Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dearth Over

Ah, good.  I'm employed again.  As of minutes ago.

The Halfling Colony of Archangel

How does this format look for individual provincial maps?

Created this page on the wiki for Archangel today.  A good full-size view can be seen by clicking on the image on the wiki page.

Just for giggles, decided to apply the same method to the Pirate Khanate of Astrakhan.  What I like about the geography, history and people that are referenced throughout the two pages is that they can be looked up on Wikipedia.  I declined to put in links, however, as I have changing or adjusting actual history to fit the particulars of my world.

Short on the Wiki

". . . as you blog about it from time to time but work on it almost constantly, the oldest ones often are outdated (Meaning you have moved to better, more advanced techniques), and the middle ones are not always as joined as they could be."  - Scarbrow, the last post [emphasis added].

Ain't that the truth.

Unlike a book, a blog isn't static; it reaches back through time and it contains all the errors in thinking, all the attempts that failed, all the poorly thought out ideas once possessed and described, all the positions taken and all the crud.  Worse, for me at least, it contains a writing style that has been abandoned.  I am a better writer than I was in 2009.  I am definitely a better blogger.  I have a better sense of where to place my emphasis.

When I look back on those past essays, like the one in 2010, I want to rewrite it end to end.  Very often, with my more obscure posts of that period, I want to delete them altogether.

I don't because these posts are history.  My history.  My mistakes, my screw-ups, my misunderstandings, my flame wars, my notes on how I have changed or why I should continue to change.  To encourage and inspire myself, I need only go back and read, shudder, recover and read some more.

But where it comes to ongoing changes in my world - the middle part, as Scarbrow points out - yes, those things seem endlessly lost.  I'm responsible for putting up some trade system videos.  I have versions of maps produced at different times in different stages of creation with slightly different color schemes and all that is cluttered and scattered throughout this blog.  I have bits and pieces of my house rules, without any notes on what I'm still using and what I've dumped.  With more than a million words to annotate, that is probably how the blog will stay.

That is why I recommend not trusting this blog for the final word on anything.  The wiki I've created is anything but comprehensive, but what's there are the rules I play.  Where my game is concerned, those are the rules I follow when and if they apply.  I have a rule that I won't change any rule on the wiki during the game session unless it is in the player's favour - and I won't change it afterwards without discussion and assent from the players.

This blog is for thinking.  The wiki is the law.  If it is short, if there are gaps, then it is because I am not working enough on the wiki.

Seems I never do.  Trust me, however . . . in a few more years that thing is going to be amazing.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Nothing Certain

Been pretty quiet around here lately, hm?  At least for this blog.

I finished my dividing up of markets that I wrote about a week ago.  Took me eight months - or more precisely, I'd estimate about 175-200 hours.  Not kidding.  I worked on it for the last three weeks at least six hours a day, seven days a week, in this grinding way I have of just focusing.  During that time, incidentally, I also ran through the first six seasons of Voyager - a show I never watched, but which I always felt - being a trekkie from the 70s - I ought to see.  What a wretched show.

I often find that after very large tasks I experience a bit of elation at the chance to start a new project. This is usually followed, after a few days, with ennui.  For a little while, I don't feel like doing anything.

If I don't post, I know it gives the reader the opportunity to look at my backlog - and a lot of backlog there is.  A big surprise is the recent popularity of this post from 2010, talking about the way I started mapping my world.  At present, it is the most popular post on my blog for this past month - which is funny, as it was not a very popular post at the time I wrote it.

I take note of some silly comments made by one S'mon, who felt for reasons passing all understanding to use Scotland and France as examples for occupation of land, on a post largely describing the eastern side of European Russia.  Cognitive dissonance.  Must be the reason I did not feel the need to answer.

I am suspicious of the post's sudden popularity, however.  For months now I have been wavering back and forth on a possible book project, one that has gone up on the shelf and come back down again on three different occasions.  I've suspended talking about it directly on the blog, though I've mentioned it a few times obtusely.

