Wednesday, November 16, 2016

8 Days After

Rather than posting a bunch on fb, I've collected my thoughts on the recent election here.

1. People were hoping for the election to get over with so that we could get back to normal. The election happened, but social media is probably more toxic than ever.

2. Wow. That result was surprising. I was pulling for third party candidates the whole time, but I really thought Hillary would win. I didn't believe Trump could. I thought that his supporters were merely a highly-vocal fringe of the right wing; Fascists who are too dumb to know they are Fascists. (google Umberto Eco's description of Ur-Fascism to see what I mean.)

3. But a lot of people voted for him, probably not because they liked him, but because they Hated Clinton. And what's not to hate?

4. Goes to show; you rank and file Dems should have supported Bernie in the primaries. I'm going to take a moment to rub the noses of the all-along Clinton supporters in it. That's what you get for supporting the establishment, you gutless sheep.

5. Still, Clinton won the popular vote. People are talking about the failure of the electoral college.  I have doubts about the institution.  I was always told that its purpose was to prevent the "tyranny of the majority." It seems to have done its job and somehow left us with a tyranny of the minority. They said "every vote counts." But apparently not.

6. The fact that Trump is facing prosecution for rape next month will probably come to nothing. Money and power have a way of undermining justice and decency.

7. All my queer and colored friends are carrying on like they are about to be led to the box-cars any minute. It's a little dramatic. I'd like to think that any serious roll-back of civil rights couldn't happen at this point in history.

8. But I've been wrong. Perhaps they should do like Jesus said and sell their cloaks and buy a sword.  FYI. You can embrace your 2A rights without registering as Republican. 

9. You remember the bunker-building, ammo-hoarding hysteria that some right wingers were going through because they were sure Obama was going to impose martial law and send all the True Patriots to FEMA run Death Camps?  Some liberal elements are starting to feel what that is like.

10. Even a minimally critical review will reveal the tremendous hypocrisy of both Conservative and Liberal elements. Whatever indignity or smugness is going on now, the shoe was on the other foot 4/8 years ago. 

11. Trump is going to go back on many of his campaign promises and disappoint his supporters. This is because he is an oligarch. He was never one of the "regular, hard-working folks." who he appealed to.

12. Trump and his people are going to atleast undermine Civil rights, and continue the assault on the middle class and the environment. So his detractors will not be disappointed.

13. This is what happens when you let a reality-TV villain become president.

14. I think Putin could actually hornswaggle Trump into complying with a coherent strategy in the middle East. I joked before that we should be so lucky as to have a leader like Putin. Looks like I may get my wish.

15. You all need to get off the internet and go outside. Please look around, and notice that she sun is still rising and the grass is still growing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Flame Princess/BX Skills

Looking at Basic has caused me to reevaluate my opinion of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Previously, I had difficulty running LotFP. partially because I hadn't taken the sheer lethality of Basic and clones into account.
I also felt that the skills were limiting and that characters were so unskilled that they could do very little. But I now think that I was missing something which cause it to seem that way.

Flame Princess offers only a handful of skills, as opposed to dozens, and I didn't see how they were supposed to apply to the variety of situatiosn I was accustomed to using skills for.

But it turns out that the selection of skills is simply a way to unify racial abilities, theif-skills and common dungeoneering actions into a single mechanic.

This helps to make the character sheet shorter. I get it now.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Doors in B/X

We finally managed to get together for a few hours of Basic D&D! It was my first time running or playing Basic. So let me relay my impressions:

Basic moves quickly. In a few hours of play, we had created characters, cooked a meal (IRL) and explored a good ways into a dungeon comprised of fairly complicated geomorphs.(we got through two of these squares and into a third before our luck ran out)
Perhaps this is because Basic stresses careful tracking of in game time and provides instructions for running the game on a turn by turn basis.
I've heard people comparing older editions of D&D to a boardgame, or saying that it is more like a boardgame. This is actually pretty apt. Turns are fairly structured and in this way are similar to the phases and turns that most boardgames are run by. I think this particular structure makes for sessions where a lot gets managed fairly quickly.
It reminds me of sessions of 3E, where even outside of combat, I went around the table on a round by round basis and things moved fluently.

