Friday, May 31, 2024

The Halfling and the Knight

Time I addressed this point from a recent post; hands up, anyone who knew what I was talking about:

"Much of the time, I believe, people have little understanding of what purpose in the game a rule serves, or how that purpose is compromised, leading to a less robust system, when that rule is casually tossed aside. For me personally, whatever a DM may feel about the presence of experience or encumbrance, and the "inconveniences" they bring, casting those things aside does not improve the game. The game is worse without them.

"Yet this is hardly understood, and even less appreciated. Of course we can still play D&D without those things. Of course the players can still move from place to place, they can still fight, they can yet role-play and even accumulate status and influence upon the game world. But these things — and this is almost impossible to explain to the average player — ARE NOT THE GAME. They certainly seem to be; and most would argue with me on this point ... vehemently. But they'd be wrong."

We don't need to count runs to play baseball.  We don't need teams.  We can still pitch, bat and run the bases without these things, if that's what we want.  We don't need a king to play chess.  We can move the pieces around on the field, attacking one another, deciding the game ends when there are no pieces left to kill, or the opposing player's move assures that a kill can't happen.  We can choose not to race sprinters against one another, having them run without a clock while five judges hold up cards to decide how the sprinter did, like figure skating.  We can play scrabble letters without numbers, ignoring any "score," on a blank lined board, until the board is filled.  We can throw out the property cards of monopoly and just roll dice to move our pieces around the board.

With children, we teach chess in a manner that a modern gamer recognises as save scumming.  Make the wrong move, see the consequences, take it back.  Thinking back 28 years, my daughter moves her rook, I take it with the queen ... then I put the rook and queen back to let her try again.  I let her put her finger on the bishop, deciding if she's going to move it, but I don't make her move it, because she's seven and I don't care if she wants to move the knight instead.  We learn games like this.  We see the consequences of our actions.

Then, as we grow more serious about the game (my daughter didn't, but I did), we don't want those breaks.  We want to win for real ... because we grow to see that it's a measure of the standards against which we hold ourselves.  We put ourselves in situations that aren't comfortable, specifically because the rewards are greater.

There's nothing in my life right now that says I have to walk onto a stage and risk public embarrassment ... but if I had the chance to do it again, to play Uncle Vanya or Dr. Stockmann, I would.  There's no money in it for me.  I have no urge to take up acting as a career (though, admittedly, because no opportunity to do so has presented itself).  But I would do it because I've done it before, because I've challenged myself in that way, I've put my soul and my commitment on the line in a theatre before paying customers ... and received good reviews.  There are no take backs; there's no way to save scum a few seconds before delivering a seven-minute monologue.

I know that the way the vast majority of people play D&D is "entertaining."  Enjoyable.  It must feel good for many to save scum, with getting rewards without risk, to talk their way out of difficulty, to get experience for showing up ... to shirk combat or, to always win, without that much trouble.  Always knowing that the character I have at the start of tonight's session will still be mine at the end.  Never feeling that raw, brutal panic of a die that has to go the right way ... or the plunge of heart that strikes when it doesn't.

But —

I don't want to take my knight back.  And I definitely do not want to play with those who insist on having it that way.  I'm not playing with children.  No, let me put that another way, because it could be misunderstood.  I have no interest in having adults who want to be children play with me.  If you want your knight back, when you lose your knight due to your inability to play, this says more about you than you realise.

Yes, I said inability to play.  D&D is a game with random elements, that a good player knows are there, accounting for them ... expecting them ... so there's no reason to whine or have a fit when they don't go our way.  That is the game's play.  When the player shirks from that, trying to reconstruct the game so as to avoid those consequences, instead of taking them on the chin like an adult ...

The collapse of my game centered on one player who did not like that her 5th level 60-lb. halfling druid wasn't a "fighter."  She chose to be a druid.  She chose to be a halfling.  She chose her spells.  She liked the sound of being a druid.  She liked to make the cute little jokes about being so light that many of the bigger characters could carry her without an encumbrance penalty.  She liked the pretty-sounding spell names, with words like faerie, shillelagh, goodberry ...

But every time a fight came up, she didn't like having to put her trust in that 20-sided die.  She knew there was plenty of power in the party to manage the monsters, to protect her little child-like body, but she didn't like knowing they were going to kick ass and she wasn't.  She didn't like depending on them.  She'd had plenty of opportunities to put out a good spell and help turn the tide of a battle, but that wasn't good enough.  She didn't want to be a team player.  She didn't want to take a bow at the end with the team.  She wanted to shine.  And she didn't have the class, the spells, the hitting power or the experience level that would let her do that ... and she was getting tired of waiting.  Every time she'd miss with that d20, the feeling of failure gnawed just a little deeper.  She didn't need to actually die as a character.  She didn't need that much to push her over the edge.  What she wanted, and what she hadn't earned, was to make the game ... not a game.  To make it into something that would serve her will.  That would obey her.  And when that didn't come out of the things her character could do, she decided it would come out of her inventiveness with the spells, reinterpreting them as she needed them to work.

When I countered that, she tried harder.  She invented more desperately.  She insisted more emotionally.  When it was her turn to throw that d20, she stalled, staring at her spells, sure that they'd be some way to weave them into an action that would get the result she wanted.

And when I put my foot down, one of the other players, a shining white knight, came to her rescue. He chose that moment to tell me how to act.  And what tone of voice to use.  In no uncertain terms.  In my game.  In my house.  And I rose to the occasion, because I don't let people talk to me that way.

The desire not to play a game, but to make the game suit the player's moods and wants, is the insidious poison at the heart of 5th edition and all that the company has done to D&D these last 20 years.  I love the game of D&D.  I do not love the shambling, mawkish doppleganger that is called D&D by nearly everyone ... and I have no idea what's going to become of the game I love.  The game I love.  I expect it to die along with the undead ghoul that it's spawned.

With four weeks gone, I remain uncertain about the future.  The majority of the crowd walked in support of the halfling and the knight, but I think that's an oversimplification.  There is a whiff that remains in my thoughts that the game itself had ceased to satisfy the needs of the party; and as I read the accounts of others lately, I'm detecting that same whiff in their games.

My head feels clearer.  There's a measure of anger.  Of betrayal.  Of the cheapening of this thing I love, which darkly bites at the memory of myself discovering this game as a boy, and thinking of it as a brutal, consequence-ridden thing, like the chess I played, being the greatest game in the world.

Which it isn't.


Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Self-Play Tutorial

This week, I've been putting together a new project, something that I had in fact considered about this time last year.  I did some preliminary work on the wiki with it, but then lost interest.  I wasn't in the right head space.  But while travelling last week, following the encounter at Butchart Gardens, it felt right to undertake the idea again, and so I have.

On the surface, this is going to seem like an old man's response to the collapse of my campaign, which is fair.  But I think there's more here than that.  For one, some months ago JB and I both discussed the subject of teaching D&D in some depth.  For another, I've been looking for a way to obtain a youtube presence since the middle of Covid.  For another, it wouldn't be my first attempt at building a better dungeon generator.  Although yes, it probably fills up a hole that's just opened, it's not wildly out of character for me to do something like this and honestly, I think that if it can be sustained, there's considerable merit here.

One important change that's come to my aid is, and I'm sorry to bring it up again, chatGPT.  Where it comes to D&D, though, it's a pretty frustrating program to work with ... not because of its design, but because of what it dredges up from it's D&D source material online.  Ask it to invent different entrances and it will gleefully rush to give ten examples of the same result, labeled with alternate "cool"-sounding adventure D&D tropes.  It's a narrow crevice entrance ... no, it's a jumble of rocks entrance.  No, it's a crumbled archway entrance; no, it's a rockfall barrier; no, an overgrown archway; no, a hidden ravine; no, a concealed tree hollow; no, a camouflaged burrow; no, a disguised well entrance ... and so on.  These are all real answers I got when I asked, "Give me different kinds of entrance ways into a dungeon."

