Sunday, December 31, 2017


So, we have a big, empty map.

From the various references, I'd describe the region as fairly dry, with semi-arid deserts encroaching on the region from the east and south.

The references the readers picked, presuming I haven't missed something, include limestone, salt, iron, gold, tools, hosiery, shipbuilding, rice, two sheep and two markets.  That's four mineral resources, three crafts and three agriculture.  With two markets, one might think this a transshipment region from the interior; however, the two towns and the city are all nesting in highlands (Hoth and Sarai are only villages), with no easy access to the hinterland.  Therefore, most likely, there is no hinterland.  It is all desert.

I'm not going to place the references yet, but I have an eye to putting the rice near Port Tethys or Fenris, since rice needs a lot of water and the water-laden winds are likely from the western sea.  The other resources could go anywhere.

[as an aside, let me say that I enjoyed messing around with the bevel option on the new publisher; unfortunately, it isn't practical for a lot of map-making, as two beveled images can't be made to bevel as one object ~ so my complex, multiple-image maps that I usually draw can't be so upgraded.  Still, I've used it here because it is a one-off]

The next step, now, is to create a layer of infrastructure over the whole map.  This requires a few calculations ... but as I know my readers hate math, and don't like to use it more than necessary, I shall try to propose methods than any 4th grader could employ.

If we say the borders exactly cover the map (they probably shouldn't, but let's not quibble), I count 64 hexes that have land.  I count 34 coast hexes and 30 pure land hexes.  For the sake of establishing an area measurement, let's count every coast hex as 0.7 hexes (I tried to draw them more land than water), so that we can say the total area of Wowotu is 53.8 hexes.  With a 20-mile diameter per hex, This makes the region a little larger than Belgium, a little smaller than Switzerland, about the size of Taiwan.  It is not quite the size of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts combined.

Next, I said I wanted the region to have a Development Level of 7.  This is a matter of population density, so we want to slather an appropriate number of residents over the region's surface.  This is an average of 728 people per hex.  That gives us a total population of 39,166.  This is a somewhat sparse region.  But of course, the population is not distributed evenly.

The readers chose Port Tethys as the main city, and Nagoya and Cork as towns.  This makes Avalon, Fenris, Hoth and Sarai villages.  Without getting detailed in the exact count of population for each (which I usually do), truth is we can get around that.

Think of the city as four times larger than the town, and the towns as four times larger than the villages.  If it helps, a village has 500 people, a town has 2,000 and a city has 8,000.  But like I say, we can skip the exact numbers.  What matters to us is the infrastructure numbers we need, to determine the hex details.

Based on the population, our base infrastructure numbers, awarded to the settlements, is 147.  This is reckoned from 1 infrastructure based on 267 people.  As will be noticed, however, the infrastructure number is very soft; the total expands as it reaches out from a settlement.  Never mind that right now.  Just concentrate on that base number of 147.

If we count each village as 1 point, each town as 4 points, and the city as 16 points, we can distribute that 147 points among a total of 28 settlement units.  We could, if we wanted, just assign points to settlement units, however we wish, but let's do it by the numbers.  By this reasoning, each settlement unit is entitled to 5.25 points.  Port Tethys gets 84 infrastructure, Nagoya and Cork each get 21, and the four villages each get 5.25.

Let's just go ahead and pick up all those fractions and give them to Fenris, giving that town 6 infrastructure and the others 5.  We can mess around if we want, giving three of Port Tethy's total to Avalon, or four more to Cork, or we can shift some of Cork's to Nagoya and so on.  The only thing is, if Cork is a town, we would expect it to have a much higher infrastructure than, say, Hoth.  If we do any shifting around, then, we ought to keep those shifts small.

I'm going to limit the shifts to the one extra point I give to Fenris from the other three villages.  I will make all the other calculations with the static numbers.  The reader should see that these base numbers will not mean that Cork and Nagoya wind up looking the same, with each having 21, or that the villages will appear likewise similar.  The topography will take care of that.

I've presented my method for calculating infrastructure already, both here and here, so I don't want to get bogged down in this again.  Some things that are different in this case, however, deserve mentioning:

  • Infrastructure calculation does not cross pure sea hexes.  It follows the coast, but there simply isn't enough ease of travel across sea hexes to enable the spread of roads, communication and development.  Therefore, the channel between Nagoya and Port Tethys doesn't allow a spread o infrastructure between them.  I know, some will disagree, but remember that a 30 mile separation is quite a good way, that isolation creates scarcity (which is good!) and that infrastructure is not trade - it is infrastructure.
  • Ordinarily, an infrastructure number is halved from hex to hex, when the hexes are of nearly the same elevation.  We don't have any elevation numbers for these hexes, so we're simply going to calculate infrastructure as dividing by four either in or out of a highland hex.  

I will demonstrate with the map on the right, calculating the infrastructure emanating outwards from Port Tethys.  Because the city is on a plain buttressed by a wall of hills, the infrastructure drops pretty quickly (ignoring fractions).  81 turns to 20, which turns to 5 within in just two hexes.  Take note that Port Tethys does not infiltrate Avalon with a quarter of two hexes having 20 points each; it is the distance from Port Tethys that matters, not the number of hexes that the distance can be passed through.  Note also that before the influence of Port Tethys can be passed to the flatland hex beyond the hills NE of Avalon, the infrastructure has dried up.

I'll skip making a similar map for Avalon's infrastructure spread.  It is pretty simple.  Avalon starts with 5 points; it spreads 1 point outwards to each of the five highland hexes surrounding the village.  After that, Avalon's influence has also expired.

The final infrastructure for this part of Wowotu, then, looks like this:

That was easy.  Now just think what a difference it would have made if hex 0301 or 0302 had been left without highlands.  The corridor between Port Tethys and Avalon would have increased amount of Infrastructure from the city four-fold.  Without the highland in 0510, Avalon's influence would extend twice as far along the coast.

The reason for this process is also simple: it is intended to demonstrate what the distribution of development ought to be, based on population and topography.  If you're creating a lot of map, you're not just throwing darts at the wall.  The method gives a logical and familiar distribution for way that communities form and drift over the landscape, in a way that players will find predictable.

And IF the players decide to settle, they can look at a map like this and see their options.  The semi-sparse infrastructure region north or south of Avalon? Should they build in the hex just outside the infrastructure?  Or closer to Port Tethys?

We haven't done any more than squiggly lines on a page, and already we have clear avenues on where to build our adventures, not just in terms of where the dungeon is, but what the dungeon is next to.

With the next post on this subject, I'll show the rest of the infrastructure numbers, and we'll start to lay out the Port Tethys-Avalon country, seeing what turns up with my development system.

[And I will be removing the sea bevel, because it is slowing my computer down]

Good Play is Its Own Reward

"Today I want to discuss a little thing that I use in my current RPGs, and that's Inspiration Tokens.  For those of you not familiar with Inspiration, it is essentially a reward that the GM will give a player for something that they've done well.  Either for great role-playing, or for daring and a great idea, or really just giving the right joke at the right time.  It's a nice positive reward for behaviour that the game master would like to encourage.  Furthermore, players that have Inspiration can then gift that to other players, either because the other player needs it, or as a thank you, or really just a kudos as a job well done.  What inspiration does is that it is a one-time bonus die that can be cashed in any time that the player wants."

I'm choosing to do a video from this fellow because he consistently gets an equal number of views per video to the number of subscribers he has, which is a pretty good sign that he's talking to a regular audience, within a couple of months.  Compare that with the WOTC videos that will get 48,000 page views out of 1.6 million subscribers over a similar period.

I can't encourage watching the whole video above.  Skorkowsky speaks in a shuffling high-school English drone, evident that he never, ever presses the ignore button when checking his writing's grammar, producing a grinding snore-fest even with the 3 minute and 30 second video shown.  Anyway, let's talk inspirational tokens.  I'll do the best I can to deconstruct this patiently.

Why This Seems Like a Good Idea

Games are about payoffs, or rewards, being elements that encourage player behaviour.  For many DMs, the notion that the payoff for "role-playing" should be measured in soul-less numbers, or profits, seems adverse to the point of the activity.  If we want to encourage players to role-play better (that being the interpretation of the game at work here), then we need a reward that applies to the players' behaviour as role-players and not coin & xp gatherers.

In effect, the extra die that can be used in more tactile game circumstances enables the players' behaviour, rather than the die roll, to influence luck and combat, or more precisely the increase in the players' chance of surviving whatever happens.

