Monday, March 19, 2018

Podcast Dates (soft)

Barring a connection with a DM that we couldn't reconcile, that we might yet solve, I've now completed my interviews for the podcast.  After the first few, it seemed rational for me to leave off actual publication of any of the dialogues I've had until all the interviews were recorded in the blind; with no one knowing what anyone else had said about their games, their ideas or their methods.

I think it is an excellent sample of DMs.  These people are, I would stress, authentic.  They're not running their own channels and they're not dependent on what the internet thinks ... so they're not trying to impress anyone or make themselves look cool, like virtually every pundit with a vlog.  I'm very glad of the choices I made in questions, framing the interviews and setting up the content to be cut and ultimately presented.

Just now, I'm treating the 26th of March as a soft date for the first podcast.  I haven't got a single episode fully cleaned up yet, but I feel confident that I can have the first ready in 5 to 10 days, for certain.  I had time off from work in order to set up for the interviews, but I'll be going back to work so I won't have all day to work on editing (or on the wiki, as I've been enjoying).  Still, I feel confident that, once I'm organized and a little practiced on the editing, I can turn out one podcast a week for as long as the recordings last.  They won't be published online in the same order as recorded.  I want to move them around to get a good mix from week to week.

If I miss the March 26th date, I will certainly be good to go the first Monday in April, which is the 2nd.

I haven't said how many podcasts I will be putting up with this "season" ~ most likely, less than ten.  I'm not giving any definite numbers until I cut them.  Any that don't get published will be on account of the production quality, and not the content ... on the whole, I've been happy with every single podcast, in terms of what was said and what was presented.  But there are mic issues there and I'm not sure how much power I have to make a recording clean enough to be understood.  I have very limited resources where sound is concerned; I'm not a miracle worker.

I do know an editor who might be interested in saving something that I can't manage myself.  I plan to get in touch with him.

My plan now, once the podcasts begin to run, is to set up for a second season, which I hope will start the last week of September/first week of October.  The agenda is fairly set, though I still want to think on it.  I will have four months to ready myself before I start recording in August.  It will be a completely different form of game discussion ... but just now, I'll hold back on making those plans public, as I think someone might possibly steal the idea.

Not much more to say.  The podcasts will have to speak for themselves.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Out of Water

Part of me says that I ought to write a post.  I used to write a post a day ... and lately I've been making my readers wait two, four, even six days, before coming out with something to say.  Truth is, I'm still dry, as I said some weeks ago.  Between the podcast and the wiki (569 pages moved), there's no time to dredge up something interesting enough to write about.

But ... I was put in mind of a metaphor just now, by an email, that has me thinking about work.  I have a strange, frustrating association with work.  Sometimes, I just love it; I can't wait to pick up and get into it.  Ordinarily, I should hate something as tedious and unproductive as moving hundreds of internet pages from one url to another. After all, it isn't as though I'm making anything new.  All this information has been in the public eye for years now ... so why am I utterly driven to work on the wiki in exclusion of all else?

It isn't the time barrier of having to get it moved by July.  I'm a procrastinator.  I have always firmly believed that we should never do something today that can be put off until tomorrow.  Tomorrow, the house might burn down, and then we'll be grateful we didn't waste time today vacuuming the carpet.  If the house doesn't burn down, well ... there will come a time when we're annoyed enough by the carpet, or we're just not doing anything for twenty minutes, and it can get done then.

[the secret to being both clean and a procrastinator is having a very low threshold for when the carpet annoys; mine is reasonably low enough, I'll vacuum about once a week.  But that's still six days a week I can put it off]

Nope.  I'm enjoying shifting the wiki.  Because I like what I'm reading.  I like being reminded that this is all work of mine, that I love it, and that I want it seen to with love and care.

But oh, how I hate work sometimes.  In particular, I hate scheduled work.  Scheduled work is the worst.  It says, I can't do this work right now that I'm motivated to do, because I have to go do work that I'm not motivated to do.  Human society should not work this way.  We should only ever have to do work we're motivated to do ... and if no one is motivated, we need to think about having a robot do that work.

Or do without it entirely.

So, from this perspective, if there's nothing wrong with someone else doing the work we don't want to do, then what's wrong with buying something pre-made, pre-fab, pre-ready for our use, purchased with money we earned doing work we were either motivated or not motivated to do?


Every once in a while I go look at Patreon, to see what others are doing, to see if I can steal some idea from them and do it myself.  But all I ever seem to find is stuff like this: Jason Bulmahn.

I don't want to fault the fellow.  He's doing well enough with his readers and he is clearly offering something.  He's taken the time to create a patreon video, which I've never done.  I would like someone to tell me if when Bulmahn says that he's the creator of the Pathfinder roleplaying game, that he is.  I have no idea.

I look at this, see the work involved, and think, "Hey, Alexis ... can't you do some of this work?  Can't you come up with a dramatic campaign, and build it according to some official rules, and weave a story into the DM's role, creating adventure, loss, regret and salvation?"

If you felt a corkscrew of loathing course right up your back as you read that, then imagine how it feels when I write it out.  If you didn't feel anything special except, maybe, "Yeah, do that Alexis!" ... then I don't know how you got here, but I think you should know the road back to town is buried and there are terrible wolves.  And no, there's no room in my carriage.

I swear, I wouldn't even know how not to procrastinate about creating three act campaigns that are each divided into three acts.  I wouldn't know how to limit a "campaign" to between 60 and 80 hours.  I'm just out of my element here.  How am I supposed to create a friendship, a rivalry, motivation and attitudes with people I'm not actually running.  Won't that just sound ... forced?

I think it would.  It always sounds forced when other people say it.  The whole rhetoric being written here by Bulmahn sounds forced as hell to me, and I am absolutely not able to figure out a way not to make it sound ... well, desperate.

And hey, I like this game.  And I like to work.  And I can work like a demon, when I'm motivated.  569 pages and something like 2500 links in just four weeks?  And then still feeling like, after writing a post, you'd like to do some more before going to bed tonight.  Go ahead.  Try that.

But I just haven't a gun in my holster when I read a promise like, for $10, "For the GM that has to have it all.  You get everything, the adventure PDFs and all 6 of the character files!  You also get access to the player and GM development blogs and will be listed as a EM in the credits."

Wow.  "All," huh.  I gotta tell the truth.  I can't provide it "all" for $10.  I can't even get it "all" written down on the free wiki.

I wish I was being sarcastic here.  The reader probably thinks I'm being sarcastic.  Or at least facetious.  I swear, I'm not.  I mean every word here.  I am not capable of making an offer like this, and not because I'm against the principle.  Nor because it would feel like I was paying the town drunk to go upstairs to rape my mother's corpse (though it does make me feel like that).  No, I am quite literally not capable of producing this sort of content.

I've had no practice at it.  To do this, you've got to practice.  This is a skill.  One that I do not have.

I would like to provide something concrete and work-related to readers, for the sake of gaining a few more patrons.  That's the long-term goal, after all.  To provide content upon the notion of exchange.  But seeing this as the business model just breaks my heart.  I am so divorced from the official game as it is played now, I couldn't say what the official character sheet includes; or what the hell a "relationship guide" means to describe.

