Friday, June 30, 2017

I Am the Wall

[edited to remove random words unnecessary to sentence construction]:
"Imagine that there's a big open space, and the open space is everything in the universe. So if you have absolute freedom, you can just go anywhere and do anything.  the rules of the game are these walls that keep you in.  As long as you stay inside the walls, you're not cheating, and if you go outside the walls, you are cheating.  So you play a video game like Mario, for example, and you don't know where the walls are.  You've never played Mario before.  But you start exploring this space.  You press A and you jump, and you go, 'Ha! - I know that if I press A, I jump.'  So you've seen the wall.  And he jumps this high.  You start seeing where the walls are.
"Like when you play Metroid and you explore the map, you see what the map looks like.  You're exploring this rules space by trial and error.  You're moving around in space finding all the walls, and eventually when you move around enough and try enough different things, 'Oh, a Fire Flower does this, I jump on guy and I kill him, but if I fall in a hole I die.'  You learn the rules and eventually the whole shape of the walls of the game expose themselves to you and now you know how to play."
(...)
"In a video game, those walls are in the form of software.  Software doesn't have to do any work. Your computer, it's just electricity, it doesn't have any feelings, it doesn't have to work hard.  It just is walls.  It shows you what the rules are.  But if you want to play a board game, and learn it by bumping into all the walls, some human being has to be like, 'No.  No you can't do that, you can only do this ... imagine sitting down to play Settlers, you know nothing about the game, and someone has to sit here and watch you and tell you when you've done something right and wrong the whole time, that's a huge pain in the butt for them.  If someone's willing to do that for you so that you can learn Settlers in the most fun, easy way without reading the rules or anything, they deserve a lot of accolades because they're putting up with a lot of crap."
Brandon DeCoster and Scott Rubin

Yep, that's me, the DM.  Putting up with a lot of crap.  And, I think, more crap than most, because I am adding a lot of rules as I design, leading to a lot of walls and a lot of having to say, "No, you can't do that."

In reality, however, this is an initial problem that steadily evaporates as the game progresses.  The new players I launched back in Nov-Dec of 2016 bounced a lot against those rules and at times it was aggravating.  But with just six months of online campaigning, the game details are moving a lot smoother.  In real life, when questions can be answered immediately and both my tone and my intent can be read more easily through observation, the amount of correcting swiftly falls away and the players rapidly move between the walls without any difficulty.

This is a careful point that needs to be made.  The presence of walls limit a game space but they do not eliminate it.  A lot can happen inside the game space of a hockey rink or a soccer field; the restrictive degree to which pieces can move in chess or the limit in the variety of pieces in go does not challenge the fascination and delight we find in those games.  We can say that good games need boundaries; but we can also say that well made boundaries produce a fabulous extravagance in controlled possibilities.

I made a point last week when writing about haphazard settings that, in conditions of risk, when options are lost, the players are pressed to dig deeper into themselves in order to produce solutions. The reader may need to view this another way: that, when pushed against the wall of the rules, the player fights harder to live.  Or, to put it another way still, the player is more alive when fighting against the odds; life is sweeter.

Remove the walls, reduce the threat, free the player to experience absolute freedom, and we produce a paralyzing surfeit of choice, followed by a sense of ennui in that nothing really matters.

The super-fantasy of removed walls, where players willy-nilly create character backgrounds based on a complete lack of mechanics, on pure whim, is inevitably countered by the extremely narrow wall-set that we usually describe as a railroaded campaign.  It is helpful to this argument that DeCoster and Rubin use Mario as their example ~ a game which, in role-playing terms, certainly has one eventual outcome, even in later incarnations where many different paths led to the same goal.  Obviously, a railroad works for a video game; initially, in VG design, there was no choice but to create a railroaded experience: it is still a virtual necessity for most video games, with notable and successful exceptions.

Role-playing, however, only leans upon the rat-maze concept (pulling the metaphor back to walls rather than trains) because for most DMs it is very hard to imagine a game world where the maze has no beginning and no end and a virtually unlimited number of paths that are all, nonetheless, contained inside walls.  And because those paths can be added and enhanced as necessary, as fast as the players move between the walls they happen to find, there's never any danger of the setting reaching its end.

Even if the players were to move through every single hex of my world, that would not be the end of the adventures they could find in those hexes.  The non-maze is in my head, not on the paper.  So long as I'm ready to play, the game goes on.

Yet the walls themselves are not made of cardboard and cannot be easily broken through, because I am there to say, "No."  The combat rules are fixed, the player's hit points are fixed, the effect of the dice are fixed, the access to knowledge and power is fixed, etcetera.  The walls may move back, the benefits and upgrades to the players may increase, but the manner in which they increase is also fixed.  If the players choose not to pick one of the upteenth number of paths in front of them, and instead try to bash through a wall, they'll find themselves made impotent and ~ eventually ~ tossed from the game.

Just because D&D is complicated doesn't mean that it's not Settlers of Catan.  It may offer millions of arrangements that can be sorted out and advanced at a moment's notice, but the "winning" strategy is still the one that accumulates the most points (of whatever form) and ensures continued survival as the game goes on.  Settlers ends because the board is finite; D&D does not end because the board is, for general purposes, infinite.  But the principles that guide play for each, the building of strategies that produce effects that are then resolved (by dice in the way of D&D), producing a payoff and opportunities for further strategy, work alike.

Unless, of course, one chooses to ignore that a given RPG works according to rules, for reasons, in order to produce an "experience" that can't be measured meaningfully, which in turn must then be interpreted as a "feeling" receiving for having participated.

Honestly . . . are we playing a game or are we just playing?


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Good Comments

What makes a good comment?

Yesterday, G.B. Veras expanded my diatribe against role-playing groups looking like beer advertising by describing a movement in Brazil to change the story of those commercials: suggesting, perhaps, that there is another way for something old and tired to appear, it just takes being original and creative.  Enlightment is always good.

On the same day, Lothar rated one of my posts to describe its importance to him.  Not, I think, because he agreed, but because something he already believed had been stated more clearly than he'd heard it said before.  That's how it is with a lot of my posts.

And again on the 27th, Wandrille Duchemin described a post of mine giving him an epiphany.  Again, not because he didn't already agree with the concept, but because my description was clear and easy to understand.  I write and write about the same things because I hope that I can make that connection with the reader; when I get a comment like Wandrille's, I know I'm on the right track. [I'll just add that Wandrille and I have gone head-to-head many times].

On Monday, Vlad Malkav wrote to say my post about self-esteem was "refreshing."  The day before, Samuel Kernan called it "worthwhile."  Someone else might call this tacit agreement, but I think it is indicative of my willingness to write about something ELSE, other than another post about monsters, another spell list for yet another monster race, another review of a product that was made more than ten years ago and yet one more retrospective on Blackmoor.  I appreciate hearing that my persistant attempts to wake people up have succeeded in waking someone up.

