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Faith… According to Hebrews 11:1

The Idol Babbler - Wed, 05/23/2018 - 20:51

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Betrothal… Hosea’s Picture of the New Covenant

The Idol Babbler - Sat, 05/12/2018 - 20:11

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Building be67, a LL/MF supplement for the weird 60s, Part 3 (classes, ability scores, skills and weapon mastery)

The Disoriented Ranger - Sat, 05/05/2018 - 14:04
Here we are again, talking a bit more about how to transport your Labyrinth Lord/Mutant Future game into the Weird Sixties (which totally should be a thing, btw, but isn't). More Grindhouse aesthetic, more gory violence, more funky stuff. All optional, of course. Today we'll explore a bit the classes for be67, ability scores, skills, weapon mastery and some random character generation. Here we go ...
You want to catch up? Check out Part 1 and Part 2 a bit further below.
[source]  (Random) Character generation
I had it all a bit backwards, since I wanted to show you guys the "extraordinary splatter" part of the game (and because those parts adapt well to all basic editions). However, this (probably) last part of the series will give you the complete character creation process in the order I'd do it at the table. If you know D&D/LL/MF or any other game like it, you'll know your way around and spot the differences easily enough. Most of the changes here are cosmetic to some degree or another, because we are playing the Weird Sixties, baby ...
1. ABILITY SCORES
Roll 3d6 per ability score, in order. Re-roll one ability score (keep better result). The ability scores are (names will defer from the editions you know):
  • POWER! – a character’s strength (bonus to attack)
  • Dex (was here) – a character’s finesse (bonus to AC)
  • Con is for Constitution (bonus to hp per level)
  • Wits – a character’s intelligence (skill points)
  • Zen – a character’s wisdom (bonus to social interaction & Initiative)
  • Funk – a character’s groove (luck pool)
A player may take any amount from his Funk score as a bonus to Saves or rolls or to reduce damage he received. The only ways to regain those points are (1) whenever a character gains a new level (restore up to the original maximum), (2) a wish and (3) a heavy psychedelic experience.I may offer an alternative way in the rules to roll up ability scores (the rule originates here):Players may roll 18d6, and note every single result. For every rolled 6, players may re-roll a lower result and take the new roll instead.  Three digits make an ability score, players can combine as they see fit (and can do so after they (or the dice!) decided on their class, see below). [source]2. CLASSES p { margin-bottom: 0.1in; direction: ltr; line-height: 120%; text-align: left; }a:link { color: rgb(0, 0, 255); }(roll 3d6: 1. is the class, 2. is some flavor (see class entry and 3. is the character’s level … follow class descriptions for individual results) -------------------p { margin-bottom: 0.1in; direction: ltr; line-height: 120%; text-align: left; }a:link { color: rgb(0, 0, 255);
1. Convict – A tough criminal (+3 to physical saves) that has “reasons” to join the party (2nd d6):
  1. he’s fighting for his freedom
  2. his sister, a prostitute, is in trouble
  3. he gets paid a giant sum to do one specific task here (and keeps it secret, needs to talk to DM)
  4. someone has his wife and child as a hostage to exploit him for his skills
  5. he’s in debt and this solves it
  6. Revenge!
  • HD: 1d10 per level
Tough Shiv – if it’s pointy and stabby you automatically get an extra die for damage.
Weapon Mastery: All weapons damages for ranged are d4, Brawl and Close Combat are d6. Everything else needs to get learned separately. 1d6 (your 3rd) points to raise or learn a new one … 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10). Exotic is zero.-------------------
2. Spy – She’s a spy, that’s what she is (get +2 on all Saves when the cause relevant for the mission). The mission is (2nd d6 - the DM will tell you what exactly … or at least what you are allowed to know):
  1. steal some documents
  2. save the world, of course
  3. kill a target that knows too much
  4. destroy evidence
  5. contact a source
  6. extract a double agent
  • HD: 1d6 per level
Agency Support – [level times] you get support during a mission from the agency you are working for. Needs to be plausible and the DM decides how it manifests. It always solves a scene, not a mission.

Weapon Mastery: Small Ranged and Heavy Ranged are d6, the rest is d4. 1d6 (your 3rd) points to raise or learn a new one … 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10.Spies double their Dex bonus to AC.

-------------------
3. Military – You are a grunt (double hp-result when rolled, always) and you are here to follow orders from (2nd d6):
  1. no one, this shit should be in your past … in Vietnam
  2. one of the other players is your superior (true for all military, even if they might have someone else, too … choose player randomly and give it a reason)
  3. your rank makes you the superior
  4. the president gave you those orders
  5. this is a personal matter
  6. black ops, bitches
If there’s more than one soldier in the group, chose the d6 with the higher number for the motivation and the lower number as the level of one additional NPC soldier in this task force. Add a soldier like that each time (so with 3 player soldiers, you'd have a troupe of 5 soldiers: 3 players and 2 non player characters).
  • HD: 1d8 per level 
Nuke ‘em from orbit (one time, all Soldiers in the team) – collect all the hp the troupe loses during the mission. One time, as a last resort, you can roll a d100 with the lost xp as an upper limit. If the roll is below, you can give the order to nuke the place from orbit. Radio contact needs to be established, the strike will be 3d6 minutes later.

Weapon Mastery: If it is a weapon, you can use it with d6. 1d6 (your 3rd) points to raise or learn a new one … 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10. Exotic is zero.

-------------------
4. Activist – You are fighting The Man and your cause is (2nd d6):
  1. fighting fascism
  2. fighting gene experiments
  3. fighting pollution
  4. fighting big corp
  5. world piece
  6. no, this is a family matter 
  • HD: 1d8
For The Cause! – Refresh all your hp [level times]. You keep coming back, man.

Weapon Mastery: Activists get Brawl and Small Ranged as a d6 and no other weapons. 1d6 (your 3rd) points to raise or learn a new one … 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10. Exotic is zero. 
-------------------
5. Journalist – The story is the thing, man. You want it all and pictures (2nd d6 times 200 is the currency you have left to work the story where it happens … getting there, equipment and all that are all already payed for).
  • HD: 1d8 per level
Journalistic Immunity – You get [level times] combats ignored as long as you do nothing but non-combative actions (taking photos, giving First Aid and so on).

Weapon Mastery: Your camera is your weapon, but roll 1d6 (your 3rd) and buy weapon skills for 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10. You always start buying the d4, every stage needs to be bought.
-------------------
6. Flower Child – Religious nut, inspired being or just a drug addict that’s on the wrong party … you are the hippie of the group. The result of the d6 is the number of drug doses you have at your disposal right now (LSD, most likely). You could share, if you want to … you are highly immune anyway (+5 to Saves against poison when perusing drugs).
  • HD 1d12 per level
Smother them with kindness - [level times] you can resolve a conflict without everyone resorting to violence. Need to win initiative for it, though, and all involved have a difficult (vs. 25+1 for everyone failing the Save) Save to avoid the peaceful solution (if one doesn’t make it, he gets one free round to do damage, after that everyone is entitled to join).

Seeing it as it is
– They have no filter and see the monsters that hide amongst humanity for what they are. This is active all the time, but nobody believes them. They take lots of drugs, after all.
Weapon Mastery: No weapon skills to begin with (love, not war, baby). But roll 1d6 (your 3rd) and buy weapon skills for 1 point from d4 to d6, 2 points from d6 to d8, 3 points from d8 to d10. You always start buying the d4, every stage needs to be bought.Flower children also double their skill points.
[source]At this point players have their ability scores (or a pool of numbers to distribute), a (random) class, guidelines for weapon mastery and an idea what the group will look like. Each player can also roll hit points at this point. Before we get to skills and what weapon mastery is, though, I'd like to introduce another feature here: 
3. THE RANDOM TRAIT GENERATOR (1D20)
1-2    Thin (-1 to Strength)
3-4    Choleric (-1 to Wisdom, +1 to Constitution)
5-6    Melancholic (+1 to Intelligence)
7-8    Nimble (+1 to Dexterity)
9-12   Normal
13-14  Serene (+1 to Wisdom)
15-16  Vivid (+1 to Luck/Charisma)
17-18  Brawny (+1 to Strength)
19-20  Fat (+1 Constitution, -1 Dexterity)

I've introduced this here. Usually I'll allow players to chose if they want to try their hands on this, since negative consequences are possible. But if they decide to test this table, they roll after they decided on a class and the ability scores are settled.
4. SKILLS
Characters get at character generation 1 skill point for every point Wits above 10. Each point buys a character a "+1" on a chosen skill. A list of skills might follow, for now I just go with what players think appropriate for their character. Other than that it is assumed that character have the skills necessary to play their class. Basic education or driving skills, for instance, are assumed and tested via the ability scores.
[Source]A skilled character just has an edge on the other characters. So having a "+1" on any skill means that characters will automatically have a partial success if their roll to test the skill (basically 1D20 + ability score vs. difficulty) comes up with a 10 or higher.Characters get another skill point (+Wits bonus) to distribute like this every 3 levels.I might go all in here and add the rules I wrote for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs here, as they easily add some depth. Might keep it optional, though.
5. WEAPON MASTERY
Weapon Mastery needs to match the rules discussed in Parts 1 & 2 in that not the weapon itself determines the damage, but the ability of a user to deal damage is what makes the difference. A man that knows how to use a knife might be just as dangerous as one knowing how to use a pistol (at least in the genre we are playing here, ha!). The Weapon Mastery for a modern times game might be a bit different than you'd need for a fantasy game, so here is how I split it:
  • Brawl (Boxing, Judo, Kung Fu)
  • Close Combat (knives and shit)
  • Small Ranged (pistols, semi-automatics)
  • Medium Ranged (shotguns, rifles)
  • Heavy Ranged (sniper rifles, mounted guns)
  • Explosives (c4, dynamite)
  • Exotic (swords or ninjutsu and shit)
Damage dice as per class description. Characters can get 1 damage die raised by one stage every 3 levels.
[source]The last thing you'll need is a mission
I'll offer a couple of scenarios and mini-adventures for be67 and the Weird Sixties here on the blog. I'm also currently writing a module for this system called "The Rise of Robo-Hitler" and it will hit shelves in December. That said, you could quite easily come up with your own scenario by checking out a vast library of Grindhouse inspired movies and comics and (computer) games from the sixties to today (check the posters alone, here for instance).
Or just take your favorite D&D adventure and twist a bit to work in the Weird Sixties (man, a rewrite of something like B2 to fit the era would be tons of fun ...).
The rules described here will offer wild shot-outs, motivated and colorful characters and bloody action. The rest is what the rules you use provide.
The game of your choice and be67
And that's that. Anything else you might need to make this work is the basic edition compatible game of your choosing: xp, level advancement, saves, everything that is missing so far. I might do some character sheets for LL, MF when I do the one for be67 (or maybe just a mini-sheet for the additional rules?).
I'll twist be67 into form in the next couple of months and it'll be available for free (probably PWYW). A fourth part of this series will probably address loose ends like armor and maybe a table for random splatter events. You don't have to change much with the original rules you are using to make this work for you. For combats, just take a monsters already existing damage dice for the weapons they carry, handle the tokens for them as the players do and you are good to go.

Everything else should apply naturally. Mortality shouldn't be much higher, but people will get crippled more and the game will be way more gritty. As I like it, actually. If you use any of this in your games, I'd be happy to hear how it worked for you, of course. Happy gaming!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

RPG Design: Rules to Project or Rules to Experience?

