My daughter, folks.

January 8th, 2014

Summer (playing with rubber snake): ”How do they make these toys?”

“I’m not sure.”
“Maybe they take a wild snake out of a field and they SMASH IT UP and then they roll it up again and they paint it!”

From Utah, on Marriage Equality

December 23rd, 2013

The State asserts that Amendment 3 does not abridge the Plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marry because the Plaintiffs are still at liberty to marry a person of the opposite sex. But this purported liberty is an illusion. The right to marry is not simply the right to become a married person by signing a contract with someone of the opposite sex. If marriages were planned and arranged by the State, for example, these marriages would violate a person’s right to marry because such arrangements would infringe an individual’s rights to privacy, dignity, and intimate association. A person’s choices about marriage implicate the heart of the right to liberty that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Casey, 505 U.S. at 851. The State’s argument disregards these numerous associated rights because the State focuses on the outward manifestations of the right to marry, and not the inner attributes of marriage that form the core justifications for why the Constitution protects this fundamental human right.

-Robert J. Shelby, US District Judge, from the recent marriage equality ruling in Utah.

Dwarf Fortress LP – 001ntroduction

August 17th, 2013

So! Time for some Dwarf Fortress. For some inexplicable reason I have a sudden urge to do an LP of it. This won’t hurt a bit.

As always, when I play Dwarf Fortress, the first step is to get the newest version. It updates fairly frequently, and I haven’t played it since November, so let me just –

Oh. Okay. It’s actually still on 0.34.11, which came out last June, and is actually the version I have installed. It’s still in active development, it’s just been a while since the last version. Cool. Now to get Dwarf Therapist, which I’ll come back to – and actually I still have the latest version of that too. Well, alright then. Time to get started.

The first thing I realize is that I need to upgrade my screenshot-taking methodology. Printscreening and alt-tabbing to every time I take a screenshot just isn’t going to work. It takes too long, and I know there are better options. Luckily, Kat and I got FRAPS a while back because we needed it for all of those coop LPs we’re totally doing. So I load up FRAPS, load up Dwarf Fortress, take a screenshot and — well, I have a very pretty screenshot of my web browser. FRAPS completely ignored Dwarf Fortress and took a screenshot of Chrome instead.

I’m already getting irritated. I know how this song-and-dance goes. I’m going to disappear down the rabbit hole of the internet, tracing some obscure bug because Dwarf Fortress does weird rendering things that FRAPS doesn’t like, and three hours from now I’m going to quit in a huff and never try anything this crazy again. I google “FRAPS dwarf fortress” and start at the top.

Five minutes later, FRAPS cheerfully takes a screenshot of Dwarf Fortress, which also now displays a Steam overlay when I start it with Steam. Well, okay then. It turns out it just took a simple change to the init file, which I found from the very first linked forum thread on Google. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Of all the things I’ve learned to do in Dwarf Fortress, taking screenshots with FRAPS might be the easiest.

World creation time! I’ll just take the default settings and go. As primitive as the game looks, it’s always been a very deep game, which is most of what I love about it. Plus, I have played a lot of Dwarf Fortress – I mean a LOT – but not as much in the past few years. I probably peaked around 2008 or so, which was . . . *cough* a while ago now. Man. Time flies. So there are a lot of things in the game I don’t really understand very well any more. There were a lot of version updates? I think farming was overhauled? It’s okay, I was never very good at the game anyway.

And done. A few years back one of the game’s updates changed it to where it defaults to about 200 years of history instead of, I think, 1000? 1200? It was a while. You could pretty much go and cook a nice lunch waiting for your world to generate. Now to fullscreen it, which I don’t usually do in this part because it still doesn’t support–

The world I'm playing is Alabecamade, which in Dwarven means "The Momentous Realm." As world names go, I pronounce it "not bad, pretty good actually, does sound a bit like a Harry Potter spell but whatcha gonna do."

The world I’m playing is Alabecamade, which in Dwarven means “The Momentous Realm.” As world names go, I pronounce it “not bad, pretty good actually, does sound a bit like a Harry Potter spell but whatcha gonna do.”

