Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Science vs. Art

A deliberately false title.   I was reading Noisms' System as Habit, in which he first sets up this idea and does it quite well, yet then proceeds to stray from his proposed dichotomy of antagonistic ideas into an inevitable Gortesque ( adjective. To ramble in a Gort like manner, with only a vague goal)  rambling, where he seems to back both in the end, although he seems to favor his view of art.

As he should, as science and art are merely two sides of the same coin.  Science blends into art, which in this discussion is the practical application of intuition and habit, rather than the more often considered "capital A" Art of creativity, although inevitably the classification of such things as art absorbs some of the glamour of that creativity.  Sherlock Holmes' deductions are always more impressive before he reveals just how he does his tricks.  Not everyone can appreciate the application of science, artists get laid often for being artists, scientists not so much.  Artists who explain their process are often derided as being illustrators or artisans  (You're nothing but a tracer!).

He does a bit of disservice to science as mere recipe following, as mere "book" knowledge.  Science is far more than that, as it is analysis, it is a short cut through the the traditional memorization of skills.   Science is how you get a good cup of coffee out of a surly teenager, no matter if you'd prefer a latte from your barista.

It's about pattern recognition.

Humans are particularly good at pattern recognition. What we're discussing when we speak of intuition is largely just what much of our brain has evolved to pick up, a skill set which took us out of the trees long ago.  It's what let our ancestors remember when to run or fight.  It let them remember when those sweet fruits came into season.  It's what let them pick out a good branch from a rotting one as they jumped from limb to limb.  It's the learned behavior which makes us so helpless for the first years of our life.

Our brain is a fabulous device,  a complex machine which sorts and processes our experiences, discarding some, while preserving others.  Sometimes it malfunctions, as when PTSD prevents a returning veteran or rape victim from having a normal life.  The traumatic experiences have laid down pathways in the bran which contradict those which are best for the person's health.  They have to learn to ignore some of their intuition, till the brain naturally forgets those traumas.    There are other malfunctions, such as the false pattern recognition of the conspiracy theorists, who turn coincidences into a conviction the Illuminati rules us all.  Sometimes the patterns it's recognizes and regurgitates are right, sometimes they're not.

Now back to science.  Science is merely an attempt to weed out the bad intuitions from the good. To reexamine the habits and traditions so we can avoid failures.   To use the inevitable cooking analogy (we all eat,) science is the recipe, but art is the adjustment of that recipe to fit the conditions.   I have a friend, she's a food chemist.  I'll pause for the howls of derision from those who prefer their cuisine cooked minutes ago by a skilled chef.    Few people understand her job, as it's fashionable to despise "factory made garbage" in favor of locally grown, organic, free-range, hand-assembled dishes.  The five dollar cupcakes of the world and the fifty dollar entree.   Yes in an ideal world, we'd all eat handcrafted dishes which come with a personal story.

 In the real world, we're trying to feed kids a nutritious meal for seventy-five cents and produce a shelf stable protein shake for feeding invalids.  OK so we're also trying to make a ten dollar pizza including delivery, a low fat snack cake which still tastes fresh after a week in a vending machine, and a low-salt, no-fat, shelf-stable vegetable stew for a buck.  In the real world, your food isn't minutes old produced just for you. She's the one who produces butter pecan protein shakes without using butter or pecans and makes them stable enough to sit in a warehouse, yet three of them are a liquid way to keep your grandma from dying, without intravenous feedings.   She's a chemist who has to know how the molecules she is dealing with act. Science, not an art.   You can also apply this same label to the guy who wrote the franchise book for a fast food company, because it's his science to produce a system which virtually anyone can follow to produce a consistent hamburger or cup of coffee, while not killing their coworkers one night because they mixed ammonia with bleach.  Take another step back, it's the difference between that guy who sells you tomatoes at the farmer's market and the farmer who produces a hundred acres of soy beans every year.  One has nice tomatoes, the other guy is feeding Africa.

Science gets a bad rap, often because in order to be real science, it requires an absurd amount of control.  Anyone who has ever baked simple bread knows that there are a lot of variables involved, the humidity, the heat of your kitchen, the vagaries of your stove, and the batch of yeast all go into producing a wide variation of product.  Usually you control this by art. You nudge the process.  You stick the bowl on the fridge or water heater for the extra heat.  You dump in a little extra sugar to get the yeast excited.  Science instead seeks to eliminate this variation, by controlling the production process.  You chop everything uniformly, so it all takes your ideal cooking time.  You use a gas oven, because the temperature is more stable than a oak wood fire.  Which is why some of the social sciences do such bad science, when you can get a ten percent bounce in data by rearranging questions or using a different picture, proving your theories are often just so much nonsense.

Yet we're not discussing the ripples in the grass which reveal the lion, the paranoid's discourse on the number 23, or how to make a fifty cent school lunch, as interesting as those subjects can be.  We're discussing gaming and by extension world design.

Intuition is fine. As Tolkien did you can immerse yourself in the great legends and myths. Read the eddas, Homer, and Chr├ętien de Troyes.  Or to take a less pretentious angle, you can devour the pulps as Michael Moorcock did, wallowing in the conventions of genre fiction.  There are plenty of schools to absorb narrative through, teen novels, Shakespeare, westerns, or samurai movies can all serve to instill a intuitive sense, a taste for what you like and wish to produce.  The idea that Robert Persig bedeviled so many with in his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that it's difficult to define what makes good writing, good writing.  (Good world design or good D&D Gming, etc...)  That absolute rules can always be tripped up in questions of quality. You tend to know it when you see it, so it often seems like the only way to learn to recognize it is to read massive amounts of it.   The weakness of this produces fan fiction.  It often produces the novels of R.A.Salvatore and Dennis McKiernan, rather than a new Tolkien.  Not everyone has the ear of Anthony Burgess in scifi.

This also requires every DM to be a middle-aged person with plenty of time to devote to his hobby, rather than a family or career.

Science gives a short cut even here.  Joseph Campbell and others have analyzed the great sagas and myths, providing you a short cut to mimicking the great sagas.  For that matter Elmore Leonard has written a book on screenwriting, which allows you to skip a year of film class.  They're not the only ones, there are plenty of books on literary analysis, which will tell you about the author's preferred pacing and window dressing, George Orwell, Roger Ebert, or an industry article on how you need five scenes in the trailer to sell a movie.  It's not that such "rules of thumb" allow you to always be right, but they allow you to at least bat .500.

 ( I've now resorted to both cooking metaphors and a sports metaphor, do not worry I'm coming up on a gratuitous music metaphor for the pop-blogger hat trick.)

Once again, such a view will likely offend some people's sensibilities. We have quite the cult of Indie films and books these days, just as well have the cult of the chef.   I freely admit the excesses of the formulas, except to produce a truly innovative movie or book, you need to know what the standards are.  To play around the boundaries, you need to know what they are.  You can't make clever in a vacuum,  as it's a response to the dominant culture.  It's hard to understand the Sex Pistols, without hearing Yes.

Let me point out the obvious.  D&D and most such games rely on formula, it's in their very nature, because they're based in the pulps.  They're based in genre fiction.  There is a defined sense of style in such fiction stronger than any school of artisanship.  Now I do like genre fiction, but it has different strengths and weaknesses than regular fiction.   Those strengths tended to lead many of the pulp writers into television writing. It also results in fan fiction.

In D&D or other role playing games, Science can be relying on the rule book, on  rules, charts and tables.   It lets the GM focus on things other than "well what kind of low level monster should be in the forest?"  or "how far can he fall before it is too far?"  It's a crutch for those who haven't spent years acting as a game master or at least reading and watching endless novels and movies, who know the right balance of silliness and bloodshed for their party.  The rule book allows someone to not be 100% acquainted with the world within which he is making adventures.

