Saturday, August 28, 2021

Vancouver Problems

I'm having a tough time.

Currently, I'm typing in yet another darkened hotel room; this one in Vancouver, Washington. Folks unfamiliar with the Northwest Territories may have only ever heard of Vancouver, British Columbia, the thriving metropolis a couple hours north of Seattle (both were named for the explorer, George Vancouver). However, despite being only a quarter (or less) of the Canadian city's size (and probably less than that in terms of prestige), the American Vancouver is the older, dare I say "the Original," city to hold the name. It is, in fact, older than Seattle and at one time was (briefly) the capital of the state. When I was a kid, my father would sometimes have business trips that would take him to those days (the 1970s) the two cities (Seattle and Vancouver) were far closer in terms of scale and economic impact than they are today.

Getting here was a bitch...a 2.5 hour drive turned into four by a combination of road construction and a near endless string of car accidents (seriously...there were not less than four collisions on the interstate that would cause an incredible slowdown every 30 miles or so). We're in town for a three-day soccer jamboree for the boy, and we barely managed to make it to the field prior to the Friday night game (kid changed in the car during a 7.5 mile stretch that took as an hour to traverse). But make it we did. 

Perhaps, understandably, our team had some frustrations to work out, and they shellacked the other guys 6-0. It could have easily been 10. We'll see how today's games go.

But that's for later, after everyone's awake and breakfasted and I've had something to drink besides hotel room instant coffee (a Keurig machine, actually, which has a nice Italian roast, but forces me to get up and fill the damn thing for every cup I drink). Since the kennel fiasco that led to the death of my dog in July, all our road trips have included the original "running beagle," and she was happy to get me up at the crack of dawn for her morning meal and walk. She now dozes (with the family) while I sit typing in the dark. As usual. Having a tough time.

Problem: okay, here it is. I have four days left to write this damn adventure for Prince's contest. I've got the maps done and PDF'd (getting better with Ye Old "Dungeon Doodler"), I've got the encounters named and numbered, I've got the treasure catalogued to the copper piece, I've got my monsters and traps and tricks lined up and ready...

I'm having a damned hard time writing it all up.

And I'm not sure what it is that's stopping me. I've got into a habit with my recent adventure writing of using a simple, three bullet-point system: #1 is general description, #2 is monster stuff (if any), and #3 is any treasure (valuable or not). Here are a couple examples from my DL1 re-mix:
29. Sage Front
  • Rotten books stained with green fungus line the decrepit shelves on the north side of this room. The air smells of decay and rotting paper.
  • The books crumble if handled. All are worthless. 

30. Sage’s Court
  • Unlike the outer room, the interior is meticulously clean and uncluttered, though the stench of decay is still strong. Several shelves of intact books grace the walls; a gold-painted chair stands near a solid oak table. A single, emaciated figure works in the darkness.
  • The unliving sage putters around the room, working to keep his remaining books in excellent condition. Unless approached with politeness, he assumes intruders are thieves and attack. WIGHT (AC 5, HD 4+3, HPs 25, MM100). Though amenable to seekers of knowledge, the creature will only talk for D4 minutes before attacking in a fit of life-starved hunger.
  • Treasure: the wight obsessively cares for and preserves many of his most valuable books. He has 20 tomes worth an average of 100 g.p. each, as well as a tome of clear thought (8,000 x.p.), a tome of leadership and influence (7,500 x.p.), and a tome of understanding (8,000 x.p.).
Stuff like that. However, I'm having a hard time using this format for my "No ArtPunk" adventure. For one thing, it's a high-level affair: an AD&D scenario suitable for a band of characters levels 10th-14th. Which, in my opinion, requires a bit more tactical description in order to challenge such experienced PCs. And writing that up is a wordy affair, cluttering up bullet-points and/or rendering them a joke. The bullet points are, after all, supposed to be there for the convenience of the DM reading the text.

No, it's not that I'm writing stuff like "if the PCs do X, then monsters do Y, otherwise they do Z." I just mean there has to be more than "the Beholder attacks!" For example, in the previously mentioned adventure, the creature with the largest tactical description is (duh) the black dragon at the end of the module. Here's how I wrote up that encounter:

84. Dragon’s Lair
  • An immense chamber rises four stories to a cracked and broken translucent dome. A black dragon, reclines on an enormous horde of coins, precious jewels, and exquisite items. This is Onyx, and she was old three centuries ago, before the city was buried beneath the swamp.
  • ANCIENT HUGE BLACK DRAGON (AC 3, HD 8, HPs 64); she is a warlock and may cast the following spells: charm person, detect magic, identify, unseen servant, darkness 15’ radius, knock, locate object, dispel magic, hold person, protection from normal missiles, curse, and minor globe of invulnerability. Onyx expects submission and abject worship. If the party has been able to enter without noise (such as through #83) there is a 50% she is sleeping. She will have otherwise taken the chance to cast protection from normal missiles on herself in preparation for intruders. Her first action will be to fly out of melee range and bellow for her guardsmen (any left within the palace will immediately hear her call and respond). If she sees characters engaged in spell-casting she will cast minor globe of invulnerability; otherwise she will cast hold person on any obvious melee types. She will then attack lightly armored characters in melee. Onyx will try not to use her breath weapon inside the chamber, so as save her treasure; however, if the party proves powerful, she will (sadly) do so.
  • Treasure: The dragon’s hoard is immense and growing larger as her minions gather more spoils on her behalf. 20,000 c.p., 25,000 s.p., 30,000 e.p., 18,000 g.p., 3,000 p.p., 56 200 g.p. gems, platinum miter (10,000 g.p.), platinum encrusted staff (8,750 g.p.), potion of flying (500 x.p.), clerical spell scroll with raise dead and restoration (1,200 x.p.), shield +4 (1,200 x.p.), spear +3 (1,750 x.p.), periapt of health (1,000 x.p.), and splint armor +1 (700 x.p.). All treasure is loose and will take hours to collect, count, and examine.
That's a lot of text regarding spell use and tactics, and it still makes a lot of assumptions...for example, there's no mention of the awe/fear effect ancient dragons cause, assuming the DM will be well aware of that when running the encounter (low level henchfolk and hirelings tend to scatter or cower when a dragon pops up). Nor does it detail the dragon's longterm plans or motivation (though it hints at her general greed and arrogance).

However, the adventure I'm writing now (or, rather, not writing; instead, just blogging about) has to have MANY "dragon-level" encounters...encounters that work together with each other in a sensible, interlocked fashion that provides a decent challenge to PCs possessing extraordinary resources of magic ad might. And maybe I don't trust DMs to be able to run high-level adventures without a bit of handholding: there's just such a dearth of genuine interest in such adventures to be found on the internet these days (and a plethora of pundits decrying attempts to push adventures past mid-levels). It feels a bit like I'm trying to write some sort of primer/tutorial for DMs, not just a modular adventure. And that's weighing on my mind.

Then again, maybe that's not it at all. Maybe it's just that I'm writing this thing for a dude who's made a name for himself doing scathing reviews of published adventures and I'm too concerned with creating something of sheer awesomeness, something so beyond reproach (and criticism) that ALL will be forced to BOW DOWN BEFORE MY MONUMENTAL SKILLS. And the simplistic manner that I'd normally use...just...isn't...good...enough.


Ego. Perfectionism. Procrastination. All contributing to a lack of constructive action. Maybe I just need to let shit go and get it done. Worry about the "editing for perfection" later.

Time's running out, after all.

Okay, everyone's up. The call of the wild. Time to hunt and gather.

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Island


The island is near nine miles long and roughly five miles wide with sheer cliffs rising from the sea. It has one safe harbor ringed by a jagged seawall of heaped black stone; a sturdy tower of square-cut stone squats upon the shore, keeping watch for ships that fail to fly the flags of Hell. Only on the opposite side of the island will one find a sandy shore where a small craft may be beached; access to the island may be gained by scaling the hundred foot high cliffs that seclude the beach or through a large cave that opens just above the high tide mark. This latter leads to a cavern complex infested with giant crabs and poisonous sea spiders and (eventually) the lair of the Raarshashar’rr the dragon (see encounter area #36). 

There is a 70% chance that any ship approaching from the harbor side will be spotted by the tower watch (reduced to 35% during the night time unless the ship is highly illuminated via continual light spells and similar). If alerted, 1d3 large galleys, ram-equipped and girded for battle, will be dispatched to intercept would-be invaders. They will use light catapults and crossbow fire to incite surrender, hoping to take prisoners (who will be used for slaves, food, and entertainment). Galley crews consist of heavily armed hobgoblin marines, human officers, and orcish oarsmen. 

The docks are managed by a small garrison town of approximately 800 soldiers, of which roughly half are hobgoblin; all others are either human or half-orc. Another 200 slaves, nearly three-quarters of which are orcish or some orcish mixture, serve in support of the garrison. 

In the surrounding hills, some 1800-2000 slaves work the countryside, eking out a living for their masters. These are mostly bred on the island and 90% of them are orcish or some strain of orc. Their lot is enforced by overseers (about one for every ten slaves) who are drawn from the ranks of the soldiery or who are elevated from slavery by right of exceptional strength and cruelty. All have been raised in the ways and “ethics” of the Nine Hells; exploitation and abuse of the weak at the hands of the strong is the universal expectation on the island. 

The Temple has done its best to create Hell on Earth.


