danger in seeking knowledge is that you're liable to run into someone able to write or say something that makes everything you've believed sound like the thoughts of a fool. Happens to me, happens to everyone. I got my first doses in early grade school and those were fundamental to my wanting to be a writer. Writers had changed my thinking and made me feel a fool, and I felt compelled to spread the word of that foolishness-feeling to others. After all, why should I be the only self-aware fool in the room?

I was, though, and am, most of the time. I see NO difference between D&D and the real world, not because I'm I think D&D is the real world, but because D&D is a part of that world. The advice that works in D&D works in the world; the knowledge of managing players is the same as managing anyone. Give them the tools to do the thing right, first, and then, when they know that right way, let them challenge it. Nothing wrong with eventually allowing the player to obtain "fighting claws." Of course they're real weapons; we would not have them in our fiction if they didn't exist in fact. But jumping straight to claws is bad form for someone who hasn't yet swung a common weapon. That's no how we train soldiers; it's not how we train martial arts students; it's not how we train those in grade one to read.

On another point, there no such thing as "a seed" to launch a thousand adventures. In reality, you need a thousand seeds to launch one adventure, because adventures are not built upon a nifty fact from a history source. Adventures, like the game itself, are constructed of hundreds upon hundreds of game elements and structures, imagination and intuition, only one of which can be grown from a single seed. Nay, what's needed is a field of seeds, and another field beside it, and another in back of the house, and a fourth to lay fallow until next season.

Elizabeth in France (temporarily) writes:

I appreciated your recent post on the development of the Sage Abilities. At the end, you say that this is also used for non-levelled NPCs, and from the wiki, they can gain knowledge points through instruction only. This implies that the Expert and Sage levels can only be achieved by levelled characters. What is your opinion on NPCs fulfilling the role of e.g. expert cook, or expert weaponwright, with the resultant supernatural abilities?  Do you think that the equivalent of Wayland the Smith should always be a levelled character?

Answer: To put the sage abilities into context, the very best chefs there are in the real world would have "authority" status; there are no experts or sages among cooks, nor any other profession, since magic does not exist. It the real world, Wayland would be this — but since he IS a mythological character, then I must argue, in D&D at least, that yes, he's a levelled individual. He achieves notoriety for his skill and receives experience when the king enslaves and hamstrings him, and more when he kills the king's son, and from the treasure he presumably takes along with the winged cloak, which is more experience. We may think he has other adventures and continues to advance.

But ... we may also propose a rule that if a character works at a profession, and does not go adventuring, spending a set number of hours at a task per year, perhaps 1200 say, then at the end of the year the character can make a wisdom check which, if successful, gives 1d4 knowledge. Therefore, a non-levelled person, being trained as a youth, and spending 40 years at their tasks, and succeeding in half their wisdom checks, and rolling average on their dice, could add 50 points of knowledge by the time they reach their mid-50s. If they were a bit luckier still, they could reach the level of sage, without needing to be levelled.

Nigel R. in Germany writes:

Thank you for your overview in "The Wherefore and Whyfore of Sage Abilities."  I admit to having had some confusion over why these were "sage abilities" instead of abilities, and that is now clarified.

I used to play a lot of Rolemaster. I/we liked it that a fighter could hide or climb, a mage could use a sword, and so on. However, as everything became a roll, it got too much. I like the idea of assumed knowledge that does not require a roll. You’ve previously given your personal example of pan searing salmon, and I can, for example, pack 8000 wine bottles into boxes at high speed without breaking one, whereas a newcomer could not keep up, and would drop things.

My question is, how do you handle sage abilities that “oppose” each other? For example, Group One is tracking Group 2, but Group two is expecting this and is employing some sort of “counter tracking / hiding tracks” measure.

Or, as a second example, Group One has a guarded campsite, but Group Two is attempting to use stealth to get close and ambush? Is this resolved on a ‘higher level (or skill level) wins’ basis, or is it "embedded" in the descriptions of the respective abilities, or is it something else?