And speaking of combat, it was as deadly as expected and advertised.
The session ended with two players very suddenly slain by gnomes. The lone surviving halfling  frantically retraced his steps out of the dungeon and added "the vengeful" to his name. 
This came up on an image search for "Total Party Kill." This image makes me think that the party maybe had it coming. Another part realizes that this is basically what my friends look like. 

Combat moves and the tides turn very quickly. The extremely simplified approach to initiative, and the fragility of characters lends to this. There is no need to mess with criticals or fumbles when a decent damage roll means rolling a new character.
I think it also has a lot to do with the simplicity of the characters themselves. Without a mess of spells, feats and skills to confuse the player, characters take very simple, punchy actions and their rounds are quickly resolve. And yet the application of teamwork and tactics did not suffer for this.

I used to say that if you have 5 encounters prepared to run, then you have enough for a night of gaming. But in Basic, you should probably prepare way more since things move pretty fast.

One thing that did bog down gameplay though was the doors. 
Roll 1-2 on a d6 or fuck you.

On Basic p. 21, it says that doors in a dungeon are usually locked or stuck. Stuck doors must be forced open by rolling on a d6.
What is the purpose of this rule?
Presumably, forcing a door would make a noise, alerting nearby monsters. So as soon as a door is forced open, any creatures in the next room will be alerted. But they might still be surprised if the party immediately attacks? 
But suppose the party fails to force the door. Even if they pile up to force it (not sure how to handle this) they might fail to open the door.
Well fuck. I kind of need them to be able to get through this door so they can explore the rest of the damn dungeon. So I said they could just wreck the door, but it would make a lot of noise.
And that's what I settled on. Forcing the door is less noisy and allows for surprise. Wrecking the door will ring the dinner bell.
If anybody has any ideas on managing door in B/X, please comment.

Even stranger, it goes on to say that these stuck doors open automatically for monsters. What?
I guess this must be one of those rules written for the sake of gameplay rather than consistency or realism. There seems to be a lot of that in Basic.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

religions in my campaigns

Armchair is employed again. Not sure this mean I will be posting any more frequently. But here we are.

I am working as a teller at a bank. One of my first realizations about this work was how extremely religion-esque it all is.
A bank is like a temple of ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia. There are rites which must be observed for the glory of our god. There are public rites like those performed at the drive-thru teller window, where supplicants come to make offerings and petitions to their god. And there are private, inner rites where we balance the cash in the vault. I and my fellow employees are the priesthood of this temple.
And it goes without saying, but money is our god.
In other city-states, they worship Yuan or Euro or Rupee. But we call our god Dollar.

In a common manner of speaking, religion is a matter of faith. Anybody with a basic understanding of economics knows that money is not intrinsically valuable. It is only of value because people agree to believe that it is. It is a matter of faith.
When a person questions their faith, it weakens their religion. When a teenager actually questions whether they really believe in the god their parents take them to church to worship, it weakens the religion as a mass belief system.
So an ideal religion is one in which the believer never thinks to question their belief and never compromises their faith. And if they do, they should have no option but to carry on practicing their faith as if they believed it wholeheartedly. When I consider our relationship to money, It seems that money is just such a faith.

As to D&D;
I've mostly played 3rd edition. It annoys me immensely that the 3E books have a listing of gods which it strongly suggests the character worship. The gods are all from the Forgotten Realms setting: the vanilla D&D setting. This annoys me to no ends. It conflates system and setting, as if deity were as fundamental to a character as their class or ability scores.
So I discourage the use of the gods in the book. In my games, I present a pantheon which I consider to be vastly more interesting.
Old Boy
The Old Boy was a sage of ancient times who, according to legend, was born with a long, white beard and uncanny wisdom. His philosophy hinges on the idea that a person is either in harmony with the way of the universe, or not. To be in harmony is to enjoy ease and joy, and if you are not, it means you are making trouble for yourself and others without good reason.
The writing of Old Boy maintain simplicity as a virtue, value self control, compassion and understanding. The spiritual legacy of Old Boy is broad indeed. His reverants range from simple farmers, to bureaucrats, to monasteries of cloistered monks, mountaintop ascetics, or wandering guardians of justice.