A personality profile, that I can make ... but I'd be inclined to come up with things like a young, somewhat uncertain young fellow, from a kind and supportive background, albeit a remote one, who is now among a mess of strangers in strange circumstances, making the best he can of the education he has.  He's got a good heart, loves animals and small children, and isn't afraid to learn new ways of doing things; but often he misunderstands something or heads off too bravely in a direction when he should have stopped and gotten better advice.  He's inclined to doubt what his friends tell him, when it disagrees with his self-image ~ yes when they criticize him, but much more so when they praise him.  He hopes for big things for himself, but has no certainty of how to get there; and whatever skills he has, there always seems to be someone with greater skills, who outshines him wherever he goes.

Who the hell is going to pay for a character personality profile like that?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Investigating the Stairs

The following sequence arose from events associated with the Campaign Juvenis, played in succession from January 26 to February 2, 2018.

To set the scene.  The players are moving through an underground lair in the control of what, by the old Monster Manual, would be called killer frogs.  The players know them as "froglings."  They're a little stronger than the original, with 2 hit dice, and have proved troublesome in the past.  Stumbling across a small kitchen, the players find it full of slaughtered froglings, apparently torn limb from limb.  There's no explanation for what killed them.  The only way out of the kitchen, apart from the way in, is a flight of stairs down, behind a large lattice-iron door, the metal of which has degraded over many centuries.  However, recently, the door has been broken, so that it is clear it was forced open.

After digging out some of the booty from the kitchen, the party begins to get interested in the stairway.  It is a 55-degree slope of crumbled steps; this sounds very steep but it isn't for the time period.  After Engelhart, the cleric, makes an observation, I describe the stairs.
Engelhart: I have no special agility sage ability, I'm really just a clod with a crucifix. How hard would it be for me to descend, safely and silently?
DM: It is as difficult as a normal staircase, but the stones are out of place or ground away. There are signs of water damage. You can make your way down, but it would be a hell of a place to fight a combat (multiple rolls for slipping).

Why should I take the time to describe what the stairs would be in combat?  There isn't a combat, right?  Am I not deliberately jerking the players' chain, making them think twice about descending?

Yes, of course I am.  I don't have the benefit of making them feel the stairs, or seeing them, in near darkness, with the broken stones.  I have to put it into a context that players will appreciate.  The stairs are fine as long as nothing bad happens.  That's all I'm saying.

Now, note the final word from the cleric: "silently."  Players are obsessed with silence.  After years of dealing with different incarnations of rules surrounding the idea of creeping up on an enemy, I finally hit upon the idea behind my present stealth rules.  They work pretty well, I have found ... and will usually favor a thief or an assassin eager to surprise an enemy.  However, they are devilishly hard for players to grasp, for some reason ~ I think because they are also hard to bend to a player's will.

Basically, the principle is this: you want to approach an enemy.  If you're a long, long way from that enemy, you're certain not to be noticed.  On the line graph between a long, long way, and close enough to the enemy to put a sword between your enemy's ribs, you're going to be noticed.  You don't know where that threshold will be.  You're not meant to know.  So you move up to a certain distance ... and you find you're not noticed.  After that, every step forward that you take is a risk.  There's nothing else for it.  You have to either move that step forward, or retreat.

Since creating this system, where once I found players willing to bet their success on a surprise roll or an initiative roll, I now find players somewhat lacking in fortitude.  If they can't be absolutely sure they'll be close enough to the enemy before they're discovered, they're very hesitant.  Observe:
Pandred (the fighter)Alright, stairs it is.  I'm willing to go on, but I've got no stealth, and I am not personally prepared to risk a lighter armored run.  I know you mentioned using Sanctuary earlier Engelhart, and unless Embla or Lothar want to join your fearless foray I think it'd be a worthwhile idea.
Engelhart: I ask for a lantern and shed away all weight other than hammer & shield. This still leaves me at 4 AP as the armour is just too damn heavy and not taking it doesn't look like a good tradeoff. Here’s the thing, I obviously don't want us to get into trouble, just to get a finer sense of where we're heading and some intel of how safe it might be to overnight in the storeroom, seeing as it is still rather near to the potential focus of danger.
For all we may know, the beast may have been put down already, rather than left to rampage across the frogling compound. If all I find is closed doors, we can feel somewhat safer. Beside faith in the Lord, I'm gathering that such a brute must make more noise than I ever would. (If the party will give me missile cover from up above, I might be able to duck on their command?)

Initially, the cleric meant to remove his extra weight and not his armor; and that's fine.  He knows what the stealth rules give as a penalty, so he's making his choices.  Afterward, he reads the stealth rules I linked for him (as I have linked for the reader) and changes his mind:
Engelhart: It seems that should I lose the armour and shed all weapons there's virtually no chance of being discovered as long as I take measured steps and keep it cool down there. Since the plan wasn't to triumph through arms anyway, I'll go ahead and strip down to hauberk and chausses. Once AC ceases being a concern, might as well leave both shield and hammer behind, as well.

That's what I want from a game system.  The risks can be managed IF the player is prepared to sacrifice some of his benefits in order to receive other benefits.  That is how game play should function.  Everything is a strategy.

At the moment, the cleric can't see how far the stairs go; no light source had been produced ... so this becomes the subject of discussion for a bit.  I had not added "candlelight" to my stealth rules, so I did so, inserting it between dim moonlight and starshine, as far as giving away an individual.  If that seems kind, remember that a candle can be hidden by one hand, or gutted so that it reveals very little flame.  Anyway, I explain the rule change to the player and we move forward.

continued elsewhere...

This is the first of two such posts I will be writing in the month of March for the Tao's Master Class blog, where the rest of this post can be found.  Examples on the Tao of D&D blog can be found here and here.

To see the rest of this post, you must pledge at least $3 to my Patreon account.  This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class, or you can use the sidebar to dedicate $3 to me right now. The latter will permit you to see the content as soon as I confirm the donation, rather than having to wait until the 1st of April, when Patreon will process your donation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


As I write this, the number of pages that have been transferred on the wiki has now reached 437.  This is not bad for work that began on February 20th.  That's 22 days.

More than 200 of those pages have been straight up spell descriptions.  Much of the balance has been sage fields and studies.  But I have a considerable number of pages remaining ... and as I proceed, I am stunned at the amount of material I've been able to accumulate ~ just as I'm surprised that I launched the wikispaces wiki as long ago as 2011.  Somehow, it doesn't seem like six years.

I try to relate this experience of building a wiki to the first six years of my playing D&D, between 1979 and 1985.  Back then, I could never have imagined a project on this kind of scale.  I was still scrambling then, learning how to play, full of doubts about everything I started ... and constantly throwing out material and starting again, because nothing seemed to work, nothing satisfied.  Not that I cared.  I was so happy to be working at the process, blissfully ignorant that all the work I would do in those days would be nothing more than practice for the work I do now.

Practice is a funny thing.  Look back at the 2,500+ posts on this blog and think about how each post represents an hour of my life; and then think how this is only the start of the time I've spent writing since this blog began in 2008, adding in books, some of which are meant to be finished, some which will never be finished.

Add to that the 300 paid-for freelance articles I wrote for real estate magazines between 2001 and 2009, along with the article-a-week I wrote for five years for the business magazine I worked for between 2004 and 2009.  There's 600 hours of writing, plus 1,200 hours of research ... and that takes no account of the freelance writing that was never bought and paid for, or the work I did for myself in those years, that no one ever read, because it was never put up on a blog for examination.

So what does that come to ... about 6,000 hour of writing that I can account for between 2001 and the present.  I'll let the reader roll that around for a moment.

Think on this.  I began to write for my own pleasure in 1976.