Answer: Some sage abilities do require a roll, and many of those have to do with the "opposition" you describe. Looking at the rules under stealth, you can see adjustments to the distance that a character can approach based on the level of the "observer," whom one tries to approach.

Additionally, there's a sage ability called "counter-tracking," in which the pursued creates situations that slows down the pursuer, that allows shaking off pursuit by increasing the distance between the two. When being tracked, what's required is to spend time creating a situation which, to be resolved by the tracker, takes them MORE time than it took you. Thus, they fall further and further behind, giving the opportunity for the pursued to reach a village where tracking would be impossible, or for a rainstorm to occur, as that fouls everything.

I'm not particularly pleased with the counter-tracking rule; it's jumbled and overly complicated, and I'd prefer something simpler, but the circumstance it's trying to capture is tremendously complex and generally not within the purview of a D&D campaign. This is why a lot of rules for certain things in the game are garbage — it's very hard to gain the sense of what's happening with die rolls. But I take stabs at these things and later I try to improve them. The wiki is good for this; with time, a rule gets better through rewrites.

Never had a character use the counter-tracking rule, and for that matter I can't ever recall a situation in 40 years where an NPC has tracked a party. Nonetheless, the rule is there.

Taylor R. writes:

Your most recent blog post “Climbing’s a Bitch” mentioned climbing shoes. This jogged my memory of a podcast I listened to a while back. The Irish of the Aran islands used a leather sandal which they kept constantly moist to protect their feet from the sharp rocks while they climb over the scree which cover their islands. The source the podcaster is using was from later than your game’s time period, but as he’s describing the remote Aran islands, I imagine their style of sandal had been around for a long while. I’m not sure how useful this would be for you, but it struck me as a good example of local knowledge using limited resources to adapt to their region. Could fit in with a sage ability?

Answer: That would very definitely fit in with a sage ability. Perhaps maintaining shoes of this nature and knowing how to tie them properly is part of the scrambling ability.


Thank you for your contributions.

If readers would like to reply to the above, or wish to ask a question or submit observations like those above, please submit  to my email,  If you could, please give the region where you're located (state, province, department, county, whatever) as it humanises your comment.

Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.  

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Climbing's a Bitch

For those persons exploring the use of my sage abilities, who may also use encumbrance rules, just recently I've thrown a nasty curve ball into dungeon adventures and hauling treasure.

These are my scrambling rules:

The page explains it, but doesn't say that I'm imposing an arbitrary limit on three sorts of general movement based on the slope of ground involved.  For the present — and this may need adjustment at some point — I'm imposing no penalties on movement over ground that has less than a 30° slope.  There's no rule at all for any kind of slope in the original D&D rules, so I think this is safe.  I'm saying that any slope between 30 to 60° is very moderately hazardous, and that it takes training to move over it easily.  It's not said above, but slopes above 60° fall into the as-yet unwritten rules surrounding mountain climbing.

I've tried a couple of times to write mountain climbing rules, but remember I'm trying to make rules that have a bare minimum of die rolls, so the trouble has been to define the difference between a skilled person climbing a mountain with the reassurance of not falling, and situations where falling is distinctly possible, for anyone, regardless of skill.  I'm not a mountain climber; mountain climbers do not, unfortunately, describe their skill-set like a game metric.  Thus for the present, on that score, I'm stumped.  But I haven't tried it yet with chat, so we'll see sometime.  Not a rush.

Scrambling I've done.  Lots of it.  Not lately, granted, but I've climbed hundreds of yards of scree, roamed the inside of ice caves not under maintenance by a tourist department and maneouvred over bare rock between the 50 and 60° range.  It is very hard for some people and not to be treated lightly, though of course it ought to be doable for player characters, even mages and bards.

It's important to remember that all persons in the game world would be doing it without stippled shoes or crampons, without nylon ropes or straps, without a steel peg hard enough that it can be pounded straight into rock and so on.  This doesn't make scrambling impossible, but certainly it slows down the effort, since hurrying in the kind of boots that existed in the 16th century would have torn them to shreds in less than an hour.  We can't climb a scree slope in stockings, can we?

