Sunday, June 30, 2024

Dratgash Hills

Once I would have rushed to post this map on this blog, but a previous version of this has been on patreon since yesterday.  The above has no fixed location in my gaming world, instead representing the "explored" lands related to the play tutorial on my wiki, specifically this page for the "Dratgash Hills."  The wilderness generation seems to be working fine, though it's going to need a hundred tweaks and added material as time passes, which is the intent and purpose here.  For the present I'm satisfied that it is building a world, though somewhat mundane by 5e standards.  Personally, I've always found the actual concrete play the most interesting thing, since I'm interested in making right choices for survival, rather than getting my fantasies on.

The map shows 6-mile hexes in bold, 2-mile hexes in semi-bold and 0.741-mile hexes in faint lines.  I don't plan to map the whole world in this format, only what this party encounters, with the light brown area showing, generously, the parts the party has tramped through.  I had experimented with this map design about a year ago, not sure how I was going to use it, but I felt it would be best to keep it hid until it came to be useful.  I do like the trees a great deal, especially as usually I don't do trees well.

The small number "3" in the corner of one hex indicates the number of "happenstance" rolls that have been made there, which must be kept track of.

As soon as the party actually encounters a dangerous living creature, which would be nice, actually producing a combat, I'll make another combat video.  Meanwhile, as I say, it's been a lot more time spent on Patreon lately, primarily because of the chat room there.

It's not a lot of people using it or anything, it's only that on Patreon, I get a better idea of who's actually reading my work, of who's involved, what their opinions are and what things I should work on.  The campaign poll, when I put one up, gets a good conversation going.  A 1$ donation gets the reader into the poll and the comments section there, but a $3 donation gets into the real conversation, the one that takes place in the chat room.

Hell, what are you going to spend $3 on, anyway?  At least you can lurk in the chatroom, which most of my supporters plainly do, since I'm there several times a day, every day, and I'm always ready to answer questions or say something.  

Come and join my patreon.  It's better than blog-reading.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Saturday Q&A (jun 29)

Bob in Ohio writes,

I started playing D&D in the late 70's but got out before 2.0. So I missed 3.5 and 4 as well, then came back to 5 in 2018 or so. Didn't like some of it so at my table I use 5e as the base with a LOT of cuts and homebrew. The Hasbro/WotC conglomerate is rolling out 5.5/6/One soon. And the PHB and DMG have hit. And it's ..... woke?

Start with Orcs. Remember those little pig snouted things that were the go-to foe back in the day? They're now humans. And either Hispanic or perhaps Romani. The dwarves are depicted as gay barristas - they've tattooed each others beards on their arms! You want human orcs and gay dwarves in your game? You go! You do you. To oversimplify "This ain't your father's D&D."

IMHO It's a move even further away from the game "as intended." Does this make me a "gatekeeper?" I don't think so. As I said above — you do you. Bottom line — after giving it some thought this afternoon — those that own D&D have decided they will no longer be designing/providing the game I want to play. Michael Shea has long espoused that we don't need their books to play. And you long ago embraced that philosophy. But this has been my wakeup call.

Answer: I hate to ever think that Michael Shea and I have anything in common.

Maxwell in California writes,

The range on the fireball spell looks wrong.  Should it be 100 ft. per level?

Answer:  GAWD no. Figure. You can't have the spell until you're 5th, which means the minimum range it's ever going to have is 60 ft. It means that yes, you have to get close and personal. The radius is 20 ft., so you're easily 40 ft. from the blast; gives you lots of room if you don't want to include yourself in the fun.

Maxwell: Gotcha. I happened to have the AD&D PHB open and it led me astray. So much for mages as artillery :) Regarding "Gives you lots of room..." OK. Plus IIRC you allow a mage to reduce the size of a spell if they want (i.e. 20 ft radius is a maximum; it could be lessened to 10 or 15.)

Answer: "Mage as artillery" is broken game design. Just thinking ... suppose you don't use the "reduce the size" feature, and a 1st level has a "fireball" scroll. That's a range of 20 feet. And the radius would be 20 feet. Technically, it would mean the mage could kiss the fireball, but I'd rule that it wouldn't scorch.


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,  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.     

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Content is Hard

Content is hard.  For those creators who are dependent on coming up with wholly new material every time they post, or want to upload a video, I feel for them, I truly do ... because on some level, they're dependent on finding something to write about.  Oh, how I have been there myself, so many times.

Many of the once-brilliant creators I follow are so plainly done.  Compare this, which came out yesterday, to Danskin's earlier work.  Compare this, from a week ago, from Olsen's earlier work.  Compare this, from gawd knows when because it took so long for Rowntree to put something up, to his earlier work.  All three examples represent enormous amounts of effort; plain evidence of comprehension and purpose; unquestioned ability and skill.  And all three are absolutely the creator going up his own asshole, for lack of having anything relevant left to say.  This isn't a recent problem.  All three have been struggling for years now.  Since the onset of covid, none of them have remotely produced the relevancy of work they once created.  And that is the key word, because the fault in their work isn't their artistic ability, but in their inability to be relevant.

How I pray I'm not them.

I don't know that I'm not ... but it has been explained to me that part of my path is that I'm not casting around each time I post, or each time I imagine a project, for something new to write about.  I can, at a whim, sit here and write about dungeons and dragons for an hour, easily, on any part of the game, on the spur of the moment.  I'm not trying to write reviews of things, which forces me to go out and find things to write reviews about.  I'm not dependent on gimmicks like "30 things that begin with an 'N'" that I have to write about every November.  I can make maps every day for a couple of months ... and then not.  I can work on the wiki everyday for a couple of months ... and then not.  I literally have no end to the open-ended projects that exist in my setting, that I can't possibly ever finish, because they're monumentally huge.  I'm not dependent on someone else's movie, or someone else's recent release, or someone else's questions and involvement.  If the Q&A lies empty, so it goes.  It doesn't make or break my presence here.

And I have only myself to thank for that.  The teenager me went at this game's design with hammer and tongs from the beginning, certain that I could deconstruct every element in it and make it better.  Gygax's DMG had so many faults and failings that I cheerfully set out to rewrite tables and expand portions of the book.  Single sentences in that book led me to projects that I've pursued for thirty years, some with mixed success, some with startling results.  I may be tired; I may not know, for a week or two, how to create a given table or explain a set of proposed rules, but I'm not bored with the work I do.  It seems all the time that the path in front of me is ready to be trod upon and the direction plain ... and all in all, I don't feel irrelevant.  Most of the time.

I've had moments, certainly, expressed on this blog, when I've wondered if AD&D itself has become so irrelevant it won't survive my lifetime.  I've had moments of enormous blind rage at various successful toadies who, unlike those respected persons I began this post with, do not have ability, skill, insight, a willingness to work or a purpose ... except, perhaps, to bilk people out of their money for shit content.  I have definitely felt ignored.  Painfully so.  But it still feels like the work that I'm doing has application and value.

I can't begin to guess at what to say to those creators who are losing their verve.  I don't believe they know it.  Or perhaps, the well really is dry and this is all they've got left.  In either case, it's a doomed situation.  If they've lost their sight regarding their own work, then nothing anyone else says or does will ever reach through the fog of self-righteousness that a creator has to wrap tightly all round as protection against the slings and arrows of ignorant critics.  That fog is critical.  If I keep insisting that you, dear reader, don't understand what I'm doing, and that you can't understand it because you haven't the ability to do so, then I can sustain myself and my "vision" until the day it all collapses and I collapse with my arms around a horse's neck, gibbering out promises that I'll protect it.

On the other hand, if I've lost the sight, truly lost it, and am unable to see my way to any content that doesn't wallow in the mire or insignificance, then gawd, what a pathetic case am I.  Like a professional guitarist adrift on a desert island without a guitar.  Don't look at me.  Please don't suggest anything.  Please, I can't bear it.  I can't bear what I've become.

It is the most miserable fate I can imagine ... to want to create, for these fellows plainly want to create, though it takes them a year to create and edit just two hours of minimalistic content, in some cases using a team of four or five people helping them.  I can edit 15 minutes of video in an afternoon; I can write 15 minutes of dialogue in about 90 minutes.  Yet these poor souls must needs 7 months to find a subject, read books on the subject, carefully craft their dialogue, purchase props, angst over their camera angles and costumes, painstakingly edit and so on, to deliver a video for youtube that's not quite as long as a feature film, with only one performer and the most minimalist of lighting or movement.  The agony they must go through, questioning every line, reshooting or rewriting every facet of ever second's delivery ... or perhaps the months and months of dreary wall staring as they furtively seek something to film or deconstruct.  I am so glad I'm not them.  Go up my own ass I may, but I don't take 9 months to do it.

