# Diary

Welcome!

This is both a ‘’’wiki’’’ (a website editable by all) and a ‘’’blog’’’ (an online diary about the stuff Alex Schroeder reads and does). If you’re a friend or relative, you might be interested in reading Life instead of this page. If you’ve come here from an RPG blog, you might want to head over to RPG. There are other similar categories to be found on the SiteMap.

Für Rollenspieler gibt es ebenfalls eine eigene RSP Kategorie.

# 2015-11-30 Introduction

On Google+, Brendan S asked for an article about sandbox play for someone with no sandbox experience. I thought of the intro page I wrote for my own campaigns, back in 2012. Sadly it doesn’t talk too much about sandbox play. It’s also the first page of my Halberds and Helmets house rules.

We play classic D&D with rules from the early eighties. This is not a Monty Haul campaign and not a stupid dungeon crawl. If at all, we explore a nightmarish mythical underworld.

The rules offer very little mechanics: there aren’t many classes to choose from, no feats, no skills, no prestige classes and hardly any special abilities. Furthermore, elves, dwarves and other demihumans are simply separate classes. There are no elven thieves of dwarven mages. On the other hand, missing rules also leave a lot of freedom for players. The characters are as diplomatic, friendly or intimidating as the players want them to be. There are no rules governing it.

We’ll add rules as time passes. Discovering and befriending intelligent humanoids, for example, will allow you to hire them and eventually to play them. Certain magic-users can teach player characters new spells, too.

We’re playing in a sandbox. There is no planned ending for the campaign. The actions of player characters determines the directions the campaign grows in.

You learn of rumors from travelers in taverns, merchants at markets, sailors at harbors, books in libraries or sages in their ivory towers. This information gained is not always accurate or complete. Use these rumors to add new locations to your map and determine your goals in-game.

Players determine where the campaign will head. If player characters investigate rumors and locations, I will develop the game world in that direction. The harder you look, the more there is to see.

Dangers are not adapted to the strength of the party. Generally speaking it’s safer near civilized settlements. The further you move into the wilderness, the more dangerous it is. That’s how players control the risks they want to take.

Preparation and experience should help you avoid situations where your character’s survival depends on a single die roll. If you’re rolling dice, it’s already too late. A saving throw is your last chance to survive due to luck and experience. Ideally you would never have to roll dice because you’re well informed and equipment. Perseus didn’t have to save against the medusa’s petrifying gaze because he was well prepared.

Retainers are another safeguard against character death: torch bearers, porters, men-at-arms and mercenaries all cost money, but they will also keep your character alive. Should player characters die, the next character is most probably going to be one of the retainers.

Experience points (XP) is gained by spending the gold you gained in adventures. If you manage to obtain the gold without combat, good for you. The best strategy is to pick your battles and stake the odds in your favor as far as possible. Remember, if you’re rolling dice, it’s already too late.

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I’m still thinking about the exact wording. Perhaps the following would work better? It looses a reprise of the “players determine the course of the campaign” theme but then again, Brendan also suggested less than three paragraphs and I still haven’t reduced it down to two.

“We’re playing in a sandbox. You learn of rumors from travelers in taverns, merchants at markets, sailors at harbors, books in libraries or sages in their ivory towers. This information is not always accurate or complete. Use these rumors to add new locations to your map and determine your goals in-game.

There is no planned ending for the campaign. The actions of player characters determines the direction the campaign will take. If player characters investigate rumors and locations, I will develop the game world in that direction. The harder you look, the more there is to see.

Dangers are not adapted to the strength of the party. Generally speaking it’s safer near civilized settlements. The further you move into the wilderness, the more dangerous it is. That’s how players control the risks they want to take.”

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-30 09:42 UTC

OK, one more try:

“We’re playing in a sandbox. Dangers are not adapted to the strength of the party. Generally speaking it’s safer near civilized settlements. The further you move into the wilderness, the more dangerous it is. That’s how players control the risks they want to take.

You learn of rumors from travelers in taverns, merchants at markets, sailors at harbors, books in libraries or sages in their ivory towers. This information is not always accurate or complete. Use these rumors to add new locations, goals and quests to your map. The actions of your characters determines the direction the campaign will take. There is no planned ending for the campaign. As long as you keep investigating rumors, exploring locations and following quests, I will keep developing the game world in that direction. The harder you look, the more there is to see.”

