RPG

This page lists the most recent journal entries related to role-playing games (RPG). There are some more pages on the related German page (Rollenspiele).

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2016-09-23 RPG Modules and LaTeX

I just saw an impressive LaTeX class for B/X adventures in a private share on Google+.

I’ve been using a different, much simpler class by +Peter Fröhlich, latex-bx.

Sadly, I didn’t get far with Raising a God.

I’m not even sure I want “a tool for authors to typeset RPG modules in a style reminiscent of the old-school adventures of the 1980s” – I like the Tufte class I’ve used elsewhere, eg. Halberds-and-Helmets.pdf.

But there are probably many ideas worth stealing in there. For example, all the stats of all the B/X monsters. Then again, I might as well go back to writing some more instead of tinkering with the tools.

But now that I’m trying to install a new class, I’m running into problems with my LaTeX installation.

alex@Megabombus:~$ tlmgr update --list
Unknown directive ...containerchecksum c59200574a316416a23695c258edf3a32531fbda43ccdc09360ee105c3f07f9fb77df17c4ba4c2ea4f3a5ea6667e064b51e3d8c2fe6c984ba3e71b4e32716955... , please fix it! at /usr/local/texlive/2014/tlpkg/TeXLive/TLPOBJ.pm line 210, <$retfh> line 5579.

I need to get the latest TeX installed. And since I’m really into Homebrew:

alex@Megabombus:~$ brew search texlive
Installing TeX from source is weird and gross, requires a lot of patches,
and only builds 32-bit (and thus can't use Homebrew dependencies)

We recommend using a MacTeX distribution: https://www.tug.org/mactex/

You can install it with Homebrew Cask:
  brew cask install mactex
alex@Megabombus:~$ brew cask install mactex
==> Downloading http://mirror.ctan.org/systems/mac/mactex/mactex-20160603.pkg
######################################################################## 100,0%
==> Verifying checksum for Cask mactex
==> Running installer for mactex; your password may be necessary.
==> Package installers may write to any location; options such as --appdir are ignored.
Password:

Later, run TeX Live Utility and select Update All Packages. All of this will take a long time.

And finally, you probably want to trash the older installations?

alex@Megabombus:~$ du -sh /usr/local/texlive/*
4,2G	/usr/local/texlive/2013
4,5G	/usr/local/texlive/2014
4,7G	/usr/local/texlive/2016
584K	/usr/local/texlive/texmf-local

The key to installing extra packages on a Mac is finding the right directory:

alex@Megabombus:~$ cd Library/texmf/tex/latex/
alex@Megabombus:~/Library/texmf/tex/latex$ unzip /Users/alex/Downloads/rpg-module.zip 
...

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2016-09-13 Rescuing the Sandbox

I’ve blogged quite a bit about running a Sandbox, and I’ve added my Swiss Referee Style Manual to my house rule document, Halberds and Helmets, which also has some points on how I run my sandbox. And yet, perhaps the author of the Sandboxes and Quagmires blogpost is right: we should also talk about failure modes and how to prevent them. +Ed Ortiz mentions the following problems:

  1. players monopolizing the plot, or more generally:
  2. players competing for plot
  3. players paralyzed by too much choice, or maybe
  4. players unable to choose for lack of information
  5. players mistaking a sandbox for laissez faire

What works at my table:

Clearly establish which plot elements belong to which character. This is how we make sure that plot time is distributed fairly even though many players have a thing going. It sounds weird, but saying it at the table makes it easier for people to make fair decisions. Resurrecting Arden is Johannes’ plot element. Building the ivory tower is Claudia’s plot element. Going after bandits is Flavio’s plot element. Sometimes it isn’t easy to say. Samuel is easy going and he seems mostly interested in spreading poisonous giant frogs wherever he goes, for Tsathoggua. Michael is mostly interested in getting treasure and better armor and avoid all dangers. (Chicken!) Lilly is new and hasn’t found her thing, yet. Stefan is interested in things, but I haven’t felt a particular push in any direction. But, knowing that we’ve done a number of sessions pursuing Johannes’ plot, it makes it easier to say that the next few sessions will be about Claudia’s plot, out of the game. This is not an in-game decision.

Explicitly list open plots and ask for preferences concerning the next session. Even if players cannot decide, or no majority can be found, at least you can prepare for one of them and tell people that you’ve decided that they were going to go after X. Narrate the transition and off you go. It’s not “pure” sandbox—the players can see the man behind the curtain when they read their emails, but I don’t think that’s a problem. They couldn’t make up their mind and the referee picked Limbo and Slaads for the next adventure. If you didn’t like it, why didn’t you say so when you got the email? Sometimes this will fail and the referee will have to improvise. It happens. It’s OK. But this is important to me: This, too, is not an in-game decision.

