Diary

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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.

2020-02-18 Ads are evil

I recommend reading Advertising is a cancer on society, by Jacek Złydach.

It is that bad. Lots of links you can follow up on if you want to.

Also recommended: The Website Obesity Crisis, by Maciej Ceglowski.

If you work in the industry, ask yourself: do you really want to?

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Comments on 2020-02-18 Ads are evil

I’ve noticed that basically every Wordpress site has ads now, possibly due to a change in some default setting?

Anne 2020-02-18 23:47 UTC


Like tax breaks, the ability to run ads is given to all of us. Like tax breaks, most of us don’t benefit... 😆

That’s what I think at least. Back when people started putting AdWords on their blogs, most made minuscule amounts, as far as I remember.

As for Wordpress specifically, if people didn’t all opt in, perhaps that is how Wordpress is financing the free tier?

Either way, I run uBlock Origin...

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-19 06:05 UTC


I just found the Wordpress Ad Inserter plugin:

Ad management plugin with many advanced advertising features to insert ad codes at optimal positions.

Supports all kinds of ads including Google AdSense, Google Ad Manager (DFP – DoubleClick for publishers), contextual Amazon Native Shopping Ads, Media.net and rotating banners.

This plugin is more than AdSense plugin or plugin for ads. It provides many advanced options to insert opt-in forms, header scripts, Javascript, CSS, HTML, PHP, analytics, tracking or advert code anywhere on the page.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-19 07:41 UTC

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2020-02-16 Firefox syncserver

OK, so I’m trying to run my own syncserver. It’s separate from the account server, so you still need a Firefox Account. If you do things in the wrong order your browser syncs immediately – to their own sync server, which is not what I wanted. 😭

Anyway, let’s start from the beginning.

First, check out the project, syncserver. It uses Python 2. Oh well!

The Sync Server software runs using python 2.7, and the build process requires make and virtualenv.

I looked at this blog post by Matthias Dietel.

apt install python-dev git-core python-virtualenv g++

Easy enough! Build the project:

cd ~/src
git clone https://github.com/mozilla-services/syncserver.git
cd syncserver
make build
make test

Edit the syncserver.ini file. I’ve made the following changes:

diff --git a/syncserver.ini b/syncserver.ini
index ccf1ae0..21d0586 100644
--- a/syncserver.ini
+++ b/syncserver.ini
@@ -1,6 +1,6 @@
 [server:main]
 use = egg:gunicorn
-host = 0.0.0.0
+host = localhost
 port = 5000
 workers = 1
 timeout = 30
@@ -11,7 +11,7 @@ use = egg:syncserver
 [syncserver]
 # This must be edited to point to the public URL of your server,
 # i.e. the URL as seen by Firefox.
-public_url = http://localhost:5000/
+public_url = https://alexschroeder.ch/sync
 
 # By default, syncserver will accept identity assertions issued by
 # any BrowserID issuer.  The line below restricts it to accept assertions
@@ -20,7 +20,7 @@ public_url = http://localhost:5000/
 identity_provider = https://accounts.firefox.com/
 
 # This defines the database in which to store all server data.
-#sqluri = sqlite:////tmp/syncserver.db
+sqluri = sqlite:////home/alex/syncserver.db
 #sqluri = pymysql://sample_user:sample_password@127.0.0.1/syncstorage
 
 # This is a secret key used for signing authentication tokens.
@@ -34,7 +34,7 @@ identity_provider = https://accounts.firefox.com/
 
 # Set this to "false" to disable new-user signups on the server.
 # Only requests by existing accounts will be honoured.
-# allow_new_users = false
+allow_new_users = new
 
 # Set this to "true" to work around a mismatch between public_url and
 # the application URL as seen by python, which can happen in certain reverse-
@@ -55,4 +55,4 @@ force_wsgi_environ = false
 # MySQL based syncstorage-rs 1.5 server hosted at http://localhost:8000/1.5
 
 # "{node}/1.5/{uid}"
-# sync-1.5 = "http://localhost:8000/1.5/{uid}"
+sync-1.5 = "https://alexschroeder.ch/sync/token/{node}/sync/1.5/{uid}"

That is to say:

  1. the server only listens on localhost:5000
  2. the server can be reached at https://alexschroeder.ch/sync
  3. it uses a SQLite db at /home/alex/syncserver.db
  4. it allows new users to sync their stuff
  5. and I had to change that endpoint at the end... 🤷

So now I need to set up my website. I use Apache and I already have proxy stuff set up. All I had to add was this:

ProxyPass /sync	    http://localhost:5000/

Thus, any request starting with /sync to my existing website gets sent to port 5000 on localhost which happens to be the URL where the sync server is running.