On Saturday, Michael Giffin made a point about aluminum-steel that was well worth consideration; since I'm running a very real-world campaign, where technically actual aluminum sits unused, packed into bauxite, I'm not sure how this fits, but it might give some stress equivalents for mithril steel if that should ever come up in a campaign.  I'm definitely glad Michael took the time to comment.

A week ago, Discord, who used to disagree with me very strongly but whom I think I have begun to win over these past six years, expressed his satisfaction with my articulation of story vs. sandbox (which was not what I called it in my post), adding a personal experience of his that fit into the post's general tone and meaning.  Such comments are very important, not because they "agree" with me, but because they express the same sense of frustration and difficulty in making the point clear to others.

On that same post, the day before, Fuzzy Skinner confessed frankly to the difficulty of running the non-story campaign, specifically in terms of players unwilling to embrace it out of fear for their characters.  When a reader steps forward to articulate this sort of problem, it serves as a guidepost to ideas and posts I want to address and discuss in the future.  It identifies, clearly and for all my readers, that there is a problem and what the problem is.

I get a steady drift of such comments, week after week.  I always wish there were more; I always wish the comments were longer and more intricate.  I wish we could go back and forth several dozen times, getting down to the nitty-gritty of the issue.  I know why we don't.

Yes, I'm a frightening son-of-a-bitch.  I'm intolerant and basically vicious when I see something that's insistently evidence of old, dead, discarded ideas ~ most of which I had, once upon a time, but which I've since discarded in the 37 years that I've been obsessed with this game.  Those 37 years, that's a bloody mountain of time and data and thought-processing, spent building tables and wrecking them, spent building world systems and then ripping them out of my game because they didn't work.

Just look at the way I went at one of my own systems, that I put forth on the blog: that disastrous experience with Conflict Cards.  I advanced the idea, I fought for the idea, I insulted people who resisted the idea and I blasted ahead with it, spending at least a hundred hours thinking through the damn cards and more time testing them.  But they didn't work, did they?  They were shit, to be honest.  I playtested them with my real life group and they showed promise, then I played them with the boys online and they went all munchkin with the cards, proving just how much rot the notion was.

Did I resist trashing them?  No.  Did I keep throwing out new efforts for the next six years?  No. They were a failure.  Once I was sure that they were, a process that took about a week, I knifed that idea in the gut and left it for dead on the side of the game trail.  Because that's what I do.  I don't quibble about sixteen possible definitions for something that's clearly a dead issue.  I see it is shit, I call it shit, I dump it and it's done.

And that is hard for people.  Hard.  Largely because I'm willing to be just as ruthless with the reader's ideas that I have just described myself being with mine.  But I really don't care what anyone feels about an idea.  I only care if an idea works.  If it doesn't, it goes out with the trash and no funeral.

So when people comment on this blog, knowing how cold and insensitive I will be to the warm fuzzy feelings people have about their opinions, they're cautious.  They say little.  They protect themselves.

Perfectly understandable.  I did the same when I was in university, when I sat in courses with professors who knew a thousand times as much as I did about Greeks and Romans.  If I wanted to take a position about something Thucydides said with Dr. Heckle, I goddamn knew that I had to be right enough to win his respect, even when it happened that I was wrong.  Because Heckle wasn't friendly, he wasn't patient, he wasn't sympathetic to feelings and he wasn't giving an inch on things he knew were bloody well wrong.  And so it was with Baldwin and Walbank, with Yardley and Dewar, with Vanderspoel and Humphrey and all the rest.  Because they believed in their training and their material, in their time spent researching, thinking, arguing and putting themselves on the line against the world when publishing their ideas.  Where it came to handling a 20-year-old punk kid with 18-months of reading under his or her belt, the responsibility they felt was to snap the kid's dumb-fuck neck with the facts, not to give a pat on the forehead and not to make sure our precious little feelings weren't hurt.  That's why it was one of the best classics departments on the continent when I went and that's why every prof I've just named was trained in either England or Germany.  Because that's how courses were taught there in the 1950s and 60s.

I'm not teaching classics now, but I am teaching D&D and role-playing.  And I think it is serious stuff.

In the movie Koyaanisqatsi, there is a long and patient zoom of a flight officer standing in front of a jet intake.  The shot lasts 29 seconds, which is a long time in film.  Throughout the whole zoom, the man's face does not change from this:



I was watching the film the other day and thinking, when I came to this point, about the expereince behind these eyes, behind the eyes of almost every military man I've ever met.  This fellow here; I promise that he does not care what anyone thinks they know about aircraft or their use in warfare except where it agrees with 99% of what he knows.

The most common disparagement on the internet is that I am not interested in people who don't agree with me.  And I think I have slowly come to accept that this is true.  It hasn't been an easy acceptance.  I've chafed against it and denied it, but truth be told, I'm like this fellow in the picture. I've done my work.  I've learned my trade.  And I'm not prepared to put aside all that I've learned because someone with feelings feels that I'm not kind enough or patient enough or tolerant enough of ridiculous quibbling arguments about the meanings of words or the motivations of those who won't accept obvious truths like rules matter, that player agency matters, that cheating is cheating or that repeatedly arguing about the same points over and over is time wasted.  So no, I'm not interested in being disagreed with.

I am interested in being educated.  I am interested in knowing that others are having the same experiences that I'm having, that others are fighting the same war that I'm fighting.  Like any officer or rating, I'm comfortable discussing things with my own people, who see that the world works in a certain way not because our thoughts make reality, but because we're willing to bend our thoughts TO reality.  And those that won't, or can't, or insist it just isn't so, can get the fuck out of my sandbox.

See that man's eyes?  That's what my eyes will look like when I delete your comment.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Insufferable

O Gentle Reader . . . do you like beer commercials?  Specifically, those commercials that take place in bars, where everyone is "drinking," laughing, shooting pool, dancing, pushing their bodies against each other, looking, oh, I don't know, cool?

Do those work for you?  Do they make you want to drink beer?  They must work, because beer companies have been making these commercials for a long time.  Here's one from 2017:


I watched just 12 seconds of this video before deciding that it would work for this post . . . and in that short time, I absolutely came to the conclusion that these people ~ except for the fact that they are actors and that some of them probably don't drink beer (though they wouldn't admit that on set) ~ are assholes.  These are the kinds of assholes who are sitting at the next table, living in the glorified belief that every person in the bar wants to know everything about their jobs, their exes, their shouted opinions about what's wrong with Mounds candy bars and, you name it, whatever other dumb-fuck thing that matters to them.