For those readers who have purchased and seen my book, How to Run, I landed on the very rational project of writing a book that would do what the worldbuilding section suggests.  Progressively, I began to take notes and produce a design for a book that would describe the kingdom of Fallow, from end to end, side to side, pausing continuously through the description to explain why something was being included or designed in a particular way.  Specifically, I envisioned the entire book along the lines of a series of posts I began last September.  In fact, that post and the response to those that followed were so popular that I was inspired to write 'Fallow.'

As I dug into the project, however, I began to doubt.  It felt dry.  It felt deliberate and pedantic.  It felt like a book that was going to hit the ground with a dull thud.  So I shelved it.

Then I reasoned, why not try a test?  Write something else along the same lines, see what the response is and go with it.  So in March I began this series of posts.  Posts that seemed to land with a dull thud until I learned weeks later that people actually liked them.  There was certainly very little indication at the time.  I got a few comments on the first two posts, but the more I wrote, the less comments I received.  Prediction?  It was fine for a few paragraphs, but a book would have been deadly dry.

So . . . I shelved Fallow again.

Still, it gnawed at me.  I had this kingdom organized in my head now; it has an existence that doesn't fit into the world I run.  So I thought, give it more research, see how it goes.  So I wrote three posts beginning on this theme.

The response?  Little to practically none.  My online party thought it was interesting, it applied directly to them.  With everyone else, however (in numbers and response) . . . thud.

I was going to write a fourth post but I lost interest.  No point in talking to the walls.

Then I find after two weeks of paying very little attention to the blog, what is popular?  Another post about starting a setting and ways to go about fixing it up.

I don't know.  I just don't know.  Write this book?  Don't write this book?  Market research is failing me.

Just now I'm taking notes on setting an adventure tale (with a small amount of magic) in the Fallow setting I've created.  Maybe that is a better way to go.  I've got the tale mapped out and I'm 40 pages into the writing.  But these first weeks are always the most uncertain.  It is very easy to give up a project when so little is invested.

Remember, I spend 175 hours in hammering excel numbers apart.  10-15 hours starting a book is nothing.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Paper Shapes

Kicking Horse Pass is located nearly two hours from where I live, out in the Rocky Mountains west of here.  I've been through the pass hundreds of times, but I've never really enjoyed the drive.  I'm made nervous by heights and Kicking Horse has plenty.  All it would take to die would be one bad moment at the wheel brought on by a lone, inconvenient animal like an elk, a big horn sheep or a moose . . . and there are plenty of those around the pass.  In fact, since the pass is in a National Park, those animals are protected.

It is just my imagination giving me nightmares.  I know that.

Back in 1883, however, there were no roads, no permanent inhabitants - it wasn't even certain that the pass would sustain a railroad.  So in that spring, the valley on both sides was inundated by surveyors.

Here's an account of Charles Shaw and his partner James Hogg in that year [see below]:

"They set off down the difficult incline of the Kicking Horse on the zigzag pathway, which the survey crews had already christened 'The Golden Stairs' because it was the most terrifying single stretch of trail on the entire route of the [Canadian Pacific] railway.  Actually, it was little more than a narrow ledge, less than two feet wide, cut into the cliffs several hundred feet above the foaming river.  It was so frightening that some men used to hang on to the tails of their packhorses and keep their eyes tightly shut until they had passed the most dangerous places.  Shaw had one horrible moment when his horse ran into a nest of hornets and another when he met two men with a packhorse coming from the opposite direction.  Since it was impossible for anyone to turn around, they simply cut the lashings off one of the horses and pushed the wretched animal over the cliff."

Here is more describing the same trip taken by Sandford Fleming and George Grant.  The reader can blame time zones on Fleming - he had crossed the continent in 1872 in the employ of the Canadian Government and now he was back, by invitation, to confirm the existence of Roger's Pass, one mountain range further to the west.

