Saturday, January 27, 2024

Saturday Q&A (jan 27)

Maxwell in California writes,

Did I ever show you my 6-mile map of (most of) the Canaries? Haven't touched this or much else the last few months, while I was finishing my MS thesis. It's just as well I had something to occupy me, because the core three players of the last group pulled out b/c various commitments. My attempt to get things off the ground with three new players led to the black pudding kerfuffle I told you about. I didn't play with them after that, mostly because it was hard to even raise them over text, let alone schedule a game.

Now I'm graduated and hunting for a better job, but in the meantime, trying to prepare for the inevitable next group. I *need* to run. The last player from the former party wants to return, as does my girlfriend who I've been seeing for a few months now -- who has played 5E but is very interested in my campaign because it sounds so different from what she's tried before. I could run for two, giving them two characters each.

Answer: Terrific! Perhaps I should steal your coin symbols, those are nice. The key is done beautifully and I like the small symbols indicating importance. Lovely touch.


Thank you.

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.  

Friday, January 26, 2024

The Guide, Maps and Sweat

Damn.  I'd meant to post more starting with this month and already I'm in the ditch.  Not than I'm not working.  Those who give a $10 donation can see on my patreon that I've put up new material regarding the Streetvendor's Guide and a large sectional map of 6-mile hexes stretching from Kronstadt to the Adriatic Sea.  Plus, as I wrote in the last post, I'm also busy breaking my body into tiny pieces.

Still, I'm here now.  It's my D&D night tonight, with the players having fought the drow elves of that lair to a draw.  In truth, the players were winning rather easily, having acquired a lump of heroism and invulnerability potions, but after fighting since June in real time, in a long and protracted fight all over the dungeon, the party was ready to let the drow go when they gave ground.  The fight against the drow took place over the same ground the party had fought the goblins, so the battle map got repurposed.  Tonight's session's going to be a lot of rolling henchfolk, addressing person desires for the party, filling in the gaps of the player's retainers and picking from their collection of characters and henchfolk who they want to put together for the next campaign.

In other news, I missed some sort of window because Patreon now wants me to put my logo on four different products in order to take advantage of the "loyalty program" that I was going to sell this cup through.  We're re-evaluating our choices, which is going to take another week or so.  And because I'm researching it, youtube is slamming me with horror stories of why not to offer print on demand products.  We'll work it out.  I'm not getting any response from online readers about it, so I don't take it as critical work.

Until I crash and burn again surrounding the Guide (it's a combination of heavy creativity, excel calculation, research and not fucking up on the details), this is pretty much how the next year is going to go.  I'm actually drawing maps just now to relax between wrestling matches with Guide material.  I just posted content about embroidery, which I know next to nothing about.  With my old equipment lists, designed primarily for my own game parties and not really mattering, I could postulate any number I pleased and shrug it off.  But now the necessity to get it right gives me panic attacks as I frustratingly dig through source materials that talk endlessly about everything except the details I really need.  It's nice, I guess, that I now know what a lazy daisy stitch is, and have seen one done, but it's of no appreciable use to me with regards to the content I'm creating.  The mass of material I'm wading through could serve to create in infinite number of books that I never intend writing ... but it might perhaps be interesting at some future date to create a subsidiary list of items that didn't make the Guide's cut.  Who knows?

So, I'm off to lunch.  I have one answer for the Q&A this week that didn't get a Patreon preview, for which I'm sorry.  Often it's too easy to kick cans down the road.  But at least it can't be said I'm not producing.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

My Health and My Partner's

I'd mentioned at least once on here that I was planning to donate a kidney to my partner, the operation to take place at some time this year, probably between September and November.  I received a call Friday morning from the clinic tasked with the matter, telling me that my height to weight index makes me unqualified for donating.  This after I've been told already that my health is fine, as I have no affecting issues and it's perfectly likely that my one kidney is very unlikely to experience issues related to diabetes or any such difficulty.

Essentially, the clinic feels I would be a good candidate ... if I could bring my weight down to 195 lbs.  I'm at 245 now, so that's a total of one fifth my present weight.  Moreover, I haven't been below 200 lbs. since I was 22 or 23, and just now I'm nearly 60.  In September of 2020, during Covid, I managed to bring my weight down to 228, through stretching and walking.  After my 19-day vacation last year, I found myself at 238, following the moving around of luggage and the walking I did.  These give me reason to expect that if I bear down, it's possible to reach the number the clinic wants.

Not going to be easy, and I don't expect to do it with stretching.  Tamara and I bought a treadmill last year, so that's one thing going for me.  It's already seen lots of use, but right off it's obvious that I need to double the time I spend on it, and then some.  I usually walk around 2.7 mph for half an hour; I'm already at it, though it's just been three days ... slowing down the speed and walking for twice as long, with a bit of incline.

Beyond that, I need to scare up a trainer for tips on how to proceed.  I'm sure swimming should be involved, though I haven't swum laps since about 2010.  I can still swim, obviously, but it'll take time to build up the wherewithal to do that for even fifteen minutes.  So long as I tighten up elsewhere, however, I'm sure I can build up those muscles I need to pull strokes.

My healthcare gives me access to a nutritionist as well, which I'll take advantage of.  Tamara has been on a salt-free, low-sugar diet due to her combined diabetes II and kidney problems for about 18 months now, which has also brought down my sugar and salt intake as well.  To keep up her strength, she's encouraged to increase her fat intake (though not over much), while watching her sugar numbers and maintaining her blood pressure.  All these things have become part of my own habits, but I see that I'm going to have to cut down on my own fat and make a lot of her foods without partaking myself.  I'm used to that.  I worked as a cook for many years, making food for other people that I didn't eat myself.

So, walking, stretching, swimming, what the trainer tells me, what the nutritionist tells me ... and any other general exercise I can build myself up to doing.  I'm not under a heavy time constraint.  Tamara's next move is onto dialysis, which we'd hoped to avoid entirely, because it hasn't come to that.  She's just hanging onto this side of maintaining her kidney function, which she hopes to go on doing.  Her doctor hasn't stated any specific time for when that will happen.  So I have a number of months ahead of me to find my stride and train for the operation, which hopefully could still take place this year.  If I can convince the clinic that I'm on my way, given six months or so of working out, then we're going to be fine.

It's not actually a problem to be solved.  It's a matter of doing it, which I'm able to do.  I realise that this post would have been better written in two months, after I'd made considerable steps towards getting there; and I realise that a lot of people make promises to themselves that they don't keep.  But they're not me.  I know how to take up a task and do it day in and day out until it's done.  I'm just beyond page 100 of the Streetvendor's Guide, which has been one year less 13 days since I started it on February 3rd last year.  Exercising takes a lot less thinking.  Yes, it's dull, but there are ways around that — and it took me just five minutes of pondering and reviewing my love for Tamara to decide there is no other option.  If not my kidney, she's going to wait for 3-5 years for one; and I can't bear the thought of her sitting in a chair waiting while a machine cleans her blood.  The pain of that in my thoughts is too awful to bear.  I'd rather be bored, and sore, and perhaps unable to sleep at night.

The clinic told me that it has to be a lifestyle change.  It's not just losing weight, it's doing that well.  I agree.  Which is why I'm organising myself to do it over a period of six to ten months, not over night.  As you come to the end of this post, remember that I am a fairly healthy person.  I started by saying that in general, everyone but the kidney clinic considers my health to be fairly remarkable for a man my age.  I can easily walk a distance of 4 miles if I just get up and do it.  But I have to be more than "fairly" healty for this.  I have to be early 20s healthy.

So I will be.  I don't need luck, but please wish me well.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Saturday Q&A (jan 20)

ViP writes,

Please allow me to bring this article to your attention:  The Value of Things in the Middle Ages
by Laurent Feller

"How to assess a value to things when money is lacking?  Historian Laurent Feller shows that during the Middle Ages ..."

