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The Map is not the Territory - Part 2 (map trivia)

The Disoriented Ranger - Mon, 02/05/2018 - 19:31
Yes, already the second post. I need to get my jive back and for that, it helps to work this keyboard as hard as possible ... Anyway, Part 1 left lots of question marks and some of that needs to be resolved. Not sure if a third post will become necessary (yes, it will). For now, we take a deep dive into maps and what they do. [source]Clarifications for Part 1
If you haven't read that, this will get you up to speed. I'll start by quoting something I wrote on g+ to illustrate part of the idea:"... imagine yourself in the middle of a forest without a map. What are your options, what is it you can do to get around, etc., etc. ... Now imagine yourself with a map. What would change? What is it you can do now? How does the map relate to what is surrounding you? Your options change, but not as much as one would actually think. As a matter of fact, if you don't know where you are or how to work a map, it might end up being useless to have a map, right? And now imagine the players having a map without the characters having one ... that's the discrepancy I'm talking about."I'm not talking about how maps lead you from point A to point B. What I'm talking about is what maps do for the game, what they should do for the game and what they can do for it.
There's a little detour in the post about how damage can be handled way more abstract than it is done in D&D by leaving the notion behind that every aspect of a creature needs to be quantifiable. The principle is the same as with maps: you can cut the fat by answering the question which aspects of a creature you really need to allow a meaningful interaction with the characters.
Contrary to common practice I believe that you can get away with scratching the notion of hit points (among other things). The reason for this is the same reason why we are talking about maps here, it's about how the system translates the interactions with the narrative environment surrounding the characters. There is a lot to this, but the basic idea is that characters more or less are expected to experience the world around them as we do ours. That's how we relate to what they experience and that's what we base our decisions on what they can do or what their chances are to succeed.
So, characters in a forest would mostly see what's directly surrounding them. They may have a notion where they are or where North is or how to find that out. However, since the narrative environment is not so much a virtual space as it is an emerging pattern, we can get away with just creating enough content to create a credible sphere of continuity (that is: basically being ahead of the players at least a couple of steps).
Which means, in a way, that a monster having hit points is equivalent to having an idea where all the trees are in a forest, while all we might need is the idea that the hit points/the trees are there and how that interacts with the characters. The idea is to show that while maps are useful and have their place, there's also a divide between maps depicting spaces and role-playing games creating patterns.
This is where Part 2 starts ...
Problematic Maps
There's a great article over at Tor about how problematic Tolkien's maps of Middle Earth are and it is an interesting read for that alone, so check it out. The main take away here (for this post, at least) is that Tolkien would have been better off without the map. Why? Because the story doesn't need it and the internal logic of the map (or lack thereof) actually hurts the story (or will after you've read that article ...).
As a matter of fact, if Tolkien had left it at just describing the journey of the fellowship of the ring, it would have produced a huge range of maps made by publishers, artists or fans and some of them are bound to get it right while staying true to the source. As it is, the map that does nothing for the story but codifies what Middle Earth looks like, warts and all.See the problem? [source]It's not a problem, I hear you thinking. Well, role playing has it's very own and very similar problems with maps. Although somewhat reversed. Check out, for instance, the 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. Or rather, every published D&D setting from AD&D 2e onwards, to be honest, but let's look at the Realms. The short of it is, it's full.
So full, in fact, that there's almost no room left for a DMs own stuff. Of course, that's also (and to a huge degree) due to the texts accompanying those maps: cultures, sigils, names, seasons, religions, stories, non-player characters, politics, world events ... lots and lots and lots of stuff there, ready for the taking. Or taking away creative wiggle room.
Just like with Tolkien above, though, it's the maps that make it worse. They codify the texts while creating the illusion of completeness and putting all of the described locations into context. It creates a restricted space where just the texts would have left enough room for interpretation for all using it.
The thing with maps is, they try to fill the gaps and the empty spaces and while resorting to generalizations out of sheer necessity, it still occupies everything. Text alone doesn't do that.
Maps vs. Reality
Maps just don't do reality. Full stop. They heighten certain aspects of an area. It's more of an interpretation cut towards certain needs, but never the complete thing. Can't be. If a map would depict every aspect of reality ... it would be reality. Maps are the tip of the iceberg or the proverbial tail of the elephant. They show aspects of reality, sure enough, just not the whole. I can't stress enough how crucial this is when talking about fictional maps. Because if maps never show the real thing, what does that mean if all you have is the map?
Keep that question in mind, I will come back to it.
Examples. I wrote a post a couple of years back after I had visited a real-life dungeon in Oppenheim and you can read it here. The main takeaways are: it's chaotic and multilayered with small tunnels for messenger dogs, with underground weather and sealed tunnels. There is not one straight tunnel. As far as maps go, it is impossible to map. Here, have a picture:
This is a very small portion of the dungeon under Oppenheim.This place grew all over the place, like a fungus. That's how dungeons are more often than not. It's not how dungeons are usually depicted in role-playing games ... Which offers a nice transition to how problematic maps get if they are too concrete in what they depict. There are some beautiful 3d maps out there and if you get a chance to use them at the table, it'll add a lot to the gaming experience

