Friday, February 23, 2018

What the Fuss is About

In 1993, I began an association with an independent film director that was to last, off and on, for ten years.  During that time I rewrote his scripts, I worked as a producer for his films, raising money, I performed in his film and stage productions ... and I fought with him, a lot.  We're still friends.  Now and then, we'll talk to one another for the sake of chatting with someone with similar experiences.

What, might one ask, are those?

In 1993, he and I started production for a film he wanted to do.  We wrote the script, we found techies, we set out to raise money (which we didn't manage, but it was a learning experience) ... and eventually, for three very bizarre days, we had a casting call.

[I just had a look around, only to discover I've not told this story before.  Hard to believe]

I would guess that most readers here have never run a casting call of any kind, much less one of their own.  We advertised in a newspaper, we took advantage of a friend's flat and jammed most of the furniture into the two bedrooms and produced a big, empty, well-lit space with hardwood floors that served our needs brilliantly.  We had more than 120 people answer the call, far more than we needed.  We looked over 95 people in three days.

Casting is the most horrendous part of the film business.  Don't let anyone tell you different.  People who want to be actors, who think that you are the person who can make that happen for them, are absolutely the worst people.  Not only because they are wannabe-actors (who tend to be shallow, self-involved and tremendously needy of attention), but also because auditioning is the moment when they most likely to compromise their principles for a part, are the most self-involved they will ever be and, of course, at their most desperately needy.

Oh my gawd, actors are earnest.  Soooooooo earnest.  They don't know who you are, or how you're going to make this film, or what the film is going to be about ... but you are making a FILM and fuck-on-a-pogo-stick, they want to be in your film.  So before you speak, before you say anything, even as you are letting them in the door, you are already their GOD.  And they let you know it.

It is the most bizarre fucking thing you may ever experience in your life, if you get a chance to do this.  It is no wonder that there's such a thing as a casting couch.  We were three young guys in our 20s (I was the oldest at 29) and it was impossible not to feel the vibe in the room whenever a girl came in.  That first day, we had this star-eyed actress come in, pandering with an emotional level of such desperation that we had to give ourselves half an hour to fall down laughing after she left. We kept people waiting, because we were in no fit state ... our sides would hurt for the rest of the day.

I remember the understanding we got, that we could say anything, absolutely anything, and expect compliance.  We could have said that the film required that people be naked, and asked them to strip, and they would have.  The absurdity was total.

We didn't.  I can't explain that, except to say that we weren't starving, we had ideals and we just weren't like that.

But guys like Harvey Weinstein or any of the other men we've heard about in the last six months?  Oh yeah.  The opportunity is so very, very there.

I have to say, by the second and third days, we were tired of it.  We just wanted people who could act.  We watched a parade of talent-less people roll past and yes, by day three, we were fairly rude.  It is exhausting.  You sit and watch someone do a monologue, play out a scene ... they're awful ... you just want them to go ... you chafe against your instinct to be considerate.  You ask yourself, how is it this person thinks they can act?  Or worse, how is it this person has the credentials they have?  Your head hurts.  You can't stop and get a break, you have to get through these people today.  You want this over with.  By the end of it, you're ready to put a gun in your mouth.

As it happened, we never raised the money and it was all for nothing.  But I did other casting calls.  And I tried out at many, back in the 90s, when I thought acting might be a pathway as a writer.  I'm not bad.  I could perform if I wanted.  I have a good rich voice and I can memorize three pages of dialogue cold in about 20 minutes.  I'm quite good at being perfectly natural on stage and I have had many accolades to prove it.

But I digress.  What, the reader must be asking, is my goddamn point here?

Well, the reader knows it always comes back around to D&D.

Bad acting is awful.  No one wants to sit through it.  And believe me, all the independent and mainstream films any of us have every seen, where we believe that someone "can't act," is nothing compared to people who really, really can't act.  If you are one of the many who feel that, to pick someone people bitch about, Keanu Reeves, is the worst actor ever born, you have no idea of what you're talking about.  The last bad acting you probably ever saw was in high school ... and believe me, it is really different to watch a 56-year-old man call himself an "actor" and speak lines like a bad high school student.  Not a good, fair, passable high school student.  But a bad one.

How many two-hour movies do you want to watch with terrible, awful actors, where Mr. Reeves or someone of his caliber in your mind is a godsend?  Seriously, how many?

Because I want to know what you think about the hours and hours you're prepared to spend with a bad DM.

Not the same?  No.  Because this DM is your friend.  Or this DM is the only one whose table was available.  Or because role-playing isn't like ... what?  Acting?  Or some other artistic venture?

I wonder if the reader understands where I'm going with this.  Because that 56-year-old guy, and that girl with the huge boobs who would have jumped into a four-way with her if we'd asked, so long as she could be in our movie ... that doesn't just describe the quality of DMs.

It describes players, too.  Players who come to sit at our DM tables, with eyes like big, round saucers, who will take our shit as long as they can play at our tables.  Oh gawd, how they want to play at our tables.

This, I'm sorry to say, is a lot of the culture we are enabling.  This.  This horror show of bad DMs and bad Players, full of want and need and self-involvement, earnest enough to be exploited and dumb-shit enough not to know what they're doing, with a will to keep doing it anyway, while wondering, what am I doing?

I don't mean to say every DM is a bad one.  Or that every player is a milksop.  We had actors come into casting calls who had merit and self-esteem, who gave solid performances, who wouldn't have taken shit from us ~ that was obvious, too.  We have to grant that there are players with backbones and DMs with principles, who want this game to improve, not only for themselves but for others as well.

But the overall culture is bad.  That should be obvious to anyone who isn't wallowing in it.  We shouldn't expect anything else: there's no oversight.  No quality assurance.  Nothing to discourage a bad DM ... because we are also living in a culture that says, "When someone is unable to do something, but wants to keep trying, we need to all be polite and let them keep trying."

Remember when I said by day 3 that we were getting a little rude?  That was our first time.  Believe me, by the fifth time, we were just rude.  Incredibly rude.  Whatever it took to get the talent-less people to just go away.