It's very difficult to explain, when talking D&D, that these aren't really "different."  Hole in the ground covers all of them.  Granted, most dungeon entrances are a hole in the ground ... but it never occurred to chat that the dungeon, potentially located many score miles into the wilderness, might logically have a palisade or a stone wall.  True enough, a crevice will hide a dungeon from adventurers, if they have to find that crevice in a 10-mile wide hex.  But animals can smell food through a crevice, giant social insects can enter a crevice and plant their eggs there, huge spiders will no doubt find it and make a home there ... at some point, it makes sense to put something in front of that crevice that makes it more secure.  But chat couldn't think of that (I had to), because the entirety of its D&D source material couldn't think of that.

But when I have an idea, and I want to go back and forth on it, filling out details, letting chat take a swing, then writing a new draft, letting chat edit that, whereupon I write a new draft, and chat goes at it again, I can compress a lot of brainstorming and step around troublesome writer blocks with remarkable ease.  Chat can't do the work; it's utterly useless at that.  But it can suggest other words and throw out half-ideas that can be grabbed and run with.  Over the last few days, I've progressed in this particular effort by leaps and bounds because, having thought of dungeon generation for 40+ years, I finally have a real source that I can at least collaborate with.  If the reader will go look at the comments beneath the RDG post I linked above, you'll see that, in fact, in 2014, we were all positing something like what chatGPT can do for me now.

Take this one from Eric:

It'll be a real feat to make a good random dungeon that can be meaningfully revealed one room at a time ... "OK, you beat that pack of goblins, they go down screaming! Next room is..[roll].. a pack of goblin guards ... [roll] ... listening alertly."

That's quintessentially the trouble with every generator: repeat results.  Twice in a row is fine, but it's a disaster when that twice in a row happens repeatedly and gives the message that the goblins are endless; that killing the next group of them produces no real result.

The key, I think, is to control the generation so that it's not just generating from a large random sample.  It's what I'm attempting to do by separating different kinds of dungeon and acknowledging that the path through the "tunnels" dungeon has to be progressive, from space to space ... not treating every space with the same table and the same results.  A tunnel-dungeon is defined by it's rooms, not by its inhabitants; the randomly generated layout has to take that into account, creating just so many of each kind, and in a particular order, with the contents of each room having characteristics that apply to that room.  It's a brutal expectation from a generator-design standpoint, but it's the only real way to get around repetitive results.

My intent is to update my progress every 4,000 words or so.  The page itself, of course, is always going to be in the same place, so if anyone wants to see how it's going, they can.  Meanwhile, with my "collaborator," I'm going to see how far I can take this.

I think it's possible to take it out of the dungeon, though not easily.  I think it's possible to take it into urban areas as well.  I've done some preliminary work for that with my hammers/coins/food pagemaking.  I think it's possible to open up the process to suggestions from outside ... even to adapt what I'm doing to reader interaction regarding what the "player characters" choose to do next.  I have plans for this and youtube, which should reach fruition in a week or two, if I continue not to work on the Streetvendor's Guide, where my head ought to be ... but damn it, this is a new project, and new projects are fun!

Anyway, it's just a start.  We can look at this again when I double it's size so far.

I really like how, at the very end there, I got to write a couple of sentences that actually sounded like playing D&D ...

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Howard and Conan

So, at the present, I am reading Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian Barbarian: The Complete Weird Tales Omnibus, through audio book, 35 hours, 850 pages, with 22 short tales, novellas and novels, and one short fiction historiography of The Hyborian Age.  In addition to earlier works that were Conan-like by Howard, I've completed two Conan novellas: The Phoenix on the Sword and The Scarlet Citadel.  I'm about a fifth of the way through.

I'll talk more about Conan at a later time, but for the present I'd like to discuss the introduction by Finn J.D. John, who edited and annotated the omnibus.  I think it's relevant that R.E. Howard original "sword and sorcery" writings predate those of Tolkein by some years, with nearly all the originals published in Weird Tales being published by 1935.  The Hobbit, we may note, was published in 1937.  Conan is utterly unlike any other character in human prose to that time.  My own take on Howard's work is that he was able to mesh the supernatural genre of pre-1925 with the pacing and tempo of pirate and adventuring stories from the 19th century to his day.

H.P. Lovecraft's first appearance in Weird Tales came in 1923, and no doubt was an influence on Howard; they were personal friends, though pen-pals, communicating with each other that endured until Howard's death.  But Lovecraft's style is scientific and intellectual, a sort of combination between the adventure of Jules Verne and the supernatural of H.G. Wells.  Point in fact, most "supernatural" tales over the hundred years between Shelley's Frankenstein and the 1920s featured the appearance of some strange entity within the ordinary framework of the normal world.  Stoker's Dracula is uncovered by ordinary persons passing letters between them, until confronted by the evil; similarly Stevenson's Mr. Hyde is again encountered by anything but adventurers.  This can be said as well for the Invisible Man and Dorian Gray.

This is all turned on its head by Howard, who depicts his main character as a violent, sword-swinging, primitive killer, who does not ponder the meaning of evil when he confronts it, but instead either kills it or finds himself unable to do so.  In my opinion, because Conan is far more the "murder-hobo" type, who rises to be a king, it is far more Howard's work that sets the tempo and the inner life of D&D than Tolkein, who is filled with rather passive beings who stumble around getting out of trouble in a very fairy tale manner — that is, with author intervention in the form of magic objects and plain stupid luck.  Bilbo finding the ring, for example.  Conan rushes at the enemy, far more reminiscent of the characters in Treasure Island or Ivanhoe, who choose to fight before they think.

Here, I'm not going to discuss the writing.  Truth be told, I consider Tolkein a better sentence-maker; I do not consider either Tolkein or Howard to be "good" writers.  My scale for what makes a good writer includes a lot of people that the typical English-lit major chooses to set aside, because by gawd, none of us will ever write like Shakespeare, yes?  That would be impossible!  So we must only include writers in our "good" lexicon that we may conceivably someday match, such as the dreck of Harper Lee and Truman Capote.  "Lower the bar!" cries Academia, "Let it include Sylvia Plath!"  And so it does, achieving the goal of not scaring the be-jeebus out of first-year students.

But I digress.

As John writes,

"Conan's fame, and Howard's legacy, would steadily grow in the postwar years in spite of reviews ... but the supercilious disapproval of the literary establishment would cast a long shadow nonetheless.  In fact, some of Howard's biggest fans — among whom must be counted L. Sprague de Camp, though many modern Conan fans would rather not — felt a sort of compulsion to temper their complimentary remarks about his work for fear of being themselves judged for appreciating such low-brow trafe."

Love John's choosing of "trafe" over "tripe," simply because it's such an obscure English word, demonstrating the writer's own need to put a flag on the hill and say, "See, I'm talking about Conan, but I have a vocabulary."

I don't disparage Conan, nor seek to separate myself intellectually from it, because it has as much to do with "good writing" as does a hack saw.  His work is a tool designed to convey an idea; it's not mucking around with words to make pretty things.  It's scope and influence on writers these past hundred years dwarfs so-called better writers, who have done precisely nothing to create their own genre of literature, and even less to make themselves readable.  Therefore, do understand that I'm saying the reader does far more good to read Conan than to read of the Grey Mouser, and far more good for their communication of ideas to deconstruct the adverbs and adjectives of Howard than those of Tolkein.  Howard's phrases are raw power, picking the story up and hurlng it into the future, while Tolkein's phrases are pet dogs chasing their own rumps.  Damn the "quality" of it.

It is shocking to remember that Howard committed suicide in 1936 following the death of his mother from tuberculosis.  From Wikipedia,

"On the morning of June 11, 1936, Howard asked one of his mother's nurses, a Mrs. Green, if his mother would ever regain consciousness. When she told him no, he walked out to his car in the driveway, took the pistol from the glove box, and shot himself in the head. He died eight hours later, and his mother died the following day."