The Disoriented Ranger - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 14:54
This is sort of an intermission between development posts for be67. It's something that occurred to me a couple of weeks ago and I see it resonated in my blog-roll every so often (like, three times today alone!). I'm going to lean myself a bit out of the window here and say that there are two major and distinct game design schools in RPG Land. RPGs are either one or the other. Let me explain ...
CAVEAT (just in case someone is looking for a fight): Although I believe myself to be clearly on the one side of this (for reasons I will illustrate below), I don't think that any one side is better than the other. As a matter of fact, the one thing that unites (or divides, for that matter) all DIY designers out there is getting it done or not and I'd argue that it is just as hard to build and write a streamlined minimalist game as it is to write rules that reflect how a world should react to a character out of luck. I also might not be the first to formulate those thoughts. If that's so, I'm happy to just repeat them.
Surrealist game, he said
Patient Zero for this was a post over at Realms of Chirak about surrealism in gaming (I'd tag Nicholas, but I somehow seem to have lost that power here in blogger). That post is interesting for a couple of reasons, but what triggered this particular train of thought was him talking about a game I never had been exposed to: Over The Edge (thank you! now I want that and it doesn't exist anymore).
What he said was, that it is (one of?) the first role playing games out there to embrace surrealist elements. Then he goes a bit into the setting and I went off to read a bit more about that setting (which is cool shit, don't get me wrong) and then I read that it is a very rules light game ...
... wait a minute, I thought, so the surrealist elements come from the setting, not from the system? Well, if you check out the character sheet, you'll see quite fast that there isn't happening a lot from the system side of things (from what I could gather, it's a nice system, though).
It certainly isn't the first time I encountered a game like that (and I'm not talking about games featuring surrealist elements, although one could make an argument for OD&D in that regard). Tékumel is a strong contender for a setting-driven, rules-light game and among the first to be published. Talislanta is another one (No elves!), but that just might be the hand of Jonathan Tweet again, so it only counts half way, I guess.
D&D can be surreal, and you know it ... [source]I wrote in a post not that long ago (still lost ... can't find it right now, but it's the thought that counts) that strong settings are narrative expansion of the rules and just as strict. All you'll need with a strong setting is a minimalist or light game to make it work (which is one way to see it). I'll leave it at that for now and come back to it later. The distinction we need to make here, is that the game is not heavy on the mechanics, but heavy on the context (or subtext?).
It's Setting vs. Rules, then?
So what are we talking about here? There seems to be a shifting scale between, say, the established story of a game and the rules that determine the outcome of interactions with said world. Both feed the narrative that emerges at the table and the degree with which they dominate is close to the distinction I'm trying to make, just not quite right.
As far as I can tell, this more is about how much is projected into a game and how much is created procedurally. You'll obviously have both aspects in every game. However, I think we can make a clear distinction by looking at the rules of a game for attempts to generate an experience rather than leaving room for projection.
I'll elaborate. Let's take Dungeon World as an example (because I read and reviewed that one). It is very rules light, only has a couple of rules to play with. Everything else is just labeled differently, so the impact on the narrative is shifted with different words describing (mostly) the same mechanic.
DW is interesting as an example for another reason: it shows how OD&D as a set of rules is canonized to a degree that you can actually project it on a lighter system and produce the same feel for the lighter game (if all involved know what D&D is, I'd argue). In the reviews back when I described that as "scripted D&D" and that is just another way of describing the phenomenon.
The "XYZ Hack" is another great example for games like that. Take a light system, change the words and use some strong idea or another as platform to project. Everyone has an idea what pirates are, so pirate games are easy like that. Same goes for Cthulhu games or Pulp games or Kung Fu ... just look at the list.
To a degree you'll have that with every role playing game, as I already pointed out. People will bring their ideas of stories to the table. Always. The difference is, if you need to bring that knowledge to the table, or if the game also delivers and challenges some of that itself.
An easy example for this are the insanity rules in Call of Cthulhu games. The game will tell you how your character goes insane, what that means and how to do something about that while playing the game. Port those rules in any other game and see how it completely changes the flow of that other game.
SWAT guys playing Ballerinas ...
Here's another example for projection versus experience. You bring to the table what you know. If that's all you need, you'll be good to go. The rest is negotiation of the validity of that knowledge with all others involved.
Say, a SWAT team plays some rpg in their off hours (or as training?) about being a SWAT team. They could just go and use something Powered by the Apocalypse or a Hack variant or some other set of minimalist rules and everything else would just fall into place.
But have them play a couple of ballerinas in a Black Swan scenario, and I imagine they'd be as lost as most people. If they were still up to it (because, lets face it, people don't really want to invest that much into the games they are playing ...), there'd be two ways to make this work:
  • (1) would be offering them the setting heavy variant (see above, could just be an extension of a rules light system and still work)
  • OR
  • (2) you introduce them to a system that already took care of the heavy lifting and allows the players to explore that theme themselves.
And that's how you make ballerinas out of a SWAT team. A system like that would seek the essence of what it means to be a competitive ballerina (to stay with the example here) and allows players to explore the game's theme by producing results that form the emerging narrative in a meaningful way towards said theme, not towards the players expectations.
Too unexpected? [source]They are not negotiating and projecting as much as they are experiencing and interpreting. As they get better at playing the game, they come to an understanding of the underlying themes on a more visceral level ... (you are still looking at that Kirk picture, aren't you?)
You could say it is the long held distinction between so-called "storyteller games" and games that "simulate", but I always questioned that distinction and the above explains why to some extent. However, I might add that all role playing games actually tell a story or simulate in the true sense of the word (which explains why people fight so hard about those definitions, btw, they are not apt to begin with).
Different approaches, I'd say
I'm not saying writing a game to allow exploring a theme is more difficult than writing one that offers projection of known and agreed upon themes, but the difficulties are distributed very differently for each. And the distinction is very real (although overlap, see above).
The complexity for offering a platform for players to project themes upon can go from minimal D6 to GURPS (or other universal role playing games) and all of them are in their way equally hard to design, I imagine.
As far as strengths and weaknesses go, I'd say those games allow easy access for players and low investment on the plus side. Both aspects will get people together easily and get you playing fast. Very nice for short games and one shots.
The downside, however, is that games will most likely lack depth, while only rarely challenging the players and the DM or only in the most superficial way (you have no hit points, you are dead ... but even that's not always the case). The lack of depth and exploration (other than on the narrative side, I suppose) will not allow for huge campaigns and lend itself to entertaining mini campaigns. At least it'll be difficult to keep a story alive for long.
The other side of the spectrum would be games that offer the exploration of their themes through the rules. While campaigns can be longer and more satisfying, because all involved will continually be challenged by the game to learn and extrapolate, instead of just telling/negotiating what's going to happen, it's also a serious commitment. Not everyone is willing to do that.
Also, even if all the rules can be learned during the game, you still have to remember them as the game progresses. You have to want to get better at the game (and, arguably, be able to do so) to really benefit from the game instead of getting, say, frustrated. Ideally, a game will lead you into it's depths, though.
With those games it's also very easy to make mistakes in the design. If a game like that is not well designed, it'll fail.
D&D as prototype
D&D is the best example for the latter variant. Especially in it's early "final" stages, the D&D Rules Cyclopedia and AD&D. Highly abstract, high complexity, lots and lots of exploration and little sub-systems to boot (down to having little rules for different monsters!).
It'll keep you engaged for years and then some. Classes are not only different, they are distinct and offer a wide range of different play-styles. The rules are easy on the players in the beginning and grow with the characters.
It's also a true game of exploration, in every sense (which ultimately is why young children find it so appealing!). Fantasy as a genre also played a crucial role in that its generic nature allowed the game to manifest through the rules instead of, say, setting distinctions (a mistake AD&D 2e did, arguably) or strong themes. Just the most basic understanding of what fantasy means was enough to play the game.
D&D, still surreal ... [source]What's more, the game allowed an easy exit along the way. You just want to play the first 9 or 6 or 3 levels? It's all fun and easy enough to do. However, if you go in deep, you'll find it's very deep indeed, as there are rules for warfare and domain games and becoming gods, for instance. There's also room to develop your own game out of it or add new rules. Or just take aspects of it and run with that for a while.
D&D can do all that and did it so good, in fact, that those rules and it's vocabulary became iconic enough to be used as a theme as well, just as explained above. It helped creating a very successful video game industry and all role playing games developed after D&D did so in distinction to it. Think about that for a minute.
Two schools
Anyway. That's D&D for you. The problem with all that is to decide whether you'd rather explore or project in your games (and you could project exploring, for that matter), or which to what degree. It might come down to taste, and that isn't even a constant. However, knowing is half the battle, right?
As far as developing games goes, I think we are talking two different schools here. Or two different disciplines, if you will. And they are distinct in that they each try to create a very different style of role playing. Each are equally difficult to design, make no mistake about it. However, distinct they are and that comes with huge ramifications as far as definitions go.
Here's something useful to take away from this: if you want to find out if a game is for you (or why a game doesn't work for you), look back at the games you liked so far in the most abstract way you can muster and with the distinctions made in this here post. Then check if that new game does that or not.
So if you are into projecting games that are low on setting, something like Dungeon or Apocalypse World might be totally for you. High complexity experiences, but low time investment? Check out indie rpgs like My Life With Master or 44 (or a bazillion other indie games in that direction). Highly modular, lots of projection, descent mini-campaigns? GURPS or BRPG or universal rpgs in general might work. And so on and so forth.
It'll also give you some indications what players you'll want. I had a game of WitchCraft once go south because the players totally where projecting and ignored the rules to an extent where people with super hero characters played as if they were normal and weak. The game offered no challenges for them on that level, and they weren't happy when the things started happening the game demands to challenge the characters ...
It's an extreme case, but I wouldn't have had that problem using a system accommodating this sort of play, like FATE, for instance. Being able to communicate to potential players what kind of game you want to play is a very good thing, imo (although in the example above it meant that two players had to go and one went with them ... which was for the better, I might add).
A hard distinction to make?
If you read up to this point, you'll probably be thinking up examples where the distinction fails. Good. Please challenge this, as I don't think enough people are. I can imagine people going "But we played GURPS for decades now!" or "Dungeon World is not projecting D&D themes on a rules-light system!" or "D&D has no depth!", and that's all fine and dandy from an individual point of view.
However, please consider that it's distinctions like the above that, on a purely pragmatic level, allow us not only to find ways to talk about the games we play, they also offer a way to reflect and position your own preferences in gaming in relation to them. In an ideal case we talk about it and come to a better definition. Nothing set in stone here.
That said, and adding that there indeed is some overlap, I think it is important to understand that there might be play styles that are not compatible at all and what the reasons for that are. Describing this as the distinction between projection and exploration at least has the benefit that it isn't as nebulous as the "storyteller"/"simulationist" approach.
And that's that: i'd love to hear if you guys see the same distinction or something else. Maybe it's really not that much of a distinction but more like a scale of involvement (although I don't think so ... I strongly believe it's a temperament thing, or at least connected)? Let me hear what you think. Opinions and thoughts are, as always, very welcome.
I just liked that one [source]
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Law of Christ… Taking Part in Restoration

The Idol Babbler - Fri, 04/27/2018 - 12:41

This blog article can now be found here.

theidolbabbler is now a proud blog contributor to the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Writing a Labyrinth Lord Supplement (Part 2): More rules and an update after first play-test

The Disoriented Ranger - Sun, 04/22/2018 - 16:10
I actually aimed to go directly to the next topics (damage and armor), but we got to test the stuff from Part 1 yesterday to see if it holds up. It did, but it needed a little clarification and a couple of additions. I thought I might add a little preview of how damage works while I'm at it. And Pain, let's talk about PAIN while we are at it (pain rules are fun).
Collection of (house) rules used

First of all, the initiative works as advertised. It gets the group talking about the fight and who should do what. We used it in our D&D RC game, so no gun fights yet. It changed the vibe a bit from Grindhouse to something more akin to Anime, which is what I'm going for anyway ... Anime does D&D better than anything else and it's true the other way around (check out the Japanese D&D RC and you'll see).Love me some French Anime as well ... [Source]Anyway, we had a test fight and it'd been as gory as I'd hoped. Very satisfying for the players as well (going by their feedback), but they really stressed the system to see if it holds or breaks. Helpful, in a sadistic way (I suppose). Here's a couple of other rules we brought to good use (it's all intertwined and it all will be part of be67):
  • Charisma is Luck (and you can burn Luck): We have a Luck stat (substitute for Charisma) and players roll at the beginning of each session how their Luck bonus influences their rolls (1d4: 1 - Attacks // 2 - Damage // 3 - Initiative // 4 - Saves). Players can use points from Luck to add them to rolls or reduce damage they receive (applies for all in-game rolls). It allows for extremely lucky punches that'd missed otherwise and it saves lives. The catch is (obviously) that a low Luck stat will let you have a negative modifier and that will affect the game (as the character gets, well, unlucky). Luck regenerates with each level advancement.
  • Echo: If a die comes up with its highest possible number, you get to roll the next lower die and add it to the result. If the echo die comes up that high again, you get to add the next lower die and so on (going d20, d12, d10, d8, d6, d4 ... it stops after d4). Goes for all rolls (I'd even allow it for hp at level advancement, but that's just me).
  • *NEW* Damage dice (remember 10-15-20-30): Considering that hitting a target is not necessarily bound to how high you roll on the d20 (especially on higher levels, but clever players will manage early on to tweak the system in their favor), I utilized that roll further by determining that the numbers themselves potentially generate additional damage dice. With a result of 1 to 9 a player will have the first damage die, 10 to 14 gives a second damage die, 15 to 19 gives the third, 20 to 29 the fourth and so on in steps of ten (echo applies). So this is where it gets bloody (and where random hit locations come in handy ... as does Luck!).
  • *NEW* Pain: If the number of damage dice a combatant is exposed to during a combat round exceeds his level/HD, the combatant needs to make a Save vs Paralyzation to avoid getting the number of dice as a negative modifier for attacks in the next round (the pain will paralyze the combatant to some degree). This is cumulative, so if a couple of combatants successfully hit a tough opponent (say, 10+HD), the cumulative number of dice will eventually get to him. Start each round from zero for each combatant. Dice are not carried into the next round. Undead (and everything that doesn't feel pain, arguably) are obviously not affected.
Again, the system stays mostly intact. It's just a couple of twists and additions. You could even keep Charisma and just use the mechanism described above (burning Charisma instead of Luck). If anything, it'll show you that the terms themselves are connected (just a matter of perspective, in my opinion).
People might get hit a bit more often and lose a limb or two, but Luck and Protect will cover most of that and mortality will be lower instead of higher (although, when a character dies, it'll most likely be as gory as it gets). It's all shifting th scales a bit, adding flavor (like pain and Luck) and tactical decisions (the initiative with its Tokens and tools for cooperation). You will roll a couple more dice, but only when a situation escalates and that is always fun, right?
Now about those adjustments ...
There's really just 4 of them and they change nothing of what was already established, just explore some of the implications for the game as they came up while we were at it. Here we go.
1. Reach
If combatants have reach due to size or the weapons they use, opponent need to spend 1 Token for Move to get "into reach" for smaller close combat weapons. Spears and giants for the win!
[source]2. Dead Men's Ten
I couldn't find a solid source to see this verified*, but it is straight forward enough: even after a deadly blow is delivered, a combatant might still fight back to a degree, at least carrying out the last attack he intended to do. So, going by the rules established yesterday that actions are declared lowest to fastest Initiative, while resolution will be fastest to slowest, you can see easily how that might not happen when someone who's faster strikes you dead before your turn. One player addressed that and pointed out the "Dead Man's Ten" (bless him) and I offered as a compromise that in such a situation a combatant is allowed a Save vs Deathrays to get this last attack before he collapses dead.
3. Protect others
You can spend Tokens on Protect and give the AC adjustment to other combatants instead of giving it to yourself. Nothing else changes, it's just that another combatant benefits from it.
4. Free Actions
We had to clarify actions that don't cost Tokens. The first is attack routines, as written in the original post, but doing stuff should also be free to some degree, so drawing or changing or picking up a weapon or doing an action similar to that is free (and possible) once per round. You can do 2 things if you chose not to attack (which wouldn't qualify you to get a +1 to the next Initiative, since you did something instead). Casting a spell should also be free and a substitute for an attack routine. So you will either attack and do something or cast and do something or do two things, but never attack and cast in the same round.
What's left?
That about covers it for now. I obviously have to put some thought into how different weapons work, since weapons with reach got a huge boost, but I'll figure that out in a future post. For now, using what was established in Part 1 with the above will give you a new and different combat experience with the D&D rules.
All those had been fun to play around with and while we also used some house ruled classes (a fearless barbarian, for one), it still all mapped quite well. I'll experiment a little with different tactics and critters from the D&D RC to see what I'll need for handling huge groups of NPCs with tokens, but since some of the principals at work here have worked with a higher complexity in Lost Songs, I'm confident enough to say that we can make it work. 
As far as combat goes, we'll talk about my latest take on the good old Weapon Mastery, about weapons and about armor. Maybe guns, too, while we are at it. After that it'll be classes, the skill system and a completely randomized character generation. And that'd be the supplement, then. Well, I'd have to write it up somewhat nice for a pdf, but it'll be out there and ready to be used.
Again, if you like this stuff and get to use any of it, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on it. Especially people that (as slim as the chances are) used the whole thing in their game! Observations and thoughts are, as always, very welcome. You can also read on in Part 3.
Samurai Champloo GIF! [source]* If you google it, you'll find some entries. However, if you need an inspiration what that could be, check out the legend of Klaus Störtebeker's beheading to get a glimpse of the idea (here).
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Let's write a Labyrinth Lord gaming supplement (Part 1): be67 - a game of extraordinary splatter

The Disoriented Ranger - Sat, 04/21/2018 - 12:20
I started writing a new adventure and things got complicated. Fast. The main problem being, that no rules (I like) exist for the thing I'm writing (classic grindhouse themes with a good dose of splatter). However, just pulling another light-rules game out of the hat sounds just as stupid, so after mulling this over a bit, I came to the conclusion that I should make it a supplement for another game, adding to one game's diversity instead. Here, have a look at my workbench ... 