Next, open about:config in the browser and change identity.sync.tokenserver.uri to https://alexschroeder.ch/sync/token/1.0/sync/1.5 – then I’m ready to open the browser preferences and sign in.

If everything worked, you should see your display name in the top spot of the hamburger menu. 🍔 😁

If you see a warning sign after a second or two, stuff isn’t working.

It all sounds so easy now, but it took me a while to get everything working, believe me. 😭

Now I’m seeing the following errors in the log output of make serve:

ERROR:syncserver:The public_url setting doesn't match the application url.
This will almost certainly cause authentication failures!
    public_url setting is: https://alexschroeder.ch/sync
    application url is:    http://localhost:5000/sync
You can disable this check by setting the force_wsgi_environ
option in your config file, but do so at your own risk.

I have no idea what it means. I’m thinking it works anyway? I’m making an additional change to syncserver.ini just to be sure.

force_wsgi_environ = true

The instructions tell me that we only need this in certain reverse-proxy setups but this is a reverse-proxy setup so I think I should be fine?

Now I wonder how to leave the sync server running... Perhaps it’s OK to just do this every now and then?

Now that I have it running I wonder about the utility of it all:

  1. there’s no need for me to mix my private Firefox and my work Firefox bookmarks and logins
  2. I currently cannot make Firefox on my iPad and my iPhone use a different sync address

Oh Apple, the golden prison, where I’m safe, but also where I’m locked in. Sigh. 😔

But wait… This issue is closed: Add ability to set custom identity.sync.tokenserver.uri for self-hosted Sync #5006?

One of the last comments on that issue, by user fireglow:

Just to chime in a little: Python 2.7, the flavor of Python the sync software is written in, will go End-of-Life at the end of this month, year, and decade. Mozilla already has indicated that there will be no rewrite for Python 3. I gather there’s a rewrite of these services in Rust in the works, at https://github.com/mozilla-services/syncstorage-rs It’s as of now unclear to me how all these parts will fit together in a way so us self-hosters will be able migrate over.

Oh wow.

I think I’m going to stop all of this. It’s making my head hurt. I checked the Rust rewrite project. Apparently you need to use either MySQL or Spanner as your DB. And with that, I’ve decided that not running this service and not syncing my stuff is probably for the best.

I undid all the changes, stopped the server, uninstalled the software, and deleted the Firefox account again.

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Comments on 2020-02-16 Firefox syncserver

Hi Alex,

You can set a custom sync server amd token server in Firefox ios.

To access it:

  • Enter the settings menu
  • Hit the version number 5 times, this opens debug mode
  • Under the sync option, there is a new menu item, Advanced Sync
  • The two settings are now available

Note that I haven’t done this, as I don’t (yet) have a sync server.

dgold 2020-02-16 19:25 UTC


I get the feeling that this doesn’t work on the iPad... I get a bunch of extra options but no place where I can set the sync server URL.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-16 19:28 UTC


I don’t know what to say to you. I set up my server in the way you described (except I didn’t set the last two options in the file)

I accessed the Advanced Settings in FFox on iPadOS. All works perfectly.

dgold 2020-02-16 20:24 UTC


How weird. I just updated Firefox on the iPad and it does look different, but I still don’t know where to start. Do you feel like pasting a screenshot, or can you explain it like I’m super confused? Because I feel like I am!

  1. open Firefox on the iPad
  2. click hamburger menu
  3. scroll down until you see “Version 22.0 (17157)
  4. tap this section five time until the list of options changes
  5. now what?

At the top, I see three items:

  1. my email address and a note saying I need to enter my password (but since I deleted my account, clicking on this item just takes me to accounts.firefox.com where I could probably recreated my account and start sync immediately but with their servers)
  2. error diagnosis: ask for an upgrade (translating from German)
  3. error diagnosis: forgot sync-status (translating from German)

No other item in these settings seem related to sync. What am I not seeing?

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-16 22:08 UTC


After you tap the section until the lost of options changes, there should be a new menu item at the top of the Preferences under “Firefox Account” called “Advanced Sync Settings”.