I suppose I let that become too much of my character, because I still feel that way.  I won't sit in a DM's game and pretend that I'm enjoying myself, out of politeness.  Or coddle a player in my game.  Why bother?  I have better things to do.

Do you really want to go on running games for louts?  Or be one?  Or do you want to learn something.

This this me talking down to you.  Not because I don't want you in my game, or because I want you to quit.  But because I want you to understand: if you're a lout, DM or Player, you're just dead weight.  Not that you understand that, because you're a lout.  If you weren't a lout, you'd see this from my perspective.  From the perspective of people who have to deal with you.  If you're reading this (and I'd have expected you to quit by now), and you just can't see what the fuss is about ... it's you.  You're what the fuss is about.  You're the problem.

Too bad you can't see that.

The Wiki Begins to Move

So, with working on it all morning, I have shifted 70 pages onto the wiki, mostly index pages.  Everything that I've worked on thus far is associated with Player Characters ... and so it will go for quite some time, as I have hundreds of spells to take from Wikispaces to Blogger.  As well as many sage abilities.

After I get all the Player Character Material across, I will start working on Combat.  Then, probably, Trade & Equipment.  By then, the back of the task will be broken.

Right now, the wiki all works, all the links should be sound (though probably there's an error here or there).  The way I've done it, a reader will notice that the original wiki and the new blog are interchanged completely, so that movement back and forth is seamless. There shouldn't be any dead links along the way.  That's the goal, anyway.

There were lots of places on the past wiki that did lead nowhere.  Projects that weren't finished, spell lists that still had spells that weren't written yet ... I do tend to change from project to project, without worrying about whether or not I'll come back to something. Eventually, I always do.  If there are five 4th level druid spells without descriptions, or nothing at all for 5th level spells and higher, its because this is work that doesn't need doing right away.

I haven't gotten a comment on the blogger-wiki yet, and I'm not surprised.  I deliberately wrote a harsh rejoiner on the comments field:
Comments are welcome; however, the content on this blog is not purposed for critical evaluation. Comments are strictly limited to errors in text, need for clarification, suggested additions, link fails and other technical errors, personal accounts of how the rule as written applied in their campaign and useful suggestions for other rules pages.
All other comments will be deleted.

Let's face it; we all know what the internet is.  I'm absolutely interested in receiving comments, and letting the site be somewhat open in that way ... but I want useful comments, along the principles upon which the wiki is built.  I don't care how some other game system solves a problem, or what people "feel" about a rule, or anything that isn't hard business on the matter.  I do want any comment that says, "link such-and-such doesn't work" or pointing out a spelling error.  Once I fix the error, I can then remove such comments.

Other comments, I hope, will stand the test of time.  I'll just have to see.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Two Million

While I was recording, the blog rolled over: two million page views.

Ah, not bad, not bad. Of course, some do this in a weekend, with a single youtube video, but it still feels like an accomplishment to me.  Not because of the number, but because I've been ready to write 2,563 blog posts (including this one) in order to eek out this number from my readers.

Makes me feel like I can definitely do more.  I'm consciously thinking, all the time, of what skills I can bring to bear, in what ways, to bring more light to the business of role-playing and entertainment.  The deconstructions are about that.  As are the podcasts.  As was the comic last year, or the long investigation into game design that I explored.

There is just so much to this field, untapped as it were, that I feel still needs uncovering.  To that end, I go on reading, researching, discussing, evaluating and approaching, always being rewarded with something new and different in my travels.

I am more than glad to transfer all of that to you, my Gentle and much Esteemed Readers.  Pat yourselves on the back.  You opened your browsers to this blog two million times!

Tao of D&D's Wiki

I'm going to have to keep this post to the point, as I have an interview in 54 minutes.

I have started shifting my wiki. And I have decided to do it in what must be the stupidest way possible, which will have many a computer programmer face-palming hard enough to break their knuckles.

Here's the thing.

I've looked over the wikis that are out there and they have problems.  Some are clearly still using the same technology that was advanced in 2001.  Some are painfully restricted in content size, as little as 50 megabytes, which is also obviously a 2001 issue.  Others are overloaded with media crap, making them effectively useless for pleasant perusal.  And finally, the remainder are unfriendly either in the loading process, or in the need to be hosted by a third party platform.


The thing that worries me most is that I will move all this content onto a new system, which will then crash land in its turn.  It is suddenly clear to me that wiki technology is not taking off, it is not something that has captured the imagination of the common crowd and it is something that will probably be on its way out.  I need a platform that I can count on, that I know will still be there five years from now, that I am familiar with, that is friendly, and most of all, is free.

So I have decided to handle this the way that suits me.  In some ways, this will be less pleasant for some users; other users will not give a damn.  Most users, I think, because we've all learned how to use a search engine.

I have decided to create yet another blog.

This will create some issues.  There's no RSS feed, there's no backlink support, there's no way to undo or adjust changes that another user would make on the wiki ... and so, effectively, I'm going it alone again.  And I'm fine with that.  My concern is that I can reliably shift the wiki to another source and that I won't have to do this again next year.

The good side is that, first, the shift is made EASY because I'm familiar with blogger and because blogger doesn't care about excessive program applications - which I don't need and I don't use.  I couldn't give a damn about RSS or most of the features the Wikispaces offered.  What I care about is TEXT, images and links.

I began blending a new blog with the old wiki today and it is already going pretty well.

The other good feature is that the blog allows both comments and comment moderation.  That sounds like fun.

I'm not happy yet with the way the blog looks, but that can be adjusted still.  Anyway, if you want a look, I suggest starting with the General Index.

[P.S.  I was sure there was a way to reverse the order in which the blog published, so that the oldest post always showed first ~ no one uses that feature, but I thought it was there.  If anyone can find it for me, I'd appreciate it.]

Podcasting Notes, Thoughts

So, some notes on the podcast.

