Thursday, September 18, 2014

Plenty of Reasons

I still get views for this post, the fifth post I wrote for this blog.  True, it is the post that set the standard for this blog - it trashes the old mindset about seeking adventures and proposes a completely different sort of player investment from the typical module template.  It directly outlines how there endless adventure opportunities for people who are prepared to be entrepreneurs instead of looters.

I remember feeling at the time that it was a hopeless argument, that it would - and did - fall on deaf ears.  It didn't.  As I say, I still get views.  But it didn't change the vista of the game either, which is a bit funny.  All writers dream of writing an essay that will make everyone think differently.  Pure nonsense, of course.  That's not how change happens.

Take the I Have a Dream Speech by Martin Luther King.  People speak of it now as though it changed the way people thought about black people and white people in America.  Ferguson, recently, proved that very little has actually changed, but laying that aside . . . by the time King had given that speech in 1963, Montgomery had happened, the SCLC had been formed, Birmingham had gone down and King and his followers had been fighting that fight for at least nine years.  The speech delivered on the steps of Washington was not his first reference to his dream, either.  The march on Washington was simply the next logical step in a long struggle that still goes on - and the people who cheered when they heard that speech already believed before the speech was given.  No one's mind was changed.

Not even mine.  I wasn't raised a racist, so when I hear the phrase, "Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children," I continue to be stupefied that this insane idiocy continues year after year, when it is so plain that one human being is one human being, period.  I never needed to be convinced.

I feel continuously confused by many things like this.  Yesterday, I read the following on the Site That Shall Not Be Linked (from Scott who reviewed How to Run here):

"We have very different ideas about the necessity of taking games seriously - not saying that taking them seriously is silly or 'I could do that if I tried but I don't want to!', I have no idea if I could or not.  I just don't think a lack of rigor renders the pursuit a farce."

I look at that and find myself immeasurably baffled.  On the level of the Dream Speech.  And yes, I'm using my writer superpowers to draw a connection between the ignorance of people in facing the question of race with the ignorance of people in facing the question about taking things seriously. Because I don't see any difference.  After all, it isn't as if the mustard post doesn't make the point plain as day.

The reason that I feel this way is because I have played a number of games without rigor, and every one of them turned out to be a farce.  I see utter, unmitigated shit posted by the WOTC as representations of game play and I think, this is a farce.  I see the embarrassment in the faces of people who ask me, "What is your book about," the same disdain and unpleasantness that people associate with the words, "I am a born again Christian."  I am ashamed of the culture that has sprung from the game I love, and I have plenty of reasons to be.  Beginning with the sentiment among the participants who argue, "No, no I will not take this game seriously.  And you can't make me."

I concede that for the rest of my life, no matter what happens, the world at large will not respect this game.  Later generations may receive approval eventually for the game's attention to detail, the artistic measure in the game's creation, for the encouragement of life skills in the fields of research, drama, design, human resource management, therapy or team building, but I know that my generation - apart from those who play - will never think of this game as anything other than juvenile nonsense. Not because it is, but because the vast number of participants were first isolated, then exploited, then finally encouraged to behave like 14-year-old children.  Who now argue vehemently that expecting them to act as anything except children is robbing them of 'fun.'

I quit playing because I could not find a game that met my expectations.  I wanted to live out the fantasies, to take my intellect and conquer worlds through guile, risk and planning, to accumulate wealth, power, status, each of which were a means to transforming the world to suit me.  This is, after all, what I do in real life.  Only, in role-playing, I was hoping to do with with swords and massive amounts of strength and power, where the limitation wasn't my bank account but my imagination.  I wanted to shake the pillars of heaven.

What I got were mealy, tired, dull as dishwater conventional DMs with narrow minds who felt threatened by my imagination, who put up nonsense machinations to ensure that, one more time, we were going to walk out to the same fucking dungeon and walk through the same fucking empty rooms until reaching the same fucking mindless fucking monsters that would leave us the same fucking treasure that we could spend on the same fucking trinkets in the same fucking town on the same fucking borderland.

Yeah.  Real.  Fucking.  Fun.

What's wrong with the frivolous game?  It is summed up in this portion of the comment from Algol on my PPK's post a few days ago:

"When we get higher level it always feels logical for me to use the massive wealth I have to create armies. Surely a group of 200 men at arms would be a better investment for combat effectiveness than personal magic items? Or take command of the city guard or any other way to increase power other than increasing the numbers on my sheet. Yet it's always a fear of large combats that makes everyone shoot down this suggestion immediately when I bring it up."

That is just sad.  I read that and I just think, fuck people, you know?  Fuck the people in this hobby, with their thumb on top of imagination, keeping it down.  Miserable bastards and their lack of will or commitment or rigor, who can't be bothered to try.

There are plenty of reasons to be ashamed.  This is just one of them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Opening the Door

I feel I'm responsible for addressing the other side of the equation - if we desire not to have the door slammed in our face, what do we do?  How do we get the door open?

The religious proselytizers will pitch hard the benefits that believing in their religion will do for you, hitting on the key words that society has already inculcated into your mind as things that matter. Your soul. Your comfort. Your fear of death. Your sense of purposeless wandering and lack of well-being are particularly targeted, as these are things Westerners pine about.  Obviously, reading this, you may not be a Westerner, but then my experience with other cultures tends to suggest that doorknocking to sell you religion is not a phenomenon.  I'm not even sure it happens anywhere other than Anglo-America.

I like to tell the JW or the Mormons (these two representing 90% of such callers - Pentecostals and 7th Day Adventists have gotten rare) that heroin pretty much offers me a great soul-saving package. Heroin puts me at ease and removes my fear of death.  It satisfies every benefit they can pitch - and all without having to sing or sit near other people.  Once I see my proselytizers start to get uncomfortable, I proceed to begin arguing their need to give up religion and pursue heroin.  But I digress.

(that said, I used to use John Bunyan's writings as a template for kicking the shit out of born-again Christians, but heroin is in fact more fun)

Before I go any further, I need to address what sort of person we're looking to invite us into their thoughts.  Right off the top, its a different matter than proselytizers - they're only interested in money, so anyway they can get you to give it to them works.  Money is democratic.  Every idiot has some, so it's always more practical to begin with the stupidest people.  But then, there are so many of the stupidest people, a religion tends to run out of sales staff before running out of buyers.  People like me - and presumably you, since you've driven through this wall of text to get this far - are too much trouble for religionists.  There are easier sources of money for them.

Matters of mind are a bit expensive for stupid people, so typically one would like to start with the smartest people.  Unfortunately, many of the smartest people have already read and gotten completely bored with the internet, long before they're ever going to reach your blog.  They haven't the patience to sit through a million pages of drivel before lucking out and finding something good. For them, the internet matters only when they're researching something - and they don't research things on blogs.  You're fairly safe in guessing that they're not reading you.

What you can shoot for are two reasonably common groups: those who are intelligent but fundamentally anti-social, so that they do have the time to read dreck while steadily building up a framework for finding better stuff; and the young who haven't had time to get tired of anything yet. If you have a brain for a bat, and you want to swing it online, these are your targets.