Before encountering these recent works from these other creators, I was having my concerns about my own recent efforts.  Does it make sense to run myself in a randomised game system?  The combats are fun, reassuring to see posted, and I look forward to another; but is this whole thing just a weird, mastubatory debacle that I've talked myself into following the collapse of my offline game campaign?  I can't lie to myself, this might be the case.  I'd considered doing something like this before, more than a year ago, but I couldn't see having the time, nor really the motivation to do it.  I had players already.  I could play test stuff with them.

So, perhaps, I've gone off a deep end somewhere.  I admit I'm not finding the randomness "easy," especially the wilderness, which is vastly more difficult than a dungeon.  I reassure myself that it's because I haven't been doing it very long.  There are a lot of twists and turns to account for that aren't second nature, in this format.  I want to get going, but I have to keep stopping because some table needs making.  It's frustrating that I can't just play.

But am I losing my marbles?  I'm not asking the reader ... after all, my own fog of self-righteousness is firmly in place.  I'm taking a moment and orienting myself, looking at the various familiar benchmarks and deciding if these unlikely places really do need to be surveyed.  I'm checking my instruments, my calculations.  Hell, I'm popping my finger into my mouth and using it to test the wind.

Am I losing my marbles?

I don't know.  But this seems like what's next.  I have a lot of other things I could be doing; and happily, I got a lot of solid work done on the Guide this week.  But this, this weird random thing ... this seems to be next.  I don't know what it will produce, I don't know what inspirations it will give me.  I'm trying to trust myself, my instruments and my calculations.  I'm saying out loud, I'm not these others that I used to respect, but have since begun to wonder about.  I think.

I'll have to see.

Monday, June 24, 2024


Writing this post for Vlad, who is a little miffed that while the taiga list is pretty good, his characters are running in a jungle.  Turning to chatgpt, I copy and pasted the taiga happenstance description along with this question, "Of the following, which would also be present in an Amazonian, Congolese or Central American jungle?"


In Amazonian, Congolese, or Central American jungles, several elements from the list provided would likely be present. These environments are rich with biodiversity and complex ecological features, making the following elements relevant:

Animal Sign: Evidence of wildlife such as tracks, droppings, nests, and feeding marks are common in dense jungles. The variety of species in these regions would ensure ample opportunities to encounter such signs.

Animal Trail: Many animals create and use trails through the jungle to navigate, find food, and access water. These trails can become prominent pathways through the dense undergrowth.

Bog: While not universally present, some areas within these jungles can have bog-like conditions, particularly in regions with poor drainage and heavy rainfall, leading to waterlogged ground and stunted vegetation.

Encampment: Seasonal or temporary campsites set up by indigenous peoples, hunters, or researchers could be encountered. These encampments might have basic structures and signs of human activity.

Fishing Pond: Small bodies of water are common in jungles, often teeming with fish and other aquatic life. Such ponds would provide important resources for both wildlife and human inhabitants.

Footpath: Paths created by human activity or repeated animal use are common in jungles, often serving as crucial routes for movement and navigation through the dense forest.

Forage: The jungle is a rich source of wild fruits, nuts, and other edible plants. Areas with berry bushes or other foraging opportunities would be beneficial for travelers and local inhabitants alike.

Fresh Water: Clean, drinkable water sources are vital in the jungle. Natural springs, streams, and rainwater collections in rock basins provide essential hydration for wildlife and humans.

Game: Small animals suitable for hunting, such as birds, rodents, and other small mammals, are abundant in these environments, providing a reliable source of food.

Grazer: Large herbivores such as deer, tapirs, or other grazing animals may be present, offering opportunities for larger game hunting.

Hazard: Jungles are full of natural hazards, including dense underbrush, steep slopes, and rocky areas, making navigation challenging and sometimes dangerous.

Monster: While the term "monster" might be more mythical, in a realistic sense, this could represent encounters with large or dangerous wildlife, such as jaguars, crocodiles, or large snakes.

Predator: Natural predators are a significant part of jungle ecosystems. Encounters with animals like big cats, large reptiles, and predatory birds are common.

Shelter: Natural shelters such as rock overhangs, dense thickets, and large trees with exposed roots are valuable for protection against the elements and predators.

Tool Sign: Evidence of human presence, such as abandoned tools, carvings, or remnants of shelters, can be found in jungles, indicating past or present human activity.

Waterway: Rivers, streams, and creeks are vital components of jungle ecosystems, providing water for both flora and fauna and serving as transportation routes for humans.

Wildfire: While less common than in drier regions, wildfires can still occur in jungles, especially during dry seasons or due to human activity, creating significant danger and prompting wildlife to flee.

My response was, "What new things of this same kind ought to be found in such a jungle as described above?"


In a dense and biodiverse jungle environment like the Amazon, Congolese, or Central American jungles, you might encounter several unique elements that complement the existing list. Here are some additional features specific to these types of jungles:

Epiphyte Gardens: High in the canopy or even lower down, you might find clusters of epiphytes—plants like orchids, bromeliads, and ferns that grow on trees. These micro-ecosystems support a variety of small animals and insects.

Canopy Bridges: Natural or human-made rope bridges high in the trees, used by certain tribes or adventurous explorers to navigate the dense jungle from above, providing a unique perspective and access to the upper layers of the forest.

Mangroves: In areas where the jungle meets the coast or riverbanks, mangrove forests with their distinctive, sprawling root systems provide crucial habitats for a wide range of wildlife and act as natural barriers against erosion and storm surges.

Fallen Giants: Large fallen trees, known as "nurse logs," that provide a habitat for numerous plants, fungi, and animals as they decompose, creating microhabitats and contributing to the forest's nutrient cycle.

Flooded Forests: Known as "igapó" or "varzea" in the Amazon, these are areas that are seasonally flooded, creating a unique aquatic-terrestrial habitat where fish swim among the trees during high water periods.

Liana Networks: Thick tangles of lianas (woody vines) that create complex networks, connecting trees and providing pathways for arboreal animals like monkeys, sloths, and various bird species.

Hidden Clearings: Small, hidden clearings within the dense jungle that might be created by natural events such as fallen trees or landslides, often rich in plant diversity and attracting various animals.

Medicinal Plant Groves: Areas where specific plants known for their medicinal properties grow in abundance. These plants are often utilized by indigenous peoples and could be a valuable resource for characters knowledgeable in herbal medicine.

Salt Licks: Naturally occurring mineral deposits where animals congregate to lick the salt, providing an excellent opportunity for observing wildlife.

Termite Mounds: Large, intricate termite mounds that are engineering marvels, often reaching several meters in height and providing homes for a variety of creatures.

Fruit Trees: Trees bearing tropical fruits such as mangoes, bananas, guavas, or papayas, which not only provide food but also attract a wide array of wildlife.

Poison Dart Frog Habitats: Specific areas with an abundance of colorful, but highly toxic, poison dart frogs. These areas would require careful navigation due to the potential danger posed by these small but lethal creatures.

Spirit Trees: Enormous, ancient trees that are considered sacred by local tribes. These trees might have carvings, offerings, or other signs of cultural significance, adding a mystical element to the jungle.

Cenotes: In Central American jungles, particularly in the Yucatan Peninsula, cenotes are natural sinkholes filled with fresh water. These provide crucial water sources and are often linked to ancient Mayan rituals.

Swarming Insects: Periodic swarms of insects like locusts or ants, which can dramatically alter the landscape and the behavior of animals and humans alike, creating both opportunities and hazards.

Camouflage Creatures: Animals and insects with extraordinary camouflage abilities, such as leaf-tailed geckos or stick insects, which blend seamlessly into their surroundings, making them difficult to spot and adding an element of surprise to encounters.

Ancient Ruins: Hidden remnants of ancient civilizations, such as stone structures, carvings, or artifacts, overgrown by jungle vegetation but hinting at past human activity and potential treasure or historical significance.

Waterfalls: Spectacular waterfalls, large and small, that not only serve as breathtaking natural landmarks but also create unique microhabitats around them, often teeming with life.

Me: No others?

Indeed, there are more unique features and elements that could be found in such rich and biodiverse jungle environments. Here are additional possibilities:

Glow-in-the-Dark Fungi: Certain types of bioluminescent fungi that emit a faint glow at night, creating an eerie but beautiful luminescent landscape in the dark jungle undergrowth.