Provide enough information. When I recently listed the open plots, I provided more information than the characters actually had available at the time. It went something like this: You could a) go look for the Formian city mentioned by the slaad spies and try and prevent the spread of the iron shadow, or b) visit Limbo, the home turf of the slaad, looking for a grey elf wizard who supposedly researched the iron shadow, or c) learn more about said grey elf wizard by visiting his home town in the astral sea, or d) continue exploring the mirror labyrinth (and stumbling into the Red and Pleasant Land, which I didn’t tell them). Provide more information than is strictly available in-game.

Make sure there are consequences and announce them. You don’t have to be super explicit, but if you take the golem armor made of old brass magic off the dead dwarven hero and envoys ask you to give it back, and you don’t, and instead you write a letter to the dwarf clan saying that you’ll wear it and use it wisely—then there will be consequences. The enjoys will fume. The scribe will shake his head. And the campaign news page will describe the dwarfs raising an expeditionary force of about two hundred dwarves and there will be interesting sessions ahead. Make sure that interesting actions have interesting consequences and make sure your players know.

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Comments on 2016-09-13 Rescuing the Sandbox

The blog post by Jens D. and the discussion on G+ left me confused, however.

For example: “What happens when people are allowed to do what they want? […] They start thinking that there are no (social?) rules at all and - in a worse case scenario - you’ll get anarchy. […] I’ve seen it happening […]” – what? That sounds like very dysfunctional people. How about talking to them? “A sandbox game is different to those traditional games in that it takes away as many limitations as possible, beginning by the world and going as far as designing rules towards the same principle.” Huh? “The DM should provide a strong sense of place and culture, so they know where they come from and a just as strong sense of the stories people tell, so they know where they are headed.” Huh?

As I said, I felt like I was reading a blog post from a different gaming culture that had used all the words I was used to in surprising ways.

– AlexSchroeder 2016-09-13 22:53 UTC

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2016-09-13 Positioning

Recently, Brendan wrote about character roles in Roles for common adventurer jobs. Basically, players write on their character sheet, if their character always does this or that. It’s like an Instinct in Burning Wheel. The example Brendan picks is positioning. Characters can “always” be part of the Vanguard, Rearguard, a Scout, or a Torchbearer.

I like the general idea and I recently had a similar discussion at the table where a player said their character would always do this or that, and I thought of Burning Wheel’s instincts and said, that’s cool—write it down on your character sheet so that next time we won’t have to talk about it.

I’m not sure positioning requires this sort of mechanical support though. Does it lead to discussions at your table? I usually just start with assumptions: “So, it seemed like you were in the front, riding your raptor, right?” That’s when others can speak up and say that no, actually they were scouting. Or if nobody speaks up, then that’s that. Or something is going on at the front and I’ll ask, “So, was anybody guarding the back? I’m guessing the dwarf and thief and their retinue are in front by the door, right? So who’s in the back? Not the wizard? So it’s going to be your guys, Michael?” If find that this helps establish the situation, and since it is framed as a discussion, players will accept the resulting positioning more readily. They practically volunteer for this or that role, as we talk about the situation.

Thing I can’t do is “Roll for surprise, Michael, your guys are being attacked!” This will lead to players arguing that they weren’t there and all that. So I’ll ask who’s in the back, Michael agrees that it would have been his guys, and then I say, “OK, time to roll for surprise, then! One and two is bad!”

Brendan’s reply is that yes, these discussions take up a little table time because he wants to know before stuff happens – a bit like buying equipment before you know what you’ll need.

I guess I see it as a different thing because players know that they are volunteering for something bad to happen.

And I make similar decisions elsewhere: I don’t want to know about who takes which watch. I’ll roll for a random encounter, and for a random person on watch right then and there. They get to pick a friend who is up with them. So, “lazy” determination. Another example is sneaking: they only need to roll when there is somebody that can hear them. Again, “lazy” determination.

Since this doesn’t seem to hurt my immersion or suspension of disbelief, I am free to consider: is predetermination leading to an interesting trade-off? Buying and carrying equipment? Yes. Vanguard or Rearguard given that you don’t know from where the enemy will strike? Not so much.

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2016-09-01 NPC Treasure

I was wondering about non-player character treasure, on Google+. I like rolling on a table and I might say stuff like “this magic user is so powerful, I’ll just use the Vampire treasure type”. What else might I look into?

I knew about the treasure table in the Dungeon Masters Guide but I remember them resulting in a very different mix of magic items than has been common in my campaign.

So here’s my table.

Fighter, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling

This is stuff for a fighter that’s part of a non-player party, the leader of a few men. Armor appropriate to stature. This is what fighter levels usually mean in my campaign, and the bonus for the treasure table below.

Level Bonus Role
1+0guards, bandits
3+2veterans, village heroes, sergeants, squad commanders, leading ten men-at-arms
5+4town leaders, captains, company commanders, leading a unit of a hundred men-at-arms
7+6lieutenants, second-in-commands
9+8rulers of a castle, of a hex, of a tribe, barons

In the treasure table below, horses and chariots are all found only outside a dungeon, obviously.