"Fleming and Grant were far more concerned about the terrible descent down the Golden Stairs of the Kicking Horse.  It was almost a dozen years since these two companions had set out, in the prime of life, to breast the continent.  Now the years were beginning to tell.  Fleming, though a superb physical specimen, was fifty-six.  For the past three years he had been leading an intriguing but sedentary life in England with side visits to various European capitals . . . engaging in such mile adventures as a gondola ride in Venice and a trip in a hot-air balloon.  Grant, who was forty-seven and inclined to a paunch, had quit his ministry in Halifax for the principal's chair at Queen's.  Now these middle-aged explorers were forced to negotiate a trail that terrified the most experienced mountaineers.

"Fleming dared not to look down.  To do so 'gives one an uncontrollable dizziness, to make the head swim and the view unsteady, even with men of tried nerve.  I do not think I can ever forget that terrible walk; it was the greatest trial I ever experienced.

"At that point the members of the party found themselves teetering on a ledge about ten to fifteen inches wide, eight hundred feet above the river.  There was nothing to hold on to - not a branch or even a twig.  Grant, who had lost his right hand in childhood, was especially vulnerable: 'It seemed as if a false step would have hurled us to the base, to certain death.'  The sun, emerging from behind a cloud, beat down upon them until they were soaked with a perspiration that was accentuated by their own state of tension.  'I, myself, felt as if I had been dragged through a brook, for I was without a dry shred on me,' Fleming admitted.  It was an exhausted party that finally arrived that evening at Roger's camp on the Columbia [river]."

Both excerpts are from Pierre Berton's The Last Spike, a set of tails about the Canadian continental railway written in 1971.

I copy them here for inspiration.  I also wish to highlight the differences between the fantastical and the real.  In the fantastical, the hero fairly skips along the ten-inch pathway.  In the fantastical, the hero is not possessed of a beating heart, pumping blood, sweat glands or a love of life so strong that there is a recognized tension in potentially losing it.  In the fantastical, the hero is made of straw.

Or perhaps it would be better to say that the hero is made of paper . . . namely, one flimsy sheet with scratchings on it that are utterly without animus.

As a DM, I do not wish to run heroes.  Heroes are boring.  That is why the best portrayals of heroes are in their failings, their hubris, their guilt and of things that seem to legitimately threaten their lives.

The player that shrugs upon dying, that crumples up their character sheet in the same moment that they reach for more dice to roll another character . . . that player is ruining your campaign.

Get rid of them.


Kick those horses off the ledge.  They're going the wrong way.

Your game will be better off.  You want people, not paper shapes.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Things to Report

 Over the weekend I completed watching Black Mirror, a British program that finished its second series last year.  Apparently, it's obscure, as I only chanced to hear it from a podcast posted last summer (never mind the podcast, it was shit).

See this show.  It makes Daredevil's "darkness" look like kiddie programming, it's thoughtful, profound, potentially disturbing and written with a skill and ability that puts North American scriptwriters to shame.  It's the first truly decent work I've seen this year.

Begin with the first episode, first season, though you may hear from some that it's not worthy.  The first episode sets the context for S01E02, though I haven't seen any reviewer that picked up on that.  If you're the sort who review what you're about to see before you see it, stuff the reviews.  Watch the first episode, get your head out of your ass and be prepared to be blasted by the second.

After that, it's all horror.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

So much so that, in feeling not that well yesterday, I took a trip from Trondheim, Norway, to Bodo, in 10 hours:

Seriously, I watched every minute of this, pausing it when necessary, together with my partner Tamara, commenting on what we saw and generally chatting.  Oftentimes, it was compelling and mesmerizing.  It is shot with good equipment, with and excellent wide-angle and, being Norwegian rail, there's no ugly electrical apparatus overhanging the track to destroy the landscape's raw beauty.