Answer: The realities the article addresses is one of the reasons why my game world takes place in the 17th century, and not between the 8th and the 11th. The Streetvendor's Guide addresses the issue at several points, for example briefly describing the absence of inns before the 13th century (and how travellers found shelter). Overall, I've chosen a time period between 1100 and 1650 to write on, with dates scattered through the guide so that persons wishing to base their world upon Earth in, say, 1450, would have some idea of what things would be available at that time and what wouldn't.

As far as pricing things, since the Guide stresses a world that's post European Fairs, and undertakes to provide much information about China and South Asia (where coinage has existed since before the Han Dynasty and well back into the age of Siddhartha), it's impossible for me to use historical sources. So I don't. It's always good to remember that the guide is for a game, and not as a means of getting myself academic recognition. I don't need to be right or even especially accurate. I need to be detailed, give realistic descriptions that are as close to true as possible (so they'll hold up under further research by the reader) and have a price list that "holds together" and appears to make rational sense. It's of considerable relief to me that while I can't know the truth of many historical things, no one else does either. It means that while I can't be "right" much of the time, so long as I've done my research, I can't be "wrong" either.

Mason writes,

I somehow stumbled across your blog and ruleset, and I think it is quite interesting. I happen to gm my own game, and I use a system that resonates with much of your design philosophy, without being tethered to the shackles of AD&D.

A game run in seconds, without rounds, based around an average ability score of of 11. A game that doesn't hold your hand. It's known as hackmaster, and it is the best fantasy system I've played in all my years. It's lethal, spiky, granular, exciting, but most of all - fair to careful and smart players. I hope you check it out sometime.

Answer: I looked at Hackmaster about 20 years ago, not long after it was launched. I was a big fan of Knights of the Dinner Table in the 90s, published by Kenzer and Company who created Hackmaster. Not a bad system, certainly workable. Unfortunately, I'd hoped to find some mechanic at the time that I could have lifted and adapted to my own campaign, but didn't find one. I think any system can potentially be homebrewed into a good, solid approach to fantasy role-playing. I'd begun my game system back in 1980, so by the time Hackmaster came along, I was 22 years into reworking a system that I'd committed to. Mostly, I don't look for games like it, because what I want is a new set of rules for something no other system has attempted. That's not usually the case.

Thanks for your interest. Keep in touch and please feel free to any questions you'd like.

OhioHedgehog writes,

Assume a mixed party, some with and some without infravision, and light sources fail. How do you handle who can see what?

Answer: I changed the rules with infravision so that natural light doesn't conflict with infrared light. In other words, an elf's infravision doesn't work like a mechanical device. It functions the way we might expect something that's evolved through 128,000 generations, the approximate number that have passed since the time of Lucy, 3.2 million years ago. Therefore, for a human, if the lights go out, it's just like it would be for you and I. For the elves, halflings, half-orcs, etc., it's like the lights went out 60 feet away, but everything within 60 feet looks perfectly normal. It's like experiencing "inverted vision," an example of the brain's neuroplasticity. The elf's eyes, which have evolved to accept both normal light and infravision, simply "flip" when one is given precedence over the other, in a manner that's not-detectable to the seer; he or she doesn't know for certain, say in twilight, which kind of vision they're using at a given time. The shift from normal vision to infravision is seamless.

OhioHedgehog: If Able and Baker are humans with "normal" vision and Chaz and Duncan are elves .... how do you handle describing what they see when the first two can only see their hand in front of their face but the other two can see 60 feet?

Answer: I describe what the elves see. It's easy enough, in exploratory mode, to assume the elves are describing what they can see to the humans; and there's the element of denying actions to the humans if they can't see, and have to be led by the hand.


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.  

Friday, January 19, 2024

Charisma is Not My Car

Those following my patreon page already know that I'm back at producing map posts on this blog.  Of course, if I'm creating content there, I'm doing nothing here.  Not good.

Picking up the player creation discussion with this post, I'm settling on the following stats for my theoretical human fighter, whom I'll call Albert.  Starting with the raw numbers 15, 17, 13, 9, 12, 16 that I introduced earlier, I'll arrange them as follows:

  • Str: 17
  • Int: 9
  • Wis: 12
  • Con: 17
  • Dex: 15
  • Cha: 12

The 16 placed under constitution becomes a 17 with age (goes back to old AD&D) and the 13 I place under my wisdom becomes a 12.  As a DM, I'd discourage a player from putting the 15 under anything but dexterity — which anyone in the early 80s would have known to do before inordinate stress was placed on the application of die rolls to charisma.  In role-playing in my game world, charisma doesn't help the player; I expect the player's own ability to be employed when playing the game.  Charisma affects how the player is seen when doing something well or badly, just as in the real world.

Fuck up in front of an NPC with a bad charisma, incur hate.  Achieve something heroic with a bad charisma, receive "meh."  Fuck up with a good charisma, get forgiven.  Be heroic with a good charisma, get social status.  Note the lack of a die roll.  It's not fair, obviously ... but it is very much like how things go in the real world.

I happen to have a fairly good charisma ... if I'm prepared to lie to people and say what they want to hear.  My charisma comes off fairly low here because I say things like "fuck up" rather than minding my P's and Q's, and because I don't hesitate to call out bullshit ... including using a swear like "bullshit" when I call it.  In the real world, I'm polite, I smile a lot, I say encouraging things to strangers I don't care about ... and when I'm praised for what a good and considerate guy I am by people who have no knowledge of me, I take a humble stance, downplaying my abilities or intelligence.  This works.  If I had a bad charisma, it wouldn't — as I've watched certain others try.  To make use of a good charisma, a person's must have the capacity to see a conversation from the other side.  In telling someone what they want to hear, you have to KNOW what they want to hear first.  Especially if it's very different from what we want to hear.  It requires empathy, the ability to guess what another person's day has been like so far, what sort of persons they've already spoken to, what their job is like day to day, what pressures are coming from above, or from family ... and then how to manage all the pitfalls that come from saying the wrong thing.  Much of this takes practice.  I'm much better at lying convincingly and charismatically than I was once upon a time.

A player shoving a 15 into charisma usually thinks the stat is going to do all the heavy lifting going forward.  But look at the paragraph above.  I've just made a confession that plainly says I'm an AWFUL person.  Yet the response I get from persons I lie to is that I'm a "great guy," "interesting and awesome," "patient and considerate," and "a lot of fun."  There's the problem.  I have a charisma I can turn on, like a gas stove.  I light it, adjust the heat and cook the listener on the flame.  But I can't do any of that without the charisma.

And if I don't want to turn the charisma on, like now, because I'm making a case, the charisma doesn't help me a gawddamn bit.  And I know that.  Many people who have charisma and lack empathy are just terrible people, because while they look good and seem pretty important, they still have this kind of revolting habit of saying the stupidest, most inconsiderate things.  Like, you know, Mel Gibson.

Now, some are going to see the flaw in that argument, so let me take up an alternate position.  In game terms, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity and strength DO the heavy lifting without the players needing to do anything.  I can't swing a sword to save my life, but my fighter's 17 strength shows that he can.  So why not charisma too?  The stat ought to act like a filter the player speaks through, so that if the player says the wrong thing, the character's 15 charisma tidies it up and makes it sound more awesome.  This is a fair argument ... and I often consider the stat in this regard.

Too much consideration, however, tends to make the player think he or she can say anything they want, without consequences — so long as their charisma is high enough.  I don't agree.  It shouldn't need to be said, but D&D is a game.  As a game, it hinges on the player's ability to play, not the players ability to roll.  Getting a good die roll, even choosing to put that 15 under charisma, isn't a blank cheque for everything the player says and does afterward.  The player's got to earn that charisma, just as he or she earns their survival through the employment of strength or constitution.