Thus the entirety of Howard's time to publish Conan stories consists of the narrow window between 1932 and 1935.  Given that though I've only read a small portion of the original stories, with DeCamp's and Lin Carter's fingerprints, it's plain already that he was improving considerably as a writer over his earlier works.  I look forward to seeing if that continues as I read the omnibus; I suspect it will. What a loss, therefore.  What a loss.


Tuesday, May 28, 2024


During my travels out west, Tamara and I determined that part of our trip would include a drive through Washington State, including our passing through Seattle.  In fact, this was deliberately arranged so that JB of B/X Blackrazor and I could meet face-to-face, which we did Friday evening.  Finding a hotel within 20 minutes of his residence, Jon came and met me there, and we went out to find a simple bar so that I could, at last, "buy him a beer," as I had promised to do many times ... though he bought the first round himself.

Oddly, no doubt because of our age, we didn't think to take a selfie together; in fact, the subject wasn't brought up.  We played a couple of games of pool, stripes and solids, but our focus wasn't on the game and while he won the first, he blew the cue ball off the eight and lost the second.  The conversation engrossed us throughout, as we talked for four hours, apart from breaks for the bathroom and our spouses.

My impression of Jon is that he is, first, a family man.  I'd first considered the possibility of meeting his family, but is soon became clear to us both that this meeting had to include only ourselves.  Anyone else, my Tamara, his wife and children, would have been inconvenienced by our discussion.

Now, what did we talk about?  Well, much that we would talk about on our blogs, of course.  Jon and I have a long, long history of going around on various topics, some of which we no longer disagree about (player-vs.-player, alignment) and some of which we continue to spar over (rules as written, the use of modules).  We did not debate; there would be no point, since in a single meeting we're not likely to change each other's minds.  Rather, we presented our views, such as we would in writing, and I think came out a little clearer on the other's point of view.

Take rules as written.  Jon isn't fanatical about that, but he is very conscious that many participants of the game change the pre-existing rules of forty years ago without knowing the reason for which those rules exist.  I agree with this.  Much of the time, I believe, people have little understanding of what purpose in the game a rule serves, or how that purpose is compromised, leading to a less robust system, when that rule is casually tossed aside.  For me personally, whatever a DM may feel about the presence of experience or encumbrance, and the "inconveniences" they bring, casting those things aside does not improve the game.  The game is worse without them.

Yet this is hardly understood, and even less appreciated.  Of course we can still play D&D without those things.  Of course the players can still move from place to place, they can still fight, they can yet role-play and even accumulate status and influence upon the game world.  But these things — and this is almost impossible to explain to the average player — ARE NOT THE GAME.  They certainly seem to be; and most would argue with me on this point ... vehemently.  But they'd be wrong.

This is not something that Jon and I talked about, merely the extension of our discussion about rules as written.  It's a post for another time, but not now.

We talked about writing and publishing, about the process of getting work out to our readers that's paid for.  We talked about Lulu, we talked about other platforms, we talked about Patreon and we gave each other advice on those things.  We debated our relative importance with respect to the D&D community (not much) and we discussed this very thing that I'm doing now: writing about each other on our pespective blogs.  [checking as I write this, he hasn't done this yet].

But to be honest, mostly, we simply enjoyed each other's company.  Jon is funny.  He's quickwitted, he's appropriately droll and sarcastic, he has a dry sense of humour ... and occasionally, there's a little blackness there.  He's not only nostalgic in his game ideals, he possesses this characteristic about a number of things.  We drank our beers, for example, in a near-empty dive in a dead mall, with carpets that hadn't been replaced since, um, the 1980s?  We played pool.  We discussed media and the internet and he expressed many thoughts that would be in keeping with the sort of straight-up white male who identifies as a pre-internet Democrat but not a supporter of Bill Clinton.  He respects those institutions the internet is killing and, guessing here, has the usual sentiments of someone who worries how the world is going to get on without those things.

So, yeah, if the reader has been a follower of JB these last ten years, then the man is exactly what his blog conveys him to be.  There were no surprises.

I think it's harder on those who meet me.  Like the statement I made above about what D&D is not, I'm difficult to predict.  I take a rigid line on things that make no sense.  Soon after meeting each other, Jon commented, in response to the radio program being turned off, on the demise of both local and national news as a meaningful source for people's understanding of the world.  I said, "good."  I have zero respect for newspapers.  I don't care if they all die.  And Jon, confronted with this, wisely dropped the subject.  I respect that.

See, four hours isn't enough for us to be friends.  I found this when I met Sterling and Ozymandias last year.  These are all people I got along with at once, whose company I immediately appreciated, whose discourse was vibrant and intelligent.  But it isn't enough time for those other things that make us friends.  Friendship is built of hardship, of labouring together, of bearing each other's sins, of having the time to break free of the need to impress and be polite, getting down to the brass tacks of meaning and disagreement and honest, tough-minded evaluation of one another.

This cannot be done when one is merely in Seattle overnight.

But, since I know Jon will be reading this, thank you.  Thank you Jon, for your smiles, for your generosity, for your understanding and your patience.  Thank you for the right place for us to talk, and thank you for your advice.  I'll try to follow as much of it as I can.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Loving this Game

I have returned, having seen much of southern British Columbia and some of Washington State.  I've had time to think and consider recent matters, and have come to a fully positive conclusion.

Silly that it should be so glaringly obvious, but let me explain how I bumped straight into what should have been staring me in the face.

We visited Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island on Wednesday, obtaining the right sort of cloudy-sunny day for it.  Tamara can walk for a distance of a few thousand steps, but she struggles beyond that; as such, we'd made certain that I could obtain a wheelchair from the Gardens to use for our support, for as long as we were there.  This required that I fill out a form, acknowledging my responsibility for the chair, for the damage that might be done, for any accidents that might occur while using the chair and so on, given that the Gardens are full of steep slopes and it would be easy for such accidents to occur.

I never mind about such things, but I like to play with such regulations in what I consider a fully fair manner.  Therefore, when I returned the wheelchair, I demanded a receipt for the chair, explaining that since I'd been made responsible for the thing, I wanted to make it absolutely clear that I was no longer responsible now that it was returned.

This obtained a rather excellent response, as they were put on their heels, wondering whether or not they should comply.  "No one's ever asked us to do this before," said the 20-something girl to me, somewhat befuddled.

"That's because you've never met a lawyer before," I answered smoothly, letting her believe, absolutely, that I was a lawyer.

And so, she signed her name to the same form that I had filled out, and the date, and handed it to me ... asking, "How long have you been a lawyer."

"Oh I'm not a lawyer," I answered.  "I'm a writer."

This broke the ice, and soon she was explaining, to me, how this obviously proved that I knew how to research things.  I explained that there was no point in telling people, most of the time, that "I'm a writer," because most people automatically believe this means "I write, but I don't make any money at it."  She didn't believe that.  I assured her it was true.  "I've been a writer for 45 years," I said, "and for half of that time, I didn't make any money, and for the other half, I have.  But the reaction from people is the same."

This roused her into a praising speech about the importance of writers and why I shouldn't worry about what people think of me, etcetera ... which ended in her asking, "What do you write?"

I gave the standard, simplified answer, highlighting the part of my writing that I like.  "I teach people how to play Dungeons and Dragons."

"NO WAY!" was her excited answer.  She had me write down this blog and my email, and for all I know she's reading this today ... but I wish the reader here could have seen the look on her face at the moment she learned that the total stranger she was speaking to actually played and liked D&D.  It was ... enlightening.

The tag line on this blog reads, "I Love the Game of D&D."  And so I do.  And it's stupid to worry about why a campaign might disintegrate or go it's own way, however frustrating that is, or whatever it might portend about my finding other players.  I love this game.  And I'm going to go on playing this game, whatever that takes, whatever that makes me look like, whatever inconveniences that arise.  Or however people might believe that my choice to play this game, my way, online, offline, is right, wrong, odd, goofy or pointless.  Because I love this game.

It is something that, for whatever reason, is easy to forget in the midst of those who see, instead, an opportunity for drama, rather than an opportunity to play.

I shall be investigating new avenues of loving this game in the weeks ahead.