[all of that was written on June 24th, as part of the background section to my adventure submission for Prince of Nothing's "No Artpunk Contest." I had decided that my original idea for the adventure for low-level characters called The Ice Box...wouldn't work as it drew too many elements from different editions (Prince's contest rules require a straight By The Book adventure using a single particular edition). So I decided to go for something different: specifically, a high level assault on a stronghold of Lawful Evil using the AD&D rules. However, the contest also called for a straight "dungeon adventure" of some 20-30 rooms and, as one might gather from the above, my simple "evil-temple-on-an-island" morphed into a whole community of awfulness, supporting the temple and its business...which is a bit too big for the project at hand.

[SO...all of the above (and its accompanying info) is getting deleted. I just wanted to post it somewhere as I felt it had a nice "1st edition" flavor to it. Plus, I might want to revisit this more elaborate scenario at some point in the future.

[right now, I've got about 11 days to complete the writing for the stuff that didn't end up on the cutting room floor..."The Under Caverns" beneath the temple crypts...and hope that, by itself, it provides a suitable enough challenge for the high level party it's intended to entertain. We'll see. I've only had the chance to return to the project since the in-laws left, and what with the back-to-school preparations, well...time sure does slip away, don't it? Took me three hours or so to get the treasure distribution right, and I think I'm still going to have to go back and throw in a scroll or four (there's room in the budget, it's more a question of WHERE to place them). But I'm pretty confident I can get the edited version finished by the deadline.

[in case you don't hear from me...that's what I'm working on.]

Wednesday, August 18, 2021


Time for a quick Blood Bowl post.

Last November I wrote a post complaining about the Jamal Adams trade to the Seattle Seahawks (the hometown team). Hope springs eternal in the preseason, however, and I have softened a bit on the deal...even (yes) in light of the news Tuesday that the team signed the dude to a 4-year, $70 million dollar contract, despite having exhibited neither the ability to provide coverage like a starting safety, nor the size and speed of a true pass rusher.

Why have I softened? The fact is, despite his flaws, Mr. Adams is a playmaker and a young one (25 years old) at that. A playmaker on defense is someone for whom opposing teams must gameplan and scheme and worry. The more playmakers one has on the team, the more difficult the job of the opposing coach. Right now, the Seahawks have multiple playmakers on offense (three or four for sure)...on defense we Maybe two. Besides Adams. The Seahawks need more, pure and simple. To make it tougher for opposing coaches.

The other reason: he was hurt last year. It is possible, he will be a better player (in coverage and rushing) in the coming season. He was 'okay' in 2020 (yes, he set a sack record for defensive backs...he was still graded worse in pass coverage than any other starting safety in the NFL, and worse than many backups, too). Being better...healthier...than last year could make for a remarkable season for the young multi-millionaire.

We'll see. 

Anyway...we're some five or six games into our home Blood Bowl tournament, and for the most part we're using he "standard" BB rules, rather than the true gridiron rules we were developing last year (it's just simpler/easier that way). Even in BB, one can see the value of "playmakers;" true star players and individual players heaped high with skills (like Big Guys, wood elf wardancers and skaven gutter runners) are pains in the ass that one needs to prepare tactics for neutralizing...if one wants to win. And who doesn't?

In honor of the new Jamal Adams contract, I've taken a look at the profile I put together last year and feel that it needs a bit of an update. Here's the way, I'd stat the guy under the actual rules (we're using BB2016 along with the Season One and Season Two Death Zone supplements):
#33 Goblin : MA 7 ST 2 AG 3 AV 8 Skills: Dauntless, Dodge, Right Stuff, Strip Ball, Stunty, Tackle, Thick Skull
Here's hoping the guy lives up to the hype.

Let's get the, Rams this year.

Current Blood Bowl World Cup Standings:

#1 The Rich-ers (Skaven)  6 points (two wins), GD: +3
#2 Nifty Nymphs (Wood Elves)  6 points (two wins, one loss), GD: -1
#3 Bubblegum Dynamite (Orks) 3 points (one win, one loss), GD: +3
#4 Kick-Butt Ladies (Amazon) 0 points (one loss), GD: -1
#5 Green Machine (Goblins) 0 points (two losses), GD: -4

GD is "goal differential."

Friday, August 13, 2021

"F" Is For "Fudging"

This is going to be my last post on this stupid, stupid subject. I really have other things I'd rather work on.

[for my prior posts see this and might also want to check the comments as they elaborate on some of my thoughts/points. I mean, if you care about the elaboration of these things...]

"Is that a note of frustration I detect in your blogging, JB?" Yes. Yes you do.