Art is great, but most people need science, because there are no apprenticeships to gaming.

(Even if some guy named Dave offers you an unpaid internship putting primer on his figures and demanding you call him Sensei)




Thursday, August 15, 2013

Gunkanjima



OK, so urban explorer stuff has gotten pretty common.

Yet this has to be the some of the coolest I've seen.  It screams out for some sort of scenario to be run using this material.  Gunkanjima is the name of the island, the link is to the website where I just got all these pictures from.  Go check it out, but here is a taste.



It's this abandoned island, once a coal mine.
With huge apartment blocks


science and technology magazine


I think this would be perfect for something like Cyberpunk or Gamma World.  You'd have the ruined city above, combined with the coal mines below. Filled with a variety of refugees or mutants from massive Japanese reactor failures.   

It reminds of the way Alcatraz used to look before the hippies burned so much of it.  Something about ruined islands....


And the update is?

It's on google street view.

That is right,   Google street view!


I'm beside myself with how cool a scenario this would make.   Remember how excited you were the first time you saw a three dimensional video game?  How many hours you spent on Bard's Tale?





Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why Wired doesn't Understand Gamers.

I like Wired's Maplab, it always has something odd for the reader.

Here is something titledYou Won’t Believe How Insanely Detailed This Guy’s Fictional Maps Are. Seriously.

Well except when I looked at them, my first thought yes I would believe that.

My name is Gort, I'm a mapalholic.

Like a lot of D&D players I like drawing maps.  Insanely detailed maps.
This is part of what I keep calling mega city II, not that it's the second city I've designed, but because it's the second insane one.  The first one had less thought and both generations of that one is somewhere in a folder.  Along with a much crazier world map.

This is part, because it was basically too large for my computer at the time to manipulate in paint. It's about 20 or so of these maps, where a pixel was 2.5 feet.  A lot of it was an exercise, I experimented with ways to cut and paste cityscapes together.  There are a lot of short cuts you can use.  Yet as anyone who has ever been a DM knows, you usually make up stories as you go along. So I also have some detailed breakdowns of the city.  No I never labelled every hut.  Truthfully, I've yet to even do a ballpark on population.   However I did do some neighborhoods in detail.  The Palace is fairly detailed. The major merchants and lords are detailed.  All the temples are fleshed out, as well as the inns.




I like the detail.  It allows me to run a lot of city adventures, as I know what's beyond that wall. A quite burglary of an illusionist, followed by a chase and then a meeting with a fence at midnight in the gardens.  I can use it as quick clip art.  With a little monkeying about, I can even print out a city square, for that big fight.  All that detail let's me set up a big meet at the Salmon Theater.

Yeah It takes a bit to get used to the symbols so you can pick out a hearth or the jakes.  Yellow lines are topographical if that helps at all.




Absurdly detailed maps isn't enough either.  I have neighborhood overviews. I have Rogue Territories.
 
















                   
I have maps sketching out the age of each section.  I have maps of which major lord rules which area, as well as what each's attitude towards enforcing laws is.  Once again, I'll make the excuse that a lot of it was a bit of an experiment with just what you can do when it's electronic.


   I was trying to engage people with handouts.  Those last four maps were for me.  The players usually worked off of this map, unless they spent points on local knowledge. It's the "we fly map."


Oh and that isn't all, what good is a city without a land?  None of those are as detailed, more just vague kingdoms. 

There are a lot of good uses for an electronic city map.  You can do the alternate world with the ruined city.  You can even pull of time travel fairly easy.

Now the sick thing is,  I have a larger map I once made, when experimenting with geomorphs. I decided I needed a cube city  So I made a cube geomorph and patched together an absurd number of floors, without realizing that even with random monsters it was simply too large to ever explore.  Every room was a chore to map and then the description of up and down areas just made it impossible.  I still consider revisiting that idea sometime, I think the key would be doing it all electronically. 

Anyways.  I think that is why wired magazine just doesn't get gamers.
58. Your players should be safe before they leave town, and when they come back to town. Otherwise they should always be in peril.

I picked this off of Barking Alien's commentary on someone else's seemingly endless "tips" for being a DM. It annoyed me enough to write on the subject as I considered it before.   

I can take this two ways.  The first is that town is safe. To which I reply.

There is no safe base. The city is just as much an encounter area as the dungeon. Players should never have the attitude of "well we're back in town nothing can touch us.   That cult they stole from wants it's stuff back.  The wizard is angry they broke his favorite stuff and ran off laughing.  The lord  of the knight they killed so casually, sends someone who seeks justice.  If all else fails, that bling they've been flashing draws the carrion crows to them. 

It's all temporary.  As temporary as holing up behind that iron gate and locked door, so you can sleep and study like a mofo to get some spell points back.   Hoping nothing can get through both, till the ooze shows up...

The second way I take this is, there is no level of safety in the dungeon.

Well I disagree on that.  They might not be safe bases, but there are places of less danger.   The consecrated shrine in the sea of undead.  That locked room.  The bedroom of the fearsome wizard, when he's not home. The rock spire surrounded by triceratops. I even knew one guy who invented the trick of stone shaping himself  into a dead end.  Then he'd pray and stone shape a way out in the morning.  Rope Trick or  similar spells.  Any number of unique magic items.   Are they still in some peril?  Yet it isn't real peril.  It's a variable.

Christians and D&D

Writing about D&D I've found myself thinking about bygone eras quite a bit, often as I stumble into some discussion everyone else had years ago or that I may have had, but with other people.  I recently came across the Dark Dungeons comic, which outlines the era.  Apparently a lot of other people remember the odd period of such attacks and like fluoride in the water being used for mind control, there are always some groups which hold onto parts of it forever and bring it back on occasion. 

Now my best friend in middle school's family was one of these families, but he also played a lot of D&D.  He was also instrumental in some of my first musical tastes, oddly enough my introduction to punk rock also came from someone who is now a grown-up conservative as well. So while I might not have horror stories about growing up Christian, with a capital C, I do have a lot of odd stories about growing up as the heathen kid next door.  Most of which consisted of odd family outings, the type of things where you take your kids' best friends along.  Movies, a ball game, etc..,  those events which mix adults and kids together, where half the point is to get out of the house.   "Hey kids want to go see a magic show?" and then all the tricks have an odd bible message "Like Moses parting the Red Sea, teh queen appears, so is that your card Karen?"  "We're going to this cool picnic, want to come along?"   Then you spend a couple hours pelting each other with water balloons in the woods, followed by some bible messages from Youth Pastor Bob, who plays guitar.  The "rock band" where the lead singer talks about jesus as much as he sings.   I have a dozen or so stories like these. I trot them out at times under the heading of Times people have tried to recruit me into cults, The Nebulous world of Midwestern Protestantism, It was the 70s, or Why nobody is as slutty as girls from Church Youth groups..   Part of the agenda of the mega-churches has always been to spread the gospel this way. 

Now I mention this rambling background, because I long ago realized my life is neither as universal or bland as I once thought it was as being small-town, suburban, Midwestern, white and middle-class.  Now admittedly it's not going to sell as exotica, like Once Were Warriors, Boyz in the Hood, or Yentl, as everyone thinks they understand the life, because they watched Leave it To Beaver.  It gets dismissed at times, because we're not nearly as colorful as say slum-dwelling Italians, big Irish families, or elite, east-coast, boarding school kids who have lots of sex and drugs.  Southerners seem to really pump out the movies, right along with city kids, and I won't forget the endless Socal suburban movies.

In contrast, much of my life seems to show up with Garrison Keillor, in the works of Stephen King, and for a season or two Freaks and Geeks.