The trick will be that you're bound to encounter a great many people who are anti-social who either a) feel this is a badge of honour; or b) are wholly unaware of it.  The former will see anything you do or say as a challenge to their world view - since the act of presenting a position online is a very minor way of becoming 'the man' . . . that being precisely the thing they're rebelling against.  These are not that difficult to recognize.  After all, they wear their badge on their sleeve.  Try to remember that for these people, the subject matter is not their principle concern.  Their principle concern is resisting - you, thought, change, the world, whatever happens to present itself.  Some of these will seem quite intelligent - many of them will actually be very intelligent - but the need to lay waste to everything in arm's reach will make your message a complete waste of time.  Don't let it bother you. These people were broken before you met them.

The unaware are far, far more difficult.  They're not rebelling, they just don't get it.  For whatever reason, they avoided schooling or they drifted through it (right up through until they received their doctorate) with the fundamental belief that all that is knowable is already, somehow, known.  Thus, anything that doesn't automatically fit the criteria of their education (or lack thereof) will sound bogus to them.  Keep in mind, these are not actually intelligent people - these are educated people, who have their specific problems depending upon which education they've received.  These are people who will continue to support the old way of doing things because it was the way they were taught, by their professors, their parents or their grandparents - who, being personally known to them, are beyond being wrong.  You, the unknown, must obviously be, as you are unknown.

I don't present these two groups in order to graph out ways in which you can reach them with your message.  I present them so that you understand that both will waste tremendous amounts of your time.  Just so you know - you'll let them.  You'll feel convinced that if you make the right proposal, if you suggest the right plan, if you describe it more slowly or in more intricate detail, you'll get your message across - but no, you won't.  Don't worry about it.  These two groups have been around a long time:

"This boy is ignorance, this girl is want.  Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

Remembering always that Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was about trying to change someone's mind.

You do not have at your beck and call ghosts of past, present and future to throw at your audience, so try to spend the time you have on this earth speaking to the people you may meet with open minds and open hearts.  They're the only people who ever really change anything, anyway.

How do you reach them?  Be honest.  Be human.  Accept that you make mistakes in your message and admit those mistakes as forthrightly as possible.  Write a great deal, not just about your message but also about all the things that make you a person with that message.  Keep working.  Examine your work but also yourself, and recognize that you're not done learning, either.

When you express these things to an audience, directly, understand that no person's disregard for you personally can matter in the larger picture.  Know confidently that anyone you meet who speaks about you, to you or to others, without also presenting what you've said or giving it due attention, is a person without importance.  People who matter are concerned with information, not personalities.  Endure the slights and see them as evidence that you're making headway - for you are.  Those who want and those who are ignorant only scream when they're threatened.

Finally, remember, no matter how you feel on any given day, or what evidence you have regarding your position in the world, you are not alone.  That feeling of lonesomeness you feel every once in a while is nothing more than you having lately lost your focus.  Regain it.  The people out there listening to you are happily waiting for more news of you.

The Door Slammed In Your Face

Yesterday, amid a post that was made by James, was the following:

"In 4E, no level 1 creature could kill any level 1 PC in one hit (there may be a rare exception or two, but it would be exceedingly rare)."

From the whole comment, James seems to suggest that I (or someone, it's not clear) am making assumptions about 4e that are, apparently, wrong.  Let me start by reassuring any of my readers that anything I might ever write about 4e will always be what it appears to be, never what it is.  That is because, from anything I've seen or heard, since first pirating the books (then deleting them) three days after 4e was launched, I have considered the system a total pile of shit.

James comment above does not encourage me to think otherwise.

This is not a post about 4e.  Nor is this a post about whether or not people can or should or would be killed in a rational system.  We have all had that conversation too many effing times and I'm not interested in it.  Please don't go there in the comments.  Surely there's a flame war burning somewhere if you need to unburden yourself on the matter.

This post is about the need for people like James to explain something about the system they play to someone who plainly does not play that system.  Specifically, the cognizant dissonance involved. Obviously, if I cared enough about 4e to have any part of the rules matter to me, I would have already read the rules.  If I had read the rules, I wouldn't need James to tell me what the rules contained.  And finally, if I don't know by now what the rules contain, having had five years to read them, I don't care.

The argument against this is a biological function of the brain, one that goes something like, "If 'blank' only knew that the 4e rules contained this unbelievably amazing point, they would change their minds totally about 4e and immediately embrace the concept."

In English, we have a word for this sort of thinking:  proselytization.  It's the jerky, annoying, immensely rude thing that certain religions have chosen to embrace because it is a means of preying upon weak people in order to increase a religion's capitalization.  If, as a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, I knock on enough doors, sooner or later I'm going to come across a very sad person who is in a very bad place in their lives, someone desperate enough for any sort of company that I will be able to use the pre-processed words of my spiel to induce that suffering, vulnerable person to give me money.  Thus, I will achieve my quota for the day.  Thus the coffers of the religion will increase, on the backs of people who don't have hope.

It is for this reason that only the crappiest of religions (and certain other low-brow charities) go door-to-door.  If, for example, I am collecting for liver cancer, sooner or later I'll find someone who's recently had a relative suffering from or recently passed away from complications of the liver.  Bang, money in my pocket.

This is not, however, why proselytization started, nor why James felt the need to educate me about 4e.  I only wish to express why many people find it so abusive.  Most people who have given money away in a moment of weakness recognize afterwards why they did it, and are understandably bitter about it.  We are entirely right in giving away money or our time or any other part of ourselves when we are in a good headspace - but that headspace is poisoned by people who feel the need to interject their agenda into our misery.

Proselytization starts because we get SO excited about something we really believe in, we have to tell everyone about it.  "This changed me!" we think; "It will change you too!"  So we set out to educate others about our particular discovery, whether or not we think they want to hear it.

I do it all the time.  I preach on this blog.  I tell you, the reader, about the brilliance of managing your world's economy, about generating content to fill hexes, about a new way to manage experience, about the possible influence of history and other subjects on your game and so on . . . because these things are interesting to me and changed my game.  I want them to change your game.  I fully understand the proselytization game.  I'm excited.  I want you to be excited also.

The difference between me and James is not one of purpose, but of effectiveness.  For me, James has a really shitty message.  It isn't even James' message.  It's a message James is repeating from elsewhere, that isn't new, that was invented for a game system that even the company has chosen to turn its back on.  It's a message that sucks for most of us already - except that it doesn't yet suck for James.  He's still on it.  And he thinks - wrongly - that there's enough validity in the message to still tell it to me, despite the content of this blog.

Why?  Because James has never read the blog.  Or, possibly, he has decided to ignore the content of the blog.  James' co-opted message, in James' mind, is just that good.

Well, I'm smacking James around pretty hard, so let me pull back.  Assuming, that is, he's still reading this.

True proselytization is hard.  It takes resolve and commitment and a ton of hard work.  If I want to convince the player of anything about role-playing, I'm going to have to write tens of thousands of words to compensate for the fact that they're not in my world, they can't see me run, they haven't tried the things I suggest or they just plain don't believe any of it is practical.  The only way I have of getting over that wall of resistance is to write and write and write.  I'd love to have you all around, to play the game with you for a month or two, to help you work out the kinks of your disbelief and demonstrate why my policies work, but sadly, I don't have until the end of eternity.  This blog is what I have.  So I write and write and write.  And, mostly, fail.  But that's how proselytization goes.