1d6Equipment Treasure
1Poor: chain, spear 1d4×10 gold
2Solid: plate, shield, helmet, sword 1d6×10 gold
3Rich: as above plus lance, horse 1d10×10 gold
4Noble: as above plus barding 3d6×10 gold
5Loot: as above plus bow 3d6×10 gold, 1d4 gems
6Benefactor: as above but with elven sword +13d6×10 gold, 1d6 gems
7Aide: as above but with elven lance +13d6×10 gold, 2d6 gems
8Elf Friend: as above but with elven bow +13d6×10 gold, 2d6 gems, 1d4 jewelry
9Ruler: as above plus special item (see below)5d6×10 gold, 2d6 gems, 1d6 jewelry
10Lord: as above but with a set of elven arms and armor: plate +1, shield +1, matching helmet 5d6×10 gold, 3d6 gems, 1d6 jewelry
11Delver: as above but with a set of dwarven arms and armor: plate +2, shield +2, matching helmet, sword +2, and a chariot 5d6×10 gold, 3d6 gems, 2d6 jewelry
12Powerful: as above but with a flaming (+1d6 damage) sword +2 or a dwarven throwing hammer +3 if a dwarf, gauntlets of ogre power (strength 18)5d6×10 gold, 4d6 gems, 2d6 jewelry
13Higher Calling: as above but with angelic or hellish and armor: plate +3, shield +3, matching helmet, special sword of light or darkness +3 (see below)5d6×10 gold, 4d6 gems, 3d6 jewelry
14Special: as above but with a very special sword (see below)5d6×10 gold, 5d6 gems, 3d6 jewelry

Jewelry: 3d6×100 gold (average is about 1000 gold each) – rings, hair bands, crowns, bracelets, necklaces, amulets, hair needles, etc.

Gems: use the table below (average is about 200 gold each)

1d20Gems
1–410 gold
5–950 gold
10–15100 gold
16–19500 gold
201000 gold

Special item:

1d6Special Item
1A random potion, roll 1d8: 1. diminuition (6”, 2h), 2. ferocity (double damage, 2h), 3. fly (2h), 4. healing (1d6+1, 3×), 5. invisibility, 6. love, 7. shape-changing, 8. speed (two action per round)
2A random ring, roll 1d4: 1. djinni calling (1/day, for a day), 2. fire resistance (immune to normal fire, +2 to saves, all fire damage dice -1), 3. minor creation (non-magical, portable things, 2h), 4. protection (AC +1)
3A random miscellaneous item, roll 1d4: 1. bag of holding (opens a small portal to another sphere), 2. boots of speed (double movement speed), 3. elemental summoning device (it takes 10min to perform the ritual, the element is determined by the device: bowl means water, brazier means fire, censer means air, stone means earth), 4. elven cloak (hiding 5-in-6 when not moving)
4Their weapon is special: it can glow as bright as daylight produce a dark mist like the continual light spell and its reverse, at will
5Their weapon is special: it grants them a permanent aura of authority (charisma 18)
6A horn of battle that will summon 2d4 barbarians from the next world to fight for you until killed, HD 1+1 AC 7 1d6 MV 12

Swords with a higher calling:

1d4Calling
1+1/+3 vs. lycanthropes, forged by the high inquisitors
2+1/+3 vs. spell casters, forged in the philosopher’s war
3+1/+3 vs. undead, an angelic sword forged in heaven
4+1/+3 vs. dragons, an old elven sword forged in the dragon wars

Very special weapons:

  • Poison Dripper is a sword +3 blessed by the demon lord Set, anybody hit must save vs. poison or die
  • Frost Hell is a sword +3 blessed by the devils of an icy hell that turns into a sword +6 against any fire creatures (creatures with fire breadth or other fire damage dealing effects)
  • Hammer of Earth is a hammer +3 that will smash any structure made by man with but three blows

Add more special weapons as needed…

Thief

todo

Use the special item table above.

Magic-User

todo

Use the special item table above.

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2016-09-01 Mass Combat

Recently, Ken Baumann asked about huge battles on Google+. Was it fun, how did it work?

How big is a huge battle? I regularly have fights with dozens of participants on each side. The party alone is usually a dozen characters and a dozen dogs, raptors, war bears and more.

How often? I use big battles every now and then, maybe once a year in each campaign. That is, there will be one or two sessions for “the big battle”. Often there will be many sessions before the actual battle where people try to find allies, make peace, sabotage the enemy and all that. It’s a whole campaign arc.

As for the Rules: For up to maybe 100 individuals per side, I just use lots of d20s, with groups of 10 or 20 doing this or that and resolving the rounds as we go.

Example: Yesterday was the first session of a siege and I just wrote up a session report.