My friend wasn't stupid.  He wasn't the archetype automaton, nor was he the archetype rebel. He didn't blindly obey.  Matter of fact, he grew up into the type of considerate, thoughtful, good man, that almost makes you wish you believed in such things.  Which is a story you rarely hear about capital C, Christians, because it's the loud ones who make the news. I remember the weird ebb and flow of such things.  There was the year D&D was satanic, where he honored his parents ban by playing Gamma World instead.  The periodic rock and roll is a satanic plot periods, he weathered without burning his Rush records.   Ok I did think it funny when he read Narnia in high school and Pilgrim's Progress, by choice. 

That was the thing the movies always miss and quite a few people do too.   There was always an ebb and flow to such movements.  An arc to church attendance in the parents based on their spiritual paths.  There are fads in such things, which depend a lot on timing.  It depends on which church they were attending, as Midwestern Protestantism is often a fluid thing. It depends on the current guest speakers or pastors.

It's a bit like the cultural reverse. There was a period where all metal bands used pseudo-Satanism, some do for their entire career.  Sometimes it's the cartoony form, that is the flipside of devout , capital C, Christianity.  It's Alice Cooper in a Halloween mask or KISS in make up.  Sometimes it's a somewhat ironic statement, grown out of that philosophical mishmash of Objectivism and leftover Spiritualism.  Quite a bit of metal goes out of it's way to present itself as anti-christian, it's part of it's stylized rebellion. Just as it's rejection of modern art (for years) in favor of classic illustrations of death and the fantastic is a deliberate rejection of intellectualism.  Something which isn't still true, as metal has grown quite a bit, but was certainly true of that era. The same people who'd attack D&D in the manner of the Chick comics would attack metal for it's trappings as well, or even attack RUSH, who mostly sang about unhappy suburban white kids, but had a pentagram on an album.

 Despite being wrong about the vast majority of people who play D&D, they weren't actually wrong about everyone who played D&D. I have met a number of devout neo-pagans, who did play D&D as kids. People who are once again nice enough people that I tamp down my urge to laugh at their religion and even kind of get a bit jealous over their commitment.  We've all met the metal head who was serious about his satanism, although I've yet to meet a mature adult Satanist, outside of the occasional person who professes an unholy love of Ayn Rand.    Yet, the number of pagans I've met is small compared to the number of religious people I know who game regularly and find it no threat to their faiths.  I'll omit the term "Christian" here, not because they aren't Christians, but because they rarely are the types who say Christian and you can hear the Capital C part, with it's implication that there are a lot of non-Christian, Christian groups.

Yet here is the odd thing.

Christianity (capital C) has long ago moved into the rock business. By the 90s it was routine for all the evangelical movements to have rock festivals and even rap artists.  Even the Catholics and Mormons were doing them. There isn't a form of rock music which doesn't contain fairly devout Christians who perform in normal bands, including even metal.   There are still plenty of artists who use the Christian circuit to make money and get exposure, just as some novelists still take this path to sell their work.  One of the ironies a lot of hardcore, atheist punks never appreciate is that the Christian rock people are as good, if not better than they are at DIY.

Yet I'm unaware of any real attempt to embrace table top gaming, the closest I know of is a few video games (none of which are by my old friend who ended up in the game industry.)  No real need for them, as there are plenty of people who always play good alignments.  Who prefer to not game with cynical mercenaries, who do play the game precisely as good vs. evil.  Yet there is no product, sold in Christian book stores and approved by pastors marketed to the teen looking to play D&D without risking being embroiled in "the dangers of spiritualism and fortunetelling."

I think the key to this is to be found in their condemnation of Rock music, which long ago stopped being a fear of blacks.  There was a point where I watched 700 club and Pat Robertson, because I was fascinated with it's unique presentation of the news.  Much the same reason liberals find themselves watching Fox News, conservatives will watch MSNBC, or any sane person ever pays attention to Alex Jones.   You want to see the most extreme stances of people you have nothing in common with so you can understand them, get a voyeuristic thrill, and get a smug feeling of superiority.  Games shows from Japan often serve the same need, as does the every-four-year event of the Olympics, where we pretend to care about obscure sports for the sake of nationalism and free Big Macs.  It was an odd parody show, as it contained elements of more mainstream  shows.  For instance, the subculture supports diet books with biblical themes and Pat Robertson does cooking segments.  They interview celebrities, some on their way up, some on their way down and seeking to plug their new Branson theater. They interpret the current hurricane season and even at one point climate change as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  It's an alternate reality of people who have chosen to separate themselves from the mainstream, yet who have yet to get firm about it like the Mennonites.

Back to the point of their condemnation of rock music, which wasn't universally of the form as much as it was of specific forms and pop music in general.   They'd show video of outrageous early black metal bands, generally hamming it up and trying to push the limits. Yet they never played this music in the background.   In the background and dominating the conversation would be John Lennon.   Admittedly, John Lennon when he was young had deliberately poked the bear with an ironic claim to be bigger than God.   Yet the focus of Robertson's hate wasn't this comment, but the song Imagine.   Which I'm sure you're all aware of.  It's not to everyone's taste, as it's somewhat saccharine, the type of music parents put on to try to calm their children down. It's one man singing to a piano, that some people would even claim it wasn't rock at all.  A sharp contrast to German metal bands spitting blood on the crowd and dressed like skeletons.  It's a little poem of wishing for a world without politics or religion, a world of peace. Personally, I always though it was a rather cynical statement by a man who was a bit nostalgic for days when hippies actually thought it was that easy.  Yet at it's core, this song attacks evangelical Christianity.  Not it's theology, but it's ideology.  That there is a war between good and evil.  That you are fighting the good fight.  The song puts forth the idea of living and letting live. 

Which is why these groups have never cottoned to D&D.

To paraphrase a point I think was made by Zak Sabbath on his blog D&D with pornstars, although I have no idea where I read this point on his blog, it was one of those nights of clicking and reading and then clicking something else. It might not even have been his blog as much as some related blog, but you get the point and I feel I've credited my inspiration.

When you play D&D, you're never really immersed in the experience 100%, as Dark Dungeons and the fear industry tried to claim.   You're also detached from the action, you're playing a character.  You're giggling over your impersonation of an elf.  You're trying to exploit some loop hole to let you cast more spells.  You're never seriously trying to summon dark forces, other than some fervent praying for a 20 when you really need it.  

Which is why I think that they've never come up with an alternate version of D&D.

At some level, built into the basic structure of the game is a cynical detachment from the idea that any of it is real.  Sure there are demons and spells, but they're alongside faeries and magic bunnies.   The clerics and PCs might call upon Odin or Crom, but that cynical detachment is always there. It's just a game. 

It's not the trappings of "the devil" that they can't forgive, it's the casual dismissal of their reality.  The reduction of the center point of their lives to a casual game filled with laughter and an occasional fart joke.

It's John Lennon saying that the fuss and bother which is central to their lives is better forgotten.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013



"15. I don’t want to hear about my destiny. My character is disposable and better not figure into your meta plot, otherwise I’ll know I live and challenges will be worthless..."

I picked this off of Barking Alien's commentary on someone else's seemingly endless "tips" for being a DM.  I admit that my eyes were glazed up after twenty or so, there is a reason that Dave Letterman stick to top ten lists.

Yet this one irked me.  Yes, that is right a deep-down irking.

 Lately I've been exploring about the blogospehere, something I don't really bother that much with when I have an active game.   I see a lot of the same advice given out, often as if nobody else has ever given it out.   Most of the time much better than I would ever give it out.  Pretty much a good old regurgitation of the same Dragon articles I and most likely you read back before TSR started moving product, rather than encouraging DIY.

Yet this just pisses me off.   As I've rambled about other times.   I like long narratives.  I don't think I've ever hit the end of a story line before abandoning the campaign.  I always have a sequel or continuation in mind.  Quite often it's a doomsday device or some apocalypse.  Some of which I file away for later use, such as that vampire scenario which I never seem to have quite got into play and am now scared to execute as someone is bound to accuse me of catering to pop culture. Others I reuse, such as the idea of a Tontine brotherhood, where the death of each member strengthens the others, which I think I lifted from Lloyd Alexander.  Nobody has ever gotten down to the guy who is as strong as five hundred men.