And that's already where the problem is. The random nature of the game does not guaranty that the group will end up in a specific location at any given time (unless you force it ...). It's (again) the problem of fixed space versus emerging pattern.

You want a little bit more crass example? There's another post I wrote as a follow-up to the Oppenheim post where I tackle spelunking (it's here) and it's coming to some very similar conclusions about caves: they are chaotic and very difficult to navigate, even more difficult to map. Here is a picture of what a map for a real-life cave looks like:

Open in new tab and check the post for more details on that one ...It's the closest you can get and (I think) a great example of what maps can do respectively what the limitations are. Here is another dimension to this: it has no purpose other than depicting what is there in a way that makes it possible to navigate it.

In other words, no one thinks "I need a place for my Ogre to live ..." or, to circle back to Tolkien, "We need mountain ranges around Mordor ...". It shows there's always nature before purpose, random before potential. It needs a lot of chaos before a pattern can emerge from it. Check the names they gave the areas they found in that cave map above. Meaning after the fact.

If nothing else, considering all this can give games and maps authenticity.

Finally: the map is not the territory?

No, well, yes! But we are not quite there yet. I think I managed to circle the problem this time around though: maps are always about what they depict and never the full picture. Where gaming material is (often) lacking, is when the map lacks context on the one hand, while occupying too much space on the other.

Maps offer great chances but are not an end unto themselves.

Where to go from that? Well, I guess we need to talk about procedural creation and player maps for a bit. Maybe an excursion to computer games is in order as well. The third (and final, I'm pretty sure) part of this series will conclude with an example how we can produce that abundance of material in our games that is needed to give maps authenticity and depth.

As always, comments, questions, and ideas are very welcome. You can also read on in Part 3!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Map is not the Territory - Part 1 (basic thoughts)

The Disoriented Ranger - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 19:21
Time to post. Turned out to be a long one. Actually, long enough to warrant a second post (which might end up being just as long). I'll try something difficult here: the idea is to formulate a theory how fictional realities (our gaming worlds) need a different approach to mapping for DMs and how understanding why things work as they do helps forming new concepts for your own games. I'll be slaughtering some holy cows here, so let's get to it.
This post was partly inspired by the post The formless Wilderness by +Gabor Lux.

