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.

2020-01-22 Copyright is failing

Cory Doctorow writes on BoingBoing: In serving big company interests, copyright is in crisis. (Also on EFF DeepLinks.) As so often is the case, he writes well.

2019 was not a good year for competition in the entertainment sector. Mergers … reduced the number of big movie studios from five (already a farcical number) to four (impossibly, even worse).

And the list goes on. Hollywood screenwriters. Disney. Taylor Swift. YouTube. They all get mentioned.

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2020-01-21 Blog finds

Ten art treasures I liked: Unique Treasures by Ezra Bloom.

To be honest though I just roll 3d6x100 for jewelry and adlib something about earrings, necklaces, cultures, gems and what not. Works well enough for a handful of items but not for dozens – but in that case I fear players wouldn’t care either.

Many weird swords that you can replace your +1 swords with, from the DW Discord: 42 magic swords.

A series of blog posts by Frylock starting with this one talking about copyright and stat block copyright and Wizards of the Coast and D&D.

A fantastic map I found via the links on the Thought Eater Humpday summary of blog post. Beautiful! I don’t think I need yet another map to run a campaign, but even I don’t need it, it’s beautiful. So beautiful!

Under Gallax Hall - Level 3 - Old Gallax Hall. Gridmapper is still getting used! That makes me so happy.

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2020-01-20 How to deal with weird stuff in feed aggregation

Planet Jupiter is entering the phase where all the features I want have been implemented and now I’m only dealing with weird stuff and workarounds. I’ve seen blog posts containing double escaped HTML. I unescape the first layer and turn the post to plain text (adding pilcrow signs for paragraph breaks) and so on. But if somebody adds double escaped HTML, that still leaves escaped HTML in the output. I’m guessing this is a bug in their Wordpress plugins responsible for indie web support or something. But what am I going to do: tell them to fix their setup? Or add a workaround that simply tries to unscape HTML a second time? Guess what I’m doing...

I had to consider other things as well: what about elements that aren’t being rendered by browser? They also shouldn’t be “rendered” by the feed aggregator. One feed, for example, contains a style element. The style element contains CSS instructions ­– this should not end up in the page excerpt. Anything else I need to remove from the excerpt?

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2020-01-20 Bugbears are cat people

I just learned about tabaxi (D&D 5E cat people) as I was reading 6th Edition Dungeons & Dragons by Jack Guignol. I’ve been using bugbears as cat people in my game, thinking of them as perfect thieves – like the Khajiit in Skyrim. Bugbears work well in my system because the 5-in-6 chance of surprise can be extended to all thieving activities and a human thief needs to attain level 9 before their thieving skills are at 5-in-6 (2-in-6 at first, 3-in-6 @ 3rd, 4-in-6 @ 6th, 5-in-6 @ 9th level).

Last session the part did run into three bugbears who kidnapped a party member (a retainer) while on watch, and were very hard to track – basically requiring reconnaissance by the player character that has taken over a dragon. For a few minutes I was inspired by the Futility Closet episode about The Mad Trapper of Rat River. If you prefer reading: Albert Johnson, “The Mad Trapper of Rat River” in The Canadian Encyclopedia.

page 11, bottom

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Comments on 2020-01-20 Bugbears are cat people

I have been using Bugbears as my assassin/enforcer forces for my continent as well. I will admit that I changed their (9 fold) alignment to get them more in line with this role. My players seem to have fun with them like this. They are willing to talk so now the party has a couple of inroads to the place they are traveling to.

PresGas 2020-01-21 01:33 UTC


If they are cats, they are big fat chonky cats! Love it!

RogerGS 2020-01-21 06:21 UTC


I love image searching all this stuff. So much visual inspiration!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-21 06:40 UTC

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2020-01-19 Not designing for level gain

When I read A tuneable method for placing treasure in BX by robdalexander I wondered: why don’t I ever think about these things?

Procedures to calculate how much treasure to place in adventures in order to guarantee level-up at opportune times is something product designers might have to keep in mind. Designing an adventure such that a certain amount of levelling up happens per timespan played... I don’t know. That is complicated, error prone, and I don’t think that this is how I want to play as a player.