The speeds on the sage ability page are intended to reflect that.  An unskilled climber in poor shoes takes a 12-second combat round to move five feet up a 30 to 60° slope, because the shoes have to be protected.  Right off, that's a damn slow speed to move if there are a half dozen goblin archers 20 hexes upslope, who can see climbers every time they move out from behind a rock.

A good scrambler, on the other hand, might hurry from rock to rock well enough to get shot at less, while closing faster with the goblins.  Of course, we can't be sure the scrambler's strong enough to take them all on, alone.

That's not the cruel bit, however.  The cruel bit's the encumbrance.

My encumbrance system is highly individual to the character.  It's explained on the wiki (see link above), so I'll make this brief.

Let's say you weigh 231 lbs. and you have a strength of 15.  I've constructed a table on excel that takes these details to determine how much you can carry before losing movement, which is measured in "action points" (AP).   Most humanoids have 5 of these.  Every action your character can perform is measured in how many AP it takes to perform it.

The table shown indicates that your character can carry up to 44 lbs. and experience no loss in AP.  At 45 lbs., and anything up to 89, the adjustment is -1 AP; or, rather, that you have 4 AP.  Look at this short paragraph under "climbing speed" for scrambling:

"This [movement] assumes an encumbrance that allows the character a normal movement rate of 4 AP per round. Should the character's movement be 3 AP per round, this climbing speed is halved. An unskilled character carrying enough equipment to lower their movement to 2 AP per round could not climb slopes of this nature."

Therefore, as a robust, fairly strong character, who's also unskilled in scrambling, you can only climb or descend at even a slow pace as you don't carry more than 89 lbs. on your character — and trust me, after armour, weapons, gear and clothing, that's not so much weight to carry.  If you lower your normal movement rate to -2 AP on the chart above, or "3 AP," carrying a weight up to 134 lbs., you move at half speed.  One hex every two rounds climbing, 2 hexes every three rounds descending.  Carrying even a moderate sack of newly acquired gold coins, it's going to take you a long time to reach the bottom.

There's no way at all that you can hoist some massive chest on your back and head off.

And it's much, much worse for elves and other small characters.  This second table shows the encumbrance penalties for an elf with a 15 strength and a weight of 100 lbs.  The table, understand, works as a ratio of your strength measured against your weight.  An elf can't carry as much as a great big human.  It's one of the benefits there is in my game to being human.  You may not get a +1 to hit with sword and bow, but you can definitely carry extra weapons.

This elf-version of the table is brutal.  Remember that while an elf's armour has less body to cover, the weapons are still the same weight, and so are the coins, the rope, the backpack that holds the same amount and so on.  If you want your elf to be well-equipped when you get to the dungeon, all the way up there on the mountainside, you'd better hire a porter to carry it for you, so you can dress in it when you get there.

And this is what I like.  Players would no doubt carp and moan about the "unfairness" of it all, or how it "kills" gaming and what not, but for me it says that the goblins are pretty smart to choose a cave that's 2200 ft. above the valley floor.  If a party wants to kill those smart goblins, they better be smart too.

This is how tropes get broken in D&D.  It's how we throw a curve ball at the player who's all, "Oh well, climb to the dungeon, same-ol, same-ol."

I haven't thrown this at my own players yet.  I just know they're not going to like it.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

A Normal Part of Development

My grandson visited today.  He turned three in September and has discovered the raw, joyful thrill of endorphins for himself ... which is to say that he's learning he can run full-on into things face first without actually hurting himself.  This has built up slowly where it comes to cushy furniture and the 30-inch rubber workout ball that drifts into different parts of the apartment, but today it was my thigh — which I had to turn in his direction lest he, um, "unmanned" me.

Smashing face first into my thigh and bouncing back, then stumbling and falling to the floor, was instantly the best game in the world.  So he jumped up and did it again, with the same spinning, tumbling result.  Laughing, giggling, he rose and ran straight at it time after time, while I stood there, not hurt, letting him slam his whole strength at me over and over, about two dozen times.  I saw no reason to stop him.  He was having so much fun.