Therefore, the player has to choose what the charisma filters ... and not everything a player might can can be fixed therefrom.  Stand in front of a prince and insult him, then add, "Well, I have an 18 charisma, so does he like me anyway."  Um, no.  "You've just insulted him with a lot of flare and style, but you HAVE insulted him.  Because of your charisma, he's just going to put you in stocks for a week.  Instead of killing you.  Thank your charisma for that."

This isn't a popular approach to the game, especially for players who want that immunity.  What it does, however, is level the playing field for all the players, as ALL the players must use their ability to play and game to overcome the obstacle, in the same way.  This means that as Jody of the 9 charisma approaches the prince nervously, Jerome of the 18 charisma does as well.  He's not special.  The prince is.  And that's crucial to the game, which ought to reward what the player is able to do, not the character.

We've drifted a long way from this premise.  Virtually everything about the game's progression has become a sort of "pimp your ride" moniker, as if the character is a machine the player climbs into, that does all the driving while the player watches the wheel turn and the lights flip on and off.  This is enhanced by making the character bulletproof, so that no matter what the player has a SAFE ride, and never needs to worry about the character crashing or even running out of gas.  And of course, having bolting this framework securely around the player, it's gawdawful boring.  There's nothing for the player to do.

I suppose that's overstating it.  When I watch a game in progression, however, that's how it looks to me.  The player says something, then immediately reaches for a die.  He or she rolls the die, and then tells the DM what's just happened.  Since every action is delineated down to a pass or fail die roll, there's no need to role-play or problem-solve anything.

Alternatively, the player reads off some ability from their character sheet and states, "My character has a silver tongue, therefore the NPC is persuaded."  Or, again, they roll a die and that settles it.  There's no need for the player to charm his or her way out of a tight spot.  No need for the player to be skilled at all.  A fingersnap does it, or the die does.

This "gameplay" fills every session with a monotonous, repetitive drone, utterly lacking in challenge or anything new and engaging.  I believe those who embrace the game like this do so because it's comforting and relaxing.  Like watching a 3 hour video in which hands knead bread.  Which is mesmerising.

But it's not the game I want to run.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Patreon's 8%

At some point, I lost track of the slow and steady increases in how much Patreon was taking from it's clients, not realising this had risen to 8%.  A supporter asked me this week how else he might donate, as Patreon takes so much, and I mistakenly answered that it was only 3% ... thinking, I suppose, that I was still living in 2015.

A quick look at Paypal (the yellow "donate" button on my side panel) shows that they still take 2.9% — so if someone wants to edge out Patreon a bit and ensure I receive a little more, that's an option.  There may be reasons not to use Paypal.  I have several friends who hate it like poison, who go on and on about what a bunch of miserable rotten thieves they are over there, how they're out to screw people and fuck them over ... yet in 10 years of using Paypal myself I've never had a single issue with it.  I always store a little money there and buy things on Amazon with it.

On the record, though I've given it some thought, I can't think of a good reason why a patron should give so much to Patreon if wishing to support me.  There are reasons.  Patreon lets me organise people into tiers — you know, like cattle.  Or maybe some would prefer the metaphor, like rice.  It gives me another footprint on the internet at no direct cost to me.  It gives me a shelter for money I earn, because my government has no idea what Patreon is — so that when I declare the money I receive from it every year for taxes, I end up in the same conversation about six weeks after where I explain to some civil servant what Patreon is, what it does, where it exists and why people support me.  None of them have ever heard of Patreon, all listen in stunned shock as I explain it, and so far, every one has decided that it's not "work" income, so I don't have to pay taxes on it.

Paypal, on the other hand, they know.  Oh yes, very well.  But as I usually collect less than $50 a year from that little yellow button, it doesn't raise my taxes.  'Course, I could forego declaring either, but that doesn't feel like "me."

In all honesty, I don't know if I'm worth donating to.  It's been explained to me frankly by others, so they're convinced ... and I'm not stupid.  I am thankful for the income.  But the last thing I want is for anyone to feel strained where it comes to giving me anything.  Honest, if we're worrying about 8 cents on the dollar, I waste more money paying for a $10 item on my debit card.  Most of us do.  I don't carry cash; I haven't had more than $5 in my wallet in three years — and that's because I was working as a cook and tips are paid in cash.  Myself, I wouldn't hesitate to throw out 24 cents to pay for a $3 item ... but I'm a spendthrift that way.

I don't mean to mock.  All in all, Patreon has been good to me.  Last month, I asked some question about formatting on the website and got a boilerplate answer from a liaison who clearly hadn't opened my page before answering the question.  I shrugged, didn't respond, decided it wasn't worth going over it again ... and a week later some other entity asked if I was satisfied with the service.  I wrote that I wasn't, named the liaison by name, said she hadn't been to my page and remarked on some of Patreon's choices and policies.

I'm in the top 10% of all Patreon earners, worldwide, so when the somebody I spoke to looked at my page, things happened.  The liaison appeared very rapidly, bowing and scraping and pressing her forehead to the floor to ingratiate herself ... which was worth 8 cents on the dollar, at least for a month or two.  I'm rarely treated like royalty, anywhere.

Well, okay, there was that 2022 trip I took to Montreal, all expenses paid.  That was nice too.

Most of all, I don't ever want to come off as a money-grubbing hack who gives nothing in return.  Looking around at some of the big earners on youtube, some of whom haven't posted anything for 6  months to a year, it makes my blood boil.  Ian Danskin of Innuendo Studios, who once produced some of the most insightful material on the internet (in my not-so-humble opinion) has produced nothing but 27 minutes of masturbatory drivel in the last 14 months, no doubt upon reflection of the self-immolated whinging he produced during covid.  There's a place for insights like this — a restaurant where steak costs $19.99 (USD) and one's surrounded by friends who are patient and forgiving.

I live in fear that someday I might drift into this kind of behaviour.  That I might not stretch myself to do the research and actually build a proper argument, instead of living high on the hog on my Patreon money.  Others obviously are.  CGP Grey is producing intermittent shit to a degree that makes me shudder, remembering how enjoyable he once was.  But somewhere along the path, creators drift into this horrorshow of a place where they think any content is sufficient, as long as it incorporates moving pictures.  I do not want to be that person.  My gawd, ever.

So the subject of money, and Patreon, is fraught with pitfalls and moments where a creator can easily say the wrong thing and the house falls down.  I don't want supporters to feel beholden to me.  I want you, O Reader, to feel treated like royalty.  I hope that's my approach.  I hope that's the sense I put across.  I have my ticklish habits, my pitbullishness, my incendiary passion about things I believe — but on the whole, I trust that those who support me understand that first and foremost, I'm appreciative and deeply touched by every penny that's come my way.  I'm not concerned that it goes past some agency that takes it's cut.  It's not really the money, after all.  It's the thought.  That you good people take minutes out of your lives to think more of me than opening a page and closing a page.

Thank you.  And please, take my reminders about donating to Patreon with a grain of salt.  I put them out there just for those who haven't yet considered the possibility, who wouldn't know that was an option without my saying so occasionally.  Who might be thinking to themselves that they want to do more for me than open my page and close it.  It's for them.  It's not a reminder for those who already give.

I'm not a streaming company trying to get you to buy something you've already bought.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Learning Curve

With respect to yesterday's Q&A, my friend and I.T. was able yesterday afternoon to install Publisher 2007 on my Windows 10 operating system without difficulty.  I'm now able to access both programs and I can report that my ability to work on maps is fully restored.  I made adjustments and reworked a 20x40 mile area of Serbia yesterday without any difficulty at all, though the publisher file is 33,451 KB.  I'm most pleased.

