Friday, May 6, 2016

Right Not Left

Had coffee this morning-afternoon with a friend of mine, Ken.  He won't mind my using his name because, like me, he's doing what he can to live his life publicly.

We don't see each other that often but the conversations are what you'd expect from two in their fifties artists who still have the bit in their teeth.  We talk about theoretical history, cultural patterning (he has a degree in anthropology, I do not) and, naturally, approaches to art and the management of the art we both want to do.  He's a musician.  I'm a writer.  He's a writer too and I've done lots of stage work.  We understand each other.

At one point in the conversation we discussed performance anxiety, something we've both experienced but to which we've become adapted.  Because it is on my mind, I drew the conversation around to teaching DMs how to DM (Ken used to play the game decades ago, understands it but hasn't any interest), specifically how to overcome their sense of being nervous around their friends. Towards this issue Ken outlined strategies that he's known theatre performers to employ while teaching business people and others to feel more comfortable in everyday situations.  It was interesting, the conversation moved onto other things.

As we were getting ready to separate, Ken stepped off a moment to deal with nature and I checked my blog: and found this comment waiting for me.  I'll quote the beginning, without paragraphing it because that's how it appeared on my phone (which is relevant):

"As a DM, I think I sometimes lapse into too much purple prose for one of two reasons: 1. I am nervous, and trying to mask my nerves 2. It is a sign I probably over-prepared an encounter, because I probably really enjoyed writing it up and took it too far. "1" is pretty simple: I feel uncomfortable as the center of attention. I became DM because I was the only one willing to put the work in, not because I especially wanted it."

The serendipity being there, I read the above to Ken as he returned and talked about how this is a story I hear all the time: Nervous, Center of Attention, Voluntold.

Ken replied that it is exactly this way with the army.  You're not asked, you're told, "You, you're in charge.  Get on with it."

Once upon a time, Ken was a Master Corporal in the Canadian Army (which is somewhat higher than the American corporal; my Brit/Can readers are nodding) and he served as a Drill Instructor - so he knows.  The first emotion the new junior NCM feels is "What, me?" - followed by the feeling of a rabbit that knows it's about to be caught and skinned.

"So how do they manage it?" I asked, thinking of tens of thousands of DMs who have just found themselves promoted over their friends, to whom they now have to give commands.

"It's all expected behaviour," he answered.  "You tell him to take the men out on a ten mile hike.  Everyone already knows how to do this, so all the junior has to do is march them out and march them back.  'Course, when the junior gives the order to turn left, the Junior has to remember to turn right; he's an officer now.  His point of view is now an officers' - he still does what the others do, but he does it right when they do it left and vice versa."

"Fabulous," I responded.

"They come back from the hike and the next thing the Junior tells them is exactly what is expected.  Break out for chow, clean the barracks, whatever is NEXT.  It's standardized, it's ordinary, it's already set up to be followed.  The main difference is that when before the Junior had to think only of himself, now he has to think of everyone else, too.  He's doing what he would normally do - but when he gives the order, he's doing it WITH them in his mind instead of only himself."

I just nodded at this point, brain popping all over the place.

"You have to remember," said Ken.  "There's someone watching them.  An Officer who is yet in charge above the unit.  And the Officer does two things that makes this change work.  First of all, the officer says, "Good Job."  This gives the Junior the sense that they're managing this new business of leading men and they're not fucking it up all over the place.  And the second thing the Officer does is say, 'Next time, try this.'  This helps the new Junior get his head around what needs to be done over and above what's obvious."

So there's the problem, all.  DMs are alone.  There's no one to say, "Good Job."  There's no one that can be trusted to say, "Next time try this."

We have all kinds of people on the net saying, "I like what you did there" but that isn't the same as saying, "You're doing a good job."

We have all kinds of people on the net saying, "That's a really good idea" but we don't have enough people on the net saying, "Take this idea and apply this precise, exact way."

As such, we don't know what the hell we're doing and we're not told when we've done something good, bad or anything else.

All my life I have been repelled by role-players' war stories.  "I ran my party through such and such,  my party did this, they found this, there was this thing that happened and they all thought this, etcetera."  I've thought all my life that these were just people who were self-involved, who were so narcissistic that they needed to talk about what they did in order to promote themselves.  As such, I have avoided telling war stories like the plague.  When I have told one here and there on the blog, I have always apologized for doing it.

Now I understand.  They're not narcissistic.  They're looking for someone to say, "Good job."

I talked to hundreds of people in Toronto and Edmonton at the cons I've done.  I've heard them tell their war stories and I reassured them that I could help make their worlds better.  But I didn't say, when hearing that they were pushed into DMing, that they were doing their best, that I was proud of them.  That I felt they were magnificent for digging in and trying.  That the game needed them and that they had every reason to hold their heads up high.

So let me say it now.  "Good job.  Well done.  You're doing the best you can and you should know that you deserve the highest respect for it.  You took those players out, you brought them back, you gave them a good game and they came back for more.  Good Job."

I will never hear another war story with the same heart again.

Now go out and tell a DM how they're doing.  Do that before telling them one more word about how they can do it better.

Open to Change

Two days ago I described myself denouncing a t-shirt and asking the question, would this approach succeed?  I received no answers to this question - neither yes or no - so I must presume the reader just doesn't know.  In film it makes sense but in reality it is hard to accept that the first experience we're going to have with a 'serious' critic of our lifestyle and approach to things is going to be unpleasant.

However, we usually enter into things with misconceptions and it is common for those misconceptions to meet with disapproval.  So went my first experiences with cooking, so went my first experiences on stage, so went my first experiences with writing papers for university and so on. Like the podcast said, we learn from our mistakes - but most dramatically when we don't realize we are making mistakes.  In those instances, it is our tendency to push back and resist against learning.

Keeping on topic with the art of presentation, I have long witnessed a pattern with DMs that centers around the need to impress players.  The DM creates a big speech that the leader of the town gives, or gives maximum description through every combat of the way the swords swing or the amount of blood that gushes forth from the slain enemy:

Player: "I roll to hit."
DM: "You draw back your sword and with immense power you bring it CRASHING down on the head of the orc, causing the creature to scream in agony and sink to the ground, it's hands dropping its weapon as it cries out, 'Oh why did I try to fight against such magnificent heroes?' . . ."

And so on.

Do these efforts really impress people?  Personally, I have a strong radar for people trying to impress me and my first thought is, "What are they trying to make me buy?"  I inherently don't trust people who try too hard with such things.  It's a tactic and a pretty piss-poor tactic at that . . . and I wonder why DMs feel it is such an important part of the game to impress the players.

