Thursday, November 20, 2014

Plan for Doing

Yesterday, I outlined some of the issues with digging deeper into world mechanics, and received this comment from Timothy Vaughn.  In an effort to be helpful and save work, he suggested doing part of the work in order to cut down the amount of work:

". . . instead of detailing every job, you'd only need to provide reasonable guidelines for a DM to break down a job into these characteristics on the fly."

I am not writing this post to spank Timothy for this suggestion - it is perfectly understandable.  We have only so much time, we can't waste all of it describing what job the exchequer does in the kingdom, so do the job at 50% of the quality and have done with it.

I'm anxious to explain the ills and failings of this sort of approach where making a game for other people is concerned.  Whereas yes, it does help make my life easier, what exactly does it do for the players?  How has it changed their perception of both opportunities and fun to be had?

My first efforts at the sage tables, made about seven years ago (older than this blog), were limited in a number of ways - partly from how I expected them to be useful (merely as an informational conduit to support players), but also because I had yet to make certain connections about the potential for this game.  Through thousands of comments and hundreds of posts - and a few flame wars - I have changed my position on a number of things.  The research leading to the writing of How to Run was a complete overhaul and re-evaluation of role-playing for me.  And now I am finding myself astounded at the depth and potential for these sage tables.

Not only do they offer 'skills' for the players, but choices for role-play, things for the players to DO, routes to take in order to invent their characters and develop their imaginations.  I don't just want the sage abilities (and the additional rules associated with them) to fill in gaps like so much wet plaster and rags used to plug a drafty hole.

Timothy's suggestion works if what we expect to happen is the player to get the idea on their own and then approach the DM.  It is a 'just-in-case' solution, the sort of thing we set up ahead of time so that we're ready if the player takes it into their head to do something weird.  That's not my proposition at all.

I want the rules to INSPIRE the players, to blow their minds and produce the response, "Shit, that is kewl!  I'd like to try that!"  This is the whole purpose for making the rules openly and posting them on the wiki - to encourage players to recognize there's more to the game than what their peculiar DM lets them do.  Nothing would make me happier than to hear of a player that approached a DM with my wiki and the argument, "I'd like to try this.  Here are rules to cover it."

At this point, I'd like to side-step here and talk about something related.  Please bear with me.

There are two categories of fame.  Both have nuances, manifestations and degrees, but fundamentally the division between the two is clear cut and undeniable.

The first category of fame is that which other people give you.  Usually, because it's recognized you have some sort of talent, but not always.  Often, all you need is a quality that can be sold.  The benefits to you, aside from the money you're given, is a chance to experience a world that most never will, to see things and meet extraordinary people, while receiving gratuitous, unconditional love from thousands or perhaps millions of people.  The downside is that you're more or less owned by other people, who will insist that you perform as desired with respect to their ideas about promotion, their ideas about performance and their ideas about moral responsibility.  This is supported by the danger that these other people will one day drop you, so that the people who once cared about you will later think, "I wonder what ever happened to . . .?"  Worse, you'll find yourself sliding down into normal life, where a few people will recognize you for something that you've now come to realize was never deserved - except that you won some weird sort of lotto.

The other category of fame is quite different.  This is fame that no one can take away, because the person that gave it to you was you.

At the beginning of Richard Dawkins re-release of the Selfish Gene in the early 1990s, he speaks about the strange way that everything else he had written since the original publication in 1976 was curiously overlooked by fans.  These would appear at his readings, say a few nice things about his new book, then produce the Selfish Gene for signing.  At the time, of course, he had no idea that he would later write a book that would make his original 'fame' pale in comparison, The God Delusion.

We can safely include Dawkins in the second category of fame.  Whatever happens, Dawkins will remain famous until his death and for a long time after.  It does not matter if he ever gives a lecture again or goes on tour, or takes part in any promotional activity whatsoever regarding his own notariety.

The same can be said for many people who were once under someone's thumb, but who in the long run proved to be too talented or effective or meritorious to remain that way forever.  Eventually, it doesn't matter if they make a bad film, get caught having sex on film or scream about Jews in a parking lot . . . famously or infamously, there's forever the possibility that they will simply pull themselves together, approach a few people with money on the basis of their ability and produce another film or project.  Whereupon people will pay to see them.

Look at Sylvester Stallone's recent reappearance on the scene after a long absence.  Sure, he's a muscle-bound mass of sinew with a dopey grin, but he holds an interest for enough people based on his previous record.  People will pay to see him.

What is the difference between one category of fame and the other?  I promise you, it isn't talent. Talent will convince others you have something to sell, but in the long run if you have personality problems and a poor work-ethic, you'll get dropped - and hard.  It's worse if you're looking to establish the sort of fame that you own yourself, since that's a situation where no one else will do the work for you.  The onus for setting up the date and getting there and delivering, time and again, is on you - else it doesn't happen.

It's work that gives you a chance at succeeding, not talent.  But it has to be the sort of work that serves to make you useful - as entertainment, as insight, as a rainmaker or what have you.