Then he backed off way across the room to get a really good run, 20 feet or so, stumbled on the way but absolutely ready to hit me as hard as he could — but I scooped him up and spun him around and let him go, to trip over his feet and fall on the floor, laughing and laughing and laughing ...

As I said, he's three.  It's not the same with every child, but as children's understanding of the world increases, and especially the limitations of their bodies, their sense of self and capability changes.  They want to test their physical limits; and if that's managed and not discouraged, so that actually hurting themselves too soon can be prevented, it potentially leads to a growth in confidence and curiosity.

He climbed up on the ottoman by the sofa today and I watched him tense himself like a cat to make the two foot jump from one to the other.  It was obvious he knew what he was doing and that he grasped the meaning of it.  A year ago, napping on that couch, he rolled over and fell headlong onto the floor, scaring the bejeezus out of himself (though he wasn't really hurt).  Today he leaped, easily made the distance, crashed into the sofa cushions and went wild with laughter.

Then, before I could stop him, he leaped back to the ottoman.  Not good; just beyond the ottoman is the coffee table, and if he'd crashed into that ... well, let us say it's not made of cushions.  Still, he gripped the ottoman like a cat when he landed and saved himself.  He has two cats at home.  He's plainly been watching them.

Now, today's subject is "fear."  Couple days ago I posted a cruel and angry rant about saving throws for death, which perhaps was unkind ... not that I really care.  The metric is essentially designed to assauge a weak sort of person against the severity of having to lose a fictional character in a game, so much that even knowledge of spells that bring back the dead aren't sufficient to ease the terrible suffering of such fragile sops.  These are not people willing to make a leap to a light piece of furniture that might tip over and smash them into something hard enough to give a few bruises.  I explained this consequence to my grandson (who knows if he understood me) and asked that he only leap from the ottoman to the sofa.  This was in no way dangerous, as I was right there, the sofa is deep and has lots of cushions, and anyway, endorphins.

He didn't do it the wrong way a second time; but he might when I'm not there.  When I think of the things I did when my parents weren't there ...

I don't want to applaud him, or even encourage him.  But I definitely don't want to punish him, because part of growing up is learning to judge oneself against one's fear.  He was evidently proud of himself; he shone a look at me that said, "Wow, did you just see that?"  I probably smiled.  What kind of monster would a person have to be not to smile at that moment?  But I didn't say "good boy" or "do it again."

I'll encourage a player to be brave.  They're not three, are they?  And somewhere along the line, they've talked themselves out of daring a consequence, even a very mild one, so that they'll stand back in my game and fear getting in and mixing it up.  I had a case of that happen a month ago, where I encouraged a player who lacked the magic weapon he needed to hit the gargoyle, to run in anyway.  "If nothing else, you'll take damage that someone in the fight with a magic weapon won't have to take."

The reader may doubt this, but the player reasoned this out and took me up on this.  He's new to the game, and although he'd already been in two fights, his character Torvik wasn't getting anywhere because my system is based on taking damage to get experience.  Holding back, not fighting up front, trying to hurl his club or fist-sized rocks and missing (a fist-sized rock does as much as a dagger, but it flies badly), Torvik wasn't getting anywhere.  So he waded in with the gargoyle that he couldn't hit.  Whereupon the gargoyle 20ed him and he took 16 damage.  Which, thanks to negative hit point rules, he survived.

And at the end of this fight, he went up a level.

We might say, he jumped for the ottoman and didn't fall over.

Friday's running, four days ago, Torvik hurried up to get straight into the fight (he rolled maximum for his 2nd level hit points) ... only to get blasted by a 7 damage burning hands spell seconds after he'd arrived.  So he got bruised a bit.  Still, he's got the equation in his head now, so that he's excited about taking damage and getting a chance to actually fight.

Somewhere, that little boy inside Torvik's player is slamming into God's thigh and laughing.