Is it a strange thing to sit for this long and watch?  Of course.  It helps immensely that I can identify the scenery, the effects of altitude on the environment, assess in a flash the difficulty of blasting through certain areas or the difficulties of some of the tunnels, not to mention the sheer pleasure of the visible culture.  It also helps that as an old man I have developed patience and attention to detail, skills that were not present in my younger self.  There's a reason why these things bring pleasure to older folk . . . we have a greater resource of perspective and we're used to spending long, long hours doing completely useless shit - like working a 9 to 5 job, for instance.  I have spent far more boring days at work that the linked video.

Or is it just that I'm unemployed and I have time, time, time to spend.  Hm.  Not so much.  I haven't been sitting around much lately.  Working on something - D&D, writing, looking for work, trekking to interviews, sorting out things that were ignored year after year and so on - helps numb the mind and keep it from stressing out.  I haven't been giving myself much time to think lately, since thinking leads to overthinking and just now, with still no job in sight, I have a lot to overthink right now.

The Norway trip, however, proved most distracting.

I'll throw in, too, the demonstration it provides for the inadequacy of fantasy settings for offering the depth of place and experience that the real world offers.  A fantasy may have rocks floating in the air, but it doesn't have the simple awe to be found in sturdy houses sitting upon the blasted heath, lost in lonely, desolate poetry.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Spending My Time

What have I been doing?  Why can I not write about my D&D world?  Am I not working on it?

I am working.  For months I have been taking this:

And transforming it into this:

Obviously, not just for Corsica.  I have made more than 250 of these adjustments.  I have perhaps another hundred.  This is all part of point 8 described on this post.  I finished point 7 for France back in October.

What is the adjustment?  I am changing the way my trade system's imports are calculated.  Let me show you a map of Corsica to give an idea of how these relate to each other.

From the beginning, I have had a number of territories, like Corsica, that possessed more than one trade city.  In this case, Ajaccio and Bastia.  Since my data on the island would only give what the whole island produced (antimony, copper, coal, etc.), I felt the easiest thing to do would be to assume both cities had access to these goods.  Thus, goods shipped out of Corsica would come from either Ajaccio or Bastia - and if the market you happened to be in was nearer to Bastia than it was to Ajaccio, then the distance was counted to Bastia and Ajaccio could be ignored.

This was fine, except that each time I added a new section of my world to the trade system, it was necessary to hunt down all the incidents where one city was ignored for another manually.  This was no big deal when I had less than 200 market cities.  It became more and more of a problem as I expanded into Germany, Italy and India.  And then France . . . well, France broke me.

France is huge where it comes to my system.  This is fair; in 1650, it was the world superpower.  At various times in history France fought against England, Austria, Prussia and Russia, often in combinations of two or three or all four . . . because for a time it was the wealthiest, most populated and most diverse economy in the world.  England was nothing like France at the time.  If you look at England in 1650, you will find a great many of the large industrial cities we recognize were just little burgs or not founded at all . . . places like Bournemouth, Manchester and Birmingham were insignificant when Marseille, Lyon or Le Havre had huge economies.

I realized to shorten my work in the future I was going to have to chop these multi-trade city market zones into pieces, making each one a separate table.  This meant separating them out according to population, which meant assigning towns within the province to one trade city or another:

Ajaccio gets those towns and cities that have the easiest access to Ajaccio; the rest go to Bastia.  Thus Corsica is not divided evenly down the middle, but according to its urban population dividing the former total (33,254).  The products of Corsica are rolled randomly between the two markets (using excel) and the specific placement of the goods and services are assigned.  If there were multiple totals for something (say, Antimony), then each reference would be rolled for individually.

I decided not to use fractions (which would have been a huge pain) for simplicity reasons.  For the game, it really doesn't matter that in the real world antimony in Corsica is actually mined in Bastia.  As I said, I have around 350 splitted markets requiring this sort of work.

It is patient, it is time-consuming, it is pedantic (because I don't like arbitrarily assigning anything) and there is absolutely no way I would have time to do this if I were working forty hours a week.