Mass Combat: For more than that, I split them into units of “about 100 each” and resolve combat as if each unit was a single monster. I’ve tried various methods, and I’ve tried each of them exactly once. :)

My first mass combat session used Mass Combat Made Easy by Robin Stacey which he wrote for M20. I used them when we still played D&D 3.5 and they work well. As combat scale is proportional to the number of individuals in a unit, those need to be recalculated after every hit, which needs a calculator person at the table.

Next I tried the mass combat rules in the B/X Companion by Running Beagle Games and they were OK. Basically you add up all the hit points and deal automatic damage based on your to-hit roll. This means that each unit has hundreds of hit points and you still need a calculator person at the table.

Next I tried the mass combat rules An Echo Resounding by Sine Nomine Publishing and they worked well. The only issue I had was that I didn’t like the domain level management required to pay for upkeep and related stuff. It worked very well as at the table, but if and only if all the units are “about 100 each” or if you can translate a monster into an equivalent “unit” – it’s easy if you’re fighting orcs and goblins but what about ogres and dragons if you don’t have units of 100 each? You need to translate them into “warbeasts” and similar units, which is where you need to improvise.

Other Options: Other options which I haven’t tried but I’d be interested in hearing how it went at the table:

Domains at War by Autarch, but since their Adventure Conqueror King System seemed to offer more detail than An Echo Resounding, I didn’t look at it.

By this Poleaxe by the Hydra Cooperative for “small-scale battles or skirmishes involving 15-120 combatants on each side”… I’d be interested to hear comparisons!

Book of War by Daniel R. ‘Delta’ Collins is based on OD&D numbers, so I didn’t look at it.

Rules Cyclopedia has The War Machine section with rules that tell you how to compute a battle rating for each side and resolving it using a single d100 roll per side. It’s short, but it seems more appropriate for multiple engagements in a longer warfare campaign. I don’t think a single engagement would be a satisfying conclusion for a campaign arc.

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2016-08-19 Romantic Fantasy

I recently read a blog post by +Brian Murphy explaining the difficulty inherent in the romantic fantasy genre for roleplaying games, Romantic Fantasy and the Heroine's Journey.

I feel this is very similar in Science Fiction. There, if you don’t want “D&D in space” (what I might call Space Opera) then I find that Science Fiction is about extrapolating a trend we can all relate to in the present. Essentially, it turns into social commentary of the present and it would seem to me that the players at the table would have to pick such issues and develop them. Actual political issues to develop and personal stories that intersect incidentally, it’s tricky to pull of. I heard Shock might do it; I never played it.

But reading Brian’s blog post game me an explanation for why pulling off Pern or Darkover stories using D&D and its descendants might be harder than it looks. Perhaps it’s not even a problem in the rules themselves but in D&D game culture. We expect settings, classes, levels, treasure and so on to have certain effects. If anybody pulled it off, I’d like to hear more about your campaign!

Thinking about it some more as I was sitting in the train, I wondered about the rules such a system would have. Combat would be deadly. The number of friends you had would be important. Love would be important. My first scribbles are now in a PDF called Best Friends (also on GitHub).

If you want to discuss this, see this post of mine on Google+.

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2016-08-18 Uncharted Atlas

If you’re more traditionally minded, you might want to take a look at @unchartedatlas by @mewo2. The processes is explained in his blog post Generating fantasy maps and his internally consistent placename scheme is explained in his blog post Generating naming languages, both of them highly recommended reads.

I was reminded of my old efforts which were also based on Amit Patel’s 2010 blog post Polygonal Map Generation for Games using Voronoi diagrams, the Monones Island Generator. It didn’t go very far because I was stumped by the “draining lakes” problem – which I have now solved for Text Mapper! Should I revisit it? Are Voronoi diagrams something we even want for our role-playing games?

Some discussions on G+ here and here.

I think it should be possible to automatically label Voronoi diagrams. I started to manually label them, trying to see how far I’d get. Then again, assuming I wanted to manually edit the maps once the game gets going, I’d need a text representation of the polygon centers. I guess that means I could also just stick to some sort of latitude and longitude. Coarse enough to enable editing and still work to recreate the map might just mean three digits instead of two, ie. 001.0001 instead of 01.01 might be enough.

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2016-08-16 Alpine Map Generator

I’ve been working on the Alpine map generator some more. It uses Text Mapper to render the output into an SVG image and it uses the Gnomeyland icons by Greg MacKenzie so it looks nice. Sadly, I’ve developed a pathetic obsession about getting it “right”. To illustrate my obsession and to help me fight it, let me document what I’m talking about. This is a “bug” I just fixed.

Here’s the old map:

The old map

What’s wrong you ask? I was confused by the canyon carved into the mountains from lake 17.04. I expected it to flow into 18.05. Let’s check the height map before lakes start flooding, looking for an outlet:

The initial setup with arrows pointing where the water wants to flow

Why would the river flow from 16.03 (height 7) to 15.04 (height 9)? This makes no sense.