Yet the commercials are clearly shot to be aspirational.  "You want to BE these people," the commercial says.  "You want to be cool like them, you want to dance like them, you want to scream like them, you want to drink their shitty brand of beer."

You want to be an asshole.

Strangely, I get the same vibe from role-players when they hit a certain, uh, level of fame.  Here's a video that Critical Role put out in March:



See?  You want to be these people!  You want to wear their costumes, you want to draw on your friend's face while he's passed out, you want to shoot a pinata in a snowy forest and threaten it with your weapon.  You want to pose in feathered costumes and pretend your super-sized styrofoam sword is an air guitar!  You want to play their shitty game.

This is a beer commercial.  For role-play.  And like these people, it is clear that you want to be an asshole.  You want to portray smug indifference as you poor fake coins over yourself before dancing in the yard of a borrowed property that has not given you permission to film indoors.

I really, really, really hate that I am in any way connected to this.

Monday, June 26, 2017

More on Pete

I'm going to talk a little more about the cover change for Pete's Garage, that I published in 2013. I've never been happy with the cover; it has been a thorn in my side these last four years, for I haven't been able to figure out an alternative ~ and frankly, did not have the resources to get another good picture shot.

However, I chanced to discover that there is tons more excellent free-use content on the internet that even three or four years ago.  Amazing content, to be honest.  The image I showed for the potential re-skinning of the cover yesterday was free use.

And today, I want to do a Snoopy-dance, because I found the photographer and got his personal opinion to boot, and a "photo credit would be appreciated if possible."  Justin Higuchi is an L.A. music photographer, smoked port aficionado and obsessive free parker, born in Hawaii.  And he shot the picture below, which can be found on Wikipedia:


Recognize it?  The musician is Australia's Orianthi; she could be a character in the book.  The part of the shot that I mean to use is a small part of the right-hand side, flipped.

I am so pleased.  All I need now is a proper rewrite on the back of the book and I'm set to fix the cover.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Re-skinning Pete's Garage

I am thinking of redesigning my Pete's Garage cover along these lines:


Friday, June 23, 2017

Looking at Ourselves

For some readers, this won't be a comfortable post.  But if you are a DM, I would like to ask you some questions.  Try to answer them as honestly as you can ~ you are the only judge of what you feel.

Do you agree or disagree with the following?

  • I find that overall, my players think that my campaign is boring.

  • I mess up every time I try to run my campaign.

  • I feel devastated when one of my players criticizes me or my game.

  • When I'm creating an adventure or a setting, I feel I have to do my best to prove I'm good enough, or else I will lose all my players.

  • I could stop running my campaign right now and none of my players would really care.

  • I feel at the end of the night, when I'm done, that I've let my players down.

  • I am never going to be a good DM.

  • The worst is hearing criticism from my players that I know is correct; that just proves my world is no good.

  • I get discouraged when an adventure doesn't go well.

  • Believing that my world can be good is more important than what other people think about it.

  • Making my players respect my world is the only way that they will respect me.

  • It is important that all my players like the campaign I'm running.

  • I avoid having arguments with my players because it's important that no one gets angry or unhappy with my game.

  • I have modified my ideas about role-playing games to be more accepted by my players.

  • It is very hard to get players who will come back and play again, or even to like my game.

  • Before making a change to my world, I ask my players if I'm doing the right thing.


If none of these questions bother you, then you're the sort of person that would worry me very much.  For me, these go right to the heart of everything.  These are the questions ~ and the beliefs ~ that are keeping us awake at night . . . and it is perfectly natural to read them and to feel a cold chill.  They're all questions that have started arguments.  They're also questions that never get answered properly.

With the exception of changing the context, they are straight from a self-esteem test that can be taken on the Psychology Today website.  The test is free.  Feel free to take it if you want; and try to take it, if you can, in relation to yourself, your players and your role-playing campaign.  There's no need to tell anyone what you learned.

But that's not where it ends.  Psychology Today also offers a primer on improving our self-esteem (I, too, have demons).  And for our benefit, I'd like to rewrite it for DMs.

1.  Be mindful.

We can't change our worlds or our campaign if we don't recognize that there is something that needs to be changed.  By simply being aware of our need to criticize the design, or our imagination, or our ability to be inventive or fun, we distance ourselves from those moments in the campaign when we feel those shortcomings most keenly.  When we rush to disparage the campaign, we are acting in the way that we imagine our players are thinking ~ and this helps us feel safe and one of the group, as we pretend that we can be as critical as they are.  This removes us from the feelings that threaten us.  We stop being aware of that very uncomfortable moment when we feel inadequate.  But without this awareness, we can easily fall into the trap of really believing that we're not good DMs, or that we never can be.

We should not believe everything we think.  Thoughts are just that - thoughts.  As soon as we find ourselves going down the path of thinking less of our campaigns, we need to remember: "These are just thoughts, just opinions.  They are not facts about our abilities."

2.  Change the story.

We all have an idea about how and why we got into role-playing in the first place.  We have strong memories of our first games, of how great they were, of the people who ran those games and how important it was for us to be just as good at this as they were.  This is core of our self-image as DMs.  But if we don't want to be imprisoned by that measurement, we have to understand why we thought those people were so great.  We have to remember we saw them from the point of view of a person who knew nothing.  Were they really so great, or are we just internalizing our first experiences?

Sometimes, thinking that we'll never be the equal of them is said so often in our minds that it stops us from being able to play as well as we can.  We need to start with affirming what we know now, not what we knew then.  We need to repeat this to ourselves as often as we can.  If we want to change the story of our abilities, we have to start believing it how far we've come.

3.  Avoid falling into the compare-and-despair rabbit hole.

It is part of our gaming experience to attend conventions, join groups, play with different DMs, try new games, read everything that we can find and measure our abilities against those of others who are doing the same thing we're trying to do.  We need to stop comparing ourselves to others.  Just because someone appears to know what they're doing in their campaign, has a huge youtube following or is a leading figure in the community we see, doesn't mean they're happy.  Comparisons only lead to negative criticism of what we're doing, which leads to anxiety, stress and a resistance against running our campaigns or working on our worlds.  This can affect our physical health as well as our games, the way we talk to our players and the creativity we deeply want to possess.

4. Channel your inner rock star.

Albert Einstein said, "Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid."  We are all playing wildly different kinds of games, with different focuses and different motivations, depending on what we believe and what we know.  Just because I have a particular philosophy about what makes a game work, which this blow expounds, doesn't mean that it's the only way.  But I have to believe it is my way, just as every role-player has to have enough faith in their outlook to know what is going to work for them.  Take something from me, taking something from someone else, we have to go whatever way best plays to our strengths and weaknesses.