Sunday, May 19, 2024


When last I did any work on the hammers page of my wiki (which I abandoned to work on the Streetvendor's Guide), my next intended page would have been for "dam."  It's comforting to know that, after leaving off something for about 16 months, the work is still sitting right there, waiting to be done.  I don't have to think of what I ought to do, or want to do ... just what's next.

For a change, and because I need a post, let me produce the page here instead of on the wiki - so that it can be transcribed later.  We want to consider only dams that would be realistically created between the 15th and 17th centuries.  Dams were also made for canals, and canal work was prevalent at certain times in Chinese history, but not so much with the decline and collapse of the Ming dynasty, and certainly the practice wasn't widespread in Europe or anywhere else in the time period specified.  My game, I'll remind the reader, takes place in 1650; for this, I'm just going to pretend I have a game, just in case one pops up.

Dams are primarily constructed to provide a reliable source of water for irrigation, ensuring that crops can be watered during dry periods. Dams also supply a steady flow of water to power watermills. They ensure a consistent water supply for livestock and limited domestic uses, supplementing wells and natural water sources. Community cooperation is needed in maintaining these structures, with locals working together to manage water flow, remove sentiment and repair damage. Understanding of water contamination is minimal, given the time period, so the primary concern is maintaining the water level and the dam's integrity.

Construction involves simple techniques, using local materials such as earth, clay, stone and timber. Rare dams might be constructed with mortared stone. Typically, they're about 3 to 10 yards in height, with a generally modest length, most likely less than a hundred yards.  The reservoir would be quite small as well, most likely not larger than 20 or 30 acres.  A few acres is far more likely.  One benefit is that as water settles in a reservoir, sediment and particulates drift to the bottom, producing a clearer, cleaner water at the surface.  This isn't pure of course, as various contaminants and microorganisms would persist ... but to the late Renaissance mind, the water would taste better.  Modern concerns just aren't present, as the source of disease and other maladies is largely misunderstood.

In my infrastructure system, dams occur with type-5 hexes that have at least 2 hammers (H).  For these conditions to be met, the hex must have a significant river, not a little stream ... so there's plenty of water available with which to make a reservoir.  Such a dam facilitates the growth of population in the hex and supports the water needed to irrigate more land, so that type-5 hexes also have a notation of 3 food (3F) as well (type-6 only have 2F).  Type-5 hexes without a sufficient stream also produce 3F, without the 2 hammers, so we may assume that more irrigation is not the only reason for this.

It needs to be stated, though, that the extra food on the map stipulates not production, but surplus.  Meaning that a type-5 hex with 3F and 2H would probably support food than the same type hex with 3F and 1H.  Not that this is very important, and these numbers probably are confusing, but this can be pieced together by following links on the hammer's page, linked above.

Dam failures did occur, due to inadequate design, substandard materials, poor maintenance ... all the reasons they still fail now.  Of course, a thirty acre reservoir, when it breaks, isn't going to cause all that much damage.  Flooding might threaten a few, but the larger consequence would be crops lost, lands flooded, and the difficult task of rebuilding the dam.  There might be considerable fallout as persons left the area or as a few engineers were given the axe ... not in a nice way.

The Dutch began building dams to create "polders," low-lying tracts of land that could be farmed, in the 12th century, building on work done by earlier cultures, including the Egyptians and Romans, and in fact the Danes during the time of the Vikings, starting four centuries earlier.  Polders are a major infrastructure practice; as such, I'm adding it to type-3 hexes, needing 3 hammers.  Holland and Zeeland are extremely dense in population/infrastructure, so there would be a lot of such hexes.

 At the time of my game, before 1650, nothing like the impressive size we know today were attempted; large polders could encompass several hundred acres, but this is still less than a square mile (which have 640 acres each).  Small polders covered just a few acres, much like the size of reservoirs we discussed above.  So, keeping these things small in one's mind is a good practice.

Many reservoirs contain fish, having been drained from rivers, so there's little need to stock them, but fish were captured from nearby streams and then transported to reservoirs to be released.  This carrying was done in baskets, barrels and buckets, as available.  Often, there were designated places along the shoreline of larger reservoirs (and natural ponds as well) for the intended purpose of stocking, where the water was deep and the fish had ample space to disperse and acclimate.  Stocked fish are typically carp, trout, perch and whatever else might be native to the region.

I just had a vision of players rescuing some travellers with two wagons full of what looks like beer, but are in fact barrels full of water and baby perch.

Well, that's all I can think of.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Saturday Q&A (may 18)

Orin in Washington State writes,

I'm 33, and I got my first set of DnD 3.5e core books at age 16. I ran games at a public game store for a few years in my early twenties, then ran privately for a handful of friends I had made in high school for a long time. Slowly we all drifted apart, and I have been in DM retirement for about two years now.  What do you do with a Dungeon Master?  Well, I hope you don't quit and go all in on the concert pianist plan. As to 'immediate application' as far as I'm aware there is no one in the DnD sphere doing what you do, with your degree of experience and dedication. Other than JB's blog, yours is the only one in my bookmarks that is still active.  I think just because you're not running a game, doesn't mean you've stopped being a Dungeon Master. You've spent enough time at it that the title still applies even if your current sphere of activity is 'adjacent' to DMing.

I'm hopeful that you'll keep up the piano practice. Maybe once you're confident playing a song and have figured out your recording setup, that can be a youtube thing?  I didn't need the definition of jonesing. Though I can't remember the last time I saw the word, or heard it used in conversation. I've done it, I am finally old.

On May 11th, JB wrote,

"But gaming doesn't have that easy, acceptable "out." You're expected to maintain group coherency...with no real end in sight. You MUST be together, in order to participate in the activity. A person who would flit from table to table, or who shows up only irregularly, is considered "flaky" and, thus, an undesirable participant. Tables want players (and GMs) that they can "rely" on. And, as you say, any flaws/cracks are only going to get worse over time, regardless of the chemistry that initially adhered the group together."

I played for about eight years with the same group. One friend ran his own world for three or four years which I played in, then I ran two campaigns across the same world, each lasting about two years. One set in Greece, and another in Germany, early 1600s.

We drifted into a weird space. After the first few years we only met up for the game. Attempts at other activities outside of DnD fell flat. We had all started as friends first, but somewhere along the way, the friendship twisted and our interaction was only the game. Play was all that remained. Friendship slowly withered. It probably started long before players came to me to voice grievances, and long before I started feeling fed up with certain types of behavior with some people in the group. I was also probably part of the problem, but nobody ever confronted me about what I did that might have upset them so... I don't really know. The only way to find out would be for me to reach out... but I feel no pull to do that at this point.

I tried to keep the game going. I loved making the maps, running the combats, grafting more rules onto the system to fill in for things I wanted and that players wanted more detail on. My last campaign died a slow death. Players cancelled. Occasional cancellations grew more frequent. One person dropped for weeks, others lost interest and took on other priorities. We took a few months-long hiatuses and tried to pick it back up repeatedly. The dominos fell, one by one. Until there were none. For a little while afterward, one person or another would message and ask when the game was coming back, and I'd send out the rounds of messages to everyone. I got a mixture of silence and schedule mismatches. Eventually everyone stopped asking.

I spent a few months revising and rewriting all the house rules with input from one player who I remained friends with. My maps, dice, pencils and books all sit packed away on the shelf. Other than an editing pass on the rules document, I haven't touched much of any of it this year. My hobby time goes into other things. I hadn't really sat down to examine my thoughts on all this in some time. When I feel it's time to run again I'll pack the game bags and go back down to the game store and see where it takes me, I guess.

Stirling in Maine writes,

"Suppose the players can go out and ... have a fine adventure, and ... all that effort isn't enough to pay for three nights at an inn and more than a half dozen meals ... What does the game become? ... Is there something inherently game-breaking about the players agreeing to help a small family plough their land this spring, in return for a hundred pounds of food?  Does it ruin everyone's good time if the bard has to get a gig, today, to pay for the party's lodging tonight?  Or are we just talking about a set of completely subjective assumptions about what the players are entitled to?"