The cults of Morgi are secretive and reclusive. She is not a goddess for the masses. Morgi is the name given to the utter glistening blackness of being which lies before the beginning, and after the end. She represents both nothingness and utmost potential.
When personified as an idol, Morgi is depicted as a dark-haired woman with a dark, star-studded cape. Her worshippers congregate in private, exclusive cults. The revel in the Morgi, believing her to be the ultimate aspect of reality. While they are not exactly a charitable organization, they believe in maintaining the spectrum of potential which arises from their mistress, and may help endangered entities, ideologies or species.

Is a personification of the planet and natural world. Followers of Cthona believe that the natural world has an intelligence of its own, and they believe that it is possible to commune with it. Cthona is usually referred to in the feminine. Followers of the Cthonic religion treat their religion as a practical matter rather than an abstract or intellectual pursuit. Their morality extends beyond human relations, and takes the concerns of other species or ecological inter-dependencies into account. Because of this, they can seem amoral or irreligious to followers of other faiths. Some Cthonics are very cynical of other religions, saying "We worship nature, for there is no doubt that she is real."

A psychopomp Goddess, who guards the souls of mortals in this world and the next. Her priesthood is well versed in what passes for psychological science or spiritual alchemy. They practice divination, dream interpretation and offer counseling to supplicants. They are seriously concerned with the sanctity of funereal rites, and the safe transmission of the soul from this life into the next. Their priesthood has a particular hatred of the undead. The followers of Hyponica believe that their Goddess was once a mortal woman, whose spiritual power enabled her to become a deity upon her own death. Hyponica is depicted as a woman pouring liquid from one cup into another.

The Pet Rock Faith
Originally practiced among dwarves and gnomes, The Pet Rock faith has a broad scattering of adherents of many walks of life. Adherents pray to a small stone or jewel which they keep with them at all times, usually in a pouch around the neck or tied around the waist. Followers of more formal religions scoff at the Pet Rock faith as being simplistic and superstitious. But nonetheless, Rockers have been known to perform acts of miraculous healing and magical protection with no other explanation than the power of their faith. 

Protective Avatar
A good deity believed to take mortal form in order to defend the weak and defeat evil. Protective Avatar is believed to have many incarnations in many times. Sometimes, these avatars are said to be unaware of their divine nature. Other manifestations are more plainly miraculous. Protective Avatar is worshipped by good warriors who wish to emulate legendary heroism, or prayed to by common people in  times of need. The religion of Protective Avatar is very simple in terms of its teachings, so its few clerics tend to be men of action. The religion of PA is often criticized for claiming as Avatars  heroes who were either champions of other religions or entirely secular.    

Heavenly Patriarch
The followers of Heavenly Patriarch claim that their god is the Ultimate God of everything, and creator of the whole universe. They have the  habit of capitalizing the word "god" when referring to Heavenly Patriarch, but refusing to capitalize it when referring to the gods of other religions. Heavenly Patriarch is said to be omnipotent, to define the ultimate standard of morality, and is often depicted as a human. Clerics of HP are often at a loss to explain the existence of other deities, demons, or the provenance of evil and usually offer faith-based arguments in explanation. Critics of HP are quick to point out that he may not be the creator of everything, but is probably a more conventional sort of deity. This quickly earns the ire of HP and his clerics.

This list is hardly exhaustive. In the gonzo D&D settings I like, it's fair to assume that every race, city-state or competing ideology has its own religion. In a game where wizards can gain god-like power, reality is frequently invaded by demon-lords, and the nature of the multiverse is only hazily defined, Divinity and what it means are really up for grabs.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Armchair Demiurge is (kinda) dead.

It had a decent run. But it is time to admit that Armchair Demiurge is on indefinite hiatus.