Is this really the point of the game?  Or is the point to facilitate play by describing things sufficiently? Presentation, I believe, is about communication, not pandering for respect: if players are going to impressed by a DM it will more likely come from the DM's cool, confident temperament than from the number of adjectives the DM can string together to describe things.

A class would want to emphasize this.  A tutor would need to approach the resistance to this idea of needing to make things 'bigger' in order to be 'better' by communicating with the student and not at the student.  This is what I tried to convey in the previous post: that while I did want the fellow to understand that his t-shirt wasn't winning any contests at the table, I wanted him to understand that from the point of view of someone that was self-aware - not someone who was shamed into a different behaviour.

Education must derive from two persons working together to solve a given problem - in the case given, the problem of presenting to the players to gain respect and legitimacy as a DM.  Education should be a collaboration.  The first step is to agree on the problem and the next, to solve that problem.  So often, the difficulty is to be found in the first step, as the student enters the classroom with a sense that they already know what the problem is - "I don't know what I need to know" - and that the educator will somehow wave a magic wand and make that lack of knowledge go away.

With something like DMing, a thing that is deeply  personal and deeply entrenched in one's prejudices, it isn't a matter of 'knowing' how to DM.  It is much more a matter of recognizing how something tried and tried is or isn't working.  I said this at the beginning of How to Run - it is a major theme in the book.  In the beginning, I had some handle on when I was doing well as a DM; but I couldn't explain why I was doing well and I couldn't reproduce that effect when desired.  DMing was totally hit or miss.  It took writing the book to truly nail down why I could manage a table well and why players enjoyed my DMing.

That would be the purpose of every class I would give:  Tell me what you're doing and I'll explain why this is working and why this isn't.  If the student can then accept that (largely on faith, as one would from an instructor), then we can work to change to a strategy that will work, every time.

That's not easy.  It requires a willingness to break with past behaviour.  That is why the most esoteric of classes cost so much money: it is always presumed that the more open your wallet is, the more open your mind is probably going to be.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Class 1: Presentation

Goal: to improve DM presentation skills in order to better communicate ideas, concepts and narration to participants (the party); to use presentation to create a more focused, immersive campaign.


  • Read Chapter Six of How to Run: an Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games.
  • Read those blog entries from my blog pertaining to classes on the internet (list pending).
  • Be sure to arrange our Skype talk so that you are alone and free of distractions; turn off your phone and reduce your internet availability.
  • Come prepared to run your world.  DMs should be prepared to run a player who has never participated in their campaign before.
  • Have room to move about on camera; don't be in a very tight enclosed space.  You will be asked to communicate on camera from a standing position.

Here are the bare bones of where I would start as a tutor - and as I write this, I am already thinking of at least one difficult conversation that would come about.  It is cruel and abusive, but for the purpose of this post I'm going to refer to the pupil/student as the 'payer' - I want this to be firmly in the reader's mind.

(Camera comes on; greetings and pleasantries are exchanged, I encourage the payer to feel free to be honest and direct, to ask questions, to ask for a rest if they are feeling pressured, to not worry about the clock and to feel that we have plenty of time to address the issues at hand.  Then I explain that, just to be sure we get to all those issues, we will occasionally have to drop a discussion, even if it's interesting, to ensure we can get through the lesson.
Payer is wearing a ratty, Star Wars shirt and is slumped comfortably in their chair)

Me: Do you feel ready to begin?

Payer:  Sure.

Me: I'd like to start with what you're wearing.

Payer:  Sorry?

Me: The shirt you're wearing.  I'd like to talk about it.  Can you tell me why you chose to wear that particular shirt.

Payer:  Uh, it's comfortable.

Me:  Of course.  I understand.  My point would be, what is the message it gives to your players when you wear that shirt?

Payer (annoyed):  That I like Star Wars.

Me:  That's fair.  But the purpose in learning how to better present is to convey a sense that your privilege as DM is deserved.  That is not to say you are not a great DM - you may very well be.  But the communication between us and other people is not based on what you are but upon what you are perceived to be.  When someone sees you in that shirt, what message does that send?

Payer:  I don't see how that matters.  I'm me.  I don't want to pretend to be someone else.

Me:  It isn't a matter of pretending.  It is a question of presentation.  In a sense, you are already adopting a pretense.  You're conveying a message with your clothing that says you're a friendly fellow, pleasant, easy to get along with and so on.  The question is, does that help you DM your players.  Players who think the DM is "easy to get along with" also think that the DM is "easy to get around" or "won't hassle me if I goof off."  Which is precisely the sort of relationship you'd want to have with your friends at the bar, since you wouldn't hassle them and you wouldn't mind being gotten around because these are your friends and its fun.  The problem is that as a DM, you're adopting a role of authority and that role means you have to make judgments and give instructions and be obeyed when you ask for silence and such.  That shirt doesn't send the message, "Listen to me, I have something to say."  That shirt sends the message, "I don't really care what's happening.  We're just goofing off here."  You may not be aware of that message; I presume you're not because you're here to better learn how to get control over your group and impress them.  If you want to impress people, you have to dress in a way that people identify with someone that is impressive.  That's not pretending: that's taking advantage of a pre-made stereotype that people obey and using it to help them obey YOU.


The question remains, how well will this approach succeed?  I fully expect that some people will be highly resistant to this sort of analysis.  Some readers will feel very strongly that I'm arguing from the position of an old man with an old man's prejudices.  However, it remains true that, despite the gross inaccuracy that results from trying to judge someone by their appearance, we continue to judge others by their appearance.  And this, disappointing as it is to believe, applies just as much to our friends as it does to strangers.  If Jonathan, who has been a notorious slob since high school, suddenly starts wearing dress pants and a button shirt everyday to his new job, his friends will applaud him.  If Jonathan then starts showing up at the bar in the evening still in his fine shirt and pants, because he hasn't had time to go home and dress in a sweatshirt and stretch pants, his friends will remark on how 'respectable' and 'responsible' he's become since the "Old Jonathan."  If this continues to the point where Jonathan starts coming to the cook-outs and camping trips in polo shirts and nylon gear, because can afford these now, his friends will joke and laugh about how Jonathan "used to be," with a distinct tone that the New Jonathan is much more pleasant now that he's using deodorant.  The New Jonathan may hate it; he may wish he could quit his lousy job and go back to those relaxed days in the old apartment that didn't cost him $1500 a month - but he doesn't because he likes the respect.