Oh. Oh, I guess it does. Maybe I’m biased, but man, that’s a beautiful world.

Let’s get started.

I already have a pretty good idea of what I’m looking for in a fortress site. I want somewhere on the intersection of a mountain biome and something else, preferably savannah or forest of some kind. I want a river, so I have plenty of fresh water, but I don’t want an aquifer – or if I must have an aquifer I don’t want it in both biomes. Aquifers are a pain. So looking at the map, there’s ooh is that a desert?

Hmmm. It’s a tropical savannah, actually, and while there are several sites I like (despite the sparse trees), I’m a little worried by what I’m seeing on the local map. Is that, just, like, a huge city? “Noramducim.” Eh. Keep looking.

Different mountain range, same thing. The edge just looks like the edge of a giant building. Am I missing something? Is that just what cliffs look like? I really don’t think so. To the wiki!

Eh. I spend a few minutes looking for key to the world map and decide to just look elsewhere on the world map.

Here we go. An intersection of four biomes, including a mountain and a wooded area, with a river running through. Soil, clay, shallow and deep metals, temperate surroundings. Home.I make the embark area just one step bigger in each direction, because I like to do that, and I embark.

Of course, it’s not that simple, and I spend a fair amount of time customizing my dwarves and my supplies. It used to be that you could load every dwarf up with ten points’ worth of skills, but now your dwarves’ skills come out of the same budget as your gear. I settle for a mason/carpenter, a grower/brewer, a grower/cook, and a smattering of useful skills in low quantities. I also bring along a breeding pair of dogs, to train into war dogs, and two breeding pairs of bunnies, so that I can eventually eat all the bunnies. Then I embark for real.

It’s beautiful. A broad, flat site with a calm river flowing through it, a sizable island of rock jutting up from the plain in the south. I already know that I will be smoothing the ramps leading up the sides and building fortifications onto the top: it’s practically a preexisting castle, just waiting for my dwarves to move in. Windreined will be a glorious hall.

I strike the earth.


January 2nd, 2013

Oops, I meant to post this some time before midnight. I guess that’s either (a) a bad sign or (b) a sign that Mark of the Ninja is just way too addictive. Upon reflection, I think it’s probably both.

So, having had my month of something akin to a break after the abject failure to approach 50,000 words that was NaNoWriMo 2012, I’m trying again this month because I feel like it. Instead of a novel per se, I’m aiming to write 50,000 words of shorts relating to the campaigns I run for Kat, again, because I feel like it.

Yesterday’s count was 1008 words, which is less than 1667 but nonetheless good. Considering that I haven’t actually gone to bed yet (I’m taking a break from real writing to write this) and I slept until, like, noon yesterday, I figure I’m doing pretty good.

That said, I am going to try to frontload my writing this month, and average something close to 2,000 words/day for the first week. So, by that metric I really need to catch up now, before I get farther behind. If I’m not at 10,000 words the morning of the 6th I’m going to step back and reevaluate whether I really want to stress myself out that much.

Well, back to work.

Current music: Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day, courtesy of Pandora.

NaNoWriMo: Status

November 28th, 2012

It’s dead, Jim.

So I have a funny story to tell. It’s one of those funny stories that isn’t even funny — or, for that matter, particularly long — but you drag it out and call it funny anyway in the vague hope that, if someone laughs at you, you’ll be able to tell yourself they’re laughing at your story.

Well, you know, for a non-demoralizing reason.

It’s one of those stories where you pretend to be telling a joke for self-esteem reasons, basically. (The last half of that sentence has at least two possible readings, and I’ll take either of them. It’s 2:30 AM, my writing standards aren’t at an all-time high.)

The story goes as follows:

I wrote 750 words every day in August. I wrote 750 words every day in September. I wrote 750 words every day in October, but about halfway through an internet outage around midnight killed my writing streak at 73 days with a mere 100-some-odd words left to go on that day’s entry. (I cried a little, and wrote the words in a local text document, and cried a little more.) During this time I completed lots and lots of shorts for Kat, did a little planning for various stories, got some game design in, and generally became quite excited about my NaNoWriMo chances this year.

