Tuesday, September 19, 2017

9 Answers that Don't Say You Like Me

I am perpetually getting this sort of explanation for why some posts don't get comments:
"... and I still don't know what I would say in response to it. Well, I can at least fell comfortable saying "bravo." ... BTW, this is a common occurrence after reading your longer winded thoughts and, I have long suspected, a reason why your best posts so often suffer from a lack of comments ..."

I'm choosing to believe people just don't know how to comment without sounding "sycophantic" ... which is something people also complain about to me all the time: "I would have said it was amazing, but I didn't want to sound s~"

So here are 9 possible choices for answers to a blog post that don't expressly say "I liked this" or "It was great" ~ statements that apparently make people here feel stupid, even though tremendously stupid-minded blogs I have seen have this stated dozens and dozens of times in the comments fields.  I am often in awe of how some addlepated blog meanderings get described as "brilliant post!" without anyone feeling sycophantic.

Oh well.

I suggest the gentle reader should try one of these.  They are expressed in the reader's first person.

1.  This made me think.  I [formerly believed/still believe] that [my opinion] was true.  This [has/hasn't] given me reason to change my mind.  But I may be wrong.
Probably isn't an excuse to build up an argument or otherwise derail the comment into a long-winded description of your point-of-view, unless you can back it up with sources or sound, a priori reasoning.  But a simple statement one way or the other is perfectly fine.

2.  After reading this, I went to the [text/source/video] that you linked.  Here's what I found.
Simple, elegant, expands the conversation and brings the point back to the same inspiration that got me writing the post. Certainly looks like you hold your own in the conversation.

3.  This was something I [had/hadn't] heard before.  I [thought/had heard/had read] that [the point in question] was such-and-such, and not what you're saying here.  [Optional]: I have examples: [quote].
I haven't read everything or seen everything, so I'm always interested in someone else having the same idea or printed material which states categorically the opposite of what I'm saying.  I'm not really interested in someone's blog, but anything that is formally published material is of great interest.

4.  Hm.  I found my attention especially drawn to [this point] and [this point].
Does not expressly state if the points were agreed with ~ but it does help me zero in one what resonates with people who read the blog.

5.  Regarding [this point].  Would you be willing to elaborate further?
This one is a danger because trolls love to press this button.  I've found in the past that a troll will keep asking me to write more and more about a subject, just to see how many words I will pile upon words.  So I can't say that I'll necessarily oblige, but it is always nice to be asked ~ and if I am asked in a particular encouraging way, I'll probably step up.

6.  If [this] and [this] were true, it would probably mean [this].  Have I got that right?
Not everyone has the art of speculation in their veins ~ but speculation is a terrific conversation driver and I encourage it.  Even if you're completely out to lunch, there's the old argument that there are no bad ideas except not speaking.  A bad idea can often get good ideas going, since deconstructing ideas, both bad and good, solves problems.

7.  You once talked about this before [link if it can be find].  Has your opinion changed over the years?  Will it change?
Taking my temperature is a good way to get a back and forth started.  Giving your temperature as well, if you're up for it, is better - but perhaps you can get me to say something you'll feel more comfortable commenting upon.

8.  As long as you were willing to talk about [this], do you have an opinion on such-and-such?
I'm always hunting for new subjects for a post.  It can't hurt to give me one.  If I start getting a lot of them, obviously, I'll pick and choose - but I might get to everything eventually.  Remember, I started all these posts about monsters because a single reader mentioned that I had never written down my rules about dragons.

9.  A point I'll support.  I linked this to my [blog/facebook/twitter/whatever].
Positively the best thing in the world you can do for me, apart from supporting me on Patreon.  Being told that I'm liked or that a post of mine is liked is a very small thing.  Being willing to step up and connect YOUR NAME with something I've said is HUGE.  If you want to tell me how much you liked something I wrote, try this.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Say It

In the context of a proposed history podcast (because life continues), I have communicated some with a regular reader here who responded to the linked post.  We have been talking and this is something we're interested in doing.  It wouldn't be role-playing driven, though we might mention RPGs ... it would be the more difficult pretext of spitballing historical events, patterns and geography: either a particular moment, or a process that covers a lot of periods and cultures, or a specific cultural region.

We've been talking about an overview of the history of Korea, most likely from the late 1800s, in light of recent events ~ considering most people have little to no idea why or even when the peninsula was subdivided.

This reminded me of a Sam Kinison cameo in the 1986 film, Back to School, which was a fairly intellectual romp featuring Rodney Dangerfield.  Still a lot of fun.

No doubt about it.  I hold History sacred also.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Shot in the Head

Some who are connected with me on Facebook know that it's my birthday today.

I'm not going to stop blogging, not going to stop working on D&D and not going to give up the agenda.  But I definitely needed a break.

A lot of people have told me lately that every field has its morons and jerks, and that's right.  I never thought otherwise.  My chief problem isn't that the community is filled with morons and jerks; it is that other fields also include academics, experts and people of influence, who could conceivably find me worthy of inclusion ~ as has happened when I had taken time to be in theater, film, music and journalism.  Hell, I've met people like Colm Meaney, Rick Mercer and B.B. King (seriously) in a professional, laid-back, everyday manner. But there's no one like this that's meetable in role-playing games.  It's a wasteland.

Every once in awhile I get a cold slap in the face that reminds me that I picked a field that is intellectually shot in the head.  That was not a good decision; but I made it when I was young and stupid and thought this game could change the world.

Stuck now.  Not going to go out and do theatre now (though I could, I did a little acting in 2014 to pump up money for taking How to Run to Toronto).  Journalism, as it happened, was also shot in the head in 2009. I know only one film maker and, though he's great, a wonderful, talented guy, going places, he's not going to find work for me.

So here I am.

I've always really liked my birthday.  I guess that's because I'm a narcissist.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Stream of Consciousness

Sometimes I write just to figure things out.

I write about four hours a day.  That's counting time spent on the blog, on the wiki, on things of my own interest, writing answers to emails and writing cover letters so that I can get myself a better job.  Some days I write more than four hours; rarely are there days when I write less than one.

I never spend a day when I'm not on a computer.  I get up in the morning and I sit at my computer and drink my coffee, watch the news and think of things to watch or read until I feel awake.  If I'm feeling low, after that I'll play a game, unless of course I have to go out and give my time to someone else.  If I'm feeling good, and I have the day free, I'll settle in to working around noon.  After that, most days when I have the day, I don't stop until I go to bed.

I take breaks.  I walk for an hour.  I give my Tamara a massage or we sit and talk for an hour, or we make plans for much longer; but when those plans are done I sit right back here and go right back to work.  Tamara loves me and she understands.  She likes watching me work and she likes what I do.

I figure I've spent about 1,000 hours this year, this far, writing.  I write more today than I did five years ago, or probably any time in my life.  I'm clearer.  I can think of more things to write about.  My mind seems to be endlessly fertile.  I get ideas all the time.  More often than not, I'm get to working on something in exclusion of my ideas and they are lost to the wind.  And I don't mind, because I know another idea will come.

These last seven or eight months, I've been seeing a counselor.  I know, I know, I said in July I was going to stop talking about my private life and I'll keep to that as best I can.  Just to cover some fundamental details, my father is in permanent care in a hospital for Alzheimers.  He thinks he's in the year 2046 and that he's being watched by aliens.  It is extraordinarily difficult to visit him.  I'm living in a bad situation right now, not one I would choose to live in.  I can't get a job that treats me with respect.

And I can't seem to write this damn book about Herzog and Ruchel, that I call the Fifth Man.

More than anything, I've been seeing the counselor about that.  About why I can't write this book.  We've talked our way all around it, in fifteen different ways, and it just doesn't seem to get anywhere.  I haven't seen the counselor since the beginning of August and at that time, we agreed, it just isn't going anywhere.  He suggested I should take a long break and think.

I've been thinking.  Those sessions had some value.  I would think about things and feel a release of stress and begin to work on the book.  I took myself back to the beginning of it and worked through the 17 chapters to the present all over again, reworking the second draft, then felt ready to refinish the book by writing from chapter 17 to the end.

Then, nothing.  Nothing.  Ten weeks now.  Nothing.  I look at that notification on the blog and I want to tear it down, make it go away.  My readers see that notification and wonder.  I can't take it down.  But it is eating the shit out of me and I don't know why I can't write this book.  I can write and write and write about anything else, everything else, comfortably, peaceably, enjoying the process of writing, not feeling short of words or that I'm struggling, but not with this.  Just not.