Presentation is not about being YOU.  It is about obtaining respect.  The respect needed to get the attention of your players and make them focus on your game.  I would be doing you a disservice, giving you the Type I lesson, if I told you the drab, ratty, cruddy clothing you're wearing is "just fine."

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What Sort of Class?

Gathering my thoughts . . .

I have taken all kinds of education classes in my years.  Some through university, some through my place of employment, some from a desire to be employed, some extra classes to study subjects that were of interest and once by court order (the reason can be read on this post).  In retrospect, these fall into three categories:

The first type is designed to make us feel good about ourselves.  The classes are heavy on participation and building better social relationships in which oxytocin manufacture is a key component.  The class is encouraged to communicate as much as possible in short doses, speak of and listen to others with a positive outlook, move about physically and on the whole keep as busy as possible to hide the fact that nothing is actually being taught.  These classes are very popular, as they allow both popular and lonely people to reach a consensus of good will, friendship and the strong sense that something has been accomplished.  If nothing else is gained from these classes, they are a good experience.

The second type tends to be very dry and almost useless.  Here I am speaking of the "required courses" that I took in university or the "orientation" classes that I attended on behalf of business or so-called teambuilding activities.  The primary purpose of these classes is to prove commitment to our authoritarian masters (who, in some cases having to do with university, need this in order to stay employed) while surviving the course without any expression of emotion whatsoever.  The best way to pass muster on these courses is to attend with rigid faithfulness, speak civilly and as little as possible, sit at the back and hide behind as much crowd as can be found.  Oh, and lie.  Never, ever, give a sincere opinion.

The third type came with demands that were so hard to meet as to deserve the appellation "brutal."  Drama courses where we were expected to perform publicly on stage once a month, science classes with weekly coursework and labs, immersive language classes, physical classes meant to prepare for competitive contests and so on.  Classes that we took because these, too, were required courses but were deliberately designed to weed out the participants rather than pay homage to beings with tenure.  I still occasionally have dreams about failing these courses, where I get up and tell my other half unhappily, "I had the university dream again."  I had it this morning, in fact.

Business success is found in Type I.  Even the managers don't like Type II, but they think it is necessary.  We can ignore Type II.  Type III makes the world happen.

Looking at one-on-one consultation, I could make money by conning people with Type I: listening to them talk about their worlds, they're plans, giving them 'popular' and empty advice designed to make them feel really good about themselves, like they could take on the world.  Basically, sugar pills.  "Really, you're a great DM.  Believe in yourself, relax, you'll get it, just think good thoughts, you make your own reality, if you want to succeed, you will, if you understand the 'why' the 'how' will be obvious, knowledge is power, you already know all you need to know, just learn to ask for what you want, ask and it will be received, you can achieve anything that you aspire to achieve, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah . . ."

People eat this stuff up.

Type III inherently contains a guarantee that isn't a promise - it is a fact.  People are able to vertically climb apparently-impossible surfaces: if you are willing to commit and break your body in that commitment, forcing your body and consciousness to transform, logically you will also be able to do this.  All that is asked is that you don't waste your time training in ways that don't achieve your goals.

Can DMing be taught this way?  That is the question I've been trying to crack.

Think of it this way: Type I education is designed to cope with the problem, You are already uncomfortable.  Come join and we will make you more comfortable about . . . whatever.

Type III education says, You think you're uncomfortable now?  Just wait.  Type III implies an expectation that you are prepared to make yourself more uncomfortable because, damn it, the end result matters to you so much that pain and discomfort right now do not mean fuck.

I do have a premise where it comes to problem solving: if I'm not feeling a "cost" in the application of the solution, there's probably a better solution that will cover more contingencies.  In other words, this solution is easy because I am super-simplifying the problem.

I have a premise where it comes to problem solving: if I'm not feeling a "cost" in the application of the solution, something is wrong.  Most likely, I am ignoring most elements of the problem so that a real solution is no longer necessary.

For example, my father journeyed to Russia in and around the time of Glasnost, just before the wall came down, as a petroleum engineering consultant.  He described the elevator in the building where he stayed that was broken. It had been broken for months, as was obvious from the condition of the exterior.  But the problem had been 'solved.'  The management had put a sign on the elevator: "Reserved."

I am forever making more complicated solutions because I'm acknowledging that the problems are more complicated than I've solved for, so far.  This applies to the trade system, to my maps, to the combat system, to character development, to my world's structure, to climate and to anything else I can think of.  That is why I keep inventing new solutions to replace solutions that are already working; the working solutions are not yet solving enough of the actual problem to suit me.

Want to learn to DM?  Or do you just want to pretend to learn to be a DM?  Do you want the Type III class that will, after a lot of pain, make you a better DM?  Or do you want the Type I class that will make you feel like you're a better DM?

Let's experiment.  Let's try a Type III solution.  Let's try homework.  Here is what I propose: and anyone can do this, regardless of what genre you play, regardless of how long you've run, regardless of how you came to be a DM or what you hope to accomplish with your world building.  It won't matter if you run your own world or if you run modules you buy.  It won't matter if your world is serious or 'fun.'  But it will make you a better DM if you follow through.  Fair warning: following through is going to be a bitch.

Sorry, this isn't going to work if you haven't any players.  And it will work better if you have players with whom you've played more than five or six times.

Sit down and draft out a serious description of each player in your world as a human being.  Be honest, get into details, give at least two examples for every point you try to make about them and be as complete as possible.  Explain why you think they play in your world, what they get out of playing in your world, what they would get out of playing in someone else's world, what their goals are (both in game and out of game), what it would take to make them quit and whether or not you feel they contribute a little, a moderate amount or a lot to the general welfare of your campaign.  Write down any guesses you have about what your campaign would be like if this player stopped playing.  Do it for every player.  Take your time.  Write at least a thousand words for each player.  Two thousand would be better.  Four thousand and you're probably repeating yourself now.  Don't stop until you've written at least a thousand words.

I don't want to read it.  I don't want to see it.  I don't care if you write it down; turn on a cam and record your feelings about each player by voice.  The only important thing is that when you're done, go back and read it or listen to it the next day.  Then you can burn it or delete it, making sure your friends and players never, ever, ever see it.