November 1st came, and I stopped writing.

Now, to be fair, there were mitigating circumstances. My daughter, for instance, got her tonsils out on the 1st, which seemed like a perfectly valid reason to slack off a little that day (though I did complete my 750). And on the second I was home with her, and it completely flew my mind. Sad, but it’s not like it’s the end of the world.

Then I looked up and it was a week in, and I had 232 words in my book. Huh. Well, crap. Time to buckle down, I guess. I mean, I just need to do like 2k a day. No big deal. I mean, not a really big one. I can still do it. Then I looked up and it was . . . what is today? The 27th? 28th, technically, and I should really go to bed.

I have 1886 words in my “novel.”

“But that’s okay!” screams my subconscious. “You only have to write -” *checks* “- uh, 16038 words per day to finish on time.”

My subconscious and I stare at each other for a minute.

“Yeah, I got nothing,” it finally says, and hops away. (Currently my subconscious is manifesting as a frog. I’ve learned not to ask questions, but I do so anyway.)

It could be worse, though. I’m basically back on the bus for 750 words/day. Between that, my pitiful little proto-novel that I’m still excited about despite a noticeable lack of noveling, and a few shorts for Kat I wrote while procrastinating, I’m at about 22k for the month. Which is, you know, good. Not exactly fantastic, but while it would be nice if more of those were noveling instead of journaling, I’m not really going to complain that much. I will say that I’ll be trying again soon, with a different project. I seem to remember there being a non-November secondary event to NaNo at one time . . . was it in February? . . . which I will be looking up, if it is a thing that exists and not a figment of my imagination.

In the meantime, I’m going to be working on lots of little projects. Short stories. Game design. Novelettes. 10,000-word proposals for novels, which is a fun idea I had a while back where I basically sit down a write a 10,000-word something-or-other which serves as a sort of very early draft / prose outline / proposal-to-self for a novel I’d like to write, mostly to see if it’s something I think could take off. (Also, if it ends up being a perfectly good story that happens to be 10,000 words long, that works too.)

The point is, from here* to the end of the year, I’m going to be focusing on short fiction for a while. Because I’ve been doing some for a while now for Kat, and you know what? It’s fun. As much as I love long fiction, it’s a lot of fun to sit down and churn out an idea in a couple of hours. It’s a lot of fun to have seventeen ideas and write them all this month, instead of scribbling them in a document somewhere and maybe trying to make a novel from one of them in a couple of years.

So that’s the plan. Also possibly more frequent blog posts, to further differentiate this as a live blog, as opposed to a dead blog. Granted this can only end in zombie blog, but it’s 3 AM and I’m having trouble caring about the impending zombie ablogalypse.

* Because as much as I keep thinking I can maybe save it, this year’s NaNo is not getting done by the 30th.

NaNoWarmUp: Status

September 29th, 2012

So, I kind of haven’t posted anything this month since starting my 50k warmup challenge. Mostly that’s been because I haven’t gotten around to it. I have been working on the 50k challenge; it went very well for a little while there at the beginning of the month, then took an arrow to the knee somewhere around the 10th. I’ve kept up with the base 750/day come hell or high water, though (I’m up to a 60-day streak! Woo!). The upshot of all this is that I’m currently at around 36,500 of the 50k I was aiming for by month’s end. This isn’t a hopeless case – I’m going to be putting in lots of writing time in today and tomorrow – but it’s pretty grim, from the standpoint of 50k being a firm goal.

That’s not the standpoint I’m taking, though. I’m taking the standpoint that, as a warmup to NaNoWriMo, 36,500 is pretty damn good. I’ve been motivated to write this month more than I have in a long time. I haven’t gotten any work done on long-form fiction (not exactly, but I’m getting to that), but I do have _ideas_ for long-form fiction. Ideas that I’m excited about. Ideas I’m going to base this year’s NaNo around. These are all good things. And, you know, last year I called my NaNo at 22,974 words. So there’s that.