I have no idea how much time I've spent writing.  I was published first in a school magazine in '82 ... and then here and there as a runner-up for insignificant writing contests throughout the 80s.  I didn't get any real notice until I started writing for the university newspaper in 1988 ... and then I wrote two or three articles, op ed pieces or reviews for four years.  I got some freelance work after university, started a couple of Zines, small-circulation self-published magazines that we distributed around coffee houses in the city.  I wrote virtually all the content for those, between 12 and 15 pages worth, whatever I could think of fill pages.

Okay, I'm sorry.  I've been going on for too long and I'm just hammering the anvil at this point.  I'm trying to explain that most of that time, right up to time spent on this blog, has all been practicing.  Most of all that writing isn't worth showing to anyone, ever.  I threw out about two hundred pounds of writing just a couple years ago.  It had only one value: that doing all that then makes it possible for me to do what I do now.

Now, think on this.  I have spent more time working on my D&D world than I have spent writing.  Granted, they are often the same thing ~ one feeds the other.  But with map-making, table-making, drawing dungeons, running the game, whatever ... it has been uncounted thousands of hours since I discovered this game in 1979.

Those first six years, working on the game was like a fever.

I drew scores of maps just like this, once.

If sometimes I sound recalcitrant, or doubtful, or resistant to a "new" idea, I can only explain that it's not a new idea and I've tried it ... or at least, something very like it.  Once upon a time, before many of a reader was born, I tried alignment.  I tried hit location.  I tried weapon-defense mechanics.  I tried mega-dungeon making.  I tried most everything that I've ever condemned on this blog (with the exception of stat arrays; jeez, who would need to?); or I've slimmed it down so tight that it doesn't need further examination.

Take this new fad, "session zero."  This is nothing more than introducing a player to the campaign and rules of a campaign.  On a need-to-know plan ~ what does a player really need to know in order play in my game ~ I can do this in about five minutes.  Or less.  If you're the kind of player that can't adapt to "not knowing" stuff that doesn't need to be known, or shouldn't be known, I don't need to cater to you; I need to move you along.  You're in the wrong place.

I don't couch this compulsion to make the game inclusive; I can't afford the time to run everybody.  I just need enough people to make up my game ... and after thousands and thousands of hours spent in practicing my craft, I can either entice those people into my game right up front, or convert them from the thinking they've acquired from DMs who have practiced only a few hundred hours.

I mean to disparage no one.  Nor to make anyone despair.  I was lucky when I started.  There was no one around who could claim to have played for thirty or forty years.  Starting just five years after the invention of the game, in a climate where so few people played, it was easy to feel as entitled as anyone to "knowing how to play."  It is a lot harder now ... with old horses like me around, carping on our time spent ... it's almost necessary to say to oneself, "Fuck him, what does he know."

I get that.  But if you are starting, and you have only a few years behind you, with one or two thousand hours to your credit, realize that this is all just practice for you.  You're a long, long way from really understanding what you can add to the game, or what the game means.

There's a lot more here than you can begin to fathom.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Scientific Method

Very well, if you've read the last post ... how can we advance our games along the lines of hypothesis, research, testing and proof?

To begin with, we're the scientists; and like those early investigators of the 17th and 18th century, our resources are limited and our collection of guinea pigs is limited.  You might get yourself into a position where you can study the response of ten or twenty people, but chances are that right now you only have your party to work with.  Rest assured, this doesn't matter.  You're not curing cancer, you're only improving your game ~ and you're never going to run it for the mass majority, anyway.  What matters here is that you get your methodology under control, and that you stop wasting time.

I have some suggestions; these are not mine.  They are based on the principles of the scientific method, which has stood the test of time for nearly four centuries, so it dwarfs all of us.

1.  Stop Assuming that every new effort, system, plan or design is going to work.  A hypothesis is a proposal, not a solution.  It is a working guess at the questions or problems that have arisen, associated with your particular game.  Once you get it into your head that "new" does not automatically equate to "better," you have a much better chance of systematically doing the research on what's "old" before kicking it to the ditch.

An hypothesis is a response to a pattern that we have noticed during play.  The way the players respond, or act, when encountering particular things, the level of resistance or resentment about certain rules and so on.  The pattern need not be negative: we might want to know why players responded so well to something we did, so that we can reproduce the effect.

As I said, the hypothesis does not look for a solution!  It is, rather, looking for the cause behind something.  We're trying to explain, not eliminate.  Therefore, the proposal we make is not about what might happen if we do something; it is, rather, an explanation.  "I think the players were resistant to running away because ..."; and then going from there.

We should not begin from a place like, "If we do this, the players will run away next time."  That is poor methodology on many levels: first, it assumes already that we know why the players ran away; it assumes we already have the solution; and we're already biased towards the solution we've created, because we haven't based that solution on any research, but rather on our gut.  Our personal observations, then, are bound to remove any practical benefit we might get from the experiment.

2.  Test the hypothesis.  Fair enough ... but how?  The guideline here is to build an experiment that changes nothing about the previous situation, while enabling us to take notes.  Let's say, for example, that recently the party refused to run away from a fight they were losing, and as a result they nearly died or a total-party-kill resulted.  And now, to understand better what happened, we want to build an experiment that we can test.

Let's pick a hypothesis.  I'll propose three:

  • The Players don't seem to care very much about their characters; they're ready to roll the die and hope for good results because they're not really losing anything.
  • The Players won't give up a fight from a sense of shame; they'd rather lose straight up than feel like cowards who ran from a fight.
  • The Players can't see it coming.  Everything seems fine, they think they have it under control, but they don't realize the circumstance until it is too late.

I'm going to suggest the second hypothesis: that the players feel shame.

Now, standard practice for DMs who have just caused a TPK is to rush at a solution: "I'm never going to let that happen again."  This is no way to build an experiment.  During the TPK, as it presented itself, the DM was likely in as much distress as the players ... and was, therefore, not paying attention.

To test our hypothesis, what we want is to engineer another possible TPK, watch what happens and make notes.

[As an aside, I suggested this scheme to my daughter, who immediately went to this place with it:

... sorry I haven't got a better copy]

Now, relax.  I'm not suggesting that parties are guinea pigs and that we should deliberately kill them just so we can watch.  I'm not Dr. Mengele.

I am saying, however, that if we create the potential for another TPK, knowing that the player's behaviour will once again be tested in the same manner, we can prepare ourselves in advance and take notes (mentally) about what happens.  Were this a legitimate experiment, we could have an outside observer, preferably a sociology or psychology student, come along and sit in ... but that is probably out of the question.

Whatever the reader's personal take on this proposal (and obviously, it would not be questionable if I had chosen a less sensitive subject than TPKs), our goal here is to gather data.  What do the players say?  Do they equate the present situation with one that occurred earlier.  Are some people suggesting that maybe everyone should be pulled back, only to be shut down by other, more reckless players?  Do the players seem to draw upon irrational bravado?  Are there signs of comprehending that they're going to lose?  What happens?

We can't draw a general theory about the potential and implementation of situations resulting in total-party-kills without examining the data, refining our hypothesis, observing relevant, isolated situations (single player deaths), rejecting bad guesses that isn't supported by the data and, on the whole, finding out if we know what the hell we're talking about.

3.  Stop Guessing.  Virtually all the content surrounding the betterment of campaigns is nothing more than guesswork.  If we try A, B might result.  This could improve your running.  "I'm not saying this is right, this is just the way I do it."  And so on.