I've had these things happening lately.  These frustrating, ego-wrecking things, not my fault, just shit going on around me I had a long time friend on the Internet go nuts on facebook a month ago, doing that thing a lot of us saw after Chancellorsville, comparing the racists against the liberals and treating them like two sides of the same coin, false equivalency ... and it hurt because he went straight to that aggressive place where he struck for the most hurtful arguments he could reach for; and I unfriended him and left it there, okay, happens, no big deal.

I got into the fight with an artist about an image I used for the monsters on the wiki, not a very good image, not really, but of course I took it down immediately; and then I gave an answer and got back this level of vitriol, unbelievable vitriol, from the artist's wife of all people, real 4chan stuff ... and I laughed and blocked the thing and didn't answer.  And again, no big deal.

Then there was that thing with the Pathfinder wiki, which shouldn't challenge my sense of wellbeing; connor gave me a great response to that, saying that "Very little of it is home brew collaboration" ~ and that made me feel better, definitely better, so it really isn't a big deal, it isn't.

And yesterday a friend put my Wishes entry off the wiki onto a private DM site on facebook, which I applied for and got into, and ... oh gawd.  Nearly 200 comments of people who clearly did not read the post (there was no impact on the viewer numbers), spewing the most toxic D&D crap imaginable, no one talking about anything I said because clearly no one went to the link, but immediately exploding into endless self-righteous bullshit about rules as written and I do this and I do that, and no one listening or seriously responding to anything that anyone else wrote, just there to write to see their own words in print.  Awful.  Really awful.  Just the sort of thing that convinces me the community is broken, hopelessly broken, beyond broken.  A lot of hateful, spoiled brats.

And no big deal.  Nothing to do with me.  But I've been looking at D&D today and wondering, where would I be if I had been interested in anything else?  If I had a blog about real estate or economics or fishing, anything else.  Where would I be?  Because just now I am seeing this hateful bullshit on the net and trying to deal with having connected myself to this, this albatross, this painted ship on a painted ocean, writing four hours a day for the same 250 people, with no hope of ever reaching anyone else, ever bringing about any change, ever getting this damn bird off my fucking throat.

Where would I be?  What if I just went and spent ten years writing about something else, to someone else, to adults, to people who can talk about their interest without having to hide their face in shame, without having to explain every time that yes, I'm actually designing a game, yes, I'm wasting my time, apparently, because I'm not writing a blog about Canadian politics or the aerial photography or theatre arts.  What am I doing here?  With this?  What?

I'm so inaccessible, you know?  So inaccessible.  I can be calm and friendly and answer questions and give the best help I can, but I can't seem to get myself down to where I'm dumb enough to be popular.  Even now, this, this strange thing I'm doing, this writing, where my hands are flying over the keyboard like I'm playing piano, and it feels like music to me ... this thing I'm doing ... it's more words than I'm supposed to write.  I'm over a thousand words now and I've been writing for all of 25 minutes, just 25, no pauses, no breaks, the music just pouring out, pouring steady, stream of consciousness ... just trying to work out a thing that's been on me all day.

If I can't be popular, is there a way I could at least write about something people would, I don't know, be educated enough to read first before spewing an opinion.  Not even original opinions, just the same bullshit opinions that have been spouted about wishes since the beginning of the game; the same stuff my 16 year old friends and I used to say, all the things about wishes that make them such a broken, awful, abusive, crippled part of the game. Jeez, if I were writing about water-filtration systems in Western Canada I could conceivably get the readership I have now in ten years and I wouldn't have to deal with people being infantilized swine when someone linked my blog or my wiki to another site.  There might be a dim chance that someone in a university or connected with the government might think, "That Alexis, he's making some good points, he's done his research," instead of, "If a player of mine wished for a sandwich I'd find a way to fuck him."

Being this inaccessible, there's no chance that anything reputable would look at me twice.  I'm just another one of them.  Another freak.  Another dick.  One of them.

There's no future here.  No future.  I always wanted a future.  That was the goal.  That's what artists think.  They think about the future, about having one.

The only damn future I have is in that damn book I can't write.

I shouldn't publish this.  I shouldn't.  It's too personal.  People will take it personally.  People won't get it, won't empathize, won't understand.  I'm too inaccessible.

Too inaccessible for D&D, that's for sure.

Should not publish this.

Should not.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Four Elements

On each of the inhabited continents, the same four elements were distinguished as building-blocks for all the substances that could be observed: earth, air, fire and water. Within the game world, it is accepted that these four elements exist, and that they represent the Four Elemental planes. However, science indicates clearly, even in the Dungeons and Dragons world, that science dictates the existence of many more elements than four, and that tradition practices as followed in Earth's history were a load of rubbish.

To be sure, to retain the effects of magic and the presence of elemental beings, both science and elemental theory must be true ~ with the latter explaining many of the magical effects that science cannot explain. Examples of elemental influence on reality would include ...

(continue reading)

Sunday, September 10, 2017


The reader doesn't mind if I just keep posting monsters as I make them, nyet?  Very well, the Djinn (I have a different take on it):

Formerly worshipped in pre-Islamic Arabia, these beings have been mischaracterized by sources as air elementals, geniuses as appear in Roman mythology, angels, demons and wicked spirits. In fact, like other hemitheioc creatures, these beings are something like mortal demi-gods, comparable to heroes who are born of one divine and one mortal parent. They have no known origin, except that it is believed that whenthe world was created, the djinn were created also.

Djinn inhabit the plane of Jannah, the Arabic paradise, where they grant wishes to the loyal and pious dead to dwell there. It has been told that these are the jinn that remain following the cull of the Pre-Adamites, djinn who were killed by ...

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Crann Bethadh

Also called the Tree of Life, that grew from the womb of the center of all creation. Among the Norse, the tree is called Yggdrasil. The tree exist outside the Prime Material Plane, and in fact enfolds all planes of existence: the outer planes, the astral and ethereal planes, the elemental planes and the negative and positive planes. Crann Bethadh exists as the axis mundi that supports all the planes and whose branches interweave between the planes and create passages from one plane to another.

Though there are hundreds of planes of existence, conceived of by every culture, both in the Prime Material and elsewhere, Crann Bethadh encapsulates them all. Most cultures vastly underestimate the ...


Because of fairy tales such as The Ridiculous Wishes or The Monkey's Paw, the value of making a wish in the Dungeons & Dragons game setting has always been subject to a thematic taint. It is unclear, from the style of a particular DM's play, whether or not the existence of the wish is a game feature or an opportunity to produce a spontaneous morality play, with the DM as moralist. Thus players have been required to produce exact words of uncompromising perfection when stating a wish, as an effort to restrain the DM from twisting the intended meaning of the wish and thus punishing the player for daring to use this ridiculously dangerous stab-yourself-in-the-chest ability.

D&D is not a morality play or story and the rules that apply to wishes must restrict the DM as much as the player. The DM cannot be allowed to use his or her discretion. Everyone using a wish should have a clear and reasonable idea of its effect and limitations, enabling them to employ this magic without fear of arbitrary consequence.

The Fundamentals of Writing Monsters

There's a lot about some of these monsters that I feel misses the point.  If we look at a basic description of something like, say, the displacer beast, first we get a picture, then we get a description of the picture, which is really nothing more than filler.  Usually, the description doesn't even match the picture (the image does not show the tentacles sprouting from the creature's shoulders, but from the middle of its back, in a very poor representation).

Then we read about some special ability, "the displacement" feature, in terms of why the ability exists ("light-bending illusion") which does not actively say what happens if you try to compensate for it or bother to describe the effects of hurled missiles at said illusion.  The original monster manual (not the linked site) gives the displacer beast a -2 AC for the ability, which is paltry to say the least, and completely boring as shit to say what's deserved.

Then we get some meaningless vague references to the beast's ancestors, the attempts to breed the beast (with no rules or mention of the players doing this themselves), a list of creatures the beast could supposedly be bred to kill (I'm sure a cow and a horse would also work) and an argument that you can't breed the beast because it is too evil.  I have no idea how they're able to "use their malevolent intelligence to escape their masters" because this isn't explained; the beast doesn't phase, after all, it is a light-bending illusion, so what? The masters feel intellectually required to leave the cage door open?  We're not told. Shut up, accept this as dogma and move on.