BA wrote his own blog post on fudging yesterday, in which he lists many examples of which NONE I find to be "fudging," not even the one he claims least it is not "fudging" in the way the term is generally used (and the way in which the original blogger of this subject intended the use of this term). However, in the comments on BA's post WQRobb gives a perfect example of fudging:
In my last gaming session I fudged a couple of to-hit rolls by the monsters the PC's were fighting because everything was just going so freaking badly for players that session. In the end the players still had a rough time and barely came out on top, but showing a small bit of mercy in the name of fun and keeping a game going isn't that big a deal in my mind.
THIS is what is meant by fudging. The DM made a decision that things were going "freaking badly" for the players that session, and so "fudged a couple of to-hit rolls by the monsters" (presumably calling attacks misses when hits were rolled) in order to show "a small bit of mercy in the name of fun." As WQRobb explicitly writes, in his own mind this wasn't a big deal. And BA would seem to agree.

I agree with BA that fudging one (or more) dice roll will not result in "The End of Days" nor prevent a person from getting to their particular afterlife. But I absolutely disagree that it's not a deal...a big deal...when it comes to a game that uses a fortune mechanic (i.e. dice rolling) to determine objective outcomes of play. WQRobb's fudging on behalf of his players has several effects:
  • It declares that the result of the dice don't really matter.
  • It declares that the rules of the game don't really matter.
  • It declares a lack of trust in the players to deal with game consequences.
  • It prevents players from learning from the experience of game play (becoming better players).
  • It denies players a potential victory on their own earned merits (i.e. a real victory).
  • It can break players' trust in a DM to be fair and impartial (depending on how aware they were of the DM's fudging).
  • It can generate false feelings of accomplishment leading to poor play in the future that will in turn require more fudging (reinforcing the above points).
And even if these things aren't said out loud at the table, the action of the fudging itself will certainly plant these concepts in the psyche of the participants (certainly that of the DM who knows the fudging has taken place). And for a DM who has declared the dice results and rules don't matter (because they can always be fudged as needed)...well, they're just more likely to fudge again and again in the future.

When what should probably be happening is the DM should be learning their own lessons from the incident. Not a lesson of "crisis averted, fun had" but lessons of how to be a better DM:
  • Maybe the players were having a hard time because monsters appearing were inappropriate (too tough) for their characters.
  • Maybe the DM was failing to communicate the necessary information to the PCs that would allow them to escape death or determine a path to victory.
  • Maybe the DM needs to develop a different mindset then "attack until all the players are DEAD." Maybe the monsters should have offered quarter, agreed to take a bribe, sought to have prisoner for ransom, or requested the PCs perform some task (like aiding the monsters against a different foe) in exchange for their lives.
  • Maybe the DM needs to be a better teacher of the game to the players.
And it's certainly possible that after the session WQRobb took all those thoughts to heart and will adjust his methods of running games in the future to account for all these things. Possible...but probably not. After all:
"...showing a small bit of mercy in the name of fun and keeping a game going isn't that big a deal in my mind."
or so he wrote. Which to my mind sounds like a justification to just 'keep on keeping on.' Though I admit I'm making an assumption that the comment reflects his honest attitude and outlook.

I've gone back now and read Cavegirl's post multiple times, and the more I read it, the more asinine I find it. She has two main conclusions that are just...awful. I just want to address them one at a time:

#1 Fudging isn't inherently bad because it's a matter of individual taste whether or not one wants to fudge the dice.

Let me substitute something else for "fudging" and see if that logic makes sense:

Drinking and driving isn't inherently bad because it's a matter of individual taste whether or not one want to drink and drive.

Or how about:

Kicking your dog isn't inherently bad because it's a matter of individual taste whether or not one wants to kick their dog.

Or how about:

Posting hate-filled rhetoric on a personal website isn't inherently bad because it's a matter of individual taste whether or not one want to post hate-filled rhetoric.

But JB, you argue, that's different! You're hurting (or potentially hurting) people in all those examples! Am I?
  • To my shame, I've driven many times when (probably) over the legal limit for alcohol consumption...never crashed, hurt myself (or anyone else), and never been pulled over. 
  • A person's dog is their personal property, and I am legally allowed to euthanize the animal at any time. Would that be preferable?
  • Hate-filled rhetoric? Don't read it if you don't like it. 
But okay...maybe all those examples are too despicable for the subject at hand. How about voting for a political candidate that's a climate science denier, anti-vax/-masker, who wants immigrant children jailed in caged isolation to teach their border-crossing parents a lesson? That's just a matter of personal opinion right? Nothing wrong with helping to get that guy whatever means necessary. Just exercising my right to vote. You can't tell me my choice is a poor's just a matter of individual taste.

#2 Players should be allowed to fudge dice rolls because default assumptions of GM authority (i.e. traditional allocations of narrative responsibility) is kind of bullshit and anyway if the GM can fudge, why can't players? What's the big's not like they'll wreck the game or something.