I understand that it's surprising that I'm able to make publisher work at all with maps of this size.  A typical publisher file runs somewhere in the area of 150 to 1000 KB.  After a few tests last night, I'm confident that I could probably create files up to 75,000 KB, though I shouldn't have to.  I'm playing around with the benefits of this computer that I'm working on now.  My friend (he built the computer) demonstrated that it indeed has a ram of 32 GB, so all my publisher files run faster now than they did.  Those who give a $3 monthly donation on my patreon should find a pdf of a map on my site that I posted back in May 2022, rendered in 150dpi.  The pdf is somewhat better than the version blogger allowed.  Unfortunately, it was still to big to render in 300dpi.  We can't have everything.

I had to re-teach myself how to make maps the way I stopped doing in February last year.  Then, I got interested in working on the Streetvendor's Guide so I put those things down.  11 months is a long time to leave off on a project ... and there were a few glitches as I forgot how to do certain steps.  I stepped back about four months on the S.G. also, working on editing and the index for a time, as I was really stuck and blocked with the clothing section (now solved).  In the same way, coming back to serious researching and designing original content also involved the same re-learning curve that I experienced last night with the maps.  The reader can guess from the title that this is the subject of this post.  I promise, I'm going to come back around to character building soon.

No matter what sort of game preparation or worldbuilding we want to do, there are four stages of learning that we must overcome: (a) what do I want to achieve; (b) how do I achieve it; (c) how can I systematise what I want so that I can standardise the achievement; (d) how do I maintain trust and enthusiasm for the system?

For most, (a) is assumed to be the way the company does it, or even better, the way that a given creator did it once upon a time.  Rather than breaking new ground in the creation of a dungeon, for example, it seems easiest to follow TSR's method dating back to KOTB or White Plume Mountain.  This, at the same time, gives an answer to (b), as it's fairly plain that by drawing the dungeon this way, providing details of the rooms in this way, and ending the adventure how the template does it, more or less solves (b).

The real leap is (c).  This asks us not just to create one dungeon or one adventure, but to build a framework that tells us how to create and design multiple adventures that all fit the same general motif ... especially so that when we want to create a new adventure, we already know from the frame what adventure needs to be made next, and in what manner, that fills out our grand design.

The value of this is sometimes difficult to convey to the lay creator.  For a time, one that varies in length depending on the creator, the "freedom" of being able to do whatever seems good at the time beckons — and any infringement on that freedom is viewed with disdain or even hostility.  I remember being in that headspace, until late in my 20s.  "I'll just work on whatever seems good right now," was my thinking ... and I hear the echo of that from all sorts of writers, craftspersons, musicians and couples sorting out their marriages all the time.  "A plan?  A plan is what we make when we want to make God laugh."

The result, however, is a lot of wasted work that never sees the light of day, and the bitter exposure of too many failures.  I count all that in my past as a valuable learning experience.  No books or meaningful content came out of those years, but I did practice writing a lot.  And I did haul around a lot of that writing until I was forced to throw it out in self-defense.  Making a plan for the work we do isn't a straight-jacket; if that's how it feels, then we've either made the wrong plan, or we're still working through ambivalences about doing work.  A plan is an assurance that we're using our time well.  That everything we do has value.  That our vision has greater scope that "what feels good right now."  The pyramids cannot be built frivolously.  Or when the workers feel like it.  Truly monumental things need a monumental vision.

Therefore, progressing from (b), what we want, to (c), how do we get it, is a tremendous alteration in our thinking as creators.  It transforms what we want from, "We want what Arneson wanted," to, "We want to be better than Arneson."  That realisation has the effect of demoting our "hero" to our "mentor" ... though obviously my mentor isn't Arneson.  This transformation is positive; I'm quite sure that Arneson also wanted to be better than Arneson.

Being better means we can't just copy any more.  The template we've worked from isn't enough.  What's needed is a new template.  That's the crux of (c).  We're not just making scenes and places and characters now; it isn't just a bunch of parts that are shelved like books, ready to be pulled out individually and used.  We're moving from parts to a machine, one that incorporates the books as instrumentation, so that before we have to think about what part we need, the "machine" puts that part automatically in front of us.  Once the machine is built, we'll know how to turn it on, we'll know how to feed in data, and we'll get a result for that data ... but all the middle part ceases to exist for us, even if we're the ones that built the middle part.

I'll try this as a simple metaphor.  Let's say, we learn how to make a toaster and we go through the rigamarole to build the thing from scratch.  We design the components and assemble them painstakingly, fitting them this way and that, until we end with a working toaster.  And like any toaster, it works by putting bread in the top, pushing a button down and waiting for the bread to pop up.

After all that work, we can forget all about the machine itself.  We get up in the morning, put our toast in while thinking about the day ahead, get our toast out and butter it, eat and move on.  There's no need at all to think about the toaster itself any more.  Oh, sure, if the toaster breaks, we can fix it.  But thinking through all the middle part is discarded.  The toaster works.  It saves us time.  We can go and do other things.

My methodology for making maps is like the toaster.  I have a series of steps that I go through that can be done mostly without my needing to decide anything.  I do this, I do that, I follow each step, and presto, map.  No time is wasted wondering if this is working, or if it's put together right, or if the toast is going to taste good.  All that's been sorted.  The only cost is some of my time, which I can give when I don't feel especially creative and I just want to churn out some product.  It's more valuable than my spending time playing a video game, while providing about the same level of immersion.

(d) is the least esoteric about the above.  (c) is hard to envision because (d), having enthusiasm for the method, seems for most of us to be impossible.  As an example, I'll use my friend and I.T. guy.  Here's a brilliant, capable fellow, has endless knowledge of computer systems ... and like most of his type, has the expected server bank in his basement that would probably let him manage a satellite, if he could get one in space.  He stores my authentic wiki on it, as well as content for a wide number of other users.  This is one reason why I don't need to worry about someone trying to hack my wiki.  They'd have to hack him — and I wouldn't recommend it.

But he can't stop fiddling with things.  He and I have talked about it, and it's not a unique habit among his type.  For the most part, he's not improving anything ... he's just finding different ways to do the thing he's already doing.  Most of the time, this fails completely, and he has to make repairs to bring it back to where it was.  I'm certain he likes this process.  The effect is, however, that for all his ability, he follows his industry; he doesn't lead it.

Of course, there's no reason he should.  I only bring this up as a metaphor because there are far more dungeon masters in the world who are intentionally breaking their game worlds than making them.  They can perceive (c) for a time, building the "game toaster" as it were, but in the end they can't just let it be a toaster.  Though it works fine, they're always taking the toaster apart and fixing something that doesn't need to be fixed ... and though they spend an enormous amount of time doing this, in the end it never does more than make toast.  Meanwhile, the food processor doesn't exist at all.

Returning to my map-creating system this week, I felt zero inclination to "rebuild it and make it better."  I tried publisher on Office 365, it didn't work, I obtained my old publisher program on the new system and the thing I wanted to do was make a map in the same old way.  The results speak for themselves.  What's not understood, however, is the results don't happen if I'm not able to quiet the inner voice saying, they could be better.  Maybe they could.  But I don't want to get bogged down in (c).  I want to trust my system, and maintain my enthusiasm.  Then things get done.

I do this by reminding myself for a time that however complicated or difficult this seems at present, I'm practicing.  I'm giving my trust to the system and letting myself adapt to it.  Take the Streetvendor's Guide and the manner in which clothing is discussed.  One serious problem came in describing a specific item of clothing — say, a tunic.  A medieval-Renaissance tunic is what we'd call a shirt.  It has many different shapes and forms, and can be made in every cloth under the rainbow.  My guide provides descriptions for thirty cloth varieties.  If I give space in the guide to every possible make of tunic, I won't have space for all of the clothes that are available.  Plus, this is a problem that's going to come up when I have wooden items can can be made of twenty kinds of wood, or metal items that can be made with twenty kinds of metal.

I had to step back and think about how to manage this.  Tunics appear in every part of the world, but they're not made of the same cloth in every part of the world.  Most clothing made in north temperate climates, speaking for the time period and not post-Industrial times, are made of wool.  North temperate describes Britain, Scandinavia, the Baltic Lands and Russia.  Even colder climates require furs, and that's a whole section separate from cloth.