Then we get a short account of why displacer beasts and blink dogs hate each other.  How is this useful?  Are there going to be a lot of adventures where it will be really important to parties to not have blink dogs and displacer beasts attacking each other?  Seems to me, humans and displacer beasts will attack each other on sight too, without the need for Seelies.  Many creatures everywhere will attack one another on sight. So what?  How am I getting information on making an adventure if I choose to throw one of these things at a party?

claws and teeth only for show
This is the problem overall with monster manuals as I read them.  They are giving the wrong information.  When I'm writing these beasts, I'm trying to establish three things: where are they found; what can they do; why would they interact with a party?  Being found is generally easy; I'm putting them in some vegetation and climate, somewhere on the Earth.  What they can do requires a little more than just saying they have tentacles: how far can the tentacles swing, how does the displacer beast use them ~ and if the beast is also a cat, why doesn't it also have cat-like attacks?  
My monster manual just gives 2 attacks for the tentacles and ignores the big teeth and claws that are depicted on the old displacer beast image. How does that make sense?

Too, I want something more meaningful for the displacer beast's "displacement" ability than a light show.  Really? That's as imaginative as we can get?

Finally, I need some kind of rational written into the monster for what would happen if a party might encounter the creature.  Would the creature attack them, and if so, how?  By what method?  At what point might the creature run away.

One thing I like about the wiki, if I think of something new, if something comes up in the middle of a game, I can go and fix the page immediately, upgrading it as necessary.  Putting it on the internet might (conceivably) have someone point out a flaw or a context that can add to any given monster that's been written.  It is an ongoing process, rather than a stale rewrite of a rewrite of a rewrite, which is what the fifty versions of displacer beast are that you can find online since its first depiction in 1979.  If there are more answers to those three purposes ~ where, what, why ~ it can be added later.

If you want to read my take on the displacer beast, you can find it on the wiki.

50 Monsters ... Bleh

50 Monsters.

More accurately, 50 wiki pages of monsters, because I'm not counting cases where I created both the ordinary and giant version of monsters (three types of crocodile), I'm not counting extra links to describe the details behind devils and demons and I'm not counting the dragon posts at all that began this recent effort, for the merest OCD reason that they're not in order and therefore they don't count.

Nor am I counting work I didn't do at all, for it should be noted that Tim has contributed work on firenewts, floating eyes, giant frogs, large frogs, huge frogs, killer frogs (though killer frogs are appearing in my online Juvenis campaign, Tim went with a traditional description) ~ so many frogs! ~ gargoyles, gelatinous cubes, hyenas, moas, ostriches and rheas.  Ozymandias has hunted around for a wide variety of very helpful pics.  It has been a great effort.

The hardest moment came when I was sent this link related to Pathfinder.  The sender's motive was meant to be encouraging, but I have to admit that I'm simply not capable of producing this degree of content: I don't have the resources and I don't have this much help.  As such, seeing it laid out, then comparing it to my meagre effort, is somewhat soul-crushing ... I can only sustain myself by seeing that pages like this description of the bedlam are filled with such gobblydegook and functionality references that the actual content is tedious and arcane ~ unless you happen to play pathfinder.

I want to believe that the material I'm producing is both accessible and suggestive, even if you don't play my system or don't play at all.  I couldn't even steal from the Pathfinder source ~ I did a listing on black pudding and there was nothing in the Pathfinder version's "ecology" that wasn't basically described in my original monster manual from 1979.  That's not much forward development.

Here I hesitate.  I'm not certain I should bring up this next point; it smacks of self-importance and egotism, of which I'm accused all the time and which I don't wish to confirm.  But the way I feel about that huge Pathfinder wiki ~ is that how the Gentle Reader thinks about me?  Am I, well, not exactly crushing souls, I haven't created that much content, but am I undermining your desire to work on stuff?

Okay, you'll jump down my throat and tell me "fuck no," and believe me, that's a good thing.  But I know how I felt after I saw that Pathfinder wiki and it was totally a sense of "oh gawd, why am I even bothering."  It was three or four days before I could get myself to work on another monster, and then only because I said I'd do 50 before I quit ~ and shit, if it didn't happen that the last two monsters were a demon and a devil.

I could have done something else, a caribou or a coffer corpse, something beginning with C, to satisfy my OCD.  But I meant to go through the monster manual before doing other things (though I cheated and added the giant bat).  I could have done two demons, but I had planned to do one type of multi-type monsters like demons, devils, dragons, giants and such, though I meant to do all the versions of the natural multi-types, like beetles, bears, snakes, etc.  For whatever loony, mentally bastardized reason, I found myself sitting at 48 monsters, with Demon and Devil in front of me, this miserable doubt cast by the Pathfinder wiki kicking me in the face and I just felt ... bleh.

It's been tough finding the motivation to dig through the demon and devil and make sense of those types, to give them character and motivation, and to get out of the doldrums of "just another monster."  I'm glad I did, I'm glad I had the source material, I'm glad people liked the work (the wiki numbers were really high) and said as much.  So great.

It isn't that unfair for me to ask if others have had this experience with me ... or, obviously, with everything else that's out there in the universe, encouraging you not to work on your world because why, jeez, what for, it's all be done already, even if the doing was kind of rotten.  Why do all that work just to repeat work that's already been done?

I guess, for me, it at least teaches me something.  It at least creates a problem that I can solve and learn about things in the process of solving.  But gad, yeah, sometimes it just feels like I'm a little flea picking at the skin of a dog that's going to scratch me onto a carpet just before the vacuum of Mrs. Nature rolls over me.

Well, fifty monsters.  Yay.  Sort of.  I could probably do another one.  A displacer beast is fairly straight forward.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

38 Year Anniversary

Today is the 38th anniversary of the first time I played D&D, which is also the first time that I heard of D&D. That's a long time, and as it goes on it gets harder and harder to remember those early days and what they were like.

The right post to write to ask, I suppose, is what have I learned?  Hm.  I can't make a good treasure table.  Most attitudes about the game come from people who have played it for three to five years (the length of high school and college), people who are either ready to quit or have become so established in their game play that they cease to question.  I've learned that I've been working on my world longer than any rational person ought to and that I'm still game to keep going.

I've learned a great deal about the world I would never have learned had I not been hunting along book shelves and through the internet for ideas.  I've learned that I have the sort of obsessive personality that would have been better pointed at being a lawyer or a researcher, except that I was just too damn creative and resistant in my character.  I've learned that its possible to make some headway as a random, obscure, disconnected designer but no more.  I've learned that given time and greater access to educational materials that I ever thought possible has enabled me to solve magificent problems that were, 20 years ago, insurmountable.

I've learned to wait for the next idea.  I've learned that wikis are a better world-building friend than anything else I've known.  I've learned that players are plentiful, so long as the light above the DM is bright enough. I've learned that good players are annoying, stubborn, self-aggrandizing, stultified in their habits and the only people really worth running for.  I've learned that I'm worse than everybody.

I've learned how young I was 38 years ago.  I've learned how stupid I was.  How little I understood.  How deluded were my ideas.  How much time I would be forced to waste before I would begin to see.  How many hundreds of hours I would burn making tables and charts and lists that would, in the end, be thrown away or simply lost, from lack of worth and lack of use.  I've learned that everything I made or drew or ran in the first 15 years of being a DM was destined not to survive to the present, at least not the form that it does now.  I've learned that all of that period was like living in a chrysalis, in which the only valuable product that had to come out of that mess and stumbling around was me.  I wasn't making a world, I was making me.

Not that it matters, because I've learned it had to be that way.  All that time had to be spent.  I can't express how many useless times I tried to create a treasure table without ever once coming up with a working answer.  No matter.  I had to learn.  I had to see.  I had to come around to where I am not by the longest route possible because all the short routes don't have enough scenery.

I've learned that making a game and a world has very little to do with what I've done.  It is all about what I'm going to do.

Devilish Culture

Having completed the work I mean to do on the background of demons, I am still cleaning up the background of devils.  This has been a long, hard fight but I am getting it under control.  Thankfully, I don't have to do any background like this again until I get to giants.  And I will probably put monster making on a shelf long before then.  If nothing else, some readers are learning some interesting things about the profound depths of human mythology.

So, the culture of devils.

Devils are beings from the Lower Planes of Existence, dwelling almost exclusively in the planes of Hades and Hell, who serve the purpose of torturing the malevolent dead as a means of cleansing the soul. This has gained them the reputation for being disturbingly malevolent themselves, and this is quite a common description for most of the individuals, particularly among ...

Monday, September 4, 2017

War in Heaven

What follows is a meaningful description of the causes and effects related to the war between angels led by the Archangel Micheal against those led by Satan, that ended in Satan's defeat and casting down into Hell and the Abyss. This is viewed within the game world as a real event that happened according to the manner in which divinity is created and made real.