Setting aside the underlying worthlessness of the premise (the given: "fudging is okay for GMs")...while I can see SOME logic in the conclusion ("why can't they fudge when I do?"), this is still a preposterous doubling-down on rule violation with regard to many RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons in particular. AD&D, at least, is explicit in that final control and authority lies in the hands of the DM. There are other RPGs where this is not the case (even games without a "GM" figure: see Fiasco, Polaris, Blood Red Sands, etc. for examples). In games where narrative authority is not firmly established in the instructions...sure, reasonable minds might agree to portion out some responsibilities to the players. But, again, it is the underlying premise ("fudging is okay!") that derails the whole of the discussion.

And that last bit gives me a chance to segue into the end of this post on a dumb subject (and to be clear, when I said it was stupid, I mean I'm being stupid for even writing about it...I sincerely doubt I'm going to change many minds here). There are many role-playing games other than D&D on the market...perhaps folks should be taking a closer look at what's out there.

Because a lot of this fudging subject seems to be a "D&D thing" or an issue for procedural RPGs of D&D's ilk. Does it not dawn on folks that D&D was designed a particular way to accomplish particular objectives? And that if you want it to play differently than the solution is to redesign the thing to meet your specific parameters? Why do folks continue to try pounding square pegs into round holes? 

All that means: change the rules, not the dice results.

Fudging is BAD. Fudging is WRONG. Fudging, by definition, is violating the rules of the game, which is the epitome of CHEATING. Regardless of whether or not fudging is okay with your "personal taste."

Have I fudged a die roll before? Yes, more than once. And on BOTH sides of the screen. And for all the usual stupid, wrong reasons. I've done LOTS of bad things in the past that I'm not proud of. As I get older and (somewhat) wiser, I'm trying to do better. To not do wrong. That's the best I can do. 

Not fudging dice rolls any more is one of the easier fixes.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Winning and Losing

The abuelos left town Monday night and as of yesterday are back, safe and sound (if a little sad) in Orizaba, my wife's hometown. We were able to "zoom" with them while watching the Sounders kick the heck out of Leon in in the inter-League cup quarterfinals. 

[no, we didn't end up watching game shows last night...nor did I grill. Cooked up a big old slab of corned beef brisket with garlic roasted red potatoes and asparagus on the side and a heaping helping of steamed green beans. Good stuff]

Sad as it is to see them gone, it means that a lot of our lives are back to normal (well, the "new normal"): less road trips, more cooking in, less visits to local breweries, more gaming. Blood Bowl is back on the table.

Literally. It's exploded all over my dining room table.

Last night featured the wood elves (Diego) versus the orks (me) in the first game of our "mini-BB World Cup." It was pretty tight and hard wife at one point called from the other room, "Take it easy on him!" My son and I just looked at each other and guffawed. 

"Mom, he can't take it easy on me...I'm winning!" However, the laughter was at even the suggestion that anyone would be 'going easy.'

Another dead elf is a
poor substitute for a TD.
Well, he did end up winning in the end...the wood elves' "prayers to their barky god" seemed to have been answered. But I gave it a good go. I got the tying touchdown in the last minutes of regulation to make the score 2-to-2. We decided to play overtime, and by the end of the match there were only three wood elves left on the pitch (two K.O.'d and seven outright casualties). Against the full might of my squad, he just managed to dislodge the ball from my ork blitzer just four squares from the end line, and in his last turn of the match, pulled off a desperate maneuver that would allow him to win the game on a Long Bomb throw to a standing wardancer in the opposite endzone. This required multiple dodges, multiple "go for it rolls," and an incredible pass-n-catch...all without re-rolls...with one turn left to succeed. Amazingly, the elves managed to get just about everything right.

Then they fumbled the pass.

So, overtime ended and the game was decided on "penalty kicks" (I'm not sure GW really understands how Gridiron football works), which in BB means both players roll a D6 and whoever scores higher gets the win. I rolled a 1; Diego rolled a 2. Absolute joyful pandemonium (on the part of my child) ensues.

I bring this up in light of yesterday's post on fudging dice rolls. Noisms had a good take on the subject today with regard to the difficulty people have being objective when it comes to things they care about: it's damn tough. I love my children: it gives me no joy to see them crestfallen and unhappy when results aren't as expected, not even if I'm winning (at their expense). And my son, especially, who becomes VERY emotionally invested and is generally hyper-competitive...well, he really wanted to "fudge" that last die roll to complete the pass. "Wait - I didn't roll right! Wait - the die hit the box at the wrong angle! Wait...!"