Swarm of Bats: Large colonies of bats, particularly near cave systems or dense forest canopies, which could be encountered during their evening exodus to feed, creating a dramatic and dynamic environment.

Natural Springs: Small geothermal springs providing warm water, which could be used for bathing or soothing tired muscles, and might also have unique mineral properties.

Mushroom Forests: Areas dominated by large, colorful mushrooms, some of which may have medicinal properties or be highly toxic, requiring careful navigation and knowledge.

Spider Web Networks: Extensive networks of large spider webs constructed by communal or territorial spiders, posing both a navigational challenge and a potential threat.

Anthropomorphic Trees: Trees with naturally occurring shapes resembling human figures, often considered spiritual or mystical by local tribes, possibly serving as navigational markers or spiritual totems.

Butterfly Swarms: Dense swarms of butterflies, particularly around flowering plants or near water sources, providing a visually stunning and calming environment.

Cliff Faces with Petroglyphs: Sheer rock faces or cliffs adorned with ancient petroglyphs or rock paintings, indicating historical or spiritual significance and providing clues to the region's human history.

Pitcher Plant Fields: Areas dominated by carnivorous pitcher plants, which trap and digest insects, adding a unique ecological niche to the jungle.

Bird Colonies: Large nesting colonies of exotic birds, such as parrots, toucans, or herons, which can create a cacophony of sounds and vibrant sights, and may indicate nearby water sources.

Geysers: Natural geysers that periodically erupt with hot water and steam, providing unique geothermal features and potential hazards.

Swarm of Locusts: Periodic swarms of locusts that can decimate vegetation, drastically changing the landscape and availability of food for both wildlife and humans.

Silk Cotton Trees: Enormous silk cotton trees (ceiba trees) with massive buttress roots, often considered sacred and serving as important ecological hubs in the jungle.

Hidden Waterfalls: Small, hidden waterfalls that might be found deep within the jungle, creating secluded, picturesque spots often associated with myths or local legends.

Stalactite and Stalagmite Caves: Limestone caves featuring impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations, providing both shelter and a sense of awe-inspiring natural beauty.

Vine Bridges: Naturally occurring or human-made vine bridges spanning across ravines or streams, used by both animals and humans to traverse difficult terrain.

Salt Springs: Natural springs with high salt content where animals come to lick the mineral-rich water, serving as crucial meeting points for wildlife.

Blowholes: Coastal or riverine blowholes where water forcefully shoots up through rock formations, creating dramatic and sometimes dangerous natural spectacles.

Cacophonous Frogs: Areas where loud, diverse frog populations create a near-constant chorus, especially during the rainy season, which can both guide and challenge travelers.

Enchanted Groves: Mythical or spiritually significant groves of trees that are believed to have protective or mystical properties, often avoided or revered by local inhabitants.

Seasonal Flowering Events: Specific areas where seasonal flowering events occur, creating fields of vibrant colors and attracting numerous pollinators, adding to the jungle's biodiversity.

Natural Arches: Large natural stone arches or bridges formed by erosion, creating impressive natural structures that can serve as landmarks or points of interest.

Me: no others?

Certainly, here are some more unique features and elements that could be found in dense and biodiverse jungle environments like the Amazon, Congolese, or Central American jungles:

Underground Rivers: Subterranean rivers that flow beneath the jungle, often accessible through cave systems. These rivers can provide unique ecosystems and hidden water sources.

Firefly Meadows: Areas where fireflies congregate in large numbers, creating a mesmerizing light show at dusk and through the night, adding an enchanting quality to the jungle.

Bamboo Groves: Dense stands of bamboo, which grow rapidly and provide materials for construction, tools, and other uses. Bamboo groves can also create unique habitats for wildlife.

Leech Fields: Areas with high populations of leeches, often near water sources, which can pose a nuisance and health risk to travelers and animals alike.

Salt Flats: Rare but possible in some jungle regions, these are flat expanses of land covered in salt, left behind by evaporated water bodies. They provide a stark contrast to the surrounding vegetation.

Ancient Tree Carvings: Trees with carvings made by ancient civilizations or indigenous tribes, which can serve as historical markers and sources of cultural information.

Insect Swarms: Periodic swarms of insects such as mosquitoes, which can be overwhelming and dangerous, especially if they carry diseases.

Crystal Formations: Natural crystal formations found in caves or exposed rock faces, which can be beautiful and potentially valuable.

Mud Volcanoes: Small, active mud volcanoes that periodically spew mud and gases, creating unique geological formations and potential hazards.

Hidden Lagoons: Secluded lagoons that are difficult to access but provide serene, picturesque spots often teeming with wildlife.

Rock Paintings: Ancient rock paintings created by early human inhabitants, providing insights into historical and cultural practices.

Venomous Plant Zones: Areas dominated by plants that are poisonous or have defensive mechanisms like thorns or toxins, requiring careful navigation.

Parasitic Plant Invasions: Areas where parasitic plants like mistletoe or strangler figs have taken over, altering the local flora and creating unique ecological challenges.

Bird of Paradise Displays: Specific spots where Birds of Paradise perform their elaborate mating dances, offering a rare and spectacular natural show.

Sinkholes: Natural depressions or holes caused by the collapse of a surface layer, which can suddenly appear and pose significant risks.

Bioluminescent Bays: Coastal areas or river inlets where bioluminescent plankton thrive, causing the water to glow when disturbed, creating a magical nighttime experience.

Ant Gardens: Gardens created by ants cultivating specific plants for food or habitat, which can be fascinating ecological features.

Abandoned Villages: Remnants of ancient or modern human settlements, overgrown by jungle but still containing artifacts and structures that tell a story of past inhabitants.

Fumaroles: Openings in the earth's crust that emit steam and gases, often found near geothermal activity, adding a unique geological feature to the landscape.

Natural Amphitheaters: Naturally occurring formations that create amphitheater-like structures, possibly used by ancient civilizations for gatherings or ceremonies.

Spice Groves: Areas where wild spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves grow, offering valuable resources for both local inhabitants and travelers.

Flooded Caverns: Caverns that are partially or completely flooded, creating underwater passages and unique aquatic habitats.

Pygmy Forests: Areas with stunted tree growth due to poor soil conditions, creating a miniature forest landscape that contrasts with the surrounding tall jungle.

Air Plant Colonies: Clusters of air plants (epiphytes) that grow without soil, often on other plants or rocks, creating unique aerial gardens.

Wild Orchids: Dense areas where wild orchids grow in abundance, providing striking visual beauty and attracting various pollinators.

Camouflage Creatures: Animals with extraordinary camouflage abilities, such as leaf-mimicking insects or reptiles that blend seamlessly with their surroundings.

Erosion Sculptures: Natural rock formations sculpted by wind and water erosion, creating unique and often surreal shapes and structures.

Fruit Bat Colonies: Large colonies of fruit bats that roost in caves or trees, playing a crucial role in seed dispersal and pollination within the jungle ecosystem.

Underground Hives: Large underground nests of social insects like ants or termites, which can extend over vast areas and create complex tunnel systems.

Meteorite Craters: Rare but possible, craters formed by ancient meteorite impacts, often with unique geological features and potential for discovering rare minerals.

And chat is beginning to repeat itself.  This is SO easy.  'Course, someone has to sit down and piece out what gets a percentage, what groups of things can be clustered together under one umbrella, and how does this feature help the party find some other feature.  But the brainstorming stuff is no longer a problem for us.

Sunday, June 23, 2024


Please excuse me, dear reader; I'm going to use this blog as a diary for a moment.

I'm going to talk about politics ... but then, no, I'm not going to talk about politics.  Rather, I'm going to talk about why politics don't really matter.  I expect no one to listen.  But just now, I finally obtained a copy of one of my favourite all time speeches from a movie, a very, very obscure Quebecois language film from 1986 called Le Déclin de l'empire américain.

A little preparation before providing the speech.  These last six or eight years, there has been a sentiment growing that because this or that political group does a thing, it "destroys" or "takes down" or "ends" some part of government, or a political belief system, or the course of history or gawd knows what else.  And this has motivated a great many people to feel frightened, or livid, or the need to lash out, or otherwise suspend all faith in the world.  But see, in reality, all this sound and fury is just nonsense peddled by the media in order to peddle the media.  It doesn't mean anything.  And there is evidence for this.