Most clothing made in south temperate climates — France, Germany, northern Italy, the Slavic lands, Russia in the summer — is made of linen.  That made in subtropical lands — Ottoman, Persian, South Asian — is made of cotton.  And where silk is common, certain kinds of clothing are made from that.  I realised that the solution was to define what the tunic was in different parts of the world ... and then give the name for that thing as it's given in different parts of the world.  Thus, if we want to price a cotton tunic, it doesn't have a European name because at the time, it wasn't made in Europe.  A cotton tunic is a gomlek or a kurta; a linen tunic is a cotte, as it was called in those parts of the world where it was worn — and it's longer than a tunic, reaching to the knees.  A silk tunic is a hanfu.  The finished list looks very odd to the Western eye, but it's accurate.  All I need do is provide rules (which was always intended) to teach the reader how to price a cotton hanfu, or a woolen cotte, or a linen tunic, if that's what they want.

But I'm not used to this thinking.  It's taken time to bang my brain into thinking in this format, using items whose names are utterly unfamiliar to me.  Pursuing them, describing them, I can recall each item being worn in various films.  The Chinese emperor at the end of Mulan is wearing a "changshan," though I wouldn't have known that's what it was called without this work.

To get used to this, to think in this frame, I have to practice at it.  And reassure myself that with patience and familiarity, it'll come naturally.  I have faith that it will, because I've been here before with difficult things and it always does.  But if we don't stick with it; if we don't wrestle through it for as many weeks or months that it takes, we don't get any practice at practicing things ... and we never learn how to beat the learning curve.  For anything.

I adapt more quickly than most because I've forced myself to adapt many times.  The first few times is a real bitch.  This is what I was doing in the late 80s, as I started to pursue problems like trade and deeper worldbuilding into my game system.  Took 15 years to codify my trade system.  Yet I've accomplished 85 pages on the Streetvendor's Guide in just 7 months (discounting my time off to think).

I remind myself that it took something like 30+ people to put together Tasha's Cauldron, with text equal to about half the size of my proposed Guide.  I'm doing all the writing for this by myself, with one artist for support.  There's just the two of us.  It took the company something like two years to produce Tasha's dreck.  If it takes me until next January to finish the Guide, I'll have accomplished a miracle.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Saturday Q&A (jan 13)

Mark from Missouri writes:
[in regards to 4d6]

Try a virtual machine? Oracle VirtualBox is free, for example, and you can create a machine with better RAM than you had on the original, load Windows 7 on it (gaining a Win7 ISO file is left as a exercise for the reader) and Publisher 7 and stick with what works.

The VM can "mount" folders on the actual computer to get picked up by various backup software, if you're the type that does that, and the VM file itself is generally portable for the remainder of your time using x86-based computers.

Answer: It's a good idea, though I'm unfamiliar with the concept. I'll bring it up with my IT guy, see what he says on the subject.


Thank you.

Not much of a post this week, obviously, and I'm late.  I've overcome the road blocks I'd encountered with the Streetvendor's Guide and I've been putting my energies towards that, as it's the priority. I think most here would agree.  Readers can keep track of my progress through Patreon posts, which I'll be adding regularly, as well as two page previews every Friday, for those donating better than $10.

Patreon also offers a service wherein I can provide a coffee cup for any supporter who gives a set donation three months running.  Patreon mails the cup to the reader directly.  We're talking of setting the tier at $12, $13 or $15 a month, with the understanding that the emphasis is on supporting me, not paying the cost of a cup.

The cup image would be this:

And the cup's appearance thus:

I hate for this to sound like a cash grab, but I'm getting a little desperate to raise money for the Streetvendor's Guide art and other up front costs, when the time comes.  I wouldn't mind hearing from a few people on the subject.

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.  

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Choosing Stats

From my first experience playing, with every game I participated in, play stopped any time that someone rolled up a new character.  That is, everyone at the table waited to see what the results would be.  The idea that a player would go off alone, while the game continued, to roll dice in order to make a new character without witnesses, was something I didn't encounter until many years later.  Perhaps it's because I play with Canadians, and we're all so polite.  Still, there's never been any question among players here, to this day, of having a vested interest in a player's new character.

There is, in fact, a palpable excitement among the players.  They remark on the 4d6 as they fall, expressing their enthusiasm when an 17 or 18 is rolled.  They want to know what the new character's going to be.  After all, this is a new member of their team; someone they'll soon have to rely on in a pinch.  Each game participant relives when they rolled up their character; how it felt; how the other players reacted.  The process isn't boring or dull.  It's an opportunity for bonding.

Let's start with my rolling a set of six results.  Sorry, not going to make a video of this, so I'll be rolling them without witnesses too ... but as this character is for demonstration only, this should be fine.

My first attempt yields, in order, 12, 15, 12, 13, 8, 15.  When rolling a player's "main" character, the first character the player gains, I don't consider these scores to be high enough.  As I explained in the 4d6 post linked above, my game relies on a bare minimum of stats.  As it happens, the above falls short by 1 point — I require a minimum of at least one 15, or higher, and one 16, or higher.  Thus, with a main character, these rolls are scrapped and the player rolls six new ones.  Once upon a time, I would just adjust the rolls, to create the minimum; but it's more exciting to have the player roll again.

Now, if the above set were rolled for a character's henchfolk, the additional supportive character a player gets when their main character reaches 5th level, before these numbers are scrapped I ask, "Do you want to keep these numbers, or keep the six you haven't rolled yet?"  Only two attempts can be made for a henchfolk, because they're deliberately meant to be supportive.  The player already has one tough-enough main character; henchfolk can have flaws.

In this case, I think probably the player would keep the rolls above for a henchfolk.  After all, the total is 75, about 2-3 points above average (I believe the average of 4d6, drop the lowest, is somewhere around 12.17, but if someone wants to correct me ...).  A new set of numbers could be much lower.

Let me roll a second attempt.  In order, 7, 10, 12, 8, 5, 11.  Ouch.  Wow, that is really bad.  One of my party's henchfolk is about this level.  The player named her, "Hope."  Mostly, as a hench, Hope looks after things.

I'll try again.  In order, 15, 17, 13, 9, 12, 16.  That's not bad.  As these are good enough, I'll make this a fighter, human I think for simplicity, and male because I'm a male.  The next step is to place these rolls under the headings of strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity and charisma.

Where to put them is always a point of contention.  As a player, my chief concern is survival.  At some later point, when I obtain a henchfolk, I'll have other concerns that addition can address.  As I know my game, and am observational about how often certain die rolls come up, I know where those stats ought to go to produce the best possible results.  I don't withhold that information; I'll tell a player my opinion, if I'm asked.  But I'm rarely asked.

Here's my contention with players who want to figure out everything for themselves.  They don't figure things out. They don't read the rules that I've posted that apply to making these choices.  They don't ask questions.  Instead, they throw numbers at stats with abandon, often assigning far more importance to charisma, in particular, than it deserves.

According to my aging table, as a human fighter I'm going to start the game between 15 and 18 years old (unless the character background generator adjusts this, but that's a low chance).  This means I'm almost certain to be a young adult.  Looking at the age adjustments to ability stats, my "new" character's wisdom is going to be adjusted by -1, and my constitution by +1.

If I put the two highest stats under strength and constitution, I end up with either a 16 strength and an 18 constitution, or a 17 in both.  A 16 strength adds 1 point of damage when I hit, but it gives no bonus at all when I try to hit.  The difference between a 17 and an 18 constitution is 1 point per level.  By the time I reach 9th level, if I do, this provides a difference of 9 additional hit points ... at a time when many of the monsters I'll be fighting cause that much damage a round.

Whereas in getting to be 9th level, I'm going to make hundreds of attempts to hit.  That +1 bonus to hit will matter a dozen times in every fight I enter, whether I'm hit or not.  Yet where does the player choose to put that 17?  For a fighter?  Under charisma.  At least half the time.