Don't gripe.  Don't bitch about the amount of work.  You want to be a better DM?  You have to address this issue - because it is the hardest, least pleasant issue you will ever have to address as a gamer.  You play with these people.  What do you really think about them.  What do you think about yourself when you read your opinions the next day?  Do you still like yourself?  Can you look at yourself in the mirror?  Are you up to meeting these expectations and needs and desires that your players have?  Can you be?

I think probably you're afraid to even begin to contemplate doing this.  Christ, just starting is going to take you a week or a month.  That's because you don't really want to be a better DM.  You just want someone to say you are.

Is that the sort of class you want me to run?  Or are you ready to bleed?

Head-banging Moments

Reading an essay of the weight distribution "problems" with the star wars lightsaber:

"The problem with the Lightsaber is that it's physics aren't properly understood according to how it functions. Theoretically, it creates a blade of hard light that can cut through anything. Physicists say it's anything from a blade of plasma to a blade of energy. The result: you actually have a weapon that all of it's weight is in the hilt. It is possible to have "hard" Energy. For this you need to understand the physics of Energy and Matter. If Matter is energy spent, then a Lightsaber is in-between energy spent and energy yet to be spent. Since we don't understand the Lightsaber, it's physics are beyond our understanding."

Sigh.  There are 30 angels that dance on the head of a pin.  No, there are 31.  Wait, I've just realized, there are 29.

I've written an answer to the above:

"The lightsaber possesses what we would think of as an impossible density of energy, similar (but not as much as) the mass/energy ratio of a neutron star, except in this case the "weight" of the sword's energy/mass is exactly what the wielder needs it to be - it can never be too heavy or too light because the wielder's mind is the master of this energy. Thus the sword is always the PERFECT weight, perfect in a manner that manufacture cannot equal, as the sword is not made it is conceived. This conception, in turn, causes the energy to distribute itself along the weight of the weapon so as to create a perfect balance of action, so that the weight is not carried in the handle, it is carried at some point along the "blade" that exactly fits the requirement of the Jedi. As such, no weapon in existence can match the lightsaber as a potential extension of the user's arm and body. It only fails to seem as such in the films because films are inadequate to properly represent exactly how the movement of the lightsaber would appear in reality."

I so hate, hate, hate star wars.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Price of Doing Business

It's been two weeks since I made an atrocious suggestion - which turned out to be far less atrocious that expected, something that has given my friend much delight in saying "I told you so."  In light of a long comment from Scarbrow, I'd like to come back to the subject of paying DMs to play.

Let me begin with the question, "Should DMs be paid; is that ethical?"  Like most aspects of amateur ethics, we're addressing yet another situation where we're asked to judge an activity in which all the participants are actively consensual, where no participant is compelled or coerced into the activity.  One of the truly heinous characteristics of most moral discussions is the premise that what I believe is right and wrong applies not only to me, but to all people.  It isn't enough for me to pose the question, "Would I personally pay for the activity?"  It is necessary - and this applies to so much more than just DMing - to impose a structure in which every person on earth must also adhere to my personal decision on the subject once I have made that decision.

Recognizing, as most do when applying this reason to things like prostitution or abortion, that others are not going to stop these things simply because they have been named "wrong," it is necessary to cast around for arguments that promote the side I've happened to take on the issue.  Thus, the adult woman is 'forced' into prostitution due to circumstances, though no argument or logic is applied to the millions of situations where women in like circumstances do not feel forced into prostitution.  Thus, the shapeless, senseless, thoughtless protoplasm is accorded the dignity of full human status, though no effort is made to help millions of humans who actually have that status where it comes to healthcare, sustenance, the dignity of being alive and so on.  The arguments that support ethical premises are always arguments of convenience, as the actual rightness or wrongness of the question has already been established.  DMing for money is wrong; others need to understand that; here are seventeen reasons that support my position without acknowledgement that the reasons themselves are merely extensions of the same prejudice that determined the original moral position.

For example, it was argued to me that only people desperate for a game would be willing to pay for one, these people being characterized as "desperate suckers."  This implied negative context implied ignores that only people desperate for food are willing to pay a supermarket to provide it.  Only people desperate for insulin will buy it from a pharmacist.  Only people desperate for a parachute will reach for the rip cord to keep from dying.  Doesn't the fact that these people are in desperate need make the commercial aspect of the service more imperative?  Doesn't this ensure that commercial success is more likely?  However, we choose to characterize the need as "bad" because a good need doesn't support our premise that DMing for money is inherently wrong . . . for everyone.  Certainly, it must be wrong for the vendor.

With such moral positions there will always be some on one side and some on the other.  The question itself can never be resolved because no 'right' answer exists.  That is why the question cannot contain words such as 'should' or 'ought.'  Only the identifier 'is' has relevance.  That is why the question I asked wasn't "Should people pay" but "Will people pay."  The evidence indicated that people will, in fact, pay.

A man asks a woman if she would be willing to sleep with him if he would pay her a million dollars.  She replies affirmatively.  He then names $20 as a proposal and asks if she would still be willing to sleep with him.  Greatly offended, the woman asks, "What sort of woman do you think I am?"
To which he replies, "We've already established that.  Now we're negotiating the price."

Addressing this problem, Scarbrow in his comment yesterday attempted to break it down according to the price he is used to paying for entertainment: such-and-such for the price of a movie ticket, such-and-such for the price of a stage performance, such-and-such for the value gained from buying into an MMO and so on:

"The problem is, if I expect, on average, 20 hours of gaming time (four sessions of five hours) for that amount of money, then the DM is receiving just €2.5 (CAD 3.6) /hour from me. Even if attending to six players at a time (again, on average, some times more, some times less) that would be €15/CAD 21.6/hour. Not a bad rate for salaried work (~2400€/ 3456 CAD month, assuming an 40-hour working week), but rather low for a contractor."

This is a fair point, so far as it goes - but it attempts to squeeze what is essentially an artistic practice into the ordinary method of paying people to work jobs that primarily amounts to attendance.  Consider the work I have most recently been doing: kitchen work.  I am paid a flat rate of $13 per hour to make food that is of a certain quality.  In my case, I was let go for "not keeping up" - which is to say that I was not, in the opinion of the management, earning my $13.  I do not personally feel that this was the case, but I must assume the management had their reasons - it was what it was.