Writing in the 15th century BC, the prophet Zoroaster proposed the ideal of cosmogonic dualism, arguing that the universe had been created by two demiurges, artisan-figures who together took complementary and conflict-driven roles in the mastery of all things. Zoroaster described these both: Ahura Mazda represented the sphere of truth, order, justice and light, which was a new describing of a much older god, El, who was the consort of the great mother goddess Ana. By the time of Zoroaster, El had already ...


Given that this recent Mythology link is really getting out of hand on my changing actual knowledge about the world to fit my D&D world, I feel I have to put a disclaimer on my wiki:

This wiki is a description of Alexis' Dungeons and Dragons' world, which is far reaching and complex. This fictional setting is based on the real earth, its geography, it's peoples and its cultures, including religious and philosophical components. The world freely interprets these things for the purpose of running a D&D campaign, and does not hesitate to change, throw out or add information as needed, in relation to every subject to be found in this wiki. Therefore, it is stressed that ALL of the material within can be relied upon to be probably FALSE in its descriptions or real things, particularly within the heading marked as "mythology." Alexis likes to take largely disparate ideas and press them together into new ideas, without concern for actual, human reality. After all, Wikipedia exists. There's no need to be accurate about anything here.

It's only that in some ways, particularly the recent work I've started on devils, I'm really pushing the boundaries of truth and legitimate religious studies scholarship in order to make multiple ideas and cultural connections fit into a single world-building narrative.  I'd hate to have someone stumble across this wiki and think that any specific sentence I might happen to write could be used for a university essay (mmph.  that would be funny).

Sunday, September 3, 2017

This is Enough Demons for Now

Upon the subject of demons, I have been putting together some content on the wiki outlining my structure of these monsters.

Starting with the creature itself, there is the Demon page.  This concentrates on what a demon can do, with a quick introduction and then a discussion of their abilities.  Wanting to give them powers closer to those I have read about in many an ancient text, I made their most important power the ability to possess others ~ and not once a day and not by the use of a magic jar spell.  Certainly, very unpleasant, but I insist that monsters should not be weakened just because it will make players uncomfortable.

And this is why I've gotten rid of several things that the books tried to sell as "fun" but are, in fact, imposed handicaps on what should be a terrifying monster.  I just don't understand.  If the beholder does not have a special "amulet" that enables the beholder to be controlled just because the players have gotten a hold of it, why should a particular demon?  If mind flayers and sphinxes don't have to worry about people knowing their names, why should a demon.

I understand that these things are supposed to be clever and adventure making, but it is really crappy, trope-driven adventure making, the sort of awful cliche that we're always seeing in TV supernatural series so bad writers can explain how a bunch of "good ol' boy" humans can get an edge on something that ought to be able to kill them outright.  They're cheap, cheesy off-switches for monsters and they are inexcusably stupid.

I just don't see that characters should be able to kill demons at all; but I don't have an experience system that is based on killing anything, so it works out for me.  At best, I expect a party to fight one off long enough to get it to teleport somewhere else ... which, let's admit it, is good enough.

Oh, and I also made a page on Demonic culture.

I have been playing with this concept that's based on arguments I've made in the past that the Gods are only as powerful as the belief that people have in them.  I'm making up my mind to go one step beyond this ~ that the gods don't exist at all until they are invented by creatures on the prime material plane.  This is what I was getting at with the Gehenna story.

It is always presumed that the gods must be much, much older than we are ~ but why?  We invented the gods, didn't we?  How does that necessarily change the freedom with which the gods act, why does it matter when they came into existence?

We conceive of things all the time that then get way out of our control.  It's easy to imagine that if our thoughts were able to create a real god Zeus, that's going to get out of hand very quickly ~ particularly if we don't know our thoughts created him.  We're just going to assume that he's been there all along and that we've "discovered" him.

There is a story that Zeus created the goddess of wisdom, Athena, directly from his head; "born from the head" will turn up the story if you search it on google.  I've decided to call the process of giving birth to gods (and therefore to places within the outer planes) as "Thoughts Made Manifest." This is, without a doubt, the scariest idea that can be imagined, if we apply it to the actual creation of things simply because we invent them.  But some readers will remember the old Star Trek episode that played havoc with the party on account of that.

I'm not saying that one character's thoughts will suddenly produce a god.  That is not enough belief.  But a thousand characters?  Ten thousand characters?  At some point, there is a tipping point reached and the belief becomes real.  And this is the premise I intend to build my entire god-based universe upon.

Anyway, I hope the demon content is fun.

A Mythology Post

Okay, this was sort of fun.  I thought I'd take a shot at making a few pages for the wiki about "Mythology" ~ get a feel for what those pages would look like or how the content would be designed.  It needs a map, but there aren't any ready at hand that would fit the content I'm designing.  The reader may note, however, that I am trying to keep with the spirit of the actual mythological context, just sprinkled throughout with transitional stuff designed to make it work together and within my D&D game.

This should be somewhat chilling.


A part of the Lower Planes of Existence, a place of punishment, created by the sacrifice of thousands of children in the Valley of Gehinnom outside of Jerusalem, beginning some ten thousand years ago. As the children died upon burning pyres and began to enter the underworld, then no more than a place of dust, a shelf of icy rock was made manifest against the side of a mountain, amidst a great ocean, under an open sky, and there the dead children were left to wait, their feet frozen into a cake of ice that stretched out into the water. But this place had no name, not as yet.

Within the second millenia BC, the mountain above Gehenna began to ...

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Geography of the Underworld

Let us begin a further discourse on the underworld with two premises, both of which are based on the very believable argument that theologians that are part of our own Earth have no idea what they are talking about, as they have never actually been to any of the places about which they pretend to be expert.

The first premise being, that existence after death is not a stagnant and calcified experience: that, from moment to moment, events occur which provide opportunity for the creation of narratives and change.
And the second premise being that the motivations of demons and devils are not, in fact, known or understood, except by those who have had the opportunity to die and experience these beings as they function.

From this starting point, we can see the opportunity to create a campaign that begins with the death of the characters, moves through a set, planned adventure that is based around the culture of demons and devils, that in turn allows the characters to have ambitions of some kind that can be pursued.  We do not need to be bogged down by limitations such as, the only reason for the existence of a devil is to torture dead beings.  Nor that a demon's conversation is all pain pain pain all the time.  We can surmise that these creatures, too, have aspirations, goals, ideals, dreams ... and in turn, let downs, disappointments, failures, despair and so on.

After all, Earth's theology was designed to scare the shit out of people to ensure obedience; it was not based on observation and experimentation.

What matters, however, is that we want to retain most of the scenes as proposed by Dante and other writers ~ hordes of the dead pushing down to the river, where they wait to be taken, across, the dead floating in pools of acid or fiery oil, the horrific lines of the dead being whipped down winding paths over precipices by laughing, gleeful devils ... all that has to stay because all that is compelling and distinctive of a world that is definitely not the prime material plane.  All I am saying is that while being boiled alive, there should be some sequence of options available that makes it possible to be bumped out of the pit and into some other kind of frying pan, which in turn provides an opportunity to get into the line where the next punishment provides some opportunity for redemption ... of a kind.  Let's say, an opportunity for moving up in the world.

Now, getting down to the structural framework of the underworld.  Let me say up front ~ if you haven't taken the time to read Dante, this might be hard to follow.  I'll try to give a brief synopsis of the bits that I need explained.

In the Canto III of the Inferno, Dante borrows heavily from the imagery of the Greek Hades.  The river that Charon, a Greek figure, takes you the sinner across is the Acheron, again from the Greek.  The dead wait on the shore, as they do in Hades.  There's no Cerberus on the other side, or Greek monsters, but within the 1st Hell (canto IV), that Dante names Limbo, there are many intellectuals, mostly Greeks and Romans, who were good men who never wished malevolence on anyone, but because they could not know of God or believe in him, they're doomed to this plane.  Mostly, they sit about and wait.  For what is not made clear.

Taking up the problem I mentioned two posts ago, the "all myths are true" issue as Tim calls it, part of the practical solution is to recognize that we as a people tend to call the same thing by more than one name.  I think it is reasonable, then, to establish that Limbo and Hades are fundamentally the same place.  Since we have no alignment straightjacket to adhere to, we don't need an arbitrary plane to exist between Pandemonium and Gladsheim.  We have a geographical placement for Limbo in Hell, and therefore Hades is folded into Hell as well.  Hades is simply the Greek name for the planes that they knew about.