The grand halls of fame aside, this is true for you as a person, too.  A DM is 'famous' in a very small venue - just a few participants, who are there to show up for every running based upon how useful you are to them.  Your usefulness is based upon how much work you're willing to do - not work for yourself, but work for them.  If, when you sit down to work, you don't have that clear in your mind - that you're working for the approval of other people - then you might just as well not work at all.

This is the reason why many readers read yesterday's post and did not even imagine doing as much work as Timothy suggested.  They don't feel that the game deserves any work - because as DMs, they think the game is about them and their control issues.  Timothy, at least, is prepared to make concessions to support the fanbase . . . but so far, those concessions only amount to contingency plans.

I ask you, Timothy - and others as well, reading this - to go more than half way.  Don't just plan for your players in case they do something.  Plan for your players so that they WILL do something.  Make every facet of your game follow that principle.  Work to achieve it.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Deeper and Deeper

So, these damn sage tables.

I'm working through Politics at the moment, which is proving to be an awful rabbit's hole going down into the lands of Lewis Carroll, no question about it.  I feel compelled to explain.

Last night, for instance, I was working on a particular idea - that characters (player & non-player alike) who become political will, quite reasonably, expect to obtain positions of authority.  I don't know player character in my world would want to become the local tax collector - but as there are no rules about what characters are allowed to become, we ought to at least acknowledge that some player in the world has imagined the possibility.

Very well, let me put the reader into this position.  You have a player who, rather than marching off to the next dungeon, expresses an interest in being a tax collector in your world.  How would you manage it?

I feel quite certain that most of you have no rules whatsoever for such a contingency, and that the very idea of making such a rule seems ridiculous and - in light of the sort of campaign you run - even stupid.  This gives you as a DM two options.

First, you can tell the player that it's not possible, tax collectors come from certain families or of some other predetermined nature that totally closes that door off to the player, FOREVER.  Alternatively, you can play the whole scenario by rolling dice for a completely invented number (one you have invented in the last second or so before rolling) and then saying, "No, it's not possible" or "Yes, all right, whatever."  If the latter, you fuck around with the numbers, claim such and such an amount of money is collected and perhaps roll-play a few things until the player gets bored.

In other words, you're stuck with DM fiat.

This has been my situation too, though I must admit that the pursuit of the sage abilities has begun to crack this model open at the seams, as I realize step-by-step that there IS a logic to it all, albeit a sort of crazy "is this really D&D?" sort of model.

So, a player decides to be a politician and, according to the rules I've proposed thus far, the character starts with 12 points of political knowledge.  Or the player chooses another expertise, but slowly amasses 10 points and thus becomes an amateur politician.

The Functionary skill (as yet unwritten, so I don't have a link for it) provides the character with the possibility of campaigning or otherwise angling for a public position of some kind.  Just now, I am thinking about the political knowledge points being a sort of influence.  The more knowledge points you have, the better the position you can angle to obtain.

This puts me on the hook for listing a large number of political/public offices, which then demands a table and okay, that's a bit of work, but not that bad.  Obviously, each position needs to be assigned a value in political skill above 10.

Let's say 10 points means that you can become, if you wish, a 'rat-catcher.'  It's a job, it gives you an income, you become recognizeable to the local guard and it gets you inside a few places.  If the players want to use this for undercover purposes, to get into the guard house for nefarious purposes, it's there.

This makes me think, what does being the rat-catcher actually offer?  Does it give you a connection to the underground?  Wouldn't the thieves and the beggars also know who you are?  Wouldn't this be a great way to contact the thieves' and assassins guild?  Or a means to find certain sewers or other subterranean dens under a city?  That information might even come with the help of other rat-catchers, who themselves may have a guild.  Isn't it a jump-off point for urban adventuring?

That sounds good to me, if a character could survive the actual rat-catching part, what with disease and all . . . but here is the bigger problem:

OH SHIT, now I'm on the hook for making rules for every political position throughout the whole of society.  Not just for rat-catchers and tax collectors, but for bailiffs, catchpoles, chancellors, constables, courtiers, diplomats, exchequers, haywards, jailers, liners, masters of the revels, pursuivants, reeves, watchmen, woodwards and gawd knows what the hell else I can come up with for job titles.  All of which would now need a page in the wiki for the player to consider if the player does want to 'join up' to get a hold of some local power.  Not to mention that it's just good sense to provide all that data for the non-player characters who really do need their power and job-descriptions sorted out and fully understood.

Um, shoot me?


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Original Fantasy

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Matthew 16:18-19, The King James Version

"And when we reached the first step of the stair
It was white marble, polished to such gloss
That, even as I am, I saw me there;
And dyed more dark than perse the second was -
A calcined stone, rugged and rough in grain,
And it was cracked both lengthways and across;
The third step, piled upon the other twain,
Seemed all of porphyry that flamed and shone
Redder than bright blood spurting from a vein,
And this, God's Angel held both feet upon,
And on the threshold of the door he sate,
And that seemed made of adamantine stone."

Canto XI:94-104, Dante's Divine Comedy, Purgatory; translated by Dorothy Leigh Sayers


Begging the reader's indulgence, I wish to give a small 'geography' lesson.

