13 January 2019

hook em

one of the things that stock-standard dnd is not very good at is giving guidelines for creating characters that are really a part of the world as it exists

now, I personally like to sort of create the world with my group of players, when we're first starting the campaign, which means it's usually pretty easy to get players interested in the people and places of the world when they had a hand in it.

but sometimes, somebody joins later into the game, or they need a replacement character for one that dies, or maybe they just don't like helping to build the world. it's all good, honestly. in those cases, you still need them to hook into the world somehow.

something I'm thinking of doing for player characters going forwards is asking them to write, like, two things that their character wants that they can't have, and why they can't have it. write it on the front of the character sheet, maybe taking up space where they were supposed to write their gear or whatever. someplace front and center.

20 September 2018

5e cultures

What if, instead of just selecting a race, you selected both a race and a culture?

For example, I've decided that I want to play a  Dwarf who survived half-feral amongst the trees. Her parents were caravan guards traveling across the plains when they were slain by a band of orcs when she was only a couple of years old. She hid from them, terrified to even breathe. Her entire life was uprooted. The only thing that remained, the only thing the orcs did not steal, was her father's ancestral axe. She got lost in the woods but, surprisingly, she managed to survive. She lived off morning dew and nuts and berries, which were plentiful in the deep forest she now found herself in. She grew strong, and healthy... and wild. In her wanderings, an old druid took her in. Though she had no particular aptitude for druidry, and though she regarded him as no authority, they had a cordial, familial relationship wherein the druid taught her knowledge, lore, and tricks, and she brought him the joy of companionship and, always, news of the comings and goings of travelers, flocks of birds, and the ever-present orc scouts.

Mechanically, we can say that she is a Dwarf, but letting her have Stonecunning and weapons training simply doesn't make sense. Rather, imagining her living a life much as a Forest Gnome makes more sense. Imagine her race / background block looking something like this:

06 September 2018

5e Weapon List

Ever taken a good look at the weapon list in 5e D&D? You should. It's a great example of negative design- that is, it's a great example of what you should not do.

Consider the handaxe versus the mace. The handaxe costs 5gp, does 1d6 damage, is light, and can be thrown. It's useful for two-weapon fighters, it does decent damage, and is a ranged weapon in a pinch. You can dual wield a battle-axe and a hand-axe, throw the hand-axe, and then two hand grip the battleaxe for extra damage afterwards. How cool is that?

The mace, on the other hand. It costs 5gp and does 1d6 damage. That's it. Can't throw it, by the rules, and it's of no use to a two-weapon fighter. Hmm.

Another, quicker example: Is there any reason a trident costs 5x as much as a spear despite having identical stats?

Even quicker: why does a scimitar cost 25gp when the literally identical (and on the next space down) shortsword cost the same?

Faster still: Why would anybody ever buy a flail?

I gotta fix this.

04 September 2018

Dragoncon 2018

My, how many things have changed.

It's hard to write a blog post almost a year after my last without feeling a little bit wistful. It struck me the other day- literally everything in my life is changing. My friend Alex that I mentioned in my last post- we're dating now, and living together. We're quite happy with this arrangement. And we have a couple of shared secrets, too. ;) More on that later. Right now, I'd like to talk about DragonCon, and labor day weekend.

This year, again, we went to DragonCon together. We had a wonderful time. Neither of us are big parties, so we never experienced the much-vaunted DragonCon nightlife. But we did enjoy the vendor's hall and the artists' gallery and went to a couple of panels.

My advice- if you find yourself at DragonCon and dislike crowds, show up in the morning to early afternoon. The revelers are still asleep. For a lot of people, that's the main draw of the event. Your mileage may vary. For us, it could be a bit much. She's very petite and so can get lost inside of crowds, and I'm on the tallish end of average so our crowd techniques don't always work together. Plus, the main draw of DragonCon (that it's full of nerds, dorks, and geeks) is also its main issue- nerds, dorks, and geeks tend to have poor self-awareness and will often stop in the middle of crowded sidewalks to gawk, ponder, or stare at their phones. Or they'll decide to swing their backpack on in the middle of a packed room, or they'll barge and elbow into people because they have a laser-focus on a space about five inches behind you. Stuff like that. Individually, it's not much, but over the course of five-six-seven hours, it grates. No wonder people drink so much at cons.

Anyways, we both picked up some Chessex dice and saw three panels:

21 October 2017

Fantastic Maps: How To Design A Town

Absolutely love this style of design, and love how concise the steps are. Always remember that pre-Industrial Revolution people are living on the land and along the land's contours. Moving earth is hard and slow and won't happen without a great need, and that means that people will mostly just deal with what's there.

Again, love it.


