Monday, February 29, 2016

Combat Summary

Because I was asked about a summary for Saturday night's adventure in Ternketh Keep, I thought it might be fun to post the experience tally board for the last combat I ran that night.  Below is an account sheet in excel that I use in every combat, to keep track of how much damage people have caused and how much damage they have taken.  During the actual game my accounting is double-checked by the party, who can see the board on the duplicated monitor readout that I use for my games, so that if I forget to add something to their damage caused or their damage taken, they can remind me.


 The list includes all the members of the party, listed in order of how fast they move and react in combat (highest dexterity first, highest wisdom breaking dexterity ties, highest constitution breaking wisdom ties).  Share of bonus experience is awarded according to importance and decision-making among the party members.  Main characters have a 1.00 share; henchmen have a 0.5 share; henchmen of henchmen have a 0.25 share; and followers that are leveled have a 0.125 share (which appears as 0.13 on the display).  The "In?" column indicates whether or not the member of the party took part in the actual combat (made an attack or was attacked at some point, regardless of attack success).

My experience distribution rules (calculated by the spreadsheet) are explained on the wiki.

I'm sorry I can't say what the combat was against.  It was a single encounter detailed in the module, Ternketh Keep, available through my Jumpstarter Proposal.

I told Oddbit that the total damage the party did was equal to 297; the adjustment shown on the table above shows 251.9.  That is because magic damage is accounted as equal to 3/10ths weapon damage for experience purposes.  The party mage cast magic missile and burning hands (wanting to reserve other combat spells for later combats).

Total experience (adding 10%) amounted to 11,057.  Without the 10% bonus, 10,279.  As can be seen, some participants do not get a 10% bonus.

Classes are as follows (for participants only):

  • Taver is a 2nd level illusionist
  • Vlad is a 2nd level ranger
  • Olie is an 8th level thief
  • Demifee is a 6th level mage
  • Sunsky is a 1st level fighter
  • Holly is a 4th level fighter
  • Perkin is a 3rd level fighter
  • Sharper is a 7th level fighter
  • Woodsole is a 5th level druid
  • Fehim is a 2nd level fighter
  • Sven is a 5th level cleric


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Critical Hits, Fumbles & Friendly Fire

If someone would like to read my official rules on critical hits, fumbles and friendly fire, see this page.

There's always something unaccounted for.  It occurs to me that some sort of rule should be made regarding the final location of thrown weapons - I've never had good rules for this and I should make some.  It's not an easy fix, however.  Usually, I just play that the missed weapons are "somewhere" in the line of fire, typically thrown past the target.  Hmf.  I've not had a player complain, but a good rule for it would be better.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Head-Game

Just waiting for the first people to show up so we can play our game tonight.  Starting right off with a fairly meaty monster; party is already hurting somewhat for hit points, so this is going to be particularly nasty (potential for 40 hp damage if a save isn't made).  Sorry I can't say what the monster is; it's part of Ternketh Keep, part of my crowdfunding proposal.

It could kill someone.  That's the point.

In my game, that's a lot of tension.  The players got sight of the thing at the end of last running, two weeks ago, so they're bound to be ill at ease as they come in tonight; I know that my partner has been on tenterhooks for the last few days, worried that she's going to lose her 4th level henchwoman fighter, Holly.  I don't think she will - they've got plenty of healing, poison antidote and both slow poison and death's door as spells if it comes to that.  Still, I want the party to worry - so as they come in, I'll wait for just the right moment to express sorrowfully, with concern, "I hope I don't kill someone tonight."

The key is to say it with honest regret; to sell the moment as something that I, as DM, have legitimate reason to be anxious about it.  Moreover, the moment it is said IS very important; not as the party has just come in, or as they're working themselves up . . . but in that sweet-spot moment when it is plain they're gathering their courage.  When is that?  Well, one has to get a feel for these things.

See, they're going to mention it themselves; they're going to mention it to each other; they'll need to, because that is a part of building each other up.  It is like the chatter that goes on before the start of a football game, sometimes between plays.  This is not the moment; the moment is when this crests.

We must listen when our players talk to each other (if they're not talking to each other about the game, you have party troubles).  We want to hear what they say.  We won't get into their heads if we don't.

Peace of Mind

Some of my readers might remember that in the midst of all this fundraising, I'm actually running the very same 'module' that I'm using as a donation reward.  The players coming tonight to play don't know what's in the module and they're honest enough that they don't want to know.  Even my partner, who lives with me and has held my hand through this past month, doesn't know what the adventure contains.  So just give that a moment's thought; many of my readers know something that the woman I love doesn't.

This is the first time that I have painstakingly written out an adventure since the 1980s.  Like most other young players back in the day, I too thought it needed to be done the way that it was in The Village of Hommlet and Keep on the Borderlands.  As I steadily churned out my own adventures, however, session after session, year after year, I looked for shortcuts.  I stopped writing down things like how many hit points everything had or precisely what treasure was in each room.  These were things I could work out later, on the day of, a few hours before a session, while the players were high-fiving each other and so on.  Slowly, I realized it was just as easy to draw out the game map on a battle mat (when I used to play with miniatures) from memory rather than having it pre-made up.  It was better to add the rooms one at a time; then what was behind each door was a mystery until I drew it onto the map.  It only took a moment to draw lines, after all.

Then, with practice, I stopped writing out room 'descriptions.'  I knew what was in the room, I could 'write' it up with my words as easily during the game when the time came, so I stopped wasting time writing this stuff down ahead of when the game actually happened.

Finally, after decades, I just stopped all preparations completely.  Now and then I would draw out something complex if there was a battle coming - a fort, a kobald nest, a stable, whatever (just look at that horrid art from just five years ago - who was that artist?).

This is where I had gone.  Me, write out a traditional adventure in the form of a module?  No, I'd stopped doing that.  Why bother?

But the improvement in the artistic quality of my representations of people and things has been steadily changing me this last year.  More and more I've wanted to spend time to give the players a better representation of themselves.  Your character has a +2 Trident of Warning?  Let's try to depict that.  Your character is over sixty with grey hair - and has a silver wolf skin - and minimum armor?  I'm game, let's make that happen.  That arm isn't thick enough?  Your hair is receding?  Well, I'm not a great artist, but I can do my best.  And so we get the image on the right, which was done while the player was watching me draw his character.

I began thinking that it might not be a bad idea to put a little more effort into the setting, too.  Design some rooms that look more like rooms where places lived.  Design some monsters that look scary or at least off-putting.

Then, beginning this online crowd-sourcing campaign meant actually writing out room descriptions, like I did back in my early days of play.  So just now, as I write this, everything that I'm going to be running tonight is completely designed.  I don't have to do anything.

It is strangely . . . comforting.  I don't have to keep things in my mind; I don't have to make last minute preparations.  Tonight, I won't have to draw any rooms or invent any room descriptions off the top of my head.

Weird.

Acting as a DM is a fluid process of learning and changing and altering one's approach to this game.  There's never a single, unfailing approach.  We adjust ourselves, learn new skills, adapt, improve and then find ourselves reworking our worlds in ways that we never thought of - or even in ways we once did.

I can't figure out why anyone supposes I know the "one right way" to play this game.  I don't even approach it exactly the way I did five years ago.

Maybe five years from now I'll have reason to write another book explaining how to run.






Friday, February 26, 2016

Believe in Your Country; This Will Pass

This is not an indictment of the American political system.  Rather, I'd like to remind my American friends of a few realities that might bring them a little comfort in the face of Donald Trump.

There are considerable concerns with the present Republican race; for example, poll-workers during the Nevada  caucus wearing Trump gear and other voting problems, which suggests a far greater breakage in the system than the candidate's popularity.  I saw several examples on tweets and other media during the campaign, while real time discussion of the phenomenon was in play.  Personally, I feel that this, as well as the Republican party's inability to set their own agenda or control its candidates, is a sign of the party's imminent collapse.