In that modal dialog you can set the address of your sync server, in the form https://example.com/sync/token/1.0/sync/1.5

I didn’t create a FFox account until after I’d created my sync server.

dgold 2020-02-17 11:00 UTC


Oh wow, I just tried it on the iPhone and it worked. Tapped on the Version five times, it automatically scrolls to the top showing me the things I listed previously, but now I scroll back to the bottom and do it again and now I see new items at the top:

  1. Sign in to Sync
  2. Advanced Sync Settings
  3. Debug: use stage servers

Hah, thanks for pointing me at it again. I might give this another try.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-17 11:40 UTC


Well, I think it’s working:

Firefox on iOS Advanced Sync Settings Firefox on iOS Advanced Settings

On the iPad, the situation was different. I had to do the following:

  1. log into sync even though I couldn’t change the sync server and Firefox synced with the default sync server
  2. log out of sync
  3. activate the advanced settings again
  4. now you can change the sync server
  5. log into sync again

🙄

I’m looking at Run your own Sync-1.5 Server right now and I’m wondering about the WSGI setup. Are you using it?

I guess I don’t need to use it as my setup is basically Apache + Gunicorn. 😀

Except have to turn on force_wsgi_environ. As far as I can see in the Apache documentation on Reverse Proxy Request Headers but then again, the nginx setup instructions mention X-Forwarded-Proto and X-Real-IP, both of which the Apache docs don’t mention. Gaaaaah! 😭

Setup for Monit:

check process syncserver matching syncserver
    start program = "/bin/bash -c '(cd /home/alex/src/syncserver && exec /usr/bin/make serve 2&>1 syncserver.log)' &"
    stop program = "/usr/bin/killall gunicorn"
    if failed
	host alexschroeder.ch
	port 443
	type tcpssl
	protocol http
	request "/sync"
	for 5 cycles
	then restart
    if totalmem > 100 MB for 5 cycles then restart
    if 3 restarts within 15 cycles then stop

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-17 21:19 UTC

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2020-02-15 Fruit Walls

The Low Tech Magazine surprises me every time I stumble upon one of its pages. Today: Fruit Walls: Urban Farming in the 1600s. The image of a maze of courtyards, each a protected little space built to raise peaches along the walls and “apples, pears, raspberries, vegetables and flowers” in the central (colder) part... And the German army avoiding the area probably because it must have seemed such an impenetrable area, full of ambush possibilities and practically no line of sight. All of this I find fascinating.

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2020-02-14 Unprofessional

Eldrad Wolfsbane recently wrote Reevaluating My RPG Gamer (NON) Life. It’s an angry and melancholy story about work sucking the hours out of your life, at least that’s how I read it. Also, termites. But also soul and sweat poured into a thing that nobody uses. It breaks my heart.

The rest of this blog post is not about Eldrad Wolfbane’s decision to go back to his gaming roots: “All on paper, scratchy drawings and maps on graph paper. All hand written dice rolled stuff. I am just going to create stuff for my own personal games.” The rest of this blog post is about capitalism and how not to be professional, i.e. how not to “prosecute anything for a livelihood”, as Webster had it in 1913.

I’m only doing the stuff I want for my own games. The amount of effort I put into the Caverns of Slime for Fight On! #15 which never got published showed me that every step of the process has to be enjoyable. If it is not, if it is premised on some later reward and recognition, what happens when the reward does not manifest? Time is wasted and life passes and then we grow and then we die, that’s what.

It’s why I decided to only do the things I like doing. I don’t believe in “when you build it they will come” because in today’s society we have a “winner takes all” setup: we can produce PDFs in infinite numbers, we can send physical books all over the world, we can reach a global readership, we have ways to fund projects... everything is possible! It’s exciting! It’s liberating! But it’s also possible for everybody else. That includes the people who know how to play the Marketing Organ, that know how to blow the Trumpet of Hype, that have the experience. And when somebody wins, they win globally. Everybody knows them and second place is first loser.

Ah, now we’re back where we began: how much are you willing to sacrifice in this time and age of capitalism when you don’t have the capital? How much work will you do upfront, exploiting yourself, working in the great lottery of life hoping for a big break? It’s dreams and fantasies, and we are as prone to them as everybody else. And the big machine will eat us up and spit us out, thoroughly chewed and maybe even spit upon. Just look at show business, at the music industry, anything where capital and fame is important. The winner takes it all. How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to be a winner? You life? Your relationship? Your family? Your hobbies? How about: None of the above! 😁

A year ago, I read this great blog post by Molly Conway, The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies Into Hustles. I recommend you read it. It starts with the author meeting a friend who made herself a wonderful dress and is dejected when asked about an Etsy shop. The tension dissolves when the author says the magic words: “You don’t have to monetize your joy.”