The DM, as well, experiences the pleasure of awarding the players immediately, in a positive fashion, apparently serving to create a mutual, friendly relationship between DM and players.  Expectedly, knowing that good answers and responses will be rewarded, this will encourage the players to take the game more seriously, raise their involvement, interact more sincerely with the DM and other players and effectively improve the overall quality of the game.

What Actually Happens

Almost at once, rather than becoming more interactive, the players become more competitive for attention, doing their best to outshine their fellows in order to get the DM's gold star.  While the reward exists to encourage behaviour, in fact it encourages a relatively small achievement - which for some players, naturally out-going and expressive, is no achievement at all.

In effect, rather than rewarding game play, we're actually rewarding a particular personality type, whose behaviour outside the game suits this particular recognition.  Players who are less gregarious, who find it more difficult to express themselves, who aren't glib enough to produce the ready joke ahead of their peers, soon find themselves on the sidelines, watching more proficient players excel.  It is elementary school, all over again.

And this is what school teachers have been noting for decades; and it is precisely the problem that "no child left behind" was intended to solve, which encouraged the creation of the participation ribbon (or the "good sport" ribbon, as it was called when I was a young boy).  It was recognized that some children never get gold stars ... and that this, in turn, produces low self-esteem and resentment.  Unfortunately, the response, to make sure that every child gets a gold star, regardless of achievement, has only served to cheapen the payoff and produce a different form of resentment.  Gold stars, or ribbons, for having achieved nothing, only reinforces an awareness that some people have to be awarded for doing nothing because they're not good enough to do something.

Essentially, because the DM can give a reward for anything, the process is inconsistent and imbalanced ... and in turn, will seem to the players to be routinely unjust, even if the very human DM self-consciously believes in being as fair as possible.  While one player begins to lose recognition because, "He's shown he can do a lot better than other players," another player feels personally that they're doing really well, but the DM hasn't noticed.  With this, it's psychological fact that people will feel resistant to giving out rewards to behaviour that doesn't fit with their personal mores or judgement ... so I can be brilliant, but brilliant in a way that happens to offend a particular DM, or player, resulting in a lack of recognition.

All these conditions only serve to split the party on many points, encouraging feelings of envy, gloating, attention-seeking and favoritism, all in ways that are less easy to achieve with a die-roll (outside the hidden, fudged die, which can effectively produce the same results).

Concluding Thoughts

On many levels, I do not consider this a very strong post about bad advice ... mostly because, for me, it is hard to understand why these reward systems continue to be implemented.

When I was in school, it was staggeringly easy for me to break the curve ~ so easy, in fact, that I did not give a shit.  While I could spend a lot of my time working on a 500-word paper to get an A, what I usually did was spend half-an-hour on a 500-word paper, without research, in order to get a C.  Either way I passed, and I wasn't any dumber, so I couldn't see a reward in working harder on something I didn't care about, at the expense of my time, which I would use to work very hard on something I did care about, but for which there were no marks given.  I only wanted to write and study numbers and mapmaking (and later D&D, but that was High School and later).  I did not give a damn about the troubles of native children being forced to learn English in the 19th century (though I did get around to studying that later).  For me, then, all reward systems implied authoritarian control.  They were all built in order to produce an enslaving behaviour at the consequence of my losing my freedom to read or study whatever I wanted, or the time to do so.

One can imagine how this frustrated the ever-loving shit out of my teachers.  If something I cared about happened to juxtapose itself with school, I would consistently destroy all competition.  And the rest of the time, I was the equivalent of the jock who sits at the back of the class, ignoring the teacher.  I remember a math class I wanted to drop in High School, only to be told that I would not be allowed to drop it and that attendance was mandatory.  I didn't need the class credit to graduate, so I ended up going to every class and working on some project of my own, turning in blank sheets for pop quizzes and exams, not giving a good goddamn what was happening on the blackboard.  The gold star was in my head, at the end of my pen, and not in the math teacher's pocket (though I did explain my intentions to Mr. Pollock after they told me I wouldn't be allowed to drop the course, and we agreed to ignore each other).

As a player, I would never countenance my performance being graded by a DM.  The notion is ridiculous.  As an actor, I expect the audience to grade my performance: they paid to get their seats and, in turn, I'm being paid with money and experience to excel.  But in a game, where's my reward?  The proof that another human approves of me?  Fuck that noise.  I expect everyone at the table to approve of every one else at the table on principle, else people can start packing.

Moreover, good role-playing, good play, ought to be its own reward.  The look on the faces of other people, the enjoyment of it, the laughs all around, the DM's good-natured screwing up or vindictiveness, these are all pleasantries that we enjoy, without the necessity of one DM's quest to adjust behaviour by approval.  The notion is so loathsome it is difficult not to go right off the chain.

Rewards for play enjoy the benefit of exploiting the low self-esteem of players who need recognition because they are not getting enough of it from others or from themselves.  The gold star was invented to encourage self-esteem; which in turn presupposes you don't have it.  Perhaps I am unwarranted here, but the time and the place to deal with these issues is not the D&D game.  I'm not advocating a reactionary dismissal of feelings or the personal needs of participants, but I do expect people to hold themselves together long enough that they don't need a pat on the head from me for attending, trying to play and occasionally doing it well.

That's not what I'm here for.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Dig In; You're in Charge

So, this:

There's so much content to mine here, I'm tempted to employ the tactic popular on bulletin boards, of quoting, slamming, quoting, slamming, quoting and slamming again.

I don't like it.  Readers tend to phase out after two paragraphs and, on the whole, it makes me look like a dick.  So I quit doing it.

Still, the video above is just ... baffling.  For one thing, there's no actual moment when the players "derail" the campaign, since the actual cause for the issue was a) a die roll that should have been embraced and not resisted; b) some spectacularly poor design of the setting; c) a complete disconnect in message-giving; and d) a stubbornness on the DM's expectations that approaches idiocy.

And that's not all.  Seriously, this video highlights the worst issues with running games and role-playing ... from supposed "improvements" in DM problem-solving to player shock and awe that quite obviously blinds them to being suckered, big time, by really shitty mechanics.  This is what I mean by a 90 I.Q. DM running 65 I.Q. players.

Trying not to quote and slam, let's have a look at the first conundrum presented:
"Whenever I plan a big epic fantasy game, I give a set of quest lines which involves helping poor little Timmy find his red wagon; matching a dress that goes with the noble lady's hair; or stopping Galpadar ... [garbled] and ending all existence as we know it.  It's pretty obvious to figure out what one the players will take.  Whatever one pays the most!"

That's a joke.  I get it.  But, he follows with,
"But then again, why do you have to have multiple quests?  I've actually had players get pissed off at me because they accidentally passed content.  Players don't know ahead of time that if they talk to the general he's going to give them a boring fetch quest, or they talk to Mr. Wiggins about his missing apples ... he's going to be the guy that gives them a really cool mission where they end up fighting transdimensional Devours on the Rings of Saturn.  Even though I knew all those problems, I tried ..."

Let's cut it off right there.

Breathe, breathe ...

The way the fellow presents this, with his light and happy tone, I find myself wondering if this guy is self-aware at all.  He's like, "I do this thing, not of my own free will, but because it just happens, and boy oh boy, I sure wish something could be done about the way I dick around with the players' expectations.  Oh well.  I'm sure it's the players' fault somehow."

It's truly stunning.  He seems to be arguing that the solution for this is to get rid of multiple choices on the players' part, so that they can be sure to have that really cool Saturn fight and not be disappointed.  Yay!

But dumping all that in the circular file, for the rest of the post I'll address this: "I've actually had players get pissed off at me ..."

This seems to be a real issue for DMs and I'd like to give my take on it:

So What?  So the player got mad at you.  So the player reflexively took out their discontent or aggression issues on some point in your game that they decided to fixate upon as the hill they're prepared to die on.  So what?

The player chose poorly.  Too bad.  Tighten your upper lip, grow a spine, suck it up your cake hole and move the fuck on.  Get used to disappointment.  Choice means that occasionally, yes, players won't get all their precious mother promised them.

I am led to believe by all the content, references, stories and endless preaching on this subject that DMs have a lot of problem dealing with players who show signs of being unhappy.  Apparently, and using the context above as an example, many DMs take this "angry player" thing as evidence that we're somehow running the game in a bad way, or unfairly, or inappropriately.  It is repeatedly used, I find, as an argument for changing the way we approach problems or the way we approach the design or running of our world.  That is certainly the context above.  "I've had a player get mad, so why should there be multiple choices?"