What game?!

Games, actually. And part of a rather popular brand of games: I'm talking Labyrinth Lord (because it is the D&D Rules Cyclopedia at heart) and Mutant Future (because it adds things you'd want in a modern setting). Both are easy to tinker with and I know my way around the D&D RC. They also come with a fan base and I wouldn't mind that.

Going at this as a supplement would allow all kinds of crossover shenanigans and you could always take any part of this and put it in your games. I'll allow that for the adventure I'm writing, so if you want to go at it with your fantasy adventure group, you'll be able to do that (the fairy court will have some beef there and is looking for able bodies to kick some heads in ...) and if Mutant future is your thing, there'll be a hook for that as well (wanna stop the apocalypse from happening? time travel!).

There'll be new classes and all that as well and they could go explore Stonehell or what have you (wouldn't it be cool to play a couple of Marines infiltrating Stonehell? Definitely!), but that was to be expected, right? I also have a couple of (somewhat) radical changes in mind to make it work with modern world idiosyncrasies like, you know, fire arms and all that. I'm not opposed to doing fire arms like other weapons, but I want to offer a change of the game towards a more .... splattery combat resolution (grindhouse).

Ash knows what I'm talking about! [source]
I'll also port a couple of rules into it that came in very handy in that other game I'm writing, Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (a light version, if you will).

Here's the pitch and a first part of the rules:

be67
"be" stands for "basic edition" and we all know what that stands for. 1967 is the year we are playing. The war in Vietnam was in full swing, as was the Cold War and the hippie movement. The Dirty Dozen had been a hit in theaters in '67 and the president of the United States was traveling Europe. It's also the decade where spy and grindhouse movies had been wildly popular. Things had been "funky" and "gonzo" and "groovy", heroes and heroines had been cool and supervillains had their own brand of evil. Add horror and splatter, psychedelic experiences and all kinds of pulp elements to this and you are in the world we are playing in.

Not sure if the movie is any good, but that poster sure has it all [source]

Let's talk Hit Locations and Initiative first!
This post will outline the necessary stuff I'll need to test in our little D&D RC campaign right now, but expect more about it pretty soon. The basic idea for the changes I want to make for the combat in be67 has nothing to do with the already existing assumptions or values the game already offers. AC stays, HD stays, there'll be no changes to the stats as the game offers them, but a couple of small additions instead and a key to implement them.

Let's start with those additions. I wrote two little posts a while back about about aimed shots and a "wizard with a shotgun". Those will formulate the base line and a couple of directions I want to take this:
  • we keep level/hd and AC, but we add hit locations and give the six body zones a separate hp value (I'd alter the original idea a bit to make some limbs tougher than others)
  • the scheme for weapon damage needn't be affected by this, because the system produces an extra of damage itself (if you check out the posts linked above, you'll see that we used class based damage instead of weapon damage ... but you can use whatever you want)
  • the "more" of damage is produced by (1) allowing players to take disadvantages for their rolls into account to add them to damage instead and (2) by adding the overlap over the target's AC to the damage when using firearms (doesn't even alter the rolls themselves, we just use the numbers that are already there ... okay, you'd have to roll for hit locations, but that's that)
  • that said, I want combat to include a couple of elements D&D combat usually doesn't have implemented in the rules, like cooperation and a somewhat fluid AC system (because, if you have a shoot-out, you'd want people moving from cover to cover and all that)
  • Armor for different hit locations will also become somewhat important, of course, so it'd need an easy key for that as well
  • Damage will also have different effects depending on the source dealing the damage, of course (cutting, stabbing, clubbing, area damage ...) and it would be nice to have rules for pain (a saving throw when ... occurs - we'll get to that)
  • to see which body part is hit, roll 1d8:  1 left leg 2 right leg 3 left arm 4 right arm 5,6,7 torso 8 head (for now, might change to d12 ...)
And that'd be the bare bones. To find out how tough a limb of any given monster is, you just have to look at the following formula:

3 x HD (or level) + limb value (+1 for heads and arms, +2 for legs, +3 for the torso) + AC-value (take it all, magic, dex, protection, whatever)= damage needed to dismember or cripple
Hitting a 4HD ogre on the head would need 12 hp damage to behead him, for instance (more if he has protection like a helmet, of course). A good aimed hit to the head will drop an ogre like that and it'll make sneak attacks way more brutal because of it.

However, add initiative, combat movement and level-based probability to hit a target to it, and you'll not only keep some of the basic assumption of D&D combat intact, you'll also add a necessity for tactical fighting beyond what D&D usually offers. If your character can loose an arm easy as that, you'd want to avoid it from happening.

Initiative in be67

All involved roll 1d6 + Zen-Modifier (ZEN is the be67-equivalent to WIS). A result of 1 (or less) will give you 1 Token to act that round, results 2-5 give you 2 Tokens, 6-10 will give you 3 Tokens and 11+ will give you 4 Tokens to act that round. A roll of a 6 with the d6 lets you add another d4 to your initiative. A combatant that doesn't get to (or decides to) attack although he could have, gets another +1 (per attack) to the next initiative roll (doesn't apply if initiative value had been 0 or lower, because than no attack could have occurred).

[source]Tokens are the currency you use to get anything done but attacking itself (number of attacks per round as per the game you use, with initiative 0 or lower you don't get to attack). Unused Tokens will be added to the initiative roll in the next round.

Actions Tokens can be used for:
  • Protect - reduce your initiative and raise you AC the same amount (doing so might also reduce the number of available tokens and will make you slower) // can be declared earlier in initiative as soon as an attack is declared on the character, even if the character is faster (but never lower as the initiative last declared)
  • Helping - raise a die another character is using to the next higher die (order d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 ... if a d20 is used, add another d4 and raise that with more tokens) // goes for skill checks, attacks or even damage (wizards might use Helping to raise another wizards spell effects!) // # of Tokens a character could use in a round is 1/3 of level/HD (rounded up)
  • Move - combatants can be "in reach" or "moved away [number of] Tokens" and if they are "moved away", other combatants have to use the same amount of tokens to get "in reach", for instance to make a melee attack // a combatants size and speed determine how many Tokens can be used for Move Actions (small = 1 Token per round, medium = 2 Tokens, huge = 3 Tokens and so on // slow = reduce # of Tokens by 1 (if that reduces the # of Tokens to 0, it'll cost 2 Tokens to "move away"), fast = raise # of Tokens by 1 // if a combatant gets 3 Tokens distance the opposition at the end of a round, the fight can be exited without penalty the next round after that (distance is kept until Move actions change it, of course) // the # of Tokens a target is moved away may affect ranged attacks
  • Counter -  1 Token per round may be used to counter any other already declared Token used in a round by another combatant (so you'd have to be faster) // countering Protection will leave the target at its original Initiative but have it lose the Token (which means the higher initiative is kept as well and a character might even get Tokens back he had forfeited to protect himself!)
Actions and attacks are declared from lowest to highest. You can react lower in initiative to declare Protect actions, either as you are attacked or at the new initiative you end with after reducing it to the bonus you want for AC.
Example: Say you have Initiative 7, that's 3 Tokens. However, the Goblin at Ini 3 decides to attack and he gets help from his fellows, so you decide to go down 4 point in your initiative and add that to your AC instead to dodge those attacks (couldn't go below that, as the Goblins declared at 3!). Down at Ini 3, you'd be left with 2 Tokens and one of them had to be used for Protect to begin with, leaving you with 1 Token, which also has to be declared now (if you raise your AC by just 2 instead, you would still be left with 1 Token to act at Ini 5, following that logic).Oder of resolution is fastest to slowest after all Actions have been declared (Initiative values might have changed due to people protecting themselves). That means that combatants can move away from a combatant to avoid getting hit ... however, that can be countered!
Burning tokens, I'd say ... [source]So combat is a negotiation with the Tokens allowing for a high amount of flexibility. People will talk and describe how they interact with each other and the environment and  as they do, the fight will manifest. It's also quite fluid, as people try to help or move or protect themselves and get moved towards or are countered.

Luck is a high factor here, but player decisions matter just as much. And remember: you can always keep tokens or forfeit your attack to get a higher initiative the next round ... so it's not just luck.

And that'd be Part 1 ...

This'll make your basic LL/OD&D/MF game way more bloody, limbs flying around all the time. Which means it doesn't hurt to have some cleric spells, for instance, available to regrow some limbs back. Or you go all medieval with it, using prostheses and whatnot (check it out). Way more gritty with just minor changes, I think.

Part 2 will clarify some of the above and add some house rules. Part 3 will explore a different approach on dealing basic damage (neither per weapon, nor per class or with one die to hurt them all ... you'll see) and how to protect against it with armor. The final supplement will collect all those rules in a nice pdf with character sheets mirroring those changes (maybe even with variants for LL/MF?) as soon as I get there.

If you like this enough to try this on your players, please tell me about it. If you think I'm missing something or reasons why this wouldn't work (beyond taste, of course), please feel free to share your thoughts. Questions are, as always, welcome, of course.

Nice hacking and slashing, folks! And keep reading with Part 2 and Part 3 ...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

I Am He… Oh, the Irony

The Idol Babbler - Fri, 04/20/2018 - 00:07

This blog article can now be found here.

theidolbabbler is now a proud blog contributor to the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How about a Style Guide to write adventures?

The Disoriented Ranger - Sat, 04/07/2018 - 09:33
I have a couple of things in the air right now and the good news is, it's more and more gaming related work than work related work. Some of it hinted, some of it still to be announced, and then there is that one gig where I get to be editor of a rpg release! Good times, good times. We are taking our time with the thing and want to get it as right as right gets, hence the need for a style and construction guide ...
Notes

A few words before we get into the thing proper. This is about how you structure content and what to keep in mind when writing something like a module or adventure with a publication as the end game. Content is still what the author has to provide (and what might be problematic in its own way) and grammar or syntax are the least of my concerns.

The lines are blurry, though, and I believe that taking the guide seriously will also take care of most of the rest. In a way, if you work hard on getting on a page what you have in your brain, you'll consciously and carefully make an effort to get it done. So a style guide will give you a structure for your text that allows you to test your material on every level of resolution. In theory.[source]Anyway, this is what I came up with. Jay and I thought it might be useful for the community at large, so here we go:p { margin-bottom: 0.1in; line-height: 120%; } Style and Construction Guide (Modules)
This is by necessity pretty rough, just presenting the outlines of how a rpg module or adventure can be structured. There’s of course a high degree of variation and abstraction possible, but it’s a good, simple base to fall back on if need be.
Style will be first, since it’s the shortest. However, it needs to be applied on every stage of writing. While structure helps a reader memorizing and sorting the different elements of a text, it’s style that keeps them engaged. In that style and construction fulfill two purposes that’ll help navigating the material when read and when used in the game. The third crucial element, content, is what the author brings to the table and won’t be featured here.
Things to consider when writing (Style Guide)
1. Always consider that the reader has never heard of any aspect you are describing. In other words, take nothing for granted and instead find ways to either explain an aspect properly or give pointers, where a reader could find additional information. If you talk rules, either quote them in full (if short) or give a reference where to find more information. Same goes for every aspect of a story or skill … well, everything. Always answer the questions How?and Why? while keeping it short and concise.
2. Show don‘t tell. That also a basic, but nonetheless often disregarded: details are what makes a setting tick. I don’t need to know that there is a market, I need to know what’s special about this one. If someone is important for the story, name him, give him traits (and stats, USR is simple enough to allow for that). Every detail you give can somehow be used in a game, generalization doesn’t do that for you. What smells the arena like? What poison is used? What does the princess look like? Little things, but all the time.
3. Keep it short and open room for the imagination. In other words, don’t get too specific about the moving parts of an adventure. Rather tell people how something works and let them figure out what potential a situation has. However, doing so at different levels of resolution (what happens now vs., for instance, what are the possible outcomes) means offering a collection of flexible frames to support the CK* in a way that using them manifests the story you imagined. In that sense, a collection of short and specific random encounters and locations will trump lengthy descriptions every time, especially if they also bring something interesting or special to the table. Avoid unnecessary and redundant text.
4. Adventures are specific manifestations of rules. You don’t just want to tell a story, you want to tell it through a very specific lens, and that would be the rules of the game you decided to use. If there is action, then there’s also always to consider how the game gets involved. Are there chances for different outcomes? Name them. Little sets of sub-rules for a specific scenario? Tell the reader how you’d do it with the rules you use.
The big picture (Construction Guide)
Introduction
This is where you connect the reader with the material. You tell them in broad strokes what this is and what’s it about. It‘s the part of the module where you introduce some general ideas of how this can be played or what you imagine how it should be played. It’s where you tell the people how the material is structured. It’s also where you give people points of reference, like books, comics, games or movies they might want to check out to get an idea. It‘s where people decide if they explore a text further or not. The exposition, if you will.
Done right, it‘s where you hook the reader to invest more time and maybe use any of it in his games.
Main Part
How this is arranged strongly depends on the focus you imagine for the module and how big the whole thing is supposed to be. Look at the following elements A to D and decide a hierarchy for them, then go from most important to most detailed (mix, match and repeat, if necessary):
A. Setting: Where does the adventure take place? What characters are in it and what things are commonly known about it? What’s interesting, what’s strange, what’s useful? How does a CK bring it to live? Rumor and Random Encounter Tables are in that section.
B. Timeline: Is there a course of events important for the characters? Can the influence those events? How? What happens if they don’t and how would that manifest in the game? When describing events, go from a general description down to the necessary details. Offer rules and tools for the CK, if applicable. Weather would be here, too.
C. Factions: Who is or could be involved in the adventure/module and why? How can the players influence or interact with them? Also: consequences, dangers and benefits need to be assigned. Factions are best described going from groups to more detailed and important non player characters. Arrange all that in a hierarchy of importance (take single entities into consideration where applicable).
D. Aspects, Scenes & Locations: Usually a collection of short vignettes that aren’t covered anywhere else and might make the game more interesting. What interesting places are there that deserve more description than offered in A? What scenes are most likely to happen? It can also feature specific cultural elements that deserve further exploration. This is specific where A is general (a higher level of resolution, if you will) while being short enough to have a place in the main part instead of being put in the appendices.
Appendices
You will always end up with a set of specific events and locations that need even more detail (highest level of resolution): dungeons, CK tools, tables to big or complex to feature in the main part, extensive sub systems (that also have value beyond what’s happening in the module, like for races or riots, for instance) or locations that either have a high possibility to get explored in depth or give a general impression of common feature characters might encounter (taverns, apartments, boats, and so on). This is where they are collected.
They always should be referenced to in the main part and they, also, should be sorted hierarchical (as applicable). I think I covered all my bases here. Following the rules outlined above should have you end up with a good start, if not a finished product (it's mostly what I did for Monkey Business, if you need my take on it). Most of it will apply to writing in general to some degree or another (the fourth style advice could apply to genre instead of rules and so on). I hope it helps.Content hierarchies, always the same [source]That said, I'd be more than happy to get some opinions on this as well. Did I miss something crucial? Is there advice in there you think doesn't apply? Please share your thoughts, observations and opinions where I can find them, if you were so inclined.
* That's the Crypt Keeper, which is just another term for Dungeon Master (thought I'd clarify).
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Misconceptions about Gatekeeping (Opinion Piece, not a rant)