So I studied my debug logs:

Lake started with 1704
Candidates: 1704
Looking at candidate 1704
River now: 1704
A neighbor of 1704 is 1804 with target 1704
Adding 1804 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804
A neighbor of 1704 is 1603 with target 1704
Adding 1603 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1603
A neighbor of 1704 is 1803 with target 1704
Adding 1803 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1803
A neighbor of 1704 is 1703 with target 1704
Adding 1703 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1703
A neighbor of 1704 is 1705 with target 1704
Adding 1705 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1705
A neighbor of 1704 is 1604 with target 1704
Adding 1604 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1604
Candidates: 1804 1603 1803 1703 1705 1604
Looking at candidate 1804
River now: 1704 1804
Adding lake 1805 to our candidates: 1603 1803 1703 1705 1604 1805
A neighbor of 1804 is 1905 with target 1805
Adding 1905 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804 1905
A neighbor of 1804 is 1904 with target 1803
Adding 1904 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804 1904
Candidates: 1805 1603 1803 1703 1705 1905 1604 1904
Looking at candidate 1603
River now: 1704 1603
A neighbor of 1603 is 1602 with target 1702
Adding 1602 and 1702 to our lake, but need to explore
We flowed back into the lake via 1704 1603 1602 1702 1703
... 1702 is a new candidate with river: 1704 1603 1602 1702
... 1602 is a new candidate with river: 1704 1603 1602
Back at 1603 with river 1704 1603
A neighbor of 1603 is 1504 with target 1505
Adding 1504 and 1505 to our lake, but need to explore
Adding 1506 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1606 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1707 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1807 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1808 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1909 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2009 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2010 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2110 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2210 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2211 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2212 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2313 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2413 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2514 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2614 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2715 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2716 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2816 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2817 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2918 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2919 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3019 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3120 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3220 to our lake and keep exploring
We left the map via 1704 1603 1504 1505 1506 1606 1707 1807 1808 1909 2009 2010 2110 2210 2211 2212 2313 2413 2514 2614 2715 2716 2816 2817 2918 2919 3019 3120 3220
Arrows for 1704 should now point to 1603
Arrows for 1603 should now point to 1504

The key is the list of candidates after looking at the first round of neighbors: 1804 1603 1803 1703 1705 1604. These are sorted by height, 16.04 is last, which is great. But it also means that 16.03 (wrong direction: east into the mountains) is the equivalent of 17.05 and 18.04 (south east, towards lake 18.05).

Clearly, I needed a better sorting algorithm for the next candidates to look for: the candidates at the same level needed to be sorted by their lowest neighbor which had not already been looked at.

A bit later:

Lake started with 1704
Candidates: 1704
Looking at candidate 1704
River now: 1704
A neighbor of 1704 is 1803 with target 1704
Adding 1803 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1803
A neighbor of 1704 is 1804 with target 1704
Adding 1804 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804
A neighbor of 1704 is 1705 with target 1704
Adding 1705 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1705
A neighbor of 1704 is 1703 with target 1704
Adding 1703 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1703
A neighbor of 1704 is 1603 with target 1704
Adding 1603 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1603
A neighbor of 1704 is 1604 with target 1704
Adding 1604 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1604
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
Candidates: 1804 1705 1703 1803 1603 1604
Looking at candidate 1804
River now: 1704 1804
Adding lake 1805 to our candidates: 1705 1703 1803 1603 1604 1805
A neighbor of 1804 is 1905 with target 1805
Adding 1905 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804 1905
A neighbor of 1804 is 1904 with target 1803
Adding 1904 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804 1904
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
Candidates: 1805 1705 1703 1905 1803 1603 1604 1904
Looking at candidate 1705
River now: 1704 1705
A neighbor of 1705 is 1706 with target 1707
Adding 1706 and 1707 to our lake, but need to explore
Adding 1807 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1808 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1909 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2009 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2010 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2110 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2210 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2211 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2212 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2313 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2413 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2514 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2614 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2715 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2815 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2816 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2917 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2918 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2919 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3019 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3120 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3220 to our lake and keep exploring
We left the map via 1704 1705 1706 1707 1807 1808 1909 2009 2010 2110 2210 2211 2212 2313 2413 2514 2614 2715 2815 2816 2917 2918 2919 3019 3120 3220
Arrows for 1704 should now point to 1705
Arrows for 1705 should now point to 1706

1804 1705 1703 1803 1603 1604 is the correct sorting order. 18.04 and 17.05 are at the front and the southern passage is discovered.

Notice my additional debug message I needed to check that for hex 17.03 the neighbor 17.04 is not checked. It would be the lowest neighbor indeed but we have already looked at it, so we need to ignore it. By the time we’re looking at 17.03, only the three northern hexes are options and 17.02 is indeed the lowest neighbor.