Quite often the character fails such big narratives spectacularly.  I once tried to run a scenario with Ragnarok, but they failed and then missed the whole entire schedule of events, largely due to a magical device I made which allowed them to travel a year into the future, which in typical fashion went wrong, as one guy kept using it an absurd number of times, forcing everyone else to catch up.  So they come back to Midgard and the place is a wreck.  Sometimes they succeed, in which case there is always some sort of Son of Ragnarok on the horizon etc...

Maybe I should blame Lloyd Alexander as his under-read series made an impact on me.
I read this sometime in that grey area after being introduced to Narnia at age seven and being blown away by Lord of the Rings at age twelve. Most likely I have that same school teacher which assigned all the Newbery books to us one year, the one who's name my memory misplaced, but to who I still owe a great debt.

This series, most likely modeled on T.H. White's Once and Future King along with the Welsh mythology (we are but dwarves, standing on the shoulders of giants...)  had a character who went from being a no-name pigboy to being High king.   Which is really what all the best heroic myths are about.  Without personal growth, you just get endless sequels.  Not to slam Conan, I just prefer a longer story line.  

So I like the prophecy of Great Things to come.

I think players like it as well.  Sure it's fun to play the hard bitten mercenary, a sword for hire, but it's even more fun when you're the hard bitten mercenary who swoops in last minute and destroys the death star and then gets laid.

It isn't as if the blind seer, tarot reader, or even deity is always right.   You never know if you have Cassandra or Mama Zoltan, who is just looking to scam you.   Maybe the old wizard is balmy when he says you're the chosen one.

For that matte maybe you fail and the whole campaign turns into a post-apocalypse setting. The world burns.  The Dark One is king.  All is ashes and the wailing of women in your ears.  

I don't have a problem with switching up mid-game and shifting from a universe of predestination, to one with free will, although I do draw a line at "it was all a dream."

Till the box is opened, the player is neither a king or a corpse.

(Happy birthday Erwin, one day late)


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Asperger's Players

I'm sleepless tonight. It comes from not drinking caffeine daily.  Today I indulged and am trying to not indulge in a glass of Mr McSleepytime Medicine for adults.  So I ramble instead.

Which brings me around to another borderline non-PC topic, to go with my questioning if RPG dice games are primarily a "white thing" and my refusal to stop calling some people retards.

 If you're honest and over a certain age, you'll admit you've played with more than one guy that would most likely be classified with at least a mild case of Asperger's Syndrome if he'd been born twenty or thirty years later.  He might be you.  For that matter he might be me.  

I recently read John Elder Robison's memoir on his discovery he had Asperger's, Look Me In the Eye, and I admit it made me a bit uncomfortable as he is an articulate highly functional person.  When you start to read his experiences, you can't help but reconsider parts of your own life, after all weren't you a weird kid?  If you haven't read it, pick up a copy. His brother is Augsten Burroughs, a novelist who you may or may not of heard about.

Currently, they're diagnosing something around one in ninety children with what they're now calling Autism spectrum disorder, meaning not just the readily apparent Autism, but a wide variety of disorders including the "highly functioning" such as Asperger's Syndrome, not that everyone who has it is the television show genius but it has shown some linkage to high order math skills, that in part it involves parts of the brain which are normally focused on social skills being "retasked" into specific obsessions.  I thought of one kid I knew as an 18 year old freshman who fit this mold instantly.  In 1984, he was just an incredibly bright kid with emotional problems, who was able to correct our physics professor, at a fairly good university.  I don't mean to demonize them, but some people also point to Ted Kacynski as fitting this profile.

So what's a class of people who have trouble understanding some social situations, often have high order math skills, are physically uncoordinated, are somewhat obsessive over hobbies or interests, are articulate, but seem to lack empathy?    I have to say Gamers.

I want to restress that number again. One in ninety.

Think of your high school freshman class.   Now admittedly, in the era before this syndrome was diagnosed, the truly nonfunctional kids never made it into high school, so the number isn't so much one in ninety, yet you get the idea.

Which makes it a bit like when as an adult, perhaps at your ten year anniversary, perhaps not, you fully recognized the statistics that 3% of the population is gay (or higher, there are a lot of definitions of what gay is)  and actually considered it in a non-childish manner.  Maybe it wasn't till someone you knew had the courage to come out and you realized that it wasn't just the theater kids or that one girl who liked baseball, that most of the childhood insults and claims were wrong.

  I'm going to take a moment to make something clear. I'm not implying being gay is a mental disorder in any way shape or form.  I am merely drawing a parallel to between not knowing who was gay or not gay in high school, thirty years ago, just as you had no idea who had Asperger's in high school, thirty years ago, as it wasn't being diagnosed.

Now take that one in ninety and considered that that one is four times as likely to be male as female.

It's something to think about.  I know it makes me reconsider some of the people we "got rid" of because they just seemed off or too strange.  The "pink monkeys" who we excluded from our sad little nerd clubs filled with broken toys.

It's late at night, time to voice regrets for not being a hero when you were young.





Saturday, August 10, 2013

Kyle Pendleton, Barbarian-Accountant.

I'm trying not to be a petty guy, so I'm not going to get into a snit fight with someone who seems to be trying to pick one with me.   I thought I was participating in a discussion, apparently he freaked out about my comments and took them as criticism, he said some stupid things, I pointed out his stupid things made my case and then he proceeded to say other stupid things,but at least he's since stopped attacking me by name, even if he still feels the need to still attack me.  If I was a little less petty most likely I'd figure out how to stop following his blog so I wouldn't notice this at all.  So instead, I'll take his advice and just write my own little piece here  In my own little blog.  Formerly, I'd have credited him for the inspiration, but hey I'm just trying to not be that guy anymore.  I'm not that guy yet.

It's topic worth discussing, I think.

The genesis is here.  I made an off-hand remark that nobody wants to be Kyle Pendleton, Barbarian-Accountant.   I was referencing the fact that when a party settles down into a home base, they don't spend their time hiring people and calculating rents. Which I largely think is true.  Mostly because there really is no way for a player to do this on a regular basis.  A GM can give a list of prices, but the most a player can do for things like castle construction is work off what the GM decrees.   He can do the petty book keeping, no different than keeping a treasure sheet.  You tell him he makes X a year and that his expenses for a Y sized garrison is Z.  He'll do that math and deduct the money on a regular basis, if he's honest, if not he fudges.

Yet they don't want to spend their time doing this.  They wants to go kill things or at least they want to spend some time role playing more exciting negotiations.   I've said it before, I'll say it again.   People might play Railroad Tycoon, but they don't play railroad tycoon accountant.

Now he might even go draw up a plan of what he wants to build, but you're still the guy who figures out the bills, as you're the only one who knows where the nearest stone is, the nearest labor pool, whether their is a handy mud to stone guy, etc...   Unless he can build that project single-handed using stone shape and rock to mud, he isn't goign to be able to calculate his own work.

I don't give EXP for cash.  I haven't for years.  Which means I've run a lot of campaigns which were high money campaigns.   I've also experimented with non-cash prizes.  I've given out henchmen, buildings, mills, inns, workshops, a mine, a smithy, and even a kingdom once.   Which means I've been down that road.   I know it's the GM doing most of the work.

Not a big Kingdom, I swear it was wafer thin.
 (yes the point of such campaigns is to get them off copper pinching)

A certain someone claims that players willing to do elaborate book keeping are common, that players love doing such book keeping,  and then proceeds to claim he's proved this by pointing to all the blogs on line and that they prove people will "put the work in." Well except he's wrong.