Parties have collapsed before - in American history as well as in every other democracy.  Parties are not the system; they are a method by which a given political agenda tries to play the system.  Right now, the GOP is playing that system very, very badly - and it is no surprise, given their tactics of the last ten years: attempts to defund the government, oppose majority rule, discount any respect for the presidency, the will to peace-driven foreign policy and now the staunch refusal to recognize their responsibility in naming a new Supreme Court Justice.  As issue after issue has arisen in front of the Republicans, they have handled it poorly, particularly in terms of their own base.  As posited by this source,

". . . this time, a lot of Republican voters feel that the GOP establishment really treats them like suckers. Once in office they forget all about their promises to ban abortion and push gays back into the closet. Then they pass trade deals that ship jobs overseas and try to privatize Social Security and cut taxes for the rich. These aren't policies blue-collar Republicans want at all. This year they have had enough and have found a champion, albeit a strange one in a thrice-married, four-times-bankrupt, New York real estate billionaire."

The decision of the base to support Trump is nothing more than the Republican base sending a message to their own party: "You don't believe what we believe."  At this time, a substantial core of the American people do not believe that the election is important.  They believe that this message is important.  They would rather say what they believe than win an election.  This is a clear sign that the GOP establishment has failed in their mandate.

I have heard many express concerns that Trump will be the candidate.  Americans have asked me how much property costs in Canada.  This is a joke, of course - but there are many who can identify with the need to make this joke.

But I don't see anything to worry about.  Of course, I think Trump will lose the general election.  I can't imagine that the America that would not vote Romney into a majority four years ago would now find Trump a viable alternative - but let's say that I'm wrong.  I might be wrong.  Strange things happen in an election.  Suppose for a moment that Trump wins and becomes the President of the United States.

Even as a "Republican" president he would be in contention with a Senate or House rules by his own party.  Trump won't follow orders, which is what the Republican party wants - so that will make him no more useful to the Hill than a Democratic president would be.  Just as there has been a deadlock in place these last four years, where the only available air has come through decisions made the Supreme Court, that deadlock would continue - only now, between a recalcitrant ideologue and a hateful Legislative Branch.  And if, by some miracle, the Democrats were to take back the Senate or re-establish themselves in the House, the situation would be the same.  Whomever has to deal with Trump will find themselves having to manage a child in the White House.

The real damage won't be domestic - this deadlock will simply continue, as it has already existed these past six years.  The real damage will be in America's foreign reputation - which will be long-lasting and harsh; but I don't see the appearance of a Trump in the White House being any worse than most of the acts America has performed these past 15 years.  I think people will try to paint it as more horrible . . . but I don't believe that anyone outside the American Press finds this race to be the least bit surprising.

I don't believe the Press does either.  They're doing their jobs.  All elections must be refashioned into horse races, no matter what the circumstances.  All foregone conclusions must be sold as 'surprises,' all expected results must be termed in the after-analysis as 'unexpected' and all candidates must be depicted as 100% viable until it becomes impossible to paint them that way.  And I do mean impossible; someone, somewhere in America, still believes that Ben Carson could become President this year - and he might, given the probability of a brokered convention this year.  Until that brokered convention happens or Carson officially drops out of the race, someone, somewhere, will write another story that feeds Carson's supporters with the belief that he might win - because Journalism is about selling possibility and fantasy, just like palm readers do.

If someone fails to grasp that I just called journalists a bunch of lying, carny-show charlatans, I'll make that a little clearer:  everything that you see and read in the media about this election is complete horseshit.  The only thing that counts are the numbers that have happened - not polls or opinions or projections.

I think it's easy to understand how Trump supporters find Trump appealing.  He doesn't look like a politician.  He looks like a businessman.

Of course he's a lying racist.  Of course he's an idiot.  Of course he is completely self-centered and completely without any concern for any other human being.  But given the agenda of the Republican pundit these past twenty years, through the words of Beck, Limbaugh, Palin and endless others, which has engendered blue-blazing hatred for anyone who has put forth any opinion of any kind, the base has learned to stop listening to what people say. They can't hear Trump, except the way dogs hear humans - tone matters a million times more than message.  They can't see Trump's hair; they're seeing Trump's shoulders and casual way of walking, his ease, his apparent non-threatening posture.

This interpretation is incomprehensible to anyone with an education - i.e., people who can read, express themselves, evaluate facts and data, etc.  But it makes perfect sense where it comes to people who have become so calcified in the American message that they can no longer relate to any idea that suggests the future of America is based upon what people do or decide.  America is an unchanging truth.  It can never be challenged, it can never fail, it can never be anything but what it is:

Perfect.

That's not an admonition against Americans.  That's a description of a particular kind of American.  A kind that has to be made to see that they're wrong about their country; beauty depends on someone coming 'round once in awhile and picking up the garbage.



Pardon Me; It's a Fairly Long Process and Requires a Considerable Patience and Resolve to See the Matter Through To Its Conclusion

Earlier this evening I was taken to task by a reader for inadequately marketing my crowd sourcing proposal.  It was explained that I have wrongly selected the reward levels for the materials I've created and that I should realize that "a campaign of this sort is a tool that provides value beyond simple fundraising."  To this was added the point that I should not view this as "something that is entirely in the favor of one part or the other."

Finally, I was told that my work is salable - if, by some possibility, I could find a way to market it.

Such advice baffles me.  I am selling my work.  How to Run has been available for purchase for 19 months now and to date has earned me, through sales online, at expos and through box stores such as Chapters/Indigo in Calgary, $8000.  In addition, I have published three other books in the recent 36 months and am working on the second draft of a 5th book right now.  I have found a way to market these books: through Lulu, Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble; in both paperback and ebook form.  In the last 28 days I have sold 17 books of various titles; this is better than a book every two days, despite the fact that the most recent book was published 11 months ago.  Every book that I have on any of these websites has a rating of either 4 or 5 stars.

Since starting this blog, I have advanced effort after effort to promote and sell myself as a writer and as a game designer.  I have never for a moment imagined that anyone who made any sort of purchase with me wasn't exchanging what they had for what I had.  I certainly never felt that they nor I were getting the better end of the deal - nor have I ever had anyone suggest this was the case.

As a writer, for nearly all of my life, I chased the dream of having some publisher recognize my work as deserving of being published.  Towards this end I have mailed and mailed and mailed envelopes with chapters, outlines, proposals and whole books, waiting for the day when magically some publisher or agent, would pick up a piece of my work and, like in all the movies, express their joy at seeing something of mine.  "Why, my lad, of course we'll publish you!  Here's a $20,000 cheque!  Stop working, get us that book and we'll put it on every shelf in America!"

(no Canadian imagines that every shelf in Canada means anything).

While waiting for this momentous moment I wrote articles for magazines and received dismal, laughable compensation.  When competitions for writing plays and short stories came out, I wrote for these and would sometimes receive a nice, handwritten letter telling me I had won third prize and no money.  When I went to the University of Calgary I wrote for the Gauntlet, the paper there with a circulation of 10-12,000, started quite a few letter writing wars and got to the point where on the first day of class a professor would recognize my name from the paper and either praise me or grumble - but still, no money.

In the 90s, when 'Zines became the rage, a friend and I started a Zine, sold advertising, published the thing entirely with our own skills (learned from the Guantlet) and turned a profit; not enough of a profit to live on, but a profit.  Still, when my partner decided it wasn't worth the slim profit, and quit, I started another Zine, on my own, sold advertising for it myself and turned a profit.  But, again, that was doomed to failure when a combination of losing my job and breaking my arm and having money stolen from me ended in going broke.

So I began writing for the stage.  I put together plays.  I edited the work of other stage writers and made a little money.  I sold more work as a freelance author.  Then I got my big break!  I got a regular paying freelance gig for a real estate magazine that earned me the incredible sum of $300 a month.  Then I got a job with a business newspaper that would pay me $25 an hour for acting as Head of Research and then Head of Circulation, a place where I was appreciated and supported and was surrounded by other writers . . .

And then 2008/09 happened; advertising dried up during the great newspaper plunge; and it turned out the business manager was stealing $40K a year from the paper's coffers; the owners lost all they owned; I lost my job; and I went back to writing.

Then I got a great gig with a video-on-demand service and that lasted until . . . last year.  When another recession hit and it has been a bloody miserable crapfest since.  And not just for me.

Despite all this, I consider myself a success.  Yes, dear readers, I know I've had to be a hypocrite with the module and all (though I dare anyone to find another module anywhere available on a digital, piratable format).  Yes, I know I've had to get on my knees and try to make something happen more quickly than I would have preferred.  Yes, people have every right to feel that I've gone against my principles and sold out.