If the restaurant is slow, I am paid $13 an hour.  If the restaurant is very busy, so busy that we are tripping over each other and causing damage to ourselves (every cook can identify a litany of burns, cuts, scrapes and so on in a dozen places upon being asked), I am paid $13 an hour.  As a compensation to balance this, most restaurants offer 'tips' - a % of the front-house server's ring out during their shifts, collected together at the end of a fortnight and then distributed to the back house according to the number of hours people work.  However, as with all things statistical, regardless of the business of a particular night or a particular hour, spread over the week the amount received in tips tends to be very stable.  At best, as tips usually amount to one to three dollars an hour, depending on the restaurant, the difference between a very busy week and a very slow week might amount to as much as 25 cents an hour.  This is the sort of 'compensation' that compensates only if the compensated does not give it much thought.

When times are slow, cooks clean.  When everything that can be easily reached is clean, cooks pull apart all the things in a kitchen that can't be easily reached and clean.  Cleaning is dull, unrewarding monkey work, made worse in that most of what is 'cleaned' is already clean, particularly if the restaurant experiences multiple slow nights.  After a certain point, it is obvious that we are not cleaning to make things clean, we are cleaning to assuage the management's unhappiness at the prospect of paying us $13 an hour to do nothing.

Step over into the office-model of work and it becomes apparent that 'make-work' is irrelevant, so long at the actual work meets a certain quality and fits with expectations.  At $60K a year, I could comfortably stop working, open my email and spend half an hour talking to a co-worker in Toronto, or chat with a fellow on the floor where I worked, go for a walk to clear my head and think about a project problem, join in with my fellows as we watched the World Cup on the jumbo tron that the TV Department I worked in had (for I was in TV) and speak of these things openly to my bosses without fear of disapproval or shame.  The work was done, the work was quality, all else was considered part of the merit of participating at this level of society.

There is a reason I speak of morlocks in kitchens and eloi in office towers.

When I was let go from my last cushy office position, it was due to policy changes and a desire to cut costs.  My expertise did not enter into it.  In fact, I was subjected to a months-long expression of disappointment, dissatisfaction and high regard from the management, up to four pay-grades above me, for the work I would no longer be doing.  My point here being that while I was unquestionably sluffing off at the office work I was doing (hell, I was running the D&D campaign hourly while at work), I was respected; whereas total commitment of every second of my time at the morlock job earned me only disrespect.

Any and all attempts to judge value by the clock suffer a perception problem.  Time is intangible.  An hour in a kitchen's slammed dinner rush passes with wild abandon.  An hour cleaning the front, sides and back of a kitchen freezer passes with interminable fatigue.  A morning in an office where there is work to do flies by until reminded that it is lunch by the gnawing of hunger.  A morning in an office meeting passes muster as the fifth ring of Hell.  The amount I am paid "per hour" has as much meaning to me as the number of inches between me and the bathroom when I need to pee; I am barely conscious of rising from my desk as my mind works on a problem, barely conscious of the biological process as I deal with it, barely conscious of pouring out coffee and putting cream and sugar in it - and entirely unconscious of the cream being left in the cupboard next to the sugar until it is pointed out to me an hour later by my partner, who has found it there.  Because my thoughts are all and my thoughts do not adhere to a time clock.

Only three things are relevant where it comes to the amount I am paid to DM per month.  Do I have the time in a 30 day period to raise enough money to pay my bills with a commitment of time that allows me to continue blogging, writing books and working on my game?

How much I am paid per hour is a matter of complete indifference to me.  In no way did running the campaign online ever seem like "work"; time-consuming, yes, but not onerously so, since I was able to complete my assigned tasks and responsibilities, work on my game, spend my money in my off hours and run offline D&D every week.  I only needed to suspend the game for short periods while finishing a large project, such as a book.

As my income became increasingly tenuous, however, my stress level rose; as that climbed, the amount of energy I had to commit to tasks such as creativity-on-demand (the very core of DMing) became increasingly difficult.  Creativity does not rise out of stress; seizure and impotence rise out of stress.  Methodical work, like the making of my maps, which are done on a fixed methodology that do not require innovation (that part was settled long ago) - that rises out of stress, in that by avoiding stress many, many maps get made.  In many ways, my world is far more a product of avoiding stress than it is of choosing to work - except that it is a particular kind of work that knocks stress into a cocked hat more effectively than other time-wasting things like meditation, hiking or macrame.  Just as time-wasting, yes - but more effective.

Practical payment for DMing would have to mean, therefore, an absence of stress.  The surety that my rent will be paid, that food will appear in the refrigerator, that there will be cream to be put in the cupboard absent-mindedly, that there will be toilet paper and money for the internet, that comfort will be assured and so on.  If these needs are met, the fuck the number of hours or what the price is per hour.

Stability does not come cheap.  $13 an hour for 28 hours a week was not bringing me stability - it was making my bills less and assuring that I was still going to be here come the first of June.  I am sick of this first of the month thing being doubtful from month to month.  However, there have been miracles in 2016.  Pure, undeniable miracles.  I am beginning to believe anything is possible.

With these things in mind, it would be best not to look at D&D as a job or as an object that is sold.  For one thing, the participant in the game is also paying for the privilege of their own participation, their own energy, their own fulfillment.  We go to a restaurant for the food, the service and the ambiance - but the conversation and the fulfillment is our own responsibility.  Without the participation of the restaurant-goer, there is no experience . . . and this is something that has to be intrinsically understood in the exchange.

I can run a world but I can't run the players' characters for them.  This is something they must do themselves.  As such, the player doesn't pay ME for the experience, the player pays the charge to enable them to have the experience themselves - just as we pay to carry our gear and living arrangements physically up nine miles of trail when we go to a National Park.  The park ranger is not going to carry that gear for us.  We can pay a guide to carry the gear but in this case, the DM is not the guide.  The DM is the park.  What we do in the park is our problem.

For most players this is inherently understood - but it is entirely forgotten when people step up to evaluate the financial particulars as accountants.  D&D cannot be described as buying gum at the convenience store; it cannot be described as a contractor who comes in to build your kitchen.  I really am saying that the payer is paying for the privilege of sitting in my kitchen - and that is all.  I will serve the food I want, in the time that suits me and the walls will be painted whatever color I say.  If the payer is unhappy with that arrangement, the payer is welcome to seek another kitchen or to see no kitchen at all.  But what can happen in my kitchen is not up for negotiation.

It is acknowledged, however, that I have a pretty sweet kitchen.