None of this defines our core worth.  Our core worth is in our confidence in our own games, especially in times of doubt, when we are most challenged by outsiders.  That's when we have to be sure.  It's easy to make generalizations about messing up and failing, but reminding ourselves that we put ourselves in front of our players and took the bit in our teeth is what can tell us that we rock.  This is the real truth about ourselves.

We need to ask ourselves if there was a time in our lives when we had better self-esteem.  What was going on in our lives when we had it?  When it's difficult to have perspective on things like this, we need to trust the voices of others, who knew us then or who know us now, sometimes better than we do.  Sometimes its easier for others to see our genius that for us to see it in ourselves.

5.  Exercise.

We are not a brain in a jar.  We are a brain in a complicated, potentially unhealthy spongy mechanism that rewards us when we act in a way that's physical, just as our distant ancestors had to be every minute of their lives.  We're built that way.  That is why exercising creates a feeling of empowerment ~ because we are driven by the same chemicals that rewarded running across open plains, searching for food, escaping enemies and enjoying ourselves in an immense, unrestricted landscape.

Exercise and measure it.  Calibrating helps us see our accomplishments ~ and accomplishments enable us to feel better about ourselves.  Don't just relax.  Get out and do something fun.  Do something hard.  See how it feels.  Then eat the fuel that makes the "hard" easier and get the sleep that makes doing it more fun.

6.  Do unto others.

You're not just a DM.  You're a figure of respect.  To some of your players, you are that same amazing, great DM that they will remember all of their lives, as they was nostalgically about YOU.  We need to see that.  We need to let them take us our of our head, as we look at ourselves clearly, the way others see us.  We need to reach out and give them what we hoped our mentors would give us ~ only we need to give more than we got.  We need to make the next generation better than what the last generation did for us.

When we see someone do something in their life, that they deserve to be proud of, we need to tell them.  We need to help them recognize their worth.  Helping players and other DMs respect themselves is a key to understanding why we need to respect ourselves.  Volunteering to run a game when no one else will; letting a new player join even when we think we have more players than we can handle; these are ways to stretch ourselves and prove our willingness to try.  That, too, is something we can respect ourselves for doing.

Don't spend the campaign mired in negative thoughts.  Be positive to others and realizing that you're reaping a return in smiles, friendship and excitement. When you sit down with the players, don't threaten them; thank them.  Laugh when they say things that are funny.  Enjoy the game.  When your mood improves, the game table will feel it.

7. Forgiveness.

When have we gone too far?  When has a session gone astray, leaving everyone with hurt feelings.  When have we felt ourselves accused or made and accusation that is still unresolved?  We need to let those things go.  We need to let go of our resentment and move forward.  We're only human.  We have human needs, human limitations, human moments of weakness.

Forgiving someone does not mean we have to surrender some part of ourselves or protect our rights to independent.  Forgiveness is not a sacrifice.  It does not come with a price.  Forgiveness is an understanding, a clarity that says we're going to disagree with some people and that's all right.  We're not going to get along with some people and that's all right.  It doesn't define who we are, or who they are.  It just makes us different.

We need to stop hurting ourselves by letting what we've said, and what they've said, define who we can be in the future.

8. Remember that you are not your circumstances.

Things change.  They change for the better and they change for the worse ~ and we ourselves change as we adapt to all this change around us.  The key to our self-worth is to remember that what is going on today can only limit what we can become if we refuse to grow.

We need to feel good about ourselves to do that.  We need to feel secure in our thoughts, in the company we keep.  We need to feel able to find enjoyment and to not fear failure.  A moment of failure is only the circumstance we are experiencing in this moment.  It is not who we are.  We are the moment of success we will find when we learn from that failure.

We don't have to live forever in a world of doubt, self-destructive thoughts and regret.  We have tremendous potential to be great DMs ~ every one of us.  We have the potential to be aware of the truth and to make up our minds about what we want to be.  We can be careful not to be so self-critical that we forget our ability to get better with time.  We can effect a change on the world.  We can effect a change on ourselves.  We can surround ourselves with people who want to come along with us and we can forgive those who need to go their own way.  We can work hard to be better than this and, while we work, we can sing with the music and have a good time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What Is a Role-Playing Game?

I don't suppose I've ever answered this question.  For standard use, I will accept the definition from Ozymandias at Crossing the 'Verse, in the self-same post as this one is named after:

"A role-playing game is a free-form, open-world, cooperative game in which participants take on one of several roles, represented through avatars or characters in the game, with the purpose of achieving one of several goals, which may be variously defined by the game rules or by the players themselves, by overcoming the obstacles and challenges presented to them by the game master, a participant who is responsible for designing the world-setting and game rules, and for acting as the interpreter and adjudicator of the world-setting for the players."

This above was the motivation for my writing this post, not because I disagree with any of the above; I think it goes the nth-degree in maintaining the sense of openness and flexibility that is needed to describe the game, addressing correctly the substantial motivation for game success and neatly side-stepping the usual description of the game's facilitator as all-powerful god and decision-maker.

And so I will not try to better this definition; instead, I will try to address what goes on while a role-playing game is in session.  When playing, what is happening?

In the moment, we're certainly not kicking back and thinking, "Wow, it is so great to play in this free-form, open-world with our avatar representations and all these great challenges."  That is what's happening, but that's not what we're thinking.  To get a handle on how to better our thinking, and how to handle the business of playing moment-to-moment, we had better consider just how the game manifests at the ground level.  I'd like to take some time and do that.

The Story

Let's try it first from the considered argument that role-playing is a "story."  If we try, we have to ask, where does that story begin?  In someone's mind, yes, either the DM or the player.  The player thinks, "I have an idea in my head that my character has always wanted to ~" and the details of the story doesn't matter.  The next move the player has (or the DM, if the story has emerged from the DM's mind) is to tell the story.  This makes the third move of the cooperative activity the interpretation of the story by others and the fourth move, necessarily, either the acceptance or the refusal of that story, since what's being asked for is that other players should now join in with the precepts of the story as envisioned by the individual who conceived of the story.

This should ring alarm bells for some, but for a lot of people it doesn't.  This seems like a natural progression.  Someone has to invent a story, or else none of us will know what to do.  All we want for certain is that it is a good story, one we can identify with and thus interpret favorably, causing us to want to "buy in," thus ensuring that the story can now be fabricated as a group activity.

