Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tao & Tao's Daughter Podcast Episode 5

At last!  A fifth podcast, one week and two days late.  Sigh.  And after all the struggles with formatting and editing and trying to process the file we made into something that could be visual and go on youtube, we had to pay Soundcloud six cruddy dollars a month to up our top limitation.  Even at that, it will only be good for this podcast and two more - and then it will have to be $16 a month.  As I am facing right now being out of my place come the end of this month or - if I survive into June - next month practically for sure, that really bites it.

But, here is the podcast:

Warning, some of this is pretty severe.  There's no reason it shouldn't be.  So long as it is interesting, I'm not the least bit sorry.

The Hadron Collider of D&D

I've been poking for a couple of weeks at the content of JB's Economy post, that I've already written about once.  It's such a rich field for gauging the mindset of the ordinary online D&D metagamer.  Take this comment from Roger Burgess, posted yesterday, to a statement I made about mechanical parts of the game mattering (specifically, an economic model):

The name of the game is Dungeons and Dragons, not Markets and Accountants. The effort to verisimilitude ratio of figuring out 'realistic' economic values is nearly nil. Simulating the economy beyond 'You guys have pumped a bunch of gold into an economy based on silver - here's what's happened to the village you started in' is really not that important.  There are far better ways to show that the characters are having an effect on the world than trying to 'simulate' an inevitably inaccurate economy.  Adventuring is the game, and hours and hours of prep that the players aren't going to see much of isn't part of it for people who put any sort of value on their time.

I don't want to disparage Burgess; he's approaching the subject from a reasonable point of view.  "An Economy" is a daunting prospect and it is very hard to reconcile the amount of work with the perceived value of that work, particularly prior to any actual evidence that there's going to be any value.  This is the reason for this title: economics is the Hadron Collider of D&D.

What's interesting is that Burgess automatically supposes that, of course, a proposed economy must be founded on the sound principles of supply and demand.  He has leapt ahead in the conversation to the players who bring back a big pile of gold from an adventure, producing massive inflation in the silver-based system and destroying the economy of that town.

I've heard this particular scenario many times.  I wonder how this store of gold has derived from a silver-based economy?  Where did the party-found gold come from?  If a dungeon, I presume it came from monsters accumulating it from outside; or are the monsters digging out gold and then stamping coins for an underground economy that never, ever steps out the dungeon's front door?  Or are we imagining some ancient culture where gold was common enough to make a sufficient horde for the party to find, but somehow the present-day culture failed utterly to keep that gold currency alive?  Because I must say, during the absolute worst periods of human history, those periods of total decline and dark age, periods where millions perished unknown by the sword because no one took the time to write anything down that we were able to find, gold survived.  Gold always survives.  We have accounts of cultures that regularly sacrificed babies to the gods, but we don't have any accounts - except from Disney - of cultures that sacrificed gold.

If there is no other reason for trying to create an economy for a game world, there's this:  the DM will learn something about economics.

The other half of Burgess' comment is also a quite common point: that with so many better things to concentrate on, so many more worthy things, why concentrate on this?

That brings us right back to the false dilemma again, in which we hear it argued that it is either this or that.  We can create an economy for our world . . . or we can do everything else.

Naturally, "this" or "that" can be applied to anything we care to name.  Why are we spending so much time with hack and slash when there are far better ways to show the characters are having an effect?  Why are we spending so much time with trouble-solving scenarios?  Why are we spending so much time with character creation?  Why are we spending so much time with alignment?  Why are we spending so much time with details like encumbrance, back stories, hit location, religion, character classes, point-system buys and munchkinism?  Why are we spending so much time with something that we don't personally care about?

I agree with Burgess.  Adventuring IS the game.  The problem is we have a surfeit of players who have a complete misread on the subject of "adventure."  For them, it is the traditional, old school campaign, the one where people gird up with swords and armor and recreate the stories of Parsifal, Roland, Hood and Arthur with terrifically focused abandon, rigidly denying that "adventure" could mean anything that happens as a result of chance, fortune, luck, surrounding events deriving from accident, circumstance or things about to happen, that are sought after or reached for, regardless of the context.

To many, "economics" seems like a piss-poor adventure.  Yet it is an adventure that drives only everything in the real world.  It can't in traditional, old school gaming because no one gave any thoughts whatsoever for making rules for that.