So now, since 18.04 and 17.05 are equally likely, the algorithm picked 17.05 and lake 17.04 doesn’t flow into lake 18.05 but their rivers meet in 17.06 and I think the map is much better, now. Here’s the corrected water flow map:

Correcting the flow of water

And with this correction, the final map also looks different. No more canyon into the mountains!

The new map

Now I get the urge to draw lines indicating the water divides. Noooo! :)

And just in case I make further changes to the algorithm, here’s what the application would generate right now for this width, height, and seed.

Time passes and I’ve spotted another problem in the map above. Take a look at lake 34.05 which drains through one of the highest peaks in the area, 35.07. How on earth did that happen?

We need to look at the earlier maps again. Before the flood processor kicks in we can already see that any water on the peak 35.07 will immediately drain into lake 37.09.

So, the algorithm goes:

  1. look at all the neighbors of 34.05. None look very exciting, they all drain back into 34.05.
  2. look at our neighbors’ neighbors; ignore the two white fields, focus on the light gray ones, e.g. 34.06.
  3. all its neighbors drain back into the lake with the exception of our peak, 35.07; and with that, we found our lake 37.09
  4. looking at all our candidates, lake 37.09 looks like the most promising, since it lies lower than any of the candidates

And that explains it. The problem seems to be that once we are looking at a candidate like 34.06, we’ll evaluate all its neighbors, even the very high ones like 37.09, even if a candidate of similar height like 35.05 has a much better neighbor like 36.05 which would drain off to the north west.

My algorithm is not enough breadth first like water would be.

More tinkering ahead, I can feel it!

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Algorithm changed to be totally breadth first. I’m not sure it is better. :)

– Alex Schroeder 2016-08-17 13:24 UTC

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2016-08-10 Swiss Referee Style Guide Integrated into Halberds and Helmets

I integrated my referee tips from the Swiss Referee Style Guide into my campaign rules document.

On Google+, Aaron McLin commented on my opening paragraph:

“This is not a Monty Haul campaign and not a stupid dungeon crawl.”

I always find statements critical of other games and play styles to be an immediate turn-off. Who has ever described their rewards as overly generous or a dungeon crawl they have created as “stupid?” While they don’t work for me, personally, a lot of people enjoy dungeon crawling, and sometimes, being all about the new cool gear is fun for people.

The statement strikes me as a cheap shot (and something of a straw man) designed to establish some “I’m smarter than some other gamers, so my game is better,” cred. But (and I feel that I’ve said this a million times) I’ve never met a salesperson who has sought to undermine their customer’s feelings of thoughtfulness and intelligence by attacking choices they may have made earlier - in other words, when you go to a Ford dealership, they don’t open by going on about how crappy Volkswagens are - after all, they might not know what you drove to the lot.

My reply at the time:

It seems to me that the statement made it really easy for you to know that you don’t want to play at my table. Works for me.

On a more self-critical note, I guess that in general, I’d agree with you. Putting other play style downs is lame. But here’s why I started out with those statements and links: when I tell some gamers that I’m using a version of D&D from the eighties, I have to also tell them that I’m not running the kind of game they are thinking of when they hear it. So I need a short hand for “no, not that kind of game”. After all, this is not a generic rule set, this is the document we use at my table, so I want to use the first page to tell potential players: this is what I like, this is what it is going to be about. It will not be about prestige classes, cool new gear or killing gods. Some people might enjoy that, but that’s not what they’ll find in my game. That’s why I feel justified in starting out with a value judgment. It also tells the reader: if you don’t share these values, you should read something else.

I’m still wondering about the choice of words. I have played and run sessions where the game is about moving from room to room, opening doors, finding traps and fighting monsters, but all activities happen on the simplest level where practically no thought is required.

Moving from room to room has a clear procedure:

  1. write down walking order on a piece of paper
  2. thief is checking for traps (rolls dice)

Opening doors has a clear procedure:

  1. thief listens carefully (rolls dice)
  2. thief checks whether it is locked
  3. thief opens the lock if necessary (rolls dice)
  4. alternatively, the fighter kicks in the door (rolls dice)

Finding traps is also a thoughtless process:

  1. thief checks chest for traps (rolls dice)

Fighting monsters is also thoughtless:

  1. roll for initiative (roll dice)
  2. roll attack (roll dice)
  3. roll damage (roll dice)
  4. say your armor class when targeted
  5. reduce hit-points when hit

The thoughtlessness is there because at one point we determined this to be our optimal procedure and we didn’t want to keep restating it, and there was no reason to change it. There were no trade-offs to make, no decisions to make, only the motions to go through. Thus, while I wouldn’t have called it “stupid” at the time, that’s how I see it now.

I hope that I managed to turn the game around whenever I realized that we were descending into this routine. What I’m trying to tell new players at my table is that this is not how I want to play, except I want to use a few words as possible.

Is “stupid” the right word?