Realistically, from the poll, I can see there is the potential to earn something between $600 and $900 a month from between 9-13 participants.  The work load does not worry me.  13 participants is three-four parties, sixteen nights of running a month with additional time to answer questions and build sets for (all of which can be used potentially in future or even sold in the same manner as Ternketh Keep).  The issue is not time; it is that $900 a month does not relieve my stress.  It means still having to work some kind of job, which wants either my mental commitment or my physical exhaustion, meaning that I am wrecked and beat the day after when I have to be interesting, imaginative and compelling on demand.  This was easy when I worked at the office.  My income was very comfortable, the expectation was clear and manageable, the work was physically minimal and I felt great upon coming home each day.  Coming home from the kitchen is exhaustion, painkiller, cleaning of filth, sleeplessness from torn ligaments and joints, management of injury and the general destruction of a 51-year-old body.  It has been high maintenance for a miserably paid job.

It isn't enough.  That's the key.  All the measurements per hour or practicalities of time don't matter because I cannot commit to solving those problems exclusive to other shit that will make this intellectually and effectively viable.  Ten people at $150 a month; Twelve people at $125 a month; those are realistic numbers.  Two parties of five or three parties of four.

Those people who worry that this would make a 'living wage' but not a 'successful wage' should realize that if the result were positive enough, the bidding war for those twelve slots would be inevitable.  Right now the bidding is $50 to $75, however.  While I am thrilled to find out there IS a bid (who knew?), it isn't enough to pay this prostitute.

I love you people.  You're amazing.  I am pleased to be able to tell you to keep your money, keep working at your games and thank-you for the offers.  Right now, I'm better off figuring out something else you'd be willing to pay for, something else that would be worth your while that wouldn't fall under anyone's ethical radar or promote feelings of elitism.

I'm certainly open to ideas.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Market Towns

Regarding the trade table system, I was asked by Maxwell to discuss my use of "market towns" - what is the difference between those and non-market towns, how are things bought in a market town and if I conglomerate resources from other towns together.  I thought it best to write this as a post rather than a comment, as then I can stretch my legs a bit on the subject.

When I first began accumulating references from the encyclopedia I use, I soon found many, many references to towns that were markets for the surrounding country, commercial centers, important ports and so on.  Any reference that I found like this I noted along with all the iron, cattle, wool cloth and whatever else I found, as a service called "market."  As expected, I didn't find a market reference for every habitation - but I tended to find them for every significant city in my world.  For some places, such as Antwerp, Hamburg, Barcelona and so on, I found references to their market significance over and over again, in some cases mentioned as often as 17 or 18 times.  Like every other reference in my system, each time that a place was connected to a particular good or service, including markets, that counted as one reference.  Sometimes, a given article in the book would mention the same product twice or three times - each time it appeared in a different sentence, I noted it as a separate reference.

Unlike the map of Pon that I created to discuss the trade system, my world has many, many places that not only are not counted as a market, do not technically have any trade references at all (the encyclopedia didn't refer to them by name).  Just look at this one small part of France and Belgium:

Scene of WWI
On the map, places that have a circle within a cross are 'market towns': Laon, Noyon, Cambrai, Amiens, Lille (partly cut off, right at the top left of centre).

Some of these places have references that are not markets: Lens makes canvas, linen, grows hemp and mines coal; Guise makes bronze, smelts copper and iron and manufactures tools; Arras grinds flours, weaves carpets and tapestries, distills lamp oil and smiths metal; Compiegne makes cloth, rope, ship's rigging (though it is nowhere near the sea), builds boats (it is on the Oise River, a navigable connection with the Seine), makes terra cotta and raises racehorses.  All of these are details I found in the encyclopedia.

Most of these towns have no references: Encre, Denain, Formies, Vervins, Gilly, St.-Pol-sur-Ternois and so on.  In my conception, this doesn't mean these places don't have an economy - it is only that, given a 17th century, backward world, that economy does not affect the world in a larger sense. The people of Bohain-en-Vermandais pick from their orchards, they collect the wool from their sheep, they gather medicinal herbs, they make ceramics - but there is no trade for these things in Bohain itself, because the town is simply too backward to have an established merchant class.

Oh, but how do I know that the people of Bohain do those precise things?  Ah, because Bohain is in the Laon "zone" - and I do have references for the region surrounding Laon, if not the specific towns in that region.  Thus to some degree every center in the Laon zone has orchards, sheep, a herbal culture and ceramic making; and these things are taken by individuals into the market of Laon, where the guild receives their goods and licenses those specific people to make those specific things.  Laon then trades these things with Cambrai and Amiens, as well as every other market town in my world.

It would be the height of impracticality for me to try to make every town in my world a 'market' town.  Just look at the math required to handle the small bit of the world shown - compare that to my whole world, that has more than 10,000 villages, towns and cities.  I don't have that kind of time.

But suppose the party does find itself in Bohain?  What can the party buy?

It is tempting to say they can buy ceramics or medicinal herbs.  However, these things are carefully controlled by the local guilds and there is a strong feeling that the best thing to do is to sell these things in Laon - not only for the coin, but also for the relationship between the seller and the buyer.  If I sell my pots to you, an adventurer, that's all very well - one time only.  But then I'm going to have to explain that sale to my usual buyer, who buys my pots every season, who is now out a profit because I shortchanged him on my usual supply.  We see these things as quite ordinary in the modern world - but back then, when supply was carefully managed and the world was very, very small (in terms of one's relationships), this would be a potential threat to one's permanent position in the community.

Am I saying the players can't buy anything in Bohain? No. I've made a provision. I mentioned this just a few months ago.  In non-market towns, players will be able to find goods (when available) at the stockyards, the mason, the innkeeper, the chandler's and the carpenter's. This includes the town market as well:

Has to be opened in a new tab in order to be read easily.

Players can buy local artwork, land, fruits, vegetables, grains, greasy wool - very common things that might be for sale anywhere.  Though it must be noted that, according to common laws at the time, goods were for sale only on expressly permitted days of the week.  Often, in Europe, this was Sunday, because people weren't working in the field and were in the village to attend church; it was also a good opportunity for the church to sell some things of its own (Jesus chucked the money-changers from the temple but they went back).  Sometimes things were for sale only on festival days - though this was really a 13th-15th century thing, largely replaced by the time of my world.  If we go back even earlier, the 12th century and before, goods were never for sale in a place like Bohain.  The village wouldn't have made any of the things that I've described because the education for making things hadn't spread outside the very big cities.  Three or four centuries before that, Bohain was little more than a wide place in the road (it was founded around 691 AD), where the dwellers were living on subsistence agriculture and probably did not even possess what we would think of as a "lord" - more like a tribal chief.