[Not that I think this multiple choice adventure options is an example of running well, but I've discussed that elsewhere.  Let's stay focused]

People.  You have to understand that most of the time your players are mad at you because you are running the game fairly.  I'll say that again: you're doing a good job, and because of that, your players are feeling the pressure of having to live up to success and not failure.

As a DM, you've got to dig in and face that bullshit.  Do you think these guys are pissed because the game needs changing?

Some do believe that.  Those people have the same problem as your players.  They want their guys to do well, they want their team to win, because reasons.  They hate that it's a game, they hate that they can make a bad choice, they hate that they can miss the roll or not get everything they want, they hate that they're not superbeings with instant access to everything.  They hate it.  It's a cognitive bias that was never successfully socialized out of their judgement, where, like when they were little babies, they learned that mommie and daddie revolved around them, where bottles were brought when screamed for and attention received likewise.  And when these people have their subjective social reality challenged by a game, they squall and scream and expect everyone around them to change their behaviour so that baby gets bottle.

Because there are varying degrees of this cognitive bias (see the baseball video above to see some of that scale, as some players accept the judgement angrily and others just can't), we have to assess the players from session to session.  If that frustration increases to the point where they're having a temper tantrum every game, then they have to be booted.  But sometimes, and I'm more than open to this, its understandable that a player can lose it.

None of this, however, has anything to do with the rules of the game being "unfair."  This is all about the player ... who needs to be told, "Tough.  Accept it.  Move on."

Or get out.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Rundown on What Advice Exists

For more than a month, I have been watching DM advice videos on youtube.  It has been ... educational.  I've let it run while I make maps, crunch numbers, play video games, soaking it in hour after hour.

If we count only that stuff that tends to get more than 5,000 page views per video, the worst is the WOTC stuff (Matt Mercer, Satine, Critical Role cast).  Not because the advice is unusually bad, but because it is so saccharine and PC that it is skin-crawling to watch.  The online game is far, far more popular than the advice stuff ... but I can't begin to make myself watch it.  Within a few minutes, I find myself frustrated with babbling pap, participants grinning nervously, hesitating as they speak, even though they've been on camera for hundreds of hours now and are supposedly "actors."  It's all swaggering, awful, filler role-play dullness and I can't imagine the appeal.  I want to argue that their numbers must be inflated, for, after all, the WOTC certainly has the money to pay hit bots and Russian commenters to make up fan fawning on their youtube channel.  We must all face that numbers on the internet have ceased to have meaning.  I have no idea, from my numbers, how many people actually read this blog.  I'm guessing ... 41?

Even this guy, whose name I refuse to use, is better than Mercer and the rest.  He's a self-important dumb-ass of the first order, exactly the sort of DM we were stuck with on our first campaign as a player.  His patter is so confident, so certain, so unspeakably condescending that we have to think he really believes he is as "great" as his inflated ego pretends.  But that said, occasionally I've found him to be on base.  On some level, I think he actually has empathy for his players, at least to the point of understanding what they need ... even if he is staggeringly far off base in providing that need.  It's like a nanny that's aware the baby needs feeding, but can't understand why the baby chokes on the food being forced down its throat.  Still, it is at least possible to watch this guy's videos.

No, the worst advice I've found among the popular are these dumb fucks.  The content is so bad and random, so disjointed and ~ at times ~ utterly incomprehensible, that I haven't found a single video of theirs that I could use for the "bad advice" posts I've been doing.  These guys can't stay on topic, can't figure out what their topic is, chatter brainlessly and over top of each other, slur their speech behind their beards and fail to say anything that isn't banal to the extreme.  Apparently, after trying to watch more than twenty of their videos, I'd say these guys believe that RPGs consist of ... words.  Lots of words.  That's about as much as I've been able to get out of them.

Matthew Colville, who apparently feels that being white is important enough to include it in his introduction, is not bad.  For the record, I have never felt the need to point out that I am white when talking to people in person or on camera.  Still, Colville is fine.  As I said before, he states a lot of things that any RPGer ought to already know, but he makes some fine arguments as well, occasionally.  He's really off his game, however, when he talks about anything other than his own experience.  As soon as he starts into discussion culture, film, other people's content or, gawd help us, Critical Role, he reveals himself to be another online opinion-hack, who has clearly learned everything he knows from the kilo-hours he's spent on 4chan (or some similar site).  There are clues in his speech patterns and references that he has a university or college degree, but we can be pretty sure it wasn't in a liberal art.  Anyway, after a lot of hours, he begins to grate on me.  I could probably stand to play with him, but I wouldn't want to be in his world (he runs a very definite not-railroad railroad campaign, where it is despised in principle but employed out of pragmatic necessity).

These guys, Jim and Pruitt, are not too bad, though there is a lot of water-is-wet in their advice and Jim has a remarkable talent for going right up his own asshole on occasion.  He does tend to pull out before the end of the video, however, and he does have a lot of good, respectable advice that he gives, poked and prodded by Pruitt's questions.  He doesn't explain very well how to follow his advice, which tends to consist of "Keep your players interested!" without giving any actual content afterwards, but on the whole I think there's reason to think he wouldn't be the worst DM I've had.  Unfortunately, Jim's whole demeanor makes me wish that I had the superpower of being able to punch people in the face over the internet, so that has meant not watching these guys but listening instead.  If you don't actually see Jim when he's speaking, he makes a lot of sense.

I haven't done a post with this guy yet.  He's an up-and-comer and he's trying real hard, publishing about three videos a month.  He's something of a doof and he's enjoying his fame ~ a lot ~ and I've tried to find something worth writing about.  To be honest, it is trying to find something I can write the part where I argue why the advice makes sense ... without it actually covering a post that someone else has also done.  I'll pick something with him in January.  He does interview Jim and Pruitt in a video he made back in June, but it is pretty dull.

Just today, I've stumbled across an enormously popular fellow, going by the name of Puffin Forrest. His numbers are suspiciously high, in WOTC territory.  He's easy to watch and listen to, as it is all animation and we can't see the speaker's face ... but the content is just ...

Well, it is really hard to explain.  On the one hand, Forrest makes a lot of consistently bright observations, points out quite obvious flaws in the thinking behind things like rules lawyers and fudging, or in the way that DMs push players in games.  On the other hand, however, half the time Forrest sounds like a guy with a 90 I.Q. pointing out what all the people with a 65 I.Q. are doing wrong.  I mean, he is mind-boggling moronic, and often, through all of his videos.  He accepts ridiculous ideas based on assumptions with a lack of self-reflection that suggests the two halves of his brain are not actually connected.  I'll be highlighting a few of his videos in days ahead ... I could probably spend a year just dissecting the assumptions he so blissfully makes, as though these things were written on stone by ancient gods who left real proof of their existence.

I can give a hint to readers who might want to take the voyage I've been taking, and watch a lot of hours with these people.  Turn your video speed up to 150%.  If that still seems slow, and you feel you're still waiting for them to speak the next word, which happens a lot with the WOTC stuff, then turn the video speed up to 200%.  At times, I've gotten so used to listening to these presenters speak at 150%, that after a while I've forgotten it isn't just them speaking normally.

These people ~ all of them ~ speak so slowly!  Even the best - probably Jim - have to be pushed to 125% to make them tolerable.  If you find you just can't watch out of boredom, it's probably because you haven't adjusted the video speed.

When they get to a point where they've just said one too many annoying things in a row, stop the video.  Get up, get a drink, catch your breath.  Express your disgust to another person.  It helps enormously.  Then, your mind clear, you'll find you can press on ahead with little nausea.

I bring all this up because it's impossible not to watch all this without thinking, "I could do that!"  But of course, I don't have tons of crap to pour all over the table in front of me or frame the walls around me, to prove what a fanboy I am of purchased swag.  Nor do I have a cool, neat graphic logo to splash at the front of a video, to show that I'm really a television-channel want to be.  I'm just a guy with an opinion.

Frankly, I'm afraid I wouldn't be any better on camera than these guys.  The podcasts with my daughter on my youtube channel didn't break 200 views; there's no reason to think I'd manage the sort of page views these guys get. Perhaps it's necessary to be marginally insipid, to stand for moronic ideas and things.  Perhaps the presenters above tried giving their opinions straight and got ignored ... and had to change their approach to something less ... brain-using ... to achieve their modicum of popularity.  No doubt, like television, it is all splash and fan service; it is necessary to buy four hundred modules to use as a backdrop before the dumbass fan (who has also bought 400 modules in the desperate hopes that it will somehow translate into DMing) will take you "seriously."