Ever play Monopoly with a transport cost rule that says you have to pay $30 before throwing the dice, even on doubles?  Ever play a RISK rule where a single army left on a territory by itself has a 50% chance of rebelling and joining a random enemy, immediately increasing to four times its size as it acquires a 'citizen army'?  Ever play the Game of Life where every time you pass a payday, there's a 1 in 10 chance that someone in the car will die, requiring $5,000 for funeral services?  No?  Pity.

D&D is the sort of game where this extra rule-making really makes sense.  We used to make up those rules for those simple games because we wanted more and more.  We didn't stop playing by all the old rules; we didn't drop rules, we added them.  Point in fact, that's all those university students were doing when they added all that shit to Chain Mail.

This isn't a dilemma.  We're working like dogs on all those "far better ways" that have gone before and then, on top of that, we're adding an economy.  And whatever the hell else we can think of, because the one thing we don't want to tell our players is, "No, you can't do that because I'm not ready for it."

That is a total crap cop-out.  Sorry, for those who feel put upon by the content that's already involved but the game thing is to get in and try.  I'll applaud the DM who says, "I'm not ready for that so it's going to be clunky and probably awful . . . but yeah, sure, let's try it and see how it goes."  A qualified yes is always better than a reproving, unqualified no.

Let's not just do the "better ways" - let's do all the ways.  If the reader wants another example, I'll pose a few:

Why are we wasting all this time learning how to hit grounders and line-drives when it is so much easier to win games with home runs?

Why are we wasting all this time learning how to fight with a knife when we have guns that fire bullets?

Why are we wasting all this time learning how computers work when I just want to play video games?

Why am I taking math in school?  When am I ever going to use this shit?

And so on.

Remarkable, isn't it, how a call to concentrate on just the important things sounds so much like being just too tired to learn.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Just thinking, people should know that if they want to talk to me about any of the things I've got going: Ternketh Keep, Jumpstart Proposal, any of my books, the Wiki, Patreon or the Podcasts, as well as the DMing Tutorials, there's always the option of talking to me direct on twitter, @Tao_of_DnD.

Seems the best way to find out if I can help you is to talk to me.


About twenty months ago I put together a series of posts that began with discovering a wagon on a road that had just been attacked by goblins. Here are the links for the series:

Setting the Scene
Groundwork for Dialogue
In-Party Indecisions
Setting Forth
Feeling the Threat

The six posts are a steady point-by-point breakdown of how to hook a party, how to build upon that hook, how to augment and support the party's reaction to the hook, how to handle the party setting forth, how to manage expectations when the adventure sinks in and finally an understanding of the consequences that come from a game where failure is a real option.

These posts were very popular - and I feel I made some converts to my way of thinking with them, as I really do feel that many believe that the adventure has just two elements: the hook and the process of hacking our way through.  There are a significant number of people who believe that the "adventure" is the personalities of the NPCs or the "feel" of the monsters to be killed or the "fantasy" element of the dungeon's special rooms or the castle's special appearance.

Adventures are mechanical constructs.  What the players see is a facade:

Like a hotel, when you walk into the front you're not given a view of
housekeeping or the kitchen: you're shown what you're meant to see.

The beams, the piping, the actual structure that supports the adventure, that's all covered by a veneer of beauty that doesn't actually help the DM.  That's for the players.  Those who work behind the scenes, we're used to walking through rooms where the customers have shat the bed, or where the toilet was busted or where some poor schlub committed suicide, leaving us to clean up the mess.  This is DMing.  As some point it's necessary to drop the romance and doe-eyed wonder and get down to the mechanical process of making the thing look beautiful to people who don't actually know anything about what's really going on.

There are some that won't do that.  They'll claim that they're entitled to their sense of wonder and their rose-colored glasses, while insisting that they're as enraptured as the players.

Some of these DMs will be lying, like Rock Stars who have just flown in from another city on a plane through five hours of turbulence, only to vomit in the back of the limo because they're actually suffering from the flu, who will nevertheless scream at the auditorium, "I'm so happy to be here!"  Because pretending matters, because we shove our own emotional state aside and we tell our players that the adventure is wondrous because that's part of the wonder.