Whatever happens to me, I will still be a writer.  In my youth, every teacher and authority would tell me, "The chances of being a successful writer are a thousand-to-one!"  This was intended to dissuade me.  This was intended to make me give up writing and apply myself to something else.  Instead, I've decided to keep at it and keep at it until the odds have steadily lowered; to a hundred-to-one; to forty-to-one; to ten-to-one.  So it goes.

Rest assured, I am marketing my work.  Not every writer in the world makes it the way writers always do in the movies.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

At Least It Runs

In discussing weapon damage on a recent post, I asked readers to offer advice that addressed a question without 'fuzzy' explanations and without ideas that would change any existing rule in the game.  The result?  A fluid, imaginative conversation where several persons made quite reasonable and proactive suggestions.

I haven't decided precisely what to do in the matter discussed; probably, I will create a weight threshold for changes in character mass so that below that threshold, weapons cause 'ordinary' damage and that above that threshold, weapon damage increases.  I haven't decided what the threshold will be; I may make up my mind to let characters not enlarged by the spell that started the conversation, but who are yet above the threshold, to enjoy a moderate advantage in weapon damage done.  Since this is likely to affect only humans and half-orcs (since an unusually high random number would be needed to beat the weight threshold, likely beyond what any of the smaller demi-humans would manage, including the dwarf), it would serve as a bit more of a balance for those races over elves, half-elves and so on.  Recently, in one of my games, it became evident that in a player party of 11 player characters and henchmen, only one character was racially human.  This tells me that the benefits for being non-human are perceived as immoderately high in my game; a lightweight adjustment to weapon damage for big humans might have a good balancing effect (even if it means the benefit isn't guaranteed).

For now, I'd like to write a bit upon the default position of many gamers who see changing rules surrounding parts of the game completely as the best possible option.

I don't feel this can be discussed enough.  New Rules do not change the way in which a phenomenon or machine works or functions.  It is the pity of so many individuals - many with real power or resources - that the contrary persists as a dogma.  When we change the old rules to solve a problem, we only create more problems.  Adjust weapon damage so that larger races will do more damage and slowly every player will drift towards those races - while feeling unfairly induced to do so, they will bitch and complain in our campaigns that they no longer enjoy the benefits that smaller races once offered.  Result: simply a different, yet equally unhappy situation.

Change anything about the present system because players are unhappy and they will soon find something about the change that makes them unhappy.  This is called behaviour.  Players, being human beings, will always appreciate every benefit and they will always chafe against any detraction.  What is truly interesting about this truism is how varied and profoundly complex are the 'detractions' that humans are able to chafe against.

For example - the obvious example - if we set ourselves to remove everything that a player might chafe about regarding their character; if we make every character powerful, if we make every character perfectly adjustable, if we make every character the fantasy of the player . . . the player will chafe against the lack of things to chafe against.  It is the hedonistic principle: too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

The solution is to stop fixing for that reason.  Stop fixing from clinging to any supposition that the changes being made to rules or die rolls or what hits and what doesn't or for how much and how often and so on will 'improve' anything about your game.  They won't.  For a very brief period - one session, perhaps - they will give the illusion of improvement, but soon after the illusion will evaporate.  Call it the illusion of 'newness.'  Anything 'new' looks good for the space of a day.  We may love a new car because there are features we can enjoy and appreciate that perhaps didn't exist in our old vehicle; but it takes very little time to notice something annoying.  Soon we are resenting the size or placement of the cup holder or the lack of pick-up the engine has in cold weather or some other relatively minor annoyance - because complicated things in our lives always have a minor annoyance about them because they are complicated.  We're only happy if the new annoyances are slightly less than the old annoyances; we're only happy if the new car is a vast improvement over the old car.  The joy of replacing a $40K vehicle with another $40K vehicle lasts only as long as the smell does.

Yet every blog in the blogosphere goes on and on about this week's change to the rule system that has occurred to the blog writer last week.  Not a change in the writer's attitude towards their world or what they intend to let their players do or how they've decided to better sell the existing system; but a complete overhaul.  Spells are now obtained thusly; only this many spells are available; these spells are no longer available; all spells are available only if the caster has jumped through these completely new and different hoops I have just invented.  And so on.

I very rarely - it does happen - see someone writing about a rules system they implemented last year that is still in place.  Yet when it is discussed - very rarely - it is always with an eye to the dissatisfaction that still exists in the campaign.  "The players are getting used to it but, well, I don't know . . ."

This is because nothing . . . ever . . . works.  Ever.  Role-playing campaigns are either profoundly precise machines like Bugattis that fly at incredible speeds but spend 90% of their lives in the shop or they're makeshift maintenance nightmares that we kick and curse at and yet manage somehow to keep running year after year despite all expectations to the contrary.  They work not because the rules are sound or right or logical or address all contingencies, but because there is a human being at the helm that keeps the damn steering column from drifting the car again and again to the right, threatening to put us in the ditch.  We run these games with both hands on the wheel, all the time, because easing off and trusting the vehicle is a bad, bad mistake.

It would be nice if the solution were a better car; unfortunately, we didn't have a Porsche nor a Ferrari conceptual understanding behind the first role-playing game.  Rather, our template for role-playing games was something closer to a Lada or a Yugo.  A piece of shit that at least ran at the start for a little while before all the designers realized that the only possible solution was another Lada, another Yugo.  After forty years, here we are.

Okay.  So the system doesn't run quietly or look hot; it doesn't attract chicks and it doesn't win at the road show.  But we have to admit; none of us are going to make something amazingly better in our basements, not with the sort of design ideas we're putting out there.  We have to admit that the way this game runs is about as good as it's going to, until there is some amazing technological miracle that comes around.  And that's all right.  It still gets us to point B.



Monday, February 22, 2016

Size & Weapons

There's no doubt that the Podcast I posted with my daughter and I is a far more interesting thing than anything I have to say today, and I do urge the reader to go and listen to it - all the same, however, I am still wrestling with problems associated with the enlarge spell.

Specifically, this:

Something that has been eternally overlooked in early versions of D&D (and possibly later ones as well, how the hell would I know?) is that all humans and demi-humans within a certain height and weight cause the same amount of damage with the weapons they're using.

Take orcs, for instance: my old Monster Manual lists them at 6+ feet tall, yet their long swords are presumed to do the same amount of damage as an elven female that's 4 and a half feet tall and is probably a third in weight.  If I were to use the weapons' damage table I put up on my last post and apply it to elves, half-elves, gnomes or halflings, an "enlarged" halfling that was still smaller than an ordinary human could be causing 50% more damage per hit.

This would suggest, then, that any weapons' damage adjustments that were made should not be based upon the character's comparative change, but upon a ratio that was then applied to a fixed number: say, 175 lbs., the average weight given for an average human male in the original Dungeon Master's Guide (which I'm guessing presumed that humans in a fantasy medieval setting would be a bit starved).

Well, we all know why that won't go over well.

It means that a halfling or elven character will suffer greatly in the amount of damage they can cause. It means that not only will humans gain a key advantage over demi-humans, but that humans who happen to get lucky and roll characters of massive size and breadth will have an even greater advantage.  I have a half-orc fighter in my campaign, Hig, that is 260 lbs - if we judge weapon damages on weight, then Hig's weight must give him considerable advantage over the 60 pound halfling thief in my world.  Can these two characters really do the same amount of damage with a short sword?

I have brought this question up in front of my players and the general consensus is there will be absolutely no adjustments made to weapon damage based on character weight.  The emphasis is THEIRS.  I'm quite certain I would face an insurrection were I to try to bring in a rule reflecting the reality on this principle . . . yet of course these same players would happily embrace any enlarging spell framework that would allow their weapons to do more damage.

What to do, what to do?