Who knows?  The new computer gives me options.  It will run a better camera, enable better video cutting, allowing me to try my hand at vids again (edited this time, rather than a cold run-through).  Perhaps I owe that to the people who helped supply this computer.  Or perhaps I should shut my mouth and keep writing.  I always wanted to be a writer and I'm good at it.

Who knows.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Cleaning Up the Invented Region


I've been at the mercy of a virus since December 1; on my days off I fight it back and it comes back on me as I start working again.  I don't know what it will take to kill this thing.  So I haven't written today, because I've been crashed.

Details need managing, however, so I'll get them managed.  First, the image on the right shows the invented map so far.  It need one more highland and three more references.

Also, the poll has closed.  It wasn't that helpful; people were drawn to virtually every settlement.  Port Tethys made a surge at the end to become the city.  Cork barely managed to be one of the two towns.  Unfortunately Avalon, Nagoya and Ferris ended up in a three-way tie for six votes each.

I could just roll randomly, but where's the fun in that?  So I'll ask a skill-testing question, the answer to which can't be found on the web.

In my book, How to Run, what feature did I add to every chapter heading, and what was peculiar, or "wrong," with that feature.  First person to answer right gets to pick the town.  And in turn, you can also give a name the region.

I really respect that no one felt the need to give a silly name to any of the settlements.  Well done and much appreciated.  I've never enjoyed the need to mock the game.  Perhaps that is because in my first campaign, the asshole player ran a character named Exlax, whose henchman was Fruit of the Tomb.  Though it might be that I've never found this particular brand of humor to be very funny.

I can't help noticing that readers isolated every settlement.  Interesting, since it was done as a group effort.  I could see that some did it intentionally, deliberately cutting off a pre-existing settlement with water or highlands.  Overall, it gives a kind of continuity to the region.  The long inlet offers tremendous access to the sea and communication, though each individual town lacks a close, productive hinterland (except that Fenris is on a fairly open plain, even if the last highland is plonked on one side or the other of the place).

Just a reminder that none of the references has been placed.  They are just shown on the map as a convenience; we're going to shift them around later.  Any of the settlements shown might become the second market.  Port Tethys, as the largest settlement, will certainly account for one of the markets ~ though Serai or Hoth might be the other one, even though both are firmly established as villages now.

So, I'll sign off.  I do intend to deal with the next part, though likely not until Thursday or Friday, after I've finished my work-week and I'm more fit.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Want and Happiness

I guess I have one more example about the context of happiness and want.  First, let me introduce this short film ~ which ought to be seen by anyone interested in adventure and changing the world.

I hate to spoil it a little, but I'm going to quote from it, a section about six minutes in.
"Villages in this region were few and far between, and I knew well what they were like.  Four or five of them were scattered over the slopes of these highlands, each one at the very end of a cart track, among copses of white oaks.  They were inhabited by charcoal burners.  The living was poor and families, huddled together in a climate very harsh both in summer and winter found their struggle for survival made more bitter by their isolation.  There was no relief.  The constant longing to escape became a crazy ambition.  Endlessly the men carted their charcoal to town, then returned home.  Even the most stable characters crack under the constant grind.  The women seethed with resentment.  There was rivalry in everything: the sale of charcoal and the church pew; they were rivals in virtue and rivals in vice; and the battle royale between vice and virtue raged incessantly. And always, there was the wind, the ever-present wind, constantly grating on the nerves.  There were epidemics of suicide and many cases of madness, nearly always ending in murder."

It took some time to be reminded of this piece, and to find it.  Here is an excellent example of unhappiness springing from want: want of a moment's peace, want of something else to think about, want of the material wealth to escape this awful place and existence.

The same film also offers the comparison:
"Everything was different.  Even the air itself.  Instead of the harsh, dry winds of the past, there was a gentle breeze, full of fragrance.  From the mountaintops came a sound like rushing water.  It was the wind, rustling through the forest.  And then, even more astonishing, I heard another sound of water.  I saw that they had built a fountain, one that was splashing merrily and decided what I found most touching; someone had planted a linden tree, the perfect symbol of rebirth.  Moreover, Vergons showed signs of the kind of labour that only hope can inspire.  So hope had been restored.  Ruins had been cleared, and crumbling walls torn down.  The new houses, freshly roughcast, stood in kitchen gardens where flowers and vegetables grew in orderly confusion: roses and cabbages, snapdragons and leeks, celery and anemones.  It had become a place where one would want to live."
"Lazarus had emerged from the tomb.  On the lower slopes of the mountain I could see small fields of young barley and rye, and down in the narrow valleys, the meadows were green.  It has taken only eight years since then for the whole countryside to glow with health and prosperity.  Where I had seen ruins in 1913, there now stand clean, freshly plastered farmhouses, evidence of happy, comfortable lives.  Dry springs fed by snows and rains, now conserved by the forest, have begun to flow again.  In the maple groves, each farm has its fountain, brimming over onto carpets of fresh mint.  Bit by bit the villages have been rebuilt.  People have come to settle from down in the plains where land is expensive.  They have brought youth, life and the spirit of adventure.  On the roads, one meets people glowing with health, and boys and girls laughing as they enjoy their rustic pleasures."

Yes, perhaps I let the quotes run on a bit long, but it is to make a point.  There is a separation between want and happiness, one that is directly evident to the senses ~ one that ought to translate into the game. We tend far too much to paint the whole world with one brush.  Every town has the same tavern, the same inn, the same harsh lifestyle, the same criminal element, the same necessities and lack thereof, the same outlook, the same expectation.

The world is more complicated than that!  And changing it doesn't mean replacing one harsh reality with two opposite realities, either.  It means measuring scale between the two extremes that is meaningful to the party seeking to right wrongs and preserve the good that they find.  It does not mean we turn every adventure into an opportunity to destroy happiness before the very eyes of the party, but that we show evidence that happiness is possible and encourage parties to make it happen for themselves.

If, perchance, our imaginations will let us.

Defining Happiness in Worldbuilding

Funny how things come together.  In a worldbuilding context, I had done a post on health, with an eye to eventually tackling culture and happiness.  I did define culture somewhat, but not to the point where I am ready to offer a table.  I haven't really touched happiness.

I got to thinking about the opposite of culture and happiness.  Health was easy; the lack of health includes all those things we strive to manage, disease and waste foremost on the list.  My feeling, then, was to start with the lack of culture and the lack of happiness.  But how do we define those things?

The question has been bouncing around in my mind for a month now.  Yes, we do create culture to help guide and control the population.  We also create opportunities to encourage pleasure and happiness, such as parks, competitions, sport, games and so on.  Reversing that, it is easy to see that happiness creates discontent, anger, crime and rebellion.  This much is clear.  But where is the measure?

Well, this being Christmas, I find myself coming back around to Dickens:

"Look here."
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, ideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
"Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here." exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
"Spirit. are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.
"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it." cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end."
"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.
"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?"

Of course the opposite of happiness is want.  I should have remembered that from my Buddhist readings, but these things get lost.  And it equally follows that the opposite of culture is ignorance.  I've never met anyone uncultured who wasn't an enormous boor where it came to understanding anything about any person's motivations for action.  It requires a cultured person to understand why a man would kneel on one knee at a football game or why a D.A. chasing 17-year-olds around at a mall is wrong, whatever her mother says.

Culture is the process of expanding the minds of a population in order to bring them on board with concepts like universal responsibility for the general welfare or the singular care of the unhealthy, infirm or disabled.  Just as happiness is the process by which we assuage the want of millions, to encourage them to believe that there is a better existence to be had rather than endless, unendurable misery.

We can extrapolate happiness, then, from a set of measurable factors.  How much food do people have to eat?  What material things and services are available for their use?  How free and able are they to pursue their own interests?  What entities or laws exist to exploit them, in a manner that encourages their degree of want?

I'm not quite at the table-making process, but I'm close.  I need to spend some time digging out a list of things that answer the above questions.  Then I should be there.

The Formal Session Before the Formal Session

Ah.  My Christmas is over now, as it is for my readers in Australia and Asia, and pretty much almost over for Europe and Africa.  So we can go back to D&D now.