So, between looking for work, going to interviews, missing out on jobs by a hair and being generally low, spending my time profitably.

Hard to explain this or expect anyone else to 'get it.'

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Measuring Marigolds

I used to believe in things like this - pithy sayings that encapsulated an idea, that were meant to motivate or enlighten somehow, sending the individual off (it was hoped) on a vision quest.  As the years pass, however, I grow progressively more jaded, more certain that change only results from pain and unhappiness . . . and that when it does result, it is nearly always in a bad direction.

Oh, I suppose that someone hard against it, beating their head against their life and realizing they've been on the wrong track for a decade, might see something like the above and grasp, clearly and for the first time, where their errors lie.  The reader will undoubtedly have a story or two about when this has happened to them - in a given place or time, seeing words written on a wall, shaking them to their core and starting their lives anew.  Or something like that.  I doubt very much, however, that the reader has, right now, read the above on this blog and had that experience.  Most of you will have read the above and recognized, "Oh yes, that's true."  You may have gotten a small dopamine hit from the recognition.  But I would wager it is something the reader already knew.  I would wager that this was not new information.

How much time do we spend reading the same information over and over, reminding us of those things that have become obvious in the extreme?  How often have you sat at the table with Mom and Dad, talking over something that's happened, only to have one of them dig into their big bag of cliches in order to fill the next ten seconds air with something everyone at the table knows?  Oh, and not in a general way, either.  I am writing of a way where that thing is so known that repeating it actually desecrates anything worthy that might have been said.

Let's face it - there are a whole lot of us that have nothing to say except that blood is thicker than water when its learned that Uncle Gord has emptied Aunt Urethra's bank account - again - in order to lose it all at the casino.  There must be some reason we keep inviting Uncle Gord back to Christmas dinner, rather than reflecting or considering that maybe Uncle Gord may not be a positive influence in our lives.  Nope, not going there.  Blood is thicker than water.

The same can be said - dragging this blog back to a D&D relevant place - for yet another discussion about what charisma or wisdom is or what it stands for.  I'm sorry for writing that piece the other day.  I meant to provide some insight on describing charisma for game purposes, but somehow it degraded - again - into the charisma is blank discussion.

Let me clarify about that.  Charisma is a game mechanic.  Wisdom is also a game mechanic.  The actuality of each is defined by how it modifies die rolls occurring during functional game play.  There is some value in conveying each in order to encourage a certain behavioral responsiveness from the player within the game structure - however, as has been demonstrated by 40 years of participation, players plainly do not need more clarification in this regard.  More clarification, here, would only be telling us something we already intuitively understand.  More clarification would be pithy, impractical and ultimately repetitive, given that decades of this sort of chatter has failed to produce any notable result.

We get it.  So let's drop it.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, I know we're not going to drop it.  Suggesting that we do so was pithy.  I understand that.

Culturally, we have a lot invested in measuring marigolds.  There is a certain fetishistic satisfaction in digging out some small, irrelevant concern and writing a few hundred words about it - the meaning of charisma, giving our personal, profound and lengthy opinion about characters already discussed to death, the benefits of killing in a game versus not killing, blah blah blah.  It fills empty screen, it jogs the readers mind and reminds them of that old debate, that old character, that old bugaboo about experience giving, all accomplishing nothing but describing the length and breadth of petals that will be gone and forgotten less than a season away.  We turn to the internet to learn something about the game and we get dribs and drabs hither and yonder, banked, buttressed and shored by things we've read before, that we've read a hundred times, that we've read so often it is hard not to let our eyes roll from their sockets.

Write, repeat, read, repeat, draw, repeat, paste picture, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I am at my best when I am working, then describing what I have worked upon.  I am at my worst when I am telling the reader what the reader already knows.  The reader is better not reading this, but turning aside to go work.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Phenomenon

It is possible I ruined my offline campaign Saturday.  Yet it was far too tempting to put into place a magic item of extraordinary potential . . . a considerable gift, given that the players did not have to fight to get it.  Rather, I granted the thing to the party because they befriended a sphinx at the point where the creature had -8 hit points, rather than killing it or fleeing it.  The party showed courage, they showed respect, they showed themselves willing to risk their own lives in order to emotionally support an NPC.