Yes, these are assumptions about what players are entitled to, and, "What is it they're entitled to?" is the wrong question for question for a DM to be asking. The DM should only be asking him or herself what is it that the setting returns for their actions.

It's important for the DM to convey to the players what they can expect to get from the setting by interacting with it in various ways so players can make rational choices, but it's entirely up to the players to decide what they are going after to achieve their goals.

If they don't have goals, there is no game. If the DM assigns the goals, it's a puppet show not a game. The players must decide on their character's goals, but the game is sufficiently flexible that it doesn't matter whether those goals are treasure-hunting, performing good deeds, living an ordinary life in a fantasy world, or conquering that world.

Maxwell in California writes,

I noticed in your latest that you said a chat room would work better for online play than a blog or a wiki. We’ve talked about the shortcomings of the Patreon chat room specifically, but I agree, live chat as the interaction mode, paired with a wiki for knowledge management and forming a structured permanent record, could work well. (Then, of course, I’d want the same kind of live updating for combat maps and other visuals…)

Answer: Maxwell, that updating for combat maps was an ungodly bitch of a job. making the changes, putting in the markers, making a jpg, uploading the jpg ... and half the time, there's some tiny detail that's critical that gets missed and overlooked, so you have to make the jpg again ... and then writing a post explaining the updated map. Each round was a 40 min. job.  I think now, with the Vegas Pro program, I'd do the map as a video and post it to youtube; it would save me the writing time., and all the little combat markers.

Maxwell: So you would move the figures around while voicing over about what happens?

Alexis: Exactly.

Alexander writes,

RE: The Threat of Poverty post. My players once spent about half an out of game year in town, over the course of about twenty gameplay sessions. They inherited a manor house on the edge of a town, which solved their housing costs, though they did not play enough raw time in-game to reach the part where taxes were due. In fact, they never even asked or considered that as they moved in. What did they get up to? They visited every neighboring and local noble to try and figure out where the weakest links were, and if anyone had any family heirloom magic items the party might want to acquire, one way or another. Bribes were passed, alliances and enemies made. Occasional work was had doing small crime, or functioning as bodyguards for people going between villages. Bits of money were made to add to what they already had, and everyone hovered around character level 4 to 6 for most of that time. One player eventually managed to convince the rest to go open a dungeon because he grew bored of playing politics and not cracking enough skulls, and from there they went toward a neighboring area where a war had just broken out. Before that campaign collapsed, as I spoke about via email, the players were in the middle of helping turn the tide of a siege. That chunk of time is about as close as I've gotten to seeing what the game might be like when some of the 'standard' elements of DnD are set aside.

Bob Kile in Ohio answers: Nice story Alexander. On my end, about a year ago it dawned on me (thx to the Tao) that my party wouldn't be finding The Star of India in every treasure hoard. Any gems they found thereafter were unfinished. And to the untrained eye they were just moderately pretty rocks. Until two of the party earned enough KP in Geology to be able to recognize what they actually were. The trade table and availability of a lapidarist suddenly became important.


Thank you for your contributions.  Not much commentary on my end, but these stand for themselves.  I'm going to be out of town next Saturday, returning either Sunday or Monday; at that time, I'll post whatever I find in my email.

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,  Those giving a $3 donation to my Patreon,, can submit questions directly to me in the chat room there.

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, May 17, 2024

The Threat of Poverty

Tonight would have been a game night, but it isn't.  Instead, I'll take a swing at writing a post.

I was thinking today about the preview I posted for my Streetvendor's Guide, available on patreon for those who donate $10 on my patreon ( ... have to do a little plugging, that's how it goes.  I'll copy a tiny piece of the relevant text here, the full preview's about 1650 words:

Performance ... (price not yet determined)
The price to engage the services of a travelling minstrel or musician for a minimum of two hours and surely not more than four. Matters such as the scope of the performance, the repertoire of music to be played and the specified time and location always require negotiation that rarely pleases either side of the bargain. While the fee is almost never paid up front, it’s assumed that food and beverages at the event are to be provided gratis on an all-the-musicians can eat and drink basis.

Wouldn't be much, I'd expect, somewhere between 5 and 10 silvers I'd guess, but as I'm working on musical instruments yet, I want prices for the whole collection before calculating from the mean some sort of base price.  Easy enough for players to afford, and not likely to be enough for a player bard to pursue, except for the game experience of actually playing in front of live audience of strangers.

The passage exists in the guide because instruments exist, and because for the most part I'm including fees and hiring prices for people who use the equipment included in the book.  Whether or not players take advantage of the prices is no nevermind to me; part of the book's agenda is also to include information that might provide inspiration for a storyteller or a writer, who could easily use the guide as a random search engine, jumping through pages just to see what sparks.

But that aside, as I considered the passage today, I found myself wondering, "What if the price of working as a musician was worthwhile for players," which is not to say that I'd consider raising the price.  Oh, obviously, a much better musician would rate a higher fee, while maestros and geniuses could rate 30 to 60 times as much ... but that isn't where I'm going.

One of the larger gamebreaking issues of the game is the value of gold, jewels, insundry items and magic that pours into the player's pockets as they hie themselves off to a dungeon.  This has been part and parcel of the game's culture from the very beginning, as Gygax et al considered themselves to be portraying the vast riches that fantasy characters were always depicted as obtaining.  Jason and his Argonauts obtained the Golden Fleece, Siegfried gets his hands on the Rhinegold, Odysseus loads his ship with treasure from Troy, Wiglaf brings a sample of the dragon's treature to Beowulf before he dies, there were endless stories of El Dorado, Hansel & Gretel discover chests filled with jewels and gold when the witch is burned in her own oven, the Fisherman obtains more and more wealth through wishes granted by the fish, the Golden Goose, Rumplestiltskin and so on.

Yet I can just as easily point out that in any of the original modules released by TSR, setting the standard for treasure hordes, what one gets for killing 30 or 40 fairly ordinary orcs provides a rather comparable pile compared to these literary treasures.  A single ogre can yield up a few thousand gold pieces in value for battle given.  Granted, Siegfried's treasure is much, much more, but I don't remember any passages in the tale about his "hording up" 20 or 30 thousand coins as he fights battles on the way to getting there.  The same goes for a lot of adventure stories, notably King Arthur and his knights, where treasure figures rather negligibly compared to the adventure itself, the mystic elements of the stories and the morality of the quests pursued.  True enough, Troy yields up a lot of treasure ... but aside from armour, the acquisition of horses and a few slaves, these soldiers fight ten years before they see their cut of what Troy has.

Now, now, I'm not dissing treasure.  The players like it, it's a good motivator to action and yes, it helps the players buy stuff.  My general approach to that problem is to make sure there is lots and lots of stuff to buy, but that only goes so far.  How many large ships, herds of warhorses, merchant houses and castles can one character really want?

All the long-term player characters in my erstwhile and now dead campaign had accumulated hundreds of thousands of gold, some buried in property and some just buried.  Having enough to buy everything they wanted and then some didn't stop them from adventuring.  In the long run, it was never the treasure they wanted; this not being 5e, it was experience, and thus levels, and thus more options when adventuring.  Treasure was, and is, a means of getting there.  Which is why, for a lot of players who aren't indoctrinated in the old ways, being granted a pile of experience or an automatic new level does just as well as a big pile of gold coins.

Rest assured, I'm not preaching that either.  Just waving at it as we go by.

Consider what the game might be if players could not count on girding themselves up for a little dungeon delving, whenever their cash flow looked a bit thin.  Suppose that there still were the orcs, the ogres, the giant snakes and all the other big baddies ... but like we might expect of creatures who have no personal use for money, they don't actually have any.  Suppose that in toto, our clan of 50 orcs has some 50 copper pieces "between the seats of the couch," as it were, randomly discarded into a vessel here and there, punched and made part of a bone necklace, used as eyes for some kid's doll, as a button for clothing or kicked off into some corner of a rough cavern?  After all, there's no reason to keep these coins in a special chest made for the purpose; chests can be useful for storing things, and for most orc clans, coins aren't.  What are these orcs going to do with them?  Visit the local village market and buy a few peaches?