The Disoriented Ranger - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 15:43
You wouldn't think that having an opinion is how "gatekeeping" gets defined nowadays, but that's sure how it's done (happened to me just the other day). You would also think people see right through those things, but that doesn't seem to be the way it goes. Let me propose some ideas and thoughts about that. You are, of course, always encouraged to make up your own opinion, just make it an informed one.
Definitions & Implications
I'd point you to the English Wikipedia article, but the lack of content makes it useless, so we go to the German version instead and translate away (first paragraph, using DeepL):"In sociology, gatekeepers are people who have the ability or position to influence the rise of people, also known as mobility in sociology."It's so simple, there's almost no need to explain what this means. People at the top of a hierarchy decide who makes it and who is ... ignored. This is common knowledge. Sociology found this true in schools, in economies, actually, it's true in all the places where hierarchies are established.
The idea of gatekeeping originates from communication science and it is important to mention that the practice itself can be useful or even necessary in certain contexts, while of course bringing lots of responsibility to the one "keeping the gate". Take, for instance, the pre-selection of news before they are published: the criteria with which the available news are filtered and used can have all kinds of good or bad results.
Easy examples for this are found in the thousands. Take newspapers that decided to report unwelcome "truths" but filter politically, to those that filter for commercial reasons. Fake news is a thing for a reason: it shows how those deciding or influencing what is published (the gatekeepers) can and will abuse their power to reach goals that are not within the common interest, but in the interest of the few (whoever benefits from it, generally speaking).
Applying this to a scene or subculture has clear implications, I think, chief among them the realization that there is a distinction between a "scene" and a "hobby" (roughly the distinction between a belief (think "hobby") and a church (think "scene")). I believe it explains rather well how a hobby will have different co-existing (and shifting) scenes and why scenes themselves might end up with some form of hierarchical orders (like churches would). It also explains the dynamics that will be at work.
So scenes move and shift in the greater context of the hobby, hierarchies form and change the same way. The OSR is to be understood in this way: it's one scene among countless others in our hobby. As a matter of fact (and to be perfectly clear about this) some form of distinction is crucial to have such a thing as a scene (think catholics and protestants, to keep it with religious analogy), so you will have to state characteristics of distinction if you want to belong. Always.
Having established borders like this ("3e sucks" or "Traveller is the only true SF RPG!", insert your own), a scene will form hierarchies, mainly based on popularity and to some degree on competence, depending on how possible it is to assess or achieve any of that. I'd say the OSR is mostly popularity-driven (adding some competence from the successful publishers and some artists). 
Example of malevolent hierarchy ... [source]Those at the top of the established hierarchy now naturally form cliques of supporters around them, and the next thing you will get are camps within a scene where each camp struggles for a better position in the hierarchy (pick the last flame war and you know what I mean). Given that this is mostly about opinions and artificial borders and with no objective measurement other than commercial success (which is to some extent arbitrary and/or manipulated by the same mechanisms), this all must come down to politics of taste.
And that's where gatekeeping comes in. Every scene has people that decide what gets popular and what doesn't. So if you are part of a clique, support will be voiced and a infrastructure of more or less sufficient sales-manufacturing instances is triggered, ensuring commercial availability and with that, success (which loops back to keeping yourself popular).
If you aren't part of a clique, the question arises how to gain access to one. This is the crucial choke point, the proverbial gate. I would argue it is also crucial in that it is the very point where it reveals if a scene is fair or corrupt.
The Corruption of the OSR?
In a perfect world, those at the top of a hierarchy would have the best in mind for the group. Publishers filter for true genius or art instead of going with what works, is popular or transports hidden agendas. Newspapers inform the public about what is relevant and offer information with the means for the individuals to form their own opinions instead of creating fake news or working for big corp or politicians.
However, we aren't living in a "perfect world", if such a thing could even exist. Instead we live in a world where those things coexist in a duality. That doesn't mean it has to be both all the time, one scene can be more or less completely corrupt and another one more or less fair. This opens a new line of inquiry: how to measure corruption in a scene. Let's look into that.
A most basic definition of corruption is (according to transparency.org):"Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain."Again, simple enough. How to measure (or proof) this in a community is a completely different animal. We have indicators for this, although indirectly (or concluding from established general research towards how it could manifest in communities).[source]There is proof that marginalization of people leads to criminal/aggressive behavior (here, have one paper on the subject, if you search for it, there is way more) and you can say that one of the main forces behind criminal (aggressive) behavior is the perception that a rise in the social hierarchy is prohibited if not impossible. This connects nicely to what is already established about gatekeepers further above.
It's important to understand that we have to take into account that we are applying those ideas to a social media environment, which means that "crime" and "aggression" will manifest somewhat differently while the social mechanisms are still very much in effect.
We also have to take into account that the only fair measurement of corruption in a society is based on its perception (at least that's what's used, see transparency.org linked above). Which isn't conclusive at all, but can give implications. So you'll have a higher mortality rate of critical journalism in corrupt countries, for instance. Corruption has measurable consequences.
I'd like to add that "social capital" is another important aspect to consider, not necessarily "just" monetary gain. There is also a strong trend to mix personal politics in all of this, which doesn't help.
With all those restrictions in place, we can go and make fair and conclusive assumptions how the perception of corruption in a scene like the OSR might manifest in what outside the social media environment could be perceived as criminal or aggressive behavior, or the appropriate equivalent thereof.
If I had more time on my hands and if I where more than an enthusiast for social science and psychology, I'd try to formulate some indicators for a healthy community and collect data to index all that. I'm not, so we'll have to work with some rough concepts here (would be willing to do so, if someone with an academic background would be willing to help). Here's a couple of good indicators:
  • TRANSPARENCY: We already established that the scene is not the hobby, but the same is true for commercial interests. The clearer a distinction can be made between the commercial interests of an individual acting in the community and its contribution to said community, the better (the more transparent, the less corrupt).
  • FAIR MODERATION: A hierarchy comes with responsibility for those higher up. How easy it is to address the hierarchy and how those in the higher positions interact with the rest (benevolent, malevolent, indifferent), gives indications how healthy or corrupt a community is.
  • QUALITY OF ARGUMENT: What discussion culture is apparent in a community. Are extreme politics tolerated? How common are personal attacks? How are opinions categorized in general? The way a community discusses (or allows discussions) gives indications about corruption in as much as people tend to get more aggressive and polarizing, if they believe they are not heard or taken serious.
  • QUALITY OF CONTENT: The quality and the amount of the content a community produces as well as the restrictions that are put on that output (pay walls, for instance) gives an idea about the decision processes behind the content. If bad stuff is hyped or if publications are ignored, it's a sign that the processes are corrupt.
  • MOBILITY: How likely is it to become popular (or known) in a community? Can everyone do it, if necessary from scratch? Or are always the same people in the spotlight? How open is the community to new people? Stay those at the top of the hierarchy at the top? How? By what measures? Are those successful parading their success (which would, again produce aggression)?
  • GRATUITOUSNESS: One final, but very important indicator is how many people are willing to contribute to a community for free. Whose taking the time to do all the little administrative things that make a community work and are they (in some way or another) charging for it? Gratuitousness is a sign of good will in a community. If there is none, it's most likely because people perceive the community as unfair in some way or another and that would be another sign for corruption.
Those six should suffice, I think. They interconnect and overlap a bit, but should differ enough to count. This also isn't a black or white type of thing, it should have nuance (like a grading system and an average result). If tested and any or all of them show signs of corruption, the more intense should be the reactions to it in relation to the grade of corruption.
In other words, if a community has a tendency to very polarizing and heated debates where no one changes his opinion, where personal attacks and marginalization are common occurrences, if that community also allows no development and doesn't divide between commercial and non-commercial interests, if material is hyped for reasons of  privilege instead of quality and if everyone believes his or her efforts should be remunerated, then you most likely have a corrupt community. 
And that's just by applying reason, nothing else.
Where does that leave us?
This is not about if there is gatekeeping in the OSR or not. There is without a doubt. The question is if it is beneficial or malevolent towards the community at large. There's also the question how to address and oppose corruption, if it is detected.
But before any of that can take place, people should come to a common understanding how the community they are part of works and why. I hope I helped a bit forming that understanding. I also hope I was able to make a clear case that voicing opinions is NOT gatekeeping. At best it is challenging a hierarchy, but most likely it's just a border conflict between different scenes or cliques.
That said, attacking people for their opinions is a bad sign for a community in general, for the reasons I summon above. So, is the OSR corrupt? Well, you should be able to form your own opinion about that. I believe the OSR took a turn for the worse in recent years. Maybe that's the natural course of things, as scenes have the same fluctuation among each other. However, that doesn't mean you can't have a positive impact in a community.
Every bit helps, right?

This post was inspired by an article over at Tenkar's Tavern and the riposte to it  (at least in spirit) over at Monsters and Manuals.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Random Culture Generator Part 1 (LSotN Design Post - Basic Thoughts)

The Disoriented Ranger - Sat, 03/17/2018 - 16:05
It's been over two weeks ... this blog needs some words! Something I have to tackle at some point for the game I'm writing, Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, is a Random Culture Generator. It's something rarely done for role-playing games. Let's find out why. But before we get into that, I'd like to take a look at what I already wrote on the subject and where I'm at with all this.
Ideas about culture
First, check out this post from 2016 reflecting on a post from 2014 (yeah, I'm slow processing like that). I'll also loosely take ideas from Jordan B. Peterson's book Maps of Meaning (or rather, the 2016 lecture about the topic, which I highly recommend checking out). You won't need all this to read the post, but documentation is everything and it's good reading/listening.
One might think the good thing with settings for role-playing games that lean heavily on history is that culture comes easy. It might be somewhat true, as it seems somewhat more archaic compared to what we call "culture" today. Easier, in a way. However, as soon as you look a bit closer you'll find that on the one hand cultures, even 2000 years ago and earlier, had been very diverse. On the other hand, humans will always be humans and we can recognize that over time.
So there is patterns that will always surface and variants that might go in all different kinds of directions, depending on the circumstances. You can define those people exploring, recognizing and reproducing those patterns in an abstract way as artists. And it is an important distinction in as afar as it explains how art seems to be what lasts (here's a good talk on creativity and art).It also gives those old stories and fairy tales an easy credibility. They touch on something. That said, it's crucial to keep the "abstract" part of it in mind, just as important it is to recognize that our ancestors found ways to comprehend and communicate what they (what we) are. Psychology and biology have proven all of that nowadays, interestingly enough.
There is evidence that fairy tales are very, very old ... [source]I had a dispute once with a guy about how I believed that there's ultimately no difference between believing that a thunderstorm is the gods making some noise or believing whatever scientific explanation we have come up with. He thought the idea was atrocious. I didn't know then what I know now, but I defended my case (and lost a friend).Today I'd just point towards the research and advice him to make up his own opinion on the subject. I think it all comes down to pragmatism: it's a philosophy stating that you don't need to know the whole "truth" to construe a working theory for anything.Here's an example: there's this famous cave found in Turkey that emits deadly fumes and had been worshiped as an entrance into Hades way back in the past. You'll notice that both the archaic and the scientific approach will yield somewhat the same results: they'll tell a story about how dangerous the cave is. The pragmatic part is, that you can tell it anyway you want as long as the result is what you intended it to be.Reconstruction of the temple at the entrance to Hades! [source]At their core, cultures are formed around this thinking. We can use that for our games.
OD&D and 10 year olds (intermission)
When D&D came out in the early 70s, it became hugely popular and to a huge degree with very young players. The reasons for this are very much described above: D&D described the world in abstract patterns and even without fully grasping the rules, the concepts themselves are so true to how we analyze, deconstruct and communicate the world around us (brilliantly so, I might add), that the success cannot be a surprise.
I've heard people claiming they had been as young as 8 when they first started playing. I had been 12 when I DMed my first game. Now, after roughly 25 years of playing role-playing games, it's somewhat hard to look back and understand how we could grasp the game back then, being so young and all that.
Again, it can be explained with pragmatism. It's how the mind explores the world in simulations. We all know this and we all know how good children are at it, too. So I'd say, children can grasp the game for those reasons at an almost instinctive level.Found this great pic over at reddit .. [source]I once drove with a guy from Leipzig to Ulm. We'd talked about role-playing games, as he hadn't the first idea about it to begin with and I like talking about it. We talked a bit about the basics and he recognized them from a game his 6 year old son played with his friends called "Level". They had a game master that gave a premise (like "you are stuck on an island") and the players had to negotiate their way out of the situation.
They didn't use dice or anything, but rules seemed to emerge naturally as they played along (established from the shared narrative, as I understood it). They'd been camping once and he had an opportunity to experience it first hand (as a spectator, as he had been cooking) and he described the game as fun and creative and as very social.That's anecdotal, of course, but there are many, many stories like that out there, but it seems to underline the connection I described above: we explain the world in stories and we explore it in simulated stories. D&D is a game about exploration and children grasp that on a very archaic level.
If you look for any "deep" meaning in role-playing games, this is where it's at.
"Chaoskampf"