As such, we have pretty strict house rules regarding dice rolls in my home. All dice are rolled inside an empty box top; once they're rolled, it's done. Dice that bounce OUT of the box requires the whole result to be rerolled (even if one die lands IN the box). Once the dice come to a rest it's done. And only one set of dice are rolled at a time (with no other person's dice being allowed in the box during the roll). These firm strictures (which we use for ALL our games: D&D, Monopoly, Blood Bowl, etc.) are well understood and prevent any disagreements over dice results.

And it prevents me from fudging dice rolls in my kids' favor. Because I want them to win...I like watching them win. But you can't win all the time and losing, while hard, can be good for you. Not only can it help you learn and grow from your mistakes, but it is humbling, and most of us could use a bit more humility in our lives. It's also good preparation for future losses; we watched a LOT of Little League baseball the last couple months, and while the Spring season saw a lot of wins, the Summer ball had nothing BUT losses (the latter team was, frankly, terrible). And the All-Star tournament in-between? Ooo...that was a rough one.

Losing, of course, also helps one appreciate the wins more...hell, it even helps appreciate the ties more. D's summer ball team was so bad they didn't even get a tie till the final game (the game had to end because of the time), and man were those kids ecstatic!

I was reflecting on this a bit (duh), and I came to the idea that perhaps one key component that's missing for some folks (who might be proponents of "fudging") is quantity of play. After all, if you play a LOT of a particular game (any game) you'll see lots of wins and losses. If you roll lots of dice, you'll see plenty of "hot streaks" and "cold streaks." Last night I saw plenty of both in our stupid-stupid troll continuously rolled "1s" for his stupid roll and did almost nothing the entire game...meanwhile, every time I landed a block with one of my blitzers, a wood elf would end up folding like a paper hat (landing that block was tough, though). 

[for the most part, though, my dice were pretty icy, and it was mainly elven attrition that kept me in the game]

When you're a Seattle baseball fan and you're used to the futility, it's far less aggravating (though still frustrating) to see the Mariners combust and burn out round about the end of the've seen it so many times, you're used to it. If you play B/X D&D regularly and you're inured to a random arrow wiping out your 1st level character, the sting just isn't there, and the rolling up of the new PC registers about the same as ordering a beer from the bar or opening another bag of potato chips. We can become accustomed to the whims of fate, the wins and the losses, if we Just Play More...and then the outcome of die results, the successes and failures, can be far less important than the play of the game itself.

This is what I've been trying to instill in my son this summer. I keep telling him how fortunate he is to even play baseball at all. Not only because of last year's pandemic wiping out the entire Little League, I've been trying to instill in him the understanding that one day he won't even be able to play Little League at all. At some point he'll be too old. And even if he goes on to play in high school or college or professionally or whatever, there will come a day when even that will end. So enjoy it now. Enjoy every minute of it. Every chance to swing a bat or catch a pop fly or hang out in the dugout chewing gum and spitting and snarking with other ten year old kids. 

Yesterday, Diego's eyes got so lit up when we opened the Blood Bowl stuff. "Man I LOVE Blood Bowl!" he exclaimed...multiple times. And he does. Even when I was pounding his team into the dirt and prompting exclamations of "you suck" and "I hate this team" and whatever (in the moment) he still kept coming back to "I love this game." And he loved having the chance to play it again. Winning was just the cherry on top. 

And I know he feels much of the same about D&D and (other) role-playing games. 

I realize that much internet ink has been spilled over the debate of whether or not D&D (specifically) is "about telling stories." I know which side of that debate I'm on, and I also know that folks on the other side probably ain't going to be swayed much from their stance. So be it, yada-yada. For people on MY side, there should probably be no question as to the awfulness of fudging dice rolls ("cheating"), but I have to say that I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND the urge to do just cheat the system, to get a result other than what is revealed through our oracular polyhedrons. Because we don't play enough. We don't get 162 games a year like a pro-baseball team does (I certainly don't!). We don't have so many swings of the bat that the sting of striking out has faded to a dull pain, easily brushed off with the hopeful "I'll get 'em next least I get to play this sport!"

Maybe we just need to play more. With our family, with our friends, with our "community of gamers." Maybe we need to play enough and often enough that we (and those we play with) don't get hung up on the result of a particular roll of the dice. Because there will be more dice to long as we keep playing. And there's always the hopeful thought: I'll get 'em next time.

Okay. Time to go buy some coffee.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Disagreement On Every Level

Recently, it feels like every time I comment on someone else's blog, it's almost always some super-negative, ranty bit of spite and bile. Which (and I'm sure I've written THIS before in multiple blog posts) isn't all that helpful/constructive: telling someone "you suck" is a good way to get them to ignore you and continue on their merry way, wrong-headed or not.