We could argue that "Hell" was an extension of Hades that was conjured into existence by the gained beliefs of millions of Christians as their numbers swelled in the 4th century.  I have, in the past, argued that "belief" fuels the powers of Gods; perhaps that, in turn, fuels the creation of physical spaces.  As the Gods grow more powerful, they naturally start creating homes: and as Christianity expanded to be much bigger than the comparatively small number of Greek believers in their gods, the former plane became crowded and needful of renovation.  Hell could have begun as an add-on of a level or two, then the expansion of eight new levels to comprehend the sudden complexity of what places needed to be made for which dead.  Just a thought.

As an aside, I had considered making a map to add to this post ~ but I must confess, I haven't the energy or the wherewithal, at least not now.  Perhaps another day, when I will add it to the wiki.  Right now I just want this straightened out in my mind so I can get back to describing demons and devils.

Gehenna, then, is the Jewish destination of the wicked ~ and apart from many arguments about Gehenna referring to real places attached to the Holy Land, the part that matters to me is the rabbinical tradition that those condemned to Gehenna are made to spend no more time there than the period of one year (the Jews clearly being more merciful to bad people than the Christians).  This, to me, sounds more like Purgatory ~ and that works for me, because the original map of the outer planes never did include a Purgatory in their conjurings.

Unfortunately, Gehenna cannot be reconciled with Dante's Purgatory as easily ~ and I like the Purgatorio.  When Dante arrives in Purgatory, he and Virgil find themselves on a beach next to a big ocean, where occasionally boats come along and drop off the dead.  These dead step off the boats singing about the escape from Egypt-land, so that at least gives us a strong relationship to Jewish mythology. We can, from there, relieve Gehenna of its flames and equate it to this initial part of Purgatory.

Dante calls it ante-Purgatory, the three levels before Purgatory, where the excommunicated who waited until the very last moment of their lives to repent are waiting on the arrivals beach.  We can always argue that the sun is hot, sort of like burning, but that's not confirmed by Dante.  Oh well. It gives us a place for Gehenna, and we can always say that Dante was misinformed.  The main thing is that the repentant bad people have a zone between Hell/Hades and Purgatory where they can go and spend a year (or longer), giving us a bit more structure.

The Abyss is easier.  It, too, is a Jewish legend, perceived as a part of Gehenna, beneath the ocean and sealed.  It is the seat of the evil spirits, that being demons.  It is equated with Sheol, also a very deep pit, repeatedly mentioned in the Bible and likely derived from an Assyro-Babylonian word, "Shu'alu", where in that culture is the place where the dead are cited or bidden. We can assume, then, that there are a lot of different names for this same place.  We can imagine that the ocean that this Abyss is under is the same that the beach in ante-Purgatory/Gehenna looks out over, that the boats cross.

Perhaps souls that do not properly get off the beach feel compelled to dive into the sea and thus disappear forever, into the Abyss.  Perhaps the arrival at Purgatory isn't a guarantee of eventual redemption.  The boundary might be fuzzier than we imagine, and that actions that are taken after death have influence on where we go, as well.

Now, Tartarus is also an abyss.  It is where the monsters go, where the bad gods go (the Titans and such), it is the primordial place where the Greek mythology of the present imprisoned the mythological ideas of the past.  Tartarus is, therefore, old, much older than any of the other places in the underworld ~ old enough for Cthulhu, perhaps, and gods older than Kronos and Uranos before him.

Geographically, Tartarus is viewed as "below Hades" ... which makes a connection between it and the rest of our model, as Hades is the top of Hell.  I'll go one further and argue that Tartarus is the Abyss ~ one and the same, just as the Abyss is Sheol and Shu'alu. This gives us a passage from Hades/Hell into Tartarus/the Abyss and a passage from Gehenna to same.  This might be a passage out or a passage in.

We might imagine our dead party, arriving at the Acheron, told to find their way into Hades, to avoid the deeper Hell, find the terrifying passage into the Abyss, avoid the much older passages into Tartarus under the Abyss, in order to find their way out of the Abyss and onto the beach of Gehenna, where my some means the might climb up the mountain of Purgatory and, perhaps, find a way into life? Perhaps there is a passage from the top of Purgatory across Eden into the Prime Material, before moving onto Paradise.  Only the DM would know.

This, then, is enough for now.  I'll just add that I feel that demons and devils are, in fact, divine beings.  That some may be twisted, as Ozymandias suggests ~ but then again, some may not. Some might be disposed to help a party trying to find the passageway out of Hades or out of the Abyss. Though telling them apart from the "helpful" demons who are directing the party down the wrong passageway ... that might be difficult.

Oops, forgot Pandemonium.  Well, another time.

What Makes a Demon

Answering the question, how are demons made.

The word "demon" comes from the Greek, daimon, which was seen by that culture as a personal familiar or in the fashion of a guardian angel, a little spirit that was associated with various objects and features about the house, such as doorways, plants, family pets, fountains and so on.  Each daimon ensured the health and function of that part of the house, and was acknowledge lightly by the inhabitants, the Greeks having a casual attitude about their polytheism.

The Romans called these daimon by a different word, genius, which can be reckoned in the Roman culture as the "soul" of a thing, metaphorically.  The door and doorway that blocked the burglar from entering did so because it appreciated the inhabitants, and they in turn appreciated the genius within the doorway, as well as the genius that resided in horses that drove well or the cart that did not break, or the one in you, you lucky thing, that made you so smart.

The daimon, or genius, in a thing could undergo an apotheosis, becoming a god, just as the genius within doorways was eventually, after centuries, interpreted as Janus, who was related to many things doorway-related.  The importance of Janus in Roman culture is really interesting, but I don't want to be side-lined here so I will leave off from that.

The medieval concept of daimon, daemon or demon arose out of the Christians' blanket condemnation of all things pagan, a process that began in the 4th century as the adopted Christian religion began to clean house in ancient Rome.  It must be remembered that Christianity was born of Rome (and not Judaea), that virtually all the believers who suffered through the various persecutions were all Roman in citizenry, whether they happened to be Spanish, Italian, Greek or Anatolian in ethnic heritage.  When the Christians finally got in control of the Empire, they meted out to the pagans as persecution was meted out to them, resulting in a pogrom against all things non-Christian from the 5th century on.  Mind you, the circumstances surrounding the length and depth of this pogrom are still in contention, as many present day scholars simply refuse to believe that Christians could systematically butcher perhaps hundreds of thousands, or millions of non-believers ... despite the fact that we have several uncontested examples of Christians doing exactly that, multiple times, in the form of cities slaughtered and destroyed in the Crusades, thousands of witches burned century after century, the wholesale slaughter of Europe and 8 million people during the 30 years war, etcetera, etcetera.  Oh yes, I'm quite sure the early Christians were much more restrained than their later brethren.  I'm sure they gave the pagans a pat on the head, thanked them for all the business with crucifixions and lions, then sent them on their way.

The persecution of paganism that made Europe absolutely catholic by the time of the Vikings could not fully stamp out the old beliefs.  We still have them, in Christmas and Easter, in kissing under mistletoe, in believing that we feel things "from the heart," in the concept of the firstborn being the most important member of the family, in the concept of luck, in giving names to ships, in the bogeyman, in words like "panacea" and "halo", in astrology and in the supposed "left hand of god," along with the symbols we still use for planets and in thousands of other casual references we make daily, without realizing these were pagan concepts.  What the Christians could not destroy, things like gift-giving at Saturnalia or Gods that were just too popular, they adopted and rewrote, turning the festival of Saturn into the festival of Christ and turning the Greek God of wisdom, Sophia, into Saint Sophia, which could then have a Church dedicated to her memory by a Christian Emperor in the Christian era, Hagia Sophia, also known as the Church of the Holy Wisdom.

And pernicious beliefs that any common individual might believe in and cherish were twisted from friendly spirits into evil spirits, demons, that possessed people and turned them away from the true faith, providing an easy excuse to turn this ancient practice of thinking there's an animus in the fountain that keeps the water fresh into something that we can use to tie you to a stake and burn you to death, just to make sure you don't start thinking that maybe there's something to this old paganism after all.