Suppose the orcs do pile up a few hundred gold, and that they know somewhere they can take them ... the lair of some group of human outlaws, who have the choice to take a bath and visit a town.  Wouldn't it make sense for the orcs, upon accumulating any coins, run off to the outlaws and make a trade for better iron, pottery jars, medicines, or whatever they can get?  Why hold onto this useless hunks of metal, when they can be traded for something useful?

Oh, sure, we can argue these orcs might want to keep some gems, as these are pretty.  But would these gems be anything more than somewhat ordinary shiny stones?  The early settlers in the Americas came across large "gems" in the hands of the natives, but these weren't cut and polished as if from Antwerp.  Compared to European-gems, these were stones found in rivers, worn smooth, but far, far from being worth hundreds of gold pieces.  And there were always more rivers, and more stones, and the natives knew where to go to get them.  This is not a question of something in short supply, but rather, how many do we really want to carry home?

In my childhood, our cabin was near a lake that had beaches made of quartz and agate.  Any day I could walk along the water's edge and find pounds and pounds of beautiful, mottled pieces of agate and glistening white quartz as big as my thumb, or bigger.  But none of these had any real value, unless time was taken to tumble the pieces, and clean them with acids, and polish them with rock blankets, until they'd shine enough to sell for $2 a piece at a rock shop.  It's not the stone being paid for; it's the work that goes into the stone.  There are rivers in Burma and Ceylon that produce rubies and sapphires in the quantities that my lake in Alberta produces agate; but they don't look like rubies and sapphires in a Burma stream.  They just look like rocks.  Smooth, pretty rocks, but if you weren't a geologist, or a local that's been taught, you'd never know which was a ruby and which wasn't.

So sure, the orcs have "gems" ... or rather, pretty rocks.  Maybe fifty or sixty of them, scattered around.  Some worth a few coppers apiece, and some worth nothing.  Because the orcs aren't jewellers.  They're not learning which stones the market is craving.  They're just picking up rocks that please them, that they see in a stream.

Oh, someone can argue around this.  The Incas and the Aztecs had some very nice stones, which the Europeans recognised as having terrific value, and these were brought to Europe and cut a little better and polished a little better, and some of them found their way into crown jewels around the continent.  But these were also stones that accumulated over a very large area, that of Mexico and Peru; and not in one generation, but over scores of generations, whose very best rocks were slowly plundered and gathered into the hands of monarchies.  We're not talking about the players knocking off some orc king, whose ancestors have ruled for a hundred years, in a land that's built on three other previous empires going back 2,000 years.  We're talking 40 orcs in a hole in the ground.  What are they doing with such a rock?

Just suppose, is all I'm saying.  Suppose the players can go out and kill the orcs, and get the experience from that, and rid the neighbourhood of orcs, and have a fine adventure, and feel good about their service.  And suppose, when they get back, all that effort isn't enough to pay for three nights at an inn and more than a half dozen meals.  And suppose there's no expectation that the next adventure is going to bring in any more.  What about then?

What does the game become?  That's all I'm asking.  Does it stop being D&D, because the money tap is turned off?  Is there something inherently game-breaking about the players agreeing to help a small family plough their land this spring, in return for a hundred pounds of food?  Does it ruin everyone's good time if the bard has to get a gig, today, to pay for the party's lodging tonight?  Or are we just talking about a set of completely subjective assumptions about what the players are entitled to?  

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

What do you do with a Dungeon Master?

Let's catch up.

My offline campaign exploded two weeks ago and the fallout has been absolute.  I have no more offline campaign.   Before that had happened, I was planning on going on a vacation at the end of May, and then that didn't seem to be working out ... and then I made an arrangement with my work and I've been slaving at that since, oh, Thursday last week, and now I can breathe and I'm going on a six-day break.

I wrote a couple of posts last week that caught my feelings for then, which I thought I'd continue but now there's nothing left to say except that I disagree with some who say that the being in the present can only prepare you for the past.  I don't think that's true.  We can't know what's going to happen in the future, but the present, and the past, helps up build a better seat-belt for it.

The last time I had a game blow up on me, I was 29.  Less than half the age I am now.  That seems incomprehensible to me ... that all the chaos and confusion of those first years of D&D, between 1979 and 1993, represent less than a quarter of my lifetime.  It's easy, when you're 29, to assume that when your players walk out (they had a meeting among themselves and then I was informed), that obviously you're going to keep playing the game, obviously you're going to find another party, obviously it's no big deal, because as people age into their 30s, they often think they should stop doing the things they did when they were kids.

But here I am, not quite actually 60, and it really isn't so obvious that there's going to be another game party in my future, or even that I want one.  This is a sobering thought.  I have thoughts of the game, which I love, and the concept of the wiki, which I love, and the maps, which I love ... and the cold, stark, inflexible reality that for the present, for this moment, I have no immediate application for any of these things.

So.  I'm thinking.

I came to a conclusion last Christmas that it would be stupid to stop writing this blog, so I'm not going to do that.  The Streetvendor's Guide is a brilliant book, which has to be written, so I am going to continue writing that.  The wiki is the conduit of the experience I've accumulated through years of living and playing D&D, so that's not going away and deserves my attention.  Making the maps just feels good, in a way I've tried to explain, but which I know many cannot understand.  Nonetheless, I've found an outlet in that direction for a consciousness I like owning, so I'll continue to make maps.

But for the present, I'm in limbo.  What do you do with a dungeon master when he stops being a dungeon master; what can you do with a dungeon master who retires?  Who's got a game for a dungeon master, when he stops being a dungeon master ... 

There are always ways to keep busy, of course, and I'll follow them.  Patreon has invented a chat room, which I've pitched here before.  There are just four or five of us altogether, from the much larger number that support me to the tune of $3 a month.  It would be a better format for running an online game than either a blog or a wiki, but I can't say I'm interested.  Somehow, the online process has left me cold.  I assume that presently, after some time has gone by, that I'll get itchy for a game ... but there's always some public club, if I want to let a bunch of 5e players boss me around.  Gawd, I'll have to be pretty hard up before I jones that hard.

Sorry.  "Jonesing."  To have a strong desire or craving for something.  I'm very old.

And so are you, if you didn't need the definition.

Still, I'm here for the weekend.  I figure I've written some 28,000 words in the last 6 days, and edited about 40,000 more.  I may take a couple of days and do a jigsaw puzzle or something.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Saturday Q&A (may 11)

Bob in Ohio writes,

Assume a players comes to you and says "I've noticed there aren't many sheep farms in this area and as a result wool clothes are more expensive than in many other places. How can I go about importing wool (in some form up to and including clothing) or starting a sheep ranch?" I'm using sheep/wool as the example but it could be any of a myriad of raw materials and finished products. I know you did a series years ago on how to start a settlement which provides some guidance but wondering if you could flesh it out a bit from a DM's position as to what/how we'd need to provide to the PC?

Answer:  Briefly to start: 1. Identify what any of the players actually know about the sheep business. 2. Identify the practicality of raising sheep in the desired locale. 3. Locate a place where sheep/wool is produced in abundance. 4. If the players wish to merely import wool, point out that this has expenses incorporated, and that their desire for profit will likely not benefit the target location, but could make the players money. 5. Determine if there's a demand for wool at the target location, as the residents there may very well have gotten along without it. 6. As the DM, determine the price at the place of origin the players select. 7. Identify what the costs of transport are. 8. Let the players have at it.

It's very important to understand that doing business by the numbers is a dangerous proposition. Even if the game's metrics on prices from one part of the world to another are necessarily simplistic, this doesn't mean the DM is restricted in the manner in which the player's wishes are carried forth. Numbers might tell the players about trends that are in place, but they can't always account for unexpected events. Different areas have distinct costs of living, or taxes and regulations. Apart from transportation costs that are ascertained ahead of time, disasters can wreck roads, social troubles may temporarily suspend travel, while certain remote locations may prove unexpectedly difficult to reach both geographically and in terms of making the most of the market once getting there.