In many campaigns, as we discussed last week, I would be giving the party experience equivalent to the value of the sphinx.  There's a number of reasons why it would be impossible to define what that experience would be . . . but it doesn't matter.  As I said last week, I give parties more than X.P.

Sorry I couldn't use this as an example for those discussions - but the party didn't know about it and I couldn't write about it here.

I gave the party this:

Upper Deck
Lower Deck
Back in March, I wrote a post that made reference to "a phenomenon such as has never been seen in the world since that day."  This is it.  It is an Air Ship.  It has no sails, no rudder.  It floats on four brass - yes, that's correct, brass metal - balloons that inflate or deflate by virtue of the will of the pilot.  It moves indifferently to the wind or the air itself.  The balloons, see, do not inflate with 'air' . . . they inflate with magic.  The object is something on the order of 44 centuries old.

A pilot stands at the wheel, shown as a small blue circle on the upper deck, under a tarp (that in this case was added by some hapless astronomers 9 centuries before the party finds it (all the furniture shown was also added by these same fellows).  Taking hold of the wheel, if the pilot wishes the Air Ship to move, the ship will drain the pilot of one energy level.  This drain is not permanent . . . it will return.  Unfortunately, I cannot tell the reader at this time, as the party does not know how long the drain lasts.  Turns out it is at least 48 hours.  That's as long as the party has had in game time to play with the thing.

Once the pilot has sacrificed the level - an operation that requires 30 combat rounds, or five minutes - then the pilot can cause the ship to move in any direction, vertically or horizontally, so long as it does not encounter an obstruction.  The ship moves quickly in terms of combat and decently in terms of long distance travel, but it will not outrun a horse - the speed is 50 miles over 24 hours or 7 combat hexes per round (5 feet/hex).  It will not outrun a hippogriff cavalry or a giant eagle.

The party has not attempted to change the ship from a level aspect, but it was designed to operate as a platform - low to the ground, high in the air, whatever was needed.  It will float on water and can be made to sink below water, if the user wishes - though that has consequences for whatever is carried, obviously.  The party has taken it to 3000 feet (with some discussion about medieval people being able to tell what that even is, much less having the willpower not to freak out once the thing climbs fifty feet above the ground), getting the feeling that the ship could be taken to the moon if they so wished (would take 10 years).

A single pilot can manage the craft for no more than 8 hours before becoming fatigued and needing sleep.  Another pilot can take over, however, at any point, for the one level drained is good for 24 hours of continuous ship travel.  Thus, three or four pilots can keep the ship going around the clock.

Sitting on the ground, the deck is approximately 25 feet above the ground.  It is thus difficult to unload or load large objects when 'docked' on dry land.  On water, it can be settled to a level where the deck is 9 feet above the surface, before water would begin to pour in the windows on the lower deck (not shown).  There are shutters that can be closed in bad weather, that would seep water but which could be easily drained by simply lifting the ship.  When sunk into the water to make the main deck accessible, a pilot must man the wheel . . . otherwise, the ship will 'bob' up to the surface.

I said that the ship is not affected by wind - this is not true of the occupants, who would experience wind across the deck of the ship as though they were standing on the ground.  Thus there is a very real danger of being blown off in a high wind.  The deck is very stable, however, so that animals can comfortably rest or walk upon the deck and there is no danger of motion sickness.

I'm sure there are other details I covered, but I cannot remember them now . . . please feel free to ask any questions and I will answer as needed.