This seems to be what 99.9% of all role-playing game tables are doing.  Players join together, individually fabricate backstories, then compare the backstories to see who has the best one, which can then be improved by jointly including elements of the other backstories at the table into the final form.  When the game begins, then, each moment of the game is related to the backstory.  We encounter a monster and the monster, in some way, serves as an obstacle/enhancer for the story (because the DM is expected to make each part of the adventure relevant to the story). Overcoming an obstacle (monster or otherwise) purposefully moves the story to the next stage; the DM fills in fluff or meaningful information about the NPCs or the world in general that explains what happens as the players pursue the story until, finally, the story is brought to its inevitable and exciting conclusion, one that we hope will satisfy all the players.  The threads are tied up, the individuals receive their rewards for taking part, and the moment comes when the players and DM once again set themselves to come up with a new story, which can then set the framework for the next adventure.

As the players progress, they use the story as their guide: their ability to make sense of or clarify a given moment is found within the story itself, as the final conclusion is necessarily logical and gratifying.  Otherwise, it is not a good story and players will balk.  This orc, that impassable bridge, this confusing letter, the motivation of the prince when he cut his own throat and so on, all tie in together to form the puzzle of the story: and piecing together the puzzle, session by session, is the brain teaser that makes role-playing so great.

This is not how I run my games.

I am not telling a story.  I'm not creating a setting that has to produce a given set of predictable results.  None of the creatures or obstacles that I put in my world has anything to do with a preconceived story.  Characters may create stories or pursue plans, but none of the things they meet along the way will necessarily relate to those plans.  I'm under no obligation to ensure that any NPC has a comprehensible or relatable motivation once they happen to appear on the character's horizon.  A given event may, or may not, be linked to other events that are also happening in the game setting.

That is because, while I believe that stories do occur in a game, I do not believe that stories occur one at a time.  The people met, the places occupied, the events witnessed, may belong to a given story the players recognize or they may not.  The fighter who appears at the bar to fight the players will as likely as not have no connection whatsoever to the princess the players have been striving to save.  Sometimes, a rude fighter is just a rude fighter.

Why is this preferable?

The story is a crutch.  It is a narrowing of the possible reasons why anything that occurs within the game can occur, or does occur, because it must occur within relation to the interpretable story, else it doesn't belong.  Thus the players are not given the question, "does this matter?" but the question, "how does this matter?"  This vastly simplifies the parameters of the game, making it easier for the players to interpret and easier for the DM to run.

It also substantially reduces the free-form aspect of the game, in that player and DM perception alike is regulated by the number of possible obstacles that can meaningfully "make sense" in the context of the pre-fixed story.  By conceiving a story, whether by a player or by the DM, the size of the universe becomes vastly reduced.

The Haphazard Setting

Let's come back around and ask the same question that I did at the beginning of the last section, in line with the present header:  where does the setting begin?

The setting begins at a place.  There is no story.  As far as the setting is concerned, the players might just as well not exist.

If the players can operate in the absence of a story, the first question they must ask themselves is not, "Where ought we to go," but "Where can we go?"  In any game that I run, this is an open-ended question, limited only by the player's abilities and the physical laws of the setting.  The players cannot fly, they cannot have personal knowledge of places they've never been, they cannot ride a horse unless they've learned how, they cannot be sure whether the road to the west or the road to the south is the best choice.  But they must make a choice.  They must move.

And so, from moment-to-moment, the game is not about their destiny but their action.  It is explained to the players that if they wish to take an action that will increase their wealth, personal power, knowledge, status or sense of novelty, it will have to be an action that incorporates risk. Without risk, there is no reward.  So the players are invited, initially, to choose the sort of risk they'd like to undertake.

If they do not wish to undertake a risk of any particular kind, then the risk will be brought to them. Because this is the game.  Just as a game of monopoly is about moving about the board and buying property, the role-playing game is about moving through the setting, encountering risk and overcoming risk.

A monopoly player can choose not to buy property, ever; but the game will quickly turn against that player.  If all the players at the start of the game make an agreement that none of them will buy property, ever, they have not broken any of the game's rules; but they have lost the sense and the meaning of the game and the experience is fruitless.

Thus, in a given moment, when players encounter a situation of risk, the structure of the role-playing game is to not merely to reduce the risk, but to eliminate the risk entirely in the most effective, cogent, efficient way possible, to promote survival while simultaneously effecting change on the game's setting.

Each step along the way is presented as a series of options that all appear to offer a reasonable course of action that will make this possible.  Some of these courses of action will be a trap; many of them will not.  Some will be far more effective than others.  Some will be effective only if the dice roll in the player's favour.  No one, not player, not DM, can be certain of which course of action will be the best because any might be adjusted by a unique, never-before-considered possible action that will only occur to the player in the heat of a given moment.  Sometimes this eloquent, fortuitous happenstance will only occur because the dice roll a certain way; sometimes it will occur because the participants can't go with their original plan because something has gone wrong, such as a character dying or a door being permanently closed through misadventure.  Situations such as these force innovation, as story-lines NEVER can.  Innovation overcomes risk.

Momentary, inspired innovation, achieved by the momentary flash of enlightenment, is the golden trophy for which 0.1% of us play this game.  It cannot be planned for, it cannot be preconceived, it cannot even be sorted out of the existing possibilities except in the moment when it suddenly emerges as the only possibility.

Few people experience this, ever.  Even fewer people know how to create the circumstances to let it emerge from the synchronic gestalt that a role-playing game enables.  Most have no idea this is even the goal, as they've never experienced this moment in any degree that would let them either reflect upon it or willfully perpetrate its presence again.

Role-playing is a means of doing so.  It is an artificial way of forcing us, as human beings, to respond to risk in the same way that human beings, responding to risk through our racial existence, overcame each obstacle and allowed us to formally occupy the planet.  We're designed as biological constructs to think our way out of problems when we are threatened; by encouraging that feeling of threat, by forcing us to risk something that we treasure, we think like gods.

When we construct the game in a manner that eliminates risk, reduces threat, promotes certainty of eventual success, narrows our framework so that the unexpected need never been compensated for, we think like children.

It is up to us, really, what sort of game we want to play.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Strategies of the Lost

Of late, in the hope of finding ideas to make jokes about (and I've found a few), I have been watching advice videos for role-playing, principally D&D.  I did this back in 2014, before writing How to Run, but as it seems to happen, the world has changed since then.

Just three years ago, the mainstream content that existed could be described as ineffectual; scattered, cliched phrases that would help little in a campaign setting, generally in a light-weight format that "promised" to give the sense of what game play could be in the space of an essay that wouldn't have met the guidelines for a first-year university paper.

That has changed.  On the whole, the discourse has moved almost entirely to vlogs; and these vlogs are . . . well, mostly unwatchable.