I know it may sound silly to many to make a metaphor out of this, but it's tremendously human for a small boy to act this way ... just as it sets up so many opportunities for scared, fearful parents to stop the boy from running into their thigh, or daring to make that two foot leap, or doing anything really, because something might happen.  I don't need to go down the road of explaining where this "something" leads to.  Certainly not to good D&D players.

Anyone who may happen to enter my D&D world certainly won't be held to some standard of toxic masculine risk-taking.  They'd die pretty quickly that way.  But if the game can provide a basis upon which an adult can engage in an activity involves some level of risk or emotional damage, which might make them a little more daring, and thus able and willing to test their intellectual and psychological limits, then I'd hope they'd acquire an increased confidence3, curiosity and desire for novelty and excitement.

This could only be a good thing.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide. 

Monday, November 6, 2023


Rewriting the death page on my wiki, I ran across this:

In Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), death is a significant element of the game's mechanics and storytelling. D&D is a tabletop role-playing game where players create and control characters who embark on adventures in a fantasy world. These characters can meet their demise under various circumstances, and the game rules define how death is handled.

When a player character (PC) reaches 0 hit points or falls to a negative hit point total equal to their maximum hit points, they become unconscious and are considered "dying." At this point, the character typically starts making death saving throws at the beginning of their turns to determine whether they stabilize, continue to lose hit points, or die.

The key aspects of death in D&D include:

1. Death Saving Throws: A dying character makes death saving throws at the start of their turn. A d20 is rolled, and a result of 10 or higher is a success, while 9 or lower is a failure. A result of 20 counts as two successes, and a result of 1 counts as two failures.

2. Stabilization: If a character accumulates three successes before three failures, they stabilize and are no longer in danger of dying, although they remain unconscious. If a character accumulates three failures, they die.

3. Healing: Another character can attempt to stabilize or heal the dying character using spells or abilities that restore hit points, preventing the need for death saving throws.

4. Death: If a character accumulates three failures on their death saving throws, they die, and their character is considered deceased. The player might need to create a new character to continue playing.

5. Resurrection: D&D provides various magical spells and abilities, like "revivify," "raise dead," "resurrection," or "true resurrection," which can be used to bring a deceased character back to life, though these typically come with limitations and consequences.

Death in D&D is an integral part of the game, and it can lead to dramatic and emotional moments in the storytelling. It serves to add a sense of risk and tension to the adventures, as players must carefully consider their actions and decisions, knowing that their characters' lives are on the line. The handling of death can vary depending on the edition of D&D being played and the house rules of the Dungeon Master (DM).

 I'd like to propose another rule for Texas hold 'em in the same vein:

If there are two or more players remaining after the final betting round, they reveal their hole cards.  When it happens that the player with the worst five-card hand is revealed, then that person draws another card from the deck and adds it to the total number of cards in his or her hand, which applies only to that player.  If this isn't sufficient for that player to obtain the best five-card hand, then another card is drawn, and if that card still isn't sufficient for the best hand, then the player draws two more cards.  And if that isn't sufficient to win the hand, then the player with the original best five-card hand wins the pot.

But if any of the newly drawn cards do enable the player to have the best five-card hand, then the player who originally had the best five-card hand should now draw a card to see if that's sufficient to restore that player's lead.  If it does, then the original losing character should draw another card, and so on, until all the cards in the deck are gone or until one of the players, after drawing four cards in succession, fails to have the best hand.

What's really weird, is that in trying to discuss the concept of death with chatGPT, which wrote out the rules from what I presume is 5th edition, it kept saying that if the player couldn't bring the player back to life, then the game was over for the player:

"They may no longer engage in the game's events, respond to interactions, or contribute to the ongoing narrative. Instead, the player's role shifts to that of a spectator, observing the unfolding story and the actions of their fellow players."