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-30 09:48 UTC

# 2015-11-28 Difficulty

In a discussion of Michael Prescott’s post on Google+ on a post by Brendan S on Google+ I wrote the following:

Sadly, I just have a suspicion: at first, DW seemed weird and different when it comes to those rolls, but then having the same odds no matter how good or experienced a character is does seem to be very similar to how D&D 3.5 worked for me over many campaigns. As our skills went up, so did the DCs. As our to-hit values went up, so did our ACs. In classic D&D, there are no skill checks but attribute checks remain the same no matter what. Not much different! And since characters not specializing in their skills had basically no chance to make their rolls, that feels a lot like a self assembled list of moves. (Leaving the back and forth of player moves and GM moves aside for now.)

In classic D&D, the situation is different in combat because the two sides don’t keep on climbing. ACs go down, but not forever (maybe if you use Gary Gygax’s Monster Manuals with their devils and demons). Effectively, there are situations we can simply ignore. Meeting 1–6 orcs is not an encounter after you reach a certain level. DW would simply say that the move says you announce future badness and a handful of orcs just ain’t that. All in all, I feel these DW aspects are not too different from D&D as it is played at my table.

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# 2015-11-22 Encryption Hard

So, I’m trying find the public key of somebody I need to email. But it won’t work. Here’s what I get when searching for a key from the command line:

alex@Megabombus:~\$ gpg --search-key alex@gnu.org
gpg: searching for "alex@gnu.org" from hkps server hkps.pool.sks-keyservers.net
gpgkeys: HTTP search error 60: SSL certificate problem: Invalid certificate chain
gpg: keyserver internal error
gpg: keyserver search failed: Keyserver error

Uh oh. SSL certificate chain invalid? Are they using stuff I disabled in my SSL setup? Is this a man in the middle attack?

No email tonight, I guess!

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# 2015-11-21 Fountain Pen

These days, I’m taking notes with a fountain pen. I asked for one for my birthday in April and got a LAMY studio imperialblue with an F nib. I used this pen to draw the faces for my Face Generator using T10 blue ink. And I’m still using it. When I looked at the notes I scanned, yesterday, I was reminded of all the note taking I’m doing on those notebooks with my fountain pen. There is an anachronistic pleasure in it.

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I thought about getting a good fountain pen for note-taking at work. Still haven’t decided. What’s the advantage over a rollerball or ballpoint? Does it justify the price difference?

– Stefan 2015-11-23 05:01 UTC

Naja, es gibt Leute, die behaupten, Kugelschreiber haben unsere Handschrift verändert. Aber bei der Frage, ob das wirklich einen signifikanten Einflüss hat, scheiden sich die Geister.

Deswegen: Füllfeder ist definitiv etwas für den Hipster in dir!

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-23 09:32 UTC

Ist denn eine Veränderung gleich eine Verschlechterung?

– Stefan 2015-11-23 15:52 UTC

Natürlich nicht. Wenn du eine Veränderung spannend findest und nur noch mit Kugelschreiber und harten Bleistiften schreibst, dann ist es spannend, zurück zu einer Füllfeder zu wechseln. Das scheint mir der einzige Vorteil zu sein. Abwechslung ist doch das Schönste im Leben.

Ich selber war auch neugierig. Beim Schreiben längerer Briefe hatte ich oft einen kleinen Krampf in der Hand. Fehlende Übung oder die vermaledeiten Kugelschreiber? Nicht dass ich viele, lange Briefe schreiben würde…

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-23 15:58 UTC

Ich schreibe deutlich schneller auf einer Tastatur als mit der Hand. Trotzdem muss ich oft Notizen in einen Block schreiben. Bisher habe ich das meisten mit dem Bleistift gemacht, möchte mir aber jetzt angewöhnen, erst zu denken, dann zu schreiben. Deswegen verwende ich in letzter Zeit immer öfter einen Kugelschreiber

Und jetzt bin ich auf den Geschmack gekommen und überlege mir, meinen Plastik Caran D’Ache Kugelschreiber durch etwas Hochwertigeres zu ersetzen (Wer hat das gesagt? Hipster, bist du das?)