The gentle reader may have noticed in the last few months that a favorite word that keeps making its way onto this blog is "toxic."  I stumbled across the word in relationship to "toxic masculinity" sometime late last fall and I don't seem to be able to let it go.  It seems like such a good, descriptive, stabbing word that I am certainly in danger of overusing it.  Yet it so perfectly describes a certain motive that I am witnessing more and more: the desire not just to be arrogant, but to be deliberately poisonous, harmful or consciously malevolent in the giving of advice to people interested in role-playing ~ and, indeed, anything else.

The motive has come out of video game play and, around the time of gamer-gate (remember that one?), began it's virulent spread into every human activity [as it happens, "virulent" is also a synonym of toxic, thus my adoration of the word].  Those of us who still have a sense of proportion will have noticed that, beginning around late 2014, there has been an increase in the level of hysteria in describing anything one might name.  Not that I think this has reached a fever pitch, by any means: we can go a LOT further with hysteria than we already have . . . but it is not a surprise to me that people are beginning to pull away from social media on account of it.

Yes, yes, I know that you haven't, you're reading this blog.  But it's undeniable that there are rumblings, even if anti-posts about facebook, instagram or twitter say predictable things about the decline and fall of these monoliths.  Please take note that I'm quoting Forbes, Locowise and the Guardian, three platforms that all have something to gain from a) the demise of social media and b) any suspicion on the part of the public that social media is declining.  So please take this argument with a grain of salt.

It certainly isn't the heady days of social media; my experience begins with dalnet and icq, but even I can remember a more recent time when chatrooms were full and sending a message to a group community had merit.  It isn't that there is something wrong with social media ~ rather, it is just that it becomes boring faster than it can resustain itself with young teenagers who haven't had a chance to get bored yet.  And teenagers are bored.  [sorry, this one was USA Today, a thoroughly unreliable source, so please give it no merit].

I wasn't planning on getting into a general discussion about social media, though.  I just got pulled in, as this seems to be a common topic of late among my peers.  They're dissatisfied with it, it costs too much money, they're not meeting sexual partners through it any more, they hate that they're paying for it for their kids, go on and name it.  I can remember that social media seemed to make some people happy and now it just seems to make people feel hollow and unfulfilled.

As far as those who would give advice about D&D [and no, I'm not linking them, hopefully by next year the links will all be dead anyway], most seem to have an agenda that would destroy any vestige left of the game.  Like the fellow I quoted lately who would have every DM fudge and cheat their way through campaigns, to those barking ceaselessly that rules are a waste of time or worse, or the strange ideology that all the responsibility must be dumped on the players, or that saying "no" to players is somehow controlling their characters, so we must always say "yes," etcetera, etcetera.

Some of this, when I watch it, falls into the "understandable" category.  Someone has stumbled across the principle of improv, that argues it is important to always say "yes" to make an improvisational scene unfold effectively.  They look at their own game and think, "Aha!  My game has always worked better when I let the players act freely!"  Immediately they argue, "Always say yes - if you say no, you're destroying participation."  And an ideology is born.

All of these ideologies, however, both the very bad and the almost-trying, fail in one primary regard:  they insist on humans being predictable and, worse, simplistically predictable.  There are all kinds of psychological reasons why it is easier to say "yes" rather than "no."  Role-playing is not theatre improvisation, though it bears some similarities.  A "good game" cannot be boiled down to any de facto truth because humans themselves cannot be counted on to behave consistently in all situations.

DMs have to be flexible, yes.  But flexibility isn't always saying yes.  It isn't cheating on the dice.  It isn't presuming the game must be carried by the players.  Or any other single notion that is carped upon and bombasted for a fifteen-minute vlog.  "Flexibility" means there are no truths except that there are no truths.  The solution isn't to always say yes.  The solution is to say yes when it is appropriate and to otherwise say no.

We're arguing about the wrong things.  We're arguing what we should do, not WHEN we should do it.  Take virtually any of the advice you've heard in the last three years: all of it, I promise, potentially has merit in a given circumstance.  To prove it, I'll argue the right circumstance for the freaking toxic fudging argument:

I'm running a one-shot campaign and it is the end of the night.  I'm at a Fan Expo and I'm never going to see any of these people again, or certainly not until next year, at which time they'll probably be at some other table.  The fighter makes a last roll to hit the monster, three minutes before the session will end, by mandate of the organizers.  And she misses by 1 pip on the die.

Will I say she hit?  Hell yes.  Will I drop the number of hit points the monster has in my head so that she kills it with that last blow?  Sure.  Why not?  What difference would that make?  I'm not investing in these players.  There's no chance that they'll be able to redress the situation later, something I would count of if it were a regular campaign.  So yes, I would fudge.

Does this make fudging a good thing?  No, it doesn't.  But like a human, I can admit to a specific place and time when the traditional rules don't apply.  I come from a western tradition where the law is structured in a way that permits contradictions to normal, accepted behaviour.

However, the contradictions themselves cannot be allowed to become accepted, else all turns to shit and the game is lost.  I can guess why the game is turning in this direction, however.

People are desperate.  Even those who have been playing for 20 years just don't get it.  They've been playing and playing and they still don't know why some of what they do works and why some of it really, really doesn't.  And like humans, they're casting around for some kind of explanation, something that is simple enough to be explainable to people who are themselves wallowing.

And, of course, all this advice misses.  Because something happens in a game, a DM says "yes" when "no" was the right answer, the game devolves into a screaming match and of course no one can explain why.

We need to stop thinking about the game in terms of philosophy and start thinking of it in terms of precedent and problem solving.  A player says they're going to do something.  What you do isn't based on what you believe or what's right or what has worked in the past.  What you do has to be based on one thing:  what answer, in this precise situation, will produce the best possible effect?

You know, like you try to do all the time, as a human being, with your family, your friends, your job or your self.  D&D is just a different situation ~ but the rules are the same.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sight and Fire

From the wiki:

Provides a combatant with the ability to make the best use of cover while firing at an opponent with a bow or a crossbow, or when using a hurled weapon. The ability cannot be employed when using a sling, a staff sling, a bola or similar spinning weapon.

Effectively, the combatant, hiding behind cover, makes a sighting of the enemy, meaning that a glance is made around a corner, from behind a tree or by raising one's head above a wall or similar defense. Then, in the following round, with a loaded weapon, the combatant moves, fires at the sighted location of the target and then returns to cover at once. The weapon may be loaded in the same round that the sighting occurs.

If the target has not changed hexes since the sighting, the missile or hurled weapon has a -1 chance of hitting when fired or thrown in this manner. If the target has moved, however, the attack will miss, unless a natural 2 is rolled (in which case, the target might be hit by accident so long as the target is within a 30-degree arc of its original position). This is meant to be a quirk, based upon the friendly fire rule found under Critical Hits & Fumbles.