Here's a sentence from that lecture linked above that stuck with me: " You don't resurrect your father, you become the puppet of death." This needs context, of course. The basic idea here is that across time and cultures we have an understanding of duality in the world. Yin and yang, male and female, chaos and order ... it's very well represented in the three-fold alignment system in D&D, actually.However, you'll have the same in almost all religions and pantheons in some form or another. Tiamat and Abzu are the oldest we know, but you'll find variations of that theme all over the place once you start looking. It's one of those patterns that keeps turning up. The two concepts interacting here are chaos (female, yin, nature, ...) and order (male, yang, culture ...). It's powerful stuff.The individual and the world ... [source]To bring the male/female aspect into it is necessary to understand fundamental functions of the genders in human society. Females are allegory for natural selection, so that's the nature part covered. Males are create the conditions and hierarchies in which the selection takes place, and that's culture.
Again, very abstract concepts condensed to pragmatic theories to make interaction work. However, read the stories that stayed around for thousands of years (pick any source, really, the Bible, the Tao Te King, the Edda, Grimm's fairy tales ... you name it) and you'll find them telling you about life in all the detail you can imagine.
Another pattern you'll see emerge on a regular basis is the fluidity of all things. The gods fight and love and betray and create and everything has consequences. It's what that quote above refers to: the father figure represents culture and people have to keep it alive (actually "resurrect" it, as in, making it a conscious act) or they'll become "puppets of death", which is another way of saying "governed by chaos".
It's a great example of the dynamics of culture, as it shows what happens when culture/order is neglected: chaos will rear its ugly head. It could be argued that the rise of fascism in the 20th Century is exactly that.
The third prominent pattern is the hero facing all kinds of challenges to overcome chaos. I that sense the knight facing the dragon could be an allegory for a man courting a woman or a woman facing mental illness or a child facing a bully (among other things, in all kinds of varying scales).Heroes are agents of order, fighting chaos in an ever changing world to achieve some sort of balance ...
Things that go bump in the night
A word on monsters in that regard. Humans basically think of their surroundings in 3 categories: (1) safe territory (order, routine, home), (2) risks outside the comfort zone (all the things we know we shouldn't do for reasons) and (3) the unknown (chaos).Monsters are traditionally situated in the unknown. It's the first thing you imagine when you wake up at night in the dark because of some noise. The first thing we imagine is a chimera of possible dangers. Then we start exploring, maybe by listening if the noise occurs again, then by turning on the light, and lastly by getting up and looking for the origin of the noise. It's a simple example of facing your fear, too.This is all monsters ... [source]But this applies to the big pictures as well. States work like that, institutions and religion. It's why we have borders, it's the reason for cultural distinction through, say, dialects or local cuisine. Because we can only accept a limited amount of shared safe territory before we decline to risks (the barbarians beyond the border, for instance) and the unknown (climate change, maybe, epidemics, the threat of terrorism ... everything we only have a vague notion of).
Risks and the unknown needn't be bad. So it might be risky to ski down a mountain, but the prestige might be worth it. And the unknown? That's the dragon from mythology and if you can overcome that, there's always a hoard, right (analogue to the idea of fighting terrorism to gain freedom, maybe)? But you might also break your leg skiing down that hill (low risk, low reward) or the dragon might kill you (high risk, high reward).And here's another thing: people can be destructive forces as well. Agents of chaos, monsters. It's all part of the whole thing ...
Generating culture randomly
All this describes the dynamics of culture. It's the pattern we need to copy to create a credible culture from scratch or even on the fly. Ideally with one roll, right? The pieces we have are the duality of all things, the strive for balance through agents of order, the limits of cultural perception (or range?) categorized as safe, risky and unknown, and the circumstances surrounding and shaping a specific cultural entity over time.
Building something like that is what Part 2 will be about. Lost Songs already has a Random Territory Generator and a Random Narrative Generator (that works exactly for the reasons described above because it is based on fairy tales) that produce entities of chaos and order on different levels, so all I need to do is bring all of that together in a meaningful way.
Next time.
I think I need to close this by stressing that I have no interest at all to have a political discussion about any of the above. I intent to use this for my elf games, yes, and I believe that the assumptions I base the designs on are scientifically proven as much as they are rooted in our psyche. I might be wrong, but even if so, what does it matter if it works enough to make for a better game. Pragmatism, right? If it works, it's good enough.
Might not be true, works nonetheless ... [source]
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

book review: Mandalas to Embroider

Planet June - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 13:30

Let’s get this out of the way first: I received a copy of this book to review. But I’m not being compensated for this review in any other way, and the following is based on my honest opinions!

Carina and I have been friends since we first met (online) in our early days of craft blogging, over a decade ago! She’s well-known for her distinctive cheerful and colourful embroidery designs and has authored 3 books as well as a shopful of self-published designs (you can find them all at Polka & Bloom).

Ever since Carina mentioned that she was designing a book of mandalas, I’ve been waiting to see what she came up with, and I wasn’t disappointed! Embroidery, like other slow crafts, can be a calm relaxing hobby, and combining that with repeating mandala patterns sounds like a perfect recipe for slowing down and enjoying some crafting time.

Read on for my review, and to see the gorgeous embroidery I’ve made from one of the book patterns…

Overview

Mandalas to Embroider: Kaleidoscope Stitching in a Hoop by Carina Envoldsen-Harris is a book of circular embroidery patterns. As Carina says in her introduction:

Mandala is the Sanskrit word for ‘circle’. These days, it is often used as a generic term for a particular motif, especially in arts and crafts, usually with a concentric design or one which radiates from the centre.

Mandalas to Embroider includes 12 large and 12 small delicate repeating patterns. Nature-based, geometric, or more abstract, the designs are all bold, happy, and – of course! – colourful. The circular nature of the patterns means they fit perfectly in an embroidery hoop, making the finished pieces easy to display.


Such pretty and colourful designs!

The book is split into two halves: the first half includes clearly-illustrated stitch tutorials, instructions for preparing and finishing your work, and all the patterns, with colour palettes and stitching suggestions.

The pages of the second half are actually iron-on transfers for each of the patterns. Each page is perforated so it can be removed neatly, and there’s a handy pocket inside the back cover to store any transfers you’ve already used. I thought this was a really nice touch, as each transfer can be used up to ten times, so you’ll be able to keep the transfer pages together with the book, so they’re ready for the next time you want to use them.


Left: stitch tutorials; Right: iron-on transfer

This book is beautifully styled and photographed, and I couldn’t stop paging through again and again to admire the variety of mandala-inspired patterns.


A couple of the lovely photos

My Experience

Although Mandalas to Embroider includes 12 mini designs, I decided to jump right into one of the 12 full-sized designs. Sakura Clusters was an obvious choice for me, as I love cherry blossoms (I even designed a cherry blossom garland for my first book, Paper Chains and Garlands!) and this design was the first that really caught my eye as I flipped through the book:

I decided to see how the design would look in a colour scheme inspired by real-life cherry blossom instead of Carina’s cheerful bright palette. That’s one of the advantages of embroidery (or crochet!) patterns – it’s so easy to make them your own by simply changing the colours. I shopped for floss colours using the pinks, reds and blue from this beautiful reference photo:


I was unable to find anyone to credit this stunning photo to – if you’re the photographer, let me know!

I raided my fabric stash and the only off-white fabric I could find looked a bit thin, so I used two layers to stop the threads on the back of the piece from showing through on the front. (I wasn’t sure if that was going to work, but my stitches didn’t show through the fabric, so I suppose it did!)

I wanted to make my embroidery a little smaller than the original, so I copied and reduced the pattern page, then traced the design onto my fabric with a pencil. If you use the iron-on transfers, you can skip all that and be ready to start embroidering right away!

I must admit to being a little nervous about starting stitching; although I’ve been cross-stitching for decades, and of course enjoy my punchneedle embroidery, I haven’t actually done any regular embroidery since I learnt the basic stitches in primary school.

I needn’t have worried – the patterns in this book all use fairly simple stitches, which are clearly explained at the start of the book. Although I started slowly, I quickly picked up speed. By the end of the project, I felt very confident with the stitches used in this pattern, and I’m ready to learn some of the other stitches for my next embroidery project!

Look, even the back of the embroidery is quite pretty…

And now for the big reveal:

Isn’t it lovely? In my colour palette, the pattern takes on a more serene look, but Carina’s pretty design still shines through. I’m thrilled with my embroidery, and I’ll be very happy to display this finished piece on the wall of my craft room.

Final Thoughts

Carina’s designs always have a hand-drawn quality to them, and I was impressed to see that she’s managed to maintain that even with the repeating patterns in Mandalas to Embroider. There’s still a free, natural quality to the designs. I noticed while I was stitching the flowers that the petals of each flower aren’t perfectly identical. This is a good thing – the relaxed nature of the design felt like permission to be relaxed in the execution – there’s no need to make every stitch exactly even and perfect to get a beautiful result.

If you’ve never tried embroidery, I’d definitely encourage you to give it a try – I found it very relaxing and satisfying to watch the design come together. And I think Mandalas to Embroider is a perfect introduction to embroidery, as you can build your confidence by practicing your stitching on the smaller patterns, or do as I did and jump right into a large one!

Categories: Crochet Life

Simple-Shell Sea Turtle crochet pattern

Planet June - Wed, 03/07/2018 - 15:33

A few months ago, I had a very clever request from a customer, to design a large adult version of the turtle from my Baby Sea Turtle Collection pattern. It was such a good idea – my AquaAmi Sea Turtle pattern is an epic amigurumi showstopper, but all those shell pieces take forever to crochet – wouldn’t you like to make a simpler large sea turtle?

So here it is, a Simple-Shell Sea Turtle expansion pack (below, right) for my AquaAmi Sea Turtle (below, left):

Note about size: The turtles in the above photo are different sizes because the original Sea Turtle is crocheted with bulky yarn and a G7 hook; the expansion pack is crocheted with worsted weight yarn and an E hook. You can crochet either turtle in either size (details in the patterns); if you use the same yarn and hook for both, the finished turtles will be the same size!

As you can see, both turtles have the same realistic shaping and flippers, but the new pattern gives you a simple but cleverly-shaped shell instead of the beautifully-patterned but time-consuming original shell. With only two shell pieces to crochet instead of twenty, you’ll save a lot of time!

About the Pattern

This Expansion Pack gives a simplified shell for my large AquaAmi Sea Turtle. The result gives an ‘adult’ sized turtle (about 9.5″/24cm long when made in worsted weight yarn) that matches my Baby Sea Turtle pattern (sold separately).

It includes all the modifications required to crochet a Sea Turtle much more quickly than the original AquaAmi Sea Turtle, with simple but well-shaped one-piece top and bottom shells.

And, if you’re making a turtle blanket as a gift, now you can add a larger matching cuddly turtle toy to go with it!

What is an Expansion Pack?

  • An Expansion Pack is an add-on to an existing PlanetJune pattern.
  • The Expansion Pack lets you modify or add to the original pattern to create something else.
  • You cannot use the Expansion Pack alone – you must also purchase the original pattern in order to be able to complete the pictured items in the Expansion Pack pattern.

You can buy the Simple-Shell Sea Turtle Expansion Pack for only $3.50 individually from the shop, or, if you haven’t yet bought the original AquaAmi Sea Turtle pattern, you can buy the multipack of both turtles, and save 50c on the pair.

Launch Discount

If you’ve already bought the original turtle pattern, you won’t be able to save that 50c. But, for 7 days only, add the Simple-Shell Sea Turtle Expansion Pack pattern to your shopping cart, together with anything else (totalling $5 or more), then use the code MORETURTLES at checkout and you’ll still get your discount! (Valid until next Tuesday: 13th March 2018.)

Note: If you don’t need anything else right now, this also applies to Gift Certificate purchases, so you can pick up a $5 gift certificate now, get your discount, and have $5 in your PlanetJune account ready for your next purchase, or to send to a crocheting friend!

PlanetJune Sea Turtle Patterns

This new addition means I now have three different sea turtle patterns, letting you make all the different options above (and even more if you resize all the patterns) – but they all match nicely, so you can build a sea turtle family with as many of the different pattern options as you wish!

In case you’re confused about which pattern makes which turtle, here’s the rundown of all the PlanetJune sea turtle patterns – and yes, it’s turtles all the way down…

A note about sizes: The top two pictured turtles were both made with worsted weight yarn. If you use only worsted weight yarn, these are the two turtle sizes you’ll make with my patterns: approx 4.5-5″ long for the babies, and 9.5″ long for any of my adult turtle patterns.

But you can choose to make a variety of turtle sizes: the third turtle down is made with bulky weight yarn, increasing the adult turtle length to 11″, and the giant 18″ long turtle at the bottom was crocheted with the same pattern, but two strands of bulky weight. The difference in size between the green turtle and the giant turtle is caused solely by the yarn and hook choices!

Read more about how to resize amigurumi by changing the hook and yarn sizes here.

If you’re not ready to make – or add to – your Turtle family just yet, don’t forget to heart and queue them on Ravelry so you don’t forget about them:

AquaAmi Sea Turtle (original): 

Simple-Shell Sea Turtle (new):

Baby Sea Turtle Collection:

I’m so happy with this new addition to my sea turtle collection – I feel like I have a turtle for every occasion now! 