Also...ugh...I don't need to swim in the negativity. I already spend too much time swimming in that particular sea on a mostly daily basis. And my life is awesome! Jesus H, I have nothing to complain/worry about...why I bother getting worked up about shit like climate change or racist politics or folks dying of some disease that I'm vaccinated against. Shit...why should I care? I bought a share of Moderna stock back in February when it was around $150...that bitch just hit $492 yesterday! Life is good, the weather's sunny (again...been a lot of that this summer). Probably grill up some steaks for dinner tonight while the family reclines in front of our flatscreen, checking out some mindless show like Holey Moley or Family Game Fight.


This morning I read this post from Cavegirl on fudging dice that...well, I just found her conclusions to be stunningly bad. Which is to say, I disagree with most about every sentiment expressed in the post. Which, fine? Everyone's entitled to an opinion? Something-something-or-other?

But me being me, there's some stuff I can't just let "sail by" unchallenged. And rather than post some sort of ranty, batshit comment on her blog, I'll scribble it up here:

What the F?! What are we doing here? I mean, what exactly is the point of playing these games? What is the reason for designing them and writing them down and selling them and buying them and running them? What is the point of including randomizers and fortune mechanics like dice and card draws and coin clips? What is the reason for establishing rules and boundaries and limitations?

Why don't we just hang out with our buddies, sipping tea (or beer or vodka or whatever) kabitzing about interesting shit and having a grand old time? Why don't we just watch a movie? Or read a book?

Are we out of money? Are we out of ideas? Are we out of options? Or are we just some sort of delusional idiots going through monkey-see motions, an ancient ritual of play long-ago established in our formative years and repeated now like a superstitious canticle to ward off the specter of boredom or the miseries inherent in daily life? What the actual hell?

Let's think about this for a moment...I mean really think about this. About what the point of it all is. If it's pointless, well, okay then, Do As Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the law. But then...why are you bothering to play such-and-such game? Why are you wasting your time with this? You may be dying of cancer and not even know it...isn't there some other way to enrich your life?!

But if we want to play a game...any game! Pick your poison!...I assume it's because this particular game (any game!) is one that we want to play. And the game has rules. And the rules are part of the game. And we like the game (that's why we want to play) and we like the parts that make up that game (including the rules). 

Ugh. Words are failing me at the moment. It's like trying to explain elementary principles like, I don't know, how to breathe or something. "You suck air down your throat, and then you blow it out again." Something. My brain is melting here. Maybe I'm the one that needs a deep breath.


I'll try this a different way: in a role-playing game that uses a fortune mechanic (like a die roll), the mechanic is presented for a particular reason and that reason isn't simply to give the participants a physical action to perform while sitting around the table. 

[at least not in an RPG that's had some thoughtful design go into it]

Instead, the fortune mechanic is provided to give a random chance of some particular in-game event occurring: success or failure, a spread of potentialities, a degree of achievement, whatever. In my experience, thoughtfully designed games generally have sensible reasons for calling for a particular die roll (i.e. for the use of a fortune mechanic). If the system/setting/design would deem use of the fortune mechanic to be inappropriate or nonsensical, then no such use of the mechanic is preformed.

In other words: don't roll dice if there's no question about what's supposed to happen in a given instance.

As an example: these days I've been playing AD&D. Many of the die-rolling mechanics found in AD&D pertain to combat. That's because the game models battle to be an iffy, chaotic affair that could result in death or defeat for either side depending on tactics, abilities of the combatants involved, and the whims of fate. The "abilities of the combatants" provide the probabilities (a high level fighter is more likely to hit and damage an opponent) while the dice account for the "whims of fate." Tactics, however, can influence both of these things: striking from ambush increase the probability of success (a bonus to attack rolls) as does use of weapon (more or less damage) and may even negate the whims of fate altogether (cutting the throat of a bound prisoner or sleeping opponent results in an auto-kill without dice rolling). 

I can totally understand that some people may not enjoy the "iffy-ness" of AD&D combat. They are certainly welcome to play other games that are more to their liking. They are certainly welcome to modify the AD&D system to their liking, creating their own game...perhaps one where PCs automatically hit or where damage from monsters can never "kill" a player character, only knock them out or something. That is fine and dandy, so long as everyone at the table can come to an agreement that THAT is the game they all want to play.

Because games have rules. When we sit down to the table, we are agreeing to play by the rules of the game being played.

There is never a reason to "fudge" the result of a die roll. There are times when dice are rolled by mistake ("oh, wait, I didn't need to make you roll for that...that's automatic") and a DM who has made a mistake in calling for a die roll at an inappropriate or nonsensical time has two options: 
  1. fess up to the error and reverse ("retcon") the events that occurred due to the die roll, or 
  2. plow ahead with the results. 
Generally, option #1 is recommended unless the result of the die error was either A) trivial in nature, and/or B) provided a favorable result for the players at the table.  But if the die roll was made appropriately (i.e. not a mistake) then there is no reason to not stand by the result of a die roll.