Understand.  One sentence is not going to manage the job.  Especially not if that sentence promotes a gaming system as recognizeably bad as 4e.  While I recognize that there are tens of thousands of people who play 4e, I also recognize that there are tens of thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses and hundreds of thousands of Mormons.  I don't recognize the validity of their fucking arguments, either, and believe me they are WAY more resolved in spreading the word than is James or the WOTC (when they cared about 4e).

Thus, if you feel that you must preach, then at least take the time to really do it.  Don't write a spackled sentence on my blog, hoping to fill an imagined hole in my game, and call it done.  Don't preach to ME.  Get on your damned blog and write 109,000 words about the importance of this specific rule in 4e and how it will change the world.

Otherwise, here, writing a sentence in my comments, you're just making noise.  Like a bleating little JW turning up at the door on a Saturday morning before I've had my coffee.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Depiction Tool

Today is my birthday.  I am officially 50.  I know I've mentioned a few times that I am already, but I acquired a habit a long time ago of rounding up my age to the nearest year - which I have probably done more this year than any.

Being my birthday, I'd like to talk about writing.  I began writing seriously on my birthday when I was 12 - that is, I made the decision on Sep 15, 1976.  Most of you, I know, do not remotely remember 1976.  It was momentous for me.  I decided I would not be a mapmaker, an astronomer or a statistician, all subjects I had seriously investigated by that time.  No, I would be a writer - and so began a long, long campaign on the part of every authority I knew, parents included, explaining how terrible a decision it was.  Well, that is how authorities are

I've been considering still what I would do as another role-playing book.  I believe I have an idea that would be player-supportive, thoroughly positive and a good read regardless.  My only concern is that on several levels the book would run into problems associated with specific editions or rule sets.  I would like to write the book without being specific.  I can see already, with some starting research that I've done, how tricky that's going to be.  Which only means the project needs more research.

In the meantime, I'm putting on a shelf another idea that presented itself - simply because I have no idea at this time where I would start to research.  The subject of that book would be chorography - the art of using words rather than a map to present and give life to a geographical location, depending not upon a diagram but rather pure description.  For example, this from Washington Irving's Rural Life in England:

"The residence of people of fortune and refinement in the country has diffused a degree of taste and elegance in rural economy that descents to the lowest class. The very labourer, with his thatched cottage and narrow slip of ground, attends to their embellishment.  The trim hedge, the grass-plot before the door, the little flower-bed bordered with snug box, the woodbine trained up against the wall, and hanging it's blossoms about the lattice; the pot of flowers in the window; the holly, providently planted about the house, to cheat winter of its dreariness, and to throw a semblance of green summer to cheer the fireside: - all these bespeak the influence of taste, flowing down from high sources, and pervading the lowest levels of the public mind.  If ever Love, as poets sing, delights to visit a cottage, it must be the cottage of the English peasant."

We would ordinarily consider such a passage to be 'purple prose,' certainly heavy with adjectives, and a bit obvious about the specific elements addressed.  As Irving writes, however, it is 1820.  There are no cameras, no simple means of reproducing images except by painting, which required skill and was largely impractical for a traveller who had a day or two to express sentiments about a place.  Moreover, Irving does not particularly overwrite any part of the description:  he gives one short phrase to the flower-bed, the blossoms of the woodbine, the grass plot and so on.  In all, he describes a wide variety of things in a short space, only 147 words.  Truly purple prose would demand all 147 just to describe the colour of the pot upon the window sill.

Separating ourselves from the jaundiced eye of people hopelessly dependent upon the reproduced image, consider the reader in America who has never seen England in any shape or form, not even pictures of England, since there might never be any reason for a recently painted picture to find its way across the Atlantic.  Consider the reader on a barge of the Mississippi in 1820 (Mark Twain has not been born yet), three years after the state of Mississippi has entered the Union, who has never been to a large city where a British painting might hang.  To that reader, Irving's passage is certainly not trite or obvious.  In fact, it is alive with images, enough to compel an ordinary soul to venture across the world just to see the quaint little English huts, so different from their American cousins (where do you suppose later Americans would steal their aesthetic from?)

Look at the principles behind Irving's passage.  He speaks not of the shape of the cottage, but of the life that surrounds it.  He reaches for the logic behind each element.  He describes the cottage in reference to the seasons; to the care in which the hedge is trimmed, to the attention the cottage receives.  The stress is not on dimension - there is that one word there, 'narrow,' to describe the slip; the flower pot is 'little,' but the domicile is left uncommented upon.  The emphasis is upon the action taking place.  What is happening?  From the answer to that, we can guess as to the behaviour of the residents, the attention they pay to themselves, the manner in which they address each other and manner in which they feel pride about their domain.

There are rules about this sort of description.  Rules that I imagine someone, somewhere, may have written down.  I cannot tell for sure.  Perhaps the rules were unwritten.  Perhaps one has to read enough of this material to get a sense.  Writers produced this sort of thing for centuries, going back to Herodotus, Strabo, Pliny and other classicists.  The high point was just prior to the introduction of maps, that followed surveying, in the 18th century.  Irving was a late-comer.

I'd like to get a sense of those rules - then use them to empower DMs to produce descriptions of places as vibrant and meaningful as photographs.  To prove that 147 words is worth a picture.  We can't take pictures of our worlds, we can't produce paintings.  On the other hand, we are forced to speak about them, at length, for role-playing is a speaking art.  It would seem to me that tools for how to speak, present and depict a world would be useful for a DM.

Perhaps someday I'll figure out how to write such a book.


The single comment I received to Friday's global warming post reminded me of Nassim Taleb's black swan theory, which I admit I haven't considered in years.  The post wasn't that popular, leading to the question, how many climate change economists does it take to predict the inevitable end of the world?

Apparently, all of them.

Taleb is an interesting fellow, engaging, informed, fair-minded and so on.  I am not one of his 'crowd,' so to speak.  But it is worth discussing his ideas about fragility and the reverse, that he argues must be called 'anti-fragility.'  Let's do that.

To quote Taleb: "If you do a top down, optimized system, it's going to be fragile.  If you let systems develop on their own, they'll be anti-fragile.  And this is how Mother Nature works; this is how evolution works."

What, then, is an anti-fragile D&D world?  Without question, it is a world where the game or adventure is simple enough that a given number of people - preferably only a few, as too many increases the number of relationships between individuals, increasing fragility - sit at a table and play, without preparation, without complex goals, without a long term plan necessitating the return of individuals at later sessions.  Why?  Because preparation can fail; because specific goals demand willing participation from all individuals; because there's no guarantee that the players who have come today will play again.

Thus, we have a single-session adventure that can be run on very little notice between a minimum number of people who accept that the game is going to be about gaining experience.  And this, dear reader, is exactly the sort of game that dominates the experience of role-players.  That is because every departure from these basic principles of play increases the inherent fragility of the game, stressing relationships between the players and the DM, until the centre does not hold and the campaign goes wonky.