Film and everyday culture has traditionally proposed that, within catholicism, that moments after passing away the first thing that you'll find yourself facing is the Gate of St. Peter, described above by Dante.  Naturally, this is all folk tales and fun, so we have made much mock of it in the last century.  Some depict an endless line at the gate; others the possibility that 'failing' at the gate involves a trap door and so you're dropped into the other realm in a wonderfully comic shock. It has long been a western notion that there's a conversation that you're bound to have with St. Peter when the time comes, where you'll explain your actions, give Peter and God a good talking to about the mistakes they've made or simply moon the bastard for all the crap you've had to endure.  But you don't have to worry about any of this if you happen to be an expert in parkour - because then you'll just leap the fence.

If we adopted the world of seven centuries ago, however, the time of Dante, you might be surprised to find yourself nowhere near a gate, but in fact at the mouth of a river - an earthly river, in fact.  The souls of the good were supposed to gather at the mouth of the Tiber, below Rome, at the infamous port of Ostia . . . at one time, the busiest port in the world, this being where grain was unloaded from Egypt to feed the enormous population of Rome.

This assumes that you've been a good and repentant Christian; if you haven't been, you'll find yourself on the banks of the River Acheron, waiting for the Demon Charon to ship you over into hell - and meanwhile you'll be pestered by clouds of stinging gnats.  But let's be generous.  Let's assume you've at least - as many say they will - repent at the very last moment, on your deathbed.

So there you are in Ostia, with all the other shades that have died.  You haven't any substance any more, your 'body' does not cast a shadow and there's not very much to do except speak to some of the others who are also waiting there.  You might, if asked, take up an instrument (which you'll be surprised to discover you still possess, if you're a musician), but for the most part you're too anxious for that.

You're waiting for an angelic pilot who will return with a boat that will take you completely to the other side of the world, the antipode of Ostia.  This turns out to be quite seriously in the middle of nowhere, a long, long way east of New Zealand, a lucky call for a church and Dante who did not live in a world where New Zealand or Australia were known to western Scholars.

That's 41.74 S, 167.76 W

Finally, the angel shows up - and takes hundreds with him, but not you.  Then this happens again and again.  The decision-making process does not seem based on first-come, first-serve.  You begin to realize that the leaving it off until the last minute idea seems not to be working that well.

Don't misunderstand me.  There's a reason why, on this blog, I spell it 'gawd' and not 'god.'  I'm a sinful bastard, quite ready to pay my coin to Charon and let havoc progress from there.  All I'm suggesting is that there was a rhyme and reason the manner in which mythical constructs are built - and be reassured, there is no more complicated and complex fantasy landscape than that of hell, purgatory and paradise.  And here Dante codified it all up for us.

At last, you get a ride.  The angel wills the boat around the world at unbelievable speeds (not being limited by physics) and you find yourself at the shore of purgatory.  And there, no, I'm very sorry, you do not see a gate.

What you see is a beach and a lot of reeds and a fellow who doesn't even happen to be a Christian. This is Cato of Utica, called the 'younger' to separate him from his great-grandfather.  Cato is 49, impatient, stern and anxious to get you off the beach and on your way, since there are others coming.  No, he isn't here to listen to complaints.  He speaks and you find yourself jumping at his tone, hurrying on your way up to the first terrace of ante-Purgatory.

Yes, that's right, you're not even in Purgatory proper, yet.  You're lucky, though, for the first terrace - the worst - is for those who were once part of the church but were excommunicated.  These poor schmucks have to spend 30 years for every year of falling away from the church wandering endlessly about the terrace . . . wandering, wandering, wandering.  Not you, however.  You're not of their breed, so you climb your way up through the nooks and crannies to the second terrace - and there, you learn you are among the indolent.

That is, you've waiting your whole life to get your shit together - and lucky for you, you did at least manage to do so before you died (you're not in hell forever, right?).  Unfortunately for you, however, a great mood of melancholy overcomes you and you flop onto your ass, your arms resting on your knees.  You are tired, oh so tired.  The sun is terribly hot.  Slowly, you crawl away, getting behind one of the great rocks on the terrace, where you find some shade - and there you pant, languorous, up to doing very little.  After a time, the sun moves and you do too, keeping in the rock's shade, waiting for the sun to set.

And this you do for the number of years that you have lived your life up until the moment of your death.  Twenty years, fifty years, eighty years.  Lax, winded, lolling, prostrate, disabled . . . and waiting.  Waiting with nothing to do and only other helplessly tired, formless souls to keep you company, all of you too tired to do more than contemplate your state.

Here you stay, waiting for the long years of your life to pass, until finally, after all that, you may yet get to see the gate described at the top of this post.

Here, too, I leave you, to think about Appendix N, and the contents thereof - a lot of cheesy, second-rate writers of the last century or so, whose context was so distantly remote from the time in which your characters live that their characters might as well be space cowboys.