A die roll expresses a number of possibilities: it should be used only when a range of different possibilities are needed.  If my dungeon has a balrog wandering the halls of the 6th level and I want there to be a chance of a dithering bunch of adventurers encountering said balrog while they debate the best choice of a particular crossroads to take, I may roll a die to see if such an encounter occurs...given that there is also a possibility that such an encounter does not (because the balrog is in a different wing of the level, perhaps dining on some corpse the party left in their wake). On the other hand, I may know with absolute certainty that no balrog will be encountered at all (because it was called away on a mission for Sauron or something) OR that it will be 100% encountered (because it has no interest in eating corpses but incredible interest in slaying interlopers and its keen sense of smell allows it to track the bloody bandages of wounded party members), and in such cases no die roll is needed at all. In these latter cases, even rolling a die would be a mistake on my (the DM's) part.

Rules are present in a game for a reason. Secret doors make some things difficult to find (unexplored sections of a map, special monsters, super-cool treasure, etc.). If a DM wants something to be absolutely definitely found by the players, then it shouldn't be located behind a secret door. If there is a clue that the DM absolutely must have the PCs discover, then don't hide it, and don't assign a "random chance" of discovery. Just have them find it. It's not really a "clue" at that point, but a piece of exposition ("the bandits will be meeting at the old church at midnight!") which the players can then choose to ignore or not. 

Don't complain about die results: design and run your adventures better. 

"Playing by the rules" is not something "subjective" or "a matter of taste." If I'm running out of money in a game of Monopoly and I fudge my die roll to not land on my opponent's hotel (or if I slyly gift myself with a no interest "loan" from the bank funds) I am failing to play by the game rules, clear and simple. Yes, it IS cheating...literally, "violating the rules" is a definition of "cheating." Choosing to ignore the result of a die roll is just that. 

Now, rather infamously (since I mentioned AD&D) Gary Gygax wrote in his DMG (with regard to rolling dice) on page 110:
Now and then a player will die through no fault of his own. He or she will have done everything correctly, taken every reasonable precaution, but still the freakish roll of the dice will kill the character. In the long run you should let such things pass as the players will kill more than one opponent with their own freakish rolls at some later time. Yet you do have the right to arbitrate the situation. You can rule that the player, instead of dying, is knocked unconscious, loses a limb, is blinded in one eye or invoke any reasonably severe penalty that still takes into account what the monster has done. 
The emphasis is added by me. Note that Gygax is not advocating for the result a die roll to be fudged; he is instead arbitrating a penalty more-or-less equivalent to death (remember characters can be returned to life in D&D), in order to allow a PC to survive...albeit maimed, blinded, captured, etc. 

Earlier in the same section, Gygax writes it is the DM's "right" to "control the dice at any time," a phrase some might interpret as authorizing the fudging of dice results. I disagree. For me, "controlling" the dice simply means the DM is the one who says when and how (and by whom) the dice will be rolled. Gygax also writes that the DM "has every right to overrule the dice at any time if there is a particular course of events that you would like to have occur." Again, I see this as a mandate to call for there to NOT be a dice roll (when a desirable result is a certainty) rather than a call for the DM to fudge actual dice results.

*sigh* (again)

There are so many problems in the world, and here I sit, complaining over the way someone wants to play their particular game. Stupid of me. Oh so stupid. And writing all this up (or any of it) won't make a whit of difference as to how people play their games...I'm just, once again, pissing all over their "fun" and telling them their way of doing things is bad/wrong. They will cite references found in all manner of RPGs saying things like "never let a bad die roll get in the way of telling a good story." And they shall remain unmoved by one old man's ranting on the internet.

You know what else you shouldn't let get in the way of telling a good story? Wasting time with a game. Just go tell your story! You don't need a game to do that! Find a damn writing group. Get your friends to collaborate with you. Start a community theater thing, or some shared oral storytelling tradition or something. Theme it with tropes from your favorite RPG setting if that's what floats your boat. But why waste time with dice and instructions ("rules")?


This is a stupid thing to rail against...I admit that. It's stupid to get worked up about...and I am worked up about it. And, no, it has nothing to do with challenging "assumptions about GM authority." The GM shouldn't be "fudging" (i.e. cheating) to get a more desirable result any more than a player. And (sorry Cavegirl) I really, REALLY disagree that the subject is "subjective" or a matter of "individual taste." 

There's playing a game by rules. And there's cheating.

OR (I suppose) everyone can agree that the rule of the game is "there aren't any rules, at least not when they inconvenience one or more participants at the table." In which case, you're not really playing a game; you're simply playing. Which is fine, by the way...but you don't need dice for that.

Okay. Spleen vented. Sorry about all that.