Here is the quote, said out the outset of the film in Quebecois French.  I'm going to provide the original French first, because I have readers on this blog who speak French as their first language; and yes, some in Quebec:

"L'histoire n'est pas une science exacte. C'est une enquête continue sur la relation entre le passé et le présent. Il s'agit de comprendre comment les événements passés façonnent les réalités actuelles et les possibilités futures. Mais soyons honnêtes, l'histoire est souvent écrite par les vainqueurs. Ce sont les puissants qui dictent ce qui est retenu et ce qui est oublié. Et qu'est-ce qui détermine le pouvoir? Les chiffres.

"Prenez les Basques, par exemple. Un petit groupe, jamais très nombreux, vivant dans une région montagneuse éloignée avec peu de ressources. Malgré leur indépendance farouche et leur forte identité culturelle, ils étaient toujours à la merci de voisins plus grands et plus puissants. Dans l'histoire, les chiffres comptent. Si vous n'avez pas les chiffres, vous n'avez pas le pouvoir. C'est aussi simple que cela.

"Les chiffres nous disent qui gagne et qui perd. Ils déterminent la montée et la chute des populations, des économies et des empires. Les populations plus importantes peuvent soutenir des armées plus grandes, générer plus de richesse et exercer plus d'influence. Les économies qui peuvent produire plus de biens et de services peuvent commercer plus efficacement et prospérer. C'est pourquoi l'étude des chiffres est cruciale pour comprendre l'histoire.

"L'interprétation de l'histoire, donc, est un dialogue sans fin entre le présent et le passé, une recherche de sens dans un monde en perpétuel changement. Mais ce n'est pas seulement une question de dates et de faits; il s'agit d'analyser ces faits, de les comparer et de découvrir des motifs et des tendances. Les chiffres fournissent la précision et la rigueur dont nous avons besoin pour comprendre véritablement la dynamique du changement social, les flux et reflux des économies, la montée et la chute des empires.

"Sans les chiffres, l'histoire ne serait qu'une collection d'anecdotes, dépourvue de la profondeur analytique nécessaire pour une véritable compréhension. Ainsi, en tant qu'historiens, nous devons prêter attention aux chiffres, car ils nous disent beaucoup sur qui nous sommes et comment nous en sommes arrivés là."

And now, translated by chatGPT:

"History is not an exact science. It's a continuous investigation into the relationship between the past and the present. It’s about understanding how past events shape current realities and future possibilities. But let's face it, history is often written by the victors. The powerful ones dictate what gets remembered and what gets forgotten. And what determines power? Numbers.

"Take the Basques, for example. A small group, never very numerous, living in a remote, mountainous region with few resources. Despite their fierce independence and strong cultural identity, they were always at the mercy of larger, more powerful neighbors. In history, numbers matter. If you don’t have the numbers, you don’t have the power. It’s as simple as that.

"Numbers tell us who wins and who loses. They determine the rise and fall of populations, economies, and empires. Larger populations can sustain larger armies, generate more wealth, and exert more influence. Economies that can produce more goods and services can trade more effectively and prosper. This is why the study of numbers is crucial in understanding history.

"The interpretation of history, therefore, is an endless dialogue between the present and the past, a search for meaning in a constantly changing world. But it's not just about dates and facts; it's about analyzing those facts, comparing them, and discovering patterns and trends. Numbers provide the precision and rigor we need to truly understand the dynamics of social change, the ebb and flow of economies, the rise and fall of empires.

"Without numbers, history would be a mere collection of anecdotes, lacking the analytical depth required for true understanding. So, as historians, we must pay attention to the numbers, because they tell us a great deal about who we are and how we got here."

The question we have to ask ourselves is simply this: do we really think they're more numerous than we are?  Never mind who votes, or who seems to be in power, or what bafflegab the media sells, or all the shit that's designed to obfuscate the simple facts.  Of the numbers, which are dying out, and which are thriving?  Which, 40 years from now, when all the adult population older than 50 now either dies or becomes physically or mentally obsolete, is going to make the decisions?  When the seas roll in, and the forests blaze, and the people we're afraid of become more and more certainly wrong to the largest number of people, regardless of who votes, or who's "in charge," because no one's really in charge just because they sit in a desk and have people who tell them so ... who is going to be here?

How important are these folks, really, when they represent just 20% of the population, and the least significant part at that, the part that's going to be dead, along with me, by 2050.

Have a little perspective.  Pay attention to your people and your knowledge.  Do good.  Pass it along.  And ignore the show.  It's just going to go away and be replaced with another one, which won't matter either.  Nearly every person whose ever been alive is totally unknown to us; yet they did all the living and the working and the dying here.  Everyone else, everyone whose names we know, they were just passengers with time.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Taiga Wilderness Random Generator Page Rules & Tables

As near as I can tell, I've completed this page, as part of the random outdoor generator I've been working on.  Added today are rules explaining how "agency" works, as well as an order provided for how the rules are resolved each day.  Anybody wants to weigh in, I'd certainly appreciate any suggestions for things that need clarification.

Sorry about the title, I just wanted it to be very, very, very clear what I'm talking about here.

Readers have every reason to doubt it.  No one has ever built a sustainable, relevant, game-friendly and useful outdoor generator before, so there's no reason to think I've done it.  However, I believe the agency rules are a staggeringly brilliant idea, I believe it makes the wilderness interactive for players, I believe that it provides terrific detail that can be built upon both for the taiga environment and for other environments, and I believe I've done the impossible in just under three weeks.

In any case, I'm in a position to run my two characters in the tutorial again, in which they try to find their way out of the wilderness.  Incidentally, I think this system works just fine for those trying to find their way into the wilderness, and gives rules for stumbling around in the dark looking for the dungeon that's wanted, rather than going straight to it as though the entrance is lit up by neon, even though the players have never, ever, actually been to that dungeon before.

Under these delusions, I'm of course quite happy and insufferably pleased with myself.  Please feel free to throw onions.

Saturday Q&A (jun 22)

Jonathan in Washington State writes,

Regarding No Empty Hexes,

This is stuff I've been thinking about a lot lately as I try (O So Hard) to draw my own "hex maps."  I rather hate working with hexes, and trying to put the real world onto hex paper is a drag as is. But STOCKING the hexes?

Oh, boy.

But, yes, if you don't you just end up with miles and miles of emptiness. I've done some hiking in 'wilderness' areas: you encounter things! Not just animals, but interesting terrain, obstacles, things that would be good to harvest (if I was in a "harvesting" type of mood, rather than just a hiker). None of which is reflected in the game instructions. Overland journeys are pretty boring (in D&D) when all you're doing is rolling three times for a possible encounter and coming up empty.

So, I like your four categories (threat, supply, knowledge, deliverance). If I remember, you do your hexes at a 20 mile scale, right? I've been doing 3 mile scale lately, mainly because it allows me to put some space in between neighboring townships. But also because you can have a LOT of stuff in a 3 mile radius! A lot of stuff can happen to someone over the course of an hour's walk! But, man...that's a TON of hexes to stock.

Maxwell in California writes,

With regard to Wilderness Generation and your recent post, the idea of dividing hex contents into that which can be searched for and that which can't (or needn't) is a good one. I also like the idea of, if you'll pardon my paraphrase, exhausting a hex's capacity to randomly generate contents ("after that, the contents of the hex are more or less what they are") -- at least with regard to a specific thing that can be searched for.

I feel like my biggest weakness as a DM is exploration play ,which applies to the wilderness most of all, but often to the urban as well. Have lotsa trouble coming up with things on the fly in the unbound environment, even when I try and keep principles in mind like "have them find SOMETHING interesting" and "offer them choices about which way to go". So even though you've stated a few times on the wiki page that this generator isn't intended for use during play, I feel I may end up trying it for that, even if that requires building something out along similar lines myself (since the climate my players are currently in is not the temperate European one).

Answer: I think it should be possible to plumb the depths of the generator for in-game play, I just wouldn't recommend using a die roll when actually DMing., because it probably wouldn't fit the moment. As a DM, you want to have things happen that are logical to what the players are doing, and ought to be seeing, in the environment. I have to make the game random because I can't be the DM and the Player at the same time. If the DM is a die roll, then as the player I can address what to do without giving myself a break.

Lance in Louisiana writes,

I need help coming up with a name for a fantasy language/ethnicity. The language group is equivalent to real world gothic(visigoth and ostrogoth) and some of the modern tribes and kingdoms are called the galanese, the karganites, the ausdran, the andar, the hangall, and the hargan, all derive from a common (gothic) ancestry, and the equivalent of the real world East Germans are called the vanitar. I'm pulling from several conflicting sources, and none of them are consistent or give in depth treatment to the ancient tribes and I just cant figure a good term for these related peoples in general.