I can't honestly recommend Dante.  He is a bitch to read, entirely because he is so far removed from our present experience, even our ideas about life and death.  I cannot manage him without notes and a lot of patience - that I don't suppose most have, unless they've adapted themselves to the understanding that there is a great deal to be gained in working hard for hard-to-acquire knowledge.  If you have not tried Dante yet; or if you have tried Dante and failed to get through (as I did, disastrously, my first three times), then I don't imagine you're going to take me seriously if I say, "read this."

After all, it's good to have a strong understanding of 13th century Italian history.  It's good to have a solid grounding in Greek and Roman literature, plus history.  It's good to have more than a passing comprehension of the church that once ran the western world.  Before I could, in all good conscience, recommend Dante, I would first tell you to read all of that.

This isn't easy.  This takes commitment.  You've gotta want it.

Then again, you've already got your whole life to sit around on your ass once, don't you?


Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Old & Beer

I suppose, as a writer, occasionally one must sacrifice the subject at hand for whatever preys upon the mind.  So it is today.

I am not much like a man of 50.  I am not that disturbed by what's on the screen at the theatre or that the country is going to hell in a handcart.  I do not bitch and moan about taxes or the cost of gas or all the ways that average individuals refuse to obey the traffic laws or how in my day people were a lot more polite.  I will admit that the service in restaurants was better some decades ago, but at the same time I must also confess I give a lot less of a shit about things like good service.  I'm perfectly happy to get my food, however surly the server happens to be this afternoon.  I did work as a cook once. Now matter how unhappy the server may be when at your table, this is nothing compared to how the server is in speaking to the cooks.

Nor have I somehow become disturbed by technology nor the way the young are supposedly more promiscuous today than they once were.  They're not, by the way - it only seems that way because it is possible to post, replay or discuss such moments repeatedly and endlessly.  I'm very sure that Loni Anderson or Farrah Fawcett were fucking everything that moved in 1978 (yes, I know those names are unknown to many of you), but the 'proof' of such things came in a few soiled magazines that could easily be ignored.  Whatever the case, I don't find myself particularly moved that the Miley-naked-on-a-wrecking-ball won best MTV video . . . well sure, why not, it has to have been the most talked about music video of the year.  Hate means as much as Love in this culture - they're both passionate sides of the same coin.  "Best" means "Loudest" - and from all this noise it managed to emerge into even the cloistered walls of tired marketing business meetings this year.

At 50 I'm entirely comfortable with the proliferation of sex.  I think of my parents at this age, when I was 22, hearing their tireless drone about the death of decent culture in . . . well, let's see, that would have been 1986.  Yes, the pornographic horror show represented by television like Dallas and L.A. Law.  Sigh.  Yeah, I'm good with internet porn.  It's fine.  It has a place.

Mostly, I find myself annoyed with things I can no longer get.  Like decent beer.

I was invited out to a sort-of-hipster bar in town that caters mostly to wannabe artistic posers who have, in their thirties, barely reconciled with the reality that grunge is over and everything they ever dreamed of being in high school is now impossible.  Just about the time they were in high school, however, and aching about for cheap beer to assuage their Teen Spirit, a group of entrepreneurs realized that the ability of people to recognize the difference between bitter and sour was seriously for shit.  Some of these entrepreneurs that were geographically local took it upon themselves to create what is now hipsterishly called a 'micro-brewery.'

Through a strange process we call technology and development, over the course of thousands of years it was discovered that the larger the container in which one brewed beer, the greater the separation between the clear, desirable liquid at the top of the mash tun and copper and the crap that gathers at the bottom.  By creating really large vessels, in the neighborhood of 25,000 gallons or more, a satisfying, bitter beer could be drained off, a beer that was not also sour and weak.

Microbreweries generally cook beer in containers that are between 3,000 and 10,000 gallons, where the wort and the sparge water are collected at the same time, producing a completely shit-tasting beer that - through a process that I shall describe soon - has now become considered "the way beer should taste" in the minds of ignorant hipsters.  To this crowd of people, beer without that back-room floor mop taint tastes 'weak' or 'flavorless.'

How has this happened.

Well, it is all a brain thing.  The micro-brewery industry in the mid-90s (and probably earlier in other parts of the world - I live in the dog's armpit, culturally) was able to get itself off the ground by selling beer as much as 25% cheaper.  This meant that virtually everyone between the age of 16 and 19 was disposed to spend less money on more beer that - however shit the alcohol content - at least kept the average teenager's mouth full.  During that crucial four-year period, however, beer goes from something you drink so you don't look like a loser to something you drink because you've actually adjusted and adapted to the flavour.

Only the flavour they began adapting to in the 90s was the sour flavour of micro-brewed beer.  Or as I think of it, badly brewed beer.  Fuck.  They might as well make their beer in a bathtub.

For twenty years, however, I haven't had to care.  I mean, fuck it, so they drink their swill and that's their problem.  Philistines.

Except, of late - and I mean in the last year or so - I've come across two conditions that have begun to annoy me.

The first is that this is now becoming the only kind of beer available.  At least, in this country.  I have to go more and more out of my way to find a decent German beer or even a pint of Guinness, which is inconceivable to me.