I held back on doing this yesterday, since it was Christmas Eve.  And also because I don't want to steal attention from the Invented Region post, on which I intend to produce more content.  In the meantime, however, let's deconstruct the start of the video below.  I suggest watching at least 10 minutes before reading the post below, as the quote does not include all the presenters' comments on the subject.

Jim: "And so maybe you've seen the idea of this session zero concept ... it is the idea that before any characters are created, and before the game formally starts that everyone who's going to play in the campaign gets together, they sit down at the same table, and this is your opportunity as a new DM to formally introduce the setting.  I highly recommend in those initial communications that you're doing when you're finding new players that you at least give them a taste of the setting.  See if you can parse it down to an 'elevator pitch.'   Now is your time to introduce it, the location that you're going to be in, some notable features of the environment ... and what you want to do is to present setting information in such a way that the players then have some guidance when they start creating their characters.
"For me, I like to be upfront and honest about what type of campaign that I'm running, so the players can make appropriate characters ... some DMs don't like doing that.  They like to have the characters make the characters in the dark, and then the campaign is independent of that.  But I really am for almost all things clarity and communication are going to be better than lack of communication and lack of clarity."

Why This Sounds Necessary

Session Zeros are all the rage with the table-top community now, demonstrable by my having heard of them.  I stumbled across the concept for the first time when I began making these advice-deconstruction posts.  Judging by the time-stamps on the videos, I would guess this has been a thing now for two to three years.

Role-playing games are terrifically complicated things, so it stands to reason that we should take the time to establish clear and focused goals for what we hope to present and accomplish.  At the beginning is the best time to address a lot of the concerns that are sure to be encountered down the road, though of course we don't want to bombard them with information that will make players feel overwhelmed.  It only seems natural that we should hit the high points, figure out what concerns the new players have, give them the information they need.  That way, the players can be better players when the game actually starts.

Most important, we want feedback.  I have argued the value of feedback from players many times.  Moreover, feedback seems like a necessary, active ingredient for communication to enrich the campaign and make it more flexible, friendly and experience-positive.

DMs are running to this strategy to enable players to feel welcome at the table, and comfortable in an initially unfamiliar world setting that, as most people say, might require a considerable amount of buy-in before it can work.  DMs have face-planted before; most of the time, this has seemed to be the fault of expectations, where what the players wanted proved to be vastly different from the DM's predictions.  Hopefully, by outlining the premise, DMs hope to give themselves a better understanding of the players' expectations, while transmitting their own expectations in turn.

Rich and unique RPGs, after all, have specific conditions that require specific responses.  Understanding this reduces the risk of disputes and disagreement, establishes better relationships between participants and increases the likelihood that players won't quit your game.

Who doesn't want that?

Why Some Think This Has Worked for Them

Everything I've just written above was paraphrased and reworked from two sites: this one, 10 Tips for an Effective New Employee Job Orientation and this one, 5 Steps to the Most Effective Employee Orientation, Guaranteed!  Some of the above was stolen, word for word.

It's hardly possible to take a new job today without a job orientation, whether it is for a big multi-national company or a franchise with just two stores.  For business, the Orientation is the Human Resource equivalent to the Holy Grail, and anyone with the will can find hundreds of sites just like the two I've described above.

We are, therefore, habituated to believe that job orientations are, a) necessary and b) effective.  We've been reminded most of our working lives that if we didn't understand something about our jobs, it was explained in the orientation and therefore, if we don't understand it now, it is our fault.  We've also all had the experience of learning something in the orientation only to discover, six months down the road, that the policy has changed and that no, sorry, no employee will be getting [this] any more.

Orientations were not created for employees, they were created by Managers, as a way of managing employees.  The basic premise is to make it clear what the policy is, communicate this policy to the employee, then emphasize the requirement for the employee to accept and live up to this policy in the nicest way possible.

After all, as new employees, we do learn that the company isn't going to suddenly adapt to our needs as soon as we're hired [though we may have been deluded about that once].  So we're willing to accept that, well, sure, they're going to dick around with us for a bit, feed us a few spoonfuls of sugar, stroke us and stuff, until we can get down to the business of actually working, which doesn't have to start right away since we also know that working at this new job probably won't be that much fun.

So we buy-in.

A DM using this management tool probably will discover that it works, since it reduces the players to the level of employee in the DMs corporate game.  The players accept it because, well, we need a DM or else there's no game.  So sure, all right, we'll play along with this, have our chance to have a say (though that's just window dressing, both at the game and at our jobs), while enjoying the pleasure of at least being asked (though we'll be ignored after, we're used to that).  It's only natural that DMs would eventually learn that you can go a long, long way with underlings if you pretend to care about their needs, even if you really really don't.  Just ask Walmart, Apple, Google or anyone else making a helluva lot of money right now.

Does this work?  Oh hell yes it does.  And six months down the road, when a player reminds the DM that in the session zero, they were given reason to believe something that is now being ignored, the DM can just say that the policy was changed.

And what is the player going to do?  What do you do, when this happens at work?

Why It's Bad Advice

The fact that something "works" does not establish it as good advice.

There will be some who will fondly remember their session zero, in their games, and deny that it was anything like a job interview.  Most probably, because it was not.  I have been giving a "session zero" for 38 years ... only, I didn't think of it that way.  At the beginning of my games, I would explain, "Here's my world, I'll be starting you off in this place, unless you'd like to be somewhere else.  Good?  Great.  Let's roll up characters."

With the online Juvenis campaign, I gave the players a choice of what part of my world they wanted to start in, then plonked them down in Stavanger, described the town and their relationship to it, and got started.  I did not explain my "expectations," though some of that did come up as the players began to behave in ways inconsistent to running a campaign in text-only, online.  For example, I can handle a lot more role-play at a table, when I can respond instantly and ask direct questions, as opposed to piecing together twenty comments in text, without emphasis, intermixed with italics, quotes, random pieces of information and a total lack of emotional context.

But this sort of knocking out the kinks is not what people mean by a "session zero."  Here's a quote from the video above that makes it clear what the DM's expectation is:
Jim: "Because this is a social game, telegraphing and being honest about what you're going to do with the campaign means that you avoid players feeling like you pulled a bait and switch on them."

Why is Jim giving this advice?  Because as a DM, Jim has experienced this.  So have most of you.  Meaning that you have, probably, given the players reason to think you're fucking with them ... but now you're fine, because now you've warned them.

Excuse me, but exactly how can you telegraph and be honest about what you're going to do with the campaign if it hasn't happened yet?  "Listen guys, here's the thing:  I'm going to do all this stuff, and then, somewhere down the line, I'm really going to screw you up the ass, so I just want you to feel warned and comforted, because this is a social game."

Okay, let's say that I'm misinterpreting the quote.  I am trying to get to the heart of this and I am not trying to be glib.  I'm expressing, with blue language and with somewhat purplish accent, my feelings about someone "telegraphing" a campaign that hasn't happened yet.  The word means to signal one's intentions ... and in this case, the intentions are being signalled to avoid the players "feeling" something.  Well, why exactly would you have concerns about the players feeling that particular thing?  Unless, of course, that particular thing happens often enough that it needs to be countered by a specific strategy.

To take this in another direction, why is it that the thing supposed isn't a positive?  Why do we not say, "... what I'm doing with the campaign so the players will feel like they are in control of what happens to them?"  Or, "... what I'm doing with the campaign so the players can choose what things to avoid, once they know what's coming?"  Why is it expressed as a refutation of the players' feeling justly bilked out of what they expected from a typical game?

Why do they need to be warned about something that would be wrong to do, whether the players are warned or not?

Just so you know, I'm going to kill you in six months.  So, when I am killing you, don't say you weren't warned.

'Course, that's just one sentence, right?  Maybe this is not what Jim means.  Let's look at the very next interchange:
Pruitt:  "Yeah, they make a completely social character and you're going to do a dungeon diving hack and slash [garbled]."
Jim:  "Right.  Now all that said, there is a place for a totally social character in a dungeon-delve hack and slash game.  There is a place for a no-holds-barred badass barbarian in a game of courtly intrigue.  But ... they require players who are willing to be flexible, DMs who are willing to let those players think outside the box and be creative, and everybody just with understanding that, like yeah, these characters aren't perfectly suited for this campaign but we're going to try to make it work."

At which point, Jim changes the subject to his heirarchy of gaming needs.

We have here an excellent example of management double-speak.  "There's a place for creativity at your job, but not right here and not right now, or not for you, but for other people better skilled for that sort of thing, according to my opinion, so get back to work."