I feel this pressure to publish in the RPG design sphere, and I don’t think it’s healthy or good. Some people enjoy making these products. And some people like buying products. And capitalism is made for this: capital allows people to make products that satisfy demand. As the capital flows, it creates incentives of its own. I’m not Karl Marx but even I understand that the people involved in this trade have an urge to communicate their joy, and the incentives are in their favour. For some, it’s marketing. For some, it’s unboxing videos. For others, it’s reviews. But for all of us, it’s capitalism at its best: creating demand, and satisfying demand by producing things.

But here’s the rub: if you’re strapped for capital, then it doesn’t work that way. That’s why when we work for money, we often feel bad about it, disenfranchised. Because if we were doing it for fun, then somebody else would be doing it for free. That’s why fun isn’t something you’re getting money for. It’s work. Of course, some people try to tell us that work should be fun, and that we should enjoy it, and love it, and pour our soul into it. But remember: all they’re saying is that they’d like us to do the work for free. That’s not how it works, but if enough of us believe it, then wages go down. Work is not about having fun, and having fun should not turn into work.

I’m not poor, so I don’t know anything about the realities of hustling. But it seems to me that if you’re poor, you need to work and make money. But for the love all the things you love, don’t turn the thing you love into a hustle. Flip burgers or something. Keep work and play separate. Don’t turn your game into a poorly paid job.

Instead, consider how the act of playing our beloved games is fundamentally anti-capitalistic: you don’t need to buy much of anything to play. Pen, paper, dice, maybe a book or two. And then: no money required for years and years. You can’t grow a global reach by playing at a table. I guess you can grow a global audience with YouTube and Twitch and all that, and maybe monetise it, but mostly the providers of these services are going to monetise you. The actual game needs no money. You talk and laugh, and scribble and dabble, howl and haggle, and a good time is had. There is no “growth.” There is no “increased productivity.” It’s about the basic joys of being alive: talking to people, imagining things and telling others about it.

Focus on the things that you love doing.

If you want to put that thing you loved making out for other people to see, write a blog post, create a PDF using the means of production you have at your disposal, and do it, for the joy of it. Don’t expect a reward or later recognition. That’s not how it works for the great majority of us. Make it free and keep capitalism out of your hobbies.

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Comments on 2020-02-14 Unprofessional

Good to know that flipping burgers is better way to support yourself, and totally doesn’t suck the life and energy out folx, and totally doesn’t negatively impact creativity.

– Anonymous 2020-02-14 19:52 UTC


Let’s talk when the RPGs bring in as much money as flipping burgers. Flipping burgers is a job. Making RPGs for a living is winning the lottery. Telling people to pursue their dreams and work in RPGs is simply bad advice. Yes, flipping burgers is shite for life and energy and creativity. But so are most other jobs.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-14 20:46 UTC


Like how dare folx monetize their hobby

– Anonymous 2020-02-14 21:14 UTC


I guess I don’t understand the argument you are trying to make and it seems pretty clear that you don’t understand the point I’m trying to make. Move along, please. I don’t think this conversation is going anywhere. Feel free to write a longer reply elsewhere.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-14 21:46 UTC


(Un)Professional, on the Axes and Orcs blog argues that they know “more than a few folx who do [make a living]” (presumably from RPG product making).

Of course I would claim this is survivorship bias: they are not counting all the people who failed. It is only by comparing the two that we arrive at numbers that would help us decide who’s advice to heed. As I don’t know the numbers either, we are at an impasse. All we can do is list are anecdotes and critically examine the system.

Anecdotally, I have seen a small number of people selling a few books. Do they have day jobs? I think so; I haven’t ever heard of anybody getting rich from RPGs. So even at the top, the air is thin. That is to say, on the winning side, the rewards don’t seem to be great.

At the same time, the number of people I see begging on social media is heart breaking. I think we must all work for change but we must also survive. Looking at the amount of bad news from the US health care failure is crushing. Such an inhumane system is one of the main reasons to not drop your day job. Leaving the system is a mortal danger. That is to say, the price of failure is horrendous.

Based on that, I’d say that unless you’re living in a social system with safety nets for diseases and accidents, producing RPG products is almost always going to be a side job. I don’t know whether people like Sine Nomine Publishing’s Kevin Crawford have a day job. I assume they do? John M. Stater of Land of Nod does. In any case, I don’t see many people in their league.