The problem, however, with inherently anti-fragile systems is that they fail utterly to address the needs of the individual.  Nature, for instance, is a spectacularly coherent system.  Despite cataclysmic events right up to the level of exploding stars and galaxies, the natural universe as a whole simply plods on, billion year period by billion year period.  Which is great for the universe.  Sucks for us, though.  Everyone dies.  As a 'system,' it fails 100% where it comes to providing us with any of the basic things that make life worth while.  To provide those things - extending life, making life interesting, accumulating knowledge and relaying that knowledge forward, etc. - we're forced to make wholly fragile systems that Mother Nature necessarily abhors.

So it goes.  The alternative to fragility is a more certain death in undeniably less pleasant circumstances after a less fulfilling and less meaningful existence.  Thus my fundamental issue with Taleb and anyone who turns too much to nature as a template for design.  I find myself remembering the words of Rose Sayer, played by Katherine Hepburn, in the African Queen:  "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."

Where this applies to the above quoted 'standard way' of role-playing - anti-fragile throughout - it doesn't take long before one is very quickly BORED.  Yes, it is easy to get together without making any commitment to future games.  It is easy not to require the players to think more about their characters or the world.  It is easy if we don't need time to prepare.  It means that if you and I and others are sitting around in Jim's mother's basement, without a thing to do, we can always say, "Hey, let's play D&D!"  It doesn't matter who the DM is, because we have a rule book, we have a module, we can make simple-simon characters and start rolling dice.  So easy!

And as we get older, where the vast segment of the role-playing tribe is tired from their jobs, tired from extra work they had to bring home from the office, tired from picking up the kids or the last fight with the spouse, tired from the housework and the yardwork and paying the bills and doing the taxes and seeing Grandma at the home and having to pick up stuff from the store for the social event that's coming up next week that we have to make arrangements for and pick up Aunt Trish from the airport and on and on, it is so much easier if we don't have to pile on designing a world or designing rules to run the world we can only run one week in six - maybe - because that's the only time Dave and Rob and John can all free themselves from their schedules in order to play.  Fuck, life is hard, and doesn't make room for role-playing.

So if we're not all too tired to do more than drink beer when we get together, surely we're only going to have enough energy to run a module while we keep shit simple - because none of us are ready for another thirty-five minute argument about whether or not a lightning bolt will electrocute a mage standing in water.  Fuck that.  Let's keep this game simple.

Do we truly wonder why people quit playing?  When it happens that their 'lives' dominate them so much that they can't play a game that is reduced in complexity to the level of Monopoly?  Fuck.  If this is all that D&D could be, I'd have quit it myself decades ago.

The difference between this style of role-playing and Role-Playing - capital 'R' capital 'P' - is the game's potential fragility.  The spectacular degree to which the game can be made fragile, to where it is not easy!  Unlike other games - unlike even computer games, that are spectacularly more involved for the programmer than for the user - role-playing allows everyone involved to increase the complexity of the game, as the game is being played.  The player, if allowed, is entitled to purposefully expand the power, influence and inherent nature of their character in a manner that the DM must cope with, even as that compensation becomes elaborately difficult.  The DM, in turn, may at any time, during the course of the game, kick the experience up a notch, on the fly, based on nothing more than whimsy or inspiration.  Role-playing is not natural.  It is as near to Calvinball as mutually accepted structure will allow.
The ensuant pandemonium is made possible by the same engine that applies in the cartoon to the right:  the commitment of the players.  Those participants who have chosen to play a deep game - or perhaps have the opportunity to play the deep game - that I have been describing choose to do so over the petty, workaday, banal existences that most embrace because they are too gawddamn tired to lift their faces from nature's mezzanine. To compensate for their chores and grievances and self-enslavement to careers they hate, as well as the fact that Aunt Trish can't take a fucking cab like an adult, they've denied themselves the pleasure that comes from indulging in fragile things.

What matter is that the game is hard?  What matter is it that it requires our being hit with the ball or singing at the tops of our lungs or jumping until we fall down?  Life begins with hard.  "It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Coming to an End

The Croods was an excellent movie.  This will matter later.

Sometimes, I forget what it's like to speak with the middle class.  This in spite of the fact that I have spent thousands of hours speaking with such people - and that I come from an upper middle-class background.  Yes, children, I was born in the suburbs, where I lived and died until I was 21, when I was free to seek more concrete-like pastures.  During these last thirty years (almost), I have done my best to avoid the entire class, preferring Bohemians and the like.

Yet, every once in a while I find myself in a disagreement with one of these bourgeois, reminding me within minutes how frightened they are.

I'm just finishing the 2009 book Superfreakonomics - which, point of fact, suffers a bit for being five years old.  There's economics for you.  Unlike the first book, there is more of a theme in the 'sequel,' as the culminating section of the book examines global warming strategies from a scientific perspective.  Fundamentally, the writers Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have collected a series of circumstances where the death of large numbers of people - associated with childbirth, traffic accidents, horse manure (resulting from horses used in cities for transportation) - was so common and expected that people simply accepted that nothing could be done.  Something was done, in each case, and it turned out to be something very simple: the use of handwashing and disinfectant to reduce hospital deaths in the 19th century, for instance.

Going forward, the argument is made that most of the huge framework solutions for global warming are causing as many troubles as they solve, whereas there are small groups of people who are investigating potential cheap and simple solutions based on silly things like science, fact, evidence and the like.

Without making any claims about success, I brought up the idea of simple solutions with a fellow yesterday - and ran smack into the terror & fear model that has been built into the middle-class homeowner's mind these past 20 years.  What is that model?  That we are in the trouble we're in because we invented things that had repercussions we didn't understand.  NOW, we must not invent anything else, because new things will clearly have repercussions we do not - and cannot - understand.

Take a suggestion from the book linked.  The stratovolcano Pinatubo erupted quite by surprise in 1991, proving to be the largest eruption  - to that time - since Krakatoa in 1883.  Afterwards, global temperatures dropped by about 0.5° on average, for reasons largely having to do with ejection of materials and gasses into the stratosphere, the layer of air above that which we normally use (the troposphere).  One of the interesting things about the stratosphere is that its layer of air does not mix easily with the troposphere - there is a specific boundary between the two layers having much to do with atmospheric thermodynamics that we don't have to investigate just now.  The ejection of SO2 (sulphur dioxide) into that higher atmosphere by Pinatubo produced a concealing layer above the earth that did not descend as time passed - though it did eventually dissipate throughout the entire stratosphere, that being an immense space.  Scientifically, this sort of thing happens whenever a very large volcano explodes.

Sadly, Superfreakonomics was released prior to the eruption of Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, so that volcano is not addressed in the book - but according to wikipedia, the Iceland volcano's eruption was not as powerful as Pinatubo.  It was the location of Eyjafjallajokull with respect to the rest of Europe that caused so much trouble, not the size of the eruption.

In any case, Superfreakonomics examines the possibility of purposefully releasing SO2 into the stratosphere (about 12 miles up) without intentionally causing a volcano to erupt to Pinatubo's degree (hard to do and undesirable) by scientific means, to potentially lower global warming.  Impossible? Perhaps.  But no one thought seat belts would save lives.  Or that it was possible to live in a world without horse manure.  Or that there were little microscopic things that were killing people.  Doubt, the theme goes, is the initial reaction that most everyone has where it comes to proposing a simple solution to what is believed to be an insurmountable problem.