IF there is a place for any kind of character in any kind of environment, then what do we need a session zero for?  And if the player isn't flexible enough, which is itself a euphemism for "clever" or "smart" enough, shouldn't that be demonstrated through game play?  And if the DM isn't willing to let the players think outside the box and be creative, how will a session zero help that?

The answer sounds good ... and it is clear from Jim's face in the video [begins at 3:10] that his eyes are all over the place as he struggles to find the right words to sound like he's got this ... and at the moment that he figures out how to change the subject, his eye contact with Pruitt reasserts itself and his body language returns to a comfort level.

Last Thoughts

I have no doubts that whoever latched onto the concept of a session zero came from a background where they gave job orientations or where they had personally experienced a lot of such as they drifted from job to job.  Of course it got stolen for D&D.  I've stolen dozens of management processes for the game, so I can't quibble with people picking this one.

But while there are endless sites on the web describing "steps to perfect job orientations," there are no sites at all that give metrics for people being better or happier at their jobs.  All the content is written by people who claim to have given such orientations (but usually without naming the company, and at any rate they're not with the company now, apparently) or people who have credentials as writers and journalists, not business managers.

Basically, the job orientation was designed to enable your boss to be a tyrant, and to justify it by holding your own orientation over your head.  It was not designed with the employees' well-being in mind.  It is about propaganda, not training.

And most bosses who do the thing don't even know this!  They do orientations because they're told to ... and they probably hate the orientation more than you do, as you just have to do it once and they have to do it all day, every day.  To them, it has as much meaning as communion does for most people: it is a religious thing that we do, that used to mean something special when we were little children, but is now just habit.

Are your players going to fall in line after you pull a session zero?  No.  Because you're not paying them.  At best, you can get a little currency out of making them feel guilty, but then you're an asshole running your game by making your players feel guilty.  That's awful.  Why would you want to be that DM?

Give your players the basics.  Let them know where they are, give them as many options as they can handle, let them walk around your world and ask questions in character, with characters rolled up, and save the orientation.  Get the game started and let the pieces fall where they may.

I'm tempted to write some sort of "Session Zero" for a group of players sitting down to play poker, but I'll forego it.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Pre-Christmas Eve

My Christmas celebrations are on the verge of starting; turkey in the oven and smelling up the house, guests and family arriving, all set for a big dinner followed by opening gifts Christmas Eve (yep, Russian thing).

But ... regarding the invented region, which is looking interesting by the way, please note the poll on the sidebar, for choosing the most important settlements of the seven we've created.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Let's Invent a Region

I know everyone is playing D&D just now (comments drop precipitously after 4 pm on Fridays, and don't pick up again until mid-Sunday), but let's try an experiment.  There's no hurry.

Updated 10:57 EST, Dec 26, '17
Here we have a simple hex map, with numbers.  As a volunteer experiment, we're going to make a game region together ~ or rather, the readers will, I'm just going to be the guiding hand.

The region will be a Development-7 region (as that's what I'm working on just now).  Don't worry what that means for now, just suffice to say it's fairly backward.

Each person will have the option of providing the following bare information:

  1. Up to three water hexes, until a total of 24 total hexes have been so designated.
  2. Up to three highland hexes, until a total of 30 hexes have been so designated.
  3. One settlement, up until 7 settlements have been named.
  4. One productive reference, until 15 total references have been named (get to this in a moment).

You don't have to use your full compliment of hexes.  Each physical feature you name should have a hex number indicating where it is (but not the reference).  If you choose to put something in a hex and someone else got their first, your choice is suspended, though you can make another choice afterwards.  You may clump all your hexes together, or you may scatter them around.  You do not have to put your settlement hex in a highland hex you pick (assume hexes that are blank as lowland hexes).  If you put a settlement in a water hex, it indicates an island or peninsula takes up part of the water hex.

You can rush to take up hexes or you can wait to add what other people have started.  It is up to you.

Water hexes may end up being seas or lakes, depending on how they scatter.  The point here is that we can build on the simplest of details, to expand the region into something interesting.

For references, please choose one of the following:

alloys, barley, bearskins, boatbuilding, boots & shoes, butter, camelhair, camels, candles & wax, carts, cattle, cement, cereals, chalk, charcoal, cloth, clothing, cod-liver oil, coffee, copper, cotton, crayfish, cream, dairying, dates, dhows, ermine, figs, fish, fish (dried), fish (freshwater), fish fins, flax, flour, fodder, foodstuffs, fowl, frankincense, fruit (dried), fruits, furniture, furs, goats, gold, grapes, grindstones, gum Arabic, hides, horses, hosiery, indigo, iron, kaolin, lead, leathercraft, limestone, livestock, looms, maize, market, meat, melons, metalsmithing, mistletoe, mustard seed, oats, parchment, pearls, peat, phosphorus, ploughs, poppy seed, reindeer, resin, rhodonite, rice, rye, salt, sealskin, sesame seed, sheep, shipbuilding, silk, silver, skins, slaves, starch, sturgeon, sugar (refined), sulphur, sunflower seed, sunflower seed oil, swine, timber, tobacco, tools, tools (wooden), vegetable oil, vegetables, wheat, wine, wolf pelts, woodcraft, wool, zinc

You can only pick one; you might pick something that's a luxury or something that's food or industry oriented.  It will make a difference on the culture, if everyone goes in a particular direction.

More than one of a kind of reference may be picked, so if someone already picked, say, horses, you can still pick horses again.  (So help me, if you all pick horses, I will make it work, but it will make the region somewhat heterogeneous).

I'll try to check for your comments as often as I can, though I'll be sleeping or unreachable for periods tomorrow (hey, it's Christmas).  I'll update the map, too, as data comes in, and update the image on the blog.

Have fun.


If you notice that your reactions at the bottom of the post keep disappearing, it is because the zeros reset every time I open the post and update it.  I remember that's why I abandoned the feature before.

Continue reading on the sequel to this post, Cleaning Up the Invented Region.

The Process of My Brain

Yesterday, Archon also asked me to go deeper into how I derived the information for the infrastructure tables I presented last week, such as this one:

That is somewhat difficult to explain, since it comes from decades of reading books about medieval cultures and studying maps of all scales (right down to 1 inch = 50 feet), because that has always been a particular fascination of mine.

Let's take the example above, which as I said was development-6, or Dev6.  The hex generation system offers 8 levels of wilderness, from none to total, so when describing a settlement, we want 8 kinds of settlement.  Type-8 is no settlement at all, because the hex is all wilderness, so that's easy.  But how do we go about deciding on the other settlements?

Well, I have a book about human demographics and development, The Real World: Understanding the Modern World through New GeographyThis book has been invaluable in breaking down the development of towns and cities, what shapes they take, where they are founded and why, along with many other details about geography.  Scattered, open settlements (type-7) grow into linear villages (type-6), or open space villages (type-5, above), which then become towns.  My background in medieval studies, supported by much reading on the subject, reminds me that prior to gunpowder, most towns included fields and gardens inside the city walls, so I envisioned a very quiet country town (type-4) which is just a big village.  Logically, such a town would then begin to develop mills and industries (type-3), which must then develop commerce (type-2), which in turn becomes intensely managed by guilds (type-1).

That gives a framework.  Now, we want to figure out a description for each.  And what everyone is doing with their days.  And what buildings are present.  And how the settlements are each laid out, and what the roads would be like, and who runs the place and so on, as expressed above.

THEN, we want to limit all those things by the development of the region.  This gives us a different look for a Dev6 culture than a Dev5 ~ remembering that different is good!  We want the players to be able to go to different places in the world, so not everywhere is alike.  So that if they find themselves in some backward area, like a desert in Africa, there aren't mill towns and such, because they're too backward.

And, at the same time, the "mill-town" in the Dev6 culture is very different than the "mill-town" in a Dev7 culture.  In Dev6, the mills only process agricultural and livestock goods.  They don't use charcoal for fuel, they run on animal power only.  We're talking the meanest form of mill ... which, nevertheless, still produces a relatively exciting atmosphere for people who know nothing of life except the fields they work.

With Dev7, we then add charcoal as a tech, along with pottery and metal founding, which creates kilns and furnaces, which create smoke, which lowers health, which creates a whole new kind of mill town.  So the thinking here is not to think of just one sort of mill town, but many kinds, depending on how developed a particular region is.