Food that is grown and then stored locally in a subsistence culture is never sold to anyone - that's just a guarantee that you'll starve to death during the next drought.  Thus if you're running a world that is more backward than mine (which has a very establishing world-trading culture, permitting bulk food to be brought in to stave off hunger on a nation-wide scale), you might want to make rules for how large a town has to be before the inhabitants are willing to sell food.

Have a look at the places that fit into the Laon zone:

Now compare this with the references (or sources) that I use for Laon, garnered from the encyclopedia:

I color code these for ease of identification: lime green is foodstuffs, or manufactured food, blue is textiles, purple is alchemy, gray is materials, red is metalwork, bright green is fruits, nuts and vegetables, tan is livestock.  In all, 94,552 residents and 25 total references.  Saint-Quentin is as large as Laon but it isn't a market town - even though it produces nearly half the goods of the zone.  How does that work?

Easy.  Saint-Quentin is a religious center.  Something that readers must get out of their heads is the 'logic' of their own century: people from another age thought very differently.  All those textile products, all that sugar refining, a third of the metal industry?  All done by monks in monasteries, making up the vast balance of the goods made in the zone.  Laon isn't the market town because it happens to make the most stuff: it is the market town because it has good access to Alsace (to the east, not shown on the map) and ultimately to Italy, it is a big town, apparently it doesn't do anything BUT market goods and it isn't Saint-Quentin.  The bishop will designate the market wherever the bishop damn well pleases.  Can the players buy goods in Saint-Quentin?  Probably not - unless they have some relationship with the monks, which might be possible IF the party cleric is the same religion and has gained some respect among his peers.  I have noticed that my players' clerics tend to be anything except Catholic (they favor Celtic, for the most part); chances are they'll have to hoof it to Laon.  I did have one player that choose a Catholic priest - Andrej, in the online campaign - and the campaign tended to play out to his and the party's benefit because of it.

The various goods, then, are collected in one market place because of the encyclopedia and because it makes the system easier - but ALSO because it creates that ever-important scarcity I am always going on about.  The players must go to Laon; they must wait until the next time the market is open; no, they can't buy this thing they are looking at because it is promised to someone else - and so on.  Scarcity creates adventure.  The party decides that if they can't buy it, they'll steal it.  The party decides not to wait for next Sunday, but to do without because they want to go now - or they have to go now because they are on the clock and the girl will die if they don't get there before Friday.  The party would rather not walk five miles to Laon right now, but if they have to, they have to - and if something happens on the road, then it does.

Scarcity makes adventure.  Ease of access destroys adventure.  First rule of the trade system.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

500 Million Years Old

Look what I found in Mauritania:

Called the Guelb er Richat, or the Richat Structure

It's an elliptical dome in the western Sahara Desert, also called the Eye of the Sahara.  What a fantastic name (occurs to me that it is straight out of H.P. Lovecraft).  It's about 40 km in diameter - and apparently, not an impact crater.  Geologists believe that it's a magmatic extrusion.

I was just goofing around, half-working on the Sahara desert south of Morocco when I should actually be working on my book.  Ah, well, artists need to rest once in awhile.

Equipment Notes

Going forward, I can tell I'm going to need more space to explain and identify the rules behind a number of equipment pieces I include in my game - particularly those associated with herbal medicine and the apothecary.  I've never functionally sat down to fix the rules behind these things, except by general agreement, but it seems to me that the best way to do so would be to make it a part of the wiki.

Thus I've created this page as an index.  There's not much there just now, just three things; but I will update it continuously over the next few weeks as I work on fixing the general equipment table.  I can see this list expanding into a very large list.

Expand, Keep it Free, Request

For those who may be considering pledging to my patreon, today is the last day if the reader wants to see any publisher maps or trade content before June 1st.  As promised to those whom I've contacted, the main content on the prices table has been created: more or less, with a few exceptions of things that may occur to me in future, I've made a complete transfer from my old document regarding the material costs for things.  In terms of the trade system, this means the price of the thing that something is made out of: not the price of a gold necklace, but the price of the gold used to make said necklace.  This has taken me a couple of months.

Going forward, there is only left to calculate the prices of the goods themselves.  Unfortunately, I have some 950 goods to add . . . but so it goes.  I estimate that there are something like 2,000 calculations on the materials tab.  It isn't that I like to go big with these things.  I'm trying to account for every object that anyone could ever want to buy: not only the things I've invented but all the things that I imaginably might invent one day, most often on request from someone in my game.  This is a monumental task, particularly when one considers that I'm not limited to real objects - there is room in the system to calculate everything imaginary, as well.

Yesterday I was told by Chris, a well-meaning fan that I should expand the wiki, keep it free and accessible to all and allow patrons to request content.  Good advice.  For those who might be wondering, I have no plans to make the wiki into a pay site.  I think the greatest mistake that I see every artist around me making is the desire to turn everything into cash.  I know that of late I've been pushing hard across the board - circumstances have been forcing my hand.  However, I rush to point out that I haven't diminished any of the content that I have always supplied for free.

Admittedly, this blog has suffered from a number of time-oriented obstructions.  I talk too much about money, I talk too much about the jumpstarter and patreon, when I do get around to writing about D&D it is all opinion and without rule systems . . . it isn't the bygone days when I was writing tons of opinion and proposing rule systems that sometimes made it onto the blog.  When I compare to other blogs, however, which seem to be full of opinions and chatter about books written by other people, game cons and deconstructing endless disconnected info details because it is 'interesting' - but lacking in any gaming adaptations - I feel I'm not doing too bad.  Yes, I know, it's another disappointment when Alexis bitches about his life and does not advance something really practical like eight posts on how to start a campaign or get characters all moving in the same direction, but please have faith: tomorrow, I may get my crap together and post some of that.

Straight up, there's nothing a blogger likes more than a reader (and patron!) requests content.  Content is the hardest thing to come up with on a blog.  I write a surprising number of posts based on someone poking me in the ribs: told to watch something on youtube, asked if I really mean Shakespeare, challenged on my wisdom, pushed into detailing something about a system I'm writing and so on.  This blog is, for those who haven't caught on yet, wholly interactive.  If I'm not writing enough about things the reader cares about, the reader has only his or herself to blame.  Between the book and the pricing table, along with trying to make my way in the dumbfuck world, I'm pretty distracted here - requesting content is the very best way to get me on a page we can both consider.