Answer: from chatGPT, feeding your request to me verbatim:

Gotharic ... name retains a clear connection to the gothic roots and feels both ancient and expansive, suitable for a broad ethnic and linguistic group. Valdaric ... combining elements of "Vanitar" with a gothic feel, suggesting a strong, unified heritage. Galtharic ... merging "gothic" with "galanese," highlights the cultural blend and historical depth of the people. Thuranic, inspired by historical Gothic names with a hint of fantasy flair, this term feels both ancient and unique. Gothlian, a blend of gothic with a more fluid, fantasy like suffix, creating a nem that suggests a rich cultural tapestry.

Funny thing about the program: the more search parameters given, the more exacting the question, the more details added, the better the response. One reason that most feel the program isn't very impressive is because they've been trained to keep their answers short for the old google format. The more search terms you add to google, the less valuable the search is; chat is the reverse. To produce a really good written paragraph, giving the sort of specific knowledge that Lance gave — "east" Germans, the name of the kingdoms, the real world tribal sources and so on, allows a great detailed answer of just the sort google cannot provide. And since, for D&D, "accuracy" is a meaningless concept, it's like the program was specifically designed for this game.


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,  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.    

Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Okay, so here we are, with some of the work done.  Those who are interested in "a page full of taxonomic detail" and who have trouble "filling hexes" may find this information about moving through hexes in a taiga environment interesting.

"Happenstance" refers to a single random roll that occurs each day, which yes, incorporates the possibility of a random monster encounter.  Sorry, can't help that, this is still D&D and that's what the monsters are for.  Throughout the content being shown, there are hints and links to as-yet not created content, which I'll get to work on when I'm able over the next few days.  So far, there are nearly 4,000 words written on the page and I feel like patting myself on the back and putting up a post here about it.

"Agency" refers to the last post here that I wrote Sunday.  In addition to these things occurring randomly, most of them can be actively searched for, usually two per day, apart from anything else the players might also want to do that day, such fabricate something or meditate.  This includes trying to find the next hex (basically, "travel"), locate food, locate a nearby river should one exist, this sort of thing.  This is the next portion I'll be working on.

It's a first attempt, and many will argue that it needs "testing," which is patently obvious. This is exactly what I intend to do with it, having Arliss and Bertrand run through it.  I think the larger point is that the randomness is, in fact, irrelevant.  It's a place to go if the DM wants to invent something out of thin air, that applies to this environment.  The randomness only exists because I'm inventing a self-play mechanic for the purpose of teaching my game.

Anyway, I've written lots already today and I'm cutting this short.  Enjoy the link; there will be more content on it soon, perhaps tonight, definitely tomorrow.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Cracking the Encounter Nut

As I try to get my nutcracker around this nut ...

Having invented an initial list of 'contents' for a taiga's wilderness hex, where the players randomly turned out to be, I'm confronted by a glaring problem that's I've met before, though not for some time.  But first, let's list off those contents:

predator, wood for tools, fuel, animal tracks and signs, seasonal camp, monster, drinking water; pond, lake, attract attention with smoke?, humanoid footpath, treacherous ground, grazing animals and other game, detect intelligent presence, animal trail, wildfire, natural shelter, identify sunrise/sunset, artificial light source at night, storm, gathering food, natural landmarks, creek or stream, dungeon, fishing, viewpoint, next hex, shrine; glade, ally; adventurer.  This isn't an exhaustive list; just what I was able to clearly identify last night.

Some of this may be counterintuitive, so briefly — since we're assuming that the players are moving through an area they don't know or maybe can't find their way out of, instead of creating a "get lost" roll, I'm simply adding the next hex over as something the players "discover," in the same way they stumble across a lake or a bear.  Finding an ally or adventurer is simply game play; the likelihood of an actual adventurer stumbling around in the hex with the players is ridiculously low, but for playability sake, we can rate that at, say, 1%.  Because it's fun.  Detect intelligent presence means that the players have just found some object or sign that indicates there's a potentially dangerous and intelligent monster in the area, something uncivilised; this being distinct from the humanoid footpath or seasonable camp, which are things that have been made by civilised persons, but which is presently abandoned.

But the key to this list is this: some of these things are random occurrences, and some of these things are so common that one can't shake a stick without hitting one.  Wood for tools and fuel, for example, or the choice to light a signal fire and attract attention (the roll is meant to indicate a place where this is realistic; obviously, any tree can be lit on fire, to the party's detriment in the long run).  Still other things can be searched for (grazing animals, foraging) while some definitely cannot (storms, wildfire).

Plus, and this is important ... it's an extremely boring hex if we only make one 'contents' roll per day.  An environment such as this cannot be reduced to one thing, even once per day.  As the players move through, they're going to pass over various features; as well, sunrise and sunset are going to occur every day, though not necessarily where they're helpful to the players.  We cannot see where the sun rises if there's a dense pass of 100 ft. trees that blot out visibility beyond a hundred yards.  Thus, this particular "event" is meant to specify that the players happen to be in a place where, yes, they can glimpse the horizon and where the sun comes up, orienting themselves.

If, however, we give four rolls a day, that's four chances that a random monster's going to come up.  We can assess for that by adjusting the chance of a monster from an overall 1 in 6 per roll to, say, 1 in 24 per roll.  But we'd have to do the same for wildfires, storms, grazing animals and so on, drastically reducing the chance of a single die roll producing something interesting.

I have a proposal, but it strikes me as ... hard to organise.  Suppose we accept that there's only one roll chance for all those things on a d100 table that can arise by chance.  Then, for everything else, things the party would definitely want to find and obtain, we could assign a "number in something" chance on a separate column, based on that table.  We could then give the players two rolls on this column, hoping to be lucky.  Effectively, we carve the day into two halves for the players intentions (find their way out of this hex, climb up a ridge looking for a viewpoint), and at some point during that day, something unintended happens all on its own.

For example, let's say there's a 2% chance of stumbling across a viewpoint, even though the characters are in hill country, simply because the conifer growth is too thick.  Or say there's a 6% chance of finding a pond.  And now let's say that instead of waiting for these things to happen in the daily-roll, the players instead say, "We try to find a pond."  Then we could assign a triple-times chance of their successfully doing that ... a 18 in 100.  And if they don't we could either (a) dictate that there is no pond in the hex, or (b) dictate that if there is a pond, it's going to be stumbled across randomly.  It can't be searched for again.

From that point forward, we have to decide which things can be searched for and which cannot.  In some cases we can assign things (wood, for instance) as not being part of the random table, since it's always around the party.  And an automatic chance of the party finding it.

Can the party deliberately search for a monster?  Sure.  Further, we can argue that, having found one (or a pond, for that matter), the chance exists for trying to find another one the next day, until the chance fails (the monsters are really buried).  Thus, a "dungeon," starting with a 1% chance randomly, can be found with a 3% chance if searching for it.

This, however, argues that if the players remain in the hex long enough, eventually they will find a dungeon, or anything else on the table.  It's inevitable.  I'd propose a ten-roll limit ... after that, the contents of the hex are more or less what they are.  'Course, there can always still be a wildfire or a storm; another monster can always drift in from another hex; there might yet be an adventurer.  This would seem to require a separate, "residual" table, that could be rolled on, oh, once a week, or a fortnight (two weeks), that wouldn't include dungeons or viewpoints, or any permanent notable feature that might be used as a guide for getting out or finding this particular hex again.

These are my thoughts so far.  Want to let them stew a bit before I start to order them into a proper table.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Saturday Q&A (jun 15)

Been some time since I've been skunked, but I have no comments or letters from this week.  I started this Q&A ten months ago, and I must admit I don't miss blogger comments.  I trust that the occasional dead week can only encourage more people to step up and ask questions or share content.  Meanwhile, I'll return to my projects for the day: I constructed a vegetation table yesterday, today I'll work on the notes for that table as I post it on the wiki.

The Q&A posts are getting to be my most popular, when there's content.


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, June 14, 2024

No Empty Hexes

Continuing yesterday's conversation, let's just talk about how to best generate the wilderness.

I recognise that there are many who strongly resist the use of hexes, or any means that "parcels" the wilderness into areas ... but I must point out that with movement upon the earth's face, we've been subdividing the surface for the last 300 years.  Surveying has existed since the ancient Egyptians, but it didn't become common practice until the late 17th/early 18th centuries ... so it's right to think that for those in the so-called game world, anything other than measuring ground with chains to see who's farm is whose, or putting up markers, little subdivision of land takes place.  But this is all the hex is: a means of parcelling a large space of land so we can assign characteristics to it, and so that we can identify one parcel from another.  And so that our accounting of the land can apply to what character's can do or see in a day, those parcels have to be fairly small.