If you don't know something, stop presenting the proposal as though it is, "known."  I could just as easily make a hypothesis that all online DMs who talk about their game worlds or systems are influenced by knowing that they are being observed by their own players.  As a result ~ still hypothesizing ~ they puff up their feathers in order to look more sure of themselves than they really are.

To find out how much they really know, it is necessary to a) test them personally, by asking questions, to see what sort of clear, factual responses you get, as opposed to nonsense hedging and misdirection; and b) test their players, asking what they think of the DMs position and advice.

For myself, my players are right there to be asked.  Some will definitely not agree that I am a good DM; there have been hard feelings all over the online campaigns.  My data says that I am a good DM for some players, but I am not for many, many others.  I don't imagine that anyone can be "good" for all the players ~ realistically, I just have to be good for enough players.  That is a general theory I've developed.

I expect people reading this blog to disagree with me, and often; I am just surprised how often they seem to disagree on matters where no evidence is being presented on their part, but plenty of evidence exists on mine.  I believe, from my observations, based on the grammar being used to express themselves, that "guessing" is more commonly relied upon than knowing.

If a DM has been running games for 30 years, it is probable that they are a good DM for a sufficient number of players ... and it is also probable that their experience at recognizing patterns in their games results in doing the right thing when the moment comes along.  It does not follow, however, that this means they "know" what that right thing is.  More likely, given the advice, given the patterns of speech and given the lack of hard data presented, they are responding instinctively to a problem, not cognitively.

And that's fine.  For most of us, instinct is more than enough to get us through.  It will make a great firefighter, a great cop, a great doctor, a great artist and a great lover.  What it will not make is a great educator.  An educator has to be able to explain how and why something works for someone who doesn't understand it; and that's not possible with only gut instinct to guess from.

So before trying to educate yourself, start from learning, not guessing.


Obviously, the TPK experiment can't be performed just once.  We'll never duplicate results that way.


Regarding the document from my last post; we can start with the structure and content section, requirements:
The projecting of the structure and content of training ... [for] the presence of significant problem from the view point of its research and creative nature that require integrated knowledge, research for its solution.

In English:  we want to identify what we need to know, for the purpose of relaying that information, about the research behind and the creative nature of role-playing.  We want an identifiable, single body of knowledge, so that we will be able to improve that knowledge, as a solution for further study and the creation of competence in dungeon mastering, or if you prefer, game mastering.

And ... wow.  Impossible, right?  No one agrees with anyone else, there's a concerted propaganda to argue that there is "no right way" and anyone who dares propose that there might be is condemned for inflexibility and being entitled.  The problem is further complicated by the "research" being 80 different significant game rule designs, all of which are integrated to some degree, as they share concepts, but not philosophies.  The first identifier everyone in role-playing uses is to reach for a tribal definition: I play 3rd edition, or I play Pathfinder, or I play [insert game title/genre here].  And that tribalism further subdivides into what rules group A plays versus group B.

Worse, the "research" itself produces uncertain, inconsistent results.  If we were talking about some other study, an evidentiary body of consistent results tends to emerge, which steadily drives the knowledge of that study in a particular, agreed-upon direction.  As more and more data piles up, one scientist after another begins to agree that something is clearly going on with the climate ... even as the issue itself is debated and/or ridiculed.  Role-playing games, which lack evidentiary support for anything about the game, as they suffer from a lack of meaningful studies, seems to point in no direction, a proposition which is embraced by a great many practitioners who don't want too close an investigation to be made into their practices.

So we're fucked.  The most anyone can offer for "knowledge" is to say, "I do it this way," or "Try this and it will work," which no effort of any kind is being made to say, "This worked" or "This didn't."  The ordinary RPG pundit on youtube is safe in proposing anything that sounds like it has potential, without the least concern that a great many people will respond with one voice, if the proposal is a farce.

But for all the proof or verification that exists for such advice, we might just as well tell DMs that they should kill a cat at midnight in an unkempt cemetery near an abandoned church at five minutes after midnight of the Spring Equinox ~ just 11 days left to obtain a cat and locate your site.  Maybe you can go to your local games store and get a group to go do it as an event.  Don't forget to Youtube it.

The alternative to the nihilism that pervades the role-playing community is, however, as the quote above says.  Research.  Investigation.  Not just supposition, but hypothesis, with a clear agenda that the hypothesis will then be tested in a lab, to determine what results, and what results can be repeated over and over with further experimentation.  That is, the same process that has united the rest of human knowledge into a forward, non-faith-based direction.

Rather than another scattered opinion-fest surrounding the importance of use and importance of armor or weapons, or how game design might be implemented to possibly bring about a change, which can then only ever be tried on one group of people by any one particular DM, how about we just stop until the data comes in?

This is what my online campaign blog was supposed to offer: evidence that my particular approach to D&D was not just a collection of words, but that it could be seen to work in the speech and actions of players who were actually responding to my philosophy.  Yet each time, in the recent debate, that I proclaimed that my combat system, as it stood, was working spectacularly well, with evidence to prove it, this evidence was flat out ignored.  When I said that the error in the campaign was my own, and not the combat system, because I should have gone ahead and killed the party, because they insisted on putting on their armor, that was also ignored.  Instead, the discussion devolved into pure, unsubstantiated opinion, that some rule change might have caused the party to feel less desiring to put on their armor first, thus [I conjecture] saving me the need to kill the party.

We, as a community, fall into this trap again and again. We don't acknowledge the evidence.  Instead, we turn to our prejudices about a particular element of the game [and combat is the worst!], and then argue again and again, in a circle, around those prejudices, without evidence, without rigorous investigation, without experimentation.  We jump right to a conclusion as though, in some way, because we feel a particular way because of our supposed experience, all that falderol with hypothesis, research, testing and proof just isn't necessary.

But the thing is, all that is necessary!  Because we are getting nowhere.  We're just wasting our time with this.

For people who claim they haven't time to waste building a campaign or to find the time to play more than once a fortnight, that's absurd.  The game deserves better.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Methodical, Academic

These are two words used by JB in the previous post.  I'll repeat them with a minimum of context: "... ...but most of us are pretty ignorant about how to go about doing so in a methodical, academic matter."

Well, that is certainly fair.  Seeing it, I decided to adventure into Google with a search for methodical, academic, education.

And turned up this interesting document.  Well, interesting for me, at least.  Perhaps a little high hat for many folks.  Fundamentally, it is a breakdown of techniques used to enable the professional training of graduate students, with the intent that they acquire "intellectual competence."  Following the paper's definition of terms, purpose and general relevance, which must be done with every thesis, the content turns to several lists for projects, features, content and decisions taken in order to promote the described purpose: to give exactly what JB is asking for: a methodical, academic approach to any subject in which one might like to acquire intellectual competence.

Such as, say, role-playing games.

Now, obviously, there isn't word one in the paper specifically directed towards comprehension of RPGs ... but we do have a solid formulation for how the comprehension might be acquired.  Take this short, but highly relevant list, regarding "collective nature of decisions taken, the nature of communication and mutual assistance, complementarity of the project's participants;"
1.  establishing of the necessary and sufficient depth of penetration into a problem, bringing of knowledge from other areas;
2.  conclusiveness of decisions taken, ability to substantiate the findings, conclusions;
3.  the aesthetics of the results’ presentation;
4.  the ability to answer the questions of opponents, conciseness and validity of the responses of each group member;
5.  project sustainability: the transition to a new project, integration with other projects, the dissemination of the project to other levels.