This is because, usually, a player sees that 17 and thinks, "OMG, I can be a paladin!"  So they waste the 17 under charisma.  Then the put the 16 under constitution, where it rises to another 17 ... and they put the 15 under their strength.  Where it is totally fucking useless to them.  Seriously.  They might as well put the 9 under their strength, since that's the bare minimum ... and every result from a 9 to a 15 gives the precise same bonus in fighting.  None.

Now, some would say this proves AD&D is a broken system.  See, the system doesn't let players be stupid gits when being a paladin matters more to them than anything else in the game, therefore it "doesn't work."  Especially as they find their treasured paladin can't hit anything in a fight.  It doesn't seem to sink in that maybe the paladin option should be reserved when at least two 17s are rolled, or that the 16 should be put under strength and the 15 under constitution, so they both become a 16.

I watch this happen all the time.  And when it does, I know the player's going to be disappointed.  I know they've built some fantasy model for the paladin in their head, but I'm not supposed to say anything, because "agency."  So I shrug, wait for the player to slowly grow aware of their start-of-the-game fuck up, and eventually out of pity throw them a +1 sword.

These early decisions in a strategy game can easily be the reason why a player quits our game.  And often, by threatening their agency a little bit by speaking some common sense out loud, and saying, "You're really going to miss being able to hit monsters," we at least gain the benefit of saying "I told you so," when they stew and pout away game time.  Assigning ability stats matters.  Its absolutely as important as choosing players for your office football pool — and there again, there's always one joiner who puts it all on one super-amazing player, who gets a knee injury in the season's second game.  Whereupon, they grouse and moan that it "wasn't fair" and "they didn't know."

That's all right for a football pool, but it's an attitude that positively sucks for D&D, when we all play together for many hours at a time.  I don't want investigative players, or experimental players, I want HAPPY players, who hit more often when they swing.

Missing stuff is for mages.

Saturday Q&A (jan 6)

Griffin writes,

[in regards to the Dec 30 Q&A]

I expected you would be at least lukewarm trending toward positive for less complex rules over no rules. Let's use weather/temperature for an example. Three example options: -- No rules means it's always sunny and pleasant.
  • Simple rules means five different states, hot, warm, pleasant, chilly, cold. With simple outfits for each to avoid penalties.
  • Complex rules with actual temperature ratings and having to wear specific amounts and types of clothing to avoid finely granulated penalties.

The third option is the best, but I would figure the second would be okay for someone not able or willing to run the more complex version. Surely it would be easier to expand from the simple rules option than go straight from no rules to complex rules? On the other hand I know you are a proponent to throwing people into the deep end and against small steps toward a goal. So I guess I just want more of an explanation of the logic behind no rules over simple rules?

Answer: I can't quite agree on a point or two. "No rules" does not mean things are necessarily "sunny." I've run many, many sessions where it was raining, sometimes bitterly so, or snowing, or with blistering heat, because the terrain and time of year called for it. Players accept that "weather" happens, and a DM can easily describe it the same way that he or she can describe a cabin or a forest or a town street.

I think, with regards to weather at least, "simple rules" aren’t ever going to cut it. You're just asking for player confrontations. We are used to viewing the weather in super-incremental bits, measured actual temperatures, and ever person alive knows there's a huge difference between 35 degrees F and 50 degrees F. So what does "chilly" mean? That I'm wearing a kind of clothing? How is that immersive? What am I, a player, supposed to do with that information, besides ignore it? How does it advance the setting's feel? Sounds like extra fluff I have to pay attention to, not something that actually affects what my character does or where he goes.

And for the record, "cold" is the worst. Are we talking "cold" like Texas without power (27 F) or "cold" like Greenland's ice sheet (-60 F). Trust that as your player, I'm going to want to know which it is, every time it comes up. You'll be forced to produce some kind of number ad hoc, because your rules are "simple."

Weather is perhaps the hardest aspect of the game's setting to convey. For all my talk, you should know I haven't -- except for brief periods, as it usually crashes and burns in a play test -- implemented any of the new information I've gained from chatGPT. I don't know if I ever will. It's a terrifically difficult matter to handle in game, in real time, when time is scarce, and players always dig in their heels and resist. These are problems I haven't sorted; yet I go on devising and researching, in the hope that I or someone else may someday crack the problem.

Maxwell from California writes,

[in regards to the The DM's Role]

"Some time can be made for players to explore and learn independently — there are always large parts of game play designed expressly for this purpose."

Are these good examples of what you mean by those parts?
  • arranging the six stat numbers
  • choosing what actions to commit to, whether exploring or in combat
  • making level-up choices like new spells known
  • picking and arranging equipment

Those are what first come to mind as choices that individual players must ultimately make for themselves, even if others help. Curious whether you're thinking of something else, and if so what?

Answer: Yes, primarily those things. The stat numbers are complimented by a variety of metric options available to the player, including choosing spells and equipment as you stated, even the choice of class or race. When I wrote the line, I was thinking mostly of your second point Maxwell, as when players enter a space and are given a description, it's up to them to interpret that and look around; you're right about combat too, as all the variances of what to do when are subject to player exploration.

Giving it a little thought, players are also able to decide how to interact with the beings of the setting, both friendlies and non-friendlies. Apart from a need to adopt excessive characterisation in speech, this is also something I wouldn't interfere with -- though naturally, wrong choices would invite repercussions.

The interpretations I'll offer for the setting and the rules are meant to clarify for the players things like the environment being very dangerous; that people know magic exists, so don't get clever and try to cast spells in public like no one would notice; don't try to push against long-established rules that have worked a certain way for hundreds of sessions. That sort of thing. Some people respond very negatively to this sort of "advice." They assume that if I say that priest over there won't hesitate to condemn you as a threat to the general welfare because you decide to disrespect church property, it means I want to force them to humble themselves before priests. Which they don't want to do, but which was standard and expected behaviour in my game's time frame. This is an example of my "controlling their character" ... though I see it as, "don't do something stupid and get yourself killed."


Thank you.

I've started posting questions and answers on my Patreon page, as soon as they become available on my patreon page, so they can be read ahead of time by my patreon supporters.  These should be available to anyone who donates $1 per month.  Additionally, a donation of that size should also enable readers to receive an email any time I've posted here, or made an update on the authentic wiki, as well as access to occasional previews.

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.  

Friday, January 5, 2024


Last month, JB at B/X Blackrazor wrote a good take on the benefits of AD&D, from the perspective of someone who's chosen to embrace that system in the last few years.  Read it, if you haven't.  I embraced AD&D more than 44 years ago, and still use many of it's precepts, though nearly everyone has been marginally altered in some way.  For example, while I use the "to hit" table template from the original Dungeon Masters Guide, I've translated it to THAC0 and individualised it for each class.  Yet just as in the DMG, a fighter still needs a 10 to hit armour class 10.

While my Authentic Wiki details for my house rules, it rarely provides insight regarding my reasons or my thinking process for these changes.  I thought it might be pleasant, for those interested in rules, to get into the nitty gritty of these things for awhile, as a change of pace.

[Aside:  I'd much rather discuss maps at the present, but back in November my computer with a Windows 7 operating system died, literally, motherboard unrecoverable.  It was acting up well before, so everything on it had been duplicated ... but I was still using it to make maps, which I did with the Publisher 2007 program.  On Windows 7, Publisher 2007 could easily handle graphic files up to 20 mb, despite the computer having just 500g of ram and just over a terabyte of memory.  The computer I have now has four times that capacity, both in ram and memory; but Publisher on Office 365, with Windows 10, can't manage a file larger than about 1 mb without having conniption fits, making it completely useless for the maps I've made and can't now expand.  As such, I have a friend good at this sort of thing hunting up a cheap tower that'll run Publisher 2007.  Fuck'n microsoft]

The best place to start would be the player's character, specifically rolling it up.  The wiki includes a page for character creation, if the reader wants to view the whole process I use.  I've explained my reasons why characters must start at 1st level in the past, so we can address the following, which remains a point of contention for many campaigns:

"When creating a player character, players choose 4d6, or four 6-sided-dice. These are rolled in succession six times. In each case, the lowest die, or one of the lowest dice, is discarded, so that the remaining three are added together. These six totals represent the new character's ability stats.