Why am I worried that this might break the campaign?  Because surely the players will be tempted to retreat from the world.  Already it has been discussed how others will likely want to steal it.  The party is already aware of the dangers of bringing it near a civilized area.  At the moment, the party is 7th level and they feel distinctly weak to be in possession of such an object.  I fear that they will feel a strong inclination not to leave it behind in order to investigate a dungeon or become involved in any local place.  I worry that the ship will become the whole campaign.

Still, there are benefits.  I expect much more of my world will become part of the regular campaign, as these players can now go anywhere.  I am glad I have made so much of my world to this point.  I remind the reader that these are the players who are returning holy relics to unknown parts of my world - so this is also a means to the end of their quest.

I've never created anything like this before.  I conceived of it about six months ago and finally, after what felt like a long wait, I was able to present it.

The party is very excited. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Scars and Stuff

Well, here's something.

Setting aside the content of the post, which is cute and silly and I really don't care, my attention is drawn to the first comment below.  This paints a pretty picture of how poorly people understand charisma:

I remember a GM being a little surprised when another player and I started commenting on an NPC. He said, “But this guy has a charisma of like 9, he’s all scarred and stuff."
One of us said, "what’s his strength score?"
"Um, 18?"
"See, he’s buff. Our characters appreciate a buff guy with scars. Shows he’s worthy mate material, a good warrior. We think he’s hot."

Is this the fault of the DM or the player?  A little of both, actually.  It wouldn't be the first DM who rushed to the conclusion that someone with a 9 charisma had scars and stuff.  Nor would it be the first player who made the conclusion that an 18 strength = buff.  Truth is, most people don't have a clear idea of what these numbers mean, except as generalities . . . that are in turn tremendously affected by what they see on film or television.

There's a speech I used to give wannabes I met in theatre and the arts.  I would pedantically explain how no one in the movies is ugly.  This is terrifically difficult for people to understand or believe . . . because their conception of 'ugly' has been adjusted radically upwards.  Actors are, at worst, comparably ugly.  Compared to you or I, none of them are.

Consider, first, that you're in a theatre seeing the head shot of someone on screen.  That head is eight to twelve feet high - at least.  Next time you're in a bad movie, look at the 'ugly' actor's skin.  Look at their teeth.  Look at the hairline, the shape of the brow or the eyes.  Face-to-face, in real life this 'ugly' actor would look amazing.  This is a necessity.  No one wants to see an ordinary person's face blown up to 12 feet high.

Occasionally, someone will turn up in a film with bad teeth.  Or scarred skin.  One of my favorites for this is Dan Hedaya, who began playing rats, crumbs, jerks and blue collar guys.  On screen, he's 'ugly.'  But through his career, slowly, he worked his way up to playing likable characters.  Check him out on Conan.  He's plainly very charismatic.

Here's a shock for some readers.  A charisma of 9 isn't scars and stuff . . . it's normal.  It's probably YOU.  If you can bear to look at yourself in a mirror and make a guess at your own charisma, that is.  Here's a hint.  If you can spend a whole day in public and no one approaches you, starts a non-business related conversation with you or remarks on your appearance, you're absolutely less than a 13.  If any of the above happens regularly but not every time, you're probably a 12.  Otherwise, time to face reality: you're an 11 or lower.

The reverse is true.  You're nowhere near an 8 unless you're used to people changing tables or seats after sitting down near you.  It's not your face or your scars and stuff, it's the way you smell.  It's your teeth.  It's the apparent presence/probability of lice in your hair or your clothes.  If you don't see people wince as you talk to them or deliberately interact with you while plainly not looking at you, you're probably at least a 9 charisma.

I'm saying that this 9 charisma guy is painfully average.  His defining features are not the scars on his face, it's the way you have trouble remembering what he looks like.  It's his unpleasantly recessed eyes or the way his beard grows in, the slight waxiness of his skin or the receding hair line.  You know . . . like you and I have.

Is an 18 strength 'buff'?  You mean, like these guys?