Before I take this another step, however, the reader needs to ask a question of thyself:  is the importance of understanding what we're doing as role-playing DMs and GMs deserving of real, legitimate academic investigation, or will we dismiss the above recommendation for "what matters" based on the content's use of exact, dry, even to some degree incomprehensible phrasing, because it happens to be written by a hand not limited by grade 10 vocabulary and grammar?  Because where it comes to pushing the boundaries of "working in our field of study," there comes a time to dig in, drag out a dictionary and get serious about the content.

The reader ought to know by now that I can easily "dumb down" the content above, and of the whole paper, point by point, in an effort to make it accessible ... but the deeper point I want to make here is that some of us need to "smart up" to the content as written.  The reader ought to be able to look at point 3 and see exactly what that means.  And then the reader ought to be able to sit down and sketch out a list of what are the aesthetics of the presentation that the reader has decided upon, how far the reader has taken in terms of communicating those aesthetics and how much mutual assistance the reader has marshalled among the various project's participants.  I shouldn't have to walk the reader through that thinking process, now that it is written out in point form, nor in what decisions the reader has made regarding their project's sustainability, ability to answer pointed questions, the conclusiveness and substantiality of findings produced about the project or establishing how much penetration was needed into the project in the first place, based on what knowledge was gained from what sources.

Some of you, I know, have university degrees.  Which meant that, once upon a time, you read papers like this and wrote answers to questions based on such papers, in order to have a degree that now hangs on your wall.  What was that degree for?  To make a pretty hanging for your office or den?  Or was it to teach you to be ready for a project that really mattered to you, beyond just dabbling?

Want to improve your methodology, your academic prowess where dealing with the fundamentals of role-playing?  Take some time, translate a few random paragraphs from the paper and then explain, for yourself, how you're increasing or improving your competence in managing this particular effort of making a world or running a game.  Because it's all right here.  In black and white.

It's just not written in crayon.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Angry DM

"But, look, it’s no secret that I am not talking about your hoity-toity story games who think they are the only way to get a satisfying narrative experience in an interactive medium. And I’m not talking about those abstract as f$&% specialty games whose rules are three layers removed from any actual game fiction. I’m not talking about the elitist indie crap that seeks to elevate the medium. No, I’m talking about the standard fare. The Dungeons & Dragons. The Pathfinder. The Star Wars. The old school and the new school action-adventure games. The ones that CAN be great epic stories of mystery and intrigue, like that Game of Thrones thing the kids are all playing. And the ones that CAN ALSO be the dungeon-crawling fun of killing green-skinned evil-doers and taking their stuff. And the ones that CAN ALSO be tear-your-hair-out challenging tests of your strategy and gaming mettle. D&D can’t be anything to anyone, sorry. I’ve said that before. But it can be a lot of things. And it’s pretty easy to get to a lot of things from D&D.
"Oh, and just because I talk about traditional RPGs and play traditional RPGs, that doesn’t mean I also don’t play (and even sometimes LIKE) other games. I play and run A LOT of games. I try a lot of s$&%. Anyway, I got distracted. My point here is that this site is unapologetically about teaching you how to get the most out of traditional RPGs, however you define 'the most.' Deal with it."
The Angry GM,

What I like about the above is how clear it all is.  When I read writing on this level, I come away from it nourished, refreshed and emboldened by a brand new, crystalline version of reality, as the scales fall away from my eyes and I realize, at last, what I need to know to be a better dungeon master.
"What is a Role-Playing Game?
"A role-playing game is a game in which players take on the role of fictional characters in a hypothetical universe. The players attempt to make the decisions that they feel their characters would make if they were real and if their universe were real. Those decisions are based on the characters’ motivations and the games goals. The results of those decisions are played out and new decisions are made.
"Ultimately, an RPG is about choice and consequence. The players make choices for their characters and then deal with the consequences. And goals provide benchmarks for success and failure."

 See?  If I knew nothing about RPGs, I would want a definition like this one: thorough, exemplifying a full detail and aspect of what's going on, right down to the nuts and bolts of the thing.  "Ah, I see," I would say.  The universe is hypothetical, but we pretend that the hypothetical is real.  That's brilliant!  That is completely different from most things that are hypothetical, which are merely theoretical, conjectural, speculative, putative or notional.  Thank gawd that's made clearer.

But the real genius in the above is the description of RPGs involving choices and consequences.  That is so, so very different from other types of games, activities, sports, recreations and past-times.  None of those involve choices in any way, and certainly are not subject to consequences.  This is so cool, this role-playing thing.  Tell me more.
"The Most Important Rule in Every RPG
"There is one rule, one structure, that underlies almost every RPG that exists. It is the most basic process by which the RPG runs. And it goes like this. The GM presents a situation to the players. The players project themselves into the mind of their characters and decide on a course of action for their characters to take. The GM determines the outcome of those actions and describes the results, which becomes a new situation to which the players then respond."

Wow.  A situation.  That is so deep.  As a GM, all that's needed, the most important thing that is needed, is that I need to present a situation.  Damn.  My head is just on fire with all the ideas in my head.  Don't say any more.  I get it now.  I get it all.

... sigh.


This is such a good example of a typical attempt to explain the game, I had to march it out.  Go on, read the whole post.  It doesn't get any better, it doesn't get any clearer.  The gentle reader and I understand what he's saying for obvious reasons.  We're the choir.  But someone who has never heard of a role-playing game?  The above is an empty field of useless wordage.

The above, however, has nothing at all on the comment that praise the above:
"These abstract articles are good (and necessary) but it’s watching the way you are able to use the concepts in regards to minutia and moving the little bits around that I find fascinating. Well defined examples, or vague generic ones when you’re in that mood, are exciting to follow because you can see thru the bulls&$(# that trips the rest of us up."
"It’s nice to see this clear outline of definitions. While all of these concepts have been touched on in previous articles at some level or another, putting them here in one place serves well to tie them together."
"Very concise and lays out information and concepts in an easy to follow format. You haven’t peaked, this seems like a good foundation for future published work. Great stuff here!"
"This blew me out of the water. I love the systematic way that you laid out and connected concepts from all your articles. I have a feeling that I’ll be coming back to this article for years. Well done, and thank you for all the great work you put in. I truly appreciate it."

These are Russian bots, right?  They're deliberately creating obsequious content in order to promote a lax, non-educational precept to the investigation of RPGs ... no one actually read the above post and actually felt it worthy of actual praise.  Did they?

I'm afraid that, yes, they did.

"Blew me out of the water?"  Which part, exactly?  The part where the DM wears three hats?  Where two of them were "running the game" and "administering the game"?  Because, apparently, these are different things:
"When running the game, the GM presents situations, determines the outcome of actions, and presents the consequences of those actions."
"When administrating the game, the GM handles the organizational and social aspects of the game. The GM must deal with interpersonal problems, disruption of the game, and other social issues."

Funny, because I call both those things, "running the game," because I do them both at the same time, in synchronization.

See, the baseball umpire wears two hats: he wears the game adjudication hat, and he wears the hat where he has to deal with players who respond to the game adjudication. Oh, wait, he actually wears three hats, because sometimes he calls balls and strikes, and sometimes he has to deal with all the other rules of the game.  Oh, wait, he wears four hats, because he also wears the Umpire is not involved in the Game hat.  Oops, there's five hats ... no, six ... wait, it's eight.  Or is it ten?  Fuck, that's a lot of hats.