There's no question that the insurmountability of that problem has been hammered into us these last two decades.  While I think the discussion about global warming's reality has been settled (there will always be kooks who don't agree - look at all the nuts who still believe in god), the campaign to settle that argument has left us with a disastrous legacy - a complete and total certainty that this is bigger than we are.  That there are no rational solutions, no possibilities, no further data to be collected, no possible direct ways to manage the problem.

The only thing we can do is junk our cars and our aircraft, eat local, cease to have children, eradicate at least half the population, stop all research, remove plastic from our existence, eliminate all technology that is post 18th century and then - once we've done all that - sit in the mud and wait to see who drowns when the ocean rises.

Faced with that prospect, the sentiment becomes, "Oh fuck it."

Bringing me back to my middle-class friend, who vehemently argued that we should absolutely NOT carefully release SO2 into the stratosphere because we don't know what will happen if we do.  Except that, you know, volcanoes occasionally do this and we know what happens.  And that we are deliberately, excessively, releasing SO2 into the troposphere, the air we actually breathe, with very little resistance or appropriate concern.  But, as they say, "Look what happened last time we didn't know!"

Putting me in mind of two quotes from The Croods, prior to where the characters learn anything. Prior to their world coming to 'an end.'

"Anything new is bad.  Curiosity is bad."

"Never not be afraid."

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Do later editions of D&D make smaller parties more viable?

I confess, I probably don't have enough experience with later editions (I have none with 5e) to answer this question accurately.  Frankly, however, I don't see how the rule set actually matters where the problem is concerned - since everything that threatens a single character in the party can be increased or decreased in degree at the will of the dungeon master.  What difference does it make that two characters have more hit points in this system rather than that?  Or that those same characters are able to cause more damage in this system, or heal faster?  Isn't it a question of how many monsters the party encounters?  Or how high a height the character falls from?  Isn't the x-factor the decision of the DM to throw this much, this quickly, in these circumstances and with this much determination?

No matter how many hit points a character has or how many surges, I can always stack the deck with another dozen creatures pouring from another doorway, without mercy.  Which means that early editions of the game can be adjust the deadliness of encounters just as easily as any other edition - since the rule set doesn't limit the abundance of deadly possibilities.  Yet I hear every now and then that earlier editions lead to more total party kills.

My guess would be that modules like Tomb of Horrors or The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan built up a reputation for crunchy death-dealing sessioning, leading a lot of single-minded players into a mind-set that early gaming HAD to be deadly or else it wasn't 'D&D.'  Execution-style dungeons were trash in their day, played mostly by tourists who were in love with the idea of murder, death and killing, the same way that a fascination for these things will roll around in an emo's mind while clothing themselves in another layer of black.  Young boys develop such a fetish for the prospect of death that they'll dodge trains, jump from high bridges and otherwise experiment with chemicals just to prove that blood still flows in their veins.  For a segment of the population, D&D offered a safe, catechistic means of proving one's commitment - "I am willing to throw away a hundred characters to order to finish this dungeon, because that is how much I love this game!"

Unfortunately, this built up a renown for idiocy among certain groups in the population, so that I am still running across non-players in the late forties and fifties who - having not heard a word about Dungeons & Dragons in thirty years - still feel the need to roll their eyes upon hearing the words, remembering as they must the fuckwits screaming about the amount of damage they took in their high school cafeterias.  The impression was rooted and there it remains.

The question will arise, do I tailor the number of creatures to the party's size.  Of course I do.  Not in the sense that most would - if there is a goblin village in the area, then there is a goblin village.  But a party of 18 characters and their henchmen would make enough noise in approaching such a village that the first encounter would probably be a mass attack directed at the party before they knew a village existed.  On the other hand, two characters would make such a small footprint on the environment that they would probably stumble across the village undetected, thus allowing them to decide what to do about it.

The number of enemies is not the relevant issue - but the manner in which those enemies are encountered IS.  The smaller the party, the more likely they will be able to 'cut out' a section of the enemy and deal with them on their own terms.  If, however, two morons insist on openly approaching the enemy without thought given to strategy or tactics, then yes, they're going to die.  Quickly.

My 'tailoring' of my world is based entirely on giving my players the heads up where it comes to danger.  Knowledge is power.  Survival is the wise implementation of that knowledge.  If I as a DM were recalcitrant about delivering up that knowledge - and the possibility of players manipulating their situation into something they can handle - then yes, I probably would create a lot of TPK's.  But I can't see how the rule system I'm using is relevant to the situation.

But then, my small experience with 4e suggests that DM's are unwilling to create truly massive combats in the game.  No doubt, that is due to the ludicrous number of rules and sub-rules and rules of opportunity, all of which encourage situations of one party vs. one enemy, rather than a party fighting, say, 40+ enemies (which occurred in my last running).  Given what I've seen of later editions, 40+ enemies becomes a hassle - but perhaps that is due to my limited experience.  The reader should please correct me if, as a DM, they regularly run combats that feature squad or company sized battles.

For me, those may run half a session - but they're manageable and on the whole it usually means good treasure.  8 times out of 10, however, the players could avoid these fights - only the players like them.  While TPK's will sometimes threaten, they rarely occur.  In fact, I haven't had one in - fifteen years?

True enough, my parties have learned to run away.  Even when half the party dies, the rest usually get a chance to escape.  Partial Party Kill's are definitely the norm.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


This is not an improvement:

Ah well, it builds character.  Lots of character in Canada.

Yesterday, I built a post about injuries and paralleling some kind of hit point system with the one that exists in my game - so that certain injuries, such as broken limbs and physical maladies could not be easily healed.  I had intended to write a second post (today) about why, what's the point of this, but naturally one of my readers recognized the necessity of such a post before I'd written it.

From Harvicus:

"Unless you seriously restrict healing magic and how it applies to such injuries, what is really the point?  It just becomes flavor text at that point."

Here we find the smashing difference between earlier editions and later editions of D&D.  I don't have to 'seriously restrict healing magic' in my campaign.  The game, as originally written, never had a lot of healing.  It was presumed that you lived by your wits, by taking care, by not blundering into stupid situations and by teaching you to recognize your limits.  The characters were not 'tanks,' not invincible, not loaded with healing surges and extra fortune points for bonus lives.  Clerics, even those with powerful spells, could not heal an entire party at a glance.  At least half the game is about keeping yourself from dying.

Cure serious wounds is a spell that a cleric does not receive until 7th level.  It can take up to three years of consistent running in my campaign to achieve that level.  Even if you do, you only get one spell a day.  By 7th level, your fighter will have gained two henchmen; they in turn will have probably gained three or four more - which will mean you're potentially running a set of six to seven associated characters against a stacked and dangerous enemy.  If you are playing with three other players, and you've all decided to bring your full contingent, that's a force of 24 to 28 all told.  ONE serious cure spell is not going to be enough.  Chances are, none of the henchmen will be higher than sixth level, so one is all you're going to have.

Cure critical wounds is a spell the cleric does not receive until 9th level.  That's another two years of running your character.  Until then, if anyone loses an arm or a foot, they're going to have to get back to civilization, wait for an available cleric - who will have a long line of people waiting for that spell ahead of you - then pay through the nose.