So now we’re talking about “just do it as some extra cash”. Here, too, I see a lot of hardship – perhaps it is not as existential, But what I remember of people talking about how their games are doing financially is mostly that it is coffee money, or enough for them to support other creators, or simply some form of validation. To which I say: sure, if that’s the reward you are looking for, then this is fine. More power to you. It does look like a completely different hobby than running and playing the games, though.

Perhaps I’m simply confused (or we all are?) because we think the product authors share the same hobby when in fact on the one side there are the people running and playing the games, which involves a bit of writing, and on the other side we have authors of ergodic literature, as recently discussed by Robbie on Teaching Role-Playing Games, Part 1: The Justification:

The basic argument is that there is a type of literature—not a genre per se, but a kind of modality—that requires efforts which go beyond the direct understanding or reading of a text. This is what he means by ergodic literature.

Such as RPG products. We’re talking about how to become a successful author for a (no longer?) niche market. I think that culturally we know about how to become authors and thus we are better able to understand how it will work because we have seen enough movies and read enough books where authors make an appearance:

  • there is not a lot of money in it at first
  • there will be many rejections
  • many will quit before making a break through
  • the break through will be a matter of luck
  • the connections, the people you know are important
  • many authors rely on the financial support of others

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-15 07:14 UTC


AHAH! People do read my blog! Just a few musing to stir up some conversations. Explain “prosecute anything for a livelihood” as my meager Louisiana education (Ranked 62 in the Nation!) allows this term to elude me and frankly anyone else who has tried to discern the meaning of such.

EldradWolfsbane 2020-02-16 04:13 UTC


Webster 1913 app screenshot showing the entry for ‘professionally’ 😀 – as a non-native English speaker I often look up words in a thesaurus. Specifically, the Webster 1913 edition which is in the public domain. It’s my favourite!

I sort of knew that “professional” meant doing something “for a living” but I didn’t know what the exact definition was. And when I looked it up on Webster, I thought “prosecute anything for a livelihood” was funny as I associate “to prosecute something” with lawyers and so I decided to quote it. 🤷🏻

Also learning English as a 15 year old with AD&D 1st ed and Gary Gygax’ prose surely didn’t help, haha!

As for blogs I read: these days I stopped subscribing to blogs and just skim the RPG Planet. And since your blog is listed, I read it. 😀

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-16 11:29 UTC


FWIW, Kevin of Sine Nomine Games does write RPGs full-time, but he’s definitely an exception rather than the rule. He does believe others could follow his suit, though, and he’s pretty open about his methods (e.g. free flagship game that lures in customers, offering cross-system tools to increase potential audience, pricing, and generally being a one-man show, except for art in his case).

Ynas Midgard 2020-02-16 20:39 UTC


Point taken. Kevin Crawford, and I’m guessing all the small scale businesses like Paizo or Monte Cook Games are a handful of people that manage to live off of RPG products. Maybe Wolfgang Baur and Kobold Press as well?

I’ll easily concede that it is possible to so. I’m not sure how much of concession that is, however. It still looks like a lottery to me.

I’m not sure what to make of it. I know, of course, that many people will try to win the lottery in life, be it writing their books at night, painting in their studios, following their dreams... But if these people were my kids, I’d hope that they also don’t have to beg for alms, for donations, for dollars on Patreon. I’d hope that they got a steady day job and pursued their dream while being safe. Perhaps it’s middle age that’s making me say this. I also want to say this to the people that have a hobby they enjoy: playing games with their friends. Begging for alms, tip jars, dollars on Patreon, telling me that the dollars they get allow them to justify the hours they spend... I don’t know. If they were my kids, I hope they’re all happy. I hope that they’re not setting themselves up for disappointment. If 9999 of them are unhappy and one of them wins the RPG lottery, that still is a lot of misery. How many RPG players are there? 10 million? How many people make a living writing RPG products? Let’s be generous: 100? That still leaves 100,000 of them. One in a hundred thousand. Now, you can counter that by saying who cares about the players of games, we need to compare them with the number of people trying to make a living making RPG products. Surely there are far fewer of them. I’ll concede that as well. If only one in 10,000 gamers wants to make a living making RPG products, then perhaps I’m wrong to be so negative: 1 in 10 would succeed. Nine unhappy stories of slow failure and grinding and nothing to show for it, and one of them makes it.

I don’t know. I’d still feel bad about it as a parent. Sure, follow your dream! But… be careful out there: Consider the nine who tried in vain, for years, they gave their all and still they failed. And consider the 9,999 gamers who decided no to make a living making RPG products. Perhaps they made better life choices.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-16 22:35 UTC


(Somebody also posted it on Reddit.)