I am going to keep thinking of things that people would think are worth paying for.  I'm sure more than a few people wondered why I didn't announce upon losing my job that I was going to start charging for D&D games.  Fact is, this would be a very bad time for that and it isn't something that should be rushed into.  It's a big step and it requires consideration, planning and commitment, something I can't do as long as I'm invested in the Fifth Man (book I'm writing - have you heard?).  I don't want to do anything half-baked, ever.  I'll launch that and anything else I can think of when its ready - and in the meantime, I'll be thinking over services that are worth launching.

Rest assured, however, that none of those things are going to be services I'm providing for free - like the podcast or the wiki.  If anything, when I have the time and the wherewithal, those are things I'm going to keep expanding, hopefully forever.  I know I can get the hang of this podcast thing if I can just do it enough to get a proper feel for it.  I'm not happy with any of the content so far: it seems scattered and too casual to me - yet I know instinctively that is part of its appeal.  I don't know yet what a 'right' podcast will sound like . . . but I didnt' know what a right blogpost would sound like 8 years ago or what a right campaign session would sound like in 1980.  We learn these things from experience.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Bending Sand

I have no pretensions that there is anything remarkable about the castle I'm building.  I'm about 15 here; it would be the summer of 1979, so somewhere between one and three months before the first time I played D&D.  See?  I've always possessed the creative spirit.

I vaguely remember this.  The location is Sylvan Lake, so I'm working with unsticky lake sand; I've dug the moat surrounding the castle to make a center as big as I could make it; as I remember, without any tools except my hands - and of course in one afternoon.  Here's a shot from before I had to abandon it:

Complete with mystified onlooker.

Found these pictures today while hunting around through old books and papers.  I post it because these things seem so important at the time when we dedicate ourselves to them - it reminds me that the thing we lose as we get older is that sense of imposing our will upon our environment.  There are always those who lose that 'youth' almost immediately; "What is the sense?" they think.  Having given that up, they carry on all their lives, preaching obedience and more importantly the benefits of obedience.  Obey and reap the reward.  That's how the song goes.

I treasure dearly that image above of my head down, covered with sand, working.  Not at what other people think I should be working at; not at something useful or even something that will last.  Just the pure mind bending sand to its purpose for as long as it has the opportunity.

This makes me want to make maps.  Instead, I'll write.  But it's all the same thing.

Critical Role

One of my players has encouraged me to watch a series of youtube videos created by the group Critical Role.  This is a tremendously popular skype group that features a DM and seven players who characterize themselves as voice actors - and there's evidence in that they have some game there.  The campaign has a heavy emphasis on role-playing, with each participant pushing hard to play 'in character' and relate to each other and the DM's many characters.

I have made my way through a full episode and I'm just starting a second.  As online games go, it isn't a train-wreck.  The participation is far from the painful public abortions recorded at events by the WOTC.  That said, I'm still viewing the content as homework rather than interest.

It is the sort of thing that convinces me that attempts to film or reproduce my own games would be a bad, bad idea.  I can't imagine I would be any better than what's shown here.  I really hate the endless mugging for the camera by the various players that goes on for hour after hour, as well as the constant, exhausting grinning that never seems to end when players and DM are on film.  It reminds me of amateur theatre productions where the director did not have enough control - or where there was no director, by group agreement.  Public performance needs someone to stand off stage or off camera and scream, "Energy!  Focus!  Stop fucking grinning!"

I'm sure I'm the only person this bothers.

Another thing that is eerie to me is the lack of attention to the character page.  My campaign is much more of a 'game' - with players highly focused on their character limitations, options, improvements and so on.  It is rare that there isn't a combat in my game that doesn't include moments of a player staring hard at their character sheet looking for a way to overcome the issue at hand through game mechanics.  This game goes on for an hour at a time without anyone needing to do more than ask the DM's NPC for clarification - which usually means moving forward to the next NPC to ask again for more clarification.  The interaction is filled with completely superfluous actions and content, followed by clever description by the DM that compliments said superfluous action, drawing the most meaningless act into minutes of irrelevant interaction and participation.

There are other features of gaming that I know have nothing whatsoever to do with these people.  For example, players roll dice at random to 'find things' without asking if the die roll is relevant.  This would simply never happen in my world.  The player would ask, "Can I find/get/see . . ." etcetera and IF a die roll would help in that situation, I would answer, "Roll this die to find out."  Otherwise I would simply say yes or no - because most things are NOT random.

Attacks occur without detection of surprise or initiative; the players approach a stranger and BANG, lightning, everyone take 14 damage, no there's no saving throw to avoid this - and let me explain how you're all blown fifteen feet back and off your feet.  The players move to take an action and the DM says, "It has no effect;" and no player says, "What the hell?"  Damage occurs and the response received is the height of banality.

Moment-to-moment action is uncompromisingly micromanaged.  The unseen servant can't just be created and assumed to perform the action required: instead, the servant must be cast with a flush of performance by the character, followed by a lengthy description of the unseen servant coming into being, followed by the character telling the unseen servant what to do, followed by a description of the unseen servant following the order - and omg, please just slash my fucking wrists now.

I know people like this.  It thrills them to death to create every dialogue and to live their actions in real time.  Listening to it, I find myself drifting from minute to minute, until I'm hopelessly disconnected from whatever the hell is going on.  It seems to me that they're on some sort of lawn, they were going to go into a dungeon that never seems to appear, then there's another gate to be opened, now they're standing outside a door, then they don't seem to go there, there's some sort of large tower, oh wait, the dwarf is now answering the door to a dwarven house, now they're talking to some woman; wait, now it's a man - what the fuck is going on?

As I wrap up this post, they've gone to buy some stuff at what seems to be a sort of D&D supermarket (it has everything) - and this too needs a ton of description, characters, dialogue and backstory.  My players at this point would be hunched, obsessed, over long equipment tables parsing through their personal needs and checking the availability and prices of things they have trouble finding - the point being to ready themselves and get on with the adventure.

My world, my game, my players are very, very different from this.  This seems boring.  Agonizingly boring.  If I were playing I'd be sitting to one side, arms crossed, scowling, wondering when something was going to, well, happen.  I'd be thinking, what excuse can I make up right now that will let me leave and never come back?  Because gawd knows, I'd find something more interesting to do than this.

That's why I don't ache to record my gameplay.  What must my gameplay look like to others?  How boring would it seem to them?  How annoying would the grinning be.  How annoyed would they be that I didn't invent clever dialogue and descriptions, down to the tables upon which the trade goods sit, when they went to buy things?

Pretty annoyed, I'd guess.  Pretty bored, I'd guess.