This is exactly the process I did myself back in 1979 with my first game; it's how everyone did it in my part of the world up until I left the gaming community around 1986.  I wouldn't hear of anyone using an alternative until I stumbled into D&D on the internet in 2003.  This is largely because by the time "basic" versions of the game came out, my associates were out of school, working to pay our rent, starting university and such, and thought that "basic" was a joke.  None of us had needed a "basic" version to learn the game.  I remember my friends and I in this shop downtown called Catch the Wind, that sold kites and games, looking at these flimsy children's books and laughing.  Little did I know how these children's books would stultify so many gamers who saw no reason to graduate to "advanced" versions of the game.

As a DM, I see AD&D's combat/survival structure relying on characters possessing at least two stats above 14.  There are no benefits for any stat less than 15 with regards to strength, constitution and dexterity, upon which the combat system depends.  And though spell-use can mitigate the need for these somewhat, a good mage or illusionist really needs a +1 dex bonus at minimum (in my experience), while a cleric whose going to wade in and fight needs at least some bonuses in strength or constitution.  A cleric who won't wade in hasn't a good enough spell arsenal, and is therefore useless; which is part of the reason why clerics who tried to style themselves as "healers" and not "holy fighters" ended up crying for more healing potential, as the original list doesn't allow this specialisation effectively.

Thus, adding that extra die to 3d6 increases the chance of rolling above 14 sufficiently to hit that window of "practical" character.  I know that many, many voices refuse to believe there is such a thing; that the game needs to adjust for the character, and not the reverse.  Of course I could run a softer, more gutted game for those players with mediocre stats, but having experienced the lessened potential and drooling dullness of such a game, I'm not sold on the concept.  If the reader wants me to go into that, I will, drop me an email, but for the present I'll assume most people here are aware that having bonuses makes players happy, and I like happy players.

Too, the 3d6 alternative produces too many "culls," my term for the selective slaughter of players whose stats are too obviously likely to get them killed.  The penalties for stats of 7 and less can be tolerated if they appear with rarity ... but when they're scattered among multiple players in a party, sooner or later the randomness of unfudged die rolls takes its toll.  I see no reason to roll up characters en masse for the purpose of creating an inferior stock.  No, I prefer the alternative.  A nice collection of characters whose stats average around 73 or better makes a party more likely to survive, thus producing a sustainable game.

One reason for fudging is that many DMs, and players too, don't actually approve of the game's randomness.  Thus many arguments for or against standardised rules either promote a campaign where role-playing is imposed over die rolling, or one in which the die roll is seen as a "suggestion" and not as a fixed metric.  Or both.  Because I like rolling dice in the open, and accepting their results though the heavens fall, however much it disappoints or just plain hurts, I've had to adapt my game to the 4d6-based stat generation with which I've run these many decades.  Had I started with 3d6 for each stat, I might have early on built my house rules in a different direction.  I might have adjusted results to reflect the greater chance of a rolled failure.  My actual game, and what happens, would be quite different, I'm sure.

Moreover, there's a very good chance that if it hadn't been proposed for me, I might never have stumbled upon the 4d6 system on my own, ever.  I might now be arguing a 3d6 system, one in which rolling a die had less impact on my campaign, merely because it would cause death that much more often due to the lower stats generated.  Yet there's also a part of me that believes its very possible I would have gotten bored with D&D in my 20s for that reason alone.  That the game, as an exercise in talking rather than fighting, would have lost my interest entirely.  Without question, combat is the best part of my campaign.  Every set of players I've ever run were excited for it more than any other aspect, which is why I've spent so much time adjusting and tweaking it, to rid combat of any feature that weakens it's capacity to thrill.  I watch other combats run in other systems, or by other DMs, and I'm stunned at how deathly boring these are.  I'm not surprised that most D&D players don't like combat.  D&D combat sucks the big one.

I think I'll forego any discussion of the steps that later editions went to solve player appetites and game metric flaws.  On the whole, I disapprove of everything.  There are a few aspects of my house rules that I've lifted from 3rd, but I've seen not one thing from 4th or 5th that I wish to incorporate.  And I've read the books.  It's all the wrong direction and it's all shit.

It's probably worth using some time to address issues of players who roll terrifically well on their stats vs. those who don't.  Those disgruntled participants who chafe at having characters of greater power and ability are often blind to much of the game's structure.  First, good stats won't keep a bad player alive.  I've had many bad players who got excited at rolling two 18s for their stats, only to assume the stats would solve all their problems.  An 18 dexterity won't provide invulnerability, hit points run out, characters with an 18 strength still miss, an 18 charisma doesn't automatically make everyone a friend.  Most of the time, it ends it greater sadness for the player when their character of two 18s dies, since that's what matters most in their minds.  Often, it takes a good player to know how best to use those excellent stats; the same that would know how to use stats of less effect.

Secondly, all the players in a party are meant to work as a team.  Not every player with the 1941 New York Yankees could hit like DiMaggio.  In fact, no one can.  But every player on that team benefitted every time DiMaggio got a hit.  Good players understand that if anyone on their "team" rolls a high stat, or a bunch of them, that it benefits everyone.  But then, that also requires a DM who won't let one player lord it over another, or allow a player to gripe and moan about their bad luck.  That sort of attitude can wreck any team, no matter who they are; and while 180 years of organised baseball has accepted that if you want them to behave as a team, you've got to make they understand that they ARE a team, the company decided the answer was to jiggle numbers to make it look like every player is the same.  The same company that argues that "game play" is what matters.

Uh huh.

We can stop for now.  I can talk about character generation for quite a while.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

2024 is Calling

Poor, abused keyboard.  Note the letters scrubbed off on multiple keys ... on a board that was new about 6 months ago.   Makes little difference to me, as I touch-type, but my daughter was around today and remarked on it, as she still looks at the keys.  I present it as evidence of my typing quantity.

I appreciate that some folks need to look back on the previous year, but my mind is definitely on the year ahead.  For those wondering, yes, I'm still working on the Streetvendor's Guide.  No, it's probably not going to get done in 2024.  I've immersed myself in the editing and organising process and there's no doubt that after the main content is complete, there's still lots and lots of work left.  The index, which I think is absolutely necessary, along with the appendices and other paraphenalia, can be done through various tools ... but to do such things well requires time and attention.  I'm not rushing this.  The book is going to be done in the fullness of time, and not rushed.

Unlike some, I'm anxious to continue blogging.  In fact, I'd like to do more of it, though naturally this puts pressure to find new and interesting things to talk about.  It's easy for content makers to fall into the habit of producing the same post year after year, or to let so much time lapse between content that the audience falls drastically away.  I've been able to keep the readers here engaged so far, but come May, I'll be completing my 16th year of blogging.  Imagine.  Searching for new and effective material, I'll continue to discuss the wiki as necessary, and any other series of posts that I can muster.  It's been quite awhile since I broke away from relying on rants as content ... and for the most part, I think the readers have appreciated that.  I may have written 348 posts in 2015, but a lot of that was anger.  It's far more difficult to write 300+ posts when actual content is expected.

Stay with me.  2024 is going to be a good year.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Winning over the Players

Continuing from the last post ...