I *have* been working on a lot of fiction this month, but it hasn’t been long-form. Instead, I’ve been writing a lot of shorts related to Kat’s campaign, expanding the world and characters and letting her see things she normally wouldn’t, working from her character’s perspective. It’s actually a lot of fun and, more importantly, it’s really low-pressure writing. The shorts are written for an audience of one – my wife – and if one of them kind of tanks or just doesn’t take off, it’s not really a big deal. It’s better than just writing fiction that will literally never see the light of day (by one person, granted) and because it’s low-pressure, there’s very little barrier to entry when I sit down to start writing. Because I have Kat’s reactions to look forward to, it’s much, much easier to get motivated to actually write them. These are all good things.

Both of these have been so successful that I’m going to keep them up after this month – that’s probably a bit of a “duh” in the case of the shorts, but I’m going to keep angling for 50k words/month as well. It’s a fun challenge. It’s kind of relaxing in a really roundabout way, too; I’m not sure I can explain it exactly, but it is. Probably that’s just me remembering that I love to write or something.*

Current music: an amalgam of old playlists, currently playing “Anywhere” by Evanescence.

*So** funny story; I sat down to figure out what I’d need to add to my writing goals to hit 50k a month, and it turned out to be . . . nothing. Yup. Currently I have 20 taskdays/month on which my goal is 1500 words of prose, and then 750words every day on top of that brings it to about one or two thousand words over 50k, depending on the month. I just never noticed because I’m still playing catchup and ramping up and stuff.

**So do me a favor and don’t count the instances of “so” in this post. And, you know, if you do, that one in the quotes right there doesn’t count. Holy verbal tic I don’t feel like editing out right now, Batman. Does it count as a verbal tic if I’m writing? Is it a textual tic? Just a bad habit?

Naaaaaaa na na na na naa na na na . . . .

September 11th, 2012

Years ago, we lent out our copy of Katamari Damacy, never to be seen again. Last night we picked one up for $12 (!) at a Vintage Stock. This morning, Kat showed it to Summer.

Summer calls it “cleanin’ up outside with a ball.”

She wants one so she can clean with it.

She is sad that we won’t get her one.


September 2nd, 2012

It’s been a long time since I talked about 750words. I use it off and on – or I should say, I’ve been using it off and on. I theoretically aim to write in it every day, but in practice it works out to about three times a month, clustered around the beginning when I sign up for the monthly “write 750 words every day this month” challenge.

Well, that’s been the pattern, anyway. Last month I decided to do something radical and actually take the advice of offering myself a reward if I finish – specifically an xpac for The Sims – and lo and behold, on Friday I finished writing the 31st batch of 750 or more words for the month of August. Funny how that works, eh?

Well, and there’s a higher goal I’m aiming for here, as well. Historically, the times in my life when I’ve been happiest are when I have a solid, difficult goal to work toward – when I was in ASMSA my goal was basically “graduate,” which is actually quite the trick there, and when I was working on Derelict I was happy as well. The more rudderless periods of my life – the year after graduating ASMSA, the couple of years I haven’t been working on Derelict – these tend to be the times when I’m depressed. It’s one of those things that looks a lot more obvious from the outside, I suspect. And it’s worth noting that it’s very possible that the causal arrow points the other direction – that I’m more able to work on long-term goals when I’m not busy being depressed. There’s definitely an element of feedback loop either way.

Regardless, long-term goal it is! And my (very) long-term goal is this: Make a living wage writing. Whatever it takes. Just writing books is probably insufficient – not only is it a tough thing to break into, it’s not exactly guaranteed to pay large amounts of money. No, ideally I’d be cultivating multiple sources of income, per Scalzi’s advice. What will those be? Eh. I have ideas. Some of them will get more love than others, I’m sure. I’ll talk about them at some point (obviously), but not now.

For the time being, my biggest problem is that I’m not getting any writing done, period. And while “support myself writing” is a pretty long-term and difficult goal, it’s one of those things that handily supports breaking down into short-term goals. Goals such as “keep up with 750 words all the time,” and “update the blog with some semblance of regularity or at least frequency,” and “complete NaNoWriMo this year.”