I've done three interviews now, with a fourth being set to be recorded this evening.  I don't want to give any notes on the past that will jinx any of the interviews going forward, but I do think there are some things I can say with some fairness.  Particularly as I have now begun cutting audio for final copy.

Having an agenda as a guest is a bad idea.  Not because the agenda is wrong or because we shouldn't have agendas ... nay, I'm all for a good, solid agenda, whether or not it supports my viewpoint.  However, I'm finding that an agenda tends to blot out the guest's preparedness to just talk about stuff.  Once the agenda is off their chest and on tape, I'm finding the wherewithal isn't there to start a new conversation on a new subject.  I've had two guests enter the interview with this approach.

It is beginning to look like one of the three interviews just isn't going to work because of this ~ which is a damn shame, but this is a learning process.  I can tell you from experience, not every journalism interview ends in a story, not every screenplay gets produced, not every pilot gets picked up for a series and not every book gets published.  It is the way of things.

It would be worse if I ignored the facts and published the podcast anyway ... for the present, however, I'm still thinking I can save the interview in the editing process.

As regards that, there are still things I am learning about sound, as well.  I have to adjust my mic going forward, or else I'm going to have to fix everything I say in editing (I am just too damn loud at this time).  That's already mounting up to be a big job.

My plan is to collect 13 interviews and run them over 13 weeks.  At the moment, I have 11 guests, including the three I've done ... so I just need two more.  After the 13 week run, I intend to have a 3-month hiatus, and then begin recording for another 13 episodes, most likely with a different theme.  This will make two series a year, with three month breaks in between.

It is pretty ambitious, and perhaps it won't work.  Still, I'm not crippled by the editing (I kind of like it, actually, it is sort of relaxing), and I am certainly comfortable in the chair interviewing guests.  I think, too, that hearing me speak humanizes me in a way that my writing does not.

When will the first podcast run?  Not sure.  I'd like to have a number of episodes in place before I start to broadcast them.

At the same time, a part of me says, "Fuck the TV schedule crap."  Why not just release the podcasts when they're finished, like any other content I release on the net?  I admit, I'm less and less convinced that people rush to the net to search for a podcast they know is being released on a given day.  We may be witnessing the end of culture's infatuation with scheduled content ~ and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

If I released all 13 podcasts on the same day, some people would binge; some people would listen to a few and punk out.  Some would half listen to some, listen all the way through others.  It would be uncertain, for sure.

But releasing them week by week is no better.  People would listen to this week's, then forget next week and the week after, only to vaguely remember there were podcasts, search and find three waiting for them.

I think the only reason to release them one at a time is so that I can highlight each individual episode on the blog, on facebook and on twitter.  But in that case, who cares what the period between podcasts is?  Five days, ten days, two days ... whenever the next one is up, I'm going to write about it anyway, and subscribers are going to get told.  So a weekly schedule just isn't necessary.

These are thoughts in my mind as I settle in to edit, and as I continue interviewing.  What happens, happens.  Watch this space for more information.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Robur's House

The following sequence arose from events associated with the Campaign Senex, played April 19, 2010.

The sequence relates to a number of events surrounding a mystery the party has only just understood ~ that being, that there doppelgangers slowly taking over a town in Germany, replacing town officials one by one.  The clues for this have led them to a name: Robur ... and then to the discovery of Robur's house.

At first they don't even see the house, which is part of the plan.  My goal with deconstructing this incident is to discuss revealing a scene, in order to freak the players out a little.  Remember that this has to be done without any pictures whatsoever, just as if I were describing this at a gaming table.

Note that out-of-campaign comments being made by the players will be shown in brackets: [*] and not in italics.  To focus on the main purpose of this post, I will be editing bits and pieces from the original post-and-comment stream.

DM: ... it is just two miles from the Ingolstadt-Nuremberg road that the party stumbles across a disturbing scene.
The first sight is not wholly informative; where the road takes a dip and turns to the left, about twenty yards beyond - below a stout apple tree, and partly concealed by it - the party can see the torn body of a horse. It appears to be quite dead. Just beyond, there is a body hung over a fence stile, on its side and facing away from the party. The body is covered with blood, but there is something familiar about it.
Now, it should be understood that all is relative silence. There are a few birds, and a gentle wind, but no indication at all that anything has happened, except for this awful sight.

This is all film-making 101.   The party can see the initial unpleasantness at a distance.  To press home the point, we emphasize two things: first, that the bodies are in a very unnatural way, even for something that is dead.  "Hung over a fence stile" implies that something really energetic happened, even if the players do not consciously make this connection.

Second, we emphasize what the players can feel.  Any time that we give a description of anything, we always want to list off the five senses.  The first three can be told at a distance: what does a scene look like, what does it sound like, what does it smell like?  We can cheat with touch and taste by describing the way a character suddenly feels ~ a shiver, a sense of their palms sweating, that they are conscious of freezing in place, that sort of thing.  With taste, we can describe the metal taste in the character's mouth (fear, adrenaline) or a sudden dryness.

But we want to pick and choose!  We don't want to load up too much imagery, as that only shows the player we are trying too hard.  Here, I went with the sight and the sound of the birds and wind.  It doesn't have to include more ... but we could have gone with other options (and we will, when we need to do a different scene some other time).

Note, too, that the "sound" here isn't weird at all.  This is what any scene would sound like ... yet mixing it in with the appearance of the horse and body makes this quiet feel disturbing.  But, in fact, only because I take the time to state it.  When we highlight the weird with the normal, the end result is always sort of creepy.

And, of course the small mystery of the "familiarity" is an extra little hook I've added.

Delfig: I'm loading and half-cocking my crossbow.  "Let us send one person out to look at the person.  Andrej?  Avel, you and I should stay on the carriage and be watchful."
Andre: "Hmmm.  Watchful.  Yes."  Andrej will cross himself and draw one of his maces with his off-hand, keeping his primary hand close to the other, stuck into his belt.  He'll cautiously approach the body sung over the fence, once Avel and Delfig seem ready."