Sometimes, as a DM, I wear my "gets out of a chair and grabs a coke" hat ... and sometimes I wear the "joke with the other participants of the game while we shoot the shit" hat.  Once upon a time, I even wore the "stops the game for five minutes while I go change the baby" hat.  RPGs are complicated.

Or maybe, what blew the reader out of the water was the 55 words used to describe "Campaign" (which doesn't even rate "The" Campaign):
"A campaign isn’t really part of the structure of the role-playing game. A campaign is the sum total of all of the game sessions involving any sort of continuity between adventures. Usually the continuity involves the ensemble of characters and the setting, but through one or more adventure paths, there may also be a story continuity."

There's a shell that goes straight for the ammunition supply.  That certainly blew my HMS Hood out of the North Atlantic.  "Any sort of continuity."  An unbroken and consistent existence of a thing over time ... of any sort.  Jeez.  That kind of stark lucidity doesn't turn up in a sentence just any day.

But okay, we were given some examples: there's character continuity and setting continuity, and one or more adventure path continuities, and story continuity.  My, my, my ... I do know everything a DM need to know about the campaign now, don't I?

Remember, that was the name of the post.  EVERYTHING you need to know.  Every blessed thing.  From now until the day you stop running RPGs when the cancer cuts you down at 95.  There are a bunch of different continuities and they all have an adjective in front of them.

When I say the RPG community has its head up it's ass, I mean crap like this sort of thing that is praised to the skies. Someone felt the need to write,
"This article is what every single dungeon master section is missing. I’ve paid money for products that have given me far less."
And someone else added:
"Ditto. Not enough DMGs or other such books really teach you to actually GM."

Now, lest I be misunderstood, I don't care that the Angry DM felt compelled to write this post.  He's been spewing out this inconsistent drivel for years.  He has a steady, consistent formula.  He starts with a long, long self-referential introduction that does little more than pick a given word in the previous sentence in order to go off on a tangent, which almost always ends with him disagreeing with something he said at the start, while obsequiously adding a few sentences to make sure hasn't unduly insulted someone by making a declarative sentence that something is something.  If you'll look at the opening two paragraphs that I quoted at the top, you'll see he's done exactly this.  If you go look at the rest of his writings, you'll find he does it virtually every time.

Of course I've read him.  He's called "The Angry GM."  I had to go find out what the fuss was about.  Truth is, he's not really angry ... except in the way that a drunk asshole on a train bridge finds a reason to scream at something, because they're there and, what the fuck, they feel like screaming.  There's no rationale.  He's not actually "angry" at anything.  He's adept at using a ten-year-old's vocabulary while letting his Mom, apparently, replace the swearing with the top row of his keyboard.

I use the symbols technique myself, occasionally.  It's fun.  But I'm also ready to say fuck and shit because, well, fuck it.  I'm guessing he uses the technique because he thinks there's a chance that mainstream television will pick him up and stream him someday, since it is the only medium still in existence (along with radio) that still gives a fuck about swearing.

My deeper issue is with the readers ... who must live in some oppressive hell where no actual light ever enters, where no academic book learning penetrates, where no documentary ever plays, where education and deliberation on a subject are perpetually hidden and who, when told to ignore the man behind the curtain, do so.

Because I would expect some fifty comments under such material to read, "What the fuck is this supposed to be" or "Are you fucking kidding?"  Yet I expect the same thing to occur when I read the comments under a Mike Mercer video or some piece of bullshit article proclaiming the death of role-playing.  Yet it never happens.

Where are the sardonic, embittered, fiery role-players of my experience, who scoff at movies and books that pander painfully to an audience of gormless gits who obviously haven't read a real book in their lives?  Where are the truly angry DMs of my acquaintance who railed for half-an-hour at the piece of shit module, wrapped in plastic, that they just forked out to buy, only to find they were nothing more than half artwork and a bad rehash of Legacy of the Drow?  Where is the anger of people who opened the post, only to find within a few paragraphs that it was nothing more than another pale, flaccid, insubstantial outline of shit that we actually Ought to Be Explaining?

Instead, there's some cheap little flame war in the comments about whether or not the DM is a player.  Like this matters in the enormity of the dearth of anything of consequence being said in an article entitled, "Everything You Ever Need to Know About Game Mastering."

The readers sicken me.  That's the truth of it. I look at those readers ... and then I compare them to the readers of this blog, whom I've flayed and insulted, whom I've belittled, whom I've mistreated and coldly misunderstood, and I get down on my hands and knees and kiss the fucking ground that you people exist and are tough enough to sustain a little abuse.  You guys are wonderful.  If I had to put up with the spineless syncophants that haunt the cloud castles of brown-colored smoke blown up, then ejected, from most of the RPG sites on the internet, I think I'd put a gun in my mouth.

Yes.  I am angry.  Not F$&%ing angry.

I am fucking angry.

The man behind the curtain.

Monday, March 5, 2018

How to Live

So here's a screen shot from a video that I just put on the blog.  The speaker is Dan Pink, who's a presenter of documentaries and writes about behavioural science.

"Let's talk about mastery ~ our urge to get better at stuff.  We like to get better at stuff.  This is why people play musical instruments on the weekend.  You've got all these people who are acting in ways that seem irrational economically.  They play musical instruments on weekends?  Why?  It's not going to get them a mate, it's not going to make them any money, why are they doing it?  'Cos it's fun.  'Cos you get better at it and that's satisfying."

I often talk about going to sources other than game makers to understand what is going on with people playing D&D and other RPGs.  This is an example.

Where I differ from most people is that I play D&D because I want to get better at it, while most claim they just want to have fun ... the two examples for motivation that Pink gives.  Part of this is because I view D&D like playing a musical instrument, while I know that many people who participate in the game view D&D like a complicated version of a boardgame, emphasis on game.  When I talk about the game, I'm not satisfied that the reader understands what a hit point is, or what a given monster does, or how a particular adventure is described.  I want the reader to "get it" ~ to have a deeper, more profound understanding that what's going on here is not players responding to rules, but human beings responding to an opportunity to explore incentives and innovation.

Let me put that another way, though I'll keep putting it another way for the rest of my life.  Many people, when they sit down to play, imagine a set of events that they have to problem solve, in order to get from a place where they are, to a place where they want to go, in a linear fashion that might have a few lateral jumps.  In effect, for most people the game is like an excursion ... whether or not they happen to be able to choose which paths they're taking.  The excursion passes through a set piece which the DM designs, which the players enjoy, and that is the basic framework for play.

I want to run a game in which a player is a person, specifically YOU, in an environment which is, intellectually, no different from the environment you are actually sitting in, in the real world.  Just as you might rise from your seat to go get a drink from the fridge, because you happen to be thirsty, I want you to feel the same general incentive to do things in my game world.  And just as YOU, the real person, could save up your money, go to India, buy a plantation, defend it against real life bandits, raise indigo, bring it back home and sell it for a profit, I want the character in my game to think, what do I want to do with my life?

And then, when you figure out what that is, just as YOU, the real person, has to figure out what that is, I want to run a game which makes that a difficult, satisfying, possible, wonderful, deeply fascinating experience for you, as you'll be doing this thing in a world of magic, weapons, monsters, treasure, the potential for world domination, etcetera, in a hundred ways you cannot manage in the real world.  I want you to LIVE in my world.  Not just game in it.