On that topic, I’m going to mention what my current short-term goal is. 750words is not a place where I compose prose – it’s not ideal for it for a number of reasons, though it’s not bad for quick drafting if I get an idea while I’m journaling – but mostly it’s for, well, journaling. It’s unfiltered writing about what’s on my mind so I’m free to focus on writing other things. I think of it as flushing the buffer before I sit down to write. Because my blog is also mostly about what’s on my mind, 750words entries often find themselves bootstrapped into being rough drafts of blog posts. That’s not really a bad thing, though.

So 750words has achievements, which it calls badges, and one of them is “The NaNo,” or something like that, for writing 50k words in one month. I thought it was specifically in November, but it turns out it’s _any_ month, so about halfway through last month I decided what my stepped-up challenge for September would be: Write 50k words. Earn that badge.

Again, it’s basically journaling – it goes much faster and easier than prose – but it’s a good way to step up how much I’m writing, especially if I let myself do a lot of rough drafts of various things in it this month. And it makes a good warmup for doing NaNoWriMo this year, which I intend to do, and which I intend to win.

So that’s that. I’m basically on track at the moment – 500 words behind, technically, but I’m not done yet today.

The Stat Problem

August 22nd, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ability scores and their place in the game. It’s affected by a lot of things – read Monte Cook’s recent posts on how he’s handling stats and characters in Numenera, for instance. (Pitch in on the kickstarter while you’re there, if it looks interesting to you, because it looks fucking amazing to me.) Essentially the numerical stats are very, very truncated – there are three of them – and most of the character is modifiers, which might (in the case of a strong or charming character) affect stats for certain types of rolls, or might give the character a new suite of abilities. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the traits system in The Sims 3 (which I’ve been playing an embarrassing amount of lately) and the manner in which that differs from The Sims 2 (which I’m glad isn’t on Steam and that I didn’t use Steam when I mostly played it and that I don’t think Steam tracked hours played at the time I played the most of it, because good God did I dump a lot of time into that game). The Sims 2 had . . . eh, I could wax eloquent for a while on the differences and how I feel about them, but it’s mostly beside the point at the moment, to be honest.

Essentially the takeaway is this: I like complex character systems. Or rather, I like deep character systems; the complexity tends to be a side effect, not a goal in and of itself. However, there’s a lot of what I’m going to call legacy complexity in Zosias. Zosias as a system is based on the System Reference Document, which formed the heart of the D20 system, which was nearly synonymous with 3.0/3.5 D&D, which in turn evolved from several older versions of D&D. And so there’s a lot of stuff in the system that I’ve considered pruning, or have pruned, or have modified unto unrecognizability. On the other hand, there’s a lot that’s still in there because . . . legacy. I don’t want to tear the system completely down and completely rebuild it. Not all at once, anyway. Well, sometimes I want to, but that’s beside the point.

In my home games – which you have to remember are just between my wife and I, we form the entire extent of my regular gaming group at the moment – three-quarters of the rules never get used. I don’t remember the last time massive damage came up in our home game; the few fights her characters get into tend to be one-sided one way or the other, and don’t generally form the heart of the plot. The heart of the plot is typically romance and political intrigue, with cameos of genres such as mystery/detective stories. I don’t remember the last time I ran a dungeon-styled adventure. It must have been . . . well . . . five years, maybe? More? I actually have an amusing anecdote I used to share on this topic, which I wrote up and posted separately so I could get back to work on this post. Her current character isn’t a spellcaster, so that’s like half the rules only applicable for NPCs right there, and I mostly fudge that anyway. The fudging is informed by the rules – I know roughly what a spellcaster of x power can do, and what spells they have access to — but outside of combat situations, which are rather infrequent, the precise stats aren’t terribly important.

On the larger scale of the meta-campaign, though, the set of home games that I run . . . there have been a lot of campaigns between us where we never got around to statting out the character before the campaign concluded. Typically what’s passed for a character sheet is actually more of a highlights sheet of just the stuff that really matters – this character is unusually charismatic and a bit of a spellcaster, that character is more intelligent than usual but crap for physical stats, with Sherlockian levels of deductive skill that merits getting written up as its own ability . . . and gee, doesn’t this sound a lot more like a traits-based system than a stats-based system?