Sure, I’ve been in groups where the players complain when no great treasure is found session after session as we are pushed back by infected goblins and tough fire giants. But to me, that is great: it tells me that we haven’t tried hard enough, or that we bit off a chunk to big to chew. We lacked preparation, scouting, grit, or suicidal tendencies. I like it.

Conversely, in my own games, people advance slowly, clawing their way up to level three, and then suddenly – BAM! – there is a golden barge worth 50,000 gold, or they defeat a dragon that happens to have around 90,000 gold in gems and jewels. It happens. To me, this is the variable reinforcement schedule with a proven track record in slot machines and other games of luck: it’s more exciting, it makes you want to come back. The joy of hitting Jackpot is sweet because the dry spell is desolation.

Anyway, back to the blog post: I do think that the criticism about modules lacking enough treasure can be handled without taking the hours played into account. The buyer of a product only wants to know for what level range the product is, and how many levels could be gained by exploring it. That gives you the total treasure to distribute in your product (plus a 50% margin or so). They can be quick or slow about it, but you as the designer have figured out that the treasure can be recovered by a party of the appropriate level and you’ve placed enough treasure to make sure that they will gain the expected levels. All the requirements of consumerism have been fulfilled. 🙈 😁

Courtney has some good posts on treasure and all that. The following two come to mind, for example:

There’s plenty more: check out the index, and the treasure tag.

Personally, I think I’m still going to roll on those random tables:

A simple way to do this is to follow the rules regarding dungeon levels, monsters encountered and the treasure types they have. As for myself, I’ve been tinkering with the monster descriptions, the numbers encountered, the treasure types, and I don’t usually have big dungeons – but that just means that I need to telegraph potential risks and rewards by other means: describe the landscape such that players now that they’re in dire straits; describe the monsters such that the players know whether they’re going to be pushovers or not; describe the signs of wealth or poverty before players rush in...

Then again, I do like reading how other people prep their games. And robdalexander is absolutely right when saying in Why bother having prep procedures?:

Related to that, explicit prep methods make it easier to teach good prep. If every new GM (or new-to-BX GM) has to feel their way to good treasure placement, then that’s a lot of learning work. If they can use a method to do it, at least initially while they’re finding their feet, they can spare their learning effort for something we can’t mechanise (e.g. making good rulings in a BX context).

I totally agree with that. It just happens that I don’t like crunching the numbers and doubt that a game that basically works is easier refined in play than redesigned. Tinkering with the elements of the game the way I did it was the way I enjoyed tinkering: at the table, informed by the events at the table. But I can only speak for myself when it comes to that.

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Comments on 2020-01-19 Not designing for level gain

I think pacing treasure/xp should be talked about more, because whenever there’s something experienced referees “just know” that others might not the game is prone to devolve in response to a misunderstood problem.

I like xp for gold. And I would bet that the reason modern games tend to use other systems even when they suffer for it (like incentivizing killing everything) is because there are better guidelines for number of encounters etc than for treasures.

Olav 2020-01-19 22:55 UTC


Yes, we definitely should talk more about treasure and XP. If we spell things out, we make it easier for others to accept or reject the conclusions, or tinker with them.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-20 07:39 UTC

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2020-01-12 Hew Crawl Link

This is great:

The Hex Crawl, from “a blog for practical advice, turn-key resources, tips, and examples of how to run a roleplaying game.”

So you’ve heard about this thing called a Hex Crawl. What is it? Why should it interest you if you’re not an “OSR” fan?

I liked it.

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2020-01-10 Planet Jupiter

OK, I’ve been using Planet Venus for the longest time. I use it to generate the the Planets on Campaign Wiki. The problem is that it is written in Python 2 and I was unable to quickly migrate it (and all its dependencies) to Python 3.

So here I am... writing Planet Jupiter. 🙄

Please report any issues you run into, or leave a comment.

Oh well, what could go wrong...

(I wonder whether we should use ♃ for Jupiter somewhere...)