Totally buff.
The problem is that all too often we associate 'strength' with 'cut.'  That's a Hollywood thing, again. Those guys with the abs and the definition?  They're fragile and prone to injuries:  lower back, tendonitis, torn muscles, other soft tissue damage, sprains, slipped discs, the list is long and painful.

So that guy with the 18 strength and the 9 charisma . . . is he hot?  Well, he may have some scars, but probably not 'hot' ones.  Let's start with the gut, the man-breasts, the hair that's falling out from overexertion (even without steroid use), the shortened arms or legs, the lack of a chin or the ears that no well-meaning physician pins back, this not being the modern era.  Let's add in the 'scars' from the last time he was burned, his broken nose, the jaw that healed improperly, the lope he has from an bone injury that fused because one leg is shorter than the other . . . none of these things being enough to make him look especially ugly.  No, he's just an average massive mountain that's been beat up a few hundred times.

Without having a consciousness about the human body, however - or rather, having a consciousness that tells you that a 'scar' equals charisma 9 and vice versa.  Instead, we should realize that it isn't having a scar, it's what scar you have.

Charisma 9?  Let's start with the 18 strength mountain looking too fucking scary - in armor and massive two-handed weapon - to be hot.


8:30 a.m., May 11th
11:30 a.m., May 11th
We live in a strange country.

Hard Lessons

Now and then, it is difficult not to become so immersed in one's own life that everyone else and everything else seems to matter.  It is at this point that we decline invitations, we grow a bit obsessive with our hobbies, we shut out the world . . . and we stop writing blog posts.

Here's where I've been throughout May - writing about film and not D&D.  Dropping, already, the recent attempt to write about food (I'm really just reconsidering my voice).  Crunching figures rather than contributing to the necessary rule lists I've planned.  Shying away.  Going to ground.  Concentrating on the daily process of spending my life profitably.

However, I can't get away from seeing my blog as a responsibility - a commitment that I've taken up and that deserves respect and the application of my time.  This puts me in a difficult position, the same that every blog writer faces repeatedly, without let up.

What do I write about?

Some things I can think fall under the category, "That will take more energy than I have."  Others are in the category, "Stop writing that shit, it is tiresome."  Still others in the group, "Oh god no."

At the end, all that's left is to write about writing . . . which is equivalent to turning in a tampon-in-a-teacup as our monthly art project after weeks of procrastination, inactivity and one badly timed drunken night when it was our last chance to work on our art project.  It is trusting that we can talk our way out when we haven't actually chosen to work our way out.

As such, I know what I'm doing here.  I'm boring both of us.

In the last two or three years, I have been learning a hard lesson, one that has been challenging a bad habit I've had all my life.  It is the "I'm going to do this" habit.  The habit of telling people what plans we have for the future, usually because we're too excited about the project to keep quiet.  It is a bad habit for a number of reasons.

First, obviously, we tend not to follow through.  There's something about the project that loses our interest, it turns out to be bigger than expected, it develops an unforeseen problem that makes it impossible to complete . . . and after any of those, we're stuck having to explain why we didn't do that thing that we meant to do, even though we were formerly excited.

I used to justify the habit by arguing that commitment would impress in my mind the importance of following through and finishing the thing . . . embracing guilt, as it were, as a means of forcing completion.  It sounds good on the surface but it's a load of bullocks.  Guilt isn't strong enough . . . and what's left is having to admit to more people than ourselves that we've let them down.

The solution - the difficult solution - is to work in obscurity.  Have a new project?  Shut up.  Something we're getting ready for launch?  Shut up.  Got plans to build a system that is going to be amazing?   Shut up.  Just shut up about it.  Build the project, get it ready for launch, fix the system and then talk about it, after it is finished.  There will be plenty of time for others to get excited about it then . . . when it is done, when it has a chance of living up to expectations.

Until then, it is just air.

Been hard learning this lesson.  Sure gives me less to talk about in a blog post.  In the long run, however, discipline is more important than public relations.  Less sexy.  More important.