Mmphf.  I just love how players go straight into cop-mode when they see this sort of thing.  They're not wrong to do so.  There really is the chance that something might be still happening.  In fact, in keeping with my agenda to let the reader know what I know as I'm reacting to the players, there is no threat here at all.  The whole point, however, is to make it look threatening, so as to entice the players into the scene and get their blood racing. We don't want, at any time, to give them the least sense that they are safe (even though they are) ~ and so, with our words, and our voice, we want to take it every bit as seriously as the players do.  We CAN'T laugh or make a face when we see them react.

DM: The quiet is very disturbing, although it isn't complete. Upon moving down the slope of the road, Andrej can see a second horse, standing near the decimated remains of a small brick-and-timber house. The horse is alive, but its flanks are soaked in blood. A leg, detached from a body, hangs in the horse's stirrup.
The house has a facing of perhaps twenty-five feet, with a door in the center and two windows. The door has been ripped off its hinges, the bricks on either side of the door have been - to some degree - torn out. One window is broken, and an arm hangs through it, and a stain of blood shows on the wall beneath.
The odor, the color of the blood ... Andrej understands at once that whatever happened, it was within the last hour. He moves forward, and looks at the other side of the body hanging over the stile.
It is wearing the livery of a soldier of the Palatinate of Upper Bavaria.

Okay, so I've satisfied the first mystery.  The body looks familiar because of the livery ~ and because the players were aware there were ...

The continuation of this post, all 5,500 words of it, can be found on the Tao's Master Class blog, along with the other two deconstructive posts I have written, which can be read on the Tao of D&D blog here and here.

Unfortunately, the Master Class blog is available only to those who have pledged and successfully given a $3 donation on my Patreon account in the month of February.  Truth is, these posts are draining and exhaustive to write; they are as long as two university term papers, each; and they use every ounce and vestige of my long-acquired experience in running as a DM.  My feeling is that not only does material of this kind not exist anywhere else on the internet, it can't exist anywhere else ... because in ten years of writing this blog, I haven't met or seen anyone capable of deconstructing their own thoughts and motivations to the extent that I am able to, nor are there any continuous online blogs existing anywhere with eight years of available material that can be deconstructed.

So, yes, I am sorry, but I'm going to put this material behind a wall.  $3 is very, very little to ask, for two such posts per month (I will put up another on the 28th of February).

You can, if you wish, pledge $3 to Patreon and see all material to date when March comes, or you can use the sidebar to dedicate $3 to me right now, which will bring you on board with all those who have already supported me in February.

Guys, I don't know what to tell you.  This sucks.  Please, however, overlook my miserly approach to monetizing my expertise and read the rest of this post.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

We Are in this Apart

I've been thinking where I might pick up from this post and I think it is this:  "before teaching can happen, there has to be some consensus on what ought to be taught."

Fair enough.  It isn't an easy question, but this blog is about going head-on into the storm.  So let's go head-on.

Teaching is the imparting of knowledge, which comes not from the opinion of an individual, or individuals, but from a shared, universal experience that everyone encounters when interacting with a particular thing.  A large-mass object moving at sufficient speed has the capacity to cause a lot of damage.  The speed and the amount of mass are important in this equation.  It isn't necessary to accept anyone's opinion that this is true.  Anyone can experiment with this principle, say, in a busy street, and quickly come to the same conclusion.  This is how we know a particular thing is knowledge.

Picking a game at random, and following this thought, what can we say, with knowledge, about Dungeons and Dragons?  What does everyone, regardless of personal opinion, encounter when participating in the game?

If we listen to opinion, we're sunk right here.  Because people LIE.  If we propose that the game is hard and difficult to play, some will say it isn't.  If we propose that the game has the capacity to frustrate a DM, some will say it has never frustrated them.  If we propose that the official rules or description of the game is clumsy and hard to understand, some will say they have no problem with either.  In part, this happens because people resist admitting to any faults, either in the game or themselves; and in part because some people just want to muddy the water.

Then, if we will say anything about the game, we must rely upon reason and consistency.  To do that, we must begin with first principles ~ and, if possible, principles that cannot be rationally disputed.

To begin, our 1st Axiom is this:
The Player and the DM have different roles to play while participating in the game, and therefore must be considered independent of each other with regards to game play.

We can argue all day about what those roles are or how they are different, but we must admit elementally that they ARE different: and anyone who disputes that sounds like a bloody idiot.

True to philosophic principles, the 2nd Axiom must be deduced from the first, without depending upon assumption.  And so it does:
The principal conflict in game play arises from the discontinuity of the Player's agenda from the DM's agenda.

And again, so it does.  We can argue how the conflict manifests, or what the agenda's are, or how the conflict is the heart and soul of the game, but we cannot not rationally argue that these agendas do not conflict.  They obviously do.

So from this we propose a 3rd Axiom:
Since the conflict between Player and DM is as much a matter of Out-of-Game participation as it is In-Game participation, it is consistently difficult to separate "Real-Life Conflicts" from "Game Conflicts," as these tend to bleed into each other, so that they are mistaken for one another.

D&D, and all RPGs, are profoundly unique in this regard.  Because participants are being both themselves and someone or something that is not themselves, throughout the conflict, distrust arises when any participant feels that the "Character" that is being run is actually concealing a "Personal" slight, or when a participant feels that the "Personal" entreaty by one of the participants is actually a "Character" conflict.

And that sentence makes no sense whatsoever unless you have played D&D, at least a fair bit.

What I'm arguing here is that D&D is, at it's core, a mechanism for creating distrust.  As a DM, I am both fucking with the minds of my players, AND showing concern for my players well-being as human guests at my table, at the same time, and this is truly, thoroughly, 100% expected by the players, to the point that if I was not fucking with them at least a little bit, they would be bored.

In How to Run, I equated this to the magician's performance; we might think of it as a magician-audience contract.  As an audience, we know the magician is intentionally misleading us; and we want the magician to do it!  If the magician does not do it well, we would not be happy.