This means research.  Lots and lots of research.  And thinking, speculating on how something like the presence of stonecutting with metal tools changes the shape of the rock walls in the region, or how the development of pottery changes the materialism of the inhabitants, or the amount of crops grown, since we can now store extra food and it doesn't go to waste ~ which means more hours spent on working the fields, which in turn can mean more distilled beverages being produced and a change in how tired the people are when they visit the local tavern.  And we want to think about how metal makes a well look, because without metal and stonecutting, the well is just a hole in the ground, surrounded by unmortared rock, whereas with charcoal furnaces, we can make mortar, which makes better wells, which can now have a windlass erected over the top. 

The "process," then, is to think and compare each advancement not only in terms of how it specifically brings about a particular object (sailing makes sailing ships), but how that advancement adjusts every other advancement already in the culture.  And to recognize that the advancement, such as sailing, when it is first devised, doesn't instantly bring into existence galleons, since that would need a lot of other advancements apart from sailing.  No, it brings in the most austere sailing boat imaginable ... which is then adjusted for each development level as we go up the scale.

So we're talking multiple scales at the same time.  A scale of population density, a scale for development, a balance of rural vs. settlement, effects surrounding the presence of resource references (from my trade table, that produces buildings or rural improvements, if the reference exists in that particular settlement/region) ... and the geography/climate/vegetation of the region as well, which adjusts how much food can be grown based on the biome in which the region exists.

Many, many factors.  Which I am pulling together, as a methodology, by virtue of being extremely well read, extremely creative, possessed of a strong memory for this sort of work, with knowledge of exactly how to research something I don't already know, where to find it and what search terms to use, as well as being experienced in knowing when something will matter to players and when it is just extraneous information that can be discounted.

All of it based on generation tools I invented, that I have worked long and hard to create and exposit, which work independently already and which can be pulled together only because I know precisely how they work.

So by all means, retrace my path and make something "simpler" ... but know that anything simpler is, going to be useless, since it won't do what this development/infrastructure system proposes to do:

  1. Create unique, easy-to-comprehend spaces that players can experience, without feeling they are running into the same culture over and over.
  2. Fill the hexes with content so that, if the players decide to hex crawl, there will be something for them to see and, more importantly, identify as a place that inspires their imaginations.
  3. Provides endless motivation for self-made, sand-filled inspiration for player's enterprising spirits.
  4. Makes sense.

I'm in blue skies here.  This may be the hardest thing I've ever attempted.  Yet, already, I am blown away by the results.  I'm very excited for the day when I can start posting them.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Your Reclamation

Early this morning, Archon wrote in a comment,
"On the other [hand], people are allowed to enjoy pastimes that are not the one you like, and I don't really understand why you take issue with that. In particular, I don't understand why you dislike the idea of freeform RP / games with rules other than OD&D derived rules."

On another post, also this morning, Archon also wrote,
"I'm sorry if you see this as another person trying to tell you what the "real" state of gaming is, but I don't think many of the things any of you are saying are true for some of my local gamers ... we mostly play urban fantasy politics games with WOD. I think the vast majority of players agree that they can't make compelling and original characters on the spot - the default character making strategy is to take an existing fiction character from a similar situation, and try to replicate the things that make them good without replicating too many of the details (or things that you can't control as a player)."

Good.  I'm trying to encourage this sort of push-back, so let me treat the general sentiment with dignity and respect.  I don't doubt that many players who don't read this blog dislike the content herein for precisely this reason: because I am disparaging the game that these people like to play.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this, Archon.

My contention all year has been that "D&D Now" is an activity in which persons invent expositional descriptions of fictional characters for the purpose of enabling interplay with expositional descriptions of other fictional characters.  This activity, while potentially absorbing, while including a participant who self-identifies as a Dungeon Master, and participants who self-identify as players, is not a game.

I have been arguing this since June.  I wrote more than dozen posts for a six-week period through June and July, defining games, using professors and experts on game study as my sources, describing at length how games work and why they have to work that way in order to produce the best possible experience.  I have since added many posts in which I have argued that while many participants of the WOTC's recent non-game organized activity, promoted on their website as an "adventure," have self-chosen to describe themselves as, "playing a game," it is markedly evident that this is not what they are doing.

People self-identifying as D&D players are taking part in a weekly non-theatrical performance acting symposium, in which dice are rolled to give the semblance of a "game," while those same dice have their numbers changed, arbitrarily adjusted or otherwise disregarded, an action which is consistently defended as right and proper on a widespread basis, providing further evidence that whatever the WOTC and its associated participants are doing, it definitely is not "game-play."

This is my contention.  Where you, Archon, refer to "freeform RP/games with rules," I don't think that you are using the word "game" in the context for which it was invented.  Games are not "freeform."  They are defined as rigid systems in which there is an amount of play that gives the experience meaning.  If you increase the "freeform" aspect of the activity until the rigidity ceases to have meaning, then you're no longer playing a game, you're just doing stuff.  You're acting.  You're playing make believe and pretend.

The so-called "real state of gaming" that you invoke is a lie.  There is no gaming taking place there.  Where you refer to your local gamers, I believe that you have gotten used to using that term, because it is habit, but in fact you are playing make-believe characters talking to other make-believe characters, in a simulation where everyone expects a guaranteed eventual success for participating, with a guaranteed gained level every time you show up to the event.  We're not talking about "gamers."  We are talking about make believers.

When you say that you play urban fantasy politics games, I challenge you, Archon, to prove that these games have rules to which every participant must adhere, regardless of cleverness, experience, presence at the table, self-identity or moniker.

Character making isn't a "strategy."  A "strategy" is a choice of managing play between rigid guidelines.  Where are the rigid guidelines in character making?  What are the rules that manage and control the characters that people make, and how do those rules make it an equal and measurable playing field for ALL the participants?

I have yet to see a shred of evidence that argues the opposite.  I do hear many people say, "This is a game that I enjoy," when clearly they don't mean "game," they mean, "activity."

All of this reminds me of Dickens' Christmas Carol,
"Nephew!" returned the uncle sternly, "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."
"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew.  "But you don't keep it."

Over the last 40 years, steadily, the various editions of D&D have done everything they possibly can to wash the actual "game" out of the activity.  They have advocated the DM's cheating, they have reworked the rules to please those players who don't want to die from a bad saving throw or who don't want to face the possibility that a giant rat can kill their precious 5th level character.  They have shifted and adjusted every rule that dictates you must play a particular anything, because no one wanted to be forced to play a game where the rules didn't allow them to play make-believe, when they should have been playing a game.  And now, after all this time, all the words that have been around since the beginning have been co-opted to describe a shambling, undead faux-fakery ego-contest, in which it is argued that we who want to play the actual game should be silent, lest our words irk those people who just want to play their game in their way.

I won't be silent.  I will be the Ghost of D&D Past, arguing that you're not playing a game, that you're deluding yourselves ... and that, most importantly, the delusion is keeping hundreds of thousands of participants from finding out how much more fun this actual game is when played as a game and not a bunch of make-believers patting themselves on the back because they remembered to "strategically" decide that their first level character is actually the son of a king or that their mother has an army at her beck and call.

Archon, I tell you in all sincerity, I do believe that your "gamer" friends are having a great time pretending to play a game ... but I feel strongly, with great resolution, and the unerring passion it requires to fight and fight for this point, that your friends would spit on the activity they are participating in today if they could really experience the game they could be playing.

That is why you're not allowed to enjoy a past time that I don't like.  Because, like the ghosts who sought to reclaim Scrooge's soul, I want to reclaim yours.  Your life, though you think it rich enough, could be so much richer, if you would only open your eyes and see the chains you are laboring upon, the writing on the stone, and the patient endurance of all the Cratchits in your company who are waiting to be given a real Christmas.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Filling the Sandbox

Continuing thoughts on sandboxes ...

I think at some point it becomes necessary to back away from the metaphors, when they begin to cloud the issue.  So for a few paragraphs, let's try stepping back and looking at the thing itself.

With my last post, linked above, I reached the distinction that most games compel the players to be reactive instead of proactive.  I'm quite sure that most of my readers know precisely what I mean by these two terms, but let's define them anyway, because with a good methodology, we have the best chance of producing the best results.  Think of it as responsibly dotting our 'i's.

To be "reactive" is to respond to a stimulus.  And so it goes in most games, and in most game advice I've found.  The argument is made again and again, from Matthew Colville to Matthew Mercer (should I change my name to 'Matthew'?).  Give the players something that will stimulate them and have them react.