It took bending over backwards to get the program to admit that players "might" begin the process of creating a new character to rejoin the game.  Like this is so anathema to the concept of the "unfolding story and the actions of their fellow players" that it's hardly worth considering.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Saturday Q&A (nov 4)

Sterling in Maine writes:

Going back to your August 15 post, "Not Enough Game," I'm in agreement with your conclusion that Gygax and subsequent developers of the game became hung up on dungeon delving to the exclusion of other parts of the game that I believe were envisioned early on. In the last issue of the Strategic Review in April of '76, Gygax wrote, in the context of explaining the differences between magic in Chainmail and in D&D, "While miniatures battles on the table top were conceived as a part of the overall game system, the major factor was always envisioned as the underworld adventure, while the wilderness trek assumed a secondary role, various other aspects took a third place, and only then were miniatures battles considered."

We might take "various other aspects" to mean elements like "TERRITORY DEVELOPMENT BY PLAYER CHARACTERS," which received 1 page of rules in the DMG and a paragraph for each of the three character classes permitted to pursue it: clerics, fighters, and magic-users. Arguably rangers too, since they "conform to the fighter class in other respects" and territory development is not explicitly mentioned in their class description. How a ranger could ever build a stronghold, even though the PH says he can, when he "may only own those goods and treasure which they can carry on their person and/or place upon their mount" is a mystery to me still. Given how few rules were provided around this activity, I'd this is an area of "not enough game" ripe for development. The "various other aspects" got short shrift and miniature battles no consideration in the rules.

It's clear to me, though not from the rules provided, that the dungeon is meant as the means for the lower level character to acquire sufficient experience and wealth to reach "name level," establish a territory, and thence consolidate sufficient force to conquer neighbors, expanding territory and thereby economic base to undertake greater conquests. The game seems destined to go from being a cooperative pursuit early to a competitive one later as the former dungeoneering comrades become rival lords. At this stage the game has become a wargames campaign and the DM has become the referee.

Some of the "more game" that's most needed is the development of economic base to support warfare. That's where I intend to focus my efforts in my current game. I hope you'll develop more in this area too, perhaps in the context of hammers, bread, coin, infrastructure, and so on on your wiki.

Answer:  I can't disagree with that.

Griffin writes:

I've been wondering when during the game, precisely, you award experience and grant new levels? Working on the assumption that someone can't just gain a level in the middle of combat.

Experience kicks in right after finding the treasure? Until it gets back to some safe area? For combat XP, right after the combat ends? After a period of rest?

Answer: Combat experience is awarded after every fight, since it depends on who actually survives. If a character dies during a combat, whether or not they can be raised at once or returned by death's door, that character receives no experience afterwards. The shock of having died, and the recovery therefrom, creates a traumatic break that causes the character to have no memory of the combat; therefore, both experience from having caused damage or received it, or bonus experience, is denied that individual. This merely sends the message that the character lost that part of the game and is therefore not rewarded.

Since experience isn't awarded until the combat ends, no, there's no way to go up a level during a combat. Of course, it's possible to have a combat, receive experience, go up a level, then enter a new combat within a few rounds. This assumes that the previous combat ended completely, so that for at least one combat round, there are absolutely no threats nor expected threats before the party. If, for example, as the last orc in this combat was dying, the sound of orc boots could be clearly heard rushing along the corridor towards the party, the combat wouldn't be counted as ended yet, since plainly it isn't.

I grant new levels instantly.  I've played a system where the player had to return to town and train. It added nothing to the game. The illogic that some find with instant levelling up, I find, detracts nothing from the game. Players work for their experience. When they get the points they've earned, they've earned their advance.

I also tried a system where the players had to buy material wealth with their treasure in order to get experience: property, goods, paying for hirelings and so on. Again, it added nothing to the game.  I give the players experience for the treasure they find, when they find it. It's easy and I find it detracts not at all from the players motivation to continue playing, nor the tension of the game.

I appreciate an argument that something should be "realistic" as much as the next DM ... but for me, the line drawn is what improves the actual game play and what just creates a lot of player inconvenience for no good purpose.