Healing magic is ALREADY seriously less than what 4e, 5e or Pathfinder suggests.  And while I know that these are the games that a popular now, my personal opinion is that the healing in these games are designed for pussies who haven't the character to deal with possible death, discomfort or limited ability due to circumstance.  'Fantasy' has been designed, to my mind, for the benefit of milquetoasty, weak-kneed, driveling mollycoddled babies.

I have said repeatedly, how did the hobby get this way?  Corporate thinking.  Babies squalling about their dead characters, wanting a system that guaranteed their characters would never die.  Players who don't want to play with RISK, who don't even understand RISK, who have gotten so used to instant healing that they view a broken arm as 'flavour text.'

I wonder how many readers can understand me.  I have players who lie awake at night, worried about their characters in my world, because we had to break at a moment where the threat is so high that death seems probable.  These players love these characters.  I don't mean they feel moderately affectionate, I mean that the players are so attached to the characters that a loss would be devastating.

Conversely, the success of their characters, the triumph of their characters over their enemies, keeps my players floating on their feet for days, even weeks afterwards.

And while the reader looks at that and thinks, "Wow, what a bunch of whack jobs," I rush to explain that these are educated, capable and successful people who have many options for how to spend their game nights.  These are people whose minds I've been able to stir, to enlighten, to astound with images and ideas, who have been ensnared by my campaign to such a degree that their experience EQUALS the feeling that fans have for their baseball teams or for their favorite celebrities.

Over the last month or two I have heard a great outpouring of distress and sadness at the death of Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall and Joan Rivers.  I have listened to the moans and unhappiness of Netherlanders, Brazilians and one fellow from Cameroons at losing the World Cup.  The entire country of Germany EXPLODED in a frenzy at winning the cup.

I am saying that my players feel about their characters the way you feel about Robin Williams - or the way that Germans feel about German football players.  More so, as my players actually KNOW their characters.  When one of them breaks an arm, only to find themselves frantically trying to free themselves of their shield so they can block the attack of the jackalwere that's fast approaching, it isn't flavour text.

It's a full-blown panic.  It's deep, it's engaging, it's an immersion extravaganza.  And for these players, choosing which character to use their one-a-day serious cure on is like trying to decide which of your children you would save if you could only rescue one.

And I'm responsible for that.  I make my world that way.  I adjust the design, the function and the structure to carefully tweak each part of it for the player who wants to live the fantasy all out. These proposed rules are not just mechanics.  These are finely tuned processes that can't be fiddled with too carefully, that have come about from years of conjecture, consideration, examination and application. I am justly proud of having created a world that is so involved that it keeps players awake at night.

I only feel distress that others fail - stubbornly - to understand how high the mountain is that can be ascended here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Material Injuries

We had a little snow last night.  The pic above was taken at quarter to seven, as I was walking to work.  The temperature was -1 C (30 F).  The inevitable melt hadn't started (note the lack of falling snow on the road).  It was like a fairy land.

Yet, of course I was only able to walk through it comfortably because there are streets, because the pavement on those streets retains more heat than the ground, so that my feet could remain completely dry.  Seeing the world this morning put me in mind of mornings in a wet camp, where we were above six thousand feet and the rain had turned to snow in the night.  With the snow heavy and everything soaking wet, when even the wood under the tarpaulin won't light, it can be a misery.  More than that, careless people die in these conditions. Thinking they need to march out as soon as possible, they're soon soaked to the bone from weather and sweat, only to fall prey to hypothermia.

This I offer as proof that the wilderness ought to have physical effects on characters - and not merely a mild encumbrance like -1 to hit or -2 damage.  I can recall mornings in August so cold it was hard to open my fingers and grip the box of matches to strike a fire; hikes so cold that I was shaking and half-delusional as we descended back to camp, or back to our car because we had been caught mid-afternoon during a day trip.  Minus one is ridiculous.  Minus ten is more like it.  With a maximum weapon weight allowance.

I have been thinking about a shadow hit point/ability stat system that wouldn't fundamentally change any part of the existing game, while addressing things like hypothermia or, say, a broken arm.  Unfortunately, this would bring us back to the subject of hit points - and there is nothing that online gamers like to talk about more than what are hit points and what hit points represent and why hit points are silly and so on.  So before I venture forth, I suppose I shall have to write a very short explanation about hit points.

Hit points are a game mechanic.  They are a game measurement meant to indicate the nearness of a character to death.  Lots of hit points = far from death.  Few hit points = near to death.  Low level and minimum hit dice creatures are near to death.  High level and maximum hit dice creatures are far from death.

I do not care what hit points 'mean' beyond this reckoning.  Please do not bother to write to give me your pet theory.  Please read the English words in the above (look them up in a dictionary if necessary) and recognize that this is not a post about the meaning of hit points.  This is a post about game structure.

Let us take two persons, Rafe and Karl.  Rafe is a 1st level fighter with 14 hit points.  Karl is a 9th level fighter with 82 hit points.  At the start of a combat, Rafe is near to death, as only a couple of attacks may kill him.  It will take a lot of attacks to kill Karl.

Both Rafe and Karl fall off a low castle wall together.  Both break their arms.  In the real world, if Rafe was a 'cherry' and Karl was an experienced soldier, the main difference we would expect is that Karl is calmer, less affected emotionally by the broken arm.  Neither would be able to use that arm, however - and given proper treatment, both broken arms would heal at approximately the same rate (varied, depending on the type of break and precisely which bone in the arm was broken).  We'll presume for the sake of argument that both bones broke in precisely the same place and in precisely the same manner, so that the x-factor is in the basic biology of both.  Karl is probably older than Rafe, though perhaps by no more than a year or two, but if Karl is a lot older, Rafe's arm would probably heal earlier.  My point is that the combat skill of the injured persons would have no special effect on the rate of healing.

This is precisely the sort of thing for which the hit point game mechanic does not work.  We cannot say that a broken arm causes 8-48 damage, because that would probably kill Rafe while at the same time it would probably fail to reduce Karl even half his hit points.  A broken arm cannot be measured in hit points.  The result is that, usually, in game terms we ignore the issue that broken arms occur, conceiving 'damage' as something (in terms of the game mechanic) that happens to the whole body and which has no particular effects upon ability until the last hit point goes.

Making any attempt to adjust this gaming perspective is viewed as an affront to the game. Nevertheless, the game was made for players, not players for the game, so there must be something that can be done to address the issue.  Any adjustment, however, would need to fulfill two requirements:

1) It must be SIMPLE.  Players and DMs alike do not need it to be a complex set of rules or the creation of multiple note fields.  In other words, to keep it simple, stupid, let's not get bogged down in trying to adapt for a broken arm vs. a broken leg vs. hypothermia vs. fifty thousand other possible temporary weaknesses to the humanoid body.  We don't need to go from NO recognition of such things to a multi-varied adjustment scheme.

2) It must not damage, slow, destroy or otherwise weaken the working game mechanic as it presently exists, preserving CONTINUITY.  I've run thousands of hours of combat and I have no problem with the system.  My players like it.  They don't need the system cluttered with junky rules or structure or anything else that will seriously undermine their ability to predict their own survival.