However, if the magician were a house-guest, and used the same skills to shift things around the house, or out of our pockets and into that of the magician's, there's no contract and we would absolutely, and rightly, be furious.

When playing D&D, as a Player, we're fine with our characters being deliberately given misinformation, or led down a dangerous path, or even corralled and railroaded for a time ... so long as we don't get a whiff that the DM is doing any of this out of a personal vendetta for our personal character.  Once we think that might be happening, like the magician, we feel that a certain contract has been broken and we are, as before, furious.

D&D, however, unlike the magician's stage, is much more subtle ... and much more easily misunderstood, by both Players and DM.   That "whiff" can easily appear inaccurately in the mind of any of the participants.  If expressed, rightly or wrongly, it can lead to a parade of denials, followed by more accusations and more denials, all of it built on a feeling that the real contract has been broken and ~ though there may be no proof ~ trust with it.

To teach DMing, then, is to teach trust.  How to gain it, how to hold it, how not to destroy it once it has begun to tenuously take hold in a campaign.  Early trust is very fragile, very easily shattered.  Trust that has been built over years is virtually impossible to breach.  Hard-earned trust enables the DM to play really spectacular tricks on a party's imagination ... but it must be earned with hard, hard work.  It cannot be managed in a weekend, or a three-hour session.

When we sit down to consider what D&D is, or how to improve ourselves, we spend so much of that time thinking about stories and adventures, about dungeon encounters and devious tricks ... but we think so little of gaining trust.  Games have to be simple, because a simple game is the most a typical player will trust.

Some DMs talk about "good players" and "bad players."  Much of this has to do with player who will easily trust us, and players who won't.  Some of the best players are "bad players" who fight and chafe against every decision ... because they feel, in their bones, that the DM hasn't earned the complicity the DM associates with "good players."

I don't say there aren't bad players.  But perhaps we should make a second distinction, between "easy players," who don't take much work, and "difficult players," who can take a great deal of work.

Difficult players can't be cajoled with a few trinkets.  They want more.  They want to believe they can trust us.  We need to work on the skills that give us the ability to make them trust us.  And, in turn, we need to each ourselves what sort of players deserve our trust, too.

Because we are not in this together, DMs and Players. We are in this Apart.  We don't want the same things.  We're not meant to want the same things.  But we must trust each other, and we must earn that trust.

Then we can play well.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Challenges Make Opportunities; Death of a Wiki

... is closing it's doors

Some knew of it before I did.  I only found out this morning.  It's true.  Wikispaces, where I run my game wiki, has decided to end its term as a wiki provider.  To continue my wiki, I will have to move it to another service.

Here is one of those moments where my Role-playing experience coincides with my professional experience.  I have moved databases before; I have torn them down, page by page, and built them up again ... of course, this was more "fun" when I was being paid for the privilege, and didn't have to worry so much about getting enough time or help to get the job done.  Still, this is old hat.

Wikispaces gives me an option to download my entire wiki into a pdf format.  I've done it every now and then, just to be sure I have a backup.  I've always been sure at some point that wikispaces would die; just as I've always been sure that blogger will go tits-up eventually.

This is an opportunity.  Yes, honestly.  The wiki needed a cleaning out of old business and pages that didn't accomplish their purpose ... and this is a good way to root them out and ensure they don't get carried over.  But it is a lot of work also.  Here's how I'll do it.

Once I settle on a new platform, which will probably be today or tomorrow, I will begin to move sections of the old wiki to the new, adjusting links as I go.  The link adjusting will be the most annoying part, but for as long as I can, I'd like to enable the reader to have full access to both the old and new wikis, while the transfer happens.

The usual business model (which I strongly disagree with, having seen the alternative), is to build a whole new duplicate wiki in secret, then reveal the new wiki on the same day the old wiki goes down (or, sometimes, with a decent overlap period).  This is the sort of thinking we can expect from managers who, in high school, had wonderful hair and were able to manage a 63 in math.  What always happens is that the new data base, because it was built in an untested vacuum, goes down in the flames of burning shit almost immediately, followed by twice as much work being needed to fix all the hidden problems that wouldn't have been hidden if it had just been built publicly.  But business managers will never learn.

It seems like more work to do it piecemeal, with having to adjust the links more often, but doing it this way, problems get exposed almost at once and then fixed before the whole wiki is brought across.  The process is then a learning experience and not a public relations clusterfuck.

Then, when I am running out of time in July, the most important stuff will be shifted; the pages on the old wiki that are shifted will be gone; and the remainder of the old wiki can be downloaded as a PDF.  Those will be the least valuable, the least needed pages, and many of those won't be shifted at all.

Following this, someone is going to suggest that I should use some program to automatically make the shift and "save time."  It's shouting into the void, but "saving time" is the best way to not save time ... and the best way not to improve something.  As I said, this isn't a disaster, this is an opportunity to make a better, cleaner wiki.

What does time have to do with it?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

List of Mountain Types

Just now, I'm trying to fit together some mountain climbing rules ~ and I'm sorry the link I'm giving there does not direct to much content. However, to make some of my rules ideas work, I need to make a list of mountain types. Frankly, that's easier to do on the blog here than it is on the wiki. Then I can link the wiki to this blog post and it all works out.

And so, this post gives details and images for 4 mountain types, for the purpose of determining the amount of time, or number of slope lines, that a mountain represents for the prospective climber. There are many more than 4 types of mountain in the world ~ but this number should be sufficient for a DM's needs.

File:Matterhorn from Domh├╝tte - 2.jpg
In its most extreme form called a glacial horn, this describes an angular, sharply pointed mountain that results from cirque erosion, due to multiple glaciers diverging from a central point.  See also Nunatak.

The example on the left is the famous Matterhorn, found on the border between Switzerland and Italy.  The modern climb usually consists of 12 to 15 hours, with the benefit of a cable car that enables the first 963 meters to be skipped over.  The full climb, including the cable car section, from the base of the mountain to its top, is 2,858 meters (that's counting from Zermatt in Switzerland to the peak.