I've heard all the alternative arguments, so if my readers could please refrain from advancing hand-waving points regarding "large people move slower," "smaller surfaces offer greater impact per square inch" or "elves have greater skill with a blade" and so on.  Such arguments are exercises in lampshade hanging, have no relevancy where it comes to numbers and are necessarily based on prejudices regarding the weapons skills of races other than humans (none of which I buy into, as I am not a DM who thinks highly of such nonsense).  I'm only interested in rules that can be absolutely applied to all contingencies.  If elves are so amazing with blades, why is it they don't hit more often or possess more proficiencies?  Are they amazing with every weapon?  Because, after all, the weight problem applies to everything from a club to a pole arm.  If I hit you with something bigger that I am able to swing in the same amount of time (a round) with the same chance of hitting you, then I'm sorry, mass applies and you, my friend, will take more damage.  If you are 40 pounds and you're swinging a mace at a cat, and I am 250 pounds and swinging the same mace at the same cat, and we both roll the same die and hit it with the same number, then the squished, splashy aspect of the hapless cat is going to be less enchanting when I'm done.

Here is one of those significant times when I have to argue that "simulation" deserves a good kick in the balls.  Yet it would be desireable to have some sort of scale that could be applied to creatures that were really big, say 300 lbs. and up.  And it would be nice if this wasn't based on some fuzzy scale like, "everything between 50 and 300 lbs. causes damage A and everything between 301 and 550 lbs. causes damage B."  I like the sort of nuance that says a difference between 221 lbs. and 243 lbs. matters.

For the moment, I don't have a solution.  I'm going to think about it.  If anyone wants to offer a mathematical solution (please, no fuzzy solutions), I am certainly going to listen.

Exemptions for characters only?  All other halflings in the world can only do 1d4 damage with a "long sword" to scale?

I'd consider it.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Spell Enlarge

Finding myself stuck on my book for a bit, I'm taking a few hours to go back to something that is old business.  This post is going to discuss AD&D, so if that doesn't interest you, please go check out the podcast I made available earlier today.  It has been described as,

"Clear and crisp . . . a lot of subtlety.  I was recently discussing with a friend how it's difficult to find D&D podcasts that are actually worth listening to."

You don't want to miss it.

Meanwhile, 

I have always had trouble with the Enlarge spell as written in the original Player's Handbook, specifically because it totally fails where it comes to expressing the actual physical changes that occur in the character changing size.  Here are the salient bits (expurgated):

"Enlargement causes increase in both size and weight; the effect is to increase the size of a living creature by 20% per level of experience of the magic user, with a maximum additional growth of 200%."

The size of what, exactly?  Height?  Weight?  The spell description doesn't say.  However, it seems to imply that height is the adjustment, since it speaks of persons 12 feet and 18 feet tall.

If we increase the height of a human that is 6 feet tall and 216 pounds, by 200% (to a 300% total), then yes, we will have an 18 foot tall human.  However, in doing this, we will have increased the weight of the human to a total of 5,832 lbs.  The new height may be 6 feet x 3; but while the old weight was 6 x 6 x 6, the new weight is 18 x 18 x 18.

The writers of the Players Handbook don't seem to be aware that while height increases as an arithmetic number, weight increases geometrically.  A human that is 18-feet tall has not had its size increased a mere 300%.  It has actually had its size increased 2700% . . . the amount that would require a mage of 135 level to case (if no +200% restriction existed).

Thus, the spell is fucked up.  Logically, neither height nor weight should be adjusted, but mass.

I've decided to make two adjustments to the spell.  The first was that the increase of 20% per level should apply to everything about the mass of the character, including weapon damage and the distance the character should be able to cover.  Neither of these were discussed in the original spell description . . . though the point was made that a +1 sword would still be +1 - a really, really important stipulation, that, on a weapon that should be at least three times larger as the mage reaches 10th level.  It's clear to see from that rule what sort of arguments went on around Gygax's table.

The other adjustment I made was that there should be no limit.  20% per level, period.  No limitation except the number of levels a mage has.

We should therefore be able to start with the character's weight (216 lbs) and apply it to the character's height (6 feet) and see what happens when we increase mass per level of the mage.  The cube root given is for the character's weight in order to determine the character's new height.



Many players and DMs will actually hate this - because it doesn't sound near as sexy as being 18 feet tall.  This means that a 1st level mage can only make the 216 pound character weight 259 lbs (120% of the original weight) and 6'5" tall.  Which sucks, right?

I don't really think so.  I feel that adjusting the weapon damage ought to follow:


This greatly increases the amount of damage an individual can bring to the table once the spellcaster reaches 4th level - particularly if the spell is cast on a character with multiple attacks per round.

I think we should remember - this is only a 1st level spell - on the same rank as things like dancing lights and unseen servant.  The increasing capacity of the enlarge was always way over the top.

In any case, I have tried this with my players and they are just fine with it.

There are other issues here - the reverse of the spell, for one, and movement as I've already mentioned.  I'm not going to deal with these - in a while I will provide a fully updated version of the spell for my wiki and I will be sure to link that to the blog when I'm done.  For now, I should be returning to my book.

Please keep those donations coming!
  

Tao & Tao's Daughter

In the interest of giving the blog reader a little more bang for the buck (and inspiration), my daughter and I discussed the possibility of creating a podcast.  This we have now done - surprise!

First, I'd like to give my thanks to Cameron Cushing @Epicsphere for his help in editing and support in getting this project off the ground.  Cameron is an old hand at podcasting and his advice was most valuable.

Readers should be able to tell that this is indeed my daughter; we are much alike.  I know that concept will cause some to turn a deathly pale.

And so it begins.  Of course it may all crash and burn, but it's best not to think of the future. Warning:  some of this content is blue.





Come on and make a $25 donation; get a little swag and help make a difference.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Reversed Pyramid

A discouraging opening room for a megadungeon

Such a dungeon was not my intention.  I had originally conceived the image above a couple of days ago - a set of stepped descents into a central pit (all the stairways go down, suggested by the shading I've added to those images), like a pyramid in reverse, then some doors that would lead into side dungeons at each level.

It was only after fabricating the above image that I realized - once I started to add doors - that it would be easy to add as many as fifty doors into this template and expand an immense dungeon that goes outwards in all directions.  As this is deep under ground (the entrance way is at the base of a mountain that sits upon a stoney desert plain), there's no real limit to how far the dungeon can spread.

I don't like this sort of dungeon.  So now that I've made this thing, I don't know what I'll do with it.  Perhaps all the doors are just closets.



Come on and make a $25 donation; get a little swag and help make a difference.

Why I'm Not Writing Another Tackle a Dungeon Post

So far, the tackling of dungeons posts have not gone as well as I had hoped; although, I must admit that they have initiated some very fine discussions.  Never in a thousand years would I have thought I'd write two posts on White Plume Mountain.

My intention had been to write a third post and lay the series to rest.  This post was to concentrate on reworking the interior of the dungeon as the players moved deeper into its space.  As hallways and doors are opened, as rooms are cleaned out, as traps are set off or puzzles solved, we can imagine the players taking steps to ensure that doors don't close again, that traps don't reset themselves, that holes are filled or that certain unsafe areas are watched carefully through the implementation of hard points - or bunkers - to ensure that horrible creatures can't wedge their way into 'civilized' spaces.

For my money, I have no problem with this.  Let us say that I create a pit trap for the players; it catches them, it doesn't catch them - one way or another the trap is exposed.  What should happen next?

Well, as we know, for most games the trap is usually ignored or forgotten.  The players don't travel that way again or the DM remembers that, oh yes, the trap was set off: "be careful on your way back through that hall, people!"

But supposing that the dungeon isn't a one off and we are going to go down that hall, again and again.  Suppose we're going to bring in porters to haul off gold and other treasure, past that pit trap?  Doesn't it make sense to bring in a couple hundred cubic feet of earth and just fill it?  That's not really that hard, you know; a gang of twenty could do it in a couple hours, easy.  Then not only do we not have to worry about that pit trap, no one does - and if we do have to vacate this area of the dungeon for a few weeks, that's a fair bit of work we're leaving the bad guys if they want to get that trap working again.

The same is true for removing doors, shoring up walls that were designed to fall on us, plugging holes designed for the emersion of monsters or missiles, etcetera, etcetera.  It seems to me that dungeons are fundamentally designed structures that can be redesigned if we have the mind to do it.  Anything that has been built to be deliberately unsafe can be rebuilt to be safe.

But I feel certain now that I'm stomping on toes here, as if to say it isn't fair to treat a 'dungeon' as a mere structure under the ground.  Why would anyone go to all this trouble, to what purpose?  Isn't it just good enough that the dungeon provides a good adventure and leave it at that?