Update: After some discussion on Google+ changed the intro page. Aaron McLin is right! :)

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2016-07-27 OSR and DIY D&D

Ben Milton recently asked about the difference between the OSR and DIY D&D on Google+.

OSR is about going back to the old games and exploring avenues not taken at the time. In terms of products, this meant republishing rules compatible with the old games and adventures looking like the old modules. As time went by, the OSR developed new settings, new ways of presenting setting materials, rules that where still compatible but included many house rules, or rules that were incompatible but still recognizably derived from the old rules. This latest development is what I call DIY D&D. So for me, DIY D&D is a subset of the OSR.

The market being so small, all of this was driven by very small teams of people and facilitated by POD. I’m not convinced that words such as independent and anti-establishment mean so much in this context. If a writer, two or three artists, an editor, a layout person and a publisher make a book, is it all that different from how Paizo and WotC work? Are their teams so much different? It would seem to me that their product is simply more opinionated, less designed to reach the widest audience possible. As such, I also see DIY D&D as an aesthetic movement. In way, pushing the hardest down “avenues not taken at the time”.

Zak also left a comment: “DIY D&D is a term I invented because I hate a lot of old stuff but I liked the bloggers who talked about it and their garage-rock house rules approach.”

If you’re wondering who Zak is, you might want to read his blog – or you might want to read this piece by Vanessa Veselka, The Best Monster (2014), as an introduction. I liked it very much. Zak wrote another article himself, Why I Still Love 'Dungeons & Dragons' in the Age of Video Games (2015). And then there is the older one which caused some controversy back then, a piece by Davy Rothbart, Playing Dungeons and Dragons with Porn Stars (2012).

I don’t follow Zak on G+ and he doesn’t follow me. I just read his blog and every now and then I read up on the controversies he’s embroiled in. This is the very first controversy, apparently: Default Tracy Hurley & Filamena Young Attack the D&D With Porn Stars Women Transcript, just in case you are as confused as I am by the recent resurgence of the discussion after the post of Mark Diaz Truman on Google+, Two Minutes Hate.

Curious about the post by Mark Diaz Truman? I thought it was a good read. I’m all in favor of treating people like people, not like objects of hate, in favor of some humility, recognizing the achievements of others and the failings of oneself. And I have often scratched my head, wondering what the hell I just read in a thread on G+.

Zak often comes across as aggressive. Here’s an example on a blog post of his where Brie Sheldon is quoted saying “I have been directly impacted by the bad behavior of Zak” and he jumps on that and wants to see the evidence. He also provides a link to a longer thread by Jeremie Friesen on Google+ where Zak and Tracy talk. He really wants to defend himself against any and all slights, including the thread mentioned above.

Here’s why I care: back when I ran the One Page Dungeon Contest I liked the fact that every submission had to use a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. One day Brett Bernstein contacted me and asked me whether I’d be OK with Precis Intermedia collecting the submissions in a printed volume. Of course I’m OK with it, but more than that: it doesn’t matter whether I’m OK with it. You don’t have to ask. That’s what the license is all about. No more asking for permission is key. The Book Free Culture talks about this a lot. The licenses were created to get around the need to ask for permission.

Sadly, some people didn’t understand that applying the license to their submission allowed others to do this very thing I was so happy to see. I felt I had done a good thing by insisting that the contest submissions used Creative Commons licenses but somebody else wrote a blog post calling the result a “dick move”. [1] [2] That hurts. And it keeps on hurting because the written words do not disappear. The spoken word will disappear, but the blog post will stay. Somebody is forever insulting me.

That’s why I agree with people like Zak: there needs to be more accountability online. Posting online is not like talking to friends. Posting online is like writing for the press if more than a handful of people can read it. Accountability is key. Politeness is key.

I really don’t like vague statements. I remember one of the comments in particular. Avonelle Wing says: “I’m concerned about all the voices that have serious issues with how they’ve been treated in the past who have now been silenced entirely because one person (one white man) behaved inappropriately in public in the perception of one high-visibility entity.” To me, this is an opening statement that works well in a face to face conversation, a private conversation. Are we talking about Zak? Who are “all the voices?” If we were friends and talking face to face, I could ask for clarification, we’d share the backstory I’m missing. But written words, no links to threads, no names, it’s all so vague. And yet, we’re perhaps discussing the reputation of a person. I’d be trying to defend myself against such vague insinuations and I’d like to see some evidence so that we can talk about it. The alternative is not to make such insinuations in public. I’ll go back to the thread linked above where Tracey Hurley is talking to Mandy and Zak. Is Tracey Hurley one of the people that have been silenced? I’m not friends with her, either. All I know from reading the transcript is that Zak and Mandy are vigorously defending their way of life and saying that they are not willing to take the blame for things that are wrong with capitalism and the magazine Maxim. Thus, the vague statements make it hard to know if I’m understanding what Avonelle meant. And comments are closed. And then another vague statement: “Fear of retaliation is gatekeeping, and there’s definitely gatekeeping going on that is keeping women out of publicly producing games.” What is the retaliation we are speaking about? Is it Zak angrily demanding that people provide proof when they allege his wrongdoings? Would me asking for quotes be construed as the same kind of “retaliation?”