I’m reminded of an article I read years ago which talked about how (third-edition) grappling rules often ended up not getting used because gaming groups would organically route around them. Essentially, the subsystems that are more trouble than they’re worth get organically pruned because, often without any sort of spoken consensus, groups just stop using them, and GMs stop putting in situations where they come up. I thought it was this one (whose formatting does not seem to have survived the intervening years intact) but it’s clearly not; perhaps one of the posts leading up to 4th edition? I can’t find it now, regardless, which makes me sad because the point is a very good one. If anyone takes the time to find it or happens to remember it, I’d appreciate it.

Anyway, the point is, in our home games most characters end up being a sort of greatest-hits sheet when it comes to their stats. Skill rolls are used more frequently by an order of magnitude than anything else, but even then I often hit a situation described rather well by Steve Winter over at Howling Tower:

[. . .]I’ve observed many campaigns that appeared to depend heavily on skill rolls but in fact relied on GM/player interaction more than either the GM or the players let on[. . .]

[. . .]For the game to advance from A to C, characters must accomplish B. That task might be finding a door, unlocking a chest, spotting a bloodstain, bending a bar/lifting a gate, persuading the victim’s lawyer to let you have a look at the will, etc. The player with the key skill rolls 1 on the check[. . .]

Several things can happen at that moment. One is, the GM manufactures a reason to allow a second roll: “You didn’t find any secret door on the east side of the room. Roll again for the west side.” Another is, the GM turns the failure into success but makes it sound as if it could have been much better: “You find a secret door but you can only pry it open about a foot. You’ll need to strip off your backpacks and pass them through one at a time.” A third is that the challenge passes to someone much less capable: “The elf rogue couldn’t find anything, but what the heck, everyone else give it a shot.” Inevitably the one-eyed, hook-handed barbarian who doesn’t even like doors rolls a 20, saving the day and making Houdini Dorfinder look like a fool.

A fourth option is that the GM slips into the skill-free zone without realizing it: “You didn’t find a door, but you discovered a stone in the mosaic that seems out of place.” Someone says “I press the stone” and quelle surprise! A door opens. Intentionally or not, another group of players has just experienced the awe and mystery of the OD&D Limits.

Since I’m running solo campaigns, option 3 doesn’t come up very often. Occasionally I’ll let one of the NPC companions have the find, particularly if it plays up something important about their character, but if I do that too much I run the risk of running a one-person improv skit while my wife bemusedly opens a book.* The other three get a ton of use, and I do mean a ton. Because when you’re running a campaign mostly based around skill rolls, and some of them are important, and there’s only one person making the rolls, they’re going to spend a lot of time flubbing important rolls. There are a lot of things I do to prepare for this – trying to make it so that no one roll is a bottleneck for the adventure is good practice, anyway, and Zosias has luck points which can be used to reroll, and sometimes I’ll say something to the effect of “wink wink nudge nudge use a luck point.” But sometimes it comes up anyway.** And it’s at times like this that I really wonder how much utility skills have in our game. Yet there are times when skills are genuinely valuable – times when success and failure are both interesting results with interesting consequences. (Unfortunately these often get derailed by the expenditure of valuable resources to succeed, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.) And nothing quite raises tension like a chance to fail when it matters. I certainly wouldn’t want to go to a completely diceless, statless system, and neither would my wife.

And the answer isn’t necessarily, “run a simpler system that matches the needs of the campaign.” The needs of the campaign tend to vary dramatically from campaign to campaign set in the same world. Sometimes a campaign needs complicated . . . er . . . deep and robust rules for, say, musical performances. If the story is about a traveling musician struggling to be the best traveling musician, currying favor and learning cool music-related tricks along the way, a simple skill bonus to Perform (Sing) and Perform (Yansing***) is not going to be enough. If the story is about becoming a prominent noble and tactician in a time of war who also happens to be an amazing musician, those same skill bonuses might be just enough – or even too much. What’s more damning still is when a campaign transmutes from one to another: when a campaign’s needs change dramatically over the course of the campaign – as happened with Kat’s traveling musician who eventually became a prominent noble and tactician in a time of war.