Calling these things evil demons isn't enough, however.  We must take the concept of the spirit possessing the well and transform it into the spirit possessing YOU; then we can expand the role of the (Persian-derived) anti-Christ devil into the master of all the demons in all the world, so that we're good and positive that there's a deliberate, contrived, world-wide plan that seeks to pollute and poison your immortal soul, run by the worst demon we can conceive of, filled up with all sorts of impressive and terrifying powers, factory-designed to scare the living shit out of anyone whose never read a book or who possesses the least understanding of how things like volcanoes and hurricanes work.

Once that scheduled PR stunt is in place, we have just the thing; give us money, we'll make sure Christ puts his loving arms around all of you.  What else can possibly save you from the demons?

So, in wondering where demons come from, that's where they come from.  This doesn't tell us how they function in a D&D campaign, but it does give us more wiggle-room when thinking about how demons should act.

Are you sure now that they're as malevolent as the Christian religion makes them out to be?  After all, that's the source you're relying on for your conception of what the word demon means.  The Christian religion.

Not that I want my demons shaping up like Aahz.  I admit, I intend to retain the notion that demons are malevolent.  I only make the argument that they don't have to be.  It's a choice, see?  Not a blind compulsion.

To me, this makes the whole matter of demons ~ and presumably devils as well ~ a lot less certain. Within uncertainty, there is drama.  There is adventure.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Proposing the Underworld

As I have rolled forward working on monsters, I have tried to make their interrelations with the world, and frankly the party trying to kill them, a little more practical.  This has included things like patterns of attack, such as whether or not the monster focuses its weapons on one target or on many, or how long the monster can be expected to remain in the fight.

I have also, now and then, put a few other features in, such as adding a generator for hit points and stats, or detailing the exact way that a monster's poison works, updating the poison list for those poisons that might be salvaged after the kill.  Steadily, I have made my way through strictly the original monster manual to the end of the C's (I'll go back and add other monsters from other books later) ~ and this has brought me to the letter D:  demons.

Looking over the general description that Gygax wrote 40 years ago, that was meant to apply to all demons, I recognized at once that there's very little in the description that defines what a demon is. As part of the description of the manes demon, it reads, "Those dead which go to the 666 layers of the demonic abyss become manes."  Which dead?  What is it about these dead that separate them from dead that go elsewhere?  And what of the other, more powerful demons (and the devils also). What makes a demon?

We can return to John Milton and apply the mythology that devils, and perhaps demons as well, are angels that have been cast out of heaven.  This, however, only postpones the question, what makes an angel?  Milton did not have to worry about this; he didn't have to deal with players who might want to actually make a demon or a devil, or be put in a situation where they have to stop such an event.  Milton had it easy.

So I am thinking about that, about what makes a demon, and what separates demons from devils, from a zoologist's perspective, when I realized that before I can even try to answer that question, I have to first define what distinguishes the Abyss from Hell, Gehenna, Tartarus and Hades ... not to mention other lower planes of existence not highlighted by the original alignment chart.

Now, let's be clear.  I don't use alignment.  For my game, "evil" is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, term.  To some degree, everything and everyone of rational intelligence is in some part evil, just as all rational things are in some part good.  Evil is a choice, not a character trait ~ and to be specific, the choice is to be malevolent, which derives from the Latin meaning to "wish badness," most likely upon others and upon the world.

This is why deadly spiders are not evil or malevolent; they do not actively wish anything; they merely need to eat or lay their eggs and the poison they carry is an unknowing means to that end.  The spider does not wish you harm; it does not know there is a "you" at all.

If I'm going to craft the lower planes, then, it follows that their geographic relationship has nothing to do with having law or chaos as a framework.  "Law" is just as much a choice as malevolence.  All things that have authority have law; and all attempts at law fail to root out the last vestiges of chaos. Unless Hell features a perfectly ordered society in which all persons in it move in lockstep, without randomness or uncertainty in a completely known universe, there will be chaos there ~ and if you as DM perceive that this might just be exactly what Hell ought to be, to fit your prescriptive framework, well, how boring.  I wouldn't want to adventure in your Hell.  Where's the wiggle room?

To remain consistent with that rigid, playable framework that is required for a good game, the lower planes must be made flesh from some other sourcework than those applying to D&D alignment ... and thankfully, we have only 2,800 years of general theological supposition to consider.

Let us not forget that Hell, the Abyss, Gehenna, Tartarus and Hades all exist in an academic sense well outside the realm of role-playing games, engendering discussion that is regularly pursued by people other than role-gamers.  When I think to figure out what these things truly are ~ and I must admit, I've never really sat down and given it much thought before today ~ I want to go to the source.  To the "real" work that has been done.

There is an obvious problem.  These things come from different cultures, who all created various destinations to which the dead to travel.  Basically, the same dead.  There was no distinction made within these cultures that only a certain kind of dead would go to such-and-such a place ... so we must either pick a specific place for all the dead to go (perhaps to be redistributed later, for some reason) or create some factor that defines which dead go to which place, and why.  An easy, obvious solution would be to argue that all the Greek dead go here, and all the Christian dead go there, the Elvish dead and the Orcish dead go elsewhere, but to my mind if there really were these planes, why would they care what belief system these beings on Earth had?  Is a demon prejudiced?  Does a demon send you back if you're not the victim expected?

Not to my mind.  And in fact, I have little interest in any distinction that would regulate which dead go to which lower plane based upon what backgrounds they had or how awful they were.  We already have such a system established for Hell and Hell alone, written by Dante, and I'm not going to denude certain levels of Hell so that I can outsource murderers or blasphemers to another plane of existence just to be sure the caves there don't go empty.  No, I just don't see it that way.

To my mind, it makes no nevermind what carcass you possessed in the prime material ~ you're dead now and it is your essence, not your body, that is burning in the eternal pit of flame; so expect to be sitting in that pit next to an orc, a halfling and a lizard man, because that is just how it goes.

Perhaps I'm ruined by Dante.  Hell must be, for me, the arrival gate.  Abandon all Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.  If there is some reason why the other planes are populated by the dead, it is because of what happened after those dead arrived in Hell.  Basically, to my mind, the other planes are parts of Hell, where the dead are selectively routed after it is discovered that they have ... something.  Skills?  The right attitude?  They've been here this long so they're ready to be moved down?  Perhaps, in the true Mengelenian sense, there are devils and demons moving through the suffering hordes, selecting this one for experimentation, to create a better beast, to divide and multiply into a more horrific atrocity, and there are specific places where that happens.

If I can establish a movement of the dead, a steady migration out of the planes of Hell and into other planes, where lines of misery can be identified as the swirl of dead are marched into deeper and deeper misery, then I can perhaps figure out the jobs that these demons and devils do ... and ultimately, how they were designed by higher powers in order to do those jobs.  From there, it follows that this provides a personality for individual demons and devils that really, really, really doesn't exist in the books, a motivation, that can in turn explain just why these three demons are found standing on this dark streetcorner in the middle of the night when a player character walks by.

I'll be working on this for a while, playing with it, writing a draft on the blog and eventually a final layout on the wiki.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

I've been looking at the website http://earth.nullschool.net, taking note of the Hurricane Harvey as it was forming and moving across the Gulf of Mexico.  Just from interest.

Here is a screenshot of what Hurricane Harvey looked like on August 24th, when we were told it was developing into a category 4 storm, the largest in 12 years:

Note the date and time on the left hand side.

And here is what Harvey looked like, 36 hours before, at midnight on August 23rd:

Harvey formed in the southeast corner of the Gulf of Mexico, which happens ~ but category 4 storms do not come from here.  The Gulf of Mexico tends to form tropical storms, not all out hurricanes. Big hurricanes usually form like Irma, right now in the mid-Atlantic.  But this is not the only confusing thing about Harvey.  Have a look at the Gulf of Mexico, just 12 hours before the picture above, at noon on August 22nd:

No hurricane.  There's a Low sitting over the Yucatan peninsula, which in the afternoon of the 22nd moves over the west coast of the peninsula.  By evening, it's evident that the Low is strengthening into a hurricane and by midnight on the 23rd, there's Harvey.  Just 66 hours later, at 6pm on the 25th, it hits the coast of East Texas for the first time.

And it has played hell with the region, as it didn't just make landfall and break up, because there was a tremendous weather system inland that kept Harvey trapped on the coast.

As I write this, on August 31, here's a view of Harvey as it pours rain on the states of Arkansas and Mississippi:

Interesting stuff.  I had seen that there was a report of another hurricane forming the same way by the 4th of September.  This morning, as I was looking at these maps, that was the forecast.