The time necessary to climb a mountain like the Matterhorn would likely be excessively greater than the modern period, as most of the equipment we now take for granted wouldn't exist.  In point of fact, it might even be impossible to fully climb a mountain like this with 17th century equipment.


This is a narrow ridge of rock that separates two valleys, which is typically formed by two glaciers eroding parallel U-shaped valleys.

The example on the right is the Striding Edge in England, near Ullswater.  The modern climb usually requires about 5 and a half hours, from a point only 48 meters above sea level.  The total ascent is 908 meters.

As a mountain like this is usually done with minimal climbing gear, the difference between a modern day ascent and the time of my game's world would likely be very little ~ though it must be noted that much of the actual trail on a mountain like this has been tailored and worn down by untold thousands of day visitors.

Fold and Thrust Belt

These are mountainous foothills that can feature stacked and breaks, as younger rocks are pushed up and over older rocks, resulting in a collection of cliff walls, cracks, scree fields and chimneys.  The example on the left is Yamnuska, or Mount John Laurie, which is about 60 miles east of where I live.  It features both easy climbs and expert climbs, depending on the slope lines one desires to take.  The easy scramble that is offered to most tourists takes about 4 to 5 hours and features a 1200 meter elevation gain.

Yamnuska is the first "mountain" that can be seen along the highway that goes west into the Rockies.  It is just a tiny little thing, mostly notable for being stuck out by itself and looking like a ridge-back dinosaur, complete with head, when viewed from the highway.  The larger, higher mountains further to the west are of a similar geology, only higher and snow-covered.

Conical Hill

I will skip a picture for this.  Conical hills may be of any size, as large as Mount Fuji in Japan or ~ like a shield volcano ~ as vast as Mount Kilimanjaro.  The time necessary to climb such a mountain, the number of "slope lines," as it were, is more a matter of total distance of the slope, affected by the degree of incline, the presence of snow and the total altitude (as a very high altitude, above 10,000 feet, tends to slow climbers due to a lack of breath, so that slope lies become shorter and shorter as one nears the summit.

Well, that might be a bit to simplistic to build rules upon, but for the present I'd rather not get too ambitious.  Hopefully, the rabbit hole that mountain climbing is proving to be won't make it too difficult to complete.

I'd Like to Be Wrong

What edition do I play?

For some years now, I have been describing my game as a Frankenstein's monster of the original AD&D books, but I wonder how true that is, any more.  Especially in the last five years, with extensive changes to various elements of the combat system, increase of the sage abilities, expansion of the wiki, considerable redesign of how monsters and spells work ... there's still a hint of the old Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, but it is definitely dying.

Yesterday, answering the question where my rules came from, I decided to have a look at the old DM's Guide, to see what was left ... and realized I hadn't reached for the book in almost six months.  Not one time since getting the online campaign started again, which is strange.  Truth is, I just don't need it any more.  I've surpassed it.

Used to be, back in the day, I would turn to the book once in a while as reading material, looking for inspiration.  Some passage in the book would make a half-hearted attempt to discuss something like titles for nobility or the building blocks for a laboratory and I would be off for days writing detailed structures or researching medieval alchemy ... and that pattern went on for decades, until I squeezed every drop of suggestion from the book.

I watched as the other editions came in; got copies, perused the tables and so on, less enthusiastically that others ... and couldn't help noticing again and again that these later editions utterly failed to bring in new rules.  And so it was with every other RPG that came along.  The format was settled by those early games, like Traveller, like Rolemaster, and two generations of designers added nothing to it.  Design the character; design the combat system; design the spells or tech, the magic items, the list of feats and skills.  Add an equipment table.  And then stop.

And what did the supplements include?  More characters, more spells, more tech, more equipment.  More of the same.  And as this went on, and on, and on, I shook my head at all the people who seemed satisfied with this, who purchased room-fulls of the same material, the same concept, the same design, repeated ad nauseum.

So it goes.  Nothing has changed.

Yesterday, I realized one of my characters possessed a mountaineering knowledge that had been acquired at 2nd level, which I had failed to expand.  The game had been on hiatus for six months, wih players talking about how it would probably never start again, and I had simply forgot.  I didn't realize until the character went to third, and I had reason to look at that list of sage abilities.

[I would have appreciated the player reminding me when we started again, a month ago, but I know that players often resist this sort of thing because they presume I'm "busy" ~ but I'm always busy, and yet stuff gets done]

I wrote the rules, caving and cave finding, mountain routefinding and rock foraging, skiing, and it wasn't that hard.  Took two or three hours ... easily the same amount of time I might spend playing Patrician-3 for relaxation, while listening to a film, a lecture or a documentary.  Instead, I did this.  And it wasn't that hard.  None of the skills are particularly powerful, they are at best occasionally useful ... but the key is that they don't cost the player anything.  The player gets the skills for free.

I don't want to get into point buy systems here, but just let me say, this is why point-buy systems suck.

My larger point is that players, left to their own agendas, will constantly get themselves into situations where what they can do becomes a big issue.  And DMs will constantly get themselves into positions where how does this work becomes a completely different issue.  Yet the entire design industry in the role-playing community has consistently decided that the solution to this is to have the DM just make shit up.

This is an astoundingly bad strategy.  Yet everyone just lives with it.  Hell, there are a significant number of DMs who argue that it is better this way.  Better?  How, exactly?  Since when has any design strategy been improved by the designers just not doing anything?

I used to think this was an oversight.  That the designers failed to realize that, if the players wanted to climb a mountain, or fight in waist-deep water, or start an armorer's shop, there ought to be rules for it.  But I wonder.  I am beginning to think that while Gygax might have had some of those things in mind, as rules that could be made some day, the rest of the designing community was more inclined to say, "Fuck it.  They have dragons to kill.  They ought to be happy with that.  I'm not making rules for shit that doesn't involve killing dragons."