14 October 2017

Mundane Zen

So one of the habits I've picked up in the last couple of years is reading Zen literature. Specifically Zen literature, mind you- I'm not a religious man and I don't really intend on becoming one, so I don't particularly enjoy Buddhist literature.

The main difference between Buddhism and Zen, as far as I can see it, is that Buddhism is a religion and Zen is not. Buddhism very firmly tells you what you should and should not be doing, and what rituals you should perform to receive enlightenment. There are priests and temples and scriptures, and if you don't follow all of those things you're not really a Buddhist. There are all sorts of magical powers that Buddhists apparently can do- according to Namkhai Norbu, it is possible for a follower of Dzogchen Buddhism to shed their mortal form and turn directly into light. He even claims to have seen this! Daehang Kun Sunim claims to have been able to cure diseases with her mind.

I have a hard time taking these claims seriously, which means I have a hard time taking these people seriously. I am as uninterested in the claims of people who have claimed to gain super powers by wandering around in the wilderness as I am in the claims of people who claim to cure blindness by shouting the name of Jesus. I believe that a man can turn into light about as much as I believe that all of our earthly ills are caused by the ghosts of aliens.

I think I'm in good company. The Zen Master Wumen Huikai said:

Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu."
Carry it continuously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of "has" or "has not."
It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try.
All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream.
Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth.

That other stuff, that's religion. To quote the Zen Master Killer Mike:
If God really exists, I tell you like this: It resides inside.
And anybody tell you different,
Just selling you religion,
Tryin' to keep your ass in line.
Namkhai and Daehang are, by all accounts, wonderful and beautiful people. They have spent their lives trying to make the world a better place. But look- Mother Theresa spent her life trying to make the world a better place, too, and that doesn't mean I'm going to sign up to join the Catholic Church.

It also means that I'm going to be wary of her when she tries to shift the conversation towards religion. She sure has a lot to say about empathy, but what she believes is based on church teachings. What she believes is based on a religion I don't follow. It's the same with these Buddhists, and that means that I have to be very careful what it is that I'm listening to. Insightful passages about clarity are right next to the passages about how meditation can solve cancer. How am I supposed to know which part is bullshit?

It might be less exciting, but I'll take mundane Zen any day. At least those folks aren't trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Any Zen master worth his shit will tell you there are no super powers, there's no special messages, there's no supernatural insight. All of the stuff they're telling you is shit that you could have figure out on your own. Of course, you didn't, and that's part of the problem. Zen masters tend to look at you like you're an idiot, because they literally don't have a message for you but you seem to be following them around anyways. Why is that? Why do people keep copying down the words of these weirdos with no message, no external goal, no superpowers, no nothing?

Isn't it obvious? Mundane Zen.

08 October 2017

Video Games Are the Worst Take

David Shimomura's article The Game Take is the Worst Take is short and to the point. It is saying "quit shoehorning video games into other kinds of writing."

In this particular article, he was talking about being able to relate to people outside of video games. It's really honestly obnoxious to read half-baked pandering articles about how thing Y is important because video games. I can relate to the real world through normal people ideas, thanks.

This reminded me of a very sad, strange article I'd read earlier but never had the time to discuss. Entitled "A dog has turned my life into an rpg," we discover that the author, Christian Donlan, has discovered that you can't take your dog into stores, and that you can talk to people. Just like in your favorite RPG! Did you know that passersby (what you and I, fellow gamer, might call NPCs,) are fully fledged humans with their own unique life stories? That's right- just like in RPGs. Isn't that interesting? Did you know that you can do repetitive things in real life? You can grind IRL!

Christian: get out more. I know it's a cliche but if you find yourself experiencing life through the filter of video games, you know that's not healthy. Talking to people and walking about town with a dog shouldn't inspire you to write a video games related article where you talk about how real life is just like a JRPG.

At its core, the article is a Facebook post or two worth of information. "Today, I walked my dog and met an old man who told me his life story! Super interesting! Good luck (Man's name)." or "Bringing a dog with you is a good way to meet people who like to pet dogs."

Not every article needs to be video-game related. I promise you. Try writing an article that doesn't mention video games once in a while. Try experiencing some media that isn't video games, even! [1]

I don't really mean to single out Christian, because this exact thing is basically what "writing about video games" is. If it's not just marketing, that is.

I don't know, I'm genuinely not trying to be mean. This sort of thing makes me a little sad. Can you imagine a life where you have conversations so seldom, where you walk so little, that the first thing you think of when you step outside to walk your dog is to think about sitting at home looking at a computer screen?

Wow! This looks just like video games!

[1] Can you imagine a film critic writing about how talking to people is just like dialog scenes in movies? Can you imagine a book reviewer doing something like that?

hook em

one of the things that stock-standard dnd is not very good at is giving guidelines for creating characters that are really a part of th...