Fundamentally, I have no interest in including 'broken arms' into the combat procedure.  I would like to limit such grittiness to issues where people fall off cliffs or are knocked about in rivers or otherwise damaged in wilderness escapades.  At some point in the future, perhaps, there may be a means to marry the two prospects together, but for the moment I'd like to keep them separate.

My scheme would be to incorporate a material injuries as a percentage of stat or hit point total.  A broken arm, for instance, might reduce the number of existing hit points (and maximum hit points) by 50%.  It could be a range, but let's say 50% for the sake of the post.  The trick that would manage the two points above (simplicity & continuity) would be in healing the damage

As an example, let's start with Rafe.  He has 14 hit points and hasn't been hit yet.  He falls off the wall, breaks his arm and takes 50% of his hit points in damage.  He isn't dead, but he can no longer fight with his broken arm.  If it is his shield arm, he must take a few rounds to unstrap the shield (a painful operation) because he would be in too much pain to let the shield hang there while he moved about.  If it were his weapon arm, then he would have even more trouble freeing the shield from his arm (as he'd be doing it with the hand of the broken arm).

Writing this, I find myself thinking of rules about strapping of shields to arms (what shields need to be strapped, what need to be carried, how easy is it to knock an unstrapped shield from a character's hand, etc.) but that's a completely different subject.

Once Rafe's arm is freed, he can go on attacking with his good hand (the adjustment for attacking with the wrong hand is a dexterity issue) - but we have to acknowledge that every blow he makes and every one he takes will hurt his broken arm.  His strength, constitution and dexterity should all be dropped.  I would suggest 50% (as I'm a mean bastard), eliminating all bonuses.  For a fighter, this isn't that bad (though dropping the strength to less than '9' would mean Rafe was technically not a 'fighter' and should be fighting according to his hit die and not his level), but it's bad for a thief or a mage, since those classes tend to have lower stats in strength.

Karl is in a similar position.  Let's say he's suffered 20 damage already, so that he's at 62 of his 82 hit points.  His present hit points drop to 31, and his maximum to 41.  His stats drop by half, just like Rafe - and his THACO suffers, unless Karl has an 18 strength.

Both, then, are affected significantly.  Neither can shrug it off.  Karl is still a lot farther from death than Rafe, but there remains a meaningful ratio in the impact the broken arm has caused.

Most of all, both can go on taking part, while adjusting to the fact that they can't use their arms.  Such consideration can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis (the broken leg making movement impossible, hypothermia reducing intelligence and wisdom as well as physicality, etc).

How, then, do we heal it?

If we go back to the original D&D game, we find the healing spells helpfully described.  A broken arm is not a "light wound."  It is certainly serious, but it isn't critical, so we can assume that any spell of sufficient description will heal the hit points lost (cure light wounds would have zero effect on a broken arm).  Therefore, cure serious wounds, cure critical wounds and heal would all be effective. As hypothermia is only serious in its later stages (reduce hit points 10% per hour, perhaps), if dealt with before it became serious or critical, cure light wounds would probably work.

For Rafe, there are seven hit points between his present 'maximum' of seven and his usual total of 14. To heal those 7, he would need either a powerful spell or actual resting time.  Seven days would not be enough.  He would need, rather, 7 weeks.

Karl, on the other hand, has 41 hit points to gain back.  He could heal the difference between 31 and 41 normally, but above 41 he needs a serious spell or rest.  We would not, however, suggest that he needs 41 weeks!  Rather, we argue he heals 1 hit point per level per week of material damage, so he would heal in just 5 weeks (rounded up).  The reason?  Well, perhaps he can ignore the pain a bit more, so that while he isn't totally healed after five weeks, it stops hampering him as much as it still hampers Rafe.  Perhaps, as an experienced veteran, he knows better how to rest - fixedly keeping his arm still, eating better, not screwing around with his arm as patients often will, etc.  There may be other reasons.

As yet, this whole idea is untried.  I'm only expressing a possible way it could be managed - no doubt there are tweaks necessary, and perhaps a list of specific effects caused by specific injuries.  I intend to go on giving it consideration.

In the meantime, some more pictures from my walk to work:

Monday, September 8, 2014

New Campaigns

"Hello.  This is Sandra.  Sandra was once a ten year old girl back in the days when America was great, when she went to school with Democratic Candidate Bob Gillon.  Back then, your candidate tried to steal a kiss from Sandra under the school bleachers.  Do you want to elect a candidate that tries to force himself on little girls?"

I know, I know, I promised to stop writing about American politics.  It's only that you cannot imagine what it's like to be outside your country and see ads like this.

Thank god I still live in a country where firing a gun - at anything - on live TV will probably not get you elected.  Admittedly, I can't quite be sure.  I live in Alberta.

(that's an in-joke for Canadians only)

Been a strange weekend.  I write a post about seeking advice about D&D, and get an answer that there's a polite Star Wars forum that exists.  Logically, I should now write something about finding your own role-playing style, apart from the mainstream, only to find myself proved 'wrong' by evidence that excessive consumption of rabbit meat results in malnutrition.

I am not sure when I stopped writing in English - but it is the only explanation I have at present.  I look at the page and it looks like English to me, but apparently it isn't.  I've gone over.  I've lost touch. I'm just writing gobbledegook at this point.  The blog doesn't support guns, it doesn't support white cops killing blacks, it doesn't bemoan the death of Christmas and therefore this blog cannot be understood by American readers.

My apologies.  This is some kind of cultural break.  A miscommunication.  A failure to communicate.

The moron with the gun in the real political ad above thinks he's doing something very clever.  He thinks he's making a point.  There are tens of thousands who will see the ad and scream at their TVs rabidly, "Fucking A!!!"

The first words of the video, "Millions of dollars of negative ads are flooding into Alaska ..." will make no connection whatsoever with the viewer.  They will not realize they are watching a negative ad - or that it is being shown in Alaska.  They will not recognize that the very cheap looking video will have actually cost several hundred thousand dollars.  They have no understanding of filming for television, so they don't know what sort of grease it takes to fire a gun on network TV.  They will never see the tab being spent to buy network space between showings of Rick Castle, Fuckwit.  The people yelling approvingly at their TVs are ignorant.  Cheerfully, malignantly, indignantly, extravagantly ignorant.  Because this is the nature of appealing to the stupidest, most moronic subset of any group.  Do exactly what you are telling others not to do.  Do it, then pretend you're not doing it.  No one will notice.

Take a hobby.  People enjoy the hobby, but there's this nagging, fundamental issue that will not go away - a significant number of people are uncomfortable or unclear on how exactly to participate. There are endless discussions on what is accepted or not accepted, what's the right way to play and why it is very, very necessary to understand that there is no right way to play.  The rules keep changing.  Pundits rise up and declare the new rules are wonderful.  Pundits rise up and claim the new rules are stupid.  The wave rises and falls.

The hobby is dying.  The hobby is stronger than it ever was.  We don't have anyone in our school who can DM.  I don't know how to DM.  I DM, but my players think my game is shit.  I started a campaign, but it broke up after the first session.  We played for two months and then we decided to start a different campaign using a different system.  We don't play seriously.  We don't play enough. Pathfinder is better.  Swords & Wizardry is better.  Lotfp is better.  My game is better now.  No, I can't explain how.  No, I can't say it is definitely the system.  The new campaign feels better.  The new campaign is simpler.  The new campaign has more role-playing.  The new campaign has more character.  The new campaign, the new campaign, the new campaign.