It's also very much about the thoughts behind the design for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (just in case anyone way wondering ...)
What you see is not what you get ...
Here is the problem: it is impossible to simulate reality in every detail. And even if it were possible, it's also impossible to experience reality in its entirety. In our games, it's the interplay between the illusion of detail and the shared belief of interconnectedness that make the magic happen. Reality is what we agree upon, as are the rules we use.
Following that train of thought further, we'll come to the conclusion that one goal of proper game-design is to offer a compromise in rules that produces something exceptional beyond the sum of its parts. We tend to forget that the individual group always is the factor x in every game. I think we tend to forget this because when we talk rules, we all talk about the same offer, not so much about the compromise that ends up being the individual game. Nonetheless, the compromise is what you get.
There's almost my punchline for the introduction. However, let's push harder. The sum of its parts, suspension of disbelief, all that gets you only so far in explaining how to do your job as a DM or how to write rules yourself. There are, of course, always the rules that are established and are known to work. The "tried and true" type of rules. But what is very often lacking with those type of rules is the explanation why they work. And this is a big problem, in my opinion.
We are told to take these things at face value, without being able to look "under the hood" and see the machinations or how they connect to the game. Rulebooks more often than not explain to you how a game works, but not why it works and if you don't know why it works, you cannot make informed decisions when doing it yourself. Or transcend beyond that, making something new, maybe something better.
Maps are a good and easy example for that, as they are a collection of signifiers for an area that are more on the interpreting side than the reproducing side. It always needs points of reference to make maps useful. Hence, maps need something to be mapped, to begin with, and their usefulness is only in reference to what they depict. So, what you see on a map is not what you get in the game. However, if you just have the map, what, actually, do you end up with in the game? And what should DM-maps look like if they are derived from a gaming environment?
GPS fail, because maps are not always reliable [source]A roll is a roll is a roll ...
However we decide to determine chance in our games, the most common denominator will be that they are all oracles. Easy as that. You ask what's going to happen, chance tells you how it's going down. However, while the extent of complexity we end up using in our games is totally up to taste, the one thing you'll find in all those systems is that they aim for credibility. The results should genuinely mirror our interpretation of possible results (or at least something we can agree upon), maybe even expand our horizon in that regard.
In a way, the oracle you choose is the method with which the players explore and experience the world surrounding their characters. It helps them mapping what they discover. And that is important, as it informs their decisions. Each feedback they get offers information about the possibilities of their next decisions.
It's why games need to be "balanced" because we want to be able to extrapolate what will happen from what happened or learn from our mistakes, which is only possible if the results of the oracles are relatable. In that sense, balance doesn't mean that all encounters are "fair" challenges but rather that players will (should) be able to assess the chances their characters have facing a certain challenge, at least over time.
Right? [source]The way I see it, the rules work as sensors for the players, their ten-foot pole, and the more leeway the rules give them, the better are the decisions they end up with. It's easy to see how that can be true for players. With DMs, it's a bit harder to see. However, if we stay with the idea of the system-as-oracle, we can come to the conclusion that systems or rules can provide context beyond the scope of a DMs individual capability. Here's a quote from the Wikipedia article about divination that brings some of that home for me:"Divination can be seen as a systematic method with which to organize what appear to be disjointed, random facets of existence such that they provide insight into a problem at hand."In a way, the DM also asks the rules how the world manifests as the characters explore it. Sure, you can decide if it is a rainy day or not instead of leaving it to chance, especially if it seems convenient (and although it's something we frown upon when players do it!). However, I found that using a form of divination for decisions is not only liberating, it also offers outcomes beyond what I could come up with on my own.
The famous D&D Random Encounter Reaction Table is a great example here. The chance that a monster is happy to encounter the group is as high as outright hatred. But happens if that orc is happy to see you? It changes the flow of the game significantly. It has merit. What's more, it also offers a spectrum players in turn can rely on: not all encounters need to be hostile and depending on how characters approach encounters, they might, for instance, be able to reason with a monster. Or trick it.
While the Random Encounter Reaction Table forces a DM to find reason in the behaviour of a monster, it also offers reason for the players to work with. The monster that wants to kill you instead of fleeing or parleying, must have reason to do so. It's a pattern fixed in the rules and players may draw conclusions from that about their surroundings.
Your basic Random Encounter Table works like that, too, in that it not only gives you a random encounter, but also shows the entirety of all common encounters for a certain area. It's a relatable pattern. However, it's important to know why it works to utilize it properly.
Threat assessment and reliable information ... [source]Priorities and observation
If rules are sensors for players than they meet half way with the DMs imagination what the world looks and works like. Combat is an easy example here, as it (usually) takes a close look at what happens in a fight and what the consequences are. Most role playing games will not only offer (more or less) complex combat sub-systems, but also a shit-load of stuff associated with that, like monster manuals and what not.
And yet, while most systems will get along just fine, you'll also see the limits of those systems fairly easy: characters are very often so much more complex than their monster counterparts, and very much for the reasons stated above. It's mostly based on the misconception that it is not only possible but also necessary to simulate the gaming environment with an aspiration towards realism. The idea is, I think, rooted in the believe that for cause and effect to be reliable, they need to be fully realised.
That is, for a monster to be hurt it needs to have (some sort of) hit points to begin with. The strange thing is that while it still renders an incomplete picture of that fictionl environment the characters interact with, it still, in a way, gives too much of the world away.
Much like with maps, what good does it a DM or player to know how much hit points exactly a monster has? While you think there might be an obvious answer to that question (that is: to know when it's dead), I'd like to challenge the reasoning here. Think about it, all the characters know is that they damaged the opponent to some degree, and all the DM needs to know is how the opposition reacts to that damage. The idea that something has points that need depleting to come to an result has led (as we all well know) to lots of games ending up being slaughter fests.
What it seems vs. what it is ... [source] I'd say it should be enough to know how tough an enemy is in the different stages of mutilation and how that manifests in an reaction during the fight. For obvious reasons it's still a good idea to have some sort of health system for characters. But that's just it: priorities and observation. What is important in the game and what will be observated (as in: what manifests and why).
It's the same way with maps. They give a wrong sense of completion and give too much away while being incomplete. It's misleading, just like the hit points for monsters are.
So, the map is not the territory?