For those who still insist on creating maps in this century using pencil and paper, when there are far greater resources that are available, I understand that making a lot of "hexes" is demanding.  Squares are far easier, since they merely need a straight edge, and for best results, a T-square.  Draughting tools for making hexes are more complex and inconvenient.  Not for me, however.  I have "hex paper" on demand, as much as I want of it, so for things like this I find it very easy to apply.  Moreover, since a hex is more nearly like a circle than a square, the center point of any hex is equidistance from its bordering hexes, which cannot be said for the square.

All that is such a waste of time to say, because it convinces no one, but yeah ... I somehow feel before plunging into this that I should explain why I'm using hexes, and not straight lines.  Though why, I can't guess.

But okay, so, the players enter a hex.  Forgetting the hex's topographical and other details, I'll need to explain the point of adventuring in this fashion ... that is, what exploring accomplishes that a pre-fabricated adventure, or a dungeon, does not.  Forgive me if I descend into pedantry at this point, but the internet has plenty of ink and I do feel we need to fully grasp the game's structure beyond the nonsense storytelling/collaborative/lore and "epicness" jargon that we're spoonfed online.

The dungeon's function is to deliver experience and wealth into the party's possession, while presenting situations that are engaging and include a reasonable measure of risk.  This last stipulates that for the party entering, there is a high likelihood of success, better than one might obtain at a craps table; in fact, better than betting on red on a roulette wheel.  Were I to rate the odds, there ought to be a 20% chance that one character dies during the effort, 6% that two die and 1% that everyone dies.  But this doesn't include the possibility of someone losing an arm or a hand, beings struck blind, losing a valuable magic item, losing a considerable number of resources and, naturally, making an enemy that will continue to pursue the party until, in fact, someone is actually killed.

Worse odds than this and there's little reason for players to enter the dungeon.  It's just experience and coin, after all, which only goes so far as a motivation.  If players aren't entering dungeons, its either because they have no reasonable expectation of surviving as a group, OR, the demand for money in the game world isn't high enough to make the risk worthwhile.

Along the same lines, the wilderness ought also to exist to provide things the players want.  It's not there to look like a real world, it's not there as "flavour" and it's fucking useless if it's empty.  Each and every hex has to provide the players with something.  Otherwise, like a gun hanging on a wall in a play that never gets used, it shouldn't be there.

I feel this needs to be hammered upon, because the Gygaxian poison from the 70s continues to run rife through this culture.  Gygax, and most of the creators of his era, were lazy.  So lazy, in fact, that where it came to a game world, he and his intellectual kin kicked the can down the road by suggesting that the board from another game entirely be used to fill in the hole created by their laziness.  That game was Outdoor Survival.  Here's the map board that was suggested for use as the D&D "wilderness."

Apart from the extreme crippling incompetence of the era's proposal, something for which everyone attached to the original books ought to have apologised for the rest of their lives, please note how ungodly empty this map is.  This made sense for the Outdoor Survival game, which I've played ... though admittedly, it's just a longer, more dimensional version of playing the children's game Candyland.  And as I pointed out yesterday when I discussed the wilderness generation page in the original DMG, when Gygax proposed to randomly generate an outdoors, his system basically presents an even emptier version of the above.

There's no "game" here.  It delivers nothing into the hands of the players.  It is nothing more than an extremely boring obstacle between where the players are and where they want to be, "filled in" with random monster encounters which, by the original rules, are ridiculously deadly to players while putting nothing whatsoever into the player's pockets.  You enter the 1st level dungeon and expect to fight, at worst, 7-12 orcs with one HD, with an expectation of treasure.  Then, on the way home, as a random encounter, you're beset upon by 2-20 wolves with two HD, with jack shit.  Why would anyone ever enter the wilderness?

The very idea of the wilderness was poisoned from the beginning by such half-assery, accompanied by a steady resistance and laziness that declares the wilderness impractical or otherwise undesirable as an adventure environment.  As I sit to start creating a random generator, I have exactly zero resources, accumulated from over 50 years of D&D, to draw upon.  Oh, there were "attempts."  The infamous, massively incompetent "Wilderness Guide" of 1986, which did wake me up to things the game definitely needed, but which that rule book absolutely whiffed upon.  I've read and sometimes owned other so-called guides, mainly from 3rd edition, which provided a terrific degree of random shit, without any organisation applied to it.  Basically, when the party was in the desert, you could slap some "black sand" in front of them for, again, flavour.  But beyond a short paragraph description, there were no game rules or metrics attached to it, so in essence, it was painting the desert black.  Hands in the air, now: Worldbuilding!

Very well, what does the wilderness supply?  Well, it need not be the same things as a dungeon. After all, there are things that can't be found in a dungeon: food, for one thing, that the players can safely eat. Wood to make tools, fresh water to drink ... horses, and grass for them.  Places where houses and storerooms can be built, places where men-at-arms and supplies can be held at the ready. A safe place to sleep.

There are, I believe, four things that the wilderness supplies to players, which contribute deeply to the fabric of the game beyond the necessity of passing through: threat, supply, knowledge and deliverance.  Each covers a wide range of possibilities, which the wilderness designer, whether or not randomly generating a space, needs to be aware of.

Threat includes everything that makes the players feel unsafe.  No matter where they are in the game world, there are always threats; but this concept includes not only the threats themselves but the means by which the players protect themselves against those threats.  This includes, naturally, the monsters that are present in the hex — and here I'm arguing that every hex has monsters, always and without exception, though most of the time due to circumstance, the size of the hex and pure chance, the players are liable to pass through a hex without seeing one.  But this needs to be clear ... if the players go looking for a monster, they will find one ... at least, until that monster and others are "cleared out" of the hex.  Because finding a monster, and knowing one is there to find, is a bloody point of this game!  The value is in the monster's presence; the players knowing they'll find it, or them, whatever form it or they take.  It's having a reason to be there in the first place, since some of the monsters that can be found will, as with a dungeon, have treasure.  Hell, so far, "Grimstone Hollow" may only be this lair of these hobgoblins.  So far, there's nothing the players have found to indicate this is anything more than that. 

Where the players camp, how they camp, what equipment they bring along and what vigilance they adopt, these too are part of this hex's presence.  At no time can players be made to think that if they're moving through wilderness they're safe because a little piddly die roll has to come up a 1 in order to attack them.  That perception goes on the fire.  The players must be taught that preparation is what will keep them safe, not the odds.  Take this exchange:

Players:  We turn in.

DM:  You turn in?

Players: Yeah, it's dark, we're not travelling at night.  We make camp and we turn in.

DM:  O ... kay ...

Players:  What?

DM:  Nothing.  You turn in.  Got it.

It's my temptation as a DM to explain, um, maybe they better explain what preparations they take beyond "setting a guard," who can be feathered with nine arrows from the darkness as said watch stands next to the fire, in plain view, bored, getting warm.   Is it worth making an encampment?  Is it worth trying to find a place where their backs are against a stone wall, where there's a gap in the rocks that covers their front, where some kind of alarm exists to warn the watch upon falling asleep?  I don't know.  If the "monster" out there smells the party, they'll come and look.  They'll look and decide.  They might go away, they might stay.  But it shouldn't be a "random monster roll" that decides one way or the other.  It should be what the player's camp looks like.  It can be a die, but not that die.  Not one the players think they can count on.

Threats come from the terrain, too.  Slips, falls, maladies, bad weather, rain, dropped equipment, torn clothing, soiled or stolen food ... anything and everything that might happen in a wilderness is a threat.  These things too need to be accounted for.

Supply is king in this environment.  We're not entering a dungeon for an hour, we're crossing a considerable amount of land, during which time we need to sleep, rest, eat something and thus dwindle our resources.  And while the environment threatens that supply, it should also offer boons that help the players out.  A brook where it's practical to waste an hour or to and catch fish.  A berry patch.  A bee hive.  Naturally occuring salves that can be used to cure wounds, which can only be used here because they can't be feasibly stored.  Grazing animals, of course, that might be taken down with a lucky shot.  Their leather, though wet, can be dried out in a few hours to a day, and rinsed too if possible.  It can be used wet, though it's difficult to work with.