To which I feel compelled to answer, why is the dungeon here?  Why is it this tremendously complicated structure under the ground?  Why does someone go to all this trouble, for what purpose?  Why, oh why, do people build dungeons to provide strangers a good adventure?

I don't believe that dungeons must be illogical.  I don't believe that it makes the dungeon 'better' if they are ridiculous.  I feel that a dungeon that has no other means to explain it's weird and complicated arrangement of rooms except for magic, more magic, magic the game has no rules for and, oh, a magician to do it all, is merely a big shiny curtain for the crappy writer of said adventure to hide behind.  It is much more difficult to create logical dungeons than nonsensical bullshit.  DMs ought to be able to explain rationally a few chief points about their dungeons:

  • How did all the monsters get here?  If you argue its a wizard's menagerie for a wizard's pleasure, you might just as well argue that Noah put all the monsters here.  No, what I want is a clear, rational reason these particular monsters inhabit these particular rooms in this particular order.  If you can't do better than creating a supreme being to do it, then you're a shit dungeon maker.
  • Why haven't these monsters killed each other yet?  Why do the orcs tolerate huge spiders in their storeroom, why have they exterminated all the giant beetles in the front hallway and why oh why haven't they bricked up the doorway that leads down into the dangerous level below their lair?
  • Why is this trap here?  Specifically, in this place, where clearly denizens of this dungeon have reason to pass through.  Why hasn't it been set off?  Who oils the gears?  Who built this magnificent atrocity that would win first prize at a design contest if the maker built it in a big town square and charged tuppence to see it work?  How is it possible that this massive thing continues to function at all?
  • Why are all these rooms built like presidential suites rather than only as large as they need to be functionally?  It makes sense for some rooms to be large - the temple, the meeting area, the mess - but why is the kitchen as large as a football field?  Have any of these dungeon makers ever been in a kitchen?  Or seen an underground bunker?  Or realize what a premium space underground is?  For one thing, it is really, really hard to keep large rooms underground from collapsing.
  • If there are rumors about this dungeon and its possible for a bunch of strangers to the area to find it, why hasn't it been cleaned out already?  Don't the locals like treasure?  And please don't tell me its because the dungeon is scary.  There are locals here that talk to gods, know how to use magic, are profoundly able to find traps and have lots and lots of hit points.  "Scary" is a bullshit word we use to frighten children; why haven't the Adults around here cleaned out the dungeon yet?

Listen, the reader is free to think the above isn't important.  After all, designing a dungeon is just like starting a book with the words, "It was a dark and stormy night."  If you don't know jack about anything that has been written in the last two centuries, that sounds like a pretty cool line.  If you don't know jack about any sort of writing, the next thing you'll do is have a really attractive girl meet a really attractive man and say five or six really attractive lines to each other before they smash their mouths together in what you'll think is the the greatest love scene ever.

On the other hand, if you look at the points above and give them some real thought, you'll quickly see why designing a dungeon that makes sense is so hard that nobody in the hobby industry bothers to try.  It's just too easy to have a wizard do it for them.



If you've gotten anything from this post, please have a look at my crowdfunding proposal.  I encourage readers to dance through it and to consider joining in.  I've had some great conversations with contributors about Ternketh keep, various book characters in the Fifth Man and whose name might fit best where.  People are really stoked about the module.  It is great stuff.  The reader shouldn't miss out!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Ternketh Teaser

I've put up a little blurb about Ternketh Keep on my wiki.  Come have a look:

http://tao-of-dnd.wikispaces.com/Ternketh+Keep

I do really like this cover image:


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Favored


I cannot express how happy and proud I am that people have listened to me.  We have raised $1,235 in our campaign . . . and I see that as proof that there are many of you out there who want to help me make a change in the world.  Thank you.

You have let me be myself - my hardbitten, impatient, intolerant and frustrated self - and have decided that what I make and what I give is reason enough to forgive me my faults.  I don't think there is any kindness in the world greater than to forgive someone their faults.  So thank you again.

Please, I ask you, if you have not stepped forward already, reconsider.  A little sponsorship wins you back a fine reward and the gratitude of someone who will always be straight and honest with you.



Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Stretch

Books are written for two purposes: to entertain and to educate.  Most books fail to achieve either purpose; and if we compare all the books ever written with those few that managed to achieve both purposes, the result of the latter is statistically nil.  The only reason we've heard of any of these latter books is due to their being shared around and carefully stocked on shelves.  We build libraries for them, we design classes to discuss them, we browbeat children into reading them.

Most books begin in the hole because they try only to entertain or only to educate; this happens because the statistical total of writers perceive one or the other as unworthy or undesirable.  Writers fail to realize that the reader won't notice if an academic book is entertaining or if an escapist book happens to educate, if the book is written well.  Part of this prejudice comes from the belief that all entertaining books are escapist and all educational books are academic - ie., either silly or boring.

The pretense to writing a book for one or the other purpose then obscures the deeper value in writing a book:  to create readers.  Whether the reader is entertained or educated is a matter of taste, not success; neither has much to do with whether or not a book is necessarily good.

Then what makes a good book?  This has been on my mind lately, for good reason, as I am on the hook now for creating a good book and I very much want to do that.  Towards that end, I'm limited by my experience with other books, good or bad.  Once upon a time, if I had written this essay, I would have gotten entrenched in discussions about plot, character, theme and whatnot, very much the sort of literature anyone can read on the IMDb user reviews page about what makes a good film.

More and more, however, I find myself thinking in these terms: what makes a good chair?

It is far more obvious to the average person what elements must exist to make a chair function as it does.  It must be of a certain height for its purpose, it must have a certain comfort, it must endure, it must support weight, it must fit into a given space and so on.  A comfortable chair may be too heavy or large for the room where it lives; a kitchen chair may be too low for the table; a swivel chair may turn too fast or fail to adjust sufficiently.  Everyone inherently understands this because everyone spends much of their day sitting on some kind of surface.  Terms like "character" or "theme" are too abstract to be understood - and are therefore useless in conveying a sense of what makes a good book.

I feel that too often writers tend to get wrapped up in story.  Not that a story - a sequence of events leading to a result - doesn't have merit, but because "a" story is not enough for a novel.  If the writer sits to tell the tale of one story, the reader will feel as much interest for the book as you or I would if our friend spent eight or nine hours relaying the tale of his recent "adventure" to Morocco (this is why travelogues are death).

The reader should not presume that I am therefore saying that a book should have three or four stories, as I have often seen argued with respect to both books and film.  Three or four stories are not enough.  Ten stories are not enough.  The failing comes where we perceive that "stories" are large singular pieces that somehow fall into a line from the beginning to the end of the book.  As I age and write and gather my senses together regarding the principles of writing, I begin to see how a book is a literal cloud of stories, thrown together into a pile that seems haphazard and indistinct until a moment comes in the work where the reader suddenly grasps that we have been making a chair.

I will try to explain this using two metaphors.  The first is the chair itself.  The craftsman does not begin by making a "chair"; the first step isn't even the making of an arm or a leg.  Instead, the wood itself is selected from a forest of wood, the particular element being sought after being a complete mystery to any of us who will one day buy the chair.  If we imagine ourselves walking alongside each craftsman selecting the source wanted, we will see different things resulting from different craftsmen.  If we don't know what the craftsman does; and if the craftsman fails to educate us with words; compelling us to observe and learn by degrees as we follow the process of wood to object, object to shape, shape to composition, it will take some time before we realize what sort of craftsman we have met - or indeed, what sort of chair has been formed.

The writer does not have the benefit of there being set dictates and traditions for what sort of book may be written.  The practice is far, far less stringent than making a chair.  Therefore it is up to the writer to decide how much peculiar stretch should be put into the writing itself - and it is in this 'stretch' that I code the value of the book.  It is in this 'stretch' that I perceive the plenitude of stories that are there to be told.

To express this, consider a scene where a constable goes to a cottage to interview the resident there.  We might expect the writer to write the scene thusly:

"The constable arrived and went to the door, knocking upon it."

Or we might write the scene from the viewpoint of the resident who is interviewed:

"Sitting in a chair, the resident heard a knock on the door."

We might remove the door from the scene, enabling the character to see the constable approach and to have the constable see the character:

"As the constable approached, he raised his hand to the resident; the resident waved back and together they approached each other."