The second is that bar staff are becoming profoundly aggressive in selling their micro-brewed shit to me.  There are now about two hundred such breweries in Canada and the business has become very competitive, so much so that just to get their beer into a bar the breweries will underprice themselves in the hopes that someone will get a taste for what they're making.  This has allowed many bars - hipster bars - to specialize in not specializing their beer, because they can get it all cheap, cheap, cheap.

This has led to a certain thought process that says, "Hey, we have 62 kinds of beer, there must be one that you like!  Let me rattle off all their names to you right now!"

Except, of course, that every single one of them is shit.  Something that you cannot explain to the annoying, anxiously pitching server because the server doesn't know fuck all about how beer is made or even that there is such a thing as a science of making beer.

And people ask why I'd rather be living in Europe.

On three occasions in the last three months, I have had to get rude with a server just to get them to shut the fuck up and stop giving me brand names, so that I can tell them I'll have a Glenfiddich instead.

Somehow, this feels connected to my getting old.  Still, the porn is better now.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Schmoozing and Rules for DM's

The ability to Schmooze was a long haul, but I do think it was worth the effort.  I hope the reader will have a look.

Something about the incorporation of some of these rules for the game - specifically, in reference to players ever using them.  Players may not.  It should be noted, however, that these are rules that I myself intend to follow with regards to NPCs.  That means, even if they are of no use to the player, they will help codify the behavior of the people acting and making agreements around the players.

What does it mean when an NPC says someone is their friend or their ally?  What does it mean when an NPC says either to a friend?  What are the limits of what an NPC will do for someone when first meeting them?

For example, let's suppose the character does not have a schmooze ability, but does meet someone on the road and wishes to ask for directions.  What then?

It means that, at best, the stranger should be considered a threat at all times; unwilling to help beyond perhaps giving directions (which might be a charisma check just to get that) and unwilling to give even their name.  It makes a clear line between who is trustworthy and who isn't.

I will probably provide some rules later on for things like friends made through circumstance rather than schmoozing.  I obviously need rules for enemies - but for the time being, that can wait.  I'm sure the subject is likely to come up again and an answer present itself.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Purchasing Disinterest

Last night, while searching for a name, I came across one of those typical long discourses about this edition versus that edition.   This one dated back to 2012, two years before the actual release of 5e.  I found myself reading it all the way through . . . not from interest regarding the subject, but from the point of view of a time traveller looking into the past.

It tweaked my funny bone somewhat that the conversation included two people that have been universally banned from this blog - for hijacking.  But that's really not important.

If you take the time to read the exchange, you'll note that everyone is so sure.  So sure in their facts, so sure in their predictions - and so very, very sure in their assessment of words like 'toxic' or 'business model.'  We have - all of us it seems - perfect knowledge of the goings-on behind closed doors in the WOTC or TSR.  We also appear to have perfect knowledge of the number of sales compared to the number of happy customers - in that we are assuming that IF someone has purchased something, it clearly means that something was a 'successful' purchase.

Well, never mind all that.  I could probably find the exact same conversation going on today.

I am on record as hating the WOTC and considering the RD department thereof - and specifically Mr. Mearls - as a group of corporate bootlicks with gritty, muck-caked tongues.  Admittedly, however, this is only my perception, based upon the word choices Mearls and others make when starting sentences, continuing sentences and then ultimately ending sentences.  In fact, they may all be very nice people.  I wouldn't know.  I wouldn't cross the street to meet one of them.

However, this is not a rant about the WOTC.  This is not a rant about anything.

I think we do ourselves a disservice as a community when we speak of things like 'sales' or corporate agendas as having anything to do with the game.  I find it distressing to read that there are people online who think of AD&D as 'dead' because the WOTC sales for an AD&D re-release were not as robust as perhaps that company hoped.  I find the argument fails on all kinds of levels . . . mostly in that it completely belies the behaviour of actual players.

For example - the readers here are well aware that I run a Frankenstein's monster of an AD&D campaign, with additional eyeballs and unrecognisable limbs sticking out in absurd places.  Most of the readers here, no doubt, do not run AD&D, they do not play AD&D and for the most part they have little or no respect for AD&D.

And yet, I think I can say with reasonable fairness that most of the regular readers here would be willing to play in MY AD&D campaign.

Not because I'm special, or even because my world is special, but because - and I feel strongly about this - the majority of people simply prefer to play in a good campaign, whatever the rules.

The worst part of D&D, or any role-playing game, is not the system.  That has simply become the stand-in explanation because the factual truth is difficult - perhaps impossible - to manage.  It comes down to this:  some people are good at DMing; and some people are not.

Most of you would play in my world because you feel, after my running for 35 years, I'd be competent enough to offer you a good, steady, consistent game with minimal nonsense and crap.  This continues to be a rare thing.  It will always be rare - because it takes time to make the mistakes and learn how to deal with the flow of information that will make running the game well a possibility.  Moreover, it isn't just that the person has to have years of experience - it is that those have to be good years, with good players, the kind that do not cocksuck the DM's ego, in turn eliminating any need for improvement, ever.