So we have had tons and tons of gaming skull-sweat to create, justify, expand and build adventures for an endless parade of reskinned, functionally equivalent races and character classes, all of which are mysteriously embraced by the vast community [please, I beg of you, don't try to explain the infatuation with "dragon-borne," which resemble orcs and run like drow, and are apparently nothing at all like dragons] as the most interesting part of a game, deserving of endless bulletin boards and comment threads that repeat and repeat how great they are.

All of which leads me to believe that most RPG players represent the least brightest pennies in the piggy bank of humanity.  And that perhaps all the abuse, all the exploitation, all the bad advice, all the short-shrifting of design, all the monumental oversight and resistance to solve real game problems, is somehow a phenomenon of awarding bad karma to those who deserve bad karma.

I'd like to be wrong.  I see the response to the additions I make to rules on the wiki and it is always positive.  I fill out a few details about how to fit skiing into the game and I get cheers from my players.  It causes me to feel that others would receive a like benefit from their players, if only they would design something that players could do, or want, that wasn't another spell, or another magic item, or another character class to run.

I'd like to be wrong.  Two years after publishing, How to Run is still selling (half the time I depend on it for a significant part of my income), and always, always, I get good reviews for it.  People want insight, they want explanations, they want an answer to the question, "How do I run this fucking game?"  The question is everywhere, constantly everywhere, on every site, on every thread, on every format, from video to text to podcast.  How, how, how?  Yet all the company can say is to have something big explode into bar where the players are sitting, or have something try to assassinate a player, and then give it a tattoo or a weird ring so the players are interested in where it came from.

That is it, for the most part.  Plot hooks.  Lists of a hundred plot hooks, repeated plot hooks, the same plot hooks written into the Dragon Magazine in 1983, the same plot hooks that have been used by every B-movie since the 19-teens, the same plot hooks that were used to write stories about Kit Carson and Jesse James in the penny-dreadful books of the 1850s.  Plot hooks and big bads, and the same dreck between, and oh how the money pours onto the game store counters to buy another one.

I'd like to be wrong.  Someone, please, tell me that I'm wrong.  Tell me that this isn't it, that there's a groundswell of participants who are smelling the air and noticing how stale it has become after forty years.  Please tell me that "playing for 30 years" means expertise, and not someone who is dumb enough to play the same game over and over, in the same way, for the same reasons, pumping out money for the same trash, for thirty years.  Send me to a website.  Footnote a source. 

Because I've looked.

Typical D&D Player
Ah well.  Hello.  I'm a D&D Player.  And I can explain both how to run and how to play, if you'll just take the time to keep reading.  I have an extensive wiki with lots of house rules on it for things you've probably never thought of; I have a few books for sale; I am starting a podcast for people who are interested in becoming better DMs.

Yes, I'm a bit tetchy. But look around you.  Look at what's happening.  Would you expect the one guy not giving you the same advice as everyone else, the same useless advice that's been given for 40 years, not to be a little tetchy?

Remember when Pai Mei snatched Elle Driver's eye, because she just wouldn't "get it?"  Yeah.  He was a little tetchy too.

Us crazy teachers with excessive wisdom usually are (even Gandalf has his days) ... but don't worry.  We usually come to a bad end.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Consensus Strategy

Regarding the last post, New Grass, I understand the resistance to any thought of consensus.  Some nine years ago on the blog I proposed a crowd-sourced effort to create homebrew rules on a wiki.  I thought it was a great idea; an opportunity to build rule ideas using the creative capacity of dozens, perhaps hundreds of people.

No interest.  Didn't happen.  Null program.

Every time since that I have made any proposal for a consensus regarding D&D, the answer has always come back the same.  I slowly built a wiki myself of more than 1,300 pages ... and did get four volunteers to come work on it with me (after all, I'm a "volunteer" too).  And yet, in three years since proposing that, I've had no one else come forward.  Consensus just isn't a thing among D&D players.

I have some theories about that.  Culturally, we have a high resistance to any idea of "consensus," because the concept has been co-opted by the powerful, particularly employers, as code for "obey and do it our way."  Consensus means conformity, which is another word for enslavement.

Similarly, accountability has come to mean, "Getting axed because I didn't conform."  Those in control reap the benefits, the reward, and everyone else reaps the accountability.  This has been inculcated into our perceptions.

So when I say, a consensus for how to play D&D, the reader goes straight to, "Others telling me how to run my game."  And when I say accountability, the reader goes straight to, "Having to answer for not running my game according to the consensus."

And no one wants that.

A strong case for the rules-as-written folk is the consensus that arises out of everyone having to bow to those rules; many of the trials and troubles of game play arise from lawyering, misunderstandings and frustrations between those who are prepared to run by the rules and those who are compelled to game the rules at every opportunity.  Rules-as-written is a bulwark against excessive gamesmanship, the art of winning games by using various ploys and tactics to gain a psychological advantage.  RPGs, with its elements of role-play, innovation through using equipment and abilities in new ways, interaction between players in the party and the presence of an adjudicator who may not know the rules as well as the "gamesman," is particularly vulnerable to this practice.  And while the methods of playing the DM and the other players isn't technically illegal, it is dubious and, on the face of it, self-serving and directly aggravating to others who have no interest in it.  Gaming the game has ruined many a campaign and driven many a player out of the activity.  It is a pervasive, viral, difficult to manage problem that sits at the heart of game play.  Worse, it surpasses the capacity of many a DM to handle it ~ mostly because "handling" it requires less a sort of game skill and more an ability to be the sort of personality who can face selfish people down when they behave selfishly.  Not only do many people not possess that skill, many people don't want to possess it, or take part in an activity where possessing the skill is a prerequisite.

It isn't that rules-as-written is the preferred way to play.  It exists because it is a weapon; as is any consensus, against any sort of game play, adopted by a community in any activity in which humans take a part.  I've said that doctors became accredited in order to maintain a standard of life[-saving practice; similarly, engineers became accredited to stop disasters like the St. Francis Dam disaster or the collapse of the Quebec Bridge.  Rules arise that restrict behaviour when it becomes clear that behaviour needs to be restricted.