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Comments on 2020-01-10 Planet Jupiter

Actually, it’s looking pretty good. I’ll see about making the switch tomorrow. Sure, it has much, much fewer functionality than Planet Venus but it has just the right kind of functionality I need.

I guess I should have picked a really small planet to name this project but it is what it is. I like Jupiter.

The big thing that remains to be done is caching. But it should be good enough already!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-10 19:58 UTC


The planets I run have been switched over. Let me know if there is anything wonky.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-11 13:55 UTC


Yikes, rewriting it to use XML::Feed made it a lot slower! 😭

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-12 22:08 UTC


@PresGas noticed that the merged feed does not exist. Perhaps we can fix this using a template? XML::Feed also has a feature to add entries to a feed, so we could make our own.

Still getting a lot of null responses → I guess I need to be slower in accessing Blogspot?

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-13 14:31 UTC


Let’s hope feeds work now! I’m generating feed.xml in RSS 2.0 format and redirection the old atom.xml to it...

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-13 19:45 UTC


Sadly, there is an encoding bug for Atom feeds, e.g. a feed title such as “Sküll” gets double encoded. 😟

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-15 12:56 UTC


For the moment I’m trying a rewrite without XML::Feed just because it seemed so much faster... The encoding problem still exists, however. Thus, it’s not introduced by XML::Feed.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-16 06:29 UTC


And... I think it’s done! 😁

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-17 15:06 UTC

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2020-01-09 Everybody against everybody else...

Norbert G. Matausch wonders: Static vs. dynamic: how old is your game? The idea is that in a fight, the two opponents roll simultaneously and the winner hurts the loser. I wondered how this would work in a fight with more combatants.

How about this:

All combatants in melee roll their attack and deal damage to anybody they beat.

That would explain why mooks don’t dare fight big shots... it would also make sense to have long “rounds” because it’s basically everybody tries to cut everybody else and then we all take a step back and see who falls...

I guess we can roll morale checks after every round, now!

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Comments on 2020-01-09 Everybody against everybody else...

That’s interesting! I was familiar with the simultaneous roll mechanic from gamebooks, where it was likely popular because it cuts down on dice rolls. I added it as a variant combat rule to Battles&Balances after using it successfully in The Fairy’s Throne, then used it again in Keep of the Mad Wizard, with just as much success.

As for your suggestion, I briefly considered a similar system where everyone picks an opponent then rolls for attack. All combatants act in descending order of their rolls (so the attack roll doubles as initiative). If you beat the chosen opponent’s roll, then you deal damage and interrupt them. Which of course falls apart for one-on-many battles.

But I never got to test this idea anyway. And your version sounds better.

Felix 2020-01-10 12:40 UTC


Maybe if one day I switch to an even simpler 2d6 based rule system.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-10 16:29 UTC


Hey, that’s exactly the way we’re playing it!

Norbert 2020-01-10 21:17 UTC


Excellent. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-10 22:34 UTC


A 2d6 system would be the gamebook way, yes. Tried to design one of those just recently in fact. Ended up with another dice pool system, except with fewer dice and success counting. Oh well.

Felix 2020-01-11 09:16 UTC

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2020-01-08 Boneless magic

I finished another spellcaster for my Spellcasters project: Lem. It started with thoughts on squids and having no bones, on maybe having multiple arms, but then I started thinking about madness and mindflayers, as I am wont to do. When I started writing about Lem’s lair (that’s the introduction at the beginning which I can use to make sure every spellcaster gets a two page spread) it went to dark places… Maybe I should change that. People have joked that old school D&D is starting out thinking it’s a D&D campaign and then realising that actually it’s a Call of Cthulhu campaign and that you are totally unprepared. I prefer thinking of this as a joke. I remember once when I was a teenager the game had body horror and gore and my players told me afterwards that I should tone it down. Little did I know about X-Cards or Lines and Veils.

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2020-01-08 Another hex map generator

I was looking at a GitHub repository for Generative Art and saw a hex map listed. As it turns out, there’s a separate repository for these: Hex Map.

If you like Python, perhaps it’s something for you?

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