For most of you, if you could find a DM like this, you would not give a rat's crap in a bugbear's porridge what edition was being played.  You'd adapt.  You'd make it work.

The absurd weakness in counting sales as evidence of success is that it eliminates the possibility that an experienced, able DM no longer needs to buy anything in order to continue their steady week-by-week campaign.  Role-playing doesn't work like the video-game market.  People who purchase video games get bored of them.  They complete the adventure - maybe twice or three times - or they master all the skills the video game can offer and become hungry for something new.  The market can measure its success by sales because it knows that a significant percentage of the market is, every day, using up some foregoing product's potential.

Role-playing isn't like this.  There are only certain types of people who buy new role-playing games:

I. There are those who think the game is all about the system, who cannot seem to make any system work and so they are eternally on the hunt for the magic system that will finally create the magic world they think magically results from rolling dice on the right magical tables. These people have never been able to reconcile that the successful game does not exist in the structure, but in the function - and having never had a clear idea of what function is or what function they'd like to implement, they opt for what they can understand: a different structure.

II. There are those who have never played any game before.  They're buying 4e or 5e because this is what is in the stores, this is what all their 13-year-old friends are playing and this is what the local in-store posters says they should buy.  They're very reasonably reaching out for the first thing they see.  Unfortunately for the game company, there's no rhyme nor reason from which the demand emerges; most people who play role-playing come to the game from word-of-mouth. Advertising is spotty and confusing at best, never gets into the mainstream and thus the newcomers can never be truly 'grown' with certainty.  Thus, year to year, the number of noobs buying a particular edition can never be used as a measurement - from a marketing standpoint - against other years.

III. There are those who are simply fascinated with game design.  They have no particular interest in becoming good at any of the games they buy, they simply love digging through this or that particular game to see how the designers 'did it.'  Thus these people buy game after game in order to satisfy a hobby that has very little to do with actual running or sessions.  It is an academic exercise for them.  Most often, when these people do run, they are so unhappy with how they themselves have chosen to handle a particular aspect of the game that they are forever changing things - or tearing down the campaign altogether so they can begin again.  They don't really care to game - but they love to design.

IV. Finally, there are the collectors.  They're buying everything and anything just because.  Many of them don't even crack the spines or remove the plastic.  In fact, not removing the plastic is the sign of a true believer.

All four types drive sales.  All four are measured and counted upon by the 'business model' because for a company, sales are more important than use.  Who cares what the use of the game is, so long as the gamer keeps buying?

There are tens of thousands of players, however, that are not buying.  Who may never buy anything again, ever.  Why would they ever need to?  The books don't wear out easily.  When they do, another copy can be picked up at any decent used book store or on ebay - sources the company cannot track. Everyone, including the companies, know this.  It isn't important to them; it does matter to us.

Our investment can't be measured in sales.  It is measured in hours.  For those people who say 'D&D is dead,' I counter that I spoke to hundreds of people just a little more than two months ago who enthused wildly about D&D and its continued importance in their lives.

I doubt that altogether those people purchased more than fifty products this year.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Check . . . Check . . . Is This On?

Just checking - you lovely people all know that I'm putting up new content on the wiki every day, right?  Admittedly, most of it is in the half-done phase of being, but it's there and it's new.  You're looking at it when you're totally bored and you've run out of decent crap to look at, right?

Forward

It is true, I am pushing the book hard this week.

As of last night, I finally received approval for getting my book placed on the shelves of a local Chapters/Indigo store, the first of many in the city.  Chapters, for those of you in America, is very much like the (defunct?) Borders, a big box store that sells books by the pound.


While writing the book earlier this year, I went to see what else on the subject of RPGs that the store was selling - to see the name of the section and how best I would sell it.  Online, I had found a Chapters selling Pathfinder; and in the past I have seen straight D&D books on their shelves.  My examination, however, turned up exactly nothing.  The 'role-playing' shelf that I was directed to look at contained books describing Marvel characters, graphic novels and fanbooks about Star Wars and Star Trek.

So, I don't think there's going to be much competition.  Nor do I think that Chapters gets a lot of customers coming in and asking for books about role-playing.  So I do have it somewhat clear in my mind the likelihood of the books flying off the shelves.

Still, I understand that it's possible to get a table out front where I can pitch to customers coming in - which will be more or less like a mini-version of a comic-con, where I'm the only presenter.  I am definitely ready for that.  I see that as a terrific opportunity.

So I am happy.   There are other stores (each must be approached one by one) here and in other cities. The process is to just keep marching forward until something tips.

It's strange to me that How to Run was finished only four months ago.  Seems like a long, long time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are adventure hooks that parties acquire as they move through the systems of the world, revealing the possibility that local power merchants have made agreements or arrangements by which they can further their control through channels outside the law.

Construction
Conspiracies are typically arranged between individuals who represent larger groups, such as the head of a guild, an officer of the law with minions or employees, an organization of like-minded persons and so on. Two or more such individuals will meet to work out a strategy in which their individual powers may be combined to ensure a better arrangement for all those involved. The groups represented by these individuals may know all, a part of or none of the actual conspiracy. Several persons in the group may be aware of only their end of the conspiracy; there may be many innocent persons in the group who are wholly unaware that illegal or immoral acts are being carried forth.