I'm not against nice maps or monster manuals. It's good inspiration and most games actually rely on monster manuals to give DMs options. They work, they are fun, I'm all for it. I also think we cn push a little harder in our designs and see where it gets us. This includes the games we play as well as the games we write. For that we need a proper understanding what the hell we are actually doing when playing role playing games. But how to achieve that?
Experience and trial and error. We do not have the luxury of a billion dollar industry with the pocket money to finance research like the computer gaming industry has, so this comes down to enthusiasts doing their thing. The thing is, it costs time and it might not work. Nonetheless, it's work that needs doing (I think). This is such an attempt and if you check this blog on a regular basis, you'll know that it isn't the first time my ideas wander in directions like this. IHere's me hoping that I'm going somewhere with this and not just re-formulate old ideas ...
Anyway, so much for part 1. Part 2 will tackle concrete forms of mapping as they are used in gaming, some concepts that are used for maps outside of gaming and some ideas what can be done (or has been done and what I was thinking ...).
Holy cow up for slaughter next time: dungeon levels ...

No promises, but I try to be better with the blog updates in the future. It's just that (other than work draining the life out of me, as usual), well, it's just that I feel like when you do this long enough, topics seem to broaden, getting more and more complex to a point where writing a blog doesn't do it anymore. Or you keep repeating yourself. Or you reduce blogging to shouting personal opinions into the own echo chamber. Or (worst case scenario) you think people care enough about your personality to get away with politics ... Anyway, I'll post when I think I got something to share and that might be less often.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

My AthensCon Activities

Lake Geneva Original Campaign - Sun, 11/12/2017 - 20:19
Here are snaps from the AthensCon site detailing my activities for the convention December 2 & 3.

There might be another panel; and if there is I will update this post.

Happy Gaming All!




Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Attending AthensCon Dec. 2 &3

Lake Geneva Original Campaign - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 11:02
I am a special guest for AthensCon, December 2 & 3, a convention which last year had 15,000 attendees.  My duties/events include (besides having fun and eating gyros):


Running a two-hour RPG workshop:  The Genius of Original Dungeons & Dragons:  Leaping Outside the Box of Design History.
Participating in a large panel discussion on board game design.
DMing two sessions of my redesigned Lake Level from Castle El Raja Key, a level Gary Gygax cut his teeth on during the play-tests of D&D in 1973 and which was later incorporated into Castle Greyhawk as the "Black Reservoir." I have greatly expanded it to two maps with the commensurate encounters and added a back history and living depth to it.  Should be a riot! 