Yet when I think about game design for that system, I'm not interested in making some system that reflects or reproduces reality.  That would be impossible.  Instead, I have to use my energy to make a system that reflects and reproduces the emotional element of reality.  I don't want a system that makes sword play "realistic."  I want a system that makes the emotional fear from dying in sword play, or the emotional triumph from succeeding in sword play, or the cringe factor of bleeding out from being stabbed, or the tremulous satisfaction of smashing flesh and bone ... real.

To do that, I have to approach the game very differently from the way a simulationist might.  I can't be concerned with details that will undermine momentum.  Momentum is incredibly important where it comes to emotional impact.  I can't be overly concerned with too much bookkeeping, though I'd love to be ... so I try to build systems that make bookkeeping easy and automatic, making use of computers, excel and such, so that things can be added and calculated in the blink of an eye.  Again, because momentum matters.  My game can't be run with pen and paper.  It's too slow.  My game can't be run on a map with miniatures.  They're too slow and clumsy, and they undermine the player's identification with self.

I need the player to have access to the rules, because they need to think as fast inside the rules as I do.  I need the players to see my die rolls, so they know it's the die, and not me, that holds their lives in jeopardy.  The dice are inflexible, immutable, implacable, indifferent.  I might bend to appeal. The dice can't.  So the dice must be thrown in the open, where everyone can see them, and be subject to their results.

I need a world that can be comprehended, pictured, seen, studied, revealed and visited.  If the players are in a small town in Turkey, they should know that a Turkish town in the 17th century, with its narrow streets, lanes, houses pushed up against houses, is not like a modern town in Ohio, with isolated houses surrounded by big yards.  If they bring a horse into a village like that, I need them to understand they can't just gallop their horse around willy nilly.  This is a medieval town.  I need my players to "get that."

And I need my players to stop thinking like players.  I need them to open their eyes.  I need them to wake up and see that I'm not just giving them the excursion tour.  If they really want to enjoy the world, they have to stop visiting it and start living there.

I wouldn't need to tell them to do that, if the whole of the rest of the RPG community didn't have their head collectively up their own ass.

The Apprentice System's Yield

To be sure, the problems that some players have about entering a combat without putting their armor on first is only one aspect of a familiar attitude: the same that causes players to insist there must be scads of healing in any game system before it can be fairly run, or that death is an unfair policy carried out by DMs who apparently hate players.

If it takes too long to cast spells, so that it is difficult to fire spells off like automatic weaponry at opponents, then the wizard is unfairly crippled.  If fighters don't have enough hit points, if thieves are not able to backstab every time an enemy turns their back, regardless of surprise, if a bard can't automatically put the enemy to sleep in less than eight notes of a cheap lyre, then the game is unfair and needs to be "fixed" and reworked until the players are properly served by the rules.

I don't want to rant about this.  I do want to stress that it is a problem.  Not so much for an old grognard like me [though, as recently stipulated, occasionally] ~ but it is very hard on a DM with only a little experience.  Such new gamers are already facing a steep learning curve, which is made harder by game systems and culture which steadfastly supports more and more player power.  Just look at the videos online: fudging is pressed on DMs, in order to ensure the players have fun; the DM is flat out told that the player's enjoyment is the DM's responsibility; even the idea of TPKs are treated viciously in comment sections; while player enabling through backstories and the right to negotiate the nature of the campaign in session zeros further compromises the free hand of the DM.

This is all the linked post above, Fight Semantics, serves to investigate: the idea that armor class can be served by holding a weapon, thus reducing all the inconvenience ~ and cost ~ of holding a weapon.  Most rule proposals that I see pushed by newish DMs, or DMs who run scattered, one-off campaigns, where player power doesn't really matter, more or less push enablement in one way or another.

The finger can be pointed at me, as well: what else are the sage abilities, except more power for the players?  At least, that's how they could be interpreted, if too much leeway was given as to what sort of things could be accomplished with an ability to "brew poison" or "breed horses."  I see the sage abilities enabling the player's motivation and personality, as opposed to the player's power ... but another DM could easily be browbeat by a player looking over the list, to considerably abuse and exploit the system as written.

With all this pressure on a new DM (and players asking questions like, "Does my long sword do more damage if I swing it with both hands"), it's no wonder that moving the game onto rails is a viable strategy to reassert the DM's control over his or her game.  No doubt, philosophies like "the DM is always right" retain a vitality because of what a DM faces with more and more rules that legitimize the player's right to drive the game.

That "pressure" only exists because ~ supposedly ~ finding players is hard to do, or because standing up to a player and giving a flat out, "No" is treated as a risky choice.  Many poor souls, not realizing that a DM nixing a player's pet plan is no different than an umpire calling a strike, get themselves into far worse situations than I did with the village in my recent post.  Such DMs have to fudge, because letting the players have their way on a constant basis, trying to follow game advice that says, "Make your players feel enabled, not disabled," [my words], gets them into corners they haven't the skill to get out of.  Dungeons wind up being too feeble, or overpowered; when the players circumvent some plan, the DM feels confused and helpless; parties get overcautious; parties slaughter everything; plot hooks fail, because the DM doesn't know what the players want; the players show little or no interest in doing anything and the DM feels lost; roleplaying does a face plant, or a smart player talks the DM into everything ... and there's a constant threat the players will simply walk out if they don't get what they want.  Basically, threatening extortion.

Off record for one of the podcast interviews, I was asked to explain my support of accreditation.  My only real argument is that the game is broken ... and not because players can't use weapons to replace their armor or because an arrow can't be blocked with a sword.  The deeper issue presents within the game's play, where DMs are simply disassociated from the pre-conceived framework they've created in their own minds, which they cling to as a way of controlling a game they're clearly incapable of controlling.  Case in point:

I keep watching these videos, because they just ... don't ... make ... sense.  The DM functions in some quasi-real game space, the players just go with it, the farce is allowed to play out like a bizarre Ionesco play and a group of functionally game-retarded participants stumble through a session only to realize there's nothing out there that's better (which is a running theme in Puffin Forrest's content).

It is baffling on the surface ... but with some consideration it makes perfect sense.  The philosophy has been, for decades, whenever the rules don't cover something, the DM should make a ruling so the game can just go on.  But when DM fiat becomes less and less rational, and that irrationality is supported by a wider and wider populace, with a player-to-DM apprentice system that is all positive, all the time, the video above is what results.

I regularly get people who answer a post of mine with, "Well, I run by fiat in my game and it is just fine."  That's not a good recommendation ~ but they don't know it.  They really do think that it is "just fine" ... just as the people do who participate in the game video above.  Just as people all over the internet are increasingly feeling.  That this sort of irrationality is "fun" ... so why worry?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Playing Out

Went to a little place called the Shoebox Games and Cafe, where I did some r/l game running, the first I've done in many months.  That's me on the right.  Truth is, I haven't had a space and more to the point, I haven't had a computer.  We've been trying to set up with a regular game day for a couple of months ~ not just a single session, but actually making a commitment ~ and it finally came around.

With this group, we haven't actually played since 2016 ... so we didn't get much done, what with everyone trying to remember what their characters could do, what level they were and how the character sheets were laid out.  Still, there was still a strong commitment to playing, and to feeling the roles they had.  It is always reassuring to know that even after a year, people are still ready to sort out their free time to come back and play with me.

Long ago, I felt there was a problem keeping players, but I haven't felt that much since 1985.  If I lost every player, it was obvious I could just show up at a place like this for a number of nights, offer to run for people and build up a mob.  That's in spite of my being curmudgeonly or ~ as this page put it ~ "... super old school and grumpy about it."