However, as I look now, that hurricane is no longer expected to happen.  Good news.  But from what I see and hear, it could take three weeks for the water to drain off East Texas.  I also hear this is in great part from the failing of East Texan communities to spend a proper budget on drains, not to mention an irrational attitude towards zoning, that prohibits the sort of urban planning that would make it possible to shake off a storm like this when it happens.

I don't know what people are thinking where it comes to this sort of thing.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Rant Unfair to Readers

I feel I'm doing a disservice to my readers, working on monsters as I have done the last couple of weeks ~ and not new monsters, but very old monsters.  I don't suppose there's much interesting that is left in these old beasts.

Was passed a monster chart the other day that had a lot of monsters that, I will admit, were utterly unfamiliar to me: drakainias, vemeraks, thulgants, bzastras and so on ... no doubt these are all terribly familiar to the reader.  Yes, well.  I never investigated the Monster Manual II, or the Monster Compendiums 1, 2 and 3, nor any of those monster books that were associated with realms or splatbooks, nor anything published having to do with monsters dating from the rise of 3e. I just didn't care.  I remember flipping through such books a the game store with a vague interest, seeing quickly that these new monsters didn't seem to have much "new" about them.  Just a shifting around and reconfiguring of the same old abilities, with new pictures and new unfamiliar names.  I might have looked at a myconid or a decapus at some point, but I wouldn't remember now.

I'm an old man, I guess.  When I went through the monster manual back in '79, I had at least heard of a chimera or a hydra.  I knew imps and minotaurs from stories.  Yes, there were some odd names, but they grew familiar over a lot of time.  Some I just never used.  I have never thrown a morkoth at a party or a thought eater (and I don't use psionics, at any rate).  I can count the number of times I've used a remorhaz, a groaning spirit or a mind flayer on one finger.  Most monsters, I have always thought, were a bit of a waste.

I went through the Fiend Folio when it came out, still a young feller, but I ditched more than half the monsters almost at once.  We played with flail snails but what a joke, along with flumphs, cifals and tweens.  Revenants were clearly set up to fuck with parties and I did not include them in my campaign.  The few monsters in the Deities & Demigods were better, particularly those from Melnibone and Cthulhu, the two parts of the book that were ripped out after the initial release (of which my original copy was stolen, so that I lost those pages until the internet happened).

But more monsters?  I had enough by then.  I was constantly having to adjust them, too, to make them more tougher or less silly or whatever ~ and that got to be a job that was too big to manage, as it still is.  Back in the mid-80s, I plowed through a description of every monster I used on my Commodore 64, 650 printed pages ... and kept the binder full of those pages on hand until about '91.  By then I was thinking that I should put it into Mac Word.  I would start, but it bored me.  I lost the binder in '97 to a nutjob roommate who destroyed a bunch of my things while I was out of town, so I had to start again from scratch in 98 when I got my Pentium.  Again, did not get far.

The wiki is just the end of a lot of tries to sort out the exact details of the monsters, to explain how the Beholder's eyes actually work or build proper rules for dozens of little details.  How does trample actually work?  When are people actually trampled?  The book makes it sound like characters thoughtfully lay down in front of cattle whenever.  I've always tried to clear that sort of thing up.

More monsters just means more misunderstandings, more work.  For what?  A different monster that also drains blood?  Yet another dragon or demon?  Yet another small creature that exists as a annoyance to play tricks and steal the parties things?  How is the game made better than there are fourteen different creatures that all serve the same purpose?

Humanoid races have always been useful.  We need lots of enemies to fight one another.  But if it is another humanoid race, what is the good of it being just another elf or another dwarf?  How many different kinds of goblin do we need?  Can't we just use goblins?

BUT . . . I know.  The tide is here and I'm underwater.  I'm carping about a world that is never going to change.  And I'm working on a monster list that can barely get a 'meh' out of the reader.  I apologize for that.

Still, the list I'm creating is very good for my game and my world.  These insights into old monsters, how they should have worked and how they can work, are worth a thousand ill-considered add-ons that seem to have been created more to give bored game designers something to do.  When drawing lines to make megadungeons go sour, let's throw five old ideas together into a blender and make a monster.

My daughter feels that I should write a book called the "Blender Monster Handbook," featuring monsters made by random dice and other poor decision-making processes.  She says it will sell.  I think it would be boring as hell to write.

I am sorry.  I am.  None of you readers have asked for this very boring rant.  You don't deserve it. This is just an excuse for me not to start working on making the centaur monster relevant.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Film Industry's Grievance

I watched the film Birdman last night. Two years late and after two previous attempts to get past the first ten, very pretentious minutes. I would never have watched it at all, except that in the last two weeks I have seen Michael Keaton, an actor who might as well have been dead to me, turn up in two good films: Spiderman: Homecoming and The Founder. And so, I felt I should give Birdman another chance.

I was in just the right mood to watch a bad film to the end. Sometimes, I'm more interested in ...

Saturday, August 26, 2017


This is only the bugbear and I wouldn't say I made a big change to the monster.  The rest of it can be read on the wiki.  I'm only posting it here because I had a thought during its writing that led to a good idea.

I was reworking the details about bugbear leaders, shaping it to my own world, adding bugbear shamans, clerics and mages, and finding the whole description increasing in clumsiness.  That's how I always felt about humanoid races from the books.  Unless I was prepared to do a lot ahead of time, it wasn't practical to have the party come across a large number of a particular kind of humanoid.  It is easy to roll hit points for two or three giants.  It is annoying as hell to create leaders, stats and hit points for 30 bugbears.

That is why, I suppose, so many just make them exactly the same.  And I have done that.  But it occurs to me, why not just attach a bugbear clan generator to the wiki page?  Then it can roll the classes, the followers, even give them detailed character stats and ready made hit points.

The reader can find an excel file on the wiki page, that can be downloaded and observed.  It covers both kinds of bugbear: what I call the Nissi An type, or homeland bugbears, who are more primitive, and the outworlder bugbears, who live among goblins, hobgoblins and norkers.

It's cute and helpful and not the end all and be all of generators.

However, why not a generator in the same format for every monster?  On its wiki page, waiting to be opened, downloaded in a couple of seconds and boom, stats and details, good to go?  Sounds good to me.

Then, as I move forward, I can make those tables more and more detailed.  I can make them more helpful.  As someone who heard this idea just told me, "Scary."

Friday, August 25, 2017

Making Choices in Player Creation

Enough of this negativity.  Let's get down to unsolicited advice.  Before we can get our characters going, we have to pick spells, abilities and gear.  Here's a run-down of what we want to keep in mind.


We can break these into five different categories, based on what the spells do for us and for others. I'll discuss them in order of importance ~ that is, what spells do we want to take first and from the beginning.

Offensive: whatever our conception of the character, however we feel about what a spellcaster does or doesn't do, we're acting the fool if we don't take at least one attack spell, right off the top.  The best spells are undeniably those that cause damage.  Influential spells, such as those that charm, hold or physically affect creatures are nice, but most of those are designed for use with humanoids.  During the crunch against a creature without intelligence or with eyes, as is often the case, a strong illusion or light-driven spell is going to prove useless, as are spells that change the environment or the creature's emotional state.  On the other hand, pure damage spells are universal.  They work against everything.

As well, we and our party are going to get into a situation where some creature just won't die, though it must be in the neighborhood of five hit points or less.  This is just the time we need a magic missile or a low-damage chromatic orb.  It doesn't matter if it only does 2-5 or less.  Save it up and use it at that crucial moment that will end this thing, finally.

Protection of Others: there are many spells that provide aid to others in times of distress.  Bless or the cleric's Prayer spell is like that.  Protection from evil (or malevolence).  A wall of fog.  Any spell that will make things easier for as many fellow party members as possible.  I don't recommend that all our spells fall into this category, but we should be sure to take at least one if we can.  Obviously, the most important are healing spells, mostly because they can be the last ditch saving grace when a party member is slipping into the grave.  Take one of them first, then consider the others.

Protection of Self:  these are fine, but they are of secondary importance to any spell that can protect more than one person.  Yes, we want to survive and yes, it helps others if we are still around to cast spells.  But if the others don't survive, we're alone.  We should think about that.  So while eventually we will be taking a good, solid protection of self spell, like sanctuary or jump, we should make sure we're a strong protector of others.

Everyday Spells: these won't keep us alive in combat, but they're useful enough to be of value all the time.  A magical mount that enables us to travel, a familiar that we can find, a hut that protects us at night, something unseen that can serve us continuously or cast a light so we can see in the dark.  These are all good ~ but understand, they are really the 4th most valuable things we should be thinking of.  These are luxuries, not necessities, and too many luxuries will take up magic slots that could have saved the lives of our friends and ourselves.  So limit the number of luxuries to a minimum.