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-16 22:43 UTC


If you want to be an author, you’re playing a different game. Good luck1

I just saw this on Mastodon, by @mwlucas:

I write books to pay the bills. No consulting, no leeching off family members, no teaching: only writing books.

How do I pull it off?

  1. Understand cashflow
  2. By treating it as a business

More on publishing, writing, etc at my FAQ.

The big secret: MAKE MOAR WORDS!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-18 22:29 UTC


I liked this post by Noah S.: Chasing the Dragon.

I am growing disgruntled with the endless onslaught of prompts to buy things. I won’t go too much into it here, but it started with a couple of years ago as all these creative and talented people I love started and brought pet projects to fruition (which is great) and made them for sale (which is fine) but then turned to making things for sale (my perception) and became less focused on just sharing cool ideas (my possibly erroneous conclusion).

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-21 23:47 UTC

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2020-02-13 The Past

I just had a good discussion with @dredmorbius who started with a quote from a Wired story on Facebook and Privacy or the lack thereof:

...The notebooks have now mostly disappeared, destroyed by Zuckerberg himself. He says he did it for privacy reasons. This is in keeping with sentiments he expressed to me about the pain of having many of his early IMs and emails exposed in the aftermath of legal proceedings. “Would you want every joke that you made to someone being printed and taken out of context later?”...

Inside Mark Zuckerberg's Lost Notebook

Data is a liability, even our own‽ Soon we’re running out of plots for dystopias to write. Didn’t Charles Stross complain about something like that? The impossibility to finish near future science fiction in time?

My recipe for fiction set ten years in the future used to be 90% already-here, 9% not-here-yet but predictable, and 1% who-ordered-that. But unfortunately the ratios have changed. I think we’re now down to maybe 80% already-here—climate change takes a huge toll on infrastructure—then 15% not-here-yet but predictable, and a whopping 5% of utterly unpredictable deep craziness.

Dude, you broke the future!

@dredmorbius started wondering: “What happens to individual and social capacity to keep up?”

I don’t know. People have been talking about this for decades but the young ones don’t seem to be having mental breakdowns. It’s the older generations that can no longer cope. We tune out, don’t get on Tik Tok, or micro blogging, depending on where we draw the line. I’m more worried about people being unable to imagine the past. How did we live without mobile phones? Without phones‽ Without cars…

@dredmorbius linked me to The Past is a Foreign Country, from The White Review. That was a good article. The thought of a police vs. striking miners reenactment sends shivers down my spine. And that bully psycho drama... argh!

But the past being a foreign country is exactly my point. Previously, the foreign country past was the Second World War. My grandpa was weird, he had fought in it! He was a prisoner of war of the Americans. But now I find that my teenage years are weird. I had no mobile phone. The foreign past is creeping up on us. A bit like the Nothingness in the Neverending Story. We end up unable to relate to our own past selves.

We are become strangers from a strange land, says @dredmorbius. Indeed.

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2020-02-07 Transparency at the table

Yesterday, @hardcorenarrativist posted a link to Good Faith and RPGs by @paulbeakley.

I find these ideas have shown up in my games as well ever since I moved away from D&D 3.5 and the play style I upheld back then. When I decided to no longer play „rules as written“ and read about making rulings at the table, together with the players, about rolling in the open, asking players for flashbacks and ideas – I slowly started to realize that I didn’t need rules to protect me from people I didn’t want to game with anyway. Rules don’t substitute for social skills. And I think my game got better for it.

As for the players… I ended the campaign which I didn’t enjoy and started new campaigns that had less rules than D&D 3.5 back then, no more character building, and with that I lost all but two players; but I found new players and I’m still happy, so you might say that I agree with the self-selection element mentioned by Paul Beakley: if you remove the things you don’t like and are honest about the things you do like, like-minded individuals will show up at the table (eventually).

I don’t know much about other people’s games, and I currently have just have one game going where I run a B/X derived D&D, but I’m also a player a 5E game where DM Peter rolls in the open and we often discuss the direction the campaign is taking, our character goals, what we like as players, and so on. Neither Peter nor I fudge rolls, nor do we change encounters during the session or play mind reading games with our players.

I can’t imagine playing in a confrontational game. I am reminded of a one shot where we were trapped in some sort of magical field being hunted by an undead creature and we spent the whole session running and trying this or that and when we finally decided that this was stupid and let the undead creature reach us our characters died. And then the referee was incredulous: “Why did you do that‽” Too bad I wasn’t as immersed in role-playing games back then or I would have told him that his game was shit. Or preferably, much earlier: “Uh, I don’t really know what we’re doing here. Can we move on from this scene? It’s frustrating.”