Very rarely, an organization may be designed for the sole purpose of conspiring with unwholesome or innocent persons alike - for the purpose of clarity, at a later time when I start writing about such organizations, I'll use the term cabal.

While the long-term goal of a conspiracy might be power, in the short-term conspiracies are typically founded with mundane expectations in mind: the removal of troublesome persons, the acquisition of territory or wealth, the establishment of security in one's position, the implementation of legislation, the instigation of war or participation in treasonous activities such as the selling of information or sabotage. While any of these may be accomplished within a few months, in the long term a successful conspiracy is likely to endure past its original mandate. Once a single action has been tried and managed, then other potential actions will spring to mind, encouraging participants to feel secure in their power, widen their conspiracy and attempt bolder, more risky operations.

Truly successful conspiracies may expand into purely evil endeavors - such as the spreading of lies to encourage mass fear or self-destructive behaviour. Individual lives can be destroyed through personal attacks and invented evidence. Persons may be outright assassinated, followed by invented justifications that encourage the people's passivity. Belief in the state can be undermined through the conspiracy's invention of a wholly false conspiracy designed to achieve desirable results. A policy of racism can lead towards participation in genocide. Anti-religious crusades based on the politics of threat and terror can initiate a warmongering social movement for the purpose of widespread conquest. The potential for conspiracies are endless.

Participants
Most often, conspiracies are founded by persons with few personal skills and some charismatic appeal who through ordinary channels have inserted themselves into a middle position within a heirarchy. Once there, they become dissatisfied with their lot. Very often the conspirator recognizes his or her personal limitati0ns and comes to understand that further success must be obtained by means unsavory. At this point they will cast about for an opportunity, generally finding it in another individual in some other branch of power suffering from the same limitations.

Able to work together, they balance their existing abilities against their willingness to swindle others, masquerade as persons of importance or otherwise evade expected practices. This puts them in a position to acquire followers who themselves see opportunities for improving their own existences. Very few of these followers will be more than thugs, but occasionally they will include an individual or two with personal ability in sharp dealing. Should an organization like this possess a reasonable organizational structure, strong bonds and the existence of a slight power vacuum - and some luck - it can be expected to expand considerably and endure for a time.

Endurance
While the existence of a personal conspiracy may last only a lifetime, some conspiracies skip from generation to generation because they are founded upon a persistent idea that finds traction in new minds. Two typical examples would be persistent racism or the prophecy of future events that are unlikely to occur in anyone's specific lifetime. Either can be used as a jumping off point for making successful short-term gains possible.

An extensive list of conspiracy theories can be read on wikipedia.

Note that the newest changes I have made to my wiki (where the above is from) can be found here and also through a new addition to the links list.

I . . . Am . . . Alive!

Stretching and coming alive like the undead, searching for some bodies to write about.  Most everyone here in Canada is talking about the hipster talk-show host who was recently exposed as a covert junior-style male sadist who liked to take women around to his house and smack them around a little. Seriously.  While yes, I can make up shit like this, at the present that's not necessary.

The one thing I truly hate about being sick is how much at the mercy of such nonsense I become, as I lay about half-dead searching for things that will take my mind off the fact that I'm too tired to work. This is the thing.  I want very much to be working.  Projects are under way, inspirations have been had, I'm more than prepared to dig in and effect the 99% perspiration part of the equation . . . and I'm snorting out a baby's weight in phlegm every hour or so.

I'm feeling better now, thank you.

There are four projects specifically that I am working on.  I should only be working on one, but this is how I am.  It's probably the reason I haven't conquered the world yet.

First, there is the new book.  Within the next few months, this will become the only project I'm working on, which makes me a bit sad - but books need a lot of energy and eventually I'm going to have to stop scratching at the pages and actually fill them with words.  What I have is going quite well.  I expect I should be ready to talk about it in January.

Second, there is the wiki.  There will be new material for that from day to day, as I feel able.  There's been a lot added in the last couple of weeks and I expect to continue.  I had a fellow find me through the wiki yesterday without having any idea that I possess a blog.  Now that is progress!

Third, having completed the formatting for the distance tables, I'm now working on a redistribution of existing references in the sources table.  As a statement, I know that's not very revealing - I just want to write the words down.  Suffice to say it is a consuming, comforting project that I can do when I don't want to be creative.  Sometimes, I just want to lose myself in geography, numbers, design and troubleshooting.  Basically, I'm breaking down many of my larger market zones into smaller market zones, in an effort to make the whole system more gritty.  Yes, I know how crazy that sounds.

Finally, then, there is the trade video.

Let me apologize.  It has been a frustrating, difficult trail, mostly because I've been fighting with myself to stop going at it casually and to make an effort.  I am now working on a script.  I expect the end result to be edited.  I trust that this will make it more 'fun' to watch.  This does mean that a three to four minute video is going to take me considerably more time to produce that spitting into a microphone . . . but I feel I owe it to you and to myself.  After all, you paid me money.  It would be the height of indifference not to respect you for that.