The combatant firing in this manner is considered to be at -4 AC for the enemy's attack immediately after the sighted fire is attempted (remembering that D&D combat is a turn-based resolution of simultaneous attacks).

Question:

I would like to know for certaint that this is clear and that there are no contingencies I might have missed.  Please weigh in if you think it is fine; that will help offset opinions from those who may have only read it too quickly.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stealth Problems

I am enjoying the stealth rules I created and I've had plenty of time to play with them ~ but I have to admit that they're tricky to use.  I thought I'd write a post about that.

The rules stipulate a minimum distance that the combatant can successfully approach an enemy without being seen, modified by such things as vegetation, the amount the combatant is wearing/carrying, the level of the combatant and the combatant's appearance due to camouflage.  The closer the distance between combatant and target, the more silent and hidden it is assumed the combatant is.

The tricky part is in describing this to the player, specifically due to troubles that arise in terms of the player's awareness of the enemy and how they may choose to describe their movement.

Let's take the easiest situation: the player can see the enemy at a set distance away; we'll say the enemy is 14 hexes away, with 5 feet per hex, or 70 feet.  The stealth rule then designates (we roll) how many hexes will separate the player character from the enemy before the character's movement is discovered.

What's needed at this point is a "commitment to approach," which is hard to obtain.  The characters says they are approaching the enemy.  Because of the rule, we don't need to figure out if the character uses the bushes or moves along a low wall or just crawls up on belly.  Time is not a factor in the rule (though we could stipulate one hex per round, or perhaps one hex per three rounds).  In movie terms, it's the scene where the character very, very slowly moves up on the enemy in order to kill them, pausing each time the enemy moves



Players don't want to commit, however.  They want to describe their movement one hex at a time, but of course until reaching the critical hex, the character isn't discovered.  So I have to ask the question, "Do you approach the enemy until you are discovered?"

That's a really hard question to answer.  It sounds ominous and uncomfortable and players don't want to answer it; which usually means they want to back off and not approach the enemy at all. Which is fair enough. Sneaking up on someone is freaky and ought to be seen as a very hazardous option.

Now let's take a more difficult situation to run.  The players can hear the enemy but can't see them.  They're nearby, in the bushes, and the players want to attack them.  However, now I can't tell the players how close the enemy are.  They can't see distance; hearing is not seeing and the distance can't be judged.  In such situations, I find it hard to explain to the players that yes, if they move up on the enemy, they'll have to risk being seen ~ while having no idea how many hexes the enemy will be away.  Again, I need that commitment to approach, until the enemy is engaged.

Prior to the stealth rule, I did not have a problem with this.  The players, by not relating stealth to distance, would happily blunder into the enemy and a fight would ensue.  They're in the bushes? No problem, we rush through the bushes and attack them.

But by introducing this distance scheme into the mix, players have become very, very cautious. Basically, I've given them a measurement that they think they ought to be able to control; but of course they can't, since a 3d6 roll can be pretty scattered, particularly when I'm making that roll in secret so they can't be sure what their result is (at least, until they're at -10 on the dice because they've reached name level as an assassin or thief).  By nailing down the specifics of the approach, I've given the players a reason to think twice; and thinking twice, they tend to err on the side of caution.  That is, they decide not to approach at all.

It is an interesting psychological problem and I have found it difficult to work with.  I'm going to be working on another rule about heightened senses [page description in progress], which will establish a minimum approach distance for anyone with the sage ability, regardless of the enemy's stealth, as well as providing some information on how distant an enemy is by virtue of hearing them. Heightened senses basically takes the place of "hear noise," while adding a few other juicy benefits.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Paying the Wrong Horse

risk.  Noun: a situation involving exposure to danger; the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen; a person or thing regarded as likely to turn out well or badly, as specified, in a particular context or respect; a person or thing regarded as a threat or likely source of danger. Verb: expose someone or something valued to danger, harm or loss; act or fail to act in such a way as to bring about the possibility of an unpleasant or unwelcome event; incur the chance of unfortunate consequences by engaging in an action.  Synonyms: endanger, imperil, jeopardize, hazard, gamble, gamble with, chance.

As D&D was originally conceived, the payoff for the game would result in the players taking a risk; the risk was that they would put themselves in a situation where dice would be rolled to determine the outcome, so that as the player chose to take a given risk (attack a group of monsters), the dice would then enable the DM and the player to resolve the context by seeing if the risk resulted in something that turned out well or something that turned out badly.

Adventure design, therefore, hinged on placed players in situations where a die would need to be thrown: a combat, an attempt to deactivate a trap, a situation where the player might be surprised or not, the chance of a player taking full damage from a dragon's breath or less.  And the payoff worked in kind: if the player lived, the player received experience, treasure, opportunity, recognition and increased power through magic and other upgrades.

It is natural that, faced with this, a player would try to mitigate the risk.  If the same payoff could be gained with less risk, then like any good laboratory rat the player would logically pursue a course of less risk.

If the player learned that by leaning upon and manipulating a DM, the risk could be mitigated even more satisfactorily and the payoff yet received, then naturally the player began to "play" the DM, as a means of mitigating risk.

In turn, if the DM personally felt impressed by a player's ability to cleverly sidestep risk, and decided that a payoff ought to awarded for cleverness, it then follows that the player should begin to recognize that the game has been reshaped so as not to reward risk, but to reward cleverness.

Finally, the next logical step in the pattern is to redesign the game, steadily, to ensure that cleverness in avoiding risk is rewarded, so that risk itself becomes an wholly impractical course of action, since the payoff for both risk and the avoidance of it is made the same.

Does the reader follow?  As a community, we award cleverness and not risk.  And that's where everything has gone wrong from the beginning.

If you break down any discussion about the awarding of experience, the use of saving throws, the save or die principle, the employment of wandering monsters, the invention of feats, the increase in clerical healing or healing of all sorts, the increase in opportunism in how many die rolls a player can make before having to submit to being killed, "role-playing" vs. "roll-playing", the wide-spread use of fudging, experience levels gained for "good play," the argument that a backstory is the most important part of role-playing and so on, at the core of all those arguments is a steady drum-beat that argues we ought to reward cleverness and not risk.

Because risk is "bad."  Risk means that the player might lose.  That would lower D&D to the status of every other game that exists, where losing is a reality that must be managed and accepted by the individual, regardless of the hurt or the disappointment that might bring.  Losing is the challenge, not winning.  Losing is the pain that is felt, that encourages the participant to re-evaluate themselves and their game play, that demands recognition of limitations and in turn demands the individual effect a change to those limitations.

Losing is not "bad."  Through losing, we overcome our fear, we recognize our humanity, we find reasons to feel empathy with others, we address our shortcomings and we become better people through seeing ourselves not as gods, but as mortals.