Categories: Crochet Life

Don't pay the DM, pay the service (slightly NSFW, no pun intented)

The Disoriented Ranger - Wed, 02/28/2018 - 12:33
Time to say something about the subject of "DMs for hire", me thinks. Not that I have made up my mind or anything, it's just something every DM growing up in a culture informed by western civilization will have day-dreamed about at some point and you can literally here the grinding of teeth when you read sentences like "Yeah, sure, if someone can make a buck with it, more power to them!". I was about to not publish this, but a friend told me to do it nonetheless. I also thought I could cut this in pieces and publish it over 4 parts, but decided against it. So here we go, have it all at once and RAW ...
There is supposedly two ways to see the activity of running a game for others: it's either a sport or it is art (could be both, gasp). Both sides have implications and real life solutions. Let's get into that.
You don't pay a referee to decide your way ...
Or at least you shouldn't. Okay, okay, sports is such a bad example because of all the corruption that plagues the high end of it. Fifa, anyone? IOC? It's a mess, right? However, I had an interview once with a trainer of mid-tier football club in Berlin and we had talked a bit about why he did what he did (which involved a 40 hours week at work and then another 30+ hours a week to train the club's youth without proper compensation) and it had been eye opening for several reasons.
First of all, work in clubs is not done for money most of the time (I'm excluding the big clubs here, because corruption, see above), it's done for the benefit of the work. Children joining whatever kind of sports club will more likely than not have a real educational benefit from it: working in teams, learning to win and lose, fairness, empathy ... all good things to learn.
That trainer told me how he lead children through puberty, how often parents didn't care (on several levels) and how hard the fight for help and recognition is, even when it's about children. The popularity of a sport like football (in Germany) is just a vehicle to keep the boat afloat. Of course kids aspire to become football heroes, but it's the journey they take to get there that really benefits them.
I think this is a really important first point to stress here: the popularity of a sport will get people to play and support that sport. Not because they all are going to end up playing for a big club, earning the big bucks (because most of them won't), but because to be a part of something they admire and aspire to. It needs that kind of beacon, corrupt or not*.
The second lesson here is that many, many (many) people do club work for almost no compensation at all, regardless of how popular a past-time is (but getting less and less paid in the fringes). As a matter of fact, most people will pay some way or another to participate. Clubs have fees and those working for clubs or helping them pay with their time.
However, the play's the thing, right? So there are at least two types of people that get payed for their trouble (sometimes, mind you, not always) and that'd be trainers and referees. Actually, clubs will invest into their training so that they'll get the job done properly.
A job well done ... [source]And that's the third point we can glean from this: learning to be a trainer or a referee is like getting a drivers license, you'll get certified that you are able to preform certain tasks with a certain level of expertise. That's not to say that you are good at it, that's to say you get the benefit of a doubt because you'll potentially do a good job but at least will do it within a defined and acknowledged spectrum.
I know this is tricky, because people will be people, but that is why rules are established. It ensures that referees will rule a fair game more often than not. It also ensures that they are left to their devices to do so. If you lose in an official game, there'll probably be good reasons for it, too. Rules are established to elevate the referee to a position where a player's (or spectator's) wish fulfillment is not dependent on the decisions the referee made. The referee is absolved because of the promise of fairness.
The pay is also always indirect. That is very crucial: those who benefit from the outcome of a sporting event (not only monetary, sometimes winning is enough) cannot be the ones paying the referee in a direct exchange of goods. Remember that, it'll be a recurring theme in this post.
The DM as performer? No!
A performer is, in my opinion, a hybrid between the sports and the art approach as it forces the role of the DM into a very specific purpose: that of an entertainer. It's not anymore about the benefits of playing the game for the experience it offers and instead to consume a joyride of sorts.
Look at that D6! [source]Those jobs already exist. We have topless DMs out there, doing their thing for bachelor parties and what-not (at least requested, but surely found?), we have DMs in funny clothes and with sets of tools equivalent to what a hired clown or magician would bring to a party. Actually, it's worse than that. Keeping with the sports analogy above, it's the equivalent of a aging boxer offering staged fights for hire to milk his former popularity a little more.
I'm not saying this out of contempt, I'm saying this as an advice for caution. No one but the deluded will take that boxer for the real thing (or more than a sad shadow of the real thing). However, there is a real danger that we won't be that lucky for Gamemasters if role playing games get popular through venues like this.
Look at the DMs in contemporary pop culture and tell me they are doing the hobby a favor. Big Bang Theory? Just sad. Harmon's Quest? Funny at times, but just a vehicle for some egos. The list goes on, most of them really do not care about the game, they care about the entertainment.
The closest to something I could relate to was how Stranger Things had it, to be fair, and there is hope that there'll be more than that in the future (Freaks & Geeks was solid, too, just wasn't mainstream). But there's also a very real chance that dungeon masters will be seen as goof-balls instead of getting the respect a referee (for instance) would get because of popular shit like Big Bang Theory.
I'm not saying people shouldn't earn money that way. To each their own, but if done as a performer it should be clear that it is just mimicking the game in a way a theme park is mimicking adventure for cheap thrills. Sure has its place, sure isn't the real thing.
Role-Playing Games as media ...
Yeah, that again. I think it's important to see that aspect of it as well in that kind of light. The short of it is: you (usually) buy a book before you read it. Actually, you don't buy it to read it, you buy it to own it. Of course, reading is your intention in some way, but ultimately you buy it to have it around because the idea to read it somehow enticed you. At that point you don't even know if it is any good or if you you like it. You paid for the opportunity.
Now, I've worked in book-selling and one thing that happens really only on rare occasions is that people read a book (entirely or partly) only to bring it back because they didn't like it. It just isn't done (or if, it's frowned upon). Only the audacity of opinion could make people believe that the world orbits around them and needs to be formed towards their bidding ... In other words, it'd be a sign of bad character :)
Take movies. I've heard of people that tried to reclaim their money from the cinema after a bad movie, but try to buy a movie in a store and bring it back afterwards, saying something like "We didn't like that, we want our money back!". Wouldn't work. And even if someone could make this work, the intermediaries in those scenarios (the bookseller, the DVD store or the cinema) will not go and take the money back from the publisher or the author or the director, and so on.
Good advice ... [source]There's actually a whole lot more to consider, to be fair, but the argument stands, you pay for the opportunity to get entertained, not for the guaranty.
There's also the whole player side to consider with role-playing games. They participate and each contribution helps shaping the game, for good or for worse. This at least gets tricky when considering that the DM is paid. However, computer games are very much like described above. No one goes to Blizzard to get their money back because other players didn't behave. It'd be ridiculous.
Playing role-playing games is using a medium, just like reading a book or watching a movie or playing a video game. Just like all the other mediums, there are different levels of involvement, it has the full spectrum from producing content to just consuming product, with all kinds of shades in between.
If you pay for any of that, regardless of the level of involvement you bring yourself to the table, you should only be able to pay for the opportunity to be entertained and you should be fully aware of the "why". A DM does so when he buys a game or an adventure, why shouldn't players be when they pay a DM?
The DM as artist
There is that. DMs aren't authors, but in many ways they are like authors in regards to preparation and research, even the skill-sets you'd need for each overlap to a huge degree. Actually, DM can have aspects of many different artistic expressions. Stand-up comedians come to mind, as do actors.
  Fair representation? [source]The closest you will get, though, is the old tradition of storytelling as performed by (drum-roll!) bards or skalds, in that a story is woven for the participants as the elements of it are collected.
Let's take this one step further. Say, a DM not only prepares the game him- (or her-) self, say they write their own game or they publish blogs about their process or write adventures ... Our hobby gives many opportunities to express ones creativity and there are some that earn money with it. Admittedly, indirectly, but nonetheless.
The thing is, for a DM like that, money will most of the time be a nice coincidence. To get better at DMing doesn't have you also publishing and doing the marketing or the social networking. It's possible, but something always has to give if you do it all.
Here's another aspect of the "art": a DM needs to be good at managing a group and it is a commitment over years at a time. I see this in direct conflict with the whole DM-for-hire schtick. To give an example of this: I'm totally able to sit down in front of some strangers and DM a game for them. Chances are, they will be entertained. I did so just the other day for the free RPG day here in Leipzig. And while it had been fun, it lacked for me one important aspect: a connection beyond the game.
Nonsense, you might say, and I agree, it is strange. I don't fully understand it yet, but the idea to DM an evening for people I will not see again afterwards, just for a couple of bucks, is missing a crucial ingredient I need to make it all work. I need to get to know the players and I believe there is an art to forging a bond like that. At least it's one of the qualities of a good game (not necessarily the "we need to be friends"-argument, but that direction).
Maybe there's another perspective connected to this, as DMs are not just producing content, they are (in many ways) players too. There needs to be a mutual understanding in that regard. The whole idea that anyone can be a player, but a DM is something you could just as well pay for, is ludicrous from that point of view, as it reduces the DM from a player to a function. I want to be able to decide who plays at "my table" or whom I'm offering to join.

I also want to be challenged by a game and have fun.
And now, I rant a bit:
Our hobby has almost no structure beyond the commercial one provided by publishers (which is weak to begin with). We are also woefully behind in finding out what our hobby actually is (compared to, say, books or video games), so from that point of view alone I think commercializing it further will only throw us back.
Not that it can be helped, people will do what they always do and seize any given opportunity. Seeing how role-playing gets some traction with the main stream media, I'm sure all possible ugly faces of capitalism will manifest. They always do and just for the reasons stated above, people will get duped or will pay for inferior services or will demand their money back because they are not happy with what they payed for ... the whole kaleidoscope of capitalism fueled, unreflected bullshit is going to happen. I guaranty you, we'll see players for hire before long.
Maybe it needs to happen, too. We just have to take that bullet until people out of sheer greed up their game by offering "certified DM schools", which will have them proof at some point what they are doing ... It'll go a bit rampant there for a while and maybe we won't be alive to see all this calming down eventually.
Which leaves the question, why I even bother, right? Well, I wasn't sure when I started writing this, and I still don't have an answer. Role-playing can be more than just entertainment. We see this happening all over the place, in schools, in therapy, in jails, even. It has a tremendous effect on young players and we've only just started to explore what the possibilities are.
The entertainment industry, however, is the enemy in this regard, just as the big publishers are. They don't want to explore things, they prefer things to stagnate (just look at all the reboots, is all I'm saying, there'll be another Interview with a Vampire, ffs, and Star Wars is effectively killed to death). It's all about the next buck. Let them do their thing, but don't expect anything beyond what is already established. They'll harvest our hobby as they did with everything else and that's just that.
Is it insulting to earn money on what all those other people do for free? It's a question everyone has to answer for themselves. Just remember all the DMs out there not only offering their services for free, but also investing in tons of product to make it happen. Isn't it kind of a perverse system, where companies can not only sell people stuff, but also reinvent it in cycles to earn even more money, without actually doing that much? What do publishers offer besides their product? Gaming culture? Places of exchange? Recruitment??! I don't think so. Who has the money, who has the time, right?

And there are always those doing it for free ... Maybe we all should ask for money. I'll write a letter to some publisher right away:
[source]Hello good Sirs, I'm about to start DMing a game of yours, I've already recruited 5 players (Recruitment fee: 50 Euro), we'll play every week for at least 4 hours (40 Euro per session, but we could talk a lump sum for the year). I expect to invest at least 1000 hours of work into this, preparation included. My fee could be reduced by future products from your side and all sorts of services you can offer around the game. Thank you very much. Sincerely ...I don't see this fly, do you? Now imagine the DM at the end of the session saying something like: "That's 10 bucks now from each of you, thank you for participating. See you next week." Or starting an offertory? Yeah, why not, I like money as much as the next guy and I most certainly DID THE WORK!
 
I know, nobody cares about that shit enough to even break a sweat. The personal benefits of simply gaming are still greater than anything greed could destroy, I guess. Or rather, hope.

Conclusion
This isn't against people earning money with rpg products, it's against a culture where people think everything can be bought with money, that convenience should be above all else and that everything you do should have a price tag attached, but doesn't. It's bitter, isn't it? Try go to your wife and say "I've cleaned the kitchen, that'd be 20 Euro for services rendered." Or charge your children for driving them to school ...
 
My point is, telling us everything has a price tag is the lie that gets imprinted in our brains so hard, we actually started believing it. Here's how it is: we do things without getting payed and not everything we do is worth money, but maybe worth something else. What that is? Doing something worthwhile for others, I'd say. An evening making a group of people happy is an evening well spend.

I believe the very reason why role-playing games became as popular as they are, is that you need nothing but a set of rules, some dice, pencil, paper and a couple of friends and you are set for life. Offering this opportunity to people is priceless. It's why I blog, it's why I tell people about our hobby, it's why I DM.

It's also why I think asking money for playing the game is diminishing not only the efforts of others, it's also against the spirit of the game. There's so many unexplored or untouched ways to earn money with this, it's uncanny. Look at roll20, there's a great idea. Offer a platform to bring DMs and players together instead of offering DMs for hire. Write and publish, do research.

Establish the hobby to a point where governments support it as art or sponsors as sport (although I rue the day a DM for hire comes to a gig with banners from Nike or McD on his shirt ... let's not do that). Official games, streamed live? Why not? Certified DMs? Go crazy!

Most of all, support a piece of culture that's not driven by profit (at least at it's core, the game itself).

Actually,  we all know it's already done in some places, with different levels of success. Little clubs here and there doing their thing, with many people doing projects with libraries or comic and gaming shops, schools even. They don't do it for the money, they do it because they see value in it beyond that.

So, before you start charging money to DM a game, contact your local club and ask them how you can help. If you think you are a good DM, offer seminars. It's something even clubs can pay for, if money is what you crave ...

Of course, this is just my opinion and I haven't made up my mind completely. It's a complex subject. As I said above, the trend is there and it will happen regardless of my arguments. I hope I could offer some food for thought for those on the fence, though.
[source]
* Shit, sorry for the detour, but there is something to be said about how much evil we are willing to accept because of the benefits something brings to a community. I won't go into this further, but the movie Spotlight pretty much shows it all and from all sides (although being about the church, it pretty much shows the dynamics behind a lot of looking away). Check that out, if you haven't.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rules Cyclopedia Oddities 7: Dungeons (including: the only picture of a dungeon map in the RC)

The Disoriented Ranger - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 18:25
Every now and then I discover something odd in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia and decide it is worth a post. Considering I started this series 2013, I don't get to write a lot of them (not for the lack of material, tbh). Anyway, without further ado, have another installment of the Rules Cyclopedia Oddities series! This time we are talking dungeons, because the odd thing is: there isn't much to talk about ...
Oh Dungeon, Where Art Thou?
As most reading this will be aware, the Rules Cyclopedia has a bit of everything and can be considered a complete game on all accounts. It spans an epic arc for characters from level 1 to 36, it has a domain game, a mass combat system and some great rules to create and run a setting (among various other things). What it doesn't have is proper rules to create a dungeon, though. Compared to what AD&D had to offer at the time, the topic is woefully neglected. For shame ...
First indication that something is off in that regard is the fact that the game is not only called Dungeons & Dragons, the referee is also still called a Dungeon Master. One would expect that dungeon are a major feature. However, the only picture of a dungeon in the whole tome is this beauty:
I'm actually not quite sure what is happening here ... [source]
Right, that's not even a proper dungeon to begin with. It actually shows people doing the very thing the game is lacking: planning a dungeon. But it gets worse.
You'll have little tidbits here and there how classes relate to dungeons. There is a bit about why wizards build dungeons beneath their towers to attract monsters: For research and to get the newest gossip from the world of monsters (p. 20). There are also spells that have rules for their use in an dungeon environment (cloud kill, among others).
Actually, a huge part of the game is geared towards dungeons: exploration, there is a random encounter section for dungeons and lots of monsters that would (only) live in a dungeon. Standard Rations spoil over night in a dungeon (p. 69) and you will get assigned damage if you are barefoot in a dungeon (p. 70). Movement is different in dungeon settings (p. 87).