Please be patient with me.  I am getting on my feet.  I will have meaningful product for you to consider soon.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Time of the Year

Well now.  I've been dead sick for a little more than two days.  Unfortunately, it hasn't been that kind of delirious sick that gives me really great new ideas.  No, this has been that sort of mundane sick that makes me want to bang my head on the wall until I fall unconscious.

Still, I may live.

I am about to do the following under some duress.  I have voices shouting at me to do it, voices I respect.  Since right now I don't respect myself much (don't worry, it's a symptom resulting from proof of mortality, no big deal), I am inclined to trust them.  So here goes.

Christmas is coming in six weeks.  How to Run and How to Play a Character would make really good christmas gifts.  Order them today.

I know people do not think of these things.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I'm Always Wrong

Took me a couple of days, but I finally watched this video from Kathryn Schultz at TED.  It was suggested to me in connection with the post I recently wrote about being wrong . . . and it puts me in mind of the day I've had and the way my thought process works.

All day - and I mean, all day, walking from the office to get coffee, waiting for the bus, sitting on the bus, laying in the tub upon getting home - I've been thinking about an attempt I made on the wiki yesterday regarding the ability to 'read' or know conspiracies.  I won't bother linking the wiki, because I'm going to change the page in a day or two . . . because the attempt is garbage.  It's wrong. It needs to be better.  I'll post the present version here and you'll see what I mean.


Conspiracy

Provides knowledge of conspiracies and conspiracy theories, though it must be understood that the character may be in doubt as to whether a given conspiracy is true. The secrecy with which the conspiracy occurs may leave its nature - or its goals - in doubt . . . however, the ability will give the character clues as to how the conspiracy may be validated or better understood.

Through adventuring, the character may thus gain the power to expose the conspiracy (false or real), become its victim or its master.

Speaking in game terms, it would be impractical for the DM to list every conceivable conspiracy that might have existed during a chosen period or which exists now in one of the wide reasons. For this reason, the DM and the player should agree upon a number of conspiracies to start, between two and five, related in geography or importance to the character at this point in the campaign - with the understanding that the DM should occasionally propose another conspiracy every third or fourth running (again, this time frame being agreed between the DM and the player). In this way, the player can accumulate conspiracies without overtaxing the DM's creativity.

Each conspiracy should have the following characteristics:
  • That some agreement has been made between two or more groups 
  • That the purpose of this agreement would be to conceal an important matter from the general population 
  • That the matter in question should violate either the law or the local principles of morality 
  • That knowledge is had of outsiders having suffered due to the conspiracy 
The character should have information regarding at least two of the groups involved; at minimum the conspiracy's foremost purpose (sub-purposes may not be known); what violations may have occurred (may include both true and untrue elements) and finally a general idea of what group or persons have suffered.


Even if the conspiracy should prove to be false, SOME of the details above should be correct - such as a group meaning to propose the conspiracy and not following through, persons suffering due to a reason that is not the conspiracy, etcetera.

Any deeper clarity regarding the conspiracy must be gained through adventuring.


There are people who will look at the above and think, that's kind of a dumb idea.  There are people who will look at that and think, that's fine.  Move on.  Then there are people who will recognize what I recognize - that it's weak.  It's in the neighborhood but it hasn't rented an apartment yet.  It's in the batter box but it's hitting foul grounders.

Being wrong is normal.  Normal.  There isn't a day that dawns where my thought process is not driven by A) what is wrong with what I've done up until now, and B) how do I make it better.

Just now, I'm working on a reboot of my pricing system and table.  Why?  Because France broke the old system. Why?  Because the old system was shit.  It didn't manage the mess.  The solution is to make a new, better, stronger system, which is what I'm doing.  Am I rehashing the old system for the fun of it?  No.

Is the character background generator good?  Yes.  Is it as good as it gets?  Hell no.  The same goes for the weather tables, for the write-up for the combat system, for the mass hit points system and the monsters and everything else I do.

Do I owe the people on line more videos about the trade system?  Yes.  Have I been ignoring that?  No.  I've done three videos already to try to cover the topic and all three have been complete crap.  The first video was complete crap.  Was I wrong when I did it that way?  Oh yes, yes, yes, I was wrong.

Being wrong is normal.

I would have accomplished NONE of the things I've accomplished without first understanding that everything that came before the presence incarnation was wrong.  Not good enough.  Inadequate.

This is design.  To design is to make garbage, then to make garbage that seems less like garbage, then to make garbage that comes close to making you believe that it isn't garbage . . . and then you start to make things that work.

The process demands that you look at everything you do from the point of understanding where and why the design is wrong.  The 'right' you don't have to worry about.  It's right.  It doesn't need your attention.

Only the things that are wrong are worth thinking about.  They are the only things that matters.

Those people in the world who tell you, only concentrate on the good things?  Those people have no idea how any of the good things in the world came into existence.  The good things in the world only happen because we fix the bad things in the world.

Try to keep your eye on that.  Try to understand that my saying that I'm wrong is a step forward.