This feels a bit better and the reader will find writers stretching for this sort of greeting all the time.  Unfortunately, it is also common, both to the writing of books and the experience of readers; so we might add to it by altering the environment or the character's reaction to it:

"The constable strode forward through the snow, brushing it away as he approached; the resident held his hands in front of his mouth and blew upon them, to warm them, before raising his hand in greeting.  The constable waved back."

The stretch gets better as we consider more and more elements in the environment:

"To reach the cottage in the deep snow, the constable had resorted to a donkey.  The donkey plowed through the snow towards the cottage, its snorting drawing the attention of the resident, who was busy with an axe chopping wood.  The resident put down the axe, wiped sweat from his brow in the cold air and watched the donkey and the constable approach."

Step by step, we slowly understand how the small events of this one moment in the book becomes a story unto itself.  Both characters are engaged; both characters are revealed a little by what they are doing that morning.  The more we add to what they are doing, and why, and how it affects them, the better the small story becomes; and the better the small story frames itself in the minds of the reader, who will remember this miniature tale as the greater book progresses.

Thus we come to how I have described the scene for my novel, the Fifth Man (taken out of context, so I have inserted a word or two that wouldn't be in the paragraph):

"When I stopped in my labour, the silence between the [distant chantry] bells strained the patience of my ears as I listened for an approach. When it came, after chopping wood enough to see us through until the dead of winter passed, I saw a figure. It came along through the trees with a steady call to a beast; I knew from the voice that it was not my father. It was Chaulders. Unequal to the task of climbing the track to our cottage, he was instead mounted upon a donkey that breasted its way forward. He knocked at it with a stick, swaying in the saddle like a sailor on a spar, threatening to go over one side or the other into a bank. Instead, he made progress towards me, until he saw me there and lifted a hand to give greeting. This sent him askew - and for a moment his bulk wavered on the precipice. He quickly knotted both his hands in the donkey’s bridle and mane and held on. The donkey brayed in anger and mortification. A false step might have sent them both off the trail and tumbling down the hill, but the donkey earned its provender; with courageous effort, the constable righted himself. He flashed a grin in triumph and I doffed my hat to him."

As long as I can provide enough stretch as I write forward, the book I am writing will be a fine book, and it will not depend if I have embraced a philosophy of entertainment or education.  I have embraced a philosophy of making a good chair.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ternketh Cover Page

Sweet little cover; makes me feel professional

One of my sponsors, Matt R, has just sent me the above picture, of his creation.  Thank you Matt!  That is absolutely bloody marvelous.

He tells me that he was inspired by the Keep adventure.  Come on, have a look and see how good it is!

Proposal: The AirShip Module & More

Nine days into the Jumpstarter Campaign and we have raised $1,125.  Large donations continue to come in - it is a wonderful testament to the loyalty and generosity of my readers.  In so short at time we have knocked our goal down to an amazing $5,075 remaining.  I encourage those who haven't yet considered giving a donation, even a small donation, as the Ternketh Keep adventure and accompanying materials are really worth the effort.

Here's a shot of the below decks airship, for those who haven't seen it yet:

Don't forget that an interactive version is very easily had.

Of course I include a description of the airship.  Here's a small measure of the content that comes with it:


For only $15 the rewards include Ternketh Keep and description, the AirShip and description, an excellent hex map for everyday use and one small special feature to boot.

For more, there are other, greater rewards:

Presented as an image if anyone wants
to send a message to a friend or follower

Come be part of something wonderful - give a little and let me take the time and give my full energy to writing the best of all possible books and create a platform for bringing much more material to the future table!

Monday, February 15, 2016

DMs Changing the Goalposts

Mujadaddy's comment: ". . . you don't seem to be allowing for the concept of failure."

In 1853, an American military officer by the name of Elisha Kent Kane began an expedition into what would alter be called Kent Basin between Ellesmere Island and Greenland in the far north extreme of Baffin Bay.  It was named the second Grinnell expedition, after the owner of the Advance, the ship that Kane commanded.  The first expedition had been funded in order to uncover the disappearance of John Franklin's expedition in 1845 - but that is another story.

Kane's motivation was to seek for a passage that would enable him to obtain fame and glory by journeying farther north than any expedition had before (source: The Arctic Grail, Pierre Berton, 1988).  However Kane, an army surgeon, proved to be a terrible commander.  When the Advance was trapped by the ice in the winter of 1853/54, it set a chain of events that was to both prove Kane's incompetence as a ship captain and yet redeem him as perhaps one of the greatest figures ever to manage a disastrous situation.

It was common practice to bring a ship into the Arctic in the mid-19th century with the expectation that as winter approached, the ship would become trapped in the ice until the following summer.  Since in this part of the world the sea would typically freeze solid by late October (or earlier) and remain frozen until the following July, Arctic expeditions by necessity were forced to stock up for the 9-10 month period and make preparations for the men to amuse themselves through a variety of means - putting on plays, participating in tournaments, taking part in lectures that gave something like university-level experience and so on.  Keeping morale up during the long winter was critical in keeping the men under control.  Naturally, a part of this was ensuring that the stores were carefully managed and that the men were kept aware of the tenuous situation.

In Kane's case, during that first winter, he grew morose and took to long periods of solitary.  This left his underlings in charge of the men and a general sense of discontent produced a winter of extraordinary difficulty.  Several events that came close to murder occurred that winter and it was clear that by the summer of '54, after one failed exploration, the moral of the ship was at an all time low.  Some details of this can be read on the Wikipedia page linked.

This was made worse by the discovery that there was no game at all on the northern end of Ellesmere island, as there tended to be in other parts of the Canadian Archipelago.  Worse, as the weather improved and expeditions set out to explore the area around Kane basin, Kane managed to thoroughly piss off an anger every group of Inuit that the ship-master encountered - primarily due to his failure to understand his situation or his dependence on the good will of the locals.

That summer, the ice did not thaw.  The sea simply remained frozen through the entire season.  This also occasionally happened.  While the sea in 1853 was warm enough to allow the Advance to sail into the bay, that proved to be unusual.  Without new food, without new supplies, without any possibility of extricating the ship and without the support of the natives, the crew of the Advance faced another long winter without escape.

Here is where things get crazy.  As scurvy set in and it seemed probable that no one would survive the winter, Kane made the decision to abandon the Advance and set out on two whaleboats and a dinghy.  It took him three weeks to transport the men to the abandoned Inuit village at Littleton Island.  From there they struck south to find open water at Cape Alexander.  Throughout this process, Kane's military and medical experience enabled him to rise to the occasion, proving him to be a monumental commander when his feet were on the ground. 

When the boats began to leak, they took to island hopping, hunting as best they could, surviving on bird's eggs and melting ice for water.  At the end, the nearly destroyed boats were yet used to drag their supplies and the infirm overland (this at the end of two months of continuous physical endurance while having been starved since the previous year) until they were able to reach Upernavik.

It's really an incredible story.

But why have I gone through all this?

To emphasize that the adventure is not automatically made irrelevant by the planning, preparation and careful distribution of supplies, equipment, camps and supporting personnel.  And to emphasize that Kane did all these things and was able to live because there were food depots along the way, he had men and equipment and he prepared his boat well enough to survive at least through all of 1854.  His mistake was not, in fact, that he failed to prepare but that he insulted the one group that could have sustained him through the winter of 54/55 and enabled him to make his trek out in far better condition than he did.  That he escaped with the loss of only one man was a miracle and a testament to Kane's leadership in a crisis; but Kane's leadership when all was well sucked in the extreme.

What worries me is the tendency for a DM to see "creating adventure" as spontaneously inserting monsters or trumped up changes in behaviour in order to ensure that the player's camp should suddenly be wiped out or that everyone should suddenly decide to go home.  It always seems as if DMs feel irked by players having thought their way through a situation, so as to invent something that will smash the players design for no other reason than that it is there to be smashed.   Build a camp?  Oh, of course a monster will come along in the next running and smash it.  We can't have camps being built in the wilderness. Why, in the whole world there is not one camp, anywhere, that can survive the wilderness for a month.  Purchase an agent to act as a buyer and motivator in town?  Impossible!  All agents are thieves and crooks and must act to destroy everything the players have built.  Or else, all agents are weak-kneed spineless dweebs who will die instantly at the first tiny spider bite.  Nowhere in the world do 'agents' act as capable, rational, reasonable agents!