But there will always be DMs who just can't see it that way.  They don't want to lose something - call it their innocence or their joie de vivre - for the sake of being a DM.  That can't be the way it works because that's just . . . just horrible.

What's interesting is that many people who work in the hotel industry or the performance industry - or any number of other similar industries - get to like the gritty, grimy reality of the back-scene, much more than they like the front house.  They'd rather walk in the back door of the hotel and talk to the cooks than greet the concierge.  They'd rather hear the concert while sitting back stage with the roadies than see the show.  True, they're more jaded.  They talked to Prince personally, they knew the guy on a level that the audience will never see . . . and they know all that the outfits, the strutting on stage and everything else that the audience worships was just an act.  They don't remember Prince "the artist" - they remember that one night when they smoked a few cigarettes together and Prince talked about his parents.  A memory they will never, ever share with anyone.

If you're a DM, that you now.  You can hang out with the players and make jokes, laugh and all that other shit, but you've got something on them because you know what's going on behind closed doors that they will never enter.

You can lament that.  You can preen yourself and promote that.  What you can't do is change that - not if you want to run a good game.  You have to embrace it; you're not like the others at the table. They thing they invest in, their characters, they're hope for a good running, their ambitions and sense of wonder - all that depends on us working hard to make sure they're not disappointed.  To do that, we have to clean the dust out of our eyes, slap ourselves a couple of times in the face and wake the hell up.

They're on holiday.  We're working.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brain Cloud

I must say, it was our hope that we would get just two students before the end of the month.  Hard as it may be for us, just now this internet monetizing D&D thing is what has enabled us to survive these past four months and it is the only job I have at the moment.  I have been able to get some part-time and temp work these last three weeks, just little short-term gigs where I've cleaned up a friend's resume or typed in data entry for a few days - but it hasn't been quite enough to get us through to the end of May.  We're just three hundred short of covering our rent and now I'm pushed to admitting that while I'm sure that tutoring is a very good idea (positive responses coming from everywhere), we had hoped it would help us out sooner.

Don't know exactly what we're going to do.  I don't want to admit any of this but I'm under pressure and I can't just ignore the avenue provided by this blog, as it has saved us again and again since February.

Just recently saw Joe vs. the Volcano for the first time in many years.  Brilliant, much underrated film.  I wish this was as easy as jumping into a Volcano.

But . . . just to remind the reader.  I still have a Jumpstarter campaign that is active, that still offers a very good module, Ternketh Keep, and still offers a very good preview of the Fifth Man, the book I am writing.  Please, if you haven't, give these elements some consideration.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Enjoying the Unexpected

I was looking at this world plotting post today and thinking how funny it is.  Seeing it three years later, all I can think is, "Wow, that looks like a lot of work."

It wasn't not really, but I know that I'm built for this sort of thing.  For one thing, I'm well-versed in the publisher program and I've already made hex-maps that I can manipulate as I've done there.  I wrote the post to show what could be done - and how a perfectly believable arrangement of details could be generated completely randomly, if the method is right.

But I laugh because I really got a kick of making this:

I didn't know what it was going to look like when I was finished - wasn't even sure it would look like anything.  But it was an interesting experiment because I kept stumbling across new ways to give it life as a potential game setting.  I think I learned a lot, even though of course none of this made its way into my world.

I wonder that people who describe making their world don't get more out of not knowing what it is going to look like.  I suppose that comes out of always scribing out a world without a random element.  There's just something in me that would rather investigate than originate where it comes to D&D.  Thankfully, this doesn't keep me from creating from scratch with writing: doing that right now.  But in devising something like the above, I get a real kick out of throwing dice at a table and seeing what happens.

For example, take this small part of the Sahara map I posted earlier this month:

South Algeria

Most of this map is randomly generated.  Counting just the two areas that are labeled "Tindouf," I had exactly three pieces of data upon which to build this space: the elevation, latitude and longitude of three places, one of those being the town of Tindouf in the upper left corner.  There just isn't any data available on the rest of this big, empty space (about the size of Ohio, England, Bulgaria or South Korea, if anyone is interested)  Because of that, I was left to either make stuff up or generate some result randomly.  Guess where I went with it.