– Anonymous 2015-11-23 20:56 UTC

Im Geschäftsleben ist es leider so, dass es an Sitzungen einerseits sozial nicht akzeptabel ist, auf den Bildschirm zu schauen und zu tippen, wenn jemand redet, und zudem sind wir uns gewohnt, an Texten während dem Tippen zu feilen. Kopieren, Einsetzen, Rumschieben, Fehlerkorrektur, man wird verleitet, langsamer zu sein. So habe ich mir angewöhnt, Notizen von anhand zu machen, und beim Übertragen die Dinge nochmals zu überarbeiten.

Privat ist es eher so, dass ich Freude am schön schreiben habe und mir wünschte, schöner schreiben zu können.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-23 21:11 UTC

# 2015-11-20 Chur

Uns hat Chur sehr gefallen. Der Brambrüesch war auch nicht schlecht. Claudia war halt mitten in der Chemotherapie und konnte keine längere Wanderung unternehmen.

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# 2015-11-19 Being a Man

Travis Scott said on Google+: “It’s International Men’s Day, which is a time I like to reflect on the positive things about masculinity, being a man, and having men in our lives. I’d like to hear all kinds of perspectives, with this additional challenge: say it with honesty and without snark. Dig deep and tell us what you appreciate about men and masculinity!﻿”

I said: My father, good male friends – the thing I like about male culture is that it is acceptable to enjoy physical activity with no talking. We can meet and play or hike or ride a bike or run, and we might talk, or not talk, or talk nonsense, but the shared activity in itself communicates well being, harmony, lack of conflict, sympathy, joy of life, appreciation, encouragement, inner peace. I love that.

As for masculinity these days, and where I am these days, I’m happy to notice that there are not a lot of expectations imposed on my masculinity that I notice. I can work part time, I can cook and clean the house, my wife can work full time, my wife can drive the car, we can have no kids, I don’t need to be smarter, I don’t need to make all the decisions, I don’t need to plan our holidays, I don’t need to have any mechanical skills, I don’t have to drive a car, I don’t need to play team sports involving a ball, I don’t need to laugh at awkward jokes. I am at peace with being a man.﻿

When a friend has left, Claudia might asks, “How is he?” I’ll answer, “He’s doing OK.” She’ll ask, “What did he say?” I’ll say, “Not much.” Incredulous, she’ll ask, “Didn’t you ask?” I’ll say, “No, of course not.” She’ll shake her head and laugh. But I’ll know that in that moment, when we did things, in that moment of doing, there was no need for words. There was no need to talk about our feelings because our feelings were inscribed into our grinning, our yelling, our waving of controllers, our jumping up and our little victory dances… It was a timeless moment of joy.

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Comments on 2015-11-19 Being a Man

genau sooooooo…. Es ist fürchterlich Warum sind männer nur auf wortlose kommunikation geeicht???

– mum 2015-11-20 18:18 UTC

Das ist doch wahre Harmonie, ohne Mediation über das Wort. Das ist Frieden und Empathie durch direkte Handlung, jenseits aller Kultur, ohne Verbalisierung, ohne Rationalisierung. Diese Kongruenz von Körper und Geist, diese Einheit von Welt und Selbst, das Erlebnis von Sein an sich, unreflektiert in Worten, wenn überhaupt, dann nur in der Bewegung, der Physik von Körper und Welt, das zu verstehen, zu schätzen, zu pflegen – das ist Erleuchtung. Wortlose Erleuchtung.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-20 21:29 UTC

This is beautiful! I like it when someone puts into words what I’ve felt many times but never said.

– Enzo 2015-11-23 09:09 UTC

# 2015-11-18 Dungeon World

So, I wrote a few posts about Dungeon World in the recent past and then I ran a game, last Monday!