If a single market town has only a few hundred people, in a very large region the size of Ohio (with a commensurately lower population), we wouldn't expect all the people in Ohio to travel their for their goods. Most would sustain themselves without ever going to market. Bringing a hundred swords to a remote location because the prices are twice as high may still mean that only one person at the destination actually wants to buy a sword. And of couorse, there may very well be another NPC group right now in the process of doing this exact same thing, creating competition the players didn't expect.

I think fairly that players should be entitled to make one good profit, all things being equal, so long as their first venture is reasonable modest and they're diligent with their practices. Players who go all in with everything they own to take an extravagant cross-continental trip with imaginings of swimming in gold a la Scrooge McDuck may fairly be educated from the outset ... but on the whole, I'm generally of the opinion that the first one or two times, the matter is best brought off with a minimum of hitches. Thereafter, however, we can roll a d6, to see if a '1' comes up, to decide just how much awfulness we want to put between the players and their goal.

Once upon a time, in a game of Traveller I played, the Referee was so benign that we simply manipulated him into giving us tens of millions of credits, because he employed the rules surrounding trade written out in that game exactly as written. Was lots of fun for us, but it did break the game; and he quit playing altogether, as it destroyed his faith in the game.

Nigel writes,

This is an amusing anecdote about transporting porcelain and other easily broken objects

There's an expression in German, 'Alles in Butter' (translation in subject, meaning everything in fine) that comes from the porcelain industry here. Apparently, the porcelain was packed in a case, which was then filled with melted butter, to prevent breakage during transport.

Here's a German language Sesame Street equivalent youtube video.

I thought that could be an interesting tidbit for your Streetvendor's Guide.

JB in Washington State writes,

Another good post, if an uncomfortable one to read. I imagine it was even more uncomfortable to write.

Yes, this happens. It has certainly happened to me. And the fallout you describe: dissolution of the group, fracturing or relationships, abstention from gaming, emotional distress...yeah, that all happened.

It's tough. We belong to school, or a job. But they usually have "outs," steam valves that allow one to escape before the pressure gets to you. You graduate from school after a few years. You're free to quit your job and seek another. People throw you a party, wish you well (whether they mean it or not) and everyone moves on with few (if any) hard feelings.

Even the "family institution" has an escape path...if we have difficulty we can move out, and move away. We don't need to call or visit on a regular basis; we can keep difficult parents or siblings at a healthy distance (if necessary). Hell, if we can't get along with our spouse, we can get divorced and move on.

But gaming doesn't have that easy, acceptable "out." You're expected to maintain group coherency...with no real end in sight. You MUST be together, in order to participate in the activity. A person who would flit from table to table, or who shows up only irregularly, is considered "flaky" and, thus, an undesirable participant. Tables want players (and GMs) that they can "rely" on. And, as you say, any flaws/cracks are only going to get worse over time, regardless of the chemistry that initially adhered the group together.

That's a tough nut...and I'm not sure how to crack it (perhaps being as open, honest, and authentic as possible could help). But it certainly won't be cracked if the issue is never brought up and dragged out into the light of day. Thanks for posting.


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.    

Tuesday, May 7, 2024


Not a very pleasant post, yesterday, I know.  And I know that it seems out of place for D&D.  But there exists a considerable opportunity in D&D for players to see the DM as merely a tool or resource to be used for their benefit.  A player may have a deep passion for the game they play every week; they may count the days before play resumes, becoming excited and arriving in a state of euphoria and a desirious readiness to play.  It can be terrific to have such players, as their exhuberance can produce a lot of game momentum and make for a fine evening.

Unfortunately, this attitude doesn't necessarily mean that same player appreciates the effort, creativity or investment the DM has put into crafting their game experience.  Players are well able to take a DM for granted.  They may in fact feel no special connection or appreciation for the DM as a person ... while continuing to arrive ready to play, because the DM exists.

In many cases, both the players and the DM may initially assume that because there's a mutual appreciation and enjoyment of the game, everyone at the table also has an appreciation for each other. This may easily not be the case. It's a common assumption in any social setting, including tabletop roleplaying games like D&D, that mutual participation implies mutual appreciation. However, that assumption doesn't always hold true.

Both the DM and the players might enter the game with that assumption; and it might, in fact, be true at the outset. But as time passes, the individual nature of the participants can't help but undergo some kind of transformation, for better or worse. And steadily, over time, it may become evident that the latter is the case. The players may continue to show up and play because they enjoy the game itself ... or because they value having a regular activity to participate in. The DM might continue to run the game because they enjoy the process of managing the game, with it's back and forth and such.

It can be sobering for the DM to realise that things have moved away from what they once were ... and it's very easy to dismiss that feeling, to believe that it's overly self-conscious to doubt one's associates or friends, especially if the campaign has been going on so long that everyone's invested deeply into it.

Now, I tend to look at this from the DM's perspective, because I haven't played the game in about 35 years; but this can easily go the other way.  DM's can certainly take their players for granted, using them to sustain a campaign that's based on a tacit give-and-take that has, in fact, long since evaporated.  So anything I say about the players' attitude towards the DM, please understand that I'm equally speaking of the DM's attitude towards the players.

If anyone detects this shift, addressing it can be challenging.  Anything that's gone on for a long time, where individuals have been invested, is going to obtain a certain degree of calcification.  Seeking to engage others on the topic in a blunt, direct manner can produce an equally abrupt defensiveness and resistance from the other participants, potentially making it unlikely that discussion is going to resolve anything.  Even a softer attempt at broaching the subject is bound to produce some kind of undesired and possibly unwarranted reaction ... because we're mostly all on a hair-trigger and wary of a possible accusation.  We see accusations hiding in the bushes that aren't there, and are ready to call them out at the first suspicion.

So ... the truth is that the campaign can easily rot from within.  It's easy for A and B to accept C at the game table, while mildly casting disparaging comments outside the game; it's easy for C and D to do the same with E.  It's easy for B and E to have silent misgivings about the DM, yet continue to come and play because they like the DM.  It's just as easy for the DM to have those same misgivings about B, D and E.  And so it goes around.  The game continues.  Everyone continues to show up like clockwork.  But a low-level discontent begins to accumulate ... and once it starts, if it's not addressed positively, there's going to be an event.

The fallout from such situations will be significant, especially if the game has been going on some time. Catastrophic fallout from such situations can include the dissolution of the gaming group, fractured relationships among players and considerable emotional distress for all. People quit the game after this kind of fallout; and those that continue to play D&D never forget that it happened. Even when playing with a different group, in a different form of the game, the trauma remains, making trust with the new group difficult. There are feelings of betrayal and intense blamification [not a word] of the game itself, the edition or the genre, rather than attributing the fallout to actual people.

After it happens, there may never be an opportunity to validate the feelings of other people who took part.  Very likely some, most or all the participants involved may cut off all ties with the DM or with each other, depending on how the conflagration shaped itself.  A DM that's had a party explode like this may go months or years without intiating another campaign; they may quit the game entirely.

And here's the last point about it I want to make.  This isn't rare.  In fact, it's extremely common ... and it's rarely, if ever, discussed in the open.  There's so much shame and discomfort towards the event that most of us would like to pretend, first, that it has never happened, and second, that it can't to us.  That's not true.  Ignoring the prevalence of conflicts within D&D does a disservice to everyone.  It does not matter the quality of the DM, because this is about people, not one's ability to describe things or direct a game.  People are fuzzy, unpredictable things ... and yesterday's post was meant to outline how much of the time people function without being self-aware of what they're doing, why they're doing it, or even that they drew consequences for having done it.

Do not think that you, Gentle Reader, are exempt from this.  It can happen to anyone.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Victim Card

The term "victim card" typically refers to a situation where someone portrays themselves as a victim in order to gain sympathy or some form of advantage. This can involve stressing their hardships or past traumas in a way that deflects responsibility or justifies certain actions. Sometimes, it's used to manipulate emotions or perceptions in their favour, especially in conflicts or disputes where they may be at fault. Essentially, playing the victim card involves using one's victimhood as a tool for personal gain or to avoid accountability.