At a time like this, the best thing seems to be to have the depth and robustness necessary to handle a wide variety of situations, but just ignore the nonrelevant parts when they aren’t relevant. Mostly, this is what we do, but it’s not really supported by the system – we end up fudging it, making it up as we go along. Of course, ignoring parts of the system during the campaign is easy enough to do; if your AC and HP don’t come up for twenty sessions in a row but are still on the character sheet, it’s not necessarily a big deal as long as the things that do matter are there, and easy to find. The real trouble comes during character creation, because in a campaign like this the default method of creating a character is basically:

  1. Create your character. Spend several hours working out the entire character build. Calculate all of your stats and bonuses for all of the widely varying situations your character might experience. Make sure you remember to calculate your massive damage threshold, your skill in Bluff and Diplomacy (which you will use constantly) as well as Jump and Sleight of hand (which you will never use but have synergy or racial bonuses to), your saving throws, your HP, your AC (regular, touch, flat-footed, and all of the above, if you please, and since you’re going to be spending a lot of time in civilian clothes would you mind doing it all again for when you’re wearing those?), and your spell slots/day.
  2. Play the game, ignoring most of those several hours of work for the vast majority of the campaign, only to discover when they finally came up that at some point you made a math error when leveling up or just neglected to update your Jump skill, meaning that the stats on your sheet have to be fudged or recalculate anyway.

I think I might have just figured out why my wife hates character creation so much.

Potential Solutions

I got to thinking about this because I was thinking about creating a game based around political intrigue that could coexist with Zosias; that is, some stats (Intelligence, Charisma, some skills) would be shared and you could have a full character sheet that was completely statted out for both without conflicts, but you could also play either in isolation. It’s not as tall an order as it sounds, and I’m still probably going to meddle with it a bit, but my thought process essentially went “Well, if you can have some optional stats that only come up for certain campaigns, then why not . . .” and never came back. What if the game was designed so that stats and abilities broke down into clusters, which could be simplified if they weren’t important?

In a game like that, it would be easy to summarize portions of a character sheet. If the game is about politics and noble culture, it generally doesn’t matter whether someone’s Strength score is 15 or 16 — or even an 18 — it just matters that they’re strong. In most cases it becomes a character trait, like eye color or height but slightly more important — it sets them apart, makes them different from the other nobles, and gives you a handle to hang a name on, but doesn’t affect the game much. Generally, for something like Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution, you could just have a set of traits (Strong, Weak, Agile, Clumsy, etcetera) which players can take, or not. If they don’t have any of the traits? Well, you can assume that they’re around average strength — say, 8 to 13 or so. If they’re Strong then you can expect them to be in the 14-18 range. If they’re Weak, the 3-7 range. But the point is, the exact stat doesn’t matter.

I could even envision linking it to the build point system somehow: while the campaign is political it only matters that a character has 30 points spent in Combat, meaning they’re a capable fighter compared to their colleagues, and it may never get more complicated than that. Meanwhile they have 25 points spent in Social, and since that’s the important subsystem they have a detailed breakdown of what Social abilities they bought and what their (say) Influence and Rank are. If at some point they get irritated enough at another noble to challenge them to a duel, but the duel isn’t a focus and doesn’t carry a risk of death, they could conceivably treat it as an opposed skill check; they roll a d20 and add their 30 Combat, the other noble rolls a d20 and adds their 15 Combat, and it is summarily determined that the PC humiliates said other noble in one-on-one combat before a crowd of witnesses. The campaign doesn’t need anything more detailed than that.