Anyway, today I saw Noisms’ post, Transparent DMing. I like the structure of the post and would like to go through the same points, explaining how I run my games.

I roll all dice in the open. I don’t explicitly tell my players what I’m rolling for but it’s always obvious: random encounters, surprise, initiative, attacks, damage. Players roll reaction rolls.

I use a screen. I used to think that it was useless but when I was a player in DM Florian’s game, I noticed that I as a player did not enjoy noticing when he was making things up and when he was looking them up. I preferred the illusion of him having everything prepared, of us exploring an existing imaginary landscape. I think I would still suspect with a screen, eventually, and when I run my games I try absolutely to have all the things prepared, but there will always be times when the players push into unprepared territory and I personally want to maintain the illusion up to the end of the session (and will prepare appropriately for the next session). So yes, I use a screen.

I don’t give players narrative control. I never ask them where monsters are going or what the backstory of the current location is. I’m with Simon, who commented on Noisms entry and said: “I fear that would harm player immersion by pulling them out of actor-stance and into author-stance.”

I am happy to ask their advice when making rulings. Yes! Absolutely. I’ve written about rulings before and called it “a short negotiation.” It’s short because I make a proposal of how to resolve the situation, make a pause so that players can interject alternatives, or that we may all moan at the suffering in store for us today, and then we move on. I often make a ruling and add a simple “I’d say that’s fair, what do you think?” That’s the implied invitation to propose a different ruling.

I am generally unwilling to retcon. I might reconsider when somebody loses a beloved character and we all forgot about something important that would have saved them, but generally speaking, with my approach to rulings I find that when the dice fall and bad stuff happens, we all agreed to it, explicitly or at least tacitly by not speaking up. On the contrary, I feel that it is bad form to complain about rulings once consequences have manifested. Take the setbacks and move on, I say. Enjoy the experience of defeat. I know that I like to risk my characters or have them fail catastrophically after a while. I’m not saying I want this to happen all the time. But occasionally, I want to know what defeat feels like.

I never change the result of a roll or fudge. I commiserate our fate, the random encounters, the terrible odds – but it is what it is.

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2020-02-03 Webmention

@tomasino writes about Webmention on his Gopher site, Webmentions and Microsub. He mentioned being interested in the IndieWeb on his blog at about the same time. That reminded me of the Oddmuse Webmention extension I wrote. It’s installed on this site. I think I got mentioned exactly once since January 2019.

Back then, I first implemented Pingback before realizing that it had been replaced by Webmention.

The most useful extension is the Automatic Link Back extension for Oddmuse. It does just that, if a visitor is coming from somewhere on the Internet via a direct link. This is called “Refback” on the Linkback Wikipedia page comparing the various methods.

Oh well. We can try!

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Webmentions the hard way: from the command line!

~/src/oddmuse/scripts $ perl webmention.pl https://alexschroeder.ch/wiki/2020-02-03_Webmention https://labs.tomasino.org/indieweb/
Getting https://labs.tomasino.org/indieweb/
Parsing https://labs.tomasino.org/indieweb/
Webmention URL is https://webmention.io/tomasino.org/webmention
201 Created

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-03 19:37 UTC

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2020-02-02 Slavoj Žižek: Down with ideology!

@saper mentioned an interesting discourse about ideologies and how they became hideous yet prevalent. There is a nice interview with him done by SRF's Sternstunde Philosophie:

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2020-01-31 My tropical campaign

Trying to answer How's your campaign?

How many sessions have you been playing, more or less? 54 sessions.

How long have you been running this campaign? It started January 2017, so three years. Then again, where do you draw the line? We keep playing in the same world, in the same timeline, so in theory we could go back and visit our old characters as NPCs. If that counts as “the same campaign” then there is a continuous chain going back to 2008 for my game: The Alder King game started as a D&D 3.5 game, had another campaign in the same area using Solar System, then switched to Labyrinth Lord and moved further south with Fünf Winde, and then we moved even more south to Rasiermesserküste, using Halberds & Helmets.

Have you had long breaks? If so, how did you pick it up again? I didn’t have long breaks.

How many people are at the table when you play? I aim for 3–6 players and me. More is better but 7 or 8 players and me is too much, both because I lack the space and because I like more interaction.