I admit it.  I'm new to the blog thing, but one thing I've noticed is that the majority of the blogs are from people who are GMs at least part of the time.  Why? Most likely because they're the ones who willing spend hours of alone time on the game.   They're the people who invented a zombie apocalypse game to kill time at work one summer.  They're the people working out rules for floating rock worlds just like Shattered Realms.  They're also the ones who just wasted three minutes and got a mild death threat because they felt the need to go look up the title Shattered Realms on a dark bedroom bookshelf, rather than have you think they stole the idea from that  death gate cycle.  I think I could extend this to an idea I got while reading an older blog ( Which I will plug here How to start a revolution)  that gave me the idea that the people who have held onto dice games over things like World of Warcraft are far more likely to be GMs than to have been just players.   They're the ones who enjoy doodling maps.  Who enjoy writing narrative. Sure there are still non-GMs who play, but we all know players who were perfectly content with retiring to their couch, where they can get their fix at any hour and not have to go out.   It's the people who enjoy creating who stuck with the dice games.   I'd say that even goes for the pure players, they're the few that work on who they see their people as being.

Now I admit  I like having at least one player who loves the details.  I couldn't operate without at least one. Back in the day, that was the guy who did all the mapping, who listened to things like "the ten foot wide hallway elbows left in fifty feet, there is a ten foot wide passage way on the left wall in thirty feet, and doors on the right wall in ten feet, twenty feet, and a pair of brass double doors at forty feet" and produced a decent map, before we started using glass to draw maps.  Even then he was still the guy who copied down the maps that were drawn.   Today he's the guy who keeps track of treasure and keeps everyone honest on their encumbrance. It's takes a huge burden off my shoulders when he keeps track of things like "5lbs of assorted brass trinkets" or "corroded mass of silver 13 lbs."  Most of the time it's a chore though.    They'll do it, but it takes a rare guy who enjoys doing it.

I love that guy.  I love anal retentive treasure keeping man. I rank that guy above the woman who used to keep "minutes" and started to email them to us in the middle of the week and I wish she was still around.   I need him, I liked her.  I won't try to rank the girl who used to do sketches of everyone while we played, she was special.  I miss art students.

Anyways.  those people are rare.  Most players don't get off on the that sort of work. Let's be honest, with some people you're just happy when they finally can handle your own character without help.   Then there is that kid who can't be trusted to play anything but a fighter.

Yet as much as I like that guy, he's less important than my ramrod. Admittedly, more than one ramrod can cause trouble till they learn to take turns, but you need to have one.  They used to label it the "caller," but it usually works better if it's not an official post.  He's the guy who makes decisions when everyone is yawning.  The guy who takes things in hand, when it's not exciting.  Who gets things done.

Ultimately, the ideal party would all do their homework ahead of time and arrive sharp and excited.  They'd all have printed out the spells they actually have, so they wouldn't need to flip about.  None of them would be fighting with their mate and be unable to stop fighting long while company was in the room.

In the ideal world,  I'd print out my own clones ala David Brin's Kiln people and then half of them would cheerfully do the prep work ahead time while the other half then played the game.

Then I'd ride my flying pig. Till then  I'm hoping someone writes down treasure and I'm emailing them updated dungeon maps every Tuesday.



PS.  For purposes of full disclosure Kyle Pendleton, Barbarian-Accountant, would come from a somewhat elaborate D&D parody a friend made when we were both twenty, which included Kyle's battle to sleep with Muffy Meatwhistle, possible-transvestite art student in the adobe condo of doom.  My friend John resented my wasting time playing D&D when there were things to do. If there was to be a Musical Melodies movie version made of my life, John would play the small devil who'd pop up on my shoulder and encourage me to drink everything in sight, enter the mosh pit,  and then to break things in the night for no other reason than to hear the glorious sound of shattering glass.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Is D&D a white game?

Recently, I participated in a discussion on noism's blog monster's & manuals which among other things digressed into "middle class" habits, and it occurred to me that some of what they were saying was echoing a conversation I once had with some black friends about acting white, including the disconnect or discomfort you can feel in such conversations, as you're the outsider commenting on the subject. It involved the term "middle class dinner party conversation."

Which clicked with recent discussions I've read about the broadening of a product's fantasy art to include multiracial models, this in particular dd-should-be-for-everyone-not-just-white-men. I know I've commented on it on someone's blog, I just don't remember where, mostly a discussion of why I tend to have just white guys in the mix and some references to Tolkien's and Howard's racism.

Let me pause for a moment and make the necessary modern aside in American race discussions, that what I'm discussing here is a discussion of black and white, rather than an inclusion of the wider spectrum of races, as in America black and white is always with us, while quite often other races disappear into the "white" or mainstream culture with no more blip than any other immigrant family.  The fact that my friend Vinh's immigrant Dad thought it was a waste of time, no different than my friend Vlad's immigrant Dad thinking the same thing.

Is playing D&D "acting white?"

I'll now waste time with personal history to allow people to say, "no it's just your generation, man, you're old."  Yes I always feel such statements need to be said in pseudo hippy patois.

I went to what is upon reflection an absurdly well balanced high school in the early eighties, in that it covered a variety of economic classes and that it included a black population which pretty much reflected the national average.   Our suburb was just far enough outside the inner ring to be oblivious to the aftermath of white flight and for busing to have no impact upon us.  Our school had few to no race problems, outside of every two years or so, some kid would try to turn his personal beef into a race war and he'd inevitably get deflated, when someone would say "Yeah but Keith's cool and you're a dick."  We were still as stratified as any other high school of the era, but it was generally on that paradigm of jock/burnout/nerds/brains/bandgeeks  that John Hughes made into universal archetypes. Even most of that overlapped as the Gen X population trough made it pretty difficult to set yourself out there as a distinct clique. We weren't really large enough to support distinct,viable subcultures.

At the time I had a black friend named Ron, who while not a best friend, ran in the same circles. We gamed together sometimes. Geeked out over computers.   Being teen age boys, most of our discussions involved technical details or insulting each other, it wasn't as if we discussed race.   I do remember him commenting on the fact that the only black man in the "manuals" was wearing a leopard skin once. I seem to remember him playing a character in '84 known as Wilt Chamberlin's badass brother, after seeing the newer Conan movie.  (we had a running joke from the old Rogue's Gallery of naming people this way, as an extension of a name, rather than an actual name.)

Anyways Ron was the one black guy who played D&D, also the one black guy who messed around with computers and the one black guy who played war games.  At the time, this didn't seem notable.  As I mentioned, it was roughly average for the school. We lost touch, as you do with most people you knew at that age. People reinvent themselves in college, move, or get married. I do remember asking a close friend of Ron's about him and getting the answer of "he went Spike Lee political in college."  Ron remains the one black table top Gamer I've known personally since then.  I'm not a big convention guy, but when I've interacted with larger groups, I just haven't seen that many.   In retrospect, they just weren't present, it isn't as if the average gaming group was politically aware of such things.    There isn't the "political" pressure in such things as there can be in a literature society to broaden the membership.

Time passes, I've had a lot of friends over the years.  The good ones stick because you go out of your way (and their way) to get together. Others drift in and out, quite often based on convenience, that is they're neighbors, coworkers or class mates you enjoy arguing with.    Still others are friends because of a familial connection.  You spend time with your brother, by extension you spend time with his friends, soon they're sort of your friends.  (Forgive me this rambling, as I somewhere I have a paper for some soft science class I took in my thirties where I attempted to disprove another student's assertion that Friends was a racist television show mathematically.  Yes it was quite silly, which is one reason I stopped taking such soft science courses.)  Lastly there is mutual pursuits, such as why I was friends with Ron.

Which is where I've been circling back to that discussion on "acting white," in this case white pursuits.