The danger of the victim card is that when someone relies on playing it, and others don't respond with the expected sympathy or support, it can lead to an escalated conflict or consequences that the "victim" isn't prepared to manage. This increases the alienation or aggrievement of the individual, so that any resolution that might have been obtained in the original disagreement is now well in the rear-view mirror ... and, in fact, a complete catastrophe is now in progress. A resolution is impossible, because any possibility of open or honest communication is gone. The accused party is deeply insulted and hurt by what they perceive as unfair manipulation or deception, leading to a complete breakdown of trust.

Meanwhile, the accusing party is put in a completely untenable position. If they double down on their original position, they risk exacerbating the conflict and further damaging the relationship. On the other hand, admitting that their original purpose was to seek advantage is impossible, since the original purpose of the manipulation for advantage was almost certainly to avoid having to admit to either a wrongdoing or a shortcoming. Doing so would require a significant amount of humility, vulnerability and self-awareness.

It's the self awareness that's at issue, isn't it? If they were self-aware to begin with, they most likely wouldn't have attempted the manipulation in the first place. Often, it's the lack of self-awareness that contributes to the person resorting to manipulation tactics. If they could accept a shortcoming in themselves, they'd just admit that and move on. If they were aware that the wrongdoing was their fault, they could confess it, apologise, and move on. But from the start, they're able to do neither of those things, because they've already begun to veer away from those self-aware discussions, long before the victim card is played. They've already chosen to manipulate as a form of self-protection ... which is how they see their position. "I am protecting myself." They're not even aware that they're doing this through manipulation. They believe they ARE a victim; and they believe that because, from their point of view, they've suffered the sorts of things victims suffer.

This articulates a very common and complex psychological pattern. Indeed, individuals who resort to this form of manipulation nearly always HAVE experienced tremendous moments of hardship, trauma and actual injustices in their lives. These experiences can deeply shape their perceptions and coping mechanisms — one of those being to accuse and attempt to control others who are around them. They see this as a way of asserting their own sense of agency or seeking validation for the pain they've suffered.

Unfortunately, the strategy of playing the victim card can be quite effective, especially if the accused person is susceptible to manipulation or lacks awareness of the dynamics at play. People who use this tactic often find they can rely on the empathy or guilt of others to aid them in avoiding accountability or gain sympathy ... perpetuating an ongoing cycle of manipulation and conflict. And because that cycle isn't sustainable, individuals who rely upon it find themselves increasingly isolated and unable to develop healthy, genuine connections with others.

Much, much harder, however, is when the someone playing the victim encounters a person who is not only self-aware but also skilled in maintaining their stance without yielding ground, possibly from a lifetime spent in a position of authority or in the military situations, the dynamic can become unexpectedly intense and distressing for the accuser. Having encountered someone who is plainly manipulative, the first response may be one of incredulity or disbelief at the accuser's attempts to garner sympathy. They're almost certain to feel a strong sense of resolve in standing firm against what they perceive as unjust or indecent behaviour, choosing to act unilaterally in order to protect themselves ... and being self-aware and secure in their convictions, has no need to seek validation.

But ... in a public confrontation, the "victim" appears to be the victim. There is no way around this. The demeanour of the defendent is, in fact, less emotionally engaged; lacking in either sympathy or support; wholly callous, cruel and — depending on what they might say — contemptuous in one degree or another.

Thus we have one of the most difficult situations that has arisen in our society, where individuals who manipulate are framed as "the good people" while individuals who stand for their beliefs and who refuse to be manipulated are "the bad people." There's really no way out of this conundrum. Sometimes I'm rather pleased that I'm only going to live another 10 or 20 years, as watching this situation evolve over the last twenty convinces me that when I'm 80, it wouldn't be a such a bad time to just bow out.

The Gentle Reader can probably guess that I'm in the middle of experiencing some of this nonsense. It is the reason that there was no Saturday Q&A yesterday, and not even the desire on my part to explain at this time that it wouldn't be written. Anyone who has been in my position, who is familiar with standing their emotional ground, who doesn't need validation to feel good about themselves afterwards, nevertheless cannot help but be affected by the toxicity and the pure, unpleasant foulness of having to deal with the situation. Our distress actually has very little to do with the accuser, who can be conveniently dumped on whatever human garbage heap that's available. Our distress arises from the disquieting unpleasantness that these people exist, that they're everywhere, that they cannot be wholly avoided and that they will never, ever, receive any of the counselling they so desperately need, nor the consequences they have so richly earned.

It's something that we, who did what we had to do to be better people, have to live with.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Audio Files

My players were amused by the recordings that I recently released these last two weeks, but they declined to be recorded again last night.  So I shall have to find some other way to become rich and famous through youtube.

Thursday, May 2, 2024


The Streetvendor's Guide has been keeping me busy, so that as I've waded through the various wooden articles used to make tools and crafts, up to but not including musical instruments, I haven't had any time to map make or much else ... beyond the day job, naturally.  Not even for writing blog posts here.  But, it's been a good day, written a full page, edited nearly two full pages, worked some on the book's table of contents, worked some on the book's index, and even found time to continue my piano practicing today.

I haven't been able to take any video or audio of my learning piano, because I haven't any kind of stand and merely posing the phone on the edge of a table or on the piano itself gives very poor coverage.  For anyone who might wonder, I've learned from the internet how to do scales with both hands, with my eyes closed, and how to play Twinkle Twinkle little star, again with my eyes closed.  I practiced today to play the harmony with my left hand while playing the melody with my right, but while I get the concept, and can hear the positive effect pressing the right keys delivers, I can't do that at speed yet.  I can work my way through the song a few times to try to impress the pattern, but it's still patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time.  I'm in no rush.  I've had the piano just three weeks.  I do practice for a few minutes every day, longer if I get intrigued.  Did about half an hour today, struggling with Twinkle Twinkle and also trying my hand at Wenceslas.

I keep an eye on Patreon's chat window multiple times a day as well, which isn't difficult and which, for the most part, is empty of residents anyway.  Thinking about those erstwhile days a hundred years ago when I met Tamara in a chatroom, I used to dominate those conversations by typing quickly, forming my thoughts quickly, having way too much to say and basically drowning out those who might try to disagree.  I haven't written this yet, but Tamara got interested in me when she watched me disassemble a fellow online that was browbeating her; I didn't know her, but I rushed in, took the argument on and buried the chatter ... and she and I had a long talk afterwards, that day and every day, until we agreed to meet.  It's been 22 years now, since those events I wrote about here.

I'm saying I'm probably not much fun to talk to.  I must thank those people who contributed to the raising of my mood after my writing the last post.  I have a D&D running tomorrow night, I intend to record it, and hopefully do better in a few ways.  For one thing, the child is being given away to the other grandparents for the evening, so any conversation is going to be neglected by his personal take on things.  There should be more players there as well, and possibly some combat if things go as I expect.  The last running actually ended with the players arriving in Tomis and debating whether or not to shop there.  I imagine we'll start with a purchasing sequence tomorrow night.

Little has been said about the mapmaking feature in the background of the audio posts I've made.  My original recording actually goes right up to the completion of the area around Przemesyl, I just haven't obtained enough audio to reach the end of that work.  I'm rather surprised that it takes me so long to sketch these things out, since the time just flashes by while I'm engaged.  Anyway, I noticed with this video that I failed to put a village in a type-4 hex, and looking at it now, it's evident that I didn't do so in the as-yet-not-posted part of the video.  One of those things to be fixed in post, I guess.

Beyond these things, there's not much to say.  If any of my supporters wants to know what I'm doing, or why I'm not posting, it's the easiest thing in the world to go find me on patreon's "community":  Frankly, I'm surprised that some enemy doesn't pay $3 just to have the privilege of telling me to go fuck myself to my face.  Maybe I've run out of enemies.  If so, this is a good time to increase my youtube footprint.