My sage abilities are designed to handle some of these problems, but suppose, like Arliss and Bertrand, that it's unlikely either has any scouting, foraging or hunting ability (they could take logistics, I suppose).  Even a dope can stumble into a deer, however; I know, because I've done it multiple times.  One time, I was just 8 feet from the deer when it stepped out from the wood next to me.  I didn't have a shot gun, I was fishing; it was June.  But the players always have weapons.  In a low-technological society, without guns, this sort of thing should be fairly common, just as it was moreso in Alberta in the 1960s and 70s than it is now.

Like with a threat, every hex ought to have something.  That doesn't mean it will be found; hell, it might be a gold mine, passed over and over with the players never knowing.  Specific resources have to be looked for, by persons who know how; but it's reasonable to assume that if I know how to hunt for mushrooms, and we're in a temperate deciduous forest, there are mushrooms to be found.

Knowledge is key to getting out.  Being able to cross a piece of land and find the tiny brook in it that leads to the creek, that leads out onto the plain.  Getting atop a hill to a viewpoint and being able to see the land two hexes away, to see if the hills keep going, or if perhaps there's the sign of a river below, or fields in the distance.  Seeing any distance in the wilderness is hard due to the terrain and vegetation, the weather and the height on which we stand.  Potentially, from a 200 ft. rise, I can see about 17 miles before the curve of the earth ... but the last third of that distance will be hazy and indistinct without aid (or even with, given the time period's technology).  The problem is, where 200 ft. rises occur, there are usually other such rises, and they get in the way.

Still, it gives a reason to climb out of the valley to see if this is a good place to look.  This means giving up the river-as-guide technique, where the river may lead a party on quite a merry chase before it reaches a civilised hex.

There are the various signs of life, too; things they leave behind: spoor, scents, kills, shucked skin, actual signs that say, "you've already entered our land, prepare to die," that sort of thing.  As players move through the land, they need to be told things that they can use to make intelligent decisions about where to go next.  It cannot just be a random choice of go left or go right.  They should regularly be given enough reason to believe that if they choose to go in this way, there's a better possibility of them finding their way out, or their way to whatever they're looking for.  And if using a random generator, this knowledge should adjust what does get encountered next, proving the legitimacy of the system.

Deliverance is, obviously key.  Somewhere out there, there are civilised people, with farms and things to sell, where there are taverns with beer and inns with semi-clean beds, at least a roof anyways, and something more to see than trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks ... you know.  "Canada."

Desirably, by contriving these four guidelines to play, the wilderness ought to be constructed, even randomly, into a more intuitive, creative, meaningful place to adventure.  My personal feeling is that the environment ought to be as rich in combat and treasure as the dungeon, or perhaps there should be little difference between the two.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Why Bother?

I consider that it's my responsibility as a writer to keep others appraised of whatever knowledge I've accumulated from time to time.  Until very recently on this blog, I would write about what I was doing, hoping for feedback and perhaps a better idea how I could approach something, especially if I had some project over which I was puzzled.  The early concept of hex groups, for instance, or NTME, or how that developed into infrastructure and the description of facilities.  Similar patterns related to sage abilities also manifested over the years on this blog, rising from the extremely simplistic system I had in 2008 to the impossible-to-complete system I have today.  I do have my online players at the same to thank for that, as they encouraged me to give sage abilities to every class, which started that snowball.

Today's subject is the "RWG," as yet unlaunched, or even as yet had the ground broken ... the "random wilderness generator."  The vote on my patreon seems bent on having Arliss and Bertrand leave the dungeon to seek additional help destroying these hobgoblins, which sets them outside in a world they do not know, which I do not know, because that sounds more practical for the reader here.  I could just have them step out into my world, in Romania or Slovakia or Bratslaw, but then what value would this have for the reader, whose world is not my own?  It seems better that if we're going to produce a "random" generator, it ought to assume that nothing exists outside the dungeon until the die designates it so.

Here, I'm not looking for feedback, but to inform.  I expect that many of my typical readers have at one time or another, and probably closer to when they started playing than to the present, tried to randomly generate the outside world.  The original DMG's effort is utterly pathetic.  It consists of two tables, one that includes all of 10 possible terrains (of which one is "pond"), with 9 types of "settlement," with a slightly less than 1 in 7 chance of finding any person at all.  Thus, it creates a very grey-paste empty world, much like Gygax's dungeons, only more so.  When rolling a "city," absolutely no information or description is given, except that it has d6 x 10,000 people in it.  The whole thing consists of three-quarters of a page, a third of which is a single picture having nothing to do with the wilderness.

Though, admittedly, I did think it was one of the book's better pictures.

I expect that were I to receive feedback, most of it would boil down to, "why bother?"  Which is, I think, the first question to be answered.

Tuesday, I heard from an erstwhile friend of mine, featured in this video, who pressured me to "brand" the hell out of my videos, as he's sold his soul to the business world; he'd be the first to admit that.  He encouraged me to invent some sort of name for the overall "campaign" that's been launched through the existing videos and the content I've produced for the wiki, so that I have it for the title cards I learned how to create all of seven days ago.  "Grimstone Hollow" is just this dungeon; I expect there will be other dungeons.  So, at the moment, I'm playing with the notion of calling the overall campaign, "A Story that hasn't Finished Yet."  Because, first, it has the word "story" in the title, which is one of those buzz words in D&D that's a crap-concept, but actually means something apart from what the company has stamped on it, and second, because I think it gets to the heart of what we do here as dungeon masters and game world designers.

The title hit me as I tussled around with chatGPT, which can be a good sounding board for these things, as it has lots of really garbage ideas (like anyone, including myself), what at the same time it's tapped into vast amounts of human knowledge, much more so than my tiny ape brain holds.  Anyway, it was going on about standard D&D ideals and I was explaining for it, and myself, why I'm opposed to those ideals, and I stumbled across the principle that "a happy ending is a story that hasn't finished yet."  Which is true, and is in fact one of the oldest take-downs in human history, where the smart-as-a-whip scholar Solon bitch-slaps Croessus in the 6th century BCE.  Not how my classics professors would have put it, but they were always stuffy.  Wikipedia is pretty lax on it's tale-telling; the original can be read at the outset of Herodutus' The Histories.

I had chat discuss what it felt about the sentiment, "A happy ending is a story that hasn't finished yet," and found in its overwritten answer the phrase, "The Game is the sum of all events, including those yet to come."

That ... is brilliant.

And it is D&D.  In my last post, I argued that a quintessential part of this game is that it doesn't end, and to that I'll add that the lack of ending means that, much of the time, in an engaged campaign, the party lives as much in the future of the campaign as it does the past.  That is, they're going somewhere, they're thinking about where they're going, they're planning for what they'll meet, they're buying equipment and toughening up their characters abilities for when that time comes ... and this incorporates a considerable amount of the game's discussion and play.  Hell, the creation of the character itself is a plan for the future.

Most people are not future-oriented.  They are present oriented, or past oriented; they're either hedonistic, living for pleasure or avoiding pain, or they don't think it pays to play; or they remember all the good old times, or their thoughts are nothing but regret about all that they've done.  Both these mind sets are anathema to D&D, because either the game becomes about what we've accomplished, or it becomes about what momentary bit of pleasure or excitement we can invent for ourselves in this immediate moment.  These people can't be encouraged to engage in a long-term campaign because they're not built for it.

I haven't ever seen that so clearly before.  The first question I should ask a perspective player is, "what are you doing next month?"  If the answer is, "I don't know, I'll probably be working," I should say, "Thank you, you wouldn't be a good fit for my game."

If their answer is a long description of how they're having their backyard remodelled, or how their sister is visiting and all the things they're going to do, my answer can be, "C'mon and play."

I live in the future.  A writer has to.

Like others, the argument has been for more than a decade that the "story" shouldn't be made before the players sit down to play, and that it's this reason that the concept of "story" in company-oriented D&D is such a crap concept, because the company is pounding the drum for stories that are fully invented and in place before we know who the players are.  But the game itself isn't about having the future come to pass, it's about rushing towards the future and seeing what happens.

When I began recording this combat, I had no idea what was going to happen; I didn't want to script it, or run it through and then record it; I wanted to maintain the premise that whatever happened, I'd just sort it out afterwards.  If the characters died, then I'd roll new characters and end things there. Because this is what D&D is ... it's trying something in the future, having that future happen, then picking up the pieces, whatever they happen to be.