To be "proactive" is not merely the opposite of reactive.  It is to create or control a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.  The underlined is the key in this case.

Consider.  Reactive brings to mind words like recoil, talk back, echo, backlash, imitate ... reflexive words, suggesting a lack of thought before answering.  Proactive suggests words like enterprising, energetic, driven, bold, dynamic, motivated ... strong, heroic words that we like to imagine coming out of ourselves.

Yet all the advice is aimed at pushing the players to react.  Why?

Well, to begin with, it's easier.  A stimulus, a thing or event that evokes a specific functional reaction ~ and, for D&D, an active, energetic reaction ~ requires little effort.  The door busts in and a bull starts attacking the people in the tavern.  Someone is collecting dead bodies and threatening to invoke a god.  React!  Do something!  GO!

Inspiring someone to be proactive is a much, much harder proposition.  You can't just light a fire under their ass; you've got to approach the whole issue with an argument that causes a light to go on in the player's head, causing them to get an idea.  The idea, in short, can't be yours.  It has to be theirs.

If we present an adventure to the players, either bought or self-produced, we can minimize how much data the players need, enabling them to react.  But if we want the players to be self-energized, we have no idea what information to provide!  Because we have no idea what will produce an insight on their part.

So we have to produce so much more pure and direct data than we would ever have to invent for an adventure ... and we know from experience ~ from the vast number of people condemning the agenda of this blog, for example ~ that mountains of pure and direct data is just too hard, too time-consuming, too confusing and too much work to produce.  Easier to make the players react and get the damn show on the road.

Sorry, that was a metaphor.  It got away from me.

Before we can hope for a "sandbox" campaign, however we want to define that metaphor, we've got to have a sandbox.  And if you sit down on the edge of the sandbox, all of the sand is right there, ready to be used.  The procedure, the tools you'll use to remake the sand, everything you need, is ready for you.  All you have to do is look at the sand and decide what you want to do with it.

Let's take a game world, then.  And let's say we're sitting at a tavern, because it is a massively overused trope (that I never hesitate to use).  Forget the DM, forget your character's backstory, forget everything about what your character can do at the moment or anything about how your characters happen to know each other.  The only thing we want to consider right now is this:

What do you know?

If we're sitting in most worlds, almost nothing.  We might have a vague knowledge of being in the middle of a town, surrounded by some sort of wilderness.  If this is the Keep on the Borderlands, we know that the forces of chaos are pressing upon the realm's borders, that adventurers find their way to the Keep in search of adventure, that we're stout-hearted, that there are dark forests and fens, that there is a place called the Caves of Chaos, and that there are a whole lot of civilians and guards who seem involved with whatever it is the Keep does, but who are probably not going to help us.

That isn't much.  If we sit four players at our game table and expect them to "come up with an idea of what to do" on their own, based on this inconsiderable information, it isn't hard to guess what that's going to be.  It isn't enough to just say to the players, "You're here.  What do you want to do?"  You've got to make the world itself meaningful and intricate enough that there is at least a chance that they'll put a pile of bits together in their heads, add water, and feel motivated to make something happen.

But we don't do that, do we?  We spit out a few obvious "ideas," make claims that game worlds are "amusement parks," and then wait to find out what ride the players want to get on.  And if we go so far as to offer them three different possible rides, we call it a "sandbox" and pat ourselves on the back.

Look around, right now, where you are reading this.  If you close your computer and stand up, how many things can you think of to do in the next half an hour?  How many things can you think of that don't require asking someone else to perform a service for you, like selling you coffee or fixing your car?

The answer should be lots, particularly if you're an avid DM.  You probably have 15 or 20 unfulfilled plans of your own making, the starting of which can be done on your own, because you've invented the idea out of your own head.  Now, why isn't your world designed to let the players do that?

It isn't enough to dump a few toys in a box.  The box needs sand.  Lots and lots of sand.  Not just the DM's sand, either, but sand that comes out of the player's mind, because that sand has to exist too.  If the player argues that there must be something reasonable in this town, in this region or in this world, the existence of which is entirely intuitive, then that too is part of the sand that makes up this box.  Not because the DM condescends to say "yes," but because it must be so.

Only then is there a chance that the players will really be gaming.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Playing in Sand

I should be at work today, but the stone kiln oven is broken and the restaurant is closed.  And so, I can write something.

I've been thinking about the sandbox mentioned in the last post, and came across this utterly non-RPG webpage, 8 Reasons Why Playing in the Sand is Good for Kids.  It's a paid-for-article for eBay, but I think it cuts to the point:

  • 1.  It is an Open-Ended Medium.  "No matter the skill or cognitive level of the child, sand is an appropriate play object."  "There is no specific right or wrong way to play with sand."
  • 2.  It Stretches the Imagination.  "Older children can expand their creativity and imaginations through the designs of a variety of buildings, towns and castles." (!)
  • 3.  It Promotes Physical Development.  [We an insert mental for physical, so that this quote still applies]: "Most children do not notice the physical involvement of sand play because they are too focused on their play and the task."
  • 4.  It Encourages Social Skills.  "[Children] are often faced with problems involving sharing tools, negotiating for play space, and compromising on what to build in the sand."
  • 5.  It Promotes Cognitive Development.  "Children learn to problem solve as they try to figur out how to prevent their towers from continually falling over or their moats from collapsing in on themselves."  "Children learn more vocabulary words that fit specifically to sand play, as well as chatting with other children in the sand play area."
  • 6.  It Teaches Mathematical Concepts.  "Through trial and erro, children are able to make predictions about which type of container holds more or less sand."  "With maturity, children can learn how many scoops of different sizes it takes to fill a container."
  • 7.  It Encourages Scientific Experiments.  "Observe as the children make their own experiments to discover information not only about sand, but also about basic scientific principles."
  • 8.  It Incorporates Artistic Expression.  [Can't say there was a good quote here].

Clearly, a lot of D&D players need to spend more time sitting in a sandbox, missing skills they should have learned a long time ago.

I'm thinking of how (2) perfectly describes my present experiments with infrastructure.  It has me thinking, too, about how a setting ought to work.  As a DM, once my imagination has shaped the sand, producing a modelled environment, I then enable the players (no, not the characters, I mean the players) to shrink down and begin clambering over the sand pit, which is now huge for them.  They see themselves as characters, but it is they themselves who must manage the towers, the creatures crawling among the grains and the unknown distances between the various features I've created.

Yes, I could take my hand and sweep sand over them, but that would only return the players to their normal sizes, accomplishing nothing.  To retain the desired experience of the sandbox, I have to let the players search on their own, with as little further influence from me as possible.

This was my original concept, dreamed up when I was a young DM of 16, of getting myself "out of the loop."  I've referred to this many times on the blog.  It means that my immediate will and prejudices are not part of the experience they players are having.  I continue to cling to the idea that the world could be, in some way, self-perpetuating ... and that is how I try to design the structure of my world from day to day.

That way, when the players take an action, I don't have to think, "What should I do to keep them interested?"

I can think instead, "How would this world, this space, this setting, logically respond to what the players have just done?"

DMs are largely consumed with the philosophy that it is their role to make the players reactive.  We can see this philosophy voiced continuously by virtually every pundit in the game universe.  Take this example from Colville's video yesterday:
"... it's our job as Dungeon Masters to tell the players, 'what.' [garbled] ... Kalarel the Vile is collecting dead bodies and building a giant tower of undeadness, so he can summon Orcus, he thinks.  That's the what.  That's what you have, what you can do to stop him."

There it is.  Not "what do you do?", but "How will you do this?"

But I think a far better philosophy is that it is the players' role to be proactive, and the DM reactive.  Where the dialogue ought to go like this:
"Kalarel the Vile is collecting dead bodies and building a giant tower of undeadness.  You have no idea why.  Elsewhere, there's a town festival that is supposed to happen next week, and people are fervently making costumes.  It's too late to buy any.  Oh, and the town was unable to ship its beer supply out last week, and now it is too late in the season, so beer everywhere is half price."

And then, nothing.  Not "what do you do?"  Just, here, the things you notice about the setting is this.  I'm ready to answer questions or transition your instructions, once you give me your instructions.

Guys like Colville are so sure they have this DMing thing sorted ... but they're really not thinking through the principles outlined in the sandbox above.  It isn't about the sand's agenda.  It is about what the designers see in their minds.

Post Script:

I do recommend finding me on facebook.  I'm the only Alexis Smolensk in the English-speaking world, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding me.