To start with, it always has to be remembered that these are hexes that are largely empty of anything - just like the randomly generated example at the top, there are hexes within hexes, so the 20-mile hex (32 km) of the Tindouf map is largely representational.  The three green areas of Tindouf shown above do not mean that the oases there cover an area 20 miles across.  More likely, the two hexes without a town in them are closer to 1% of that.

However, apart from the oasis, there are two general kinds of desert: the sort where very little grows and the sort where nothing grows.  Compare this:

With this:

I wanted my desert to have character, since it would matter to the players trying to cross it.  We had an adventure in a desert similar to this with one party last year and a different adventure with another party in another desert two years ago.  So creating this detail proved important.

I started with the premise that all the hexes surrounding an "civilization" hex - one I had at least a little information for - would be "desert and scattered scrub," with succulent plants, enough life that herders could take sheep or goats to a specific hex in the desert and let them graze there awhile before before moving onto new grazing lands.  These hexes are rust-red in color because I have a lot of different vegetations to keep track of and this seemed best for part desert.  A hex that was 2 hexes away from civilization would have a 50% chance of being a potential grazing hex.  Three hexes away, 25%; four hexes away, 12.5% and so on.  Anything that was not a desert and scattered scrub was pure desert - either sandy, like the picture above, or rocky, or mountainous (like the darker red hexes in the Tindouf map), depending on what other details I could dredge up from my own atlases and online.

Information continues to be scant where it comes to the deep Sahara desert.  We can see it from space but very little of it has been properly investigated.  Names for regions are so local they don't appear on maps - or if a label appears on maps, the information on line is in a different language, with different spelling.  And all it says online about the desert is that it is a desert east or south or near such-and-such.  Sometimes there's a note that it's rocky.  That's about as good as it gets, even with google translate.

Moreover, a lot of places that my 1952 encyclopedia shows as existing are simply gone now.  The Sahara is growing and drying out and there are wadis I can see on old maps that don't show up on google earth.  They're covered in sand now.  It's a similar phenomenon to the melting of the glaciers - it is only that it's easier to get a camera crew to a glacier in Alberta to bitch about how much it has melted since 1935 than it is to find a wadi in the heart of the Sahara.

I've done this tour; it gets more expensive every year
and there is less to see.
Where was I?  Oh, getting random results.

It was probable that I'd get at least one well placed scrub-land hex between the two upper hexes of Tindouf and the one 220 miles to the southeast.  Those middle scrubland hexes make travel a lot easier because there's only a 40 mile gap of deep desert that a traveller has to cross - which is good for my game because Tindouf is one of those links between the north of the Sahara and the south.  On the whole, though a lot of the exact hexes were determined randomly, there's a nice clean path between south Morocco, Tindouf and Azawad in north Mali, which gives access to the El Mreyye grasslands (virtually a pure desert now but in the 17th century would have been a very dry Sahel climate), this being the road to Timbuktu.

It worked out for south of Adrar, as well.  Adrar is in modern-day central Algeria - but there was a route that led to it from a big trading city called Biskra (I have to link the French Wikipedia because it is much more useful than the English), which was once part of Roman Numidia.  South of Adrar the route led over the cooler Asedjrad Plateau, then down into what is now West Mali, where a big wadi called the Tilemsi made the way to Gao, another very important trade town in the old Songhai and earlier Mali empires.  Until the Portuguese broke the system, an immense amount of Europe's gold poured north from Gao and Timbuktu.

I've seen hundreds of maps of the trade routes that look like this:

I swear that the creators of these maps are just playing connect the dots between known trade towns without the least thought of the big blank spaces between.  Look at at this one detail:

Erg of Chech shown surrounded with a red line.
The 'expert' here has drawn the trade route right through the middle of the Erg of Chech, a vast sand field about the size of Texas.  No doubt, the 'expert' realizes that the camels don't cross through the middle of it but follow around the edge, but that's not really important for the map, is it?  We're just trying to say that Tombouctou and Gao both traded with Sijilmasa, which was a huge trading city that dried up and blew away sometime between 1353 and the early 16th century (it is a bit of a mystery).  It would have been reached through Adrar, which is unique in the Sahara for being one of a long string of oases conveniently strung out in a line.  To get to Sijilmasa from Timbuktu (the mapmaker has chosen to retain the French colonial spelling of the city), a traveller would have had to travel east until just north of Gao, then use the Gao route, or travel on the route to Tindouf and then northeast to get back to Sijilmasa.  Inside Morocco, the Sijilmasa road led to Fez and Casablanca; the Tindouf road led to Marrakech.  Obviously, the mapmaker doesn't care about these subtle details.