How did it go? It went well. I had six players, a bit of a language split – three native English speakers and three native German speakers and two of them sometimes had trouble understanding some of the stuff on the character sheets. That was unfortunate. On of the players had been a backer and had both soft-cover and hard-cover books with him where as I just has some print-outs and the sheets by Maezar. I also offered my players to use the Freebooters of the Frontier sheets instead, but since nobody had a strong opinion about that and the backer didn’t know about Freebooters, I dropped it. I guess I still used some moves from Perilous Wild behind the screen and it was good.

What about prep? Prep was OK. I had a map, I had some ideas, I had some dangers and discoveries listed, two fronts, dooms, stuff was going to happen but for a 3h One Shot including character generation, I’d say I was slightly over-prepared in terms of map and settlements and slightly under-prepared when it came to dangers and discoveries. I should have had longer lists of cool stuff. I also started the game with the party in a swamp on the way to a barrow, the ranger posited that he had been following tracks, soon it was determined that there were smaller tracks following the larger tracks (announcing future badness) and soon we had a fight with six player characters vs. ten froglings. I think that fight could have been a shorter. Using ten enemies was a bit much.

What about feedback? The players said they liked it. At first, the lack of a turn structure might have been strange but I guess it worked. The two mostly German speaking players weren’t as active as they might have been, perhaps. But I know one of them from another campaign where he’s also not one to take center stage – and sadly, one prone to looking at his phone a lot, during the game. I didn’t feel too bad about him getting less spot light.

What about my own feelings regarding player agency? Tricky. Comparing it to my old school sandbox games, I’d say many things were similar or the procedures resulted in a similar experience for players.

• there was a regional map with lairs and sources of evil and going to particular places had consequences
• there was no dungeon map and as time was running out, I shortened it dramatically – moving to the final chamber in no time; but adjusting to time constraints is something I do all the time
• my traditional dungeon prep sometimes starts with a sort of point-crawl between interesting locations that are barely described; the rest is improvised – and it didn’t feel very different from my perspective; perhaps also because the dungeon was super small in the end: entrance, water filled corridor, central chamber

Some pictures to illustrate my points.

My Dungeon World prep:

Also note the terrible mix of German and English in my notes.

# 2015-11-16 Middle East

I haven’t written much about politics in years. I just read the newspaper and cringe. Sometimes I feel like I should “share” links – but with whom? Nobody on Facebook seems interested because it’s friends and family and coworkers and students from many years ago. Nobody on Google+ seems interested because most of the people I know there are there for the gaming with the exception of a small number of information sources, in other words, information just flows in one direction. Nobody on Twitter seems interested because I’m mostly following journalists and politicians and when I finally realized this, I figured there was no point in sharing anything because they don’t read what I’m sharing. Information just flows in one direction.

Luckily for me – unluckily for you, perhaps – this blog not only serves as a platform to share information, it also serves as my externalized memory. Which is why I’m trying to push myself to post interesting links here instead of on so-called “social” media – gated communities that will one day be replaced by something else, taking all the information down with them.

I really need to find links to sources outside of Google+ since the inevitable sunsetting of G+ will drag down all those links as well.

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Hi Alex,

I am interested in politics and welcome such posts, for one. By the way, I just read an article in The Guardian that you might find interesting, Mindless terrorists? The truth about Isis is much worse by Scott Atran.

Cheers

– Enzo 2015-11-16 11:33 UTC

An interesting read! I hadn’t heard of Management of Savagery. Definitely something to remember for the next war, when we’re ready to bomb a foreign country. Wikipedia mentions “the value of provoking military responses from superpowers in order to recruit and train guerilla fighters” and I’m thinking this is the strategy all revolutions have been following since the French revolution. Expose the hypocrisy of the ruling elite by provoking them into acts of violence and use this to radicalize and recruit.

Yikes! I just googled for these keywords (expose radicalize recruit revolution) and stumbled upon Selected Literature on (i) Radicalization and Recruitment, (ii) De-Radicalization and Dis-Engagement, and (iii) Counter-Radicalization and Countering Violent Extremism. Using the same keywords and adding a country quickly leads to articles explaining this phenomenon and the dynamic of revolutionary movements. In my case, I just read The making of the Russian Revolution.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-16 12:18 UTC

# 2015-11-15 Prep

My answer: I start with a theme or a particular need based on the campaign. Then I draw a map, perhaps a rough one, perhaps just a point crawl, based on some visuals I want in my game. I’ll often add doodles to bridge the time between interesting ideas. They don’t come so fast, sadly. The doodles also serve as visual reminders for later. At the same time, I start thinking about the monsters and make a big random list of them. Sometimes there are small lists per area or level instead of a single big one. Most of these monsters also have a lair where they’re guaranteed to be. Then I’ll roll for treasure and I usually accept what the table tells me. If the campaign setup requires a particular item to be here, then I’ll add it as well.