You get a lot like that, the game takes every possible aspect of exploring, moving, encountering, fighting and casting under consideration. Dungeons are a vital element of the game if you read it as a player or DM it just around the characters as the game emerges.
What isn't there, though, is proper advice to build and prepare a dungeon as a DM.

How bad is it with the advice?

A DM will find the first proper advice how to build a dungeon on p. 148 (after a few notes what building a dungeon would cost in the Dominion chapter, for some reason) and it looks like this:
"When you design your own dungeons, use straight corridors and square rooms at first. You may try other shapes and twisted corridors when you and the players are more experienced—but even then, it will still slow down the game."Woah, that's ... I don't know, it's probably and actually a very "old school" understanding of a dungeon. Something you'd see in Gary Gygax's playbook, maybe. That said, there's not much to work with here and he's basically saying that complex dungeon design has no real in-game benefit.

Gygax's binder, Level 1 under Greyhawk Castle ... [source]Moving on.

Not much else to read about dungeons in chapter 13: Dungeon Master Procedures. There's a bit about thieves and traps, but reading it depressed me a little (which might be enough for yet another RC Oddity ...) and then the RC starts talking Monsters.

Again, we get all kind of incidental data about how the game works in dungeons compared to wilderness encounters. Monsters per room, how monster behavior in a dungeon might be different to encounters outside, more rules about encounters ... and then lots of monster entries before we talk mechanics again (liked the bit about mountain lions wandering further into dungeons than any other cat species would ... long time readers and players will know why).

The next big entry is on page 235 and it's about treasure maps. Read it all here:
"Maps to Treasures (Normal, Magical, Combined, or Special): Each map should be made in advance by the DM. Such maps show a route to the location of a treasure in a dungeon or a wilderness area. The treasure is usually hidden or protected by monsters, traps, and/or magic. Based on the type of treasure given, the DM should select a challenging monster (who has a similar treasure type) and design the map and monster lair accordingly. Note that the map may be partially incorrect, omitting an important detail (such as the type of monsters, dangerous traps, etc.) or giving some false information; however, the treasure mentioned should actually be there. Sometimes maps are only partially complete or are written in the form of a riddle. And some can only be read by a read languages spell."While I appreciate the advice in general (maps for players need to be unreliable is a big plus here), it doesn't give a DM much to work with at this point. And we are almost through the book, too (yes, we'll go through the whole book here).

The first time we encounter some actual meat about the topic is in Chapter 17: Campaigning. I don't care when it happens, as long as it happens, though. Let's take a look. Well, first of all Allston advices us about dungeons with this little tidbit: "Simple dungeon explorations are very entertaining on occasion, a release of frustrations and a welcome return to the basics of the game." (D&D RC, p. 256). It sets dungeons apart from more "serious" goals you can set for your campaign.

The thing is, I do not disagree completely, it is important and more satisfying to have your campaign manifesting in arcs (planned or not), but using dungeons here as the main contrast to this is a bit much, imo.

Okay, okay, let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's more. When you build your setting, having dungeons on the map is among the advice, with hints that there'll be more about the topic later in the book.

There's little stabs towards the subject, though, like this sentence: "If your campaign makes use of dungeons (described later), you can locate a dungeon near the home town [...]" (D&D RC, p. 257. If you've read the book straight up to this point, you'd be at least irritated about the subject: so much space dedicated to playing in dungeons, the game even has it in the title, but there's a huge reluctance to talk about designing dungeons or the DM part of the matter, with little snippets like I quoted above, seemingly advising against it. Damn.

So sad ... [source]Finally, on page 259 we get the promising heading "Designing adventures and DUNGEONS" (emphasis mine). Suddenly the word "dungeon" is all over the place. We talk setting and stocking and different scenarios ... it's all pretty general and uninspired, but there's still hope. When we get to the part where it specifically talks dungeons, though, it simply doesn't add anything but empty phrases.

Go, check for yourself, if you don't believe me. It starts page 260 and goes on for the most part of page 261. Self-evident stuff, like dungeons can go in all directions and that the first level should be the easiest, but you can experiment there. Some simple terminology, like pits and corridors and trick monsters, a couple of rules about simple random stocking ... nothing solid, there is even the advice to check out published dungeons. It's disappointing.

After that entry you'll have some notes about Mystara (the default setting), some alternate and conversion rules and lots of overland maps. Add character sheets and an index and that's the Rules Cyclopedia for you.

Why oh why?!

Let's talk reasons. I think this is a huge oversight, but maybe it's for good reasons. Well, the cynic in me thinks, they wanted to sell product and leaving a crucial part of a DMs work out of the book would ensure some sales, right?

Doesn't have to be the sole reason, though. Space could have been an issue. Rules for playing in dungeons are all over the book, maybe it was considered enough (although a DM would have to be very, very familiar with the D&D RC to run it that way).

Another reason might have been that Allston (as the one compiling the book) just wasn't too fond of dungeons to begin with and just did the bare minimum because he had to.

Scope might be another aspect and I think it has the most clout here. A possible range of a campaign leads characters from level 1 to 36, with a good chance to play some more for immortality. It means that the reasons to explore dungeons will vanish beyond, say, level 9, but at least as early as when characters get more xp for role playing and clever play than for killing monsters or even collecting loot (read all about it in Part 5 of the Oddities!).

D&D can do so much more than dungeons and giving them more room in the rules would have given the wrong impression there, right? Add to that the huge corpus of works leading to the D&D RC and there isn't much reason to have more about dungeons right there.

Still, it is somewhat odd that what is there, isn't very useful to anyone but people playing for the very first time. No example of play, no example of a small dungeon to show people the ropes ... Nothing.

And that's that

Don't get me wrong, I do love the Rules Cyclopedia. I think it's one of the best D&D books out there for everything it does half-heartedly, everything it does right and most of all for the great potential beyond the sum of its parts. It's just that, as far as dungeons go, it could have done more with little effort.
Well, or maybe I'm wrong and it is totally enough! The older I get and the more I read in this book, the more I think that the main game isn't about dungeon crawls at all.

However, please, feel free to chime in here with your observations, thoughts and knowledge about the RC. I'm, as always, happy to hear it.

Also, check out the other Oddities, if you haven't already:

Part 1: Damage to Magic Items

Part 2: The Druid

Part 3: The "Type of Human" and "NPC Reasons for Appearing" Checklists

Part 4: Race as Class

Part 5: Experience

Part 6: Diversity


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Map is not the Territory - Part 4 (procedural moving)

The Disoriented Ranger - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 16:20
Alright, let's finish this series. I want to get this done properly, but I also want to write a couple of other things (yeah, there's more to come, maybe even this month), so we'll take one more dive into the subject, talking about maps I think are great for the game, a bit about how I like to do it and why, and finally about what else we can do for gaming maps.
Disclaimer 2: I like pretty maps, I really do, but using them in my games has always been a problem for me and that's why we are talking about this here. Not that it is going to change a thing, mind you. Nonetheless, the process had me thinking about the subject in depth and the discussions that followed changed some of my opinions on aspects of this. And old school dungeons are fun! Going a little board-gamey never hurt the experience ... When all is said and done, you do you want and I do the same. It's always about what works for you, right?
Part 1 is all over the place and should maybe be Part 0 instead (or Part 3, not sure yet), but Part 2 will bring you up to speed about the topic and my approach towards it. Part 3 talks a bit about how movement in RPGs is connected to numbers and not to maps. It also takes a look at maps computer games. The D&D RC has a guest appearance, too (because I like what they did).
There's also (always) stuff others wrote to consider. So we have +Vb Wyrde with two articles about maps worth checking out here and here. +Brian Murphy wrote a nice blog as a response to an aspect of part 2. It's a defense of the Tolkien map and fantasy maps in general. Also very much worth reading (adding some great maps to boot) and you can do so here. I'm sure there's more like this around.
You can read all that (which is a lot, I guess) or you just go in cold right here. Whatever floats your boat.
Good shit!
Let's make this a quick one: I love, love, love the walkthrough maps of classic RPG modules done by Jason Thompson:
Check the source for all the beautiful detail -> [source]What a great way to introduce a DM to a module! It connects all the dots while highlighting some crucial points. Sure, it's just one interpretation how any given adventure could go down, but I always thought it should be mandatory with huge location-based adventures to give an overview like this. It's not done often, but when it's done, it's a great tool for a DM to get the basics before the main work is done.
The only problem I see with this is that it's also a great tool for players to get an overview of a module (that is, actually, one of the points against maps we didn't get into yet: cheating players and player expectations because of maps).
A variant of this are detailed but uncommented location maps. Something to show the players to give them the idea what a location looks like. But they are very specific most of the time and there's always a chance you don't get to use a map like this because the players don't show up. Anyway, a great example of this is yet another Temple of Elemental Evil handout:
That's what I want from bought RPG material [source]It's easily something the characters could see from some vantage point and the chances that the moat-house will see some action when playing this are very high. Plus: it doesn't give away one thing about the location, but works well enough as a map (bonus: you can compare it to the pic posted above!).

Imagine a SF setting done like that! [source]The beauty of those maps is that they are unreliable and that's the only kind of map you can share with players. It tells the players what the characters might kow about a world and inspires exploration and a vague sense of place, but doesn't interfere with how the world manifests through the DMs imagination (shout out to +trey causey, his blog is where I've seen the map above first). The whole point-crawl concept is based on this approach. I like it a lot.

The last one (I can come up with right now) is the classic treasure map, very much for the same reason stated above: it's unreliable and players can use it to interact with the world in a way where they check how the map connects to the setting, not the other way around. Also (as all of the above, actually) it's a great way to give a game some atmosphere:

The problem is that maps like that aren't done at all. It's such a great opportunity, but it's also just not done by drawing a map with a dotted line leading to an "x", it needs clues and riddles and some tight rules for exploration to make this happening. But wouldn't it make for a fun game? Searching a location for some hidden treasure?

It's sad, but that's the best I could find ... [source]Wonder why it's never done. I bet you, if you take any decent treasure in a module you own and make a scavenger hunt map for the group to get there through the dungeon, it'd be a blast ... Actually, if you know an adventure or module that does that, point me in that direction. I'd appreciate it.

And that's that. Usability is key, the more the matter. This is not about accuracy or completeness (even when depicting dungeons, as I already alluded to in Part 2), it's about supporting immersion without interfering with the DMs idea of a place.

That's especially true for sold products. If it's DIY, the sky is the limit and the only thing that matters is focus. That's another aspect of maps that got a bit neglected in this series so far: how to draw and what to draw or if to draw at all. It is rare to find advice about this in most rpg books ...

Here's what works for me: the DIY sandbox

I'm all for DIY. I know, you have to take time of your day to make it happen, but the results will always speak for themselves when you get down to it, I feel. Of course we talk individual solutions here, but who cares if you can make it sing, right?

Anyway, I talk a lot about this stuff here on the blog and I was looking for a long time before I reached some satisfying solutions (if you want to explore where I'm at with this, you could read this post and get back to me about it). As I said before, what follows is a very individual approach.

The material I'll use here is from Monkey Business, the module I wrote (no affiliate link, btw). It's different to what I have seen so far in that it allows a DM to create his own jungle crawl. That way, the module has almost no spoilers, just ideas and tools that help manifesting the setting as the players explore it. Here goes.

You'll start with a hex-map, of sorts. I made the decision early on that the main information I want for a hex-field is the height compared to the sea-level and it's complexity. That's a 2d10 roll per hex with the sea-level being at 4. That way you can create all kinds of terrain with just two numbers. You can see where rivers flow and where you get lakes, you can see where trees grow and where mountains are or how weather moves. Just like that.

One thing that really got important to make this work was something I called "cheat sheets". It's not that different to character sheets, but it's for the DM to get an overview for his creation. In MB it looks like this:
The module not only has a result noted for every one of the 100 possible results, it also features a Resource Level to go with the results (where the fertile ground is and all that), which leads to another random generator to fill this with all the available factions (which you'll note on the second and the following pages). An early version of this method can be found here on the blog, for those interested. Here's another example (a hack of the system for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs)
Example with borders, with the arrows indicating the flow of the land ...As you'll note, I do not care that much about where something in a hex is, and instead more about what it is and how much of it. All this is expressed in numbers, signs and some words. For the module all of this is navigated through the random encounter table or whatever the players can come up with (by asking the way, for instance).

It'll also generate vistas and a DM should get a sense what characters will see when they climb a tree or are on a mountain top and look around. As they explore the area, they'll collect hints or stumble across ruins and so on and so forth (all of which with tools for random creation). Just like with the D&D RC (as discussed in Part 3), the map manifests as the characters explore. Before that it's just numbers.

However, as already pointed out, it doesn't stop with this basic map and annotations, it goes further. There's a random generator for Cannibal Villages that looks like this:

It'll give you a map and lots of numbers and aspects to work with: how many live here, are they friendly or not, hungry, at war ... There's a lot you can generate with little (one roll of dice on that piece of paper and writing down the results).

Again, characters move in numbers, so numbers is what you need for a meaningful interaction with a world also described in numbers. The map this generates is a by-product of the process (still, a map it is). If you want to see the whole thing, I posted the village generator with all the tables here.

There's also a ruin generator that basically produces a mind map for a random location, but it's a bit more complex than what is shown here and a post of its own to go into, but you get the idea (and you can always get Monkey Business for free to play around with this).

It takes a good afternoon to create a huge jungle location with this and it will generate an indefinite number of them, if you want to. You can also go beyond that, if you have the means and the skills to do so and generate those vistas, for instance, make treasure maps to navigate the jungle towards a certain goal (the random treasure generator in there will also produce quest items, for instance).