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. I think people should own their accusations and name names and link to evidence—or take their discussions out of their public sphere. Is this “silencing?” I don’t think so. These are the consequences of sharing a public space. Your freedom ends where it impinges upon another’s.

„Das Recht ist also der Inbegriff der Bedingungen, unter denen die Willkür des einen mit der Willkür des anderen nach einem allgemeinen Gesetze der Freiheit zusammen vereinigt werden kann.“ [3]

Another example is a post by Sophie Lagace, Who measures progress? Good question. I’d love to see the “long-documented bad behaviours” she mentioned. And I keep wondering about “Calling out of victims.” When I read the transcript above, it seemed to me that Zak was the victim, except that he doesn’t show fear and doesn’t retreat to a safe space and instead defends his reputation vigorously, angrily. And yet his anger doesn’t get seen as appropriate. It’s weird. The entire blowback Mark is getting is weird.

After adding to this post over the days that the discussion has been unfolding, I realized that I had already said most of what I wanted to say back in 2014, Speaking in Public. Back then, I said:

What I took away from all those years on the Internet was being more careful about what I said. At first I felt like a coward. Afraid of comments on my own blog, I was.

Is this me being silenced or is this me being reasonable when speaking in public? I’m not being silenced and neither is anybody else who is rightfully criticised and challenged in public. Belonging to a group that is being silenced (their actors don’t play in big movies, their books don’t get nominated for awards, their artists are being paid less, their complaints about abuse are being ignored) does not mean that you get to say whatever. Like Tracy in that first thread up there, she definitely has the right to object to sexualized images of women playing D&D in a magazine—but she does not get immunity when challenged by the people being portrayed.

As I said back in 2014:

If I can’t stand the heat after nailing my blog posts to the church door, I’m not going to post.

Still true.

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Comments on 2016-07-27 OSR and DIY D&D

Similar situation here: Alexander Cherry opens a discussion on Google+ with “So, as far as I can tell, the Old School Revolution is about demanding bad game design. Can anyone give me a counter-example?” How’s that for a terrible opening? Natalie Bennet says in a comment:

Your original statement is so non-sensical that it’s impossible to respond to it.

Clearly people who identify with the “old school revolution” don’t agree that the games that they prefer are “bad game design.” We play those games because they lead to the play experiences we prefer.

So you’re either trolling, stupid, or have a definition of concepts like “bad” and “about” that is incomprehensible to other humans.

[…]

Next time, try something like:

“Features of OSR games like X, Y, and Z thing seem like bad design. They lead to behaviors A, B, and C, which aren’t fun. But some people really like them, there are a lot of games that use them. What’s going on? Why do people want games like this?”

If you start from the assumption that people you don’t understand are basically reasonable, but have different experiences and temperaments than you, talking to them tends to go better.

And yet, at the end of the day, Zak’s doing evil shit? Alexander Cherry ends the thread:

Since Zak’s created a hostile environment in this thread, I’m disabling comments, which I should have done the previous time he did it.

But how did we end up here?

Ralph Mazza starts by defending the position that D&D is poorly designed. If there’s an argument I don’t see it. It basically seems to say that the rules are bad because he can’t use the rules without telling us what it is about the rules that prevents him from doing it.

D&D games aren’t bad design because they encourage free form. D&D games are bad design because D&D was a piss poor game in the first place. It encourages freeform, not because it was designed to encourage free form, but because that’s the only way to get the creaky thing to work at all. This is to be expected from a game that pioneered a whole new thing…the very first automobiles were also piss poor cars. We respect the achievement and put them in museums, but no one is commuting to work today in a horseless carriage.

D&D is a bad design. And OSR games that try to get the desired play experience by emulating a known bad design are thus themselves bad designs. And therefore OSR gamers who demand D&D-esque clones, are essentially demanding bad design.

Tony Tucker and Alexander Cherry then talk about combat with Tony saying:

Also, in OSR games combat is heavily discouraged. There are palpable rewards for avoiding it, and minimal rewards for engaging in it.

Zak comes in, picking up on Ralph’s idea that people need to avoid the rules in order to play the game, and picking up on Tony’s point that avoiding combat is often what the game is about, and writes the following:

Players often have snacks during D&D yet the game does nothing in the rules to encourage snacks. It is therefore poorly designed. When players are snacking they aren’t interacting with the system. Clearly, someone like Ralph should write a storygame which supports snacks so we don’t have to think up our own snacks.

I may have said it differently, but given the opening statements by Alexander Cherry and Ralph Mazza, it seems quite appropriate. And then it all goes downhill.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-08-02 13:04 UTC

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