What the hell?  Why is it always the 'new' campaign?

Have we simply gone so far that we've missed the relevance of those words?  "I've been running for 25 years - yes, I just started a new campaign last month."

I would like to know how many new campaigns an average DM starts per year.  Per decade.  Per lifetime.

I've been running 35 years and I have started three campaigns.  I ran the first for three months, starting three months after discovering the game.  I ran the second for five years, starting three months after the first failure.  I have been running the third for 28 years.

Why is that not typical?

Why do we want to pretend it shouldn't be?  Why have we invested the word "new" as something that's beneficial or great in a campaign?  Doesn't that mean that all the time and effort and discovery and design that went into the old campaign was thrown out?  How rarely we use those words: "I threw out my old campaign last week."

Why?  What was wrong with it?  "Oh, well, it was . . . well it wasn't . . . the players didn't . . . but it's okay, because I'm starting a new campaign next month."

Well good for you.  I won't hope this one will be the one that takes, because it won't.  It will be shit just like the one before, because it's plain that no lessons were learned.  People are killed by guns every day, but as a would-be Senator the message I want to send will be that you should use a gun to express your discontent with the other fellow.

Lessons.  Not learned.  Repeating the same mistakes, over and over.  Because no time is ever taken to examine the mistakes.  Find me the blog post that says, "I started a campaign but it was total shit.  I screwed over the players, I spent too much time on dungeon making, I tried to railroad the players into a story that bored the shit out of them, I really screwed the fucking pooch.  I did.  Not the players.  It was all my fault.  I'm really looking over my mistakes and I've decided to change the way I play.  I'm going to think it over long and hard before I start another campaign."

Those posts are out there.  People rarely go into detail.  It's embarrassing.  I can't really blame people for not tearing into themselves in the public eye.  We could use a little more of it, however - as that would build at least some sense that improvement matters.

Instead, we get, "I've started a brand new 5e campaign and it's BETTER!  It is so, so, so better!"

Oh yeah?  How?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Phat Enough to Try

The title for this post comes from the gangsta slang version of Google that a friend linked.

Yep.  Link to Jon Stewart, top centre.

Continuing on with yesterday's thoughts about players being Volun-told, certainly many players don't see any benefit to their being elected as DM  As I said already, they only see the work.  They only see the stress associated with failure.  In fact, there's nothing self-evidently positive about DMing, which has given rise to the myth that it's something only a few can ever like - and that only a few can ever be good at.  In other words, DMs are born, not made.

If that's the case, then there ought to be something intrinsic about my liking for it, that others do not possess - nay, that others cannot possess, unless they too were somehow damaged in the womb.  To guess at what that is, I ought to begin with what makes me yearn to DM.

Let's go back, way back.  Way before I was fifteen and began to play (this Sep. 6th will be my 35th anniversary) - because obviously the predisposition must have been there.  In my case, I can argue that I was 'bent' to be a DM even before the game had come into existence, as I was ten years old in 1974.

Looking for clues, I'd have to say that my groove (this was the 70s) began with telling jokes. Sadly, I don't remember the first joke I ever repeated, but I'd be willing to bet that it got a laugh.  Most jokes that kids tell each other do - from other kids.

The earliest joke I can remember inventing happened two years before the invention of D&D; I was eight.  I was just a little kid sitting by a campfire with my dad and a bunch of his work friends who had come up to visit the cabin we had out by Sylvan Lake.  At some point, I don't remember, one of them must have used the word 'prostitute,' because I remember turning and asking, "Dad, what's a prostitute?"

And my father, wanting not to lie to his eight-year-old son in front of his friends, and not being the sort to deny me curiosity, answered, "Well, it's a woman who sells her body."

That didn't actually make any sense to me, and I asked, "One piece at a time?"

I remember there was a great deal of laughter - which again, I did not understand.  I did not actually understand that joke that I'd invented until years after D&D was invented.  I did understand, however, that things I said had an effect on people . . . and that I liked that effect very much.

I don't believe that's something I feel uniquely.  I think most of us get a kick out of making people laugh or changing someone's mind.  I think that's universal enough that it has caused facebook and twitter to explode as social media, since all those things do is to allow us to use an ersatz method to get others to approve of our having found something they haven't seen yet.  Look at this; wow, that's cool; good feelings gained.

It is really just a large scale game of show-and-tell, which I always liked as a kid.  I was always bringing things to school that I wasn't supposed to (sometimes these things were 'borrowed' from home) in order to get a certain wow factor from my friends and others.  We get status through this wow factor, status that translates to people liking us because we are cool.

This can go bad places.  For me personally, in those pre-internet days I was always reading something, often something strange, so I was ahead of the curve where it came to finding shit that was plain unusual (a string of 13th century woodcuts that I found in grade 7, showing the ways witches were executed and disemboweled comes to mind; those were different).  By the time I'd hit my teens, the reading I'd done was hitting a critical mass and I was gaining a lot of prestige by simply making shit up.  I'd decided to be a writer at 12, so I was writing furiously by fifteen, filling up a hundred pages a month with made-up shit - and that was having a great effect on people, even if the writing was beyond awful.  We were kids.  Everyone's writing is beyond awful.

Stumbling into D&D, I had already been built for it, no question.  Invent a world, show that world to players?  Old hat.  It was just another way of working by myself, then showing and telling.  Is that because I was somehow built to show and tell better than others?  Was I a born DM?

Nonsense.  I had simply had a particular background that encouraged my expressing myself openly. Like the difference between my father answering my question about prostitution as opposed to another father who would have cuffed his kid and told him to shut up.  My father never explained what a 'piece' was - he laughed along with his friends, but all he said to me was "That's right," leaving me to spend the next years figuring it out (Playboy would eventually explain it).

The reason why elected DMs don't see the positivity in DMing comes from their having had a long history of showing people things that either received a 'meh' or an insult.  They never learned to glean any pleasure in thinking up something new and expressing that aloud.  Their efforts were suppressed. They were never given a chance.

Now, today, faced with the prospect of having to show their world and tell about it, they're not phat enough to feel the confidence that's needed.  The confidence that I had at eight, that allowed me to feel safe about asking my father the definition of a word that didn't previously exist in my world.  It is all about how safe any of us feel.  If we don't feel safe, we're not going to stick out heads out, are we? We're going to huddle and keep our heads down and not ask the question, not follow the question up when the answer doesn't work, and not go digging for the real answer to why others reacted the way they did.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a group of players deciding that Jeremy is going to be DM. The error, I think, is that the players think that this is the whole of their responsibility.  They've shoved the matter off on Jeremy and now they think they're done.

They're not.  The players who join together to push Jeremy into the role must understand that they're next responsibility is to ensure that Jeremy feels safe in that role.  It's up to then to repeat, as often as necessary, that there isn't going to be any judgement of Jeremy's skills; that no one's going to demand that Jeremy be great right off.  That everyone here understands and supports every moment of Jeremy's learning curve, that they're by his side and that they're ready to goddamn help if that's what it takes.

That's what it will take.  If the players want Jeremy to be phat enough to try, those same players have got to be phat enough to back his play.