If, later, the GM makes the decision that there are going to be a few tense fight scenes, perhaps even a rebellion or coup within the capital, he can say, “Hey, folks, have your Combat stats ready for the next session.” Then and only then do they worry about their precise Strength, their AC, and their HP. Most characters have a Strength of somewhere from 8 to 13, but one of them is Strong and so has a 14+; they all use some method to determine where they fall in that range. The character with 30 points in Combat sits down and decides whether they have Power Attack, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus: Fancy Watch, etcetera. Essentially, much of the complicated character creation can be put off until it’s important, hastening character creation and ensuring that no one gets frustrated spending hours on stats which they will literally never use. Meanwhile, the players who really enjoy spending hours tweaking their characters can do so, and don’t have to do so before the game begins.

So, yeah. I think I’m going to go muddle with that idea for a little while.

*I’m probably going to do a whole bunch of posts on solo campaigns eventually, but one of the things that really stands out is how much I used to rely on the players talking to each other to fill space. There are a lot of situations where important characters who aren’t the PC have to talk to each other on-screen, which involves either making it really interesting and brief or finding a way to shoehorn the PC into the conversation. What I’m saying is, running solo campaigns with an RP focus is really good practice for being batshit insane.

**For one thing, it seems unfair to force the player to use a valuable resource to get past an unlucky moment. That argument doesn’t entirely hold up on its own – I mean, isn’t the game basically all about using resources to get past the adventure, if you condense it down enough? I think it’s more that situations like this often feel like a design flaw. Also, if you give players a valuable resource to use, the players should decide when to spend the resource — not the GM. Otherwise why give it to them at all? Granted this breaks down in some cases – it can be a good narrative element for increasing tension, with a good example being time as a resource that the players have only so much of to get to the bottom of something – but even then they’re in charge of how they spend it, for the most part.

***A popular Zosian musical instrument combining elements of the harp, the guitar, and the lute, in varying quantities depending on campaign, mood, memory, and creativeness.

Why I Quit Running Dungeon-Based Adventures

August 22nd, 2012

This is a story most of my long-term gaming friends have heard at one point or another, but I’ve never shared it on my blog. It came up while I was writing another blog post, and it kind of got away from me until I decided it didn’t deserve to be relegated to a footnote.

I grew up around Dungeons & Dragons, and have been GMing (for various values of GMing) from a very young age. I GM’d my first games when I was four or five years old. They involved cornering an understanding (or, more often, trapped) relative with a crossword puzzle and having them work their way through a “dungeon” of arbitrary challenges with arbitrary results, trying to get to the bottom-right square. They were . . . not well received.

Through elementary school and into middle school I ran traditional dungeon-based games in what I called Dungeons & Dragons, but was actually a bastardized homebrew mess with whatever tables looked interesting hurriedly copied out of my dad’s books when he let me look through them. Throughout this period most of the adventures took place in the same dungeon, called the House on the Hill, which lived in a three-ring binder and got larger, more deadly, and more bullshit every time I had a few minutes and a pencil. There was a town nearby, and a river running down through a ravine past the caves leading to the entrance, and I often developed a world for it to sit in, but all the campaigns ended up at The House on the Hill within a session or two.

Well, in middle school I finally got my hands on some actual D&D books with the release of third edition, and I wasted little time getting a game started over recess. My first two players for this particular game were sisters who both decided to play druids, and one of them chose a horse as her animal companion. I want to say they were both horse-riders, but I’ll only swear to one of them having been – it’s been over a decade at this point. The point is, I brought them down the river to The House on the Hill, which was of course the center of the campaign, in roughly no time flat. I had dropped a few hints to the effect of “the adventure takes place in there,” which had always worked before, and I had the maps of the entry caves ready and newly stocked with 3.0 monsters. I got them right up to the entrance of the caves by about the second session. Everything was ready to go. And then . . . they didn’t go in.

The horse(s), apparently, would not want to go into the cave under any circumstances. My suggestions that perhaps these horses wouldn’t mind too much were swiftly and thoroughly rebuffed. My players, as it turned out, knew a whole fuckton more about horses than I did, and they couldn’t in good conscience leave them outside or anything. Instead, they did what no previous group had done: they turned and walked away from the dungeon. After a few minutes of being thunderstruck I closed the old Trapper-Keeper and started flying by the seat of my pants.

And that’s the story of how I stopped running dungeon adventures.