How many characters are in the party when you play? Every player plays one main character and one to four henchmen or pets, so we regularly have 15–20 characters or pets in the party. Pets have ranged from wolves and war dogs to velociraptors, giant lizards, and froglings. Currently it’s war dogs, froglings, and giant lizards.

How many players have you had in total over that time period, not counting guest appearances? We have six now and I’ve lost two and gained two, so a total of eight players.

Have you had guest appearances? How did it go? Did you gain regular players that way? Not in this campaign. Those who have joined for a guest game in the past never stayed, as far as I remember.

What have the character levels been over time? In these three years characters have started at level 1 and have now reached levels 4–5.

What classes did the players pick? Did you add new classes over time? We have an elf, four dwarves, a halfling, two magic-users, two thieves, four fighters, and a frogling.

Tell me about some adventures you ran over that time that I might enjoy hearing about? We stopped the were-shark invasion using cannons filled with silver-coin shrapnel... The corrupt captain of the fort guarding the city felt a lot like a Godfather and I enjoyed playing him.

Have the rule changes over that time? Do you maintain a house-rules document? Halberds and Helmets has changed very little in recent years.

Has the setting changed over time? I keep adding new hexes to the region we’re playing in, and the rulers of the big city have been changed, but other than that, not much. The natives are about to rise up and bring the fight to the city and the players still think there can be peace between the colonisers and the natives. I’m not convinced...

How much in-game distance did the party cover, how big is the area they have visited? About a dozen hexes. They are not contiguous because the party has occasional access to giant flying whales (on nights of the new moon) and a giant magical turtle (near big bodies of water).

Have you used proprietary setting books? Like, could you publish your campaign or would you be in trouble if you did? The first few sessions were based on a book from a Paizo Adventure Path; the big town and the were-sharks was based on the Razorcoast; the travel from a devastated town upriver to a broken dam was based on the Deep Carbon Observatory; I’m using more and more hexes from Hex Describe, however.

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2020-01-31 How's your campaign?

Have you been running your campaign for a while? I have some questions!

  1. How many sessions have you been playing, more or less?
  2. How long have you been running this campaign?
  3. Have you had long breaks? If so, how did you pick it up again?
  4. How many people are at the table when you play?
  5. How many characters are in the party when you play?
  6. How many players have you had in total over that time period, not counting guest appearances?
  7. Have you had guest appearances? How did it go? Did you gain regular players that way?
  8. What have the character levels been over time?
  9. What classes did the players pick? Did you add new classes over time?
  10. Tell me about some adventures you ran over that time that I might enjoy hearing about?
  11. Have the rule changes over that time? Do you maintain a house-rules document?
  12. Has the setting changed over time?¹
  13. How much in-game distance did the party cover, how big is the area they have visited?
  14. Have you used proprietary setting books? Like, could you publish your campaign or would you be in trouble if you did?

¹ Have you added cultures or regions after years of play because you read a good book? Have your players toppled governments, resettled people, or made other large scale changes to the setting – without that being the end of the campaign?

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Comments on 2020-01-31 How's your campaign?

I blogged about it!

Anonymous 2020-01-31 02:34 UTC


Thanks!

@linkskywalker also posted about it: players and rules, setting

I also blogged about it. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-31 17:12 UTC


Hey Alex, these are great questions! My answers.

Nice to think about the game over the long-term like this. Thanks!

acodispo 2020-02-01 02:03 UTC


I love the idea of starting every campaign with the same few locations and having it develop in different ways, and still carrying over things like non-player characters and town features.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-01 07:43 UTC


I blogged about it, too. This D&D 3.5 campaign is just about to turn 10, and the PCs are almost all freshly level 20, having started at 1 (most of them, anyway).

George Dorn 2020-02-01 11:50 UTC


I also have fond memories of Red Hand of Doom and have reused parts of it in later campaigns.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-01 12:24 UTC


I've blogged about it.

Martin O 2020-02-01 17:12 UTC


Oh wow, that Grudlow is badass, and using an announcement, and strategy notes on bits of folded paper in the middle of the table, brilliant!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-02


Yep, I wrote something, too. It’s up on my blog.

Wanderer Bill 2020-02-01 20:24 UTC


Haha, I love the idea of using punks! As for LBB and Chainmail: Does mixing them work well? And how did you handle the one elf in your campaign, do you find the rules regarding elves to make sense or not?

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-02


I took a stab, too.

deadtreenoshelter 2020-02-08 03:17 UTC


Darkest Dungeon was too depressing for me!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-08 07:54 UTC

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