Nearly all the destruction of D&D that's taken place has been a decades-long effort to obliterate this functional part of the game.  Players don't want to accept consequences, DMs don't want to deal with unexpected events, even die rolling has become overwhelmingly designed to produce less and less random results.  This is all that hyper-multiple modifiers to a die roll are, or exhortations for "average damage rolls," because rolling a d8 is too random, takes too long, or otherwise threatens to upset the expected results of the battle.  We want to get the battle over with as fast as possible, within 75 seconds if possible, because battle is a problem to be solved, not a part of the game's thrill.

Listened to that podcast all the way through yesterday; not so bad, for what it is.  Part of the argument being made is why rolling both attack dice and damage dice at the same time still isn't fast enough, since average damage rolls are even faster; roll to hit with a long sword, and if success, it always does 5 damage.

Overall, it sounds strange to me.  The video combat I recorded runs not quite 14 minutes; and it wouldn't last more than 6 if it weren't for my explaining things.  I grant that D&D combat in the later editions is ridiculously long, for reasons the video describes; but then, when you're rolling so many dice for damage, what would you expect?  At it's heart, however, D&D isn't hockey.  It's baseball.  With a well-designed version, when the attack die succeeds, the damage die is like watching the hit ball soar up into the air, not knowing if it's going to be caught, not knowing if its going to be a home run ... it's a paced, carefully orchestrated moment of tension to have that die bounce and turn up a good hit or a bad one.  Gutting this feature, for the sake of time, would be like automatically awarding the player two bases with every hit as an "average."

Average damage is really fucked-up thinking.

But to get to my point, I didn't know how the combat would turn out.  And now, if they do go outside, I don't know what's waiting for them there.

Not an "adventure," at least not in the way that the company, or even some others I respect, imagine it would be.  The adventure doesn't have to be following a set of guidelines that are guaranteed to produce a particular result that the player is fine with.  It can be a series of "who-the-fuck-knows?" incidents that, together, produce the unexpected, perhaps difficult, perhaps astounding consequence.  It's picking up a thread on the ground that runs ten thousand miles and following it, to see where it goes.

It the way I'm using it, a random generator does this.  It's not the best strategy for a real-life game, because we don't have the kind of time it takes to check tables or, as in my case, to build them from scratch out of nothing.  But by seeing how theoretical tables could work, by seeing what needs to be accounted for, or how this leads to the next thing, we may grasp certain fundamental concepts that tell us how to design that thread for our players.  This is why its worth bothering about.  Because it provides a framework for our thinking process, when we have to instantly decide on the next thing, because the players are there now.  A framework that, as it grows in complexity, becomes a template for designing on the spot something that otherwise would take weeks to set up and get ready.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024


I decided to be resilient.  This links to the second episode for Arliss and Bertrand's adventure into Grimstone Hollow, a hobgoblin lair.  No spoilers.

The original plan remains unchanged.  Create a random dungeon generation, use it to create a dungeon for a fictional party, video tape the combats and post them on youtube, provide a link to the Authentic Wiki to the transcript of the video, so that links can be provided to rules for anything that happens during that combat ... and then progress the party further along using the forementioned generation process.

Nor does this generation have to be dungeon-oriented.  I'm certain I can make a reasonably interesting wilderness/civilisation hex-crawling generator that, with imagination, can produce practical outdoor scenarios and set-ups to combats as well.  I haven't attempted something like that since the late 1980s, but I'm way, way smarter than my 20-something self, so I'm willing to give that a try.

Meanwhile, I think I've found a way to kick that football.

Here are the downsides of my plan.

1. Work.  Lots of work.  Work to make the generator, work to update the self-play tutorial, frequent work to build unmade rule sets to compliment the other work being done, work to run the combats for myself, work to edit the combats, work to write up the transcript of the combat, work to keep updating things across several different medias and webpages.

2. Errors.  Lots of errors.  Errors running the combats and forgetting rules, errors in mixing up numbers and errors in the generation tables, errors in the editing, errors with youtube posting, errors that have to be explained in the transcripts ... and a certain amount of shame in having to admit that even though I'm responsible for all these rules, I fuck up all the time because there are a lot of rules.

Here's the thing about that, though.  It's more important that I be authentic than that I be right.  I'd rather mess up the rule, and admit I messed up the rule, and either retcon or move on after the screw up, and take the shame-slash-embarrassment for that, than pose as some creature by pretending that I don't make mistakes or that anyone watching me should think they ought not to make mistakes.  DMing is complicated, it's self-distracting, and half the time we're paying so much attention to getting one thing right we get two other things wrong.  In the combat posted, I forgot to run Kragthar's attack at one point.  I didn't realise it until I was writing the transcript.  But I was concentrating so hard on explaining what was going on, especially with Grimgor, that I just forgot to make the attack.  I authentically fucked up.  And I authentically admitted it.  The wiki isn't called the Perfect Wiki.

3. Less room for other things.  The Streetvendor's Guide is a priority.  And now this is a priority, as I'll explain below.  Paid work, obviously, is a priority.  This blog is not.  Sorry.  People can watch for my content on the Wiki's recent changes page, or they can watch for updates on my patreon (, where I will be posting.  If you want to know what I'm doing on some Tuesday, when you don't see a blog post, I suggest bookmarking these pages so you can see what I'm working on.  If you're coming to this blog everyday, or every few days, to see what's "new," please understand, this blog is going to chase what I'm doing.  It's no longer the tip of the spear.

I'm always a writer, so I'll play catch up here, and throw out things that matter to me here, but this just isn't where my head's going to be.

Okay, let's talk about the upsides of this feature.

A. It's animated.  Unlike the finished maps, which don't move, and unlike the videos I did earlier this year that featured me making maps, these videos are instantly accessible to anyone who's played D&D, even if they don't understand the modified AD&D rules.  Combatants are fighting each other in a dungeon.  This is instantly comprehensible.  There's more talking than movement, but point in fact, that's how D&D works also.

I've been searching around for something that's dynamic without my having to be on camera, because I don't want the problems that are associated with trying to edit my movements in coordination with my space.  My den at present is fairly cramped, and will remain as such, and I just don't want to deal with trying to remake my background, nor with worrying about how my 60-y.o. self looks on camera.  I don't need that judgment.  I'm self conscious enough about my voice.  So this gives me a lively, effective way to express that voice, to get excited about combat, while moving things around so the viewer doesn't get bored.  Win-win.

B.  It's narrative.  Since the events that take place are part of a continuing "story," one that hasn't been predetermined, I can benefit from the building of an audience that knows what's happened before and is ready to learn what happens next.  Moreover, because I'm going to get better as the series progresses, for the viewer, it will feel as though the idea is growing and strengthening, especially as the characters gain levels, additional allies, friends and other elements of the overall structure changes.

In effect, it's putting a harness around Dungeons & Dragons itself, using the elements of that game to build a real life audience for myself.  All the aspects of D&D that make it great, that it's ongoing, that players grow and improve, that the dangers increase, that the elements of the game are instantly recognisable and have a pre-made audience, are all things that work in my favour as my little group of adventurers survive or die, succeed or not, gain levels, gain power, gain status and seek new obstacles to overcome.  It's so obvious, I have no idea why I failed to stumble into this before.

C.  It's educational.  Dungeon masters everywhere are always looking for new ideas, new ways of looking at things, not just events that can take place in the characters' lives, but fixes for rules and other problems that come up all the time.  This gives me an opportunity to showcase elements of the game that I support, making a solid argument for their inclusion, through demonstration rather than argument.  As far as what this blog can do to convince people, a practical, ongoing experiment that shows the rules work, and that they make for interesting and ideal situations for future players, is too good an opportunity to pass up.  And, I think, it's bound to attract an fresher, differently thinking audience.

D.  It's interactive.  I've already established a tier on my patreon for anyone who wishes to give $1 per month, if they'd like to vote on what the party does next.  Here, for example, is the pole following the above linked combat:

I'll post it small, so if you don't want spoilers, don't open it.

It's not very much per month and it gives the feeling of being engaged ... and an engaged audience is a much better audience.

E. It's multi-media.  There's youtube, of course, and the poll, and being able to look at the work on the wiki, plus this blog, plus the comments that are bound to come up about this on Saturday's Q&A ... all of which means that if the viewer really wants to get into the concept, the content to be viewed doesn't stop at the end of the video.  They can go and immerse themselves in some other facet of this experiment, and see where it leads them.

All of these things together assure me that, despite the work, and despite the errors I'll make, and despite youtube's algorithm and the initially low numbers, provided I put in the time, I don't think I can lose.  My foot is going to hit that football and I'm going to feel great.