I love that I can now define the exact hexes that a traveller would take in my world (though of course, being in part random, the reality would vary by 20-30 miles north or south of the line I'll draw).  I love that I have the Sahara 'tamed' where it comes to what's out there.  I love that my desert isn't just a big empty bleh as it appears on most fantasy maps.  I love that I had no idea what to expect.

This post really has been all over the place.  Guess I just had to let myself off the chain for a bit.

Friday, May 20, 2016


Those people at reddit are crazy.

Yesterday a fellow posted a link to my DM Tutorial page on reddit, unquestionably to help me.  Back in 2014, I tried the same thing myself, believing that it might be a good way to promote myself and my book - only to discover that a great many people who regularly contribute to reddit are . . . well, let's just say exceptional.

I think my favorite comment was the fellow who wrote,

"IMO any DM who thinks campaigns can be derailed is a bad DM."

There must be something inherent in human biology that compels this sort of absolutism.  This, therefore that.  On one level it is an ad hominem attack, which redirects the subject by attacking the character, motive or other attribute of the person (in this case, the DM's ability).

On a completely different level it results from the participant having adopted a false dilemma as the way in which things are measured: there are only two possible ways to view any statement or belief: that the person who believes this is a totally bad person or a totally good person.

Obviously, it's not the sort of message I embrace.  There is an excellent book on this subject, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi and Alejandro Giraldo.

Look!  Someone used the word 'derailed' in a discussion
about role-playing: they must be referring to sandbox
vs. railroading.

The hardest thing to realize about 'arguments' is that most statements that human make - including most of the statements I make - are not remotely arguments at all.  They're opinions, largely based on emotional responses expressed in words . . . and as such, they have as much application to problem solving as "This ice cream tastes good."  While difficult to dispute, it is largely irrelevant to how we are going to make this particular apparatus work.

In response, there are plenty who will 'argue' from their premise that since the ice cream really does taste good, this is essentially "accurate" - and being accurate, it cannot be dismissed but must be taken into account.  Unfortunately, the assertion that something is accurate does not make it accurate.  Arguments are not based upon apparent statements of accuracy, but upon validation.  You say the ice cream tastes good.  I have no way of confirming that it does.  You may be lying.  You may have no reference for what 'good' is.  You may have been conditioned as a young boy to make positive associations with ice cream that now compels you to register ice cream as good even though essentially you're so used to the actual taste that your hormonal response is "meh."  None of which matters, because I cannot taste with your mouth and therefore I have no means of validating it's accuracy.  This explodes the 'argument' by positively defining it as not an argument.

That is largely lost on most people.  Where I make statements on this blog regarding the value of, say, the practicality of sandboxing over railroading, I am for the most part proposing a very poor argument.  I can try to give my statements clarity and scope.  I can point out similarities between my statements and other situations that the reader will probably agree with.  I can pull several examples and attempt to build a syllogism out of them.  Chances are, however, that I will not persuade the reader because I cannot positively validate my argument by any provable means.  This means that, except where I am citing verified evidence (the heart pumps blood that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, enabling us to function biologically), I'm only speaking opinion.

I realized several centuries ago never to expect to change someone's mind on a dime.  At best, we can make an argument so passionate that the listener will remember the discussion - which is the biggest victory one can hope for.  Then, at some future point, the listener will be living their ordinary life and, without warning, find themselves faced with a personal experience that validates that argument that they still remember.  My whole life, since long before the internet (since before home computers became a 'thing'), has been people coming up to me months later and saying, "You remember that time we talked about such-and-such?  Well, I get it now!"

If you read something on this blog that you agree with as you read it, that's because you already have that validation in your mind.  Chances are, you have already validated that thing, long past, by whatever standard you use to believe things.