Shelby writes:

I was curious about your opinion on the following after reading last week's discussion of sage abilities. A while ago, I got ChatGPT to generate a list for Forgery. It seems to me to follow the pattern fairly well. I have not edited the content beyond simple formatting:

Faux Documents: The character can create simple false documents such as letters, permits, or identification papers that appear legitimate at first glance. These documents are convincing enough to fool casual observers but might not withstand intense scrutiny.

Signature Imitation: The character has practiced imitating signatures and can replicate the handwriting of others. This ability allows them to sign documents on behalf of others, potentially fooling those who are not intimately familiar with the original signature.

Seal Fabrication: The character can craft imitations of official seals, insignias, or stamps used to validate documents. These fabricated seals appear authentic at a glance and can lend an air of credibility to the forged documents.

Simple Disguises: This ability extends to more than just written documents. The character can create simple disguises for themselves or others, using basic props and changes in attire to assume new identities briefly. These disguises are effective against casual observation but might not withstand close examination or scrutiny.

Masterful Replication: The character's skill in forgery has reached a level where they can replicate a wide range of documents and artifacts with remarkable accuracy. Their creations are so convincing that even experts might find it difficult to detect the forgery without detailed analysis.

Subtle Manipulation: The character has developed the ability to subtly manipulate the content of forged documents to achieve specific outcomes. By crafting documents that convey certain tones or wording, they can influence readers' perceptions and decisions without arousing suspicion.

Complex Disguises: This ability allows the character to create intricate disguises that extend beyond simple props and attire. They can use special effects like makeup, prosthetics, and even temporary changes in voice to adopt entirely new personas, making it exceedingly difficult for others to recognize them.

Invisible Falsification: The character's forgeries are so advanced that they can create documents, markings, or seals that are virtually indistinguishable from genuine articles even under thorough inspection. This ability involves expert techniques like microprinting, invisible inks, or hidden watermarks that remain undetectable to all but the most astute observers.

Temporal Mastery: The character has honed their skills to the point where they can imitate the writing styles and materials of different historical eras with exceptional accuracy. They can replicate documents that appear as if they were genuinely crafted during specific time periods, fooling even knowledgeable historians.

Multi-Layered Deception: The expert forger can create documents that hold up under intense scrutiny from different angles. These documents might have concealed layers of meaning, codes, or hidden compartments that only reveal themselves through specialized techniques or knowledge.

Crisis Fabrication: This ability allows the character to craft forgeries quickly in high-pressure situations. Whether under time constraints or while being observed, they can create convincing documents on the fly, perhaps even forging entire narratives in dire moments.

Living Persona: The expert forger can take on the identity of another person not only through documents but also through speech patterns, body language, and emotional responses. They can convincingly act as though they are the individual they are impersonating, fooling even those who are closely acquainted with the real person.

Reality Distortion: The sage has reached a level of mastery where they can fabricate documents that can subtly alter the perception of reality. The forgeries they create can influence events or even change historical records, leading to significant shifts in the world's understanding of events.

Perfect Identity Emulation: This ability allows the sage to seamlessly assume the identity of another individual, not just through forged documents or appearance, but also by adopting their mannerisms, thoughts, and memories. They become an embodiment of the person they're impersonating, making it nearly impossible to discern the deception.

Fate Rewriting: The sage's forgeries hold a level of mystique that transcends the mundane. By crafting special documents, they can influence the course of events in subtle ways, altering destinies and potentially changing the outcomes of critical situations.

Ephemeral Enchantment: This advanced skill enables the sage to create ephemeral forgeries that appear only to certain individuals or under specific conditions. These forgeries might appear only in moonlight, for instance, or become visible only when viewed through a particular type of glass, granting them an air of mystical authenticity.

Answer: This is very similar to the sorts of lists I'm generating myself for sage studies. It's a tricky matter, as of course chat doesn't understand the premise nor its application for D&D.

For the most part, I'd use some of these, absolutely. Faux documents and signature imitation are excellent for amateur. Because seal fabrication would require a workshop, I'd rate it under authority.  Masterful replication is, in essence, too general. The forgery at this point should be descriptive along the lines of who it would fool, not how complicated it is.  For example, it would pass muster with any village or town bureaucracy, but would almost certainly fail if presented at court.