The order of these elements will sometimes vary. I might also start with the doodle of a monster, add stats, make a list, and then draw a map. Rolling up treasure always comes last, however.

Some recent examples:

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# 2015-11-12 Arguments

Identifying problems and avoiding them:

The single most important issue is a lack of charitable reading – that is, when we read things that irritate us, we jump to unwarranted conclusions. The simplest of these is that the author of what we just read is an idiot. And from there, everything else follows. We might leave a comment revealing our opinion of the idiot author, for example. This is not going to end well.

• Don’t write that comment you thought of
• Don’t post that comment you just wrote
• Don’t defend that comment you just posted

When reading an annoying posts, I try to read it again in a jovial voice. Perhaps the author is laughing or winking while they say the words they wrote?

Sometimes, Occam's razor comes to mind. We read some idiotic words online. Here are two hypotheses that we might posit: 1. the author is an idiot, or 2. the author is a joker. The first hypothesis usually leads to a large number of questions such as: “why aren’t all posts by this author idiotic?” Or, “why aren’t all the people that comment on this author’s posts idiots?” Or, “how can they have a partner?” Or, “how can they have a job?” Clearly, even if this post is idiotic, this person must be likable under different circumstances. A climate change denier can still be a good grandfather.

Some possible explanations I usually try to think of:

• This person has trouble explaining themselves and that’s OK
• This person hasn’t thought it through and that’s OK
• This person is so enthusiastic, they don’t see how they’re insulting everybody else and that’s OK
• This person likes to write like a robot and that’s OK
• This person is so set in their ways when it comes to this, there’s just no reaching them and that’s OK

I think the important part of “and that’s OK” is that it offers us a way out. This conversation doesn’t need to continue. We don’t need to engage. There is no last word to be had.

This doesn’t mean that I have to accept all the garbage people throw around, but it offers a counter move that is oblique.

somebody: exaggerates my point and takes it down
me: ?

Exaggerating a point to take it down is taking down a straw man. I don’t enjoy polemic debates. If nobody is ready to learn, then there should be no debate. There might be a point to having two people unwilling to learn debate a topic for an audience willing to learn – politicians are usually unwilling to learn in a debate. They still debate a topic because they’re convinced that their audience is willing to learn. If neither of the two people talking nor their audience is willing to learn, then the debate should stop. There’s no point.

My preferred reaction in these situations:

• Talk about my feelings: I don’t enjoy this kind of discussion
• Talk about rhetorics – check out the list of fallacies on Wikipedia

We’re changing the topic. We’re no longer talking about the topic I originally wanted to talk about.

Alternatively, the discussion ends, there.

Sadly, this may not be enough. If people persistently annoy you, you need to change your social circles. Unfriend them, uncircle them, block them. If you don’t, then you’re setting up an asshole filter – all the nice people will go away, unwilling to engage, and you’re left with the idiots. That is, the people that might be nice and friendly when you talk to them in person, but when when they leave comments on your posts, they are aggravating and you seem to be unable to change this pattern.

On Wikipedia: Principle of charity, Principle of humanity.

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Here is something similar I wrote on Google+, recently:

The phenomenon I see most often is uncharitable reading. People assuming the worst or simply ignoring that people reading words are humans, just like them. My personal reaction is to leave such conversations, uncircle such people, not because they are “haters” or something like that, because that would be falling into the same trap. Simply because they can’t articulate their positions, can’t express their emotional state, can’t generate the empathy they need, can’t make themselves made understood, appear unreachable to the powers of language I can muster. There’s no point in shouting, and so – thinking of myself as reasonable people – I guess we do shake our heads quietly and move on.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-18 06:41 UTC