Now I'm not sports guy, and I'd say being a sports guy is the single greatest bonding force with the male half of the species. So great that it seems to be the favorite pickup line by middle-aged women on match,com, as well as part of those manuals they issue with new degrees to tech geeks on management and team building.   I'm not a sports guy, but even I'll fake it to spend time with relatives.  To me it all seems like a rather worky way to drink in the afternoon.   I'd say that sports is the single greatest force of integration in America, simply because between playing them and watching them it's part of the major bonding experience which makes friendships.   In fact, I've noticed one of the few "class" divides you can identify in America involves whether as a man you obsess more over college sports or professional sports, as the college sport obsession is often a product of how you spent your Saturdays drinking in your early twenties, as opposed to Sunday afternoons drinking.

Now that long ago discussion which among other topics, involved "acting white."  We started on the topic of music, which I'd say along with gaming is responsible for the majority of my "mutual pursuits" friendships in life. I have some broad musical tastes and during the 90s, I went to a lot of concerts and a lot festivals.  I'd regularly badger some new guy at work, who'd expressed a passing interest, till he was loaded in a car with perfect strangers for a weekend in the woods. I discovered the one black Allman Brothers fan I've ever heard of existing outside of the actual band .  Another friend of mine felt the need to push metal on everyone and discovered a couple of black, metal fans (as opposed to black metal fan.)  So we discussed a lot of mutually enjoyed music, finding common ground. I brought up something which I'd wondered about, that being the rarity of black music fans at concerts.  Something I'd noticed at everything from the overly liberal jam festivals, where quite often the only black people were on stage to the openly hostile metal concerts and the creepy conformity of an REM concert.  Out of the different 'paloozas, stocks, and tours I'd been to the only one which seemed to have had a large black contingent had been Lilith Fair and that claim has been disputed by my date that evening who claims "that would be because you spent all your time looking at the lesbians, hun."  I was basically pushing to load these guys into a car if possible. Metal, Jam, punk, or whatever.

And I got told that concerts were a "white thing" which is how we got on the subject of acting white eventually.   The consensus from these guys was basically just that they didn't do concerts at all.  They might go to a club, but almost exclusively to see what the described as black music.  The admitted that part of it, but not all of it, was just not feeling comfortable at an outdoor venue dominated in such a way by white people and related it to the same feeling they had stopping in a rural Ohio town, which are still almost universally white, where they just felt marked as the alien.  Then we got off onto a wide variety of other things which they called "acting white" things which I think might also overlap with some people's definition  of being middle class.  A lot are just different ways to spend to money or are based in those parenting articles which tell you how to raise geniuses.

Now I admit, that just as I used to try to rope people into music festivals I also try to push them into trying role playing games.   If they mention they used to play and I need players, I try to stir up enthusiasm.  I'll spend time explaining how of course they'd enjoy it given they like fantasy literature, comic books, video games, or vampires.   Yet I've never had any real success with most of my black friends, coworkers and acquaintances.

So I'm wondering, is it just not a black thing?  Or is it just that I pick low hanging fruit, in which case I can expand this to mean the entire realm of such nerdish pursuits.?


Edit:  Apparently I'm not the only person wondering about such things, as here is a similar article on NPR which explores a similar question   Some of My Best Friends Aren't Black Or Brown Or Asian .


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The coolest Book I have that isn't in Wikipedia.

I'm always surprised when I find a book that isn't on Wikipedia.

This without a doubt is the coolest one I have.  It's the one I pull out when trying to impress scifi-fantasy girls, my equivalent of etchings. I'm not saying it works often. (the crappier pictures are mine.)

It was published in 1979, if the cover boy looks familiar, that because the It's coauthored by the Brother's Hildebrandt, who also did the original Star Wars poster (the incest one.)  It's filled with a lot of great art work, you should recognize the style from their run of Tolkien calenders.  

Supposedly a lot of it comes from story boards they made for a movie that was never produced.
The plot was pretty much Tolkien, but unlike a lot of bad books, I've never been tempted to sell it off, because it's great to just page through, as it's filled with pencil sketches, etc...  I haven't read it in years and most likely won't, but it always has a spot on the shelf.
For the time this much artwork was amazing.  


Ever play with a rule variant so long you just forget it was a variant

Set adrift from a regular game, I recently started poking around other's blogs.  I had one of those senior moments where I stopped and recalled "Oh wait, that is right, other people give out exp for money."

I'd just forgotten that this was even a part of the game.  

Now we all discard some things, most of the rule books, whatever the editions are variants.   The second edition took it to an extreme.   Then there is the stuff you streamline depending on the players.  Like those armor class adjustments, which are great till you realize it's based upon people who wear armor and only works when everyone is on the ball.

Some are habits, like writing down your moves on erasable boards, a practiced instituted because I had a friend who'd vacillate between shouting out what everyone should do and then lurking to see what everyone else would do, so he could do the perfect thing.  He even started sitting on my right, when we tried "Let's just go clockwise." So we just started writing down what are moves were and instituting a party wide penalty of +1 for shouting things out.

Yet the exp thing, I'd forgotten about that.

Last time I gave Exp for gold, Reagan was president and not senile, cancerous polyp Reagan, but young Reagan, before the invasion of Grenada aged him.

It just didn't make much sense.  You found gold or a magic item and you get exp?  Huh?  So a high magic game results in quick advancement, while a low magic game, arguably tougher, meant you got less exp?  Nobles on a quest, high exp, but beggars fighting for coppers, low exp. So we did away with it and most people seemed happy.  Replaced it by doubling monster exp and adding in rewards for spells and goals accomplished.  It came out the same. It's not as if players ever cared that much as long as they got a number.  About the same time we started a personal responsibility kick, to punish the cowards who never did anything, hid during fights, and didn't show up some weeks.  Now that caused trouble.

It was great.  It meant you could have absurd wealth flow their hands like water.   You didn't have to fear placing a dick artifact in the game, just because while the artifact might be dickish, it still meant a level up to the one person who got it.  It meant I could stick a fountain in the game where healing potions flowed like water (and spoiled like milk.) It meant alien green houses filled with weed that let you fly as you smoked it.   It meant the party co-operated rather than fighting over high ticket items.

Over the years I also experimented with bonuses,  you got an award and a round of applause for a particular heroic feat or for some cool bit of characterization. Some were awarded by the other players, some by me.  Made them try to get that bonus points.

Last adventure, I think I took the final step, we had a good bunch of players and I listened to a persuasive argument.  I went off the grid entirely.  Stopped counting points.  Stopped spending time calculating who got what.  Just went with hippy-dippy awards of "I think you earned X."

It was liberating.  Oh sure I calculated a ballpark biomass, but I just cut out the nitpicking.  Eliminated what had always been a chore and just went with what worked in the story line.

I'd just forgotten that Exp involved gold pieces till today.

A complete blank that this is how other people do this.  That they fret about the solid silver idols and sticking in a Smaug sized treasure.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Stan Lee is a bitch-ass thief.

Let me vent a little.

I have niece who loves Iron Man, in part because I think it's one of the first "grown up" movie her parents let her watch. Yes, her parents are those people who didn't own a television at all for years and then regulated their children's viewing strictly.  I can't argue with it, as the girl was salutatorian this year and her only complaint is that she was wait-listed for MIT.  Yet it means I've heard a lot  about how great these movies are from someone who I love and who I try to not scar with witnessing drunken nerd arguments, which just make her realize how incredibly nerdy her uncle can be (she knows it anyways, she's from that Gen Y cool nerd generation, where they aren't nerds.)

I admit, I enjoyed Iron Man when I saw it, even got some pantswood when they played that snip of Suicidal Tendencies, happy that the sound track catered to middle-aged men.