At expert, the ability descriptions break down. While interesting, they're all essentially abilities the character should have as an authority. There's no real game power here, as chat can't think out of the box without being led by the nose. An idea might be that forgeries are so good they might as well be real, as everyone will treat them as such except in the most profound of situations. There should be a wisp of the supernatural in the study at this point, without the abilities actually competing with magical spells.

And that is the problem with the simple disguises and complex disguises abilities. "Disguise" is a completely different study, related to performance and the assassin ability, "guile." Moreover, there are already many choices for creating a disguise in the game.  Chat tends to drift into repeating certain overly used tropes through it's word interpretation schematic.  It's not very creative, because the mass of opinions on the internet, it's source material, are not that creative.

Finally, the sage abilities are a complete wash. Characters usually reach sage-status abilities between 13th and 17th level. And for that, the crafting destinies thing, that's something that an individual can achieve as an amateur with the occult study using tarot cards.  'Course, chat can't see that, because it's just trying to create something for this study, and is unaware that other studies exist.

I see two much more powerful pretexts to base sage ability forging on, having to do with signing documents ... first, the Devil and Daniel Webster, the template of all stories having to do with signing one's soul over to the devil; and secondly, Ursula the sea witch.  Consider the ability to create "documents" that empower the wielder to possess something like "diplomatic immunity" on the Plane of Hell. Or inherit the throne of an existing country.  One has to really think out of the box here ... which chat can be used to write out, once the concept is proposed, but which chat can't conceivably think up on its own.

OhioHedgehog in Ohio writes:

Some of this week's work focusing on the Sage system and the Wiki has motivated me.

I HATE feats. They are a symptom of the disease that has become 5e. Everybody can do everything. So we don't use them. We DO use your Sage studies. I ask my players if there's some "feat" that they're just DYING to have, figure out where it might find in the Sage system, and let them learn it. They've loved it. They don't know when they're gonna get a given feat rather than it plopping onto their character sheet after a sum certain of XP is earned. And there's all of the "associated" knowledge and skills. They use them. And they're SO much more rewarding. Rather than all characters being able to do all the things. They are unique. They bring their specific backgrounds and focus to any situation and it is SO much more than "using some feat that is just like that other feat the three other characters can also do."

So thanks for that.

I've also cobbled together this system with some comments from other followers and have come up with a decent "cost per day" for skilled laborers based on the sage system. My party hired a cook who has some foraging skills and he's been priced accordingly. As you've suggested, if they tell me what they want I can tell them what it'll cost in about 5 minutes or less. The world exists.

Point is I've really enjoyed October's writing.

The Friendship post struck a cord as well. I've run a fantasy football league since 1985 and we're a year round dynasty league. We TELL potential plays what the time commitment will be and then they seem surprised when it turns out we didn't lie to them.

Answer: I've been getting itchy about doing more mapping. In part that's because ES2 released the west Balkans for their truck driving game and I've been driving around Serbia, Kosovo and Albania lately.

It's funny; if I want to do any research on designing a sage ability, I have to call them "feats" where chatGPT is concerned, or else it has no idea what I want. I'm surprised you don't complain about the randomness of them, but no doubt that's assumed in your comment. I'm very pleased about your being able to price the cook's wages. On many levels, it feels that the time spent with the wiki, though it feels a lot of the time that I'm spinning my wheels, provides the best game material there is. Much more practical and valuable, I feel, than another diatribe on the blog. Yet, sadly, I encounter so little feedback from the wiki, and as yet I still haven't been able to learn how many people are actually using it on a daily basis.

I plan to spend November as I spent October, with the exception that I've got to get back to tearing my nerves apart on the rack that's the Streetvendor's Guide. September, as I said, was heavy on the day job front and through most of October I was deathly ill.


Thank you for your contributions.

If readers would like to reply to the above, or wish to ask a question or submit observations like those above, please submit  to my email,  If you could, please give the region where you're located (state, province, department, county, whatever) as it humanises your comment.

Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.