Kane got it in the teeth because of the weather.  That is, because of something that was always there, that didn't come into existence because he sailed a ship into it.  Presumably, long before the player characters arrive at the dungeon, the DM has already a strong idea of what the dungeon involves.  Unless the DM has predetermined that there is a huge monster lurking around outside the dungeon, the DM has no fucking business putting a huge monster there after the players have set up camp.  If there are stirges and owlbears wandering around the forest where the dungeon is, then the DM is responsible for telling the players this before the players even venture into the area.  What, the residents of Wyoming don't know about the bears?  The residents of Siberia don't know there are tigers in the forest?  Ridiculous.

Kane knew he was going to be frozen in the ice.  He perhaps did not know that he was going to be frozen for a second year, but this had happened to other expeditions in the Canadian Arctic and we can presume he did his reading before he went (tales of the Arctic were huge big sellers after the 1820s and after half a dozen expeditions to find Franklin just prior to Kane's expedition it was front page news everywhere in the world).  When the sea failed to show any signs of thawing in June and did not thaw in July of 1854, he would have had plenty of warning to guess what was about to happen and make his plans.  He wasn't caught by surprise.  He was given a challenge and he was forced to make another plan to survive it.

This is what D&D has yet failed to learn: that quick scares and instant monsters make totally shit adventures.  Slow, difficult, creeping doom surpasses such methods by about 1000%.  At no time in my previous two posts about tackling a dungeon did I suggest that the dungeon be less dangerous or that all the difficulties of the lower level, not yet tackled, disallow any possibility of failure.

Mujadaddy's question is borne of one thing: a fixed belief that every effort and every innovation by the players MUST be seen in terms of the potential for the DM to smash it all to pieces if the tiniest error in calculation or proposal can be found to justify that smashing.

Does the DM view the player's camp and think, "Ah, probably one camp in a thousand throughout the whole world will be attacked by a big monster this month - I'll roll a 1 in 1000 chance of it happening."

No, the DM thinks, "Wow, camp in the wilderness.  Wildernesses are dangerous.  There MUST be a big nasty monster that will absolutely hate this camp and need to see it destroyed immediately."

This is how DMs think.  And it is shitty thinking.  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Thank YOU

Just a quick post to say that we have raised a spectacular $825!

For anyone who has already seen the images and description of Ternketh Keep,  I encourage you to say something here to help me encourage others to become interested (enticed, moved, grabbed, titillated,  BEATEN OVER THE HEAD WITH WONDER).

Thank you everyone for all your contributions.  You are great!


Saturday, February 13, 2016

How to Tackle a Dungeon II - Hold Our Ground

As Keith Sloan said, "The wilderness is a dangerous place . . ."

This is a continuation from the first post, First Steps.  In it I argued for the creation of a base camp - it is very important that this camp be secure.  It isn't just a question of setting up a few tents and a brush pile surrounding it - the camp has to prepare for an onslaught of at least a hundred orcs or the largest beasts imaginable.  That means pit traps, solid fortifications, food for siege, oil, starting fires, blocks of stone cut from the nearby mountain and a chosen strong point that can't be surprised and can't be overwhelmed within a few rounds.  If we're not picking a flat place where we can clear the trees and give us a clear field of fire at an attacking army struggling up the hill towards us, then we're not doing our jobs.  If an army can come up and over the mountain and down at us from above, then we've made a mistake in setting proper traps or keeping important guard posts on those summits.  Finally, we don't want a bunch of lagabouts in the camp who will eat our food and get caught by surprise.  We want a sergeant who would have, if no one had hired them, drilled those cobbers hard in town,  Now that he has them out in the bush, he'll drill them twice as hard.

When I said we want to know every valley for five miles around, that means looking for spoor and tracks and evidence that there's a chimera or a gorgon waiting in them thar hills.  If there is, we're going to mount up and kill that thing first, before going after the dungeon.  As dangerous as a wilderness is, something big enough to threaten forty trained men is going to make a mark on the countryside.  We'll find that mark and scrub it out.  Don't whine to me that there may be something out there - find out what it is, where it is, how many there are and then go out and kill it.  What's the matter with you apes?  You want to live forever?

Good.  Now when the camp is secure, we're ready to have a look at that hole in the ground.  We'll take along the party, two of our toughest guards, a young lad who's fleet on his feet and 'fraid of nothing and no horses.  If we rode horses out to the base camp, those horses were long ago taken back to town and are back there, stabled and safe, far from the present operations.  The guards are under orders not to engage, but to witness and report back, not in themselves but through the words and legs of the kid.  That kid is our most important lifeline.  He has to be able to cover the distance between our camp and the mouth of the dungeon in twelve minutes, a distance of about 1 mile over rough ground.  To do that, he's unarmed and lightly encumbered.  He needs those two guards to protect him, not the front of the cave and not us.  That is, protect him when he's not running; when he's running, we hope, nothing can catch him.

If something happens: someone gets injured, someone needs their extra sword, we need some unexpected antidote or the cleric from the camp to hurry forward and bestow healing, last rites, remove curse, whatever - the runner is our link.  Communication is key.  If we find a massive treasure we can't easily haul out, the boy runs, grabs five men and in an hour the treasure is packed up and good to go - and woe betide these men if they cross us and try to walk with that treasure.  They know damn well that we're a crowd of magicians, master swordsmen and assassins; and those are people you don't cross . . . you count yourself lucky that they pay well and that everyone back at camp is going to be rich as bankers when this venture is done.

If they don't think that way, we sure picked the wrong men, the wrong sergeant and the wrong DM - for not telling us the obvious fact that these were scum who could not be trusted.

Very well, let's get on with it.

What's the first thing we find?  Is it a long circular staircase down through steam, followed by a force wall and a Sphinx?  Or will we find something more akin to Keep on the Borderlands - a dozen guards, an ogre, a trap or two.  We'll have to handle whatever is thrown at us; smash it, tramp it down, clean it out of its lair and do everything we'd normally have to do if we were in anyone's dungeon.

Eventually, we trust, we'd get to that point in every dungeon where there's nothing in front of us to kill.  There are doors yet we haven't tried and passageways that may bring unexpected visitors.  Though we're not threatened right now, there's a general sense of uneasiness, made worse in that we are all low in hit points, spells, potions, flasks of oil and whatnot.  It is the moment when normally we'd have to retreat and return to town - because it is just too dangerous to stay overnight here.

Of course, we might not have access to the outside.  We may have stumbled into some trap and now we have to fight our way out.  Sooner or later, however, we will find a way out and a way to communicate with our guards and runner.  Once that happens, what do we want to do?

Hold our ground.  We don't want to give up what we've gained, back away and let the monsters re-emerge and take back these rooms we've taken.  That's a decision we have to make, however; we may be too weak right now; but we should consider sending our runner back with the following orders:


  • We have treasure; send men who can gather it up and bring it back to base camp.
  • We are wounded; bring back the camp's cleric to give us some of what we've lost (it may be necessary to add that an unconscious/dead character needs to be carried back to camp).
  • We want to sleep here in the caves.  Send a quarter of the men with equipment and materials to block up three passages, hammer shut four doors and stand guard while we sleep to regain spells.
  • Send half the treasure we've taken with trusted, strong guards back to town.  Have them invest the money in another troop of guards, more hard goods and tools and an agent willing to come out and look over the investment opportunities.  PAY WELL.

If necessary, send one of the party back with the two men to get an investor interested.  What we want is a trail cut that will increase communication between the base camp and town, even if that journey is as long as four days.  The treasure is going to start flowing out of the dungeon and we want it working for us right now: by the time the agent overlooks the operation and gets his cut, he'll have a town built for us next to the camp, with smiths and vendors, before we're done here.