Not to disparage the reader, but for a writer seeking to make a change in the room, this is low hanging fruit.  I appreciate that I have people who agree with me and all, but given that there are hundreds of thousands of people reading the internet who are also into D&D, that was inevitable.  I measure my success as a writer by those whose minds I can change - and those that I value most of all are those who are willing and able to change my mind.  I'm not looking for people who can validate what I write to make me feel better.  That is a matter of complete indifference for me.  I'm looking for people who can validate for me where I'm wrong.

For most making arguments on the internet, the low-hanging fruit is all they need to validate themselves and no one else.  This is easiest when everything in their world fits the black-and-white model, and it's best when the dividing line is so close to the middle that the answer will never, ever be resolved (at least, not in their lifetime).  They write something about the Oxford comma and instantly they command half the English speakers of the world as their allies.  They write something about guns, about religion, about republicans vs. democrats and in minutes they feel part of the grand human experiment, exactly as their distant ancestors felt all heaped together for warmth.

It doesn't get better than this.  I'm that one on the left thinking, "Fuck
warmth.  What are those hulking, apparently harmless things?"

If something isn't black-and-white, they'll make it so.  That makes it comprehensible and, in response, tells them instantly which side they're meant to stand on.  "I'm against anti-derailing observations; vote Proposition 907 come November."

These same people have a view of Education that must fit their model.  A teacher tells the student the answer and the student remembers it; when the answer is asked for, the student provides it.  This is education.

There are no 'answers,' not as this philosophy understands them.  What we have is opinion and a seeking for validation.  A student comes to me who expresses difficulty in controlling their group.  I offer some possible explanations, dredged up from my experience.  The student answers that maybe A. might be true, B. definitely isn't, C. has some merit but this part of the explanation doesn't fit and so on.  In response, once again from my experience, I fine-tune the parts of explanation C. that more likely fit this specific case . . . and step by step, we look together for a potential set of circumstances that are contributing to the general problem.

In this conversation, as the teacher I bring insight and a lifetime spent running and designing the game.  Students bring personal evidence and judgment that they've gained in actually meeting the player-participants.  I'm not emotionally involved so I bring dispassion and perspective.  Students are deeply emotionally involved so they bring their instincts that serve to detect or discard the validity of what they hear.  This symbiosis between mentor and disciple has been used for millennia to determine the probable issue that is to be solved and then to work together to compose a strategy for solving that issue.  The validation of the teaching is not the "answer," but the validation of the strategy: Did it improve the situation?

The market value of my teaching is based upon one simple reality:  if a DM seeks out everyday people in their community for insight, experience, dispassion and perspective, do they find it?  If they find it, I have nothing to sell.  If they can't obtain this, they must needs seek someone who has it and willingly meet that price.

But of course there will be a vast number of persons who are utterly, implacably convinced that no problem exists, no problem can exist, those that believe a problem can exist must be deluded and so on.  Because that belief validates them.

There's nothing I can offer to these people because they need for nothing.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Windmill

On Monday, after some weeks of discussion and investigation, I announced my readiness to teach DMing online.  For that I owe an apology.  I must admit, I was so involved in my own concerns about having the wherewithal to teach the subject, to effectively live up to promises I would be making and giving value for value received, I completely failed to consider other people.

Let me be forthcoming.  These past three days, no one has come forward to take a class.  My gentle readers can imagine, I'm sure, the complexion of my thoughts through this time, as I re-examine all the decisions I made, from the price to the choice of content to the possible hubris of presuming that it's a possibility I should have suggested in the first place.  My best thinking - the only condition that wasn't exhaustively considered - is that others would feel as uncomfortable with the prospect of facing me on camera, and all that would imply - as I feel with living up to the expectations of willing and highly challenging students.

I am a bear, I don't deny it.  I did, however, discount it.  I've been thinking all of myself and for that I do apologize.  I should have planned this better.

One question I can answer, as a step towards encouraging people to believe that I'm an ordinary person and that I don't bite, is to explain why I feel I could be a good teacher, offering genuine insight for your campaign.