Then they came out with two more of these "blockbusters" and all of them are heavily hyped. You can't miss the ads, you can't miss the PR planted interviews.   I have friend who keeps suggesting we see the latest as it's still at the multiplex.

So three time now, I've watched the rounds of interviews with Stan Lee, revered as a comic book God, who is now a movie mogul super genius.  That doesn't include the times Kevin Smith makes his tongue all pointy and crams it up....  I get it. OK, half the movie franchises out there came out of Stan Lee's brain-loins.

What pisses me off is his rehearsed story of how he came up with Iron Man.  Yes, I understand that all successful people rehearse such stories, as they do dozens of interviews.  I've just seen his a few times.

Yet here is my claim, one I haven't seen yet on the usual sites that compile lists of such things.  It's most likely out there, but I have to say it.

Stan Lee is a bitch-ass thief and needs to admit it.

Point one.

Tony Stark is just a smarmy version of Batman.   He's a billionaire inventor who uses his inventions to fight crime.   Yeah yeah, nerd hordes about to stick me for saying Batman, when I actually should be referencing some prior billionaire crime fighter, I get it.

Point Two

What makes Iron Man is his gear.    As point one makes clear, without that flying suit, Iron Man is basically just Batman, or Green Arrow, or whoever the Ur-text Millionaire playboy crime fighter is (the phantom?)

The gear is a direct rip off.

It's stolen, like a George Lucas Ewok.   In 1960, Robert A. Heinlein came out with one of his four Hugo Award winning novels, Starship Troopers.  Which just happens to be a novel of about future soldiers who spend their time killing aliens while dressed up in armored suits, which happen to do cool things like fly, shoot missiles, and have hand flamethrowers, etc...  Basically a book about warfare if the military had such things.
It also discusses militaristic philosophy and things like civic virtue, while the aliens are one dimensional evil targets for death.   The type of stuff that can get you labeled a right-wing cryptofascist till you get another Hugo Award for writing about a swinging. hippy love-cult from Mars.

Yet I digress.

So 1960 Heinlein wins a Hugo award.
1963 Stan Lee "invents" a man in a flying armored suit who is a billionaire crime fighting playboy.

2008 it's a giant movie franchise and Robert Heinlein  gets no respect from the teens, because when they decided to make his book into the movie Starship Troopers in 1997, they cut out the armored flying suits in favor of beautiful people in space and adding in some subplot where Doogie Howser has an even bigger super brain.   Blow your budget on CGI space ships (or maybe you're afraid of covering up the space teen throbs' faces) and you lose your opportunity to have everyone say "Didn't they make something like Ironman ten years ago?"

And Stan Lee won't even credit the man who;s idea he borrowed.  Sure we all steal ideas, but you should at least be willing to acknowledge where you got the idea, even if you then spend ten minutes detailing why his idea merely inspired you.

Which is why Stan Lee is a bitch-ass thief.


OK, OK, I'll now shut up about it.  Well till Orson Scott Card starts his press junket talking about where he got inspiration for Ender's Game, in which case I'll feel a need to start again by pointing out what that series owes to Starship Troopers.

Narrative as a method to ensure repeat business. A.K.A. the Long Narrative

Let me start by saying the self-contained adventure is fine. I have nothing but admiration for you guys who sculpt one of these to perfectly fit an evening and pull of the whole show with the perfect pacing, just in time to send everyone home for work the next day.  The guys who do a slick convention performance which winds up in time to go drinking.

I can do it, the quest to the valley with the carnivorous apes and the lost temple.  The one where you'll never return a second time.  That odd adventure where we spent an hour exploring that really large giant's pencil box in his cloud castle.

  Most of the time, I always have some messy threads hanging off the edge of the map.  That watery passage which leads to the theoretical hunting grounds of the Froghemoth (It's a Frog! It's Behemoth! It's frogHEMOTH!) when he's not waylaying the occasional goblin servant in that cavern the party is exploring, while stalking the high level wizard's secret underground lair.   Some of it is the preference I have for "sand box" games, where the players decide what they want to do, it's letting them write their own stories.   Other times it's just them innovating, taking the metaphorical garbage chute to escape from the prison level.  Still other times, it's because they've missed a lot of clues when they were bickering or because Mappin' Joe didn't show up this week and he was the guy who paid attention to the route.

Yet there are other threads which hang off the edge as well.  The party just looted a working temple and stole a cherry magic item.  Don't people get pissed at that? Doesn't that God have a few high level followers?  Don't they have access to those same spells which let the players track down the crap they've lost to thieves?  Those supernatural forces which seem to enjoy very long games of twenty questions? Aren't they coming to beard the party in it's lair?  

I try to keep a storyline, the assassins who show up in the night. That evil wizard who's vexed

I call this the long narrative, the story arc which makes something a campaign, rather than an adventure.  Some GMs don't bother with back story, some do.   I always do, because I feel you need to give players more than just a now.  They need to start thinking of their character's lives as an epic.  A tale that we're both writing.  Even when we neatly finished off the adventure at the end of the night.  I want them thinking about unresolved plot lines while their nose is to that grindstone. Yes, I said it. My goal is to make them deliberately less productive at work.  My goal is also to make them want to come back next week, even when it means paying a sitter.

We might be writing a tale of a Peasant Hero, an Elvish Lord exiled from court over a duel, a Dwarven rebel-priest who is an enemy of the King under the Mountain, the last bard of the White School, and Jimb.  Who all just happen to hang out together, break things, and run off with what they can get a way with, while the getting is good.

Now it's not every week.  Most of the time, it's just looking for crap that isn't nailed down. I admit the narratives I tend to write usually subconsciously favor those who put some effort into their characters, the ones who either email me how they see their characters or who I bend an elbow with while bullshitting about the current campaign. Get me excited about your character, I write your saga, rather than someone else's.

That Peasant Hero, he started off with a back story of the typical peasant lad who runs off after his father is killed for poaching.   He ended up eventually assassinating the Lord who'd killed his father, as well as the first two replacement lords who didn't have the right attitudes.  The assassination wasn't easy and only came about after a prolonged period of sewer exploration under the royal palace and a couple out of town quests, as well as a lot of more pressing business.   In my mind, he was destined to earn that manse at some distant point or at an even more distant point, I had an idea of some sort of communard apocalypse to remove the aristocracy.   That Elvish Lord was mostly played as a fop, the scenario of him returning to court and ascending the throne, never really followed up on.   That dwarven rebel built himself a heretical shrine to chaos under the city, and took up remodeling old dungeons using rock to mud and stone shape.  The last bard nagged the party into a number of quests for magical instruments, mostly because he was the player who bothered to sift through.  He even refounded the white school. Jimb?  Had a back story, I just forget what it is, because he stopped coming after week three.

I want a complex narrative.  I think most players do as well.  

Sure Conan is a fun character.  You can read most Conan stories in any order and it never matters.  Yet don't you want the complexity of George Martin?  The anticipation of next week, as much as the memory of last week?

 I still run into old friends, other veterans of youth and victims of middle age. We spend our time reminiscing about the days when a game was as simple as walking across the hall or peddling down the street.  When the only obstacles were convincing your Mom you'd get some sleep eventually, the need to finish your paper on time, or the lure of free beer.   "Back in the day" before we were strewn like leaves across the world and started spending our time on careers and kids.  We say all the usual things that start with "remember that time" and "whatever happened to"  but I have to say the best moments are when I get that compliment on the era, rather than just the night. For all the times a story talks about specifics, it's the fact that they remember the character's whole career so well that is the real moment of pride for this architect.  That it's not just the moment, but the whole narrative.  Not, that was the best night or best fight, but that was the best summer.  The romance of falling in love, rather than just the night they got laid.

Some people write novels you remember, I write campaigns.




Sunday, August 4, 2013

Why are we going down there again?

Just trying to assemble a list of motivations for adventuring, beyond experience points.  I'm just starting a list with my usual items.