It's easy to be mistaken as the wrong kind of DM.  Taking the stand as an authority figure, counselling the players on the rules and the setting, even the assumption that the players need to be "taught how to play," can suggest an inflexibility that's familiar as a form of bad game management.  If we stress the strength or thoroughness of our role, we can be seen as downplaying the importance of player contributions, or denying the player freedom of input or agency.  It's implied that players, guided to understand the peculiar game setting of a DM, are robbed of their freedom to "explore" the game world, in a way they'd choose to do so without being influenced.  Arguing a particular relationship between the DM and the players can arouse charges of "oversimplifying" the dynamic, with players arguing that negotiation or shared investment in the game is being challenged.

These charges can be difficult to address.  Unless we spend ten thousand words describing something, we're sure to be accused of oversimplifying ... and if we do take the time to write that much, we'll be accused of overthinking it.  Both are strategies employed by people who don't want to change their behaviour, whom we'll regret welcoming into our worlds, should we make that mistake.

Much of the pushback that every DM receives is based upon an attitude towards the general community, and not us specifically.  If I say, "It's my world," I'll be accused of being protectionist and exclusionary.  If I state that the narrative is my responsibility, I'll be accused of dismissing my players' right to insert things or ideas into my narrative, and thus denying their agency.  If I say that it's my responsibility to explain the setting I've invented, the rules I've invented and the reasons for those rules, I'll be accused of trying to arrange the game in my favour, condescending to the players or otherwise failing to meet a "collaborative" standard that's been imposed on many communities ... though the exact meaning of that word is never fully explained.

I've read and met dungeon masters who create settings for that purpose, and crow about their entitlement to make arbitrary judgments ... who even argue for the absence of game rules.  Some make it a philosophy, that sessions should be subject only to the DM's whim, based on a premise that the DM knows best what a "good game" needs from moment to moment.  To provide that, they say, they can't be stymied by rules that would only get in the way of the DM's freedom.

This is not what I stand for.

The presence of such people, and others who have equally reprehensible ideologies and such, have long polluted the reliability of the RPG community.  Initiate a game, and one can always expect to be accused of having a motive that some other DM had in that player's memory.  As with dating, we are not measured for who we are; we're measured upon the criteria of every other person who's ever been in our place, though of course we couldn't there for all the arguments and bad behaviour that went on.  Nonetheless, should we say anything that might resemble something that Other Half #3 said five years ago, we quickly find ourselves in Other Half's shoes, answering for what Other Half did and being counted as Other Half's twin sibling.

This makes for many landmines, for DMs as much as for significant others.  Logically, it'd be helpful to have some strategies to preempt this, to clear the air before starting and make it clear that we are not them.  This can be done as a session zero, if need be ... but I've always done it by living my life more or less to these principles, so that anyone who might play in my game has already met me, already knows what I stand for and already knows what I want from my game, through the eyes of my other players.  Therefore, with any new player, I can usually cover the basics in a few minutes, pausing now and them to deal with unclear situations as they arise, preferably at once before any resentment can accumulate.

First and always, engage in open and honest communication — not just the game, but about everything.  If I feel uncomfortable about an upcoming conflict, I'll say so.  If I'm uncertain about a rule I'm adding to the game, I don't adopt a pretense that it'll be fine, I confess that it might not work and then I'll explain exactly which weaknesses I perceive might exist.  Strength and confidence are never produced by pretending to be either; we do not "fake it" until we make it.  We must express all our doubts, all our reservations, all our honest feelings about every action or statements our players make.  Doing so helps relieve us of the burden to living up to something we're uncertain about.  Then we can concentrate on doing the job, instead of worrying about how our performance is judged.  Moreover, the sort of players we want are those with empathy and perspective, who can appreciate how difficult it is to run, how much energy it takes, what limitations we view in ourselves.  Don't be pompous.  Be forthcoming.  Then, if some player rushes to take advantage of that, we'll know exactly who doesn't belong.

We should stress our individuality.  This is our world and our rules.  It doesn't matter how the book does it, or how it was done in someone else's game.  As stated above, this doesn't need to be stated aggressively.  We can say it openly, expressing what game is being made by doing it this other way.  I have problems with the way traditional D&D awards experience.  I've chosen to award experience differently, for these reasons, because of how I've been disappointed with past results.  State things in just that way: here's what I didn't like about that; here's what I'm trying to achieve; here's how I'm hoping to achieve it.  This is different from what others are doing, because I am different.  My vision is different.  My game is different.  Not for reasons of vanity, but because I honestly believe that my dissatisfaction with past methods can be overcome with better methods.

Demonstrate that positive behaviour.  Be empathic towards other players.  If they want to do something that the rules deny, encourage them to think of something else that is possible.  Consistently make choices that align with our values, as we've stated above.  Stand firm on points, but be prepared to listen to a players' point of view.  This can be difficult.  I've had players shout at me, throw dice and other objects at me, threaten me ... and in such moments, I've given in to my emotions too, acting as badly as anyone.  But we review that behaviour in ourselves, reflect upon it, make our amends if need be, and resolve to do better.  We're humans, not angels.  We'll lose our temper and become unrestrained, because we're passionate and we believe in what we're doing.  But we're also able to better ourselves, and to learn that a positive response is, in every situation, the better option.

Be mindful of the company we keep.  Just as the above, if we're open and it's mocked, if we're positive and it's insulted, if we're honest and firm and that gets us accused of things we're not doing, observe that the player at our table may not belong there.  We can make a lot of concessions for a lot of reasons, and we should always try.  But game rules are rules.  If the majority are here because they've come to accept those rules, and if they've been here long enough, then a rule shouldn't be changed just to pleas one player.  D&D is a community known for quite a lot of negative behaviour.  It's often going to be necessary to distance ourselves, and our game, from those persons who don't accept our values.

Take the time to reflect.  I've used that term in the above, but let's look at it.  A DM has a lot to do in a session; it takes considerable energy to maintain focus and momentum in a game, to field questions quickly, to make adjustments for others, to correct mistakes without dwelling, to be precisely expressive when detailing the setting — as any small error might spoil the surprise — all while maintaining a friendly, jovial, open, honest, positive demeanour while imposing rules disallowing the players from action.  It's a balancing act.  One small aggression, in the wrong tone, can stir up a player's dissatisfaction quite easily ... especially when measured against instances where the die might destroy a player's most favourite magical item or cause death.  In the game's time frame, an emotional wound can easily go overlooked and unaddressed.  Thus we take time, after, and often, to think about our last game — if possible, from the point of view of every player.  Can I remember what each said, that might provide a clue as to who had a good time, who seemed a bit sullen as the game broke up, or who failed to do well by dice or play?  Puzzle it out.  Reach out to anyone who seems to need it.  Being self-aware of how our actions affect others can strengthen our ability to resist dismissiveness while maintaining our integrity as a DM and as a person.

All these things assume patience, a desire to lead by example and, as stated repeatedly, a resolution to educate others.  Sit at my table and I'm going to educate you about me, about what I'm doing there, about why this rule or that matters to me, about what these other players want as individuals, about why I chose to make my setting in this manner or that, about what motivates the non-player denizens of the setting and so on.  I call it "education;" another might call it providing exposition.  For me personally, the player's exploration of the game's setting or world can't be precluded by my guidance, because there's vastly more world than I could hope to intentionally describe in a lifetime.  Moreover, because I run the real world, Earth, circa 1650, anything the players could possibly suggest to be included in the game's setting must, by definition, already be there.  If a human imagination can think it up, then the only limitation is whether or not it can be made with 17th century materials and knowledge.  Along with, of course, what D&D rules also allow.

Pulling this and the last post together ... we can't control the assumptions that others make about our intentions and our policies.  We can control how we respond.  We can control what work we've done to provide explanations for our choices.  By adhering to the policies above, we can put to rest concerns of players who fear "being controlled" by the DM — excepting those whose motive is about controlling the game themselves, who don't belong in our campaigns.  Taking a strong, paternal stand as a DM can be loving and giving; it's only those who cannot trust that will find some evidence of our desire to exploit them.