A DM can go as deep as he wants with this, which includes creating maps for the jungle he already has in numbers. It's all I'd want for a game, really, and I use a huge part of this for my home campaign (as I said, it's an individual approach).

In the End: The Map is not the Territory

We need to ask ourselves how role-playing games really get to benefit from maps, respectively what kind of effort we should expect from publishers in that area. A simple map of an area does not cut it, in my opinion, there's room to evolve here (see some of the examples above).

The main issue I came to realize when writing this here post is that there are no treasure maps out there. None I could find with a couple of Google searches, anyway. But still, why is that?

The next big thing is that DMs need help in that area. Many (many!) role playing games fail to explain DM procedures in general and some philosophy about what maps are needed and why and to what extent (although the D&D Rules Cyclopedia does that, which comes highly recommended, of course). It's a sad affair.

So, the map is not the territory in role playing games, it's the other way around: once you have a territory, you can draw a map of it. My solution is to have all that in numbers, symbols and words before I start drawing anything (or have the players draw something!).

Okay, I'm all out of words for today. I hope this series had something for everyone. Comments and suggestions are, as always, very welcome. If you happen to know a great treasure map, I'd love to hear about it. While we are at it, I'd love to see examples of maps you guys like, so please, share away :)

[source]
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Map is not the Territory - Part 3 (guest starring: the D&D RC)

The Disoriented Ranger - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 23:31
Here we go, Part 3. In a timely fashion, no less. Anyway, things got a little interesting the last two times around. No hostilities, but under observation. Because maps are a staple in role-playing games, right? And lots of people make a decent buck drawing them, so I guess I start this post by pointing out that I'm not against maps or map making. Well, you might say I'm against lazy map making, especially for something that is sold. But who isn't?! Okay, that being out of the way, I'd say we talk some maps. There will be a Part 4, though. Sorry.
DISCLAIMER: I couldn't draw a nice picture to save my life and I have only a passing knowledge of all things maps. What I know, though, is games and I'm coming at this from the perspective of a game design enthusiast, hoping that I can add an interesting perspective to a fringe discipline of gaming that could benefit a bit from a more procedural approach every now and then.
Part 1 is all over the place and should maybe be Part 0 instead (or Part 3, not sure yet), but Part 2 will bring you up to speed about the topic and my approach towards it. Or you just go in cold. Works for most.
Characters move in numbers ...
Not as in "many of them". Everything we know about our characters' strengths and weaknesses is expressed in numbers (and words, but numbers distinguish characters a bit more). We know how fast or how strong or how clever our character is only by those numbers and how they compare to other numbers.
You want to know if your character is able to do something? You make a roll of the dice (or some other system of resolving chance, but mostly dice) and compare the overall result to ... other numbers. Then there is some form of abstract interpretation of how the result manifests in the game and the figments of our imagination just moved a little bit. Rinse and repeat. Numbers talking to each other.The world in numbers, right? [source]Now, all that considered, how figure maps in there? Maybe just a bit more than a character portrait would?
I know, heresy, but think about it: you know the terrain the characters are moving in and their moving speed and you know the direction they are walking in (or think they are walking in). Everything else can be determined by chance (random encounters go a long way here).
You want an example? Check the D&D Rules Cyclopedia! For starters, maps are not factored into wilderness travel (that is: the characters owning or using maps). Without a road or a guide, you'd need a character with the skill Navigation or Knowledge (Area) to get around without getting lost (having skill checks, though). If you don't have any of that, there's a freaking 1-3 chance (in d6) that the group gets lost in the woods without realizing it (see p. 89 in the D&D RC).
More fun facts: players are expected to draw their own wilderness map, using hex-maps with the DM giving the scale (p. 87, D&D RC). You also have movement rates for different terrains and different encumbrance rates, with the simple rule that the slowest character determines the overall travel-rate. It's a numbers game and short of knowing where you are going or finding out by asking around, the players have no chance to get anywhere.
What kind of maps a DM would use is a bit vague in the RC, but it shows at least one approach how a DM is supposed to do this:"Sketch the terrain in pencil first, so you can make changes; draw the one most noteworthy feature of a one-hex area in that hex. (For example, if there is a mighty city in that hex, use a symbol for a city; if the hex is predominantly forest, use a symbol for forest.) Though you only mark one terrain type in each map hex, many features are assumed to be present in each hex and each type of terrain. For example, a jungle contains clearings, hills, valleys, swamps, and so forth—all represented on the map by a palm tree.Make up terrain descriptions as needed during games, but don't try to make notes on everything you say. The players should keep records if they want details on wilderness areas. Keep only the information you need to remember for the campaign—cities, castles, important monster lairs, and so forth." (D&D RC, p. 257)See, that's the most basic map you can have: a hex with a scale and a symbol for the main feature. The DM is not even supposed to have or make notes for everything, it's what the players do! That's it, the rest is notes and "common sense" (actual advice from the RC). Works fine, too. If you play wilderness travel RAW with the RC, you will not lack anything without using any other maps but the basic ones the DM prepared and the ones the players made.
And really, it's just a simplification that allows all involved to give the setting a sense of place. which is (incidentally) the best argument anyone could make about maps: they visualize a setting or aspects of it.
Anyway, player maps!
A short word on this, since we already brushed the subject. The only thing players know about a setting is the notes and maps they did themselves. Sure, it's possible to give them maps as playing aids, which is cool as hell (as all kinds of props are if you are not scared of the effort or cost).
There is an argument to be made, that the word is more powerful to conjure a picture in a mind than a picture would be. I stand by that. Pictures can capture moments and even alter our perception with certain moods and styles. It most certainly can enrich the experience. But so can language and I'd argue this is our main tool when playing role-playing games. Everything else is dressing and preparation. I think we should never forget that.
Another argument for the DIY approach is that it's easy to feel an achievement that way. A player-drawn (dungeon) map (or, really, any extra effort a player is willing to bring into the game) is a beautiful thing to behold and players will hold it dear. Premade material somewhat lessens that experience to something you can buy and own and that changes the way we treat those gaming artifacts. Am I wrong?
A hand-drawn map from Zork 1, made 1981 ... beautiful! [source]
We are not talking computer games, folks
All this stands in brutal conflict with what we have come to expect from computer games, where everything is visual first and words just to a very, very small extent. And more so every year, I think. Nowadays you don't even need to be able to read to play most games and talking is sparse most of the time, too.
This is where maps have always been great tools adding to the experience, especially early on, when the visualizing part wasn't as evolved as it is today. Some of the oldest adventure and role-playing games would have printed maps as part of the package (even Morrowind had that and it was a great way to navigate the game!).
The thing is that computer games always have been (and still are today to some extent) way more restricted than classic pen and paper role-playing games. Words being more powerful and all that, but also the need to be visually specific and the pressure to add more and more detail (down to individual blades of grass and how they move in the wind ... the illusion that it is possible to recreate reality in its entirety and all the problems that come with that).
However, while maps add a huge deal to computer games, they do not work the same way for role-playing games. Actually, many of the problems I see with maps and how they are used derive from computer game culture (as one can say for many problems we see in our hobby, especially regarding expectations and usage ... but that's for another post, maybe).
It's simple, the traditional mode of "travel" in computer games is by clicking a point on some map. Or walking there (Mario-style). It's not that those are real options or that you could stray from a given path. Even today, in computer games you traveling from one point to the next means nothing else but a short intermission giving a sense of place between the more detailed gaming locations.
A place you won't explore ... [source]I can see how that could work for certain analog role-playing games. Yeah, why not. However, if you simulate it all without the shortcuts, if you go the full monty, in other words, if you play for the complete experience, as (for instance) the D&D Rules Cyclopedia offers, then maps have to work differently. They simply fulfill a different purpose than they do in computer games.
Still, not quite there yet ...
... but we are getting there. It just ended up being a longer post than expected. Maps are an interesting topic and I think I'm warming up to it ... There are some curiosa to talk about (I'm thinking about checking HackMaster 4e for some tidbits ... they have a monster called the Mapsnatcher if I remember correctly ... maps are a thing there).
However, the main thing for Part 4 will be the procedural generation of setting content and the kind of maps I think useful for our (my?) games. We'll see what's out there and stuff I came up with over the years. Maybe I manage to throw a list of dos and don'ts. We'll see. Soon, when we finally talk about why the map is not the territory.

For now, I'd like to collect ideas and impressions. What are you people doing out there? Someone working without any maps? DIY or buying? Did anyone prepare a campaign with the Rules Cyclopedia RAW? Which other systems out there give good advice about the subject? Are there any at all? Please, share your thoughts if you are so inclined.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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

Stitch Tension in Amigurumi: an investigation

Planet June - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 13:38
Link easily to this page in your patterns: www.planetjune.com/stitchtension

Today, I’d like to dispel a common amigurumi myth…

In amigurumi, as with all crochet, you should always be keeping tension on the yarn to keep your stitches compact and regular. But I often hear misinformation that you should be ‘crocheting tightly’ to make amigurumi, and that’s not true at all!

The tightness of amigurumi stitches refers to the tension of the small stiff stitches of the fabric you produce, not to the tension in your hands while you crochet.

Showing is better than telling, so allow me to demonstrate, via a new crochet investigation, how to make perfect amigurumi stitches without hurting your hands!

Experiment 1: Effect of Hook Size

I crocheted the same sample amigurumi cup shape 3 times with different sized hooks and the same worsted weight yarn each time. I crocheted the same way as I would when making a scarf or anything else – I kept my tension even, but didn’t try to pull my stitches tightly or pull back on the yarn after pulling up each loop.

I used my standard amigurumi E hook (3.5mm), and, to show the effects of changing hook sizes, I tried a larger H hook (5mm) and a smaller C hook (2.75mm).

You can see that the stitches are neat and even in all three samples and, as you may expect, using a larger hook results in a larger finished piece that’s both taller and wider than the same piece crocheted with a smaller hook.

See how the smaller hook samples can stack inside the larger ones? There’s quite a size difference!

What you can’t tell from a photo is how stiff the fabric of each sample is. With the H hook, the fabric is too floppy to hold its shape well. With the E hook, the fabric is much firmer and holds its shape much better. With the C hook, the piece is even firmer and feels very solid.

I simulated the effect of adding stuffing by gently stretching out each piece between my fingers, so you can see the gaps between the stitches:

As you can see, the H hook fabric is far too open for an amigurumi; the gaps between the stitches are very noticeable. With the E hook, the stitches have smaller holes between them, so the stuffing would be far less visible. And, with the C hook, the gaps between stitches are almost invisible.

So here’s the result of changing hook size: a smaller hook gives a smaller and firmer crocheted piece, with tighter stitches and smaller gaps between the stitches.

These are the properties we want for amigurumi fabric! A stiff, sturdy fabric that holds its shape and has tiny gaps between the stitches is exactly what we need for crocheting a 3-dimensional sculpture.

Choosing the Right Hook Size
The C hook was the smallest hook I could manage with this specific yarn (Caron Simply Soft, a light worsted weight yarn), and I had to stop and undo a stitch a few times, when my hook hadn’t grabbed all the plies of the yarn. I wouldn’t recommend using a hook quite this small, as it’s annoying to have to undo your work whenever you realise you have a snag in your stitches from splitting the yarn with the small hook.

My Recommendation: In practice, with a light worsted weight yarn like this, I might go down to a D hook for the best balance of small, tight stitches and not splitting the yarn as I crochet. For the heavier worsted weight yarns, I still recommend an E hook for most amigurumi.

(See my Worsted Weight Yarn Comparison for more about the differences between different yarns that are all labelled as worsted weight!) Experiment 2: Effect of ‘Crocheting Tightly’

Now, part two of this investigation. I returned to my standard E hook and tried crocheting the same sample piece yet again, but this time I followed the misunderstood advice of ‘crocheting tightly’. I held the yarn tightly and pulled back on it against my hook each time I formed a loop, so each loop was tight around the hook and as small as possible.

Both these samples were crocheted with the same hook. As you can see, the ‘tight’ piece is smaller and firmer than the normally-tensioned piece, but at what cost?

When you crochet with too-tight tension, your stitches are so small that it’s hard to work back into them, and that’s what happened in this case: it was an effort to force my hook into each stitch. My yarn-holding hand began to cramp from pulling the yarn so tightly, and I didn’t enjoy the process of crocheting at all. Even finishing this small piece was very hard work.

Yes, the tight piece is definitely smaller (and therefore ‘better’ for amigurumi) but crocheting it was a horrible experience!

The Tension Exception
In amigurumi, chains and slip stitches should not be crocheted with your usual tension. These stitches need to be crocheted with an extra-relaxed tension (or a larger hook), or they’ll be too small to work back into.

See my tutorial Chains and Slip Stitches in Amigurumi for more on this. Experiment 3: Comparing Smaller Hook and Tighter Tension

Now, let’s compare the small (C hook) sample from Experiment 1 with the extra tight tension sample (E hook) from Experiment 2:

Can this be right? They look almost identical!

Yes, comparing the two pieces, they look and feel almost exactly the same – the size and shape are the same, the stiffness of the fabric is the same, the gaps between stitches are the same.

The only difference? The sample on the left was crocheted comfortably with a small hook, and the sample on the right was crocheted extra-tightly, at great discomfort, with a larger hook.

Conclusions

As these experiments have shown, there’s absolutely no advantage to changing the way you crochet when you make amigurumi by working extra-tightly (and you may actually hurt your hands, wrists and arms by doing so!)

The goal with amigurumi is to maintain tension (down and backwards) on the yarn that’s balanced by your hook pulling up and forwards. This control allows you to form neat, consistent stitches.

You should never feel you have to force your hook into every stitch and/or pull your stitches as tightly as possible. This not only distorts your fabric but can also lead to hand and wrist fatigue and repetitive stress disorders.

The secret to making good-looking amigurumi without making your hands hurt is simple:

  • Select an appropriately small hook and crochet the same way as you usually do.
  • The perfect hook for your yarn is the smallest size you can manage without starting to have problems from splitting your yarn because the hook is too small to consistently grab all the plies.

The result: neat tight stitches, with no pain!

If you ever experience discomfort when making amigurumi, I encourage you to relax that death grip on your hook and yarn, and try crocheting with a slightly smaller hook instead. Your hands will love the difference and, I hope, you’ll enjoy the amigurumi-making process more.

Have you fallen for the amigurumi myth of ‘crocheting tightly’? Please leave a message in the comments and share your experiences…

Categories: Crochet Life

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