1. The Philosopher's Stone a.k.a. Cash a.k.a. wealth.  A GM can assemble all sorts of reasons to need cash, but just because it is cash has to be the prime mover.    I guess I'd also include anything gathered with an intent of turning it into cash, such as harvesting strange ingredients for others.  I'd also include being hired to catch a man, assassinate someone, etc...

2. Personal Power. Drinking from a fountain of youth, the dragon's blood, etc...  A goal which will improve the character's power, rather than devices.

3. Excalibur, that is magic items for personal use.   Which covers potions or items you collect parts to make.

4. Altruism.  Only seems to work with the non-cynical.   Seems like everyone I play with wants to be Han Solo, nobody wants to be Luke Skywalker.  I think I've had more people cheerfully sell sentient beings into slavery, then ever unselfishly freed slaves.

5. Favors.  Another form of power, but basically doing favors for people who can do what they can not.  A high level spell, pull with the government, training, information, etc...

6. A home base.  When you start playing a lot of city encounters, when your villains come back for revenge sequels, this seems to be a popular thing to find, some sort of citadel, a secure lab or just a place to keep your henchmen.  
      6-2.  A combination of the two, establishing a home base which has a magical advantage, such as a magical garden filled with flyweed (smokable flying potion), a healing potion font, a shrine which cures diseases, etc...
       6-3. The combination of home bases with a portable magic item, the RV of home bases.  The tent with the palace inside, the flying castle, the ship, etc...

7. Fear  & Revenge.   Sometimes it's a variation of altruism, an attempt to save their world.  Other times it's to take someone out, before they come back again.  You'd be surprised at just how angry players get when people break into their house, wreck things, and run off with their shit for once.

8. Collections. One you get a mage on a lab kick, they can really get into collecting libraries.

9. Pets.  OK so I'm running out of variations here, but I once designed an adventure largely because the prettiest girl in the room liked Pegasi.

10. Home.   Enslavement, tossed naked through a portal as human sacrifice, accidental teleportation, shipwreck, stowing away by accident, shanghaied, kidnapped, etc...  Nest step get out of the soup and get back home.

What else am I missing?

World Building as a disease.

I was reading Noism's (Monster & Manuals) 8th deadly sin of world building  a commentary on This io8 article when I discovered replies have an upper limit.


About the only qualm I had when I looked over the article was "explain,"   as I feel the need to explain why your world is a coherent whole is quite often over-rated.  The stupidest point in every zombie movie is when the small town science teacher explains where the zombies came from.  We live in an age where multiple game changing discoveries are made every year, but the average consumer reads more about the health benefits of chocolate than they do about the domestication of corn.   Yes, I may have enjoyed the geekiness of the Silmarillion. If it had never been published, it would not matter at all in a debate of whether Rings is great.  It is Tolkien just showing you how he did the magic trick.   Reading Lord of the Rings, you're just impressed by his elvish, the appendixes just explain why you're impressed. Ernest Hemingway wrote that a good story is like an iceberg in that 90% is never seen.  It's not that you need to let them know why the world is the way it is, they just get that it is cool.

I admit it.  I'm a world builder and an obsessive about it to a point. Mostly because I think the human brain can pull patterns out of seemingly random information or even lacking a real pattern invent a pattern.  So a "logical" world is more satisfying to a player than an illogical one, because they recognize it at a nearly subconscious level. They're still apes processing a world of sensory patterns sorting for when they should fight or flee.

I'm always disturbed by the Ogre who is sitting in a room he didn't lock, who is there 24-7.  Which is why I, as the GM, put a key in his pocket and know he spends quite a bit of time roaming the city's sewers hunting rats, albino alligators, and the occasional street urchin.  Now I might bend the rules to have him in the room the first time the party comes by, but if they flee, he might very well be out next time. I never bother to explain any of this to the party, other than that key and his alligator loin cloth,I just have it to rub that bump in my brain.  I've trained my players to look for back exits, which often influences their tactical decisions. I'm not against a bull shit explanation where I use magic like they use science in original star trek, to explain everything away, but I try to save that for emergencies.

Or that Froghemoth (it's frog, it's a behemoth, it's frogHEMOTH!)who occupies that cavern and snatches the occasional errand running orc who works for that wizard who's lair the party is stalking, well he can't live on just what walks by, so somewhere there is a underwater passage which leads to a vague underwater passage section in my mind.  It's just a thread hanging off the map, until someone comes up with water-breathing potions.

The kingdom of the mushroom people include nurseries, which is why they keep making a comeback when the party doesn't finish them off and then leaves for six weeks. In contrast the Uruk-hai kingdom it abuts if left alone for six weeks after they kill it's leader and slaughter the cream of it's royalty collapses and becomes a hunting place for beasts.

My first attempt at city building put it in the middle of a wilderness for really no reason.  My second one put it on a cliff edge, with a ramp, the choke point for travel.   The latest one is a nexus of trade routes, geographical and political, as I felt I need to have a reason for all those buried ruins.  I even found myself sketching out things like water levels one day, easily one of the silliest things I've ever spent time on.  Well except it allowed me to wing an entire subplot, when a player who'd discovered the joy of rock to mud and mud to rock started running shafts to avoid problems. My city now has a sewers department.

I guess the point I'm making here is that world building is how you get themes. World building allows you to improvise that evening, because you've already thought about the big picture.

Some of that is just me. What I need to consider to get joy out of the game.   The pleasure that makes me spend time outside the playing sessions (the GM is the only one who does homework) Some of it might be the audiences I've played to over the years, which affects your style.  I've been lucky and I've been cursed to play with some very bright boys and girls.  That engineer who knew off hand the weight of a cubic inch of iron and proceeded to do the calculations for what the giant iron doors actually weighed when the party wanted to move them and the calculations as to what a solid silver idol might weigh (make it silver plate, because they'll figure a way to move it, the greedy bastards).  The history and anthropology grad students who expect a coherent back story and enjoyed sifting myths for leads.  The type of people who realize that GRR Martin isn't a linguistics professor and while they accept it, do recognize that he's absurdly well versed in medieval politics and customs and love him for it.

Now comes that part where I totally contradict everything I've said and argue against the points I just made.   That said, I've built a lot of worlds for which I'd just sketched out bare boned themes. It's a plains native world. It's an abandoned, creepy Babylon deity world. It's a robot world. It's a world who's architecture is vaguely reminiscent of Marvin the Martian cartoons.  Being an obsessive world builder I once felt the need to build a multiverse  of worlds, an effort which quickly got out of hand, as the point was to give them no stable footing, no stable theme.  It was open-ended enough (and experimental enough) that they'd often arrive on a world where all I had going was "only invocation spells work, but they're ten times as powerful."

I'll also admit that to run a medieval system requires you close your eyes to a lot of logic, when that medieval system includes magic.  Here's one prime example.   Every game has castles.  Yet these castles are invariably built by morons and I don't mean the morons that decide to stick a thirty story tower in the center. I mean the morons who never consider the technology they have, that is magic.  Medieval design is useless against mages. A mage can shoot a fireball through an arrow slit into a ten foot high guard room, where it proceeds to flame the entire garrison. Mages can fly, thus they're air power.  Mages can shoot a lighting bolt to bring down walls and stone walls are very expensive to build, which is why we stopped building them after gun powder.  Truthfully, a high magic world's fortifications should look more like modern ones, than medieval ones.  Yet other than dedicated sand table gamers, who'd enjoy that?   Yes there has to be a suspension of logic to run a high magic medieval world.

So having argued both sides of the argument, I feel the need to spend some time sketching in the idea that my city's grain silos are protected by a colony of brownie;s who raise riding ferrets.  I have no idea when or where that my come in handy, but it's such an absurd idea, I can't help but think it may come in handy some day.