There were a number of factors leading to this dissipation:
I bought a house, moved. I've started writing a novel that really interests me. Lots of stuff.  But generally, I've been thinking of D&D way less. I'm finding its really difficult to get a bunch of twenty-somethings together for a game on any sort of regular basis.

But the major factor in the fading of ACD was my quitting a job where I had a good deal of time to sit around writing blog posts.

Now I am practicing self-employment, and considering getting a part time job to slow the bleeding off of my savings.
Here is the website of my new enterprise. I sell bulk scales for use in custom body-armor creations. My next step is to get some actual inventory.

Thanks Everybody.
Preston Selby

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: How to Run

"Fun cannot be planned. It can only be allowed."
                                                                   Alexis Smolensk, How To Run.

Readers of this blog will probably notice that I make frequent reference to someone named Alexis, whose blog; Tao of D&D has certainly inspired and influenced my sensibilities as a DM.

Alexis Smolensk is an earnest proponent of the notion that D&D (and by extension, traditional RPGs) can actually be good if only the participants are willing to put care, effort and energy into the pursuit.

To this end, he wrote a book called How to Run: an Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games

This work is available at lulu. I recently got around to buying and reading it for myself.

This work can not be judged by its minimal cover. The extremely uncomfortable-looking chair and the table notably devoid of players seem barren and forbidding. Yet perhaps this image is an intentional distillation of the book's main message: Dungeon Mastering done properly requires rigorous effort, most of which is done when the players are not around. The back cover seems to extend this metaphor.

I have to rank this book highly because there is simply no comparable work out there.
 While there is plenty of good advice on Alexis' Blog, he has definitely held back some pearls of wisdom for this book. So don't think one is a substitute for the other.

Official rulebooks tend to have very scant advice on how to actually Run Game. Knowing the rules is not the same as knowing how to apply them. Rarely is there practical advice for designing or preparing a game. Advice for dealing with players is shallow at best.
How to Run fills this void.

While the advice could be applied to any traditional RPG, or even game design in general, Alexis frames his arguments in terms of D&D, and he proudly uses the term Dungeon Master as opposed to any softer or more generic terms for the same thing.

How to Run is divided into four parts:
The first offers general advice which seems to be  intended as a sort of First Aid to correct faltering DMs, and give readers an idea of the player-DM dynamic Alexis is going for: one which emphasizes impartiality and player agency.
The second part focuses on managing one's self as a DM; with a focus on self control, dealing with stress and learning how to not give too much away,
The third part is concerned with handling players, working from the philosophy that the DM is providing a sort of service to the players, and not the other way around.
The fourth part deals with design and planning of the game and world.
There are 15 chapters in all. Each ends with a bulleted summary which ties the information up neatly.

I do have one gripe with this work: At times, the advice given is very general and abstract, and I find it difficult to concretely apply. There is certainly a good deal of easily applicable advice. But in some cases, a few more examples or anecdotes would not have gone amiss.
One reason for this occasional generality might lay in the Bibliography, which makes no reference to any D&D sourcebook or even works on game-design. It isn't Appendix N by a long shot. Rather, it includes titles such as:

Conceptual Models: Core to Good Designs
Consumer Behavior and Algorithm Design
Situational Awareness for Emergency Response
The toxic triangle: Destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments

Alexis has taken his own advice and read broadly; applying outside knowledge to the development of a Good game. This synthesis from wider, real-world sources probably accounts for the confusing abstractions which pop up in How to Run.
This does little to reduce the value of Alexis' unprecedented and insightful work.

Personally, I got a lot out of How to Run.
But should you buy a copy? I don't know. How much do you care about your quality as a Dungeon Master?
Are you willing to pay 20-some dollars and read 300-odd pages of text without pictures or charts? Is it worth the effort to improve your game? If you think not, this may explain a few things about the games you run.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Random Dungeons

I left my last post on a note about randomly-generated dungeons.
Now, random dungeons have a tendency to be incoherent; dungeons for their own sake without much internal logic. But the upside is that they (theoretically) don't require a lot of investment of time or creative energy.
As much as I would like to be running a serious campaign and developing my own setting, the truth is that it is difficult to get a handful of busy 20-somethings to meet on a regular basis.
So suddenly, running one-shots and short adventures with B/X rules and random dungeons has a certain appeal.