Spells that Solve Problems:  many of the spells available are tremendously useful ~ but only in rare, obscure situations.  Sometimes, the situation might be common enough to consider the spell: the need to climb something or not fall to our deaths.  But really, how often do things need mending, when we can't just do without?  How often does a small rainfall help?  Isn't that remove fear spell just going to sit useless in our pocket most of the time?  Before taking spells that do nothing but solve unlikely problems, we should really, really think.  Perhaps we should be taking a spell we will use, rather than a spell we might use.


Here I am thinking of my sage abilities, but the advice above that applies to spells should, in some degree, apply to skills as well.

Skills can rarely be applied to causing damage or even to direct physical offense, unless it augments some power we already possess.  We can take advantage of that, yes, but it risks our becoming a one trick pony.  What value has the pony got if it can't do a second trick?  So while hitting really hard is better than just hitting hard, maybe hitting hard is enough for now and it might be a good idea if we can jump the gorge instead of dying in it.

The same applies with regards to skills that help everyone and skills that just help me.  That latter may matter as regards to our self-image, but as skills are in short supply, being that we can only choose so many, we get a better capitalization of those skills if they can be applied to more people.  If they can help the whole party find something or protect themselves against something, we're getting more bang for our buck.  After we make everyone else a little safer, then we should think about ourselves and what we want.

That sounds a bit preachy, I know.  I'm really just talking about the better chance of survival for everyone.  If we are there to help our party, our strong and living party will be there to help us when we need it.  It is a change from an overt dependence on self-reliance to mutually assured survival ~ and yes, it means trusting other people.  For many, that is a damn hard thing to learn.

Armor & Weapons

How I have watched party after party equip themselves!  Armor, then weapons, then maybe they start thinking about clothes, very often forgetting their boots ... and then we begin the selection of tools, toys and, finally, just general stuff.

I don't have much to say about armor.  Players depend on it a lot, are very uncomfortable without it and would rather move slowly and be armored than enjoy the freedom of living without it.  I suppose that we must defend ourselves like a turtle if we have the capacity, so I won't fault players here for taking that route.

With regards to weapons, I have a few suggestions.  Pick one solid hand-to-hand weapon up front.  One-handed weapons leave us open for using a shield, but a two handed weapon is fine.  This first weapon shouldn't be too long, we are going to want to use it in close quarters.  A sword, a battle axe, a mace, a spear, a club or a quarterstaff is best, depending on our class.  Clubs and quarterstaffs break but can be easily, and cheaply, replaced.  Spears can also be thrown, if need be.  If we don't have a strength bonus at all, a mace is better than a sword because it won't roll 1s for damage.  Battle axes are good for breaking in doors and other things and swords are just a good, all-around sturdy weapon, with the benefit that none if it is made of wood.

Most of the time mages and illusionists will take daggers rather than a quarterstaff.  The dagger doesn't do much damage but it can be thrown and hey, the two classes only get one proficiency to start.  My one contention is that daggers thrown by a mage class that start by needing a 21 to hit AC zero makes for a lot of missing and very little damage done when a hit does happen.  How many times have I see a mage throw three daggers, hitting only once, and then for 1 damage!  Might just as well wade in and try with a quarterstaff.  At least if the goblin hits us for 1d6 damage, that's meaningful damage the fighter hasn't taken and it makes a bigger difference to the overall fight than standing to the side tossing metal pieces at walls.  But of course, that would demand our thinking of others ~ which, as I said, is hard to learn.

Okay, second weapon:  take something that can be thrown without loading.  A dagger is fine for a second weapon, a hand axe, a warhammer, a javelin perhaps and, of course, a spear.  We should then get into the habit that the first weapon we pull is not our main weapon, but our secondary weapon, which we're going to start by throwing.  Then we can draw the main weapon while we wade in.

Third weapon: now that we have something we can throw right off, pick something we can load and fire.  A crossbow is fine, but plan on using it once and then throwing it away in favor of our main weapon, because it won't be worth the time it takes to reload it.  If we want to use it twice, we'll hire a servant to reload our crossbow for us, while we kill things.  Nothing is more useless than a fighter standing around loading things.

If we want to fire something more than once, then we should go with a sling or a bow. The benefit of a sling is that stones are cheap and plentiful and the tool weighs nothing.  We never have to worry about having a bow strung over our shoulder while we're climbing through some hole in the ground.  The bow, on the other hand, does more damage and has a slightly better range.  Still, most of the time we're going to be shooting at things within 50 feet.  Range for either will be the same, most of the time.

Finally, a last weapon.  Here we can think about getting a specialty device.  A bludgeoning weapon for things that can't be cut.  A polearm for its reach.  A spear versus charge.  Something that hooks or disarms, if our DM allows that sort of thing.


Thinking about it, I believe this is going to require a post of its own.  I'll work up a list of ten or twelve things that we always ought to have with us and write that out.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Entitled Who Want

Let's settle that we've rolled the bare bones of our character and that we've settled on the stats, the general appearance, age, race, gender and other particulars that satisfy us, including a back story if that is what we want.  The next stage would be equipping the character, both in terms of the character's unique abilities and then in what actual gear the character will be carrying.

Without devolving into particulars of the present state of D&D or other RPGs, it is my feeling that player characters shouldn't be able to do much, particularly at the beginning.  The choice of what might be done should be of a good size, enough to promote discontent when the player understands that making this choice will preclude the benefits of that choice.  Choice can be paralyzing.  Players can easily spend hours struggling between choices ~ and can feel distress when they realize, or feel, that they've made the wrong choice, even if they really haven't.  The aftermath of choice is often the wherewithal to accept one's limitations and play inside those ... while many players are simply incapable of accepting their limitations in real life.  Naturally, if Johnny can't deal with his not being the guitar player he so badly wants to be, he won't do well with not being able to jump across this gorge now because sometime in the past he wanted a better bonus on his weapon.

Yet part of the game is that players must learn to play to their choices.  If Johnny's skills don't include gorge-jumping, then why is he here on the lip of this gorge in the first place?  I'm an extraordinarily clumsy person in real life.  I'd guess my dexterity at a 7, give or take a point depending on the day.  As such, I don't go rock-climbing.  I just don't.  I am a good writer, so I play to that strength and stay home.  I don't moan about my lack of dexterity; I cope with it and enjoy the fact that writing doesn't take much.

Players, I have found, don't think like this.  When asking what they'd like to do first in the campaign, they don't look at their character sheets and think, "What would a guy with a 17 wisdom and an 8 dexterity want to do?"  They think, "I can do anything if I try."  And so it begins.  Next thing, there's Johnny on the edge, about to die.

The control we have over our character's success depends on settling upon a set of abilities (spells, proficiencies, feats, skills, whatever we want to call them) that we like and then playing to those strengths.  In the bigger sense, it is having a party with a wide variety of abilities and then playing to all of them as a team.  Matt is a better first baseman than I am, while I'm a better hitter, so I'll play outfield while he plays infield. Grant is better with his glove than I am so he can play left field and I'll play right.  Does it mean I'll have less to do as a fielder?  Yes.  But the chances of our winning is improved.

Johnny, on the other hand, wants to play first base because he wants to.  Period.  And no one will play first base instead because Johnny will make a racket, or he'll take his ball and go home.  This is what we're seeing all over.  I don't want to be a fighter that protects a mage because that's not as much fun as ignoring the mage's needs and feeding my own.  I don't care that we're going to go into a dungeon, I'm going to take polearms and morning stars as my proficiencies because, well, because.  Those weapons are cool.  And so on.

Then we can bitch and moan until the DM fixes the dungeon that allows us to do what we want. Because that's what its all about.  Doing what we want, and to hell with everything else.  The DM must change, the rules must change, the arbitrary limitations on what I can do must change, I deserve to be able to trade something I have for something I don't according to what I think is right, and if you won't let me, then you're being unfair.

This thinking has become pervasive.  As my daughter tells me, there are endless parents now who won't make their young children lose at board games.  These parents see their five-year-olds get upset when they can't succeed at Operation so they make concessions.  "It's okay if you touch the sides once," they say.  And so the kid never learns that skill, or the need to learn that skill, or indeed the value of skills.  They learn that rewards are given to the most upset ... and then a company comes along to ask game-players how they think the game should be played, and dutifully write down the opinions of a people who have no idea how a game works.

And here is where we are.