Similarly, rules appeared in hospitals for visitors when it became clear that patients needed silence and periods of rest, so that visiting hours and visitor behaviour required a sort of management that had nothing to do with the wishes or comfort of the visitor.  Likewise, rules for behaviour exist in all sorts of activities, most familiarly with sports.  The last words said by the chair umpire at a tennis match before a serve are, "QUIET PLEASE," words that are directed at the crowd and not at the competitors.  Cell phones are silenced at movie theatres and events because the personal right of a person to be notified of a personal call is suspended when the pleasure of a majority is compromised.

When I say "consensus," I'm not speaking of how the Gentle Reader runs their game.  I mean the basic attitudes and mannerisms that should be expected from all participants in accordance with what we, as the community, feel ought to be in place.  When I say there ought to be an accountability, I mean that those rules should have teeth, in that individuals should be warned to cut it out, or told to leave the campaign.

The power of a consensus is that the individual doesn't need to feel that the onus for deciding correct and inappropriate behaviour is on them.  Back in the days when fighting was considered a reasonable activity, a code called the Marquess of Queensberry Rules was drafted to ensure "clean" fighting.  Read them?  It's a short list.  They don't say that fighting shouldn't happen; they don't say that people are necessarily safe during a contest.  But they do argue, in different ways, that you can't beat on someone who's down and you can't use equipment that gives you an edge.  They say you have to win by winning.  And they exist because gamesmanship has always been a thing.

Likewise, this is why Edmond Hoyle set out to establish official rules for games back in 1742; to put a stop to the endless fighting and disagreements associated with multiple cultures and groups wasting time that could be used for fun on contests of gamesmanship and the perpetuation of self-satisfaction.

Humans cannot be trusted to police themselves.  Yes, yes, we're basically good, because if the situation calls for it, we're more or less willing to be policed.  But without the police, there's always a certain amount of fraying at the edges, of getting a bit more than we've got ... and this eventually ruins everything for everyone.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

New Grass

This cup not for sale

For those who may be interested on the podcast front, I have finally solved my technical problem.  I had a successful test and I can now record voices off the internet without the guest sounding like he is at the bottom of a well.

Unfortunately, the process of solving that problem has put me two weeks behind my intended schedule.  I have had to cancel on three guests, which I hope I will be able to reschedule in late February or in March. There has been disappointment and I really can't blame anyone.  I don't like having to fail on any commitment ... but I had run out of options.

One of those guests was supposed to be interviewed tonight, and one tomorrow night. But I haven't been able to do any real tests with my introductions or proper preparatory work ... but thankfully that's past me and I should be good to go with everyone who has scheduled with me to date.

These last two posts, the one about accreditation and the one that discusses credibility have been part of the launch I'm working towards.  The name "Authentic" on the podcast is not just a random buzzword that I've opted to exploit ~ to me, the word has a definite responsibility attached to its use.  I want to get to the genuine role-playing substance:  what is it in the hands of independent DMs, creating their worlds, coming to grips with their demons, their lack of inspiration, their frustrating players and their own sense of right and wrong ~ or properly terms, the pursuit of legitimacy.

Here is what frightens people where it comes to measuring their capacity to Dungeon Master: accountability.  We've all been in this discussion: it's the one where Person A says, "It's the DM's world" and Person B says, "Players can leave any time they want to," while Person C chimes in with "The point is to have fun," with Person D adding, "It's the DM's responsibility to ensure the players have fun," followed by no one explaining in clear, concrete terms how this is done.

Accountability, real accountability, demands quantifiable evidence that a particular DMing strategy is effective at producing a valuable player experience ... and on that score we're lost.  We can talk about "improving" the game, but until now most of this "improvement" has been about shifting and moving random rules around with new editions and seeing what happens.  No one is talking about a "discipline" of DMing; or serious attention being paid to teaching others how to run the game; or increasing the game's quality or the number of experienced participants.  I have seen the format for Game Cons and their "tournaments" ... they move the players in like cattle, making them sit as tight as imaginable at cruddy tables, taking their money under the auspices of "enabling" these players to basically entertain themselves as the money-rakers look on.  I don't see this as an effective strategy for producing anything but the worst game experience ... but I also think it flies because the masses just don't know any better.

Getting people to know better involves "teaching" ~ and yet, before teaching can happen, there has to be some consensus on what ought to be taught.  There isn't a consensus.  Even between myself and my small number of readers, what consensus have we reached.  Now and then I get a comment that encourages me to keep writing about a point, or someone says they agree with a particular aspect or post that I've written, but this is a whole helluva a lot of miles away from a consensus.  And right now, most readers are still grappling with the notion that any consensus would also have to incorporate a sense of accountability.  And doesn't that make the hackles on the back of your neck rise?

Yet shouldn't we see past our emotions, our sensibilities, and see the sense of it?  This was the point of Jane Austen's book, after all: that Sense, a sane and realistic attitude to situations and problems, superseded the idiocy of sensibility, in which a person's sensitivity to ideas rendered them offended or, worse, imprisoned by their own choices.

We've had sensibility; it is all we have right now in every venue.  Sense demands that individuals be encouraged to examine and change their practices of play, that they acknowledge that there are better examples and techniques, that these techniques need to be examined and evaluated, so that they can be taught to others, through methods that encourage support, a means of governance, and a population of students who arrive at the gates with an eagerness to learn.  It demands that the participants conform to recognized facts because those facts yield measurable, proven results ... and that the measurements are not compromised by baseless defensiveness, gut feelings and self-serving prejudice.

Just now, I don't have a road map for how we get there.  No one person can; or ought to.  That is the meaning of consensus.  But we have to get there; because there is no "game" in the future without this.  The cattle who are amused by the herders will evaporate as soon as new grass takes their fancy ... the trick is to be the new grass, to figure out how to grow it and steal the cattle away, teaching them how to be people.

That's our job.  Which we can't do if we can't decide the difference between what matters and what really matters.