My previous experience with random mapping involved using the random tables in the AD&D DMG. Except the book doesn't make explicitly clear how the tables work, and it takes a fair bit of designer discretion to make them work.

Incidentally, the AD&D DMG is my favorite D&D book. Loaded with evocative details and rather little clear direction on how to use them.

So I went looking online for tools to produce random dungeons. Shout out to Dungeoneering Dad for doing a lot of the legwork.

These tools draw a dungeon map and populate them with monsters, treasure and traps:

I ran a game for myself to test these dungeons out. Also, to teach myself how to run B/X smoothly.
I admit that even I felt a little weird sitting down to play D&D with myself. And yet, it helped to smooth out the kinks in how I run Basic before inflicting it on my players.

What I found was that even randomly generated dungeons take some tuning and preparation to run well.
Donjon produces dungeons for the later editions, and also for AD&D, which is closest in overall balance to Basic. I like what Donjon does. But:

A lot of the traps are sure to kill low level adventurers. In playtest, they killed much more often than monsters. They'll have you going through thieves like potato chips and Mountain Dew. I could tolerate an occasional trap of certain doom, but I think Donjon overdoes it.
If I were to play it as generated, I would atleast devise a means to grant XP for traps. Like if a party inentionally avoids or succesfully disarms a trap, they get XP as if the trap were a monster of the HD that the trap would kill with an average damage roll.
For example a falling block that does 6d6 damage does an average 21 damage, which would equate to the average HP of a 4 HD monster. So noticing and circumventing the trap grants XP as a defeating a 4HD monster.  I will try it this way in further playtest.

Donjon also gives a lot of details- from dungeon dressing to a wandering monster table. But it behooves the DM to look through these details and determine what they actually mean before you have to describe them to the players!
For instance; if one of the wandering monsters is a six dwarves wandering senselessly, the DM suddenly has to invent a backstory for this dwarf. Or if a room has an X marked on the west wall, the DM will have to note why somebody made the mark in anticipation of when the players choose to obsess over what is actually a random bit of dungeon dressing. Some traps are listed without describing what exactly the trigger is or where the danger-zone is. Some bits of dressing like large Idols with ruby eyes will certainly be construed as treasure, so it's better to determine what they are worth and how hard it will be to pry them out before the players ask about it.

Also, the monsters listed in B/X are pretty basic. Most generators will pull out monsters which aren't listed and will need either adaptation or replacement.

Moving on to mythweavers. Mythweavers makes dungeons for 3rd edition and will require conversion. You'll need the 3rd ed. DMG and MM for this. This one is kinder with the traps. It also pays out much larger sums of gold and even magic items. So characters in a mythweaver dungeon will go up much faster.
Mythweaver lacks a few of the nice feature which donjon has; like  a wandering monster table or showing the dungeon entrance or offering various file formats to save the dungeon in.  It just createsa a little more work
Mythweaver is also very weird about its dungeon dressing, offering a list of unrelated items if any. It seems to me that it would generally be more useful just to know the function of a room and some reference to its state of repair, along with any natural or geomorphic features.
All in all, donjon is to be preferred for Basic D&D adventures.

There are also a lot of map generators, which draw dungeons, but do not stock them. All in all it seems like preparing and tuning a stocked random dungeon isn't much less work than stocking it yourself, If you stock you own dungeon,I think you are more likely to be fluent in int when it comes time to run.
Here is a map generator- it also does nice looking caves

But these are particularly cool. I used this and randomly populated it using the guidelines in the Basic book, with some help from Tricks, Empty Rooms, & Basic Trap Design by Courtney Campbell
It took a while because the geomorphs are so complex. I am a little concerned that it will be difficult to describe the cogent information about the shape and layout of some of the spaces- difficulties which you would not have in the series-of-disjointed-rectangular-room style of dungeon.
based on:

I hope it works out. Now If only I can manage to get some people together.