Old school, yes; but perhaps that just proves I know what I'm doing, or that I'm tremendously conscious of the players at the table and what they expect.  I'm able to play two parts at the same time: to be a hard adversary against the player characters, while being empathic and supportive of the players themselves.  Perhaps I'm just ready to run.  Whether I have a story in my pocket or not.

It was a good time.  For those in the city of Calgary, who might be familiar with the Sentry Box and what a bag of snarling cats that place has become, you might try this place at the north end, near McKnight and Edmonton Trail.  They were considerate, supportive, enabled the table for the sake of our supporting the eats and drinks (no additional cost) and were very friendly.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Fight Semantics

Charles Taylor and I are going back and forth on the last post ... and it's a good discussion, I don't want to let it die.  Part of me thinks we should just get on mic and suss it out for five or ten minutes ~ which would be an interesting strategy for engaging mini-podcasts ~ but I'm going to write about it in the moment.

Basically, this is an argument that has been going around for quite a while, and is part of the "weapon simulation" rule-set vs. the "weapon game convenience" rule-set conversation.  To wit: should rules for combat in an RPG be redesigned to more closely represent reality, or should they continue to exist as a shorthand for getting the combat over with so we can get back to role-playing?

Here's Taylor's proposal, a perfectly fair one:
A fighter should be able to snatch up their sword and be able to competently defend themselves, but in D&D, your weapon has no effect whatsoever on your defensive ability. Armour is the only control over their defense the player has, so of course they're going to cling to it. They have nothing else, unlike in real life, where you defend yourself with your sword and armour is a safety net to protect you if you screw up.

I am probably closer to this sentiment than most, who still feel that the priorities of combat are a game.  I love the idea above ... that any character with weapons skill ought to be able to count on their weapon as a means to parry attacks against them, to preserve themselves, and thus rely less and less on the use of armor.  We like the notion that Robin Hood, D'Artagnan or Conan doesn't need to wear armor, because they're just that good with a sword.

Only ... most of the rule sets I've seen that try to present this ideal are cumbersome, or ultimately become a sort of guarantee that the sword swinger becomes invulnerable.  Don't get me wrong.  I like a multiplicity of rules that relate to combat ... otherwise, I wouldn't have this list of standard, regular rules that exist in my game.  And I don't want that as a dungeon master.  I never want the fear of death to go away; I want every combat to be legitimately dangerous, no matter how good a fighter a character happens to be.

My purpose for writing this post is to flesh out the reply I gave to Taylor at the end of the last post's comments ~ my argument that the weapon's defensive element is included in the old D&D combat system, just not in the way people usually think of it.

To begin with, let's take two combatants, Hichem and Jocasta, both unarmored, both 1st level.  Hichem goes to take a swing at Jocasta using a d20, needing a 10 to hit her.

Why a 10?  Why not a 1?  What is this magical force that surrounds Jocasta, that makes every roll between 1 and 9 a miss?  It isn't stated blatantly in the rules, but I think this "missing" is due to Jocasta's use of the weapon ... her weapon is 45% effective against blocking attacks made by Hichem against her unarmored body.

IF Jocasta also happens to have a dexterity above 14, this makes her even less likely to be struck by Hichem's attack.  Now, usually people describe this as Jocasta dodging Hichem's attack, but this is actually pretty unrealistic.  We don't fight by dodging.  We fight by putting our weapon in the way of the opponent's weapon.  Jocasta, because of her dexterity (let's say it is a 16, giving her a 2 pt. armor bonus), is faster at getting her sword in the way of Hichem's sword than she would be if her dexterity were, say, 12.

Now, suppose Hichem hits.  We'll say Jocasta has 10 hit points, and Hichem hits her for 3 damage.  This 3 damage is 30% of Jocasta's hit points.  Now, we can say that this represents Hichem's ability to cause damage ... but we can also say that Jocasta's ability to deflect Hichem's attack resulted in taking 30% of her total hit points.

Suppose Jocasta gained a level, and 10 more hit points, and then fought Hichem again.  And Hichem, again, hits Jocasta, again for 3 hit points.  Now, that 3 damage only counts against 15% of Jocasta's hit points.

We could say, and we usually do, that this means Jocasta can take more damage.  But that is actually a rather warped way of looking at it.  Jocasta's body hasn't changed.  Her skin isn't harder, she hasn't gained weight, there's no physical rationale for her being able to take more abuse.  However, there is a perfectly reasonable argument to be made that when the 2nd level Jocasta deflected Hichem's 3 point attack, less of the actual weapon touched her body, because she is getting better at deflecting an attack.  Where, at 1st level, Hichem's blow probably gave her a good cut, now it does little more than score her.

And if she were 10th level, and had 80 hit points, that 3 points of damage would be little more than a nick on her skin.  She is much, much better at deflecting a hit, using her own weapons' ability.

So the "competent defense" that Taylor is asking for is already inherent in the rules.  It is only that, from bad habit, we've gotten used to thinking of characters "dodging" during fights and not "parrying," just as we've gotten used to thinking of characters "taking more damage" rather than "taking a smaller percentage of their total physical integrity."

It's unfortunate that we've gone that way with semantics, but that's not a problem with the rules.  The rules do account for better effectiveness for weapons.  We don't have to add extra modifiers for parrying attacks for better weapon-AC bonuses ... the modifiers are right there in the experience/level system.  Of course, we can add bonuses; but we're really only tweaking an already working system.

So much for AD&D.  I have another point to make.

Long ago, I introduced my stun lock system (recently renamed from just "stun").  In it, the better combatant has a higher chance of hitting the lesser combatant.  When Hichem hits Jocasta the 1st level for 3 hit points, he stuns her, thus allowing him to attack again before she is given a chance to do so.

This "stunning" will probably be confusing forever, because the combat system is viewed as a turn-based process.  I see the turn as representative for game play, but not as a descriptive for what is going on.

How does a fight usually go?  Hichem swings at Jocasta, she swings at him, he swings at her, she swings at him, ad nauseum?  No.  That's how Gygax saw it, or framed it ... and there's no wonder it's boring as hell.

A fight actually goes, Hichem swings at Jocasta, then swings again, gets off balance, she swings at him and hits, and because he's staggered by the blow, she swings again, glancing off his body, so he swings and misses, so she swings and hits again, then again, then again and Hichem drops unconscious.

Sounds more interesting right off, doesn't it?

Mechanically, it works like this, if Jocasta is a much better fighter (3rd level) than Hichem is, still being 1st.  When he hits, the blows are mostly taken on Jocasta's weapon.  Some of it touches her, but so little of it that she isn't stun locked by the damage he does.  When she hits, however (and she has a better chance to hit, because she's 3rd level), her blows use up a larger percentage of Hichem's hit points.  He's stun locked because he's easier to hit and the hits matter more, because he's lower level.

She doesn't win because she can "take more damage."  She wins because she takes LESS damage, as a percentage of her total hit points, which describes her superior use with a weapon, because she's gained experience that Hichem hasn't.

Just because we don't typically use the words, "Jocasta wins because she's a better fighter," insisting on this semantic of referring to her hit points and chance to hit, doesn't mean she isn't actually using her weapon a lot better than Hichem is.

We could improve our understanding of what's happening in a combat if we could stop letting language be a barrier to describing what is actually being represented here.


Regarding those people who, after a century of failure, still think that incentives work on humans: