Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How Do You Write?

There hasn't been much writing here this week.  There just hasn't been time for it.  The book is taking form steadily, patiently; I would like to hear anything people might have to say about the sidebar updating my progress.  Good idea?  Bad?  Waste of my time?

It has accomplished one thing for me.  I feel absolutely awful if I have to put a zero there.  Sometimes, that's because I don't do any work at all.  Sometimes, because I'm writing some part of the book doesn't qualify as "progress."

I'll try to explain my thinking on this.  Typically, I write a very rough first draft of anything I take very seriously.  Then I will write a much better second draft, fitting in all the details and additional concepts that have arisen since the first draft, along with extending the descriptions, the general pattern of the characters and extending or adding scenes where warranted.  I'll also butcher scenes with the second draft; I may remove whole characters who don't fit into the scheme or which I decide are superfluous.  It is sometimes very hard to nail down all the details of the second draft.  This particular novel has been a nightmare in this regard, particularly as the last third of the book has snaked around like a firehose that has broken free and is now breaking windows.

The last third of this book exists much more in my mind than on paper.  I work at parts of it, I rewrite, I adjust the order of events, I change the specific setting itself, I calculate the transitions and how to get characters in and out of scenes without it looking obvious.  The movement of the characters should appear natural, not forced and definitely not dependent on one of them carrying around an idiot ball or some other awful writing trope.

So, still working on the second draft for that last third.  There are notes in abundance, pieces and bits of detail, passages where I've written out what happens and some things still relevant from the first draft.  I'm about 95% certain about the end of the second draft, now, but it still challenges me.

After the second draft, I'll work on the third draft.  This is where I work primarily on the language. For this book, I'm doing my best to keep word use so that the vocabulary is no later than mid-18th century.  For reckoning, every word in this post, so far as I know, would qualify ~ so I'm not writing in a pre-18th century style but I am keeping my idioms and references clear of post 18th century slang and usage.  For instance, lately I had to change my intention of using "mindset," as that is 1920s jargon.  I wanted to put another example here, but frankly I can't remember one.  Most of the time a word is fair game.

I clean up the extra words and struggle making things clearer.  I am getting better at this.  Part of me wants to go back and rework the language of How to Run and other things I've written because have the 18 months with this book I feel like I have better defined myself than ever before.  But that is probably also due to the blog.

After the third draft, then I do a read-through, preferably with time lapsed between writing and reading.  This read through tightens up the language still further and helps identify continuity errors, which are a terrible problem in any long work.  He took off the ring in chapter three but he is still wearing it in chapter four, that sort of thing.  That stuff is still likely to slip through.

Finally, there are words that get missed, even though the passage reads perfectly to me; I just don't see the missing word.  Or the typo.  Or the small spelling error.  It isn't that I haven't read the passage at least a dozen times, it's just that my mind and the text are hopelessly mutable.  At some point in the past, that word was probably there or it was spelled correctly. But after shifting and changing and adjusting and rewriting, it gets taken out even though my brain rates it as still present.  This is why someone else is always needed.

Anyway, it is only this final reading that I am counting as "progress."  So if I go work on some passage of the book that isn't part of this final edit, it isn't progress, not yet.  As such, I try to work on some rewriting each day, then a small bit of progress on top of it, to feel like the book is making headway.

Hope that clears up some things for the reader ~ and I hope that for some writers, they can compare their own habits to mine.  Being asked, "How do you write?" is a very common thing for a writer.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Touring Numbers, Notes

A brief addendum to my last post.

To encourage a greater distance travelled between cultural sites, making distance a condition of the experience gained by a player, we could include this table:

This counts as 20 miles per hex.

Thus, a party of characters reaching for the easiest fruit, moving from close town to close town, could still benefit from week to week investigation, but if they chose to move great distances before touring again, they would gain more per week.  This, of course, would not increase the total amount of experience available from a cultural center, but it would increase the speed with which cultural gains were made.  That would incorporate a cultural shock into the learning experience.

As a second feature, we could use this list of places from Wikipedia (making your own up, of course, if it is your originally created world) as a guideline for pilgrimage sites.  The adjustment here would be to double or perhaps triple the amount of experience-gaining potential for true believers of the given faith.  Therefore, though Rome in my game is not the largest of cities in Europe (it has 313,786 people in my world), by giving it three times the potential experience gain, rather than having a maximum experience base gain of 3,137 x.p., it would have 9,413; and if persons were to travel 100 hexes to reach it, or 2,000 miles, that would be increased further to 16,944.  Though it would take a total of 94 weeks and a day to gain it all.

That would include time looking at art, visiting churches, attending ceremonies and festivals, reading in libraries or conversations with religious leaders and scholars, etcetera.

Would players really want to do it, though?  Would they be willing to sacrifice a year of life in order to gain a "safe" boost of experience?  Or would they rather just adventure.  On the whole, I see these rules being something that low-levels, up to 5th say, may jump at, but in which those higher than 6th would probably lose interest.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Grand Tour

I'm still writing bard posts.  Here I'd like to address a problem that came up the last time around as I stumbled over bard mechanics for artwork experience gains.  Fundamentally it is this: if art has been created over a very long period of time and exists all over the world, and if seeing, hearing or otherwise experiencing art can contribute experience to your character, why not just wander around, look at stuff and go up levels?

Remember that the idea of experience being transmitted through art came about as a desire to make bard creations meaningful.  Spend a lot of time as a bard creating something, affect others.  Simple.  But given that the transmission of experience would apparently break the system, some kind of limitation is necessary ~ and in the end, I did not like any of the limitations I proposed when I wrote the linked post above in early April.

As such, I'd like to try again.

Now, this "fix" may seem contrived, it may seem impractical for a more localized world than mine, but I'm only concerned that it provides a measurable limitation for the viewing of art outside the party's personal creation.  The idea is more or less based on the idea that the bard you know can be more effective in transferring experience (as a player character bard has relatively the same perspective on life) than a lot of old, disconnected artists producing stuff the characters are perceived to see as less meaningful.  Some will disagree; but like the concept, don't like the concept, I'll go ahead and describe it as best I can.

First and foremost, we want a measure that can be used to determine how much experience a player character can gain by visiting a given city anywhere in the world.  This has to be a universal measure and I can think of only one: the city's population.  Stavanger, for example, where the Juvenis party is adventuring [sorry, friends, I will get on that as soon as I get my commitments under control], has a population of 9,573 in my game.  To compare, Copenhagen, the seat of the monarchy for Denmark and Norway, has a population of 109,756.

Suppose that we say that a tour around either city has the potential for netting a character, player or non-player, 1% of those numbers in experience.  Visiting the artworks of Stavanger could push the character up 95 x.p. (fractions don't count), while Copenhagen could add 1,097.  Characters would want to visit Copenhagen under those conditions, yes?  Much more so than Stavanger.

But that doesn't solve our problem.  There are thousands of cities in my world, so moving from one to the next would be like an experience smorgasbord, to use the Scandinavian term, making ordinary adventuring a thing of the past.  I will have to limit the scheme somewhat.

It might be possible to see all the art that Stavanger has to offer in the space of a few days, but obviously not Copenhagen.  We could set a harsh limit of 100 x.p. gained per week of "sightseeing," which would mean it could take two and a half months to get out of Copenhagen all that it had to offer, while Stavanger could be seen in just seven days.  This at least creates an expense to exchange for x.p. gained, in the form of food, lodging, perhaps taxes and, of course, the cost of actually entering the churches, palaces and salons of the city in order to get the most out of it.   If we also take steps to increase the cost of lodging in larger cities, this can work to discourage long visits (and push the players towards traditional adventuring).  As well, the players would get older from such activities.

But we're still talking about an experience feast that's everywhere, so let's also remove Stavanger from the list of potential tourist spots.  According to wikipedia, this is the only significant building to be found in the city that was built before 1650 (on the right).  And while it is pretty and perhaps unusual for the area, is it worth 95 x.p.?

We can limit the number of cities that can offer meaningful sites to those that meet a certain status: perhaps national capitals, large religious and palatial monuments (of a given size), buildings of sufficiently early origin (a minimum of 800 years old), that sort of thing.  Thus, while the barrow Mimmarudla that the players found near Stavanger is really old, it isn't large enough to provide x.p. just by being viewed.

Well, that helps.  The party now has to make sufficiently meaningful trips between historical/artistic sights, which requires at least some dangerous travelling/opportunities for adventure.  What else can we do?

We could limit the amount of experience gained from an outside bardic source per level of experience.  For example, we could argue that a 2nd level fighter wanting to be 3rd, needing 2,000 x.p., could only gain 500 through visiting Copenhagen.  This would narrow the amount of effect that experience could have ~ and once the player leveled, they might have reason to return to Copenhagen and have another look around.

We can also say clearly that Copenhagen can only offer that 1,097 once per character's entire lifetime. That might not have been clear.

Finally, we could say that a character can only take advantage of this increase for the first quarter of their needed experience.  This is going to sound tricky and may not be fully understood at first.

Let's say that our 2nd level fighter, John, has 2,149 x.p. and needs to reach 4,001.  Now, it would seem that he could spend 5 weeks in Copenhagen, collect 500, then go adventuring for the rest, yes?

I'm suggesting instead that once John hits 2,500, he's too sophisticated as a 2nd level to get more experience from artwork.  Thus, when he tops out at 2,500, he can't gain any more from visiting sites until he reaches 3rd level (whereupon he could gain up to 2,000, provided he gets started early in his level gaining).

Arbitrary?  Of course!  It is all arbitrary.  It is designed to encourage John, once he has accomplished his level, to spend some time resting, improving his mind, expanding his consciousness, visiting some sights on the Grand Tour as he trips from Copenhagen to Aachen to Paris, before deciding he's full of high-mindedness and is ready to get on with destroying some monsters.

It is at least a limitation.  A weird one, but then the bard thing has been threatening to break the system in all kinds of ways.  Obviously, John doesn't have to go touring.  He can just fight orcs in the same old way, if he likes.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Brass Carrots

Gentle readers, no doubt, will have heard of campaigns that eliminate level progression. It is argued that level progression is unnecessary to role-playing and character building, that it creates friction among the players, that too much focus is placed on advancement and that games don’t need level-advancement to be enjoyable.

So we beg the question, what value do levels have?

The title embraces the supposition that levels are a motivation. The characters want more power, so we have created a set of arbitrary plateaus, obtained through an arbitrary award system we call “experience,” which can be adjusted on a whim of the DM at any time by awarding more experience arbitrarily at the appropriate moment.

It is this capriciousness that creates friction. We understand the clear, simple notion that players would like more powers and abilities in the future than they have today. We can lately remember a time when we did not possess a given skill, a well-paying job, a prized possession or other milestone ~ evidence that we’re doing better, that we’re smarter, that our lives are more comfortable and so on. Level-advancement reflects this. The fighter hits a little better, the mage has more spells, the general character is made safer with more hit points and there is status to be gained in the form of titles and game recognition.

But the steps themselves ARE subjective. Why should a fighter advance at 2,000 experience and not 1,500? Why should a given dead monster be worth 100 experience and not 200? And if DMs can just wave a hand and award experience at a whim, they why shouldn’t they, right now, as we’re sitting around the table playing? The very fact that the DM won’t is proof that we’re getting ripped off! We only want what’s coming to us! All we want is our fair share!

So eliminating the level gets rid of all this subjectivity. The players will advance in level when the adventure calls for the players to be a higher level. The players will advance at the beginning of every fifth running. The players will advance when the quest is completed. These principles are still arbitrary, but they’re unilateral, affecting every character at the table the same, and they don’t require nearly as much math.

There is a major drawback, however, that many do not consider a drawback. These substitutions eliminate insecurity. We know we’re going to advance ~ there is no uncertainty about it. Advancement does not hinge on the choices we make, nor the effort we give, nor the risk we’re prepared to take. If we climb aboard, the train will arrive at our destination and the ticket will be stamped.

All the doubt is washed away, as is the frustration we feel as time between upgrades spins out and challenges our composure. We’re not driven to take a bigger risk, to make something happen that doesn’t seem willing to happen ~ and when the achievement is obtained, we don’t think of it as something we did ourselves, accumulating all that experience. We don’t get excited about things we think of as entitlements.

The carrot is a reward, yes, but it is also something we only get after a very long day of dragging a very large load at the expense of our comfort and our privilege. It dangles right in front of us, aggravating us, making our mouths water, while at the same time we can’t get it. In every sense, for anything but a dumb animal, the carrot is a kind of abuse, one we can’t ignore.

The brass ring is a reward also, but only because it is so damn hard to get. We miss it and miss it, leaning out further and further, risking a face-plant in the dirt, because it takes a big risk to win a big reward.

Experience levels work because they’re hard to obtain; and the arbitrary limits we create to put them further out of reach are there to make it very hard. We don’t appreciate anything that is easy to obtain. Naturally, we carp about it. Carping about a lack of something is a part of life.

DMs should not bow to that.


This was a sponsored article
To propose material and fund content,
write to me at alexiss1@ telus.net

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Game

Any serious discussion about rules must start here:



Ah, rules.  I could write a hundred posts about their value, their construction, the decimation of same by market forces and the misunderstanding of same, all the while accomplishing nothing.  
People hate rules . . . or to be more precise, children hate rules and are poisoned for the rest of their lives.

Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes is unquestionably brilliant ~ particularly in the manner that it deconstructs moments of childhood like the example above.  It grasps that both making and breaking rules is FUN, even when both occur simultaneously, evidenced by this being one of Watterson's most successful themes.  Calvinball returned again and again in the comics, highlighting childhood cruelty, shame, glory, triumph, deception and inventiveness.  Add to that the physical enthusiasm which children possess when throwing themselves into activities and the comic fairly sings on the page.

Make no mistake, however.  To anyone but a child playing solitary games with a stuffed animal, Calvinball would be awful.  Remembering, as I do, the number of fistfights that broke out between my 7-year-old friends over games of baseball, capture the flag, guns, hide-and-seek, tag or any of the other physical games we played, a game without rules would have ended in a bloodbath. Where there are no rules, there is too much to fight over.

But I do regularly hear and read people say the game, D&D, has too many rules, even when referring to games utterly unlike mine, where considerable patterns of human behavior are glossed over with simplistic die concepts like "perception rolls" or "advantage."  On some level, I can understand the "too many" argument ~ but I'm baffled where it comes to a game where a player can do anything, literally anything, with the expectation that the DM should then step up and run it.

And that, there, is the issue.  It isn't that there are too many rules, it is that the sand box in which we play is too damned big, for both DMs and Players.  Players argue constantly that they don't know what to do when given the opportunity and DMs argue there's no possible way to prepare a game properly if the players can shout out anything without limits.  The scope of the game is phenomenally beyond all who play it.  Therefore, the history of D&D's rules has been a struggle to contain the genie in the bottle.

Thankfully, for most, this is easy.  The expectations of most players is so absurdly low (there's a room and a monster?  Cool!), it's entirely practical to argue that so long as the players can pretend-speak in voices that appeal to them, while either killing or talking their way past a threatening creature or two, to be rewarded with treasure or character upgrades, regardless of the amount of mental cognition actually used, then the game is "fun!"  Players buy this because, well, how the fuck would they know?

And that is the thing.  How would they know?  Who is telling them that there is a better game to be had?  Certainly not me.  I'm telling them to make a setting that is impossible to make, to spend time that is impossible to find, to obtain a legitimate education and then a self-generated education on top of that, only to finally argue that sorry, yes, if you want a good world you will have to work, all the time, there's no way out of that.  I'm preaching the impossible, to people who like impossible.  I'm not speaking to the grass roots player who's made deliriously happy if they can find a +2 sword to replace their +1 sword.  Or whatever the hell counts for phat loot in 5th Edition.

For that player, more rules than Calvinball allows do seem like extra obstacles to their quest.  Any rule that limits their perceived choice in how to use their given power or how much power they're allowed, from swings to movement to gathering data, just seems like a great big hassle in something that is intended to be a fantasy game.

For that player, this is all about the fantasy.  Rules screw with the fantasy the way a morning after can screw with great sex, when one lover has fallen asleep and failed to escape before the sun rises, so that they meet a three-year-old kid staggering into the kitchen, asking for Captain Crunch.  For that player, fantasy is supposed to work with all the thrills and fast-paced fun of Calvinball, cognitively dissonant from any notion that others will find it "annoying" or "dissatisfying" if "my character" stabs at them haphazardly in a moment of whim, starts screaming at the local monarch to poop his pants immediately or leaps wildly into the sky with the expectation that the DM will ensure the ground does not then become an obstacle.  Calvinball does not only argue no rules, it also argues no consequences, because we're just kids playing with a stuffed toy and no one is going to die.

When stepping forward as a DM to play games with Players who complain about both rules and consequences, there is little one can do except to give away the levels and magic items by the armload, to create scenarios where gods are humiliated with massive catapults of large porridge-bowl-slinging and to encourage backstories that run for fifty pages or more.  Hell, three players can enable four or five whole runnings to pass unimpeded by just talking about their backstories to one another, in detail, while the DM pretends to have them chat to a potion-dealer, then a magic armor dealer, then a ring of purposeless spells dealer, so long as its funny and everyone gets to argue a bit with the guard posted by the front door.

Something I failed to realize when I began blogging, returning to the community as it were, was that when DMs would step forward to say they ran their campaigns "on the fly," this is the sort of campaigning they meant.  Not a substantial world being presented or that the players would be forced to pry themselves out of some conundrum, but that "on the fly" they would make up a goblin king who would perform a dance before commanding his own men to attempt fornication with the players (cue laugh) ~ players who would then, naturally, butcher all the goblins after a few symbolic die rolls.

Once I had realized it, however, and realized the nature of "fantasy games" for the vast majority, and the manner in which these games are presented as a mastery of role-playing genius, I began to take a step back with my attitude and my blog.  Up until then, I had been banging my head against others with a theory that even if these players did not think like me, they might, if they were shown how.  I know now how foolish that thinking is.

The players out there, who think they are playing Calvinball, who despise rules or feel that counting numbers on paper is disgustingly dull and anathema to the real purpose of the game (which is to create backstory and then live it, over and over), don't get that Watterson's creation is not about two living beings, but about one distortedly-minded child and a stuffed animal that doesn't actually talk.  A hilarious, wicked child, but very different from the norm.  Calvin is not Charlie Brown. Calvin is me, when I was a child.  But I'm not a child anymore; so while I was once like Calvin, I'm not like Calvin any more.  I no longer find fantasy alone to be enough ~ not even really brilliant fantasy, like the sort Watterson creates.  I need more than fantasy.

That's perhaps why the gentle reader won't find me describing D&D very often as a fantasy role-playing game.  More and more, of late, I am not even keen on describing it as "role-playing," largely because the co-opting of that term has come to mean something other than what it does.  As I put Calvin and his tiger farther and farther behind me, D&D is only a game . . . or to be honest, it is the game, the only one I want to play.

In all its complexity.  In all its scope.  With all its endless list of rules, which must grow and grow until the rules accomplish what they were intended to do ~ not to put the genie into an itty-bitty bottle, but to make a bottle big enough to completely envelop the genie.

But that is enough metaphors for today.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Management of Stress

Like Tim commented on the previous post, I am also very much declared to be in the rule-based game camp ~ but then, this was the original design of Dungeons & Dragons.  A reader will be hard-pressed to find any paragraph or suggestion written in any of the books of TSR about the importance of a "back-story" or the game being "character-driven."  These are film-and-book maker terms, designed for crafting non-interactive art pieces for a passive audience.  Playing a "role" does not ask for the participant to do more than to imagine his or her self to occupy that role for the present . . . the psychologist who asks that we pretend, for a moment, that we are the driver on the freeway who flipped us off, so that we can imagine what it might be like to be in someone else's shoes, does not first require that we sit down and carefully craft the driver's back story.  It is presumed that we can, with a moment's notice, imagine being someone else.

Back-story is the mutation of gaming play to social participation.  The back-story philosophers play a character and not a game and fail to recognize that although the same word may apply to both activities it is not the same thing.  The nuance is lost, however, because it is claimed that it is the same thing.  The back-story philosophers, with their assertion that RPGs are "group storytelling," want and demand the recognition that they are playing a game, for without that appellation they would have to confess that they are really just playing make-believe.

There are no rules in make-believe.

But we don't want to avowedly reject the entitlement culture entirely, though I understand Drain's feeling here.  I have already turned around many people on the subject of back stories, story-telling, campaign building and the importance of both dice and rules.  We need to remember that RPGs were not made popular by the back-story philosophers but by millions of participants who love their dice and love gaining levels, because these things create massive quantities of endorphins and dopamine.  We're quite safe pitching activity that promotes the creation of positive, boundless drugs.

I will confess, until working it out through the podcast's brief exchange on the subject and the general discourse surrounding character building, I did not understand the appeal of the back-story philosophy.  With my comments in the last post, I tried to lead people away from the obvious subject of talking about what's right with a rule-based system and what's wrong with character-based entitlement, because I want us all to get it.  This is the challenge of our times, gentle reader.  It isn't that playing a character or wanting to experience oxytocin bonding with a theoretical character is wrong, because it isn't.  It is just a different drug, a pleasant and positive drug, so naturally we should expect many people to reach for it.  You and I, dear reader, may roll our eyes with disgust at the idea of the participation ribbon with which we were awarded as children, but many children, needing affirmation more desperately than ourselves, treasured that thing.  We need to acknowledge this and NOT trash the desire for some players to play characters that interest them.

The question we need to ask is why any player feels they are able to create a fictional character more interesting than themselves.

Ponder this for a moment.  We, each of us, have a "back-story."  We didn't write it, we lived it.  It did not go entirely the way we would have wanted ~ and for the most part, we haven't any power to do anything about it.  We can't hunt for the persecutor responsible for the failings in our back-story because, for the most part, the villains are all dead, or they are our beloved parents and family, and they are ourselves.  Real life doesn't allow for solutions like "hunting down the man who killed our father," which can only be a solution if the story ends at the moment that the man is dead and we're not forced to answer the question, "Now what?"  Because now what means getting up in the morning and doing something next, something not as clear, something that will hopefully improve our condition or allow us to reach some reconciliation with our general misery.

"Character" is the result of a lot of events that resulted in our making choices about how to react to hundreds of situations, most of which we've had to manage over and over.  We wound up thinking like we do, acting like we do, responding as we've thought best from moment to moment.  Sometimes, we've regretted our actions.  Sometimes, we're proud of our actions even if others regret them.  Most of the time, we don't know if we're right or wrong.  We just don't know.

When we find ourselves in a circumstance that is strange or unclear or threatening, our bodies are designed to push us into some kinds of behavior by creating chemical stresses like panic, adrenaline and anxiety; our bodies are also designed to reward some kinds of behavior with pride, joy and relief.  These are hormonal responses in the form of drugs.  In a safe, comfortable, social environment, playing with these drugs is FUN.

The more uncertain the environment, the greater the stress; the greater the stress, the greater the potential reward for handling that stress.  We want a social environment that massively increases our stress to the highest limits that social environment can handle.  If we lose that feeling of safety, it gets "too real" and we want to bow out.  But no worry: as humans, we've created a social construct that permits higher than normal stress levels for a social activity that will restrain the fear of too much reality.

It is called a "game."

The game incorporates rules.  Rules promote security and a feeling of restraint.  Remove the rules and the social construct flies apart and participants begin to feel less safe.

One tactic to manage this destruction of the social construct is to bring the level of stress down to where it can be managed.  We do not permit anyone to be a bad person.  We do not demand persons to participate in activities that are difficult, like math.  We do not allow anyone's role-playing to touch on subjects that are uncomfortable.

It is not a surprise that the back-story philosophers invariably run games where the permissible character types are Heroes, where open racism or sexualism is not permitted, where the principles of right and wrong are clearly understood.  "You're not here to be the bad guy.  You are all good guys.  I will not run my game unless it is this way."

This choice is necessary to maintain the social construct.  Because the lack of hard rules regulating die rolls and choices forces the DM to maintain the stress level of the participants by reducing the amount of possible stress.

I do not play this way.  I push stress to the maximum by pushing rule-making to the maximum. The more rules there are, the safer my players feel, meaning that more elaborate subject matter can be brought to the table and managed.  I can run a group of serial killers because they have to obey the game rules and the tacit understanding that a complex, largely law-abiding world will quickly slam down hard on them if they're even a little bit sloppy.

There's no room for sloppy in my game because the game is designed to create stress.  Knowing that there's always a die to be rolled discourages players from feeling that they can "talk their way out of a problem," as happens in character-driven make-believe.  Knowing that there's always a die discourages players from being sure that a plan will work, or that they'll live, or anything else that might serve as a comfort in a low-stress character-driven environment.  In my game, there are no heroes, there are no villains, there are just people who want things, who may resort to violence and subterfuge to get them, and there's no telling who will do that or how much they'll employ.

It isn't that the back-story philosophers don't understand that or don't get it.  They're afraid of it. They're "playing" the activity they can handle.  It is up to us to lure them into understanding that they can come play with us and still feel safe.  It can be a hard sell, but as I say, I've convinced many, many people already.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Two Philosophies

During the aforementioned podcast from the Lurkers' post, beginning at 59:45, Chad and Carl get into a disagreement about whether or not the DM is a player.  I have made my position on this matter known before, but let's have a look at the discussion as it is discussed on the podcast.

Chad takes the position that because the DM "plays" a character, because the DM provides all the other voices, this makes the DM a player.  Carl is put on the spot, asserts that he's completely opposed to this idea, but yet he's forced to admit he hasn't got the argument he needs.  That's as far as the discourse goes.

So, if I step in.

There is an excellent moment where Chad is emphasizing the "character" aspect of "non-player character" to emphasize that, because he plays a character, the DM is a player.  This is a remarkable moment of disassociation, because the right answer is, "Yes, a non-player character." But we shouldn't fault Chad here.  He's a victim of language, as are so many participants of role-playing games.

Over the decades, a severe disconnect has occurred in the development of games by independent DMs, creating largely isolated games throughout the world.  This is the mistaken belief that "playing" is a adjective that modifies the word "role" and not the word "game."  In turn, this has caused tens of thousands of participants to believe that an RPG is a "game" in which persons "play" a "role" ~ rather than the adjective "role-playing" that describes a specific kind of game.

The problem derives from the dual use of the word "play" in both aspects.  We play games.  We play roles.   The word itself is a derivation of a West Saxon word, plega, meaning quick motion, recreation, exercise or any brisk activity.  The last was employed most often in terms of "swordplay," meaning to fight one another as training (though of course, now, swordplay is often used to describe the real thing).

The use of plaga was employed for a lot of purposes, as it still is today.  Children play, we play with words, we have sexual play, we play with ourselves, an object that is free and unimpeded has a lot of play, we play instruments and so on.  The idea of play as taking part of a game dates from 1200 and the idea of play as a dramatic performance originates just a century later, so both meanings have a great deal of history and it is up to context to sort them out.

When we look at the manner in which a game functions, we see that there are challenges, options, obstacles and ultimately payoffs in making a choice or being lucky with a die.  I've written extensively about D&D and game theory so I don't want to revisit that just now.  I will take a moment and emphasize two particular conditions that we tend to associate with "games": the possibility of both winning and losing and the fundamentals of a payoff, or a reward that is received for making the right choices.

These do not strictly apply to all games, but they certainly apply to D&D.  Characters can die.  Characters can make the wrong or the right choice.  Characters can be rewarded.  The concept of the RPG as a "game" inherently evolved from these basic principles.

When an individual declares that RPGs are about "Playing a Character," they have restructured the game completely.  Now, we have no necessity to "make the right choice" since all choices that are made by a character are either a) decipherable as appropriate in the player's opinion or b) measurably permissible in that the player's character is entitled to grow, adapt, change or otherwise progress in whatever way the player desires.

There are no wrong ways to play a character's motivation or a character's belief system.  All ways, by definition of the player's personal volition, are "right."  Therefore, all rewards are not given because the player made the right decision as opposed to a wrong decision, but because the player is entitled to a reward for having taken the time to play the character openly in a public forum.  I participated, and therefore I deserve to be rewarded.

Here we have an unconscious head-to-head between two theories of RPG participation, divided between those who believe that RPGs are games, with the structure and accountability of games, or that RPGs are a form of personal expression, with the permissiveness and social affirmation that comes from expressing oneself as a person.

Both are legitimately means by which participants can obtain validation and "fun."  But they are absolutely not compatible.

Before letting anyone participate in your game, you should be absolutely clear about the philosophy to which they ascribe.  It is quite clear that there are far, far, far more Chads in the world than Carls . . . and there are reasons for that, which I choose not to go into at this time.




Lurkers' Corner ~ PvP

Recently, one of my regular readers, Carl Olson, was the guest on the Whose Podcast Is It Anyway? podcast of May 5th.  His participation was excellent and I would strongly suggest for any reader of mine that you tune in and give it a listen, particularly after minute 30.  Chad, the podcast host, launches into the argument that role-playing is "communal storytelling" and Carl digs in and goes toe to toe with him on this.  Great stuff, don't miss it.

There is a moment where Chad responds to an argument that player-vs-player is wrong by answering, "What's wrong with that?  Now that's fun!" (39:05)

And I want to ask my online players, in this Lurkers' Corner ~ does anyone want to have a go at each other?  At all?  Wouldn't it be fun to kill one of the other players?  Have you even considered the question?  And if not, why?

I believe that something about my game completely suspends the motivation, but I could definitely be wrong about that.  Let me know.  Obviously, anyone with a point of view should jump in here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Keeping Track of My Writing

On the sidebar it reads,
Each day I'm going to describe how far I am getting, in terms of words. 110,000 words ought to finish the book. I will be counting only firmly self-edited content that is put to bed, as I am mostly reshaping words at this point and not plot or character development. I'll record the number of words from the day before and the total number of words so far, as well as the chapter I am moving through. I will update every day.

In addition, I'll be working ahead on later chapters while editing, as I find this helps keep the whole book fresh in my mind.

Basically, I'm going to record each day how much real writing I've done.  I won't be counting the rework of chapters that haven't reached the best of possible quality, only the actual distance the finalized (pre-outside editing) number of words that I have written.  But as I say, I usually write for a bit, then I edit when I start to tire, before quitting for the day.

This is my plan for torturing myself.  I am making progress on the book but not as much as I'd like; and as the method has nothing to gain by my being dishonest (if I claim words I haven't written, sooner or later I will have to pay the price anyway, so I might just as well write all that I claim, or confess daily that I'm not writing), I expect that this will be a motivating factor in my day.

Everyone who knew I was writing today was kind enough to not comment and let me have at it. From that I sense a strong support from my fellow man.  Thank you.  I will not let you down, however much this hurts.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Comic Temperature Taking

Are you still finding the comics funny, interesting, different, something to look forward to?  I'd like to hear some feedback there.  They feel like they go by very fast to me; I am eleven weeks into this project.

WfS ~ Ooredoo and Tech-6

At last, I'm ready to start forward again.  I'm going to be introducing a new region, Pangaran, that is tech-6. The first step is to identify Pangaran's relationship with Jawanda, as we want our world to fit together. Therefore, we start with this map:

Depicted: 18-mile hexes

I have reduced the scale of the above map to 18 miles per hex, in order to create a 90-mile separation between Ooredoo, an island at the edge of Pangaran, and Jawanda.  Thus the island is marginally close enough for a dangerous journey in a fishing boat, which we presume our party of fighters will try to accomplish, bringing them to this new place.

[as an aside, I have made the decision not to attach intelligence to tech levels after all.  I know this is something I discussed back with the first implementation of the system, but after all this is a learning experience.  I know some will miss this note, it was meant to be included in the last post, but I'm remembering to add it now]

I've made only a rough drawing of Ooredoo above.  I have a more detailed version in 6-mile hexes to present; I could have updated the map above with the map below, but I felt at this point it was a detail that wasn't really necessary.  The important point here is the distance between the two places.

Here is a 6-mile hex map of Ooredoo:

Depicted: 6-mile hexes

My goal here is to depict familiar hex-types as they manifest around tech-6.  The deserts have become dry, unproductive rifts and sinks, which still offer the potential of meeting monsters in the hills and back country, but which have little influence on the island's infrastructure apart from inconvenience.

I have also divided the island into two terrains.  On the west, a flat watered plain, with a base supply of 2 food.  Should I start describing that as '11' food? To emphasize I'm referring to the number of 1s in the expression and NOT the number of food?  This seems to be really confusing some people.

On the east, we have a dry hill-plain, hardly better than the best lands in the previous desert culture, with 1 food and 1 hammer per hex.  The type-7 hex around Sayur has precisely the same productivity that Ai had in Jawanda (our starting hex).

But does it?  Unlike Ai, Sayur produces cereals, vegetables and at least one type of livestock: goats, sheep or swine.  Reindeer is pretty much out, as this is still close to the tropics.  See the link for where I'm getting this from.  We can further identify these things, if we want, by defining cereals as maize, vegetables as sweet potatoes and even a specific kind of goat, sheep or swine ~ but the point is that the small amount of food production in Sayur comes from these things and NOT from hunting and gathering.

How is this different?  Well, archery is now a skill set that the locals have, so the population is likely to defend itself with bows rather than spears.  If attacked, an inhabitant of Sayur will likely run away, then return later with bow and try to chop the party down one by one from a distance.  This is a new mind-set.

As well, Pangaran in general has no religion.  They've abandoned mysticism, so they are largely a pragmatic sort, much like one would expect of frontier settlers.  These are hardened, rugged individualists, living more in families than in clans, as there is less need to depend on others in order to eat.  We defend better and our food supply is more secure and diversified, so we can afford to be in it for our personal gain.

Moving on to the type-6 hex surrounding Qimo and Raya Pos, we have again the same relationship as Bodo and Cai in Jawanda . . . except that now the increase in food supply creates the existence of fruit trees, which will be scattered along the heights above the sea, where they can catch the morning dew.  Both the cereals in Sayur and the fruit in Qimo enables fermentation, so drinking now becomes a thing to do.  Drinking brings the option of intoxication as well as other social problems.  Qimo does remain a transshipment point, like Eom and Guba before it, but now it has more interesting things to ship.

Turning to the other end of the island, the type-6 and better hexes produce a great deal of food: 111 food, so that instead of merely a large settlement, we have made villages of Tangarang, Umar and Vekasi.  The latter two of these, however, lack hammers altogether.  Obviously, this means the table I posted earlier today and which I have already linked with this post will need an adjustment (learning process), as these can't be "nomadic hunting and gathering" cultures.  I will adjust "subsistence farming" from 1 hammer to 0 hammers, fixing that hole.

The lack of hammers would indicate no animals, but we still have plenty of cereals, vegetables and fruits to supply a food source.  The population of Umar and Vekasi, both of which produce coins, is at least able to exchange food for bare necessities, such as the most simple of weapons, skins and the occasional maintenance of objects they have to pay to replace.  Life for these people is very primitive, but in a very different way that Jawanda: there are lots of people surrounding these two villages, 400-1000.  That's more than probably the whole region of Jawanda.

Tangarang is a little better off.  It has one hammer, gained from becoming type-5: but there is a lot of pressure put on that single hammer, so we can assume that a lot of extra goods must be brought in from outside to support the needs of all of West Ooredoo.  Still, none of these people are starving.  They are just living very simple lives.

For the time being, I think that covers it.  I'll make some rolls and determine that we have 1,301 persons in Ooredoo, in an area of about 12.3 hexes: about 105 persons per 6-mile hex.  This is much higher than the maximum should be for tech-6, which is around 49 per hex.  But Ooredoo is just a part of a larger region, so we can offset the density by adding additional hexes elsewhere.

I'll be taking a break from this for a bit, not producing another post tomorrow.  I have a general idea what to do next, but I want to contemplate that a bit, and see how this one plays.

Further Notes to Tech-5 and Some for Tech-6

I had meant to start on tech-6 today, but I have yet a small issue to manage first, to keep the reader in line with my thinking.  The gentle reader must please remember that I am creating this as I am going along ~ this felt like the best way to both work out the various elements of the tech-system and the world-building experience at the same time.  This way, the reader can progress with my interpretation, I can identify problems as they arise and are questioned, while at the same time a world can take shape slowly and steadily, showing that worlds can be made from the ground up in a fully rational manner.

In creating a table for tech-6 that would reflect the table I created for tech-5 in the last post, I found that it was clumsy and unworkable.  As such, I've rebuilt the tech-5 table so that it can match what I mean to do with tech-6.  And just so the reader doesn't feel that nothing has been added with this, I'll put up the tech-6 table also . . . and then begin on a map and design for the tech-6 region I plan to lay out.

Here is tech-5 again:


Instead of basing the indications for civilization based on the type of hex, I've instead chosen to base it on the amount of food, hammers and coins.  This is more logical, since different base terrains can radically change how much food and so on there is compared with the type of hex.  Readers who are ambitious can compare a type-7 hex on various parts of the recent Stavanger map with those on the recent Crimean map, where the base hexes are very different.

Now let's have a look at tech-6:


I won't go far into this: the reader can see at once that there are a great many more things to be found and used with a tech-6 culture.  As a reminder, I will point out that tech-6 adds agriculture, animal husbandry, archery, mining and the wheel to the mix.  I will probably need to update this table a bit in the future (I see I've forgotten roads), but I will post it again once I've gone through the process of outlaying the tech-6 region that goes with this.

Finally, I've left out a table indicating bonuses for hex-type.  Here it is:


This doesn't mention the +1 bonus coin for coasts or rivers (intermittent included), though not both. That is really a footnote, but an important one.

Good, that's fixed.  Let's get started.