Here's the link to my appearance:  http://www.athenscon.gr/en/guests/item/robert-j-kuntz

See you there?  C'mon, everyone likes gyros with gaming!  :)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dave Arneson's True Genius Published

Lake Geneva Original Campaign - Sun, 04/16/2017 - 03:46
Hot off the press and already steamrolling ahead!



What is Dave Arneson’s True Genius??
Well...  It kinda starts below...

...and then by leaps and bounds...
Breaks the sound barrier of game design history by 2,000 years...
Join us in a giant step into the past that re-opens a future doorway David L. Arneson created and gifted to us!
###
From the award-winning game designer and author Robert J. Kuntz
Available From:  threelinestudio.com


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Breaking News!

Lake Geneva Original Campaign - Mon, 12/19/2016 - 00:01

Breaking News From Archeology Today!
NYC, in the year 2376...


Today archeologists from the Smithownisan Institute of Japan unearthed what is thought to be the last vestiges of a long defunct U.S. political party once called the Democrats.
Dr. Kumwatmae expounded upon the find:  "It's an exciting artifact that we are studying around the clock.  We believe these Democrats, in their dying days, resorted to baby worship by sacrificing millions of them upon the altar of a mysterious pseudo-religion that we can only now identify as something having to do with 'Planning'.  We strongly believe that this symbol may very well be a link to that religion, although my colleague at the dig, Dr. Cumwatmyte, still insists that the representative image is more likely an expression of some hidden angst that was on the rise among their kind and that lead to their untimely demise about 250 years ago."
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Project I'm Writing and Laying Out at the Same Time

Lake Geneva Original Campaign - Sun, 12/18/2016 - 20:18
The material dates from 1974 and, oh boy, has it been updated! Cool adventure in the future folks!

More to come!




Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dave Arneson's True Genius Cover FINISHED!

Lake Geneva Original Campaign - Thu, 12/08/2016 - 16:37



This is a highly reduced resolution JPEG of the cover for Dave Arneson's True Genius that my wife, Nathalie (with some specific help from myself on the graphics end, i.e., the concept lettering for the blackboard), finished today.  Nathalie is very excellent at layout (and many other things, she always surprises)!

Nat has proceeded to laying out the text.  Meanwhile I am plugging away on 2 maps for 2 separate adventures as well as laying out TLS's first PDF product!

We are getting excited here!  I hope you are too!

Enjoy!

Rob & Nat


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

BoardGameGeek Composite Rating for El Raja Key Archive: So Far So Good!

Lake Geneva Original Campaign - Tue, 12/06/2016 - 17:22



Initial reactions from buyers at BGG of El Raja Key Archive is at a composite 9.5 out of 10.

LINK:  https://www.boardgamegeek.com/rpgitem/212609/el-raja-key-archive

Not blowing our horn too much here, but we expected very high ratings for this product.

Almost 3 years steady production time went into finishing the project and it also launched a new adventure book line with it.  Its nearly 1,100 hi-res scanned files date back to 1971 and are a roadmap to pre-D&D, early D&D, ancient Greyhawk material, World of Kalibruhn, early TSR and so much more, spanning 48 years of my design history through the original artifacts that were auctioned 2005-2015 but, with foresight, were preserved for the gamers, collectors and historians through hundreds of hours of scanning work over that time.

There has never been an item of this sort produced and made available for the public in the history of RPGs.

TLB Games is currently running a Holiday Sale for ERKA (see link at the right side bar).  Get yours before Santa heads back to the North Pole!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

My Interview at the Multiverse Blog

Lake Geneva Original Campaign - Sat, 12/03/2016 - 17:22
"Chillin' after the interview"

Timothy Connolly and I had a week-long give-and-take resulting in an interview that should be of special interest to TSR/D&D historians and serious designers.

LINK:  http://multiverse.world/blog/2016/11/30/qa-robert-j-kuntz/
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

TLB Games Holiday Specials

Lake Geneva Original Campaign - Mon, 11/28/2016 - 21:15

Holiday Sale Special!!!
Check out our specials for El Raja Key Archive and Sunken City Adventure!

https://www.tlbgames.com/
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