As a reminder - if you liked this post and the thinking that's behind it, consider the sort of module I'd write or the sort of fantasy book writing I'll produce.  Any small contribution will be welcome, $10 to have at the module or more if you're interested in helping me out with my bigger task of writing The Fifth Man:


Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Jumpstart Jumpstarted

These past five days, we have had a genuine start in our funding proposal.  In just 96 hours we have raised a total of $675, mostly in large donations.  I have had a few conversations with patrons regarding the nature of the character they'd like themselves portrayed as in my book, The Fifth Man: an informant, Simon, who is sought after by more than one group; the lead ruffian of a small gang, Vann; the errand boy of the local manor lord, Robbie; and the massive brothel guard, whose name I will withhold for the present.  These have been fun talks, as in each case I've offered a choice of who people might like to be.

The book allows for several more plot-relevant persons, exactly eleven: there is a prince, three other ruffians, the officer of the guard, a farmer and his son, a wizard, a very old wise woman, a magistrate and a local constable.  Of these, not saying which, one is a character of significance to the tale's plot and development.

Beyond these are a few minor characters that I haven't taken time to flesh out but could be reworked: the manor lord himself, though I quite like the name I've chosen for him; two ordinary guards arguing over sausage; a lucky watchman who hasn't got a name but could be given one; a working member of the brothel, though a character of this type does not exist; and any number of bystanders who could be given a line.  The thing about writing is this: once the framework has been conceived, it is no trouble to fit some small detail into an actor's mouth rather than into the character's head.  Where the character might think that the coach accident was something of a miracle, it is just as easy to put a woman beside him, dress her, give her a face and a name, then have her exclaim, "It's a miracle, that's what it is; they should have been killed."  It isn't as though I have to pay actor's fees.

So I have plenty of room for more donations.

As a reminder, the goal is to raise enough money that will enable me to continue my life and focus for a three-month period, while writing my novel. Our goal is to raise another $5,525. To encourage donations, I am offering the following rewards:

  • For $10, I will provide an online copy of my latest gaming adventure, Ternketh Keep.
  • For $15, Added to the above, I will also provide plans to the Airship I've created.
  • For $25, Added to the above, I will also give as a bonus an 80-page preview to my book, no less than two weeks prior to the official publishing date of the novel.
  • For $50, Added to the above, I will handle the purchasing and sending of the book as soon as the book is published.
  • For $75, Added to the above, the copy received by the reader will be personally signed by me, along with a gamer girl t-shirt (as long as supplies and sizes last).
  • For $100, Added to the above, I am prepared to work the reader's name into the novel, promising at least one story significant line (as long as unused characters remain).

I would ask that all donations be made through the Donate button found on my blog's sidebar.

Please allow me to share a piece of my project with my community, enabling you to take part in a great experience that will enable me to produce the best of all possible creative works.

See the comments section for further details regarding these rewards.

White Plume Mountain & Rightness

I know the White Plume Mountain post ruffled feathers: there were no comments.  I could practically hear the grinding of teeth.

If anyone wants to read people's thoughts on the post, try this bulletin board page.  It was put up by a reader who was anxious to help me in my crowd-sourcing proposal; I'm not a member of that board. It's an excellent showcase of first impressions people still have of me.

It shows how little patience the community has for content that does not embrace the sacred cows of the game's past.  In comparison with some of the strafing runs I've made against gaming content in the past, the WPM post was almost minimalist . . . but true, there was also that post about Gygax recently and I did suggest that he might have been a dick - that is, if you didn't prefer the sobriquet "liar."  It was left up to the reader.

It's fine if people feel I can't tolerate disagreement on my blog; I'm apt to defend my point of view when I see that I've been misunderstood, misquoted or misrepresented in another's argument and this can certainly feel to some people that I'm intolerant and inflexible.  I've encountered this same feeling in real life, many times.  We all feel that we're right and there is a strong sentiment on the internet that when we express ourselves we rarely understand the vitriol we arouse.  Not being liked on the internet isn't a character flaw, it's ordinary.  We are all disliked on the internet.

LOL.  15 minutes passed (2:26 to 2:41) between blackstone writing "I'll have to admit I'll give it a chance as I read through more posts" and the same fellow writing, "Calling EGG 'a complete dick'?  really?"  In fifteen minutes he was able to zero in on a post that was two months old, did not have Gygax's name in the title, read it and quote from it, then complete writing his response about me on the bulletin board.

Remarkable.

I did hesitate before writing the post - after all, I'm anxious to have people on my side, to step forward and give funds and have good feelings about me.  It makes the marketing people queasy if anyone causes the product to be seen in a poor light even for a moment, sending them around in spinning flurries of emails and accusations, a truly modern manifestation.  Yet I also have advice that tells me, "Be true to yourself, true to your product, true to your message - if you act differently just to sell something, the readers will recognize that immediately."

Eight years I've been proving I'm an asshole.  Eight years I've been pissing (and using swear words) on modules such as White Plume Mountain and the Tomb of Horrors.  Eight years have had endless bulletin boards and other blogs posting everything that is wrong with me and all the ways that I need to get over myself.  If I were really that adverse to criticism, I would have quit by now.

WPM is a terrible module.  Not only in that it is a potpourri hodgepodge of irrational elements bunged together like a bad stew that finds the toilet the next morning, but because it inspired an endless parade of other hodgepodge campaigns over the next forty years from people who never understood that the template was bad.  Like forty years of science that bought into the idea of ether because it sounded good, or forty years of the film industry that bought into the Hays Code because it sounded good, or forty years of Jungianism (the blog dictionary doesn't even recognize the word) or forty years of trickle down theory and neo-conservatism, it's a shit template that's been repeated and repeated and repeated because that's all there is.  Until finally all the people who embraced the thought as young, impressionable souls reach an age where their views are irrelevant and Carl Jung is relegated to the archive of history and film begins to feature sex and violence and space is proved to be a vacuum and the neo-conservative movement produces a Donald Trump.  Bad ideas that won't die because people fall in love with them to the exclusion of reason, innovation, evidence and the exhaustion of consumers who are numb from finding only the same shit modules for sale, year after year.

People went to their graves believing that space was not a vacuum but that there HAD to be ether.  People went to their graves believing that films like the the Graduate, the Godfather, Apocalypse Now and Alien were abominations that destroyed the experience of going to movies.  People died believing that the collective unconscious and synchronicity are absolute, inviolable truths.  And people have died believing that the trickle-down theory and job creation has worked flawlessly.  There are still people who believe these things and nothing, nothing, will ever change their minds - just as there are those who will go to their graves believing that everything ever made connected to the game pre-1980 was totally and sacredly brilliant and the only way that modules should ever, ever, be designed.

And those of us who think different?  Well, we just have to get over ourselves.  The case has been settled.  Shut up and move on.

I don't think we're ever really sure about anything.  Four years ago I couldn't draw for shit.  For shit. Last week, I drew this:




When our eyes are open, we get better.  When we live in the future and not the past, we gain better perspectives.  When what we haven't got yet becomes better than what we've had, we strive and create all the things that forty years from now people will love.

My daughter and I agree that White Plume Mountain succeeded because every room was an adventure.  The emptyroomism of the present age of module creation hadn't been embraced yet and an adventure like WPM tried to keep the readers interest by filling every inch and crevice with interesting things.  It didn't matter that these things made no sense together or that the individual elements defied explanation - none of that was important because we had not yet designed any format upon which we had to agree.  There were monsters, there was magic, the rooms could be hammered into identifiable dioramas and like a museum, the players could be marched along on the guided tour and shown all the exhibits one by one.  Like a museum, it did not matter if the dinosaur room included a diorama of the first hooved animals of the era that came after or the first bony fish of the era that came long, long before.  It's a museum.  It exists for capturing impressionable minds, particularly the impressionable minds of young people who may not quite understand that the exhibit with primitive man being fifty feet from the giant skeleton of the Apatosaurus might not mean that the two lived simultaneously.  That is all right.  When they get older, they'll realize they did not and if they choose to make this into their vocation, they'll laugh a little to think that they were ever so foolish.

But no academic expansion happened in the gaming world and the smashing together of monsters in a single format became canon.  The children who thought it was kewl when they were ten haven't yet shed those notions now that they are fifty.  They still think it is kewl.  They haven't grown.  They haven't learned.  And that is fine - except that they expect the world to stay exactly as it was.  They expect that everyone who has come along since will bow down to the idols of their youth and praise them in the way they were always praised.

That isn't going to happen.  That has never happened.  But these people will go to their graves nonetheless believing that it should have happened, because that is the way old people are.

I am so grateful there are young people in the world.