There are a number of ways I could come at that explanation.  I've acted in many capacities in my life; something of a jack-of-all-trades.  I've worked as a cook, moved furniture, acted on a stage, handled accounts payable, managed databases, sold magazine subscriptions, published research that has appeared in libraries, organized events, sold my own book at trade shows, worked in construction, worked in landscaping, worked as a janitor, been a manager, worked white collar jobs, worked blue collar jobs.  Sometimes for years at a time, sometimes for a few months.  Through this process I have learned to communicate with vastly different types of people and learned to communicate with them according to their perspective.  I have trained people in virtually every occupation I have taken - and more importantly, been trained by wise persons of every stripe in how to get along in the world.  I grant that I'm a tiger in text, but I also know how to put that on a shelf.  I know the difference between what is important and what is really important.

Atop that, I love this game.  I love every part of it: playing the game, drawing people into the game, talking about what the game deserves and the impact of the game on our world, the details of the game and the philosophy that underlies the game.  I don't write this blog as someone who does the game in my spare time or ever considers setting the game aside to do something else.  I don't consider other things "more important" - partly because I've done those things, side-by-side with company vice-presidents and convicted criminals.  Chasing "Importance" is a fool's game.  Importance is what we love.

The sidebar includes a description of me that I garnered from others' comments about me in the early days of this blog.  I still smile at being described as gonzo or grouchy.  There's something bemusing at being described as an old man shouting at kids to get off my lawn - as I have been on many sites.  And nothing is more definitively accurate as the label, 'Quixotic bastard.'

I'm sure it was pejorative.  I've been described as Quixotic in one way or another since before high school . . . it is what people always say when we try to take arms against anything that seems impossible to beat.  We're told how trying is such a waste, we're told that the surest course is the best course - and all too often we listen.  What we forget is that Cervantes' hero was not a 'loser.'  It is only that he defined 'winning' by different standards than those used by others.  Even in the 17th century, 411 years ago, this was the trial that every person faced: do I resign myself to a life of complacency or do I keep fighting?

That is why I am the right person to teach Dungeon Mastering.  I'm not here to teach you or anyone how to understand the game as you're "meant" to understand it.  I'm here to teach how to live and breathe the game as you, and only you, can.  Personally.  Not the right way.  Your right way.

You're not getting there on your own.  We both know that.

I'm just a windmill.  I look big and scary, I creak and groan and move my arms around, but if you look in your hands you'll see that you have a lance.

Come on and tilt with me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


This has been a thought in my head since round about 1979; I've never sat down to write it, though I have remembered it from time to time.  I remembered it yesterday - and though it isn't new, as I just today found the same observation elsewhere on the net, I'm going to go ahead and write this anyway. Call it fan service.  The post below is based loosely on an essay by Isaac Asimov (but the conclusions are mine).

A 'number system' is a means of expressing calculations based upon the number of symbols used, in order to produce natural numbers - numbers used for counting.  We use what's call the 'decimal' number system, or base 10, in which ten symbols are employed: 0, 1, 2, 3 and so on.  The binary number system only uses two symbols, 0 and 1.

So let's take a number, say "54."  We don't normally think of it this way but the structure of the number represents two columns: the "5" is in the first column and the "4" is in the second column. Express in scientific notation, the first column equals 5 x 101 while the second column equals 4 x 10 to the zero power (100).  Anything to the zero power is equal to 1.  Feel free to read further on exponents on Wikipedia if you so desire.

Let's say you want to multiply 18 by 3.  If you weren't doing this though the use of a tool, you would start by multiply 3 by 8.  You would then divide the product by by 10, putting down a "2" in the 101 column and a "4" in the 100 column.  Then you would multiply 3 by 1 - and since the "1" is already in the 101 column you would again divide by 10 and add the product, "3", to that column:

Simple stuff.

The principle is the same with a 2-based number system, only then the columns are based on 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and so on.  In ten-based numbers this translates to 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and so on.  Written in 2-based numbers, however, this is 1, 10, 100, 1000, 10000 and 100000.  Each column outwards from the right represents an exponent of 2.

If we want to translate "54" into a 2-based system we would begin by dividing 54 by 32 (1 with a remainder of 22), then dividing 22 by 16 (1 with a remainder of 6), then dividing 6 by 4 (1 with a remainder of 2) and finally dividing 2 by 2 (with  no remainder).  We don't need the "8" column (23) and we don't need the "1" column (20).  Let me express the number using the same sort of table as above:

This is old hat for a lot of you - but believe it or not, some people have never stumbled across this before.  Others took this in school but never really got it, you know?  Some people aren't getting it now, but  - well, we do our best.

So 54 expressed in a binary number system equals "110110."

Very well.  Let's try multiplying six times nine in a 13-based number system.  We typically think of 6 x 9 as "54;" but in a 13 based number system, the columns are 131 and 130, or "13" and "1."

Therefore, we start by dividing 54 by 13, not 10; this gives us 4 with a remainder of 2.  The 2 then fits into the 13column, so our product is 42.  9 x 6 = 42.

This was pointed out to Douglas Adams, who answered, "I may be a sorry case, but I don't write jokes in base 13."  Pity.  This is the sort of thing that comes back to bite writers in the ass.  We sit at our desk, stare into the garden and concoct a number - and then it turns out somewhere down the line that the number means something.

Personally, I choose to disregard Adams' explanation.  Obviously, the number did not come into his head at random.  It was placed there by a 13-fingered God who was trying to send a message to the modern world.  The universe may not fundamentally make any sense, as Arthur Dent noted, but it isn't because 9 x 6 doesn't add up to 42.  It is because God has more fingers on one hand than he has on the other.  God is a freak.  God is an outcast among his own people, creating this world in order to assuage his deep-seated need for both affection and total obedience.  He is a shallow, hurting, abused boy stuck in his room, afraid to go out where he will be taunted and ridiculed, so instead he hides and haphazardly mis-fashions a world (his left hand, the Left Hand of God, has the extra finger and winds up fucking up everything the right hand tries to build) while we remain blissfully unaware of this all-too-important defect.

And millions of Adams' fans missed it.  Perhaps the greatest theological proof in the universe and people missed it!

God must be so pissed.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Tutorials Are Available Now

We're Live.

Here are descriptions of the three classes I'm offering on how to be a better Dungeon Master.

I have no idea what the demand might be.  For anyone who wishes to buy in, I'm prepared to begin arranging classes for Thursday or Friday - as I feel some preliminary communication and sorting out will be needed on the internet (we can communicate through Twitter or Facebook), to ensure we feel comfortable and it's not a mental shock when we get started.  My first few classes in each subject will undoubtedly be a steep learning curve, so I'll be motivated to ensuring that those who step up will get their money's worth. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Brochure Preview

As I said on the podcast, I like to play Show and Tell.

Someone properly in business would wait until all three outlines for the classes were completed, but I feel that in a world full of internet it is silly not to get feedback.  It is equally silly not to recognize that I rely on the good wishes of others and as such, it serves us both to be forthcoming and direct, rather than push to be as impressive as possible.  If I am impressive, that happens because I am flexible and vulnerable, as well as dedicated and passionate.

So, here is the first "brochure" for the first class that I proposed last week.  What do people think?

Too bright, too flashy, there's a spelling mistake in the second column, a word is missing (there probably is but the grammar check doesn't catch it and I can't see it).  Perhaps it is too icy cold, perhaps too wordy, perhaps not clear enough.

I think it is encouraging.  But I can always stand a little criticism (after all, the content provides that a DM should promote trust and enable the players).

Now, there should be a podcast today but we're having a few technical problems.  My Soundcloud account is, apparently, limited in minutes.  I would never have started in Soundcloud if I'd known - I presumed that because it was Google-run, it would work like Youtube.  Nope.

So we're adapting the fifth podcast to run on Youtube.  I hope.  I'm told we should have it up tomorrow.


Following the discussion in the comments below, I'd like to suggest this as an alternative:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Homework Time

Tell me in the comments section,

What are the rules that restrict a DM from telling the party what to do.

This question came up as I was working on the lesson plan for my tutoring; and I think it is very telling that after a day and a mess of page views (so I know people have seen the question) that there is a hesitancy in answering.  Readers know me well and naturally do not want to be 'caught' giving the wrong answer.

But is there a 'right' answer?  I don't think that there is.  Yet this is a question that every DM must face and overcome - and has, if they have been a DM for any period of time.  I know that many will feel that their personal solution to the problem will be something that others will see as errored and wrong - but we all know there is no absolute and defined rule to this query.  Therefore, I encourage people to speak up and express themselves: we cannot change the universe if we're not occasionally ready to stand up and speak against 'correctness.'