But failing to be clever obtains none of this.  Failing to be clever only incites participants to attempt greater and wider attempts to be clever, desperate attempts to be clever, needy attempts to be clever, frustrated and argumentative attempts to be clever, the certainty that if the right string of words can be pounded together, then we will BE clever and the game will be given to us free and clear.  Cleverness, both in its success and its failure, has the habit of convincing us that we are gods, swelling us with hubris until the moment comes when we learn all that arrogance, conceit and egotism won us, in the end, only the proof of our cherished flaws.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Food for Thought

For those who might be interested in how it is going with my book, I will offer some perspective. Here is a list of familiar novels by the number of words that they possess:


As the reader can see, I am just now passing the Martian Chronicles and moving up on the Color Purple ~ an awful, awful book.

Now here is a shorter list describing how long some books took to write:


David Copperfield is obviously a lot longer than my book, but the Jungle Book is shorter.  My book isn't any where near as fairy/folk tale as the Hobbit, so I'm not competing with it; at any rate, I'm going to miss that mark too.  I began seriously writing the present book in the late summer of 2015. C'est la vie.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Selling Fudge

If the reader wants an example of just how toxic the grand community is for role-playing and D&D, I couldn't give a better example than this.

[picture removed due to my increasing disgust with linked content presenter]


Watch it.  Watch it all.  You'll have to power yourself through it, unless you are just as toxic as the creator.

Take note of the self-styled opinion the presenter has about himself: that he is "great."  Take note of the repeated cognitive dissonance as he justifies each action he advocates, then rushes in to qualify that justification, only to then dismiss the qualification he's just made on the basis of doing whatever feels "right" at a given moment.

Take note that the individual clearly has no concept of his own humanity, his foibles, his limitations, his arrogance or his biological limitations in judgement making.

Then, once you've completed the video, if you still have the stomach for it, read through the cheering, praising, vociferous panegyric of the DM's belief system and opinions, filled with unrestrained awe and love.

The picture is one of a community so bereft of good sense, so lacking in perspective or any knowledge of effective human management or person-to-person respect, that they are ready to lunge for this leaden life preserver of an emotional despot in the hopes that they won't drown in their campaigns.  To a responder, it is clear that none of them run a good campaign, that each and every one is merely a perpetrator of the same noxious habits of the presenter, seeking nothing less than affirmation and a pat on the back for being injurious, self-absorbed, indifferent assholes themselves.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Tech Progression

As an addendum to my previous post.  Here is my latest effort to simplify the progression in cultural entities (services, features, social forms and goods) from tech-5 to tech-7 . . . to give information that can be gained somewhat at a glance:


Saturday, June 3, 2017

What a Tech Level IS

For those who are tired of hearing about tech tables, I apologize.

At present, I find myself in difficulty.  I'm organizing my thoughts with outlining further characteristics of a tech-6 culture, specifically the presence of mines, minimal transport and cart-roads, the presence of artisan shops, connections with the world market, ending with governance and minimal religious authority.  The difficulty in describing these things are not in the things themselves: we can easily understand how a brewer's establishment might work and how we wouldn't expect to see something like that except in a well-built up community.

The problem lies in determining what a tech-6 culture isn't ~ because my mind, like anyone else's, will automatically seek to assign the next logical thing, be it an accessory, structure or way of doing things, because this is our experience.

Allow an example.  Let start with the head of a large village, a chieftain.  He (or she) has a close-knit association with his family and reliable associates, say eight extended families that number about fifty persons within a village of 400.  Now, where do they live?

If we're thinking a primitively agricultural community, like that of 16th century Hawaii or perhaps 8th century Vikings, we immediately think of a long-house.  This is certainly a very primitive variety of village feature: a long, narrow, single-room structure built by multiple cultures in different parts of the world, because it provided protection and, for some, status.

It is, however, a tech-7 building, not one found in tech-6.

Now how do I know that?  Well, I am founding this system on guidelines that were established by the tech system in the game Civilization: and in that game, the "dun" ~ a Celtic alternative in the game for walls ~ comes available at the level of masonry.  Masonry is not one of the techs that I mentioned as being available at tech-6 . . . it isn't available until tech-7.

I am making the association between duns and longhouses because both indicate a technical advancement in protection . . . and because I argue that protection, or defense, is itself a step forward.  At some point in human habitation we did develop agriculture and animal husbandry without also having developed the recognition that even the most primitive form of defensive housing would be necessary.  Thus, for tech-6, we have the first advancement, we don't have the later.

That is damn hard to get my head around, I will admit.  I find myself having to step back and step back again and again, trying to get a firm and distinct handle on just what exactly tech-6 is as opposed to tech-7 ~ and hell, I'm only just starting.  If the jump between these two is this difficult, how hard is it going to be to nail down the difference between tech 10 and tech 11?

And now here is the most frustrating part of my dilemma.  I'm trying to create a rational table that can be seen at a glance that will explain, in pure and simple terms, what a tech level IS.  So far, I haven't found a way to do that.

I'll explain briefly how I'm building up notes.  I start by going through the Civilization (Beyond the Sword) effects, buildings and units to collect details on what comes available with what technology.  I then list these in terms of physical changes that will be made to the environment and culture: structures, institutions and production.  I assign whether these are connected to coins, food or hammers, then how much of each of those is needed to mean that in that hex, that structure, et al, is present.  Finally, I try to create a list of those things that would be associated with the structure, institution and production that helps define the technology number that we're at.  Here are my notes for tech-7:


All of these things are available at tech-7 but not at tech-6.  And while the table is easily read and considered in a minute or so, it isn't immediately comprehensible what this all means.  That, I have found, is disturbingly difficult to establish with simplicity.

I have made a number of attempts now to write out a given tech level in terms of what it means and what sort of culture/experience it would represent for the players ~ and it always winds up being an exhausting description of detail that ends up being wholly useless for game purposes, as I can't sit and read four thousand words and compress it effectively enough to enable proper game play.  I find myself forgetting things and wandering into the wrong tech without thinking about it, because habit tells me that if there is a primitive society it ought to have a long-house.  Except that for about 8000 years of human history, primitive agricultural societies didn't have them.

So, I'm stumped.  The "world from scratch" posts were intended to get a handle on this ~ and I'm going to continue to try to get a handle on it, and I'm going to write those posts.  But I can see this is wrestling a mental tiger; so far, I feel more like the problem is mauling me than I am getting it chained up and domesticated.

P.S.

The "super-high" column in the table above is a reference to deciding if a hex has a great lighthouse or an aqueduct based not just on the coins or hammers of a given hex, but that hex + those hexes surrounding that hex.  I am still playing with different ways to make the 6-mile production hexes pay off.